Louvre - Grande Galerie - Spanish, German And English Divisions
( Originally Published 1915 )
THE Spanish pictures in the Louvre are inadequate, considering the importance of the school, but there are a few of the more important masters that are well worth exhaustive study.
Of these, Morales's Christ Carrying the Cross is not one, except as it is the only example here of this early Spanish painter. He was the first of the artists of Spain to achieve more than a national fame. It is not known with whom he studied but it is certain that he far surpassed any teacher he may have had. Like most of the Spanish painters his works were strictly religious in character. This was a necessity first because the Church was practically the only patron of the arts, but even more because the rigid arm of the Inquisition allowed them to paint only what the Church declared proper. In his time Morales was titled " The Divine," possibly from his skill in rendering the faces of the Madonna and Christ, but more likely from his extreme finish of detail. He could out-Dürer Dürer in his minute drawing of " hyacinthine locks," and even Dürer could hardly equal him in his power of painting every individual hair of stubbly beards. Besides this microscopic pains-taking he had a very devout piety and a real grandeur of expression that made the heads and hands of his Christs and Madonnas far above those of the merely perfunctory religious painter. In the drawing of the figure he is weak and ineffectual. Considering that the Inquisition made it impossible for a painter to study the nude except from drawings or casts it is remarkable that he achieved what he did in this line.
His one picture in the Louvre is a very good example of his work at its best. As the figure is cut off above the knees, and as the huge cross covers up most of the rest of the body, his insecure anatomy is not greatly felt. Standing with the cross clasped close to him, Christ's body is in full face, while the burden has tipped his head till it is in three-quarters view. He is crowned with thorns, and down his face the drops of blood are streaming, the agony of both physical and mental suffering showing plainly on his drawn, hopeless countenance. The delicate hands that hold the great arms of the cross are very beautifully rendered but they do not express any pressure. Hands so placed could by no possibility hold their burden. There are dignity, power, beauty and religious fervour in this picture.
From Morales, born in 1509, to Ribera, whose birth was not till 1588, is a long jump. Of the few Spanish painters worth mentioning that come between the two names the Louvre possesses no noticeable work. And Ribera, though born in Spain, went early to Italy and spent almost all his life there. In Italy he went by the title of Lo Spagnoletto. Though, as has been noted, his works are strongly influenced by Caravaggio, some of his paintings have a golden glow and softness, reminding one of Correggio. His works are scattered all over Italy and all through Europe. The Louvre has some that are creditable, though probably not equal to his highest achievements. In the Madonna and Child and the Adoration of the Shepherds, he presents a side of his art comparatively little known. Instead of the writhing saints suffering the death agonies of their martyrdom, he has here depicted the mother and child with a tenderness, a sweetness and a real power that proclaim him to be a worthy predecessor of Murillo.
In the Adoration of the Shepherds, the babe is seen lying on a bundle of straw that rests on a rude, wooden cradle. He has turned his face and eyes to look at the two shepherds who kneel at his head, their rough faces full of a wondering, ecstatic piety. On the other side of his crib kneels Mary, her hands met in prayer, her face raised to heaven. Behind her, and looking over her shoulder is the third shepherd, and back of the first two a woman comes bearing a bundle. On the hills in the distance are shepherds with their flocks, and in the sky, far off, an angel announcing the " glad tidings." In the immediate foreground a dead calf lies, the gift of the shepherds. As a composition this is a trifle crowded, but the light is skilfully managed without the too heavy forcing of shadows which was too common with Ribera. The three men are realistically and most sympathetically portrayed and Mary is a wonderfully lovely creation. She is thoroughly Spanish, just as the Italians made their Madonnas Italian, but she has a tender, devout face, not at all the " Mother of Heaven " type, but rather that of a sweet earth girl-mother.
In the Madonna and Child, Mary is lifting her son from his pallet of straw, her own face lifted as if calling down a blessing on the sleeping babe. It is a half-length picture, and has more of the depth of shadow usual to Ribera. The deep tones are used effectively, however, making the light on the child's and on Mary's countenance all the more telling in its brilliancy. Correggio might own the chubby child without shame, and Murillo has painted fir more unsatisfactory Madonnas than this deep-eyed, earnest woman, who seems to feel a presage of future woe.
