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Gothic Way

( Originally Published 1912 )



THE modern schoolboy reads in his history of the three monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. He shrugs his shoulders in contemptuous amusement and passes on.

The modern architect sees the Gothic cathedral. He wonders a moment, shrugs his shoulders in bewilderment, and he passes on.

That the modern world has often failed to appreciate the art of the thirteenth century is, I think, very largely due, paradoxical as the statement may seem, to the very greatness of Gothic. The mediŠval cathedral is composed with an intellectual power that baffles the twentieth century observer. It is, indeed, the same poetic content that makes the monastic vows incomprehensible to the schoolboy and the Gothic church incomprehensible to the architect. The mediŠval mind was essentially different from ours.

It is difficult for us of the twentieth century whose ideals are wealth, self indulgence and individualism, to understand how for centuries poverty, chastity and obedience were the enthusiasms for which men sacrificed and laboured. A gulf which is not to be bridged separates the Gothic point of view from the pragmatic modern age. The medieval conception seems to us outlived, as austere and morose as Puritanism. The thought of renunciation chills us.

Yet in the Middle Ages the ideal of renunciation was never associated with gloom. In the painting of Sassetta representing the mystic marriage of St. Francis with his be-loved Lady Poverty, there is, as Mr. Berenson has pointed out, no note of austerity. And in this the picture, although painted in the Renaissance, is thoroughly medieval. The wedding with Poverty, which we of the twentieth century so keenly dread, is here represented without horror or repulsion. On the contrary, the face of the bridegroom breathes serenity and joy; Lady Poverty herself is calm and beautiful; an ineffable tranquillity surrounds her as, accompanied by her ever faithful sisters, Chastity and Obedience, she floats away so softly, so lightly amid the radiant beauty of the Sienese landscape.

Thus for the Middle Ages poverty was not as for us a curse, but a blessing. Into the writings of the poets and sages who meditated upon the mystic mistress of St. Francis, there enters no note of despair. Dante alone touches the subject with a gentle sadness. St. Francis, he says, married such a woman, that she mounted with Christ upon the cross, while Mary stayed below:

Che per tal donna giovinetto in guerra
Del padre corse, a cui, corn' alla morte
La porta del piacer nessun disserra;
E dinanzi alla sua spirital corte
Et coram patre le si fece unito.
Poscia di di in di l'am˘ pi¨ forte.
Questa, privata del primo marito
Mille e cent' anni e pi¨ dispetta e scura
Fino a costui si stette senza invito;
NŔ valse udir che la trov˘ sicura
Con Amiclate al suon della sua voce,
Colui ch'a tutto it mondo fe' paura;
NŔ valse esser costante nŔ feroce,
Si che dove Maria rimase giuso,
Ella con Cristo salse in su la croce.

But elsewhere poverty is greeted with joy, with ecstatic rapture. The spirit is the same as that in which Plato, the most poetic of Greek philosophers, greeted the sister virtue of Chastity, when he makes Socrates say that a man who has escaped from love is freed from the most tyrannous, the most cruel of masters. Thus the Middle Ages felt that the man who broke the bondage of wealth had acquired a new freedom, a new power to rise to heights of idealism and spirituality. Poverty meant renunciation of the non-essential, of the vanities, for an idea and an ideal. Alain de Lille says of poverty that she knows no fear and therefore is the leader in the battle of life. Only the man Who is unburdened by selfish cares can devote himself heart and soul to some greater interest outside of himself. And as by poverty man rose to the heights of achievement, so, in the conception of the Middle Ages, it was wealth which chiefly impeded his progress. The scholastic philosophers are unanimous in denouncing avarice as the most hideous of sins.

Even antiquity had realized that artistic achievement was fostered by poverty. Poverty, says Petronius, is the sister of intellectual attainment, bonae mentis soror est paupertas. He blames the decadence of Roman art upon the spread of wealth and the consequent luxury and debauchery. He recalls that Lysippus died of want through seeking to give the utmost perfection to one statue; and that Myron was so poor that at his death no heir appeared to claim what he had left.

