Renaissance in Italy Vol. 3
John Addington Symonds

Part 5 out of 7

Central Italy.

[212] The background to the circular "Madonna" in the Uffizzi, the
"Flagellation of Christ" in the Academy at Florence and in the Brera at
Milan, and the "Adam" at Cortona, belong to this grade.

[213] We may add the pages in a predella representing the "Adoration of
the Magi" in the Uffizzi.

[214] Vasari mentions the portraits of Nicolo, Paolo, and Vitellozzo
Vitelli, Gian Paolo, and Orazio Baglioni, among others, in the frescoes
at Orvieto.

[215] Painted for Lorenzo de' Medici. It is now in the Berlin Museum
through the neglect of the National Gallery authorities to purchase it
for England.

[216] I must not omit to qualify Vasari's praise of Luca Signorelli, by
reference to a letter recently published from the _Archivio Buonarroti,
Lettere a Diversi_, p. 391. Michael Angelo there addresses the Captain of
Cortona, and complains that in the first year of Leo's pontificate Luca
came to him and by various representations obtained from him the sum of
eighty Giulios, which he never repaid, although he made profession to
have done so. Michael Angelo was ill at the time, and working with much
difficulty on a statue of a bound captive for the tomb of Julius. Luca
gave a specimen of his renowned courtesy by comforting the sculptor in
these rather sanctimonious phrases: "Doubt not that angels will come from
heaven, to support your arms and help you."

[217] Pietro, known as Perugino from the city of his adoption, was the
son of Cristoforo Vannucci, of Citta della Pieve. He was born in 1446,
and died at Fontignano in 1522.

[218] The triptych in the National Gallery.

[219] They have been published by the Arundel Society.

[220] These frescoes were begun in 1499. It may be mentioned that in this
year, on the refusal of Perugino to decorate the Cappella di S. Brizio,
the Orvietans entrusted that work to Signorelli.

[221] Uffizzi and Sala del Cambio.

[222] "Fu Pietro persona di assai poca religione, e non se gli pote mai
far credere l'immortalita dell' anima: anzi, con parole, accomodate al
suo cervello di porfido, ostinatissimamente ricuso ogni buona vita. Aveva
ogni sua speranza ne' beni della fortuna, e per danari arebbe fatto ogni
male contratto." Vasari, vol. vi. p. 50. The local tradition alluded to
above relates to the difficulties raised by the Church against the
Christian burial of Perugino: but if he died of plague, as it is believed
(see C. and C., vol. iii. p. 244), these difficulties were probably
caused by panic rather than belief in his impiety. For Gasparo Celio's
note on Perugino's refusal to confess upon his death-bed, saying that he
preferred to see how an impenitent soul would fare in the other world,
the reader may consult Rio's _L'Art Chretien_, vol. ii. p. 269. The
record of Perugino's arming himself in Dec. 1486, together with a
notorious assassin, Aulista di Angelo of Perugia, in order to waylay and
beat a private enemy of his near S. Pietro Maggiore at Florence is quoted
by Crowe and Cavalcaselle, vol. iii. p. 183.

[223] "Guadagno molte ricchezze; e in Fiorenza muro e compro case; ed in
Perugia ed a Castello della Pieve acquisto molti beni stahili." Vasari,
vol. vi. p. 50.

[224] "Goffo nell arte." See Vasari, vol. vi. p. 46. See too above, p.

[225] I select these for comment rather than the frescoes at Spello,
beautiful as these are, because they have more interest in relation to
the style of the Renaissance.

[226] The "Assumption" in S. Frediano at Lucca should also be mentioned
as one of Francia's masterpieces.

[227] His father was a muleteer of Suffignano, who settled at Florence,
in a house and garden near the gate of S. Piero Gattolino. He was born in
1475, and he died in 1517.

[228] In S. Domenico at Prato in 1500. He afterwards resided in S. Marco
at Florence.

[229] May 23, 1498.

[230] In addition to the pictures mentioned above, I may call attention
to the adoring figure of S. Catherine of Siena, in three large
paintings--now severally in the Pitti, at Lucca, and in the Louvre.

[231] In the Uffizzi. As a composition, it is the Frate's masterpiece.

[232] See Vol. I., _Age of the Despots_, p. 487, for this consequence of
the sack of Prato.

[233] _L'Art Chretien_, vol. ii. p. 515.

[234] Two of our best portraits of Savonarola, the earlier inscribed
"Hieronymi Ferrariensis a Deo Missi Prophetae Effigies," the later treated
to represent S. Peter Martyr, are from the hand of Fra Bartolommeo. See
Crowe and Cavalcaselle, vol. iii. p. 433.

[235] See below, chapter vii.

[236] This sonnet I have translated into English with such closeness to
the original words as I found possible:--

He who can do not what he wills, should try
To will what he can do; for since 'tis vain
To will what can't be compassed, to abstain
From idle wishing is philosophy.
Lo, all our happiness and grief imply
Knowledge or not of will's ability:
They therefore can, who will what ought to be.
Nor wrest true reason from her seat awry.
Nor what a man can, should he always will:
Oft seemeth sweet what after is not so;
And what I wished, when had, hath cost a tear.
Then, reader of these lines, if thou wouldst still
Be helpful to thyself, to others dear,
Will to can alway what thou ought to do.

[237] See the letter addressed by Lionardo to Lodovico Sforza enumerating
his claims as a mechanician, military and civil engineer, architect, &c.
It need scarcely be mentioned that he served Cesare Borgia and the
Florentine Republic as an engineer, and that much of his time at Milan
was spent in hydraulic works upon the Adda. It should be added here that
Lionardo committed the results of his discoveries to writing; but he
published very little, and that by no means the most precious portion of
his thoughts. He founded at Milan an Academy of Arts and Sciences, if
this name may be given to a reunion of artists, scholars, and men of the
world, to whom it is probable that he communicated his researches in
anatomy. The _Treatise on Painting_, which bears his name, is a
compilation from notes and MSS. first printed in 1651.

[238] The folio volume of sketches in the Ambrosian Library at Milan
contains designs for all these works. The collection in the Royal Library
at Windsor is no less rich. Among Lionardo's scientific drawings in the
latter place may be mentioned a series of maps illustrating the river
system of Central Italy, with plans for improved drainage.

[239] Shelley says of the poet:--

He will watch from dawn to gloom
The lake-reflected sun illume
The yellow bees in the ivy bloom;
Nor heed nor see what things they be,
But from these create he can
Forms more real than living man,
Nurslings of immortality.

[240] See De Stendhal, _Histoire de la Peinture en Italie_, p. 143, for
this story.

[241] In the _Treatise on Painting_, da Vinci argues strongly against
isolating man. He regarded the human being as in truth a microcosm to be
only understood in relation to the world around him, expressing, as a
painter, the same thought as Pico. (See Vol. II., _Revival of Learning,_
p. 35.) Therefore he urges the claims of landscape on the attention of

[242] I might refer in detail to four studies of bramble branches,
leaves, and flowers and fruit, in the royal collection at Windsor, most
wonderful for patient accuracy and delicate execution: also to drawings
of oak leaves, wild guelder-rose, broom, columbine, asphodel, bull-rush,
and wood-spurge in the same collection. These careful studies are as
valuable for the botanist as for the artist. To render the specific
character of each plant with greater precision would be impossible.

[243] See the series of anatomical studies of the horse in the Royal

[244] Engraved by Edelinck. The drawing has obvious Lionardesque
qualities; but how far it may be from the character of the original we
can guess by Rubens' transcript from Mantegna. (See above, Chapter VI,
Mantegna's Biography.) De Stendhal says wittily of this work, "C'est
Virgile traduit par Madame de Stael," op. cit. p. 162.

[245] In the Royal Collection at Windsor there are anatomical drawings
for the construction of an imaginary quadruped with gigantic claws. The
bony, muscular, and venous structure of its legs and feet is accurately

[246] See the drawings engraved and published by Gerli in his _Disegni di
Lionardo da Vinci_, Milan, 1784.

[247] Vasari is the chief source of these legends. Giraldi Lomazzo, the
Milanese historian of painting, and Bandello, the novelist, supply
further details. It appears from all accounts that Lionardo impressed his
contemporaries as a singular and most commanding personality. There is a
touch of reverence in even the strangest stories, which is wanting in the
legend of Piero di Cosimo.

[248] Even Michael Angelo, meeting him in Florence, flung in his teeth
that "he had made the model of a horse to cast in bronze, and could not
cast it, and through shame left it as it was unfinished." See _Arch. St.
It._, serie terza, xvi. 226.

[249] In the Royal Collection at Windsor there is a whole series of
studies for these two statues, together with drawings for the mould in
which Lionardo intended to cast them. The second of the two is sketched
with great variety of motive. The horse is rearing; the fallen enemy is
vainly striving to defend himself; the victor in one drawing is reining
in his steed, in another is waving a truncheon, in a third is brandishing
his sword, in a fourth is holding the sword in act to thrust. The designs
for the pedestals, sometimes treated as a tomb and sometimes as a
fountain, are equally varied.

[250] "Concevoir," said Balzac, "c'est jouir, c'est fumer des cigarettes
enchantees; mais sans l'execution tout s'en va en reve et en fumee."
Quoted by Sainte-Beuve, _Causeries du Lundi_, vol. ii. p. 353.

[251] See Vol. II., _Revival of Learning_, p. 128, 129.

[252] It was finished, according to Fra Paciolo, in 1498.

[253] Signorelli, with his usual originality, chose the moment when
Christ broke bread and gave it to His disciples. In that rare picture at
Cortona, we see not the betrayed chief but the founder of a new religion.

[254] The Cenacolo alone will not enable the student to understand
Lionardo. He must give his attention to the master's sketch books, those
studies in chalk, in tempera, on thin canvas and paper, prepared for the
stylus or the pen, which Vasari calls the final triumphs of designing,
and of which, in spite of the loss of many of his books, the surviving
specimens are very numerous. Some are easily accessible in Gerli,
Chamberlaine, and the autotype reproductions. It is possible that a
sympathetic student may get closer to the all-embracing and all-daring
genius of the magician through these drawings than if he had before him
an elaborate work in fresco or in oils. They express the many-sided,
mobile, curious, and subtle genius of the man in its entirety.

[255] "Raffaello, che era la gentilezza stessa ... restavano vinti dalla
cortesia e dall' arte sua, ma piu dal genio della sua buona natura; la
quale era si piena di gentilezza e si colma di carita, che egli si vedeva
che fino agli animali l'onoravano, non che gli uomini."--Vasari, vol.
viii. pp. 6, 60.

[256] See above, Chapter VI, Fra Bartolommeo.

[257] The "Holy Family" at Munich, and the "Madonna del Baldacchino" in
the Pitti, might be mentioned as experiments on Raphael's part to perfect
the Frate's scheme of composition.

[258] See Vasari, vol. viii. p. 60, for a description of the concord that
reigned in this vast workshop. The genius and the gentle nature of
Raphael penetrated the whole group of artists, and seemed to give them a
single soul.

[259] The fresco of "Alexander" in the Palazzo Borghese is by an

[260] The "Madonna di San Sisto" was painted for a banner to be borne in
processions. It is a subtle observation of Rio that the banner, an
invention of the Umbrian school, corresponds in painting to the hymn in

[261] See Vol. II., _Revival of Learning_, p. 316, for Raphael's letter
on this subject to Leo X.

[262] "La Spasimo di Sicilia" is the single Passion picture of Raphael's
maturity. The predella of "Christ carrying the Cross" at Leigh Court, and
the "Christ showing His Wounds" in the Tosi Gallery at Brescia, are both
early works painted under Umbrian influence. The Borghese "Entombment,"
painted for Atalanta Baglioni, a pen-and-ink drawing of the "Pieta" in
the Louvre collection, Marc Antonio's engraving of the "Massacre of the
Innocents," and an early picture of the "Agony in the Garden," are all
the other painful subjects I can now remember.

[263] For a fuller working out of this analysis I must refer to my
_Sketches in Italy_, article "Parma." Much that follows is a quotation
from that essay.

[264] Much of the controversy about Michael Angelo, which is continually
being waged between his admirers and his detractors, might be set at rest
if it were acknowledged that there are two distinct ways of judging works
of art. We may regard them simply as appealing to our sense of beauty,
and affording harmonious intellectual pleasure. Or we may regard them as
expressing the thought and spirit of their age, and as utterances made by
men whose hearts burned within them. Critics trained in the study of good
Greek sculpture, or inclined by temperament to admire the earlier
products of Italian painting, are apt to pursue the former path
exclusively. They demand serenity and simplicity. Perturbation and
violence they denounce as blemishes. It does not occur to them that,
though the phenomenon is certainly rare, it does occasionally happen that
a man arises whose art is for him the language of his soul, and who lives
in sympathetic relation to the sternest interests of his age. If such an
artist be born when tranquil thought and serene emotions are impossible
for one who feels the meaning of his times with depth, he must either
paint and carve lies, or he must abandon the serenity that was both
natural and easy to the Greek and the earlier Italian. Michael Angelo was
one of these select artistic natures. He used his chisel and his pencil
to express, not merely beautiful artistic motives, but what he felt and
thought about the world in which he had to live: and this world was full
of the ruin of republics, the corruption and humiliation of society, the
subjection of Italy to strangers. In Michael Angelo the student of both
art and history finds an inestimably precious and rare point of contact
between the inner spirit of an age, and its external expression in
sculpture and painting.



