Renaissance Fancies and Studies Part 7

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Domenico, like them, put the question of salvation behind him. He might think of that afterwards, when he had possessed himself of the proportion of the ancients. At all events, at present he was willing to risk everything in order to attain that. He was determined to see that G.o.d of the heathens, not as he had seen him once in the house of Messer Neri Altoviti, cut out of marble, but alive, moving, speaking; for _that_ was the G.o.d.

The G.o.d was a devil. Now it is well known that there is a way of compelling every devil to show himself, providing you use sufficiently strong spells. They had sacrificed goats and lambs enough, also doves, and had burned perfumes, and spilt wine sufficient for one of Cardinal Riario's suppers. It was evidently not that sort of sacrifice which would rejoice the G.o.d or compel him to show himself. For weeks and weeks Domenico ruminated over the subject. And little by little the logical, inevitable answer dawned upon his horrified but determined mind. For what was the sacrifice which witches and warlocks notoriously offered their Master?

The place could not be better chosen. This church was full, every one knew, of demons, who were certainly none other than the G.o.ds of the heathen, as Tertullian, Lactantius, Athenagoras, Justin Martyr, and all those other holy doctors had written. It was deserted, its keys in the hands of Cardinal Capranica's confidential architect and decorator; and there were ma.s.ses being said every holiday to scare the evil spirits.

The sacrament was frequently left on the altar.

All this Domenico expounded frequently to Filarete. But Filarete's cla.s.sic taste did not approve of Domenico's methods, which savoured of vulgar witchcraft; perhaps also the learned man, who did not want the secret of antique proportion, recoiled from a degree of profanity and of danger, both to body and soul, which his companion willingly incurred in such a quest as his. So Filarete demurred for a time, until at length his feebler nature took fire at Domenico's determination, and the guilty pair fixed upon the day and place for this unspeakable sacrilege.

The Church of SS. Jervase and Protasius has undergone no change since the feast of Corpus Christi of the year 1488. The damp that lies in the atrium outside, making the gra.s.s and poppies sprout round the Byzantine pillar which carries a cross over a pine-cone, has invaded the flat-roofed nave and the wide aisles, separated from it by a single colonnade. A greenish mildew marks the fissures in the walls, rent here and there by landslips and earthquakes. The cipolline columns carrying the round arches on their square capitals are l.u.s.treless, and their green-veined marble looks like long-buried wood. The mosaic pavement stretches its discs and volutes of porphyry and serpentine or yellowed Parian marble, a tarnished and uneven carpet, to the greenish-white marble steps of the chancel. The mosaics have long fallen out of the circle of the apse; and the frescoes, painted by some obscure follower of Giotto, have left only a green vague stain over the arches of the aisle. Pictures or statues there are none, and no conspicuous sepulchre. Only, over the low entrance, a colossal wooden crucifix of the thirteenth century hangs at an angle from the wall, a painted Christ, stretching his writhing livid limbs in agony opposite the high altar. It was in this stately and desolate church, under the misty light that pours in through the wide windows of grey coa.r.s.e gla.s.s, and on the marble altar, facing that effigy of the dying Saviour, that, in derision as it were of the miracle which the church commemorates on that feast-day, Domenico and Filarete were about to offer up to the demons Apollo, Bacchus, and Jove the freshly consecrated wafer, the very body and blood of Christ.

But an accomplice of theirs, a certain monk well versed in magic, whom they employed in sundry details of devil-raising, on the score that they were seeking treasure hidden in the church, had suddenly been seized with qualms of conscience. Instead of appearing at the appointed time alone, and bearing certain necessaries of his art, he kept them waiting a full hour, until they began their proceedings without his a.s.sistance.

And even as Domenico was reaching his companion the ostensorium, which had remained on the altar after the morning's ma.s.s, the church was surrounded by the officers of the Podesta, on horseback, and by a crowd of monks and priests, and rabble who had followed them. Of these persons, not a few affirmed in after years, that, as they arrived at the church door, they had heard sounds of flutes and timbrels, and mocking songs filling the place; and that the devil, dressed in skins and garlands like a wild man of the woods, had cleft the roof with his head, and disappeared with many blasphemous yells as they entered.