It is easy to read the ideal of poverty in the Gothic church. The mediŠval artist was poor. The present-day architect despises him as hardly better than a labourer. He lacked entirely the education which wealth gives to his modern brother. There were no architectural schools, endowed with untold millions, such as we have, where there is lacking for an architectural education nothing save the sense of the beautiful. No railroads made it possible for the mediŠval master-builder to journey from one part of the country to the other, so he was unable to direct the construction of more than a single building at a time. Thus he earned little, but was able to put into the one piece of work which he did do, the energy the modern architect divides between many. The poverty of the mediaeval master-builder obliged him to superintend the actual construction in person, instead of leaving a corps of workers to interpret his drawings. This was his greatest gain. For a true work of art must be executed by the man who designs it. On paper or in the imagination, those essential lines upon which the artistic effect primarily depends can never be studied to as great advantage as when the artist actually sees the object created taking form beneath his hands. The very tediousness of the execution gives opportunity for more mature thought, for more careful study. This is the reason that machine work is so invariably bad. It is made from drawings, and the man who executes works thoughtlessly. Nor is the artist able to study the object as it grows. Ever since the time of the Renaissance, architecture has been erected on the machine principle. It has be-come an industry, a business, and has ceased to be an art. The Gothic cathedral, on the other hand, was constructed by hand. It received without stint all the energy, all the genius of the master-builder. Obviously wealth could never be accumulated by such Quixotic generosity.

Gothic architecture was born in poverty. The story of its birth is as exciting as that immortal passage at the beginning of the " Agamemnon," in which ]Aeschylus describes the beacon fires by means of which the news of the fall of Troy was signalled from mountain top to mountain top around the Aegean Sea to much-golden MycenŠ. The spark was kindled in poverty, at a modest hamlet on the marshy banks of the river Sesia in the Lombard plain.

A small monastery was founded, and the good monks in the year 1040 set about building their church. Funds were scarce, and, in that flat plain, there were no trees to be found within many miles. On the other hand, good building brick was abundant. Therefore, the builders of Sannazzaro Sesia determined to find a method of erecting a church of brick and roofing it over without using timber. A simple device was hit upon. Instead of the scaffoldings of wood, which, for centuries and centuries had been employed in building vaults, they erected a scaffolding of brick. The rib vault had been discovered. From that moment Gothic architecture became inevitable.

Mark how the fire runs. Immediately afterwards we find it smouldering in a chapter-house of the cathedral of Novara, a few miles away; then, gaining headway, little tongues of flame appear here and there throughout Lombardy. Then, flashing up, the beacon fire bursts forth in all its glory from the great vaults of S. Ambrogio of Milan. It is echoed in far-off Dalmatia, at Zara. Answering fires are kindled in southern Italy; Montefiascone, S. Robano, and Corneto Tarquinia blaze from their mountain tops. Even the lowlands are kindled at Aversa. To the westward, fire after fire is lighted, carrying the news to France. FrÚjus passes the word to Marseilles; Marseilles transmits it to Moissac, Moissac to Saintes. We are now on the shores of the great western ocean. From Saintes the signal is flashed to QuimperlÚ in Brittany. From QuimperlÚ it at last reaches the ╬le-de-France at Acy-en-Multien.

At Rhuis, now destroyed, the French architects first began to apply their genius to the great principle discovered in Lombardy. The possibilities of the new construction became known and appreciated. The architects advanced step by step, slowly, logically, sanely, thoughtfully, economically, always in poverty. A new architecture came into being. Pointed arches, soaring spires, mighty flying buttresses were flung towards the skies, first in France, then throughout the length and breadth of Europe. Not only Umbria but a whole continent was stretching arms of stone to heaven in prayer.

At each step of this evolution, the most dramatic and tremendous in the history of art, the same goddess, Poverty, presided over each development. There is no waste in a Gothic church. Stained glass, the most sumptuous, the most decorative of accessories, was adapted, why? Because by means of its use, the cost of the building could be reduced. It is less expensive, as well as infinitely more beautiful, to construct a wall of glass which is light, than to build one of solid masonry which is heavy and requires an enormous mass of masonry below it. There is never a buttress nor a pinnacle, nor a gargoyle, nor a bit of tracery, introduced into the Gothic church, which does not have its strict justification from an economic and structural standpoint. The most decorative of all arts makes the least effort to be decorative.

