Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

The Renaissance by Walter Pater

Part 2 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

dealing with the text of 1623, had lightly assumed that all or nearly
all the sonnets were actually addressed to Vittoria herself; but Signor
Guasti finds only four, or at most five, which can be so attributed on
genuine authority. Still, there are reasons which make him assign the
majority of them to the period between 1542 and 1547, and we may regard
the volume as a record of this resting-place in Michelangelo's story. We
know how Goethe escaped from the stress of sentiments too strong for him
by making a book about them; and for Michelangelo, to write down his
passionate thoughts at all, to make sonnets about them, was already in
some measure to command, and have his way with them--
La vita del mia amor non e il cor mio,
Ch'amor, di quel ch'io t'amo, e senza core.
It was just because Vittoria raised no great passion that the space in
his life where she reigns has such peculiar suavity; and the spirit of
the sonnets is lost if we once take them out of that dreamy atmosphere
in which men have things as they will, because the hold of all outward
things upon them is faint and thin. Their prevailing tone is a calm and
meditative sweetness. The cry of distress is indeed there, but as a mere
residue, a trace of bracing chalybeate salt, just discernible in the
song which rises as a clear, sweet spring from a charmed space in his

This charmed and temperate space in Michelangelo's life, without which
its excessive strength would have been so imperfect, which saves him
from the judgment of Dante on those who "wilfully lived in sadness," is
then a well-defined period there, reaching from the year 1542 to the
year 1547, the year of Vittoria's death. In it the lifelong effort to
tranquillise his vehement emotions by withdrawing them into the region
of ideal sentiment, becomes successful; and the significance of Vittoria
there is, that she realises for him a type of affection which even in
disappointment may charm and sweeten his spirit. In this effort to
tranquillise and sweeten life by idealising its vehement sentiments,
there were two great traditional types, either of which an Italian of
the sixteenth century might have followed. There was Dante, whose little
book of the Vita Nuova had early become a pattern of imaginative love,
maintained somewhat feebly by the later followers of Petrarch; and since
Plato had become something more than a name in Italy by the publication
of the Latin translation of his works by Marsilio Ficino, there was the
Platonic tradition also. Dante's belief in the resurrection of the body,
through which, even in heaven, Beatrice loses for him no tinge of
flesh-colour, or fold of raiment even--and the Platonic dream of the
passage of the soul through one form of life after another, with its
passionate haste to escape from the burden of bodily form
altogether--are, for all effects of art or poetry, principles
diametrically opposite; and it is the Platonic tradition rather than
Dante's that has moulded Michelangelo's verse. In many ways no sentiment
could have been less like Dante's love for Beatrice than Michelangelo's
for Vittoria Colonna. Dante's comes in early youth: Beatrice is a child,
with the wistful, ambiguous vision of a child, with a character still
unaccentuated by the influence of outward circumstances, almost
expressionless. Vittoria is a woman already weary, in advanced age, of
grave intellectual qualities. Dante's story is a piece of figured wood,
inlaid with lovely incidents. In Michelangelo's poems, frost and fire
are almost the only images--the refining fire of the goldsmith; once or
twice the phoenix; ice melting at the fire; fire struck from the rock
which it afterwards consumes. Except one doubtful allusion to a journey,
there are almost no incidents. But there is much of the bright, sharp,
unerring skill, with which in boyhood he gave the look of age to the
head of a faun by chipping a tooth from its jaw with a single stroke of
the hammer. For Dante, the amiable and devout materialism of the middle
age sanctifies all that is presented by hand and eye. Michelangelo is
always pressing forward from the outward beauty--il bel del fuor che
agli occhi piace--to apprehend the unseen beauty; trascenda nella forma
universale--that abstract form of beauty, about which the Platonists
reason. And this gives the impression in him of something flitting and
unfixed, of the houseless and complaining spirit, almost clairvoyant
through the frail and yielding flesh. He accounts for love at first
sight by a previous state of existence--la dove io t'amai prima.

And yet there are many points in which he is really like Dante, and
comes very near to the original image, beyond those later and feebler
followers of Petrarch. He learns from Dante rather than from Plato, that
for lovers, the surfeiting of desire--ove gran desir gran copia affrena,
is a state less happy than misery full of hope--una miseria di speranza
piena. He recalls him in the repetition of the words gentile and
cortesia, in the personification of Amor, in the tendency to dwell
minutely on the physical effects of the presence of a beloved object on
the pulses and the heart. Above all, he resembles Dante in the warmth
and intensity of his political utterances, for the lady of one of his
noblest sonnets was from the first understood to be the city of
Florence; and he avers that all must be asleep in heaven, if she, who
was created "of angelic form," for a thousand lovers, is appropriated by
one alone, some Piero, or Alessandro de' Medici. Once and again he
introduces Love and Death, who dispute concerning him; for, like Dante
and all the nobler souls of Italy, he is much occupied with thoughts of
the grave, and his true mistress is death; death at first as the worst
of all sorrows and disgraces, with a clod of the field for its brain;
afterwards, death in its high distinction, its detachment from vulgar
needs, the angry stains of life and action escaping fast.

Some of those whom the gods love die young. This man, because the gods
loved him, lingered on to be of immense, patriarchal age, till the
sweetness it had taken so long to secrete in him was found at last. Out
of the strong came forth sweetness, ex forti dulcedo. The world had
changed around him. The New-catholicism had taken the place of the
Renaissance. The spirit of the Roman Church had changed: in the vast
world's cathedral which his skill had helped to raise for it, it looked
stronger than ever. Some of the first members of the Oratory were among
his intimate associates. They were of a spirit as unlike as possible
from that of Lorenzo, or Savonarola even. The opposition of the
Reformation to art has been often enlarged upon; far greater was that of
the Catholic revival. But in thus fixing itself in a frozen orthodoxy,
the Roman Catholic Church has passed beyond him, and he was a stranger
to it. In earlier days, when its beliefs had been in a fluid state, he
too might have been drawn into the controversy; he might have been for
spiritualising the papal sovereignty, like Savonarola; or for adjusting
the dreams of Plato and Homer with the words of Christ, like Pico of
Mirandola. But things had moved onward, and such adjustments were no
longer possible. For himself, he had long since fallen back on that
divine ideal, which above the wear and tear of creeds has been forming
itself for ages as the possession of nobler souls. And now he began to
feel the soothing influence which since that time the Roman Church has
often exerted over spirits too independent to be its subjects, yet
brought within the neighbourhood of its action; consoled and
tranquillised, as a traveller might be, resting for one evening in a
strange city, by its stately aspect, and the sentiment of its many
fortunes, just because with those fortunes he has nothing to do. So he
lingers on; a revenant, as the French say, a ghost out of another age,
in a world too coarse to touch his faint sensibilities too closely;
dreaming, in a worn-out society, theatrical in its life, theatrical in
its art, theatrical even in its devotion, on the morning of the world's
history, on the primitive form of man, on the images under which that
primitive world had conceived of spiritual forces.

I have dwelt on the thought of Michelangelo as thus lingering beyond his
time in a world not his own, because, if one is to distinguish the
peculiar savour of his work, he must be approached, not through his
followers, but through his predecessors; not through the marbles of
Saint Peter's, but through the work of the sculptors of the fifteenth
century over the tombs and altars of Tuscany. He is the last of the
Florentines, of those on whom the peculiar sentiment of the Florence of
Dante and Giotto descended: he is the consummate representative of the
form that sentiment took in the fifteenth century with men like Luca
Signorelli and Mino da Fiesole. Up to him the tradition of sentiment is
unbroken, the progress towards surer and more mature methods of
expressing that sentiment continuous. But his professed disciples did
not share this temper; they are in love with his strength only, and seem
not to feel his grave and temperate sweetness. Theatricality is their
chief characteristic; and that is a quality as little attributable to
Michelangelo as to Mino or Luca Signorelli. With him, as with them, all
Is serious, passionate, impulsive.

This discipleship of Michelangelo, this dependence of his on the
tradition of the Florentine schools, is nowhere seen more clearly than
in his treatment of the Creation. The Creation of Man had haunted the
mind of the middle age like a dream; and weaving it into a hundred
carved ornaments of capital or doorway, the Italian sculptors had early
impressed upon it that pregnancy of expression which seems to give it
many veiled meanings. As with other artistic conceptions of the middle
age, its treatment became almost conventional, handed on from artist to
artist, with slight changes, till it came to have almost an independent,
abstract existence of its own. It was characteristic of the medieval
mind thus to give an independent traditional existence to a special
pictorial conception, or to a legend, like that of Tristram or
Tannhaeuser, or even to the very thoughts and substance of a book, like
the Imitation, so that no single workman could claim it as his own, and
the book, the image, the legend, had itself a legend, and its fortunes,
and a personal history; and it is a sign of the medievalism of
Michelangelo, that he thus receives from tradition his central
conception, and does but add the last touches, in transferring it to the
frescoes of the Sistine Chapel.

But there was another tradition of those earlier more serious
Florentines, of which Michelangelo is the inheritor, to which he gives
the final expression, and which centres in the sacristy of San Lorenzo,
as the tradition of the Creation centres in the Sistine Chapel. It has
been said that all the great Florentines were preoccupied with death.
Outre-tombe! Outre-tombe !--is the burden of their thoughts, from Dante
to Savonarola. Even the gay and licentious Boccaccio gives a keener edge
to his stories by putting them in the mouths of a party of people who
had taken refuge from the danger of death by plague, in a country-house.
It was to this inherited sentiment, this practical decision that to be
pre-occupied with the thought of death was in itself dignifying, and a
note of high quality, that the seriousness of the great Florentines of
the fifteenth century was partly due; and it was reinforced in them by
the actual sorrows of their times. How often, and in what various ways,
had they seen life stricken down, in their streets and houses! La bella
Simonetta dies in early youth, and is borne to the grave with uncovered
face. The young Cardinal Jacopo di Portogallo dies on a visit to
Florence--insignis forma fui et mirabili modestia--his epitaph dares to
say. Antonio Rossellino carves his tomb in the church of San Miniato,
with care for the shapely hands and feet, and sacred attire; Luca della
Robbia puts his skyeyest works there; and the tomb of the youthful and
princely prelate became the strangest and most beautiful thing in that
strange and beautiful place. After the execution of the Pazzi
conspirators, Botticelli is employed to paint their portraits. This
preoccupation with serious thoughts and sad images might easily have
resulted, as it did, for instance, in the gloomy villages of the Rhine,
or in the overcrowded parts of medieval Paris, as it still does in many
a village of the Alps, in something merely morbid or grotesque, in the
Danse Macabre of many French and German painters, or the grim inventions
of Duerer. From such a result the Florentine masters of the fifteenth
century were saved by their high Italian dignity and culture, and still
more by their tender pity for the thing itself. They must often have
leaned over the lifeless body, when all was at length quiet and smoothed
out. After death, it is said, the traces of slighter and more
superficial dispositions disappear; the lines become more simple and
dignified; only the abstract lines remain, in a great indifference.
They came thus to see death in its distinction; and following it perhaps
one stage further, dwelling for a moment on the point where all that
transitory dignity must break up, and discerning with no clearness a new
body, they paused just in time, and abstained, with a sentiment of
profound pity.

Of all this sentiment Michelangelo is the achievement; and first of all,
of pity. Pieta--pity--the pity of the Virgin Mother over the dead body
of Christ, expanded into the pity of all mothers over all dead sons, the
entombment, with its cruel "hard stones"--that is the subject of his
predilection. He has left it in many forms, sketches, half-finished
designs, finished and unfinished groups of sculpture; but always as a
hopeless, rayless, almost heathen sorrow--no divine sorrow, but mere
pity and awe at the stiff limbs and colourless lips. There is a drawing
of his at Oxford, in which the dead body has sunk to the earth between
the mother's feet, with the arms extended over her knees. The tombs in
the sacristy of San Lorenzo are memorials, not of any of the nobler and
greater Medici, but of Giuliano, and Lorenzo the younger, noticeable
chiefly for their somewhat early death. It is mere human nature
therefore which has prompted the sentiment here. The titles assigned
traditionally to the four symbolical figures, Night and Day, The
Twilight and The Dawn, are far too definite for them; for these figures
come much nearer to the mind and spirit of their author, and are a more
direct expression of his thoughts, than any merely symbolical
conceptions could possibly have been. They concentrate and express, less
by way of definite conceptions than by the touches, the promptings of a
piece of music, all those vague fancies, misgivings, presentiments,
which shift and mix and define themselves and fade again, whenever the
thoughts try to fix themselves with sincerity on the conditions and
surroundings of the disembodied spirit. I suppose no one would come to
the sacristy of San Lorenzo for consolation; for seriousness, for
solemnity, for dignity of impression, perhaps, but not for consolation.
It is a place neither of terrible nor consoling thoughts, but of vague
and wistful speculation. Here, again, Michelangelo is the disciple not
so much of Dante as of the Platonists. Dante's belief in immortality is
formal, precise, and firm, as much so almost as that of a child, who
thinks the dead will hear if you cry loud enough. But in Michelangelo
you have maturity, the mind of the grown man, dealing cautiously and
dispassionately with serious things; and what hope he has is based on
the consciousness of ignorance--ignorance of man, ignorance of the
nature of the mind, its origin and capacities. Michelangelo is so
ignorant of the spiritual world, of the new body and its laws, that he
does not surely know whether the consecrated Host may not be the body of
Christ. And of all that range of sentiment he is the poet, a poet still
alive, and in possession of our inmost thoughts--dumb inquiry over the
relapse after death into the formlessness which preceded life, the
change, the revolt from that change, then the correcting, hallowing,
consoling rush of pity; at last, far off, thin and vague, yet not more
vague than the most definite thoughts men have had through three
centuries on a matter that has been so near their hearts, the new
body--a passing light, a mere intangible, external effect, over those
too rigid, or too formless faces; a dream that lingers a moment,
retreating in the dawn, incomplete, aimless, helpless; a thing with
faint hearing, faint memory, faint power of touch; a breath, a flame in
the doorway, a feather in the wind.