In those last years of the fifteenth century, Rome was a city of the Middle Ages. The cupola of the Pantheon, the circular hulk of the Colosseum, and the twin columns of Trajan and Antoninus projected, like the fantastic antiquities of some fresco of Benozzo Gozzoli, above domeless church roofs, battlemented palace walls, and innumerable Gothic belfries and feudal towers. In the theatre of Marcellus rose the fortress of the Orsinis; against the tower whence Nero, as the legend ran, had watched the city burning, were cl.u.s.tered the fortifications of the Colonnas; and in every quarter the stern palaces of their respective partisans frowned with their rough-hewn fronts, their holes for barricade beams, and hooks for chains. The bridge of St. Angelo was covered with the shops of armourers, as the old bridge of more peaceful Florence with those of silversmiths. Walls and towers encircled the Leonine City where the Pope sat unquietly in the big battlemented donjon by the Sixtine Chapel; and in its midst was still old St. Peter's, half Lombard, half Byzantine. In Rome there was no industry, no order, no safety. Through its gates rushed raids of Colonnas and Orsinis, sold to or betrayed by the Popes, from their castles of Umbria or the Campagna to their castles in town; and their feuds meant battles also between the citizens who obeyed or thwarted them. Houses were sacked and burnt, and occasionally razed to the ground, for the ploughshare and the salt-sower to go over their site. A few years later, when Pope Borgia dredged the Tiber for the body of his son, the boatmen of Ripetta reported that so many bodies were thrown over every night that they no longer heeded such occurrences. And when, two centuries later, the Corsinis dug the foundations of their house on the Longara, there were discovered quant.i.ties of human bones in what had been the palace of Pope della Rovere's nephew. Meanwhile Ghirlandaio and Perugino were painting the walls of the Sixtine; Pinturicchio was designing the blue and gold allegorical ceilings of the library; Bramante building the Chancellor's palace, and the Pollaiolas and Mino da Fiesole carving the tombs in St.

Peter's, while learned men translated Plato and imitated Horace.

Of this Rome there remains nowadays nothing, or next to nothing.

Sometimes, indeed, looking up the green lichened sides of some mediaeval tower, with its hooks for chains, and its holes for beams, a vague vision thereof rises in our mind. And in the presence of certain groups by Signorelli, representing murderous scuffles or supernatural destruction, we feel as if we had come in contact with the other reality of those times, the thing which serene art and literature and the love of antiquity have driven into the background. But the complete vision of the time and place, the certain knowledge of that Rome of Sixtus IV. and Innocent VIII., we can now no longer grasp, a dreadful phantom pa.s.sing too rapidly across the centuries.

It is with this feeling of impotence in my attempt to follow the thoughts of an illiterate artist of the Renaissance, that I prefer to conclude this strange story of the quest after antique beauty and antique G.o.ds by quoting a page from one of the barbarous chroniclers of mediaeval Rome. The entry in the continuation of Infessura's diary is headed "Pictor Sacrilegus":--

"On the 20th July of the year of salvation fourteen hundred and eighty-eight, there were placed for three days in a cage on high in the Campo dei Fiori, Messer Niccol Filarete, Canon of Sancto Joanne; also Domenico, the Volterran, painter and architect to the magnificent Cardinal Ascanio, and Frate Garofalo of Valmontone, they having been discovered in the act of desecrating the Church of SS. Jervase and Protasius, and stealing for magic purposes the ostensorium and many gold chalices and reliquaries with precious stones; and it was Frate Garofalo who, being versed in witchcraft and treasure finding, was the accomplice of the above, and denounced them on the feast of Corpus Domini. And the twenty-third of the said month of July they were justiced, and in this manner. _Videlicet_, Filarete and Domenico, having been removed from the cage, were dragged on hurdles as far as the square of San Joanni, and Frate Garofalo went on an a.s.s, all of them crowned with paper mitres.

Frate Garofalo was hanged to the elm-tree of the square. Of Filarete and Domenico, the right hand was chopped off, after which they were burned in the said square. And their chopped off right hands were taken to the Capitol and nailed up above the gate, alongside of the She-wolf of metal. Laus Deo."



While gathering together the foregoing pages, written at different periods and in different phases of thought, the knowledge has grown on me that I was saying farewell to some of the ambitions and to most of the plans of my youth.