This art depended for its effect not upon costly materials, not upon multitudes of workmen, not upon vast material resources. The Gothic builders did not possess the rare marbles which make gorgeous the monuments of Byzantium and vulgar those of New York. Restricted resources caused the work to proceed with extreme slowness. More is built upon an American skyscraper in a year than was built upon a Gothic cathedral in a century. The Middle Ages lacked completely that wealth upon which our modern architecture is dependent. By means of its poverty, medieval art attained a fine calibre of which ours, because of its wealth, is utterly incapable. In buildings of small dimensions and by workmen untravelled and unlettered was evolved the most intellectual architecture the world has seen.

Distasteful as is the ideal of poverty to us moderns, that of chastity is even more repellant to our way of looking at things. We feel that the celibacy upon which the Middle Ages insisted so strongly is ascetic, contrary to natural laws. Especially do we feel that this is so in art. The study of the nude is the most emphasized task set the young student. Ever since the days of Masaccio and Signorelli and Michel Angelo, the rendering of the nude has been believed to be the highest function of the mature artist. Certainly to this conception of art we owe masterpieces which the world is infinitely richer for possessing. From the " Theseus" of Phidias, the " Hermes " of Praxitiles, the " Baptism" of Masolino, the " DanaŰ " of Correggio to the " Age of Bronze " by Rodin, what a series of forms of inexpressible beauty has this conception called forth!

Indeed, in the last analysis, sex is the illustrative idea which vitalizes that art which more than any other has won the universal homage of mankind. The early nineteenth century profoundly misunderstood the nature of the Greek spirit. Keats, David, Canova conceived it as self-restrained, metallic and icy, colourless as the moonlight on the snow. Something of this old misinterpretation still lives on among us. The Parthenon, Greek statues, subconsciously float in our memories as images of marble, white, ghostly as plaster casts. It requires a real effort to grasp the meaning of the archŠological evidence, to realize that Greek art was not anxmic, but red-blooded, not pale, but full of strong colours, not neurotic, but pulsating with life. Indeed, in this very vitality lies the secret of its illustrative power. It is full of sex. The emotion it conveys is the emotion of sex, the beauty it interprets is the beauty of sex! This fact has very largely been misunderstood or ignored because the type of sex which appealed with especial power to the Greeks is considered perverse and repulsive by the modern age. Not being willing to grant that an art obviously of the highest type could have been inspired by ideals which seem to us depraved, we have willed not to understand. Yet delight in the nude, and especially in the nude male, is the key-note of Greek art. Where else has the vigour of youth, the play of muscles, the glory of manhood found a like expression? It is the ideal of masculine sex which the Greeks eternally glorified; this is the beauty they never wearied of interpreting. It is this which is illustrated by Greek sculpture. Greek architecture, like Gothic, was highly illustrative in character. It was merely a frame for the sculptures Ś the apotheosis of a frame, but still a frame. In a manner the Greek temple was the converse of the Gothic cathedral. Unity was achieved in the latter by subordinating the sculptures to the architecture: in the former by subordinating the architecture to the sculpture. Without the sculpture the Greek temple is as unmeaning as the music of a song without the words. And the sculptures were the idealization of male sex, that and that only. Thus the entire Greek temple was made a glorious hymn in praise of sex.

At the opposite pole is the mediaeval ideal of chastity. The philosophy of the Middle Ages was, of course, primarily Christian, and in this fact lies one of the reasons that it is so seldom understood by moderns. There can be no doubt that chastity was a very fundamental part of the teaching of Christ, and that until the sixteenth century the idea was accepted by the Christian church. Now the problem that was proposed to the mediŠval builders Ś and it was the same problem that was proposed to the Renaissance painters Ś was to produce an art which should embody the ideals of the Christian religion. Let us see how the solutions offered by the Gothic and by the Renaissance artists compare in regard to this doctrine of chastity.

From the earliest times at Rome, the Christian artists had perceived that too great naturalism in the rendering of the human figure was fraught with danger to this cardinal point of Christian ethics. The old Roman art, full of what we have been taught to call tactile values, and their necessary accompaniment, sensuality, was adopted in the earliest churches, but was immediately after-wards discarded. In an incredibly short time art underwent a complete transformation. The nude youths and maidens of classical times were supplanted by long rows of prophets and veiled matrons, full of hieratic dignity. Naturalistic positions and attitudes were avoided. For tactile values were substituted new but not less beautiful principles of art, line and colour. The old beauty was discarded and a new beauty, no less compelling but completely adapted to the expression of the Christian dogma, was discovered. Modern critics, following the worn-out pathway of Vasari, have repeated, one after the other, that this change in the character of art was merely a decline, due to the barbarian invasions. It was nothing of the kind. A decline did subsequently take place, but the earliest works of the Christians, compared with the works of the pagans they supplanted, mark, not a step backward, but a notable step in advance. The Christian artists accomplished the astounding achievement of creating out of their imaginations a new art adapted to the new conditions, and an art which was singularly beautiful and thoughtful.

