Denton Jaques Snider.

Music and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic online

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But what should be first grasped is the pur-
port of this struggle between what might
seem land and sea, hinted in the respective
emblems of the two deities, the olive sacred
to Athena and the salt-spring of Poseidon's
domain. In our opinion this is a phase of the


conflict already set forth in tlie Eastern Ped-
iment, the conflict between the old and the
new Gods. Athena is again the divine pro-
tagonist of the incoming order of intelli-
gence. She thns is the central fignre unify-
ing both works. The significance is that the
Athenian Goddess is henceforth to dominate
the sea throngh her skill, especially as to nav-
igation. Poseidon's realm is not in the fu-
ture to be an independent kingdom, full of
tempests and other dangers which man is to
shun ; mind is to conquer it and to employ it
as his implement ; so the Athenians did in the
time of Pericles, making its broad shoulders
the bearer of their victorious triremes. Al-
ready Themistocles had shown this spirit
when he persuaded his people to betake them-
selves to their 'Svooden walls," in which
Athena would be the victor; she had first to
conquer Poseidon before she could conquer
the Persian. The naval victory of Salamis
had occurred some fifty-two years before the
dedication of the Parthenon ; many a surviv-
ing veteran of that battle must have looked
at this sculptured drama of Athena 's triumph
over Poseidon — what did it mean to him?
And to the people whose dearest memory was
Salamis, which was followed by the suprem-
acy of the Athenian naval power? To that
popular oonsciousness the artist appealed


ill Ids work; the spectators saw in it their
city and its great deed, saw themselves in
their strongest aspiration. So we at pres-
ent must not behold a merely negative vic-
tory over Poseidon who after defeat runs
off and stays by himself in his sullen element,
while triumphant Athena clings to the land
or even to the Acropolis. Not at all; she
goes forth and becomes mistress of the sea,
and thereby causes her city Athens to be born
anew with a maritime empire, which of
course starts in the mastery over Poseidon.
And we have to project ourselves back into
that old consciousness and make it live, in
order to understand the Art of Phidias and
indeed any true Art.

This Western Pediment was almost entire
when Carrey s made his sketch (alluded to pre-
viously) in 1674. Since then it has suffered
greater havoc than the other Pediment. Of
this mass of chips and torsos and conjectures
no account can here be taken. The triangu-
lar form of the frame work again shows a
rise, culmination and decline or flight; this
last seems to represent Poseidon and his re-
tinue of marine deities aligned down into the
sea. Looking at Athena's side we behold the
prostrate figure usually called Cephissus or
Ilissus, two Attic streams between which
Athens with its Acropolis is situated. These

run nELLEXic rnnioD PHiDiAfi. ns

designations tliongii taken from tlie locality,
may be questioned on several grounds. The
so-called Cepliissus is the best known and
most striking figure in this Pediment. It lies
heavy, relaxed, yielding to gravity especially
in the lower body, while the upper is in a
struggle to rise, propping itself on its left
elbow, but unable as yet to overcome the
lethargy of its flesh. It is still half asleep,
but it is dumbly striving to get entirely
awake, when it will master the present down-
bearing weight of its corporeal part and
stand on its feet. Most prominent is the
dualism of its body : the lower half is sunken,
sodden, even one with the earth (so chiseled
by the sculptor) ; while the upper half is ris-
ing, striving we may think toward Athena.
It is a fight between flesh and spirit, between
nature and mind, between Poseidon and
Athena, represented here at the start in a
single body. Such a mighty up and down
cannot be the ripples of the rivulet Cepliis-
sus as the interpreters will have it. Who
is it then? I like to think it as the original
Athenian himself, the folk, the elemental De-
mos springing from the clod, rising from his
sleep and starting to be the people of Athe-
na, of intelligence. We need in this work of
art, if it be complete, the presence of that
wonderful earth-born Athenian Demos, the


protoplasmic substrate which underlies all
the greatness of Athens, out of which sprang
all her illustrious men, in such abundance
and eternal supremacy of genius. Here he
lies, the giant awakening to his future, the
Athenian Demos, we name him, the evolving
earth-man {de in old Greek means earth) who
is roused out of his sleep by the conflict of
the age.