Painting bloomed late in Venice--Conditions offered by Venice to
Art--Shelley and Pietro Aretino--Political circumstances of
Venice--Comparison with Florence--The Ducal Palace--Art regarded as an
adjunct to State Pageantry--Myth of Venezia--Heroic Deeds of
Venice--Tintoretto's Paradise and Guardi's Picture of a Ball--Early
Venetian Masters of Murano--Gian Bellini--Carpaccio's little Angels--The
Madonna of S. Zaccaria--Giorgione--Allegory, Idyll, Expression of
Emotion--The Monk at the Clavichord--Titian, Tintoret, and
Veronese--Tintoretto's attempt to dramatise Venetian Art--Veronese's
Mundane Splendour--Titian's Sophoclean Harmony--Their Schools--Further
Characteristics of Veronese--of Tintoretto--His Imaginative
Energy--Predominant Poetry--Titian's Perfection of Balance--Assumption of
Madonna--Spirit common to the Great Venetians.

It was a fact of the greatest importance for the development of the fine
arts in Italy that painting in Venice reached maturity later than in
Florence. Owing to this circumstance one chief aspect of the Renaissance,
its material magnificence and freedom, received consummate treatment at
the hands of Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese. To idealise the
sensualities of the external universe, to achieve for colour what the
Florentines had done for form, to invest the worldly grandeur of human
life at one of its most gorgeous epochs with the dignity of the highest
art, was what these great artists were called on to accomplish. Their task
could not have been so worthily performed in the fifteenth century as in
the sixteenth, if the development of the aesthetic sense had been more
premature among the Venetians.

Venice was precisely fitted for the part her painters had to play. Free,
isolated, wealthy, powerful; famous throughout Europe for the pomp of her
state equipage, and for the immorality of her private manners; ruled by a
prudent aristocracy, who spent vast wealth on public shows and on the
maintenance of a more than imperial civic majesty: Venice, with her
pavement of liquid chrysoprase, with her palaces of porphyry and marble,
her frescoed facades, her quays and squares aglow with the costumes of the
Levant, her lagoons afloat with the galleys of all nations, her churches
floored with mosaics, her silvery domes and ceilings glittering with
sculpture bathed in molten gold: Venice luxurious in the light and colour
of a vaporous atmosphere, where sea-mists rose into the mounded summer
clouds; arched over by the broad expanse of sky, bounded only by the
horizon of waves and plain and distant mountain ranges, and reflected in
all its many hues of sunrise and sunset upon the glassy surface of smooth
waters: Venice asleep like a miracle of opal or of pearl upon the bosom of
an undulating lake:--here and here only on the face of the whole globe was
the unique city wherein the pride of life might combine with the lustre of
the physical universe to create and stimulate in the artist a sense of all
that was most sumptuous in the pageant of the world of sense.

There is colour in flowers. Gardens of tulips are radiant, and mountain
valleys touch the soul with the beauty of their pure and gemlike hues.
Therefore the painters of Flanders and of Umbria, John van Eyck and
Gentile da Fabriano, penetrated some of the secrets of the world of
colour. But what are the purples and scarlets and blues of iris, anemone,
or columbine, dispersed among deep meadow grasses or trained in quiet
cloister garden-beds, when compared with that melodrama of flame and gold
and rose and orange and azure, which the skies and lagoons of Venice yield
almost daily to the eyes? The Venetians had no green fields and trees, no
garden borders, no blossoming orchards, to teach them the tender
suggestiveness, the quaint poetry of isolated or contrasted tints. Their
meadows were the fruitless furrows of the Adriatic, hued like a peacock's
neck; they called the pearl-shells of their Lido flowers, _fior di mare_.
Nothing distracted their attention from the glories of morning and of
evening presented to them by their sea and sky. It was in consequence of
this that the Venetians conceived colour heroically, not as a matter of
missal-margins or of subordinate decoration, but as a motive worthy in
itself of sublime treatment. In like manner, hedged in by no limitary
hills, contracted by no city walls, stifled by no narrow streets, but open
to the liberal airs of heaven and ocean, the Venetians understood space
and imagined pictures almost boundless in their immensity. Light, colour,
air, space: those are the elemental conditions of Venetian art; of those
the painters weaved their ideal world for beautiful and proud humanity.

Shelley's description of a Venetian sunset strikes the keynote to Venetian

As those who pause on some delightful way,
Though bent on pleasant pilgrimage, we stood
Looking upon the evening and the flood,
Which lay between the city and the shore,
Paved with the image of the sky: the hoar
And airy Alps, towards the north appeared,
Through mist, a heaven-sustaining bulwark, reared
Between the east and west; and half the sky
Was roofed with clouds of rich emblazonry,
Dark purple at the zenith, which still grew
Down the steep west into a wondrous hue
Brighter than burning gold, even to the rent
Where the swift sun yet paused in his descent
Among the many-folded hills--they were
Those famous Euganean hills, which bear,
As seen from Lido through the harbour piles,
The likeness of a clump of peaked isles--
And then, as if the earth and sea had been
Dissolved into one lake of fire, were seen
Those mountains towering, as from waves of flame,
Around the vaporous sun, from which there came
The inmost purple spirit of light, and made
Their very peaks transparent. "Ere it fade,"
Said my companion, "I will show you soon
A better station." So, o'er the lagune
We glided: and from that funereal bark
I leaned, and saw the city; and could mark
How from their many isles, in evening's gleam,
Its temples and its palaces did seem
Like fabrics of enchantment piled to heaven.

With this we may compare the following extract from a letter, addressed in
May 1544 to Titian, by one of the most unprincipled of literary bandits
who have ever disgraced humanity, but who nevertheless was solemnised to
the spirit of true poetry by the grandiose aspect of nature as it appeared
to him in Venice. That Pietro Aretino should have so deeply felt the charm
of natural beauty in an age when even the greatest artists and poets
sought inspiration in human life rather than the outer world, is a
significant fact. It seems to illustrate the necessity whereby Venice
became the cradle of the art of nature.[266] "Having, dear Sir, and my
best gossip, supped alone to the injury of my custom, or, to speak more
truly, supped in the company of all the boredoms of a cursed quartan
fever, which will not let me taste the flavour of any food, I rose from
table sated with the same disgust with which I had sat down to it. In this
mood I went and leaned my arms upon the sill outside my window, and
throwing my chest and nearly all my body on the marble, abandoned myself
to the contemplation of the spectacle presented by the innumerable boats,
filled with foreigners as well as people of the city, which gave delight
not merely to the gazers, but also to the Grand Canal itself, that
perpetual delight of all who plough its waters. From this animated scene,
all of a sudden, like one who from mere _ennui_ knows not how to occupy
his mind, I turned my eyes to heaven, which, from the moment when God made
it, was never adorned with such painted loveliness of lights and shadows.
The whole region of the air was what those who envy you, because they are
unable to be you, would fain express. To begin with, the buildings of
Venice, though of solid stone, seemed made of some ethereal substance.
Then the sky was full of variety--here clear and ardent, there dulled and
overclouded. What marvellous clouds there were! Masses of them in the
centre of the scene hung above the house-roofs, while the immediate part
was formed of a grey tint inclining to dark. I gazed astonished at the
varied colours they displayed. The nearer masses burned with flames of
sunset; the more remote blushed with a blaze of crimson less afire. Oh,
how splendidly did Nature's pencil treat and dispose that airy landscape,
keeping the sky apart from the palaces, just as Titian does! On one side
the heavens showed a greenish-blue, on another a bluish-green, invented
verily by the caprice of Nature, who is mistress of the greatest masters.
With her lights and her darks, there she was harmonising, toning, and
bringing out into relief, just as she wished. Seeing which, I who know
that your pencil is the spirit of her inmost soul, cried aloud thrice or
four tines, 'Oh, Titian! where are you now?'"

In order to understand the destiny of Venice in art, it is not enough to
concentrate attention on the peculiarities of her physical environment.
Potent as these were in the creation of her style, the political and
social conditions of the Republic require also to be taken into account.
Among Italian cities Venice was unique. She alone was tranquil in her
empire, unimpeded in her constitutional development, independent of Church
interference, undisturbed by the cross purposes and intrigues of the
Despots, inhabited by merchants who were princes, and by a free-born
people who had never seen war at their gates. The serenity of undisturbed
security, the luxury of wealth amassed abroad and liberally spent at home,
gave a physiognomy of ease and proud self-confidence to all her edifices.
The grim and anxious struggles of the Middle Ages left no mark on Venice.
How different was this town from Florence, every inch of whose domain
could tell of civic warfare, whose passionate aspirations after
independence ended in the despotism of the bourgeois Medici, whose
repeated revolutions had slavery for their climax, whose grey palaces bore
on their fronts the stamp of mediaeval vigilance, whose spirit was
incarnated in Dante the exile, whose enslavement forced from Michael
Angelo those groans of a chained Titan expressed in the marbles of S.
Lorenzo! It is not an insignificant, though a slight, detail, that the
predominant colour of Florence is brown, while the predominant colour of
Venice is that of mother-of-pearl, concealing within its general whiteness
every tint that can be placed upon the palette of a painter. The
conditions of Florence stimulated mental energy and turned the forces of
the soul inwards. Those of Venice inclined the individual to accept life
as he found it. Instead of exciting him to think, they disposed him to
enjoy, or to acquire by industry the means of manifold enjoyment. To
represent in art the intellectual strivings of the Renaissance was the
task of Florence and her sons; to create a monument of Renaissance
magnificence was the task of Venice. Without Venice the modern world could
not have produced that flower of sensuous and unreflective loveliness in
painting, which is worthy to stand beside the highest product of the Greek
genius in sculpture. For Athena from her Parthenon stretches the hand to
Venezia enthroned in the ducal palace. The broad brows and earnest eyes of
the Hellenic goddess are of one divine birth and lineage with the golden
hair and superb carriage of the sea-queen.

It is in the heart of Venice, in the House of the Republic, that the
Venetian painters, considered as the interpreters of worldly splendour,
fulfilled their function with the most complete success. Centuries
contributed to make the Ducal Palace what it is. The massive colonnades
and Gothic loggias of the external basement date from the thirteenth
century; their sculpture belongs to the age when Niccola Pisano's genius
was in the ascendant. The square fabric of the palace, so beautiful in the
irregularity of its pointed windows, so singular in its mosaic diaper of
pink and white, was designed at the same early period. The inner court and
the facade that overhangs the lateral canal, display the handiwork of
Sansovino. The halls of the palace--spacious chambers where the Senate
assembled, where ambassadors approached the Doge, where the Savi
deliberated, where the Council of Ten conducted their inquisition--are
walled and roofed with pictures of inestimable value, encased in framework
of carved oak; overlaid with burnished gold. Supreme art--the art of the
imagination perfected with delicate and skilful care in detail--is made in
these proud halls the minister of mundane pomp. In order that the gold
brocade of the ducal robes, that the scarlet and crimson of the Venetian
senator, might, be duly harmonised by the richness of their surroundings,
it was necessary that canvases measured by the square yard, and rendered
priceless by the authentic handiwork of Titian, Tintoret, and Veronese,
should glow upon the walls and ceilings. A more insolent display of public
wealth--a more lavish outpouring of human genius in the service of State
pageantry, cannot be imagined.

Sublime over all allegories and histories depicted in those multitudes of
paintings, sits Venezia herself enthroned and crowned, the personification
of haughtiness and power. Figured as a regal lady, with yellow hair
tightly knotted round a small head poised upon her upright throat and
ample shoulders, Venice takes her chair of sovereignty--as mistress of the
ocean to whom Neptune and the Tritons offer pearls, as empress of the
globe at whose footstool wait Justice with the sword and Peace with the
olive branch, as a queen of heaven exalted to the clouds. They have made
her a goddess, those great painters; they have produced a mythus, and
personified in native loveliness that bride of the sea, their love, their
lady. The beauty of Venetian women and the glory of Venetian empire find
their meeting point in her, and live as the spirit of Athens lived in
Pallas Promachos. On every side, above, around, wherever the eye falls in
those vast rooms, are seen the deeds of Venice--painted histories of her
triumphs over emperors and popes and infidels, or allegories of her
greatness--scenes wherein the Doges perform acts of faith, with S. Mark
for their protector, and with Venezia for their patroness. The saints in
Paradise, massed together by Tintoretto and by Palma, mingle with
mythologies of Greece and Rome, and episodes of pure idyllic painting.

Religion in these pictures was a matter of parade, an adjunct to the
costly public life of the Republic. We need not, therefore, conclude that
it was unreal. Such as it was, the religion of the Venetian masters is
indeed as genuine as that of Fra Angelico or Albert Duerer. But it was the
faith, not of humble men or of mystics, not of profound thinkers or
ecstatic visionaries, so much as of courtiers and statesmen, of senators
and merchants, for whom religion was a function among other functions, not
a thing apart, not a source of separate and supreme vitality. Even as
Christians, the Venetians lived a life separate from the rest of Italy.
Their Church claimed independence of the see of Rome, and the enthusiasm
of S. Francis was but faintly felt in the lagoons. Siena in her hour of
need dedicated herself to Madonna; Florence in the hour of her
regeneration gave herself to Christ; Venice remained under the ensign of
the leonine S. Mark. While the cities of Lombardy and Central Italy ran
wild with revivalism and religious panics, the Venetians maintained their
calm, and never suffered piety to exceed the limits of political prudence.
There is, therefore, no mystical exaltation in the faith depicted by her
artists. That Tintoretto could have painted the saints in glory--a
countless multitude of congregated forms, a sea whereof the waves are
souls--as a background for State ceremony, shows the positive and
realistic attitude of mind from which the most imaginative of Venetian
masters started, when he undertook the most exalted of religious themes.
Paradise is a fact, we may fancy Tintoretto reasoned; and it is easier to
fill a quarter of an acre of canvas with a picture of Paradise than with
any other subject, because the figures can be arranged in concentric tiers
round Christ and Madonna in glory.

