The History of Art
I. Cimabue, Giotto, and Other Italian Masters
8 October 1916, Dornach
We shall show a series of lantern slides representing a period of Art to the study of which we may presume the human mind will ever and again return. For in the artistic evolution of this period we witness the unfolding of some of the deepest human relationships which the outward course of history reveals in any epoch — provided we perceive in history the outward picture of inner spiritual impulses.
First you will see some picture by Cimabue. Under this name there go, or, rather, used to go — a number of pictures, church paintings, springing from a conception of life altogether remote from our own. Cimabue (or those who worked in the spirit of the school that is named after him) — Cimabue was working at about the time, let us say, of Dante's birth. For external history, what lies before this period in artistic evolution is veiled pretty much in darkness. So far as anything outwardly preserved is concerned, the work of Cimabue emerges in such a way that to begin with in the West, we can find no immediate historic predecessor. Not only so, but as you will presently bear witness for yourselves, in the history of European Art the school of Cimabue remained without succession.
As we try to feel our way into what comes before us in Cimabue's work, we find ourselves directed to influences coming over from the East. I will try to cut a long story short, albeit this will inevitably involve all the inaccuracies which are unavoidable in such a brief description. We must not forget that the time of the origin of Christianity, and the following centuries until the beginning of the second millennium A.D. when Cimabue lived, — that this epoch, when Christianity was slowly finding its way into all spheres of human life and action, was characterised by a turning of man's spiritual faculties towards the Cosmic, the Spiritual that transcends the Earth. To a great extent, all man's thought and interest was directed to the question: How did the higher spiritual Powers break through into this earthly life? What was it that came into this earthly world from spheres beyond? Men wanted to gain a conception of these things. And if one desired to express in pictorial Art what was thus living in the souls of men, it could be no question of copying Nature directly in any sense, or of painting true to Nature, or following this or that artistic ideal. Rather was it a question of calling forth those forces in the human soul — those powers of imagination, among other things — which can, as it were, make visible to eyes of sense the things from beyond this Earth. Now Western humanity did not possess sufficient powers of imagination to bring forth really plastic works of art. We know from earlier lectures that the Romans were an unimaginative people. It was into the unimaginative Roman culture that Christianity, coming from the East, first had to spread. Nevertheless, Christianity as it came over brought with it, along with all the other fertilising influences from the East, the fruits of Oriental imagination. Thus, inner spiritual visions and imaginations were connected with the early Christian conceptions.
Yonder in Greece vivid ideas arose, as to how one should portray the figures that are connected with the Mystery of Golgotha and with its workings. Witness the evolution of the forms in which they represented the person of the Redeemer Himself, or the Madonna, the angelic worlds beyond the Earth, the figures of saints and apostles transposed into higher realms. We can see quite clearly how, as Christianity found its way into the West, the Roman unimaginativeness, if I may so describe it, took hold of what came over, so rich in fancy and imagination, from the East. In the very earliest times of Christian Art we find the figure of Christ Jesus and the others around Him permeated still by the rich imagination of the Greeks. We find the Redeemer Himself portrayed in some instances with truly Apollonian features. Moreover, we know of a remarkable controversy that arose in the first Christian centuries. Should the Redeemer be represented in an ugly form, yet so, that through the ugly features there shone the inner life of soul, the mighty event that was being enacted in Him for mankind? This type of the Saviour, and similar types for the other characters connected with the Mystery of Golgotha, were evolved more in the East of Europe and in Greece. While in the West, in Italy, men were more of the opinion that the Saviour and all that were connected with Him should be represented beautifully. Strangely enough, this discussion went on into the time when in the West, under the influence of Rome, men had already lost the faculty to represent real beauty — a faculty which they had still possessed in former centuries under the more immediate influence of Greece. For outwardly though Greece was overcome, in a spiritual sense Rome herself had been conquered by the Grecian culture, which, however, subsequently fell into decay amid the unimaginative Romans. Thus in the succeeding centuries they lost the power to create true plastic beauty.
Thus there came over from Eastern tradition the earliest representations, created, of course, by human imagination, in the effort to express the new world-impulses springing from the Mystery of Golgotha. Enriched by Oriental fancy, this early Christian art was transplanted into Italy. And now, — almost all the earlier work having been lost, — in Cimabue's paintings or in those that go by his name, we see what had become of these impulses by the time of Dante's birth. We see them, as it were, at a final culminating point. Cimabue's paintings are frescoes on a large scale and must be understood as such. The figures they portray appear before us in an altogether unnaturalistic form, their outlines conceived more out of the life of feeling — spread over great surfaces, conceived, as it were, in two dimensions — large surfaces covered with the most eloquent painting. Alas, it is no longer really visible today, not even where Cimabue's own works are before us, for his pictures were for the most part subsequently painted over. The full vividness of his colouring, with its wonderful two-dimensional conception, is probably no longer to be seen at any place. Hence Cimabue's pictures lose least of all when shown in lantern slides. We recognise their character as a whole; these remarkable figures — their outlines, as I said, inspired more out of the feeling-life; colossal figures, conceived at any rate on a colossal scale and with impressive grandeur, so that one would say: From other worlds they gaze into this earthly world; they do not seem to have arisen from this earthly world at all. Such are his pictures of the Madonna. Such, gazing down into this earthly world, are his representations of the Saviour and of saints and angels and the like. We must realise that all these paintings are born of an imagination, in the background of which was still a life of spiritual vision. Such vision knew full well that the impulses of Christianity had come to Earth from another world, and that this unearthly world could not be represented in mere naturalistic forms.
