Great Pictures, As Seen and Described by Famous Writers
by Esther Singleton
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Transcriber's note:

Bracketted lower case letters refer to notes at the end of the text{a}

At the end of this text I have provided some links to Internet sites which have more information about some of the artists, some of which may have color images similar to the ones presented in this book.


As Seen and Described by Famous Writers

Edited and Translated by


Author of "Turrets, Towers, and Temples" and Translator of "The Music Dramas of Richard Wagner"

With Numerous Illustrations

New York Dodd, Mead and Company Copyright, 1899 By Dodd, Mead and Company


The cordial reception of "Turrets, Towers, and Temples" has encouraged me to hope that a welcome may be given to a book treating the masterpieces of painting in a similar manner.

Great writers and literary tourists have occasionally been inspired to record the impressions of their saunterings among galleries and museums. The most interesting of these, not necessarily professional, I have tried to bring together in the following pages. My object has been not to make a selection of the greatest pictures in the world, although many that have that reputation will be found here, but rather to bring together those that have produced a powerful impression on great minds. Consequently, when the reader is disturbed at the omission of some world-famous painting, I beg him to remember my plan and blame the great writers instead of me for neglecting his favourite.

My task has not been a light one. A few words of rapturous admiration are constantly to be met with in the pages of art-lovers, but a sympathetic study of a single work is rarely found. General comment of a given artist's work is also plentiful, while discriminating praise of individual canvases is scanty. The literary selection has, therefore, involved a great deal of research.

From time to time the relative popularity of painters shifts strangely, but no matter what inconstant fashion may dictate, or what may be the cult of the hour, certain paintings never lose their prestige, but annually attract as many pilgrims as Lourdes or Fusi-San.

Of modern painters I have only included Turner and Rossetti.

It is interesting to compare the example I have chosen from Rossetti with Leonardo's "Monna Lisa." Pater has admirably brought out, without dwelling too much upon it, the charm that is eternal in her face as well as the fantastic imagination of the great artist who created her for all time. He says: "The fancy of a perpetual life, sweeping together ten thousand experiences, is an old one.... Certainly Lady Lisa might stand as the embodiment of the old fancy, the symbol of the modern idea." In a similar sense Lilith the siren, the Lorelei, the eternal enchantress, in her modern robe, is the embodiment of a new fancy, the symbol of the ancient idea; and just here across four centuries the thoughts of two great artists meet.

The types of beauty and women in this book offer no little suggestion to the fancy. From Botticelli's "La Bella Simonetta," and Raphael's "La Fornarina," through all the periods of painting the model has been a great influence upon the painter's work, and upon this point nearly every essayist and critic represented in these pages dwells. In many of the essays, such as Pater's on Botticelli, and Swinburne's on Andrea del Sarto, the author strays away from the painting to talk of the painter, but in doing this he gives us so thoroughly the spirit of that painter that a fuller light is thrown upon the picture before us.

I have included a few criticisms by modern French critics, MM. Valabregue, Lafond, Giron, Guiffrey, and Reymond, recognized authorities upon the artists whose works they describe; and I have selected Fromentin's valuable essay on "The Night Watch," feeling sure that this thoughtful criticism would interest even the enthusiastic admirers of this enigmatical work.

I have been careful to take no unnecessary liberties with the text. In the translations from Gruyer, Goethe, Fromentin, and others, which were unfortunately too long to be included entire, I have not allowed myself to condense, but only to cut. This is true, also, of the English extracts.


NEW YORK, September, 1899.
























MONNA LISA Leonardo da Vinci 142 WALTER PATER.





THE HAY WAIN Constable 184 C.L. BURNS.























BORDONE Fisherman presenting the Ring to the Doge Gradenigo Venice Frontispiece


BOTTICELLI The Birth of Venus Florence 6

VERONESE The Queen of Sheba Turin 16

MICHAEL ANGELO The Last Judgment Rome 18

CORREGGIO Magdalen Dresden 28

VAN DER HELST The Banquet of the Arquebusiers Amsterdam 34

WATTEAU L'Embarquement pour l'Ile de Cythere Paris 38

RAPHAEL The Sistine Madonna Dresden 46

CARPACCIO The Dream of St. Ursula Venice 58

RUBENS The Descent from the Cross Antwerp 62

TITIAN Bacchus and Ariadne London 72

FRA ANGELICO The Coronation of the Virgin Paris 78

BOTTICELLI Judith Florence 80

HOBBEMA The Avenue of Middelharnais London 88

ANDREA DEL SARTO The Dance of the Daughter of Herodias Florence 94

FABRIANO The Adoration of the Magi Florence 98

HOLBEIN Portrait of Georg Gisze Berlin 102

TINTORET Paradise Venice 106

GUIDO RENI Aurora Rome 114

TITIAN The Assumption of the Virgin Venice 120

REMBRANDT The Night Watch Amsterdam 124

GOZZOLI The Rape of Helen London 138

L. DA VINCI Monna Lisa Paris 142

VAN EYCK The Adoration of the Lamb Ghent 154

PIERO DI COSIMO The Death of Procris London 168

TINTORET The Marriage in Cana Venice 172

DE LA TOUR Portrait of Madame de Pompadour Paris 178

CONSTABLE The Hay Wain London 184

VELASQUEZ The Surrender of Breda Madrid 192

MURILLO The Immaculate Conception Paris 196

GIOTTO St. Frances before the Soldan Florence 202

ROSSETTI Lilith Rockford, Del. 212

DUERER The Adoration of the Magi Florence 216

HOGARTH The Marriage A-la-Mode London 218

L. DA VINCI The Madonna of the Rocks Paris 234

GUIDO RENI Portrait of Beatrice Cenci Rome 240

RAPHAEL The Transfiguration Rome 250

PAUL POTTER The Bull The Hague 256

FRAGONARD Coresus and Callirhoe Paris 262

GAINSBOROUGH The Market-Cart London 268

TINTORET Bacchus and Ariadne Venice 274

GREUZE La Cruche Cassee Paris 280

REYNOLDS Portrait of Lady Cockburn and her Children London 282

RAPHAEL St. Cecilia Naples 288

L. DA VINCI The Last Supper Milan 290

VAN DYCK Portrait of the Children of Charles I. Turin 300

TURNER The Fighting Temeraire London 306

BOTTICELLI Spring Florence 314






This picture, which represents a gondolier returning the ring of Saint Mark to the Doge, treats of a legend, an episode of which Giorgione, as we shall see in the next hall, has also painted in a somewhat singular manner. Here is the story in a few words: One night while the gondolier was sleeping in his gondola, waiting for custom along the canal of S. Giorgio Maggiore, three mysterious individuals jumped into his boat and bade him take them to the Lido; one of the three persons, as well as he could be distinguished in the darkness, appeared to have the beard of an apostle and the figure of a high dignitary of the Church; the two others, by a certain sound as of armour rubbing beneath their mantles, revealed themselves as men-at-arms. The gondolier turned his prow towards the Lido and began to row; but the lagoon, so tranquil at their departure, began to chop and swell strangely: the waves gleamed with sinster{a} lights; monstrous apparitions were outlined menacingly around the barque to the great terror of the gondolier; and hideous spirits of evil and devils half man half fish seemed to be swimming from the Lido towards Venice, making the waves emit thousands of sparks and exciting the tempest with whistling and fiendish laughter in the storm; but the appearance of the shining swords of the two knights and the extended hand of the saintly personage made them recoil and vanish in sulphurous explosions.

The battle lasted for a long time; new demons constantly succeeded the others; however, the victory remained with the personages in the boat, who had themselves taken back to the landing of the Piazzetta. The gondolier scarcely knew what to think of their strange conduct; until, as they were about to separate, the oldest of the group, suddenly causing his nimbus to shine out again, said to the gondolier: "I am Saint Mark, the patron of Venice. I learned to-night that the devils assembled in convention at the Lido in the cemetery of the Jews, had formed the resolution of exciting a frightful tempest and overthrowing my beloved city, under the pretext that many excesses are committed there which give the evil spirits power over her inhabitants; but as Venice is a good Catholic and will confess her sins in the beautiful cathedral which she has raised to me, I resolved to defend her from this peril of which she was ignorant, by the aid of these two brave companions, Saint George and Saint Theodore, and I have borrowed thy boat; now, as all trouble merits reward, and as thou hast passed a boisterous night, here is my ring; carry it to the Doge and tell him what thou hast seen. He will fill thy cap with golden sequins."

So saying, the Saint resumed his position on the top of the porch of Saint Mark's, Saint Theodore climbed to the top of his column, where his crocodile was grumbling with ill-humour, and Saint George went to squat in the depths of his columned niche in the great window of the Ducal Palace.

The gondolier, rather astonished, and he had reason enough, would have believed that he had been dreaming after drinking during that evening several glasses too many of the wine of Samos, if the large and heavy golden ring studded with precious stones which he held in his hand had not prevented his doubting the reality of the events of the night.

