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careworn and ascetic saint, with the pathetic traces of great beauty in
her emaciated face.

[107] This bust is in the Palazzo Strozzi at Florence.

[108] So Giovanni Santi, Raphael's father, described Desiderio da
Settignano.

[109] The following story is told about Benedetto's youth. He made two
large inlaid chests or _cassoni_, adorned with all the skill of a worker
in tarsia, or wood-mosaic, and carried these with him to King Matthias
Corvinus, of Hungary. Part of his journey was performed by sea. On
arriving and unpacking his chests, he found that the sea-damp had unglued
the fragile wood-mosaic, and all his work was spoiled. This determined
him to practise the more permanent art of sculpture. See Perkins, vol. i.
p. 228.

[110] For further description of the sculpture at Rimini, I may refer to
my _Sketches in Italy and Greece_, pp. 250-252. For the student of
Italian art, who has no opportunity of visiting Rimini, it is greatly to
be regretted that these reliefs have never yet even in photography been
reproduced. The palace of Duke Frederick at Urbino was designed by
Luziano, a Dalmatian architect, and continued by Baccio Pontelli, a
Florentine. The reliefs of dancing Cupids, white on blue ground, with
wings and hair gilt, and the children holding pots of roses and
gilly-flowers, in one of its great rooms, may be selected for special
mention. Ambrogio or Ambrogino da Milano, none of whose handiwork is
found in his native district, and who may therefore be supposed to have
learned and practised his art elsewhere, was the sculptor of these truly
genial reliefs.

[111] See, for example, the remarkable bas-relief of the Doge Lionardo
Loredano engraved by Perkins, _Italian Sculptors_, p. 201.

[112] Another Modenese, Antonio Begarelli, born in 1479, developed this
art of the _plasticatore_, with quite as much pictorial impressiveness,
and in a style of stricter science, than his predecessor Il Modanino. His
masterpieces are the "Deposition from the Cross" in S. Francesco, and the
"Pietà" in S. Pietro, of his native city.

[113] The name of this great master is variously written - Giovanni
Antonio Amadeo, or Omodeo, or degli Amadei, or de' Madeo, or a
Madeo - pointing possibly to the town Madeo as his native place. Through a
long life he worked upon the fabric of the Milanese Duomo, the Certosa of
Pavia, and the Chapel of Colleoni at Bergamo. To him we owe the general
design of the façade of the Certosa and the cupola of the Duomo of Milan.
For the details of his work and an estimate of his capacity, see Perkins,
_Italian Sculptors_, pp. 127-137.

[114] This statue was originally intended for a chapel built and endowed
by Colleoni at Basella, near Bergamo. When he determined to erect his
chapel in S. Maria Maggiore at Bergamo, he entrusted the execution of
this new work to Amadeo, and the monument of Medea was subsequently
placed there.

[115] See above, p. 113. I have spelt the name _Sansovino_, when applied
to Jacopo Tatti, in accordance with time-honoured usage.

[116] To multiply instances is tedious; but notice in this connection the
Hermaphroditic statue of S. Sebastian at Orvieto, near the western door.
It is a fair work of Lo Scalza.

[117] This brief allusion to Cellini must suffice for the moment, as I
intend to treat of him in a separate chapter.




CHAPTER IV

PAINTING

Distribution of Artistic Gifts in Italy - Florence and Venice
- Classification by Schools - Stages in the Evolution of Painting - Cimabue
- The Rucellai Madonna - Giotto - His widespread Activity - The Scope of his
Art - Vitality - Composition - Colour - Naturalism - Healthiness - Frescoes at
Assisi and Padua - Legend of S. Francis - The Giotteschi - Pictures of the
Last Judgment - Orcagna in the Strozzi Chapel - Ambrogio Lorenzetti at
Pisa - Dogmatic Theology - Cappella degli Spagnuoli - Traini's "Triumph,
of S. Thomas Aquinas" - Political Doctrine expressed in Fresco - Sala della
Pace at Siena - Religious Art in Siena and Perugia - The Relation of the
Giottesque Painters to the Renaissance.


