|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Antiques And Arts News||Home|
German Art Galleries
( Originally Published 1913 )
Dresden has been called the Florence of Germany because of its superb masterpieces. Perhaps the most wonderful pic- ture ever painted is here in a room reserved for it alone: Raphael's Sistine Madonna. Green curtains are drawn apart to reveal the heavenly vision-the Mother offering the Child to the world. Pope Sixtus kneels on one side-whence the name-St. Barbara on the other. Only by their downward glances are we made aware of the world of men beneath, for which they are importuning. The expression of the Madonna is of deepest, truest spiritual insight. If ever man painted soul, Raphael did so on this occasion. And the Babe, mutely eloquent in the far-seeing eyes, renders language inadequate. Clouds of cherub faces surround Mother and Child, transcending the glory of the vision. The cherubs below were probably added as an afterthought, the clouds evidently having been painted underneath them.
This picture was painted at the order of the Benedictine monks of San Siste at Piocenza. Later, not appreciating its rare worth, they sold it to the Elector of Saxony, from whose collection it became a part of the Dresden Gallery.
Excepting this matchless canvas, none other is more universally loved than Correggio's Holy Night, or Nativity. Scores of artists have painted their dream of that night when two thousand years ago was born to Mary a son destined to change the history of the world. It matters little whether one finds the miracle of birth sufficient, or whether it is felt to be enhanced by legends that have come to cluster around it. Historically it happened that a Jewish peasant and his wife came into Bethlehem one winter night, and finding the inns crowded, took refuge in a stable, where a child was born. The Jews at this time were paying tribute to the Romans and there was much dissatisfaction rife among them. They were looking for one whom their prophets had said should come to reclaim the nation and bring them once more into their own.
They awaited a king who might revive the splendor of Solomon's court and give them once more a standing among the nations. Instead a religious and moral teacher developed among them. He taught peace and good will; he advocated fraternal love among men, fair dealing, and justice tempered with mercy; simplicity of heart and gentleness of spirit; and it must always be regretted that for two thousand years many of his followers have proved themselves ever ready to center their attention upon details of his life which, whether true or false, were of small moment; and reluctant to give even slight attention to the spirit of his teaching, which was fundamental. Long after his ministry was ended, when the wonder of his kindliness, compassion and humility were marvelled upon in a cruel, sordid and selfish age, no miracle was deemed too great to have accompanied his advent, and the stories which have charmed for centuries were told-of the brilliant star, the chorus of angels that heralded glad tidings that a Prince of Peace had been born among men. And each year as a Christian world celebrates a festival in memory of this coming, it little matters that it falls, not upon the exact date, as scholars have determined it; or whether the pretty stories interlinked with it are emphasized or not, for it means the sanctification of birth and little children and the loving care which they require; the dawn of a new attitude toward otherswhich has resulted not alone in philanthropic institutions but in an altruism that has made, and is still making, the world a better place in which to live.
No two Nativities are alike; many are wholly different from this; and it is apparent that the painter has felt no obligation to adhere to history. No mother who had toiled up the way to Bethlehem could have exemplified such a carefree tranquillity as this. But it is a beautiful picture, and its light, breaking on the hills in the distance, is significant of the light that was to break upon the gloom of hating, warring men throughout the earth.
Two other Correggios should be mentioned: the Madonna of St. Francis painted in 1514 for the Franciscans of Correggio (the painter is remembered by the name of his native town), and the Madonna of St. Sebastian.
Titian's Tribute Money is one of the famous pictures of the Dresden collection. He caught the moment when the crafty Pharisee thought to entrap the gentle teacher, of whom the Roman official afterwards said "I find no fault in this man," into some expression which might be interpreted as treason to Roman sovereignty. Divining his purpose, with a grave look of compassion upon one who wished his injury, he made reply, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's."
