National Gallery – Bolognese Sternness And Sienese Beauty

IN the room leading off the larger hall of Tuscan paintings are hung the pictures of the school of Siena, and, in another, those of Bologna and Ferrara. There is an interesting contrast between the types of these schools. The Sienese ideal from the first was beauty; in form, colour, and sentiment, the early pictures of Siena are gratifying to the eye ; the schools of Bologna and Ferrara, on the contrary, are more strenuous, — beauty was not their aim, — they did not shrink from positive ugliness, if it were only true to nature. This refers to the early painters, — that is to say, up to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Another school, dominated by the Carracci, grew up later, which had nothing in common with these first artists, and will be treated of in another place.

Bologna and Ferrara did not grow forth from Tuscan influence, but rather from that of Venice and its adjacent territories. When we come to examine the Venetian and Paduan schools, we shall see where these had much in common with Bologna and Ferrara.

The earliest Bolognese painter whom we find in London is Lippo di Dalmasio, who lived from 1376 to 1410. His picture, No. 752, is a rather pleasing Madonna of the very early type. The human interest between Mother and Child is here emphasized as Cimabue would have hesitated to emphasize it, and as Margaritone would never have imagined possible. Lippo was quite the fashionable painter of his day, and every well-to-do family of Bologna saw to it that they possessed a bit of his handiwork. Guido Reni used to insist that there was something supernatural about the touch of Lippo ; the heads he considered most original.

After Lippo, the next important artist of this school in the National Gallery is Cosimo Tura, a Ferrarese (1420? – 95), who was court painter to D’Este and Strozzi. While Lippo’s pictures are weak and yet graceful, Tura’s were full of vigour but undeniably unlovely. Bologna, indeed, did not reach her true aesthetic strength until the artists of Ferrara had come in the fifteenth century, and formed schools. The largest and most showy of Tura’s pictures in London is No. 772, — a Virgin and Child surrounded by singing angels, playing their little orchestra of mandolins, accompanied by the organ in its most primitive form, which is being operated in the foreground by two more angels. The Virgin herself is most disappointing, – tasteless in treatment, hard and coarse in expression. A pair of tablets inscribed with Hebrew characters are on either side of the throne; the architecture of this throne certainly shows power of invention, but it is an invention which needs drastic pruning. It demonstrates the chief characteristics of Tura’s manner; he has careful execution, great patience, a love for florid ornament, originality in colour, and in the peculiar modelling of his heads and hands. St. Jerome, No. 773, is stern and powerful ; not beautiful, but impressive. It shows the saint as Browning describes him:

“…knocking at his poor old breast With his great round stone, to subdue the flesh.”

Singularly lacking in ” prettiness,” and even in ordinary feminine grace or spiritual appreciation, is the Weeping Virgin, No. 905.

More mellowed in every way is the work of Francesco del Cossa, also of Ferrara, who died about 1480. His picture, No. 597, represents either St. Vincentius Ferrer or St. Hyacinth. A curious little composition is this. The saint stands with one hand raised, to call attention to the heavenly choir above, an open book in the other hand. He is standing upon a species of squat octagon dining-table, with a cloth laid symmetrically upon it; it is the only instance in art which I recall of a pedestal support of this description.

No. 629, by Lorenzo Costa, a pupil of Tura, shows marked advance over the others. Costa was intimate with the soulful Francia, living in the same house with him, and instructing him, — or, rather, interchanging ideas with him, for it seems as though Francia had imparted quite as much as he imbibed. This enthroned Madonna is most delightful ; the angels, although somewhat strained in attitude, are on the whole satisfactory. There is a curious bit of literal interpretation in this picture; an opening is cut beneath the throne, through which shows a landscape, supposed to carry out the text, ” Thus saith the Lord, the Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my foot-stool.”

This school of Tura, Costa, Cossa, and the Grandi, finally led up to the great Correggio, but it is not yet our purpose to follow this chain.

We turn now to three of the most solemn and reverent pictures in the collection : the works of the spiritual Francesco Raibolini, better known as Francia, who was perhaps the climax of the early Bolognese school. No. 179, a large altar-piece, represents the Virgin and St. Anne enthroned, with the infant between them, the little St. John, who is at the foot of the throne, being one of the ” purest creations of Christian art.” The pious serenity in the figure of St. Sebastian is one of the features which one especially remembers in recalling this picture. The figure is not intellectually conceived, but it has a tender charm, — in fact, Francia is one of the few artists of Bologna who allows grace and beauty to outweigh virility. No. 18o is the lunette which belongs to this picture. It is a Pietà, — the Virgin, figured as a woman of ripe age, weeps over the prostrate body of our Lord. The sentiment in this picture is full of infinite pity and love. The angels have been weeping until their eyes are red. This was a naturalistic touch quite different from the feeling in any of the more conventional schools. The finish is positively like enamel. In No. 638, the figure of St. John is charming, and the Madonna very girlish and sweet, but the Child is ineffective.

