Painting - The Renaissance Schools
( Originally Published 1917 )
"There have only yet appeared in the world three schools of perfect art schools, that is to say, which did their work as well as it seems possible to do it. These are the Athenian, Florentine, and Venetian."
Of " Old Pictures in Florence," Browning writes:
"They are perfect; how else? they shall never change."
It is in the Florentine School that " the perfect expression of human emotion " is attempted, continues Ruskin, "—the showing of the effects of passion in the human face and gesture. . . . Whether you take Raphael for the culminating master of expressional art in Italy, or Leonardo, or Michael Angelo, you will find that the whole energy of the national effort which produced those masters had its root in Florence; not at Urbino or Milan. . This Florentine or leading Italian school proposed to itself human expression for its aim in natural truth; it strove to do that as well as it can be done and all its greatness is rooted in that single and honest effort."
The portrait of " The Saviour " (fronting this page) represents the supposed drawing for the central figure in Leonardo's fading but immortal picture, " The Last Supper," in the refectory hall of the old monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. Painted about 1497, it stands sublime in all art unequaled before and unsurpassed afterward. But in order to appreciate the original greatness of " The Last Supper," so Walter Pater says, we have to turn back to Leonardo's " studies, above all to one drawing of the central head at the Brera," this is our portrait in which is marked the " union of tenderness and severity in the face lines." This mobility of human expression the effects of divine passion in the human face this it is by which Ruskin characterizes the perfect Florentine School, the highest phase of Renaissance art.
The " thirteenth, greatest of centuries," as Dr. Walsh calls it, ushered in the Renaissance. The mingling of Gothic and Christian influence reared cathedrals, founded universities, and produced the noblest painting yet known to history.
Dante (1265-1321) was living then that world poet and greatest of troubadours, as he has been called in whom, says Carlyle, " ten silent centuries found a voice." St. Francis (1182-1226), called the " Father of the Renaissance," in his return to nature gave the incentive of Art. The legends which grew up about " the poor little man of Assisi " inspired the works of early painters. The most famous of these, by Giotto, in Assisi, is called " St. Francis' Marriage with Poverty," in which the Saint is depicted as renouncing his title and estate to espouse the most humble vocation.
Our chief source of knowledge of the Italian artists is Vasari's famous " Lives of the Painters." Its author was a student of Michelangelo and Andrea del Sarto. Giorgio Vasari (1511-74) possessed so extraordinary a memory that, even as a boy of nine, he could recite whole books of the AEneid. Living at the Medici Court in Florence, he gathered all the gossip of the day, and wrote the history of about seventy leading painters, though his accounts have been proved, in some cases, inaccurate, as hearsay is likely to be, even when recorded but a short time after the event. Thus Vasari perpetuated many agreeable and characteristic anecdotes, perhaps more or less mythical.
There is the story of Cimabue's discovery of Giotto, a peasant lad, drawing on a rock the picture of one of his sheep by means of a sharp-pointed stone, and of how Cimabue took Giotto away with him to Florence, where he soon outstripped his master.
Then there is Giotto's perfect circle, the O drawn with a single sweep of the arm, to convince the skeptics that he was really a great artist perpetuated in Browning's familiar lines:
"Works done least rapidly, Art most cherishes.
It was in the sixteenth century (1546), at the request of the Most Illustrious Cardinal Farnese, the beloved grand nephew of the reigning pope, that Vasari began to classify the notes and memoranda which, " moved by love for these our artists," he had been collecting since his boyhood. The creative impulse of the Renaissance was already exhausted.
Painting was even then on the decline, except in Venice.
The great masters, save Michel angelo, had passed away. Raphael had been gone twenty four years, Leonardo twenty two, Correggio twelve, Andrea del Sarto fifteen. Paul Veronese and Tintoretto were still young. Titian was in a vigorous old age, and Michelangelo had finished the " Last Judgment" only five years earlier.
