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EHGOMBRICH 

THE STORY 
OF ART 

PHAIDON PRESS 





VELAZQUEZ : Los Mentnos, Painted in 1656. Madrid, Prado 


The scene is the Court Painter’s studio, where Velazquez is engaged on a portrait of the King and 
Queen. We must imagine the royal pair outside the picture where we are, and seeing what we see: 
their own reflection in the distant mirror, the painter at work and the welcome visit of their little 
daughter, the Infanta Margarita, who has been brought to the studio with her Maids of Honom 
(Memnas)y her tutors and her dwarfs to pay her respects and relieve the boredom of the sitting 



IHE STORY 
OPART 

WITH 370 ILLUSTRATIONS 

BY 

EHGOMBRICH 


PHAIDON PUBLISHERS INC 

DISTRIBUTED BY THE OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 

NEW YORK • MCMLI 



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED BY PHAIDON PRESS LTD 
I CROMWELL PLACE, LONDON, S.W.7 
MCMLl 

FOURTH EDITION : REVISED 


PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 



CONTENTS 


PREFACE I 

INTRODUCTION: On Art and Artists 5 

1. STRANGE beginnings: Prehistoric and Primitive Peoples; Ancient 

America 19 

2. ART FOR ETERNITY : Egypt, Mesopotamia, Crete 33 

3. THE GREAT AWAKENING : Greece, Seventh to Fifth Century B.c. 49 

4. THE REALM OF BEAUTY : Greece and the Greek World, Fourth Century 

B.c. to First Century a.d. 67 

5. WORLD CONQUERORS : Romans, Buddhists, Jews, and Christians, First 

to Fourth Century a.d. 79 

6. APARTING OF WAYS: Romeand Byzantium, Fifth to Thirteenth Century 91 

7. LOOKING eastwards: Islam, China, Second to Thirteenth Century 99 

8. WESTERN ART IN THE MELTING POT: Europe, SixA to Eleventh 

Century 109 

9. THE CHURCH MILITANT: The Twelfth Century 119 

10. THE CHURCH TRIUMPHANT: The Thirteenth Century 131 

11. COURTIERS AND BURGHERS: The Fourteenth Century 149 

12. THE CONQUEST OF REALITY: The Early Fifteenth Century 161 

13. TRADITION AND INNOVATION : The Later Fifteenth Century in Italy 177 

14. TRADITION AND INNOVATION: The Fifteenth Century in the North 195 

15. HARMONY ATTAINED : Tuscany and Rome, Early Sixteenth Century 209 

16. LIGHT AND COLOUR : Venice and Northern Italy in the Early Sixteenth 

Century 237 

17. THE NEW LEARNING SPREADS: Germany and the Netherlands in the 

Early Sixteenth Century 249 

18. A CRISIS OF art: Europe, Later Sixteenth Century 265 

19. VISION AND visions: Catholic Europe, First Half of the Seventeenth 

Century 287 



Contents 


vi 

20. THE MIRROR OF NATURE : Holland in the Seventeentli Century 309 

21. POWER AND GLORY : Italy, Later Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries 325 

22. POWER AND glory: France, Germany and Austria, Late Seventeenth 

and Early Eighteenth Centuries 335 

23. THE AGE OF REASON : England and France, Eighteenth Century 343 

24. THE BREAK IN TRADITION: England, America and France, Late 

Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries 357 

25. REVOLUTION IN PERMANENCE: The Nineteenth Century 377 

26. IN SEARCH OF NEW STANDARDS : The Late Nineteenth Century 403 

27. EXPERIMENTAL ART: The Twentieth Century 419 

A NOTE ON ART BOOKS 447 

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 45I 

INDEX AND GLOSSARY 459 



PREFACE 


T his book is intended for all who feel in need of some first orientation in a 
strange and fascinating field. It wants to show the newcomer the lie of the 
land without confusing him with details; it hopes to enable him to bring 
some intelligible order into the wealth of names, periods and styles which crowd 
the pages of more ambitious works, and so to equip him for consulting more 
specialized books. In planning and writing it I thought first and foremost of readers 
in their teens who had just discovered the world of art for themselves. But I have 
never believed that books for young people should differ from books for adults 
except for the fact that they must reckon with the most exacting class of critics, 
critics who are quick to detect and resent any trace of pretentious jargon or bogus 
sentiment. I know from experience that these are the vices which may render people 
suspicious of all writings on art for the rest of their lives. I have striven sincerely to 
avoid these pitfalls and to use plain language even at the risk of sounding casual or 
unprofessional. Difficulties of thought, on the other hand, I have not avoided, and so 
I hope that no reader will attribute my decision to get along with a minimum of the 
art historian’s conventional terms to any desire on my part of ‘talking down’ to 
him. For is it not rather those who misuse ‘scientific’ language, not to enlighten 
but to impress the reader, who are ‘talking down’ to us — from the clouds ? 

Apart from this decision to restrict the number of technical terms, I have tried, 
in writing this book, to follow a number of more specific self-imposed rules, all of 
which have made my own life as its author more difficult, but may make that of the 
reader a little easier. The first of these rules was that I would not write about works 
I could not show in the illustrations; I did not want the text to degenerate into lists 
of names which could mean little or nothing to those who do not know the works 
in question, and would be superfluous for those who do. This rule at once limited 
the choice of artists and works I could discuss, to the number of illustrations the book 
would hold. It forced me to be doubly rigorous in my selection of what to mention 
and what to exclude. This led to my second rule, which was to limit myself to real 
works of art, and to cut out anything which might merely be interesting as a speci- 
men of taste or fashion. This decision entailed a considerable sacrifice of literary 
efiects. Praise is so much duller than criticism, and the inclusion of some amusing 
monstrosities might have offered some light relief. But the reader wotdd have been 
justified in asking why something I found objectionable should find a place in a 
book devoted to art and not to non-art, particularly if this meant leaving out a true 
masterpiece. Thus, while I do not claim that all the works illustrated represent the 
highest standard of perfection, I did make an effort not to include anything which 
I considered to be without a peculiar merk of its own. 



2 Prrface 

The third rule also demanded a little self-denial. I vowed to resist any temptation 
to be original in my selection, lest the well-known masterpieces be crowded out by 
my own personal favourites. This book, after all, is not intended merely as an 
anthology of beautiful things; it is meant for those who look for bearings in a 
new field, and for them the familiar appearance of apparently ‘hackneyed’ examples 
may serve as welcome landmarks. Moreover, the most famous works are really often 
the greatest by many standards, and if this book can help readers to look at them with 
fresh eyes it may prove more useful than if it had neglected them for the sake of 
less well-known masterpieces. 

Even so, the number of famous works and masters I had to exclude is formidable 
enough. I may as well confess that I have found no room for Hindu or Etruscan 
art, or for masters of the rank of Quercia, Signorelli or Carpaccio, of Peter 
Vischer, Brouwer, Terborch, Canaletto, Corot, and scores of others who happen 
to interest me deeply. To include them would have doubled or trebled the length of 
the book and would, I believe, have reduced its value as a first guide to art. One 
more rule I have followed in this heart-breaking task of elimination. When in doubt 
I have always preferred to discuss a work which I had seen in the original rather 
than one I knew only from photographs. I should have liked to make this an abso- 
lute rule, but I did not want the reader to be penalized by the accidents of travel 
restrictions which have dogged the life of the art lover during the past fifteen years. 
Moreover, it was my final rule not to have any absolute rules whatever, but to break 
my own sometimes, leaving to the reader the fun of finding me out. 

These, then, were the negative rules I adopted. My positive aims should be 
apparent from the book itself. It tries to tell the old story of art once more in simple 
language, and to enable the reader to see how it hangs together. It should help him 
in his appreciation, not so much by rapturous descriptions, as by providing him 
with some pointers as to the artist’s probable intentions. This method should at 
least help to clear away the most frequent causes of misunderstanding and to fore- 
stall a kind of criticism which misses the point of a work of art altogether. Beyond 
this the book has a slightly more ambitious goal. It sets out to place the works it 
discusses in their historical setting and thus to lead towards an understanding of the 
master’s artistic aims. Each generation is at some point in revolt against the standards 
of its fathers; each work of art derives its appeal to contemporaries not only from 
what it does but also from what it leaves undone. When young Mozart arrived in 
Paris he noticed — ^as he wrote to his father — ^that all the fashionable symphonies 
there ended with a quick finale; so he decided to starde his audience with a slow 
introduction to his last movement. This is a trivial example, but it shows the direc- 
tion in which an historical appreciation of art must aim. The urge to be different may 
not be the highest or profoundest element of the artist’s equipment, but it is rardy 
lacking altogether. And the appreciation of this intentional difference often opens 



Preface 3 

up the easiest approach to the art of the past. I have tried to make this constant 
change of aims the key of my narrative, and to show how each work is related by 
imitation or contradiction to what has gone before. Even at the risk of being tedious, 
I have referred back for the purpose of comparison to works that show the 
distance which artists had placed between themselves and their forerunners. There 
is one pitfall in this method of presentation which I hope to have avoided but 
which should not go unmentioned. It is the naive misinterpretation of the constant 
change in art as a continuous progress. It is true that every ardst feels that he 
has surpassed the generation before him and that from his point of view he has 
made progress beyond anything that was known before. We cannot hope to under- 
stand a work of art without being able to share this sense of liberation and triumph 
which the artist felt when he looked at his own achievement. But we must realize 
that each gain or progress in one direction entails a loss in another, and that this 
subjective progress, in spite of its importance, does not correspond to an objective 
increase in artistic values. All this may sound a little puzzling when stated in the 
abstract. I hope the book will make it clear. 

One more word about the space allotted to the various arts in this book. To 
some it will seem that painting is imduly favoured as compared to sculpture and 
architecture. One reason for this bias is that less is lost in the illustration of a 
painting than in that of a round sculpture, let alone a monumental building. I had 
no intention, moreover, of competing with the many excellent histories of archi- 
tectural styles which exist. On the other hand, the story of art as here conceived 
could not be told without a reference to the architectural background. While I had 
to confine myself to discussing the style of only one or two buildings in each period, 
I tried to restore the balance in favour of architecture by giving these examples 
pride of place in each chapter. This may help the reader to co-ordinate his know- 
ledge of each period and see it as a whole. 

As a tailpiece to each chapter I have chosen a characteristic representation of the 
artist’s life and world from the period concerned. Together with the frontispiece 
of this book these pictures form an independent little series illustrating the changing 
social position of the artist and his public. Even where their artistic merit is not 
very high these pictorial documents may help us to build up, in our minds, a 

concrete picture of the surroundings in which the art of the past sprang to life. 

* * * 

This book would never have been written without the warm-hearted encourage- 
ment it received from Elizabeth Senior, whose untimely death in an air-raid on 
London was such a loss to all who knew her. I am also indebted to Dr. Leopold 
Ettlinger, Dr. Edith Hoffinann, Dr. Otto Kurz, Mrs. Olive Renier, Mrs. Edna 
Sweetman, to my wife and my son Richard for much valuable advice and assistance, 
and to the Phaidon Press for their share in shaping this book. 




I. RUBENS: Portrait of his son Nicholas, Drawn 2. durer: Portrait of his mother. Drawn 

about 1620. Vienna, Albertina in 1514. Vienna, Albertina 



3. MURILLO: Street arabs. Painted about 4. fieter de hooch: Interior with a woman peeling 
1670. Munich^ Alte Pinakothek apples. Painted in 1663. London, Wallace Collection 




INTRODUCTION 
On Art and Artists 


T here really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists. Once these 
were men who took coloured earth and roughed out the forms of a bison on 
the wall of a cave; today they buy their paints, and design posters for the 
Underground; they did many things in between. There is no harm in calling all 
these activities art as long as we keep in mind that such a word may mean very 
different things in different times and places, and as long as we realize that Art with 
a capital A has no existence. For Art with a capital A has come to be something of a 
bogey and a fetish. You may crush an artist by telling him that what he has just 
done may be quite good in its own way, only it is not ‘Art’. And you may confound 
anyone enjoying a picture by declaring that what he liked in it was not the Art but 
something different. 

Actually I do not think that there are any wrong reasons for liking a statue or a 
picture. Someone may like a landscape painting because it reminds him of home, 
or a portrait because it reminds him of a friend. There is nothing wrong with that. 
All of us, when we see a painting, are bound to be reminded of a himdred-and-one 
things which influence our likes and dislikes. As long as these memories help us to 
enjoy what we see, we need not worry. It is only when some irrelevant memory 
makes us prejudiced, when we instinctively turn away from a magnificent picture 
of an alpine scene because we dislike climbing, that we should search our mind for 
the reason of the aversion which spoils a pleasure we might otherwise have had. 
There are wrong reasons for disliking a work of art. 

Most people like to see in pictures what they would also like to see in reality. This 
is quite a natural preference. We all like beauty in nature, and are grateful to the 
artists who have preserved it in their works. Nor would these artists themselves 
have rebuffed us for our taste. When the great Flemish painter Rubens made a 
drawing of his little boy (Fig. i) he was proud of his good looks. He wanted us, too, 
to admire the child. But this bias for the pretty and engaging subject is apt to 
become a stumbling block if it leads us to reject works which represent a less appeal- 
ing subject. The great German painter Albrecht Diirer certainly drew his mother 
(Fig. 2) with as much devotion and love as Rubens felt for his chubby child. His 
truthful study of careworn old age may give us a shock which makes us turn away 
from it — and yet, if we fight against our first repugnance we may be richly rewarded, 
for Diirer’s drawing in its tremendous sincerity is a great work. In fact, we shall 
soon discover that the beauty of a picture does not really lie in the beauty of its 
subject-matter. I do not know whether the little ragamuffins whom the Spanish 
painter Murillo liked to paint (Fig. 3) were strictly beautiful or not, but, as he 
A** 



6 


Introduction 



5. MELOZZO DA FORLi: Angel, Detail of a 6. memling: Angels, Detail of an altar, 

fresco. Painted about 1480. Painted about 1490. 

Vatican, Pinacoteca Antwerp, Museum 


painted them, they certainly have great charm. On the other hand, most people 
would call the child in Pieter de Hooch’s wonderful Dutch interior (Fig. 4) plain, 
but it is an attractive picture all the same. 

The trouble about beauty is that tastes and standards of what is beautiful vary 
so much. Figs. 5 and 6 were both painted in the fifteenth century, and both repre- 
sent angels playing the lute. Many will prefer the Italian work by Melozzo da Forli 
(Fig. 5), with its appealing grace and charm, to that of his northern contemporary 
Hans Memling (Fig. 6). I myself like both. It may take a little longer to discover the 
intrinsic beauty of Memling’s angel, but once we are no longer disturbed by his 
faint awkwardness we may find him infinitely lovable. 

What is true of beauty is also true of expression. In fact, it is often the expression 
of a figure in the painting which makes us like or loathe the work. Some people like 
an expression which they can easily understand, and which therefore moves them 
profoundly. When the Italian seventeenth-century painter Guido Reni painted the 
head of Christ on the cross (Fig. 7), he intended, no doubt, that the beholder should 
find in this face all the agony and all the glory of the Passion. Many people through- 
out subsequent centuries have drawn strength and comfort from such a representation 
of the Saviour. The feeling it expresses is so strong and so clear that copies of this 
work can be foimd in simple chapels and far-away farmhouses where people know 
nothing about ‘Art’. But even if this intense expression of feeling appeals to us we 
should not, for that reason, turn away from works whose expression is perhaps less 
easy to understand. The Italian painter of the Middle Ages who painted the crucifix 



Introduction 


7 



Detail of a painting, about 1640. Detail of a crucifix. Painted about 1270. 

London, National Gallery Florence, Uffizi 

(Fig. 8) surely felt as sincerely about the Passion as did Reni, but we must first 
learn his methods of drawing to understand his feelings. When we have come to 
imderstand these different languages, we may even prefer works of art whose 
expression is less obvious than Reni’s. Just as some prefer people who use few 
words and gestures and leave something to be guessed, so some people are fond of 
paintings or sculptures which leave ±em something to guess and ponder about. In 
the more ‘primitive’ periods, when artists were not so skilled in representing human 
faces and human gestures as they are now, it is often all the more moving to see how 
they tried nevertheless to bring out the feeling they wanted to convey. 

But here people are often brought up against another difficulty. They want to 
admire the artist’s skill in representing the things they see. What they like best is 
paintings which look ‘like real’. I do not deny for a moment that this is an important 
consideration. The patience and skill which go into the faithful rendering of the 
visible world are indeed to be admired. Great artists of the past have devoted much 
labour to works in which every tiny detail is carefully recorded. Diirer’s water- 
colour study of a hare (Fig. 9) is one of the most famous examples of this loving 
patience. But who would say that Rembrandt’s drawing of an elephant (Fig. 10) is 
necessarily less good because it shows fewer details ? Indeed Rembrandt was such 
a wizard that he gave us the feel of the elephant’s wrinkly skin with a few lines 
of his charcoal. 

But it is not only sketchiness that offends people who like their pictures to look 



. - 1 

9. durer: a Hare. Water-colour. Painted in 1502. 
Vienna* Albertina 



10. REMBRANDT: An Elephant. Drawn in 1637. Vienna, Albertina 




Introduction 


9 

‘real’. They are even more repelled by works which they consider to be incorrectly 
drawn, particularly when they belong to a more modem period when the artist 
‘ought to have known better’. As a matter of fact, there is no mystery about these 
distortions of nature about which we hear so many complaints in discussions on 
modem art. Everyone who has ever seen a Disney film or a comic strip knows all 
about it. He knows that it is sometimes right to draw things otherwise than they 
look, to change and distort them in one way or another. Mickey Mouse does not 
look very much like a real mouse, yet people do not write indignant letters to the 
papers about the length of his tail. Those who enter Disney’s enchanted world are 
not worried about Art with a capital A. They do not go to his shows armed with the 
same prejudices they like to take with them when going to an exhibition of modem 
painting. But if a modem artist draws something in his own way, he is apt to be 
thought a bungler who can do no better. Now, whatever we may think of modem 
artists, we may safely credit them with enough knowledge to draw ‘correctly’. If 
they do not do so their reasons may be very similar to those of Mr. Disney. Fig. 1 1 
shows a plate from an illustrated Natural History by the famous leader of the 
modern movement, Picasso. Surely no one could find fault with his charming 
representation of a mother hen and her fluffy little chickens. But in drawing a 
cockerel (Fig. 12), Picasso was not content with giving a mere rendering of the 
bird’s appearance. He wanted to bring out its aggressiveness, its cheek and its 
stupidity. In other words he has resorted to caricature. But what a convincing 
caricature it is! 



II. PICASSO: A Hen tvith chickens. Illustration 12. PiCASSo: A Cockerel, Drawn in 1938. 
to Buffon’s Natural History published in 1942 In the artist’s possession 


10 Introduction 

There are two things, therefore, which we should always ask ourselves if we find 
fault with the accuracy of a picture. One is whether the artist may not have had his 
reasons for changing the appearance of what he saw. We shall hear more about such 
reasons as the story of art imfolds. The other is that we should never condemn a 
work for being incorrectly drawn unless we have made quite sure that we are right 
and the painter is wrong. We are all inclined to be quick with the verdict that 
'things do not look like that’. We have a curious habit of thinking that nature must 
always look like the pictures we are accustomed to. It is easy to illustrate this by an 
astonishing discovery which was made not very long ago. Thousands of people, for 
centuries, have watched horses gallop, have attended horse-races and hunts, have 
enjoyed paintings and sporting prints showing horses charging into battle or run- 
ning after hoimds. Not one of these people seems to have noticed what it ‘really 
looks like’ when a horse runs. Pictures and sporting prints usually showed them with 
outstretched legs in full flight through the air — as the great French nineteenth- 
century painter Gericault painted them in a famous representation of the races at 
Epsom (Fig. 13). About eighty years ago, when the photographic camera had been 
sufficiently perfected for snapshots of horses in rapid motion to be taken, these 
snapshots proved that both the painters and their public had been wrong all the 
while. No galloping horse ever moved in the way which seems so ‘natural’ to us. 
It draws its legs in in turn as they come off the ground (Fig. 14). If we reflect for 
a moment we shall realize that it could hardly get along otherwise. And yet, when 
painters began to apply this new discovery, and painted horses moving as they 
actually do, everyone complained that their pictures looked wrong. 

This, no doubt, is an extreme example, but similar errors are by no means as 
rare as one might think. We are all inclined to accept conventional forms or colours 
as the only correct ones. Children sometimes think that stars must be star-shaped, 
though naturally they are not. The people who insist that in a picture the sky must 
be blue, and the grass green, are not very different from these children. They get 
very indignant if they see other colours in a picture, but if we try to forget all we 
have heard about green grass and blue skies, and look at the world as if we had just 
arrived from another planet on a voyage of discovery and were seeing it for the 
first time, we may find that things are apt to have the most surprising colours. 
Now painters sometimes feel as if they were on such a voyage of discovery. They 
want to see the world afresh, and to discard all the accepted notions and prejudices 
about flesh being pink and apples yellow or red. It is not easy to get rid of these 
preconceived ideas, but the artists who succeed best in doing so often produce the 
most exciting works. It is they who teach us to see new beauties in nature of whose 
existence we had never dreamt. If we follow them and learn from them, even a 
glance out of our own window may become a thrilling adventure. 

There is no greater obstacle to the enjoyment of great works of art than our 
c 




13 * GERICAULT: Horse-racing at Epsom. Painted in 1820. Paris, Louvre. 
14. The same subject, as the camera sees it, 1948. Photo finish 




12 Introduction 

unwillingness to discard habits and prejudices. A painting which represents a 
familiar subject in an unexpected way is often condemned for no better reason than 
that it does not seem right. The more often we have seen a story represented in art, 
the more firmly do we become convinced that it must always be represented on 
similar lines. About biblical subjects, in particular, feelings are apt to nm high. 
Though we all know that the Scriptures tell us nothing about the appearance of 
Jesus, and that God Himself cannot be visualized in human form, and though we 
know that it was the artists of the past who first created the images we have become 
used to, many are still inclined to think that to depart from these traditional forms 
amounts to blasphemy. 

As a matter of fact, it was usually those artists who read the Scriptures with the 
greatest devotion and attention who tried to build up in their minds an entirely fresh 
picture of the incidents of the sacred story. They tried to forget all the pictures they 
had seen, and to imagine what it must have been like when the Christ-child lay in 
the manger and the shepherds came to adore Him, or when a fisherman began to 
preach the gospel. It has happened time and again that such efforts of a great artist 
to read the old text with entirely fresh eyes have shocked and outraged thoughtless 
people. A typical ‘scandal’ of this kind flared up round Caravaggio, a very bold and 
revolutionary Italian artist who worked roimd about 1600. He was given the 
task of painting a picture of St. Matthew for the altar of a church in Rome. The 
saint was to be represented writing the gospel, and, to show that the gospels were 
the word of God, an angel was to be represented inspiring his writings. Caravaggio, 
who was a very earnest and imcompromising yoimg artist, thought hard about 
what it must have been like when an elderly, poor, working man, a simple publican, 
suddenly had to sit down to write a book. And so he painted a picture of St. Matthew 
(Fig. 15) with a bald head and bare, dusty feet, awkwardly gripping the huge 
volume, anxiously wrinkling his brow imder the unaccustomed strain of writing. 
By his side he painted a youthful angel, who seems just to have arrived from on 
high, and who gently guides the labourer’s hand as a teacher may do to a child. 
When Caravaggio delivered this picture to the church where it was to be placed on 
the altar, people were scandalized at what they took to be lack of respect for the 
Saint. The painting was not accepted, and Caravaggio had to try again. This time 
he took no diances. He kept strictly to the conventional ideas of what an angel or 
Saint should look like (Fig. 16). The outcome is still quite a good picture, for 
Caravaggio had tried hard to make it look lively and interesting, but we feel that it 
is less honest and sincere than the first had been. 

This story illustrates the harm that may be done by those who dislike and criticize 
works of art for wrong reasons. What is more important, it brings it home to us, that 
what we call ‘works of art’ are not the results of some mysterious activity, but ob- 
jects made by human beings for human beings. A picture looks so remote when it 



Introduction 


13 



15. CARAVAGGIO: St. Matthew, 16. Caravaggio: St. Matthew. 

Rejected version. Painted about 1593. Accepted version. Painted about 1593. 

^rlin, Kaiser-Fiiedrich Museum Rome, Church of S. Luigi dei Francesi 


hangs glassed and framed on the wall. And in our museums it is — very properly — 
forbidden to touch the objects on view. But originally they were made to be touched 
and handled, they were bargained about, quarrelled about, worried about. Let us 
also remember that every one of their features is the result of a decision by the artist; 
that he may have pondered over them and changed them many times, that he may 
have wondered whether to leave that tree in the backgroimd or to paint it over 
again, that he may have been pleased by a lucky stroke of his brush which gave a 
sudden unexpected brilliance to a sunlit cloud, and that he put in these figures 
reluctantly at the insistence of a buyer. For most of the paintings and statues which 
are now strung up along the walls of our museums and galleries were not meant to 
be displayed as Art. They were made for a definite occasion and a definite purpose 
which were in the artist’s mind when he set to work. 

Those ideas, on the other hand, we outsiders usually worry about, ideas about 
beauty and expression, are rarely mentioned by artists. It was not always like that, 
but it was so for many centuries in the past, and it is so again now. The reason is 
partly that artists are often shy people who would think it embarrassing to use big 
words like ‘Beauty*. They would feel rather priggish if they were to speak about 
‘expressing their emotions’ and to use similar catchwords. Such things they take for 



14 Introduction 

granted and find it useless to discuss. That is one reason, and, it seems, a good one. 
But there is another. In the actual everyday worries of the artist these ideas play a 
much smaller part than outsiders would, I think, suspect. What an artist worries 
about as he plans his picture, makes his sketches, or wonders whether he has com- 
pleted his canvas, is something much more difficult to put into words. Perhaps he 
would say he worries about whether he has got it ‘right’. Now it is only when we 
understand what he means by that modest litde word ‘right’ that we begin to 
understand what artists are really after. 

I think we can only hope to understand this if we draw on our own experience. 
Of course we are no artists, we may never have tried to paint a picture and may have 
no intention of ever doing so. But this need not mean that we are never confronted 
with similar problems as those which make up the artist’s life. In fact, I am anxious 
to prove that there is hardly any person who has not at least got an inkling of this 
type of problem, be it in ever so modest a way. Anybody who has ever tried to 
arrange a bunch of flowers, to shuffie and shift the colours, to add a litde here and 
take away there, has experienced this strange sensation of balancing forms and 
colours without being able to tell exacdy what kind of harmony it is he is trying to 
achieve. We just feel a patch of red here may make all the difference, or this blue 
is all right by itself but it does not ‘go’ with the others, and suddenly a litde stem 
of green leaves may seem to make it come ‘right’. ‘Don’t touch it any more,’ we 
exclaim, ‘now it is perfect.’ Not everybody, I admit, is quite so careful over tne 
arrangement of flowers, but nearly everybody has something he wants to get ‘right’. 
It may just be a matter of finding the right belt which matches a certain dress or 
nothing more impressive than the worry over the right proportion of, say, custard 
and pudding on one’s plate. In every such case, however trivial, we may feel that a 
shade too much or too litde upsets the balance and that there is only one relation- 
ship which is as it should be. 

People who worry like this over flowers, dresses or food, we may call fussy, 
because we may feel these things do not warrant so much attention. But what may 
sometimes be a bad habit in real life and is often, therefore, suppressed or concealed, 
comes into its own in the realm of art. When it is a matter of matching forms or 
arranging colours an artist must always be ‘fussy’ or rather fastidious to the extreme. 
He may see differences in shades and texture which we would hardly notice. More- 
over, his task is infinitely more complex than any of those we may experience in 
ordinary life. He has not only to balance two or three colours, shapes or tastes, but 
to juggle with any number. He has, on his canvas, literally hundreds of shades and 
forms which he must balance tiU they look ‘right’. A patch of green may suddenly 
look too yellow because it was brought into too close proximity with a strong blue — 
he may feel that all is spoiled, that there is a jarring note in the picture and that he 
must begin it all over again. He may suffer agonies over this problem. He may 



Introduction 15 

ponder about it in sleepless nights; he may stand in front of his picture all day 
trying to add a touch of colour here or there and rubbing it out again, though you 
and I might not have noticed the difference either way. But once he has succeeded 
we all feel that he has achieved something to which nothing could be added, some- 
thing which is right — an example of perfection in our very imperfect world. 

Take one of Raphael’s famous Madonnas; ‘The Virgin in the Meadow’, for 
instance (Fig. 17). It is beautiful, no doubt, and engaging; the figures are admirably 
drawn, and the expression of the Holy Virgin as she looks down on the two children 
is quite unforgettable. But if we look at Raphael’s sketches for the picture (Fig. t8) 
we begin to realize that these were not the things he took most trouble about. These 
he took for granted. What he tried again and again to get was the right balance 
between the figures, the right relationship which would make the most harmonious 
whole. In the rapid sketch in the left-hand comer, he thought of letting the Christ- 
child walk away looking back and up at His mother. And he tried different positions 
of the mother’s head to answer the movement of the child. Then he decided to turn 
the child round and to let it look up to her. He tried another way, this time intro- 
ducing the little St. John — but, instead of letting the Christ-child look at him, 
made him turn out of the picture. Then he made another attempt, and apparently 
became impatient, trying the head of the child in many different positions. There 
were several leaves of this kind in his sketch-book, in which he tried again and again 
how best to balance these three figures. But if we now look back at the final picture 
we see that he did get it right in the end. Everything in the picture seems in its 
proper place, and the poise and harmony which Raphael has achieved by his hard 
work seems so natural and effortless that we hardly notice it. Yet it is just this 
harmony which makes the beauty of the Madonna more beautiful and the sweetness 
of the children more sweet. 

It is fascinating to watch an artist thus striving to achieve the right balance, but 
if we were to ask him why he did this or changed that, he might not be able to tell 
us. He does not follow any fixed rules. He just feels his way. It is true that some 
artists or critics in certain periods have tried to formulate laws of their art; but it 
always turned out that poor artists did not achieve anything when trying to apply 
these laws, while great masters could break them and yet achieve a new kind of 
harmony no one had thought of before. When the great English painter Sir Joshua 
Reynolds explained to his students in the Royal Academy that blue should not be 
put into the foreground of paintings but should be reserved for the distant back- 
grounds, for the fading hills on the horizon, his rival Gainsborough — so the story 
goes — ^wanted to prove that such academic rules are usually nonsense. He painted 
the famous ‘Blue Boy’ whose blue dress, in the central foregroimd of the picture, 
stands out triumphandy against the warm brown of the background. 

The truth is that it is impossible to lay down rules of this kind because one can 




17 . RAPHAEL: The Virgin in the Meadow, Painted in 1505. 
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum 



18. RAPHAEL: Leaf from a sketch-book with four studies for ^The Virgin in the Meadow*, 1505. 

Vienna, Albertina 



Introduction 17 

never know in advance what effect the artist may wish to achieve. He may even 
want a shrill, jarring note if he happens to feel that that would be right. As there are 
no rules to tell us when a picture or statue is right it is usually impossible to explain 
in words exactly why we feel that it is a great work of art. But that does not mean 
that one work is just as good as any other, or that one cannot discuss matters of taste. 
If they do nothing else, such discussions make us look at pictures, and the more we 
look at them the more we notice points which have escaped us before. We begin 
to develop a feeling for the kind of harmony each generation of artists tried to 
achieve. The greater our feeling for these harmonies the more we shall enjoy them, 
and that, after all, is what matters. The old proverb that you cannot argue about 
matters of taste may well be true, but that should not conceal the fact that taste can 
be developed. This is again a matter of common experience which everybody can 
test in a modest field. To people who are not used to drinking tea one blend may 
taste exactly like the other. But, if they have the leisure, will and opportunity, to 
search out such refinements as there may be, they may develop into true ‘con- 
noisseurs’ who can distinguish exactly what type and mixture they prefer, and their 
greater knowledge is bound to add greatly to their enjoyment of the choicest blends. 

Admittedly, taste in art is something infinitely more complex than taste in food and 
drink. It is not only a matter of discovering various subtle flavours ; it is something 
more serious and more important. After all, the great masters have given their all in 
these works, they have suffered for them, sweated blood over them, and the least 
they have a right to ask of us is that we try to imderstand what they wanted to do. 

One never finishes learning about art. There are always new things to discover. 
Great works of art seem to look different each time one stands beiore them. They 
seem to be as inexhaustible and impredictable as real human beings. It is an 
exciting world of its own with its own strange laws and its own adventures. Nobody 
should think he knows all about it, for nobody does. Nothing, perhaps, is more 
important than just this : chat to enjoy these works we must have a fresh mind, one 
which is ready to catch every hint and to respond to every hidden harmony : a mind, 
most of all, not cluttered up with long high-sormding words and ready-made 
phrases. It is infinitely better not to know anything about art than to have the kind 
of halt-knowledge which makes for snobbishness. The danger is very real. There 
are people, for instance, who have picked up the simple points I have tried to make 
in this chapter, and who understand that there are great works of art which have 
none of the obvious qualities of beauty or expression or correct draughtsmanship, 
but who become so proud of their knowledge that they pretend to like only those 
works which are neither beautiful nor correctly drawn. They are always haunted by 
the fear that they might be considered uneducated if they confessed to liking a work 
which seems too obviously ' pleasant or moving. They end by being snobs who lose 
their true enjoyment of art and who call everything ‘very interesting’ which they 



1 8 Introduction 

really find somewhat repulsive. I should hate to be responsible for any similar 
misunderstanding. I would rather not be believed at all than be believed in such an 
uncritical way. 

In the chapters which follow I shall discuss the history of art, that is the history 
of building, of picture-making and of statue-making. I think that knowing some- 
thing of this history helps us to understand why artists worked in a particular way, 
or why they aimed at certain effects. Most of all it is a good way of sharpening our 
eyes for the particular characteristics of works of art, and of thereby increasing our 
sensibility of the finer shades of difference. Perhaps it is the only way of learning to 
enjoy them in their own right. But no way is without its dangers. One sometimes 
sees people walking through a gallery, catalogue in hand. Every time they stop in 
front of a picture they eagerly search for its number. We can watch them thumbing 
their book, and as soon as they have found the title or the name they walk on. They 
might just as well have stayed at home, for they have hardly looked at the painting. 
They have only checked the catalogue. It is a kind of mental short circuit which 
has nothing to do with enjoying a picture. 

People who have acquired some knowledge of art history are sometimes in danger 
of falling into a similar trap. When they see a work of art they do not stay to look 
at it, but rather search their memory for the appropriate label. They may have 
heard that Rembrandt was famous for his chiaroscuro — ^which is the Italian technical 
term for light and shade — so they nod wisely when they see a Rembrandt, mumble 
‘wonderful chiaroscuro', and wander on to the next picture. I want to be quite 
frank about this danger of half-knowledge and snobbery, for we are all apt to 
succumb to such temptations, and a book like this could increase them. I should 
like it to help to open eyes, not to loosen tongues. To talk cleverly about art is not 
very difficult, because the words critics use have been employed in so many different 
contexts that they have lost all precision. But to look at a picture with fresh eyes 
and to venture on a voyage of discovery into it is a far more difficult but also a much 
more rewarding task. There is no telling what one might bring home from such 
a journey. 



CHAPTER I • STRANGE BEGINNINGS 
Prehistoric and Primitive Peoples; Ancient America 



19. The Cave of Lascaux in France with paintings round the ceiling made some 30,000 years ago 


W E do not know how art began any more than we know how language 
started. If we take art to mean such activities as building temples and 
houses, making pictures and sculptures, or weaving patterns, there is 
no people in all the world without art. If, on the other hand, we mean by art some 
kind of beautiful luxury, something to enjoy in museums and exhibitions or some- 
thing special to use as a precious decoration in the best parlour, we must realize that 
this use of the word is a very recent development and that many of the greatest 
builders, painters or sculptors of the past never dreamed of it. We can best tmder- 
stand this difference if we think of architecture. We all know that there are beautiful 
buildings and that some of them are true works of art. But there is scarcely any 
building in the world which was not erected for a particular purpose. Those who 
use these buildings as places of worship or entertainment, or as dwellings, judge 
them first and foremost by standards of utility. But apart from this, they may like 
or dislike the design or the proportion of the structure, and appreciate the efforts 
of the good architect to make it not only practical but ‘right’. In the past the attitude 
to paintings and statues was often similar. They were not thought of as mere 



20 Strange Beginnings 

works of art but as objects which had a definite function. He would be a poor judge 
of houses who did not know the requirements for which they were built. Similarly, 
we are not likely to understand the art of the past if we are quite ignorant of the aims 
it had to serve. The further we go back in history, the more definite but also the 
more strange are the aims which art was supposed to serve. The same applies if we 
leave towns and cities and go to the peasants or, better still, if we leave our civilized 
countries and travel to the peoples whose ways of life still resemble the conditions 
in which our remote ancestors lived. We call these people ‘primitives’ not because 
they are simpler than we are — their processes of thought are often more complicated 
than ours — but because they are closer to the state from which all mankind once 
emerged. Among these primitives, there is no difference between building and 
image-making as far as usefulness is concerned. Their huts are there to shelter them 
from rain, wind and sunshine and the spirits which produce them; images are made 
to protect them against other powers which are, to them, as real as the forces of 
nature. Pictures and statues, in other words, are used to work magic. 

We cannot hope to understand these strange beginnings of art unless we try to 
enter into the mind of the primitive peoples and fi nd out what kind of experience 
it is which makes them think of pictures, not as something nice to look at, but as 
something powerful to use. I do not think it is really so difficult to recapture this 
feeling. All that is needed is the will to be absolutely honest with ourselves and see 
whether we, too, do not retain something of the ‘primitive’ in us. Instead of 
beginning with the Ice Age, let us begin with ourselves. Suppose we take a picture 
of our favourite cricketer or film star from today’s paper — ^would we enjoy taking a 
needle and poking out the eyes ? Would we feel as indifferent about it as if we poked 
a hole an3rwhere else in the paper ? I do not think so. However well I know with my 
waking thoughts that what I do to his picture makes no difference to my friend or 
hero, I still feel a vague reluctance to harm it. Somewhere there remains the absurd 
feeling that what one does to the picture is done to the person it represents. Now, 
if I am right there, if this queer and unreasonable idea really survives, even among 
us, into the age of atom bombs and radios, it is perhaps less surprising that such ideas 
existed almost everywhere among the so-caUed primitive peoples. In all parts of the 
world medicine men or witches have tried to work magic in some such way — they 
have made little images of an enemy and have then pierced the heart of the wretched 
doll, or burnt it, and hoped that their enemy would suffer. Even the guy we burn 
on Guy Fawkw Day is a remnant of such a superstition. Negroes in Africa are 
sometimes as vague as little children about what is a picture and what is real. On 
one occasion, when a European artist made drawings of their cattle, the natives 
were distressed: ‘If you take than away with you, what are we to live on ?’ 

All these strange ideas are important because they may help us to understand the 
oldest paintings which have come down to us. These paintings are as old as any 





Animals painted some 15,000 years ago: 

20. Bison, found in the cave of Altamira (Spain) 

21. Reindeer, found in the cave of Font de Gaume (France) 



22. Ritual Mask from Alaska^ representing a man-eating moimtain demon with blood-stained face. 

Berlin, Museum fur Vblkerkunde 




Strange Beginnings 23 

trace of human skill. They date from the Ice Age or thereabouts, when our 
ancestors, sheltered in caves, hunted huge game and knew only the rudest of 
stone implements. And yet, on the Walls and ceilings of such caves, particularly in 
Spain and southern France, paintings have been discovered, mainly of ±ese 
animals, reindeer, bison and wild horses (Figs. 19, 20, 21). Most of these paintings 
are astonishingly vivid and lifelike, much more so than we might have expected. 
But it is very unlikely that they were made for the purpose of decorating the walls 
of these dark caves. In the first place, they are often found deep inside the mountain, 
far away from the places where man lived. Secondly, they are often put there 
higgledy-piggledy, one on top of the other, without any apparent order or design. It 
is much more likely that these are the oldest relics of that universal belief in the 
power of picture-making; in other words, that these primitive hunters thought that 
if they only made a picture of their prey — and perhaps belaboured it with their 
spears or stone axes — the real animals would also succumb to their power. 

Of course, this is guesswork — but guesswork pretty well supported by the use 
of art among those primitive peoples of our own day who have still preserved their 
ancient customs. True, we do not find any now, as far as I know, who try to work 
exactly this kind of magic; but most art for them is also closely bound up with 
similar ideas about the power of images. There are still primitive peoples who use 
nothing but stone implements and who scratch pictures of animals on rocks for 
magic purposes. There are other tribes who have regular festivals when they dress 
up as animals and move like animals in solemn dances. They, too, believe that 
somehow this will give them power over their prey. Sometimes they even believe 
that certain animals are related to them in some fairy-tale manner, and that the 
whole tribe is a wolf tribe, a raven tribe or a frog tribe. It sounds strange enough, but 
we must not forget that even these ideas are not as far removed from our own times 
as one might think. The Romans believed that Romulus and Remus had been suckled 
by a she- wolf, and they had an image in bronze of the she-wolf on the sacred Capitol 
in Rome. Even up to our own times, imder Mussolini, they always had a living 
she-wolf in a cage near the steps to the Capitol. No living lions are kept on Trafalgar 
Square — ^but the British Lion still leads a vigorous life in the pages of Punch. 
Of course, there remains a vast difference between this kind of heraldry and 
cartoon symbolism and the deep seriousness with which savages look on their 
relationship with the totem, as they call their animal relatives. For it seems that 
they sometimes live in a kind of dream-world in which they can be man and animal 
at the same time. Many tribes have special ceremonies in which they wear masks 
with the features of these animals, and when they put them on they seem to feel 
that they are transformed, that they have become ravens^ or bears. It is very much 
as if children played at pirates or detectives till they no longer knew where play- 
acting ended and reality began. But with children there is always the grown-up 

B 



24 Strange Beginnings 

world about them, the people who tell them ‘Don’t be so noisy’, or ‘It is nearly 
bed-time’. For the savage there is no such other world to spoil the illusion, because 
all the members of the tribe take part in the ceremonial dances and rites with their 
fantastic games of p retence. They have all learned their significance from former 
generations and are so absorbed in them that they have little chance of stepping 
outside it and seeing their behaviour critically. We all have beliefs which we take 
as much for granted as the ‘primitives’ take theirs — usually so much so that we are 
not even aware of them unless we meet people who question them. 

AH this may seem to have little to do with art, but in fact these conditions 
influence art in many ways. Many of the artists’ works are meant to play a part in 
these strange customs, and what matters then is not whether ±e sculpture or 
painting is beautiful by our standards, but whether it ‘works’, that is to say whether 
it can perform the required magic. Moreover, the artists work for people of their 
own tribe who know exactly what each form or each colour is meant to signify. They 
are not expected to change these things, but only to apply all their skill and 
knowledge to the execution of their work. 

Again we have not to go far to think of parallels. The point of a national flag 
is not to be a beautifully coloured piece of cloth which any maker can change 
according to his fancy — ^the point of a wedding ring is not to be an ornament which 
can be worn or changed as we think fit. Yet, even within the prescribed rites and 
customs of our lives, there remains a certain element of choice and scope for taste 
and skill. Let us think of the Christmas tree. Its principal features are laid down by 
custom. Each family, in fact, has its own traditions and its own predilections with- 
out which the tree does not look right. Nevertheless, when the great moment comes 
to decorate the tree there remains much to be decided. Should this branch get a 
candle ? Is there enough tinsel on top ? Does not this star look too heavy or this side 
too overloaded ? Perhaps to an outsider the whole performance would look rather 
strange. He might think that trees are much nicer without tinsel. But to us, who 
know the significance, it becomes a matter of great importance to decorate the 
tree according to our idea. 

Primitive art works on just such pre-established lines, and yet leaves the artist 
scope to show his mettle. The techiucal mastery of some native craftsmen is 
indeed astonishing. We should never forget, when talking of primitive art, that the 
word does not imply that the artists have only a primitive knowledge of their craft. 
On the contrary; many native tribes have developed a truly amazing skill in carving, 
in basket work, in the preparation of leather, or even in the working of metals. If we 
realize with what simple tools these works are made we can only marvel at the 
patience and sureness of touch which these primitive craftsmen have acquired 
through centuries of specialization. The Maoris of New Zealand, for instance, have 
learned to work veritable wonders in their wood-carvings (Fig. 23). Of course, the 



Strange Beginnings 


25 



23. Carved wooden lintel from a Maori chieftain's house, London, British Museum 


fact that a thing was difficult to make does not necessarily prove that it is a work of 
art. If it were so, the men who make models of sailing ships in glass bottles would 
rank among the greatest artists.'^ut this proof of native skill should warn us against 
the belief that their work looks odd because they cannot do it any better. It is not 
their standard of craftsmanship which is different from ours, but their ideas/ h is 
important to realize this from the outset, because the whole story of art is not a 
story of progress in technical proficiency, but a story of changing ideas and require- 
ments. There is increasing evidence that under certain conditions native artists can 
produce work which is just as correct in the rendering of nature as the best work 
done in any art class. Only recently a number of bronze heads have been discovered 
in Nigeria which are the most convincing likenesses of negroes that can be ima- 
gined (Fig. 24). They seem to be many centuries old, and there is no reason to 
believe that the native artists learned their skill from anyone outside. 

What, then, can be the reason for so much of primitive art looking utterly 
strange ? Perhaps we should return to ourselves and the experiments we can all 
perform. Let us take a piece of paper or ink-blotter and scrawl on it any doodle of a 
face. Just a circle for the head, a stroke for the nose, another for the mouth. Then 
look at the eyeless doodle. Does it not look unbearably sad ? The poor creature 
cannot see. We feel we must ‘give it eyes’ — and what a relief it is when we make the 
two dots and at last it can look at us ! To us all this is a joke, but to the native it 
is not. A wooden pole with these few essential forms is to him new and different. 
He takes the impression it makes as a token of its magic power. There is no need 
to make it any more lifelike provided it has eyes to see. Fig 25 shows the figure 
of a Polynesian ‘God of War’ called Oro. The Polynesians are excellent carvers, but 
they obviously did not find it essential to make this a correct representation of a 
man. All we see is a piece of wood covered with woven fibre. Only its eyes and arms 



24. Bronze head of a negro. Excavated in Nigeria, 25. Oro, God of War, from Tahiti. 

probably some 400 years old. Wood covered with sinnet. 

London^ British Museum London, British Museum 


Strange Beginnings 


27 


are roughly indicated by this 
fibre braid, but once we notice 
them, this is enough to give 
the pole a look of uncanny 
power. We are still not quite in 
the realm of art, but our doodle 
experiment may teach us some- 
thing more. Let us vary the 
shape of our scribbled face in 
all possible ways. Let us change 
the shape of the eyes from dots 
to crosses or any other form 
which has not the remotest 
resemblance to real eyes. Let us 
make the nose a circle and the 
mouth a scroll. It will hardly 
matter, as long as their relative 
position remains roughly the 
same. Now to the native artist 
this discovery probably meant 
much. For it taught him to 
build up his figures or faces 
out of those forms which he 
liked best and which were most 
suited to his particular craft. 
The result might not be very 
lifelike, but it would retain a 
certain unity and harmony of 
pattern which is just what our 
first doodle probably lacked. 
Fig. 26 shows a mask from New 
Guinea. It may not be a thing 
of beauty, but it is not meant 
to be — it is intended for a 
ceremony in which the young 
men of the village dress up as 
ghosts and frighten the women 
and children. But, however 



26. A ritual mask from New Guineay Elema District, 
Worn by members of a secret society. 
London^ British Museum 


28 


Strange Beginnings 



27. A Haida {Red Indian) chieftain*s house. After a model in the 
American Museum of Natural History, New York 


fantastic or repulsive this ‘ghost’ may look to us, there is something satisfying in 
the way the artist has built up his face out of geometrical shapes. 

In some parts of the world primitive artists have developed elaborate systems to 
represent the various figures and totems of their myths in ornamental fashion. 
Among the Red Indians of North America, for instance, artists combine a very acute 
observation of natural forms with this disregard for what we called the real appear-\ 
ance of things (Fig. 22). As hunters, they know the true shape of the eagle’s beak,) 



Strange Beginnings 29 

or the beaver’s ears, much better than any of us. But they regard one such feature 
as quite sufficient. A mask with an eagle’s beak just is an eagle. Fig 27 is a model 
of a chieftain’s house among the Haida tribe of Red Indians with three so-called 
totem poles in front of it. We may see only a jumble of ugly masks, but to the native 
this pole illustrates an old legend of his tribe. To us the legend itself is nearly as odd 
and incoherent as its representation, but we ought no longer to feel surprised that 
native ideas differ from ours. Here it is: 

Once there was a young man in the town of Gwais Kun who used to laze about on his 
bed the whole day till his mother-in-law remarked on it ; he felt ashamed, went away and 
decided to slay a monster which lived in a lake and fed on humans and whales. With the 
help of a fairy bird he made a trap of a tree trunk and dangled two children over it as bait. 
The monster was caught, the young man dressed in its skin and caught fishes which he 
regularly left on his critical mother-in-law’s doorstep. She was so flattered at these 
unexpected offerings that she thought of herself as a powerful witch. When the ' young 
man undeceived her at last, she felt so ashamed that she died. 

All the participants in this tragedy are represented on the central pole. The mask 
below the entrance is one of the whales the monster used to eat. The big mask above 
the entrance is the monster; on top of it the human form of the unfortunate mother- 
in-law. The mask with the beak over her is the bird who helped the hero, he himself 
is seen further up dressed in the monster’s skin, with fishes he has caught. The 
human figures at the end are the children the hero used as bait. 

To us such a work may seem the product of an odd whim, but to those who 
made such things this was a solemn undertaking. It took years to cut these huge 
poles with the primitive tools at the disposal of the natives, and sometimes the 
whole male population of the village helped in the task. It was to mark and honour 
the house of a powerful chieftain. 

Without explanation we may not be able to see the point of these works on which 
so much love and labour were spent. It is frequently so with works of primitive art, 
but even where the explanation is lacking, we can appreciate the weird thorough- 
ness with which the shapes of nature are transformed into a consistent pattern. 
For there are many great works of this kind dating from the strange beg in ni n gs of 
art whose exact explanation is probably lost for ever but which we can still admire. 
All that remains to us of the great civilizations of ancient America is their ‘art’. 
I have put the word in quotes not because these mysterious buildings and images 
lack beauty — some of them are quite fascinating — but because we should not 
approach them with the idea that they were made for the sake of pleasure or 
‘decoration’. The terrifying carving of a death head from an altar of the mins of 
Copan in present Honduras (Fig. 28) reminds us of the gruesome human sacrifices 
which were demanded by the religions of these peoples. However little may be 
known about the exact meaning of such carvings, the th rilling efforts of the scholars 



3 ® Strange Begirmir^s 



c 



iS. Head of the Death-god. From a Maya altar. Copan, Honduras, probably dating from A.D. 504. 
After the cast in the British Museum 


who have rediscovered these works and have tried to get at their secrets have 
taught us enough to compare them with other works of primitive cultures. Of 
course, these peoples were not primitive in the usual sense of the word. When the 
Spanish and Portuguese conquerors of the sixteenth century arrived, the Aztecs 
in Mexico and the Incas in Peru ruled over mighty empires. We also know 
that in earlier centuries the Mayas of Central America had built big cities and 
j developed a system of writing and of 



29. The Aztec Rain-god Tlaloc^ dating from before 
the conquest. Berlin, Museum fiir Vdlkerkunde 


calculating calendars which is anything 
but primitive. Like the negroes of 
Nigeria the pre-Columbian Americans 
were perfectly capable of representing 
the human face in a lifelike manner. 
The ancient Peruvians liked to shape 
certain vessels in the form of human 
heads which are strikingly true to 
nature (Fig. 30). If most works of these 
civilizations look weird and unnatural 
to us, the reason lies probably in the 
ideas they are meant to convey. 

Fig. 29 represents a statue from 
Mexico which is believed to date from 
the Aztec period, the last in Mexican 
history. Scholars think that it repre- 
sents the rain-god, whose name was 
Tlaloc. In these tropical zones rain 
is often a question of life or death 
for the people, for without rain their 




30. Clay vessel in form of head of one-eyed man. Excavated in the valley of Chiama, Peru. 
About A.D. 500. London^ British Museum (Gaffron Collection) 


32 Strange Beginnings 

crops may fail and they may have to starve. No wonder that the god of rains and 
thunderstorms assumes in their minds the shape of a terrifyingly powerful demon. 
The lightning in the sky appears to their imagination like a big serpent, and many 
American peoples therefore considered the rattlesnake to be a sacred and mighty 
being. If we look more closely at the figure of Tlaloc we see, in fact, that his mouth is 
formed of two heads of rattlesnakes facing each other with their big poisonous fangs 
protruding from their jaws and tliat his nose, too, seems to be formed out of the 
twisted bodies of the snake. Perhaps even his eyes might be seen as coiled serpents. 
We see how far the idea of ‘building up* a face out of given forms can lead away 
from our ideas of lifelike sculpture. We also get an inkling of the reasons which may 
sometimes have led to this method. It was certainly fitting to form the image of the 
rain-god out of the body of the sacred snakes which embodied the power of light- 
ning. If we ponder the strange mentality which created these uncanny idols we may 
begin to imderstand how image-making in these early civilizations was not only 
connected with magic and religion but was also the first form of writing. The sacred 
serpent in ancient Mexican art was not only the picture of a rattlesnake but could 
also develop into a sign for ligh tn ing and so into a character by which a thunder- 
storm could be commemorated or, perhaps, conjured up. We know very litde about 
these mysterious origins, but if we want to understand the story of art we may do 
well to remember once in a while that pictures and letters are really blood-relations. 



31 . Australian native^ drawing a totemic 
Opossum pattern on a rock* 


CHAPTER 2 ART FOR ETERNITY 
Egypty Mesopotamia^ Crete 



32. The Great Pyramid of Gizeh. Built about 2700 B.c. 


S OME form of art exists everywhere on the globe, but the story of art as a 
continuous effort does not begin in the caves of southern France or among 
the North American Indians. There is no direct tradition which links these 
strange beginnings with our own days, but there is a direct tradition, handed down 
from master to pupil, and from pupil to admirer or copyist, which links the art of 
our own days, any house or any poster, with the art of the Nile Valley of some five 
thousand years ago. For we shall see that the Greek masters went to school with the 
Egyptians, and we are all the pupils of the Greeks. Thus the art of Egypt has a 
tremendous importance for us. 

Everyone knows that Egypt is the land of the pyramids, those mountains of stone 
which stand like weathered landmarks on the distant horizon of history. However 
remote and mysterious they seem, they tell us much of their own story. They tell 
us of a land which was so thoroughly organized that it was possible to pile up these 
gigantic moimds of stone in the lifetime of a single king, and they tell us of kings 
who were so rich and powerful that they could force thousands and thousands of 



34 Art for Eternity 

workers or slaves to toil for them year in, year out, to quarry the stones, to drag 
them to the building site, and to shift them with the most primitive means till the 
tomb was ready to receive the king. No king and no people would have gone to such 
expense, and taken so much trouble, for the creation of a mere monument. In fact, 
we know that the pyramids had their practical importance in the eyes of the kings 
and their subjects. The king was considered a divine being who held sway over 
them, and on his departure from this earth he would again ascend to the gods whence 
he had come. The pyramids soaring up to the sky would probably help him to make 
his ascent. In any case they would preserve his sacred body from decay. For the 
Egyptians believed that the body must be preserved if the soul is to live on in the 
beyond. That is why they prevented the corpse from decaying by an elaborate 
method of embalming it, and binding it up in strips of cloth. It was for the mummy 
of the king that the pyramid had been piled up, and his body was laid right in the 
centre of the huge mountain of stone in a stone coffin. Everywhere round the burial 
chamber, spells and incantations were written to help him on his journey to the 
other world. 

But it is not only these oldest relics of human architecture which tell of the role 
played by age-old beliefs in the story of art. The Egyptians held the belief that the 
preservation of the body was not enough. If the likeness of the king was also pre- 
served, it was doubly sure that he would continue to exist for ever. So they ordered 
sculptors to chisel the king’s portrait out of hard, imperishable granite, and put it 
in the tomb where no one saw it, there to work its spell and to help his soul to keep 
alive in and through the image. One Egyptian word for sculptor was actually 
‘He-who-keeps-alive’. 

At first these rites were reserved for kings, but soon the nobles of the royal house- 
hold had their minor tombs grouped in neat rows round the king’s mound; and 
gradually every self-respecting person had to make provision for his after-life by 
ordering a costly grave, where his soul could dwell and receive the offerings of food 
and drink which were given to the dead, and which would house his mummy and 
his likeness. Some of these early portraits from the pyramid age, the fourth ‘dynasty’ 
of the ‘Old Kingdom’, are among the most beautiful works of Egyptian art (Fig. 37). 
There is a solemnity and simplicity about them which one does not easily forget. 
One sees that the sculptor was not trying to flatter his sitter, or to preserve a jolly 
moment in his life. He was concerned only with the essentials. Every lesser detail he 
left out. Perhaps it is just because of this strict concentration on the basic forms of 
the human head that these portraits remain so impressive. For, despite their almost 
geometrical rigidity, they are not primitive as are the native masks discussed in 
Chapter i. Nor are they as lifelike as the naturalistic portraits of the artists of 
Nigeria. The observation of nature, and the regularity of the whole, are so evenly 
balanced that they impress us as being lifelike and yet remote and enduring. 



Art for Eternity 


35 



33. Painting of a Pond, From a tomb in Thebes. About 1400 B.c. London, British Museum 


This combination of geometrical regularity and keen observation of nature is 
characteristic of all Egyptian art. We can study it best in the reliefs and paintings 
that adorned the walls of the tombs. The word ‘adorned’, it is true, may hardly 
fit an art which was meant to be seen by no one but the dead man’s soul. In fact, 
these works were not intended to be enjoyed. They, too, were meant to ‘keep ahve’. 
Once, in a grim distant past, it had been the custom when a powerful man died to 
let his servants and slaves accompany him into the grave so that he should arrive in 
the beyond with a suitable suite. They were sacrificed. Later, these horrors were 
considered either too cruel or too costly, and art came to the rescue. Instead of real 
servants, the great ones of this earth were given images as substitutes. The pictures 
and models found in Egyptian tombs were connected with the idea of providing 
the souls with helpmates in the other world. 

To us these reliefs and wall-paintings provide an extraordinarily vivid picture 
of life as it was lived in Egypt thousands of years ago. And yet, looking at them for 
the first time, one may find them rather bewUdering. The reason is that the 


36 Art for Eternity 

Egyptian painters had quite a different way of representing real life from our way. 
Perhaps this is connected with the different purpose their paintings had to serve. 
What mattered most was not prettiness but completeness. It was tihe artists* task 
to preserve everything as clearly and permanently as possible. So they did not set 
out to sketch nature as it appeared to them from any fortuitous angle. They drew 
from memory, according to strict rules which ensured that everything that had to 
go into the picture would stand out in perfect clarity. Their method, in fact, 
resembled that of the map-maker rather than that of the painter. Fig. 33 shows it m 
a simple example, representing a garden with a pond. If we had to draw such 
a motif we might wonder from which angle to approach it. The shape and character 
of the trees could be seen clearly only from the sides, the form of the pond would 
be visible only if seen from above. The Egyptians had no compunction about 
this problem. They would simply draw the pond as if it were seen from above, 
and the trees from the side. The fishes and birds in the pond, on the other hand, 
would hardly look recognizable as seen from above, so they were drawn in profile. 

In such a simple picture we can easily understand the artist’s procedure. There 
are many children’s drawings which apply a similar principle. But the Egyptians 
were much more consistent in their application of these methods than children ever 
are. Ever3rthing had to be represented from its most characteristic angle. Fig. 34 
shows the effect which this idea had on the representation of the human body. The 
head was most easily seen in profile so they drew it sideways. But if we think of the 
human eye we think of it as seen from the front. Accordingly, a full-face eye was 
planted into the side view of the face. The top half of the body, the shoulders and 
chest, are best seen from the front, for then we see how the arms are hinged to the 
body. But arms and feet in movement are much more clearly seen sideways. That is 
the reason why Egyptians in these pictures look so strangely flat and contorted. 
Moreover the Egyptian artists found it hard to visualize either foot seen from the 
outside. They preferred the clear outline from the big toe upwards. So both feet are 
seen from the inside, and the man on the relief looks as if he had two left feet. 
It must not be supposed that Egyptian artists thought that human beings looked 
like that. They merely followed a rule which allowed them to include everything in 
the human form that they considered important. Perhaps, as I have said, this strict 
adherence to the rule had something to do with their magic purpose. For how could a 
man with his arm ‘foreshortened’ or ‘cut off’ bring or receive the required offerings 
to the dead ? 

The point is that Egyptian art is not based on what the artist could see at a given 
moment, but rather on what he knew belonged to a person or a scene. It was out 
of these forms which he had learned, and which he knew, that he built his repre- 
sentations, much as the primitive artist built his figures out of the forms he could 
master. It is not only his knowledge of forms and shapes that the artist embodies 





38 


Art for Eternity 



35. A Wall from the tomb of Chnemhotep near Beni Hassan, About 1900 b.c. 


in his picture, but also his knowledge of their significance. We sometimes call a man 
a ‘big boss’. The Egyptian drew the boss bigger than his servants or even his wife. 

When we understand these rules and conventions, we understand the language of 
the pictures in which life of the Egyptians is chronicled. Fig. 35 gives a good idea 
of the general arrangement of a wall in the tomb of a high Egyptian dignitary of the 
so-called ‘Middle Kingdom’, some nineteen hundred years before our era. The 
inscriptions in hierogl3rphs tells us exactly who he was, and what titles and honours 
he had collected in his lifetime. His name, we read, was Chnemhotep, the Admini- 
strator of the Eastern Desert, Prince of Menat Chufu, Confidential friend of the 
King, Royal Acquaintance, Superintendent of the Priests, Priest of Homs, Priest 
of Anubis, Chief of all the Divine Secrets, and — ^most impressive of all — Master of 
all the Timics. On the left side we see him hunting wild-fowl vnth a kind of boomer- 
ang, accompanied by his wife Cheti, his concubine Jat, and one of his sons who, 
despite his tiny size in the picture, held the title of Superintendent of the Frontiers. 
Below, in the frieze, we see fishermen under their superintendent Mentuhotep 
hauling in a big catch. On top of the door Chnemhotep is seen again, this time 
trapping waterfowl in a net. As we understand the methods of the Egyptian artist, 
we can easily see how this device worked. The trapper sat hidden behind a screen 
of reed, holding a cord which was linked with the open net (seen from above). 
When the birds had settled down on the bait, he pulled the rope and the net closed 


36. Birds in a bush. Detail of Fig. 35 




37 . Portrait head of Kmestone, found in a tomb at Gizeh, made about 2700 b.c. 
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum 



Art for Eternity 41 

over them. Behind Chnemhotep is his eldest son Nacht, and his Superintendent 
of the Treasures, who was also responsible for the ordering of the tomb. On the 
right side, Chnemhotep, who is called ‘great in fish, rich in wild-fowl, loving 
the goddess of the chase’, is seen spearing fish. Once more we can observe the 
conventions of the Egyptian artist who lets the water rise among the reeds to show 
us the clearing with the fish. The inscription says: ‘Canoeing in the papyrus beds, 
the pools of wild-fowl, the marshes and the streams, spearing with the two-pronged 
spear, he transfixes thirty fish; how delightful is the day of himting the hippo- 
potamus’. Below is an amusing episode with one of the men who had fallen 
into the water being fished out by his mates. The inscription round the door 
records the days on which offerings are to be given to the dead, and includes prayers 
to the gods. 

I think when we have become accustomed to looking at these Egyptian pictures 
we are as little troubled by their unrealities as we are by the absence of colour in a 
photograph. We even begin to realize the great advantages of the Egyptian method. 
Nothing in these pictures gives the impression of being haphazard, nothing looks 
as if it could just as well be somewhere else. It is worth while taking a pencil and 
trying to copy one of these ‘primitive’ Egyptian drawing. Our attempts always 
look clumsy, lopsided and crooked. At least my own do. For the Eg5rptian sense of 
order in every detail is so strong that any little variation seems to upset it entirely. 
The Egyptian artist began his work by drawing a network of straight lines on the 
wall, and he distributed his figures with great care along these lines. And yet all this 
geometrical sense of order did not prevent him from observing the details of nature 
with amazing accuracy. Every bird or fish or butterfly is drawn with such truthful- 
ness that zoologists can still recognize the species. Fig. 36 shows such a detail of 
Fig- 35 — ^fhe birds in the tree by Chnemhotep’s fowling net. Here it was not only 
his great knowledge which guided the artist, but also an eye for colour and outline. 

It is one of the greatest things in Egyptian art that all the statues, paintings and 
architectural forms seem to fall into place as if they obeyed one law. We call such 
a law, which all creations of a people seem to obey, a ‘style’. It is very difficult to 
explain in words what makes a style, but it is far less difficult to see. The rules 
which govern all Egyptian art give every individual work the effect of poise and 
austere harmony. 

The Egyptian style was a set of very strict laws which every artist had to learn 
from his earliest youth. Seated statues had to have their hands on their knees; men 
had to be painted with darker skin than women; the appearance of every Egyptian 
god was strictly laid down : Horns, the sun-god, had to be shown as a falcon or with a 
falcon’s head, Anubis, the god of death, as a jackal or with a jackal’s head. Every 
artist also had to learn the art of beautiful script. He had to cut the images and sym- 
bols of the hieroglyphs clearly and accurately in stone. But once he had mastered 



42 Art for Eternity 

all these rules he had finished his apprenticeship. No one wanted anything different, 
no one asked him to be ‘original’. On the contrary, he was probably considered the 
best artist who could make his statues most like the admired monuments of the past. 
So it happened that in the course of three thousand years or more Egyptian art 
changed very little. Everything that was considered good and beautiful in the times 
of the pyramids was held to be just as excellent a thousand years later. True, new 
fashions appeared, and new subjects were demanded of the artists, but their mode of 
representing man and nature remained essentially the same. 

Only one man ever shook the iron bars of the Egyptian style. He was a king of the 
Eighteenth Dynasty, at the time known as the ‘New Kingdom’ which was founded 
after a catastrophic invasion of Egypt. This king, called Amenophis IV, was a 
heretic. He broke with many of the customs hallowed by an age-old tradition. He 
did not wish to pay homage to the many strangely shaped gods of his people. For 
him only one god was supreme, Aton, whom he worshipped and whom he had 
represented in the shape of the sun. He called himself Akhnaton, after his god, and 
he moved his court out of reach of the priests of the other gods, to a place which is 
now called El-Amama. 

The pictures which he commissioned must have shocked the Egyptians of his 
day by their novelty. In them none of the solemn and rigid dignity of the earlier 
Pharaohs was to be found. Instead, he had himself depicted lifting his daughter on 
to his knee, walking with his wife in the garden, leaning on his stick. Some of his 
portraits show him as an ugly man (Fig. 38) — perhaps he wanted the artists to 
portray him in all his human frailty. Ahknaton’s successor was Tutankhamen, whose 
tomb with its treasures was discovered in 1923. Some of these works are still in 
the modern style of the Aton religion — particularly the back of the king’s throne 
(Fig. 39), which shows the king and queen in a homely idyll. He is sitting on his 
chair in an attitude which might have scandalized the strict Egyptian conservative — 
almost lolling, by Egyptian standards. His wife is no smaller than he is, and gently 
puts her hands on his shoulders while the Sun-god, represented as a golden orb, 
is stretching his hands in blessing down to them. 

It is not impossible that this reform of art in the Eighteenth Dynasty was made 
easier for the king because he could point to foreign works that were much less strict 
and rigid than the Egyptian products. On an island overseas, in Crete, there dwelt 
a gifted people whose artists delighted in the representation of swift movement. 
When the palace of their king at Cnossos was excavated some fifty years ago, people 
could hardly believe that such a free and graceful style could have been developed 
in the second millennium before our era. Works in this style were also found on the 
Greek mainland; a dagger from Mycenae (Fig. 40) shows a sense of movement and 
flowing lines which must have impressed any Egyptian craftsman who had been 
permitted to stray from the h^ov/ed rules of his style. 





39* The Pharoah Tutankhamen and his wife. Gilt and painted woodwork from the throne 
found in his tomb. Made about 1350 B.c. Cairo, Museum 


But this opening up of Egyptian art did not last long. Already during the reign 
of Tu tankham en the old beliefs were restored, and the window to the outside world 
was shut again. The Egyptian style, as it had existed for more than a thousand 
years before his time, continued to exist for another thousand years or more, and the 
Egyptians doubtless believed it would continue for all eternity. Many Egyptian 
works in our musemns date from this later period, and so do nearly all Egyptian 



40. A dagger from Mycenae, (Reconstruction.) About 1600 B.c. Athens, Museum 






Art for Eternity 


45 


buildings such as temples and 
palaces. New themes were intro- 
duced and new tasks performed, 
but nothing essentially new was 
added to the achievement of art. 

Egypt, of course, was only one 
of the great and powerful empires 
which existed in the Near East 
for many a thousand years. We 
all know from the Bible that 
little Palestine lay between the 
Egyptian kingdom of the Nile 
and the Babylonian and Assyrian 
empires which had developed 
in the valley of the two rivers 
Euphrates and Tigris. The art 
of Mesopotamia, as the valley 
of the two rivers was called in 
Greek, is less well known to us 
than the art of Egypt. This is 
at least partly due to accident. 

There were no stone quarries in 
these valleys, and most buildings 
were made of baked brick which, 
in course of time, weathered 
away and fell to dust. Even 
sculpture in stone was compara- 
tively rare. But this is not the 
only explanation of the fact that 
relatively few early works of their 

art have come down to us. The Fragment of a Harp. Gilt and inlaid wood, found in 

. . Ur. Made about 2800 b.c. London, British Museum 

mam reason is probably that 

these people did not share the religious belief of the Egyptians that the human 
body and its likeness must be preserved if the soul is to continue. In the very 
early times, when a people called the Sumerians ruled in the capital of Ur, 
kings were still buried with their whole household, slaves and all, so that they 
should not lack a following in the world beyond. Graves of this period have 
recently been discovered, and we can now admire some of the household goods 
of these ancient, barbarous kings in the British Museum. We see how much refine- 
ment and artistic skill can go together with primitive superstition and cruelty. 





42. Monument of King Naram^sin found in Susa. About 2500 B.C. 
Paris, Louvre 




Art for Eternity 47 

There was, for instance, a harp in one of the tombs, decorated with fabulous 
animals (Fig. 41). They look rather like our heraldic beasts, not only in their general 
appearance but also in their arrangement, for the Sumerians had a taste for sym- 
metry and precision. We do not know exactly what these fabulous animals were 
meant to signify, but it is almost certain that they were figures from the mythology 
of these early days, and that the scenes which look to us like pages from a children’s 
book had a very solemn and serious meaning. 

Though artists in Mesopotamia were not called upon to decorate the walls of 
tombs, they, too, had to ensure, in a different way, that the image helped to keep the 
mighty alive. From early times onwards it was the custom of Mesopotamian kings 
to commission monuments to their victories in war, which told of the tribes that 
had been defeated, and the booty that had been taken. Fig. 42 shows such a 
relief representing the king who tramples on the body of his slain foe, while others 
of his enemies beg for mercy. Perhaps the idea behind these monuments was not 
only to keep the memory of these victories aliVfe. In early times, at least, the ancient 
beliefs in the power of the image may still have influenced those who ordered them. 
Perhaps they thought that, as long as the picture of their king with his foot on the 
neck of the prostrate enemy stood there, the defeated tribe would not be able to 
rise again. 

In later times such monuments developed into complete picture-chronicles of 
the king’s campaign. The best preserved of these chronicles dates from a relatively 
late period, the reign of King Asurnasirpal III of Assyria, who lived in the ninth 



43. Assyrian army besieging a fortress. Alabaster relief from the Palace of King Asurnasirpal III. 
About 850 B.C. London, British Museum 



48 Art for Eternity 

century B.C., a little later than the biblical King Solomon. They are kept in 
the British Museum. There we see all the episodes of a well-organized campaign; 
we see the army crossing rivers and assatilting fortresses (Fig. 43), their camps and 
their meals. They way in which these scenes are represented is rather similar to 
Egyptian methods, but perhaps a httle less tidy and rigid. As one looks at them, one 
feels as if one were watching a newsreel of 2,000 years ago. It all looks so real and 
convincing. But as we look more carefully we discover a curious fact: there are 
plenty of dead and woimded in these gruesome wars — ^but not one of them is an 
Assyrian. The art of boasting and propaganda was well advanced in these early 
days. But perhaps we can take a slightiy more charitable view of these old Assyrians. 
Perhaps even they were still ruled by the old superstition which has come into this 
story so often: the superstition that there is more in a picture than a mere picture. 
Perhaps they did not want to represent wounded Assyrians for some such strange 
reason. In any case, the tradition which began then had a very long life. On all these 
monuments which glorify the warlords of the past, war is no trouble at all. You 
just appear, and the enemy is scattered hke chaff in the wind. 



44. An Egyptian craftsman at work on a golden sphinx. Wall-painting from a tomb m Thebes. 

About 1400 B.C. 




CHAPTER 3 • THE GREAT AWAKENING 
Greece^ Seventh to Fifth Century B.C. 



45. A Doric Temple: the Parthenon. Athens, Acropolis. Designed by iktinus, about 450 B.C. 


I T was in the great oasis lands, where the sun bums mercilessly, and where only 
the land watered by the rivers provides food, that the earliest styles of art had 
been created under Oriental despots, and these styles remained almost unchanged 
for thousands of years. Conditions were very different in the milder climes of the 
sea which bordered these empires, on the many islands, large and small, of the 
eastern Mediterranean and the many-creeked coasts of the peninsulas of Greece 
and Asia Minor. These regions were not subject to one ruler. They were the hiding- 
places of adventurous seamen, of pirate-kings who travelled far and wide and piled 
up great wealth in their castles and harbour-towns by means of trade and sea-raiding. 
The main centre of these areas was originally the island of Crete, whose kings were 
at times sufficiently rich and powerful to send embassies to Egypt, and whose art 
created an impression even there (p. 42). 

No one knows exactly who the people were who ruled in Crete, and whose art was 
copied on the Greek mainland, particularly in Mycenae. We only know that, round 
about 1000 B.C., warlike tribes from Europe penetrated to the rugged peninsula 
c** 



50 


The Great Awakening 


I 

1 

I 


46. The mourning of the dead. From a Greek vase in the ‘Geometric Style’ made about 700 B.c. 

London, British Museum 



of Greece and to the shores of Asia Minor, and fought and defeated the former 
inhabitants. Only in the songs which tell of these battles does something survive 
of the splendour and beauty of the art which was destroyed in these protracted wars, 
for these songs are the Homeric poems, and the new arrivals were Greek tribes. 

In the first few centuries of their domination of Greece the art of these tribes 
looked harsh and primitive enough. There is nothing of the gay movement of the 
Cretan style in these works; rather did they seem to outdo the Egyptians in rigidity. 
Their pottery was decorated with simple geometric patterns, and where a scene 
was to be represented it formed part of this strict design. Fig. 46, for instance, 
represents the mourning for a dead man. He is lying on his bier, while figures right 
and left raise their hands to their heads in the ritual lament which is the custom in 
nearly all primitive societies. 

Something of this love of simplicity and clear arrangement seems to have gone 
into the style of building which the Greeks introduced in these early days, and 
which, strange to say, still lives on in our own towns and villages. Fig. 45 shows a 
Greek temple of the old style which is called after the Doric tribe. This was the 
tribe to which the Spartans, who were noted for their austerity, belonged. There is, 
indeed, nothing unnecessary in these buildings, nothing, at least, of which we do not 
see, or believe we see, the purpose. Probably the earliest of such temples were built 
of timber, and consisted of little else than a small walled cubicle to hold the image 
of the god, and, around it, strong props to carry the weight of the roof. About the 
year 600 b.c. the Greeks began to imitate these simple structures in stone. The 
wooden props were turned into columns which supported strong crossbeams of 
stone. These crossbeams are called architraves, and the whole unit resting on the 


51 


The Great Awakening 

columns goes under the name of entablature. 

We can see traces of the timber structure 
in the upper part, which looks as if the ends 
of beams were showing. These ends were 
usually marked with three slits, and are 
therefore called by the Greek word triglyphs, 
which means ‘three slits’. The space be- 
tween these beams is called metope. The 
astonishing thing in these early temples, 
which so clearly imitate timber buildings, 
is the simplicity and harmony of the whole. 

If the builders had used simple square 
pillars, or cylindrical columns, the build- 
ing might have looked heavy and clumsy. 

Instead, they took care to shape the columns 
so that there was a slight swelling towards 
the middle and a tapering off towards the 
top. The result is that they look almost as 
though they were elastic, and as though 
the weight of the roof was just slightly 
compressing them, without, however, 
squeezing them out of their shape. It 
almost seems as if they were living beings 
who carried their loads with ease. Though 
some of these temples are large and im- 
posing, they are not colossal like Egyptian 
buildings. One feels that they were built by 
human beings, and for human beings. In 
fact, there was no divine ruler over the 
Greeks who could or would have forced a 
whole people to slave for him. The Greek 
tribes had settled down in various small 
cities and harbour-towns. There was much 
rivalry and friction between these small 
communities, but none of them succeeded 
in lording it over all the others. 

Of these Greek city-states, Athens in 

. u 1 r j 4 * 7 * Statue of a Youth, Found in Delphi, 

Attics DCCSmC by tar the most famous and signed by p o l y m e d e s of Argos, and 

the most important in the history of art. It probably repres^ting one of the brothers 

^ •' CJeobis and Biton. About 580 b.c. 

was here, above all, that the greatest and Delphi, Museum 




52 The Great Awakening 

most astonishing revolution in the whole history of art bore fruit. It is hard to tdl 
when and where this revolution began — perhaps roughly at the time when the first 
temples of stone were being built in Greece, in the sixth century B.C. We know that 
before that time the artists of the old Oriental empires had striven for a peculiar 
kind of perfection. They had tried to emulate the art of their forefathers as faithfully 
as possible, and to adhere strictly to the sacred rules they had learned. When Greek 
artists began to make statues of stone, they started where the Egyptians and 
Ass5rrians had left off. Fig. 47 shows that they studied and imitated Egyptian models, 
and that they learned from them how to make the figure of a standing young man, 
how to mark the divisions of the body and the muscles which hold it together. But 
it also shows that the artist who made this statue was not content to follow any 
formtila, however good, and that he began experimenting for himself. He was 
obviously interested in finding out what knees really looked like. Perhaps he did not 
quite succeed; perhaps the knees of his statue are even less convincing than those 
of Egyptian statues ; but the point was that he had decided to have a look for himself 
instead of following the old prescription. It was no longer a question of learning a 
ready-made formula for representing the human body. Every Greek sculptor 
wanted to know how he was to represent a particular body. The Egyptians had based 
their art on knowledge. The Greeks began to use their eyes. Once this revolution 
had begun, there was no stopping it. The sculptors in their workshops tried out new 
ideas and new ways of representing the human figure, and each innovation was 
eagerly taken up by others who added their own discoveries. One discovered how 
to chisel the trunk, another found out that a statue may look much more alive if 
the feet are not placed too firmly on the ground. Yet another would discover that 
he could make a face come alive by simply bending the mouth upwards so that it 
appeared to smile. Of course, the Egyptian method was in many ways safer. The 
experiments of the Greek artists sometimes misfired. The smile might look like an 
embarrassed grin, or the less rigid stance might give the impression of affectation. 
But the Greek artists were not easily frightened by these difficulties. They had set 
^ut on a road on which there was no turning back. 

The painters followed suit. We know little of their work except what the Greek 
writers tell us, but it is important to realize that many Greek painters were even 
more famous in their time than the Greek sculptors. The only way in which we can 
form a vague idea of what Greek painting was like is by looking at the pictures on 
pottery. These painted vessels are generally called vases, although they were intended 
more often to hold wine or oil than flowers. The painting of these vases developed 
into an important industry in Athens, and the humble craftsmen employed in these 
workshops were just as eager as the other artists to introduce the latest discoveries 
into their products. In the early vases, painted in the sixth century b.c., we still see 
traces of the Egyptian methods (Fig. 48). We see the two heroes from Homer, 



53 


The Great Awakening 

Achilles and Ajax, playing 
draughts in their tent. Both 
figures are still shown strictly 
in profile. Their eyes still look 
as seen from in front. But their 
bodies are no longer drawn in 
the Eg5^tian fashion, nor are 
their arms and hands set out 
so clearly and so rigidly. The 
painter had obviously tried to 
imagine what it would really 
look like if two people were 
facing each other in that way. 

He was no longer afraid of 
showing only a small part of 
Achilles’ left hand, the rest 
being hidden behind the 
shoulder. He no longer thought 
that anything he knew to be 
there must also be shown. 

Once this ancient rule was 
broken, once the artist began 
to rely on what he saw, a 
veritable landslide started. 

Painters made the greatest dis- 
covery of all, the discovery of 
foreshortening. It was a tremendous moment in the history of art when, perhaps 
a little before 500 b.c., artists dared for the first time in all history to paint a foot 
as seen from in front. In all the thousands of Egyptian and Assyrian works which 
have come down to us, nothing of that kind had ever happened. A Greek vase 
(Fig. 49) shows with what pride this discovery was taken up. We see a young 
warrior putting on his armour for battle. His parents on either side, who assist him 
and probably give him good advice, are still represented in rigid profile. The head 
of the youth in the middle is also shown in profile, and we can see that the painter 
did not find it too easy to fit this head on to the body, which we see from the front. 
The right foot, too, is still drawn in the ‘safe’ way, but the left foot is foreshortened 
— ^we see the five toes like a row of five little circles. It may seem exaggerated to 
dwell for long on such a small detail, but it really meant that the old art was dead 
and buried. It meant that the artist no longer aimed at including everything in the 
picture in its most clearly visible form, but took account of the angle from which he 



48. Greek vase in the ^Blackjigured Style* with Achilles and 
Ajax playing draughts. Signed by EXEKIAS. About 540 B.C, 
Vatican Museum 


54 


The Great Awakening 



49. The Warrior^s Leavetaking, After a vase of the ‘Redfigured Style’ signed by euthymides, 
about 500 B.C. Munich, Antiquarium 


saw an object. And immediately beside the foot he showed what he meant. He 
drew the youth’s shield, not in the shape in which we might see it in our imagination 
as a round, but seen from the side, leaning against a wall. 

But as we look at this picture and the previous one, we also realize that the 
lessons of Egyptian art had not simply been discarded and thrown overboard. Greek 
artists still tried to make their figures as clear in outline as possible, and to include 
as much of their knowledge of the human body as would go into the picture without 
doing violence to its appearance. They still loved firm outlines and balanced design. 
They were far from trying to copy any casual glimpse of nature as they saw it. The 
old formula, the type of human form as it had developed in all these centuries, was 
still their starting-point. Only they no longer considered it sacred in every detail. 
V^The great revolution of Greek art, the discovery of natural forms and of fore- 
shortening, happened at the time which is altogether the most amazing period of 
human history. It is the time when people in the Greek cities began to question 
the old traditions and legends about the gods, and inquired without prejudice into 
the nature of things./It is the time when science, as we understand the term today, 
and philosophy first awoke among men, and when the theatre first developed out 


The Great Awakening 55 

of the ceremonies in honour of Dionysus. We must not imagine, however, that the 
artists in those days were among the intellectual classes of the city .The rich Greeks 
who managed the affairs of their city, and who spent their time in the market-place 
in endless arguments, perhaps even the poets and philosophers, mostly looked down 
on the sculptors and painters as inferior persons. Artists worked with their hands, 
and they worked for a living. They sat in their foundries, covered with sweat and 
grime, they toiled like ordinary navvies, and so they were not considered full 
members of the Greek society. Nevertheless, their share in the life of the city was 
infinitely greater than that of an Egyptian or an Assyrian craftsman, because most 
Greek cities, Athens in particular, were democracies in which these humble workers 
who were despised by the well-to-do snobs were yet allowed to share to some extent 
in the business of government. 

✓ It was at the time when Athenian democracy had reached its highest level that 
Greek art came to the summit of its development. After Athens had defeated the 
Persian invasion, the people, under the leadership of Pericles, began to build again 
what the Persians had destroyed. In 480 b.c. the temples on the sacred rock of 
Athens, the Acropolis, had been burned down and sacked by the Persians. Now 
they were to be built in marble and with a splendour and nobility never known be- 
fore (Fig. 45). Pericles was no snob. The ancient writers imply that he treated the 
artists of his time as his equals. The man he entrusted with the planning of the 
temples was the architect Iktinus, and the sculptor who was to fashion the figures 
of the gods and to supervise the decoration of the temples was Pheidias. 

The fame of Pheidias is founded on works which no longer exist. But it is not 
unimportant to try to imagine what they were like, because we forget too easily 
what purpose Greek art still served at that time. We read in the Bible how the 
prophets inveighed against the worship of idols, but we do not usually connect any 
very concrete ideas with these words. There are many passages like the following 
from Jeremiah (x. 3-5): 

‘For the customs of the people are vain; for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, 
the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and 
with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are 
upright as the palmtree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they 
caimot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them 
to do good.’ 

What Jeremiah had in mind were the idols of Mesopotamia, made of wood and 
precious metals. But his words would apply almost exactly to the works of Pheidias, 
made only a few centuries after the prophet’s lifetime. As we walk along the rows 
of white marble statues from classical antiquity in the great museums, we too often 
forget that among them are these idols of which the Bible speaks : that people prayed 
before them, that sacrifices were brought to them amidst strange incantations, and 



56 


The Great Awakening 



50, Athena Parthenos, Roman marble copy after a big temple 
statue made byPHEiDiAS between 447 and 432 b.c. 
Athens^ National Museum 


that thousands and tens of 
thousands of worshippers 
may have approached 
them with hope and fear 
in their hearts — ^wonder- 
ing, as the prophet says, 
whether these statues and 
graven images were not 
really at the same time 
gods themselves. In fact, 
the very reason why nearly 
all the famous statues of 
the ancient world perished 
was that after the victory 
of Christianity it was con- 
sidered a pious duty to 
smash any statue of the 
heathen gods. The sculp- 
tures in our museums are, 
for the most part, only 
secondhand copies made 
in Roman times for tra- 
vellers and collectors as 
souvenirs, and as decora- 
tions for gardens or public 
baths. We must be very 
grateful for these copies, 
because they give us at 
least a faint idea of the 
famous masterpieces of 
Greek art; but unless we 
use our imagination these 
weak imitations can also 
do much harm. They 
are largely responsible for 
the widespread idea that 
Greek art was lifeless, cold 
and insipid, and that Greek 
statues had that chalky ap- 
pearance and vacant look 



57 


The Great Awakening 

which reminds one of old- 
fashioned drawing classes.The 
only copy of the great idol of 
Pallas Athene, for instance, 
which Pheidias made for her 
temple in the Parthenon (Fig. 

50), hardly looks very impres- 
sive. We must turn to old 
descriptions and try to picture 
what it was like: a gigantic 
wooden image, some thirty-six 
feet high, as high as a tree, 
covered all over with precious 
material — the armour and gar- 
ments of gold, the skin of ivory. 

There was also plenty of strong, 
shining colour on the shield 
and other parts of the armour, 
not forgetting the eyes which 
were made of glistening jewels. 

There were griffons on the 
golden helmet of the goddess, and the eyes of a huge snake which was coiled inside 
the shield were, no doubt, also marked by shining stones. It must have been an awe- 
inspiring and uncanny sight when one entered the temple and suddenly stood face 
to face with this gigantic statue. There was no doubt something almost primitive and 
savage in some of its features, something which still linked an idol of this kind with 
the ancient superstitions against which the prophet Jeremiah had preached. But 
already these primitive ideas about the gods as formidable demons who dwelt in the 
statues had ceased to be the main thing. Pallas Athene, as Pheidias saw her and as he 
fashioned her statue, was more than the mere idol of a demon. From all accounts we 
know that his statue had a dignity which gave the people quite a different idea of the 
character and meaning of their gods. The Athene of Pheidias was like a great human 
being. Her power lay, not in any magic spells, but in her beauty. People realized 
at the time that the art of Pheidias had given the people of Greece a new conception 
of the divine. 

The two great works of Pheidias, his Athene and his famous statue of Zeus in 
Olympia, have been irretrievably lost, but the temples in which they were placed 
still exist, and with them some of the decorations that were made at the time of 
Pheidias. The temple in Olympia is the older one ; it was perhaps begun round about 
470 B.C., and finished before 457 b.c. In the squares (metopes) over the architrave 



51. Hercules carrying the Heavens, From the Temple of 
Zeus at Olympia. About 460 B.c. Olympia, Museum 


58 The Great Awakening 

the deeds of Hercules were represented. Fig. 51 shows the episode when he was 
sent to fetch the apples of the Hesperides. That was a task which even Hercules 
could not, or would not, perform. He entreated Atlas, who bore the heavens on his 
shoulders, to do it for him and Atlas agreed on condition that Hercules would carry 
his burden in the meantime. On this relief Atlas is shown returning with the golden 
apples to Hercules, who stands taut beneath his huge load. Athene, his cunning 
helper in all his deeds, has put a cushion on his shoulder to make it easier for him. 
In her right hand she once held a metal spear. The whole story is told with a wonder- 
ful simplicity and clarity. We feel that the artist still preferred to show a figure in a 
straightforward attitude, from the front or side. Athene is shown squarely facing 
us, and only her head is turned sideways towards Hercules. It is not difficult to sense 
in these figures the lingering influence of the rules which governed Egyptian art. 
But we feel that the greatness, the majestic calm and strength which belong to these 
statues, are also due to this observance of ancient rules. For these rules had ceased 
to be a hindrance, cramping the artist’s freedom. The old idea that it was important 
to show the structure of the body — its main hinges, as it were, which help us to 
realize how it all hangs together — spurred the artist on to explore the anatomy of 
the bones and muscles, and to build up a convincing picture of the human figure 
which remains visible even under the flow of the drapery. The way, in fact, in 
which Greek artists used the drapery to mark these main divisions of the body still 
shows what importance they attached to the knowledge of form. It is this balance 
between an adherence to rules and a freedom within the rules which has 
made Greek art so much admired in later centuries. It is for this that artists have 
returned again and again to the masterpieces of Greek art for guidance and 
inspiration. 

The t3rpe of work which Greek artists were frequently asked to do may have helped 
them to perfect their knowledge of the human body in action. A temple like that of 
Olympia was stirrounded by statues of victorious athletes dedicated to the gods. To 
us this may seem a strange custom for, however popular our champions may be, we 
do not expect them to have their portraits made and presented to a church in thanks- 
giving for a victory achieved in the latest match. But the great sports rallies of the 
Greeks, of which the Olympic Games were, of course, the most famous, were some- 
thing very different from our modem contests. They were much more closely con- 
nected with the religious beliefs and rites of the people. Those who took part in them 
were not sportsmen — ^whether amateur or professional — ^but members of the IpaHm g 
families of Greece, and the victor in these games was looked upon with awe as a man 
whom the gods had favoured with the spell of invincibility. It was to find out on whom 
this blessing of victoriousness rested that the games were originally held, and it 
was to commemorate and perhaps to perpetuate these signs of divine grace that the 
winners commissioned their statues from the most renowned artists of the tim<» , 



The Great Awakening 


59 



52. Head of the bronze statue of a charioteer. Found in Delphi. Made about 470 B.C. 

Delphi, Museum 


Diggings in Olympia have unearthed a good many of the pedestals on which these 
famous statues rested, but the statues themselves have disappeared. They were 
mostly made of bronze and were probably melted down when metal became scarce 
in the Middle Ages. Only in Delphi has one of these statues been found, the figure 
of a charioteer whose head is shown in Fig. 52. It is amazingly different from the 
general idea one may easily form of Greek art when one only looks at copies. The 
eyes which look often so blank and expressionless in marble statues or are empty in 


6o 


The Great Awakening 

bronze-heads are marked in coloured 
stones — as they always were at that 
time. The hair, eyes and lips were 
slightly gilt which gave an effect of 
richness and warmth to the whole face. 
And yet such a head never looked 
gaudy or vulgar. We can see that the 
artist was not out to imitate a real face 
with all its imperfections but that he 
shaped it out of his knowledge of the 
human form. We do not know whether 
the charioteer is a good likeness — 
probably it is no ‘likeness’ at all in 
the sense in which we understand the 
word. But it is a convincing image of 
a human being, of wonderful simplicity 
and beauty. 

