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The Renaissance by Walter Pater

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Ces vermeillettes roses
Sont freschement ecloses,
Et ces oelliets aussi.

De vostre doulce haleine,
Eventez ceste plaine
Eventez ce sejour;
Ce pendant que j'ahanne
A mon ble que je vanne
A la chaleur du jour.

*A graceful translation of this and some other poems of the Pleiad may be
found in Ballads and Lyrics of old France, by Mr. Andrew Lang.

That has, in the highest degree, the qualities, the value, of the whole
Pleiad school of poetry, of the whole phase of taste from which that
school derives--a certain silvery grace of fancy, nearly all the
pleasures of which is in the surprise at the happy and dexterous way in
which a thing slight in itself is handled. The sweetness of it is by no
means to be got at by crushing, as you crush wild herbs to get at their
perfume. One seems to hear the measured falling of the fans, with a
child's pleasure on coming across the incident for the first time, in one
of those great barns of Du Bellay's own country, La Beauce, the granary
of France. A sudden light transfigures a trivial thing, a weather-vane, a
windmill, a winnowing flail, the dust in the barn door: a moment--and the
thing has vanished, because it was pure effect; but it leaves a relish
behind it, a longing that the accident may happen again.




Goethe's fragments of art-criticism contain a few pages of strange
pregnancy on the character of Winckelmann. He speaks of the teacher who
had made his career possible, but whom he had never seen, as of an
abstract type of culture, consummate, tranquil, withdrawn already into
the region of ideals, yet retaining colour from the incidents of a
passionate intellectual life. He classes him with certain works of art,
possessing an inexhaustible gift of suggestion, to which criticism may
return again and again with renewed freshness. Hegel, in his lectures on
the Philosophy of Art, estimating the work of his predecessors, has also
passed a remarkable judgment on Winckelmann's writings:--"Winckelmann, by
contemplation of the ideal works of the ancients, received a sort of
inspiration, through which he opened a new sense for the study of art.
He is to be regarded as one of those who, in the sphere of art, have
known how to initiate a new organ for the human spirit." That it has
given a new sense, that it has laid open a new organ, is the highest that
can be said of any critical effort. It is interesting then to ask what
kind of man it was who thus laid open a new organ. Under what conditions
was that effected?

Johann Joachim Winckelmann was born at Stendal, in Brandenburg, in the
year 1717. The child of a poor tradesman, he passed through many
struggles in early youth, the memory of which ever remained in him as a
fitful cause of dejection. In 1763, in the full emancipation of his
spirit, looking over the beautiful Roman prospect, he writes--"One gets
spoiled here; but God owed me this; in my youth I suffered too much."
Destined to assert and interpret the charm of the Hellenic spirit, he
served first a painful apprenticeship in the tarnished intellectual world
of Germany in the earlier half of the eighteenth century. Passing out of
that into the happy light of the antique, he had a sense of exhilaration
almost physical. We find him as a child in the dusky precincts of a
German school, hungrily feeding on a few colourless books. The master of
this school grows blind; Winckelmann becomes his famulus. The old man
would have had him study theology. Winckelmann, free of the master's
library, chooses rather to become familiar with the Greek classics.
Herodotus and Homer win, with their "vowelled" Greek, his warmest
enthusiasm; whole nights of fever are devoted to them; disturbing dreams
of an Odyssey of his own come to him. "He felt in himself," says Madame
de Stael, "an ardent attraction towards the South." In German
imaginations even now traces are often to be found of that love of the
sun, that weariness of the North (cette fatigue du nord), which carried
the northern peoples away into those countries of the South. A fine sky
brings to birth sentiments not unlike the love of one's Fatherland.

To most of us, after all our steps towards it, the antique world, in
spite of its intense outlines, its perfect self-expression, still remains
faint and remote. To him, closely limited except on the one side of the
ideal, building for his dark poverty "a house not made with hands," it
early came to seem more real than the present. In the fantastic plans of
foreign travel continually passing through his mind, to Egypt, for
instance, and to France, there seems always to be rather a wistful sense
of something lost to be regained, than the desire of discovering anything
new. Goethe has told us how, in his eagerness actually to handle the
antique, he became interested in the insignificant vestiges of it which
the neighbourhood of Strasburg contained. So we hear of Winckelmann's
boyish antiquarian wanderings among the ugly Brandenburg sandhills. Such
a conformity between himself and Winckelmann, Goethe would have gladly

At twenty- one he enters the University at Halle, to study theology, as
his friends desire; instead, he becomes the enthusiastic translator of
Herodotus. The condition of Greek learning in German schools and
universities had fallen, and there were no professors at Halle who could
satisfy his sharp, intellectual craving. Of his professional education he
always speaks with scorn, claiming to have been his own teacher from
first to last. His appointed teachers did not perceive that a new source
of culture was within their hands. Homo vagus et inconstans!--one of them
pedantically reports of the future pilgrim to Rome, unaware on which side
his irony was whetted. When professional education confers nothing but
irritation on a Schiller, no one ought to be surprised; for Schiller, and
such as he, are primarily spiritual adventurers. But that Winckelmann,
the votary of the gravest of intellectual traditions, should get nothing
but an attempt at suppression from the professional guardians of
learning, is what may well surprise us.

In 1743 he became master of a school at Seehausen. This was the most
wearisome period of his life. Notwithstanding a success in dealing with
children, which seems to testify to something simple and primeval in his
nature, he found the work of teaching very depressing. Engaged in this
work, he writes that he still has within him a longing desire to attain
to the knowledge of beauty--sehnlich wuenschte zur Kenntniss des Schoenen
zu gelangen. He had to shorten his nights, sleeping only four hours, to
gain time for reading. And here Winckelmann made a step forward in
culture. He multiplied his intellectual force by detaching from it all
flaccid interests. He renounced mathematics and law, in which his reading
had been considerable,--all but the literature of the arts. Nothing was
to enter into his life unpenetrated by its central enthusiasm. At this
time he undergoes the charm of Voltaire. Voltaire belongs to that
flimsier, more artificial, classical tradition, which Winckelmann was one
day to supplant, by the clear ring, the eternal outline of the genuine
antique. But it proves the authority of such a gift as Voltaire's that it
allures and wins even those born to supplant it. Voltaire's impression on
Winckelmann was never effaced; and it gave him a consideration for French
literature which contrasts with his contempt for the literary products of
Germany. German literature transformed, siderealised, as we see it in
Goethe, reckons Winckelmann among its initiators. But Germany at that
time presented nothing in which he could have anticipated Iphigenie, and
the formation of an effective classical tradition in German literature.

Under this purely literary influence, Winckelmann protests against
Christian Wolff and the philosophers. Goethe, in speaking of this
protest, alludes to his own obligations to Emmanuel Kant. Kant's
influence over the culture of Goethe, which he tells us could not have
been resisted by him without loss, consisted in a severe limitation to
the concrete. But he adds, that in born antiquaries, like Winckelmann,
constant handling of the antique, with its eternal outline, maintains
that limitation as effectually as a critical philosophy. Plato, however,
saved so often for his redeeming literary manner, is excepted from
Winckelmann's proscription of the philosophers. The modern student most
often meets Plato on that side which seems to pass beyond Plato into a
world no longer pagan, based on the conception of a spiritual life. But
the element of affinity which he presents to Winckelmann is that which is
wholly Greek, and alien from the Christian world, represented by that
group of brilliant youths in the Lysis, still uninfected by any spiritual
sickness, finding the end of all endeavour in the aspects of the human
form, the continual stir and motion of a comely human life.

This new-found interest in Plato's dialogues could not fail to increase
his desire to visit the countries of the classical tradition. "It is my
misfortune," he writes, "that I was not born to great place, wherein I
might have had cultivation, and the opportunity of following my instinct
and forming myself." A visit to Rome probably was already purposed, and
he silently preparing for it. Count Buenau, the author of an historical
work then of note, had collected at Noethenitz a valuable library, now
part of the library of Dresden. In 1784 Winckelmann wrote to Buenau in
halting French:--He is emboldened, he says, by Buenau's indulgence for
needy men of letters. He desires only to devote himself to study, having
never allowed himself to be dazzled by favourable prospects of the
Church. He hints at his doubtful position "in a metaphysical age, when
humane literature is trampled under foot. At present," he goes on,
"little value is set on Greek literature, to which I have devoted myself
so far as I could penetrate, when good books are so scarce and
expensive." Finally, he desires a place in some corner of Buenau's
library. "Perhaps, at some future time, I shall become more useful to the
public, if, drawn from obscurity in whatever way, I can find means to
maintain myself in the capital."