It is the duty of the historian of painting to trace the beginnings of art
in each of the Italian communities, to differentiate their local styles,
and to explain their mutual connections. For the present generation this
work is being done with all-sufficient thoroughness and accuracy.[118] The
historian of culture, on the other hand, for whom the arts form one
important branch of intellectual activity, may dispense with these
detailed inquiries, and may endeavour to seize the more general outlines
of the subject. He need not weigh in balances the claims of rival cities
to priority, nor hamper his review of national progress by discussing the
special merits of the several schools. Still there are certain broad facts
about the distribution of artistic gifts in Italy which it is necessary to
bear in mind. However much we may desire to treat of painting as a phase
of national and not of merely local life, the fundamental difficulty of
Italian history, its complexity and variety, owing to the subdivisions of
the nation into divers states, must here as elsewhere be acknowledged. To
deny that each of the Italian centres had its own strong personality in
art - that painting, as practised in Genoa or Naples, differed from the
painting of Ferrara or Urbino - would be to contradict a law that has been
over and over again insisted upon already in these volumes.

The broad outlines of the subject can be briefly stated. Surveying the map
of Italy, we find that we may eliminate from our consideration the
north-western and the southern provinces. Not from Piedmont nor from
Liguria, not from Rome nor from the extensive kingdom of Naples, does
Italian painting take its origin, or at any period derive important
contributions.[119] Lombardy, with the exception of Venice, is
comparatively barren of originative elements.[120] To Tuscany, to Umbria,
and to Venice, roughly speaking, are due the really creative forces of
Italian painting; and these three districts were marked by strong
peculiarities. In art, as in politics, Florence and Venice exhibit
distinct types of character.[121] The Florentines developed fresco, and
devoted their genius to the expression of thought by scientific design.
The Venetians perfected oil-painting, and set forth the glory of the world
as it appeals to the imagination and the senses. The art of Florence may
seem to some judges to savour over-much of intellectual dryness; the art
of Venice, in the apprehension of another class of critics, offers
something over-much of material richness. More allied to the Tuscan than
to the Venetian spirit, the Umbrian masters produced a style of genuine
originality. The cities of the Central Apennines owed their specific
quality of religious fervour to the influences emanating from Assisi, the
head-quarters of the _cultus_ of S. Francis. This pietism, nowhere else so
paramount, except for a short period in Siena, constitutes the
individuality of Umbria.

With regard to the rest of Italy, the old custom of speaking about schools
and places, instead of signalising great masters, has led to
misconception, by making it appear that local circumstances were more
important than the facts justify. We do not find elsewhere what we find in
Tuscany, in Umbria, and in Venice - a definite quality, native to the
district, shared through many generations by all its painters, and
culminating in a few men of commanding genius. When, for instance, we
speak of the School of Milan, what we mean is the continuation through
Lionardo da Vinci and his pupils of the Florentine tradition, as modified
by him and introduced into the Lombard capital. That a special style was
developed by Luini, Ferrari, and other artists of the Milanese duchy, so
that their manner differs essentially from that of Parma and Cremona, does
not invalidate the importance of this fact about its origin. The name of
Roman School, again, has been given to Raphael and Michael Angelo together
with their pupils. The truth is that Rome, for one brief period, during
the pontificates of Julius and Leo, was the focus of Italian intellect.
Allured by the patronage of the Papal Curia, not only artists, but
scholars and men of letters, flocked from all the cities of Italy to
Rome, where they found a nobler sphere for the exercise of their faculties
than elsewhere. But Rome, while she lent her imperial quality of grandeur
to the genius of her aliens, was in no sense originative. Rome produced no
first-rate master from her own children, if we except Giulio Romano. The
title of originality is due rather to Padua, the birthplace of Mantegna,
or to Parma, the city of Correggio, whose works display independence of
either Florentine or Venetian traditions. Yet these great masters were
isolated, neither expressing in any definite form the character of their
districts, nor founding a succession of local artists. Their influence was
incontestably great, but widely diffused. Bologna and Ferrara, Brescia and
Bergamo, Cremona and Verona, have excellent painters; and it is not
difficult to show that in each of these cities art assumed specific
characters. Yet the interest of the schools in these towns is due mainly
to the varied influences brought to bear upon them from Venice, Umbria,
and Milan. In other words they are affiliated, each according to its
geographical position, to the chief originative centres.