Works like this which are not even 
mentioned by the classical Greek 
writers remind us what we must have 
lost in the most famous of these statues 
'ru 2. / ^ D ui of athletes such as the ‘Discus 

53. Discus Thrower {piscobolos). Roman marble 

copy, after a bronze statue by M Y R o n. Thrower’ by the Athenian sculptor 

About 450 B.C. Munich, Glyptothek probably belonged to the 

same generation as did Pheidias. Various copies of this work have been found 
which allow us at least to form a general idea of what it looked like (Fig. 53). The 
young athlete was represented at the moment when he is just about to hurl the 
heavy discus. He has bent down and swung his arm backwards so as to be able to 
throw with greater force. At the next moment he will spin round and let fly, 
supporting the throw with a turn of his body. The attitude looks so convincing that 
modem athletes have taken it for a model and have tried to learn from it the exact 


Greek style of throwing the discus. But this has proved less easy than they had 
hoped. They had forgotten that Myron’s statue is not a ‘still’ from a sports reel 
but a Greek work of art. In fact if we look at it more carefully we shall find that 
Myron has achieved his astonishing effect of movement mainly through a new 
adaptation of very ancient artistic methods. Standing in front of the statue and 
thinking only of its outlines we become suddenly aware of its relation to the tradition 
of Egyptian art. Like the Egyptians, Myron has given us the trunk in front view, 
the legs and arms in side view, like them he has composed his picture of a man’s 
body out of the most characteristic views of its parts. But imder his hands this old 



•The Great Awakening 6i 



54 * Charioteers, Detail from the marble frieze of the Parthenon. About 440 b.c. 
London, British Museum 


and outworn formula has become something entirely different. Instead of fitting 
these views together into an unconvincing likeness of a rigid pose, he asked a real 
model to take up a similar attitude and so adapted it that it could look like a con- 
vincing representation of a body in motion. Whether or not this corresponds to the 
exact movement most suitable for throwing the discus is hardly relevant. What 
matters is that Myron conquered movement just as the painters of his time 
conquered space. 

Of all Greek originals which have come down to us the sculptures from the 
Parthenon reflect this new freedom perhaps in the most wonderful way. The Par- 
thenon (Fig. 45) was completed some twenty years after the temple of Olympia, and 
in that brief span of time artists had acquired an ever greater ease and faciUty in 
solving the problems of convincing representation. We do not know who the sculp- 
tors were who made these decorations of the temple, but as Pheidias made the statue 
in the shrine it seems likely that his workshop also provided the other sculptures. 

Figs. 54 and 55 show fragments of the long band or frieze that ran round the 
building under the roof and represented the annual procession on the solemn festival 




62 



55* Detail from the procession of horsemen, the marble frieze of the Parthenon. About 440 B.c. 

London, British Museum 


of the goddess. There were always games and sports displays during these festivities, 
one of which consisted in the dangerous feat of driving a chariot and jumping on 
and off while the four horses galloped along. It is such a display that is shown in 
Fig. 54. At first it may be difficult to find one’s way about on that first fragment 



63 


The Great Awakening 

because the relief is very badly 
damaged. Not only is part of 
the surface broken off, the 
whole of the colour has gone 
which probably made the 
figures stand out brightly 
against an intensely coloured 
background. To us the colour 
and texture of fine marble is 
something so wonderful that 
we would never want to cover 
it with paint, but the Greeks 
even painted their temples 
with strong contrasting colours 
such as red and blue. But, 
however little may be left of 
the original work, it is always 
worth while with Greek sculp- 
tures to try to forget what is 
not there for the sheer joy of 
discovering what is left^The 
first we see in our fragment is 
the horses, four of them, one 
behind the other. Their heads 
and their legs are sufficiently 
well preserved to give us an 
idea of the mastery with which the artist contrived to show the structure of the 
bones and muscles without the whole looking stiff or dry. Soon we see that 
the same must also have been true of the human figures. We can imagine from 
the traces that are left how freely they moved and how clearly the muscles of 
their bodies stood out. Foreshortening no longer presented a great problem to the 
artist. The arm with the shield is drawn with perfect ease, and so is the fluttering 
crest of the helmet and the bulging coat which is blown by the wind. But all these 
new discoveries do not ‘run away’ with the artist. However much he may have 
enjoyed this conquest of space and movement, we do not feel that he is eager to 
show off what he can do. However Uvely and spirited the groups have become, they 
still fit well into the arrangement of the solemn procession which moves along the 
wall of the building. He has retained something of the artistic wisdom of arrange- 
ment which Greek art derived from the Egyptians and from the training in geometri- 
cal patterns which had preceded the Great Awakening. Every Greek work from that 



64 The Great Awakening 

great periods show th i s wisdom and skill in the distribution of figures, and it is this 
sense of poise which turns a simple tombstone like Fig. 56 into a great work of art. 

The relief shows Hegeso, who is buried under the stone, as she was in life. A 
servant girl stands in front of her and offers her a chest from which she seems to 
select a piece of jewellery. It is a quiet scene which we might compare to the 
Egyptian representation of Tutankhamen on his throne with his wife adjusting his 
collar (page 44, Fig. 39). The Egyptian work, too, is wonderfully clear in its outline, 
but despite the fact that it dates from an exceptional period of Egyptian art it is rather 
stiff and unnatural. The Greek relief has shed all these awkward limitations, but it 
has retained the lucidity and beauty of the arrangement which is no longer geo- 
metrical and angular but free and relaxed. The way the upper half is framed by the 
curve of the two women’s arms, the way these lines are answered in the curves of the 
stool, the simple method by which Hegeso’s beautiful hand becomes the centre ot 
attention, the flow of the drapery round the forms of the body — all this combines 
to produce that simple harmony which only came into the world with Greek art 
of the fifth century. 



57. Greek Sculptor's Workshop. Left: The bronze foundry with sketches on the wall. 
Right : Man at work on a headless statue^ the head lying on the ground. From a Greek bowl. 
About 480 B.c. Berlin, Museum 


58. Maiden gathering Flowers. Wall-painting from Stabiac. First century A.D. 




59* PRAXITELES: Head of Hermes, Detail of Fig. 62 



CHAPTER 4 • THE REALM OF BEAUTY 

Greece and the Greek World, Fourth Century B.C. to 
First Century A.D. 



6o. An Ionic Temple: the Erechtheion. Athens, Acropolis, built after 420 B.C. 


T he great awakening of art to freedom had taken place in the hundred 
years between, roughly, 520 and 420 b.c. Towards the end of the fifth 
century, artists had become fully conscious of their power and mastery, 
and so had the public. Though artists were still looked upon as craftsmen and, 
perhaps, despised by the snobs, an increasing number of people began to be 
D 



68 The Realm of Beauty 

interested in their work for its own sake, 
and not only for the sake of its religious or 
political functions. People discussed the 
merits of the various ‘schools’ of art; that 
is to say, of the various methods, styles 
and traditions which distinguished the 
masters in different cities. There is no 
doubt that the comparison and competi- 
tion between these schools stimulated the 
artists to ever-greater efforts, and helped 
to create that variety which we admire in 
Greek art. In architecture, various styles 
began to be used side by side. The Par- 
thenon had been built in the Doric style 
(Fig. 45), but in the later buildings of the 
Acropolis the forms of the so-called Ionic 
style were introduced.The building which 
shows it at its most perfect is the T emple of 
Poseidon called the Erechtheion (Fig. 6o). 
The principle of these temples is the same 
as that of the Doric ones, but the whole 
appearanceandcharacterarevery different. 
The columns of the Ionic temple are much 
less robust and strong. They are like slender shafts, and the capital or headpiece is 
no longer a simple unadorned cushion, but is richly decorated with volutes on the 
sides, which again seem to express the function of the part which carries the beam 
on which the roof rests. The whole impression of these buildings with their finely 
wrought details is one of infinite grace and ease. 

The same characteristics of grace and ease also mark the sculpture and painting 
of this period, which begins with the generation after Pheidias. Athens, during this 
period, was involved in a fearful war with Sparta which ended her prosperity and 
that of Greece. In 408 B.c., during a brief spell of peace, a small temple to the 
goddess of victory was erected on the Acropolis, and its sculptures and ornaments 
show the change of taste towards delicacy and refinement which is also reflected in 
the Ionic style. The figures have been sadly mutilated, but I should like nevertheless 
to illustrate one of them (Fig. 61) to show how beautiful even this broken figure 
without head or hands still is. It is the figure of a girl, one of the goddesses of 
yictory, stooping to fasten a loosened sandal as she walks. With what charm this 
sudden halt is portrayed, and how softly and richly the thin drapery falls over the 
beautiful body! We can see in these works that ±e artist could do whatever 




The Realm of Beauty 69 

he wanted. He was no longer 
struggling with any difficulty in 
representing movement or fore- 
shortening. This very ease and 
virtuosity made him perhaps a 
little self-conscious. The artist 
of the Parthenon frieze (p. 61, 

Fig. 54) did not seem to think 
overmuch about his art or what 
he was doing. He knew that his 
task was to represent a proces- 
sion, and he took pains to 
represent it as clearly and well 
as he could. He was hardly con- 
scious of the fact that he was a 
great master of whom old and 
young alike would still be 
talking thousands of years later. 

The frieze of the Victory temple 
shows, perhaps, the beginning 
of a change of attitude. This 
artist was proud of his immense 
power, as well he might be. And 
so, gradually, during the fourth 
century, the approach to art 
changed. Pheidias’ statues of 
gods had been famous all over 
Greece as representations of 
gods. The great temple statues 
of the fourth century earned 
their reputation more by virtue 
of their beauty as works of art. 

People discussed pictures and 
statues as they discussed poems and plays; they praised their beauty or criticized 
their form and style. 

The greatest artist of that century, Praxiteles, was above all famed for the charm 
of his work and for the sweet and insinuating character of his creations. His most 
celebrated work, whose praise was sung in many poems, represented the goddess 
of Love, the youthful Aphrodite, stepping into her bath. But this work has disap- 
peared ; only one original statue by him is known, and it was by no means so famous 




70 The Realm of Beauty 

in antiquity. It represents the god Hermes holding young Dionysus on his arm 
and playing with him (Fig. 62, and p. 66, Fig. 59). If we look back at page 51, 
Fig. 47, we see what an enormous distance Greek art has travelled in two hundred 
years. In the work of Praxiteles all traces of rigidity have gone. The god stands 
before us in a relaxed pose which does not impair his dignity. But, if we think about 
the way in which Praxiteles has achieved this effect, we begin to realize that even 
then the lesson of ancient art had not been forgotten. Praxiteles, too, takes care to 
show us the hinges of the body, to make us understand its working as clearly as 
possible. But he can now do all that without keeping his statue stiff and lifeless. He 
can show the muscles and bones swelling and moving under the soft skin, and can 
give the impression of a living body in all its grace and beauty. Nevertheless, it is 
necessary to understand that Praxiteles and the other Greek artists achieved this 
beauty through knowledge. There is no living body quite as symmetrical, well-built 
and beautiful as those of the Greek statues. People often think that what the artists 
did was to look at many models and to leave out any feature they did not like: that 
they started by carefully copying the appearance of a real man, and then beautified 
it by omitting any irregularities or traits which did not conform to their idea of a 
perfect body. They say that Greek artists ‘idealized’ nature, and they think of it in 
terms of a photographer who touches up a portrait by deleting small blemishes. But 
a touched-up photograph and an idealized statue usually lack character and vigour. 
So much has been left out and deleted, that little remains but a pale and insipid 
ghost of the model. The Greek approach was really exactly the opposite. Through 
all these centuries, the artists we have been discussing were concerned with infusing 
more and more life into the ancient husks. In the time of Praxiteles their method 
bore its ripest fruits. The old types had begun to move and breathe under the hands 
of the skilful sculptor, and they stand before us like real human beings, and yet as 
beings from a different, better world. They are, in fact, beings from a different world, 
not because the Greeks were healthier or more beautiful than other men — there is 
no reason to think they were — but because art at that moment had reached a point 
at which the typical and the individual were poised in a new and delicate balance. 

Many of the most famous works of classical art which were admired in later 
times as representing the most perfect types of human beings are copies or variants 
of statues which were created in this period, the middle of the fourth century b.c. 
The Apollo Belvedere (Fig. 63) shows the ideal model of a man’s body. As he 
stands before us in his impressive pose, holding up the bow in the extended arm 
and the head turned sideways as if he was following the arrow with his eyes, we have 
no difficulty in recognizing the faint echo of the ancient scheme in which each part 
of the body was given its most characteristic view. Among the famous classical 
statues of Venus, the Venus of Milo (so called because it was found on the island 
of Melos) is perhaps the best known (Fig. 64). Probably it belonged to a group of 



The Realm of Beauty 


71 



63. Apollo Belvedere. 

Roman marble copy (the hands modern) after 
a Greek statue probably dating from 
about 350 B.c. Vatican, Museum 



64. The Venus of Milo. 
Greek statue of first century b.c. 
Probably imitation of a fourth- 
century work. Paris, Louvre 


Venus and Cupid which was made in a somewhat later period, but which used the 
achievements and the methods of Praxiteles. It, too, was designed to be seen from 
the side (Venus was extending her arms towards Cupid), and again we can admire 
the clarity and simplicity with which the artist modelled the beautiful body, the 
way he marked its main divisions without ever becoming harsh or vague. 

Of course, this method of creating beauty by making a general and schematic 
figure more and more lifelike until the marble’s surface seems to live and breathe 
has one drawback. It was possible to create convincing human types by this means, 
but would this method ever lead to the representation of real individual human 
beings ? Strange as it may sound to us, the idea of a portrait, in the sense in which 
we use the word, did not occur to the Greeks until rather late in the fourth century. 
True, we hear of portraits made in earlier times (p. 59, Fig. 52), but these statues 
were probably not very good likenesses. A portrait of a general was little more than 
a picture of any good-looking soldier with a helmet and a staff. The artist never 
reproduced the shape of his nose, the furrows of his brow or his individual expression. 



72 The Realm of Beauty 

It is a strange fact, which we have not yet 
discussed, that Greek artists in the works 
we have seen have avoided giving the faces 
a particular expression. This is really more 
astonishing than it seems at first sight, 
because we can hardly scribble any simple 
face on our blotting-paper without giving 
it some marked (usually a funny) expres- 
sion. Greek statues, of course, are not 
expressionless in the sense of looking dull 
and blank, but their faces never seem to 
betray any definite feeling. To do that, the 
Greek masters would have had to show 
the play of the features, which would have 
distorted and destroyed the simple regu- 
larity of the head. 

It was in the generation after Praxiteles, 
towards the end of the fourth century, 
that this further great discovery was made 
in art. By the time of Alexander the Great, towards the end of the fourth century, 
the heads of the statues usually look much more animated and alive than the beautiful 
faces of earlier works .Together with this mastery of expression, artists also learned to 
seize the individual character of a physiognomy and to make portraits in our sense of 
the word. It was in the time of Alexander that people started to discuss this new art 
of portraiture. A writer of that period, caricaturing the irritating habits of flatterers 
and toadies, mentions that they always burst out in loud praise of the striking likeness 
of their patron’s portrait. Alexander himself preferred to be portrayed by his court 
sculptor Lysippus, the most celebrated artist of the day, whose faithfulness to nature 
astonished his contemporaries. His portrait of Alexander is thought to have come 
down to us in a copy (Fig. 65), and we can see from it how much art had changed 
since the time of the Delphic charioteer, or even since the time of Praxiteles, who was 
only a generation older than Lysippus. Of course, the trouble with all ancient portraits 
is that we really cannot pronoimcc on their likeness — ^much less, in fact, than the 
flatterer in the story. Perhaps if we could see a snapshot of Alexander we should find it 
quite unlike the bust. We might find that the figure of Lysippus resembles a god much 
more than it does the real conqueror of Asia. But so much we can say : a man such as 
Alexander, a resdess spirit, immensely gifted but rather spoilt by success, might well 
have looked like this bust with its upraised eyebrows and its lively expression. 

The foundation of an empire by Alexander was an enormously important event 
for Greek art, for thereby it developed from being the concern of a few small cities 



65. Head of Alexander the Great. Probably 
copy after a portrait by LYSIPPUS. About 
330 B.c. Istambul, Museum 



The Realm of Beauty 73 

into the pictorial language of almost half the world.This change was bound to aifect 
its character. We usually refer to this art of the later period not as Greek art, but as 
Hellenistic art, because that is the name usually given to the empires founded by 
Alexander’s successors on eastern soil.The rich capitals of these empires, Alexandria 
in Egypt, Antiochia in Syria and Pergamon in Asia Minor, made different demands 
on the artists from those to which they had been accustomed in Greece. Even in 
architecture the strong and simple forms of the Doric style and the easy grace of 
the Ionic style were not enough. A new form of column was preferred, which had 
been invented early in the fourth century and which was called after the wealthy 
merchant city of Corinth (Fig. 66). In the Corinthian style, foliage was added to the 
Ionic spiral volutes to decorate the capital, and there are generally more and richer 
ornaments all over the building. This luxurious mode suited the sinnptuous build- 
ings which were laid out on a vast scale in the newly founded cities of the East. Few 
of them have been preserved, but what remains from later periods gives us an im- 
pression of great magnificence and splendour.' The styles and inventions of Greek 
art were applied on the scale, and to the traditions, of the Oriental empires.^ 

I have said that Greek art was bound to undergo a change in the Hellenistic 
period. This change can be noticed in some of the most famous works of that age. 
One of them is an altar from the city of Pergamon which was erected about 170 b.c. 
(Fig. 67). The sculpture on it represents the struggle between the gods and the 
Titans. It is a magnificent work, but we look in vain for the harmony and refinement 
of earlier Greek sculpture. The artist was obviously aiming at strong dramatic effects. 
The battle rages with terrible violence. The clumsy Titans are overwhelmed by the 
triumphant gods, and they look up in agony and pain. Everything is full of wild 
movement and fluttering drapery. To make the effect still more striking, the relief 
is no longer set flat on the wall but is composed of almost free-standing figures 
which, in their struggle, seem to overflow on to the steps of the altar as if they 
hardly troubled about where they belonged. Hellenistic art loved such wild and 
vehement works ; it wished to be impressive, and impressive it certainly is. 

Some of the works of classical sculpture which have enjoyed the greatest fame in 
later times were created in the Hellenistic period. When the group of the Laocoon 
(Fig. 68) came to light in 1506, artists and art lovers were literally overwhelmed by 
the effect of this tragic group. It represents the terrible scene which is also described 
in Virgil’s Aeneis: The Trojan priest Laocoon has warned his compatriots against 
accepting the gigantic horse in which Greek soldiers were hiding. The gods who 
see their plans of destroying Troy thwarted send two gigantic snakes from the sea 
which catch the priest and his two unfortunate sons in their coils and suffocate 
them. It is one of the stories of senseless cruelty perpetrated by the Olympians 
against poor mortals which are quite frequent in Greek and Latin mythologies. One 
would like to know how the story struck the Greek artist who conceived this 



74 


The Realm of Beauty 


impressive group. Did he want us to 
feel the horror of a scene in which an 
innocent victim is made to suffer for 
having spoken the truth? Or did he 
mainly want to show off his own power 
of representing a terrifying and some- 
what sensational fight between man and 
beast ? He had every reason to be proud 
of his skill. The way in which the 
muscles of the trunk and the arms con- 
vey the effort and the suffering of the 
hopeless struggle, the expression of 
pain in the face of the priest, the help- 
less wriggling of the two boys and the 
way all this turmoil and movement is 
frozen into a permanent group have 
excited admiration ever since. But I cannot help suspecting sometimes that this was 
an art which was meant to appeal to a public which also enjoyed the horrible sights 
of the gladiatorial fights. Perhaps it is wrong to blame the artist for that. The fact 
is probably that by this time, the period of Hellenism, art had largely lost its old 
connexion with magic and religion. Artists became interested in the problems of 
their craft for its own sake, and the problem of how to represent such a dramatic 



66 . 


^Corinthian' Capital. Found in Epidaurus. 
About 300 B.c. EpidauruSj Museum 



The Realm of Beauty 


75 






68. Laocoon and his Sons. Marble group from the workshop of hagesandros, athenodoros and 
POLYDOROS of Rhodes. (The right arms wrongly restored.) Made about 25 b.c. Vatican, Museum 

contest with all its movement, its expression and its tension, was just the type of 
task which would test an artist’s mettle. The rights or wrongs of Laocoon s fate 
may not have occurred to the sculptor at all. 

It was in this time, and in this atmosphere, that rich people began to collect works 
of art, to have famous ones copied if they could not get hold of originals, and to pay 






69. Head of a Faun, Detail of a wall-painting from Herculaneum. Probably the copy of 
a Pergamenian painting dating from the second century b.c. Naples, National Museum 


fabulous prices for those which they could obtain. Writers began to be interested in 
art and wrote about the artists’ lives, collected anecdotes about their oddities and 
composed guide-books for tourists. Many of the masters most famous among the 
ancients were painters rather than sculptors, and we know nothing about their 
works except what we find in those extracts from classical art books which have 
come down to us. We know that these painters, too, were interested in the special 



The Realm of Beauty 77 



70. Landscape. Wall-painting. From the first century a.d. Rome, Villa Albani 


problems of their crafts rather than in their art serving a religious purpose. We hear 
of masters who specialized in subjects from everyday life, who painted barber’s 
shops or scenes from the theatre, but all these paintings are lost to us. The only way 
in which we can form some idea of the character of ancient painting is by looking 
at the decorative wall-paintings and mosaics which have come to light in Pompeii 
and elsewhere. Pompeii was a summer resort for rich Romans, and was buried 
beneath the ashes of Vesuvius in a.d. 79. Almost every house and villa in that 
town had paintings on its walls, painted columns and vistas, imitations of framed 
pictures and of the stage. These paintings are, of course, not all masterpieces, though 
it is astonishing to see how much good work there was in such a small and rather 
unimportant town. We should hardly cut so good a figure if one of our seaside 
resorts were to be excavated by posterity. The painters and interior decorators of 
Pompeii obviously drew freely on the stock of inventions made by the great Hellen- 
istic artists. Among much that is humdrum we sometimes discover a figure of such 
exquisite beauty and grace as Fig. 58, which represents one of the Hours, picking 
a blossom as if in a dance. Or we find such details as the head of a faim (Fig. 69), 
from another painting, which gives us an idea of the mastery and freedom which 
these artists had acquired in the handling of expression. 

Nearly every kind of thing that would go into a picture is to be found among these 
wall-paintings of Pompeii. Pretty still fifes, for instance, such as two lemons with 
a glass of water, and pictures of animals. Even landscape paintings existed there. 
This was perhaps the greatest innovation of the Hellenistic period. Ancient Oriental 
art had no use for landscapes except as settings for their scenes of human fife or of 
military campaigns. For Greek art at the time of Pheidias or Praxiteles, man 
remained the main subject of the artist’s interest. In the Hellenistic period, the time 
when poets like Theocritus discovered the charm of the simple fife among shepherds. 



yS The Realm of Beauty 

artists also tried to conjure up the pleasures of the countryside for sophisticated 
town-dwellers. These paintings are not actual views of particular country houses 
or beauty-spots. They are rather collections of everything which makes up an 
idyllic scene: shepherds and cattle, simple shrines and distant villas and moun- 
tains (Fig. 70). Everything was charmingly arranged in these pictures, and all the 
set-pieces were looking their best. We really feel that we are looking at a peaceful 
scene. Nevertheless, even these works are much less realistic than we might think 
at first glance. If we were to start asking awkward questions, or try to draw a map 
of the locality, we should soon find out that it could not be done. We do not know 
how great the distance between the shrine and the villa is supposed to be, nor how 
near or how far the bridge from the shrine. The fact is that even Hellenistic artists 
did not know what we call the laws of perspective. The famous avenue of poplars, 
which recedes to a vanishing point and which we all drew at school, was not then 
a standard task. Artists drew distant things small, and near or important things 
large, but the law of regular diminution of objects as they become more distant, the 
fixed framework in which we arrange our pictures, was not known to classical 
antiquity. Indeed, it took more than another thousand years before it was discovered. 
Thus even the latest, freest and most confident works of ancient art still preserve at 
least a remnant of the principle which we discussed in our description of Egyptian 
painting. Even here, knowledge of the characteristic outline of individual objects 
counts for as much as the actual impression received through the eye. We have long 
recognized that this quality is not a fault in works of art, to be regretted and looked 
down upon, but that it is possible to achieve artistic perfection within any style. 
The Greeks broke through the rigid taboos of early Oriental art, and went out on a 
voyage of discovery to add more and more features from observation to the tradi- 
tional images of the world. But their works never look like mirrors in which any 
odd comer of nature is reflected. They always bear the stamp of the intellect which 
made them. 



71. Greek sculptor at work, 
Hellenistic gem in the Metropolitan 
Museum, New York 


CHAPTER 5 • WORLD CONQUERORS 
Romans, Buddhists,Jews, and Christians, First to Fourth Century A.D. 



72. A Roman Amphitheatre: the Colosseum in Romey built about A.D. 80 


W E have seen that Pompeii, which was a Roman town, contained many 
reflections of Hellenistic art. For art remained more or less unchanged 
while the Romans conquered the world and founded their own empire 
on the ruins of the Hellenistic kingdoms. Most artists who worked in Rome were 
Greeks, and most Roman collectors bought works of the great Greek masters, or 
copies of them. Nevertheless art did change, to some extent, when Rome became 
mistress of the world. The artists were given new tasks and had to adapt their 
methods accordingly. The most outstanding achievement of the Romans was 
probably in civil engineering. We all know about their roads, aqueducts, their 
public baths. Even the ruins of these buildings still look extremely impressive. One 
feels almost like an ant when walking in Rome between their enormous pillars. It 
was, in fact, these ruins which made it impossible for later centuries to forget ‘the 
grandeur that was Rome’. 

The most famous of these Roman buildings is, perhaps, the huge arena known 
as the Colosseum (Fig. 72). It is a characteristic Roman building, which excited 
much admiration in later days. On the whole it is a utilitarian structure, with three 
storeys of arches, one above the other, to support the seats of the vast amphitheatre 



8o 


World Conquerors 



73. Interior of the Pantheon in Ronie^ built about A.D. 130. After a painting by the 
eighteenth-century painter g. p. pannini. Private Collection 


inside. But, in front of these arches, the Roman architect has put a kind of screen 
of Greek forms. Indeed, he has applied all the three styles of building used for 
Greek temples. The groimd floor is a variation on the Doric style — even the metopes 
and triglyphs are preserved; the second storey has Ionic, and the third and fourth 
Ojrinthian half-columns. This combination of Roman structures vidth Greek forms 
or ‘orders’ had an enormous influence on later architects. If we look round in our 
own towns we may easily see examples of this influence. 

The feature of the Colosseum which is new is the use of arches in architecture. 
The Romans, in fact, made ample use of this invention which had played little or no 



World Conquerors 


8i 


part in Greek buildings though it may 
have been known to Greek architects. To 
construct an arch out of separate wedge- 
formed stones is quite a difficult feat of 
engineering. Once this art is mastered the 
builder can use it for increasingly bold 
designs. He can span the pillars of a bridge 
or of an aqueduct, or he can even make use 
of this device for constructing a vaulted 
roof.The Romans became great experts in 
the art of vaulting by various technical 
devices. The most wonderful of these 
buildings is the Pantheon or temple of all 
gods. It is the only temple of classical 
antiquity which is still a place of worship 
— it was converted into a church in the 
early Christian era and was therefore I 
never allowed to fall into ruin. Its interior 74- The Emperor Vespasimus. Bust over life- 
(Fig. 73) isahugeroundhallwitha vaulted Museo Nazionaie 

roof and a circular opening at the top through which one sees the open sky. There 
is no other window, but the whole room receives ample and even light from above. 
I know few buildings which convey a similar impression of serene harmony. There is 
no feeling of heaviness. The enormous dome seems to hover freely over you like a 
second dome of heaven. 


It was typical of the Romans to take from Greek architecture what they liked, 
and to apply it to their own needs. They did the same in all fields. One of their 
principal needs was for good lifelike portraits. Such portraits had played a part in 
the early religion of the Romans. It had been customary to carry wax images of 
ancestors in funeral processions. There is little doubt that this usage had been 
connected with the same belief that the likeness preserves the soul, as in ancient 
Egypt. Later, when Rome became an empire, the bust of the emperor was still 
looked upon with religious awe. We know that every Roman had to bum incense in 
front of this bust in token of his loyalty and allegiance, and we know that the 
persecution of Christians began because of their refusal to comply with this demand. 
The strange thing is that, despite this solemn significance of portraits, the Romans 
allowed their artists to make them more lifelike and uncomplimentary than anything 
the Greeks had attempted. Perhaps they sometimes used death-masks and thus 
acquired their astounding knowledge of the structure and features of the human 
head. At any rate, we know Pompey, Augustus, Nero, or Titus, almost as if we 
had seen their faces in the newsreel. There is no flattery in the bust of Vespasianus 




82 World Conquerors 



75. The lower part of Trajan's column, Rome, dedicated a.d. 114 


(Fig. 74)— nothing to mark him out as a god. He might be any wealthy banker or 
owner of a shipping line. Nevertheless, there is no±ing petty in these Roman por- 
traits. Somehow the artists succeeded in being lifelike without being trivial. 

Another new task which the Romans set the artist revived a custom which we 
know from the ancient Orient (p. 47, Fig. 43). They, too, wanted to proclaim their 


76. Portrait of a man. From a mummy found at Hawara (Egypt), painted about A.D. 150. 

London, National Gallery 





77* Head of Buddha, Found in Gandhara (northern India), made about third century a.d. 

London, Indian Museum 


World Conquerors 85 

viaories and to tell the story of their campaigns. Trajan, for instance, erected a huge 
column to show a whole picture chronicle of his wars and victories in Dacia (the 
modem Roumania). There we see the Roman legionaries embarking, encamping 
and fighting (Fig. 75). All the skill and achievements of centuries of Greek art were 
used in these feats of war reporting. But the importance which the Romans attached 
to an accurate rendering of all details, and to a clear narrative which would impress 
the feats of the campaign on the stay-at-homes, rather changed the character of art. 
The main aim was no longer that of harmony, beauty or dramatic expression. The 
Romans were a matter-of-fact people, and cared less for fancy goods. Yet their 
pictorial methods of telling the deeds of a hero proved of great value to the religions 
which came into contact with their far-flung empire. 

During the centuries after Christ, Hellenistic and Roman art completely displaced 
the arts of the Oriental empires, even in their own strongholds. Egyptians still 
buried their dead as mummies, but instead of adding their likenesses in the 



78. Gautama {Buddha)^ leaving his home. Relief found in Gandhara (northern India), 
about second century a.d. Calcutta, Indian Museum 



86 World Conquerors 

Egyptian style, they had them painted by an artist who knew all the tricks of Greek 
portraiture (Fig, 76). These portraits, which were certainly made by humble crafts- 
men at a low price, still astonish us by their vigour and realism. There are few works 
of ancient art which look so fresh and ‘modern’ as these. 

The Egyptians were not the only ones to adapt the new methods of art to their 
religious needs. Even in far-distant India, the Roman way of telling a story, and of 
glorifying a hero, was adopted by artists who set themselves the task of illustrating 
the story of a peaceful conquest, the story of Buddha, 

The art of sculpture had flourished in India long before this Hellenistic influence 
reached the country; but it was in the frontier region of Gandhara that the figure of 
Buddha was first shown in the reliefs which became the model for later Buddhist art 
(Fig, 78), We see the young Prince Gautama leaving the home of his parents to go 
out into the wilderness. It is the ‘Great Renunciation’ of which the legend says: 

After the prince had come down from his palace he thus addressed his favourite 
charger Kanthaka : ‘My dear Kanthaka, please carry me once more for this one night. 
When I shall have become Buddha with your help I shall bring salvation to the world 
of gods and men,’ If Kanthaka had only so much as neighed or made a sound with the 
hoofs the city would have been roused and the prince’s departure discovered. So the 
gods muffled his voice and placed their hands under his hoofs wherever he stepped. 



79- Moses striking waterfront the rock. Wall-painting from the synagogue in Dura-Europos 
(Mesopotamia), painted between a.d. 245 and 256 




World Conquerors 87 

Greek and Roman art which had taught man to visualize gods and heroes in 
beautiful form also helped the Indians to create an image of their saviour. The first 
statues of Buddha with their expression of deep repose were also made in this 
frontier region of Gandhara (Fig. 77). 

Yet another Oriental religion that learned to represent its sacred stories for the 
instruction of believers was the Jewish reUgion. Jewish Law actually forbade the 
making of images for fear of idolatry. Nevertheless, the Jewish colonies in eastern 
towns took to decorating the walls of their synagogues with stories from the Old 
Testament. One of these paintings was discovered fairly recently in a small Roman 
garrison in Mesopotamia called Dura-Europos. It is not a great work of art by any 
means, but it is an interesting document from the third century a.d. The very fact 
that the form seems clumsy and that the scene looks rather flat and primitive is not 
without interest (Fig. 79). It represents Moses, striking water from the rock. But 
it is not so much an illustration of the biblical account as an explanation, in pictures, 
of its significance to the Jewish people. That may be the reason why Moses is 
represented as a tall figure standing in front of the Holy Tabernacle in which we 
can still discern the seven-branched candlestick. In order to signify that each 
tribe of Israel received its share of the miraculous water the artist has shown 
twelve rivulets each flowing to a small figure standing before a tent. The artist was 
doubtless not very skilful, and that accounts for some of these features. But perhaps 
he was not really much concerned with drawing lifelike figures. The more lifelike 
they were the more they sinned against the Commandment forbidding images. His 
main intention was to remind the beholder of the occasions when God had mani- 
fested His power. The humble wall-painting from the Jewish synagogue is of 
interest to us, because similar considerations began to influence art when the 
Christian religion spread from the East and also took art into its service. 

When Christian artists were first called upon to represent the Saviour and His 
apostles it was again the tradition of Greek art which came to their aid. Fig. 80 
shows one of the earliest representations of Christ, from the fourth century a.d. 
Instead of the bearded figure to which we have become accustomed through later 
illustrations, we see Christ in youthful beauty, enthroned between St. Peter and 
St. Paul who look like dignified Greek philosophers. There is one detail, in particu- 
lar, which reminds us how closely such a representation is still linked with the 
methods of pagan Hellenistic art: To indicate that Christ is throning above the 
heavens the sculptor has made His feet rest on the canopy of the firmament, held 
aloft by the ancient god of the sky. 

The origins of Christian art go even farther back than this example, but the 
earliest monuments never show Christ Himself. 

The Jews of Dura had painted scenes from the Old Testament in their 
synagogue, not so much to adorn it but rather to tell the sacred tale in visible 



8i . The Three Men in the Fiery Wall-painting from the Priscilla Catacomb, Rome, 

probably third century A.D. 



World Conquerors 89 

form. The artists who were first called upon to 
paint images for Christian places of burial — 
the Roman catacombs — acted very much in 
the same spirit. Paintings such as those of the 
‘Three Men in the Fiery Furnace’ (Fig. 81) 
probably from the third century a.d., show 
that these artists were familiar with the methods 
of Hellenistic painting used in Pompeii. They 
were quite capable of conjuring up the idea of 
a human figure with a few rough strokes of the 
brush. But we also feel that these effects and 
tricks did not interest them very much. The 
picture no longer existed as a beautiful thing 
in its own right. Its main purpose was to 
remind the faithful of one of the examples of* 

God’s mercy and power. We read in the Bible 
(Daniel iii.) of three high Jewish officials under 
King Nebuchadnezzar who refused to fall down 
and worship on a given signal when a gigantic 
golden image of the King was set up in the plain 
of Dura in the province of Babylon. Like so 
many Christians of the period when these paint- 
ings were made, they had to pay the penalty for 
their refusal. They were thrown into a fiery 
furnace ‘in their coats, their hosen and their 
hats’. But, lo, the fire had no power upon their 
bodies ‘nor was an hair of their heads singed, 
neither were their coats changed’. The Lord 
‘sent His angel and delivered His servants’. 

We need only imagine what the master of the 
Laocoon (p. 75, Fig. 68) would have made of 
such a subject to realize the different direction 
art was taking.The painter in the catacombs did 
not want to represent a dramatic scene for its 
own sake. To present the consoling and inspiring example of fortitude and salvation it 
was quite sufficient if the three men in their Persian dress, the flames and the dove — 
a symbol of Divine help — ^were recognizable. Everything which was not strictly rele- 
vant was better left out. Once more ideas of clarity and simplicity began to outweigh 
ideals of faithful imitation. Yet there is something touching in the very effort which 
the artist made to tell his story as clearly and simply as possible. These three men. 



82. Portrait of an official from 
Aphrodi^ias. About a.d. 400. 
Istambul, Museum 



90 World Conquerors 

seen from in front, looking at the beholder, their hands raised in prayer, seem to show 
that mankind had begun to concern itself with other things besides earthly beauty. 

It is not only in religious works of the period of the decline and fall of the Roman 
Empire that we can detect something of that shifting of interest. Few artists seemed 
to care much for what had been the glory of Greek art, its refinement and harmony. 
Sculptors no longer had the patience to work marble with a chisel, and to treat it 
with that delicacy and taste which had been the pride of the Greek craftsmen. Like 
the painter of the catacomb picture, they used more rough-and-ready methods, 
such as, for instance, a mechanical drill with which to mark the principal features 
of a face or a body. It has often been said that ancient art declined in these years, 
and it is certainly true that many secrets of the best period were lost in the general 
turmoil of wars, revolts and invasions. But we have seen that this loss in skill is not 
the whole story. The point is that artists at this time seemed no longer satisfied with 
the mere virtuosity of the Hellenistic period, and tried to achieve new effects. Some 
of the portraits of this period, the fourth and fifth centuries a.d., in particular, show 
perhaps most clearly what it was these artists aimed at (Fig. 82). To a Greek of the 
time of Praxiteles these works would have looked crude and barbaric. Indeed, the 
heads are not beautiful by any common standards. A Roman, used to the striking 
likenesses of portraits such as that of Vespasian, might have dismissed them as 
poor workmanship. And yet, to us, these figures seem to have a life of their own, 
and a very intense expression which is due to the firm marking of the features and 
the care bestowed on such traits as the part aroimd the eyes and the furrows of the 
brow. They portray the people who wimessed, and finally accepted, the rise of 
Christianity, which meant the end of the ancient world. 



83. A painter of funeral portraits' in his workshop sitting by his paintbox and easel. 
From a painted sarcophagus found in the Crimea, about a.d. ioo 





CHAPTER 6 • A PARTING OF WAYS 


Rome and Byzantium^ Fifth to Thirteenth Century A.D. 



84. /In early Christian Basilica: S. Apollinarc in Classe, Ravenna, built about A.D. 530 


W HEN, in the year a.d. 311, the Emperor Constantine established the 
Christian Church as a power in the State, the problems with which it saw 
itself confronted were enormous. During the periods of persecution 
there had been no need, and indeed no possibility, of building public places of 
worship. The churches and assembly halls that did exist were small and incon- 
spicuous. But once the Church had become the greatest power in the realm, its 
whole relationship to art had to be reconsidered. The places of worship could not be 
modelled on the ancient temples, for their function was entirely different. The 
interior of the temple was usually only a small shrine for the statue of the god. Pro- 
cessions and sacrifices took place outside. The church, on the other hand, had to 
find room for the whole congregation that assembled for service when the priest 
read Mass at the high altar, or delivered his sermon. Thus it came about that 
churches were not modelled on pagan temples, but on the type of large assembly 





92 A Parting of Ways 

halls which had been known in classical times under the name of ‘basilicas’, 
which means roughly ‘royal halls’.These buildings were used as covered market-halls 
and public law-courts, and mainly consisted of large oblong halls with narrower, 
lower compartments on the longer sides, divided from the main hall by rows 
of columns. At the far end there was often room for a semicircular dais 
(or apse) where the chairman of the meeting, or the judge, could take his 
seat. The mother of the Emperor Constantine erected such a basilica to 
serve as a church, and so the term estabhshed itself for churches of this type. 
The semicircular niche or apse would be used for the high altar, towards 
which the eyes of the worshippers were directed. This part of the building, 
where the altar stood, came to be known as the choir. The main central hall, 
where the congregation assembled, was known later as the nave, which really 
means ‘ship’, while the lower compartments at the side were called side-aisles, 
which means ‘wings’. In most of the basilicas, the lofty nave was simply roofed 
with timber, and the beams of the loft were visible. The side-aisles were often 
flat-roofed. The columns that separated the nave from the aisles were often 
sumptuously decorated. None of the earliest basilicas has remained quite un- 
changed, but, despite the alterations and renovations made in the course of the 
1,500 years since that time, we can still form an idea of what these buildings 
generally looked like (Fig. 84). 

The question of how to decorate these basilicas was a much more difficult and 
serious one, because here the whole issue of the image and its use in religion came 
up again and caused very violent disputes. On one thing nearly all early Christians 
were agreed: there must be no statues in the House of God. Statues were too much 
like those graven images and heathen idols that were condemned in the Bible. To 
place a figure of God, or of one of His saints, on the altar seemed altogether out of 
the question. For how would the poor pagans who had just been converted to the 
new faith grasp the difference between their old beliefs and the new message, if they 
saw such statues in churches ? They might too easily have thought that such a statue 
really ‘represents’ God, just as a statue by Pheidias was thought to represent Zeus. 
Thus they might have found it even more difficult to grasp the message of the one 
Almighty and Invisible God, in whose semblance we are made. But, although all 
devout Christians objected to large lifelike statues, their ideas about paintings differed 
a good deal. Some thought them useful because they helped to remind the congre- 
gation of the teachings they had received, and kept the memory of these sacred 
episodes alive. This view was mainly taken in the Latin, western part of the Roman 
Empire. Pope Gregory the Great, who lived at the end of the sixth century a.d., 
took this line. He reminded the people who were against all paintings that many 
members of the Church could neither read nor write, and that, for the purpose of 
teaching them, these images were as useful as the pictures in a picture-book are for 




85. Enthroned Madonna and Child. Probably painted in Constantinople about a . d . 1200 
Washington, Natitmal Gallery of Art, Mellon Collection 




86. Christ as Ruler of the Universe, the Virgin and Child, and Saints. Mosaics by Byzantine 
artists in the apse of the Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily, about a.d. 1190 



A Parting of Ways 


95 



87. The Miracle of the Loaves and lushes. Mosaic from the Basilica of S. Apollinare Nuovo, 

Ravenna, about a.d. 520 


children. Tainting can do for the illiterate what writing does for those who can 
read/ he said. 

It was of immense importance for the history of art that such a great authority 
had come out in favour of painting. His saying was to be quoted again and again 
whenever people attacked the use of images in churches. But it is clear that the type 
of art which was thus admitted was of a rather restricted kind. Gregory had, in 
fact, the idea about art which, as we saw, generally prevailed at that time. If his 
purpose was to be served, the story had to be told as clearly and simply as possible, 
and anything that might divert attention from this main and sacred purpose should 
be omitted. At first, artists still used the methods of story-telling that had been 
developed by Roman art, but gradually they came to concentrate more and more 
on what was strictly essential. Fig. 87 shows a work in which these principles have 
been applied with greatest consistency. It comes from a basilica in Ravenna, then, 
round about a.d. 500, a great seaport and the capital city on Italy’s east coast. 
It illustrates the story from the Gospels in which Christ fed five thousand people 
on five loaves and two fishes. A Hellenistic artist might have seized the opportunity 
to portray a large crowd of people in a gay and dramatic scene. But the master 
of these days chose a very different method. His work is not a painting done 
with deft strokes of the brush — it is a mosaic, laboriously put together, of stone 
F 


96 A Parting of Ways 

or glass cubes which yield deep, full colours and give to the church interior, covered 
with such mosaics, an appearance of solemn splendour. The way in which the story 
is told shows the spectator that something miraculous and sacred is happening. The 
backgrotmd is laid out with fragments of golden glass and on this gold background 
no natural or realistic scene is enacted. The still and calm figure of Christ occupies 
the centre of the picture. It is not the bearded Christ known to us, but the long- 
haired young man as He lived in the imagination of the early Christians. He wears 
a purple robe, and stretches out His arms in blessing on both sides, where stand 
two apostles offering Him the bread and fishes in order that the miracle may be 
accomplished. They carry the food with covered hands, as subjects bringing tribute 
for their rulers used to do at that time. Indeed, the scene looks like a solemn cere- 
mony. We see ±at the artist attached a deep significance to what he represented. 
To him it was not only a strange miracle which had happened a few himdred years 
before in Palestine. It was the symbol and token of Christ’s abiding power which 
was embodied in the Church. That explains, or helps to explain, the way in which 
Christ looks steadfastly at the beholder: It is he whom Christ will feed. 

At first glance, such a picture looks rather stiff and rigid. There is nothing of the 
mastery of movement and expression which was the pride of Greek art, and which 
persisted until Roman times. The way in which the figures are planted in strict 
frontal view may almost remind us of certain children’s drawings. And yet the 
artist must have been very well acquainted with Greek art. He knew exactly how 
to drape a cloak round a body so that the main joints should remain visible through 
the folds. He knew how to mix stones of differing shades in his mosaic to convey 
the colours of flesh or of the sky. He marked the shadows on the ground, and had 
no difficulty in representing foreshortening. If the picture looks rather primitive to 
us, it must be because the artist wanted to be simple. The Egyptian ideas about the 
importance of clarity in the representation of all objects had returned with great 
force because of the stress which the Church laid on clarity. But the forms which 
the artists used in this new attempt were not the simple forms of primitive art, but 
the developed forms of Greek painting. Thus Christian art of the Middle Ages 
became a curious mixture of primitive and sophisticated methods. The power of 
observation of nature, which we saw awakening in Greece about 500 b.c., was put 
to sleep again about a.d. 500. Artists no longer checked their formulae against 
reality. They no longer set out to make discoveries about how to represent a body, or 
how to create the illusion of depth. But the discoveries which had been made were 
never lost. Greek and Roman art provided an immense stock of figures standing, 
sitting, bending down or falling. All these types could prove useful in the telling of a 
story, and so they were assiduously copied and adapted to ever-new contexts. But 
the purpose for which they were used was now so radically different that we cannot 
be surprised that, superficially, the pictures betray little of their clasiscal origin. 



A Parting of Ways 97 

This question of the proper purpose of art in churches proved of immense 
importance for the whole history of Europe. For it was one of the principal issues 
on which the Eastern, Greek-speaking parts of the Roman Empire, whose capital 
was Byzantium or Constantinople, refused to accept the lead of the Latin Pope. 
One party there was against all images of a religious nature. They were called icono- 
clasts or image smashers. In 745 they gained the upper hand and all religious art 
was forbidden in the Eastern Church. But their opponents were even less in agree- 
ment with Pope Gregory’s ideas. To them images were not just useful, they were 
holy. The arguments with which they tried to justify this point of view were as 
subtle as those used by the other party: Tf God in His mercy could decide to reveal 
Himself to mortal eyes in the human nature of Christ,’ they argued, ‘why should 
He not also be willing to manifest Himself in visible images ? We do not worship 
these images themselves as the pagans did. We worship God and the Saints through or 
across their images.’ Whatever we may think of the logic of this plea, its importance 
for the history of art was tremendous. For when this party had returned to power after 
a century of repression the paintings in a church could no longer be regarded as mere 
illustrations for the use of those who could not read. They were looked upon as 
mysterious reflections of the supernatural world. The Eastern Church, therefore, 
could no longer allow the artist to follow his fancy in these works. Surely it was not any 
beautiful painting of a mother with her child that could be accepted as the true sacred 
image or ‘icon’ of the Mother of God, but only types hallowed by an age-old tradition. 

Thus, the Byzantines came to insist almost as strictly as the Egyptians on the 
observance of traditions. But there were two sides to this question. By asking the 
artist who painted sacred images to keep strictly to the ancient models, the Byzan- 
tine Church helped to preserve the ideas and achievements of Greek art in the types 
used for drapery, faces or gestures. If we look at a Byzantine altar-painting of the 
Holy Virgin like Fig. 85, it may seem very remote from the achievements of Greek 
art. And yet, the way the folds are draped round the body and radiate round the 
elbows and knees, the method of modelling the face and hands by marking the 
shadows, and even the sweep of the Virgin’s throne, would have been impossible 
without the conquests of Greek and Hellenistic painting. Despite a certain rigidity, 
Byzantine art therefore remained closer to nature than the art of the West in subse- 
quent periods. On the other hand, the stress on tradition, and the necessity of 
keeping to certain permitted ways of representing Christ or the Holy Virgin, made 
it difficult for Byzantine artists to develop their personal gifts. But this conserva- 
tivism developed only gradually, and it is wrong to imagine that the artists of the 
period had no scope whatever. It was they, in fact, who transformed the simple 
illustrations of early Christian art into great cycles of large and solenm images that 
dominate the interior of Byzantine churches. As we look at the mosaics done by 
these Greek artists in the Balkans and in Italy in the Middle Ages, we see that this 



98 A Parting of Ways 

Oriental empire had in fact succeeded in reviving something of the grandeur and 
majesty of ancient Oriental art, and in using it for the glorification of Christ and His 
power. Fig. 86 gives an idea of how impressive this art could be. It shows the apse 
of the church of Monreale, in Sicily, which was decorated by Byzantine craftsmen 
shortly before 1190. Sicily itself belonged to the Western or Latin Church, which 
accounts for the fact that among the Saints arrayed on each side of the window we 
find the earliest representation of St. Thomas Becket, the news of whose murder 
some twenty years earlier had resounded throughout Europe. But apart from this 
choice of Saints the artists have kept close to their native Byzantine tradition. The 
faithful assembled in the church would find themselves face to face with the 
majestic figure of Christ, represented as the Ruler of the Universe, His right hand 
raised in blessing. Below is the Holy Virgin, enthroned like an Empress, flanked 
by two archangels and the solemn row of Saints. 

Images such as these, looking down on us from the golden, glimmering walls, 
seemed to be such perfect symbols of the Holy Truth that there appeared to be 
no need ever to depart from them. Thus they continued to hold their sway in all 
countries ruled by the Eastern Church. The holy images or ‘icons’ of the Russians 
still reflect these great creations of Byzantine artists. 



88 . Byzantine Iconoclast^ zvhitezvashing an image of Christ, 
From the Chludow Psalter, a Byzantine manuscript 
painted about a.d. 900. Moscow, Historical Museum 


CHAPTER 7 • LOOKING EASTWARDS 
Islanii Chinaj Second to Thirteenth Century A.D. 



89. An Islamic Palace: The Court of Lions in the Alhambra of Granada (Spain), 

built in 1377 


B efore we return to the Western world and take up the story of art in 
L Europe, we must take at least a glance at what happened in other parts of the 
world during these centuries of turmoil. It is interesting to see how two 
other great rehgions reacted to the question of images, which so engaged the mind 
of the Western world. The religion of the Middle East, which swept everything 
before it in the seventh and eighth centuries a.d., the religion of the Mohammedan 





90. The Persian Prince Humay meets the Chinese Princess Humayun in her garden. 
From the Persian manuscript of a Romance, made about a.d. 1450 
Paris, Mus^e des Arts D^coratifs 


Looking Eastwards i o i 

conquerors of Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, North Africa and Spain, was even more 
rigorous in this matter than Christianity had been. The making of images was 
forbidden. But art as such cannot so easily be suppressed, and the craftsmen of the 
East, who were not permitted to represent human beings, let their imagination play 
with patterns and forms. They created the most subtle lacework ornamentation 
known as arabesques (Fig. 89). If today we admire the wealth of invention, the 
balance and harmony in the colour-schemes of Oriental carpets (Fig. 93), we owe 
this in the last analysis to Mohammed who directed the mind of the artist away 
from the objects of the real world to this dream-world of lines and colours. Later 
sects among the Mohammedans were less strict in their interpretation of the 
ban on images. They did allow the painting of figures and illustrations as long 
as they had no cormexion with religion. The illustrating of romances, histories 
and fables done in Persia from the fourteenth century onwards and later also 
in India under Mohammedan (Mogul) rulers, shows how much the artists of 
these lands had learned from the discipline which had confined them to the 
designing of patterns. The moonlight scene in a garden (Fig. 90) from a Persian 
romance of the fifteenth century is a perfect example of this wonderful skill. It looks 
like a carpet which has somehow come to life in a fairy-tale world. There is as little 
illusion of reality in it as in Byzantine art. Perhaps even less. There is no foreshort- 
ening, and no attempt to show light and shade or the structure of the body. The 
figures and plants look a little as if they had been cut out of coloured paper and 
distributed over the page to make a perfect pattern. But, because of that, the illus- 
tration fits even better into the book than it might have done if the artist had wanted 
to create the illusion of a real scene. We can read such a page almost as we read a 
text. We can look from the hero, as he stands with his arms crossed in the right-hand 
comer, to the heroine who approaches him, and we can let our imagination wander 
through the moonlit fairy garden without ever getting too much of it. 

The impact of religion on art was even stronger in China. We know little about 
the beginnings of Chinese art, except the fact that the Chinese had been skilled in 
the art of casting bronze at a very early date, and that some of the bronze vessels 
used in the ancient temples go back to the first millennium before Christ — some say 
even earlier. Our records of Chinese painting and sculpture, however, are not so old. 
In the centuries immediately before and after Christ, the Chinese adopted burial 
customs somewhat reminiscent of the Egyptians, and in these burial chambers, as 
in the Egyptian ones, there are a number of vivid scenes which reflect the life and 
the habits of these long bygone days (Fig. 91). At that time, much of what we call 
typically Chinese in art had already developed. The artists were less fond of 
rigid angular forms than the Egyptians had been, and preferred swerving curves. 
When a Chinese artist had to represent a prancing horse, he seemed to fit it together 
out of a number of rounded shapes. We can see the same in Chinese sculpture. 



102 Looking Eastwards 



gi,A Reception. Detail of a relief from the tomb of Wu-liang-tse in the Province of Shantung (China), 

about A.D. 150 


which always seems to twist and turn without, however, losing its solidity and 
firmness (Fig. 92). 

Some of the great teachers of China appear to have had a similar view of the value 
of art to that held by Pope Gregory the Great. They thought of art as a means of 
reminding people of the great examples of virtue in the golden ages of the past. One 
of the earliest illustrated Chinese book-scrolls that have been preserved is a collec- 
tion of great examples of virtuous ladies, written in the spirit of Confucious. It is said 
to go back to the painter Ku K’ai-chi who lived in the fourth century a.d. The 
illustration (Fig. 95) shows a husband unjustly accusing his wife, and it has all the 
dignity and grace we connect with Chinese art. It is as clear in its gestures and 
arrangement as one might expect from a picture which also aims at driving home a 
lesson. It shows, moreover, that the Chinese artist had mastered the difficult art of 

representing movement. There is nothing 
rigid in this early Chinese work, because 
the predilection for undulating lines im- 
parts a sense of movement to the whole 
picture. 

But the most important impulse to 
Chinese art probably came through yet 
another religious influence: that of 
Buddhism. The monks and ascetics of 
Buddha’s circle were represented in 
amazingly lifelike statues (Fig. 94). Once 
more we see the curved outlines in the 



92. Winged Lion, on the road to the tomb of 
Prince Hsiao Hsiu, near Nanking, made 
shortly after a.d. 500 




94* Head of a Lohariy from a glazed statue found in I-chou, China, probably made about a.d. iooo. 

Formerly Frankfurt, Fuld Collection 



Looking Eastwards 105 

shape of the ears, the lips or the cheeks, but they do not distort the real forms ; they only 
weld them together. We feel that such a work is not haphazard, but that everything is 
in its place and contributes to the effect of the whole. The old principle of the primitive 
masks (Fig. 22) serves its turn even in such a convincing representation of a face. 

Buddhism influenced Chinese art not only by providing the artists with new 
tasks. It introduced an entirely new approach to pictures, a reverence for the artist’s 
achievement such as did not exist either in ancient Greece or in Europe up to the 
time of the Renaissance. The Chinese were the first people who did not think of the 
making of pictures as a rather menial task, but who placed the painter on the same 
level as the inspired poet. The religions of the East taught that nothing was more 
important than the right kind of meditation. Meditation means something like 
deep thought. To meditate is to think and ponder about the same holy truth 
for many hours on end, to fix an idea in one’s mind and to look at it from all 
sides without letting go of it. It is a kind of mental exercise for Orientals, to 
which they used to attach even greater importance than we attach to physical 
exercise or to sport. Some monks meditated on single words, turning them over in 
their minds while they sat quite still for whole days and listened to the stillness 
which preceded and followed the holy syllable. Others meditated on things in nature, 
on water, for instance, and what we can learn from it, how humble it is, how it yields 



95. Husband reproving his wife. Detail of a silk scroll, probably an old copy after a work 
by KU K*AI-CHI who died in a.d. 406. London, British Museum 



io6 Looking Eastwards 

and yet wears away solid rock, how it is clear and cool and soothing and gives life to 
the thirsting field; or on mountains, how strong and lordly they are, and yet how 
good, for they allow the trees to grow on them. That is, perhaps, how religious art in 
China came to be employed less for telling the legends of Buddha and the Chinese 
teachers, less for the teaching of a particular doctrine — as Christian art was to be 
employed in the Middle Ages — than as an aid to the practice of meditation. Devout 
artists began to paint water and mountains in a spirit of reverence, not in order to 
teach any particular lesson, nor merely as decorations, but to provide material for 
deep thought. Their pictures on silk scrolls were kept in precious containers and only 
unrolled in quiet moments, to be looked at and pondered over as one might open a 
book of poetry and read and re-read a beautiful verse. That is the purpose behind 
the greatest of the Chinese landscape paintings of the twelfth and thirteenth 
centuries. It is not easy for us to recapture that mood, because we are fidgety 
Europeans with little patience and little knowledge of the technique of medita- 
tion — no more, I suppose, than the old 
Chinese had of the technique of physical 
training. But if we look long and carefully 
at a picture such as Fig. 96, we shall 
perhaps begin to feel something of the 
spirit in which it was painted and of the 
high purpose it was to serve. We must not, 
of course, expect any portraits of real 
landscapes, picture-postcards of beauty 
spots. Chinese artists did not go out into 
the open, to sit down in front of some 
motif, and sketch it. They even learned 
their art by a strange method of meditation 
and concentration in which they first 
acquired skill in ‘how to paint pine-trees’, 
‘how to paint rocks’, ‘how to paint clouds’, 
by studying not nature but the works of 
renowned masters. Only when they had 
thoroughly acquired this skill did they 
travel and contemplate the beauty of 
nature so as to capture the moods of the 
landscape. When they came home they 
would then try to recapture these moods 
by putting together their images of pine- 
trees, rocks and clouds much in the way 
a poet might string together a number of 



96. MA YUAN : Landscape in moonlight. 
Painting on silk, about a.d. i 200. 
Chinese Government Collection 



Looking Eastwards 1 07 

images which had come into his mind during 
a walk. It was the ambition of these Chinese 
masters to acquire such a facility in the 
handling of brush and ink that they could 
write down their vision while their inspira- 
tion was still fresh. Often they would write 
a few lines of poetry and paint a picture on 
the same scroll of silk. The Chinese, 
therefore, consider it childish to look for 
details inpictures and then to compare them 
with the real world. They want, rather, to 
find in them the visible traces of the artist’s 
enthusiasm. It may not be easy for us to 
appreciate the boldest of these works, such 
as Fig. 97, which consists only of some 
vague forms of mountain peaks emerging 
out of clouds. But once we try to put our- 
selves in the place of the painter, and to 
experience something of the awe he must 
have felt for these majestic peaks, we may 
at least get an inkling of what the Chinese value most highly in art. For us 
it is easier to admire the same skill and concentration in more familiar subjects. 
The painting of three fishes in a pond (Fig. 98) gives an idea of the patient 
observation that must have gone into the artist’s study of his simple subject, and 
of the ease and mastery with which he handled it when he came to paint this pic- 
ture. Again we see how fond the Chinese 
artists were of graceful curves, and how 
they could exploit their effects to give the 
idea of movement. The forms do not seem 
to make any clear symmetrical pattern. 

I'hey are not evenly distributed as in the 
Persian miniature. Nevertheless we feel 
that the artist has balanced them with 
immense assurance. One can look at such 
a picture for a long stretch of time without 
getting bored. It is an experiment well 
worth trying. 

There is something wonderful in this 
restraint of Chinese art, in its deliberate 
limitation to a few simple motifs of nature. 



98. Fishes, Leaf from an album. Probably 
painted by Liu ts*ai between a.d. 1300 and 
1400. Pennsylvania Museum of Art 



97. KAO k’o-kung: Landscape after rain, 
A.D. 1250-1300. Chinese Government 


I o8 Looking Eastwards 

But it almost goes without saying that this approach to painting also had its dangers. 
As time went on, nearly every type of brushstroke with which a stem of bamboo or 
a rugged rock could be painted was laid down and labelled by tradition and so great 
was the general admiration for the works of the past that artists dared less and less 
to rely on their own inspiration. The standards of painting remained very high 
throughout the subsequent centuries both in China and in Japan (which adopted the 
Chinese conceptions) but art became more and more like a graceful and elaborate 
game which has lost much of its interest as so many of its moves are known. It was 
only after a new contact with the achievements of Western art in the eighteenth 
century that Japanese artists dared to apply the Eastern methods to new subjects. 
We shall see how fruitful these new experiments also became for the West when it 
first got to know them. 



99* A Japanese boy painting a branch of bamboo Coloured woodcut by hidenobUj 
probably early nineteenth century 


CHAPTER 8 WESTERN ART IN THE MELTING POT 
Europe i Sixth tp Eleventh Century A.D. 



100. A Saxon Tower imitating a timber structure: 
the church of Earls Barton, Northamptonshire, 
built about a.d. iooo 


W E have taken the story of Western art up to the period of Constantine, 
and to the centuries in which it was to adapt itself to the precept of 
Pope Gregory the Great that images are useful for teaching laymen 
the sacred word. The period which followed this early Christian era, the period 
after the collapse of the Roman Empire, is generally known by the uncomplimentary 
title of the Dark Ages. We call these ages dark, partly to convey that the people who 
lived during these centuries of migrations, wars and upheavals, were themselves 


no 


Western Art in the Melting Pot 

' plunged in darkness and had 
little knowledge to guide them, 
but also to imply that we our- 
selves know rather little about 
these confused and confusing 
centuries which followed upon 
the decline of the ancient world 
and preceded the emergence of 
the European countries in the 
shape, roughly, in which we 
know them now. There are, of 
course, no fixed limits to the 
period, but for our purpose we 
may say that it lasted almost 
five hundred years — approxi- 
mately from A.D. 500 to A.D. 
1000. Five hundred years is a 
long time, in which much can 
happen and much, in fact, did 
happen. But what is most in- 
teresting to us is that these 

loi. A Dragon's Head, Wood carving found at Oseberg years did not See the emergence 
(Norway). About A.D, 820. Oslo, University Museum ^^y one dear and uniform 

Style, but rather the conflict of 
a great number of different styles, which only began to come to terms towards the end 
of that period.To those who know something of the history of the Dark Ages this is 
hardly surprising. It was not only a dark, it was a patchy period, with tremendous 
differences among various peoples and classes.Throughout these five centuries there 
existed men and women, particularly in the monasteries and convents, who loved 
learning and art, and who had a great admiration for those works of the ancient world 
which had been preserved in libraries and treasure-houses. Sometimes these learned 
and educated monks or clergy held positions of power and influence at the courts of 
the mighty, and tried to revive the arts which they most admired. But frequently their 
work came to naught because of new wars and invasions by armed raiders from the 
north, whose opinions about art were very different indeed. The various Teutonic 
tribes, the Goths, the Vandals, the Saxons, the Danes and the Vikings, who swept 
through Europe raiding and pillaging, were considered barbarians by those who 
valued Greek and Roman achievements in literature and art. In a sense they certainly 
were barbarians, but this need not mean that they had no feeling for beauty, no art 
of their own. They had skilled craftsmen experienced in finely wrought metalwork. 




Ill 


Western Art in the Melting Pot 

and excellent wood-carvers, comparable to those of the New Zealand Maoris (p. 25, 
Fig. 23). They loved complicated patterns which included the twisted bodies of 
dragons, or birds mysteriously interlaced. We do not know exactly where these 
patterns originated in the seventh century of what they signified, but it is not 
unlikely that the ideas of these Teutonic tribes about art resembled the ideas of 
primitive tribes elsewhere. There are reasons for believing that they, too, thought 
of such images as a means of working magic and exorcizing evil spirits. The carved 
figures of dragons from Viking sledges and ships give a good idea of the character of 
this art (Figs. 101-102). One can well imagine that these threatening heads of 
monsters were something more than just innocent decorations. In fact, we know that 
there were laws among the Norwegian Vikings which required the captain of a ship 
to remove these figures before entering his home port, ‘so as not to frighten the 
spirits of the land*. 

The monks and missionaries of Celtic Ireland and Saxon England tried to apply 
the traditions of these northern craftsmen to the tasks of Christian art. The most 
amazing monuments to their success are some of the manuscripts made in England 
and Ireland during the seventh and eighth centuries. Fig. 103 is a page from the 
famous Lindisfarne Gospel, made in Northumbria shortly before A.D.700. It shows 
the Cross composed of an incredibly rich lacework of intertwined dragons or 



102. A ^Longship' of the Vikhig type with dragons' heads, as used by the Normans in the Invasion 
of England, from the Bayeux Tapestry, made about a.d. 1180. Baycux, Cathedral 


1 12 Western Art in the Melting Pot 



103. Page of the Lindisfarnc Gospeh probably painted shortly before a.d. 700. 
London, British Museum 


serpents, standing against a background of an even more complicated pattern. 
It is exciting to try to find one’s way through this bewildering maze of twisted 
shapes, and to follow the coils of these interwoven bodies. It is even more astonish- 
ing to see that the result is not confusion, but that the various patterns strictly 
correspond to each other and form a complex harmony of design and colour. One 
can hardly imagine how anyone could have thought out such a scheme and had the 
patience and perseverance to finish it. It proves, if proof were needed, that the 




104- St. Luke. From a Gospel manuscript, 
painted about a.d. 750. St. Gallen, 
Stiftsbibliothek 


Western Art in the Melting Pot 113 

artists who took up this native tradition 
were certainly not lacking in skill or 
technique. 

It is all the more surprising to look at 
the way in which human figures were 
represented by these artists in the illumi- 
nated manuscripts of England and Ireland. 

They do not look quite like human figures 
but rather like strange patterns made of 
human forms (Fig. 104). One can see that 
the artist used some example he had found 
in an old Bible, and transformed it to suit 
his taste. He changed the folds of the dress 
to something like interlacing ribbons, the 
locks of hair and even the ears into scrolls, 
and turned the whole face into a rigid mask. 

These figures of evangelists and saints look 
almost as stiff and quaint as primitive idols. 

They show that the artists who had grown 
up in the traditions of their native art found it difficult to adapt themselves to 
the new requirements of Christian books. Yet it would be wrong to look upon 
such pictures as being merely childish. The training of hand and eye which the 
artists had received, and which enabled them to make a beautiful pattern on 
the page, helped them to bring a new element into Western art. Without this 
influence. Western art might have developed on similar lines to those of the art 
of Byzantium. Thanks to the clash of the two traditions, the classical tradition and 
the taste of the native artists, something entirely new began to grow up in Western 
Europe. 

For the knowledge of the earlier achievements of classical art was by no means 
lost altogcthei. At the court of Charlemagne^ who regarded himself as the successor 
of the Roman F^mperors, the tradition of Roman craftsmanship was eagerly revived. 
The church that Charles had built about a.d. 800 at his residence in Aix-la-Chapellc 
(Fig. 105) is a rather close copy of a famous church that had been built in Ravenna 
some three hundred years earlier. 

We have seen before that our modem notion that an artist must be ‘original’ 
was by no means shared by most peoples of the past. An Egyptian, a Chinese or a 
Byzantine master would have been greatly puzzled by such a demand. Nor would 
a medieval artist of Western Europe have understood why he should invent new 
ways of planning a church, of designing a chalice or of representing the sacred story 
where the old ones served their purpose so well. The pious donor who wanted to 


1 14 Western Art in the Melting Pot 

dedicate a new shrine for a holy relic of his 
patron saint, not only tried to procure the 
most precious material he could afford, he 
would also seek to provide the master with 
an old and venerable example of how the 
legend of the saint should be correctly 
represented. Nor would the artist feel ham- 
pered by this type of commission. There 
remained enough scope for him to show 
whether he was a master or a bungler. 

Perhaps we can best understand this 
attitude if we think of our own approach 
to music. If we ask a musician to perform 
at a wedding we do not expect him to 
compose something new for the occasion, 
any more than the medieval patron expected 
a new invention if he asked for a painting 
of the Nativity. We indicate the type of 
music we want and the size of the orchestra 
or choir we may be able to afford. It still 
remains up to the musician to produce a wonderful performance of an ancient 
masterpiece or to make a mess of things. And just as two equally great musicians 
may interpret the same piece very differently, so two great medieval masters 
might make very different works of art of the same theme and even of the same 
ancient model. An example should make this clear: 

Fig. 106 shows a page from a Bible produced at the court of Charlemagne. It 
represents tlie figure of St. Matthew writing the gospel. It had been customary in 
Greek and Roman books to have the portrait of the author represented on the 
opening page and this picture of the writing evangelist must be an extraordinarily 
faithful copy of this type of portrait. The way the saint is draped in his toga in the 
best classical fashion, the way his head is modelled in many shades of light and 
colour, convinces us that the medieval artist had strained every nerve to give an 
accurate and worthy rendering of a venerated model. 

The painter of another manuscript of the ninth century (Fig. 107) probably had 
before him the same or a very similar ancient example from early Christian times. 
We can compare the hands, the left hand holding an inkhom and resting on the 
lectern, the right hand holding the pen; we can compare the feet and even the 
drapery round the knees. But while the artist of Fig. 106 had done his very best to 
copy the original as faithfully as possible, the artist of Fig. 107 must have aimed at a 
different interpretation. Perhaps he did not want to represent the evangelist like any 



105. Interior of the Minster of Aix-la-Chapellcy 
consecrated in a.d. 805 


Western Art in the Melting Pot 


115 




107. St, Matthew. From a Gospel manuscript^ 
probably painted at Rheims, about a.d. 830. 
fipernay, Municipal Library 


serene old scholar, sitting quietly in his study. To him St. Matthew was an inspired 
man, writing down the Word of God. It was an immensely important and im- 
mensely exciting event in the history of mankind that he wanted to portray, and he 
succeeded in conveying something of his own sense of awe and excitement in this 
figure of a writing man. It is not mere clumsiness and ignorance which made him 
draw the saint with wide open, protruding eyes and enormous hands. He intended to 
give him that expression of tense concentration. The very brushwork of the drapery 
and of the background looks as if it had been done in a mood of intense excitement. 
This impression, I think, is partly due to the evident enjoyment with which the artist 
seized on every opportunity to draw scrolly lines and zigzagging folds. There may 
have been something in the original to suggest such a treatment, but it probably 
appealed to the medieval artist because it reminded him of those interlaced ribbons 
and lines which had been the greatest achievement of northern art. In pictures like 
these we see the emergence of a new medieval style which made it possible for art to 
do something that neither ancient Oriental nor classical art had done: the Egyptians 
had largely drawn what they knew to exist, the Greeks what they sawi in the Middle 
Ages the artist also learned to express in his picture what he felt. 

One cannot do justice to any medieval work of art without keeping this purpose in 
mind. For these artists were not out to create a convincing likeness of nature or to 
make beautiful things — they wanted to convey to their brothers in the faith the 
content and the message of the sacred story. And in this they were perhaps more 
successful than most artists of earlier or later times. Fig. 108 shows part of a bronze 



Ii6 Western Art in the Melting Pot 



io8. Adam and Eve after the Fall, From the bronze doors of Hildesheim Cathedral, 

completed in a.d. 1015 


door which was commissioned for the German church of Hildesheim shortly after 
the year a.d. iooo. It shows the Lord approaching Adam and Eve after the fall. 
There is nothing in this relief that does not strictly belong to the story. But this 
concentration on the things which matter makes the figures stand out all the more 
clearly against the plain background — and we can almost read off what their gestures 
say: God points to Adam, Adam to Eve, and Eve to the serpent on the ground. The 
shifting of guilt and the origin of evil is expressed with such forcefulness and clarity 
that we soon forget that the proportions of the figures are perhaps not strictly 
correct and the bodies of Adam and Eve not beautiful by our standards. 

We need not imagine, though, that all art in this period existed exclusively to 
serve religious ideas. Not only churches were built in the Middle Ages, but castles 
as well, and the barons and feudal lords to whom the castles belonged also occasion- 
ally employed artists. The reason why we are inclined to forget these works when 
we speak of the art of the earlier Middle Ages is simple : castles were often destroyed 
when churches were spared. Religious art was, on the whole, treated with greater 
respect, and looked after more carefully, than mere decorations of private apart- 
ments. When these became old-fashioned they were removed or thrown away — just 
as happens nowadays. But, fortunately, one great example of this latter type of art 
has come down to us — and that because it was preserved in a church. It is the 
famous Bayeux Tapestry, which illustrates the story of the Norman Conquest. We 
do not know exactly when this tapestry was made, but most scholars agree that it 



109- 1 10. King Harold swears an Oath to Duke William of Normandy, after luhich he returns to England. 
From the Bayeux Tapestry, made about a.d. 1080. Baycux Cathedral 


Ii8 Western Art in the Melting Pot 

was within living memory of the scenes it illustrates — ^perhaps round about the year 
1080. The tapestry is a picture-chronicle of the kind we know from ancient Oriental 
and Roman art — the story of a campaign and a victory. It tells its story with 
wonderful liveliness. On Fig. 109 we see, as the inscription tells us, how Harold 
swears his oath to William and on Fig. 1 10 how he returns to England. Nothing could 
be clearer than the way in which the story is told — ^we see William on his throne 
watching Harold laying his hand on the sacred relics to swear allegiance — it was 
this oath which served William as pretext for his claims on England. I particularly 
like the man on the balcony in the next scene, who holds his hands above his eyes 
to espy Harold’s ship as it arrives from afar. It is true that his arms and fingers look 
rather quaint and that all the figures in the story are strange little mannikins which 
are not drawn with the assurance of the Assyrian or Roman chroniclers. When the 
medieval artist of this period had no model to copy, he drew rather like a child. It is 
easy to smile at him, but by no means so easy to do what he did. He tells the epic 
with such an economy of means, and with such concentration on what seemed 
important to him, that the final result is possibly more impressive than the accounts 
of our own war reporters and newsreel men. 



111. A Monk {Prater Rufillus) turiutig the letter R (his table 
with colours and his pen-knife beside him). From an early 
thirteenth-century manuscript. Sigmaringen, Library 




CHAPTER 9 • THE CHURCH MILITANT 
The Twelfth Century 



112. A Romanesque Church: Remnants of the Benedictine church of Murbach^ Alsace. 

Built about ii6o 


D ate S are indispensable pegs on which to hang the tapestry of history, and, 
I since everybody knows the date 1066, that may serve us as a convenient 
peg. No complete buildings have survived in England from the Saxon 
period, and there are very few churches of the period before that date still existing 
anywhere in Europe. But the Normans who landed in England brought with them 


120 The Church Militant 

a developed style of building, which had taken shape within their generation in 
Normandy and elsewhere. The bishops and nobles who were the new feudal lords 
of England soon began to assert their power by founding abbeys and minsters. 
The style in which these buildings were erected is known as the Norman style in 
England, and as the Romanesque style on the Continent. It flourished for a hundred 
years and more after the Norman invasion. 

Today it is not easy to imagine what a church meant to the people of that period. 
Only in some old villages in the countryside can we still get a glimpse of its im- 
portance. The church was often the only stone building anywhere in the neighbour- 
hood; it was the only considerable structure for miles around, and its steeple was 
a landmark to all who approached from afar. On Sundays and during services all the 
inhabitants of the town might meet there, and the contrast between the lofty 
building with its paintings and carvings and the primitive and humble dwellings in 
which these people spent their lives must have been overwhelming. Small wonder 
that the whole community was interested in the building of these churches and took 
pride in their decoration. Even from the economic point of view the building of a 
minster, which took years, must have transformed a whole town. The quarrying 
and transport of stone, the erection of suitable scaffolding, the employment of 
itinerant craftsmen who brought tales from distant lands, all this was a real event 
in these far-off days. 

The Dark Ages had by no means blotted out the memory of the first churches, 
the basilicas, and the forms which the Romans had used in their buildings. The 
ground-plan was usually the same — a central nave leading to an apse or choir, and 
two or four aisles at the side. Sometimes this simple plan was enriched by a number 
of additions. Some architects liked the idea of building churches in the form of a 
cross, and they thus added what is called a transept between the choir and the nave. 
The general impression made by these Norman or Romanesque churches is never- 
theless very different from that of the old basilicas. In the earliest basilicas classical 
columns carrying straight ‘entablatures’ had been used. In Romanesque and 
Norman churches we generally find round arches resting on massive piers. The 
whole impression which these churches make, both inside and outside, is one of 
massive strength. There are few decorations, even few windows, but firm unbroken 
walls and towers which remind one of medieval fastnesses (Fig. 1 12 ). These powerful 
and almost defiant piles of stone erected by the Church in lands of peasants and 
warriors who had only recently been converted from their heathen way of life seem 
to express the very idea of the Church Militant — ^the idea, that is, that here on earth 
it is the task of the Church to fight the powers of darkness till the hour of triumph 
dawns on doomsday. 

There was one problem in cormexion with the building of churches that engaged 
the minds of all good architects. It was the task of giving these impressive 




1 13. The Fish vomits out Jonah upon the dry land. Detail of a staincd-glasb window 
in Cologne Cathedral. About 1280 




1 14. The church in the medieval city: the cathedral of Tournai {Belgium)^ 
the nave completed in 1171, the towers probably in 1213 



The Church Militant 


123 


stone buildings a worthy roof of stone. 

The timber roofs which had been usual 
for basilicas lacked dignity, and were 
dangerous because they easily caught fire. 

The Roman art of vaulting such large 
buildings demanded a great amount of 
technical knowledge and calculation which 
had largely been lost. Thus the eleventh 
and twelfth centuries became a period of 
ceaseless experiment. It was no small 
matter to span the whole breadth of the 
main nave by a vault. The simplest solu- 
tion, it would seem, was to bridge the 
distance as one throws a bridge across a 
river. I'remendous pillars were built up 
on both sides, which were to carry the 
girders of those bridges. But it soon be- 
came clear that a vault of this kind had 
to be very firmly joined if it were not to 
crash, and that the weight of the necessary 
stones was extremely great. To carry this 
enormous load the walls and pillars had to be made even stronger and more 
massive. Huge masses of stone were needed for these early ‘tunner-vaults. 

Norman architects therefore began to try out a different method. They saw that 
it was not really necessary to make the whole roof so heavy. It was sufficient to have 
a nximber of firm girders spanning the distance and to fill in the intervals with 
lighter material. It was found that the best method of doing this was by spanning 
the girders or ‘ribs’ crosswise between the pillars and then filling in the triangular 
sections between them. This idea, which was soon to revolutionize building methods, 
can be traced as far back as the Norman cathedral of Durham, though the architect 
who, soon after the Conquest, designed the first ‘rib-vault’ for its mighty interior 
(Fig. 1 15) was hardly aware of its technical possibilities. 

It was in France that Romanesque churches began to be decorated with sculptures. 
Actually the word ‘decorate’ is rather misleading. Everything that belonged to the 
church had its definite function and must express a definite idea connected with the 
teaching of the Church. The porch of the late twelfth-century church of S t. T rophime 
at Arles, in southern France, is one of the most complete examples of this style 
(Fig. 1 1 6). It shows in the field above the lintel — called tympanum — Christ in His 
glory, surrounded by the symbols of the Four Evangelists. These symbols, the lion 
for St. Mark, the angel for St. Matthew, the ox for St. Luke and the eagle for 
H 



11$. A Norman hiterwr: Durham Cathedral. 
Built between 1093 1128 (the vault 

completed later after the original design) 




The Church Militant 


125 

St. John, were derived from the Bible. In the Old Testament we read of the vision 
of Ezekiel (Ez. i. 4-12), in which he describes the throne of the Lord, carried by 
four creatures with the heads of a man, of a lion, an ox and an eagle. 

Christian theologians thought this passage meant the four evangelists, and such a 
vision was a fitting subject for the entrance to the church. On the lintel below we 
see twelve sitting figures, the twelve apostles, and we can discern, on Christ’s left, a 
row of naked figures in chains — they are lost souls being dragged off to hell — ^while 
on Christ’s right we see the blessed, their faces turned towards Him in eternal bliss. 
Below, we see the rigid figures of saints, each marked by his emblem, reminding 
the faithful of those who can intercede for them when their souls stand before the 
ultimate Judge. Thus the teachings of the Church about the final goal of our life 
here below were embodied in these sculptures on the portal of the church. These 
images lived on in the minds of the people even more powerfully than did the words 
of the preacher’s sermon. A late medieval French poet, Francois Villon, has 
described this effect in the moving verses he wrote for his mother; 

I am a woman, poor and old, 

Quite ignorant, I cannot read 

They showed me by my village church 

A painted Paradise with harps 

And Hell where the damned souls are boiled. 

One gives me joy, the other frightens me . . . 

We must not expect such sculptures to look as natural, graceful and light as 
classical works. They are all the more impressive because of their massive solemnity. 
It becomes much easier to see at a glance what is represented, and they fit in much 
better with the grandeur of the building (Fig. 117). 

Every detail inside the church was just as carefully thought out to fit its purpose 
and its message. Fig. 118 shows a candlestick made for Gloucester Cathedral about 
the year mo. The intertwined monsters and dragons of which it is formed 
remind us of the work of the Dark Ages (p. no. Fig. loi and p. Ii2, Fig. T03). But 
now a more definite meaning is given to these uncanny shapes. A Latin inscription 
round its crown says roughly : ‘This bearer of light is the work of virtue — with its 
shine it preaches the doctrine, so that man should not be darkened by vice’. And 
really, as we penetrate with our eyes into the jungle of strange creatures we not 
only find once more (round the knob in the middle) the symbols of the Evangelists 
who stand for the doctrine but also naked figures of men. Like Laocoon and his 
sons (p. 75, Fig. 68) they are assailed by snakes and monsters; but theirs is not a 
hopeless struggle. ‘The light that shineth in the darkness’ can make them triumph 
over the power of evil. 

The font of a church in Liege (Belgium), made about H13, provides another 
example of the part taken by the theologians in advising the artists (Fig. 119). It is 




ii8. Candlestick of gilt bell metal. Made for Gloucestet Cathedral, between 1104 and 1113. 
London, Victoria and Albert Museum 


The Church Militant 


127 



1 19. RKiNER VAN HUY; Brass Fonty St. Bartholomew, Liege (Belgium), between 1107 and 1118 


made of brass and shows in the middle a relief of the baptism of Christ — the most 
appropriate subject for a font. There are Latin inscriptions explaining the meaning 
of every figure; for instance, we read ‘Angelis ministrantes’ (ministering angels) 
over the two figures waiting at the side of the River Jordan to receive Christ. But it 
is not only these inscriptions that underline the importance attached to the meaning 
of every detail. Again, the whole font was given such a meaning. Even the figures of 
oxen on which it stands are not there merely for the sake of ornament or decoration. 
We read in the Bible (2 Chronicles iv.) how King Solomon engaged a cunning work- 
man from Tyre in Phoenicia who was an expert in brass foundry. Among the things 
he made for the temple in Jerusalem the Bible describes: 

‘A molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass. ... It stood 
upon twelve oxen, three looking towards the north and three looking towards the 
west and three looking towards the south and three looking towards the east: and 
the sea was set upon them and all their hinder parts were inward.’ 

It was this sacred model, then, which the artist of Liege, another expert in brass 
foundry, was asked to keep in mind two thousand years or more after the time 
of Solomon. 


128 


The Church Militant 




The forms which the artist uses for his 
images of Christ, of the angels and of St. 
John, look more natural and at the same 
time more calm and majestic than those of 
the Dark Ages. We remember that the 
twelfth century is the century of the 
Crusades.There was naturally more contact 
than formerly with the art of Byzantium, 
and many artists of the twelfth century tried 
to imitate and emulate the majestic sacred 
images of the Eastern Church. 

At no other time, in fact, did European 
art approach the ideals of this kind of East- 
ern art more closely than at the height of 
the Romanesque style. We have seen the 
rigid and solemn arrangement of the sculp- 
tures of Arles (Figs. 116-117), and we see 

120. The Annunciation. From a Swabian 

Gospel manuscript, about 1150. the same spirit in many illuminated manu- 

Stuttgart, Landesbibhothck scripts of the twelfth century. Fig. 120, for 

instance, represents the Annunciation, It looks almost as stiff and motionless as an 
Egyptian relief. The Virgin is seen from in front, her hands raised as in astonish- 
ment, while the dove of the Holy Spirit descends on her from on high. The Angel 
is seen half in profile, his right hand extended in a gesture which in medieval art 
signifies the act of speaking. If, looking at such a page, we expect a vivid illustration 
of a real scene, we may well find it disappointing. But if we remember once more 
that the artist was not concerned with an imitation of natural forms, but rather with 


the arrangement of traditional sacred symbols which were all he needed to illustrate 
the mystery of the Annunciation, we shall no longer feel the lack of what he never 
intended to give us. 

For we must realize how great the possibilities were that opened up before the 
artists as soon as they finally discarded all ambition to represent things as we see 
them. Fig. 121 shows a page from a calendar for the use of a German monastery. It 
marks the principal feasts of saints to be commemorated in the month of October, 
but, unlike our own calendars, it marks them not only in words but also by illustra- 
tions. In the middle, under the arches, we see St. Willimarus the priest and St. Gall 
with the Bishop’s crozier and a companion who carries the luggage of the wandering 
missionary. The curious pictures on top and below illustrate the story of two 
martyrdoms which are remembered in October. In later times, when art had 
returned to the detailed representation of nature, such cruel scenes were often 
painted with a profusion of horrible detail. Our artist was able to avoid all this. To 




12 1. Saints Gereon, WiUimarus, Gall and the Martyrdom of St, Ursula with her 
10,000 Maidens, From a Calendar manuscript made between 1137 and 1147. 
Stuttgart, Landesbibliothek 



The Church Militant 


130 

remind us of St. Gereon and his companions whose heads were cut off and thrown 
into a well, he arranged the beheaded trunks in a neat circle around the image of 
the well. St. Ursula who, according to the legend, had been massacred with her ten 
thousand maidens by the heathens, is seen throning, literally surrounded by her 
followers. An ugly savage with bow and arrows and a man brandishing his sword 
are placed outside the frame and aiming at the Saint. We are able to read the story 
olF the page without being forced to visualize it. And as the artist could dispense 
with any illusion of space or any dramatic action he could arrange his figures and 
forms on purely ornamental lines. Painting was indeed on the way to becoming a 
form of writing in pictures ; but this return to more simplified methods of repre- 
sentation gave the artist of the Middle Ages a new freedom to experiment with 
more complex forms of composition (com-position=putting together). Without 
these methods the teachings of the Church cotild never have been translated into 
visible shapes. 

As with forms so with colours. As the artists no longer felt obliged to study and 
imitate the real gradations of shades that occur in nature they were free to choose 
any colour they liked for their illustrations. The bright gold and luminous blues of 
their goldsmiths’ works, the intense colours of their book illuminations, the glowing 
red and deep greens of their stained-glass windows (p. 121, Fig. 113) show that 
these masters put their independence of nature to good use. It was this freedom 
from the need to imitate the natural world that was to enable them to convey the 
idea of the supernatural. 



122 . Artists at work at a manuscript and a 
panel painting. From the pattern book of 
Reun Monastery^ made about 1200. 
Vienna, Nationalbibliothek 


CHAPTER 10 THE CHURCH TRIUMPHANT 
The Thirteenth Century 



123. A Gothic cathedral: Notre Dame of Paris, 
Built from 1163 to 1250 


W E have just compared the art of the Romanesque period with the art 
of Byzantium and even of the ancient Orient. But there is one respect 
in which Western Europe always differed profoundly from the East. In 
the East these styles lasted for thousands of years, and there seemed no reason why 
they should ever change. The West never knew this immobility. It was always rest- 
less, groping for new solutions and new ideas. The Romanesque style did not even 
outlast the twelfth century. Hardly had the artists succeeded in vaulting their 
churches and arranging their statues in the new and majestic manner, when a new 
idea made all these Norman and Romanesque churches look clumsy and obsolete. 
This new idea was bom in northern France. It was the principle of the Gothic style. 
At first one might call it mainly a technical invention, but in its effect it became much 
more. It was the discovery that the method of vaulting a church by means of 
crosswise girders could be developed much more consistently and to much greater 


132 The Church Triumphant 

purpose than the Norman architects had dreamt of. If it was true that pillars were 
sufficient to carry the girders of the vaulting between which the other stones were 
held as mere filling, then all the massive walls between the pillars were really super- 
fluous. It was possible to erect a kind of scaffolding of stone which held the whole 
building together. All that was needed were slim pillars and narrow ‘ribs’. Anything 
in between could be left out without danger of the scaffolding collapsing. There was 
no need for heavy stone walls — instead one could put in large windows. It became 
the ideal of architects to build churches almost in the manner in which we build 
greenhouses. Only they had no steel frames or iron girders — they had to make them 
of stone, and that needed a great amount of careful calculation. Provided, however, 
that the calculation was correct, it was possible to build a church of an entirely new 
kind; a building of stone and glass such as the world had never seen before. This is 
the leading idea of the Gothic cathedrals, which was developed in northern France 
in the second half of the twelfth century. 

Of course, the principle of crosswise girders alone was not sufficient for this 
revolutionary style of Gothic building. A number of other technical inventions were 
necessary to make the miracle possible. The round arches of the Romanesque style, 
for instance, were unsuited to the aims of the Gothic builders. The reason is this : 
if I am given the task of bridging the gap between two pillars with a semicircular 
arch, there is only one way of doing it. The vaulting will always reach one particular 
height, no more and no less. If I wanted to reach higher I should have to make the 
arch steeper. The best thing, in this case, is not to have a rounded arch at all, but 
to fit two segments together. That is the idea of the pointed arch. Its great advantage 
is that it can be varied at will, made flatter or more pointed according to the require- 
ments of the structure. 

There was one more thing to be considered. The heavy stones of the vaulting 
press not only downwards but also sideways, much like a bow which has been 
drawn. Here, too, the pointed arch was an improvement over the round one, but 
even so pillars alone were not sufficient to withstand this outward pressure. Strong 
frames were needed to keep the whole structure in shape. In the vaulted side-aisles 
this did not prove very difficult. Buttresses could be built outside. But what could 
be done with the high nave ? This had to be kept in shape from outside, across the 
roofs of the aisles. To do that, the builders had to introduce their ‘flying buttresses’, 
which complete the scaffolding of the Gothic vault (Fig. 124). A Gothic church 
seems to be suspended between ffiese slender structures of stone like a bicycle 
wheel between its flimsy spokes. In both cases it is the even distribution of weight 
that makes it possible to reduce the material needed for the construction more and 
more without endangering the firmness of the whole. 

It would be wrong, however, to look at these churches mainly as feats of 
engineering. The artists saw to it that we feel and enjoy the boldness of their design. 



The Church Triumphant 133 



124. Notre Dame of Paris from the air, A view showing the cross form of the building 
and the ‘flying buttresseb’ 


Looking at a Doric temple (p. 49, Fig. 45) we feel the function of the row of 
columns which carry the load of the horizontal roof. Standing inside a Gothic 
cathedral (Fig. 125) we are made to understand the complex interplay of thrust and 
pull that holds the lofty vault in its place. There are no blank walls or massive pillars 
anywhere. The whole interior seems to be woven out of thin shafts and ribs; their 
network covers the vault, and runs down along the walls of the nave to be gathered 
up by the pillars which are formed by a bundle of stone rods. Even the windows 
are overspread by these interlacing lines known as tracery (Fig. 126). 