Therefore, he went to find the Doge, who was presiding over the Senate in his cap of office, and, respectfully kneeling before him, he related the story of the battle between the devils and the patron saints of Venice. At first this story seemed incredible; but the return of the ring, which was in very sooth that of Saint Mark, and the absence of which from the church treasury was established, proved the gondolier's veracity. This ring, locked up under triple keys in a carefully-guarded treasury, the bolts of which showed no trace of disturbance, could only have been removed by supernatural means. They filled the gondolier's cap with gold and celebrated a mass of thanksgiving for the peril they had escaped. This did not prevent the Venetians from continuing their dissolute course of life, from spending their nights in the haunts of play, at gay suppers, and in love-making; in masking for intrigues, and in prolonging the long orgy of their carnival for six months in the year. The Venetians counted upon the protection of Saint Mark to go to paradise and they took no other care of their salvation. That was Saint Mark's affair; they had built him a fine church for that, and the Saint was still under obligations to them.

The moment selected by Paris Bordone is that when the gondolier falls on his knees before the Doge. The composition of the scene is very picturesque; you see in perspective a long row of the brown or grey heads of senators of the most magisterial character. Curious spectators are on the steps, forming happily-contrasted groups: the beautiful Venetian costume is displayed here in all its splendour. Here, as in all the canvases of this school, an important place is given to architecture. The background is occupied by fine porticos in the style of Palladio, animated with people coming and going. This picture possesses the merit, sufficiently rare in the Italian school, which is almost exclusively occupied with the reproduction of religious or mythological subjects, of representing a popular legend, a scene of manners, in a word, a romantic subject such as Delacroix or Louis Boulanger might have chosen and treated according to his own special talent; and this gives it a character of its own and an individual charm.

Voyage en Italie (Paris, new ed., 1884).




In Leonardo's treatise on painting only one contemporary is mentioned by name—Sandro Botticelli. This pre-eminence may be due to chance only, but to some will rather appear a result of deliberate judgment; for people have begun to find out the charm of Botticelli's work, and his name, little known in the last century, is quietly becoming important. In the middle of the Fifteenth Century he had already anticipated much of that meditative subtlety which is sometimes supposed peculiar to the great imaginative workmen of its close. Leaving the simple religion which had occupied the followers of Giotto for a century, and the simple naturalism which had grown out of it, a thing of birds and flowers only, he sought inspiration in what to him were works of the modern world, the writings of Dante and Boccaccio, and in new readings of his own of classical stories; or if he painted religious subjects, painted them with an undercurrent of original sentiment which touches you as the real matter of the picture through the veil of its ostensible subject. What is the peculiar sensation, what is the peculiar quality of pleasure which his work has the property of exciting in us, and which we cannot get elsewhere? For this, especially when he has to speak of a comparatively unknown artist, is always the chief question which a critic has to answer.

In an age when the lives of artists were full of adventure, his life is almost colourless. Criticism indeed has cleared away much of the gossip which Vasari accumulated, has touched the legend of Lippo and Lucrezia, and rehabilitated the character of Andrea del Castagno; but in Botticelli's case there is no legend to dissipate. He did not even go by his true name: Sandro is a nickname, and his true name is Filipepi, Botticelli being only the name of the goldsmith who first taught him art. Only two things happened to him, two things which he shared with other artists—he was invited to Rome to paint in the Sistine Chapel, and he fell in later life under the influence of Savonarola, passing apparently almost out of men's sight in a sort of religious melancholy which lasted till his death in 1515, according to the received date. Vasari says that he plunged into the study of Dante, and even wrote a comment on the Divine Comedy. But it seems strange that he should have lived on inactive so long; and one almost wishes that some document might come to light which, fixing the date of his death earlier, might relieve one, in thinking of him, of his dejected old age.

He is before all things a poetical painter, blending the charm of story and sentiment, the medium of the art of poetry, with the charm of line and colour, the medium of abstract painting. So he becomes the illustrator of Dante. In a few rare examples of the edition of 1481, the blank spaces left at the beginning of every canto for the hand of the illuminator have been filled as far as the nineteenth canto of the Inferno, with impressions of engraved plates, seemingly by way of experiment, for in the copy in the Bodleian Library, one of the three impressions it contains has been printed upside down and much awry in the midst of the luxurious printed page. Giotto, and the followers of Giotto, with their almost childish religious aim, had not learned to put that weight of meaning into outward things, light, colour, every-day gesture, which the poetry of the Divine Comedy involves, and before the Fifteenth Century Dante could hardly have found an illustrator. Botticelli's illustrations are crowded with incident, blending with a naive carelessness of pictorial propriety three phases of the same scene into one plate. The grotesques, so often a stumbling-block to painters who forget that the words of a poet, which only feebly present an image to the mind, must be lowered in key when translated into form, make one regret that he has not rather chosen for illustration the more subdued imagery of the Purgatorio. Yet in the scene of those who go down quick into hell there is an invention about the fire taking hold on the up-turned soles of the feet, which proves that the design is no mere translation of Dante's words, but a true painter's vision; while the scene of the Centaurs wins one at once, for, forgetful of the actual circumstances of their appearance, Botticelli has gone off with delight on the thought of the Centaurs themselves, bright small creatures of the woodland, with arch baby faces and mignon forms, drawing tiny bows.

Botticelli lived in a generation of naturalists, and he might have been a mere naturalist among them. There are traces enough in his work of that alert sense of outward things which, in the pictures of that period, fills the lawns with delicate living creatures, and the hill-sides with pools of water, and the pools of water with flowering reeds. But this was not enough for him; he is a visionary painter, and in his visionariness he resembles Dante. Giotto, the tried companion of Dante, Masaccio, Ghirlandaio even, do but transcribe with more or less refining the outward image; they are dramatic, not visionary painters; they are almost impassive spectators of the action before them. But the genius of which Botticelli is the type usurps the data before it as the exponents of ideas, moods, visions of its own; with this interest it plays fast and loose with those data, rejecting some and isolating others, and always combining them anew. To him, as to Dante, the scene, the colour, the outward image or gesture, comes with all its incisive and importunate reality; but awakes in him, moreover, by some subtle structure of his own, a mood which it awakes in no one else, of which it is the double or repetition, and which it clothes, that all may share it, with sensuous circumstances.

But he is far enough from accepting the conventional orthodoxy of Dante which, referring all human action to the easy formula of purgatory, heaven, and hell, leaves an insoluble element of prose in the depths of Dante's poetry. One picture of his, with the portrait of the donor, Matteo Palmieri, below, had the credit or discredit of attracting some shadow of ecclesiastical censure. This Matteo Palmieri—two dim figures move under that name in contemporary history—was the reputed author of a poem, still unedited, La Citta Divina, which represented the human race as an incarnation of those angels who, in the revolt of Lucifer, were neither for God nor for his enemies, a fantasy of that earlier Alexandrian philosophy, about which the Florentine intellect in that century was so curious. Botticelli's picture may have been only one of those familiar compositions in which religious reverie has recorded its impressions of the various forms of beatified existence—Glorias, as they were called, like that in which Giotto painted the portrait of Dante; but somehow it was suspected of embodying in a picture the wayward dream of Palmieri, and the chapel where it hung was closed. Artists so entire as Botticelli are usually careless about philosophical theories, even when the philosopher is a Florentine of the Fifteenth Century, and his work a poem in terza rima. But Botticelli, who wrote a commentary on Dante and became the disciple of Savonarola, may well have let such theories come and go across him. True or false, the story interprets much of the peculiar sentiment with which he infuses his profane and sacred persons, comely, and in a certain sense like angels, but with a sense of displacement or loss about them—the wistfulness of exiles conscious of a passion and energy greater than any known issue of them explains, which runs through all his varied work with a sentiment of ineffable melancholy.

So just what Dante scorns as unworthy alike of heaven and hell, Botticelli accepts, that middle world in which men take no side in great conflicts, and decide no great causes, and make great refusals. He thus sets for himself the limits within which art, undisturbed by any moral ambition, does its most sincere and surest work. His interest is neither in the untempered goodness of Angelico's saints, nor the untempered evil of Orcagna's Inferno; but with men and women in their mixed and uncertain condition, always attractive, clothed sometimes by passion with a character of loveliness and energy, but saddened perpetually by the shadow upon them of the great things from which they shrink. His morality is all sympathy; and it is this sympathy, conveying into his work somewhat more than is usual of the true complexion of humanity, which makes him, visionary as he is, so forcible a realist.

It is this which gives to his Madonnas their unique expression and charm. He has worked out in them a distinct and peculiar type, definite enough in his own mind, for he has painted it over and over again, sometimes one might think almost mechanically, as a pastime during that dark period when his thoughts were so heavy upon him. Hardly any collection of note is without one of these circular pictures, into which the attendant angels depress their heads so naively. Perhaps you have sometimes wondered why those peevish-looking Madonnas, conformed to no acknowledged or obvious type of beauty, attract you more and more, and often come back to you when the Sistine Madonna and the virgins of Fra Angelico are forgotten. At first, contrasting them with those, you may have thought that there was even something in them mean or abject, for the abstract lines of the face have little nobleness and the colour is wan. For with Botticelli she too, though she holds in her hands the "Desire of all nations," is one of those who are neither for God nor for his enemies; and her choice is on her face. The white light on it is cast up hard and cheerless from below, as when snow lies upon the ground, and the children look up with surprise at the strange whiteness of the ceiling. Her trouble is in the very caress of the mysterious child, whose gaze is always far from her, and who has already that sweet look of devotion which men have never been able altogether to love, and which still makes the born saint an object almost of suspicion to his earthly brethren. Once, indeed, he guides her hand to transcribe in a book the words of her exaltation, the Ave and the Magnificat, and the Gaude Maria, and the young angels, glad to rouse her for a moment from her dejection, are eager to hold the inkhorn and support the book; but the pen almost drops from her hand, and the high cold words have no meaning for her, and her true children are those others, in the midst of whom, in her rude home, the intolerable honour came to her, with that look of wistful inquiry on their irregular faces which you see in startled animals—gipsy children, such as those who, in Apennine villages, still hold out their long brown arms to beg of you, but on Sundays become enfants du choeur with their thick black hair nicely combed and fair white linen on their sunburnt throats.

