THE beginnings of painting in France, as in all the Northern countries, are involved in obscurity. But land is no less real, because it has been uncharted. One detects its vague outlines against the obscurity of the past, while nearer in point of time are conspicuous elevations, arresting and engrossing, notwithstanding that they are nameless. They are not connected with the remoter past as in Italy by a continuous if slender tradition, shading back through early Christianity to Roman days. They emerge slowly out of the background of Northern barbarism. Italy’s first, and for a time, sole influence upon the North was that she handed on to it the Christian Faith. From this sprang the germs of civilization which the French shaped and developed according to their own temperament and needs.
Christianity had lingered on among the remains of Gallo Roman civilization, but had become swamped by the German occupation. The Visigoths and Burgundians were the first to embrace the Faith. The decisive point was reached, however, when Clovis, engaged in consolidating a Frankish monarchy, yielded to the love and adroitness of his Burgundian Queen, Clotilda, and was baptized at Rheims in 496. This involved at least the nominal acceptance of the Faith by the whole mass of the Franks, and henceforth France is to be regarded as a Christian country. It is noteworthy that at this period the Church had as yet no magnificence in her places of worship. Such as they were they followed the tradition of the basilica or hall of justice ; a rectangular interior, with an apse projecting at the eastern end. So far as the ecclesiastical ritual was sumptuously furnished, it was rather in the way of vestments and sacred vessels and adornments, objects, in fact, of artistic craftsmanship. In the latter, as applied to secular purposes, the German tribes had already possessed some skill, which was developed and led into higher planes of imaginative invention by their growth in Christian zeal.
A further development of taste and skill was reached when the imperial rule of Charlemagne brought the West in contact with the East. He regarded himself and was regarded by his contemporaries as the successor of the Eastern emperors and it was to Byzantium and the East that he turned for the glorification of his power. When he established his palace at Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) he obtained permission from Pope Adrian to remove thither the decorations of Theodoric’s palace at Ravenna. Its pillars, mosaic pavements and panels of marble, were incorporated into the new Basilica at Aachen, which itself was modeled upon the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna. Moreover the emperor had entered into friendly relations with and received presents from the Saracen Caliph, Haroun-al-Raschid, whose power was steadily encroaching upon Byzantium.
Thus it was by the older Byzantine art and by the immediate influence of the East and not by the example of Roman Italy that the German artistic imagination was in the first instance fertilized. The result was a gradual Northern growth in which a strain of Byzantine influence is perceptible, while on the other hand it takes independent forms, reflecting the racial distinctions of German proper, Burgundian, Flemish and Frank. All, however, have a common trait of naturalistic vigor, characteristically Northern, and in time share the North-ern delight in craftsmanship.
So far as painting is concerned the development proceeds from illumination to frescoed adornments of the walls of churches and thence to the separate panel picture and finally to the painting upon canvas. Through-out, the decorative instinct prevails, as well as the realization of appearances and the expression of sentiment, the human figure being used in combination with beautiful accessories of textiles, architectural glass and metal work, mosaic and furniture, until the picture becomes an epitome of all the art-crafts of the period. Nor, while it is distinguished by elaborateness of detail, is it lacking in vigor and breadth of ensemble.
This fact is due to the conditions under which the early art of the North was produced. These were not individualistic, but socialistic, in the sense that there was co-operation and combination among all the workers in the various united arts. This great efflorescence of energy began after A. D. 1000, when Italy was still asleep. It had been popularly expected that the completion of the thousand years of Christianity would bring about the end of the world and usher in the terrors of the Judgment. “When men found that the order of the cosmos was still pursuing its routine, the immense relief found its expression in a renewed joy of life and a more ardent piety. Thus commenced the great era of cathedral and church building which extended through the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries, during which the Northern genius was liberated and worked in the enthusiasm of its native imagination. And, to repeat, it was a collective effort of all skilled artists, under the impulse of a great Faith and of a great belief in life. An architecture was evolved that in its aspiration to-ward the infinite and in its adventurous logic of construction, has never been rivaled, much less surpassed; until even Italy was kindled by its example and condescended to learn of the Northern barbarian.
