Denton Jaques Snider.

Music and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic online

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ment at its conclusion (1534-41.) Altogether
the second part of his artistic career lasts
some thirty-three years, embracing the very


heart of his mature life. During this long
time he did not give up Sculpture, indeed
he could not; still it did not dominate his
activity as in his previous stage. He must
have found that Plastic Art belongs prop-
erly to the Heathen world, and that it can-
not adequately express the Christian con-
sciousness, which has evolved its own Art
for its truest and deepest utterance. Still
the Antique is not to be thrown away, rather
is it to be cultivated and appropriated but
as subordinate to the higher world-view
which has arisen. Really now Michel An-
gelo is for the first time in harmony with
his own historic Art, whose supreme repre-
sentative he is hence to become. It should
be noted, however, that already in his Sculp-
ture he prophesies the coming painter. Mi-
chel Angelo's plastic feeling was very dif-
ferent from that of the Greek who adhered
generally to a certain norm in his treat-
ment of the human body. Hence we hear
so much of the Greek canon or rule of pro-
portions which every statue was to follow,
however varied its action might be. Already
we have noted the famous canon of Polycle-
tus, and also the slight change of the same
by Lysippus as significant facts in the his-
tory of ancient Sculpture. But Michel An-
gelo disregarded the norm, or diversified it


more or less in everj' work according to his
needs of expression. He broke tlirougli the
rule of proportion, and made the body, the
linil), even the single muscle tell what was
going on within. The perfect organic form
in the Greek sense, the beautiful ideal har-
mony of parts, he cared little for; on the
contrary he was going to bring the surgings
of the Psyche to the surface, though it threw
the whole frame into chaos. Hench the clas-
sically trained eye finds fault with Michel
Angelo's proportions — hands too large,
thorax too broad, this and that muscle too
swollen and the whole somewhat out of
shape. The ordered objective beauty of the
Greek was just a little too beautiful for him,
who sought to utter the subjective intensity
of the soul at the expense of classic symme-
try. The ideal Greek statue usually lacks
in facial expression, it is too universal in
feature to be any real individual man — only
a God could it truly be. But Michel Angelo
turns the whole human body into a face,
making it weep and cry, rave and pray.
Thus, however, he was clashing with the
limits of his Art, the sculptor in him was
trying to paint, to get rid of the clogging
outer three dimensions of length, breadth
and thickness, and to reach the more inner

soulful utterance in line and color. The


Greek deified the caiioii, but Michel Angelo
defied it, and made his own canon according
to his need. Still he had to find out that
there were limits to his Art which he could
not overstep without landing in another Art.
Moreover, he has many facial ideals in strik-
ing contrast with Raphael, who has mainly
one tj'pical face. On the other hand there
were many Raphaels, but only one Michel
Angelo. Raphael could impart his style, his
ideal, his very individuality to his pupils,
Michel Angelo really had no pupil to follow
him as maker of ideals— hence he stood
alone on his height in solitary grandeur.

So it comes that Michel Angelo evolves
out of the sculptor into the painter, and en-
ters upon a new period of his career. Now
can we catch the true bearing of this Second
Period, which lasts a full generation, con-
stituting the central sweep of his entire cre-
ative activity? To our mind it has a unity:
as a whole it portrays the Tragedy of Man,
the fate of individuality. It starts with the
Creator individuating the universe from
primal chaos up to man and woman, and
ends with the damnation of the wicked, even
if there be a fragile thread of good ones
who may be saved. The underlying world-
view of the artist is dominantly negative,
wherein it agrees deeply with his institu-


tional siirroiindiiii^s, Roman, Florentine,
Italian. And all these were receiving a ter-
rible historic judgment during this stage of
his artistic career. So we are to witness Mi-
chel Angelo's tragic Period, which like his
genius is veritably colossal, depicting the
tragedv of total human existence. Or we
may say that it reaches up to the divinely
creative fountain and introduces the Maker
himself on his tragic side, which he has in
himself, if he be the All-in- All.

