[Footnote 12: How peccable is the individual imagination, unchastened by tradition! I find among the illustrations of Mr. Berenson's very valuable monograph on Lotto, a most curious instance in point. This psychological, earnest painter has been betrayed, by his morbid nervousness of temper, into making the starting of a cat into the second most important incident in his Annunciation.]
A wonderful picture: a marvellous imaginative mind, with marvellous imaginative means at his command. Yet, let us ask ourselves, what is the value of the result? A magnificent display of attitudes and forms, a sort of bravura ghastliness and impressiveness, which are in a sense barrocco, reminding us of the wax plague models of Florence and of certain poems of Baudelaire's. But of the feeling, the poetry of this greatest of all scenes, what is there? And, standing before it, I think instinctively of that chapel far off on the windswept Umbrian rock, with Signorelli's Resurrection: a flat wall accepted as a flat wall, no place, nowhere. A half-dozen groups, not closely combined. Colour reduced to monochrome; light and shade nowhere, as nowhere also all these devices of perspective. But in that simply treated fresco, with its arrangement as simple as that of a vast antique bas-relief, there is an imaginative suggestion far surpassing this of Tintoret's. The breathless effort of the youths breaking through the earth's crust, shaking their long hair and gasping; the stagger of those rising to their feet; the stolidity, hand on hip, of those who have recovered their body but not their mind, blinded by the light, deafened by the trumpets of Judgment; the absolute self-abandonment of those who can raise themselves no higher; the dull, awe-stricken look of those who have found their companions, clasping each other in vague, weak wonder; and further, under the two archangels who stoop downwards with the pennons of their trumpets streaming in the blast, those figures who beckon to the re-found beloved ones, or who shade their eyes and point to a glory on the horizon, or who, having striven forward, sink on their knees, overcome by a vision which they alone can behold. And recollecting that fresco of Signorelli's, you feel as if this vast, tall canvas at S. Maria dell' Orto, where topple and welter the dead and the quick, were merely so much rhetorical rhodomontade by the side of the old hymn of the Last Day—
"Mors stupebit et natura Quum resurget creatura Judicanti responsura."
Again, in the chaos of newly-developing artistic means, and of struggling individual imaginations, we get once more, at the end of the eighteenth century, to what we found at the beginning of the fourteenth: the art that does not show, but merely speaks. We find it in what, of all things, are the apparently most different to the quiet and placid outline illustration of the Giottesque: in the terrible portfolio of Goya's etchings, called the Disasters of War. Like Duerer and Rembrandt, the great Spaniard is at once extremely realistic and extremely imaginative. But his realism means fidelity, not to the real aspect of things, of the thing in itself, so to speak, but to the way in which things will appear to the spectator at a given moment. He isolates what you might call a case, separating it from the multitude of similar cases, giving you one execution where several must be going on, one firing off of cannon, one or two figures in a burning or a massacre; and his technique conduces thereunto, blurring a lot, rendering only the outline and gesture, and that outline and gesture frequently so momentary as to be confused. But he is real beyond words in his reproduction of the way in which such dreadful things must stamp themselves upon the mind. They are isolated, concentrated, distorted: the multiplicity of horrors making the perceiving mind more sensitive, morbid as from opium eating, and thus making the single impression, which excludes all the rest, more vivid and tremendous than, without that unconsciously perceived rest, it could possibly be. Nay, more, these scenes are not merely rather such as they were recollected than as they really were seen; they are such as they were recollected in the minds and feelings of peasants and soldiers, of people who could not free their attention to arrange all these matters logically, to give them their relative logical value. The slaughtering soldiers—Spaniards, English, or French—of the Napoleonic period become in his plates Turks, Saracens, huge vague things in half Oriental costumes, whiskered, almost turbaned in their fur caps, they become almost ogres, even as they must have done in the popular mind. The shooting of deserters and prisoners is reduced to the figures at the stake, the six carbine muzzles facing them: no shooting soldiers, no stocks to the carbines, any more than in the feeling of the man who was being shot. The artistic training, the habit of deliberately or unconsciously looking for visible effects which all educated moderns possess, prevents even our writers from thus reproducing what has been the actual mental reality. But Goya does not for a moment let us suspect the presence of the artist, the quasi-writer. The impression reproduced is the impression, not of the artistic bystander, but of the sufferer or the sufferer's comrades. This makes him extraordinarily faithful to the epigraphs of his plates. We feel that the woman, all alone, without bystanders, earthworks, fascines, smoke, &c., firing off the cannon, is the woman as she is remembered by the creature who exclaims, "Que valor!" We feel that the half-dead soldier being stripped, the condemned turning his head aside as far as the rope will permit, the man fallen crushed beneath his horse or vomiting out his blood, is the wretch who exclaims, "Por eso soy nacido!" They are, these etchings of Goya's, the representation of the sufferings, real and imaginative, of the real sufferers. In the most absolute sense they are the art which does not merely show, but tells; the suggestive and dramatic art of the individual, unaided and unhampered by tradition, indifferent to form and technicality, the art which even like the art of the immediate predecessors of Giotto, those Giuntas and Berlinghieris, who left us the hideous and terrible Crucifixions, says to the world, "You shall understand and feel."
We are all of us familiar with the two adjacent rooms at South Kensington which contain, respectively, the casts from antique sculpture and those from the sculpture of the Renaissance; and we are familiar also with the sense of irritation or of relief which accompanies our passing from one of them to the other. This feeling is typical of our frame of mind towards various branches of the same art, and, indeed, towards all things which might be alike, but happen to be unlike. Times, countries, nations, temperaments, ideas, and tendencies, all benefit and suffer alternately by our habit of considering that if two things of one sort are not identical, one must be in the right and the other in the wrong. The act of comparison evokes at once our innate tendency to find fault; and having found fault, we rarely perceive that, on better comparing, there may be no fault at all to find.
As the result of such comparison, we shall find that Renaissance sculpture is unrestful, huddled, lacking selection of form and harmony of proportions; it reproduces ugliness and perpetuates effort; it is sometimes grotesque, and frequently vulgar. Or again, that antique sculpture is conventional, insipid, monotonous, without perception for the charm of detail or the interest of individuality; afraid of movement and expression, and at the same time indifferent to outline and grouping; giving us florid nudities which never were alive, and which are doing and thinking nothing whatever. Thus, according to which room or which mood we enter first, we are sure to experience either irritation at wrong-headedness or relief at right-doing; whether we pass from the sculpture of ancient Greece to the sculpture of mediaeval Italy, or vice versa.
But a more patient comparison of these two branches of sculpture, and of the circumstances which made each what it was, will enable us to enjoy the very different merits of both, and will teach us also something of the vital processes of the particular spiritual organism which we call an art.
In the early phase of the philosophy of art—a phase lingering on to our own day in the works of certain critics—the peculiarities of a work of art were explained by the peculiarities of character of the artist: the paintings of Raphael and the music of Mozart partook of the gentleness of their life; while the figures of Michelangelo and the compositions of Beethoven were the outcome of their misanthropic ruggedness of temper. The insufficiency, often the falseness, of such explanations became evident when critics began to perceive that the works of one time and country usually possessed certain common peculiarities which did not correspond to any resemblance between the characters of their respective artists; peculiarities so much more dominant than any others, that a statue or a picture which was unsigned and of obscure history was constantly attributed to half-a-dozen contemporary sculptors or painters by half-a-dozen equally learned critics. The recognition of this fact led to the substitution of the environment (the milieu of Monsieur Taine) as an explanation of the characteristics, no longer of a single work of art, but of a school or group of kindred works. Greek art henceforth was the serene outcome of a serene civilisation of athletes, poets, and philosophers, living with untroubled consciences in a good climate, with slaves and helots to char for them while they ran races, discussed elevated topics, and took part in Panathenaic processions, riding half naked on prancing horses, or carrying olive branches and sacrificial vases in honour of a divine patron, in whom they believed only as much as they liked. And the art of the Middle Ages was the fantastic, far-fetched, and often morbid production of nations of crusaders and theologians, burning heretics, worshipping ladies, seeing visions, and periodically joining hands in a vertiginous death-reel, whose figures were danced from country to country. This new explanation, while undoubtedly less misleading than the other one, had the disadvantage of straining the characteristics of a civilisation or of an art in order to tally with its product or producer; it forgot that Antiquity was not wholly represented by the frieze of the Parthenon, and that the Gothic cathedrals and the frescoes of Giotto had characteristics more conspicuous than morbidness and insanity.
Moreover, in the same way that the old personal criticism was unable to account for the resemblance between the works of different individuals of the same school, so the theory of the environment fails to explain certain qualities possessed in common by various schools of art and various arts which have arisen under the pressure of different civilisations; and it is obliged to slur over the fact that the sculpture of the time of Pericles and Alexander, the painting of the early sixteenth century, and the music of the age of Handel, Haydn, and Mozart are all very much more like one another in their serene beauty than they are any of them like the other productions, artistic or human, of their environment. Behind this explanation there must therefore be another, not controverting the portion of truth it contains, but completing it by the recognition of a relation more intimate than that of the work of art with its environment: the relation of form and material. The perceptions of the artist, what he sees and how he sees it, can be transmitted to others only through processes as various as themselves: hair seen as colour is best imitated with paint, hair seen as form with twisted metal wire. It is as impossible to embody certain perceptions in some stages of handicraft as it would be to construct a complex machine in a rudimentary condition of mechanics. Certain modes of vision require certain methods of painting, and these require certain kinds of surface and pigment. Until these exist, a man may see correctly, but he cannot reproduce what he is seeing. In short, the work of art represents the meeting of a mode of seeing and feeling (determined partly by individual characteristics, partly by those of the age and country) and of a mode of treating materials, a craft which may itself be, like the mind of the artist, in a higher or lower stage of development.