Titian's daughter, Lavina, is here to be seen, once with a fan-probably a bride; once as a matron. This tireless painter never wearied of placing his daughter, who was his pride upon canvas. His busy life of more than ninety-five years was finally cut short before its natural falling off by the plague that harassed Venice. His words to the monks of Frari, wherein he was buried, are significant. "The mountains of Cadore are dear to me; the rushing water of the Pleve are dear to me ; and the murmur of the wind in the pine trees in my far-away home. But bury me not there. Promise to bury me here, in the city where I have done my life's work, bury me in this Church, where first I was successful, and I will live on that promise long enough to paint you yet another Christ-the Christ of pity! It shall be nearer to the real Christ than any I have yet painted, for I am the nearer to him myself!"
Dresden possesses some twenty-five hundred paintings and few can be mentioned here. Paul Veronese is represented by his Marriage at Cana and the Finding of Moses. Many other Italians are given place, the collection supplying fair opportunity for studying the Renaissance of Italy.
Dutch paintings are many. Rembrandt may be seen to advantage and Ruisdael, Hobbema, Vermeer of Delft and Jan Steen are all represented.
We are particularly concerned with German art as it is revealed by the German art galleries, and three of Durer's Crucifixion, a portrait of Bernard van Orley and the Dres den altar-may be seen. A German mother bends over a babe of no nationality whatever: the babe is one of Durer's sorriest figures. On one side is St. Anthony, on the other, St. Sebastian. Durer's genius is rather to be seen in the details. His work as a goldsmith made him painstaking and accurate in the slightest particular.
Holbein's portrait of Morette and his Madonna of the Burgomaster Meyer are at Dresden. This last is regarded important among sacred pictures; however, it has been the subject of considerable spirited discussion. The Mother holds a frail babe in her arms-it showing emaciation from suffering or disease. At the right kneels the Burgomaster Meyer with his son and a little babe; at the left his little daughter and his two wives-one in her grave clothes to indicate that she is dead, the other, the living-looking justifiably uncomfortable-beside her. The discussion has arisen over the children. Undoubtedly this picture was painted to celebrate the recovery of a child in this family. Some maintain that the mother has taken the weak, ailing child in her arms, leaving her own healthy offspring on the floor. Then another, and seemingly more plausible interpretation, is that the healthy boy on the floor is the one who has regained his health and the frail one in the mother's arms is thus shown to exemplify the idea "He hath taken all our iniquities upon him."
Boecklin, the matchless artist of modern times, is represented by an inimitable picture, Spring's Delight. A stream of water trickles over rocks, falling steadily from one to an other. The genius or spirit of the fountain is shown as a woman in gossamer web beside it. Two of those creatures that Boecklin so easily calls into being-sprites, half man, half goat-have come to drink. One rests against the stones, one seeks yet to satisfy his thirst. Either could disappear or appear again, according to one's fancy. Flowers make the hillside glad and in the sunbeams that play above the hill a circlet of dancing spring-sprites, like frolicsome babies, dance. Such a scene might be found in any rocky hillside when the resurrection of spring renews hope and stirs the blood and enables the susceptible to behold many sights which the doubting deny -having vision limited by their own meagre and circumscribed experience.
The picture gallery in the Kaiser Frederick Museum originated in 1820, when Kaiser Friedrick Wilhelm III. of Prussia determined to gather together the best paintings con tained in the various palaces of his ancestors. Three hundred and seventy-eight were chosen as possessing especial worth, and to them were added seventy more which had been bought in Paris in 1815. The following year the Prussian government purchased the collection of one Solly, an Englishman, whose interests had caused him to reside many years in Berlin. Having taken advantage of the unusual opportunity in 1815 to acquire some of the paintings which had been heaped upon the French market, Solly had accumulated a large number. Of his treasures, over six hundred were deemed suitable to be added to the royal collection. In 1831 this was fittingly housed and ready for public inspection. Since then much has been accumulated and acquired.