There is a little sketch by Guardi representing a masked ball in the
Council Chamber where the "Paradise" of Tintoretto fills a wall. The men
are in periwigs and long waistcoats; the ladies wear hoops, patches, fans,
high heels, and powder. Bowing, promenading, intriguing, exchanging
compliments or repartees, they move from point to point; while from the
billowy surge of saints, Moses with the table of the law and the Magdalen
with her adoring eyes of penitence look down upon them. Tintoretto could
not but have foreseen that the world of living pettiness and passion would
perpetually jostle with his world of painted sublimities and sanctities in
that vast hall. Yet he did not on that account shrink from the task or
fail in its accomplishment. Paradise existed: therefore it could be
painted; and he was called upon to paint it here. If the fine gentlemen
and ladies below felt out of harmony with the celestial host, so much the
worse for them. In this practical spirit the Venetian masters approached
religious art, and such was the sphere appointed for it in the pageantry
of the Republic. When Paolo Veronese was examined by the Holy Office
respecting some supposed irreverence in a sacred picture, his answers
clearly proved that in planning it he had thought less of its spiritual
significance than of its aesthetic effect.[267]

In the Ducal Palace the Venetian art of the Renaissance culminates; and
here we might pause a moment to consider the difference between these
paintings and the mediaeval frescoes of the Palazzo Pubblico at Siena.[268]
The Sienese painters consecrated all their abilities to the expression of
thoughts, theories of political self-government in a free State, and
devotional ideas. The citizen who read the lesson of the Sala della Pace
was instructed in his duties to God and to the State. The Venetian
painters, as we have seen, exalted Venice and set forth her acts of power.
Their work is a glorification of the Republic; but no doctrine is
inculcated, and no system of thought is conveyed to the mind through the
eye. Daily pacing the saloons of the palace, Doge and noble were reminded
of the greatness of the State they represented. They were not invited to
reflect upon the duties of the governor and governed. Their imaginations
were dilated and their pride roused by the spectacle of Venice seated
like a goddess in her home. Of all the secular States of Italy the
Republic of S. Mark's alone produced this mythical ideal of the body
politic, self-sustained and independent of the citizens, compelling their
allegiance, and sustaining them through generations with the life of its
organic unity.[269] The artists had no reason to paint thoughts and
theories. It was enough to set forth Venice and to illustrate her acts.

Long before Venetian painting reached a climax in the decorative triumphs
of the Ducal Palace, the masters of the school had formed a style
expressive of the spirit of the Renaissance, considered as the spirit of
free enjoyment and living energy. To trace the history of Venetian
painting is to follow through its several stages the growth of that
mastery over colour and sensuous beauty which was perfected in the works
of Titian and his contemporaries.[270] Under the Vivarini of Murano the
Venetian school in its infancy began with a selection from the natural
world of all that struck them as most brilliant. No other painters of
their age in Italy employed such glowing colours, or showed a more marked
predilection for the imitation of fruits, rich stuffs, architectural
canopies, jewels, and landscape backgrounds. Their piety, unlike the
mysticism of the Sienese and the deep thought of the Florentine masters,
is somewhat superficial and conventional. The merit of their devotional
pictures consists of simplicity, vivacity, and joyousness. Our Lady and
her court of saints seem living and breathing upon earth. There is no
atmosphere of tranced solemnity surrounding them, like that which gives
peculiar meaning to similar works of the Van Eycks and Memling--artists,
by the way, who in many important respects are more nearly allied than any
others to the spirit of the first age of Venetian painting.[271]

What the Vivarini began, the three Bellini,[272] with Crivelli, Carpaccio,
Mansueti, Basaiti, Catena, Cima da Conegliano, Bissolo, Cordegliaghi,
continued. Bright costumes, distinct and sunny landscapes, broad
backgrounds of architecture, large skies, polished armour, gilded
cornices, young faces of fisherboys and country girls,[273] grave faces of
old men brown with sea-wind and sunlight, withered faces of women hearty
in a hale old age, the strong manhood of Venetian senators, the dignity of
patrician ladies, the gracefulness of children, the rosy whiteness and
amber-coloured tresses of the daughters of the Adriatic and lagoons--these
are the source of inspiration to the Venetians of the second period.
Mantegna, a few miles distant, at Padua, was working out his ideal of
severely classical design. Yet he scarcely touched the manner of the
Venetians with his influence, though Gian Bellini was his brother-in-law
and pupil, and though his genius, in grasp of matter and in management of
composition, soared above his neighbours. Lionardo da Vinci at Milan was
perfecting his problems of psychology in painting, offering to the world
solutions of the greatest difficulties in the delineation of the spirit by
expression. Yet not a trace of Lionardo's subtle play of light and shadow
upon thoughtful features can be discerned in the work of the Bellini. For
them the mysteries of the inner and the outer world had no attraction. The
externals of a full and vivid existence fascinated their imagination.
Their poetry and their piety were alike simple and objective. How to
depict the world as it is seen--a miracle of varying lights and melting
hues, a pageant substantial to the touch and concrete to the eyes, a
combination of forms defined by colours more than outlines--was their
task. They did not reach their end by anatomy, analysis, and
reconstruction. They undertook to paint just what they felt and saw.

Very instructive are the wall-pictures of this period, painted not in
fresco but on canvas by Carpaccio and Gentile Bellini, for the decoration
of the Scuole of S. Ursula and S. Croce.[274] Not only do these bring
before us the life of Venice in its manifold reality, but they illustrate
the tendency of the Venetian masters to express the actual world, rather
than to formulate an ideal of the fancy or to search the secrets of the
soul. This realism, if the name can be applied to pictures so poetical as
those of Carpaccio, is not, like the Florentine realism, hard and
scientific. A natural feeling for grace and a sense of romance inspire the
artist, and breathe from every figure that he paints. The type of beauty
produced is charming by its negligence and _naivete_; it is not thought
out with pains or toilsomely elaborated.[275]

Among the loveliest motives used in the altar-pieces of this period might
be mentioned the boy-angels playing flutes and mandolines beneath Madonna
on the steps of her throne. There are usually three of them, seated, or
sometimes standing. They hold their instruments of music as though they
had just ceased from singing, and were ready to recommence at the pleasure
of their mistress. Meanwhile there is a silence in the celestial company,
through which the still voice of the praying heart is heard, a silence
corresponding to the hushed mood of the worshipper.[276] The children are
accustomed to the holy place; therefore their attitudes are both reverent
and natural. They are more earthly than Fra Angelico's melodists, and yet
they are not precisely of human lineage. It is not, perhaps, too much to
say that they strike the keynote of Venetian devotion, at once real and
devoid of pietistic rapture.

Gian Bellini brought the art of this second period to completion. In his
sacred pictures the reverential spirit of early Italian painting is
combined with a feeling for colour and a dexterity in its manipulation
peculiar to Venice. Bellini cannot be called a master of the full
Renaissance. He falls into the same class as Francia and Perugino, who
adhered to _quattrocento_ modes of thought and sentiment, while attaining
at isolated points to the freedom of the Renaissance. In him the
colourists of the next age found an absolute teacher; no one has surpassed
him in the difficult art of giving tone to pure tints in combination.
There is a picture of Bellini's in S. Zaccaria at Venice--Madonna
enthroned with Saints--where the skill of the colourist may be said to
culminate in unsurpassable perfection. The whole painting is bathed in a
soft but luminous haze of gold; yet each figure has its individuality of
treatment, the glowing fire of S. Peter contrasting with the pearly
coolness of the drapery and flesh-tints of the Magdalen. No brush-work is
perceptible. Surface and substance have been elaborated into one
harmonious richness that defies analysis. Between this picture, so strong
in its smoothness, and any masterpiece of Velasquez, so rugged in its
strength, what a wide abyss of inadequate half-achievement, of smooth
feebleness and feeble ruggedness, exists!

Giorgione, did we but possess enough of his authentic works to judge by,
would be found the first painter of the true Renaissance among the
Venetians, the inaugurate of the third and great period.[277] He died at
the age of thirty-six, the inheritor of unfulfilled renown. Time has
destroyed the last vestige of his frescoes. Criticism has reduced the
number of his genuine easel pictures to half a dozen. He exists as a great
name. The part he played in the development of Venetian art was similar to
that of Marlowe in the history of our drama. He first cut painting
altogether adrift from mediaeval moorings, and launched it on the waves of
the Renaissance liberty. While equal as a colourist to Bellini, though in
a different and more sensuous region, Giorgione, by the variety and
inventiveness of his conception, proved himself a painter of the calibre
of Titian. Sacred subjects he seems to have but rarely treated, unless
such purely idyllic pictures as the "Finding of Moses" in the Uffizzi, and
the "Meeting of Jacob and Rachel" at Dresden deserve the name. Allegories
of deep and problematic meaning, the key whereof has to be found in states
of the emotion rather than, in thoughts, delighted him. He may be said to
have invented the Venetian species of romance picture, where an episode in
a novella forms the motive of the painting.[278] Nor was he deficient in
tragic power, as the tremendous study for a Lucrece in the Uffizzi
collection sufficiently proves. In his drawings he models the form without
outline by massive distribution of light and dark. In style they are the
very opposite of Lionardo's clearly defined studies touched with the metal
point upon prepared paper. They suggest colouring, and are indeed the
designs of a great colourist, who saw things under the conditions of their
tints and tone.

Of the undisputed pictures by Giorgione, the grandest is the "Monk at the
Clavichord," in the Pitti Palace at Florence.[279] The young man has his
fingers on the keys; he is modulating in a mood of grave and sustained
emotion; his head is turned away towards an old man standing near him. On
the other side of the instrument is a boy. These two figures are but foils
and adjuncts to the musician in the middle; and the whole interest of his
face lies in its concentrated feeling--the very soul of music, as
expressed in Mr. Robert Browning's "Abt Vogler," passing through his eyes.
This power of painting the portrait of an emotion, of depicting by the
features a deep and powerful but tranquil moment of the inner life, must
have been possessed by Giorgione in an eminent degree. We find it again in
the so-called "Begruessung" of the Dresden Gallery.[280] The picture is a
large landscape, Jacob and Rachel meet and salute each other with a kiss.
But the shepherd lying beneath the shadow of a chestnut tree beside a well
has a whole Arcadia of intense yearning in the eyes of sympathy he fixes
on the lovers. Something of this faculty, it may be said in passing,
descended to Bonifazio, whose romance pictures are among the most charming
products of Venetian art, and one of whose singing women in the feast of
Dives has the Giorgionesque fulness of inner feeling.

Fate has dealt less unkindly with Titian, Tintoret, and Veronese than with
Giorgione. The works of these artists, in whom the Venetian Renaissance
attained completion, have been preserved in large numbers and in excellent
condition. Chronologically speaking, Titian, the contemporary of
Giorgione, precedes Tintoretto, and Tintoretto is somewhat earlier than
Veronese.[281] But for the purpose of criticism the three painters may be
considered together as the representatives of three marked aspects in the
fully developed Venetian style.

Tintoretto, called by the Italians the thunderbolt of painting, because of
his vehement impulsiveness and rapidity of execution, soars above his
brethren by the faculty of pure imagination. It was he who brought to its
perfection the poetry of _chiaroscuro_, expressing moods of passion and
emotion by brusque lights, luminous half-shadows, and semi-opaque
darkness, no less unmistakably than Beethoven by symphonic modulations. He
too engrafted on the calm and natural Venetian manner something of the
Michael Angelesque sublimity, and sought to vary by dramatic movement the
romantic motives of his school. In his work, more than in that of his
contemporaries, Venetian art ceased to be decorative and idyllic.

Veronese elevated pageantry to the height of serious art. His domain is
noonday sunlight ablaze on sumptuous dresses and Palladian architecture.
Where Tintoretto is dramatic, he is scenic. Titian, in a wise harmony,
without either the AEschylean fury of Tintoretto, or the material
gorgeousness of Veronese, realised an ideal of pure beauty. Continuing the
traditions of Bellini and Giorgione, with a breadth of treatment, and a
vigour of well-balanced faculties peculiar to himself, Titian gave to
colour in landscape and the human form a sublime yet sensuous poetry no
other painter in the world has reached.

Tintoretto and Veronese are, both of them, excessive. The imagination of
Tintoretto is too passionate and daring; it scathes and blinds like
lightning. The sense of splendour in Veronese is overpoweringly pompous.
Titian's exquisite humanity, his large and sane nature, gives proper value
to the imaginative and the scenic elements of the Venetian style, without
exaggerating either. In his masterpieces thought, colour, sentiment, and
composition--the spiritual and technical elements of art--exist in perfect
balance; one harmonious tone is given to all the parts of his production,
nor can it be said that any quality asserts itself to the injury of the
rest. Titian, the Sophocles of painting, has infused into his pictures the
spirit of music, the Dorian mood of flutes and soft recorders, making
power incarnate in a form of grace.

