The History of Art
III. Dürer and Holbein
Master of Cologne, Lochner, Schongauer, Grünewald and Cranach
8 November 1916, Dornach
The evolution of Art in Middle Europe up to the time when Dürer and Holbein entered this stream of evolution is one of the most complex problems in the history of Art. Especially in Dürer's case — to speak of all the elements that culminate in him, we have to deal with a whole series of interpenetrating impulses. Another difficult problem is the relation of this artistic evolution to that other one, the culmination of which we considered a short while ago: the Italian Renaissance, the great masters of Italy.
Needless to say, we can do no more than emphasise a few salient points. To understand what is really important in the evolution of this European Art, we must realise, above all, the existence of a peculiar talent, a peculiar activity of fancy, of imagination which had its mainsprings in Middle Europe. I mean that Central Europe which we may conceive extending approximately from Saxony to Thuringia, to the sea, to the Atlantic Ocean. Peculiar impulses of artistic fancy or imagination proceed from this region of Middle Europe. As impulses of fancy they go back into very olden times. In a certain way they were undoubtedly at work even at the time of the first spread of Christianity in the more Southern regions. These Northern impulses of the imagination stand in clear contrast to those of a specifically Southern nature. The difference is not easy to characterise, but we may describe it somehow thus: the Southern impulses of imagination are rooted in a certain power of perception for the quiet form, the form at rest, inasmuch as form, and color too, spring forth from deeper manifestations which lie hidden, in a certain sense, behind what is directly, physically perceptible. Accordingly, whatsoever the Southern imagination seeks to reproduce in Art, it tends rather to raise it above the level of the individual. It tends to raise the Individual into the Typical, the Universal, into a realm where the more special, earthly and human qualities will melt away. It is a striving to reveal how something that lies beneath the outer objects works into their forms and colors. This impulse of imagination also evolves a certain tendency to come to rest in the well balanced composition — placing the figures side by side in certain mutual relationships — a power of composition which, as you know, reaches its highest eminence in Raphael.
The Mid-European impulse of artistic fancy is of a very different kind. Tracing it back into the oldest time, we find that to begin with it makes no immediate effort to take hold of the form as such, or to achieve a restfulness of composition. Its interest is in the quick event which it portrays; it seeks to express what comes from the soul's impulses, to portray how the living Will of man expresses itself in gesture and in movement — not so much in the well-measured Form that is appropriate to human nature, but in the gesture in which the soul itself is living, in which it seeks to find expression itself as in its own sign or token. Such is the Northern impulse of artistic fancy. He who is sensitive to these things will always feel through it the working of ancient runes, where twigs or treetrunks or the like were thrown together, to express something through their positions as they fell. The sign or token, and the inner life which it contains underlies this kind of imagination, which is able, therefore, to unite itself far more with the individual expression of the soul's life; with all that springs directly from the Will-impulse of the soul. Little is left to us of what was there in olden times, — I do not mean so much as finished works of Art but as ideas of human life and cosmic processes. All this was exterminated root and branch with the spread of Christianity. Little is left of what wls contained in the old Paganism. Once more, I do not mean perfect works of plastic Art — nor will I say symbolical — but rather sign-like representations of their ideas about the world and life. If more of these things had been preserved, even the outer world would feel how the essential thing in the Northern Art is this imagination working more from within outward — from the impulses of Will and not contemplative vision. This imagination, working forth from the impulse of the Will, must be regs.rded as the fundamental note in all the cultural life that spread from the North towards the South. And, I may say, more than is generally realised, spread out in this direction. The time will come when men will see and unravel how much of these Northern impulses lies hidden, above all, in the art of the Renaissance. It is hard to recognise in the finished and extant works of Art, whether of the North, or of the South, or Spain, the true nature of the impulses that they contain. For these impulses flowed together from many quarters. Consider, for instance, all that is living in the famous “Last Supper” of Leonardo da Vinci in Milan. Compare it with the earlier pictures of the Last Supper which were derived more purely from the Southern spirit. See what dramatic life and movement he has expressed in the relations of the several figures, see the individual characters of soul which shine out of these faces. Then you will realise, working in all this, a Northern impulse that spread mysteriously towards the South. Something is here poured out, needless to say, poured out into the purely Southern imagination — albeit correspondingly toned down — which we observe again in quite another sphere in Shakespeare. For Shakespeare's figures are certainly born out of the Northern Spirit. They always express the individual human being himself, they no longer contain what comes, as it were, out of the Supersensible, using the human figure and human action like a mere instrument for its expression.