Francia began life as a goldsmith, and was thus from the first accustomed to use the tender touch of the craftsman who deals with subtle effects in metal. In this craft he succeeded to perfection, and, as the practical Vasari puts it, ” obtained not only the immortality of fame, but also some very hand-some presents.” He did not take up painting until he was thrown with Lorenzo Costa. It was, with him, simply another expression of the artistic temperament, — but what an expression ! Compare his Pietà with the harsh, uninteresting picture by Marco Zoppo, a contemporary townsman, No. 590, and we shall see how he dominated his school. When Francia had decided to become a painter, he conceived the adroit scheme of inviting artists to his house on long visits ; by watching them at work and conversing with them, he was able to gain much knowledge. He became an admirer of Raphael, and the two entered into a correspondence. Evidently Francia sent a portrait of himself to Raphael, for in a letter from Sanzio occurs this sentence : ” I have this moment received your portrait, which has been brought to me safely without having suffered any injury whatever. . . . I thank you for it heartily; it is singularly beautiful, and so lifelike that I sometimes fancy myself to be near you and listening to your words.” Raphael had a great admiration for Francia, — in a letter writ-ten in 1508 Raphael asks Francia to send him his design for Judith, in return for a study by himself, the conclusion of the letter reading : ” Continue to love me as I love you, with all my heart.”

Malvasia says that Francia was ” esteemed and celebrated as the first man of the age,” and Vasari testified to his being held in Bologna ” in the estimation of a god.” In his pictures he sometimes signs himself Francesco Francia Aurifex, to show that he still made no, claim to be other than a goldsmith. Vasari gives the year of his death as 1518, and says that he ” perished with shame and grief ” at seeing a picture by Raphael which was finer than he could produce himself ; yet Vasari recognizes that this statement is exaggerated, and qualifies it by adding that his death was so sudden as to give rise to the belief that ” it was caused by poison or apoplexy rather than anything else.” Just what symptoms in common poison and apoplexy may have, we leave it to Vasari to ex-plain.

There are three quaint pictures by Ercole de Roberti, who painted in Ferrara at the end of the fifteenth century. No. 1127 is a Last Supper, very formal and uninteresting; No. 1217 represents the Israelites gathering manna, which is a much better picture on all accounts, and almost makes one feel that the Last Supper must be by another hand. This painting of the Israelites indicates a familiarity with the works of Mantegna. There is considerable old-world charm, too, in the little diptych, No. ’4n.

There is a good stiff little picture of St. Jerome by Bono of Ferrara, No. 771, which has a distant view of a church lighted from within; this is the earliest example in the National Gallery of the effect of illumination inside a building.

There flourished at this time one Grandi, with a grandiloquent name, Ercole di Giulio Cesare. (It is evident that the classic revival had reached Ferrara when he was christened!) Grandi, living between 146o and 1531, is splendidly exhibited here by his large and decorative altar-piece, No. 1119, the Madonna and Child enthroned, with the Baptist on one side and the stalwart young St. William on the other. The youthful warrior, alert and full of action, yet with the passive and lovely face of the saint, is a very striking figure. The picture of the Conversion of St. Paul, No. 73, which is attributed to Ercole Grandi, is probably by another, for there is certainly little in common between the two. The detail painting in No. 1119 is truly microscopic, — it is equal to almost any-thing in Flemish work. Grandi is said to have been so much annoyed by jealous artists, who broke into his house in the night and stole his sketches, that he finally left Bologna.

Of the works of Mazzolino da Ferrara, the National Gallery has four excellent specimens. Mazzolino was called the ” glowworm of the Ferrarese school.” A contemporary of Correggio, without having the same qualities which made the latter great, he still has something of those traits which Correggio inherited from his predecessor, Costa, who was the master of Mazzolino. These paintings are all small, No. 82 being a Holy Family, and No. 169 another; No. 641 represents the Woman Taken in Adultery, and No. 1495, Christ and the Doctors. These pictures are all very similar in their characteristics. There is a great deal of architectural ornamentation, and, in each, the figures introduced are small and numerous. The Virgin in No. 169 is original in type; her face is like those painted by some of the masters of Spain, — a very childish, innocent type, wholly pleasing.

