National Gallery – Lombardy And The Decadence

THE first name which greets us in the school of Lombardy is that of Vincenzo Foppa, who lived during the latter part of the fifteenth century, dying in the same year that Columbus made his voyage to America. The picture by him, No. 729, is careful, original, and thoughtful. It repays close observation. The next, in point of succession, for us to examine, are the pictures of his pupil, Borgognone, who lived until 1523, and was a master of the spiritual type. No. 1077, a charming triptych, is in tempera, as is also the Virgin and Child, No. 1410. The Child in this picture is at-tractive because it is really infantile. Borgognone has two delightful panels of family portraits, Nos. 779 and 780, with faces ranged in perspective, the head-dresses being characteristic of the period, with their quaint nets and veils. The most famous of his pictures is the Marriage of St. Catherine, No. 298. In a naïve spirit, the artist has here portrayed the mystical marriages of both Catherine of Alexandria and Catherine of Siena, the infant Christ extending a ring to each.

Practically contemporary with Botticelli is the great Leonardo da’ Vinci. Born within a few years of each other, and Leonardo dying only nine years later than Sandro, they may be regarded as exhibiting at the same time the opposite tendencies of the art of the period. Sandro stands for thoughtful mysticism, and a decorative, almost conventionalized, form of drawing; his tints are fading, the colours such as dreams might be made of ; Leonardo, on the contrary, is brimming with life, full of spirit and energy, colouring his pictures with warmth and realism. His colour, however, has undergone great changes with time. Probably it is owing to a discovery which he made, according to Vasari, of ” a certain mode of deepening the shadows,” and that accounts for the exaggerated effects in light and shade which his pictures have. Within the narrow space allotted to the consideration of each master, it will be impossible for us to honour fittingly the genius of Leonardo. It must suffice to say that he was probably one of the most complete men in the matter of personal endowments who has ever lived. He was a veritable example of the universal genius. Many men have painted divinely ; but Leonardo also wrote with a fine mastery of style, both in prose and verse; many men have been fine writers, but he was also a great scientist; there are few scientists who are great artists, writers, musicians, and architects, all at the same time. In that he did all these things and did them nobly, he is greater, than most men. Each art in which he excelled was dominated, in his case, by an almost unmatched intellect. Unfortunately, his works are few. But one of his finest paintings is in London, namely, the ” Virgin of the Rocks,” No. 1093. This, and the picture of the same subject in Paris, are both by Leonardo’s own hand. It has been suggested by some critics, whose aim is to prove that there is nothing genuine but themselves, that this was a copy of the picture in the Louvre. If it were a copy, the arrangement of every part would be identical. There are certain small differences, however, between the two pictures which indicate that they are both the work of the same master. The only question to be settled is, which was painted first? In the picture in the Louvre the angel is pointing in rather an ungainly way at the Virgin with his forefinger; in the National Gallery picture, the whole figure of the angel is more relaxed, and his hand is not raised. The fine wiry halos about the heads of the sacred group are omitted in the picture in Paris ; and St. John does not hold his cross, but simply bends forward with hands laid together. The halos and the cross were probably added in the seventeenth century, and are therefore negative as evidence. Regarding the face of the Virgin, it is difficult to say which is the finer. Perhaps the picture in the Louvre has more softness of handling; this would lead to the conclusion that the one in the National Gallery were the earlier. Ruskin, speaking of the weird back-ground, says : ” The rocks are grotesque without being ideal, and extraordinary without being impressive.” But Ruskin did not appreciate Leonardo, — he considered that he dissipated his powers. It is quite possible that the subject of the picture is, as has been suggested very beautifully by Dante Rossetti, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, where the Virgin and a guardian angel are bringing to the infant Saviour the soul of a child who has died. The absence of St. Elizabeth, and the fact that the figure we call St. John was originally painted without halo or cross, makes this theory tenable.