But we may go still further, my dear friends. Strange though it may sould today, if we observe Michelangelo's wonderful foreshortenings in the Sistine Chapel we cannot but realise, even in this element of movement, an impulse coming from the North. These impulses were but submerged and overlaid by Southern ones. We can see a special instance of this process in Raphael, whose imagination, growing up amid the loneliness of the Umbrian Hills, had remained, after all, more or less purely Southern. All that Raphael observed in Leonardo, in Michelangelo — influenced as they were by Northern impulses — all this he took and rounded off and ‘classicised’ if I may put it so, into his marvellous composition.
These are a few bare indications of profound problems, which if we cannot master we do not understand the medieval Art at all. For the same reason, more than elsewhere we find in the oldest extant medieval Art the expression of the word itself in signs quite naturally wedded with the plastic arts. The artistic elaboration of letters into exquisitely printed miniatures, in the biblical works created in Europe at that time, give us a feeling of something absolutely natural. In the oldest period of Christian culture we find the monks — all of whom undoubtedly absorbed Mid-European impulses — decorating their litanies and other books in this way, causing the letters, as it were, to blossom forth into miniature paintings. This was no mere external habit. It sprang straight from the feeling of an inner connection between sign and picture. The sign or token wedged its way into pictorial description, as it were. Now the ‘sign’, once again, is a direct expression of the human Will, the human life of soul. Here, therefore, we have the natural transition from that which seeks expression in sentences and words to that which flows into the painted miniature or into the sculptured ivories with which they decorate the covers of their books. Truly, in all these things there blossomed forth something that was afterwards no longer there for Mid-European Art. In every case these miniatures reveal a creation with inner life and impulse of the soul, combined with a certain naivete, a certain uncouth simplicity in respect to what the South could reproduce with such abundant skill; I mean, what lives in the Form itself, in the Form that belongs to the pure human nature before the movement and mobility expressing the individual life of the soul, works from within and pours itself into the nature of these forms. Take any of these miniatures in the old Bibles. Again and again you will see it is the artist's impulse to express, albeit through the traditional biblical figures, what he himself may have experienced in soul. A guilty conscience, for example — all such experiences of the soul are expressed magnificently in the older Mid-European miniature painting. This, as I said, is combined with great uncouthness in point of Form; I mean that human form to which man himself, through his own individuality, does not contribute, but in which the Divine and spiritual being that underlies all Nature is revealed.
Now the impulse which I have just characterised rayed out again and again from Middle Europe, and as it did so it lost itself in what was raying outward meantime from the South. It lost itself, for instance, in the spread of Christianity and Romanism. Moreover, that which rayed out from Middle Europe was fertilised in turn from the South. All that was gained from the South by way of mastery of Form and of Color, too, inasmuch as it manifests the underlying spirituality of nature, all this entered into the flower of the Northern impulse. Thus did the several impulses grow into one another, layer upon layer, interweaving.
