John Addington Symonds.

Renaissance in Italy Volume 3 The Fine Arts online

. (page 6 of 33)
Online LibraryJohn Addington SymondsRenaissance in Italy Volume 3 The Fine Arts → online text (page 6 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and to unity of effect. He came at a moment when constructive problems had
been solved, when mechanical means were perfected, and when the sister
arts had reached their highest point. His early training in Lombardy
accustomed him to the adoption of clustered piers instead of single
columns, to semicircular apses and niches, and to the free use of minor
cupolas - elements of design introduced neither by Brunelleschi nor by
Alberti into the Renaissance style of Florence, but which were destined to
determine the future of architecture for all Italy. Nature had gifted
Bramante with calm judgment and refined taste; his sense of the right
limitations of the pseudo-Roman style was exquisite, and his feeling for
structural symmetry was just. If his manner strikes us as somewhat cold
and abstract when compared with the more genial audacities of the earlier
Renaissance, we must remember how salutary was the example of a rigorous
and modest manner in an age which required above all things to be
preserved from its own luxuriant waywardness of fancy. It is hard to say
how much of the work ascribed to Bramante in Northern Italy is genuine;
most of it, at any rate, belongs to the manner of his youth. The Church of
S. Maria della Consolazione at Todi, the palace of the Cancelleria at
Rome, and the unfinished cathedral of Pavia, enable us to comprehend the
general character of this great architect's refined and noble manner. S.
Peter's, it may be said in passing, retains, in spite of all subsequent
modifications, many essentially Bramantesque features - especially in the
distribution of the piers and rounded niches.

Bramante formed no school strictly so called, though his pupils,
Cristoforo Rocchi and Ventura Vitoni, carried out his principles of
building at Pavia and Pistoja. Vitoni's church of the Umiltà in the latter
city is a pure example of conscientious neo-Roman architecture. It
consists of a large octagon surmounted by a dome and preceded by a lofty
vaulted atrium or vestibule. The single round arch of this vestibule
repeats the _testudo_ of a Roman bath, and the decorative details are
accurately reproduced from similar monuments. Unfortunately, Giorgio
Vasari, who was employed to finish the cupola, spoiled its effect by
raising it upon an ugly attic; it is probable that the church, as designed
by Vitoni, would have presented the appearance of a miniature Pantheon. At
Rome the influence of Bramante was propagated through Raphael, Giulio
Romano, and Baldassare Peruzzi. Raphael's claim to consideration as an
architect rests upon the Palazzi Vidoni and Pandolfini, the Cappella Chigi
in S. Maria del Popolo, and the Villa Madama. The last-named building,
executed by Giulio Romano after Raphael's design, is carried out in a
style so forcible as to make us fancy that the pupil had a larger share in
its creation than his teacher. These works, however, sink into
insignificance before the Palazzo del Te at Mantua, the masterpiece of
Giulio's genius. This most noble of Italian pleasure-houses remains to
show what the imagination of a poet-artist could recover from the
splendour of old Rome and adapt to the use of his own age. The vaults of
the Thermae of Titus, with their cameos of stucco and frescoed arabesques,
are here repeated on a scale and with an exuberance of invention that
surpass the model. Open loggie yield fair prospect over what were once
trim gardens; spacious halls, adorned with frescoes in the vehement and
gorgeous style of the Roman school, form a fit theatre for the grand
parade-life of an Italian prince. The whole is Pagan in its pride and
sensuality, its prodigality of strength and insolence of freedom. Having
seen this palace, we do not wonder that the fame of Giulio flew across the
Alps and lived upon the lips of Shakspere: for in his master-work at
Mantua he collected, as it were, and epitomised in one building all that
enthralled the fancy of the Northern nations when they thought of Italy.