In recent years the two side-panels which formerly completed the composition, the Virgin of the Rocks being in the centre, have been acquired by the National Gallery, and hang here, numbered 1661 and 1662. They are by Ambrogio de Predis, a disciple of the master; possibly the first of them may have been worked upon by Leonardo himself.

The face is similar to that of his Virgin. Unfortunately, Leonardo used to obtain depth of shadow by painting on a dark ground, so that the black pigment has often come through with time, and spoiled the delicacy of the colouring.

The death of Leonardo is described as a most picturesque event. The king, who was a frequent visitor, had come to see him on his sick-bed; the artist insisted upon being raised up as far as his condition would allow, to avoid lying down in the royal presence. He then began to talk to his Majesty, ” lamenting,” says Vasari, ” that he had offended God and man, in that he had not laboured in art as he ought to have done.” Suddenly he was overtaken with a violent paroxysm, and, the king taking him in his arms, with the wish to alleviate his suffering, Leonardo died in the em-brace of his sovereign.

Bernardino Luini approached so nearly the manner of Leonardo da Vinci in certain particulars, that it is evident that he must have come in close touch with him. His picture of Christ and the Doctors, No. 18, was until recently ascribed to Da Vinci himself. It is very beautiful, and the faces are almost identical with some painted by Leonardo, although the colouring is far more brilliant than that usually employed by Leonardo. To see how this type was perpetuated to degeneration, it is well to glance at Lanani’s Holy Family, No. 700, where the pointed chin has become catlike, and the smile a smirk.

The Lombard school, influenced by Leonardo, was a school of more careful finish and cooler tones than the Venetian. Solario, in his two good portraits, Christoforo Longono, No. 734, and the Venetian Senator, No. 923, displays the majestic type of Lombard portraiture. Solario came under the Flemish influence when in Venice, and his work is more northern and crisp than most of the Italian painters.

Beltraffio is an agreeable painter, as may be seen from his Madonna, No. 728. There is quite a Leonardesque feeling in Marco da Oggionno’s Ma-donna and Child, No. 1149; and the mediæval sentiment seems to be revived in a somewhat artificial way by Macrino d’Alba, in his panels with saints, Nos. 1200 and 1201.

Giovannantonio Bazzi, or Sodoma, was a very original genius. Unfortunately, the examples of his work in the National Gallery are very inadequate to present an idea of his powers; he was for a time influenced by Leonardo, but his own personality was too strong to allow him to remain practically a copyist. Nos. 1144 and 1337 are all we have of his painting in this gallery.

The art of Lombardy is brought to its climax by Correggio, the painter who is most difficult of all to analyze, because the very elements which charm us in him would ordinarily be recognized as faults in a lesser genius. Gay and apparently inconsequent, the ” Ariel of the Renaissance ” is a law unto himself. His light and shade are the wonderful features of his technique. He hardly paints shadow — he almost breathes it. It lies as cool and translucent as the actual shade when the sun is shining; it glows with colour, as do the shadows on real flesh. And the most remarkable part about it is that he painted as a rule in fresco, which vehicle is much more difficult to render transparent than is oil. Probably from Mantegna he derived his mastery over foreshortening, which leaves him unrivalled except by Michelangelo. His true abilities can only be seen in Parma, where he frescoed the vaults of the cathedral. His preference was for painting women or children; with the masculine he had small sympathy. Although extremely emotional, his emotions are simple and easily understood. He requires no interpreter, as a more intellectual artist often does. He is distinctly obvious; one either likes or does not like him with-out having to wait to hear why.

In his perfection, Correggio is seen in the gentle Madonna with the Child, No. 23, an early picture painted shortly after his own marriage. The rollicking mood of the infant and the indulgent but worshipful love of the mother make this one of the best religious paintings that Correggio achieved. In classic subjects he was particularly happy, as may be seen in his Mercury and Venus Instructing Cupid, No. Io, where the mischievous and volatile Hermes appears to be giving the youthful God of Love some written instructions which evidently do not displease the Goddess of Beauty. Light-hearted comedy and poetry of form constitute the chief charms of this exquisite canvas. The Ecce Homo is weak; Correggio had not the depth of temperament to render such a subject, nor the Agony in the Garden, No. 76, which may not be by his hand. The lighting in the latter picture is ingenious, being cast through a rift in the darkness down upon the figure of Christ.