134 The Church Triumphant 

The great cathedrals, the Bishops’ own 
churches (cathecira=Bishop’s dirone), of 
the late twelfth and early thirteenth century 
were mosdy conceived on such a bold and 
magnificent scale that few if any were ever 
completed exactly as planned. But even so, 
and after the many alterations which they 
have undergone in the course of time, it 
remains an unforgettable experience to 
enter these vast interiors whose very di- 
mensions seem to dwarf anything that is 
merely human and petty. We can hardly 
imagine the impression which these build- 
ings must have made on those who had 
only known the heavy and grim structures 
of the Romanesque style. These older 
churches in their strength and power may 
have conveyed something of the ‘church 
mihtant’ that offered shelter against the 
onslaught of evil. The new cathedrals gave 
the faithful a glimpse of a different world. 
They would have heard in sermons and hymns of the Heavenly Jerusalem with 
its gates of pearl, its priceless jewels, its streets of pure gold and transparent 
glass (Revelation xxi). Now this vision had descended from heaven to earth. 
The walls of these buildings were not cold and forbidding. They were formed 
of stained glass that shone like precious stone. The pillars, ribs and tracery were 
gUstening with gold. Ever5rthing that was heavy, earthly or humdrum was elimi- 
nated. The faithful who surrendered himself to the contemplation of all this 
beauty could feel that he had come nearer to understanding the mysteries of a 
realm beyond the reach of matter. 

Even as seen from afar these miraculous buildings seemed to proclaim the glories 
of heaven. The facade of Notre Dame in Paris is perhaps the most perfect of them 
all (Fig. 1 23). So lucid and effortless is the arrangement of the porches and windows, 
so lithe and graceful the tracery of the gallery that we forget the weight of this pile 
of stone and the whole structure seems to rise up before us like a mirage. 

There is a similar feeling of lightness and weightlessness in the sculptures that 
flank the porches like heavenly hosts. While the Romanesque master of Arles 
(p. 124, Fig. 1 17) made his figures of saints look hke solid pillars firmly fitted into the 
architectural framework, the master who worked for the northern porch of the 
Gothic cathedral of Chartres (Fig. 127) made each of his figures come to hfe. They 



12 $. A Gothic interior: the cathedral of 
Amiens. The nave built by Robert 
DE LUZARCHES, 1218-36, the apsc 
completed in 1247 




126. Gothic church windows: the choir of Cologne Cathedral, begun in 1248. 
(The wall-paintings are nineteenth-century restorations) 




136 


The Church Triumphant 



127. Melchisedeky Abraham and Moses. From the porch of the northern transept 
of Chartres Cathedral, Probably begun in 1194 


seem to move, and look at each other solemnly, and the flow of their drapery 
indicates once more that there is a body underneath. Each of them is clearly marked, 
and should have been recognizable to anyone who knew his Old Testament. We 
have no difficulty in recognizing Abraham, the old man with his son Isaac held 


The Church Triumphant 137 

before him ready to be sacrificed. We can also recognize Moses, because he holds 
the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed, and the column with 
the brazen serpent by which he cured the Israelites. The man on the other side 
of Abraham is Melchisedek, King of Salem, of whom we read in the Bible 
(Genesis xiv. 18) that he was ‘A priest of the most high God’ and that he ‘brought 
forth bread and wine’ to welcome Abraham after a successful battle. In medieval 
theology he was therefore considered the model of the priest who administers the 
sacraments, and that is why he is marked by a chalice and the censer of the priest. In 
this way nearly every one of the figures that crowd the porches of the great Gothic 
cathedrals is clearly marked by an emblem so that its meaning and message could be 
understood and pondered by the faithful. Taken together they form as complete an 
embodiment of the teachings of the Church as the works discussed in the preceding 
chapter. And yet we feel that the Gothic sculptor has approached his task in a new 
spirit. To him these statues are not only sacred symbols, solemn reminders of a 
moral truth. Each of them must have been for him a figure in its own right, different 
from its neighbour in its attitude and type of beauty and each imbued with an 
individual dignity. 

The cathedral of Chartres still largely belonged to the late twelfth century. After 
the year 1200 many new and magnificent cathedrals sprang up in France and 
also in the neighbouring countries, in England, in Spain and in the German Rhine- 
land. Many of the masters busy on the new sites had learned their craft while 
working on the first buildings of this kind, but they all tried to add to the achieve- 
ments of their elders. 

Fig. 128, from the early thirteenth-century Gothic cathedral of Strasbourg, shows 
the entirely new approach of these Gothic sculptors. It represents the death of the 
Virgin. The twelve apostles surround her bed, St. Mary Magdalene kneels before 
her. Christ, in the middle, is receiving the Virgin’s soul into His arms. We see that 
the artist was still anxious to preserve something of the solemn symmetry of the 
early period. We can imagine that he sketched out the group beforehand to 
arrange the heads of the apostles around the arch, the two apostles at the bedside 
corresponding to each other, and the figure of Christ in the centre. But he was no 
longer content with a purely symmetrical arrangement such as the twelfth-century 
master of p. 129, Fig. 121, preferred. He clearly wanted to breathe life into his figures. 
We can see the expression of mourning in the beautiful faces of the apostles, with 
their raised eyebrows and their intent look. Three of them lift their hands to their 
faces in the traditional gesture of grief. Even more expressive are the face and figure 
of St. Mary Magdalene, who cowers at the bedside and wrings her hands, and it is 
marvellous how the artist succeeded in contrasting her features with the serene and 
bhssful look on the face of the Virgin. The draperies are no longer the empty husks 
and purely ornamental scrolls we see on early medieval work. The Gothic artists 



138 The Church Triumphant 



128. The Death of the Virgin. From the porch of the southern transept 
of Strasbourg Cathedral. About 1230 


wanted to understand the ancient formula for draped bodies, which had been handed 
down to them. Perhaps they turned for enlightenment to the renmants of pagan 
stonework, Roman tombstones and triumphal arches, of which several could be seen 
in France. Thus they regained the lost classical art of letting the structure of the body 
show under the folds of the drapery. Our artist, in fact, is proud of his ability to 
handle this difficult technique. The way in which the Virgin’s feet and hands, and 
the hand of Christ appear under the cloth, show that these Gothic sculptors were no 
longer interested only in what they represented, but also in the problems of how to 
represent. Once more, as in the time of the great awakening in Greece, they began 
to look at nature, not so much to copy it as to learn from it how to make a figure 
look convincing. Yet there is a vast difference between Greek art and Gothic art, 
between the art of the temple and that of the cathedral. The Greek artists of the 
fifth century were mainly interested in how to build up the image of a beautiful 
body .To the Gothic artist all these methods and tricks were only a means to an end, 
which was to tell his sacred story more movingly and more convincingly. He does 
not tell it for its own sake, but for the sake of its message, and for the solace and 
edification the faithful could derive from it. The attitude of Christ as He looks at 
the dying Virgin was clearly more important to the artist than skilful rendering 
of muscles. 



129- Ekkehart and Uta, From the series of ‘Founders’ in the 
choir of Naumburg Cathedral. About 1260 


In the course of the thirteenth century, some artists went even further in their 
attempts to make the stone come to life. The sculptor who was given the task of 
representing the founders of the Naumburg Cathedral in Germany, round about 
1260, almost convinces us that he portrayed actual knights of his time (Fig. 129). 
It is not very likely that he really did — these founders had been dead many years, 
and were nothing but a name to him. But his statues of men and women seem to 
have come to life under his hands. They look immensely energetic and vigorous — 
the true contemporaries of Simon of Montfort. 

I 


140 


The Church Triumphant 



130. The Entombment of Christ, From a Psalter manuscript from Bonmont. 
Probably painted between 1250 and 1300, 

Besan^on, Bibliothcque Municipalc 


To work for cathedrals was the main task of the northern sculptors of the 
thirteenth century. The most frequent task of the northern painters of that time 
was the illumination of manuscripts, but the spirit of these illustrations was very 
different from that of the solemn Romanesque book pages. If we compare the 
‘Anmmciation’ from the twelfth century (p. 128, Fig. 120) with a page from a 
thirteenth-century Psalter (Fig. 130) we gain a measure of this change. It shows 
the entombment of Christ, similar in subject and in spirit to the relief from Stras- 
bourg Cathedral (Fig. 128). Once more we see how important it has become to the 
artist to show us the feeling of his figures. The Virgin bends over the dead body of 
Christ and embraces it, while St. John wrings his hands in grief. As in the relief, we 
see what oains the artist took to fit his scene into a regular pattern: the angels in the 


The Church Triumphant 141 

top comers coming out of the clouds with censers in their hands, and the servants 
with their strange pointed hats — such as were worn by the Jews in the Middle 
Ages — supporting the body of Christ. This expression of intense feeling, and this 
regular distribution of the figures on the page, were obviously more important to the 
artist than any attempt to make his figures lifelike, or to represent a real scene. He 
does not mind that the servants are much smaller than the holy personages, and he 
does not give us any indication of the place or the setting. We understand what is 
happening without any such external indications. Though it was not the artist’s aim 
to represent things as we see them in reality, his knowledge of the human body, like 
that of the Strasbourg master, was nevertheless infinitely greater than that of the 
painter of the twelfth-century miniature. These thirteenth-century artists were no 
longer content to copy models from pattern books and adapt them to their use. 
Although they respected the traditional forms in which a sacred story was to be 
told, they took pride in making it more moving and more lifelike. 

It was in the thirteenth century that artists did occasionally abandon their pattern 
book altogether, in order to represent something because it interested them. We can 
hardly imagine today what this meant. We think of an artist as a person with a 
sketchbook who sits down and makes a drawing from life whenever he feels inclined. 
But we know that the whole training and upbringing of the medieval artist was very 
different. He started by being apprenticed to a master, whom he assisted at first by 
carrying out his instructions and filling in relatively unimportant parts of a picture. 
Gradually he would leam how to represent an apostle, and how to draw the Holy 
Virgin. He would learn to copy and rearrange scenes from old books, and fit them 
into different frames, and he would finally acquire enough facility in all this to be 
able even to illustrate a scene for which he knew no pattern. But never in his career 
would he be faced with the necessity of taking a sketchbook and drawing something 
from life. Even when he was asked to represent a particular person, the ruling king 
or a bishop, he would not make what we should call a likeness. There were no 
portraits as we understand them in the Middle Ages. All the artists did was to draw 
a conventional figure and to give it the insignia of office — a crown and sceptre for the 
king, a mitre and crozier for the bishop — and perhaps write the name underneath so 
that there could be no mistake. It may seem strange to us that artists who were able 
to make such lifelike figures as the Naumburg foimders (Fig. 129) should have found 
it difficult to make a likeness of a particular person. But the whole idea of sitting 
down in front of a person or an object and copying it was alien to them. It is all the 
more remarkable that, on certain occasions, artists in the thirteenth century did in 
fact draw something from life. They did it when they had no conventional pattern 
on which they could rely. Fig. 13 1 shows such an exception. It is the picture of an 
elephant drawn by the English historian Matthew Paris in the middle of the 
thirteenth century. This elephant had been sent by St. Louis, King of France, to 



The Church Triumphant 

Henry III in 1255. It was the first that had 
been seen in England. The figure of the 
servant by its side is not a very convincing 
likeness, though we are given his name, 
Henricus de Flor. But what is interesting is 
that in this case the artist was very anxious 
to get the right proportion. Between the 
legs of the elephant there is a Latin inscrip- 
tion saying: ‘By the size of the man 
portrayed here you may imagine the size 
of the beast represented here’. To us this 
elephant may look a little queer, but it does 
show, I think, that medieval artists, at least in the thirteenth century, were very well 
aware of such things as proportions, and that, if they ignored them so often, they 
did so not out of ignorance but simply because they did not think they mattered. 

In the thirteenth century, the time of the great cathedrals, France was the richest 
and most important country in Europe. The University of Paris was the intellectual 
centre of the Western world. In Italy, which was much disunited, the ideas and 
methods of the great French cathedral builders, which had been so eagerly imitated 
in Germany and England, did not at first meet with much response. 



131. MATTHEW PARIS: Au elephant and 
Its keeper. Drawn in 1255. Cambridge, 
Corpus Christi College 



132. NICOLA PISANO: Annunciation^ Nativity and Shepherds. From the marble pulpit 
of the Baptistery in Pisa. Completed in 1260 


The Church Triumphant 143 

It was only in the second half of the thirteenth century that an Italian sculptor 
began to emulate the example of the French masters and to study the methods of 
classical sculpture in order to represent nature more convincingly. This artist was 
Nicola Pisano who worked in the great seaport and trading centre of Pisa. Fig. 132 
shows one of the reliefs of a pulpit he completed in 1260. At first it is not quite easy 
to see what subject is represented because Pisano followed the medieval practice 
of combining various stories within one frame. Thus the left corner of the relief is 
taken up with the group of the Annunciation and the middle with the Birth of 
Christ. The Virgin is lying on a bedstead, St. Joseph is crouching in a corner, and 
two servants are engaged in bathing the Child. They seem to be jostled about by a 
herd of sheep, but these really belong to a third scene — the story of the Annuncia- 
tion to the Shepherds which is represented in the right-hand corner where the 
Christ-child appears once more in the manger. But if the scene appears a little 
crowded and confusing the sculptor has nevertheless contrived to give each episode 
its proper place and its vivid details. One can see how he enjoyed such touches of 
observation as the goat in the right-hand corner scratching its head with its hoof, 
and one realizes how much he owed to the study of classical sculpture when one 
looks at his treatment of garments and folds. Like the master of Strasbourg who 
worked a generation before him (Fig. 128), or like the master of Naumburg who 
may have been about his age, Nicola Pisano had learned the methods of the 
ancients to show the forms of the body under the drapery and to make his figures 
look both dignified and convincing. 

Italian painters were even slower than Italian sculptors in responding to the new 
spirit of the Gothic masters. Italian cities such as Venice were in close contact with 
the Byzantine Empire and Italian craftsmen looked to Constantinople rather than 
to Paris for inspiration and guidance. In the thirteenth century Italian churches 
were still decorated with solemn mosaics in the ‘Greek manner’. 

It might have seemed as if this adherence to the conservative style of the East 
would prevent all change, and indeed the change was long delayed. But when it came, 
towards the end of the thirteenth century, it was this firm grounding in the Byzan- 
tine tradition which enabled Italian art not only to catch up with the achievements 
of the northern cathedral sculptors but to revolutionize the whole art of painting. 

We must not forget that the sculptor who aims at reproducing nature has an easier 
task than the painter who sets himself a similar aim. The sculptor need not worry 
about creating an illusion of depth through foreshortening or through modelling in 
light and shade. His statue stands in real space and in real light. Thus the sculptors 
of Strasbourg or Naumburg could reach a degree of lifelikeness which no thirteenth- 
century painting could match. For we remember that northern painting had given 
up all pretence of creating an illusion of reality. Its principles of arrangement and 
of story-telling were governed by quite different aims. 



144 Church Triumphant 

It was Byzantine art that ultimately allowed the Italians to leap the barrier that 
separates sculpture from painting. For all its rigidity Byzantine art had preserved 
more of the discoveries of the Hellenistic painters than had survived the picture- 
writing of the dark ages in the West. We remember how many of these achievements 
still lay hidden, as it were, under the frozen solemnity of a Byzantine painting like 
p. 93, Fig. 85 ; how the face is modelled in light and shade and how the throne and 
the footstool show a correct understanding of the principles of foreshortening. 
With methods of this kind a genius who broke the spell of Byzantine conservatism 
could venture out into a new world and translate the lifelike figures of Gothic 
sculpture into painting. This genius Italian art found in the Florentine painter 
Giotto di Bondone (i266?-i337). 

It is usual to start a new chapter with Giotto; the Italians were convinced that an 
entirely new epoch of art had begun with the appearance of that great painter. We 
shall see that they were right. But for all that, it may be useful to remember that in 
real history there are no new chapters and no new beginnings and that it detracts 
nothing from Giotto’s greatness if we realize that his methods owe much to the 
Byzantine masters, and his aims and oudook to the great sculptors of the northern 
cathedrals. 

Giotto’s most famous works are wall-paintings or frescoes (so called because they 
must be painted on the wall while the plaster is still fresh, that is, wet). In or about 
the year 1306 he covered the walls of a small church in Padua in northern Italy with 
stories from the life of the Virgin and of Christ. Underneath he painted personifica- 
tions of virtues and vices such as had sometimes been placed on the porches of 
northern cathedrals. 

Fig. 133 shows Giotto’s figure of Faith, a matron with a cross in one hand, a 
scroll in the other. It is easy to see the similarity of this noble figure to the works of 
the Gothic sculptors. But this is no statue. It is a painting which gives the illusion of 
a statue in the round. We see the foreshortening of the arm, the modelling of the 
face and neck, the deep shadows in the flowing folds of the drapery. Nothing like 
this had been done for a thousand years. Giotto had rediscovered the art of creating 
the illusion of depth on a flat surface. 

For Giotto this discovery was not only a trick to be displayed for its own sake. 
It enabled him to change the whole conception of painting. Instead of using the 
methods of picture writing he could create the illusion as if the sacred story were 
happening before our very eyes. For this it was no longer sufficient to look at older 
representations of the same scene and adapt these time-honoured models to a new 
use. He rather followed the advice of the friars who exhorted the people in their 
sermons to visualize in their mind, when reading the Bible and the legends of the 
Saints, what it must have looked like when a carpenter’s family fled to Egypt or 
when the Lord was nailed to the cross. He did not rest till he had thought it all out 








146 


The Church Triumphant 



134. GIOTTO: The Mourning of Christ. Wall-painting in the Cappella dell* Arena in Padua. 

Probably completed in 1306 


afresh: how would a man stand, how would he act, how would he move, if he took 
part in such an event ? Moreover, how would such a gesture or movement present 
itself to our eyes ? 

We can best gauge the extent of this revolution if we compare one of Giotto’s 
frescoes from Padua (Fig. 134) with a similar theme in the thirteenth-century 
miniature in Fig. 130. The subject is the mourning over the dead body of Christ, 
with the Virgin embracing her son for the last time. In the miniature, as we 
remember, the artist was not interested in representing the scene as it might have 
happened. He varied the size of the figures so as to fit them well into the page, and 
if we try to imagine the space between the figures in the foregroimd and St. John in 
the background — ^with Christ and the Virgin in between — ^we realize how every- 
thing is squeezed together, and how little the artist cared about space. It is the 
same indifference to the real place where the scene is happening which led Nicola 
Pisano to represent different episodes within one frame. Giotto’s method is com- 
pletely different. Painting, for him, is more than a substitute for the written word 



The Church Triumphant 147 



135. Detail of Fig. 134 


We seem to witness the real event as if it were enacted on a stage. Compare the con- 
ventional gesture of the mourning St. John in the miniature with the passionate 
movement of St. John in Giotto’s painting as he bends forward, his arms extended 
sideways. If we try here to imagine the distance between the cowering figures in the 
foreground and St. John, we immediately feel that there is air and space between 
them, and that they can all move.These figures in the foreground show how entirely 
new Giotto’s art was in every respect. We remember that early Christian art had 
reverted to the old Oriental idea that to tell a story clearly every figure had to be 
shown completely, almost as was done in Egyptian art. Giotto abandoned these ideas. 
He did not need such simple devices. He shows us so convincingly how each figure 
reflects the grief of the tragic scene that we sense the same grief in the cowering 
figures whose faces are hidden from us. 




148 The Church Triumphant 

Giotto’s fame spread far and wide. The people of Florence were proud of him. 
They were interested in his life, and told anecdotes about his wit and dexterity. 
This, too, was rather a new thing. Nothing quite like it had happened before. Of 
course, there had been masters who had enjoyed general esteem, and been recom- 
mended from monastery to monastery, or from bishop to bishop. But, on the whole, 
people did not think it necessary to preserve the names of these masters for posterity. 
They thought of them as we think of a good cabinet-maker or tailor. Even the artists 
themselves were not much interested in acquiring fame or notoriety. Very often 
they did not even sign their work. We do not know the names of the masters who 
made the sculptures of Chartres, of Strasbourg or Naumburg. No doubt they were 
appreciated in their time, but they gave the honour to the cathedral for which they 
worked. In this respect too, the Florentine painter Giotto begins an entirely new 
chapter in the history of art. From his day onwards the history of art, first in Italy 
and then in other countries also, is the history of the great artists. 



136. The King and his architect (with compass and ruler) visiting the building site of a cathedral 
(King Offa at St. Albans). From an English manuscript of the Life of St. Alban 
probably painted by matthew Paris about 1260. Dublin, Trinity College 



CHAPTER II • COURTIERS AND BURGHERS 
The Fourteenth Century 



137. The ^decorated' style: the west front of Exeter Cathedral. About 1350-1400 


T he thirteenth century had been the century of the great cathedrals, in which 
nearly all branches of art had their share. Work on these immense enter- 
prises continued into the fourteenth century and even beyond, but they were 
no longer the main focus of art. We must remember that the world had changed a 
great deal during that period. In the middle of the twelfth century, when the Gothic 
style was first developed, Europe was still a thinly populated continent of peasants 
with monasteries and barons’ castles as the main centres of power and learning. The 
ambition of the great Bishops’ Sees to have mighty cathedrals of their own was the 
first indication of an awakening civic pride of the towns. But a hundred and fifty 
years later these towns had grown into teeming centres of trade whose burghers felt 
increasingly independent of the power of the Church and the feudal lords. Even the 
nobles no longer lived a life of grim seclusion in their fortified manors, but moved 


150 Courtiers and Burghers 

to the cities with their comfort and fashionable luxury there to display their wealth 
at the courts of the mighty. We can get a very vivid idea of what life in the fourteenth 
century was like if we remember the works of Chaucer, with his knights and squires, 
friars and artisans. This was no longer the world of the Crusades, and of those 
paragons of chivalry, which we remember when looking at the founders of Naum- 
burg (Fig. 129). It is never safe to generalize too much about periods and styles. 
There are always exceptions and examples which would not lit any such generaliza- 
tion. But, with that reservation, we may say that the taste of the fourteenth century 
was rather for the refined than for the grand. 

This is exemplified in the architecture of the period. In England we distinguish 
between the pure Gothic style of the early cathedrals, which is known as Early 
English, and the later development of these forms, known as the Decorated Style. 
The name indicates the change of taste. The Gothic builders of the fourteenth 
century were no longer content with the clear majestic outline of the earlier cathe- 
drals. They liked to show their skill in decoration and in complicated tracery. The 
west window of Exeter Cathedral is a typical example of this style (Fig. 137). 

Churches were no longer the main tasks of the architects. In the growing and 
prosperous cities many secular buildings had to be designed — town halls, guild halls, 
colleges, palaces, bridges and city gates. One of the most celebrated and characteristic 



138. The Palace of the Doges of Venice, Begun in 1309 



I5I 


Courtiers and Burghers 

buildings of this kind is the Ducal 
Palace of Venice (Fig. 138), which 
was begun in the fourteenth cen- 
tury, when the power and prosper- 
ity of that city were at their height. 

It shows that this later develop- 
ment of the Gothic style, for all 
its delight in ornament and tracery, 
could yet achieve its own effect of 
grandeur. 

The most characteristic works of 
sculpture in the fourteenth century 
are perhaps not those of stone, 
which were made in great numbers 
for the churches of the period, but 
rather the smaller works of precious 
metal or ivory, in which the crafts- 
men of the period excelled. Fig. 1 39 
shows a little silver statue of the 
Virgin made by a French goldsmith 
in 1339. Works of this kind were 
not intended for public worship. 

Rather were they to be placed into 
a palace chapel for private prayer. 

They are not meant to proclaim a 
truth in solemn aloofness, like the 
statues of the great cathedrals, but 
to excite love and tenderness. The 
Paris goldsmith was thinking of the 
Virgin as of a real mother, and of 
Christ as a real child, thrusting His 
hand at His mother’s face. He took 
care to avoid any impression of 
rigidity. That is why he gave the 

figure the slight bend — she rests her arm on her hip to support the child, while 
the head is bent towards Him. Thus the whole body seems slightly to sway in a gentle 
curve, very much like an S, and Gothic artists of the period were very fond of this 
motif. In fact the artist who made this statue probably did not invent either the 
peculiar posture of Our Lady, or the motif of the child playing with her. In such 
things he was following the general trend of fashion. His own contribution lay in 



r-r 





139. The Virgin. Silver statue dedicated by 
Joan of Evreux in 1339. Paris, Louvre 



152 Courtiers and Burghers 

the exquisite finish of every detail, the beauty of the hands, the little creases in the 
baby’s arms, the wonderful surface of silver and enamel, and, last but not least, the 
exact proportion of the statue, with its small and graceful head on a long and slender 
body. There is nothing haphazard in these works of the great Gothic craftsmen. 
Such details as the drapery falling over the right arm show the infinite care the 
artist has taken to compose it into graceful and melodious lines. We can never do 
these works justice if we just pass them by in our museums, and devote no more 
than a quick glance to them. They were made to be appreciated by real connoisseurs, 
and treasured as pieces worthy of devotion. 

The love of fourteenth-century painters for graceful and delicate details is seen in 
such famous illustrated manuscripts as the English Psalter known as ‘Queen Mary’s 
Psalter’. Fig. 140 shows Christ in the Temple, conversing with the learned scribes. 
They have put Him on a high chair, and He is seen explaining some point of doctrine 
with the characteristic gesture used by medieval artists when they wanted to draw 
a teacher. The Jewish scribes raise their hands in attitudes of awe and astonishment, 
and so do Christ’s parents, who are just coming on to the scene, looking at each o±er 
wonderingly. The method of telling the story is still rather unreal. The artist has 
evidently not yet heard of Giotto’s discovery of the way in which to stage a scene 
so as to give it life. Christ, who was twelve at the time, as the Bible tells us, is 
minute in comparison with the grown-ups, and there is no attempt on the part of the 
artist to give us any idea of the space between the figures. Moreover we can see that 
all the faces are more or less drawn according to one simple formula, with the 
curved eyebrows, the mouth drawn downwards and the curly hair and beard. It is 
all the more surprising to look down the same page and to see that another scene 
has been added, which has nothing to do with the sacred text. It is a theme from the 
daily life of the time, the hunting of ducks with a hawk. Much to the delight of 
the man and woman on horseback, and of the boy in front of them, the hawk has 
just got hold of a duck, while two others are flying away. The artist may not have 
looked at real twelve-year-old boys when he painted the scene above, but he had 
undoubtedly looked at real hawks and ducks when he painted the scene below. 
Perhaps he had too much reverence for the biblical narrative to bring his observa- 
tion of actual life into it. He preferred to keep the two things apart: the clear 
symbolic way of telling a story with easily readable gestures and no distracting 
details, and, on the margin of the page, the piece from real life, which reminds us 
once more that this is Chaucer’s century. It was only in the course of the fourteenth 
century that the two elements of this art, the graceful narrative and the faithful 
observation were gradually fused. Perhaps this would not have happened so soon 
without the influence of Italian art. 

In Italy, particularly in Florence, the art of Giotto had changed the whole idea 
of painting. The old Byzantine manner suddenly seemed stiff and outmoded. 




154 Courtiers and Burghers 

Nevertheless it would be wrong to imagine that Italian art was suddenly set apart 
from the remainder of Europe. On the contrary. Giotto’s ideas gained influence in 
the countries north of the Alps, while the ideals of the Gothic painters of the north 
also began to have their eflfect on the southern masters. It was particularly in Siena, 
another Tuscan town and a great rival of Florence, that the taste and fashion of these 
northern artists made a very deep impression. The painters of Siena had not broken 
with the earlier Byzantine tradition in such an abrupt and revolutionary manner as 
Giotto in Florence. Their greatest master of Giotto’s generation, Duccio, had tried 
— and tried successfully — to breathe new life into the old Byzantine forms instead of 
discarding them altogether. The altar panel of Fig. 141 was made by two younger 
masters of his school, Simone Martini (1285 ?-i357?) and Lippo Memmi (died 
1347?). It shows to what an extent the ideals and the general atmosphere of the 
fourteenth century had been absorbed by Sienese art. The painting represents the 
Annunciation — the moment when the Archangel Gabriel arrives from Heaven to 
greet the Virgin, and we can read his words coming out of his mouth: ^Ave Maria, 
grazia plena'. In his left hand he holds an olive branch, symbol of peace; his right 
hand is lifted as if he were about to speak. The Virgin has been reading. The 
appearance of the angel has taken her by surprise. She shrinks away in a movement 
of awe and humility, while looking back at the messenger from Heaven. Between the 
two there stands a vase with white lilies, symbols of virginity, and high up in the 
central pointed arch we see the dove, symbol of the Holy Ghost, surrounded 

by four-winged cherubim. These masters 
shared the predilection of the French and 
English artists of Figs. 139 and 140 for 
delicate forms and a lyrical mood. They 
enjoyed the gentle curves of the flowing 
drapery and the subtle grace of slender 
bodies. The whole painting, in fact, looks 
like some precious goldsmith’s work, with 
its figures standing out from a golden 
background, so skilfully arranged that they 
form an admirable pattern. One can never 
cease to wonder at the way in which these 
figures are fitted into the complicated 
shape of the panel; the way in which the 
angel’s wings are framed by the pointed 
arch to the left, and the Virgin’s figure 
shrinks back into the shelter of the pointed 
arch to the right, while the empty space 
between them is filled by the vase and the 



I4I. SIMONE MARTINI and LIPPO MEMMI: 
The Annunciation. Painted in 1333 for an 
altar in Siena Cathedral. Florence, Ulfizi 


Courtiers and Burghers 155 

dove over it. The painters had learned this art of fitting the figures into a pattern 
from the medieval tradition. We had occasion, earlier, to admire the way in which 
medieval artists arranged the symbols of the sacred stories so as to form a satisfying 
pattern. But we know that they did so by ignoring the real shape and proportion of 
things, and by forgetting about space altogether. That was no longer the way of the 
Sienese artists. Perhaps we may find their figures a little strange, with their slanting 
eyes and curved mouths. But we need only look at some details to see that the 
achievements of Giotto had by no means been lost on them. The vase is a real vase 
standing on a real stone floor, and we can tell exactly where it stands in relation to 
the angel and the Virgin. The bench on which the Virgin sits is a real bench, receding 
into the background, and the book she holds is not just the symbol of a book, but a 
real prayer book with light falling on it and with shade between the pages, which 
the artist must have studied from a prayer book in his studio. 

Giotto was a contemporary of the great Florentine poet Dante, who mentions 
him in his Divine Comedy, Simone Martini, the master of Fig. 141, was a friend 
of Petrarch, the greatest Italian poet of the next generation. Petrarch’s fame today 
rests mainly on the many love-sonnets he wrote for Laura. We know from them 
that Simone Martini painted a portrait of Laura which Petrarch treasured. Now 
this may not seem to us a very startling fact unless we remember that portraits in 
our sense had not existed during the Middle Ages. We remember that artists were 
content to use any conventional figure of a man or a woman, and to write on it the 
name of the person it was intended to represent. Unfortunately, Simone Martini’s 
portrait of Laura is lost, and we do not know how far it was a real likeness. We do 
know, however, that this artist and other masters in the fourteenth century painted 
likenesses from nature, and that the art of portraiture developed during that period. 
Perhaps the way in which Simone Martini looked at nature and observed details 
had something to do with this, for the artists of Europe had ample opportunity of 
learning from his achievements. Like Petrarch himself, Simone Martini spent many 
years at the court of the Pope, which was at that time not in Rome but at Avignon 
in France. France was still the centre of Europe, and French ideas and styles had a 
great influence ever}rwhere. Germany was ruled by a family from Luxembourg who 
had their residence in Prague. There is a wonderful series of busts dating from this 
period (between 1379 and 1386) in the cathedral of Prague. They represent 
benefactors of the church and thus serve a similar purpose as the figures of the 
Naumburg ‘Founders’ (p. 139, Fig. 129). But here we need no longer be in doubt. 
These are real portraits. For the series includes busts of contemporaries including 
one of the artist in charge, Peter Parler the Younger, which is in all probability the 
first real self-portrait of an artist known to us (Fig. 142). 

Bohemia became one of the centres through which this influence from Italy and 
France spread more widely. Its contacts reached as far as England, where Richard II 
K 




Courtiers and Burghers 157 



143. St, Johtiy St. Edward the Confessor and St. Edmund recommend Richard II to the Virgin. 
From the Wilton Diptych. About 1400. London, National Gallery 


married Anne of Bohemia. England traded with Burgundy. Europe, in fact, or at 
least the Europe of the Latin Church, was still one large unit. Artists and ideas 
travelled from one centre to another, and no one thought of rejecting an achievement 
because it was ‘foreign’. The style which arose out of this mutual give-and-take to- 
wards the end of the fourteenth century is known among historians as the ‘Inter- 
national Style’. A wonderful example of it in England, possibly painted by a French 
master for an English king, is the so-called Wilton diptych (Fig. 143). It is interesting 
to us for many reasons, including the fact that it, too, records the features of a real 
historical personage, and that of no other than Anne of Bohemia’s unlucky husband 
— King Richard II. He is painted kneeling before the Holy Virgin, with three saints 
interceding for him, and presenting him to the Christ-child who is bending forward 
with a gesture of blessing, and is surrounded by choirs of angels. Two of the saints 
and one angel point towards the king, as if to draw the Virgin’s attention to him. 
Perhaps something of the ancient magical attitude towards the image still survives 
in the custom of ‘donors’ portraits’ to remind us of the tenacity of these beliefs 
which we have found in the very cradle of art. Who can tell whether the donor did 
not feel somehow reassured in the rough and tumble of life, in which his own part 
was perhaps not always very saintly, to know that in some quiet church or chapel 
there was something of himself — a likeness fixed there through an artist’s skill, 
which always kept company with the saints and angels and never ceased praying ? 



158 Courtiers and Burghers 

It is easy to see how the art of 
the Wilton diptych is linked with 
the works we have discussed before, 
how it shares with them the taste for 
beautiful flowing lines and for dainty 
and delicate motifs.The way in which 
the Virgin touches the foot of the 
Christ-child, and the gestures of the 
angels with their long and slender 
hands, remind us of figures we have 
seen before. Once more we see how 
the artist showed his skill in fore- 
shortening, for instance in the posture 
of the angel kneeling on the left side 
of the panel, and how he enjoys 
making use of studies from nature 
in the many flowers which adorn the 
paradise of his imagination. 

The artists of the International 
Style applied the same power of ob- 
servation, and the same delight in 
delicate and beautiful things, to their 
portrayal of the world around them. 
It had been customary in the Middle 
Ages to illustrate calendars with pic- 
tures of the changing occupations of the months, of sowing, hunting, harvesting. 
A calendar attached to a prayer book which a rich Burgundian duke had ordered 
from the workshop of the brothers Limbourg (Fig. 144) shows how these pictures 
from real life had gained in liveliness and observation, even since the time of 
Queen Mary’s Psalter of Fig. 140. The miniature represents the annual spring 
festival of the courtiers. They are riding through a wood in gay attire, wreathed with 
leaves and flowers. We can see how the painter enjoyed the spectacle of the pretty 
girls in their fashionable dresses, and how he took pleasure in bringing the whole 
colourful pageantry on to his page. Once more we may think of Chaucer and his 
pilgrims ; for our artist, too, took pains to distinguish the different types, so skilfully 
that we almost seem to hear them talking. Such a picture was probably painted 
with a magnifying glass, and it should be studied with the same loving attention. All 
the choice details which the artist has crowded on to his page combine to build up 
a picture which looks nearly like a scene from real life. Nearly, but not quite; for 
when we notice that the artist has closed the background with a kind of curtain of 



144. PAUL and JEAN DE limbourg: May, 
Page from a Book of Hours painted for the 
Duke of Berry about 1410. Chantilly, 
Musce Conde 



145- PISANELLO: Monkey. Leaf from a sketch-book. About 1430. Paris, Louvre 


trees, beyond which we see the roof-tops of a vast castle, we realize that what he 
gives us is not an actual scene from nature. His art seems so far removed from the 
symbolic way of telling a story which earlier painters had used, that it needs an 
effort to realize that even he carmot represent the space in which his figures move, 
and that he achieves the illusion of reality mainly through his close attention to 
detail. His trees are not real trees painted from nature, but rather a row of symbolic 
trees, one beside the other, and even his human faces are still developed more or less 
out of one charming formula. Nevertheless, his interest in all the splendour and 
gaiety of the real life around him shows that his ideas about the aims of painting 
were very different from those of the artists of the early Middle Ages. The interest 
had gradually shifted, from the best way of telling a sacred story as clearly and 
impressively as possible, to the methods of representing a piece of nature in the most 
faithful way. We have seen that the two ideals do not necessarily clash. It was 
certainly possible to place this newly acquired knowledge of nature at the service 
of religious art, as the masters of the fourteenth century had done, and as other 


i6o Courtiers and Burghers 

masters were to do after them ; but, for the artist, the task had nevertheless changed. 
Formerly it was sufficient training to learn the ancient formulae for representing the 
main figures of the sacred story and to apply this knowledge in ever-new combina- 
tions. Now the artist’s job included a different skill. He had to be able to make studies 
from nature and to transfer them to his pictures. He began to use a sketch-book, and 
to lay up a store of sketches of rare and beautiful plants and animals. What had been 
an exception in the case of Matthew Paris (p. 142, Fig. 131) was soon to be the rule. 
A drawing such as Fig. 145, made by the North Italian artist Pisanello (1397 ?-i45o) 
only some twenty years after the Limbourg miniature shows how this habit led 
artists to study a live animal with loving interest. The public which looked at the 
artist’s works began to judge them by the skill with which nature was portrayed, 
and by the wealth of attractive details which the artist managed to bring into his 
pictures. The artists, however, wanted to go one better. They were no longer con- 
tent with the newly acquired mastery of painting such details as flowers or animals 
from nature; they wanted to explore the laws of vision, and to acquire sufficient 
knowledge of the human body to build it up in their statues and pictures as the 
Greeks had done. Once their interest took this turn, medieval art was really at an 
end. We come to the period usually known as the Renaissance. 



146. A Sculptor at Work. One of 
ANDREA PISANO’S reliefs on the 
Florentine Campanile, 

About 1340 


CHAPTER 12 • THE CONQUEST OF REALITY 
The Early Fifteenth Century 



147. An Early Renaissance Church: the Cappella Pazziy Florence, 
Designed by Brunelleschi about 1430 


T he word Renaissance means rebirth or revival, and the idea of such a 
rebirth had gained ground in Italy ever since the time of Giotto. When 
people of the period wanted to praise a poet or an artist, they said that his 
work was as good as that of the ancients. Giotto had been exalted in this way as a 
master who had led to a true revival of art; by this, people meant that his art was as 
good as that of the famous masters whose work they found praised in the classical 
Greek and Roman writers. It is not surprising that this idea became popular in 
Italy. The Italians were very much aware of the fact that in the distant past Italy, 
with Rome her capital, had been the centre of the civilized world, and that her 
power and glory had waned since the Germanic tribes, Goths and Vandals, had 
invaded the country and broken up the Roman Empire. The idea of a revival was 
closely connected in the minds of the Italians with the idea of a rebirth of ‘the 
grandeur that was Rome’. The period between the classical age, to which they looked 
back with pride, and the new era of rebirth for which they hoped, was merely a 


1 62 The Conquest of Reality 

sad interlude, ‘The Time Between’. Thus the idea of a rebirth or renaissance was 
responsible for the idea that the intervening period was a Middle Age — and we still 
use this terminology. As the Itahans blamed the Goths for the downfall of the 
Roman Empire, they began to speak of the art of this intervening period as Gothic, 
by which they meant barbaric — much as we still speak of vandahsm when we refer 
to the useless destruction of beautiful things. 

We now know that these ideas of the Italians had little basis in fact. They were, 
at best, a crude and much simplified picture of the actual course of events. We have 
seen that some seven hundred years separated the Goths from the rise of the art that 
we now call Gothic. We also know that the revival of art, after the shock and tur- 
moil of the Dark Ages, came gradually and that the Gothic period itself saw this 
revival getting into its full stride. Possibly we can understand the reason why the 
Italians were less aware of this gradual growth and unfolding of art than the people 
living farther north. We have seen that they lagged behind during part of the 
Middle Ages, so that the new achievements of Giotto came to them as a tremendous 
innovation, a rebirth of all that was noble and great in art. The Italians of the four- 
teenth century beheved that art, science and scholarship had flourished in the 
classical period, that all these things had been almost destroyed by the northern 
barbarians and that it was for them to help to revive the glorious past and thus bring 
about a new era. 

In no city was this feeling of confidence and hope more intense than in the 
wealthy merchant city of Florence. It was there, in the first decades of the fifteenth 
century, that a group of artists deliberately set out to create a new art and to break 
with the ideas of the past. 

The leader of this group of young Florentine artists was an architect, Filippo 
Brunelleschi (1377-1446). Brunelleschi was employed on the completion of the 
Cathedral of Florence. It was a Gothic cathedral, and Brunelleschi had fully 
mastered the technical inventions which formed part of the Gothic tradition. His 
fame, in fact, rests partiy on an achievement in construction and design which 
would not have been possible without his knowledge of the Gothic methods of 
vaulting. The Florentines wished to have their cathedral crowned by a mighty 
cupola, but no artist was able to span the immense space between the pillars on 
which the cupola was to rest, till Brunelleschi devised a method of accomplishing 
this. When Brunelleschi was called upon to design new churches or other buildings, 
he decided to discard the traditional style altogether, and to adopt the programme 
of those who longed for a revival of Roman grandeur. It is said that he travelled to 
Rome and measured the ruins of temples and palaces, and made sketches of their 
forms and ornaments. It was never his intention to copy these ancient buildings 
outright. They could hardly have been adapted to the needs of fifteenth-century 
Florence. What he aimed at was the creation of a new way of building, in which the 



The Conquest of Reality 163 

forms of classical architecture were freely 
used to create new modes of harmony and 
beauty. 

What remains most astonishing in 
Brunelleschi’s achievement is the fact 
that he actually succeeded in making his 
programme come true. For nearly five 
hundred years the architects of Europe 
and America have followed in his foot- 
steps. Wherever we go in our cities and 
villages we find buildings in which classical 
forms, such as columns or pediments are 
used. It was only a generation ago that 
some architects began to question Brunel- 
leschi’s programme and to revolt against 
the Renaissance tradition in building, just 
as he had revolted against the Gothic tradi- 
tion. But most of the houses which are being 
built now, even those which have no columns or similar trimmings, still preserve 
remnants of classical form in the shape of mouldings on doors and window-frames, 
or in the measurements and proportions of the building. If Brunelleschi wanted to 
create the architecture of a new era, he certainly succeeded. 

Fig. 147 shows the fa9ade of a little church which Brunelleschi built for the 
powerful family of the Pazzi in Florence. We see at once that it has little in common 
with any classical temple, but even less with the forms used by Gothic builders. 
Brunelleschi has combined columns, pilasters and arches in his own way to achieve 
an effect of lightness and grace which is different from anything that has gone 
before. Details such as the framing of the door, with its classical gable or pediment, 
show how carefully Brunelleschi had studied the ancient ruins. We see this even 
more clearly as we enter the church (Fig. 148). Nothing in this bright and well- 
proportioned interior has any of the features which Gothic architects valued so 
highly. There are no high windows, no slim pillars. Instead, the blank white wall 
is subdivided by grey pilasters (fiat half-columns) which convey the idea of a 
classical ‘order’, although they serve no real function in the construction of the 
building. Brunelleschi only put them there to emphasize the shape and proportion 
of the interior. 

Brunelleschi was not only the initiator of Renaissance architecture. To him, it 
seems, is due another momentous discovery in the field of art, which also dominated 
the art of subsequent centuries — that of perspective. We have seen that even the 
Greeks, who understood foreshortening, and the Hellenistic painters who were 



148. Interior of the Cappella Pazzi. 
Designed by BRUNELLESCHI about 1430 




149 * MASACCIO: The Holy Trinity ^ the Virgin, St, John and Donors, 
Wall-painting in Sta Maria Novella, Florence. Painted about 1427 



The Conquest of Reality 165 

skilled in creating the illusion of depth (p. 77, Fig. 70), did not know the mathe- 
matical laws by which objects diminish in size as they recede into the background. 
We remember that no classical artist could have drawn the famous avenue of trees 
leading back into the picture until it vanishes on the horizon. It was Brunelleschi 
who gave the artists the mathematical means of solving this problem; and the 
excitement which this caused among his painter-friends must have been immense. 
Fig. 149 shows one of the first paintings which were made according to these 
mathematic rules. It is a wall-painting in a Florentine church, and represents the 
Holy Trinity with the Virgin and St. John under the cross, and the donors — an 
elderly merchant and his wife — kneeling outside. The artist who painted this was 
called Masaccio (1401-28), which means ‘clumsy Thomas’. He must have been an 
extraordinary genius, for we know that he died when hardly twenty-eight years of 
age, and that by that time he had already brought about a complete revolution in 
painting. This revolution did not consist only in the technical trick of perspective 
painting, though that in itself must have been startling enough when it was new. 
We can imagine how amazed the Florentines must have been when this wall- 
painting was unveiled and seemed to have made a hole in the wall through which 
they could look into a new chapel in Brunelleschi’s modern style. But perhaps they 
were even more amazed at the simplicity and grandeur of the figures which were 
framed by this new architecture. If the Florentines had expected something in the 
vein of the International Style which was as fashionable in Florence as elsewhere in 
Europe, they must have been disappointed. Instead of delicate grace, they saw 
massive heavy figures; instead of easy-flowing curves, solid angular forms; and, 
instead of dainty details such as flowers and precious stones, there was nothing but 
austere majestic architecture. But if Masaccio’s art was less pleasing to the eye than 
the paintings they had been accustomed to, it was all the more sincere and moving. 
We can see that Masaccio admired the dramatic grandeur of Giotto, though he did 
not imitate him. The simple gesture with which the Holy Virgin points to her 
crucified son is so eloquent and impressive because it is the only movement in the 
whole solemn painting. Its figures, in fact, look like statues. It is this effect, more 
than anything else, that Masaccio has heightened by the perspective frame in which 
he placed his figures. We feel we can almost touch them, and this feeling brings 
them and their message nearer to us. To the great masters of the Renaissance, the 
new devices and discoveries of art were never an end in themselves. They always 
used them to bring the meaning of their subject still nearer to our minds. 

The greatest sculptor of Brunelleschi’s circle was the Florentine master Donatello 
(1386 ?- i 466). He was older than Masaccio by many years, but he lived much longer. 
Fig. 150 shows a work of his youth. It was commissioned by the guild of the 
armourers whose patron saint, St. George, it represents, and was destined for a 
niche on the outside of a Florentine church (Or San Michele). If we think back to 



i66 


The Conquest of Reality 



150. DONATELLO: George. Marble statue from 

the Church of Or San Michele, Florence. 
About 1416. Florence, Bargello 


the Gothic statues outside the great 
cathedrals (p. 136, Fig. 127), we 
realize how completely Donatello 
broke with the past. These Gothic 
statues hovered at the side of the 
porches in calm and solemn rows 
looking like beings from a different 
world. Donatello’s St. George 
stands firmly on the ground, his 
feet planted resolutely on the earth 
as if he were determined not to 
yield an inch. His face has none of 
the vague and serene beauty of 
medieval saints — it is all energy and 
concentration. He seems to watch 
the approach of the enemy and to 
take its measure, his hands resting 
on his shield, his whole attitude 
tense with defiant determination. 
The statue has remained famous as 
an unrivalled picture of youthful 
dash and courage. But it is not only 
Donatello’s imagination which we 
must admire, his faculty of visualiz- 
ing the knightly saint in such a fresh 
and convincing manner; his whole 
approach to the art of sculpture 
shows a completely new conception. 
Despite the impression of life and 
movement which the statue conveys 
it remains clear in outline and solid 
as a rock. Like Masaccio’s paintings, 
it shows us that Donatello wanted 
to replace the gentle refinement of 
his predecessors by a new and vig- 
orous observation of nature. Such 
details as the hands or the brows of 
the saint show a complete indepen- 
dence from the traditional models. 
They prove a new and independent 


The Conquest of Reality 


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151. DONATELLO: Herod*s Feast. Gilt bronze relief from a font in S. Giovanni, Siena. 

Completed in 1427 


Study of the real features of the human body. For these Florentine masters of the 
beginning of the fifteenth century were no longer content to repeat the old formulae 
handed down by medieval artists. Like the Greeks and Romans, whom they admired, 
they began to study the human body in their studios and workshops by asking models 
or fellow-artists to pose for them in the required attitudes. It is this new method and 
this new interest which makes Donatello’s work look so fresh and so real. 

Donatello acquired great fame in his lifetime. Like Giotto, a century earlier, he 
was frequently called to other Italian cities to add to their beauty and glory. 
Fig. 15 1 shows a bronze relief he made for the font of Siena ten years after the 
St. George, in 1427. Like the medieval font of p. 127, Fig. 1 19, it illustrates a scene 
from the life of St. John the Baptist. It shows the gruesome moment when the 
princess Salome had asked King Herod for the head of St. John as a reward for 
her dancing, and got it. We look into the royal banqueting hall, and beyond it to the 



1 68 The Conquest of Reality 

musicians’ gallery and a flight of rooms and stairs behind. The executioner has just 
entered and knelt down before the king carrying the head of the saint on a charger. 
The king shrinks back and raises his hands in horror, children cry and run away, 
Salome’s mother, who instigated the crime, is seen talking to the king, trying to 
explain the deed. There is a great void around her as the guests recoil. One of them 
covers his eyes with his hand, others crowd round Salome who seems just to have 
stopped in her dance. One need not explain at length what features were new in 
such a work of Donatello’s. They all were. To people accustomed to the clear and 
graceful narratives of Gothic art, Donatello’s way of telling a story must have come 
as a shock. Here there was no need to form a neat and pleasing pattern, but rather 
to produce the effect of sudden chaos. Like Masaccio’s figures, Donatello’s are 
harsh and angular in their movements. Their gestures are violent, and there is no 
attempt to mitigate the horror of the story. To his contemporaries, the scene must 
have looked almost uncannily alive. 

The new art of perspective further increases the illusion of reality. Donatello 
must have begun by asking himself: ‘What must it have been like when the head 
of the saint was brought into the hall ?’ He did his best to represent a Roman 
palace, such as the one in which the event might have taken place, and he chose 
Roman types for the figures in the background. We can see clearly, in fact, that at 
that time Donatello, like his friend Brunelleschi, had begun a systematic study of 
Roman remains to help him bring about the rebirth of art. It is quite wrong, how- 
ever, to imagine that this study of Greek and Roman art caused the rebirth or 
‘Renaissance’. The position was rather the other way round. The artists round 
Brunelleschi longed so passionately for a revival of art that they turned to nature, to 
science and to the remains of antiquity to realize their new aims. 

The mastery of science and of the knowledge of classical art remained for some 
time the exclusive possession of the Italian artists of the Renaissance. But the 
passionate will to create a new art, which should be more faithful to nature than 
anything that had ever been seen before, also inspired the artists of the same 
generation in the north. 

Just as Donatello’s generation in Florence became tired of the subtleties and 
refinements of the International Gothic style and longed to create more vigorous, 
austere figures, so a sculptor beyond the Alps strove for an art more lifelike and more 
forthright than the delicate works of his predecessors. This sculptor was Claus 
Sluter who worked from about 1380-1400 at Dijon, at that time the capital of the 
rich and prosperous Duchy of Burgundy. His most famous work is a group of 
prophets which once formed the base of a large crucifix marking the fountain of a 
famous place of pilgrimage (Fig. 152). They are the men whose words were inter- 
preted as the prediction of the Passion. Each of them holds in his hand a large book 
or scroll on which these words were inscribed and seems to be meditating on this 



The Conquest of Reality 1 69 



152. CLAUS SLUTER: The Prophets Daniel and Isaiah, From the Moses Fountain near Dijon, 

erected between 1393 and 1402 


coming tragedy. These are no longer the solemn and rigid figures that flanked the 
porches of Gothic cathedrals (p. 1363 Fig* 127). They differ from these earlier 
works just as much as does Donatello’s St. George. The man with the turban is 
Daniel, the bareheaded old prophet, Isaiah. As they stand before us, larger than life. 



1 70 The Conquest of Reality 

still resplendent with gold and colour, they look less like statues than like impressive 
characters from one of the medieval mystery plays just about to recite their part. 
But with all this striking illusion of lifelikeness we should not forget the artistic 
sense with which Sluter has created these massive figures with the sweep of their 
drapery and the dignity of their bearing. 

Yet it was not a sculptor who carried out the final conquest of reality in the north. 
For the artist whose revolutionary discoveries were felt from the begiiming to 
represent something entirely new was the painter Jan van Eyck (1390 ?-i44i). Like 
Sluter, he was connected with the court of the Dukes of Burgundy, but he mostly 
worked in the part of the Netherlands that is now called Belgium. His most famous 
work is a huge altar-piece with many scenes in the city of Ghent. It is said to have 
been begun by Jan’s elder brother Hubert, of whom little is known, and was com- 
pleted by Jan in 1432, during the same decade as saw the completion of the great 
works by Masaccio and Donatello already described. Fig. 153 is the part of this 
wonderful altar that shows saints or pilgrims flocking to the adoration of the Lamb. 
At first sight, this gay picture may not look very different from the miniatures 
painted for the Burgundian court about a generation earlier (p. 158, Fig. 144). 
Indeed, if we look at the May festival as the brothers Limbourg painted it, we cer- 
tainly see many striking similarities. Unlike the Florentine artists of his generation, 
Jan van Eyck did not break outright with the traditions of the International Style. 
He rather pursued the methods of the brothers Limbourg, and brought them to 
such a pitch of perfection that he left the ideas of medieval art behind. They, like 
other Gothic masters of their period, had enjoyed crowding their pictures with 
charming and delicate details taken from observation. They were proud to show 
their skill in painting flowers and animals, buildings, gorgeous costumes and 
jewellery, and to present a veritable feast to the eye. We have seen that they 
did not concern themselves overmuch with the appearance of the figures and 
landscapes, and that their drawing and perspective were therefore not ver^ con- 
vincing. One cannot say the same thing of Van Eyck’s pictures. His observation of 
nature is even more patient, his knowledge of details even more exact. The trees 
and the building in the background show this difference clearly. The trees of the 
Limbourg brothers, as we remember, were rather schematic and conventional. This 
landscape looked like a back-cloth or a tapestry rather than actual scenery. All this 
is quite different in Van Eyck’s picture. Here we have real trees and a real landscape 
leading back to the city and castle on the horizon. The infinite patience with which 
the grass on the rocks, and the flowers growing in the crags, are painted bears no 
comparison with the ornamental undergrowth on the Limbourg miniature. What is 
true of the landscape is true of the figures. Van Eyck seems to have been so intent 
on reproducing every minute detail on his picture that we almost seem able to count 
the hairs of the horses’ manes, or on the fur trimmings of the riders’ costumes. The 




153 * JAN VAN EYCK: The Righteous Judges and theKmghts of Christ, Wings from the Ghent altar. 
Completed in 1432. Ghent, St. Bavo 


L 



1 72 The Conquest of Reality 

white horse on the Limbourg miniature looks a little like a rocking-horse.Van Eyck’s 
horse is very similar in shape and posture, but it is alive. We can see the light in its 
eye, and the creases in its skin, and, while the earlier horse looks almost flat. Van 
Eyck’s horse has rounded limbs which are modelled in light and shade. 

It may seem petty to look out for all these small details and to praise a great artist 
for the patience with which he observed and copied nature. It would certainly be 
wrong to think less highly of the work of the brothers Limbourg or, for that matter, 
of any other painting, because it lacked this faithful imitation of nature. But if we 
want to understand the way in which northern art developed we must appreciate 
this infinite care and patience of Jan van Eyck. The southern artists of his genera- 
tion, the Florentine masters of Brunelleschi’s circle, had developed a method by 
which nature could be represented in a picture with almost scientific accuracy. They 
began with the framework of perspective lines, and they built up the human body 
through their knowledge of anatomy and of the laws of foreshortening. Van Eyck 
took the opposite way. He achieved the illusion of nature by patiently adding detail 
upon detail tiU his whole picture became like a mirror of the visible world. This 
difference between northern and Italian art remained important for many years. 
It is a fair guess to say that any work which excels in the representation of the 
beautiful surface of things, of flowers, jewels or fabric, will be by a northern 
artist, most probably by an artist from the Netherlands; while a painting with 
bold outhnes, clear perspective and a sure mastery of the beautiful human body, 
will be Italian. 

To carry out his intention of holding up the mirror to reality in all its details. 
Van Eyck had to improve the technique of painting. He was the inventor of oil- 
painting. There has been much discussion about the exact meaning and truth of this 
assertion, but the details matter comparatively little. His was not a discovery like 
that of perspective, which constituted something entirely new. What he achieved 
was a new prescription for the preparation of paints before they were put on the 
panel. Painters at that time did not buy ready-made colours in tubes or boxes. They 
had to prepare their own pigments, mostly from coloured plants and minerals. 
These they ground to powder between two stones— or let their apprentice grind 
them — ^and, before use, they added some liquid to bind the powder into a kind of 
paste. There were various methods of doing that, but, all through the Middle 
Ages, the main ingredient of the liquid had been made of an egg, which was quite 
suitable except that it dried rather quickly. The method of painting with this type 
of colour-preparation was called tempera. It seems that Jan van Eyck was dissatis- 
fied with the formula, because it did not allow him to achieve smooth transitions 
by letting the colours shade off into each other. If he used oil instead of egg, 
he could work much more slowly and accurately. He could make glossy colours 
which could be applied in transparent layers, or ‘glazes’ he could put on the 



The Conquest of Reality 


173 



154. JAN VAN EYCK: The Betrothal of the Arnolfini, Painted in 1434. 
London, National Gallery 


glittering high-lights with a pointed brush, and achieve these miracles of accuracy 
which astonished his contemporaries and soon led to a general acceptance of oil- 
painting as the most suitable medium. 

Van Eyck’s art reached perhaps its greatest triumph in the painting of portraits. 
One of his most famous portraits is Fig. 154, which represents an Italian merchant, 
Giovanni Amolfini, who had come to the Netherlands on business, with his bride 
Jeanne de Chenany. In its own way it was as new and as revolutionary as Donatello’s 
or Masaccio’s work in Italy. A simple corner of the real world had suddenly been 
fixed on to a panel as by magic. Here it all was — the carpet and the slippers, the 



174 The Conquest of Reality 

rosary on the wall, the little brush beside the bed, and the fruit on the window 
sill. It is as if we could pay a visit to the Amolfini in their house. The picture 
probably represents a solemn moment in their lives — their betrothal. The young 
woman has just put her right hand into Arnolfini’s left and he is about to put his 
own right hand into hers as a solemn token of their imion. Probably the painter was 
asked to record this important moment as a witness, just as a notary might be asked 
to declare that he has been present at a similar solemn act. This would explain why 
the master has put his name in a prominent position on the picture with the Latin 
words ^Johannes de eyck fuit hie " — (Jan van Eyck was present). In the mirror at 
the back of the room we see the whole scene reflected from behind, and there, so it 
seems, we also see the image of the painter and witness. We do not know whether 
it was the Italian merchant or the northern artist who conceived the idea of making 
this use of the new kind of painting, which may be compared to the legal use of a 
photograph, properly endorsed by a witness. But whoever it was that originated 



155. Detail of Fig. 154 



156. CONRAD WITZ: Christ Walking on the Wa^es. From an altar painted in 1444. 

Geneva, Museum 


this idea, he had certainly been quick to understand the tremendous possibilities 
which lay in Van Eyck’s new way of painting. For the first time in history the artist 
became the perfect eye-witness in the truest sense of the term. 

In this attempt to render reality as it appeared to the eye, Van Eyck, like Masaccio, 
had to give up the pleasing patterns and flowing curves of the International Gothic 
style. To some, fiis figures may even look stiff and clumsy compared with the 
exquisite grace of such paintings as the Wilton diptych (p. 157, Fig. 143). But 
everywhere in Europe artists of that generation, in their passionate search for 
truth, defied the older ideas of beauty and probably shocked many elderly people. 
One of the most radical of these innovators was a Swiss painter called Conrad Witz 
(1400 ?-I446 ?). Fig. 156 is from an altar he painted for Geneva in 1444. Witz had 
set himself the task of representing the episode of Christ walking over the waters of 
Lake Genesareth. A medieval painter would have been satisfied with a conventional 
image of waves to mark the lake. But Witz desired to bring home to the burghers 
of Geneva what it must have looked like when Christ stood on the waters. Thus he 
painted not just any /ake but a lake they all knew, the lake of Geneva with the 
massive Mont Saleve rising in the background. It is a real landscape which everyone 


176 The Conquest of Reality 

could see, which exists today, and still looks very much as it does in the painting. 
It is perhaps the first exact representation, the first ‘portrait’ of a real view ever 
attempted. On this real lake, Witz painted real fishermen; not the dignified apostles 
of older pictures, but uncouth men of the people, busy with their fishing tackle and 
struggling rather clumsily to keep the barge steady. St. Peter looks somewhat help- 
less in the water, and so, surely, he ought. Only Christ Himself is standing quietly 
and firmly on the waves, wrapped in his coat, calm in the midst of all the excite- 
ment. His solid figure recalls those on Masaccio’s great fresco (Fig. 149). It must 
have been a moving experience for the worshippers in Geneva when they saw it for 
the first time, when they saw the apostles as men like themselves, fishing on their 
own lake, with Christ walking on its familiar waters and exhorting them ‘Be not 
afraid’ (Matthew xiv. 27). 



157. Stonemasons and sculptors at work on bricklayings drillings measuring and sculpting. 
From the base of a group byNANNi di banco. About 1408. Florence, Or San Michele 


CHAPTER 13 • TRADITION AND INNOVATION: I 
The Later Fifteenth Century in Italy 



158. A Renaissance Church: S. Andrea in Mantua, Designed by alberti about 1460 


T he new discoveries which had been made by the artists of Italy and 
Flanders at the beginning of the fifteenth century had created a stir all 
over Europe. Painters and patrons alike were iascinated by the idea that 
art could not only be used to tell the sacred story in a moving way, but might serve 
to mirror a fragment of the real world. Perhaps the most immediate result of this 




lyS Tradition and Innovation: Italy 

great revolution in art was that artists everywhere began to experiment and to 
search for new and startling effects. This spirit of adventure which took hold of art 
in the fifteenth century marks the real break with the Middle Ages. 

There is one effect of this break which we must consider first. Until round about 
1400, art in different parts of Europe had developed on similar lines. We re- 
remember that the style of the Gothic painters and sculptors of that period is known 
as the International Style because the aims of the leading masters in France and 
Italy, in Germany and Burgundy, were all very similar. Of course, national differ- 
ences had existed all through the Middle Ages — we remember the differences 
between France and Italy during the thirteenth century — but on the whole these 
were not very important. This appUes not to the field of art alone, but also to the 
world of learning and even to politics. The learned men of the Middle Ages all spoke 
and wrote Latin and did not much mind whether they taught at the University of 
Paris or that of Padua or Prague. 

The noblemen of the period shared the ideals of chivalry; their loyalty to their 
king or their feudal overlord did not imply that they considered themselves the 
champions of any particular people or nation. All this had gradually changed to- 
wards the end of the Middle Ages, when the cities with their burghers and merchants 
became increasingly more important than the castles of the barons. The mer- 
chants spoke their native tongue and stood together against any foreign com- 
petitor or intruder. Each city was proud and jealous of its own position and 
privileges in trade and industry. In the Middle Ages a good master might travel 
from building site to building site, he might be recommended from one monastery 
to another, and few would trouble to ask what his nationality was. But as soon as 
the cities gained in importance, artists, like all artisans and craftsmen, were organ- 
ized into guilds. These guilds were in many respects similar to our trade unions. It 
was their task to watch over the rights and privileges of their members and to 
ensure a safe market for their produce. To be admitted into the guild the artist had 
to show that he was able to reach certain standards, that he was, in fact, a master 
of his craft. He was then allowed to open a workshop, to employ apprentices, and 
to accept commissions for altar-paintings, portraits, painted chests, flags and 
standards, or any other work of the kind. 

The guilds and corporations were usually wealthy companies who had a say in 
the government of the dty and who not only helped to make it prosperous, but also 
did their best to make it beautiful. In Florence and elsewhere the guilds, the gold- 
smiths, the wool-workers, the leather-workers and others, devoted part of their funds 
to the foundation of chiurches, the building of guild halls and the dedication of altars 
and chapels. In this respect they did much for art. On the other hand they watched 
anxiously over the interests of their own members, and therefore made it difficult for 
any foreign artist to get employment or to settle among them. Only the most famous 



Tradition and Innovation: Italy 179 

of artists sometimes managed to break down this resistance and to travel as freely 
as had been possible at the period when the great cathedrals were being built. 

All this has a bearing on the history of art, because, thanks to the growth of the 
cities, the International Style was perhaps the last international style Europe has 
seen. In the fifteenth century art broke up into a number of different ‘schools’ — 
nearly every city or small town in Italy, Flanders and Germany had its own ‘school 
of painting’. ‘School’ is rather a misleading word. In those days there were no art 
schools where young students attended classes. If a boy decided that he would like 
to become a painter, his father apprenticed him at an early age to one of the leading 
masters of the town. He usually lived in, ran errands for the master’s family, and had 
to make himself useful in every possible way. One of his first tasks might be to grind 
the colours, or to assist in the preparation of the wooden panels or the canvas which 
the master wanted to use. Gradually he might be given some minor piece of work 
like the painting of a fiagstafl. Then, one day when the master was busy, he might 
ask the apprentice to help with the completion of some unimportant or incon- 
spicuous part of a major work — to paint the background which the master had 
traced out on the canvas, to finish the costume of the bystanders in a scene. If he 
showed talent and knew how to imitate his master’s manner to perfection, the 
youth would gradually be given more important things to do — ^perhaps paint a 
whole picture from the master’s sketch and under his supervision. These, then, 
were the ‘schools of painting’ of the fifteenth century. They were indeed excellent 
schools and there are many painters nowadays who wish they had received so 
thorough a training. The manner in which the masters of a town handed down their 
skill and experience to the young generation also explains why the ‘schools of 
painting’ in these towns developed such a clear individuality of their own. One can 
recognize whether a fifteenth-century picture comes from Florence or Siena, 
Ferrara, Nuremberg, Cologne or Vienna. 

To gain a vantage point from which we can survey this immense variety of 
masters, ‘schools’ and experiments, we had best return to Florence where the great 
revolution in art had begun. It is fascinating to watch how the second generation, 
which followed Brunelleschi, Donatello and Masaccio, tried to make use of their 
discoveries, and apply them to all the tasks with which they were confronted. That 
was not always easy. The main tasks which the patrons commissioned had, after all, 
remained fundamentally unchanged since the earlier period. The new and revolu- 
tionary methods sometimes seemed to clash with the traditional commissions. Take 
the case of architecture: Brunelleschi’s idea had been to introduce the forms of 
classical buildings, the columns, pediments and cornices which he had copied from 
Roman ruins. He had used these forms in his churches. His successors were eager to 
emulate him in this. Fig. 158 shows a church planned by the Florentine architect 
Leone Battista Alberti (1404-72), who conceived its fagade as a gigantic triumphal 



i8o Tradition and Innovation: Italy 

arch in the Roman manner. But how was 
this new programme to be applied to an 
ordinary dwelling house in a city street? 
Traditional houses and palaces could not 
be built in the manner of temples. No 
private houses had survived from Roman 
times, and even if they had, needs and 
customs had changed so much that they 
might have offered little guidance. The 
problem, then, was to find a compromise 
between the traditional house, with walls 
and windows, and the classical form which 
Brunelleschi had taught the architects to 
use. It was again Alberti who found the 
solution that remained influential up to our 
own days. When he built a palace for the 
rich Florentine merchant family Rucellai 
(Fig. 159), he designed an ordinary 
three-storeyed building.There is little similarity between this fa9ade and any classical 
ruin. And yet Alberti stuck to Brunelleschi’s programme and used classical forms 
for the decoration of the facade. Instead of building columns or half-columns, he 
covered the house with a network of flat pilasters and entablatures which suggested 
a classical order without changing the structure of the building. It is easy to see 
where Alberti had learned this principle. We remember the Roman Colosseum 
(p. 79, Fig. 72) in which various Greek ‘orders’ were applied to the various storeys. 
Here, too, the lowest storey is an adaptation of the Doric order, and here, too, there 
are arches between the pilasters. But, despite the similarity, we see how successful 
Alberti has been in adapting this general scheme to a very different task. He had 
given the old type of city palace a new and ‘modern’ appearance without forcing the 
inmates to change their habits of life. 

This achievement of Alberti is typical. Painters and sculptors in fifteenth-century 
Florence also often found themselves in a situation in which they had to adapt the 
new programme to an old tradition. The mixture between new and old, between 
Gothic traditions and modern forms, is characteristic of many of the masters of the 
middle of the century. 

The greatest of these Florentine masters who succeeded in reconciling the new 
achievements with the old tradition was a sculptor of Donatello’s generation, 
Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455). Fig. 160 shows one of his reliefs for the same font 
in Siena for which Donatello made the ‘Dance of Salome’ (p. 167, Fig. 15 1). 
Of Donatello’s work we could say that everything was new. Ghiberti’s looks 



159. Palazzo Rucellai, Florence 
Designed byALBERTi about 1460 


Tradition and Innovation: Italy i8i 

much less startling at first sight. We 
notice that the arrangement of the 
scene is not so very different from 
the one used by the famous brass- 
founder of Liege in the twelfth cen- 
tury (p. 127, Fig. 1 19): Christ in 
the centre, flanked by St. John the 
Baptist and the ministering angels 
with God the Father and the Dove 
appearing up in Heaven. Even in the 
treatment of details Ghiberti’s work 
recalls that of his medieval fore- 
runners — the loving care with which 
he arranges the folds of the drapery 
may remind us of such fourteenth- 
century goldsmith’s work as the Holy 
Virgin on p. 151, Fig. 139. And yet 
Ghiberti’s relief is in its own way as vigorous and as convincing as Donatello’s com- 
panion piece. He, too, has learned to characterize each figure and to make us under- 
stand the part each plays : the beauty and humility of Christ, the Lamb of God, the 
solemn and energetic gesture of St. John, the emaciated prophet from the wilder- 
ness, and the heavenly hosts of the angels who silently look at each other in joy and 
wonder. And while Donatello’s new dramatic way of representing the sacred scene 
somewhat upset the clear arrangement which had been the pride of earlier days, 
Ghiberti took care to remain lucid and restrained. He does not give us the idea of 
real space at which Donatello was aiming. He prefers to give us only a hint of depth 
and to let his principal figures stand out clearly against a neutral background. 

Just as Ghiberti remained faithful to some of the ideas of Gothic art, without 
refusing to make use of the new discoveries of his century, the great painter Fra 
Angelico (Brother Angelico) of Fiesole near Florence (1387-1455) applied ±e 
new methods of Masaccio mainly in order to express the traditional ideas of religious 
art. Fra Angelico was a friar of the Dominican order and the frescoes he painted in 
his Florentine monastery of San Marco round about 1440 are among his most 
beautiful works. He painted a sacred scene in each monk’s cell and at the end of 
every corridor, and as one walks from one to the other in the stillness of the old 
building one feels something of the spirit in which these works were conceived. 
Fig. 161 shows a picture of the Annunciation which he painted in one of the cells. 
We see at once that the art of perspective presented no difficulty to him.The cloister 
where the Virgin kneels is represented as convincingly as the vault in Masaccio’s 
famous fresco (p. 164, Fig. i49).Yet it was clearly not Fra Angelico’s main intention 



i 82 


Tradition and Innovation: Italy 



to ‘break a hole into the wall’. Like 
Simone Martini in the fourteenth century 
(p. 154, Fig. 141), he only wanted to 
represent the sacred story in all its beauty 
and simplicity. There is hardly any move- 
ment in Fra Angelico’s painting and hardly 
any suggestion of real solid bodies. But I 
think it is all the more moving because of 
its humility, which is that of a great artist 
who deliberately renounced any dis- 
play of modernity despite his profound 
understanding of the problems which 
Brunelleschi and Masaccio had intro- 
duced into art. 

We can study the fascination of these 

The Annunciation. Wall-painting in problems and also their difficulty in the 

the Monastery of s. Marco, Work of another Florentine, the painter 

Florence. About 1440 r. 1 tt 11 / % u 1. 

Paolo Uccello (i397-i475)> whose best- 

preserved work is the battle scene in the National Gallery (Fig. 162). The 

picture was probably intended to be placed over the door of a private room in one 

of the Florentine city palaces. It represents an episode from Florentine history, still 

topical when the picture was painted, the rout of San Romano in 1432 when the 

Florentine troops beat their rivals in one of the many battles between the Italian 

factions. Superficially the picture may look medieval enough. These knights in 



162. UCCELLO: The Rout of San Romano, A painted panel probably from a room in 
the Medici Palace. About 1450. London, National Gallery 


Tradition and Innovation: Italy 183 

armour with their long and heavy lances, riding as if to a tournament, may remind 
us of Froissart’s Chronicles’, nor does the way in which the scene is represented 
strike us at first as very modem. Both horses and men look a little wooden, almost 
like toys, and the whole gay picture seems very remote from the reality of war. 
But if we ask ourselves why it is that these horses look somewhat like rocking- 
horses and the whole scene reminds us a little of a puppet-show, we shall make 
a curious discovery. It is precisely because the painter was so fascinated by the 
new possibilities of his art that he did everything to make his figures stand out 
in space as if they were carved and not painted. It was said of Uccello that the 
discovery of perspective had so impressed him that he spent nights and days draw- 
ing objects in foreshortening, and setting himself ever new problems. His fellow 
artists used to tell that he was so engrossed in these studies that he would hardly 
look up when his wife called him for a meal, and would just exclaim: ‘What a sweet 
thing perspective is!’ We can see something of this fascination in the painting. 
Uccello obviously took great pains to represent the various pieces of armour, which 
litter the ground, in correct foreshortening. His greatest pride was probably the 
figure of the fallen warrior lying on the ground, the foreshortened representation 
of which must have been most difficult. No such figure had been painted before 
and, though it looks rather too small in relation to the other figures, we can imagine 
what a stir it must have caused. We find traces all over the picture of the interest 
which Uccello took in perspective and of the spell it exerted over his mind. Even 
the broken lances lying on the ground are so arranged that they point towards their 
common ‘vanishing point’. It is this neat mathematical arrangement which is partly 
responsible for the artificial appearance of the stage on which the battle seems to 
take place. If we turn back from this pageant of chivalry to Van Eyck’s picture of 
knights (p. 171, Fig. 153) and the Limbourg miniatures (p. 158, Fig. 144) which we 
compared with it, we may see more clearly what Uccello owed to the Gothic tradi- 
tion, and how he transformed it. Van Eyck, in the north, had changed the forms 
of the International Style by adding more and more details from observation and 
trying to copy the surfaces of things down to the minutest shade. Uccello rather 
chose the opposite approach. By means of his beloved art of perspective, he tried 
to construct a convincing stage on which his figures would appear solid and real. 
Solid they undoubtedly look, but the effect is a little reminiscent of the stereoscopic 
pictures which one looks at through a double lens. Uccello had not yet learned how 
to use the effects of light and shade and air to mellow the harsh outlines of a strictly 
perspective rendering. But if we stand in front of the actual painting in the National 
Gallery, we do not feel that anything is amiss, for, despite his preoccupation with 
applied geometry, Uccello was a real artist. 

While artists such as Fra Angelico could make use of the new without changing 
the spirit of the old, while UcceUo in his turn was completely captivated by the 



184 


Tradition and Innovation: Italy 



163. BENOZZOGOZZOLi: The Journey of the Magi to Bethlehem. 

Detail of a wall-painting from the chapel in the Medici Palace. Between 1459 and 1463. 
Florence, Palazzo Medici- Riccardi 


problems of the new, less devout and less ambitious artists applied the new methods 
gaily without worrying overmuch about their difficulty. The public probably liked 
these masters who gave them the best of both worlds. Thus the commission 
for painting the walls of the private chapel in the city palace of the Medici, the 
most powerful and wealthy of the Florentine merchant families, went to Benozzo 



Tradition and Innovation: Italy 185 

Gozzoli (1420-97), a pupil of Fra Angelico, but apparently a man of very different 
outlook. He covered the walls of the chapel with a picture of the cavalcade of the 
three Magi and made them travel in truly royal state through a smiling landscape. 
The biblical episode gives him the opportunity of displaying beautiful finery and 
gorgeous costumes, a fairy world of charm and gaiety. We have seen how this taste 
for representing the pageantry of noble pastimes developed in Burgundy (p. 158, 
Fig. 144) with which the Medici entertained close trade relations. Gozzoli seems 
intent upon showing that the new achievements can be used to make these gay 
pictures of contemporary life even more vivid and enjoyable. We have no reason to 
quarrel with him for that. The life of the period was indeed so picturesque and 
colourful that we must be grateful to those minor masters who preserved a record 
of these delights in their works, and no one who goes to Florence should miss the 
joy of a visit to this small chapel in which something of the zest and savour of a 
festive life seems still to linger (Fig. 163). 

Meanwhile, other painters in the cities north and south of Florence had absorbed 
the message of the new art of Donatello and Masaccio, and were perhaps even 
more eager to profit by it than the Florentines themselves. There was Andrea 
Mantegna (1431-1506) who worked at first in the famous University town of Padua, 
and then at the court of the lords of Mantua, both in northern Italy. In a Paduan 
church, quite near the chapel where Giotto had painted his famous frescoes, 
Mantegna painted a series of wall-paintings illustrating the legend of St. James. 
The church was heavily damaged by bombing during the last war, and most of 
these wonderful paintings by Mantegna were destroyed. It is a sad loss, because 
they surely belonged to the greatest works of art of all times. One of them (Fig. 164) 
showed St. James being escorted to the place of execution. Like Giotto or 
Donatello, Mantegna tried to imagine quite clearly what the scene must have 
looked like in reality, but the standards of what he called reality had become 
much more exacting since Giotto’s day. What had mattered to Giotto was the iimer 
meaning of the story — how men and women would move and behave in a given 
situation. Mantegna was also interested in the outward circumstances. He knew 
that St. James had lived in the period of the Roman Emperors, and he was anxious 
to reconstruct the scene just as it might have actually happened. He had made a 
special study of classical monuments for this purpose. The city gate through which 
St. James has just been led is a Roman triumphal arch, and the soldiers of the escort 
all wear the dress and armour of Roman legionaries as we see them represented on 
authentic classical monuments. It is not only in these details of costtime and orna- 
ment that the painting reminds us of ancient sculpture. The whole scene breathes 
the spirit of Roman art in its harsh simplicity and austere grandeur. The difference, 
indeed, between the Florentine frescoes of Benozzo Gozzoli and Mantegna’s works 
which were painted approximately during the same years, could hardly be more 



i86 


Tradition and Innovation: Italy 



164. MANTEGNA: St, James on the way to his execution. From a wall-painting 
formerly in the Eremitani Church, Padua. Completed in 1455 


pronounced. In Gozzoli’s gay pageantry we recognized a return to the taste of 
the Gothic International Style. Mantegna, on the other hand, carries on where 
Masaccio had left off. His figures are as statuesque and impressive as Masaccio’s. 
Like Masaccio, he uses the new art of perspective with eagerness, but he does not 
exploit it as Uccello did to show off the new effect which could be achieved by 
means of this magic. Mantegna rather uses perspective to create the stage on 
which his figures seem to stand and move like solid tangible beings. He distributes 
them as a skilled theatrical producer might have done, so as to convey the signifi- 
cance of the moment and the course of the episode. We can see what is happening: 








165. FRANCESCO d’antonio DEL CHERico: The Annunciation and Scenes from Dante^s Divine Comedy » 
Page from a liturgical book, painted about 1485. Rome, Vatican 



i66. PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA: Constantine ^ 5 Dream, Wall-painting in 
the Church of S. Francesco, Arezzo. Painted about 1460 




Tradition and Innovation: Italy 189 

the procession escorting St. James has halted for a moment because one of the 
persecutors has repented and has thrown himself at the feet of the saint, to receive 
his blessing. The saint has turned rohnd calmly to bless the man, while the Roman 
soldiers stand by and watch, one of them impassively, the other lifting his hand in 
an expressive gesture which seems to convey that he, too, is moved. The round of 
the arch frames this scene and separates it from the turmoil of the watching crowds 
pushed back by the guards. 

While Mantegna was thus applying the new methods of art in northern Italy, 
another great painter, Piero della Francesca (1416 ?-92), did the same in the region 
south of Florence, in the towns of Arezzo and Urbino. Like Gozzoli’s and Mante- 
gna’s frescoes, Piero della Francesca’s were painted shortly after the middle of the 
fifteenth century, that is about a generation after Masaccio. The episode in Fig. 166 
shows the famous legend of the dream which made the Emperor Constantine 
accept the Christian faith. Before a crucial battle with his rival, he dreamt that an 
angel showed him the Cross and said: ‘Under this sign you will be victorious’. 
Piero’s fresco represents the scene at night in the Emperor’s camp before the battle. 
We look into the open tent where the Emperor lies asleep on his camp bed. His 
bodyguard sits by his side, while two soldiers are also keeping guard. This qmet 
night scene is suddenly illuminated by a flash of light as an angel rushes down from 
high Heaven holding the symbol of the Cross in his outstretched hand. As with 
Mantegna, we are somewhat reminded of a scene in a play. There is a stage quite 
clearly marked, and there is nothing to divert our attention from the essential action. 
Like Mantegna, Piero has taken pains over the dress of his Roman legionaries and, 
like him, he has avoided the gay and colourful details which Gozzoli crowded into 
his scenes. Piero, too, had mastered the art of perspective completely, and the way 
in which he shows the figure of the angel in foreshortening is so bold as to be almost 
confusing, especially in a small reproduction. But to these geometrical devices of 
suggesting the space of the stage, he has added a new one of equal importance: 
the treatment of light. Medieval artists had taken hardly any notice at all of light. 
Their flat figures cast no shadow. Masaccio had also been a pioneer in this respect — 
the round and solid figures of his paintings were forcefully modelled in light and 
shade (p. 164, Fig. 149). But no one had seen the immense new possibilities of this 
more clearly than Piero della Francesca. In his picture, light not only helps to model 
the forms of the figures, but is equal in importance to perspective in creating the 
illusion of depth. The soldier in front stands like a dark silhouette before the 
brightly lit opening of the tent. We thus feel the distance which separates the 
soldiers from the steps on which the bodyguard is sitting, whose figure, in turn, 
stands out in the flash of light that emanates from the angel. We are made to feel the 
rotmdness of the tent, and the hollow it encloses, just as much by means of this 
light as by foreshortening and perspeaive. But Piero lets light and shade perform an 
M* 



190 Tradition and Innovation: Italy 

even greater miracle. They help him to create the mysterious atmosphere of the 
scene in the depth of night when the Emperor had a vision which was to change 
the course of history. This impressive simplicity and calm make Piero perhaps the 
greatest heir of Masaccio. 

While these and other artists were applying the inventions of the great generation 
of Florentine masters, artists in Florence became increasingly aware of the new 
problems that these inventions had created. In the first flush of triumph, they may 
have thought that the discovery of perspective and the study of nature could solve 
all difficulties which art presented. But we must not forget that art is altogether 
different from science. The artist’s means, his technical devices, can be developed, 
but art itself can hardly be said to progress in the way in which science progresses. 
Each discovery in one direction creates a new difficulty somewhere else. We remem- 
ber that medieval painters were unaware of the rules of correct draughtsmanship 
but that this very shortcoming enabled them to distribute their figures over the 
picture in any way they liked in order to create the perfect pattern. The twelfth- 
century illustrated calendar (p. 129, Fig. 121), or the thirteenth-century relief of the 
‘Death of the Virgin’ (p. 138, Fig. 128), are examples of this skill. Even fourteenth- 
century painters like Simone Martini (p. 154, Fig. 141) were still able to arrange 
their figures so that they formed a lucid design on the ground of gold. As soon as the 
new concept of making the picture a mirror of reality was adopted, this question of 
how to arrange the figures was no longer so easy to solve. In reality figures do not 
group themselves harmoniously, nor do they stand out clearly against a neutral 
background. In other words, there was a danger that the new power of the artist 
would ruin his most precious gift of creating a pleasing and satisfying whole. The 
problem was particularly serious where big altar-paintings and similar tasks con- 
fronted the artist. These paintings had to be seen from afar and had to fit into the 
architectural framework of the whole church. Moreover, they should present the 
sacred story to the worshippers in a clear and impressive outline. Fig. 167 shows 
the way in which a Florentine artist of the second half of the fifteenth century, 
Antonio Pollaiuolo (1429-98), tried to solve this new problem of makin g a picture 
both accurate in draughtsmanship and harmonious in composition. It is one of the 
first attempts of its kind to solve this question, not by tact and instinct alone, but by 
the application of definite rules. It may not be an altogether successful attempt, nor 
is it a very attractive picture, but it clearly shows how deliberately the Florentine 
artists set about it. The picture represents the martyrdom of St. Sebastian who is 
tied to a stake while six executioners are grouped around him. This group forms a 
very regular pattern in the form of a steep triangle. Each executioner on one side 
is matched by a similar figure on the other side. 

The arrangement, in fact, is so clear and symmetrical as to be almost too rigid. 
The painter was obviously aware of this drawback and tried to introduce some 



Tradition and Innovation: Italy 191 


variety. One of the executioners bend- 
ing down toadjust his crossbow is seen 
from in front, the corresponding figure 
from behind, and the same with the 
shooting figures. In this simple way, 
the painter has endeavoured to relieve 
the rigid symmetry of the composition 
and to introduce a sense of movement 
and counter-movement very much as 
in a piece of music. In Pollaiuolo’s 
picture this device is still used rather 
self-consciously and his composition 
looks somewhat like an exercise. We 
can imagine that he used the same 
model, seen from different sides, for 
the corresponding figures, and we feel 
that his pride in his mastery of muscles 
and movements has almost made him 
forget the true subject of his picture. 

Moreover, Pollaiuolo was hardly quite 
successful in what he set out to do. It 
is true that he applied the new art of 
perspective to a wonderful picture of the Tuscan landscape in the background, 
but the main theme and the background do not really blend. There is no path from 
the hill in the foreground on which the martyrdom is enacted to the scenery behind. 
One almost wonders whether Pollaiuolo would not have done better to place his 
composition against something like a neutral or golden background, but one soon 
realizes that this expedient was barred to him. Such vigorous and lifelike figures 
would look out of place on a golden background. Once art had chosen the path of 
vying with nature, there was no turning back. Pollaiuolo’s picture shows the kind of 
problem that artists of the fifteenth century must have discussed in their studios. It 
was by finding a solution to this problem that Itahan art reached its greatest heights 
a generation later. 

Among the Florentine artists of the second half of the fifteenth century who strove 
for a solution of this question was the painter Sandro Botticelli (1446-1510). One 
of his most famous pictures represents not a Christian legend but a classical myth — 
‘The Birth of Venus’ (Fig. 168). The classical poets had been known all through 
the Middle Ages, but only at the time of the ‘Renaissance’, when the Italians tried 
so passionately to recapture the former glory of Rome, did the classical myths 
become popular among educated laymen. To these men, the mythology of the 


167. ANTONIO POLLAIUOLO: The Martyrdom of 
St. Sebastian. Altar-painting, 1475. 
London, National Gallery 




192 


Tradition and Irmovatton: Italy 





i68. BOTTICELLI: The Birth of Venus, Painted for the Villa of Lorenzo di 
Pierfrancesco de* Medici, about 1485. Florence, Uffizi 


admired Greeks and Romans represented something more than gay and pretty fairy- 
tales. They were so convinced of the superior wisdom of the ancients that they be- 
heved these classical legends must contain some profound and mysterious truth. The 
patron who commissioned the Botticelli painting for his country villa was a member 
of the rich and powerful family of the Medici. Either he himself, or one of his learned 
friends, probably explained to the painter what was known of the way the ancients 
had represented Venus rising from the sea. To these scholars the story of her birth 
was the symbol of the mystery through which the divine message of beauty came 
into the world. One can imagine that the painter set to work reverently to represent 
this myth in a worthy manner. The action of the picture is quickly understood. 
Venus has emerged from the sea on a shell which is driven to the shore by flying 
wind-gods amidst a shower of roses. As she is about to step on to the land, one of 
the Hours or Nymphs receives her with a purple cloak. Botticelli has succeeded 
where Pollaiuolo failed. His picture forms, in fact, a perfectly harmonious pattern. 
But Pollaiuolo might have said that Botticelli had done so by sacrificing some of the 
achievements he had tried so hard to preserve. Botticelli’s figures look less solid. 
They are not so correctly drawn as Pollaiuolo’s or Masaccio’s. The graceful move- 
ments and melodious lines of his composition recall the Gothic tradition of Ghiberti 
and Fra Angelico, perhaps even the art of the fourteenth century — ^works such as 
Simone Martini’s ‘Annunciation’ (p. 154, Fig. 141) or the French goldsmith’s 
work (p. 151, Fig. 139), at which we remarked on the gentle sway of the body and 
the exquisite fall of the drapery. Botticelli’s Venus is so beautiful that we do not 
notice the unnatural length of her neck, the steep fall of her shoulders and the 



193 



queer way her left arm is hinged to the body. Or, rather, we should say that these 
liberties which Botticelli took with nature in order to achieve a graceful outline add 
to the beauty and harmony of the design because they enhance the impression of an 
infinitely tender and delicate being, wafted to our shores as a gift from Heaven. 



194 Tradition and Innovation: Italy 

The rich merchant who commissioned this picture from Botticelli, Lorenzo di 
Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, was also the employer of a Florentine who was destined 
to give his name to a continent. It was in the service of his firm that Amerigo 
Vespucci sailed to the New World. We have reached the period which later his- 
torians selected as the ‘official’ end of the Middle Ages. We remember that in Italian 
art there were various turning points that might be described as the beginning of a 
new age — the discoveries of Giotto round about 1300, those of Brunelleschi round 
about 1400. But even more important, perhaps, than these revolutions in method 
was a gradual change that had come over art in the course of these two centuries. It 
is a change that is more easily sensed than described. A comparison of the medieval 
book illuminations discussed in the preceding chapters with a Florentine specimen 
of that art made about 1485 (Fig. 165) might give an idea of the different spirit 
in which the same art can be employed. It is not that the Florentine master lacked 
reverence or devotion. But the very powers his art had gained made it impossible 
for him to think of it only as a means to convey the meaning of the sacred story. 
Rather did he want to use this power to turn the page into a gay display of wealth and 
luxury. This function of art, to add to the beauty and graces of life, had never been 
entirely forgotten. In the period we call the Italian Renaissance it came increasingly 
to the fore. 



170. Fresco painting and colour grinding. 
From a Florentine print showing the 
occupation of people born under 
Mercury. About 1465 


CHAPTER 14 • TRADITION AND INNOVATION: II 
The Fifteenth Century in the North 



17 1. The ^flamboyant' Gothic style: the Court of the Palace of Justice 
(formerly Treasury). Rouen, 1482 


W E have seen that the fifteenth century brought a decisive change in the 
history of art because the discoveries and innovations of Brunelleschi’s 
generation in Florence had lifted Italian art on to a new plane, and 
had separated it from the development of art in the rest of Europe. The aims of 
the northern artists of the fifteenth century did not, perhaps, differ so much from 
those of the Italian fellow-artists as did their means and methods. The difference 
between the north and Italy is perhaps most clearly marked in architecture. 
Brunelleschi had put an end to the Gothic style in Florence by introducing the 
Renaissance method of using classical motifs for his buildings. It was nearly a 
century before the artists outside Italy followed his example. All through the 
fifteenth century they continued developing the Gothic style of the preceding 
century. But though the forms of these buildings still contained such typical 
elements of Gothic architecture as the pointed arch or the flying buttress, the taste 
of the times had greatly changed. We remember that in the fourteenth century 
architects liked to use graceful lacework and rich ornamentation. We remember the 
Decorated Style in which Exeter Cathedral was built (p. 149, Fig. 137). In the 



172. * Perpendicular' style: 
King's College Chapely Cambridge* 
Begun in 1446 


196 Tradition and Innovation: the North 

fifteenth century this taste for complicated 
tracery and fantastic ornament went even 
farther. Fig. tyi, the Palace of Justice in 
Rouen, is an example of this last phase of 
French Gothic which is sometimes referred 
to as the Flamboyant Style. We see how 
the designers covered the whole building 
with an infinite variety of decorations, 
not, apparently, considering whether they 
performed any function in the structure. 
Some of these buildings have a fairy-tale 
quality of infinite wealth and invention; 
but one feels that in them the designers 
had exhausted the last possibility of Gothic 
building, and that a reaction was bound to 
set in sooner or later. There are, in fact, 
indications that even without the direct 
influence of Italy the architects of the 
north would have evolved a new style 
of greater simplicity. 