(1) The opening act of this second grand
SM^eep of Michel Angelo's genius, that of
the painter, was the fresco of the Ceiling
of the Sistine Chapel at Rome (1508). How
did he get started on this totally new work?
A good deal of frothy anecdote obscures the
beginning of it; we are told that he w^as vic-
timized into it by the intrigues of Bramante
and other enemies, wdio would inveigle him
into a task in which he was bound to fail ; it
is also said that he himself did not wish to
take this fresh labor, having his mind set
on a sculptural mausoleum to the Pope. At
any rate, the Pope himself gives the auto-
cratic command, and Michel Angelo com-
mences. It is our opinion that the subtle
Julius II. saw where the artist's power lay;
and the latter was probably not so unwilling
as he may have pretended to be. Michel An-


gelo could always be stirred by rivalry, and
lie must have known that his youngest but
greatest competitor, Raphael, was prepar-
ing the cartoons for the Stanza della Segna-
tura in this same year (1508). It was no
doubt a huge, hard, long labor; but just that
must have been one of the allurements of his
task to the Titanic lover of the Impossible.
Of this pictured Ceiling Avhose surface has
been calculated to be over 10,000 square
feet, the central theme is Creation in its to-
tality. Creation of the Universe, not mere-
ly including man but also the Cosmos, a line
of nine groups (four larger and five smal-
ler), fills the middle of the vault beginning
with the picture of God separating light
from darkness, or perchance his creation of
light as the primal cosmical act. Then comes
the separation of the sun and moon and
the creation of the cosmical luminaries.
Next is the separation of earth and water,
which is followed by the separation or in-
dividuation of Man from the earth, the total
all-embracing Man who is himself next sep-
arated into the two sexes, male and female.
Such is the first grand sweep of divine Cre-
ation made up of five scenes in each of which
God is present as the original Maker. It
is to be noted that He is performing a series
of successive separations, or individuations,


till He reaches the iiidividiial himself who,
being sexed is capable henceforth of indi-
viduating himself, and can take his destiny
into his own hands. Likewise the fact is
significant that God is presupposed. He is
given Personality with whom the universe
creatively begins, and out of whom it is un-
folded. Thus the All-Self rounds out this
first drama with creating the finite human
self, having its own power of self-creation.
The most impressive and supernal Pres-
ence in these scenes is that of the Creator,
as He goes through the various stages of
self-alienation, of making Himself different
from Himself, that is, from the first or im-
mediate Self. There is an underlying fate-
ful strain in that face of His, as if He were
under some strong inner necessity to create
or to make Himself outer, as if He would
not be God unless He made the Universe.
Moreover, His countenance indicates that
the task is not altogether agreeable or ef-
fortless, this continual self-separation has
in it a divine pain or repugnance which
thrice breaks out into a visible scowl, and
is indicated by the gestures of His hands as
well as of His arms. One may also trace
a prophetic glance in His features, for He.
surely foresees the necessary suffering
which will follow in the wake of His work.


He prefigures somewhat of it in Himself.
Of all epiphanies of God the Creator in the
domain of Art, this is the grandest, the most
compelling and adequate. Who could have
been the model? Primarily none other than
Michel Angelo himself, of course universal-
izing his own creative genius. For the ar-
tist in this very fresco is creating hundreds
of shapes, male and female, Adams and
Eves we may call them, through the divinely
genetic energy of his xVrt. Three hundred and
forty-three figures, it is said, are projected
on this Ceiling; what are they but Michel
Angelo 's individuations of his own original
Self, so prolific of fresh souls drawn from
the first sources of creation? I dare to think
that I can trace in Michel Angelo 's portrait
(the Salviati one) certain subtle lines in
common with his God's countenance, even
if this varies a good deal in the five pictures.
Most self-satisfied he seems Avhen he extends
his hand and touches with his forefinger the
corresponding forefinger of the first created
Man now taking form out of the earth. But
what a scene is there when God, looking
down divine dubitation on his own creature,
and raising his awful hand of warning, ap-
pears before the first woman overwhelmed
yet prayerful ! That is the loveless misogy-
nous Michel x^ngelo of this Second period;


(lifferently would he have painted Mother
Eve after lie had seen Vittoria Colonna.
So we have to feel the individual mood
of the artist even in his largest univer-
sality. Still we hold that these five appear-
ances of God the Father are the Supreme
Theopliany of Painting, driving it indeed
upon its last limits, with a demonic might-
iness which terrifies the beholder, but which
constitutes their highest artistic effect.

