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Accession No . 826 fc/dss M) .


















Art History in the High School

An article in the Eevue des Deux Mondes of
July 15, 1899, on this subject is worthy of atten-
tion. It is by M. George Perrot, founder of the
chair of Classical Archaeology in the French
Academy and, with his collaborator Chas. Chi-
piez, author of the well-known volumes on
Ancient Art.

In 1891 M. Perrot submitted to the school
authorities of France a scheme, forthwith
adopted and put into operation, by which as a
compensation for the withdrawal 'of Greek and
Latin from a section of the curriculum, three
hours weekly were to be divided between the
history of civilization and the history of art.
This applied only to the division called the First
Modern and not to students preparing for a
University course. The experiment has covered
eight years and in spite of many draw- backs,



has been of such value that M. Perrot insists, in
justice to students of the so-called Classical
Course, that it be extended to them ; that these
lads destined for liberal careers and with years
of training before them, should not be condemned
to a manifest inferiority and alone in their gen-
eration be strangers to a whole order of senti-
ments and ideas now becoming familiar to their
more favored comrades. For the first time in
its history the Lycee now teaches its pupils that
the art of a people, in the same sense as its liter-
ature, is the vehicle of its profoundest feeling
and highest thought, and their attention is being
directed to masterpieces of sculpture, painting,
and building.

The hour seems to have arrived when argu-
ments should be presented in favor of making
Art History as much a required study in the
classical course as since 1891 it has been in the
general course of Modern Instruction; though
the extension should be made only under condi-
tion that illustrative material shall supplement
instruction from the chair.


The importance of including art history in
any scheme of education is strongly urged. The
language of form interprets intellectual concep-
tions and sentiments of the heart with a clearness
and force equal to any expression by written or
spoken word. The literature and history of
former generations give us only a partial knowl-
edge of any state of society which may be our
study. There are soul traits, soul conditions and
characteristics unrecorded by poet or historian,
though perhaps hinted at, which will forever
elude the grasp of those who depend only upon
written evidence. These conditions of soul, how-
ever elementary and remote, leave their sure
mark on the habitudes and beliefs of a people ;
and though unexplained by the contemporary
civilization are often made clear by the work of
the artist and builder.

One out of many examples is furnished by
Schliemann's discoveries, which have unearthed
Troy, Mycenae, and Tiryns ; have recovered from
oblivion a primitive Greece of which the Greeks
themselves had preserved only a slight recollec-


tion, and have given to the Homeric epoch a back-
ground of several centuries. Now this Greece,
contemporary with the times of Tothmes and
Rameses and anterior to Grecian history and
even legend, did not know the art of writing;
but she did know how to quarry and dress stone,
how to square wood and make it into franie-
work, how to model and bake clay, to melt and
hammer lead, bronze, gold and silver, how to
carve ivory. Every small scrap fashioned by
the tools of these artisans has the value of an
authentic document. After what fashion society
N was then constructed, what sort of lives men
led, how they understood the to-morrow of
death, all this is revealed by marks which the
hand of man has left upon objects it has touched
the colossal walls of Tiryns, the majestic
mortuary domes of Mycene, the space arrange-
ment of the royal dwellings whose plans are
traceable upon the ground, and those of sepul-
chres hidden under the earth, as well as the
arms, instruments, vases, and jewels found
scattered through the rubbish of edifices, or


buried in the tombs. Thanks to these monu-
ments the shadowy past is illuminated with vivid
gleams of light, and we begin to distinguish the
traits which characterized this world of Achaean
heroes, a world whose image, transformed and
singularly magnified, is reflected in the Iliad and
Odyssey, as that of Charlemagne and his Knights
in our ancient heroic poems..