What is strangest is that he carries this sentiment into classical subjects, its most complete expression being a picture in the Uffizi, of Venus rising from the sea, in which the grotesque emblems of the middle age, and a landscape full of its peculiar feeling, and even its strange draperies powdered all over in the Gothic manner with a quaint conceit of daisies, frame a figure that reminds you of the faultless nude studies of Ingres. At first, perhaps, you are attracted only by a quaintness of design, which seems to recall all at once whatever you have read of Florence in the Fifteenth Century; afterwards you may think that this quaintness must be incongruous with the subject, and that the colour is cadaverous, or at least cold. And yet the more you come to understand what imaginative colouring really is, that all colour is no mere delightful quality of natural things, but a spirit upon them by which they become expressive to the spirit, the better you will like this peculiar quality of colour; and you will find that quaint design of Botticelli's a more direct inlet into the Greek temper than the works of the Greeks themselves even of the finest period. Of the Greeks as they really were, of their difference from ourselves, of the aspects of their outward life, we know far more than Botticelli, or his most learned contemporaries; but for us, long familiarity has taken off the edge of the lesson, and we are hardly conscious of what we owe to the Hellenic spirit. But in pictures like this of Botticelli's you have a record of the first impression made by it on minds turned back towards it in almost painful aspiration from a world in which it had been ignored so long; and in the passion, the energy, the industry of realization, with which Botticelli carries out his intention, is the exact measure of the legitimate influence over the human mind of the imaginative system of which this is the central myth. The light is, indeed, cold—mere sunless dawn; but a later painter would have cloyed you with sunshine; and you can see the better for that quietness in the morning air each long promontory as it slopes down to the water's edge. Men go forth to their labours until the evening; but she is awake before them, and you might think that the sorrow in her face was at the thought of the whole long day of love yet to come. An emblematical figure of the wind blows hard across the grey water, moving forward the dainty-lipped shell on which she sails, the sea "showing his teeth" as it moves in thin lines of foam, and sucking in one by one the falling roses, each severe in outline, plucked off short at the stalk, but embrowned a little, as Botticelli's flowers always are. Botticelli meant all that imagery to be altogether pleasurable; and it was partly an incompleteness of resources, inseparable from the art of that time, that subdued and chilled it; but his predilection for minor tones counts also; and what is unmistakable is the sadness with which he has conceived the goddess of pleasure as the depository of a great power over the lives of men.

I have said that the peculiar character of Botticelli is the result of a blending in him of a sympathy for humanity in its uncertain condition, its attractiveness, its investiture at rarer moments in a character of loveliness and energy, with his consciousness of the shadow upon it of the great things from which it shrinks, and that this conveys into his work somewhat more than painting usually attains of the true complexion of humanity. He paints the story of the goddess of pleasure in other episodes besides that of her birth from the sea, but never without some shadow of death in the grey flesh and wan flowers. He paints Madonnas, but they shrink from the pressure of the divine child, and plead in unmistakable undertones for a warmer, lower humanity. The same figure—tradition connects it with Simonetta, the mistress of Giuliano de' Medici—appears again as Judith returning home across the hill country when the great deed is over, and the moment of revulsion come, and the olive branch in her hand is becoming a burthen; as Justice, sitting on a throne, but with a fixed look of self-hatred which makes the sword in her hand seem that of a suicide; and again as Veritas in the allegorical picture of Calumnia, where one may note in passing the suggestiveness of an accident which identifies the image of Truth with the person of Venus. We might trace the same sentiment through his engravings; but his share in them is doubtful, and the object of this fragment has been attained if I have defined aright the temper in which he worked.

But, after all, it may be asked, is a painter like Botticelli, a second-rate painter, a proper subject for general criticism? There are a few great painters, like Michael Angelo or Leonardo, whose work has become a force in general culture, partly for this very reason that they have absorbed into themselves all such workmen as Sandro Botticelli; and, over and above mere technical or antiquarian criticism, general criticism may be very well employed in that sort of interpretation which adjusts the position of these men to general culture, whereas smaller men can be the proper subjects only of technical or antiquarian treatment. But, besides those great men, there is a certain number of artists who have a distinct faculty of their own by which they convey to us a peculiar quality of pleasure which we cannot get elsewhere, and these, too, have their place in general culture, and have to be interpreted to it by those who have felt their charm strongly, and are often the objects of a special diligence and a consideration wholly affectionate, just because there is not about them the stress of a great name and authority. Of this select number Botticelli is one; he has the freshness, the uncertain and diffident promise which belongs to the earlier Renaissance itself, and makes it perhaps the most interesting period in the history of the mind; in studying his work one begins to understand to how great a place in human culture the art of Italy had been called.

Studies in the History of the Renaissance (London, 1873).




This picture is at Turin, and is of quite inestimable value. It is hung high; and the really principal figure—the Solomon, being in the shade, can hardly be seen, but is painted with Veronese's utmost tenderness, in the bloom of perfect youth, his hair golden, short, crisply curled. He is seated high on his lion throne; two elders on each side beneath him, the whole group forming a tower of solemn shade. I have alluded, elsewhere, to the principle on which all the best composers act, of supporting these lofty groups by some vigorous mass of foundation. This column of noble shade is curiously sustained. A falconer leans forward from the left-hand side, bearing on his wrist a snow-white falcon, its wings spread, and brilliantly relieved against the purple robe of one of the elders. It touches with its wings one of the golden lions of the throne, on which the light also flashes strongly; thus forming, together with it, the lion and eagle symbol, which is the type of Christ, throughout mediaeval work. In order to show the meaning of this symbol, and that Solomon is typically invested with the Christian royalty, one of the elders by a bold anachronism, holds a jewel in his hand in the shape of a cross, with which he (by accident of gesture) points to Solomon; his other hand is laid on an open book.

The group opposite, of which the Queen forms the centre, is also painted with Veronese's highest skill; but contains no point of interest bearing on our present subject, except its connection by a chain of descending emotion. The Queen is wholly oppressed and subdued; kneeling, and nearly fainting, she looks up to Solomon with tears in her eyes; he, startled by fear for her, stoops forward from the throne, opening his right hand, as if to support her, so as almost to drop the sceptre. At her side her first maid of honour is kneeling also, but does not care about Solomon; and is gathering up her dress that it may not be crushed; and looking back to encourage a negro girl, who, carrying two toy-birds, made of enamel and jewels, for presentation to the King, is frightened at seeing her Queen fainting, and does not know what she ought to do; while lastly, the Queen's dog, another of the little fringy paws, is wholly unabashed by Solomon's presence, or anybody else's; and stands with his forelegs well apart, right in front of his mistress, thinking everybody has lost their wits; and barking violently at one of the attendants, who has set down a golden vase disrespectfully near him.

Modern Painters (London, 1860).




While Michael Angelo worked upon his Moses, Clement VII., following the example of Julius II., would not leave him alone for a moment. It was a trick of all these Popes to exact from the poor artist something different to what he was doing at the time. To obtain some respite, he was forced to promise the Pope that he would occupy himself at the same time with the cartoon of The Last Judgment. But Clement VII. was not a man to be put off with words; he supervised the work in person, and Buonarroti was obliged to pass continually from the chisel to the pencil and from the pen to the mallet. The Last Judgment! Moses! these are two works of little importance and easy to do off-hand! And yet he had to. His Holiness would not listen to reason.

One day it was announced to Michael Angelo that he would not receive his accustomed visit: Clement VII. was dead. The artist breathed freely just during the Conclave.

The new Pope, Paul III., had nothing more pressing to do than to present himself in Buonarroti's studio, followed pompously by ten cardinals. The newly-elected Pope was easily recognized there!

"Ah!" said the Holy Father, in a tone of firm decision, "I hope that henceforth the whole of your time will belong to me, Maestro Buonarroti."

"May your Holiness deign to excuse me," replied Michael Angelo, "but I have just signed an engagement with the Duke of Urbino, which forces me to finish the tomb of Pope Julius."

"What!" exclaimed Paul III.: "for thirty years I have had a certain wish and now that I am Pope I cannot realize it!"

"But the contract, Holy Father, the contract!"

"Where is this contract? I will tear it up."

"Ah!" exclaimed in his turn the Cardinal of Mantua, who was one of the suite, "your Holiness should see the Moses which Maestro Michael Angelo has just finished: that statue alone would more than suffice to honour the memory of Julius."

"Cursed flatterer!" muttered Michael Angelo in a low voice.