Long before Vasari turned author the artists had written of their own craft. Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and half a dozen others had produced treatises, though these fragmentary works offered no precedent for Vasari. But all about him, Vasari had the original works themselves, with colors fresh and unfaded, though in a few cases time had already thrown a legendary uncertainty about some matters of which Vasari treated. He was weak in chronology, omitted to cite authorities, and often recorded traditions as facts. He quoted Dante, Boccaccio, Ariosto, Plutarch, and many others, but he was ready to accept information from any source. He was an accomplished man, scholar, artist, and critic in one.
The edition of Vasari's " Lives " of Isso was dedicated to Cosmo de' Medici, whom he addressed as " The most illustrious and most excellent signor Cosmo de' Medici, Duke of Florence, my most Reverend Lord."
First, of course, comes Cimabue. Giovanni [John] Cimabue (1240?-1302? was a Florentine painter. His dates correspond nearly to those of Dante, who has something to say of him.
Cimabue's work was much influenced by the character of Byzantine art; that is, it is marked by a certain stiffness and conventionality. Yet to the painters and people of Cimabue's day, it seemed a wonderful emancipation from the domination of that art. And when we realize that Cimabue had no other models, we understand what a pioneer he was in the field of painting, although to us his work may seem essentially primitive.
Though critics of today question whether any of Cimabue's actual pictures are still in existence, we do know this, that the ones attributed to him must certainly belong to his school, and so they show the character of his painting. Va-sari, however, mentions many works by him, mosaics, frescoes, paintings, designs for architecture, but most of those in Florence have disappeared and others have been proved to be by different painters. Thus we see, even in two hundred years, how uncertain history may become; for though to us Vasari seems of the same time with Cimabue, two centuries in fact separated them. And that represents the great period of Italian painting.
There is, in Florence, an altar-piece by Cimabue in the Church of Santa Maria Novella, and in the Accademia a famous Madonna attributed to him, and another similar work, formerly in the old church of Santa Croce, was taken to Paris, where it is now in the Louvre. The Church has adopted the Cimabue Madonna in Florence as " Our Lady of Perpetual Help." In the Accademia di belli Arti in Florence is also Botticelli's beautiful " Spring," from which comes our detail, "The Three Graces" (p. i0).
The reason for Byzantine influence in the painting of Cimabue's period was that Constantinople was then the great center of art, philosophy, and learning, which it continued to be until its fall when captured by the Turks in 1453. Then its scholars were scattered throughout Europe, more especially in Italy, disseminateing the impulse which brought about the Renaissance. At the time of Cimabue, however, the Crusaders had possession of Constantinople, and Venice was a leading mercantile center.
Now compare a Madonna and Child by Giotto (1266?-1337), painted only about fifty years later. Already one sees a breaking away from the stiffness of the early period. It is less Byzantine. To appreciate the " naïveté," as it may be called, of these early Madonnas, compare next a much later one, by Raphael (1483-1520), the " Madonna Granduca," also in Florence, in the Pitti Palace. Here one sees really human, as well as divine, qualities. It acquired its name simply from one of the owners, a grand duke, who used to carry it about with him wherever he traveled, because he was so fond of it.
It was Ruskin, you remember, who was responsible, to a great degree, for our love of the Primitives. In his " Mornings in Florence," he gives much attention to early works.
Of Cimabue, Vasari says that he " achieved little less than the resurrection of painting from the dead." He further writes, Cimabue " left many disciples, and, among others, Giotto, who afterward became a most eminent painter, and long dwelt in the house inhabited by his master, in the Via del Cocomero."
It is said that Cimabue taught Dante drawing, and possibly also painting. Boccaccio mentions it as a fact, and Dante himself says in the Vita Nuova, " Whilst I thought of her [Beatrice] I drew an angel."
A commentator on Dante speaks of Cimabue thus: " Cimabue, of Florence; a painter of the time of our author, knew more of the noble art than any other man; but he was so arrogant and proud withal, that if any one discovered a fault in his work, or if he perceived one himself (as will often happen to the artist, who fails from the defects in the material that he uses, or from insufficiency of the instrument with which he works), he would instantly destroy that work, however costly it might be. Giotto, of that same city of Florence, was, and is, the most eminent of painters; and his works bear testimony for him in Rome, in Naples, at Avignon, Florence, Padua, and many other parts of the world."
