Denton Jaques Snider.

Music and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic online

. (page 20 of 32)
Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderMusic and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic → online text (page 20 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ever. It passes from the one central person-


ality to the thousands, each of whom beeornos
a center of radiation for the same spirit, the
same faith, and tlie same Art; Evangelists,
Disciples, Apostles who partook immediately
of his living personal presence; Fathers,
Saints, Martyrs, through whom the primal
descent of the God-Man was transmitted to
the fnture, down to ns beholders ; finally the
founders of the Monastic Orders, men and
women, who separated from secular life to
preserve more purely the divine succession,
were surrounded, even when historical, with
a mythical halo of miracle, godliness, other-
worldliness. Undoubtedly in this field the
fountain of the Christian Mythus began to
run low, though it is not even yet dried up.
Painting has followed, losing its primal me-
diatorial function, having delivered the orig-
inal message which called it into being,
though it is still alive and active with its
lesser tidings.

The Christian Mythus, however, is not
simply a quiet ideal presentation of heaven-
liness, but it shows a desperate long-endur-
ing conflict on earth with earthliness, espe-
cially with existent earthlv authoritv. The
persecutions, martyrdoms, and the culmina-
ting example of them all, the Crucifixion,
mean the life-and-death struggle between the
dawning and the enthroned world of institu-


tiuiis, in fine between the old and the new
Gods. This signifies also the sunrise of a
new Art, and the sunset of an old Art. Into
Sculpture, the antique, this younger Painting
interjects the God-Man, the Mediator, and
therein cleaves in twain the whole statued
world of Olympus. But this supreme transi-
tion is not made without tragedy, yea thou-
sands of tragedies on both sides, rounding
up in the one colossal tragedy involving all
antiquity, which Zeus himself pre-figured in
his Olympian look of destiny.

To be noticed is the extraordinary number
of symbols, mostly conventional which the
Christian Mythus evolved and projected in-
to Painting. Objects of nature, instruments
of daily use, animals, domestic and wild,
such as the dog and the lion, and even the
hogs, are introduced, not so much in their
own right as to signify something else. The
whole visible world is emblemed into a mean-
ing beyond itself, being made the bearer of
the unseen. Christian symbolism brings the
message that even external Nature must turn
Christian, must repent of its mere natural-
ism, be baptized and join the Church uni-
versal, all of which is signalized in the sym-
bolic use of physical objects by Painting.
The mule of St. Anthony kneels, the dragon
is fondled by St. Sylvester, though it is



speared by St. George, serpents feed from a
basket at the side of St. Verdiana, though
elsewhere destroyers and destroyed. To be
sure, the negative side of Nature is intro-
duced often in bitter conflict with Spirit.
Then what an array of flowers and trees in
this painted Garden of Eden! Symbolism
will intimate the transfiguration of Nature
as well as of man, through the descent of
God into mortality. Not merely the human
body but all externality is to become radiant
of the divine order. Now it is this trans-
figured expression through color which
Painting is to evoke to our vision.

VI. It remains to give some account of
the new political order which was one of the
prime conditions of this budding Art. The
historic phenomenon known as the rise of
the Italian Republics is intimately ingrown
with the rise of Italian Painting; in fact both
are but manifestations of the- one moving-
spirit of the age. The free City-State again
appears as the begetter and nourisher of the
supreme artistic genius. The occurrence is
so similar to what we find in ancient Greece
that we are driven to probe for some inborn
relationship between the artistic and institu-
tional worlds which seem twinned in a less
obvious but deeper origin.

During the eleventh and twelfth cen-


tiiries of onr era in Italy, especially in
Tuscany and Lombardy, there sprang up a
multitude of independent communities, bub-
bling, as it were, out of the soil itself. Each
of them sought autonomy, the right to govern
itself according to its own law;moreover each
individual citizen claimed and to a greater or
less extent obtained a share in the govern-
ment of the whole commonwealth. With this
institutional activity came a corresponding
increase of commercial and industrial enter-
prise, so that each of these City-States (thus
we shall call them) sprang up a center of
fresh earth-born energy, a very bee-hive for
working and stinging. Naturally they be-
gan to sting one another in their furious com-
petition, repeating therein the record of the
Greek City-States. Within each one also
arose bitter strife between political parties —
democracy and artistocracy, rich and poor,
Guelf and Ghibeline. Finally came exhaus-
tion, the strong hand from the outside or in-
side seized authority, and the time of lib-
erty was at an end, while Art, though not ex-
piring, likewise drooped in sympathy with
its institution.

