Denton Jaques Snider.

Music and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic online

. (page 23 of 32)
Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderMusic and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic → online text (page 23 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

er of woman from whose sensuous clutch
there is no escape for mortal man, berating
her as the Goddess Venus in person, Helen,
Vampyre, even snaky Medusa, fiendish Sa-
lome, Magdalen unrepentant and unrepent-
able. Fascination is hers, not to be hoped
against by any eye that looks upon her and
once gets entangled in that labyrinthine
smile. Sweet mother Eve hands the fatal
apple to us, her charmed Adam; we cannot


refuse and she knows it, gently scoffing from
lip and look at our yielding resistance. The
subtlest, most elusive coquetry becomes fa-
cial with a kind of defiance saying: You
know it but you- cannot help yourself. More-
over, Lionardo himself in this work touched
the bottom of his own character and turned
it up to the surface. What is Mona Lisa
thinking about, as slie looks out of the pic-
ture her triumph? The artist stands there
before her; he tells on himself in depicting
the resistless spell of that sphinx-like face.
Even more ambiguous, more openly and
intentionally double is Lionardo 's picture
entitled sometimes St. John and sometimes
Bacchus. Which is it, the precursor of the
Lord pointing with one hand to the future,
or the Greek wine-god rattling the thyrse
with the other hand? For both symbols are
present, but hardly either idea. But this is
not the final enigma of the figure : is it a
man or woman? or even both? Then that
charming riddle of a smile — of which sex is
it and what does it say? Lionardo has one
other painting, and possibly two, composed
in the same equivocal love-mood, which has
to be named hermaphroditic. They recall a
dark page in the night-book of his life, when
in 1476, according to the original document
still existent, he was cited before the Flor-


entine tribunal of public morals for his re-
lations to the youth Jacopo Saltarello. In
some of his drawings also there is said to be
a similar undercurrent of erotic doubleness
often branded as a Greek transmission to
the Renaissance, in whose good and bad the
artist deeply participated.

And what shall we say to that Lionardian
smile in eye and lip on all the faces of his
women (with one or two exceptions) Madon-
nas included, noticeable also in some of his
men! Fascinating it works on not a few
gazers, somewhat repellant on others. At
any rate, there is no divinity in it, no tap-
ping of the supernal sources; human it is,
at its best it is very humanly beautiful.
That smile knows no repentance, though
there is need of it, no renunciation, no cross,
which is significantly absent even from his
religious pictures excepting two or three
doubtful cases. His lovely idyl of the Vir-
gin in a Grot is a tender-mooded family pic-
nic suffused with domestic emotion, and set
in a weird romantic frame. One woman's
smile Lionardo possessed in his soul; this
became his female type, of which he re-
peated the whole gamut, sometimes with a
monotony that threatens to turn Byzantine.
Mona Lisa is doubtless the height of it,
whence the scale descends, whose notes.


however, are re-eclioed in many a pnpil,
such as Luini. Lionardo never went through
the fire-baptism of Savonarola, as did Mi-
chel Angelo, and he has left us a sketch which
caricatures the ascetic countenance of the
great moral reformer, verily the antitype of

Lionardo again becomes dissatisfied with
Milan, but probably more deeply dissatis-
fied with himself, and for the best of reas-
ons — he had not realized his genius. So
he sets out for Rome in 1513, where a mem-
ber of the house of Medici, to which he had
been friendly at Florence, had become Pope
(Leo X.). He must have heard of the su-
preme artistic achievements of Raphael and
Michel Angelo — the former's stanze in the
Vatican and the latter 's work on the ceil-
ing of the Sistine Chapel. A world-histori-
cal epoch in Painting had then clearly op-
ened — could he not share in it too? Both
the mentioned artists, much younger than
himself, he had met in Florence some nine
years before, when his supremacy was in
general acknowledged. How is it now? He
must make one desperate attempt more to
achieve, his destiny ; so off he starts for Rome
where the World-Spirit has actually turned
painter, or at least is directing the hand of
mortal painters to body forth the mighty
image of itself.