Dante, too, mentions Cimabue in the Purgatorio, and his words show how quickly, even in those days, the taste of the fickle public veered from one artist to another:
"Cimabue thought to lord it over painting's field;
Tradition has made Cimabue famous,. and the double testimony of Dante and Vasari has inclined many writers to call him the Father of Italian Painting. Not-withstanding his Byzantine rigidity, there is really an attempt at expression in Cima-bue; his figures try to move, and try with a success which delighted the Florentines, accustomed to the wooden-like Byzantine figures.
There is another quality particularly medieval; that of religious feeling finding expression in painting. The artist was not painting a mother and child; he was representing a Divine Mother and a Divine Child; and it was not necessary, in his thought, that there should be any photographic resemblance to nature. He pictured his ideal, and to him and those of his day it was far more lovely than it seems to us, though some of us, especially those who know and care about the early history of the Church, may learn to love this painting, and to see in it the painter's dream, which was to be so much more fully expressed by Cimabue's successors.
The religious motive was the factor in all art, the expression of a simple faith that conceived heaven and hell often in what may seem to us now a very material way, as even in Michelangelo's " Last Judgment " on the walls of the Sistine Chapel. Yet this period in its greatest works has never been surpassed, and may never be, because in art, at least, men's minds can never return to that simple primitive faith; though we may hope to see in other directions, perhaps, the development of far grander metaphysical understanding.
Besides the creation of paintings and cathedrals, the latter of distinctly Gothic impulse, the Renaissance period was characterized by a brilliant literature. The artists were highly cultivated men. Giotto, the head of the allegorical school of painting, enjoyed the friendship of ,Dante. Michelangelo's beautiful poetry is often read and quoted to-day, and only overshadowed by his much greater fame as a painter. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was a marvelous engineer as well as artist, and so great an inventor that it is said he anticipated nearly every modern invention. Lord Redesdale, lecturing on Leonardo, said: " For thirty years, at Milan first and afterwards at Rome, he labored at making a flying machine."
Tradition has it that Leonardo first appeared in Milan, before the Duke Ludovico Sforza, playing on a curious silver harp or lute of his own device. Though born a "love-child," Leonardo came of a noble Florentine family, and grew up with his father, carefully educated as befitted his ancestry.
Thirty years of his life was spent at Florence, followed by twenty at the Court of Milan, where he had erected equestrian statues, founded an academy, wrote ,poems and a treatise on art, undertook difficult engineering and hydraulic feats, arranged pageants, designed dresses, and decorated the interior walls of the Castle with exquisite designs. It was most unfortunate that his masterpiece, " The Last Supper," was painted on moist walls of a hall afterward used by Napoleon's soldiers as a stable. And thus the picture became impaired almost past restoration. The hands of the disciples and the pose of heads in this great painting wonderfully express their character and, it is said, even their daily occupations. The drawing for the Saviour's head (p. 44) is perhaps the most exquisite face in the world, matchless, perfect, and poignant.
After leaving Milan, on account of political disturbances, Leonardo became a wanderer for nineteen years, until he found a home in France under the patron-age of the King, Francis I. The French have ardently appreciated Leonardo, and several of his great works are in the Louvre, including perhaps the best-known picture in the world, the " Mona Lisa," the " Sainte Anne," and others. He has profoundly influenced the French schools, and might thus be called the Father of French Painting.
Berenson says of Leonardo that he was constantly striving for that subtler and subtler intensification of modeling by means of light and shade which he finally attained in his " Mona Lisa."
Very close to Leonardo may be placed Bernardino Luini (1475?-1533?), whose beautiful "Madonna and Child" (p. 142) is one of the most highly valued paintings in the National Gallery at Washington. Ruskin, indeed, placed Luini before Leonardo, his master, but such a view is extravagant. However, Luini was Leonardo's most distinguished pupil. Born at Luino, on Lake Maggiore, the painter perhaps imbibed some of that poetic atmosphere of the Italian lakes, for it is said that he possessed a serene, happy, and contented mind, naturally expressing itself in forms of grace and beauty. His painting has been characterized as appealing to the emotions rather than the intellect and groping after the beauty of perfected Italian art. The " loving self-withdrawn expression " of his works has been noted, " a peculiarly religious grace devoutness of the heart." In Luini's faces there is always a fleeting almost wistful smile. This is true of our charming example (p. 142), a rare "Ma-donna and Child " in that it depicts the Infant taking the first steps.
