Denton Jaques Snider.

Music and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic online

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liberation of his Art from Byzantinism.
Italy, declaring her artistic freedom, then
took up the Christian Mythus in its com-
pleteness, and began to illustrate it in multi-
tudinous directions, whereof the most strik-
ing and pervasive manifestation is the poem
of Dante, also a Florentine. The details of
this many-sided evolution which throbbed
through the numerous City-States of Italy
cannot here be given; we shall grapple with
the one supreme City-State in this regard,
and of its Art we shall be able to give only
the one supreme process. But in such case
the reader, we hope, will be able to see more
clearly the one in the all.
Florence. The word may be taken to mean

PAIXT1\(J. 24:3

the flowering city, S3nBbolic of its present
character. In our narrative it has already
risen to the surface several times by way of
prelude. Of all the Italian Republics, Flor-
ence showed the strongest upburst of the
civic spirit of the time ; popular government
in some form remained longest its ideal.
Then it seethed with furious internal parti-
sanship, which did not suffer it to stagnate.

The old Greek culture was studied and ap-
propriated at Florence as nowhere else; there
was also a political bond of sympathy be-
tween the antique City-State and the new.
Lorenzo, the Magnificent, gathered Greek
manuscripts, Greek statues, Greek scholars,
and founded what was practically a Greek
Academy, though Greek autonomy he
quenched. Especially the Platonic philosophy
was favored and propagated at his court by
Marsilius Ficinus (translator of Plato and
of Plotinus), by Pico di Mirandola, who
dreamed of uniting Platonism and Christi-
anity, by Angelus Politianus, illustrious
humanist and poet who could transfuse Greek
poetry and its Mythus into his native Italian.
In fact there was a pronounced tendency at
the court of Lorenzo and in the age to re-
turn to classic Heathendom, with the corres-
ponding moral unsettlement. Art reflected
the spirit of the time and its license. Michel


Angelo took his early schooling in this en-
vironment, whose traces he will show in his
greatest works; nor will he ever forget its
Platonic training. In fact Painting is of
itself a kind of Platonism, with its dualism
of idea and reality, with its invisible and vis-
ible worlds, with its doctrine of essence and
appearance. Plato became the voice of the
pictured twofoldness of Italy's mind at that
time, through him the unseen was heard and
thought. The Christian world-view seemed
on the point of being transcended, and ren-
ascent Florence was actually turning to an-
tique Athens, whose semblance it strangely
renewed in so many traits, political and ar-

Then suddenly fell the counterstroke like
the voice of the Last Judgment itself an-
nouncing the doom of the w^orld. A monk,
Girolamo Savonarola, began to preach in a
prophetic fury the curse impending over the
city because of its lapse to Heathendom. The
demonic power of his speech made the blood
of all Florence run icy in terror; Pico di
Mirandola, the Platonic philosopher, reports
that a cold shiver pulsed through the marrow
of his bones while the hairs of his head stood
on end as he listened to the thunderous words
of the speaker. A great revival of religion
it was, as we say in our modern parlance;


the conscience-convicted people passed one
another in silence on the street, "more dead
than alive." Evidently the inspired monk
had tapped in the depths of the folk-soul its
Christian fountain and had set the same to
flowing afresh with redoubled energy against
its old Heathen enemy. But he also insisted
upon the moral betterment of the individual,
and rose at last to demand the reformation
of both State and Church, for which bold-
ness he might well prophesy his coming fate.
But herein he begins to foreshadow the mes-
sage of another monk, his contemporary,
Luther of the North. It was the mighty ap-
ocalypse of the time, which startled even the
autocrat Lorenzo, who, however, soon lay on
his death-bed. He sent for Savonarola to
give him final shrift, but the audacious monk
required, among other easier things, that he
should restore to Florence her ancient lib-
erty. Whereat Lorenzo turned his face away
to the wall and died (1492). His son Piero
succeeded to his arbitrary rule, but was ex-
pelled two years later, chiefly through Sa-
vonarola, who for a time became practically
the dictator of Florence. But in 1498 he suf-
fered death, fulfilling his own prediction after
the example of the other supreme Sufferer,
whose imitator he deemed himself. A mighty
upheaval was this of Savonarola, religious.