Correggio’s nature must have been a singularly optimistic one, for his actual environment was not one to induce gaiety. The story of his death is a pathetic one ; he had been employed in Parma, and, when he came to claim his payment for the completed cupola which he had adorned with his finest frescoes, he found the canons in a very mean mood, and only willing to give him half of the price for which he asked. As his needs were too overpowering to allow him to debate the point, he accepted the paltry sum; but, as it was paid in coppers, it was a heavy burden for him to carry in the heat. After walking with this load to his home some miles away, he was seized with a violent thirst, and drank too plentifully of cold water. A fever followed, and in three days the glad disciple of pagan perfection died.

When his followers tried to imitate the winsome character of Correggio’s work, they failed, and his school suffered a mawkish decadence. Among his best disciples is Parmigiano, who painted the large Vision of St. Jerome, No. 33, which is very mannered. Just after this picture was purchased for the National collection, Lord Egremont said to Leslie, the English painter : ” I want to see who the men are who have given so much money for that broken-backed St. John ; a poor way, I think, of encouraging art ! ”

Liberale da Verona, a miniaturist of great merit and a picture-painter of less power, has a bright and interesting picture, No. 1336, representing the Death of Dido, on the immense funeral-pyre of her own building; and Boccaccino, a painter who ought to have wrought miniatures, so elaborate is his hard finish, may be studied in No. 8o6, the Procession to Calvary. Gaudenzio Ferrari, who laboured after spiritual expression, is the author of the rather flamboyant figure of the Risen Lord, No. 1465. A bit of mediævalism survives in the Head of a Monk by Lodovico da Parma, No. 692, which is interesting as having been painted so late as the sixteenth century. It represents St. Hugh of Grenoble, who lived in the thirteenth century, the inscription on the halo being ” S. Ugo.” Nos. 1135 and 1136 are two panels of the Veronese school, recording scenes in the legend of Trajan and the Widow. They are full of a certain early charm, and should be examined for their detail.

Unfortunately, with the sixteenth century the truly great art of Italy passed. On entering the apartment where the later schools are hung, it is evident that over-ripeness is blighting the golden fruitage. One sees no more of the prayerful effort; no more earnest striving, sanctified by its very failure to reach completeness ; the assured bombast of technical success has driven out the more simple qualities, and the facile touch and a confident display of skill have superseded the cautious experiment, in which there is ever the element of fascination. Nevertheless, there is fulfilment in many of these pictures ; while they are more obvious, and therefore less interesting to the student, they have frequently what may be called a great popular message, and it is as narrow to say that there is no good in them as to claim that all the earlier efforts were useless because they failed to reach perfect expression. It is only fair to give credit to what is worthy even in the decadence, as well as to admire the germ of artistic expression. Both have excellences of differing kinds, but they are excellences nevertheless.

Of the later men of Tuscany, Carlo Dolci is as objectionable a simperer as can be found. His Virgin and Child, No. 934, is exactly like nearly all his pictures, — it is typical of all his mannerisms. Less affected is the picture by Empoli, No. 1282, representing a very much dressed-up St. Zenobio restoring to life a dead child. If it were only possible that spirit and technique could keep pace with each other, this would have been a great age of art, for these painters had mastered their materials, and only the soul was wanting.

The art of Bologna advanced rather than declined in the sixteenth century, owing to a really great family, the Carracci, two brothers and a cousin, who were ornaments to their generation, and founded a school of many followers. There are pictures by all three of the Carracci in the National Gallery. Both collectively and individually we should examine their style and read their message. They have much variety of expression. Sometimes the effect is of too much action. There is inventive power in their groups, and in composition they frequently suggest Raphael. As a rule, their pictures are not crowded, — they are not noted for the number of figures introduced, and this results in great relief for each, and in a clear and unconfused story.

