THE two panels in Room 17, one of the Virgin, and the other the Angel of the Annunciation, have been ascribed to Giovanni and Antonio Vivarini, and also to Luigi Vivarini. Morelli doubts if they belong to any Vivarini, claiming them to be more likely the work of Dario of Treviso. Berenson, also, does not give them to either Luigi or Bartolommeo. The new catalogue credits them to Parentino. They are, at any rate, in the style of the Vivarini, though with certain attributes which seem to place them perhaps as belonging to a painter somewhat later than the first of that school.
The Virgin is kneeling on a tesselated floor of a room with an arch through whose opening a bit of sky and landscape can be seen. She is facing the left, her hands, not very successfully drawn, crossed on her breast. Both this and the other panel have been hurt by retouching. The angel kneels in the same room, or loggia, facing the Virgin, bearing a tall branch of white lilies in his left hand. His right is raised in blessing. He is clothed in white, with red cuffs, and his wings, cut half off by the line of picture, are many coloured. The straight, long, delicately treated folds of his robe suggest Luigi’s handling, rather than the more angular brush of the two earlier Vivarini.
After Antonio and Giovanni dissolved partnership, Antonio joined with his younger brother Bartolommeo, a man of distinctly more talent than he himself possessed. For most of his life, however, Bartolommeo worked alone. He is a worthy predecessor of Alvise or Luigi, showing in the freedom of his handling, and in the character and dignity of his figures, an advance in art till then unknown in Venice. It was soon, nevertheless, to be far excelled by the Bellini brothers. Bartolommeo had more originality than Antonio, and some of his works have a sternness and impressiveness that, as Kugler notes, are scarcely excelled by Mantegna, though he is led at times to a certain grotesque exaggeration that nullifies the austere impressiveness otherwise felt. His colour was deeper and more brilliant than Antonio’s, but he had not altogether ceased employing the raised gold stucco work on embroideries and architectural accessories and he often used gold for entire backgrounds. So far as is known, he always painted in tempera, but he got effects with it only comparable to oil. He was somewhat under the influence of the school of Squarcione, chiefly shown, as critics have noted, by the bits of classic details and by the flower and fruit wreaths and festoons over his backgrounds.
The ancona by him, in Room 17, of the Madonna with Four Saints, is in the shape usual with the early school, a picture made up of a number of panels separated by highly wrought Gothic framing. These Gothic frames are themselves very beautiful, their borders and columns and arches making a decorative ensemble that hardly needs the paintings within to add to its charm. Indeed, the pictures have been so often repainted, restored, almost remade, that the spectator is apt to feel that it is the frame rather than the enclosed scenes that adequately represent the period of which the work is supposed to be an example.
This one by Bartolommeo is no exception to the general rule. It is divided into five compartments, and the exquisite workmanship of the surrounding frame is worth careful study. In the central division, on a gold background, are the Mother and Child. Mary is seated on a low throne, over the back of which is hung a red drapery. She is dressed in a rose-toned robe, patterned in gold, a blue mantle, lined with green, coming down from the top of her head over her shoulders on to her knees. With her hands folded in adoration, she is gazing down at the Child lying on a cushion asleep on her lap. The gravity, almost the dolorousness, of her expression is intensified in the faces of the four saints who fill the compartments on each side of this central panel. At the left are St. John and St. Andrew’, at the right, St. Dominick and St. Peter. John is in his shirt of skins, with a red-dish overmantle, and holds his reed cross in his left hand. Against St. Andrew leans his cross of martyrdom. St. Dominick bears a slender, graceful stalk of lilies, and St. Peter the keys of his office.
All these figures have a certain impressive dignity, and the devout spirit that portrayed them is plainly evident. In construction, they are at least better than most examples of Venetian art of that time. In expression, they are lugubrious in the extreme, anguish being the dominating note of their thin, drawn faces.
St. Barbara, by the same artist, is painted standing at the portal of a church or dwelling, holding in her hands the model of her tower. Her long, full robe is green, the background golden. She stands in full face, her head bent slightly toward her right shoulder, her eyes looking still farther to her right. The drooping, arched brows, heavy chin, and thick neck, are all characteristic of Bartolommeo. And the extreme length of her body is a malformation which even Alvise did not wholly overcome.
This picture, with the Mary Magdalen in the same room, once made a pendant for an altar-piece belonging to the Christ Chapel in San Geminiano. They are in the last manner of Bartolommeo, and the movement is comparatively easy and natural.
The Scenes from the Life of Jesus, an ancona of many compartments, is not supposed, now, to be the work of Bartolommeo. It is, nevertheless, largely in his style.
