John Addington Symonds.

Renaissance in Italy Volume 3 The Fine Arts online

. (page 22 of 33)
Online LibraryJohn Addington SymondsRenaissance in Italy Volume 3 The Fine Arts → online text (page 22 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Lionardo. He must give his attention to the master's sketch books, those
studies in chalk, in tempera, on thin canvas and paper, prepared for the
stylus or the pen, which Vasari calls the final triumphs of designing,
and of which, in spite of the loss of many of his books, the surviving
specimens are very numerous. Some are easily accessible in Gerli,
Chamberlaine, and the autotype reproductions. It is possible that a
sympathetic student may get closer to the all-embracing and all-daring
genius of the magician through these drawings than if he had before him
an elaborate work in fresco or in oils. They express the many-sided,
mobile, curious, and subtle genius of the man in its entirety.

[255] "Raffaello, che era la gentilezza stessa ... restavano vinti dalla
cortesia e dall' arte sua, ma più dal genio della sua buona natura; la
quale era si piena di gentilezza e si colma di carità, che egli si vedeva
che fino agli animali l'onoravano, non che gli uomini." - Vasari, vol.
viii. pp. 6, 60.

[256] See above, Chapter VI, Fra Bartolommeo.

[257] The "Holy Family" at Munich, and the "Madonna del Baldacchino" in
the Pitti, might be mentioned as experiments on Raphael's part to perfect
the Frate's scheme of composition.

[258] See Vasari, vol. viii. p. 60, for a description of the concord that
reigned in this vast workshop. The genius and the gentle nature of
Raphael penetrated the whole group of artists, and seemed to give them a
single soul.

[259] The fresco of "Alexander" in the Palazzo Borghese is by an
imitator.

[260] The "Madonna di San Sisto" was painted for a banner to be borne in
processions. It is a subtle observation of Rio that the banner, an
invention of the Umbrian school, corresponds in painting to the hymn in
poetry.

[261] See Vol. II., _Revival of Learning_, p. 316, for Raphael's letter
on this subject to Leo X.

[262] "La Spasimo di Sicilia" is the single Passion picture of Raphael's
maturity. The predella of "Christ carrying the Cross" at Leigh Court, and
the "Christ showing His Wounds" in the Tosi Gallery at Brescia, are both
early works painted under Umbrian influence. The Borghese "Entombment,"
painted for Atalanta Baglioni, a pen-and-ink drawing of the "Pietà" in
the Louvre collection, Marc Antonio's engraving of the "Massacre of the
Innocents," and an early picture of the "Agony in the Garden," are all
the other painful subjects I can now remember.

[263] For a fuller working out of this analysis I must refer to my
_Sketches in Italy_, article "Parma." Much that follows is a quotation
from that essay.

[264] Much of the controversy about Michael Angelo, which is continually
being waged between his admirers and his detractors, might be set at rest
if it were acknowledged that there are two distinct ways of judging works
of art. We may regard them simply as appealing to our sense of beauty,
and affording harmonious intellectual pleasure. Or we may regard them as
expressing the thought and spirit of their age, and as utterances made by
men whose hearts burned within them. Critics trained in the study of good
Greek sculpture, or inclined by temperament to admire the earlier
products of Italian painting, are apt to pursue the former path
exclusively. They demand serenity and simplicity. Perturbation and
violence they denounce as blemishes. It does not occur to them that,
though the phenomenon is certainly rare, it does occasionally happen that
a man arises whose art is for him the language of his soul, and who lives
in sympathetic relation to the sternest interests of his age. If such an
artist be born when tranquil thought and serene emotions are impossible
for one who feels the meaning of his times with depth, he must either
paint and carve lies, or he must abandon the serenity that was both
natural and easy to the Greek and the earlier Italian. Michael Angelo was
one of these select artistic natures. He used his chisel and his pencil
to express, not merely beautiful artistic motives, but what he felt and
thought about the world in which he had to live: and this world was full
of the ruin of republics, the corruption and humiliation of society, the
subjection of Italy to strangers. In Michael Angelo the student of both
art and history finds an inestimably precious and rare point of contact
between the inner spirit of an age, and its external expression in
sculpture and painting.