It is particularly in England that we can see these tendencies at work in the last 
phase of the Gothic style which is known as the Perpendicular. This name was 
invented to convey the character of late fourteenth- and fifteenth-century buildings 
in England in whose decorations straight lines are more frequent than the curves 
and arches of the earlier ‘decorated’ tracery. The most famous example of this 
style is the wonderful chapel of King’s College in Cambridge (Fig. 172) which was 
begun in 1446. The shape of this church is much more simple than those of earlier 
Gothic interiors — there are no side-aisles, and therefore no pillars and no steep 
arches. The whole makes the impression of a lofty hall rather than of a medieval 
church. But while the general structure is thus more sober and perhaps more 
worldly than that of the great cathedrals, the imagination of the Gothic craftsmen 
is given free reign in the details, particularly in the form of the vault (‘fanvault’) 
whose fantastic lacework of curves and lines recalls the miracles of Celtic and 
Northumbrian manuscripts (p. 112, Fig. 103). 

The development of painting and sculpture in the countries outside Italy nms 
to a certain extent parallel with this development of architecture. In other words, 
while the Renaissance had been victorious in Italy along the whole front, the north 
in the fifteenth century remained still faithful to the Gothic tradition. Despite the 
great innovations of the brothers Van Eyck, the practice of art continued to be a 
matter of custom and usage rather than of science. The mathematical rules of 


Tradition and Innovation: the North 197 

perspective, the secrets of scientific anatomy, the study of Roman monuments did 
not yet trouble the peace of mind of the northern masters. For this reason we may 
say that they were still ‘medieval artists’, while their colleagues across the Alps 
already belonged to the ‘modem era’. But the problems facing the artists on both 
sides of the Alps were nevertheless strikingly similar. Van Eyck had taught them 
how to make the picture a mirror of nature by carefully adding detail upon detail 
until the whole frame was filled with painstaking observation (p, 171, Fig. 153; 
p. 173, Fig. 154). But just as Fra Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli in the south (p. 182, 
Fig. 161; p. 184, Fig. 163) had used Masaccio’s innovations in the spirit of the 
fourteenth century, so there were artists in the north who applied Van Eyck’s 
discoveries to more traditional themes. The German painter Stefan Lochner 
(1410 ?-5i), for instance, who worked in Cologne in the middle of the fifteenth 
century, was somewhat like a northern Fra Angelico. His charming picture of the 
Virgin in a rose-bower (Fig. 180), surrounded by little angels who make music, 
scatter flowers, or offer fruit to the little Christ-child, shows that the master was 
aware of the new methods of Jan van Eyck, just as Fra Angelico was aware of the 
discoveries of Masaccio. And yet his picture is nearer in spirit to the fourteenth- 
century Wilton diptych (p. 157, Fig. 143) than it is to Jan van Eyck. It may be inter- 
esting to look back at the earlier example and compare the two works. We see at 
once that the later master had learned one thing which had presented difficulties 
to the earlier painter. Lochner could suggest the space in which the Virgin is 
enthroned on the grass bank. Compared with his figures, those of the Wilton 
diptych look a little flat. Lochner’s Holy Virgin still stands before a background 
of gold, but in front of it there is a real stage. He has even added two charming 
angels holding back the curtain, which seems to hang from the frame. It was 
paintings like those by Lochner and Fra Angelico which first captured the imagina- 
tion of the romantic critics of the nineteenth century, men such as Ruskin, and the 
painters of the Pre-Raphaelite school. They saw in them all the charm of simple 
devotion and a child-like heart. In a way they were right. These works are perhaps 
so fascinating because for us, used to real space in pictures, and more or less correct 
drawing, they arc easier to understand than the works of the earlier medieval 
masters whose spirit they nevertheless preserved. 

Other painters in the north correspond rather to Benozzo Gozzoli, whose frescoes 
in the Medici Palace in Florence reflect the gay pageantry of the elegant world, in 
the traditional spirit of the International Style. This applies particularly to the 
painters who designed tapestries, and those who decorated the pages of precious 
manuscripts. The page illustrated in Fig. 173 was painted towards the middle of 
the fifteenth century, as were Gozzoli’s frescoes. In the background is the traditional 
scene showing the author handing the finished book to his noble patron who had 
ordered it. But the painter found this theme rather dull by itself. He therefore gave 



198 


Tradition and Innovation: the North 



173. TAVERNIER: Dedication page to ‘ The Conquests of Charlemagne*. 

About 1460. Brussels, Bibliothcque Royalc 

it the setting of a kind of entrance hall, and showed us the happenings all round. 
Behind the city gate there is a party apparently making ready for the chase — at least 
there is one rather dandyish figure carrying a falcon on his fist, while others stand 
around like pompous burghers. We see the stalls and booths inside and in front of 
the city gate, with the merchants displaying their goods and the buyers inspecting 
them. It is a hfelike picture of a medieval city of the time. Nothing like it could have 
been done a hundred years earlier, or, indeed, at any earlier time. We have to go 
back to ancient Egyptian art to find pictures which portray the daily life of the 


199 



174- fouquet: Esrienne Chevalier y treasurer 
of Charles VII of France, with St. Stephen. 
Part of an altar painted about 1450 . 
Berlin, Kaiser-Friedrich Museum 


Tradition and Innovation: the North 

people as faithfully as that; and even 
the Egyptians did not look at their own 
world with so much accuracy and humour. 

It is the spirit of the drollery of which 
we saw an example in ‘Queen Mary’s 
Psalter’ (p. 153, Fig. 140) that came to 
fruition in these charming portrayals of 
daily life. Northern art, which was less 
preoccupied with attaining ideal harmony 
and beauty than Italian art, was to favour 
this type of representation to an increasing 
extent. 

Nothing, however, would be more 
wrong than to imagine that these two 
‘schools’ developed in watertight com- 
partments. Of the leading French artist 
of the period, Jean Fouquet (1420 ?-8o?) 

we know in fact that he visited Italy in his youth. He had gone to Rome 
where he painted the Pope in 1447. Fig. 174 shows a donor’s portrait which 
he probably made a few years after his return. As in the Wilton diptych 
(p. 157, Fig. 143), the saint protects the kneeling and praying figure of the donor. 
As the donor’s name was Estienne (which is old French for Stephen), the saint by 
his side is his patron, St. Stephen, who, as the first deacon of the Church, wears a 
deacon’s robe. He carries a book and on it is a large sharp stone, for, according to 
the Bible, St. Stephen was stoned. If we look back to the Wilton diptych, we see 
once more what strides had been made by art in the representation of nature in less 
than a century. The saints and donor of the Wilton diptych look as though they 
were cut out of paper and placed upon the picture. Those of Jean Fouquet look 
as if they had been modelled. In the earlier picture there is no trace of light and 
shade. Fouquet uses light almost as Piero della Francesca had done (p. 188, Fig. 166). 
The way in which these calm and statuesque figures stand as in a real space shows 
that Fouquet had been deeply impressed by what he had seen in Italy. And yet, his 
manner of painting is different from that of the Italians. The interest he takes in the 
texture and surface of things — the fur, the stone, the cloth and the marble — shows 
that his art remains indebted to the northern tradition of Jan van Eyck. 

Another great northern artist who went to Rome (for a pilgrimage in 1450) was 
Rogier van der Weyden (1400 ?-64). Very little is known about this master except 
that he enjoyed great fame and lived in the southern Netherlands where Jan van 
Eyck had also worked. Fig. 175 shows a large altar-painting which represents the 
descent from the Cross. We see that Rogier, like Jan van Eyck, could faithfully 


200 


Tradition and Innovation: the North 



175. ROGIER VAN DER WEYDEN; The Descent from the Cross. Altar-painting. 
About 1435. Escorial 


reproduce every detail, every hair and every stitch. Nevertheless, his picture does 
not represent a real scene. He has placed his figures on a kind of shallow stage 
against a neutral background. Remembering Pollaiuolo’s problems (p. 191, Fig. 167) 
we can appreciate the wisdom of Rogier’s decision. He, too, had to make a large 
altar-painting to be seen from afar, and had to display the sacred theme to the faith- 
ful in the church. It had to be clear in outline, and satisfying as a pattern. Rogier’s 
picture fulfils these requirements without looking forced and self-conscious as does 
Pollaiuolo’s. The body of Christ, which is turned full-face towards the beholder, 
forms the centre of the composition. The weeping women frame it on both sides. 
St. John, bending forward, like St. Mary Magdalen on the other side, tries in vain 
to support the fainting Virgin, whose movement corresponds to that of Christ’s 
descending body. The calm bearing of the old men forms an effective foil to the 
expressive gestures of the principal actors. For they really seem like actors in a 
mystery play or in a tableau vivant grouped or posed by an inspired producer who 
had studied the great works of the medieval past and wanted to imitate them in his 
own medium. In this way, by translating the main ideas of Gothic painting into the 
new, life-like style, Rogier did a great service to northern art. He saved much of the 
tradition of lucid design that might otherwise have been lost under the impact of 
Jan van Eyck’s discoveries. Henceforward northern artists tried, each in his own 


Tradition and Innovation: the North 201 

way, to reconcile the new demands on 
art with its old religious purpose. 

We can study these efforts in a work 
of one of the greatest Flemish artists of 
the second half of the fifteenth century, 
the painter Hugo van der Goes. He is 
one of the few northern masters of this 
early period of whom we know some 
personal details. We hear that he spent 
the last years of his life in voluntary 
retirement in a monastery and that he 
was haunted by feelings of guilt and 
attacks of melancholy. There is indeed 
something tense and serious in his art 
that makes it very different from the 
placid moods of Jan van Eyck. Fig. 176 
shows his painting of the ‘Death of the 
Virgin’. What strikes us first is the 
admirable way in which the artist has 
represented the varying reaction of the 
twelve apostles to the event they are witnessing — the range of expression from 
quiet brooding to passionate sympathy and almost indiscreet gaping. We best 
gain a measure of Van der Goes’s achievement if we turn back to the illustration 
of the same scene over the porch of Strasbourg Cathedral (p. 138, Fig. 128). 
Compared to the painter’s many types, the apostles of the sculpture look very 
much alike. And how easy it was for the earlier artist to arrange his figures 
in a clear design ! He did not have to wrestle with foreshortening and the illusion 
of a space as was expected of Van der Goes. We can feel the efforts of the painter 
to conjure up a real scene before our eyes and yet to leave no part of the panel’s 
surface empty and meaningless. The two apostles in the foreground and the 
apparition over the bed show most clearly how he strove to spread his figures out 
and display them before us. But this visible strain which makes the movements 
look somewhat contorted also adds to the feeling of tense excitement that surrounds 
the calm figure of the dying Virgin who, alone in the crowded room, is granted the 
vision of her Son who is opening His arms to receive her. 

For the sculptors and woodcarvers the survival of Gothic tradition in the new 
form which Rogier had given to it proved of particular importance. Fig. 177 showo 
a carved altar which was commissioned for the Polish city of Cracow in 1477 (two 
years after Pollaiuolo’s altar-painting of p. 191, Fig. 167). Its master was Veit Stoss, 
who lived for the greater part of his life in Nuremberg in Germany and died there 



176. HUGO VAN DER GOES! The Death of the 
Virgin, Altar-paintmg. About 1480. 
Bruges, Museum 



202 


Tradition and Innovation: the North 



177. VEIT STOSS: Altar of the Church of Our Lady^ Cracow, 1477-89 


at a very advanced age in 1533. Even on the small illustration we can see the value 
of a lucid design. For like the members of the congregation who stood far away 
we are able to read off the meaning of the main scenes without difficulty. The group 
of the shrine in the centre shows again the death of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by 
the twelve apostles, though this time she is not represented lying on a bed but 
kneeling in prayer. Farther up we see her soul being received into a radiant Heaven 
by Christ, and quite on top we watch her being crowned by God the Father and His 


Tradition and Innovation: the North 203 

Son. All the wings of the altar represent important moments in the life of the Virgin, 
which (together with her crowning) were known as the Seven Joys of Mary. The 
cycle begins on the left top square with the Annunciation ; it continues further down 
with the Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi. On the right-hand wing we find 
the remaining three joyous moments after so much sorrow — the Resurrection of 
Christ, His Ascension and the Outpouring of the Holy Ghost at Whitsun. All these 
stories the faithful could contemplate when they were assembled in church on a 
Feast Day of the Virgin (the other sides of the wings were adapted to other feast 
days). But only if they could approach close to the shrine could they admire the 
truthfulness and expressiveness of Veit Stoss’s art in the wonderful heads and hands 
of his apostles (Fig. 179). 

In the middle of the fifteenth century a very decisive technical invention had been 
made in Germany, which had a tremendous effect on the future development of art, 
and not of art alone — the invention of printing. The printing of pictures had pre- 
ceded the printing of books by several decades. Small leaflets, with images of saints 
and the text of prayers, had been printed for distribution among pilgrims and for 
private devotion. The method of printing these images was simple enough. It was 
the same as was later developed for the printing of letters. You took a wood-block 
and cut away with a knife everything that should not appear on the print. In other 
words, everything that was to look 
white in the final product was to be 
cut hollow and everything that was to 
look black was left standing in narrow 
ridges. The result looked like any 
rubber stamp we use today, and the 
principle of printing it on to paper was 
practically the same: you covered the 
surface with printer’s ink made of oil 
and soot and pressed it on to the leaflet. 

You could make a good many impres- 
sions from one block before it wore 
out. This simple technique of printing 
pictures is called woodcut. It was a 
very cheap method and soon became 
popular. Several wood-blocks together 
could be used for a little series of pic- 
tures bound together as a book; these 
books printed from whole blocks were 

called block-books. Woodcuts and ^78. The good man on his death-bed. 

, - , , , . Woodcut illustration for the Art of Dyitig Well 

block-books were soon on sale at primed in uim about 1470 





204 Tradition and Innovation: the North 

popular fairs; playing-cards were made in this way; there were humorous pictures 
and prints for devotional use. Fig. 178 shows a page from one of these early block- 
books, which was used by the Church as a picture-sermon. Its purpose was to 
remind the faithful of the hour of death and to teach them — as the title says — ‘The 
art of dying well’. The woodcut shows the pious man on his death-bed with the 
monk by his side putting a Ughted candle into his hand. An angel is receiving his 
soul which has come out of his mouth in the shape of a little praying figure. In the 
background we see Christ and His saints, towards whom the dying man should turn 
his mind. In the foreground we see a host of devils in the most ugly and fantastic 
shapes, and the inscriptions which come out of their mouths tell us what they say : 
‘I am raging’, ‘We are disgraced’, ‘I am dumbfounded’, ‘This is no comfort’, 
‘We have lost this soul’. Their grotesque antics are in vain. The man who possesses 
the art of dying well need not fear the powers of hell. 

When Gutenberg made his great invention of using movable letters held together 
by a frame, instead of whole wood-blocks, such block-books became obsolete. But 
methods were soon found of combining a printed text with a wood-block for illus- 
tration, and many books of the later half of the fifteenth century were illustrated 
with woodcuts. 

For all its usefulness, however, the woodcut was a rather crude way of printing 
pictures. It is true that this crudeness itself is sometimes effective. The quality of 
these popular prints of the late Middle Ages reminds one sometimes of our best 
posters — they are simple in outline antj economical in their means. But the great 
artists of the period had rather different ambitions. They wanted to show their 
mastery of detail and their powers of observation, and for this the woodcut was not 
suitable. These masters, therefore, chose another medium which gave more subtle 
effects. Instead of wood, they used copper. The principle of the copperplate 
engraving is a httle different from the woodcut. In the woodcut you cut away every- 
thing except the lines you want to show. In the engraving you take a special tool, 
called a burin, and press it into the copperplate. The line which you thus engrave 
into the surface of the metal will hold any colour or printer’s ink you spread over 
the surface. What you do, therefore, is to cover your engraved copperplate with 
printer’s ink and then to wipe the blank metal clean. If then you press the 
plate very hard against a piece of paper, the ink which had remained in the lines 
cut by the burin is squeezed on to the paper, and the print is ready. In other 
words, the copper-engraving is really a negative of the woodcut. The woodcut is 
made by leaving the lines standing, the engraving by cutting them into the plate. 
Now, however hard it may be to handle the burin firmly and to control the depth 
and strength of your lines, it is clear that, once you have mastered this craft, you 
can obtain much more detail and much more subtle effect from a copper-engraving 
than you can from a woodcut. One of the greatest and most famous masters of 




I 79 « VEIT STOSS: Head of an Apostle. Detail of Fig. 177 




i8o. STEFAN lochner: The Virgin in the Rose-hower, Painted about 1440. 
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum 




Tradition and Innovation: the North 207 

engraving in the fifteenth century was 
Martin Schongauer (1453 ?-9i)3 who lived 
on the Upper Rhine at Colmar, in the pre- 
sent Alsace. Fig. 18 1 shows Schongauer’s 
engraving of the Holy Night. The scene 
is interpreted in the spirit of the great 
masters of the Netherlands. Like them, 

Schongauer was anxious to convey every 
little homely detail of the scene, and to 
make us feel the very texture and surfaces 
of the objects he represents. That he 
should have succeeded in doing so with- 
out the help of brush and colour, and 
without the medium of oil, borders on 
the miraculous. One can look at his en- 
gravings through a magnifying glass and 
study the way he characterizes the broken 
stones and bricks, the flowers in the crags, 
the ivy creeping along the vault, the fur 
of the animals and the stubbly chins of 
the shepherds. But it is not only his 
patience and craftsmanship we must admire. We can enjoy his tale of Christmas 
without any knowledge of the difficulties of working with the burin. There is 
the Virgin kneeling in the ruined chapel which is used as a stable. She kneels 
in adoration of the Child whom she has carefully placed on the comer of her 
coat; and St. Joseph, lantern in hand, looks at her with a worried and fatherly 
expression. The ox and the ass are worshipping with her. The humble shepherds 
are just about to cross the threshold; one of them, in the background, receives 
the message from the angel. Up in the right-hand corner we have a glimpse 
of the heavenly chorus singing ‘Peace on Earth’. In themselves, these motifs 
are all deeply rooted in the tradition of Christian art, but the way in which 
they are combined and distributed over the page was Schongauer’s own. The 
problems of composition for the printed page and for the altar-picture are in some 
respects similar. In both cases, the suggestion of space and the faithful imitation 
of reality must not be allowed to destroy the balance of the composition. It is only 
if we think of this problem that we can fully appreciate Schongauer’s achievement. 
We now understand why he has chosen a ruin as setting — it allowed him to frame 
the scene solidly with the pieces of broken masonry that form the opening through 
which we look. It enabled him to place a black foil behind the principal figures and 
to leave no part of the engraving empty or without interest. We can see how 
N 



181. schongauer: Holy Night. Engraving. 
About 1475 


2 o8 Tradition and Innovation: the North 

carefully he planned his composition if we lay two diagonals across the page: they 
meet at the head of the Virgin, which is the true centre of the print. 

The art of the woodcut and of engraving soon spread all over Europe. There are 
engravings in the manner of Mantegna and Botticelli in Italy, and others from the 
Netherlands and France. These prints became yet another means through which 
the artists of Europe learned of each other’s ideas. At that time it was not yet consi- 
dered dishonourable to take over an idea or a composition from another artist, and 
many of the humbler masters made use of engravings as pattern books from which 
they borrowed. Just as the invention of printing hastened the exchange of ideas 
without which the Reformation might never have come about, so the printing of 
images ensured the triumph of the art of the Italian Renaissance in the rest of 
Europe. It was one of the forces which put an end to the medieval art of the north, 
and brought about a crisis in the art of these countries which only the greatest 
masters could overcome. 



182. Stone-masons and the King, From an illumination of the story of Troy by jean colombe. 
About 1464. Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett 



CHAPTER 15 • HARMONY ATTAINED 
Tuscany and Rome, Early Sixteenth Century 



183. A Chapel of the High Renaissance: the Tempietto^ Rome, S. Pietro in 
Montorio, Designed byBRAMANTEa 1502 


W E left Italian art at the time of Botticelli, that is, at the end of the 
fifteenth century, which the Italians by an awkward trick of language 
call the Quattrocento, that is to say, the ‘four hundreds’. The beginning 
of the sixteenth century, the Cinquecento, is the most famous period of Italian art, 
one of the greatest periods of all time. This was the time of Leonardo da Vinci and 


210 Harmony Attained 

Michelangelo, of Raphael and Titian, of Correggio and Giorgione, of Diirer and 
Holbein in the North, and of many other famous masters. One may well ask why it 
was that all these great masters were born in the same period, but such questions 
are more easily asked than answered. One cannot explain the existence of genius. 
It is better to enjoy it. What we have to say, therefore, can never be a full explana- 
tion of the great period which is called the High Renaissance, but we can try to see 
what the conditions were which made this sudden efflorescence of genius possible. 

We have seen the beginning of these conditions far back in the time of Giotto, 
whose fame was so great that the Commune of Florence was proud of him and 
anxious to have the steeple of their cathedral designed by that widely renowned 
master. This pride of the cities, which vied with each other in securing the services 
of the greatest artists to beautify their buildings and to create works of lasting fame, 
was a great incentive to the masters to outdo each other — an incentive which did 
not exist to the same extent in the feudal countries of the north, whose cities had 
much less independence and local pride. Then came the period of the great dis- 
coveries, when Italian artists turned to mathematics to study the laws of perspective, 
and to anatomy to study the build of the human body. Through these discoveries, 
the artist’s horizon widened. He was no longer a craftsman among craftsmen, ready 
to carry out commissions for shoes, or cupboards, or paintings as the case may be. 
He was a master in his own right, who could not achieve fame and glory without 
exploring the mysteries of nature and probing into the secret laws of the universe. 
It was natural that the leading artists who had these ambitions felt aggrieved at 
their social status. This was still the same as it had been at the time of ancient 
Greece, when the snobs might have accepted a poet who worked with his brain, but 
never an artist who worked with his hands. Here was another challenge for the 
artists to meet, another spur which urged them on towards yet greater achievements 
that would compel the surrounding world to accept them, not only as respectable 
heads of prosperous workshops, but as men of unique and precious gifts. It was a 
difficult struggle, which was not immediately successful. Social snobbery and 
prejudice were strong forces, and there were many who would gladly have invited to 
their tables a scholar who spoke Latin, and knew the right turn of phrase for every 
occasion, but would have hesitated to extend a similar privilege to a painter or a 
sculptor. It was again the love of fame on the part of the patrons which helped the 
artists to break down such prejudices. There were many small courts in Italy which 
were badly in need of honour and prestige. To erect magnifi cent buildings, to com- 
mission splendid tombs, to order great cycles of frescoes, or dedicate a painting for 
the high altar of a famous church, was considered a sure way of perpetuating one’s 
name and securing a worthy monument to one’s earthly existence. As there were 
many centres competing for the services of the most renowned masters, the masters 
in turn could dictate their terms. In earlier times it was the prince who bestowed 



Harmony Attained 2ii 

his favours on the artist. Now it almost came to pass that the rdles were reversed, 
and that the artist granted a favour to a rich prince or potentate by accepting a 
commission from him. Thus it came about that the artists could frequently choose 
the kind of commission which they liked, and that they no longer needed to 
accommodate their works to the whims and fancies of their employers. Whether or 
not this new power was an unmixed blessing for art in the long run is difficult to 
decide. But at first, at any rate, it had the effect of a liberation which released a 
tremendous amount of pent-up energy. At last, the artist was free. 

In no sphere was the effect of this change so marked as in architecture. Since the 
time of Brunelleschi (p. 162) the architect had to have some of the knowledge of 
a classical scholar. He had to know the rules of the ancient ‘orders’, of the right 
proportions and measurements of the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns and 
entablatures. He had to measure ancient ruins, and pore over the manuscripts 
of classical writers like Vitruvius who had codified the conventions of the Greek 
and Roman architects, and whose works contained many difficult and obscure 
passages, which challenged the ingenuity of Renaissance scholars. In no other 
field was the conflict between the requirements of the patrons and the ideals of the 
artists more apparent than in this field of architecture. What these learned masters 
really longed to do was to build temples and triumphal arches — what they were 
asked to do was to build city palaces and churches. We have seen how a com- 
promise was reached in this fundamental conflict by artists such as Alberti (p. 180, 
Fig. 159) who wedded the ancient ‘orders’ to the modem city palace. But the 
true aspiration of the Renaissance architect was still to design a building irrespec- 
tive of its use; simply for the beauty of its proportions, the spaciousness of its 
interior and the imposing grandeur of its ensemble. They craved for a perfect 
symmetry and regularity such as they could not achieve while concentrating on 
the practical requirements of an ordinary building. It was a memorable moment 
when one of them found a mighty patron willing to sacrifice tradition and expe- 
diency for the sake of the fame he would acquire by erecting a stately structure that 
would outshine the seven wonders of the world. Only in this way can we understand 
the decision of Pope Julius II in 1506 to pull down the venerable Basilica of St. 
Peter which stood at the place where, according to the legend, St. Peter lay buried 
and to have it built anew in a manner which defied the age-old traditions of 
church building and the usages of Divine service. The man to whom he entrusted 
this task was Donato Bramante (1444-1514), an ardent champion of the new style. 
One of the few of his buildings which have survived intact shows how far Bramante 
had gone in absorbing the ideas and standards of classical architecture without 
becoming a slavish imitator (Fig. 183). It is a chapel, or ‘little temple’ as he called 
it, which should have been surrounded by a cloister in the same style. It is a little 
pavilion, a round building on steps, crowned by a cupola and ringed round by a 



212 Harmony Attained 

colonnade of the Doric order. The balustrade on top of the comice adds a light and 
graceful touch to the whole building, and the small stmcture of the actual chapel and 
the decorative colonnade are held in a harmony as perfect as that in any temple of 
classical antiquity. 

To this master, then, the Pope had given the task to design the new church of 
St. Peter, and it was understood that this should become a true marvel of Christen- 
dom. Bramante was determined to disregard the Western tradition of a thousand 
years, according to which a church of this kind should be an oblong hall with the 
worshippers looking eastwards towards the main altar where Mass is read. 

In his craving for that regularity and harmony that alone could be worthy of the 
place, he designed a square church with chapels symmetrically arranged round a 
gigantic cross-shaped hall. This haU was to be crowned by a huge cupola resting on 
colossal arches. Bramante hoped, it was said, to combine the effects of the largest 
ancient building, whose towering mins still impressed the visitor to Rome, with that 
of the Pantheon (p. 8o, Fig. 73). For one brief moment, admiration for the art of 
the ancients and ambition to create something unheard of overruled considerations 
of expediency and time-honoured traditions. But Bramante’s plan for St. Peter’s 
was not destined to be carried out. The enormous building swallowed up so much 
money that, in trying to raise sufficient funds, the Pope precipitated the crisis which 
led to the Reformation. It was the practice of selling indulgences against contribu- 
tions for the building of that church that led Luther in Germany to his first public 
protest. Even within the Catholic Church, opposition to Bramante’s plan increased, 
and by the time the building had progressed sufficiently, the idea of a circular 
church was abandoned. St. Peter’s, as we know it today, has little in common with 
the original plan, except its gigantic dimensions. 

The spirit of bold enterprise which made Bramante’s plan for St. Peter’s possible 
is characteristic of the period of the High Renaissance, the period round about 1500 
which produced so many of the world’s greatest artists. To these men nothing 
seemed impossible, and that may be the reason why they did sometimes achieve the 
apparently impossible. Once more, it was Florence which gave birth to some of the 
leading minds of that great epoch. Since the days of Giotto round about 1300, and of 
Masaccio round about 1400, Florentine artists cultivated their tradition with special 
pride, and their excellence was recognized by all people of taste. We shall see that 
nearly all the greatest artists grew out of such a firmly established tradition, and 
that is why we should not forget the humbler masters in whose workshops they 
learned the elements of their craft. 

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), the oldest of these famous masters, was born in 
a Tuscan village. He was apprenticed to a leading Florentine workshop, that of the 
painter and sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-88). Verrocchio’s fame was 
very great, so great indeed that the city of Venice commissioned from him the 



213 


Harmony Attained 

monument to Bartolomeo Colleoni, one of 
their generals to whom they owed gratitude 
for a number of charities he had founded 
rather than for any particular deed of 
military prowess. The equestrian statue 
which Verrocchio made (Fig. 184) shows 
that he was a worthy heir to the tradition of 
Donatello. We see how minutely he studied 
the anatomy of the horse, and how clearly 
he observed the position of the muscles and 
veins. But most admirable of all is the 
posture of the horseman, who seems to be 
riding ahead of his troops with an expression 
of bold defiance. Later times have made us 
so familiar with these riders of bronze that 
have come to people our towns and cities, 
representing more or less worthy emperors, 
kings, princes and generals, that it may take 
us some time to realize the greatness and 
simplicity of Verrocchio’s work. It lies in 
the clear outline which his group presents 
from nearly all aspects, and in the concen- 
trated energy which seems to animate the 
man in armour and his mount. 

In a workshop capable of producing such 
masterpieces, the young Leonardo could 
certainly learn many things. He would be 
introduced into the technical secrets of 
foundry-work and other metalwork, he 
would learn to prepare pictures and statues 

carefully by making studies from the nude and from draped models. He would 
learn to study plants and curious animals for inclusion in his pictures, and he 
would receive a thorough grounding in the optics of perspective, and in the use 
of colours. In the case of any other gifted boy, this training would have been suffi- 
cient to make a respectable artist, and many good painters and sculptors did in fact 
emerge from Verrocchio’s prosperous workshop. But Leonardo was more than a 
gifted boy. He was a genius whose powerful mind will always remain an object of 
wonder and admiration to ordinary mortals. We know something of the range and 
productivity of Leonardo’s mind because his pupils and admirers carefully pre- 
served for us his sketches and notebooks, thousands of pages covered with writings 



184. VERROCCHIO: Monidment to Colleonty 
Venice. Begun in 1479 


214 Harmony Attained 

and drawings, with excerpts from books 
Leonardo read, and drafts for books he 
intended to write. The more one reads of 
these papers, the less can one understand 
how one human being could have excelled 
in all these different fields of research and 
made important contributions to nearly all 
of them. Perhaps one of the reasons is that 
Leonardo was a Florentine artist and not a 
trained scholar. He thought that the artist’s 
business was to explore the visible world 
just as his predecessors had done, only more 
thoroughly and with greater intensity and 
accuracy. He was not interested in the 
bookish knowledge of the scholars. Like 
Shakespeare, he probably had ‘little Latin 
and less Greek’. At a time when the learned 
men at the universities relied on the 
authority of the admired ancient writers, 
Leonardo, the painter, would trust nothing 
but his own eyes. Whenever he came 
across a problem, he did not consult the authorities but tried an experiment to solve 
it. There was nothing in nature which did not arouse his curiosity and challenge 
his ingenuity. He explored the secrets of the human body by dissecting more than 
thirty corpses (Fig. 185). He was one of the first to probe into the mysteries of the 
growth of the child in the womb ; he investigated the laws of waves and currents ; he 
spent years in observing and analysing the flight of insects and birds, which was to 
help him to devise a flying machine which he was sure would one day become a reality. 
The forms of rocks and clouds, the effect of the atmosphere on the colour of distant 
objects, the laws governing the growth of trees and plants, the harmony of sounds, 
all these were the objects of his ceaseless research, which was to be the foundation 
of his art. His contemporaries looked upon Leonardo as a strange and rather un- 
canny being. Princes and generals wanted to use this astonishing wizard as a military 
engineer for the building of fortifications and canals, of novel weapons and devices. 
In times of peace, he would entertain them with mechanical toys of his own inven- 
tion, and with the designing of new effects for stage performances and pageantries. 
He was admired as a great artist, and sought after as a splendid musician, but, for 
all that, few people can have had an inkling of the importance of his ideas or the 
extent of his knowledge. The reason is that Leonardo never published his writings, 
and that very few can even have known of their existence. He was left-handed, and 



185. LEONARDO DA VINCI: Anatomical Studies 
{larynx and leg). 1510. Windsor Castle, 
Royal Library 



Harmony Attained 215 

had taken to writing from right to left so that his notes can only be read in a mirror. 
It is possible that he was afraid of divulging his discoveries for fear that his opinions 
would be found heretical. Thus we find in his writings the five words ‘The sun does 
not move’, which show that Leonardo anticipated the theories of Copernicus 
which were later to bring Galileo into trouble. But it is also possible that he under- 
took his researches and experiments simply because of his insatiable curiosity, and 
that, once he had solved a problem for himself, he was apt to lose interest because 
there were so many other mysteries still to be explored. Most of all, it is likely that 
Leonardo himself had no ambition to be considered a scientist. All this exploration 
of nature was to him first and foremost a means of gaining knowledge of the visible 
world, such as he would need for his art. He thought that by placing it on scientific 
foundations he could transform his beloved art of painting from a humble craft into 
an honoured and gentlemanly pursuit. To us, this preoccupation with the social rank 
of artists may be difficult to understand, but we have seen what importance it had 
for the men of the period. Perhaps if we remember Shakespeare’s Midsummer 
Nighfs Dream and the roles he assigns to Snug the joiner, Bottom the weaver, and 
Snout the tinker, we can understand the background of this struggle. Aristotle had 
codified the snobbishness of classical antiquity in distinguishing between certain 
arts that were compatible with a ‘liberal education’ (the so-called Liberal Arts such 
as rhetorics, grammar, philosophy and dialectic) and pursuits that involved working 
with the hands, which were ‘manual’ and therefore ‘menial’, and thus below the 
dignity of a gentleman. It was the ambition of such men as Leonardo to show that 
painting was a Liberal Art, and that the manual labour involved in it was no more 
essential than was the labour of writing in poetry. It is possible that this view often 
affected Leonardo’s relationship with his patrons. Perhaps he did not want to be 
considered the owner of a shop where anyone could commission a picture. At any 
rate, we know that Leonardo often failed to carry out his commissions. He would 
start on a painting and leave it unfinished, despite the urgent requests of the patron. 
Moreover, he obviously insisted that it was he himself who had to decide when a 
work of his was to be considered finished, and he refused to let it go out of his hands 
unless he was satisfied with it. It is not surprising, therefore, that few of Leonardo’s 
works were ever completed, and that his contemporaries regretted the way in which 
this outstanding genius seemed to fritter away his time, moving restlessly from 
Florence to Milan, from Milan to Florence and to the service of the notorious 
adventurer Cesare Borgia, then to Rome, and finally to the court of King Francis I 
in France, where he died in the year 1519, more admired than understood. 

By a singular misfortune, the few works which Leonardo did complete in his 
mature years have come down to us in a very bad state of prcservation.Thus when 
we look at what remains of Leonardo’s famous wall-painting of the ‘Last Supper’ 
(Fig. 186) we must try to imagine how it may have appeared to the monks for whom 




i86. LEONARDO DA VINCI: The Last Supper, Wall-painting in the Refectory of the Monastery 
of Sta Maria delle Grazie, Milan. Between 1495 and 1498 


it was painted. The painting covers one wall of an oblong hall that was used as a 
dining-room by the monks of the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. 
One must visualize what it was like when the painting was uncovered, and when, 
side by side with the long tables of the monks, there appeared the table of Christ 
and his apostles. Never before had the sacred episode appeared so close and so 
lifelike. It was as if another hall had been added to theirs, in which the Last Supper 
had assumed tangible form. How clear the light fell on to the table, and how it 
added roundness and solidity to the figures. Perhaps the monks were first struck 
by the truth to nature with which all details were portrayed, the dishes on the 
table-cloth, and the folds of the draperies. Then, as now, works of art were often 
judged by laymen according to their degree of lifelikness. But that can only 
have been the first reaction. Once they had sufficiently admired this extraordinary 
illusion of reality, the monks would turn to the way in which Leonardo had pre- 
sented the biblical story. There was nothing in this work that resembled older 
representations of the same theme. In these traditional versions, the apostles were 
seen sitting quietly at the table in a row — only Judas being segregated from the 
rest — ^while Christ was calmly dispensing the Sacrament. The new picture was very 
different from any of these paintings. There was drama in it, and excitement. 
Leonardo, like Giotto before him, had gone back to the text of the Scriptures, and 
had striven to visualize what it must have been like when Christ said, ‘ “Verily I say 
unto you, that one of you shall betray me”, and they were exceeding sorrowful and 
began every one of them to say unto him “Lord, is it I ?” ’ (Matthew xxvi. 21-2). 
The gospel of St. John adds that ‘Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of 



Harmony Attained 217 

his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him that he 
should ask who it should be of whom he spake’ (John xiii. 23-4). It is this 
questioning and beckoning that brings movement into the scene. Christ has just 
spoken the tragic words, and those on his side shrink back in terror as they hear the 
revelation. Some seem to protest their love and innocence, others gravely to 
dispute whom the Lord may have meant, others again seem to look to Him for an 
explanation of what He has said. St. Peter, most impetuous of all, rushes towards 
St. John, who sits to the right of Jesus. As he whispers something into St. John’s 
ear, he inadvertently pushes Judas forward. Judas is not segregated from the rest, 
and yet he seems isolated. He alone does not gesticulate and question. He bends for- 
ward and looks up in suspicion or anger, a dramatic contrast to the figure of Christ 
sitting calm and resigned amidst this surging turmoil. One wonders how long it took 
the first spectators to realize the consummate art by which all this dramatic move- 
ment was controlled. Despite the excitement which Christ’s words have caused, 
there is nothing chaotic in the picture. The twelve apostles seem to fall quite 
naturally into four groups of three, linked to each other by gestures and movements. 
There is so much order in this variety, and so much variety in this order, that one 
can never quite exhaust the harmonious interplay of movement and answering 
movement. Perhaps we can only fully appreciate Leonardo’s achievement in this 
composition if we think back to the problem we discussed in the description of 
Pollaiuolo’s ‘St. Sebastian’ (p. 191, Fig. 167). We remember how the artists of that 
generation had struggled to combine the demands of realism with that of design. 
We remember how rigid and artificial Pollaiuolo’s solution of this problem looked to 
us. Leonardo, who was little younger than Pollaiuolo, had solved it with apparent 
ease. If one forgets for a moment what the scene represents, one can still enjoy the 
beautiful pattern formed by the figures.The composition seems to have that effortless 
balance and harmony which it had in Gothic paintings, and which artists like Rogier 
van der Weyden and Botticelli, each in his own way, had tried to recapture for art. 
But Leonardo did not find it necessary to sacrifice correctness of drawing, or accu- 
racy of observation, to the demands of a satisfying outline. If one forgets the beauty of 
the composition, one suddenly feels confronted with a piece of reality as convincing 
and striking as any we saw in the works of Masaccio or Donatello. And even this 
achievement hardly touches upon the true greatness of the work. For, beyond such 
technical matters as composition and draughtsmanship, we must admire Leonardo’s 
deep insight into the behaviour and reactions of men, and the power of imagination 
which enabled him to put the scene before our eyes. An eye-witness tells us that he 
often saw Leonardo at work on the ‘Last Supper’. He would get on to the scaffolding 
and stand there for a whole day, just thinking, without painting a single stroke. It is 
the result of this thought that he has bequeathed to us, and, even in its ruined state, 
‘The Last Supper’ remains one of the great miracles wrought by human genius. 



2i8 


Harmony Attained 



187. LEONARDO DA VINCI: Mona Lisa, About 1502. Paris, Louvre 


There is another work of Leonardo’s which is perhaps even more famous than 
‘The Last Supper’. It is the portrait of a Florentine lady whose name was Lisa, 
‘Mona Lisa’ (Fig. 187). A fame as great as that of Leonardo’s ‘Mona Lisa’ is 
not an unmixed blessing for a work of art. We become so used to seeing it on 
picture postcards, and even advertisements, that we find it difficult to see it with 
fresh eyes as the painting of a real man portraying a real person of flesh and blood. 
But it is worth while to forget what we know, or believe we know, about the picture, 
and to look at it as if we were the first people ever to set eyes on it. What strikes us 
first is the amazing degree to which Lisa looks alive. She really seems to look at us 
and to have a mind of her own. Like a living being, she seems to change before our 
eyes and to look a little different every time we come back to her. Even in photographs 



Harmony Attained 219 

of the picture we experience this strange effect, but in front of the original in 
the Paris Louvre it is almost uncanny. Sometimes she seems to mock at us, and 
then again we seem to catch something like sadness in her smile. All this sounds 
rather mysterious, and so it is ; that is the effect of every great work of art. Neverthe- 
less, Leonardo certainly knew how he achieved this effect, and by what means. 
That great observer of nature knew more about the way we use our eyes than 
anybody who had ever lived before him. He had clearly seen a problem which the 
conquest of nature had posed to the artists — a problem no less intricate than the 
one of combining correct drawing with a harmonious composition. The great works 
of the Italian Quattrocento masters who followed the lead given by Masaccio have 
one thing in common : their figures look somewhat hard and harsh, almost wooden. 
The strange thing is that it clearly is not lack of patience or lack of knowledge that 
is responsible for this effect. No one could be more patient in his imitation of nature 
than Van Eyck (p. 173, Fig. 154); no one could know more about correct drawing 
and perspective than Mantegna (p. 186, Fig. 164). And yet, for all the grandeur and 
impressiveness of their representations of nature, their figures look more like statues 
than living beings. The reason may be that the more conscientiously we copy a 
figure line by line and detail by detail, the less we can imagine that it ever really 
moved and breathed. It looks as if the painter had suddenly cast a spell over it, and 
forced it to stand stock-still for evermore, like the people in ‘The Sleeping Beauty’. 
Artists had tried various ways out of this difficulty. Botticelli, for instance (p. 192, 
Fig. 168), had tried to emphasize in his pictures the waving hair and the fluttering 
garments of his figures, to make them look less rigid in outline. But only Leonardo 
found the true solution to the problem. The painter must leave the beholder some- 
thing to guess. If the outlines are not quite so firmly drawn, if the form is left a 
ittle vague, as though disappearing into a shadow, this impression of dryness and 
stiffness will be avoided. This is Leonardo’s famous invention which the Italians 
call ‘sfumatd ’ — the blurred outline and mellowed colours that allow one form to 
merge with ano±er and always leave something to our imagination. If we now 
return to the ‘Mona Lisa’, we may understand something of its mysterious effect. 
We see that Leonardo has used the means of his ‘sfumato’ with the utmost delibera- 
tion. Everyone who has ever tried to draw or scribble a face knows that what we call 
its expression rests mainly in two features : the corners of the mouth, and the corners 
of the eyes. Now it is precisely these parts which Leonardo has left deliberately 
indistina, by letting them merge into a soft shadow. That is why we are never 
quite certain in what mood Mona Lisa is really looking at us. Her expression always 
seems just to elude us. It is not only vagueness, of course, which produces this 
effect. There is much more behind it. Leonardo has done a very daring thing, 
which perhaps only a painter of his consummate mastership could risk. If we look 
carefully at the picture, we see that the two sides do not quite match. This is most 



220 Harmony Attained 

obvious in the fantastic dream landscape in the backgroimd. The horizon on the left 
side seems to lie much lower than the one on the right. G>nsequently, when we focus 
the left side of the picture, the woman looks somehow taller or more erect than if we 
focus the right side. And her face, too, seems to change with this change of position, 
because, even here, the two sides do not quite match. But with all these sophisticated 
tricks, Leonardo might have produced a clever piece of jugglery rather than a great 
work of art, had he not known exactly how far he could go, and had he not coimter- 
balanced his daring deviation from nature by an almost miraculous rendering of the 
living flesh. Look at the way in which he modelled the hand, or the sleeves with their 
minute folds. Leonardo could be as painstaking as any of his forerunners in the 
patient observation of nature. Only he was no longer merely the faithful servant of 
nature. Long ago, in the distant past, people had looked at portraits with awe, be- 
cause they had thought that in preserving the likeness the artist could somehow 
preserve the soul of the person he portrayed. Now the great scientist, Leonardo, had 
made some of the dreams and fears of these first image-makers come true. He knew 
the spell which would infuse life into the colours spread by his magic brush. 

The second great Florentine whose work makes Italian art of the sixteenth 
century (Cinquecento) so famous was Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564). 
Michelangelo was twenty-three years younger than Leonardo and survived him by 
forty-five years. In his long lifetime he wimessed a complete change in the position 
of the artist. To some degree it was he himself who brought about this change. 
In his youth Michelangelo was trained like any other craftsman. As a boy of thirteen 
he was apprenticed for three years to the busy workshop of one of the leading 
masters of late Quattrocento Florence, the painter Domenico Ghirlandajo (1449-94). 
Ghirlandajo was one of those masters whose works we enjoy rather for the way in 
which they mirror the colourful life of the period than for any outstanding artistic 
merit. He knew how to tell the sacred story pleasantly, as if it had just happened 
among the rich Florentine citizens of the Medici circle who were his patrons. 
Fig. 188 represents the birth of the Virgin Mary, and we see the relatives of her 
mother, St. Anne, coming to visit and congratulate her. We look into a fashionable 
apartment of the late fifteenth century, and witness the formal visit of well-to-do 
ladies of society. Ghirlandajo proved that he knew how to arrange his groups efiec- 
tively and how to give pleasure to the eye. He showed that he shared the taste of his 
contemporaries for the themes of ancient art, for he took care to depict a relief of 
dancing children, in the classical manner, in the background of the room. 

In his workshop the young Michelangelo could certainly learn all the technical 
tricks of the trade, a solid technique of painting frescoes, and a thorough grounding 
in draughtsmanship. But, as far as we know, Michelaqgelo did not enjoy his days 
in this successful painter’s firm. His ideas about art were different. Instead of 
acquiring the facile manner of Ghirlandajo, he went out to study the work of the 



Harmony Attained 221 



188. GHiRLANDAjo: Birth of the Virgin. Wall-painting in the church of Sta Maria 
Novella, Florence. Completed in 1491 


great masters of the past, of Giotto, Masaccio, Donatello, and of the Greek and 
Roman sculptors whose works he could see in the Medici collection. He tried to 
penetrate into the secrets of the ancient sculptors, who knew how to represent the 
beautiful human body in motion, with all its muscles and sinews. Like Leonardo, he 
was not content with learning the laws of anatomy secondhand, as it were, from 
antique sculpture. He made his own research into human anatomy, dissected bodies, 
and drew from models, till the human figure did not seem to hold any secrets for 
him. But, unlike Leonardo, for whom man was only one of the many fascinating 
riddles of nature, Michelangelo strove with an incredible singleness of purpose to 
master this one problem, but to master it fully. His power of concentration and his 
retentive memory must have been so outstanding that soon there was no posture 
and no movement which he found difficult to draw. In fact, difficulties only seemed 
to attract him. Attitudes and angles which many a great Quattrocento artist might 
have hesitated to introduce into his pictures, for fear of failing to represent them 
convincingly, only stimulated his artistic ambition, and soon it was rumoured that 
this young artist not only equalled the renowned masters of classical antiquity but 
actually surpassed them. Today, when young artists spend several years at art 
schools studying anatomy, the nude, perspective, and all the tricks of draughts- 
manship, when many an unambitious sports-reporter or poster-artist may have 
acquired faciUty in drawing human figures from all angles, it may not be easy for 
us to grasp the tremendous admiration which Michelangelo’s sheer skill and know- 
ledge aroused in his day. By the time he was thirty, he was generally acknowledged 



222 Harmony Attained 

to be one of the outstanding masters of the age, equal in his way to the genius of 
Leonardo. The city of Florence honoured him by commissioning him and Leonardo 
each to paint an episode from Florentine history on a wall of the major council 
chamber of the Town Hall. It was a dramatic moment in the history of art when 
these two giants competed for the palm, and all Florence watched with excitement 
the progress of their sketches and preparations. Unfortunately, the works were 
never completed. Michelangelo received a call which kindled his enthusiasm 
even more. Pope Julius II wanted his presence in Rome to erect a tomb for him 
that should be worthy of the overlord of Christendom. We have heard of the 
ambitious plans of this great-minded but ruthless ruler of the Church, and it is not 
difficult to imagine how fascinated Michelangelo must have been to work for a man 
who possessed the means and the will to carry out the boldest plans. With the 
Pope’s permission, he immediately travelled to the famous marble quarries at 
Carrara, there to select the blocks from which to carve a gigantic mausoleum. The 
young artist was overwhelmed by the sight of all these marble rocks, which seemed 
to be waiting for his chisel to turn them into statues such as the world had never 
seen. He stayed more than six months at the quarries, buying, selecting and reject- 
ing, his mind seething with images. He wanted to release the figures from the stones 
in which they were slumbering. But when he returned and started to work, he soon 
discovered that the Pope’s enthusiasm for the great enterprise had markedly cooled. 
We know, today, that one of the main reasons for the Pope’s embarrassment was 
that his plan for a tomb had come into conflict with another plan of his which was 
even dearer to his heart: the plan for a new St. Peter’s. For the tomb had originally 
been destined to stand in the old building, and if that was to be pulled down, where 
was the mausoleum to be housed ? Michelangelo, in his boundless disappointment, 
suspected different reasons. He smelt intrigue, and even feared that his rivals, above 
all Bramante, the architect of the new St. Peter’s, wanted to poison him. In a fit 
of fear and fury he left Rome for Florence, and wrote a rude letter to the Pope 
saying that if he wanted him, he could go and look for him. 

What was so remarkable in this incident was that the Pope did not lose his temper, 
but started formal negotiations with the head of the city of Florence to persuade the 
young sculptor to return. All concerned seemed to agree that the movements and 
plans of this young artist were as important as any delicate matter of State. The 
Florentines even feared that the Pope might turn against them if they continued 
to give him shelter. The head of the city of Florence therefore persuaded Michel- 
angelo to return to the service of Julius II, and gave him a letter of recommendation in 
w hich he said that his art was imequalled throughout Italy, perhaps even throughout 
the world, and that if only he met with kindness ‘he would achieve things which would 
amaze the whole world’. For once a diplomatic note had uttered the truth. When 
Michelangelo returned to Rome, the -Pope made him accept another commission. 



Harmony Attained 223 

There was a chapel in the Vatican which had been built by Pope Sixtus IV, 
and was therefore called the Sistine Chapel. The walls of this chapel had been 
decorated by the most famous painters of the former generation, by Botticelli, 
Ghirlandajo and others. But the vault was still blank. The Pope suggested that 
Michelangelo should paint it. Michelangelo did all he could to evade this com- 
mission. He said that he was not really a painter, but a sculptor. He was convinced 
that this thankless commission had been palmed off on to him through the intrigues 
of his enemies. When the Pope remained firm, he started to work out a modest 
scheme of twelve apostles in niches, and to engage assistants from Florence to help 
him with the painting. But suddenly he shut himself up in the chapel, let no one 
come near him, and started to work alone on a plan which has indeed continued to 
‘amaze the whole world’ from the moment it was revealed. 

It is very difficult for any ordinary mortal to imagine how it could be possible for 
one human being to achieve what Michelangelo achieved in four years of lonely 
work on the scaffoldings of the papal chapel. The mere physical exertion of painting 
this huge fresco on the ceiling of the chapel, of preparing and sketching the scenes 
in detail and transferring them to the wall, is fantastic enough. Michelangelo had to 
lie on his back and paint looking upwards. In fact, he became so used to this 
cramped position that even when he received a letter during that period he had to 
hold it over his head and bend backwards to read it. But the physical performance 
of one man covering this vast space unaided is as nothing compared to the intellec- 
tual and artistic achievement. The wealth of ever-new inventions, the unfailing 
mastery of execution in every detail, and, above all, the grandeur of the visions 
which Michelangelo revealed to those who came after him, have given mankind 
quite a new idea of the power of genius. 

One often sees illustrations of details of this gigantic work, and one can never look 
at them enough. But the impression given by the whole, when one steps into the 
chapel, is still very different from the sum of all the photographs one may ever see. 
The chapel resembles a very large and high assembly hall, with a shallow vault. 
High up on the walls, we see a row of paintings of the stories of Moses and of Christ 
in the traditional manner of Michelangelo’s forerunners. But, as we look upwards, 
we seem to look into a different world. It is a world of more than human dimensions. 
In the vaultings that rise between the five windows on either side of the chapel, 
Michelangelo placed gigantic images of the Old Testament prophets who spoke to 
the Jews of the coming Messiah, alternating with images of Sibyls, who, according 
to an old tradition, predicted the coming of Christ to the pagans. He painted them 
as mighty men and women, sitting deep in thought, reading, writing, arguing, or as 
though they were listening to an inner voice. Between these rows of over life-size 
figures, on the ceiling proper, he painted the story of the Creation and of Noah. But, 
as though this immense task had not satisfied his urge for creating ever-new images, 
O 



224 Harmony Attained 

he filled the framework between these pictures with an overwhelming host of figures, 
some of them like statues, others like living youths of supernatural beauty, holding 
festoons and medallions with yet more stories. And even this is only the centre- 
piece. Beyond that, in the vaultings and directly below them, he painted an endless 
succession of men and women in infinite variation — ^the ancestors of Christ as they 
are enumerated in the Gospels. 

When we see all this wealth of figures in a photographic reproduction, we may 
suspect that the whole ceiling may look crowded and unbalanced. It is one of the 
great surprises, when one comes into the Sistine Chapel, to find how simple and 
harmonious the ceiling looks if we regard it merely as a piece of superb decoration — 
how mellow and restrained are its colour schemes, and how clear the whole arrange- 
ment. What is shown on Fig. 189 is only a small fraction of the whole work, one 
sector, as it were, vaulting across the ceiling. On the one side there is the prophet 
Daniel holding a huge volume, which a little boy supports on his knees, and turning 
aside to take a note of what he has read. On the opposite side there is the ‘Persian’ 
Sibyl, an old woman in Oriental costume, holding the book close to her eyes — equally 
engrossed in her researches into the sacred texts. The marble seats on which they 
sit are adorned with statues of playing children, and above them, one on each side, 
are two of the nudes gaily about to tie the medallion to the ceiling.These astonishing 
figures display all Michelangelo’s mastery in drawing the human body in any 
position and from any angle. They are young athletes with wonderful muscles, 
twisting and turning in every conceivable direction, but always contriving to remain 
graceful. There are no fewer than twenty of them on the ceiling, each one more 
masterly than the last, and there is little doubt that many of the ideas which were 
to have come to life out of the marbles of Carrara now crowded upon Michelangelo’s 
mind when he painted the Sistine ceiling. One can feel how he enjoyed his stupen- 
dous mastery and how his disappointment and his wrath at being prevented from 
continuing to work in the material he preferred spurred him on even more to show 
his enemies, real or suspected, that, if they forced him to paint — well, he would 
show them! 

We know how minutely Michelangelo studied each detail, and how carefully he 
prepared each figure in the drawings. Fig. 190 shows a leaf from his sketch-book on 
which he studied the forms of a model for one of the Sibyls. We see the interplay of 
muscles as no one had observed and portrayed it since the Greek masters. But, if he 
proved himself an tmsurpassed virtuoso in these famous ‘nudes’, he proved to be 
infinitely more than that in the illustrations of biblical themes which form the centre 
of the composition. There we see the Lord, calling forth, with powerful gestures, 
the plants, the heavenly bodies, animal life, and man. It is hardly an exaggeration to 
say that the picture of God the Fa±er — ^as it has lived in the minds of generation 
after generation, not only of artists but of humble people, who perhaps have never 




189. MICHELANGELO : A Section of the Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Vatican. 
Painted between 1508 and 1512 



226 Harmony Attained 



190. MICHELANGELO: Study Jor one of the Sibyls on the 
Sistine Ceiling. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art 


heard the name of Michelangelo — was shaped and moulded through the direct and 
indirect influence of these great visions in which Michelangelo illustrated the act of 
creation. Perhaps the most famous and most striking of them is the creation of 
Adam on one of the large fields (Fig. 191). Artists before Michelangelo had already 
painted Adam lying on the ground and being called to life by a mere touch of the 
hand of God, but none of them had even come near to expressing the greatness of 
the mystery of creation with such simplicity and force. There is nothing in the 
picture to divert attention from the main subject. Adam is lying on the ground in all 
the vigour and beauty that befits the first man; from the other side God the Father 
is approaching, carried and supported by His angels, wrapped in a wide and majestic 
mantle blown out by the wind like a sail, and suggesting the ease and speed with 
which He floats through the void. As He stretches out His hand, not even touching 
Adam’s finger, we almost see the first man waking, as from a profound sleep, and 
gazing into the fatherly face of his Maker. It is one of the greatest miracles in art 
how Michelangelo has contrived thus to make the touch of the Divine hand the 



Harmony Attained 227 



191. MICHELANGELO: The Creation of Adam. Detail of Fig. 189 


centre and focus of the picture, and how he has made us see the idea of omnipotence 
by the ease and power of this gesture of creation. 

Michelangelo had hardly finished his great work on the Sistine ceiling, in 1512, 
when he eagerly returned to his marble blocks to go on with the tomb of Julius II. 
He had intended to adorn it with a number of statues of prisoners, such as he had 
seen on Roman monuments — although it is likely he planned to give to these figures 
a symbolical meaning. One of these is the ‘Dying Slave’ on Fig. 192. 

If anyone had thought that after the tremendous exertion in the chapel Michel- 
angelo’s imagination had run dry, he was soon proved wrong. For when he returned 
to his beloved material, his powers seemed greater than ever. While in the ‘Adam’ 
Michelangelo had depicted the moment when life entered the beautiful body of a 
vigorous youth, he now, in the ‘Dying Slave’, chose the moment when life was just 
fading, and the body was giving way to the laws of dead matter. There is unspeak- 
able beauty in this last moment of final relaxation and release from the struggle of 
life — this gesture of lassitude and resignation. It is difficult to think of this work as 
being a statue of cold and lifeless stone, as we stand before it in the Louvre in Paris. 
It seems to move before our eyes, and yet to remain at rest. This is probably the 
effect Michelangelo aimed at. It is one of the secrets of his art that has been admired 
ever since, that, however much he lets the bodies of his figures twist and turn 
in violent movement, their outline always remains firm, simple and restful. The 
reason for this is that, from the very beginning, Michelangelo always tried to 
conceive his figures as lying hidden in the block of marble on which he was 
working; the task he set himself as a sculptor was merely to remove the stone which 
covered them. Thus the simple shape of a block was always reflected in the 
outline of the statues, and held it together in one lucid design, however much 
movement there was in the body. 


228 Harmony Attained 



192. MICHELANGELO: The dyif^ Slave, Marble 
statue destined for the tomb of Pope Julius II. 
About 1516. Paris, Louvre 


If Michelangelo had been famous 
when Julius II called him to Rome, his 
fame after the completion of these 
works was something no artist had ever 
enjoyed before. But this tremendous 
fame began to be something like a 
curse to him : for he was never allowed 
to complete the dream of his youth 
— the tomb of Julius II. When Julius 
died, another pope required the 
services of the most famous artist of 
his time, and each successive pope 
seemed more eager than his pre- 
decessor to have his name linked 
with that of Michelangelo. Yet, while 
princes and popes were outbidding 
each other to secure the services of the 
ageing master, he seemed to retire 
more and more into himself and to 
becomemoreexacting in his standards. 
The poems he wrote show that he was 
troubled by doubts as to whether his 
art had been sinful, while his letters 
make it clear that the higher he rose in 
the esteem of the world, the more 
bitter and difficult he became. He was 
not only admired, but feared for his 
temper, and he spared neither high 
nor low. There is no doubt he was 
very conscious of his social position, 
which was so different from anything 
he remembered from the days of his 
youth. Indeed, when he was seventy- 
seven, he once rebuffed a compatriot 
for having addressed a letter to ‘the 
Sculptor Michelangelo’. ‘Tell him’, 
he wrote, ‘not to address his letters to 
the sculptor Michelangelo, for here 
I am known only as Michelangelo 
Buonarroti ... I have never been 



Harmony Attained 229 

painter or sculptor, in the sense of having kept a shop . . . although I have served 
the popes; but this I did under compulsion.’ 

How sincere he was in this feeling of proud independence is best shown by the 
fact that he refused payment for his last great work, which occupied him in his old 
age: the completion of the work of his one-time enemy Bramante — the crowning 
cupola of St. Peter’s. This work on the principal church of Christendom the aged 
master regarded as a service to the greater glory of God, which should not be sullied 
by worldly profit. As it rises over the city of Rome, supported, it seems, by a ring 
of twin columns and soaring up with its clean majestic outline, it serves as a fitting 
monument to the spirit of this singular artist whom his contemporaries called 
‘divine’. 

At the time when Michelangelo and Leonardo were competing with each other 
in Florence in 1504, a young painter arrived there from the small city of Urbino, in 
the province of Umbria. He was Raphael Santi (1483-1520), who had done promi- 
sing work in the workshops of the leader of the ‘Umbrian’ school, Pietro Perugino 
(1446-1523). Like Michelangelo’s master, Ghirlandajo, and Leonardo’s master, 
Verrocchio, Raphael’s teacher, Perugino, belonged to the generation of highly 
successful artists who needed a large staff of skilled apprentices to help them carry 
out the many commissions they received. Perugino was one of those masters whose 
sweet and devout manner in painting altar-pieces commanded general respect. The 
problems with which earlier Quattrocento artists had wrestled with such zeal no 
longer presented much difficulty to him. Some of his most successful works, at any 
rate, show that he knew how to achieve a sense of depth without upsetting the 
balance of the design, and that he had learned to handle Leonardo’s ‘sfumato' 
so as to avoid giving his figures a harsh and rigid appearance. Fig. 193 is an altar- 
painting dedicated to St. Bernard. The saint looks up from his book to see the Holy 
Virgin standing in front of him. The arrangement could hardly be simpler — and 
yet there is nothing stiff or forced in this almost symmetrical lay-out.The figures are 
distributed to form a harmonious composition, and each of them moves with calm 
and ease. It is quite true that Perugino achieved this beautiful harmony at the 
expense of something else. He sacrificed the faithful portrayal of nature which the 
great masters of the Quattrocento had striven for with such passionate devotion. 
If we look at Perugino’s angels, we see that they all follow, more or less, the same 
type. It is a type of beauty which Perugino invented and applied in his pictures 
in ever-new variations. When we see too much of his work, we may tire of his 
devices, but then his paintings were not meant to be seen, side by side, in picture 
galleries. Taken singly, some of his best works give us a glimpse into a world more 
serene and more harmonious than our own. 

It was in this atmosphere that the young Raphael grew up, and he had soon mas- 
tered and absorbed the manner of his teacher. When he arrived in Florence he was 



230 


Harmony Attained 



193. PERUGINO: The Virgin appearing to St. Bernard. Altar-painting. 
About 1490. Munich, Alte Pinakothek 


confronted with a stirring challenge. Leonardo and Michelangelo, the one his senior 
by thirty-one years, the other by eight years, were setting up new standards in 
art of which nobody had ever dreamed. Other young artists might have become 
discouraged by the reputations of these giants. Not so Raphael. He was determined 
to learn. He must have known that he was at a disadvantage in some respects. He 
had neither the immense range of knowledge of Leonardo, nor the power of 
Michelangelo. But while these two geniuses were difficult to get on with, unpre- 
dictable and elusive to ordinary mortals, Raphael was of a sweetness of temper 
which would commend him to influential patrons. Moreover he could work, and 
work he would until he had caught up with the older masters. 

Raphael’s greatest paintings seem so effortless that one does not usually connect 
them with the idea of hard and relentless work. To many he is simply the painter 
of sweet Madonnas which have become so well known as hardly to be appreciated 
as paintings any more. For Raphael’s vision of the Holy Virgin has been adopted by 
subsequent generations in the same way as Michelangelo’s conception of God the 



194 * RAPHAEL : Pope Leo X {Medici) with two Cardinals, Probably painted in 1518. 

Florence, Palazzo Pitti 




195* RAPHAEL: Head of the nymph Galatea, Detail of Fig. 197 




233 



Harmony Attained 

Father. We see cheap reproductions of these 
works in humble rooms, and we are apt to 
conclude that paintings with such a general 
appeal must surely be a little ‘obvious*. In 
fact, their apparent simplicity is the fruit of 
deep thought, careful planning and immense 
artistic wisdom. A painting like Raphael’s 
‘Madonna del Granduca* (Fig. 196) is truly 
‘classical’ in the sense that it has served 
countless generations as a standard of 
perfection in the same way as the work of 
Pheidias and Praxiteles has. It needs no 
explanation. In this respect it is indeed 
‘obvious’. But, if we compare it with the 
countless representations of the same theme 
which preceded it, we feel that they have all 
been groping for the very simplicity that 
Raphael has attained. We can see what 
Raphael did owe to the calm beauty of 
Perugino’s types, but what a difference 
there is between the rather empty regularity 

of the master and the fullness of life in the pupil! The way the Virgin’s face is 
modelled and recedes into the shade, the way Raphael makes us feel the volume of 
the body wrapt in the freely flowing mantle, the firm and tender way in which she 
holds and supports the Christ-child — all this contributes to the effect of perfect 
poise. We feel that to change the slightest detail would upset the whole harmony. 
Yet there is nothing strained or sophisticated in the composition. It looks as if it 
could not be otherwise, and as if it had so existed from the beginning of time. 

After some years in Florence, Raphael went to Rome. He arrived there probably 
in 1508 at the time when Michelangelo was just starting work on the Sistine ceiling. 
Julius II soon found work for this young and amiable artist also. He asked him to 
decorate the walls of various rooms in the Vatican which have come to be known 
by the name of the Stanze (rooms). Raphael proved his mastery of perfect 
design and balanced composition in a series of frescoes on the walls and ceilings 
of these rooms. To appreciate the full beauty of these works, one must spend some 
time in the rooms and feel the harmony and diversity of the whole scheme in which 
movement answers to movement, and form to form. Removed from their setting 
and reduced in size they tend to look frigid, for the individual figures, which stand 
before us life-size when we face the frescoes, are too readily absorbed by the groups. 
Conversely, when taken out of their context as illustrations of ‘detail’, these figures 


196. RAPHAEL: The Madonna del Granduca, 
About 1505. Florence, Palazzo Pitti 



234 Harmony Attained 

lose one of their principal functions — that of forming part of the graceful melody of 
the whole design. 

This applies less to a smaller fresco (Fig. 197) which Raphael painted in the villa 
of a rich banker, Agostino Chigi (now called the Famesina). As subject he chose a 
verse from a poem by the Florentine Angelo Poliziano which had also helped to 
inspire Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’. These verses describe how the clumsy giant 
Polyphemus sings a love song to the fair sea-nymph Galatea and how she rides across 
the waves in a chariot drawn by two dolphins, laughing at his uncouth song, while 
the gay company of other sea-gods and nymphs is milling round her. Raphael’s 
fresco shows Galatea with her gay companions. The picture of the giant was to 
appear elsewhere in the hall. However long one looks at this lovely and cheerful 
picture, one will always discover new beauties in its rich and intricate composition. 
Every figure seems to correspond to some other figure, every movement to answer 
a counter-movement. To start with the small boys with Cupid’s bows and arrows 
who aim at the heart of the nymph; not only do those to right and left echo each 
other’s movements, but the boy swimming beside the chariot corresponds to the 
one flying at the top of the picture. It is the same with the group of sea-gods which 
seems to be ‘wheeling’ round the nymph. There are two on the margins who blow 
on their sea-shells, and the pairs in front and behind who are making love to each 
other. But what is more admirable is that all these diverse movements are somehow 
reflected and taken up in the figure of Galatea herself. Her chariot had been driving 
from left to right with her veil blowing backwards, but, hearing the strange love 
song, she turns round and smiles, and all the lines in the picture, from the love-gods’ 
arrows to the reins she holds, converge on her beautiful face in the very centre 
of the picture (Fig. 195). By these artistic means Raphael has achieved constant 
movement throughout the picture, without letting it become restless or unbalanced. 
It is for this supreme mastery of arranging his figures, this consummate skill in 
composition that artists have ever since admired Raphael. Just as Michelangelo was 
found to have reached the highest peak in the mastery of the human body, Raphael 
was seen to have accomplished what the older generation had striven so hard to 
achieve: the perfect and harmonious composition of freely moving figures. 

There was another quality in Raphael’s work that was admired by his contem- 
poraries and by subsequent generations — ^the sheer beauty of his figures. When he 
had finished the ‘Galatea’, Raphael was asked by a courtier where in all the world 
he had found a model of such beauty. He replied that he did not copy any specific 
model but rather followed ‘a certain idea’ he had formed in his mind. To some 
extent, then, Raphael, like his teacher Perugino, had abandoned the faithful por- 
trayal of nature which had been the ambition of so many Quattrocento artists. He 
deliberately used an imagined type of regular beauty. If we look back to the time 
of Praxiteles (p. 69, Fig. 62) we remember how what we call an ‘ideal’ beauty 



Harmony Attained 235 



197. RAPHAEL: The Nymph Galatea, Wall-painting in the Villa Farnesina, Rome. About 1514 

grew out of a slow approximation of schematic forms to nature. Now the process 
was reversed. Artists tried to approximate nature to the idea of beauty they had 
formed when looking at classical statues — ^they ‘idealized’ the model. It was a 
tendency not without its dangers, for, if the artist deliberately ‘improves on’ 




236 Harmony Attained 

nature, his work may easily look mannered or insipid. But if we look once more at 
Raphael’s work, we see that he, at any rate, could idealize without any loss of 
vitality and sincerity in the result. There is nothing schematic or calculated in 
Galatea’s loveliness. She is an inmate of a brighter world of love and beauty — the 
world of the classics as it appeared to its admirers in sixteenth-century Italy. 

When Raphael died on his thirty-seventh birthday, almost as young as Mozart, 
he had crammed into his brief life an astonishing diversity of artistic achievements 
and interests. Like Michelangelo, he designed buildings and studied the ruins 
of Rome. He was as great a portrait painter (Fig. 194) as a painter of large murals, 
and, since he was a sociable man, the high dignitaries of the papal court and the 
scholars made him their companion. There was even talk of his being made a 
Cardinal. When he died in the spring of 1520 and left his busy workshop orphaned, 
one of the most famous scholars of his age. Cardinal Bembo, wrote the epitaph for 
his tomb in the Pantheon of Rome: 

This is Raphael’s tomb, while he lived he made Mother Nature 

Fear to be vanquished by him and, as he died, to die too. 



198. Members of RaphaeVs workshop plasterings painting and decorating the Loggie, 
Stucco relief in the Vatican Loggie made about 1518 




CHAPTER i6 • LIGHT AND COLOUR 
Venice and Northern Italy in the Early Sixtemth Century 





r ^ J E must now turn to another great centre of Italian art, second in 
^ %/ importance only to Florence itself— the proud and prosperous city 
T T of Venice. Venice, whose trade linked it closely with the East, had been 
slower than other Italian cities in accepting the style of the Renaissance, Brunel- 
leschi’s application of classical form to buildings. But when it did, the style there 
acquired a new gaiety, splendour and warmth which evoke perhaps more closely 
than any other building in modem times, the grandeur of the great merchant cities 
of the Hellenistic period, of Alexandria or Antiochia. One of the most characteristic 
buildings of this style is the Library of San Marco (Fig. 199). Its architect was a 
Florentine, Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570), but he had completely adapted his 
style and manner to the genius of the place, the brilliant light of Venice which is 
reflected by the lagoons, and dazzles the eyes by its splendour. It may seem a little 
pedantic to anatomize such a festive and simple building, but to look at it carefully 
may help us to see how skilled these masters were in weaving a few simple elements 


199. A building of the High Renaissance: the Lwrary in Venice, 
Designed by Jacopo Sansovino. 1536 




238 Light and Colour 

into ever-new patterns. The lower storey, then, with its vigorous Doric order of 
columns, is in the most orthodox classical manner. Sansovino has closely followed 
the rules of building which the Colosseum (p. 79, Fig. 72) exemplified. He adhered 
to the same tradition when he arranged the upper storey in the Ionic order, 
carrying a so-called ‘attic’ crowned with a balustrade and topped by a row of 
statues. But, instead of letting the arched openings between the orders rest on 
pillars, as had been the case on the Colosseum, Sansovino supported them by 
another set of smaller Ionic columns, and thus achieved a rich effect of interlocked 
orders. With his balustrades, garlands and sculptures he gave the building some- 
thing of the appearance of tracery such as had been used on the Gothic fa9ades of 
Venice (p. 150, Fig. 138). 

This building is characteristic of the taste for which Venetian art in the Cinque- 
cento became famous. The atmosphere of the lagoons, which seems to blur the 
sharp outlines of objects and to blend their colours in a radiant light, may have 
taught the painters of this city to use colour in a more deliberate and observant way 
than other painters in Italy had done so far. It is difficult to talk or write about 
colours, and coloured illustrations are rarely sufficiently accurate to give a clear 
idea of what a painting is really like. But so much seems to be clear: the painters 
of the Middle Ages were no more concerned about the ‘real’ colours of things than 
they were about their real shapes. In their miniatures, enamel work and panel 
paintings, they loved to spread out the purest and most precious colours they could 
get — with shining gold and flawless ultramarine blue as a favourite combination. 
The great reformers of Florence were less interested in colour than in drawing. 
That does not mean, of course, that their pictures were not exquisite in colour — the 
contrary is true — but few of them regarded colour as one of the principal means 
of welding the various figures and forms of a picture into one unified pattern. They 
preferred to do this by means of perspective and composition before they even 
dipped their brushes into paint. The Venetian painters, it seems, did not think of 
colour as an additional adornment for the picture after it had been drawn on the 
panel. When one enters the little church of San Zaccaria in Venice and stands before 
the picture (Fig. 201) which the great Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini (143 1 ?-i 5 1 6) 
had painted over the altar there in 1505 — in his old age — one immediately notices 
that his approach to colour was very different. Not that the picture is particularly 
bright or shining. It is rather the mellowness and richness of the colours that 
impress one before one even begins to look at what the picture represents. I think 
that even the photograph conveys something of the warm and gilded atmosphere 
which fills the niche in which the Virgin sits enthroned, with the infant Jesus lifting 
His little hand to bless the worshippers before the altar. An angel at the foot of the 
altar softly plays the violin, while the saints stand quietly at either side of the 
throne: St. Peter with his key and book, St. Catherine with the palm of martyrdom 



Light and Colour 239 

and the broken wheel, St. Apollonia and St. Jerome, the scholar who translated 
the Bible into Latin, and whom Bellini therefore represented as reading in a book. 
Many Madonnas with saints have been painted before and after, in Italy and else- 
where, but few were ever conceived with such a dignity and repose. In the earlier 
days, the picture of the Virgin used to be rigidly flanked by the traditional images of 
the saints. Bellini knew how to bring life into a simple symmetrical arrangement 
without upsetting its order. He also knew how to turn the traditional figures of the 
Virgin and saints into real and living beings without divesting them of their old 
character and dignity. He did not even sacrifice the variety and individuality of real 
life — as Perugino had done to some extent (p. 230, Fig. 193). St. Catherine with her 
dreamy smile, and St. Jerome, the old scholar engrossed in his book, are real enough 
in their own ways, although they, too, no less than Perugino’s figures, seem to be- 
long to another more serene and beautiful world, a world transfused with that warm 
and supernatural light that fills the picture. 

Giovanni Bellini belonged to the same generation as Verrocchio, Ghirlandajo and 
Perugino — the generation whose pupils and followers were the famous Cinquecento 
masters. He, too, was the head of an exceedingly busy workshop out of whose orbit 
there emerged the famous painters of the Venetian Cinquecento, Giorgione and 
Titian. If the classical painters of central Italy had achieved the new complete 
harmony within their pictures by means of perfect design and balanced arrangement, 
it was only natural that the painters of Venice should follow the lead of Giovanni 
Bellini who had made such happy use of colour schemes to unify his pictures. 
It was in this sphere that the painter Giorgione (1478 ?-i5io) achieved the 
most revolutionary results. Very little is known of this artist; not more than 
five paintings can be ascribed with absolute certainty to his hand. Yet these 
sufficed to secure him a fame nearly as great as that of the great leaders of the New 
Movement. Strangely enough, even these pictures contain something of a puzzle. 
We are not quite sure what the most accomplished one, ‘The Tempest’ (Fig. 200), 
represents ; it may be a scene from some classical writer or an imitator of the classics. 
For Venetian artists of the period had awakened to the charm of the Greek poets and 
what they stood for.They liked to illustrate the idyllic stories of pastoral love and to 
portray the beauty of Venus and the nymphs. One day the episode here illustrated 
may be identified — the story, perhaps, of a mother of some future hero, who was 
cast out of the city into the wilderness with her child and was there discovered by a 
friendly young shepherd. For this, it seems, is what Giorgione wanted to represent. 
But it is not due to its content that the picture is one of the most wonderful things in 
art. That this is so may be difficult to see in a small-scale illustration, but even 
such an illustration conveys a shadow, at least, of his revolutionary achievement. 
Though the figures are not particularly carefully drawn, and though the composition 
is somewhat artless, the picture is clearly blended into a whole simply by the light 



240 Light and Colour 

and air that permeates it all. It is the weird light of a thunderstorm and for the first 
time, it seems, the landscape before which the actors of the picture move is not 
just a background. It is there, by its own right, as the real subject of the painting. 
We look from the figures to the scenery which fills the major part of the small panel, 
and then back again, and we feel somehow that unlike his predecessors and con- 
temporaries, Giorgione has not drawn things and persons to arrange them afterwards 
in space, but that he really thought of nature, the earth, the trees, the light, air and 
clouds and the human beings with their cities and bridges as one. In a way, this 
was almost as big a step forward into a new realm as the invention of perspective 
had been. From now on, painting was more than a drawing plus colouring. It was 
an art with its own secret laws and devices. 

Giorgione died too young to gather all the fruits of this great discovery. This was 
done by the most famous of all Venetian painters — Titian (1477?- 15 76). Titian 
was bom in Cadore, in the southern Alps, and is said to have been ninety-nine when 
he died of the plague. During his long life he rose to a fame which nearly matched 
that of Alichelangelo. His early biographers tell us with awe that even the great 
Emperor Charles V had done him honour by picking up a brush he had dropped. 
We may not find this very remarkable, but if we consider the strict rules of the 
court of those times, we realize that the greatest embodiment of worldly power was 
believed to have humbled himself symbolically before the majesty of genius. Seen in 
this light, the little anecdote, whether true or not, represented to later ages a triumph 
for art. All the more so since Titian was neither such a universal scholar as Leonardo, 
nor such an outstanding personality as Michelangelo, nor such a versatile and attrac- 
tive man as Raphael. He was principally and first of all a painter, but a painter whose 
handling of paint equalled Michelangelo’s mastery of draughtsmanship. This 
supreme skill enabled him to disregard all the time-honoured rules of composition, 
and to rely on colour to restore the unity which he apparently broke up. We need 
but look at Fig. 202 (which was begun only some fifteen years after Giovamii 
Bellini’s painting ‘Madoima with Saints’), to realize the effect which his art must 
have had on contemporaries. It was almost unheard of to move the Holy Vir gin out 
of the centre of the picture, and to place the two administering saints — St. Francis, 
who is recognizable by the Stigmata (the wounds of the Cross), and St. Peter, who 
has deposited the key (emblem of his dignity) on the steps of the Virgin’s throne — 
not symmetrically on each side, as Giovanni Bellini had done, but as active partici- 
pants of a scene. In this altar-piece, Titian had to revive the tradition of donors’ 
portraits (p. 157, Fig. 143), but did it in an entirely novel way. The picture was 
intended as a token of thanksgiving for a victory over the Turks by the Venetian 
nobleman Jacopo Pesaro, and Titian portrayed him kneeling before the Vir gin while 
an armoured standard-bearer drags a Turkish prisoner behind him. St. Peter and 
the Virgin look down on him benignly while St. Francis, on the other side, draws the 



200. GIORGIONE: Tkc Tcmpcsi, About 1508. Venice, Accademia 





201. GIOVANNI BELLINI: Madonna with Saints, Altar-painting in S. Zaccaria> Venice. 

Completed in 1505 


243 


Light and Colour 



202. TITIAN: Madonna with Saints and members of the Pesaro family. Begun in 1519, 
completed in 1528. Venice, Church of Sta Maria dei Frari 


attention of the Christ-child to the other members of the Pesaro family who are 
kneeling in the corners of the picture. The whole scene seems to take place in an 
open courtyard, with two giant columns which rise into the clouds where two litde 
angels are engaged in playfully raising the Cross. Titian’s contemporaries may well 
have been amazed at the audacity with which he had dared to upset the old-estab- 
lished rules of composition. They must have expected, at first, to find such a picture 
Q 




203. TITIAN; Madonna and Child, Detail of Fig. 202 


245 


Light and Colour 

lopsided and unbalanced. Actually it is the 
very opposite. The unexpected composition 
only serves to make it gay and lively without 
upsetting the harmony of it all. The main 
reason is the way in which Titian contrived 
to let light, air and colours unify the scene. 

The idea of letting a mere flag counter- 
balance the figure of the Holy Virgin would 
probably have shocked an earlier genera- 
tion, but this flag, in its rich warm colour, 
is such a stupendous piece of painting that 
the venture was a complete success. 

Titian’s greatest fame with his contem- 
poraries rested on portraits. We need only 

look at a head like Fig. 204, usually called 204. TITIAN: Portrait of a man (so-callcd 

a ‘Young Englishman’, to understand ‘Young Englishman’). About 1540. 

Florence, Palazzo Pitti 

this fascination. We might try in vain to 
analyse wherein it consists. Compared 

with earlier portraits it all looks so simple and effortless. There is nothing of the 
minute modelling of Leonardo’s ‘Mona Lisa’ in it — and yet this unknown young 
man seems as mysteriously alive as she does. He seems to gaze at us with such an 
intense and soulful look that it is almost impossible to believe that these dreamy 
eyes are only a bit of coloured earth spread on a rough piece of canvas (Fig. 205). 

It was not only in the great centres like Venice that artists advanced to the 
discovery of new possibilities and new methods. The painter who was looked upon 
by later generations as the most ‘progressive’ and most daring innovator of the 
whole period led a lonely life in the small northern Italian town of Parma. His name 
was Antonio Allegri, called Correggio (1489 ?-i534). Leonardo and Raphael had 
died and Titian had already risen to fame when Correggio painted his more im- 
portant works, but we do not know how much he knew of the art of his time. He 
probably had an opportunity in the neighbouring cities of northern Italy to study 
the works of some of Leonardo’s pupils and to learn about his treatment of light and 
shade. It was in this field that he worked out entirely new effects which greatly 
influenced later schools of painters. 

Fig. 206 shows one of his most famous paintings — ‘The Holy Night’. The tall 
shepherd has just had the vision of the open heavens in which the angels sing their 
‘Glory to God on High’; we see them whirling gaily about in the cloud and looking 
down on the scene to which the shepherd has rushed with his long staff. In the 
dark ruins of the stable he sees the miracle — the new-born Child that radiates light 
all round, lighting up the beautiful face of the happy mother. The shepherd arrests 




246 


Light and Colour 




205. TITIAN: Portrait of a Man. Detail of Fig. 204 

his movement and fumbles for his cap, ready to kneel down and worship. There are 
two servant girls — one is dazzled by the light from the manger, one looks happily at 
the shepherd. St. Joseph in the murky dark outside busies himself with the ass. 




Light and Colour 


247 



206. CORREGGIO: The Holy Night. 207. Correggio: St. John the Baptist. 

Altar-painting. About 1530 Study for a wall-painting. About 1526. 

Dresden, Gallery Vienna, Albertina 


At first sight the arrangement looks quite artless and casual. The crowded scene 
on the left does not seem to be balanced by any corresponding group on the right. 
It is only balanced through the emphasis which the light gives to the group of the 
Virgin and the Child. Correggio even more than Titian exploited the discovery 
that colour and light can be used to balance forms and to direct our eyes along 
certain lines. It is we who rush to the scene with the shepherd and who are made to 
see what he sees — ^the miracle of the Light that shone in darkness of which the 
Gospel of St. John speaks. 

There is one feature of Correggio’s works which was imitated throughout the 
subsequent centuries ; it is the way in which he painted the ceilings and cupolas 
of churches. He tried to give the worshippers in the nave below the illusion that the 
ceiling had opened and that they were looking right into the glory of Heaven. His 
mastery of light effects enabled him to fill the ceiling with simlit clouds between 
which the heavenly hosts seem to hover with their legs dangling downwards. This 
may not sound very dignified and actually there were people at the time who 
objected, but when you stand in the dark and gloomy medieval cathedral of Parma 
and look up towards its dome the impression is nevertheless very great. Unfortu- 
nately this type of effect caimot be reproduced in an illustration, the less so as these 
frescoes have suffered a good deal in the course of time. Perhaps one of Correggio’s 



248 Light and Colour 

preparatory drawings for a spandrel under the cupola (Fig. 207) can give a better 
idea of his intentions. It represents St. John the Baptist hugging the lamb (which 
is his emblem), sitting on a cloud supported by angels and looking, enraptured, 
into the stream of light that pours down from the open heavens above him. This 
simple drawing gives an idea of Correggio’s skill in creating the illusion of over- 
whelming radiance. Somehow the greatest masters of colour learned the secret of 
conveying light even with a few touches of black. 



208. An Orchestra of Venetian Painters : Titian (with double-bass), Tintoretto (with viola), 
Jacopo Bassano (with flute), and Paolo Veronese (with violoncello). From the painting of 
The Marriage at Cana by PAOLO VERONESE. 1563. Paris, Louvre 



CHAPTER 17 : THE NEW LEARNING SPREADS 
Germany and the Netherlands in the Early Sixteenth Century 



209. Northern Renaissance: The old Chancellery in Bruges (‘La Grcffc’). 

Designed by JAN WALLOT and CHRISTIAN siXDENiERS. i535 7 


T he great achievements and inventions of the Italian masters of the 
Renaissance made a deep impression on the peoples north of the Alps. 
Everyone who was interested in the revival of learning had become 
accustomed to looking towards Italy, where the wisdom and the treasures of 
classical antiquity were being discovered. We know very well that in art we 


250 The New Learning Spreads 

cannot speak of progress in the sense in which we speak of progress in learning. 
A Gothic work of art may be just as great as a work of the Renaissance. Nevertheless, 
it is perhaps natural that to the people at that time, who came into contact with the 
masterpieces from the south, their own art seemed suddenly to be old-fashioned 
and out of date. There were three tangible achievements of the Italian masters to 
which they could point. One was the discovery of scientific perspective, the second 
the knowledge of anatomy — and with it the perfect rendering of the beautiful 
human body — ^and thirdly the knowledge of the classical forms of building which 
seemed to the period to stand for everything that was dignified and beautiful. 

It is a fascinating spectacle to watch the reactions of various artists and traditions 
to the impact of this new knowledge, and to see how they asserted themselves or, as 
sometimes happened, how they succumbed — according to the strength of their 
character and the breadth of their vision. Architects were perhaps in the most 
difficult position. Both the Gothic system, to which they were accustomed, and the 
new revival of ancient buildings are, at least in theory, utterly logical and consistent, 
but as different from each other in aim and spirit as two styles could possibly be. It 
took a long time, therefore, before the new fashion in building was adopted north 
of the Alps. When this did come about, it was frequently on the insistence of princes 
and noblemen who had visited Italy and wanted to be up to date. Even so, architects 
often complied only very superficially with the requirements of the new style. They 
demonstrated their acquaintance with the new ideas by putting a column here and 
a frieze there — ^in other words, by adding some of the new forms to their wealth of 

decorative motives. More often than not, 
the body of the building remained entirely 
untouched. There are churches, for in- 
stance in France, England and Germany, 
where the pillars supporting the vault 
are superficially turned into columns by 
having capitals affixed to them, or where 
the Gothic windows are complete with 
lacework, but the pointed arch has given 
way to a rounded one (Fig. 210). There 
are regular cloisters supported by fantastic 
bottle -shaped columns, castles bristling 
with turrets and buttresses, but adorned 
with classical details, gabled town houses 
with timber imitations of a regular frieze 
(Fig. 209). An Italian artist, convinced of 
the perfection of the classical rules, would 
probably have turned away from these 



210. Gothic transformed: the choir of St. Pierre 
in Caen, Designed byPiERRESOHiER. 
Begun in 1518, completed about 1545 


The New Learning Spreads 251 

things in horror, but if we do not measure them by any pedantic academic standard 
we may often admire the ingenuity and wit with which these incongruous styles 
were blended. 

Things were rather different in the case of painters and sculptors, because for 
them it was not a matter of taking over certain definite forms such as columns, or 
arches, piecemeal. Only minor painters could be content with borrowing a figure 
or a gesture from an Italian engraving which had come their way. Any real artist 
was bound to feel the urge thoroughly to understand the new principles of art 
and to make up his mind about their usefulness. We can study this dramatic 
process in the work of the greatest German artist, Albrecht Diirer (1471-1528), 
who was throughout his life fully conscious of their vital importance for the 
future of art. 

Albrecht Diirer was the son of a distinguished master-goldsmith who had come 
from Hungary and settled in the flourishing city of Nuremberg. Even as a boy, 
young Diirer showed an astonishing gift for drawing — some of his works of that 
time have been preserved — and he was apprenticed with the biggest workshop for 
altars and woodcut illustrations. This belonged to the Nuremberg master, Michel 
Wolgemut. Having completed his apprenticeship, he followed the custom of all 
young medieval craftsmen and travelled about as a journeyman to broaden his views 
and to look for a place in which to settle. Diirer’s intention had been to visit the 
workshop of the greatest copper-engraver of his period, Martin Schongauer (p. 207), 
but when he arrived at Colmar he found that the master had died some months 
earlier. However, he stayed with Schongauer’s brothers, who had taken charge of 
the workshop, and then turned to Basle in Switzerland, at that time a centre of 
learning and of the book trade. Here he made woodcuts for books, and then 
travelled on, across the Alps into northern Italy, keeping an open eye throughout 
his journeys and making water-colours of the picturesque places in the Alpine 
valleys, and studying the works of Mantegna (p. 186). When he returned to 
Nuremberg to marry and open his own workshop, he possessed all the technical 
accomplishments a northern artist could expect to acquire in the south. He soon 
showed that he had more than mere technical knowledge of his difficult craft, that 
he possessed that intense feeling and imagination which alone make the great artist. 
One of his first great works was a series of large woodcuts illustrating the Revelation 
of St. John. It was a great success. The terrifying visions of the horrors of doomsday, 
and of the signs and portents preceding it, had never been visualized with similar 
force and power. There is little doubt that Diirer’s imagination, and the interest 
of the public, fed on the general restlessness and discontent with the institutions 
of the Church which was rife in Germany towards the end of the Middle Ages, 
and was finally to break out in Luther’s Reformation. To Diirer and his public, 
the weird visions of the apocalyptic events had acquired something like topical 



252 The New Learning Spreads 



211. DUREr: St. MichaeVs Fight against the Dragon. From the woodcut 
series illustrating the Revelation published in 1498 


interest, for there were many who expected these prophecies to come true within 
their lifetime. Fig. 21 1 shows an illustration of Revelation xii. 7: 

And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and 
the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not ; neither was their place found any 
more in heaven. 

To represent this great moment, Diirer discarded all the traditional poses that had 
been used time and again to represent, with a show of elegance and ease, a hero’s 
fight against a mortal enemy. Durer’s St. Michael does not strike any pose. He is in 
deadly earnest. He uses both hands in a mighty effort to thrust his huge spear into 
the dragon’s throat, and this powerful gesture dominates the whole scene. Round 
him there are the hosts of other warring angels fighting as swordsmen and archers 
against the fiendish monsters, whose fantastic appearance defies description. 



The New Learning Spreads 


253 


Beneath this celestial battlefield there lies a landscape untroubled and serene, with 
Outer’s famous signature. 

But though Diirer had proved himself a master of the fantastic and the visionary, 
a true heir of those Gothic artists who had created the porches of the great cathedrals, 
he did not rest content with this achievement. His studies and sketches show that 
it was equally his aim to contemplate the beauty of nature, and to copy it as patiently 
and as faithfully as any artist had ever done, since Jan van Eyck had shown the 
artists of the north that their task was to mirror nature. Some of these studies of 


Diirer have become famous; for instance, his water-colour of a piece of lawn 
(Fig. 212). It seems that Diirer strove for this perfect mastery in the imitation of 
nature, not so much as an aim in itself but as a better way of presenting a convincing 
vision of the sacred stories which he was to illustrate in his paintings, engravings, 
and woodcuts. For the same patience which enabled him to draw these sketches also 
made him the born engraver, who never tired of adding detail upon detail to build up 
a true little world within the compass of his copper plate. In his ‘Nativity’ (Fig. 214) 
which he made in 1504 (that is, about the time when Michelangelo amazed the 
Florentines by his display of knowledge of the human body), Diirer took up the 
theme which Schongauer (p. 207, Fig. 181) had represented on his lovely engraving. 
The older artist had already used the opportunity to depict the rugged walls of the 
dilapidated stables with special love. It would seem, at first glance, that for Diirer 
this was the main subject. The old farmyard with its cracked mortar and loose tiles, 
its broken wall from which trees are growing, its ramshackle boards in place of a 
roof, on which birds are nesting, is thought 

out and rendered with such quiet and Jr- ^ 


contemplative patience that one feels how 
much the artist enjoyed the idea of the 
picturesque old building. Compared with 
it, the figures seem, indeed, small and 
almost insignificant: Mary, who has sought 
shelter in the old shed and is kneeling 
in front of her Child, and Joseph, who 
busies himself hauling water from the well 
and pouring it carefully into a narrow pit- 
cher. One must look carefully to discover 
one of the adoring shepherds in the back- 
ground, and you almost need a magnifying 
glass to detect the traditional angel in the 
sky who announces the glad tidings to the 
world. And yet no one would seriously 
suggest that Diirer was merely trying to 




254 Learning Spreads 

display his skill in rendering old and broken 
walls. This old, disused farmyard, with its 
humble visitors, conveys such an atmo- 
sphere of idyllic peace that it calls on us to 
ponder the miracle of the Holy Night in 
the same mood of devout meditation as 
went into the making of the engraving. 