The other four pictures along the central
line represent the outcome of the preceding-
creation of the individual. Man starts on
his own line of destiny ; the result is the ex-
pulsion from Paradise, the Deluge, the
Curse of Noah — all of them constituting
three generic human tragedies, in which the
Genus Homo receives punishment for trans-
gression. Such is the second part of the
series, much inferior in our judgment to the
first part already considered, more narrow
in its mythical treatment and in its suggest-
iveness, God disappears from these scenes,
and with him goes the elemental genius of
the artist. The whole moves on the lines of
the Hebrew^ Mytlius as set forth in the Old
Testament; but in the first part the artist
remakes the Bible, in the second part it
makes him, as he follows it quite after the


Mightily featured and cognate in form
and character with the Creator Himself are
the fignres of the seven Prophets and five,
Sibyls who are ranged in a line around the
before mentioned fresco. The first show
the Hebrew strand of divine prophecy, and
are men, the second belong to the various
peoples of the Heathen world and are wom-
en, who are seen eagerly consulting their
written oracles, while the prophets seem for
the most part to get their inspiration more
directly. Still both sets have their whisper-
ing genii who bring messages and appear to
connect with similar genii around the Cre-
ator of the central painting. Into these
twelve prophetic personalities Michel An-
gelo has flung his whole elemental strength,
they are divine appearances in themselves,
especially the faces of the men are God's
own, apart, solitary, of gloomy outlook, as
was the artist himself as well as his deity,
forecasting in one glance the human trag-
edy. The women are Amazonian, Titanesses
seated alone, marriageless and childless;
Fates they seem looking into the sorrowful

Many other unique forms and faces pop-
ulate this Ceiling; the artist is their Creator
evoking them from himself with a vast gen-
erative energy, as if he too were a God mak-


ing man by his Promethean Art. A world-
ful of visages look at ns ^n whose genius-
born company we would like to spend a
goodly part of a life-time — but we must on.

(2) We are now to see Michel Angelo
dropping back into sculpture, his Sistine
fresco being completed. Possibly in a kind
of reaction from his long and strenuous la-
bor he returns to his first Art. He plans
to resume w^ork on the magnificent tomb of
Julius II, which had been proposed already,
in 1505. But the work could never get it-
self finished; taken up and dropped many
times it winds through the artist's life for
nearly forty years with ever-renewed vexa-
tion and disappointment. Hence, it became
known as the Tragedy of the Tomb, whose
manifold serpentine sinuosities must here
be omitted with brief mention of results.

By all means the chief remaining work
connected with this Tomb is Michel An-
gelo 's sitting statue of Moses, usually held
to be his greatest achievement in Sculpture.
What is the right conception of it! At first
view it appears strangely discordant with
the biblical character of the God-inspired
lawgiver; rather is it the natural man in all
the plenitude of his sensuous existence. Be-
hold the massive beard, or better the huge
mane of the animal, with which the fingers


of the riglit hand are caressingly toying,
while the symbolic left hand spreads over or
perchance pats the lower abdomen, seat of
appetites carnal and gustatory. Then the
two horns on his head, satyr-like, prolific
source of interrogation and repugnance in
the beholder, especially the woman. So he
is an animal and a big one, too. Now for the
other side. That same mane-fondling right
hand rests on the tablets of the Law, whose
essence is to subject the animal in man to
the divine decree, or to reason, that he may
live with, his fellow-man in a social order.
Then look into the face with its stern inflex-
ible, consuming glance at the violator, who
must have withered at that eye-shot. So
the statue seizes the primal lawgiver him-
self as two-natured, who must first be what
the Law puts down, then must give the Law
to himself, and so learn it, when he will be
able to impart it to others. Possibly the
whole reflects the Pope himself.