CHAPTER VII

VENETIAN PAINTING

Painting bloomed late in Venice - Conditions offered by Venice to
Art - Shelley and Pietro Aretino - Political circumstances of
Venice - Comparison with Florence - The Ducal Palace - Art regarded as an
adjunct to State Pageantry - Myth of Venezia - Heroic Deeds of
Venice - Tintoretto's Paradise and Guardi's Picture of a Ball - Early
Venetian Masters of Murano - Gian Bellini - Carpaccio's little Angels - The
Madonna of S. Zaccaria - Giorgione - Allegory, Idyll, Expression of
Emotion - The Monk at the Clavichord - Titian, Tintoret, and
Veronese - Tintoretto's attempt to dramatise Venetian Art - Veronese's
Mundane Splendour - Titian's Sophoclean Harmony - Their Schools - Further
Characteristics of Veronese - of Tintoretto - His Imaginative
Energy - Predominant Poetry - Titian's Perfection of Balance - Assumption of
Madonna - Spirit common to the Great Venetians.


It was a fact of the greatest importance for the development of the fine
arts in Italy that painting in Venice reached maturity later than in
Florence. Owing to this circumstance one chief aspect of the Renaissance,
its material magnificence and freedom, received consummate treatment at
the hands of Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese. To idealise the
sensualities of the external universe, to achieve for colour what the
Florentines had done for form, to invest the worldly grandeur of human
life at one of its most gorgeous epochs with the dignity of the highest
art, was what these great artists were called on to accomplish. Their task
could not have been so worthily performed in the fifteenth century as in
the sixteenth, if the development of the aesthetic sense had been more
premature among the Venetians.

Venice was precisely fitted for the part her painters had to play. Free,
isolated, wealthy, powerful; famous throughout Europe for the pomp of her
state equipage, and for the immorality of her private manners; ruled by a
prudent aristocracy, who spent vast wealth on public shows and on the
maintenance of a more than imperial civic majesty: Venice, with her
pavement of liquid chrysoprase, with her palaces of porphyry and marble,
her frescoed façades, her quays and squares aglow with the costumes of the
Levant, her lagoons afloat with the galleys of all nations, her churches
floored with mosaics, her silvery domes and ceilings glittering with
sculpture bathed in molten gold: Venice luxurious in the light and colour
of a vaporous atmosphere, where sea-mists rose into the mounded summer
clouds; arched over by the broad expanse of sky, bounded only by the
horizon of waves and plain and distant mountain ranges, and reflected in
all its many hues of sunrise and sunset upon the glassy surface of smooth
waters: Venice asleep like a miracle of opal or of pearl upon the bosom of
an undulating lake: - here and here only on the face of the whole globe was
the unique city wherein the pride of life might combine with the lustre of
the physical universe to create and stimulate in the artist a sense of all
that was most sumptuous in the pageant of the world of sense.

There is colour in flowers. Gardens of tulips are radiant, and mountain
valleys touch the soul with the beauty of their pure and gemlike hues.
Therefore the painters of Flanders and of Umbria, John van Eyck and
Gentile da Fabriano, penetrated some of the secrets of the world of
colour. But what are the purples and scarlets and blues of iris, anemone,
or columbine, dispersed among deep meadow grasses or trained in quiet
cloister garden-beds, when compared with that melodrama of flame and gold
and rose and orange and azure, which the skies and lagoons of Venice yield
almost daily to the eyes? The Venetians had no green fields and trees, no
garden borders, no blossoming orchards, to teach them the tender
suggestiveness, the quaint poetry of isolated or contrasted tints. Their
meadows were the fruitless furrows of the Adriatic, hued like a peacock's
neck; they called the pearl-shells of their Lido flowers, _fior di mare_.
Nothing distracted their attention from the glories of morning and of
evening presented to them by their sea and sky. It was in consequence of
this that the Venetians conceived colour heroically, not as a matter of
missal-margins or of subordinate decoration, but as a motive worthy in
itself of sublime treatment. In like manner, hedged in by no limitary
hills, contracted by no city walls, stifled by no narrow streets, but open
to the liberal airs of heaven and ocean, the Venetians understood space
and imagined pictures almost boundless in their immensity. Light, colour,
air, space: those are the elemental conditions of Venetian art; of those
the painters weaved their ideal world for beautiful and proud humanity.