So much for the Carracci in general. Annibale, according to Mengs, was the most perfect imitator of the style of Correggio that ever lived, In i600 he went to Rome, where he ” checked his fire, he improved the extravagance of his forms, imitating Raphael and the ancients, retaining at the same time a portion of the style of Correggio to support dignity.” A quaint point of view. Most judges think that he surpasses the other members of his family. Annibale was rather a blunt, plain-spoken person, quite different from his brother Agostino, who was retiring and devoted to letters. Agostino was timid and backward in asserting his claims, while Annibale was intolerant of delay, quick, businesslike, and energetic. They could not get on together at first, and so separated and went to different schools. Annibale studied with Ludovico, his cousin. The school is generally spoken of as the school of the Carracci, rather than of any one member of the family.

After the formal education of each was completed, the brothers again joined forces. The style of all three is similar; they introduced a new strain into painting, and cast aside the unnatural tendencies of earlier artists, confidently producing works of vigour, full of nature. The Carracci founded an academy, for they wished to propagate their new doctrine. Several of the leading artists of the next decade graduated at their school.

Of Annibale’s style we have several specimens. Christ Appearing to Simon Peter, No. 9, is quite in the general spirit of his work; the figure is powerful, if a trifle stagey, — it at least tells its story. St. John in the Wilderness, No. 25, is soft and pleasantly treated, although the body of the saint is mercilessly twisted. A scene from Tasso, Erminia Taking Refuge with the Shepherds, No. 88, is a pretty semiclassical conceit; while No. 93, the drunken Silenus Carried by Fauns, is certainly full of bacchic inconsequence. Somewhat theatrical is his Apollo and Pan Playing the Pipes, No. 94. His conception of the Temptation of St. Anthony, No. 198, displays as unalluring a mêlée as could well be designed.

In Ludovico’s picture of the Two Elders Approaching Susannah, No. 28, the lady is rather coquettish, and seems to have little objection to their attentions. The tones and tender sfumato of this picture are extremely rich, but overblown.

Of Agostino’s finished productions, we can form little opinion here, for there are only two drawings by him in this collection; these, however, Nos. 147 and 148, are very boldly sketched, and are reminiscent of the Roman school. They represent Cephalus and Aurora, and Galatea.

Guercino was a leading disciple of the Carracci, although there is no proof that he studied in their atelier. His Angels Weeping Over the Body of Christ, No. 22, is by no means lacking in reverence, although it is the reverence of a later day than that of Fra Angelico. The study of light and shade interested these latter men more than psychic phenomena. In their place, they should be honoured. Some have called Guercino the Magician of Italian Painting. He borrowed the habit of Caravaggio in blurring the lines so that softness of effect is produced. His colouring, according to the Abbate Luigi Lanzi, is, ” if not the most delicate, at least the most sound and the most juicy.” In comparing his figures with those by Guido, one might repeat an old saying, that Guido’s look as if they had been fed on rose-leaves, and Guercino’s on flesh. By degrees Guercino became nothing more nor less than an imitator of Guido, the style of that artist being then much in vogue ; in this Guercino declined, from the aesthetic point of view, for it was a concession to popularity at the expense of sincerity. Finally he became a mere hack painter, hurrying off his orders one after another.

