DURING the same time when Raphael was enchanting the world with his dignified balance of beautifully varied figures and while Michael Angelo was astounding it with his prodigious illustrations of the old Hebrew literature, another great painter was demonstrating that every kind of talent was contained in this one epoch by a class of pictures which charm and delight us without appealing either to the intellect or to the standpoint of architectural effect.
Antonio Allegri, known as Correggio (Corejyo), from his birthplace near Parma, was this painter. Correggio was, after Da Vinci, the first great master in lights and shadows. His subjects are as often mythological as religious, and in both cases attractive by grace and beauty rather than by power of thought. He was an artist of the senses rather than of the intellect, an oil painter rather than a monumental decorator, rarely dignified but never commonplace.
In Correggio’s art the momentary effect in face and gesture was the thing sought for, but this effort never descended to affectation and never sinned by self-consciousness. The greatest charm of Correggio’s painting is its artless and innocent delight in sensuous beauty which never sinks to sensuality.
My illustrations for this artist will probably place him in his relations and contrasts to the great Florentines more successfully than words. His tendencies as pursued by a later generation with less simplicity had marked influence on the seventeenth century and all later art. His important pictures, as being oil paintings on canvas, have been widely scattered through the galleries of Europe, all of which can boast one or more of his masterpieces. His ” Holy Night ” in Dresden, is the most generally known. The “Magdalen” in Dresden, so long attributed to him, is now known to be by Van der Werff, an artist of the seventeenth century school of Holland.
In face of his picture in Madrid of the meeting of Christ and Mary Magdalen after the Resurrection, we cannot deny that Correggio had his serious moments and great thoughts. This is probably his greatest, certainly his most serious, work. The wonderful mellowness of coloring and dark richness of the shadows are seen even in the photograph.
In the execution of minor details Correggio showed the same broad style of execution otherwise familiar to his time but he went much farther in the realistic introduction and treatment of clouds, landscape accessories, and other subordinate features of his pictures. It would be more correct and more exact to say that he habitually represented these things in larger dimensions as compared with his figure scheme, than did other contemporary painters. Altogether his art is more mobile, more expressive in the exterior sense, more vibratory in its relations of light and shade, more nervous in its activity, in a word, more modern than that of any of his contemporaries. He is a marvelous anticipator of the effects which were sought by all artists a century later, but which were then sought without the same unaffected and ingenuous style.
We have still left for mention the School of the Venetians, which outlived all other great art in Italy and continued in bloom down to the close of the sixteenth century. The relations of this survival to general Italian history have been pointed out (p. 36). As contrasted with the light and shadow treatment of Correggio, the figure design of Michael Angelo, or the decorative composition of Raphael, the great excellence of Venetian painting was its harmony and warmth of color.
Why the Venetians should have been so pre-eminent in color is not immediately clear. We may suggest that their commerce with the East and traffic in Oriental rugs and fabrics may have had much to do with it. Certainly we can find analogies between the warm tones of their pictures and their prosperous, luxurious lives and pleasure-loving tastes.
Oil colors and canvas surface were their preference for interiors as against fresco painting on plaster. Their wall-paintings were canvases fastened to the walls after the work was done There is not therefore in Venetian art any question of the outline effects and architectural balance of Raphael and other Florentines or of the anatomic enthusiasms of Michael Angelo. On the other hand the contrasts and harmonies of flesh color and draperies, the rich mellowness of backgrounds and skies are absolutely unrivaled either in contemporary or later times.
To such an art strong emotion or rapid action was generally foreign. Half-figure pieces were much affected and here make their appearance for the first time in Italian art. (In the seventeenth century they became general.) A noble and dignified repose is a constant feature of these paintings. Nowhere is the great refinement of Italian culture more apparent than in these faces and attitudes. The poise and self-contained character of the portraits have been rarely if ever equaled in later times, and when they are taken in bulk have never been subsequently rivaled. What we admire later in Velasquez or in Van Dyck was the everyday art of a sixteenth century Venetian portrait.
The development of Venetian art was tardy. Not till the close of the fifteenth century does it figure, unless in the studies of the specialist. We have devoted a word to Carpaccio and the Bellinis for this time (p.124).
At the opening of the sixteenth century we are then confronted by a genius in Giorgione (Jorjony), in whom all the best qualities of Venetian art found their highest pitch of perfection. To this perfection is added a touch of aristocratic reticence and refinement which even in Venetian art has scarcely had its parallel. The paintings of this artist who died at the age of thirty-four (1511), are of extreme rarity. The greatest painter of Venetian art be-side and after him was his pupil.
To Titian (Tishyan) this place is awarded not because Palma Vecchio, or Paris Bordone, Tintoretto, or Paul Veronese, has not rivaled him in many pictures, butbecause his constant evenness of perfection through a long life of enormous industry and productivity has left him without a rival when his works are summed together. The Dresden Gallery will take the palm for Titians in northern Europe. In Italy, outside of Venice, his finest paintings are in Florence and in the Borghese Gallery at Rome. His greatest picture is the ” Assumption of the Virgin,” in the Venice Academy. “Christ and the Tribute Money,” in Dresden, is his greatest work in northern Europe.
The nearest rivals of Titian were Palma Vecchio and Paris Bordone. The quality of their art is closely analogous to his. In amount of production or in thoughtful conceptions of subject matter they cannot be said to have been his equals. For pure Venetian coloring they cannot be called inferiors.
On the other hand Tintoretto and Paul Veronese represent a later generation of Venetian art, in which the solidity and body of the design were tending to become weaker. Only in individual examples does Tintoretto rise to the heights of his predecessors.
Paul Veronese, who closes in point of time the list of great Venetians, was in brush work and in color one of the greatest, but it would be difficult to quote works from his hand of ideal and intellectual quality such as were produced by Giorgione, Titian, and contemporaries. The colossal canvases on which he depicted the ” Feast in the House of Levi,” the “Marriage of Cana,” etc., are purely pictures of Venetian life disguised by their titles as scripture subjects, and we are bound to confess that what had once been the means to an end had now become the end itself.
It is best, however, not to be looking either backward or forward when we wish to be just to a work of art and give it full value for its own sake. He who wishes to do full justice to Veronese needs only to ask himself the question, “How can I best know the daily life of the most opulent and cultivated city of Europe in the days of Shakespeare and Elizabeth ? ”
We cannot close our brief account of the greatest Italian painters without noting the multitude of artists of the first rank flourishing in the same period, whose names have not been mentioned. A mere catalogue of their names would scarcely be worth making, and space would not allow more. None the less their existence, at least, must be specified and insisted on. It is this multitude of superior artists which made possible the supreme perfection of the work of certain individuals of rarest genius among their number.
( Originally Published 1894 )
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