Such is the general scope of these sculp-
tures as we conceive them, though many
questions have to remain unanswered. The
Metopes we shall have to pass over, and also
the very suggestive Panathenaic Procession,
in which we catch a glimpse of the Kinetic
Art of Athens turning plastic. It is evident
that the Athenian Festival in its varied
movements and representations was a highly
developed artistic manifestation, in which
many people took part. This Procession,
wrought in low relief, is known as the Frieze
of the Cella, and presents an ideal communal
act to the citizens who could view them-
selves participating in it as a sacred func-
tion to their divine Protectress Athena. So
it belongs to the Parthenon, as the home of
all the plastic Arts in its architectural en-


3. After Phidias.

We are now to consider the third great
sweep or stage of Sculpture during the Hel-
lenic Period. In one sense it is a time of
decline and dissolution; in another sense it
is an advance of the Greek mind to a com-
pleter manifestation — the fruitage following
the marvelous Phidian bloom. We find too
that the total Period rounds itself out in this
third stage which on a numl)er of points goes
back and connects with its first stage ; its last
great artist, Lysippus, returns distinctly to
the Dorism of the pre-Phidian time, espe-
cially as shown in Polycletus.

First we must look to the institutional sub-
strate of the folk, from which all Art worthy
of the name springs and which it represents.
Phidias stood for an era which brought
about the world-historical separation of Eu-
rope from Asia; more especially for Athens
and for all Hellas it vindicated their peculiar
form of the political institution, called the
Greek City-State. Hundreds of these City-
■ States, independent, autonomous, began to
show a wonderful energy and individuality;
two of them were leaders and opponents,
Athens and Sparta, Ionic and Doric. Now
the artist of this communal flowering was
peculiarly Phidias, and its center was Atli-


ens. In otlier words Pliidias represented
and embodied the new spirit of autonomous
Hellas in its triumphant conflict with the Ori-
ent. Thus his work stands for the Greek
communal consciousness in the time of its
unity and supremacy, yea at the moment of
its world-historical grandeur.

But jealousy, friction, disintegration set
in among these self-asserting City-States
which could be held by no political authority
outside of themselves. The result was the
furious upheaval and inner disruption called
the Peloponnesian War, in which Athens
was sapped of its best blood and fell exhaust-
ed at last beneath the Spartan. Then Spar-
ta in her turn became the despotic City-State
of Greece, much worse than Athens, and was
after a generation of tyranny overthrown by
Thebes, who assumed the leadership and
showed herself as tvrannical and as insuffi-
cient as the other two.

In general this epoch of dissolution shows
the Greek City-State in conflict with itself
till it drops into a condition of complete deca-
dence and debility through its own self-un-
doing. And this is the time of post-Phidian
Art which we are now to consider. The in-
stitutional world of Greece was going to
pieces, the old order was destroying itself
through its own internal corrosion, till the


strong hand, that of Philip of Macedon,
reached in from the outside and put an end
to the self-negative process of the Greek po-
litical world of fighting City-States. All of
which, we repeat, will be the deep underly-
ing content shining through the Art of the

The City-State of Hellas triumpJiani
against the Orient, is the institutional life
which brings forth a Phidias; the City-State
in its self-conflict and final self-undoing is the
frame work of the post-Phidian world, till
it is brought to a close by Macedon and the
Hellenistic Period starts. The Hellenic Pe-
riod as here set forth, is co-terminous with
the life of the autonomous City-State of
Greece, winding up with its tragedy on the
stage of the World's History.

And now of this Greek tragedy or rather
of this tragedy of Greece herself, is there
any master artist like Phidias? No such pro-
nounced genius of his age can be pointed out
in Sculpture; really it was a time which was
rending the Greek world, tearing down the
Greek Pantheon and its faith; how could
there arise a supreme God-maker like Phi-
dias from such a consciousness? Still the
deities will be sculptured, temples will be
erected, and the ritual will be gone through ;