In the vast cathedrals of France and Germany, the imagination not only soared heavenward but spread it-self in endless vistas, which lose themselves in the mystery of distance and intricacy, for they enshrine the mysticism as well as the vigor and aspiration of the race. Throughout is a luxuriance of decorative detail, intrinsically the opposite of the formal logic of Roman and Greek art, being indeed akin to the freer logic of nature’s growth, as she clothes the structure of the tree with an outburst from within of leafage, fruit and flower. Nor is the ornament so purely esthetic as the Greek and Roman. It is also intellectual and, in a sense, if you will, literary. It embraces forms of ugliness as well as beauty; embodies in animal and human shape, now natural, now grotesque, the racial lust of life and the inherited myths of the conflict between physical powers of good and evil, of darkness and light. It is a hieratic script, of human significance and meaning, outcropping from the edifice and, like the latter, an embodiment of abstract energy and exaltation in terms of human experience and feeling.
Today these cathedrals, by comparison with their origin, are impressive sepulchers of memory. A thousand other outside interests compete with them; they are frequented by alien sightseers, or at best by worshipers whose faith, because it is no longer shared in common by all the world about them, can reverence these monuments of high physical and spiritual exaltation but is powerless to rival them. So it is only by a difficult straining of the imagination that one can picture the ancient days when the cathedral was inevitably the shrine of a whole community’s yearning after the higher life, both in its relation to this world and the next; when the faith of a whole people served as a mighty impulse to the wealth of the powerful and the inventive genius of the artists ; when the efforts of the latter diffused taste and appreciation throughout the whole community, until it reverenced and enjoyed, as a possession of its own, this miracle of the divine working in the human.
Picture, if it be possible, this shrine of popular devotion and pride, not completed, for successive ages will add to its embellishment; but already as perfect as the genius of the past has been able to make it; an edifice, rooted in strength and springing upward with agile grace and freedom; blossoming with sculptured ornament; its walls opening to the outside light in innumerable traceried windows that glow with the splendor of colored glass; its pavements laid with marbles; its furniture of marvelously carved woodwork and wrought metal; precious metals and jewels flashing in the sacred vessels, and glory of textiles and embroideries making sumptuous the furnishings of the altar and of those who serve before it. As the solemn ritual proceeds in the presence of the kneeling multitude and the fragrance of the incense bears aloft the breath of united faith and adoration, the music of the organ and the voices, another of the great distinguishing features of the Northern cathedral, rolls forth a flood that fills the vast spaces and merges the thousandfold forms of beauty and the collective emotions of the worshipers in a wondrous ensemble of spiritual harmony.
The human appeal of these cathedrals was increased during the middle of the thirteenth century by the pro-fuse use of statues. Sculpture had attained to a greater suppleness and freedom of action. The human forms as well as the draperies appear to have been studied from models. Moreover, canons of form seem to have been established, based on geometric principles and so elaborated as to cover every usual attitude and gesture of the human body. By following these formulas, laid down by the master designers, the ordinary workers were able to secure a high degree of grace and poise of figure. The draperies are particularly masterly, vying with those of the Greeks. Indeed a curious strain of affinity with the Greek feeling is apparent in this early sculpture and will appear in later forms of both sculpture and painting. Can it be a product of the transfusion of the Byzantine influence with the fresh eyed interest in nature of the Germanic race, influenced in turn by the tender refinement of the Celtic strain and the vivacity of the Gallo Roman? Whatever the source of this trait, it is a phenomenon of great account in French art, a phase of the esprit gaulois, which was anterior to the influence of the Italian Renaissance, and was to modify and survive it.