But alas ! Lionardo is Lionardo still, the
old man of sixty cannot so easily transplant
and re-grow the ver}^ roots of his character.
Pie again scatters his genius in all direc-
tions, starts his everlasting experimenta-
tion in physics and mechanics, trifles his
time away in making curious toj^s, notably
he gets a strange living lizard, to which he
affixes wings and horns and a beard, then
he lets it loose in a room full of his friends,
all of whom take to flight from the mon-
ster. (Vasari.) He received an order from
the Pope for a picture, but before he started
to paint, he began experimenting on a new
kind of varnish for preserving his work.
The Pope heard of it, and probably well
knowing his man from the aforetime, ut-
tered judgment : 0, he will never do any-
thing, since he thinks of the last thing be-
fore beginning the first. Of course in a short
time Lionardo was disgusted with Rome,
and doubtless with himself. Early in 1515
he is again in Milan, which has fallen once
more under the rule of the French, Mdiose
king, Francis I., becomes one of his greatest
admirers, and takes him to France, where
he dies at the castle of Cloux hear Amboise
in 1519, reconciled (if we may judge by his
will) completely with the church, against
which, however, he had never openly re-


volted. Why should he, with Savonarola's
fate before his eyes? Besides he was not
made of martyr's stuff, he never martyred
himself quite enough for the sake of his Art,
Still, we cannot help thinking that he has
uttered the sharpest judgment on his ca-
reer and its outcome in two sketches of him-
self, evidently made during these last years
of his life. The first is at Turin and is
thrown off in his Titanic mood ; it is a most
convincing physiognomy, telling the truth
about itself with a colossal sincerity. From
its massive corrugated brow we hear a self-
confession which quite touches self-damna-
tion, still with a kind of earth-born defiance.
The muscles of its firm-shut mouth pull back
as if ruminating a cud of wormwood, yet
braced in scorn of fate itself. Life's disap-
pointment peeps out from underneath a
world-embracing contempt of the w^orld.
Germans like to compare Lionardo to Faust,
and even to Goethe, but the comparison
seems to us not to fit at the deepest nodes
of character. At what is Lionardo looking
in the portrait of himself! My conjecture
is that he is gazing back at his two younger
rivals, Eaphael and Michel Angelo, and
weighing their achievement with his own,
and perhaps taking a glance into their fu-
ture. When at Eome he must have often


gone to see their works, and have heard the
acclamation of their greatness, even met
them socially. But in his manuscript any
mention of their names has not been found,
nor any allusion to the mightiness of their
accomplishment, which he must have well
understood — better indeed than any other
living man. So that disillusioned look of
world-pain may be heard to speak: Behold,
I have not fulfilled the mission of my genius.
Such an overwhelming utterance we read in
this Oh^mpian visage, so swiftly sketched,
a kind of Last Judgment on himself; to our
mind face-making Lionardo has here limned
his truest, most significant, aye, his most
godlike face.

There is a still later sketch of himself as
an old man much less powerful but even
more pathetic bespeaking his last isolation
from his country and its art; his defiance is
gone, and his aged frame, utterly wearied
of life, is drooping fateward while his re-
signed face only liopes for the tomb which
cannot be far off (sketch at Windsor Cas-

Such was Lionardo da Vinci, whose soul
was born with more and greater potentiali-
ties than that of any other famed man of the
Renaissance. As to Painting, his small
achievement is of the highest quality, and


also makes an epocli in the Art. But he
seems to have done it with one hand or even
with one finger, comparatively; he was also
scientist, mathematician, engineer, sculptor,
musician, and whatever he chose to be — an
unparalleled versatility, and that was what
ailed him. His greatest limitation was that
he was so impatient of all limitation, and so
he scattered his life. Unrealized and un-
realizable, he had a universe in him, but it
stayed implicit with some notable excep-
tions. In that respect his opposite was Ra-
phael, who made the most of his possibili-
ties, even too much.

2. Baphael.

In the trinity of Italy's supreme painters
whom we are trying to grasp both individu-
ally and in their inter-related movement, we
place Raphael the second or middle member,
on account of the time of his activity as well
as through his work and personal character.
His life lies between Lionardo and Michel
Angelo; he was younger than either, still his
period of achievement ran parallel with
theirs, though much shorter. He outlived
Lionardo only eleven months, while Michel
Angelo survived him manv vears. More ele-
mental and compelling than his was the


genius of the two Florentines, who had the
tendency to fly asunder, and did keep apart
during most of their days; while Raphael
was naturally a mediating, reconciling, asso-
ciating soul. AVe shall find him a great ap-
propriator; still he transforms witli his own
spirit what he appropriates.