In engravings like this, Diirer seemed 
to have summed up and brought to per- 
fection the development of Gothic art, 
since it had turned towards the imitation 
of nature. But, at the same time, his mind 
was busy grappling with the new aims 
given to art by the Italian artists. 

There was one aim which Gothic art 
had almost excluded and which now stood 
in the foreground of interest; the repre- 
sentation of the human body in that 
ideal beauty with which classical art had endowed it. 

Here Diirer was soon to find out that any mere imitation of real nature, however 
diligently and devotedly it was done, would never be sufficient to produce the 
elusive quality of beauty that distinguished southern works of art. Raphael, when 
confronted with this question, referred to the ‘certain idea’ of beauty that he found 
in his own mind, the idea that he had absorbed during years of studying classical 
sculpture and beautiful models. To Durer, this was no simple proposition. Not only 
were his opportunities for study less wide, but he had no firm tradition or suie 
instinct to guide him in such matters. That is why he went in search of a reliable 
recipe, as it were, a teachable rule which would explain what makes for beauty in 
the human form; and he believed he had found such a rule in the teachings of the 
classical writers on art on the proportions of the human body. Their expressions 
and measurements were rather obscure, but Durer was not to be deterred by such 
difficulties. He intended, as he said, to give the vague practice of his forefathers 
(who had created vigorous works without clear knowledge of the rules of art) a 
proper teachable foundation. It is thrilling to watch Durer experimenting with 
various rules of proportion, to see him deliberately distorting the human frame by 
drawing overlong, or overbroad, bodies in order to find the right balance and the 
right harmony. Among the first results of these studies which were to engage him 
throughout his life was the engraving of Adam and Eve in which he embodied all 
his new ideas of beauty and harmony, and which he proudly signed with his full 
name in Latin, ‘Albertus Durer Noricus faciebat 1504’ (Fig. 213). 



213. durer: Adam and Eve, 
Engraving made in 1504 


The New Learning Spreads 


255 



214. d’urer: The Nativity. Engraving made in 1504 


It may not be easy for us to see immediately the achievement which lay in this 
engraving. For the artist is speaking a language which is less familiar to him than 
that which he used in our preceding example. The harmonious forms at which he 
arrived by diligent measuring and balancing with compass and ruler, are not as 



256 The New Learning Spreads 

convincing and beautiful as their Italian and classical models. There is some slight 
suggestion of artificiality, not only in their form and posture, but also in the sym- 
metrical composition. But this slight feeling of awkwardness soon disappears when 
one realizes that Durer has not abandoned his real self to serve new idols, as lesser 
artists did. As we let him guide us into the Garden of Eden, where the mouse lies 
quietly beside the cat, where the stag, the cow, the rabbit and the parrot do not fear 
the tread of human feet, as we look deep into the grove where the tree of knowledge 
grows, and watch the serpent giving Eve the fatal fruit while Adam stretches out 
his hand to receive it, and as we notice how Diirer has contrived to let the clear 
outline of their white and delicately modelled bodies show up against the dark 
shade of the forest with its rugged trees, we come to admire the first serious attempt 
to transplant the ideals of the south into northern soil. 

Diirer himself, however, was not easily satisfied. A year after he had published 
this engraving, he travelled to Venice to broaden his horizon and to learn more 
about the secrets of southern art. The arrival of so eminent a competitor was not 
altogether welcome to the minor Venetian artists, and Diirer wrote to a friend: 

*I have many friends among the Italians who warn me not to eat and drink with 
their painters. Many of them are my enemies; they copy my works in the churches 
and wherever they can find them; and then they decry my work and say it was not 
in the manner of the classics and therefore it was no good. But Giovanni Bellini 
has praised me very highly to many noblemen. He wanted to have something I have 
done, and he himself came to me and asked me to make something for him — he 
would pay well. Everyone tells me how devout a man he is, which makes me like 
him. He is very old, and still the best in painting.’ 

It is in one of these letters from Venice that Diirer wrote the touching sentence 
which shows how keenly he felt the contrast of his position as an artist in the rigid 
order of the Nuremberg guilds compared with the freedom of his Italian colleagues : 
‘How I shall shiver for the sun’, he wrote, ‘here I am a lord, at home a parasite. ’ 
But Diirer’s later life does not quite bear out these apprehensions. True, at first he 
had to bargain and argue with the rich burghers of Nuremberg and Frankfurt like 
any artisan. He had to promise them to use only the best quality paint for his 
panels and to apply it in many layers. But gradually his fame spread, and the 
Emperor Maximilian, who himself believed in the importance of art as an instru- 
ment of glorification, secured Diirer’s services for a number of ambitious schemes. 
When, at the age of fifty, Diirer visited the Netherlands, he was, indeed, received 
like a lord. He himself, deeply moved, described how the painters of Antwerp 
honoured him in their guild-hall with a solemn banquet, ‘and when I was led to 
the table, the people stood, on both sides, as if they were introducing a great lord, 
and among them were many persons of excellence who all bowed their heads 
in the most humble manner’. Even in the northern countries the great artists had 



The New Learning Spreads 257 

broken down the snobbery which led people to despise men who worked with 
their hands. 

It is a strange and puzzling fact that the only German painter who can be com- 
pared with Diirer for greatness and artistic power has been forgotten to such an 
extent that we are not even quite sure of his name. A writer of the seventeenth 
century makes rather confused mention of one Matthias Griinewald of AschafFen- 
burg. He gives a glowing description of some painting of this ‘German Correggio’, 
as he calls him, and thenceforward these paintings and others which must have been 
painted by the same great artist are usually labelled ‘Griinewald’. No record or 
document of the period, however, mentions any painter of the name of Griinewald, 
and we must consider it likely that the author had mixed up his facts. Since some 
of the paintings ascribed to the master bear the initials M.G.N., and since a painter 
Mathis Gothardt Nithardt is known to have lived and worked near AschafFenburg 
in Germany as an approximate contemporary of Albrecht Diirer, it is now believed 
that this, and not Griinewald, was the true name of the great master. But this 
theory does not help us much, since we do not know very much about the master 
Mathis. In short, while Diirer stands before us like a living human being whose 
habits, beliefs, tastes and maimerisms are intimately known to us, Griinewald is as 
great a mystery to us as Shakespeare. It is unlikely that this is entirely due to mere 
coincidence. The reason why we know so much about Diirer is precisely that he saw 
himself as a reformer and innovator of the art of his country. He reflected on what he 
was doing and why he did it, he kept records of his journeys and researches, and he 
wrote books to teach his own generation. There is no indication that the painter of 
the ‘Griinewald’ masterpieces saw himself in a similar light. On the contrary. The 
few works we have of his are altar-panels of the traditional type in major and minor 
provincial churches, including a large number of painted ‘wings’ for a great altar at 
the Alsatian village of Isenheim (the so-called Isenheim altar). His works afford no 
indication that he strove like Diirer to become something different from a mere 
craftsman or that he was hampered by the fixed traditions of religious art as it had 
developed in the late Gothic period. Though he was certainly familiar with some of 
the great discoveries of Italian art, he made use of them only as far as they suited his 
ideas of what art should do. On this score, he does not seem to have felt any doubts. 
Art for him did not consist in the search for the hidden laws of beauty — for him it 
could have only one aim, the aim of all religious art in the Middle Ages — that of 
providing a sermon in pictures, of proclaiming the sacred truths as taught by the 
Church. The central panel of the Isenheim altar (Fig. 215) shows that he gladly 
sacrificed all other considerations to this one overriding aim. Of beauty, as the Italian 
artists saw it, there is none in this stark and cruel picture of the crucified Saviour. 
Like a preacher at Passiontide, Griinewald left nothing undone to bring home to 
us the horrors of this scene of suffering: Christ’s dying body is distorted by the 



258 The New Learning Spreads 



215. ‘grunewald’; Crucifixion. From the Isenhcim Altar. 1509-11. Colmar, Museum 


torture of the Cross ; the thorns of the scourges stick in the festering wounds which 
cover the whole figure. The dark red blood forms a glaring contrast to the sickly 
green of the flesh. By His features and the impressive gesture of His hands, the Man of 
Sorrows speaks to us of the meaning of His Calvary. His suffering is reflected in the 
traditional group of Mary, in the garb of a widow, fainting m the arms of St. John the 
Evangelist to whose care the Lord has commended her, and m the smaller figure of 
St. Mary Magdalen with her vessel of ointments, wringing her hands in sorrow. On 
the other side of the Cross, there stands the powerful figure of St. John the Baptist 
with the ancient symbol of the lamb carrying the cross and pouring out its blood into 
the chalice of the Holy Communion. With a stem and commanding gesture he points 
towards the Saviour, and over him are written the words that he speaks (according 
to the Gospel of St. John iii. 30) : ‘He must increase, but I must decrease. ’ 

There is little doubt that the artist wanted the beholder of the altar to meditate 
on these words, which he emphasized so strongly by the pointing hand of St. John 
the Baptist. Perhaps he even wanted us to see how Christ must grow ^md we 
diminish. For in this picture in which reality seems to be depicted in all its 



The New Learning Spreads 259 

unmitigated horror, there is one un- 
real and fantastic trait: the figures 
greatly differ in size. We need only 
compare the hands of St. Mary Mag- 
dalen under the Cross with those of 
Christ to become fully aware of the 
astonishing difference in their dimen- 
sions. It is clear that in these mat- 
ters Griinewald rejected the rules 
of modem art as it had developed 
since the Renaissance, and that he 
deliberately returned to the principles 
of medieval and primitive painters 
who varied the size of their figures 
according to their importance in the 
picture. Just as he had sacrificed the 
pleasing kind of beauty for the sake 
of the spiritual message of the altar, 
he also disregarded the new demand 
for correct proportions, since this 
helped him to express the mystic truth 
of the words of St. John. 

Griinewald’s work may thus remind 
us once more that an artist can be very 
great indeed without being ‘progressive’, because the greatness of art does not 
lie in new discoveries. That Griinewald was familiar with these discoveries he 
showed plainly enough whenever they helped him to express what he wanted to 
convey. And just as he used his brush to depict the dead and tormented body of 
Christ, he used it on another panel to convey its transfiguration at the resurrection 
into an unearthly apparition of heavenly light (Fig. 216). It is difficult to describe 
this picture because, once more, so much depends on its colours. It seems as if 
Christ had just soared out of the grave, leaving a trail of radiant light — the shroud 
in which the body had been swathed reflecting the coloured rays of the halo. There 
is a poignant contrast between the risen Christ who is hovering over the scene, and 
the helpless gestures of the soldiers on the ground who are dazzled and overwhelmed 
by this sudden apparition of light. We feel the violence of the shock in the way in 
which they writhe in their armour. As we cannot assess the distance between 
foreground and background, the two soldiers behind the grave look like puppets 
who have tumbled over, and their distorted shapes only serve to throw into relief 
the serene and majestic calm of the transfigured body of Christ. 

R 



216. ‘grunewald*: Resurrection, From the 
Isenheim Altar, 1 509-11. Colmar, Museum 


26o 


The New Learning Spreads 



217, CRANACH: The Rest on the Flight to Egypt, 1504. 
Berlin, Deutsches Museum 


A third famous German of Diirer’s generation, Lucas Cranach (1472-1 553), began 
as a most promising painter. In his youth he spent several years in southern Germany 
and Austria. At the time when Giorgione, who came from the southern foothills of the 
Alps, discovered the beauty of romantic scenery, this young painter was fascinated 
by the charms of the northern foothills with their far vistas and old forests. In a 
painting dated 1504 — the year when Durer published his prints (Fig. 213 and Fig. 
214) — Cranach represented the Holy Family on the Flight to Egypt (Fig. 217). 
They are resting near a spring in a wooded mountain region. It is a char ming 
place in the wilderness with shaggy trees and a wide view down a lovely green 
valley. Crowds of little angels have gathered round the Virgin, one is offering berries 
to the Christ-child, another is fetching water in a shell while others have settled 
down to refresh the spirit of the tired refugees with a concert of pipes and flutes. 


The New Learning Spreads 261 

This poetic invention has preserved 
something of the spirit of Lochner’s 
lyrical art (p. 2065 Fig. 180). 

In his later years Cranach became 
a rather slick and fashionable court 
painter in Saxony who owed his fame 
mainly to his friendship with Martin 
Luther. But it seems that his brief 
stay in the Danube region had been 
sufficient to open the eyes of the people 
who lived in the Alpine districts to the 
beauty of their surroundings. The 
painter Albrecht Altdorfer, of Ratisbon 
(1480 ?“I538), went out into the woods 
and mountains to study the shape of 
weather-beaten pines and rocks. Many 
of his water-colours and etchings, and 
at least one of his oil-paintings (Fig. 

218), tell no story and contain no 
human being. This is quite a momen- 
tous change. Even the Greeks with 
all their love of nature had painted landscapes only as settings for their pastoral 
scenes (p, 77, Fig, 70). In the Middle Ages a painting which did not clearly 
illustrate a theme, sacred or profane, was almost inconceivable. Only when the 
painter’s skill as such began to interest people was it possible for him to sell a 

painting which served no other purpose 
but that of recording his enjoyment of a 
beautiful piece of scenery. 

The Netherlands, at this great time of 
the first decades of the sixteenth century, 
produced not as many outstanding masters 
as they had done during the fifteenth 
century, when masters like Jan van Eyck 
(p. 170), Rogier van der Weyden (p. 199) 
and Hugo van der Goes (p. 201) were 
famous throughout Europe. Those artists, 
at least, who strove to absorb the New 
Learning as Diirer had done in Germany 
were often tom between their loyalties to 
old methods and their love for the new. 




218. ALTDORFER: Landscape. About 1532. 
Munich, Alte Pinakothek 


262 


Learning Spreads 

Fig. 219 shows a characteristic example by 
the painter Jan Gossaert, called Mabuse 
(1478 ?-i535 ?). According to the legend, 
St. Luke the Evangelist was a painter by 
profession, and thus he is represented here 
making a portrait of the Virgin and her 
Child. The way in which Mabuse painted 
these figures is quite in accordance with 
the traditions of Jan van Eyck and his 
followers, but the setting is quite different. 
It seems that he wanted to show off his 
knowledge of the Italian achievements, his 
skill in scientific perspective, his familiarity 
with classical architecture, and his mastery 
of light and shade. The result is a picture 
which certainly has great charm but which 
lacks the simple harmony of both its 
northern and Italian models. One wonders 
why St. Luke found no more suitable 
place in which to draw the Madonna than 
this ostentatious but presumably draughty 
palace courtyard. 

Thus it came that the greatest Dutch 
artist of the period is not to be found 
among the adherents of the New Style 
but among those who, like Griinewald in 
Germany, refused to be drawn into the 
modem movement from the south. In 
the Dutch town of Hertogenbosch there 
lived such a painter who was called 
Hieronymus Bosch. Very little is known 
about his personality. We do not know 
how old he was when he died in 1516, 
but he must have been over fifty at least 
since he was an established master in 
1488. Like Griinewald, Bosch showed 
that the traditions and achievements of 
painting which had been developed to represent reality most convincingly could 
be turned round, as it were, to give us an equally plausible picture of things 
no human eye had seen. He became famous for his terrifying representations 


The New 



220. BOSCH: Hell, Right wing of a triptych. 
About 1510. Madrid, Prado 


The New Learnir^ Spreads 263 



221. Detail of Fig. 220 

of hell and its inmates, ^’erhaps it is no accident that the gloomy King Philip 
II of Spain had a special predilection for these cruel fantasies. Fig. 220 shows 
a wing from one of the triptychs he bought and which is therefore still in Spain. 


264 The New Learning Spreads 

There we see horror piled upon horror, fires and torments and all manner of 
fearful demons, half animal, half human or half machine, who plague and punish 
the poor sinful souls for all eternity. For the first and perhaps for the only time an 
artist had succeeded in giving concrete and tangible shape to the fears which had 
haunted the minds of man in the Middle Ages. It was an achievement which was 
perhaps only possible at this very moment of time when the old ideas were still 
vigorous while the modern spirit had provided the artist with methods to represent 
what he saw. Perhaps Hieronymus Bosch could have written on one of his paint- 
ings of hell what Jan van Eyck wrote on his peaceful scene of the Arnolfini’s 
betrothal: T was there’. 



222. The Painter studying the laws of foreshortening by means of threads and 
a frame. Woodcut by durer from the 1525 edition of his text-book 
on perspective and proportion 



CHAPTER i8 • A CRISIS OF ART 


Europe^ Later Sixteenth Century 



223. An Italian sixteenth-century villa: the Villa Rotonda near Vicenza. 
Designed by palladio. 1550 


R ound about 1520 all lovers of art in the Italian cities seemed to agree 
that painting had reached the peak of perfection. Men such as Michelangelo 
Land Raphael, Titian and Leonardo, had actually done everything that 
former generations had tried to do. No problem of draughtsmanship seemed too 
difficult for them, no subject-matter too complicated. They had shown how to 
combine beauty and harmony with correctness, and had even surpassed — so it was 
said — the most renowned Greek and Roman statues in their mastery of detail. For 
a boy who wanted one day to become a great painter himself, this general opinion 
was perhaps not altogether pleasant to listen to. However much he may have 
admired the wonderful works of the great living masters, he must have wondered 
whether it was true that nothing remained to be done because everything art could 
possibly do had been achieved. Some appeared to accept this idea as inevitable, and 
studied hard to learn what Michelangelo had learned, and to imitate his manner as 
best they could. Michelangelo had loved to draw nudes in complicated attitudes 
— well, if that was the right thing to do, they would copy his nudes, and put them 
into their pictures whether they fitted or not. The result was sometimes slightly 
ludicrous — the sacred scenes from the Bible were crowded out by what appeared 
to be a training team of young athletes. Later critics, who saw that these young 
painters had gone wrong simply because they imitated the manner rather than 



266 A Crisis of Art 

the spirit of Michelangelo’s works, have called the period during which that was 
the fashion the period of Mannerism. But not all young artists of that period were 
so foolish as to believe that all that was asked of art was a collection of nudes in 
difficult postures. Many, indeed, doubted whether art could ever come to a 
standstill, whether it was not possible, after all, to surpass the famous masters of the 
former generation, if not in their handling of human forms, then, perhaps, in some 
other respect. Some wanted to outdo them in the matter of invention. They 
wanted to paint pictures full of significance and wisdom — such wisdom, indeed, 
that it should remain obscure, save to the most learned scholars. Their works 
almost resemble picture puzzles which cannot be solved save by those who know 
what the scholars of the time believed to be the true meaning of Egyptian hiero- 
glyphs, and of many half-forgotten ancient writers. Others, again, wanted to 
attract attention by making their works less natural, less obvious, less simple and 
harmonious than the works of the great masters. These works, they seem to have 
argued, are indeed perfect — ^but perfection is not for ever interesting. Once you 
are familiar with it, it ceases to excite you. We will aim at the startling, the unex- 
pected, the unheard-of. Of course, there was something slightly unsound in this 
obsession of the young artists with the task of outdoing the classical masters — it 
led even the best among them to strange, sophisticated experiments. But, in a way, 
these frantic efforts to go one better were the greatest tribute they could pay to the 
older artists. Had not Leonardo himself said: ‘A wretched pupil who does not 
surpass his master’? To some extent, the great ‘classical’ artists had themselves 
begun and encouraged new and unfamiliar experiments; their very fame, and the 
credit they enjoyed in their later years, had enabled them to try out new, unorthodox 
effects in arrangement or colouring, and to explore new possibilities of art. Michel- 
angelo in partictilar had occasionally shown a bold disregard for all conventions — 
nowhere more than in architecture, where he sometimes abandoned the sacrosanct 
rules of classical tradition to follow his own moods and whims. To some extent, it 
was he himself who accustomed the public to admire an artist’s ‘caprices’ and 
‘inventions’, and who set the example of a genius not satisfied with the matchless 
perfection of his own early masterpieces, but constantly and restlessly searching for 
new methods and modes of expression. 

It was only natural that young artists should regard this as a licence to startle the 
public with their own ‘original’ inventions. Their efforts resulted in some amusing 
pieces of design. The window in form of a face (Fig. 224), designed by an architect 
and painter, F. Zuccari (i530?-i609), gives a good idea of this type of caprice. 

Other architects, again, were more intent on displaying their great learning and 
their knowledge of classical authors in which they did, in fact, surpass the masters 
of Bramante’s generation. The greatest and most learned of these was the architect 
Andrea Palladio (1518-80). Fig. 223 shows his famous Villa Rotonda or round 



267 


A Crisis of Art 


villa near Vicenza. In a way, it, too, is a 
‘caprice ’, for it has four identical sides, each 
with a porch in form of a temple facade, 
grouped roimd a central hall which recalls 
the Roman Pantheon (p. 80, Fig. 73). 

However beautiful the combination may 
be, it is hardly a building which one would 
like to Uve in. The search for novelty and 
effect has interfered with the ordinary 
purpose of building. 

A typical artist of this period was 
the Florentine sculptor and goldsmith 
Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71). Cellini has 
described his own life in a famous book 
which gives an immensely colourful and 
vivid picture of his age. He was boastful, ^^ 4 - Wmdota from the lyiazzo Zuccan in Rome. 

ruthless and vain, but it is hard to be cross 

with him because he tells his story of his adventures and exploits with such gusto 
that you think you are reading a novel by Dumas. In his vanity and conceit and in his 
restlessness which drove him from town to town and from court to court, picking 
quarrels and earning laurels, Cellini is a real product of his time. For him to be an 




225. CELLINI: Salt Cellar oj chased gold and enamel on a base of ebony. 
Made for Francis I of France in 1543. Vienna, Kunsthistorischcs Museum 


268 


A Crisis of Art 


artist was no longer to be a respectable and sedate owner of a workshop : it was to be 
a ‘virtuoso’ for whose favour princes and cardinals should compete. One of the few 
works by his hand which has come down to us is a golden salt-cellar, made for the 
King of France in 1543 (Fig. 225). Cellini tells us the story in great detail. We hear 
how he snubbed two famous scholars who ventured to suggest a subject to him, how 
he made a model in wax of his own invention representing the Earth and the Sea. To 
show how the Earth and the Sea interpenetrate he made the legs of the two figures 
interlock. ‘The Sea, fashioned as a man, held a finely wrought ship which could hold 
enough salt, beneath I had put four sea-horses and I had given the figure a trident. 
The Earth I fashioned as a fair woman, as graceful as I could do it. Beside her I 
placed a richly-decorated temple to hold the pepper ? But all this subtle invention 
makes less interesting reading than the story of how Cellini carried the gold from the 
King’s treasurer and was attacked by four bandits all of whom he put to flight single- 
handed. To some of us the smooth elegance of Cellini’s figures may look a little over- 
elaborate and affected. Perhaps it is a consolation to know that their master had 
enough of that healthy robustness which his work seems to lack. 

Cellini’s outlook is typical of restless and hectic attempts of the period to create 



something more interesting and unusual 
than former generations had done. We find 
the same spirit in the paintings of one 
of Correggio’s followers, Parmigianino 
(1503-40). I can well imagine that some 
may find his Madonna (Fig. 226) rather 
disgusting because of the affectation and 
sophistication with which a sacred subject 
is treated. There is nothing in it of the ease 
and simplicity with which Raphael had 
treated that ancient theme. The picture is 
called the ‘Madonna with the long neck’ 
because the painter, in his eagerness to 
make the Holy Virgin look graceful and 
elegant, has given her a neck like that of a 
swan. He has stretched and lengthened 
the proportions of the human body in a 
strangely capricious way. The hand of 
the Virgin with her long delicate fingers, 
the long leg of the angel in the fore- 


226. PARMIGIANINO: The Madonna with ground, the lean, haggard prophet with a 


Begun in 1532, left incomplete poll of parchment — we see them all as 
at the artist’s death in 1540. , 

Florence, Palazzo Pitti through a distorung mirror. And yet there 


269 


A Crisis of Art 

can be no doubt that the artist achieved 
this effect through neither ignorance nor 
indifference. He has taken great cafe to 
show us that he liked these unnaturally 
elongated forms, for, to make doubly sure 
of his effect, he placed an oddly shaped 
highcolumnofequallyunusualproportions 
in the background of the painting. As for 
the arrangement of the picture, he also 
showed us that he did not believe in con- 
ventional harmonies. Instead of distribut- 
ing his figures in equal pairs on both sides 
of the Madonna, he crammed a jostling 
crowd of angels into a narrow corner, and 
left the other side wide open to show the 
tall figure of the prophet, so reduced in size 
through the distance, that he hardly reaches 
the Madonna’s knee. There can be no 
doubt, then, that if this be madness there 
is a method in it. The painter wanted to be 
unorthodox. He wanted to show that the 
classical solution of perfect harmony is not 
the only solution conceivable : that natural 
simplicity is one way of achieving beauty, 
but that there are less direct ways of getting 
interesting effects for sophisticated lovers 
of art. Whether we like or dislike the road 
he took, we must admit that he was 
consistent. Indeed, Parmigianino and all 
the artists of his time who deliberately sought to create something new and un- 
expected, even at the expense of the ‘natural’ beauty established by the great 
masters, were perhaps the first ‘modern’ artists. We shall see, indeed, that what is 
now called ‘modern’ art may have had its roots in a similar urge to avoid the 
obvious and achieve effects which differ from conventional natural beauty. 

Other artists of this strange period, in the shadow of the giants of art, were less 
despairing of surpassing them by ordinary standards of skill and virtuosity. We may 
not agree with all they did, but here, too, we are forced to admit that some of their 
efforts are startling enough. A typical example is the statue of Mercury, the messen- 
ger of the gods, by a French sculptor, Jean de Boulogne (1529-1608), whom the 
Italians called Giovanni da Bologna (Fig. 227). He had set himself the task of 



227. GIOVANNI DA BOLOGNA.* Mercury. 
Bronze statue made in 1567. 
Florence, Bargello 



270 


A Crisis of Art 



228. TINTORETTO: The Finding of St. Mark's Remains. Painted about 1562. 

Milan, Brcra 


achieving the impossible — a statue which overcomes the weight of dead matter 
and which creates the sensation of a rapid flight through the air. And to a certain 
extent he was successful. Only with a tip of his toe does his famous Hermes touch 
the ground — rather, not the ground, but a gush of air which comes out of the mouth 
of a mask representing the South Wind. The whole statue is so carefully balanced 
that it really seems to hover in the air — almost to speed through it, with swiftness 
and grace. Perhaps a classical sculptor, or even Michelangelo, might have found 
such an effect unbecoming to a statue which should remind one of the heavy block 
of matter out of which it was shaped — but Giovanni da Bologna, not less than 
Parmigianino, preferred to defy these well-established rules and to show what 
surprising effects could be achieved. 

Perhaps the greatest of all these masters of the latter part of the sixteenth century 
lived in Venice. He was called Jacopo Robusti, nicknamed Tintoretto (1518-94). 
He too had tired of the simple beauty in forms and colours which Titian had shown 
to the Venetians — but his discontent must have been more than a mere desire to 
accomplish the imusual. He seems to have felt that, however incomparable Titian 


A Crisis of Art 271 

was as a painter of beauty, his pictures tended to be more pleasing than moving; 
that they were not sufficiently exciting to make the great stories of the Bible and the 
sacred legends live for us. Whether he was right in this or not, he must, at any rate, 
have been resolved to tell these stories in a different way, to make the spectator feel 
the thrill and tense drama of the events he painted. Fig. 228 shows that he did indeed 
succeed in making his pictures unusual and captivating. At first glance this painting 
looks confused and confusing. Instead of a clear arrangement of the main figures 
in the plane of the picture, such as Raphael had achieved, we look into the depths 
of a strange vault. There is a tall man with a halo at the left comer, raising his arm 
as if to stop something that is happening — and if we follow his gesture we can see 
that he is concerned with what is going on high up under the roof of the vault on 
the other side of the picture. There are two men about to lower a dead body from 
a tomb — ^they have lifted its lid — and a third man in a turban is helping them, while 
a nobleman in the background with a torch is trying to read the inscription on another 
tomb. These men are evidently plundering a catacomb. One of the bodies is 
stretched out on a carpet in strange foreshortening, while a dignified old man in a 
gorgeous costume kneels beside it and looks at it. In the right comer there is a 
group of men and women, apparently frightened and looking with astonishment at 
the saint — for a saint the figure with the halo must be. If we look more closely we 
see that he carries a book — he is St. Mark the Evangelist, the patron saint of 
Venice — which reminds us that the dignified old man wears the robe of a Venetian 
Doge. What is happening ? Why is a Doge assisting in body-snatching ? The picture 
represents the story of how the relics of St, Mark were brought from Alexandria 
(the town of the ‘infidel’ Mohammedans) to Venice, where the famous shrine of 
the church of St. Mark was built to house them. The story goes that St. Mark had 
been bishop at Alexandria and had been buried in one of the catacombs there. 
When the Venetian party had broken into the catacomb on their strange but pious 
errand of finding the body of the saint, they did not know which of the many tombs 
contained the treasured relic. But when they found the right one, St. Mark suddenly 
appeared and revealed the remains of his earthly existence. That is the moment 
which Tintoretto selected. The saint commands the men not to continue searching 
the tombs, while the Doge kneels in veneration looking at the miraculously pre- 
served body of the saint lying on the carpet, bathed in light, and the group of 
people on the right shrink back in awe and terror at the sudden apparition. No 
doubt the whole picture must have stmek contemporaries as eccentric and unortho- 
dox. They may have been rather shocked by the clashing contrasts of light and 
shade, of nearness and distance, by the lack of harmony in gestures and movements. 
Even in his colour schemes Tintoretto abandoned the mellow beauty of Giorgione’s 
and Titian’s earlier works. His painting of St. George’s fight with the dragon, 
in London (Fig, 241), shows how the weird light and the broken tones add to the 



272 A Crisis of Art 

feeling of tension and excitement. We feel the drama has just reached its climax. 
The princess seems to be rushing right out of the picture towards us while the hero 
is removed, against all rules, far into the background of the scene. 

Vasari, a great Florentine critic and biographer of the period, wrote of Tintoretto 
that ‘had he not abandoned the beaten track but rather followed the beautiful 
style of his predecessors, he would have become one of the greatest painters seen 
in Venice’. As it was, Vasari thought his work was marred by careless execution 
and eccentric taste. He was puzzled by the lack of ‘finish’ Tintoretto gave his work. 
‘His sketches ’, he says, ‘are so crude that his pencil strokes show more force than 
judgement and seem to have been made by chance.’ It is a reproach which from 
that time onward has often been made against modern artists. Perhaps this is not 
altogether surprising, for these great innovators in art have often concentrated 
on the essential things and refused to worry about technical perfection in the 
usual sense. In periods like that of Tintoretto’s, technical excellence had reached 
such a high standard that anyone with some mechanical aptitude could master 
some of its tricks. A man like Tintoretto wanted to show things in a new light, 
he wanted to explore new ways of representing the legends and myths of the 
past. He considered his painting complete when he had conveyed his vision of 
the legendary scene. A smooth and careful finish did not interest him, for it did 
not serve his purpose. On the contrary — it might have distracted our attention 
from the dramatic happenings of the picture. So he left it at that, and left people 
wondering. 

No one in the sixteenth century took these methods further than a painter 
from the Greek island of Crete, with the strange name of Domenico Theotocopoulos 
(1541 ?-i6i4) who was called ‘the Greek’ (El Greco) for short. He had come to 
Venice from a remote part of the world which had not developed any new kind of art 
since the Middle Ages. In his homeland, he must have been used to seeing the 
images of saints in the ancient Byzantine manner — solemn, rigid and remote from 
any semblance of natural appearance. Not being trained to look at pictures for their 
correct design, he found nothing shocking in Tintoretto’s art, but much that was 
fascinating. For he, too, it seems, was a passionate and devout man, and he felt an 
urge to tell the sacred stories in a new and stirring manner. After his stay in Venice 
he settled in a distant part of Europe — in Toledo, Spain, where again he was not 
likely to be disturbed and harried by critics asking for correct and natural design — 
for in Spain, too, the medieval ideas on art still lingered on. This may explain why 
El Greco’s art surpasses even Tintoretto’s in its bold disregard of natural forms and 
colours, and in its stirring and dramatic visions. Fig. 229 is one of his most startling 
and exciting pictures. It represents a passage from the revelation of St. John, and 
it is St. John himself we see on one side of the picture in visionary rapture, 
looking towards Heaven and raising his arms in a prophetic gesture. 



A Crisis of Art 


273 



229. EL GRECO: The Opening of the Fifth Seal. About 1610. 
Formerly Zumaya, Zuloaga Collection 


The passage is the one in the Revelation in which the Lamb summons St. John 
to ‘Come and see’ the opening of the seven seals. ‘And when he had opened the 
fifth seal, I saw under the Altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of 
God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, 
saying “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood 
on them that dwell on the earth ?’ ’ And white robes were given unto every one of 
them ’ (Rev. vi. 9-1 1). The nude figures, with their excited gestures, are therefore the 
martyrs who rise from their graves and call to Heaven for revenge, and stretch out 
their hands to receive the heavenly gift of while robes. Surely no exact and accurate 
drawing could ever have expressed that terrible vision of doomsday, when the very 
saints call for the destruction of this world, with such an uncanny and convincing 
force. It is not difficult to see that El Greco had learned much from Tintoretto’s un- 
orthodox method of lopsided composition, and that he had also adopted the manner- 
ism of over-long figures like that of Parmigianino’s sophisticated Madonna. But we 
also realize that El Greco had employed this artistic method with a new purpose. He 
lived in Spain, where religion had a mystic fervour found hardly anywhere else. In 



274 


A Crisis of Art 

this atmosphere, the sophisticated art of 
‘Mannerism’ lost much of its character 
of an art for connoisseurs. Though his 
work strikes us as incredibly ‘modern’ 
(Fig. 242) his contemporaries in Spain 
do not seem to have raised any objec- 
tions such as Vasari did to Tintoretto’s 
works. His studio was always fully 
employed. He seems to have engaged 
a number of assistants to cope with the 
many orders he received, and that may 
explain why not all the works that bear 
his name are equally good. It was only 
a generation later that people began to 
criticize his unnatural forms and 
colours, and to regard his pictures as 
something like a bad joke; and only a 
generation ago, when modern artists 
had taught us not to apply the same 
standards of ‘correctness’ to all works 
of art, was El Greco’s art rediscovered 
and understood. 

In the northern countries, in Germany, Holland and England, artists were con- 
fronted with a much more real crisis than their colleagues in Italy and Spain. For these 
southerners had only to deal with the problem of how to paint in a new and startling 
manner. In the north the question soon became whether painting could and should 
continue at all. This great crisis was brought about by the Reformation. Many Pro- 
testants objected to pictures or statues of saints in churches and regarded them as 
a sign of popish idolatry. Thus the painters in Protestant regions lost their best source 
of income, the painting of altar-panels. The stricter among the Calvinists even ob- 
jected to other kinds of luxury such as gay decorations of houses and even where these 
were permitted in theory the climate and the style of buildings was usually unsuited 
to large fresco decorations such as Italian nobles commissioned for their palaces. All 
that remained as a source of regular income for artists was book illustration and por- 
trait painting, and it was doubtful whether these would suffice to make a living. 

We can witness the effect of this crisis in the career of the greatest German painter 
of this generation, in the life of Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543). Holbein 
was twenty-six years younger than Diirer and only three years older than Cellini. 
He was bom in Augsburg, a rich merchant city with close trade relations with 
Italy; he soon moved to Basle, a renowned centre of the New Learning. 



230. HOLBEIN: Anne Cresacre, Sir Thomas 
More's daughter ’•tn-law. Drawing made in 
1528. Windsor Castle 




231. HOLBEIN : Georg Gisze, a German merchant in London. Painted in 1532. Berlin, Kaiser-Friedrich Museum 





232. HOLBEIN: The Virgin with the family of Burgomaster Meyer, Painted about 1528. 

Darmstadt, Castle 


A Crisis of Art 


277 


The knowledge which Dvirer strove for so passionately throughout his life, came 
thus more naturally to Holbein. Coming from a painter’s family (his father was a 
respected master) and being exceedingly alert, he soon absorbed the achievements 
of both the northern and the Italian artists. He was hardly over thirty when he 
painted the wonderful altar-painting of the Virgin with the family of the burgo- 
master of Basle as donors (Fig. 232). The form was traditional in all countries, and 
we have seen it applied in the Wilton diptych (p. 157, Fig. 143) and Titian’s 
Pesaro Madonna (p. 243, Fig. 202). But Holbein’s painting is still one of the most 
perfect examples of its kind. The way in which the donors are arranged in seemingly 
effortless groups on both sides of the Virgin whose calm and majestic figure is 
framed by a niche of classical forms, reminds us of the most harmonious composi- 
tions of the Italian Renaissance, of Giovanni Bellini (p. 242, Fig. 201) and Raphael 
(p. 233, Fig. 196). The careful attention to detail on the other hand, and a certain 
indifference to conventional beauty shows that Holbein had learned his trade in the 
north. He was on his best way to become the leading master of the German-speaking 
countries when the turmoil of the Reformation put an end to all such hopes. In 1526 
he left Switzerland for England with a letter of recommendation from the great 
scholar, Erasmus of Rotterdam. ‘The arts here are freezing,’ Erasmus wrote com- 
mending the painter to his friends, among whom was Sir Thomas More. One of 
Holbein’s first jobs in England was to prepare a large group portrait of that great 
scholar’s family and some detailed studies for this work are still preserved in 
Windsor Castle (Fig. 230). If Holbein had hoped to get away from the turmoil of 


the Reformation he must have been dis- 
appointed by later events, but when he 
finally settied in England for good and was 
given the official title of Court Painter by 
Henry VIII he had at least found a sphere 
of activity which allowed him to live and to 
work. He could no longer paint Madonnas, 
but the tasks of a Court Painter were ex- 
ceedingly manifold. He designed jewellery 
and furniture, costumes for pageantries 
and decorations for halls, weapons and 
goblets. His main job, however, was to 
paint portraits of the royal household, and 
it is due to Holbein’s imfailing eye that 
we still have such a vivid picture of the 
men and women of Henry VIII’s period. 



Fig. 233 shows his portrait of Thomas 
Howard, Duke of Norfolk, the uncle of 


233. HOLBEIN: Thomas Howard^ Duke of 
Norfolk. About 1538. Windsor Castle 




278 


A Crisis of Art 



234. NICHOLAS HILLY arde: Portrait Miniature. 
About 1590. London, Victoria and 
Albert Museum 


Catherine Howard who was Henry’s fifth wife, wearing the Order of the Garter. 
There is nothing dramatic in these portraits of Holbein, nothing to catch the eye, 
but the longer we look at them the more do they seem to reveal of the sitter’s mind 
and personality. We do not doubt for a moment that they are in fact faithful records 
of what Holbein saw, drawn without fear or favour. The way in which Holbein has 
placed the figure in the picture shows the sure touch of the master. Nothing seems 
left to chance, the whole composition is so perfectly balanced that it may easily 
seem ‘obvious ’ to us. But this was Holbein’s intention. In his earlier portraits he had 
still sought to display his wonderful skill in the rendering of details, to characterize a 
sitter through his setting, through the things among which he spent his life (Fig. 231). 
The older he got, and the more mature his art became the less did he seem in need 
of any such tricks. He did not want to obtrude himself and to divert attention from 
the sitter. And it is precisely for this masterly restraint that we may admire him most. 

When Holbein had left the German-speaking cotmtries painting there began to 
decline to a frightening extent. And when Holbein died the arts were in a s imilar 


A Crisis of Art 279 

plight in England. In faa, the only branch of painting there that survived the 
Reformation was that of portrait painting which Holbein had so firmly established. 
Even in this branch the fashions of southern Mannerism made themselves increa- 
singly felt. These ideals of courtly refinement and elegance replaced the simpler 
style of Holbein. 

The portrait of a young Elizabethan nobleman (Fig. 234) gives an idea of this 
new type of portraiture at its best. It is a ‘miniature’ by the famous English master 
Nicholas Hillyarde (1547-1619), a contemporary of Sidney and Shakespeare. We 
may indeed think of Sidney’s pastorals or Shakespeare’s comedies when looking at 
this dainty youth who leans languidly against a tree, surrounded by thorny wild 
roses, his right hand pressed against his heart. Perhaps the miniature was intended 
as the young man’s gift to the lady he was wooing, for it bears the Latin inscription 
‘Dat poenas laudata fides’, which means roughly, ‘my praised faith procures my 
pain’. We ought not to ask whether these pains were any more real than the painted 
thorns on the miniature. A young gallant in those days was expected to make a show 
of grief and unrequited love. These signs and these sonnets were all part of a grace- 
ful and elaborate game, which nobody took too seriously but in which everybody 
wanted to shine by inventing new variations and new refinements. 

If we look at Hillyarde’s miniature as an object designed for this game, it may no 
longer strike us as affected and artificial. Let us hope that when the maiden received 
this token of affection in a precious case and saw the pitiful pose of her elegant and 
noble wooer, his ‘praised faith’ had at last its reward. 

There was only one Protestant country in Europe where art fully survived the 
crisis of the Reformation — that was the Netherlands. There, where painting had 
flourished for so long, artists found a way out of their predicament; instead of 
concentrating on portrait painting alone they specialized in all those types of subject- 
matter to which the Protestant Church could raise no objections. Since the early 
days of Van Eyck, the artists of the Netherlands had been recognized as perfect 
masters in the imitation of nature. While the Italians prided themselves on being 
unrivalled in the representation of the beautiful human figure in motion, they were 
ready to recognize that, for sheer patience and accuracy in depicting a flower, a tree, 
a barn or a flock of sheep, the ‘Flemings’ were apt to outstrip them. It was 
therefore quite natural that the northern artists, who were no longer needed for 
the painting of altar-panels and other devotional pictures, tried to find a market for 
their recognized specialities and to paint pictures the main object of which was to 
display their stupendous skill in representing the surface of things. Specialization 
was not even quite new to the artists of these lands. We remember that Hieronymus 
Bosch (p. 262, Fig. 220) had made a speciality of pictures of hell and of demons even 
before the crisis of art. Now, when the scope of painting had become more restricted, 
the painters went further along this road. They tried to develop the traditions of 



28 o 


A Crisis of Art 



235. PIETER BRUEGHEL THE ELDER: A Country Wedding. About 1565. 
Vienna, Kunsthistonschcs Museum 


northern art which reach back to the time of the Drbleries on the margin of 
medieval manuscripts (p. 153, Fig. 140) and to the scenes of real life represented in 
fifteenth-century art (p. 198, Fig. 173). Pictures in which the painters deliberately 
cultivated a certain branch or kind of subject, particularly scenes from daily life, 
later became known as ‘genre pictures’ (genre being the French word for branch 
or kind). 

The greatest of the Flemish sixteenth-century masters of ‘genre’ was Pieter 
Brueghel the Elder (1525 ?-69). We know little of his life except that he had been 
to Italy, like so many northern artists of his time, and that he lived and worked in 
Antwerp and Brussels Where he painted most of his pictures in the fifteen-sixties, 
the decade in which the stern Duke of Alva arrived in the Netherlands. 

The ‘kind’ of painting on which Brueghel concentrated was scenes from peasant 
life. He painted peasants merrymaking, feasting and working, and so people have 
come to think of him as one of the Flemish peasants. This is a common mistake which 
we are apt to make about artists. We often are inclined to confuse their work with 
their person. We think of Dickens as a member of Mr. Pickwick’s jolly circle, or of 
Jules Verne as a daring inventor and traveller. If Brueghel had been a peasant himself 
he could not have painted them as he did. He certainly was a townsman and his 
attitude towards the rustic life of the village was very likely similar to that of Shake- 
speare for whom Quince the Carpenter and Bottom the Weaver were a species of 
‘clowns’. It was the custom in their time to regard the country yokel as a figure of 


A Crisis of Art 281 



236. Detail of Fig. 235 


fun. I do not think that either Shakespeare or Brueghel accepted this custom out of 
snobbery but in rustic life human nature was less disguised and covered up with a 
veneer of artificiality and convention than in the life of gentlefolk. Thus, when they 
wanted to show up the folly of humankind they often took low life as their model. 

One of the most perfect of Brueghel’s human comedies is his famous picture of a 
country wedding (Fig. 235). Like most pictures, it loses a great deal in reproduction: 
all details become much smaller, and the gay effect of the colours is lost. We must 
therefore look at it with double care. The feast takes place in a barn, with straw 
stacked up high in the background. The bride sits in front of a piece of blue cloth, 
with a kind of crown suspended over her head. She sits quietly, with folded hands 



282 


A Crisis of Art 



237. PIETER BRUEGHEL THE ELDER: The Pawter and the 
Buyer. Drawing, about 1565. Vienna, Albertina 


and a grin of utter contentment on her stupid face. The old man in the chair and 
the woman beside her are probably her parents, while the man farther back, who is so 
busy gobbling his food with his spoon, must be the bridegroom. Most of the people 
at the table concentrate on eating and drinking, and we notice this is only the 
beginning. In the left-hand corner a man pours out beer — a good number of empty 
jugs are still in the basket — ^while two men with white aprons are carrying ten more 
platefuls of pie or porridge on an improvised tray. One of the guests passes the 
plates to the table. But much more is going on. There is the crowd in the background 
trying to get in; there are the musicians, one of them with a pathetic, forlorn and 
hungry look in his eyes, as he watches the food being carried past; there are the two 
outsiders at the comer of the table, the friar and the magistrate, engrossed in their 
own conversation; and there is the child in the foreground who has got hold of a 
plate, and a feathered cap much too large for its little head, and who is completely 
absorbed in licking the delicious food — & picture of iimocent greed. But what is even 
more admirable than all this wealth of anecdote, wit and observation, is the way in 
which Brueghel has organized his picture so that it does not look crowded or con- 
fusing. Tintoretto himself could not have produced a more convincing picture of 




283 


A Crists of Art 

a crowded space than did Brueghel with his 
device of the table receding into the back- 
ground and the movement of people starting 
with the crowd at the barn door, leading up to 
the foreground and the scene of the food car- 
riers, and back again through the gesture of 
the man serving the table who leads our eyes 
directly to the small but central figure of the 
grinning bride. 

In these gay, but by no means simple, pic- 
tures, Brueghel had discovered a new kingdom 
for art which the generations of Netherlands 
painters after him were to explore to the full. 

In France the crisis of art took again a dif- 
ferent turn. Situated between Italy and the 
northern countries, it was influenced by both. 
The vigorous tradition of French medieval art 
was at first threatened by the inrush of the 
Italianate fashion which French painters found 
as difficult to adopt as did their colleagues in 
the Netherlands (p. 261, Fig. 219). The form 
in which Italian art finally was accepted by 
high society was that of the elegant and refined 
Italian Mannerists of Cellini’s type (Fig. 225). 
We can see its influence in the lively reliefs 
from a fountain by the French sculptor, Jean 
Goujon (died 1566 ?) (Fig. 238). There is some- 
thing both of Parmigianino’s fastidious elegance 
and of Jean Boulogne’s virtuosity in these ex- 
quisitely graceful figures and the way they are 
fitted into the narrow strips reserved for them. 

A generation later an artist arose in France 
in whose etchings the bizarre inventions of 
the Italian Mannerists were represented in the 
spirit of Pieter Brueghel : the Lorrainian Jacques 
Callot (1592-1635). Like Tintoretto or even El 
Greco, he loved to show the most surprising 
combinations of tall, gaunt figures and wide un- 
expected vistas, but, like Brueghel, he used 
these devices to portray the follies of mankind 



238. JEAN GOUJON; Nymph. From the 
Fontaine des Innocents. Between 1547 
and 1549. Paris, Louvre 



A Crisis of Art 



239, callot: Two Italian Clowns. Etching from 
the series Balli di Sfessania. Published 1622 


through scenes from the life of its outcasts, soldiers, cripples, beggars and strolling 
players (Fig. 239). But by the time Callot popularized these extravaganzas in his 
etchings most painters of his day had turned their attention to new problems which 
filled the talk of the studios in Rome, Antwerp and Madrid. 



240. The 'MannerisT artist's day-dream: 
Taddeo Zuccari at work on the scaffolding 
of a palace is being watched with admira- 
tion by the aged Michelangelo. The goddess 
of Fame trumpets his triumph all over the 
world. Drawing (detail) by F. Zuccari. 

About 1590. Vienna, Albertina 






241. TINTORETTO: St. George's fight with the Brecon. Painted about 1555* London, National Gallery 




242. EL GRECO: Portrait of Brother Hortensio Felix Paravicino. Painted about 1609. 
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts 




CHAPTER 19 • VISION AND VISIONS 
Catholic Europe, First Half of the Seventeenth Century 



243. An early Baroque church: II Gesii in Rome. Designed by GIACOMO DELLA PORTA. 

About 1575 


T he history of art is sometimes described as the story of a succession of 
various styles. We hear how the Romanesque or Norman style of the 
twelfth century with its round arches was succeeded by the Gothic style 
with the pointed arch; how the Gothic style was supplanted by the Renaissance^ 
which had its beginnings in Italy in the early fifteenth century and slowly gained 
ground in all the countries of Europe. The style which followed the Renaissance is 
usually called Baroque. But, while it is easy to identify the earlier styles by definite 
marks of recognition, this is not so simple in the case of Baroque. The fact is that 
from the Renaissance onwards, almost up to our own time, architects have used 
the same basic forms, columns, pilasters, cornices, entablatures and mouldings, 
all of which were originally borrowed from classical ruins. In a sense, therefore, it 
is true to say that the Renaissance style of building has continued from Brunel- 
leschi’s days to our own, and many books on architecture speak of this whole period 
as Renaissance. On the other hand, it is natural that within such a long period tastes 
T 


288 Vision and Visions 

and fashions in building must have varied considerably, and it is convenient to have 
different labels by which to distinguish these changing styles. It is a strange fact 
that many of these labels which to us are simple names of styles were originally 
words of abuse or derision. The word ‘Gothic’ was first used by the Italian art 
critics of the Renaissance to denote the style which they considered barbarous, and 
which they thought had been brought into Italy by the Goths who destroyed the 
Roman Empire and sacked its cities. The word ‘Maimerism’ still retains for many 
people its original connotation of affectation and shallow imitation, of which critics 
of the seventeenth century had accused the artists of the late sixteenth century. The 
word ‘Baroque’ was a term employed by critics of a later period who fought against 
the tendencies of the seventeenth century, and wanted to hold them up to ridicule. 
Baroque really means absurd or grotesque, and it was used by men who insisted 
that the forms of classical building should never have been used or combined except 
in the ways adopted by the Greeks and Romans. To disregard the strict rules of 
ancient architecture seemed to these critics a deplorable lapse of taste — whence 
they labelled the style Baroque. It is not altogether easy for us to appreciate these 
distinctions. We have become too accustomed to seeing buildings in our cities 
which defy the rules of classical architecture, or misunderstand them altogether. 
So we have become insensitive in these matters and the old quarrels 
seem very remote from the architectural questions which interest us. To us a 
church fa9ade like that in Fig. 243 may not seem a very exciting thing, because we 
have seen so many good and bad imitations of this type of building that we hardly 
turn our heads to look at them; but when it was first built in Rome, in 1575, it 
was a most revolutionary building. It was not just one more church in Rome, 
where there are many churches. It was the church of the newly founded Order of 
the Jesuits, on which high hopes were set for the combating of the Reformation all 
over Europe. Its very shape was to be on a new and unusual plan; the Renaissance 
idea of round and symmetrical church building had been rejected as unsuited to 
divine service, and a new, simple and ingenious plan had been worked out which 
was to be accepted all over Europe. The church should be in the form of a cross, 
topped by a high and stately cupola. In the one large, oblong space, known as the 
nave, the congregation could assemble without hindrance, and look towards the 
main altar. This stood at the end of the oblong space, and behind it was the apse 
which was similar in form to that of the early basilicas. To suit the requirements 
of private devotion, and adoration of individual saints, a row of small chapels was 
distributed on either side of the nave each of which had an altar of its own, and 
there were two larger chapels at the ends of the arms of the cross. It is a simple and 
ingenious way of planning a church which has since been widely used. It combines 
the main features of medieval churches — ^their oblong shape, emphasizing the main 
altar — ^with the achievements of Renaissance-plaiming in which so much stress is 



Vision and Visions 289 

laid on large and roomy interiors into which the light would stream through a 
majestic cupola. 

The fa9ade of II Gesii was built by the celebrated architect Giacomo della 
Porta (1541 ?- i 6 o 4). It, too, may seem unexciting to us, because it was to serve as a 
model for so many later church facades, but looking at it closely, we soon realize 
that it must have impressed contemporaries as being no less new and ingenious than 
the interior of the church. We see at once that it is composed of the elements of 
classical architecture — we find all the set pieces together: columns (or rather, half- 
columns and pilasters) carrying an ‘architrave’ crowned by a high ‘attic’ which, 
in turn, carries the upper storey. Even the distribution of these set pieces employs 
some features of classical architecture: the large middle entrance, framed by 
columns and flanked by two smaller entrances, recalls the scheme of triumphal arches 
(p. 177, Fig. 158) which became as firmly implanted in the architects’ mind as 
the major chord in the mind of musicians. There is nothing in this simple and 
majestic facade to suggest deliberate defiance of the classical rules for the sake of 
sophisticated caprices. But the way in which the classical elements are fused into a 
pattern shows that Roman and Greek, and even Renaissance rules have been left 
behind. The most striking feature in this facade is that each column or pilaster is 
doubled, as if to give the whole structure greater richness, greater variety and 
solemnity. The second trait we notice is the care which the artist has taken to avoid 
repetition and monotony and to arrange the parts so as to form a climax in the 
centre where the main entrance is emphasized by a double frame. If we turn 
back to earlier buildings composed of similar elements, we immediately see the 
great change in character. Brunelleschi’s ‘Capella Pazzi’ (p. 161, Fig. 147) looks 
infinitely light and graceful by comparison, in its wonderful simplicity, and 
Bramante’s ‘Tempietto’ (p. 209, Fig. 183) almost austere in its clear and straight- 
forward arrangements. Even the rich complexities of Sansovino’s ‘Library’ (p. 237, 
Fig. 199) appear simple by comparison, because there the same pattern is repeated 
again and again. If you have seen a part of it, you have seen it all. In Porta’s facade 
of the first Jesuit church everything depends on the effect given by the whole. It is 
all fused together into one large and complex pattern. Perhaps the most character- 
istic trait in this respect is the care the architect has taken to connect the upper and 
the lower storeys. He has used a form of volutes which has no place at all in classical 
architecture. We need only imagine a form of this kind somewhere on a Greek 
temple or a Roman theatre to realize how utterly out of place it would seem. In fact, 
it is these curves and scrolls that have been responsible for much of the censure 
showered on Baroque builders by the upholders of pure classical tradition. But if we 
cover the offending ornaments with a piece of paper and try to visualize the building 
without them, we must admit that they are not merely ornamental. Without them the 
building would ‘fall apart’. They help to give it that essential coherence and unity 



290 Vision and Visions 

which was the aim of the artist. In the course of time, Baroque architects had to use 
ever more bold and imusual devices to achieve the essential unity of a large pattern. 
Seen in isolation these devices often look puzzling enough, but in all good buildings 
they are essential to the architect’s purpose. 

The development of painting out of the deadlock of Mannerism into a style far 
richer in possibihties than that of the earUer great masters, was in some respects 
similar to that of Baroque architecture. In the great paintings of Tintoretto and of 
El Greco we have seen the growth of some ideas which gained increasing importance 
in the art of the seventeentli century: the emphasis on light and colour, the disre- 
gard of simple balance, and the preference for more complicated compositions. 
Nevertheless, seventeenth-century painting is not just a continuation of the Man- 
nerist style. At least people at the time did not feel it to be so. They felt that art had 
got into a rather dangerous rut and must be got out of it. People liked talking about 
art in those days. In Rome, in particular, there were cultured gentlemen who enjoyed 
discussions on the various ‘movements ’ among the artists of their time, who liked to 
compare them with older masters, and to take sides in their quarrels and intrigues. 
Such discussions were in themselves something rather new in the world of art. They 
had begun in the sixteenth century with such questions as whether painting was 
better than sculpture, or whether design was more important than colour or vice 
versa (the Florentines backing design, the Venetians colour). Now, their topic was 
different: they talked about two artists who had come to Rome from northern Italy 
and whose methods seemed to them utterly opposed. One was Annibale Carracci 
(1560-1609) from Bologna, the other Michelangelo da Caravaggio (1565 ?-i6io) 

from a little place near Milan. Both 
these artists seemed tired of Manner- 
ism. But the ways in which they over- 
came its sophistications were very 
different. Annibale Carracci was a 
member of a family of painters who 
had studied the art of Venice and of 
Correggio. On his arrival in Rome, he 
fell under the spell of Raphael’s works 
which he greatly admired. He aimed at 
recapturing something of their simpli- 
city and beauty instead of dehberately 
contradicting them, as the Mannerists 
had done. Later critics have attributed 
to him the intention of imitating the 
best in all the great painters of the past. 
It is tmlikely that he ever formulated a 



244. ANNIBALE CARRACCI! The Virgin mourm 
Christ, Altar-painting. About 1605. Naples, 
National Museum 


Vision and Visions 


291 



245. CARAVAGGIO: Doubting Thomas. About 1600. Berlin, Schlosser 


programme of this kind (which is called ‘eclectic’). That was done later, in the 
academies or art schools which took his work as a model. Carracci himself was too 
much of a real artist to adopt such a foolish idea. But the battle-cry of his party 
among the cliques of Rome was the cultivation of classical beauty. We can see his 
intention in the altar-picture of the Holy Virgin mourning over the dead body of 
Christ (Fig. 244). We need only think back to Grunewald’s tormented body of Christ 
to realize how careful Annibale Carracci was not to remind us of the horrors of death 
and of the agonies of pain. The picture itself is as simple and harmonious in arrange- 
ment as that of an early Renaissance painter. Nevertheless, we would not easily 
mistake it for a Renaissance painting. The way in which the light is made to play 
over the body of the Saviour, the whole appeal to our emotions, is quite different, 
is Baroque. It is easy to dismiss such a picture as sentimental, but we must not forget 
the purpose for which it was made. It is an altar-painting, meant to be contemplated 
in prayer and devotion with candles burning before it. 

Whatever we may feel about Carracci’s methods, Caravaggio and his partisans 
certainly did not think highly of them. The two painters, it is true, were on the best 
of terms — ^which was no easy matter in the case of Caravaggio, for he was of a wild 
and irascible temper, quick to take offence, and even to run a dagger through a man. 
But his work was on different lines from Carracci’s. To be afraid of ugliness seemed 
to Caravaggio a contemptible weakness. What he wanted was truth. Truth as he 
saw it. He had no liking for classical models, nor any respect for ‘ideal beauty’. He 
wanted to do away with convention and to think about art afresh. Some people 



292 Vision and Visions 

thought he was mainly out to shock the public; that he had no respect for any kind 
of beauty or tradition. He was one of the first painters at whom these accusations 
were levelled; after his time nearly every modern movement in art had to face 
similar complaints. In point of fact, Caravaggio was far too great and serious an 
artist to fritter away his time in trying to cause a sensation. While the critics argued, 
he was busy at work. And his work has lost nothing of its boldness in the three 
centuries and more since he did it. Consider his painting of St. Thomas (Fig. 245) : 
the three apostles staring at Jesus, one of them poking with his finger into the 
wound in His side, look unconventional enough. One can imagine that such a paint- 
ing struck devout people as being irreverent and even outrageous. They were 
accustomed to seeing the apostles as dignified figures draped in beautiful folds — 
here they looked like common labourers, with weathered faces and wrinkled brows. 
But, Carava^io would have answered, they were old labourers, common people — 
and as to the unseemly gesture of Doubting Thomas, the Bible is quite explicit 
about it. Jesus says to him: ‘Reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side: and 
be not faithless but believing’ (St. John xx. 27). 

Caravggio’s ‘naturalism’, that is, his intention to copy nature faithfully, whether 
we think it ugly or beautiful, was perhaps more devout than Carracci’s emphasis on 
beauty. Caravaggio must have read the Bible again and again, and pondered its 
words. He was one of the great artists, like Giotto and Diirer before him, who wanted 
to see the holy events before his own eyes as if they had been happening in his 
neighbour’s house. And he did everything possible to make the figures of the ancient 
texts look more real and tangible. Even his way of handling light and shade help to 
this end. His light does not make the body look graceful and soft: it is harsh and 
almost glaring in its contrast to the deep shadows. But it makes the whole strange 
scene stand out with an uncompromising honesty which few of his contemporaries 
could appreciate, but which had a decisive effect on later artists. 

Neither Annibale Carracci nor Caravaggio is now usually reckoned among the 
most famous masters; they fell out of fashion in the nineteenth century, though 
they are coming into their own again. But the impulse they both gave to the art 
of painting can hardly be imagined. Both of them worked in Rome, and Rome, 
at the time, was the centre of the civilized world. Artists from all parts of Europe 
came there, took part in the discussions on painting, took sides in the quarrels of 
the cliques, studied the old masters, and returned to their native countries with 
tales of the latest ‘movements’ — ^mucfa as modem artists used to do with regard 
to Paris. According to their national traditions and temperaments artists pre- 
ferred one or the other of the rival schools in Rome, and the greatest of them 
developed their own personal medium from what they had learned of these foreign 
movements. Rome still remains the best vantage point from which to glance at the 
splendid panorama of p ainting in the countries adhering to Roman Catholicism. 



Vision and Visions 


293 



246. RENi: The Dawn (Aurora). Fresco, painted 1613, on a ceiling in the 
Palazzo Rospigliosi, Rome 


Of the many Italian masters who developed their style in Rome, the most famous 
was probably Guido Reni (1575-1642), a painter from Bologna who after a brief 
period of hesitation threw in his lot with the school of the Carracci. His fame, like 
that of his master, once stood immeasurably higher than it happens to stand just 
now. There was a time when his name ranked with that of Raphael, and if we look at 
Fig. 246 we may realize why. Reni painted this fresco on the ceiling of a palazzo in 
Rome in 1613. It represents Aurora and the youthful sun-god Apollo in his chariot, 
round which the fair maidens of the Hours (the Horae) dance their joyful measure 
preceded by the torch-bearing child, the Morning Star. Such are the grace and 
beauty of this picture of the radiant rising day that one can understand how it 
reminded people of Raphael and his frescoes in the Farnesina (p. 235, Fig. 197). 
Reni wanted them to think of this great master whom he had set out to emulate. 
If modern critics have often thought less highly of Guido Reni’s achievements, this 
may be the reason. They feel, or fear, that this very emulation of another master 
has made Reni’s work too self-conscious, too deliberate in its striving for pure 
beauty. We need not quarrel over these distinctions. It is no doubt true that Reni 
differed from Raphael in his whole approach. With Raphael, we feel that the sense 
of beauty and serenity flowed naturally from his whole nature and art; with Reni 
we feel that he chose to paint like this as a matter of principle, and that if perchance 
Caravaggio’s disciples had convinced him that he was wrong, he could have adopted 
a different style. But it was not Reni’s fault that these matters of principle had been 
brought up and had permeated the minds and the conversation of the painters. In 
fact, it was no one’s fault. Art had been developed to such a point that artists were 
inevitably conscious of the choice of methods before them. And once we accept 
this, we are free to admire the way in which Reni carried out his programme of 
beauty, how he deliberately discarded anything in nature that he considered low and 
ugly or unsuitable for his lofty ideas, and how his quest for forms more perfect and 


294 


Vision and Visions 



247. POUSSIN: *Et in Arcadia ego\ About 1638, Paris, Louvre 


more ideal than reality were rewarded with success. It was Annibale Carracci, Reni 
and his followers, who formulated the programme of idealizing, of ‘beautifying’ 
nature, according to the standards set by the classical statues. We call it the 
neo-classical or ‘academic’ programme as distinct from classical art which is not 
bound up with any programme at all. The disputes over it are not likely to cease so 
soon, but no one denies that among its champions have been great masters who gave 
us a glimpse of a world of purity and beauty without which we would be the poorer. 

The greatest of the ‘academic’ masters was the Frenchman Nicolas Poussin 
(1594-1665), who made Rome his adopted home town. Poussin studied the classical 
statues with passionate zeal, because he wanted their beauty to help him con- 
vey his vision of bygone lands of innocence and dignity. Fig. 247 represents one 
of the most famous results of these unremitting studies. It shows a calm sunny 
southern landscape. Beautiful young men and a fair and dignified young woman 
have gathered round a large tomb of stone. One of the shepherds— for shepherds 
they are, as we see by their wreaths and their shepherds’ staffs— has knelt down to 
try to decipher the inscription on the tomb, a second one points towards it while he 
looks at the fair shepherdess who, like her companion opposite, stands in silent 
melancholy. It is inscribed in Latin and it says ‘Et in Arcadia ego’ (Even in Arcady 
I am): I, Death, reign even in the idyllic dreamland of the pastorals, in Arcady. 
Now we understand the wonderful gesture of awe and contemplation with which 
the framing figures gaze at the tomb, and we admire even more the beauty with 



248. CLAUDE lorrain: Landscape with the Rest on the Flight to Egypt. Painted in 1661. 

Leningrad, Hermitage 


which the reading figures answer each other’s movements. The arrangement seems 
simple enough but it is a simplicity born of immense artistic knowledge. Only such 
knowledge could evoke this nostalgic vision of calm repose in which death has lost 
its terror. 

It is for the same mood of nostalgic beauty that the works of another Italianized 
Frenchman became famous. He was Claude Lorrain (1600-82), some seven years 
younger than Poussin. Lorrain studied the landscape of the Roman Campagna, the 
plains and hills round Rome with their lovely southern hues and their majestic 
reminders of a great past. Like Poussin, he showed in his sketches that he was a 
perfect master of realistic representation of nature, and his studies of trees are a 
joy to look at. But for his finished pictures and etchings, he selected only such motifs 
as he considered worthy of a place in a dreamlike vision of the past, and he dipped it 
all in a golden light or a silvery air which appear to transfigure the whole scene 
(Fig. 248). It was Claude who first opened people’s eyes to the sublime beauty of 
nature, and for nearly a century after his death travellers used to judge a piece of 
real scenery according to his standards. If it reminded them of his visions, they 
called it lovely and sat down to picnic there. Rich Englishmen went even farther 
and decided to model the piece of nature they called their own, in their parks on 
their estates, on Claude’s dreams of beauty. In this way, many a piece of the lovely 
English countryside should really bear the signature of the French painter who 
settled in Italy and made the programme of the Carracci his own. 


296 Vision and Visions 

The one northern artist to come most directly into contact with the Roman 
atmosphere of Carracci’s and Caravaggio’s days was a generation older than Poussin 
and Qaude, and about as old as Guido Reni. It was the Fleming Peter Paul Rubens 
(1577-1640), who came to Rome in 1600 when he was twenty-three years old — 
perhaps the most impressionable age. He must have listened to many heated 
discussions on art, and studied a great number of new and older works, not only in 
Rome, but also in Genoa and Mantua (where he stayed for some time). He listened 
and learned with keen interest, but does not seem to have joined any of the ‘move- 
ments ’ or groups. In his heart he remained a Flemish artist — an artist from the 
country where Van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden and Brueghel had worked. 
These painters from the Netherlands had always been most interested in the varie- 
gated surfaces of things; they had tried to use all artistic means known to them to 
express the texture of cloth and living flesh, in short to paint as faithfully as possible 
everything the eye could see. They had not troubled about the standards of beauty 
so sacred to their Italian colleagues, and they had not even always shown much 
concern for dignifled subjects. It was in this tradition that Rubens had grown up, 
and all his admiration for the new art that was developing in Italy does not seem to 
have shaken his fundamental belief that a painter’s business was to paint the world 
around him; to paint what he liked, to make us feel that he enjoyed the manifold 
living beauty of things. To such an approach there was nothing contradictory in 
Caravaggio’s and Carracci’s art. Rubens admired the way in which Carracci and his 
school revived the painting of classical stories and myths and arranged impressive 
altar-panels for the edification of the faithful; but he also admired the uncompromi- 
sing sincerity with which Caravaggio studied nature. 

When Rubens returned to Antwerp in i6o8 he was a man of thirty-one, who 
had learned everything there was to be learned; he had acquired such facility in 
handling brush and colour, figures and drapery, and in arranging large-scale 
compositions that he had no rival north of the Alps. His predecessors in Flanders 
had mosdy painted on a small scale. He had brought from Italy the predilection for 
huge canvases to decorate churches and palaces, and this suited the taste of the 
dignitaries and princes. He had learned the art of arranging the figures on a vast 
scale, and of using light and colours to increase the general effect. Fig. 249, a sketch 
for the painting over the High Altar of an Antwerp church, shows how well he 
had studied his Italian predecessors, and how boldly he developed their ideas. 
It is again the old time-honoured theme of the Holy Virgin surrounded by saints, 
with which artists had grappled at the time of the Wilton diptych (p. 157, Fig. 143), 
Bellini’s ‘Madonna’ (p. 242, Fig. 201), or Titian’s ‘Pesaro Madonna’ (p. 243, 
Fig. 202), and it may be worth while to turn up these illustrations once more to see 
the freedom and ease with which Rubens handled the ancient task. One thing is clear 
at the first glance: there is more movement, more light, more space, and there are 



Vision and Visions 


297 



249. RUBENS: The Betrothal of St. Catherine. Sketch for a large 
altar-painting. About 1628. Berlin, Kaiser-Friedrich Museum 


more figures in this painting than in any of the earlier ones. The saints are crowd- 
ing to the lofty throne of the Virgin in a festive throng. In the foreground the 
Bishop St. Augustine, the Martyr St. Laurence with the grill on which he suffered, 
andthemonk St. NicholasofTolentino,lead the spectatoronto their object of worship. 
St. George with the Dragon, and St. Sebastian with a quiver and arrows, look into 
each other’s eyes in fervent emotion, while a warrior — the palm of martyrdom in 
his hand — ^is about to kneel before the throne. A group of women, among them a 
nun, are looking up enraptured to the main scene in which a young girl, assisted by 
a little angel, is falling on her knees to receive a ring from the litde Christ-child who 
is bending towards her from His mother’s lap. It is the legend of the betrothal of 
St. Catherine, who saw such a scene in a vision and considered herself the Bride of 



250. RUBENS: Head of a Child (probably the artist's eldest daughter Clara Serena). 
About 1615. Vaduz, Liechtenstein Gallery 




Vision and Visions 299 

Christ. St. Joseph watches benevolently from behind the throne, and St. Peter and 
St. Paul — one recognizable by the key, the other by the sword — stand in deep 
contemplation. They make an effective contrast to the imposing figure of St. John 
on the other side, standing alone, bathed in light, throwing up his arms in ecstatic 
admiration while two charming little angels drag his reluctant lamb up the steps 
of the throne. From the sky another pair of little angels come rushing down to hold 
a wreath of laurels over the Virgin’s head. Having looked at the details, we must 
once more consider the whole, and admire the grand sweep with which Rubens has 
contrived to hold all the figures together, and to impart to it all an atmosphere of 
joyful and festive solemnity. Small wonder that a master who could plan such vast 
pictures with such sureness of hand and eye soon had more orders for paintings 
than he could cope with alone. But this did not worry him. Rubens was a man 
of great organizing ability and great personal charm; many gifted painters in 
Flanders were proud to work under his direction and thereby to learn from him. 
If an order for a new picture came from one of the churches, or from one of the 
kings or princes of Europe, he would sometimes paint only a small coloured sketch. 
(Fig. 249 is such a colour sketch for a large composition.) It would be the task 
of his pupils or assistants to transfer these ideas on to the large canvas, and only 
when they had finished grounding and painting according to the master’s ideas he 
might take the brush again and touch up a face here and a silken dress there, or 
smooth out any harsh contrasts. He was confident that his brushwork could quickly 
impart life to anything, and he was right. For that was the greatest secret of Rubens’s 
art — his magic skill in making anything alive, intensely and joyfully alive. We can 
best gauge and admire this mastery of his in some of the simple paintings done for 
his own amusement. Fig. 250 shows the head of a little girl, probably Rubens’s 
daughter. There arc no tricks of composition here, no splendid robes or streams 
of light, but a simple en face portrait of a child. And yet it seems to breathe and 
palpitate like living flesh. Compared with this, the portraits of earlier centuries 
seem somehow remote and unreal — however great they may be as works of art. It 
is vain to try to analyse how Rubens achieved this impression of gay vitality, but it 
surely had something to do with the bold and delicate touches of light with which 
he indicated the moisture of the lips, and the modelling of the face and hair. To an 
even greater degree than Titian before him, he used the brush as his main instru- 
ment. His paintings are no longer drawings carefully modelled in colour — they are 
produced by ‘painterly’ means, and that enhances the impression of life and vigour. 

It was a combination of his unrivalled gifts in arranging large colourful compo- 
sitions, and in infusing them with buoyant energy, that secured a fame and success 
for Rubens such as no painter had enjoyed before. His art was so eminently suitable 
to enhance the pomp and splendour of palaces, and to glorify the powers of this 
world, that he enjoyed something like a monopoly in the sphere in which he moved. 



Vision and Visions 


300 



251. RUBENS: Allegory on the Blessings of Peace, About 1630. 
London, National Gallery 


It was the time during which the religious and social tensions of Europe came to 
a head in the fearful Thirty Years’ War on the Continent, and in the Civil War in 
England. On the one side stood the absolute monarchs and their courts, most of 
them supported by the Catholic Church — on the other the rising merchant cities, 
most of them Protestant. The Netherlands themselves were divided into Protestant 
Holland which resisted Spanish ‘Catholic’ domination, and Catholic Flanders, 
ruled from Antwerp under Spanish allegiance. It was as the painter of the Catholic 
camp that Rubens rose to his unique position. He accepted commissions from the 
Jesuits in Antwerp and from the Catholic rulers of Flanders, from King Louis XIII 
of France and his crafty mother Maria de’ Medici, from King Philip III of Spain 
and King Charles I of England, who conferred a knighthood on him. When 
travelling from court to court as an honoured guest, he was often charged with 
delicate political and diplomatic missions, foremost among them that of effecting 
a reconciliation between England and Spain in the interest of what we would call 
today a ‘reactionary’ bloc. Meanwhile he remained in touch with the scholars of his 
age, and engaged in learned Latin correspondence on questions of archaeology and 
art. His self-portrait with the nobleman’s sword (Fig. 253) shows that he was very 
conscious of his unique position. Yet there is nothing pompous or vain in the shrewd 
look of his eyes. He remained a true artist. All the while, pictures of dazzling 
mastery poured out from his Antwerp studios on a stupendous scale. Under 
his hand, the classical fables and allegorical inventions became as convincingly 



Vision and Visions 301 



252. Detail of Fig. 251 


alive as the picture of his ovm daughter. Allegorical pictures are usually regarded 
as rather boring and abstract, but for the age of Rubens they were a convenient 
means of expressing ideas. Fig. 251 is such a picture which Rubens is said to have 



302 Vision and Visions 

brought as a gift to Charles I, when he tried to induce him to make peace with 
Spain. The painting contrasts the blessings of peace with the horrors of war. 
Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and the civilizing arts, drives away Mars who 
is about to withdraw — his dreadful companion, the Fury of war, having already 
turned back. And under the protection of Minerva the joys of peace are spread out 
before our eyes, symbols of fruitfulness and plenty as only Rubens could conceive 
them; Peace offering her breast to a child, a faun blissfully eyeing the gorgeous 
fruits, the other companions of Bacchus, dancing maenads with gold and treasures, 
and the panther playing peacefully like a big cat; on the other side three children 
with anxious looks, fleeing from the terror of war to the haven of peace and plenty, 
crowned by a young genius. No one who loses himself in the rich details of this 
picture, with its vivid contrasts and glowing colours, can fail to see that these ideas 
were to Rubens not pale abstractions but forceful realities. Perhaps it is because 
of that quality that some people must first get accustomed to Rubens before they 
begin to love and understand him. He had no use for the ‘ideal’ forms of classical 
beauty. They were too remote and abstract for him. His men and women are living 
beings such as he saw and liked. And so, since slenderness was not the fashion in the 
Flanders of his day, some people object to the ‘fat women’ in his pictures. This 
criticism, of course, has little to do with art and we need not, therefore, take it too 
seriously. But, since it is so often made, it may be well to realize that joy in exuber- 
ant and almost boisterous life in all its manifestations saved Rubens from becoming 
a mere virtuoso of his art. It turned his paintings from mere Baroque decorations 
of festive halls into masterpieces which retain their vitality even within the chilling 
atmosphere of museums. 

Among Rubens’s many famous pupils and assistants, the greatest and most inde- 
pendent was Van Dyck (1599-1641), who was twenty-two years his junior, and 
belonged to the generation of Poussin and Claude Lorrain. He soon acquired all 
the virtuosity of Rubens in rendering the texture and surface of things, whether it 
were silk or human flesh, but he differed widely from his master in temperament 
and mood. It seems that Van Dyck was not a healthy man, and in his paintings a 
languid and slightly melancholy mood often prevails. It may have been this quality 
that appealed to the austere noblemen of Genoa and to the cavaliers of Charles I’s 
entourage. In 1632 he had become the Court Painter of Charles I, and his name 
was anglicized into Sir Anthony Vandyke. It is to him that we owe an artistic 
record of this society with its defiantly aristocratic bearing, and its cult of courtly 
refinement. His portrait of Charles I (Fig. 255), just dismounted from his horse on a 
hunting expedition, shows the Stuart monarch as he would have wished to live in 
history : a figure of matchless elegance, of unquestioned authority and high culture, 
the patron of the arts, and the upholder of the divine right of kings, a man who 
needs no outward trappings of power to enhance his natural dignity. No wonder 



253 - RUBENS : Self-Portrait. Painted about 1639. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum 



254 * VANDYKE: Lord John and Lord Bernard Stuart. Painted about 1638. 
London, Lady Louis Mountbatten 




Vision and Visions 


305 



255. VANDYKE: Charles I of England. About 1635. Paris, Louvre 


that a painter who could bring out these qualities in his portraits with such perfec- 
tion was eagerly sought by society. In fact, Vandyke was so overburdened with 
commissions for portraits that he, like his master Rubens, was unable to cope with 
them all himself. He had a number of assistants who painted the costumes of his 
sitters arranged on dolls, and he did not always paint even the whole of the head. 
Some of these portraits are uncomfortably near the flattering fashion-dummies 
of later periods, and there is no doubt that Vandyke established a dangerous 
precedent which did much harm to portrait painting. But all this cannot detract 
from the greatness of his best portraits. Nor should it make us forget that it was he, 
more than anyone else, who helped to crystallize the ideals of blue-blooded nobility 
and gentlemanly ease (Fig. 254) which enriches our vision of man no less than did 
Rubens’s robust and sturdy figures of over-brimming life. 

On one of his journeys to Spain, Rubens had met a young painter who was bom 
in the same year as his pupil Vandyke, and who filled a position at the court of 
U* 


3o6 


Vision and Visions 


King Philip IV in Madrid similar to 
that of Vandyke at the Court of Charles 
I. It was the painter Diego Velazquez 
(1599-1660). Though he had not yet 
been to Italy, Velazquez had been pro- 
foundly impressed by the discoveries 
and the maimer of Caravaggio, which 
he got to know through the work of 
imitators. He had absorbed the pro- 
gramme of ‘naturalism’, and devoted 
his art to the dispassionate observation 
ofnatureregardlessofanyconventions. 
Fig. 256 shows one of his early works, 
an old man selling water in the streets 
of Seville. It is a genre picture of the 
t5q5e the Netherlanders invented to 
display their skill, but it is done with 
all the intensity and penetration of 
Caravaggio’s ‘St. Thomas’ (p. 291, 
Fig. 245). The old man with his worn 
and wrinkly face and his ragged cloak, the big earthenware flask with its rounded 
shape, the surface of the glazed jug and the play of light on the transparent glass, 
all this is painted so convincingly that we feel we could touch the objects. No 
one who stands before this picture feels inclined to ask whether the objects re- 
presented are beautiful or ugly, or whether the scene it represents is important 
or trivial. Not even the colours are strictly beautiful by themselves. Brown, grey, 
greenish tones prevail. And yet, the whole is joined together in such a rich and 
mellow harmony that the picture remains quite unforgettable to anyone who has 
ever paused in front of it. 

On the advice of Rubens, Velazquez obtained leave to go to Rome to study the 
paintings of the great masters. He went there in 1630 but soon returned to Madrid 
where, apart from a second Italian journey, he remained as a famous and respected 
member of the court of Philip IV. His main task was to paint the portraits of the 
King, and the members of the royal family (see frontispiece). Few of these men had 
attractive, or even interesting, faces. They were men and women who insisted on 
their dignity, and who dressed in a stiff and unbecoming fashion. Not a very inviting 
task for a painter, it would seem. But Velazquez transformed these portraits, as by 
magic, into some of the most fascinating pieces of painting the world has ever seen. 
He had long given up too close an adherence to Caravaggio’s manner. He had 
studied the brushwork of Ruber.s and of Titian but there is nothing ‘secondhand* 



256. VELAZQUEZ: The Water-seller of Seville. 
About 1620. London, Duke of Wellington 
Collection 



Vision and Visions 


307 



257. VELAZQUEZ : PrinccPhiUpProsper of Spain, About 1660. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum 


in his mode of approaching nature. With a fe^v sure touches of the brush, he is able 
to convey the effect of a form and the texture of a surface. Velazquez’s most mature 
works rely to such an extent on the effect of the brushwork, and on the delicate 
harmony of the colours, that illustrations can give only very little idea of what the 
originals are like. However, an illustration such as Fig. 257 of a two-year-old prince, 
preserves at least something of the charm of these works. In the original, the various 
shades of red (from the rich Persian carpet, the velvet chair, the curtain, the sleeves 


3 o 8 Vision and Visions 

and the rosy cheeks of the child, combined with the cool and silvery tones of white 
and grey which shade into the backgroimd, result in a unique harmony. There is 
nothing showy in Velazquez’s manner, nothing that strikes us at the first glance. But 
the longer we look at his paintings, the more we come to admire his qualities as an 
artist. Even a little motif like the small dog on the red chair reveals an unobtrusive 
mastery which is truly miraculous. If we look back at the little dog on Jan van Eyck’s 
portrait of the Amolfini couple (p. 174, Fig. 155) we see with what different means 
great artists can achieve their effects. Van Eyck took pains to copy every curly hair 
of the little creature — Velazquez, two hundred years later, tried only to catch its 
characteristic impression. Like Leonardo, only more so, he relied on our imagina- 
tion to follow his guidance and to supplement what he had left out. Though he did 
not paint one separate hair, his litde dog looks, in effect, more furry and natural 
than Van Eyck’s. It was for effects like these that the founders of Impressionism in 
nineteenth-century Paris admired Velazquez above all other painters of the past. 

To see and observe nature with ever-fresh eyes, to discover and enjoy ever-new 
harmonies of colours and lights, had become the essential task of the painter. In 
this new zeal, the great masters of Catholic Europe found themselves at one with 
the painters on the other side of the political barrier, the great artists of the 
Protestant Netherlands. 



258. An artists’ pub in seventeenth-century Rome, with caricatures on the wall. 
Drawing by pieter van laar. Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett 





CHAPTER 20 * THE MIRROR OF NATURE 


Holland in the Seventeenth Century 





259. A Dutch seventeenth-century town hall: The Castle (former town hall) of Amsterdam, 
Designed by jakob van kampen in 1648 


T he division of Europe into a Catholic and a Protestant camp affected even 
the art of small countries like the Netherlands. The southern Netherlands 
which today we call Belgium had remained Catholic, and we have seen 
how Rubens in Antwerp received innumerable commissions from churches, 
princes and kings to paint vast canvases for the glorification of their power. The 
northern provinces of the Netherlands, however, had risen against their Catholic 
overlords, the Spaniards, and most of the inhabitants of their rich merchant towns 
adhered to the Protestant faith. The taste of these Protestant merchants of Holland 


310 The Mirror of Nature 

was very different from that prevailing across the border. These men were rather 
comparable in their outlook to the Puritans in England: devout, hard-working, 
parsimonious men, most of whom disliked the exuberant pomp of the southern 
manner. Though their outlook mellowed as their security increased and their 
wealth grew, these Dutch burghers of the seventeenth century never accepted the 
full Baroque style which had held sway in Catholic Europe. Even in architecture 
they preferred a certain sober restraint. When, in the middle of the seventeenth 
century, at the peak of Holland’s successes, the citizens of Amsterdam decided to 
erect a large town hall which was to reflect the pride and achievement of their 
new-born nation, they chose a model which, for all its grandeur, looks simple in 
outline and sparing in decoration (Fig. 259). 

We have seen that the effect on painting of the victory of Protestantism was even 
more marked (p. 274). We know that the catastrophe was so great that both in 
England and Germany, where the arts had flourished as much as anywhere during 
the Middle Ages, the career of a painter or a sculptor ceased to attract native 
talents. We remember that in the Netherlands, where the tradition of good crafts- 
manship was so strong, painters had to concentrate on certain branches of painting 
to which there was no objection on religious grounds. 

The most important of these branches that could continue in a Protestant com- 
munity, as Holbein had experienced in his day, was portrait painting. Many a 
successful merchant wanted to hand down his likeness to those after him, many 
a worthy burgher who had been elected alderman or burgomaster desired to be 
painted with the insignia of his office. Moreover, there were many local committees 
and governing boards, prominent in the life of Dutch cities, which followed the 
praiseworthy custom of having their group-portraits painted for the board-rooms 
and meeting-places of their worshipful companies. An artist whose manner appealed 
to this public could therefore hope for a reasonably steady income. Once his manner 
ceased to be fashionable, however, he might face ruin. 

The first outstanding master of free Holland, Frans Hals (1580 ?-i666), was 
forced to lead such a precarious existence. Hals belonged to the same generation as 
did Rubens. His parents had left the southern Netherlands because they were 
Protestants and had settled in the prosperous Dutch city of Haarlem. We know 
little about his life except that he frequently owed money to his baker or shoemaker. 
In his old age — he lived to be over eighty — ^he was granted a small pittance by the 
municipal almshouse whose board of governors he painted. 

Fig. 260 shows one of the magnificent portraits that brought so little money to 
Hals and his family. Compared to earlier portraits, it looks almost like a snapshot. 
We seem to know this Pieter van der Broecke, a true merchant-adventurer of 
the seventeenth century. Let us think back to Holbein’s painting of the Duke of 
Norfolk (p. 277, Fig. 233) painted less than a century earlier, or even to the portraits 



The Mirror of Nature 3 1 1 

which Rubens, Vandyke or Velazquez 
painted at that time in Catholic Europe. 

For all their liveliness and truth to nature 
one felt that the painters had carefully 
arranged the sitter’s pose so as to convey 
the idea of dignified aristocratic breeding. 

The portraits of Hals give us the impres- 
sion that the painter has ‘caught ’ his sitter 
at a characteristic moment and fixed it for 
ever on to the canvas. It is difficult for us 
to imagine how bold and unconventional 
these paintings must have looked to the 
public. The very way in which Hals 
handled paint and brush suggests that 
he quickly seized a fleeting impression. 

Earlier portraits are painted with visible 
patience — we sometimes feel that the sub- 
ject must have sat still for many a session 
while the painter carefully recorded detail upon detail. Hals never allowed his model 
to get tired or stale. We seem to witness his quick and deft handling of the brush 
through which he conjures up the image of tousled hair or of a crumpled sleeve 
with a few touches of light and dark paint. Of course, the impression that Hals 
gives us, the impression of a casual glimpse of the sitter in a characteristic move- 
ment and mood, could never have been achieved without a very calculated effort. 
What looks at first like a happy-go-lucky approach is really the result of a carefully 
thought-out effect. Though the portrait is not symmetrical as earlier portraits often 
were, it is not lopsided. Like other masters of the Baroque period, Hals knew how 
to attain the impression of balance without appearing to follow any rule. 

The painters of Protestant Holland who had no inclination or talent for portrait 
painting had to give up the idea of relying chiefly on commissions. Unlike the 
masters of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance, they had to paint their picture 
first, and then try to find a buyer. We are now so used to this state of affairs, we take 
it so much for granted that an artist is a man painting away in his studio, which is 
packed full of pictures he is desperately trying to sell, that we can hardly imagine 
the change this position brought about. In one respect, artists may possibly have 
been glad to be rid of patrons who interfered with their work and who may some- 
times have bullied them. But this freedom was dearly bought. For, instead of a 
single patron, the artist had now to cope with an even more tyrannical master — the 
buying public. He had either to go to the market place and to pubhc fairs, there to 
peddle his wares, or to rely on middlemen, picture dealers who relieved him of this 



260. FRANS HALS: Pieter van der Broecke. 
1633. London, Kenwood, Iveagh Bequest 



26i. SIMON vlieger: Mouth of a River, 
About 1640. London, National Gallery 


312 The Mirror of Nature 

burden but who wanted to buy as cheaply 
as possible in order to be able to sell at a 
profit. Moreover, competition was very 
stiff; there were many artists in each Dutch 
town exhibiting their paintings on the 
stalls, and the only chance for the minor 
masters to make a reputation lay in special- 
izing in one particular branch or genre of 
painting. Then, as now, the public liked 
to know what it was getting. Once a 
painter had made a name as a master of 
battle-pieces, it was battle-pieces he would 
be most likely to sell. If he had had success with landscapes in the moonlight, it 
might be safer to stick to that, and to paint more landscapes in the moonlight. Thus 
it came about that the trend towards specialization which had begun in the northern 
countries in the sixteenth century (p. 279) was carried to even greater extremes in 
the seventeenth. Some of the weaker painters became content to turn out the same 
kind of picture over and over again. It is true that in doing so they sometimes 
carried their trade to a pitch of perfection which commands our admiration. These 
specialists were real specialists. The painters of fish knew how to render the silvery 
hue of wet scales with a virtuosity which puts many a more universal master to 
shame; and the painters of seascapes not only became proficient in the painting of 
waves and clouds, but were such experts in the accurate portraying of ships and 
their tackle that their paintings are still considered valuable historical documents 
of the period of England’s and Holland’s naval expansion. Fig. 261 shows a painting 
by one of the oldest of these specialists in seascapes, Simon Vlieger (1601-53). 
shows how these Dutch artists could convey the atmosphere of the sea by wonder- 
fully simple and unpretentious means. 

These Dutchmen were the first in the 
history of art to discover the beauty of the 
sky. They needed nothing dramatic or 
striking to make their pictures interesting. 

They simply represented a piece of the 
world as it appeared to them, and dis- 
covered that it could make just as satisfying 
a picture as any illustration of a heroic 
tale or a comic theme. 

One of the earliest of these discoverers 

was Jan van Goyen (1596-1656), from ooyE^-.AWindmiiibyaRiver. 

The Hague, who was roughly of the same 1642. London, National Gallery 




The Mirror of Nature 313 

generation as the landscape painter Claude Lorrain (p, 295, Fig. 248), It is interest- 
ing to compare one of the famous landscapes of Claude, a nostalgic vision of a land 
of serene beauty, with the simple aind straightforward painting by Jan van Goyen 
(Fig. 262). The differences are too obvious to need labouring. Instead of lofty 
temples, the Dutchman paints a homely windmill; instead of alluring glades, a 
featureless stretch of his native land. But Goyen knows how to transform the com- 
monplace scene into a vision of restful beauty. He transfigures the familiar motifs, 
and leads our eyes into the hazy distance, so that we feel as if we were ourselves 
s tanding at a point of vantage and looking into the light of the evening. We saw how 
the inventions of Claude so captured the imagination of his admirers in England that 
they tried to transform the actual scenery of their native land, and make it conform 
to the creations of the painter. A landscape or a garden which made them think of 
Claude, they called ‘picturesque’, like a picture. We have since become used to 
applying this word not only to ruined castles and sunsets, but also to such simple 
things as sailing boats and windmills. When we come to consider it, we do so be- 
cause such motifs remind us of pictures not by Claude, but by masters like Vlieger 
or Goyen. It is they who have taught us to see the ‘picturesque’ in a simple scene. 
Many a rambler in the countryside who delights in what he sees may, without know- 
ing it, owe his joy to those humble masters who first opened our eyes to unpreten- 
tious natural beauty. 