The early Greeks had little occasion to become skilful carvers of stone. Their buildings, which reproduced a very simple wooden structure, were ornamented with little more than the imitation of the original carpentering; for the Ionic order, poor as it is of ornament, came only later; and the Corinthian, which alone offered scope for variety and skill of carving, arose only when figure sculpture was mature. But the Greeks, being only just in the iron period (and iron, by the way, is the tool for stone), were great moulders of clay and casters of metal. The things which later ages made of iron, stone, or wood, they made of clay or bronze. The thousands of exquisite utensils, weapons, and toys in our museums make this apparent; from the bronze greaves delicately modelled like the legs they were to cover, to the earthenware dolls, little Venuses, exquisitely dainty, with articulated legs and go-carts.
Hence the human figure came to be imitated by a process which was not sculpture in the literal sense of carving. It is significant that the Latin word whence we get effigy has also given us fictile, the making of statues being thus connected with the making of pots; and that the whole vocabulary of ancient authors shows that they thought of statuary not as akin to cutting and chiselling, but to moulding ([Greek: plasso] = fingo), shaping out of clay on the wheel or with the modelling tool. It seems probable that marble-work was but rarely used for the round until the sixth century; and the treatment of the hair, the propping of projecting limbs and drapery, makes it obvious that a large proportion of the antiques in our possession are marble copies of long-destroyed bronzes. So that the Greek statue, even if eventually destined for marble, was conceived by a man having the habit of modelling in clay.
[Footnote 13: I am confirmed in these particulars by my friend Miss Eugenie Sellers, whose studies of the ancient authorities on art—Lucian, Pausanias, Pliny, and others, will be the more fruitful that they are associated with knowledge—uncommon in archaeologists—of more modern artistic processes.]
[Footnote 14: This becomes overwhelmingly obvious on reading Professor Furtwaengler's great "Masterpieces of Greek Sculpture." Praxiteles appears to have been exceptional in his preference for marble.]
Let us turn from early Greece to mediaeval Italy. Hammered iron had superseded bronze for weapons and armour, and silver and gold, worked with the chisel, for ornaments. On the other hand, the introduction from the East of glazed pottery had banished to the art of the glass-blower all fancy in shaping utensils. There was no demand in common life for cast metal-work, and there being no demand for casting, there was no practice either in its cognate preliminary art of moulding clay. Hence, such bronze work as originated was very unsatisfactory; the lack of skill in casting, and the consequent elaboration of bronze-work with the file, lasting late into the Renaissance. But the men of the Middle Ages were marvellously skilful carvers of stone. Architecture, ever since the Roman time, had given more and more importance to sculptured ornament: already exquisite in the early Byzantine screens and capitals, it developed through the elaborate mouldings, traceries, and columns of the Lombard style into the art of elaborate reliefs and groups of the full-blown Gothic; indeed the Gothic church is, in Italy, the work no longer of the mason, but of the sculptor. It is no empty coincidence that the hillside villages which still supply Florence with stone and with stonemasons should have given their names to three of its greatest sculptors, Mino da Fiesole, Desiderio da Settignano, and Benedetto da Maiano; that Michelangelo should have told Vasari that the chisel and mallet had come to him with the milk of his nurse, a stonecutter's wife from those same slopes, down which jingle to-day the mules carting ready-shaped stone from the quarries. The mediaeval Tuscans, the Pisans of the thirteenth, and the Florentines of the fifteenth century, evidently made small wax or clay sketches of their statues; but their works are conceived and executed in the marble, and their art has come out of the stone without interposition of other material, even as the figures which Michelangelo chopped, living and colossal, direct out of the block.
[Footnote 15: Interesting details in Vasari's treatise, and in his Lives of J. della Quercia, Ferrucci, and other sculptors.]
The Greek, therefore, was a moulder of clay, a caster of bronze, in the early time when the art acquires its character and takes its direction; in that period, on the contrary, the Tuscan was a chaser of silver, a hammerer of iron, above all a cutter of stone. Now clay (and we must remember that bronze is originally clay) means the modelled plane and succession of planes smoothed and rounded by the finger, the imitation of all nature's gently graduated swellings and depressions, the absolute form as it exists to the touch; but clay does not give interesting light and shade, and bronze is positively blurred by high lights; and neither clay nor bronze has any resemblance to the texture of human limbs or drapery: it gives the form, but not the stuff. It is the exact reverse with marble. Granulated like a living fibre, yet susceptible of a delicate polish, it can imitate the actual substance of human flesh, with its alternations of opacity and luminousness; it can reproduce, beneath the varied strokes of the chisel, the grain, running now one way, now another, which is given to the porous skin by the close-packed bone and muscle below. Moreover, it is so docile, so soft, yet so resistant, that the iron can cut it like butter or engrave it lightly like agate; so that the shadows may pour deep into chasms and pools, or run over the surface in a network of shallow threads; light and shade becoming the artist's material as much as the stone itself.
The Greek, as a result, perceived form not as an appearance, but as a reality; saw with the eye the complexities of projection and depression perceivable by the hand. His craft was that of measurements, of minute proportion, of delicate concave and convex—in one word, of planes. His dull, malleable clay, and ductile, shining bronze had taught him nothing of the way in which light and shadow corrode, blur, and pattern a surface. His fancy, his skill, embraced the human form like the gypsum of the moulder, received the stamp of its absolute being. The beauty he sought was concrete, actual, the same in all lights and from all points of view: the comely man himself, not the beautiful marble picture.
The marble picture, on the other hand—a picture in however high and complete relief—a picture for a definite point of view, arranged by receiving light projected at a given angle on a surface cut deep or shallow especially to receive it—was produced by the sculpture that spontaneously grew out of the architectural stone-cutting of the Byzantine and Lombard schools. The mouldings on a church, still more the stone ornaments of its capitals, pulpit, and choir rails, seen, as they are, each at various and peculiar heights above the eye, under light which, however varying, can never get behind or above them if outdoor, below or in flank if indoor—these mouldings, part of a great architectural pattern of black and white, inevitably taught the masons all the subtle play of light and surface, all the deceits of position and perspective. And the mere manipulation of the marble taught them, as we have seen, the exquisite finenesses of surface, texture, crease, accent, and line. What the figure actually was—the real proportions and planes, the actual form of the model—did not matter; no hand was to touch it, no eye to measure; it was to be delightful only in the position which the artist chose, and in no other had it a right to be seen.
These were the two arts, originating from a material and a habit of work which were entirely different, and which produced artistic necessities diametrically opposed. It might be curious to speculate upon what would have resulted had their position in history been reversed; what statues we should possess had the marble-carving art born of architectural decoration originated in Greece, and the art of clay and bronze flourished in Christian and mediaeval Italy. Be this as it may, the accident of the surroundings—of the habits of life and thought which pressed on the artist, and combined with the necessities of his material method—appears to have intensified the peculiarities organic in each of the two sculptures. I say appears, because we must bear in mind that the combination was merely fortuitous, and guard against the habit of thinking that because a type is familiar it is therefore alone conceivable.
We all know all about the antique and the mediaeval milieu. It is useless to recapitulate the influence, on the one hand, of antique civilisation, with its southern outdoor existence, its high training of the body, its draped citizens, naked athletes, and half-clothed work-folk, its sensuous religion of earthly gods and muscular demigods; or the influence, on the other hand, of the more complex life of the Middle Ages, essentially northern in type, sedentary and manufacturing, huddled in unventilated towns, with its constant pre-occupation, even among the most sordid grossness, of the splendour of the soul, the beauty of suffering, the ignominy of the body, and the dangers of bodily prosperity. Of all this we have heard even too much, thanks to the picturesqueness which has recommended the milieu of Monsieur Taine to writers more mindful of literary effect than of the philosophy of art. But there is another historical circumstance whose influence, in differentiating Greek sculpture from the sculpture of mediaeval Italy, can scarcely be overrated. It is that, whereas in ancient Greece sculpture was the important, fully developed art, and painting merely its shadow; in mediaeval Italy painting was the art which best answered the requirements of the civilisation, the art struggling with the most important problems; and that painting therefore reacted strongly upon sculpture. Greek painting was the shadow of Greek sculpture in an almost literal sense: the figures on wall and base, carefully modelled, without texture, symmetrically arranged alongside of each other regardless of pictorial pattern, seem indeed to be projected on to the flat surface by the statues; they are, most certainly, the shadow of modelled figures cast on the painter's mind.
The sculptor could learn nothing new from paintings where all that is proper to painting is ignored:—plane always preferred to line, the constructive details, perceptible only as projection, not as colour or value (like the insertion of the leg and the thigh), marked by deep lines that look like tattoo marks; and perspective almost entirely ignored, at least till a late period. It is necessary thus to examine Greek painting in order to appreciate, by comparison with this negative art, the very positive influence of mediaeval painting or mediaeval sculpture. The painting on a flat surface—fresco or panel—which became more and more the chief artistic expression of those times, taught men to consider perspective; and, with perspective and its possibility of figures on many planes, grouping: the pattern that must arise from juxtaposed limbs and heads. It taught them to perceive form no longer as projection or plane; but as line and light and shade, as something whose charm lay mainly in the boundary curves, the silhouette, so much more important in one single, unchangeable position than where, the eye wandering round a statue, the only moderate interest of one point of view is compensated by the additional interest of another. Moreover, painting, itself the product of a much greater interest in colour than Antiquity had known, forced upon men's attention the important influence of colour upon form. For, although the human being, if we abstract the element of colour, if we do it over with white paint, has indeed the broad, somewhat vague form, the indecision of lines which characterises antique sculpture; yet the human being as he really exists, with his coloured hair, eyes, and lips, his cheeks, forehead, and chin patterned with tint, has a much greater sharpness, precision, contrast of form, due to the additional emphasis of the colour. Hence, as pictorial perspective and composition undoubtedly inclined sculptors to seek greater complexities of relief and greater unity of point of view, so the new importance of drawing and colouring suggested to them a new view of form. A human being was no longer a mere arrangement of planes and of masses, homogeneous in texture and colour. He was made of different substances, of hair, skin over fat, muscle, or bone, skin smooth, wrinkled, or stubbly, and, besides this, he was painted different colours. He had, moreover, what the Greeks had calmly whitewashed away, or replaced by an immovable jewel or enamel: that extraordinary and extraordinarily various thing called an Eye.