The practice of painting, in France, would appear to have developed under similar conditions of a few master-artists establishing canons of form and composition to be followed by their numerous assistants; an atelier system such as characterized also the flourishing periods of Japanese art. The earliest French painters were the miniaturists and illuminators, examples of whose work can be studied in the Bibliothèque Nationale. They were produced for the service of the ritual and as treasures for royalty and the nobility. The panel picture, on the other hand, was intended for popular edification, even as the early mystery and miracle plays to which they are closely akin both in motive and style. Their appeal is couched in the vernacular, reaching the intelligence and emotion of the people by directly natural means. As to the quality of their naturalism M. Viollet-le-Duc contends that “in the drawing of the form, in correct observation of movements, in composition and in expression the French artists both in sculpture and painting cast off’ the trammels of conventionalism long before the Italians did. The paintings and vignettes which the thirteenth century has bequeathed to us are a proof of the fact; and fifty years previous to Giotto we had among us painters who had already realized the progress ascribed to the pupil of Cimabue. From the twelfth century to the fifteenth drawing becomes modified. Fettered at first by the traditions of Byzantine art, it begins by shaking off those rules of a particular school. Without abandoning style it looks for principles derived from the observation of nature. The study of gesture soon attains to a rare delicacy and then comes a search after expression. As early as the second half of the thirteenth century we recognize striking efforts of composition; the dramatic idea finds place and some of the scenes exhibit powerful energy.”
It is to be noted that Viollet-le-Duc, whose writings on architecture, archeology and criticism appeared between the years 1850 and 1875, was a confessed opponent of the theory that French art owed its greatest obligation to the Italian and Roman tradition. His followers went so far as to sweep the latter entirely out of consideration. He, however, was saner in his views; recognizing the debt to the Renaissance and thence to the Romans, but maintaining that what was intrinsically valuable in the art of his country, in every period, was traceable to enduring traits inherent in the racial amalgam of the French people, and that, even when they borrowed, the French artists fixed on the. result the impress of the French character.
The Louvre in two of its galleries, and in examples, scattered elsewhere, presents fairly sufficient evidence of the painting of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and also of the period during which the Italian artists were working at Fountainebleau.
Among the paintings of the fourteenth century is (995) The Last Communion and Martyrdom of St. Denis; the patron Saint of Old Paris, the first preacher of Christianity in that city, who suffered for the Faith in the year 270. Legend relates that after his decapitation on the Hill of Montmartre, he walked, bearing his head in his hand, to a spot two miles away where a pious lady buried him. Later the body was removed to the Abbey of St. Denis, which became the last resting-place of the kings of France. The composition involves a series of incidents, represented against a gold background. In the center Christ hangs upon the Cross, while the Holy Father stretches out his hands above Him. At the left, Christ, attended by a kneeling angel, administers the Wafer and Chalice to the saint, whose head shows through the bars of a window at the foot of a red brick tower. On the right, the saint, in a blue cope embroidered with gold, kneels at the block, while the executioner raises his ax. The body and head of another ecclesiastic lie at the foot of the cross, while a third awaits his turn of death. In the middle distance stands a group of spectators. The neck of the Saint is already half severed and blood flows profusely from the breast and the feet of Christ. While these details are sufficiently horrible, the limbs of the executioner are lithe and graceful, and the carnations of the flesh-tints throughout very tenderly painted. In fact, the picture shows the evidence of being an enlarged miniature. It is attributed to Jean Malouel and Henri Bellechose.
Also projected on a gold background are (996) Christ Dead and (997) The Entombment. The former shows the nude body of the Christ, crowned with thorns and bleeding, upheld in the arms of The Father.. He is robed in blue, as also is the Virgin while St. John, who stands beside her, wears a red mantle. At the left are five child angels. The panel is circular and again suggests an enlarged miniature. The scale is unfortunate in view of the shape, for the composition appears unduly contracted, the result being a lack of bigness in the general effect. On the other hand, in The Entombment there is a marked increase of power in the treatment of the spaces and planes. The foreground is occupied by three old men, bearing the sacred body, while in the middle distance appears the Virgin, accompanied by Mary Magdalene and Mary Salome, behind whom stands St. John. At the left the scene is being witnessed by an abbot.