The central panel holds the Nativity, the Child lying on a green cushion on the ground, the Mother, in a red robe and green mantle, kneeling at the right, Joseph, at the left, asleep. Above this central scene, in a lunette, is the Pietà, with Jesus between two angels. At the left and right of the Nativity are a number of saints, Peter, holding his keys, John the Baptist with a lamb, and a reed cross in his hands, Andrew reading, Francis with the stigmata, Paul resting on his sword, Jerome bearing the model of his church, Anthony holding a lily, Martin with his sword. The predella has thirteen compartments, Jesus in the middle one, the apostles on either side. This whole ancona, if not by Bartolommeo, is supposed to have been painted in his studio, and is rough, uneven, and crude compared to his best work.
There are several works by Alvise Vivarini in Room 17, of which the most famous is the altar-piece, the Madonna Enthroned with Six Saints.
Luigi, or Alvise Vivarini, was born, it is believed, sometime after 1444. Most writers on the art Venetian claim that he was strongly influenced by Giovanni Bellini, and that it is to him he owes most of his eminence. Mr. Bernhard Berenson, than whom, probably, no one has made a more careful study of Alvise, fails to see in the Muranese any more Bellinesque traits than would come, per-force, in the work of a man living and working at the same time and in the same town. He, Berenson, sees instead the influence of Antonio and Bartolommeo Vivarini, and also, strongly, that of Antonello da Messina. What else is there, he says, is due to Alvise’s own genius of development. Even in the altar-piece in the Redentore, which for so long was claimed to be by Bellini, Berenson finds scarcely any real likeness to Bellini. All critics practically agree that, in two things at least, Vivarini differs greatly from Gianbellini. He never attains that command over his medium, oil, which the other used so easily. Nor does he ever reach anything like the knowledge of human anatomy possessed by this greatest fifteenth-century Venetian. To the very last, Vivarini’s figures are unduly tall, lanky, and ill-proportioned. The unexplained length in his figures, from chest to knee, is one of the noticeable characteristics of almost all of them. Berenson also claims that he is much more of a psychologist than Bellini ever was. He expresses more truly a certain moment of thought, of arrested motion, of in-tense concentration, this being one of the attributes which Lotto, his supposed pupil, derived from him.
The Madonna and Child here is next to his earliest dated work, but it already shows the great progress he had made over his Muranese contemporaries. Here are no longer the old style of divisions, with the Madonna and Babe in the central space, and the saints, in their Gothic-framed niches, on each side, painted on the gold background. Vivarini has not only made a single grouping of the Madonna, with the three saints on each side, but he has actually succeeded in making it all a composite whole, each figure to a greater or less extent dependent upon the others, all bearing a distinct relation to the central group. More than that, he has expressed a real condition of mind.
The Madonna is seated on a high-backed throne, dressed in a rose-coloured gown, with a brown mantle brocaded with gold and a white head-dress. Standing on her left knee is the baby Christ, the lower part of his body in profile, his chest, shoulders, and head turned nearer full face, as he lifts his hand in blessing. Mary extends her right hand, palm upward, as if she were discoursing to those about her or explaining the nature of the holy Child. It is this gesture which is the connecting link between her and the saints. For the whole six are looking, listening, leaning forward, their own hands duplicating her gesture, as if they were following her every movement.
Close against the throne, therefore slightly back of the other four, are St. Anna on the left, and St. Joachim on the right. Anna, dressed in blue, has her hands folded prayerwise, a strained, nervous look on her thin face. Joachim is lifting his hat and holding a dove in the other hand, his gray-bearded, intent face gazing eagerly at the Child. Next him is St. Francis in monk’s attire, his hands lifted, showing the nail-prints, his head bent, his eyes looking downward. Beside him comes St. Bernard, his shaven head with the sharp, fine features in strict profile. On the other side, St. Anthony of Padua is next Anna, a book in his left hand, a spray of lilies over his shoulder in his right, his face nearly in profile. Beside, but in front of him, is St. Louis of Toulouse. Back of the throne a green drapery is suspended, and over it, on each side, are the upper, part of two arched windows, giving a glimpse of sky and clouds.
The Madonna’s face is wistful, but not heavy, questioning, not dolorous. It is not beautiful, but it has a sweet sobriety about it that makes one turn to it again and again. The length from her shoulder to her thigh is, as usual with Vivarini, excessive, and the figures of the saints have this same peculiarity. But in construction they are all better than the nude baby with the tiny feet and hands, the queer twisted little body that shows such evident and painful effort. There is a marked likeness to one another in the faces of the saints, yet each has decided, even emphatic character and personality. Their strained, intense expressions are, again, characteristic of the painter of Murano.
The panel of St. Clare, in the same room, came from the suppressed Church of San Daniele. This is a portrait, evidently, of a nun of the time of Alvise, and, as portraiture, is a most remarkable work. It is the figure of a woman fast nearing old age. She is in the dress of some sisterhood, her robe violet, mantle black, and white veil. In three-quarters position she is turned toward the left, looking at the spectator, her right hand holding a crucifix, her left, a red book. Behind her is a green drapery. This long, lined, drawn face, with its thin mouth curving severely downwards, with its penetrating, unexcusing eyes, its sharp, long nose, is not a charming face, nor does it suggest a lovable character. Severity, rigour of doctrine, are there.