Lionardo had won a great new freedom
from the crystallized conventions of the
older painters ; but in order to win this free-
dom, he had practically broken with the
Christian Mythus itself, the original source
of his Art. He employs Christian subjects
for his painting, but he treats them as purely
human ;there is no divine descent from above,
no epiphany of the God in the Man, which
fact may be observed of his Last Supper,
and of his Holy Families. Now it was the
chief function of Raphael to keep the old, j^et
to reconcile it with the new, to mediate the
liberated Art with its divinely creative ori-
gin, to harmonize, so we may put it, Lionardo
with Fra Angelico, or the purely human Avith
the purely divine. How well he has done his
task is indicated by his popularity. ]\[any
who reject the Christian Mythus and its
faith will lovingly accept his humanit.y, while
quietly dropping his divinity. Yet the two
belong together in any complete view of the
man and his work.


Eapliael likewise forms a mediating link
with the grander achievement of Michel An-
gelo. All three had come together at Flor-
ence in the germinal year of 1504, which re-
vealed the first generative center of the ar-
tistic ontbnrst later fulfilled in Rome. At
the start Raphael shrank from the too revo-
lutionary ways of the young Florentine Ti-
tan, and leaned more toward the older rival,
Lionardo. But during his Roman period the
spell of Michel Angelo grew in power over
him, till in his latest work, for instance the
Loggia of the Vatican, he became largely,
though not wholly, the ' imitator of the
stronger genius who had really overmastered
him. He bridges the two extremes, the two
mightier individualities than his own, par-
taking of both, yet therein remaining him-
self, and developing his own peculiar strain
of genius, which neither of the others pos-
sessed. So Raphael becomes an influence
greater than that of greater men; he inter-
links into the one supreme process of his Art
elements which would otherwise have never
been conjoined. Of the culminating trinity
of painters already mentioned he is the me-
diator, uniting them not indeed personally,
but spiritually.

In order to perform such a function Ra-
phael had to possess two very different


strands in his composition; these we may
name respectively his original and his appro-
priative gifts. First we are to see that Ra-
phael was not wholly acquisition, he had his
own field of genins, unique, creative, unsur-
passed and unsurpassable. But he also had
an enormous capacity for receiving from
others and of making foreign wealth his own ;
few have ever equaled him in this important
quality. In fact, the talent for quick and
massive appropriation and for transfusing
his stores with his own soul enabled him to
heap up in a few years an amount of work
which still appalls. But on the other hand
we are not to forget that Raphael had his
own primordial endowment of genius alto-
gether distinct from his ability to take up
and digest what came from the outside. Such
a twofoldness we observe in him, especially
in his later development.

Here we may well inquire what was this
original and distinctive vein of genius which
is the center and source of his highest cre-
ative power. It is to portray the Mother
and Child of Deity; first these two alone
then on through lesser and larger groups, of
which, however, the Madonna and her Son
remain the radiating center. The appear-
ance of the God-Man in space and time, as
the infant human being born of woman, is



the primal source of Raphael's genius, from
Avhicli all his life and work are generated and
illumined. The divine epiphany in flesh,
from which the art of Painting bursts forth
creatively, Raphael taps at its fountain-
head in the Christian Mythus. So intimate
is his spirit with his theme, that his work at
its best seems itself a divine manifestation
of what is portrayed, an inspiration from
supernal sources.

The Madonna with her Child in one rela-
tion or other will move through Raphael's
whole career from beginning to end. To be
sure his picture of his one deepest ideal will
vary outwardly with the stages of his de-
velopment : there will be an Umbrian, a Flor-
entine, and a Roman Madonna, and these
again will show varieties of excellence and
of artistic treatment. Still amid all such di-
versities, there is at the original well-head
but one Madonna, but one universal soul-
form which is also the artist's own. For Ra-
phael's character was creatively feminine
with all its fascination, while that of Michel
Angelo was repellently masculine. Raphael's
genius was a woman, just the Madonna ; he
had but to draw from his own soul, in order to
portray hers. So it comes that his real mas-
terpiece for all time is a Madonna with her
infant, painted toward the close of his ca-


reer, as tlie culmination of a long line of her
appearances to the artist. This line is the
genetic thread of his activity and indeed of
his existence. The ideal or universal image
in his soul, will clothe itself in many indi-
vidual experiences, his one celestial love will
enter into and transfigure his terrestrial
loves, he will often paint his. earthly maiden
but her mortal lineaments will he transfused
with the radiance of the one eternal Madon-
na. So we follow this gallery of faces
through which the one ideal Raphael itic
Madonna shines in manifold iridescence as
the sun through falling rain drops.