All writers start with the hope of solving a problem or establishing a formula, however fragmentary or humble; and many, the most fortunate, and probably the most useful, continue to work out their program, or at least to think that they do so. Life to them is but the framework for work; and that is why they manage to leave a fair amount of work behind them,--work for other workers to employ or to undo. But with some persons, life somehow gets the better of work, becomes, whether in the form of circ.u.mstance or of new problems, infinitely the stronger; and scatters work, tossing about such fragments as itself, in its irregular, irresistible fashion, has torn into insignificance, or (once in a blue moon!) shaped into more complete meaning.

As regards my own case, I began by believing I should be an historian and a philosopher, as most young people have done before me; then, coming in contact with the concrete miseries of others, called social and similar problems, I sought to apply some of my historical or philosophic lore (such as it was) to their removal; and finally, life having manifested itself as offering problems (unexpected occurrence!) not merely concerning the Past, nor even the abstract Present, but respecting my own comfort and discomfort, I have found myself at last wondering in what manner thoughts and impressions could make the world, the Past and Present, the near and the remote, more satisfying and useful to myself. Circ.u.mstances of various kinds, and particularly ill-health, have thus put me, although a writer, into the position of a reader; and have made me ask myself, as I collected these fragments of my former studies, what can the study of history, particularly of the history of art and of other manifestations of past conditions of soul, do for us in the present?

All knowledge is bound to be useful. Apart from this truism, I believe that all study of past conditions and activities will eventually result, if not in the better management of present conditions and activities (as all partisan historians have hoped, from Machiavelli to Macaulay), at all events in a greater familiarity with the various kinds of character expressed in historical events and in the way of looking at them; for even if we cannot learn to guide and employ such multifold forces as make, for instance, a French revolution, we may learn to use for the best the individual minds and temperaments of those who describe them: a Carlyle, a Michelet, a Taine, are natural forces also, which may serve or may damage us.

Moreover, I hold by the belief, expressed years ago, in my previous volume of Renaissance studies, to wit, that historical reading (and in historical I include the history of thoughts and feelings as much as of events and persons) is a useful exercise for our sympathies, bringing us wider and more wholesome notions of justice and charity. And I feel sure that other uses for historical studies could be pointed out by other persons, apart from the satisfaction they afford to those who pursue them, which, considered merely as so much spiritual gymnastics, or cricket, or football, or alpineering, is surely not to be despised.

But now, having dropped long since out of the ranks of those who study in order to benefit others, or even to benefit only themselves, I would say a few words about the advantage which mere readers, as distinguished from writers, may get from familiarity with the Past.

This advantage is that they may find in the Past not merely a fine field for solitary and useless delusions (though that also seems necessary), but an additional world for real companionship and congenial activity.

Our individual activities and needs of this kind are innumerable, and of infinite delicate variety; and there is reason to suppose that the place in which our lot is cast does not necessarily fit them to perfection. For things in this world are very roughly averaged; and although averaging is a useful, rapid way of despatching business, it does undoubtedly waste a great deal which is too good for wasting. Hence, it seems to me, the need which many of us feel, which most of us would feel, if secured of food and shelter, of spending a portion of their life of the spirit in places and climates beyond that River Ocea.n.u.s which bounds the land of the living.

As I write these words, I am conscious that this will strike many readers as the expression of a superfine and selfish dilettantism, arising no doubt from morbid lack of sympathy with the world into which Heaven has put us. What! become absentees from the poor, much troubled Present; turn your backs to Realities, become idle strollers in the Past? And why not, dear friends? why not recognise the need for a holiday?

why not admit, just because work has to be done and loads to be borne, that we cannot grind and pant on without interruption? Nay, that the bearing of the load, the grinding of the work, is useless save to diminish the total grinding and panting on this earth. Moreover, I maintain that we have but a narrow conception of life if we confine it to the functions which are obviously practical, and a narrow conception of reality if we exclude from it the Past. And not because the Past has been, has actually existed outside some one, but because it may, and often does, actually exist within ourselves. The things in our mind, due to the mind's const.i.tution and its relation with the universe, are, after all, realities; and realities to count with, as much as the tables and chairs, and hats and coats, and other things subject to gravitation outside it. It would seem, indeed, as if the chief outcome of the spiritualising philosophy which maintains the immaterial and independent quality of mind had been to make mind, the contents of our consciousness, ideas, images, and feelings, into something quite separate from this real material universe, and hence unworthy of practical consideration.

