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More Finds In Milan

( Originally Published 1914 )

THUS I can now say with thankfulness, Foppa is at last finally swept out of the way, and my narrative can proceed, though not strictly on chronological lines; for the necessities of the case have already carried it beyond the points of occurrence of several incidents which must find place somewhere within the covers of this little book. There is, for instance, the story of the Lotto, which certainly ought to have been told before this ; but it simply would not come in, and had to be bundled aside to await its chance. I had better set it down here, and at once, before I am switched away on some other unforeseen track.

It was the very day we were going to Cavenaghi's studio, with the first Foppa under my arm, that I stumbled across the Lotto. I simply walked into an upstairs shop that I had not before noticed, and there it was on the table, the very first thing I saw. Lotto at that time was outside the rather narrow range of my connoisseurship, so I cannot say that I recognised the picture for what it was. But I at least knew that it was not by Rottenhammer, as the dealer tentatively suggested. Rottenhammer was a favourite name with ignorant dealers then for any smooth-surfaced picture with a landscape background that obviously could not be called Raphael, or Titian, or Correggio, or by some other of the few great names they knew; but I never could find out what it was that induced them to pitch on that seventeenth-century German's name rather than any other. This dealer, at any rate, had his doubts, and admitted that the picture on the easel might be by some other artist; but it was beyond his wits to attain any certainty in the matter. All I could surely assert, in the state of my knowledge then, was that there was Venice at the heart of the work, and more particularly Giorgione ; beyond that, I only knew that here was something of a finer excellence than any picture we had yet had a chance to buy. And now a curious thing happened. With the opportunity of our lives before us, and only a small price demanded, I simply could not decide to walk off with the picture. My wife entreated; the man offered to take less ; it was all no use, and I departed from the shop and left it behind.

But with the night came sanity, and on our way to Cavenaghi's studio next day we stopped and just picked up the treasure. The dealer, for luck, threw in a majolica alberello, probably worth as much since as what we paid for both. He also told us that the picture had formerly been in the Castelbarco collection. We tied it up with the Foppa, which we were taking to be cleaned, and by a curious coincidence the two panels were of exactly the same dimensions, only differing in thickness. Arriving at Cavenaghi's, where, as above told, we met Morelli and Frizzoni, I was able to spring a surprise on them, for my packet only seemed to contain the Foppa, and, when that had been dealt with, the second panel seemed to arrive by magic. It was easy to see how astonished and pleased they were when I offered it to them. I could not follow what they said to one another at first, but only their swiftly reached conclusion. " It is his ; it is certainly his." Then I had to expose my own ignorance, and demand to whom it was they so confidently ascribed it, and they replied, " Lotto." " But," I said to Morelli, " I noticed that at first you seemed to have some other artist in your mind; who was that ? He replied that, for a moment, it almost seemed to him that it might be by Giorgione, but only for a moment. It was certainly painted by Lotto in his early Giorgionesque days, about the time when he painted the St. Jerome in the Louvre, which has a similar beautiful landscape background. Since then Lotto has been the subject of a masterly study by Mr. Berenson, in which our picture is carefully analysed.* But he makes the same mistake that we did in calling it at first " Danaë," with whom the subject has really nothing to do. Under Cavenaghi's skilful hands the small repaints, clumsily added to cover up a single injury in an unimportant position, were soon re-moved, and in due season the damage was perfectly repaired.

As I have questioned the correctness of the name used by both Morelli and Berenson, a brief discussion of the actual subject of the picture cannot be avoided. In the centre there lies a little white-robed maiden, and something is, indeed, being poured into her lap from the sky ; but it is a baby Cupid, not Jupiter, who does the pouring, and the shower consists, not of gold, but of flowers. Jupiter pouring gold into Danaë's lap is a wholly different subject from a Cupid pouring flowers into the lap of this very pure and simple girl, who seems as far removed as possible from the kind of person that would sell herself for money, even if a god gave it. The meaning of the subject is indicated by the presence in the foreground, on either side, of a female satyr of the woods and a god of the fountain. These are the genii of the fair landscape, in the midst of which the maiden lies day-dreaming at the foot of a laurel. There are trees and hills behind ; a sunset sky, ruddy below, deep blue above, fills the rest of the panel. The maiden is dreaming of love as a vision of flowers falling upon her. Probably the artist was moved by some poem of the day, not yet identified, or perhaps the subject was given to him by a patron.