Two other noteworthv statues, now in
Paris, are assigned to this Tomb of Pope
Julius: the two so-called slaves, but the
name does not fit or is at least a disguise.
One is alive, Avrestling against his bonds,
with supplicating look heavenward for re-
lease. The other has swooned away, or is
asleep, but hardly dying (as some titles


say) ; a lovely idyllic form of exquisite beau-
ty, but not strong, not fate-resisting, it gent-
ly droops into a luxurious dream. Two ways
of meeting the inevitable lot of life: the re-
sister and the yielder, perchance the in-
tractable Michel Angelo himself fettered by
this very Pope Julius, and conflict-shunning
Raphael of beautiful dreams. Or let it he
Italy or Florence in two diverse stages or
attitudes, for the artist must have felt some
strong personal interest to have poured
such power into his work. To this same
Tomb belong four unfinished statues which
have the value of showing the artist in his
workshop and of revealing various stages
in the evolution of his idea. •

Strangely the construction of another
Tomb, that of the Medici at Florence,
weaves through nearly the whole length of
this second period of the artist's career.
Likewise, this Tomb was the source of many
vexations, and after repeated stops and
new starts was never really finished, though
it called forth several of Michel Angelo 's
greatest statues. The work was to be both
sculptural and architectural; the setting
Avas the church San Lorenzo, to be erected
by the sculptor as architect. The start was
made in 1515 under the Medicean Pope, Leo
X, but it had to wait till the second Medi-


cean Pope, Clement VII, pushed it forward
to its present state. But he died in 1534,
when the work again stopped.

By these dates we may see that tlie monu-
ment would be a kind of retrospect of the
House of Medici, which had furnished two
Popes of Rome and a number of rulers of
Florence. Michel Angelo had seen their
rise, their successes and their defeats. He
felt grateful to the memory of his early
patron Lorenzo dei Medici (who died in
1492). But the old republican and stern
moralist secretly abominated the House
which had destroyed the liberties of Flor-
ence, and corrupted the religious center of
Christendom. He was not in Rome when
it was sacked in 1527 by a so-called Lu-
theran army during the Papacy of a Me-
dici, yet the event he deemed a divine
judgment, if not a forecast of the Last Judg-
ment. But he was present as a soldier in
Florence when it was besieged by a Medi-
cean Pope, and he fought and wrought as
an engineer against the return of a Medi^
cean ruler for that city, who, however, fi-
nally captured it through the treason of its
commander. Michel Angelo escaped by his
flight, but was at last lured back and for-
given under the promise that he would fin-
ish the Tomb of the Medici, whose living
members he had just tried to entomb.


Such was the internal mood as well as the
institutional environment of the artist, when
he put the last touches to those six statues
now to be seen in the Medicean Mausoleum.
There is no doubt that tliej^ reflect his deep-
est feelings, and his view of that sovereign
Italian Family whose career he had watched
all his life, and with which he had been
closely associated. To be sure, he will spread
an outer disguise over his work, especially
as regards its title; the fact is the right
name of not one of these six statues is
known ; their traditional designations, though
originating probably from the artist him-
self, do not fit, and are not intended to fit, or
at best are very remotely suggestive.

First let us take the two seated figures,
called Giuliano and Lorenzo, of the Medicis.
The question has been often discussed:
which Giuliano, which Lorenzo! For there
were more than one of each name in this
family of Rulers. But so much we may see :
here are the two sorts or characters of the
Medici, as revealed in their history. It is
said that neither face is a portrait of any in-
dividual Medici. The one is armed, has his
hand on his mace or club, ready for use, and
has turned his head sideward for a look,
perchance at his foe — evidently the man of
violence. The other is unarmed, sunk in


deep reflection; what is he thinking about?
That is a question which has been answered
very differently and always will be. As for
me, I like to connect this troubled retrospec-
tive (or prospective) look with the visit of
Savonarola when called to the bedside of
the dying Lorenzo the Magnificent, to whom
the daring priest prescribed as the command
of Heaven: "Give back to Florence her
ancient liberty." In such a moodful mo-
ment the artist would portray the greatest
member of the House, though not in bed or

Two recumbent figures lie as it were at
the feet of Giuliano, whose names. Night and
Dav, are doubtless a mask in the form of a
very vague allegory^the mask indeed lies
just at Night's side. This Night is a woman
asleep, or rather adream, restlessly, wear-
iedly so; her dream seems to be that she
may never awake. Her counterpart, the
male figure called Day, looks up from his
sleep at the world and scowls hollow-eyed
like Death because he is awake; possibly
those eyeless cavities mean that he will not
see; like Oedipus he does not want vision.
Why should he wish to look on Florence
now, on Italv? Whv should Night ever wish
to wake up in such a time, and Day be ever
looked upon? It so happens that Michel


Angelo lias given an interpretation to this
figure of Night in answer to the complimen-
tary verse of a fellow poet Avho declares that
the marble has life, and who speaks about
w^aking the sleeper. The artist puts his hope-
less answer into the mouth of the sleeping
and otherwise speechless statue in the form
of a quatrain which is here freely transla-

"Dear to me is it to be asleep,

More dear still to be of stone,

As long as wrong and shame prevail ;

Not to see, not to feel, how great my fortune!

