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“other saints" are Sts. Francis (on the spectator's right, with the stigmata), Lawrence, and Cosmas ; on the left Sts. Damianus, Anthony, and Peter Martyr—this last a particularly “human" saint. Lippi was a monk himself, and drew his saints in the human resemblance of good “brothers" that he knew. “I will tell you what Lippi must have taught any boy whom he loved. First, humility, and to live in joy and peace, injuring no manif such innocence might be. Nothing is so manifest in every face by him as its gentleness and rest." It is characteristic of Lippi, too, that the saints should be represented sitting in so pretty a garden. Secondly,—"a little thing it seeras, but was a great one,—love of flowers. No one draws such lilies or such daisies as Lippi. Botticelli beat him afterwards in roses, but never in lilies " (Ariadne Florentina, vi. $ 9).
* The early efforts of Cimabue and Giotto are the burning messages of
prophecy, delivered by the stammering lips of infants" (RUSKIN : Modern Painters, vol. i. pt. i. sec. i. ch. ii. & 7).
Give these, I exhort you, their guerdon and glory
For daring so much, before they well did it.
BROWNING : Old Pictures in Florence, WHAT, the visitor may be inclined to ask, is there worth looking at in the quaint and gaunt pictures of this room? The answer is a very simple one. The room is the nursery of Italian art. Here is the first stammering of infant painting. Accustomed as we are at the present day to so much technical skill even in the commonest works of art, we may be inclined to think that the art of painting—the art of giving the resemblances of things by means of colour laid on to wood or canvas—is an easy one, of which men have everywhere and at all times possessed the mastery. But this of course is not the case. The skill of to-day is the acquired result of long centuries of gradual improvement; and the pictures of this room stand in the same relation to the pictures of our own time, as the stone huts of our forefathers to the Gallery in which we stand. The poorness of the pictures here is the measure of the richness of others. To feel the full greatness of Raphael's Madonna (VI. 1171), one should first pause awhile before the earliest Italian picture here (564, p. 76), the gaunt and forbidding Madonna by
Margheritone of Arezzo,
With the grave-clothes garb and swaddling barret (Why purse up mouth and beak in a pet so,
You bald old saturnine poll-clawed parrot ?) But even in the earliest efforts of infancy, there is a certain amount of inherited gift. First of all, therefore, one should look at a specimen of such art as Italians had before them when they first began to paint for themselves. With the fall of the Roman Empire and the invasion of the Goths, the centre of civilisation shifted to the capital of the Eastern Church, Byzantium (Constantinople). The characteristics of Byzantine art may here be seen in a Greek picture (594, p. 68). The history of early Italian art is the history of the effort to escape from the swaddling clothes of this rigid Byzantine School. The effort was of two kinds : first the painters had to see nature truly, instead of contenting themselves with fixed symbols—art had to become “natural,” instead of “conventional.” Secondly, having learned to see truly, they had to learn how to give a true resemblance of what they saw; how to exhibit things in relief, in perspective, and in illumination. In relief : that is, they had to learn to show one thing as standing out from another; in perspective : that is, to show things as they really look, instead of as we infer they are ; in illumination : that is, to show things in the colours they assume under such and such lights. The first distinct advance was made by Cimabue and Giotto at Florence, but contemporaneous with them was the similar work of Duccio and his successors at Siena, whose pictures (in Room II.) should be studied in this connection. Various stages in the advance will be pointed out under the pictures themselves; and the student of art will perhaps find the same kind of pleasure in tracing the painters' progress as grown-up people feel in watching the gradual development of children,
But there is another kind of interest also. Wordsworth says that children are the best philosophers; and in the case of art at any rate there is some truth in what he says, for "this is a general law, that supposing the intellect of the workman the same, the more imitatively complete his art, the less he will mean by it; and the ruder the symbol, the deeper is its intention” (Oxford Lectures on Art, $ 19). The more complete his powers of imitation become, the more intellectual interest he takes in the expression, and the less therefore in the thing meant. What then is the meaning of these early pictures? To answer this question, we must go back to consider what it was that gave the original impulse to the revival of art in Italy. To this revival two circumstances contributed. First, no school of painting can exist until society is comparatively rich, until there is wealth enough to support a class of men with leisure to produce beautiful things. Such an increase of wealth took place at Florence in the thirteenth century: the gay and courteous life of the Florentines at that time was ready for the adornment of art. The particular direction which art took was due to the religious revival, headed by St. Francis and St. Dominic, which took place at the same time. Churches were everywhere built, and on the church walls frescoes were wanted, alike to satisfy the growing sense of beauty and to assist in teaching Christian doctrine. These early pictures are thus to be considered as a kind of painted preaching. The story of Cimabue's great picture (see p. 75) well illustrates the double origin of the revival of art. It was to its place above the altar in the great Dominican church of Sta. Maria Novella at Florence that the picture was carried in triumphal procession; whilst the fact that a whole city should thus have turned out to rejoice over the completion of a picture, proves “the widespread sensibility of the Florentines to things of beauty, and shows the sympathy which, emanating from the people, was destined to inspire and brace the artist for his work” (Symonds, iii. p. 188). The history of Giotto is no less significant. It was for the walls of the church of St. Francis at Assisi that his greatest work was done. It was there that he at once pondered over the
meaning of the Christian faith (with what result is shown by Mr. Ruskin in Fors Clavigera and elsewhere), and learned the secret of giving the resemblance of the objects of that faith in painting. Thus, then, we arrive at the second source of interest in these old pictures of Florence-rude and foolish as they sometimes seem. “Those were noble days for the painter, when the whole belief of Christendom, grasped by his own faith, and firmly rooted in the faith of the people round him, as yet unimpaired by alien emanations from the world of classic culture, had to be set forth for the first time in art. His work was then a Bible, a compendium of grave divinity and human history, a book embracing all things needful for the spiritual and civil life of man. He spoke to men who could not read, for whom there were no printed pages, but whose hearts received his teaching through the eye. Thus painting was not then what it is now, a decoration of existence, but a potent and efficient agent in the education of the race ” (ibid., p. 196). · The message which these painters had to deliver was painted on the walls of churches or civic buildings; and it is only there---at Assisi, and Padua, and Florence, and Siena—that they can be properly read. But from such scraps and fragments as are here preserved, one may learn, as it were, the alphabet, and catch the necessary point of view.
But why, it may be asked, did painting come to its new birth first at Florence, rather than elsewhere in Italy ? The first answer is that painting thus arose at Florence because it was there that a new style of building at this time arose. The painters were wanted, as we have seen, to decorate the churches, and in those days there was no sharp distinction between the arts. Not only were architects sculptors, but they were often painters and goldsmiths as well. Giotto and Orcagna are instances of this union of the arts. But why did the new style of building arise specially in Florence? The answer to this is twofold : first, the Florentines inherited the artistic gifts and faculties of the Etruscan (Tuscan) race. Even in late Florentine pictures, pure Etruscan design will often be found surviving (see II. 586, p. 45). Secondly, in the middle