From these obscure times let us transport
ourselves to the Greece of Pisistratus, of Pericles
and Alexander. Our students know what liter-
ary losses we have suffered here, what a mere
fragment has escaped the general shipwreck of
antiquity; should not some hint also be given
them of the precious supplementary information
which to some extent has come to fill up these
gaps ? There are many variations on important
myths which have furnished the contemporary
artist, especially the ceramic artist, with sub-
jects, and thus have acquainted us with episodes

and personages scarcely noticed by writers of
the day. We ought to have the cyclic poets
they have all perished; w r e ought to have the


lyric poets of whom Pindar has rescued a single
one through that ode to Bacchus which is the
joy of Hellenists; we ought to have a whole lost
tragic literature and a whole comic literature
represented only by Aristophanes; we should
have the Old, the Middle and the New Comedy,
with that Menander who since the Eenaissance
has been the eternal. regret of the discriminating;
but all this poetry, whether lost or preserved,
did not exhaust the prodigious wealth of Greek
imagination which produced as much in other

If by an evil chance Greek sculpture had also
perished we should be condemned to eternal
ignorance of certain racial aspects and modes of
thought. Is anything in literature of equal
value with the Tanagra figurines for revealing
to us how Greece felt and enjoyed womanly
beauty? Not only its serious and noble types,
a Pallas or an Aphrodite, but the courtesan, the
city dame, the work- woman of some little town
whose grace in the abandonment of every-day life
is observed and seized. Were we to judge the


religion of Greece simply by epithets which de-
fine the gods and by the actions which poets
attribute to them we should risk a total miscon-
ception. We do not possess, alas ! those master-
works of Phidias which render men, the ancients
tell us, more religious, the Athene Parthenos of
the Acropolis and the Zeus of Olympia ; but even
from reproductions which have reached us one
may divine the master's embodiment of luminous
intelligence and of sovereign power in benevo-
lent repose.

It is to be regretted that our students do not
visit more frequently the galleries of the Louvre ;
I have seen more than one high school boy there,
but ordinarily these visitors are impatient to
reach the picture galleries of the second floor,
hastening by the sculpture on the first the
work of the ancients. As I have watched them
glancing about with an indifferent eye how I
have wished they would linger and lend an ear.
If one has learned to listen, these statues ranged
against the walls, the Mars which bears, it is
believed, the mark of Polyclete, the Diana of


the Chase, the Victory of Samothrace, the divine
Venus of Melos, may speak and in some such
words as these : ' ' Young man, you are studying
Greece in Homer and in Plato, in Sophocles and
in Herodotus ; do not pass us by so quickly ; we
are also of this Greece. You need neither gram-
mar nor dictionary to understand and to love us.
You need to educate your eyes. You need to
learn point by point the refinements of beauty.
Do not fear to waste your time, especially if you
aspire later to become an authorized interpreter
of Greek works of genius. The day when by
long and affectionate intercourse your acquaint-
ance with us shall have ripened into an intimacy
so "close that at any moment you are able to
summon our images before your memory, clearly
seen as if our forms themselves were present,
from that day as you read the poets your
thoughts will be occupied by the same images
which rose at the hearing of their verses to the
mental vision of our contemporaries, the Greeks
who saw us created ; and the simple effect of
experiencing like impressions will bring you


near to the ancient Greeks ; you will be in their
nearer neighborhood and more able to think and
feel after their fashion than can the most subtle
grammarian, the most deeply lored Hellenist
who has never seen and closely studied us.^

In the neighboring gallery where the Roman
emperors hold sway, their portrait statues speak
as clear a % word. Can lecture or book bring back
to life as do these statues the Eome of the
Caesars ? In this series of portraits embracing
three centuries of history, the times and the men
are more clearly revealed than through either
the narratives of ancient authors or the disserta-
tions of modern savans. Augustus and Tiberius,
Constantine and Theodosius had the same title,
Emperor ; they were all of them called Consuls,
Caesars, Augustus, fathers of their country, etc.
Nevertheless the character of imperial power
passed through a profound modification between
the first and the fourth centuries. Volumes
which have been written to explain this change
are not so eloquent as the simple comparison of
these princes as to their personal appearance.


