Art of the Vienna Galleries – The Imperial Museum – The Italian Paintings

IN looking at the ground plan of the Imperial Museum we note that four large galleries and four cabinets to the right of the entrance are filled with the examples of the Italian schools, comprising some six hundred paintings. The vast majority of these belong to the North Italians, and specifically to the Venetian masters of the 16th century. The hanging arrangement is but slightly conducive to a chronological survey, although the local origin of the paintings has been more or less kept in mind, and the different works of various artists have been kept together as much as wall-spacing, or what artists call ” wall-spotting,” would allow. Since the catalogue numbers follow each other consecutively on the wall it will be easy for those who visit the Museum to locate the paintings described.

We enter then the FIRST GALLERY. Although the earlier Renaissance painters are but sparsely represented, we find nevertheless some noteworthy examples. Of the Florentine Quattrocento there is but one example a work of wonderful beauty and charm. It is an early work by Benozzo Gozzoli, and represents an ” Adoration” (No. 26 of the Catalogue. Plate I). On a throne, the back-drapery of which is upheld by angels, is the Madonna seated, worshipping the Child that lies on her knees. St. Bernard kneels on her left, while St. Francis on her right presents a diminutive Franciscan monk.

Benozzo Gozzoli, although a pupil of Fra Angelico, presents a marked contrast to the mystic tendencies, the lofty seriousness, the asceticism of the Dominican painter. His was a joyous nature, with lively imagination, exuberant fancy, and love of nature. No one, indeed, was less disposed than Benozzo to look on the dark side of things, or to take life tragically. To him belongs the credit of having restored in art the episodic element, too often sacrificed in the 15th century to the contemplative element, whereby his art became more cheerful and pleasing, and more expressive of the sentiments. Dogmatic painting was not for him; his spontaneous fancy required freer range. What he lacked was depth of feeling, the sense of noble form; but the poetry of his invention has the charm and grace of improvisation. Thus, although his claim to rank with the great artists of his country may be disputed, he yet stands among the painters of the early Renaissance as one of the most talented, and certainly the most fascinating. In the painting before us we may still note the quiet piety and the delicacy of colour of the pre-Renaissance period.

Many years later, in 1516, Fra Bartolommeo painted for the Dominican monastery in Prato, of which at one time he had been a novitiate, a large panel showing ” The Presentation in the Temple ” (No. 41).

No work by Fra Bartolommeo is characterised by a more tender and simple beauty. Upon the steps of an altar the High-priest Simeon, in a red mantle and white undergarment, receives the infant Jesus from the hands of the Virgin, who is clad in a long blue cloak, the folds of which almost conceal her red robe underneath. The holy women are grouped on the other side of the picture in that easy and lifelike arrangement in which the master excelled all. Fra Bartolommeo had the full mastery of unison in composition not met with in the work of any Italian painter who preceded him. His grouping possessed a rare vivifying power. Although his serious nature was not suited to idyllic themes, and the sublimities of tragic passion lay beyond his scope, since he lacked boldness of imagination, he still created a new art, by establishing laws of composition which raised the ordinary and commonplace to the monumental. He abandoned the decorative paraphernalia of the 15th century, and counted upon a rhythmical arrangement of the masses. With him commence the academic, but grand compositions which may almost be reduced to a geometrical figure. But as he developed in this magnificent ordering of the lines and masses, there came a carelessness in the types; his drawing became less studied, and the faces were rarely individual. He appears to have relied too much upon the lay-figure, which he is said to have invented. But despite this careless generalising of what, indeed, must be important, we cannot fail to admire his beauty and sweep of line, and the architectonic solidity of his grouping, which makes all the figures interdependent and necessary to each other.

Fra Bartolommeo’s pupil, Andrea del Sarto, is represented by a ” Pieta ” (No. 39). This artist’s impressionable temperament is well reflected in the expression of woe depicted on Mary’s face. The beautiful transparency of the olive-green tones shows his strong colour sense, for which the later Florentines, indeed, were noted, but in which, so early, Andrea excelled. No. 42, “Tobias and the Angel,” is a work by one of his pupils, although possibly touched by the master.