This was the tradition which the Gothic artists inherited. It was their problem to create figures which should be beautiful enough to suggest the delights of Paradise and yet from which any taint of the sensual, any smack of the houris of Mahomet, should be absent. It was necessary for them to avoid the earthly, the materialistic, the mundane.

When forced by the nature of their subject to depict the nude, as in the cycles of Adam and Eve and the Last Judgment, the mediŠval sculptors invariably contrived to deprive their figures of all sensual suggestion. Elsewhere they generally confined themselves strictly to draped forms, and in order that the taint of sex might be still further eliminated, they represented the figures in an unnaturalistic manner, usually with distorted proportions. In the western portal of Chartres, the artists by elongating the proportions have given their figures precisely that other-worldliness which was required. Nothing could be less sensual than this grave row of prophets and prophetesses. Yet he would be a bold critic who would dare pronounce that any naturalistic figure ever produced in the golden age of the Renaissance was absolutely less lovely, possessed more grace or sweep of line, more charm, greater dignity, higher decorative significance. I smile when I read it soberly stated that the Gothic artists did not understand the proportions and anatomy of the human figure. In the capitals of this same portal of Chartres, just above the excessively elongated figures of the jambs and worked by the hand of the same master, are placed, where the exigency of the treatment demanded it, figures as perfectly proportioned as any produced by a Renaissance master. The sculptures of Chartres are probably derived, at least indirectly, from the sculptures of Languedoc. This province in the early twelfth century possessed the most vital and pregnant plastic art of Europe. In the un-forgettable " Annunciation " of the porch at Moissac, we find the proof that the elongation of the figure in twelfth century art originated in the desire for chastity. Here the sculptures are placed, not on the jambs as at Chartres, but in panels. Nevertheless, the elongation is equally extreme. The sculptor of Moissac has undoubtedly created a plastic work of surpassing loveliness, and he has turned the restraint imposed by his ideal into a source of additional beauty. Without the distorted proportions, he could never have attained the grace, the sentiment, the refinement with which he has actually succeeded in embuing his work. At Chartres the same elongation, doubtless introduced for the same idealistic reason, has resulted in the same decorative beauty, and, in addition, has lent to the sculptures an architectural character, a harmony with the vertical lines of the jambs which could not have otherwise been attained.

In the drawing of stained-glass windows the ideal of chastity led the Gothic artists to a similar elongation of the figure, and resulted in a similar enhancement of the grace and beauty of line. As the Renaissance approached and the ideal of chastity weakened, the proportions become naturalistic. Simultaneously, mastery of line was lost, so that the figures became not only less intellectual but also less decorative.

The ideal of chastity reigns throughout Gothic art. The realistic representation of the human form, and especially of the nude, was carefully and purposely avoided, in stained glass, frescos, miniatures and ivory-carvings as in sculpture. This lack, with which the Gothic artists have been especially reproached, is in reality one of their greatest claims to glory. They produced a beauty no less vital, no less great, than that conferred by tactile values, and they still preserved their art entirely untainted by sensuality; they still offered a complete and perfect solution to the problem proposed them by the Christian Church.