It was only during a very brief period in the childhood of the Renaissance that such a picture could have been painted at all. Its naïve charm was impossible to the more sophisticated artists of a few years later, whilst a little earlier the old religious spirit still retained too much potency for this pure paganism to be possible. Save for Giorgione, Lotto could not have painted thus. The very naïveté of the picture doubtless seemed to its own maker a defect, which he was soon after able to avoid. Every great school of art passing through its various inevitable stages, from uncouth and tentative beginnings to culmination of flower, exuberance of fruit, and final decay, does, at some moment of its youth, produce works of extraordinary charm and naïveté. Venetian artists passed through this phase about the years 1490 to 1510. The Florentines passed through it a trifle earlier. Albertinelli exemplified it in his " Adam and Eve" at Agram. Fra Bartolomeo would have produced perfect examples of it had he been less pious. Perugino's " Apollo and Marsyas " in the Louvre, Raphael's " Knight's Dream," the National Gallery "Amor and Castitas" (now given to Cosimo Roselli), are all delightful products of this attractive phase of the early Renaissance. The same spirit lingered on later in Carpaccio, and occasionally re-emerged in other Venetians; but it was soon lost in the greater powers and mightier conceptions of the culminating artists, who yet, in the full triumph of their unrivalled maturities, never again attained the particular charm which in no picture is more visibly incorporated than in this " Maiden's Dream "—the name by which I have chosen to call it.

I was then too young and immature to imagine that perhaps Morelli might feel a little sore at such a stroke of luck coming to so callow a collector as I was. I had bought it, evidently for little money, under his very shadow. He might well think that fortune was unkind not to have given it to him. But it seemed to me then the most natural thing in the world that he and our admirable friend, Dr. Frizzoni, should have patted me on the back and rejoiced with me, and made us feel that our pleasure was no less theirs. Yet such magnanimity is of the rarest, and just then in my presence was manifest that real nobility of character which Morelli carried through life, and which gave him not merely the respect of scholars and critics, but the admiration, and even the affection, of a wider circle.

He bade me have the picture well photographed, as he would have occasion to need it, and it has always been one of the minor enduring regrets of my life that I failed him in this matter. When the picture arrived in England I did have a photograph of it made, but it turned out poorly. A year or two later Dr. Frizzoni wrote to me : " Ella conoscera il primo vol. della nuova opera di Morelli (Gall. Borghese e Doria). Ora egli lavora assiduamente al secondo nel quale trattera del Lotto in particolare. M'incarica quindi di chiederle s' Ella potesse procurargli una buona fotografia della sua Danaë que servirebbe per la riproduzione nel volume stesso come punto di partenza per l'artista." I sent him the bad photograph, but it would not reproduce, and, the picture being in Liverpool and I in Egypt, or some such place, a better was not procurable in time for his publication.

Since then the picture, Iike the Foppas and others above-mentioned, has often been exhibited, and is well known to all who study the art of its land and period. It has, no doubt, given much pleasure to others, but no one has had the chance to feel in its presence what we have felt, on whom it burst so unexpectedly, and to whom it was the key that unlocked a whole school and phase of the greatest pictorial art of Europe and the world.

When the picture was exhibited in 1905—I believe at the Burlington Fine Arts Club*—the following notice of it appeared in the Atheneum (December 2nd, 1905) by a writer whose style will be readily recognised :

"No one has ever doubted that Sir Martin Conway's so-called Danaë is not only the earliest existing work by Lotto, but also in many ways the most entirely enjoyable of all his paintings. For Lotto was an artist of exquisite sensibility if imperfect talent, and, in consequence, he promised more than he could ever perform. Here, in this early work, which breathes the fine earnestness and illusion of youth, he is really greater in what he suggests than in the imperfect accomplishment of his maturity."

It has entertained me to recount thus at length these early adventures of ours in the field of Italian picture collecting, and I hope the reader has been able to follow me so far without weariness. Evidently, however, I must not trespass too far on his patience, being, as I am, completely in his power, and able to be switched off in a moment by the mere closing of the pages, as one switches off a needless electric lamp. The remaining acquisitions of this extraordinary six weeks of good luck can only be recorded in brief fashion. In all, as far as I remember, we took home some thirty pictures, most of minor importance, which I afterward sent to the sale-room, and have regretted ever since. But besides the two Foppas, the Lotto, and the Bevilacqua above described, four other pictures by Romanino, Tiepolo, Cotignola, and of the school of Moretto, cannot go unrecorded.