Andrea del Sarto, whom his contemporaries called il pittore senza errori, or the faultless painter, should come in critical estimate of the Tuscan school immediately after Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael — yet he cannot be ranked with these. It may be difficult to convince many of this, who are at first impressed with his ” Elysian beauty, melancholy grace,” as Swinburne in poetic fervour has epitomised his work.

To enumerate the excellencies of his achievements is not difficult. His workmanship is solid, his brush unerring, with never a trickery in his method. Difficulties of technique did not exist for him. The base of his artistic greatness lay surely in the integrity of his drawing; the details being neither unduly emphasised nor avoided, being al-ways part of a greater whole, where the balance is true and the impression indelible. His colour has infinite gradation and depth, being gay and rich; and as a colourist Andrea holds a first rank for his harmony and strength of tone. Nor has he ever been surpassed in the rendering of flesh, which has all the round, elastic quality through his morbidezza.

Yet one thing is lacking, the most precious gift that makes the great artist inspiration, depth of emotion, energy of thought, conviction. He was .one of the greatest painters — yet he falls short of being a great artist, using the word in its highest sense. His very cleverness made things seem too easy. The graceful lines that flow so readily lack firmness and boldness and imposing grandeur. The invariably beautiful faces of his women; that lack the characterisation of types, become soft and pretty ; and the gestures become even artificial and frivolous. His striving for effect is seen in the overloading of his figures with draperies, which he knows how to paint so admirably — and does it for that reason. His best pictures give us the sense that they were designed with a view to solving an aesthetic problem to the admiration of the beholders.

Del Sarto’s pictures exercise a potent spell, which Paul Mantz attempted to define when he wrote, “Andrea has the despotism of charm” — but Andrea del Sarto was the first great painter who walked the road, facilis descensus, which led to the ultimate ruin of Italian art, as it has been the ruin of all schools that followed it. The road to please, without sincerity, without spiritual aspiration.

Andrea’s friend and collaborator, Franciabigio, by no means equalled him. There is a “Holy Family” (No. 46), originally from the collection of Charles I, which is beautifully impressive. It reminds one of a painting in the Tribuna at Florence, the ” Madonna del Pozzo,” which used to be ascribed to Raphael.

There are still three other Florentines of the 16th century represented by excellent works. Giuliano Bugiardini, to whom Mündler, and also Waagen, ascribe No. 46, — has here an indubitable ” Abduction of Dinah ” (No. 36) — the sons of Jacob deliver their sister from the house of Sichern, and wreak their vengeance on the inhabitants of Salem. The group of women on the left is beautifully composed. By Jacopo de Pantormo we find three portraits, two of elderly women, and one of a young man (Nos. 45, 48 and 50). This last painting is good enough to be thought, by Crowe and Cavalcaselle, an early work of Bronzino, from whose hand we have a ” Holy Family ” (No. 49), and several portraits (No. 44, and, in Cabinet I, Nos. 94 and 97). Bronzino was court-painter to Cosimo, the first Archduke of Tuscany. His feeling for the plastic presentation of form and grandiose composition, as, well as his lack of colour-sense, may be recognised in these examples.

To complete our survey of the Tuscan painters we will for the present leave the First Gallery and enter CABINET I, where we are at once impressed by a magnificent work of the earlier Andrea Mantegna, one whose influence was felt in all northern Italy. It is a small panel (No. 81), showing the holy Sebastian bound to a pillar, and pierced by arrows. There is a classic monumentality in this entire composition, a sculpturesque solidity of the youthful body that harks back to the antique — but the spiritual feeling in the martyr’s dying look announces the new service in which art had engaged.

That Mantegna, however, was equally well versed in the esoterics of paganism is seen in the series called ” Caesar’s Triumphal March ” (Nos. 72-80), copies made by Andrea Andreani, the originals of which are now in Hampton Court, in England.

It is a gorgeous grouping of pagan splendour. First we see the vanguard of tubablowers, soldiers, and bearers of banners; then images of the gods are being carried; then follows the war-booty, loaded on wagons drawn by oxen. A large herd of animals, wreathed for sacrifice, precedes a number of elephants, the newest of war-trophies; be-hind them walk the captives, with sunken heads, yet proudly stepping. Then come musicians and buffoons; and Julius Cesar, the Triumphator, calmly seated on his high chariot, closes the pro-cession.