The question comes up, what is the under-
lying source of this notable historic up-
heaval? In the first place the power was
broken which had held down these Citv-


States for centuries. Ancient Rome had
subdued them to her sway in the earlier
stride of her conquests. They were origin-
ally products of the primal Italic conscious-
ness, existent before the birth of Rome. In
Etruria, in Latium, in the Valley of the Po
groups of City-States glimmer through the
dawn of History. But now, the time being
ripe and the suppression being removed, that
old civic spirit bursts up into fresh life, and
reproduces its innate community, to be sure
wdth changed environment. Such was the
native elemental upheaval which sent forth
this phenomenon. Then is to be added a
second cause : the new culture which went
back to the study of classical antiquity, espe-
cially of Greece, which was also in its bloom
a land of City-States whose cry was auton-
omv, communal freedom. Thus the educated
class also felt the throb of this revived insti-
tutional world. So we may put the two fac-
tors : Italic protoplasm of the folk, and Hel-
lenic culture, each in its own way, pushed for
the restored liberty of the community. And
the third ingredient, the Christian, tended
in the same direction, even if the Church
later became hostile. For every locality had
its own legends and saints and festivals, and
thereM'ith its own Art. The Christian
Mythus had indeed become universal and had


swallowed up all other mytliical utterance of
the xjeople; still each community in its free-
dom had moulded this plastic material ac-
cording to its need of expression. Herein
again Greek Mythology with its many local
tales and worships rises into view for com-

At this point we are to grasp the rise of
Italian Art. Each of these City-States had
its own painters and often its own school of
Painting which of course employed the Chris-
tian Mythus after a style peculiar to such
school. The result Avas an epoch prolific of
pictures in every town of Italy which had to
have its ow^n mediation with Heaven through
its special Art. It felt too the mighty descent
of the Spirit into the community, and must
behold the same manifested to its own eyes.
Hence arose the importance of the painter
who was a revealer of what Avas highest to
the people, who had at that time actually to
see the divine message.

Such was that unique pliasis of the World's
History commonly labeled as the Italian Re-
publics (see Sismondi's famous account of
them under this title), which drcAV primarily
from the deepest depths of the old Italic folk-
soul, from the ethnic communal protoplasm
of ancient pre-Roman Italy. Freedom be-
came the watchword, freedom of civic self-


development, which could now take place, be-
ing liberated from the grip of old centraliz-
ing Rome through the latter 's inner deca-
dence as well as through the outer blow given
it by the Northern invaders. Here should be
added that the two absolutists of that age,
the Pope and the Emperor, in their struggle
for power against each other, protected and
even nursed the liberty of these communes
wdiose aid each of them sought to win.
This had its dark side by fomenting a furious
partizanship in every City-State, which had
its Guelfs (papal) and its Ghibelins (impe-
rial). A seething political energy poured
forth from every little volcanic town, which,
seeking its own autonomy, was ever ready to
overwhelm its neighbor of the same ilk. The
result could only be calamity and final ces-
sation; but that which concerns us now is
that along with this communal autonomy rose
an equally strong intellectual autonomy in
each commune, which had or tended to have
its own culture in Art, Literature, Science.
But^ especially Painting became communal,
the most communal of all Arts, reflecting the
spirit of the community not only in its real
deeds, but also in forms of the Mythus, Chris-
tian and Heathen, As already indicated, the
Mythus itself w^as communalized, being
moulded by the artist to shapes in which the
given City-State beheld itself.