The qualities of the great masters in art or literature, the combination
of those qualities, the laws by which they moderate, support, relieve
each other, are not peculiar to them; but most often typical standards,
or revealing instances, of the laws by which certain aesthetic effects
are produced. The old masters indeed are simpler; their characteristics
are written larger, and are easier to read, than their analogues in all
the mixed, confused productions of the modern mind. But when once we
have succeeded in defining for ourselves those characteristics, and the
law of their combination, we have acquired a standard or measure which
helps us to put in its right place many a vagrant genius, many an
unclassified talent, many precious though imperfect products of art. It
is so with the components of the true character of Michelangelo. That
strange interfusion of sweetness and strength is not to be found in
those who claimed to be his followers; but it is found in many of those
who worked before him, and in many others down to our own time, in
William Blake, for instance, and Victor Hugo, who, though not of his
school, and unaware, are his true sons, and help us to understand him,
as he in turn interprets and justifies them. Perhaps this is the chief
use in studying old masters.




In Vasari's life of Leonardo da Vinci as we now read it there are some
variations from the first edition. There, the painter who has fixed the
outward type of Christ for succeeding centuries was a bold speculator,
holding lightly by other men's beliefs, setting philosophy above
Christianity. Words of his, trenchant enough to justify this impression,
are not recorded, and would have been out of keeping with a genius of
which one characteristic is the tendency to lose itself in a refined and
graceful mystery. The suspicion was but the time-honoured mode in which
the world stamps its appreciation of one who has thoughts for himself
alone, his high indifference, his intolerance of the common forms of
things; and in the second edition the image was changed into something
fainter and more conventional. But it is still by a certain mystery in
his work, and something enigmatical beyond the usual measure of great
men, that he fascinates, or perhaps half repels. His life is one of
sudden revolts, with intervals in which he works not at all, or apart
from the main scope of his work. By a strange fortune the works on which
his more popular fame rested disappeared early from the world, as the
Battle of the Standard; or are mixed obscurely with the work of meaner
hands, as the Last Supper. His type of beauty is so exotic that it
fascinates a larger number than it delights, and seems more than that of
any other artist to reflect ideas and views and some scheme of the world
within; so that he seemed to his contemporaries to be the possessor of
some unsanctified and sacred wisdom; as to Michelet and others to have
anticipated modern ideas. He trifles with his genius, and crowds all his
chief work into a few tormented years of later life; yet he is so
possessed by his genius that he passes unmoved through the most tragic
events, overwhelming his country and friends, like one who comes across
them by chance on some secret errand.

His legend, as the French say, with the anecdotes which every one knows,
is one of the most brilliant in Vasari. Later writers merely copied it,
until, in 1804, Carlo Amoretti applied to it a criticism which left
hardly a date fixed, and not one of those anecdotes untouched. The
various questions thus raised have since that time become, one after
another, subjects of special study, and mere antiquarianism has in this
direction little more to do. For others remain the editing of the
thirteen books of his manuscripts, and the separation by technical
criticism of what in his reputed works is really his, from what is only
half his, or the work of his pupils. But a lover of strange souls may
still analyse for himself the impression made on him by those works, and
try to reach through it a definition of the chief elements of Leonardo's
genius. The legend, corrected and enlarged by its critics, may now and
then intervene to support the results of this analysis.

His life has three divisions--thirty years at Florence, nearly twenty
years at Milan, then nineteen years of wandering, till he sinks to rest
under the protection of Francis the First at the Chateau de Clou. The
dishonour of illegitimacy hangs over his birth. Piero Antonio, his
father, was of a noble Florentine house, of Vinci in the Val d'Arno, and
Leonardo, brought up delicately among the true children of that house,
was the love-child of his youth, with the keen, puissant nature such
children often have. We see him in his youth fascinating all men by his
beauty, improvising music and songs, buying the caged birds and setting
them free, as he walked the streets of Florence, fond of odd bright
dresses and spirited horses.

>From his earliest years he designed many objects, and constructed models
in relief, of which Vasari mentions some of women smiling. His father,
pondering over this promise in the child, took him to the workshop of
Andrea del Verrocchio, then the most famous artist in Florence.
Beautiful objects lay about there--reliquaries, pyxes, silver images for
the pope's chapel at Rome, strange fancy-work of the middle age, keeping
odd company with fragments of antiquity, then but lately discovered.
Another student Leonardo may have seen there--a boy into whose soul the
level light and aerial illusions of Italian sunsets had passed, in after
days famous as Perugino. Verrocchio was an artist of the earlier
Florentine type, carver, painter, and worker in metals, in one;
designer, not of pictures only, but of all things for sacred or
household use, drinking-vessels, ambries, instruments of music, making
them all fair to look upon, filling the common ways of life with the
reflexion of some far-off brightness; and years of patience had refined
his hand till his work was now sought after from distant places.

It happened that Verrocchio was employed by the brethren of Vallombrosa
to paint the Baptism of Christ, and Leonardo was allowed to finish an
angel in the left hand corner. It was one of those moments in which the
progress of a great thing--here, that of the art of Italy--presses hard
and sharp on the happiness of an individual, through whose
discouragement and decrease, humanity, in more fortunate persons, comes
a step nearer to its final success.

For beneath the cheerful exterior of the mere well-paid craftsman,
chasing brooches for the copes of Santa Maria Novella, or twisting metal
screens for the tombs of the Medici, lay the ambitious desire of
expanding the destiny of Italian art by a larger knowledge and insight
into things, a purpose in art not unlike Leonardo's still unconscious
purpose; and often, in the modelling of drapery, or of a lifted arm, or
of hair cast back from the face, there came to him something of the
freer manner and richer humanity of a later age. But in this Baptism the
pupil had surpassed the master; and Verrocchio turned away as one
stunned, and as if his sweet earlier work must thereafter be distasteful
to him, from the bright animated angel of Leonardo's hand.

The angel may still be seen in Florence, a space of sunlight in the
cold, laboured old picture; but the legend is true only in sentiment,
for painting had always been the art by which Verrocchio set least
store. And as in a sense he anticipates Leonardo, so to the last
Leonardo recalls the studio of Verrocchio, in the love of beautiful
toys, such as the vessel of water for a mirror, and lovely needle-work
about the implicated hands in the Modesty and Vanity, and of reliefs
like those cameos which in the Virgin of the Balances hang all round the
girdle of Saint Michael, and of bright variegated stones, such as the
agates in the Saint Anne, and in a hieratic preciseness and grace, as of
a sanctuary swept and garnished. Amid all the cunning and intricacy of
his Lombard manner this never left him. Much of it there must have been
in that lost picture of Paradise, which he prepared as a cartoon for
tapestry, to be woven in the looms of Flanders. It was the perfection of
the older Florentine style of miniature-painting, with patient putting
of each leaf upon the trees and each flower in the grass, where the
first man and woman were standing.

And because it was the perfection of that style, it awoke in Leonardo
some seed of discontent which lay in the secret places of his nature.
For the way to perfection is through a series of disgusts; and this
picture--all that he had done so far in his life at Florence--was after
all in the old slight manner. His art, if it was to be something in the
world, must be weighted with more of the meaning of nature and purpose
of humanity. Nature was "the true mistress of higher intelligences." So
he plunged into the study of nature. And in doing this he followed the
manner of the older students; he brooded over the hidden virtues of
plants and crystals, the lines traced by the stars as they moved in the
sky, over the correspondences which exist between the different orders
of living things, through which, to eyes opened, they interpret each
other; and for years he seemed to those about him as one listening to a
voice, silent for other men.

He learned here the art of going deep, of tracking the sources of
expression to their subtlest retreats, the power of an intimate presence
in the things he handled. He did not at once or entirely desert his art;
only he was no longer the cheerful, objective painter, through whose
soul, as through clear glass, the bright figures of Florentine life,
only made a little mellower and more pensive by the transit, passed on
to the white wall. He wasted many days in curious tricks of design,
seeming to lose himself in the spinning of intricate devices of lines
and colours. He was smitten with a love of the impossible--the
perforation of mountains, changing the course of rivers, raising great
buildings, such as the church of San Giovanni, in the air; all those
feats for the performance of which natural magic professed to have the
key. Later writers, indeed, see in these efforts an anticipation of
modern mechanics; in him they were rather dreams, thrown off by the
overwrought and labouring brain. Two ideas were especially fixed in him,
as reflexes of things that had touched his brain in childhood beyond the
measure of other impressions--the smiling of women and the motion of
great waters.

And in such studies some interfusion of the extremes of beauty and
terror shaped itself, as an image that might be seen and touched, in the
mind of this gracious youth, so fixed that for the rest of his life it
never left him; and as catching glimpses of it in the strange eyes or
hair of chance people, he would follow such about the streets of
Florence till the sun went down, of whom many sketches of his remain.
Some of these are full of a curious beauty, that remote beauty
apprehended only by those who have sought it carefully; who, starting
with acknowledged types of beauty, have refined as far upon these, as
these refine upon the world of common forms. But mingled inextricably
with this there is an element of mockery also; so that, whether in
sorrow or scorn, he caricatures Dante even. Legions of grotesques sweep
under his hand; for has not nature too her grotesques--the rent rock,
the distorting light of evening on lonely roads, the unveiled structure
of man in the embryo, or the skeleton?

All these swarming fancies unite in the Medusa of the Uffizii. Vasari's
story of an earlier Medusa, painted on a wooden shield, is perhaps an
invention; and yet, properly told, has more of the air of truth about it
than any-thing else in the whole legend. For its real subject is not the
serious work of a man, but the experiment of a child. The lizards and
glow-worms and other strange small creatures which haunt an Italian
vineyard bring before one the whole picture of a child's life in a
Tuscan dwelling--half castle, half farm--and are as true to nature as
the pretended astonishment of the father for whom the boy has prepared a
surprise. It was not in play that he painted that other Medusa, the one
great picture which he left behind him in Florence. The subject has been
treated in various ways; Leonardo alone cuts to its centre; he alone
realises it as the head of a corpse, exercising its powers through all
the circumstances of death. What may be called the fascination of
corruption penetrates in every touch its exquisitely finished beauty.
About the dainty lines of the cheek the bat flits unheeded. The delicate
snakes seem literally strangling each other in terrified struggle to
escape from the Medusa brain. The hue which violent death always brings
with it is in the features: features singularly massive and grand, as we
catch them inverted, in a dexterous foreshortening, sloping upwards,
almost sliding down upon us, crown foremost, like a great calm stone
against which the wave of serpents breaks. But it is a subject that may
well be left to the beautiful verses of Shelley.

The science of that age was all divination, clairvoyance, unsubjected to
our exact modern formulas, seeking in an instant of vision to
concentrate a thousand experiences. Later writers, thinking only of the
well-ordered treatise on painting which a Frenchman, Raffaelle du
Fresne, a hundred years afterwards, compiled from Leonardo's bewildered
manuscripts, written strangely, as his manner was, from right to left,
have imagined a rigid order in his inquiries. But this rigid order was
little in accordance with the restlessness of his character; and if we
think of him as the mere reasoner who subjects design to anatomy, and
composition to mathematical rules, we shall hardly have of him that
impression which those about him received from him. Poring over his
crucibles, making experiments with colour, trying, by a strange
variation of the alchemist's dream, to discover the secret, not of an
elixir to make man's natural life immortal, but rather of giving
immortality to the subtlest and most delicate effects of painting, he
seemed to them rather the sorcerer or the magician, possessed of curious
secrets and a hidden knowledge, living in a world of which he alone
possessed the key. What his philosophy seems to have been most like is
that of Paracelsus or Cardan; and much of the spirit of the older
alchemy still hangs about it, with its confidence in short cuts and odd
byways to knowledge. To him philosophy was to be something giving
strange swiftness and double sight, divining the sources of springs
beneath the earth or of expression beneath the human countenance,
clairvoyant of occult gifts in common or uncommon things, in the reed at
the brook-side, or the star which draws near to us but once in a
century. How, in this way, the clear purpose was overclouded, the fine
chaser's hand perplexed, we but dimly see; the mystery which at no point
quite lifts from Leonardo's life is deepest here. But it is certain that
at one period of his life he had almost ceased to be an artist.