Let us now compare a little and see how the Renaissance artists solved this same problem. It will be remembered that in his " Northern Painters," Mr. Berenson remarks that the eclectic artists frequently coquetted in unseemly manner with the flesh and the devil while crucifying Christ or torturing a martyr. As a matter of fact, the practice far antedates the times of the eclectics and begins with even the earliest masters of the Renaissance. The study of the nude was one of the great aims which the Renaissance artists set themselves. The distinctly sensual suggestion in such pictures as Pier della Francesca's " Burial of Adam," Masaccio's " Baptism " of the Brancacci chapel, the paintings of Signorelli at Orvieto, and others of like kind is indisputable. Now I should not wish to be under-stood as disapproving of the use of the nude in art. Sex may be a beautiful thing, an inspiring thing, and it may very well be the mission of the artist to point out to us its nobler aspects. Just as the modern novelist finds in the love story his favourite and almost only theme, so the plastic artist, in treating of secular subjects, may well find his chief interest in the study of the human body in its most beautiful phases. Only, let us be frank about it, as the Greeks were. Let us enjoy the nude human form as such. Let us not mix it up with Christianity with which it has nothing to do, and, above all, when our sensual instincts are appealed to by a picture of the Renaissance, let us not imagine that we are receiving Christian emotions. The art of the Renaissance, like that of ancient Greece, is very largely the glorification of sex. Sensuality is inseparable from the element of tactile values which is the keynote of the Renaissance art of Florence and more or less of all Italy with the notable exception of Siena. At Siena alone, we have really religious art, and at Siena alone the mediŠval tradition is preserved. The other schools of Renaissance art, one and all, whatever secular and incidental beauty they attained, nevertheless all failed to answer the primary problem which had been proposed to them; they failed to give a satisfactory illustration of the Christian spirit, because they depended for effect upon elements diametrically opposed to their theme.

Let us take a few examples. There can be little doubt that the popularity of St. Sebastian in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was due very largely to the fact that he was represented nude. Vasari's life of Fra Bartolomeo contains an anecdote which shows how profoundly this was true. Fra Bartolomeo was, of course, the most religious of all Renaissance painters, with the possible exception of Fra Angelico, a pious monk of S. Marco and a devoted adherent of Savonarola. Moved by the exhortations of the latter he brought to the famous bonfire of vanities all the drawings of nudes which he had made in his youth. This did not prevent him, however, from painting for the church of S. Marco a picture of St. Sebastian, according to Vasari, wholly undraped. This was set up in the church, where it caused, says Vasari, so many evil and light thoughts among the congregation that the monks were obliged to remove it to the chapter-house. Even more shocking, to me, are the famous frescos of Michel Angelo in the Sistine chapel. Let us stop for a moment to think where we are. This is the private chapel of the pope, Christ's Vicar upon earth, the visible head of that Christian religion, one of the fundamental tenets of which was the doctrine of chastity. In this place, which should be the fountain-head of Christian inspiration, Michel Angelo painted upon the ceiling and west wall frescos with which everyone is familiar. In these paintings, I see, and we all see, many things, but among them there is no Christianity. Religion, perhaps, there may be, the religion that inspires the Theseus of Phidias or the ninth symphony of Beethoven, but of Christianity there is not a trace. We are in the presence of the glorification of the physical, of the body in its utmost grace and perfection. The mysterious sibyls, the grand prophets, the nude demigods and heroes recall the grandeur of Prometheus, the struggle of Titans, even the classic grace of the Elysian Fields, but never for a moment the Christian Paradise.

The works of Michel Angelo are no answer to the problem proposed to the master. They are in no sense an illustration by means of art of the Christian spirit. Hadrian VI, in a fit of conscientiousness, rare indeed among priests in that profligate age, caused the " Last Judgment" to be expurgated of its most flagrant departures from the path of chastity. And greatly as this mutilation is to be regretted, the very fact that it was perpetrated is an eloquent testimony to the lack of religious feeling in the paintings.

There is nothing more profoundly touching nor more sincere than the adoration of the Virgin in the Middle Ages. MediŠval literature is full of the glorifications of the Mother of Christ, written at once with an enthusiasm and a purity that give them high rank as works of art. This same feeling is also expressed in architecture. Hardly one of the great cathedrals of France but was dedicated to Notre-Dame. Moreover, throughout these cathedrals the imagery is constantly singing the praises of Mary. Not that we find so many of her images; for the Middle Ages were far too subtle and too intellectual to honour the Virgin with endlessly repeated renderings of the same subjectŚ the Mother and Child, such as we find in Renaissance art. They celebrated her glory in a much more intellectual way, by great stained-glass windows, or sculptures, in which were told with a thousand variations the story of her life, her lineage, her joys and her sorrows. The miracles believed to have been per-formed in her name Ś and they were legion in number Ś were constantly commemorated. But her glory was sung in another even more subtle way and one that is peculiarly mediaeval. When, for example, in a window of Laon, we see the fleece of Gideon, the artist wishes us to understand that he is really thinking of the Virgin, who, according to the church-fathers, was the fleece upon which fell the dew from on high. When the medieval artists represent Moses and the burning bush, they have in mind the Virgin, of which that bush was a symbol. For, just as the bush burned without being consumed, and as God appeared in it, so, according to the mystics, Mary carried in herself the flame of the Holy Spirit without being burned by sensuality. When we see Eve, we are to think not only of the sinful woman by whose fault humanity was lost, but of the second Eve, by whose travail and suffering humanity was redeemed. The Virgin was recalled by these and other symbols of similar character, spread from one end to the other of the Gothic church. Even when she is represented in the form of the Madonna with Child, as in the famous belle verriŔre of Chartres, she is not given the appearance of an earthly being. She is lifted above the contamination of the world and its materialism. There she sits with her glowing colour, the most beautiful blue, perhaps, which the hand of man has ever produced, radiant in glory, but the Queen of Heaven, never for an instant a woman. Her attitude has the hieratical and symmetrical form by means of which the Gothic artists succeeded in lifting their figures above the earthly.