Soon afterwards we find Winckelmann in the library at Noethenitz. Thence
he made many visits to the collection of antiquities at Dresden. He
became acquainted with many artists, above all with Oeser, Goethe's
future friend and master, who, uniting a high culture with the practical
knowledge of art, was fitted to minister to Winckelmann's culture. And
now there opened for him a new way of communion with the Greek life.
Hitherto he had handled the words only of Greek poetry, stirred indeed
and roused by them, yet divining beyond the words an unexpressed
pulsation of sensuous life. Suddenly he is in contact with that life,
still fervent in the relics of plastic art. Filled as our culture is with
the classical spirit, we can hardly imagine how deeply the human mind was
moved, when, at the Renaissance, in the midst of a frozen world, the
buried fire of ancient art rose up from under the soil. Winckelmann here
reproduces for us the earlier sentiment of the Renaissance. On a sudden
the imagination feels itself free. How facile and direct, it seems to
say, is this life of the senses and the understanding, when once we have
apprehended it! Here, surely, is the more liberal life we have been
seeking so long, so near to us all the while. How mistaken and roundabout
have been our efforts to reach it by mystic passion, and monastic
reverie; how they have deflowered the flesh; how little they have
emancipated us! Hermione melts from her stony posture, and the lost
proportions of life right themselves. Here, then, we see in vivid
realisation the native tendency of Winckelmann to escape from abstract
theory to intuition, to the exercise of sight and touch. Lessing, in the
Laocoon, has theorised finely on the relation of poetry to sculpture; and
philosophy can give us theoretical reasons why not poetry but sculpture
should be the most sincere and exact expression of the Greek ideal. By a
happy, unperplexed dexterity, Winckelmann solves the question in the
concrete. It is what Goethe calls his Gewahrwerden der griechischen
Kunst, his FINDING of Greek art.

Through the tumultuous richness of Goethe's culture, the influence of
Winckelmann is always discernible, as the strong, regulative
under-current of a clear, antique motive. "One learns nothing from him,"
he says to Eckermann, "but one becomes something." If we ask what the
secret of this influence was, Goethe himself will tell us--elasticity,
wholeness, intellectual integrity. And yet these expressions, because
they fit Goethe, with his universal culture, so well, seem hardly to
describe the narrow, exclusive interest of Winckelmann. Doubtless
Winckelmann's perfection is a narrow perfection: his feverish nursing of
the one motive of his life is a contrast to Goethe's various energy. But
what affected Goethe, what instructed him and ministered to his culture,
was the integrity, the truth to its type, of the given force. The
development of his force was the single interest of Winckelmann,
unembarrassed by anything else in him. Other interests, practical or
intellectual, those slighter talents and motives not supreme, which in
most men are the waste part of nature, and drain away their vitality, he
plucked out and cast from him. The protracted longing of his youth is not
a vague, romantic longing: he knows what he longs for, what he wills.
Within its severe limits his enthusiasm burns like lava. "You know," says
Lavater, speaking of Winckelmann's countenance, "that I consider ardour
and indifference by no means incompatible in the same character. If ever
there was a striking instance of that union, it is in the countenance
before us." "A lowly childhood," says Goethe, "insufficient instruction
in youth, broken, distracted studies in early manhood, the burden of
school-keeping! He was thirty years old before he enjoyed a single favour
of fortune: but as soon as he had attained to an adequate condition of
freedom, he appears before us consummate and entire, complete in the
ancient sense."

But his hair is turning grey, and he has not yet reached the south. The
Saxon court had become Roman Catholic, and the way to favour at Dresden
was through Romish ecclesiastics. Probably the thought of a profession of
the Romish religion was not new to Winckelmann. At one time he had
thought of begging his way to Rome, from cloister to cloister, under the
pretence of a disposition to change his faith. In 1751, the papal nuncio,
Archinto, was one of the visitors at Noethenitz. He suggested Rome as the
fitting stage for Winckelmann's attainments, and held out the hope of a
place in the papal library. Cardinal Passionei, charmed with
Winckelmann's beautiful Greek writing, was ready to play the part of
Maecenas, on condition that the necessary change should be made.
Winckelmann accepted the bribe, and visited the nuncio at Dresden.
Unquiet still at the word "profession," not without a struggle, he joined
the Romish Church, July the 11th, 1754.

Goethe boldly pleads that Winckelmann was a pagan, that the landmarks of
Christendom meant nothing to him. It is clear that he intended to deceive
no one by his disguise; fears of the inquisition are sometimes visible
during his life in Rome; he entered Rome notoriously with the works of
Voltaire in his possession; the thought of what Count Buenau might be
thinking of him seems to have been his greatest difficulty. On the other
hand, he may have had a sense of a certain antique, and as it were pagan
grandeur in the Roman Catholic religion. Turning from the crabbed
Protestantism, which had been the weariness of his youth, he might
reflect that while Rome had reconciled itself to the Renaissance, the
Protestant principle in art had cut off Germany from the supreme
tradition of beauty. And yet to that transparent nature, with its
simplicity as of the earlier world, the loss of absolute sincerity must
have been a real loss. Goethe understands that Winckelmann had made this
sacrifice. Yet at the bar of the highest criticism, perhaps, Winckelmann
may be absolved. The insincerity of his religious profession was only one
incident of a culture in which the moral instinct, like the religious or
political, was merged in the artistic. But then the artistic interest was
that by desperate faithfulness to which Winckelmann was saved from the
mediocrity, which, breaking through no bounds, moves ever in a bloodless
routine, and misses its one chance in the life of the spirit and the
intellect. There have been instances of culture developed by every high
motive in turn, and yet intense at every point; and the aim of our
culture should be to attain not only as intense but as complete a life as
possible. But often the higher life is only possible at all, on condition
of the selection of that in which one's motive is native and strong; and
this selection involves the renunciation of a crown reserved for others.
Which is better?--to lay open a new sense, to initiate a new organ for
the human spirit, or to cultivate many types of perfection up to a point
which leaves us still beyond the range of their transforming power?
Savonarola is one type of success; Winckelmann is another; criticism can
reject neither, because each is true to itself. Winckelmann himself
explains the motive of his life when he says, "It will be my highest
reward, if posterity acknowledges that I have written worthily."

For a time he remained at Dresden. There his first book appeared,
Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works of Art in Painting and
Sculpture. Full of obscurities as it was, obscurities which baffled but
did not offend Goethe when he first turned to art-criticism, its purpose
was direct--an appeal from the artificial classicism of the day to the
study of the antique. The book was well received, and a pension supplied
through the king's confessor. In September 1755 he started for Rome, in
the company of a young Jesuit. He was introduced to Raphael Mengs, a
painter then of note, and found a home near him, in the artists' quarter,
in a place where he could "overlook, far and wide, the eternal city." At
first he was perplexed with the sense of being a stranger on what was to
him, spiritually, native soil. "Unhappily," he cries in French, often
selected by him as the vehicle of strong feeling, "I am one of those whom
the Greeks call opsimatheis.--I have come into the world and into Italy
too late." More than thirty years afterwards, Goethe also, after many
aspirations and severe preparation of mind, visited Italy. In early
manhood, just as he too was FINDING Greek art, the rumour of that high
artist's life of Winckelmann in Italy had strongly moved him. At Rome,
spending a whole year drawing from the antique, in preparation for
Iphigenie, he finds the stimulus of Winckelmann's memory ever active.
Winckelmann's Roman life was simple, primeval, Greek. His delicate
constitution permitted him the use only of bread and wine. Condemned by
many as a renegade, he had no desire for places of honour, but only to
see his merits acknowledged, and existence assured to him. He was simple
without being niggardly; he desired to be neither poor nor rich.

Winckelmann's first years in Rome present all the elements of an
intellectual situation of the highest interest. The beating of the
intellect against its bars, the sombre aspect, the alien traditions, the
still barbarous literature of Germany, are afar off; before him are
adequate conditions of culture, the sacred soil itself, the first tokens
of the advent of the new German literature, with its broad horizons, its
boundless intellectual promise. Dante, passing from the darkness of the
Inferno, is filled with a sharp and joyful sense of light, which makes
him deal with it, in the opening of the Purgatorio, in a wonderfully
touching and penetrative way. Hellenism, which is the principle
pre-eminently of intellectual light (our modern culture may have more
colour, the medieval spirit greater heat and profundity, but Hellenism is
pre-eminent for light), has always been most effectively conceived by
those who have crept into it out of an intellectual world in which the
sombre elements predominate. So it had been in the ages of the
Renaissance. This repression, removed at last, gave force and glow to
Winckelmann's native affinity to the Hellenic spirit. "There had been
known before him," says Madame de Stael, "learned men who might be
consulted like books; but no one had, if I may say so, made himself a
pagan for the purpose of penetrating antiquity." "One is always a poor
executant of conceptions not one's own."--On execute mal ce qu'on n'a pas
concu soi-meme*--words spoken on so high an occasion--are true in their
measure of every genuine enthusiasm. Enthusiasm--that, in the broad
Platonic sense of the Phaedrus, was the secret of his divinatory power
over the Hellenic world. This enthusiasm, dependent as it is to a great
degree on bodily temperament, has a power of re-enforcing the purer
emotions of the intellect with an almost physical excitement. That his
affinity with Hellenism was not merely intellectual, that the subtler
threads of temperament were inwoven in it, is proved by his romantic,
fervent friendships with young men. He has known, he says, many young men
more beautiful than Guido's archangel. These friendships, bringing him in
contact with the pride of human form, and staining his thoughts with its
bloom, perfected his reconciliation with the spirit of Greek sculpture.
A letter on taste, addressed from Rome to a young nobleman, Friedrich von
Berg, is the record of such a friendship.