Round these great men are grouped a host of secondary but distinguished
painters--Palma with his golden-haired large-bosomed sirens; idyllic
Bonifazio; dramatic Pordenone, whose frescoes are all motion and
excitement; Paris Bordone, who mingled on his canvas cream and mulberry
juice and sunbeams; the Robusti, the Caliari, the Bassani, and others
whom it would be tedious to mention. One breath, one afflatus, inspired
them all; and it is due to this coherence in their style and inspiration
that the school of Venice, taken as a whole, can show more masterpieces by
artists of the second class than any other in Italy. Superior or inferior
as they may relatively be among themselves, each bears the indubitable
stamp of the Venetian Renaissance, and produces work of a quality that
raises him to high rank among the painters of the world. In the same way
the spirit of the Renaissance, passing over the dramatists of our
Elizabethan age, enabled intellects of average force to take rank in the
company of the noblest. Ford, Massinger, Heywood, Decker, Webster,
Fletcher, Tourneur, Marston, are seated round the throne at the feet of
Shakspere, Marlowe, and Jonson.

In order to penetrate the characteristics of Venetian art more thoroughly,
it will be needful to enter into detailed criticism of the three chief
masters who command the school. To begin with Veronese. His canvases are
nearly always large--filled with figures of the size of life, massed
together in groups or extended in long lines beneath white marble
colonnades, which enclose spaces of clear sky and silvery clouds. Armour,
shot silks and satins, brocaded canopies, banners, plate, fruit, sceptres,
crowns, all things, in fact, that burn and glitter in the sun, form the
habitual furniture of his pictures. Rearing horses, dogs, dwarfs, cats,
when occasion serves, are used to add reality, vivacity, grotesqueness to
his scenes. His men and women are large, well proportioned,
vigorous--eminent for pose and gesture rather than for grace or
loveliness--distinguished by adult more than adolescent qualities.

Veronese has no choice type of beauty for either sex. We find in him, on
the contrary, a somewhat coarse display of animal force in men, and of
superb voluptuousness in women. He prefers to paint women draped in
gorgeous raiment, as if he had not felt the beauty of the nude. Their
faces are too frequently unrefined and empty of expression. His noblest
creatures are men of about twenty-five, manly, brawny, crisp-haired, full
of nerve and blood. In all this Veronese resembles Rubens. But he does
not, like Rubens, strike us as gross, sensual, fleshly;[282] he remains
proud, powerful, and frigidly materialistic. He raises neither repulsion
nor desire, but displays with the calm strength of art the empire of the
mundane spirit. All the equipage of wealth and worldliness, the lust of
the eye, and the pride of life--such a vision as the fiend offered to
Christ on the mountain of temptation; this is Veronese's realm. Again, he
has no flashes of poetic imagination like Tintoretto; but his grip on the
realities of the world, his faculty for idealising prosaic magnificence,
is even greater.

Veronese was precisely the painter suited to a nation of merchants, in
whom the associations of the counting-house and the exchange mingled with
the responsibilities of the Senate and the passions of princes. He never
portrayed vehement emotions. There are no brusque movements, no extended
arms, like those of Tintoretto's Magdalen in the "Pieta" at Milan, in his
pictures. His Christs and Maries and martyrs of all sorts are composed,
serious, courtly, well-fed personages, who, like people of the world
accidentally overtaken by some tragic misfortune, do not stoop to
distortions or express more than a grave surprise, a decorous sense of
pain.[283] His angelic beings are equally earthly.

The Venetian Rothschilds no doubt preferred the ceremonial to the
imaginative treatment of sacred themes; and to do him justice, Veronese
did not make what would in his case have been the mistake of choosing the
tragedies of the Bible for representation. It is the story of Esther, with
its royal audiences, coronations, and processions; the marriage feast at
Cana; the banquet in the house of Levi, that he selects by preference.
Even these themes he removes into a region far from Biblical associations.
His _mise en scene_ is invariably borrowed from luxurious Italian
palaces--large open courts and _loggie_, crowded with guests and
lacqueys--tables profusely laden with gold and silver plate. The same love
of display led him to delight in allegory--not allegory of the deep and
mystic kind, but of the pompous and processional, in which Venice appears
enthroned among the deities, or Jupiter fulminates against the vices, or
the genii of the arts are personified as handsome women and blooming boys.
In dealing with mythology, again, it is not its poetry that he touches; he
uses the tale of Europa, for example, as the motive for rich toilettes and
delightful landscape, choosing the moment that has least in it of pathos.
These being the prominent features of his style, it remains to be said
that what is really great in Veronese is the sobriety of his imagination
and the solidity of his workmanship. Amid so much that is distracting, he
never loses command over his subject; nor does he degenerate into fulsome

Tintoretto is not at home in this somewhat vulgar region of ceremonial
grandeur. He requires both thought and fancy as the stimulus to his
creative effort. He cannot be satisfied with reproducing, even in the
noblest combinations, merely what he sees around him of resplendent and
magnificent. There must be scope for poetry in the conception and for
audacity in the projection of his subject, something that shall rouse the
prophetic faculty and evoke the seer in the artist, or Tintoretto does not
rise to his own altitude. Accordingly we find that, in contrast with
Veronese, he selects by preference the most tragic and dramatic subjects
to be found in sacred history. The Crucifixion, with its agonising deity
and prostrate groups of women, sunk below the grief of tears;--the
Temptation in the wilderness, with its passionate contrast of the
grey-robed Man of Sorrows and the ruby-winged, voluptuous fiend;--the
Temptation of Adam in Eden, a glowing allegory of the fascination of the
spirit by the flesh;--Paradise, a tempest of souls, whirled like Lucretian
atoms or gold dust in sunbeams by the celestial forces that perform the
movement of the spheres;--the Destruction of the world, where all the
fountains and rivers and lakes and seas of earth have formed one cataract,
that thunders with cities and nations on its rapids down a bottomless
gulf; while all the winds and hurricanes of the air have grown into one
blast, that carries men like dead leaves up to judgment;--the Plague of
the fiery serpents, with multitudes encoiled and writhing on a burning
waste of sand;--the Massacre of the Innocents, with its spilth of blood on
slippery pavements of porphyry and serpentine;--the Delivery of the tables
of the law to Moses amid clouds on Sinai, a white ascetic,
lightning-smitten man emerging in the glory of apparent godhead;--the
anguish of the Magdalen above her martyred God;--the solemn silence of
Christ before the throne of Pilate;--the rushing of the wings of Seraphim,
and the clangour of the trumpet that awakes the dead;--these are the
soul-stirring themes that Tintoretto handles with the ease of

Meditating upon Tintoretto's choice of such subjects, we feel that the
profoundest characteristic of his genius is the determination toward
motives pre-eminently poetic rather than proper to the figurative arts.
The poet imagines a situation in which the intellectual or emotional life
is paramount, and the body is subordinate. The painter selects situations
in which physical form is of the first importance, and a feeling or a
thought is suggested. But Tintoretto grapples immediately with poetical
ideas; and he often fails to realise them fully through the inadequacy of
painting as a medium for such matter. Moses, in the drama of the "Golden
Calf," for instance, is a poem, not a true picture.[285] The pale ecstatic
stretching out emaciated arms, presents no beauty of attitude or outline.
Energy of thought is conspicuous in the figure; and reflection is needed
to bring out the purpose of the painter.[286]

It is not, however, only in the region of the vast, tempestuous, and
tragic that Tintoretto finds himself at home. He is equal to every task
that can be imposed upon the imagination. Provided only that the spiritual
fount be stirred, the jet of living water gushes forth, pure,
inexhaustible, and limpid. In his "Marriage of Bacchus and Ariadne," that
most perfect lyric of the sensuous fancy from which sensuality is
absent;[287] in his "Temptation of Adam," that symphony of grey and brown
and ivory more lustrous than the hues of sunset; in his "Miracle of S.
Agnes," that lamb-like maiden with her snow-white lamb among the soldiers
and the priests of Rome, Tintoretto has proved beyond all question that
the fiery genius of Titanic artists can pierce and irradiate the placid
and the tender secrets of the soul with more consummate mastery than falls
to the lot of those who make tranquillity their special province.[288]

Paolo Veronese never penetrated to this inner shrine of beauty, this
Holiest of Holies where the spiritual graces dwell. He could not paint
waxen limbs, with silver lights and golden and transparent mysteries of
shadow, like those of Bacchus, Eve, and Ariadne. Titian himself was
powerless to imagine movement like that of Aphrodite floating in the air,
or of Madonna adjuring Christ in the "Paradiso," or of Christ Himself
judging by the silent simplicity of his divine attitude the worldly judge
at whose tribunal He stands, or of the tempter raising his jewelled arms
aloft to dazzle with meretricious brilliancy the impassive God above him,
or of Eve leaning in irresistible seductiveness against the fatal tree, or
of S. Mark down-rushing through the sky to save the slave that cried to
him, or of the Mary who has fallen asleep with folded hands from utter
lassitude of agony at the foot of the cross.

It is in these attitudes, movements, gestures, that Tintoretto makes the
human form an index and symbol of the profoundest, most tragic, most
delicious thought and feeling of the inmost soul. In daylight radiancy and
equable colouring he is surpassed perhaps by Veronese. In mastery of every
portion of his art, in solidity of execution, and in unwavering hold upon
his subject, he falls below the level of Titian. Many of his pictures are
unworthy of his genius--hurriedly designed, rapidly dashed upon the
canvas, studied by candlelight from artificial models, with abnormal
effects of light and dark, hastily daubed with pigments that have not
stood the test of time. He was a gigantic _improvitsatore_: that is the
worst thing we can say of him. But in the swift intuitions of the
imagination, in the purities and sublimities of the prophet-poet's soul,
neither Veronese nor yet even Titian can approach him.

The greatest difficulty meets the critic who attempts to speak of Titian.
To seize the salient characteristics of an artist whose glory it is to
offer nothing over-prominent, and who keeps the middle path of perfection,
is impossible. As complete health may be termed the absence of obtrusive
sensation, as virtue has been called the just proportion between two
opposite extravagances, so is Titian's art a golden mean of joy unbroken
by brusque movements of the passions--a well-tempered harmony in which no
thrilling note suggests the possibility of discord. In his work the world
and men cease to be merely what they are; he makes them what they ought to
be: and this he does by separating what is beautiful in sensuous life from
its alloy of painful meditation and of burdensome endeavour. The disease
of thought is unknown in his kingdom; no divisions exist between the
spirit and the flesh; the will is thwarted by no obstacles. When we think
of Titian, we are irresistibly led to think of music. His "Assumption of
Madonna" (the greatest single oil-painting in the world, if we except
Raphael's "Madonna di San Sisto") can best be described as a symphony--a
symphony of colour, where every hue is brought into harmonious
combination--a symphony of movement, where every line contributes to
melodious rhythm--a symphony of light without a cloud--a symphony of joy
in which the heavens and earth sing Hallelujah. Tintoretto, in the Scuola
di San Rocco, painted an "Assumption of the Virgin" with characteristic
energy and impulsiveness. A group of agitated men around an open tomb, a
rush of air and clash of seraph wings above, a blaze of glory, a woman
borne with sideways-swaying figure from darkness into light;--that is his
picture, all _brio_, excitement, speed. Quickly conceived, hastily
executed, this painting (so far as clumsy restoration suffers us to judge)
bears the impress of its author's impetuous genius. But Titian worked by a
different method. On the earth, among the Apostles, there is action enough
and passion; ardent faces straining upward, impatient men raising impotent
arms and vainly divesting themselves of their mantles, as though they too
might follow her they love. In heaven is radiance, half eclipsing the
archangel who holds the crown, and revealing the father of spirits in an
aureole of golden fire. Between earth and heaven, amid choirs of angelic
children, rises the mighty mother of the faith of Christ, who was Mary and
is now a goddess, ecstatic yet tranquil, not yet accustomed to the skies,
but far above the grossness and the incapacities of earth. Her womanhood
is so complete that those for whom the meaning of her Catholic legend is
lost, may hail in her humanity personified.

The grand manner can reach no further than in this picture--serene,
composed, meditated, enduring, yet full of dramatic force and of profound
feeling. Whatever Titian chose to touch, whether it was classical
mythology or portrait, history or sacred subject, he treated in this large
and healthful style. It is easy to tire of Veronese; it is possible to be
fatigued by Tintoretto. Titian, like nature, waits not for moods or
humours in the spectator. He gives to the mind joy of which it can never
weary, pleasures that cannot satiate, a satisfaction not to be repented
of, a sweetness that will not pall. The least instructed and the simple
feel his influence as strongly as the wise or learned.

In the course of this attempt to describe the specific qualities of
Tintoretto, Veronese, and Titian, I have been more at pains to distinguish
differences than to point out similarities. What they had in common was
the Renaissance spirit as this formed itself in Venice. Nowhere in Italy
was art more wholly emancipated from obedience to ecclesiastical
traditions, without losing the character of genial and natural piety.
Nowhere was the Christian history treated with a more vivid realism,
harmonised more simply with pagan mythology, or more completely purged of
mysticism. The Umbrian devotion felt by Raphael in his boyhood, the
prophecy of Savonarola, and the Platonism of Ficino absorbed by Michael
Angelo at Florence, the scientific preoccupations of Lionardo and the
antiquarian interests of Mantegna, were all alike unknown at Venice. Among
the Venetian painters there was no conflict between art and religion, or
art and curiosity--no reaction against previous pietism, no perplexity of
conscience, no confusion of aims. Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese were
children of the people, men of the world, men of pleasure; wealthy,
urbane, independent, pious:--they were all these by turns; but they were
never mystics, scholars, or philosophers. In their aesthetic ideal religion
found a place, nor was sensuality rejected; but the religion was sane and
manly, the sensuality was vigorous and virile. Not the intellectual
greatness of the Renaissance, but its happiness and freedom, was what they


[265] From the beginning of _Julian and Maddalo_, which relates a ride
taken by Shelley with Lord Byron, on the Lido, and their visit to the
madhouse on its neighbouring island. The description, richly coloured and
somewhat confused in detail, seems to me peculiarly true to Venetian
scenery. With the exception of Tunis, I know of no such theatre for
sunset-shows as Venice. Tunis has the same elements of broad lagoons and
distant hills, but not the same vaporous atmosphere.

