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art is more than nature; for, while the one is a material organization given to our use and benefit, the other is the product of God's spiritual gift to him whom he made to rule over the earth. Nature is inferior and subject to art, just as the material is subordinate to the objects fashioned out of it.
In our remarks upon the old masters, we refer to their predominant characteristics, aware that exceptions exist, as in modern art examples are found of the motives and aspirations which constitute the superiority of its predecessor. The taste which delights in our American school is to be encouraged as an incentive to more faithful work and loftier ambition in our artists. But it should likewise be prompted to see the true and beautiful from other points of view. Every such expansion of mind is an exceeding great gain. Each new joy is a fresh development of life. When, therefore, a man of persuasive eloquence, like Henry Ward Beecher, misapplies history and excites groundless prejudice against forms of art new to himself, it is due to the public to correct his statements. If our people were familiar with the art and history of the period he attacks, it would be superfluous to recall them in defence of artists like Giotto, Fra Angelico, Michel Angelo, and their compeers. In his lecture before the Sons of New England, December 21, 1860, Mr. Beecher says:
"I doubt if in Cromwell's day there was a picture on the globe that had in it anything for the common people. The world's victories had all been kings' victories, warriors' victories. Art was busy crowning monarchs, robing priests, or giving to the passions a garment of light in which to walk forth for mischief. Will any man point me to the picture, of the wonderful number that Raphael painted or designed, that had in it a sympathy for the common people? They are all hierarchic or monarchic. But Michel Angelo was at heart a republican. He loved the people's liberty and hated oppression. Yet what single work records these sentiments ? The gentle Correggio filled church, convent, and cathedral dome with wondrous riches of graceful forms. But common life found no signs of love, no help, no champion in him. The Venetian school, illustrious and marvellous, has left in art few signs of liberty, and yet where might we expect some recognition of the simple dignity of human life, if not in this republic? But her rich men bad artists, her priests had artists, her common people had
- 5TH S. VOL. XI. NO. I.
“ In all the Italian schools, not a picture had ever probably been painted that carried a welcome to the common people. To be sure, there were angels endless, and Madonnas and Holy Families without number; there were monkish legends turned into color. Then there were heathen divinities enough to bring back the court of Olympia, and put Jupiter again in place of Jehovah. But in this immense fertility, - in this prodigious wealth of pictures, statues, canvas, and fresco, — I know of nothing that served the common people. In art, as in literature, government, government, GOVERNMENT, was all, and people nothing ! I know not that the Romanic world of art ever produced a democratic picture."
This is a sample of that professional and national cant by which the prejudices of the sect or people are fostered at the expense of charity and truth. We understand this declamation to mean, that before the seventeenth century there was no art the common people cared for; that up to that period, as he states elsewhere on the same occasion, art was silently fascinating and poisoning the soul through its most potent faculty, the imagination,” and that it was wholly an instrument of pride, superstition, and oppression on the part of the rulers, lay and clerical. At the same time, he asserts his predilection for the Germanic schools, because their pictures teem “with natural objects, with birds and cattle, with husbandry, with domestic scenes and interiors." We make no issue with those whose tastes prefer a boor's pipe or gin-flagon to a martyr's palm or saint's nimbus, a Flemish villager's carousal to an Italian tournament, a kitchen scrub to a Madonna, the ditch and dike to the valley or mountain. Such taste is as free to enjoy after its kind as any other. But it is not free to condemn on unsound premises, and to jumble historical truth and personal liking into a medley of falsity and injustice.
It is quite true that the Italians never did have that taste in art which seems to make Mr. Beecher's highest æsthetic enjoyment. Neither did the Greeks. They preferred the more dignified, heroic, refined, and ideal aspects of humanity. As he rightly observes, “ Art is a language,” and in their conversations they took more satisfaction in the poetical and imaginative, than in the familiar and common. Teniers vs. Ra
phael, — the sabot-footed, beer-swilling boor to the angels that Abraham entertained.