Let us compare with this treatment of the Virgin in mediaeval art, the attitude of the Renaissance artists towards the same subject. Critics have spent many pages in descanting upon the spirituality of these Madonnas. As a matter of fact, however, the element of sensuality which is almost inseparable from that of human figures treated realistically, is most notably present. Let us look, for example, at the Madonnas of Andrea del Sarto. For one and all, the model was the artist's wife, the notorious Lucrezia, who, on the testimony of an eye-witness, Vasari, has gone down through the centuries branded as the type of the wicked woman, a faithless wife, an instigator to crime, selfish, remorse-less, unscrupulous. These are the features which one of the most famous artists of the Renaissance gave to the Mother of God. When one thinks of the veneration which is often paid to pictures of the Virgin in Catholic churches, this use of the portrait of Lucrezia is singularly repellant. Nor was it rare for a Renaissance artist to take his mistress as a model for the Madonna. It was on the contrary a common custom, practised quite generally. Fra Filippo Lippi, al-though a monk, used as his model the famous Lucrezia Buti Ś Browning's niece of the prior Ś whom he seduced. Botticelli, the enthusiastic follower of Savonarola, used the same model for his Madonnas and for his Goddesses of Pleasure. In which part she was more in character may be judged from the fact that she posed for Pier di Cosimo as well as for Botticelli nude, and according to a traditionŚwhich is not intrinsically improbableŚwas the mistress of Giuliano dei Medici.

No, whatever else we say about Renaissance art, let us not speak of it any longer as spiritual. The Renaissance artists treated Christian subjects with flippancy too persistently to leave any doubt on the subject of their true feelings. An endless assortment of saints stand with the utmost composure and look with stony indifference upon the scenes of suffering at which they are present. The apologists of Renaissance art try to explain this method of treatment by calling it impersonality, and finding in it a quality much to be admired. Piero della Francesca has been especially praised as a leading exponent of this impersonality. It would be more exact to call it thoughtlessness and insincerity. Critics are fond of speaking of the formulism of mediŠval art, but in mediŠval art it was not formulism, because it was alive and sincere and genuine. In Renaissance art there is much more formulism because the artists were using subjects in which they no longer believed nor were interested to cloak experiments in technique or appeals to sensuality. Could anything be more absurd than the habit of the Renaissance artists of representing several different events in the same fresco? The Sistine chapel is full of examples of this abuse. In the same picture we see Moses upon Mt. Sinai, the worship of the golden calf, the breaking of the tables of the Law, and other scenes supposed to be separated by a considerable interval of time, yet all of which are represented together in one muddled composition, as if they were happening simultaneously. It is clear in such productions that the painter cared nothing for his subject. The iconographic purport is completely sacrificed to the caprice of the artist and to the real or fancied exigencies of his technique.