The greatest painter of Holland, and one of the greatest painters who ever lived, 
was Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606-69), who was a generation younger than Frans Hals 
and Rubens, and seven years younger than Vandyke and Velazquez. Rembrandt 
did not write down his observations as Leonardo and Diirer did; he was no admired 
genius as Michelangelo was, whose sayings were handed down to posterity; he was 
no diplomatic letter-writer like Rubens who exchanged ideas with the leading 
scholars of his age. Yet we feel that we know Rembrandt perhaps more intimately 
than any of these great masters, because he left us an amazing record of his life, a 
series of self-portraits ranging from the time of his youth, when he was a successful 
and even fashionable master, to his lonely old age when his face reflected the tragedy 
of bankruptcy and the unbroken will of a truly great man. These portraits combine 
into a imique autobiography. 

Rembrandt was born in 1606, the son of a well-to-do m iller in the University 
town of Leyden. He matriculated at the University, but soon abandoned his studies 
to become a painter. Some of his earliest works were greatly praised by contem- 
porary scholars, and at the age of twenty-five Rembrandt left Leyden for the teeming 
commercial centre of Amsterdam. There he made a rapid career as a portrait 
painter, married a wealthy girl, bought a house, collected works of art and curios, 
and worked incessantly. When his first wife died, in 1642, she left him a considerable 
fortune, but Rembrandt’s popularity with the public declined, he got into debt, and 



314 The Mirror of Nature 



263. REMBRANDT: Self -Portrait. About 1666. Vienna, Kunsthistorischcs Miisciini 


fourteen years later his creditors sold his house and put his collection up for auction. 
Only the help of his second wife and his son saved him from utter ruin. They made 
an arrangement by which he was formally an employee of their art-dealing firm, 
and, as such, he painted his last great masterpieces. But these faithful companions 
died before him, and when his life came to an end in 1669, he left no other property 
than some old clothes and his painting utensils. Fig. 263 shows us Rembrandt’s 
face during the last years of his life. It was not a beautiftil face, and Rembrandt 
certainly never tried to conceal its ugliness. He observed himself in a mirror with 
complete sincerity. It is because of this sincerity that we soon forget to ask about 



The Mirror of Nature 315 

beauty or looks. This is the face of a real human being. There is no trace of a pose, 
no trace of vanity, just the penetrating gaze of a painter who scrutinizes his own 
features, ever ready to learn more and more about the secrets of the human face. 
Other portraits by great masters may look alive, they may even reveal the character 
of their sitter through a characteristic expression or a striking attitude. Creations 
such as the ‘Mona Lisa’ (p. 218, Fig. 187), Titian’s ‘Young Englishman’ (p. 245, 
Fig. 204), or Hillyarde’s ‘Courtier’ (p. 278, Fig. 234) are like great characters in 
fiction, or parts played by actors on the stage. They are convincing and impressive, 
but we feel that they can only represent one side of a complex human being. Not 
even Mona Lisa can always have smiled. But in Rembrandt’s portraits (Fig. 265) 
we feel face to face with real human beings with all their tragic failings and all 
their sufferings. His keen and steady eyes seem to look straight into the human heart. 

I realize that such an expression may sound sentimental, but I know no other way 
of describing the almost uncanny knowledge Rembrandt appears to have had of 
human feelings and human reactions. Like Shakespeare, he seems to have been 
able to get into the skin of all types of men, and to know how they would behave in 
any given situation. It is that gift that makes Rembrandt’s illustrations of biblical 
stories so different from anything that had been done before. As a devout Protestant, 
Rembrandt must have read the Bible again and again. He entered into the spirit 



264. REMBRANDT: The Parable of the Merciless Servant. Drawing. About 1655. 
Paris, Louvre, Eonnat Bequest 



316 


The Mirror of Nature 



265. REMBRANDT: Jaw SiXy an Amsterdam Patrician. Painted in 1654. 

Amsterdam, Six Collection 

of its episodes, and attempted to visualize exactly what the situation must have been 
like, and how people would have moved and borne themselves at such a moment. 
F ig. 264 shows a drawing in which Rembrandt illustrated the parable of the merciless 
servant (Matthew xviii. 21-35). There is no need to explain the drawing. It explains 
itself. We see the Lord on the day of reckoning, with his steward looking up the 
servant’s debts in a big ledger. We see from the way the servant stands, his head 
lowered, his hand fumbling deep in his pocket, that he is unable to pay. The 
relationship of these three people to each other, the busy steward, the Hi gnififH 
Lord and the guilty servant, is expressed with a few strokes of the pen. 




The Mirror of Nature 317 

Rembrandt needs hardly any gestures or movements to express the inner meaning 
of a scene. He is never theatrical. Fig. 269 shows one of the paintings in which he 
visualized another incident from the Bible which had hardly ever been illustrated 
before — ^the reconciliation between King David and his wicked son Absalom. When 
Rembrandt was reading the Old Testament, and tried to see the kings and patriarchs 
of the Holy Land in his mind’s eye, he thought of the Orientals he had seen in the 
busy port of Amsterdam. That is why he dressed David like an Indian or Turk 
with a big turban, and gave Absalom a curved Oriental sword. His painter’s eye was 
attracted by the splendour of these costumes, and by the chance they gave him of 
showing the play of light on ±e precious fabric, and the sparkle of gold and 
jewellery. We can see that Rembrandt was as great a master in conjuring up the 
effects of these shining textures as Rubens or Velazquez. Rembrandt used less bright 
colour than either of them. The first impression of many of his paintings is that 
of a rather dark brown. But these dark tones give even more power and force to 
the contrast of a few bright and brilliant colours. The result is that the light on 
some of Rembrandt’s pictures looks almost dazzling. But Rembrandt never used 
these magic effects of light and shade for their own sakes. They always served 
to enhance the drama of the scene. What could be more moving than the gesture of 
the young prince in his proud array, burying his face on his father’s breast, or King 
David in his quiet and sorrowful acceptance of his son’s submission ? Though we 
do not see Absalom’s face, we feel what he must feel. 

Like Diirer before him, Rembrandt was great not only as a painter but also 
as a graphic artist. The technique he used was no longer that of woodcuts or 



266. REMBRANDT; Christ preaching. Etching. About 1652 


3 i 8 The Mirror of Nature 

copper-engraving (p. 204), but a method which allowed him to work more freely 
and more quickly than was possible with the burin. This technique is called etching. 
Its principle is quite simple. Instead of laboriously scratching the surface of the cop- 
per-plate, the artist covers the plate with wax and draws on it with a needle. 
Wherever his needle goes, the wax is removed and the copper laid bare. All he has to 
do afterwards is to put his plate into an acid which bites into the copper where the 
wax has gone, and thus transfer the drawing on to the copper-plate. The plate can 
then be printed in the same way as an engraving. The only means of telling an etch- 
ing from an engraving is by judging the character of the lines. There is a visible 
difference between the laborious and slow work of the burin and the free and easy 
play of the etcher’s needle. Fig. 266 shows one of Rembrandt’s etchings — another 
biblical scene. Christ is preaching, and the poor and humble have gathered round 
Him to listen. This time Rembrandt has turned to his own city for models. He lived 
for a long time in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam, and he studied the appearance 
and dresses of the Jews so as to introduce them into his sacred stories. Here they 
stand and sit, huddled together, some listening, enraptured, others pondering the 
words of Jesus, some, like the fat man behind, perhaps scandalized by Christ’s 
attack on the Pharisees. People who are used to the beautiful figures of Italian art 
are sometimes shocked when they first see Rembrandt’s pictures because he seems 
to care nothing for beauty, and not even to shrink from outright ugliness. That is 
true, in a sense. Like other artists of his time, Rembrandt had absorbed the message 
of Caravaggio, whose work he came to know through Dutchmen who had fallen 
under his influence. Like Caravaggio, he valued truth and sincerity above harmony 
and beauty. Christ had preached to the poor, the himgry and the sad, and poverty, 
hunger and tears are not beautiful. Of course much depends on what we agree to 
call beauty. A child often finds the kind, wrinkled face of his grandmother more 
beautiful than the regular features of a film star, and why should he not ? In the 
same way, one might say that the haggard old man in the right-hand corner of the 
etching, cowering, one hand before his face, and looking up, completely absorbed, 
is one of the most beautiful figures ever drawn. But perhaps it is really not very 
important what words we use to express our admiration. 

Rembrandt’s unconventional approach sometimes makes us forget how much 
artistic wisdom and skill he uses in the arrangement of his groups. Nothing could 
be more carefully balanced than the crowd forming a circle round Jesus, and yet 
standing at a respectful distance. In this art of distributing a mass of people, in 
apparently casual and yet perfectly harmonious groups, Rembrandt owed much 
to the tradition of Italian art which he by no means despised. Nothing would be 
farther from the truth than to imagine that this great master was a lonely rebel 
whose greatness went unrecognized by contemporary Europe. It is true that his 
popularity as a portrait painter decreased as his art became more profound and 



The Mirror of Nature 319 

uncompromising. But whatever the reasons for his personal tragedy and bank- 
ruptcy, his fame as an artist stood very high. The real tragedy, then as now, is 
that fame alone does not suffice to make a livelihood. 

The figure of Rembrandt is so important in all branches of Dutch art that no 
other painter of the period can bear comparison with him. That is not to say, 
however, that there were not many masters in the Protestant Netherlands who 
deserve to be studied and enjoyed in their own right. Many of them followed the 
tradition of northern art in reproducing the life of the people in gay and unsophisti- 
cated paintings. We remember that this tradition reaches back to such examples 
of medieval miniatures as p. 153, Fig. 140 and p. 198, Fig. 173. We remember how 
it was taken up by Brueghel (p. 280, Fig. 235), who displayed his skill as a painter 
and his knowledge of human nature in humorous scenes from the lives of peasants. 
The seventeenth-century artist who brought this vein to perfection was Jan Steen 
(1626-79), Jan van Goyen’s son-in-law. Like many other artists of his time, Steen 
could not support himself with his brush, and he kept an inn to earn money. One 
might almost imagine that he enjoyed this sideline, because it gave him an oppor- 
tunity of watching the people in their revellings, and of adding to his store of comic 
types. Fig. 267 shows a gay scene from the life of the people — a christening feast. We 
look into a comfortable room with a recess for the bed in which the mother lies, 
while friends and relations crowd round the father who holds the baby. It is well 



267. JAN STEEN: The Christening Feast. 1664. 
London, Wallace Collection 



320 The Mirror of Nature 

worth looking at these various types and their forms of merrymaking, but when we 
have examined all the detail we should not forget to admire the skill with which the 
artist has blended the various incidents into a picture. The figure in the foreground, 
seen from behind, is a wonderful piece of painting whose gay colours have a warmth 
and mellowness one does not easily forget when one has seen the original. 

One often associates Dutch seventeenth-century art with this mood of gaiety and 
good living we find in Jan Steen’s pictures, but there are other artists in Holland 
who represent a very different mood, one which comes much nearer to the spirit 
of Rembrandt. The outstanding example is another ‘specialist’, the landscape 
painter Jacob van Ruisdael (1628 ?-82). Ruisdael was about the same age as Jan Steen 



268. JACOB VAN RUISDAEL: Wooded landscape. About 1655. Oxford, Worcester College 


which means that he belonged to the second generation of great Dutch painters. 
When he grew up the works of Jan van Goyen and even of Rembrandt were already 
famous and were bound to influence his taste and choice of themes. Dining the first 
half of his life he lived in the beautiful town of Haarlem, which is separated from 
the sea by a range of wooded dunes. He loved to study the effect of light and shade 
on the gnarly weatherbeaten trees of these tracts and specialized more and more in 
picturesque forest scenes (Fig. 268). He became a master in the painting of dark 
and sombre clouds, of evening light when the shadows grow, of ruined castles and 
rushing brooks; in short it was he who discovered the poetry of the northern land- 
scape much as Qaude had discovered the poetry of Italian scenery. Perhaps no 



269. REMBRANDT: The Reconciliation of David and Absalom. 1642. Leningrad, Hermitage 



270 . VERMEER VAN DELFT: The Cook, Painted about 1660. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum 


The Mirror of Nature 323 

artist before him had contrived to express so much of his own feelings and moods 


through their reflection in nature. 

If I have called this chapter ‘The Mirror of Nature’, I did not only want to say 
that Dutch art had learned to reproduce nature as faithfully as a mirror. Neither art 
nor nature are ever as smooth and cold as a glass. Nature reflected in art always 
reflects the artist’s own mind, his predilections, his enjoyments and therefore his 
moods. It is this fact above all which renders the most ‘specialized’ branch of Dutch 
painting so interesting, the branch of still life painting. These still lifes usually show 
beautiful vessels filled with wine and appetizing fruit, or other dainties invitingly 
arranged on lovely china. These were pictures which would go well into a dining- 
room and would be sure to find a buyer. But they are more than mere reminders 
of the joys of the table. In such still lifes, artists could freely pick on any objects they 
liked to paint, and arrange them on the table to suit their fancy. Thus they became 
a wonderful field of experiment for the painters’ special problems. Willem Kalf 
(1622-93), for instance, liked to study the way in which light is reflected and broken 
by coloured glass. He studied the contrasts and harmonies of colours and textures, 
and tried to achieve ever-new harmonies between rich Persian carpets, bright blue 
china and brilliantly coloured fruit (Fig. 271). Without knowing it themselves, 
these specialists began to demonstrate that the subject of a painting is much less 
important than might have been thought. Just as trivial words may provide the text 
for a beautiful song, so trivial objects can make a perfect picture. 

This may seem a strange remark to make after the stress I have just laid on the 
subject-matter of Rembrandt’s painting. But actually I do not think that there is a 
contradiction. A composer who sets to music not a trivial text but a great poem 


wants us to understand the poem, so that 
we may appreciate his musical interpre- 
tation. In the same way, a painter painting 
a biblical scene wants us to understand 
the scene to appreciate his conception. 
But just as there is great music without 
words, so there is great painting without 
an important subject-matter. It was this 
discovery towards which the seventeenth- 
century artists had been groping when 
they discovered the sheer beauty of the 
visible world. And the Dutch specialists 
who spent their lives painting the same 
kind of subject-matter ended by proving 
that the subject-matter was of secondary 
importance. 



271. WILLEM kalf: Still Life, About 1660. 
Berlin, Kaiscr-Friedrich Museum 


X 


324 The Mirror of Nature 

The greatest of these masters was born a generation after Rembrandt. He was 
Jan Vermeer van Delft (1632-75). Vermeer seems to have been a slow and a careful 
worker. He did not paint very many pictures in his life. Few of them represent any 
important scenes. Most of them show simple figures standing in a room of a 
typically Dutch house. Some show nothing but a single figure engaged in a simple 
task, such as a woman pouring out milk (Fig. 270). With Vermeer genre painting 
has lost the last trace of humorous illustration. His paintings are really still lifes with 
human beings. It is hard to argue the reasons that make such a simple and unassum- 
ing picture one of the greatest masterpieces of all time. But few who have been lucky 
enough to see the original will disagree with me that it is something of a miracle. One 
of its miraculous features can perhaps be described, though hardly explained. It is 
the way in which Vermeer achieves complete and painstaking precision in the ren- 
dering of textures, colours and forms without the picture ever looking laboured or 
harsh. Like a photographer who deliberately softens the strong contrasts of the pic- 
ture without blurring the forms, Vermeer mellowed the outlines and yet retained the 
effect of solidity and firmness. It is this strange and unique combination of mellow- 
ness and precision which makes his best paintings so unforgettable. They make us 
see the quiet beauty of a simple scene with fresh eyes and give us an idea of what the 
artist felt when he watched the light flooding through the window and heightening 
the colour of a piece of cloth. 



272. The poor Painter shivering in his Garret. 
Drawing by pieter bloot. About 1640. 
London, British Museum 



CHAPTER 21 • POWER AND GLORY: I 


Italy, Later Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries 



273. A Church of the Roman ^Htgh Baroque' : Sta Agnese in Piazza Navona^ Rome, 
Designed by borromini and rainaldi in 1653 


W E remember the beginning of the Baroque manner of building in such 
works of late sixteenth-century art as della Porta’s church of the Jesuit 
Order (p. 287, Fig. 243). Porta disregarded the so-called rules of 
classical architecture for the sake of greater variety and more imposing effects. It is 
in the nature of things that once art has taken this road it must keep to it. If variety 
and striking effects are considered important, each subsequent artist has to produce 
more complex decorations and more astounding ideas so as to remain impressive. 
During the first half of the seventeenth century, this process of piling up more 
and more dazzling new ideas for buildings and their decorations had gone on 
in Italy, and by the middle of the seventeenth century the style we call Baroque 
was fully developed. 

Fig. 273 shows a typical Baroque church built by the famous architect Francesco 
Borromini (1599-1667) and his assistants. It is easy to see that even the forms which 
Borromini applied are really Renaissance forms. Like della Porta, he used the form 
of a temple front to frame the central entrance and, like him, he doubled the 
pilasters on the side to gain a richer effect. But by comparison with Borromini’s 


326 Power and Glory: Italy 

fa9ade, della Porta’s looks almost severe and restrained. Borrom’ni was no longer 
content with decorating a wall with the orders taken from classical architecture. He 
composed his church by a grouping of different forms — the vast cupola, the flanking 
towers and the fa9ade. And this fa9ade is curved as if it had been modelled in clay. 
If we look at the detail we find even more surprising effects. The first storey of the 
towers is square, but the second is roimd, and the relation between the two storeys 
is brought about by a strangely broken entablature which would have horrified every 
orthodox teacher of architecture, but which does the job assigned to it extremely 
well. The frames of the doors flanking the main porch are even more astonishing. 
The way in which the pediment over the entrance is made to frame an oval window 
has no parallel in any earlier building. The scrolls and curves of the Baroque style 
had come to dominate both the general lay-out and the decorative details. It has 
been said of Baroque buildings like those of Borromini that they are over-omate and 
theatrical. Borromini himself would hardly have understood this charge. He wanted 
a church to look festive and to be a building full of splendour and movement. If 
it is the aim of the theatre to delight us with a vision of a fairy world of light and 
pageantry, why should not the artist designing a church have a right to give us an 
idea of even greater pomp and glory to remind us of Heaven ? 

When we enter these churches we understand even better how the pomp and dis- 
play of precious stones, of gold and stucco, were used deliberately to conjure up a 
vision of heavenly glory much more concrete than the medieval cathedrals. Fig. 
274 shows the interior of Borromini’s church. To those of us who are used to 
the church interiors of northern countries, this dazzling pageantry may well look 
too worldly for our taste. But the Catholic Church of the period thought differently. 
The more the Protestants preached against outward show in the churches, the 
more eager did the Roman Church become to enlist the power of the artist. Thus 
the Reformation and the whole vexed issue of images and their worship which 
had influenced the course of art so often in the past, also had an indirect effect 
on the development of Baroque. The Catholic world had discovered that art could 
serve religion in ways that went beyond the simple task assigned to it in the 
early Middle Ages — the task of teaching the Doctrine to people who could not read. 
It could help to persuade and convert those who had, perhaps, read too much. 
Architects, painters and sculptors were called upon to transform churches into 
grand show-pieces whose splendour and vision nearly swept you off your feet. It 
is not so much the details that matter in these interiors as the general effect of the 
whole. We cannot hope to understand them, or to judge them correctly, unless we 
visualize them as the framework for the splendid ritual of the Roman Church, unless 
we have seen them during High Mass when the candles are alight on the altar, when 
the smell of incense fills the nave, and when the sound of the organ and the choir 
transports us into a different world. 




274- Interior of Sta Agnese in Piazza Navona (see Fig. 273). Completed about 1663 


This supreme art of theatrical decoration had mainly been developed by one 
artist, Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680). Bernini belonged to the same generation as 
Borromini. He was one year older than Vandyke and Velazquez, and eight years 
older than Rembrandt. Like these masters, he was a consummate portraitist. 
Fig. 275 shows his portrait bust of a young woman which has all the freshness and 
unconventionality of Bernini’s best work. When I saw it last in the museum in 
Florence, a ray of sunlight was playing on the bust and the whole figure seemed to 


328 


Power and Glory: Italy 



breathe and come to life. Bernini has 
caught a transient expression which we 
are sure must have been most characteris- 
tic of his sitter. In the rendering of facial 
expression, Bernini was perhaps unsur- 
passed. He used it, as Rembrandt used 
his profound knowledge of human be- 
haviour, to give visual form to his religious 
experience. 

Fig. 276 shows an altar of Bernini’s for 
a side chapel in a small Roman church. It 
is dedicated to the Spanish saint Theresa, 
a nun of the sixteenth century who had 
described her mystic visions in a famous 
book. In it she tells of a moment of heaven- 
ly rapture, when an angel of the Lord 
pierced her heart with a golden flaming 
arrow, filhng her with pain and yet with 
immeasurable bliss. It is this vision that 


Bernini has dared to represent. We see the saint carried Heavenwards on a cloud, 
towards streams of light which pour down from above in the form of golden rays. 
We see the angel gently approaching her, and the saint swooning in ecstasy. The 
group is so placed that it seems to hover without support in the magnificent frame 
provided by the altar, and to receive its light from an invisible window above. A 
northern visitor may be inclined, at first, to find the whole arrangement too reminis- 
cent of stage effects, and the group over-emotional. This, of course, is a matter of 
taste and upbringing about which it is useless to argue. But if we grant that a work 
of religious art like Bernini’s altar may legitimately be used to arouse the feelings 
of fervid exultation and mystic transport at which the artists of the Baroque were 
aiming, we must admit that Bernini has achieved this aim in a masterly fashion. 
He has deliberately cast aside all restraint, and carried us to a pitch of emotion 
which artists had so far shunned. If we compare the face of his swooning saint 
with any work done in previous centuries, we find that he achieved an intensity 
of facial expression which until then was never attempted in art. Looking from 
Fig. 277 to the head of Laocoon (p. 75, Fig. 68), or of Michelangelo’s ‘Dying 
Slave’ (p. 228, Fig. 192), we realize the difference. Even Bernini’s handling of 
draperies was at the time completely new. Instead of letting them fall in dig- 
nified folds in the approved classical manner, he made them writhe and whirl 
to add to the effect of excitement and movement. In aU these effects he was soon 


imitated aU over Europe. 



Power and Glory: Italy 329 



276. BERNINI: The Vision of St. Theresa. Altar in Sta Maria della Vittoria, Rome. 
Erected between 1644 and 1647 


If it is true of sculptures like Bernini’s ‘St. Theresa’ that they can only be judged 
in the setting for which they were made, the same applies even more to the painted 
decorations of Baroque churches. Fig. 278 shows the decoration of the ceiling of the 
Jesuit church in Rome by a painter of Bernini’s following, Giovanni Battista Gaulli 




277- BERNINI: St. Theresa. Detail of Fig. 276 


(1639-1709). The artist wants to give us the illusion that the vault of the church has 
opened, and that we look straight into the glories of Heaven. Correggio before him 
had the idea of painting the heavens on the ceiling (p. 247, Fig. 207), but Gaulli’s 
effects are incomparably more theatrical. The theme is the worship of the Holy 
Name of Jesus, which is inscribed in radiant letters in the centre of his church. It is 
surrounded by infinite multitudes of cherubs, angels, and saints, each gazing in 
rapture into the light, while whole legions of demons or fallen angels are driven out 
of the heavenly regions, with gestures of despair. The crowded scene seems to burst 
the frame of the ceiling, which brims over with clouds carrying saints and sinners 
right down into the church. In letting the picture thus break the frame the artist 
wants to confuse and overwhelm us, so that we no longer know what is real and 
what illusion. A painting like this has no meaning outside the place for which it 
was made. Perhaps it is no coincidence, therefore, that, after the development of the 


Power and Glory: Italy 


331 



278. GAULLi: The Worship of the Holy Name of Jesus. Ceiling of the Jesuit church 
II Gesu in Rome. Between 1670 and 1683 


full Baroque style in which all artists collaborated in the achievement of one effect, 
painting and sculpture as independent arts declined in Italy and throughout 
Catholic Europe. 

In the eighteenth century Italian artists were mainly superb internal decorators 
who were famous throughout Europe for their skill in stucco work and their great 
frescoes which could transform any hall of a castle or monastery into a setting for a 
pageantry. One of the most famous of these masters was the Venetian Giovanni 
Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770), who worked not only in Italy but also in Germany 


332 


Power and Glory: Italy 



279. GIOVANNI BATTISTA TIEPOLO: Cleopatra^ s Banquet, Fresco in ihe 
Palazzo Labia, Venice. 1757 


and Spain. Fig. 279 shows part of his decoration of a Venetian palace, painted in 
1757. It represents a subject which gave Tiepolo every opportunity to display gay 
colours and sumptuous costumes : The Banquet of Cleopatra. The story goes that 
Mark Antony gave a feast in honour of the Eygptian queen which was to be the 
nonplus ultra of luxury. The most costly dishes followed each other in sheer endless 
succession. The queen was not impressed. She wagered her proud host that she 
would produce a dish much more costly than anything he had offered yet — she took 




Power and Glory: Italy 


333 



280. GUARDI: View of S. Giorgio Maggiore m Venice. About 1770* 
London, Wallace Collection 


a famous pearl from her earring, dissolved it in vinegar and drank the brew. On 
Tiepolo’s fresco we see her showing Mark Antony the pearl while a black servant 
offers her a glass. 

Frescoes like these must have been fun to paint and they are a pleasure to look at. 
And yet we may feel that these fireworks are of less permanent value than the more 
sober creations of earlier periods. The great age of Italian art was ending. 

Only in one specialized branch did Italian art create new ideas in the early 
eighteenth century. That was, characteristically enough, the painting and engraving 
of views. The travellers who came to Italy from all over Europe to admire the 
glories of her past greatness often wanted to take souvenirs with them. In Venice, 
in particular, whose scenery is so fascinating to the artist, there developed a school 
of painters who catered for this demand. Fig. 280 shows a view of Venice by one 
of these painters, Francesco Guardi (1712-93). Like Tiepolo’s fresco, it shows that 
Venetian art had not lost its sense of pageantry, of light and of colour. It is interest- 
ing to compare Guardi’s views of the Venetian lagoon with the sober and faithful 
seascapes of Simon Vlieger (p. 312, Fig. 261) painted a century earlier. We realize 
that the spirit of Baroque, the taste for movement and bold effects, can express 
itself even in a simple view of a city. Guardi has completely mastered the effects 
that had been studied by seventeenth-century painters. He has learned that once 
we are given the general impression of a scene, we are quite ready to supply and 



334 Power and Glory: Italy 

supplement the details ourselves. If we look closely at his gondoliers we discover, 
to our surprise, that they are made up simply of a few deftly placed coloured 
patches — yet if we step back the illusion becomes completely effective. The tradi- 
tion of Baroque discoveries which lived in these late fruits of Italian art was to gain 
new importance in subsequent periods. 




Ifll 








Rome. Caricature 
tina 







CHAPTER 22 ’ POWER AND GLORY: II 


France^ Germany and Austria 
Late Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries 



282. The Baroque Castle: Versailles y garden front. Built by LOUIS levau and 
J. HARDOUIN MANSARD from 1655 tO 1682 

I T was not only the Roman Church that had discovered the power of art to 
impress and overwhelm. The kings and princes of seventeenth-century Europe 
were equally anxious to display their might and thus to increase their hold on 
the minds of the people. They, too, wanted to appear as beings of a different kind, 
lifted by Divine right above the common run of men. This applies particularly to 
the most powerful ruler of the latter part of the seventeenth century, Louis XIV 
of France, in whose political programme the display and splendour of royalty 
was deliberately used. It is surely no accident that Louis XIV invited Lorenzo 
Bernini to Paris to help with the designing of his palace. This grandiose project 
never materialized, but another of Louis XIV’s palaces became the very symbol 
of his immense power. This was the Palace of Versailles, which was built round 
about 1660-80. Versailles is so huge that no photograph can give an adequate idea 
of its appearance. Fig. 283 gives an aerial view which may convey some idea of its 
size and lay-out. There are no fewer than 123 windows looking towards the park in 
each storey. The park itself, with its clipped trees, terraces and ponds, extends over 
miles of country. 

It is in its immensity rather than in its decorative detail that Versailles is Baroque 
(Fig. 282). Its architects were mainly intent on grouping the enormous masses of 
the building into clearly distinct wings, and giving each wing the appearance of 
nobility and gradeur. They accentuated the middle of the main storey by a row of 
Ionic columns carrying an entablature with rows of statues on top, and flanked this 


336 Power and Glory: the Catholic North 

effective centre-piece with decorations of a similar kind. With a simple combination 
of pure Renaissance forms, they would hardly have succeeded in breaking the 
monotony of so vast a facade, but with the help of statues, urns and trophies they 
produced a certain amount of variety. It is in buildings like these, therefore, that 
one can best appreciate the true function and purpose of Baroque forms. Had the 
designers of Versailles been a little more daring than they were, and used more 
unorthodox means of articulating and grouping the enormous building, they might 
have been even more successful. 

It was only in the next generation that this lesson was completely absorbed by 
the architects of the period. For the Roman churches and French castles of the 
Baroque style fired the imagination of the age. Every minor princeling in southern 



283. Versailles from the air. (See Fig. 282) 


Germany wanted to have his Versailles; every small monastery in Austria or in 
Spain wanted to compete with the impressive splendour of Bernini’s designs. The 
period round about 1700 is one of the greatest periods of architecture; and not of 
architecture alone. These castles and churches were not simply planned as buildings 
— all the arts had to contribute to the effect of a fantastic and artificial world. Whole 
towns were used like stage settings, stretches of country transformed into gardens, 
brooks into cascades. Artists were given free rein to plan to their hearts’ content, 
and to translate their most unlikely visions into stone and gilt stucco. Often the 
money ran out before their plans became reality, but what was completed of this 
outburst of extravagant creation transformed the face of many a town and landscape 
of Catholic Europe. It was particularly in Austria, Bohemia and southern Germany 
that the ideas of the Italian and French Baroque were fused into the boldest and 
most consistent style. Fig. 284 shows the castle which the Austrian architect, 




Power and Glory: the Catholic North 


337 



284. The Belvedere m Vienna. Designed by Hii.DfcBRANDT between 1720 and 1724 

Lucas von Hildebrandt (1668-1745), built in Vienna for Marlborough’s ally, Prince 
Eugene of Savoy. The castle stands on a hill, and seems to hover lightly over a 
terraced garden with fountains and clipped hedges. Hildebrandt has grouped it 
clearly into seven different parts, reminiscent of garden pavilions ; a five-windowed 



285. The Entrance Hall and Staircase of the Vienna Belvedere. Designed by hildebrandt. 17^4* 

After an eightecnth-ccntury engraving 




338 


Power and Glory: the Catholic North 



286. The staircase of Pomniersfelden {Germany). Designed 
by HILDEBRAND! 1713-14, built by DIETZENHOFER 


centre-piece bulging forward, flanked by two wings of only slightly lesser height, 
and this group in turn flanked by a lower part and four turret-like corner pavilions 
which frame the whole building. The centre pavilion and the corner pieces are the 
most richly decorated parts, and the building forms an intricate pattern which is 
nevertheless completely clear and lucid in its outline. This lucidity is not at all dis- 
turbed by the freakish and grotesque ornament that Hildebrandt employed in the 
details of the decoration, the pilasters tapering off downwards, the broken and 
scrolly pediments over the windows, and the statues and trophies lining the roof. 

It is only when we enter the building that we feel the full impact of this fantastic 
style of decoration. Fig. 285 shows the entrance hall of Prince Eugene’s palace, and 
Fig. 286 a staircase of a German castle designed by Hildebrandt. We cannot do 
justice to these interiors unless we visualize them in use — on a day when the owner 
was giving a feast or holding a reception, when the lamps were lit and men and 
women in the gay and stately fashions of the time arrived to mount these stairs. At 
such a moment, the contrast between the dark and imlit streets of the time, reeking 


Power and Glory: the Catholic North 


339 



287. The Monastery of Melk on the Danube. Designed by 

PRANDTAUER m I702 


of dirt and squalor, and the radiant fairy world of the nobleman’s dwelling must 
have been overwhelming. 

The buildings of the Church made use of similar striking effects. Fig. 287 shows 
the Austrian monastery of Melk, on the Danube. As one comes down this river, the 
monastery, with its cupola and its strangely shaped towers, stands on the hill like 
some unreal apparition. It was built by a local builder called Jakob Prandtauer 
(died 1726) and decorated by some of the Italian travelling virtuosi who were ever 
ready with new ideas and designs from the vast store of Baroque patterns. How 
well these humble artists had learnt the dilhcult art of grouping and organizing 
a building to give the appearance of stateliness without monotony! They were 
also careful to graduate the decoration, and to use the more extravagant forms 
sparingly, but all the more effectively, in the parts of the building they wanted to 
throw into relief. 

In the interior, however, they cast off all restraint. Even Bernini or Borromini in 
their most exuberant moods would never have gone quite so far. Once more we 
must imagine what it meant for a simple Austrian peasant to leave his farmhouse 
Y 


340 Power and Glory: the Catholic North 



288. Interior of the Church of Melk Monastery. Completed about 1738, after designs of 
PRANDTAUERj BEDUZZI and MUNGGENAST 


and enter this strange wonderland. There are clouds everywhere, with angels 
making music and gesticulating in the bliss of Paradise. Some have settled on the 
pulpit, others are balancing on the scrolls of the organ gallery; everything seems to 
move and dance — even the walls cannot stand still, but seem to sway to and fro in 
the rhythm of jubilation. Nothing is ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ in such a church — it is 
not meant to be. It is intended to give us a foretaste of the glory of Paradise. 
Perhaps it is not everybody’s idea of Paradise, but when you are in the midst of it 
all it envelops you and stops all questionings. You feel you are in a world where 
our rules and standards simply do not apply. 

One can understand that north of the Alps, no less than in Italy, the individual 
arts were swept into this orgy of decoration and lost much of their independent 
importance. There were, of course, painters and sculptors of distinction in the period 
round about 1700, but perhaps there was only one master whose art compares with 
the great leading painters of the first half of the seventeenth century. This master 
was Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). Watteau came from Belgium, but settled in Paris 
where he died at the age of thirty-seven. He, too, designed interior decorations for 
the castles of the nobility, to provide the appropriate background for the festivals 
and pageantries of court society. But it would seem as if the actual festivities had not 
satisfied the imagination of the artist. He began to paint his own visions of a fife 
divorced from all hardship and triviaUty, a dream-life of gay picnics in fairy parks 
where it never rains, of musical parties where all ladies are beautiful and all lovers 


Power and Glory: the Catholic North 


341 



289. WATTEAU: Fete tn a Park. About 1718. London, Wallace Collection 


graceful, a society in which all are dressed in sparkling silk without looking showy, 
and where the life of the shepherds and shepherdesses seems to be a succession 
of minuets. From such a description one might get the impression that the art of 
Watteau is over-precious and artificial. For many, it has come to reflect the taste of 
the French aristocracy of the early eighteenth century which is known as Rococo; 
the fashion for dainty colours and delicate decoration which succeeded the more 
robust taste of the Baroque period, and which expressed itself in gay frivolity. But 
Watteau was far too great an artist to be a mere exponent of the fashions of his time. 
Rather it was he whose dreams and ideals helped to mould the fashion we call 
Rococo. Just as Vandyke had helped to create the idea of the gentlemanly ease we 
associate with the Cavaliers (p. 304, Fig. 254), so Watteau has enriched our store 
of imagination by his vision of graceful gallantry. 

Fig. 289 shows his picture of a picnic in a park. There is nothing of the noisy 
gaiety of Jan Steen’s revelries (p. 319, Fig. 267) in this scene; a sweet and almost 
melancholy calm prevails. These young men and women just sit and dream. The 
light plays on their shimmering dresses, and transfigures the copse into an earthly 
paradise. The qualities of Watteau’s art, the delicacy of his brushwork and the 
refinement of his colour harmonies do not easily come out in reproductions. His 
immensely sensitive paintings and drawings must really be seen and enjoyed in the 
original. Like Rubens, whom he admired, Watteau could convey the impression 
of living, palpitating flesh through a mere whiff of chalk or colour. But the mood of 
his studies is as different from Rubens’s as his paintings are from Jan Steen’s. There 
is a touch of sadness in these visions of beauty which is difficult to describe or define. 



342 Power and Glory: the Catholic North 

but which lifts Watteau’s art beyond the sphere of mere skill and prettiness. 
Watteau was a sick man, who died of consumption at an early age. Perhaps it was 
his awareness of the transience of beauty which gave to his art that intensity which 
none of his many admirers and imitators could equal. 



290. Art under Royal patronage. In 1667 Louis XIV, accompanied by his Minister, Colbert, 
paid a visit to the Royal Gobelin Manufacture to manifest his interest m what would now be 
called ‘the standard of French design’ which formed an important ‘asset’ in Colbert’s 
‘export drive’. The tapestry was commissioned to commemorate the occasion 




CHAPTER 23 • THE AGE OF REASON 
England and France^ Eighteenth Century 



291. A seventeenth-century Cathedral: St. PauVs^ London, 
Built by SIR Christopher wren from 1675 to 1710 


T he period round about 1700 had seen the culmination of the Baroque 
movement in Catholic Europe. The Protestant countries could not help 
being impressed by this all-pervading fashion but, nevertheless, they did 
not actually adopt it. This even applies to England during the Restoration period, 
when the Stuart court looked towards France and abhorred the taste and outlook 




344 

of the Puritans. It was during this period that England produced her greatest 
architect, Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), who was given the task of rebuilding 
London’s churches after the fire of 1666. It is interesting to compare his St. Paul’s 
Cathedral (Fig. 291) with a church of the Roman Baroque, built only some twenty 
years earlier (p. 325, Fig. 273). We see that Wren was definitely influenced by the 
groupings and effects of the Baroque architect, although he himself had never been 
in Rome. Like Borromini’s church. Wren’s cathedral, which is much larger in scale, 
consists of a central cupola, flanking towers, and the suggestion of a temple facade 
to frame the main entrance. There is even a definite similarity between Borromini’s 
Baroque towers and Wren’s, particularly in the second storey. Nevertheless, 
the general impression of the two fa9ades is very different. St. Paul’s is not 
curved. There is no suggestion of movement, rather of strength and stability. 
The way in which the paired columns are used to give stateliness and nobility 
to the fa(;:ade recalls Versailles (p. 335, Fig. 282) rather than the Roman Baroque. 
Looking at the details, we may even wonder whether or not to call Wren’s style 
Baroque. There is nothing of the freakish or fantastic in his decoration. All his 
forms adhere strictly to the best models of the Italian Renaissance. Each form 
and each part of the building can be viewed by itself without losing its intrinsic 
meaning. Compared with the exuberance of Borromini, or of the architect of 
Melk, Wren impresses us as being restrained and sober. 

The contrast between Protestant and 



292. Interior of St. Stephen's, Walbrook. 
Designed by sir Christopher wren. 1672 


Catholic architecture is even more marked 
when we consider the interior of Wren’s 
churches — for instance that of St. Stephen 
in London (Fig. 292). A church like this is 
designed mainly as a hall where the faith- 
ful meet for common worship. Its aim is 
not to conjure up a vision of another 
world, but rather to allow us to collect 
our thoughts. In the many churches he 
designed. Wren endeavoured to giveever- 
new variations on the theme of such a hall, 
which would be both dignified and simple. 

As with churches, so with castles. No 
king of England could have raised the 
prodigious sums to build a Versailles, and 
no English peer would have cared to 
compete with the German princelings in 
luxury and extravagance. It is true that 
the building craze reached England. 



The Age of Reason 


345 



293. Chiswick House, London. Designed by lord Burlington and william rent 
about 1725, enlarged by James Wyatt in 1788 


Marlborough’s Blenheim Palace is even larger in scale than Prince Eugene’s 
Belvedere. But these were exceptions. The ideal of the English eighteenth century 
was not the castle but the country house. 

The architects of these country houses usually rejected the extravagances of the 
Baroque style. It was their ambition not to infringe any rule of what they considered 
‘good taste’, and so they were anxious to keep as closely as possible to the real or 
pretended laws of classical architecture. Architects of the Italian Renaissance who 
had studied and measured the ruins of antique buildings with scientific care had pub- 
lished their findings in text-books to provide builders and craftsmen with patterns. 
The most famous of these books was written by Andrea Palladio (p. 266). This 
book of Palladio’s came to be considered the ultimate authority on all rules of taste 
in architecture in eighteenth-century England. To build one’s villa in the ‘Palladian 
manner’ was considered the last word in fashion. Fig. 293 shows such a Palladian 
villa, Chiswick House near London. Its centre-piece, designed for his own use by 
the great leader of taste and fashion. Lord Burlington (1695-1753), and decorated 
by his friend, William Kent (1685-1748), is indeed a close imitation of Palladio’s 
Villa Rotonda (p. 265, Fig. 223). True, the whole facade, which was completed 
later in the eighteenth century, shows that the Baroque taste for impressive display 
was not altogether rejected in England. Like many country-houses of the period 
it is broken up into different ‘wings’ and ‘pavilions’, whose effective grouping 
may be compared to that of Hildebrandt’s Belvedere (p. 337, Fig. 284). But 
this surprising similarity in the general outline also brings out the difference in 
detail, for unlike Hildebrandt and the other architects of Catholic Europe the 
designers of the British villa nowhere offend against the strict rules of the classical 


346 The Age of Reason 

style. The stately portico has the correct form of an antique temple front, built in 
the Corinthian order (p. 74). The wall of the building is simple and plain, there are 
no curves and volutes, no statues to crown the roof, and no grotesque decorations. 

For the rule of taste in the England of Burlington and Pope was also the rule of 
reason. The whole temper of the covmtry was opposed to the flights of fancy of 
Baroque designs, and to an art that aimed at impressing and overwhelming the 
emotions. The formal parks of the style of Versailles, whose endless clipped hedges 
and alleyways had extended the architects’ design beyond the actual building far 
into the surrounding country, were condemned as absurd and artiflcial. A garden or 
park should reflect the beauties of nature, it should be a collection of fine scenery 
such as might charm the painter’s eye. It was men such as Kent who invented the 
English ‘landscape garden’ as the ideal surroundings of their Palladian villas. Just 
as they had appealed to the authority of an Italian architect for the rules of reason 
and taste in building, so they turned to a southern painter for a standard of beauty 
in scenery. Their idea of what nature should look like was largely derived from the 
paintings of Claude Lorrain (p. 295, Fig. 248), and we have seen that these painters’ 
visions thus came to mould large tracts of the English countryside. 

The position of painters and sculptors under the rule of taste and reason was not 
too enviable. We have seen that the victory of Protestantism in England, and the 
Puritan hostility to images and to luxury, had dealt the tradition of art in England 
a severe blow. Almost the only purpose for which painting was still in demand was 
that of supplying likenesses, and even this fimction had largely been met by foreign 
artists such as Holbein (p. 274) and Vandyke (p. 302), who were called to England 
after they had established their reputations abroad. 

The fashionable gentlemen of Lord Burlington’s day had no objection to paint- 
ings or sculptures on puritan grounds, but they were not eager to place commissions 
with native artists who had not yet made a name in the outside world. If they 
wanted a painting for their villas, they would much rather buy one which bore the 
name of some famous Italian master. They prided themselves on being connoisseurs, 
and some of them assembled the most admirable collections ofold masters, without, 
however, giving much employment to the painters of their time. 

This state of affairs greatly irritated a young English engraver who had to make 
his living by illustrating books. His name was William Hogarth (1697-1764). He 
felt that he had it in him to be as good a painter as those whose works were bought 
for hundreds of pounds from abroad, but he knew that there was no public for con- 
temporary art in England. He therefore set out deliberately to create a new type 
of painting which should appeal to his countrymen. He knew that they were likely 
to ask ‘What is the use of a painting?’ and he decided that in order to impress 
people brought up in the puritan tradition, art must have an obvious use. Accord- 
ingly, he planned a number of paintings which should teach the people the rewards 



The Age of Reason 347 

of virtue and the wages of sin. He would show a ‘Rake’s Progress’ from profligacy 
and idleness to crime and death, or ‘The Four Stages of Cruelty ’ from a boy teasing 
a cat to a grown-up’s brutal murder. He would paint these edifying stories and 
warning examples in such a way that anyone who saw the series of piaures would 
understand all the incidents and the lessons they taught. His paintings, in fact, 
should resemble a kind of dumb show in which all the characters have their 
appointed task and make its meaning clear through gestures and the use of stage 
properties. Hogarth himself compared his new type of painting to the art of the 
playwright and the theatrical producer. He did everything to bring out what he 
called the ‘character’ of each figure, not only through his face but also through his 
dress and behaviour. Each of his picture sequences can be read like a story or, 
rather, like a sermon. In this respect, this type of art was not perhaps quite as new 
as Hogarth thought. We know that all medieval art used images to impart a lesson, 
and this tradition of the picture sermon had lived on in popular art up to the time 
of Hogarth. Crude woodcuts had been sold at fairs to show the fate of the drunkard 
or the perils of gambling, and the ballad-mongers sold pamphlets with similar tales. 
Hogarth, however, was no popular artist in this sense. He had made a careful study 
of the masters of the past and of their way of achieving pictorial effects. He knew 
the Dutch masters, such as Jan Steen, who filled their pictures with humorous 
episodes from the life of the people and excelled in bringing out the characteristic 
expression of a type (p. 319, Fig. 269). He also knew the methods of the Italian 
artists of his time, of Venetian painters of the type of Guardi (p. 333, Fig. 280), who 
had taught him the trick of conjuring up the idea of a figure with a few spirited 
touches of the brush. 

Fig. 294 shows an episode from the ‘Rake’s Progress ’ in which the poor rake has 
become a raving maniac and has to be put in irons in Bedlam. It is a crude scene of 
horror with all types of madmen represented: the religious fanatic in the first cell 
writhing on his bed of straw like the parody of a Baroque picture of a saint, the 
megalomaniac with his royal crown seen in the next cell, the idiot who scrawls the 
picture of the world on to the wall of Bedlam, the blind man with his paper telescope, 
the grotesque trio grouped round the staircase, the grinning fiddler, the foolish 
singer, and the touching figure of the apathetic man who just sits and stares ; and, 
finally, the main group of the rake, raving mad, with two men and a woman putting 
him in irons, the cruel equivalent of the strait-jacket. It is a tragic scene, made even 
more tragic by the grotesque dwarf who mocks it, and by the contrast with the two 
elegant visitors who had known the rake in the days of his prosperity. 

Each figure and each episode in the picture has its place in the story Hogarth 
tells, but that alone would not suffice to make it a good painting. What is remark- 
able in Hogarth is that, for all his preoccupation with his subject-matter, he still 
remained a painter, not only in the way he used his brush and distributed light and 



348 


The Age of Reason 



294. HOGARTH: The Rake in Bedlam, From ‘The Rake’s Progress’. 1735. 
London, Soane Museum 


colour, but also in the considerable skill he showed in arranging his groups. The 
group round the rake, for all its grotesque horror, is as carefully composed as any 
Italian painting of the classical tradition. Hogarth, in fact, was very proud of his 
understanding of this tradition. He was sure that he had foimd the law which 
governed beauty. He wrote a book, which he called The Analysis of Beauty, whose 
main point is that an undulating line would always be more beautiful than an 
angular one. Hogarth, too, belonged to the age of reason and believed in teachable 
rules of taste, but he did not succeed in converting his compatriots from their bias 
for the old masters. It is true that his picture-series earned him great fame and a 
considerable amount of money, but this reputation was due less to the actual painting 
than to reproductions he made of them in engravings which were bought by an eager 
public. As a painter, the connoisseurs of the period did not take him seriously and, 
throughout his life, he waged a grim campaign against the fashionable taste. 

It was only a generation later that an English painter was born whose art satisfied 
the elegant society of eighteenth-century England — Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92). 
Unlike Hogarth, Reynolds had been to Italy and had come to agree with the con- 
noisseurs of his time that the great masters of the Italian Renaissance — Raphael, 
Michelangelo, Correggio and Titian — ^were the unrivalled exemplars of true art. He 



The Age of Reason 349 

had absorbed the teaching attributed to the Carracci (p. 290, Fig. 244)5 that the only 
hope for an artist lay in the careful study and imitation of what were called the 
excellencies of the ancient masters — the draughtsmanship of Raphael, the colouring 
of Titian. Later in his life, when Reynolds had made a career as an artist in England 
and had become the first president of the newly founded Royal Academy of Art, he 
expounded this ‘academic’ doctrine in a series of discourses, which still make 
interesting reading. They show that Reynolds, like his contemporaries, believed in 
the rules of taste and the importance of authority in art. He believed that the right 
procedure in art could, to a large extent, be taught, if students were given facilities 
for studying the recognized masterpieces of Italian painting. His lectures are full of 
exhortations to strive after lofty and dignified subjects, because Reynolds believed 
that only the grand and impressive was worthy of the name of Great Art. 

From such a description it might easily appear that Reynolds was rather pompous 
and boring, but if we read his discourses and look at his pictures, we soon get rid 
of this prejudice. The fact is that he accepted the opinions about art which he found 
in the writings of the influential critics of the seventeenth century, all of whom were 
much concerned with the dignity of what was called ‘history painting’. We have 
seen how hard artists had to struggle against social snobbery which made people 
look down on painters and sculptors because they worked with their hands (p. 210). 
We know how artists had to insist that their real work was not handiwork but brain 
work, and that they were no less fit to be received in polite society than poets or 
scholars. It was through these discussions that artists were led to stress the import- 
ance of poetic invention in art, and to emphasize the elevated subjects with which 
their minds were concerned. ‘Granted’, they argued, ‘that there may be something 
menial in painting a portrait or a landscape from nature where the hand merely 
copies what the eye sees, but surely it requires more than mere craftsmanship: it 
requires erudition and imagination to paint a subject like Reni’s ‘‘Aurora” (p. 29 j 
Fig. 246) or Poussin’s “Et in Arcadian ego” (p. 294, Fig. 247) ?’ We know today 
that there is a fallacy in this argument. We know that there is nothing undignified 
in any kind of handiwork and that, moreover, it needs more than a good eye and 
a sure hand to paint a good portrait or landscape; but we have no right to look down 
on Reynolds because he had not seen through this particular prejudice in art. We 
should rather search our own hearts and see whether there are not things which we 
take as much for granted as Reynolds did the superiority of ‘history paintings’. 

Although Reynolds sincerely believed in his theories, his actual work consisted 
mainly in the painting of portraits because this was still the only kind of painting in 
great demand in England. Vandyke had established a standard of society portraits 
which all fashionable painters of subsequent generations tried to reach. Those of his 
works that hung in the country houses and city palaces of the nobility made the 
patrons expect that a good portrait should be flattering. They expected to be shown 



350 


The Age of Reason 



295. REYNOLDS: Portrait of Miss Bowles with her Dog. 1775. 
London, Wallace Collection 


at their best, and to be turned into models of elegance and gracefulness. It is 
interesting to see how Reynolds dealt with this tradition, and to compare his por- 
traits with those of his greatest rival in the field, Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), 
who was only four years his junior. 

As might have been expected, Reynolds usually tries to give his portraits an 
additional interest, to show that he was not merely copying the face and costume 
of his sitter but contributed some invention of his own which should bring out the 
sitter’s character and add interest to the painting. Even when he had to paint a 
child, Reynolds tried to make the picture into more than a mere portrait by trans- 
forming it into a little scene which appeals to our imagination. Fig. 295 shows his 
portrait of a ‘Miss Bowles with her dog’. We remember that Velazquez, too, had 
painted the portrait of a child and dog (p. 307, Fig. 257). But Velazquez had been 
interested in the texture and colour of what he saw. Reynolds wants to show us the 
touching love of the little girl for her pet. The way in which he made them pose 


The Age of Reason 


351 



296. GAINSBOROUGH: Portrait of Mi%s Haverfield, About 1780. 
London, Wallace Collection 


before the canvas is much more self-conscious, and much more thought out, than 
Velazquez’s straightforward arrangement. But Reynolds thought to a purpose. He 
not only gives us a touching subject, but he manages to arrange the group so skilfully 
that it makes a well-balanced and interesting picture on its own merits. It is true 
that, if we compare his handling of paint and his treatment of the living skin and 
the fluffy fur with that of Velazquez, we may find Reynolds disappointing. But it 
would hardly be fair to expect of him an effect at which he was not aiming. He 
wanted to bring out the character of the sweet child, and to make its tenderness 
and its charm live for us. Today, when photographers have so accustomed us to the 
trick of observing a child in a similar situation, we may find it difficult fully to 
appreciate the originality of Reynolds’s treatment. We may even be tempted to find 
it a little trite or cheap. But we must not blame a master for the imitations which 
have spoilt his effects. Reynolds never allowed the interest of the subjea-matter to 
upset the harmony of the painting. His portraits are all of one piece, not mere 


352 The Age of Reason 

illustrations of a pretty or sentimental situation as those of his later imitators some- 
times were; they are real paintings in which a master tried to apply his knowledge 
of the great art of the past to a new task. 

In the Wallace Collection in London, where Reynolds’s portrait of Miss Bowles 
hangs, there is also the portrait of a girl of roughly the same age by Gainsborough — 
the portrait of Miss Haverfield (Fig. 296). Gainsborough painted the little lady as 
she was tying the bow of her cape. There is nothing particularly moving or interest- 
ing in her action. She is just dressing, we fancy, to go for a walk. But Gainsborough 
knew how to invest the simple movement with such grace and charm that we find 
it as satisfying as Reynolds’s invention of the girl hugging her pet. Gainsborough 
was much less interested in ‘invention’ than Reynolds. He was born in rural 
Suffolk, had a natural gift for painting, and never found it necessary to go to Italy 
to study the great masters. In comparison with Reynolds and all his theories about 
the importance of tradition, Gainsborough was almost a self-made man. There is 
something in the relationship of the two which recalls the contrast between the 
learned Annibale Carracci, who wanted to revive the manner of Raphael, and the 
revolutionary Caravaggio, who wanted to acknowledge no teacher except nature. 
Reynolds, at any rate, saw Gainsborough somewhat in this light, as a genius who 
refused to copy the masters, and, much as he admired his rival’s skill, he felt bound 
to warn his students against his principles. Today, after the passage of almost two 
centuries, the two masters do not seem to us so very different. We realize, perhaps 
more clearly than they did, how much they both owed to the tradition of Vandyke, 
and to the fashion of their time. But, if we return to the portrait of Miss Haverfield 
with this contrast in mind, we understand the particular qualities which distinguish 
Gainsborough’s fresh and unsophisticated approach from Reynolds’s more laboured 
style. Gainsborough, we now see, had no intention of being ‘highbrow’; he wanted 
to paint straightforward unconventional portraits in which he could display his 
brilliant brushwork and his sure eye. And so he succeeds best where Reynolds 
disappointed us. His rendering of the fresh complexion of the child and the shining 
material of the cape, his treatment of the frills and ribbons of the hat, all this shows 
his consummate skill in rendering the texture and surfaces of visible objects. The 
rapid and impatient strokes of the brush almost remind us of the work of Frans Hals 
(p. 31 1, Fig. 260). But Gainsborough was a less robust artist than Hals. There are, 
in many of his portraits, a delicacy of shades and a refinement of touch which rather 
recall the visions of Watteau (p. 341, Fig. 289). 

Both Reynolds and Gainsborough were rather unhappy to be smothered with 
commissions for portraits when they wanted to paint other things. But while 
Reynolds longed for time and leisure to paint ambitious mythological scenes or 
episodes from ancient history, Gainsborough wanted to paint the very subjects 
wffich his rival despised. He wanted to paint landscapes. For, unlike Reynolds who 



The Age of Reason 


353 



Victoria and Albert Museum 


was a man about town, a friend of Dr. Johnson, and a frequenter of society, 
Gainsborough loved the quiet countryside, and the only entertainment he really 
enjoyed was chamber music. Unfortunately Gainsborough could find but few buyers 
for his landscapes, and so most of his pictures remained mere sketches done for his 
own enjoyment (Fig. 297). In these he arranged the trees and hills of the English 
countryside into picturesque scenes which remind us that this was the age of the 
landscape gardener. For Gainsborough’s sketches are no views drawn direct from 
nature. They are landscape ‘compositions’, designed to evoke and reflect a mood. 

In the eighteenth century English institutions and English taste became the 
admired models for all people in Europe who longed for the rule of reason. For in 
England art had not been used to enhance the power and glory of god-like rulers. 
The public for which Hogarth catered, even the people who posed for Reynolds’s 
and Gainsborough’s portraits, were ordinary mortals. We remember that in France, 
too, the heavy Baroque grandeur of Versailles had gone out of fashion in the early 
eighteenth century in favour of the more delicate and intimate effects of Watteau’s 
Rococo (p. 341, Fig. 289). Now this whole aristocratic dream-world began to re- 
cede. Painters began to look at the life of the ordinary men and women of their time, 
to draw moving or amusing episodes which could be spun out into a story. The 
greatest of these was Jean Simeon Chardin (1699-1779), a painter two years younger 
than Hogarth. Fig. 298 shows one of his charming paintings — a simple room with a 


354 


The Age of Reason 



298. CHARDIN: Saying Grace {Le Bdnidicite). 1739. 
Paris, Louvre 


woman setting dinner on to the table, and asking two children to say grace. Chardin 
liked these quiet glimpses of the life of ordinary people. He resembles the Dutch 
Vermeer (p. 322, Fig. 270) in the way in which he feels and preserves the poetry of 
a domestic scene, without looking for striking effects or pointed allusions. Even his 
colour is calm and restrained and, by comparison with the scintillating p aintin gs 
of Watteau, his works may seem to lack brilliance. But if we study them in the 
original, we soon discover in them an unobtrusive mastery in the subtle gradation of 
tones and the seemingly artless arrangement of the scene, that makes him one of 
the most lovable painters of the eighteenth century. 

In France, as in England, the new interest for ordinary human beings rather than 
for the trappings of power benefited the art of portraiture. Perhaps the greatest 
of the French portraitists was not a painter but a sculptor, Houdon (1741-1828). 
In his wonderful portrait busts, Houdon carried on the tradition which had been 
started by Bernini more than a hundred years earlier (p. 328, Fig. 275). Fig. 299 
shows Houdon’s bust of Voltaire, and allows us to see in the face of this great 
champion of reason the biting wit, ±e penetrating intelligence, and also the deep 
compassion of a great mind. 



299* HO u don: Portrait of Voltaire. 1778. London, Victoria and Albert Museum 



356 


The Age of Reason 



300. FRAGONARD: T/ie Park of the Villa 
d*Este in Tivoli. Drawing. About 1760. 
Bcsancon, Museum 


The taste for the ‘picturesque’ aspects of nature, finally, which inspired Gains- 
borough’s sketches in England is also represented in eighteenth-century France. 
Fig. 300 shows a drawing by J. H. Fragonard (1732-1806) who belonged to the 
generation of Gainsborough. Fragonard, too, was a painter of great charm who 
followed the tradition of Watteau in his themes from high life. In his landscape 
drawings he was a master of striking effects. The view from the Villa d’Este in 
Tivoli near Rome proves how he could find grandeur and charm in a piece of 
actual scenery. 



301. The Life School at the Royal Academy with portraits of leading artists including Reynolds 
(with the car-trumpet). Painting byzoFFANY. 1771. Windsor Castle 


CHAPTER 24 • THE BREAK IN TRADITION 


England.^ America and France 
Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries 



302. A neo-Gothic Villa: Strazoberry Hill, built by walpole, bfntley and chute 

about 1750-75 


I N history books, modern times begin with the discovery of America by Columbus 
in 1492. We remember the imponance of that period in art. It was the time of 
the Renaissance, the time when being a painter or a sculptor ceased to be an 
occupation like any other and became a calling set apart. It was also the period 
during which the Reformation, through its fight against images in churches, put 
an end to the most frequent use of pictures and sculptures in large parts of Europe, 
and forced the artists to look for a new market. But however important all these 
events were, they did not result in a sudden break. The large mass of artists were 
still organized in guilds and companies, they still had apprentices like other 
artisans, and they still relied for commissions largely on the wealthy aristocracy who 
needed the artists to decorate their castles and country seats, and to add their 
portraits to the ancestral galleries. Even after 1492, in other words, art retained a 
natural place in the life of people of leisure, and was generally taken for granted as 
something one could not well do without. Even though fashions changed and artists 



358 The Break in Tradition 

set themselves different problems, some being more interested in harmonious 
arrangements of figures, others in the matching of colours or the achievement of 
dramatic expression, the purpose of painting or sculpture remained in general the 
same, and no one seriously questioned it. This purpose was to supply beautiful 
things for people who wanted them and enjoyed them. There were, it is true, 
various schools of thought who quarrelled among themselves over what ‘Beauty’ 
meant and whether it was enough to enjoy the skilful imitation of nature for which 
Caravaggio, the Dutch painters, or men like Gainsborough, had become famous, or 
whether true beauty did not depend on the capacity of the artist to ‘idealize’ nature 
as Raphael, Carracci, Reni or Reynolds were supposed to have done. But these 
disputes need not make us forget how much common ground there was among the 
disputants, and how much between the artists whom they chose as their favourites. 
Even the ‘idealists ’ agreed that the artist must study nature and learn to draw from 
the nude, even the ‘naturaUsts’ agreed that the works of classical antiquity were 
imsurpassed in beauty. 

Towards the end of the eighteenth century this common ground seemed gradually 
to disappear. We have reached the really modern times which dawned when the 
French Revolution of 1789 put an end to so many of the assumptions that had been 
taken for granted for hundreds, if not for thousands, of years. Just as the Great 
Revolution has its roots in the Age of Reason, so have the changes in man’s ideas 
about art. The first of these changes concerns the artist’s attitude to what is called 
‘Style’. There is a character in one of Moliere’s comedies who is greatly astonished 
when he is told that he had spoken prose all his life without knowing it. Something 
a little similar happened to the artists of the eighteenth century. In former times, 
the style of the period was simply the way in which things were done, adopted 
because people thought it was the best and most correct way of achieving certain 
effects. In the Age of Reason, people began to become self-conscious about style 
and styles. Many architects were still convinced, as we have seen, that the rules laid 
down in the books by Palladio guaranteed the ‘right’ style for elegant buildings. 
But once you turn to text-books for such questions it is almost inevitable that there 
will be others who say : ‘Why must it be just Palladio’s style ? ’ This is what happened 
in England in the course of the eighteenth century. Among the most sophisticated 
connoisseurs there were some who wanted to be different from the others. The most 
characteristic of these English gentlemen of leisure who spent their time thinking 
about style and the rules of taste was the famous Horace Walpole, son of the first 
Prime Minister of England. It was Walpole who decided that it was boring to have 
his country house on Strawberry Hill built just like any other correct Palladian 
villa. He had a taste for the quaint and romantic, and was notorious for his whimsi- 
cality. It was quite in keeping with his character that he decided to have Strawberry 
Hill built in the Gothic style like a castle from the romantic past (Fig. 302). At the 



The Break in Tradition 359 

time, about 1770, Walpole’s Gothic villa passed for the oddity of a man who wanted 
to show off his antiquarian interests; but seen in the light of what came later, it was 
really more than that. It was the first sign of the self-consciousness that made people 
select the style of their building as one selects the pattern of a wallpaper. 

Nor was it the only symptom of this kind. While Walpole selected the Gothic 
style for his country house, the architect Wilham Chambers (1726-96) studied the 
Chinese style of buildings and of gardening, and built his Chinese Pagoda in Kew 
Gardens. The majority of architects, it is true, still kept to the classical forms of 
Renaissance building, but even they were increasingly worried about the right style. 
They looked with some misgivings on the practice and tradition of architecture 
which had grown up since the Renaissance. They found that many of these practices 
had no real sanction in the buildings of classical Greece. They realized, with a shock, 
that what had passed as the rules of classical architecture since the fifteenth century 
was really taken from a few Roman ruins of a more or less decadent period. Now 
the temp'es of Periclean Athens were rediscovered and engraved by zealous travel- 
lers, ana they looked strikingly different from the classical designs to be found in 
Palladio’s book. Thus these architects became preoccupied with correct style. 
Walpole’s ‘Gothic Revival’ was matched by a ‘Greek Revival’ which culminated 
in the Regency period (1810-20). This is the period in which many of the principal 
spas in England enjoyed their greatest prosperity, and it is in these towns that one 
can best study the forms of the Greek revival. Fig. 303 shows a house in Cheltenham 
Spa which is successfully modelled on the pure Ionic style of Greek temples 
(p. 67, Fig. 60). Fig. 304 gives an example of the revival of the Doric order in 
its original form such as we know it from the Parthenon (p. 49, Fig. 45). It is a 
design for a villa by the famous architect John Soane (1752-1837). If we compare 
it with the Palladian villa built by Wilham Kent some eighty years earlier (p. 345, 
Fig. 293) the superficial similarity only brings out the difference. Kent used the 
forms he found in tradition freely to compose his building. Soane’s project, by 
comparison, looks like an exercise in the correct use of the elements of Greek style. 

This conception of architecture as an application of strict and simple rules was 
bound to appeal to the champions of Reason whose power and influence continued 
to grow all over the world. Thus it is not surprising that a man such as Thomas 
Jefferson (1743-1826), one of the fovmders of the United States and its third 
President, designed his own residence, Monticello, in this lucid, neo-classical style 
(Fig. 305), and that the city of Washington, with its public buildings, was planned 
in the forms of the Greek revival. In France, too, the victory of this style was 
assured after the French Revolution. The old happy-go-lucky tradition of Baroque 
and Rococo builders and detorators was identified with the past which had just been 
swept away; it had been the style of the castle of royalty, and of the aristocracy, 
while the men of the Revolution liked to think of themselves as the free citizens of a 




304. JOHN SOANE: Design for a Country House. From Sketches in Architecture 

published in 1798 




The Break in Tradition 


361 



305. Monticello {Vnginia). Built by THOMAS Jefferson between 1796 and 1806 


new-born Athens, When Napoleon, posing as the champion of the ideas of the 
Revolution, rose to power in Europe, the ‘neo-classical ’ style of architecture became 
the style of the Empire, On the Continent, too, a Gothic revival existed side by side 
with this new revival of the pure Greek style. It appealed particularly to those 
Romantic minds who despaired of the power of Reason to reform the world and 
longed for a return to what they called the Age of Faith. 

In painting and sculpture, the break in the chain of tradition was perhaps less 
immediately perceptible than it was in architecture, but it was possibly of even 
greater consequence. Here, too, the roots of the trouble reach back far into the 
eighteenth century. We have seen how dissatisfied Hogarth was with the tradition 
of art as he found it, and how deliberately he set out to create a new kind of painting 
for a new public. We remember how Reynolds, on the other hand, was anxious to 
preserve that tradition as if he realized that it was in danger. The danger lay in the 
fact mentioned before, that painting had ceased to be an ordinary trade the know- 
ledge of which was handed down from master to apprentice. Instead, it had become 
a subject like philosophy to be taught in academies. The very word ‘academy’ sug- 
gests this new approach. It is derived from the name of the villa in which the Greek 
philosopher Plato taught his disciples, and was gradually applied to gatherings of 
learned men in search of wisdom. Artists at first called their meeting places 


362 The Break in Tradition 

‘academies’ to stress that equality with scholars on which they set such great store; 
but it was only in the eighteenth century that these academies gradually took over 
the function of teaching art to students. Thus, the old methods by which the great 
masters of the past had learned their trade by grinding colours and assisting their 
elders, had fallen into decline. No wonder that academic teachers like Reynolds felt 
compelled to urge young students to study diligently the masterpieces of the past 
and to assimilate their technical skill. The academies of the eighteenth century were 
under royal patronage, to manifest the interest which the King took in the arts in 
his realm. But, for the arts to flourish, it is perhaps less important that they should 
be taught in Royal Institutions than that there should be enough people willing to 
buy paintings or sculptures by living artists. 

It was here that the main difficulties arose, because the very emphasis on the 
greatness of the masters of the past, which was favoured by the academies, made 
patrons inclined to buy old masters rather than to commission paintings from the 
living. As a remedy, the academies, first in Paris, then in London, began to arrange 
annual exhibitions of the works of their members. Today we are so used to the idea 
of artists painting and sculptors modelling their work mainly with the idea of send- 
ing them to an exhibition to attract the attention of art critics and to find buyers, 
that we may find it hard to realize what a momentous change this was. These 
annual exhibitions were social events that formed the topic of conversation in polite 
society, and made and unmade reputations. Instead of working for individual 
patrons whose wishes they understood, or for the general public, whose taste they 
could gauge, artists had now to work for success in a show where there was always 
a danger of the spectacular and pretentious outshining the simple and sincere. The 
temptation was indeed great for artists to attract attention by selecting melodramatic 
subjects for their paintings, and by relying on size and loud colour effects to impress 
the public. Thus it is not surprising that some genuine artists despised the ‘official’ 
art of the academies, and that the clash of opinions between those whose gifts 
allowed them to appeal to the public taste and those who found themselves excluded, 
threatened to destroy the common ground on which all art had so far developed. 

Perhaps the most immediate and visible effect of this profound crisis was that 
artists everywhere looked for new types of subject-matter. In the past, the subject- 
matter of paintings had been very much taken for granted. If we walk round our 
galleries and museums we soon discover how many of the paintings illustrate 
identical topics. The majority of the older pictures, of course, represent religious 
subjects taken from the Bible, and the legends of the saints. But even those that are 
secular in character are mostly confined to a few selected themes. There are the 
mythologies of ancient Greece with their stories of the loves and quarrels of the 
gods; there are the heroic tales from Rome with their examples of valour and self- 
sacrifice; and there are, finally, the allegorical subjects illustrating some general 



The Break in Tradition 


363 



306. coPLfcY: Charles I demanding the Surrender oj the five impeached M.P.i. 1785. 
Boston, Public Library 


truth by means of personifications. It is curious how rarely artists before the middle 
of the eighteenth century strayed from these narrow limits of illustration, how 
rarely they painted a scene from a romance, or an episode of medieval or contem- 
porary history. All this changed very rapidly during the period of the French 
Revolution. Suddenly artists felt free to choose as their subjects anything from a 
Shakespearian scene to a topical event, anything, in fact, that appealed to the 
imagination and aroused interest. This disregard for the traditional subject-matters 
of art may have been the only thing the successful artists of the period and the 
lonely rebels had in common. 

It is hardly an accident that this breakaway from the established traditions of 
European art was partly accomplished by artists who had come to Europe from 
across the ocean — Americans who worked in England. Obviously these men felt 
less bound to the hallowed customs of the Old World and were readier to try new 
experiments. The American John Singleton Copley (1737-1815) is a typical artist 
of this group. Fig. 306 shows one of his large paintings which caused a sensation 
when it was first exhibited in 1785. The subject was indeed an unusual one. The 
Shakespearian scholar Malone, a friend of the politician Edmund Burke, had 
suggested it to the painter and provided him with all the historical information 
necessary. He was to paint the famous incident when Charles I demanded from the 
House of Commons the arrest of five impeached members, and when the Speaker 
challenged the King’s authority and declined to surrender them. Such an episode 
from comparatively recent history had never been made the subject of a large 


364 The Break in Tradition 

painting before, and the method which Gjpley selected for the task was equally 
unprecedented. It was his intention to reconstruct the scene as accurately as pos- 
sible — as it would have presented itself to the eyes of a contemporary witness. He 
spared no pains in getting the historical facts. He consulted antiquarians and 
historians about the actual shape of the chamber in the seventeenth century and 
the costumes people wore; he travelled from country house to country house to 
collect portraits of as many men as possible who were known to have been Members 
of Parliament at that critical moment. In short, he acted as a conscientious producer 
might act today when he has to reconstruct such a scene for an historical film or 
play. We may or may not find these efforts well spent. But it is a fact that, for more 
than a hundred years afterwards, many artists great and small saw their task in 
exactly this type of antiquarian research, which should help people to visualize the 
decisive moments of the past. 

In Gipley’s case, this attempt to re-evoke the dramatic clash between the King 
and the representatives of the people was certainly not only the work of a disin- 
terested antiquarian. Only two years before, George HI had had to submit to the 
challenge of the colonists and had signed the peace with the United States. Burke, 
from whose circle the suggestion for the subject had come, had been a consistent 
opponent of the war, which he considered unjust and disastrous. The meaning of 
Copley’s evocation of the previous rebuff to royal pretensions was perfectly under- 
stood by all. The story is told that when the Queen saw the painting she turned 
away in pained surprise, and after a long and ominous silence said to the young 
American: ‘You have chosen, Mr. Copley, a most unfortunate subject for the 
exercise of your pencil’. She could not know how unfortunate the reminiscence was 
going to prove. Those who remember the history of these years will be struck by 
the fact that, hardly four years later, the scene of the picture was to be re-enacted 
in France. This time, it was Mirabeau who denied the King’s right to interfere with 
the representatives of the people, and thus gave the starting signal to the French 
Revolution of 1789. 

The French Revolution gave an enormous impulse to this type of interest in 
history, and to the painting of heroic subjects. Copley had looked for examples in 
England’s national past. There was a Romantic strain in his historical painting 
which may be compared to the Gothic revival in architecture. The French revolu- 
tionaries loved to think of themselves as Greeks and Romans re-bom, and their 
painting, no less than their architecture, reflected this taste for what was called 
Roman grandeur. The leading artist of this neo-classical style was the painter 
Jacques Louis David (1748-1825) who was the ‘official artist’ of the revolutionary 
Government, and designed the costumes and settings for such propagandist 
pageantries as the ‘Festival of the Supreme Being’ in which Robespierre officiated 
as a self-appointed High Priest. These people felt that they were living in heroic 



The Break in Tradition 365 

times, and that the events of their own 
years were just as worthy of the painter’s 
attention as were the episodes of Greek 
and Roman history. When one of the 
leaders of the French Revolution, Marat, 
was killed in his bath by a fanatical young 
woman, David painted him as a martyr 
who had died for his cause (Fig. 307). 

Marat was apparently in the habit of 
working in his bath, and his bath tub 
was fitted with a simple desk. His 
assailant had handed him an application 
which he was about to sign when she 
struck him down. The situation does not 
seem to lend itself easily to a picture of 
dignity and grandeur, but David suc- 
ceeded in making it seem heroic, while 
yet sticking to the actual details of a 
police record. He had learned from the study of Greek and Roman sculpture how 
to model the muscles and sinews of the body, and give it the appearance of noble 
beauty; he had also learned from classical art to leave out all details which are not 
essential to the main effect, and to aim at simplicity. There are no motley colours 
and no complicated foreshortening in the painting. Compared to Copley’s great 
showpiece, David’s painting looks austere. It is an impressive commemoration of 
a humble ‘friend of the people’ — as Marat had styled himself— who had suffered 
the fate of a martyr while working for the common weal. 

Among the artists of David’s generation who discarded the old type of subject- 
matter was the great Spanish painter Francisco Goya (1746-1828). Goya was well 
versed in the best tradition of Spanish painting which had produced El Greco (p. 
273, Fig. 229) and Velazquez (p. 307, Fig. 257). Unlike David, he did not renounce 
the brilliant colours of the earlier painters in favour of classical grandeur. His 
portraits, in fact, which secured him a position at the Spanish court (Fig. 308), look 
superficially like State portraits in the vein of Vandyke or of Reynolds. But only 
superficially, for as soon as we scrutinize the faces of these grandees we feel that 
Goya seems to mock at their pretentious elegance. He looked at these men and 
women with a pitiless and searching eye, and revealed all their vanity and ugliness, 
their greed and emptiness. No Court Painter before or after has ever left such a 
record of his patrons (Fig. 309). 

It was not only as a portrait painter that Goya asserted his independence from the 
conventions of the past. Like Rembrandt, he produced a great number of etchings. 




366 


The Break in Tradition 


most of them in a new technique called 
aquatinta, which allows not only etched 
lines but also shaded patches. The most 
striking fact about Goya’s prints is that 
they are not illustrations of any known 
subjects, either biblical, historical or genre. 

Most of them are fantastic visions of 
witches and of uncanny apparitions. Some 
are meant as accusations against the powers 
of stupidity and reaction, of human cruelty 
and oppression which Goya had wimessed 
in Spain, others seem just to give shape to 
the artist’s nightmares. Fig. 310 represents 
one of the most haunting of his dreams — 
the figure of a giant sitting on the edge of 
the world. We can gauge his colossal size 
from the tiny landscape in the foreground, 
and can see how he dwarfs houses and 
castles into mere specks. We can make 
our imagination play round this dreadful 
apparition, which is drawn with a clarity of outline as if it were a study from life. 
The monster sits in the moonlit landscape like some evil incubus. Was Goya 
thinking of the fate of his country, of its oppression by wars and human folly ? 
Or was he simply creating an image like a poem? For this was the most out- 
standing effect of the break in tradition — that artists felt free to put their private 
visions on paper as hitherto only the poets had done. 

The most outstanding example of this new approach to art was that of the English 
poet and mystic William Blake (1757-1827) who was eleven years younger than 
Goya. Blake was a deeply religious man who lived in a world of his own. He despised 
the official art of the academies, and declined to accept its standards. Some thought 
he was completely mad; others dismissed him as a harmless crank, and only a very 
few of his contemporaries believed in his art and saved him from starvation. He 
lived by making etchings, sometimes for others, sometimes to illustrate his own 
poems. Fig. 31 1 represents one of Blake’s illustrations to his poem Europe, a 
Prophecy. It is said that Blake had seen this enigmatic figure of an old man, bend- 
ing down to measure the globe with a compass, in a vision which hovered over his 
head at the top of a staircase when he was living in Lambeth. There is a passage in 
the Bible (Proverbs viii. 22-7), in which Wisdom speaks and says: 

‘The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old . . . 
before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth . . . when He 



308. GOYA: King Ferdinand VII of Spain, 
Painted in 1814. Madrid, Prado 



309. Detail of Fig. 308 


368 


The Break in Tradition 



310. GOYA: The Giant. Etching. 

About 1820 

prepared the Heavens, I was there : when He set a compass on the face of the depths : 
when He established the clouds above: when He strengthened the fountains of 
the deep.’ 

It is this grandiose vision of the Lord setting a compass upon the face of the 
depths that Blake illustrated. There is something of Michelangelo’s figure of the 
Lord (p. 227, Fig, 191) in this image of the Creation, and Blake admired Michel- 
angelo. But in his hands the figure has become dream-like and fantastic. In fact, 
Blake had formed a mythology of his own, and the figure of the vision was not 
strictly speaking the Lord Himself, but a being of Blake’s imagination whom he 
called Urizen, Though Blake conceived of Urizen as the creator of the world, he 
thought of the world as bad and therefore of its creator as of an evil spirit. Hence 
the uncanny nightmare character of the vision, in which the compass appears like 
a flash of lightning in a dark and stormy night. 

Blake was so wrapped up in his visions that he refused to draw from life and 
relied entirely on his inner eye. It is easy to point to faults in his draughtsmanship, 
but to do so would be to miss the point of his art. Like the medieval artists, he did 
not care for accurate representation, because the significance of each figure of his 
dreams was of such overwhelming importance to him that questions of mere 
correctness seemed to him irrelevant. He was the first artist after the Renaissance 
who thus consciously revolted against the accepted standards of tradition, and we 
can hardly blame his contemporaries who found him shocking. It was almost a 


The Break in Tradition 


369 



31 1 . BLAKE: The Ancient of Days. Metal cut, with water-colour. 
1794. London, British Museum 


century before he was generally recognized as one of the most important figures 
in English art. 

There was one branch of painting that profited much by the artist’s new freedom 
in his choice of subject-matter — this was landscape painting. So far, it had been 
looked upon as a minor branch of art. The painters, in particular, who had earned 
their living painting ‘views ’ of country houses, parks or picturesque scenery, were 
not taken seriously as artists. This attitude changed somewhat through the Romantic 
spirit of the late eighteenth century, and great artists saw it as their purpose in life 
to raise this type of painting to new dignity. Here, too, tradition could serve both 
as a help and a hindrance, and it is fascinating to see how differently two English 
landscape painters of the same generation approached this question. One was 
William Turner (1775-1851), the other John Constable (1776-1837). There is 




312. constable: The Haywain, 1821. London, National Gallery 



313. CONSTABLE : Dedham Mill. Oil sketch. Painted in 1820. London, Victoria and Albert Museum 




314 * turner; Steamer in Snowstorm, Painted in 1842. London, Tate Gallery 



The Break in Tradition 


373 

something in the contrast of these two men which recalls the contrast between 
Reynolds and Gainsborough, but, in the fifty years which separates their genera- 
tions, the gulf between the approaches of the two rivals had very much widened. 
Turner, like Reynolds, was an immensely successful artist whose pictures often 
caused a sensation at the Royal Academy. Like Reynolds, he was obsessed with the 
problem of tradition. It was his ambition in life to reach, if not surpass, the cele- 
brated landscape paintings of Claude Lorrain (p. 295, Fig. 248). When he left his 
pictures and sketches to the nation, he did so on the express condition that one of 
them (Fig. 315) must always be shown side by side with a work by Claude Lorrain. 
Turner hardly did himself justice by inviting this comparison. The beauty of 
Claude’s pictures lies in their serene simplicity and calm, in the clarity and con- 
creteness of his dream-world, and in the absence of any loud effects. Turner, too, 
had visions of a fantastic world bathed in light and resplendent with beauty, but it 
was a world not of calm but of movement, not of simple harmonies but of dazzling 
pageantries. He crowded into his pictures every effect which could make it more 
striking and more dramatic, and, had he been a lesser artist than he was, this desire 
to impress the public might well have had a disastrous result. Yet he was such a 
superb stage manager, he worked with such gusto and skill that he carried it off and 
the best of his pictures do, in fact, give us a conception of the grandeur of nature 
at its most romantic and sublime. Fig. 314 shows one of Turner’s most daring 
paintings — a steamer in a blizzard. If we compare this whirling composition with 
the seascape of Vlieger (p. 312, Fig. 261) we gain a measure of the boldness of 
Turner’s approach. The Dutch artist of the seventeenth century did not only paint 
what he saw at a glance, but also, to some extent, what he knew was there. He knew 
how a ship was built and how it was rigged, and, looking at his painting, we might 
be able to reconstruct these vessels. Nobody could reconstruct a nineteenth-century 
steamer from Turner’s seascape. All he gives us is the impression of the dark hull, 
of the flag flying bravely from the mast — of a battle with the raging seas and threat- 
ening squalls. We almost feel the rush of the wind and the impact of the waves. We 
have no time to look for details. They are swallowed up by the dazzling light and 
the dark shadows of the storm cloud. I do not know whether Turner ever saw a 
storm of this kind, nor even whether a blizzard at sea really looks like this. But I do 
know that it is a storm of this awe-inspiring and overwhelming kind that we imagine 
when reading a romantic poem or listening to romantic music. In Turner, nature 
always reflects and expresses man’s emotions. We feel small and overwhelmed in 
the face of the powers we cannot control, and are compelled to admire the artist 
who had nature’s forces at his command. 

Constable’s ideas were very different. To him thetradition which Turner wanted 
to rival and surpass was not much more than a nuisance. He wanted to paint what 
he saw with his own eyes — ^not with those of Claude Lorrain. It might be said that 



374 


The Break in Tradition 



315. turner: The Founding of Carthage^ painted in 1815. London, National Gallery 


he continued where Gainsborough had left off (p. 353, Fig. 297). But even Gains- 
borough had still selected motifs which were ‘picturesque’ by traditional standards. 
He had still looked at nature as a pleasing setting for idyllic scenes. To Constable 
all these ideas were unimportant. He wanted nothing but the truth. The fashionable 
landscape painters who still took Claude as their model had developed a number 
of easy tricks by which any amateur could compose an effective and pleasing 
picture. An impressive tree in the foreground would serve as a striking contrast to 
the distant view that opened up in the centre. The colour scheme was neatly worked 
out. Warm colours, preferably brown and golden tones, should be in the foreground. 
The background shotild fade into pale blue tints. There were recipes for painting 
clouds, and special tricks for imitating the bark of gnarled oaks. Constable despised 
all these set-pieces. The story goes that a friend remonstrated with him for not 
giving his foreground the requisite mellow brown of an old violin, and that Constable 
thereupon took a violin and put it before him on the grass to show the friend the 
difference between the fresh green as we see it and the warm tones demanded by 
convention. But Constable had no wish to shock people by daring iimovations. All 
he wanted was to be faithful to his own vision. He went out to the countryside to 
make sketches from nature, and then elaborated them in his studio. His sketches 
(Fig. 313) are often bolder than his finished pictures, but the time had not yet come 
when the public would accept the record of a rapid impression as a work worthy to 
be shown at an exhibition. Even so, his finished pictures caused a sensation when 



The Break in Tradition 


375 



316. CASPAR DAVID FRIEDRICH: Landscape in the Silesian Mountains. About 1815-20. 

Munich, Ncue Pinakothck 


they were first shown. Fig. 312 shows the painting which made Constable famous in 
Paris when it was shown there in 1824. It represents a simple rural scene, a hay- 
wain fording a river. We must lose ourselves in the picture, watch the patches of 
sunlight on the meadows in the background and look at the drifting clouds ; we must 
follow the course of the river, and linger by the mill which is painted with such 
restraint and simplicity, to appreciate the artist’s absolute sincerity, his refusal to be 
more impressive than nature, and his complete lack of pose or pretentiousness. 

The break with tradition had left artists with the two possibilities which were 
embodied in Turner and Constable. They could become poets in painting, and 
seek moving and dramatic effects, or they could decide to keep to the motif in front 
of them, and explore it with all the insistence and honesty at their command. There 
were certainly great artists among the Romantic painters of Europe, men such as 
Turner’s contemporary, the German painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), 
whose landscape pictures reflect the mood of the Romantic lyrical poetry of his 
time which is more familiar to us through Schubert’s songs. His painting of a bleak 
mountain scenery (Fig. 316) may even remind us of the spirit of Chinese landscape 
paintings (p. 107, Fig. 97) which also comes so close to the ideas of poetry. But 



376 The Break in Tradition 

however great and deserved was the popular success which some of these Romantic 
painters achieved in their days, we believe today that those who followed Constable’s 
path and tried to explore the visible world rather than to conjure up poetic moods, 
achieved something of more lasting importance. 



317. The nev) role of * official exhibitions' : Charles X of France distributing decorations 
in the Paris ^ Salon' of 1824. Painting by F, c. heim. Paris, Louvre 



CHAPTER 25 • REVOLUTION IN PERMANENCE 
The Nineteenth Century 



318. A nineteenth-century "state* bwldmg: the Houses of Parliament y London, Designed by 
BARRY and A. W. N. PUGIN in 1835 


W HAT I have called the break in tradition, which marks the period 
of the Great Revolution in France, was bound to change the whole 
situation in which artists lived and worked. The academies and 
exhibitions, the critics and connoisseurs, had done their best to introduce a distinc- 
tion between Art with a capital A and the mere exercise of a craft, be it that of the 
painter or the builder. Now these foundations on which art had rested throughout 
its existence were being undermined from another side. The Industrial Revolution 
began to destroy the very traditions of solid craftsmanship; handiwork gave way to 
machine production, the workshop to the factory. 

The most immediate results of this change were visible in architecture. The lack 
of solid craftsmanship, combined with a strange insistence on ‘style’ and ‘beauty’, 
nearly killed it. The amount of building done in the nineteenth century was prob- 
ably greater than in all former periods taken together. It was the time of the vast 
expansion of cities in Europe and America that turned whole tracts of country into 
‘built-up areas’. But this time of unlimited building activity had no natural style 
of its own. The rules of thumb and pattern books, which had so admirably served 


37 ^ Revolution in Permanence 

their turn up to the Georgian period, were generally discarded as too simple and 
too ‘inartistic’. The business man or town committee who planned a new factory, 
railway station, school building or museum, wanted Art for their money. Accord- 
ingly, when the other specifications had been fulfilled, the architect was commis- 
sioned to provide a facade in the Gothic style, to turn the building into the semblance 
of a Norman castle, a Renaissance palace, or even an Oriental mosque. Certain 
conventions were more or less accepted, but they did not help much to improve 
matters. Churches were more often than not built in the Gothic style because this had 
been prevalent in what was called the Age of Faith. For theatres and opera houses 
the theatrical Baroque style was often considered suitable, while palaces and ministries 
were thought to look most dignified in the stately forms of the Italian Renaissance. 

It would be unfair to assume that there were no gifted architects in the nineteenth 
century. There certainly were. But the situation of their art was all against them. 
The more conscientiously they studied to imitate the bygone styles, the less their 
designs were likely to be adapted to the purpose for which they were intended. And 
if they decided to be ruthless with the conventions of the style they had to adopt, 
the result was usually not too happy either. Some nineteenth-century architects 
succeeded in finding a way between these two unpleasant alternatives, and in 
creating works which are neither sham antiques nor mere freak inventions. Their 
buildings have become landmarks of the cities in which they stand, and we have 
come to accept them almost as if they were part of the natural scenery. This is 
true, for instance, of the Houses of Parliament in London (Fig. 318), whose history 
is characteristic of the difficulties under which architects of the period had to work. 
When the old chamber burned down in 1834, a competition was organized, and 
the jury’s choice fell on the design of Sir Charles Barry (1795-1863), an expert 
on the Renaissance style. It was found, however, that England’s civil liberties rested 
on the achievements of the Middle Ages, and that it was right and proper to erect 
the shrine of British Freedom in the Gothic style — a point of view, by the way, 
which was still universally accepted when the restoration of the chamber after its 
destruction by German bombers was discussed after the last war. Accordingly, 
Barry had to seek the advice of an expert on Gothic details, A. W. N. Pugin 
(1812—52), whose father had been an ardent champion of the Gothic revival. The 
collaboration amounted more or less to this— that Barry was allowed to determine 
the overall shape and grouping of the building, while Pugin looked after the decora- 
tion of the fa 93 de and the interior. To us this would hardly seem a very satisfactory 
procedure, but the outcome was not too bad. Seen from the distance, through the 
London mists, Barry’s outlines do not lack a certain dignity; and, seen at close 
quarters, the Gothic details still retain something of their Romantic appeal. 

In painting or sculpture, the conventions of ‘style’ play a less prominent part, 
and it might thus be thought that the break in tradition affected these arts less; but 



Revolution in Permanence 


379 

this was not the case. The life of an artist had never been without its troubles and 
anxieties, but there was one thing to be said for the ‘good old days ’ — no artist need 
ask himself why he had come into the world at all. In some ways his work had been 
as well defined as that of any other calling. There were always altar-paintings to be 
done, portraits to be painted ; people wanted to buy pictures for their best parlours, 
or commissioned frescoes for their country houses. In all these jobs he could work 
on more or less pre-established lines. He delivered the goods which the patron 
expected. True, he could produce indifferent work, or do it so superlatively well 
that the job in hand was no more than the starting point for a transcendent master- 
piece. But his position in life was more or less secure. It was just this feeling of 
security that artists lost in the nineteenth century. The break in tradition had 
thrown open to them an unlimited field of choice. It was for them to decide whether 
they wanted to paint landscapes or dramatic scenes from the past, whether they 
chose subjects from Milton or the classics, whether they adopted the restrained 
manner of David’s classic revival or the fantastic manner of the Romantic masters. 
But the greater the range of choice had become, the less likely was it that the 
artist’s taste would coincide with that of his public. Those who buy pictures usually 
have a certain idea in mind. They want to get something very similar to what they 
have seen elsewhere. In the past, this demand was easily met by the artists because, 
even though their work differed greatly in artistic merit, the works of a period 
resembled each other in many respects. Now that this unity of tradition had disap- 
peared, the artist’s relations with his patron were only too often strained. The 
patron’s taste was fixed in one way : the artist did not feel it in him to satisfy that 
demand. If he was forced to do so for want of money, he felt he was making ‘con- 
cessions ’, and lost his own self-respect and the esteem of others. If he decided to 
follow only his inner voice, and to reject any commission that was not reconcilable 
with his idea of art, he was literally in danger of starvation. Thus a deep cleavage 
developed in the nineteenth century between those artists whose temperament or 
convictions allowed them to follow conventions and to satisfy the public’s demand, 
and the others who gloried in their self-chosen isolation. What made matters worse 
was that the Industrial Revolution and the decline of craftsmanship, the rise of a new 
middle class which often lacked tradition, and the production of cheap and shoddy 
goods which masqueraded as ‘art’, had brought about a deterioration of public 
taste. 