The intense Caravaggioesque blotches of shadows in the Entombment, proclaim the Italian's dominance over the Spaniard. While there seems to be no logical ex-planation for such tremendous spotting, and while it gives an unreal, rather than dramatic effect to the scene, Ribera has managed his extremes with much skill, and has shown remarkable anatomical knowledge and, more, splendid characterization. Christ is stretched out on the sepulchre, Joseph of Arimathea standing behind him holding his head and shoulders. Next to Joseph come Mary, the Magdalene and Nicodemus, bent over in grief, gazing at the prostrate figure. Of these four figures, only their heads and shoulders show, and of them all Nicodemus, whose face is in sharp profile, alone comes into full light. He has a dignity and self-control that give added power to his fine profile. The others are largely lost in the shadow that makes the background. The Saviour, entirely nude but for a fold of linen over his loins, is a magnificent rendering of a limp, lifeless form. The dead weight of his head and shoulders is admirably indicated, and the drawing of the loose hands, the fallen head wonderfully excellent. The cold black shadows, however, remain to prevent this from being a greater picture.
Zurbaran, who has been called the Caracci of Spain, has a couple of pictures that are interesting and not wholly unworthy of the man who at his best has been considered greater than Murillo. He was greatly appreciated by Velasquez, and worked with him on important commissions. His admiration for Caracci at times led him into conventionality and a theatric treatment of contrasts in chiaroscuro, but at times he reaches a height of expression and an ideal treatment of shadow that recalls Rembrandt. At such times, too, his colour has a depth of richness and his tones a luminosity that few painters have ever excelled.
The picture here supposed to represent St. Peter and St. Raymond is wrongly catalogued. It is really St. Bonaventura Presiding at a Chapter of Minor Brothers. The other, named Funeral of a Bishop, is the Funeral of St. Bonaventura, the prelate who died in 1274 in Lyons, where he had gone to open the council called by Gregory X. in an attempt to effect the union of the Greek and the Roman Church. They are both paintings fairly representative of Zurbaran, though not full of the beauty of tone and depth of clear shadow as are some of his pictures of monks, notably the ones in Munich and the National Gallery. In the first of these Louvre canvases, St. Bonaventura stands before a row of his brothers, exhorting them with great eloquence and with a troubled countenance. Opposite him is seated the Pope. In the funeral scene, Zurbaran introduces not only Pope Gregory X. but also Michael VII., Emperor of the East-ern Empire, Paleologue of the Patriarch of Constantinople, and of the Envoys of Scythia. Gregory owed his elevation to the papal throne to the influence of Bonaventura at the time of the conclave. Paul Lefort places these pictures in the front rank of the painter's works.
The poor selection of Spanish works possessed by the Louvre is never more keenly felt than when its canvases by Velasquez are considered. The little Infanta Margarita is the only one which conveys any adequate idea of his genius. The Portrait of Philip IV. is now thought to be a copy by Mazo of the celebrated one in the Madrid gallery. It shows him standing under a tree in hunting costume. He appears about thirty years old, wears a buff jacket and long gauntlet gloves. Hanging at his side his right hand holds a long gun, his left, only partly seen as he stands facing the right, rests on his hip, against which he holds his hat. A large dog sits by his side. Here the pale face of the king has that pasty white look making the full lips more unnatural in their redness.
The Assemblage of Thirteen People among whom at the left are seen Velasquez and Murillo, noted critics assign to some other painter than Velasquez. The bad composition, soft modelling, dry rendering have always made this seem impossible to be the work of the great Spanish master, he who, born in the same year as Van Dyck and five years after the death of Tintoretto and Correggio, was as little influenced by the decadence that art in Italy had fallen into as he was by Rubens whose friendship he valued highly. Velasquez unquestionably learned much from the Italians, especially during his two prolonged visits in Italy. But he was no more like Correggio or Titian or Tintoretto than he was like Rubens. More than any painter that ever lived Velasquez painted with absolutely no preconceived ideas. He approached each subject, each face, more, each different view of a face, exactly as if he had never seen it before, much less painted it. In other words, no painter ever had so few receipts. He had no " flesh tones," no " shadow colour " of any kind. What tone a face had been one day, that he had faithfully rendered. What tone it appeared the next day, that he would faithfully discover and also faithfully transcribe. If the two results were similar, that was because in actuality they were similar, not because he had taken it for granted they would be. It is this intense realism, this candid mind wholly free from preconceived ideas, that helps to make Velasquez so preeminently a man of today. Of all the great world painters, he is the one with whom modern art has most in accord. He is, as has been often said, the first real discoverer of light, of atmosphere, of that enveloping air that surrounds every object we see and changes and varies its appearance infinitesimally or tremendously as the conditions may be.