Of this period is the portrait of Leonello d’Este, with a most unfortunate profile which he has had perpetuated by Giovanni Oriolo. Hard, stiff, and fine as is the handling, there is much good work on this strange painting. It is numbered 770. One becomes more resigned to the facial angle of Leonello, upon learning that he ” had not his equal in piety toward God, in equity and kindness toward his subjects. He was the protector of men of letters, and was himself a good Latin scholar.” These facts are vouched for by Muratori.

There is a St. Sebastian by Ortolano, No. 669, which might have been started as a study for an Apollo striking his lyre, and afterward adapted to other needs. The saint is accompanied by St. Roch and St. Demetrius, who appear to be deeply concerned at his elaborate suffering, but quite powerless to suggest any relief. If one had to select either, it would be hard to choose between this St. Sebastian of Ortolano, with his gracefully waving arms, and the wooden, weak-shouldered saint as figured by Zaganelli, No. 1o92. This picture is only interesting because it is the sole surviving example of the artist’s work. He lived in the sixteenth century.

The climax of art in the Ferrarese school is reached by Dosso Dossi, and Benvenuto Tisio, known as Garofalo. Dossi is not easily appreciated in Lon-don, as one picture which is ascribed to him is probably not his at all, — No. 64o, Adoration of the Magi, — and the other, No. 1234, is not especially characteristic of his style. It is supposed to be a Muse Inspiring a Court Poet. Never did Muse look less capable, or poet less inspired. It has been suggested that this may be a sarcasm, for Dossi was given to mirthful conceits, as witness the satirical Bambocciata, in the Pitti Palace. This may be the portrait of some inadequate court poet at Ferrara, and it may have been the artist’s little joke to bestow upon this poet just one jasmine blossom from the wreath of the Muse ! Dossi was primarily a great decorative painter, especially famous for his landscapes, and clever in portraying ornament and detail. He was born in Ferrara in 1479, about the same time as Ludovico Ariosto in the same city. But, as Vasari remarks, ” He cannot be accounted so great among painters as the latter among poets.” Still, he was sufficiently prominent for the great Ariosto to mention him in one of his poems. ” The manner of Dosso,” continues Vasari, ” has thus obtained greater fame from the pen of Messer Ludovico than from all the pencils and colours consumed by himself.” The Duke of Ferrara showed many favours to Dosso Dossi, not only because he was a fine painter, but because he was a courtly gentleman, and deserved the honours which attended him. Late in life he was pensioned by the duke, so that his old age was spent in comfort; and when he died, in 1542, he was interred with ceremony in his native city.

Benvenuto Tisio, called Garofalo, was born in Ferrara in 1481, and studied there, and at Rome, Mantua, and Cremona. He was painter by appointment to the court of Francesco Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua. In 1503 he went to Rome to study Raphael. He became a friend of the great painter, who taught him many things. He studied as much as possible from real life, and, when this was not convenient, used clay models or lay-figures. Benvenuto had intended never to marry, but at the susceptible age of forty he fell in love, and married some unknown lady. In about a year after this, he had a serious illness which deprived him of the sight of one eye, and very nearly caused him to lose the other. Benvenuto suffered much in this situation, and prayed that he might have his left eye preserved ; he registered a vow that he would for ever after wear nothing but gray clothing if this boon were vouchsafed him; and, in effect, the eye recovered its sight, and he kept his vow.

Every festa day, for a period of twenty years, this good man worked at the Convent of San Bernardo, for the nuns of that house, ” without intermission for the love of God,” and with no pecuniary returns. He frescoed and painted parts of the establishment as a free-will offering. His characteristic mark or signature on his pictures is usually a violet. In 1550 Gardfalo became totally blind ; this cross was borne with patience and fortitude for nine years, at the end of which time he was released from his troubled life, in 1559.

