Art has often been too daring, even sacriligious, pretending to portray the “secrets of the Last Judgment or the Beatitudes of Eternity.” According to Ruskin, Raphael was the first and great corrupter of Christian art, the former charging him with not having religion and originality enough to trace the spirit of poetry, philosophy, and theology to the inspiration of the true God. He does not deny Raphael’s transcendent genius, but makes the criticism that up to the time of Raphael, all art, ancient and mediaeval, was religious art; but when Raphael was brought to Rome by the .Pope -the so-called head of the church -to decorate the Vatican; the great artist ” elevated the creations of fancy on the one wall to the same rank as the object of faith on the other,” painting a picture of the heathen god Apollo on the wall of the same chamber with a picture of Christ, enthroning there also as masters of poetry ” Petrarch and Pindar, but not Isaiah nor David, – from that spot and from that hour, the intellect and the art of Italy date their degeneration, yea, the doom of the arts of Europe went forth from that chamber.” ‘he same author continues, “The perfection of execution and the beauty of feature which were attained in Raphael’s works, and in those of his great contemporaries, rendered finish of execution and beauty of form the chief objects of all artists: and thenceforward execution was looked for rather than thought, and beauty rather than veracity.”
It is charged that in comparison with ancient art modern art is profane,- profane in that it denies Christ and, instead of the life of Christ, it paints Apollos, Bacchuses, Satyrs, Muses, Graces, Cupids, veiled Nymphs, soft goddesses, naked Venuses, Antiopes, and at best beautiful Virgins and Madonnas. And when the Old Masters painted the so-called Holy Family, it was “for the sake of drawing pretty children, or a pretty woman.” Ruskin further adds, “when the entire purpose of art was moral teaching, it naturally took truth for its first object, and beauty and the pleasure resulting from beauty, only for its second. But when it lost all purpose of moral teaching, it as naturally took beauty for its first object, and truth for its second.”
One’s devotion to the beautiful must not override his adherence to truth and fact and sincerity. If we cannot from lack of knowledge, respresent things as they are, our imagination should not make them other than they must be. Down to the close of the fifteenth century -Raphael’s time, the greatest artists were true to the facts, or what they would be, and held sternly to their moral purpose.
It is claimed that ancient classical art as well mediaeval art were entitled to be called great because they were inspired by the religious sentiment and devoted to the gods, but that modern art is not great because it builds to no God.
Art has had its periods of rise and decline. The two great periods of fine art, when it reached its zenith, were the classical age of ancient Greece and the spring of the Italian Renaissance or new birth of art when the glorious morning came after the long dark night of ignorance and superstition. The Renaissance was the golden age of Italian art when there shone pre-eminent such names as Michael Angelo transcendant in power, Raphael unrivaled in exquisite grace, Leonardo universal in genius, and the matchless colorists of Venice, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, and Giorgione.
Not only was the Renaissance a time of the revival of the arts of sculpture, painting, and architecture, but also of science, literature, poetry, music – all felt the sudden influence as of coming summer after the long dead winter of the Middle Ages,- liberty threw off her shackles, public mind everywhere awoke, the church arose as if from the sepulchre, shook off her apathy, and caught the new inspiration. The revival which began in Italy extended till it had spread over France, Germany, and England, and each country came to have its own peculiar Renaissance marked more distinctly perhaps in its style of architecture. As summer is always followed by Fall and Winter, so the glorious season of art seemed destined to another period of de-cline till we have again all but witnessed the ruin of art. Where is our master of sculpture,- our Phidias, Angelo, Canova, or Thorwalsden? Where is our modern Appelles, our Raphael, Leonardo, or Titian?
Who can now reproduce the sublimities of Mozart, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, or Bach? Have we not fallen upon an age of ” water-colors – sketches, operettes, and novelettes?”
There are certain conditions of art-life, essential to its health and growth. The fine arts are not apt to flourish except when the arts of peace prevail and thrive in a land. The most unfavorable and hostile influences to the cultivation of art have been the expense and conflicts of war and the clashings of high political agitations. Perhaps this fact, together with the universal devotion to the useful” arts and earnestness in practical philanthropy will account for the general decadence of art since the period of the Renaissance.
It is a fact in the history of all art that it has only attained its highest excellence when and where it has received adequate patronage. As wealth and taste increase in a country, the patronage of the fine arts increases. Christian art, as well as all other, needs a more appreciative support, and one of the favorable signs of the times is that this need is being rapidly recognized. The remarkable interest manifested by our own and foreign nations in the creditable art ,department at the Chicago World’s Fair is one of the proofs that another great Revival in art is dawning and the vast number of costly and artistic church edifices, Protestant as well as Roman, that’ are arising on every hand is an evidence of the New Alliance of Art and Religion. The question now is whether Christian art will be true to its opportunities. There is much yet that needs to find utterance in art. Christian art offers yet a large field for growth and utility. It is now only in the infancy of its usefulness. In the days of art’s mastery, Christian truth inspired it; so let it be again, while a healthy Christian conscience corrects all that is false.