[Footnote 16: At all events, Greek painting preceding or contemporaneous with the great period of sculpture. Later painting was, of course, much more pictorial.]
All these differences between the monochrome creature—colour abstracted—of the Greeks and the mottled real human being, the sculptors of the Renaissance were led to perceive by their brothers the painters; and having perceived, they were dissatisfied at having to omit in their representation. But how show that they too had seen them?
Here return to our notice two other peculiarities which distinguish mediaeval sculpture from antique: first, that mediaeval sculpture, rarely called upon for free open-air figures, was for ever producing architectural ornament, seen at a given height and against a dark background; and indoor decoration seen under an unvarying and often defective light; and secondly, that mediaeval sculpture was the handicraft of the subtle carver in delicate stone.
The sculpture which was an essential part of Lombard and Gothic architecture required a treatment that should adapt it to its particular place and subordinate it to a given effect. According to the height above the eye and the direction of the light, certain details had to be exaggerated, certain others suppressed; a sculptured window, like those of Orsanmichele, would not give the delightful pattern of black and white unless some surfaces were more raised than others, some portions of figure or leafage allowed to sink into quiescence, others to start forward by means of the black rim of undercutting; and a sepulchral monument, raised thirty feet above the spectator's eye, like those inside Sta. Maria Novella, would present a mere intricate confusion unless the recumbent figure, the canopy, and various accessories, were such as to seem unnatural at the level of the eye. Thus, the heraldic lions of one of these Gothic tombs have the black cavity of the jaw cut by marble bars which are absolutely out of proportion to the rest of the creature's body, and to the detail of the other features, but render the showing of the teeth even at the other side of the transept. Again, in the more developed art of the fifteenth century, Rossellino's Cardinal of Portugal has the offside of his face shelved upwards so as to catch the light, because he is seen from below, and the near side would otherwise be too prominent; while the beautiful dead warrior, by an unknown sculptor, at Ravenna has had a portion of his jaw and chin deliberately cut away, because the spectator is intended to look down upon his recumbent figure. If we take a cast of the Cardinal's head and look down upon it, or hang a cast of the dead warrior on the wall, the whole appearance alters; the expression is almost reversed and the features are distorted. On the other hand, a cast from a real head, placed on high like the Cardinal's, would become insignificant, and laid at the height of a table, like the dead warrior's, would look lumbering and tumid. Thus, again, the head of Donatello's Poggio, which is visible and intelligible placed high up in the darkness of the Cathedral of Florence, looks as if it had been gashed and hacked with a blunt knife when seen in the cast at the usual height in an ordinary light.
Now this subtle circumventing of distance, height, and darkness; this victory of pattern over place; this reducing of light and shadow into tools for the sculptor, mean, as we see from the above examples, sacrificing the reality to the appearance, altering the proportions and planes so rigorously reproduced by the Greeks, mean sacrificing the sacred absolute form. And such a habit of taking liberties with what can be measured by the hand, in order to please the eye, allowed the sculptors of the Renaissance to think of their model no longer as the homogeneous white man of the Greeks, but as a creature in whom structure was accentuated, intensified, or contradicted by colour and texture.
Furthermore, these men of the fifteenth century possessed the cunning carving which could make stone vary in texture, in fibre, and almost in colour.
A great many biographical details substantiate the evidence of statues and busts that the sculptors of the Renaissance carried on their business in a different manner from the ancient Greeks. The great development in Antiquity of the art of casting bronze, carried on everywhere for the production of weapons and household furniture, must have accustomed Greek sculptors (if we may call them by that name) to limit their personal work to the figure modelled in clay. And the great number of their works, many tediously constructed of ivory and gold, shows clearly that they did not abandon this habit in case of marble statuary, but merely gave the finishing strokes to a copy of their clay model, produced by workmen whose skill must have been fostered by the apparently thriving trade in marble copies of bronzes.
It was different in the Renaissance. Vasari recommends, as obviating certain miscalculations which frequently happened, that sculptors should prepare large models by which to measure the capacities of their block of marble. But these models, described as made of a mixture of plaster, size, and cloth shavings over tow and hay, could serve only for the rough proportions and attitude; nor is there ever any allusion to any process of minute measurement, such as pointing, by which detail could be transferred from the model to the stone. Most often we hear of small wax models which the sculptors enlarged directly in the stone. Vasari, while exaggerating the skill of Michelangelo in making his David out of a block mangled by another sculptor, expresses no surprise at his having chopped the marble himself; indeed, the anecdote itself affords evidence of the commonness of such a practice, since Agostino di Duccio would not have spoilt the block if he had not cut into it rashly without previous comparison with a model. We hear, besides, that Jacopo della Quercia spent twelve years over one of the gates of S. Petronio, and that other sculptors carried out similar great works with the assistance of one man, or with no assistance at all,—a proceeding which would have seemed the most frightful waste except in a time and country where half of the sculptors were originally stone-masons and the other half goldsmiths, that is to say, men accustomed to every stage, coarse or subtle, of their work. The absence of replicas of Renaissance sculpture, so striking a contrast to the scores of repetitions of Greek works, proves, moreover, that the actual execution in marble was considered an intrinsic part of the sculpture of the fifteenth century, in the same way as the painting of a Venetian master. Phidias might leave the carving of his statues to skilful workmen, once he had modelled the clay, even as the painters of the merely designing and linear schools, Perugino, Ghirlandaio, or Botticelli, might employ pupils to carry out their designs on panel or wall. But in the same way as a Titian is not a Titian without a certain handling of the brush, so a Donatello is not a Donatello, or a Mino not a Mino, without a certain individual excellence in the cutting of the marble.
[Footnote 17: Several Greek vases and coins show the sculptor modelling his figure; while in Renaissance designs, from that of Nanni di Banco to a mediocre allegorical engraving in an early edition of Vasari, the sculptor, or the personified art of Sculpture, is actually working with chisel and mallet.]
These men brought, therefore, to the cutting of marble a degree of skill and knowledge of which the ancients had no notion, as they had no necessity. In their hands the chisel was not merely a second modelling tool, moulding delicate planes, uniting insensibly broad masses of projection and depression. It was a pencil, which, according as it was held, could emphasise the forms in sharp hatchings or let them die away unnoticed in subdued, imperceptible washes. It was a brush which could give the texture and the values of the colour—a brush dipped in various tints of light and darkness, according as it poured into the marble the light and the shade, and as it translated into polishings and rough hewings and granulations and every variety of cutting, the texture of flesh, of hair, and of drapery; of the blonde hair and flesh of children, the coarse flesh and bristly hair of old men, the draperies of wool, of linen, and of brocade. The sculptors of Antiquity took a beautiful human being—a youth in his perfect flower, with limbs trained by harmonious exercise and ripened by exposure to the air and sun—and, correcting whatever was imperfect in his individual forms by their hourly experience of similar beauty, they copied in clay as much as clay could give of his perfections: the subtle proportions, the majestic ampleness of masses, the delicate finish of limbs, the harmonious play of muscles, the serene simplicity of look and gesture, placing him in an attitude intelligible and graceful from the greatest possible distance and from the largest variety of points of view. And they preserved this perfect piece of loveliness by handing it over to the faithful copyist in marble, to the bronze, which, more faithful still, fills every minutest cavity left by the clay. Being beautiful in himself, in all his proportions and details, this man of bronze or marble was beautiful wherever he was placed and from wheresoever he was seen; whether he appeared foreshortened on a temple front, or face to face among the laurel trees, whether shaded by a portico, or shining in the blaze of the open street. His beauty must be judged and loved as we should judge and love the beauty of a real human being, for he is the closest reproduction that art has given of beautiful reality placed in reality's real surroundings. He is the embodiment of the strength and purity of youth, untroubled by the moment, independent of place and of circumstance.
Of such perfection, born of the rarest meeting of happy circumstances, Renaissance sculpture knows nothing. A lesser art, for painting was then what sculpture had been in Antiquity; bound more or less closely to the service of architecture; surrounded by ill-grown, untrained bodies; distracted by ascetic feelings and scientific curiosities, the sculpture of Donatello and Mino, of Jacopo della Quercia and Desiderio da Settignano, of Michelangelo himself, was one of those second artistic growths which use up the elements that have been neglected or rejected by the more fortunate and vigorous efflorescence which has preceded. It failed in everything in which antique sculpture had succeeded; it accomplished what Antiquity had left undone. Its sense of bodily beauty was rudimentary; its knowledge of the nude alternately insufficient and pedantic; the forms of Donatello's David and of Benedetto's St. John are clumsy, stunted, and inharmonious; even Michelangelo's Bacchus is but a comely lout. This sculpture has, moreover, a marvellous preference for ugly old men—gross, or ascetically imbecile; and for ill-grown striplings: except the St. George of Donatello, whose body, however, is entirely encased in inflexible leather and steel, it never gives us the perfection and pride of youth. These things are obvious, and set us against the art as a whole. But see it when it does what Antiquity never attempted; Antiquity which placed statues side by side in a gable, balancing one another, but not welded into one pattern; which made relief the mere repetition of one point of view of the round figure, the shadow of the gable group; which, until its decline, knew nothing of the pathos of old age, of the grotesque exquisiteness of infancy, of the endearing awkwardness of adolescence; which knew nothing of the texture of the skin, the silkiness of the hair, the colour of the eye.