Still there was some centralization in this
decentralized world of Republics. Which of
them brought to l^loom the highest culture,
the noblest genius, the greatest works of the
spirit? Herein Florence takes the prize.
We have already noted how Tuscany bursts
out into a young galaxy of City-States, which
seem to tap afresh the old Etruscan substrate
of its people for centuries suppressed. Some
of these new communities kept the same
names and clung to the same hill tops on
which they were perched in ancient Etruria,
such as Perugia and Volaterra. Florence,
however, is essentially a new birth of the
time, despite the attempt of its poet to trick
it out with an old Roman pedigree. Florence
has the credit of having evolved modern
Sculpture and Painting to their highest stage
of excellence. She produced the supreme ex-
pression of the Christian Mythus both in
Poetry and the Fine Arts. She was the
mother of the two greatest geniuses of Ital-
ian birth, Dante and Michel Angelo, the one
of whom lived at the rise of Italy's artistic
supereminence, the other saw and felt, and is
accused of starting, its decadence. The Flor-
entine triumphal arch of greatness may be
conceived to spring up with the life of Dante
(before 1300) and to overspan the interven-
ing two centuries and more, till it rounds


itself out with the days of Michel Angelo,
who indeed quit his city (so did Dante), and
finished his career in papal Rome.

VII. The free communities of Italy had,
then, the feeling of a mighty descent from
above them in those centuries. They were
more or less conscious of making a new era
in the vast onward movement of the World's
History, which had taken them as its su-
preme supporters at one of its nodes. The
people had to have some expression of this
all-dominating fact of their personal lives
as well as of their institutional world. Natur-
ally they employed first their inborn popular
utterance, the Mythus, which, as already in-
dicated, had turned Christian; the old hea-
then fables had become converted to Chris-
tianity along with the folk-soul whose voice
they were. The mighty downburst into their
time and place seemed to them miraculous.
They figured it as the descent of the uni-
versal God Himself into the temporal and
spatial Man, who thus was represented as
the God-Man, and who had to appear imme-
diately to their vision as an actual presence.
For was not that presence the pervasive fact
of their existence! Is it not still today felt
in what they did and said? We call it now
the Renaissance or new Birth — of what I
Evidently of the Spirit universal, which came


down into Space and Time and manifested
itself just then in those strangely agitated
Italian Republics — agitated of conrse by
such an overwhelming Presence. This was
their deepest truth, even if they called it, in
their mythical vernacular, the appearance of
God's son among them, whose very visage
they had to witness permanently in Painting.
We may name it in our prosaic nomencla-
ture some thing else — the spirit of the Age,
the sweep of Civilization, the World-Spirit.
But such abstract conceptions, natural to ns,
cannot produce Art, certainly not Painting,
as a communication from above down to the
people who gaze in adoration at its Heaven-
descending shapes. This Art had then a pro-
foundly mediatorial function, uniting the
folk-sonl in its dumb longing with the spirit
of the time which it felt, but for which it had
no adequate expression except in the pic-
tured form.

Hence we say that Italian Painting for
some three centuries was not merely local or
national, but world-historical — the npbearer
and revealer of the Wo rid- Spirit at that
time. So we study it now as an integral part
of ourselves, of our total culture, of our ra-
cial development. We wish to pluck it at
its topmost flowering, which undoubtedly
took place at Florence, the heart of this


many-membered prolific garden of the Ital-
ian Arts. Painting, we may repeat, centers
upon the Mediator as its creative personal-
ity, and brings his visible revelation to the
people, who would exclaim at the view: ''Be-
hold! there he appears! That is ourselves,
our city, our age ! The divine epiphany of
the supernal world to us here below!"

So we may note again that Painting in this
period mediates the Mediator to the outer
vision, interpreting the New Testament with
its pictured commentary of ever-renewed
tints. The people would not and mostly could
not read any other. We shall find hereafter
both Raphael and Michel Angelo, the su-
preme artists, re-writing the Bible in col-
ored forms, individualizing afresh its char-
acters into seen shapes many-lmed, and re-
suming therein by a final mighty deed the to-
tal course and content of their Art — which
deed was truly the height of fulfilment of
Painting. In this period Art jierformed a
priestly function, and often took the sacer-
dotal appearance, especially in the earlier
artists, such as Fra Angelico. Hence, Art
was often called the handmaid of the Church,
and it was; but with its growth it developed
into making the Church its handmaid rather;
the servant rose to be mistress at least of her-
self, if not largely of the household. Thus,


too, she attained her ultimate beauty, tap-
ping in her own right the eternal sources and
making them flow down into her shapes di-