A pendant to the Palazzo del Te is the Villa Farnesina, raised on the
banks of the Tiber by Baldassare Peruzzi for his fellow townsman Agostino
Chigi of Siena. It is an idyll placed beside a lyric ode, gentler and
quieter in style, yet full of grace, breathing the large and liberal
spirit of enjoyment that characterised the age of Leo. The frescoes of
Galatea and Psyche, executed by Raphael and his pupils, have made this
villa famous in the annals of Italian painting. The memory of the Roman
banker's splendid style of living marks it out as no less noteworthy in
the history of Renaissance manners.[44]

Among the great edifices of this second period we may reckon Jacopo
Sansovino's buildings at Venice, though they approximate rather to the
style of the earlier Renaissance in all that concerns exuberance of
decorative detail. The Venetians, somewhat behind the rest of Italy in the
development of the fine arts, were at the height of prosperity and wealth
during the middle period of the Renaissance; and no city is more rich in
monuments of the florid style. Something of their own delight in sensuous
magnificence they communicated even to the foreigners who dwelt among
them. The court of the Ducal Palace, the Scuola di S. Rocco, the Palazzo
Corner, and the Palazzo Vendramini-Calergi, illustrate the, strong yet
fanciful _bravura_ style that pleased the aristocracy of Venice. Nowhere
else does the architecture of the Middle Ages melt by more imperceptible
degrees into that of the Revival, retaining through all changes the
impress of a people splendour-loving in the highest sense. The Library of
S. Mark, built by Sansovino in 1536, remains, however, the crowning
triumph of Venetian art. It is impossible to contemplate its noble double
row of open arches without feeling the eloquence of rhetoric so brilliant,
without echoing the judgment of Palladio, that nothing more sumptuous or
beautiful had been invented since the age of ancient Rome.

Time would fail to tell of all the architects who crowd the first half of
the sixteenth century - of Antonio di San Gallo, famous for fortifications;
of Baccio d'Agnolo, who raised the Campanile of S. Spirito at Florence; of
Giovanni Maria Falconetto, to whose genius Padua owed so many princely
edifices; of Michele Sanmicheli, the military architect of Verona, and the
builder of five mighty palaces for the nobles of his native city. Yet the
greatest name of all this period cannot be omitted: Michael Angelo must be
added to the list of builders in the golden age. In architecture, as in
sculpture, he not only bequeathed to posterity masterpieces of individual
energy and original invention, in their kind unrivalled; but he also
prepared for his successors a false way of working, and justified by his
example the extravagances of the decadence. Without noticing the façade
designed for S. Lorenzo at Florence, the transformation of the Baths of
Diocletian into a church, the remodelling of the Capitoline buildings, and
the continuation of the Palazzo Farnese - works that either exist only in
drawings or have been confused by later alterations - it is enough here to
mention the Sagrestia Nuova of S. Lorenzo and the cupola of S. Peter's.
The sacristy may be looked on either as the masterpiece of a sculptor who
required fit setting for his statues, or of an architect who designed
statues to enhance the structure he had planned. Both arts are used with
equal ease, nor has the genius of Michael Angelo dealt more masterfully
with the human frame than with the forms of Roman architecture in this
chapel. He seems to have paid no heed to classic precedent, and to have
taken no pains to adapt the parts to the structural purpose of the
building. It was enough for him to create a wholly novel framework for the
modern miracle of sculpture it enshrines, attending to such rules of
composition as determine light and shade, and seeking by the slightness of
mouldings and pilasters to enhance the terrible and massive forms that
brood above the Medicean tombs. The result is a product of picturesque and
plastic art, as true to the Michaelangelesque spirit as the Temple of the
Wingless Victory to that of Pheidias. But where Michael Angelo achieved a
triumph of boldness, lesser natures were betrayed into bizarrerie; and
this chapel of the Medici, in spite of its grandiose simplicity, proved a
stumbling-block to subsequent architects by encouraging them to despise
propriety and violate the laws of structure. The same may be said with
even greater truth of the Laurentian Library and its staircase. The false
windows, repeated pillars, and barefaced aiming at effect, that mark the
insincerity of the _barocco_ style, are found here almost for the first
time.