What I have advanced in the foregoing paragraphs is not meant for a
polemic against the time-honoured division of Italian painters into local
schools, but for a justification of my own proposed method of treatment.
Having undertaken to deal with painting as the paramount art-product of
the Renaissance, it will be my object to point out the leading
characteristics of aesthetic culture in Italy, rather than to dwell upon
its specific differences. The Venetian painters I intend to reserve for a
separate chapter, devoting this and the two next to the general history of
the art as developed in Tuscany and propagated by Tuscan influences.[122]
In pursuing this plan I shall endeavour to show how the successive stages
in the evolution of Italian painting corresponded to similar stages in the
history of the Renaissance. Beginning as the handmaid of the Church, and
stimulated by the enthusiasm of the two great popular monastic orders,
painting was at first devoted to embodying the thoughts of mediaeval
Christianity. In proportion as the painters fortified themselves by study
of the natural world, their art became more secular. Mysticism gave way to
realism. It was felt that much beside religious sentiment was worthy of
expression. At the same time, about the year 1440, this process of
secularisation was hastened by the influences of the classical revival,
renewing an interest in the past life of humanity, and stirring a zeal for
science. The painters, on the one hand, now aimed at accurate delineation
of actual things: good perspective, correct drawing, sound portraiture,
occupied their attention, to the exclusion of more purely spiritual
motives. On the other hand they conceived an admiration for the fragments
of the newly discovered antiques, and felt the plastic beauty of Hellenic
legends. It is futile to attempt, as M. Rio has done, to prove that this
abandonment of the religious sphere of earlier art was for painting a
plain decline from good to bad, or to make the more or less of spiritual
feeling in a painter's style the test of his degree of excellence; nor
can we by any sophistries be brought to believe that the Popes of the
fifteenth century were pastoral protectors of solely Christian arts. The
truth is, that in the Church, in politics, and in society, the fifteenth
century witnessed a sensible decrease of religious fervour, and a very
considerable corruption of morality. Painting felt this change; and the
secularisation, which was inevitable, passed onward into paganism. Yet the
art itself cannot be said to have suffered, when on the threshold of the
sixteenth century stand the greatest painters whom the world has
known - neither Catholics nor Heathens, but, in their strength of full
accomplished art and science, human. After Italy, in the course of that
century, had been finally enslaved, then, and not till then, painting
suffered from the general depression of the national genius. The great
luminaries were extinguished one by one, till none were left but Michael
Angelo in Rome, and Tintoret in Venice. The subsequent history of Italian
painting is occupied with its revival under the influences of the
counter-Reformation, when a new religious sentiment, emasculated and
ecstatic, was expressed in company with crude naturalism and cruel
sensualism by Bolognese and Neapolitan painters.

I need scarcely repeat the tale of Cimabue's picture, visited by Charles
of Anjou, and borne in triumph through the streets with trumpeters,
beneath a shower of garlands, to S. Maria Novella.[123] Yet this was the
birthday festival of nothing less than what the world now values as
Italian painting. In this public act of joy the people of Florence
recognised and paid enthusiastic honour to the art arisen among them from
the dead. If we rightly consider the matter, it is not a little wonderful
that a whole community should thus have hailed the presence in their midst
of a new spirit of power and beauty. It proves the widespread sensibility
of the Florentines to things of beauty, and shows the sympathy which,
emanating from the people, was destined to inspire and brace the artist
for his work.[124]

In a dark transept of S. Maria Novella, raised by steps above the level of
the church, still hangs this famous "Madonna" of the Rucellai - not far,
perhaps, from the spot where Boccaccio's youths and maidens met that
Tuesday morning in the year of the great plague; nor far, again, from
where the solitary woman, beautiful beyond belief, conversed with
Machiavelli on the morning of the first of May in 1527.[125] We who can
call to mind the scenes that picture has looked down upon - we who have
studied the rise and decadence of painting throughout Italy from this
beginning even to the last work of the latest Bolognese - may do well to
visit it with reverence, and to ponder on the race of mighty masters whose
lineage here takes its origin.