The distrust between artists and the public was generally mutual. To the success- 
ful business man, an artist was little better than an impostor who demanded 
ridiculous prices for something that could hardly be called honest work. Among 
the artists, on the other hand, it became an acknowledged pastime to ‘shock the 
burghers’ out of their complacency and to leave them bewildered and bemused. 
Artists began to see themselves as a race apart, thev grew long hair and beards, they 



380 Revolution in Permanence 

dressed in velvet or corduroy, wore broad-brimmed hats and loose ties, and generally 
stressed their contempt for the conventions of the ‘respectable This state of affairs 
was hardly sound, but it was perhaps inevitable. And it must be acknowledged 
that, though the career of an artist was beset with the most dangerous pitfalls, the 
new conditions also had their compensations. The pitfalls are obvious. The artist 
who sold his soul and pandered to the taste of those who lacked taste was lost. So 
was the artist who dramatized his situation, who thought of himself as a genius for 
no other reason than that he found no buyers. But the situation was only desper- 
ate for weak characters. For the wide range of choice, and the independence of the 
patron’s whim, which had been acquired at such high cost, also held its advantages. 
For the first time, perhaps, it became true that art was a perfect means of expressing 
individuality — provided the artist had an individuality to express. 

To many this may sound like a paradox. They think of all art as a means of 
‘expression’, and to some extent they are right. But the matter is not quite so 
simple as it is sometimes thought to be. It is obvious that an Egyptian artist had 
little opportunity of expressing his personality. The rules and conventions of his 
style were so strict that there was very little scope for choice. It really comes to this — 
that where there is no choice there is no expression. A simple example will make 
this clear. If we say that a woman ‘expresses her individuality’ in the way she 
dresses, we mean that the choice she makes indicates her fancies and preferences. 
We need only watch an acquaintance buying a hat and try to find out why she rejects 
this and selects the other. It always has something to do with the way she sees her- 
self and wants others to see her, and every such act of choice can teach us some- 
thing about her personality. If she had to wear a uniform there might still remain 
some scope for ‘expression’, but obviously much less. Style is such a uniform. True, 
we know that as time went on the scope it afforded the individual artist increased, 
and with it the artist’s means of expressing his personality. Everyone can see that 
Fra Angelico was a different type of man from Masaccio, or that Rembrandt 
was a different character from Vermeer van Delft. Yet none of these artists was 
deliberately making his choice in order to express his personality. He did it only 
incidentally, as we express ourselves in everything we do — whether we light a pipe 
or run after a bus. The idea that the true purpose of art was to express personality 
could only gain ground when art had lost every other purpose. Nevertheless, as 
things had developed, it was a true and valuable statement. For what people who 
cared about art came to look for in exhibitions and studios was no longer the display 
of ordinary skill — that had become too common to warrant attention — they wanted 
art to bring them into contact with men with whom it would be worth while to 
converse: men whose work gave evidence of an incorruptible sincerity, artists who 
were not content with borrowed effects and who would not make a single stroke 
of the brush without asking themselves whether it satisfied their artistic conscience. 



Revolution in Permanence 


381 



319. DELACROIX: Arabic Fantasy. First exhibited in the Salon of 1834. 
Montpellier, Musec Fabry 


The history of nineteenth-century painting, as we usually see it today, is really the 
history of a handful of such sincere men whose integrity of purpose led them to defy 
convention, not in order to gain notoriety, but so that they might explore new 
possibilities undreamt of by previous generations. 

The stage on which these dramatic clashes took place was the art world of Paris. 
For, in the nineteenth century, Paris had become a centre of painting much as 
Florence had been in the fifteenth century, and Rome in the seventeenth. The 
history of France since the Great Revolution is punctuated by a series of successive 
overthrows of the established order in 1830, 1848 and 1871. The history of painting 
in Paris looks somewhat similar. There, too, we have successive waves of revolution, 
each generation trying to sweep away yet more of the conventions in which the 
official art of the academies had got stuck. 

The first of these rebels was born in the eighteenth century. He was Eugene 
Delacroix (1799-1863). Delacroix revolted against the school of David (p. 365, 
Fig. 307) and the standards for which it stood. He had no patience with all the talk 
about the Greeks and Romans, with the insistence on correct drawing, and the 
constant imitation of classical statues. He believed that, in painting, colour was 
much more important than draughtsmanship, and imagination than knowledge. 
While David and his school cultivated the Grand Manner and admired Poussin 
and Raphael, Delacroix shocked the connoisseurs by preferring the Venetians and 


382 


Revolution in Permanence 







320. millet: The Gleanen, 1857. Paris, Louvre 


Rubens. He was tired of the learned subjects the academy wanted painters to 
illustrate, and went to North Africa to study the glowing colours and romantic 
trappings of the Arab world. Fig. 319 shows one of the fruits of his journey. Every- 
thing in the picture is a denial of all that painters like David had preached. There 
is no clarity of outline here, no modelling of the nude in carefully graded tones of 
light and shade, no poise and restraint in the composition, not even a patriotic or 
edifying subject. All the painter wants is to make us partake in an intensely exciting 
moment, and to share his joy in the movement and romance of the scene, with the 
Arab cavalry sweeping past, and the fine thoroughbred rearing in the foreground. 
It was Delacroix who acclaimed Constable’s picture in Paris (p. 370, Fig. 312), 
though in his personality and choice of romantic subjects he is perhaps more akin 
to Turner. 

The next revolution was mainly concerned with the conventions governing 
subject-matter. In the academies the idea was still prevalent that dignified paintings 
must represent dignified personages, and that workers or peasants provided suitable 
subjects only for genre scenes in the tradition of the Dutch masters (p. 319). 
During the time of the Revolution of 1848, a group of artists gathered in the French 
village of Barbizon to follow the programme of Constable and look at nature with 
fresh eyes. One of them, Francois Millet (1814-75), decided to extend this pro- 
gramme from landscapes to figures. He wanted to paint scenes from peasant life as 


Revolution in Permanence 383 

it really was, to paint men and women at work in the fields. It is curious to reflect 
that this should have been considered revolutionary, but in the art of the past such 
scenes of men at work were introduced only when they fitted into the subject which 
was to be illustrated. Fig. 320 represents Millet’s famous picture ‘The Gleaners’. 
There is no dramatic incident represented here: nothing in the way of an anecdote. 
Just three hard-working people on a flat field where harvesting is in progress. They 
are neither beautiful nor graceful. There is no suggestion of the country idyll in the 
picture. These peasant women move slowly and heavily. They are all intent on their 
work. Millet has done everything to emphasize their square and solid build and 
their deliberate movements. He modelled them firmly and in simple outlines against 
the bright sunlit plain. Thus his three peasant women assumed a dignity more 
natural and more convincing than that of academic heroes. The arrangement, which 
looks casual at first sight, supports this impression of tranquil poise. There is a 
calculated rhythm in the movement and distribution of the figures which gives 
stability to the whole design and makes us feel that the painter looked at the work 
of harvesting as a scene of solemn significance. 

The painter who gave a name to this movement was Gustave Courbet (1819-77). 
When he opened a one-man show in a shack in Paris in the year 1855, he called it 
‘Le Realisme, G. Courbet’. His ‘realism’ was to mark a revolution in art. Courbet 
wanted to be the pupil of no one but nature. To some extent, his character and 
programme resembled that of Caravaggio (p. 291, Fig. 245). He wanted not pretti- 
ness but truth. 

In the picture of Fig. 321 he has represented himself walking across country with 
his painter’s tackle on his back, respectfully greeted by his friend and patron. He 
called the picture ‘Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet ’.To anyone used to the show-pieces 
of academic art, this picture must have seemed downright childish. There are no 
graceful poses here, no flowing lines, 
no impressive colours. Compared 
with its artless arrangement, even 
the composition of Millet’s ‘The 
Gleaners’ looks calculated. The 
whole idea of a painter representing 
himself in shirtsleeves as a kind of 
tramp must have appeared as an 
outrage to the ‘respectable’ artists 
and their admirers. This, at any rate, 
was the impression Courbet wanted 
to make. He wanted his pictures to 
be a protest against the accepted 
conventions of his day, to ‘shock 



321. COURBET: ' Bonjour y Monsieur Courbet*, 1854. 
Montpellier, Museum 


384 Revolution in Permanence 

the bourgeois ’ out of his complacency, and 
to proclaim the value of uncompromis- 
ing artistic sincerity as against the deft 
handling of traditional cliches. Sincere 
Courbet’s pictures imdoubtedly are. ‘I 
hope’, he wrote in a characteristic letter in 
1854, ‘always to earn my living by my art 
without having ever deviated by even a 
hair’s breadth from my principles, without 
having lied to my conscience for a single 
moment, without painting even as much as 
can be covered by a hand only to please 
anyone or to sell more easily.’ Courbet’s 
deliberate renunciation of easy effects, and 
his determination to render the world as 
he saw it, encouraged many others to flout 
convention and to follow nothing but their 
own artistic conscience. 

The same concern for sincerity, the 
same impatience with the theatrical preten- 
tiousness of official art, that led the group 
of the Barbizon painters and Courbet to- 
wards ‘Realism’, caused a group of Eng- 
lish painters to take a very different path. 
They pondered about the reasons which had led art into such a dangerous rut. They 
knew that the academies claimed to represent the tradition of Raphael and what was 
known as the ‘Grand Manner’. If that was true, then art had obviously taken a 
wrong turning with, and through, Raphael. It was he and his followers who had 
exalted the methods of ‘idealizing’ nature and of striving towards beauty at the 
expense of reality. If art was to be reformed, it was therefore necessary to go further 
back than Raphael, to the time when artists were still ‘honest to God’ craftsmen, 
who did their best to copy nature, while thinking not of earthly glory, but of the 
glory of God. Believing, as they did, that art had become insincere through Raphael 
and that it behoved them to return to the ‘Age of Faith’, this group of friends called 
themselves the ‘Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’. One of its most gifted members was 
the son of an Italian refugee, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82). Fig. 322 shows 
Rossetti’s painting of the ‘Annunciation’. Usually, this theme was represented on 
the pattern of the medieval representations such as p. 154, Fig. 141. Rossetti’s 
intention to return to the spirit of the medieval masters did not mean that he wanted 
to copy their pictures. What he desired to do was to emulate their attitude, to read 




Revolution in Permanence 385 

the biblical narrative with a devout heart, and to visualize this scene when the angel 
came to the Virgin and saluted her: ‘And when she saw him, she was troubled at his 
saying and cast in her mind what mariner of salutation this should be’ (Luke i. 29). 
We can see how Rossetti strove for simplicity and sincerity in his new rendering, 
and how much he wanted to let us see the ancient story with a fresh mind. But, for 
all his intention to render nature as faithfully as the admired Florentines of the 
Quattrocento had done, some will feel that the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood set 
itself an unattainable goal. To admire the naive faith of the so-called primitives is 
one thing, to strive for it oneself is another. For these are virtues which the best will 
in the world cannot help us to attain. Far from being unsophisticated, the paintings 
of the Pre-Raphaelites are utterly self-conscious. Thus, while their starting point 
was similar to that of Millet and Courbet, their honest endeavour landed them in a 
blind alley. Their intention, to become new primitives, was too self-contradictory 
to succeed. The expressed intention of the French masters, to explore nature re- 
gardless of convention, proved much more fruitful. 

The third wave of revolution in France (after the first wave of Delacroix and the 
second wave of Courbet) was started by Edouard Manet (1832-83) and his friends. 
These artists took Courbet’s programme very seriously. They looked out for con- 
ventions in painting which had become stale and meaningless. They found that the 
whole claim of traditional art to have discovered the way to represent nature, as we 
see it, was based on a misconception. At the most, they would concede that tradi- 
tional art had found a means of representing men or objects under very artificial 
conditions. Painters let their models pose in their studios where the light falls 
through the window, and made use of the slow transition from light to shade to give 
the impression of roundness and solidity. The art students at the academies were 
trained from the beginning to base their pictures on this interplay between light and 
shade. At first, they usually drew from plaster casts taken from antique statues, 
which they carefully modelled through different densities of shading. Once they 
acquired this habit, they applied it to all objects. The public had become so accus- 
tomed to seeing things represented in this manner that they had forgotten that in 
the open air we do not usually perceive such even gradations from dark to light. 
There are harsh contrasts in the sunlight. Objects taken out of the artificial condi- 
tions of the artist’s studio do not look so round or so much modelled as plaster casts 
from the antique. The parts which are lit appear much brighter than in the studio, 
and even the shadows are not uniformly grey or black, because the reflections of 
light from surrounding objects affect the colour of these unlit parts. If we trust our 
eyes, and not our preconceived ideas of what things ought to look like according to 
academic rules, we shall make the most exciting discoveries. 

That such ideas were first considered extravagant heresies is hardly surprising. 
We have seen throughout this story of art how much we are all inclined to judge 



386 


Revolution in Permanence 



323. MANET: The Balcony. First exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1869. 
Paris, Louvre 


pictures by what we know rather than by what we see. We remember how the 
Egyptian artists found it inconceivable to represent a figure without showing each 
part from its most characteristic angle. They knew what a foot, an eye, or a hand 
‘looked like’, and they fitted these parts together to form a complete man. To repre- 
sent a figure with one arm hidden from view, or one foot distorted by foreshortening, 
would have seemed to them outrageous. We remember that it was the Greeks who 
succeeded in breaking down this prejudice, and allowed foreshortening in pictures 
(p. 54, Fig. 49). We remember how the importance of knowledge came to the 



Revolution in Permanence 


387 



324. MANET: The Races at Longchamp. Lithograph, about 1872 


fore again in early Christian and medieval art (p. 95, Fig. 87) and remained so till 
the Renaissance. Even then the importance of theoretical knowledge of what the 
world ought to look like was enhanced rather than diminished through the dis- 
coveries of scientific perspective and the emphasis on anatomy (p. 167). The great 
artists of subsequent periods had made one discovery after another which allowed 
them to conjure up a convincing picture of the visible world, but none of them had 
seriously challenged the conviction that each object in nature has its definite fixed 
form and colour which must be easily recognizable in a painting. It may be said, 
therefore, that Manet and his followers brought about a revolution in the rendering 
of colours which is almost comparable with the revolution in the representation of 
forms brought about by the Greeks. They discovered that, if we look at nature in 
the open, we do not see individual objects each with its own colour but rather a 
bright medley of tones which blend in our eye or really in our mind. 

These discoveries were not made all at once or all by one man. But even Manet’s 
first paintings in which he abandoned the traditional method of mellow shading in 
favour of strong and harsh contrasts caused an outcry among the conservative 
artists. In 1863 the academic painters refused to show his works in the official 
exhibition called the Salon. An agitation followed which prompted the authorities 
to show all works condemned by the jury in a special show called the ‘Salon of the 
Rejected’. The public went there mainly to laugh at the poor deluded tyros who 



388 Revolution in Permanence 

had refused to accept the verdict of their betters. This episode marks the first stage 
of a battle which was to rage for nearly thirty years. It is difficult for us to conceive 
the violence of these quarrels between the artists and the critics, all the more since 
the paintings of Alanet strike us today as being essentially in the tradition of the 
greatest masters of the past, particularly of such painters as Frans Hals (p. 311, 
Fig. 260) and Velazquez (p. 307, Fig. 257). Fig. 323 shows a painting by Manet of 
the year 1869. It is a simple group of people on a balcony. We can see how the 
painter enjoyed the contrast between the full light of the open air and the dark 
which swallows up the forms in the interior. The heads of the ladies are not 
modelled in the traditional manner, as we shall discover if we compare them with 
Leonardo’s ‘Mona Lisa’ (p. 218, Fig. 187), Rubens’s portrait of his child (p. 298, 
Fig. 250), or even Velazquez’s painting of the ‘Infant Prince’ (p. 307, Fig. 257) or 
Gainsborough’s ‘Miss Haverfield’ (p. 351, Fig. 296). However different these 
painters were in their methods they all wanted to create the impression of solid 
bodies, and did so through the interplay of shadow and light. Compared with 
theirs, Manet’s heads look flat. The lady in the background has not even got a 
proper nose. We can well imagine why this treatment looked like sheer ignorance 
to those not acquainted with Manet’s intentions. But the fact is that in the open air, 
and in the full light of day, round forms sometimes do look flat, like mere coloured 
patches. It was this effect which Manet wanted to explore. The consequence is that 
as we stand before one of his pictures it looks more immediately real than any old 
master. We have the illusion that we really stand face to face with this group on the 
balcony. The general impression of the whole is not flat but, on the contrary, that 
of real depth. One of the reasons for this striking effect is the bold colour of the 
balcony railing. It is painted in a bright green which cuts across the composition 
regardless of the traditional rules of colour harmonies. The result is that this railing 
seems to stand out quite bodily in front of the scene, which thus recedes behind it. 

The new theories did not concern only the treatment of colours in the open air 
(‘Plein Air’), but also that of forms in movement. Fig. 324 shows one of Manet’s 
lithographs — a method of reproducing drawings made directly on stone, which had 
been invented early in the nineteenth century. At first sight, we may see nothing but 
a confused scrawl. It is the picture of a horse-race. Manet wants us to gain the 
impression of light, speed and movement by giving nothing but a bare hint of the 
forms emerging out of the confusion. The horses are racing towards us at full speed 
and the stands are packed with excited crowds. The example shows more clearly 
than any how Manet refused to be influenced in his representation of form by his 
knowledge. None of his horses has four legs. We simply do not see the four legs at 
a momentary glance at such a scene. Nor can we take in the details of the spectators. 
There is a famous painting by the Victorian master Frith called ‘Derby Day’ in 
which the various types in the crowd, and the many incidents of the popular event. 




325. MANET: Monet working in his boat. Painted in 1874. Munich, Neue Pinakothek 






Revolution in Permanence 


391 

are depicted with Dickensian humour. Such pictures derive their charm mainly 
from the personal incidents we can imagine when studying the various groups at 
our leisure. But we must realize that in actual life we can never take in all these 
scenes at once. In any given moment we can only focus one spot with our eyes — 
all the rest looks to us like a jumble of disconnected forms. We may know what they 
are, but we do not see them. In this sense, Manet’s lithograph of a race-course is 
really much more ‘true’ than that of the Victorian humorist. It transports us for 
an instant to the bustle and excitement of the scene which the artist witnessed, and 
of which he recorded only as much as he could vouch for having seen in that instant. 

Among the painters who joined Manet and helped to develop these ideas was a 
poor and dogged young man from Le Havre, Claude Monet (1840-1926). It was 
Monet who urged his friends to abandon the studio altogether and never to paint 
a single stroke except in front of the ‘motif’. He had a little boat fitted out as a 
studio to allow him to explore the moods and effects of the river scenery. Manet, 
who came to visit him, became convinced of the soundness of the younger man’s 
methods and paid him a tribute by painting his portrait while at work in this open 
air studio (Fig. 325). It is at the same time an exercise in the new manner advocated 
by Monet. For Monet’s idea that all painting of nature must actually be finished 
‘on the spot’ not only demanded a change of habits and a disregard of comfort. It 
was bound to result in new technical methods. ‘Nature’ or ‘the motif’ changes 
from minute to minute as a cloud passes over the sun or the wind breaks the reflec- 
tion in the water. The painter who hopes to catch a characteristic aspect has no 
leisure to mix and match his colours, let alone to apply them in layers on a brown 
foundation as the old masters had done. He must fix them straight on to his canvas 
in rapid strokes caring less for detail than for the general effect of the whole. It was 
this lack of finish, this apparently slapdash approach which literally enraged the 
critics. Even after Manet himself had gained a certain amount of public recognition 
through his portraits and figure compositions the younger landscape painters 
round Monet found it exceedingly difficult to have their unorthodox paintings 
accepted for the ‘Salon’. Accordingly they banded together in 1874 and arranged 
a show in the studio of a photographer. It contained a picture by Monet which the 
catalogue described as ‘Impression: Sunrise’ — it was the picture of a harbour seen 
through the morning mists. One of the critics found this title particularly ridi- 
culous, and he referred to the whole group of artists as ‘The Impressionists’. He 
wanted to convey that these painters did not proceed by sound knowledge, and 
thought that the impression of a moment was sufficient to be called a picture. The 
label stuck. Its mocking undertone was soon forgotten, just as the derogatory mean- 
ing of terms like ‘Gothic’, ‘Baroque’ or ‘Mannerism’ is now forgotten. After a 
time the group of friends themselves accepted the name Impressionists, and as 
such they have been known ever since. 

2B 



392 


Revolution in Permanence 



327. MONET; The Gare St. Lazare in Paris. 1877. Paris, Louvre 


It is interesting to read some of the press notices with which the first exhibitions 
of the Impressionists were received. A respected critic wrote in 1876: ‘The Rue le 
Peletier is a road of disasters. After the fire at the Opera, there is now yet another 
disaster there. An exhibition has just been opened at Durand-Ruel which allegedly 
contains paintings. I enter and my horrified eyes behold something terrible. Five 
or six lunatics, among them a woman, have joined together and exhibited their 
works. I have seen people rock with laughter in front of these pictures, but my 
heart bled when I saw them. These would-be artists call themselves revolutionaries, 
‘Impressionists”. They take a piece of canvas, colour and brush, daub a few 
patches of colour on them at random, and sign the whole things with their name. 
It is a delusion of the same kind as if the inmates of Bedlam picked up stones from 
the wayside and imagined they had found diamonds.’ 

It was not only the technique of painting which so outraged the critics. It was 
also the motifs these painters chose. In the past, painters were expeaed to look for 
a corner of nature which was by general consent ‘picturesque’. Few people realize 
that this demand was somewhat vinreasonable. We call ‘picturesque’ such motifs 
as we have seen in pictures before. If painters were to keep to these they would have 
to repeat each other endlessly. It was Claude Lorrain who made Roman ruins 
‘picturesque’ (p. 295, Fig. 248), and Jan van Goyen who turned Dutch windmills 
into ‘motifs’ (p. 312, Fig. 262). Constable and Turner in England, each in his own 
way, had discovered new motifs for art. Turner’s ‘Steamship in a Storm’ (p. 372, 


Revolution in Permanence 


393 

Fig. 314) was as new in subject as it was in manner. Claude Monet knew Turner’s 
works. He had seen them in London, where he stayed during the Franco-Prussian 
war (1870-1), and they had confirmed him in his conviction that the magic effects 
of light and air counted for more than the subject of a painting. Nevertheless, a 
painting such as Fig. 327, which represents a Paris railway station, struck the 
critics as sheer impudence. Here is a real ‘impression’ of a scene from everyday 
life. Monet is not interested in the railway station as a place where human beings 
meet or take leave — he is fascinated by the effect of light streaming through the 
glass roof on to the clouds of steam, and by the forms of engines and carriages 
emerging from the confusion. Yet there is nothing casual in this eye-wimess 
account by a painter. Monet balanced his tones and colours as deliberately as any 
landscape painter of the past. 

The painters of this young group of Impressionists applied their new principles 
not only to landscape painting but to any scene of real life. Fig. 328 shows a painting 
by Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) which represents an open-air dance in Paris, 
painted in 1876. When Jan Steen (p. 319, Fig. 267) represented such a scene of 
revelry, he was eager to depict the various humorous types of the people. Watteau, 
in his dream scenes of aristocratic festivals (p. 341, Fig. 289) wanted to capture the 
mood of a carefree existence. There is something of both in Renoir. He, too, has 
an eye for the behaviour of the gay crowd and he, too, is enchanted by festive 
beauty. But his main interest lies elsewhere. He wants to conjure up the gay medley 
of bright colours and to study the effect of sunlight on the whirling throng. Even 
compared to Manet’s painting of Monet’s boat, the picture looks ‘sketchy’ and 
unfinished. Only the heads of some figures in the foreground are shown with a 
certain amount of detail, but even they are painted in the most unconventional and 
daring manner. The eyes and forehead of the sitting lady lie in the shadow while 
the sun plays on her mouth and chin. Her bright dress is painted with loose strokes 
of the brush, bolder even than those used by Frans Hals (p. 3 1 1, Fig. 260) or Velaz- 
quez (p. 307, Fig. 257). But these are the figures we focus. Beyond, the forms are 
increasingly dissolved in sunlight and air. We are reminded of the way in w’hich 
Francesco Guardi (p. 333, Fig. 280) conjured up the figures of his Venetian oarsmen 
with a few patches of colour. After the lapse of more than seventy years it is hard 
for us to understand why these pictures aroused such a storm of derision and 
indignation. We realize without difficulty that the apparent sketchiness has nothing 
whatever to do with carelessness but is the outcome of great artistic wisdom. If 
Renoir had painted in every detail, the picture would look dull and lifeless. We 
remember that a similar conflict had faced artists once before, in the fifteenth 
century, when they had first discovered how to mirror nature. We remember that 
the very triumphs of naturalism and of perspective had led to their figures looking 
somewhat rigid and wooden, and that it was only the genius of Leonardo that over- 



394 


Revolution in Permanence 



came this difficulty by letting the forms intentionally merge into dark shadows — 
the device that was called 'sfumato' (p. 218, Fig. 187). It was their discovery that 
dark shadows of the kind Leonardo used for modelling do not occur in sunlight 
and open air, which barred this traditional way out to the Impressionists. Hence, 
they had to go farther in the intentional blurring of outlines than any previous 
generation had gone. They knew that the human eye is a marvellous instrument. 
You need only give it the right hint and it builds up for you the whole form which 
it knows to be there. But one must know how to look at such paintings. The people 
who first visited the Impressionist exhibition obviously poked their noses into the 
pictures and saw nothing but a confusion of casual brush-strokes. That is why they 
thought these painters must be mad. 

Faced with such paintings as Fig. 329 in which one of the oldest and most 
methodical champions of the movement, Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), evoked the 
‘impression ’ of a Paris boulevard in sunshine, these outraged people would ask : ‘If 
I walk along the boulevard — do I look like this ? Do I lose my legs, my eyes and 
my nose and turn into a shapeless blob ? ’ Once more it was their knowledge of what 
‘belongs’ to a man which interfered with their judgement of what we really see. 

It took some time before the public learned that to appreciate an Impressionist 
painting one has to step back a few yards, and enjoy the miracle of seeing these 
puzzling patches suddenly fall into place and come to Ufe before our eyes. To 
achieve this miracle, and to transfer the actual visual experience of the painter to 
the beholder, was the true aim of the Impressionists. 


Revolution in Permanence 


395 





329. PISSARRO: The Boulevard Montmartre, 1897. Washington, National Gallery of Art 


The feeling of a new freedom and a new power which these artists had must 
have been truly exhilarating; it must have compensated them for much of the 
derision and hostility they encountered. Suddenly the whole world offered fit 
subjects to the painter’s brush. Wherever he discovered a beautiful combination 
of tones, an interesting configuration of colours and forms, a satisfying and gay 
patchwork of sunlight and coloured shades, he could set down his easel and try to 
transfer his impression on to the canvas. All the old bogeys of ‘dignified subject- 
matter’, of ‘balanced compositions’, of ‘correct drawing’ were laid to rest. The 
artist was responsible to no one but his own sensibilities for what he painted and 
how he painted it. 

Perhaps painters would not have achieved this freedom so quickly and thoroughly 
had it not been for two allies which helped people of the nineteenth century to see 
the world with a different eye. One of these allies was photography. In the early 
days this invention had mainly been used for portraits. Very long exposures were 
necessary, and people who sat for their photographs had to be propped up in a 
rigid posture to be able to keep still so long. The development of the portable 
camera, and of the snapshot, began during the same years which also saw ±e rise 



396 Revolution in Permanence 

of Impressionist painting. The camera helped to discover the charm of the fortui- 
tous view and of the unexperted angle. Moreover, the development of photography 
was bound to push artists further on their way of exploration and experiment. 
There was no need for painting to perform a task which a mechanical device could 
perform better and more cheaply. We must not forget that in the past the art of 
painting served a number of utilitarian ends. It was used to record the likeness of a 
notable person or the view of a country house. The painter was a man who could 
defeat the transitory nature of things and preserve the aspect of any object for 
posterity. We should not know what the dodo looked like, had not a Dutch seven- 
teenth-century painter used his skill in portraying a specimen shortly before these 
birds became extinct. Photography in the nineteenth century was about to take over 
this funaion of pictorial art. It was a blow to the position of artists, as serious as 
had been the abolition of religious images by Protestantism (p. 274). Before that 
invention nearly every self-respecting person sat for his portrait at least once in 
his lifetime. Now people rarely underwent this ordeal unless they wanted to oblige 
and help a painter-friend. So it came about that artists were increasingly compelled 
to explore regions where photography could not follow them. In fact, modern art 
would hardly have become what it is without the impaa of this invention. 

The second ally which the Impressionists found in their adventurous quest for 
new motifs and new colour-schemes was the Japanese colour-print. The art of 
Japan had developed out of Chinese art (p. 108) and had continued along these lines 
for nearly a thousand years. In the eighteenth century, however, perhaps under the 
influence of European prints, Japanese artists had abandoned the traditional motifs 
of Far Eastern art, and had chosen scenes from low life as a subject for coloured 
woodcuts which combined great boldness of invention with masterly technical per- 
fection. Japanese connoisseurs did not think very highly of these cheap products. 
They preferred the austere traditional manner. When Japan was forced, in the 
middle of the nineteenth century, to enter into trade relations with Europe and 
America, these prints were often used as wrappings and paddings, and could be 
picked up cheaply in tea-shops. Artists of Manet’s circle were the first to appreciate 
their beauty, and to collea them eagerly. Here they found a tradition unspoilt by 
those academic rules and cliches which the French painters strove to get rid of. 
The Japanese prints helped them to see how much of the European conventions 
still remained with them without their having noticed it. The Japanese relished 
every unexpected and unconventional aspect of the world. Their master, Hokusai 
(1760-1849), would represent the mountain Fujiyama seen as by chance behind a 
scaffolding (Fig. 330); Utamaro (1753-1806) would not hesitate to show some of 
his figures cut off by the margin of a print or a curtain (Fig. 331). It was this daring 
disregard of an elementary rule of European painting that struck the Impressionists. 
They discovered in this rule a last hide -out of the ancient domination of know- 



Revolution in Permanence 


397 



330. HOKUSAI: The Fuji seen behind a cistern. 

Coloured woodcut from the Hundred Views of the Fuji 
published in 1834 

ledge over vision. Why should a painting always show the whole of a relevant part 
of each figure of a scene ? The painter who was most deeply impressed by these 
possibilities was Edgar Degas (1834-1917). Degas was a little older than Monet and 
Renoir. He belonged to the generation of Manet and, like him, kept somewhat aloof 
from the Impressionist group though he was in sympathy with most of their aims. 
Degas was passionately interested in design and draughtsmanship. In his portraits 
(Fig. 333) he wanted to bring out the impression of space and of solid forms 
seen from the most unexpected angles. That is also why he liked to take his 



331. UTAMARO: Counting Home^ evening. Coloured woodcut about 1800 



398 


Revolution in Permanence 



332. degas: 'Awaiting the Cue’. Pastel. 1879. New York, Private Collection 


subjects from the ballet rather than from out-door scenes. Watching rehearsals, 
Degas had an opportunity of seeing bodies in all attitudes and from all sides. Look- 
ing down on to the stage from above, he would see the girls dancing, or resting, and 
would study the intricate foreshortening and the effect of stage-lighting on the 
modelling of the human form. Fig. 332 shows one of the pastel sketches made by 
Degas. The arrangement could not be more casual in appearance. Of some of the 
dancers we see only the legs, of some only the body. Only one figure is seen com- 
plete, and that in a posture which is intricate and difficult to read. We see her from 
above, her head bent forward, her left hand clasping her ankle, in a state of complete 
relaxation. There is no story in Degas’s pictures. He was not interested in the 
balleteuses because they were pretty girls. He did not seem to care for their moods. 
He looked at them with the same dispassionate objectivity with which the Im- 
pressionists looked at the landscape around them. What mattered to him was the 
interplay of light and shade on the human form, and the way in which he could 
suggest movement or space. He proved to the academic world that, far from being 
incompatible with perfert draughtsmanship, the new principles of the young artists 
were posing new problems which only the most consummate master of design 
could solve. 

The main principles of the new movement could find full expression only in 
painting, but sculpture, too, was soon drawn into the battle for or against ‘modern- 
ism’. The great French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was bom in the same 


Revolution in Permanence 


399 



333. degas: Uncle and Niece. About 1875. Chicago Art Institute 

year as Monet. As he was an ardent student of classical statues and of Michelangelo 
there need have been no fundamental conflict between him and traditional art. In 
fact, Rodin soon became an acknowledged master, and enjoyed a public fame as 
great as, if not greater than, that of any other artist of his time. But even his works 
were the object of violent quarrels among the critics, and were often lumped together 
with those of the Impressionist rebels. The reason may become clear if we look at 
one of his portraits (Fig. 326). Like the Impressionists, Rodin despised the outward 
appearance of ‘finish ’. Like them, he preferred to leave something to the imagination 
of the beholder. Sometimes he even left part of the stone standing to give the 
impression that his figure was just emerging and taking shape. To the average 
public this seemed to be an irritating eccentricity if not sheer laziness. Their 
objections were the same as those which had been raised against Tintoretto (p. 272). 
To them artistic prefection still meant that everything should be neat and polished. 
In disregarding these petty conventions Rodin helped to assert the artist’s right to 
declare his work finished when he had reached his artistic aim. As no one could say 
that his procedure resulted from ignorance, his influence did much to pave the way 
for the acceptance of Impressionism outside the narrow circle of its French admirers. 


400 


Revolution in Permanence 



334. whistler: ^Arrangement in Grey and Black* (portrait of the artist's mother). 

1871. Paris, Louvre 


The movement of Impressionism had made Paris the artistic centre of Europe. 
Artists from all over the world came there to study, and carried away with them the 
new discoveries, and also the new attitude of the artist as a rebel against the 
prejudices and conventions of the bourgeois world. One of the most influential 
apostles of this gospel outside France was the American James MacNeill Whistler 
(1834-1903). Whistler had taken part in the first battle of the new movement; he 
had exhibited with Manet in the Salon of the Rejected in 1863, and he shared the 
enthusiasm of his painter colleagues for Japanese prints. He was not an Impressionist 
in the strict sense of the word, any more than was Degas or Rodin, for his main 
concern was not with the effects of light and colour but rather with the composition 
of delicate patterns. What he had in common with the Paris painters was his con- 
tempt for the interest the public showed in sentimental anecdotes. He stressed the 
point that what mattered in painting was not the subject but the way in which it 
was translated into colours and forms. One of Whistler’s most famous paintings, 
perhaps one of the most popular paintings ever made, is the portrait of his mother 
(Fig. 334). It is characteristic that the title under which Whistler exhibited this 
painting in 1871 was ‘Arrangement in grey and black’. He shrank from any sug- 



Revolution in Permanence 


401 



335. whistler: Nocturne in Blue and Silver: 

Old Battersea Bridge. About 1872. London, Tate Gallery 


gestion of ‘literary’ interest or sentimentality. Actually the harmony of forms and 
colours at which he aimed is in no contradiction with the feeling of the subject- 
matter. It is the careful balance of simple forms that gives the picture its restful 
quality, and the subdued tones of its ‘grey and black’, ranging from the lady’s hair 
and dress to the wall and setting, enhance the expression of resigned loneliness 
which gives the painting its wide appeal. It is strange to realize that the painter 
of this sensitive and gentle picture was notorious for his provocative manner and 
his exercises in what he called ‘the gentle art of making enemies’. He had settled 
in London and felt called upon to fight the battle for modem art almost single- 
handed. His habit of giving paintings names which struck people as eccentric, his 
disregard of academic convention, brought upon him the wrath of John Ruskin, 
the great critic who had championed Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1877 
Whistler exhibited night-pieces in the Japanese manner which he called ‘Nocturnes ’ 
(Fig. 335), asking 200 guineas for each. Ruskin wrote : ‘I have never expected to hear 
a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face’. 
Whistler sued him for libel, and the case once more brought out the deep cleavage 
that separated the public’s point of view from that of the artist. The question of 



402 Revolution in Permanence 

‘finish’ was promptly trotted out, and Whistler was cross-examined as to whether 
he really asked that enormous sum ‘for two days’ work’, to which he replied: ‘No, 
I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime’. 

It is strange to reflect how much the opponents in this unfortunate trial really 
had in common. Both were deeply dissatisfied with the ugliness and squalor of their 
surroimdings. But while Ruskin, the older man, hoped to lead his countrymen to a 
greater awareness of beauty by an appeal to their moral sense, Whistler became a 
leading figure in the so-called ‘aesthetic movement’ which tried to make out that 
artistic sensibility is the only thing in life worth taking seriously. Both these views 
gained in importance as the nineteenth century drew to its close. 



336. The rejected painter exclaiming: 'And that they have turned 
down, the ignorant fools !’ Lithograph by daumier, 1859, ridiculing 
the pretensions of the new ‘realistic’ school 


CHAPTER 26 • IN SEARCH OF NEW STANDARDS 
The Late Nineteenth Century 



337. A house without a ^style\‘ 540 Fairoaks Avenue^ Oakparky Illinois, 
Designed by frank lloyd weight m 1902 


S UPERFICIALLY, the end of the nineteenth century was a period of 
great prosperity and even complacency. But the artists and writers who felt 
themselves outsiders were increasingly dissatisfied with the aims and methods 
of the art that pleased the public. Architecture provided the easiest target for their 
attacks. Building had developed into an empty routine. We remember how the 
large blocks of flats, factories and public buildings of the vastly expanding cities 
were erected in a motley of styles which lacked any relation to the purpose of the 
building. Often it seemed as if the engineers had first erected a structure to suit the 
natural requirements of the building, and a bit of ‘Art’ had then been pasted on to 
the facade in the form of ornament taken from one of the pattern-books on the 
‘historical style’. It is strange how long the majority of architects were satisfied 
with this procedure. The public demanded these columns, pilasters, cornices and 
mouldings, so these architects provided them. But towards the end of the nineteenth 
century an increasing number of people became aware of the absurdity of this 
fashion. In England, in particular, critics and artists were unhappy about the 
general decline in craftsmanship caused by the Industrial Revolution, and hated 
the very sight of these cheap and tawdry machine-made imitations of ornament 
which once had had a meaning and a nobility of its own. Men like John Ruskin 


404 In Search of New Standards 

and William Morris dreamt of a thorough reform of the arts and crafts, and the 
replacement of cheap mass-production by conscientious and meaningful handiwork. 
The influence of their criticism was very widespread even though the humble handi- 
crafts which they advocated, proved, under modern conditions, to be the greatest 
of luxuries. Their propaganda could not possibly abolish industrial mass-produc- 
tion, but it helped to open people’s eyes to the problems this had raised, and to 
spread a taste for the genuine, simple and ‘homespun’. 

Morris and Ruskin had still hoped that the regeneration of art could be brought 
about by a return to medieval conditions. But many artists saw that this was an 
impossibility. They longed for a ‘New Art’ based on a new feeling for design and 
for the possibilities inherent in each material. This banner of a new art or Art 
nouveau was raised in the eighteen-nineties. Architects experimented with new 
types of ornament and new types of material. As a measure of the dissatisfaction 
which existed at that time, these experiments are still interesting. But it was not 
from them that the architecture of the twentieth century was to arise. The future 
belonged to those who decided to begin afresh and to rid themselves of this pre- 
occupation with style or ornament, were it old or new. 

Among the young architects of the eighteen-nineties who decided on this revolu- 
tionary course was the American Frank Lloyd Wright (born in 1869). Wright saw 
that what mattered in a house was the rooms and not the facade. If it was commo- 
dious and well planned inside, and suited to the requirements of the owner, it was 
sure also to present an acceptable view from the outside. To us this may not seem a 
very revolutionary point of view, but in fact it was, for it led Wright to discard all 
the old shibboleths of building, especially the traditional demand for strict sym- 
metry. Fig. 337 shows one of Wright’s first country houses. He has swept away all 
the usual trimmings, the mouldings and cornices, and built the house entirely to 
suit the plan. Yet Wright does not look upon himself as an engineer. He believes in 
what he calls ‘Organic Architecture ’, by which he means that a house must grow out 
of the needs of the people and the character of the country, like a living organism. 

The feeling of uneasiness and dissatisfaction with the achievements of nineteenth- 
century art, which took hold of some painters towards the end of the period, is less 
easy to explain. Yet it is important that we should understand its roots, because it 
was out of this feeling that there grew the various movements which are now usually 
called ‘Modern Art’. Some people may consider the Impressionists the first of the 
moderns, because they defied certain rules of painting as taught in the academies. 
But it is well to remember that the Impressionists did not differ in their aims from 
the traditions of art that had developed since the discovery of nature in the Re- 
naissance. They, too, wanted to paint nature as we see it, and their quarrel with 
the conservative masters was not so much over the aim as over the means of 
achieving it. Their exploration of colour reflexes, their experiments with the effect 



In Search of New Standards 405 

of loose brush work, aimed at creating an even more perfect illusion of the visual 
impression. It was only in Impressionism, in fact, that the conquest of nature had 
become complete, that everything that presented itself to the painter’s eye could 
become the motif of a picture, and that the real world in all its aspects became a 
worthy object of the artist’s study. Perhaps it was just this complete triumph of 
their methods which made some artists hesitate to accept them. It seemed, for a 
moment, as if all the problems of an art aiming at the imitation of the visual im- 
pression had been solved, and as if nothing was to be gained by pursuing these 
aims any further. 

But we know that in art one problem need only be solved for a host of new ones to 
appear in its stead. Perhaps the first who had a clear feeling of the nature of these 
new problems was an artist who still belonged to the same generation as the 
Impressionist masters. He was Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), who was only seven 
years younger than Manet, and even two years older than Renoir. In his youth 
Cezanne took part in the Impressionist exhibitions, but he was so disgusted by the 
reception accorded them that he withdrew to his native towm of Aix where he 
studied the problems of his art, undisturbed by the clamour of the critics. He was 
a man of independent means and regular habits. He was not dependent on finding 
buyers for his pictures. Thus he could dedicate his whole life to the solution of the 
artistic problems he had set himself, and could apply the most exacting standards 
to his own work. Outwardly, he lived a life of tranquillity and leisure, but he was 
constantly engaged in a passionate struggle to achieve in his painting that ideal of 
artistic perfection after which he strove. He was no friend of theoretical talk, but 
as his fame among his few admirers grew^ he did sometimes try to explain to them 
in a few words what he wanted to do. One of these famous remarks was that he 
aimed at painting ‘Poussin from nature’. What he wanted to say was that the old 
classical masters such as Poussin had achieved a wonderful balance and perfection 
in their work. A painting like Poussin’s ‘Et in Arcadia ego’ (p. 294, Fig. 247) 
presents a wonderfully harmonious pattern in which one form seems to answer the 
other. We feel that everything is in its place, and nothing is casual or vague. Each 
form stands out clearly and one can feel that it is a firm solid body. The whole has 
a natural simplicity which looks restful and calm. Cezanne aimed at an art which 
had something of this grandeur and serenity. But he did not think that it could be 
achieved any longer by the methods of Poussin. The old masters, after all, had 
achieved their balance and solidity at a price. They did not feel bound to respect 
nature as they saw it. Their pictures are rather arrangements of forms they had 
learned from the study of classical antiquity. Even the impression of space and 
solidity they achieved through the application of firm traditional rules rather than 
through looking at each object anew. Cezanne agreed with his friends among the 
Impressionists that these methods of academic art were contrary to nature. He 



4 o 6 In Search of New Standards 

admired the new discoveries in the field of colour and modelling. He, too, wanted 
to surrender to his impressions, to paint the forms and colours he saw, not those he 
knew about or had learned about. But he felt uneasy about the direction painting 
had taken. The Impressionists were true masters in painting ‘nature’. But was that 
really enough ? Where was that striving for an harmonious design, the achievement 
of solid simplicity and perfect balance which had marked the greatest paintings of 
the past ? The task was to paint ‘from nature ’, to make use of the discoveries of 
the Impressionist masters, and yet to recapture the sense of order and necessity 
that distinguished the art of Poussin. 

In itself the problem was not new to art. We remember that the conquest of 
nature and the invention of perspective in the Italian Quattrocento had endangered 
the lucid arrangements of medieval paintings, and had created a problem which 
only Raphael’s generation had been able to solve. Now the same question was 
repeated on a different plane. The dissolution of firm outlines in flickering light 
and the discovery of coloured shadows by the Impressionists had once again posed 
a new problem: how could these achievements be preserved without leading to a 
loss of clarity and order? To put it into simpler language: Impressionist pictures 
tended to be brilliant but messy. Cezanne abhorred messiness. Yet he did not want 
to return to the academic conventions of drawing and shading to create the illusion 
of solidity any more than he wanted to return to ‘composed’ landscapes to achieve 
harmonious designs. He was faced with an even more urgent issue when he pon- 
dered the right use of colour. Cezanne longed for strong, intense colours as much 
as he longed for lucid patterns. Medieval artists, we remember (p. 130), were able to 
satisfy this same desire freely because they were not bound to respect the actual 
appearance of things. As art had returned to the observation of nature, however, 
the pure and shining colours of medieval stained glass or book illuminations had 
given way to those mellow mixtures of tones with which the greatest painters 
among the Venetians (p. 238) and the Dutch (p. 317) contrived to suggest light 
and atmosphere. The Impressionists had given up mixing the pigments on the 
palette and had applied them separately on to the canvas in small dabs and dashes to 
render the flickering reflections of an ‘open-air’ scene. Their pictures were much 
brighter in tone than any of their predecessors but the result did not yet satisfy 
Cezanne. He wanted to convey the rich and unbroken tones that belong to nature 
under southern skies, but he found that a simple return to the painting of whole 
areas in pure primary colours endangered the illusion of reality. Pictures painted in 
this manner resemble flat patterns and fail to give the impression of depth. Thus 
Cezanne seemed to be caught up in contradictions all round. His wish to be abso- 
lutely faithful to his sense impressions in front of nature seemed to clash with his 
desire to turn — as he said — ‘Impressionism into something more solid and endur- 
ing, like the art of the Museums ’. No wonder that he was often near despair, that he 




338 . CEZANNE : Rocky scenery near Aix. Painted about 1886. London, Tate Gallery 



339* VAN GOGH: The Sun rising behind Mont Majours. Drawing made m 1888. interthur, Oscar Reinhart Collection 


In Search of New Standards 409 

slaved at his canvas and never ceased to experiment. The real wonder is that he 
succeeded, that he achieved the apparently impossible in his pictures. If art were 
a matter of calculation it could not have been done; but of course it is not. This 
balance and harmony about which artists worry so much is not the same as the 
balance of machines. It suddenly ‘happens’, and no one quite knows how or why. 
Much has been written about the secret of Cezanne’s art. All kinds of explanations 
have been suggested of what he wanted and what he achieved. But these explana- 
tions remain crude; sometimes they even sound self-contradictory. But even if we 
get impatient with the critics there are always the pictures to convince us. And the 
best advice here and always is ‘go and look at the pictures in the original’. 

Even our illustrations, however, should at least convey something of the great- 
ness of Cezanne’s triumph. The landscape with Mont Sainte-Victoire in southern 
France (Fig. 340) is bathed in light and yet firm and solid. It presents a lucid 
pattern and yet gives the impression of great depth and distance. There is a sense 
of order and repose in the way Cezanne marked the horizontal of the viaduct and 
road in the centre and the verticals of the house in the foreground but nowhere 
do we feel that it is an order which Cezanne has imposed on nature. Even his 
brush-strokes are so arranged as to fall in with the main lines of the design and to 
strengthen the feeling of natural harmony. The way in which Cezanne altered the 
direction of his brush-stroke without ever resorting to outline drawing can also be 
seen in our Fig. 338 which shows how deliberately the artist counteracted the effect 
of the flat pattern which might have resulted in the upper half by emphasizing the 
solid tangible forms of the rocks in the foreground. His wonderful portrait of his 
wife (Fig. 342) shows how greatly Cezanne’s concentration on simple, clearcut 
forms contributes to the impression of poise and tranquillity. Compared with such 
calm masterpieces the works of the Impressionists such as Manet’s portrait of 
Monet (p. 389, Fig. 325) often look like merely witty improvisations. 

Admittedly there are paintings by Cezanne which are not so easily understood. 
In an illustration a still life such as Fig. 341 may not look too promising. How 
awkward it seems if we compare it with the assured treatment of a similar subject 
by the Dutch seventeenth-century master Kalf (p. 323, Fig. 271) ! The fruit-bowl is 
so clumsily drawn that its foot does not even rest in the middle. The table not only 
slopes from left to right, it also looks as if it were tilted forward. Where the Dutch 
master excelled in the rendering of soft and fluffy surfaces Cezanne gives us a 
patchwork of colour dabs which make the napkin look as if it were made of tinfoil. 
Small wonder that Cezanne’s paintings were at first derided as pathetic daubs. But 
the reason for this apparent clumsiness is not far to seek. Cezanne had ceased to 
take any of the traditional methods of painting for granted. He had decided to start 
from scratch as if no painting had been done before him. The Dutch master had 
painted his still life to display his stupendous virtuosity, Cezanne had chosen his 
2C^ 



410 


In Search of New Standards 



340. CEZANNE: The Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from Bellevue ^ painted about 1885, 
Merion, U.S.A., Barnes Foundation 


motifs to study some specific problems that he wanted to solve. We know that he 
was fascinated by the relation of colour to modelling. A brightly coloured solid 
roimd such as an apple was an ideal motif to explore this question. We know that 
he was interested in the achievement of a balanced design. That is why he stretched 
the bowl to the left so as to fill in a void. As he wanted to study all shapes on the 
table in their relationship he simply tilted it forward to make them come into view. 
Perhaps the example shows how it happened that Cezanne became the father of 
‘modem art’. In his tremendous efforts to achieve a sense of depth without 
sacrificing the brightness of colours, to achieve an orderly arrangement without 
sacrificing the sense of depth — in all these straggles and gropings there was one 
thing he was prepared to sacrifice if need be — ^the conventional ‘correctness’ of 
outline. He was not out to distort nature; but he did not mind very much if it 
became distorted in some minor detail provided this helped him to obtain the 
desired effect. Brunelleschi’s invention of ‘linear perspective’ did not interest him 
overmuch. He threw it overboard when he found that it hampered him in his work. 
After all, this scientific perspective had been invented to help painters to create the 
illusion of space — as Masaccio had done in his fresco in Sta. Maria Novella (p. 164, 
Fig. 149). Cezanne did not aim at creating an illusion. He rather wanted to con- 
vey the feeling of solidity and depth, and he found he could do that without 



In Search of New Standards 41 1 

conventional draughtsmanship. He hardly realized that this example of indifference 
to ‘correct drawing’ would start a landslide in art. 

In the winter of 1888, while Cezaiine was painting his landscapes and still lifes in 
Aix, there arrived in southern France another painter in search of the intense light 
and colours of the south. He was a yoimg and earnest Dutchman called Vincent 
van Gogh. Van Gogh was born in Holland in 1853, the son of a vicar. He was a 
deeply religious man who had worked as a lay preacher in England and among 
Belgian miners. He had been profoimdly impressed by the art of Millet and its 
social message, and decided to become a painter himself. A younger brother, Theo, 
who worked in an art-dealer’s shop, introduced him to Impressionist painters. This 
brother was a remarkable man. Though he was poor himself, he always gave un- 
grudgingly to the older Vincent and even financed his journey to Arles in southern 
France. Vincent hoped that if he could work there undisturbed for a number of 
years he might be able one day to sell his pictures and repay his generous brother. 
In his self-chosen solitude in Arles, Vincent confided in his letters to Theo, which 
read like a continuous diary, all his ideas and hopes. These letters, by a humble 
and almost self-taught artist who had no idea of the fame he was to achieve, are 
among the most moving and exciting in all literature. In them we can feel the 



341. CEZANNE; Still Life. About 1878. Paris, R. Lecomte 


412 


In Search of New Standards 



342. CEZANNE: Portrait of the Artisfs Wife, About 1885. 
Philadelphia, H. P. Macllhcnny 


artist’s sense of mission, his struggle and triumphs, his desperate loneliness and 
longing for companionship, and we become aware of the immense strain under 
which he worked with feverish energy. After less than a year, in December 1888, 
he broke down and had an attack of insanity. In May 1889 he went into a mental 
asylum, but he still had lucid intervals during which he continued to paint. The 
agony lasted for another fourteen months. In July 1890 Van Gogh put an end 
to his life. He died younger even than Raphael. His career as a painter had not 
lasted more than ten years — the paintings on which his fame rests were all painted 
during three years which were interrupted by crises and despair. Most people nowa- 
days know some of these paintings; the sunflowers, the empty chair, the cypresses 
and some of the portraits have become popular in coloured reproductions and can 
be seen in many a simple room. That is exactly what Van Gogh wanted. He wanted 
his piaures to have the direct and strong effect of the coloured Japanese prints he 
admired so much. He longed for an unsophisticated art which would not only 
appeal to the rich connoisseurs but could give joy and consolation to every human 
being. Nevertheless this is not quite the whole story. No reproduction is perfect. 


In Search of New Standards 


413 



343. VAN GOGH: Landscape zvith Cypresses near Arles, 1888. London, Tate Gallery 


The cheaper ones make Van Gogh’s pictures look cruder than they really are, and 
one may sometimes tire of them. Whenever that happens, it is quite a revelation to 
return to Van Gogh’s original works and to discover how subtle and deliberate he 
could be even in his strongest effects. 

For Van Gogh, too, had absorbed the lessons of Impressionism. He experimented 
with the use of bright, pure colours which he did not mix on the palette but applied 
to the canvas in small strokes or dots, relying on the beholder’s eye which would 
see them all together. Some of the younger painters in Paris had built up a whole 
scientific theory on this type of ‘pointillisme’ which should heighten the intensity 
of colour effects. Van Gogh liked the technique of painting in dots and strokes, but 
under his hand it became something rather different from what the Impressionists 
had meant it to be. For Van Gogh used the individual brush-strokes not only to 
break up the colour but also to convey his own excitement. In one of his letters from 
Arles he describes his states of inspiration when ‘the emotions are sometimes so 
strong that one works without being aware of working . . . and the strokes come 
with a sequence and coherence like words in a speech or a letter’. The comparison 
could not be clearer. In such moments he painted as other men write. Just as the 
form of the writing in a letter, the traces left by the pen on the paper, impart some- 
thing of the gestures of the writer, so that we feel instinctively when a letter was 



414 In Search of New Standards 

written under great stress of emotion — so the brush-strokes of Van Gogh tell us 
something of the state of his mind. No artist before him had ever used this means 
with such consistency and effect. We remember that there is bold and loose brush- 
work in earlier paintings, in works by Tintoretto (p. 285, Fig. 241), by Hals 
(p. 31 1, Fig. 260), and by Manet (p. 389, Fig. 325), but in these it rather conveys 
the artist’s sovereign mastery, his quick perception and magic capacity of conjuring 
up a vision. In Van Gogh they help to convey the exaltation of the artist’s mind. 
Van Gogh liked to paint objects and scenes which gave this new means full scope — 
motifs in which he could draw as well as paint with his brush, and lay on the colour 
thick just as a writer who underlines his words. That is why he was the first painter 
to discover the beauty of stubbles, hedgerows and cornfields, of the gnarled branches 
of olive trees and the dark, fiamelike shapes of the C3rpress (Fig. 343). 

Van Gogh was in such a frenzy of creation that he felt the urge not only to 
draw the radiant sun itself (Fig. 339) but also to paint humble, restful and homely 
things which no one had ever thought of as being worthy of the artist’s attention. 
He painted his narrow lodgings in Arles (Fig. 344), and what he wrote about this 
painting to his brother explains his intentions wonderfully well: 

T had a new idea in my head and here is the sketch to it . . . this time it’s just 
simply my bedroom, only here colour is to do everything, and, giving by its simpli- 
fication a grander style to things, is to be suggestive here of rest or of sleep in general. 
In a word, to look at the picture ought to rest the brain or rather the imagination. 

‘The walls are pale violet. The ground is of red tiles. The wood of the bed and 
chairs is the yellow of fresh butter, the sheets and pillows very light greenish lemon. 
The coverlet scarlet. The window green. The toilet-table orange, the basin blue. 
The doors lilac. 

‘And that is all — there is nothing in this room with closed shutters. The broad 
lines of the furniture, again, must express inviolable rest. Portraits on the walls, 
and a mirror and a towel and some clothes. 

‘The frame — as there is no white in the picture — will be white. This by way of 
revenge for the enforced rest I was obliged to take. 

‘I shall work at it again all day, but you see how simple the conception is. The 
shadows, and the shadows thrown, are suppressed, it is painted in free fiat washes 
like the Japanese prints. . . .’ 

It is clear that Van Gogh was not mainly concerned with correct representa- 
tion. He used colours and forms to convey what he felt about the things he painted, 
and what he wished others to feel. He did not care much for what he called ‘stereo- 
scopic reality’, that is to say the photographically exact picture of nature. He 
would exaggerate and even change the appearance of things if this suited his 
aim. Thus he had arrived by a different road at a similar juncture to that at 
which Cezanne found himself during these same years. Both took the momentous 



In Search of New Standards 415 



344. VAN GOGH: The Artistes Room in Arles. 1888. Kobe, Prince Matsugata 


step of deliberately abandoning the aim of painting as an ‘imitation of nature’. 
Their reasons, of course, were different. When Cezanne painted a still life, he 
wanted to explore the relationship of forms and colours, and took in only so much 
of ‘correct perspective’ as he happened to need for his particular experiment. Van 
Gogh wanted his painting to express what he felt, and if distortion helped him to 
achieve this aim he would use distortion. Both of them had arrived at this point 
without wanting to overthrow the old standards of art. They did not pose as 
‘revolutionaries’; they did not want to shock the complacent critics. Both of them, 
in fact, had almost given up hope of anybody paying attention to their pictures — 
they just worked on because they had to. 

It was rather different with a third artist who was also to be found in southern 
France in 1888 — ^Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). Van Gogh had a great desire for com- 
panionship; he dreamed of a brotherhood of artists such as the Pre-Raphaelites 
had founded in England (p. 384), and he persuaded Gauguin, who was five years 
older, to join him in Arles. As a man, Gauguin was very different from Van Gogh. 
He had none of his humility and sense of mission. On the contrary, he was proud 
and ambitious. But there were some points of contact between the two. Like Van 
Gogh, Gauguin had started painting comparatively late in life (he had been a well- 
to-do stockbroker), like him he was almost self-taught. The companionship of the 
two, however, ended in disaster. Van Gogh, in a fit of madness, attacked Gauguin, 


4 i 6 In Search of New Standards 

who fled to Paris. Two years later, Gauguin left Europe altogether and went to one 
of the proverbial ‘South Sea Islands’, Tahiti, in search of the simple life. For he 
had more and more become convinced that art was in danger of becoming slick and 
superficial, that all the cleverness and knowledge which had been accumulated in 
Europe had deprived men of the greatest thing — strength and intensity of feeling, 
and a direct way of expressing it. 

Gauguin, of course, was not the first artist to have these qualms about civiliza- 
tion. Ever since artists had become self-conscious about ‘style* they felt distrustful 
of conventions and impatient of mere skill. They longed for an art which did not 
consist of tricks which can be learned, for a style which was no mere style, but 
something strong and powerful like human passion. Delacroix had gone to Morocco 
to look for more intense colours and a life of less restraint. The Pre-Raphaelites in 
England hoped to find this directness and simplicity in the unspoilt art of the ‘Age 
of Faith’. The Impressionists admired the Japanese, but theirs was a sophisti- 
cated art compared with the intensity and simplicity for which Gauguin longed. At 
first he studied peasant art, but it did not hold him for long. He needs must get 
away from Europe and live among the natives of the South Seas as one of them, to 
work out his own salvation. The works he brought back from there puzzled even 
some of his former friends. They seemed so savage and primitive. That was just 
what Gauguin wanted. He was proud to be called ‘barbarian’. Even his colour 



345. GAUGUIN: Two Tahitian Womeny painted in 1897. London, Home House Trustees 


In Search of New Standards 417 

and draughtsmanship should be ‘barbaric’ to do justice to the unspoilt children of 
nature he had come to admire during his stay on Tahiti. Looking at one of these 
pictures today (Fig. 345) we may not quite succeed in recapturing this mood. We 
have become used to much greater ‘savagery’ in art. And yet it is not difficult to 
realize that Gauguin struck a new note. It is not only the subject-matter of his 
pictures that is strange and exotic. He tried to enter into the spirit of the natives and 
to look at things as they do. He studied the methods of native craftsmen and often 
included representations of their works in his pictures. He strove to bring his own 
portraits of the natives into harmony with this ‘primitive’ art. So he simplified the 
outlines of forms and did not shrink from using large patches of strong colour. 
Unlike Cezanne he did not mind if these simplified forms and colour schemes made 
his pictures look flat. He gladly ignored the century-old problems of Western art 
when he thought that this helped him to render the unspoilt intensity of nature’s 
children. He may not always have fully succeeded in his aim of achieving directness 
and simplicity. But his longing for it was as passionate and sincere as that of 
Cezanne for a new harmony, and that of Van Gogh for a new message ; for Gauguin, 
too, sacrificed his life to his ideal. He felt himself misunderstood in Europe and 
decided to return to the South Sea Islands for good. After years of loneliness and 
disappointment, he died there of ill-health and privation. 

Cezanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin were three desperately lonely men who worked 
on with little hope of ever being understood. But the problems of their art about 
which they felt so strongly were seen by more and more artists of the younger 
generation who found no satisfaction in the skill they acquired at the art schools. 
They had learned how to represent nature, how to draw correctly and how to use 
paint and brush: they had even absorbed the lessons of the Impressionist Revolu- 
tion and become deft in conveying the flicker of sunlight and air. Some great artists 
indeed persevered along this path, and championed these new methods in countries 
where resistance against Impressionism was still strong. A small number, however, 
felt that once the principle was acknowledged and the victory won they were left 
with a feeling of emptiness. They, too, felt that in all these efforts to render nature 
as we really see it something had gone out of art — something they desperately tried 
to retrieve. We remember that Cezanne had felt that what had been lost was the 
sense of order and balance; that the Impressionist preoccupation with the fleeting 
moment had made them neglect the solid and enduring forms of nature. Van Gogh 
had felt that by surrendering to their visual impressions, and by exploring notliing 
but the optical qualities of light and colour, art was in danger of losing that intensity 
and passion through which alone the artist can express his feeling to his fellow men. 
Gauguin, finally, was altogether dissatisfied with life and art as he found them. He 
longed for something much simpler and more direct and hoped to find it among the 
primitives. What we call modern art grew out of these feelings of dissatisfaction; 



41 8 In Search of New Standards 

and the various solutions after which these three painters had been groping 
became the ideals of three movements in modern art. Cezanne’s solution ultimately 
led to Cubism which originated in France; Van Gogh’s to Expressionism which 
found its main response in Germany; and Gauguin’s to the various forms of 
Primitivism. However ‘mad’ these movements may seem at first sight, it is not 
difficult to show that they were consistent attempts to escape from a deadlock in 
which artists found themselves. 



346. Van Gogh painting Sunflowers. Painted by Gauguin in 1888. 
Amsterdam, Municipal Museum 




CHAPTER 27 • EXPERIMENTAL ART 
The Twentieth Century 



347. The Style of modern engineering: The Rockefeller Center y New York City. 
Architects: reinhard & hofmeister, corbett, Harrison & macmurray, 
HOOD & FOUiLHOUX, HARRISON & FOUILHOUX. Completed in 1933 


W HEN people talk about ‘Modem Art’, they usually think of a type 
of art which has completely broken with the traditions of the past and 
tries to do things no artist would have dreamed of before. Some like 
the idea of progress and believe that art, too, must keep in step with the times. 
Others prefer the slogan of ‘the good old days’, and think that modern art is all 
wrong. But we have seen that the situation is really much more complex, and that 
modern art no less than old art came into existence in response to certain definite 
problems. Those who deplore the break in tradition would have to go back beyond 
the French Revolution of 1789, and few would think this possible. It was then, as 
we know, that artists had become self-conscious about styles, and had begun to 
experiment and to launch new movements which usually raised a new ‘ism’ as a 
battle-cry. Strangely enough, it was that branch of art which had suffered most from 
the general confusion of tongues that succeeded best in creating a new and lasting 





420 Experimental Art 

style; modern architecture was slow in coming, but its principles are now so firmly 
established that few would still want to challenge them seriously. We remember 
how the gropings for a new style in building had ended with the architects cutting 
the Gordian knot, and throwing the whole idea of style overboard. At first it seemed 
as if the engineers would take over. For, if Morris had been right in thinking that 
the machine could never successfully emulate the work of human hands, the solution 
was obviously to find out what the machine could do and to regulate our designs 
accordingly. The architects of modem ‘sky-scrapers ’ (Fig. 347) are engineering firms. 

To some, this principle seemed to be an outrage against taste and decency. In 
doing away with all ornaments, the modern architects did, in fact, break with the 
tradition of many centuries. The whole system of fictitious ‘orders’, developed 
since the time of Brunelleschi, was swept aside and all the cobwebs of false mould- 
ings, scrolls and pilasters brushed away. When people first saw these houses they 
looked to them intolerably bare and naked. But after only a few years we have all 
become accustomed to their appearance and have learned to enjoy the clean oudines 
and simple forms of modern engineering styles. We owe this revolution in taste to 
a few pioneers whose first experiments in the use of modern building materials 
were often greeted with ridicule and hostility. Fig. 348 shows one of the experi- 
mental buildings which became a storm-centre of propaganda for and against 
modem architecture. It is the Bauhaus in Dessau, a school of architecture founded 
by the German Walter Gropius (bom 1883) which was closed and abolished by the 
National Socialists. It was built to prove that art and engineering need not remain 



348. The Bauhaus, Dessau (Germany). Designed by WALTER GROPIUS in 1923 



Experimental Art 421 

estranged from each other as they had been in the nineteenth century; that, on the 
contrary, each could benefit the other. The students at the school took part in the 
designing of buildings and fittings. They were encouraged to use their imagination 
and to experiment boldly yet never to lose sight of the purpose which their design 
should serve. It was at this school that tubular steel chairs and similar furnishings 
of our daily use were first invented. The theories for which the Bauhaus stood are 
sometimes condensed in the slogan of ‘functionalism’ — ^the belief that if something 
is only designed to fit its purpose we can let beauty look after itself. There is cer- 
tainly much truth in this belief. At any rate it has helped us to get rid of much 
unnecessary and tasteless knick-knackery with which the nineteenth-century ideas of 
Art had cluttered up our cities and our rooms. But like all slogans it really rests on 
an oversimplification. Surely there are things which are functionally correct and yet 
father ugly, or at least indifferent. The best works of modern architecture are 
beautiful not only because they happen to fit the function for which they are built, 
but because they were designed by men of tact and taste who knew how to make a 
building fit for its purpose and yet ‘right’ for the eye. To discover these secret 
harmonies a great deal of trial and error is needed. Architects must be free to 
experiment with different proportions and different materials. Some of these 
experiments may lead them into a blind alley, but the experience gained need not 
be in vain for ail that. No artist can always ‘play safe’, and nothing is more impor- 
tant than to recognize the role that even apparently extravagant or eccentric experi- 
ments have played in the development of new designs which we have now come to 
take almost for granted. 

In architecture, the value of bold inventions and innovations is fairly widely 
recognized, but few people realize that the situation is similar in painting and 
sculpture. Many who have no use for what they call ‘this ultra-modern stuff’ would 
be surprised to learn how much of it has entered their lives already, and has helped 
to mould their taste and their preferences. Forms and colour-schemes which were 
developed some forty years ago by the ‘maddest’ of the ultra-modem rebels in 
painting have become the common stock-in-trade of commercial art; and when 
we meet them on posters, magazine covers or fabrics, they look quite normal to us. 
It might even be said that modern art has found a new function in serving as 
testing-ground for new ways of combining shapes and patterns. 

But what should a painter experiment with and why can he not be content to 
sit down before nature and paint it to the best of his abilities ? The answer seems 
to be that art has lost its bearings because artists have discovered that the simple 
demand that they should ‘paint what they see’ is self-contradictory. This sounds 
like one of the paradoxes with which modem artists and critics like to tease the 
long-suffering public; but to those who have followed this book from the beginning 
it should not be difficult to understand. We remember how the primitive artist used 



422 Experimental Art 

to build up, say, a face out of simple forms rather than copy a real face (p. 27, 
Fig. 26); we have often looked back to the Egyptians and their method of repre- 
senting in a picture all they knew rather than all they saw. Greek and Roman art 
breathed life into these schematic forms ; medieval art used them in turn for telling 
the sacred story, Chinese art for contemplation. Neither was urging the artist to 
‘paint what he saw’. This idea dawned only during the age of the Renaissance. At 
first all seemed to go well. Scientific perspective, 'sfuniato', Venetian colours, 
movement and expression, were added to the artist’s means of representing the 
world around him; but every generation discovered that there were still unsuspected 
‘pockets of resistance’, strongholds of conventions which made artists apply forms 
they had learned rather than paint what they really saw. The nineteenth-century 
rebels proposed to make a clean sweep of all these conventions; one after another 
was tackled, till the Impressionists proclaimed that their methods allowed them to 
render on the canvas the act of vision with ‘scientific accuracy’. 

The paintings that resulted from this theory were very fascinating works of art, 
but this should not blind us to the fact that the idea on which they were based was 
only half true. We have come to realize more and more, since those days, that we 
can never neatly separate what we see from what we know. A person who was born 
blind, and who gains eyesight later on, must learn to see. With some self-discipline 
and self-observation we can all find out for ourselves that what we call seeing is 
invariably coloured and shaped by our knowledge (or belief) of what we see. This 
becomes clear enough whenever the two are at variance. It happens that we make 
mistakes in seeing. For example, we sometimes see a small object which is close 
to our eyes as if it were a big mountain on the horizon, or a fluttering paper as if it 
were a bird. Once we know we have made a mistake, we can no longer see it as we 
did before. If we had to paint the objects concerned, we should have to use different 
shapes and colours to represent them before and after our discovery. In fact, as soon 
as we start to take a pencil and draw, the whole idea of surrendering passively to what 
is called our sense impressions becomes really an absurdity. If we look out of the 
window we can see the view in a thousand different ways. Which of them is our 
sense impression ? But we must choose; we must start somewhere; we must build 
up some picture of the house across the road and of the trees in front of it. Do what 
we may, we shall always have to make a beginning with something like ‘conven- 
tional’ lines or forms. The ‘Egyptian’ in us can be suppressed, but he can never be 
quite defeated. 

This, I think, is the difficulty which was dimly felt by the generation that wanted 
to follow and surpass the Impressionists, which underlies the search for new 
standards by artists of such uncompromising honesty as Cezanne, Van Gogh and 
Gauguin, and which finally forced young artists to take up experimenting as a 
means of finding a way out of the impasse. 



Experimental Art 


423 


The methods called Expressionism are, perhaps, the easiest to explain in words. 
The term itself may not be happily chosen, for we know that we are all expressing 
ourselves in everything we do or leave undone, but the word became a convenient 
label because of its easily remembered contrast to Impressionism, and as a label it 
is quite useful. In one of his letters. Van Gogh had explained how he set about 
painting the portrait of a friend who was very dear to him. The conventional 
likeness was only the first stage. Having painted a ‘corrert’ portrait, he proceeded 
to change the colours and the setting: 

T exaggerate the fair colour of the hair, I take orange, chrome, lemon colour, and 
behind the head I do not paint the trivial wall of the room but the Infinite. I make 
a simple background out of the most intense and richest blue the palette will 
yield. The blond luminous head stands out against this strong blue background 
mysteriously like a star in the azure. Alas, my dear friend, the public will see nothing 
but caricature in this exaggeration, but what does that matter to us ? ’ 

Van Gogh was right in saying that the method he had chosen could be compared 
to that of the caricaturist. Caricature had always been ‘expressionist’, for the 
caricaturist plays with the likeness of his victim, and distorts it to express just what 
he feels about his fellow man. As long as these distortions of nature sailed under 
the flag of humour nobody seemed to find them difficult to understand. Humorous 
art was a field in which everything was permitted, because people did not approach 
it with the prejudices they reserved for 


Art with a capital A. But the idea of a 
serious caricature, of an art which 
deliberately changed the appearance 
of things not to express a sense of 
superiority, but maybe love, or ad- 
miration, or fear, proved indeed a 
stumbling block as Van Gogh had pre- 
dicted. Yet there is nothing inconsistent 
about it. It is the sober truth that our 
feelings about things do colour the way 
in which we see them and, even more, 
the forms which we remember. Every- 
one must have experienced how different 
the same place may look when we are 
happy and when we are sad. 

Among the first artists to explore these 
possibilities even further than Van Gogh 



was the Norwegian painter Edvard 
Munch (1863-1944). Fig. 349 shows a 


349. munch: Shouting. Lithograph 
published in 1895 



/ |9/j Experimental Art 



350. BARLACH: Pity. Sculpture in wood. 1919 


lithograph he made in 1895 which he called ‘Shouting’. It aims at expressing how 
a sudden excitement transforms all our sense impressions. All the lines seem to lead 
towards the one focus of the print — the shouting head. It looks as if all the scenery 
shared in the anguish and excitement of that shout. The face of the shouting person 
is indeed distorted like that of a caricature. The staring eyes and hollow chin recalls 
a death’s head. Something terrible must have happened, and the print is all the 
more disquieting because we shall never know what the shout meant. 

What upset the public about expressionist art was, perhaps, not so much the fact 
that nature had been distorted as that the result led away from beauty. That the 
caricaturist may show up the ugliness of man was granted— it was his job. But that 





352 . PICASSO : Ceramic, First exhibited in 1948 



Experimental Art 427 

men who claimed to be serious artists should forget that, if they must change the 
appearance of things, they should idealize them rather than make them ugly was 
strongly resented. But Munch might have retorted that a shout of anguish is not 
beautiful, and that it would be insincere only to look at the pleasing side of life. 
For the expressionists felt so strongly about human suffering, poverty, violence 
and passion, that they were inclined to think that the insistence on harmony and 
beauty in art was only born out of a refusal to be honest. The art of the classical 
masters, of a Raphael or Correggio, seemed to them insincere and hypocritical. 
They wanted to face the stark facts of our existence, and to express their compassion 
for the disinherited and the ugly. It became almost a point of honour with them 
to avoid anything which smelt of prettiness and polish, and to shock the ‘bourgeois ’ 
out of his real or imagined complacency. 

The expressionist movement found its most fertile soil in Germany where it, in 
fact, succeeded in arousing the anger and vindictiveness of the ‘little man’. When 
the National Socialists came to power, all modern art was banned and the greatest 
leaders of the movement were either exiled or forbidden to work. This is the fate 
which befell the expressionist sculptor Ernst Barlach (1870-1938) whose sculpture 
‘Pity’ is shown in Fig. 350. There is a great intensity of expression in the simple 
gesture of the old and bony hands of this beggar woman, and nothing is allowed to 
divert our attention from this dominating theme. The woman has drawn her cloak 
over her face, and the simplified form of her covered head increases the appeal to 
our feelings. The question of whether we should call such a work ugly or beautiful 
is as irielevant here as it was in the case of Rembrandt (p. 318), of Griinewald 
(p. 257), or of those medieval works which the expressionists most admired. 

Among the painters who shocked the public by refusing to see only the bright 
side of things was the Austrian Oskar Kokoschka (born 1886) whose first works 
caused a storm of indignation when they were exhibited in Vienna in 1909. Fig. 353 
shows one of these early paintings, a group of children at play. To us it looks 
amazingly lifelike and convincing, but it is not hard to understand why this type 
of portrait aroused such opposition. If we think back to the children’s portraits 
of such great artists as Rubens (p. 298), Velazquez (p. 307), Gainsborough (p. 351) 
or Reynolds (p. 350), we realize the reason for the shock. In the past, a child in a 
painting had to look pretty and contented. Grown-ups did not want to know about 
the sorrows and agonies of childhood, and they resented it if this aspect of it was 
brought home to them. But Kokoschka would not fall in with these demands of 
convention. We feel that he has looked at these children with a deep sympathy and 
compassion. He has caught their wistfulness and dreaminess, the awkwardness of 
their movements and the disharmonies of their growing bodies. To bring all this 
out he could not rely on the accepted stock-in-trade of correct draughtsmanship, 
but his work is all the more true to life for what it lacks in conventional accuracy. 
2D 



428 


Experimental Art 



353. KOKOSCHKA: Children playing, 1909. Malmo, Theodor Woclfers 


The art of Barlach or Kokoschka can hardly be called experimental. But the idea 
that art is first and foremost a means of self-expression was bound to lead to a 
number of experiments. Do we need nature at all if we want to express our own 
selves ? The most expressive of all the arts, music, gets along without representing 
anything. Would it not be possible to do the same in painting ? To express a mood 
or emotion only by means of colours and lines ? Paintings which discard all subject- 
matters are often referred to as ‘abstract’ pictures. The word abstract is not too 
happily chosen, but the experiment of expression through colours and forms alone 
was certainly worth making. Vassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), a Russian who lived 
much in Germany and France, was among the first to experiment with these possi- 
bilities in pictures (Fig. 354) to which he sometimes gave names reminiscent 
of musical compositions, just as Whistler had done a generation earlier (p. 401, 
Fig- 335 )- 



354. KANDINSKY: Composition. About 1913. 
Berlin^ National Gallery 


Experimental Art 429 



355. hodler: Lake Thuriy painted in 1905. 
Geneva, Mus6c d’Art ct d’Histoire 


The experiments of Cubism in France were based on rather different ideas. To 
understand the problems which they were meant to solve, we have to think back 
to Cezanne and his dissatisfaction with Impressionism. Cezanne, though, was not 
the only artist at the end of the nineteenth century who longed for simplicity 
and order in art. A whole group of young painters of the period gave up Impres- 
sionism, and tried to simplify the forms of nature so as to make their pictures into 



356. SEURAT: Bridge at Courbevoie, painted in 1886-7. London, Home House Trustees 



430 


Experimental Art 



357. BEARDSLEY: Illustration to Oscar 358. toulouse-lautrec: Poster. 

Wilde’s 'Salome', published in 1894 Lithograph in colours, 1892 



clear and bold patterns. It was particularly the artists who were interested in the 
design of murals, posters or book illustrations, who saw the need for a new emphasis 
on a clear and rhythmical distribution of forms on the surface, on the ‘architecture’ 
of the picture, as they called it. In Switzerland the painter Hodler (1853-1918), who 
was born in the same year as Van Gogh, strove for an art of lucid simplification 
(Fig. 355). In France the painter Georges Seurat (1860-91) experimented with new 
effects : to preserve the intensity of tmbroken colours and the clear outlines of forms 
without sacrificing the discoveries of Impressionism, he developed a kind of mosaic 
technique in which uniform patches of colour were used to build up the picture 
(Fig. 356). The art of the poster was developed by Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) 
who achieved his striking effects with the greatest economy of means (Fig. 358). 
In that period of ‘Post-Impressionism’, the word ‘decorative’ became one of the 
art critics’ favourite expressions. Artists with a sense of balance and a skill in 
‘decorative’ simplification became the heroes of the * Art Nouveau’ in the eighteen- 
nineties. The young English prodigy Aubrey Beardsley (i872-:98) was one of the 
most characteristic representatives of this fashion. His study of Whistler (p. 400) 
and of Japanese prints (p. 397) had led him to an extremely bold and effective man- 
ner of black-and-white illustrations which made him instantly famous (Fig. 357). 
But Beardsley’s art also showed the inherent dangers of this all-too-facile simpli- 
fication. As decorative orpaments these illustrations were successful, but the success 
had been achieved at a price. These works were flat as real patterns, and lacked that 



Experimental Art 431 



359. MATISSE: La Desserte, 1908. Moscow, Museum of Western Art 


force and concentration which the more vigorous artists of the turn of the century 
strove to achieve. 

It was here that the influence of Gauguin’s example made itself felt. Gauguin had 
encouraged artists to abandon the subtleties of an over-refined art and to be forth- 
right and direct in their forms and colour-schemes. He made them love intense and 
simple colours and daring ‘barbaric’ harmonies. In 1905 a group of young painters 
exhibited in Paris who were to be known as Les Fauves, which means ‘the wild 
beasts’ or ‘the savages’. They owed their name to their open disregard for the 
forms of nature and their enjoyment of violent colours. Actually, there was little 
of savagery in them. The most famous of the group, Henri Matisse (born 1869), 
was two years older than Beardsley and had a similar talent for decorative simplifi- 
cation. He studied the colour-schemes of Oriental carpets and of North African 
scenery, and developed a style which has exerted a great influence on modem 
design. Fig. 359 shows one of his paintings from the year 1908 called ‘La Desserte’. 
We can see that what interested the artist was less the rendering of the visual im- 
pression than its transformation into an ornament. The interplay of the wallpaper 
design and the fabric of the tablecloth with the objects on the table forms the main 
motif of the picture. Even the human figure and the landscape seen through the 


432 Experimental Art 

window have become part of this pattern, so it is quite consistent that the woman 
and the trees are much simplified in their outlines and even distorted in their forms 
to fit in with the flowers of the wallpaper. There is something of the decorative 
effect of children’s drawings in the bright colours and simple outlines of these 
paintings, though Matisse himself did not for a moment renounce sophistication. 

This was the situation in Paris which led to the experiments of Cubism. One 
of its originators was a young painter from Spain, Pablo Picasso, who was born in 
1 88 1. Picasso was the son of a drawing master, and had been something like an 
infant prodigy in the Barcelona Art School. At the age of nineteen he had come to 
Paris where he painted subjects that would have pleased the Expressionists : beg- 
gars, outcasts, strollers and circus people. But he evidently found no satisfaction in 
this, and began to study primitive art, to which Gauguin and perhaps also Matisse 
had drawn attention. We can imagine what he learned from these works : he learned 
how it is possible to build up an image of a face or an object out of a few very simple 
elements (p. 27). This was something different from the simplification of the 
visual impression which the earlier artists had practised. They had reduced the 
forms of nature to a flat pattern. Perhaps there were means to avoid that flatness, 
to build up the picture of simple objects and yet retain a sense of solidity and 
depth ? It was this problem which led Picasso back to Cezanne. In one of his letters 
to a young painter, Cezanne had advised him to look at nature in terms of cubes, 
cones and cylinders. He presumably meant that he should always keep these basic 
solid shapes in mind when organizing his pictures. But Picasso and his friends 
decided to take this advice literally. I suppose they reasoned somewhat like this: 
‘we have long given up claiming that we represent things as they appear to our 
eyes. That was a will-o’-the-wisp which it is useless to pursue. We do not want to 
fix on the canvas the imaginary impression of a fleeting moment. Let us follow 
Cezanne’s example, and build up the picture of our motifs as solidly and enduringly 
as we can. Why not be consistent and accept the fact that our real aim is rather to 
construct something than to copy something ? If we think of an object, let us say a 
violin, it does not appear before the eyes of our mind as we would see it with our 
bodily eyes. We can, and in fact do, think of its various aspects at the same time. 
Some of them stand out so clearly that we feel that we can touch and handle them; 
others are somehow blurred. And yet this strange medley of images represents 
more of the “real” violin than any single snapshot or meticulous painting could 
ever contain.’ This, I suppose, was the reasoning which led to such paintings as 
Picasso’s still life of a violin. Fig. 360. In some respects it represents a return to 
what we have called the Egyptian principles, in which an object was drawn from 
the angle from which its charaaeristic form came out most clearly (p. 36). The 
scroll and one peg are seen from the side as we imagine them when we think of a 
violin. The sound-holes, on the other hand, are seen as from in front — ^they would 



Experimental Art 


433 



360 . PICASSO: Still Life, painted in 1912 


not be visible from the side. The curve of the rim is greatly exaggerated, as we are 
apt to overestimate the steepness of such curves when thinking of the feeling it 
gives us to run our hand along the sides of such an instrument. The bow and the 
strings float somewhere in space; the strings even occur twice, once related to the 
front view, once towards the volute. Despite this apparent jumble of disconnected 
forms — and there are more than I have enumerated — the picture does not really 
look messy. The reason is that the artist has constructed his picture out of more or 
less uniform parts so that the whole presents an appearance of consistency compara- 
ble to such works of primitive art as the American totem pole (p. 28, Fig. 27). 

Of course, there is one drawback in this method of building up the image of an 
object of which the originators of Cubism were very well aware. It can be done only 
with more or less familiar forms. Those who look at the picture must know what a 
violin looks like to be able to relate the various fragments in the picture to each 
other. That is the reason why Cubist painters usually chose familiar motifs — 
guitars, bottles, fruit-bowls, or occasionally a human figure — ^where we can easily 
pick our way through the paintings and understand the relationship of the various 
parts. Not all people enjoy this game, and there is no reason why they should. But 
there is every reason why they should not misunderstand the artist’s purpose. You 


434 Experimental Art 

hear people say that it is an insult to their intelligence to expect them to believe 
that a violin ‘looks like that’. But there is no question of such an insult. If anything 
the artist pays them a compliment. He assumes that they know what a violin is like, 
and that they do not come to his picture to receive this elementary information. 
He invites them to share with him in this sophisticated game of building up the 
idea of a tangible solid object out of a few flat fragments on his canvas. We know 
that artists of all periods have tried to put forward their solution of the essential 
paradox of painting, which is that it represents depth on a surface. Cubism was an 
attempt not to gloss over this paradox but rather to exploit it for new effects. 

Picasso never pretended that the methods of Cubism could replace all other ways 
of representing the visible world. On the contrary. He is fond of changing his 
methods and of returning once in a while from the boldest experiments in image- 
making to various traditional forms of art. It may be hard to believe that Fig. 361 
and Fig. 362 both represent a human head as drawn by the same artist. To under- 
stand the second we must go back to our experiments in ‘doodling’ (p. 27), to the 
primitive fetish of p. 26, Fig. 25 or the mask of p. 27, Fig. 26. Apparently Picasso 
wanted to find put how far the idea of constructing the image of a head out of the 
most unlikely forms could be carried. He puts the schematic eyes as far apart as 
possible, he lets a broken line stand for the mouth with its row of teeth and he 



361. PICASSO: Head, Lithograph. 1945 362. PiCASso: Head. 1928. New York, 

J. J. Sweeney 


Experimental Art 435 

somehow adds an undulating shape to suggest the contour of the face. But from 
these adventures on the borderline of the impossible he returns to such firm, con- 
vincing and moving images as Fig. 361. No method and no technique satisfies him 
for long. Recently he has abandoned painting for handmade pottery. Few people 
might guess at first sight that the plate on Fig. 352 was made by one of the most 
sophisticated masters of our age. Maybe it is precisely his amazing facility in 
draughtsmanship, his technical virtuosity, which makes Picasso long for the simple 
and uncomplicated. It must give him a peculiar satisfaction to throw all his cunning 
and cleverness overboard and to make something with his own hands which recalls 
the works of peasants or of children. 

Picasso himself denies that he is making experiments. He says he does not search, 
he finds. He mocks at .those who want to understand his art. ‘Everyone wants to 
understand art. Why not try to understand the song of a bird ? ’ Of course, he is 
right. No painting can be fully ‘explained’ in words. But words are sometimes use- 
ful pointers, they help to clear away misunderstandings and can give us at least an 
inkling of the situation in which the artist finds himself. I believe that the situation 
which leads Picasso to his different ‘finds ’ is very typical of modern art. 

The best way, perhaps, of understanding this situation is by looking once more 
at its origins. To the artists of the ‘good old days’ the subject had come first. They 
received a commission to paint, say, a Madonna or a portrait and they then set to 
work to carry it out as best they could. When commissions of this kind became 
rarer, artists had to choose their own subjects. Some concentrated on themes which 
would attract prospective buyers. They painted carousing monks, or lovers in the 
moonlight, or a dramatic event from patriotic history. Other artists refused to 
become illustrators of this kind. If 
they had to choose a subject them- 
selves they would choose one which 
allowed them to study some definite 
problem of their craft. Thus the 
Impressionists, who were interested 
in the effects of fight in the open, 
shocked the public by painting sub- 
urban streets or haystacks rather 
than scenes with a ‘literary’ appeal. 

By calling the portrait of his mother 
(p. 400, Fig. 334) ‘Arrangement in 
grey and black’ Whistler flaunted his 
conviction that to an artist any sub- 
ject is but an opportunity of studying 

the balance of colour and design. 363. giacometti: Head, about 1930 



436 Experimental Art 

A master such as Cezanne did not even have to proclaim this fact. We remember 
that his still Ufe (p. 41 1, Fig. 341) could only be understood as a painter’s attempt to 
study various problems of his art. The Cubists continued where Cezanne had left 
off. Henceforward an increasing number of artists took it for granted that what 
matters in art is to find new solutions for what is called problems of ‘form’. To 
these artists, then, ‘form’ always comes first and the ‘subject’ second. 

If a modern sculptor such as Giacometti (born 1901 in Switzerland) calls a mere 
stone cube with two dells in it a ‘head’ (Fig. 363) he does not want to persuade 
us that he has ever seen such a block-head in real life. Houdon (p. 355, Fig. 299) 
or Rodin (p. 390, Fig. 326) in their wonderful portrait busts had in fact wanted 
to preserve for us what they had seen in the features of an inspiring head. Gia- 
cometti’s purpose, like Picasso’s, is entirely different. He is a sculptor who is 
fascinated by certain special problems of his calling and he assumes — rightly or 
wrongly — that we, too, share his interest. This problem, which he wants to tackle, 
was not invented by modern art. We remember that Michelangelo’s idea of 
sculpture was to bring out the form that seems to slumber in the marble (p. 227), 
to give life and movement to the figure while yet preserving the simple outline of 
the stone. Giacometti seems to have decided to approach the problem from the 
other end. He wants to try out how much the sculptor can retain of the original 
shape of his block while still transforming it into the suggestion of a human head. 
He finds that he need not even harm the surface by boring holes to represent the 
eyes. He just hollows out his two simple shapes and hopes that the surprising 
recognition of like in unlike will be more stimulating to us than the contemplation 



364. feininger: Sailing Boats y painted in 1929. Detroit, R. H. Tannahill 


Experimental Art 437 

of a waxwork head, complete with eyelashes and all. And so it is, even if it might 
be argued that he has evaded rather than solved Michelangelo’s real problem. 

The paintings of the American Lionel Feininger (bom 1871), who worked for a 
time at the Bauhaus (p. 420), provide a good example of the way in which modem 
artists select their subjects so as to demonstrate certain problems of ‘form’. 
Feininger is fascinated by the age-old puzzle of painting, the problem of how 
to represent space on a flat surface without thereby destroying the lucid design 
(pp. 190, 200 and 406). He has developed an ingenious device of his own, that 
of building his pictures out of overlapping triangles which look as if they were 
transparent and thus suggest a succession of layers — much like the transparent 
curtains one sometimes sees on the stage. As these shapes appear to lie one behind 
the other they convey the idea of depth and allow the artist to simplify the outlines 
of his objects without the picture looking flat. Feininger likes to select motifs such 
as the gabled streets of medieval cities or groups of sailing ships which give scope 
to his triangles and diagonals. His picture of a sailing regatta (Fig. 364) shows that 
the method not only enables him to convey a feeling of space but also a sense of 
movement. 

It was almost inevitable that this increasing concern with problems of ‘form’ 
would lead to experiments with paintings in which no subject at all is represented 
and which rely for their interest only on the arrangement of shapes and colours. We 
remember that the ‘abstract’ paintings of Kandinsky in Germany before the First 
World War had grown out of the idea that painting, like music, could be ‘pure’ 
expression. At about the same time other painters in Paris, in Russia, and soon also 
in Holland based similar experiments on the idea that painting is construction, like 
architecture. They tried to ‘build’ patterns out of simple shapes like circles and 
squares. Such works often excite much ridicule in exhibitions ; yet it is really not 
very difficult to imagine a frame of mind in which an artist may get completely 
engrossed in the mysterious problem of relating such shapes and tones till they 
appear ‘right’ (p. 14). It is quite possible that a picture which contains nothing but 
two squares may have caused its maker more worry than it caused an artist of the 
past to paint a Madonna. For the painter of the Madonna knew what he was aiming 
at. He had tradition as his guide and the number of decisions with which he was 
confronted was limited. The modern painter with his two squares is in a less 
enviable position. He may shift them about on his canvas, try an infinite number of 
possibilities and may never know when and where to stop. Even if we do not share 
his interest we need not scoff at his self-imposed labours. 