No sin, one feels, would be lightly forgiven, little ones, perhaps, least of all. ” St. Clare,” says Mr. Berenson, ” is a powerfully conceived and ably executed bust of a firmly believing, strenuously acting, old woman. Her face is one of the best studies of character that had, up to that time, been produced in Venice.”
Cosimo Tura, the painter of a Madonna and Child in this room, was one of the founders of the Ferrarese school, a school that was late in developing. Until the latter half of the fifteenth century, Ferrara had practically no native art. Cosimo, Morelli calls ” a hard, dry, and angular painter, but often very impressive.” He, as well as the other early Ferrarese, was influenced by the school founded by Squarcione in Padua in 1430, but it is considered probable that they also were partly indebted to Piero, della Francesco, who had worked in their city. M. Alexandre says of Cosimo, that ” it is impossible to find a painter more exaggerated, more mannered, more, to state it bluntly, more in-tolerable.” It is true that his angular, often contorted forms, his hard, ugly colour, his forced gestures, and his strained, staring expressions, make his pictures far from being things of beauty. Yet he has unquestioned energy, and, if his colour is rough, it has strength of tone, and his contours are frequently characterized by extremely expressive curves.
The picture by him here shows the Madonna in full face, holding on her knee the sleeping baby Jesus. Back of the group is a trellis covered with grape-vines. The background is blue, with a circular gold decoration, which is half obscured. Above, in an anconetta, are two angels presenting a chalice cover.
This is in its original frame, a frame that is, for pure beauty, far superior to the picture which it surrounds. The queer, ill-drawn baby, with the painfully attached hands, shoulders, and feet, the angular, disconnected head of the Madonna, with the abnormally high and wide forehead, recalling the Dutch type, are somewhat atoned for by the spirit of severe piety, if it may be so expressed, that envelops the whole picture. The man who painted it was in earnest, if ever a painter was.
In this room is the only picture owned by the Academy by Andrea Mantegna, St. George and the Dragon. It was painted in Mantegna’s mid-career, when he was in the plenitude of his powers. The youthful hero is standing in a tall, narrow panel, whose painted framework makes it appear as if he were on the threshold of a doorway or porch. Beyond the side framing, seeming to project out of the picture, comes his left hand, holding his broken spear, and in the lower right-hand corner is the dragon’s snout. Above the saint’s head is a garland of fruit and flowers hung between the framing pillars. Behind is the winding, curving roadway, leading from a low-lying river up to a castled hill, with towers and walls breaking against the cloud-streaked sky. The curving line of this roadway in the yellowish landscape nearly repeats the outline of the monster at the conqueror’s feet; for, though the beast is now lying in a heap half across the threshold, or framing, and half into the field be-hind, it still shows in its long, sinuous neck, its big bat-shaped wings, its doubled-up body, possibilities of twisting, tortuous length. He is a very pulpy, evil-looking beast, h’is fanged tongue and wicked, stretched mouth, with its double row of stiletto-like teeth, as well as the power felt in the ribbed, serrated wings, all showing his formidable nature as an enemy. Yet, perhaps, in the prone body, there is a hint of sluggishness, of actual inertia, behind all the superficial ferocity, suggesting that no determined warrior could have found him so entirely dangerous an opponent. That is what, at least, the young hero seems to convey in his person. He stands on his right leg, his body swung lightly in that direction, resting slightly on his huge, broken spear, that reaches almost up to his shoulder. His left hand is on his left hip, just above his sword, which he evidently has not had to use. Above his head shines his halo, but otherwise, in this thoroughly mailed figure, there is no hint of the saint-hood afterward bestowed upon him. In accoutre-ment he is perfect; nothing in the requirements of the day, apparently, is lacking to make him invincible. With the exception of the short red cloak hanging from his shoulders, and only seen slightly beneath his arms, there is nothing softer or more pregnable than the woven shirt of mail coming from beneath his plate armour, and falling half-way to his knees.
The grace, the poise, the swing of the figure, even for Mantegna in the height of his powers, are wonderfully expressed. There are a rhythm, a spring, and a balance, as well as strength, in his slight, slender, yet firm figure that quite explain the ease with which the terrible dragon was vanquished by the young knight. Full of intense life as the figure is, Mantegna achieved a still more remarkable triumph in the head and face of the youth. The head is beautifully balanced and held proudly, the eyes are large and calmly regardful, the mouth sensitive and rather sad. But about the whole face there is something that suggests a psychologic moment very rare in early Renaissance art. Almost one is tempted to read into it the modem question, Almost one feels that the thoughts of the triumphant youth are very far from triumph. He has accomplished the deed so easily ! There is not so much as a disarranged curl to show that the struggle cost him half an effort. Only the broken spear is evidence that force must have been expended. And one wonders if he regrets that the task was so simple, or if he wanders whether it was worth while ! If, perhaps, even dragons haven’t a right in the world and a use! Or is it simply the saint’s sorrow that so many have failed where he found it so easy?