What S. Peter's would have been, if Michael Angelo had lived to finish it,
can be imagined from his plans and elevations still preserved. It must
always remain a matter of profound regret that his project was so far
altered as to sacrifice the effect of the dome from the piazza. This dome
is Michael Angelo's supreme achievement as an architect. It not only
preserves all that is majestic in the cupola of Brunelleschi; but it also
avoids the defects of its avowed model, by securing the entrance of
abundant light, and dilating the imagination with the sense of space to
soar and float in. It is the dome that makes S. Peter's what it is - the
adequate symbol of the Church in an age that had abandoned mediaevalism and
produced a new type of civility for the modern nations. On the connection
between the building of S. Peter's and the Reformation I have touched
already.[45] This mighty temple is the shrine of Catholicity, no longer
cosmopolitan by right of spiritual empire, but secularised and limited to
Latin races. At the same time it represents the spirit of a period when
the Popes still led the world as intellectual chiefs. As the decree for
its erection was the last act of the Papacy before the schism of the North
had driven it into blind conflict with advancing culture, so S. Peter's
remains the monument to after ages of a moment when the Roman Church,
unterrified as yet by German rebels, dared to share the mundane impulse of
the classical revival. She had forgotten the catacombs and ruthlessly
destroyed the Basilica of Constantine. By rebuilding the mother church of
Western Christianity upon a new plan, she broke with tradition; and if
Rome has not ceased to be the Eternal City, if all ways are still leading
to Rome, we may even hazard a conjecture that in the last days of their
universal monarchy the Popes reared this fane to be the temple of a spirit
alien to their own. It is at any rate certain that S. Peter's produces an
impression less ecclesiastical, and less strictly Christian, than almost
any of the elder and far humbler churches of Europe. Raised by proud and
secular pontiffs in the heyday of renascent humanism, it seems to wait the
time when the high priests of a religion no longer hostile to science or
antagonistic to the inevitable force of progress will chaunt their hymns
beneath its spacious dome.

The building of S. Peter's was so momentous in modern history, and so
decisive for Italian architecture, that it may be permitted me to describe
the vicissitudes through which the structure passed before reaching
completion. Nicholas V., founder of the secular papacy and chief patron of
the humanistic movement in Rome, had approved a scheme for thoroughly
rebuilding and refortifying the pontifical city.[46] Part of this plan
involved the reconstruction of S. Peter's. The old basilica was to be
removed, and on its site was to rise a mighty church, shaped like a Latin
cross, with a central dome and two high towers flanking the vestibule.
Nicholas died before his project could be carried into effect. Beyond
destroying the old temple of Probus and marking out foundations for the
tribune of the new church, nothing had been accomplished;[47] nor did his
successors until the reign of Julius think of continuing what he had
begun. In 1506, on the 18th of April, Julius laid the first stone of S.
Peter's according to the plans provided by Bramante. The basilica was
designed in the shape of a Greek cross, surmounted by a colossal dome, and
approached by a vestibule fronted with six columns. As in all the works of
Bramante, simplicity and dignity distinguished this first scheme.[48] For
eight years, until his death in 1514, Bramante laboured on the building.
Julius, the most impatient of masters, urged him to work rapidly. In
consequence of this haste, the substructures of the new church proved
insecure, and the huge piers raised to support the cupola were imperfect,
while the venerable monuments contained in the old church were ruthlessly
destroyed.[49] After Bramante's death Giuliano di S. Gallo, Fra Giocondo,
and Raphael successively superintended the construction, each for a short
period. Raphael, under Leo X., was appointed sole architect, and went so
far as to alter the design of Bramante by substituting the Latin for the
Greek cross. Upon his death, Baldassare Peruzzi continued the work, and
supplied a series of new designs, restoring the ground-plan of the church
to its original shape. He was succeeded in the reign of Paul III. by
Antonio di S. Gallo, who once more reverted to the Latin cross, and
proposed a novel form of cupola with flanking towers for the façade, of
bizarre rather than beautiful proportions. After a short interregnum,
during which Giulio Romano superintended the building and did nothing
remarkable, Michael Angelo was called in 1535 to undertake the sole charge
of the edifice. He declared that wherever subsequent architects had
departed from Bramante's project, they had erred. "It is impossible to
deny that Bramante was as great in architecture as any man has been since
the days of the ancients. When he first laid the plan of S. Peter's, he
made it not a mass of confusion, but clear and simple, well lighted, and
so thoroughly detached that it in no way interfered with any portion of
the palace."[50] Having thus pronounced himself in general for Bramante's
scheme, Michael Angelo proceeded to develop it in accordance with his own
canons of taste. He retained the Greek cross; but the dome, as he
conceived it, and the details designed for each section of the building,
differed essentially from what the earlier master would have sanctioned.
Not the placid and pure taste of Bramante, but the masterful and fiery
genius of Buonarroti, is responsible for the colossal scale of the
subordinate parts and variously broken lineaments of the existing church.
In spite of all changes of direction, the fabric of S. Peter's had been
steadily advancing. Michael Angelo was, therefore, able to raise the
central structure as far as the drum of the cupola before his death. His
plans and models were carefully preserved, and a special papal ordinance
decreed that henceforth there should be no deviation from the scheme he
had laid down. Unhappily this rule was not observed. Under Pius V.,
Vignola and Piero Ligorio did indeed continue his tradition; under Gregory
XIII., Sixtus V., and Clement VIII., Giacomo della Porta made no
substantial alterations; and in 1590 Domenico Fontana finished the dome.
But during the pontificate of Paul V., Carlo Maderno resumed the form of
the Latin cross, and completed the nave and vestibule, as they now stand,
upon this altered plan (1614). The consequence is what has been already
noted - at a moderate distance from the church the dome is lost to view; it
only takes its true position of predominance when seen from far. In the
year 1626, S. Peter's was consecrated by Urban VIII., and the mighty work
was finished. It remained for Bernini to add the colonnades of the piazza,
no less picturesque in their effect than admirably fitted for the
pageantry of world-important ceremonial. At the end of the eighteenth
century it was reckoned that the church had cost but little less than
fifty million scudi.