yet even the Gods of the age will show their

And yet a masterpiece has come down to
lis which mirrors the time with a very impres-
sive, deeply sympathetic power. It is the
group of Niobe and her children drooping
around her in death, smitten by an nnseen
supernal hand. Let the purport of the work
be spoken out at the start : Niobe is Hellas,
and her children are the sons and daughters
of the land under the doom of the Gods. Such
is the conviction from which this Art w^ells
up in all its tragic intensity; we feel that
these shapes are chiseled by the folk-soul
itself giving utterance to what lies deepest
in its consciousness, and working through
the genius of the artist who always com-
munes immediately with the spirit of his
age. It was not known even in Roman an-
tiquity who was the artist of the Niobe
group; Pliny states that there was a doubt
in his day whether it be the work of Scopas
or Praxiteles. In modern times this doubt
has widened out in all directions, till it is
sometimes affirmed to be no Greek produc-
tion at all. And so here as elsewhere the
archfeological controversy rages with a vast
outlay of erudition and conjecture — all of
which must be here dismissed. The Niobe
group, then, is the most characteristic work


of the post-Pliidian Sculpture of the Hellenic
Period — which Sculpture lies in general be-
tween the end of the Peloponnesian War
(404 B. C.) and the battle of Chaeroneia
(338 B. C). Let the sculptor bear what name
he may, one fact is certain. Hellas, tragic
and conscious of. her tragedy, conceived and
wrought out this masterpiece in which she
beheld herself and her destiny — and that is
what we are to behold also.

As usual in Greek art and poetry, the
sculptor has seized upon a Mythus to reflect
the character of the age and to utter what
was evidently throbbing in his own heart
with a mighty intensity. The soul of the
artist who formed the Niobe group felt in
himself the fate of his country, and chose the
best mythic material for his work. The story
had been told by Homer, and the people had
wrought it over with many a variation upon
the tragic theme. Particularly during the
fourth century B. C, the Greek folk had spe-
cial reason to repeat the sad tale of Niobe as
their own. She was the daughter of Tanta-
lus and belonged to the Tantalids, a family
famous in legend for its divine violations,
which filled Greek literature with its trage-
dies. She was queen of Thebes, that fateful
Thebes which seemed the home of ancient
sacrilege, and she was admitted to the Olym-


plan friendship of Leto, wife of Zeus. Then
came the nngrateful act of blasphemy: she,
the mother of twelve blooming sons and
daughters, boasted her superiority over Leto,
who had borne only two, though they were
the deities, Apollo and Artemis. These she
forbade the Thebans to worship, and com-
manded them to worship her in their place.
Down fell the blow from above : all her chil-
dren were strewn dying around her palace
floor, in divine judgment, and she was
changed bv the Gods into stone and trans-
ferred to Mount Sipylos in Asia Minor,
where the mountainous image of a weeping
woman with a rivulet running down her face
was seen by the ancient traveler (this image
is now referred to the art of the old Ilittites).
At any rate Niobe was changed into stone
by the artist and her hapless figure is looked
at all over the world in numberless copies.

The mother clasping the one smaller child
while the rest are drooping near her in vari-
ous grades and attitudes of death still starts
a shiver of horror in the spectator. But to
the Greek of that God-doomed time the work
must have whispered his very destiny. Ni-
obe, however, shows no convulsions like the
Laocoon; overwhelming is her sorrow, still
she is mistress of it; her upturned face rec-
ognized the divine doom, but she will -not


yield ; no prayer to the upper Powers, no re-
pentance, hardly resignation, rather she
shows sorrow's defiance of sorrow. The old
l)ri(le which caused her primal insolence to-
ward the Gods may be still seen in that look
haughtily untamed, yet furrowed with stony
grief in spite of itself. Heroic she is, yea di-
vine even in her resistance to divinity. She
is superhuman in her suffering, no mortal
could endure it, only the God in her dares so
divinely hold out against supernal judgment.
At this point we may observe where the
ai'tist of Niobe connects 'with Phidias, the
God-maker. The Olympian ideal the present
sculptor could also call down into human
shape, making it the bearer of something be-
yond the human, forming it not merely as
this particular person, but infusing into it
the universal spirit of the age. At the same
time we are to note that the Gods, wdio are
not here present in their own shape, have
turned the destroyers of their own favored
mortals, who are Niobe and her offspring,
that is, the divinely endowed Greek people,
still defiant and remaining defiant in trans-
gression till they be turned into something
stone-like, being deprived of their free, self-
active autonomy by an outside power. xVt
any rate one may well feel lurking in Niobe 's


overlianging doom a divine prophecy of Mac-
edon if not of Rome.