We will now show some of Cimabue's pictures. His works are mostly to be seen in the Lower Church at Assisi; also in Paris and in Florence. We can only reproduce a very few:
Look how the human eye, for instance, is drawn so that you can clearly see: It is not copied, but done by following with inner feeling the forces which were believed to be at work, moulding the eye organically in the body. The inner activity of the eye is feelingly traced out, — this is what inspires the forms. Plastically conceived, it is projected in the spirit on to the flat surface. In the background, as you can still see by these pictures, is the conception (far more familiar in the Orient than in the West) of something working in with abundant power from distant worlds. When in that time men let these pictures with their golden background work upon them, they had the feeling of a mighty overwhelming force pouring in from distant worlds into mankind. It was as though all the human confusion upon Earth was only there to be illumined by the Impulses proceeding from a reality beyond, which was pictured in this way.
Once more a picture of the Madonna. This, then, is what we have of Cimabue.
We now pass on to the study of an artist who, for the external history of art, is, in a sense, Cimabue's successor. The legend has it that Cimabue found Giotto as a shepherd-lad who used to draw on rocks and stones, with the most primitive materials, the animals and other creatures which he saw around him in the fields. Cimabue, recognising the great talents of the boy, took him from his father and trained him in painting. Such legends are often truer than the outward ‘historic’ truth. It is true, as the legend suggests, that Giotto — Cimabue's great follower in the further development of art — was inspired in his inner life by the whole world in which he found himself through all that had been created by those whom we include under Cimabue's name. It is true, indeed, that a whole world of things from beyond the Earth looked down upon Giotto from the walls around him. (All this is no longer extant, for reasons we shall afterwards discuss.) On the other hand, we must never forget that with Giotto an entirely new artistic world-conception arose in the West. Indeed, it is Giotto, above all, who in the realms of art represents the rise of the new age, the 5th post-Atlantean age. In painting, the 4th post-Atlantean age goes down with Cimabue; the 5th begins with Giotto. (I leave out of account whether all the works which a well-founded tradition ascribes to Giotto were actually painted by him; for that is not the main point. It is true that under Giotto's name many works are included of which we can but say that they are painted in his spirit. Here, however, I will not go into this question, but simply ascribe to Giotto what tradition has ascribed to him.)
What was mankind entering into during that time, when we find Dante and Giotto side by side on the scene of history? It was entering into what I have always described as the fundamental characteristic of the 5th Post-Atlantean period: into a life in the midst of earthly-material realities. This must not be taken as a hostile criticism of Materialism. The time had to come to mankind to enter fully into the material reality, taking leave for a time of those things to which they had hitherto looked up and whose light we find reflected still in Cimabue's paintings.
We may ask ourselves this question: Who was the first really genuine materialist? Who was it gave the very first impetus to materialism? Considering the matter from a somewhat higher point of view, we shall arrive at an answer which will, of course, sound paradoxical to modern ears. Nevertheless, for a deeper conception of human history it is fully justified. I mean that the first man to introduce the material way of feeling into the soul-life of mankind was St. Francis of Assisi. I admit it is a paradox to describe the holy man of Assisi as the first great materialist, and yet it is so. For one may truly say: the last great conceptions in which the evolution of mankind is still described from a standpoint beyond the Earth come before us in the Divina Commedia of Dante. Dante's great work is to be regarded as a last expression of a consciousness still directed more to the things beyond the Earth. On the other hand the vision of the soul turned to the Earth, the sympathy with earthly things, comes forth with all intensity in Francis of Assisi, who, as you know, was before Dante's time. Such things always appear in the soul-life of mankind a little earlier than their expression in the realm of art. Hence we see the same impulses and tendencies which seized the artistic imagination of Giotto at a later time, living already in the soul of Francis of Assisi. Giotto lived from 1266 to 1337. Francis of Assisi was a man who came forth entirely from that kind of outer world which Roman civilisation, under manifold influences, had gradually brought forth. To begin with, his whole attention was turned to outer things. He delighted in the splendour of external riches; he had enjoyment in all things that make life pleasant, or that enhance man's personal well being. Then suddenly, through his own personal experiences his inner life was revolutionised. It was at first a physical illness which turned him altogether away from his absorption in external things and turned him to the inner life. From a man who in his youth was altogether addicted to external comfort, splendour, reputation, we see him change to a life of feeling directed purely to the inward things of the soul. Yet all this took place in a peculiar and unique way. For Francis of Assisi became the first among those great figures who, from that time onwards, turned the soul's attention quite away from all that sprang from the old visionary life. He, rather, turned his gaze to that which lives and moves immediately upon the Earth, and above all to man himself. He seeks to discover what can be experienced in the human soul, in the human being as a whole, when we see him placed alone, entirely upon his own resources. St. Francis was surrounded by mighty world-events which also took their course on Earth, if I may put it so, in such a way as to sweep past the single life of man, even as the rich imaginations of an earlier Art had represented sublime Beings gazing down from beyond the Earth into this world of human feeling. For in his youth, and later, too, St. Francis was surrounded by the world-historic conflict of the Guelphs and Ghibellines. Here one might say there was a battling in greater spheres, for impulses transcending what the single man on Earth feels and experiences — impulses for which the human being on the Earth were but the great and herd-like mass. Right in the midst of all this life, St. Francis with his ever more numerous companions upholds the right of the single human individuality, with all that the inner life of man can experience in connection with the deeper powers that ensoul and radiate and sparkle through each human soul. His vision is directed away from all-embracing cosmic, spiritual spheres, directed to the individual and human life on Earth. Sympathy, compassion, a life in fellowship with every human soul, an interest in the experiences of every single man, a looking away from the golden background whose splendour, inspired by oriental fancy, had radiated in an earlier art from the higher realms on to the Earth. St. Francis and his followers, looking away from all these things, turned their attention to the joys and sufferings of the poor man on Earth. Every single man now becomes the main concern, every single man a world in himself. Yes, one desires to live in such a way that every single man becomes a world. The Eternal, the Infinite, the Immortal shall now arise within the breast of man himself, no longer hovering like the vast and distant sphere above the Earth.