That the use of the plain gold background a survival of the miniature, derived from Byzantine tradition continued into the early part of the fifteenth century may be learned from a rendering of the popular theme of St. George. It is a multiple picture, containing various incidents. Here, the saint is in the act of slaying the dragon; there, is being dragged to execution at the heels of a mule; elsewhere lies the dead body, its severed head being crowned with glory, while soldiers, whose lances form a hedge as in Velasquez’ Surrender of Breda, and the executioners prostrate themselves or lift up their hands in awe at the apparition of the saint, kneeling in the sky.
In a fourth example, (941) The Scourging of Christ, the flat gold background yields to an architectural setting. It represents Gothic arcades in the pointed style, under which St. Peter and St. Paul stand, at the left and right of a central canopy. Here, bound to a pillar, is the Christ, His body splashed with blood from the wounds inflicted by birches and thongs, wielded by two executioners. The action and expression are more vigorous than in the preceding examples and the modeling of the figures more angular. The painting has more affinity with the sculpture of the period than with miniatures.
There is an interesting analogy between the multiple pictures and the stage settings and performances of the mystery and miracle plays of the period. It was customary to surround the back of the stage with enclosures variously styled estals, mansions, lieux. These represented the different localities, or as we should say, scenes, involved in the action of the drama, and were occupied by the groups of actors connected with each incident. There exists a title page of a lost “Mystery of St. Apollonia.” The artist, no other than the famous Jehan Foucquet, has represented on the stage the torturing of the saint under circumstances of gross violence, corresponding to the horror of detail that characterizes the pictures of the/ period. Meanwhile, raised in the rear is a series of canopied stalls; the right hand one occupied by the Prince of Evil, standing above the open dragon’s mouth of Hell; the left representing Heaven, where the Virgin sits ‘surrounded by Saints. In another box is a vacant chair from which the Emperor Decius has descended to superintend the torture. He will probably make his exit through the dragon’s mouth, while the holy maid will be escorted up the flight of steps that leads to the mansion of the Virgin. Thus the locality became for the time being the seat of the incident. The practice grew until the mansions were differentiated by architectural fixtures and other details, suggestive of the particular locality. So by degrees came into use that peculiar feature of the early French Renaissance stage, known as le Decor Simultané, which presented a grouped arrangement of all the places to which the author’s fancy transported the action of the play. Thus it would appear that in this particular the drama and painting influenced each other reciprocally.
The pictures, so far considered, while they represent the incident dramatically, with fairly natural action and often striking expression, are in composition confused and agitated. They lack the dignity and force of static quality. It is in this respect that the work of the end of the fifteenth century shows a great advance. Compare, for example, (998) The Deposition (p. 20). How well ordered is the composition! Its geometric basis is a little obvious, but the rigidity and formality are assuaged by the suppleness and naturalness of the forms. So evident a love of truth has inspired the artist’s observation. Nor less interesting in its naïve sincerity, is the way in which the truth is brought home to the actual life of the Parisians of the day. The Cross is set up outside their own city. In the distance extends a view, lovely in its detail, of the Abbey of St. Germain-des-Prés (then truly of the meadows) with the Seine beyond, washing the base of the Louvre of Philippe Augustus, over the towers of which shows the summit of Montmartre. These open spaces and that of the sky happily balance the foreground group, the ordering of which is accompanied by studied moderation in the gestures and expression of the figures. There are no ghastly evidences of blood; the tibia and skull simply remind us that the place is Golgotha; all the pathos of the scene is conveyed by the pitifully helpless body of Christ and the silent anguish that characterizes each individual of the group. We may be conscious of a certain formal affectation in the weeping woman who kneels between the Virgin and the abbot Guillaume, prior of St. Germain; but the respective expressions of these two are admirable; so, too, are the agony and adoration of the young St. John, the grave solicitude of the venerable Joseph of Arimathea; the Magdalen’s humble desolation, and the woeful amazement of the seated woman at the left. She is robed in slaty blue, the Virgin in blue of a brighter tone, the woman beside the latter being in black with a green veil, while the abbot’s cope is of rose-colored brocade. St. John’s cloak is old rose over a crimson tunic. Joseph’s Oriental costume consists of a brown turban and richly embroidered garberdine above a green robe, while the Magdalen wears a white head-cloth and robe, the latter partly covered with a pale rose mantle. The colors, exceedingly beautiful, are illumined with a pure, out-of-doors light.