The year 1483--the year of the birth of Raffaelle and the thirty-first
of Leonardo's life--is fixed as the date of his visit to Milan by the
letter in which he recommends himself to Ludovico Sforza, and offers to
tell him, for a price, strange secrets in the art of war. It was that
Sforza who murdered his young nephew by slow poison, yet was so
susceptible of religious impressions that he blended mere earthly
passions with a sort of religious sentimentalism, and who took for his
device the mulberry-tree--symbol, in its long delay and sudden yielding
of flowers and fruit together, of a wisdom which economises all forces
for an opportunity of sudden and sure effect. The fame of Leonardo had
gone before him, and he was to model a colossal statue of Francesco, the
first Duke of Milan. As for Leonardo himself, he came not as an artist
at all, or careful of the fame of one; but as a player on the harp, a
strange harp of silver of his own construction, shaped in some curious
likeness to a horse's skull. The capricious spirit of Ludovico was
susceptible also of the charm of music, and Leonardo's nature had a kind
of spell in it. Fascination is always the word descriptive of him. No
portrait of his youth remains; but all tends to make us believe that up
to this time some charm of voice and aspect, strong enough to balance
the disadvantage of his birth, had played about him. His physical
strength was great; it was said that he could bend a horse-shoe like a
coil of lead.

The Duomo, the work of artists from beyond the Alps, so fantastic to the
eye of a Florentine used to the mellow, unbroken surfaces of Giotto and
Arnolfo, was then in all its freshness; and below, in the streets of
Milan, moved a people as fantastic, changeful and dreamlike. To Leonardo
least of all men could there be anything poisonous in the exotic flowers
of sentiment which grew there. It was a life of brilliant sins and
exquisite amusements: Leonardo became a celebrated designer of pageants:
and it suited the quality of his genius, composed in almost equal parts
of curiosity and the desire of beauty, to take things as they came.

Curiosity and the desire of beauty--these are the two elementary forces
in Leonardo's genius; curiosity often in conflict with the desire of
beauty, but generating, in union with it, a type of subtle and curious

The movement of the fifteenth century was twofold; partly the
Renaissance, partly also the coming of what is called the "modern
spirit," with its realism, its appeal to experience: it comprehended a
return to antiquity, and a return to nature. Raffaelle represents the
return to antiquity, and Leonardo the return to nature. In this return
to nature, he was seeking to satisfy a boundless curiosity by her
perpetual surprises, a microscopic sense of finish by her finesse, or
delicacy of operation, that subtilitas naturae which Bacon notices. So
we find him often in intimate relations with men of science,--with Fra
Luca Poccioli the mathematician, and the anatomist Marc Antonio della
Torre. His observations and experiments fill thirteen volumes of
manuscript; and those who can judge describe him as anticipating long
before, by rapid intuition, the later ideas of science. He explained the
obscure light of the unilluminated part of the moon, knew that the sea
had once covered the mountains which contain shells, and the gathering
of the equatorial waters above the polar.

He who thus penetrated into the most secret parts of nature preferred
always the more to the less remote, what, seeming exceptional, was an
instance of law more refined, the construction about things of a
peculiar atmosphere and mixed lights. He paints flowers with such
curious felicity that different writers have attributed to him a
fondness for particular flowers, as Clement the cyclamen, and Rio the
jasmin; while, at Venice, there is a stray leaf from his portfolio
dotted all over with studies of violets and the wild rose. In him first
appears the taste for what is bizarre or recherche in landscape; hollow
places full of the green shadow of bituminous rocks, ridged reefs of
trap-rock which cut the water into quaint sheets of light--their exact
antitype is in our own western seas; all the solemn effects of moving
water; you may follow it springing from its distant source among the
rocks on the heath of the Madonna of the Balances, passing, as a little
fall, into the treacherous calm of the Madonna of the Lake, next, as a
goodly river, below the cliffs of the Madonna of the Rocks, washing the
white walls of its distant villages, stealing out in a network of
divided streams in La Gioconda to the seashore of the Saint Anne--that
delicate place, where the wind passes like the hand of some fine etcher
over the surface, and the untorn shells are lying thick upon the sand,
and the tops of the rocks, to which the waves never rise, are green with
grass, grown fine as hair. It is the landscape, not of dreams or of
fancy, but of places far withdrawn, and hours selected from a thousand
with a miracle of finesse. Through Leonardo's strange veil of sight
things reach him so; in no ordinary night or day, but as in faint light
of eclipse, or in some brief interval of falling rain at daybreak, or
through deep water.

And not into nature only; but he plunged also into human personality,
and became above all a painter of portraits; faces of a modelling more
skilful than has been seen before or since, embodied with a reality
which almost amounts to illusion, on dark air. To take a character as it
was, and delicately sound its stops, suited one so curious in
observation, curious in invention. So he painted the portraits of
Ludovico's mistresses, Lucretia Crivelli and Cecilia Galerani the
poetess, of Ludovico himself, and the Duchess Beatrice. The portrait of
Cecilia Galerani is lost; but that of Lucretia Crivelli has been
identified with La Belle Feroniere of the Louvre, and Ludovico's pale,
anxious face still remains in the Ambrosian library. Opposite is the
portrait of Beatrice d'Este, in whom Leonardo seems to have caught some
presentiment of early death, painting her precise and grave, full of the
refinement of the dead, in sad earth-coloured raiment, set with pale

Sometimes this curiosity came in conflict with the desire of beauty; it
tended to make him go too far below that outside of things in which art
begins and ends. This struggle between the reason and its ideas, and the
senses, the desire of beauty, is the key to Leonardo's life at
Milan--his restlessness, his endless re-touchings, his odd experiments
with colour. How much must he leave unfinished, how much recommence!
His problem was the transmutation of ideas into images. What he had
attained so far had been the mastery of that earlier Florentine style,
with its naive and limited sensuousness. Now he was to entertain in this
narrow medium those divinations of a humanity too wide for it, that
larger vision of the opening world, which is only not too much for the
great, irregular art of Shakspere; and everywhere the effort is visible
in the work of his hands. This agitation, this perpetual delay, give him
an air of weariness and ennui. To others he seems to be aiming at an
impossible effect, to do something that art, that painting, can never
do. Often the expression of physical beauty at this or that point seems
strained and marred in the effort, as in those heavy German
foreheads--too German and heavy for perfect beauty.

For there was a touch of Germany in that genius which, as Goethe said,
had "thought itself weary"--muede sich gedacht. What an anticipation of
modern Germany, for instance, in that debate on the question whether
sculpture or painting is the nobler art.* But there is this difference
between him and the German, that, with all that curious science, the
German would have thought nothing more was needed; and the name of
Goethe himself reminds one how great for the artist may be the danger of
overmuch science; how Goethe, who, in the Elective Affinities and the
first part of Faust, does transmute ideas into images, who wrought many
such transmutations, did not invariably find the spell-word, and in the
second part of Faust presents us with a mass of science which has almost
no artistic character at all. But Leonardo will never work till the
happy moment comes--that moment of bien-etre, which to imaginative men
is a moment of invention. On this moment he waits; other moments are but
a preparation, or after-taste of it. Few men distinguish between them as
jealously as he did. Hence so many flaws even in the choicest work. But
for Leonardo the distinction is absolute, and, in the moment of
bien-etre, the alchemy complete: the idea is stricken into colour and
imagery: a cloudy mysticism is refined to a subdued and graceful
mystery, and painting pleases the eye while it satisfies the soul.

*How princely, how characteristic of Leonardo, the answer, Quanto piu,
un'arte porta seco fatica di corpo, tanto piu e vile!

This curious beauty is seen above all in his drawings, and in these
chiefly in the abstract grace of the bounding lines. Let us take some of
these drawings, and pause over them awhile; and, first, one of those at
Florence--the heads of a woman and a little child, set side by side, but
each in its own separate frame. First of all, there is much pathos in
the reappearance in the fuller curves of the face of the child, of the
sharper, more chastened lines of the worn and older face, which leaves
no doubt that the heads are those of a little child and its mother. A
feeling for maternity is indeed always characteristic of Leonardo; and
this feeling is further indicated here by the half-humorous pathos of
the diminutive, rounded shoulders of the child. You may note a like
pathetic power in drawings of a young man seated in a stooping posture,
his face in his hands, as in sorrow; of a slave sitting in an uneasy
inclined posture, in some brief interval of rest; of a small Madonna and
Child, peeping sideways in half-reassured terror, as a mighty griffin
with batlike wings, one of Leonardo's finest inventions, descends
suddenly from the air to snatch up a lion wandering near them. But note
in these, as that which especially belongs to art, the contour of the
young man's hair, the poise of the slave's arm above his head, and the
curves of the head of the child, following the little skull within, thin
and fine as some seashell worn by the wind.

Take again another head, still more full of sentiment, but of a
different kind, a little drawing in red chalk which every one remembers
who has examined at all carefully the drawings by old masters at the
Louvre. It is a face of doubtful sex, set in the shadow of its own hair,
the cheek-line in high light against it, with something voluptuous and
full in the eyelids and the lips. Another drawing might pass for the
same face in childhood, with parched and feverish lips, but with much
sweetness in the loose, short-waisted childish dress, with necklace and
bulla, and in the daintily bound hair. We might take the thread of
suggestion which these two drawings offer, when thus set side by side,
and, following it through the drawings at Florence, Venice, and Milan,
construct a sort of series, illustrating better than anything else
Leonardo's type of womanly beauty. Daughters of Herodias, with their
fantastic head-dresses knotted and folded so strangely to leave the
dainty oval of the face disengaged, they are not of the Christian
family, or of Raffaelle's. They are the clairvoyants, through whom, as
through delicate instruments, one becomes aware of the subtler forces of
nature, and the modes of their action, all that is magnetic in it, all
those finer conditions wherein material things rise to that subtlety of
operation which constitutes them spiritual, where only the finer nerve
and the keener touch can follow: it is as if in certain revealing
instances we actually saw them at their work on human flesh. Nervous,
electric, faint always with some inexplicable faintness, they seem to be
subject to exceptional conditions, to feel powers at work in the common
air unfelt by others, to become, as it were, receptacles of them, and
pass them on to us in a chain of secret influences.

But among the more youthful heads there is one at Florence which Love
chooses for its own--the head of a young man, which may well be the
likeness of Andrea Salaino, beloved of Leonardo for his curled and
waving hair--belli capelli ricci e inanellati--and afterwards his
favourite pupil and servant. Of all the interests in living men and
women which may have filled his life at Milan, this attachment alone is
recorded; and in return Salaino identified himself so entirely with
Leonardo, that the picture of Saint Anne, in the Louvre, has been
attributed to him. It illustrates Leonardo's usual choice of pupils, men
of some natural charm of person or intercourse like Salaino, or men of
birth and princely habits of life like Francesco Melzi--men with just
enough genius to be capable of initiation into his secret, for the sake
of which they were ready to efface their own individuality. Among them,
retiring often to the Villa of the Melzi at Canonica al Vaprio, he
worked at his fugitive manuscripts and sketches, working for the present
hour, and for a few only, perhaps chiefly for himself. Other artists
have been as careless of present or future applause, in
self-forgetfulness, or because they set moral or political ends above
the ends of art; but in him this solitary culture of beauty seems to
have hung upon a kind of self-love, and a carelessness in the work of
art of all but art itself. Out of the secret places of a unique
temperament he brought strange blossoms and fruits hitherto unknown; and
for him, the novel impression conveyed, the exquisite effect woven,
counted as an end in itself--a perfect end.

And these pupils of his acquired his manner so thoroughly, that though
the number of Leonardo's authentic works is very small indeed, there is
a multitude of other men's pictures through which we undoubtedly see
him, and come very near to his genius. Sometimes, as in the little
picture of the Madonna of the Balances, in which, from the bosom of His
mother, Christ weighs the pebbles of the brooks against the sins of men,
we have a hand, rough enough by contrast, working upon some fine hint or
sketch of his. Sometimes, as in the subjects of the Daughter of Herodias
and the Head of John the Baptist, the lost originals have been re-echoed
and varied upon again and again by Luini and others. At other times the
original remains, but has been a mere theme or motive, a type of which
the accessories might be modified or changed; and these variations have
but brought out the more the purpose, or expression of the original. It
is so with the so-called Saint John the Baptist of the Louvre--one of
the few naked figures Leonardo painted--whose delicate brown flesh and
woman's hair no one would go out into the wilderness to seek, and whose
treacherous smile would have us understand something far beyond the
outward gesture or circumstance. But the long, reedlike cross in the
hand, which suggests Saint John the Baptist, becomes faint in a copy at
the Ambrosian Library, and disappears altogether in another, in the
Palazzo Rosso at Genoa. Returning from the last to the original, we are
no longer surprised by Saint John's strange likeness to the Bacchus
which hangs near it, which set Theophile Gautier thinking of Heine's
notion of decayed gods, who, to maintain themselves, after the fall of
paganism, took employment in the new religion. We recognise one of those
symbolical inventions in which the ostensible subject is used, not as
matter for definite pictorial realisation, but as the starting-point of
a train of sentiment as subtle and vague as a piece of music. No one
ever ruled over his subject more entirely than Leonardo, or bent it more
dexterously to purely artistic ends. And so it comes to pass that though
he handles sacred subjects continually, he is the most profane of
painters; the given person or subject, Saint John in the Desert, or the
Virgin on the knees of Saint Anne, is often merely the pretext for a
kind of work which carries one quite out of the range of its
conventional associations.