Andrea di Ser Biagio, known to-day as Mantegna, was born in 1431, probably in or near Padua, though some writers have thought that he was a Vicentine. As early as 1441 he was apparently regularly adopted by Francesco Squarcione, at that time considered the best teacher in Northern Italy. He had under his instruction, it is said, as many as 137 pupils. His chief excellence seems to have been not so much in his own ability as painter, for he had little real technical or actual experience in the art, but in his insistence upon the study of the antique. He had a large collection of antiques and casts of classic sculpture which he had gathered in the course of years, and these were all used for his pupils to work from.
Perhaps Mantegna’s works always showed the influence of Squarcione. But it was Donatello to whom he owed most. And as M. Müntz happily observes, it was Mantegna, a painter, who was the principal pupil of the great sculptor. Mantegna was born with little sense of colour, and he never becomes a great, or even a good, colourist. There is in the best of his works a lack of the finer harmony, balance, and counterbalance of colour masses that come almost instinctively to the born painter. What advance his later works show over his earlier in this respect is principally due to Bellini. After and even before Mantegna married Niccolosia, the sister of Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, his sense of the value of colour shows a decided gain. From Bellini, too, he acquired something of grace, of repose, and of charm.
The recent editors of Vasari say of Mantegna in discriminating phrase : ” Mantegna’s was a dual artistic personality; pushed a little further in one direction, his Judith of the Uffizi might form part of a Greek vase painting; pushed a little further in the opposite direction, his Gonzaghe nobles of the Mantuan Castello would become caricatures. Mantegna’s is essentially a virile genius ; he does not charm by suggestiveness, nor please by morbidezza; he lacks facile grace and feeling for facial beauty; he is often cold, sometimes even harsh and crude. As Angelico was the Saint, and Leonardo the Magician, Mantegna was the Ancient Roman of Art. His were the Roman virtues, sobriety, dignity, self-restraint, discipline, and a certain masterliness as indescribable as it is impressive and to those who appreciate austere beauty and the pure harmonies of exquisite lines Mantegna’s art will always appeal.”
From his Eremitani decorations in Padua, down the line of his wall paintings in the Ducal Palace at Mantua, his Madonnas of St. Zeno and the Louvre, and his Triumph of Caesar at Hampton Court, it is possible to get a fairly complete understanding of the great master who combined power with grace, full sweep of brush with an almost miniature-like execution, a marvellous decorative sense along with great qualities as a portrayer of mood and passion, a draughtsmanship unerring, a rhythm and swing as musical as it is insistent.
According to the new catalogue the two panels in this room which were formerly ascribed to Antonello da Messina are only copies of his works. Berenson, however, credits him with the Ecce Homo, and other critics give him as well the Annunciation. In neither is Antonello at his best, though both show’ certain well-known characteristics of the South Italian.
Jesus at the Column is less than a half-length figure, cut by the line of picture just below his breast. Behind him, and coming above his head, is seen part of the cross. His head is thrown back and up, in three-quarters position, facing toward his left, while his shoulders are almost in full face. A crown of thorns is on his head, and falling below it on to his shoulders are long, tight curls. The thin, pointed beard and light moustache help to emphasize the agony of the open mouth with its drooping lines. Drops of blood are falling from his forehead on to his face, neck, and chest. In spite of the torture the face does not express any abject terror. It shows, rather, both restraint and dignity under the extreme of suffering. The brushwork is coarse and heavy, and there is some reason for thinking that critics may be right in regarding the signature, Antonellus Mesanius me Pinxitas,” a modern forgery.
The Annunciation is even less worthy of Antonello’s fame. Mary is a half-length figure, standing at a reading-desk on which is an open missal. She is in almost full face, so completely covered with the heavy wooden drapery over her that nothing but her face and hands can be discerned. Even her face is half-obscured, for the head-veil comes far down nearly to the eyes. The hands are curiously fore-shortened, and throughout the entire figure there is evident a strong but not greatly successful at-tempt at correct anatomical construction. Her eyes are large and wide open, her mouth has full but carefully drawn lips, her nose is Grecian in its straight lines. Her expression is sweet if some-what lethargic. According to the catalogue the original of this picture is in Munich.
From Vasari’s time down there have been extremely conflicting opinions in regard to Antonello’s life and works. Vasari’s account of him is one mass of contradictory statements. The date of his birth does not correspond at all with his age as he gives it at the painter’s death, and the incidents of his life are proved to be largely unfounded on fact. The great claim, which up to a comparatively few years ago was universally believed, that Antonello learned the art of oil-painting directly from Jan Van Eyck, that for that purpose he made a trip to Flanders and that to him was due its introduction into Italy, is now pretty generally regarded as mostly without foundation.