*Words of Charlotte Corday before the Convention.

"I shall excuse my delay," he begins, "in fulfilling my promise of an
essay on the taste for beauty in works of art, in the words of Pindar. He
says to Agesidamus, a youth of Locri--ideai te kalon, horai te
kekramenon--whom he had kept waiting for an intended ode, that a debt
paid with usury is the end of reproach. This may win your good-nature on
behalf of my present essay, which has turned out far more detailed and
circumstantial than I had at first intended.

"It is from yourself that the subject is taken. Our intercourse has been
short, too short both for you and me; but the first time I saw you, the
affinity of our spirits was revealed to me: your culture proved that my
hope was not groundless; and I found in a beautiful body a soul created
for nobleness, gifted with the sense of beauty. My parting from you was
therefore one of the most painful in my life; and that this feeling
continues our common friend is witness, for your separation from me
leaves me no hope of seeing you again. Let this essay be a memorial of
our friendship, which, on my side, is free from every selfish motive, and
ever remains subject and dedicate to yourself alone."

The following passage is characteristic--

"As it is confessedly the beauty of man which is to be conceived under
one general idea, so I have noticed that those who are observant of
beauty only in women, and are moved little or not at all by the beauty of
men, seldom have an impartial, vital, inborn instinct for beauty in art.
To such persons the beauty of Greek art will ever seem wanting, because
its supreme beauty is rather male than female. But the beauty of art
demands a higher sensibility than the beauty of nature, because the
beauty of art, like tears shed at a play, gives no pain, is without life,
and must be awakened and repaired by culture. Now, as the spirit of
culture is much more ardent in youth than in manhood, the instinct of
which I am speaking must be exercised and directed to what is beautiful,
before that age is reached, at which one would be afraid to confess that
one had no taste for it."

Certainly, of that beauty of living form which regulated Winckelmann's
friendships, it could not be said that it gave no pain. One notable
friendship, the fortune of which we may trace through his letters, begins
with an antique, chivalrous letter in French, and ends noisily in a burst
of angry fire. Far from reaching the quietism, the bland indifference of
art, such attachments are nevertheless more susceptible than any others
of equal strength of a purely intellectual culture. Of passion, of
physical excitement, they contain only just so much as stimulates the eye
to the finest delicacies of colour and form. These friendships, often the
caprices of a moment, make Winckelmann's letters, with their troubled
colouring, an instructive but bizarre addition to the History of Art,
that shrine of grave and mellow light for the mute Olympian family. The
impression which Winckelmann's literary life conveyed to those about him
was that of excitement, intuition, inspiration, rather than the
contemplative evolution of general principles. The quick, susceptible
enthusiast, betraying his temperament even in appearance, by his olive
complexion, his deep-seated, piercing eyes, his rapid movements,
apprehended the subtlest principles of the Hellenic manner, not through
the understanding, but by instinct or touch. A German biographer of
Winckelmann has compared him to Columbus. That is not the aptest of
comparisons; but it reminds one of a passage in which M. Edgar Quinet
describes the great discoverer's famous voyage. His science was often at
fault; but he had a way of estimating at once the slightest indication of
land, in a floating weed or passing bird; he seemed actually to come
nearer to nature than other men. And that world in which others had moved
with so much embarrassment, seems to call out in Winckelmann new senses
fitted to deal with it. He is in touch with it; it penetrates him, and
becomes part of his temperament. He remodels his writings with constant
renewal of insight; he catches the thread of a whole sequence of laws in
some hollowing of the hand, or dividing of the hair; he seems to realise
that fancy of the reminiscence of a forgotten knowledge hidden for a time
in the mind itself; as if the mind of one, lover and philosopher at once
in some phase of pre-existence-philosophesas pote met' erotos--fallen
into a new cycle, were beginning its intellectual culture over again, yet
with a certain power of anticipating its results. So comes the truth of
Goethe's judgments on his works; they are a life, a living thing,
designed for those who are alive--ein Lebendiges fuer die Lebendigen
geschrieben, ein Leben selbst.

In 1785 Cardinal Albani, who possessed in his Roman villa a precious
collection of antiquities, became Winckelmann's patron. Pompeii had just
opened its treasures; Winckelmann gathered its first-fruits. But his plan
of a visit to Greece remained unfulfilled. From his first arrival in Rome
he had kept the History of Ancient Art ever in view. All his other
writings were a preparation for that. It appeared, finally, in 1764; but
even after its publication Winckelmann was still employed in perfecting
it. It is since his time that many of the most significant examples of
Greek art have been submitted to criticism. He had seen little or nothing
of what we ascribe to the age of Pheidias; and his conception of Greek
art tends, therefore, to put the mere elegance of the imperial society of
ancient Rome in place of the severe and chastened grace of the palaestra.
For the most part he had to penetrate to Greek art through copies,
imitations, and later Roman art itself; and it is not surprising that
this turbid medium has left in Winckelmann's actual results much that a
more privileged criticism can correct.

He had been twelve years in Rome. Admiring Germany had many calls to him;
at last, in 1768, he set out to revisit the country of his birth; and as
he left Rome, a strange, inverted home-sickness, a strange reluctance to
leave it at all, came over him. He reached Vienna: there he was loaded
with honours and presents: other cities were awaiting him. Goethe, then
nineteen years old, studying art at Leipsic, was expecting his coming,
with that wistful eagerness which marked his youth, when the news of
Winckelmann's murder arrived. All that "weariness of the North" had
revived with double force. He left Vienna, intending to hasten back to
Rome. At Trieste a delay of a few days occurred. With characteristic
openness, Winckelmann had confided his plans to a fellow-traveller, a man
named Arcangeli, and had shown him the gold medals received at Vienna.
Arcangeli's avarice was aroused. One morning he entered Winckelmann's
room, under pretence of taking leave; Winckelmann was then writing
"memoranda for the future editor of the History of Art," still seeking
the perfection of his great work. Arcangeli begged to see the medals once
more. As Winckelmann stooped down to take them from the chest, a cord was
thrown round his neck. Some time afterwards, a child whose friendship
Winckelmann had made to beguile the delay, knocked at the door, and
receiving no answer, gave an alarm. Winckelmann was found dangerously
wounded, and died a few hours later, after receiving the sacraments of
the Romish Church. It seemed as if the gods, in reward for his devotion
to them, had given him a death which, for its swiftness and its
opportunity, he might well have desired. "He has," says Goethe, "the
advantage of figuring in the memory of posterity, as one eternally able
and strong; for the image in which one leaves the world is that in which
one moves among the shadows." Yet, perhaps, it is not fanciful to regret
that the meeting with Goethe did not take place. Goethe, then in all the
pregnancy of his wonderful youth, still unruffled by the press and storm
of his earlier manhood, was awaiting Winckelmann with a curiosity of the
worthiest kind. As it was, Winckelmann became to him something like what
Virgil was to Dante. And Winckelmann, with his fiery friendships, had
reached that age and that period of culture at which emotions hitherto
fitful, sometimes concentrate themselves in a vital, unchangeable
relationship. German literary history seems to have lost the chance of
one of those famous friendships, the very tradition of which becomes a
stimulus to culture, and exercises an imperishable influence.

In one of the frescoes of the Vatican, Raffaelle has commemorated the
tradition of the Catholic religion. Against a strip of peaceful sky,
broken in upon by the beatific vision, are ranged the great personages
of. Christian history, with the Sacrament in the midst. Another fresco of
Raffaelle in the same apartment presents a very different company, Dante
alone appearing in both. Surrounded by the muses of Greek mythology,
under a thicket of myrtles, sits Apollo, with the sources of Castalia at
his feet. On either side are grouped those on whom the spirit of Apollo
descended, the classical and Renaissance poets, to whom the waters of
Castalia come down, a river making glad this other city of God. In this
fresco it is the classical tradition, the orthodoxy of taste, that
Raffaelle commemorates. Winckelmann's intellectual history authenticates
the claims of this tradition in human culture. In the countries where
that tradition arose, where it still lurked about its own artistic
relics, and changes of language had not broken its continuity, national
pride might sometimes light up anew an enthusiasm for it. Aliens might
imitate that enthusiasm, and classicism become from time to time an
intellectual fashion. But Winckelmann was not further removed by
language, than by local aspects and associations, from those vestiges of
the classical spirit; and he lived at a time when, in Germany, classical
studies were out of favour. Yet, remote in time and place, he feels after
the Hellenic world, divines the veins of ancient art, in which its life
still circulates, and, like Scyles, the half-barbarous yet Hellenising
king, in the beautiful story of Herodotus, is irresistibly attracted by
it. This testimony to the authority of the Hellenic tradition, its
fitness to satisfy some vital requirement of the intellect, which
Winckelmann contributes as a solitary man of genius, is offered also by
the general history of culture. The spiritual forces of the past, which
have prompted and informed the culture of a succeeding age, live, indeed,
within that culture, but with an absorbed, underground life. The Hellenic
element alone has not been so absorbed, or content with this underground
life; from time to time it has started to the surface; culture has been
drawn back to its sources to be clarified and corrected. Hellenism is not
merely an absorbed element in our intellectual life; it is a conscious
tradition in it.

