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Renaissance in Italy Vol. 3 by John Addington Symonds

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Sandro Botticelli was not a great painter in the same sense as Andrea
Mantegna. But he was a true poet within the limits of a certain sphere. We
have to seek his parallel among the verse-writers rather than the artists
of his day. Some of the stanzas of Poliziano and Boiardo, in particular,
might have been written to explain his pictures, or his pictures might
have been painted to illustrate their verses[189]. In both Poliziano and
Boiardo we find the same touch upon antique things as in Botticelli; and
this makes him serviceable almost above all painters to the readers of
Renaissance poetry.

The name of Piero di Cosimo has been mentioned incidentally in connection
with that of Botticelli; and though his life exceeds the limits assigned
for this chapter, so many links unite him to the class of painters I have
been discussing, that I can find no better place to speak of him than
this. His biography forms one of the most amusing chapters in Vasari, who
has taken great delight in noting Piero's quaint humours and eccentric
habits, and whose description of a Carnival triumph devised by him is one
of our most precious documents in illustration of Renaissance
pageantry.[190] The point that connects him with Botticelli is the
romantic treatment of classical mythology, best exemplified in his
pictures of the tale of Perseus and Andromeda.[191] Piero was by nature
and employment a decorative painter; the construction of cars for
pageants, and the adornment of dwelling rooms and marriage chests,
affected his whole style, rendering it less independent and more quaint
than that of Botticelli. Landscape occupies the main part of his
compositions, made up by a strange amalgam of the most eccentric
details--rocks toppling over blue bays, sea-caverns, and fantastic
mountain ranges. Groups of little figures disposed upon these spaces tell
the story, and the best invention of the artist is lavished on the form of
monstrous creatures like the dragon slain by Perseus. There is no attempt
to treat the classic subject in a classic spirit: to do that, and to fail
in doing it, remained for Cellini.[192] We have, on the contrary, before
us an image of the orc, as it appeared to Ariosto's fancy--a creature
borrowed from romance and made to play its part in a Greek myth. The same
criticism applies to Piero's picture of the murdered Procris watched by a
Satyr of the woodland.[193] In creating his Satyr the painter has not had
recourse to any antique bas-relief, but has imagined for himself a being
half human, half bestial, and yet wholly real; nor has he portrayed in
Procris a nymph of Greek form, but a girl of Florence. The strange animals
and gaudy flowers introduced into the landscape background further remove
the subject from the sphere of classic treatment. Florentine realism and
quaint fancy being thus curiously blended, the artistic result may be
profitably studied for the light it throws upon the so-called Paganism of
the earlier Renaissance. Fancy at that moment was more free than when
superior knowledge of antiquity had created a demand for reproductive art,
and when the painters thought less of the meaning of the fable for
themselves than of its capability of being used as a machine for the
display of erudition.

It remains to speak of the painter who closes and at the same time gathers
up the whole tradition of this period. Domenico Ghirlandajo deserves this
place of honour not because he had the keenest intuitions, the deepest
thought, the strongest passion, the subtlest fancy, the loftiest
imagination--for in all these points he was excelled by some one or other
of his contemporaries or predecessors--but because his intellect was the
most comprehensive and his mastery of art the most complete. His life
lasted from 1449 to 1498, and he did not distinguish himself as a painter
till he was past thirty.[194] Therefore he does not properly fall within
the limit of 1470, assigned roughly to this age of transition in
painting. But in style and spirit he belonged to it, resuming in his own
work the qualities we find scattered through the minor artists of the
fifteenth century, and giving them the unity of fusion in a large and
lucid manner. Like the painters hitherto discussed, he was working toward
the full Renaissance; yet he reached it neither in ideality nor in
freedom. His art is the art of the understanding only; and to this the
masters of the golden age added radiance, sublimity, grace,
passion--qualities of the imagination beyond the scope of men like

It is almost with reluctance that a critic feels obliged to name this
powerful but prosaic painter as the Giotto of the fifteenth century in
Florence, the tutelary angel of an age inaugurated by Masaccio. He was a
consummate master of the science collected by his predecessors. No one
surpassed him in the use of fresco. His orderly composition, in the
distribution of figures and the use of architectural accessories, is
worthy of all praise; his portraiture is dignified and powerful;[195] his
choice of form and treatment of drapery, noble. Yet we cannot help noting
his deficiency in the finer sense of beauty, the absence of poetic
inspiration or feeling in his work, the commonplaceness of his colour, and
his wearisome reiteration of calculated effects. He never arrests
attention by sallies of originality, or charms us by the delicacies of
suggestive fancy. He is always at the level of his own achievement, so
that in the end we are as tired with able Ghirlandajo as the men of Athens
with just Aristides. Who, however, but Ghirlandajo could have composed the
frescoes of "S. Fina" at S. Gemignano, the fresco of the "Death of S.
Francis" in S. Trinita at Florence, or that again of the "Birth of the
Virgin" in S. Maria Novella? There is something irritating in pure common
sense imported into art, and Ghirlandajo's masterpieces are the apotheosis
of that quality. How correct, how judicious, how sagacious, how
mathematically ordered! we exclaim; but we gaze without emotion, and we
turn away without regret. It does not vex us to read how Ghirlandajo used
to scold his prentices for neglecting trivial orders that would fill his
purse with money. Similar traits of character pain us with a sense of
impropriety in Perugino. They harmonise with all we feel about the work of
Ghirlandajo. It is bitter mortification to know that Michael Angelo never
found space or time sufficient for his vast designs in sculpture. It is a
positive relief to think that Ghirlandajo sighed in vain to have the
circuit of the walls of Florence given him to paint. How he would have
covered them with compositions, stately, flowing, easy, sober, and
incapable of stirring any feeling in the soul!

Though Ghirlandajo lacked almost every true poetic quality, he combined
the art of distributing figures in a given space, with perspective, fair
knowledge of the nude, and truth to nature, in greater perfection than any
other single painter of the age he represents; and since these were
precisely the gifts of that age to the great Renaissance masters, we
accord to him the place of historical honour. It should be added that,
like almost all the artists of this epoch, he handled sacred and profane,
ancient and modern, subjects in the same style, introducing contemporary
customs and costumes. His pictures are therefore valuable for their
portraits and their illustration of Florentine life. Fresco was his
favourite vehicle; and in this preference he showed himself a true master
of the school of Florence: but he is said to have maintained that mosaic,
as more durable, was superior to wall-painting. This saying, if it be
authentic, justifies our criticism of his cold achievement as a painter.

Reviewing the ground traversed in this and the last chapter, we find that
the painting of Tuscany, and in particular the Florentine section of it,
has absorbed attention. It is characteristic of the next age that other
districts of Italy began to contribute their important quota to the
general culture of the nation. The force generated in Tuscany expanded and
dilated till every section of the country took part in the movement which
Florence had been first to propagate. What was happening in scholarship
began to manifest itself in art, for the same law of growth and
distribution affected both alike; and thus the local differences of the
Italians were to some extent abolished. The nation, never destined to
acquire political union in the Renaissance, possessed at last an
intellectual unity in its painters and its students, which justifies our
speaking of the great men of the golden period as Italians and not as
citizens of such or such a burgh. In the Middle Ages United Italy was an
Idea to theorists like Dante, who dreamed for her an actual supremacy
beneath her Emperor's sway in Rome. The reasoning to which they trusted
proved fallacious, and their hopes were quenched. Instead of the political
empire of the "De Monarchia," a spiritual empire had been created, and the
Italians were never more powerful in Europe than when their sacred city
was being plundered by the imperial bandits in 1527. It is necessary, at
the risk of some repetition, to keep this point before the reader, if only
as an apology for the method of treatment to be followed in the next
chapter, where the painters of the mid-Renaissance period will be reviewed
less in relation to their schools and cities than as representatives of
the Italian spirit.

Since the intellectual unity gained by the Italians in the age of the
Renaissance was chiefly due to the Florentines, it is a matter of some
moment to reconsider the direct influences brought to bear upon the arts
in Florence during the fifteenth century. I have chosen Ghirlandajo as the
representative of painting in that period. I have also expressed the
opinion that his style is singularly cold and prosaic, and have hinted
that this prosaic and cold quality was caused by a defect of emotional
enthusiasm, by preoccupation with finite aims. Herein Ghirlandajo did but
reflect the temper of his age--that temper which Cosimo de' Medici, the
greatest patron of both art and scholarship in Florence before 1470,
represented in his life and in his public policy. It concerns us,
therefore, to take into account the nature of the patronage extended by
the Medici to art. Excessive praise and blame have been showered upon
these burgher princes in almost equal quantities; so that, if we were to
place Roscoe and Rio, as the representatives of conflicting views, in the
scales together, they would balance each other, and leave the index
quivering. This bare statement warns the critic to be cautious, and
inclines him to accept the intermediate conclusion that neither the Medici
nor the artists could escape the conditions of their century. It is
specially argued on the one hand against the Medici that they encouraged a
sensual and worldly style of art, employing the painters to decorate their
palaces with nude figures, and luring them away from sacred to profane
subjects. Yet Cosimo gave orders to Donatello for his "David" and his
"Judith," employed Michellozzo and Brunelleschi to build him convents and
churches, and filled the library of S. Marco, where Fra Angelico was
painting, with a priceless collection of MSS. His own private chapel was
decorated by Benozza Gozzoli. Fra Lippo Lippi and Michael Angelo
Buonarroti were the house-friends of Lorenzo de' Medici. Leo Battista
Alberti was a member of his philosophical society. The only great
Florentine artist who did not stand in cordial relations to the Medicean
circle, was Lionardo da Vinci. This sufficiently shows that the Medicean
patronage was commensurate with the best products of Florentine genius;
nor would it be easy to demonstrate that encouragement, so largely
exhibited and so intelligently used, could have been in the main injurious
to the arts.

There is, however, a truth in the old grudge against the Medicean princes.
They enslaved Florence; and even painting was not slow to suffer from the
stifling atmosphere of tyranny. Lorenzo deliberately set himself to
enfeeble the people by luxury, partly because he liked voluptuous living,
partly because he aimed at popularity, and partly because it was his
interest to enervate republican virtues. The arts used for the purposes of
decoration in triumphs and carnival shows became the instruments of
careless pleasure; and there is no doubt that even earnest painters lent
their powers with no ill-will and no bad conscience to the service of
lascivious patrons. "Per la citta, in diverse case, fece tondi di sua mano
e femmine ignude assai," says Vasari about Sandro Botticelli, who
afterwards became a Piagnone and refused to touch a pencil.[196] We may,
therefore, reasonably concede that if the Medici had never taken hold on
Florence, or if the spirit of the times had made them other than they were
in loftiness of aim and nobleness of heart, the arts of Italy in the
Renaissance might have shown less of worldliness and materialism. It was
against the demoralisation of society by paganism, as against the
enslavement of Florence by her tyrants, that Savonarola strove; and since
the Medici were the leaders of the classical revival, as well as the
despots of the dying commonwealth, they justly bear the lion's share of
that blame which fell in general upon the vices of their age denounced by
the prophet of S. Marco. We may regard it either as a singular misfortune
for Italy or as the strongest sign of deep-seated Italian corruption, that
the most brilliant leaders of culture both at Florence and at
Rome--Cosimo, Lorenzo, and Giovanni de' Medici--promoted rather than
checked the debasing influences of the Renaissance, and added the weight
of their authority to the popular craving for sensuous amusement.

Meanwhile, what was truly great and noble in Renaissance Italy, found its
proper home in Florence; where the spirit of freedom, if only as an idea,
still ruled; where the populace was still capable of being stirred to
super-sensual enthusiasm; and where the flame of the modern intellect
burned with its purest, whitest lustre.


[161] See Vol. I., _Age of the Despots_, p. 12.

[162] See Vol. II., _Revival of Learning_, pp. 122-129.

[163] His real name was Tommaso di Ser Giovanni, of the family of
Scheggia. Masaccio means in Tuscan, "Great hulking Tom," just as
Masolino, his supposed master and fellow-worker, means "Pretty little
Tom." Masolino was Tommaso di Cristofero Fini, born in 1384 in S. Croce.
It is now thought that we have but little of his authentic work except
the frescoes at Castiglione di Olona, near Milan. Masaccio was born at
San Giovanni, in the upper valley of the Arno, in 1402. He died at Borne
in 1429.

[164] His family name was Doni. He was born about 1396, and died at the
age of about 73. He got his name Uccello from his partiality for painting
birds, it is said.

[165] See above, Chapter III, Andrea Verocchio, for what has been said
about Verocchio's "David."

[166] A drawing made in red chalk for this "Dream of Constantine" has
been published in facsimile by Ottley, in his _Italian School of Design_.
He wrongly attributes it, however, to Giorgione, and calls it a "Subject

[167] The one in S. Francesco at Rimini, the other in the Uffizzi.

[168] Two angels have recently been published by the Arundel Society who
have also copied Melozzo's wall-painting of Sixtus IV. in the Vatican. It
is probable that the picture in the Royal Collection at Windsor, of Duke
Frederick of Urbino listening to the lecture of a Humanist, is also a
work of Melozzo's, much spoiled by re-painting. See Vol. II., _Revival of
Learning_, p. 220.

[169] Muratori, vol. xxiv. 1181.

[170] For Ciriac of Ancona, see Vol. II., _Revival of Learning_, p. 113.

[171] The services rendered by Squarcione to art have been thoroughly
discussed by Messrs. Crowe and Cavalcaselle, _Painting in North Italy_,
vol. i. chap. 2. I cannot but think that they underrate the importance of
his school.