The gem, however, of these primitive religious pictures in the Louvre is 1001 bis a Pieta of the School of Avignon (p. 29). It will be recalled that through the intrigues of Philip the Fair this Provençal city became in 1309 the domicile of the Popes ; this “second Babylonish Captivity,” as it has been called, lasting until 1376. The palace remained in papal possession until 1791, when it was annexed by France. Until quite recent years the castellated building was used as a barracks and coats of whitewash covered the mural decorations which have been lately revealed. Some of them, which are religious in subject, are attributed to Italian followers of Giotto, notably to Simone Memmi. But the latest restoration reveals another interior, decorated with secular subjects of hunting and fishing. In these a few figures are sprinkled against a background of grassy lawns and dense foliage, which is executed with delicate precision, forming an exquisite arabesque of leafage. All these paintings must have cultivated the taste and stimulated the rivalry of local artists; but are not in themselves sufficient to explain the grand simplicity and severe exaltation which dignify this Pieta. Its inspiration is rather to be found in the higher intellectuality which characterized the cities of Provence. To this day they abound in magnificent monuments of the Roman occupation, which in the fifteenth century were no doubt in better preservation. It is not difficult to realize the effect which the vast sweep of amphitheaters and the silhouette of gateways, walls and aqueducts must have wrought on the imagination of the local artists; teaching them to see things more architectonically, simply and grandly.
Comparing this picture with The Deposition, one notes the greater abstraction of the former. The back-ground is gold, surrounded by a text and border, fashioned in diaper; nor is there so natural an individualization of the figures, if we except the wonderfully direct characterization of the priest. But for what the Pieta loses in naturalness and detailed observation it more than atones in the intensity of its abstract appeal; moreover, in the majestic simplicity of its coordination, so calculated as to give the exactly appropriate degree of emphasis to each of the parts. The eye is spellbound by the gesture of the Saviour’s body; at first, it may be, painfully. But soon the grace and dignity of its arc of direction, so tenderly white against the black, gold-bordered mantle of the Virgin, wins one’s sympathy. The obtrusion of the form yields to a pathetic insistence; its curve has the supple limpness of a wilting flower-stem, until it reaches the strain of the flesh over the ribs and the emphatic angle of the arm, which concentrate attention on the face with its eyes closed and lips apart in an expression of noble suffering. Toward it is inclined the head of the Virgin, thereby concentrating the prominence given to her raised and isolated position. The face is not that of a Mother; it is the Mother’s, in its pure and noble abstraction. Scarcely less noble in its abstract, reverential tenderness is the expression of St. John, as he removes the crown of thorns from the illumined head. His robe is also black, bordered with gold and partly concealed by a brown cloak, while the Magdalen, as she holds a yellow handkerchief to her eyes, is draped in old dull crimson. And not less admirable than the monumental reserve of the color-scheme are the amplitude of the masses of the drapery and the large simplicity with which the planes are treated. There is nothing finer in Zurbaran’s rendering of the white habits of the Carthusian monks than the effective handling here of the priest’s surplice.
This Pieta fitly summarizes in pictorial form the noblest aspect of the medieval civilization that was even then in process of being superseded by the modern. So far as technique is concerned its unknown painter had attained in his art the mastery of architectonics that the sculptors and more particularly the architects had achieved in theirs. Emotional fervor is here tempered to a logical restraint and intellectualized. Intensity of conviction and of personal sensation are elevated to impersonal, abstract expression; nature has been noted and rendered, but sublimated with a universal suggestion. Consequently, this primitive work, purged from the formalism of the Byzantine and the affectation and undue naturalism of the Gothic and not yet tainted with the sophistical superior knowledge and mundane quality of the Italian invasion, appeals to the higher consciousness and purest imagination of the modern mind. For the latter, wearied with much learning and with a pro-longed pursuit of naturalistic verisimilitudes, is seeking to recover more abstract principles and an attitude of approach to nature which views it in relation to the universal.