The southern towns of Italy, Naples, Palermo, Messina, had no school of painting of their own, but they had a regular commerce with the northern countries, and many Flemish works of art were brought to their ports. Later on, these southern cities, with the desire for self-aggrandizement strong within them, not infrequently claimed these very works as the product of native artists. How-ever, this is neither here nor there. It is only certain that Antonello, as well as any other South Italian, must have had a chance to see and study the Flemish method of oil-painting without making the trip to Flemish shores. That he himself did introduce the method to Venice, when, about 1473, he went there to live, is, however, abundantly testified to. It was unquestionably he to whom Bellini owed his adoption of the medium.
For some years after Antonello’s arrival in Venice, it seems evident that he was the most famous portrait-painter in the city. It is undoubtedly largely to his use of oil that much of his vogue while living and his fame after death are due. What he owed to the Bellini and what they owed to him, how far he was influenced by Alvise Vivarini or how much the latter copied him, all these are points that critics have greatly disagreed about. Morelli and most of the later writers affirm that Antonello, owed practically everything to the Venetians, showing that his early works, before he reached the northern city, are so immature, so in-experienced, that they prove his lack of knowledge before his arrival. Berenson maintains that, though Giovanni Bellini undoubtedly had a great deal of influence over the young southerner, it is not alone this painter whom Antonello took as model, but that Alvise Vivarini was also greatly responsible for his development. Morelli thinks that Carpaccio comes next to Bellini in helping to form the southerner, but Berenson can see none of this influence. In any case, Antonello’s art became, very much finer, more noteworthy in every way in Venice. He was an excellent colourist, a keen delineator of character, a sharp observer of nature, all characteristics helping to make him the admirable portrait-painter he is credited with being. Some of the heads of Antonello are not unworthy to rank with the chief gems in all portraiture. He also painted religious scenes, in which his realism, his power of depicting emotion, and his dramatic sense at times make these Crucifixions and Pietàs positively repulsive.
After living in Venice, for awhile showing more capability, more talent than ever Gianbellini showed, he gradually lost hold, and Bellini went far ahead of him. Some of Antonello’s later works have a coarseness of execution, a toughness of sur-face, and a violence of gesture, movement, and expression that indicate his final retrogression.
Pour pictures have been credited to Boccaccio Boccaccino here, but the new catalogue claims that only one of them is unquestionably his. This, the Marriage of St. Catherine, is considered one of the finest works he ever achieved. It is a charming example of a Santa Conversazione, a style of picture which, begun by Gianbellini, was continued with such success by Palma Vecchio and Titian.
Slightly at the left, in the midst of a varied landscape of rolling field, low mountains, a lake, and clumps of trees, sits Mary, with the Child on her left knee. She is turned three-quarters to the right, dressed in a rose-coloured robe, blue mantle edged with delicate golden embroidery, and a white veil with golden threads. Her face is bent to the baby, who is looking up at her with an eager, questioning expression, but her eyes are not regarding him. Instead, half-drooped, they seem to be searching for something far beyond their sight. This look, joined to the slight downward curve of her lips, gives a pensive, gently melancholic expression to her round, softly modelled face, that otherwise is like a baby’s in its fresh colour and delicate planes. The Child is a plump, rosy little figure, with an entrancing and real baby-spring to his chubby little frame. While questioning his mother with his eyes, he is leaning forward toward St. Catherine, who kneels by the Madonna’s side in profile holding out a ring. St. Rose is standing in full face, at the right of Mary. St. Peter kneels still farther at the right, holding out the keys, and yet farther over is John the Baptist on one knee, gazing with adoring eyes at the holy group. St. Catherine is very richly dressed, a gold and red brocade, with a gray mantle lined with yellow sweeping down her shoulders and falling in heavy folds on the ground beside her. Her head-dress is white, lightly striped, and, as she kneels, one hand on her wheel, the other stretched forward for the ring, she makes a very striking, and not =beautiful, figure. Her strongly marked profile is full of deep earnestness, and an intensity of longing is in her eye and wistful mouth. St. Rose, in her flowered white gown, red mantle, and gauzy veil, is more regular in feature, with large, wide-open gray eyes, but with a more phlegmatic expression. Her left hand, holding up her mantle, is exquisitely drawn and modelled. St. Peter is somewhat conventionally portrayed with his bald head, short gray beard, and a rugged pro-file that is full of devotion. Even more marked is the adoration expressed in John’s emaciated face and figure. His rough, bearded face, with its shock of tumbled hair, is bent far forward on his thin shoulders, and his whole soul seems gazing out from his deep, dark eyes. One hand is pressed against his bosom as if to still the beating of his heart. In the distance, back of Mary, is shown the flight into Egypt, and back of John are three cavaliers on horseback.
As a whole, the picture is full of clear, bright colour, of real piety, and of carefully studied if slightly heavy drapery. The overabundance of the robe about Peter is at least a fine study of drapery falling into heavy folds.
