Art – Painting And Sculpture In Europe

BEFORE we touch upon the great debacle and its effects upon the orderly movement of artistic progress in the world we must return to a point from which we may review the arts of painting and sculpture in Europe. Throughout this survey we must bear in mind that all Europe outside of Italy lagged far behind her in culture, particularly the countries where the slower-witted and conservative mind of the Northerner clung tenaciously to Medival thought and custom. Nor was the mind of man reborn there with the rapture that caught the Italians up to such heights of inspired design. It was as though the Italian spring came slowly through the northern forests, where the snowbanks of Mediaevalism lingered beside the meadows flower-starred by the Renaissance. Thus we find the Primitives of Flanders and Germany, essentially Gothic artists in training, tradition, and vision, contemporaneous with the advanced schools of Italian painting.

When at last the Renaissance melted the Northern snows, all Europe turned toward Italy as the authentic source of warmth and color and intellectual light. The Spaniards were strongly affected by the Venetian masters, although the meretricious Caravaggio appealed to some of the sombre predispositions of the Spanish nature. The intellectual point of view of the Caracci of Bologna attracted the French, who seem never to have been drawn to the rich and sensuous warmth of Titian. The great Rubens on the other hand, whom we may esteem as foremost among the Flemings, sought to combine the excellences in composition of the Caracci with those in color of Titian and Tintoretto, and so formed his own style. His pupil Van Dyck carried the Flemish tradition to England, as Holbein had carried the German. Rembrandt, trained solely in the atmosphere of the North, strikes out a path untrodden by any save himself. This little summary will serve to indicate that the narrow bonds of nationalistic isolation were loosed, that Europe was becoming more cosmopolitan and the interactions of art upon art and artist upon artist more and more complex, and the threads of derivation closely intermingled and more difficult to follow. It is impossible for us here to do more than indicate the general characteristics of the principal schools and those of a few of the acknowledged masters.

We have already touched upon the Italian schools and may profitably recapitulate their traits.

The Florentine, sober, balanced, measured, developing from the simple masses and reticent modelling of Giotto to the stupendous creations of Michael Angelo; with a preference for tempera and for fresco; with a certain precision, a definiteness of vision even in the arch-dreamer Angelo who scorns all vagueness, the glamour that lies in the soft fusion of forms and lights and shadows, and who spoke slightingly of Titian’s work in oil, holding that it was not a medium for virile men to work in. On the whole an intellectual school, balanced between the things of the mind and those of the spirit.

Of the Roman school we may count Raphael the chief exponent, although he is also grouped with the Umbrians and Florentines—a cosmopolitan school because Rome drew artists to her from all the world; dealing with decorative painting on a large scale, painting portraits incidentally, but chiefly concerned with the celebration of the dogmas and legends of the Church conceived in a worldly vein, or with pagan myth and story, and treating both with equal interest as problems in composition, drawing, and color; boasting no major artist native in Rome, and declining into the empty pomp of Giulio Romano and his fellows.

The soft grace of Perugino, the master of Raphael, is typical of the Umbrian school, whose influence is visible in the ripest achievements of the pupil.

The school of Lombardy or Milan may, for our purpose here, be considered the school of Lionardo; it is distinguished for its lovely chiaroscuro, its subtle interpretation of character, and is content chiefly with surfaces of moderate dimensions upon which could be lavished the treasures of a consummate craftsmanship. Luini is an exemplar of the group.

And lastly the Venetian, a school of oil-painting, of mellow and golden tones in the canvases of Titian and Giorgione, of cool blue and silver, yellow and damask, in Veronese, and of the wide range of the palette of Tintoretto. These Venetians loved the splendor of life, the glory of color, rich compositions that reflected the magnificence of the city whose Doge attended by the Council of Ten and all her noblemen and great ladies went forth each year in state to wed the Sea. The isolation conferred by the lagoons permitted Venetian painting to develop quite independently of the currents of influence that flowed between the other cities of Italy. From Bellini at the birth of the fifteenth century to Tiepolo in the eighteenth, the painting of Venice, like her architecture, is her own, with a deep content in fulness of color; quiet too, if we except the furious energy of Tintoretto. There seems always to be a pause, just as the spectator arrives, in the movement and in the occupations of the personages who throng these canvases, that he may admire their beauty, their poise, the magnificence of their equipage, their simplicity of soul, their joy in merely being.

