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duced in two ways. On the sarcophagus, the bearings are
three times repeated, enclosed in cii'cular disks, which are
sustained each by a couple of naked infants. Above the can-
o-pj, two shields of the usual form are set in the centre of
circles filled by a radiating ornament of shell flutings, which
give them the effect of ventilators ; and their circumference ia
farther adorned by gilt rays, undulating to represent a glory.


§ LXXYi. We now npproach that period of the early Renais-
sance whicli was noticed in the preceding chapter as being at
first a very visible improvement on the corrupted Gothic. The
tombs executed dui'ing the period of the Byzantine Renais-
sance exhibit, in the first jilace, a consummate skill in handhng
the chisel, j^erfect science of drawing and anatomy, high ap-
preciation of good classical models, and a grace of composi-
tion and delicacy of ornament derived, I believe, principally
from the great Florentine sculptors. But, together with this
science, they exhibit also, for a short time, some return to the
early reUgious feeling, forming a school of sculjDture which
corresjDonds to that of the school of the Bellini in painting ;
and the only wonder is that there should not have been more
workmen in the fifteenth century doing in marble what Peru-
gino, Francia, and Bellini did on canvas. There are, indeed,
some few, as I have just said, in whom the good and pure
temper shows itself : but the sculptor was necessaril}'- led
sooner than the painter to an exclusive study of classical
models, utterly adverse to the Christian imagination ; and he
was also deprived of the great purifying and sacred element
of color, besides having much more of merely mechanical and
therefore degrading labor to go through in the realization of
his thought. Hence I do not know any example in sculjiture
at this period, at least in Venice, which has not conspicuous
faults (not faults of imperfection, as in early sculpture, but of
purpose and sentiment), staining such beauties as it may jjob-
sess ; and the whole school soon falls away, and merges into
vain pomp and meagre metaphor.

§ Lxxvii. The most celebrated monument of this period is
that to the Doge Andrea Vendramin, in the Church of St.
John and Paul, sculptured about 1480, and before alluded to
in the first chapter of the first volume. It has attracted pub-
lic admiration, partly by its costliness, partly by the delicacy
and precision of its chiselling ; being otherwise a very base
and unworthy example of the school, and showing neither in-
vention nor feeling. It has the Virtues, as usual, dressed like
heathen goddesses, and totally devoid of expression, though
graceful and Avell studied merely as female figures. The rest


of its sculpture is all of the same kiucl ; perfect in workman-
sliip, and devoid of tliought. Its dragons are covered with
marvellous scales, but have no terror nor sting in them ; its
birds are perfect in plumage, but have no song in them ;
its children lovely of hmb, but have no childishness in

§ Lxx^^^. Of far other -workmanship are the tombs of Pietro
and Giovanni Mocenigo, in St. John and Paul, and of Pietro
Bernardo in the Frari ; in all which the details are as full of
exquisite fancy, as they are perfect in execution ; and in the
two former, and several others of similar feeling, the old re-
ligious symbols return ; the Madonna is again seen enthroned
under the canopy, and the sarcophagus is decorated with
legends of the saints. But the fatal errors of sentiment are,
nevertheless, always traceable. In the first place, the sculptor
is always seen to be intent upon the exhibition of his skiU,
more than on producing any effect on the spectator's mind ;
elaborate backgrounds of landscape, with tricks of perspective,
imitations of trees, clouds, and water, and various other un-
necessary adjuncts, merely to show how marble could be sub-
dued ; together with useless under-cutting, and over-finish in
subordinate parts, continually exhibiting the same cold vanity
and unexcited precision of mechanism. In the second place,
the figures have all the peculiar tendency to posture-making^
which, exhibiting itself first painfully in Perugino, rapidly
destroyed the veracity of composition in all art. B}' posture-
making I mean, in general, that action of figures which results
irom the painter's considering, in the first place, not how,
under the circumstances, they would actually have walked, or
stood, or looked, but how they may most gracefully and har-
moniously walk or stand. In the hands of a great man, j^ost-
ure, like everything else, becomes noble, even when over-
studied, as with jMichael Acgelo, who was, perhaps, more than
any other, the cause of the mischief ; but, with inferior men,
this habit of composing attitudes ends necessarily in utter
lifelessness and abortion. Giotto was, perhaps, of all painters,
the most free from the infection of the poison, always conceiv-
ing an incident naturallyj and drawing it uuafiectedly ; and


the absence of posture-makiug in the works of the Pre-Ea«
phaelites, as opposed to the Attitudinarianism of the modeni
school, has been both one of their principal vii'tues, and of
the principal causes of outcry against them.

