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Renaissance in Italy Vol. 3 by John Addington Symonds

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coarser passions, held in check by ecclesiastical discipline, dared to
emerge into the light of day under the supposed sanction of classical
examples. What the Visconti and the Borgias practised in their secret
chambers, the sculptors exposed in marble and the poets in verse. All
alike, however, were mistaken in supposing that antique precedent
sanctioned this efflorescence of immorality. No amount of Greek epigrams
by Strato and Meleager, nor all the Hermaphrodites and Priapi of Rome, had
power to annul the law of conduct established by the founders of
Christianity, and ratified by the higher instincts of the Middle Ages. Nor
again were artists justified before the bar of conscience in selecting the
baser elements of Paganism for imitation, instead of aiming at Greek
self-restraint and Roman strength of character. All this the men of the
Renaissance felt when they listened to the voice within them. Their work,
therefore, in so far as it pretended to be a reconstruction of the antique
was false. The sensuality it shared in common with many Greek and Roman
masterpieces, had ceased to be frank and in the true sense pagan. To shake
off Christianity, and to revert with an untroubled conscience to the
manners of a bygone age, was what they could not do.

The errors I have attempted to characterise did not, however, prevent the
better and more careful works of sculpture, executed in illustration of
classical mythology, from having a true value. The "Perseus" of Cellini
and some of Gian Bologna's statues belong to a class of aesthetic
productions which show how much that is both original and excellent may be
raised in the hotbed of culture.[117] They express a genuine moment of the
Renaissance with vigour, and deserve to be ranked with the Latin poetry
of Poliziano, Bembo, and Pontano. The worst that can be said of them is
that their inspiration was factitious, and that their motives had been
handled better in the age of Greek sincerity.

Gian Bologna, born at Douai, but a Florentine by education, devoted
himself almost exclusively to mythological sculpture. That he was a
greater sculptor than his immediate predecessors will be affirmed by all
who have studied his bronze "Mercury," the "Venus of Petraja," and the
"Neptune" on the fountain of Bologna. Something of the genuine classic
feeling had passed into his nature. The "Mercury" is not a reminiscence of
any antique statue. It gives in bronze a faithful and spirited reading of
Virgil's lines, and is conceived with artistic purity not unworthy of a
good Greek period. The "Neptune" is something more than a muscular old
man; and, in its place, it forms one of the most striking ornaments of
Italy. It is worthy of remark that sculpture, in this stage, continued to
be decorative. Fountains are among the most successful monuments of the
late Renaissance. Even Montorsoli's fountain at Messina is in a high sense
picturesquely beautiful.

Casting a glance backward over the foregoing sketch of Italian sculpture,
it will be seen that three distinct stages were traversed in the evolution
of this art. The first may be called architectural, the second pictorial,
the third neo-pagan. Defined by their artistic purposes, the first
idealises Christian motives; the second is naturalistic; the third
attempts an idealisation inspired by revived paganism. As far as the
Renaissance is concerned, all three are moments in its history; though it
was only during the third that the influences of the classical revival
made themselves overwhelmingly felt. Niccola Pisano in the first stage
marked a fresh point of departure for his art by a return to Graeco-Roman
standards of the purest type then attainable, in combination with the
study of nature. Giovanni Pisano effected a fusion between his father's
manner and the Gothic style. The Pisan sculpture was wholly Christian; nor
did it attempt to free itself from the service of architecture. Giotto
opened the second stage by introducing new motives, employed by him with
paramount mastery in painting. Under his influence the sculptors inclined
to picturesque effects, and the direction thus given to sculpture lasted
through the fifteenth century. For the rest, the style of these masters
was distinguished by a fresh and charming naturalism and by rapid growth
in technical processes. While assimilating much of the classical spirit,
they remained on the whole Christian; and herein they were confirmed by
the subjects they were chiefly called upon to treat, in the decoration of
altars, pulpits, church facades, and tombs. The revived interest in
antique literature widened their sympathies and supplied their fancy with
new material; but there is no imitative formalism in their work. Its
beauty consists in a certain immature blending of motives chosen almost
indiscriminately from Christian and pagan mythology, vitalised by the
imagination of the artist, and presented with the originality of true
creative instinct. During the third stage the results of prolonged and
almost exclusive attention to the classics, on the part of the Italians as
a people, make themselves manifest. Collections of antiquities and
libraries had been formed in the fifteenth century; the literary energies
of the nation were devoted to the interpretation of Greek and Latin texts,
and the manners of society affected paganism. At the same time a worldly
Church and a corrupt hierarchy had done their utmost to enfeeble the
spirit of Christianity. That art should prove itself sensitive to this
phase of intellectual and social life was natural. Religious subjects were
now treated by the sculptors with superficial formalism and cynical
indifference, while all their ingenuity was bestowed upon providing pagan
myths with new forms. How far they succeeded has been already made the
matter of inquiry. The most serious condemnation of art in this third
period is that it halted between two opinions, that it could not be
sincere. But this double-mindedness, as I have tried to show, was
necessary; and therefore to lament over it is weak. What the Renaissance
achieved for the modern world was the liberation of the reason, the power
of starting on a new career of progress. The false direction given to the
art of sculpture at one moment of this intellectual revival may be
deplored; and still more deplorable is the corresponding sensual
debasement of the race who won for us the possibility of freedom. But the
life of humanity is long and vigorous, and the philosopher of history
knows well that the sum total of accomplishment at any time must be
diminished by an unavoidable discount. The Renaissance, like a man of
genius, had the defects of its qualities.


[56] _Sketches of the History of Christian Art_, vol. ii. p. 102.

[57] Since I wrote the paragraph above, I have chanced to read Mr.
Buskin's eloquent tirade against the modern sceptical school of critics
in his "Mornings in Florence," _The Vaulted Book_, pp. 105, 106. With the
spirit of it I thoroughly agree; feeling that, in the absence of solid
evidence to the contrary, I would always rather accept sixteenth-century
Italian tradition with Vasari, than reject it with German or English
speculators of to-day. This does not mean that I wish to swear by Vasari,
when he can be proved to have been wrong, but that I regard the present
tendency to mistrust tradition, only because it is tradition, as in the
highest sense uncritical.

[58] See Appendix I., on the Pulpits of Pisa and Ravello.

[59] The data is extremely doubtful. Were we to trust internal
evidence--the evidence of style and handling--we should be inclined to
name this not the earliest but the latest and ripest of Pisano's works.
It may be suggested in passing that the form of the lunette was
favourable to the composition by forcing a gradation in the figures from
the centre to either side. There is an engraving of this bas-relief in
Ottley's _Italian School of Design._

[60] Rheims Cathedral, for example, was begun in 1211. Upon its western
portals is the loveliest of Northern Gothic sculpture.

[61] Antonio Filarete was commissioned, soon after 1431, by Eugenius IV.,
to make the great gates of S. Peter's. The decorative framework
represents a multitude of living creatures--snails, snakes, lizards,
mice, butterflies, and birds--half hidden in foliage, together with the
best known among Greek myths, the Rape of Proserpine, Diana and Actaeon,
Europa and the Bull, the Labours of Hercules, &c. Such fables as the Fox
and the Stork, the Fox and the Crow, and old stories like that of the
death of AEschylus, are included in this medley. The monument of Paul III.
is placed in the choir of S. Peter's. Giulia Bella was the mistress of
Alexander VI., and a sister of the Farnese, who owed his cardinal's hat
to her influence. To represent her as an allegory of Truth upon her
brother's tomb might well pass for a grim satire. The Prudence opposite
is said to be a portrait of the Pope's mother, Giovanna Gaetani. She
resembles nothing more than a duenna of the type of Martha in Goethe's
Faust. Here, again, the allegory would point a scathing sarcasm, if we
did not remember the naivete of the Renaissance.

[62] See above, Chapter II, Italian want of feeling for Gothic.

[63] Having said so much about this pulpit of S. Andrea, I am sorry that
I cannot refer the English reader to any accessible representation of it.
For its sake alone, if for no other purpose, Pistoja is well worth a

[64] It was long believed that he died of eating poisoned figs.

[65] See above, Footnote 16, for the original conception of this motive
at Orvieto.

[66] See _Il Duomo di Orvieto, descritto ed illustrato per Lodovico
Luzi_, pp. 330-339.

[67] See Luzi, pp. 317-328, and the first extant commission given in 1310
to Maitani, which follows, pp. 328-330.

[68] The whole series has been admirably engraved under the
superintendence of Ludwig Gruener. Special attention may be directed to
the groups of angels attendant on the Creator in His last day's work; to
the "Adoration of the Shepherds," distinguished by tender and idyllic
grace: and to the "Adoration of the Magi," marked no less by majesty. The
dead breaking open the lids of their sarcophagi and rising to judgment
are justly famous for spirited action.

[69] In Gothic sculpture of an early date the Bible narrative is
literally represented. God draws Eve from the open side of sleeping Adam.
On the facade of Orvieto this motive is less altered than refined. The
wound in Adam's side is visible, but Eve is coming from behind his
sleeping body in obedience to the beckoning hand of her Creator. Ghiberti
in the bronze gate of the Florentine Baptistery still further develops
the poetic beauty of the motive. Angels lift Eve in the air above Adam,
in whose side there is now no open wound, and sustain her face to face
with God, who calls her into life. Della Quercia, on the facade of S.
Petronio, confines himself to the creative act, expressed by the raised
hand of the Maker, and the answering attitude of Eve; and this conception
receives final treatment from Michael Angelo in the frescoes of the

[70] _Le Tre Porte del Battistero di San Giovanni di Firenze, incise ed
illustrate_ (Firenze, 1821), contains outlines of all Andrea Pisano's and
Ghiberti's work.

[71] See above, Chapter I, Greek and Christian Ideals.

[72] See above, Chapter I, Greek and Christian Ideals.

[73] What Giotto himself was, as a designer for sculpture, is shown in
the little reliefs upon the basement of his campanile.

[74] What has previously been noted in the chapter upon architecture
deserves repetition here--that the Italian style of building gave more
scope to independent sculpture, owing to its preference for flat walls,
and its rejection of multiplied niches, canopies, and so forth, than the
Northern Gothic. Thus, however subordinated to architecture, sculpture in
Italy still had more scope for self-assertion than in Germany or France.

[75] See Perkins, _Italian Sculptors_, p. 109, for a description of the
Arca di S. Agostino, which he assigns to Matteo and Bonino da Campione.
This shrine, now in the Duomo, was made for the sacristy of S. Pietro in
Cielo d'Oro, where it stood until the year 1832.

[76] Bonino da Campione, the Milanese, who may have had a hand in the
Arca di S. Agostino, carved the tomb of Can Signorio. That of Mastino II.
was executed by another Milanese, Perino.

[77] See Trucchi, _Poesie Italiane inedite_, vol. ii.

[78] See the Illustrated work, _Il Tabernacolo della Madonna d'Or
sammichele_, Firenze, 1851.

[79] The weighty chapter in Alberti's _Treatise on Painting_, lib. iii.
cap. 5, might be used to support this paragraph.

[80] Quercia, born 1374; Ghiberti, 1378; Brunelleschi, 1379; Donatello,

[81] They are engraved in the work cited above, _Le Tre Porte, seconda
Porta_, Tavole i. ii.

[82] The bas-reliefs of S. Petronio were executed between 1425 and 1435.
Those of the font in the chapel of S. John (not the lower church of S.
John), at Siena, are ascribed to Quercia, and are in his manner; but when
they were finished I do not know. They set forth six subjects from the
story of Adam and Eve, with a compartment devoted to Hercules killing the
Centaur Nessus, and another to Samson or Hercules and the Lion. The
choice of subjects, affording scope for treatment of the nude, is
characteristic; so is the energy of handling, though rude in detail. It
may be worth while to notice here a similar series of reliefs upon the
facade of the Colleoni Chapel at Bergamo, representing scenes from the
story of Adam in conjunction with the labours of Hercules.

[83] Ruskin's _Modern Painters_, vol. ii. chap, vii., Repose.

[84] See Flaxman's _Lectures on Sculpture_, p. 310.

[85] This criticism of the "Gate of Paradise" sounds even to the writer
of it profane, and demands a palinode. Who, indeed, can affirm that he
would wish the floating figure of Eve, or the three angels at Abraham's
tent-door, other than they are?

[86] See the _Commentaries of Ghiberti_, printed in vol. i. of Vasari
(Lemonnier, 1846).

[87] The patera is at South Kensington, the frieze at Florence.

[88] As also the wooden Baptist in the Frari at Venice.

[89] There is another "David," by Donatello, in marble; also in the
Bargello, scarcely less stiff and ugly than the "Baptist."

[90] The cast was published by the Arundel Society. The original belongs
to Lord Elcho.

[91] It has been suggested, with good show of reason, that Mantegna was
largely indebted to these bas-reliefs for his lofty style.

[92] This omits the statues of the Scaligers: but no mediaeval work aimed
at equal animation. The antique bronze horses at Venice and the statue of
Marcus Aurelius must have been in Donatello's mind.

[93] The sculptor of a beautiful tomb erected for the Countess of
Montorio and her infant daughter in the church of S. Bernardino at Aquila
was probably Andrea dell' Aquila, a pupil of Donatello. See Perkins's
_Italian Sculptors_, pp. 46, 47.

[94] _Istoria della Vita e Fatti dell' eccellentissimo Capitano di guerra
Bartolommeo Colleoni_, scritta per Pietro Spino. Republished, 1859.

