Pintoricchio – The Library At Siena

DR. STEINMANN suggests, with great probability, that we may fix March as the month of Pintoricchio’s return to Siena in 1506, for in that month he took into his employ the Perugian painter, Eusebio di San Giorgio. This, no doubt, marks a fresh start, and the master now worked steadily on until the Library was completed.

There is little that is devotional in character about the Libreria in Siena. As the visitor passes the bronze doors, past the marble columns of pagan sculpture and Renaissance copy, he loses all sense of being in part of a sacred building. The chamber itself is singularly destitute of the ordinary objects of religious art. No Divine Persons, no evangelists, saints, or fathers not an angel in the whole range of subjects. We have here one of those examples of historic fresco which were a feature common to fifteenth-century art, a popular way of decorating the living-halls of great seigneurs, such as the Palaces at Urbino and Mantua, or the Palazzo Schifanoia at Ferrara.

We are expressly told that Pintoricchio was given the life of AEneas Sylvius by his secretary Campana, as a guide to his choice of events, but careful examination has shown certain variations and deviations from this life, pointing to some other authority in use ; and on comparison we find that he certainly also had recourse to the Pope’s own memoirs, which supplied certain details and particulars not included in Campana’s work.

Dr. Schmarsow has made a long and exhaustive study of these frescoes with special reference to Pintoricchio’s relations with Raphael. It is impossible to go as minutely into the question as this talented German has done, but it is one of great interest in artistic history, and no life of Pintoricchio would be complete without some reference to it.

The possibility of Raphael having supplied drawings and designs has been a matter of heated controversy. Morelli casts scorn on the supposition ; Crowe and Cavalcaselle stand aghast and declare that, believing it, the life of Raphael would have to be re-written. Bode says it is audacious to contend that the great master and entrepreneur would adopt the designs of a young, untried painter. Vasari asks how we can suspect that the master of fifty would follow a twenty-year-old assistant : this is the general tendency of objections. While, naturally, regretting any conviction that tends to detract from the painter whose fascination I feel, and upon whose life I am engaged, having to the best of my power weighed all the rival criticisms, I cannot avoid the conviction that Schmarsow is right, and that Raphael did help with two or three at least of the frescoes, and perhaps, as he suggests, with others. The evidence that ascribes the drawings left for them to the young Urbinate appears to me too strong to resist Raphael, to begin with, though only twenty when these drawings were executed, cannot be called unknown. He had already produced several noticeable works. Only three years later, in a contract of 1505, he is styled the best master in Perugia. The nuns of Monte Luce, wanting an altar-piece, ” fere trovare el maestro el migliore, si posse consiglialo . . . lo quale si chiamava Maestro Raphaello da Urbino.” Pintoricchio would have had the wit to see what a gift he was dealing with ; and, as for taking the designs of an assistant, had not he himself supplied several of the figures for Perugino’s great work in the Sixtine ?

The great probability of Raphael’s being in Siena in 1502, when the designs for the cartoons would be making, is proved by his picture of the ” Three Graces” — two of which are copied from the mutilated Greek group, one of the best specimens of the antique then known. This group was brought from Rome by the Cardinal, to place in his costly Library. Vasari speaks of the Cardinal (not the Pope) as having brought it to the not quite finished Library, which would put the transit before September 1503. In the summer of 1502 the Cardinal made his last journey from Rome, and it was very likely then that he brought it back. An elaborate pencil sketch of it exists : opinions are divided as to which of the painters this was the work of, but Raphael’s own picture is guarantee that he must have seen and been struck by the original. It has been argued that it is not absolutely necessary that the author of the drawings should have been in Siena, but their adaptability and suitability to the walls makes this most unlikely. Four drawings for the Library exist one each in Florence and Perugia, one at Milan, and one at Chatsworth. They are drawn with Indian ink, and the two first touched with bistre and heightened with white.