Velasquez is preeminently the painter of men. Principally because, except in royalty, Spanish women were seldom painted. He it is who has made Philip IV. such a living personage, as all the historians in the world could not succeed in doing. Who that has seen that long, pale, brooding face, with its overfull and overripe lips, can ever forget it? No flatterer was Velasquez. He could only paint what his eye saw. But better than flattery he could so absolutely reproduce the living image that in looking at his portraits there are as many opinions as to what the man was as there always are opinions concerning a living personage. In painting the appearance, Velasquez painted the soul, too, so far as the soul could look out of the eyes, curve or tighten the lips, pale or flush the cheek, loosen or clench the hand. In battle-scenes, in enormous decorative panels, in historical compositions, he stands as unrivalled as in portraiture. There is no one like him in painting the human figure singly or in groups, as there is no one like him in rendering the subtility of light and atmosphere. There are others, perhaps, as great. Rembrandt, Titian, Giorgione, Michelangelo, Raphael, even Rubens and Van Dyck, are on peaks that reach as high, perhaps higher than the summit where Velasquez rests. But he is alone, this Spaniard, on his own peak, untouched by the men before him or since.
If the Louvre has so little of this Spaniard's works, it has many, and some rarely lovely examples of the art of his one great countryman. This is because Marshal Soult robbed Spain of every canvas he could lay his hands upon, and especially of everything bearing the name of Murillo. No painter, unless it be Raphael, has ever been so popular with the public as Murillo. It has been pointed out, with a certain cynical truth in the statement, that this very popularity is proof enough of his lacking the greatest attributes of a great painter. Yet, of course, it is equally true that what is so universally admired must have much more than the merely ephemeral or false about it. It must be more than simply pleasing, of stronger stuff than simple gracefulness. Rated even by his most serious detractors, Murillo certainly endures such tests as these. Sometimes, indeed, his Madonnas are dangerously near the wax-doll confection order, too often his angels have the pink and white smoothness of sugar Cupids, frequently his saints are nothing but pleasing lay figures. Nevertheless, considering the enormous quantity of these Madonnas, angels and saints Murillo had to turn out every year, it is only surprising that such failures are not continually recurring, instead of once in awhile. Eliminate all that does not reach his own highest, and the residuum is found to be, if not the highest in art, at least full of beauty, of power to charm, of nobility and of poetic piety,
Murillo never went to Italy, and he never could have seen many of the great works of Italy or Greece. The influence upon him of the antique was only what came to him sifted through the works of Rubens, Van Dyck, Velasquez or such Italian pictures as his short stay in Madrid gave him an opportunity to see. He is a product of Spanish soil far more truly than Velasquez or Ribera. And his chief greatness, as critics have intimated, is, perhaps, his truthful rendering of Spanish life, characteristics and people. His Madonnas, saints and angels are all as truly and distinctively Spanish as are his beggar boys. As a religious painter he does not touch the soul as do some few of the early Italians. But he is far over the head of any seventeenth-century Italian, and no one since has approached him. As a technician, he had a facile, flowing touch, a broad, full brush, a colour glowing, roseate, at times degenerating into the pretty, but at its best full of a translucence, a light, an atmosphere, that makes one understand why he has been said to paint as the birds sing. His drawing was not remarkable for power, strength or individuality. Adequate it generally was, and of the kind, so much the worse for its enduring fame, to appeal to the uninstructed. In composition he often was far beyond the merely excellent, showing at times a marvellous fitting of tone, lighting, line and colour, in one grand ensemble.
The Holy Family, in Bay D, is one of Murillo's noted works, and is sometimes called La Vierge de Seville. Mary sits on a rock on the shore, holding on her knees the baby Christ who stands upright, one hand at his mother's neck, the other taking a long reed cross from the little St. John. Elizabeth is kneeling and holds her arms about her boy in his tunic of skins. Above in the clouds in the middle of " exceeding light," God is seen with outspread hands as if in blessing. With him are a number of cherubs in all sorts of difficult, fore-shortened positions. Immediately over the head of Jesus the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove is hovering. In the direct foreground a lamb is lying, looking up at John. Both Mary and Elizabeth are very beautiful types. Mary, in her young perfection, with the soft dark hair that grows so tenderly on her forehead, with her finely curved lips, her exquisite chin and dark, uplifted eyes, is a true Murillo creation. She holds Jesus with an adoring pressure that yet intimates a certain aloofness, as if she dared not bring him closer. Elizabeth is wrinkled, somewhat worn by years, but her noble pro-file is charged with an intense earnestness and reverent gladness that gives it a distinction uncommon among the pictures of the mothers of the Baptist. The two children are lovely in colour and Jesus especially has a firm, perfect little body. But it is the two women who show the painter at his best.