Michael Angelo forms the link between the second and third periods of the
Renaissance. Among the architects of the latter age we have to reckon
those who based their practice upon minute study of antique writers, and
who, more than any of their predecessors, realised the long-sought
restitution of the classic style according to precise scholastic
canons.[51] A new age had now begun for Italy. The glory and the grace of
the Renaissance, its blooming time of beauty, and its springtide of young
strength, were over. Strangers held the reins of power, and the
Reformation had begun to make itself felt in the Northern provinces of
Christendom. A colder and more formal spirit everywhere prevailed. The
sources of invention in the art of painting were dried up. Scholarship had
pined away into pedantic purism. Correct taste was coming to be prized
more highly than originality of genius in literature. Nor did architecture
fail to manifest the operation of this change. The greatest builder of the
period was Andrea Palladio of Vicenza, who combined a more complete
analytical knowledge of antiquity with a firmer adherence to rule and
precedent than even the most imitative of his forerunners. It is useless
to seek for decorative fancy, wealth of detail, or sallies of inventive
genius in the Palladian style. All is cold and calculated in the many
palaces and churches of this master which adorn both Venice and Vicenza;
they make us feel that creative inspiration has been superseded by the
labour of the calculating reason. One great public building of Palladio's,
however - the Palazzo della Ragione at Vicenza - may be cited as, perhaps,
the culminating point of pure Renaissance architecture. In its simple and
heroical arcades, its solid columns, and noble open spaces, the strength
of Rome is realised to the eyes of those who do not penetrate too far
inside the building.[52] Here, and here only, the architectural problem of
the epoch - how to bring the art of the ancients back to life and use
again - was solved according to the spirit and the letter of the past.
Palladio never equalled this, the earliest of all his many works.

In the first half of the sixteenth century the dictatorship of art had
been already transferred from Florence and Rome to Lombardy.[53] The
painters who carried on the great traditions were Venetian. Among the
architects, Palladio was a native of Vicenza; Giacomo Barozzi, the author
of the "Treatise on the Orders," took the name by which he is known from
his birthplace, Vignola; Vincenzo Scamozzi was a fellow-townsman of
Palladio; Galeazzo Alessi, though born at Perugia, spent his life and
developed his talents in Genoa; Andrea Formigine, the palace-builder, was
a Bolognese; Bartolommeo Ammanati alone at Florence exercised the arts of
sculpture and architecture in their old conjunction. Vignola, Palladio's
elder by a few years, displays in his work even more of the scholastically
frigid spirit of the late Renaissance, the narrowing of poetic impulse,
and the dwindling of vitality, that sadden the second half of the
sixteenth century in Italy. Scamozzi, labouring at Venice on works that
Sansovino left unfinished, caught the genial spirit of the old Venetian
style. Alessi, in like manner, at Genoa, felt the influences of a rich and
splendour-loving aristocracy. His church of S. Maria di Carignano is one
of the most successful ecclesiastical buildings of the late Renaissance,
combining the principles of Bramante and Michael Angelo in close imitation
of S. Peter's, and adhering in detail to the canons of the new taste.