Cimabue's pictures are as though seen out of the clouds. It is as though his figures were coming from the clouds towards the Earth. And so, indeed, man had felt and conceived the Spiritual World hitherto. We today have no idea how intensely men had lived with these transcendent things. Hence, as a rule, we do not realise how immense a change it was in feeling when St. Francis of Assisi turned the life of the West more inward. His soul wanted to live in sympathy with all that the poor man was; wanted to feel the human being especially in poverty, weighed down by no possessions, and, therefore, valued by nothing else than what he simply is as a man. Such was St. Francis of Assisi; and this was how he sought to feel not only man but Christ Himself. He wanted to feel what Christ is for poor simple men. Out of the very heart of a Christianity thus felt, he then evolved his wondrous feeling for Nature. Everything on Earth became his brother and his sister; he entered lovingly not only into the human heart but into all creatures. Truly, in this respect St. Francis is a realist, a naturalist. The birds are his brothers and his sisters; the stars, the sun, the moon, the little worm that crawls over the Earth — all are his brothers and his sisters; on all of them he looks with loving sympathy and understanding. Going along his way he picks up the little worm and puts it on one side so as not to tread it underfoot. He looks up with admiration to the lark, calling her his sister. An infinite inwardness, a life of thought unthinkable in former times, comes forth in Francis of Assisi. All this is far more characteristic of St. Francis than the external things that are so often written about his life.
So we might say, man's gaze is now made inward and centered upon the earthly life; and the influence of this extends, by and by, to the artistic feeling. For the last time, we might say, Dante in his great poem represents the life of man in the midst of mighty Powers from beyond the Earth; but Giotto, his contemporary and probably his friend, Giotto in his paintings already brings to expression the immediate interest in all that lives and moves on Earth. Thus we see, beginning with Giotto's pictures, the faithful portrayal of the individual in Nature and in Man. It is no mere chance that the paintings ascribed to Giotto in the upper church at Assisi deal with the life of St. Francis, for there is a deep inner connection of soul between Giotto and Francis of Assisi — St. Francis, the religious genius, bringing forth out of a fervent life of soul his sympathy with all the growth of Nature upon Earth; and Giotto, imitating, to begin with, St. Francis' way of feeling, St. Francis' way of entering into the spirit and soul of the world.
Thus we see the stream of evolution leading on from Cimabue's rigid lines and two-dimensional conception, to Giotto, in whose work we see increasingly the portrayal of the natural, individual creature, the reality of things seen; we see things standing more and more in space, rather than speaking to us out of the flat surface.
We will now give ourselves up to the immediate impression of Giotto's pictures, one by one. We shall see his growing appreciation of the individual human character and figure. Giotto shows himself with all the greater emphasis inasmuch as his pictures deal with the sacred legend, and so he tries to reproduce in the outward expression the inmost and intensest life of the soul.
Now, therefore, we shall have before us a series of Giotto's pictures, beginning with those that are generally regarded as his earliest. You will still see in them the tradition of the former time, but along with it there is already the human element, in the way in which he knew it — the way that I have just described.
Thus gradually the whole life of St. Francis was painted by Giotto; and everywhere in his artistic work we find a feeling similar to that of St. Francis himself. Even when you take the visionary elements in these pictures, you will see how his effort is in every case to paint them from within, so that the language of human feeling is far more in evidence than in the pictures of Cimabue, who was concerned only with the gazing inward of transcendent impulses from spheres beyond the Earth. Again, in the faces themselves you will no longer find the mere traditional expression, but you will see in every case: The man who painted these pictures had really looked at the faces of men.