It was the early school of Venice that influenced the founders of the Flemish school, the brothers Van Eyck, of whom the elder, Hubert, visited the city of the sea. Legend associates their name with the invention of oil-painting, al-though it is also otherwise ascribed. Hubert was born about 1366 and is known to have gone to Venice toward 1400; whether he learned oil-painting there or carried it with him matters little. The influence of Italian art transpires through the fundamental Flemish quality of the painting of these two brothers, Jan about twenty years the younger. Their meticulous accuracy, that lack of a sense of proportion which lavishes microscopic detail upon the church spire on the horizon, upon every least detail of the landscape, and upon every fact of dress or feature of the figures in the foreground, betrays the Teutonic strain in the Flemish blood, and links them with the miniaturists and illuminators of manuscripts from which the northern schools sprang. The school of Flanders, from these beginnings, became the school of Rubens and Van Dyck who steeped themselves anew in the atmosphere of Venice and yet remained themselves and Flemings. It was a naively pietistic school at first, combining the portraiture of the donor of a religious picture, his wife and children, with that of the Holy Family or the representation of sacred story. At its culmination under the brush of Rubens it covered the whole field of painting—vast historical pieces, fantasies, genre, portraits, altarpieces, all of a tremendous and controlled vigor; and with Van Dyck, also, passed to noble portraiture. The tapestries of Flanders have always been famous and were a stimulus to design on a large scale; Rubens contributed many cartoons to the Flemish looms.

The art of Spain is linked to that of the Netherlands and Italy; until Velasquez, Spanish art as a whole and especially painting, exhibits a morbid and agonized religiosity; the tender heart of the Virgin is pierced with many swords, tears stream from her eyes, tears bedew the cheeks of the attendant saints, not one quiver of the crucified Christ is spared us. The Spanish temperament, prone to extremes, found the works of Correggio and Caravaggio sympathetic, influencing such men of power and ability as Ribera and Zurbaran. When Velasquez came, and “dipped his brush in light and air” he drew to himself all the virtues of the school and dominates the Spanish scene. Not even the insipid sentimentalities of Murillo nor the astigmatic and contorted crudities of El Greco can mar that glory.

Between the Flemish and the Spanish school lay that of France, which, as previously indicated, had no real existence as a native school until the seventeenth century and which then was inspired by the principles taught in the Academy conducted by Lodovico. Caracci in Bologna from 1589, by the work of Correggio, and by the classical influence of Poussin. It is somewhat surprising upon glancing at the map of Europe to see France at this time as a colorless island surrounded by great and vigorous schools of painting.

The Dutch school, close as it was physically to that of Flanders, was spiritually far away. It was a Protestant art and did not deal with pietistic compositions for churches; it was a great school of genre,. of portraiture, of still life, of landscape, painted usually at a small scale for dwellings of modest size; we may except the great group portraits of the guilds and companies of merchants, popular in Flanders also. It gave birth to two such supreme masters as Ver Meer and Rembrandt, widely disparate in vision and method.

The Germans remained inveterately Gothic and Teutonic until far into the Renaissance. Although Albrecht Durer, perhaps their best man, lived on the highroad to Italy, although he crossed the Alps and made a long stay there, he remained invincibly German and Mediaeval despite the fact too that he lived and worked at the very apogee of the Italian Renaissance. Hans Holbein has less of this strong Teutonic flavor, due perhaps to his long residence in England from 1525.

As to the English school, it derives from Van Dyck the Fleming, Holbein the German, and Claude de Lorraine the Frenchman, and owes little directly to the painters of Italy. We are deferring the consideration of the Renaissance in England to a later chapter.

Sculpture in Europe after Michael Angelo was very feeble. Nowhere does it rise above the level of mere good craftsmanship as that may be interpreted to mean good technique; and it frequently falls below that standard. Next after architecture, painting was the leading art. Sculpture, following in its train and adopting the pictorial point of view, lost itself in details, in the effort to express ideas and emotions which lie beyond its proper domain; it was trivial and there-fore negligible in this general summary. Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, England—in none of these countries do I find anything really significant in sculpture until recent years; nor in France, with the exception of Jean Goujon, until Clodion and Houdon. When Colbert became Intendant for Louis XIV he found that he would have to train sculptors and painters for the many works set afoot in the kingdom, notably at Versailles; this he accomplished in part by the School of Fine Arts at Paris and at Rome. Among the many artists so trained we may distinguish the sculptors Germain Pilon, Puget, and Coysevox. The sculpture of this time lacks the inner beauty, the restraint, and the lofty vision of great art, be it Greek, Mediaeval French, or Italian Renaissance; it was pleasing and agreeable frequently, but its air of conscious elegance robbed it of the beauty that lies in the simple and unconscious. Clodion and Houdon, who bridge the chasm between the monarchical world before the Revolution and the republican and Imperial world that followed it, both have charm and character, and Houdon is entitled to the first place among the sculptors France produced until her modern school arose; his portrait of Voltaire would alone proclaim him a master in the field to which his talent and the spirit of his time confined his successes.