Again, individual genius works ever under conditions of time and place:
its products are coloured by the varying aspects of nature, and type of
human form, and outward manners of life. There is thus an element of
change in art; criticism must never for a moment forget that "the artist
is the child of his time." But besides these conditions of time and
place, and independent of them, there is also an element of permanence, a
standard of taste, which genius confesses. This standard is maintained in
a purely intellectual tradition; it acts upon the artist, not as one of
the influences of his own age, but by means of the artistic products of
the previous generation, which in youth have excited, and at the same
time directed into a particular channel, his sense of beauty. The supreme
artistic products of each generation thus form a series of elevated
points, taking each from each the reflexion of a strange light, the
source of which is not in the atmosphere around and above them, but in a
stage of society remote from ours. This standard takes its rise in
Greece, at a definite historical period. A tradition for all succeeding
generations, it originates in a spontaneous growth out of the influences
of Greek society. What were the conditions under which this ideal, this
standard of artistic orthodoxy, was generated? How was Greece enabled to
force its thought upon Europe?

Greek art, when we first catch sight of it, is entangled with Greek
religion. We are accustomed to think of Greek religion as the religion of
art and beauty, the religion of which the Olympian Zeus and the Athena
Polias are the idols, the poems of Homer the sacred books. Thus Cardinal
Newman speaks of "the classical polytheism which was gay and graceful, as
was natural in a civilised age." Yet such a view is only a partial one;
in it the eye is fixed on the sharp, bright edge of high Hellenic culture
but loses sight of the sombre world across which it strikes. Greek
religion, where we can observe it most distinctly, is at once a
magnificent ritualistic system, and a cycle of poetical conceptions.
Religions, as they grow by natural laws out of man's life, are modified
by whatever modifies his life. They brighten under a bright sky, they
become liberal as the social range widens, they grow intense and shrill
in the clefts of human life, where the spirit is narrow and confined, and
the stars are visible at noonday; and a fine analysis of these
differences is one of the gravest functions of religious criticism.
Still, the broad foundation, in mere human nature, of all religions as
they exist for the greatest number, is a universal pagan sentiment, a
paganism which existed before the Greek religion, and has lingered far
onward into the Christian world, ineradicable, like some persistent
vegetable growth, because its seed is an element of the very soil out of
which it springs. This pagan sentiment measures the sadness with which
the human mind is filled, whenever its thoughts wander far from what is
here, and now. It is beset by notions of irresistible natural powers, for
the most part ranged against man, but the secret also of his fortune,
making the earth golden and the grape fiery for him. He makes gods in his
own image, gods smiling and flower-crowned, or bleeding by some sad
fatality, to console him by their wounds, never closed from generation to
generation. It is with a rush of home-sickness that the thought of death
presents itself. He would remain at home for ever on the earth if he
could: as it loses its colour and the senses fail, he clings ever closer
to it; but since the mouldering of bones and flesh must go on to the end,
he is careful for charms and talismans, that may chance to have some
friendly power in them, when the inevitable shipwreck comes. Such
sentiment is a part of the eternal basis of all religions, modified
indeed by changes of time and place, but indestructible, because its root
is so deep in the earth of man's nature. The breath of religious
initiators passes over them; a few "rise up with wings as eagles," but
the broad level of religious life is not permanently changed. Religious
progress, like all purely spiritual progress, is confined to a few. This
sentiment fixes itself in the earliest times to certain usages of
patriarchal life, the kindling of fire, the washing of the body, the
slaughter of the flock, the gathering of harvest, holidays and dances.
Here are the beginnings of a ritual, at first as occasional and unfixed
as the sentiment which it expresses, but destined to become the permanent
element of religious life. The usages of patriarchal life change; but
this germ of ritual remains, developing, but always in a religious
interest, losing its domestic character, and therefore becoming more and
more inexplicable with each generation. This pagan worship, in spite of
local variations, essentially one, is an element in all religions. It is
the anodyne which the religious principle, like one administering opiates
to the incurable, has added to the law which makes life sombre for the
vast majority of mankind.

More definite religious conceptions come from other sources, and fix
themselves upon this ritual in various ways, changing it, and giving it
new meanings. In Greece they were derived from mythology, itself not due
to a religious source at all, but developing in the course of time into a
body of religious conceptions, entirely human in form and character. To
the unprogressive ritual element it brought these conceptions,
itself--he pterou dunamis, the power of the wing--an element of
refinement, of ascension, with the promise of an endless destiny. While
the ritual remains fixed, the aesthetic element, only accidentally
connected with it, expands with the freedom and mobility of the things of
the intellect. Always, the fixed element is the religious observance; the
fluid, unfixed element is the myth, the religious conception. This
religion is itself pagan, and has in any broad view of it the pagan
sadness. It does not at once, and for the majority, become the higher
Hellenic religion. The country people, of course, cherish the unlovely
idols of an earlier time, such as those which Pausanias found still
devoutly preserved in Arcadia. Athenaeus tells the story of one who,
coming to a temple of Latona, had expected to find some worthy
presentment of the mother of Apollo, and laughed on seeing only a
shapeless wooden figure. The wilder people have wilder gods, which,
however, in Athens, or Corinth, or Lacedaemon, changing ever with the
worshippers in whom they live and move and have their being, borrow
something of the lordliness and distinction of human nature there. Greek
religion too has its mendicants, its purifications, its antinomian
mysticism, its garments offered to the gods, its statues worn with
kissing, its exaggerated superstitions for the vulgar only, its worship
of sorrow, its addolorata, its mournful mysteries. Scarcely a wild or
melancholy note of the medieval church but was anticipated by Greek
polytheism! What should we have thought of the vertiginous prophetess at
the very centre of Greek religion? The supreme Hellenic culture is a
sharp edge of light across this gloom. The fiery, stupefying wine becomes
in a happier region clear and exhilarating. The Dorian worship of Apollo,
rational, chastened, debonair, with his unbroken daylight, always opposed
to the sad Chthonian divinities, is the aspiring element, by force and
spring of which Greek religion sublimes itself. Out of Greek religion,
under happy conditions, arises Greek art, to minister to human culture.
It was the privilege of Greek religion to be able to transform itself
into an artistic ideal.

For the thoughts of the Greeks about themselves, and their relation to
the world generally, were ever in the happiest readiness to be
transformed into objects for the senses. In this lies the main
distinction between Greek art and the mystical art of the Christian
middle age, which is always struggling to express thoughts beyond itself.
Take, for instance, a characteristic work of the middle age, Angelico's
Coronation of the Virgin, in the cloister of Saint Mark's at Florence. In
some strange halo of a moon Christ and the Virgin Mary are sitting, clad
in mystical white raiment, half shroud, half priestly linen. Our Lord,
with rosy nimbus and the long pale hair--tanquam lana alba et tanquam
nix--of the figure in the Apocalypse, sets with slender finger-tips a
crown of pearl on the head of his mother, who, corpse-like in her
refinement, is bending forward to receive it, the light lying like snow
upon her forehead. Certainly, it cannot be said of Angelico's fresco that
it throws into a sensible form our highest thoughts about man and his
relation to the world; but it did not do this adequately even for
Angelico. For him, all that is outward or sensible in his work--the hair
like wool, the rosy nimbus, the crown of pearl--is only the symbol or
type of an inexpressible world, to which he wishes to direct the
thoughts; he would have shrunk from the notion that what the eye
apprehended was all. Such forms of art, then, are inadequate to the
matter they clothe; they remain ever below its level. Something of this
kind is true also of oriental art. As in the middle age from an
exaggerated inwardness, so in the East from a vagueness, a want of
definition, in thought, the matter presented to art is unmanageable:
forms of sense struggle vainly with it. The many-headed gods of the East,
the orientalised Diana of Ephesus, with its numerous breasts, like
Angelico's fresco, are at best overcharged symbols, a means of hinting at
an idea which art cannot adequately express, which still remains in the
world of shadows.

But take a work of Greek art,--the Venus of Melos. That is in no sense a
symbol, a suggestion of anything beyond its own victorious fairness. The
mind begins and ends with the finite image, yet loses no part of the
spiritual motive. That motive is not lightly and loosely attached to the
sensuous form, as the meaning to the allegory, but saturates and is
identical with it. The Greek mind had advanced to a particular stage of
self-reflexion, but was careful not to pass beyond it. In oriental
thought there is a vague conception of life everywhere, but no true
appreciation of itself by the mind, no knowledge of the distinction of
man's nature: in its consciousness of itself, humanity is still confused
with the fantastic, indeterminate life of the animal and vegetable world.
In Greek thought the "lordship of the soul" is recognised; that lordship
gives authority and divinity to human eyes and hands and feet; inanimate
nature is thrown into the background. But there Greek thought finds its
happy limit; it has not yet become too inward; the mind has not begun to
boast of its independence of the flesh; the spirit has not yet absorbed
everything with its emotions, nor reflected its own colour everywhere.
It has indeed committed itself to a train of reflexion which must end in
a defiance of form, of all that is outward, in an exaggerated idealism.
But that end is still distant: it has not yet plunged into the depths of
religious mysticism.