246 Mvaic AXD the fine art is.

moral, political, whose influence was felt long
after bis temporal evanishment. Here we
are to note tkat Michel Angelo partook
deeply of this movement Avhose impress lie
still showed in the colossal prophetic figures
on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as well
as in the awe-inspiring damnation of the
Last Judgment — a reminiscence of Savona-
rola's preaching.

Still Art continued to flourish at Florence
though in the frenzy of religious excitement
some artists destroyed their works, espe-
cially the nude figures; one famous painter
quit his brush and turned monk, though he
afterwards resumed bis calling. The storm
passed over, but it was a needed re-baptism,
a fresh dip in the Christian world-view whose
mark was thenceforth stamped anew upon
the best artistic performance.

From the time of Giotto Florence had pro-
duced a line of eminent sculptors and paint-
ers, for two centuries and more. This line
forms a gradual evolution of excellence up
to the three greatest Florentine names —
Lionardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michel
Angelo, upon whom in the present account
we shall lay all the stress, passing over their
lesser forerunners, and contemporaries and
successors, who will be mentioned only when
needed. Thus we shall concentrate attention


upon what is best and what essentially re-
sumes all that has gone before, and indeed
all that comes after in Painting. It will be
noticed that the}' form a cycle or process
together, each of them constituting a stage of
that highest totality of their Art which our
thought must see as embracing them all.

1. Lionardo Da Vinci.

We have now before us one of the most
suggestive and elusive characters, not sim-
ply in all Art, but in all History. Lionardo
had a definite, practical side to him which is
not hard to grasp and to categorize, but he
also pushed over the bound into the bound-
less, where he lived a phase of his being quite
defiant of definition. An all-embracing
genius he possessed, which, however, would
trickle out of him only in little rills of reali-
zation. His brain seemed pregnant with the
cosmos itself, but could only give birth to
comparatively petty fragments, one of which
— the most, lasting and far-famed — is his
Painting. So he appeared to regard himself
in a letter of his which we shall soon quote.
He was a world implicit, which he could not
get out of himself into objectivity except in
small flakes. Lionardo proper stayed unborn
to the last, though showing many strong pul-


sations of the embryo of a universe which
lay struggling within him, trying to get itself

Probably the deepest and strongest bent
in the man showed itself in the sphere of
Mechanics and Physics with their quantita-
tive formulation in Mathematics. Nor did
he neglect the animal and plant, the field
now known as biology. Thus he swept the
whole domain of Nature, and so has been
deemed the great precursor of our modern
Natural Science. Still here too we have to
complain that he did not give forth what he
won; he left his discoveries and experi-
ments in a vast pile of manuscripts written
seemingly to be read by himself only, and
hence difficult to decipher and often undeci-
pherable, even by the expert. Still the pa-
tience of recent investigators has made out
enough to show that he knew in germ at least
a good deal of the science of today. Why did
he not publish it? He would not have been
Lionardo if he had; he loved the embryonic
and lived in it as deeply cognate with his own
character, being himself a germ to the last,
though a cosmical one.

Still he wrote one letter intended to be
read and understood, since it was addressed
to Ludovico Sforza, the ruler of Milan
in recommendation of himself. It gives an


account of the wonderful things he was able
to do by means of his science ; through it runs
also a secretive occult vein characteristic of
the author. Says he: "I know the secret of
making bombs which can be easily trans-
ported"; "I can make pontoon bridges very
light, yet incombustible and hard to destroy
in battle"; "I can construct bombards, cata-
pults and other instruments of war, also cov-
ered chariots, proof against any attack." It
will be observed that these attainments are
those of a military engineer who evidently
has had some experience to back up his
words. Where did Lionardo get such expe-
rience? Not at Florence, not in Italy as far'
as knowm; he must have been abroad, in
Egypt or possibly in the service of the
Grand Turk, whom we shall find offering-
strong inducements to skillful Italians,
notably to Michel Angelo. This is one of the
most obscure points in Lionardo 's biog-
raphy, being a fact which he would take spe-
cial pains to conceal in Ital}^ where the Ma-
hommedan terror was ever present, since the
fall of Constantinople, in 1453. He was at
this time about thirty years old, though the
letter is undated (it is in the Ambrosian Li-
brary at Milan), and is supposed to be only
a sketch of what was sent.
Now comes a significant turn in this piece