Somewhat corresponding to the development of religious painting before the French Renaissance is that of portraiture. It is distinguished by a resolute regard for nature. The painters represented the kings and nobles in whose employ they served without any attempt to idealize, registering conscientiously the impressions of the eye and paying careful attention to details of the costume. Accordingly, even the most indifferent ones have a documentary value, and one can study to-day with an assurance of their veritableness the countenances, often forbidding, of some of the chief characters in the tangled drama of the times. These portraits, in fact, are more illuminative of history than much reading of books.
The earliest portraits in the Louvre belong to the fifteenth century. Note, for example, a pair representing, respectively, Pierre II, Duke of Bourbon, Sire of Beaujeu and his wife Anne, daughter of Louis XI. In each case the figure is kneeling, three quarters profile; the husband in front of St. Peter who carries the keys; the lady facing St. John, who bears his emblem, a pyx from which a dragon springs. The figures are disposed in a corridor, through an opening of which appears a landscape. These portraits are assigned to the Burgundian school and exhibit a Flemish feeling in the treatment of the charming landscapes and the rich fabrics of the costumes, though inferior in the flesh parts, which are flabby and rather expressionless. Also belonging to the Burgundian school is a portrait of Philippe Le Bon, Duke of Burgundy, wearing the Order of the Golden Fleece which he had instituted in 1430. Formerly attributed to one of the Bellini, but now recognized as the work of some French painter of the early fifteenth century is a group portrait of Jean Juvenal des Ursins, president of the Parliament, and his wife and eleven children. In this picture, too, the figures are kneeling, the father in advance and the wife and children strung out behind him, while underneath each is an inscription giving the name and title. The background represents a chapel divided into three parts, across the front of which is stretched to half the height, a cloth of gold dossal drapery. Except in a documentary sense, as a record of costumes and inscriptions and as an example of workshop methods, following the canons but uninspired by the artist, this picture has no interest. One cannot even accept it as evidence of portraiture, for the same physiognomy is repeated in all the heads.
On the contrary it is a human document that confronts us in the diptych portrait of René d’Anjou and his second wife, Jeanne de Laval. René, Duke of Anjou, Count of Provence and titular King (“le bon roi Rene”) of Naples, until dispossessed by Alfonso of Aragon in 1442, was himself a painter as well as a patron of art and literature. The heads and busts are shown in pro-file; the king’s having an expression of noble resignation, while his Queen’s is a trifle sentimental in its sad sweetness. The execution is studiously elaborated and delicately truthful in detail. These portraits are attributed to Nicolas Froment of Avignon, who was also a painter of still-life and landscape.
The finest example, however, of the portraiture of the period is shown in the almost profile bust, Portrait of a Woman, painted by an unknown artist at the end of the fifteenth century. The subject is a lady of circumstance. She wears a red damask robe, fur-trimmed and cut square at the neck, revealing a blue silk guimpe. Over the latter lies a dainty, jeweled necklace, while suspended by a chain over her bosom is a handsome jewel, in the center of which appears the figure of St. John the Baptist. The hair is drawn back off the high forehead and confined in a quilled cap, over which shows the edge of a red skull cap, beneath a black hood, edged with pearls. The head is placed against a background sown with pansies and forget-me-nots, which add meaning to the inscription upon a scroll held between the lady’s thumb and forefinger: “De quoilque non vede yo my recorde,” “I remember those whom I do not see.” Any suspicion of sentimentalism is banished by the expression of the face, which has a large strong nose and firmly set mouth. It is a face full of character, calm and purposeful, yet tender and constant; that of a chatelaine who could ably administer her husband’s affairs in his absence.
