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§ 66. The Artists.

Haec est Italia diis sacra.—Pliny.

Italian Humanism reproduced the past. Italian art was original. The creative productions of Italy in architecture, sculpture and painting continue to render it the world’s chief centre of artistic study and delight. Among Italian authors, Dante alone has a place at the side of Michelangelo, Raphael and Lionardo da Vinci. The cultivation of art began in the age of Dante with Cimabue and Giotto, but when Italian Humanism was declining Italian painting and sculpture were celebrating their highest triumphs. Such a combination and succession of men of genius in the fine arts as Italy produced, in a period extending over three centuries, has nowhere else been known. They divided their triumphs between Florence and Rome, but imparted their magic touch to many other Italian cities, including Venice, which had remained cold to the literary movement. Here again Rome drew upon Florence for painters such as Giotto and Fra Angelico, and for sculptors such as Ghiberti, Donatello, Brunelleschi and Michelangelo.

While the Italy of the 15th century—or the quattrocento, as the Italians call it—was giving expression to her own artistic conceptions in color and marble and churchly dome, masterpieces of ancient sculpture, restless, in the graves where for centuries they had had rude sepulture, came forth to excite the admiring astonishment of a new generation. What the age of Nicolas V. was for the discovery of manuscripts, the age of Julius II. was for the discovery of classic Greek statuary. The extensive villa of the Emperor Hadrian at Tivoli, which extended over several miles and embraced a theatre, lyceum, temple, basilica, library, and race-course, alone furnished immense treasures of art. Others were found in the bed of the Tiber or brought from Greece or taken from the Roman baths, where their worth had not been discerned. In Alexander VI.’s pontificate the Apollo Belvedere was found; under Julius II. the torso of Hercules, the Laocoön group10261026    The discovery of the Laocoön in a vineyard in Rome was "like a Jubilee." Michelangelo was one of the first to see it. Sadoleto praised it in Latin verses. See description in Klaczko, W. 93-96. and the Vatican Venus. The Greek ideals of human beauty were again revealed and kindled an enthusiasm for similar achievements.

Petrarca’s collections were repeated. Paul II. deposited his rich store of antiquities in his palace of San Marco. In Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici was active in securing pieces of ancient art. The museum on the Capitoline Hill in Rome, where Nicolas V. seems to have restored the entire palace of the senate, dates from 1471, one of its earliest treasures being the statue of Marcus Aurelius. The Vatican museum was the creation of Julius II. To these museums and the museums in Florence were added the galleries of private collectors.

In architecture, the Renaissance artists never adopted the stern Gothic of the North. In 1452, Leon Battista Alberti showed to Nicolas V. a copy of his De re aedificatoria, a work on architecture, based upon his studies of the Roman monuments. Nicolas opened the line of great builders in Rome and his plans were on a splendid scale.

The art of the Renaissance blends the glorification of mediaeval Catholicism with the charms of classical paganism, the history of the Bible with the mythology of Greece and Rome. The earlier painters of the 14th and 15th centuries were more simple, chaste and devout than those of the 16th, who reached a higher distinction as artists. The Catholic type of piety is shown in the preponderance of the pictures of the Madonna holding the infant Saviour in her arms or on her lap and in the portraiture of St. Sebastian and other saints. Heavenly beauty and earthly sensuality meet side by side, and the latter often draws attention away from the former. The same illustrious painters, says Hawthorne, in the Marble Faun, "seem to take up one task or the other—the disrobed woman whom they called Venus, or the type of highest and tenderest womanhood in the mother of their Saviour—with equal readiness, but to achieve the former with far more satisfactory success." One moment the painter represented Bacchus wedding Ariadne and another depicted Mary on the hill of Calvary. Michelangelo now furnished the Pietà for St. Peter’s, now designed the Rape of Ganymede for Vittoria Colonna and the statue of the drunken Bacchus for the Roman Jacopo Galli. Titian’s Magdalen in the Pitti gallery, Florence, exhibits in one person the voluptuous woman with exposed breasts and flowing locks and the penitent saint looking up to heaven. Of Sandro Botticelli, Vasari said that "in many homes he painted of naked women a plenty." If, however, the Christian religion furnished only to a single writer, Dante, the subject of his poem, it furnished to all the painters and sculptors many subjects from both Testaments and also from Church history, for the highest productions of their genius.

