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“There is one thing that it has, or suggests, which no other object of sight suggests in equal degree, and that is—Infinity, It is of all visible things the least material, the least finite, the farthest withdrawn from the earth prison-house, the most typical of the nature of God, the most suggestive of the glory of his dwelling-place. For the sky of night, though we may know it boundless, is dark; it is a studded vault, a roof that seems to shut us in and down ; but the bright distance has no limit, we feel its infinity, as we rejoice in its purity of light. ... Of the value of this mode of treatment (i.e. the rendering of open sky) there is a further and more convincing proof than its adoption either by the innocence of the Florentine or the ardour of the Venetian ; namely, that when retained or imitated from them by the landscape painters of the seventeenth century, when appearing in isolation from all other good, among the weaknesses and paltrinesses of Claude, the mannerisms of Gaspar, and the caricatures and brutalities of Salvator, it yet redeems and upholds all three, conquers all foulness by its purity, vindicates all folly by its dignity, and puts an uncomprehended power of permanent address to the human heart upon the life of the senseless and the profane” (Modern Painters, vol. ii. pt. iii. sec. i. ch. v. SS 5, 12). 91. VENUS SLEEPING, SURPRISED BY SATYRS. Nicolas Poussin (French : 1594-1665). See under 65, p. 353. 55. THE DEATH OF PROCRIS.
Claude (French: 1600–1682). See under 1018, p. 348. See for this subject under 1. 698, p. 28. 1090. PAN AND SYRINX.
François Boucher (French : 1704-1770). A good example of the sensual art of the time, by an artist who was the idol of his day, and made an enormous income out of his popularity. For a less gross version of the same subject see X. 659, p. 248. 39. THE NURSING OF BACCHUS. Nicolas Poussin (French : 1594–1665). See under 65, P. 353.
The wine-god is represented in infancy, nursed by the nymphs and fauns of Eubea, and fed not on milk but on the
i See, however, for some deductions afterwards made from this estimate, ibid., vol. iv. pt. v. ch. iii. SS 6, 7.
juice of the grape. “The picture makes one thirsty to look at it—the colouring even is dry and adust. The figure of the infant Bacchus seems as if he would drink up a vintage-he drinks with his mouth, his hands, his belly, and his whole body. Gargantua was nothing to him” (Hazlitt : Criticisms on Art, p. 33).
1020. GIRL WITH AN APPLE.
A cloud of yellow hair
Austin DOBSON : A Song of Angiola. 1019. THE HEAD OF A GIRL. Greuge (French : 1725–1805). See under 206, p. 361.
I will paint her as I see her ...
Which two blue eyes undershine,
Like meek prayers before a shrine.
Though too calm, you think, and tender,
Mrs. BROWNING : A Portrait.
64. RETURN OF THE ARK FROM CAPTIVITY.
Sebastien Bourdon (French : 1616-1671). A picture of which the subject and the merits alike must, in its present condition, be taken on authority only. It was a great favourite with Sir Joshua Reynolds, to whom it once belonged. He cited it, together with a picture by Salvator Rosa, to the students of the Academy (Discourse xiv.) as an instance of “the poetical style of landscape,” calling particular attention to the “visionary" character of “the whole and every part of the scene.” The subject is the return of the ark by the Philistines to the valley of Bath-shemesh, as described in I Samuel vi. 10-14. The painter was one of the original twelve anciens of the old French Academy of painting, of which he died rector; he had formerly been painter to Queen Christina of Sweden, to whose country he had fled as a Protestant.
“For the learned and the lettered,” says a Spanish author in the
reign of Philip IV., “written knowledge may suffice; but for the ignorant, what master is like Painting? They may read their
duty in a picture, although they cannot search for it in books." “What we are all attempting,” said Sir Joshua Reynolds, “ to do with
great labour, Velazquez does at once.” None of the great schools of painting is so scantily represented in the National Gallery as the Spanish, although the works in this room by its greatest master, Velazquez, are of exceptional excellence in quality and of exceptional interest as illustrating the progress of his art. The deficiency in Spanish pictures is not peculiar to London. “Spain," said Sir David Wilkie, “is the Timbuctoo of artists." The Spanish School of painters and their history are still only half explored, and can only be fully studied in Spain itself. “He who Seville (and Madrid) has not seen, has not seen the marvels great” of Spanish painting.