The first, which deals with the ” Journey to the Council of Basel,” has a long inscription at the top. The hand-writing of this, if compared with Raphael’s letter to Domenico Alfani, or that to his uncle Simone Ciarla, is no doubt Raphael’s own, and the same hand has made notes in other parts of the drawing. It is possible, but not very probable, that the assistant should have annotated the master’s design ; but the connection between the inscription and the drawing, the various small changes made and accounted for as it progresses, make us almost certain that the designer of this cartoon was also the writer of the notes upon it. As each drawing has been transferred to the wall and worked out, we see gradual alterations, evidently made to add importance to the hero of the series. In the sketch AEneas wears a tight doublet and close cap. He looks, what he was, a young man going forth to seek his fortune. In the fresco he is dressed in a mantle and broad hat, to make the future Pope more imposing. The letter which he carried to Capranica has been placed in his hand. The storm from which AEneas escaped has been merely indicated in the drawing. In the fresco, lowering clouds and a rainbow are added. A dog, the greyhound of which Pintoricchio was so fond, has been introduced, standing perfectly still though in the leash of a galloping rider.

We gather from all these changes that the drawing did not exactly satisfy the painter who worked on it after it was transferred to the wall. It is, however, in the spirit and bearing of the whole that we see the greatest difference. In the drawing the artist has shaken off the stiff Perugian manner, has got at nature, and has found new ways of handling. The riders are strong and elastic ; the page to the right is supple and natural, but in the fresco is twisted round into an ungainly attitude. The cavalcade has a life and movement that we hardly expect to find in Pintoricchio. The horses, if anything, bear witness more remarkably than the men. Up to this time very few masters could draw horses with any success. Uccello and Donatello, Verrocchio and his pupil Leonardo, all Florentines, were almost the sole exceptions. To decide if Raphael could draw horses we have only to glance at such early works of his as the two little ” St. Georges ” in the Louvre. It was in 1502 that Raphael first came to Florence, just at the time that Leonardo’s great cartoon of the battle of the standard was exposed to the public. We are told that Raphael spent much time in copying Leonardo. Indeed, among the so-called Venetian sketches is one, now called the ” Battle of the Standard,” which is unanimously ascribed to Raphael, and which is believed to be a- sketch from Leonardo’s cartoon. If we compare the horse in the drawing for the ” Journey to Basel ” with that horse, and if we further compare with both the horse in the sketch for the ” St. George ” (at St. Petersburg) we shall see numerous points of resemblance in the broad head and tapering muzzle, the round, accentuated haunches, the shape of the foot, and the very curves of the flowing tail.

The horses in the fresco look very wooden beside them, with their long, woolly tails. What we feel forcibly what anyone must feel who is, not necessarily an artist, but a judge of a horse, is that the man who drew the sketch knew indisputably what were the points of a good horse, while if the painter of the fresco had known as much he could never have painted the horses on the wall.

There is, moreover, another point, which I do not think has been noticed before. On looking again at Raphael’s undoubted sketch of the “Battle for the Standard,” we perceive that the splendid figure of the nude man who snatches at the horse’s head has served for the model of the standard-bearer in the drawing of the ” Journey to Basel ” ; every line is the same, the plant of the feet, the turn of the head, the uplifted arm. Now we know that if Raphael was in Siena, he came straight from Florence, while we have no indication that Pintoricchio was ever in Florence at all, and what would be more likely than that Raphael, full of his studies of Leonardo, should take the opportunity of bringing in the horses and men he had just been copying, and which we know to have made so deep an impression upon him?

The drawing at Perugia for the fresco of the ” Meeting of Frederick III. and Eleanora of Portugal” has the words, ” questa e la quinta della (storia) del Papa ” (this is the fifth of the story of the Pope), written on it, in the same fine handwriting that we see on the ” Journey to Basel.” We see here the clear rules of composition learnt from Perugino the middle point and radiation from it with the figures placed in pairs, as in the ” Giving of the Keys ” an arrangement which had great influence over Raphael’s compositions, though it never took much hold of Pintoricchio. In the fresco, the lines of the radius are quite lost sight of ; the spectators are brought in in the usual indistinct masses. It has been suggested that, as the spot on which the meeting took place is much more like in the fresco than in the drawing, the column being evidently copied in the first and not in the last, Raphael may have drawn the design away from Siena, and sent it marked with the inscription.