Evolution, therefore, did not take place continuously but more or less by sudden starts. Again and again we feel impelled to ask: What would have evolved if, instead of these sudden impacts, there had been a continuous process of evolution? We have the following feeling, for example (though, needless to say, these are mere hypotheses); What would have been the outcome if that which was contained, during the early Carolingean and Ottonian periods, in the miniatures and sculptured ivories above described, had been enabled to evolve straightforwardly to a great Art? What actually took place was very different; the Romanesque and Classical carried forward on the advancing wave of Christianity, poured itself out into all this, bringing with it in architecture and in sculpture, the impulse of Form which we described just now — the Southern impulse. Then were the Northern impulse of movement and expression, and the Southern of form and color wedded to one another (though when I speak of color in the Southern impulse I must qualify once more: — Color as the manifestation of the underlying Spiritual that is expressed in Nature, not of the individual).
But there was yet another thing. We may say that with the decline of the Ottonian period the first Northern impulse came to an end. The classical and Romanesque grew into it, spreading into the tributary valleys of the Rhone and Rhine. Into these regions especially, but further afield as well, a Classical impulse found its way. The two impulses coalesced and attained their height towards the 12th and 13th centuries. Then from the West emerged another impulse, which had been preparing in the meantime. Once more, then, the impulse of contemplative Vision — the Southern impulse, properly speaking, — was wedded in mid-European Art with that impulse of movement which, as I described just now, sprang essentially from the element of Will. But meanwhile in the West a different impulse was preparing, and grew into the union of the other two, till from the 12th and 13th centuries it was completely interwoven with the united impulse which I characterised just now, raying outward from the basins of the Rhone and the Rhine. This other impulse, prepared in the West, also resulted from the flowing together of two distinct impulses. It appears in the sublime forms of the Gothic. Truly, in Gothic Art once more two impulses have come together. The one is carried thither from the North. It contains, if I may describe it so, a practicality of life, a cleverness in skill and understanding, a certain realism. It comes to Europe on the Norman waves of culture. The other impulse comes from Spain, and more especially from Southern France. Thus we have coming from the North an element of intelligence, utility and realism (but we must not confuse this with the later realism; this early realism sought to understand the Universe, the Cosmos, and wanted to see all earthly things in their connection with the heavenly). From the South, on the other hand, and concentrated most of all in Southern France, there came what we may describe as the mystical element, striving upward from the earthly realm and reaching up to Heaven. Hence the peculiar nature of the Gothic, for these two elements have grown together in it, a mystical element and an intellectual. No one will understand the Gothic who cannot see in it on the one hand this mystical element which, concentrated in the South of France, grew especially in the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries. It brings into the Gothic Art that mysterious quality of striving upward from below, while united with it, on the other hand, there is an element of cool intelligence and craftsmanship, which is never absent from the Gothic. The sublime upward striving of the Gothic forms is mystical; their interlacings, and ingenious relationships come from another quarter, adding to the mystical element the height of craftsmanship.
Thus in the Gothic the one side and the other are peculiarly united. These impulses which poured themselves into the Gothic flowed over again from the West, notably in the 12th and 13th centuries, to permeate once more the artistic creation of Mid-Europe.
But we must bear in mind another thing in this connection. It is true that in the natural course of civilisation there was always a tendency for things to interweave with one another, layer upon layer; for every impulse always tends to spread. The Classical element of Form is interwoven, for example, in the works proceeding from the Gothic. But this is only the one tendency. In Middle Europe there always remained a certain impulse of revolt which is especially to be observed in Art. Again and again, this impulse tends to bring out a strong element of Will and Movement and expression. Thus, after all, that which flows inward, both from the South and West, is ever and again more or less repelled, pushed back again. In Middle Europe they felt the Classical and in later times even the Gothic as a foreign element.
What is it, essentially, that they feel as a foreign element? It is that which in any way tends to blot out the individuality. They feel in the Roman and Classical something that is hostile to the individual. Nay, in later times they even feel in the Gothic an element beneath which the individual must groan and soffocate. In the artistic life especially, there is in Middle Europe the mood which afterwards finds expression in another sphere, in the Reformation, — a mood already voiced by spirits such as Tauler or Valentin Weigel. Perceiving how the Gothic and the Classical wedged their way into the Mid-European principle and completely overwhelmed it, we must say that in the centuries before Dürer, the Mid-European principle as such, in its own impulses, failed and fell and was unable to come forth, being overwhelmed by the other. Yet it lived on; in thoughts and feelings it was always present. It is the same element which speaks so eloquently out of the subsequent conceptions of Nature, seeking to unite with bold intelligence Heaven and Earth — seeking to comprehend all other things by laws discovered also on the Earth.
