Denton Jaques Snider.

Music and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic online

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and form the beginning and the conclusion
of the second period of the artist as painter.
On Christmas Day, 1541, the finished pic-
ture was exposed to the public, after a fierce
six years of continuous labor. The feelings
both of terror and of fascination were
roused by this new miraculous epiphany of
the Lord delivering his damnatory sentence
as world-judge. The frescoes of the Ceiling-
showed already three adverse judgnients in-
flicted on sinful man: the expulsion from
Paradise, the Deluge, the Curse of Noah.
But the years have only deepened the in-


tensity of Michel Angelo's damnation of
man. Has he not personally witnessed the
betrayal of Florence and the loss of her lib-
erty, and too at the hands of a Pope? More-
over, he could still see about him many
marks of the destroyer at Rome, when the
sacred city of Christendom was besieged
and in part looted by its foes in 1527. That
was certainly a divine Judgment, which will
now be painted with a far deeper and more
real experience and with a mightier energy
than ever before, for it is the ever-present
fact of the world which he sees.

We have noticed the same damnatory
spirit in the sculptured figures decorating
the Tomb of the Medici at Florence. The
four recumbent statues in different ways ex-
press by look and attitude a negative view
of their environing world, as has been al-
ready set forth; they too are a Last Judg-
ment, though very small and also disguised.
But the artist, now restored to freedom of
utterance by the new Pope, throws off the
mask and breaks forth into a vast totality
of damnation, immediately presented in
form and color to vision. Very small and
pale seems that Florentine Inferno of white
marble compared to this furious cataclysm
of humanity. There is no doubt that the
artist was deeply inspired by Dante's Hell;


it is also reported that he also pored over
Savonarola's fire-tipped maledictions all his
life. But there is no Paradise here, hardly
a Purgatory; Christ is indeed present, but
not as a mediator with mercy, but rather as
executor with justice, if not as executioner.
Nor is there, alas! any Beatrice, though a
shrinking Madonna leans toward him be-
neath his uplifted right arm, with a look
mingled of pity and abhorrence, as she
glances downward.

Thus the present Last Judgment is but
the intensified culmination of this entire
second Period of the artist, which in its
whole sweep is one great Last Judgment,
sculptural and pictorial. We have to con-
sider it his negative epoch, in which his
deepest impulse as well as his w^orld-view
was that man enacted a tragedy on this
earth, if not God Himself in the Creation.
Herein, we are reminded of Shakespeare's
second or tragic Period, in which he wrote
his most impressive and indeed his truly
Titanic w^ork, namely his great tragedies,
and during which he was overshadowed with
the penalty of humanity, feeling little of its
redemption. So Michel Angelo has here
painted a cosmical epos whose theme em-
braces God, Nature and Man, with deity's
doom suspended over his own work, which


on the whole might be inscribed with Dan-
te's words over Hell-gate: "Leave all hope
ye who enter." Undoubtedly there is a small
line of the good streaming through this vast
mass of retribution.

But now comes a change. The woman en-
ters for the first time with her love into the
lonely soul of Michel Angelo. It is not
known when Vittoria Colonna begins her
transformation of the world-view of the ar-
tist, whereby he is restored from his nega-
tive condition, and wdns a new life of spiri-
tual reconciliation. His first letter to Vit-
toria is dated Rome, 1545, in which occurs
the following passage which speaks- of
"your favors," probably some poems of hers
wdiich she sent him: "AVhen I possess them
. . . I myself shall live in them, and my
house will seem to encircle me with Para-
dise." Here is a note of Dante's Beatrice
which WQ shall often find in Michel Angelo 's
later sonnets and madrigals. He declares
that her soul has fashioned his, transform-
ing him with love. He looks back at himself
as a lost soul in his previous condition:
"She lured me from the w^ays I was going,"
like Dante in the dark w^ood; then I w^as
"borne from my former state aw^ay by her,"
to wdiom he prays "0 lady, let me return
unto mvself no more."