Let us see Renaissance sculpture in its real achievement.
Here are a number of children by various sculptors of the fifteenth century. This is the tiny baby whose little feet still project from a sort of gaiter of flesh, whose little boneless legs cannot carry the fat little paunch, the heavy big head. Note that its little skull is still soft, like an apple, under the thin floss hair. Its elder brother or sister is still vaguely contemplative of the world, with eyes that easily grow sleepy in their blueness. Those a little older have learned already that the world is full of solemn people on whom to practise tricks; their features have scarcely accentuated, their hair has merely curled into loose rings, but their eyes have come forward from below the forehead, eyes and forehead working together already; and there are great holes, into which you may dig your thumb, in the cheeks. Those of fourteen or fifteen have deplorably thin arms, and still such terrible calves; and a stomach telling of childish gigantic meals; but they have the pert, humorous frankness of Verrocchio's David, who certainly flung a jest at Goliath's unwieldy person together with his stone; or the delicate, sentimental pretty woman's grace of Donatello's St. John of the Louvre, and Benedetto da Maiano's: they will soon be poring over the Vita Nuova and Petrarch. Two other St. Johns—I am speaking of Donatello's—have turned out differently. One, the first beard still doubtful round his mouth, has already rushed madly away from earthly loves; his limbs are utterly wasted by fasting; except his legs, which have become incredibly muscular from continual walking; he has begun to be troubled by voices in the wilderness—whether of angels or of demons—and he flies along, his eyes fixed on his scroll, and with them fixing his mind on unearthly things; he will very likely go mad, this tempted saint of twenty-one. Here he is again, beard and hair matted, almost a wild man of the woods, but with the gravity and self-possession of a preacher; he has come out of the wilderness, overcome all temptations, his fanaticism is now militant and conquering. This is certainly not the same man, but perhaps one of his listeners, this old King David of Donatello—a man at no time intelligent, whose dome-shaped head has taken back, with the thin white floss hair that recalls infancy, an infantine lack of solidity; whose mouth is drooping already, perhaps after a first experience of paralysis, and his eyes getting vague in look; but who, in this intellectual and physical decay, seems to have become only the more full of gentleness and sweetness; misnamed David, a Job become reconciled to his fate by becoming indifferent to himself, an Ancient Mariner who has seen the water-snakes and blessed them and been filled with blessing.
These are all statues or busts intended for a given niche or bracket, a given portico or window, but in a measure free sculpture. Let us now look at what is already decoration. Donatello's Annunciation, the big coarse relief in friable grey stone (incapable of a sharp line), picked out with delicate gilding; no fluttering or fainting, the angel and the Virgin grave, decorous, like the neighbouring pilasters. Again, his organ-loft of flat relief, with granulated groundwork: the flattened groups of dancing children making, with deep, wide shadows beneath their upraised, linked arms, a sort of human trellis-work of black and white. Mino's Madonna at Fiesole: the relief turned and cut so as to look out of the chapel into the church, so that the Virgin's head, receiving the light like a glory on the pure, polished forehead, casts a nimbus of shadow round itself, while the saints are sucked into the background, their accessories only, staff and gridiron, allowed to assert themselves by a sharp shadow; a marvellous vision of white heavenly roses, their pointed buds and sharp spines flourishing on martyrs' blood and incense, grown into the close lips and long eyes, the virginal body and thin hands of Mary. From these reliefs we come to the compositions, group inside group, all shelving into portico and forest vista, of the pulpit of Sta. Croce, the perspective bevelling it into concavities, like those of panelling; the heads and projecting shoulders lightly marked as some carved knob or ornament; to the magnificent compositions in light and shade, all balancing and harmonising each other, and framed round by garlands of immortal blossom and fruit, of Ghiberti's gates.
Nor is this all. The sculpture of the Renaissance, not satisfied with having portrayed the real human being made of flesh and blood, of bone and skin, dark-eyed or flaxen-haired, embodied in the marble the impalpable forms of dreams. Its latest, greatest, works are those sepulchres of Michelangelo, whose pinnacle enthrones strange ghosts of warriors, and whose steep sides are the unquiet couch of divinities hewn, you would say, out of darkness and the light that is as darkness.
A SEEKER OF PAGAN PERFECTION
BEING THE LIFE OF DOMENICO NERONI, PICTOR SACRILEGUS
Every time, of late years, of my being once more in Rome, I have been subject to a peculiar mental obsession: retracing my steps, if not materially, in fancy at least, to such parts of the city as bear witness to the strange meeting of centuries, where the Middle Ages have altered to their purposes, or filled with their significance, the ruined remains of Antiquity.
Such places are scarcer than one might have expected, and for that reason perhaps more impressive, more fragmentary and enigmatic. There are the colossal columns—great trickles and flakes of black etching as with acid their marble—of the temple of Mars Ultor, with that Tuscan palace of Torre della Milizia rising from among them. There is, inside Ara Coeli—itself commemorating the legend of Augustus and the Sibyl—the tomb of Dominus Pandulphus Sabelli, its borrowed vine-garlands and satyrs and Cupids surmounted by mosaic crosses and Gothic inscriptions; and outside the same church, on a ground of green and gold, a Mother of God looking down from among gurgoyles and escutcheons on to the marble river-god of the yard of the Capitol below. Then also, where pines and laurels still root in the unrifled tombs, the skeleton feudal fortress, gutted as by an earthquake, alongside of the tower of Caecilia Metella. These were the places to which my thoughts were for ever recurring; to them, and to nameless other spots, the street-corner, for instance, where an Ionic pillar, with beaded and full-horned capital, is walled into the side of an insignificant modern house. I know not whether, in consequence of this straining to see the meeting-point of Antiquity and the Middle Ages (like the fancy, sometimes experienced, to reach the confluence of rivers), or rather as a cause thereof, but a certain story has long lurked in the corners of my mind. Twenty years have passed since first I was aware of its presence, and it has undergone many changes. It is presumably a piece of my inventing, for I have neither read it nor heard it related. But by this time it has acquired a certain traditional veracity in my eyes, and I give to the reader rather as historical fact than as fiction the study which I have always called to myself: Pictor Sacrilegus.
Domenico, the son of Luca Neroni, painter, sculptor, goldsmith, and engraver, about whom, owing either to the scarcity of his works or the scandal of his end, Vasari has but a few words in another man's biography, must have been born shortly before or shortly after the year 1450, a contemporary of Perugino, of Ghirlandaio, of Filippino Lippi, and of Signorelli, by all of whom he was influenced at various moments, and whom he influenced by turns.
He was born and bred in the Etruscan town of Volterra, of a family which for generations had exercised the art of the goldsmith, stimulated, perhaps, by the sight of ornaments discovered in Etruscan tombs, and carrying on, peradventure, some of the Etruscan traditions of two thousand years before. The mountain city, situate on the verge of the malarious seaboard of Southern Tuscany, is reached from one side through windings of barren valleys, where the dried-up brooks are fringed, instead of reed, with the grey, sand-loving tamarisk; and from the other side, across a high-lying moorland of stunted heather and sere grass, whence the larks rise up scared by only a flock of sheep or a mare and her foal, and you journey for miles without meeting a house or a clump of cypresses. In front, with the white road zigzagging along their crests, is a wilderness of barren, livid hillocks, separated by huge fissures and crevassed by huge cracks, with here and there separate rocks, projecting like Druidic stones from the valley of gaping ravines; and beyond them all a higher mountain, among whose rocks and ilexes you doubtfully distinguish the walls and towers of the Etruscan city. A mass of Cyclopean wall and great black houses, grim with stone brackets and iron hooks and stanchions, all for defence and barricade, Volterra looks down into the deep valleys, like the vague heraldic animal, black and bristly, which peers from the high tower of the municipal palace. One wonders how this could ever have been a city of the fat, voluptuous Etruscans, whose images lie propped up and wide-eyed on their stone coffin-lids. The long wars of old Italic times, in which Etruria fell before Rome, must have burned and destroyed, as one would think, the land as well as the inhabitants, leaving but grey cinders and blackened stone behind. Siena and Florence ruined Volterra once more in the Middle Ages, isolating it near the pestilential Maremma and checking its growth outward and inward. The cathedral, the pride of a mediaeval commonwealth, is still a mean and unfinished building of the twelfth century. There is no native art, of any importance, of a later period; what the town possesses has come from other parts, the altar-pieces by Matteo di Giovanni and Signorelli, for instance, and the marble candelabra, carried by angels, of the school of Mino da Fiesole.
In this remote and stagnant town, the artistic training of Domenico Neroni was necessarily imperfect and limited throughout his boyhood to the paternal goldsmith's craft. Indeed, it seems likely that some peculiarities of his subsequent life as an artist, his laboriousness disproportionate to all results, his persistent harping on unimportant detail, and his exclusive interest in line and curve, were due not merely to an unhappy and laborious temperament, but also to the long habit of an art full of manual skill and cunning tradition, which presented the eye with ingenious patterns, but rarely attempted, save in a few church ornaments, more of the domain of sculpture, to tell a story or express a feeling.
Besides this influence of his original trade, we find in Domenico Neroni's work the influence of his early surroundings. His native country is such as must delight, or help to form, a painter of pale anatomies. The painters of Southern Tuscany loved as a background the arid and mountainous country of their birth. Taddeo di Bartolo placed the Death of the Virgin among the curious undulations of pale clay and sandy marl that stretch to the southernmost gates of Siena; Signorelli was amused and fascinated by the odd cliffs and overhanging crags, unnatural and grotesque like some Druidic monument, of the valleys of the Paglia and the Chiana; and Pier della Francesca has left, in the allegorical triumphs of Frederick of Urbino and his duchess, studies most exquisite and correct, of what meets the traveller's eyes on the watersheds of the central Apennine, sharp-toothed lines of mountain peaks pale against the sky, dim distant whiteness of sea, and valleys and roads and torrents twisting intricately as on a map. The country about Volterra, revealing itself with rosy lividness at dawn, with delicate periwinkle blue at sunset, through an open city gate or a gap between the tall black houses, helped to make Neroni a lover of muscle and sinew, of the strength and suppleness of movement, of the osseous structure divined within the limbs; and made him shrink all his life long, not merely from drapery or costume that blunted the lines of the body, but from any warmth and depth of colour; till the figures stood out like ghosts, or people in faded tapestries, from the pale lilacs and greys and washed out cinnamons of his backgrounds. For the bold peaks and swelling mountains of the valleys of the Arno and the Tiber, and the depths of colour among vegetation and rivers, seemed crude and emphatic to a man who carried in his memory those bosses of hill, pearly where the waters have washed the sides, pale golden buff where a little sere grass covers the rounded top; those great cracks and chasms, with the white road snaking along the narrow table-land and the wide valleys; and the ripple of far-off mountain chains, strong and restrained in curves, exquisite in tints, like the dry white and purpled hemlock, and the dusty lilac scabius, which seem to flower alone in that arid and melancholy and beautiful country.
"Colour," wrote Domenico Neroni, among a mass of notes on his art, measurements, and calculations, "is the enemy of noble art. It is the enemy of all precise and perfect form, since where colour exists form can be seen only as juxtaposition of colour. For this reason it has pleased the Creator to lend colour only to the inanimate world, as to senseless vegetables and plants, and to the lower kinds of living creatures, as birds, fishes, and reptiles; whereas nobler creatures, as lions, tigers, horses, cattle, stags, and unicorns, are robed in white or dull skins, the noblest breeds, indeed, both of horses, as those of the Soldans of Egypt and Numidia, and of oxen, as those of the valleys of the Clitumnus and Chiana, being white; whence, indeed, the poet Virgil has said that such latter are fittest for sacrifice to the immortal gods; 'hinc albi, Clitumne, greges,' and what follows. And man, the masterpiece of creation, is white; and only in the less noble portions of his body, which have no sensitiveness and no shape (being, indeed, vegetative and deciduous), as hair and beard, partaking of colour. Wherefore the ancient Romans and Greeks, portraying their gods, chose white marble for material, and not gaudy porphyry or jasper, and portrayed them naked. Whence certain moderns, calling themselves painters, who muffle our Lord and the Holy Apostles in many-coloured garments, thinking thereby to do a seemly and honourable thing, but really proceeding basely like tailors, might take a lesson if they could."
The quotation from Virgil, and the allusion to the statues of the immortal gods, shows that Neroni must have written these lines in the later part of his career, when already under the influence of that humanist Filarete, who played so important a part in his life, and when possessed already by those notions which brought him to so strange and fearful an end. But from his earliest years he sought for form, despising other things. He passed with contempt through a six months' apprenticeship at Perugia, railing at the great factory of devotional art established there by Perugino, of whom, with his rows of splay-footed saints and spindle-shanked heroes, he spoke with the same sweeping contempt as later Michelangelo. At Siena, which he described (much as its earlier artists painted it) as a town of pink toy-houses and scarlet toy-towers, he found nothing to admire save the marble fountain of Jacopo della Quercia, for the antique group of the Three Graces, later to be drawn by the young Raphael, had not yet been given to the cathedral by the nephew of Pius II. The sight of these noble reliefs, particularly of the one representing Adam and Eve driven out of Paradise, with their strong and well-understood nudities, determined him to exchange painting for sculpture, and made him hasten to Florence to see the works of Donatello and of Ghiberti.
Domenico Neroni must have spent several years of his life—between 1470 and 1480—in Florence, but little of his work has remained in that city,—little, at least, that we can identify with certainty. For taking service, as he did, with the Pollaiolos, Verrocchio, Nanni di Banco, and even with Filippino and Botticelli, wherever his inquisitive mind could learn, or his restless, fastidious, laborious talent gain him bread, it is presumable that much of his work might be discovered alongside that of his masters, in the collective productions of the various workshops. It is possible thus that he had a hand in much metal and relief work of the Pollaiolos, and perhaps even in the embroidering and tapestries of which they were undertakers; also in certain ornaments, friezes of Cupids and dolphins, and exquisite shell and acanthus carving of the monuments of Santa Croce; and it may be surmised that he occasionally assisted Botticelli in his perspective and anatomy, since that master took him to Rome when commissioned to paint in the chapel of Pope Sixtus. Indeed, in certain little-known studies for Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Calumny of Apelles one may discover, in the strong sweep of the outline, in the solid fashion in which the figures are planted on their feet—all peculiarities which disappear in the painted pictures, where grace of motion and exquisitive research take the place of solid draughtsman-ship—the hand of the artist whom the restless desire to confront ever new problems alone prevented from attaining a place among the great men of his time.
For there was in Domenico Neroni, from the very outset of his career, a curiosity after the hidden, a passion for the unattainable, which kept him, with greater power than many of his contemporaries, and vastly greater science, a mere student throughout his lifetime. He resembled in some respects his great contemporary Leonardo, but while the eager inquisitiveness of the latter was tempered by a singular power of universal enjoyment, a love of luxury and joyousness in every form, the intellectual activity of Neroni was exasperated into a kind of unhappy mania by the fact that its satisfaction was the only happiness that he could conceive. He would never have understood, or understanding would have detested, the luxurious dilettante spirit which made Leonardo prefer painting to sculpture, because whereas the sculptor is covered with a mud of marble dust, and works in a place disorderly with chips and rubbish, the painter "sits at his easel, well dressed and at ease, in a clean house adorned with pictures, his work accompanied by music or the reading of delightful books, which, untroubled by the sound of hammering and other noises, may be listened to with very great pleasure." The workshop of Neroni, when he had one of his own, was full of cobwebs and dust, littered with the remains of frugal and unsavoury meals, and resolutely closed to the rich and noble persons in whose company Leonardo delighted. And if Neroni, in his many-sided activity, eventually put aside sculpture for painting, it was merely because, as he was wont to say, a figure must needs look real when it is solid and you can walk round it; but to make men and women rise out of a flat canvas or plastered wall, and stand and move as if alive, is truly the work of a god.
Men and women, said Neroni; and he should have added men and women nude. For the studies which he made of the anatomy of horses and dogs were destined merely to shed light on the construction of human creatures; and his elaborate and exquisite drawings of undulating hills and sinuous rivers, nay, of growths of myrtle and clumps of daffodils, were intended as practice towards drawing the more subtle lines and curves of man's body. And as to clothes, he could not understand that great anatomists like Signorelli should huddle their figures quite willingly in immense cloaks and gowns; still less how exquisite draughtsmen like his friend Botticelli (who had the sense of line like no other man since Frate Lippo, although his people were oddly out of joint) could take pleasure in putting half-a-dozen veils atop of each other, and then tying them all into bunches and bunches with innumerable bits of tape! As to himself, he invariably worked out every detail of the nude, in the vain hope that the priests and monks for whom he worked would allow at least half of those beautiful anatomies to remain visible; and when, with infinite difficulties and bad language, he gradually gave in to the necessity of some sort of raiment, it was of such a nature—the hose and jerkins of the men-at-arms like a second skin, the draperies of the womankind as clinging as if they had been picked out of the river, that a great many pious people absolutely declined to pay the agreed on sum for paintings more suited to Pagan than to Christian countries; and indeed Fra Girolamo Savonarola included much work of Domenico's in his very finest burnings.
Such familiarity with nude form was not easily attained in the fifteenth century. Mediaeval civilisation gave no opportunities for seeing naked or half-naked people moving freely as in the antique palaestra; and there had yet been discovered too few antique marbles for the empiric knowledge of ancient sculptors to be empirically inherited by modern ones. Observation of the hired model, utterly insufficient in itself, required to be supplemented by a thorough science of the body's mechanism. But physiology and surgery were still in their infancy; and artists could not, as they could after the teachings of Vesalius, Fallopius, and Cesalpinus, avail themselves of the science accumulated for medical purposes. Verrocchio and the Pollaiolos most certainly, and Donatello almost without a doubt, practised dissection as a part of their business, as Michelangelo, with the advantage of twenty years of their researches behind him, practised it passionately in his turn. Of all the men of his day, Domenico Neroni, however, was the most fervent anatomist. He ran every risk of contagion and of punishment in order to procure corpses from the hospital and the gibbet. He undermined his constitution by breathing and handling corruption, and when his friends implored him to spare his health, he would answer, although unable to touch food for sickness, by paraphrasing the famous words of Paolo Uccello, and exclaiming from among his grisly and abominable properties, "Ah! how sweet a thing is not anatomy!"
There was nothing, he said—for he spoke willingly to any one who questioned him on these subjects—more beautiful than the manner in which human beings are built, or indeed living creatures of any kind; for, in the scarcity of corpses and skeletons, he would pick up on his walks the bones of sheep that had died on the hill-sides, or those of horses and mules furbished up by the scavenger dogs of the river-edge. It was marvellous to listen to him when he was in the vein. He sat handling horrible remains and talking about them like a lover about his mistress or a preacher about God; indeed, bones, muscles, and tendons were mistress and god all in one to this fanatical lover of human form. He would insist on the loveliness of line of the scapula, finding in the sweep of the acromion ridge a fanciful resemblance to the pinion, and in the angular shape of the coracoid process to the neck and head of a raven in full flight. Following with his finger the triangular outline of the bone, he went on to explain how its freedom of movement is due to its singular independence; laid loosely on the flat muscles behind the upper ribs, it moves with absolute freedom, backwards and forwards, up and down, unconnected with any other bone, till, turning the corner of the shoulder, it is hinged rather than tied to the collar-bone; the collar-bone itself free to move upwards from its articulation in the sternum. And then talk of the great works of man! Talk of Brunellesco and his cupola, of the engineers of the Duke of Calabria! Look at the human arm: what engineer would have dared to fasten anything to such a movable base as that? Yet an arm can swing round like a windmill, and lift weights like the stoutest crane without being wrenched out of its sockets, because the muscles act as pulleys in four different directions. And see, under the big deltoid, which fits round the shoulder like an epaulette and pulls the arm up, is the scapular group, things like tidily sorted skeins, thick on the shoulder-blades, diminished to a tendon string at their insertion in the arm; their business is to pull the arm back, in opposition to the big pectoral muscle which pulls it forwards. Here you have your arm working up, backwards or forwards; but how about pulling it down? An exquisite little arrangement settles that. Instead of being inserted with the rest on the outside of the arm-bone, the lowest muscle takes another road, and is inserted in the under part of the bone, in company with the great latissimus dorsi, and these tightening while the deltoid slackens, pull the arm down. No other arrangement could have done it with so little bulk; and an additional muscle on the under-arm or the ribs would have spoilt the figure of Apollo himself.
Among the paintings of contemporary artists, the one which at that time afforded Domenico the most unmingled satisfaction was Pollaiolo's tiny panel of Hercules and the Hydra. There! You might cover it with the palm of your hand; but in that hand you would be holding the concentrated strength and valour of the world, the true son of Jove, the most beautiful muscles that ever were seen! At least the most beautiful save in the statues of Donatello; for, of course, Donato was the greatest craftsman that had ever lived; and Domenico spoke of him as, in Vasari's day, men were to speak of Michelangelo.
For I ask you, who save an angel in human shape could have modelled that David, so young and triumphant and modest, treading on Goliath's head, with toes just slightly turned downwards, and those sandals, of truly divine workmanship? And that St. John in the Wilderness—how beautiful are not his ribs, showing under the wasted pectoral muscles; and how one sees that the radius rolls across the ulna in the forearm; surely one's heart, rather than the statue, must be made of stone if one can contemplate without rapture the exquisite rendering of the texture where the shin-bone stands out from the muscles of the leg. Such must have been the works of those famous Romans and Greeks, Phidias and Praxiteles.
Such were the notions of Domenico of Volterra in the earlier part of his career. For a change came gradually upon him after his first visit to Rome, whither, about 1480, he accompanied Botticelli, Rosselli, and Ghirlandaio, whom His Beatitude Pope Sixtus had sent for to decorate the new chapel of the palace.
We must not be deluded, like Domenico Neroni during his Florentine days, into the easy mistake of considering mere realism as the veritable aim of the art of his days. Deep in the life of that art, and struggling for ever through whatever passion for scientific accuracy, technical skill, or pathetic expression, is the sense of line and proportion, the desire for pattern, growing steadily till its triumph under Michelangelo and Raphael.
This reveals itself earliest in architecture. The men of the fifteenth century had lost all sense of the logic of construction. Columns, architraves, friezes, and the various categories of actual stone and brick work, occurred to them merely as so much line and curve, applicable to the surface of their buildings, with not more reference to their architecture than a fresco or an arras. The Pazzi Chapel, for instance, is one agglomeration of architectural members which perform no architectural function; but, taken as a piece of surface decoration, say as a stencilling, what could be more harmonious? Or take Alberti's famous church at Rimini; it is but a great piece of architectural veneering, nothing that meets the eye doing any real constructive duty, its exquisite decoration no more closely connected with the building than the strips of damask and yards of gold braid used in other places on holidays. As the fifteenth century treats the architectural detail of Graeco-Roman art, so likewise does it proceed with its sculptured ornament; all meaning vanishes before the absorbing interest in pattern. For there is in antique architectural ornament a much larger proportion of significance than can strike us at first. Thus the garlands of ivy and fruit had actually hung round the tomb before being carved on its sides; before ornamenting its corners the rams' heads and skulls of oxen had lain for centuries on the altar. The medallions of nymphs, centaurs, tritons, which to us are so meaningless and irrelevant, had a reference either to the divinity or to the worshippers; and there is probably almost as much spontaneous symbolism in the little cinerary box in the Capitol (of a person called Felix), with its variously employed genii, making music, carrying lanterns and torches, burning or extinguished under a trellis hung with tragic masks, as in any Gothic tomb with angels drawing the curtains of the deathbed. There has been, with the change of religion, an interruption in the symbolic tradition; yet, though we no longer interpret with readiness this dead language of paganism, we feel, if we are the least attentive, that it contains a real meaning. We feel that the sculptors cared not merely for the representation, but also for the object represented. These things were dear to them, a part of their life, their worship, their love; and they put as much observation into their work as any Gothic sculptor, and often as much fancy and humour (though both more beautiful), as one may judge, with plenty of comparison at hand, by a certain antique altar in Siena Cathedral, none of whose Gothic animals come up to the wonderful half-human rams' heads and bored, cross griffins of this forlorn fragment of paganism. The significance of classic ornament the men of the fifteenth century straightway overlooked. They laid hold of it as merely so much form, joining sirens, griffins, garlands, rams' heads, victories, without a suspicion that they might mean or suggest anything. They do, in fact, mean nothing, in most Florentine work, besides exquisite pattern; in the less subtle atmosphere of Venice they reach that frank senselessness which has moved the wrath of Ruskin. But what a charm have not even those foolish monuments of doges and admirals, tier upon tier of triumphal arch, of delicately flowered column and scalloped niche, and then rows of dainty warriors and virtues; how full of meaning to the eye and spirit is not this art so meaningless to the literary mind!
Of course the painting of that age never became an art of mere pattern like the architecture. The whole life and thought of the time was poured into it; and the art itself developed in its upward movement a number of scientific interests—perspective, anatomy, expression—which counteracted that tendency to seek for mere beauty of arrangement and detail. Yet the perfection of Renaissance art never lies in any realism in our modern sense, still less in such suggestiveness as belongs to our literary age; and its triumph is when Raphael can vary and co-ordinate the greatest number of heads, of hands, feet, and groups, as in the School of Athens, the Parnassus, the marvellous little Bible histories of the Loggie; above all, in that "Vision of Ezekiel," which is the very triumph of compact and harmonious composition; when Michelangelo can tie human beings into the finest knots, twist them into the most shapely brackets, frameworks, and key-stones. Even throughout the period of utmost realism, while art was struggling with absorbing problems, men never dreamed of such realism as ours. They never painted a corner of nature at random, merely for the sake of veracity; they never modelled a modern man or woman in their real everyday dress and at their real everyday business. In the midst of everything composition ruled supreme, and each object must needs find its echo, be worked into a scheme of lines, or, with the Venetians, of symmetrically arranged colours. There is an anatomical engraving by Antonio Pollaiolo, one of the strongest realists of his time, which sums up the tendencies of fifteenth-century art. It is a combat of twelve naked men, extraordinarily hideous and in hideous attitudes, but they are so arranged that their ungainly and flayed-looking limbs form with the background of gigantic ivy tendrils an intricate and beautiful pattern, such as we find in Morris's paper and stuffs.
This hankering after pattern, this desire for beauty as such, became manifest in Domenico Neroni after his first sojourn in Rome.
The Roman basilicas, with their stately rows of columns, Corinthian and Ionic, taken from some former temple, and their sunken floor, solemn with Byzantine patterns of porphyry and serpentine, had impressed with their simplicity and harmony the mind of this Florentine, surrounded hitherto by the intricacies of Gothic buildings. They had formed the link to those fragments of ancient architecture, more intact but also more hidden than in our days, whose dignity of proportion and grace of detail—vast rosetted arches and slender rows of fluted pillars—our modern and Hellenicised taste has treated with too ready contempt. For this Vitruvian art, unoriginal and bungling in the eyes of our purists, was yet full of the serenity, the ampleness which the Middle Ages lacked, and affected the men of the fifteenth century much like a passage of Virgil after a canto of Dante. It formed the fit setting for those remains of antique sculpture which were then gradually beginning to be drawn from the earth. Of such statues and reliefs—which the men of the Renaissance regarded as the work rather of ancient Rome than of Greece—a certain amount was beginning to be carried all over Italy, and notably to the houses of the rich Florentine merchants, who incrusted their staircase walls with inscriptions and carvings, and set statues and sarcophagi under the columns of their courtyards. But such sculpture was chosen rather for its portable character than its excellence; and although single busts and slabs were diligently studied by Florentine artists, there could not have existed in Florence a number of antiques sufficient to impress the ideal of ancient art upon men surrounded on all sides by the works of medieval painters and sculptors.
To the various sights of Rome must be due that sudden enlarging of style, that kind of new classicism, which distinguishes the work of fifteenth-century masters after their visit to the Eternal City, enabling Ghirlandaio, Signorelli, Perugino, and Botticelli to make the Sixtine Chapel, and even the finical Pinturicchio, the Vatican library, into centres of fresh influence for harmony and beauty.
The result upon Domenico Neroni was a momentary confusion in all his artistic conceptions. Too much of a seeker for new things, for secret and complicated knowledge, to undergo a mere widening of style like his more gifted or more placid contemporaries, he fell foul of his previous work and his previous masters, without finding a new line or new ideals. The frescoes of Castagno, the little panels of the Pollaiolos, nay, even the works of Donatello, were no longer what they had seemed before his Roman journey, and even what he had remembered them in Rome; for it is with more noble things, even as with the rooms which we inhabit, which strike us as small and dingy only on returning from larger and better lighted ones.
It is to this period of incipient but ill-understood classicism that belongs the only work of Domenico Neroni—at least the only work still extant nowadays—which possesses, over and above its artistic or scientific merit, that indefinable quality which we must simply call charm; to this time, with the one exception of the famous woodcuts done for Filarete. Domenico began about this time, and probably under the stress of necessity, to make frontispieces for the books with which Florentine printers were rapidly superseding the manuscripts of twenty years before: collections of sermons, of sonnets, lives of saints, editions of Virgil and Terence, quaint versified encyclopaedias, and even books on medicine and astrology. From these little woodcuts, groups of saints round the Cross, with Giotto's tower and Brunellesco's dome in the distance, pictures of Fathers of the Church or ancient poets seated at desks in neatly panelled closets—always with their globes, books, and pot of lilies, and a vista of cloisters; or battles between chaste viragos, in flying Botticellian draperies, and slim, naked Cupids; from such frontispieces Domenico passed on to larger woodcuts, destined to illustrate books never printed, or perhaps, like the so-called playing cards of Mantegna and certain prints of Robetta, to be bought as cheap ornaments for walls. Some of those that remain to us have a classical stiffness, reminding one of the Paduan school; others, and these his best, remind one of the work of Botticelli. There is, for instance, the figure of a Muse, elaborately modelled under her ample drapery, seated cross-legged by a playing fountain, on a carpet of exquisitely designed ground-ivy, a little bare trellis behind her, a tortoise lyre in her hand; which has in it somewhat of that odd, vague, questioning character, half of eagerness, half of extreme lassitude, which we find in Botticelli. Only that in Neroni's work it seems not the outcome of a certain dreamy spiritual dissatisfaction—the dissatisfaction which makes us feel that Botticelli's flower-wreathed nymphs may end in the pool under the willows like Ophelia—but rather of a torturing of line and attitude in search of grace. Grace! Unclutchable phantom, which had appeared tantalisingly in Neroni's recollections of the antique, a something ineffable, which he could not even see clearly when it was there before him, accustomed as he had been to all the hideousness of anatomised reality. In these woodcuts he seems hunting it for ever; and there is one of them which is peculiarly significant, of a nymph in elaborately wound robes and veils, striding, with an odd, mad, uncertain swing, through fields of stiff grass and stunted rushes, a baby faun in her bosom, another tiny goat-legged creature led by the hand, while she carries uncomfortably, in addition to this load, a silly trophy of wild-flowers tied to a stick; the personification almost, this lady with the wide eyes and crazy smile, of the artist's foolishly and charmingly burdened journey in quest of the unattainable. The imaginative quality, never intended or felt by the painter himself, here depends on his embodying longings after the calm and stalwart goddesses on sarcophagus and vase, in the very thing he most seeks to avoid, a creature borrowed from a Botticelli allegory, or one of the sibyls of the unspeakable Perugino himself! The circumstances of this quest, and the accidental meeting in it of the antique and the mediaeval, the straining, the Quixote-riding or Three-King pilgrimaging after a phantom, gives to such work of Domenico's that indefinable quality of charm; the man does not indeed become a poet, but in a measure a subject for poetry.
In order to understand what must have passed in the mind of one of those Florentines of the fifteenth century, we must realise the fact that, unlike ourselves, they had not been brought up under the influence of the antique, and, unlike the ancients, they had not lived in intimacy with Nature. The followers of Giotto had studied little beyond the head and hands, and as much of the body as could be guessed at under drapery or understood from movement; and this achievement, with no artistic traditions save those of the basest Byzantine decay, was far greater than we easily appreciate. It remained for the men of the fifteenth century, Donatello, Ghiberti, Masaccio, and their illustrious followers, to become familiar with the human body. To do so is easy for every one in our day, when we are born, so to speak, with an unconscious habit of antique form, diffused not merely by ancient works of art in marble or plaster, but by more recent schools of art, painting as well as sculpture, themselves the outcome of classical imitation. The early Italian Renaissance had little or none of these facilitations. Fragments of Greek and Roman sculpture were still comparatively uncommon before the great excavations of the sixteenth century; nor was it possible for men so unfamiliar, not merely with the antique, but with Nature itself, to profit very rapidly by the knowledge and taste stored up even in those fragments. It was necessary to learn from reality to appreciate the antique, however much the knowledge of the antique might later supplement, and almost supplant, the study of reality. So these men of the fifteenth century had to teach themselves, in the first instance, the very elements of this knowledge. And here their position, while yet so unlike ours, was even more utterly unlike that of the ancients themselves. The great art of Greece undoubtedly had its days of ignorance; but for those ancient painters and sculptors, who for generations had watched naked lads exercising in the school or racecourse, and draped, half-naked men and women walking in the streets and working in the fields, their ignorance was of the means of representation, not of the object represented. It is the hand, the tool which is at fault in those constrained, simpering warriors of the schools of AEgina, in those slim-waisted daemonic dancers of the Apulian vases; the eye is as familiar with the human body, the mind as accustomed to select its beauty from its ugliness, as the eye and mind of such of us as cannot paint are familiar nowadays with the shapes and colours, with the charm of the trees and meadows that we love. The contemporaries, on the contrary, of Donatello had received from the sculptors of the very farthest Middle Ages, those who carved the magnificent patterns of Byzantine coffins and the exquisite leafage of Longobard churches, a remarkable mastery over the technical part of their craft. The hand was cunning, but the eye unfamiliar. Hence it comes that the sculpture of the earlier Renaissance displays perfection of workmanship, which occasionally blinds us to its poverty of form, and even to its deficiency of science. And hence also the rapidity with which every additional item of knowledge is put into practice that seems to argue perfect familiarity. But these men were not really familiar with their work. The dullest modern student, brought up among casts and manuals, would not be guilty of the actual anatomical mistakes committed every now and then by these great anatomists, so passionately curious of internal structure, so exquisitely faithful to minute peculiarity, let alone the bunglings of men so certain of their pencil, so exquisitely keen to form, as Botticelli. As a matter of fact, every statue or drawn figure of this period represents a hard fight with ignorance and with unfamiliarity worse than ignorance. The grosser the failure hard-by, the more splendid the real achievement. For every limb modelled truthfully from the life, every gesture rendered correctly, every bone or muscle making itself felt under the skin, every crease or lump in the surface, is so much conquered from the unknown.
So long as this study, or rather this ignorance, continued, the antique could be appreciated only very partially, and almost exclusively in the points in which it differed least from the works of these modern men. It must have struck them by its unerring science, its great truthfulness to nature, but its superior beauty could not have appealed to artists too unfamiliar with form to think of selecting it.
The study of antique proportion, the reproduction of antique types, so visible in the sculptures of Michelangelo, of Cellini, and of Sansovino, and no less in the painting of Raphael, of Andrea, and even of the later Venetians, was very unimportant in the school of Donatello; and it is probable that he and his pupils did not even perceive the difference between their own works and the old marbles, which they studied merely as so many realistic documents.
During his Florentine days Domenico Neroni, like his masters, was unconscious of the real superiority of the antique, and blind to its difference from what his contemporaries and himself were striving to produce. He did not perceive that the David of Donatello and that of Verrocchio were unlike the marble gods and heroes with whom he would complacently compare them, nor that the bas-reliefs of the divine Ghiberti were far more closely connected with the Gothic work of Orcagna, even of the Pisans, than with those sculptured sarcophagi collected by Cosimo and Piero dei Medici. It was only when his insatiate curiosity had exhausted those problems of anatomy which had still troubled his teachers that he was able to see what the antique really was, or rather to see that the modern was not the same thing. Ghirlandaio, Filippino, Signorelli, and Botticelli undoubtedly were affected by a similar intuition of the Antique; but they were diverted from its thorough investigation by the manifold other problems of painting as distinguished from sculpture, and by the vagueness, the unconsciousness of great creative activity: the antique became one of the influences in their development, helping very quietly to enlarge and refine their work.
It was different with Domenico, in whom the man of science was much more powerful than the artist. His nature required definite decisions and distinct formulas. It took him some time to understand that the school of Donatello differed absolutely from the antique, but the difference once felt, it appeared to him with extraordinary clearness.
He never put his thoughts into words, and probably never admitted even to himself that the works he had most admired were lacking in beauty; he merely asserted that the statues of the old Romans and Greeks were astonishingly beautiful. In reality, however, he was perpetually comparing the two, and always to the disadvantage of the moderns. It is possible in our day to judge justly the comparative merits of antique sculpture and of that of the early Renaissance; or rather to appreciate them as two separate sorts of art, delightful in quite different ways, letting ourselves be charmed not more by the actual beauty of form, and nobility of movement of the one than by the simplicity, the very homeliness, the essentially human quality of the other. To us there is something delightful in the very fact that the Davids of Donatello and Verrocchio are mere ordinary striplings from the street and the workshop, that the singers of Luca della Robbia are simple unfledged choir-boys, and the Virgins of Mino Florentine fine ladies; we have enough of antique perfection, we have had too much of pseudo-antique faultlessness, and we feel refreshed by this unconsciousness of beauty and ugliness. A contemporary could not enter into such feelings, he could not enjoy his own and his fellows' naivete; besides, the antique was only just becoming manifest, and therefore triumphant. To Domenico, Donatello's David became more and more unsatisfactory, faulty above the waist, positively ungainly below, weak and lubberly; how could so divine an artist have been satisfied with that flat back, those narrow shoulders and thick thighs? He felt freer to dislike the work of Verrocchio, his own teacher, and a man without Donatello's overwhelming genius; that David of his, with his immense head and wizen face, his pitiful child's arms and projecting clavicles, straddling with hand on hip; was it possible that a great hero, the slayer of a giant (Domenico's notions of giants were taken rather from the romances of chivalry recited in the market than from study of Scripture) should have been made like that? And so, like his great contemporary Mantegna in far-off Lombardy, Domenico turned that eager curiosity with which he had previously sought for the secret of flayed limbs and fleshless skeletons, to studying the mystery of proportion and beauty which was hidden, more subtly and hopelessly, in the broken marbles of the Pagans.
It happened one day, somewhere about the year 1485, that he was called to examine a group of Bacchus and a Faun, recently brought from Naples by the banker Neri Altoviti, of the family which once owned a charming house, recently destroyed, whose triple row of pillared balconies used to put an odd Florentine note into the Papal Rome, turning the swirl of the Tiber opposite Saint Angelo's into a reach of the Arno. The houses of the Altovitis in Florence were in that portion of the town most favoured by the fifteenth century, already a little way from the market: the lion on the tower of the Podesta, and the Badia steeple printing the sky close by; while not far off was the shop where the good bookseller Vespasiano received orders for manuscripts, and conversed with the humanists whose lives he was to write. The Albizis and Pandolfinis, illustrious and numerous families, struck in so many of their members by the vindictiveness of the Medicis, had their houses in the same quarter, and at the corner of the narrow street hung the carved escutcheon—two fishes rampant—of the Pazzis: their house shut up and avoided by the citizens, who had so recently seen the conspirators dangling in hood and cape from the windows of the public palace. The house of the Altovitis was occupied on the ground floor by great warehouses, whose narrow, grated windows were attainable only by a steep flight of steps. The court was surrounded on three sides by a cloister or portico, which repeated itself on the first and second floors, with the difference that the lowest arches were supported by rude square pillars, ornamented with only a carved marigold, while the uppermost weighed on stout oaken shafts, between which ropes were stretched for the drying of linen; and the middle colonnade consisted of charming Tuscan columns, where Sirens and Cupids and heraldic devices replaced the acanthus or rams' horns of the capitals. It was to this middle portion of the house that Domenico ascended up a noble steep-stepped staircase, protected from the rain by a vaulted and rosetted roof, for it was external and occupied the side of the yard left free from cloisters. The great banker had bidden Domenico to his midday meal, which was served with a frugality now fast disappearing, but once habitual even among the richest Florentines. But though the food was simple and almost scanty, nearly forty persons sat down to meat together, for Neri Altoviti held to the old plan, commended by Alberti in his dialogue on the governing of a household, that the clerks and principal servants of a merchant were best chosen among his own kinsfolk, living under his roof, and learning obedience from the example of his children. Despite this frugality, the dining-room was, though bare, magnificent. There were none of those carpets and Eastern stuffs which surprised strangers from the North in the voluptuous little palaces of contemporary Venetians, and the benches were hard and narrow. But the ceiling overhead was magnificently arranged in carved compartments, great gold sunflowers and cherubs projecting from a dark blue ground among the brown raftering; in the middle of the stencilled wall was one of those high sideboards so frequently shown in old paintings, covered with gold and silver dishes and platters embossed by the most skilful craftsmen; and at one end a great washing trough and fountain, such as still exist in sacristies, ornamented with groups of dancing children by Benedetto da Maiano; while behind the high seat of the father of the family a great group of saints, emerging from blooming lilies and surrounded by a glory of angels, was hanging in a frame divided into carved compartments: the work, panel and frame, of the late Brother Filippo Lippi. At one end of the board sat all the men, arranged hierarchically, from the father in his black loose robe to lads in short plaited tunic and striped hose; the womankind were seated together, and the daughters, even the mother of the house, modest and almost nunlike in apparel and head-dress, would rise and help to wait on the men, with that silent and grave courtesy which, according to Vespasiano, had disappeared from Florence with Alessandra dei Bardi. There was little speech, and only in undertones; a Franciscan said a long grace, and afterwards, and in the middle of the meal, a young student, educated by the frequent munificence of the Altovitis, read out loud a chapter of Cicero's "De Senectute;" for Neri, although a busy banker, with but little time for study, was not behind his generation in the love of letters and philosophy.
After meat Messer Neri dismissed the rest of the company to their various avocations; the ladies silently retired to superintend the ironing and mending of the house linen, and Domenico was escorted by his host to see the newly arrived piece of statuary. It had been placed already in the banker's closet, where he could feast his eyes on its perfection while attending to his business or improving his mind by study. This closet, compared to the rest of the house, was small and low-roofed. At its end, as we see in the pictures of Van Eyck and Memling, opened out the conjugal chamber, reflecting its vast, red-covered bed, raised several steps, its crucifix and praying-stool, and its latticed window in a circular mirror framed in cut facets, which hung opposite on the wall of the closet. The latter was dark, a single trefoiled window admitting on either side of its column and through its greenish bottle-glass but little light from the narrow street. The chief furniture consisted of shelves carrying books, small antique bronzes, some globes, a sand-glass, and panel cupboards, ornamented with pictures of similar objects, and with ingenious perspectives of inlaid wood. An elaborate iron safe, painted blue and studded with beautiful metal roses, stood in a corner. There were two or three arm chairs of carved oak for visitors. The master sat upon a bench behind an oaken counter or desk, very much like St. Jerome in his study. On the wall behind, and above his head, hung a precious Flemish painting (Flemish paintings were esteemed for their superior devoutness) representing the Virgin at the foot of the Cross, with a Nativity and a Circumcision on either of the opened shutters. It made a glowing patch of vivid geranium and wine colour, of warm yellow glazing on the oak of the wall. On the counter or writing-table stood a majolica pot with three lilies in it, a pile of manuscript and ledgers, and a human skull alongside of a crucifix, beautifully wrought of bronze by Desiderio da Settignano. A Latin translation of Plato's "Phaedo" was spread open on the desk, together with one of the earliest printed copies of the "Divine Comedy."
Messer Neri did not take his seat at the counter, but, after a pause, and with some solemnity, drew a curtain of dark brocade which had been spread across one end of the closet, and displayed his new purchase.
"I have it from the king, for the settling of a debt of a thousand crowns contracted with my father, when he was Duke of Calabria," said the banker, with due appreciation of the sum. "'Tis said they found it among the ruins of that famous palace of the Emperor Tiberius of which Tacitus has told us."
The two marble figures, to which time and a long sojourn underground had given a brownish yellow colour, reddish in places with rust stains, stood out against a background of Flemish tapestry, whose emaciated heads of kings and thin bodies of warrior saints made a confused pattern on the general dusky blue and green. The group was in wonderful preservation: the figure of Bacchus intact, that of the young faun lacking only the arm, which had evidently been freely extended.
It exists in many repetitions and variations in most of our museums; a work originally of the school of Praxiteles, but in none of the copies handed to us of excellence sufficient to display the hand of the original sculptor. Besides, we have been spoilt by familiarity with an older and more powerful school, by knowledge of a few great masterpieces, for complete appreciation of such a work. But it was different four hundred years ago; and Domenico Neroni stood long and entranced before the group. The principal figure embodied all those beauties which he had been striving so hard to understand: it was, in the most triumphant manner, the absolute reverse of the figures of Donatello.
The young god was represented walking with leisurely but vigorous step, supporting himself upon the shoulder of the little satyr as the vine supports itself, with tendrils trailed about branches and trunk, on the propping tree from which the child Ampelos took his name. Like the head with its elaborately dressed curls, the beautiful body had an ampleness and tenderness that gave an impression almost womanly till you noticed the cuirass-like sit of the chest on the loins, and the compressed strength of the long light thighs. The creature, as you looked at him, seemed to reveal more and more, beneath the roundness and fairness of surface, the elasticity and strength of an athlete in training. But when the eye was not exploring the delicate, hard, and yet supple depressions and swellings of the muscles, the slender shapeliness of the long legs and springy feet, the back bulging with strong muscles above, and going in, tight, with a magnificent dip at the waist; all impressions were merged in a sense of ease, of suavity, of full-blown harmony. Here was no pomp of anatomical lore, of cunning handicraft, but the life seemed to circulate strong and gentle in this exquisite effortless body. And the creature was not merely alive with a life more harmonious than that of living men or carved marbles, but beautiful, equally in simple outline if you chose that, and in subtle detail when that came under your notice, with a beauty that seemed to multiply itself, existing in all manners, as it can only in things that have life, in perfect flowers and fruits, or high-bred Oriental horses. Of such things did the under-strata of consciousness consist in Neroni—vague impressions of certain bunches of grapes with their great rounded leaves hanging against the blue sky, of the flame-like tapered petals of wild tulips in the fields, of the golden brown flanks of certain horses, and the broad white foreheads of the Umbrian bullocks; forming as it were a background for the perception of this god, for no man or woman had ever been like unto him.