Art of The Berlin Galleries – Umbrian And Paduan Paintings Of The 15th Century

The influence of Florence was felt to the south as well as to the north. The Umbrians gradually lost their feeling for detail, their gold ornamentation, their sentiment inherited from the Sienese, and followed more and more the Florentine way of expressing form. The Paduans in the north manifested most strongly the influence of the study of the classic marbles, but also these gradually added the nature study which the Florentines first introduced. Melozzo da Forli and Luca Signorelli were the first of the Umbrians to free themselves from the halting provincial manner. Melozzo was the grander temperament and excelled all his pre-cursors by his exalted ideas of the beauty of composition. Signorelli had the subtler and deeper mind, and in his masterful freedom in the treatment of the nude must be regarded as the fore runner of Michelangelo.

Luca Signorelli (1441-1523) was in feeling for the poetry of things inferior to no man. His ” Pan and the Shepherds ” (79A. Plate IV) is one of his most characteristic and most fascinating works. There he essayed in antique and mythological symbols, and the distinct, tonic value of the nude, to depict the wonderful charm of nature. It. has been suggested that a poem of Jacopo Sannazaro gave the inspiration for the work, which presents Pan as the god of nature and the master of music. In the centre we see the goat-footed Pan seated on a rock in a fantastic landscape, the tender crescent moon crowning his locks. He rests his organ-flute upon his knee as he gently inclines his head to listen to the arcadian concert that is being rendered for him and the two bronzed shepherds. Young Olympos is piping and Silenus, stretched on the ground, with the beautiful young nymph standing forward, join him on the reeds.

The veil of evening softens all colours. The rhythmic disposition of the figures, standing, sitting, and lying down, and of front, back and side views, is of a variety not yet seen in the art of that day. These nudes have a certain gigantic robustness and suggestion of primeval energy; they have redundant life, proud carriage, massive muscles, sinewy limbs, yet there is no coarseness of animalism in his style. And how well Luca succeeds in detaching his figures from the background !

Two altarwings (79) are of equal importance and even more beautiful in colour. They flanked at one time a coloured wooden statue of St. Christopher (now in the Louvre). On the left stands the beautiful Magdalene in a rich robe of fiery red and gold-green, holding a splendid ointment vessel. At her side is Sister Catharine of Siena, and at their feet kneels the old St. Jerome, half-naked and beating himself with a stone. On the other wing we find the modest, lovely St. Clara, accompanied by St. Augustine in his bishop’s robe, and St. Anthony of Padua on his knees.

Between the two wings, taking the place of the original statue, is another example of Luca’s last years. A tondo (79B), possibly a ” desco da parto,” presents a scene which has rarely been pictured in art, a visit of Mary and Joseph with Jesus to the parents of the little John. The composition is exceptionally fine and well-balanced. The two women embrace each other on the one side, and the two old men carrying the boys fill the other half of the tondo. The larger and heavier man, Joseph, is coming up a step, and as Zacharias comes to meet him the little John turns a small silver basin over the head of Jesus — an allusion to the baptism.

From the Casa Torrigiani comes the life-size bust portrait of a jurist with a large red biretta, with black stola. The fleshy face is exquisitely modelled, and the expression is thoughtful, the mouth firmly set. In the background we see on the one side of the head the small figures of two young men, nude, near the ruin of a triumphal arch; at the other side two young women, draped. Michelangelo followed Signorelli in the introduction of such nude figures as accessories, although with a deeper meaning.

Melozzo da Forli’s (1438-1494) paintings are very rare, and exceedingly valuable because they indicate the advancing steps whereby the painters of southern Tuscany and the Romagna progressed towards the greater freedom of the Florentines. The visit of the Fleming Justus van Ghent to Urbino had as great influence on the Umbrian painters as the visit of Hugo van der Goes had had on those of Florence. In the two paintings here by Melozzo we note how this artist exceeded all his predecessors in beauty and impressiveness of composition.