Garofalo appears to better advantage in London than his contemporary, Dossi. There are three good pictures by him in the National Gallery, No. 81 being a charming rendering of the old legend of St. Augustine and the Child. The saint, presided over by St. Catherine, patron of scholars and philosophers, turns to see the Child, who is trying to empty the sea into the little pond which he has dug. The saint tells the Child that he is attempting the impossible ; to which the Child replies : ” No more impossible than for thee to explain the mystery on which thou art now meditating.” The visionary character of the scene is emphasized by Garofalo. No. 17o is a Holy Family. The dresses are quaint; little St. John wears a strange cap, and the Virgin’s head-dress is also a departure from the usual fashion. The treatment of the heavenly host above is very flamboyant, and shows the coming decadence of art. In his Christ in the Garden, No. 642, Garofalo is very dramatic; it is not a convincing presentment of the scene. His Madonna Enthroned, No. 671, has the figures of St. William, St. Clara, St. Francis, and St. Anthony, standing at the sides.

Before leading up to Raphael through the Umbrian school, it will be well to step aside into the smaller room at the left, and examine the beautiful productions of the school of Siena. Duccio, their great original, from whose influence a host of religious painters descended, we have already spoken of, because Cimabue and he represented practically the art of Italy in their time, and, having no other contemporaries, should always be studied together.

As the Abbate Luigi Lanzi justly says, ” The Sienese is the lively school of a lively people.” There is a certain dash and piquancy about even their conscientious religious work, which is ineffably charming. Perhaps one reason for this may be that the first influence on Sienese art was Greek, either through the crusades in the East, or derived from Pisa, whose governor was Lord of Athens. At the time that this Greek feeling appeared, it had taken on the Byzantine instead of the classic Athenian form ; but the spirit in some way seemed to enter into Sienese work, which, when the Byzantine yoke was superseded, displayed itself in a cheerful delight in beauty, — especially the beauty of a woman’s face. The Sienese drew from this source a subtle loveliness, almost Oriental ; they portrayed none of the snub-nosed types of Tuscany, nor the bald-browed Bolognese.

The only picture in the National Gallery which shows the absolutely unwavering steadfastness of the Byzantine tradition, in hampering the progress of art, is that by Emmanuel, No. 594, called the Holy Money-Despisers; in other words, Sts. Cos-mas and Damian, who, being patron saints of the medical profession, would accept no fees for their services. This picture was painted only about two hundred and fifty years ago, signed, ” By the hand of Emmanuel, priest son of John,” who was living in Venice about 166o. One can here see how servilely the ” Byzantine Guide ” is still followed, for a picture painted in the sixth century, instead of the seventeenth, would have had much the same aspect. The Byzantine school has never changed, and the Mount Athos artists are still keeping the work alive, — if it may be said ever to have been alive at all. But when Byzantine influence invaded another place, — a place like Siena, made up of “lively people,” — it soon became absorbed into fresher conceptions of design.

In turning to the earliest Sienese pictures, we find the Byzantine style used only so far as the general treatment of the figure is concerned. Other Greek elements — action and a certain instinctive grace in grouping—have survived, rather than formulas of the ” Byzantine Manual.” Ugolino da Siena, who lived from about 126o to 1339, has two little pictures in the National Gallery, Nos. 1188 and 1189, which are full of movement and life. The drawing is of course archaic, but the spirit which animates them is vital and progressive. The pictures are two scenes from the Passion, — the Betrayal, and the Procession to Calvary. Compare Ugolino with Margaritone, — he was only thirty years later, — and it is evident that Sienese art holds its own with the Tuscan. A spirit similar to the Japanese may be seen in the Sienese work; some have detected Chinese feeling, and some that of India; but neither of these nations have so much in common with Siena as the Japanese.

Segna di Bonaventura, whose work is extremely rare, may be found here. He is the reputed master of Duccio, but there is little of the promise of better things in his large Crucifix, No. 567. It is conventional and uninspired, not even satisfactory in its proportions.

A tender bit of miniature painting may be seen in the little panel by Niccolo Buonaccorso, who was painting in 1380. This tiny picture, No. 1109, represents the Marriage of the Virgin. The detail of the work is most delicate, and much loving care was bestowed upon the finish. The realistic child who stands in the foreground lends a human touch to the composition, which is very Oriental in sentiment. A real effort seems to have been made to picture the scene as taking place in the East, so far as the artist knew this locality.