"Come, come, I will take charge of this matter myself," said the Pope. "You shall only make three statues with your own hand: the rest shall be given to other sculptors, and I will answer for the Duke of Urbino's consent. And now, Maestro, to the Sistine Chapel. A great empty wall is waiting for you there."

What could Michael Angelo reply to such an emphatic wish expressed so distinctly? He finished in his best style his two statues of Active Life and Contemplative Life—Dante's symbolical Rachel and Leah—and not wishing to profit by this new arrangement to which he was forced to submit, he added fifteen hundred and twenty-four ducats to the four thousand he had received, to pay with his own gains for the works confided to the other artists.

Having thus terminated this unfortunate affair, which had caused him so much worry and fatigue, Michael Angelo was at last enabled to occupy himself exclusively with the execution of his Last Judgment, to which he devoted no less than eight to nine years.

This immense and unique picture, in which the human figure is represented in all possible attitudes, where every sentiment, every passion, every reflection of thought, and every aspiration of the soul are rendered with inimitable perfection, has never been equalled and never will be equalled in the domain of Art.

This time the genius of Michael Angelo simply attacked the infinite. The subject of this vast composition, the manner in which it is conceived and executed, the admirable variety and the learned disposition of the groups, the inconceivable boldness and firmness of the outlines, the contrast of light and shade, the difficulties, I might almost say the impossibilities vanquished, as if it were all mere play, and with a happiness that savours of prodigy, the unity of the whole and the perfection of the details, make The Last Judgment the most complete and the greatest picture in existence. It is broad and magnificent in effect, and yet each part of this prodigious painting gains infinitely when seen and studied quite near; and we do not know of any easel-picture worked upon with such patience and finished with such devotion.

The painter could only choose one scene, several isolated groups, in this appalling drama which will be enacted on the last day in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, where all the generations of man shall be gathered together. And yet, admire the omnipotence of genius! With nothing but a single episode in a restricted space, and solely by the expression of the human body, the artist has succeeded in striking you with astonishment and terror, and in making you really a spectator of the supreme catastrophe.

At the base of the picture, very nearly in the centre, you perceive the boat of the Inferno, a fantastic reminiscence borrowed from Pagan tradition, in accordance with which first the poet and then the painter were pleased to clothe an accursed being with the form and occupation of Charon.

"Charon with the eyes of burning embers gathering together with a gesture all these souls, and striking with his oar those who hesitate."[1]

It is impossible to form an idea of the incredible science displayed by Michael Angelo in the varied contortions of the damned, heaped one upon the other in the fatal bark. All the violent contractions, all the visible tortures, all the frightful shrinkings that suffering, despair, and rage can produce upon human muscles are rendered in this group with a realism that would make the most callous shudder. To the left of this bark you see the gaping mouth of a cavern; this is the entrance to Purgatory, where several demons are in despair because they have no more souls to torment.

This first group, which very naturally attracts the spectator's attention, is that of the dead whom the piercing sound of the eternal trumpet has awakened in their tombs. Some of them shake off their shrouds, others with great difficulty open their eyelids made heavy by their long sleep. Towards the angle of the picture there is a monk who is pointing out the Divine Judge with his left hand; this monk is the portrait of Michael Angelo.

The second group is formed of the resuscitated ones who ascend of themselves to the Judgment. These figures, many of which are sublime in expression, rise more or less lightly into space, according to the burden of their sins, of which they must render account.

The third group, also ascending to the right of Christ, is that of the Blessed. Among all these saints, some of whom show the instrument of their execution, others the marks of their martyrdom, there is one head especially remarkable for beauty and tenderness: it is that of a mother who is protecting her daughter, turning her eyes, filled with faith and hope, towards the Christ.

Above the host of saints, you see a fourth group of angelic spirits, some bearing the Cross, others the Crown of Thorns,—instruments and emblems of the Saviour's Passion.

The fifth group, parallel to the fourth which we have just pointed out, is composed of angels; such, at least, they seem to be by the splendour of their youth and the aerial lightness of their movements; and these also bear, as if in triumph, other emblems of the divine expiation—the column, the ladder, and the sponge.

Above these angels, on the same plane as the saints and to the left of Christ, is the choir of the just; the patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles, the martyrs, and the holy personages form this sixth group.

The seventh is the most horrible of all and the one in which the art of Michael Angelo has displayed itself in all its terrific grandeur: it is composed of the rejected ones, overwhelmed by the decree and led away to punishment by the rebel angels. The very coldest spectator could not remain unmoved by this spectacle. You believe yourself in hell; you hear the cries of anguish and the gnashing of the teeth of the wretched, who, according to the terrible Dantesque expression, vainly desire a second death.

The eighth, ninth, and tenth groups, occupying the base of the composition, are composed, as we have already said, of the bark of Charon, the grotto of Purgatory, and the Angels of Judgment, eight in number, blowing their brazen trumpets with all their might to convoke the dead from the four quarters of the earth.

Finally, in the eleventh group, in the centre, very near the upper part of the picture, between the two companies of the blessed, and seated upon the clouds, the sovereign Judge with a terrible action hurls his malediction upon the condemned: "Ite maledicti in ignem aeternum." The Virgin turns away her head and trembles. On Christ's right is Adam, and on his left, St. Peter. They have exactly the same positions assigned to them by Dante in his Paradiso.

This immense work was exhibited to the public on Christmas Day, 1541. It had cost eight years of work. Michael Angelo was then sixty-seven years old.

Several anecdotes relating to this great picture have come down to us.

It is related that the Pope, scandalized at the nudity of certain figures, a nudity which Daniele da Volterra was afterwards charged to clothe, sent word to Michael Angelo that he must cover them.

Michael Angelo replied with his usual brusqueness:

"Tell the Pope that he must employ himself a little less in correcting my pictures, which is very easy, and employ himself a little more in reforming men, which is very difficult."

It is said that Maestro Biaggio, master of ceremonies to Paul III., having accompanied the Pope on a visit that His Holiness made to see Michael Angelo's fresco when it was about half finished, allowed himself to express his own opinion upon The Last Judgment.

"Holy Father," said the good Messer Biaggio, "if I dare pronounce my judgment, this picture seems more appropriate to figure in a tavern than in the chapel of a Pope."

Unfortunately for the master of ceremonies, Michael Angelo was behind him and did not lose a word of Messer Biaggio's compliment. The Pope had scarcely gone before the irritated artist, wishing to make an example as a warning for all future critics, placed this Messer Biaggio in his hell, well and duly, under the scarcely flattering guise of Minos. That was always Dante's way when he wanted to avenge himself upon an enemy.

I leave you to imagine the lamentations and complaints of the poor master of ceremonies when he saw himself damned in this manner. He threw himself at the Pope's feet, declaring that he would never arise unless His Holiness would have him taken out of hell: that was the most important thing. As for the punishment, that the painter deserved for this dreadful sacrilege, Messer Biaggio would leave that entirely to the high impartiality of the Holy Father.

"Messer Biaggio," replied Paul III. with as much seriousness as he could maintain, "you know that I have received from God an absolute power in heaven and upon the earth, but I can do nothing in hell; therefore you must remain there."

While Michael Angelo was working at his picture of The Last Judgment, he fell from the scaffold and seriously injured his leg. Soured by pain and seized with an attack of misanthropy, the painter shut himself up in his house and would not see any one.

But he reckoned without his physician; and the physician this time was as stubborn as the invalid.

This excellent disciple of AEsculapius was named Baccio Rontini. Having learned by chance of the accident that had befallen the great artist, he presented himself before his house and knocked in vain at the door.

No response.

He shouted, he flew into a passion, and he called the neighbours and the servants in a loud voice.

Complete silence.

He goes to find a ladder, places it against the front of the house, and tries to enter by the casements. The windows are hermetically sealed and the shutters are fast.

What is to be done? Any one else in the physician's place would have given up; but Rontini was not the man to be discouraged for so little. With much difficulty he enters the cellar and with no less trouble he goes up into Buonarroti's room, and, partly by acquiescence and partly by force, he triumphantly tends his friend's leg.

It was quite time: exasperated by his sufferings, the artist had resolved to let himself die.

Trois Maitres (Paris, 1861).


[1] Dante, Inferno III.




Correggio was a painter and a poet at the same time, interpreting Nature, flattering her, idealizing her, and realizing her creations in their double aesthetic expression, with undulating outlines and tender tones. His drawing was modelled and supple, with a certain vigour of line and a certain solidity of relief. He had a charming imagination of conception and a voluptuous grace in its accomplishment, which are requisites in the painting of women and children. He therefore excelled in rendering bambini. With a note-book in his hand, he studied them everywhere. This explains why his Loves and his Cherubs have such rare truth of mien, of flesh, and of life. His knowledge of anatomy is great and he foreshortens on canvas and ceiling astonishingly before the advent of Michael Angelo. His enchanting colouring, impasted like that of Giorgione, vivid as that of Titian, ran through the most delicate gradations and melted into the most elusive harmonies. Beneath his facile brush, soft and thick, the transparencies of the skin and the morbidezza of the flesh become ideal.