Shelley's description of a Venetian sunset strikes the keynote to Venetian
painting:[265] -

As those who pause on some delightful way,
Though bent on pleasant pilgrimage, we stood
Looking upon the evening and the flood,
Which lay between the city and the shore,
Paved with the image of the sky: the hoar
And airy Alps, towards the north appeared,
Through mist, a heaven-sustaining bulwark, reared
Between the east and west; and half the sky
Was roofed with clouds of rich emblazonry,
Dark purple at the zenith, which still grew
Down the steep west into a wondrous hue
Brighter than burning gold, even to the rent
Where the swift sun yet paused in his descent
Among the many-folded hills - they were
Those famous Euganean hills, which bear,
As seen from Lido through the harbour piles,
The likeness of a clump of peaked isles -
And then, as if the earth and sea had been
Dissolved into one lake of fire, were seen
Those mountains towering, as from waves of flame,
Around the vaporous sun, from which there came
The inmost purple spirit of light, and made
Their very peaks transparent. "Ere it fade,"
Said my companion, "I will show you soon
A better station." So, o'er the lagune
We glided: and from that funereal bark
I leaned, and saw the city; and could mark
How from their many isles, in evening's gleam,
Its temples and its palaces did seem
Like fabrics of enchantment piled to heaven.

With this we may compare the following extract from a letter, addressed in
May 1544 to Titian, by one of the most unprincipled of literary bandits
who have ever disgraced humanity, but who nevertheless was solemnised to
the spirit of true poetry by the grandiose aspect of nature as it appeared
to him in Venice. That Pietro Aretino should have so deeply felt the charm
of natural beauty in an age when even the greatest artists and poets
sought inspiration in human life rather than the outer world, is a
significant fact. It seems to illustrate the necessity whereby Venice
became the cradle of the art of nature.[266] "Having, dear Sir, and my
best gossip, supped alone to the injury of my custom, or, to speak more
truly, supped in the company of all the boredoms of a cursed quartan
fever, which will not let me taste the flavour of any food, I rose from
table sated with the same disgust with which I had sat down to it. In this
mood I went and leaned my arms upon the sill outside my window, and
throwing my chest and nearly all my body on the marble, abandoned myself
to the contemplation of the spectacle presented by the innumerable boats,
filled with foreigners as well as people of the city, which gave delight
not merely to the gazers, but also to the Grand Canal itself, that
perpetual delight of all who plough its waters. From this animated scene,
all of a sudden, like one who from mere _ennui_ knows not how to occupy
his mind, I turned my eyes to heaven, which, from the moment when God made
it, was never adorned with such painted loveliness of lights and shadows.
The whole region of the air was what those who envy you, because they are
unable to be you, would fain express. To begin with, the buildings of
Venice, though of solid stone, seemed made of some ethereal substance.
Then the sky was full of variety - here clear and ardent, there dulled and
overclouded. What marvellous clouds there were! Masses of them in the
centre of the scene hung above the house-roofs, while the immediate part
was formed of a grey tint inclining to dark. I gazed astonished at the
varied colours they displayed. The nearer masses burned with flames of
sunset; the more remote blushed with a blaze of crimson less afire. Oh,
how splendidly did Nature's pencil treat and dispose that airy landscape,
keeping the sky apart from the palaces, just as Titian does! On one side
the heavens showed a greenish-blue, on another a bluish-green, invented
verily by the caprice of Nature, who is mistress of the greatest masters.
With her lights and her darks, there she was harmonising, toning, and
bringing out into relief, just as she wished. Seeing which, I who know
that your pencil is the spirit of her inmost soul, cried aloud thrice or
four tines, 'Oh, Titian! where are you now?'"