Look at these last two pictures. Their inherent tenderness recalls to us the beautiful fact that is related of the life of St. Francis. He had long been working at his Hymn to Nature — the great and beautiful hymn throughout which he speaks of his brothers and his sisters, of sisters Sun and Moon and the other planets, and of all earthly creatures. All that he had felt in loving, realistic devotion of his soul, in sympathy with Nature, is gathered up so wonderfully in this hymn. But the directness of his union with all earthly Nature finds expression most of all in this beautiful fact that the last verse wherein he addresses Brother Death was written in the very last days of his life. St. Francis could not sing the hymn of praise to Brother Death till he himself lay actually on his deathbed, when he called to his brothers that they should sing around him of the joys of death while he felt himself going out and out into that World which was now to receive his spirit. It was only out of the immediate, realistic experience that St. Francis could and would describe his tender union with all the world. Beautifully this is revealed in the fact that while he had sung the Hymn of Praise to all other things before, he only sang to Death when he himself was at Death's door. The last thing he dictated was the final verse of his great Hymn of Life, which is addressed to Brother Death, and shows how man, when he is thrown back upon himself alone, conceives the union of Christ with human life. Surely it cannot be more beautifully expressed than in this picture, revealing the new conception of human life that was already pouring from out St. Francis, and showing how directly Giotto lived in the same aura of thought and feeling.
I have inserted this later picture, so that you may see the progress Giotto made in his subsequent period of life. You see how the figures here are conceived still more as single human individuals. In the period from which the former pictures were taken, we see the artist carried along, as it were, by the living impulses of St. Francis. Here in this picture, belonging as it does to a later period of his life, we see him coming more into his own. We will presently return to the pictures more immediately following his representations of St. Francis.
This, too, is from his later period, showing a consideraby greater realism than before.
Also of his later period.
In such pictures we see how natural it was to the men of that age to express themselves in allegories. The conditions of life undergo immense changes in the course of centuries. It was a tremendous change when the life that had found expression in pictures at that time, passed over into that in which we live today, which takes its course more in thoughts and ideas communicated through the medium of books. This was a far greater revolution than is generally realised. The desire to express oneself in allegories was especially strong in that age. It is most interesting to see how in such a case artistic realism is combined with the striving to make the whole picture like a Book of the World in which the onlooker may read.
This picture is related once more the earlier art of Giotto — springing as it does from his increasing entry into the whole world of feeling of St. Francis of Assisi.
Beautifully we see how the artist seeks to represent the inner life of St. John, bringing forth out of his heart his inner connection with the great World. This, then, is St. John, writing, or at least conceiving, the Apocalypse.
We will insert, directly after this Madonna by Giotto, the Madonna by Cimabue which we have already seen, so that you may recognise the immense difference in the treatment of the sacred figure. Observe — despite the obvious persistence of the old tradition — the realism of this picture, in the eyes, the mouth, and the whole conception of the Jesus child. We have before us human beings, copied from the reality of earthly life, looking out from the Earth into the World. Compare this with Cimabue's picture, where we rather have before us an original spiritual vision traditionally handed down — where Beings gaze from realms beyond the Earth into this world.
However much in the composition is reminiscent of the former picture, you will see, even in the way the lines are drawn, the immense difference between the two.
It is interesting to compare this picture with the “Mourning for St. Francis” which we saw before. The former was an earlier work, while this belongs to a very late period in Giotto's life. We will now insert the previous one once more so that you may see the great progression. This picture is taken from the chapel in Padua, where Giotto returned once more to the former legend.
Here, then, you see how he treats a very similar subject so far as the composition is concerned, at an earlier and at a much later stage in his career. Observe the far greater freedom, the far greater power to enter into individual details which the later picture reveals.
This picture, the Church Militant, is generally associated with the School of Giotto. Here you see the rise of that compositional element which was to play so great a part in the subsequent history of painting. Quite a new inner life appears before us here. We may describe the difference somewhat as follows:
If we consider the evolution of Christianity until the time of Dante and Giotto, we shall find a strong element of Platonism in its whole way of feeling. Far be it from me to mislead you into the belief that it contained the Platonic Philosophy; but Platonism, that is to say, a feeling and conception of the world which also finds expression in the philosophy of Plato, where man looks up into a sphere beyond the Earth, and does not carry into it anything that proceeds from the human intellect. After Giotto's time a theological, Aristotelian element entered more and more into the Christian world of feeling. Once again I do not say the philosophy of Aristotle, but a theological, Aristotelian quality. Men tried, as it were, to see and summarise the world in systematic conceptions such as you see in this picture, rising upward from a world below to a middle and thence to a higher world. Thus was the whole of life systematised through and through in an Aristotelian manner. So did the later Church conceive the life of man placed in the universal order. Past were the times from which Cimabue still rayed forth, when men's conception of a world beyond the Earth proceeded still from the old visionary life. Now came a purely human way of feeling; yet the desire was, once more, to lead this human feeling upward to a higher life — to connect it with a higher life, only now in a more systematic, more intellectual and abstract way. And so, in place of the Earlier Art, creating as from a single centre of spiritual vision, there arose the new element of composition. See the three tiers, rising systematically into higher worlds from that which is experienced and felt below. Observing this in the immediate followers of Giotto, you will already have a premonition, a feeling of what was destined to emerge in the later compositions. For who could fail to recognise that the same spirit which holds sway in the composition of this picture meets us again in a more highly evolved, more perfect form, in Raphael's Disputa.
See how the spiritual events and processes of earthly life are portrayed in the grouping of the human figures. It is the same artistic conception which emerges in Raphael's great picture, generally known as the 'School of Athens.' Human beings are placed together to express the relationships that hold sway in earthly life.