But granted that mind is not a sort of independent and foreign ent.i.ty, we must admit that what exists in it has a place in reality, and requires, like the rest of reality, to be dealt with. But to return to my thesis: that we require occasionally to live in the Past (and I shall go on to state that it may be a Past of our own making); Do we not require to travel in foreign parts which know us not, to sojourn for our welfare in cities where we can neither elect members nor exercise professions, but whence we bring back, not merely wider views, but sounder nerves, tempers more serene and elastic? Nor is this all. We think poorly of a man or woman who, besides practical cases for self or others, does not require to come in contact also with the tangible, breathable, visible, audible universe for its own sake; require to wander in fields and on moors, to steep in sunshine or be battered by winds, for the sake of a certain specific emotion of partic.i.p.ation in, of closer union with, the universal. Now the Past--the joys and sufferings of the men long dead, their efforts, ideals, emotions, nay, their very sensations and temperaments as registered in words or expressed in art, are but another side of the universe, of that universal life, to partic.i.p.ate ever deeper in which is the condition of our strength and serenity, the imperious necessity of our ever giving, ever taking soul.

And so, for our greater n.o.bility and happiness, we require, all of us, to live to some extent in the Past, as to live to some extent in what we significantly call _nature_. We require, as we require mountain air or sea scents, hayfields or wintry fallows, sun, storm, or rain, each individual according to individual subtle affinities, certain emotions, ideals, persons, or works of art from out of the Past. For one it will be Socrates; for another St. Francis; for every one something somewhat different, or at all events something differently conceived and differently felt: some portion of the universe in time, as of the universe in s.p.a.ce, which answers in closest and most intimate way to the complexion and habits of that individual soul.


The satisfaction which it can bring to every individual soul: this is, therefore, one of the uses of the Past to the Present, and surely not one of the smallest. It is, I venture to insist, the special, the essential use of all art and all poetry; any additional knowledge of Nature's proceedings, any additional discipline of thought and observation which may accrue in the study of art as an historic or psychological phenomenon being, after all, valuable eventually for the amount of such mere satisfaction of the spirit as that additional knowledge or additional discipline can conduce towards. Scientific results are important for the maintenance of life, doubtless; but the sense of satisfaction, whether simple or complex, high or low, is the sign that the processes we call life are being fulfilled and not thwarted; so, since satisfaction is no such contemptible thing, why not allow art to furnish it unmixed?

I am sure to be misunderstood. I do not in the least mean to imply that art can best be appreciated with the least trouble. The mere fact that the pleasure of a faculty is proportioned to its activity negatives that; and the fact that the richness, fulness, and hence also the durability, of all artistic pleasure answers to the amount of our attention: the mine, the ore, will yield, other things equal, according as we dig, and wash, and smelt, and separate to the last possibility of separation what we want from what we do not want.

The historic or psychological study of art does thus undoubtedly increase our familiarity, and hence our enjoyment. The mere scientific inquiry into the difference between originals and copies, into the connection between master and pupil, makes us alive to the special qualities which can delight us. As long as we looked in a manner so slovenly that a spurious Botticelli could pa.s.s for a genuine one, we could evidently never benefit by the special quality, the additional excellence of Botticelli's own work. And similarly in the case of archaeology. Indeed, in the few cases where I have myself hazarded an hypothesis on some point of artistic history, as, for instance, regarding the respective origin of antique and mediaeval sculpture, I am inclined to think that the chief use (if any at all) of my work, will be to make my readers more sensitive to the specific pleasure they may get from Praxiteles or from Mino da Fiesole, than they could have been when the works of both were so little understood as to be judged by one another's standards.

But to return. It seems as if at present the development, the contagion, so to speak, of scientific methods applied to art were making people forget a little that art, besides being, like everything else, the pa.s.sive object of scientific treatment, is (what most other things are not) an active, positive, special factor of pleasure; and that, therefore, save to special students, the greater, more efficacious form of art should occupy an immensely larger share of attention than the lesser and more inefficient. We are made, nowadays, to look at too much mediocre art on the score of its historical value; we are kept too long in contemplation of pictures and statues which cannot give much pleasure, on the score that they led to or proceeded from other pictures or statues which can.