This great series was painted by Mantegna between 1484 and 1492 for his patron Francesco Gonzaga, to adorn a long gallery in the marquis’ palace of San Sebastiano, at Mantua. In 1627 the entire set of nine paintings was bought for King Charles I, and forms the chief treasure of the Royal Gallery at Hampton Court. They were, however, barbarously ” restored ” in the 18th century, so that today but little remains of Mantegna’s splendid work save the composition and general forms.

Our copies here give a far truer impression of this, one of the greatest achievements of the early Renaissance. It is a superb expression of the marvellous genius of this great creator of the science of composition, who was, besides, the greatest draughtsman of all time. The overwhelming masses of rioting pageantry are subdued into a rhythmic procession of monumental majesty. It shows how the artist’s powerful imagination was ennobled by the most finished self-restraint.

Although Mantegna did not leave any direct pupils who attained celebrity, his fame and influence were widely extended. We see it in Raphael’s ” Entombment,” the motif of which is borrowed from the Mantuan master. Sodoma derived his inspiration for his decorations in the Stanza della Segnatura, in the Vatican, from Mantegna’s circular ceiling fresco in the Castello at Mantua. He influenced Correggio, Paolo Veronese, Albrecht Dürer, Holbein, and many others.

One who owed to Mantegna all that is best in his art was Cosimo Tura. Of this painter we find ” The Body of Christ ” (No. 90), supported by two weeping angels. The catalogue rightly queries its attribution of this painting to Marco Zoppo, for the somewhat larger painting of similar grouping, by Tura, now in the Louvre, fully establishes our painting as a second version. The artist’s peculiar mannerism of excessive mobility, which sometimes degenerated into the grotesque, together with his delicate technique and individual colour-sense, are plainly manifest. He was much employed by the art loving Duke Borso d’Este.

That same Ferrarese colour scheme is found in the work of his pupil Lorenzo Costa. A beautiful female portrait (No. 85) shows, however, also the influence of the Bolognese Francesco Francia in a softened and more poetic feeling. A stronger work is that of Dosso Dossi, the ablest of the Ferrarese before Correggio.

He pictures ” St. Jerome ” (No. 68) sitting before his cave and holding a crucifix. His lion is just crawling into the dark cavern. The right half of the canvas is filled with a conventional landscape, where in the distance we see the devout entering a church. A strong light reflects from the naked torso of the saint, silhouetted against the rock background. This is a standard work, used at all times for comparison with pretended examples of the artist as being the most characteristic of Dosso Dossi’s paintings.

Let us, then, draw the characteristics of this Ferrarese painter, who owed everything that gives him consideration to Giorgione and Titian, from the picture before us. We note that the drawing of the figure is here slipshod, there over-accentuated, the modelling being puffy and hollow. His talent comes out best in a feeling for poetic effects of light and colour, which he must have caught from Giorgione’s haunting magic. His painting spells the ease of his performance, but its glamour and richness of tone and the maze of his alluring lights cannot hide the shallowness of his meaning. He was a romantic illustrator par excellence.

A few Milanese paintings are also found in this cabinet. A ” Madonna with a Lily” (No. 84), and the portrait of a “Young Man” (No. 83), cannot with certainty be attributed, although the Milanese school must have produced them. More assured are we of a ” Christ bearing the Cross” (No. 82), with its porcelain finish, which belongs to Andrea Solario, the devoted follower of Leonardo da Vinci, who went with his master into exile in France, after the overthrow of the Sforzas in Milan.

Bernardino Luini is shown by an early painting, “St. Jerome” (No. 87), which cannot be compared with Dossi’s stirring work. A better example of Luini’s hand is his “Daughter of Herodias” (No. 86), where a beautiful Salome offers on a silver dish the head of the Baptist, with its calm, peaceful face, and long, dark, curling locks.

This subject has been treated by Luini at least four times. One of these works is in Florence, another in Milan, a third in Paris, and the fourth is before us. Salome differs in features in each version of the subject, but her style of dress, her full bosom, only partially hidden by the under-garment, her long, rippling, golden hair, confined by a fillet, are similar in each picture. She is a beautiful, sensuous, and voluptuous woman, devoid of sympathy or tenderness, strongly contrasting with the tragic spectacle offered by the severed head of John the Baptist.