The only anecdote preserved of Luini tells of his painting the figures of saints in the Church at Saronno, and that for his work he received the equivalent of 22 francs ($4.40) per day, along with wine, bread, and lodging; and this remuneration so well satisfied him that, in completing the commission, he painted a Nativity for nothing!
Luini left many other beautiful figures besides Saints and Madonnas, and of him Berenson says, though he does not share Ruskin's excessive admiration: " Luini is always gentle, sweet, and attractive. It would be easy to form out of his works a gallery of fair women, charming women, healthy yet not buxom, and all lovely, all flattering our deepest male instincts by their seeming appeal for support."
Sandro Botticelli (c. 1447-c. 1510) became in the nineteenth century the inspiration of the English Pre-Raphaelite School. He is described in an old record by his father as a painter " quando vuole,"—when he likes, from which we may guess that he was highly tempera-mental.
Like Leonardo in picturing facial expression, Botticelli was supreme in representing movement, rhythm in his figures. We may turn once more with pleasure to our detail from " Spring " " The Three Graces " (p. 10) and observe the flow of line, the waving curves of the human figure.
Botticelli left many famous paintings, including beautiful Madonnas, one of them being " The Magnificat," or more correctly " The Coronation of the Virgin." In 1481 he was invited to Rome to paint a fresco in the Sistine Chapel, a pastoral idyl of the " Early Life of Moses," in which the beautiful face of Moses reminds one of traditional por-traits of the Christ, and surrounded by his sheep, Moses still further suggests the Good Shepherd.
Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) is another Italian, though not Florentine, mas-ter of the same time, in whom Berenson recognizes a precursor of Burne-Jones. " Like Burne-Jones," says Berenson, " he was archaistic rather than archaic in his intention and romantic in his attitude toward the past, and, like Burne-Jones, he substituted a schematic vision for a remarkable native gift of observation."
" Rafael made a century of sonnets," sings Browning. Born at Urbino, Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520) studied until about sixteen under his father, who was also an artist; then he spent four years (16-19) with Perugino (1446-1523). He next journeyed to Rome where he at once became recognized, and founded a large school, his students following him always wherever he went. Whether Raphael or Michelangelo was the greater painter, was asked by all Rome. Raphael painted, besides many others, the two greatest Ma-donnas in the world,—the Sistine, now in Dresden, and the " della Sedia," in the Pitti, Florence. His decorations in the Stanze and Loggie of the Vatican attract many visitors. He died at thirty-seven, almost the same age as Shelley, Byron, Chopin, Burns, Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Schubert. Praise could not add to his fame.
" Florentine painting between Giotto and Michelangelo contains the names of such artists as Orcagna, Masaccio, Fra Filippo, Pollaiuolo, Verrochio, Leonardo, and Botticelli," says Berenson. " Put beside these the greatest names in Venetian art, the Vivarini, the Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, and Tintoret. The difference is striking. The significance of the Venetian names is exhausted with their significance as painters. Not so with the Florentines. Forget that they were painters, they remain great sculptors; forget that they were sculptors, and sfili they remain architects, poets. . . They left no form of expression untried."
Of Michelangelo (1475-1564), John Addington Symonds says: " He saw Italy enslaved and Florence extinguished, it was his exceeding bitter fate to watch the rapid decay of the arts and to witness the triumph of sacerdotal despotism. . Brooding over the sermons of Savonarola, the text of the Bible, the discourses of Plato, and the poems of Dante, he made his spirit strong in solitude by the companionship with everlasting thoughts."
Michelangelo began his remarkable frescoes in the Sistine in 1508 when he was thirty-four years old. , Dante began the Divina Commedia when he was thirty-five. But the artist lived far past the' poet's span, perhaps because in their art painters more often find greater possibility of actual expression than do poets in their verses.
Meanwhile, in Venice there grew up a famous school of painting, in Ruskin's view one of the three perfect schools of all time. From the Venetian School we show two works by perhaps its greatest masters, Bellini (p. 6o) and Giorgione (p. 224).
