ACCORDING to a philosophic view of our subject, the art of sculpture should for some reasons take precedence either of architecture or of painting. The interest in physical nature and the study of its forms and appearances from the standpoint of nature (as distinct from the use of these forms to teach the lessons of religion and to represent the stories and events of the Bible narrative), were essential features of the Renaissance. A corresponding fact was the interest in the works of ancient sculpture, which also distinguished the period. Sculpture was the earliest art to show that scientific study of design in the cause of nature, which still rules the modern time. The second pair of bronze doors by Ghiberti, of the Baptistery in Florence, begun about 1425, will convey more clearly to the modern eye than any other monument of art the epoch-making and really modern character of the fifteenth century in Italy.
Our reasons for treating first of architecture, are first, that the exterior antique coloring and enthusiasms which have given the whole period its name are most visibly shown in this art; second, that the historic continuity of the movement between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries is most easily illustrated by this art; third, that the break with the Middle Ages is most abrupt in architecture and most easily illustrated by the overthrow of the Gothic style in favor of Renaissance.
Some reasons may now be offered for giving painting the second place in our treatment.
Painting in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was first and foremost wall decoration; that is, architectural decoration, in its location, in its character, and in its purpose. No adequate idea of the architecture of the time can be formed without considering the adornment given by this sister art, and the magnificence of the interior apartments as thus decorated.
A purely superficial and outside view of Renaissance architecture, both in the literal and figurative sense, is obtained when we confine ourselves to those traits of the ” Orders ” which concern exteriors, or when we confine ourselves to interior details as distinct from the great surfaces devoted to the wall-paintings. The most important part of a building is the interior. The proper treatment of an interior in color offers an even more difficult problem than that of exterior architecture.
As the painting of the Italian Renaissance was dominantly architectural, we shall, therefore, do well to join our account of the subject to that of architecture.
In the matter of the importance and general bearing of our subject, we shall notice next, that the continuity of history, as between the Middle Age and the Renaissance, is best illustrated by painting, whereas the break with the Middle Age is best shown by architecture. However different these periods were, both were Christian. The Italian wall-paintings of the Gothic fourteenth century were the direct predecessors of those of the fifteenth century. The same series of types and subjects was continued.
On the other hand, it is admitted that the Renaissance celebrated its greatest and purest triumph in the art of painting. The perfection of its productions in this art is still unattacked and unattackable. If in architecture we especially strive to show how the early Renaissance influenced later times in painting we are able especially to show how far, in some respects, i* surpassed them.
As regards sculpture, we shall concede, however, that the study of solid and concrete form must always logically pre-cede successful representation on a flat surface; we shall concede that these studies in solid form actually did pre-cede in point of time and preliminary importance, and we shall subsequently be able to show that whereas the greatest triumph of the sixteenth century was in painting, the greatest triumph of the fifteenth century was in sculpture.
( Originally Published 1894 )
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