As regards Greek sculpture, the insistance on archaic forms is becoming, if I may express my own feelings, a perfect bore. Why should we be kept in the kitchen tasting half-cooked stuff out of ladles, when most of us have barely time to eat our fully cooked dinner, which we like and thrive on, in peace? Similarly with such painters as are mainly precursors. They are taking up too much of our attention; and one might sometimes be tempted to think that the only use of great artists, like the only functions of those patriarchs who kept begetting one another, was to produce other great artists: Giotto to produce eventually Masaccio, Masaccio through various generations Michelangelo and Raphael, and Michelangelo and Raphael, through even more, Manet and Degas, who in their turn doubtless dutifully.... Meanwhile why should art have gone on evolving, artists gone on making _filiations of schools_, if art, if artists, if schools of artists had not answered an imperious, undying wish for the special pleasures which painting can give?

Therefore it seems to me that, desirable for all reasons as may be the study of art, the knowledge of _filiations and influences_, it is still more desirable that each of us should find out some painter whom he can care for individually; and that all of us should find out certain painters who can, almost infallibly, give immense pleasure to all of us; painters who, had they been produced out of nothingness and been followed by n.o.body, would yet stand in the most important relation in which an artist can be: the relation of being beloved by the whole world, or even by a few solitary individuals.

For this reason let not the mere reader, who comes to art not for work, but for refreshment, let not the mere reader (I call him reader, to note his pa.s.sive, leisurely character) be vexed with too much study of Florentine and Paduan _precursors_, but go straight to the masters, whom those useful and dreary persons rendered possible by their grinding.

Our ancestors, or rather those cardinals and superb lords with whom we have neither spiritual nor temporal relationship, who made the great collections of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, placing statues under delicate colonnades and green ilex hedges, and hanging pictures in oak-panelled corridors and tapestried guard-rooms, were occasionally mistaken in thinking that a Roman emperor much restored, or a chalky, sprawling Guido Reni, could afford lasting aesthetic pleasure; but, bating such errors, were they not nearer good sense than we moderns, who arrange pictures and statues as we might minerals or herbs in a museum, and who, for instance, insist that poor tired people, longing for a little beauty, should carefully examine the works of Castagno, of Rosselli, and of that artist, so interesting as a specimen of the minimum of talent, Neri di Bicci? They were unscientific, those lords and cardinals, and desperately pleasure-seeking; but surely, surely they were more sensible than we.

Connected with this fact, and to be borne in mind by those not called upon to elucidate art scientifically, is the further fact, which I have a.n.a.logically pointed out, when I said that every individual has in the Past affinities, possibilities of spiritual satisfaction differing somewhat from those of every other. It is well that we should try to enlarge those possibilities; and we must never make up our mind that a picture, statue, piece of music or poetry, says little to us until we have listened to its say. But although we strive to make new friends, let us waste no further time on such persons as we have vainly tried to make friends of; and let each of us, in heaven's name, cherish to the utmost his natural affinities. There are persons to whom, for instance, Botticelli can never be what he truly is to some of their neighbours: the very quality which gives such marvellous poignancy of pleasure to certain temperaments causing almost discomfort to others; and similarly about many other artists, representing very special conditions of being, and appealing to special conditions in consequence. High Alpine air, sea-water, Roman melting westerly winds, so vitalising, so soothing to some folk, are mere worry, or fever, or la.s.situde to others, without its being correct to say that one set of persons is healthy and the other morbid: each being, in truth, healthy or morbid just in proportion as it realises its necessities of existence, fitting equally into the universe providing it be fitted each into the proper piece thereof.

On the other hand (and this, rather than _filiations of schools_ and _influences_ of artistic _milieus_, it were well we should know), it becomes daily more empirically certain, and will some day doubtless become scientifically obvious, that there are works of art which awaken such emotion that they can be delectable only to creatures with instincts out of gear and perception upside down; while there are others, infinitely more plentiful, which, in greater or lesser degree, must delight all persons who are sane, as all such are delighted by fine weather, normal exercise, and kindly sympathy; and, _vice versa_, that as these wholesome works of art merely bore or actually distress the poor morbid exceptions, so the unwholesome ones sicken or harrow the sound generality; the world of art, moreover, like every other world, being best employed in keeping alive its sound, not its unsound, clients.

Such works of art, such artists of widest wholesome appealingness, there are in all periods of artistic development; more in certain fortunate moments, say the Periklean age and the early sixteenth century, than in others; and most perhaps in certain specially favoured regions--in Attica during Antiquity, and during painting times, in the happy Venetian country. These we all know of; but by the grace of Nature, which creates men occasionally so fortunately balanced that their work, learned or unlearned, must needs be fortunately balanced also, they arise sometimes in the midst of mere artistic worry and vexation of spirit, or of artist bleakness, perfect like the almond and peach trees, which blossom, white and pink, on the frost-bitten green among the sapless vines of wintry Tuscan hills; and to some natures, doubtless, these are more pleasant and health-giving than more mature or mellow summer or autumnal loveliness. But, as I have said, each must find his own closest affinities in art and history as in friendship.