The peculiar greatness of Gothic art, in so far as it is susceptible of analysis, lies, I should say, primarily in its other-worldliness. It is distinctly immaterial. In this it is the antithesis of Greek art, which is clear-cut, tangible, which contents itself with idealizing the beauty of the world. The godlike Homer raises us to the grass-grown ridges of Olympos, where Apollo stalks along, his silver arrows clanging in his quiver; but although Homer guides us to the mountain tops, he never lifts us into the skies. His Apollo, beautiful as he is, remains, after all, merely a glorified man. Certain poets, such as Goethe in the second part of " Faust," transport us into a dream-world, where forms of the earth are softened and transformed by a poetical mist into shapes of supermundane loveliness. Admirable are the achievements of such artists, and we seem, under their spell, to float in a vision of unreality. Yet these poets, too, in the last analysis, never really succeed in creating the atmosphere of another planet. We look, it is true, through fantastically coloured glasses, but the images about us are still mundane. The most difficult task which any artist can set himself in any medium is to express that of which the earth gives no prototype, to rise from the terrestrial to the heavenly, to create from his imagination the delights and emotions of Paradise. Many have attempted this supreme task, and many have failed. Even Milton, in his " Paradise Regained," never for an instant rose to the height of his great argument. Fra Angelico might have succeeded, had it not been for his sentimentality. It is, to my way of thinking, only twice that man, who is for-ever tugging away at his own boot straps, has completely 'succeeded in imagining and expressing the conception of the other world. Once it was Dante, not in the " Inferno " or " Purgatorio, which are from every point of view inferior, but in the Paradiso" alone; the other time it was the artists of the Ile-de-France when they created Gothic art. Perhaps the finest line of criticism that has ever been written upon the mediŠval church is that of Suger, abbot of Saint-Denis in the twelfth century, and himself one of the creators of the new style. When his abbey had at last been completed, the soaring vaults walled in, the windows filled with glass, he wrote: Videor vedere me quasi sub aliqua extranea orbis terrarum plaga, quae nec tota sit in terrarum faece. Just there lies the greatness of Gothic architecture. It is a mighty genius, a colossal imagination which has the power to transport us from the mundane to the supermundane, from the material to the immaterial, from the tangible to the intangible.

There remains the ideal of obedience. The present is the age of the individual, the medieval period was the age of the community. Obedience in the mediŠval conception signified the renunciation of the desire to realize one's own personality in favour of the resolution to realize the ideal of the age. Thus all mediŠval labour was bent towards the same end. The work was everything, the worker, nothing. We know the name of but few artists of the Middle Ages. These men who created such idyllic beauty had apparently little desire for personal glory. They left their work to rejoice future ages; but they cared nothing for handing down their names to posterity. They were glad to be forgotten, the work of art alone counted. How different is this from the modern point of view, where each individual works only for his own fame, his own glory, where every tenth-rate dauber signs his worst sketch in glaring letters!

A passage in the "Lives" of Vasari is singularly significant of this difference of point of view between the mediŠval and the Renaissance artists. It occurs in the proemio of the life of Arnolfo di Cambio, and I am sorry to have to render it, as it is singularly difficult to translate. In effect, Vasari, after having catalogued the great Gothic churches of Italy, and after having remarked that he had been unable to find out who were the architects, exclaims: " How boorish (goffezza) and how little desirous of glory were these artists, who took no pains to transmit to posterity their names ! " Of course Vasari could not understand this, no more than he could understand anything else of the Middle Ages.

It is the same thing in regard to the donors. Occasionally in a Gothic church a modest shield, carved or painted in some out-of-the-way corner, will bear the coat-of-arms of a noble family or trade corporation. Almost never are portraits represented. In the typical Gothic cathedral we search in vain to discover who were the architects, who the painters of the stained-glass windows, who the carvers of the sculptures. It was very different in later times, when the windows bore, not images of saints and prophets, but portraits of rich lords and pompous prelates.