Schmarsow sees a resemblance to Raphael’s style in the sketch for the “Conference” (IV.) in the lines of composition, and in the more graceful and life-like action of the Pope’s head and some of the groups at the side ; the two fine figures in front in the fresco, which are unmistakably by Pintoricchio, do not exist in the drawing.

The drawing at Milan, of fresco III., the “Poet Crowned,” is now known to be a sketch from the finished fresco, and though it is under Raphael’s name, is not worthy of notice. There are, however, at Oxford two studies of four pages, the style and technique of which point to Raphael. These appear in the fresco. They are the pike-bearer and standard-bearer, with legs apart, in the background of the company, and the page in front of them leaning on a stick. The loggia in the background accords well with the style of Raphael’s buildings. His taste for architectural backgrounds was quite as keen as that of Pintoricchio, and he had been in intimate relation with Bramante and with Luciano Lauranna, the architect, who was his kinsman, when he came to Perugia. Certain details in this remind us of the loggia of the Castle of Urbino, with which, of course, Raphael was well acquainted. What is most unlike Pintoricchio, and very characteristic of Raphael, in this fresco, is the concentration of interest, the way in which the attention is insensibly attracted to the principal figure ; the poetic moment is caught in a way which points to Raphael’s quality of composition. Here and there are figures of a freshness and grace which speak to us of the freer hand of the youthful artist pressing forward and casting aside old methods. Such is the young prince in the second fresco, with plumed hat, who stands at the left of the King of Scotland.

Peculiarities of Pintoricchio’s own are repeated over and over again. The hand with outstretched finger we find no less than thirteen times. The same heads are used. The head of the greybeard on the left, in fresco I., is repeated nine times ; the man with pointed beard, in front on the left of fresco II., comes in as the emperor in fresco III., and in the foreground, as a spectator, in the sixth tableau. We admire again the way in which Pintoricchio is able to divide his assistants, to use their various hands so that monotony is avoided, while imposing his own style sufficiently to produce a strikingly homogeneous impression. Instead of fighting against the amalgamated proof that Raphael had some share in the work, we may picture to ourselves the friendship that we have reason to think existed between the older man and the versatile and tactful youth, whose talent for making friends with his elders never failed him. We can imagine the deep consultation with which they must have paced these floors, and pored over sketches and designs ; and if we wanted an assurance of Raphael’s presence and of his employer’s affection, surely the number of times that a youth is painted, for whom Raphael, to all appearance, stood as model, would supply one-not only in the careful portrait in the scene of “St. Catherine’s Canonisation,” but in one of the bearers to the old Pope, fresco VIII., and in the young man stepping forward, hand on hip, in fresco X., not to single out others less conspicuously like.

In the first, third, and fifth, then, Schmarsow sees the design of Raphael, and he thinks he also had some hand in numbers two and four. No doubt, after these, the composition of the remaining ones is less excellent, and there is a falling off in life and spirit.

Some of the helpers seem to come direct from Perugino’s workshop. We find the prototypes of the greybeards in the Cambio Socrates, Pericles, and the rest. In the execution of the ” Betrothal,” Steinmann sees signs of a Lombard’s hand, in the dress and hair of the maids-of-honour, and the groups massed in the background. Sodoma was possibly working with Pintoricchio ; he was in Siena this year, and Rumohr thinks he sees his hand in the distant figures of the crowning of the poet. Eusebio di San Giorgio, the Raffaelesque Perugian, was helping, and possibly also Pacchiarotto.

Born in 1405, at the little village of Corsignano, afterwards renamed Pienza, AEneas Piccolomini early showed a keenness of intellect and an aptitude for classic learning which induced his tutor, the great scholar Fidelfo, to send the needy young scion of a great house out into the world to seek his fortune, with introductions which carried him into the service of Domenico Capranica, Bishop of Fermo, that Cardinal whose tomb may be seen in Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. Domenico made him his secretary, and, as he was on his way to the Council at Basel, he took AEneas in his suite. The story told by the frescoes begins here.