If we try to picture this situation we may find it less difficult to understand how 
other modern artists came to reject the idea that art should concern itself only with 
the solution of problems of ‘form’. This preoccupation with puzzles of balance 
and method, however subtle and absorbing, left them with a feeling of emptiness 




365. HENRY MOORE: Recumbent Figure, Made in 1938. London, Tate Gallery 


which they tried almost desperately to overcome. Like Picasso himself they groped 
for something less sophisticated, less arbitrary. But if the interest should lie neither 
in the ‘subject’ — ^as of old — nor in the ‘form’ — as recently — what are these works 
meant to stand for ? 

The answer is more easily felt than given, for such explanations so easily deterio- 
rate into sham profundity or downright nonsense. Still, if it must be said, I suppose 
the true reply is that the modern artist wants to create things. The stress is on 
create and on things. He wants to feel that he has made something which had no 
existence before. Not just a copy of a real objert, however skilful, not just a piece 
of decoration, however clever, but something more relevant and lasting than either, 
something that he feels to be more real than the shoddy objects of our humdrum 
existence. If we want to understand this frame of mind, we must go back to our own 
childhood, to a time when we still felt able to make things out of bricks or sand, 
when we turned a broomstick into a magic wand, and a few stones into an enchanted 
castle. Sometimes these self-made things acquired an immense significance for us — 
perhaps as much as the image may have for the primitive. I believe it is this intense 
feeling for the uniqueness of a thing made by the magic of human hands that the 
sculptor Henry Moore (bom 1898) wants us to have in front of his creations (Fig. 
365). Moore does not start by looking at his model. He starts by looking at his stone. 
He wants to ‘make something’ out of it. Not by smashing ic tp bits, but by feeling 


Experimental Art 439 

his way, and by trying to find out what the stone ‘wants’. If it turns into a sugges- 
tion of a human figure, well and good. But even in this figure he wants to preserve 
something of the solidity and simplicity of a rock. He does not try to make a woman 
of stone but a stone which suggests a woman. 

It is this way of working, I think, which Picasso had in mind when he says he 
does not seek, he finds. For many modem artists think it wrong to work according 
to any preconceived plan. They are not out to represent any subject in particular 
nor, for that matter, to solve any specific ‘formal problems ’. They believe that the 
work should be allowed to ‘grow’ according to its own laws. This method again 
recalls our doodles on the blotting paper when we let ourselves be surprised by the 
outcome of our idle pen-games — only that the modern artist takes his work very 
seriously. The best description of this procedure was given by the Swiss painter and 
musician Paul Klee (1879-1940) in a lecture at the Bauhaus (p. 420). He began by 
relating lines, shades and colours to each other, adding a stress here, removing 
a weight there to achieve that feeling of balance or ‘righmess’ after which every 
artist is striving. He described how the forms emerging under his hands gradually 
suggested some real or fantastic subject to his imagination and how he followed 
these hints if he felt that it would help and not hinder his harmonies if he com- 
pleted the image that he had ‘found’. It was his conviction that this way of creating 
images was more ‘tme to nature’ than any slavish copy could ever be. For nature 
herself, he argued, creates through the artist; it is the same mysterious power that 
formed the weird shapes of prehistoric animals and the fantastic fairyland of the 
deep sea fauna which is still active in the artist’s mind and makes his creatures grow. 

If the outcome of all this searching and groping (Fig. 351) looked to the outsider 
rather like a childish scrawl this did not worry Klee overmuch. Like Picasso he 
longed to get rid of the standards of earnest grown-ups and recover the imspoilt im- 
agination of the primitives and of children. Once more it may be useful to remember 
that this yearning for the simple and naive is not just a w hi m of modern artists. We 
have met with it in the case of Gauguin (p. 4 16), who was merely the most consistent 
of the nineteenth-century artists who yearned for the lost paradise of iimocence. 

In one of his letters from Tahiti, Gauguin had written that he felt he had to go 
back beyond the horses of the Parthenon, back to the rocking-horse of his child- 
hood. It is easy to scoff at this preoccupation of modern artists with the simple and 
child-like, and yet it should not be too difficult to understand it. For artists feel that 
this directness and simplicity is the one thing that caimot be learnt. Every other 
trick of the trade can be acquired. Every effort becomes easy to imitate after it has 
been shown that it can be done. Many artists feel that the museums and exhibitions 
are full of works of such amazing facility and skill that nothing is gained by continu- 
ing along these lines; that they are in danger of losing their souls and becoming 
slick manufacturers of paintings or sculptures unless they become as litde children. 



440 


Experimental Art 



This Primitivism advocated by Gauguin 
became perhaps an even more lasting in- 
fluence on modem art than either Van 
Gogh’s Expressionism or Craanne’s way 
to Cubism. It heralded a complete revo- 
lution in taste which began roimd about 
1906, the year of the first exhibition of 
the ‘Fauves’ (p. 431). It was only through 
this revolution that critics began to dis- 
cover the beauty of the works of the early 
Middle Ages such as p. 115, Fig. 107, or 
p. 128, Fig. 120. It was then that artists 
began to study the works of native tribes- 
men with the same zeal with which 
academic artists studied Greek sculpture. 
It was this change of taste, too, which led 

•^66, Portrait of Joseph Brunner, . • n • i_ u • • 

1909. Zurich, Dr. Franz Meyer Collection young painters in Pans at the beginning 

of the twentieth century to discover the 
art of an amateur painter, a customs official who led a quiet and unobtrusive life in 
the suburbs. This painter, Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), proved to them that far 
from being a way to salvation, the training of the professional painter may spoil his 

chances. For Rousseau knew nothing of 
correct draughtsmanship, nothing of the 
tricks of Impressionism. He painted with 
simple, pure colours and clear outlines, 
every single leaf of a tree and every blade 
of grass of a lawn (Fig. 366). And yet 
there is in his pictures, however awkward 
they may seem to the sophisticated mind, 
something so vigorous, simple and forth- 
right that one must acknowledge him as 
a master. 

In the strange race after the naive and 
unsophisticated which now began, those 
artists who, like Rousseau himself, had had 
first-hand experience of the simple life 
enjoyed a natural advantage. Marc Chagall 
(born 1889), for instance, a painter who 
came to Paris from a small provincial 
ghetto in Russia shortly before the First 



Experimental Art 441 

World War, did not allow his acquaintance with modern experiments to blot out his 
childhood memories. His paintings of village scenes and types, such as his musician 
who has become one with his instrument (Fig. 367), succeed in preserving some- 
thing of the zest and child-like wonder of real folk art. 

The admiration for Rousseau and the naive self-taught manner of ‘Sunday 
Painters’ led other artists to renounce the complicated theories of ‘Expressionism’ 
and of ‘Cubism’ as unnecessary ballast. They wanted to conform to the ideal of 
the ‘man in the street’, and paint clear and straightforward pictures in which every 
leaf on the trees and every furrow in the fields could be counted. It was their pride 
to be ‘down to earth’ and ‘matter of fact’ and also to paint subjects which the plain 
man can like and understand. Both in National Socialist Germany and in Com- 
munist Russia this attitude found eager support from the politicians, but this need 



368. GRANT wood: Spring Turning, painted in 1936. Coll. Mrs. Elon H. Hooker, New York. 


prove nothing for or against it. The American Grant Wood (1891-1942), who 
had been to Paris and Mimich, celebrated the beauty of his native Iowa with 
this deliberate simplicity. For his painting of ‘Spring Turning’ (Fig. 368) he even 
made a clay-model which enabled him to study the scenery from an unexpected 
angle and imparts to his work something of the charm of a toy landscape. 

One may well sympathize with the taste of modern artists for all that is direct and 
genuine and yet feel that their efforts to become deliberately naVve and unsophisti- 
cated were bound to land them in self-contradiction. The best known of the modem 
movements in art — Surrealism — ^well illustrates this difficulty. The name was 
coined in 1924 to express the longing of young artists to create something more 
real than reality itself, something of greater significance, that is, than a mere copy of 
what we see. But, alas, one cannot become ‘primitive’ at will. While some of these 
artists were driven by their frantic wish to become child-like into the most astonish- 
ing antics of calculated silliness, others were led to consult scientific textbooks on 



44 ^ Experimental Art 

what constitutes the primitive mind. They were greatly impressed by the vinritings 
of Freud who had shown that when our wakening thoughts are numbed the child 
and the savage in us takes over. It was this idea which made the Surrealists proclaim 
that art can never be produced by wide-awake reason. They might admit that 
reason can give us science but would say that only imreason can give us art. Even 
this theory is not quite as new as it may sound. The ancients spoke of poetry as 
a kind of ‘divine madness’, and Romantic writers like Coleridge and De Quincey 
deliberately experimented with opium and other drugs to drive out reason and let 
imagination take sway. The Surrealists, too, hanker after mental states in which 
what is deep down in our minds may come to the surface. They agree with Klee 
that an artist cannot plan his work but must let it grow. The result may look 
monstrous to an outsider but if he discards his prejudice and lets his fancy play 
he may come to share the artist’s strange dream. 

I am not sure that this theory is right, nor even that it really corresponds to the 
ideas of Freud. Nevertheless, the experiment of painting dream-pictures was 
certainly worth making. In dreams we often experience the strange feeling that 
people and objects merge and exchange places. Our cat may at the same time be our 
aunt and our garden Africa. One of the leading Surrealist painters, the Spaniard 
Salvador Dali (born 1905), who spent several years in the U.S.A., has tried to 



369. DALi: Apparition of Face and Fruit-dish on a Beach, painted in 1938. Hartford, U.S.A. 

Wadsworth Atheneum 


Experimental Art 443 

imitate this weird confusion of our dream-life. In some of his pictures he mixes 
surprising and incoherent fragments of the real world — ^painted with the same 
detailed accuracy with which Grant Wood paints his landscapes — and gives us the 
haunting feeling that there must be some sense in this apparent madness. As we 
look more closely at Fig. 369, for instance, we discover that the dream-landscape in 
the upper right-hand corner, the bay with its waves, the mountain with its tuimel, 
represents at the same time the head of a dog whose collar is also a railway viaduct 
across the sea. The dog hovers in mid-air — the middle part of its body is formed by 
a fruit-bowl with pears which in its turn merges into the face of a girl whose eyes 
are formed by some strange sea-shells on a beach crowded with puzzling appari- 
tions. As in a dream, some things, like the rope and the cloth, stand out with un- 
expected clarity while other shapes remain vague and elusive. 

A painting such as this brings it home to us for the last time why it is that 
modem artists are not satisfied in simply representing ‘what they see’. They have 
become too much aware of the many problems which are hidden in this demand. 
They know that the artist who wants to ‘represent’ a real (or imagined) thing does 
not start by opening his eyes and looking about him but by taking colours and 
forms and building up the required image. The reason why we often forget this 
simple truth is that in most pictures of the past each form and each colour happened 
to signify only one thing in nature — the brown strokes stood for tree trunks, the 
green dots for leaves. Dali’s way of letting each form represent several things at the 
same time may focus our attention on the many possible meanings of each colour 
and form — much in the way in which a successful pun may make us aware of the 
function of words and their meaning. Dali’s sea-shell which is also an eye, his fruit- 
bowl which is also a girl’s forehead and nose, may send our thoughts back to the first 
chapter of this book, to the Aztec rain-god Tlaloc, whose features were composed of 
rattlesnakes (p. 30, Fig. 29). 

And yet — if we really take the trouble of looking up the ancient idol we may 
receive something of a shock — how great is the difference in spirit for all possible 
similarity of methods ! Both images may have emerged from a dream, but Tlaloc, we 
feel, was the dream of a whole people, the nightmare figure of the dire power that 
held sway over their fate; Dali’s dog and fruit-bowl reflect the elusive dream of a 
private person to which we hold no key. It clearly would be unfair to blame the 
modem artist for this difference. It arises out of the totally different circumstances 
in which the two works were created. 

To produce a perfect pearl the oyster needs some piece of matter, a sandcorn or 
a small splinter round which the pearl can form. Without such a hardcore it may 
grow into a shapeless mass. If the artist’s feelings for forms and colours are to 
crystallize in a perfect work, he, too, needs such a hard core — a definite task on 
which he can bring his gifts to bear. 

2E 



444 Experimental Art 

We know that in the more distant past all works of art gained shape round such a 
vital core. It was the community which set the artists their tasks — ^be it the making 
of ritual masks or the building of cathedrals, the painting of portraits or the illustra- 
tion of books. It matters comparatively little whether we happen to be in sympathy 
with all these tasks or not; one need not approve of bison-hunting by magic, of the 
glorification of criminal wars or the ostentation of wealth and power to admire the 
works of art which were once created to serve such ends. The pearl completely 
covers the core. It is the secret of the artist that he does his work so superlatively 
well that we all but forget to ask what his work was supposed to be, for sheer 
admiration of the way he did it. We are all familiar with this shift of emphasis in 
more trivial instances. If we say of a schoolboy that he is an artist in boasting or 
that he has turned shirking into a fine art, we mean precisely this — ^that he displays 
such ingenuity and imagination in the pursuance of his unworthy ends that we are 
forced to admire his skill however much we may disapprove of his motives. It was 
a fateful moment in the Story of Art when people’s attention became so riveted on 
the way in which artists had developed painting or sculpting into a fine art that they 
forgot to give artists more definite tasks. We know that the first step in this direc- 
tion was taken in Hellenistic times (p. 74), another in the Renaissance (p. 210). But 
however surprising this may sound, this step did not yet deprive painters and 
sculptors of that vital core of a task which alone could fire their imagination. Even 
when definite jobs became rarer there remained a host of problems for the artist in 
the solution of which he could display his mastery. Where these problems were not 
set by the community they were set by tradition. It was the tradition of image- 
making which carried in its stream, as it were, those indispensable sandcoms of 
tasks. We know that it was a matter of tradition rather than any inherent necessity 
that art should reproduce nature. The importance of this demand in the history of 
art from Giotto (p. 144) to the Impressionists (p. 391) does not lie in the fact — as 
is sometimes thought — ^that it is the ‘essence’ or ‘duty’ of art to imitate the real 
world. Nor is it true, I believe, that this demand is quite irrelevant. For it provided, 
as we have seen, just the type of insoluble problem which challenges the ingenuity 
of the artist and makes him do the impossible. We have frequently seen, moreover, 
how each solution of one of these problems, however breath-taking, gave rise to new 
problems elsewhere which gave younger men the opportunity of showing what they 
could do with colours and forms. For even the artist who is in revolt against 
tradition depends on it for that stimulus which gives direction to his efforts. 

It is for this reason that I have tried to tell the Story of Art as the story of a con- 
tinuous weaving and changing of traditions in which each work refers to the past 
and points to the future. For there is no aspect of this story more wonderful than 
this — ^that a living chain of tradition still links the art of our own days with that of 



Experimental Art 445 

the Pyramid age. The heresies of Akhnaton (p. 42), the turmoil of the Dark Ages 
(p. 1 10), the crisis of art in the Reformation period (p. 274), and the break in tradi- 
tion at the time of the French Revolution (p. 358) each threatened this continuity. 
The danger was often very real. After all the arts have been known to die out in 
whole countries and civilizations when the last link snapped. But somehow and 
somewhere the final disaster was always averted. When old tasks disappeared new 
ones turned up which gave artists that sense of direction and sense of purpose 
without which they cannot create great works. In architecture, I believe, this 
miracle has happened once more. After the fumblings and hesitations of the 
nineteenth century modern architects have found their beatings. They know what 
they want to do and the public has begun to accept their work as a matter of 
course. For painting and sculpture the crisis has not yet passed the danger point. 
Despite some promising experiments (p. 420) there still remains an unhappy 
cleavage between what is called ‘applied’ or ‘commercial’ art which surrounds us 
in daily life and the ‘pure’ art of exhibitions and galleries which many of us find 
so hard to understand. 

It is just as thoughtless to be ‘for modern art’ as it is to be ‘against it’. The situa- 
tion in which it grew is just as much our own doing as that of the artists. There are 
certainly painters and sculptors alive today who would have done honour to any 
age. If we do not ask them to do anything in particular, what right have we got to 
blame them if their work appears to us obscure and aimless ? 

The general public has settled down to the notion that an artist is a fellow who 
should produce Art much in the way a bootmaker produces boots. By this they 
mean that he should produce the kind of paintings or sculptures they have seen 
labelled as Art before. One can understand this vague demand, but, alas, it is the 
one job the artist cannot do. What has been done before presents no problem any 
more. There is no task in it that could put the artist on his mettle. But critics and 
‘highbrows ’, too, are sometimes guilty of a similar misunderstanding. They, too, 
tell the artist to produce Art; they, too, are inclined to think of pictures and statues 
as specimens for future museums. The only task they set the artist is that of creating 
‘something new’ — if they had their way, each work would represent a new style, 
a new ‘ism’. In the absence of any more concrete jobs even the most gifted modern 
artists sometimes fall in with these demands. Their solutions of the problem of how 
to be original are sometimes of a wit and brilliance not to be despised, but in the 
long run this is hardly a task worth pursuing. That, I believe, is the ultimate reason 
why modern artists so often turn to various theories, new and old, about the nature 
of art. It is probably no more true to say that ‘art is expression’ or that ‘art is 
construction’ than it was to say that ‘art is the imitation of nature’. But any such 
theory, even the most obscure one, may contain that proverbial grain of truth which 
might do for the pearl. 



446 Experimental Art 

HerCj at last, we arc back at our starting point. There really is no such thing as 
Art. There are only artists — ^men and women, that is, who are favoured with the 
wonderful gift of balancing shapes and colours till they are ‘right’, and, rarer still, 
who possess that integrity of character which never rests content with half-solutions 
but is ready to forgo all easy effects, all superficial success for the toil and agony of 
sincere work. Artists, we trust, will always be bom. But whether there will also 
be art depends to no small extent on ourselves, their public. By our indifference or 
our interest, by our prejudice or our understanding we may yet decide the issue. 
It is we who must see to it that the thread of tradition does not break and that there 
remain opportunities for the artist to add to the precious string of pearls that is 
our heirloom from the past. 



370. The Painter and his Model, Illustration byPiCASSOto Balzac’s 
Le Chef-d*(Euvre Inconnu^ published by Vollard in Paris, 1931 



A NOTE ON ART BOOKS 


I have made it a rule in the body of this book 
not to irritate the reader with repeated re- 
minders of the many things that lack of space 
prevented me from showing or discussing. I 
must break this rule here and say with empha- 
sis, and with regret, that it is quite impossible 
for me to acknowledge all the authorities to 
whom I am indebted in the foregoing pages. 
Our ideas about the past are the result of an 
immense co-operative effort and even a simple 
book like this may be described as a report on 
the work of a large team of historians, living 
and dead, who have helped to clarify the out- 
lines of periods, styles and personalities. And 
how many facts, formulations and opinions 
one may have taken from others without know- 
ing it! I happen to remember that I owe my 
remarks on the religious roots of Greek sport 
(p. 58) to a broadcast by Professor gilbert 
MURRAY at the time of the London Olympic 
games, but it was only on re-reading D. F. 
tovey’s book on The Integrity of MustCy 
Oxford, 1941, that I realized how many of its 
ideas I had used in the Introduction to this book. 

But while I cannot hope to list all the writings 
which I may have read or consulted, I did 
express the hope, in the preface to this volume, 
that it may equip newcomers for consulting 
more specialized books to greater advantage. It 
therefore remains to show the way to these 
books. 

It may be useful to start with some rough and 
ready division to distinguish the many kinds 
of art books which crowd the shelves of our 
libraries and bookshops. There are books for 
READING, books for REFERENCE and books to 
LOOK AT. By the first group I mean books we 
enjoy for the sake of their authors. These are 
works which cannot ‘ date * because, even when 
the views and interpretations they offer are no 
longer in fashion, they remain valuable as 
documents of their time and as expressions of 
a personality. To those who want to deepen 
their acquaintance with the world of art in 
general, without wanting to become specialists 
in any particular field, it is this type of book I 
would recommend for further reading. Among 
these, again I would single out the source 
BOOKS of the past, books by artists or writers 
who were in close touch with the things they 


describe. Not all of them make easy reading, 
but any effort it may take to get acquainted 
with a world of ideas so different from our own 
will be richly rewarded through a better and 
more intimate understanding of the past. 
Among these primary sources which exist in 
English versions I would list — in chronologi- 
cal order — The elder p liny’s Chapters on the 
History of Art translated by K. J. Bleake, with 
a commentary by E. Sellers, London, 1896, our 
most important source of information on Greek 
and Roman painting and sculpture, compiled 
from older texts by the famous scholar who 
perished in the destruction of Pompeii (p. 77). 
Old Chinese writings on art are most easily 
accessible in a volume of the ‘Wisdom of the 
East* series, entitled The Spirit of the Brushy 
translated by Shio Sakanishi, London, 1939. 
The most important document for the outlook 
of the great medieval cathedral builders 
(p. 131 f.) IS the account of abbot sugbr of 
the building of the first great Gothic church, 
which exists in a model edition: Abbot Suger 
on the Abbey Church of St, Denis and its Art 
Treasures y edited, translated and annotated by 
E. Panofsky, Princeton, 1946. Those who arc 
interested in the technique and training of late 
medieval painters can now turn to the equally 
scholarly edition of cennino cennini. The 
Craftsman's Handbooky by Daniel V. Thomp- 
son Jr. (2 vols.). New Haven, 1932-3. The 
standard edition of Leonardo da vinci’s 
principal writings and notes (p. 214) is J. P. 
Richter, The Literary Works of Leonardo da 
Vinci y Oxford, 1939. His plea for the dignity of 
painting (p. 215) now exists in a special edition, 
LEONARDO DA VINCI, Paragone: A Compari- 
son of the ArtSy translated and edited by Irma A. 
Richter, Oxford, 1949. Leonardo da vinci’s 
Treatise on Painting y translated by J. F. Rigaud, 
London, 1887, is based on an important collec- 
tion of the master’s notes made in the sixteenth 
century, some of which no longer exist in the 
original. 

The Literary Remains of Albrecht durer 
(p. 254) exist in an English edition by W. M. 
Conway, Cambridge, 1889. durer ’s Records 
of his Journeys to Venice and the Low Countries 
(p. 256) exist in a separate edition by Roger 
Fry, Boston, 1913. 



A Note on Art Books 


448 

By far the most important source book for 
the art of the Renaissance in Italy is giorgio 
Vasari’s Lives of the Painters ^ Sculptors and 
Architects y which exists in a handy (though not 
faultless) edition in ‘Everyman’s Library’, 
London, 1927 (4 vols.). The original text was 
first published in 1550 and revised and en- 
larged in 1568. It is a book that can be read for 
pleasure, as a collection of anecdotes and short 
stories, some of which may even be true. It will 
be read with even greater profit and enjoyment 
if we take it as an interesting document of the 
period of ‘Mannerism’, when artists became 
conscious and over-conscious of the great 
achievements of the past that weighed on them 
(p. 265 f.). The other fascinating book by 
a Florentine artist of that restless period, 
BENVENUTO CELLiNi’s Autobiography 
(p. 267), exists in various English editions ; the 
latest is that edited by John Pope-Hennessy in 
the ‘Phaidon Pocket Editions’, London, 1949. 

The academic tradition of the seventeenth 
and eighteenth centuries, tempered by much 
wisdom and common sense, is represented by 
SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS’S Fifteen Discourses, 
Delivered in the Royal Academy, which also 
exists in the ‘Everyman’s Library’, London, 
1906 (p. 349). 

The Romantic point of view is most clearly 
reflected in the wonderful o/eugene 

DELACROIX (p. 381), translated by Walter 
Pach, New York, 1937. A source book on the 
Impressionists by an art dealer who knew most 
of them is T. duret’s Manet and the French 
Impressionists, London, 1910 (p. 387 f.), but 
many will find the study of their letters more 
rewarding. There are English translations of 
the letters of camille pissarro (p. 394), 
edited by J. Rewald, New York, 1943, of 
degas by M. Guerin, Oxford, 1947, of 
CEZANNE (pp. 405, 432) by J. Rewald, 
London, 1941. van gogh’s Letters to his 
Brother (pp. 41 1, 423) were published in 
English in 1927 (2 vols.). Further Letters in 
1929, and his Letters to E. Bernard (edited by 
D. Lord), London, 1938. 

j.A.mcn.whistler’s Gentle A rt of Making 
Enemies (p. 401) came out in London, 1890, 

The point of view of modern architects is 
forcefully put in the writings of such pioneers 
as FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT (p. 404), whose 
London lectures and discussions were tran- 
scribed in a lively volume entitled An Organic 
Architecture, London, 1939, and whose Auto- 
biography was published in New York, 1932, 


or LE CORBUSIER, whose volumes Towards a 
New Architecture, London, 1927, and The City 
of Tomorrow, London, 1929, show the modem 
architect’s ambition to reform our whole way 
of life. 

Among modern painters who have explained 
their artistic creed in print I may mention 
PAUL KLEE, On Modern Art (translated by 
P. Findley) London, 1948 (p. 439)> 
HILAIRE HILLR, Why Abstract?, London, 
1948, which contains a clear and intelligible 
account of an American artist’s conversion to 
‘abstract* painting. 

In conclusion two excellent anthologies must 
be quoted which supplement the books listed 
above and may also serve as an introduction to 
the whole field : E . G . H o L T, Literary Sources of 
Art History, Princeton, I947> and ROBERT 
GOLDWATER AND MARCO TREVES, ArtlStS 
on Art, New York, 1945, both of which can be 
opened anywhere and read for pleasure. 

This category of books which should be read 
just as much for the sake of their authors as for 
the information they contain should also in- 
clude a number of works by the great critics and 
historians of art. Opinions about their relative 
merits are bound to differ and the following 
short list should only be taken as a first guide 
to those who are searching a library catalogue 
or bookshop for reading matter on art. 

Those who want to clarify their own views 
on artistic matters and to benefit from past 
enthusiasm might do worse than sample the 
books of the leading nineteenth-century art 
critics such as John rusk in (p. 401 f.), 
WILLIAM morris (p. 404), Or WALTER 
PATER, the representative of the ‘aesthetic 
movement’ in England (p. 402). The French 
critics of the period happen to be a little closer 
to our own present outlook and the writings 
on art by Charles baudelaire, eugene 
FROMENTIN and the brothers edmond and 
JULES DE GONCOURT are related to the 
artistic revolutions of French painting (p. 385). 
The spokesman of ‘Post-Impressionism* (p. 
430) in England was roger fry; the most 
sympathetic interpreter of ‘experimental art* 
in this country is Herbert read. 

Historians of art may conveniently (if some- 
what superficially) be grouped intoconnoisseurs 
and students of stylistic trends. Among the 
first there are the towering figures of a passing 
generation whose word on matters of ‘ attribu- 
tion* was (or still is) law. They include scholars 
such as BERNARD BERENSON, whose Italian 



A Note on Art Books 


Painters of the Renaissance (revised edition, 
Oxford, 1930) has become something of a 
classic; wilhelm bode, whose Florentine 
Sculptors of the Renaissance^ London, 1908, and 
Great Masters of Dutch and Flemish Painting, 
London, 1909, will always retain their impor- 
tance as pioneer works; and max J. fried - 
LANDER, whose Art and Connoisseur ship, 
London, 1942, provides the best introduction 
to the approach of this group. 

For theories of stylistic change and its con- 
nexion with historical developments we must 
turn to the academic art historians of Germany 
and Austria. The only examples of this impor- 
tant branch of research at present accessible to 
those who do not read German are two (rather 
imperfectly translated) books by the Swiss 
HEINRICH WOLFFLIN, The Art of the Italian 
Renaissance, London, 1903, and Principles of 
Art History, New York, 1932, wliich form an 
admirable introduction into the technique of 
comparative description. 

The great school of French medievalists is 
represented by E mile male, of whose indis- 
pensable studies on the themes of French art 
an anthology exists in English with the title 
Religious Art from the Twelfth to the Eighteenth 
Century, New York, 1949. 

The way to the books we want to read or to 
look up when we are in search of information 
on a particular period, technique or master is 
more easily shown though it may take a little 
trouble and practice to walk it to the end. 
There arc a number of books which contain 
useful lists for further reading and if we pro- 
ceed with these to a well-stocked library we 
may quickly find what we want. Among handy 
books containing such lists grouped according 
to periods I would recommend Helen 
GARDNER, Art through the Ages, New York, 
1948, and the second revised edition of d avid 
M. ROBB and j. j. garrison. Art in the 
Western World, New York, 1942. For their 
individual fields L. ADAM, Primitive Art, ‘Pen- 
guin*, 1940; PALKELEMEN, Medieval Ameri- 
can Art, New York, 1943; M. s. dim and, 
A Handbook of Muhammedan Art, New York, 
1944; w. COHN, Chinese Painting, London 
(‘Phaidon*) 1948; c. e. morey. Medieval Art, 
New York, 1942; F. J. mather. Western 
European Painting of the Renaissance, New 
York, 1939; JOHN rewald. The History of 
Impressionism, New York, 1946; and N, 
PEVSNER, An Outline of European Architecture 
(‘Penguin* Editions 1943 and 1945, enlarged 


449 

edition London, 1948) contain up-to-date 
book lists. 

So much for books on periods. But it must 
not be forgotten that the easiest access to the 
art of the past is usually not through the study 
of comprehensive works but rather through 
the work of one representative master (mono- 
graphs). If we occupy ourselves lovingly with 
Michelangelo or Rembrandt, we are likely to 
learn more about Italian or Dutch Art than if 
we read a good many surveys of the whole 
fields. The student in search of information on 
any major or minor master does not usually 
turn to such books for guidance. His happy 
hunting ground are the various periodicals, 
the Yearbooks, Quarterlies and Monthlies 
published by various institutions and learned 
societies all over Europe and America. In 
these, specialists write for specialists, and pub- 
lish the documents and interpretations out of 
which the mosaic of history is formed. The 
newcomer may find this at first a bewildering 
world but if he is interested he will soon learn 
to thread his way through the labyrinth of 
facts to the heart of the problem which he 
wants to solve for himself. This type of reading 
can only be done in one of the major libraries 
and there, on the open shelves, the student will 
be sure to find the two works which he needs as 
his constant guides. One is thieme-becker, 
the largest and most complete dictionary of 
artists of all times and countries in thirty-six 
volumes. Though it is printed in German, the 
list of books and articles at the end of each 
entry comprises works in all languages and can 
also be used by non-linguists. Its full title 
is Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Kunstler, 
herausgegeben von u. thieme und F. becker, 
Leipzig, 1907-47. As it took forty years to 
complete this vast undertaking, the volumes 
covering the early parts of the alphabet are 
now rather obsolete while the last letters show 
evidence of the war years and of somewhat 
mechanical compilation. 

Luckily there exists another useful guide to 
books and articles which have come out since 
1929. This is an American Quarterly, called 
the Art Index, a cumulative author and subject 
index to a selected list of Fine Art Periodicals and 
Museum Bulletins, There are volumes covering 
three years each and if we are in search of any 
subject, be it the name of an artist, a technique, 
a country or a period, we can find it in the 
alphabetical list of catchwords. Though books 
are not directly listed, the index also helps us to 



450 


A Note on Art Books 


track down any major work because it lists all 
reviews of books which were published in any 
of the periodicals it covers. 

For ILLUSTRATIONS finally, we are less de- 
pendent on the language in which the books 
that contain them are written, for a caption can 
easily be understood. The most copiously illus- 
trated history of art is the German Propylaen- 
Kunstgeschichtey Berlin, 1925 etc., the sixteen 
volumes of which (and several supplements) 
contain nearly 10,000 full-page illustrations. 

A less ambitious undertaking with many, but 
very small, illustrations was Ars Unay Species 
Mille (1900-48), a series of small volumes on 
the art of individual countries. There exist 
English editions of all but the last two volumes : 
Great Britain and Ireland by sir w. Arm- 
strong; Northern Italy by c. Ricci; France 
by L. hourtique; Egypt by G. d. maspero; 
Spain and Portugal by M. dieulafoy; 
Flanders byM. rooses; Ancient Rome by E. 
sellers; Hollande by L. hourtique; Grkce 

by L. HOURTIQUE. 

The standard history of Italian art are the 
twenty-five volumes of A. venturi’s Storia 
deWArte Italianay 1901-40. For Italian paint- 
ing of the thirteenth to the fifteenth century 
there are also the eighteen richly illustrated 
volumes of R. v. marle’s Italian Schools of 
Painting y 1923-38. For the painters of the 
Netherlands in the fifteenth and sixteenth 
century the fourteen volumes of m. j. fried- 
lander’s Dxe altniederldndischen Malery 1924- 
37. A well illustrated history of Spanish art is 
JUAN DE contrera’s Historia del Arte His- 
panicay I93i“45- 

Of C. R. P o s T ’ s History of Spanish Painting 
(1930, etc.) nine volumes have appeared so far, 
which cover only the medieval period. For 
German art, G. D E H i o’ s Geschichte der deutschen 
Kunsty 1919-34) is the most amply illustrated. 
For French art the relevant chapters of A. 
MICHEL’S Histoire de VArty Paris, 1905, may 
prove the best source of illustrations. Of the 
Oxford History of English Arty edited by T. s. R. 
BOASE (planned in eleven volumes) only vol. v, 
on the late Middle Ages, by JOAN evans, 
has so far come out. 

Another convenient source of illustrations 
are the illustrated catalogues of collections and 
galleries. In the publication of these, the 
National Gallery and the Wallace Collection in 
London with their complete and handy volumes 
have taken an admirable lead. The National 
Gallery of Art, Washington, has published a 


large volume of coloured reproductions while 
the Museum of Modern Art in New York has 
published a number of exceedingly useful il- 
lustrated volumes on its special exhibitions. Of 
the principal collections of drawings, the Alber- 
tina in Vienna, the British Museum in London, 
the Royal Collection, Windsor Castle, and the 
Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard University, are 
publishing fully illustrated catalogues. The 
Uffizi in Florence have published large folders 
of their Italian drawings, the Louvre in Paris 
many volumes of its French drawings and the 
Berlin Kupferstichkabinett its German and 
Dutch drawings. These and similar works are 
listed in library catalogues under the name of 
the town where the collection is situated. 

For complete and handy editions of the 
works of the most famous painters and sculp- 
tors we turn to the series ‘Klassiker der 
Kunst’ (1906-37) with German introduc- 
tions but English captions. They include (in 
alphabetical order) Fra Angelico by F. schott- 
muller; Botticelli by w. v. bode; Correggio 
by G. GRONAU; Donatello by p. schubring; 
DUrerhy v. scherer; Fa« Dyc^ by G. gluck; 
Giotto by c. H. we i gelt; Hals by w. R. 
valentiner; Holbein by p. ganz; Leonardo 
by H. bodmer; Mantegna by F. knapp; 
Memling by K. voll; Michelangelo by F. 
knapp; Murillo by A. L. mayer; Perugino 
by w. bombe; Raphael by A. rosenberg; 
Rembrandt's Paintings by A. rosenberg. 
Supplement by w. R. valentiner; Rem- 
brandt's Etchings by SINGER; Rembrandt's 
Drawings byw. R. valentiner; Rubens by 
A. rosenberg; Signorelli by R. dussler; 
Titian by o. fischel; Velazquez by w. 
gensel; Watteau by e. h. zimmermann. 

The Phaidon Press have also published 
monographs on artists with many large plates : 
Giovanni Bellini by p. hendy and l. gold- 
scheider; Botticellihy L. venturi; Cdzanne 
by F. NOVOTNY; Donatello and Ghiberti by 
L. goldscheider; Van Gogh by w. uhde; 
Greco by L. goldscheider; Hals by N. s. 
TRIVAS; Leonardo 'y Michelangelo Paintings and 
Michelangelo Sculptures byL.GOLDSCHEiDER; 
Piero Della Francesca by Kenneth Clark; 
Raphael by w. suida; Rembrandt's Paintings 
by A. BREDIUS; Rembrandt's Drawings by o. 
benesch; Rodin by sommerville story; 
Rubens by R. M. Stevenson; Tintoretto by 
H. tietze; Titian by H. tietze; Uccello by 
JOHN pope-hennessy; Velazquez by e. 
lafuente; Vermeer by T. bodkin. 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS AND 
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 


{The war and post-war years have resulted in much temporary and permanent dislocation 
of works of art. The locations given in this book are those last known,) 


Frontispiece. Velazquez: Las Meninas. Mad- 
rid, Prado. (Copyright Medici Society, 
London) 

INTRODUCTION 

1. Rubens: Portrait of his son Nicholas. 

Drawing. Vienna, Albertina 

2. Diirer: Portrait of his mother. Drawing. 

Vienna, Albertina 

3. Murillo: Street arabs. Munich, Alte 

Pinakothek 

4. Pieter dc Hooch: Interior with a woman 

peeling apples. (From the original in 
the Wallace Collection, London, by 
permission) 

5. Melozzo da Forli: Angel. Detail. Vatican 

Pinacoteca 

6. Memling: Angels, Detail. Antwerp, 

Museum 

7. Guido Reni: Head of Christ. Detail. 

London, National Gallery 

8. Tuscan Master: Head of Christ. Detail. 

Florence, Uffizi 

9. Durcr: A hare. Water-colour. Vienna, 

Albertina 

10. Rembrandt: An elephant. Drawing. 

Vienna, Albertina 

11. Picasso: A hen with chickens. Illustra- 

tion to Buffon’s Natural History, 
(Photo: Jeanne Gerard, Pans) 

12. Picasso: A cockerel. Drawing in the 

artist’s possession. (Photo: Jeanne 
Gerard, Paris) 

13. Gericault: Horse-racing at Epsom. Paris, 

Louvre 

14. The same subject, as the camera sees it. 

Photo finish (Copyright Race Finish 
Recording Co. Ltd.) 

15. Caravaggio: St. Matthew. Berlin, Kaiser- 

Friednch Museum 

16. Caravaggio: St. Matthew. Rome, S. 

Luigi dei Frances i 

17. Raphael: The Virgin in the meadow. 

Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum 

18. Raphael: Four studies for the Virgin in 

the meadow. Vienna, Albertina 

i: STRANGE BEGINNINGS 

19. The Cave of Lascaux in France. (By per- 

mission of M. Windels and Messrs. 
Faber and Faber Ltd., London, pub- 
lishers of English edition of Lascaux) 

2E* 


20. Bison, rock-painting in the cave of Alta- 

mira in Spain 

21. Reindeer, rock-painting in the cave of 

Font de Gaume in France 

22. A ritual mask from Alaska. Berlin, 

Museum fiir Vblkerkunde 

23. Carved lintel from a Maori chieftain’s 

house. London, British Museum 

24. Bronze head of a negro. Excavated in 

Nigeria. London, British Museum 

25. Oro, God of War, from Tahiti. London, 

British Museum 

26. A ritual mask from New Guinea, Elema 

District. London, British Museum 

27. A Haida chieftain’s house. (By permission 

of the American Museum of Natural 
History, New York) 

28. Head of the death-god, from a Maya 

altar. Copan, Honduras. After the cast 
in the British Museum 

29. The Aztec ram-god Tlaloc. Berlin, 

Museum fur Vblkerkunde 

30. Clay vessel in form of the head of a one- 

eyed man. Excavated in the valley 
of Chiama, Peru. London, British 
Museum, Gaffron Collection 

31. Australian native drawing on a rock. 

Photograph. (By courtesy of C. P. 
Mountford; St. Peter’s, Australia) 

2: ART FOR ETERNITY 

32. The Great Pyramid of Gizeh 

33. Painting of a pond. From a tomb in 

Thebes. London, British Museum 

34. Portrait of Hesire, from a wooden door in 

his tomb. Cairo, Museum 

35. A wall from the tomb of Chnemhotep 

near Beni Hassan 

36. Birds in a bush. Detail of Fig. 35 

37. Portrait head of limestone. Vienna, Kunst- 

historisches Museum 

38. Amenophis IV. Limestone relief. Berlin, 

Museum 

39. Tutankhamen and his wife, from the 

throne found m his tomb. Cairo, 
Museum 

40. A dagger from Mycenae. Athens, 

Museum. (Electrotype reconstruction) 

41. Fragment of a harp, found in Ur. London, 

British Museum 

42. Monument of King Naram-sin, found in 

Susa. Paris, Louvre 



45-i List of Illustrations and Acknowledgements 


43. Assyrian army besieging a fortress. Ala- 

baster relief. London, British Museum 

44. An Egyptian craftsman at work on a 

golden sphinx. Wall-painting from a 
tomb in Thebes 


3: THE GREAT AWAKENING 

45. The Parthenon, Athens. (Photo: Mar- 

burg) 

46. The mourning of the dead. From a Greek 

vase. London, British Museum 

47. Statue of a youth. Delphi, Museum 

48. Greek vase with Achilles and Ajax play- 

ing draughts. Vatican, Museum 

49. The warrior’s leavetaking. Vase-painting. 

Munich, Antiquarium 

50. Athena Parthenos. Roman copy after 

Pheidias. Athens, National Museum 

51. Hercules carrying the heavens, from the 

Temple of Zeus. Olympia, Museum 

52. Head of the bronze statue of a charioteer, 

found in Delphi. Delphi, Museum 

53. Discus thrower. Roman copy after 

Myron. Munich, Glyptothek 

54. Charioteers. Detail from the Parthenon 

frieze. Iwondon, British Museum 

55. Horsemen. Detail from the Parthenon 

frieze. London, British Museum 

56. Tombstone of Hegeso. Athens, National 

Museum 

57. Greek sculptor’s workshop. From a Greek 

bowl. Berlin, Staatliches Museum 

58. Maiden gathering flowers. Wall-painting 

from Stabiae. Naples, National Mu- 
seum. (Photo: Alinari) 

59. Praxiteles: Head of Hermes. Detail of 

Fig. 62 


4: THE REALM OF BEAUTY 

60. The Erechtheion. Athens, Acropolis 

61. A goddess of victory. From the Temple of 

Victory in Athens 

62. Praxiteles : Hermes with young Dionysus. 

Olympia, Museum 

63. Apollo Belvedere. Vatican, Museum 

64. The Venus of Milo. Paris, Louvre 

65. Head of Alexander the Great. Probably 

after Lysippus. Istambul, Museum 

66. ‘Corinthian* capital. Found in Epi- 

daurus. Epidaurus, Museum 

67. The gods flghting the giants. From the 

altar of Zeus in Pergamon. Berlin, 
Staatliches Museum 

68. Laocoon. Vatican, Museum 

69. Head of a faun. Detail of a wall-painting 

from Herculaneum. Naples, National 
Museum 

70. Landscape. Wall-painting. Rome, Villa 

Albani 


71. Greek sculptor at work. Hellenistic gem. 
(By courtesy of the Metropolitan 
Museum of Art, New York) 


5: WORLD CONQUERORS 

72. The Colosseum in Rome 

73. Interior of the Pantheon in Rome. Paint- 

ing by G. P. Pannini. Private Collection 

74. The Emperor Vespasianus. Naples, 

National Museum 

75. Trajan’s column, Rome. (Detail) 

76. Portrait of a man, found at Hawara 

(Egypt). London, National Gallery 

77. Head of Buddha, found m Gandhara. 

(By permission of the Victoria and 
Albert Museum, London) 

78. Gautama (Buddha) leaving his home. 

Relief found in Gandhara. Calcutta, 
Indian Museum 

79. Moses striking water from the rock. 

Wall-painting from the Synagogue in 
Dura-Europos. (By courtesy of Yale 
University Art Gallery) 

80. Christ with St. Peter and St. Paul. From 

the sarcophagus of Junius Bassus. 
Rome, Crypt of St. Peter 

81. The Three Men in the Fiery Furnace. 

Wall-painting from the Priscilla Cata- 
comb, Rome 

82. Portrait of an official from Aphrodisias. 

Istambul, Museum 

83. A painter of ‘funeral portraits’ in his 

workshop. From a painted sarco- 
phagus, found in the Crimea. 


6: A PARTING OF WAYS 

84. S. Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna 

85. Enthroned Madonna and Child. Byzan- 

tine painting. (By courtesy of the Na- 
tional Gallery of Art, Washington, 
Mellon Collection) 

86. Christ as Ruler of the Universe, the 

Virgin and Child and Saints. Cathe- 
dral of Monreale, Sicily 

87. The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. 

Mosaic from the Basilica of S. Apol- 
linare Nuovo, Ravenna 

88. Byzantine Iconoclast, whitewashing an 

image of Christ. From the Chludow 
Psalter. Moscow, Historical Museum 


7: LOOKING EASTWARDS 

89. The Court of Lions in the Alhambra of 

Granada, Spain 

90. Humay and Humayun, from a Persian 

manuscript. Paris, Musee des Arts 
D6coratifs 



List of Illustrations and Acknowledgements 453 


91. A reception. Detail of a relief in the tomb 

of Wu-liang-tse, Shantung, China 

92. Winged lion, on the road to the tom,b of 

Prince Hsiao Hsiu near Nanking 

93. Persian silk prayer carpet. Coll. Mme E. 

Paravicini. (From A Survey of Persian 
Art, Vol. VI, by permission of the 
Oxford University Press) 

94. Head of a Lohan, from a glazed tone 

statue found in I-chou, China. For- 
merly Frankfurt, Fuld Collection 

95. Husband reproving his wife. Detail of a 

silk scroll, probably an old copy after 
Ku K’ai-chi. London, British Museum 

96. Ma Yuan: Landscape in moonlight. 

Painting on silk. Chinese Government 

97. Kao K*o-kung: Landscape after rain. 

Chinese Government 

98. Fishes. Leaf from ah album. Probably 

painted by Liu Ts’ai. Philadelphia, 
Pennsylvania Museum of Art 

99. A Japanese boy painting a branch of 

bamboo. Coloured woodcut by Hide- 
nobu. (By permission of the Victoria 
and Albert Museum, London) 

8; WESTERN ART IN THE 
MELTING POT 

100. The Church of Earls Barton, Northants, 

England. (Copyright: National Build- 
ings Record) 

101. A dragon’s head. Wood carving found at 

Oseberg, Norway. Oslo, University 
Museum 

102. A Tongship’ of the Viking type, from the 

Bayeux Tapestry. Bayeux, Cathedral 

103. Page of the Lindisfarne gospel. London, 

British Museum 

104. St. Luke. From a Gospel manuscript. 

St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek 

105. Interior of the Minster of Aix-la- 

Chapelle. (Photo: Marburg) 

106. St. Matthew. From a Gospel manuscript. 

Vienna, Schatzkammer 

107. St. Matthew. From a Gospel manuscript. 

fipemay. Municipal Library 

108. Adam and Eve after the Fall. From the 

bronze doors of the Hildesheim Cathe- 
dral. (Photo: Marburg) 

109-10. King Harold swears an oath to Duke 
William of Normandy, after which he 
returns to England. From the Bayeux 
Tapestry. Bayeux, Cathedral. (By 
permission of the Victoria and Albert 
Museum, London) 

111. A monk writing the letter R. From an 

early thirteenth-century manuscript. 
Sigmaringen, Library 

9: THE CHURCH MILITANT 

1 12. The Benedictine church of Murbach, 

Alsace, France. (Photo: Marburg) 


1 13. The Fish vomits out Jonah upon the dry 

land. Detail of a stained-glass window. 
Cologne, Cathedral 

1 14. The cathedral of Tournai, Belgium 

1 15. Durham Cathedral, England. (Photo: 

Marburg) 

1 1 6. Detail of Fig. 117 (Photo: Marburg) 

1 17 The facade of St. Trophime in Arles, 
southern France. (Photo: Marburg) 

1 18. Candlestick of gilt bell metal. Made for 

Gloucester Cathedral. (By permission 
of the Victoria and Albert Museum, 
London) 

1 19. Brass font by Reiner van Huy. St. 

Bartholomew, Liege, Belgium. (Photo: 
A.C.L., Brussels) 

120. The Annunciation. From a Swabian 

Gospel manuscript. Stuttgart, Landes- 
bibliothek 

12 1. Saints Gcrcon, Willimarus, Gall and 

the Martyrdom of St. Ursula. From 
a Calendar manuscript. Stuttgart, 
Landcsbibliothek 

122. Artists at work. From the pattern book of 

Rcun Monastery. Vienna, National- 
bibliothek 


10: THE CHURCH TRIUMPHANT 

123. Notre Dame of Paris 

124. Notre Dame of Paris from the air 

125. Interior of the cathedral of Amiens. 

(Photo : Marburg) 

126. Cologne Cathedral, interior view. (Photo : 

Marburg) 

127. Mclehisedek, Abraham and Moses. From 

the nonhern transept of Chartres 
Cathedral. (Photo: Marburg) 

128. The death of the Virgin. From the 

southern transept of Strasbourg 
Cathedral. (Photo: Marburg) 

129. Ekkehart and Uta. From the series of 

‘ Founders * in the choir of Naumburg 
Cathedral. (Photo: Marburg) 

130. The Entombment. From a Psalter manu- 

script from Bonmont. Besanijon, Biblio- 
th^que Municipale 

13 1. Matthew Paris: An elephant and its 

keeper. (By courtesy of the Master and 
Fellows of Corpus Christi College, 
Cambridge) 

132. Nicola Pisano: Annunciation, Nativity 

and Shepherds. From the marble 
pulpit of the Baptistery in Pisa 

133. Giotto: Faith. Wall-painting in the 

Cappella dell* Arena, Padua 

134. Giotto: The mourning of Christ. Wall- 

painting in the Cappella dell’ Arena, 
Padua 

135. Detail of Fig. 134 



454 Illustrations and Acknowledgements 


136. King Offa and his architect watching the 
building of St. Albans Cathedral. 
From a manuscript at Trinity College, 
Dublin 


ii; COURTIERS AND 
BURGHERS 

137. West front of Exeter Cathedral 

138. The palace of the Doges of Venice 

139. The Virgin. Silver statue. Paris, Louvre 

140. Christ in the Temple; a hawking party. 

Page from ‘Queen Mary’s Psalter*. 
British Museum, London 

141. Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi: The 

Annunciation. Florence, Uffizi 

142. Peter Parler the Younger: Self-portrait 

in Prague Cathedral 

143. The Wilton Diptych, London, National 

Gallery 

144. Paul and Jean de Limbourg: May. Page 

of a Book of Hours. Chantilly, 
Mus^e Cond^ 

145. Pisanello: Monkey. Leaf from a sketch- 

book. Paris, Louvre 

146. A sculptor at work. One of Andrea 

Pisano’s reliefs on the Florentine 
Campanile 


12: THE CONQUEST OF 
REALITY 

147. Cappella Pazzi, Florence 

148. Interior of the Cappella Pazzi 

149. Masaccio: Wall-painting in Sta Maria 

Novella, Florence 

150. Donatello: St. George. Marble statue 

from Or San Michele, Florence. 
Florence, Bargello 

15 1. Donatello: Herod’s Feast. Bronze relief. 

Siena, S. Giovanni 

152. Claus Sluter: The Prophets Daniel and 

Isaiah. From the Moses Fountain, near 
Dijon 

153. Jan van Eyck: The Righteous Judges and 

the Knights of Christ. Ghent, St. 
Bavo 

154. Jan van Eyck: The betrothal of the 

Amolfini. London, National Gallery 

155. Detail of Fig. 154 

156. Conrad Witz: Christ walking on the 

waves. (By courtesy of Mus^e d’Art 
et d’Histoire, Geneva) 

157. Stonemasons and sculptors at work. 

From the base of a group by Nanni di 
Banco. Florence, Or San Michele 


13: TRADITION AND 
INNOVATION: I 

158. S. Andrea in Mantua 

159. Palazzo Rucellai, Florence 

160. Ghiberti: The Baptism of Christ. Siena, 

S. Giovanni 

161. Fra Angelico: The Annunciation. Flo- 

rence, S. Marco 

162. Uccello: The Rout of San Romano. 

London, National Gallery 

163. Benozzo Gozzoli: The journey of the 

Magi to Bethlehem. Florence, Palazzo 
Mcdici-Riccardi 

164. Mantegna: St. James on the way to his 

execution. Formerly in the Eremitani 
Church, Padua 

165. Francesco d’ Antonio del Cherico: The 

Annunciation, and scenes from Dante’s 
Divine Comedy. Page from a liturgical 
book. Rome, Vatican. (Photo: Alinari) 

166. Piero della Francesca: Constantine’s 

dream. Wall-painting. S. Francesco, 
Arezzo 

167. Antonio Pollaiuolo: The martyrdom of 

St. Sebastian. London, National Gallery 

168. Botticelli: The birth of Venus. Florence, 

Uffizi 

169. Detail of Fig. 168 

170. Painters at work. Detail of a Florentine 

print. London, British Museum 


14: TRADITION AND 
INNOVATION: II 

171. The Court of the Palace of Justice (for- 

merly Treasury), Rouen. (Photo: 
Marburg) 

172. King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. (By 

courtesy of Country Life) 

173. Tavernier: Dedication page to The Con- 

quests of Charlemagne. Brussels, 
Biblioth^que Royale 

174. Fouquet: Estienne Chevalier, with St. 

Stephen. Berlin, Kaiser-Friedrich Mu- 
seum 

175. Rogier van der Weyden: The Descent 

from the Cross. Escorial 

176. Hugo van der Goes: The Death of the 

Virgin. Bruges, Museum 

177. Veit Stoss: Altar of the Church of Our 

Lady, Cracow 

178. The good man on his death-bed. Wood- 

cut from the Art of Dying WelU printed 
in Ulm 

179. Detail of Fig. 177 

180. Stefan Lochner: The Virgin in the 

rose-bower. Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz 
Museum 



List of Illustrations and Acknowledgements 455 


18 1. Schongauer: Holy Night. Engraving 

182. Stone-masons and the king. From an illu- 

mination of the story of Troy, by Jean 
Colombe. Berlin, Kupfcrstichkabinett 


15: HARMONY ATTAINED 

183. The Tempietto, Rome, S. Pietro in 

Montorio 

184. Verrocchio: Monument to Colleoni. 

Venice 

185. Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomical studies. 

Windsor Castle, Royal Library 

186. Leonardo da Vinci: The Last Supper. 

Milan, Sta Maria delle Grazie 

187. Leonardo da Vinci: Mona Lisa. Paris, 

Louvre 

188. Ghirlandajo: The Birth of the Virgin. 

Florence, Sta Maria Novella 

189. Michelangelo: A section of the ceiling of 

the Sistine Chapel, Vatican 

190. Michelangelo: Study for one of the Sibyls 

on the Sistine Ceiling. New York, 
Metropolitan Museum of Art 

191. Michelangelo: The Creation of Adam. 

Detail of Fig. 189 

192. Michelangelo: The dying slave. Paris, 

Louvre 

193. Perugino: The Virgin appearing to St. 

Bernard. Munich, Alte Pinakothek 

194. Raphael : Pope Leo X with two Cardinals. 

Florence, Palazzo Pitti. (Copyright 
Medici Society, London) 

195. Detail of Fig. 197 

196. Raphael: The Madonna del Granduca. 

Florence, Palazzo Pitti 

197. Raphael : Galatea. Rome, Villa Farnesina 

198. Members of Raphael’s workshop deco- 

rating the Loggic. Stucco relief in the 
Vatican Loggie 


16: LIGHT AND COLOUR 

199. The Library in Venice 

200. Giorgione: The Tempest. Venice, 

Accademia. (Photo: Alinari) 

201. Giovanni Bellini: Madonna with Saints. 

Venice, S. Zaccaria 

202. Titian: Madonna with Saints and mem- 

bers of the Pesaro family. Venice, Sta 
Maria dei Frari 

203. Detail of Fig. 202 

204. Titian: Portrait of a man (so-called 

‘Young Englishman’). Florence, Palazzo 
Pitti 

205. Detail of Fig. 204 

206. Correggio: The Holy Night. Dresden, 

Gallery 


207. Correggio : St. John the Baptist. Study for 

a wall-painting. Vienna, Albertina 

208. An Orchestra of Venetian Painters; 

Titian, Tintoretto, Jacopo Bassano and 
Paolo Veronese. From the painting of 
‘The Marriage at Cana’ by Paolo 
Veronese. Paris, Louvre 


17: THE NEW LEARNING 
SPREADS 

209. The old Chancellery in Bruges (‘La 

Greffe’). (Photo: Marburg) 

210. The choir of St. Pierre in Caen. (Photo: 

Marburg) 

21 1. Durer: St. Michael’s fight against the 

dragon. Woodcut 

212. Durer: Piece of lawn. Water-colour 

study. Vienna, Albertina 

213. Durer: Adam and Eve. Engraving 

214. Durer: The Nativity. Engraving 

215. ‘Grunewald*: The Crucifixion. From 

the Isenheim Altar. Colmar, Museum 

216. ‘Grunewald*: The Resurrection. From 

the Isenheim Altar. Colmar, Museum 

217. Cranach: The Rest on the Flight to 

Egypt. Berlin, Deutsches Museum 

218. Altdorfer: Landscape. Munich, Alte 

Pinakothek 

219. ‘Mabuse*: St. Luke painting the Virgin. 

Prague, Rudolphinum 

220. Bosch: Hell, Right wing of a triptych. 

Madrid, Prado 

221. Detail of Fig. 220 

222. The Painter studying the laws of fore- 

shortening. Woodcut by Durer 

18: A CRISIS OF ART 

223. The Villa Rotonda near Vicenza. De- 

signed by Palladio 

224. A window from the Palazzo Zuccari in 

Rome. Designed by F. Zuccari 

225. Cellini: Salt Cellar. Vienna, Kunst- 

historisches Museum 

226. Parmigianino: The Madonna with the 

long neck. Florence, Palazzo Pitti 

227. Giovanni da Bologna: Mercury. Bronze 

statue. Florence, Bargello 

228. Tintoretto: The finding of St. Mark’s 

remains. Milan, Brera 

229. El Greco: The Opening of the Fifth Seal. 

Formerly Zumaya, Zuloaga Collection 

230. Holbein: Anne Cresacre. Drawing. 

Windsor Castle 

231. Holbein: Georg Gisze, a German mer- 

chant in London. Berlin, Kaiser-Fried- 
rich Museum 



45 ^ List of Illustrations and Acknowledgements 


232. Holbein: The Virgin with the family of 

Burgomaster Meyer. Darmstadt, Castle 

233. Holbein: Thomas Howard, Duke of 

Norfolk. Windsor Castle 

234. Nicholas Hillyarde: Portrait miniature. 

(By permission of the Victoria and 
Albert Museum, London) 

235. Pieter Brueghel the Elder: A country 

wedding. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches 
Museum 

236. Detail of Fig. 235 

237. Pieter Brueghel the Elder: The painter 

and the buyer. Drawing. Vienna, 
Albertina 

238. Jean Goujon: Nymph. From the Fon- 

taine des Innocents. Paris, Louvre 

239. Callot: Two Italian clowns. Etching. 

240. Taddeo Zuccari at work. Detail of a 

drawing by F. Zuccari. Vienna, Alber- 
tina 

241. Tintoretto: St. George’s fight with the 

dragon. London, National Gallery 

242. El Greco: Portrait of Brother Hortensio 

Felix Paravicino (By courtesy of the 
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) 


19: VISION AND VISIONS 

243. II Gesu in Rome 

244. Annibale Carracci : The Virgin mourning 

Christ. Rome, Galleria Doria-Pam- 
phili 

245. Caravaggio: Doubting Thomas. Berlin, 

Schldsser 

246. Reni: The Dawn. Fresco on a ceiling 

in the Palazzo Rospigliosi, Rome 

247. Poussin: ‘Et in Arcadia ego’. Paris* 

Louvre 

248. Claude Lorrain: Landscape with the 

rest on the flight to Egypt. Lenin- 
grad, Hermitage. (Photo: Braun et Cie) 

249. Rubens : The betrothal of St. Catherine. 

Sketch for a large altar-painting. 
Berlin, Kaiser-Friedrich Museum 

250. Rubens: Head of a child. Vaduz, Liech- 

tenstein Gallery 

251. Rubens: Allegory on the blessings of 

peace. London, National Gallery 

252. Detail of Fig. 251 

253. Rubens: Self-portrait. Vienna, Kunst- 

historisches Museum 

254. Vandyke: Lord John and Lord Bernard 

Stuart. London, Lady Louis Mount- 
batten 

255. Vandyke: Charles I of England. Paris, 

Louvre 

256. Velazquez: The water-seller of Seville. 

London, Duke of Wellington. (By 
permission of the Victoria and Albert 
Museum) 


257. Velazquez: Prince Philip Prosper of 

Spain. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Mu- 
seum 

258. An artists* pub in seventeenth-century 

Rome. Drawing by Pieter van Laar. 
Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett 


20: THE MIRROR OF 
NATURE 

259. The Castle (former Town Hall) of 

Amsterdam. (Photo: Marburg) 

260. Frans Hals: Pieter van der Broecke. 

London, Kenwood, Iveagh Bequest 

261. Simon Vlieger: Mouth of a river. Lon- 

don, National Gallery 

262. Jan van Goyen: A windmill by a river. 

London, National Gallery 

263. Rembrandt : Self-portrait. Vienna, Kunst- 

historisches Museum 

264. Rembrandt : The parable of the merciless 

servant. Pans, Louvre, Bonnat Be- 
quest 

265. Rembrandt: Jan Six. Amsterdam, Six 

Collection 

266. Rembrandt: Christ preaching. Etching 

267. Jan Steen: The christening feast. From 

the original in the Wallace Collection, 
London, by permission 

268. Jacob van Ruisdael: Wooded landscape. 

Oxford, Worcester College. (By cour- 
tesy of the College) 

269. Rembrandt : The reconciliation of David 

and Absalom. Leningrad, Hermitage 

270. Vermeer van Delft: The cook. Amster- 

dam, Rijksmuseum. (Copyright Medici 
Society, London) 

271. Willem Kalf: Still life. Berlin, Kaiser- 

Friedrich Museum 

272. The poor painter shivering in his garret. 

Drawing by Pieter Bloot. London, 
British Museum 


21: POWER AND GLORY: I 

273. Sta Agnese in Piazza Navona, Rome 

274. Interior of Sta Agnese in Piazza Navona, 

Rome 

275. Bernini: Portrait of Constanza Buona- 

relli. Florence, Bargello 

276. Bernini: The Vision of St. Theresa. 

Altar in Sta Maria della Vittoria, Rome 

277. Detail of Fig. 276 

278. Gaulli: The worship of the holy name 

of Jesus. Ceiling of the Jesuit church 
II Gesu in Rome 

279. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo: Cleopatra’s 

banquet. Fresco in the Palazzo Labia, 
Venice 

280. Guardi: View of S. Giorgio Maggiore in 

Venice. From the original in the 
Wallace Collection, London by per- 
mission 



List of Illustrations and Acknowledgements 457 


281. ‘Connoisseurs* and antiquaries assem- 

bled in Rome. Caricature by P. L. 
Ghezzi. Vienna, Albertina 

22: POWER AND GLORY: II 

282. Versailles, garden front 

283. Versailles from the air 

284. The Belvedere in Vienna. (Photo : Austrian 

National Library) 

285. The entrance hall and staircase of the 

Vienna Belvedere. After an eighteenth- 
century engraving. (Photo : Schroll) 

286. The staircase of Pommersfelden in Ger- 

many 

287. The monastery of Melk on the Danube. 

(Photo: Marburg) 

288. Interior of the church of Melk Monas- 

tery. (Photo : Marburg) 

289. Watteau : Fete in a park. From the origi- 

nal in the Wallace Collection, London, 
by permission 

290. Art under royal patronage: Louis 

XIV’s visit to the Royal Gobelin 
Manufacture 


23: THE AGE OF REASON 

291. St. Paul’s Cathedral, London 

292. Interior of St. Stephen’s, Walbrook. 

(Copyright National Buildings Record) 

293. Chiswick House, London. (Photo: 

Kersting) 

294. Hogarth : The rake m Bedlam. From ‘The 

Rake’s Progress’. London, Sir John 
Soane’s Museum 

295. Reynolds: Miss Bowles with her dog. 

From the original in the Wallace Col- 
lection, London, by permission 

296. Gainsborough: Miss Haverfield. From 

the original in the Wallace Collection, 
London, by permission 

297. Gainsborough : Rural scene. Drawing. (By 

permission of the Victoria and Albert 
Museum, London) 

298. Chardin: Saying grace (Le B<^ncdicite). 

Paris, Louvre 

299. Houdon: Portrait of Voltaire. (By permis- 

sion of the Victoria and Albert Museum, 
London) 

300. Fragonard: The park of the Villa d’Este 

in Tivoli. Drawing. Besangon, Museum 

301. The Life School at the Royal Academy 

with portraits of leading artists. Paint- 
ing by Zoffany. Windsor Castle 

24: THE BREAK IN 
TRADITION 

302. Strawberry Hill, Twickenham. (By 

courtesy of Country Life) 

303. Dorset House, Cheltenham. (Copyright 

National Buildings Record) 


304. John Soane: Design for a country house. 

From ‘ Sketches in Architecture’. (By 
permission of the Victoria and Albert 
Museum, London) 

305. Monticello, Virginia. (Photo: Wayne 

Andrews, New York) 

306. Copley: Charles I demanding the sur- 

render of the five impeached M.P.s. (By 
courtesy of the Trustees of the Boston 
Public Library) 

307. David: Marat assassinated. Brussels, 

Museum 

308. Goya: King Ferdinand VII of Spain. 

Madrid, Prado 

309. Detail of Fig. 308 

310. Goya: The giant. Etching 

31 1. Blake: The ancient of days. Metal cut, 

with water-colour. London, British 
Museum 

312. Constable: The haywain. London, Na- 

tional Gallery 

313. Constable: Dedham Mill. Oil sketch. (By 

permission of the Victoria and Albert 
Museum, London) 

314. Turner: Steamer in snowstorm. London, 

Tate Gallery 

315. Turner: The founding of Carthage. 

London, National Gallery 

316. Caspar David Friedrich: Landscape in 

the Silesian Mountains. Munich, 
Neuc Pinakothek 

317. Charles X of France distributing decora- 

tions in the Paris ‘Salon’ of 1824. 
Painting by F. C. Heim. Paris, Louvre. 
(Photo : Braun et Cie) 


25: REVOLUTION IN 
PERMANENCE 

318. The Houses of Parliament, London. 

(Copyright National Buildings Re- 
cord) 

319. Delacroix: Arabic fantasy. Montpellier, 

Musde Fabry 

320. Millet: The gleaners. Paris, Louvre 

321. Courbet: ‘Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet’. 

Montpellier, Museum 

322. Rossetti: ‘EcceAncilla Domini’. London, 

Tate Gallery 

323. Manet: The balcony. Pans, Louvre 

324. Manet: The races at Longchamp. Litho- 

graph 

325. Manet: Monet working in his boat. 

Munich, Neue Pinakothek 

326. Rodin: The sculptor Jules Dalou. Pans, 

Rodin Museum 

327. Monet: The Gare St. Lazare in Paris. 

Paris, Louvre 

328. Renoir: Dance at the ‘Moulin de la 

Galette’. Paris, Louvre 



458 List of Illustrations and Acknowledgements 


329. Pissarro : The Boulevard Montmartre. (By 

courtesy of the National Gallery of 
Art, Washington) 

330. Hokusai: The Fuji seen behind a 

cistern. Woodcut in two colours from 
the Hundred Views of the Fuji 

331. Utamaro: Counting house, evening. 

Coloured woodcut, (By permission of 
the Victoria and Albert Museum, 
London) 

332. Degas. ‘Awaiting the cue’. Pastel. New 

York, Private Collection 

333. Degas : Uncle and niece. (By courtesy of 

the Chicago Art Institute) 

334. Whistler: ‘Arrangement in grey and 

black ’ (portrait of the artist’s mother). 
Paris, Louvre 

335. Whistler: Nocturne in blue and silver: 

Old Battersea Bridge. London, Tate 
Gallery 

336. The rejected painter. Lithograph by 

Daumier. (By courtesy of the Biblio- 
th^que Nationale, Paris) 


26: IN SEARCH OF NEW 
STANDARDS 

337. 540 Fairoaks Avenue, Oakpark, Illinois 

338. Cezanne: Rocky scenery near Aix. 

London, Tate Gallery 

339. Van Gogh: The sun rising behind Mont 

Majours. Drawing. Winterthur, Oscar 
Reinhart Collection 

340. Cezanne: The Mont Sainte-Victoire seen 

from Bellevue. Merion, U.S.A., Barnes 
Foundation 

341. Cezanne: Still life. Paris, R. Lecomte 

342. Cezanne: Portrait of the artist’s wife. 

Philadelphia, H. P. Macllhenny 

343. Van Gogh: Landscape with cypresses 

near Arles. London, Tate Gallery 

344. Van Gogh: The artist’s room in Arles. 

Kobe, Prince Matsugata 

345. Gauguin: Two Tahitian women. Lon- 

don, Home House Trustees 

346. Van Gogh painting sunflowers. Painted 

by Gauguin. Amsterdam, Municipal 
Museum 


27: EXPERIMENTAL ART 

347. The Rockefeller Center, New York. 

(Photo: Thomas Airviews, New York) 

348. The Bauhaus, Dessau (Germany). De- 

signed by Walter Gropius. (By cour- 
tesy of the Museum of Modern Art, 
New York) 

349. Munch: ‘Shouting’. Lithograph. (Photo: 

O. Voering) 

350. Barlach: ‘Pity*. Sculpture in wood 

351. Paul Klee: Mask. Water-colour. Berlin, 

Uhlmann Collection 

352. Picasso: Ceramic. (By permission of 

French Copyright Ltd.) 

353. Kokoschka: Children playing. Malmo, 

Theodor Woelfers 

354. Kandinsky: Composition. Berlin, Na- 

tional Gallery 

355. Hodler: Lake Thun. (By courtesy of the 

Mus6c d’Art ct d’Histoire, Geneva) 

356. Seurat: Bridge at Courbevoie. London, 

Home House Trustees 

357. Beardsley: Illustration to Oscar Wilde’s 

‘Salome’ 

358. Toulouse-Lautrec: Poster. Lithograph in 

colours. (Photo : Braun et Cie) 

359. Matisse: ‘La Desserte’. Moscow, Mu- 

seum of Western Art 

360. Picasso: Still life. 

361. Picasso: Head. Lithograph 

362. Picasso: Head. New York, J. J. Sweeney 

363. Giacometti: Head. 

364. Feininger: Sailing boats. Detroit, R. H. 

Tannahill 

365. Henry Moore: Recumbent figure. Lon- 

don, Tate Gallery 

366. Rousseau: Portrait of Joseph Brunner. 

Zurich, Dr. Franz Meyer Collection 

367. Chagall : The musician. Laren (Holland), 

P. A, Ragnoult 

368. Grant Wood: Spring turning. Mrs. Elon 

H. Hooker, New York 

369. Dali: Apparition of face and fruit-dish 

on a beach. (By courtesy of Wads- 
worth Atheneum, Hartford, U.S.A.) 

370. The painter and his model. Illustration 

by Picasso to Balzac’s Le chef-d'oeuvre 
inconnu, (Photo: Jeanne Gerard, Paris) 



INDEX AND GLOSSARY 


Technical terms which are explained in the text are printed in italics 


A 

Abstract arty 428, 437 
Academies y 361-2 
Academic art, 291, 294, 349, 
356, 362, 3823 3843 385 
Aesthetic movement, 402 
Africa, 20, 25, 382, 431 
Aislesy 92 
Aix, 405, 41 1 
Aix-la-Chapelle, 113, 115 
Akhnaton, 42, 444 
Alberti, 179-80 
Alexander the Great, 72 
Alexandria, 73 
Allegoriesy 300-2, 362-3 
Altdorfer, 261 
Alva, Duke of, 280 
Amenophis IV {see Akhnaton) 
America, 194, 357 
American art, 28-32, 359, 363- 
4, 400-2, 404, 421, 437, 44I3 
4423 443 

Amsterdam, 310, 313 
Angelico, Fra, 181-2, 197, 380 
Anne of Bohemia, 157 
Antiochia, 73 

Antwerp, 256, 280, 296, 300 
Aphrodisias, 89 
Apollo Belvedere, 70-1 
Apsey 92 
Aquatintay 366 
Arabesquey lOI 
Arch, 80-1, (round) 120, 
(pointed) 132 
Architrave y 50 
Arles, 123-4 
Arty 5, 19, 444-6 
Art dealing, 312 
Art nouveauy 404, 430 
Artists, social position of, 55 
64, 67-8, 76, 105, 148, 178, 
208, 210-11, 215, 228-9, 240, 
268, 274, 284, 300, 308, 31 1, 
324, 342, 346, 349, 3573 3763 
379-80, 435 

training of, 141, 160, 179, 213, 
221, 362, 385, 439 
Aschaffenburg, 257 
Asia Minor, 50, 73 
Assyria, 45, 47 
Asurnasirpal III, 47 
Athenodoros, 75 
Athens, 51, 553 68, 359 
Acropolis, 55, 68 
Erechtheion, 67-8 
Parthenon, 49, 57, 61-3, 69 
Atticy 289 
Augsburg, 274 
Australia, 32 
Austria, 260, 336 
Austrian art, 336-40, 427 


Avignon, 155 
Aztec art, 30-2, 443 


B 

Babylon, 45 
Barbizon, 382, 384 
Barlach, 427 
Baroque y 288 

Baroque art, 287-308, 310, 31 1, 
325-42, 343, 344, 345, 378 
Barry, 378 
Basilicay 92 
Basle, 251, 274 
Bassano, 248 
Bauhaus {see Dessau) 

Bayeux tapestry, iii, 1 16-18 
Beardsley, 430 
Beduzzi, 340 

Belgium, 122, 125, 170, 309, 
340 {see also Netherlands) 
Belgian art {see Burgundian 
art, and Flemish art) 

Bellini, 256 
Bembo, Cardinal, 236 
Bernini, 327-9^ 335 
Berry, Duke of, 158 
Blake, 366-9 
Blenheim Palace, 345 
Block-booksy 203 
Bohemia, 155, 336 
Bologna, 290, 293 
Bologna, Giovanni {see 
Boulogne) 

Borgia, 215 
Borromini, 325-6 
Bosch, 262-4 
Botticelli, 19 1-4, 208, 223 
Boulogne, Jean de, 269-70, 283 
Bramantc, 211-12, 222 
Brueghel, 280-3 
Bruges, Old Chancellery, 249 
Brunelleschi, 162-5, 420 

Brussels, 280 
Buddhist art, 86, 106 
Burgundy, 157, 158, 168, 170, 
185 

Burgundian art, 158, 168-75, 
197-8, 199-201 
Buriuy 204 
Burke, 363-4 

Burlington, Lord, 345, 346 
Byzantium {see Constantinople) 
Byzantine art, 97-8, 128, 143- 
4, 272 


c 

Caen, S. Pierre, 250 
Callot, 283-4 
Capital, 68 

Caravaggio, 12-13, 290-2, 296, 
306, 318, 352, 358, 383 
Caricature, 10, 423 
Carracci, 290-2, 296, 349, 352, 
^358 

Carrara, 222 
Catacombs, 89 
Cathedral, 134 
Cave paintings, 19, 21, 23 
Cellini, 267-8, 283, 448 
Cezanne, 405-12, 422, 432, 436, 
448 

Chagall, 440-1 
Chambers, 359 
Chardin, 353-4 
Charlemagne, 1 13-14 
Charles I of England, 300, 302-3 
Charles V, Emperor, 240 
Chartres Cathedral, 134, 136-7 
Chaucer, 150, 152, 158 
Cheltenham, 359 
Chiaroscuro, 18 
Chigi, 234 

Chinese art, 101-8, 359 
Chludow psalter, 98 
Choir, 92 

Christian art {see Early Chris- 
tian art) 

CinquecentOy 209 
Classical art, 49-85, 114, 138, 
143, 161-3, 168, 180, 211-12, 
221, 262, 266, 288, 289, 294, 

365 

Claude {see Lorrain) 

Cnossos, 42 
Colbert, 342 
Coleridge, 442 
Colmar, 207, 251 
Cologne, 121, 135, 197 
Composition, 130 
Confucius, 102 

Connoisseurs, 17, 334, 346, 348 
Constable, 369-76, 382 
Constantine, Emperor, 91 
Constantinople, 97, 143 
Copan, 29 
Copley, 363-4 
Corinthian order, 73 
Correggio, 245-8, 290, 330 
348, 427 
Courbet, 383-5 
Cracow, 201 
Cranach, 260 
Crete, 42, 49, 272 
Crusades, 128, 150 
Cubism, 418, 429-36 
Czechoslovakia {see Bohemia) 



46o 

D 

Dali, 442-3 
Dante, 155 

Dark Ages, 109-10, 445 
Daumier, 402 
David, 364-5, 381 
Decorated style, 150 
Degas, 397-9 

Delacroix, 381-2, 385 416, 448 
Delphi, 59 

Dessau, Bauhaus, 420-1, 437, 
439 

Dietzenhofer, 338 
Dijon, 168 
Disney, 9 
Donatello, 165-8 
Donor’s portraits, 157, 240, 
243, 277 

‘Doodles’, 25, 27, 434, 439 
Doric order, 50, 359 
Duccio, 154 
Dura-Europos, 86 
Diirer, 5, 251-7, 264, 447 
Durham Cathedral, 123 
Dutch art, 262-4, 309-24,411- 
15 {see also Netherlands) 
Dyck {see Vandyke) 


E 

Earls Barton, 109 
Early Christian art, 88-96 
Early English, 150 
Eclectic, 291 

Egyptian art, 33-45* 49* 85-6 
‘Egyptian methods’, 36, 48, 52- 
54, 58, 60, 63-4, 70, 78* 85, 
96, 1 15, 128, 147, 386, 422, 
432 

El Amarna, 42 
El Greco, 272-4 
Empire, 361 

England, 157* 277, 295, 302, 
393* 401 

English art, 109, 111-13, 116- 
20, 123, 125, 137, 141-2, 148, 
150, 152, 157, 196, 279, 343- 
53* 357-62, 366-75* 377-8, 
384-5, 403-4* 430, 438-9 
Engraving, 204 
Entablature, 50-1 
Erasmus of Rotterdam, 277 
Etching, 318 

Eugene, Prince of Savoy, 337 
Exeter Cathedral, 150 
Exhibitions, 362, 376, 387 
‘Expression*, 380 
Expressionism, 423 
Expressionist art, 418, 423-8 
Eyck {see Van Eyck) 


F 

Fan-vault, 196 
Fames, 431, 440 
Feininger, 437 
Fiesole, 181 


Index and Glossary 

Flamboyant style, 196 
Flemish art, 261 280-3, 296- 
305 {see also Burgundian art) 
Florence, 144, 152, 154, 162-7, 
179-82, 197, 210, 215, 222, 
229, 290, 385 
Or San Michele, 165 
San Marco, 18 1 
Pazzi Chapel, 163, 289 
Medici Palace, 197 
Rucellai Palace, 180 
Flying Buttress, 132 
Foreshortening, 53-4 
Fouquet, 199 
Fragonard, 356 

France, 23, 215, 268, 269, 364, 
381, 440-1 

French art, 114-15, 120, 123-5, 
131-7, 151-2, 196, 199* 250, 
283-4, 294-5* 335-6, 340-2, 
353-6, 361, 364-5* 381-4* 
385-400, 405-18, 429-36, 
439-40 

French Revolution, 364, 377, 
381,419 
Fresco, 144 
Freud, 442 
Friedrich, 375 
Frieze, 61 
Frith, 388 
Froissart, 183 
Functionalism, 42X 


G 

Gainsborough, 17, 350-3* 373* 
374 

Gandhara, 84-6 
Gauguin, 415-18, 422, 431, 
439-40 

Gaulli, 329-31 
Geneva, 175 
Genoa, 296, 302 
Genre, 280 

Genre painting, 77, 152, 198-9, 
280, 312, 319, 324, 354, 382, 

393. 441 

Geometric style, 50 
George III of England, 364 
G6ricault, lo-ii 
Germany, 155, 428, 437 
German art, 113, 114, 116, 118, 
1 19, 121, 128-30, 135* 137-41* 
197, 201-8, 251-61, 274-8, 
336, 338, 375-6, 420-1, 427 
Ghent, 170 
Ghezzi, 334 
Ghiberti, 180-1 
Ghirlandaio, 220-1, 223 
Giacometti, 436 
Giorgione, 239-41 
Giotto, 144-8, 152-4* 155* 161, 
162 

Gizeh, 33 
Gloucester, 125 
Goes, Hugo van der, 201 
Gogh {see Van Gogh) 

Gossaert {see Mabuse) 

Gothic, 162, 288 


Gothic art, 131-60, 170, 175, 
180, 183, 192, 195-208, 250 
Gothic revival, 358-9, 361 378 
Goths, no, 162 
Goujon, 283 
Goya, 365-8 
Goyen, 312-13 
Gozzoli, 184-6, 197 
Granada, 99 
Greco, 272-4 
Greece, 42 

Greek art, 49-78 {see also 
Classical art and Byzantine 
art) 

Greek revival, 359-61 
Gregory the Great, 92 
Gropius, 420 
Griinewald, 257-9 
Guardi, 333-4 
Gutenberg, 204 


H 

Haarlem, 310, 320 
Hagesandros, 75 
Haida, 28-9 
Hals, 310-11, 388 
Havre, Le, 391 
Hegeso, 64 

Hellenistic art, 73-8, 144 
Henry III of England, 142 
Henry VIII of England, 277 
Herculaneum, 76 
Hertogenbosch, 262 
Hidenobu, 108 
Hildebrandt, 337-8 
Hildesheim, 116 
Hillyarde, 279 
History painting, 349, 363 
Hodler, 430 
Hogarth, 346-8, 361 
Hokusai, 396-7 
Holbein, 274-9 

Holland, 274, 309, 41 1, 437 
{see also Dutch art and 
Netherlands) 

Homer, 50 
Honduras, 29 
Hooch de, 6 
Houdon, 354“5 
Hungary, 251 


I 

Ice Age, 23 

Icons, 98 

Iconoclasts, 97-8 

Idealizing, 70, 235-6, 294, 384, 

427 

Iktinus, 55 

Images, ban on, 92, 97, 99-101, 

274 

Impressionism, 391 
Impressionist art, 389-402, 
404-6, 413, 417* 422 
Incas, 30 
India, 84, 86 



Industrial Revolution, 377, 403 
International style, 157-8, 165, 
170 

Ionic order, 68 
Ireland, iii, 113 
Islamic art, 99-101 
Italy, 199, 208, 250, 256, 294-6, 
306, 308 

Italian art, 142-8, i 52-5 j 160-8, 
i77-94> 209-48, 265-72, 

287-94> 318, 325-34> 339. 
346, 348, 384 


j 

Japanese art, 108, 396-7, 412, 
416, 430 
Jefferson, 359 
Jeremiah, 55 
Jesuits, 288 
Jewish art, 86-8 
Joan of Evreux, 151 
Johnson, Dr., 353 
Julius II, Pope, 2 1 1, 222, 227, 

233 

Junius Bassus, 88 


K 

Kalf, 323 

Kandinsky, 428, 437 
Kao K’o-kung, 107 
Kent, 345-6 
Klee, 439, 442, 448 
Kokoschka, 427-8 
Ku K*ai-chi, 102 


L 

Landscape painting, 77, 106-8, 
176, 261, 295, 313, 320, 352- 
3, 369-76, 392, 409. 414. 430. 
441 

Laocoon, 73 
Lascaux, 19 

Leonardo da Vinci, 212-20, 
230, 265, 266, 447 
Levau, 335 
Leyden, 313 
Li6ge, 125, 127 
Limbourg brothers, 158, 170 
Lindisfarne Gospel, 111-12 
Lippo Memmi, 154 
Liu Ts*ai, 107 
Lochner, 197 

London, 343-4. 359. 362, 393. 
401 

Chiswick House, 345 
Kew Gardens, 359 
Parliament, Houses of, 377-8 
St. Paul’s, 344 
Lorrain, 295, 346, 373 
Louis, St., 141 
Louis, XIII, 300 
Louis XIV, 335, 342 
Luther, 212, 251, 261 
Luxembourg, 155 
Lysippus, 72 


Index and Glossaty 
M 

Mabuse, 261-2 
Madrid, 306 

Magic, 20-8, 32, 34-5, 47-8, 
81, loi, 157, 220, 438 
Mahommed, 10 1 
Malone, 363 
Manet, 385-9, 39i. 396 
Mannerism, 266, 288 
Mannerist art, 265-74, 279, 
283-4, 290 

Mantegna, 185-6, 208, 251 
Mantua, 177, 185, 296 
Maoris, 24-5 
Marlborough, 345 
Masaccio, 164-5, 380 
Matisse, 431-2 
Maximilian, Emperor, 256 
Mayas, 30 
Ma Yuan, 106 
Medici, 184, 194, 300 
Melk, 339-40 
Melozzo da Forli, 6 
Memling, 6 

Mesopotamia, 45-7, 55, 86, loi 
Metope, 51 
Mexico, 30 

Michelangelo, 220-9, 230, 265- 
6, 348, 436 
Middle Ages, 162 
Milan, 215, 216 
Millet, 382-3, 41 1 
Mirabeau, 364 

Modern art, 9, 10, 272, 292 
419-45 
Mogul, 10 1 
Monet, 391-3 
Montfort, Simon of, 139 
Moore, Henry, 438-9 
Morris, William, 403-4, 448 
Munch, Edvard, 423-4 

N 

Napoleon, 361 

National Socialists, 420, 427, 441 
Naturalism, 292 
Naumburg Cathedral, 139 
Nave, 92 

Neo-classical, 234 {see also 
Greek revival) 

Neo-Gothic {see Gothic revival) 
Netherlands, 170, 173, 1 97-201, 
256, 261-4, 279-83, 296, 309 
{see also Dutch art, Flemish 
art) 

New Guinea, 27 
New Zealand, 24 
Nigeria, 25, 26, 30, 34 
Nithardt {see Griinewald) 
Norman style, 120 
Normans, 116-19 
Northumbria, iii 
Norwegian art, 423-4 
Nuremberg, 201, 251 

o 

Oil-painting, 172 
Olympia, 57-9 
* Orders*, 80 


461 

p 

Padua, 144-6, 185 
Palestine, 45 
Palladio, 265-7, 345, 358 
Paris, 134, 142, 151, 335, 340, 
362, 381, 431, 432, 437, 440 
Notre Dame, 133-4 
Paris, Matthew, 14 1-2, 148 
Parler, 155-6 
Parma, 245, 247 
Parmigianino, 268-9 
Pergamon, 73 
Pericles, 55 

Perpendicular style, 196 
Persian art, 10 1 
Perspective, 78, 163-5, 183, 
264, 410 
Peru, 30-1 
Perugino, 229-30 
Petrarch, 155 
Pheidias, 55-7 
Philip II of Spain, 263 
Philip III of Spain, 300 
Philip IV of Spain, 306 
Photography, 10, 395-6 
Picasso, 9-10, 426, 432-5. 439. 
446 

Picturesque, 313, 392 
Piero della Francesca, 188-90 
Pilaster, 163 
Pisa, 143 

Pisano Nicola, 143 
Pisanello, 160 
Pissarro, 394-5, 448 
Plein-air, 388 
Pointillisme, 413 
Poland, 201 
Pollaiuolo, 1 90-1 
Polydoros, 75 
Polynesia, 25 
Pommersfelden, 338 
Pompeii, 77-9 
Pope, 346 
Porta, 289 

Portraiture, 34, 60, 71-2, 81-2, 
86, 90, 141, 155, 157, 173. 
218, 220, 279, 305, 310-11, 
315. 346, 349-52, 354. 365. 
399, 427. 436 
Posters, 5, 421, 430 
Post-Impressionism, 430 
Poussin, 294-5, 381, 405 
Prague, 155-6 
Prandtauer, 339 
Praxiteles, 6^71 
Pre-Raphaelite painting, 197, 
384-5, 401, 416 
Primtive art, 20-32, 421-2, 
432, 440 {see also ’Egyptian 
methods ’) 

Primitivist art, 416, 418, 439-41 
Printing, 203 

Protestantism, 274, 300, 309- 
10, 31 1, 343, 344. 346 
Pugin, 378 

Q 

Quattrocento, 209 



462 

R 

Rainaldi, 325 

Raphael, 15-16, 229-36, 254, 
265, 290, 2933 348, 381, 3843 
427 

Ratisbon, 261 
Ravenna, 91, 113 
Realism, 383-4 
Red Indians, 28-9 
Reformation, 212, 251, 274, 
2773 279, 288, 326 
Regency style, 359 
Rembrandt, 8-9, 18, 313-19, 
380 

Renaissance, 160-1, 287 
High, 210, 212 

Renaissance art, 160-8, 177-94, 
209-83 

Reni, 6-7, 293-4, 358 
Renoir, 393-4 

Reynolds, 17, 348-53, 358, 
361, 373, 448 
Ribs, 123, 132 
Richard II, 157 
Robespierre, 364 
Robusti (^see Tintoretto) 

Rococo, 341, 353, 359 
Rodin, 399-400 
Rogier van der Weyden, 199-200 
Roman art, 79-85 {see also 
Classical art) 

Romanesque, 120 
Romanesque art, 119-30 
Romantic movement, 364, 369, 
3733 3753 381-2, 442 
Rome, 12, 79-80, 89, 162, 199, 
215, 222, 233, 288-9, 290-2, 
2933 2943 2953 296, 306, 3253 
329 

Colosseum, 79, 180 
Farnesina, 234-5 
Gesh, 287-9 

Pantheon, 80-1, 212, 236 
Priscilla Catacomb, 88 
Sistine Chapel, 223-7 
St. Peter’s, 212 
Sta Agnese, 325-7 
Sta Maria della Vittoria, 329 
Trajan’s column, 82 
Rossetti, 384-5 
Rouen, 196 
Rousseau, 440 

Rubens, 5, 296-303, 306, 341 
Ruhllus, 1 18 
Ruisdael, 320, 323 
Ruskin, 197, 401-2, 403-4,448 
Russia, 98, 428, 440, 441 
Russian icons, 98 


Index and Glossary 

S 

Salon, 387, 391, 400 
Sansovino, 237-8 
Santi {see Raphael) 

Saxony, 261 
Saxon period, 119 
Schongauer, 207-8, 251 
Schools of art, 68, 179 
Schubert, 375 
Seurat, 430 
Sfumato, 219, 394 
Shakespeare, 215, 279, 280, 

363 

Side-aisles, 92 
Sidney, 279 
Siena, 154-5, 167 
Simone Martini, 154-5 
Sixdeniers, 249 
Sixtus IV, 223 
Sluter, 168-70 
Soane, 359 
Sohier, 250 
Solomon, 127 

Spain, 23, loi, 137, 272, 300, 
3053 33I3 336, 4323 442 
Spanish art, 272-4, 305-8, 365- 
8, 432, 442 
Spartans, 50 
Steen, 319-20 

Still Life painting, 77, 323, 409 
Stoss, Veit, 201-3, 205 
Strasbourg, 137-8 
Stuart court, 343 
Sumeria, 45-7 
Sunday painters, 441 
Surrealism, 441-3 
Susa, 46 

Switzerland, 251, 274 
Swiss art, 175, 430, 436, 439 


T 

Tahiti, 26, 416-17 
Tavernier, 198 
Tempera, 172 
Teutonic tribes, iio-ii 
Theocritus, 77 

Theotocopoulos {see El Greco) 
Tiepolo, 331-3 
Tintoretto, 270-2 
Titian, 240-5, 248, 265, 270, 
306, 348 
Toledo, 272 
Totem, 23, 29 
Toulouse-Lautrec, 430 
Toumai Cathedral, 122 
Tracery, 133 


Trajan, 82, 85 
Transept, 120 
Triglyph, 51 
Tunnel vault, 123 
Turner, 369, 372-53 :93 
Tuscan master, 7 
Tutankhamen, 42 
Twickenham, Strawberry Hill, 

358 


u 

Uccello, 182-4 
Ur, 45 
Urbino, 229 
Utamaro, 396-7 


V 

Vandyke, 302-5, 352 
Van Eyck, 170-5 
Van Gogh, 411-15, 418, 422-3 
Vaulting, 81, 123, 132, 162, 196 
Vasari, 272, 448 
Velazquez, 306-8, 388 
Venice, 143, 151, 212, 237-45, 
256, 270-2, 290, 331-4 
Library, 237 
Vermeer, 322-4, 380 
Veronese, 248 
Versailles, 335-6 
Vienna Belvedere, 337-8 
Vikings, iio-ii 
Vlieger, 312, 333 


w 

Wallot, 249 

Walpole, 358 

Washington, 359 

Watteau, 340-2 

Whistler, 400-2, 430, 435, 448 

Wilton diptych, 157-8 

Witz, 175-6 

Woodcut, 203 

Wright, 404, 448 


z 

Zoffany, 356 
Zuccari, 266, 284