There are, however, enough examples of the school here to make some few general remarks desirable. The first point to be noticed is this, that all the painters represented in the room (with two exceptions) are nearly contemporary. The period 1588-1682 covers all their lives. They are four of the chief painters of Spain, and they all reach a high level of technical skill. This fact suggests at once the first characteristic point in the history of the Spanish School. It has no infancy. It sprang full-grown into birth. The reason of this was its Italian origin. The art of painting, except as purely decorative, was forbidden to the Moors; and it was only in 1492, when the banner of Castile first hung on the towers of the Alhambra, that the age of painting, as of other greatness, began for Spain. But the very greatness of Spain led to Italian influence in art. The early Spanish painters nearly all found means of going to Italy (Theotocopuli,—1122, p. 381—was born there in 1548), and the great Italian painters were constantly attracted to the Spanish court.
But though Spanish art sprang thus rapidly to perfection under foreign influence, it was yet stamped throughout with a thoroughly distinctive character. In the first place the proverbial gravity of the Spaniard is reflected also in his art. Look round this room, and see if the prevailing impression is not of something grave, dark, lurid. There is here nothing of the sweet fancifulness of the early Florentines, nothing of the gay voluptuousness of the later Venetians. The shadow of the Spaniard's dark cloak seems to be over every canvas. Then secondly, Spanish painting is intensely "naturalist.” Velazquez exhibits this tendency at its best : there is an irresistible reality about his portraits which makes the men alive to all who look at them ; Murillo exhibits it in its excess : his best religious pictures are spoiled by their too close adherence to ordinary and even vulgar types.
Both these characteristics are partly accounted for by a third. Painting in Spain was not so much the handmaid, as the bondslave, of the Church. As the Church was in Spain, so had art to be—monastic, severe, immutable. “To have changed an attitude or an attribute would have been a change of Deity.” Pacheco, the master of Velazquez, was charged by the Inquisition to see that no pictures were painted likely to disturb the true faith. Angels were on no account, he prescribed, to be drawn without wings, and the Blessed Virgin, in the Immaculate Conception, was always to be dressed in blue and white, for that she was so dressed when she appeared to Beatrix de Silva, a Portuguese nun, who founded the order called after her. One sees at once how an art, working under such conditions as these, would be likely to lose the play of fancy and the love of beauty which distinguish freer schools. And then, lastly, one may note how the Spanish church tended also to make Spanish art intensely naturalistic. Pictures were expected to teach religious dogmas and to enforce mystical ideas : the Immaculate Conception, for instance, is an especially Spanish subject. But, in the inevitable course of superstition, the symbol passed into a reality This was more particularly the case with statues. Everything was done to get images accepted as realities. To this day they are not only painted but dressed: they have, like queens, their mistress of the robes, and ladies appointed to make their toilets. It was inevitable that this idea of art—as something which was not to appeal to the imagination, but was to pass itself off as a reality-should extend also to Spanish painting. How far it did so is best shown in a story gravely related by Pacheco. A painter on a high scaffold had just half finished the figure of the Blessed Virgin when he felt the whole woodwork on which he stood giving way. He called out in his horror, “Holy Virgin, hold me,” and straightway the painted arm of the Virgin was thrust out from the wall, supporting the painter in mid-air! When a ladder was brought and the painter got his feet on it, the Virgin's arm relapsed and became again only a painting on the wall. One need not go farther than this story to see the origin of the realistic character of Spanish art, or to understand how Murillo, although often the most mystic of all painters in his conceptions of religious subjects, was also the most naturalistic in his treatment of them (see W. B. Scott: Murillo and the Spanish School of Painting).
1 This statement, though broadly true, requires, of course, much modification already — in the light of early Spanish architectural and missal painting; and as the subject is further investigated, will probably require still