The cavalcade, having narrowly escaped shipwreck on the Libyan strand and landed at Genoa, are setting forth on their ” Journey across the Apennines to Basel.” Behind them is the sea ; in the sky the great storm-clouds are passing away, and the rainbow shines out. Above the bay we discern the town, the point where now stands the Doria Palace and its gardens ; the solemn churchmen journeying forward on their sedate mules. In the foreground rides AEneas and a youthful follower. The whole of the attention centres in the bright handsome figure of AEneas ; our interest is at once bespoken on behalf of the gallant young adventurer going forth on his spirited white horse to seek his fortune. The young man on the bay horse beyond him, another layman among the throng of clerics and dignitaries, may be intended for his brother-secretary, Piero da Noceto. This is one of the most charming of the frescoes, full of movement and gaiety. Pintoricchio does not give much prominence to the “Conference at Basel,” which was one of anti-Papal tendencies.

In the next fresco we find the young Piccolomini on a ” Mission to James I. of Scotland,” to whom he was despatched by the Cardinal of Santa Croce, an able and influential man, into whose service he had entered in 1440, and who sent him to persuade the King of Scotland to cross the Border and to menace the King of England. His interview with James I. forms the subject of the second fresco. The King, in yellow robes, and the two supporters on either hand, in blue and green, are the most prominent figures, and form between them a sort of triangle, a symmetrical manner of composition which was just coming into favour. We have to look for the beautiful and graceful figure of AEneas as, full of dignity, he comes forward to the side of the King’s throne his gesture in telling the points of his message upon his fingers is that which Pintoricchio makes use of in ” St. Catherine before the Philosophers ” ; but this is a much more natural and easy atitude. His dark red robe and violet mantle hang in simple and voluminous folds. With his flowing hair he might be a young St. John taken out of one of Perugino’s pictures. The back ground here is very beautiful, seen through the airy row of cinque-cento arches, with the sunny little town in the distance reflected in the lake. In his memoirs, the young secretary has left us a most graphic description of his impressions of Scotland, of his journey north from Dover, of the comely blue-eyed women and scantily-clothed men, and comments on the singular kind of sulphurous stone which they burn instead of wood. He gives a vivid picture of these islands in the first half of the fifteenth century ; but the painter had no knowledge to enable him to grasp it. He has apparently heard that Scotland was a land of lakes and mountains ; but though the interview took place in mid – winter, he has made the trees in full leaf.

AEneas spent much time in study of the classics and on verse composition, after the manner of Cicero. He had achieved a poem of two thousand lines, entitled ” Nymphilexis,” which was received with acclamations by his friends. Modern critics hold its merit to be as low as its easy morality, and in fact it was a true index of the discreditable life he was at this time leading at the German Court. In 1442 he was at Basel with the German Ambassador, and was commended to the service of the King of the Romans, afterwards the Emperor, Frederick III. Frederick proposed to make him one of his Imperial secretaries, and to appoint him his Court poet. It was an honour which had hitherto been in use only in the more refined Italian courts, where it had been conferred on Petrarch, Dante, and others, and was esteemed an extraordinary mark of excellence in arts and literature. Only one person in the kingdom could hold it at a time, and after receiving it aneas Silvius signed himself “poeta” in all his letters, so that we need not wonder that this event was chosen as one of the most remarkable of his life. AEneas, in his flowing robes, kneels at the King’s feet ; the throne with its ample steps is set in a splendid, open piazza, with the noble flight of steps leading up to the loggia and out into the blue landscape; little groups enliven the background; a man stabs at a woman on the balcony; hand-some pages and courtiers stand about. It has been pointed out that, as if to mark the neutrality of Germany on the question of the Papacy, not a single ecclesiastic appears in the crowd.