[95] See Vol. I., _Age of the Despots_, p. 310, note 2.

[96] Crowe and Cavalcaselle, vol. ii. chap, xvi., may be consulted as to
the several claims of the two brothers.

[97] His bas-reliefs on Giotto's campanile of Grammar, Astronomy,
Geometry, Plato, Aristotle, &c., are anterior to 1445; and even about
this date there is uncertainty, some authorities fixing it at 1435.

[98] _Purg._ x. 37, and xi. 68.

[99] Among the very best works of the later Robbian school may be cited
the frieze upon the facade of the Ospedale del Ceppo at Pistoja,
representing in varied colour, and with graceful vivacity, the Seven Acts
of Mercy. Date about 1525.

[100] He calls himself Agostinus Florentine Lapicida on his facade of the
Oratory of S. Bernardino.

[101] See especially a roundel in the Bargello, and the altar-piece in
the church of Monte Oliveto at Naples. Those who wish to understand
Rossellino should study him in the latter place.

[102] In the church of Samminiato, near Florence.

[103] _Vite di Uomini Illustri_, pp. 152-157.

[104] These tombs in the Badia were erected for Count Ugo, Governor of
Tuscany under Otho II., and for Messer Bernardo Giugni. Mino also made
the tomb for Pope Paul II., parts of which are preserved in the Grotte of
S. Peter's. At Rome he carved a tabernacle for S. Maria in Trastevere,
and at Volterra a ciborium for the Baptistery--one of his most
sympathetic productions. The altars in the Baglioni Chapel of S. Pietro
Cassinense at Perugia, in S. Ambrogio at Florence, and in the cathedral
of Fiesole, and the pulpit in the Duomo at Prato, may be mentioned among
his best works.

[105] Besides Civitali's altar of S. Regulus, and the tomb of Pietro da
Noceto already mentioned, Bernardo Rossellino's monument to Lionardo
Bruni, and Desiderio's monument to Carlo Marsuppini in S. Croce at
Florence, may be cited as eminent examples of Tuscan sepulchres.

[106] The wooden statue of the Magdalen in Santa Trinita at Florence
shows Desiderio's approximation to the style of his master. She is a
careworn and ascetic saint, with the pathetic traces of great beauty in
her emaciated face.

[107] This bust is in the Palazzo Strozzi at Florence.

[108] So Giovanni Santi, Raphael's father, described Desiderio da

[109] The following story is told about Benedetto's youth. He made two
large inlaid chests or _cassoni_, adorned with all the skill of a worker
in tarsia, or wood-mosaic, and carried these with him to King Matthias
Corvinus, of Hungary. Part of his journey was performed by sea. On
arriving and unpacking his chests, he found that the sea-damp had unglued
the fragile wood-mosaic, and all his work was spoiled. This determined
him to practise the more permanent art of sculpture. See Perkins, vol. i.
p. 228.

[110] For further description of the sculpture at Rimini, I may refer to
my _Sketches in Italy and Greece_, pp. 250-252. For the student of
Italian art, who has no opportunity of visiting Rimini, it is greatly to
be regretted that these reliefs have never yet even in photography been
reproduced. The palace of Duke Frederick at Urbino was designed by
Luziano, a Dalmatian architect, and continued by Baccio Pontelli, a
Florentine. The reliefs of dancing Cupids, white on blue ground, with
wings and hair gilt, and the children holding pots of roses and
gilly-flowers, in one of its great rooms, may be selected for special
mention. Ambrogio or Ambrogino da Milano, none of whose handiwork is
found in his native district, and who may therefore be supposed to have
learned and practised his art elsewhere, was the sculptor of these truly
genial reliefs.

[111] See, for example, the remarkable bas-relief of the Doge Lionardo
Loredano engraved by Perkins, _Italian Sculptors_, p. 201.

[112] Another Modenese, Antonio Begarelli, born in 1479, developed this
art of the _plasticatore_, with quite as much pictorial impressiveness,
and in a style of stricter science, than his predecessor Il Modanino. His
masterpieces are the "Deposition from the Cross" in S. Francesco, and the
"Pieta" in S. Pietro, of his native city.

[113] The name of this great master is variously written--Giovanni
Antonio Amadeo, or Omodeo, or degli Amadei, or de' Madeo, or a
Madeo--pointing possibly to the town Madeo as his native place. Through a
long life he worked upon the fabric of the Milanese Duomo, the Certosa of
Pavia, and the Chapel of Colleoni at Bergamo. To him we owe the general
design of the facade of the Certosa and the cupola of the Duomo of Milan.
For the details of his work and an estimate of his capacity, see Perkins,
_Italian Sculptors_, pp. 127-137.

[114] This statue was originally intended for a chapel built and endowed
by Colleoni at Basella, near Bergamo. When he determined to erect his
chapel in S. Maria Maggiore at Bergamo, he entrusted the execution of
this new work to Amadeo, and the monument of Medea was subsequently
placed there.

[115] See above, p. 113. I have spelt the name _Sansovino_, when applied
to Jacopo Tatti, in accordance with time-honoured usage.

[116] To multiply instances is tedious; but notice in this connection the
Hermaphroditic statue of S. Sebastian at Orvieto, near the western door.
It is a fair work of Lo Scalza.

[117] This brief allusion to Cellini must suffice for the moment, as I
intend to treat of him in a separate chapter.



Distribution of Artistic Gifts in Italy--Florence and Venice
--Classification by Schools--Stages in the Evolution of Painting--Cimabue
--The Rucellai Madonna--Giotto--His widespread Activity--The Scope of his
Art--Vitality--Composition--Colour--Naturalism--Healthiness--Frescoes at
Assisi and Padua--Legend of S. Francis--The Giotteschi--Pictures of the
Last Judgment--Orcagna in the Strozzi Chapel--Ambrogio Lorenzetti at
Pisa--Dogmatic Theology--Cappella degli Spagnuoli--Traini's "Triumph,
of S. Thomas Aquinas"--Political Doctrine expressed in Fresco--Sala della
Pace at Siena--Religious Art in Siena and Perugia--The Relation of the
Giottesque Painters to the Renaissance.

It is the duty of the historian of painting to trace the beginnings of art
in each of the Italian communities, to differentiate their local styles,
and to explain their mutual connections. For the present generation this
work is being done with all-sufficient thoroughness and accuracy.[118] The
historian of culture, on the other hand, for whom the arts form one
important branch of intellectual activity, may dispense with these
detailed inquiries, and may endeavour to seize the more general outlines
of the subject. He need not weigh in balances the claims of rival cities
to priority, nor hamper his review of national progress by discussing the
special merits of the several schools. Still there are certain broad facts
about the distribution of artistic gifts in Italy which it is necessary to
bear in mind. However much we may desire to treat of painting as a phase
of national and not of merely local life, the fundamental difficulty of
Italian history, its complexity and variety, owing to the subdivisions of
the nation into divers states, must here as elsewhere be acknowledged. To
deny that each of the Italian centres had its own strong personality in
art--that painting, as practised in Genoa or Naples, differed from the
painting of Ferrara or Urbino--would be to contradict a law that has been
over and over again insisted upon already in these volumes.

The broad outlines of the subject can be briefly stated. Surveying the map
of Italy, we find that we may eliminate from our consideration the
north-western and the southern provinces. Not from Piedmont nor from
Liguria, not from Rome nor from the extensive kingdom of Naples, does
Italian painting take its origin, or at any period derive important
contributions.[119] Lombardy, with the exception of Venice, is
comparatively barren of originative elements.[120] To Tuscany, to Umbria,
and to Venice, roughly speaking, are due the really creative forces of
Italian painting; and these three districts were marked by strong
peculiarities. In art, as in politics, Florence and Venice exhibit
distinct types of character.[121] The Florentines developed fresco, and
devoted their genius to the expression of thought by scientific design.
The Venetians perfected oil-painting, and set forth the glory of the world
as it appeals to the imagination and the senses. The art of Florence may
seem to some judges to savour over-much of intellectual dryness; the art
of Venice, in the apprehension of another class of critics, offers
something over-much of material richness. More allied to the Tuscan than
to the Venetian spirit, the Umbrian masters produced a style of genuine
originality. The cities of the Central Apennines owed their specific
quality of religious fervour to the influences emanating from Assisi, the
head-quarters of the _cultus_ of S. Francis. This pietism, nowhere else so
paramount, except for a short period in Siena, constitutes the
individuality of Umbria.

With regard to the rest of Italy, the old custom of speaking about schools
and places, instead of signalising great masters, has led to
misconception, by making it appear that local circumstances were more
important than the facts justify. We do not find elsewhere what we find in
Tuscany, in Umbria, and in Venice--a definite quality, native to the
district, shared through many generations by all its painters, and
culminating in a few men of commanding genius. When, for instance, we
speak of the School of Milan, what we mean is the continuation through
Lionardo da Vinci and his pupils of the Florentine tradition, as modified
by him and introduced into the Lombard capital. That a special style was
developed by Luini, Ferrari, and other artists of the Milanese duchy, so
that their manner differs essentially from that of Parma and Cremona, does
not invalidate the importance of this fact about its origin. The name of
Roman School, again, has been given to Raphael and Michael Angelo together
with their pupils. The truth is that Rome, for one brief period, during
the pontificates of Julius and Leo, was the focus of Italian intellect.
Allured by the patronage of the Papal Curia, not only artists, but
scholars and men of letters, flocked from all the cities of Italy to
Rome, where they found a nobler sphere for the exercise of their faculties
than elsewhere. But Rome, while she lent her imperial quality of grandeur
to the genius of her aliens, was in no sense originative. Rome produced no
first-rate master from her own children, if we except Giulio Romano. The
title of originality is due rather to Padua, the birthplace of Mantegna,
or to Parma, the city of Correggio, whose works display independence of
either Florentine or Venetian traditions. Yet these great masters were
isolated, neither expressing in any definite form the character of their
districts, nor founding a succession of local artists. Their influence was
incontestably great, but widely diffused. Bologna and Ferrara, Brescia and
Bergamo, Cremona and Verona, have excellent painters; and it is not
difficult to show that in each of these cities art assumed specific
characters. Yet the interest of the schools in these towns is due mainly
to the varied influences brought to bear upon them from Venice, Umbria,
and Milan. In other words they are affiliated, each according to its
geographical position, to the chief originative centres.

What I have advanced in the foregoing paragraphs is not meant for a
polemic against the time-honoured division of Italian painters into local
schools, but for a justification of my own proposed method of treatment.
Having undertaken to deal with painting as the paramount art-product of
the Renaissance, it will be my object to point out the leading
characteristics of aesthetic culture in Italy, rather than to dwell upon
its specific differences. The Venetian painters I intend to reserve for a
separate chapter, devoting this and the two next to the general history of
the art as developed in Tuscany and propagated by Tuscan influences.[122]
In pursuing this plan I shall endeavour to show how the successive stages
in the evolution of Italian painting corresponded to similar stages in the
history of the Renaissance. Beginning as the handmaid of the Church, and
stimulated by the enthusiasm of the two great popular monastic orders,
painting was at first devoted to embodying the thoughts of mediaeval
Christianity. In proportion as the painters fortified themselves by study
of the natural world, their art became more secular. Mysticism gave way to
realism. It was felt that much beside religious sentiment was worthy of
expression. At the same time, about the year 1440, this process of
secularisation was hastened by the influences of the classical revival,
renewing an interest in the past life of humanity, and stirring a zeal for
science. The painters, on the one hand, now aimed at accurate delineation
of actual things: good perspective, correct drawing, sound portraiture,
occupied their attention, to the exclusion of more purely spiritual
motives. On the other hand they conceived an admiration for the fragments
of the newly discovered antiques, and felt the plastic beauty of Hellenic
legends. It is futile to attempt, as M. Rio has done, to prove that this
abandonment of the religious sphere of earlier art was for painting a
plain decline from good to bad, or to make the more or less of spiritual
feeling in a painter's style the test of his degree of excellence; nor
can we by any sophistries be brought to believe that the Popes of the
fifteenth century were pastoral protectors of solely Christian arts. The
truth is, that in the Church, in politics, and in society, the fifteenth
century witnessed a sensible decrease of religious fervour, and a very
considerable corruption of morality. Painting felt this change; and the
secularisation, which was inevitable, passed onward into paganism. Yet the
art itself cannot be said to have suffered, when on the threshold of the
sixteenth century stand the greatest painters whom the world has
known--neither Catholics nor Heathens, but, in their strength of full
accomplished art and science, human. After Italy, in the course of that
century, had been finally enslaved, then, and not till then, painting
suffered from the general depression of the national genius. The great
luminaries were extinguished one by one, till none were left but Michael
Angelo in Rome, and Tintoret in Venice. The subsequent history of Italian
painting is occupied with its revival under the influences of the
counter-Reformation, when a new religious sentiment, emasculated and
ecstatic, was expressed in company with crude naturalism and cruel
sensualism by Bolognese and Neapolitan painters.