The Birth of the Virgin was painted about 1655 for the cathedral at Seville, and is called in Murillo's calido or intermediate manner. To quote Gautier, " In the centre of the composition like a bouquet of flowers lighted by a ray of the sun, the baby Virgin swims, as it were, in a cloud of light. An old woman, the tia as the Spanish call her, raises the child from its cradle with a caressing gesture. In the foreground a girl, clad in a lilac, tender green and straw-coloured robe, leans forward curiously, resting on a beautiful white arm, satin-like in its texture and dimpled at the rosy elbow. But the most marvellous figure in this group is the young angel, modelled, as it seems, from nothing, a rose-coloured vapour touched with silver. She leans her adorable head, made with three brief brush-strokes, over the Virgin, resting one delicate hand on her breast, the fingers nestling among the folds of her dress as if in the petals of a flower. Above the cradle of the Virgin a hovering glory of angels illumines the room like a glowing smoke. Half-hidden in the shadow of the background the bed of the mother may be vaguely distinguished. It is impossible to imagine anything more fresh, more tender, more lovely than this picture."
The Virgin and Child with Rosary is probably an early work of Murillo, though some have been inclined to doubt whether he ever painted it at all. It is hard and rather unsympathetic in colour, but has in spite of its faults a charm that Murillo always gave to his dark-eyed Madonnas and rosy Christ-babies.
The Miracle of San Diego is also an early work painted for the Convent of San Francisco, along with ten others. The convent was plundered by the French, and this was one that Marshal Soult took for himself. His heirs sold it to the government for 85,500 francs. It has been repainted and restored. The subtitle by which it is known, The Kitchen of the Angels, explains the sort of miracle which it glorifies. More than half of the long low panel is filled with heavenly visitants who are at work getting a feast for the monks. The two largest and most important angels stand talking together in the very centre of the scene. One holds a big stone jug, the other is apparently giving directions. These two are very lovely creations, hardly excelled in delicate beauty and ethereal loveliness by Raphael's angels in Jacob's Vision. Immediately at the left of them is the saint, lifted up in the air by his devout prayers, begging for the food which even now is being prepared for him. At the extreme left another brother opens a door, bringing in two cavaliers. At the right are the rest of the angel cooks, mostly small cherubs. Their absorption and interest in their mundane tasks are both amusing and touching.
The Young Beggar is a ragged boy sitting in a sort of stone loft, lighted by one deep-set window at the left.
He is in tatters and has just pulled his shirt open while he hunts for fleas. If this is not quite equal to some of Murillo's beggar boys in Munich, the lighting is remarkably fine. The sunbeam that strays through the window, and falls upon the stretched out boy, is warm, brilliant, sharp,
Two portraits by Goya practically finish the more important of the Spanish pictures. The Portrait of M. de F. Guillemardet, Ambassador of France to Spain in 1798 shows him seated in profile before a table, turning round, with his right arm thrown across the back of his chair. His face is in three-quarters position his right hand is bent, and rests palm up on his right leg which he has thrown over the other. He wears his official costume of blue, with a sword and a sash of the tricolour about his waist. On the table behind him is his three-cornered hat with the national colours. The man's eyes are large and he has a frank expression and fine, strong features. The position is extremely natural, caught, it seems as he turned to answer a question. The figure is well drawn, which Goya frequently made no pretence of attempting, and a French critic has said of it that in no other picture have the national colours been so pictorially treated, or made such an integral part of the composition.
The Young Spanish Girl stands in the centre of a landscape, dressed in black with a black mantle, a knot of rose in her hair. With arms crossed at her waist, she is in three-quarters view, turned toward the right. Her head is thrown proudly back emphasizing still more strongly her extreme height.
In 1799 the painter of these two canvases was made private painter to Charles IV. Though much of his life was spent at the court of Spain, he did not hesitate to advocate the most revolutionary doctrines, nor to scoff or revile court or king whenever the mood seized him. Most of his work may be called little but illustrations for his democratic and revolutionary beliefs and it has been suggested by Mr. Hamerton that the great French regard for his works, at its last analysis, is more admiration for these opinions than for his works themselves. Whether this be true or not he had an immense influence on French art, Delacroix especially falling greatly under his sway. There is no doubt that Goya's draughtsman-ship was frequently outrageous and his colour even worse. He was as reckless and sinful with his brush as he was with his life. But he certainly accomplished some remarkably fine work, clear, fresh, vigorous, original, full of life, power and passion. And since him Spain has had no painter to recall even dimly the halcyon days of her one great art period.
In this same bay are the few English pictures owned by the Louvre. There is scarcely one among them that adequately represents the school, and any extended notice of them is more to call attention to the position their painters really hold in the history of art than to the individual pictures which so poorly represent them here.
Richard Wilson, who may be called the father of English landscape art and, who, though his English public absolutely ignored him, prepared the way for Constable, has one little canvas in Bay D which was acquired in 1895. It is " more fat," says M. Alexandre, " in execution than the landscapes by Vernet, and has a decided transparence of air and light."