of writing, wliicli first runs on for ten para-
graphs dilating upon the mechanical and mil-
itary attainments of the author. This new
turn is at the eleventh paragraph, which
touches his artistic side very briefly thus :
''I can carry on and complete every kind of
works of Sculpture in clay, marble and
bronze. Also in Painting, I can do what-
ever may be demanded, quite as well as any-
one. " So at last he composes one short sen-
tence concerning the only greatness of him
which has endured. No doubt the letter ad-
justs itself to the supposed needs of Ludo-
vico, who had plenty of war in prospect, for-
eign and domestic. Still Lionardo, the artist,
was the strain in him most fully developed
at Milan, his first commission was to paint
an altar-piece as a present for the emperor.
We have to think, however, that he took more
pride in his Mechanics than in his Fine Arts.
Here must be noted that Lionardo had an-
other artistic accomplishment, that of Music,
through which he first won the Duke, as Va-
sari states. The latter recounts further:
' 'Lionardo came with an instrument whicii
he himself had made — a lyre almost wholly
of silver and shaped like a horse's skull,
whereby it gave forth more vibrating and so-
norous notes. On this occasion he surpassed
all the musicians who had been invited to


play; moreover lie was held to be the clev-
erest extemporary poet of the day." Such
was the round of his artistic gifts : Sculp-
ture, Painting, Music, Poetry, not to speak
of his manifold scientific dexterity and
knowdedge. The construction of fortifica-
tions, mines, aqueducts, with murderous
machines of destruction in war is pictured
in tropical profusion throughout his manu-
scripts. It is conjectured that the idea of a
steam-gun is found among his illustrations.
The use of steam-power certainly passed
through his brain ; but where is his steam-
engine? Some drawings of his point to
steam as a motive force in driving a ship;
but where is his steam-boat! The truth is
he never could realize his far-flashing intui-
tions; like himself they remained unfinished
and unfinishable; it required three centuries
to turn to solid fact his dreams. He certainly
experimented on a flying-machine, which fact
connects with the present moment.

The huge mass of writings and drawings
left by him to the future is characteristic.
What he wrote seems to be mainly of the na-
ture of jottings and scattered notes ; even his
published Treatise on Painting is not an or-
ganized or even externally ordered work,
but a scattered collection of observations, a
table of contents it has been called by one


critic. Various reasons have been assigned
for tliis condition of his manuscripts: he
would keep his valuable inventions a secret
for his own profit, he loved to juggle with
marvels before the ignorant, he was afraid
of the Church, of the heresy-hunter, forefeel-
ing the fate of Galileo a century later. But
the best reason of all is because he was Lio-
nardo himself and could not get out of his
own brain-pan.

More satisfactory is it to look through his
drawings, of which a vast quantity exist,
though dispersed over all the countries of
Europe. The Louvre, for instance, accord-
ing to a statement before us, possesses "an
enormous volume containing some three hun-
dred and seventy eight sketches from the
hand of Lionardo." It is manifest that the
most natural expression of his genius lay in
the quick intuitive strokes of the designer
On many sides we catch glimpses of his se-
cret- soul darting forth radiantly into these
self-revealing outlines. To be sure such
sketches are of many grades of depth and
completeness. But only in them can we feel
the elemental rush and colossality of his
genius. At this point he touches Michel An-
gelo ; here both show a Titanism of character
in common. But when Lionardo puts his
shapes into color and carefully paints his pic-


ture, he loses somewhat of his original spon-
taneity, his native strength becomes fainter,
more formalized even if more refined and
snbtilized. When he conceives, he is a giant ;
when he executes, he dwarfs himself. Un-
doubtedly he thought out and wrought out
with great care some of his pictures, such as
The Last Supper and Mona Lisa; but they
are the exceptions, and show only the lesser
Lionardo, unique as they are. His mighty
spontaneity, driven through the painter's
brush into color, felt cramped, confined, very
finite. Hence the small number of his paint-
ings, and most of them not completed — and
the astonishing quantity of his drawings.
Vasari says that he left even The Last Sup-
per incomplete, and the question has l)een
mooted whether he ever gave the last stroke
to Mona Lisa. It is acknowledged, however,
that Lionardo 's Painting was of an epochal
excellence and influence, which passed over
not only into his immediate pupils but into
the Art of his time. Especially Raphael at
Florence had his period of Lionardism. And
we dare think that Michel Angelo by sheer
contrast took a cue from his great rival, with
whose elemental power he must have felt a
close kinship in spite of sarcastic whiffs of