In order to grasp the conception of the
Mediator we may compare him with the
Great Man of History, who also mediates the
total sweep of Civilization with his own
ticular time and country. Thus, he, too, is
the conduit of the Spirit above to the world
below. In this sense every transcendent his-
toric hero, from Julius Caesar to Abraham
Lincoln, may be said to integrate God with
Man, to be a bearer of the divine order in his
human shape. That is, he, too, is a medi-
ator in his special epoch and land, a medi-
ator between the World-Spirit and the Folk-
Soul. Now Christ also is an historic char-
acter who appeared "in the fullness of
time." Certainly a Great Man he is, if we
consider simply the mightiness of his deed ;
but he is something more, he is representa-
tive of them all, is their very essence or prin-
ciple; not merely one Great Man, but the
type of all Great Men who have ever lived
or will live. We can call him the universal
Great Man, of whom all others are individual
examples, each of whom manifests in his spe-
cial way some form the divine descent of
Godhood into its mortal counterpart, of the


universal Self into its liiiman holder and
realizer. Such a universal content lies in
this supreme outburst of Italian Painting,
and makes it of universal interest; that is
what renders it in the best sense beautiful.
Indeed this ideal content became a conscious
presence to the Florentine mind in the time
of Xiorenzo the Magnificent, and expressed
itself philosophically in the Platonism of that
time, whose voice may be somewhat mys-
tically heard in the sonnets of Michel Angelo.
In a little corner of Judea, then, the indi-
vidual Christ appears historically, and
around this historic kernel legend begins to
swathe him in its drapery of marvels, as it
does every Great Man of the People, not ex-
cepting our last-born one, Lincoln. The
germinal historicity of the Mediator is not
to be questioned, just as little is his mythical
evolution in the utterance of the Folk-Soul.
This last, as already set forth, is the ele-
mental substance which Art seizes as the
plastic material of its shapes which though
human, reflect the divine. In fact the whole
sense-realm of things, the total world of Na-
ture's individuation is transfigured into a
Christian cosmos, terrestrial and celestial,
through a universal symbolism which con-
verts to its holiness not merely earthly ob-
jects, Imt the sun and the planets and the


stars as homes of the blessed in the celestial

We may glance again at the free common-
wealths of Italy which delivered a world-
historical message to all time, not only in
their political manifestation but specially in
their artistic utterance. This started up in
a limited locality and age, but it had the
power to speak to all localities and ages. Its
Painting brings out to sunlight the sem-
blance of the universal Great Man, not sim-
ply this one or that one, though these, too,
participate in the procession from above.
This Art has in it at its best the gleam of an
infinite Presence which reveals itself in color
through the genius of the artist and under-
goes a kind of re-incarnation in painted

Undoubtedly this Painting has its limits
which it will run upon, whereby it breaks to
pieces. After all it externalizes what is es-
sentially internal, it is a show and not the
great reality itself, which will begin to seek
another channel for its descent. The people,
from being sense-souled, will reach a point
at which they will seek to commune with soul
itself in its own form. They will pass from
the external light to the internal, from the
outer eye to the inner. Painting will fall in-
to contradiction with itself, seeking to re-


veal tlie invisible in the visible. Such a dual-
ism it had from the start whereof it splits
atwain, having evolved the inherent scission
of its birth. Moreover, the Italian Folk-Soul
will lose its world-historical mission, and can
no longer function as its true utterance such
an Art, which hence will lapse into formal-
ism, into an uninspired repetition of past
glories. Wherein it repeats the fate of Greek

VIII. It is evident, then, that Painting
has a history, with rise, bloom and decline.
Indeed it may be called an historic Art, in the
sense that it belongs in its supremacy to a
given time, not to all time; it utters ade-
quately for once a stage of the World's His-
tory and then its sovereignty passes away,
even if the skill acquired lasts for many use-
ful but subordinate purposes. Herein it has
a deep resemblance to Sculpture which
flowered the one time as the highest expres-
sion of a people and a civilization, then
drooped to a secondary position, where it
has stayed ever since.