[266] _Lettere di Messer Pietro Aretino_, Parigi, MDCIX, lib. iii. p. 48.
I have made a paraphrase rather than a translation of this rare and
curious description.

[267] See Yriarte, _Un Patricien de Venise_, p. 439.

[268] See above, Chapter IV, Political Doctrine expressed in Fresco.

[269] See Vol. I., _Age of the Despots_, p. 183.

[270] I must refer my readers to Crowe and Cavalcaselle for an estimate
of the influence exercised at Venice by Gentile de Fabriano, John
Alamannus, and the school of Squarcione. Antonello da Messina brought his
method of oil-painting into the city in 1470, and Gian Bellini learned
something at Padua from Andrea Mantegna. The true point about Venice,
however, is that the Venetian character absorbed, assimilated, and
converted to its own originality whatever touched it.

[271] The conditions of art in Flanders--wealthy, bourgeois, proud,
free--were not dissimilar to those of art in Venice. The misty flats of
Belgium have some of the atmospheric qualities of Venice. As Van Eyck is
to the Vivarini, so is Rubens to Paolo Veronese. This expresses the
amount of likeness and of difference.

[272] Jacopo and his sons Gentile and Giovanni.

[273] Notice particularly the Contadina type of S. Catherine in a picture
ascribed to Cordegliaghi in the Venetian Academy.

[274] These Scuole were the halls of meeting for companies called by the
names of patron saints.

[275] Notice in particular, from the series of pictures illustrating the
legend of S. Ursula, the very beautiful faces and figures of the saint
herself, and her young bridegroom, the Prince of Britain. Attendant
squires and pages in these paintings have all the charm of similar
subordinate personages in Pinturicchio, with none of his affectation.

[276] The most beautiful of these _angiolini_, with long flakes of flaxen
hair falling from their foreheads, are in a Sacra Conversazione of
Carpaccio's in the Academy. Gian Bellini's, in many similar pictures, are
of the same delicacy.

[277] What follows above about Giorgione is advanced with diffidence,
since the name of no other great painter has been so freely used to cover
the works of his inferiors.

[278] Lord Lansdowne's Giorgionesque picture of a young man crowned with
vine, playing and singing to two girls in a garden, for example. The
celebrated Concert of the Louvre Gallery, so charming for its landscape
and so voluptuous in its dreamy sense of Arcadian luxury, is given by
Crowe and Cavalcaselle to an imitator of Sebastian del Piombo. See
_History of Painting in North Italy_, vol. ii. p. 147.

[279] Under the fire of Crowe and Cavalcaselle's destructive criticism,
it would require more real courage than I possess to speak of the
"Entombment" in the Monte di Pieta at Treviso as genuine. Coarse and
unselect as are the types of the boy angels, as well as of the young
athletic giant, who plays the part in it of the dead Christ, this is a
truly grandiose and striking picture. Nothing proves the average
greatness of the Venetian masters more than the possibility of
attributing such compositions to obscure and subordinate craftsmen of the

[280] Crowe and Cavalcaselle assign this picture with some confidence and
with fair show of reason, to Cariani, on whom again they father the
frescoes at Colleoni's Castle of Malpaga. I have ventured to notice it
above in connection with Giorgione, since it exhibits some of the most
striking Giorgionesque qualities, and shows the ascendency of his
imagination over the Venetian School.

[281] Giorgione, b. 1478; d. 1511. Titian, b. 1477, d. 1576. Tintoretto,
b. 1512; d. 1594. Veronese, b. 1530; d. 1588.

[282] I cannot, for example, imagine Veronese painting anything like
Rubens' two pictures of the "Last Judgment" at Munich.

[283] For his sacred types see the "Marriage at Cana" in the Louvre, the
little "Crucifixion" and the "Baptism" of the Pitti, and the "Martyrdom
of S. Agata" in the Uffizzi.

[284] These examples are mostly chosen from the Scuola di S. Rocco and
the church of S. Maria dell' Orto at Venice; also from "Pietas," in the
Brera and the Pitti, the "Paradise" of the Ducal Palace, and a sketch for
"Paradise" in the Louvre.

[285] S. Maria dell' Orto.

[286] What is here said about Tintoretto is also true of Michael Angelo.
His sculpture in S. Lorenzo, compared with Greek sculpture, the norm and
canon of the perfect in that art, may be called an invasion of the realm
of poetry or music.

[287] There are probably not few of my readers who, after seeing this
painting in the Ducal Palace, will agree with me that it is, if not the
greatest, at any rate the most beautiful, oil picture in existence. In no
other picture has a poem of feeling and of fancy, a romance of varied
lights and shades, a symphony of delicately blended hues, a play of
attitude and movement transitory but in no sense forced or violent, been
more successfully expressed by means more simple or with effect more
satisfying. Something of the mythopoeic faculty must have survived in
Tintoretto, and enabled him to inspire the Greek tale with this intense
vitality of beauty.

[288] The first of these pictures is in the Ducal Palace, the other two
in the Academy at Venice.



Contrast of Michael Angelo and Cellini--Parentage and Boyhood of Michael
Angelo--Work with Ghirlandajo--Gardens of S. Marco--The Medicean
Circle--Early Essays in Sculpture--Visit to Bologna--First Visit to
Rome--The "Pieta" of S. Peter's--Michael Angelo as a Patriot and a Friend
of the Medici--Cartoon for the Battle of Pisa--Michael Angelo and Julius
II.--The Tragedy of the Tomb--Design for the Pope's Mausoleum--Visit to
Carrara--Flight from Rome--Michael Angelo at Bologna--Bronze Statue of
Julius--Return to Rome--Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel--Greek and Modern
Art--Raphael--Michael Angelo and Leo X.--S. Lorenzo--The new
Sacristy--Circumstances under which it was designed and partly
finished--Meaning of the Allegories--Incomplete state of Michael Angelo's
Marbles--Paul III.--The "Last Judgment"--Critiques of Contemporaries--The
Dome of S. Peter's--Vittoria Colonna--Tommaso Cavalieri--Personal Habits
of Michael Angelo--His Emotional Nature--Last Illness.

The life of Italian artists at the time of the Renaissance may be
illustrated by two biographies. Michael Angelo Buonarroti and Benvenuto
Cellini were almost opposite in all they thought and felt, experienced and
aimed at. The one impressed his own strong personality on art; the other
reflected the light and shadow of the age in the record of his manifold
existence. Cellini hovered, like some strong-winged creature, on the
surface of human activity, yielding himself to every impulse, seeking
every pleasure, and of beauty feeling only the rude animal compulsion.
Deep philosophic thoughts, ideas of death and judgment, the stern
struggles of the soul, encompassed Michael Angelo; the service of beauty
was with him religion. Cellini was the creature of the moment--the glass
and mirror of corrupt, enslaved, yet still resplendent Italy. In Michael
Angelo the genius of the Renaissance culminated; but his character was
rather that of an austere Republican, free and solitary amid the
multitudes of slaves and courtiers. Michael Angelo made art the vehicle of
lofty and soul-shaking thought. Cellini brought the fervour of an
inexhaustibly active nature to the service of sensuality, and taught his
art to be the handmaid of a soulless paganism. In these two men,
therefore, we study two aspects of their age. How far both were
exceptional, need not here be questioned; since their singularity consists
not so much in being different from other Italians of the sixteenth
century as in concentrating qualities elsewhere scattered and imperfect.

Michael Angelo was born in 1475 at Caprese, among the mountains of the
Casentino, where his father Lodovico held the office of Podesta. His
ancestry was honourable: the Buonarroti even claimed descent, but
apparently without due reason, from the princely house of Canossa.[289]
His mother gave him to be suckled by a stone-cutter's wife at Settignano,
so that in after days he used to say that he had drawn in the love of
chisels and mallets with his nurse's milk. As he grew, the boy developed
an invincible determination towards the arts. Lodovico from motives of
pride and prudence opposed his wishes, but without success. Michael Angelo
made friends with the lad Granacci, who was apprenticed to Domenico
Ghirlandajo, and at last induced his father to sign articles for him to
the same painter. In Ghirlandajo's workshop he learned the rudiments of
art, helping in the execution of the frescoes at S. Maria Novella, until
such time as the pupil proved his superiority as a draughtsman to his
teacher. The rupture between Michael Angelo and Ghirlandajo might be
compared with that between Beethoven and Haydn. In both cases a proud,
uncompromising, somewhat scornful student sought aid from a master great
in his own line but inferior in fire and originality of genius.[290] In
both cases the moment came when pupil and teacher perceived that the eagle
could no longer be confined within the hawk's nest, and that henceforth it
must sweep the skies alone. After leaving Ghirlandajo's _bottega_ at the
age of sixteen, Michael Angelo did in truth thenceforward through his life
pursue his art alone. Granacci procured him an introduction to the Medici,
and the two friends together frequented those gardens of S. Marco where
Lorenzo had placed his collection of antiquities. There the youth
discovered his vocation. Having begged a piece of marble and a chisel, he
struck out the Faun's mask that still is seen in the Bargello. It is worth
noticing that Michael Angelo seems to have done no merely prentice-work.
Not a fragment of his labour from the earliest to the latest was
insignificant, and only such thoughts as he committed to the perishable
materials of bronze or paper have been lost. There was nothing tentative
in his genius. Into art, as into a rich land, he came and conquered. In
like manner, the first sonnet composed by Dante is scarcely less precious
than the last lines of the "Paradiso." This is true of all the highest
artistic natures, who need no preparations and have no period of groping.

Lorenzo de' Medici discerned in Michael Angelo a youth of eminent genius,
and took the lad into his own household. The astonished father found
himself suddenly provided with a comfortable post and courted for the sake
of the young sculptor. In Lorenzo's palace the real education of Michael
Angelo began. He sat at the same table with Ficino, Pico, and Poliziano,
listening to dialogues on Plato and drinking in the golden poetry of
Greece. Greek literature and philosophy, expounded by the men who had
discovered them, and who were no less proud of their discovery than
Columbus of his passage to the Indies, first moulded his mind to those
lofty thoughts which it became the task of his life to express in form. At
the same time he heard the preaching of Savonarola. In the Duomo and the
cloister of S. Marco another portion of his soul was touched, and he
acquired that deep religious tone which gives its majesty and terror to
the Sistine. Much in the same way was Milton educated by the classics in
conjunction with the Scriptures. Both of these austere natures assimilated
from pagan art and Jewish prophecy the twofold elements they needed for
their own imaginative life. Both Michael Angelo and Milton, in spite of
their parade of classic style, were separated from the Greek world by a
gulf of Hebrew and of Christian feeling.

While Michael Angelo was thus engaged in studying antique sculpture and in
listening to Pico and Savonarola, he carved his first bas-relief--a
"Battle of Hercules with the Centaurs," suggested to him by
Poliziano.[291] Meantime Lorenzo died. His successor Piero set the young
man, it is said, to model a snow statue, and then melted like a shape of
snow himself down from his pedestal of power in Florence. Upon the
expulsion of the tyrant and the proclamation of the new republic, it was
dangerous for house-friends of the Casa Medici to be seen in the city.
Michael Angelo, therefore, made his way to Bologna, where he spent some
months in the palace of Gian Francesco Aldovrandini, studying Dante and
working at an angel for the shrine of S. Dominic. As soon, however, as it
seemed safe to do so, he returned to Florence; and to this period belongs
the statue of the "Sleeping Cupid," which was sold as an antique to the
Cardinal Raffaello Riario.

A dispute about the price of this "Cupid" took Michael Angelo in 1496 to
Rome, where it was destined that the greater portion of his life should he
spent, and his noblest works of art should be produced. Here, while the
Borgias were turning the Vatican into a den of thieves and harlots, he
executed the purest of all his statues--a "Pieta" in marble.[292] Christ
is lying dead upon his mother's knees. With her right arm she supports his
shoulders; her left hand is gently raised as though to say, "Behold and
see!" All that art can do to make death beautiful and grief sublime, is
achieved in this masterpiece, which was never surpassed by Michael Angelo
in later years. Already, at the age of four-and-twenty, he had matured his
"terrible manner." Already were invented in his brain that race of
superhuman beings, who became the hieroglyphs of his impassioned
utterance. Madonna has the small head and heroic torso used by this master
to symbolise force. We feel she has no difficulty in holding the dead
Christ upon her ample lap and in her powerful arms. Yet while the "Pieta"
is wholly Michael Angelesque, we find no lack of repose, none of those
contorted lines that are commonly urged against his manner. It is a sober
and harmonious composition, combining the profoundest religious feeling
with classical tranquillity of expression. Again, though the group is
forcibly original, this effect of originality is produced, as in all the
best work of the golden age, not by new and startling conception, but by
the handling of an old and well-worn motive with the grandeur of
consummate style. What the genius of Italian sculpture had for generations
been striving after, finds its perfect realisation here. It was precisely
by thus crowning the endeavours of antecedent artists--by bringing the
opening buds of painting and sculpture to full blossom, and exhausting the
resources of a long sustained and common inspiration, that the great
masters proved their supremacy and rendered an advance beyond their
vantage ground impossible. To those who saw and comprehended this "Pieta"
in 1500, it must have been evident that a new power of portraying the very
soul had been manifested in sculpture--a power unknown to the Greeks
because it lay outside the sphere of their spiritual experience, and
unknown to modern artists because it was beyond their faculties of
execution and conception. Yet who in Rome, among the courtiers of the
Borgias, had brain or heart to understand these things?