I cannot resist the temptation to turn back once more to the Sistine chapel to contrast, in this particular, the art of the Renaissance with that of the Middle Ages. At the papal court of Rome, the great centre of culture and learning in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, we might, indeed, expect to find artists working with a certain intellectual finesse. We are not unprepared to see them choose subjects less obvious and less hackneyed than those which they were using elsewhere, and which even present more or less the character of intellectual puzzles. And such was indeed the case. Bearing in mind the poetry of mediŠval philosophy, the intellectuality and sincerity with which the mediŠval artists glorified their God and their religion in the provincial churches of far-away France, let us now see what the Renaissance artists did in the private chapel of Christ's Vicar on earth, the centre of culture and Christianity. Botticelli painted in the Sistine chapel, directly opposite the throne upon which the pope sits when celebrating the offices, a very famous fresco. Everyone knows it, although but few are acquainted with the subject. It is sufficiently obscure and, I suppose, intellectual, so that it long escaped all interpretation. A modern critic has, however, discovered it. It is the illustration of several verses in the book of Exodus in which are described the Jewish rites in connexion with cleansing the leper. Why was this particular passage picked out for illustration? It was because the pope who was then reigning Ś Sixtus IV, I think it was Ś had built in Rome the famous hospital of S. Spirito for the lepers. The painter or whoever selected the theme was, therefore, paying a subtle compliment to the pontiff by alluding to this fact. That was the reason this particular subject was chosen. The glory of God was a matter of no concern. In this same picture, in the background, are introduced three other scenes representing the temptations of Christ. Was it for some subtle theological or dogmatic connection that these events of the New Testament were combined with one of the Old Testament with which they appear to have so little to do? Not at all. The temptation of Christ was introduced in order that the artist might have the opportunity to represent the Devil talking to the Saviour on the pinnacle of the temple, and it was desired to show this temple in order that the artist might depict it in the architectural forms of the recently completed hospital of S. Spirito, thereby again alluding to the generosity of the pope and flattering his patron. The same spirit breathes throughout the decorations of the entire Vatican. The work of Raphael in the famous stanze is permeated by it. The frescos one and all reflect, not the praise of God, but the glory, the temporal power, the princely magnificence of the popes. No secular princes ever vain-gloried in their lineage and prowess as did these proud pontiffs of the Renaissance. At times the flattery of the artist becomes almost nauseating. Witness the " Incendio," the " Heliodorus," the "Attila," in which are represented historical events of sacred character or miracles, but where the introduction of the portrait of the reigning pope, Julius II or Leo X, makes it clear that the allusion is to contemporary events, the successful political intrigues, the land-grabbing and oppression of weaker states by the unscrupulous pontiffs. It was a singular idea to make Julius II and Leo X the most worldly, the most cynical of princes, masquerade as saints and heroes of sacred legend.

Such is the contrast between the spirit of mediaeval and of Renaissance art. In one we have the glorification of God, in the other the glorification of man. Renaissance art acquired the human but it lost the divine.

Moreover, the spirit of obedience is manifested in the mediŠval cathedral in an even more subtle way. There is no conflict between the different arts. Sculpture and painting are the dutiful handmaidens of architecture, lending their beauty to increase her effects, and thus combining to make of the cathedral one complete and harmonious whole. This architectural restraint, far from being a source of weakness to the accessory arts, seems to have operated to stimulate them to great achievements. In the Renaissance, sculpture and painting, fired by the new spirit of individualism, rebelled from architecture. They must exist for themselves alone. It is not clear, now they are freed from architectural restraints, that they have become either more expressive or more decorative than before. In fact this declaration of in-dependence has been the undoing of all three arts. Because of their insubordination, architecture has been obliged to do without painting and sculpture, the aid of which she greatly needs. Painting and sculpture have thus lost their best and most useful field of activity. Today we have quantities of painters and sculptors, often not without talent, producing works, finely individualistic without doubt, but for which no one cares. Their labour adds not at all to the joy of the world. If it were only employed as formerly in the service of architecture, these minor artists might render a real service, at the same time finding a more adequate expression of their own artistic emotions.

The ideal of obedience is also reflected in the strong tradition of mediŠval art. It is the modern conception that the individual should be left free to the last degree to develop his own nature; that the artist should be untrammelled by any laws and conventions. In the Middle Ages, on the other hand, the spirit of the time was so strong that an individual never emerged above it. In the Gothic cathedral we seek almost in vain to discover the hand of any one man of superlative excellence. Such a system seems to us to cut the wings of genius, to prevent flight into the highest altitudes. We think of it as sacrificing the exceptional few to the mediocre majority. If, 'however, we apply that pragmatic test upon which the modern world lays such weight, we shall be forced to recognize that no individual modern has achieved greater artistic excellence than the collective Middle Ages. In addition there is a singular evenness of attainment in mediŠval art. The thirteenth century not only produced a few buildings which equal the best produced at any other period, but everything executed at that time was on nearly the same level of excellence. The strength of the mediŠval tradition, the force of the spirit of obedience was such that all artists were carried along with it. No one could produce bad work. To the individualist of the twentieth century this condition of affairs is unthinkable. Yet the fact remains that in the Gothic period the most remote country churches, the most insignificant buildings, show the same exquisite detail, the same unerring sense of beauty as the great cathedrals.

Thus the mediaeval builders pursued their strange ideals of poverty, chastity and obedience. Small wonder the materialist modern shrugs his shoulders and passes on.



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