Augustus, in perhaps the most beautiful of
his statues, called the Prima Porta, has head,
arms, legs and feet bare; a cuirass covers the
short garment of a soldier and a military mantle
is thrown over that. The emperor is a war
chief who harangues his troops. In another
statue he is draped in the toga like a simple citi-
zen and holds in his hand a roll containing the
discourse he is to read the senate. These are
the manners, costumes, and decorations of re-
publican Eome. One perceives nevertheless
vividly portrayed the spirit and false principle
vof this ill-defined regime which, while investing
one man with almost boundless power, kept up
during two centuries an affectation of conserving
the forms of ancient liberty.

On the other hand, examine the image of
some successor of Diocletian; let it be one of
the emperors who resided by preference at the
new capitol, Constantinople, but do not seek him
among those statues of pomp where the sculp-
tor, through routine, follows a classical expres-
sion; question monuments of another kind where


the artist holds closer to reality the illuminated
manuscript, the mosaics, the ivory diptychs.
There you will no longer see the simple and noble
type borrowed from Greece by Eome, but a form
which by certain characteristics recalls the old
art of Asia, and by others announces that of
the Middle Ages. The head is encircled with a
diadem, the body and limbs are entirely con-
cealed by tight draperies which are at the same
time very long -and very scanty; the stuffs
which form this casing are from top to bottom
rich with embroideries of various designs repre-
senting rose-work and flowers, animals and
personages. There can be no mistake, we are
no longer in Eome ; the fiction so long kept up
has finally vanished ; the empire has turned in-
to an Oriential monarchy.

Between the two extremes how many fine
gradations may be pointed out to the pupil, the
best possible commentary on history. The heads
of the earlier Caesars, even that of Claudius, the
spoiled scholar, the book- worm led astray to a
throne, and that of Caligula, that witty and


wicked fool, have all of them something aris-
tocratic, a nobility and proud strength in which
one feels the stock ; one recognizes descendants
of those great patrician families which at first
alone seemed capable of giving masters to Rome. t
With Vespasian, whose family, belonging to the
small burgher class, had pushed its way up to an
official position of the second order, the advent
of new imperial blood is perceived. Vespasian
has a round unbearded visage and the double
chin of a chief of department. Trajan has the
physiognomy of a soldier, one is tempted to say
of a soldier who has carried his knapsack and
passed through the inferior grades of service.
Hadrian, with his head bent the better to hear,
his eyes of a vivacity which pierces the very
marble, his lips parted as if to continue a con-
versation, offers all the characteristics of a man
of letters intelligent and inquisitive. One would
take Marcus Aurelius with his bristling hair and
beard for a Greek philosopher. Caracalla shows
a disordered mind ; his glance betrays that fan-
tastic and murderous delirium which seized upon


more than one emperor, especially those who in
their youth found themselves exposed to the
temptations of absolute power.

Not only do these sculptured monuments make
living the great personages of history, they lend
the same character of sensible reality to the
frame and decoration of the picture, to all the
theatre upon which the actors play their role.
When I was a college student my masters ignored
these facts. No portrait-statue was ever men-
tioned in the cut and dried epitome placed in our
hands, and I question whether I really believed
that Sparta and Athens, Boine and Carthage
had ever existed. At least I did not know where
or how to place them in space. I knew nothing
of their situation, of the constructions of their
walls, their houses and their temples. They
were for me shades, vaguely floating between
heaven and earth.

If it is thus in the case of classical antiquity,
notwithstanding the colored and brilliant narra-
tions of its writers, how much more difficult is
it to comprehend the Middle Ages if studied


only in their literary remains. French was not
then the language of the thinkers. The pro-
found thought of the middle ages will not be
found among the troubadours; one must look
for that to the savans, the philosophers, the
theologians and hagiographers ; but to follow
closely the subtileties of analysis and complexity
of symbolism in which that thought delights,
requires great effort of mind rendered yet more
laborious by the artificial character of an ecclesi-
astical Latin which no longer renewed itself at
the living sources of popular speech.