In 1501 Michael Angelo returned to Florence, where he stayed until the
year 1505. This period was fruitful of results on which his after fame
depended. The great statue of "David," the two unfinished medallions of
Madonna in relief, the "Holy Family of the Tribune" painted for Angelo
Doni, and the Cartoon of the "Battle of Pisa" were now produced; and no
man's name, not even Lionardo's, stood higher in esteem thenceforward. It
will be remembered that Savonarola was now dead, but that his constitution
still existed under the presidency of Pietro Soderini--the _non mai
abbastanza lodato Cavaliere_, as Pitti calls him, the _anima sciocca_ of
Machiavelli's epigram.[293] Since Michael Angelo at this time was employed
in the service of masters who had superseded his old friends and patrons,
it may be well to review here his attitude in general toward the house of
Medici. Throughout his lifetime there continued a conflict between the
artist and the citizen--the artist owing education and employment to
successive members of that house, the citizen resenting their despotism
and doing all that in him lay at times to keep them out of Florence. As a
patriot, as the student of Dante and the disciple of Savonarola, Michael
Angelo detested tyrants.[294] One of his earliest madrigals, conceived as
a dialogue between Florence and her exiles, expresses his mind so
decidedly that I have ventured to translate it;[295] the exiles first
address Florence, and she answers:--

"Lady, for joy of lovers numberless
Thou wast created fair as angels are.
Sure God hath fallen asleep in heaven afar,
When one man calls the boon of many his.
Give back to streaming eyes
The daylight of Thy face, that seems to shun
Those who must live defrauded of their bliss!"

"Vex not your pure desire with tears and sighs;
For he who robs you of my light, hath none.
Dwelling in fear, sin hath no happiness;
Since amid those who love, their joy is less
Whose great desire great plenty still curtails,
Than theirs who, poor, have hope that never fails."

As an artist, owing his advancement to Lorenzo, he had accepted favours
binding him by ties of gratitude to the Medici, and even involving him in
the downfall of their house. For Leo X. he undertook to build the facade
of S. Lorenzo and the Laurentian Library. For Clement VII. he began the
statues of the Dukes of Urbino and Nemours. Yet, while accepting these
commissions from Medicean Popes, he could not keep his tongue from
speaking openly against their despotism. After the sack of Prato it
appears from his correspondence that he had exposed himself to danger by
some expression of indignation.[296] This was in 1512, when Soderini fled
and left the gates of Florence open to the Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici.
During the siege of Florence in 1529 he fortified Samminiato, and allowed
himself to be named one of the Otto di Guerra chosen for the express
purpose of defending Florence against the Medici.[297] After the fall of
the city he made peace with Clement by consenting to finish the tombs of
S. Lorenzo. Yet, while doing all he could to save those insignificant
dukes from oblivion by the immortality of his art, Michael Angelo was
conscious of his own and his country's shame. The memorable lines placed
in the mouth of his "Night," sufficiently display his feeling after the
final return of the Medici in 1530:[298]--

Sweet is my sleep, but more to be mere stone,
So long as ruin and dishonour reign;
To hear nought, to feel nought, is my great gain:
Then wake me not, speak in an under-tone.

When Clement VII. died, the last real representative of Michael Angelo's
old patrons perished, and the sculptor was free to quit Florence for ever.
During the reign of Duke Cosimo he never set foot in his native city. It
is thus clear that the patriot, the artist, and the man of honour were at
odds in him. Loyalty obliged him to serve the family to whom he owed so
much; he was, moreover, dependent for opportunities of doing great work on
the very men whose public policy he execrated. Hence arose a compromise
and a confusion, hard to accommodate with our conception of his upright
and unyielding temper. Only by voluntary exile, and after age had made him
stubborn to resist seductive offers, could Michael Angelo act up to the
promptings of his heart and declare himself a citizen who held no truce
with tyrants. I have already in this work had occasion to compare Dante,
Michael Angelo, and Machiavelli.[299] In estimating the conduct of the two
last, it must not be forgotten that, by the action of inevitable causes,
republican freedom had become in Italy a thing of the past; and in judging
between Machiavelli and Michael Angelo, we have to remember that the
sculptor's work involved no sacrifice of principle or self-respect.
Carving statues for the tombs of Medicean dukes was a different matter
from dedicating the "Prince" to them.

This digression, though necessary for the right understanding of Michael
Angelo's relation to the Medici, has carried me beyond his Florentine
residence in 1501-1505. The great achievement of that period was not the
"David" but the Cartoon for the "Battle of Pisa."[300] The hall of the
Consiglio Grande had been opened, and one wall had been assigned to
Lionardo. Michael Angelo was now invited by the Signory to prepare a
design for another side of the state-chamber. When he displayed his
cartoon to the Florentines, they pronounced that Da Vinci, hitherto the
undisputed prince of painting, was surpassed. It is impossible for us to
form an opinion on this matter, since both cartoons are lost beyond
recovery.[301] We only know that, as Cellini says, "while they lasted,
they formed the school of the whole world,"[302] and made an epoch in the
history of art. When we inquire what was the subject of Michael Angelo's
famous picture, we find that he had aimed at representing nothing of more
moment than a group of soldiers suddenly surprised by a trumpet-call to
battle, while bathing in the Arno--a crowd of naked men in every posture
indicating haste, anxiety, and struggle. Not for its intellectual meaning,
not for its colour, not for its sentiment, was this design so highly
prized. Its science won the admiration of artists and the public. At this
period of the Renaissance the bold and perfect drawing of the body gave an
exquisite delight. Hence, perhaps, Vasari's vapid talk about "stravaganti
attitudini," "divine figure," "scorticamenti," and so forth--as if the
soul of figurative art were in such matters. The science of Michael
Angelo, which in his own mind was sternly subordinated to thought, had
already turned the weaker heads of his generation.[303] A false ideal took
possession of the fancy, and such criticism as that of Vasari and Pietro
Aretino became inevitable.

Meanwhile, a new Pope had been elected, and in 1505 Michael Angelo was
once more called to Rome. Throughout his artist's life he oscillated thus
between Rome and Florence--Florence the city of his ancestry, and Rome the
city of his soul; Florence where he learnt his art, and Rome where he
displayed what art can do of highest. Julius was a patron of different
stamp from Lorenzo the Magnificent. He was not learned in book-lore:
"Place a sword in my hand!" he said to the sculptor at Bologna: "of
letters I know nothing." Yet he was no less capable of discerning
excellence than the Medici himself, and his spirit strove incessantly
after the accomplishment of vast designs. Between Julius and Michael
Angelo there existed a strong bond of sympathy due to community of
temperament. Both aimed at colossal achievements in their respective
fields of action. The imagination of both was fired by large and simple,
rather than luxurious and subtle thoughts. Both were _uomini terribili_,
to use a phrase denoting vigour of character made formidable by an abrupt
uncompromising temper. Both worked _con furia_, with the impetuosity of
daemonic natures; and both left the impress of their individuality graven
indelibly upon their age.

Julius ordered the sculptor to prepare his mausoleum. Michael Angelo
asked, "Where am I to place it?" Julius replied, "In S. Peter's." But the
old basilica of Christendom was too small for this ambitious pontiff's
sepulchre, designed by the audacious artist. It was therefore decreed that
a new S. Peter's should be built to hold it. In this way the two great
labours of Buonarroti's life were mapped out for him in a moment. But, by
a strange contrariety of fate, to Bramante and San Gallo fell respectively
the planning and the spoiling of S. Peter's. It was only in extreme old
age that Michael Angelo crowned it with that world's miracle, the dome.
The mausoleum, to form a canopy for which the building was designed,
dwindled down at last to the statue of "Moses" thrust out of the way in
the church of S. Pietro in Vincoli. "La tragedia della Sepoltura," as
Condivi aptly terms the history of Giulio's monument, began thus in 1505
and dragged on till 1545.[304] Rarely did Michael Angelo undertake a work
commensurate with his creative power, but something came to interrupt its
execution; while tasks outside his sphere, for which he never
bargained--the painting of the Sistine Chapel, the facade of S. Lorenzo,
the fortification of Samminiato--were thrust upon him in the midst of
other more congenial labours. What we possess of his achievement, is a
_torso_ of his huge designs.

Giulio's tomb, as he conceived it, would have been the most stupendous
monument of sculpture in the world.[305] That mountain of marble covered
with figures wrought in stone and bronze, was meant to be the sculptured
poem of the thought of Death; no mere apotheosis of Pope Julius, but a
pageant of the soul triumphant over the limitations of mortality. All that
dignifies humanity--arts, sciences, and laws; the victory that crowns
heroic effort; the majesty of contemplation, and the energy of
action--was symbolised upon ascending tiers of the great pyramid; while
the genii of heaven and earth upheld the open tomb, where lay the dead man
waiting for the Resurrection. Of this gigantic scheme only one imperfect
drawing now remains.[306] The "Moses" and the "Bound Captives"[307] are
all that Michael Angelo accomplished. For forty years the "Moses" remained
in his workshop. For forty years he cherished a hope that his plan might
still in part be executed, complaining the while that it would have been
better for him to have made sulphur matches all his life than to have
taken up the desolating artist's trade. "Every day," he cries, "I am
stoned as though I had crucified Christ. My youth has been lost, bound
hand and foot to this tomb."[308] It was decreed apparently that Michael
Angelo should exist for after ages as a fragment; and such might Pheidias
among the Greeks have been, if he had worked for ephemeral Popes and
bankrupt princes instead of Pericles. Italy in the sixteenth century,
dislocated, distracted, and drained of her material resources, gave no
opportunity to artists for the creation of monuments colossal in their

Michael Angelo spent eight months at this period among the stone quarries
of Carrara, selecting marble for the Pope's tomb.[309] There his brain,
always teeming with gigantic conceptions, suggested to him a new fancy.
Could not the headland jutting out beyond Sarzana into the Tyrrhene Sea
be carved by his workmen into a Pharos? To transmute a mountain into a
statue, holding a city in either hand, had been the dream of a Greek
artist. Michael Angelo revived the bold thought; but to execute it would
have been almost beyond his power. Meanwhile, in November 1505, the marble
was shipped, and the quays of Rome were soon crowded with blocks destined
for the mausoleum. But when the sculptor arrived, he found that enemies
had been poisoning the Pope's mind against him, and that Julius had
abandoned the scheme of the mausoleum. On six successive days he was
denied entrance to the Vatican, and the last time with such rudeness that
he determined to quit Rome.[310] He hurried straightway to his house, sold
his effects, mounted, and rode without further ceremony toward Florence,
sending to the Pope a written message bidding him to seek for Michael
Angelo elsewhere in future than in Rome. It is related that Julius,
anxious to recover what had been so lightly lost, sent several couriers to
bring him back.[311] Michael Angelo announced that he intended to accept
the Sultan's commission for building a bridge at Pera, and refused to be
persuaded to return to Rome. This was at Poggibonsi. When he had reached
Florence, Julius addressed, himself to Soderini, who, unwilling to
displease the Pope, induced Michael Angelo to seek the pardon of the
master he had so abruptly quitted. By that time Julius had left the city
for the camp; and when Michael Angelo finally appeared before him,
fortified with letters from the Signory of Florence, it was at Bologna
that they met. "You have waited thus long, it seems," said the Pope, well
satisfied but surly, "till we should come ourselves to seek you." The
prelate who had introduced the sculptor now began to make excuses for him,
whereupon Julius turned in a fury upon the officious courtier, and had him
beaten from his presence. A few days after this encounter Michael Angelo
was ordered to cast a bronze statue of Julius for the frontispiece of S.
Petronio. The sculptor objected that brass-foundry was not his affair.
"Never mind," said Julius; "get to work, and we will cast your statue till
it comes out perfect."[312] Michael Angelo did as he was bid, and the
statue was set up in 1508 above the great door of the church. The Pope was
seated, with his right hand raised; in the other were the keys. When
Julius asked him whether he was meant to bless or curse the Bolognese with
that uplifted hand, Buonarroti found an answer worthy of a courtier: "Your
Holiness is threatening this people, if it be not wise." Less than four
years afterwards Julius lost his hold upon Bologna, the party of the
Bentivogli returned to power, and the statue was destroyed. A bronze
cannon, called the "Giulia," was made out of Michael Angelo's masterpiece
by the best gunsmith of his century, Alfonso Duke of Ferrara.