§ Lxxix. But the most significant change in the treatment
of these tombs, with resi:)ect to our immediate object, is in the
form of the sarcophagus. It was above noted, that, exactly
in proportion to the degree of the pride of life expressed in
any monument, would be also the fear of death ; and there-
fore, as these tombs increase in splendor, in size, and beauty
of workmanship, we perceive a gradual desire to take away
from the definite character of the mrcophagus. In the earHest
times, as we have seen, it Avas a gloomy mass of stone ; grad-
ually it became charged with religious sculpture ; but never
with the slightest desire to disguise its form, until towards
the middle of the fifteenth century. It then becomes enriched
with flower-work and hidden by the Virtues ; and, finally, los-
ing its four-square form, it is modelled on graceful types of
ancient vases, made as little like a coffin as possible, and re-
fined away in various elegancies, till it becomes, at last, a
mere pedestal or stage for the portrait statue. This statue,
in the meantime, has been gradually coming back to life,
through a curious series of transitions. The Vendramiu mon-
ument is one of the last w^hich shows, or pretends to show,
the recumbent figure laid in death. A few years later, this
idea became disagreeable to polite minds ; and, lo! the figTires
which before had been laid at rest ujDon the tomb pillow,
raised themselves on their elbows, and began to look round
them. The soul of the sixteenth century dared not contem-
plate its body in death.

§ Lxxx. The reader cannot but remember many instances
of this form of monument, England being peculiarly rich in
examples of them ; although, with her, tomb sculpture, after
the fourteenth century, is altogether imitative, and m no de-
gree indicative of the temper of the people. It was from Italj
that the authority for the change was derived ; and in Italy
only, therefore, that it is truly correspondent to the change in
the national mind. There are many monuments in Venice of


tbis semi-animate type, most of them carefully sculptured, and
some very admirable as portraits, and for the casting of the
drapery, especially those in the Church of San Salvador ; but
I shall only direct the reader to one, that of Jacopo Pesaro,
Bishop of Paphos, in the Church of the Frari ; notable not
only as a veiy skilful piece of sculpture, but for the epitaph,
singularly chai'act eristic of the period, and confirmatoi-y of all
that I have alleged against it :

"James Pesaro, Bishop of Paphos, -who conquered the Turks in war,
himselr in peace, transported from a noble family among the Vene-
tians to a nobler among the angels, laid here, expects the noblest
crown, which the just Judge shall give to him in that day. He
lived the years of Plato. He died 24th March, 1547.*

The mingled classicism and carnal pride of this epitaj^h
surely need no comment. The crown is expected as a right
from the justice of the judge, and the nobihty of the Venetian
family is only a little lower than that of the angels. The
quaint childishness of the " Yixit annos Platonicos " is also
very noiable.

§ Lxxxi. The statue, however, did not long remain in this
partially recumbent attitude. Even the expression of peace
became j)aiuful to the frivolous and thoughtless Italians, and
they required the portraiture to be rendered in a manner that
should induce no memoiy of death. The statue rose up, and
presented itself in front of the tomb, like an actor upon a stage,
surrounded now not merely, or not at all, by the Virtues, but
by allegorical figures of Fame and Yictorj', by genii and
muses, by personifications of humbled kingdoms and adoring
nations, and by every circumstance of pomp, and symbol of
adulation, that flatteiy could suggest, or insolence could

§ Lxxxn. As of the intermediate monumental t^'pe, so also
of this, the last and most gTOss, there are unfortunately many

* " Jacobus Pisaurius Paphi Episcopus qui Turcos bello, se ipsum pace
vincebat, ex nobili inter Venetas, ad nobiliorem inter Angeles familiani
delatus, nobilissimam in ilia die Coronam justo Judice reddeute, hie situs
expectat Vixit annos Platonicos. Obijt MDXLVII. IX. Kal. Aprilis."