Another striking co-incidence which con-
nects Vittoria with Beatrice, and Michel
Angelo with his favorite and deeply studied
poet Dante, was the somewhat sudden death
of Vittoria in 1547, and her transfiguration
in the soul of her lover. Says Condivi: "Her
death was the cause of his often standing
stupefied, thinking on it, as a man who had
lost his mind." Many a sonnet gives
glimpses of the idealist's vision of her place
beyond: *'Love has triumphed, lifting her
to the saints of Paradise" where Beatrice
also is, whereat her lover still hopes from
her ''that help which was on earth before."
So Michel Angelo re-enacts the part of Dan-
te and represents the woman of his heart
as leading him out of his Inferno and con-
ducting him toward Paradise, even here on

And now for the stranger and deeper
side of the occurrence. Dante was a tender,
impressionable youth when Beatrice passed
away, but Michel Angelo was seventy-two
years old at the decease of Vittoria Colonna.
Doubtless their first acquaintance reached
back to the concluding vears of the Last
Judgment, but her influence is hardly trace-
able in that work; this spiritual transforma-
tion must have taken place later, when
through love he becomes reconciled with him-

PAiNTixG^MicHi:r. .\\<ii:rj>. 359

self aM with the Divine Order. The living
Vittoria Coloima mediates the old artist, not
Christ, whom he had often painted without
receiving the last consecration. Perhaps it
were better to say that she, bearing the Medi-
ator in herself, brings him to Michel Angelo.
This was his first and only love; during all
his days he had kept aloof from women, and
had never shown any attachment to the
other sex. But now he becomes aware of
their place in the universe and in his own life.
His God on the Sistine Ceiling is a solitary
bearded loveless male, but of enormous cre-
ative power, like Michel Angelo himself at
that time; his Madonnas and his Christs
are certainly not overcharged with tender
emotion. But now comes the great change,
which may be traced in his later drawings;
the old man is really born anew through

What about Vittoria on her side?
Through her veins coursed the most aristo-
cratic blood of Italy; between the two lay
always for her the impassible chasm of rank.
Moreover she was devoted to the memory
of a deceased husband and to her some-
what monastic view of religion. Still she
is held to have had deep sympathy with the
Reformation, which was then seething in
Germany, and was overflowing the Alps into


Italy. Many diverse opinions have been
held about this relation between Vittoria
Colonna and Michel Angelo, and will con-
tinue to be held; but in the last and deepest
sense of sacrifice she did not love him,
though he loved her just in that sense. Hence
his love had to be absolute, disinterested,
without ultimate requital or reward. So he
idealized her, for the ideal possession was
the only one possible. Again we think of
Dante's Beatrice who was the wife of an-
other man, so that the poet's love could not
be realized, but was idealized all the more.
Still Vittoria loved the artist, or rather
she loved his love, and she knew what she
had to do with such a gigantic gift of devo-
tion. She must mediate the man, not marry
him; must become his ideal, not his wife,
and he must translate her to heaven, not to
his kitchen or household. To be sure, there
was also the difference of age, but she was
no longer a summer butterfly during these
years of the artist's attachment, being fifty-
seven years old when she died. All this is
told in Michel Angelo 's prose and verse of
the time, which have the undertone of Dan-
te's Vita Nuova. It is true that the artist
wrote poetry all his life and toyed already
in youth with love as an outside momentary
fancy, or as a Platonic plaything. So in his


two earlier periods; but now we feel in his
writ the grand conversion of the man from
Hell to Heaven.

But what effect will this transformation of
soul have upon the works of his genius?
That demonic power of expression which
sprang from his mighty but negative spirit
has departed. We have only to look at his
last pictures in the Pauline Chapel to see
that the Michel Angelo of the Sistine Ceiling
and of the Last Judgment is no more. He
was in Hell personally when he portrayed
those infernal scenes, and was himself writh-
ing under the penalty of negation ; but love
has taken him out of his Inferno and trans-
lated him into his Paradiso, though still ter-
restrial. No more Painting, no more Sculp-
ture, except as fitful but pale remembrances
of what has been. Some may say that old-age
had palsied his hand or even his brain, but
that is not the whole or the deepest truth of
him now. The demon which had so great
powder over him, and lashed him into such
mighty utterance of his fury, has been driven
off by an angel from Heaven, by a Beatrice
who is now in control. He looked back with
some degree of penitence upon his former
artistic career. In a later sonnet he cries
out: "Now I know my soul was snared by
error, when it made art its idol and sov-


ereign master," and this prayerful confes-
sion: "Nor Painting nor Sculpture suffices
to soothe my soul which now turns to thee,
0, Divine Love." Such is his retrospect,
doubtless uttered in a melancholy moment,
still it indicates the great change in the man
from his first and second periods. But he
is yet active, yea creative; to what now will
he turn!