I need scarcely repeat the tale of Cimabue's picture, visited by Charles
of Anjou, and borne in triumph through the streets with trumpeters,
beneath a shower of garlands, to S. Maria Novella.[123] Yet this was the
birthday festival of nothing less than what the world now values as
Italian painting. In this public act of joy the people of Florence
recognised and paid enthusiastic honour to the art arisen among them from
the dead. If we rightly consider the matter, it is not a little wonderful
that a whole community should thus have hailed the presence in their midst
of a new spirit of power and beauty. It proves the widespread sensibility
of the Florentines to things of beauty, and shows the sympathy which,
emanating from the people, was destined to inspire and brace the artist
for his work.[124]

In a dark transept of S. Maria Novella, raised by steps above the level of
the church, still hangs this famous "Madonna" of the Rucellai--not far,
perhaps, from the spot where Boccaccio's youths and maidens met that
Tuesday morning in the year of the great plague; nor far, again, from
where the solitary woman, beautiful beyond belief, conversed with
Machiavelli on the morning of the first of May in 1527.[125] We who can
call to mind the scenes that picture has looked down upon--we who have
studied the rise and decadence of painting throughout Italy from this
beginning even to the last work of the latest Bolognese--may do well to
visit it with reverence, and to ponder on the race of mighty masters whose
lineage here takes its origin.

Cimabue did not free his style from what are called Byzantine or
Romanesque mannerisms. To unpractised eyes his saints and angels, with
their stiff draperies and angular attitudes, though they exhibit
stateliness and majesty, belong to the same tribe as the grim mosaics and
gaunt frescoes of his predecessors. It is only after careful comparison
that we discover, in this picture of the Rucellai for example, a
distinctly fresh endeavour to express emotion and to depict life. The
outstretched arms of the infant Christ have been copied from nature, not
merely borrowed from tradition. The six kneeling angels display variety of
attitude suited to several shades of devout affection and adoring service.
The head of the Madonna, heavy as it is and conventional in type, still
strives to represent maternal affection mingled with an almost melancholy
reverence. Prolonging our study, we are led to ask whether the painter
might not have painted more freely had he chosen--whether, in fact, he was
not bound down to the antique mode of presentation consecrated by devout
tradition. This question occurs with even greater force before the
wall-paintings ascribed to Cimabue in the church of S. Francis at Assisi.

It remained for Giotto Bondone, born at Vespignano in 1276, just at the
date of Niccola Pisano's death, to carry painting in his lifetime even
further than the Pisan sculptor had advanced the sister art. Cimabue, so
runs a legend luckily not yet discredited, found the child Giotto among
the sheep-folds on the solemn Tuscan hill-side, drawing with boyish art
the outline of a sheep upon a stone.[126] The master recognised his
talent, and took him from his father's cottage to the Florentine
_bottega_, much as young Haydn was taken by Renter to S. Stephen's at
Vienna. Gifted with a large and comprehensive intellect, capable of
sustained labour, and devoted with the unaffected zeal of a good craftsman
to his art, Giotto in the course of his long career filled Italy with work
that taught succeeding centuries of painters. As we travel from Padua in
the north, where his Arena Chapel sets forth the legend of Mary and the
life of Christ in a series of incomparable frescoes, southward to Naples,
where he adorned the convent of S. Chiara, we meet with Giotto in almost
every city. The "Passion of our Lord" and the "Allegories of S. Francis"
were painted by him at Assisi. S. Peter's at Borne still shows his mosaic
of the "Ship of the Church." Florence raises his wonderful bell-tower,
that lily among campanili, to the sky; and preserves two chapels of S.
Croce, illuminated by him with paintings from the stories of S. Francis
and S. John. In the chapel of the Podesta he drew the portraits of Dante,
Brunetto Latini, and Charles of Valois. And these are but a tithe of his
productions. Nothing, indeed, in the history of art is more remarkable
than the fertility of this originative genius, no less industrious in
labour than fruitful of results for men who followed him. The sound common
sense, the genial temper, and the humour of the man, as we learn to know
him in tales made current by Vasari and the novelists, help to explain how
he achieved so much, with energy so untiring and with excellence so even.

It is no exaggeration to say that Giotto and his scholars, within the
space of little more than half a century, painted out upon the walls of
the churches and public palaces of Italy every great conception of the
Middle Ages. And this they achieved without ascetic formalism,
energetically, but always reverently, aiming at expressing life and
dramatising Scripture history. The tale told about Giotto's first essay in
drawing might be chosen as a parable: he was not found beneath a church
roof tracing a mosaic, but on the open mountain, trying to draw the
portrait of the living thing committed to his care.

What, therefore, Giotto gave to art was, before all things else, vitality.
His Madonnas are no longer symbols of a certain phase of pious awe, but
pictures of maternal love. The Bride of God suckles her divine infant with
a smile, watches him playing with a bird, or stretches out her arms to
take him when he turns crying from the hands of the circumcising priest.
By choosing incidents like these from real home-life, Giotto, through his
painting, humanised the mysteries of faith, and brought them close to
common feeling. Nor was the change less in his method than his motives.
Before his day painting had been without composition, without charm of
colour, without suggestion of movement or the play of living energy. He
first knew how to distribute figures in the given space with perfect
balance, and how to mass them together in animated groups agreeable to the
eye. He caught varied and transient shades of emotion, and expressed them
by the posture of the body and the play of feature. The hues of morning
and of evening served him. Of all painters he was most successful in
preserving the clearness and the light of pure, well-tempered colours. His
power of telling a story by gesture and action is unique in its peculiar
simplicity. There are no ornaments or accessories in his pictures. The
whole force of the artist has been concentrated on rendering the image of
the life conceived by him. Relying on his knowledge of human nature, and
seeking only to make his subject intelligible, no painter is more
unaffectedly pathetic, more unconsciously majestic. While under the
influence of his genius, we are sincerely glad that the requisite science
for clever imitation of landscape and architectural backgrounds was not
forthcoming in his age. Art had to go through a toilsome period of
geometrical and anatomical pedantry, before it could venture, in the
frescoes of Michael Angelo and Raphael, to return with greater wealth of
knowledge on a higher level to the divine simplicity of its childhood in

In the drawing of the figure Giotto was surpassed by many meaner artists
of the fifteenth century. Nor had he that quality of genius which selects
a high type of beauty, and is scrupulous to shun the commonplace. The
faces of even his most sacred personages are often almost vulgar. In his
choice of models for saints and apostles we already trace the Florentine
instinct for contemporary portraiture. Yet, though his knowledge of
anatomy was defective, and his taste was realistic, Giotto solved the
great problem of figurative art far better than more learned and
fastidious painters. He never failed to make it manifest that what he
meant to represent was living. Even to the non-existent he gave the
semblance of reality. We cannot help believing in his angels leaning
waist-deep from the blue sky, wringing their hands in agony above the
Cross, pacing like deacons behind Christ when He washes the feet of His
disciples, or sitting watchful and serene upon the empty sepulchre. He
was, moreover, essentially a fresco-painter, working with rapid decision
on a large scale, aiming at broad effects, and willing to sacrifice
subtlety to clearness of expression. The health of his whole nature and
his robust good sense are everywhere apparent in his solid, concrete,
human work of art. There is no trace of mysticism, no ecstatic piety,
nothing morbid or hysterical, in his imagination. Imbuing whatever he
handled with the force and freshness of actual existence, Giotto
approached the deep things of the Christian faith and the legend of S.
Francis in the spirit of a man bent simply on realising the objects of his
belief as facts. His allegories of "Poverty," "Chastity," and "Obedience,"
at Assisi, are as beautiful and powerfully felt as they are carefully
constructed. Yet they conceal no abstruse spiritual meaning, but are
plainly painted "for the poor laity of love to read." The artist poet who
coloured the virginal form of Poverty, with the briars beneath her feet
and the roses blooming round her forehead, proved by his well-known
_canzone_ that he was free from monastic Quixotism, and took a practical
view of the value of worldly wealth.[127] His homely humour saved him from
the exaltation and the childishness that formed the weakness of the
Franciscan revival. By the same firm grasp upon reality he created more
than mere abstractions in his _chiaroscuro_ figures of the virtues and
vices at Padua. Fortitude and Justice, Faith and Envy, are gifted by him
with a real corporeal existence. They seem fit to play their parts with
other concrete personalities upon the stage of this world's history.
Giotto in truth possessed a share of that power which belonged to the
Greek sculptors. He embodies myths in physical forms, adequate to their
intellectual meaning. This was in part the secret of the influence he
exercised over the sculptors of the second period;[128] and had the
conditions of the age been favourable to such development, some of the
allegorical types created by him might have passed into the Pantheon of
popular worship as deities incarnate.

The birth of Italian painting is closely connected with the religious life
of the Italians. The building of the church of S. Francis at Assisi gave
it the first great impulse; and to the piety aroused by S. Francis
throughout Italy, but mostly in the valleys of the Apennines, it owed its
animating spirit in the fourteenth century. The church of Assisi is
double. One structure of nave, and choir, and transept, is imposed upon
another; and the walls of both, from floor to coping-stone, are covered
with fresco-painted pictures taking here the place occupied by mosaic in
such churches as the cathedral of Monreale, or by coloured glass in the
northern cathedrals of the pointed style. Many of these frescoes date from
years before the birth of Giotto. Giunta the Pisan, Gaddo Gaddi, and
Cimabue, are supposed to have worked there, painfully continuing or feebly
struggling to throw off the decadent traditions of a dying art. In their
school Giotto laboured, and modern painting arose with the movement of new
life beneath his brush. Here, pondering in his youth upon the story of
Christ's suffering, and in his later manhood on the virtues of S. Francis
and his vow, he learned the secret of giving the semblance of flesh and
blood reality to Christian thought. His achievement was nothing less than
this. The Creation, the Fall, the Redemption of the World, the moral
discipline of man, the Judgment, and the final state of bliss or
misery--all these he quickened into beautiful and breathing forms. Those
were noble days, when the painter had literally acres of walls given him
to cover; when the whole belief of Christendom, grasped by his own faith,
and firmly rooted in the faith of the people round him, as yet unimpaired
by alien emanations from the world of classic culture, had to be set forth
for the first time in art. His work was then a Bible, a compendium of
grave divinity and human history, a book embracing all things needful for
the spiritual and the civil life of man. He spoke to men who could not
read, for whom there were no printed pages, but whose heart received his
teaching through the eye. Thus painting was not then what it is now, a
decoration of existence, but a potent and efficient agent in the education
of the race. Such opportunities do not occur twice in the same age. Once
in Greece for the pagan world; once in Italy for the modern world;--that
must suffice for the education of the human race.

Like Niccola Pisano, Giotto not only founded a school in his native city,
but spread his manner far and wide over Italy, so that the first period of
the history of painting is the Giottesque. The Gaddi of Florence,
Giottino, Puccio Capanna, the Lorenzetti of Siena, Spinello of Arezzo,
Andrea Orcagna, Domenico Veneziano, and the lesser artists of the Pisan
Campo Santo, were either formed or influenced by him. To give an account
of the frescoes of these painters would be to describe how the religious,
social, and philosophical conceptions of the fourteenth century found
complete expression in form and colour. By means of allegory and pictured
scene they drew the portrait of the Middle Age in Italy, performing
jointly and in combination with the followers of Niccola Pisano what
Dante had done singly by his poetry.

It has often been remarked that the drama of the life beyond this
world--its prologue in the courts of death, the tragedy of judgment, and
the final state of bliss or misery prepared for souls--preoccupied the
mind of the Italians at the close of the Middle Ages. Every city had its
pictorial representation of the "Dies Irae;" and within this framework the
artist was free to set forth his philosophy of human nature, adding such
touches of satire or admonition as suited his own temper or the
circumstances of the place for which he worked. Dante's poem has
immortalised this moment of Italian consciousness, when the belief in
another world was used to intensify the emotions of this life--when the
inscrutable darkness toward which men travel became for them a black and
polished mirror reflecting with terrible luminousness the events of the
present and the past. So familiar had the Italians become with the theme
of death artistically treated, that they did not shrink from acted
pageants of the tragedy of Hell. Giovanni Villani tells us that in 1304
the companies and clubs of pleasure, formed for making festival throughout
the town of Florence on the 1st of May, contended with each other for the
prize of novelty and rarity in sports provided for the people. "Among the
rest, the Borgo S. Friano had it cried about the streets, that whoso
wished for news from the other world, should find himself on Mayday on the
bridge Carraja or the neighbouring banks of Arno. And in Arno they
contrived stages upon boats and various small craft, and made the
semblance and figure of Hell there with flames and other pains and
torments, with men dressed as demons horrible to see; and others had the
shape of naked souls; and these they gave unto those divers tortures with
exceeding great crying and groaning and confusion, the which seemed
hateful and appalling unto eyes and ears. The novelty of the sport drew
many citizens, and the bridge Carraja, then of wood, was so crowded that
it brake in several places and fell with the folk upon it, whereby were
many killed and drowned, and many were disabled; and as the crier had
proclaimed, so now in death went much folk to learn news of the other

Such being the temper of the people, we find that some of the greatest
works of art in this age were paintings of Death and Hell, Heaven and
Judgment. Orcagna, in the Strozzi Chapel of S. Maria Novella, set forth
these scenes with a wonderful blending of beauty and grotesque invention.
In the treatment of the Inferno he strove to delineate the whole geography
of Dante's first _cantica_, tracing the successive circles and introducing
the various episodes commemorated by the poet. Interesting as this work
may be for the illustration of the "Divine Comedy" as understood by
Dante's immediate successors, we turn from it with a sense of relief to
admire the saints and angels ranged in goodly row, "each burning upward to
his point of bliss" whereby the painter has depicted Paradise. Early
Italian art has nothing more truly beautiful to offer than the white-robed
Madonna kneeling at the judgment seat of Christ.[129]