In order to understand the destiny of Venice in art, it is not enough to
concentrate attention on the peculiarities of her physical environment.
Potent as these were in the creation of her style, the political and
social conditions of the Republic require also to be taken into account.
Among Italian cities Venice was unique. She alone was tranquil in her
empire, unimpeded in her constitutional development, independent of Church
interference, undisturbed by the cross purposes and intrigues of the
Despots, inhabited by merchants who were princes, and by a free-born
people who had never seen war at their gates. The serenity of undisturbed
security, the luxury of wealth amassed abroad and liberally spent at home,
gave a physiognomy of ease and proud self-confidence to all her edifices.
The grim and anxious struggles of the Middle Ages left no mark on Venice.
How different was this town from Florence, every inch of whose domain
could tell of civic warfare, whose passionate aspirations after
independence ended in the despotism of the bourgeois Medici, whose
repeated revolutions had slavery for their climax, whose grey palaces bore
on their fronts the stamp of mediaeval vigilance, whose spirit was
incarnated in Dante the exile, whose enslavement forced from Michael
Angelo those groans of a chained Titan expressed in the marbles of S.
Lorenzo! It is not an insignificant, though a slight, detail, that the
predominant colour of Florence is brown, while the predominant colour of
Venice is that of mother-of-pearl, concealing within its general whiteness
every tint that can be placed upon the palette of a painter. The
conditions of Florence stimulated mental energy and turned the forces of
the soul inwards. Those of Venice inclined the individual to accept life
as he found it. Instead of exciting him to think, they disposed him to
enjoy, or to acquire by industry the means of manifold enjoyment. To
represent in art the intellectual strivings of the Renaissance was the
task of Florence and her sons; to create a monument of Renaissance
magnificence was the task of Venice. Without Venice the modern world could
not have produced that flower of sensuous and unreflective loveliness in
painting, which is worthy to stand beside the highest product of the Greek
genius in sculpture. For Athena from her Parthenon stretches the hand to
Venezia enthroned in the ducal palace. The broad brows and earnest eyes of
the Hellenic goddess are of one divine birth and lineage with the golden
hair and superb carriage of the sea-queen.

It is in the heart of Venice, in the House of the Republic, that the
Venetian painters, considered as the interpreters of worldly splendour,
fulfilled their function with the most complete success. Centuries
contributed to make the Ducal Palace what it is. The massive colonnades
and Gothic loggias of the external basement date from the thirteenth
century; their sculpture belongs to the age when Niccola Pisano's genius
was in the ascendant. The square fabric of the palace, so beautiful in the
irregularity of its pointed windows, so singular in its mosaic diaper of
pink and white, was designed at the same early period. The inner court and
the façade that overhangs the lateral canal, display the handiwork of
Sansovino. The halls of the palace - spacious chambers where the Senate
assembled, where ambassadors approached the Doge, where the Savi
deliberated, where the Council of Ten conducted their inquisition - are
walled and roofed with pictures of inestimable value, encased in framework
of carved oak; overlaid with burnished gold. Supreme art - the art of the
imagination perfected with delicate and skilful care in detail - is made in
these proud halls the minister of mundane pomp. In order that the gold
brocade of the ducal robes, that the scarlet and crimson of the Venetian
senator, might, be duly harmonised by the richness of their surroundings,
it was necessary that canvases measured by the square yard, and rendered
priceless by the authentic handiwork of Titian, Tintoret, and Veronese,
should glow upon the walls and ceilings. A more insolent display of public
wealth - a more lavish outpouring of human genius in the service of State
pageantry, cannot be imagined.

Sublime over all allegories and histories depicted in those multitudes of
paintings, sits Venezia herself enthroned and crowned, the personification
of haughtiness and power. Figured as a regal lady, with yellow hair
tightly knotted round a small head poised upon her upright throat and
ample shoulders, Venice takes her chair of sovereignty - as mistress of the
ocean to whom Neptune and the Tritons offer pearls, as empress of the
globe at whose footstool wait Justice with the sword and Peace with the
olive branch, as a queen of heaven exalted to the clouds. They have made
her a goddess, those great painters; they have produced a mythus, and
personified in native loveliness that bride of the sea, their love, their
lady. The beauty of Venetian women and the glory of Venetian empire find
their meeting point in her, and live as the spirit of Athens lived in
Pallas Promachos. On every side, above, around, wherever the eye falls in
those vast rooms, are seen the deeds of Venice - painted histories of her
triumphs over emperors and popes and infidels, or allegories of her
greatness - scenes wherein the Doges perform acts of faith, with S. Mark
for their protector, and with Venezia for their patroness. The saints in
Paradise, massed together by Tintoretto and by Palma, mingle with
mythologies of Greece and Rome, and episodes of pure idyllic painting.