[172] He was born between 1360 and 1370, and he settled at Florence about
1422, where he opened a _bottega_ in S. Trinita. In 1423 he painted his
masterpiece, the "Adoration of the Magi," now exhibited in the Florentine
Academy of Arts.

[173] See, for instance, the valuable portraits of the Medicean family
with Picino and Poliziano, in the fresco of the "Tower of Babel" at Pisa.

[174] _L'Art Chretien_, vol. ii. p. 397.

[175] The same remark might be made about the Venetian Bonifazio. It is
remarkable that the "Adoration of the Magi" was always a favourite
subject with painters of this calibre.

[176] I may refer to the picture of the hunters in the Taylor Gallery at
Oxford, the "Vintage of Noah" at Pisa, the attendants of the Magi in the
Riccardi Palace, and the _Carola_ in the "Marriage of Jacob and Rachel"
at Pisa.

[177] "Stories of Isaac and Ishmael and of Jacob and Esau" at Pisa, and
"Story of S. Augustine" at San Gemignano. Nothing can be prettier than
the school children in the latter series. The group of the little boy,
horsed upon a bigger boy's back for a whipping, is one of the most
natural episodes in painting.

[178] Riccardi Chapel.

[179] For an example, the picture of Madonna worshipping the infant
Christ upheld by two little angels in the Uffizzi.

[180] In the Academy of Fine Arts at Florence.

[181] Crowe and Cavalcaselle, vol. ii. chap. 19. Nothing was more common
in the practice of Italian arts than for pupils to take their names from
their masters, in the same way as they took them from their fathers, by
the prefix _di_ or otherwise.

[182] The most simply beautiful of Filippino's pictures is the
oil-painting in the Badia at Florence, which represents Madonna attended
by angels dictating the story of her life to S. Bernard. In this most
lovely religious picture Filippino comes into direct competition with
Perugino (see the same subject at Munich), without suffering by the
contrast. The type of Our lady, striven after by Botticelli and other
masters of his way of feeling, seems to me more thoroughly attained by
Filippino than by any of his fellow-workers. She is a woman acquainted
with grief and nowise distinguished by the radiance of her beauty among
the daughters of earth. It is measureless love for the mother of his Lord
that makes S. Bernard bow before her with eyes of wistful adoration and
hushed reverence.

[183] The study of the fine arts offers few subjects of more curious
interest than the vicissitudes through which painters of the type of
Botticelli, not absolutely and confessedly in the first rank, but
attractive by reason of their relation to the spirit of their age, and of
the seal of _intimite_ set upon their work have passed. In the last
century and the beginning of this, our present preoccupation with
Botticelli would have passed for a mild lunacy, because he has none of
the qualities then most in vogue and most enthusiastically studied, and
because the moment in the history of culture he so faithfully represents,
was then but little understood. The prophecy of Mr. Ruskin, the
tendencies of our best contemporary art in Mr. Burne Jones's painting,
the specific note of our recent fashionable poetry, and, more than all,
our delight in the delicately poised psychological problems of the middle
Renaissance, have evoked a kind of hero-worship for this excellent artist
and true poet.

[184] A friend, writing to me from Italy, speaks thus of Botticelli, and
of the painters associated with him: "When I ask myself what it is I find
fascinating in him--for instance, which of his pictures, or what element
in them--I am forced to admit that it is the touch of paganism in him,
the fairy-story element, _the echo of a beautiful lapsed mythology which
he has found the means of transmitting._" The words I have printed in
italics seem to me very true. At the same time we must bear in mind that
the scientific investigation of nature had not in the fifteenth century
begun to stand between the sympathetic intellect and the outer world.
There was still the possibility of that "lapsed mythology," the dream of
poets and the delight of artists, seeming positively the best form of
expression for sentiments aroused by nature.

[185] _De Rerum Natura_, lib. v. 737.

[186] The rose-tree background in a Madonna belonging to Lord Elcho is a
charming instance of the value given to flowers by careful treatment.

[187] I cannot bring myself to accept Mr. Pater's reading of the
Madonna's expression. It seems to me that Botticelli meant to portray the
mingled awe and tranquillity of a mortal mother chosen for the Son of
God. He appears to have sometimes aimed at conveying more than painting
can compass; and, since he had not Lionardo's genius, he gives sadness,
mournfulness, or discontent, for some more subtle mood. Next to the
Madonna of the Uffizzi, Botticelli's loveliest religious picture to my
mind is the "Nativity" belonging to Mr. Fuller Maitland. Poetic
imagination in a painter has produced nothing more graceful and more
tender than the dance of angels in the air above, and the embracement of
the angels and the shepherds on the lawns below.

[188] In the Academy of Fine Arts at Venice. I do not mention this
picture as a complete pendant to Botticelli's famous _tondo_. The faces
of S. Catherine and Madonna, however, have something of the rarity that
is so striking in that work.

[189] I might mention stanzas 122-124 of Poliziano's _Giostra_,
describing Venus in the lap of Mars; or stanzas 99-107, describing the
birth of Venus; and from Boiardo's _Orlando Innamorato_, I might quote
the episode of Rinaldo's punishment by Love (lib. ii. canto xv. 43), or
the tale of Silvanella and Narcissus (lib. ii. canto xvii. 49).

[190] I hope to make use of this passage in a future section of my work
on the Italian Poetry of the Renaissance. Therefore I pass by this
portion of Piero's art-work now.

[191] Uffizzi Gallery.

[192] See the bas-relief upon the pedestal of his "Perseus" in the Loggia
de' Lanzi.

[193] In the National Gallery.

[194] His family name was Domenico di Currado di Doffo Bigordi. He
probably worked during his youth and early manhood as a goldsmith and got
his artist's name from the trade of making golden chaplets for the
Florentine women. See Vasari, vol. v. p. 66.

[195] What, after all, remains the grandest quality of Ghirlandajo is his
powerful drawing of characteristic heads. They are as various as they are
vigorous. What a nation of strong men must the Florentines have been, we
feel while gazing at his frescoes.

[196] In many houses he painted roundels with his own hand, and of naked
women plenty.



Two Periods in the True Renaissance--Andrea Mantegna--His Statuesque
Design--His Naturalism--Roman Inspiration--Triumph of Julius
Caesar--Bas-reliefs--Luca Signorelli--The Precursor of Michael
Angelo--Anatomical Studies--Sense of Beauty--The Chapel of S. Brizio at
Orvieto--Its Arabesques and Medallions--Degrees in his Ideal--Enthusiasm
for Organic Life--Mode of treating Classical Subjects--Perugino--His
Pietistic Style--His Formalism--The Psychological Problem of his
Life--Perugino's Pupils--Pinturicchio--At Spello and Siena--Francia--Fra
Bartolommeo--Transition to the Golden Age--Lionardo da Vinci--The Magician
of the Renaissance--Raphael--The Melodist--Correggio--The Faun--Michael
Angelo--The Prophet.

The Renaissance, so far as Painting is concerned, may be said to have
culminated between the years 1470 and 1550. These dates, it must be
frankly admitted, are arbitrary; nor is there anything more unprofitable
than the attempt to define by strict chronology the moments of an
intellectual growth so complex, so unequally progressive, and so varied as
that of Italian art. All that the historian can hope to do, is to strike a
mean between his reckoning of years and his more subtle calculations based
on the emergence of decisive genius in special men. An instance of such
compromise is afforded by Lionardo da Vinci, who belongs, as far as dates
go, to the last half of the fifteenth century, but who must, on any
estimate of his achievement, be classed with Michael Angelo among the
final and supreme masters of the full Renaissance. To violate the order of
time, with a view to what may here be called the morphology of Italian
art, is, in his case, a plain duty.

Bearing this in mind, it is still possible to regard the eighty years
above mentioned as a period no longer of promise and preparation but of
fulfilment and accomplishment. Furthermore, the thirty years at the close
of the fifteenth century may be taken as one epoch in this climax of the
art, while the first half of the sixteenth forms a second. Within the
former falls the best work of Mantegna, Perugino, Francia, the Bellini,
Signorelli, Fra Bartolommeo. To the latter we may reckon Michael Angelo,
Raphael, Giorgione, Correggio, Titian, and Andrea del Sarto. Lionardo da
Vinci, though belonging chronologically to the former epoch, ranks first
among the masters of the latter; and to this also may be given Tintoretto,
though his life extended far beyond it to the last years of the century.
We thus obtain, within the period of eighty years from 1470 to 1550, two
subordinate divisions of time, the one including the last part of the
fifteenth century, the other extending over the best years of the

The subdivisions I have just suggested correspond to two distinct stages
in the evolution of art. The painters of the earlier group win our
admiration quite as much by their aim as by their achievement. Their
achievement, indeed, is not so perfect but that they still make some
demand upon interpretative sympathy in the student. There is, besides, a
sense of reserved strength in their work. We feel that their motives have
not been developed to the utmost, that their inspiration is not exhausted;
that it will be possible for their successors to advance beyond them on
the same path, not realising more consummate excellence in special points,
but combining divers qualities, and reaching absolute freedom.

The painters of the second group display mastery more perfect, range of
faculty more all-embracing. What they design they do; nature and art obey
them equally; the resources placed at their command are employed with
facile and unfettered exercise of power. The hand obedient to the brain is
now so expert that nothing further is left to be desired in the expression
of the artist's thought.[197] The student can only hope to penetrate the
master's meaning. To imagine a step further in the same direction is
impossible. The full flower of the Italian genius has been unfolded. Its
message to the world in art has been delivered.

Chronology alone would not justify us in drawing these distinctions. What
really separates the two groups is the different degree in which they
severally absorbed the spirit and uttered the message of their age. In the
former the Renaissance was still immature, in the latter it was perfected.
Yet all these painters deserve in a true sense to be called its children.
Their common object is art regarded as an independent function, and
relieved from the bondage of technical impediments. In their work the
liberty of the modern mind finds its first and noblest expression. They
deal with familiar and time-honoured Christian motives reverently; but
they use them at the same time for the exhibition of pure human beauty.
Pagan influences yield them spirit-stirring inspiration; yet the antique
models of style, which proved no less embarrassing to their successors
than Saul's armour was to David, weigh lightly, like a magician's
breast-plate, upon their heroic strength.

Andrea Mantegna was born near Padua in 1431. Vasari says that in his
boyhood he herded cattle, and it is probable that he was the son of a
small Lombard farmer. What led him to the study of the arts we do not
know; but that his talents were precociously developed, is proved by his
registration in 1441 upon the books of the painter's guild at Padua. He is
there described as the adopted son of Squarcione. At the age of seventeen
he signed a picture with his name. Studying the casts and drawings
collected by Squarcione for his Paduan school, the young Mantegna found
congenial exercise for his peculiar gifts.[198] His early frescoes in the
Eremitani at Padua look as though they had been painted from statues or
clay models, carefully selected for the grandeur of their forms, the
nobility of their attitudes, and the complicated beauty of their drapery.
The figures, arranged on different planes, are perfect in their
perspective; the action is indicated by appropriate gestures, and the
colouring, though faint and cold, is scientifically calculated. Yet not a
man or woman in these wondrous compositions seems to live. Well provided
with bone and muscle, they have neither blood nor anything suggestive of
the breath of life within them. It is as though Mantegna had been called
to paint a people turned to stone, arrested suddenly amid their various
occupations, and preserved for centuries from injury in some Egyptian
solitude of dewless sand.

In spite of this unearthly immobility, the Paduan frescoes exercise a
strange and potent spell. We feel ourselves beneath the sway of a gigantic
genius, intent on solving the severest problems of his art in preparation
for the portraiture of some high intellectual abstraction. It should also
be observed that notwithstanding their frigidity and statuesque composure,
the pictures of "S. Andrew" and "S. Christopher" in the chapel of the
Eremitani reveal minute study of real objects. Transitory movements of the
body are noted and transcribed with merciless precision; an Italian
hill-side, with its olive trees and winding ways and crown of turrets,
forms the background of one scene; in another the drama is localised amid
Renaissance architecture of the costliest style. Rustic types have been
selected for the soldiers, and commonplace details, down to a patched
jerkin or a broken shoe, bear witness to the patience and the observation
of the master. But over all these things the glamour of Medusa's head has
fallen, turning them to stone. We are clearly in the presence of a painter
for whom the attractions of nature were subordinated to the fascinations
of science--a man the very opposite, for instance, to Benozzo Gozzoli. If
Mantegna had passed away in early manhood, like Masaccio, his fame would
have been that of a cold and calculating genius labouring after an ideal
unrealised except in its dry formal elements.

The truth is that Mantegna's inspiration was derived from the
antique.[199] The beauty of classical bas-relief entered deep into his
soul and ruled his imagination. In later life he spent his acquired wealth
in forming a collection of Greek and Roman antiquities.[200] He was,
moreover, the friend of students, eagerly absorbing the knowledge brought
to light by Ciriac of Ancona, Flavio Biondo, and other antiquaries; and so
completely did he assimilate the materials of scholarship, that the spirit
of a Roman seemed to be re-incarnated in him. Thus, independently of his
high value as a painter, he embodies for us in art that sincere passion
for the ancient world which was the dominating intellectual impulse of his

The minute learning accumulated in the fifteenth century upon the subject
of Roman military life found noble illustration in his frieze of "Julius
Caesar's Triumph."[201] Nor is this masterpiece a cold display of
pedantry. The life we vainly look for in the frescoes of the Eremitani
chapel may be found here--statuesque, indeed, in style, and stately in
movement, but glowing with the spirit of revived antiquity. The
processional pomp of legionaries bowed beneath their trophied arms, the
monumental majesty of robed citizens, the gravity of stoled and veiled
priests, the beauty of young slaves, and all the paraphernalia of spoils
and wreaths and elephants and ensigns are massed together with the
self-restraint of noble art subordinating pageantry to rules of lofty
composition. What must the genius of the man have been who could move thus
majestically beneath the weight of painfully accumulated erudition,
converting an antiquarian motive into a theme for melodies of line
composed in the grave Dorian mood?

By no process can the classic purity of this bas-relief be better
understood than by comparing the original with a transcript made by Rubens
from a portion of the "Triumph."[202] The Flemish painter strives to add
richness to the scene by Bacchanalian riot and the sensuality of imperial
Rome. His elephants twist their trunks, and trumpet to the din of cymbals;
negroes feed the flaming candelabra with scattered frankincense; the white
oxen of Clitumnus are loaded with gaudy flowers, and the dancing maidens
are dishevelled Maenads. But the rhythmic procession of Mantegna, modulated
to the sound of flutes and soft recorders, carries our imagination back to
the best days and strength of Rome. His priests and generals, captives and
choric women, are as little Greek as they are modern. In them awakes to a
new life the spirit-quelling energy of the republic. The painter's severe
taste keeps out of sight the insolence and orgies of the empire; he
conceives Rome as Shakspeare did in "Coriolanus."[203]

In compositions of this type, studied after bas-reliefs and friezes,
Mantegna displayed a power that was unique. Those who have once seen his
drawings for Judith with the head of Holofernes, and for Solomon judging
between the two mothers, will never forget their sculpture. The lines are
graven on our memory. When this marble master chose to be tragic, his
intensity was terrible. The designs for a dead Christ carried to the tomb
among the weeping Maries, concentrate within the briefest space the utmost
agony; it is as though the very ecstasy of grief had been congealed and
fixed for ever. What, again, he could produce of purely beautiful within
the region of religious art, is shown by his "Madonna of the
Victory."[204] No other painter has given to the soldier saints forms at
once so heroic and so chivalrously tender.

With regard to the circumstances of Mantegna's biography, it may be said
briefly that, though of humble birth, he spent the greater portion of his
life at Court and in the service of princes. It was in 1456, after he had
distinguished himself by the Paduan frescoes, that he first received an
invitation from the Marquis Lodovico Gonzaga. Of this sovereign I have
already had occasion to speak.[205] Reared by Vittorino da Feltre, to whom
his father had committed almost unlimited authority, Lodovico had early
learned to estimate the real advantages of culture. It was now his object
to render his capital no less illustrious by art than by the residence of
learned men. With this view he offered Mantegna a salary of fifteen ducats
a month, together with lodging, corn, and fuel--provided the painter would
place his talents at his service. Mantegna accepted the invitation; but
numerous engagements prevented him from transferring his household from
Padua to Mantua until the year 1460. From that date onwards to 1506, when
he died, Mantegna remained attached to the Gonzaga family serving three
Marquises in succession, and adorning their palaces, chapels, and
country-seats with frescoes now, alas! almost entirely ruined. The grants
of land and presents he received in addition to his salary, enabled him to
build a villa at Buscoldo, where he resided during the summer, as well as
to erect a sumptuous mansion in the capital.

Between Mantua, Goito, and Buscoldo, Mantegna spent the last forty-six
years of his life in continual employment, broken only by a short visit to
Florence in 1466, and another to Bologna in 1472,[206] and by a longer
residence in Rome between the years 1488 and 1490. During the latter
period Innocent VIII. was Pope. He had built a chapel in the Belvedere of
the Vatican, and wished the greatest painter of the day to decorate it.
Therefore he wrote to Francesco, Marquis of Mantua, requesting that he
might avail himself of Mantegna's skill. Francesco, though unwilling to
part with his painter in ordinary, thought it unadvisable to disappoint
the Pope. Accordingly he dubbed Mantegna knight, and sent him to Rome. The
chapel painted in fresco for Innocent was ruthlessly destroyed by Pius
VI.; and thus the world has lost one of Mantegna's masterpieces, executed
while his genius was at its zenith. On his return to Mantua he finished
the decorations of the Castello of the Gonzaghi, and completed his
greatest surviving work, the "Triumph of Julius Caesar."

By his wife, Nicolosia, the sister of Giovanni and Gentile Bellini,
Mantegna had several children, one of whom, Francesco, adopted painting as
a trade. The great artist was by temper arrogant and haughty; nor could he
succeed in living peaceably with any of his neighbours. It appears that he
spent habitually more money than he could well afford, freely indulging
his taste for magnificence, and disbursing large sums in the purchase of
curiosities. Long before his death his estate had been involved in debt;
and after his decease, his sons were forced to sell the pictures in his
studio for the payment of pressing creditors. He was buried in Alberti's
church of S. Andrea at Mantua, in a chapel decorated at his own expense.
Over the grave was placed a bronze bust, most noble in modelling and
perfect in execution. The broad forehead with its deeply cloven furrows,
the stern and piercing eyes, the large lips compressed with nervous
energy, the massive nose, the strength of jaw and chin, and the superb
clusters of the hair escaping from a laurel-wreath upon the royal head,
are such as realise for us our notion of a Roman in the days of the
Republic. Mantegna's own genius has inspired this masterpiece, which
tradition assigns to the medallist Sperando Maglioli. Whoever wrought it,
must have felt the incubation of the mighty painter's spirit, and have
striven to express in bronze the character of his uncompromising art.

Of a different temperament, yet not wholly unlike Mantegna in a certain
iron strength of artistic character, was Luca Signorelli, born about 1441
at Cortona. The supreme quality of Mantegna was studied purity of outline,
severe and heightened style. As Landor is distinguished by concentration
above all the English poets who have made trial of the classic Muse, so
Mantegna holds a place apart among Italian painters because of his stern
Roman self-control. Signorelli, on the contrary, made his mark by
boldness, pushing experiment almost beyond the verge of truth, and
approaching Michael Angelo in the hardihood of his endeavour to outdo
nature. Vasari says of him, that "even Michael Angelo imitated the manner
of Luca, as every one can see;" and indeed Signorelli anticipated the
greatest master of the sixteenth century, not only in his profound study
of human anatomy, but also in his resolution to express high thought and
tragic passion by pure form, discarding all the minor charms of painting.
Trained in the severe school of Piero della Francesca, he early learned to
draw from the nude with boldness and accuracy; and to this point, too much
neglected by his predecessors, he devoted the full powers of his maturity.
Anatomy he practised, according to the custom of those days, in the
graveyard or beneath the gibbet. There is a drawing by him in the Louvre
of a stalwart man carrying upon his back the corpse of a youth. Both are
naked. The motive seems to have been taken from some lazar-house.
Life-long study of perspective in its application to the drawing of the
figure, made the difficulties of foreshortening and the delineation of
brusque attitude mere child's play to this audacious genius. The most
rapid movement, the most perilous contortion of bodies falling through the
air or flying, he depicted with hard, firmly-traced, unerring outline. If
we dare to criticise the productions of a master so original and so
accomplished, all we can say is that Signorelli revelled almost too
wantonly in the display of hazardous posture, and that he sacrificed the
passion of his theme to the display of science.[207] Yet his genius
comprehended great and tragic subjects, and to him belongs the credit in
an age of ornament and pedantry of having made the human body a language
for the utterance of all that is most weighty in the thought of man.

A story is told by Vasari which brings Signorelli very close to our
sympathy, and enables us to understand the fascination of pure form he
felt so deeply. "It is related of Luca that he had a son killed at
Cortona, a youth of singular beauty in face and person, whom he had
tenderly loved. In his grief the father caused the boy to be stripped
naked, and with extraordinary constancy of soul, uttering no complaint
and shedding no tear, he painted the portrait of his dead son, to the end
that he might still be able, through the work of his own hand, to
contemplate that which nature had given him, but which an adverse fortune
had taken away." So passionate and ardent, so convinced of the
indissoluble bond between the soul he loved in life and its dead tenement
of clay, and withal so iron-nerved and stout of will, it behoved that man
to be, who undertook in the plenitude of his power, at the age of sixty,
to paint upon the walls of the chapel of S. Brizio at Orvieto the images
of Doomsday, Resurrection, Heaven, and Hell.[208]

It is a gloomy chapel in the Gothic cathedral of that forlorn Papal
city--gloomy by reason of bad lighting, but more so because of the
terrible shapes with which Signorelli has filled it[209]. In no other work
of the Italian Renaissance, except in the Sistine Chapel, has so much
thought, engaged upon the most momentous subjects, been expressed with
greater force by means more simple and with effect more overwhelming.
Architecture, landscape, and decorative accessories of every kind, the
usual padding of _quattrocento_ pictures, have been discarded from the
main compositions. The painter has relied solely upon his power of
imagining and delineating the human form in every attitude, and under the
most various conditions. Darting like hawks or swallows through the air,
huddling together to shun the outpoured vials of the wrath of God,
writhing with demons on the floor of Hell, struggling into new life from
the clinging clay, standing beneath the footstool of the Judge, floating
with lute and viol on the winds of Paradise, kneeling in prayer, or
clasping "inseparable hands with joy and bliss in overmeasure for
ever"--these multitudes of living beings, angelic, diabolic, bestial,
human, crowd the huge spaces of the chapel walls. What makes the
impression of controlling doom the more appalling, is that we comprehend
the drama in its several scenes, while the chief actor, the divine Judge,
at whose bidding the cherubs sound their clarions, and the dead arise, and
weal and woe are portioned to the saved and damned, is Himself
unrepresented.[210] We breathe in the presence of embodied consciences,
submitting, like our own, to an unseen inevitable will.

It would be doing Signorelli injustice at Orvieto to study only these
great panels. The details with which he has filled all the vacant spaces
above the chapel stalls and round the doorway, throw new light upon his
power. The ostensible motive for this elaborate ornamentation is contained
in the portraits of six poets, who are probably Homer, Virgil, Lucan,
Horace, Ovid, and Dante, _il sesto tra cotanto senno_.[211] But the
portraits themselves, though vigorously conceived and remarkable for bold
foreshortening, are the least part of the whole design. Its originality
consists in the arabesques, medallions, and _chiaroscuro_ bas-reliefs,
where the human form, treated as absolutely plastic, supplies the sole
decorative element. The pilasters by the doorway, for example, are
composed, after the usual type of Italian _grotteschi_, in imitation of
antique candelabra, with numerous stages for the exhibition of the
artist's fancies. Unlike the work of Raphael in the Loggie, these
pilasters of Signorelli show no birds or beasts, no flowers or foliage,
fruits or fauns, no masks or sphinxes. They are crowded with naked
men--drinking, dancing, leaning forward, twisting themselves into strange
attitudes, and adapting their bodies to the several degrees of the
framework. The same may be said of the arabesques around the portraits of
the poets, where men, women, and children, some complete, some ending in
foliage or in fish-tails, are lavished with a wild and terrible profusion.
Hippogriffs and centaurs, sirens and dolphins, are here used as adjuncts
to humanity. Amid this fantastic labyrinth of twisted forms we find
medallions painted in _chiaroscuro_ with subjects taken chiefly from
Ovidian and Dantesque mythology. Here every attitude of men in combat and
in motion has been studied from the nude, and multitudes of figures draped
and undraped are compressed into the briefest compass. All but the human
form is sternly eliminated; and the body itself is treated with a mastery
and a boldness that prove Signorelli to have held its varied capabilities
firmly in his brain. He could not have worked out all those postures from
the living model. He played freely with his immense stores of knowledge;
but his play was the pastime of a Prometheus. Each pose, however
hazardous, carries conviction with it of sincerity and truth; the life and
liberty of nature reign throughout. From the whole maze of interlaced and
wrestling figures the terrible nature of the artist's genius shines forth.
They are almost all strong men in the prime or past the prime of life,
chosen for their salient display of vital structure. Signorelli was the
first, and, with the exception of Michael Angelo, the last painter thus to
use the body, without sentiment, without voluptuousness, without any
second intention whatsoever, as the supreme decorative principle. In his
absolute sincerity he made, as it were, a parade of hard and rugged types,
scorning to introduce an element of beauty, whether sensuous or ideal,
that should distract him from the study of the body in and for itself.
This distinguishes him in the arabesques at Orvieto alike from Mantegna
and Michael Angelo, from Correggio and Raphael, from Titian and Paolo

This point is so important for its bearing on Renaissance art that I may
be permitted to dilate at greater length on Signorelli's choice of types
and treatment of form in general. Having a special predilection for the
human body, he by no means confined himself to monotony in its
presentation. On the contrary, we can trace many distinct grades of
corporeal expression. First comes the abstract nude, illustrated by the
"Resurrection" and the arabesques at Orvieto[212]. Contemporary life, with
all its pomp of costume and insolence of ruffling youth, is depicted in
the "Fulminati" at Orvieto and in the "Soldiers of Totila" at Monte
Oliveto[213]. These transcripts from the courts of princes and camps of
condottieri are invaluable as portraits of the lawless young men who
filled Italy with the noise of their feuds and the violence of their
adventures. They illustrate Matarazzo's Perugian chronicle better than any
other Renaissance pictures; for in frescoes like those of Pinturicchio at
Siena the same qualities are softened to suit the painter's predetermined
harmony, whereas Signorelli rejoices in their pure untempered
character[214]. These, then, form a second stage. Third in degree we find
the type of highly idealised adolescence reserved by Signorelli for his
angels. All his science and his sympathy with real life are here
subordinated to poetic feeling. It is a mistake to say that these angels
are the young men of Umbria whom he loved to paint in their striped
jackets, with the addition of wings to their shoulders. The radiant beings
who tune their citherns on the clouds of Paradise, or scatter roses for
elect souls, could not live and breathe in the fiery atmosphere of
sensuous passions to which the Baglioni were habituated. A grave and
solemn sense of beauty animates these fair male beings, clothed in
voluminous drapery, with youthful faces and still earnest eyes. Their
melody, like that of Milton, is severe. Nor are Signorelli's angelic
beings of one uniform type like the angels of Fra Angelico. The athletic
cherubs of the "Resurrection," breathing their whole strength into the
trumpets that awake the dead; the mailed and winged warriors, keeping
guard above the pit of "Hell," that none may break their prison-bars among
the damned; the lute-players of "Paradise," with their almost feminine
sobriety of movement; the flame-breathing seraphs of the day of doom; the
"Gabriel" of Volterra, in whom strength is translated into
swiftness:--these are the heralds, sentinels, musicians, executioners, and
messengers of the celestial court; and each class is distinguished by
appropriate physical characteristics. At the other end of the scale,
forming a fourth grade, we may mention the depraved types of humanity
chosen for his demons--those greenish, reddish, ochreish fiends of the
"Inferno," whom Signorelli created by exaggerating the more grotesque
qualities of the nude developed in his arabesques. We thus obtain four
several degrees of form: the demoniac, the abstract nude, the adolescent
beauty of young men copied from choice models, and the angelic.

Except in his angels, Signorelli was comparatively indifferent to what is
commonly considered beauty. He was not careful to select his models, or to
idealise their type. The naked human body, apart from facial distinction
or refinement of form, contented him. Violent contrasts of light and
shadow, accentuating the anatomical structure with rough and angular
decision, give the effect of illustrative diagrams to his studies. Harmony
of proportion and the magic of expression are sacrificed to energy
emergent in a powerful physique. Redundant life, in sinewy limbs, in the
proud carriage of the head upon the neck, in the sway of the trunk
backward from the reins, the firmly planted calves and brawny thighs, the
thick hair, broad shoulders, spare flanks, and massive gluteal muscles of
a man of twenty-two or upwards, whose growth has been confined to the
development of animal force, was what delighted him. Yet there is no
coarseness or animalism properly so called in his style. He was attracted
by the marvellous mechanism of the human frame--its goodliness regarded as
the most highly organised of animate existences.

Owing, perhaps, to this exclusive predilection for organic life,
Signorelli was not great as a colourist. His patches of blues and reds in
the frescoes of Monte Oliveto are oppressively distinct; his use of dull
brown for the shading of flesh imparts a disagreeable heaviness to his
best modelled forms; nor did he often attain in his oil pictures to that
grave harmony we admire in his "Last Supper" at Cortona. The world of
light and colour was to him a comparatively untravelled land. It remained
for other artists to raise these elements of pictorial expression to the
height reached by Signorelli in his treatment of the nude.

Before quitting the frescoes at Orvieto, some attention should be paid to
the medallions spoken of above, in special relation to the classicism of
the earlier Renaissance. Scenes from Dante's "Purgatorio" and subjects
from the "Metamorphoses" of Ovid are treated here in the same key; but the
latter, since they engaged Signorelli's fancy upon Greek mythology, are
the more important for our purpose. Two from the legend of "Orpheus" and
two from that of "Proserpine" might be chosen as typical of the whole
series. Mediaeval intensity, curiously at variance with antique feeling, is
discernible throughout. The satellites of Hades are gaunt and sinewy
devils, eager to do violence to Eurydice. Pluto himself drives his jarring
car-wheels up through the lava-blocks and flames of Etna with a fury and a
vehemence we seek in vain upon antique sarcophagi. Ceres, wandering
through Sicily in search of her lost daughter, is a gaunt witch with
dishevelled hair, raising frantic hands to tear her cheeks; while the
snakes that draw her chariot are no grave symbols of the germinating corn,
but greedy serpents ready to spit fire against the ravishers of
Proserpine. Thus the tranquillity and self-restraint of Greek art yield to
a passionate and trenchant realisation of the actual romance. The most
thrilling moments in the legend are selected for dramatic treatment, grace
and beauty being exchanged for vivid presentation. A whole cycle of human
experience separates these medallions from the antique bas-relief at
Naples, where Hermes hands the veiled Eurydice to Orpheus, and all three
are calm. That Signorelli, if he chose to do so, could represent a classic
myth with more of classic feeling, is shown by his picture of "Pan
Listening to Olympus"[215]. The nymph, the vineleaf-girdled Faun, and the
two shepherds, all undraped and drawn with subtle feeling for the melodies
of line, render this work one of his most successful compositions.

It would be interesting to compare Signorelli's treatment of the antique
with Mantegna's or Botticelli's. The visions of the pagan world, floating
before the mind of all men in the fifteenth century, found very different
interpreters in these three painters--Botticelli adding the quaint alloy
of his own fancy, Signorelli imparting the semi-savagery of a terrible
imagination, Mantegna, with the truest instinct and the firmest touch,
confining himself to the processional pageantry of bas-relief. Yet, were
this comparison to be instituted, we could hardly refrain from carrying it
much further. Each great master of the Renaissance had his own relation to
classical mythology. The mystic sympathies of "Leda and the Swan," as
imaged severally by Lionardo and Michael Angelo; Correggio's romantic
handling of the myths of "Danae" and "Io;" Titian's and Tintoretto's rival
pictures of "Bacchus and Ariadne;" Raphael's "Galatea;" Pollajuolo's
"Hercules;" the "Europa" of Veronese; the "Circe" of Dosso Dossi; Palma's
"Venus;" Sodoma's "Marriage of Alexander"--all these, to mention none but
pictures familiar to every traveller in Italy, raise for the student of
the classical Revival absorbing questions relative to the influences of
pagan myths upon the modern imagination.

Signorelli was chiefly occupied, during the course of his long career,
upon religious pictures; and the high place he occupies in the history of
Renaissance culture is due partly to his free abandonment of conventional
methods in treating sacred subjects. The Uffizzi Gallery contains a
circular "Madonna" by his hand, with a row of naked men for
background--the forerunner of Michael Angelo's famous "Holy Family." So
far had art for art's sake already encroached upon the ecclesiastical
domain. To discuss Signorelli's merits as a painter of altar-pieces would
be to extend the space allotted to him far beyond its proper limits. It is
not as a religious artist that he takes his rank, but as having powerfully
promoted the rehabilitation of the body achieved for art by the

Unlike Mantegna, Signorelli never entered the service of a prince, though
we have seen that he executed commissions for Lorenzo de' Medici and
Pandolfo Petrucci. He bore a name which, if not noble, had been more than
once distinguished in the annals of Tuscany. Residing at his native place,
Cortona, he there enjoyed the highest reputation, and was frequently
elected to municipal office. Concerning his domestic life very little is
known, but what we do know is derived from an excellent source[216]. His
mother was the sister of Lazzaro, great-grandfather of Giorgio Vasari. In
his biography of Signorelli, Vasari relates how, when he was himself a boy
of eight, his illustrious cousin visited the house of the Vasari family at
Arezzo; and hearing from little Giorgio's grammar-master that he spent his
time in drawing figures, Luca turned to the child's father and said,
"Antonio, since Giorgio takes after his family, you must by all means have
him taught; for even though he should pay attention to literature as well,
drawing cannot fail to be a source of utility, honour, and recreation to
him, as it is to every man of worth." Luca's kindness deeply impressed the
boy, who afterwards wrote the following description of his personal
qualities: "He was a man of the most excellent habits, sincere and
affectionate with his friends, sweet of conversation and amusing in
society, above all things courteous to those who had need of his work, and
easy in giving instruction to his pupils. He lived splendidly, and took
delight in dressing handsomely. This excellent disposition caused him to
be always held in highest veneration both in his own city and abroad."

To turn from Signorelli to Perugino is to plunge at once into a very
different atmosphere[217]. It is like quitting the rugged gorges of high
mountains for a valley of the Southern Alps--still, pensive, beautiful,
and coloured with reflections from an evening sky. Perugino knew exactly
how to represent a certain mood of religious sentiment, blending meek
acquiescence with a prayerful yearning of the impassioned soul. His
Madonnas worshipping the infant Jesus in a tranquil Umbrian landscape, his
angels ministrant, his pathetic martyrs with upturned holy faces, his
sexless S. Sebastians and immaculate S. Michaels, display the perfection
of art able by colour and by form to achieve within a narrow range what it
desires. What this artist seems to have aimed at, was to create for the
soul amid the pomps and passions of this world a resting-place of
contemplation tenanted by saintly and seraphic beings. No pain comes near
the folk of his celestial city; no longing poisons their repose; they are
not weary, and the wicked trouble them no more. Their cheerfulness is no
less perfect than their serenity; like the shades of Hellas, they have
drunk Lethean waters from the river of content, and all remembrance of
things sad or harsh has vanished from their minds. The quietude of
holiness expressed in this ideal region was a legacy to Perugino from
earlier Umbrian masters; but his technical supremacy in fresco-painting
and in oils, his correct drawing within certain limits, and his refined
sense of colour enabled him to realise it more completely than his less
accomplished predecessors. In his best work the Renaissance set the seal
of absolute perfection upon pietistic art.

We English are fortunate in possessing one of Perugino's sincerest
devotional oil pictures[218]. His frescoes of "S. Sebastian" at Panicale,
and of the "Crucifixion" at Florence, are tolerably well known through
reproductions[219]; while the "Vision of S. Bernard" at Munich and the
"Pieta" in the Pitti Gallery are familiar to all travelled students of
Italian painting. These masterpieces belong to Perugino's best period,
when his inspiration was fresh, and his enthusiasm for artistic excellence
was still unimpaired; and when, as M. Rio thinks, the failure of his faith
had not yet happened. It is only at Perugia, however, in the Sala del
Cambio, that we are able to gauge the extent of his power and to estimate
the value of his achievement beyond the pale of strictly religious themes.

Early in the course of his career Perugino seems to have become contented
with a formal repetition of successful motives, and to have checked the
growth of his genius by adhering closely to a prescribed cycle of effects.
The praises of his patrons and the prosperity of his trade proved to his
keen commercial sense that the raised ecstatic eyes, the upturned oval
faces, the pale olive skin, the head inclined upon the shoulder, the thin
fluttering hair, the ribands and the dainty dresses of his holy persons
found great favour in Umbrian palaces and convents. Thenceforward he
painted but little else; and when, in the Sala del Cambio, he was obliged
to treat the representative heroes of Greek and Roman story, he adopted
the same manner[220]. Leonidas, the lionhearted Spartan, and Cato, the
austere Roman, who preferred liberty to life, bend their mild heads like
flowers in Perugino's frescoes, and gather up their drapery in studied
folds with celestial delicacy. Jove is a reproduction of the Eterno Padre,
conceived as a benevolent old man for a conventional painting of the
"Trinity;" and Ganymede is a page-boy with the sweet submissive features
of Tobias. Already Perugino had opened a manufactory of pietistic
pictures, and was employing many pupils on his works. He coined money by
fixing artificially beautiful faces upon artificially elegant figures,
placing a row of these puppets in a landscape with calm sky behind them,
and calling the composition by the name of some familiar scene. His
inspiration was dead, his invention exhausted; his chief object seemed to
be to make his trade thrive.

Perugino will always remain a problem to the psychologist who believes in
physiognomy, as well as to the student of the passionate times in which he
lived. His hard unsympathetic features in the portraits at Perugia and
Florence do not belie, but rather win credence for Vasari's tales about
his sordid soul.[221] Local traditions and contemporary rumours, again,
give colour to what Vasari relates about his infidelity; while the
criminal records of Florence prove that he was not over-scrupulous to keep
his hands from violence.[222] How could such a man, we ask ourselves, have
endured to pass a long life in the _fabrication of devotional pictures?_
Whence did he derive the sentiment of masterpieces, for piety only
equalled by those of Fra Angelico, either in his own nature or in the
society of a city torn to pieces by the factions of the Baglioni? How,
again, was it possible for an artist who at times touched beauty so ideal,
to be contented with the stencilling by his pupils of conventional figures
on canvases to which he gave his name? Taking these questions separately,
we might reply that "there is no art to find the mind's construction in
the face;" that painting in the sixteenth century was a trade regulated by
the demand for particular wares; that men can live among ruffians without
sharing their mood; that the artist and the moral being are separate, and
may not be used to interpret each other. Yet, after giving due weight to
such answers, Perugino, being what he was, living at the time he did, not
as a recluse, but as a prosperous _impresario_ of painting, and
systematically devoting his powers to pietistic art, must be for us a
puzzle. That the quietism of his highly artificial style should have been
fashionable in Perugia, while the Baglioni were tearing each other to
pieces, and the troops of the Vitelli and the Borgia were trampling upon
Umbria, is one of the most striking paradoxes of an age rich in dramatic

It is much to be regretted, with a view to solving the question of
Perugino's personality in relation to his art, that his character does not
emerge with any salience from the meagre notices we have received
concerning him, and that we know but little of his private life. Vasari
tells us that he married a very beautiful girl, and that one of his chief
pleasures was to see this wife handsomely dressed at home and abroad. He
often decked her out in clothes and jewels with his own hand. For the
rest, we find in Perugino, far more than in either Mantegna or Signorelli,
an instance of the simple Italian craftsman, employing numerous
assistants, undertaking contract work on a large scale, and striking keen
bargains with his employers. Both at Florence and at Perugia he opened a
_bottega_; and by the exercise of his trade as a master-painter, he
realised enough money to buy substantial estates in those cities, as well
as in his birthplace.[223] In all the greatest artworks of the age he took
his part. Thus we find him painting in the Sistine Chapel between 1484 and
1486, treating with the commune of Orvieto for the completion of the
chapel of S. Brizio in 1489, joining in the debate upon the facade of S.
Maria del Fiore in 1491, giving his opinion upon the erection of Michael
Angelo's "David" at Florence in 1504, and competing with Signorelli,
Pinturicchio, and Bazzi for the decoration of the Stanze of the Vatican in
1508. The rising of brighter stars above the horizon during his lifetime
somewhat dimmed his fame, and caused him much disquietude; yet neither
Raphael nor Michael Angelo interfered with the demand for his pictures,
which continued to be lively till the very year of his death. That he was
jealous of these younger rivals, appears from the fact that he brought an
action against Michael Angelo for having called his style stupid and
antiquated. In the celebrated phrase cast at him by the blunt and scornful
master of a new art-mystery[224], we discern the abrupt line of division
between time-honoured tradition and the _maniera moderna_ of the full
Renaissance. The old Titans had to yield their place before the new
Olympian deities of Italian painting. There is something pathetic in the
retirement of the grey-haired Perugino from Rome, to make way for the
victorious Phoebean beauty of the boy Raphael.

The influence of Perugino upon Italian art was powerful though transitory.
He formed a band of able pupils, among whom was the great Raphael; and
though Raphael speedily abandoned his master's narrow footpath through the
fields of painting, he owed to Perugino the invaluable benefit of training
in solid technical methods and traditions of pure taste. From none of his
elder contemporaries, with the exception of Fra Bartolommeo, could the
young Raphael have learnt so much that was congenial to his early
instincts. What, for example, might have befallen him if he had worked
with Signorelli, it is difficult to imagine; for while nothing is more
obvious on the one hand than Raphael's originality, his strong
assimilative bias is scarcely less remarkable. The time has not yet come
to speak of Raphael; nor will space suffice for detailed observations on
his fellow-students in the workshop at Perugia. The place occupied by
Perugino in the evolution of Italian painting is peculiar. In the middle
of a positive and worldly age, declining fast to frigid scepticism and
political corruption, he set the final touch of technical art upon the
devotion transmitted from earlier and more enthusiastic centuries. The
flower of Umbrian piety blossomed in the masterpieces of his youth, and
faded into dryness in the affectations of his manhood. Nothing was left on
the same line for his successors.

Among these, Bernardo Pinturicchio can here alone be mentioned. A thorough
naturalist, though saturated with the mannerism of the Umbrian school,
Pinturicchio was not distracted either by scientific or ideal aims from
the clear and fluent presentation of contemporary manners and costumes. He
is a kind of Umbrian Gozzoli, who brings us here and there in close
relation to the men of his own time, and has in consequence a special
value for the student of Renaissance life. His wall-paintings in the
library of the cathedral of Siena are so well preserved that we need not
seek elsewhere for better specimens of the decorative art most highly
prized in the first years of the sixteenth century[225]. These frescoes
have a richness of effect and a vivacity of natural action, which, in
spite of their superficiality, render them highly charming. The life of
AEneas Sylvius Piccolomini, Pius II., is here treated like a legend. There
is no attempt at representing the dress of half a century anterior to the
painter's date, or at rendering accurate historic portraiture. Both Pope
and Emperor are romantically conceived, and each portion of the tale is
told as though it were a fit in some popular ballad. So much remains of
Perugian affectation as gives a kind of childlike grace to the studied
attitudes and many-coloured groups of elegant young men.

We must always be careful to distinguish the importance of an artist
considered as the exponent of his age from that which he may claim by
virtue of some special skill or some peculiar quality of feeling. The art
of Perugino, for example, throws but little light upon the Renaissance
taken as a whole. Intrinsically valuable because of its technical
perfection and its purity of sentiment, it was already in the painter's
lifetime superseded by a larger and a grander manner. The progressive
forces of the modern style found their channels outside him. This again is
true of Francesco Raibolini, surnamed Francia from his master in the
goldsmith's craft. Francia is known to Englishmen as one of the most
sincerely pious of Christian painters by his incomparable picture of the
"Dead Christ" in our National Gallery. The spirituality that renders Fra
Angelico unintelligible to minds less ecstatically tempered than his own,
is not found in such excess in Francia, nor does his work suffer from the
insipidity of Perugino's affectation. Deep religious feeling is combined
with physical beauty of the purest type in a masterpiece of tranquil
grace. A greater degree of _naivete_ and naturalness compensates for the
inferiority of Francia's to Perugino's supremely perfect handling. This is
true of Francia's numerous pictures at Bologna; where indeed, in order to
be rightly known, he should be studied by all lovers of the _quattrocento_
style in its most delightful moments[226]. For mastery over oil painting
and for charm of colour Francia challenges comparison with what is best in
Perugino, though he did not quite attain the same technical excellence.

One more painter must delay us yet awhile within the limits of the
fifteenth century. Bartolommeo di Paolo del Fattorino, better known as
Baccio della Porta or Fra Bartolommeo, forms at Florence the connecting
link between the artists of the earlier Renaissance and the golden
age[227]. By chronological reckoning he is nearly a quarter of a century
later than Lionardo da Vinci, and is the exact contemporary of Michael
Angelo. As an artist, he has thoroughly outgrown the _quattrocento_ style,
and falls short only by a little of the greatest. In assigning him a place
among the predecessors and precursors of the full Renaissance, I am
therefore influenced rather by the range of subjects he selected, and by
the character of his genius, than by calculations of time or estimate of

Fra Bartolommeo was sent, when nine years old, into the workshop of Cosimo
Rosselli, where he began his artist's life by colour-grinding, sweeping
out the shop, and errand-running. It was in Cosimo's _bottega_ that he
made acquaintance with Mariotto Albertinelli, who became his intimate
friend and fellow-worker. In spite of marked differences of character,
disagreements upon the fundamental matters of politics and religion, and
not unfrequent quarrels, these men continued to be comrades through the
better part of their joint lives. Baccio was gentle, timid, yielding, and
industrious. Mariotto was wilful, obstinate, inconsequent, and flighty,
Baccio fell under the influence of Savonarola, professed himself a
_piagnone_, and took the cowl of the Dominicans[228]. Mariotto was a
partisan of the Medici, an uproarious _pallesco_, and a loose liver, who
eventually deserted the art of painting for the calling of an innkeeper.
Yet so sweet was the temper of the Frate, and so firm was the bond of
friendship established in boyhood between this ill-assorted couple, that
they did not part company until 1512, three years before Mariotto's death
and five before that of Bartolommeo. During their long association the
task of designing fell upon the Frate, while Albertinelli took his orders
and helped to work out his conceptions. Both were excellent craftsmen and
consummate colourists, as is proved by the pictures executed by each
unassisted. Albertinelli's "Salutation" in the Uffizzi yields no point of
grace and vigour to any of his more distinguished coadjutor's paintings.

The great contributions made by Fra Bartolommeo to the art of Italy were
in the double region of composition and colouring. In his justly
celebrated fresco of S. Maria Nuova at Florence--a "Last Judgment" with a
Christ enthroned amid a choir of Saints--he exhibited for the first time a
thoroughly scientific scheme of grouping based on geometrical principles.
Each part is perfectly balanced in itself, and yet is necessary to the
structure of the whole. The complex framework may be subdivided into
numerous sections no less harmoniously ordered than is the total scheme to
which they are subordinated. Simple figures--the pyramid and the triangle,
upright, inverted, and interwoven like the rhymes in a sonnet--form the
basis of the composition. This system was adhered to by the Frate in all
his subsequent works. To what extent it influenced the style of Raphael,
will be afterwards discussed. As a colourist, Fra Bartolommeo was equal to
the best of his contemporaries, and superior to any of his rivals in the
school of Florence. Few painters of any age have combined harmony of tone
so perfectly with brilliance and richness. It is a real joy to contemplate
the pure and splendid folds of the white drapery he loved to place in the
foreground of his altar-pieces. Solidity and sincerity distinguish his
work in every detail, while his feeling is remarkable for elevation and
sobriety. All that he lacks, is the boldness of imagination, the depth of
passion, and the power of thought, that are indispensable to genius of the
highest order. Gifted with a sympathetic and a pliant, rather than a
creative and self-sustained nature, he was sensitive to every influence.
Therefore we find him learning much in his youth from Lionardo, deriving a
fresh impulse from Raphael, and endeavouring in his later life, after a
visit to Rome in 1514, to "heighten his style," as the phrase went, by
emulating Michael Angelo. The attempt to tread the path of Buonarroti was
a failure. What Fra Bartolommeo sought to gain in majesty, he lost in
charm. His was essentially a pure and gracious manner, upon which
sublimity could not be grafted. The gentle soul, who dropped his weapon
when the convent of S. Marco was besieged by the Compagnacci[229], and who
vowed, if heaven preserved him in the tumult, to become a monk, had none
of Michael Angelo's _terribilita_. Without possessing some share of that
spirit, it was vain to aggrandise the forms and mass the raiment of his
prophets in imitation of the Sistine.

Nature made Fra Bartolommeo the painter of adoration[230]. His masterpiece
at Lucca--the "Madonna della Misericordia"--is a poem of glad worship, a
hymn of prayerful praise. Our Lady stands elate, between earth and heaven,
appealing to her Son for mercy. At her footstool are her suppliants, the
men and women and little children of the city she has saved. The peril is
past. Salvation has been won; and the song of thanksgiving ascends from
all those massed and mingled forms in unison. Not less truly is the great
unfinished picture of "Madonna surrounded by the Patron Saints of
Florence" a poem of adoration[231]. This painting was ordered by the
Gonfalonier Piero Soderini, the man who dedicated Florence to Christ as
King. He intended it to take its place in the hall of the Consiglio
Grande, where Michael Angelo and Lionardo gained their earliest laurels.
Before it could be finished, the Republic perished.[232] "That," says Rio,
"is the reason why he left but an imperfect work--for those at least who
are only struck by what is wanting in it. Others will at first regard it
with the interest attaching to unfinished poems, interrupted by the
jailer's call or by the stern voice of the executioner. Then they will
study it in all its details, in order to appreciate its beauties; and that
appreciation will be the more perfect in proportion as a man is the more
fully penetrated with its dominant idea, and with the attendant
circumstances that bring this home to him. It is not against an abstract
enemy that the intercession of the celestial powers is here invoked: it is
not by a caprice of the painter or his patron that, in the group of
central figures, S. Anne attracts attention before the Holy Virgin, not
only by reason of her pre-eminence, but also through the intensity of her
heavenward prayer, and again through her beauty, which far surpasses that
of nearly all "Madonnas" painted by Fra Bartolommeo."[233] But artist and
patron had indeed good reason, in this crisis of the Commonwealth, to
select as the most eminent advocate for Florence at the bar of Heaven that
saint, on whose day, July 26, 1343, had been celebrated the emancipation
of the city from its servitude to Walter of Brienne.

The great event of Fra Bartolommeo's life was the impression produced on
him by Savonarola.[234] Having listened to the Dominican's terrific
denunciations of worldliness and immorality, he carried his life studies
to the pyre of vanities, resolved to assume the cowl, and renounced his
art. Between 1499, when he was engaged in painting the "Last Judgment" of
S. Maria Nuova, and 1506, he is supposed never to have touched the pencil.
When he resumed it Savonarola had been burned for heresy, and Fra
Bartolommeo was a brother in his convent of S. Marco. Savonarola has
sometimes been described as an iconoclast, obstinately hostile to the fine
arts. This is by no means a true account of the crusade he carried on
against the pagan sensuality of his contemporaries. He desired that art
should remain the submissive handmaid of the Church and the willing
servant of pure morality. While he denounced the heathenism of the style
in vogue at Florence, and forbade the study of the nude, he strove to
encourage religious painting, and established a school for its exercise in
the cloister of S. Marco. It was in this monastic _bottega_ that Fra
Bartolommeo, in concert with his friend Albertinelli, worked for the
benefit of the convent after the year 1506. The reforms Savonarola
attempted in the fine arts as in manners, by running counter to the
tendencies of the Renaissance at a moment when society was too corrupt to
be regenerated, and the passion for antiquity was too powerful to be
restrained, proved of necessity ineffective. It may further be said that
the limitations he imposed would have been fatal to the free development
of art if they had been observed.

Several painters, besides Fra Baccio, submitted to Savonarola's influence.
Among these the most distinguished were the pure and gentle Lorenzo di
Credi and Sandro Botticelli, who, after the great preacher's death, is
said to have abandoned painting. Neither Lorenzo di Credi nor Fra Baccio
possessed a portion of the prophet's fiery spirit. Had that but found
expression in their cloistral pictures, one of the most peculiar and
characteristic flowers of art the world has ever known, would then have
bloomed in Florence. The mantle of Savonarola, however, if it fell upon
any painter, fell on Michael Angelo, and we must seek an echo of the
friar's thunders in the Sistine Chapel. Fra Bartolommeo was too tender and
too timid. The sublimities of tragic passion lay beyond his scope. Though
I have ventured to call him the painter of adoration, he did not feel even
this movement of the soul with the intensity of Fra Angelico. In the
person of S. Dominic kneeling beneath the cross Fra Angelico painted
worship as an ecstasy, wherein the soul goes forth with love and pain and
yearning beyond any power of words or tears or music to express what it
would utter. To these heights of the ascetic ideal Fra Bartolommeo never
soared. His sobriety bordered upon the prosaic.

We have now reached the great age of the Italian Renaissance, the age in
which, not counting for the moment Venice, four arch-angelic natures
gathered up all that had been hitherto achieved in art since the days of
Pisano and Giotto, adding such celestial illumination from the sunlight of
their inborn genius that in them the world for ever sees what art can do.
Lionardo da Vinci was born in Valdarno in 1452, and died in France in
1519. Michael Angelo Buonarroti was born at Caprese, in the Casentino, in
1475, and died at Borne in 1564, having outlived the lives of his great
peers by nearly half a century. Raphael Santi was born at Urbino in 1483,
and died in Rome in 1520. Antonio Allegri was born at Correggio in 1494,
and died there in 1534. To these four men, each in his own degree and
according to his own peculiar quality of mind, the fulness of the
Renaissance, in its power and freedom, was revealed. They entered the
inner shrine, where dwelt the spirit of their age, and bore to the world
without the message each of them had heard. In their work posterity still
may read the meaning of that epoch, differently rendered according to the
difference of gifts in each consummate artist, but comprehended in its
unity by study of the four together. Lionardo is the wizard or diviner; to
him the Renaissance offers her mystery and lends her magic. Raphael is the
Phoebean singer; to him the Renaissance reveals her joy and dowers him
with her gift of melody. Correggio is the Ariel or Faun; he has surprised
laughter upon the face of the universe, and he paints this laughter in
ever-varying movement. Michael Angelo is the prophet and Sibylline seer;
to him the Renaissance discloses the travail of her spirit; him she endues
with power; he wrests her secret, voyaging, like an ideal Columbus, the
vast abyss of thought alone. In order that this revelation of the
Renaissance in painting should be complete, it is necessary to add a fifth
power to these four--that of the Venetian masters, who are the poets of
carnal beauty, the rhetoricians of mundane pomp, the impassioned
interpreters of all things great and splendid in the pageant of the outer
world. As Venice herself, by type of constitution and historical
development, remained sequestered from the rest of Italy, so her painters
demand separate treatment.[235] It is enough, therefore, for the present
to remember that without the note they utter the chord of the Renaissance
lacks its harmony.

Lionardo, the natural son of Messer Pietro, notary of Florence and landed
proprietor at Vinci, was so beautiful of person that no one, says Vasari,
has sufficiently extolled his charm; so strong of limb that he could bend
an iron ring or horse-shoe between his fingers; so eloquent of speech that
those who listened to his words were fain to answer "Yes" or "No" as he
thought fit. This child of grace and persuasion was a wonderful musician.
The Duke of Milan sent for him to play upon his lute and improvise Italian
canzoni. The lute he carried was of silver, fashioned like a horse's
head, and tuned according to acoustic laws discovered by himself. Of the
songs he sang to its accompaniment none have been preserved. Only one
sonnet remains to show of what sort was the poetry of Lionardo, prized so
highly by the men of his own generation. This, too, is less remarkable for
poetic beauty than for sober philosophy expressed with singular brevity of

This story of Da Vinci's lute might be chosen as a parable of his
achievement. Art and science were never separated in his work; and both
were not unfrequently subservient to some fanciful caprice, some bizarre
freak of originality. Curiosity and love of the uncommon ruled his nature.
By intuition and by persistent interrogation of nature he penetrated many
secrets of science; but he was contented with the acquisition of
knowledge. Once found, he had but little care to distribute the results of
his investigations; at most he sought to use them for purposes of
practical utility.[237] Even in childhood he is said to have perplexed
his teachers by propounding arithmetical problems. In his maturity he
carried anatomy further than Delia Torre; he invented machinery for
water-mills and aqueducts; he devised engines of war, discovered the
secret of conical rifle-bullets, adapted paddle-wheels to boats, projected
new systems of siege artillery, investigated the principles of optics,
designed buildings, made plans for piercing mountains, raising churches,
connecting rivers, draining marshes, clearing harbours.[238] There was no
branch of study whereby nature through the effort of the inquisitive
intellect might be subordinated to the use of man, of which he was not
master. Nor, richly gifted as was Lionardo, did he trust his natural
facility. His patience was no less marvellous than the quickness of his
insight. He lived to illustrate the definition of genius as the capacity
for taking infinite pains.

While he was a boy, says Vasari, Lionardo modelled in terra-cotta certain
heads of women smiling. This was in the workshop of Verocchio, who had
already fixed a smile on David's face in bronze. When an old man, he left
"Mona Lisa" on the easel not quite finished, the portrait of a subtle,
shadowy, uncertain smile. This smile, this enigmatic revelation of a
movement in the soul, this seductive ripple on the surface of the human
personality, was to Lionardo a symbol of the secret of the world, an image
of the universal mystery. It haunted him all through his life, and
innumerable were the attempts he made to render by external form the magic
of this fugitive and evanescent charm.

Through long days he would follow up and down the streets of Florence or
of Milan beautiful unknown faces, learning them by heart, interpreting
their changes of expression, reading the thoughts through the features.
These he afterwards committed to paper. We possess many such sketches--a
series of ideal portraits, containing each an unsolved riddle that the
master read; a procession of shadows, cast by reality, that, entering the
camera lucida of the artist's brain, gained new and spiritual
quality.[239] In some of them his fancy seems to be imprisoned in the
labyrinths of hair; in others the eyes deep with feeling or hard with
gemlike brilliancy have caught it, or the lips that tell and hide so much,
or the nostrils quivering with momentary emotion. Beauty, inexpressive of
inner meaning, must, we conceive, have had but slight attraction for him.
We do not find that he drew "a fair naked body" for the sake of its carnal
charm; his hasty studies of the nude are often faulty, mere memoranda of
attitude and gesture. The human form was interesting to him either
scientifically or else as an index to the soul. Yet he felt the influence
of personal loveliness His favourite pupil Salaino was a youth "of
singular grace, with curled and waving hair, a feature of personal beauty
by which Lionardo was always greatly pleased." Hair, the most mysterious
of human things, the most manifold in form and hue, snakelike in its
subtlety for the entanglement of souls, had naturally supreme
attractiveness for the magician of the arts.

With like energy Lionardo bent himself to divine the import of ugliness.
Whole pages of his sketch-book are filled with squalid heads of shrivelled
crones and ghastly old men--with idiots, goitred cretins, criminals, and
clowns. It was not that he loved the horrible for its own sake; but he was
determined to seize character, to command the gamut of human physiognomy
from ideal beauty down to forms bestialised by vice and disease. The story
related by Giraldi concerning the head of Judas in the "Cenacolo" at
Milan, sufficiently illustrates the method of Lionardo in creating types
and the utility of such caricatures as his notebooks contain.[240]

It is told that he brought into his room one day a collection of
reptiles--lizards, newts, toads, vipers, efts--all creatures that are
loathsome to the common eye. These, by the magic of imagination, he
combined into a shape so terrible that those who saw it shuddered.
Medusa's snake-enwoven head exhaling poisonous vapour from the livid lips;
Leda, swanlike beside her swan lover; Chimaera, in whom many natures
mingled and made one; the conflict of a dragon and a lion; S. John
conceived not as a prophet but as a vine-crowned Faun, the harbinger of
joy:--over pictorial motives of this kind, attractive by reason of their
complexity or mystery, he loved to brood; and to this fascination of a
sphinx-like charm we owe some of his most exquisite drawings. Lionardo
more than any other artist who has ever lived (except perhaps his great
predecessor Leo Battista Alberti) felt the primal sympathies that bind
men to the earth, their mother, and to living things, their brethren.[241]
Therefore the borderland between humanity and nature allured him with a
spell half aesthetic and half scientific. In the dawn of Hellas this
sympathetic apprehension of the world around him would have made him a
supreme mythopoet. In the dawn of the modern world curiosity claimed the
lion's share of his genius: nor can it be denied that his art suffered by
this division of interests. The time was not yet come for accurate
physiological investigation, or for the true birth of the scientific
spirit; and in any age it would have been difficult for one man to
establish on a sound basis discoveries made in so many realms as those
explored by Lionardo. We cannot, therefore, but regret that he was not
more exclusively a painter. If, however, he had confined his activity to
the production of works equal to the "Cenacolo," we should have missed the
most complete embodiment in one personality of the twofold impulses of the
Renaissance and of its boundless passion for discovery.

Lionardo's turn for physical science led him to study the technicalities
of art with fervent industry. Whatever his predecessors had acquired in
the knowledge of materials, the chemistry of colours, the mathematics of
composition, the laws of perspective, and the illusions of _chiaroscuro,_
he developed to the utmost. To find a darker darkness and a brighter
brightness than had yet been shown upon the painter's canvas; to solve
problems of foreshortening; to deceive the eye by finely graduated tones
and subtle touches; to submit the freest play of form to simple figures of
geometry in grouping, were among the objects he most earnestly pursued.
At the same time his deep feeling for all things that have life, gave him
new power in the delineation of external nature. The branching of
flower-stems, the outlines of fig-leaves, the attitudes of beasts and
birds in motion, the arching of the fan-palm, were rendered by him with
the same consummate skill as the dimple on a cheek or the fine curves of a
young man's lips.[242] Wherever he perceived a difficulty, he approached
and conquered it. Love, which is the soul of art--Love, the bondslave of
Beauty and the son of Poverty by Craft--led him to these triumphs. He used
to buy caged birds in the marketplace that he might let them loose. He was
attached to horses, and kept a sumptuous stable; and these he would draw
in eccentric attitudes, studying their anatomy in detail for his statue of
Francesco Sforza.[243] In the "Battle of the Standard," known to us only
by a sketch of Rubens,[244] he gave passions to the horse--not human
passion, nor yet merely equine--but such as horses might feel when placed
upon a par with men. In like manner the warriors are fiery with bestial
impulses--leonine fury, wolfish ferocity, fox-like cunning. Their very
armour takes the shape of monstrous reptiles. To such an extent did the
interchange of human and animal properties haunt Lionardo's fancy.

From what has been already said we shall be better able to understand
Lionardo's love of the bizarre and grotesque. One day a vine-dresser
brought him a very curious lizard. The master fitted it with wings
injected with quicksilver to give them motion as the creature crawled.
Eyes, horns, and a beard, a marvellous dragon's mask, were placed upon its
head. This strange beast lived in a cage, where Lionardo tamed it; but no
one, says Vasari, dared so much as to look at it.[245] On quaint puzzles
and perplexing schemes he mused a good part of his life away. At one time
he was for making wings to fly with; at another he invented ropes that
should uncoil, strand by strand; again, he devised a system of flat corks,
by means of which to walk on water.[246] One day, after having scraped the
intestines of a sheep so thin that he could hold them in the hollow of his
hand, he filled them with wind from a bellows, and blew and blew until the
room was choked, and his visitors had to run into corners. Lionardo told
them that this was a proper symbol of genius.

Such stories form what may be called the legend of Lionardo's life; and
some of them seem simple, others almost childish.[247] They illustrate
what is meant when we call him the wizard of the Renaissance. Art, nature,
life, the mysteries of existence, the infinite capacity of human thought,
the riddle of the world, all that the Greeks called Pan, so swayed and
allured him that, while he dreamed and wrought and never ceased from
toil, he seemed to have achieved but little. The fancies of his brain
were, perhaps, too subtle and too fragile to be made apparent to the eyes
of men. He was wont, after years of labour, to leave his work still
incomplete, feeling that he could not perfect it as he desired: yet even
his most fragmentary sketches have a finish beyond the scope of lesser
men. "Extraordinary power," says Vasari, "was in his case conjoined with
remarkable facility, a mind of regal boldness and magnanimous daring." Yet
he was constantly accused of indolence and inability to execute.[248]
Often and often he made vast preparations and accomplished nothing. It is
well known how the Prior of S. Maria delle Grazie complained that Lionardo
stood for days looking at his fresco, and for weeks never came near it;
how the monks of the Annunziata at Florence were cheated out of their
painting, for which elaborate designs had yet been made; how Leo X.,
seeing him mix oils with varnish to make a new medium, exclaimed, "Alas!
this man will do nothing; he thinks of the end before he makes a
beginning." A good answer to account for the delay was always ready on the
painter's lips, as that the man of genius works most when his hands are
idlest; Judas, sought in vain through all the thieves' resorts in Milan,
is not found; I cannot hope to see the face of Christ except in Paradise.
Again, when an equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza had been modelled in
all its parts, another model was begun because Da Vinci would fain show
the warrior triumphing over a fallen foe.[249] The first motive seemed to
him tame; the second was unrealisable in bronze. "I can do anything
possible to man," he wrote to Lodovico Sforza, "and as well as any living
artist either in sculpture or painting." But he would do nothing as
taskwork, and his creative brain loved better to invent than to
execute.[250] "Of a truth," continues his biographer, "there is good
reason to believe that the very greatness of his most exalted mind, aiming
at more than could be effected, was itself an impediment; perpetually
seeking to add excellence to excellence and perfection to perfection. This
was without doubt the true hindrance, so that, as our Petrarch has it, the
work was retarded by desire." At the close of that cynical and positive
century, the spirit whereof was so well expressed by Cosimo de'
Medici,[251] Lionardo set before himself aims infinite instead of finite.
His designs of wings to fly with symbolise his whole endeavour. He
believed in solving the insoluble; and nature had so richly dowered him in
the very dawntime of discovery, that he was almost justified in this
delusion. Having caught the Proteus of the world, he tried to grasp him;
but the god changed shape beneath his touch. Having surprised Silenus
asleep, he begged from him a song; but the song Silenus sang was so
marvellous in its variety, so subtle in its modulations, that Lionardo
could do no more than recall scattered phrases. His Proteus was the spirit
of the Renaissance. The Silenus from whom he forced the song was the
double nature of man and of the world.

By ill chance it happened that Lionardo's greatest works soon perished.
His cartoon at Florence disappeared. His model for Sforza's statue was
used as a target by French bowmen. His "Last Supper" remains a mere wreck
in the Convent delle Grazie. Such as it is, blurred by ill-usage and
neglect, more blurred by impious re-painting, that fresco must be seen by
those who wish to understand Da Vinci. It has well been called the
compendium of all his studies and of all his writings; and,
chronologically, it is the first masterpiece of the perfected
Renaissance.[252] Other painters had represented the Last Supper as a
solemn prologue to the Passion, or as the mystical inauguration of the
greatest Christian sacrament.[253] But none had dared to break the calm of
the event by a dramatic action. The school of Giotto, Fra Angelico,
Ghirlandajo, Perugino, even Signorelli, remained within the sphere of
symbolical suggestion; and their work gained in dignity what it lost in
intensity. Lionardo combined both. He undertook to paint a moment, to
delineate the effect of a single word upon twelve men seated at a table,
and to do this without sacrificing the tranquillity demanded by ideal art,
and without impairing the divine majesty of Him from whose lips that word
has fallen. The time has long gone by for detailed criticism or
description of a painting known to everybody. It is enough to observe that
the ideal representation of a dramatic moment, the life breathed into each
part of the composition, the variety of the types chosen to express
varieties of character, and the scientific distribution of the twelve
Apostles in four groups of three around the central Christ, mark the
appearance of a new spirit of power and freedom in the arts. What had
hitherto been treated with religious timidity, with conventional
stiffness, or with realistic want of grandeur, was now humanised and at
the same time transported into a higher intellectual region; and though
Lionardo discrowned the Apostles of their aureoles, he for the first time
in the history of painting created a Christ not unworthy to be worshipped
as the _praesens Deus_. We know not whether to admire most the perfection
of the painter's art or his insight into spiritual things.[254]

If we are forced to feel that, with Da Vinci, accomplishment fell short of
power and promise, the case is very different with Raphael. In him there
was no perplexity, no division of interests. He was fascinated by no
insoluble mystery and absorbed by no seductive problems. His faculty and
his artistic purpose were exactly balanced, adequate, and mutually
supporting. He saw by intuition what to do, and he did it without let or
hindrance, exercising from his boyhood till his early death an unimpeded
energy of pure productiveness. Like Mozart, to whom he bears in many
respects a remarkable resemblance, Raphael was gifted with inexhaustible
fertility and with unwearied industry. Like Mozart, again, he had a nature
which converted everything to beauty. Thought, passion, emotion, became in
his art living melody. We almost forget his strength in admiration of his
grace; the travail of his intellect is hidden by the serenity of his
style. There is nothing over-much in any portion of his work, no sense of
effort, no straining of a situation, not even that element of terror
needful to the true sublime. It is as though the spirit of young Greece
had lived in him again, purifying his taste to perfection and restraining
him from the delineation of things stern or horrible.

Raphael found in this world nothing but its joy, and communicated to his
ideal the beauty of untouched virginity. Brescia might be sacked with
sword and flame. The Baglioni might hew themselves to pieces in Perugia.
The plains of Ravenna might flow with blood. Urbino might change masters
and obey the viperous Duke Valentino. Raphael, meanwhile, working through
his short May-life of less than twenty [Handwritten: 40] years, received
from nature and from man a message that was harmony unspoiled by one
discordant note. His very person was a symbol of his genius. Lionardo was
beautiful but stately, with firm lips and penetrating glance; he conquered
by the magnetism of an incalculable personality. The loveliness of Raphael
was fair and flexible, fascinating not by power or mystery, but by the
winning charm of open-hearted sweetness. To this physical beauty, rather
delicate than strong, he united spiritual graces of the most amiable
nature. He was gentle, docile, modest, ready to oblige, free from
jealousy, binding all men to him by his cheerful courtesy.[255] In morals
he was pure. Indeed, judged by the lax standard of those times, he might
be called almost immaculate. His intellectual capacity, in all that
concerned the art of painting, was unbounded; but we cannot place him
among the many-sided heroes of the Renaissance. What he attempted in
sculpture, though elegant, is comparatively insignificant; and the same
may be said about his buildings. As a painter he was capable of
comprehending and expressing all things without excess or sense of labour.
Of no other artist do we feel that he was so instinctively, unerringly
right in what he thought and did.

Among his mental faculties the power of assimilation seems to have been
developed to an extraordinary degree. He learned the rudiments of his art
in the house of his father Santi at Urbino, where a Madonna is still
shown--the portrait of his mother, with a child, perhaps the infant
Raphael, upon her lap. Starting, soon after his father's death, as a pupil
of Perugino, he speedily acquired that master's manner so perfectly that
his earliest works are only to be distinguished from Perugino's by their
greater delicacy, spontaneity, and inventiveness. Though he absorbed all
that was excellent in the Peruginesque style, he avoided its affectations,
and seemed to take departure for a higher flight from the most exquisite
among his teacher's early paintings. Later on, while still a lad, he
escaped from Umbrian conventionality by learning all that was valuable in
the art of Masaccio and Fra Bartolommeo. To the latter master, himself
educated by the influence of Lionardo, Raphael owed more, perhaps, than to
any other of his teachers. The method of combining figures in masses,
needful to the general composition, while they preserve a subordinate
completeness of their own, had been applied with almost mathematical
precision by the Frate in his fresco at S. Maria Nuova.[256] It reappears
in all Raphael's work subsequent to his first visit to Florence[257]
(1504-1506). So great, indeed, is the resemblance of treatment between the
two painters that we know not well which owed the other most. Many groups
of women and children in the Stanze, for example--especially in the
"Miracle of Bolsena" and the "Heliodorus"--seem almost identical with Fra
Bartolommeo's "Madonna della Misericordia" at Lucca. Finally, when Raphael
settled in Rome, he laid himself open to the influence of Michael Angelo,
and drank in the classic spirit from the newly discovered antiques. Here
at last it seemed as though his native genius might suffer from contact
with the potent style of his great rival; and there are many students of
art who feel that Raphael's later manner was a declension from the divine
purity of his early pictures. There is, in fact, a something savouring of
overbloom in the Farnesina frescoes, as though the painter's faculty had
been strained beyond its natural force. Muscles are exaggerated to give
the appearance of strength, and open mouths are multiplied to indicate
astonishment and action. These faults may be found even in the Cartoons.
Yet who shall say that Raphael's power was on the decline, or that his
noble style was passing into mannerism, after studying both the picture of
the "Transfiguration" and the careful drawings from the nude prepared for
this last work?

So delicate was the assimilative tendency in Raphael, that what he learned
from all his teachers, from Perugino, Fra Bartolommeo, Masaccio, Da Vinci,
Michael Angelo, and the antique, was mingled with his own style without
sacrifice of individuality. Inferior masters imitated him, and passed
their pictures off upon posterity as Raphael's; but to mistake a genuine
piece of his painting for the performance of another is almost impossible.
Each successive step he made was but a liberation of his genius, a stride
toward the full expression of the beautiful he saw and served. He was
never an eclectic. The masterpieces of other artists taught him how to
comprehend his own ideal.

Raphael is not merely a man, but a school. Just as in his genius he
absorbed and comprehended many diverse styles, so are many worthy
craftsmen included in his single name. Fresco-painters, masters of the
easel, workmen in mosaic and marquetrie, sculptors, builders,
arras-weavers, engravers, decorators of ceilings and of floors, all
laboured under his eye, receiving designs from, his hand, and executing
what was called thereafter by his name.[258] It was thus partly by his
facility and energy, partly by the use he made of other men, that Raphael
was able to achieve so much. In the Vatican he covered the walls and
ceilings of the Stanze with historical and symbolical frescoes that
embrace the whole of human knowledge. The cramping limits of
ecclesiastical tradition are transcended. The synod of the antique sages
finds a place beside the synod of the Fathers and the company of Saints.
Parnassus and the allegory of the virtues front each other. The legend of
Marsyas and the mythus of the Fall are companion pictures. A new
catholicity, a new orthodoxy of the beautiful, appears. The Renaissance in
all its breadth and liberality of judgment takes ideal form. Nor is there
any sense of discord; for the genius of Raphael views both revelations,
Christian and pagan, from a point of view of art above them. To his pure
and unimpeded faculty the task of translating motives so diverse into
mutually concordant shapes was easy. On the domed ceilings of the Loggie
he painted sacred history in a series of exquisitely simple compositions,
known as Raphael's Bible. The walls and pilasters were adorned with
arabesques that anticipated the discovery of Pompeii, and surpassed the
best of Roman frescoes in variety and freedom. With his own hands he
coloured the incomparable "Triumph of Galatea" in Agostino Chigi's villa
on the Tiber, while his pupils traced the legend of Cupid and Psyche from
his drawings on the roof of the great banquet hall. Remaining within the
circuit of Rome, we may turn from the sibyls of S. Maria della Pace to the
genii of the planets in S. Maria del Popolo, from the "Violin-player" of
the Sciarra palace to the "Transfiguration" in the Vatican: wherever we
go, we find the masterpieces of this youth, so various in conception, so
equal in performance. And then, to think that the palaces and
picture-galleries of Europe are crowded with his easel-pictures, that his
original drawings display a boundless store of prodigal inventive
creativeness, that the Cartoons, of which England is proud, are alone
enough to found a mighty master's fame!

The vast mass of Raphael's works is by itself astounding. The accuracy of
their design and the perfection of their execution are literally
overwhelming to the imagination, that attempts to realise the conditions
of his short life. There is nothing, or but very little, of rhetoric in
all this world of pictures. The brain has guided the hand throughout, and
the result is sterling poetry. The knowledge, again, expressed in many of
his frescoes is so thorough that we wonder whether in his body lived again
the soul of some accomplished sage. How, for example, did he appropriate
the history of philosophy, set forth so luminously in the "School of
Athens," that each head, each gesture, is the epitome of some system?
Fabio Calvi may, indeed, have supplied him with serviceable notes on Greek
philosophy. But to Raphael alone belongs the triumph of having personified
the dry elements of learning in appropriate living forms. The same is true
of the "Parnassus," and, in a less degree, of the "Disputa." To the
physiognomist these frescoes will always be invaluable. The "Heliodorus,"
the "Miracle of Bolsena," and the Cartoons, display a like faculty applied
with more dramatic purpose. Passion and action take the place of
representative ideas; but the capacity for translating into perfect human
form what has first been intellectually apprehended by the artist, is the

If, after estimating the range of thought revealed in this portion of
Raphael's work, we next consider the labour of the mind involved in the
distribution of so many multitudes of beautiful and august human figures,
in the modelling of their drapery, the study of their expression, and
their grouping into balanced compositions, we may form some notion of the
magnitude of Raphael's performance. It is, indeed, probable that all
attempts at reflective analysis of this kind do injustice to the
spontaneity of the painter's method. Yet, even supposing that the
"Miraculous Draught of Fishes" or the "School of Athens" were seen by him
as in a vision, this presumption will increase our wonder at the
imagination which could hold so rich a store of details ready for
immediate use. That Raphael paid the most minute attention to the details
of his work, is shown by the studies made for these two subjects, and by
the drawings for the "Transfiguration." A young man bent on putting forth
his power the first time in a single picture that should prove his
mastery, could not have laboured with more diligence than Raphael at the
height of his fame and in full possession of his matured faculty.

When, furthermore, we take into account the variety of Raphael's work, we
arrive at a new point of wonder. The drawing of "Alexander's Marriage with
Roxana," the "Temptation of Adam by Eve," and the "Massacre of the
Innocents," engraved by Marc Antonio, are unsurpassed not only as
compositions, but also as studies of the nude in chosen attitudes,
powerfully felt and nobly executed. In these designs, which he never used
for painting, the same high style is successively applied to a pageant, an
idyll, and a drama.[259] The rapture of Greek art in its most youthful
moment has never been recaptured by a modern painter with more force and
fire of fancy than in the "Galatea." The tenderness of Christian feeling
has found no more exalted expression than in the multitudes of the
Madonnas, one more lovely than another, like roses on a tree in June, from
the maidenly "Madonna del Gran' Duca" to the celestial vision of the San
Sisto, that sublimest lyric of the art of Catholicity.[260] It is only by
hurrying through a list like this that we can appreciate the many-sided
perfection of Raphael's accomplishment. How, lastly, was it possible that
this young painter should have found the time to superintend the building
of S. Peter's, and to form a plan for excavating Rome in its twelve
ancient regions?[261]

When Lomazzo assigned emblems to the chief painters of the Renaissance, he
gave to Michael Angelo the dragon of contemplation, and to Mantegna the
serpent of sagacity. For Raphael, by a happier instinct, he reserved man,
the microcosm, the symbol of powerful grace, incarnate intellect. This
quaint fancy of the Milanese critic touches the truth. What distinguishes
the whole work of Raphael, is its humanity in the double sense of the
humane and human. Phoebus, as imagined by the Greeks, was not more
radiant, more victorious by the marvel of his smile, more intolerant of
things obscene or ugly. Like Apollo chasing the Eumenides from his
Delphian shrine, Raphael will not suffer his eyes to fall on what is
loathsome or horrific. Even sadness and sorrow, tragedy and death, take
loveliness from him. And here it must be mentioned that he shunned stern
and painful subjects. He painted no martyrdom, no "Last Judgment," and no
"Crucifixion," if we except the little early picture belonging to Lord
Dudley.[262] His men and women are either glorious with youth or dignified
in hale old age. Touched by his innocent and earnest genius, mankind is
once more gifted with the harmony of intellect and flesh and feeling, that
belonged to Hellas. Instead of asceticism, Hellenic temperance is the
virtue prized by Raphael. Over his niche in the Temple of Fame might be
written: "I have said ye are gods;"--for the children of men in his ideal
world are divinized. The godlike spirit of man is all in all. Happy indeed
was the art that by its limitations and selections could thus early
express the good news of the Renaissance; while in the spheres of politics
and ethics, science and religion, we are still far from having learned its

Correggio is the Faun or Ariel of Renaissance painting. Turning to him
from Raphael, we are naturally first struck by the affinities and
differences between them. Both drew from their study of the world the
elements of joy which it contains; but the gladness of Correggio was more
sensuous than that of Raphael; his intellectual faculties were less
developed; his rapture was more tumultuous and Bacchantic. Like Raphael,
Correggio died young; but his brief life was spent in comparative
obscurity and solitude. Far from the society of scholars and artists,
ignorant of courts, unpatronised by princes, he wrought for himself alone
the miracle of brightness and of movement that delights us in his
frescoes and his easel-pictures.