I beg you especially to observe the unique way in which the fundamental idea comes to expression here: in the background the mighty building of the Church, and then, throughout the picture, the power going forth from the Church dignitaries, poured out into the world of the common people. Look at the expression of the faces. See how the artist's work is placed at the service of this grand idea: The rule of the Church raying out over the Earth. You may study every single countenance. Wonderfully it is expressed — raying outward from the centre — how each single human being partakes in the impulse that is thought to proceed from the Church through all the souls on Earth. The physiognomies are such that we see clearly: The whole thing was done by an artist who was permeated by this idea, and was well able to bring to expression in the countenance of men what the Church Militant would, indeed, bring into them. We see it raying forth from every single face. I beg you to observe this carefully, for in the later pictures which we shall see afterwards it does not come to expression with anything like the same power. Though the fundamental idea of the composition — expressed so beautifully here, both in the grouping of the figures and in the harmony between the grouping and the expressions of the faces — though the fundamental impulse was retained by later artists, nevertheless, as you will presently see for yourselves, it was an altogether different element that arose in their work.
Look at the dogs down here: they are the famous Domini Canes, the hounds of the Lord, for the Dominicans were spoken of in connection with the hounds of Lord. Angelico represents these Domini Canes in many of his pictures.
Here we come a stage further in artistic evolution. The following developments may be said to have proceeded from the stream and impulse of which Giotto was the great initiator. But from this source a two-fold stream proceeded. In the one, we see the realistic impulse emancipating itself more and more from the Spiritual. In Giotto and in the last two pictures the Spiritual still enters in, everywhere; for, after all, this impulse proceeding from the Church Militant throughout the World is conceived as a spiritual thing. Every single figure in the composition is such that we might say: Just as St. Francis himself lived after all in a spiritual world (albeit lovingly, realistically inclined through his soul to the earthly world around him), Giotto and his pupils, with 'however loving realism they grasped the things of this world, still lived within the Spiritual and could unite it with their conception of the single individual on Earth. But now, as we come on into the 14th and 15th century, we see the longing, faithfully to portray the individual and Natural, emancipating itself more and more. There is no longer that strong impulse to see the vision as a whole and thence derive the single figures, which impulse was there in all the former pictures, even where Giotto and his pupils went to the Biblical story for their subjects. Now we see the single figures more and more emancipated from the all-pervading impulse which, until then, had been poured out like a magic broach ever the picture as a whole. More and more we see the human figures standing out as single characters, even where they are united in the compositions as a whole. Look, for example, at the magnificent building here. Observe how the artist is at pains, not so much to subordinate his figures to one root-idea, as to represent in every single one a human individual, a single character. More and more we see the single human characters simply placed side by side. Though undoubtedly there is a greatness in the composition, still we see the single individuals emancipated naturalistically from the idea that pervades the picture as a whole.
Even in this Biblical picture you can see how the expressions of the several figures are emancipated from the conception as a whole. Far more than heretofore, the artist's effort is to portray even the Christ in such a way that an individual human quality comes to expression in Him. Likewise the other figures.
In this picture you can already lose the feeling of one idea pervading the whole. See, on the other hand, the wonderful expressions of the faces in Filippino Lippi's work, both in the central figure of the visionary and in the lesser figures. In every case the Human is brought out. Thus we see the one stream, proceeding from the source to which I just referred, working its way into an ever stronger realism, till it attains the wondrous inner perfection which you have before you in this figure of St. Bernard as he receives his vision.
Here you see a wonderful progression in human feeling. Looking at this work of Masaccio's, you can take a keen interest in every single figure, in every single head of these disciples grouped around the Christ. Look, too, how the Christ Himself is individualised. Think of the tremendous progress in characterisation, from the pictures which we saw before, to this one. Observe the transition in feeling. Heretofore it was absorbed in the Christian cosmic conception. Now it has passed over to the renewed conception of the Roman power. Feel in this composition, in the expressions of the several figures, how the Roman concept of power is expressed. A little while ago we say the Rule of the Church Militant pouring out as a spiritual force over the whole. Here, for the most part, are highly individualised figures — men who desire power and who join together for the sake of power, while in the former case it was a spiritual light which shone through all their faces. In the earlier pictures, each was to be understood out of the whole, while here we can but grasp the whole as a summation of the individuals, each of whom is, in a sense, a power in himself. With all the greatness of the composition — the figures grouped around the mighty one, the Christ, mighty through His pure spiritual Being, — still you can read in the expressions of these men: ‘Ours is, indeed, a kingdom not of this world; yet it shall rule this world,’ — and, what is more, rule it through human beings, not through an abstract spiritual force. All this is expressed in the figures of these men. So you see how the human and realistic element becomes more and more emancipated, while the artist's power to portray the individual increases. The sacred legends, for example, are no longer represented for their own sake. True, they live on, but the artists use them as a mere foundation. They take their start from the familiar story, using it as an occasion to represent the human being.
See how the artist's attention is directed not to the Biblical story in itself but to the question: How will human beings look when they have been through the experience of Adam and Eve? We must admit that for his time the artist's answer is magnificent.
I need scarce make a comment. With Ghirlandajo we come to a time when the faculty to portray man as man — to represent what is purely human in his life — has reached a high level of perfection.