But in the heart of it all something quite different is holding sway; it comes to expression very beautifully in the words of Goethe's Faust. Imagine Faust in his study, which we may naturally conceive in Gothic forms. He has studied all that we might describe as Romanism and Classicism, Over against it all he sets the human individuality — the self-supporting individuality of man. Yet how does he contrast it? To understand how Faust opposes the human individuality to all these things in the midst of which he finds himself, we must realise that to this day there thrives almost unnoticed, in Middle Europe, something that unites this country most wonderfully with the East. When today we read or hear of the part that was played in the primeval Persian culture by light and darkness — Ormuzd and Ahriman — we take these things too abstractly. We fail to realise how the men of earlier ages stood in the midst of real and concrete forces. Real light, real darkness, in their mutual interplay, were a direct real experience to the men of former days; and this experience stood nearer to the impulse of Movement and enpression than to the Southern one of Form and composition, where things are placed in quiet balance side by side.
In the creative weaving of the World, light and darkness weave together. Influences of light and dark ray out upon all that lives and moves on Earth, as man and animal. Through light and shade, and through their mutual enhancement to the world of color, we feel the connection between the inner expression of the soul of man that flows into his movements, and something Heavenly and Spiritual which lies far nearer to this human impulse of movement than anything the Southern Art is able to express. Man walks along, man turns his head. With every step, with every turning of the head, new impulses of light and shade appear. When we study this connection between light and movement we enter into something which, as it were, links earthly Nature with the elemental. In this interplay of elemental with earthly Nature the man of Middle Europe lived with a special intensity whenever he could rise to creative fancy. Hence, though the fact has scarcely been observed as yet, color arises very differently in Middle Europe than it does in the South. Color, in the Southern Art, is color driven outward from the inner nature of the being to the surface. That which arises from the artistic imagination of Mid-Europe is cast on to the surface by the interplay of light and darkness; it is color playing over the surface of things. Many things as yet imperfectly realised will only be understood when we perceive this difference in coloring; when we perceive how on the one hand the color is cast on the object and plays over its surface, while on the other hand it surges from within the object to the surface. The latter is the Southern Art of color. Color in Mid-European art is color cast on to the surface, springing from the interplay of light and shade, glistening forth out of the weaving and willing of the light and darkness. As all these things interpenetrate, layer upon layer, the several impulses are not so easily perceived; yet they decidedly exist.
This impulse in Mid-Europe is connected in its turn with what I would call the magical element which we find in the old Persian civilisation. For the interplay of light and shade — light and darkness — is deeply connected with the ancient Persian wisdom of the Magi. Here we have the mysterious manifestations of the life of soul and spirit, as it works at the same time in man himself and in the elemental weaving of the light and shade that play around the human being. It is as though his inner being entered into a hidden relationship with the light and shade that play around him, and with the glistening life of color that springs from light and darkness. This is a thing that lies forever in the element of Will; it brings the quality of magic into connection with the feelings of the soul. And man himself, through this, comes into relation with the elemental beings — those beings who, to begin with, manifest themselves within the elements. Therefore Faust, having turned away from all the philosophic, medical, legal and theosophical studies coming to him from the South, gives himself up to magic. But in doing so he must stand firm and secure within himself. He must not be afraid of all the influences in the midst of which a man is placed when he would stand firm on his own personality alone. He must have no fear of Hell or of the Devil, he must march firmly on through light and darkness. Think how beautiful this feature is: Faust himself working and weaving in the wondrous twilight of the morning! Think how the play of light and darkness enters the famous monologue of Goethe's Faust. It is a wonderful artistic inspiration, intimately connected with the Mid-European impulse. It is equally a poem or a painting, out of the very depths of the Mid-European principle.