This ideal art, in which the thought does not outstrip or lie beyond its
sensible embodiment, could not have arisen out of a phase of life that
was uncomely or poor. That delicate pause in Greek reflexion was joined,
by some supreme good luck, to the perfect animal nature of the Greeks.
Here are the two conditions of an artistic ideal. The influences which
perfected the animal nature of the Greeks are part of the process by
which the ideal was evolved. Those "Mothers" who, in the second part of
Faust, mould and remould the typical forms which appear in human history,
preside, at the beginning of Greek culture, over such a concourse of
happy physical conditions as ever generates by natural laws some rare
type of intellectual or spiritual life. That delicate air, "nimbly and
sweetly recommending itself" to the senses, the finer aspects of nature,
the finer lime and clay of the human form, and modelling of the dainty
framework of the human countenance:--these are the good luck of the Greek
when he enters upon life. Beauty becomes a distinction, like genius, or
noble place.

"By no people," says Winckelmann, "has beauty been so highly esteemed as
by the Greeks. The priests of a youthful Jupiter at Aegae, of the
Ismenian Apollo, and the priest who at Tanagra led the procession of
Mercury, bearing a lamb upon his shoulders, were always youths to whom
the prize of beauty had been awarded. The citizens of Egesta, in Sicily,
erected a monument to a certain Philip, who was not their fellow-citizen,
but of Croton, for his distinguished beauty; and the people made
offerings at it. In an ancient song, ascribed to Simonides or Epicharmus,
of four wishes, the first was health, the second beauty. And as beauty
was so longed for and prized by the Greeks, every beautiful person sought
to become known to the whole people by this distinction, and above all to
approve himself to the artists, because they awarded the prize; and this
was for the artists an opportunity of having supreme beauty ever before
their eyes. Beauty even gave a right to fame; and we find in Greek
histories the most beautiful people distinguished. Some were famous for
the beauty of one single part of their form; as Demetrius Phalereus, for
his beautiful eyebrows, was called Charito-blepharos. It seems even to
have been thought that the procreation of beautiful children might be
promoted by prizes: this is shown by the existence of contests for
beauty, which in ancient times were established by Cypselus, King of
Arcadia, by the river Alpheus; and, at the feast of Apollo of Philae, a
prize was offered to the youths for the deftest kiss. This was decided by
an umpire; as also at Megara, by the grave of Diodes. At Sparta, and at
Lesbos, in the temple of Juno, and among the Parrhasii, there were
contests for beauty among women. The general esteem for beauty went so
far, that the Spartan women set up in their bedchambers a Nireus, a
Narcissus, or a Hyacinth, that they might bear beautiful children."

So, from a few stray antiquarianisms, a few faces cast up sharply from
the waves, Winckelmann, as his manner is, divines the temperament of the
antique world, and that in which it had delight. It has passed away with
that distant age, and we may venture to dwell upon it. What sharpness and
reality it has is the sharpness and reality of suddenly arrested life.
The Greek system of gymnastics originated as part of a religious ritual.
The worshipper was to recommend himself to the gods by becoming fleet and
fair, white and red, like them. The beauty of the palaestra, and the
beauty of the artist's studio, reacted on each other. The youth tried to
rival his gods; and his increased beauty passed back into them.--"I take
the gods to witness, I had rather have a fair body than a king's
crown"--Omnumi pantas theous me helesthai an ten basileos arkhen anti tou
kalos einai.--That is the form in which one age of the world chose the
higher life--a perfect world, if the gods could have seemed for ever only
fleet and fair, white and red. Let us not regret that this unperplexed
youth of humanity, seeing itself and satisfied, passed, at the due
moment, into a mournful maturity; for already the deep joy was in store
for the spirit, of finding the ideal of that youth still red with life in
the grave.

It followed that the Greek ideal expressed itself pre-eminently in
sculpture. All art has a sensuous element, colour, form, sound--in poetry
a dexterous recalling of these, together with the profound, joyful
sensuousness of motion: each of these may be a medium for the ideal: it
is partly accident which in any individual case makes the born artist,
poet, or painter rather than sculptor. But as the mind itself has had an
historical development, one form of art, by the very limitations of its
material, may be more adequate than another for the expression of any one
phase of its experience. Different attitudes of the imagination have a
native affinity with different types of sensuous form, so that they
combine, with completeness and ease. The arts may thus be ranged in a
series, which corresponds to a series of developments in the human mind
itself. Architecture, which begins in a practical need, can only express
by vague hint or symbol the spirit or mind of the artist. He closes his
sadness over him, or wanders in the perplexed intricacies of things, or
projects his purpose from him clean-cut and sincere, or bares himself to
the sunlight. But these spiritualities, felt rather than seen, can but
lurk about architectural form as volatile effects, to be gathered from it
by reflexion; their expression is not really sensuous at all. As human
form is not the subject with which it deals, architecture is the mode in
which the artistic effort centres, when the thoughts of man concerning
himself are still indistinct, when he is still little preoccupied with
those harmonies, storms, victories, of the unseen and intellectual world,
which, wrought out into the bodily form, give it an interest and
significance communicable to it alone. The art of Egypt, with its supreme
architectural effects, is, according to Hegel's beautiful comparison, a
Memnon waiting for the day, the day of the Greek spirit, the humanistic
spirit, with its power of speech. Again, painting, music, and poetry,
with their endless power of complexity, are the special arts of the
romantic and modern ages. Into these, with the utmost attenuation of
detail, may be translated every delicacy of thought and feeling,
incidental to a consciousness brooding with delight over itself. Through
their gradations of shade, their exquisite intervals, they project in an
external form that which is most inward in humour, passion, sentiment.
Between architecture and the romantic arts of painting, music, and
poetry, comes sculpture, which, unlike architecture, deals immediately
with man, while it contrasts with the romantic arts, because it is not
self-analytical. It has to do more exclusively than any other art with
the human form, itself one entire medium of spiritual expression,
trembling, blushing, melting into dew, with inward excitement. That
spirituality which only lurks about architecture as a volatile effect, in
sculpture takes up the whole given material, and penetrates it with an
imaginative motive; and at first sight sculpture, with its solidity of
form, seems a thing more real and full than the faint, abstract world of
poetry or painting. Still the fact is the reverse. Discourse and action
show man as he is, more directly than the springing of the muscles and
the moulding of the flesh; and over these poetry has command. Painting,
by the flushing of colour in the face and dilatation of light in the
eye--music, by its subtle range of tones--can refine most delicately upon
a single moment of passion, unravelling its finest threads.

But why should sculpture thus limit itself to pure form? Because, by this
limitation, it becomes a perfect medium of expression for one peculiar
motive of the imaginative intellect. It therefore renounces all these
attributes of its material which do not help forward that motive. It has
had, indeed, from the beginning an unfixed claim to colour; but this
element of colour in it has always been more or less conventional, with
no melting or modulation of tones, never admitting more than a very
limited realism. It was maintained chiefly as a religious tradition. In
proportion as the art of sculpture ceased to be merely decorative, and
subordinate to architecture, it threw itself upon pure form. It renounces
the power of expression by sinking or heightening tones. In it, no member
of the human form is more significant than the rest; the eye is wide, and
without pupil; the lips and brow are hardly less significant than hands,
and breasts, and feet. The limitation of its resources is part of its
pride it has no backgrounds, no sky or atmosphere, to suggest and
interpret a train of feeling; a little of suggested motion, and much of
pure light on its gleaming surfaces, with pure form--only these. And it
gains more than it loses by this limitation to its own distinguishing
motives; it unveils man in the repose of his unchanging characteristics.
Its white light, purged from the angry, bloodlike stains of action and
passion, reveals, not what is accidental in man, but the god in him, as
opposed to man's restless movement. The art of sculpture records the
first naive, unperplexed recognition of man by himself; and it is a proof
of the high artistic capacity of the Greeks, that they apprehended and
remained true to these exquisite limitations, yet, in spite of them, gave
to their creations a vital and mobile individuality.

Heiterkeit--blitheness or repose, and Allgemeinheit--generality or
breadth, are, then, the supreme characteristics of the Hellenic ideal.
But that generality or breadth has nothing in common with the lax
observation, the unlearned thought, the flaccid execution, which have
sometimes claimed superiority in art, on the plea of being "broad" or
"general." Hellenic breadth and generality come of a culture minute,
severe, constantly renewed, rectifying and concentrating its impressions
into certain pregnant types. The base of all artistic genius is the power
of conceiving humanity in a new, striking, rejoicing way, of putting a
happy world of its own creation in place of the meaner world of common
days, of generating around itself an atmosphere with a novel power of
refraction, selecting, transforming, recombining the images it transmits,
according to the choice of the imaginative intellect. In exercising this
power, painting and poetry have a choice of subject almost unlimited.
The range of characters or persons open to them is as various as life
itself; no character, however trivial, misshapen, or unlovely, can resist
their magic. That is because those arts can accomplish their function in
the choice and development of some special situation, which lifts or
glorifies a character, in itself not poetical. To realise this situation,
to define in a chill and empty atmosphere, the focus where rays, in
themselves pale and impotent, unite and begin to burn, the artist has to
employ the most cunning detail, to complicate and refine upon thought and
passion a thousand-fold. The poems of Robert Browning supply brilliant
examples of this power. His poetry is pre-eminently the poetry of
situations. The characters themselves are always of secondary importance;
often they are characters in themselves of little interest; they seem to
come to him by strange accidents from the ends of the world. His gift is
shown by the way in which he accepts such a character, and throws it into
some situation, or apprehends it in some delicate pause of life, in which
for a moment it becomes ideal. Take an instance from Dramatis Personae.
In the poem entitled Le Byron de nos Jours, we have a single moment of
passion thrown into relief in this exquisite way. Those two jaded
Parisians are not intrinsically interesting; they only begin to interest
us when thrown into a choice situation. But to discriminate that moment,
to make it appreciable by us, that we may "find" it, what a cobweb of
allusions, what double and treble reflexions of the mind upon itself,
what an artificial light is constructed and broken over the chosen
situation; on how fine a needle's point that little world of passion is
balanced! Yet, in spite of this intricacy, the poem has the clear ring of
a central motive; we receive from it the impression of one imaginative
tone, of a single creative act.