Romney, the impetuous, the fluctuating, the ardent lover, the neglectful husband, the enthusiastic beginner, the dilatory finisher, Romney, who had grace, esprit, a true painter's brush, who was without training and who did much bad work and an occasional gem like the Parson's Daughter, has one mediocre portrait, Sir Stanley.
Sir William Beechey, who was a pupil of Reynolds and in his day an eminent portrait-painter, though he never approached his master, has one picture in the Louvre, that, possessed of only fair merit, has a certain sort of unconscious grace. It is a portrait of a Brother and Sister. The two children are in a park, the brother at the left, sitting on the pedestal of a large vase, placing his sister's broad, flower-decked hat on her head. She stands beside him, holding up her white skirt within whose folds she keeps more of the blooms. The boy has turned his face to the left as has the small dog at his feet. He is dressed in garnet, with a wide lace collar. In the distance are a river and clusters of trees, and back of the vase, the conventional red curtain.
The Portrait of a Disabled Sailor, by Raeburn, the Frans Hals of England, is a far better piece of work than any of the pictures so far mentioned. Raeburn can only be seen to advantage in Edinburgh, for he was really a Scotchman, though called English. He was a wonderful manipulator. The freedom, fulness, plastic quality of his brush-work is quite equal to Frans Hals. The canvas here is only an average piece of work for him but even so it is a remarkable portrait, and Chesneau says that it is painted with not only great vigour but shows a fineness in its interpretative quality and a spirit that is rare in any portrait. The heavy, stolid flesh, with its Saxon-toned, flesh browned, reddened, roughened and hardened by the winds and waves, with its red nose showing the effect of gin possibly, as well as the elements, emphasized by the bleared eyes which nevertheless regard you coolly and sharply, all speak the master-hand that held the brush.
A Portrait of a Woman by Hoppner is clear and pleasing. It shows her dressed in white with a landscape background. Hoppner was a disciple of Reynolds and a great rival of Lawrence. His portraits of men are frequently wonderful in directness, simplicity and dignity. His women are usually so flattered that they have little individuality or even personality.
The Portrait of a Woman in White by Opie is not a very good specimen of his style, but has the solidity and truth for which Opie was noted and is painted in a full, large way. If lacking in a certain beauty of finish and refinement, it has a sincerity and unaffectedness that show the brush that painted it to be vigorous and sure. She is sitting in a park, her body turned three-quarters to the left, her face looking to the right. Her white dress has short sleeves and across her breast and about her waist is a piece of blue embroidery. A straw hat lined with mauve-coloured silk is on her brown tresses, with the ribbons flying over her bare shoulders.
Another fair example of its creator's brush is Morland's Halt. It is of much browner, heavier tone than his finest work, but is a good bit of composition and is well spotted in its colour-scheme. Two travellers have stopped at a thatched inn door. One is still on his white horse, and has taken a bowl from a gay country lass who stands beside him. In front is the horse of the other traveller who has dismounted and is seated on the ground before a low window of a cobbler's shop. He holds a pot of beer in his hand and is talking to the man whose head is seen within the gloom of the shop.
Morland was one of the most popular of English artists. This popularity is largely because of his skill as a story-teller. His ability in this direction blinded the eyes of his public to his faults in drawing and his lack of knowledge of anatomy.
The Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Angerstein by Sir Thomas Lawrence is in the painter's happiest manner and seems to have been painted con amore, which was only seemly, for Mr. Angerstein was one of the men to whom Lawrence was greatly indebted both for patronage and gifts. It represents Mr. Angerstein standing at the left, his face turned to his wife who, seated beside him, is looking and smiling at him. His left hand rests on the back of her chair and they are on a balcony, the wall forming part of the background, trees and a distant landscape the rest. Mr. Angerstein wears a brilliant scarlet coat and appears about sixty years old. His wife, who was the second Mrs. Angerstein, is in white, the texture of the dress recalling in its handling Ter Botch or Van der Helst.
The cleverness felt in this picture is the chief characteristic of this Englishman who had his world at his feet from the time when, a prodigy of five years old, he was already painting portraits for money. Yet he was less great than his country believed him. He had a way of omitting disagreeables, of emphasizing pleasing attributes, of giving his sitters an air of courtly grace, while he very seldom bothered his head to suggest what might be below the soft flesh, the easy pose, the graceful carriage. There are portraits of his, to be sure, that are natural, earnest, unaffected, even virile, direct and contained. But most of these date from before he was thirty, before society began to crowd upon him till he had neither time nor chance to hold to sincerity. As a technician he had undoubtedly skill, and executed with more of the " know how " than most of his English brethren. At its best his style is that of Reynolds.
