The Prehistoric Age

The earliest relics of man’s existence in Europe are roughly chipped implements and weapons of flint and stone, of horn and bone, the latter frequently resembling those used by the modern Esquimaux and the former similar to those still used by absolutely savage races. Of a later date are other stone implements carefully finished and polished. There is a gap, or “hiatus,” between the age of rough stone implements, the Palaeolithic time, and the ” age of polished stone” the Neolithic time.* The highly vigorous drawings of animals on bone or ivory which belong to the Palaeolithic age are not found in the later age of polished stone.

It is not within our knowledge to say that Europe was uninhabited in the intervening time but it does not appear that the race of the age of exclusively rough stone implements, whose artistic efforts were so singularly instinct with vitality, has anything to do with the later history of art in Europe. This race was apparently exterminated, supplanted, or succeeded, by the race which used the implements of polished stone, and it was this latter race which gradually acquired the arts of metal and especially of bronze, and so began the later continuous history of Europe.

There is no known decorated pottery of this age which precedes the use of metals and there are no other remains of design preceding this use ; pottery, on account of its indestructibility,* being usually the material on which the earliest efforts of art are preserved.

The first appearance of metallic arts in Europe and of decorated pottery, appears to be due to the influence of a foreign and Oriental civilization. There is also a sequence apparent in the order of development, as regards the influence of this foreign civilization, in which sequence the territories of Greece preceded those of Italy ; while Italy in turn preceded Switzerland, Germany, France, and Spain. The indications in artistic forms and designs of a graded geographical contiguity in development are the strongest evidence that it took place.

Now, the point I wish to make is this—that as regards the history of civilization and of art in Europe, we begin our knowledge with the existence of opposing poles of highly developed civilizations and of very primitive, though not absolutely barbaric, human culture. Regarding the origin or beginnings of either of these conditions we know nothing. At the earliest dates known to us for Chaldea and Egypt, material civilization appears to have been absolutely perfect for the given local surroundings. At the earliest dates known to us for Europe subsequent to the age of unpolished stone, the culture is highly primitive but it already shows influences of indirect or direct contact with the old Asiatic and African cultures. These influences were earlier in Greece, apparently slightly later in Italy, and certainly later in Germany, France, Spain, and England.

The modifications made by Greece in creating its own independent civilization out of the Oriental were ultimately also lawgiving for Italy, which ultimately adopted them all.

The modifications made by Italy in creating its own independent civilization out of the Oriental, and out of the Greek, were ultimately lawgiving for South Germany, France, Spain, and part of England ; which countries ultimately adopted them all. The history of these last modifications is the history of Rome.

Four and five hundred years after Christ the hitherto independent Germanic races of Northern Europe flooded the Romanized portions of Europe, came under the influence of their religion and civilization and so began the history of the Middle Ages and of medieval art.

These explanations assist us now to speak of Italy in the narrower sense, as sharing the history of all other European countries as regards the Palaeolithic Stone Age and the Age of Polished Stone and of Bronze. But the history of art in Italy begins with the age of decorated pottery and of metals—that is to say, it begins with the history of the foreign influences of a superior foreign civilization on the primitive culture of Italy, of which let it be once more said we know nothing before this influence began.

The date 1500 B.C. would be, according to present knowledge, rather a high one for the first introduction of bronze into the territories of Switzerland, and approximate estimates may be made accordingly for other countries ; north or south, as the case may be.