The two Lorenzetti, Pietro and Ambrogio, were among the most notable of the early Sienese. Living in about the middle of the fourteenth century, they, together with Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi, dominated the school at that period. Un fortunately, we have no example of Martini or Memmi in London, but there are a couple of rather inadequate specimens of the Lorenzetti. Of the magic of their colour, the tints of opal, gold, and oligoclase, one can form no proper judgment from the bit of fresco, No. 1147, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, showing heads of four nuns, no one of which is seen to advantage; nor from the curious, misty little tablet by Pietro, No. 1113, of which the subject is rather vague. It appears to be some sort of a conclave between a Christian bishop and a pagan exponent of doctrine, for the attendants carry, one a statue of Venus, and the other an altar-candle. Or it may be allegorical, – it is difficult to determine without an intimate knowledge of local ecclesiastical traditions in the fourteenth century.

When the plague devastated Siena in 1348, the art of the city was practically exterminated. There are no records of any good painters from that time until the end of the century. And then there sprang up, independent of immediate influences or powerful teachers, a very wonderful man, Matteo di Giovanni. This painter has a right to a reputation almost equal to that of Botticelli in the Tuscan school, and, when he has been more widely known and more intelligently studied, he will be recognized as a great man. Whether each separate picture that he executed will ever rank as high as the separate works of Botticelli, it is not easy to predict; but as an imaginative student, with ideals before him far greater than he was destined to realize with any frequency, he must be accorded a high position as an artist. As Browning has said :

” That low man seeks a little thing to do, Sees it and does it; This high man, with a great thing to pursue, Dies ere he knows it; That low man goes on adding one to one, — His hundred’s soon hit; This high man, aiming at a million, Misses a unit.”

Matteo di Giovanni da Siena stands for the Re-naissance of art in his native city. Instead of a large movement, composed of many artists, all having developed quite normally toward the final flowering, as was the case in most of the Italian cities, the expression of the Renaissance in Siena may almost be said to have emanated from one man, for Matteo had few contemporaries, and was not the outcome of another school. He was a great isolated original thinker, — and thinking was not the limit of his ability. If one will look at the outline and the anatomy of his St. Sebastian, No. 1461, one will be convinced that he knew how to draw and how to model ; the Ecce Homo, No. 247, is probably an early work, and much less interesting. But the triumph of Matteo’s art is seen in his lordly panel, the majestic altar-piece, the Assumption of the Virgin, No. 1155. This is Matteo at his best; we have no apology to make. Here we see the school of Siena in the best qualities for which it stood. Cheerful and buoyant in style and colour, it is full of varied expressions, from the exquisite beauty of the Madonna’s face, to the ascetic dishevelled St. Thomas, who, rushing eagerly forward, catches her girdle as it falls to earth. No one should leave this picture with-out looking into the face of every angel, and there finding, as one must, an individual vitality, — some beautiful, some ugly, but all expressive. Matteo was one of the first of the Sienese to paint in oils.

Among the followers of Matteo di Siena is Bernardino Fungai, whose interesting tondo, No. 1331, hangs here. It represents the Virgin and Child surrounded by a flock of curious little angels, who terminate at the waist in a second set of smaller wings. The Virgin is sweet to look upon, — one might say she was ” pretty.” The first impression received from this picture is that of brocade; for the robe of the Madonna is a monumental example of patient and delicate workmanship. The tones and quality of the surface are suggestive of old Spanish leather. In the landscape background may be seen the Nativity on one side and the Progress of the Magi on the other. Fungai is said by some to have been a pupil of Matted di Giovanni, and by others of Giovanni di Paolo, the father of Matteo.

Pacchiarotti was also a follower of Matteo ; until very lately there has been no specimen of this painter in the National collection, but a Nativity was purchased in 1902, and bears the number 1849. Five hundred pounds was paid for this picture.

A Virgin and Child by Francesco di Georgio, No. 1682, was purchased in 1900. The arrangement of this picture is quaint and unusual, the Virgin being shown as walking and leading the Child by the hand.

As exemplifying the later art of Siena, may be cited the pictures of Pacchia and Beccafumi. Girolamo di Pacchia lived from 1477 into the early part of the sixteenth century. The National Gallery has a charming Madonna by him, No. 246, but the qualities which made Sienese art unique have fled.

In Beccafumi’s Esther Before Ahasuerus, No. 1430, the style has changed still further. The composition is treated somewhat as Perugino might have treated it, — an open square, with a building at the back, is what one sees at first. Upon looking closer, one perceives that Esther is being presented to Ahasuerus inside the portico, while the people in the foreground are merely spectators of the main incident. This panel may represent Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, but has usually borne the other title. The figures have all a sweep and movement, and are not ungraceful. Beccafumi worked much on the famous pavement in Siena Cathedral. He died in 1551.