It seems that Michael Angelo's flight from Rome in 1506 was due not only
to his disappointment about the tomb, but also to his fear lest Julius
should give him uncongenial work to do. Bramante, if we may believe the
old story, had whispered that it was ill-omened for a man to build his own
sepulchre, and that it would be well to employ the sculptor's genius upon
the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Accordingly, on his return to Rome in
1508, this new task was allotted him. In vain did Michael Angelo remind
his master of the months wasted in the quarries of Carrara; in vain he
pointed to his designs for the monument, and pleaded that he was not a
painter by profession.[313] Julius had made up his mind that he should
paint the Sistine. Was not the cartoon at Florence a sufficient proof that
he could do this if he chose, and had he not learned the art of fresco in
the _bottega_ of his master Ghirlandajo? Whatever his original reluctance
may have been, it was speedily overcome; and the cartoons for the ceiling,
projected with the unity belonging to a single great conception, were
ready by the summer of 1508.[314]

The difficulty of his new task aroused the artist's energy. If we could
accept the legend, whereby contemporaries expressed their admiration for
this Titanic labour, we should have to believe the impossible--that
Michael Angelo ground his own colours, prepared his own plaster, and
completed with his own hand the whole work, after having first conquered
the obstacles of scaffolding and vault-painting by machines of his own
invention,[315] and that only twenty months were devoted to the execution
of a series of paintings almost unequalled in their delicacy, and
surpassed by few single masterpieces in extent. What may be called the
mythus of the Sistine Chapel has at last been finally disproved, partly by
the personal observations of Mr. Heath Wilson, and partly by the
publication of Michael Angelo's correspondence.[316] Though some
uncertainty remains as to the exact dates of the commencement and
completion of the vault, we now know that Michael Angelo continued
painting it at intervals during four successive years; and though we are
not accurately informed about his helpers, we no longer can doubt that
able craftsmen yielded him assistance. On May 10, 1508, he signed a
receipt for five hundred ducats advanced by Julius for the necessary
expenses of the undertaking; and on the next day he paid ten ducats to a
mason for rough plastering and surface-finishing applied to the vault.
There is good reason to believe that he began his painting during the
autumn of 1508. On November 1, 1509, a certain portion was uncovered to
the public; and before the end of the year 1512 the whole was completed.
Thus, though the legend of Vasari and Condivi has been stripped of the
miraculous by careful observation and keen-sighted criticism, enough
remains to justify the sense of wonder that expressed itself in their
exaggerated statements. No one but Michael Angelo could have done what he
did in the Sistine Chapel. The conception was entirely his own. The
execution, except in subordinate details and in matters pertaining to the
mason's craft, was also his. The rapidity with which he laboured was
astounding. Mr. Heath Wilson infers from the condition of the plaster and
the joinings observable in different parts, that the figure of Adam,
highly finished as it is, was painted in three days. Nor need we strip
the romance from that time-honoured tale of the great master's solitude.
Lying on his back beneath the dreary vault, communing with Dante,
Savonarola, and the Hebrew prophets in the intervals of labour, locking up
the chapel-doors in order to elude the jealous curiosity of rivals, eating
but little and scarcely sleeping, he accomplished in sixteen months the
first part of his gigantic task.[317] From time to time Julius climbed the
scaffold and inspected the painter's progress. Dreading lest death should
come before the work were finished, he kept crying, "When will you make an
end?" "When I can," answered the painter. "You seem to want," rejoined the
petulant old man, "that I should have you thrown down from the scaffold."
Then Michael Angelo's brush stopped. The machinery was removed, and the
frescoes were uncovered in their incompleteness to the eyes of Rome.

Entering the Cappella Sistina, and raising our eyes to sweep the roof, we
have above us a long and somewhat narrow oblong space, vaulted with round
arches, and covered from end to end, from side to side, with a network of
human forms. The whole is coloured like the dusky, tawny, blueish clouds
of thunderstorms. There is no luxury of decorative art;--no gold, no
paint-box of vermilion or emerald green, has been lavished here. Sombre
and aerial, like shapes condensed from vapour, or dreams begotten by Ixion
upon mists of eve or dawn, the phantoms evoked by the sculptor throng that
space. Nine compositions, carrying down the sacred history from the
creation of light to the beginning of sin in Noah's household, fill the
central compartments of the roof. Beneath these, seated on the spandrils,
are alternate prophets and sibyls, twelve in all, attesting to the future
deliverance and judgment of the world by Christ. The intermediate spaces
between these larger masses, on the roof and in the lunettes of the
windows, swarm with figures, some naked and some draped--women and
children, boys and young men, grouped in tranquil attitudes, or adapting
themselves with freedom to their station on the curves and angles of the
architecture. In these subordinate creations Michael Angelo deigned to
drop the terrible style, in order that he might show how sweet and full of
charm his art could be. The grace of colouring, realised in some of those
youthful and athletic forms, is such as no copy can represent. Every
posture of beauty and of strength, simple or strained, that it is possible
for men to assume, has been depicted here. Yet the whole is governed by a
strict sense of sobriety. The restlessness of Correggio, the violent
attitudinising of Tintoretto, belong alike to another and less noble

To speak adequately of these form-poems would be quite impossible.
Buonarroti seems to have intended to prove by them that the human body has
a language, inexhaustible in symbolism--every limb, every feature, and
every attitude being a word full of significance to those who comprehend,
just as music is a language whereof each note and chord and phrase has
correspondence with the spiritual world. It may be presumptuous after this
fashion to interpret the design of him who called into existence the
heroic population of the Sistine. Yet Michael Angelo has written lines
which in some measure justify the reading. This is how he closes one of
his finest sonnets to Vittoria Colonna:

Nor hath God deigned to show Himself elsewhere
More clearly than in human forms sublime;
Which, since they image Him, compel my love.

Therefore to him a well-shaped hand, or throat, or head, a neck superbly
poised on an athletic chest, the sway of the trunk above the hips, the
starting of the muscles on the flank, the tendons of the ankle, the
outline of the shoulder when the arm is raised, the backward bending of
the loins, the curves of a woman's breast, the contours of a body careless
in repose or strained for action, were all words pregnant with profoundest
meaning, whereby fit utterance might be given to the thoughts that raise
man near to God. But, it may be asked, what poems of action as well as
feeling are to be expressed in this form-language? The answer is simple.
Paint or carve the body of a man, and, as you do it nobly, you will give
the measure of both highest thought and most impassioned deed. This is the
key to Michael Angelo's art. He cared but little for inanimate nature. The
landscapes of Italy, so eloquent in their sublimity and beauty, were
apparently a blank to him. His world was the world of ideas, taking
visible form, incarnating themselves in man. One language the master had
to serve him in all need--the language of plastic human form; but it was
to him a tongue as rich in its variety of accent and of intonation as
Beethoven's harmonies.

In the Sistine Chapel, where plastic art is so supreme, we are bound to
ask the further question. What was the difference between Michael Angelo
and a Greek? The Parthenon with its processions of youths and maidens, its
gods and heroes, rejoicing in their strength, and robed with raiment that
revealed their living form, made up a symphony of meaning as full as this
of Michael Angelo, and far more radiant. The Greek sculptor embraced
humanity in his work no less comprehensively than the Italian; and what he
had to say was said more plainly in the speech they both could use. But
between Pheidias and Michael Angelo lay Christianity, the travail of the
world through twenty centuries. Clear as morning, and calm in the
unconsciousness of beauty, are those heroes of the youth of Hellas. All
is grace, repose, strength shown but not asserted. Michael Angelo's Sibyls
and Prophets are old and wrinkled, bowed with thought, consumed by vigils,
startled from tranquillity by visions, overburdened with the messages of
God. The loveliest among them, the Delphic, lifts dilated eyes, as though
to follow dreams that fly upon the paths of trance. Even the young men
strain their splendid limbs, and seem to shout or shriek, as if the life
in them contained some element of pain. "He maketh his angels spirits, and
his ministers a flame of fire:" this verse rises to our lips when we seek
to describe the genii that crowd the cornice of the Sistine Chapel. The
human form in the work of Pheidias wore a joyous and sedate serenity; in
that of Michael Angelo it is turbid with a strange and awful sense of
inbreathed agitation. Through the figure-language of the one was spoken
the pagan creed, bright, unperturbed, and superficial. The sculpture of
the Parthenon accomplished the transfiguration of the natural man. In the
other man awakes to a new life of contest, disillusionment, hope, dread,
and heavenward striving. It was impossible for the Greek and the Italian,
bearing so different a burden of prophecy, even though they used the same
speech, to tell the same tale; and this should be remembered by those
critics who cast exaggeration and contortion in the teeth of Michael
Angelo. Between the birth of the free spirit in Greece and its second
birth in Italy, there yawned a sepulchre wherein the old faiths of the
world lay buried and whence Christ had risen.[318]

The star of Raphael, meanwhile, had arisen over Rome. Between the two
greatest painters of their age the difference was striking. Michael Angelo
stood alone, his own master, fashioned in his own school. A band of
artists called themselves by Raphael's name; and in his style we trace the
influence of several predecessors. Michael Angelo rarely received visits,
frequented no society, formed no pupils, and boasted of no friends at
Court. Raphael was followed to the Vatican by crowds of students; his
levees were like those of a prince; he counted among his intimates the
best scholars and poets of the age; his hand was pledged in marriage to a
cardinal's niece. It does not appear that they engaged in petty rivalries,
or that they came much into personal contact with each other. While
Michael Angelo was so framed that he could learn from no man, Raphael
gladly learned of Michael Angelo; and after the uncovering of the Sistine
frescoes, his manner showed evident signs of alteration. Julius, who had
given Michael Angelo the Sistine, set Raphael to work upon the Stanze. For
Julius were painted the "Miracle of Bolsena" and the "Expulsion of
Heliodorus from the Temple," scenes containing courtly compliments for the
old Pope. No such compliments had been paid by Michael Angelo. Like his
great parallel in music, Beethoven, he displayed an almost arrogant
contempt for the conventionalities whereby an artist wins the favour of
his patrons and the world.

After the death of Julius, Leo X., in character the reverse of his fiery
predecessor, and by temperament unsympathetic to the austere Michael
Angelo, found nothing better for the sculptor's genius than to set him at
work upon the facade of S. Lorenzo at Florence. The better part of the
years between 1516 and 1520 was spent in quarrying marble at Carrara,
Pietra Santa, and Seravezza. This is the most arid and unfruitful period
of Michael Angelo's long life, a period of delays and thwarted schemes and
servile labours. What makes the sense of disappointment greater, is that
the facade of S. Lorenzo was not even finished.[319] We hurry over this
wilderness of wasted months, and arrive at another epoch of artistic

Already in 1520 the Cardinal Giulio de' Medici had conceived the notion of
building a sacristy in S. Lorenzo to receive the monuments of Cosimo, the
founder of the house, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Giuliano Duke of Nemours,
Lorenzo Duke of Urbino, Leo X., and himself.[320] To Michael Angelo was
committed the design, and in 1521 he began to apply himself to the work.
Nine years had now elapsed since the roof of the Sistine chapel had been
finished, and during this time Michael Angelo had produced little except
the "Christ" of S. Maria sopra Minerva. This new undertaking occupied him
at intervals between 1521 and 1534, a space of time decisive for the
fortunes of the Medici in Florence. Leo died, and Giulio after a few years
succeeded him as Clement VII. The bastards of the house, Ippolito and
Alessandro, were expelled from Florence in 1527. Rome was sacked by the
Imperial troops; then Michael Angelo quitted the statues and helped to
defend his native city against the Prince of Orange. After the failure of
the Republicans, he was recalled to his labours by command of Clement.
Sullenly and sadly he quarried marbles for the sacristy. Sadly and
sullenly he used his chisel year by year, making the very stones cry that
shame and ruin were the doom of his country. At last in 1534 Clement died.
Then Michael Angelo flung down his mallet. The monuments remained
unfinished, and the sculptor set foot in Florence no more.[321]

The Sacristy of S. Lorenzo was built by Michael Angelo and panelled with
marbles to receive the sculpture he meant to place there.[322] Thus the
colossal statues of Giuliano and Lorenzo were studied with a view to their
light and shadow as much as to their form; and this is a fact to be
remembered by those who visit the chapel where Buonarroti laboured both as
architect and sculptor. Of the two Medici, it is not fanciful to say that
the "Duke of Urbino" is the most immovable of spectral shapes eternalised
in marble; while the "Duke of Nemours," more graceful and elegant, seems
intended to present a contrast to this terrible thought-burdened
form.[323] The allegorical figures, stretched on segments of ellipses
beneath the pedestals of the two dukes, indicate phases of darkness and of
light, of death and life. They are two women and two men; tradition names
them "Night" and "Day," "Twilight" and "Dawning." Thus in the statues
themselves and in their attendant genii we have a series of abstractions,
symbolising the sleep and waking of existence, action and thought, the
gloom of death, the lustre of life, and the intermediate states of sadness
and of hope that form the borderland of both. Life is a dream between two
slumbers; sleep is death's twin-brother; night is the shadow of death;
death is the gate of life:--such is the mysterious mythology wrought by
the sculptor of the modern world in marble. All these figures, by the
intensity of their expression, the vagueness of their symbolism, force us
to think and question. What, for example, occupies Lorenzo's brain?
Bending forward, leaning his chin upon his wrist, placing the other hand
upon his knee, on what does he for ever ponder? The sight, as Rogers said
well, "fascinates and is intolerable." Michael Angelo has shot the beaver
of the helmet forward on his forehead, and bowed his head, so as to clothe
the face in darkness. But behind the gloom there is no skull, as Rogers
fancied. The whole frame of the powerful man is instinct with some
imperious thought. Has he outlived his life and fallen upon everlasting
contemplation? Is he brooding, injured and indignant, over his own doom
and the extinction of his race? Is he condemned to witness in immortal
immobility the woes of Italy he helped to cause? Or has the sculptor
symbolised in him the burden of that personality we carry with us in this
life and bear for ever when we wake into another world? Beneath this
incarnation of oppressive thought there lie, full-length and naked, the
figures of Dawn and Twilight, Morn and Evening. So at least they are
commonly called: and these names are not inappropriate; for the breaking
of the day and the approach of night are metaphors for many transient
conditions of the soul. It is only as allegories in a large sense,
comprehending both the physical and intellectual order, and capable of
various interpretation, that any of these statues can be understood. Even
the Dukes do not pretend to be portraits: and hence in part perhaps the
uncertainty that has gathered round them. Very tranquil and noble is
Twilight: a giant in repose, he meditates, leaning upon his elbow, looking
down. But Dawn starts from her couch, as though some painful summons had
reached her sunk in dreamless sleep, and called her forth to suffer. Her
waking to consciousness is like that of one who has been drowned, and who
finds the return to life agony. Before her eyes, seen even through the
mists of slumber, are the ruin and the shame of Italy. Opposite lies
Night, so sorrowful, so utterly absorbed in darkness and the shade of
death, that to shake off that everlasting lethargy seems impossible. Yet
she is not dead. If we raise our voices, she too will stretch her limbs
and, like her sister, shudder into sensibility with sighs. Only we must
not wake her; for he who fashioned her, has told us that her sleep of
stone is great good fortune. Both of these women are large and brawny,
unlike the Fates of Pheidias in their muscular maturity. The burden of
Michael Angelo's thought was too tremendous to be borne by virginal or
graceful beings. He had to make women no less capable of suffering, no
less world-wearied, than his country.