Raphael had his personal evolution into
his Art, passing through several stages which
are so marked that they have been generally
recognized. Indeed Raphael painted him-
self more fully during his few years than any
other artist ever did; his biography is best
read in his pictures. He painted his own
soul vet in it the world-soul as manifested
in his own time. The stages of his life's
panorama we shall briefly designate.

I. Raphael Santi, or Sanzio, was born
April 6th, 1483. His father, Giovanni, be-
longed to the class of trades-people, but was
at the same time a painter of some note and
worth. Several of his forefathers seem to
have been able to paint. Thus the child had


an artistic inheritance, and was started at
an early age in his ancestral calling. The
father was also a poet, and has left a long
poem in the meter of Dante, which celebrates
the exploits of his ruler.

It is probable that the home of Raphael
laid in his soul the deepest and most abid-
ing germ of his Art, namely the conception
of the Holy Famil5^ Vasari eulogizes the
father for the care with which he looked
after the early training of his son. Giovanni
Santi w^as an idealist, as shown by his poetry.
Even stronger was the influence of his
mother, Magia Ciarla, who left him orphaned
of her care and countenance when he was
only eight years old. But that early disap-
pearance of the mother kept her an eternal
presence (as it often does) to the child, who
stayed behind. Such was the primal psy-
chical source of Raphael's profoundest ar-
tistic strain which made him the supreme
Madonna-painter of Christian Art. Every
memory of his mother and himself turned to
a picture of the Madonna and Child. It was
the one theme which he loved above all
others, and which to the last he would paint
without help, by himself and for himself.
Such a work was a supernal communion, his
most intimate act of worship. After three
years another keen separation follows : at


the age of eleven the boy loses his father
also, who then takes his place in the ideal
Holy Family of the artist, often to be pic-
tured from the stores of memorv.

The birth-place of Raphael was at Urbino,
a small city lying on the eastern side of the
Apenines, and looking peacefully toward the
Adriatic and the East. It was remote from
the ceaseless agitation, commercial, political,
and intellectual, of the typical Italian Repub-
lics; its people lived the quiet transmitted
life of their ancestors. Church and State
Avere not questioned; Art went hardly be-
yond the simple traditional needs of wor-
ship, and retained still somewhat of its By-
zantine tradition, while the Christian Mythus
bubbled up from its primitive fountain of
faith in the hearts of the people. Now it
was this idyllic environment in which the
youth of Raphael was passed, enshrining it
in his very receptive artistic soul.

When about sixteen years old, it is sup-
posed that he first came under the tutelage
of the famous artist, Pietro Vanucci, other-
wise called Perugino, of Perugia. To this
city Raphael now passes, leaving his native
Urbino. Soon he appropriates the manner
of the master and for several years the stvle
of Perugino dominates his work. Toward
the last, however, he shows signs of growing


out of the limits of Perugino. Still lie be-
longs to what is called the Umbrian School,
which is his first stage, and whose traditional
hieratic manner was what he had seen and
learned already at Urbino. In all these mat-
ters we observe that Raphael had taken up
into himself the primal immediate content of
his Art, the original Christian Mythiis, in its
first naive simplicity and sincerity, though
with a transmitted formalism and church
prescription. We feel the lack of artistic
freedom in the recurrent pious looks and pos-
tures of the figures, in the sacerdotal bend
of the head and the crystallized outline. But
there was no breach with the faith, or with
the traditional order in Church and State,
while Art reflected an other-worldliness of
soul which still fascinates the religious ideal-
ist. This Umbrian time will remain a per-
manent strand in our artist; he will go back
to it again and again in his later Roman ca-
reer, as if for a fresh draught from the cre-
ative well-head of his Art. Such was the
pre-Raphaelitic period of Raphael himself,
which has its followers even today.