Religion in these pictures was a matter of parade, an adjunct to the
costly public life of the Republic. We need not, therefore, conclude that
it was unreal. Such as it was, the religion of the Venetian masters is
indeed as genuine as that of Fra Angelico or Albert Dürer. But it was the
faith, not of humble men or of mystics, not of profound thinkers or
ecstatic visionaries, so much as of courtiers and statesmen, of senators
and merchants, for whom religion was a function among other functions, not
a thing apart, not a source of separate and supreme vitality. Even as
Christians, the Venetians lived a life separate from the rest of Italy.
Their Church claimed independence of the see of Rome, and the enthusiasm
of S. Francis was but faintly felt in the lagoons. Siena in her hour of
need dedicated herself to Madonna; Florence in the hour of her
regeneration gave herself to Christ; Venice remained under the ensign of
the leonine S. Mark. While the cities of Lombardy and Central Italy ran
wild with revivalism and religious panics, the Venetians maintained their
calm, and never suffered piety to exceed the limits of political prudence.
There is, therefore, no mystical exaltation in the faith depicted by her
artists. That Tintoretto could have painted the saints in glory - a
countless multitude of congregated forms, a sea whereof the waves are
souls - as a background for State ceremony, shows the positive and
realistic attitude of mind from which the most imaginative of Venetian
masters started, when he undertook the most exalted of religious themes.
Paradise is a fact, we may fancy Tintoretto reasoned; and it is easier to
fill a quarter of an acre of canvas with a picture of Paradise than with
any other subject, because the figures can be arranged in concentric tiers
round Christ and Madonna in glory.

There is a little sketch by Guardi representing a masked ball in the
Council Chamber where the "Paradise" of Tintoretto fills a wall. The men
are in periwigs and long waistcoats; the ladies wear hoops, patches, fans,
high heels, and powder. Bowing, promenading, intriguing, exchanging
compliments or repartees, they move from point to point; while from the
billowy surge of saints, Moses with the table of the law and the Magdalen
with her adoring eyes of penitence look down upon them. Tintoretto could
not but have foreseen that the world of living pettiness and passion would
perpetually jostle with his world of painted sublimities and sanctities in
that vast hall. Yet he did not on that account shrink from the task or
fail in its accomplishment. Paradise existed: therefore it could be
painted; and he was called upon to paint it here. If the fine gentlemen
and ladies below felt out of harmony with the celestial host, so much the
worse for them. In this practical spirit the Venetian masters approached
religious art, and such was the sphere appointed for it in the pageantry
of the Republic. When Paolo Veronese was examined by the Holy Office
respecting some supposed irreverence in a sacred picture, his answers
clearly proved that in planning it he had thought less of its spiritual
significance than of its aesthetic effect.[267]

In the Ducal Palace the Venetian art of the Renaissance culminates; and
here we might pause a moment to consider the difference between these
paintings and the mediaeval frescoes of the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena.[268]
The Sienese painters consecrated all their abilities to the expression of
thoughts, theories of political self-government in a free State, and
devotional ideas. The citizen who read the lesson of the Sala della Pace
was instructed in his duties to God and to the State. The Venetian
painters, as we have seen, exalted Venice and set forth her acts of power.
Their work is a glorification of the Republic; but no doctrine is
inculcated, and no system of thought is conveyed to the mind through the
eye. Daily pacing the saloons of the palace, Doge and noble were reminded
of the greatness of the State they represented. They were not invited to
reflect upon the duties of the governor and governed. Their imaginations
were dilated and their pride roused by the spectacle of Venice seated
like a goddess in her home. Of all the secular States of Italy the
Republic of S. Mark's alone produced this mythical ideal of the body
politic, self-sustained and independent of the citizens, compelling their
allegiance, and sustaining them through generations with the life of its
organic unity.[269] The artists had no reason to paint thoughts and
theories. It was enough to set forth Venice and to illustrate her acts.

Long before Venetian painting reached a climax in the decorative triumphs
of the Ducal Palace, the masters of the school had formed a style
expressive of the spirit of the Renaissance, considered as the spirit of
free enjoyment and living energy. To trace the history of Venetian
painting is to follow through its several stages the growth of that
mastery over colour and sensuous beauty which was perfected in the works
of Titian and his contemporaries.[270] Under the Vivarini of Murano the
Venetian school in its infancy began with a selection from the natural
world of all that struck them as most brilliant. No other painters of
their age in Italy employed such glowing colours, or showed a more marked
predilection for the imitation of fruits, rich stuffs, architectural
canopies, jewels, and landscape backgrounds. Their piety, unlike the
mysticism of the Sienese and the deep thought of the Florentine masters,
is somewhat superficial and conventional. The merit of their devotional
pictures consists of simplicity, vivacity, and joyousness. Our Lady and



Online LibraryJohn Addington SymondsRenaissance in Italy Volume 3 The Fine Arts → online text (page 22 of 33)