The memoirs at this time show AEneas as a clever waiter on the favour of princes, not over-scrupulous in striving for advancement, watching the signs of the times, and chafing under his dependence and poverty. In 1445 he was sent by Frederick III. on an important mission to Pope Eugenius (fresco IV.), and from this time he becomes a figure in European history. He begins himself to plan definitely for the unity of the Church, and to desire to stem the forward movements of the Turks. His journey from Germany to Italy in the depths of winter was an arduous one. He encountered swollen torrents and broken bridges, and guided by peasants had “to scale most high and trackless ways, and precipitous, snow-clad mountains. On the road he visited his parents at Siena, and when they tried to dissuade him from approaching the fierce and unforgiving Pope Eugenius, declared that he would carry out his embassy to a prosperous end, or perish in the attempt.”

He was eminently successful in his negotiations, and effected a reconciliation between Rome and Germany, and the fresco represents him kneeling humbly before the Pope and kissing his foot. On either side sits the long row of cardinals ; outside we see the busy life of the Papal Court. Here Pintoricchio has brought in a rather (for him) unusual harmony in greens on the carpeting, the baldacchino, and the Pope’s robes. The two figures in the foreground are said to be portraits of the Cardinals of Como and Amiens, who were both powerful friends of AEneas. The little scene through the arches on the right of the Pope brings in another episode, where the envoy receives (fresco V.) investiture as Cardinal.

After this successful mission the Secretary for the first time turned his mind to the ecclesiastical life, and began to reckon on all the bright prospects it was likely to open to him. He had hitherto had the honesty to regard the license of his life as a barrier to religious orders ; but his passions were growing more controllable with advancing years, and his dislike to the idea of the priesthood had passed away. He writes that he has passed from the worship of Venus to that of Bacchus, and appears to think nothing more could be required of anyone. In 1446 he received the tonsure, and was speedily named Bishop of Trieste ; and three years later was appointed to the See of Siena. It was in this capacity that he was chosen to welcome to Italy Leonora of Portugal (fresco VI.), the bride of his late patron. Frederick III. was to come to Siena to meet her, and to proceed to Rome for the wedding. After some delays, Aneas received the princess on her landing at Leghorn ; and on her arrival at Siena she was met by Frederick, accompanied by a splendid retinue, which included a hundred citizens ” in scarlet and samite,” a thousand knights under Duke Albert of Austria, the young King of Hungary, the precious relics of the city and clergy innumerable. The royal pair met outside the Camollia gate, and memoirs tell us that when the bride came in sight Frederick leapt from his horse and hastened to meet her, and that ” he was rejoiced to see her so young and fair.”

This is the moment chosen for the fifth fresco, and gives the artist every scope for lively action and gay and brilliant colouring. AEneas, standing between the King and his young bride, is still the most prominent figure. The ladies of her train are grouped around the Infanta, as the attendant maidens round Mary in many a version of the ” Sposalizio.” Behind the Bishop stands a dignitary with a white cross on his breast, who we identify from Pintoricchio’s lately finished portrait in the Baptistry, as Alberto Aringhieri, the Knight of Rhodes. The man on the left, with heavily-draped mantle and looped-up hat, is Hans Leubin, the King’s Court poet, who had been appointed to deliver an address of welcome, which he is represented as just beginning to recite. Behind the group is set up, by a pardonable anachronism, the marble column which was afterwards placed there as a memorial of the meeting-place. On either side is a tall, stately plane-tree and a fruit-bearing palm, typical of the bridal pair. The road winds up to the Camollia gate, beyond which we espy the tall towers of the city, ” Siena of the rosy walls and rosy towers,” the cathedral with its dome and campanile, and the ground falling away into the ravine which lies between it and San Domenico.