He was the first to apply himself to the choice of fabrics, and one of the first in Italy to attend to the scientific distribution of light. But, in the famous chiaroscuro he does not get his effects by contrasts, but by analogies, superimposing shadow upon shadow and light upon light, both being disposed in large masses and graduated in progression. This process occurs at its fullest in the Christmas Night, where the moon shines, and the child glows with radiance, in a kind of symbolic struggle between the natural light of this world and the supernatural light of the other. The effect is such that the spectator is forced instinctively to blink his eyes, as does the Shepherdess herself entering the stable.

"When Correggio excels he is a painter worthy of Athens," wrote Diderot, whose art criticism had in it more of sentiment than knowledge.

"With Correggio everything is large and graceful," said Louis Carrache, who gave Correggio a large place in his eclecticism. But after studying and weighing everything, from his somewhat excessive qualities it follows that Correggio was more of an idealist than a mystic and obeyed Art more than Faith, with a leaning towards the apotheosis of form. He painted Io and Jupiter for Frederick Gonzaga of Mantua. This picture having passed to the son of the Regent, the two passionate heads so strongly troubled his prudery that he cut them out and burned them. Coypel then begged the Prince to spare the rest and to give it to him. He obtained it on condition that "he would make good use of it," and on the death of Coypel, M. Pasquier, depute du Commerce de Rouen, paid 16,500 livres for the mutilated remains, as I find in a very old account.

All the great museums of the world possess Correggios, and I will only mention the exquisite Saint Catherine and the resplendent Antiope of the Louvre; the Danae of the Borghese Gallery, a chef-d'oeuvre of grace and delicacy; and, finally, in the Dresden Gallery, our Magdalen in the Desert, that jewel so well-known and so often reproduced.

This Magdalen as a matter of fact holds the first place among the small Correggios. There are two kinds of Magdalens in art: I. the Repentant, emaciated, growing ugly, disfigured by tears and penitence at the end of her life, with a skull in her hand or before her eyes, not having had even—like the one sculptured in the Cathedral of Rouen—"for three times ten winters any other vesture than her long hair," according to Petrarch's verse; II. the Sinner, always young, always beautiful, always seductive, who has not lost any of her charms nor even of her coquetry, and with whom the Book of Life takes the place of the Death's Head.

Our Magdalen belongs to the latter class. In a solitary spot, but attractive with its verdure and rocks, on a grassy knoll the saint is stretched out at full length, with her shoulder, her bosom, her arms, and her feet adorably bare. A blue fabric drapes the rest of her body and forms a coquettish hood for her head and neck. Her flesh has a robust elegance of line. Leaning on her right elbow, her hand, half hidden in her hair, supports a charming and meditative head, while her other arm is slipped under an open manuscript. Her hair, long and blonde, according to legend—which she loves and still cares for because it once wiped the feet of her Saviour—falls in thick curls, or strays at will with a premeditated abandon. On the ground, to her right, stands the vase of perfumes of her first adoration; to the left are the stones of her supreme expiation.

What grace in her attitude! What beauty of form! She is thrown in with a rare happiness and painted with an exquisite delicacy of touch and tint. The blue drapery upon the green landscape defines her sufficiently without making her stand out too much, leaving the figure and the landscape to mingle without disturbing each other in skilful harmony. All of this is in most finished execution, a little elaborate, perhaps, and the expression of the face reflects the sweet, sad memory of the Beloved, whose Gospels she is reading, just as one reads again tender letters of the past.

This work was executed for the Dukes of Este, who kept it in a silver frame studded with precious stones and used it as an ornament for their bedrooms, and when they travelled, they took it with them in a casket. When the King of Poland became its possessor, he gave it a second boxing of glass with lock and key. In 1788, this masterpiece having been stolen, 1,000 ducats were promised for its discovery, and, in consideration of that sum, the thief denounced himself. Cristofano Allori, the greatest Florentine painter of the Decadence, made a superb copy for the Offices, I believe.

This Magdalen of Correggio's, "the least converted of sinners and the most adorable of penitents," is she really, historically and liturgically the Magdalen of the House of Bethany, of the grotto de la Sainte-Baume in Provence? No. She recalls rather "cette dame de marque" who was evoked in the Seventeenth Century by the Carmelite Father Pierre de Saint-Louis in his sublime poem of accomplished burlesque; and does not the following verse hum in your ear:

"Levres dont l'incarnat faisant voir a la fois Un rosier sans epine, un chapelet sans croix,"

while the sinner

" ... s'occupe a punir le forfait De son temps preterit qui ne fut qu'imparfait"?

This evidently is not at all the art of the Middle Ages, nor its saints, whose vestment was sackcloth and whose body was a mere lay figure for a soul devoted entirely to purity, to simplicity, to mysticism, and to the other world. In the Sixteenth Century, however, people took the sackcloth from the saints and dressed them in flesh. Then was produced a kind of revival of paganism, of naturalism, of life; and religious art, in its flesh and colouring, no longer created anything but an Olympus of beautiful maidens, or, at least, noble goddesses. Correggio's Magdalen belongs to this artistic cycle and the painter executed it in the noonday splendour of those qualities, the dawn of which glows in Parma at St. Paul's. Correggio is not a mystic, he is a voluptuous naturalist, and from him to the realist Caravaggio, "the grinder of flesh," and the exuberant Rubens, who gave much study to Correggio, the distance is not very great and the decline is fatal. But, in the meantime, where shall we find more grace, or seductiveness—under this conversion complicated with memories—than in Correggio's Magdalen?

In hagiographal literature we find a work of similar tone and charm: Marie Madeleine, by P. Lacordaire, an exquisite little book written with tenderness and piety, which deliciously calls up before us the Magdalen of repentance and love, "the loving woman accustomed to the delights of contemplation and needing only to see in her heart him whom in other days she saw under the transparent veil of mortal flesh."

It must be confessed that Correggio was constantly preoccupied with charm and with that skilful coquetry that sports with every grace. This is a subtlety of purely personal qualities; but let others beware of a systematic affectation! In this way Correggio did not found a school, but he had imitators, among whom was Parmigiano, who by dint of study and in search for grace—the most natural thing in the world—most often fell into affected and conventional ways.

Jouin, Chefs-d'oeuvre: Peinture, Sculpture, Architecture (Paris, 1895-7).




The Night-Watch at Amsterdam is magnificent in parts, but on the side to the spectator's right, smoky and dim. The Five Masters of the Drapers is wonderful for depth, strength, brightness, massive power. What words are these to express a picture! to describe a description! I once saw a moon riding in the sky serenely, attended by her sparkling maids of honour, and a little lady said, with an air of great satisfaction, "I must sketch it." Ah, my dear lady, if with an H.B., a Bristol board, and a bit of india-rubber, you can sketch the firmament on high, and the moon in her glory, I make you my compliment! I can't sketch The Five Drapers with any ink or pen at present at command—but can look with all my eyes, and be thankful to have seen such a masterpiece.

They say he was a moody, ill-conditioned man, the old tenant of the mill. What does he think of the "Van der Helst" which hangs opposite his Night-Watch, and which is one of the great pictures of the world? It is not painted by so great a man as Rembrandt; but there it is—to see it is an event of your life. Having beheld it you have lived in the year 1648, and celebrated the Treaty of Muenster. You have shaken the hands of the Dutch Guardsmen, eaten from their platters, drunk their Rhenish, heard their jokes, as they wagged their jolly beards. The Amsterdam Catalogue discourses thus about it:—a model catalogue: it gives you the prices paid, the signatures of the painters, a succinct description of the work.

"This masterpiece represents a banquet of the Civic Guard, which took place on the 18th of June, 1648, in the great hall of the St. Joris Doele, on the Singel at Amsterdam, to celebrate the conclusion of the Peace at Muenster. The thirty-five figures composing the picture are all portraits.

"'The Captain Witse' is placed at the head of the table, and attracts our attention first. He is dressed in black velvet, his breast covered with a cuirass, on his head a broad-brimmed black hat with white plumes. He is comfortably seated on a chair of black oak, with a velvet cushion, and holds in his left hand, supported on his knee, a magnificent drinking-horn, surrounded by a St. George destroying the dragon, and ornamented with olive-leaves. The captain's features express cordiality and good-humour; he is grasping the hand of 'Lieutenant Van Wavern' seated near him in a habit of dark grey, with lace and buttons of gold, lace-collar and wrist-bands, his feet crossed, with boots of yellow leather, with large tops, and gold spurs, on his head a black hat and dark-brown plumes. Behind him, at the centre of the picture, is the standard-bearer, 'Jacob Banning,' in an easy martial attitude, hat in hand, his right hand on his chair, his right leg on his left knee. He holds the flag of blue silk, in which the Virgin is embroidered" (such a silk! such a flag! such a piece of painting!), "emblematic of the town of Amsterdam. The banner covers his shoulder, and he looks towards the spectator frankly and complacently.