Bernardino Luini has been called the Raphael of Lombardy, although he is closer affiliated to Leonardo da Vinci. Without being a pupil of Leonardo he was a distant, but faithful follower of the Milanese master. Indeed, so closely did he adapt his style to that of da Vinci that their works have, until recently, been commonly confounded, most of Luini’s pictures having at one time or another been attributed to the other master. Still with all this adaptation Luini never lost his own natural and sympathetic expression. From Leonardo he took his gracious types, and simpified them; his severe types, and softened, often weakened them; but in many a picture, particularly those in which he painted the Virgin and the Child, or the Saints in moments of fervour or repentance, he shows himself spiritually superior to Leonardo. His intense faith, his deep devotion, the truth of his religion, and his intimate knowledge of the mystery, alike of joy and of bitter sorrow, are revealed by his pictures. Ruskin has well said that “he joins the purity and passion of Fra Angelico to the strength of Veronese. But,” he goes on to say, ” the two elements, poised in perfect balance, are so calmed and restrained each by the other that most of us lose the sense of both.”

The work of Ambrogio de Predis is of unequal merit, but his ” Portrait of Emperor Maximilian I” (No. 69. Plate II) is among the best of his works. It is scarcely plausible that this straight-forward, dignified portrait should come from the brush of one who at other times lost himself in the sugariness and perfume of insipid women’s heads and effeminate lads’ faces. It shows the overtowering and unavoidable influence which Leonardo da Vinci exercised over the men who came in contact with him. Where Leonardo succeeded in painting beauty, intensified in character, to mysticism, as in his Mona Lisa, his followers, less capable, unhappily swung through greater prettiness to sweetness, sickliness and affectation. This momentum to the other side — from the sterling character-portrait of Maximilian to the weak portrayal of a charming woman, is seen in No. 70, a ” Portrait of Bianca Maria Sforza,” the second wife of Emperor Maximilian. Although not by his own hand, it is a faithful and excellent copy of an original by de Predis, which until recently was owned in Berlin but is now in a private collection in Philadelphia.

A more slavish imitator of Leonardo was Cesare da Sesto, of whom we have also a ” Daughter of Herodias ” (No. 91), which, naturally, excels in loveliness of form and coloratura.

A painting by Giorgio Vasari, better known as the artists’ biographer, still attracts us here. It represents a “Holy Family ” (No. 93). Several works by pupils of Michelangelo, breathing the spirit of the great Florentine master, complete our survey of this cabinet, and of the Florentine school.

Returning to the FIRST GALLERY we note that the Umbrians, closely related to the Tuscan painters, are even more sparsely represented, and that by only two artists, Maestro Pietro Perugino, and his most famous pupil, Raphael Sanzio.

Of Pietro Perugino we find four examples. No. 27 is a large picture, somewhat roughly painted, of ” Mary with the Child and Four Saints.” This must be one of the examples for which Michelangelo criticised Pietro, saying that ” his art was rude.” No. 32 shows the ” Madonna and Two Saints ” and is a typical work of Perugino, note-worthy also because it has his own undoubted signature in light brown on the left at the bottom. These two examples are further interesting because of the renewed presentation of this subject in half-figures. The ” St. Jerome” (No. 25) is not as important as a small ” Baptism of Christ ” (No. 24), with charming angel figures and a beautiful landscape.

Perugino was a strong enough painter to impress his pupil Raphael to such an extent that Raphael’s first manner of painting is commonly called his Peruginesque manner. This personal style consisted especially in the painting of draperies which fall in deep, easy folds. His brushwork, also, was usually clean and close-finished, sometimes affecting the use of gold in the light-painting, as the earlier painters had done.

But the greater master followed Raphael. Only one example is shown in the Museum, but one that ranks among the most beautiful of Raphael’s Madonnas, and is regarded by many as the most valuable art treasure in Vienna. This is the famous ” Madonna of the Meadow ” (No. 29. Plate III), painted in 1506, in Florence, for his friend Taddeo Taddei.