Upon what did Lionardo concentrate as his



highest means of artistic expression! He
paid much attention to many things — to atti-
tude, gesture, drapery, hands, hair, to
the anatomical parts of the human body, also
to the environment of external nature. But
that which he seized upon as the true utter-
ance both of himself and his Art was the face.
His sketches show an almost infinite diver-
sity of countenances of man and the animal
and of both combined. What a play of fea-
tures in joy and sorrow, passionate and se-
rene, sunk in bestiality and exalted to bless-
edness, grotesques, caricatures, monsters,
commingled fantastic shapes which nature
never made but which Lionardo has re-made
out of Nature's suggestions, putting together
anew her members ! On the whole Lionardo
in the multitudinous concourse of his drawn
visages compels us to think that he had the
power to tap Nature's original facial proto-
plasm out of which she has evolved in the
passage of time her billions of physiog-
nomies, each one of them different, and thus
to re-create countenances and forms of his
own. That he went back to the physignomic
fountain-head in the people has been handed
down in a much-recorded anecdote.
Market-places, taverns, resorts of the folk
he would frequent for examples; he followed
criminals to their execution, he has left us

PAixTixaijoxAinjo n.\ vixci. 255

the horrible drawing of one Jangling on the
gallows. He gathered peasants about him
and gave them to drink copiously for his ex-
periments; he would himself take part in
their tomfoolery, and tell them drolJ stories,
in order to gather up a harvest of nature's
big hahas and little teehees which he would
at once set down on paper. Thus he carried
around M'itli himself a kind of psychological
laboratorv, which he could set to work in-
visibly everywhere, in high and low society.
Hence arose the seething population of faces
in every sort of contortion, grimace and an-
imality which we follow in his sketches. But
here he stopped. He gathered material for
thousands of pictures, wdiich, however, re-
mained still the crude material for the most
part. He never built his human figures into
a vast work of Art, such as we see on the ceil-
ing of the Sistine Chapel. Still to go through
his creative gallery of faces just being born
is a unique experience, if we try to catch the
elusive genius of Lionardo uttering itself in
these looks. This was probably his native
speech, yea his very act of thought. He pro-
jected each of the people of his- environment
into the one permanent essential face which
featured the deepest character. Which of
these demonic masks is that of Ludovico il
Moro, with his cruelty, cunning and cow-


ardice spiced with religious hypocrisy ? Lio-
nardo in 1502 served a campaign with Caesar
Borgia and with Niccolo Machiavelli, both of
them devils, the one of will and the other of
intellect ; could he help taking a soul-picture
of each f It was his way of thinking them out
to himself, of analyzing their character to
the bottom — he must chalk them into a coun-
tenance. One of his drawings is a vividly
mortal combat between the open jaws of a
dragon and a lion.; such he must have often
watched in the Italy of his time between
human representatives. AVe are often re-
minded of Dante's Inferno, where devil fights
devil for his deviltry. By the way, an anec-
dote tells how Lionardo was famed as an in-
terpreter of Dante, and was once brought in-
to competition with Michel Angelo, also a
well-known Dantean, who insultingly de-
clined the challenge, thinking it some trick of
his rival.

This rivalry of the two supreme artists of
the age was evidently not without bitterness.
They both shared in the Titanic originality
of genius, but each realized it in his individ-
ual life and Avork very differentlv. In fact

»' *■'

Lionardo never truly realized himself in
Art. His versatility scattered him in all di-
rections, and left his achievement a torso,
grand, but incomplete. He lived till he was


sixty-seven years old, but liis life was never
finished, being fragmentary as his works.
So we may nnderstand him to confess of his
career in that melancholy sketch of himself
(in the Windsor collection) as he, an old
man, leans his w^earied head upon his hand
and looks back at the strown bits of a great