Henceforth the Last Supper is no longer merely represented (as in the picture that we saw just now) so that the vision of those that behold it may be kindled to an experience of the sacred action. No; the story of the Last Supper is now taken as an opportunity to represent the human beings. Though it is not yet so much so as in some later pictures, nevertheless, we can already study here the physiognomies of the disciples one by one, observing how their human characters are working under the impression that has been kindled in their souls. Such pictures bring home to us the immense change in the whole artistic conception.
So, too, with the problem of the Madonna: the artists now are more concerned to bring out what is human and feminine in the Madonna than to represent the sacred fact. The sacred legend lives on; and, being familiar to all, is made use of to solve problems of artistic realism and to bring out the individual and human.
In these artists, as the last pictures will illustrate, the Human impulse has already grown so strong that they no longer feel the same necessity to choose their subjects from the sacred legend. You can scarcely imagine the entry into Giotto's pictures of any other than a Christian subject. But when the Christian legend came to be no more than the occasion for the artists to portray the human being, they were presently able to emancipate the human subject from the Christian Legend. So we see them going forward to the art of the Renaissance, growing more and more independent of Christian tradition.
Having shown a number of pictures representing the realistic stream, if so we may call it — the seizing of the Human on the Earth, liberated from the Supersensible — we now come to the second stream above-mentioned, of which Fra Angelico is one of the greatest representatives.
It is, if I may so describe it, a more inward stream,a stream more of the soul. The artistic evolution which we followed hitherto was taken hold of more by the Spirit. In Fra Angelico we see the Heart, the soul itself, seeking to penetrate into the human being. It is interesting to see once more, in the wonderfully tender pictures of this artist, the attempt to grasp the individual and human, yet from an altogether different aspect, more out of the soul. Indeed, this lies inherent in the peculiar colourings of Fra Angelico, which, unhappily, we cannot reproduce. Here everything is felt more out of the soul, whereas the emancipation of the Human which appeared in the other realistic stream, came forth more out of the human Spirit striving to imitate the forms of Nature.
It is by the path of the soul, as it were, that the soul-content of Christianity pours in through Fra Angelico. Hence the phenomenon of Fra Angelico is so intensely interesting. Formerly, as we have seen, a supersensible and spiritual content poured through the evolution of Christianity, and took hold also of the world of Art. Then the attention of man was turned to the world of Nature — Nature experienced by the soul of man. We have seen how the same impulses, living as a simple religious enthusiasm in St. Francis of Assisi, found artistic expression in Giotto. Henceforth, man's vision was impelled more and more to an outward naturalism. But in face of all this realism, his inner life seeks refuge, as it were, in the soul's domain, tending, again, rather to melt away the sharper lines of individuality, but striving all the more intensely to express itself, as a life of soul, in outer form. For the soul's life holds sway, pervading all the details in the work of Fra Angelico. It is as though the soul of Christianity took flight into these tender pictures, so widely spread abroad, though the most beautiful are undoubtedly in the Dominican Monastery at Florence.
Thus while the Spirit that had once held sway in vision of the Supersensible was now expended on the vision of the Natural, the soul took refuge in this stream of Art, which strove not so much to seize the physiognomy — the Spirit that is stamped on the expressions of the human countenance and of the things of Nature — but rather to convey the life of soul, pouring outward as a living influence through all expression.
You will remember the picture of the Last Supper which we showed just now. There, everything depended on an answer to the question: How does Nature reveal the Spirit? How does Nature impress on the external features of men the signature of their experience in this event? Here, on the other hand, you see how all the characters are concentrated on a single feeling, and yet this single quality of soul finds living expression in them all. Here is essentially a life of soul, expressed through the soul; while in the former picture it was a life of the Spirit, finding a naturalistic expression. Down to the very drawing of the lines you can see this difference. Look at the wonderful and tender flow of line. Compare it with what you will remember of the former picture of the Last Supper.
See what a quality of soul is poured like a magic breath over this picture.
It is interesting how in Botticelli the same artistic impulse, which we found in Fra Angelico, is transferred — if I may put it so — to altogether different motives. Botticelli, in a certain respect, is most decidedly a painter of the life of soul. Yet he again emancipates, within the life of soul, the Human from the general Religious feeling which pervades the work of Fra Angelico. He emancipates the human working once more towards a certain naturalism in the expressions of the soul.
Compare this portrait with the head we saw before, by Ghirlandajo. In that case something essentially spiritual found naturalistic expression, while here we see an abundant life and content of the soul even in the drawing of the lines.
Following on Fra Angelico, we have shown a series of Botticelli's so as to gain an impression of the progress in the painting of the soul's life, in contrast to the Spirit which we found in Masaccio and Ghirlandajo. These, then, were the two directions that grew directly out of the impulses proceeding from Giotto — impulses handed down through Giotto, and through Donatello in another sphere, down to these painters.
In the further course of evolution on these lines, we now come to the great Renaissance painters, of whom I still wish to show you a few pictures in this lecture. When we have a picture like this of Botticelli's before us, we realise the extraordinary intensity of progress from the 14th to the 15th and on into the 16th century — from the portrayal of the purely Human, In such artists as Ghirlandajo we see the Spiritual, absorbed into the sphere of Nature, brought to a high level of expression. Here in this other stream we see a rich life of soul, come to expression, even in the draughtmanship. In course of time men had attained the knowledge of the human form, with all its powers of expression. It was as though, from the starting-point of Heaven, Earth had been conquered by mankind. That deepening of life which had come about through Christianity passed more and more into the background, and it was as though the object now were to understand man as such in a far deeper way. The heavenly domain became a path of progress, towards the more perfect expression of the inner being of man as it stamps itself upon his outer features, and upon all that comes forth outwardly in the relationships of men to one another, in their life together. It is the conquest of the realm of Man, by the most varied paths, which comes before us here so wonderfully.