Some brief biographical notes upon the artists of Europe from the Early Renaissance in France to the Revolution will complete this portion of our study. The steadily increasing freedom of intercourse between all the countries of Europe gave the artists of this later Renaissance a measure of cosmopolitanism; the narrow barriers of local schools no longer confined their horizons; hence we may let them pass before us in their chronological order, rather than group them under the ensigns of their schools.

The first figure is that of Peter Paul Rubens, who was born in 1577 and in whose tranquil life success followed easily upon success; until his death in 1640 he was not merely a painter of enormous fecundity of invention and accomplishment, but a travelled and cultivated man of the world; everything he did seemed to be done without effort, whether it was to paint a series of immense pictures for the Dowager Queen of France, Marie de’ Medici, or conduct the delicate negotiations that led to peace between Spain and England. His early studies led him to Italy where he seems to have absorbed just as much of the great qualities of the Venetian and Bolognese schools as he needed, his calm Flemish temperament permitting him to remain quite himself. This was not his only visit to Italy; his diplomatic duties took him to the ducal court of Mantua as well as to the royal houses of Spain, France, and England.

His work ranged from the Descent from the Cross to A Lion Hunt, through portraiture, historical paintings, altar-pieces, and the depiction of official pageantry. His palette was simple in the extreme and yet he achieves an effect of extraordinary richness and variety. One of the characteristics of his work is the abounding vigor which, upon study, is seen to be always under the strictest control, giving the effect of improvisation, but every line and tone calculated with the calm science that underlay the art of the man.

Frans Hals was a very different sort of person. He is one of the leading men of the Dutch school; born in 1584 he lived to the good old age of eighty-two and in his early life was something of a roisterer, frequenter of taverns, even a toper—which did not prevent his being duly honored as an artist in his own time, nor from being one of the most accomplished portrait-painters and masters of brushwork in Europe.

In 1594 Nicolas Poussin was born, the man who founded the French school of painting. His early training was, as we might expect from the antecedents of French painting, Flemish. But he went to Rome and thereafter could with difficulty be persuaded to leave the city where he found his inspiration. After the little pictures in which the figures of classical mythology play out the ancient myths in a landscape setting half decorative and theatrical had made him famous in France, Louis XIII called him back to Paris, which was beginning to take an interest in Roman antiquity. He was made First Painter in Ordinary, but he longed for his beloved Rome, went back to her as soon as he could, and passed away in 1665. From him the painting of France takes a new turn, soon to be truly national.

Contemporary with Poussin is the great pupil of Rubens, Anton Van Dyck. After working under Rubens he took the road to the artists’ Mecca, Italy, already at the age of twenty-two an accomplished painter; for four years he travelled and in that time painted the portraits of over fifty notables. Titian and Tintoretto made their impress upon him, but, like Rubens, he remained himself. Although he painted altarpieces and similar ideal compositions he was of all things a superlative painter of portraits. Passing over to England, where he painted Charles I and was knighted by him, he remained there, and the private galleries of England alone contain over three hundred and fifty of his works. A courtly gentleman, his vision simple, serious, quiet, distinguished, he was the ideal recorder of the society of Europe. His color is sober and he deals with black, white, and gray as only great painters can; and the florid and opulent vulgarity that spoils so much of his master Rubens’s work is entirely absent. Born in 1599 he lived but forty-two years. His painting had an immense effect upon the admirable portrait school that soon sprang up and flourished in England.