About the Last Supper, its decay and restorations, a whole literature
has risen up, Goethe's pensive sketch of its sad fortunes being far the
best. The death in childbirth of the Duchess Beatrice was followed in
Ludovico by one of those paroxysms of religious feeling which in him
were constitutional. The low, gloomy Dominican church of Saint Mary of
the Graces had been the favourite shrine of Beatrice. She had spent her
last days there, full of sinister presentiments; at last it had been
almost necessary to remove her from it by force; and now it was here
that mass was said a hundred times a day for her repose. On the damp
wall of the refectory, oozing with mineral salts, Leonardo painted the
Last Supper. A hundred anecdotes were told about it, his retouchings and
delays. They show him refusing to work except at the moment of
invention, scornful of whoever thought that art was a work of mere
industry and rule, often coming the whole length of Milan to give a
single touch. He painted it, not in fresco, where all must be impromptu,
but in oils, the new method which he had been one of the first to
welcome, because it allowed of so many afterthoughts, so refined a
working out of perfection. It turned out that on a plastered wall no
process could have been less durable. Within fifty years it had fallen
into decay. And now we have to turn back to Leonardo's own studies,
above all to one drawing of the central head at the Brera, which, in a
union of tenderness and severity in the face-lines, reminds one of the
monumental work of Mino da Fiesole, to trace it as it was.

It was another effort to lift a given subject out of the range of its
conventional associations. Strange, after all the misrepresentations of
the middle age, was the effort to see it, not as the pale Host of the
altar, but as one taking leave of his friends. Five years afterwards the
young Raffaelle, at Florence, painted it with sweet and solemn effect in
the refectory of Saint Onofrio; but still with all the mystical
unreality of the school of Perugino. Vasari pretends that the central
head was never finished; but finished or unfinished, or owing part of
its effect to a mellowing decay, this central head does but consummate
the sentiment of the whole company--ghosts through which you see the
wall, faint as the shadows of the leaves upon the wall, on autumn
afternoons; this figure is but the faintest, most spectral of them all.
It is the image of what the history it symbolises has more and more
become for the world, paler and paler as it recedes into the distance.
Criticism came with its appeal from mystical unrealities to originals,
and restored no lifelike reality but these transparent shadows, spirits
which have not flesh and bones.

The Last Supper was finished in 1497; in 1498 the French entered Milan,
and whether or not the Gascon bowmen used it as a mark for their arrows,
the model of Francesco Sforza certainly did not survive. What, in that
age, such work was capable of being--of what nobility, amid what racy
truthfulness to fact--we may judge from the bronze statue of Bartolomeo
Colleoni on horseback, modelled by Leonardo's master, Verrocchio (he
died of grief, it was said, because, the mould accidentally failing, he
was unable himself to complete it), still standing in the piazza of
Saint John and Saint Paul at Venice. Some traces of the thing may remain
in certain of Leonardo's drawings, and also, perhaps, by a singular
circumstance, in a far-off town of France. For Ludovico became a
prisoner, and ended his days at Loches in Touraine;--allowed at last, it
is said, to breathe fresher air for awhile in one of the rooms of a high
tower there, after many years of captivity in the dungeons below, where
all seems sick with barbarous feudal memories, and where his prison is
still shown, its walls covered with strange painted arabesques, ascribed
by tradition to his hand, amused a little, in this way, through the
tedious years:--vast helmets and faces and pieces of armour, among
which, in great letters, the motto Infelix Sum is woven in and out, and
in which, perhaps, it is not too fanciful to see the fruit of a wistful
after-dreaming over all those experiments with Leonardo on the armed
figure of the great duke, that had occupied the two so often during the
days of his good fortune at Milan.

The remaining years of Leonardo's life are more or less years of
wandering. From his brilliant life at court he had saved nothing, and he
returned to Florence a poor man. Perhaps necessity kept his spirit
excited: the next four years are one prolonged rapture or ecstasy of
invention. He painted the pictures of the Louvre, his most authentic
works, which came there straight from the cabinet of Francis the First,
at Fontainebleau. One picture of his, the Saint Anne--not the Saint Anne
of the Louvre, but a mere cartoon, now in London--revived for a moment a
sort of appreciation more common in an earlier time, when good pictures
had still seemed miraculous; and for two days a crowd of people of all
qualities passed in naive excitement through the chamber where it hung,
and gave Leonardo a taste of Cimabue's triumph. But his work was less
with the saints than with the living women of Florence; for he lived
still in the polished society that he loved, and in the houses of
Florence, left perhaps a little subject to light thoughts by the death
of Savonarola--the latest gossip (1869) is of an undraped Monna Lisa,
found in some out-of-the-way corner of the late Orleans collection--he
saw Ginevra di Benci, and Lisa, the young third wife of Francesco del
Giocondo. As we have seen him using incidents of sacred story, not for
their own sake, or as mere subjects for pictorial realisation, but as a
symbolical language for fancies all his own, so now he found a vent for
his thoughts in taking one of these languid women, and raising her, as
Leda or Pomona, Modesty or Vanity, to the seventh heaven of symbolical

La Gioconda is, in the truest sense, Leonardo's masterpiece, the
revealing instance of his mode of thought and work. In suggestiveness,
only the Melancholia of Duerer is comparable to it; and no crude
symbolism disturbs the effect of its subdued and graceful mystery. We
all know the face and hands of the figure, set in its marble chair, in
that cirque of fantastic rocks, as in some faint light under sea.
Perhaps of all ancient pictures time has chilled it least.* As often
happens with works in which invention seems to reach its limits, there
is an element in it given to, not invented by, the master. In that
inestimable folio of drawings, once in the possession of Vasari, were
certain designs by Verrocchio, faces of such impressive beauty that
Leonardo in his boyhood copied them many times. It is hard not to
connect with these designs of the elder, by-past master, as with its
germinal principle, the unfathomable smile, always with a touch of
something sinister in it, which plays over all Leonardo's work.
Besides, the picture is a portrait. From childhood we see this image
defining itself on the fabric of his dreams; and but for express
historical testimony, we might fancy that this was but his ideal lady,
embodied and beheld at last. What was the relationship of a living
Florentine to this creature of his thought? By means of what strange
affinities had the person and the dream grown up thus apart, and yet so
closely together? Present from the first incorporeally in Leonardo's
thought, dimly traced in the designs of Verrocchio, she is found present
at last in Il Giocondo's house. That there is much of mere portraiture
in the picture is attested by the legend that by artificial means, the
presence of mimes and flute-players, that subtle expression was
protracted on the face. Again, was it in four years and by renewed
labour never really completed, or in four months and as by stroke of
magic, that the image was projected?

*Yet for Vasari there was some further magic of crimson in the lips and
cheeks, lost for us.

The presence that thus rose so strangely beside the waters, is
expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years men had come to
desire. Hers is the head upon which all "the ends of the world are
come," and the eyelids are a little weary. It is a beauty wrought out
from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, of strange
thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions. Set it for a
moment beside one of those white Greek goddesses or beautiful women of
antiquity, and how would they be troubled by this beauty, into which the
soul with all its maladies has passed! All the thoughts and experience
of the world have etched and moulded there, in that which they have of
power to refine and make expressive the outward form, the animalism of
Greece, the lust of Rome, the reverie of the middle age with its
spiritual ambition and imaginative loves, the return of the Pagan world,
the sins of the Borgias. She is older than the rocks among which she
sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the
secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their
fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern
merchants: and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint
Anne, the mother of Mary ; and all this has been to her but as the sound
of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has
moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands.
The fancy of a perpetual life, sweeping together ten thousand
experiences, is an old one; and modern thought has conceived the idea of
humanity as wrought upon by, and summing up in itself, all modes of
thought and life. Certainly Lady Lisa might stand as the embodiment of
the old fancy, the symbol of the modern idea.

During these years at Florence Leonardo's history is the history of his
art; he himself is lost in the bright cloud of it. The outward history
begins again in 1502, with a wild journey through central Italy, which
he makes as the chief engineer of Caesar Borgia. The biographer, putting
together the stray jottings of his manuscripts, may follow him through
every day of it, up the strange tower of Siena, which looks towards
Rome, elastic like a bent bow, down to the seashore at Piombino, each
place appearing as fitfully as in a fever dream.

One other great work was left for him to do, a work all trace of which
soon vanished, The Battle of the Standard, in which he had Michelangelo
for his rival. The citizens of Florence, desiring to decorate the walls
of the great council-chamber, had offered the work for competition, and
any subject might be chosen from the Florentine wars of the fifteenth
century. Michelangelo chose for his cartoon an incident of the war with
Pisa, in which the Florentine soldiers, bathing in the Arno, are
surprised by the sound of trumpets, and run to arms. His design has
reached us only in an old engraving, which perhaps helps us less than
what we remember of the background of his Holy Family in the Uffizii to
imagine in what superhuman form, such as might have beguiled the heart
of an earlier world, those figures may have risen from the water.
Leonardo chose an incident from the battle of Anghiari, in which two
parties of soldiers fight for a standard. Like Michelangelo's, his
cartoon is lost, and has come to us only in sketches, and in a fragment
of Rubens. Through the accounts given we may discern some lust of
terrible things in it, so that even the horses tore each other with
their teeth; and yet one fragment of it, in a drawing of his at
Florence, is far different--a waving field of lovely armour, the chased
edgings running like lines of sunlight from side to side. Michelangelo
was twenty-seven years old; Leonardo more than fifty; and Raffaelle,
then nineteen years old, visiting Florence for the first time, came and
watched them as they worked.

We catch a glimpse of him again, at Rome in 1514, surrounded by his
mirrors and vials and furnaces, making strange toys that seemed alive of
wax and quicksilver. The hesitation which had haunted him all through
life, and made him like one under a spell, was upon him now with double
force. No one had ever carried political indifferentism farther; it had
always been his philosophy to "fly before the storm"; he is for the
Sforzas, or against them, as the tide of their fortune turns. Yet now in
the political society of Rome, he came to be suspected of concealed
French sympathies. It paralysed him to find himself among enemies; and
he turned wholly to France, which had long courted him.

France was about to become an Italy more Italian than Italy itself.
Francis the First, like Lewis the Twelfth before him, was attracted by
the finesse of Leonardo's work; La Gioconda was already in his cabinet,
and he offered Leonardo the little Chateau de Clou, with its vineyards
and meadows, in the pleasant valley of the Masse, just outside the walls
of the town of Amboise, where, especially in the hunting season, the
court then frequently resided. A Monsieur Lyonard, peinteur du Roy pour
Amboyse--so the letter of Francis the First is headed. It opens a
prospect, one of the most interesting in the history of art, where,
under a strange mixture of lights, Italian art dies away as a French

Two questions remain, after much busy antiquarianism, concerning
Leonardo's death--the question of the precise form of his religion, and
the question whether Francis the First was present at the time. They are
of about equally little importance in the estimate of Leonardo's genius.
The directions in his will about the thirty masses and the great candles
for the church of Saint Florentin are things of course, their real
purpose being immediate and practical; and on no theory of religion
could these hurried offices be of much consequence. We forget them in
speculating how one who had been always so desirous of beauty, but
desired it always in such definite and precise forms, as hands or
flowers or hair, looked forward now into the vague land, and experienced
the last curiosity.



It is the mistake of much popular criticism to regard poetry, music, and
Painting--all the various products of art--as but translations into
different languages of one and the same fixed quantity of imaginative
thought, supplemented by certain technical qualities of colour, in
painting--of sound, in music--of rhythmical words, in poetry. In this
way, the sensuous element in art, and with it almost everything in art
that is essentially artistic, is made a matter of indifference; and a
clear apprehension of the opposite principle--that the sensuous material
of each art brings with it a special phase or quality of beauty,
untranslatable into the forms of any other, an order of impressions
distinct in kind--is the beginning of all true aesthetic criticism. For,
as art addresses not pure sense, still less the pure intellect, but the
"imaginative reason" through the senses, there are differences of kind
in aesthetic beauty, corresponding to the differences in kind of the
gifts of sense themselves. Each art, therefore, having its own peculiar
and incommunicable sensuous charm, has its own special mode of reaching
the imagination, its own special responsibilities to its material. One
of the functions of aesthetic criticism is to define these limitations;
to estimate the degree in which a given work of art fulfils its
responsibilities to its special material; to note in a picture that true
pictorial charm, which is neither a mere poetical thought nor sentiment,
on the one hand, nor a mere result of communicable technical skill in
colour or design, on the other; to define in a poem that true poetical
quality, which is neither descriptive nor meditative merely, but comes
of an inventive handling of rhythmical language--the element of song in
the singing; to note in music the musical charm--that essential music,
which presents no words, no matter of sentiment or thought, separable
from the special form in which it is conveyed to us.