There are some more things, and more important, still to be said, from the reader's standpoint rather than the writer's, about the influence on our lives of the Past and of its art, and more particularly of the vague period called the Renaissance.

When the Renaissance began to attract attention, some twenty or twenty-five years ago, there happened among English historians and writers on art, and among their readers, something very similar to what had happened, apparently, when the Englishmen of the sixteenth century first came in contact with the Italian Renaissance itself, or whatever remained of it. Their conscience was sickened, their imagination hag-ridden, by the discovery of so much beauty united to so much corruption; and, among our latter-day students of the Renaissance, there became manifest the same morbid pre-occupation, the same exaggerated repulsion, which is but inverted attraction, which were rife among the playwrights who wrote of _Avengers_ and _Atheists_, Giovannis and Annabellas, Brachianos and Corombonas, and other _White Devils_, as old Webster picturesquely put it, _of Italy_. Indeed, the second discovery of the Renaissance by Englishmen had spiritual consequences so similar to those of the first, that in an essay written fifteen years ago I a.n.a.lysed the feelings of the Elizabethan playwrights towards Italian things in order to vent the intense discomfort of spirit which I shared a.s.suredly with students older and more competent than myself.

This kind of feeling has pa.s.sed away among writers, together with much of the fascination of the Renaissance itself. But it has left, I see, vague traces in the mind of readers, rendering the Renaissance a little distasteful (and no wonder) to the majority; or worse, a little too congenial to an unsound minority; worst of all, tarnishing a little the fair fame of Art; and as a writer now turned reader, I am anxious to deliver, to the best of my powers, other readers from this perhaps inevitable but false and unprofitable view of such matters.

The conscience of writers on history and art has long become quite comfortable about the Renaissance; and the Websterian or (in some cases John Fordian) phenomenon of twenty years ago been forgotten as a piece of childish morbidness. Does this mean that the conscience has become hardened, that evil has ceased to repel us, or that beauty has been accepted calmly as a pleasant and necessary, but somewhat immoral thing?

Very far from it. Our conscience has become quieter, not because it has grown more callous, but because it has become more healthily sensitive, more perceptive of many sides, instead of only one side of life. For with experience and maturity there surely comes, to every one of us in his own walk of life, a growing, at length an intuitive sense that evil is a thing incidentally to fight, but not to think very much about, because if it is evil, it is in so far sporadic, deciduous, and eminently barren; while good, that is to say, soundness, harmony of feeling, thought, and action with themselves, with others' feeling, thought, and action, and with the great eternities, is organic, fruitful and useful, as well as delightful to contemplate. Hence that the evil of past ages should not concern us, save in so far as the understanding thereof may teach us to diminish the evil of the Present. In any case, that evil must be handled not with terror, which enervates and subjects to contagion, but with the busy serenity of the physician, who studies disease for the sake of health, and eats his wholesome food after washing his hands, confident in the ultimate wholesomeness of nature.

And in such frame of mind the corruption of the Renaissance leaves us calm, and we know we had better turn our backs on it, and get from the Renaissance only what was good. Only, if we are physicians, or more correctly (since in a private capacity we all are) only _when_ we are physicians, must we handle the unwholesome. Meanwhile, if we wish to be sound, let us fill our soul with images and emotions of good; we shall tackle evil, when need be, only the better. And here, by the way, let me open a parenthesis to say that, of the good we moderns may get from occasional journeys into the Past, there is a fine example in our imaginary and emotional commerce with St. Francis and his joyous theology. For while other times, our own among them, have given us loftier morality and severer good sense, no period save that of St.

Francis could have given us a blitheness of soul so vivifying and so cleansing. For the essence of his teaching, or rather the essence of his personality, was the trust that serenity and joyfulness must be incompatible with evil; that simple, spontaneous happiness is, even like the air and the sunshine in which his beloved brethren the birds flew about and sang, the most infallible antidote to evil, and the most sovereign disinfectant. And because we require such doctrine, such personal conviction, for the better living of our lives, we must, even as to better climates, journey forth occasionally into that distant Past of mediaeval Italy; and as to the Ezzelinos, Borgias, and Riarios, and the foul-mouthed humanists, good heavens! why should we sicken ourselves with the thought of this long dead and done for abomination?

