Louvre - Grande Galerie - Bay Thrid - Italian Division
( Originally Published 1915 )
THE third bay, marked C in the Louvre catalogue, may be called Raphael's room, though a few other painters are also represented.
The Virgin and Child by Perugino is a round panel in which the compositional lines do not well conform to the circular form. Once more, it is not Perugino any-where near at his best. The Madonna, in a red dress and blue mantle lined with green, is seated on a throne-chair in an open balcony holding the child on her lap. At the right is St. Catherine of Alexandria, in a red mantle draped crosswise over a green dress, and carrying a book in her right hand and a feather pen in her left. On the other side is St. Rose, holding a rose branch in her left hand and a vase in her right. Both these saints stand with their heads bent at a very Peruginesque angle, looking at the Madonna and child. On a parapet behind them and thus raised above, are two angels whose wings are outspread and whose hands are met in prayer. There is a sweetness about this tondo that is not cloying though the similarity in the five faces and even in the attitudes suggest lack of invention or carelessness. The child is far from attractive, being tight in handling and ill-favoured in expression.
The St. Sebastian is charming only for its lovely landscape and depth of limpid blue sky. Otherwise it is mannered in the extreme, showing Perugino's most glaring faults.
The Apollo and Marsyas in this bay has been credited to Raphael, but Morelli calls it by Perugino, and critics generally agree that it is at least by one of his school. It is an admirable little picture, with great purity of line and transparence of colour. The two figures are nude, and have the perfection of miniatures. Apollo stands at the right, a slender, graceful figure in a position not unlike the Dionysius at Rome. He rests on his right foot and on his tall staff which he holds in his right hand, while his left is on his hip. He has turned his face till it is nearly in profile, looking at Marsyas who sits on a rock at the left, playing on a reed. The latter is wholly absorbed in his pastime and quite unconscious of the high disdain expressed in the face of the golden-haired god. Between the two on the ground are a lyre, a quiver and arrows. A carefully worked-out landscape stretches about them and beyond to distant mountains.
Of all the works credited to Raphael in the Louvre, there are probably only four that are entirely by him. The little St. George and the little St. Michael are two of his very early efforts. There is an archaism about them that is positively felicitous. The crude technique and simple forms seem quite adequate for expressing the old legends that belong to the primitive days of belief. They were both painted for the Duke Guidobaldo of Urbino, somewhere about 1500, making them thus representative of his tutelage under Timoteo Viti before he was influenced by Perugino. They are hard in outline and singularly deficient in the graceful sweetness chareacteristic of his Peruginesque period.
In the St. George the scene takes place in a rocky landscape, in the back of which, among cliffs, the princess is seen running fearfully away. In the foreground on a fine white, if decidedly clumsy and rather wooden horse, is the brave knight in full armour. He has broken his spear, but part of it still sticks in the dragon, which, writhing in agony, has reared up on his haunches and appears about to spring at the saint.
The St. Michael shows the angel in rich mail, his golden hair flying under his helmet, his shield of shining white with a red cross on it, his multicoloured wings rising above his head. With his sword in air he has trampled the dragon underfoot. All about are various queer beasts, and at the right at the base of the mountains are contorted demons. The landscape is dark and menacing.
The Madonna of the Veil was probably executed by Giulio Romano. In it the Virgin is seen in the midst of Romanesque ruins, on her knees before the sleeping Jesus, just lifting the veil from his little body. Encircled by her left arm the baby Baptist also kneels, adoring.
St. John the Baptist in the Desert is now supposed to be by Piombo from a sketch by Michelangelo. It shows the beautiful youth seated on a tree-trunk with upraised hand.
The St. Marguerite, arising from the dragon which had swallowed her, was painted for François I. and is largely again the work of Romano. It is in a most deplorable state, owing to its transfer from wood to canvas and its consequent necessary repainting.
The very interesting, sensitive Portrait of a Young Man, with its joyous, childlike expression, though long attributed to Raphael is now supposed to be by Bacechiacca.
None of these examples whether or not actually by Raphael gives one even a slight idea of the man who was the greatest assimilative mind the world of art has ever known. He was not only the greatest assimilator, he was the quickest. The history of his life between the ages of nineteen and thirty-four may be said to be the history of almost the entire Renaissance of Italy, excepting that phase most characteristic of Venice. From Timoteo Viti to Perugino, to Fra Bartolommeo, to Leonardo, to Michelangelo, to Sebastiano del Piombo, such are the successive stages shown in the work of a man who lived to not half the years attained by any of the masters whose methods he absorbed. It was not only their methods he made his, but their aims, their achievements, their spirit, he grasped at a glance, and understood their very essence as if he had been working for years in the same direction. While grace and beauty are the two attributes with which Raphael's works are most generally stamped, his greatness lies in something beyond mere grace and beauty, beyond his marvellous gift as illustrator and infinitely beyond his extraordinary powers of assimilation and adaptation. He is the greatest master of composition that European art up to this twentieth century can show. No other man has approached him in his spacing, his arrangement, his management of line and mass, his instinctive perception of the most perfect coördination possible between space and figure. No one else gives us such a feeling of amplitude and air, in his out-of-door scenes, or of vastness of space in his temples and chambers. The art of composition as it is to-day did not exist before Raphael's time. And all that artists have learned since has only emphasized the extent and completeness of his supremacy. In the Louvre there is no opportunity to study him at his highest expression in composition. But the Belle Jardinière is one of the most perfectly balanced, exquisitely massed groups known in all art.
Giulio Romano's Triumph of Titus and Vespasian is in this section. Drawn by four piebald horses is a magnificent chariot in which ride the two emperors. They stand in profile, in full regalia, already crowned with laurel. Over their heads a Victory flies holding two other crowns. Beside the chariot a youth carries a precious vase, and at the horses' heads two men run as écuries. In front of them far at the right, a soldier pushes before him a female figure whom he is grabbing by the hair. She is supposed to represent the conquered Judea. They are all about to pass under an arch whose pillars show at the extreme right. In the distance is a landscape, with a lake and bordering town.