In looking through the long list of distinguished sculptors, painters and architects who illuminated their native Italy in the Renaissance period, one is struck with the high age which many of them reached and, at the same time, with the brief period in which some of them acquired undying fame. Michelangelo lived to be 89, while Correggio died before he was 44. Titian, had he lived one year longer, would have rounded out a full century, while death took the brush out of Raphael’s hand before he was 37, a marvellous example of production in a short period, to be compared with Mozart in the department of music and Blaise Pascal in letters. And again, several of the great artists are remarkable examples of an extraordinary combination of talents. Lionardo da Vinci and Michelangelo excelled alike as architects, sculptors, painters and poets. Lionardo was, besides being these, a chemist, engineer, musician, merchant and profound thinker, yea, "the precocious originator of all modern wonders and ideas, a subtle and universal genius, an isolated and insatiate investigator," and is not unjustly called, on his monument at Milan, "the restorer of the arts and sciences."10271027    Taine, Lectures on Art, I. 16.—Lübke, Hist. of Art, II. 280 sq. says: Lionardo was one of those rare beings in whom nature loves to unite all conceivable human perfections,—strikingly handsome, and at the same time of a dignified presence and of an almost incredible degree of bodily strength; while mentally he possessed such various endowments as are rarely united in a single person,"etc. See also Symonds, III. 314. His mural picture of the Last Supper in Milan, best known by the engraving of Raphael Morghen, in spite of its defaced condition, is a marvellous reproduction of one of the sublimest events, adapted to the monks seated around their refectory table (instead of the reclining posture on couches), and every head a study. As for Michelangelo, he has been classed by Taine with Dante, Shakespeare and Beethoven among the four great intellects in the world of art and literature.

Distinguishing in the years between 1300–1550 two periods, the earlier Renaissance to 1470 and the high Renaissance, from that date forward, we find that Italian art had its first centre in Florence, and its most glorious exhibition under Julius II. and Leo X. in Rome.10281028    Julius ordered a colossal tomb wrought for himself, but he could not be depended upon as a paymaster, as Michelangelo complained. See Klaczko, p. 62. The earlier period began with Cimabue, who died about 1302, and Giotto, 1276–1336, the friend of Dante. According to the story, Cimabue found Giotto, then ten years old, drawing sheep on a stone with a piece of charcoal and, with his father’s consent, took the lad to Florence. These two artists employed their genius in the decoration of the cathedral erected to the memory of St. Francis in Assisi. The visitor to S. Croce and other sacred places in Florence looks upon the frescos of Giotto. His Dante, like Guido Reni’s Beatrice Cenci, once seen can never be forgotten. Symonds has remarked that it may be said, without exaggeration, that Giotto and his scholars, within the space of little more than half a century, painted upon the walls of the churches and the public places of Italy every great conception of the Middle Ages.10291029    The Renaissance, III. 191. Fra Angelico da Fiesole, 1387–1455, is the most religious of the painters of this period, and his portraiture of saints and angels is so pure as to suggest no other impression than saintliness.

The mind is almost stunned by the combination of brilliant artistic achievement, of which the pontificate of Julius II. may be taken as the centre. There flourished in that age Perugino, 1446–1524,—Raphael’s teacher,—Lionardo da Vinci, 1452–1519, Raphael, 1483–1520, Michelangelo, 1475–1564, Correggio, 1493–1534, Andrea del Sarto, 1487–1531, and Titian, 1477–1576, all Italians.

Of Raphael, his German biographer has said his career is comprised in four words, "he lived, he loved, he worked, he died young."10301030    Seine Geschichte ist in den vier Begriffen enthalten: leben, lieben, arbeiten und jung sterben He was an attractive and amiable character, free from envy and jealousy, modest, magnanimous, patient of criticism, as anxious to learn as to teach, always ready to assist poor artists. Michelangelo and he labored in close proximity in the Vatican, Michelangelo in the Sistine chapel, Raphael in the stanze and loggie. Their pupils quarrelled among themselves, each depreciating the rival of his master; but the masters rose above the jealousy of small minds. They form a noble pair, like Schiller and Goethe among poets. Raphael seemed almost to have descended from a higher world. Vasari says that he combined so many rare gifts that he might be called a mortal god rather than a simple man. The portraits, which present him as an infant, youth and man, are as characteristic and impressive as Giotto’s Dante and Guido Reni’s Beatrice Cenci.

Like Goethe, Raphael was singularly favored by fortune and was free from the ordinary trials of artists—poverty, humiliation and neglect. He held the appointment of papal chamberlain and had the choice between a cardinal’s hat and marriage to a niece of Cardinal Bibbiena, with a dowry of three thousand gold crowns. But he put off the marriage from year to year, and preferred the dangerous freedom of single life. His contemporary and admirer, Vasari, says, when Raphael felt death approaching, he "as a good Christian dismissed his mistress from his house, making a decent provision for her support, and then made his last confession."

The painter’s best works are devoted to religious characters and events. On a visit to Florence after the burning of Savonarola, he learned from his friend Fra Bartolomeo to esteem the moral reformer and gave him, as well as Dante, a place among the great teachers of the Church in his fresco of the Theologia in the Vatican. His Madonnas represent the perfection of human loveliness and purity. In the Madonna di San Sisto at Dresden, so called because Sixtus IV. is introduced into the picture, the eye is divided between the sad yet half-jubilant face of the Virgin Mother, the contemplative gaze of the cherubs and the pensive and sympathetic expression of the divine child.