The Berlin Gallery is one of the best arranged in Europe. Pictures are hung chronologically and each country is shown by itself. This enables the student to gain the impression so desirable-the sense of unity and consecutive development. Three pictures of Masaccio, and some of Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi are here. Berlin is also fortunate in having tapestries woven exactly like those that once adorned the Sistine Chapel. This series, having been in the possession of Spain and England, was bought by Prussia in 1844. Botticelli, the Bellinis and Carpaccio, are well represented. Del Sarto's Madonna enthroned with saints is here, also five of Raphael's Madonnas, Correggio's Leda and the Swan, four of Titian's, including his daughter, Lavina, holding a tray of fruit, Tintoretto's Annunciation and four of Paul Veronese's allegorical paintings.
In French art the gallery is deficient. Noteworthy among the paintings found here are Poussin's Roman Campagna, Claude Lorrain's landscapes, and a few from the brush of Watteau. Ribera, Murillo, and two portraits of Valesquez are best among Spanish exhibits. Few English canvases are to be found and these for the most part portraits of Reynolds, Gainsborough and contemporaries. Among the German pictures are several of the early painters, two of Durer and Holbein's portrait of George Gisze.
The upper panels of Van l Eyck's Adoration of the Lamb are at Berlin, also Jan Van Eyck's Singing Angels and Man with the Pink. Both van der Weyden and Memline are rep resented. Three of van Leyden's, including the Chess Party, Massy's lovely Mary with the Child, and in the Gallery of Honor, several of Rubens' and Van Dyck's are shown. Next to the townhall at Haarlem, Frans Hals is best seen here. His famous Witch of Haarlem is one of the ten masterpieces proudly included in this collection. The Dutch landscape and genre painters are well illustrated. Among the genre pictures Jan Vermeer's Lady with the Pearl Necklace and Maes' Peeling Apples deserve special note.
In addition to this splendid gallery Berlin has also the Royal National Gallery, housed in a structure resembling a Corinthian temple. This was founded in 1861 and does honor to modern artists, whose works alone are shown. More than one thousand paintings, two hundred sculptures, and thousands of water colors are exhibited, most of them the work of Germans, although for the past twenty years others from other countries have been added.
Diaz, Millet, and Constable may be seen to advantage, also Adolf Menzel (1815-1905), who had considerable influence upon art in the later part of the nineteenth century. Albert Brendel (1827-1895), an excellent cattle painter, is represented.
Boecklin's most popular painting, The Hermit and Spring Day, reveals his creative power and idealism. The first is deservedly loved. At break of day an old hermit takes his violin and goes before the Virgin's shrine to pour forth his flood of melody, nor is he, in his rapt devotion, aware of the three little bright winged angels who have drawn near to listen. The changing light of the dawn is transforming the world into fresh beauty and soon the morning paeon of the birds will swell the measure of his praise.
After these two magnificent centers of art, Dresden and Berlin, the galleries of Munich seem less resplendent. Yet the collection of the old masters, known as the Pinakothek Collection, contains priceless pictures. A little masterpiece of Meister Wilhelm of Cologne is here: St. Veronica with the Handkerchief. The legend was told in the Middle Ages that Veronica wiped the brow of the suffering Christ, bowed under the burden of the cross, whereupon an imprint of his thorncrowned face was immediately stamped upon her kerchief. This is the story of the painting.
The Four Apostles, done by Durer for his native town and afterwards shamelessly sold by it, are in Munich.
"What masterly finish there is in the execution ! Such as is only suited to a subject of such sublime meaning. What dignity and sublimity pervade these heads of varied character! What simplicity and majesty in the lines of the drapery! What sublime and statue-like repose in their movements! The colouring, too, is perfect: true to nature in its power and warmth. Well might the artist now close his eyes. He had in this picture attained the summit of art: here he stands side by side with the greatest masters known in history."
Portraits by him and by Holbein are important, as are many Dutch and Italian paintings which well repay the visitor a journey thither.
The modern gallery, although complete in no department and in the works of even the best artists, is sadly deficient, nevertheless has much to interest the student of nineteenthcentury painting.