Duke Frederica da Montefeltro gave a commission to Melozzo to decorate the walls of a room of his famous library in his palace at Urbino with allegorical presentations of the seven arts and sciences which the University designated as non-technical. These were Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Geometry, Arithmetic, Music, and Astronomy. Three of these, Grammar, Geometry and Arithmetic have disappeared. The paintings of Music and of Rhetoric are in the National Gallery, and the remaining two, of Logic and of Astronomy are here in Berlin.

The ” Genius of Logic ” (54. Plate V) is shown in the form of a richly gowned woman stepping down from a high throne to hand the book of wisdom to Duke Frederico as he kneels upon the lower step. On the other panel (54A) an elderly woman, in cloisterlike garments, and heavily veiled, offers an astronomical sphere to the kneeling princely suitor, who is supposed to be Frederico’s friend, Count Ottaviano Ubaldino, whose favourite studies were astronomy and astrology. The heads of these personages are of imposing appearance, the execution is broad and strong, and the excess of detail, which so often belittles the works of this variegated fifteenth century, is entirely lacking.

Giovanni Santi (1435-1494), the father of Raphael, proves himself in the symmetrical churchly composition of his paintings, in the constantly recurring, sentimental bending of the head, and in the mild, weak expressions, a thorough Umbrian. His ” Throned Madonna with the Saints ” (139) suffers of dryness of colour and weakness of characterization. The heads of the met are expressionless, and the features of the Madonna are haggard and archaic.

Giovanni Bertucci (active about 1513) in his ” Adoration of the Kings ” (132) shows the same insignificance with senile old men and weak youths — far removed from the strength of the Florentine school.

In Lombardy we find the Paduan school in close sympathy with Florence through its plastic tendencies. While Florence, however, sought its presentation of form through the study of the living body and of nature, the University city of Padua took more the antique sculptures for its example. As a result the work of the Paduan artists has rather the effect of relief than of free-grouping. Also the architectonic and ornamental treatment of thrones, and the decoration with magnificent details points to the imitation of the antique.

Of Francesco Squarcione (1394-1474), the founder of the school, we have here a ” Madonna with Child ” (27A), a half-figure under life-size, which is reminiscent of the Madonna reliefs of Donatello. This panel, and an altarpiece now in the city museum of Padua, are the only works in existence of this famous artist and student, who exercised great influence on his many pupils. Our Madonna is a beautiful type of face, seen in profile, and strikingly set off in a long, black hooded mantle against a red curtain background. The Child is drawn with an excess of motion which is in strong contrast to the staid quietness of the Mother. Jesus has run to the Madonna, clasped his arms around her neck, and cuddles his head against her cheek. Two ornamental candlesticks upon the stone balustrade behind which the Mother stands are architectural, but unnecessary and disturbing details.

The greatest master ,of the Paduan school was Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506). He had the largeness of mind that looks for impressions wherever to be found, and after his early training under Squarcione he studied Paolo Uccello for faun, Fra Filippo for composition and space, Piero della Francesca for perspective, while through marriage with the sister of the Bellinis he received impressions of the early Venetian school. But his chief source of indebtedness was to Donatello, from whom he took that sculpturesque insight which is his distinguishing mark. No one ever stood more firmly than he upon design and style for the basis of his pictorial art. No matter how harsh his figures sometimes may be his outline is delicate and sensitive, full of character .and grace.

Ìn the year when Donatello left Padua, and Andrea was but twenty-five years old, he painted the ” Presentation in the Temple ” (29. Plate VI), under the inspiration of holding his first born. The half-figures are beautifully composed in relief against the dark background. The lovely Madonna is about to lay the bambino in the arms of the aged Simeon with his silver beard. The full face of Joseph is a powerful conception that reminds of the stern features of an archaic mosaic. These three heads, of Mary, Simeon and Joseph, are of the strongest creations we have of Mantegna. There is devotion of style, firmness of lines and contours, solidity of colouring, a divination of the real, if indeed these heads are not portraits — Jacopo Bellini, the grandfather of Andrea’s child, was then seventy. An early failing, which later disappeared, is here strongly marked. All is still pressed together in flat layers. He puts one head behind another without stopping to consider carefully enough whether there would be room for all the bodies.