To produce such effects at all requires all the resources of painting,
with its power of indirect expression, of subordinate but significant
detail, its atmosphere, its foregrounds and backgrounds. To produce them
in a pre-eminent degree requires all the resources of poetry, language in
its most purged form, its remote associations and suggestions, its double
and treble lights. These appliances sculpture cannot command. In it,
therefore, not the special situation, but the type, the general character
of the subject to be delineated, is all-important. In poetry and
painting, the situation predominates over the character; in sculpture,
the character over the situation. Excluded by the limitations of its
material from the development of exquisite situations, it has to choose
from a select number of types intrinsically interesting--interesting,
that is, independently of any special situation into which they may be
thrown. Sculpture finds the secret of its power in presenting these
types, in their broad, central, incisive lines. This it effects not by
accumulation of detail, but by abstracting from it. All that is
accidental, all that distracts the simple effect upon us of the supreme
types of humanity, all traces in them of the commonness of the world, it
gradually purges away.

Works of art produced under this law, and only these, are really
characterised by Hellenic generality or breadth. In every direction it is
a law of limitation; it keeps passion always below that degree of
intensity at which it must necessarily be transitory, never winding up
the features to one note of anger, or desire, or surprise. In some of the
feebler allegorical designs of the middle age, we find isolated qualities
portrayed as by so many masks; its religious art has familiarised us with
faces fixed immovably into blank types of placid reverie; and men and
women, in the hurry of life, often wear the sharp impress of one
absorbing motive, from which it is said death sets their features free.
All such instances may be ranged under the grotesque; and the Hellenic
ideal has nothing in common with the grotesque. It allows passion to play
lightly over the surface of the individual form, losing thereby nothing
of its central impassivity, its depth and repose. To all but the highest
culture, the reserved faces of the gods will ever have something of
insipidity. Again, in the best Greek sculpture, the archaic immobility
has been thawed, its forms are in motion; but it is a motion ever kept in
reserve, which is very seldom committed to any definite action. Endless
as are the attitudes of Greek sculpture, exquisite as is the invention of
the Greeks in this direction, the actions or situations it permits are
simple and few. There is no Greek Madonna; the goddesses are always
childless. The actions selected are those which would be without
significance, except in a divine person--binding on a sandal or preparing
for the bath. When a more complex and significant action is permitted, it
is most often represented as just finished, so that eager expectancy is
excluded, as in the image of Apollo just after the slaughter of the
Python, or of Venus with the apple of Paris already in her hand. The
Laocoon, with all that patient science through which it has triumphed
over an almost unmanageable subject, marks a period in which sculpture
has begun to aim at effects legitimate, because delightful, only in
painting. The hair, so rich a source of expression in painting, because,
relatively to the eye or to the lip, it is mere drapery, is withdrawn
from attention; its texture, as well as the colour, is lost, its
arrangement faintly and severely indicated, with no enmeshed or broken
light. The eyes are wide and directionless, not fixing anything with
their gaze, or riveting the brain to any special external object; the
brows without hair. It deals almost exclusively with youth, where the
moulding of the bodily organs is still as if suspended between growth and
completion, indicated but not emphasised; where the transition from curve
to curve is so delicate and elusive, that Winckelmann compares it to a
quiet sea, which, although we understand it to be in motion, we
nevertheless regard as an image of repose; where, therefore, the exact
degree of development is so hard to apprehend. If one had to choose a
single product of Hellenic art, to save in the wreck of all the rest, one
would choose from the "beautiful multitude" of the Panathenaic frieze,
that line of youths on horseback, with their level glances, their proud,
patient lips, their chastened reins, their whole bodies in exquisite
service. This colourless, unclassified purity of life, with its blending
and interpenetration of intellectual, spiritual, and physical elements,
still folded together, pregnant with the possibilities of a whole world
closed within it, is the highest expression of that indifference which
lies beyond all that is relative or partial. Everywhere there is the
effect of an awaking, of a child's sleep just disturbed. All these
effects are united in a single instance--the adorante of the museum of
Berlin, a youth who has gained the wrestler's prize, with hands lifted
and open, in praise for the victory. Fresh, unperplexed, it is the image
of man as he springs first from the sleep of nature; his white light
taking no colour from any one-sided experience, characterless, so far as
character involves subjection to the accidental influences of life.

"This sense," says Hegel, "for the consummate modelling of divine and
human forms was pre-eminently at home in Greece. In its poets and
orators, its historians and philosophers, Greece cannot be conceived from
a central point, unless one brings, as a key to the understanding of it,
an insight into the ideal forms of sculpture, and regards the images of
statesmen and philosophers, as well as epic and dramatic heroes, from the
artistic point of view; for those who act, as well as those who create
and think, have, in those beautiful days of Greece, this plastic
character. They are great and free, and have grown up on the soil of
their own individuality, creating themselves out of themselves, and
moulding themselves to what they were, and willed to be. The age of
Pericles was rich in such characters; Pericles himself, Pheidias, Plato,
above all Sophocles, Thucydides also, Xenophon and Socrates, each in his
own order, the perfection of one remaining undiminished by that of the
others. They are ideal artists of themselves, cast each in one flawless
mould, works of art, which stand before us as an immortal presentment of
the gods. Of this modelling also are those bodily works of art, the
victors in the Olympic games; yes, and even Phryne, who, as the most
beautiful of women, ascended naked out of the water, in the presence of
assembled Greece."

This key to the understanding of the Greek spirit, Winckelmann possessed
in his own nature, itself like a relic of classical antiquity, laid open
by accident to our alien modern atmosphere. To the criticism of that
consummate Greek modelling he brought not only his culture but his
temperament. We have seen how definite was the leading motive of his
culture; how, like some central root-fibre, it maintained the
well-rounded unity of his life through a thousand distractions.
Interests not his, nor meant for him, never disturbed him. In morals, as
in criticism, he followed the clue of an unerring instinct. Penetrating
into the antique world by his passion, his temperament, he enunciates no
formal principles, always hard and one-sided. Minute and anxious as his
culture was, he never became one-sidedly self-analytical. Occupied ever
with himself, perfecting himself and cultivating his genius, he was not
content, as so often happens with such natures, that the atmosphere
between him and other minds should be thick and clouded; he was ever
jealously refining his meaning into a form, express, clear, objective.
This temperament he nurtured and invigorated by friendships which kept
him ever in direct contact with the spirit of youth. The beauty of the
Greek statues was a sexless beauty; the statues of the gods had the least
traces of sex. Here there is a moral sexlessness, a kind of ineffectual
wholeness of nature, yet with a true beauty and significance of its own.

One result of this temperament is a serenity--Heiterkeit--which
characterises Winckelmann's handling of the sensuous side of Greek art.
This serenity is, perhaps, in great measure, a negative quality; it is
the absence of any sense of want, or corruption, or shame. With the
sensuous element in Greek art he deals in the pagan manner; and what is
implied in that? It has been sometimes said that art is a means of escape
from "the tyranny of the senses." It may be so for the spectator; he may
find that the spectacle of supreme works of art takes from the life of
the senses something of its turbid fever. But this is possible for the
spectator only because the artist, in producing those works, has
gradually sunk his intellectual and spiritual ideas in sensuous form. He
may live, as Keats lived, a pure life; but his soul, like that of Plato's
false astronomer, becomes more and more immersed in sense, until nothing
which lacks an appeal to sense has interest for him. How could such an
one ever again endure the greyness of the ideal or spiritual world? The
spiritualist is satisfied in seeing the sensuous elements escape from his
conceptions; his interest grows, as the dyed garment bleaches in the
keener air. But the artist steeps his thought again and again into the
fire of colour. To the Greek this immersion in the sensuous was
indifferent. Greek sensuousness, therefore, does not fever the blood; it
is shameless and childlike. Christian asceticism, on the other hand,
discrediting the slightest touch of sense, has from time to time provoked
into strong emphasis the contrast or antagonism to itself, of the
artistic life, with its inevitable sensuousness.--I did but taste a
little honey with the end of the rod that was in mine hand, and lo, I
must die!--It has sometimes seemed hard to pursue that life without
something of conscious disavowal of a spiritual world; and this imparts
to genuine artistic interests a kind of intoxication. From this
intoxication Winckelmann is free; he fingers those pagan marbles with
unsinged hands, with no sense of shame or loss. That is to deal with the
sensuous side of art in the pagan manner.