The years that usher in the seventeenth century are rich in the birthdays of great figures in the world of painting. In the same year as Van Dyck the master known as Velasquez, Don Diego Velasquez de Silva, was born in Seville. One of his early masters was Ribera, and he married the daughter of another, Pacheco, upon whose recommendation he went to seek his fortune in Madrid, where he came in contact with the many canvases by Titian owned by the royal family, and painted Philip IV and his brother. At the Spanish court he met Rubens who urged him to go to Italy, where the Venetians threw open to him the magical world of light and color. From then on his life is but the tale of the unfolding of his suave but prodigious genius. He is the peer of any painter in the world in everything that makes a painter; his color has not the splendor of the Venetians, for the Spanish court clothed itself in black; Velasquez is the interpreter of the restraint and austerity that was a part of the finer elements of the Spanish character; he is the painter of light and air, of the quaintness of princely children, of the grotesque in the swarms of dwarfs the King maintained, and of the dignity and gravity of age and of the Kings of Spain, their Grandees and Admirals. To everything he touched he gave the distinction that was Velasquez. Akin to Rembrandt in his artistic qualities, he never knew the vicissitudes that saddened the life of his great Dutch con-temporary, and died in honored and honorable ease in Madrid in 1660.

Another contemporary of Velasquez, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, and Poussin, was Claude de Lorraine, whose patronymic was Gellee, and in whose case the particle “de” indicates his place of origin, not noble birth, for the young Claude was a pastry-cook and went to Italy in that capacity. Here his real vocation declared itself and he became one of the most noted landscapists in the history of art, the founder of the modern landscape school. It is a curious thing that landscape in and for itself had not appealed to painters be-fore Claude. In the pictures of the Italians and Flemings it is frequently utilized as a background or setting, but treated conventionally with a decorative intent, as a piece of tapestry might be hung up behind the personage or action portrayed. But the beauty of landscape, the glamour of dawn and the waning day, the forms of cloud and tree, and the magic of light falling on hill or plain or the wide reaches of waters, had never appealed to artists until Claude came. His pictures often bear the titles of Classical story, but the figures that justify the titles are so small and so subordinated that they merely give life and scale to the scene in which they move. For eighty-two years, from 1600, he taught the French and through them the rest of the world to see landscape as worthy of loving interpretation.

Six years later than Claude, that is to say in i606, there was born in Holland in the city of Leyden one of the greatest artists the modern world has known; Rembrandt van Rijn is worthy to stand with Michael Angelo, Shakspere, and Beethoven as a kindred soul. Much of his life is veiled in obscurity; he had no marked professional antecedents and he left no definite artistic posterity. When he was about fifty years old it would seem that he lost everything he possessed; just how is not clear; and from then on until his death at sixty-three he would appear to have led a life of comfortless flitting from abode to abode until he obscurely died—a pathetic ending for the artist whose work is one of the glories of the world. He was entirely uninfluenced by Italian art and his point of view and technique became, as they developed and ripened, absolutely personal. In tone his early period resembles the current trend of the Nether-lands, gray and black and brown, but deepens and richens with the passage of years into a system of strong concentration of light and massing of warm, transparent, and luminous shadow, handled with masterly freedom of the brush. He was the greatest etcher who has ever held the needle; whatever his genius wrought upon was transfigured; the Jews and the fusty old women of Amsterdam are raised by his touch to a place among the immortals. So may the nobility of the artist’s vision lift the poor, the lowly, even the sordid, to that plane where all things are equal if the beauty in them is divined.

Of Johannes or Jan Ver Meer of Delft there is little known except his exquisite work; that he was horn in 1632 and that he died young, in 1675, is established. Less than forty paintings are ascribed to him with authority, all small, all bathed in atmosphere, all marvellous in craftsmanship, in the rendition of textures, in perfection of surface, in impeccable draftsmanship. Simple themes—a young woman in a yellow jacket opening a casement, a map on the wall behind her, some household objects on a table covered with an eastern rug—but all metamorphosed, given a new meaning, a new beauty by the magic of the painter’s vision.

The closing years of the seventeenth century gave Giambattista Tiepolo to the world. The school of Venice, like all the Italian schools, had fallen into desuetude when this sprightly genius was born in Venice and born a painter, formed later upon Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese. He travelled much, went up into Germany, and was called to Spain by Charles III. In the seventy-four years of his life his production was immense, peopling the walls and domes of Italy with his airy fantasies. It mattered little whether the theme were religious or not ; the characters of Christian or of pagan allegory floated with equal ease and in equal beauty against the tender blue of Tiepolo’s skies and the delicate grays and pearly whites of their clouds. He knew how to assemble the pomp of a festival as Veronese had known, and deals in cool tones that are never chalky and have a richness that is always light.