The date, which is on the hem of the dress at the breast, places this magnificent painting in the year before the ” Belle Jardinière,” of the Louvre, which was painted in 1507. Unlike this latter painting, which was left unfinished by Raphael when he left Florence, and was completed by Ghirlandajo, our Madonna is entirely by Raphael’s own hand. With all his youthful enthusiasm he produced a work that is perfect in every detail. The composition is wonderful in its sense of space; there is moderation, a divine purity in the colour; and the whole presents that essence of beauty which marked him the greatest of all artists since the Greeks.

The genius of Raphael was assimilative. He absorbed all that was excellent in Perugino’s work and rendered it with greater delicacy and spontaneity. From Fra Bartolommeo, in Florence, he learned the secrets of composition and brought this to architectural perfection. Under the influence of Michelangelo, in Rome, he drank in the classic spirit through the study of the antique — yet in no sense at any time sacrificing his individuality. The masterpieces that impressed him only served to teach him how to comprehend his own ideal.

A comparison of the Madonna of the Meadow ” with ” La Belle Jardinière is pertinent, because they were painted so nearly at the same time, and are so nearly alike in composition. Both have the pyramid style of composition favoured by Fra Bartolommeo, but the Vienna picture is superior in almost every respect. The landscape has a greater space and more the breath of out-of-doors. The children are perfect in their charm of natural pose and expression, while those in the Paris picture are less free, more constrained, and the head of the little John is scarcely pleasing — if we should care to say so much. There is also more graceful ease and dignity in the pose of our Madonna, whose features, slightly more mature, are also more beautiful — in the Paris painting they are somewhat too girlishly beautiful for motherhood.

When we stand before this ” Madonna of the Meadow,” so spiritual in its ethereal beauty, painted when the master was but twenty-three years old, and then gaze forward to that majestic theophany, the, Disputa, in the Stanza della Segnatura of the Vatican, finished before he was thirty, we are astounded and impressed with the serene supremacy of one who, dying young, still gave the world the most complete expression of every beauteous form, ranging from the tender to the sublime.

Of Raphael’s pupils there are a few excellent examples. Giulio Romano, his most favoured pupil, who completed the ” Transfiguration,” left unfinfished at the master’s death, painted the ” St. Margarethaa” (No. 31). The martyr, by the power of faith, looks down undaunted upon the threatening dragon at her feet. The colour of the thin, blue garment that covers her, and the play of shadows in the dark grotto, are exquisitely rendered.

Romano’s own pupil, Polidoro da Caravaggio, who also worked in Raphael’s studio, and who must not be confounded with the half century later Amerighi Caravaggio, is best known for his large decorations on façades, and but few of his easel pictures are known to exist. The Museum possesses a grisaille painting (grey on grey), representing the classic story of “Cephalus and Procris ” (No. 33), which excels in sculpturesque drawing. This applies especially to the figure of Cephalus, who stands with outstretched arms, horror-stricken, before the dying Procris, whom unwittingly he has pierced with the never-failing javelin she herself had given him.

An earlier member of the Raphael circle was the Bolognese Francesca Francia, who was a friend of the great Urbinate, and who exercised great influence on the young genius. We find here a ” Madonna and Child ” (No. 47). The Madonna is seated on a high throne, holding the Child standing on her lap, while St. Catharine of Alexandria and the little John surround her. The painting displays the great naturalism of this highly gifted artist, whose work forms a sort of link between the incomplete productions of the Primitives and the finished and perfect work of Leonardo and Raphael. His types are homely, his snub-nosed, heavy-chinned Madonnas rather dull, but yet with a naive sincerity of expression.

Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, called Sodoma, was a friend of Raphael, although a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci, and properly belonging to the Lombard or Sienese school. His ” Holy Family ” (No. 51), of half-figures, is not, however, so good a painting to give as high a standing to the artist as his works in other galleries would give him, notably those in Siena. It shows the slovenly carelessness to which this jovial, pleasure-loving, almost licentious painter often descends. By nature one of the most talented and gifted of men, this whimsical scatter-brain disdained to follow the road to all attainment hard work. No painter was more richly dowered — facility, elegance, remarkable powers of assimilation, and a fertile fancy were his; but wilful negligence, careless lassitude, and a frivolous character spoiled his chances. Most of what he left in a long, productive life is showy and trivial; only occasionally did he reach a height of inspiration that can produce a noble emotion, but even his best work is full of inconsistencies and contradictions.