Whether Raphael’s inspiration really was withdrawn at this period, or whether Pintoricchio’s own fancy flagged, it is undeniable that the remaining frescoes show a falling off, and are less satisfactory than the earlier ones. The next scene shows us “AEneas Silvius receiving the Cardinal’s hat.” On the ride to Rome with the bridal pair, Frederick had drawn rein as they came to the brow of the hill, from which they first looked down on the valley of the Tiber, and said to aneas, “Look now we go up to Rome ; methinks I see thee a Cardinal, and in truth thy fortunes will not tarry there, thou shalt climb yet higher ; St. Peter’s chair awaits thee ; look not down on me when thou shalt have reached that pinnacle of honour.” And though aneas modestly disclaimed such a prospect, he confessed afterwards how great were his efforts to enter the Sacred College. His hopes were frustrated by the reigning Pope Nicolas, who was notoriously unfriendly to him, and it was not till the election of Alonso da Borgia as Calixtus II. that he saw his way to further advancement. Calixtus, who was an old man and almost bedridden, appointed, among others, his kinsman, Roderigo Borgia (after Alexander VI.), as Cardinal. To this ambitious and intriguing man AEneas attached himself, and bade farewell to Germany and his royal patron.

It was shortly before this that he began to devote all his energy and eloquence to preaching a new crusade against the Turks, whose conquest of Constantinople and succeeding inroads into Europe began seriously to alarm the civilised world. It was the only question which roused the old Pope to eagerness and determined him to invest the eloquent advocate as Cardinal in spite of bitter opposition from the Sacred College, who dreaded his keen intelligence. Though the architectural drawing, as usual, is good, the flat wall with two white windows has a bad effect. The altar is loaded with heavily embossed gilding ; the groups behind are confused, and the figure of AEneas himself is lacking in dignity and distinction. In the foreground stand two Greek patriarchs, whose presence is intended to convey their satisfaction at the elevation of their champion and that of the cause of Christendom.

We now find the Cardinal of Siena working his way to the Papal throne. He had a powerful friend in Cardinal Borgia, with whom he was engaged in anything but reputable transactions in benefices, by which he contrived to amass sufficient wealth ; but besides this he really worked hard in the cause of the Church, and his courtly manners and attractive personality, as well as his real kindliness, won him many friends. When the old Calixtus died, in August 1458, he was ready to come forward, and has left us a striking account of the incidents of the election. His only rival was the Cardinal Archbishop of Rouen, a Bourbon, rich and ambitious.

All the night before the election the principal of each party and his immediate supporters were holding secret meetings, passing from cell to cell with arguments and persuasion. When at length all met, pale and trembling with excitement, to deposit their votes in the chalice, AEneas was found to have nine votes and the Cardinal of Rouen six. Three Cardinals who had voted for another candidate were now to give casting votes. ” Long the whole conclave sat in silence ; the slightest rustle of a robe, the turn of a head, the movement of a foot, sent a thrill of anxiety round the whole circle. At last the fine figure of Roderigo Borgia was seen to rise. Amidst breathless stillness, he in the usual form declared that he acceded to the Cardinal of Siena.” After a short delay the two others followed, and thus, at the age of fifty-three, aneas Sylvius Piccolomini became Pope, by the title of Pius II.

The fresco seizes the moment when the Pope, borne through the aisles of St. Peter’s, is stopped, according to ancient usage, by the Master of the Ceremonies, who kindles a piece of tow dipped in spirit, and, as the light dies away, delivers the solemn warning, ” Sancte Pater, Sic transit gloria mundi.” The Pope, under the baldacchino, heavy with armorial bearings, and wearing the dark – blue mantle which accorded with the colours of his house, lifts his gloved fingers solemnly in blessing. He is painted here as an older man, already worn with anxiety. In the foreground two figures in Oriental dress remind us that assistance against the Turk was the mission to which the newly-made Pope had specially pledged himself. St. Peter’s is, of course, the old basilica which was destroyed by Julius II.

Fresco VIII. “Congress at Mantua.” In pursuance of his proposed crusade, Pius II., in 1459, summoned the powers of Christendom to hold a congress at Mantua to consider the necessary measures. It lingered on for eight months, when war against the Sultan was formally declared, but gave occasion for more intrigues and self-seeking on the part of those assembled than for any real sacrifices for the cause. Pius II. is here represented directing the deliberations of the Congress. The person of distinction pleading with the Pope is said to be the Greek Patriarch, the envoys of the persecuted Eastern Christians are grouped in the fore ground, Cardinals sit on the Pope’s right hand, and others princes, ecclesiastics, and suppliants form a crowd behind. The arrangement of this scene is not happy. The figures are cut up in an awkward way and the perspective is questionable. It is redeemed by the airy arches and the charming landscape beneath them.