Giovanni Bellini (143o?-1516), of a family of artists, became the leading Venetian painter. He was a wonderful colorist, and his influence gave to Venetian painting its golden tone, so rich and characteristic of the gala life of that poetic city in Bellini's day.
From one of Bellini's most important works is our detail, the beautiful " Mary Magdalene" (p. 6o), surely a lovely portrait of some loved woman of his day. This face typifies Ruskin's opinion of Bel-lini as " the mighty Venetian master who alone of all the painters of Italy united purity of religious aim with perfection of artistical powers." The complete picture represents the " Madonna with Saints Catherine and Mary Magdalene." An-other noted Bellini is the stately portrait of the " Doge Leonardo Loredano " in ,the National Gallery, London: Closely following Bellini, and equally famous, is his pupil Giorgione da Castel franco (c. 1478-1511). The name Giorgione (" Big George ") came to him in consequence of his ability. While many portraits are ascribed to Giorgione with more or less certainty, our picture, the " Knight of Malta " (p. 224), in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, is certainly genuine.
As Vasari pointed out, Giorgione's position in Venetian art was like that of Leonardo in Florentine art. He influenced Titian and many other painters of note. " Few artists have played so impor-tant a rôle in the history of painting as Giorgione," says a modern writer, " who ranks as one of the seven supreme colorists of the Renaissance."
" It is Giorgione," writes Théophile Gautier, " who fashioned the palette of Venise, Titian, Bonifazzio, Tintoret, Paris Bordone, Palma Senior and Junior, Paul Veronese; the most illustrious and the less famous have drawn generously upon him."
D'Annunzio eulogizes Giorgione in these words: " The destiny of no poet is comparable with his. Nothing is known about him; some have even gone so far as to deny his existence. Yet the whole of Venetian art is enflamed by his revelation. . . . He deserves, like Prometheus, to be called 'the bearer of fire.' "
Yet Giorgione died far too young, at only thirty three. He was beautiful in person, and ardent as a lover. Tradition affirms that his death was in consequence of an unfortunate love affair, and even names the lady who forsook him for an-other. The critics, however, loving to destroy our illusions, assert that the " plague " was the cause of his untimely taking off.
One Venetian artist must be mentioned as the " romantic " painter of his day, for his interest in telling a story. He is Vittore Carpaccio (1450?-1522?), whose masterpiece is the series picturing the " Life of St. Ursula," in the Academy, Venice. Her story is sketched (p. 70). Of Carpaccio, W. J. Stillman says, "As a story-teller, he had no superiors in the School of Venice, and perhaps none in Italian art."
Titian (1477-1576) was called " Il Divino " (The Divine). Though born among the mountains outside Venice, he came early to the great metropolis, and at nine or ten was a student under Giovanni Bellini. Later Titian collaborated with his rival, Giorgione. During his long and successful life he enjoyed the favor of the Doges of Venice, of kings, popes, and especially the Emperor Charles V. and his son Philip. William Michael Rossetti speaks of Titian as " the greatest of painters, considered technically. He may properly be regarded as the greatest manipulator of paint in relation to color, tone, luminosity, richness, texture, sur-face, and harmony." . .
His favorite subjects include the Magdalen, Venus, Danaë, the Madonna, and the Holy Family.
Ruskin says : The sensualist will find sensuality in Titian ; the thinker will find thought; the saint, sanctity; the colorist, color; the anatomist, form.There is a softness more exquisite than Correg gio's, a purity more lofty than Leonardo's, a force mightier than Rembrandt's, a sanctity more solemn even than Raphael's."
Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) was born in Verona, and studied art under his father, a sculptor. At twenty-seven he came to Venice, where in time he was recognized as a, worthy rival of Titian and Tintoretto (1518-1594). The American mural painter Blashfield writes: " For the easy handling of great masses of people upon huge, cheerful, light-filled canvases, no master has ever equalled Paul Veronese."
" It would be easy," . says Berenson, " to show how much other schools of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as the Flemish, led by Rubens, and the English led by Reynolds, owed to the Venetians."