A very different personality was John Constable and a very different aim had the man who, though perhaps indebted to Wilson for some of the principles of his art, may in truth be called the founder of modern landscape art. It has been claimed that it is to Constable that France owes her naturalistic, her realistic, her impressionistic schools of painting. Beginning with Delacroix, the instigator of the so-called romantic movement, France appreciated and applauded the English landscape-painter before his own country had learned to value him. Light, real out-of-doors light, air, the real atmosphere of woods, of meadows, of ocean side; colour, real outdoors colour, or at least something vastly nearer it than anything the studio painters had ever expressed with their interminable browns and olives and opaque greens ; movement, the movement of wave, and cloud, these were the things Constable endeavoured to paint. Not till his death did England appreciate him.. Undoubtedly the extravagant claims that have been made concerning his influence over modern, especially French art, are exaggerated. He was no such tremendous innovator as has been described. Impetus, however, he certainly did give to the just beginning movement to see things as they are and to paint them as one sees them. It is not at the Louvre where he can be known. The pictures there are all heavy, and lack life and freshness compared to his best work.
The Rainbow is an autumn landscape, with the tower of Salisbury seen among the splendid trees, reddened by the touch of fall. It is a little sketch with a stormy, heavily-clouded sky.
The Bay of Weymouth at the Approach of the Storm, is the best of the lot. The sea is tumultuous, yet with a sort of leaden calmness about it. It is the ominous pause just before the storm strikes. The sky is full of rushing, tumbling clouds, pressing down to the tops of the low hills at the right. On the rock-strewn hills is a woman scurrying from the storm, and farther off a shepherd with his dog gathers the flock and drives them into the interior.
Bonington, who is much more of a Frenchman than an Englishman is represented by a number of pictures, all of which, as well as all he left when he died at the age of twenty-seven, are in the nature of studies, rather than finished works. He had undoubted talent, and if he had lived longer would probably have won a high place on the list of fame.
In François I. and the Duchess d`Étampes, the duchess is sitting in a huge, upholstered chair, with her left hand resting on the arm and playing with a hound standing beside her. She wears a yellow silk, square-cut décolleté gown with wide lace undersleeves. Her brown hair banded across her forehead, falls down her neck loosely. By her side at the right, stands enormous-nosed François, most gorgeously apparelled, and with him Charles V., only less royally arrayed. There is another François by Bonington in a private collection in England which critics accord higher praise than they do to this.
The collection of German pictures in the Louvre is not much more satisfactory than the English or Spanish. Like Spain, Germany has only two giants on her roll of painters, and of these two only one has a fair showing here. Dürer, the first German painter worthy the name, was born in 1471. Before him, one can truly say there was no art in Germany. And with the exception of Holbein it is equally true to say that no other German painter has since arisen anywhere near approaching him. In spite of his four years of travel Dürer was always and distinctly German. To us of today imbued as we all are, whether consciously or unconsciously, with the Italian ideals of art, Dürer's lack of beauty, his accentuation of line, his struggle to express anatomical truths, make him seem at times almost archaic. Yet even the great Venetians had unbounded admiration for and appreciation of his gifts. As he went on, too, some of the angularities of line, the hardness of drapery and the rigidity of form, that were a part of his German training, disappeared. Sidney Colvin, in the Encyclopoedia Britannica, says most admirably of Darer " All the qualities of his art, its combination of the wild and rugged with the homely and tender, its meditative depth, its enigmatic gloom, its sincerity and energy, its iron diligence and discipline, all these are qualities of the German spirit. . . . He has every gift except the Greek and Italian of beauty and ideal grace. In religious painting he has profound earnestness and humanity and an in-exhaustible dramatic invention ; and the accessory landscape and scenery of his compositions are more richly conceived and better studied than by any painter before him. In portraiture he is equally master of the soul and body, rendering every detail of the human superficies with a microscopic fidelity, which nevertheless does not encumber nor overlay the essential and inner character of the person represented."
His two pictures in the Louvre are both portraits, one of a young boy, the other an old man. The latter assuredly must have been an unusually successful portrait for even the great Darer. There is a directness of regard, a light in the eye, a subtle feeling of momentary action in the delicately closed lips, a quick pressure forward to the head, all suggesting a reproduction of a very live moment ; suggesting too, such a vivid sensation of movement, that it seems as if the eyes must actually turn, the head tip back, the mouth open to speak. The portrait is labelled " An Old Man," and the beard that grows from under the chin is white, as well as the stray locks of hair that escape from the close, horned, red cap. But the features, the expression, the light in the eyes, are those of a man hardly middle-aged. Intelligence, quickness, keenness and good humour are mingled in the face. The drawing and modelling are masterly, but it is the personality of the sitter that attracts one most.