To such a philosophy of the variations of the beautiful, Lessing's
analysis of the spheres of sculpture and poetry, in the Laocoon, was a
very important contribution. But a true appreciation of these things is
possible only in the light of a whole system of such art-casuistries.
And it is in the criticism of painting that this truth most needs
enforcing, for it is in popular judgments on pictures that that false
generalisation of all art into forms of poetry is most prevalent. To
suppose that all is mere technical acquirement in delineation or touch,
working through and addressing itself to the intelligence, on the one
side, or a merely poetical, or what may be called literary interest,
addressed also to the pure intelligence, on the other;--this is the way
of most spectators, and of many critics, who have never caught sight,
all the time, of that true pictorial quality. which lies between (unique
pledge of the possession of the pictorial gift) the inventive or
creative handling of pure line and colour, which, as almost always in
Dutch painting, as often also in the works of Titian or Veronese, is
quite independent of anything definitely poetical in the subject it
accompanies. It is the drawing--the design projected from that peculiar
pictorial temperament or constitution, in which, while it may possibly
be ignorant of true anatomical proportions, all things whatever, all
poetry, every idea however abstract or obscure, floats up as a visible
scene, or image: it is the colouring--that weaving as of just
perceptible gold threads of light through the dress, the flesh, the
atmosphere, in Titian's Lace-girl--the staining of the whole fabric of
the thing with a new, delightful physical quality. This drawing,
then--the arabesque traced in the air by Tintoret's flying figures, by
Titian's forest branches; this colouring--the magic conditions of light
and hue in the atmosphere of Titian's Lace-girl, or Rubens's Descent
from the Cross--these essential pictorial qualities must first of all
delight the sense, delight it as directly and sensuously as a fragment
of Venetian glass; and through this delight only be the medium of
whatever poetry or science may lie beyond them, in the intention of the
composer. In its primary aspect, a great picture has no more definite
message for us than an accidental play of sunlight and shadow for a
moment, on the wall or floor: is itself, in truth, a space of such
fallen light, caught as the colours are caught in an Eastern carpet, but
refined upon, and dealt with more subtly and exquisitely than by nature
itself. And this primary and essential condition fulfilled, we may trace
the coming of poetry into painting, by fine gradations upwards; from
Japanese fan-painting, for instance, where we get, first, only abstract
colour; then, just a little interfused sense of the poetry of flowers;
then, sometimes, perfect flower-painting; and so, onwards, until in
Titian we have, as his poetry in the Ariadne, so actually a touch of
true childlike humour in the diminutive, quaint figure with its silk
gown, which ascends the temple stairs, in his picture of the
Presentation of the Virgin, at Venice.

But although each art has thus its own specific order of impressions,
and an untranslatable charm, while a just apprehension of the ultimate
differences of the arts is the beginning of aesthetic criticism; yet it
is noticeable that, in its special mode of handling its given material,
each art may be observed to pass into the condition of some other art,
by what German critics term an Anders-streben--a partial alienation from
its own limitations, by which the arts are able, not indeed to supply
the place of each other, but reciprocally to lend each other new forces.

Thus some of the most delightful music seems to be always approaching to
figure, to pictorial definition. Architecture, again, though it has its
own laws--laws esoteric enough, as the true architect knows only too
well--yet sometimes aims at fulfilling the conditions of a picture, as
in the Arena chapel; or of sculpture, as in the flawless unity of
Giotto's tower at Florence; and often finds a true poetry, as in those
strangely twisted staircases of the chateaux of the country of the
Loire, as if it were intended that among their odd turnings the actors
in a wild life might pass each other unseen: there being a poetry also
of memory and of the mere effect of time, by which it often profits
greatly. Thus, again, sculpture aspires out of the hard limitation of
pure form towards colour, or its equivalent; poetry also, in many ways,
finding guidance from the other arts, the analogy between a Greek
tragedy and a work of Greek sculpture, between a sonnet and a relief, of
French poetry generally with the art of engraving, being more than mere
figures of speech; and all the arts in common aspiring towards the
principle of music; music being the typical, or ideally consummate art,
the object of the great Anders-streben of all art, of all that is
artistic, or partakes of artistic qualities.

All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music. For while in
all other works of art it is possible to distinguish the matter from the
form, and the understanding can always make this distinction, yet it is
the constant effort of art to obliterate it. That the mere matter of a
poem, for instance--its subject, its given incidents or situation; that
the mere matter of a picture--the actual circumstances of an event, the
actual topography of a landscape--should be nothing without the form,
the spirit, of the handling; that this form, this mode of handling,
should become an end in itself, should penetrate every part of the
matter:--this is what all art constantly strives after, and achieves in
different degrees.

This abstract language becomes clear enough, if we think of actual
examples. In an actual landscape we see a long white road, lost suddenly
on the hill-verge. That is the matter of one of the etchings of M.
Legros: only, in this etching, it is informed by an indwelling solemnity
of expression, seen upon it or half-seen, within the limits of an
exceptional moment, or caught from his own mood perhaps, but which he
maintains as the very essence of the thing, throughout his work.
Sometimes a momentary tint of stormy light may invest a homely or too
familiar scene with a character which might well have been drawn from
the deep places of the imagination. Then we might say that this
particular effect of light, this sudden inweaving of gold thread through
the texture of the haystack, and the poplars, and the grass, gives the
scene artistic qualities; that it is like a picture. And such tricks of
circumstance are commonest in landscape which has little salient
character of its own; because, in such scenery, all the material details
are so easily absorbed by that informing expression of passing light,
and elevated, throughout their whole extent, to a new and delightful
effect by it. And hence the superiority, for most conditions of the
picturesque, of a river-side in France to a Swiss valley, because, on
the French river-side, mere topography, the simple material, counts for
so little, and, all being so pure, untouched, and tranquil in itself,
mere light and shade have such easy work in modulating it to one
dominant tone. The Venetian landscape, on the other hand, has in its
material conditions much which is hard, or harshly definite; but the
masters of the Venetian school have shown themselves little burdened by
them. Of its Alpine background they retain certain abstracted elements
only, of cool colour and tranquillising line; and they use its actual
details, the brown windy turrets, the straw-coloured fields, the forest
arabesques, but as the notes of a music which duly accompanies the
presence of their men and women, presenting us with the spirit or
essence only of a certain sort of landscape--a country of the pure
reason or half-imaginative memory.

Poetry, again, works with words addressed in the first instance to the
mere intelligence; and it deals, most often, with a definite subject or
situation. Sometimes it may find a noble and quite legitimate function
in the expression of moral or political aspiration, as often in the
poetry of Victor Hugo. In such instances it is easy enough for the
understanding to distinguish between the matter and the form, however
much the matter, the subject, the element which is addressed to the mere
intelligence, has been penetrated by the informing, artistic spirit.
But the ideal types of poetry are those in which this distinction is
reduced to its minimum; so that lyrical poetry, precisely because in it
we are least able to detach the matter from the form, without a
deduction of something from that matter itself, is, at least
artistically, the highest and most complete form of poetry. And the very
perfection of such poetry often seems to depend, in part, on a certain
suppression or vagueness of mere subject, so that the meaning reaches us
through ways not distinctly traceable by the understanding, as in some
of the most imaginative compositions of William Blake, and often in
Shakspere's songs, as pre-eminently in that song of Mariana's page in
Measure for Measure, in which the kindling force and poetry of the whole
play seems to pass for a moment into an actual strain of music.

And this principle holds good of all things that partake in any degree
of artistic qualities, of the furniture of our houses, and of dress, for
instance, of life itself, of gesture and speech, and the details of
daily intercourse; these also, for the wise, being susceptible of a
suavity and charm, caught from the way in which they are done, which
gives them a worth in themselves; wherein, indeed, lies what is valuable
and justly attractive, in what is called the fashion of a time, which
elevates the trivialities of speech, and manner, and dress, into "ends
in themselves," and gives them a mysterious grace and attractiveness in
the doing of them.

Art, then, is thus always striving to be independent of the mere
intelligence, to become a matter of pure perception, to get rid of its
responsibilities to its subject or material; the ideal examples of
poetry and painting being those in which the constituent elements of the
composition are so welded together, that the material or subject no
longer strikes the intellect only; nor the form, the eye or the ear
only; but form and matter, in their union or identity, present one
single effect to the "imaginative reason," that complex faculty for
which every thought and feeling is twin-born with its sensible analogue
or symbol.

It is the art of music which most completely realises this artistic
ideal, this perfect identification of form and matter. In its ideal,
consummate moments, the end is not distinct from the means, the form
from the matter, the subject from the expression; they inhere in and
completely saturate each other; and to it, therefore, to the condition
of its perfect moments, all the arts may be supposed constantly to tend
and aspire. Music, then, and not poetry, as is so often supposed, is the
true type or measure of perfected art. Therefore, although each art has
its incommunicable element, its untranslatable order of impressions, its
unique mode of reaching the "imaginative reason," yet the arts may be
represented as continually struggling after the law or principle of
music, to a condition which music alone completely realises; and one of
the chief functions of aesthetic criticism, dealing with the products of
art, new or old, is to estimate the degree in which each of those
products approaches, in this sense, to musical law.

By no school of painters have, the necessary limitations of the art of
painting been so unerringly though instinctively apprehended, and the
essence of what is pictorial in a picture so justly conceived, as by the
school of Venice; and the train of thought suggested in what has been
now said is, perhaps, a not unfitting introduction to a few pages about
Giorgione, who, though much has been taken by recent criticism from what
was reputed to be his work, yet, more entirely than any other painter,
sums up, in what we know of himself and his art, the spirit of the
Venetian school.

The beginnings of Venetian painting link themselves to the last, stiff,
half-barbaric splendours of Byzantine decoration, and are but the
introduction into the crust of marble and gold on the walls of the Duomo
of Murano, or of Saint Mark's, of a little more of human expression. And
throughout the course of its later development, always subordinate to
architectural effect, the work of the Venetian school never escaped from
the influence of its beginnings. Unassisted, and therefore unperplexed,
by naturalism, religious mysticism, philosophical theories, it had no
Giotto, no Angelico, no Botticelli. Exempt from the stress of thought
and sentiment, which taxed so severely the resources of the generations
of Florentine artists, those earlier Venetian painters, down to
Carpaccio and the Bellini, seem never for a moment to have been tempted
even to lose sight of the scope of their art in its strictness, or to
forget that painting must be, before all things decorative, a thing for
the eye; a space of colour on the wall, only more dexterously blent than
the marking of its precious stone or the chance interchange of sun and
shade upon it--this, to begin and end with--whatever higher matter of
thought, or poetry, or religious reverie might play its part therein,
between. At last, with final mastery of all the technical secrets of his
art, and with somewhat more than "a spark of the divine fire" to his
share, comes Giorgione. He is the inventor of genre, of those easily
movable pictures which serve neither for uses of devotion, nor of
allegorical or historic teaching--little groups of real men and women,
amid congruous furniture or landscape--morsels of actual life,
conversation or music or play, refined upon or idealised, till they come
to seem like glimpses of life from afar. Those spaces of more cunningly
blent colour, obediently filling their places, hitherto, in a mere
architectural scheme, Giorgione detaches from the wall; he frames them
by the hands of some skilful carver, so that people may move them
readily and take with them where they go, like a poem in manuscript, or
a musical instrument, to be used, at will, as a means of self-education,
stimulus or solace, coming like an animated presence, into one's
cabinet, to enrich the air as with some choice aroma, and, like persons,
live with us, for a day or a lifetime. Of all art like this, art which
has played so large a part in men's culture since that time, Giorgione
is the initiator. Yet in him too that old Venetian clearness or justice,
in the apprehension of the essential limitations of the pictorial art,
is still undisturbed; and, while he interfuses his painted work with a
high-strung sort of poetry, caught directly from a singularly rich and
high-strung sort of life, yet in his selection of subject, or phase of
subject, in the subordination of mere subject to pictorial design, to
the main purpose of a picture, he is typical of that aspiration of all
the arts towards music, which I have endeavoured to explain,--towards
the perfect identification of matter and form.