examples in oui' own couutiy ; but the most wonderful, by
far, are still at Venice. I shall, however, particularize only
two ; the first, that of the Doge John Pesaro, in the Frari.
It is to be observed that we have passed over a considerable
interval of time ; we are now in the latter half of the seven-
teenth century ; the progress of corrui^tion has in the mean-
time been incessant, and sculpture has here lost its taste and
learning as well as its feeling. The monument is a huge accu-
mulation of theatrical scenery in marble : four colossal negro
caryatides, grinning and horrible, Avith faces of black marble
and white eyes, sustain the first story of it ; above this, two
monsters, long-necked, half dog and half di*agon, sustain an
ornamental sarcophagus, on the top of which the full-length
statue of the Doge in robes of state stands forward with its
arms expanded, like an actor courting applause, under a huge
canopy of metal, like the roof of a bed, painted crimson and
gold ; on each side of him are sitting figures of genii, and
xm intelligible personifications gesticulating in Roman armor ;
below, between the negro caryatides, are two ghastly figures
in bronze, half corpse, haK skeleton, caiTying tablets on which
is written the eulogium : but in large letters graven in gold,
the followuig words are the first and last that strike the eye ;
the first two phrases, one on each side, on tablets in the lower
story, the last under the portrait statue above :

YixiT ANNOs LXX. Dea'ixit anno MDCLIX.


"We have here, at last, the horrible images of death in violent
contrast with the defiant monument, which j^retends to bring
the resurrection down to earth, " Hie revixit ; " and it seems
impossible for false taste and base feeling to sink lower. Yet
even this monument is surpassed by one in St. John and

§ Lxxxiii. But before we pass to this, the last with which I
shall burden the reader's attention, let us for a moment, and
that we may feel the contrast more forcibly, return to a tomb
of the early times.

komajY renaissance. 95

lo a dark niche in the outer wall of the outer corridor of
St. Mark's— not even in the church, observe, but in the
atrium or porch of it, and on the north side of the church, —
is a solid sarcophagus of white marble, raised only about two
feet from the ground on four stunted square pillars. Its lid
is a mei'e slab of stone ; on its extremities are sculptured two
crosses ; in front of it are two rov/s of rude figures, the upper-
most representing Christ with the Apostles : the lower row is
of sis figures onl}', alternately male and female, holding up
their hands in the usual attitude of benediction ; the sixth is
smaller than the rest, and the midmost of the other five has a
glory round its head. I cannot tell the meaning of these
figures, but between them are suspended censers attached to
crosses ; a most beautiful symbolic expression of Christ's
mediatorial function. The whole is surrounded by a rude
Avi*eath of vine leaves, proceeding out of the foot of a cross.

On the bar of marble which separates the two rows of tig-
vu-es are inscribed these words :

" Here lies the Lord Marin Morosini, Duke."

It is the tomb of the Doge Marino Morosini, who reigned
from 1249 to 1252.

§ Lxxxiv. From before this rude and solemn sepulchre let
us pass to the southern aisle of the church of St, John and
Paul ; and there, towering from the pavement to the vaulting
of the church, behold a mass of marble, sixty or seventy feet
in height, of mingled yellow and white, the yellow carved into
the form of an enormous curtain, with ropes, fringes, and
tassels, sustained by cherubs ; in front of which, in the now
usual stage attitudes, advance the statues of the Doge Bertuc-
cio Valier, his son the Doge Silvester Falier, and his son's
wife, Elizabeth. The statues of the Doges, though mean and
Polonius-like, are partly redeemed by the Ducal robes ; but
that of the Dogaressa is a consummation of grossness, vanity-,
and ugliness, — the figure of a large and wrinkled woman, with
elaborate curls in stifi" projection round her face, covered from
her shoulders to her feet with ruffs, furs, lace, jewels, and em-
broideiy. Beneath and around are scattered Virtues, Yio


tories, Fames, genii, — the entire company of the monumental
stage assembled, as before a drop scene, — executed by various
sculptors, and deserving attentive study as exhibiting every
condition of false taste and feeble conception. The Victory in
the centre is peculiarly interesting ; the lion by which she is
accompanied, springing on a dragon, has been intended to
look terrible, but the incapable sculptor could not conceive
any form of dreadfulness, could not even make the lion look
angry. It looks only lachrymose ; and its lifted forepaws,
there being no spring nor motion in its body, give it the
appearance of a dog begging. The inscriptions under the
two principal statues are as follows :

" Bertucius Valier, Duke,

Great in wisdom and eloquence,

Greater in his Hellespontic victory,

Greatest in the Prince his son.