III. TJie Artist as Architect. Michel An-
gelo did not perish with Vittoria Colonna,
uor did he lose his genius, though it shot-off
in a new direction ; he still was a mighty Self
needing artistic expression, though trans-
formed. He survived her some sixteen
years. A genetic energy was yet driving
him on, forcing him into his third Art, Ar-
chitecture. Here we may cite a description of
the old man at work: "I saw him, though
over sixty and not robust, knock off more
chips from very hard marble in a quarter of
an hour than three young stone-cutters would
have done in an hour — and he went about it
with such impetuosity and fury that I thought
the whole work was flying to pieces." Such a
volcano, though so long active, is by no
means extinct, and must have an outlet.

He betakes himself to building, which will
be on a vast scale, quite parallel to the mag-
nitude of his genius in Sculpture and Paint-


iiig, botli of wliicli now drop into tlie Lack-
grouiid during this third period of his ar-
tistic career, though they are by no means
given up. Still his creative bent during
these last years of his life is massively archi-
tectonic. He cherishes and in part realizes
a grand sclieme to rebuild Rome, both sec-
ular and religious. In 1546 he made the plan
for the three palaces on Capitoline Hill, that
of the Museum, of the Senators, and of the
Conservators. His great ambition was to
adorn the center of the old Roman world, the
Capitol, with three commanding edifices;
these the visitor beholds today with an inner
uplift. Such was to be the lofty institutional
home of the modern secular city. He did not
live to see his plan carried out, but it was
finished after his death, with a number of
minor changes. Also he built the most im-
posing portions of the superb private edifice,
still known as the Palazzo Farnese. Other
lesser structures he planned and in part
erected, as well as bridges and works of en-
gineering for the defense of the city. His
secular style was in general of the Renais-
sance, was indeed often suggested directly
by that old Rome, whose gorgeous imperial
ruins were lying every where around him.
Confinedly classic he often seems, yet with
marvelous outbursts like the Farnesian


cornice and tlie stairs of the Palace of Sen-

Thus his mighty limit-defying spirit turns
architectural, and finds its fresh congenial-
ity in the strict mathematical limits of regu-
larity, proportion, symmetry. The new Art
seems to be deeply consonant with his new
spirit, and to give to the same an adequate
expression. Architecture must be construc-
tive; it has to build and not destroy; more-
over it has to obev the law of construction
and of materials, and it cannot portray ne-
gation like the other Arts, or only to a small
extent. It cannot go very far in defiance of
the law of gravitation, without danger to its
own being. But Painting is hardly subject
to the law of gravitation, being primarily
wrought of the ideal dimensions of point,
line, and surface, which in themselves are
not heavy. In some such manner we may
construe Michel Angelo's turn to Architec-
ture as an inner necessity of his changed
world-view, which ushers in this third pe-
riod. He loves the obedient world of mat-
ter because he himself has become obedient
— which he never was before. It is often
said that the impotence of old-age caused
this transfer of vocation, or the autocratic
behest of the Pope, or the intrigues of rivals.
But he was not the man to be forced bv ex-


ternal circumstances into a field of Art con-
trary to his inner call. Pope Julius indeed
commanded liim to paint the Ceiling of the
Sistine Chapel, but the far more coercive
command was that of his own genius. So
this transition to Architecture has in it an
outer adjustment, but likewise a more deeply
compelling inner adjustment, which is the
thing especially to be seen.

It is true that he had practiced Architec-
ture his whole life, beginning in Florence
where, during his youth, he could gaze upon
the finest architectural flowers of the Renais-
sance in that city's unique palazzos, and
specially in the lofty dome of the Cathedral
built by Brunelleschi, which he felt cognate
with his own towering spirit, and which he
will transfer to Rome during this period in
a mightier, more Heaven-resembling, and
even more graceful form.