We are unable to see how such works, what-
ever may be their value for the learned, are able
to play any role in the education of our youth ;
and recently by a well-judged innovation in our
school programmes a considerable place was
made for histories and poems in the vernacular,
so that the Song of Roland, the names of Ville-
hardouin and of Joinville have been added to
our study topics ; these the student can only read
in translation, or at best in such arrangements
as modernize the language. The contact there-


fore between the chronicle and the reader's mind
is very imperfect. Supposing a reader capable
of deciphering the original text, even then the
formless prose and stringed couplets slowly un-
rolling their assonances would never give him
the vivid impression which a page of Tacitus or
a canto of Virgil offers to any one who has mas-
tered a little Latin ; and then in the writings of
the middle ages there are only occasional flashes
of true beauty. If the conception has grandeur
its expression will be feeble and dragging.

On the contrary a Eomanesque and a Gothic
church ar not less beautiful after their kind
than a Greek temple ; many minds regard them
as superior in grace and in grandeur. In any case
they do not accent less clearly the power of the
religious faith which has constructed them, and
by their majesty, by the height of their dimly
illuminated vaultings, by the thousands of figures
which people and animate their surfaces they de-
fine with singular distinctness the character of
this faith. As in Greece the sculptor makes
himself a docile and intelligent co-laborer with


the architect, as Phidias and Alcamenes repre-
sented in the pediments and friezes of their Doric
temples the great god and the local heroes of
Athens and Olympia, so also the anonymous
masters who decorated our cathedrals set up
their statues in the splayings of the doors, along
the traceried galleries which flank the f agade, on
the summits of the pinnacles wherever an unoc-
cupied spot could be found; these statues are dis-
tributed in an order prescribed by dogma and
tradition, images of the Saviour and of the Vir-
gin, of angels, saints, prophets and apostles, and
of personages who flit through the narratives of
the Gospels or legends. Many a statue at Bour-
ges, at Chartres, at Eheims, at Amiens and at
Notre Dame de Paris are marvels of severe
elegance, of chaste and spiritual grace, of moral
dignity. It is a recent discovery; but there is
hardly a connoisseur who would not admit a
comparison between the most vaunted of ancient
statues and the admirable " Christ teaching " of
the south portal of Amiens Cathedral, the statue
which bears the popular name of the "beau


Dieu d' Amiens ". Thus, that which the middle
ages could not express in words- the august mys-
teries of the Christian dogma, the poetry of the
Old and New Testaments, the triumph and death
of martyrs, the miracles of saints and their infinite
charities all this was sculptured by a firm and
broad chisel which neither sought nor avoided
difficulties and which was sure of its form what-
ever material it employed. To comprehend how
superior this plastic is to the literary work of
the time it needs only to compare the Christ of
Amiens with word-portraits of the Son of God as
attempted by authors of the Mysteries. " What
can be flatter than these poor verses which are
nevertheless of the fifteenth century ? These
authors are betrayed by their imperfect language.
The sculptor of the thirteenth century, on the
contrary, who fully possessed the grammar of
this art, was able to express all he felt, and has
left us one of the most divine ideals of Jesus
Christ in the world."

The Italy of the Eenaissance must be unin-
telligible to any who do not take into account


the place which art held in the pre-occupations
of not only her practising artists but men in all
conditions, princes, nobles, burghers and even
people in the most humble circumstances; none
among all these who did not feel a passionate
love for beauty. In this love Italy lived and of
it she died. She died because, giving her whole
life-sap to the satisfaction of this passion, she
became indifferent to her own dismemberment,
to the hard yoke of her tyrants, and to the loss
of her political liberty and independence. Her
life, absorbed in this intense passion, spent and
renewed itself in the very ardor with which she
pursued and realized her ideal under all its aspects.
Compared with such an infatuation, art for our
age is no more than the momentary and idle dis-
traction of the leisure classes ; and to those who
devote themselves to it, is often only a profes-
sion, like any other which one might choose for
the chances is offers of gain.