It will be felt by every genuine student of art that if Orcagna painted
these frescoes in S. Maria Novella, whereof there is no doubt, he could
not have executed the wall-paintings in the Campo Santo at Pisa attributed
to him by Vasari. To what artists or artist we owe those three grave and
awful panels, may still be regarded an open question.[130] At the end of
the southern wall of the cemetery, exposed to a cold and equal north light
from the cloister windows, these great compositions, after the lapse of
five centuries, bring us face to face with the most earnest thoughts of
mediaeval Christianity. Their main purpose seems to be to illustrate the
advantage of the ascetic over the secular mode of life, and to school men
into living with the fear of death before their eyes. The first displays
the solitary vigils, self-imposed penances, cruel temptations, firm
endurance, and beatific visions of the anchorites in the Thebaid. The
second is devoted to the triumph of Death over the pomp, strength, wealth,
and beauty of the world. The third reveals a grimly realistic and yet
awfully imaginative vision of judgment, such as it has rarely been granted
to a painter to conceive. Thus to the awakening soul of the Italians, on
the threshold of the modern era, with the sonnets of Petrarch and the
stories of Boccaccio sounding in their memories, this terrible master
presented the three saddest phantoms of the Middle Ages--the spectre of
death omnipotent, the solitude of the desert as the only refuge from a
sinful and doomed world, the dread of Divine justice inexorable and
inevitable. In those piles of the promiscuous and abandoned dead, those
fiends and angels poised in mid-air struggling for souls, those blind and
mutilated beggars vainly besieging Death with prayers and imprecations for
deliverance, while she descends in her robe of woven wire to mow down with
her scythe the knights and ladies in their garden of delight; again in
those horses snuffing at the open graves, those countesses and princes
face to face with skeletons, those serpents coiling round the flesh of
what was once fair youth or maid, those multitudes of guilty men and women
trembling beneath the trump of the archangel--tearing their cheeks, their
hair, their breasts in agony, because they see Hell through the
prison-bars, and hear the raging of its fiends, and feel the clasp upon
their wrists and ankles of clawed hairy demon hands; in all this terrific
amalgamation of sinister and tragic ideas, vividly presented, full of
coarse dramatic power, and intensified by faith in their material reality,
the Lorenzetti brethren, if theirs be indeed the hands that painted here,
summed up the nightmares of the Middle Age and bequeathed an ever
memorable picture of its desolate preoccupations to the rising world. They
have called to their aid poetry, and history, and legend. Boccaccio
supplies them with the garden scene of youths and damsels dancing among
roses, while the plague is at their gates, and death is in the air above.
From Petrarch they have borrowed the form and mystic robe of Death
herself[131]. Uguccione della Faggiuola has sat for the portrait of the
Captain who must quail before the terrors of the tomb, and Castruccio
Castracane is the strong man cut off in the blossom of his age. The
prisons of the Visconti have disgorged their victims, cast adrift with
maiming that makes life unendurable but does not hasten death.[132] The
lazar houses and the charnels have been ransacked for forms of grisly
decay. Thus the whole work is not merely "an hieroglyphical and shadowed
lesson" of ascetic philosophy; it is also a realisation of mediaeval life
in its cruellest intensity and most uncompromising truth. For mere beauty
these painters had but little regard.[133] Their distribution of the
subjects chosen for treatment on each panel shows, indeed, a keen sense
for the value of dramatic contrast and a masterly power of varying while
combining the composition. Their chief aim, however, is to produce the
utmost realism of effect, to translate the poignancy of passion, the dread
certainty of doom, into forms of unmistakable fidelity. Therefore they do
not shrink from prosaic and revolting details. The knight who has to hold
his nose above the open grave, the lady who presses her cheek against her
hand with a spasm of distress, the horse who pricks his ears and snorts
with open nostrils, the grooms who start aside like savage creatures, all
suggest the loathsomeness of death, its physical repulsiveness. In the
"Last Judgment" the same kind of dramatic force is used to heighten a
sublime conception. The crouching attitude and the shrouded face of the
Archangel Raphael, whose eyes alone are visible above the hand that he has
thrust forth from his cloak to hide the grief he feels, prove more
emphatically than any less realistic motive could have done, how
terrible, even for the cherubic beings to whose guardianship the human
race has been assigned, will be the trumpet of the wrath of God.[134]
Studying these frescoes, we cannot but reflect what nerves, what brains,
what hearts encased in triple brass the men who thought and felt thus must
have possessed. They make us comprehend not merely the stern and savage
temper of the Middle Ages, but the intense and fiery ebullition of the
Renaissance, into which, as by a sudden liberation, so much imprisoned
pent-up force was driven.

A different but scarcely less important phase of mediaeval thought is
imaged in the frescoes of the Cappella degli Spagnuoli in S. Maria
Novella.[135] Dogmatic theology is here in the ascendant. While S. Francis
bequeathed a legend of singular suavity and beauty, overflowing with the
milk of charity and mildness, to the Church, S. Dominic assumed the
attitude of the saint militant and orthodox. Dante's words about him--

L'amoroso drudo[136]
Della fede Cristiana, il santo atleta,
Benigno a' suoi, ed a' nemici crudo,

omit nothing that is needed to characterise the impression produced upon
the Christian world by this remorseless foe of heresy, this champion of
the faith who dealt in butcheries and burnings. S. Francis taught love; S.
Dominic taught wrath: and both, perhaps, were needed for the safety of the
mediaeval Church--the one by resuscitating the spirit of the Gospels, the
other by resisting the intrusion of alien ideals ere the time for their
triumph had arrived. What the painters of these frescoes undertook to
delineate for the Dominicans of Florence, was the fabric of society
sustained and held together by the action of inquisitors and doctors
issued from their order. The Pope with his Cardinals, the Emperor with his
Council, represent the two chief forces of Christendom, as conceived by
the mediaeval jurists and the school of Dante. Seated on thrones, they are
ready to rise in defence of Holy Church, symbolised by a picture of S.
Maria del Fiore. At their feet the black and white hounds of the Dominican
order--_Domini canes_, according to the monkish pun--are hunting heretical
wolves. Opposite this painting is the apotheosis of S. Thomas Aquinas.
Beneath the footstool of this "dumb ox of Sicily," as he was called,
grovel the heresiarchs--Arius, Sabellius, Averroes. At again a lower
level, as though supporting the saint on either hand, are ranged seven
sacred and seven profane sciences, each with its chief representative.
Thus Rhetoric and Cicero, Civil Law and Justinian, Speculative Theology
and the Areopagite, Practical Theology and Peter Lombard, Geometry and
Euclid, Arithmetic and Abraham, are grouped together. It will be seen
that the whole learning of the Middle Age--its philosophy as well as its
divinity--is here combined as in a figured abstract, for the wise to
comment on and for the simple to peruse. None can avoid drawing the lesson
that knowledge exists for the service of the Church, and that the Church,
while she instructs society, will claim complete obedience to her decrees.
The _ipse dixit_ of the Dominican author of the "Summa" is law.

Such frescoes, by no means uncommon in Dominican cloisters, still retain
great interest for the student of scholastic thought. In the church of S.
Maria Sopra Minerva at Rome, where Galileo was afterwards compelled to
sign his famous retractation, Filippino Lippi painted another triumph of S.
Thomas, conceived in the spirit of Taddeo Gaddi's, but expressed with the
freedom of the middle Renaissance. Nor should we neglect to notice the
remarkable picture by Traini in S. Caterina at Pisa. Here the doctor of
Aquino is represented in an aureole surrounded by a golden sphere or disc,
on the edge of which are placed the four evangelists, together with Moses
and S. Paul.[137] At his side, within the burnished sphere, Plato and
Aristotle stand upright, holding the "Timaeus" and the "Ethics" in their
hands. Christ in glory is above the group, emitting from His mouth three
rays upon the head of S. Thomas. Single rays descend in like manner upon
the evangelists and Moses and S. Paul. They, like Plato and Aristotle,
hold open books; and rays from these eight volumes converge upon the head
of the angelical doctor, who becomes the focus, as it were, of all the
beams sent forth from Christ and from the classic teachers, whether
directly effused or transmitted through the writers of the Bible. S.
Thomas lastly holds a book open in his hand, and carries others on his
lap; while lines of light are shed from these upon two bands of the
faithful, chiefly Dominican monks, arranged on each side of his footstool.
Averroes lies prostrate beneath his feet with his book face downwards,
lightning-smitten by a shaft from the leaves of the volume in the saint's
hand, whereon is written: _veritatem meditabitur guttur meum et labia mea
detestabuntur impium_.[138]

This picture, afterwards repeated by Benozzo Gozzoli with some change in
the persons,[139] has been minutely described, because it is important to
bear in mind the measure of inspiration conceded by the mediaeval Church to
the fathers of Greek philosophy, and her utter detestation of the
peripatetic traditions transmitted through the Arabic by Averroes.
Averroes, though Dante placed him with the great souls of pagan
civilisation in the first circle of Inferno,[140] was regarded as the
protagonist of infidelity. The myth of incredulity that gathered round his
memory and made him hated in the Middle Ages, has been traced with
exquisite delicacy by Renan,[141] who shows that his name became a
rallying point for freethinkers. Scholars like Petrarch were eager to
confute his sect, and artists used him as a symbol of materialistic
disbelief. Thus we meet with Averroes among the lost souls in the Pisan
Campo Santo, distinguished as usual by his turban and long beard. On the
other hand, the frank acceptance of pagan philosophy, insofar as it could
be accommodated to the doctrine of the Church, finds full expression in
the art of this early period. On the walls of the Palazzo Pubblico at
Siena were painted the figures of Curius Dentatus and Cato,[142] while
the pavement of the Duomo showed Hermes Trismegistus instructing both a
pagan and a Christian, and Socrates ascending the steep hill of virtue.
Perugino, some years later, decorated the Sala del Cambio at Perugia with
the heroes, philosophers, and worthies of the ancient world. We are thus
led by a gradual progress up to the final achievement of Raphael in the
Vatican. Separating the antique from the Christian tradition, but placing
them upon an equality in his art, Raphael made the "School of Athens" an
epitome of Greek and Roman wisdom, while in the "Dispute of the Sacrament"
he symbolised the Church in heaven and Church on earth.

Another class of ideas, no less illustrative of mediaevalism, can be
studied in the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena. There, on the walls of the Sala
della Pace or de' Nove, may be seen the frescoes whereby Ambrogio
Lorenzetti expressed theories of society and government peculiar to his
age.[143] The panels are three in number. In the first the painter has
delineated the Commune of Siena by an imperial male figure in the prime of
life, throned on a judgment-seat, holding a sceptre in his right hand and
a medallion of Justice in his left.[144] He wears no coronet, but a
burgher's cap; and beneath his footstool are the Roman twins, suckled by
the she-wolf.[145] Above his head in the air float Faith, Charity, and
Hope--the Christian virtues; while Justice, Temperance, Magnanimity,
Prudence, Fortitude, and Peace, six women, crowned, and with appropriate
emblems, are enthroned beside him. The majestic giant of the Commune
towers above them all in bulk and stature, as though to indicate the
people's sovereignty. The virtues are his assessors and inspirers--he is
King. Beneath the dais occupied by these supreme personages, are ranged on
either hand mailed and visored cavaliers, mounted on chargers, the
guardians of the State. All the citizens in their degrees advance toward
the throne, carrying between them, pair by pair, a rope received from the
hands of Concord; while some who have transgressed her laws, are being
brought with bound hands to the judgment-seat. Concord herself, being less
the virtue of the government than of the governed, is seated on a line
with the burghers in a place apart beneath the throne of Civil Justice,
who is allegorised as the dispenser of rewards and punishments, as well as
controller of the armed force and the purse of the community. The whole of
this elaborate allegory suffers by the language of description. Those who
have seen it, and who are familiar with Sienese chronicles, feel that,
artistically laboured as the painter's work may be, every figure had a
passionate and intense meaning for him[146]. His picture is the epitome of
government conducted by a sovereign people. Nor can we fail to be struck
with the beauty of some details. The pale earnest faces of the horsemen
are eminently chivalrous, with knightly honour written on their calm and
fearless features. Peace, reclining at ease upon her pillow, is a lovely
woman in loose raiment, her hair wreathed with blossoms, in her hand an
olive branch, her feet reposing upon casque and shield. She is like a
painted statue, making us wonder whether the artist had not copied her
from the "Aphrodite" of Lysippus, ere the Sienese destroyed this statue in
their dread of paganism[147].

In the other two panels of this hall Ambrogio Lorenzetti painted the
contrast of good and bad government, harmony and discord. A city full of
brawls and bloodshed is set in opposition to one where the dance and viol
do not cease. Merchants are plundered as they issue from the gates on one
side; on the other, trains of sumpter mules are securely winding along
mountain paths. Tyranny, with all the vices for his council and with
Terror for prime minister, presides over the ill-governed town. The
burghers of the happy commune follow trade or pleasure, as they list; a
beautiful winged genius, inscribed "Securitas," floats above their
citadel. It should be added that in both these pictures the architecture
is the same; for the painter has designed to teach how different may be
the state of one and the same city according to its form of government.
Such then were the vivid images whereby Ambrogio Lorenzetti expressed the
mediaeval curse of discord, and the ideal of a righteous rule. It is only
necessary to read the "Diario Sanese" of Allegretto Allegretti in order to
see that he drew no fancy picture. The torchlight procession of burghers
swearing amity by couples in the cathedral there described, receives exact
pictorial illustration in the fresco of the Sala della Pace[148]. Siena,
by her bloody factions and her passionate peacemakings, expressed in
daily action what the painter had depicted on her palace walls.