In Spanish art the last important figure of the period is that of Goya—Goya y Lucientes—a painter of power, range, and individuality. He, like so many of these others, visited Italy, but said long afterward that he owed all he became to Rembrandt, Velasquez, and nature. He was a very gay young man and threw himself into all the frivolities of the time of Charles III of Spain. Later in life, when Spain was disturbed by revolt, he became serious and sardonic and satirized Spanish life and character in groups of drawings and etchings that are vitriolic in their savage irony. His productive life ended at eighty-two in Bordeaux, 1828.

With this brief account of some of the major figures of Continental painting we approach the eve of the Revolution in France in which the Rights of Man grappled with Privilege of Birth and the Divine Right of Kings and, encouraged by the success of the American Revolution, changed the course of history and checked for a time the natural issues of the Renaissance.

For nearly two centuries in France the Third Estate—all that part of the nation neither noble nor clerical—had had no voice in the government of the country; manufacturer, merchant, professional man, artisan, fanner, all were heavily taxed and saw their hard-won money poured into the laps of spendthrift courtesans, or dissipated in royal and courtly display, in all the ways that pandered to the extravagant tastes of a dissolute King and a corrupt court. And in spite of huge revenues, by the time Louis XVI succeeded to his grandfather’s throne the Crown was almost bankrupt.

With the accession of Louis XVI and his Austrian Queen, Marie Antoinette, there was a distinct amelioration of manners and morals. These were good sovereigns as rulers went, Louis weak and Marie Antoinette unwilling to accept the suggestions of economy and retrenchment urged upon the pair by the King’s ministers. Followed a series of loans floated at ruinous rates of interest, until the Minister of Finance in despair advised the convocation of the States General, an assembly of the three Estates, the nobility, the clergy, and the commons, the first of its kind in one hundred and seventy-five years. This gathering proved to be of a very different timber and temper from the servile assemblies into which Louis XIV had been wont to stalk in riding dress, and order the registration of his decrees, whip in hand. The entire middle class, particularly the professional elements and especially the lawyers, had developed immensely intellectually and morally and had definite notions upon the Rights of Man. The American Revolution, in which the young Republic had the generous support and encouragement of all the best in France, a revolution based on the proposition that all men are created free and equal, had greatly encouraged all those Frenchmen of vision to whom the conditions in France, social and political, were a cause of offense and loathing. The oppressions of the noblesse with their rights of life and death and castigation over the bodies of their peasants—relics of that Feudalism so highly praised as a social system in some quarters-the overwhelming taxes, the extravagance, profligacy, and worthlessness of the nobility as a class, had kindled deep down in the souls of the people a hot and sullen resentment that smouldered until the convocation of the States General gave it outlet and fanned it into flame, to consume the monarchy and burn up much that was good along with the hideous abuses it destroyed in its wrath. In this terrible eruption, comparable with that which has stricken Russia since the World War, the lowest dregs of the population were thrown to the surface and in their mad lust to revenge the wrongs of centuries wreaked their fury upon the innocent and the guilty alike; and among their victims Louis XVI and his Queen paid for the sins of his fathers under the triangular blade of the guillotine.

The tastes of the King and Queen had been quiet, orderly, and refined, and the Style Louis Seize gave promise of leading the way to the highest level the Renaissance had ever reached, an art at once reasoned, structural, and beautiful. But with the Revolution the thought of the day was directed, not forward strangely enough, but backward to the virtues, real or imagined, of the Roman Republic, and a reversion to what was believed to be Classical taste supervened in dress, in furniture, in architecture in a moderate degree, and in painting; a reversion which sharply checked the normal progress of the Renaissance. With the Directorate and with Napoleon, came in the pseudo-classic Directoire and Empire styles, empty and factitious galvanization of classic forms and ornament, sprung from no native taste or national roots, in which stiff and awkward angularity and heaviness masqueraded as Grecian grace and Roman power.

Of this period in painting Louis David may be taken as the type; his design inspired by classical bas-reliefs, his color dull, livid, pallid, and cold—cold as the heart of the man who could calmly sketch his unfortunate Queen from a window as she passed in the tumbril, forsaken, insulted, to the blood-stained scaffold in the Place Louis Quinze.