It is well-known how large a place in our
(French) classical system of education is given
to the history and the writers of the seventeenth


century. Now, neither this history reducing it
to a recital of battles and negotiations, nor this
literature, rich and varied as it is, are able, by
themselves, to account for the position in Europe
occupied by Louis XIV, admired, imitated or
rather aped by those even who most heartily
detested him, and admitted as, par excellence, the
type of a modern king. Have we not seen this
prestige after the lapse of two centuries still
dominating the sick mind of King Louis II of
Bavaria ? In his desire to copy his chosen model
this king utterly ruined himself by building
palaces. If on his death bed Louis XIV re-
proached himself that he had too well loved to
build, his edifices with their majestic amplitude
and opulence of decoration gave to that royal
life a framing which had much to do with the
be-dazzlement of Europe in the presence of the
Roi-Soleil. If one wishes to realize something
of the impression this monarch made upon his
contemporaries one must visit Versailles, pass
from apartment to apartment in the Chateau,
and walk about the terraces and avenues of its


park. To be sure all French high schools are not
like Condorcet, close to the Western E. R. sta-
tion ; but everywhere it is possible for the teacher
to describe Versailles, and to show by a series
of representations pictorial or otherwise, its prin-
cipal features; he will thus project upon this
historical figure a light much brighter than if he
required his pupil to memorize all the campaigns
of Turenne and of Conde, all the clauses of the
treaties of Mmegue and of Ryswick.

It is the same with the eighteenth century ; if
one knows nothing of its art a very incomplete
conception of it is inevitable. This century, to
which Voltaire gave the tone, seems to have
been lacking in a sense of poetry; everything
called by that name, even to Andre Chenier, is
only rhymed prose. Nevertheless imagination
did not- yield her right, but, like water which
changes its bed, she seemed to withdraw from
letters and reserved herself for the arts of de-
sign. There she gave proof of invention, of
free and sportive grace; the architects adopt
plans of a happy disposition, affect forms of rare


elegance both in the elements of construction and
in the ornaments which decorate it ; such sculp-
tors as Caffieri and Houdon give to portraiture a
marvellous intensity of life ; the terra cottas of
Colodion recall the antique modellers ; painters
like Greuze and Lancret, Nattier and Boucher,
make fetes for the eyes, while Watteau and
Fragonard create chimerical paradises of eternal
youth and eternal desire. The political history of
our kings and ministers during this period is a
succession of errors and blunders, of aborted plans
and fruitless victories. If France in spite of her
reverses still holds a precedence in Europe, it is
to her writers and to her artists that she owes it.
We pause to ask ourselves if too much stress
has not been laid upon the necessity of pleading
the cause of art. It may be said that our cause
is already gained in the consent of all the best
minds; and in fact, more than one indication
points to an awakened interest more keenly felt
than ever before ; it is especially noticeable in the
place assigned this study in higher education by
the creation more or less recent, of chairs devoted


to it. In the greater number of our universities
however, art history is not yet represented, or if
at all is represented very inadequately ; still, the
principle has obtained a footing and in time re-
sults will appear.

In secondary instruction since the timid ex-
perimental step of 1891, there has been no for-
ward movement. Only a limited number of
pupils have reaped the fruit of the reform, so
that since the benefit has not been extended to
all the students of our high and collegiate
schools, art and its history cannot be said to
have conquered their legitimate share of influ-
ence and of activity in the collective work of
national education. In France the only lines of
study which contribute to general culture are
those imposed upon the student while in the
preparatory school. There is talk of withdraw-
ing the study of philosophy from the high school
and moving it forward to the university course.
Whether or not this would be a benefit, one
thing is certain, whenever this move is made

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Online LibraryGeorges PerrotArt history in the high school → online text (page 1 of 4)