The dominant figure of this transition period is. Jean Foucquet who was born in Tours about 1415 and died about 1485. He was painter in ordinary both to Charles VII and Louis XI. Some part of his life was spent in Italy, where he seems to have been chiefly affected by the work of the primitive Tuscans. Yet not in imitation but in emulation; their example stimulating his own habit of conscientious observation and directly simple rendering. He made his mark alike in panel pictures and in miniatures. Forty of the latter, illustrating a Book of Hours for Etienne Chevalier are preserved at Chantilly. He is represented in the Louvre by two portraits respectively of Charles VII and of the Juvenal des Ursins whose portrait with his family by an unknown painter has been already noticed. Here, however, Juvenal is shown as a man of forceful character, such as is to be expected of one who was Chancellor of France under both Charles and Louis. Half life-size, he is represented standing in profile, in an oratory, clasping his hands before a priedieu, where a book lies open upon a cushion. His costume consists of a dull red robe, trimmed with fur, fashioned with large, stuffed sleeves, and confined at the waist with a belt from which a purse depends. Green panels are fitted into the gilt pilasters of the background, the capitals of which comprise the coat of arms of the Ursin family, supported by two muzzled bears rampant. The portrait, as Gustave Geffroy remarks, affirms the subject’s character, as at once a bourgeois, a jurist and a man of the sword.
Compared with the ampleness of the Chancellor, the Portrait of Charles VII (p. 34) presents a sad-featured, meager face that ill accords with the inscription at the top and bottom of the panel: “Le tres glorieux roy de France, Charles Septiesme de ce nom.” Impressed, however, on the face are the traces both of his character and of his experience. When his father, Charles VI, died he was a young man of nineteen, con-fronted with a divided country over the greater part of which the English held control. He is described as being of a delicate constitution, a good scholar, timid, reserved, but addicted to indulgence. It was not until some years later, after the triumphs of Joan of Are, that he was crowned at Rheims. When his authority was finally established he set himself to reorganize the finances of the country, at the same time reducing the power of the feudal aristocracy by employing as ministers and captains of war members of the bourgeois and lesser nobility. His end was miserable. Louis, his son, having openly rebelled, Charles, in terror of being poisoned, refused food and ended his exhausted life by starvation. The good and the bad, the promise and the failure of the royal personality are marvelously suggested in this great human document, surely one of the most arresting portraits in the world.
Another superb example is that of Etienne Chevalier with St. Stephen in the Berlin Museum. The Secretary of Charles VII stands with hands folded as in prayer beside the Saint, who holds a book with a stone upon it in his left hand, while his right rests on the shoulder of his namesake. The youthful face of the protomartyr, calm and strong, is one of singular purity, while in that of the older man is embedded the suggestion of resolute directness, probity and kindly devotion. The figures are shown about half length in a corridor of Renaissance architecture, and again the artist betrays his favorite palette of red, green and gold-embroidered blue.
It appears in the strangely alluring Virgin and Child of the Antwerp Museum. Red and blue nude child-angels form a clustering background to the tasseled, jeweled throne on which Madonna sits. An ermine cloak depends from her shoulders and is held across her lap with one hand for the nude Babe to sit on. The tight fitting bodice of her green robe is unlaced, releasing the left breast. It is a sphere of ivory, wax-white like the neck and the globe of the head. For the eyelids are lowered and the hair brushed off the high forehead, so that the head beneath the large jeweled crown seems as if bald. Immobile as marble and as cold are the form and its expression; yet instinct with latent coquetry, that exhales its allurement as naturally and as purely as a flower its fragrance. And with a similar detachment from passion one yields to the seduction. For the suggestion and the charm are those of femininity in the abstract. Agnes Sorel, the king’s mistress, is known to have been the model; but the representation is cleansed of personality.
Foucquet’s masterpiece, indeed, offers a strangely interesting commentary on the mental attitude of its time toward religion and the sex-relations. Moreover, it is the first indication in painting of the idea of “the eternal feminine,” as interpreted by the finest qualities of the esprit gaulois. For the latter’s choicest expression of the eternal feminine involves nothing of coarseness or seductiveness but represents, as embodied in the idea of woman, the essence of the allure and beauty of life. It has in it not a little of Attic naïveté and simplicity. It is a clue and the chief one, to some of the most characteristic phases of French art.