” A Sienese filling the Chair of St. Peter may well be the instrument to call a Sienese to sainthood, and that we do with holy joy.” So spoke Pius II. in pronouncing between the claims of three holy Virgins, Rosa of Viterbo, Francesca of Rome, and Catherine of Siena. The superior claims of St. Catherine have been fully acknowledged by history : her influence in healing the great schism of the Urbanists and the Clementists, her saintly life, her magnetic personality, are sufficient reasons without adding the miracles with which she was credited.

In fresco IX. the Pope is seated on the “high and well-appointed balcony,” which he had ordered should be erected in St. Peter’s, whence, after a discourse on her virtues, he might proceed to her solemn canonisation. The Cardinals are gathered round, the corpse of the saint lies at his feet, clad in the black and white of the Dominican order, her book upon her breast, and’ the lilies, which are her attribute, in her folded hands. Below stand a crowd of spectators bearing candles. In front is a long row of persons, said to be portraits. The first on the left we should guess to be Raphael, even without the traditional confirmation. Next him is Pintoricchio himself. The others have been variously named Andrea del Sarto, Fra Bartolommeo, etc. Steinmann suggests, with more probability, that one is intended for Eusebio di San Giorgio and another for Bembo Romano, who were both working as assistants, especially as the initials of the last are to be discerned on several of the pilasters among the decorations. The composition in this scene is rather disjointed. The two halves do not seem to belong to each other, and it is curious to note the difference between the conventional arrangement of the groups in the background and the characteristic forms and much more structural figures which the painter has evidently drawn from the life. The effigy of St. Catherine is taken from her monument in Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. The Dominicans and Augustinians are prominent, as it was of their order that the saint was so great an ornament.

Pope Pius was one of the few Italians of that day in whom a great love for nature declared itself. Campana tells us of his visits to beautiful places, of his landscape gardening and planting, of his fondness for distant views, and for taking his food under the trees on some hill-side. It pleased him to chat with the peasants, to joke with his friends with ” free and festive converse passing into moderate jest.” He loved to build and adorn in his native city, and for a time he seemed to be only a man of cultivated and artistic life and busy pleasures. But he had not forgotten his crusading enthusiasm, and as the news travelled to Rome of the repeated victories of the Turks, of the loss of Morea, Rhodes, Cyprus, and of the Moslem advance on every side, he laid before his Cardinals his resolve to take up a holy war, counting upon the Christian princes of Europe rallying to his support. He mediated between the different quarrel-some Powers, and signed a league by which he was to meet the Venetians and an army of the Duke of Burgundy at Ancona ; but the powers were half-hearted, only a small part of the promised forces arrived, and Ancona seems to have been a scene of rioting and mismanagement.

On June 18, 1464, the Pope, “an aged man with head of snow and trembling limbs,” raised aloft the Cross at the altar of St. Peter’s, and vowing himself to the service of Christendom, set forth for Ancona. “Fare-well, Rome,” he cried, as his barge passed down the Tiber, “living thou shalt never see me more.” He was very ill with fever, but the high spirit that had helped him all through life, did not forsake him. The weather was broiling hot, and the Pope suffered greatly on the journey. He was a month reaching Ancona, and had the added discouragement of meeting bands of deserting crusaders on the way. No ships had arrived from Venice, and when at last they appeared, the soldiers they were to embark had nearly all melted away. Pius realised at length that the undertaking had come to naught. Ill, disappointed, heartsick, he remained at Ancona, and when the Venetian fleet appeared, after long delay, he could just bear to be lifted to a window to see the long-watched-for sails.

The Doge, who accompanied the fleet, would not at first believe in the reality of the Pope’s illness, and sent his physician to see if he were not feigning in order to escape the necessity of setting forth, but the end was near. It was at sunset on the 12th of August that the Venetian ships entered the harbour ; at sunset on the 14th the Pope passed away. By his death he escaped the misery of failure ; the attempt came to a natural end, and Pius was surrounded with a halo of martyrdom and heroism not all undeserved, for, unsuccessful as he was, he yet was the only potentate who made any effort to stem the power of the infidel, and his unsupported struggle and baffled aspirations form a pathetic close to his active and successful life.