The Romanino came out of a private house at Brescia, in which were quite a number of attractive pictures, amongst them a Moretto Visitation, which I have since seen in some public gallery. Our picture is a Virgin and Child with the little St. John, not beautiful in form, but agreeable in colour. It possesses something of Venetian warmth, but the peculiar red of the Virgin's robe is Romanino's own, and so is the dark slaty-blue of the cloak, whilst the plain architectural background of marble is obviously Brescian. There can be little doubt that Romanino's pupil, Francesco Prato of Caravaggio, had a hand in this work, as in several other of the same artist's pictures, notably the large painting in the National Gallery.

A full-length life-size St. Peter, leaning on a stone pedestal or balustrade, with his chin resting on his hand, manifests unmistakably the design of Moretto; the drapery is his, and so is the chord of colour and the rather smoky blue sky and rounded cumulus clouds. This canvas formed part of the wall decoration of a chamber or chapel belonging to the Fenaroli family at Brescia, which was supplied by Moretto. Of course, most of the actual painting must have been done by assistants. There were also figures of Paul, Jerome, Solomon, and John the Evangelist, but the Peter was far the best, and I think that the master himself had some hand in the actual painting. The series is mentioned by Crowe and Cavalcaselle, who do not seem to have been informed of their original purpose.

At this time, but I forget whether in Brescia or Bergamo, I also acquired a good example of Tiepolo—one of those small, upright canvases which seem to bear designs for vast wall-paintings. I remember to have been attracted by a distant vision of it in some corner of a shop, owing to its likeness to one of the two pictures which I had seen Sir Frederick Burton purchase for the National Gallery at the Beckett-Denison sale at Christie's two years before. It appeared to me to be one of the same series, the figures being grouped under the similar enframing arch of an open portico. Over their heads is a boy angel casually swooping about in the air, and being at the moment upside down, but entirely comfortable and enjoying himself. The meaning of the picture is clear enough. St. Peter is seen en-throned on a high pedestal, like St. Augustine in the National Gallery picture. He is stretching out his key toward Faith, a blue-robed, white-winged lady-angel standing before him. In front is the swarthy and masculine figure of Paganism, fallen off the globe of the world and lying prone, with his overthrown incense altar and books beside him. The whole is painted with the dextrous fluency characteristic of the eighteenth-century Venetians, and especially of Tiepolo, and is in perfect preservation.

Last to be mentioned, though of earlier date, is a small but very beautiful little panel picture by that rare painter of the Romagna, Francesco Zaganelli, of Cotignola, by whom there are pictures in the Brera, and at Naples, Ravenna, Berlin, Chantilly, and Dublin, as well as an important altar-piece in the collection of Mr. David Erskine. Mine is a small half-length of St. Catherine, painted with great smoothness of finish. The influence of Perugino is evident in the design, but all the critics agree in the attribution to Cotignola, which, besides, is rendered certain by the appearance of the same model in the same costume on one of his altar-pieces in the Brera. In his large pictures the composition often seems to lack unity, the figures being put together rather like the parts of a puzzle, but his individual figures are often expressive and beautiful. He appears to have been fond of upturned eyes, and he painted the eyeball very full and round, as, for instance, in the Berlin Annunciation. There is a delicate drawing by him at Stockholm, which was a study for the small Madonna at Chantilly. He designed with facility and grace decorative details, such as foliated friezes or pilaster panels. The little St. Catherine shows him at his best. He is evidently happier and more at home in work on a small scale, like a Flemish painter. He could linger lovingly over details and find scope for his decorative predilections in the crown, the embroidered borders, the angel clasp, the little pearls and tassels, and the ring, all of which he finished with scrupulous care, so that a magnifying glass is required to manifest their completeness. My wife at once annexed this picture of her patron saint as specially her own, and none has better kept its place.

Nowadays, after such a streak of luck as we had in that early summer at Milan, I should know better than to quit the field unless overwhelming necessity compelled. But the world then contained other wonders no less, perhaps even more, enthralling to me than works of art. These were snow mountains. The climbing season was at hand, and the call of the glaciers inexorable. So we packed up our spoils, shipped them off to England, and by July 9th I was on the arête of the Nadelhorn, suffering horrible pains from lack of condition, but rejoicing in the glory of a world where there are no dealers and nothing to hunt, save new routes up peaks or over passes.

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