These canons were based upon a close study of Vitruvius. Palladio,
Vignola, and Scamozzi were no less ambitious as authors than as
architects;[54] their minute analysis of antique treatises on the art of
construction led to the formation of exact rules for the treatment of the
five classic orders, the proportions of the chief parts used in building,
and the correct method of designing theatres and palaces, church-fronts
and cupolas. Thus architecture in its third Renaissance period passed into
scholasticism.

The masters of this age, chiefly through the weight of their authority as
writers, exercised a wider European influence than any of their
predecessors. We English, for example, have given Palladio's name to the
Italian style adopted by us in the seventeenth century. This selection of
one man to represent an epoch was due partly no doubt to the prestige of
Palladio's great buildings in the South, but more, I think, to the
facility with which his principles could be assimilated. Depending but
little for effect upon the arts of decoration, his style was easily
imitated in countries where painting and sculpture were unknown, and where
a genius like Jean Goujon, the Sansovino of the French, has never been
developed. To have rivalled the façade of the Certosa would have been
impossible in London. Yet here Wren produced a cathedral worthy of
comparison with the proudest of the late Italian edifices. Moreover, the
principles of taste that governed Europe in the seventeenth century were
such as found fitter architectural expression in this style than in the
more genial and capricious manner of the earlier periods.

After reviewing the rise and development of Renaissance architecture, it
is almost irresistible to compare the process whereby the builders of this
age learned to use dead forms for the expression of their thoughts, with
the similar process by which the scholars accustomed themselves to Latin
metres and the cadences of Ciceronian periods.[55] The object in each case
was the same - to be as true to the antique as possible, and without
actually sacrificing the independence of the modern mind, to impose upon
it the limitations of a bygone civilisation. At first the enthusiasm for
antiquity inspired architects and scholars alike with a desire to imitate
_per saltum_, and many works of fervid sympathy and pure artistic
intuition were produced. In course of time the laws both of language and
construction were more accurately studied; invention was superseded by
pedantry; after Poliziano and Alberti came Bembo and Palladio. In
proportion as architects learned more about Vitruvius, and scholars
narrowed their taste to Virgil, the style of both became more cramped and
formal. It ceased at last to be possible to express modern ideas freely in
the correct Latinity required by cultivated ears, while no room for
originality, no scope for poetry of invention, remained in the elaborated
method of the architects. Neo-Latin literature dwindled away to nothing,
and Palladio was followed by the violent reactionaries of the _barocco_
mannerism.

In one all-important respect this parallel breaks down. While the labours
of the Latinists subserved the simple process of instruction, by purifying
literary taste and familiarising the modern mind with the masterpieces of
the classic authors, the architects created a new common style for Europe.
With all its defects, it is not likely that the neo-Roman architecture, so
profoundly studied by the Italians, and so anxiously refined by their
chief masters, will ever wholly cease to be employed. In all cases where a
grand and massive edifice, no less suited to purposes of practical
utility than imposing by its splendour, is required, this style of
building will be found the best. Changes of taste and fashion, local
circumstances, and the personal proclivities of modern architects may
determine the choice of one type rather than another among the numerous
examples furnished by Italian masters. But it is not possible that either
Greek or Gothic should permanently take the place assigned to neo-Roman
architecture in the public buildings of European capitals.

FOOTNOTES:

[10] The question of the genesis of the Lombard style is one of the most
difficult in Italian art-history. I would not willingly be understood to
speak of Lombard architecture in any sense different from that in which
it is usual to speak of Norman. To suppose that either the Lombards or
the Normans had a style of their own, prior to their occupation of
districts from the monuments of which they learned rudely to use the
decayed Roman manner, would be incorrect. Yet it seems impossible to deny
that both Normans and Lombards in adapting antecedent models added
something of their own, specific to themselves as Northerners. The
Lombard, like the Norman or the Rhenish Romanesque, is the first stage in
the progressive mediaeval architecture of its own district.

[11] I use the term Lombard architecture here, as defined above (p. 31,
note), for the style of building prevalent in Italy during the Lombard
occupation, or just after.



Online LibraryJohn Addington SymondsRenaissance in Italy Volume 3 The Fine Arts → online text (page 6 of 33)