AVlien this group of statues was made, who
made it, where it was set up in Greece, how
it was set up, and many other similar historic
questions, cannot be answered. A brief no-
tice by Pliny speaks of it as adorning a tem-
ple of Apollo in Rome, whither some con-
queror had brought it in triumph from its
home in Hellas. AVe can conceive that the
Romans took pleasure in looking at the work
as a representation of the divine punishment
of Greek pride, of which punishment the
Romans had been the instrument, after the
Macedonian domination. We like to imagine
the work to have originated in the years after
the battle of Mantinea (362 B. C.) at which
Epaminondas was slain and the Theban
headship went to pieces, leaving all Greece
helplessly drifting till Philip of Macedon
smote it at the battle of Chaeroneia (338 B.
C). That was practically the end of Niobe
and her children in their autonomous City-
State. Still the tragic tendency had been
long at work, ever since the beginning of the
Peloponnesian War; we can read it not only
in the Athenian poets but even in the calm
passionless narrative of Thucydides; to
see it, however, in all its pathos, we need but
look at Niobe and her children.


Siicli was the institutional character of the
epoch, and such its envisagement in its own
national Art. Another phase of the time
should be noted : the defiance of the Gods set
free the individual from his traditional
bonds, from his old beliefs and wavs
of thinking, even from: the established law of
the State. It was a universal sweep toward
enfranchisement from the past and its so-
called fetters, the grand era of the liberated
individual, who turned back to himself as
the standard of all spiritual valuation. The
result was the whole objective world of law,
the social order and institutions became
shaky, being doubted and often denied, and
at least being summoned before the tribunal
of each man's subjective self for judgment.
A famous maxim of the crisis was : "Man is
the measure of all things," that is, Man, as
individual. This doctrine became the world-
view of the time's culture, and found its
chief expression in the class known as the
Sophists, who were the higher, teachers, the
traveling university of the age. Sophisti-
cism was not confined to a philosophic clique,
but tinged the whole Hellenic consciousness
and became a tendency rather than a formu-
lated set of principles. In fact it was hos-
tile to any such formulation, and hence ran
against the great organizers of Greek and of


all PliilosopliY, Socrates, Plato and Aris-
totle. The thinker of today will be at once
reminded of what is now commonly kiiown
as Pragmatism, which is the old Greek Soph-
isticism brought down to date, Americanized
as some say in a tone not altogether friendly.
But the pertinent point here is that the
Sculpture after Phidias embodies this new
stress upon the individual, becomes more
man-like and less God-like, deals more with
the subjective play of the human soul than
with the everlasting essence of deity. Al-
ready we noted in case of Niobe that the
avenging Gods Avere kept invisible, while the
mortal sufferers Avere set forth in varying
shades of their agon v. That mav be taken
as a kind of overture to the time's tendency
of the Art, which is already receding from
the lofty ideal of Phidias and moving toward
a more pronounced realism. Many were the
artists, and that wonderful snow-storm of
Gods in white marble from the heights of
Olympus did. not cease or diminish. Every
little town had its sculptor or at least its
practised stone cutter with skill enough to
hew out a God according to the transmitted
norm. But of great creative artists who best
caught and moulded into shape the spirit of
their age, three may be briefly characterized
— Scopas, Praxiteles, Lysippus.


Of these Scopas is to be placed first both
on account of tlie time of his birth and the na-
ture of his work. He still communes with
the ideal shapes of the Phidian God-world,
but he puts into his divine presences an in-
tensity of passion, a subjective glow of emo-
tion, which herald the new time. Scopas has
the best right to l)e named maker of the Ni-
obe group, though his claim cannot be docu-
mented. He was not an Athenian but a Pa-
rian, born during the Peloponnesian AVar.
We hear first about him as Ijuilder of a tem-
ple at Tegea (394 B. C), which must have
occupied him some years. Other works he
completed while in the Peloponnesus, when
not far from his fortieth year he betook him-
self to Athens, still the great center of the
Greek Art-world. This Athenian period,
lasting more than twenty years, was doul)t-
less the bloom of his life and work. Finally
he went to Asia Minor where he took part in
the erection and adornment of the tomb of
Mausolus, King of Caria, who died in 353 B.
G. This work, called the mausoleum and re-
puted one of the seven wonders of the world
in antiquity, has been in part re-discovered,
and some of its sculpture set up in the Brit-
ish Museum. The impression given by the
structure as a whole and ])y its decoration is
Oriental, non-Greek, though Greek Mythol-