No one of the four pictures by Cranach is among that painter's more important works, but the Portrait of John Frederick III. is a very good example of his style. Even better is the Portrait of an Unknown Man that has been said to be Frederick of Saxony, though it is doubtful if it is he. Whoever he is, it is a striking portrait full of realistic attributes and painted with a faithfulness that presupposes a likeness. He is shown with a broad flat hat ornamented with feathers and jewels and a fur-bordered robe opening over an elaborate sort of shirt. He is turned three-quarters to the right, and has a broad brown beard, and delicately outlined moustache leaving entirely free a Cupid-bow mouth. His sharply-lined eyebrows curve slightly over a pair of sleepy eyes. About his neck is a heavy chain wound four times and ending in a dragon-shaped ornament. This falls over the shirt of puffed white stuff which is trimmed with rose-coloured bands embroidered with pearls in the shape of big S's. The picture is cut off at his waist, allowing only part of his two fat hands to show. On the forefinger of his left hand is a jewelled ring. There is no sign in this fleshy, rather stupid-looking German gentleman, of the thin forms, and scraggy muscles in which Cranach's nude figures abound. The careful drawing of certain of the features is the more remarkable considering how badly some of the parts go together.
His Venus in a Landscape is one of his characteristic Venus pictures. She is in a garden walking, turned three-quarters to the left, and is nude save for a big red cap on her long blond tresses and a rich collar around her neck. In her hand she carries a gauzy scarf. One of the amusing features of Cranach's Venuses is that they are very often fully arrayed as to head-dress if otherwise quite unadorned ! At the left is a clump of trees, and in the distance at the foot of a mountain a village, whose houses are reflected in a river.
Cranach, only a year younger than Dürer, who some-what influenced his style, ranks far below both him and Holbein, principally because he was so much poorer as a draughtsman than either of these two. His portraits are his best works. About all he did there was a certain sinuous grace if not truth of line, an ingenuousness that at times was positive bashfulness, and a kind of sweetness that was homely in its intimate expression. Like all the early German painters his idea of beauty of form consisted in what the Italians would have considered most decided examples of malformation. His lanky, thin-hipped, undeveloped, backfisch sort of women were equally far removed from the corpulent Hausfraus of the Dutch and Flemish painters. Yet there is a charm, a pristine freshness about his Venuses and Eves that give them individuality and real power. His colour was at first very brown and yellow, afterward he secured a more rosy tone. He was the painter of the Reformation, the great friend of Luther and Melanchthon, and was one of the two partners of the first printing-press at Wittenberg. He is said to have brought about Luther's marriage to Catherine Bora. He was so rapid a painter, and in the course of his long life produced so much, that he was called on his gravestone, the " celerrimus pictor."
Holbein, the second of Germany's two giants of the Renaissance, in one respect at least ranks above those who in other ways are far greater than he. Above Titian, above Van Dyck, he stands as a portrait-painter. These two painted men as they behave or as they seem. " Holbein depicts men as they are." He had that rare quality of being able to eliminate himself entirely when he painted a portrait. His likenesses are as diverse as men actually are in outward seeming, and much more, they are as diverse in what they suggest as to their real characters and lives. Holbein painted 'ruthlessly, so clearly did he see and portray the soul beneath the mask of flesh. Far above his German contemporaries in his knowledge of anatomy, perspective and modelling, he keeps their scrupulous regard for truth of detail and accessory. But never does this faithful drawing of fur, or brocade or golden ornaments or figured backgrounds make him forget the truth of the thing as a whole. It is an ensemble that Holbein always achieves and an ensemble where the soul of the man or woman portrayed is the central point of focus.
His inability to flatter his sitter was seldom more strikingly displayed than in the Portrait of Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of Henry VIII. Stiff, stolid, square and stupid, seem the most appropriate words to describe the woman depicted. A more right-angled sort of portrait than this he surely never drew. He painted the portrait, it is said, before Anne became queen, and not long after Cromwell had secured the king's consent to the alliance with this Protestant German princess. She is standing in full face, with her hands crossed exactly in front, a little below her waist. On her head is a transparent cap, and over it a headdress loaded with pearls and cut stones. The two sides of this elaborate head-gear are almost precisely identical in outline, even the thin muslin border falling into mathematical exactness of fold. Her dress is of crimson velvet, with enormous draped sleeves and smooth tight skirt, trimmed with bands of gold embroidered with pearls. The square opening at the chest is filled in with folds of linen, over it falling several chains of gold and precious stones. On her fingers are a number of rings, one even surrounding her thumb. The background is green, the flesh-tones somewhat reddish. The colouring of the whole thing, like everything that Holbein touched is full of life and originality. It is painted on parchment affixed to a wooden panel.