Died in the year 1658."

" Elisabeth Quirina,

Tlie wife of Silvester,

Distinguished b}' Roman virtue,

By Venetian piety.

And by the Ducal crown,

Died 1708."

The writers of this age were generally anxious to make the
world aware that they understood the degrees of comparison,
and a large number of epitaphs are principally constructed
with this object (compare, in the Latin, that of the Bishop of
Paphos, given above) : but the latter of these epitaphs is also
interesting from its mention, in an age now altogether given
up to the pursuit of worldly honor, of that "Venetian piety"
which once truly distinguished the city from all others ; and
of which some form and shadow, remaining still, served to
jDoint an epitaph, and to feed more cunningly and speciously
the prida which covdd not be satiated with the sumptuousnesa
of the sepulchre.

§ Lxxxv. Thus far, then, of the second element of the Ee-
uaissance spirit, the Pride of State ; nor need we go farther te


learn the reason of the fiill of Venice. She was already likened
in her thoughts, and was therefore to be likened in her ruin,
to the Virgin of Babylon. The Pride of State and the Pride
of EJiowledge were no new passions : the sentence against
them had gone forth from everlasting, " Thou saidst, I shall
be a lady for ever ; so that thou didst not lay these things to
thine heart. . . Tl\y wisdom and thy knoidedge, it hath
perverted thee ; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and
none else beside me. Therefore shall evil come upon thee
. . . ; thy merchants from thy youth, they shall wander
every one to his quarter ; none shall save thee."*

§ Lxxxvi. m. Prede of System. I might have illustrated
these evil principles from a thousand other sources, but I have
not time to pursue the subject farther, and must pass to the
third element above named, the Pride of System. It need not
detain us so long as either of the others, for it is at once
more palpable and less dangerous. The manner in which the
pride of the fifteenth century corrupted the soui-ces of knowl-
edge, and diminished the majesty, while it multij^lied the
trappings, of state, is in general little obsei-ved ; but the
reader is jirobably already well and sufficiently aware of the
cui'ious tendency to formulization and system which, under
the name of philosoj^hy, encumbered the minds of the Re-
naissance schoolmen. As it was above stated, grammar be-
came the fii'st of sciences ; and whatever subject had to be
treated, the first aim of the philosoj^her was to subject its
principles to a code of laws, in the observation of which the
merit of the speaker, thinker, or worker, in or on that subject,
was thereafter to consist ; so that the whole mind of the world
was occupied by the exclusive study of Restraints. The sound
of the forging of fetters was heard from sea to sea. The doc-
tors of all the arts and sciences set themselves daily to the
invention of new varieties of cages and manacles ; they them-
selves wore, instead of gowns, a chain mail, whose purpose
was not so much to avert the weapon of the adversary as to
restrain the motions of the weai*er ; and all the acts, thoughts,
and workings of mankind, — poetry, painting, ai'chitecture,
* Isaiah xlvii. 7, 10, 11, lo.
Vol. III.— 7


and philosopliy, — were reduced by them merely to so many
different forms of fetter-dance.

8 Lxxxvii. Now, I am very sure that no reader who has
given any attention to the former portions of this work, or
the tendency of what else I have written, more especially the
last chapter of the "Seven Lamps," will suppose me to under-
rate the importance, or dispute the authority, of law. It has
been necessary for me to allege these again and again, nor
can they ever be too often or too energetically alleged, against
the vast masses of men who now disturb or retard the advance,
of ci\dlization ; heady and high-minded, despisers of disci-
pline, and refusers of correction. But law, so far as it can be
reduced to form and system, and is not written upon the
heart, — as it is, in a Divine loyalty, upon the hearts of the
great hierarchies who serve and wait about the throne of the
Eternal Lawgiver, — this lower and formally exjjressible law
has, I say, two objects. It is either for the definition and re-
straint of sin, or the guidance of simplicity ; it either explains,
forbids, and punishes wickedness, or it guides the movements
and actions both of lifeless things and of the more simple and
untaught among responsible agents. And so long, therefore,
as sin and foolishness are in the world, so long it will be nec-
essary for men to submit themselves painfully to this lower
law, in proportion to their need of being corrected, and to the
degree of childishness or simplicity by which they approach
more nearly to the condition of the unthinking and inanimate
things which are governed by law altogether ; yet yielding,
in the manner of their submission to it, a singular lesson to
the pride of man, — being obedient more perfectly in propor-
tion to their gi-eatness.* But, so far as men become good and
wise, and rise above the state of children, so far they become
emancipated from this written law, and invested with the per-
fect freedom which consists in the fulness and joyfulness of
compliance with a higher and unwritten law ; a law so univer-
sal, so subtle, so glorious, that nothing but the heart can keep