The longer we contemplate that Hellenic ideal, in which man is at unity
with himself, with his physical nature, with the outward world, the more
we may be inclined to regret that he should ever have passed beyond it,
to contend for a perfection that makes the blood turbid, and frets the
flesh, and discredits the actual world about us. But if he was to be
saved from the ennui which ever attaches itself to realisation, even the
realisation of perfection, it was necessary that a conflict should come,
and some sharper note grieve the perfect harmony, to the end that the
spirit chafed by it might beat out at last a larger and profounder music.
In Greek tragedy this conflict has begun; man finds himself face to face
with rival claims. Greek tragedy shows how such a conflict may be treated
with serenity, how the evolution of it may be a spectacle of the dignity,
not of the impotence, of the human spirit. But it is not only in tragedy
that the Greek spirit showed itself capable of thus winning joy out of
matter in itself full of discouragements. Theocritus, too, often strikes
a note of romantic sadness. But what a blithe and steady poise, above
these discouragements, in a clear and sunny stratum of the air!

Into this stage of Greek achievement Winckelmann did not enter. Supreme
as he is where his true interest lay, his insight into the typical unity
and repose of the highest sort of sculpture seems to have involved
limitation in another direction. His conception of art excludes that
bolder type of it which deals confidently and serenely with life,
conflict, evil. Living in a world of exquisite but abstract and
colourless form, he could hardly have conceived of the subtle and
penetrative, but somewhat grotesque art of the modern world. What would
he have thought of Gilliatt, in Victor Hugo's Travailleurs de la Mer, or
of the bleeding mouth of Fantine in the first part of Les Miserables,
penetrated as it is with a sense of beauty, as lively and transparent as
that of a Greek? There is even a sort of preparation for the romantic
temper within the limits of the Greek ideal itself, which Winckelmann
failed to see. For Greek religion has not merely its mournful mysteries
of Adonis, of Hyacinthus, of Demeter, but it is conscious also of the
fall of earlier divine dynasties. Hyperion gives way to Apollo, Oceanus
to Poseidon. Around the feet of that tranquil Olympian family still crowd
the weary shadows of an earlier, more formless, divine world. Even their
still minds are troubled with thoughts of a limit to duration, of
inevitable decay, of dispossession. Again, the supreme and colourless
abstraction of those divine forms, which is the secret of their repose,
is also a premonition of the fleshless, consumptive refinements of the
pale medieval artists. That high indifference to the outward, that
impassivity, has already a touch of the corpse in it; we see already
Angelico and the Master of the Passion in the artistic future. The
crushing of the sensuous, the shutting of the door upon it, the ascetic
interest, is already traceable. Those abstracted gods, "ready to melt out
their essence fine into the winds," who can fold up their flesh as a
garment, and still remain themselves, seem already to feel that bleak
air, in which, like Helen of Troy, they wander as the spectres of the
middle age.

Gradually, as the world came into the church, an artistic interest,
native in the human soul, reasserted its claims. But Christian art was
still dependent on pagan examples, building the shafts of pagan temples
into its churches, perpetuating the form of the basilica, in later times
working the disused amphitheatres as quarries. The sensuous expression of
conceptions which unreservedly discredit the world of sense, was the
delicate problem which Christian art had before it. If we think of
medieval painting, as it ranges from the early German schools, still with
something of the air of the charnel-house about them, to the clear
loveliness of Perugino, we shall see how that problem was solved. Even in
the worship of sorrow the native blitheness of art asserted itself; the
religious spirit, as Hegel says, "smiled through its tears." So perfectly
did the young Raffaelle infuse that Heiterkeit, that pagan blitheness,
into religious works, that his picture of Saint Agatha at Bologna became
to Goethe a step in the evolution of Iphigenie.* But in proportion as
this power of smiling was found again, there came also an aspiration
towards that lost antique art, some relics of which Christian art had
buried in itself, ready to work wonders when their day came.

*Italiaenische Reise. Bologna, 19 Oct. 1776.

The history of art has suffered as much as any history by trenchant and
absolute divisions. Pagan and Christian art are sometimes harshly
opposed, and the Renaissance is represented as a fashion which set in at
a definite period. That is the superficial view: the deeper view is that
which preserves the identity of European culture. The two are really
continuous; and there is a sense in which it may be said that the
Renaissance was an uninterrupted effort of the middle age, that it was
ever taking place. When the actual relics of the antique were restored to
the world, in the view of the Christian ascetic it was as if an ancient
plague-pit had been opened: all the world took the contagion of the life
of nature and of the senses. And now it was seen that the medieval spirit
too had done something for the destiny of the antique. By hastening the
decline of art, by withdrawing interest from it, and yet keeping unbroken
the thread of its traditions, it had suffered the human mind to repose
that it might awake when day came, with eyes refreshed, to those antique

The aim of a right criticism is to place Winckelmann in an intellectual
perspective, of which Goethe is the foreground. For, after all, he is
infinitely less than Goethe; it is chiefly because at certain points he
comes in contact with Goethe, that criticism entertains consideration of
him. His relation to modern culture is a peculiar one. He is not of the
modern world; nor is he of the eighteenth century, although so much of
his outer life is characteristic of it. But that note of revolt against
the eighteenth century, which we detect in Goethe, was struck by
Winckelmann. Goethe illustrates that union of the Romantic spirit, in its
adventure, its variety, its profound subjectivity of soul, with
Hellenism, in its transparency, its rationality, its desire of
Beauty--that marriage of Faust and Helena--of which the art of the
nineteenth century is the child, the beautiful lad Euphorion, as Goethe
conceives him, on the crags, in the "splendour of battle and in harness
as for victory," his brows bound with light.* Goethe illustrates, too,
the preponderance in this marriage of the Hellenic element; and that
element, in its true essence, was made known to him by Winckelmann.

*Faust, Th. ii. Act. 3.

Breadth, centrality, with blitheness and repose, are the marks of
Hellenic culture. Is that culture a lost art? The local, accidental
colouring of its own age has passed from it; the greatness that is dead
looks greater when every link with what is slight and vulgar has been
severed; we can only see it at all in the reflected, refined light which
a high education creates for us. Can we bring down that ideal into the
gaudy, perplexed light of modern life?

Certainly, for us of the modern world, with its conflicting claims, its
entangled interests, distracted by so many sorrows, so many
preoccupations, so bewildering an experience, the problem of unity with
ourselves, in blitheness and repose, is far harder than it was for the
Greek within the simple terms of antique life. Yet, not less than ever,
the intellect demands completeness, centrality. It is this which
Winckelmann imprints on the imagination of Goethe, at the beginning of
his culture, in its original and simplest form, as in a fragment of Greek
art itself, stranded on that littered, indeterminate shore of Germany in
the eighteenth century. In Winckelmann, this type comes to him, not as in
a book or a theory, but importunately, in a passionate life or
personality. For Goethe, possessing all modern interests, ready to be
lost in the perplexed currents of modern thought, he defines, in clearest
outline, the problem of culture--balance, unity with oneself, consummate
Greek modelling.

It could no longer be solved, as in Phryne ascending naked out of the
water, by perfection of bodily form, or any joyful union with the world
without: the shadows had grown too long, the light too solemn, for that.
It could hardly be solved, as in Pericles or Pheidias, by the direct
exercise of any single talent: amid the manifold claims of modern
culture, that could only have ended in a thin, one-sided growth. Goethe's
Hellenism was of another order, the Allgemeinheit and Heiterkeit, the
completeness and serenity, of a watchful, exigent intellectualism. Im
Ganzen, Guten, Wahren, resolut zu leben--is Goethe's description of his
own higher life; and what is meant by life in the whole--im Ganzen? It
means the life of one for whom, over and over again, what was once
precious has become indifferent. Every one who aims at the life of
culture is met by many forms of it, arising out of the intense,
laborious, one-sided development of some special talent. They are the
brightest enthusiasms the world has to show. It is not their part to
weigh the claims which this or that alien form of culture makes upon
them. But the pure instinct of self-culture cares not so much to reap all
that these forms of culture can give, as to find in them its own
strength. The demand of the intellect is to feel itself alive. It must
see into the laws, the operation, the intellectual reward of every
divided form of culture; but only that it may measure the relation
between itself and them. It struggles with those forms till its secret is
won from each, and then lets each fall back into its place; in the
supreme, artistic view of life. With a kind of passionate coldness, such
natures rejoice to be away from and past their former selves. Above all,
they are jealous of that abandonment to one special gift which really
limits their capabilities. It would have been easy for Goethe, with the
gift of a sensuous nature, to let it overgrow him. It comes easily and
naturally, perhaps, to certain "other-worldly" natures to be even as the
Schoene Seele, that ideal of gentle pietism, in Wilhelm Meister: but to
the large vision of Goethe, that seemed to be a phase of life that a man
might feel all round, and leave behind him. Again, it is easy to indulge
the commonplace metaphysical instinct. But a taste for metaphysics may be
one of those things which we must renounce, if we mean to mould our lives
to artistic perfection. Philosophy serves culture, not by the fancied
gift of absolute or transcendental knowledge, but by suggesting questions
which help one to detect the passion, and strangeness, and dramatic
contrasts of life.