Cimabue did not free his style from what are called Byzantine or
Romanesque mannerisms. To unpractised eyes his saints and angels, with
their stiff draperies and angular attitudes, though they exhibit
stateliness and majesty, belong to the same tribe as the grim mosaics and
gaunt frescoes of his predecessors. It is only after careful comparison
that we discover, in this picture of the Rucellai for example, a
distinctly fresh endeavour to express emotion and to depict life. The
outstretched arms of the infant Christ have been copied from nature, not
merely borrowed from tradition. The six kneeling angels display variety of
attitude suited to several shades of devout affection and adoring service.
The head of the Madonna, heavy as it is and conventional in type, still
strives to represent maternal affection mingled with an almost melancholy
reverence. Prolonging our study, we are led to ask whether the painter
might not have painted more freely had he chosen - whether, in fact, he was
not bound down to the antique mode of presentation consecrated by devout
tradition. This question occurs with even greater force before the
wall-paintings ascribed to Cimabue in the church of S. Francis at Assisi.

It remained for Giotto Bondone, born at Vespignano in 1276, just at the
date of Niccola Pisano's death, to carry painting in his lifetime even
further than the Pisan sculptor had advanced the sister art. Cimabue, so
runs a legend luckily not yet discredited, found the child Giotto among
the sheep-folds on the solemn Tuscan hill-side, drawing with boyish art
the outline of a sheep upon a stone.[126] The master recognised his
talent, and took him from his father's cottage to the Florentine
_bottega_, much as young Haydn was taken by Renter to S. Stephen's at
Vienna. Gifted with a large and comprehensive intellect, capable of
sustained labour, and devoted with the unaffected zeal of a good craftsman
to his art, Giotto in the course of his long career filled Italy with work
that taught succeeding centuries of painters. As we travel from Padua in
the north, where his Arena Chapel sets forth the legend of Mary and the
life of Christ in a series of incomparable frescoes, southward to Naples,
where he adorned the convent of S. Chiara, we meet with Giotto in almost
every city. The "Passion of our Lord" and the "Allegories of S. Francis"
were painted by him at Assisi. S. Peter's at Borne still shows his mosaic
of the "Ship of the Church." Florence raises his wonderful bell-tower,
that lily among campanili, to the sky; and preserves two chapels of S.
Croce, illuminated by him with paintings from the stories of S. Francis
and S. John. In the chapel of the Podestà he drew the portraits of Dante,
Brunetto Latini, and Charles of Valois. And these are but a tithe of his
productions. Nothing, indeed, in the history of art is more remarkable
than the fertility of this originative genius, no less industrious in
labour than fruitful of results for men who followed him. The sound common
sense, the genial temper, and the humour of the man, as we learn to know
him in tales made current by Vasari and the novelists, help to explain how
he achieved so much, with energy so untiring and with excellence so even.

It is no exaggeration to say that Giotto and his scholars, within the
space of little more than half a century, painted out upon the walls of
the churches and public palaces of Italy every great conception of the
Middle Ages. And this they achieved without ascetic formalism,
energetically, but always reverently, aiming at expressing life and
dramatising Scripture history. The tale told about Giotto's first essay in
drawing might be chosen as a parable: he was not found beneath a church
roof tracing a mosaic, but on the open mountain, trying to draw the
portrait of the living thing committed to his care.

What, therefore, Giotto gave to art was, before all things else, vitality.
His Madonnas are no longer symbols of a certain phase of pious awe, but
pictures of maternal love. The Bride of God suckles her divine infant with
a smile, watches him playing with a bird, or stretches out her arms to
take him when he turns crying from the hands of the circumcising priest.
By choosing incidents like these from real home-life, Giotto, through his
painting, humanised the mysteries of faith, and brought them close to
common feeling. Nor was the change less in his method than his motives.
Before his day painting had been without composition, without charm of
colour, without suggestion of movement or the play of living energy. He
first knew how to distribute figures in the given space with perfect
balance, and how to mass them together in animated groups agreeable to the
eye. He caught varied and transient shades of emotion, and expressed them
by the posture of the body and the play of feature. The hues of morning
and of evening served him. Of all painters he was most successful in
preserving the clearness and the light of pure, well-tempered colours. His
power of telling a story by gesture and action is unique in its peculiar
simplicity. There are no ornaments or accessories in his pictures. The
whole force of the artist has been concentrated on rendering the image of
the life conceived by him. Relying on his knowledge of human nature, and
seeking only to make his subject intelligible, no painter is more
unaffectedly pathetic, more unconsciously majestic. While under the
influence of his genius, we are sincerely glad that the requisite science
for clever imitation of landscape and architectural backgrounds was not
forthcoming in his age. Art had to go through a toilsome period of
geometrical and anatomical pedantry, before it could venture, in the
frescoes of Michael Angelo and Raphael, to return with greater wealth of
knowledge on a higher level to the divine simplicity of its childhood in
Giotto.