And now we see the union of all these impulses in the great artists, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael. Let us observe a few of Leonardo's pictures. We shall find in him a synthesis of the varied strivings which came be ore us in the other pictures. For in a high degree, the Leonardo da Vinci, there is a working-together of the Spiritual with the life of the soul — in his drawing, in his composition and in his power of expression.
To begin with I have selected some sketches and drawings by Leonardo, from which you may see how he endeavoured to study man in a fully realistic way. This, of course, was in a time when all that had been gained in the former periods was there to influence the artist. It is characteristic of Leonardo how radically he seeks to bring out the full expressiveness of man; he tries to seize the human being as a whole, and bring him forth to perfection in his drawing. He seeks to enhance his power of expression to the highest point by studying and holding fast all human needs. This was only possible in the flower of an artistic epoch containing all the works which we have seen today — the penetration of the human being in the Spirit and in soul.
More, as I said, you see united all that had formerly been striven for by separate paths.
These are the heads of the Apostles from the famous fresco at Milan, — the Last Supper, which, also, is scarcely visible today, for only isolated patches of colour now remain. We see that in this great artistic epoch the sacred legend merely provided a foundation for the working-out of human characters. Especially in his Last Supper, Leonardo is at pains to study the single human characters. We see him working very, very long at this wonderful picture, for he wanted to study the human characters in all detail. We know how often he disappointed his clients — the dignitaries of the Church. Thus, after long labour, he had not finished Judas Iscariot, and when the Abbot, high dignitary that he was, kept pressing him to finish it at last, his answer was that hitherto, alas, he had not been able to finish it since he lacked a model for Judas Iscariot; but now the Abbot himself, if he would kindly sit for him, would provide an excellent model for the purpose.
We go on in this classical epoch. I beg you to observe this picture by Perugino, Raphael's teacher, to see how Raphael's art grew out of his predecessor's. In Perugino a new element makes its appearance: — a deep religious quality which tries to find expression in the composition, combined with a powerfully architectural imagination. On this, the greatness of Raphael very largely depended.
Look at these two pictures: You will see the one actually growing out of the other; you will recognise how Raphael, starting from his teacher, attained his greatness, receiving the ripest fruits from the different streams which we have learned to know this evening; Raphael brings soul and Spirit into his pictures and combines them with that element of composition which came from his especial schooling.
You will remember the earlier picture of the 'Vision of St. Bernard' which we saw this evening. Consider the great difference. In the former case there was an effort to make the Spirit powerfully active in all that was brought into the picture. Here we see a pure element of composition, contriving to express what is, indeed, the chosen motif of the picture but does not penetrate it fully. Perugino cannot yet deepen his composition so that a living soul speaks out of it. Nevertheless, we see how great a part this element of composition plays in his school of painting.
Here, then, where Raphael receive' such powerful influences, we see the entry of an element of composition. You will, of course, see how great a part it plays in Raphael. In the former pictures we cannot speak of it in the speak of it in the same way as here. The composition was, rather, the result of a totality, — a totality which the artist felt more as a living organism. Man, too, after all, is composed; but though he is composed of head and arms and legs and so forth, we cannot really call this a 'composition'; for in man everything proceeds as from a centre, and we feel his composition — of arms and legs, of head and trunk — as a natural totality, a thing that goes without saying. Here in this picture you not feel it as a natural totality, a thing that goes without saying. You feel it definitely, purposely composed; whereas you will find the earlier compositions flowing more out of a single whole. Here, you see, the whole is placed together; it is literally composed.
Proceeding, therefore, from the 13th, 14th, 15th centuries, we recognise the one stream which seeks to conquer Nature through the Spirit, and leads on to a higher stage of realism. Side by side with it we see another stream which seeks to conquer Nature from the aspect of the soul. And now, coming across from Central and Eastern Italy where Raphael and his predecessors had their home, we see this power of composition, this working from the single parts towards the whole, whereas all the former streams still contained an echo of the working from the whole into the single parts, a thing that you could see most strongly, for example, in that composition representing the spiritual rule of the Church pouring out into the world, where everything was conceived out of a given unity, and nothing was built up out of the single details, as it is in this case.
See how the spiritual element finds its way into the soul of Raphael — I mean, all that has been achieved by that spiritual element which grew into Naturalism.
I have inserted this last picture to show how the element of allegory still worked on. I drew attention to it in Giotto. It worked on along with all the other streams; indeed, it was the one thing that more or less remained of the earlier more spiritual conception. This one thing remains: — this element of abstract allegory which is especially to be found in the pictures in the Campo Santo at Pisa, magnificent as they are in many respects. It belongs, indeed, to an earlier time. Nevertheless, I wanted to show you how this allegorical element still worked on even in a later age.
All these things, then, were living in the feeling of the human being, — a spiritual power and a life of soul poured out into Naturalism; and withal, no longer an ability to grasp the whole as such, but purposeful. composition. Lastly, the remnants of allegory.