ogy, Greek Architecture and the other Greek
arts, and seemingly the Greek Gods are all
invoked to glorify the mortal king and queen,
Mausolus and Artemisia, whose colossal por-
traits as statues crown the edifice. Very sug-
gestive is it as a prophecy of the Hellenistic
outreach to the East through Alexander and
aft.erwards. As to Scopas his part of the
work is difficult to identify, since other artists
were engaged with him. But in general we
probabh^ have the right to say of him that
the spiritual conflicts of his age are reflected
in his work more profoundly and more in-
tensely than in that of any other contempo-
rary sculptor.

Praxiteles follows next in order of time
and idea. He was born at Athens probably
about 390 B. C, and must have been some
twenty years younger than Scopas with whom
he is so closely bound up in fame and in the
evolution of his Art. Thus the best years of
his activit}^ must hover around the middle
of the fourth century B. C, whose character
was mirrored by his works in his own pecu-
liar way. Indeed he is the most famous art-
ist of his time, and his appeal to it, both in
its strength and weakness, must have been
very direct and intimate.

The general attitude of Praxiteles to the
deeper spiritual struggles of his period was


that of withdrawal, refusal, flight. The
tragic throes of his folk he did not share, as
far as we can judge of his favorite themes.
His most admired statue was that of the
Knidian or naked Aphrodite, descending
into the bath, endowed with all the sensuous
fascination of w^oman hut with a coyness
which heightened the charm. Divinely beau-
tiful w^as the appearance of the Goddess
whose worship was an intoxication of the
senses. Such was the chief Olympian reve-
lation of Praxiteles to his age, which evi-
dently was ready for it. Several other stat-
ues of Aphrodite are ascribed to him, doubt-
less variations on the same theme. Perhaps
next in fame was his presentment of Eros,
the God of Love, portrayed as the adolescent
from whose looks, acts and attitude youthful
passion is vigorously though unconsciously
sprouting. In line with the foregoing we
may place the two images of Phryne, his
model and his mistress. Such were the most
lauded works of Praxiteles in antiquity;
they all indicate the age's dedication to sen-
suous love, in whose oblivion men might
drown the woes of their country. Very dif-
ferent was the appeal of the Phidian Art
which took such strong hold of the grandfa-
thers. Praxiteles was the sculptor of Hedon-
ism, and one of his best interpreters might



have been Epicurus. Another class of this
artist's works is represented by the Faun (or
Satyr) so well known through the romance
of Hawthorne. Bacchus also was a favorite
deity for the imagination of Praxiteles. But
no Zeus, no Minerva do we hear of among his
productions, though his workshop at Athens
must have been overlooked by the Parthe-
non. Still he told of his time in all its ex-
quisite self-indulgence, and of its reaction
against former strenuousness. His Venus
was not the Venus Urania whose ideal form
once charmed the chisel of Phidias till she
came down out of Heaven — not even the
Venus Genetrix, for this woman of Prax-
iteles does not intend to be a mother, she has
other business.

In recent years the name of Praxiteles has
been spoken oftener throughout the civilized
world than tliat of any other Greek sculptor
on account of the discover}^ of his Statue of
Hermes with the Bacchus babv, which ^vas
unearthed by the German excavations at
Olympia. Pausanias mentions it as being
located on the spot where it w^as dug up. So
the statement is made that this is the onlv
well-verified original statue by one of the su-
preme ancient artists in modern possession;
moreover its surface is well preserved,
though some parts of the body are still miss-


ing. Much discussion has arisen over it;
even in its face, which is perfect, have been
read several very diverse meanings. To us
it is a pleased face whose look is toying with
some little antic of infant Bacchus ; no heart-
burdened troubles shadow this countenance,
this Hermes takes the world easy, having
just now a tiny amusement with the wee
wine-God, of whom he is certainly not the

Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderMusic and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic → online text (page 14 of 32)