In the drawing of the figure Giotto was surpassed by many meaner artists
of the fifteenth century. Nor had he that quality of genius which selects
a high type of beauty, and is scrupulous to shun the commonplace. The
faces of even his most sacred personages are often almost vulgar. In his
choice of models for saints and apostles we already trace the Florentine
instinct for contemporary portraiture. Yet, though his knowledge of
anatomy was defective, and his taste was realistic, Giotto solved the
great problem of figurative art far better than more learned and
fastidious painters. He never failed to make it manifest that what he
meant to represent was living. Even to the non-existent he gave the
semblance of reality. We cannot help believing in his angels leaning
waist-deep from the blue sky, wringing their hands in agony above the
Cross, pacing like deacons behind Christ when He washes the feet of His
disciples, or sitting watchful and serene upon the empty sepulchre. He
was, moreover, essentially a fresco-painter, working with rapid decision
on a large scale, aiming at broad effects, and willing to sacrifice
subtlety to clearness of expression. The health of his whole nature and
his robust good sense are everywhere apparent in his solid, concrete,
human work of art. There is no trace of mysticism, no ecstatic piety,
nothing morbid or hysterical, in his imagination. Imbuing whatever he
handled with the force and freshness of actual existence, Giotto
approached the deep things of the Christian faith and the legend of S.
Francis in the spirit of a man bent simply on realising the objects of his
belief as facts. His allegories of "Poverty," "Chastity," and "Obedience,"
at Assisi, are as beautiful and powerfully felt as they are carefully
constructed. Yet they conceal no abstruse spiritual meaning, but are
plainly painted "for the poor laity of love to read." The artist poet who
coloured the virginal form of Poverty, with the briars beneath her feet
and the roses blooming round her forehead, proved by his well-known
_canzone_ that he was free from monastic Quixotism, and took a practical
view of the value of worldly wealth.[127] His homely humour saved him from
the exaltation and the childishness that formed the weakness of the
Franciscan revival. By the same firm grasp upon reality he created more
than mere abstractions in his _chiaroscuro_ figures of the virtues and
vices at Padua. Fortitude and Justice, Faith and Envy, are gifted by him
with a real corporeal existence. They seem fit to play their parts with
other concrete personalities upon the stage of this world's history.
Giotto in truth possessed a share of that power which belonged to the
Greek sculptors. He embodies myths in physical forms, adequate to their
intellectual meaning. This was in part the secret of the influence he
exercised over the sculptors of the second period;[128] and had the
conditions of the age been favourable to such development, some of the
allegorical types created by him might have passed into the Pantheon of
popular worship as deities incarnate.

The birth of Italian painting is closely connected with the religious life
of the Italians. The building of the church of S. Francis at Assisi gave
it the first great impulse; and to the piety aroused by S. Francis
throughout Italy, but mostly in the valleys of the Apennines, it owed its
animating spirit in the fourteenth century. The church of Assisi is
double. One structure of nave, and choir, and transept, is imposed upon
another; and the walls of both, from floor to coping-stone, are covered
with fresco-painted pictures taking here the place occupied by mosaic in
such churches as the cathedral of Monreale, or by coloured glass in the
northern cathedrals of the pointed style. Many of these frescoes date from
years before the birth of Giotto. Giunta the Pisan, Gaddo Gaddi, and
Cimabue, are supposed to have worked there, painfully continuing or feebly
struggling to throw off the decadent traditions of a dying art. In their
school Giotto laboured, and modern painting arose with the movement of new
life beneath his brush. Here, pondering in his youth upon the story of
Christ's suffering, and in his later manhood on the virtues of S. Francis
and his vow, he learned the secret of giving the semblance of flesh and
blood reality to Christian thought. His achievement was nothing less than
this. The Creation, the Fall, the Redemption of the World, the moral



Online LibraryJohn Addington SymondsRenaissance in Italy Volume 3 The Fine Arts → online text (page 12 of 33)