This brings us to the supreme architec-
tonic act of Michel Angelo, the most com-
manding and creative one of our modern era
— the Dome of St. Peter's at Rome. It caps
his own colossal life, and symbolizes the
unity and sovereignty of the religion with
which he had become reconciled. We know
that the work is an evolution out of former
similar edifices — the Roman Pantheon, the
Byzantine St. Sophia's, the Florentine


Dome, all of wliicli are stages representing
central authority, wliicli, however great,
passed away. But the Dome of St. Peter's
truly typifies the Eternal City, and is alto-
gether the most commanding object in Rome
today. It contrasts very suggestively with
the lower part of the edifice, which is huge
but gross, gigantic but tyrannous, brilliantly
ornamented but sensuous. We see the ideal
celestial church superposed on the very ter-
restrial body — the upward flight heavenward
and the downward gravitative plunge in the
other direction. Let it be said that this pro-
digious body is not the work or the plan of
Michel Angel 0, he had thereof another ideal
which though more beautiful could not be.
realized in that time.

The Dome of St. Peter's is still traveling
round the world, and has passed from re-
ligious to secular structures, which repre-
sent the home of authority. It speaks to the
folk of their associated power in the insti-
tution as no other architectural form. Par-
ticularly in America it belongs to the House
of the State more than to the House of
Church. The Dome of our Nation's Capitol
was originally modeled by Michel Angelo.
It was the last great creative act of his ar-
tistic career, truly an institutional act rep-
resenting the supremacy of institutions in


its most complete structural manifestation.
All the rest of Rome seems small compared
to the Dome of St. Peter's; indeed lower
Rome vanishes when seen in the distance,
while the upper Dome rises solitary and even
looks greater than ever.

Thus Michel Angelo has in Architecture
produced the most commanding visible sym-
bol of himself as well of the religious in-
stitution, and indirectly of all institutions;
likewise a symbol, we believe, of his reconcil-
iation with the Divine Order whose terres-
trial home he has here sympathetically built
in its most colossal as well as beautiful man-
ifestation. He has now seized upon that
Art which is psychically the most consonant
with his character at this time. The
lofty Dome of St. Peter's could be erected
only by a man reconciled with God and His
governance of the world; such is still the
impression which it sends down upon the re-
sponsive beholder. Michel Angelo main-
tained that the artist himself must first be a
worthy and harmonious vehicle of his theme ;
a mere technician, however skillful, cannot
paint a Madonna, whose picture in itself
must be an act of the deepest faith. Says
he: ''In order to represent in some degree
the image of our adored Lord, it is not
enough that a master should be great and


able. I maintain that he must also be a man
of good life, if possible a saint, in order that
the Holy Ghost may stream down inspira-
tion into his soul."

Moreover we can see that in his last and
highest architectonic work Michel Angelo
attained a greater universality than in his
other two periods, which, as before said, deal
almost entirelv w^ith the Classic and the
Christian Mythus. These are the expres-
sion of two limited peoples and epochs of
Europe, and hardly touch the Orient. But
Michel Angelo 's Dome can be taken to rep-
resent an Oriental religion or state as well
as a European or American; its author-
ity has no sectarian bias, nor national, nor ra-
cial, even if its development belongs to a cer-
tain time and people. Now Sculpture and
Painting even under the spell of Michel An-
.gelo's genius, are, each of them, a limited
historic utterance which rises with him at
last into the more universal, though less in-
tense Art, his latest Architecture.

Still it is not intended to say his Dome,
which he never built, but whose model he
made after his own gigantic conception, is
a greater work than his Sistine Ceiling. But
the view of God, of the primordial Creator,
is different in each. Michel Angelo felt the
limits of man's individuation more deeply


than any known artist, perhaps more deeply
than any known man wlio has given expres-
sion to himself in any known way — in Art,
Literature, Religion, Philosophy. The trag-
edy of Creation itself, hence of the Creator,
is what breaks out of his own individuated
Self all through his second Period with a
demonic energy. Thus he touches mightily
the profoundest negative note of humanity,
and plays the whole gamut of it in the multi-
tudinous shapes of the Sistine Chapel.
There we feel him to share in the act of the
Creator; the colors and the forms are not
merely an expression of the Psyche, but be-
long to the original Psyche of Nature her-
self, in her primordial evolution. The
artist seems to be individuating Man and Na-
ture out of himself into these shapes along
with God.