§ Lxxxvm. Now pride opposes itself to the observance of
* Compare " Seven Lamps," chap. vii. ?, 3.


this Divine law in two opposite ways : either by brute resist-
ance, which is the way of the rabble and its leaders, denying
or defying law altogether ; or by formal comphance, which is
the way of the Pharisee, exalting himself while he pretends to
obedience, and making void the infinite and spiritual com-
mandment by the finite and lettered commandment. And it
is easy to know which law we are obeying : for any law Avhich
we magnify and keep thi'ough pride, is always the law of the
letter ; but that which we love and keep through humility, is
the law of the Spirit : And the letter killeth, but the Spirit
giveth life.

§ Lxxxrx. In the ap2:)liance of this universal iDrinciple to
what we have at present in hand, it is to be noted, that all
written or writable law respecting the arts is for the childish
and ignorant ; that in the beginning of teaching, it is possible
to say that this or that must or must not be done ; and laws
of color and shade may be taught, as laws of harmony are to
the young scholar in music. But the moment a man begins
to be anything deserving the name of an artist, all this teach-
able laAV has become a matter of course with him ; and if,
thenceforth, he boast himself anywise in the law, or j)retend
that he lives and works by it, it is a sure sign that he is merely
tithing cummin, and that there is no true art nor religion in
him. For the true artist has that inspiration in him which is
above all law, or rather, which is continually working out such
magnificent and perfect obedience to supreme law, as can in
no wise be rendered by line and rule. There are more laws
perceived and fulfilled in the single stroke of a great work-
man, than could be M'ritten in a volume. His science is inex-
pressibly subtle, directly taught him by his Maker, not in any
wise communicable or imitable.* Neither can any -UTitten or
definitely obseiwable laws enable us to do any great thing.
It is possible, by measuring and administering quantities of
color, to paint a room wall so that it shall not hurt the eye ;
but there are no laws by observing which we can become
Titians. It is possible so to measiu-e and administer syllables,

* See the farther remarks on Inspiration, in the fourth chapter.


as to construct harmonious verse ; but there are no laws by
which we can \xx\ie Iliads. Out of the poem or the picture,
once produced, men may eUcit laws by the volume, and study
them with advantage, to the better understanding of the exist-
ing poem or picture ; but no more write or paint another,
than by discovering laws of vegetation they can make a tree
to grow. And therefore, wheresoever we find the system and
formality of rviles much dwelt upon, and si^oken of as any-
thing else than a help for children, there we may be sure that
noble art is not even understood, far less reached. And thus
it was Avith all the common and public mind in the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries. The greater men, indeed, broke
through the thorn hedges ; and, though much time was lost
by the learned among them in writing Latin verses and ana-
grams, and arranging the framework of cjuaint sonnets and
dexterous syllogisms, stiU they tore their way through the
sapless thicket by force of intellect or of piety ; for it was not
possible that, either in literature or in painthig, mles could
be received by any strong nnnd, so as materially to interfere
with its originality : and the crabbed discipline and exact
scholarship became an advantage to the men who could pass
through and despise them ; so that in spite of the rules of the
drama we had Shakspeare, and in spite of the rules of art we
had Tintoret, — both of them, to this day, doing perpetual vio-
lence to the vulgar scholarship and dim-eyed proprieties of
the multitude.

§ xc. But in architecture it was not so ; for that was the
art of the multitude, and was affected by all their errors ; and
the great men who entered its field, like Michael Angelo, found
expression for all the best part of their minds in sculpture,
and made the architecture merely its shell. So the simple-
tons and sophists had their way with it : and the reader can
have no conception of the inanities and puerilities of the wri-
ters, who, with the help of Vitruvius, re-established its " five

Online LibraryJohn RuskinThe stones of Venice → online text (page 9 of 34)