Born so near to Titian, though a little before him, that these two
companion pupils of the aged Giovanni Bellini may almost be called
contemporaries, Giorgione stands to Titian in something like the
relationship of Sordello to Dante, in Mr. Browning's poem. Titian, when
he leaves Bellini, becomes, in turn, the pupil of Giorgione; he lives in
constant labour more than sixty years after Giorgione is in his grave;
and with such fruit, that hardly one of the greater towns of Europe is
without some fragment of it. But the slightly older man, with his so
limited actual product (what remains to us of it seeming, when narrowly
examined, to reduce itself to almost one picture, like Sordello's one
fragment of lovely verse), yet expresses, in elementary motive and
principle, that spirit--itself the final acquisition of all the long
endeavours of Venetian art--which Titian spreads over his whole life's

And, as we might expect, something fabulous and illusive has always
mingled itself in the brilliancy of Giorgione's fame. The exact
relationship to him of many works--drawings, portraits, painted
idylls--often fascinating enough, which in various collections went by
his name, was from the first uncertain. Still, six or eight famous
pictures at Dresden, Florence and the Louvre, were undoubtedly
attributed to him, and in these, if anywhere, something of the splendour
of the old Venetian humanity seemed to have been preserved. But of those
six or eight famous pictures it is now known that only one is certainly
from Giorgione's hand. The accomplished science of the subject has come
at last, and, as in other instances, has not made the past more real for
us, but assured us that we possess of it less than we seemed to possess.
Much of the work on which Giorgione's immediate fame depended, work done
for instantaneous effect, in all probability passed away almost within
his own age, like the frescoes on the facade of the fondaco dei Tedeschi
at Venice, some crimson traces of which, however, still give a strange
additional touch of splendour to the scene of the Rialto. And then there
is a barrier or borderland, a period about the middle of the sixteenth
century, in passing through which the tradition miscarries, and the true
outlines of Giorgione's work and person become obscured. It became
fashionable for wealthy lovers of art, with no critical standard of
authenticity, to collect so-called works of Giorgione, and a multitude
of imitations came into circulation. And now, in the "new Vasari,"* the
great traditional reputation, woven with so profuse demand on men's
admiration, has been scrutinised thread by thread; and what remains of
the most vivid and stimulating of Venetian masters, a live flame, as it
seemed, in those old shadowy times, has been reduced almost to a name by
his most recent critics.

*Crowe and Cavalcaselle: History of Painting in North Italy.

Yet enough remains to explain why the legend grew up, above the name,
why the name attached itself, in many instances, to the bravest work of
other men. The Concert in the Pitti Palace, in which a monk, with cowl
and tonsure, touches the keys of a harpsichord, while a clerk, placed
behind him, grasps the handle of the viol, and a third, with hat and
plume, seems to wait upon the true interval for beginning to sing, is
undoubtedly Giorgione's. The outline of the lifted finger, the trace of
the plume, the very threads of the fine linen, which fasten themselves
on the memory, in the moment before they are lost altogether in that
calm unearthly glow, the skill which has caught the waves of wandering
sound, and fixed them for ever on the lips and hands--these are indeed
the master's own; and the criticism which, while dismissing so much
hitherto believed to be Giorgione's, has established the claims of this
one picture, has left it among the most precious things in the world of

It is noticeable that the "distinction" of this Concert, its sustained
evenness of perfection, alike in design, in execution, and in choice of
personal type, becomes for the "new Vasari" the standard of Giorgione's
genuine work. Finding here enough to explain his influence, and the true
seal of mastery, its authors assign to Pellegrino da San Daniele the
Holy Family in the Louvre, for certain points in which it comes short of
that standard, but which will hardly diminish the spectator's enjoyment
of a singular charm of liquid air, with which the whole picture seems
instinct, filling the eyes and lips, the very garments, of its sacred
personages, with some wind-searched brightness and energy; of which fine
air the blue peak, clearly defined in the distance, is, as it were, the
visible pledge. Similarly, another favourite picture in the Louvre, the
subject of a Sonnet by a poet whose own painted work often comes to mind
as one ponders over these precious things--the Fete Champetre, is
assigned to an imitator of Sebastian del Piombo; and the Tempest, in the
Academy at Venice (a slighter loss, perhaps, though not without its
pleasant effect of clearing weather, towards the left, its one untouched
morsel), to Paris Bordone, or perhaps to "some advanced craftsman of the
sixteenth century." From the gallery at Dresden, the Knight embracing a
Lady, where the knight's broken gauntlets seem to mark some well-known
pause in a story we would willingly hear the rest of; is conceded to "a
Brescian hand," and Jacob meeting Rachel to a pupil of Palma; and,
whatever their charm, we are called on to give up the Ordeal and the
Finding of Moses with its jewel-like pools of water, perhaps to Bellini.

Nor has the criticism, which thus so freely diminishes the number of his
authentic works, added anything important to the well-known outline of
the life and personality of the man: only, it has fixed one or two
dates, one or two circumstances, a little more exactly. Giorgione was
born before the year 1477, and spent his childhood at Castelfranco,
where the last crags of the Venetian Alps break down romantically, with
something of parklike grace, to the plain. A natural child of the family
of the Barbarelli by a peasant-girl of Vedelago, he finds his way early
into the circle of notable persons--people of courtesy; and becomes
initiated into those differences of personal type, manner, and even of
dress, which are best understood there--that "distinction" of the
Concert of the Pitti Palace. Not far from his home lives Catherine of
Cornara, formerly Queen of Cyprus; and, up in the towers which still
remain, Tuzio Costanzo, the famous condottiere--a picturesque remnant of
medieval manners, amid a civilisation rapidly changing. Giorgione paints
their portraits; and when Tuzio's son, Matteo, dies in early youth,
adorns in his memory a chapel in the church of Castelfranco, painting on
this occasion, perhaps, the altar-piece, foremost among his authentic
works, still to be seen there, with the figure of the warrior-saint,
Liberale, of which the original little study in oil, with the delicately
gleaming, silver-grey armour, is one of the greater treasures of the
National Gallery, and in which, as in some other knightly personages
attributed to him, people have supposed the likeness of his own
presumably gracious presence. Thither, at last, he is himself brought
home from Venice, early dead, but celebrated. It happened, about his
thirty-fourth year, that in one of those parties at which he entertained
his friends with music, he met a certain lady of whom he became greatly
enamoured, and "they rejoiced greatly," says Vasari, "the one and the
other, in their loves." And two quite different legends concerning it
agree in this, that it was through this lady he came by his death:
Ridolfi relating that, being robbed of her by one of his pupils, he died
of grief at the double treason;--Vasari, that she being secretly
stricken of the plague, and he making his visits to her as usual, he
took the sickness from her mortally, along with her kisses, and so
briefly departed.

But, although the number of Giorgione's extant works has been thus
limited by recent criticism, all is not done when the real and the
traditional elements in what concerns him have been discriminated; for,
in what is connected with a great name, much that is not real is often
very stimulating; and, for the aesthetic philosopher, over and above the
real Giorgione and his authentic extant works, there remains the
Giorgionesque also--an influence, a spirit or type in art, active in men
so different as those to whom many of his supposed works are really
assignable--a veritable school, which grew together out of all those
fascinating works rightly or wrongly attributed to him; out of many
copies from, or variations on him, by unknown or uncertain workmen,
whose drawings and designs were, for various reasons, prized as his; out
of the immediate impression he made upon his contemporaries, and with
which he continued in men's minds; out of many traditions of subject and
treatment, which really descend from him to our own time, and by
retracing which we fill out the original image; Giorgione thus becoming
a sort of impersonation of Venice itself, its projected reflex or ideal,
all that was intense or desirable in it thus crystallising about the
memory of this wonderful young man.

And now, finally, let me illustrate some of the characteristics of this
School of Giorgione, as we may call it, which, for most of us,
notwithstanding all that negative criticism of the "new Vasari," will
still identify itself with those famous pictures at Florence, Dresden
and Paris; and in which a certain artistic ideal is defined for us--the
conception of a peculiar aim and procedure in art, which we may
understand as the Giorgionesque, wherever we find it, whether in
Venetian work generally, or in work of our own time--and of which the
Concert, that undoubted work of Giorgione in the Pitti Palace, is the
typical instance, and a pledge authenticating the connexion of the
school with the master.

I have spoken of a certain interpretation of the matter or subject of a
work of art with the form of it, a condition realised absolutely only in
music, as the condition to which every form of art is perpetually
aspiring. In the art of painting, the attainment of this ideal
condition, this perfect interpretation of the subject with colour and
design, depends, of course, in great measure, on dexterous choice of
that subject, or phase of subject; and such choice is one of the secrets
of Giorgione's school. It is the school of genre, and employs itself
mainly with "painted idylls," but, in the production of this pictorial
poetry, exercises a wonderful tact in the selecting of such matter as
lends itself most readily and entirely to pictorial form, to complete
expression by drawing and colour. For although its productions are
painted poems, they belong to a sort of poetry which tells itself
without an articulated story. The master is pre-eminent for the
resolution, the ease and quickness, with which he reproduces
instantaneous motion--the lacing-on of armour, with the head bent back
so stately--the fainting lady--the embrace, rapid as the kiss caught,
with death itself, from dying lips--the momentary conjunction of mirrors
and polished armour and still water, by which all the sides of a solid
image are presented at once, solving that casuistical question whether
painting can present an object as completely as sculpture. The sudden
act, the rapid transition of thought, the passing expression--this he
arrests with that vivacity which Vasari has attributed to him, il fuoco
Giorgionesco, as he terms it. Now it is part of the ideality of the
highest sort of dramatic poetry, that it presents us with a kind of
profoundly significant and animated instants, a mere gesture, a look, a
smile, perhaps--some brief and wholly concrete moment--into which,
however, all the motives, all the interests and effects of a long
history, have condensed themselves, and which seem to absorb past and
future in an intense consciousness of the present. Such ideal instants
the school of Giorgione selects, with its admirable tact, from that
feverish, tumultuously coloured life of the old citizens of
Venice--exquisite pauses in time, in which, arrested thus, we seem to be
spectators of all the fulness of existence, and which are like some
consummate extract or quintessence of life.

It is to the law or condition of music, as I said, that all art like
this is really aspiring and, in the school of Giorgione, the perfect
moments of music itself, the making or hearing of music, song or its
accompaniment, are themselves prominent as subjects. On that background
of the silence of Venice, which the visitor there finds so impressive,
the world of Italian music was then forming. In choice of subject, as in
all besides, the Concert of the Pitti Palace is typical of all that
Giorgione, himself an admirable musician, touched with his influence;
and in sketch or finished picture, in various collections, we may follow
it through many intricate variations--men fainting at music, music heard
at the pool-side while people fish, or mingled with the sound of the
pitcher in the well, or heard across running water, or among the flocks;
the tuning of instruments--people with intent faces, as if listening,
like those described by Plato in an ingenious passage, to detect the
smallest interval of musical sound, the smallest undulation in the air,
or feeling for music in thought on a stringless instrument, ear and
finger refining themselves infinitely, in the appetite for sweet
sound--a momentary touch of an instrument in the twilight, as one passes
through some unfamiliar room, in a chance company.

In such favourite incidents, then, of Giorgione's school, music or
music-like intervals in our existence, life itself is conceived as a
sort of listening--listening to music, to the reading of Bandello's
novels, to the sound of water, to time as it flies. Often such moments
are really our moments of play, and we are surprised at the unexpected
blessedness of what may seem our least important part of time; not
merely because play is in many instances that to which people really
apply their own best powers, but also because at such times, the stress
of our servile, everyday attentiveness being relaxed, the happier powers
in things without us are permitted free passage, and have their way with
us. And so, from music, the school of Giorgione passes often to the play
which is like music; to those masques in which men avowedly do but play
at real life, like children "dressing up," disguised in the strange old
Italian dresses, parti-coloured, or fantastic with embroidery and furs,
of which the master was so curious a designer, and which, above all the
spotless white linen at wrist and throat, he painted so dexterously.

And when people are happy in this thirsty land water will not be far
off; and in the school of Giorgione, the presence of water--the well, or
marble-rimmed pool, the drawing or pouring of water, as the woman pours
it from a pitcher with her jewelled hand in the Fete Champetre,
listening, perhaps, to the cool sound as it falls, blent with the music
of the pipes--is as characteristic, and almost as suggestive, as that of
music itself. And the landscape feels, and is glad of it also--a
landscape full of clearness, of the effects of water, of fresh rain
newly passed through the air, and collected into the grassy channels;
the air, too, in the school of Giorgione, seeming as vivid as the people
who breathe it, and literally empyrean, all impurities being burnt out
of it, and no taint, no floating particle of anything but its own proper
elements allowed to subsist within it.