So rounds up the great Florentine trinity
of painters, who, according to the general
consensus of the best judges have never
been equaled since. "With them Painting
delivered its supreme message in the high-
est way possible to it as an Art. Indeed its
greatest hero, the Titanic Michel Angelo,
broke over its limits just through his world-
storming Titanism, and found his final ex-
pression in another Art. Still it is he who
has brought down to our wondering vision



the Theopbaiiy of Creation itself, and there-
in produced the last and greatest work of
Painting, with which in the present book we
shall conclude our view of this Art. It still
lives and has produced a long line of artists
and schools all of which have their merits
and their import in our modern life. But the
AVorld-Spirit no longer paints, having other
more adequate utterance. Hence in accord-
ance with the purpose of the present book,
we shall have to drop any further consider-
ation of this Art.

AVhat next! Somatic Art has still an-
other stage which passes again to the solid
Body, wherein it goes back to Sculpture,
resuming its spatial fullness. Thus the
three stages or kinds of Somatic Art stand in
intimate relation to the primal element of
total Nature, namely Space. Sculpture is
solidly spatial, Painting is de-spatialized or
ideally spatial, kinetic Art is re-spatialized
or really spatial, with motion added to Body,
Avhereby Time enters, the second element of
Nature after Space. So far down we have
to reach, if we touch the bottom of the dis-
tinction between the Arts of Body, of which
the third is now to be briefly considered.



Kinetic Art.

We now come to a stage of artistic mani-
festation whose elementary fact may be
stated thus : Body moves. To be sure some-
thing more distinctive is to be added to make
this movement an Art. It must show, at
least primarily the Supernal, the Ideal, the
Divine. It must be the bearer of man's as-
sociation, mirroring the same to himself in
its way. Such was the Dance originally — a
religious ceremony, often a part of the ritual,
like the sacred painting", or statue, through
which the people might participate in the
deity. Such too were the holy Processions,
Festivals, Celebrations dedicated to the God
and revealing liim in some form, and for
that reason they were to be made beautiful.
For the ultimate ground of the longing after
beauty lies just in tliis manifestation of
Crodhood which the folk will behold in what
to their conscience is its highest revelation
and perfection. Hence it comes that the ap
pearance of the Beautiful has varied with
the stages of human development; we today
may appreciate but we cannot produce what
the Greek would call supreme beauty, though


lie started the tlioiiglit of it which we still
are maundering over.

It should be noted that the Kinetic Arts,
as here designated, belong to the somatic
group, they are Arts of the Body, essen-
tially of the organic Body along with Sculp-
ture and Painting. But tliat Body is no
longer fixed in Space and Time, it is endowed
with Motion which is a union of those two
primal elements of Nature; so much exten-
sion (Space) is integrated with so much suc-
cession (Time), and thus has movement; or,
the Body as Space-occupying changes its
fixed position into a series of successive mo-
ments of Time. Now Sculpture and Painting
had no motion properly ; they seized upon the
one given moment and held it fast in the
statue or picture, both of which have become
fluid (so to speak) in the Kinetic Arts, which
outwardly may be grasped as moving stat-
ues and pictures. The kinetic artists here
can take living bodies in action and paint
with them his representation. The word
Kinetic is of Greek origin and means ca-
pable of or pertaining to motion (Kinesis) ;
Music, Ave may note, is kinetic, since it has
motion, but it is not somatic, since it has not
Body as material and visible.

Evidently the Kinetic Arts show^ a good
deal of variety, splitting up into many dif-


ferent kinds. Still tliey all have the com-
mon characteristic : the moving Body, which
is usually living, but may be also life repre-
sented. Likewise the motion -may start from
within (self -moved) or from without (me-
chanical). A picture carried in a proces-
sion may become a portion of a Kinetic Art,
which thus can embrace both Sculpture and
Painting even externally. On the other hand
the Body may be conceived to walk out of
the picture where it is fixed in a given place
at a given moment and to resume its free ac-
tivity, which through Sculpture and Paint-
ing shoots into a crystallized state for once
and for all. In this sense the Kinetic Arts
may be said to bring back the Body's libera-

Online LibraryDenton Jaques SniderMusic and the fine arts; a psychology of aesthetic → online text (page 27 of 32)