II. Toward the end of 1504, when Ra-
phael had reached the age of twenty-one
he passed to Florence where he lived some
four vears. He must have heard at Perugia
much about the new artistic spirit which had


arisen in the Tuscan city, lying tlience at no
great distance. His teaclier, Perugino, now
not far from sixtv, liad studied at Florence
in former years, but lie had caught almost
nothing of the renascence of Art taking-
place there, and had stolidly kept on in his
antiquated manner, though he knew Lion-
ardo and had worked with Verocchio. In-
deed he is declared to have grown stiifer,
more formal, more Byzantine with advancing
years. It is no wonder that the beginning
of a reaction against the master has been
detected in some of the pupil's work of this
time. Raphael was doubtless prepared to
make the transition when the hour struck,
and to quit his backward teacher whom
Michel Angelo scornfully called for this
reason doubtless a goffo, a blockhead, un-
teachable by the spirit of his period.

Thus, however, Raphael passed from his
Umbrian to his Florentine discipline. And
a great plunge it was, really from the undis-
turbed idyllic world into the seething vat of
all the spiritual agitations of the age. Of
his own accord he quit his innocent Paradise
of Urbino to experience the trials of the sin-
ful Tuscan Purgatory. In the very year of
his arrival (1504) took place the famous bat-
tle of the cartoons between Lionardo and
Michel Angelo, the two supreme artists of


that age and of all ages. Of course there is
no record of the effect of -this struggle of the
Titans upon the youthful Raphael. Did he
have any intimation of the place which he
was to occupy in connection with the mighty
twain? One thing is certain: History has
put him alongside them, yea between them
in the uppermost cycle of the three supreme
personalities of Painting. But at present in
Florence he had his first glimpse of the tense
dualism to which he will in time be joined as
the reconciling and completing intermediary.

What, then, was the peculiar experience,
the epochal training which Florence brought
into his life 1 He must have seen on all sides
the grand breach with tradition, not only in
his special Art, but in culture and civiliza-
tion. Now Raphael will take up this breach
into his own career, but will after his way
heal it ; in adopting Florence he will not cast
off Urbino. He finds a painter who already
conjoins the old and the new, and whom he
chooses as his teacher. This is Fra Bartol-
ommeo, who still has his niche in the temple
of famous Florentine artists.

But Raphael also comes in contact with the
new spirit of the Renaissance Avhich was
then in full flower at Florence. He followed
the example of the artists of the city who
were studying the antique by means of the


sculpture collected by Lorenzo dei Medici in
the gardens of San Marco. This had been
already the main fountain of Michael An-
gelo's inspiration. For first time Raphael
now breathes the atmosphere of ancient Art,
of which he will take far deeper drmights
later at Rome. It is recorded that a learned
man, Taddeo Taddei, became deeply inter-
ested in the open-souled aspiring young art-
ist, and inducted him into the erudition of
antiquity, and also made him acquainted with
the most distinguished humanists of Italy.
All this classical knowledge he will widen
and employ at Rome, for example in the
School of Athens. And there is no doubt
that Raphael during his Florentine quadren-
nium took a dip into philosophy, especially
into Platonism which had a devoted band of
followers at Florence, and which was very
congenial to Raphael's idealism. Of clas-
sical learning at first hand he had very little,
his school training had been meagre, but with
that marvelous power of appropriation he
absorbed whatever lay in his environment.

Raphael is not known to have manifested
a political interest anywhere; still he could
not help feeling the institutional difference
between Urbino and Florence. The latter in
1504 was again a republic having thrown off
the yoke of the Medici, and selected a Gov-


eriior of its own, the Goiifaloiiiere Soderiiii,
who was a promoter of Art and had been the
prime mover in starting the artistic contest
of the cartoons between Lionardo and Michel
Angel 0. AVe have to think that Raphael in
that ^-eceptive soul of his, took a whiff of
Florentine freedom and carried it with him
to Rome, where, however, it was soon
smothered in the papal absolntism. (Com-
pare his first Roman mural paintings in the

Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderMusic and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic → online text (page 23 of 32)