Besides, democratic institutions had the upper hand in Italy, especially in Tuscany, at the epoch which Mr. Beecher denounces. Art decayed as soon as its patronage fell into aristocratic keeping. To be a noble in Florence in the days of the Giotteschi was as uncomfortable as to be a Secessionist at the
The art of Italy, from its revival in the twelfth century to its prime in the sixteenth, was emphatically the offspring of the feeling and taste of all classes of the people. They created the demand for it, and paid for it most liberally out of their profits in trade. Giotto's Campanile, the shrine of Or San Michele, Ghiberti's “Gates of Paradise," and miles of large-hearted frescos, all came from the people. They carried Cimabue's noble picture in triumph to its final restingplace, — Duccio's, too, with songs and music and banners; they crowded to the opening of the Carmine chapel to see Masaccio's work, and took as lively and intelligent an interest in the rivalry between Leonardo's and Michel Angelo's cartoons, as we now do in the question of iron-clad ships. We ask Mr. Beecher to point out a single great work of one of the great masters which he anathematizes, which is, as he asserts of the entire art of this period, “ the minion of monarchy, the servant of corrupted religion, or the mistress of lust." Protestants and Catholics, who are privileged to see the works of Fra Angelico and his school, have but one opinion of their purity and spirituality. Do not the Scriptures of Raphael in the Vatican furnish the very designs used by Protestants to illustrate their Bibles and religious works? Do we not daily recognize Masaccio, Ghirlandajo, and their contemporaries, in manifold ways, in our illustrated books? Do not the walls of the Campo Santo at Pisa tell the entire story of revealed religion, from the creation to the crucifixion ? Have not Orgagna, Martini, Gozzoli, and a hundred others, scattered far and wide throughout Italy, in church, chapel, council-hall, and private dwelling, on the streets and by the road-side, the Scriptural story of the fall and redemption ? Are these nothing to the common people? Does the identical religious fact or dogma, which is “poison” to the soul if put into a pictorial form
before printing was invented, become a means of grace, in the shape of a tract or sermon, in the year 1860 ? Was it “nothing” that the hope of immortality, the lessons of faith, the fear of hell, and the bliss of heaven, were brought vividly home to the feelings of an imaginative, demonstrative people, in a more efficacious way than by the Puritan machinery of lectures and colporteurs ? Their taste demanded instruction and entertainment in this way, and it continues to do so to this day. They find refreshment and sympathy in the pictured and sculptured representations of maternal and filial love and sacrifice, in the pure sentiments and holy aspirations and self-denials set forth in those sacred pictures at which Mr. Beecher sneers. They touch their hearts, and we have had occasion to know that they are quite as potent an influence for good as are the spoken appeals of Puritan preachers. Italian artists of the best periods, with but few exceptions, sprang from the people, were trained among them, were democratic in principle; but they also had elevated tastes and aims, and much devout feeling, and they embodied in their works that which the people, apart from and independent of the government, most desired. Emphatically we pronounce their art to have been the art of the common people. It is a cause of thankfulness that the Italian schools kept alive the highest instincts of art, elevating its mission above the sordid, sensual, common, or material aspects of humanity. Not that we value the motives which inspire the better efforts of the Northern schools the less, for each is excellent and enjoyable in its way, but because we believe, the higher the motive, the more it elevates the taste. Italian art was chiefly devoted to religion. Mr. Beecher says “ every altar-piece was a golden lie, every carved statue beckoned the superstitious soul to some pernicious error." Surely it is not uncharitable to retort, that every word which he has uttered in this connection is a “pernicious error"; for altar-piece, statue, and truth alike refute his statement. We censure that Oriental egotism which holds all but the flowery land to be only as the dust of the earth. How much better is it in one of us, with the means of information almost at our door, to pass such wholesale condemnation, unjustified by any adequate study? If there be no element or
phase of humanity wholly good, so there is none wholly bad. We have had a long experience in the study of altar-pieces and sacred sculpture, and, although not a Roman Catholic, have discovered in them quite as much Scriptural truth, as pure motive, as exciting incentive to holiness, and as convincing arguments for a spiritual life, as we have found in the prolific productions of tract societies, and the average quality of Protestant discourses. Let us be just even to the “ scarlet lady." There is no gain to humanity in falsifying the record of history. The Bible is as much the common inspiration of Catholic religious art, as it is the basis of Protestant religious literature; and wherever art borrowed its motives from the traditions of the Church, the men and women it glorified were those who have honored humanity by self-denying lives and unflinching martyrdoms, - men and women whose counterparts in good deeds we Protestants find in the Howards, Frys, and Nightingales of to-day. Because the æsthetic Italian chooses to perpetuate the memories of his martyrs and saints in stained glass, stainless marble, and luminous canvas, is a preacher of the Gospel common to all Christians, though he be of a different temperament and ritual, authorized to assert, that "every window suborned the sun, and sent history to bear on a painted lie or a legendary superstition "?
But “ legendary superstition did not monopolize Italian art. The pre-Raphaelite period affords some of the purest examples of certain qualities of landscape-art which we know. Correggio and Titian, later, are as truly great in that as in other departments. In every instance it is secondary, as it should be, to higher motives, but none the less informed with its true spirit. There is also in early Italian art much spirited and affectionate treatment of animal life, always subservient, indeed, to some loftier purpose. The people indulged themselves in pictures to an extent which we Northern utilitarians would consider as luxurious extravagance. But they loved allegories, poetical fancies, historical pieces, rich and animated spectacles, — they do now,- and they largely patronized that art that gratified their taste. This was “the life of the common people.” Fierce and turbulent democrats they were, most of them, though Mr. Beecher will have it that their art