"The man behind him is probably one of the sergeants. His head is bare. He wears a cuirass, and yellow gloves, grey stockings, and boots with large tops, and knee-caps of cloth. He has a napkin on his knees, and in his hand a piece of ham, a slice of bread and a knife. The old man behind is probably 'William the Drummer.' He has his hat in his right hand, and in his left a gold-footed wineglass, filled with white wine. He wears a red scarf, and a black satin doublet, with little slashes of yellow silk. Behind the drummer, two matchlock-men are seated at the end of the table. One in a large black habit, a napkin on his knee, a hausse-col of iron, and a linen scarf and collar. He is eating with his knife. The other holds a long glass of white wine. Four musketeers, with different shaped hats, are behind these, one holding a glass, the three others with their guns on their shoulders. Other guests are placed between the personage who is giving the toast and the standard-bearer. One with his hat off, and his hand uplifted, is talking to another. The second is carving a fowl. A third holds a silver plate; and another, in the background, a silver flagon, from which he fills a cup. The corner behind the captain is filled by two seated personages, one of whom is peeling an orange. Two others are standing, armed with halberts, of whom one holds a plumed hat. Behind him are other three individuals, one of them holding a pewter pot on which the name 'Poock,' the landlord of the 'Hotel Doele,' is engraved. At the back, a maid-servant is coming in with a pasty, crowned with a turkey. Most of the guests are listening to the captain. From an open window in the distance, the facades of two houses are seen, surmounted by stone figures of sheep."

There, now you know all about it: now you can go home and paint just such another. If you do, do pray remember to paint the hands of the figures as they are here depicted; they are as wonderful portraits as the faces. None of your slim Van Dyck elegancies, which have done duty at the cuffs of so many doublets; but each man with a hand for himself, as with a face for himself. I blushed for the coarseness of one of the chiefs in this great company, that fellow behind "William the Drummer," splendidly attired, sitting full in the face of the public; and holding a pork-bone in his hand. Suppose the Saturday Review critic were to come suddenly on this picture? Ah! what a shock it would give that noble nature! Why is that knuckle of pork not painted out? at any rate, why is not a little fringe of lace painted round it? or a cut pink paper? or couldn't a smelling-bottle be painted in instead, with a crest and a gold top, or a cambric pocket-handkerchief in lieu of the horrid pig, with a pink coronet in the corner? or suppose you covered the man's hand (which is very coarse and strong), and gave him the decency of a kid glove? But a piece of pork in a naked hand? O nerves and eau de Cologne, hide it, hide it!

In spite of this lamentable coarseness, my noble sergeant, give me thy hand as nature made it! A great, and famous, and noble handiwork I have seen here. Not the greatest picture in the world—not a work of the highest genius—but a performance so great, various, and admirable, so shrewd of humour, so wise of observation, so honest and complete of expression, that to have seen it has been a delight, and to remember it will be a pleasure for days to come. Well done, Bartholomeus Van der Helst! Brave, meritorious, victorious, happy Bartholomew, to whom it has been given to produce a masterpiece!

... Was it a dream? It seems like one. Have we been to Holland? Have we heard the chimes at midnight at Antwerp? Were we really away for a week, or have I been sitting up in the room dozing, before this stale old desk? Here's the desk; yes. But if it has been a dream, how could I have learned to hum that tune out of Dinorah? Ah, is it that tune, or myself that I am humming? If it was a dream how comes this yellow NOTICE DES TABLEAUX DU MUSEE D'AMSTERDAM AVEC FASCIMILE DES MONOGRAMMES before me, and this signature of the gallant

Bartholomeus van der Helst fecit A; 1648.

Yes, indeed, it was a delightful little holiday; it lasted a whole week.

Roundabout Papers (London, 1863).




Watteau is the great poet of the Eighteenth Century. A creation, a whole creation of poetry and dreams, emanated from his brain and filled his work with the elegance of a supernatural life. From the fantasies of his brain, from the caprice of his art, from his perfectly original genius, not one but a thousand fairies took their flight. From the enchanted visions of his imagination, the painter has drawn an ideal world, and, superior to his own time, he has created one of those Shakespearian realms, one of those countries of love and light, one of those paradises of gallantry that Polyphile built upon the cloud of dreams for the delicate joy of poetic mortals.

Watteau revived grace. Grace with Watteau is not the antique grace—a rigid and solid charm, the perfection of the marble of a Galatea, the entirely plastic and the material glory of a Venus. Grace with Watteau is grace. It is that nothing that invests a woman with an attraction, a coquetry, a more than physical beauty. It is that subtile quality which seems the smile of a line, the soul of form, the spiritual physiognomy of matter.

All the fascinations of a woman in repose: languor, idleness, abandon, leaning back, reclining at full length, nonchalance, the cadences of pose, the pretty air of profiles bending over the scales of love (gammes d'amour), the receding curves of the bosom, the serpentine lines and undulations, the suppleness of the female body, the play of slender fingers on the handle of a fan and the indiscretions of high heels beyond the skirts, and the happy fortune of deportment, and the coquetry of actions, and the management of the shoulders, and all that knowledge that was taught to women by the mirrors of the last century,—the mimicry of grace!—lives in Watteau with its blossom and its accent, immortal and fixed in a more vital proof than the bosom of the wife of Diomedes moulded by the ashes of Pompeii. And if this grace is animated by Watteau, if he looses it from repose and immobility, if he renders it active and moving, it seems that it works with a rhythm and that its measured pace is a dance led by some harmony.

How decorative is the form of woman, and her grace! O nature, wherein the painter's poetic fancies wander! O landscape! O stage fit for a desirable life! a helpful land, gallant woods, meadows full of music, groves propitious to the sports of Echo! cradling trees hung with baskets of flowers! desert places far from the jealous world, touched by the magic brush of a Servandoni, refreshed with fountains, peopled with marbles and statues, and Naiads, that spot the trembling shadow of the leaves! jets of water suddenly springing up in the midst of farm-yards! an amiable and radiant countryside! Suns of apotheosis, beautiful lights sleeping on the lawns, penetrating and translucent verdure without one shadow where the palette of Veronese, the riot of purple, and of blonde tresses may find sleep. Rural delights! murmurous and gorgeous decorations! gardens thick with brier and rose! French landscapes planted with Italian pines! villages gay with weddings and carriages, ceremonies, toilettes, and fetes stunned with the noise of violins and flutes leading the bridal of Nature and the Opera to a Jesuit fane! Rustic scene on the green curtain, on the flowery slope up which the Comedie Francaise climbs and the Comedie Italienne gambols.

Quick! to array the spring in ball costume, Watteau's heavens and earth, quick. Gelosi! A bergomask laugh shall be the laughter, animation, and action, and movement of the piece. Look where Folly, capped and belled, runs and wakes gaiety, zephyrs, and noise! Ruffs and caps, belts and daggers, little vests and short mantles, go and come. The band of buffoons comes running, bringing beneath the shady boughs the carnival of human passions and its rainbow-hued garb. Variegated family, clothed with sunlight and brilliant silk! that masks with the night! that patches and paints with the moon! Harlequin, as graceful as a product of the pencil of Parmesan! Pierrot, with his arms at his side, as straight as an I, and the Tartaglias, and the Scapins, and the Cassandras, and the Doctors, and the favourite Mezzetin "the big brown man with the laughing face" always in the foreground with his cap on the back of his head—striped all over like a zebra, proud as a god, and drunk as a Silenus! It is the Comedie Italienne that plays the guitar in all these landscapes....

Here is the new Olympus and the new mythology; the Olympus of all the demi-gods forgotten by antiquity. Here is the deification of the ideas of the Eighteenth Century, the soul of Watteau's world and time led to the Pantheon of human passions and fashions. These are the new humours of aging humanity—Languor, Gallantry, and Reverie, which Watteau incarnates as clothed allegories, and which he rests upon the pulvinar of a divine nature; these are the moral muses of our age out of which he has created the women, or, we might say, the goddesses of these divine pictures.

Love is the light of this world, it penetrates and fills it. It is the youth and serenity of it; and amidst rivers and mountains, promenades and gardens, lakes and fountains, the Paradise of Watteau unfolds; it is Cythera. Under a sky painted with the colours of summer, the galley of Cleopatra swings at the bank. The waves are stilled. The woods are hushed. From the grass to the firmament, beating the motionless air with their butterfly wings, a host of Cupids fly, fly, play and dance, here tying careless couples with roses, and tying above a circlet of kisses that has risen from earth to the sky. Here is the temple, here is the end of this world: the painter's L'Amour paisible, Love disarmed, seated in the shadows, which the poet of Theos wished to engrave upon a sweet cup of spring; a smiling Arcadia; a Decameron of sentiment; a tender meditation; attentions with vague glances; words that lull the soul; a platonic gallantry, a leisure occupied by the heart, an idleness of youthful company; a court of amorous thoughts; the emotional and playful courtesy of the young newly married leaning upon the offered arm; eyes without fever, desire without appetite, voluptuousness without desire, audacious gestures regulated like the ballet for a spectacle, and tranquil defences disdainful of haste through their security; the romance of the body and the mind, soothed, pacified, resuscitated, happy; an idleness of passion at which the stone satyrs lurking in the green coulisses laugh with their goat-laughter. Adieu to the bacchanales led by Gillot, that last pagan of the Renaissance, born of the libations of the Pleiad to the rustic gods of Arcueil! Adieu to the Olympus of the Io Paean, the hoarse pipe and the goat-footed Gods, the laughter of the Cyclops of Euripides and the Evohe of Ronsard, the licentious triumphs, the ivy-crowned Joys;

"Et la libre cadence De leur danse."