The Portrait of Richard Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury is a replica of the one in Lambeth House, which is probably the original work, though this in the Louvre is undoubtedly by Holbein's own hand. It is life-sized and of it Herr Woltmann says: "The grandeur and severeness of conception, the plastic feeling and the whole simplicity cannot be sufficiently admired. . . . Not merely is the head characteristic and full of individuality, but also the hands of the old gentleman which are resting on the gold brocaded cushion." He stands in three-quarters position, facing toward the left, his head pushed a little forward, giving the impression of rounded shoulders. The close black cap that allows only a line of his gray hair to show below, has ear-flaps meeting the broad fur band that goes about his neck and falls down over his white surplice in front. Behind him on a high stand are his mitre and some books and on the other side a gorgeous cross in gold and jewels carried to such a degree of finish as Jan Van Eyck himself would have admired. The background is green.
Holbein painted the Portrait of Nicholas Katzer about 1528. It is one of the best examples of his best manner in the Louvre. The portrait is life-size, half Iength. He is sitting at a table turning toward the right, the light flowing full over his face, characteristic of Holbein, who loved best to paint faces in clear light. On his head is a full black cap and over his black coat falls a brown outer robe. These open at the neck sufficiently to show a bit of white ruff and the edge of a red waistcoat. His hands, which rest on the table before him, have a polyehedron in one and a pair of compasses in the other. Lying about are various astronomical instruments of his profession, and on the wall are others. The face is extremely interesting with its large nose, its rather drooping lids, its wide thin mouth, its square chin. If not exactly beautiful it has a strongly intelligent look joined to gentleness of expression. He is the man, who, when the king asked him why he had not learned English during his long stay in England, remarked, " Pardon, your Majesty, how can a man learn English in thirty years? "
Erasmus is one of Holbein's most celebrated portraits, partly on account of the subject, partly because of its intimate expression of character and for its subtlety of line. The great Dutch thinker is seated in profile, facing the left, writing on a paper something which he is copying from the book held open by his left hand. Dressed in black, with the black cap whose side pieces nearly cover his ears and hair, it is the face and hands alone which convey the tremendous impression of personality. The outline of that fine, firm profile is fairly insistent with life, a life that is wholly inner, how-ever, and whose repression is clearly shown in those drawn, cautious lips, in that shaded eye. Almost as full of spirit-portrayal are the smooth, scholarly hands, too delicate and too fond of luxury to be the hands of a martyr, but preeminently the hands of a thinker, a man of deep culture.
The two Biblical pictures of Elsheimer, who was born nearly eighty years after Holbein, are in his usual style, sadly inadequate after such work as the man of Augsburg achieved. They are small canvases, of realistic character and with a warmness in the tone that at times suggests Rembrandt. His colour was of good body and he paid the most careful attention to truth of detail.
The Death of Adonis by Rottenhammer reminds one of Tintoretto in " force, warmth and clearness, but unfortunately he adopted," as well, the " Venetian master's arbitrary and confused arrangement of lines." At the left Venus is falling into the arms of a nymph while at her feet supported by another nymph Adonis expires. A more completely robed maiden is seen back to at the right holding before her a covering which she is about to throw over the dead. Above, a Cupid weeps, and another is by Venus, while in the distance three more are seen spearing a boar. The swirl and twist of line, the crowding together of the figures, make a confusion that nevertheless does not wholly obscure the often really beautiful lines of figure and the soft smooth modelling of the flesh-planes.
A number of Mignon's fruit and flower pieces show that painter's ability as still-life portrayer, but are of little real worth. At his best he approaches Jan David de Heem, but is much less warm and clear in colour, far weaker in composition, and often cold and heavy.
Denner's Portrait of a Woman is so painfully finished that one's pleasure is lost in the multiplicity of details and in his evident anxiety to get the exact texture of every hair.
Seybold copied Denner, but had much better colour. The Portrait of Himself, is warm and interesting in tone. The colour-scheme is pleasing with the gray costume, white shirt and green cap.
The Portrait of Marie-Amélie-Christine of Saxony, Queen of Spain, is not one of Raphael Mengs's most successful achievements. Mengs was brought up on Raphael and the ancients. From his earliest childhood he was put at copying till, if he ever had any individuality it was copied out of him. Yet so perfect were his drawings, so pleasing his forms compared to the utterly trashy works of his contemporary countrymen, that it is not difficult to understand why he was so greatly admired.