Standing before these statues, we do not cry. How beautiful! We murmur,
How terrible, how grand! Yet, after long gazing, we find them gifted with
beauty beyond grace. In each of them there is a palpitating thought, torn
from the artist's soul and crystallised in marble. It has been said that
architecture is petrified music. In the sacristy of S. Lorenzo we feel
impelled to remember phrases of Beethoven. Each of these statues becomes
for us a passion, fit for musical expression, but turned like Niobe to
stone. They have the intellectual vagueness, the emotional certainty, that
belong to the motives of a symphony. In their allegories, left without a
key, sculpture has passed beyond her old domain of placid concrete form.
The anguish of intolerable emotion, the quickening of the consciousness to
a sense of suffering, the acceptance of the inevitable, the strife of the
soul with destiny, the burden and the passion of mankind:--that is what
they contain in their cold chisel-tortured marble. It is open to critics
of the school of Lessing to object that here is the suicide of sculpture.
It is easy to remark that those strained postures and writhen limbs may
have perverted the taste of lesser craftsmen. Yet if Michael Angelo was
called to carve Medicean statues after the sack of Rome and the fall of
Florence--if he was obliged in sober sadness to make sculpture a fit
language for his sorrow-laden heart--how could he have wrought more
truthfully than thus? To imitate him without sharing his emotions or
comprehending his thoughts, as the soulless artist of the decadence
attempted, was without any doubt a grievous error. Surely also we may
regret, not without reason, that in the evil days upon which he had
fallen, the fair antique "Heiterkeit" and "Allgemeinheit" were beyond his

Michael Angelo left the tombs of the Medici unfinished; nor, in spite of
Duke Cosimo's earnest entreaties, would he afterwards return to Florence
to complete them. Lorenzo's features are but rough-hewn; so is the face of
Night. Day seems struggling into shape beneath his mask of rock, and
Twilight shows everywhere the tooth-dint of the chisel. To leave
unfinished was the fate of Michael Angelo--partly too, perhaps, his
preference; for he was easily deterred from work. Many of his marbles are
only just begun. The two medallion "Madonnas," the "Madonna and Child" in
S. Lorenzo, the "Head of Brutus," the "Bound Captives," and the "Pieta" in
the Duomo of Florence, are instances of masterpieces in the rough. He
loved to fancy that the form dwelt within the stone, and that the chisel
disencumbered it of superfluity. Therefore, to his eye, foreseeing what
the shape would be when the rude envelope was chipped away, the marble
mask may have taken the appearance of a veil or mantle. He may have found
some fascination in the incompleteness that argued want of will but not of
art, and a rough-hewn Madonna may have been to him what a Dryad still
enclosed within a gnarled oak was to a Greek poet's fancy. We are not,
however, justified in therefore assuming, as a recent critic has
suggested, that Michael Angelo sought to realise a certain preconceived
effect by want of finish. There is enough in the distracted circumstances
of his life and in his temper, at once passionate and downcast, to account
for fragmentary and imperfect performance; nor must it be forgotten that
the manual labour of the sculptor in the sixteenth century was by no means
so light as it is now. A decisive argument against this theory is that
Buonarroti's three most celebrated statues--the "Pieta" in S. Peter's, the
"Moses" and the "Dawn"--are executed with the highest polish it is
possible for stone to take.[324] That he always aimed at this high finish,
but often fell below it through discontent and _ennui_ and the importunity
of patrons, we have the best reason to believe.

Michael Angelo had now reached his fifty-ninth year. Lionardo and Raphael
had already passed away, and were remembered as the giants of a bygone age
of gold. Correggio was in his last year. Andrea del Sarto was dead.
Nowhere except at Venice did Italian art still flourish; and the mundane
style of Titian was not to the sculptor's taste. He had overlived the
greatness of his country, and saw Italy in ruins. Yet he was destined to
survive another thirty years, another lifetime of Masaccio or Raphael, and
to witness still worse days. When we call Michael Angelo the interpreter
of the burden and the pain of the Renaissance, we must remember this long
weary old age, during which in solitude and silence he watched the
extinction of Florence, the institution of the Inquisition, and the
abasement of the Italian spirit beneath the tyranny of Spain. His sonnets,
written chiefly in this latter period of life, turn often on the thought
of death. His love of art yields to religious hope and fear, and he
bemoans a youth and manhood spent in vanity. Once when he injured his leg
by a fall from the scaffolding in the Sistine Chapel, he refused
assistance, shut himself up at home, and lay waiting for deliverance in
death. His life was only saved by the forcible interference of friends.

In 1534 a new Eurystheus arose for our Hercules. The Cardinal Alessandro
Farnese, a fox by nature and infamous through his indulgence for a vicious
bastard, was made Pope under the name of Paul III.[325] Michael Angelo had
shed lustre on the reigns of three Popes, his predecessors. For thirty
years the Farnese had watched him with greedy eyes. After Julius, Leo, and
Clement, the time was now come for the heroic craftsman to serve Paul. The
Pope found him at work in his _bottega_ on the tomb of Julius; for the
"tragedy of the mausoleum" still dragged on. The statue of Moses was
finished. "That," said Paul, "is enough for one Pope. Give me your
contract with the Duke of Urbino; I will tear it. Have I waited all these
years; and now that I am Pope at last, shall I not have you for myself? I
want you in the Sistine Chapel." Accordingly Michael Angelo, who had
already made cartoons for the "Last Judgment" in the life of Clement, once
more laid aside the chisel and took up the brush. For eight years, between
1534 and 1542, he laboured at the fresco above the high altar of the
chapel, devoting his terrible genius to a subject worthy of the times in
which he lived. Since he had first listened while a youth to the
prophecies of Savonarola, the woes announced in that apocalypse had all
come true. Italy had been scourged, Rome sacked, the Church chastised.
And yet the world had not grown wiser; vice was on the increase, virtue
grew more rare.[326] It was impossible after the experience of the
immediate past and within view of the present and the future, to conceive
of God as other than an angry judge, vindictive and implacable.

The "Last Judgment" has long been the most celebrated of Michael Angelo's
paintings; partly no doubt because it was executed in the plenitude of his
fame, with the eyes of all Italy upon him; partly because its size arouses
vulgar wonder, and its theme strikes terror into all who gaze on it. Yet
it is neither so strong nor so beautiful as the vault-paintings of the
Sistine. The freshness of the genius that created Eve and Adam, unrivalled
in their bloom of primal youth, has passed away. Austerity and gloom have
taken possession of the painter. His style has hardened into mannerism,
and the display of barren science in difficult posturing and strained
anatomy has become wilful. Still, whether we regard this fresco as closing
the long series of "Last Judgments" to be studied on Italian church-walls
from Giotto downwards; or whether we confine our attention, as
contemporaries seem to have done, to the skill of its foreshortenings and
groupings;[327] or whether we analyse the dramatic energy wherewith
tremendous passions are expressed, its triumph is in either case decided.
The whole wall swarms with ascending and descending, poised and hovering,
shapes--men and women rising from the grave before the judge, taking their
stations among the saved, or sinking with unutterable anguish to the place
of doom--a multitude that no man can number, surging to and fro in dim
tempestuous air. In the centre at the top, Christ is rising from His
throne with the gesture of an angry Hercules, hurling ruin on the guilty.
He is such as the sins of Italy have made Him. Squadrons of angels,
bearing the emblems of His passion, whirl around Him like grey
thunder-clouds, and all the saints lean forward from their vantage ground
to curse and threaten. At the very bottom bestial features take the place
of human lineaments, and the terror of judgment has become the torment of
damnation. Such is the general scope of this picture. Of all its merits,
none is greater than the delineation of uncertainty and gradual awakening
to life. The middle region between vigilance and slumber, reality and
dream, Michael Angelo ruled as his own realm; and a painting of the "Last
Judgment" enabled him to deal with this metaichmios skotos--this
darkness in the interval of crossing spears--under its most solemn aspect.

When the fresco was uncovered, there arose a general murmur of
disapprobation that the figures were all nude. As society became more
vicious, it grew nice. Messer Biagio, the Pope's master of the ceremonies,
remarked that such things were more fit for stews and taverns than a
chapel. The angry painter placed his portrait in Hell with a mark of
infamy that cast too lurid a light upon this prudish speech. When Biagio
complained, Paul wittily answered that, had it been Purgatory, he might
have helped him, but in Hell is no redemption. Even the foul-mouthed and
foul-hearted Aretino wrote from Venice to the same effect--a letter
astounding for its impudence.[328] Michael Angelo made no defence. Perhaps
he reflected that the souls of the Pope himself and Messer Biagio and
Messer Pietro Aretino would go forth one day naked to appear before the
judge, with the deformities of sin upon them, as in Plato's "Gorgias." He
refused, however, to give clothes to his men and women. Daniel da
Volterra, who was afterwards employed to do this, got the name of

We are hardly able to appreciate the "Last Judgment;" it has been so
smirched and blackened by the smoke and dust of centuries. And this is
true of the whole Sistine Chapel.[329] Yet it is here that the genius of
Michael Angelo in all its terribleness must still be studied. In order to
characterise the impression produced by even the less awful of these
frescoes on a sympathetic student, I lay my pen aside and beg the reader
to weigh what Henri Beyle, the versatile and brilliant critic, pencilled
in the gallery of the Sistine Chapel on January 13, 1807:[330] "Greek
sculpture was unwilling to reproduce the terrible in any shape; the
Greeks had enough real troubles of their own. Therefore, in the realm of
art, nothing can be compared with the figure of the Eternal drawing forth
the first man from nonentity. The pose, the drawing, the drapery, all is
striking: the soul is agitated by sensations that are not usually
communicated through the eyes. When in our disastrous retreat from Russia,
it chanced that we were suddenly awakened in the middle of the dark night
by an obstinate cannonading, which at each moment seemed to gain in
nearness, then all the forces of a man's nature gathered close around his
heart; he felt himself in the presence of fate, and, having no attention
left for things of vulgar interest, he made himself ready to dispute his
life with destiny. The sight of Michael Angelo's pictures has brought back
to my consciousness that almost forgotten sensation. Great souls enjoy
their own greatness: the rest of the world is seized with fear, and goes

After the painting of the "Last Judgment," one more great labour was
reserved for Michael Angelo.[331] By a brief of September, 1535, Paul III.
had made him the chief architect as well as sculptor and painter of the
Holy See. He was now called upon to superintend the building of S.
Peter's, and to this task, undertaken for the repose of his soul without
emolument, he devoted the last years of his life. The dome of S. Peter's,
as seen from Tivoli or the Alban hills, like a cloud upon the Campagna, is
Buonarroti's; but he has no share in the facade that screens it from the
piazza. It lies beyond the scope of this chapter to relate once more the
history of the vicissitudes through which S. Peter's went between the days
of Alberti and Bernini.[332] I can but refer to Michael Angelo's letter
addressed to Bartolommeo Ammanati, valuable both as setting forth his
views about the structure, and as rendering the fullest and most glorious
meed of praise to his old enemy Bramante.[333] All ancient jealousies,
even had they ever stirred the heart of Michael Angelo, had long been set
at rest by time and death. The one wish of his soul was to set a worthy
diadem upon the mother-church of Christianity, repairing by the majesty of
art what Rome had suffered at the hands of Germany and Spain, and
inaugurating by this visible sign of sovereignty the new age of
Catholicity renascent and triumphant.

To the last period of Buonarroti's life (a space of twenty-two years
between 1542 and 1564) we owe some of his most beautiful
drawings--sketches for pictures of the Crucifixion made for Vittoria
Colonna, and a few mythological designs, like the "Rape of Ganymede,"
composed for Tommaso Cavalieri. His thoughts meanwhile were turned more
and more, as time advanced, to piety; and many of his sonnets breathe an
almost ascetic spirit of religion.[334] We see in them the old man
regretting the years he had spent on art, deploring his enthusiasm for
earthly beauty, and seeking comfort in the cross alone.

Painting nor sculpture now can lull to rest


Back to Full Books