These gods have gone, and Rubens, who lives again in that palette of light and rosy flesh, wanders bewildered in these fetes, where the riot of the senses is stilled,—animated caprices which seem to await the crack of a whip to dissolve and disappear in the realm of fancy like a mid-summer night's dream! It is Cythera; but it is Watteau's. It is love, but it is a poetic love, a love that dreams and thinks; modern love, with its aspirations and its crown of melancholy.

Yes, at the heart of this work of Watteau's, I do not know what slow and vague harmony murmurs behind those laughing words; I do not know what musical and sweetly contagious sorrow is diffused throughout these gallant fetes. Like the fascination of Venice, I do not know what veiled and sighing poetry in low tones holds here the charmed spirit. The man has passed across his work; and this work you come to regard as the play and distraction of a suffering thought, like the playthings of a sick child who is now dead....

But let us speak of that masterpiece of French masterpieces, that canvas which has held a distinguished place on one of the walls of the salon carre for fifty years, L'Embarquement de Cythere.

Observe all that ground lightly coated with a transparent and golden varnish, all that ground covered with rapid strokes of the brush lightly laid on with a delicate touch. Notice that green of the trees shot through with red tones, penetrated with quivering air, and the vaporous light of autumn. Notice the delicate water-colour effect of thick oil, the general smoothness of the canvas, the relief of this pouch or hood; notice the full modelling of the little faces with their glances in the confused outlines of the eye and their smiles in the suggested outlines of the mouth. The beautiful and flowing sweep of the brush over those decolletages, the bare flesh glowing with voluptuous rose among the shadows of the wood! The pretty crossings of the brush to round a neck! The beautiful undulating folds with soft breaks like those which the modeller makes in the clay! And the spirit and the gallantry of touch of Watteau's brush in the feminine trifles and headdresses and finger-tips,—and everything it approaches! And the harmony of those sunlit distances, those mountains of rosy snow, those waters of verdurous reflections; and again those rays of sunlight falling upon robes of rose and yellow, mauve petticoats, blue mantles, shot-coloured vests, and little white dogs with fiery spots. For no painter has equalled Watteau in rendering beautifully coloured objects transfigured by a ray of sunlight, their soft fading and that kind of diffused blossoming of their brilliancy under the full light. Let your eyes rest for a moment on that band of pilgrims of both sexes hurrying, beneath the setting sun, towards the galley of Love that is about to set sail: there is the joyousness of the most adorable colours in the world surprised in a ray of the sun, and all that haze and tender silk in the radiant shower involuntarily remind you of those brilliant insects that we find dead, but with still living colours, in the golden glow of a piece of amber.

This picture, the Embarquement de Cythere, is the wonder of wonders of this master.

L'Art du Dix-huitieme Siecle (3d ed., Paris, 1880).




Raphael seemed to have attained perfection in the Virgin with the Fish; however, four or five years later, he was to rise infinitely higher and display something superior to art and inaccessible to science.

It was in 1518 that the Benedictines of the monastery of St. Sixtus ordered this picture. They had required that the Virgin and the Infant Jesus should be in the company of St. Sixtus and St. Barbara. This is how Raphael entered into their views.

Deep shadows were veiling from us the majesty of the skies. Suddenly light succeeds the obscurity, and the Infant Jesus and Mary appear surrounded by a brightness so intense that the eyes can scarcely bear it. Between two green curtains drawn to either side of the picture, amid an aureole of innumerable cherubin, the Virgin is seen standing upon the clouds, with her son in her arms, showing him to the world as its Redeemer and Sovereign Judge. Lower down, St. Sixtus and St. Barbara are kneeling on the clouds on either side. Nothing is visible of the earth, but it is divined by the gestures and glances of the two saints, who are pointing to the multitude for whom they are imploring the divine mercy. Two angels are leaning on a kind of balustrade whose horizontal line forms a solid plane at the base of the composition. Nothing could be more elementary than the idea of such a picture; the ancient symmetry and the most rigid parallelism are scrupulously observed. Raphael becomes almost archaic, and, while returning to the simplicity of primitive traditions, by the force of genius he confounds the scientific exaggeration that is already so close to decadence. Doubtless he had raised his eyes high every time he had taken antiquity as a model, but he raised them much higher still by becoming exclusively Christian again, and by comprehending that the humblest way is not only the surest, but also the most sublime. Why is such simple means so highly successful in exalting our feelings? Why is it, when looking at this picture, we have moments of divine oblivion in which we fancy ourselves in Heaven? That is what we must try to penetrate and comprehend.

The principal figure of the picture is the Infant Jesus. He is no longer the graceful Bambino that we have so often seen in the arms of Raphael's Madonnas, gentle and encouraging to the eyes of mankind, or again he who, erewhile, in the Virgin with the Fish, leaned towards the young Tobit; it is the God himself, it is the God of Justice and of the Last Day. In the most humble state of our flesh, beneath the veil of infancy, we see the terrifying splendour of infinite majesty in this picture. The divine Infant leaves between himself and us a place for fear, and in his presence we experience something of the fear of God that Adam felt and that he transmitted to his race. For attaining such heights of impression the means employed by Raphael are of an incomprehensible simplicity. The Infant Jesus nestles familiarly in his mother's arms. Sitting on a fold of the white veil that the Virgin supports with her left hand, he leans against the Madonna's right arm; his legs are crossed one above the other; the whole of the left arm follows the bend of the body and the left hand rests upon the right leg; at the same time, the right shoulder being raised by Mary's hand, the right arm is bent at the elbow and the hand grasps the Virgin's veil. This attitude, so natural, so true, so unstudied, expresses grandeur and sovereignty. Nothing can be more elementary nor more powerful. The light rests calmly upon every part of this beautiful body and all its members in such fine repose. Humanity was never seen under such radiance. The Son of God, in transporting to Heaven the terrestrial form of his infancy, has made it divine for all eternity. Raphael doubtless owed to antiquity something of the power that enabled him spontaneously to create such a masterpiece; but in this case he has far surpassed his models, and we should search vainly in antique art for a more ideal and grand figure than that of this marvellous infant. However, hitherto we have only examined the body, what shall we say about the head to give a true idea of it? In fact, that is perhaps the most extraordinary and most indescribable part of the whole picture. The Infant Jesus seems to recoil from the spectacle of human shame; he lovingly presses against the Virgin's breast, softly rests his forehead against his Mother's cheek, and darts towards the world one of those flaming and terrible glances at which, it is said, everything in heaven, on earth, and in hell trembles. His disordered hair stands upright and quivers as in the breath of the tempest, and sombre clouds pass across the widely modelled forehead; the brows are frowning, the pupils dilate and the flame is ready to dart forth; the eyes, profound and terrible, are preparing to flash with lightning; they still withhold it, but we feel that it may break forth, and we tremble. This glance is truly splendid; it fascinates you, attracts you, and, at the same time, fills you with terror. The lips are quivering, and, from the point of view of line, that is the great mystery, I think; the upper lip, visibly lifted on the left side, assumes a strange accent of anger and indignation. This deviation of a single feature is materially a small matter, and yet it suffices to stamp the whole countenance with irresistible action. The Infant Jesus assumes a formidable aspect; we recognize in him the Sovereign Judge; his power is infinite and one act of his will be sufficient to condemn or absolve. The Virgin of the Chair had given us a presentiment of this image in 1516; the Virgin of St. Sixtus shows it to us in 1518, in its eternal grandeur and sublime reality. But the Word of God would scarcely leave room for anything but fear, if the Virgin did not immediately come to shed hope in the soul terrified at the idea of justice.

In fact, the Virgin remains calm and serene beside her enraged son, and reassures our heart also with her confidence. If she presents the Son of God to the world under a terrifying aspect, at the same time she presses him so tenderly against her breast, and her features, under the splendour of the divine radiance, shine with such purity that we feel the flame that purifies all passing within ourselves. The Virgin appears here like the dawning light. She advances from right to left, beautiful as the skies, light as the cloud that bears her. Her gait, or rather her flight through the air, is stamped with royal nobleness and dignity. Her right hand, raised as high as the shoulder, holds the body of Jesus under his right arm, and the Saviour lies back against his Mother's right arm, while Mary's left arm is placed under the Infant's body to support and carry him. The Virgin of St. Sixtus, like every Madonna, wears a red robe and a white mantle; and Art has never done greater things with drapery with such simple elements. The mantle falls with a beautiful movement over the lower part of the body and floats in wide folds, which, while sharply defining the form and movement of the lower limbs, reveals the bare feet which are of admirable form and colour. The robe, ornamented only with a little gold embroidery on the sleeve, is of a purple tint in the shadows and becomes rose in the light; it is girdled below the breast like the antique statues, and reveals the neck as well as the top of the shoulders, which are surrounded by a veil of white gauze. A long scarf of the same colour as the veil but tinted with bistre, is placed on the crown of the head, and, distending like a sail above the left shoulder, returns to the left hand to serve as a support for the Infant, and runs along the body of Jesus, who grasps it with his right hand. The Virgin's head appears in full illumination without any artifice, and glows solely with its own beauty. It is three quarters left, indeed almost full face, in a similar position but in opposition to the Saviour's head, which, as we have seen, is three quarters right and almost full face also. The hair, a light chestnut, is arranged simply in smooth and flat bands lightly waved above the brow, leaving the ears, cheeks, and temples completely uncovered, and not interfering in any way with the outlines of the face. The forehead, of a medium height, presents a widely developed surface, in the centre of which glows a light that is continued down the bridge of the nose. The eyes, of irreproachable shape, are full of brilliance, and their gaze sheds over all it illumines an infinite softness mingled with an indefinable exaltation. The mouth trembles with divine emotion and seems to quiver with celestial bliss.