So wake me not, and, I pray, speak low^"

The most intense lines that he ever ver-
sified; they express his inner volcano when
he made all four of these statues, his utter
weariness of life, his disgust night and
day, his Titanic w^orld-pain at what seemed
the grand cataclysm of his institutional
w^orld. Florence enslaved, Rome debauched,
Italy rent asunder by foreigners ! A Medi-
cean tyrant in his city, a Medicean sensual-
ist in the chair of St. Peter; such are the
present scions of the House wdiich he has to
glorify by his monumental Art! Scathing
damnation lies in it, though concealed under
a far-off allegory. His most intimate biog-
rapher, Condivi, says that these works w^ere


executed under a sense of fear, rather than
of love. Undoubtedly some intimidation
there was, which made him mask his inten-
tion, but beneath his disguise he tells the
more impressively his story.

The other two recumbent figures at the
feet of Lorenzo are allegorised as Dawn and
Dusk, titles not so very different from the
two preceding ones, and probably intended
to indicate a symmetry both in theme and
meaning and form. Dusk, a philosophic
male figure propped on his elbows, is in con-
templative mood like the Lorenzo above
him; I take him to be a stoic who is looking
down upon the world with a meditative con-
tempt yet with a calm endurance — also a
mood of the artist. The other figure is
called Dawn, a woman lying exposed in all
her bodily glory, but with a face of thought-
filled anxietv as she looks out on the com-
ing sun. What is to become of her. and hers?
She too is an echo of Lorenzo's meditative
motive, as if she might be fairest Florence
herself incorporate, but with a sorrowful
outlook for her beauty and honor under the
enthroned usurper of the House of Medici.
Thus Michel Angelo poured forth all the
pathos of his soul into these sorrow-laden
world-wearied shapes, which likewise mir-
rored that of the people who beheld them


in deeply responsive sympathy. How diil'er-
ent was their echo to the defiant David look-
ing triumph over his gigantic foe!

Such is the sculptural undertow (so we
look at it) of this second period, which threw
up to the surface the statues of the Two
Tombs, both unfinished, monumentally as
mortal as the bodies within them, keeping
the artist in a torture of worry and disap-
pointment for many years of life. To our
mind the subject was unworthy of his gen-
ius. Still let us rejoice in the great works of
Art which the unhappy theme drove him to
create almost in spite of himself.

(3) We shall pass now to the third and
final act of this long Period and behold
again the artist as painter in one of his
greatest works — the Last Judgment, which
is the culmination of his negative mood, in-
deed of all possible negative moods concen-
tered in one mighty outbreak of the world's
damnation. We feel the volcanic eruption
in the single figures, in the groups, and in
the huge totality, all of them bursting out
from an Oceanic soul long seething within
and seeking utterance whose opportunity
has come at last.

Clement VII, the Medicean Pope, is dead,
the new Pope, Paul III (a Farnese), is
elected and sends for Michel Angelo (1534)



to whom lie wishes to assign a fresh task
of his own, different from building tombs
to the vanity of dead Popes. It is claimed
that the artist was at first "unwilling, and
thought of another flight from Rome. But
whither could he now flee? Certainly not
to his beloved Florence, at present, groan-
ing under its Medieean tyrant. But let the
outcome at once be given. September 1st,
1535, Michel Angelo contracts with the Pope
to paint on the rear wall of the Sistine
Chapel, the fresco of the Last Judgment,
which is a continuation, both in space and in
spirit, of the fresco on the Ceiling begun
some twenty-seven years before. Thus these
two vast works make the arch of Michel An-
gelo 's Painting, perchance of all Painting,

Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderMusic and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic → online text (page 26 of 32)