The Orient had Painting and still has. In-
deed Eastern Asia, notably China and Japan,
have evolved the possibilities of mere color
more fully than any other part of the globe,
and have not yet concluded. On the other
hand Western Asia, with which Europe is


closely connected in locality and in evoln-
tion, has had its historic inning both polit-
ically and artistically, though it be looking
forward to a fresh rejuvenescence. We find
Painting in the ruins of the old cities of the
valleys of the Nile and Euphrates, but it be-
longs more to archaeology than to Art. Also
pre-historic man shows a struggle to express
himself in color, but here we cannot take his
work into account.

Europe has also had its historic develop-
ment of Painting. In this Art as in others
the old Greek stands at the beginning. and
opens the evolution with his usual display
of genius. But his pictured world has quite
vanished with the exception of a few faint
reflections which may be seen in certain ex-
cavations like those of Pompeii. Greek
Painting is, therefore, as good as lost.
In a number of ways it must have reached
a high grade of excellence ; ancient critics of
discernment who saw its masterpieces, seem
to put it on a level with the best work of
Sculpture. Still we have to think that Greek
Painting at its highest had no supreme mes-
sage to deliver; with all its technical per-
fection, in portraying the forms of the God-
desses and the Gods, and in picturing scenes
from Homer and the Greek Mythus, it could
only tell what Sculpture on the whole told


better at that time, as the true artistic ex-
pression of the popular consciousness. In-
deed Painting itself was essentially sculp-
tural, having the same content with the plas-
tic Arts, and resting upon the same world-
view. As Painting held the sceptre over
Sculpture in Christendom, so Sculpture held
the sceptre over Painting in the heathen
Greco-Roman world.

It is evident that Byzantine Art, which is
of course Christian, connects directlv with
that of old Greece, manv of whose methods
and devices it kept alive and transmitted to
the future, without making them truly cre-
ative. Byzantine Art became fixed in tra-
ditional forms, immovable and unfree in
its crystallization, which is well typified by
its persistent use of Mosaics, or glass colors.
Still it had the merit of preserving just
through its rigidity much of the manipula-
tion of the antique painter. This skill it bore
to Italy Avhen the latter was ready for the
new birth of ^Vrt. But that Byzantine tenac-
ity of form w^e are to appreciate ; we trace the
same character in its government, its law, its
theology, as well as in its artistic formalism.
Nor must we forget the grand original out-
burst of Saint Sophia, which, however, be-
longs to Architecture, the most crystal-like
of Arts. It should be added that recently


some investigators have claimed that they
could trace emphatic stages of evohition in
the stolid centuries of Byzantine .Painting.
There was probably a little — but how much?
The fact is, as it seems to us, that the
Christian Painters of the Byzantine faith
could not fully express the descent of the
God-Man, which, as already stated, is the
primal genetic content, the germinal start-
ing point in the birth of Italy's Art. The
Greek Church rejected the Son as an integral
part of the procession of the Holy Spirit
from the Godhead. This doctrine became
the popular creed, yea the shibboleth of the
Byzantine religion, and such it remains to
this day. But it caused the great split be-
tween the Eastern and Western branches of
Christendom, the separation into the Greek
and Latin Churches, which began in the sixth
century and was consummated in the elev-
enth (known in theological literature as the
filioque controversy). Without going into
the religious purport of this protracted dis-
pute, we may notice its effect upon Chris-
tian Painting, which thus has its first cre-
ative figure, the Mediator Himself, elimi-
nated- from the procession of God to Man.
So we may see that the Byzantine conscious-
ness could not evoke the new Art, while the
Italian folk-soul demanded the same as its



profouiidest self-expression. The Greek
Clmrcli, however, believing in a partial pro-
cession ctf the Divine into the Human, liad
some Art, while the Mahommeclan religion
which had no descent of the sort, cut off the
source of all artistic representation. Quite
co-incident with this division into the East-
ern and Western Churches, Italian Art be-
gins to peep forth in its earliest infancy,
though encumbered still with Byzantine
swaddling clothes. It is generally agreed
among historians of Painting that Giotto of
Florence, contemporary and friend of. Dante
was the first painter who showed the epochal

Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderMusic and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic → online text (page 20 of 32)