Another remarkable thing in this supreme manifestation of genius is that in the Virgin and the Infant, of such different, we might almost say such opposite expressions, the same features are noticeably repeated. Raphael has been faithful to the last to the system he adopted in almost his earliest pictures, and to make this intentional resemblance more noticeable here he has placed the two heads close together, and shown them almost full face, so that there shall be no distracting element; and has opposed them to each other by turning them in different ways so that they may complement each other and be reflected in one another as in a mirror. Therefore, as the same glory surrounds both Mother and Son at the same time, so the same character of beauty is found faithfully reproduced in each. The skulls of both have the same general conformation, the same intelligence shines upon the two brows, although the Saviour's is dark and menacing whilst the Virgin's remains radiant and clear; the eyes have also the same shape and are full of the same fire, though the glance of the one is terrible and of the other, reassuring; the mouth has the same lines, the same nobility, and the same quiver that has the power of alternately inspiring terror and tranquillity; and the cleft in the chin is identical. The colour also helps to make an almost perfect unity of these two figures—we have the same white and solid flesh tints, strong and delicate; the same warm and always luminous shadows. Indeed, Jesus is confounded with Mary, so to speak, so that the two forms together make one and the same body, and, moreover, the Saviour at need may get rid of his majestic nakedness beneath the veil and in the mantle of Mary.

This Virgin, in which Raphael has surpassed himself, was painted in a moment of veritable exaltation of genius. It was not laboriously conceived; it was born of itself, spontaneously complete, like the antique Minerva, with its perfect form and beauty, and it was the recompense for an entire life consecrated without intermission to the search after nature and truth, to the study of the masters and all the traditions, to the cult of the ideal and especially of the Virgin.

After having produced so many rare masterpieces, his love and faith were carried to such a pitch of power and enthusiasm that he seemed to be borne up by them, and, suddenly penetrating into a sphere superior to all he had hitherto visited, he painted a Virgin incomparably more beautiful than all the admirable Virgins he had painted before. Not a single design, nor preparatory study, puts us on the trace of any bringing forth of any of the parts of this picture.

However, if the image of this Virgin was traced on the canvas by a hand suddenly inspired, I think that at the same time Raphael confronted his inspiration with nature, and that, whilst resolutely springing towards the infinite, he yet set himself face to face with reality. Perhaps, strictly, he would have had no need of that; he had amassed so much, his memory placed such numerous, varied, and exact documents at the service of his will, that he had only to remember in order almost immediately to produce an accomplished whole. Moreover, he had the model he wanted, possessing without dominating it; and without losing sight of his ideal, it was to this model that he applied himself for the embodiment of his idea. Thus, in the Virgin of St. Sixtus, we recognize, not the image of La Fornarina, but the transfiguration of her image. None of her features are left and yet it is she, but so purified that no trouble nor shadow comes to dim the radiant and virginal brightness of the picture. In every human creature there is a divine germ that cannot flourish on earth and whose blossoming is only in the skies; this is the flowering, the splendour of which is shown in the Virgin of St. Sixtus. We care very little about Raphael's private life; we only affirm in the presence of his work that as a painter he did not love for this life only, and that from the beginning to the end of his career he had the respect and the taste for eternal love. Since the day when the Virgin appeared transfigured to the seer of the Apocalypse, she had never revealed herself in such effulgence. Before this picture, we lose every memory of earth and see nothing but the Queen of Heaven and of the angels, the creature elect and blessed above all creatures. In thus painting the Virgin, Raphael has almost reached the confines of divinity.

But everything in this picture is food for admiration, even the atmosphere that envelops it and those innumerable and endless legions of cherubin that gravitate around the Virgin and the Word of God. The aureole that encircles the divine group shows nothing at first but dazzling and golden light; then, as it recedes from the centre, this light gradually pales and insensibly merges from the most intense gold into the purest blue, and is filled with those heads, chaste, innocent, and fervent, that spring beneath the brush of Raphael like the flowers at the breath of Spring. These aerial creatures throng to contemplate the Virgin, and their forms recall those radiances in the shape of crowns that fill the Dantesque Paradise, making the name of Mary resound with their praises. Our eyes and mind lose themselves in the immense multitude of these happy spirits. "Number if you can the sands of the sea or the stars in the sky, those that are visible and invisible, and still believe that you have not attained the number of the angels. It costs God nothing to multiply the most excellent things, and it is the most beautiful of which he is most prodigal." We cannot keep our eyes away from that sky; we gaze at it and love to dazzle and weary our eyes with it.

On either side of the Virgin, kneel St. Sixtus and St. Barbara. Placed also amid the clouds, but below the Madonna, they are near the sovereign mediatrix, as mediators also between the world and the Sovereign Judge. St. Sixtus is seen on the right in profile, his head is raised towards the Infant Jesus, his left hand is placed devoutly on his breast while his right is foreshortened and points towards the spectator. He wears a white rochet tied by a girdle with golden tassels, a white amice around his neck, a magnificent pallium woven with gold falling to his feet, and a long chasuble embroidered with gold and lined with red enveloping his shoulders and arms, the wide folds of which are lost amid the clouds. His head is bare, and his white tiara, adorned with the triple crown, is placed on the balustrade that runs horizontally across the base of the picture. It is impossible to find a representation of pontifical sovereignty of greater fervour, grandeur, and truth. His cranium is bald and has only a crown of grey hair remaining. His emaciated face is full of ardour and power: his eyes penetrate straight into the splendour of God; and his mouth, although partially hidden by the grey beard that covers the lower part of his face, is praying with extraordinary fervour. His gesture, so resolute and respectful, is in itself an act of love and charity, and his very hands, so true in drawing and so bold in action, have their special eloquence. It seems impossible that the divine justice will not allow itself to be swayed by such intercession.

St. Barbara is opposite St. Sixtus. Her body is in left profile, towards the Virgin, while her head, turned over her left shoulder towards the spectator, appears almost in full face. Only her left arm and hand are visible, pressed against her breast. Her left knee, directly resting upon the cloud, sustains the weight of her body; her right leg, which is raised, only touches the clouds with the foot. Her head is as beautiful, youthful, and fresh as the action of her whole figure is easy, elegant, and noble. Then where did Raphael find this serenity if not in himself? The saint, gently bending towards the earth, seems to want to receive our hopes and vows to bear them to Heaven. She is one of those virgins who are created in the image of the Virgin par excellence. Nevertheless, here she affects certain worldly appearances which, beside the severe simplicity of the Mother of the Word, establish a hierarchy between the two figures and a sort of line of demarcation that cannot be crossed. The higher we soar the more is grandeur simplified in everything.

St. Barbara's hair is arranged with a certain elegance; it is very abundant, of an ash blonde, and forms thick waving bands that are gathered off the temples and are crossed by two white fillets, one of which crosses the top of the forehead like a diadem. Her eyes, lowered towards the earth, are perfectly beautiful; her mouth is calm and sweet; and purity shines in all her features. Her shoulders are bare, only covered with a veil of white gauze which falls down her back, passes under her arm and returns to her breast where her left hand holds it. Her robe of violet shading into a neutral tint, is only visible where it covers her leg; for a green mantle, thrown over it, envelops the body, only revealing the arm, the sleeve of which is blue on the upper arm, yellow, and slightly puffed at the shoulder, and yellow also on the forearm. All this is of a grand air and in exquisite taste. Thus draped, the figure has a charming effect which, without detracting from the religious idea, leaves room also for a more human sentiment.

Raphael, doubtless, had thought that the figures of the Virgin, the Infant Jesus, St. Sixtus, and St. Barbara would alone be sufficient for his picture; but the empty space remaining beneath the feet of the Madonna was too considerable to be filled up simply by clouds: and therefore he added that rigid and horizontal supporting bar on which two angels lean upon their elbows, contemplating the glory of the Virgin with such rapture. In fact, these angels seem to be painted as an afterthought, for, laid in with a light brush, they scarcely cover the clouds, but allow the underlying pigment to show through.

Little wings of vivid tint complete these aerial creatures, always living around Raphael and always ready to come from his brush. Although held to nature by the most intimate ties, although perhaps too familiar in attitude and manner, they are yet supernatural by the clearness of their intelligence and by the power of their admiration. We are enchanted with their candour and beauty. They are full of zeal and enthusiasm; they possess the grace of the Pagan Loves merged into Christian innocence and chastity. Their faith is as beautiful as the sky, and in loving them it is almost for God himself that we feel the love.

Such are the various parts of this work; their union forms the most sublime harmony, and each in particular brings a divine note to this celestial concert. By what process was this picture produced? We can scarcely say, so greatly does the inspiration predominate over the technique.

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