Grimm says, Raphael’s Madonnas are not Italian faces but women who are lifted above national characteristics. The Madonnas of da Vinci, Correggio, Titian, Murillo and Rubens contain the features of the nationality to which these painters belonged. Raphael alone has been able to give us feminine beauty which belongs to the European type as such.10311031    Raphael, p. 428 sqq.

The last, the greatest, and the purest of Raphael’s works is the Transfiguration in the Vatican. While engaged on it, he died, on Good Friday, his birthday. It was suspended over his coffin and carried to the church of the Pantheon, where his remains repose in his chosen spot near those of his betrothed bride, Maria di Bibbiena. In that picture we behold the divinest figure that ever appeared on earth, soaring high in the air, in garments of transparent light, and with arms outspread, adored by Moses on the right hand and by Elijah on the left, who represent the Old Covenant of law and promise. The three favorite disciples are lying on the ground, unable to face the dazzling splendor from heaven. Beneath this celestial scene we see, in striking contrast, the epileptic boy with rolling eyes, distorted features, and spasmodic limbs, held by his agonized father and supported by his sister; while the mother imploringly appeals to the nine disciples who, in their helplessness, twitted by scribes, point up to the mountain where Jesus had gone. In connecting the two scenes, the painter followed the narrative of the Gospels, Matt. xvii. 1–14; Mark ix. 2–14; Luke ix. 28–37. The connection is being continually repeated in Christian experience. Descending from the Mount of Transfiguration, we are confronted with the misery of earth and, helpless in human strength, we look to heaven as the only source of help.

Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

Michelangelo Buonarroti was 10 years older than Raphael, and survived him 44 years. He drew the inspiration for his sculptures and pictures from the Old Testament, from Dante and from Savonarola. He praised Dante in two sublime sonnets and heard Savonarola’s thrilling sermons against wickedness and vice, and witnessed his martyrdom. Vasari and Condivi both bear witness to his spotless morality. He deplored the corruptions of the papal court.

For Rome still slays and sells Christ at the court,

Where paths are closed to virtue’s fair increase.10321032    Symonds, III. 516.

The artist’s works have colossal proportions, and refuse to be judged by ordinary rules. They are divided between painting, as the frescos in the Sistine chapel of St. Peter’s, architecture as in St. Peter’s dome, and works of statuary, as Moses in Rome and David in Florence. His Pietà in St. Peter’s, a marble group representing the Virgin Mary holding the crucified Saviour in her arms, raised him suddenly to the rank of the first sculptor of Italy.10331033    See Grimm’s description, I. 186 sqq. His Last Judgment, on the altar wall of the Sistine chapel, represents the dominant conception of the Middle Ages of Christ as an angry judge, and is as Dantesque as Dante’s Inferno itself.10341034    Grimm, II. 224, speaks of the expression on Christ’s face as indescribably repelling, but says, if a last judgment has to be painted with Christ as the judge, such an aspect must be given him. The artist’s last work in marble was the unfinished Pietà, in the cathedral of Florence; his last design a picture of the crucifixion. In his last poems, he took farewell of the fleeting pleasures of life, turned to God as the only reality and found in the crucified Saviour his only comfort. This is the core of the evangelical doctrine of justification rightly understood.

The day of Michelangelo’s death was the day of Galileo Galilei’s birth in Florence. The golden age of art had passed: the age of science was at hand.

Among the greater churches of Italy,—the cathedrals of Milan, Venice, Pisa, Siena, Florence and Rome,—St. Peter’s stands pre-eminent in dimensions, treasures of art and imposing ecclesiastical associations.10351035    Pastor, III. 54-9, following Redtenbacher, gives a list of the more important pieces of ecclesiastical architecture in Italy, 1401-1518. This central cathedral of Christendom was not dedicated till 1626 by Urban VIII. Its reconstruction was planned on a colossal scale by Nicolas V., but little was done till Julius II. took up the work. Among the architects who gave to the building their thought, Bramante and Michelangelo did most. On April 18, 1506, Julius II. laid the first stone according to Bramante’s design. A mass being said by Cardinal Soderini, the old pope descended by a ladder into the trench which had been dug at the spot where the statue of St. Veronica now stands. There was much fear, says Paris de Grassis, that the ground would fall in and the pope, before consecrating the foundations, cried out to those above not to come too near the edge. Under Leo X., Raphael was appointed sole architect, and was about to deviate from Bramante’s plan, when death stayed his hand. Michelangelo, taking up the task in 1535, gave to the structure its crowning triumph in the dome, the noblest in Western Europe, and the rival of the dome of St. Sophia.

That vast and wondrous dome,

To which Diana’s marvel was a cell, —

Christ’s mighty shrine above his martyr’s tomb.10361036    With these lines of Byron may be coupled those of Schiller:—
   Und ein zweiter Himmel in den Himmel

   Steigt Sanct Peter’s wundersamer Dom.


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