The method of treatment adopted for these chapters has obliged me to give
priority to Florence, and to speak of the two Lorenzetti, Pietro in the
Pisan Campo Santo and Ambrogio in the Sala della Pace at Siena, as though
they were followers of Giotto; so true is it that the main currents of
Tuscan art were governed by Florentine influences, and that Giotto's
genius made itself felt in all the work of his immediate successors. It
must, however, be observed that painting had an independent origin among
the Sienese, and that Guido da Siena may claim to rank even earlier than
Cimabue.[149] In the year 1260, just before engaging in their duel with
Florence, the Sienese dedicated their city to the Virgin; and the victory
of Montaperti, following immediately upon this vow, gave a marked impulse
to their piety.[150] The early masters of Siena devoted themselves to
religious paintings, especially to pictures of Madonna suited for chapels
and oratories. We find upon these mystic panels an ecstasy of adoration
and a depth of fervour which are alien to the more sober spirit of
Florence, combined with an almost infantine delight in pure bright
colours, and in the decorative details of the miniaturist.

The first great painter among the Sienese was Duccio di Buoninsegna.[151]
The completion of his masterpiece--a picture of the Majesty of the Virgin,
executed for the high altar of the Duomo--marked an epoch in the history
of Siena. Nearly two years had been spent upon it; the painter receiving
sixteen soldi a day from the Commune, together with his materials, in
exchange for his whole time and skill and labour. At last, on June 9,
1310, it was carried from Duccio's workshop to its place in the cathedral.
A procession was formed by the clergy, with the archbishop at their head,
followed by the magistrates of the Commune, and the chief men of the Monte
de' Nove. These great folk crowded round their Lady; after came a
multitude of burghers bearing tapers; while the rear was brought up by
women and children. The bells rang and trumpets blew as this new image of
the Sovereign Mistress of Siena was borne along the summer-smiling streets
of her metropolis to take its throne in her high temple. Duccio's
altar-piece presented on one face to the spectator a Virgin seated with
the infant Christ upon her lap, and receiving the homage of the patron
saints of Siena. On the other, he depicted the principal scenes of the
Gospel story and the Passion of our Lord in twenty-eight compartments.
What gives peculiar value to this elaborate work of Sienese art is, that
in it Duccio managed to combine the tradition of an early hieratic style
of painting with all the charm of brilliant colouring and with dramatic
force of presentation only rivalled at that time by Giotto. Independently
of Giotto, he performed at a stroke what Cimabue and his pupil had
achieved for the Florentines, and bequeathed to the succeeding painters of
Siena a tradition of art beyond which they rarely passed.

Far more than their neighbours at Florence, the Sienese remained fettered
by the technical methods and the pietistic formulae of the earliest
religious painting. To make their conventional representations of
Madonna's love and woe and glory burn with all the passion of a fervent
spirit, and to testify their worship by the oblation of rich gifts in
colouring and gilding massed around her, was their earnest aim. It
followed that, when they attempted subjects on a really large scale, the
faults of the miniaturist clung about them. I need hardly say that
Ambrogio and Pietro Lorenzetti form notable exceptions to this general
statement. It may be applied, however, with some truth to Simone Martini,
the painter, who during his lifetime enjoyed a celebrity only second to
that of Giotto.[152] Like Giotto, Simone exercised his art in many parts
of Italy. Siena, Pisa, Assisi, Orvieto, Naples, and Avignon can still
boast of wall and easel pictures from his hand; and though it has been
suggested that he took no part in the decoration of the Cappella degli
Spagnuoli, the impress of his manner remains at Florence in those noble
frescoes of the "Church Militant" and the "Consecration of S.
Dominic."[153] Simone's first undisputed works are to be seen at Siena and
at Assisi, where we learn what he could do as a _frescante_ in competition
with the ablest Florentines. In the Palazzo Pubblico of his native city he
painted a vast picture of the Virgin enthroned beneath a canopy and
surrounded by saints;[154] while at Assisi he put forth his whole power in
portraying the legend of S. Martin. In all his paintings we trace the
skill of an exquisite and patient craftsman, elaborately careful to finish
his work with the utmost refinement, sensitive to feminine beauty, full of
delicate inventiveness, and gifted with a rare feeling for grace. These
excellent qualities tend, however, towards affectation and over-softness;
nor are they fortified by such vigour of conception or such majesty in
composition as belong to the greatest _trecentisti_. The Lorenzetti alone
soared high above the Sienese mannerism into a region of masculine
imaginative art. We feel Simone's charm mostly in single heads and
detached figures, some of which at Assisi have incomparable sweetness.
"Molles Senae," the delicate and femininely variable, fond of all things
brilliant, and unstable through defect of sternness, was the fit mother of
this ingenious and delightful master.

After the days of Duccio and Simone Martini, of Ambrogio and Pietro
Lorenzetti, were over, there remained but little for the Sienese to do in
painting. Taddeo di Bartolo continued the tradition of Duccio as the later
Giottesques continued that of Giotto. His most remarkable wall-painting is
a fresco of the Apostles visiting the Virgin, the motive of which is
marked by great originality.[155] Our Lady is seated in an open loggia
with a company of holy men and women round her. Descending from the sky
and floating through the arches are three of the Apostles, while one who
has just alighted from his aerial transit kneels and folds his hands in
adoration. Seldom have the longing and the peace of loving worship been
more poetically expressed than here. The seated, kneeling, standing, and
flying figures are admirably grouped together; their draperies are
dignified and massive; and the architectural accessories help the
composition by dividing it into three balanced sections.

Such power of depicting movement was rare in the fourteenth century. To
find its analogue, we must betake ourselves to the frescoes of Spinello
Aretino, a master more decidedly Giottesque than his contemporary Taddeo
di Bartolo.[156] A Gabriel, rushing down from heaven to salute Madonna,
with all the whirr of arch-angelic pinions and the glory of Paradise
around him, is a fine specimen of Spinello's vehemence. The same quality,
more tempered, is noticeable in his frescoes of the legend of S. Ephesus
at Pisa.[157] Few faces in the paintings of any period are more
fascinating than the profiles under steel-blue battle-caps of that godlike
pair--the knightly saint and the Archangel Michael--breaking by the
irresistible force of their onset and their calm youthful beauty through
the mailed ranks of the Sardinian pagans. Spinello was essentially a
warlike painter; among the best of his compositions may be named the
series of pictures from the history of the Venetian campaign against
Frederick Barbarossa.[158] It is a pity that the war of liberation carried
on by the Lombard communes with the Empire should have left but little
trace on Italian art; and therefore these paintings of Spinello, in
addition to their intrinsic merit, have rare historical interest.
Delighting in the gleam of armour and the shock of speared warriors,
Spinello communicated something of this fiery spirit even to his saints.
The monks of Samminiato near Florence employed him in 1388 to paint their
newly-finished sacristy with the legend of S. Benedict. In the execution
of this task Spinello displayed his usual grandeur and vigour, treating
the grey-robed brethren of Monte Cassino like veritable champions of a
militant Church. When he died in 1410, it might have been truly said that
the flame of the torch kindled by Giotto was at last extinguished.

The student of history cannot but notice with surprise that a city famed
like Siena for its vanity, its factious quarrels, and its delicate
living, should have produced an almost passionately ardent art of
piety.[159] The same reflections are suggested at Perugia, torn by the
savage feuds of the Oddi and Baglioni, at warfare with Assisi, reduced to
exhaustion by the discords of jealous parties, yet memorable in the
history of painting as the head-quarters of the pietistic Umbrian school.
The contradiction is, however, in both cases more apparent than real. The
people both of Siena and Perugia were highly impressible and emotional,
quick to obey the promptings of their passion, whether it took the form of
hatred or of love, of spiritual fervour or of carnal violence. Yielding at
one moment to the preachings of S. Bernardino, at another to the
persuasions of Grifonetto degli Baglioni, the Perugians won the character
of being fiends or angels according to the temper of their leaders; while
Siena might boast with equal right of having given birth to S. Catherine
and nurtured Beccadelli. The religious feeling was a passion with them on
a par with all the other movements of their quick and mobile temperament:
it needed ecstatic art for its interpretation. What was cold and sober
would not satisfy the men of these two cities. The Florentines, more
justly balanced, less abandoned to the frenzies of impassioned impulse,
less capable of feeling the rapt exaltation of the devotee, expressed
themselves in art distinguished for its intellectual power, its sanity,
its scientific industry, its adequacy to average human needs. Therefore,
Florentine influences determined the course of painting in Central Italy.
Therefore Giotto, who represented the Florentine genius in the fourteenth
century, set his stamp upon the Lorenzetti. The mystic painters of Umbria
and Siena have their high and honoured place in the history of Italian
art. They supply an element which, except in the work of Fra Angelico, was
defective at Florence; but to the Florentines was committed the great
charge of interpreting the spirit of Italian civilisation in all its
branches, not for the cloister only, or the oratory, but for humanity at
large, through painting.

Giotto and his followers, then, in the fourteenth century painted, as we
have seen, the religious, philosophical, and social conceptions of their
age. As artists, their great discovery was the secret of depicting life.
The ideas they expressed belonged to the Middle Ages. But by their method
and their spirit they anticipated the Renaissance. In executing their work
upon the walls of palaces and churches, they employed a kind of fresco.
Fresco was essentially the Florentine vehicle of expression. Among the
peoples of Central Italy it took the place of mosaic in Sicily, Ravenna,
and Venice, as the means of communicating ideas by forms to the unlettered
laity, and as affording to the artist the widest and the freest sphere for
the expression of his thoughts.[160]


[118] In the _History of Painting in Italy_, by Messrs. Crowe and

[119] Nothing is more astonishing than the sterility of Genoa and of
Rome. Neither in sculpture nor in painting did these cities produce
anything memorable, though Genoa was well placed for receiving the
influences of Pisa, and had the command of the marble quarries of
Carrara, while Rome was the resort of all the art-students of Italy. The
very early eminence of Apulia in architecture and the plastic arts led to
no results.

[120] Milan, it is true, produced a brilliant school of sculptors, and
the Certosa of Pavia is a monument of her spontaneous artistic genius.
But in painting, until the date of Lionardo's advent, she achieved

[121] See Vol. I., _Age of the Despots_, pp. 182-188, for the
constitutional characteristics of Florence and Venice; and Vol. II.,
_Revival of Learning_, pp. 118-120, for the intellectual supremacy of

[122] A glance at the map shows to what a large extent the Italians owed
the progress of their arts to Tuscany. Pisa, as we have already seen,
took the lead in sculpture. Florence, at a somewhat later period, revived
painting, while Siena contemporaneously developed a style peculiar to
herself. This Sienese style--thoroughly Tuscan, though different from
that of Florence--exercised an important influence over the schools of
Umbria, and gave a peculiar quality to Perugian painting. Through Piero
della Francesca, a native of Borgo San Sepolcro, the Florentine tradition
was extended to Umbria and the Roman States. Perugia might be even
geographically claimed for Tuscany, inasmuch as the Tiber divides the old
Etrurian territory from the Umbrians and the duchy of Spoleto. Lionardo
was a Tuscan settled as an alien in Milan. Raphael, though a native of
Urbino, derived his training from Florence, indirectly through his father
and his master Perugino, more immediately from Fra Bartolommeo and
Michael Angelo.

[123] If Vasari is to be trusted, this visit of Charles of Anjou to
Cimabue's studio took place in 1267; but neither the Malespini nor
Villani mention it, and the old belief that the Borgo Allegri owed its
name to the popular rejoicing at that time is now somewhat discredited.
See Vasari, Le Monnier, 1846, vol. i. p. 225, note 4. Gino Capponi, in
his _Storia della Repubblica di Firenze_, vol. i. p. 157, refuses however
to reject the legend.

[124] See Capponi, vol. i. pp. 59, 78, for a description of the gay and
courteous living of the Florentines upon the end of the thirteenth

[125] See the _Descrizione della Peste di Firenze_.

[126] I wish I could here transcribe the most beautiful passage from
Ruskin's _Giotto and his Works in Padua_, pp. 11, 12, describing the
contrast between the landscape of Valdarno and the landscape of the hills
of the Mugello district. I can only refer readers to the book, printed
for the Arundel Society, 1854.

[127] See Trucchi, _Poesie Italiane Inedite_, vol. ii. p. 8.

[128] See above, Chapter III, Relation of Sculpture to Painting.

[129] The wonderful beauty of Orcagna's faces, profile after profile laid
together like lilies in a garden border, can only be discovered after
long study. It has been my good fortune to examine, through the kindness
of Mrs. Higford Burr, of Aldermaston, a large series of tracings, taken
chiefly by the Right Hon. A. H. Layard, from the frescoes of Giottesque
and other early masters, which, by the selection of simple form in
outline, demonstrate not only the grand composition of these religious
paintings, but also the incomparable loveliness of their types. How great
the _Trecentisti_ were as draughtsmen, how imaginative was the beauty of
their conception, can be best appreciated by thus artificially separating
their design from their colouring. The semblance of archaism disappears,
and leaves a vision of pure beauty, delicate and spiritual. The
collection to which I have alluded was made some years ago, when access
to the wall-paintings of Italy for the purpose of tracing was still
possible. It includes nearly the whole of Lorenzetti's work in the Sala
della Pace, much of Giotto, the Gozzoli frescoes at S. Gemignano,
frescoes of the Veronese masters and of the Paduan Baptistery, a great
deal of Piero della Francesca, Mantegna, Luini, Gaudenzio Ferrari,
Pinturicchio, Masolino, &c. The earliest masters of Arezzo, Pisa, Siena,
Urbino are copiously illustrated, while few burghs or hamlets of the
Tuscan and Umbrian districts have been left unvisited.

[130] See Crowe and Cavalcaselle, vol. i. pp. 445-451, for a discussion
of the question. They incline to the authorship of Pietro and Ambrogio
Lorenzetti. But the last Florentine edition of Vasari renders this
opinion doubtful.

Ed una donna involta in veste negra,
Con un furor qual io non so se mai
Al tempo de' giganti fosse a Flegra.
_Trionfo della Morte_, cap. i. 31.

[132] On a scroll above these wretches is written this legend:--

Dacche prosperitade ci ha lasciati,
O morte, medicina d'ogni pena,
Deh vieni a darne omai l'ultima cena.

[133] This might be used as an argument against the Lorenzetti
hypothesis; for their work at Siena is eminently beautiful.

[134] The attitude and the eyes of this archangel have an imaginative
potency beyond that of any other motive used by any painter to suggest
the terror of the _Dies Irae_. Simplicity and truth of vision in the
artist have here touched the very summit of intense dramatic

[135] The "Triumph of S. Thomas Aquinas," in this cloister-chapel, has
long been declared the work of Taddeo Gaddi. "The Triumph of the Church
Militant," and the "Consecration of S. Dominic," used to be ascribed, on
the faith of Vasari, to Simone Martini of Siena. Independently of its
main subject, this vast wall-painting is specially interesting on account
of its portraits. The work has a decidedly Sienese character; but recent
critics are inclined to assign it to a certain Andrea, of Florence. See
Crowe and Cavalcaselle, vol. ii. p. 89. The same critics doubt the hand
of Taddeo Gaddi in the "Triumph of S. Thomas," vol. i. p. 374, and remark
that "these productions of the art of the fourteenth century are, indeed,
second-class works, executed by pupils of the Sienese and Florentine
school, and unworthy of the high praise which has ever been given to
them." Whatever may be ultimately thought about the question of their
authorship and pictorial merit, their interest to the student of Italian
painting in relation to mediaeval thought will always remain indisputable.
Few buildings in the length and breadth of Italy possess such claims on
our attention as the Cappella degli Spagnuoli.

[136] The amorous fere of the Christian faith, the holy athlete, gentle
to his own, and to his foes cruel.

[137] Everything outside this golden region is studded with stars to
signify an epoyranios topos or heaven of heavens. S. Thomas and
the Greeks are inside the golden sphere of science, and below on earth
are the heresiarchs and faithful. Rosini gives a faithful outline of this
picture in his Atlas of Illustrations.

[138] "For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination
to my lips."--Prov. viii. 7.

[139] Gozzoli's picture is now in the Louvre. I think Guillaume de Saint
Amour takes the place of Averroes.

[140] _Inf._ iv. 144.

[141] _Averroes et l'Averroisme_, pp. 236-316.

[142] In the chapel. They are the work of Taddeo di Bartolo, and bear
this inscription: "Specchiatevi in costoro, voi che reggete." The
mediaeval painters of Italy learned lessons of civility and government as
willingly from classical tradition, as they deduced the lessons of piety
and godly living from the Bible. Herein they were akin to Dante, who
chose Virgil for the symbol of the human understanding and Beatrice for
the symbol of divine wisdom, revealed to man in Theology.

[143] He began his work in 1337.

[144] A similar mode of symbolising the Commune is chosen in the
bas-reliefs of Archbishop Tarlati's tomb at Arezzo, where the discord of
the city is represented by an old man of gigantic stature, throned and
maltreated by the burghers, who are tearing out his hair by handfuls.
Over this figure is written "Il Comune Pelato."

[145] These were adopted as the ensign of Siena, in the Middle Ages.

[146] In the year 1336, just before Ambrogio began to paint, the Sienese
Republic had concluded a league with Florence for the maintenance of the
Guelf party. The Monte de' Nove still ruled the city with patriotic
spirit and equity, and had not yet become a forceful oligarchy. The power
of the Visconti was still in its cradle; the great plague had not
devastated Tuscany. As early as 1355 the whole of the fair order
represented by Ambrogio was shaken to the foundation, and Siena deserved
the words applied to it by De Commines. See Vol. L, _Age of the Despots_,
p. 162, note 2.

[147] Rio, perversely bent on stigmatising whatever in Italian art
savours of the Renaissance, depreciates this lovely form of Peace. _L'Art
Chretien_, vol. i. p. 57.

[148] See Muratori, vol. xxiii., or the passage translated by me in Vol.
I., _Age of the Despots_, p. 480.

[149] His "Madonna" in S. Domenico is dated 1221. For a full discussion
of Guido da Siena's date, see Crowe and Cavalcaselle, vol. i. pp.

[150] On their coins the Sienese struck this legend: "Sena vetus Civitas
Virginis." It will be remembered how the Florentines, two centuries and a
half later, dedicated their city to Christ as king.

[151] Date of birth unknown; date of death, about 1320.

[152] He is better known as Simone Memmi, a name given to him by a
mistake of Vasari's. He was born in 1283 at Siena. He died in 1344 at
Avignon. Petrarch mentions his portrait of Madonna Laura, in the 49th and
50th sonnets of the "Rime in Vita di Madonna Laura." In another place he
uses these words about Simone: "Duos ego novi pictores egregios, nec
formosos, Jottum Florentinum civem, cujus inter modernos fama ingens est,
et Simonem Senensem."--_Epist. Fam._ lib. v. 17, p. 653. Petrarch
proceeds to mention that he has also known sculptors, and asserts their
inferiority to painters in modern times.

[153] See above, Chapter IV, Theology and S. Dominic. Messrs. Crowe and
Cavalcaselle reject, not without reason, as it seems to me, the tradition
that Simone painted the frescoes of S. Ranieri in the Campo Santo at
Pisa. See vol. ii. p. 83. What remains of his work at Pisa is an
altar-piece in S. Caterina.

[154] To Simone is also attributed the interesting portrait of
Guidoriccio Fogliani de' Ricci, on horseback, in the Sala del Consiglio.
This, however, has been so much repainted as to have lost its character.

[155] In S. Francesco at Pisa.

[156] Spinello degli Spinelli was born of a Ghibelline family, exiled
from Florence, who settled at Arezzo about 1308. He died at Arezzo in
1410, aged 92, according to some computations.

[157] South wall of the Campo Santo, on the left-hand of the entrance.

[158] In the Sala di Balia of the public palace at Siena.

[159] See _Inferno_, xxix. 121; the sonnets on the months by Cene dalla
Chitarra, _Poeti del Primo Secolo,_ vol. ii. pp. 196-207; the epithet
"Molles Senae," given by Beccadelli; and the remarks of De Comines.

[160] I have not thought it necessary to distinguish between tempera and
fresco. In tempera painting the colours were mixed with egg, gum, and
other vehicles dissolved in water, and laid upon a dry ground. In fresco
painting the colours, mixed only with water, were laid upon plaster while
still damp. The latter process replaced the former for wall-paintings in
the fourteenth century.



Mediaeval Motives exhausted--New Impulse toward Technical
Perfection--Naturalists in Painting--Intermediate Achievement needed
for the Great Age of Art--Positive Spirit of the Fifteenth
Century--Masaccio--The Modern Manner--Paolo Uccello--Perspective--Realistic
Painters--The Model--Piero della Francesca--His Study of Form--Resurrection
at Borgo San Sepolcro--Melozzo da Forli--Squarcione at Padua--Gentile da
Fabriano--Fra Angelico--Benozzo Gozzoli--His Decorative Style--Lippo
Lippi--Frescoes at Prato and Spoleto--Filippino Lippi--Sandro
Botticelli--His Value for the Student of Renaissance Fancy--His Feeling
for Mythology--Piero di Cosimo--Domenico Ghirlandajo--In what sense he
sums up the Age--Prosaic Spirit--Florence hitherto supreme in
Painting--Extension of Art Activity throughout Italy--Medicean Patronage.

After the splendid outburst of painting in the first half of the
fourteenth century, there came a lull. The thoughts and sentiments of
mediaeval Italy had been now set forth in art. The sincere and simple style
of Giotto was worked out. But the new culture of the Revival had not as
yet sufficiently penetrated the Italians for the painters to express it;
nor had they mastered the technicalities of their craft in such a manner
as to render the delineation of more complex forms of beauty possible. The
years between 1400 and 1470 may be roughly marked out as the second period
of great, activity in painting. At this time sculpture, under the hands of
Ghiberti, Donatello, and Luca della Robbia, had reached a higher point
than the sister art. The debt the sculptors owed to Giotto, they now
repaid in full measure to his successors, in obedience to the law whereby
sculpture, though subordinated, as in Italy, to painting, is more
precocious in its evolution. One of the most marked features of this
period was the progress in the art of design, due to bronze modelling and
bas-relief; for the painters, labouring in the workshops of the goldsmiths
and the stone-carvers, learned how to study the articulation of the human
body, to imitate the nude, and to aim by means of graduated light and dark
at rendering the effect of roundness in their drawing. The laws of
perspective and foreshortening were worked out by Paolo Uccello and
Brunelleschi. New methods of colouring were attempted by the Peselli and
the Pollajuoli. Abandoning the conventional treatment of religious themes,
the artists began to take delight in motives drawn from everyday
experience. It became the fashion to introduce contemporary costumes,
striking portraits, and familiar incidents into sacred subjects, so that
many pictures of this period, though worthless to the student of religious
art, are interesting for their illustration of Florentine custom and
character. At the same time the painters began to imitate landscape and
architecture, loading the background of their frescoes with pompous vistas
of palaces and city towers, or subordinating their figures to fantastic
scenery of wood and rock and seashore. Many were naturalists, delighting,
like Gentile da Fabriano, in the delineation of field flowers and living
creatures, or, like Piero di Cosimo, in the portrayal of things rare and
curious. Gardens please their eyes, and birds and beasts and insects.
Whole menageries and aviaries, for instance, were painted by Paolo
Uccello. Others, again, abandoned the old ground of Christian story for
the tales of Greece and Rome; and not the least charming products of the
time are antique motives treated with the freshness of romantic feeling.
We look in vain for the allegories of the Giottesque masters: that stage
of thought has been traversed, and a new cycle of poetic ideas, fanciful,
idyllic, corresponding to Boiardo's episodes rather than to Dante's
vision, opens for the artist. Instead of seeking to set forth vast
subjects with the equality of mediocrity, like the Gaddi, or to invent
architectonic compositions embracing the whole culture of their age, like
the Lorenzetti, the painters were now bent upon realising some special
quality of beauty, expressing some fantastic motive, or solving some
technical problem of peculiar difficulty. They had, in fact, outgrown the
childhood of their art; and while they had not yet attained to mastery,
had abandoned the impossible task of making it the medium of universal
expression. In this way the manifold efforts of the workers in the first
half of the fifteenth century prepared the ground for the great painters
of the Golden Age. It remained for Raphael and his contemporaries to
achieve the final synthesis of art in masterpieces of consummate beauty.
But this they could not have done without the aid of those innumerable
intermediate labourers, whose productions occupy in art the place of
Bacon's _media axiomata_ in science. Remembering this, we ought not to
complain that the purpose of painting at this epoch was divided, or that
its achievements were imperfect. The whole intellectual conditions of the
country were those of growth, experiment, preparation, and acquisition,
rather than of full accomplishment. What happened in the field of
painting, was happening also in the field of scholarship; and we have good
reason to be thankful that by the very nature of the arts, these tentative
endeavours have a more enduring charm than the dull tomes of contemporary
students. Nor, again, is it rational to regret that painting, having
started with the sincere desire of expressing the hopes and fears that
agitate the soul of man, and raise him to a spiritual region, should now
be occupied with lessons in perspective and anatomy. In the twofold
process of discovering the world and man, this dry ground had inevitably
to be explored, and its exploration could not fail to cost the sacrifice
of much that was impassioned and imaginative in the earlier and less
scientific age of art.[161] The spirit of Cosimo de' Medici, almost
cynical in its positivism, the spirit of Sixtus IV., almost godless in its
egotism, were abroad in Italy at this period;[162] indeed, the fifteenth
century presents at large a spectacle of prosaic worldliness and unideal
aims. Yet the work done by the artists was the best work of the epoch, far
more fruitful of results and far more permanently valuable than that of
Filelfo inveighing in filthy satires against his personal foes, or of
Beccadelli endeavouring to inoculate modern literature with the virus of
pagan vices. Petrarch in the fourteenth century had preached the evangel
of humanism; Giotto in the fourteenth century had given life to painting.
The students of the fifteenth, though their spirit was so much baser and
less large than Petrarch's, were following in the path marked out for them
and leading forward to Erasmus. The painters of the fifteenth, though they
lacked the unity of aim and freshness of their master, were learning what
was needful for the crowning and fulfilment of his labours on a loftier

Foremost among the pioneers of Renaissance-painting, towering above them
all by head and shoulders, like Saul among the tribes of Israel, stands
Masaccio.[163] The Brancacci Chapel of the Carmine at Florence, painted in
fresco almost entirely by his hand, was the school where all succeeding
artists studied, and whence Raphael deigned to borrow the composition and
the figures of a portion of his Cartoons. The "Legend of S. Catherine,"
painted by Masaccio in 8. Clemente at Rome, though an earlier work, is
scarcely less remarkable as evidence that a new age had begun for art. In
his frescoes the qualities essential to the style of the Renaissance--what
Vasari calls the modern manner--appear precociously full-formed. Besides
life and nature they have dignity and breadth, the grand and heightened
manner of emancipated art. Masaccio is not inferior to Giotto in his power
of telling a story with simplicity; but he understands the value of
perspective for realising the circumstances of the scene depicted. His
august groups of the Apostles are surrounded by landscape tranquillising
to the sense and pleasant to the eye. Mountain-lines and distant horizons
lend space and largeness to his compositions, and the figures of his men
and women move freely in a world prepared for them. In Masaccio's
management of drapery we discern the influence of plastic art; without
concealing the limbs, which are always modelled with a freedom that
suggests the power of movement even in stationary attitudes, the
voluminous folds and broad masses of powerfully coloured raiment invest
his forms with a nobility unknown before in painting. His power of
representing the nude is not less remarkable. But what above all else
renders his style attractive is the sense of aerial space. For the first
time in art the forms of living persons are shown moving in a transparent
medium of light, graduated according to degrees of distance, and
harmonised by tones that indicate an atmospheric unity. In comparing
Masaccio with Giotto we must admit that, with so much gained, something
has been sacrificed. Giotto succeeded in presenting the idea, the feeling,
the pith of the event, and pierced at once to the very ground-root of
imagination. Masaccio thinks over-much, perhaps, of external form, and is
intent on air-effects and colouring. He realises the phenomenal truth with
a largeness and a dignity peculiar to himself. But we ask whether he was
capable of bringing close to our hearts the secret and the soul of
spiritual things. Has not art beneath his touch become more scenic, losing
thereby somewhat of dramatic poignancy?

Born in 1402, Masaccio left Florence in 1429 for Rome, and was not heard
of by his family again. Thus perished, at the early age of twenty-seven, a
painter whose work reveals not only the originality of real creative
genius, but a maturity that moves our wonder. What might he not have done
if he had lived? Between his style in the Brancacci chapel and that of
Raphael in the Vatican there seems to be but a narrow gap, which might
perchance have been passed over by this man, if death had spared him.

Masaccio can by no means be taken as a fair instance of the painters of
his age. Gifted with exceptional powers, he overleaped the difficulties of
his art, and arrived intuitively at results whereof as yet no scientific
certainty had been secured. His contemporaries applied humbler talents to
severe study, and wrought out by patient industry those principles which
Masaccio had divined. Their work is therefore at the same time more
archaic and more pedantic, judged by modern standards. It is difficult to
imagine a style of painting less attractive than that of Paolo
Uccello.[164] Yet his fresco of the "Deluge" in the cloisters of S. Maria
Novella, and his battlepieces--one of which may be seen in the National
Gallery--taught nearly all that painters needed of perspective. The lesson
was conveyed in hard, dry, uncouth diagrams, ill-coloured and deficient in
the quality of animation. At this period the painters, like the sculptors,
were trained as goldsmiths, and Paolo had been a craftsman of that guild
before he gave his whole mind to the study of linear perspective and the
drawing of animals. The precision required in this trade forced artists
to study the modelling of the human form, and promoted that crude
naturalism which has been charged against their pictures. Carefully to
observe, minutely to imitate some actual person--the Sandro of your
workshop or the Cecco from the marketplace--became the pride of painters.
No longer fascinated by the dreams of mediaeval mysticism, and unable for
the moment to invest ideals of the fancy with reality, they meanwhile made
the great discovery that the body of a man is a miracle of beauty, each
limb a divine wonder, each muscle a joy as great as sight of stars or
flowers. Much that is repulsive in the pictures of the Pollajuoli and
Andrea del Castagno, the leaders in this branch of realism, is due to
admiration for the newly studied mechanism of the human form. They seem to
have cared but little to select their types or to accentuate expression,
so long as they were able to portray the man before them with
fidelity.[165] The comeliness of average humanity was enough for them; the
difficulties of reproducing what they saw, exhausted their force. Thus the
master-works on which they staked their reputation show them emulous of
fame as craftsmen, while only here and there, in minor paintings for the
most part, the poet that was in them sees the light. Brunelleschi told
Donatello the truth when he said that his Christ was a crucified
_contadino_. Intent on mastering the art of modelling, and determined
above all things to be accurate, the sculptor had forgotten that something
more was wanted in a crucifix than the careful study of a robust

A story of a somewhat later date still further illustrates the dependence
of the work of art upon the model in Renaissance Florence. Jacopo
Sansovino made the statue of a youthful "Bacchus" in close imitation of a
lad called Pippo Fabro. Posing for hours together naked in a cold studio,
Pippo fell into ill health, and finally went mad. In his madness he
frequently assumed the attitude of the "Bacchus" to which his life had
been sacrificed, and which is now his portrait. The legend of the painter
who kept his model on a cross in order that he might the more minutely
represent the agonies of death by crucifixion, is but a mythus of the
realistic method carried to its logical extremity.

Piero della Francesca, a native of Borgo San Sepolcro, and a pupil of
Domenico Veneziano, must be placed among the painters of this period who
advanced their art by scientific study. He carried the principles of
correct drawing and solid modelling as far as it is possible for the
genius of man to do, and composed a treatise on perspective in the vulgar
tongue. But these are not his only titles to fame. By dignity of
portraiture, by loftiness of style, and by a certain poetical solemnity of
imagination, he raised himself above the level of the mass of his
contemporaries. Those who have once seen his fresco of the "Resurrection"
in the hall of the Compagnia della Misericordia at Borgo San Sepolcro,
will never forget the deep impression of solitude and aloofness from all
earthly things produced by it. It is not so much the admirable grouping
and masterly drawing of the four sleeping soldiers, or even the majestic
type of the Christ emergent without effort from the grave, as the
communication of a mood felt by the painter and instilled into our souls,
that makes this by far the grandest, most poetic, and most awe-inspiring
picture of the Resurrection. The landscape is simple and severe, with the
cold light upon it of the dawn before the sun is risen. The drapery of the
ascending Christ is tinged with auroral colours like the earliest clouds
of morning; and His level eyes, with the mystery of the slumber of the
grave still upon them, seem gazing, far beyond our scope of vision, into
the region of the eternal and illimitable. Thus, with Piero for
mystagogue, we enter an inner shrine of deep religious revelation. The
same high imaginative faculty marks the fresco of the "Dream of
Constantine" in S. Francesco at Arezzo, where, it may be said in passing,
the student of art must learn to estimate what Piero could do in the way
of accurate foreshortening, powerful delineation of solid bodies, and
noble treatment of drapery.[166] To Piero, again, we owe most precious
portraits of two Italian princes, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta and
Federigo of Urbino, masterpieces[167] of fidelity to nature and sound

In addition to the many great paintings that command our admiration, Piero
claims honour as the teacher of Melozzo da Forli and of Luca Signorelli.
Little is left to show the greatness of Melozzo; but the frescoes
preserved in the Quirinal are enough to prove that he continued the grave
and lofty manner of his master.[168] Signorelli bears a name illustrious
in the first rank of Italian painters; and to speak of him will be soon my
duty. It was the special merit of these artists to elevate the ideal of
form and to seek after sublimity, without departing from the path of
conscientious labour, in an age preoccupied on the one hand with
technicality and naturalism, on the other with decorative prettiness and

While the Florentine and Umbro-Tuscan masters were perfecting the arts of
accurate design, a similar direction toward scientific studies was given
to the painters of Northern Italy at Padua. Michael Savonarola, writing
his panegyric of Padua about 1440, expressly mentions Perspective as a
branch of philosophy taught in the high school;[169] and the influence of
Francesco Squarcione, though exaggerated by Vasari, was not
inconsiderable. This man, who began life as a tailor or embroiderer, was
early interested in the fine arts. Like Ciriac of Ancona, he had a taste
for travel and collection,[170] visiting the sacred soil of Greece and
sojourning in divers towns of Italy, everywhere making drawings, copying
pictures, taking casts from statues, and amassing memoranda on the relics
of antiquity as well as on the methods practised by contemporary painters.
Equipped with these aids to study, Squarcione returned to Padua, his
native place, where he opened a kind of school for painters. It is clear
that he was himself less an artist than an amateur of painting, with a
turn for teaching, and a conviction, based upon the humanistic instincts
of his age, that the right way of learning was by imitation of the
antique. During the course of his career he is said to have taught no less
than 137 pupils, training his apprentices by the exhibition of casts and
drawings, and giving them instruction in the science of perspective.[171]
From his studio issued the mighty Andrea Mantegna, whose life-work, one of
the most weighty moments in the history of modern art, will be noticed at
length in the next chapter. For the present it is enough to observe that
through Squarcione the scientific and humanistic movement of the fifteenth
century was communicated to the art of Northern Italy. There, as at
Florence, painting was separated from ecclesiastical tradition, and a new
starting-point was sought in the study of mathematical principles, and
the striving after form for its own sake.

Without attempting the detailed history of painting in this period of
divided energy and diverse effort, it is needful here to turn aside and
notice those masters of the fifteenth century who remained comparatively
uninfluenced by the scholastic studies of their contemporaries. Of these,
the earliest and most notable was Gentile da Fabriano, the last great
painter of the Gubbian school.[172] In the predella of his masterpiece at
Florence there is a little panel, which attracts attention as one of the
earliest attempts to represent a sunrise. The sun has just appeared above
one of those bare sweeping hill-sides so characteristic of Central Italian
landscape. Part of the country lies untouched by morning, cold and grey:
the rest is silvered with the level light, falling sideways on the
burnished leaves and red fruit of the orange trees, and casting shadows
from olive branches on the furrows of a new-ploughed field. Along the road
journey Joseph and Mary and the infant Christ, so that you may call this
little landscape a "Flight into Egypt," if you choose. Gentile, with all
his Umbrian pietism, was a painter for whom the fair sights of the earth
had exquisite value. The rich costumes of the Eastern kings, their train
of servants, their hawks and horses, hounds and monkeys, are painted by
him with scrupulous fidelity; and nothing can be more true to nature than
the wild flowers he has copied in the framework of this picture. Yet we
perceive that, though he felt in his own way the naturalistic impulse of
the age, he had scarcely anything in common with masters like Uccello or

Still less had Fra Angelico. Of all the painters of this period he most
successfully resisted the persuasions of the Renaissance, and perfected an
art that owed little to sympathy with the external world. He thought it a
sin to study or to imitate the naked form, and his most beautiful faces
seem copied from angels seen in visions, not from any sons of men. While
the artists around him were absorbed in mastering the laws of geometry and
anatomy, Fra Angelico sought to express the inner life of the adoring
soul. Only just so much of realism, whether in the drawing of the body and
its drapery, or in the landscape background, as seemed necessary for
suggesting the emotion or for setting forth the story, found its way into
his pictures. The message they convey might have been told almost as
perfectly upon the lute or viol. His world is a strange one--a world not
of hills and fields and flowers and men of flesh and blood, but one where
the people are embodied ecstasies, the colours tints from evening clouds
or apocalyptic jewels, the scenery a flood of light or a background of
illuminated gold. His mystic gardens, where the ransomed souls embrace,
and dance with angels on the lawns outside the City of the Lamb, are such
as were never trodden by the foot of man in any paradise of earth.

Criticism has a hard task in attempting to discern the merit of the
several painters of this time. It is clear that we must look not to Fra
Angelico but to Masaccio for the progressive forces that were carrying art
forward to complete accomplishment. Yet the charm of Masaccio is as
nothing in comparison with that which holds us spell-bound before the
sacred and impassioned reveries of the Fiesolan monk. Masaccio had
inestimable value for his contemporaries. Fra Angelico, now that we know
all Masaccio can teach, has a quality so unique that we return again and
again to the contemplation of his visions. Thus it often happens that we
are tempted to exaggerate the historical importance of one painter
because he touches us by some peculiar quality, and to over-estimate the
intrinsic value of another because he was a motive power in his own age.
Both these temptations should be resolutely resisted by the student who is
capable of discerning different kinds of excellence and diverse titles to
affectionate remembrance. Tracing the history of Italian painting is like
pursuing a journey down an ever-broadening river, whose affluents are
Giotto and Masaccio, Ghirlandajo, Signorelli, and Mantegna. We have to
turn aside and land upon the shore, in order to visit the
heaven-reflecting lakelet, self-encompassed and secluded, called Angelico.

Benozzo Gozzoli, the pupil of Fra Angelico, but in no sense the
continuator of his tradition, exhibits the blending of several styles by a
genius of less creative than assimilative force. That he was keenly
interested in the problems of perspective and foreshortening, and that
none of the knowledge collected by his fellow-workers had escaped him, is
sufficiently proved by his frescoes at Pisa. His compositions are rich in
architectural details, not always chosen with pure taste, but painted with
an almost infantine delight in the magnificence of buildings. Quaint birds
and beasts and reptiles crowd his landscapes; while his imagination runs
riot in rocks and rivers, trees of all variety, and rustic incidents
adopted from real life. At the same time he felt an enjoyment like that of
Gentile da Fabriano in depicting the pomp and circumstance of pageantry,
and no Florentine of the fifteenth century was more fond of assembling the
personages of contemporary history in groups.[173] Thus he showed himself
sensitive to the chief influences of the earlier Renaissance, and combined
the scientific and naturalistic tendencies of his age in a manner not
devoid of native poetry. What he lacked was depth of feeling, the sense
of noble form, the originative force of a great mind. His poetry of
invention, though copious and varied, owed its charm to the unstudied
grace of improvisation, and he often undertook subjects where his idyllic
rather than dramatic genius failed to sustain him. It is difficult, for
instance, to comprehend how M. Rio could devote two pages to Gozzoli's
"Destruction of Sodom," so comparatively unimpressive in spite of its
aggregated incidents, when he passes by the "Fulminati" of Signorelli, so
tragic in its terrible simplicity, with a word.[174]

This painter's marvellous rapidity of execution enabled him to produce an
almost countless series of decorative works. The best of these are the
frescoes of the Pisan Campo Santo, of the Riccardi Palace of Florence, of
San Gemignano, and of Montefalco. It has been well said of Gozzoli that,
though he attempted grand subjects on a large scale, he could not rise
above the limitations of a style better adapted to the decoration of
_cassoni_ than to fresco.[175] Yet within the range of his own powers
there are few more fascinating painters. His feeling for fresh nature--for
hunters in the woods at night or dawn, for vintage-gatherers among their
grapes, for festival troops of cavaliers and pages, and for the
marriage-dances of young men and maidens--yields a delightful gladness to
compositions lacking the simplicity of Giotto and the dignity of
Masaccio.[176] No one knew better how to sketch the quarrels of little
boys in their nursery, or the laughter of serving-women, or children
carrying their books to school;[177] and when the idyllic genius of the
man was applied to graver themes, his fancy supplied him with multitudes
of angels waving rainbow-coloured wings above fair mortal faces. Bevies of
them nestle like pigeons on the penthouse of the hut of Bethlehem, or
crowd together round the infant Christ.[178]

From these observations on the style of Benozzo Gozzoli it will be seen
that in the evolution of Renaissance culture he may be compared with the
romantic poets for whom the cheerfulness of nature and the joy that comes
to men from living in a many-coloured world of inexhaustible delight were
sufficient sources of inspiration. It should be mentioned lastly that he
enjoyed the patronage and friendship of the Medicean princes.

Another painter favoured by the Medici was Fra Filippo Lippi, whose life
and art-work were alike the deviation of a pleasure-loving temperament
from its natural sphere into the service of the Church. Left an orphan at
the age of two years, he was brought up by an aunt, who placed him, as a
boy of eight, in the convent of the Carmine at Florence. For monastic
duties he had no vocation, and the irregularities of his behaviour caused
scandal even in that age of cynical indulgence. It can scarcely be doubted
that the schism between his practice and profession served to debase and
vulgarise a genius of fine imaginative quality, while the uncongenial work
of decorating choirs and painting altar-pieces limed the wings of his
swift spirit with the dulness of routine that savoured of hypocrisy. Bound
down to sacred subjects, he was too apt to make angels out of
street-urchins, and to paint the portraits of his peasant-loves for
Virgins.[179] His delicate sense of natural beauty gave peculiar charm to
this false treatment of religious themes. Nothing, for example, can be
more attractive than the rows of angels bearing lilies in his "Coronation
of the Virgin;"[180] and yet, when we regard them closely, we find that
they have no celestial quality of form or feature. Their grace is earthly,
and the spirit breathed upon the picture is the loveliness of colour,
quiet and yet glowing--blending delicate blues and greens with whiteness
purged of glare. The beauties as well as the defects of such compositions
make us regret that Fra Filippo never found a more congenial sphere for
his imagination. As a painter of subjects half-humorous and half-pathetic,
or as the illustrator of romantic stories, we fancy that he might have won
fame rivalled only by the greatest colourists. One such picture it was
granted him to paint, and this is his masterpiece. In the prime of life he
was commissioned to decorate the choir of the cathedral at Prato with the
legends of S. John Baptist and S. Stephen. All of these frescoes are
noteworthy for their firm grasp upon reality in the portraits of
Florentine worthies, and for the harmonious disposition of the groups; but
the scene of Salome dancing before Herod is the best for its poetic
feeling. Her movement across the floor before the tyrant and his guests at
table, the quaint fluttering of her drapery, the well-bred admiration of
the spectators, their horror when she brings the Baptist's head to
Herodias, and the weak face of the half-remorseful Herod are expressed
with a dramatic power that shows the genius of a poet painter. And even
more lovely than Salome are a pair of girls locked in each other's arms
close by Herodias on the dais. A natural and spontaneous melody, not only
in the suggested movements of this scene, but also in the colouring,
choice of form, and treatment of drapery, makes it one of the most musical
of pictures ever painted.

Fra Filippo was not so successful in the choir of the cathedral at
Spoleto, where he undertook; to paint scenes from the life of the Virgin.
Yet those who have not examined these frescoes, ruinous in their decay and
spoiled by stupid restoration, can form no just notion of the latent
capacity of this great master. The whole of the half-dome above the
tribune is filled with, a "Coronation of Madonna." A circular rainbow
surrounds both her and Christ. She is kneeling with fiery rays around her,
glorified by her assumption into heaven. Christ is enthroned, and at His
side stands a seat prepared for His mother, as soon as the crown that He
is placing on her head shall have made her Queen. From the outer courts of
heaven, thronged with multitudes of celestial beings, angels are crowding
in, breaking the lines of the prismatic aureole, as though the ardour of
their joy could scarcely be repressed; while the everlasting light of God
sheds radiance from above, and far below, lies earth with diminished sun
and moon. The boldness of conception in this singular fresco reveals a
genius capable of grappling with such problems as Tintoretto solved. Fra
Filippo died at Spoleto, and left his work unfinished, to the care of his
assistant, the Fra Diamante. Over his tomb Lorenzo de' Medici caused a
monument to be erected, and Poliziano wrote Latin couplets to commemorate
the fame of a painter highly prized by his patrons.

The space devoted in these pages to Fra Lippo Lippi is justified not only
by the excellence of his own work, but also by the influence he exercised
over two of the best Florentine painters of the fifteenth century. Whether
Filippino Lippi was in truth his son by Lucrezia Buti, a novice he is said
to have carried from her cloister in Prato, has been called in question
by recent critics; but they adduce no positive arguments for discrediting
the story of Vasari.[181] There can, however, be no doubt that to the
Frate, whether he was his father or only his teacher, Filippino owed his
style. His greatest works were painted in continuation of Masaccio's
frescoes in the Carmine at Florence. It is the best warrant of their
excellence that we feel them worthy to hold the place they do, and that
Raphael transferred one of their motives, the figure of S. Paul addressing
S. Peter in prison, to his cartoon of "Mars' Hill." That he was not so
accomplished as Masaccio in the art of composition, that his scale of
colour is less pleasing, and that his style in general lacks the elevation
of his mighty predecessor, is not sufficient to place him in any position
of humiliating inferiority.[182] What above all things interests the
student of the Renaissance in Filippino's work, is the powerful action of
revived classicism on his manner. This can be traced better in the Caraffa
Chapel of S. Maria sopra Minerva at Rome and in the Strozzi Chapel of S.
Maria Novella at Florence than in the Carmine. The "Triumph of S. Thomas
Aquinas" and the "Miracle of S. John" are remarkable for an almost
insolent display of Roman antiquities--not studied, it need scarcely be
observed, with the scientific accuracy of Alma Tadema--for such science
was non-existent in the fifteenth century--but paraded with a kind of
passion. To this delight in antique details Filippino added violent
gestures, strange attitudes, and affected draperies, producing a general
result impressive through the artist's energy, but quaint and

Sandro Botticelli, the other disciple of Fra Lippo, bears a name of
greater mark. He is one of those artists, much respected in their own
days, who suffered eclipse from the superior splendour of immediate
successors, and to whom, through sympathy stimulated by prolonged study of
the fifteenth century, we have of late paid tardy and perhaps exaggerated
honours.[183] His fellow-workers seem to have admired him as an able
draughtsman gifted with a rare if whimsical imagination; but no one
recognised in him a leader of his age. For us he has an almost unique
value as representing the interminglement of antique and modern fancy at a
moment of transition, as embodying in some of his pictures the subtlest
thought and feeling of men for whom the classic myths were beginning to
live once more, while new guesses were timidly hazarded in the sphere of
orthodoxy.[184] Self-confident sensuality had not as yet encouraged
painters to substitute a florid rhetoric for the travail of their brain;
nor was enough known about antiquity to make the servile imitation of
Greek or Roman fragments possible. Yet scholarship had already introduced
a novel element into the culture of the nation. It was no doubt with a
kind of wonder that the artists heard of Fauns and Sylvans, and the birth
of Aphrodite from the waves. Such fables took deep hold upon their fancy,
stirring them to strange and delicate creations, the offspring of their
own thought, and no mere copies of marbles seen in statue galleries. The
very imperfection of these pictures lends a value to them in the eyes of
the student, by helping him to comprehend exactly how the revelations of
the humanists affected the artistic sense of Italy.

In the mythological work of Botticelli there is always an element of
allegory, recalling the Middle Ages and rendering it far truer to the
feelings of the fifteenth century than to the myths it illustrates. His
painting of the "Spring," suggested by a passage from Lucretius,[185] is
exquisitely poetic; and yet the true spirit of the Latin verse has not
been seized--to have done that would have taxed the energies of
Titian--but something special to the artist and significant for Medicean
scholarship has been added. There is none of the Roman largeness and
freedom in its style; Venus and her Graces are even melancholy, and their
movements savour of affectation. This combination or confusion of artistic
impulses in Botticelli, this treatment of pagan themes in the spirit of
mediaeval mysticism, sometimes ended in grotesqueness. It might suffice to
cite the pregnant "Aphrodite" in the National Gallery, if the "Mars and
Venus" in the same collection were not even a more striking instance. Mars
is a young Florentine, whose throat and chest are beautifully studied from
the life, but whose legs and belly, belonging no doubt to the same model,
fall far short of heroic form. He lies fast asleep with the corners of his
mouth drawn down, as though he were about to snore. Opposite there sits a
woman, weary and wan, draped from neck to foot in the thin raiment
Botticelli loved. Four little goat-footed Cupids playing with the armour
of the sleeping lad complete the composition. These wanton loves are
admirably conceived and exquisitely drawn; nor indeed can any drawing
exceed in beauty the line that leads from the flank along the ribs and arm
of Mars up to his lifted elbow. The whole design, like one of Piero di
Cosimo's pictures in another key, leaves a strong impression on the mind,
due partly to the oddity of treatment, partly to the careful work
displayed, and partly to the individuality of the artist. It gives us keen
pleasure to feel exactly how a painter like Botticelli applied the dry
naturalism of the early Florentine Renaissance, as well as his own
original imagination, to a subject he imperfectly realised. Yet are we
right in assuming that he meant the female figure in this group for
Aphrodite, the sleeping man for Ares? A Greek or a Roman would have
rejected this picture as false to the mythus of Mars and Venus; and
whether Botticelli wished to be less descriptive than emblematic, might be
fairly questioned. The face and attitude of that unseductive Venus, wide
awake and melancholy, opposite her snoring lover, seems to symbolise the
indignities which women may have to endure from insolent and sottish boys
with only youth to recommend them. This interpretation, however, sounds
like satire. We are left to conjecture whether Botticelli designed his
composition for an allegory of intemperance, the so-called Venus typifying
some moral quality.

Botticelli's "Birth of Aphrodite" expresses this transient moment in the
history of the Renaissance with more felicity. It would be impossible for
any painter to design a more exquisitely outlined figure than that of his
Venus, who, with no covering but her golden hair, is wafted to the shore
by zephyrs. Roses fall upon the ruffled waves, and the young gods of the
air twine hands and feet together as they float. In the picture of
"Spring" there is the same choice of form, the same purity of line, the
same rare interlacement in the limbs. It would seem as though Botticelli
intended every articulation of the body to express some meaning, and this,
though it enhances the value of his work for sympathetic students, often
leads him to the verge of affectation. Nothing but a touch of affectation
in the twined fingers of Raphael and Tobias impairs the beauty of one of
Botticelli's best pictures at Turin. We feel the same discord looking at
them as we do while reading the occasional _concetti_ in Petrarch; and all
the more in each case does the discord pain us because we know that it
results from their specific quality carried to excess.

Botticelli's sensibility to the refinements of drawing gave peculiar
character to all his work. Attention has frequently been called to the
beauty of his roses.[186] Every curl in their frail petals is rendered
with as much care as though they were the hands or feet of Graces. Nor is
it, perhaps, a mere fancy to imagine that the corolla of an open rose
suggested to Botticelli's mind the composition of his best-known picture,
the circular "Coronation of the Virgin" in the Uffizzi. That masterpiece
combines all Botticelli's best qualities. For rare distinction of beauty
in the faces it is unique, while the mystic calm and resignation, so
misplaced in his Aphrodites, find a meaning here[187]. There is only one
other picture in Italy, a "Madonna and Child with S. Catherine" in a
landscape by Boccaccino da Cremona, that in any degree rivals the peculiar
beauty of its types[188].

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