In this picture you see once more the working-on of allegory. It is intended to represent the influence of the scholastic doctrine, on the one hand downward to the Earth, even to the conquest of heresy, and on the other hand upward into the heavenly regions where the rays of what is living on the Earth are received into the midst of sacred beings. What was conceived working, as it were, in the spiritual substance of the Earth, is here expressed in allegory. It is an allegory, but one derived from the reality. Here, then, the last-named element — that of allegory — is taken as a starting-point, not for the mere sake of allegory in itself, but, rather, to express in allegory what they conceived as really working, even as they represented it.
Thus we have tried to understand the different streams. I will once more repeat them: The Spirit striving into Naturalism; the life of soul, growing ever more realistic in its expressiveness, even as the artists grew more capable of portraying the soul's life in the outward expression; the element of composition, placing together single features in order that the whole might have a spiritual effect; and, lastly, the element of allegory. We have traced these influences, each and severally. Thus was built up what came at last to full expression in the creations of Raphael, Michelangelo and their successors. Throughout, we see a spiritual force, passing through man by varied ways and channels, seeking to conquer Nature. First we see the Spirit endeavouring to master what comes to expression in the human being through the human Spirit. Then the spiritual faculty of vision enters more and more into man's grasp of outer Nature. Then, in such artists as Fra Angelico and Botticelli, we see the entry of a life of soul. And when the composition was no longer given as a matter of course out of a spiritual vision, we witness the attempt to bring the Spirit to expression by composition deliberately placed together, in which direction Raphael achieved the highest eminence. Lastly, we see how the longing to give voice to the great cosmic process led to Allegory, and how Allegory itself grew into Realism, as you can see in this very picture. Indeed, in Raphael it grew once more into a perfectly natural spirituality, a spirituality that works as a matter of course. I beg you to remember such a composition as his 'St. Cecilia' at Bologna. Here we still see, a central figure is set down with obviously allegorical intention, seeking to represent the soul-life of the human being in its connection with the Universe.
In Raphael's St. Cecilia there is the central figures standing in the midst; yet the thing has gone so far that the allegorical quality is completely overcome, obliterated, as it were, so much so that there is much argument today as to what this 'St. Cecilia' is meant to express, though they need only to look up their Calendars to see how closely the picture adheres to the tradition. For in the legends of the Saint you will find all that Raphael included in this wonderful creation. But to such an extent did he attain Nature's power to express the Spirit and the Soul in form, that we no longer notice all the Allegory that underlies the picture. And that, indeed, is the great thing in this epoch, attained by Michelangelo and Raphael. In all the former streams, the impulses from which they come are recognisable. Here, each and all, they are overcome to perfection, with the attainment of a pure and fresh and free (for that time fresh and free) vision and reproduction of the reality around us, in its natural material content and in its soul and Spirit. The works created by this age were based, indeed, on the preceding evolution which we have described. Here, above all, we recognise how such achievements must be preceded by many lines of evolution, which, only inasmuch as they take their start from the Spirit, lead to the recognition of the Spirit in the outer world. Man must first seek the Spirit, then will he find the Spirit in the outer world. Man must first feel and experience the Soul, then will he find them also in the external Nature. Thus we see how the Spiritual that was still at work in Cimabue, worked on after him in Giotto, who in turn carried it outward as a means to understand the forms of Nature. We see the spiritual content radiating still from Giotto's work, applied still further by his successors to apprehend the Spirit in the world of Nature. We see how the deep soul-impulse that came through Francis of Assisi, taking hold of the life of the soul in man himself, was expressed with a certain artistic perfection in the Christian piety of Fra Angelico. This impulse once again rays forth into the world; we have the essence of Botticelli. Then (if I may so express it), out of a kind of memory of the totality of vision which is lost, the artist tries to piece together the single features into a composition, thus creating a totality once more, so that the Spirit — which was lost to immediate vision, to be used in a new way in the taking hold of Nature, — might work again from the totality. And at length we see, in the quest of Allegory, the search for means of expression, leading in the last resort to the overcoming of all Allegory; to the finding the means of expression even in Nature herself. For to him who first sets out to seek it, the free and open-minded vision of the outer World itself will give what he desires. Nature herself is allegorical; yet does she nowhere impose her allegories on us, or let us see them outwardly as such. Man must learn what is there to be read in the book of Nature. But at first he often has to learn his reading in clumsy devious byways. In such a work as the picture of St. Thomas which we saw before, we witness still a clumsy and unskillful reading of the book of Nature. In Raphael's St. Cecilia, on the other hand, we have a reading which contains no longer any Allegory, no longer any of that abstract element which has not yet arisen to the full height of Art.
Thus I think we shall have gained a conception, how the great epoch of the Italian Renaissance gradually came into being. Again and again, I think, the vision of man will be directed to these times, to this artistic evolution; for it lets us gaze so deeply into the life and working of piety, of Wisdom and of Love in the human soul, combined with the artistic fancy, striving to reproduce Nature with a fresh and open mind. It lies not in the mere imitation of Nature, but in the faculty of Man, with all that he has found in his own soul, to discover again in Nature what is already there in her, akin to the inmost experiences of the human soul. This, I venture to hope, our descriptions today — however brokenly, however imperfectly — may still have brought to light.