Still the achievement of Lionardo makes
him, in onr conception, an integral part of
the supreme movement of the Art of Paint-
ing, ranging him in one process with two
other transcendent but different geniuses,
Raphael and Michel Angelo. Then his indi-
vidual life has its own stages of evolution,
which, after being looked at separately, are
to be put together and grasped in such unity
as they possess. The groupings of his activ-
ities are in general manifest, though the ex-
act bounds with their dates cannot be always

I. Lionardo was born in the year 1452, at
the village of Vinci near Empoli in the Val-
ley of the Arno. He was the natural son of
a young notary of the Signoria of Florence
by the name Ser Piero da Vinci, whose father
had an estate in the neighborhood of the vil-
lage. The mother, Caterina, was a peasant
girl, about whom nothing further is known
except that she later married a Messer Acca-



tabriga, of her own station in life. It is
handed down that yonng Lionardo was taken
by the grandparents and raised with care
and even pride on account of his talent, in
spite of his irregular birth ; his grandmother
especially, "the excellent Lucia dei Pieroz-
ozzi," has had her name immortalized
through this single good deed, which prob-
ably saved to the world one of its greatest

But we are not to forget that this taint of
illegitimacy must have followed Lionardo
through his whole life. Particularly at Flor-
ence, famous for its love of scandal and for
its remorseless tongues, he must have felt
the reproach lurking everywhere and ready
to break out, especially as he grew more fa-
mous and roused jealousy through his trans-
cendent ability. Artists especially, painters,
sculptors, musicians, are known to be gifted
with envy beyond other mortals, though
they have by no means a monopoly. One can
hardly help thinking that Michel Angelo, bit-
ter-worded, censorious by nature, and puri-
tanic, would have let fly many a poison-
barbed insinuation against his chief rival,
over whom he had at least the advantage of
being born straight. One result was that
Lionardo never felt at ease in Florence, to
which he kept returning all his life, but he


could not bring himself permanently to re-
side in that ever-nagging city.

But there is a deeper side to this unfor-
tunate experience. It made Lionardo feel
that he was a kind of outcast in the social or-
der without any fault of his own; Family,
State, even Church branded him with a stig-
ma for which he was not to blame. One of
his life's vexations at Florence was a long,
protracted lawsuit in which his legitimate
brothers undertook to exclude him from his
share of the patrimony on the ground of
birth. Such a public trial kept the scandal
alive for years, when otherwise it might
have been forgotten. No wonder Lionardo
ran off from Florence, from Italy, from Eu-
rope, and entered the service of the Grand
Turk, who at that time was threatening to
submerge the whole European fabric. To be
sure, Lionardo could not stay away from his
world, and that w^as a part of his inherited
fatality. But let the spiritual result be at
once stated: Lionardo became non-institu-
tional, when he saw that institutions whose
object is to protect man, smote him to the
earth with a rancorous hate, though inno-
cent. The great poet of the institutional
world, Shakespeare, has portrayed a strong
character in this same social situation, Ed-
mund in King Lear, and set down in his


most thunderous words tlie negative effects
of bastardy upon a human soul. Also there
rises the tragedy of Goethe's son at Wei-
mar. But enough! Lionardo, battered in
this fateful conflict of his life, was indiffer-
ent to the existent social order — to Family,
State, Church — not openly hostile, but in-
different. He was not anarchic, he would
not destroy them, but he used them for his
purpose, not letting them use him. He never
married, he abandoned his city except when
he needed her, and Vasari, his later contem-
porary and fellow-townsman, called him an
infidel in religion, though he painted Last
Suppers, Adorations and Madonnas sur-
passingly for a price. It was even whispered
that he was secretly a Mahonimedan, though
this was doubtless a lie, since he probably
cared as little for the Prophet as for the
Savior. In his diarv on Good Fridav he en-
tered this observation: "Why lament over
the death of a man who died once upon a time
in the East?" (cited by Richard Muther in
his booklet on Lionardo). Other hidden
mockeries have been dug out of his huge
mound of buried of self-communings. Still
Lionardo externally conformed to State and
Church, and turned them to his account.
Now the beginning of this inner reaction
against his institutional world lay in the cir-


cumstanccs of his birth, whose environment

Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderMusic and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic → online text (page 21 of 32)