The attribution to Boccaccino of the Madonna and Child between Sts. Simon and Jerome is doubtful. The figures are all half-length. Simon, at the left, is in full face, with long beard, eyes that do not exactly focus, a worn, watchful expression on his well-modelled face. Jerome, at the right, nearly in profile, is bald-headed, has a thick, white beard, and is gazing at. the Child with a deeply troubled expression. Jesus, in Mary’s arms, has a swaddling band about him, and is a gay little specimen of babyhood, his curly head lifted, his bright eyes and turned-up nose making him look very real. The Madonna has regular features that are rather lacking in expression.
The picture, called by Professor Pietro Paoletti di Oswaldo, in the official catalogue, St. John between Two Apostles, has always gone by the name of Christ and the Doctors. The two doctors, or apostles, are both in profile, the older one, on the right, in a yellow robe, the younger, who might be St. John himself, in red and blue. The young boy in the centre is in full face, dressed in a violet robe. The other two partially cover him so that only a bit of his chest, neck, and head show. He has large eyes and tightly curling hair. The colouring of the picture is lovely. The heads have been repainted, but the draperies probably not. Whether by Boccaccino or not, it is a picture of lovely tones.
Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples has been credited to Perugino. Peter is at the left, seated before a basin, in front of which Jesus kneels. The disciple’s protesting face and gesture are well indicated, as is also the quiet insistence of the Master. The figures are half the size of life. The cOmposition is awkward, particularly in its row of disciples who stand back of Jesus and Peter, their heads on a straight line. There is considerable archaism displayed in the attitudes, but the scene is not without strong touches of realism. The heads, especially, are very splendidly modelled, while the draperies are rather too full of insignificant little folds.
Boccaccino was born in Cremona somewhere about 146o. M. Mintz says of him that his works are a compromise between the art Venetian and the art Ferrarese, and continues by remarking that he was at times both vigorous and tender, while at others his forms were dry and archaic, his attitudes clumsy. Lanzi claims that he was the best modem among the ancients and the best ancient among the moderns. According to Morelli, he got that part of his art most worth while from Alvise Vivarini, from the Bellini, and from Giorgione. His hardness of line and drapery and a certain rude power which he occasionally shows were probably derived from men who had returned to Ferrara from Mantua, where they had been influenced by Mantegna. His series of frescoes in the cathedral in Cremona are to-day still considered his most satisfactory achieve-ment. At one time he went to Rome and executed an altar-piece for Santa Maria Transpontina which was wholly unsuccessful. The chief thing that is recalled about his visit there is the way he abused and ridiculed Michelangelo’s works. This he did so publicly that the Romans in turn made life too wretched for a long stay, and he shortly returned to Cremona. His works have been assigned to Perugino, to the Lombard school, and even to Leonardo da Vinci himself. In his best achievements he has depth and richness of colour, a quick grace of movement, joined, at times, to an awkwardness of pose, interesting, often charming, types for his Madonnas and female saints, and a rugged earnestness in his male characters. There is not infrequently poetic feeling in his landscapes, in conjunction with a perspective not always impeccable. He had a great delight in clothing his women in heavy velvet robes of light, gay colours, and ornamenting them with bands of carefully wrought embroidery in gold and colours.
There are several pictures in this room by Giovanni Battista Cima, known in art as Cima da Conegliano, from his birthplace in Friuli. The date of his birth is not definitely decided upon, though 146o is probably nearly if not the exact year. His death is usually given as having occurred in 1517. Thus born a Friulian, he seems to have settled in Venice very early in life, and has been generally regarded as a pupil of Gianbellini. Alvise’ Vivarini has also been called his teacher, and the latter’s influence is strongly in evidence in many of Cirna’s pictures. Berenson calls attention to the similarity between Cima’s Pietà and Vivarini’s St. Sebastian, both here in the Academy. Crowe and Cavalcaselle say of him that ” he is very masterly in producing strong effect by light and shade.” In most of his pictures he introduces landscape of Friulian character, with its hills and valleys and uneven surfaces, and, though he does not equal Bellini as landscape-painter, he has an instinctive feeling for outdoor life and the value of natural surroundings in his compositions. The two critics above quoted continue, Compared with other painters of the close of the fifteenth century, Cima takes a place by Giovanni Bellini’s side, similar to that held by Francia in respect to Perugino. Cima has not the largeness or breadth of shape in figures, nor the fibre of the colourist, which belong to Bellini. What he lacks in grandeur is compensated by staid and dignified simplicity. He has in his limited walk all that is required to make him a worthy ival of the best Venetian artists before the rise of the sixteenth century.”
Altogether, Cima exercises a fascination that can be traced partly to his unceasing care and attention to detail, partly to the cleanness as well as brilliance of his palette, partly to the skilful employment of contrasts of light and shade, but mostly to his sincerity and unassumingness. Cima never poses. He is as simple and direct as Botticelli was suggest-ive and involved. The subtleties were not for him. The open light of midday held a charm for him that no mysterious twilight could ever possess. And yet, garishness is the last sin he could be accused of. It is, after all, something of the naïveté of the believer of the mediæval years, that frame of mind farthest removed from either the modern scientific skeptic or the nineteenth-century psycho-religionist that is Cima’s dominating trait. He comes to us like a simple strain of old country music, a folk-song, before modern harmonizers or composers have resolved it into its original motifs, or used it for the groundwork of a great symphony.