Giulio Pippi, or Giulio Romano, was Raphael’s most distinguished pupil. He had much of the master’s quality of touch, so that Raphael himself often chose him to work on certain parts of his pictures ; he had more of the energy than of the delicacy of Raphael, and his action is often exaggerated. His middle tints are rather heavy, and lack softness, as a rule. He painted much in fresco, and became the founder of the school of Mantua, where he did his most important work, being painter and engineer to Duke Federigo. Indeed, this duke was heard to remark that Giulio wielded more influence in the city than he did himself. As an architect he accomplished much in Mantua. He is almost unique in having built a great number of palaces, temples, etc., and then decorated them with his own hand. He also had an extensive school, from which he constantly sent forth accomplished pupils. His “popular ” manner was the key-note to his success. Not an inspired originator of colossal ideals, — not an innovator of any new method, — using no startling trick with pencil or pigment, but a sane, wholesome, acceptable painter, — such was Giulio Romano. We have only one painting of his, the picture of the Nymphs Attending Jupiter, No. 624, which is fairly characteristic of his manner. Giulio Romano died in 1546, deeply regretted, for he was much loved and revered for his good services in Mantua and in Rome, where he ended his days. Vasari describes the artist’s personal appearance, saying that he was of medium stature, with dark hair and cheerful eyes, was rather firm in his build, of a ” kindly disposition and graceful deportment,” of regular habits, fond of good clothes and comfortable modes of living.

Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus, No. 172, is a dashing piece of chiaroscuro, but this is natural-ism carried to its limit, as far as æsthetic results are concerned. Caravaggio was a pupil of the Roman school, born in Milan in 1569. Carracci extols him for ” grinding flesh instead of painting it,” — which sounds to our ears like a doubtful compliment, though given with the best intentions. He studied in Milan, and in Venice, where he adopted his style of deep shadow, relieved only in small spots by tiny rays of light, so that he is usually artificial and gloomy. He ridiculed correct drawing and graceful composition; it is of no use to look for either in his work. His pictures are simply powerful effects in light and shade, and, as such, have their value, being often extremely fascinating. Caravaggio was a pugilistic spirit, antagonizing all who differed from him in any way, and extravagant in his demands upon friendship. He constantly quarrelled with people high in power, and therefore was obliged to flee at various times from various places. He committed homicide in Rome, and immediately withdrew discreetly to Naples. After a time he went to Malta, where he was accomplishing good work, when he had a misunderstanding with a cavalier, which made it necessary for him to disappear at once, so he went to Sicily. On his returning to Rome in 1609, he was overtaken on the road by a malignant fever, which soon put an end to his adventurous life.

Among the soft ” latter-day saints ” are Guido Reni’s Magdalen, No. 177, full of what Ruskin calls his ” pale rays of fading sanctity.” His pretty little St. John and the Christ Child, No. 191, is far more attractive. Here is also Sassoferrata’s Ma-donna in her extremely azure robe, No. 200, and Barocci’s Holy Family, No. 29.

Bibiena’s curious picture of the inside of a theatre, No. 936, with its crowd of promenaders, is interesting, as showing the costumes and customs of stage-life in his period; and the painting by Varotari, or Padovanino, No. 933, which shows a chubby child embracing a reluctant dove, is amusing. Padovanino’s Cornelia and the Gracchi, No. 70, is rather insipid. A fanciful bit of mythological bric-à-brac is Ricci’s Sleeping Venus, No. 851; the fluttering satins and airy Cupids in this recall some of the conceits of Van Loo. The two dressy pastorals by Zais, Nos. 1296 and 1297, have somewhat the same Frenchy flavour, as has also Longhi’s Fortune-teller, No. 1334.

Maratti’s portrait of Cardinal Cerri, No. 174, cannot be compared with the thoughtful work of Moroni. The four long, crowded panels by Rinaldo, Nos. 643 and 644, are very interesting to examine as miniature compositions with remarkable smoothness of detail; while the altar-piece and the Deposition by Tiepolo show pictorial art at its lowest ebb of spirituality. The Deposition, No. 1333, is too ghastly, — is more like the setting for a painting of the story of Rizpah than the usually accepted Biblical ideal; and the altar-piece, No. 1193, is nothing more nor less than a scene at the court of Venice !