Its scenery is such as in England we call "park scenery," with some
elusive refinement felt about the rustic buildings, the choice grass,
the grouped trees, the undulations deftly economised for graceful
effect. Only, in Italy all natural things are, as it were, woven through
and through with gold thread, even the cypress revealing it among the
folds of its blackness. And it is with gold dust, or gold thread, that
these Venetian painters seem to work, spinning its fine filaments,
through the solemn human flesh, away into the white plastered walls of
the thatched huts. The harsher details of the mountains recede to a
harmonious distance, the one peak of rich blue above the horizon
remaining but as the visible warrant of that due coolness which is all
we need ask here of the Alps, with their dark rains and streams. Yet
what real, airy space, as the eye passes from level to level, through
the long-drawn valley in which Jacob embraces Rachel among the flocks!
Nowhere is there a truer instance of that balance, that modulated unison
of landscape and persons--of the human image and its
accessories--already noticed as characteristic of the Venetian school,
so that, in it, neither personage nor scenery is ever a mere pretext for
the other.

Something like this seems to me to be the vraie verite about Giorgione,
if I may adopt a serviceable expression, by which the French recognise
those more liberal and durable impressions which, in respect of any
really considerable person or subject, anything that has at all
intricately occupied men's attention, lie beyond, and must supplement,
the narrower range of the strictly ascertained facts about it. In this,
Giorgione is but an illustration of a valuable general caution we may
abide by in all criticism. As regards Giorgione himself, we have indeed
to take note of all those negations and exceptions, by which, at first
sight, a "new Vasari" seems merely to have confused our apprehension of
a delightful object, to have explained away out of our inheritance from
past time what seemed of high value there. Yet it is not with a full
understanding even of those exceptions that one can leave off just at
this point. Properly qualified, such exceptions are but a salt of
genuineness in our knowledge; and beyond all those strictly ascertained
facts, we must take note of that indirect influence by which one like
Giorgione, for instance, enlarges his permanent efficacy and really
makes himself felt in our culture. In a just impression of that, is the
essential truth, the vraie verite concerning him.



In the middle of the sixteenth century, when the spirit of the
Renaissance was everywhere, and people had begun to look back with
distaste on the works of the middle age, the old Gothic manner had still
one chance more, in borrowing something from the rival which was about
to supplant it. In this way there was produced, chiefly in France, a new
and peculiar phase of taste with qualities and a charm of its own,
blending the somewhat attenuated grace of Italian ornament with the
general outlines of Northern design. It produced the Chateau de Gaillon,
as you may still see it in the delicate engravings of Israel
Silvestre--a Gothic donjon veiled faintly by a surface of dainty Italian
traceries--Chenonceaux, Blois, Chambord, and the church of Brou. In
painting, there came from Italy workmen like Maitre Roux and the masters
of the school of Fontainebleau, to have their later Italian
voluptuousness attempered by the naive and silvery qualities of the
native style; and it was characteristic of these painters that they were
most successful in painting on glass, an art so essentially medieval.
Taking it up where the middle age had left it, they found their whole
work among the last subtleties of colour and line; and keeping within
the true limits of their material, they got quite a new order of effects
from it, and felt their way to refinements on colour never dreamed of by
those older workmen, the glass-painters of Chartres or Le Mans. What is
called the Renaissance in France is thus not so much the introduction of
a wholly new taste ready-made from Italy, but rather the finest and
subtlest phase of the middle age itself, its last fleeting splendour and
temperate Saint Martin's summer. In poetry, the Gothic spirit in France
had produced a thousand songs; and in the Renaissance, French poetry too
did but borrow something to blend with a native growth, and the poems of
Ronsard, with their ingenuity, their delicately figured surfaces, their
slightness, their fanciful combinations of rhyme, are but the
correlative of the traceries of the house of Jacques Coeur at Bourges,
or the Maison de Justice at Rouen.

There was indeed something in the native French taste naturally akin to
that Italian finesse. The characteristic of French work had always been
a certain nicety, a remarkable daintiness of hand, une nettete
remarquable d'execution. In the paintings of Francois Clouet, for
example, or rather of the Clouets--for there was a whole family of
them--painters remarkable for their resistance to Italian influences,
there is a silveriness of colour and a clearness of expression which
distinguish them very definitely from their Flemish neighbours, Hemling
or the Van Eycks. And this nicety is not less characteristic of old
French poetry. A light, aerial delicacy, a simple elegance--une nettete
remarquable d'execution:--these are essential characteristics alike of
Villon's poetry, and of the Hours of Anne of Brittany. They are
characteristic too of a hundred French Gothic carvings and traceries.
Alike in the old Gothic cathedrals, and in their counterpart, the old
Gothic chansons de geste, the rough and ponderous mass becomes, as if by
passing for a moment into happier conditions, or through a more gracious
stratum of air, graceful and refined, like the carved ferneries on the
granite church at Folgoat, or the lines which describe the fair priestly
hands of Archbishop Turpin, in the song of Roland; although below both
alike there is a fund of mere Gothic strength, or heaviness.*

*The purely artistic aspects of this subject have been interpreted, in a
work of great taste and learning, by Mrs. Mark Pattison:--The
Renaissance of Art in France.

And Villon's songs and Clouet's paintings are like these. It is the
higher touch making itself felt here and there, betraying itself, like
nobler blood in a lower stock, by a fine line or gesture or expression,
the turn of a wrist, the tapering of a finger. In Ronsard's time that
rougher element seemed likely to predominate. No one can turn over the
pages of Rabelais without feeling how much need there was of softening,
of castigation. To effect this softening is the object of the revolution
in poetry which is connected with Ronsard's name. Casting about for the
means of thus refining upon and saving the character of French
literature, he accepted that influx of Renaissance taste, which, leaving
the buildings, the language, the art, the poetry of France, at bottom,
what they were, old French Gothic still, gilds their surfaces with a
strange, delightful, foreign aspect passing over all that Northern land,
in itself neither deeper nor more permanent than a chance effect of
light. He reinforces, he doubles the French daintiness by Italian
finesse. Thereupon, nearly all the force and all the seriousness of
French work disappear; only the elegance, the aerial touch, the perfect
manner remain. But this elegance, this manner, this daintiness of
execution are consummate, and have an unmistakable aesthetic value.

So the old French chanson, which, like the old Northern Gothic ornament,
though it sometimes refined itself into a sort of weird elegance, was
often, in its essence, something rude and formless, became in the hands
of Ronsard a Pindaric ode. He gave it structure, a sustained system,
strophe and antistrophe, and taught it a changefulness and variety of
metre which keep the curiosity always excited, so that the very aspect
of it, as it lies written on the page, carries the eye lightly onwards,
and of which this is a good instance:--

Avril, la grace, et le ris
De Cypris,
Le flair et la douce haleine;
Avril, le parfum des dieux,
Qui, des cieux,
Sentent l'odeur de la plaine;

C'est toy, courteis et gentil,
Qui, d'exil
Retire ces passageres,
Ces arondelles qui vont,
Et qui sont
Du printemps les messageres.

That is not by Ronsard, but by Remy Belleau, for Ronsard soon came to
have a school. Six other poets threw in their lot with him in his
literary revolution--this Remy Belleau, Antoine de Baif, Pontus de
Tyard, Etienne Jodelle, Jean Daurat, and lastly Joachim du Bellay; and
with that strange love of emblems which is characteristic of the time,
which covered all the works of Francis the First with the salamander,
and all the works of Henry the Second with the double crescent, and all
the works of Anne of Brittany with the knotted cord, they called
themselves the Pleiad; seven in all, although, as happens with the
celestial Pleiad, if you scrutinise this constellation of poets more
carefully you may find there a great number of minor stars.

The first note of this literary revolution was struck by Joachim du
Bellay in a little tract written at the early age of twenty-four, which
coming to us through three centuries seems of yesterday, so full is it
of those delicate critical distinctions which are sometimes supposed
peculiar to modern writers. The piece has for its title La Deffense et
Illustration de la langue Francoyse; and its problem is how to
illustrate or ennoble the French language, to give it lustre. We are
accustomed to speak of the varied critical and creative movement of the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as the Renaissance, and because we
have a single name for it we may sometimes fancy that there was more
unity in the thing itself than there really was. Even the Reformation,
that other great movement of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, had
far less unity, far less of combined action, than is at first sight
supposed; and the Renaissance was infinitely less united, less conscious
of combined action, than the Reformation. But if anywhere the
Renaissance became conscious, as a German philosopher might say, if ever
it was understood as a systematic movement by those who took part in it,
it is in this little book of Joachim du Bellay's, which it is impossible
to read without feeling the excitement, the animation, of change, of
discovery. "It is a remarkable fact," says M. Sainte-Beuve, "and an
inversion of what is true of other languages, that, in French, prose has
always had the precedence over poetry." Du Bellay's prose is perfectly
transparent, flexible, and chaste. In many ways it is a more
characteristic example of the culture of the Pleiad than any of its
verse; and those who love the whole movement of which the Pleiad is a
part, for a weird foreign grace in it, and may be looking about for a
true specimen of it, cannot have a better than Joachim du Bellay and
this little treatise of his.

Du Bellay's object is to adjust the existing French culture to the
rediscovered classical culture; and in discussing this problem, and
developing the theories of the Pleiad, he has lighted upon many
principles of permanent truth and applicability. There were some who
despaired of the French language altogether, who thought it naturally
incapable of the fulness and elegance of Greek and Latin--cette elegance
et copie qui est en la langue Grecque et Romaine--that science could be
adequately discussed, and poetry nobly written, only in the dead
languages. "Those who speak thus," says Du Bellay, "make me think of
those relics which one may only see through a little pane of glass, and
must not touch with one's hands. That is what these people do with all
branches of culture, which they keep shut up in Greek and Latin books,
not permitting one to see them otherwise, or transport them out of dead
words into those which are alive, and wing their way daily through the
months of men." "Languages," he says again, "are not born like plants
and trees, some naturally feeble and sickly, others healthy and strong
and apter to bear the weight of men's conceptions, but all their virtue
is generated in the world of choice and men's freewill concerning them.
Therefore, I cannot blame too strongly the rashness of some of our
countrymen, who being anything rather than Greeks or Latins, depreciate
and reject with more than stoical disdain everything written in French;
nor can I express my surprise at the odd opinion of some learned men who
think that our vulgar tongue is wholly incapable of erudition and good

It was an age of translations. Du Bellay himself translated two books of
the Aeneid, and other poetry, old and new, and there were some who
thought that the translation of the classical literature was the true
means of ennobling the French language:--strangers are ever favourites
with us--nous favorisons toujours les etrangers. Du Bellay moderates
their expectations. "I do not believe that one can learn the right use
of them"--he is speaking of figures and ornament in language--"from
translations, because it is impossible to reproduce them with the same
grace with which the original author used them. For each language has, I
know not what peculiarity of its own; and if you force yourself to
express the naturalness (le naif) of this, in another language,
observing the law of translation, which is, not to expatiate beyond the
limits of the author himself; your words will be constrained, cold and
ungraceful." Then he fixes the test of all good translation:--"To prove
this, read me Demosthenes and Homer in Latin, Cicero and Virgil in
French, and see whether they produce in you the same affections which
you experience in reading those authors in the original."

In this effort to ennoble the French language, to give it grace, number,
perfection, and as painters do to their pictures, that last, so
desirable, touch--cette derniere main que nous desirons--what Du Bellay
is pleading for is his mother-tongue, the language, that is, in which
one will have the utmost degree of what is moving and passionate. He
recognised of what force the music and dignity of languages are, how
they enter into the inmost part of things; and in pleading for the
cultivation of the French language, he is pleading for no merely
scholastic interest, but for freedom, impulse, reality, not in
literature merely, but in daily communion of speech. After all, it was
impossible to have this impulse in Greek and Latin, dead languages shut
up in books as in reliquaries--peris et mises en reliquaires de livres.
By aid of this starveling stock--pauvre plante et vergette--of the
French language, he must speak delicately, movingly, if he is ever to
speak so at all: that, or none, must be for him the medium of what he
calls, in one of his great phrases, le discours fatal des choses
mondaines--that discourse about affairs which decides men's fates. And
it is his patriotism not to despair of it; he sees it already perfect in
all elegance and beauty of words--parfait en toute elegance et venuste
de paroles.