One of his most beautiful canvases is Tobias with the Angel, St. James, and St. Nicholas, now in this room. Originally it was a painting on wood, but in 1889 it was transferred to canvas, suffering greatly from the operation. It belonged to the suppressed church of the Misericordia. According to Crowe and Cavalcaselle it was painted at about the same time as the Incredulity of Thomas, in the last part of the fifteenth century. These critics find in it the same coldness of execution along with the silvery lighting of that picture. Morelli, while praising it as one of Cima’s most beautiful creations, uses it as proof that the Friulian master never abandoned the style of the quattrocentists. And indeed, in this, as in all of Cima’s works, there is little or none of that envelope of atmosphere which Bellini expressed so clearly in his later work. But in no picture can there be found more simple earnestness and unstudied piety than in this representation of the legend of Tobias. As a composition, it is less satisfactory, for, though the figures are well-balanced, and the spotting good, there is no real connection between the group made by the angel and Tobias with either of the saints.
The scene depicts a rocky, mountainous region, with castle-crowned hills in the background. In the centre, stepping forward on a rocky ledge, come Tobias and his angel guardian. The little fellow holds the fish in his right hand, while his left is grasping the sleeve of the angel’s underrobe. In his red boots, short blue tunic with its red border that ends some way above his bare knees and opens at his throat and waist to show the white shirt beneath, Tobias is a quaint little figure, full of a grace as childlike as it is appealing. His curly head is turned up to the angel, and he seems to be listening intently to the directions of the heavenly visitant. The latter, whose red mantle falls over one shoulder of his white tunic, is looking down with tender seriousness at his young charge while he guides him on his way. Though he has a sturdiness and an almost peasantlike reality, far re-moved from the ethereal spirituality of a Fra Angelico angel, there is a seriousness of mien, a simple nobility of bearing, and a certain unconscious separation from his surroundings that hardly need the addition of the wings from his shoulders to show his overearthly origin. At the left of these two stands St. James reading, his green tunic and yellow mantle making a contrast to the red and gold brocaded dalmatic of Nicholas of Bari, who stands facing three-quarters to the left, the three purses in his right hand, his air one of quiet unconcern, with no apparent connection with the subject of the picture.
The Pietà is an early work, and shows, as Mr. Berenson has already been quoted as saying, his strong affinity with Vivarini. In the centre, the dead Christ, still crowned with thorns, is held upon a stone base by Nicodemus, who is dressed in a yellow mantle. St. John, in yellow underrobe and red mantle, is at the right, the Virgin in gray and blue, with white head-dress, at the left, each holding an arm of the dead Son and Master. At each side is one of the Marys, she at the left old, her right hand on the Mother’s shoulder. The other, probably the Magdalen, younger, in a rose-toned robe and green mantle, has her hands joined in prayer. Here again is felt the severe but real piety of Cima, a piety that, if circumscribed and strictly within the laws of the Church, is equally never forced or hollow. The angular draperies and meagreness of forms help, rather than destroy, this feeling.
The Incredulity of St. Thomas, which Cima painted for the School of the Masons at Venice, is in bad condition, the picture split, and the paint scaling off. In the centre of an open-arched portico, with coloured marble trimmings, stands Jesus, his white mantle leaving his chest and right shoulder bare. He is holding Thomas’s hand, and guiding it to the wound in his side. The excited, questioning attitude of the skeptic Thomas, the anxiety to believe that struggles with his intellectual doubt, are admirably expressed in this figure. At the right, against a pillar, stands St. Nicholas, book and crozier in hand, his gorgeous cope embroidered and figured with beautifully wrought scenes on the orphreys. He is gazing at his two companions calmly and benevolently, this regard being the only compositional link connecting him with the scene. A landscape background, with low hills, is seen through the portico.
The heads of these figures are all admirably conceived, and over all is the deep, unaffected reverence that is characteristic of Cima, as indeed, of most Venetians of his time. There is equally to be felt, nevertheless, the certain hardness and angularity and detachment of figure from its atmospheric surroundings, so very general with Cima. The same subject, with more figures, is in the National Gallery.
In the Madonna Enthroned with Sts. Dionysius and Liberale, the Madonna and Child are in almost the identical positions of the altar-piece in Room I l, the chief difference being that the baby there rests on his left leg, and in the larger work, on his right. On a marble pedestal, in front of a drapery against a flat marble wall, the Madonna is sitting in nearly full face, holding the baby upright on her left knee. He has turned his head over his left shoulder, looking down at St. Liberale, who stands beside the throne in front of an arched opening showing the landscape distance. On the other side is Dionysius, Bishop of S. Vittore, in front of a similar opening, his face in profile. This architectural background of the Madonna’s throne is exquisitely ornamented on pilaster and framing. In a lunette above her head is Jesus between Peter and Paul. The colour of the whole picture is wonderfully rich and glowing, and the types are softer and less rigid than usual with Cima.