A half-size, half-length “Madonna and the Child ” (27), against a blue background on which a heavy garland of fruit and flowers, is catalogued under Mantegna’s name. The tone is rather dry, and the effort to overcome the difficulty of fore-shortening is apparent. The sentiment of the composition also is too weak for Mantegna, and the attribution may well be discarded.

The magnificent bust-portrait of Cardinal Lodovico Mezzarota (9) is as if cast in bronze, solid, powerful, convincing. A comparison with Signorelli’s bust of a jurist which we saw ,on the opposite wall, proves how empty the broad treatment of the Umbrian is as against the energetic compactness of the Paduan. The face with its stern features, sharply cut mouth, keen eyes, and contracted brows, fits exactly the character of this Prince of the Church, proud, luxuriant, over-bearing, whose excessive assumption of worldly splendour provoked even the protest of Pope Paul II, who himself was by no means meekly disposed. No broad-brimmed cardinal’s hat indicates his high place, only a choir-shirt and a red mass-garment cover his ample chest — it is the personality of the man, the expression of his character that attracts.

Two other Paduan artists are more provincial in their work; they have the sculpturesque quality without the broader vision of Mantegna.

Marco Zoppo (1440-1498) was a heavy-handed, almost uncouth painter. His most important work, the large altarpiece which he painted for S. Giovanni in Pesaro is here. This ” Madonna Enthroned ” (1170), with the Child and four saints, has a heavy rock background above which a narrow strip of sky with far-off buildings is seen. A meaningless festoon above the throne is silhouetted against the sky. The extraordinary development of muscles and veins in the gigantic figures of John the Baptist and St. Jerome, the grotesquely fat child, and the general heaviness of the other forms make the impression of the whole far from attractive. The painting were best seen through the door from the adjoining room to moderate somewhat its aggressiveness, and to re-duce the rawness of the flat, chalky colour.

Another ” Madonna Enthroned ” (1162) is by Gregorio Schiavone (1440-1470), which also shows the one-sidedness of the school. It is the middle part of an altarpiece from S. Francesco in Padua. The pose of the Madonna, which should be dignified and elevated, is very artificial, her expression is extraordinarily proud and repellent. The angels at her side are comically plump, and the colour of the painting cold. The artist shows an entire lack of feeling for nature, and seems to prefer the stark forms of stone to the supple pliability of living flesh.

As an introduction to the Venetian school which we shall study in the next rooms we find here a very early work of Gentile Bellini (1426-1507), who at one time stood under Paduan influence. This is a ” Madonna ” (1180) with the Child and Donors. The large high oval of the Virgin’s face with a hood, and the heaviness of the child, are far from pleasing, but the two busts of the donors which come out above the foot of the panel point to Bellini’s later accomplishment. They are expressive and well-modelled.

( Originally Published 1912 )

The Art of The Berlin Galleries:The Kaiser Friedrich Museum – History Of The CollectionThe Italian PaintingsRoom 29 – Italian Paintings Of The 14th, And The First Half Of The 15th CenturyRoom 30 – Florentine Paintings Of The 15th CenturySculpture In Marble Of Donatello And Desiderio, And Old Florentine PaintingsRooms 34 — Ferrarese And Bolognese Paintings Of The 15th And 16th CenturiesRoom 35 – Lombard PaintingsRoom 64 – The Carpets After Raphael’s CartoonsRoom 38 – Florentine Paintings Of The 15th CenturyRoom 37 – Umbrian And Paduan Paintings Of The 15th CenturyRead More Articles About: The Art of The Berlin Galleries