Du Bellay was born in the disastrous year 1525, the year of the battle
of Pavia, and the captivity of Francis the First. . His parents died
early, and to him, as the younger son, his mother's little estate, ce
petit Lire, the beloved place of his birth, descended. He was brought up
by a brother only a little older than himself; and left to themselves,
the two boys passed their lives in day-dreams of military glory. Their
education was neglected; "The time of my youth," says Du Bellay, "was
lost, like the flower which no shower waters, and no hand cultivates."
He was just twenty years old when the elder brother died, leaving
Joachim to be the guardian of his child. It was with regret, with a
shrinking feeling of incapacity, that he took upon him the burden of
this responsibility. Hitherto he had looked forward to the profession of
a soldier, hereditary in his family. But at this time a sickness
attacked him which brought him cruel sufferings, and seemed likely to be
mortal. It was then for the first time that he read the Greek and Latin
poets. These studies came too late to make him what he so much desired
to be, a trifler in Greek and Latin verse, like so many others of his
time now forgotten; instead, they made him a lover of his own homely
native tongue, that poor starveling stock of the French language. It was
through this fortunate shortcoming in his education that he became
national and modern; and he learned afterwards to look back on that wild
garden of his youth with only a half regret. A certain Cardinal du
Bellay was the successful member of the family, a man often employed in
high official affairs. It was to him that the thoughts of Joachim turned
when it became necessary to choose a profession, and in 1552 he
accompanied the Cardinal to Rome. He remained there nearly five years,
burdened with the weight of affairs, and languishing with home-sickness.
Yet it was under these circumstances that his genius yielded its best
fruits. From Rome, which to most men of an imaginative temperament such
as his would have yielded so many pleasurable sensations, with all the
curiosities of the Renaissance still fresh there, his thoughts went back
painfully, longingly, to the country of the Loire, with its wide
expanses of waving corn, its homely pointed roofs of grey slate, and its
far-off scent of the sea. He reached home at last, but only to die
there, quite suddenly, one wintry day, at the early age of thirty-five.

Much of Du Bellay's poetry illustrates rather the age and school to
which he belonged than his own temper and genius. As with the writings
of Ronsard and the other poets of the Pleiad, its interest depends not
so much on the impress of individual genius upon it, as on the
circumstance that it was once poetry a la mode, that it is part of the
manner of a time--a time which made much of manner, and carried it to a
high degree of perfection. It is one of the decorations of an age which
threw much of its energy into the work of decoration. We feel a pensive
pleasure in seeing these faded decorations, and observing how a group of
actual men and women pleased themselves long ago. Ronsard's poems are a
kind of epitome of his age. Of one side of that age, it is true, of the
strenuous, the progressive, the serious movement, which was then going
on, there is little; but of the catholic side, the losing side, the
forlorn hope, hardly a figure is absent. The Queen of Scots, at whose
desire Ronsard published his odes, reading him in her northern prison,
felt that he was bringing back to her the true flavour of her early days
in the court of Catherine at the Louvre, with its exotic Italian
gaieties. Those who disliked that poetry, disliked it because they found
that age itself distasteful. The poetry of Malherbe came, with its
sustained style and weighty sentiment, but with nothing that set people
singing; and the lovers of such poetry saw in the poetry of the Pleiad
only the latest trumpery of the middle age. But the time came also when
the school of Malherbe had had its day; and the Romanticists, who in
their eagerness for excitement, for strange music and imagery, went back
to the works of the middle age, accepted the Pleiad too with the rest;
and in that new middle age which their genius has evoked, the poetry of
the Pleiad has found its place. At first, with Malherbe, you may find
it, like the architecture, the whole mode of life, the very dresses of
that time, fantastic, faded, rococo. But if you look long enough to
understand it, to conceive its sentiment, you will find that those
wanton lines have a spirit guiding their caprices. For there is style
there; one temper has shaped the whole; and everything that has style,
that has been done as no other man or age could have done it, as it
could never, for all our trying, be done again, has its true value and
interest. Let us dwell upon it for a moment, and try to gather from it
that special flower, ce fleur particulier, which Ronsard himself tells
us every garden has.

It is poetry not for the people, but for a confined circle, for
courtiers, great lords and erudite persons, people who desire to be
humoured, to gratify a certain refined voluptuousness they have in them.
Ronsard loves, or dreams that he loves, a rare and peculiar type of
beauty, la petite pucelle Angevine, with golden hair and dark eyes. But
he has the ambition not only of being a courtier and a lover, but a
great scholar also; he is anxious about orthography, about the letter e
Grecque, the true spelling of Latin names in French writing, and the
restoration of the letter i to its primitive liberty--del' i voyelle en
sa premiere liberte. His poetry is full of quaint, remote learning. He
is just a little pedantic, true always to his own express judgment, that
to be natural is not enough for one who in poetry desires to produce
work worthy of immortality. And therewithal a certain number of Greek
words, which charmed Ronsard and his circle by their gaiety and
daintiness, and a certain air of foreign elegance about them, crept into
the French language: and there were other strange words which the poets
of the Pleiad forged for themselves, and which had only an ephemeral

With this was mixed the desire to taste a more exquisite and various
music than that of the older French verse, or of the classical poets.
The music of the measured, scanned verse of Latin and Greek poetry is
one thing; the music of the rhymed, unscanned verse of Villon and the
old French poets, la poesie chantee, is another. To unite together these
two kinds of music in a new school of French poetry, to make verse which
should scan and rhyme as well, to search out and harmonise the measure
of every syllable, and unite it to the swift, flitting, swallow-like
motion of rhyme, to penetrate their poetry with a double music--this was
the ambition of the Pleiad. They are insatiable of music, they cannot
have enough of it; they desire a music of greater compass perhaps than
words can possibly yield, to drain out the last drops of sweetness which
a certain note or accent contains.

This eagerness for music is almost the only serious thing in the poetry
of the Pleiad; and it was Goudimel, the severe and protestant Goudimel,
who set Ronsard's songs to music. But except in this matter these poets
seem never quite in earnest. The old Greek and Roman mythology, which
for the great Italians had been a motive so weighty and severe, becomes
with them a mere toy. That "Lord of terrible aspect," Amor, has become
Love, the boy or the babe. They are full of fine railleries; they
delight in diminutives, ondelette, fontelette, doucelette, Cassandrette.
Their loves are only half real, a vain effort to prolong the imaginative
loves of the middle age beyond their natural lifetime. They write
love-poems for hire. Like that party of people who tell the tales in
Boccaccio's Decameron, they form a circle which in an age of great
troubles, losses, anxieties, amuses itself with art, poetry, intrigue.
But they amuse themselves with wonderful elegance; and sometimes their
gaiety becomes satiric, for, as they play, real passions insinuate
themselves, and at least the reality of death; their dejection at the
thought of leaving this fair abode of our common daylight--le beau
sejour du commun jour--is expressed by them with almost wearisome
reiteration. But with this sentiment too they are able to trifle: the
imagery of death serves for delicate ornament, and they weave into the
airy nothingness of their verses their trite reflexions on the vanity of
life; just as the grotesques of the charnel-house nest themselves,
together with birds and flowers and the fancies of the pagan mythology,
in the traceries of the architecture of that time, which wantons in its
delicate arabesques with the images of old age and death.

Ronsard became deaf at sixteen; and it was this circumstance which
finally determined him to be a man of letters instead of a diplomatist,
significantly, one might fancy; of a certain premature agedness, and of
the tranquil, temperate sweetness appropriate to that, in the school of
poetry which he founded. Its charm is that of a thing not vigorous or
original, but full of the grace that comes of long study and reiterated
refinements, and many steps repeated, and many angles worn down, with an
exquisite faintness, une fadeur exquise, a certain tenuity and caducity,
as for those who can bear nothing vehement or strong; for princes weary
of love, like Francis the First, or of pleasure, like Henry the Third,
or of action, like Henry the Fourth. Its merits are those of the
old,--grace and finish, perfect in minute detail. For these people are a
little jaded, and have a constant desire for a subdued and delicate
excitement, to warm their creeping fancy a little. They love a constant
change of rhyme in poetry, and in their houses that strange, fantastic
interweaving of thin, reed-like lines, which are a kind of rhetoric in

But the poetry of the Pleiad is true not only to the physiognomy of its
age, but also to its country--ce pays du Vendomois--the names and scenery
of which so often recur in it; the great Loire, with its long spaces of
white sand; the little river Loir; the heathy, upland country, with its
scattered pools of water and waste road-sides,, and retired manors, with
their crazy old feudal defences half fallen into decay; La Beauce, the
granary of France, where the vast rolling fields of corn seem to
anticipate the great western sea itself. It is full of the traits of that
country. We see Du Bellay and Ronsard gardening, or hunting with their
dogs, or watch the pastimes of a rainy day; and with this is connected a
domesticity, a homeliness and simple goodness, by which this Northern
country gains upon the South. They have the love of the aged for warmth,
and understand the poetry of winter; for they are not far from the
Atlantic, and the west wind which comes up from it, turning the poplars
white, spares not this new Italy in France. So the fireside often
appears, with the pleasures of winter, about the vast emblazoned chimneys
of the time, and with a bonhomie as of little children, or old people.

It is in Du Bellay's Olive, a collection of sonnets in praise of a
half-imaginary lady, Sonnetz a la louange d'Olive, that these
characteristics are most abundant. Here is a perfectly crystallised

D'amour, de grace, et de haulte valeur
Les feux divins estoient ceinctz et les cieulx
S'estoient vestuz d'un manteau precieux
A raiz ardens di diverse couleur:
Tout estoit p1ein de beaute, de bonheur,
La mer tranquille, et le vent gracieulx,
Quand celle la nasquit en ces bas lieux
Qui a pille du monde tout l'honneur.
Ell' prist son teint des beux lyz blanchissans,
Son chef de l'or, ses deux levres des rozes,
Et du soleil ses yeux resplandissans:
Le ciel usant de liberalite,
Mist en l'esprit ses semences encloses,
Son nom des Dieux prist l'immortalite.

That he is thus a characteristic specimen of the poetical taste of that
age, is indeed Du Bellay's chief interest. But if his work is to have the
highest sort of interest, if it is to do something more than satisfy
curiosity, if it is to have an aesthetic as distinct from an historical
value, it is not enough for a poet to have been the true child of his
age, to have conformed to its aesthetic conditions, and by so conforming
to have charmed and stimulated that age; it is necessary that there
should be perceptible in his work something individual, inventive,
unique, the impress there of the writer's own temper and personality.
This impress M. Sainte-Beuve thought he found in the Antiquites de Rome,
and the Regrets, which he ranks as what has been called poesie intime,
that intensely modern sort of poetry in which the writer has for his aim
the portraiture of his own most intimate moods, and to take the reader
into his confidence. That generation had other instances of this intimacy
of sentiment: Montaigne's Essays are full of it, the carvings of the
church of Brou are full of it. M. Sainte-Beuve has perhaps exaggerated
the influence of this quality in Du Bellay's Regrets; but the very name
of the book has a touch of Rousseau about it, and reminds one of a whole
generation of self-pitying poets in modern times. It was in the
atmosphere of Rome, to him so strange and mournful, that these pale
flowers grew up; for that journey to Italy, which he deplored as the
greatest misfortune of his life, put him in full possession of his
talent, and brought out all its originality. And in effect you do find
intimacy, intimite, here. The trouble of his life is analysed, and the
sentiment of it conveyed directly to our minds; not a great sorrow or
passion, but only the sense of loss in passing days, the ennui of a
dreamer who has to plunge into the world's affairs, the opposition
between actual life and the ideal, a longing for rest, nostalgia,
home-sickness--that pre-eminently childish, but so suggestive sorrow, as
significant of the final regret of all human creatures for the familiar
earth and limited sky. The feeling for landscape is often described as a
modern one; still more so is that for antiquity, the sentiment of ruins.
Du Bellay has this sentiment. The duration of the hard, sharp outlines of
things is a grief to him, and passing his wearisome days among the ruins
of ancient Rome, he is consoled by the thought that all must one day end,
by the sentiment of the grandeur of nothingness--la grandeur du rien.
With a strange touch of far-off mysticism, he thinks that the great
whole--le grand tout--into which all other things pass and lose
themselves, ought itself sometimes to perish and pass away. Nothing less
can relieve his weariness. From the stately aspects of Rome his thoughts
went back continually to France, to the smoking chimneys of his little
village, the longer twilight of the North, the soft climate of Anjou--la
douceur Angevine; yet not so much to the real France, we may be sure,
with its dark streets and its roofs of rough-hewn slate, as to that other
country, with slenderer towers, and more winding rivers, and trees like
flowers, and with softer sunshine on more gracefully-proportioned fields
and ways, which the fancy of the exile, and the pilgrim, and of the
schoolboy far from home, and of those kept at home unwillingly,
everywhere builds up before or behind them.

He came home at last, through the Grisons, by slow journeys; and there,
in the cooler air of his own country, under its skies of milkier blue,
the sweetest flower of his genius sprang up. There have been poets whose
whole fame has rested on one poem, as Gray's on the Elegy in a Country
Churchyard, or Ronsard's, as many critics have thought, on the eighteen
lines of one famous ode. Du Bellay has almost been the poet of one poem;
and this one poem of his is an Italian thing transplanted into that green
country of Anjou; out of the Latin verses of Andrea Navagero, into
French: but it is a thing in which the matter is almost nothing, and the
form almost everything; and the form of the poem as it stands, written in
old French, is all Du Bellay's own. It is a song which the winnowers are
supposed to sing as they winnow the corn, and they invoke the winds to
lie lightly on the grain.


A vous trouppe legere
Qui d'aile passagere
Par le monde volez,
Et d'un sifflant murmure
L'ombrageuse verdure
Doulcement esbranlez.

J'offre ces violettes,
Ces lis & ces fleurettes,
Et ces roses icy,

Book of the day: