Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

that Giotto in a great measure set aside the refinement of holy and godly character, and led Italian painting to the representation of actions and passions, and this corruption of art through Giotto he attributes to his schooling under the friars.

The Baron von Rumohr's estimate of Giotto and his school is the very opposite to that of the most accomplished modern critics, but it is interesting here as a corroboration of the fact that its members were men of plebeian origin. That it should have been so is the natural result of all the facts we have been considering. A whole population of artisans wandering in exile and bitterness.

A great sanctuary in process of erection and decoration, where holy men, beloved and venerated by the people, offered the best of all consolations, the service of God and His eternal joy. At their feet these disinterested sons of toil learnt of another country and a better kingdom. Kneeling before the Cross some among them had escaped, not only earthly but spiritual tyrants. Free in every sense, they had found the most delightful of all occupations :—to glorify God by attempting to imitate His own glorious handiwork, to model the human form, to paint for the first time the deep blue of the calm Italian sky, to introduce Giotto’s favourite sheep, or the dear birds St. Francis loved so well. All at first timidly, as of children trying to sketch the objects around them, but the spirit of the place, the Spirit of Life which Francis bad been sent to offer to all who would drink, possessed them, and every stage showed progress, slow but sure.

And thus the Franciscans realized the prophet's words. Their doctrine fell as the small rain on the tender herb, and as the showers among the grass, and from among the lowly and obscure crowd who

, thronged their footsteps arose many a Bezaleel and many an Aholiab, men filled with the spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge and in all manner of workmanship. The religious spirit in which they worked is a witness to their own sense of the source of this Vita Nuovo. In the preamble of the statutes of the painters of Siena (1355) they declare that by the grace of God it is their mission to manifest to ignorant and unlettered people, marvellous things done by Virtue, and in virtue of the Holy Faith, and that nothing can have commencement or end, without these three things—Power, Knowledge, and Willing with Love.

Ye of gentle spirit,” exclaims Сennino Cennini, a writer on Art in the fourteenth century, “who are lovers of this art (of painting), devote yourself to its pursuit, adorning yourself with the garment of love, of modesty, of obedience, of perseverance." And their works were in accordance with their faith. There is scarcely one of them which has not a religious or moral tendency, either representing a Scripture story, a sacred legend, or an allegory inculcating the excellencies of virtue or faith or the blessings of good government. From whence came this close connection between Religion and Art if not from the great religious movement commenced by Francis and Dominic? And the latter cannot possibly be compared in his personal influence on art with the former, for it is only in Italy, where his followers came so directly under the influence of Francis, that they developed any peculiar love of art. Fra Angelico seems far more one in spirit with Francis than with the head of his own Order.

But it was the connection of Art not only with Religion, but with Poverty, that so purified and elevated its ideals. There can be little doubt that under the preaching of the friars there was, in the latter half of the thirteenth century, an effort made to render the kingdom of God a reality in some of the Italian Republics. But the party, formed out of individual selfishness and class interests, was too strong, and finally, as in Siena, and then in Florence, the oligarchy triumphed, and all these noble efforts came to nought.

That the painters of Siena were always found in their struggles on the side of the people is another proof of their plebeian origin, and of the democratic teaching of their friends and pastors, the mendicant friars. In one political struggle in Siena, Rio* mentions the names of seven painters, who were all prominent on the democratic side, two of them, Antonio di Brunnucio, sculptor, and Andrea Vanni, being friends of St. Catherine of Siena.

This paper opened with a passage from a dream of one of the seraphic seers, who were the light and glory of the church at the Portiuncula ; it may well conclude by a continuation of the same narrative. Receiving the cup of the Spirit of Life from the Christ, St. Francis went to offer it to his brothers; he commenced with Fra Giovanni di Parma, who, taking it, drank with a holy avidity all it contained, and quickly became brilliant as the sun. Then the saint successively presented the cup to all the other brethren, but he found few of them, who, receiving it with proper respect and piety, drained it to the bottom. The small number who did so became at once resplendent as the sun, while the others became black, gloomy, deformed and hideous to behold. As to those who drank only a part of it and spilt the rest, they became half-brilliant, half gloomy, more or less according as they had drank or spilt the Spirit of Life. But above all the rest Fra Giovanni shone with a brightness absolutely dazzling. This dream, simple in form, but fraught with a great truth, may be applied to the whole work of Francis, and particularly to his influence on Italian Art. Taking the cup filled with the Spirit of Life from his Lord he presented it to the men of genius among his countrymen. The first who received it drank it with avidity, others only drank a portion and spilt the rest, others turned away in contempt.

* "L'Art Chrétien.” Par Alphonse Rio.

In the Salon Carré of the Louvre, where the masterpieces of all the schools are collected, the picture which shines out above all the rest with a most dazzling brilliancy is that which represents the early Italian school : “ The Visitation,” by Domenico Ghirlandaio. Never, surely, did any colouring exceed in purity and splendour this glorious flower of early Italian art. By its side Leonardo is inky and wan, and the vast canvas of the Veronese positively dull. In the unsullied purity of its tints it recalls the spring ; its colours are those of the violet, the tulip, the crocus, and the hyacinth. All, in fact, is spring-time—the art, the subject, the mothers-to-be, and the two Marys who unite in reverent joy. The faces are of one type ; for how can there be a difference where the soul is so completely one ? That type is the virgin soul of Italy as it rose stainless from the waters of baptism.

Glance at the picture below, and in Leonardo's “ Jocunda” you see what the Italian virgin became. Well may Francis and early Italian Art wear that ineffable look of tender regret. And yet the influence of Francis lingered long in Italian Art, but it was as the scent of dead rose leaves in a vase of alabaster. The Spirit of Life had evaporated, but the whole house was filled with the perfume.

Thus the poor little son of Pietro Bernadone became a great prince, and that in his own lifetime. But his crown was made of thorns. The sufferings he endured as the confessor of poverty brought him to the grave after months of physical anguish at the early age of forty-four. But as the hawthorn is among the first to cover itself with a rich and lovely blossom, so the crown worn by “God's poor one" budded into the fairest flowers that the precious tree of human genius has yet produced.

If the witness of Francis in favour of a poverty, exaggerated and ascetic, was so fruitful of good, how infinitely more beneficial would be one in favour of a poverty modelled entirely on the example of Jesus Christ, Our age in many respects repeats both those in which the master and the disciple lived. Our civilization is as that of Rome and of the Middle Ages, in a state of decay and approaching dissolution. Material prosperity blinds men now as it did then. But many of us feel that it is not drink, nor licentiousness, nor over-crowding that is the fundamental evil, but the spirit of selfishness which drives us to make merchandise of each other, to kidnap and enslave whomsoever we can, in order that we may use their blood, their muscles, their brains, and their souls for our own advantage. In such a condition of things there is no liberty except in poverty, and he who, in the spirit of Francis, will commence a new society on the model of the Master, will find a whole world ready to follow him.

RICHARD HEATH.

ANCIENT PALESTINE AND MODERN

EXPLORATION.

L

INE by line and touch by touch the picture of ancient Palestine is

being drawn, and in proportion as it grows in finish and begins to stand out on the canvas, public attention is the more attracted to it.

The results of Palestine exploration are in harmony with the true scientific spirit, because, on the one hand, they are based on actual and special information, collected without reference to any theory and free from suspicion of any tendency; and, on the other, because they depend on that comparative method whereby all our greatest results in science have been gained. The main object has been to provide ample, accurate, and recent information as to the country, its architecture, topography, fauna, flora, and geology, and as to the social peculiarities (race, dress, customs, manners, language, and employments) of the various dwellers in that Holy Land of the Hebrew and the Christian, which is the theatre of the events recorded in the Old and New Testaments. But it is not merely by visiting and measuring ruins, photograpbing peasants, executing surveys, and collecting specimens and inscriptions that results of general interest are to be obtained. The explorer must be a student as well; he must be in cordial communication with all other students with whom he may be able to communicate; he must know what others have done and are doing, and what he may fairly expect to find in the places he visits—where to look, in short, and what to seek. The results for which such a student hopes are not always those which the public expects; but if the Palestine explorers have not brought back the Ark from Jerusalem, the golden calves from Bethel, Ahab's ivory palace, or Samson's coffin, their claims to the public confidence are not thereby weakened; for it is by that which they have not discovered, quite as much as by that which they have, that real students will judge the value of the work which they offer for general use.

But, still more, it is by a comparative system only that really important conclusions may be reached. The Egyptologist and the Assyriologist may perhaps be unwilling to allow the Syriologist, as he may be called, an equal footing with themselves.

Their own discoveries have, perhaps, been more numerous, more important historically, and founded on more difficult and arduous study than those of the explorers of Palestine and of Syria. Yet there can be no doubt that this will not be the view of the general public, and, indeed, the fact is confessed in the manner of appeal to that public adopted by the students of Assyrian and Egyptian antiquities. To Englishmen generally the results of these researches are interesting, not so much in themselves as in reference to the light thereby thrown on the study of the Bible and of Hebrew antiquities in general. It is most important for the student of Syrian antiquities to be fully aware of the work which is being done in these other departments of research. Nor can he feel that he thoroughly understands the Jews of the Talmudic period till he has penetrated to their land of exile-has become familiar with the ideas of Medes and Persians, with Zendic literature, and even with Esthonian folk-lore, not less than with the pre-Islamite Arabs of the Hejaz, and with the mixed GrecoTurkish populations of Cyprus and Asia Minor.

It is for this reason that hasty journeys, undertaken by travellers not familiar with the real problems to be solved in Syria, have as yet led only to very meagre results. Here and there a lucky find may fall to the share of one whose knowledge is hardly sufficient to enable him to appreciate its value ; but if the study of Palestine antiquities is to attain to the level of true science, it can only be through the combined efforts of properly-instructed explorers working in harmony with their fellow.labourers and students of the East.

During the last four years there has been considerable activity in the work of exploration and in the study of Syrian antiquities, and the results now begin very evidently to affect the critical examination of the Scriptures and the primary instruction of our schools. The work has not been confined to the action of the Palestine Exploration Fund, although this Society has been the centre round which it is grouped. Individual efforts have largely contributed to the increase of our knowledge, and the members of the Biblical Archäological Society have also not been idle. As regards the work of the firstnamed Society, we have received since 1881 seven stout quarto volumes full of plans, sketches, and detailed descriptions. Five of these relate to the Survey of Western Palestine, one contains a

« ForrigeFortsett »