Crowe and Cavalcaselle attribute the Madonna Enthroned between Sts. John the Baptist and Paul to Girolamo da Udine. Berenson and others, how-ever, give it to, Cima. The Madonna sits in full face, clad in a red robe, blue mantle and white linen head-veil with embroidered border. The Child stands upright on her right knee, her right hand supporting him. His curly head is bent far to the right and he is gazing at the Baptist, who stands at the left of the picture. At the right, reading, is St. Paul. Behind the Mother and Child is a brown drapery with few folds, and in the distance a mountainous landscape, holding a castle on a rocky height.
This, according to Mr. Berenson, has characteristics of Alvise Vivarini, of Montagna, and of Barbari. It is easy also to see the influence of Bellini. The type of Madonna is not unlike Bellini’s, though her features are rather more pinched and there is not the deep feeling in her face that can be found in the best Bellini Madonnas. The Child is a beautiful creation, rounded, firm little body, full of life and spirit, gay, yet tenderly regardful in expression. St. John is a gaunt figure, his dishevelled head of curls, his sunken cheeks, and bony chest re-calling Vivarini’s type. Paul is a well-fed, bald-headed man, face much wrinkled, hands delicate and badly constructed, not indicating much bony formation. The Child and St. John are both excellent achievements.
Still another by Cirna is the St. Christopher. This was the central panel of a large altar-piece in seven panels painted for the Scuola dei Mercanti. It has an arched top, and is a narrow, upright panel.
Through a stream, which is only half-way up to his knees, wades the gigantic figure of Christopher, leaning on a staff made of a whole date-tree. On his shoulder is the infant Christ, in green robe, holding a globe surmounted by a cross. Christopher is clad in a short blue tunic, which comes just to his hips, bound with a yellow sash, a short cloak of red flying about his shoulders. Considerable movement is shown in all these draperies, as if the wind were tossing them about. His bearded face, surrounded with the thick, long curls that fall to his shoulder, is lifted toward the baby, his deep adoration showing in his big eyes. The careful modelling of face, legs, and arms, does not entirely prevent a feeling of archaism in the whole picture.
Two pictures by Basaiti, the Dead Christ and the panel of the two saints, Anthony and James, are mediocre, even poor examples of his work. The first shows the dead body of Jesus stretched out on a board on top of a sepulchre. He is beardless and young, nude, save for a bit of drapery about his loins, and his face has a peaceful, calm dignity, un-marred by any expression of suffering. He is lying with his hands clasped on his abdomen, his face bent sidewise, bringing it into three-quarters position. There is a cruel gash in one side and the nail-marks gleam from the hands and feet, but the body is far less emaciated than the early artists were wont to depict it. Two smiling little putti are at his head and feet, regarding him with a tender cheerfulness strangely at variance with the nature of the scene. A landscape of rugged, rocky slope stretches out back of the group.
The two saints are standing in a Gothic-shaped niche, Anthony, with a long beard divided in the middle, holding a book in one hand, his bell at his feet, James with a book and staff. Of the two, Anthony’s head and face are much the better drawn and modelled.
Marco Basaiti was possibly a native of Friuli, but more likely he was born in Venice, somewhere near 1470. It is thought that at first he was an assistant of Alvise Vivarini, and, until after 1500, his style is distinctly Muranese. Gradually, under the influence of Bellini and Palma, he loses his hard outlines, his opacity, and acquires a stronger sense of the value of light and shade. Whereas, consequently, his earlier pictures, like these in the Academy, are hard, angular, and primitive in construction and handling, his latest ones are soft, brilliant, and with abrupt transitions from light to shade. He seems, chameleonlike, to have adopted the outer characteristics of the men with whom he came in contact, but underneath all can be discovered the original Basaiti, with what critics have called his ” emptiness and monotone.” At the same time he has a certain dignity and earnestness of expression that place him above a mere imitator.
Vicenzo di Biagio, better known as Catena, was a pupil of Bellini, and was born probably about 1477. He died in Venice in 1531. He has usually been credited with being merely an imitator, first of Bellini, and later of Giorgione, and, until Morelli directed attention to him, was not even given place as a second-rate artist. Vasari, however, had ac-corded him great praise as a portrait-painter, and Morelli claims that many of his works have been ascribed to Bellini, and also to Giorgione, so that he is not known at his true worth. According to Morelli, after he had become influenced by Giorgione, he became a really splendid colourist.
The three works by him here give little hint of his later powers. The two saints, Augustine and Jerome, have been so tremendously repainted that their original state can only be surmised. The Ma-donna and Child with John the Baptist and Jerome is an early work, showing the influence of Bellini, and probably, too, of Vivarini. The severity of Mary’s countenance is the most noticeable thing in the picture.
Catena’s best works are in the National Gallery and in the Mater Domini in Venice.