But Goethe's culture did not remain "behind the veil"; it ever emerged in
the practical functions of art, in actual production. For him the problem
came to be:--Can the blitheness and universality of the antique ideal be
communicated to artistic productions, which shall contain the fulness of
the experience of the modern world? We have seen that the development of
the various forms of art has corresponded to the development of the
thoughts of man concerning himself, to the growing revelation of the mind
to itself. Sculpture corresponds to the unperplexed, emphatic outlines of
Hellenic humanism; painting to the mystic depth and intricacy of the
middle age; music and poetry have their fortune in the modern world. Let
us understand by poetry all literary production which attains the power
of giving pleasure by its form, as distinct from its matter. Only in this
varied literary form can art command that width, variety, delicacy of
resources, which will enable it to deal with the conditions of modern
life. What modern art has to do in the service of culture is so to
rearrange the details of modern life, so to reflect it, that it may
satisfy the spirit. And what does the spirit need in the face of modern
life? The sense of freedom. That naive, rough sense of freedom, which
supposes man's will to be limited, if at all, only by a will stronger
than his, he can never have again. The attempt to represent it in art
would have so little verisimilitude that it would be flat and
uninteresting. The chief factor in the thoughts of the modern mind
concerning itself is the intricacy, the universality of natural law, even
in the moral order. For us, necessity is not, as of old, a sort of
mythological personage without us, with whom we can do warfare: it is a
magic web woven through and through us, like that magnetic system of
which modern science speaks, penetrating us with a network, subtler than
our subtlest nerves, yet bearing in it the central forces of the world.
Can art represent men and women in these bewildering toils so as to give
the spirit at least an equivalent for the sense of freedom? Certainly, in
Goethe's romances, and even more in the romances of Victor Hugo, there
are high examples of modern art dealing thus with modern life, regarding
that life as the modern mind must regard it, yet reflecting upon
blitheness and repose. Natural laws we shall never modify, embarrass us
as they may; but there is still something in the nobler or less noble
attitude with which we watch their fatal combinations. In those romances
of Goethe and Victor Hugo, in some excellent work done after them, this
entanglement, this network of law, becomes the tragic situation, in which
certain groups of noble men and women work out for themselves a supreme
Denouement. Who, if he saw through all, would fret against the chain of
circumstance which endows one at the end with those great experiences?



*This brief "Conclusion" was omitted in the second edition of this book,
as I conceived it might possibly mislead some of those young men into
whose hands it might fall. On the whole, I have thought it best to
reprint it here, with some slight changes which bring it closer to my
original meaning. I have dealt more fully in Marius the Epicurean with
the thoughts suggested by it.

Legei pou Herakleitos hoti panta khorei kai ouden menei.

To regard all things and principles of things as inconstant modes or
fashions has more and more become the tendency of modern thought. Let us
begin with that which is without--our physical life. Fix upon it in one
of its more exquisite intervals, the moment, for instance, of delicious
recoil from the flood of water in summer heat. What is the whole physical
life in that moment but a combination of natural elements to which
science gives their names? But these elements, phosphorus and lime and
delicate fibres, are present not in the human body alone: we detect them
in places most remote from it. Our physical life is a perpetual motion of
them--the passage of the blood, the wasting and repairing of the lenses
of the eye, the modification of the tissues of the brain by every ray of
light and sound--processes which science reduces to simpler and more
elementary forces. Like the elements of which we are composed, the action
of these forces extends beyond us; it rusts iron and ripens corn. Far out
on every side of us those elements are broadcast, driven by many forces;
and birth and gesture and death and the springing of violets from the
grave are but a few out of ten thousand resultant combinations. That
clear, perpetual outline of face and limb is but an image of ours, under
which we group them--a design in a web, the actual threads of which pass
out beyond it. This at least of flamelike our life has, that it is but
the concurrence, renewed from moment to moment, of forces parting sooner
or later on their ways.

Or if we begin with the inward world of thought and feeling, the
whirlpool is still more rapid, the flame more eager and devouring. There
it is no longer the gradual darkening of the eye and fading of colour
from the wall,--the movement of the shore-side, where the water flows
down indeed, though in apparent rest,--but the race of the mid-stream, a
drift of momentary acts of sight and passion and thought. At first sight
experience seems to bury us under a flood of external objects, pressing
upon us with a sharp and importunate reality, calling us out of ourselves
in a thousand forms of action. But when reflexion begins to act upon
those objects they are dissipated under its influence; the cohesive force
seems suspended like a trick of magic; each object is loosed into a group
of impressions--colour, odour, texture--in the mind of the observer. And
if we continue to dwell in thought on this world, not of objects in the
solidity with which language invests them, but of impressions unstable,
flickering, inconsistent, which burn and are extinguished with our
consciousness of them, it contracts still further; the whole scope of
observation is dwarfed to the narrow chamber of the individual mind.
Experience, already reduced to a swarm of impressions, is ringed round
for each one of us by that thick wall of personality through which no
real voice has ever pierced on its way to us, or from us to that which we
can only conjecture to be without. Every one of those impressions is the
impression of the individual in his isolation, each mind keeping as a
solitary prisoner its own dream of a world. Analysis goes a step farther
still, and assures us that those impressions of the individual mind to
which, for each one of us, experience dwindles down, are in perpetual
flight; that each of them is limited by time, and that as time is
infinitely divisible, each of them is infinitely divisible also; all that
is actual in it being a single moment, gone while we try to apprehend it,
of which it may ever be more truly said that it has ceased to be than
that it is. To such a tremulous wisp constantly re-forming itself on the
stream, to a single sharp impression, with a sense in it, a relic more or
less fleeting, of such moments gone by, what is real in our life fines
itself down. It is with this movement, with the passage and dissolution
of impressions, images, sensations, that analysis leaves off--that
continual vanishing away, that strange, perpetual weaving and unweaving
of ourselves.

Philosophiren, says Novalis, ist dephlegmatisiren vivificiren. The
service of philosophy, of speculative culture, towards the human spirit
is to rouse, to startle it into sharp and eager observation. Every moment
some form grows perfect in hand or face; some tone on the hills or the
sea is choicer than the rest; some mood of passion or insight or
intellectual excitement is irresistibly real and attractive for us,--for
that moment only. Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is
the end. A counted number of pulses only is given to us of a variegated,
dramatic life. How may we see in them all that is to be seen in them by
the finest senses? How shall we pass most swiftly from point to point,
and be present always at the focus where the greatest number of vital
forces unite in their purest energy?

To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy,
is success in life. In a sense it might even be said that our failure is
to form habits: for, after all, habit is relative to a stereotyped world,
and meantime it is only the roughness of the eye that makes any two
persons, things, situations, seem alike. While all melts under our feet,
we may well catch at any exquisite passion, or any contribution to
knowledge that seems by a lifted horizon to set the spirit free for a
moment, or any stirring of the senses, strange dyes, strange colours, and
curious odours, or work of the artist's hands, or the face of one's
friend. Not to discriminate every moment some passionate attitude in
those about us, and in the brilliancy of their gifts some tragic dividing
of forces on their ways, is, on this short day of frost and sun, to sleep
before evening. With this sense of the splendour of our experience and of
its awful brevity, gathering all we are into one desperate effort to see
and touch, we shall hardly have time to make theories about the things we
see and touch. What we have to do is to be for ever curiously testing new
opinions and courting new impressions, never acquiescing in a facile
orthodoxy of Comte, or of Hegel, or of our own. Philosophical theories or
ideas, as points of view, instruments of criticism, may help us to gather
up what might otherwise pass unregarded by us. "Philosophy is the
microscope of thought." The theory or idea or system which requires of us
the sacrifice of any part of this experience, in consideration of some
interest into which we cannot enter, or some abstract theory we have not
identified with ourselves, or what is only conventional, has no real
claim upon us.

One of the most beautiful passages in the writings of Rousseau is that in
the sixth book of the Confessions, where he describes the awakening in
him of the literary sense. An undefinable taint of death had always clung
about him, and now in early manhood he believed himself smitten by mortal
disease. He asked himself how he might make as much as possible of the
interval that remained; and he was not biassed by anything in his
previous life when he decided that it must be by intellectual excitement,
which he found just then in the clear, fresh writings of Voltaire. Well!
we are all condamnes, as Victor Hugo says: we are all under sentence of
death but with a sort of indefinite reprieve--les hommes sont tous
condamnes a mort avec des sursis indefinis: we have an interval, and then
our place knows us no more. Some spend this interval in listlessness,
some in high passions, the wisest, at least among "the children of this
world," in art and song. For our one chance lies in expanding that
interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time.
Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and
sorrow of love, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested
or otherwise, which come naturally to many of us. Only be sure it is
passion--that it does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied
consciousness. Of this wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of beauty,
the love of art for art's sake, has most; for art comes to you professing
frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they
pass, and simply for those moments' sake.

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