Like a poet hidden
In the light of thought,
Singing hymns unbidden,

was this lyrist of luxurious ecstasy. In his work there was nothing
worldly; that divides him from the Venetians, whose sensuousness he
shared: nothing scientific; that distinguishes him from Da Vinci, the
magic of whose _chiaroscuro_ he comprehended: nothing contemplative; that
separates him from Michael Angelo, the audacity of whose design in dealing
with forced attitudes he rivalled, without apparently having enjoyed the
opportunity of studying his works. The cheerfulness of Raphael, the
wizardry of Lionardo, and the boldness of Michael Angelo, met in him to
form a new style, the originality of which is indisputable, and which
takes us captive--not by intellectual power, but by the impulse of
emotion. Of his artistic education we know nothing; and when we call him
the Ariel of painting, this means that we are compelled to think of him as
an elemental spirit, whose bidding the air and the light and the hues of
the morning obey.

Correggio created a world of beautiful human beings, the whole condition
of whose existence is an innocent and radiant wantonness.[263] Over the
domain of tragedy he had no sway; nor could he deal with subjects
demanding pregnancy of intellectual meaning. He paints the three Fates for
instance like young and joyous Bacchantes; if we placed rose-garlands and
thyrsi in their hands instead of the distaff and the thread of human
destinies, they might figure upon the panels of a banquet-chamber in
Pompeii. Nor, again, did he possess that severe and lofty art of
composition which seeks the highest beauty of design in architectural
harmony supreme above the melodies of gracefulness in detail. He was
essentially a lyrical as distinguished from an epical or dramatic poet.
The unity of his work is derived from the effect of light and atmosphere,
the inbreathed soul of tremulous and throbbing life, which bathes and
liquefies the whole. It was enough for him to produce a gleeful symphony
by the play of light and colour, by the animation of his figures, and by
the intoxicating beauty of his forms. His angels are genii disimprisoned
from the chalices of flowers, houris of an erotic Paradise, elemental
sprites of nature wantoning in Eden in her prime. They belong to the
generation of the fauns. Like fauns, they combine a certain wildness, a
dithyrambic ecstasy, a delight in rapid motion as they revel amid clouds
and flowers, with the permanent and all-pervading sweetness of the
painter's style. Correggio's sensibility to light and colour--that quality
which makes him unique among painters--was on a par with his feeling for
form. Brightness and darkness are woven together on his figures like an
impalpable veil, aerial and transparent, enhancing the palpitations of
voluptuous movement which he loved. His colouring does not glow or burn;
blithesome and delicate, it seems exactly such a beauty-bloom as sense
requires for its satiety. That cord of jocund colour which may fitly be
combined with the smiles of daylight, the clear blues found in laughing
eyes, the pinks that tinge the cheeks of early youth, and the warm yet
silvery tones of healthy flesh, mingle, as in a pearl-shell, on his
pictures. Within his own magic circle Correggio reigns supreme; no other
artist having blent the witcheries of colouring, _chiaroscuro_, and wanton
loveliness of form, into a harmony so perfect in its sensuous charm. To
feel his influence, and at the same moment to be the subject of strong
passion, or intense desire, or heroic resolve, or profound contemplation,
or pensive melancholy, is impossible. The Northern traveller, standing
beneath his master-works in Parma, may hear from each of those radiant and
laughing faces what the young Italian said to Goethe: _Perche pensa?
pensando s' invecchia_.

Michael Angelo is the prophet or seer of the Renaissance. It would be
impossible to imagine a stronger contrast than that which distinguishes
his art from Correggio's, or lives more different in all their details,
than those which he and Raphael or Lionardo lived respectively. During the
eighty-nine years of his earthly pilgrimage he saw Italy enslaved and
Florence extinguished; it was his exceeding bitter fate to watch the rapid
decay of the arts and to witness the triumph of sacerdotal despotism over
liberal thought. To none of these things was he indifferent; and the
sorrow they wrought in his soul, found expression in his painting.[264]
Michael Angelo was not framed by nature to fascinate like Lionardo or to
charm like Raphael. His manners were severe and simple. When he spoke, his
words were brief and pungent. When he wrote, whether in poetry or prose,
he used the fewest phrases to express the most condensed meaning. When
asked why he had not married, he replied that the wife he had--his
art--cost him already too much trouble. He entertained few friends, and
shunned society. Brooding over the sermons of Savonarola, the text of the
Bible, the discourses of Plato, and the poems of Dante, he made his spirit
strong in solitude by the companionship with everlasting thoughts.
Therefore, when he was called to paint the Sistine Chapel, he uttered
through painting the weightiest prophecy the world has ever seen expressed
in plastic form. His theme is nothing less than the burden of the prophets
and the Sibyls who preached the coming of a light upon the world, and the
condemnation of the world which had rejected it, by an inexorable judge.
Michelet says, not without truth, that the spirit of Savonarola lives
again in these frescoes. The procession of the four-and-twenty elders,
arraigned before the people of Brescia to accuse Italy of sin--the voice
that cried to Florence, "Behold the sword of the Lord, and that swiftly!
Behold I, even I, do bring a deluge on the earth!" are both seen and heard
here very plainly. But there is more than Savonarola in this prophecy of
Michael Angelo's. It contains the stern spirit of Dante, aflame with
patriotism, passionate for justice. It embodies the philosophy of Plato.
The creative God, who divides light from darkness, who draws Adam from the
clay and calls forth new-born Eve in awful beauty, is the Demiurgus of
the Greek. Again, it carries the indignation of Isaiah, the wild
denunciations of Ezekiel, the monotonous refrain of Jeremiah--"Ah, Lord,
Lord!" The classic Sibyls intone their mystic hymns; the Delphic on her
tripod of inspiration, the Erythraean bending over her scrolls, the
withered witch of Cumae, the parched prophetess of Libya--all seem to cry,
"Repent, repent! for the kingdom of the spirit is at hand! Repent and
awake, for the judgment of the world approaches!" And above these voices
we hear a most tremendous wail: "The nations have come to the birth; but
there is not strength to bring forth." That is the utterance of the
Renaissance, as it had appeared in Italy. She who was first among the
nations was now last; bound and bleeding, she lay prostrate at the
temple-gate she had unlocked. To Michael Angelo was given for his
portion--not the alluring mysteries of the new age, not the joy of the
renascent world, not the petulant and pulsing rapture of youth: these had
been divided between Lionardo, Raphael, and Correggio--but the bitter
burden of the sense that the awakening to life is in itself a pain, that
the revelation of the liberated soul is itself judgment, that a light is
shining, and that the world will not comprehend it. Pregnant as are the
paintings of Michael Angelo with religious import, they are no longer
Catholic in the sense in which the frescoes of the Lorenzetti and Orcagna
and Giotto are Catholic. He went beyond the ecclesiastical standing ground
and reached one where philosophy includes the Christian faith. Thus the
true spirit of the Renaissance was embodied in his work of art.

Among the multitudes of figures covering the wall above the altar in the
Sistine Chapel there is one that might well stand for a symbol of the
Renaissance. It is a woman of gigantic stature in the act of toiling
upwards from the tomb. Grave clothes impede the motion of her body: they
shroud her eyes and gather round her chest. Part only of her face and
throat is visible, where may be read a look of blank bewilderment and
stupefaction, a struggle with death's slumber in obedience to some inner
impulse. Yet she is rising slowly, half awake, and scarcely conscious, to
await a doom still undetermined. Thus Michael Angelo interpreted the
meaning of his age.


[197] "La man che ubbedisce all' intelletto" is a phrase pregnant with
meaning, used by Michael Angelo in one of his sonnets. See Guasti, _Le
Rime di Michael Angelo_, p. 173. Michael Angelo's blunt criticism of
Perugino, that he was _goffo_, a fool in art, and his rude speech to
Francia's handsome son, that his father made better forms by night than
day, sufficiently indicate the different aims pursued by the painters of
the two periods distinguished above.

[198] Though Mantegna seems to have owed all his training to Padua, it is
impossible to regard him as what is called a Squarcionesque--one among
the artistic hacks formed and employed by the Paduan _impresario_ of
third-rate painting. No other eagle like to him was reared in that nest.
His greatness belonged to his own genius, assimilating from the meagre
means of study within his reach those elements which enabled him to
divine the spirit of the antique and to attempt its reproduction. In
order to facilitate the explanation of the problem offered by his early
command of style, it has been suggested with great show of reason that he
received a strong impression from the work executed in bas-relief by
Donatello for the church of S. Antonio at Padua. Thus Florentine
influences helped to form even the original genius of this greatest of
the Lombard masters.

[199] Vasari, vol. v. p. 163, may be consulted with regard to Mantegna's
preference for the ideal of statuary when compared with natural beauty,
as the model for a painter.

[200] See Crowe and Cavalcaselle's _History of Painting in North Italy_,
vol. i. p. 334, for an account of his antiquarian researches in company
with Felice Feliciano. His museum was so famous that in 1483 Lorenzo de'
Medici, passing through Mantua from Venice, thought it worthy of a visit.
In his old age Mantegna fell into pecuniary difficulties, and had to part
with his collection. The forced sale of its chief ornament, a bust of
Faustina, is said to have broken his heart. _Ib._ p. 415.

[201] Painted on canvas in tempera for the Marquis of Mantua, before
1488, looted by the Germans in 1630, sold to Charles I., resold by the
Commonwealth, bought back by Charles II., and now exposed, much spoiled
by time and change, but more by villainous re-painting, on the walls of
Hampton Court.

[202] An oil painting in the National Gallery.

[203] The so-called "Triumph of Scipio" in the National Gallery seems to
me in every respect feebler than the Hampton Court Cartoons.

[204] The "Madonna della Vittoria," now in the Louvre Gallery, was
painted to commemorate the achievements of Francesco Gonzaga in the
battle of Fornovo. That Francesco, General of the Venetian troops, should
have claimed that action, the eternal disgrace of Italian soldiery, for a
victory, is one of the strongest signs of the depth to which the sense of
military honour had sunk in Italy. But though the occasion of its
painting was so mean, the impression made by this picture is too powerful
to be described. It is in every detail grandiose: masculine energy being
combined with incomparable grace, religious feeling with athletic
dignity, and luxuriance of ornamentation with severe gravity of
composition. It is worth comparing this portrait of Francesco Gonzaga
with his bronze medal, just as Piero della Francesco's picture of
Sigismondo Malatesta should be compared with Pisanello's medallion.

[205] Vol. II., _Revival of Learning_, p. 212.

[206] Nothing is known about Mantegna's stay in Florence. He went to meet
the Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga at Bologna. This Cardinal, a great amateur
of music and connoisseur in relics of antiquity, came to Mantua in
August, 1472, where the "Orfeo" of Messer Angelo Poliziano was produced
for his amusement.

[207] That he could conceive a stern and tragic subject, with all the
passion it required, is, however, proved not only by the frescoes at
Orvieto, but also by the powerful oil-painting of the "Crucifixion" at
Borgo San Sepolcro.

[208] This story has been used for verse in a way to heighten its
romantic colouring. Such as the lines are, I subjoin them for the sake of
their attempt to emphasize and illustrate Renaissance feeling:--

"Vasari tells that Luca Signorelli,
The morning star of Michael Angelo,
Had but one son, a youth of seventeen summers,
Who died. That day the master at his easel
Wielded the liberal brush wherewith he painted
At Orvieto, on the Duomo's walls,
Stern forms of Death and Heaven and Hell and Judgment.
Then came they to him, cried: 'Thy son is dead,
Slain in a duel: but the bloom of life
Yet lingers round red lips and downy cheek.'
Luca spoke not, but listened. Next they bore
His dead son to the silent painting-room,
And left on tip toe son and sire alone.
Still Luca spoke and groaned not; but he raised
The wonderful dead youth, and smoothed his hair,
Washed his red wounds, and laid him on a bed,
Naked and beautiful, where rosy curtains
Shed a soft glimmer of uncertain splendour
Life-like upon the marble limbs below.
Then Luca seized his palette: hour by hour
Silence was in the room; none durst approach:
Morn wore to noon, and noon to eve, when shyly
A little maid peeped in and saw the painter
Painting his dead son with unerring hand-stroke,
Firm and dry-eyed before the lordly canvas."

[209] See the article on Orvieto in my _Sketches in Italy and Greece_.

[210] The earlier frescoes of Fra Angelico, on the roof, depict Christ as
Judge. But there is nothing in common with these works and Signorelli's.

[211] This is the conjecture of Signor Luzi (_Il Duomo di Orvieto_, p.
168). He bases it upon the Dantesque subjects illustrated, and quotes
from the "Inferno":--

"Omero poeta sovrano;
L' altro e Orazio satiro che viene,
Ovidio e il terzo, e l' ultimo Lucano."

Nothing is more marked or more deeply interesting than the influence
exercised by Dante over Signorelli, an influence he shared with Giotto,
Orcagna, Botticelli, Michael Angelo, the greatest imaginative painters of

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