Great among the landscape painters of the seventeenth century is Salvator Rosa, a Neapolitan who lived from 1615 to 1673. His pictures in the National Gallery do not exhibit his skill, for he painted also some striking figure-pieces. Nos. 84, 811, 935, and 12o6 are by his hand, and are all rather wild studies of nature.

Salvator Rosa was a fiery personage, impulsive, and, it was generally supposed, improvident; but though he appears to have been a gay Bohemian, with little thought for the morrow, he had in reality harboured his property well, and when he died his son Agosto came in for quite a handsome sum, a valuable library and collection of pictures, and a large volume of the master’s own designs and writings, which were not published until after his death.

No man might patronize Salvator. A certain prince once tried to take advantage of him in the sale of a picture. Salvator immediately raised his price. The next day, fancying that he would be in a milder mood, the same prince came again to the studio. ” Well,” he asked, ” have prices risen or fallen to-day? ” Salvator, losing all control of himself, replied, ” Your Excellency cannot have the picture to-day at any price; and yet I will prove to you how little I value it.” Here he flung the panel upon the floor and trampled upon it. The prince beat a rapid retreat.

One of his most beautiful landscapes was sold to Constable Colonna, who sent Salvator a purse of gold in payment. The painter, not to be outdone in generosity, sent the constable another picture as a present. This was followed by another purse; and this contest of courtesy continued until the prince gave in, having really paid all he could afford.

Domenico Zampieri, or Domenichino, painted some very fine pictures in his time, Ruskin to the contrary notwithstanding. He was born in 1581, and was a leading man in the Bolognese school. Poussin thought so highly of Domenichino that he ranked him next to Raphael; and certainly, if we judged him by his masterpiece in the Vatican, the Last Communion of St. Jerome, we should not be averse to accepting this estimate. But he was very uneven in his achievement. He was a master of technical difficulties, and devoted his whole life to art, only going forth among people to theatres or into crowds when he was in search of new types or suggestions for compositions. He studied under the Carracci, and is often theatrical, as many of their pupils were. Being also an architect by profession, he usually sets his scenes in stately buildings. He disposes his figures well, and delights in fine draperies and rich ornamentation. Some-times in his choice of types he is a little like Correggio. Again, in some of his detail, he resembles Veronese. He was versatile, but, because of this very gift, variable. He was not especially original. He took good ideas wherever he found them, and believed that the first duty of an artist was to absorb. As Pliny advises one to cull from all good books, so Domenichino imitated the works of other painters. The fashion for admiring his pictures unfortunately passed during his lifetime, so that he was called upon to bear the disappointment of a decadence. He died in 1641 at Naples. His four pictures here are characteristic of his many moods. In No. 48, a small painting on copper of Tobias and the Angel, the peaceful landscape and radiant figures show him in his restful mood. No. 75, St. George and the Dragon, is full of animation, and has a good deal of local colour and more mediæval feeling than one often sees in seventeenth-century pictures dealing with chivalrous times. His feeling for tragedy is exemplified in his Stoning of Stephen, No. 77, and his somewhat theatrical idea of inspiration, in No. 85.

There were two enthusiastic lovers of Venice in the eighteenth century, who are both represented in the National Gallery, Canaletto and Guardi. Canaletto lived during the first half of the eighteenth century, and Guardi in the latter half; but both of them studied their Venice in a strange, imaginative way, and painted innumerable scenes, like Nos. 127, 163, and 940. Canaletto’s pictures have a great charm for us, for they embalm the impressions of a close observer of the most fascinating city of Italy; they are not always topographically correct, but are rather deliberate arrangements and compositions, including the most significant features of Venice. Canaletto was a very prolific painter, and nearly every gallery of note has specimens of his work. In another vein, No. 1429 should be of interest to all Londoners, showing as it does the famous Rotunda at Ranelagh, which was such a notable resort in those days.

Guardi’s pictures, Nos. 210 and 1054, are similar in general principles to those of Canaletto, while No. 1454 is a study of a gondola, and shows the dress of the gondoliers of that time.