So much for the history of the Renaissance and the good it can be to us. Now as to the art. That more organic mode of feeling and thinking which results in active maturity, from the ever-increasing connections between our individual soul and the surrounding world; that same intuition which told us that historic evil was no subject for contemplation, does also admonish us never to be suspicious of true beauty, of thoroughly delightful art. Nay, beauty and art in any case; for though beauty may be adulterated, and art enslaved to something not itself, be sure that the element of beauty, the activity of art, so far as they are themselves specific, are far above suspicion even in the most suspicious company. For even if beauty is united to perverse fashions, and art (as with Baudelaire and the decadents) employed to adorn the sentiments of maniacs and gaol-birds, the beauty and the art remain sound; and if we must needs put them behind us, on account of too inextricable a fusion, we should remember it is as we sometimes throw away n.o.ble ore, for lack of skill to separate it from a base alloy. As regards the nightmare anomaly of perfect art arisen in times of moral corruption, those unconscious a.n.a.logies I have spoken of, and which perhaps are our most cogent reasons, have taught us that such anomalies are but nightmares and horrid delusions. For, taking the phenomenon historically, we shall see that although art has arisen in periods of stress and change, and therefore of moral anarchy, it has never arisen among the immoral cla.s.ses nor to serve any immoral use: the apparent anomaly in the Renaissance, for instance, was not an anomaly, but a coincidence of contrary movements: a materially prosperous, intellectually innovating epoch, producing on the one hand moral anarchy, on the other artistic perfection, connected not as cause and effect, but as coincidence, the one being the drawback, the other the advantage, of that particular phase of being. The Malatestas and Borgias, of whom we have heard too much, did not employ Alberti and Pier della Francesca, Pinturicchio and Bramante, to satisfy their convict wickedness, but to satisfy their artistic taste, which, in so far, was perfectly sound, as various others among their faculties, their eye and ear, and sense of cause and effect, were apparently sound also. And the architecture of Alberti, the decorations of Pinturicchio, remain as spotless of all contact with their evil instincts as the hills they may have looked at, the sea they may have listened to, the eternal verity that two and two make four, which had doubtless pa.s.sed through their otherwise badly inhabited minds. And, moreover, the sea is still sonorous, the mountains are still hyacinth blue, and the buildings and frescoes still n.o.ble, while the rest of those disagreeable mortals' cravings and strivings are gone, and on the whole were best forgotten.

But there is another side of this same question, and of it we are admonished, as it seems to me, still louder by our growing intellectual instincts--those instincts, let us remember, which do but represent whatever has been congruous and uniform in repeated experience. Art is a much greater and more cosmic thing than the mere expression of man's thoughts or opinions on any one subject, of man's att.i.tude towards his neighbour or towards his country, much as all this concerns us. Art is the expression of man's life, of his mode of being, of his relations with the universe, since it is, in fact, man's inarticulate answer to the universe's unspoken message. Hence it represents not the details of his existence, which, more's the pity, are rarely what they should be, whether in thought or action, but the bulk of his existence, _when that bulk is unusually sound_. This clause contains the whole philosophy of art. For art is the outcome of a surplus of human energy, the expression of a state of vital harmony, striving for and partly realising a yet greater energy, a more complete harmony in one sphere or another of man's relations with the universe. Now if evil is a non-vital, deciduous, and sterile phenomenon _par excellence_, art must be necessarily opposed to it, and opposed in proportion to art's vigour. While, on the other hand, the seeking, the realisation of greater harmony, whether harmony visible, audible, thinkable, and livable, is as necessarily opposed to anomaly and perversity as the great healthinesses of air and sunshine are opposed to bodily disease. Hence, in whatever company we find art, even as in whatever company we find bodily health and vigour, let us understand that _in so far as truly art_, it is good and a source of good. Let us never waver in our faith in art, for in so doing we should be losing (what, alas! Puritan contemners of art, and decadent defilers thereof, are equally doing) much of our faith in nature and much of our faith in man. For art is the expression of the harmonies of nature, conceived and incubated by the harmonious instincts of man.

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Renaissance Fancies and Studies Part 7 summary

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