In the fresco there is no hint of the sad and wasted moments. Pintoricchio’s part was to glorify and dignify the memory of the Pope, and to please the house of Piccolomini. The Pope is raised on high and borne forward by his followers. In front, dressed in gold brocade, kneels Christoforo Morea, the Doge of Venice. On the opposite side kneels a Turk, and another fierce-looking Oriental stands behind him. These may be recollections of Djem and his followers, whom Pintoricchio had already painted in the Borgia rooms. Behind lie the town and harbour of Ancona, with the Venetian fleet anchored in the bay.

There only remained for Pintoricchio to Ieave a memorial of the coronation of the second Pope of the House of Piccolomini, and this is placed over the door of the Library. It is something like the ” Canonisation of St. Catherine,” in the way in which it is divided into two parts. The perspective is not well managed. The Pope and the two Cardinals who assist him to place the mitre on his head, have the effect of a picture background to the busy scene below, and the long rows of white-mitred bishops give a very inartistic impression. Below them is a crowd of spectators, of all ages and both sexes the whole confused and not well drawn, and there is an unfortunate lack of proportion between the different figures.

The frescoes have been much retouched, though, on the whole, they are in wonderful preservation. Where the yellows and blues have been most re-painted the effect is hard and glaring ; but where the same colours are not meddled with, as in the Pope’s blue robe, and that of the Doge of No. X., Elizabeth’s robe, and the King’s mantle in the meeting of the bridal pair, and in most of the pinks and rose-reds, the tones are much softer and more pleasing. Only in the hall itself can we appreciate the way in which the open-air and indoor scenes are arranged and balanced and the architectural setting worked in so as to give lightness and distinction. The line of sight is high, about two-thirds of the way up the picture ; this to some extent places the spectator in a wrong position, but the whole goes back, so that, far from being oppressed with a feeling of covered walls, a sense of space and withdrawal is conveyed that enlarges the room in a marvellous manner.

The repose of the hall in its entirety is very striking ; hardly a figure is in anything like violent action, all move and stand with quiet dignity, all the movement takes place well within the picture, and the extraordinarily clever use made of the sky, ceiling, floor, and wide retreating background, give us breath and air, and a sense of delight and freedom. In as many as eight of these frescoes we have an enthroned figure, yet treated with what variety and absence of monotony. The first scene shows us a joyous youth setting out on a stormy journey ; the last, an old man, pale and careworn, carried by loving friends, and behind him, an untroubled sea and the calm of sunset. The ceiling is a curious mixture of sacred subjects and mythological ones, after the manner of that in the Colonna Palace, but not very appropriate to the Pope’s Chapel ; sporting of fauns and nymphs, Cupid riding on a green dolphin, grotesques, recalling the choir of Santa Maria del Popolo, but richer in colour and more delicately harmonised. The dark oak, the blue and white-tiled floor, with the yellow crescent of the Piccolomini, and the pilasters repeating the blue and white, are all part of the design, in which there is one guiding hand. It is all well adapted to give brightness to the long room, so slightly arched, and lighted only from one end. The room is so beautiful that it is hard to say that it is mechanical yet assuredly there is something stiff and academic about it, some loss of grace and the joyous sense of creation, a feeling that the painter was growing old and tired, and that the childlike enjoyment of beauty was less keen. In the first fresco, whether we owe it to the young Raphael’s help or to the natural interest at starting, we recognise buoyancy and the love of experiment; and we have something of it again in the fairy-tale tableau, where the prince and the lady meet, but the colour has become gaudier and cheaper, the naïveté, the enchantment, the unconsciousness, have in some measure passed away, the tide of fancy is running lower, and it is now that we chiefly feel the lack of that well of science from which the artist can drink ever deeper as the years go by.

( Originally Published 1908 )

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