The greatest of all Ferrarese painters was Antonio Allegri da Correggio. This artist is the only one who has represented those mythological sagas, wherein the Greeks symbolised the impregnation of humanity with the divine power, and who succeeded in picturing this symbol of love with an intimate union of sweet innocence and naive clearness. He has done so in the ” Io,” and in the Berlin ” Leda.”

With pure and marvellous fecundity of imagination has Correggio here represented the embrace of Io by a cloud in which the form of Zeus is mystically seen (No. 64). There is scarcely a nude painting in existence that can compare with the magnificent morbidezza, the illuminating surface, the suggestive abandon in the drawing of Io’s figure.

We cannot accuse Correggio of conscious immorality, or what is stigmatised as sensuality. The ardour of his love for physical life made him seek for life and movement in his figures, and present them with intoxicating beauty of form. He painted purely beautiful dreams of beautiful things in perpetual movement, with the laughter of never-failing lightsomeness. His was a search for beauty rendered with joyful emotion, stimulating the finest thrills of nervous life. His soft and flowing contours, his harmonious and scintillating splendour of colour-scheme, his all-pervading lightrays, his artless grace and melodious tenderness, work as by magic on the spectator to the intoxication of the senses.

It is true that Correggio lacked self-restraint. Thus his fatal faculty in the presentation of movement leads to attitudinising and nervous restlessness; his sweetness often lapses into mawkishness and affectation; and the feebleness of his composition often produces emptiness of meaning or melodramatic attitudes. His expression is the same whether he paints heavenly or earthly love; for his Madonnas and Magdalenes exhibit the same type of face, the same dewy, melting, tenderly languishing eyes, the same small nose, and the same over-delicate, smiling mouth as his Danaë, his Leda, or his Io. But these are faults of his excellences and need not disturb us. He was the painter of joy and beauty, and may be said to represent the feminine side of the life of the senses, as later Rubens, who owes much to him, depicted the masculine. To no artist more truthfully can be applied the old saying: ” The style is the man.”

The head of Io was entirely repainted by Prudhon, the French artist of the end of the 18th century.

As a pendant to the Io hangs Correggio’s well-known “Ganymede” (No. 59), where Jupiter’s eagle is carrying off the boy, whose dog barks after his disappearing master. Many experts have questioned the authenticity of this canvas, and assert that a pupil of Correggio copied a Putto in one of the frescoes in the Dome at Parma, which copy gradually changed into our picture. But there are, on the other hand, too many evidences in favour to deny the authorship of the great Lombard master by whose name the painting was known as early as 1579, when it was in the possession of one of the courtiers of Philip II of Spain.

The ” Crossbearing Christ ” (No. 60), which hangs next to the Ganymede, only given to Correggio with a query, has by Berenson been attributed to Cariani, whom we will meet in the next gallery.

Correggio’s closest follower, Francesco Parmigianino, is exceptionally well represented. A self-portrait (No. 58), painted from a concave mirror, shows a youthful man with somewhat effeminate features. This last of the real Renaissance painters in North Italy had sufficient individuality to change the sensuous femininity of his master into a sterner and more sincere trait of elegance. His strongest portrait here is one which by tradition is said to represent Malatesta Baglione (No. 67), but has been suggested with more reason to portray Lorenzo Cibo, the Chief of the Papal Bodyguard. Although the catalogue queries its own attribution we must fully accredit this beautiful portrait to Francesco. It is far more energetic than the portrait of another man (No. 61), dressed in black, and holding a black barret in his right hand. The ” St. Catharine ” (No. 57), seated under a palm-tree, has the graceful slenderness of a Tanagra figurine; while the “Cupid trimming his Bow” (No. 62. Plate IV) has that same delicacy, of a terra-cotta statuette. This is a famous painting, and was originally held to be the work of Correggio.

The remaining paintings to be noticed in this gallery are Venetian.