Here, again, we have a connection between Man and the naturalistic life and being of the Elements. This is a trait that also played its part in Mid-European conception of the Christian tradition coming upwards from the South. Like a perpetual rebellion, this element wedges itself in; this element by which Mid-Europe is akin to Asia, to an ancient Asiatic civilisation.
All these different influences play into one another; and now into the midst of all this evolution, Albrecht Dürer, an absolutely unique figure in the history of Art, comes upon the scene. Born in 1471, he died in 1526.
I have studied Dürer again and again, as an individual figure, it is true, but placed as he is in the whole context of Mid-European culture, I could never understand him in any other way. Through the infinite and countless channels whereby the unconscious life of the human soul is connected with the life and civilisation around him, Dürer is related to his environment.
We see him at an early age in his portrait of the Jungfer Furlegerie (above) bringing out the light and shade of the figure, modelling this most wonderfully. Here we already recognise the working of the impulse I described just nau. Here and throughout his life, Dürer is particularly great in expressing what arises from the above-described experience and sympathy of man with elemental Nature. He brings this element into all that he absorbs from biblical tradition. At the same time, he has great difficulty in adapting himself to the Southern element. We might say, it is a right sour task for him. How different in Leonardo's case: It seems perfectly natural to Leonardo to take up the study of anatomy and physiology, and so receive into his faculty of outward vision uhat was formerly given to a more occult sensitiveness, as I explained in the last lecture. For Dürer it is a sour task — this study of anatomy, this studious mastery of the forms in which the Divine and spiritual, transcending the individual human being, comes to expression in the human figure. It does not come natural to him to make these studied forms his min, so as to re-create the human figure, as it were, after the pattern first created by God. That is not Dürer's way. His way is rather this: to trace in all existing things the inner movement, the impulse of Will; to follow up uhat brings the human nature into direct connection with all things moving in the outer world, — with light and shade and all that lives therein. This is Dürer's kingdom. Hence he always creates out of the element of movement, whereto his oun original artistic fancy is directed.
Is it not perfectly natural for the everyday, workaday things of human life to have found their vay into the evolution of these impulses? An Art which mainly seeks to express the Divine that works in man, the Universal type that transcends the human individual, — such an Art will of its own inherent impulses be less inclined to portray uhat in the everyday life of man stamps itself upon his form and figure, — from his everyday calling, from the familiar experiences of his life. In the Mid-European Art, on the other hand, this element plays a great part, and in this respect a special impulse proceeded from the districts which we now call the Netherlands. Thence came the practical impulse, if I may call it so, permeating the artistic imagination with all that is stamped upon the human being by the familiar reality of earthly things, so that in his gestures, nay, his form and mien and physiognomy, he grow, together pith this earthly kingdom.
Such impulses flowed together in Mid-Europe, in ways most manifold; and only as we disentangle them (Which would require, of course, far more than these few abstract sketches), do we come to true understanding of what is characteristic in Mid-European Art. We shall still have to bring out many a single point; for these things cannot all be said, we can but hint at them.
We will now begin with the period when the Classical impulse grew together with the Mid-European. We shall see some of the sculptured figures in the Cathedral at Naumburg in Germany, representing individual human beings of that time.
Especially in these sculptured works, you see most beautifully combined on the one hand, the perfect striving for expressiveness of soul, and on the other hand the relatively perfect mastery of form which they had absorbed by this time from the South. You will see this especially in these sculptures of the Cathedral at Naumburg, belonging to the thirteenth century. At that time the Mid-European feeling had grown together in Mid-Europe with the power of form which they received from the Classical. While on the other hand, the same Mid-European feeling blossomed forth in the creations of Walther von der Vogelweide and Wolfram von Eichenbach. Remembering that this was the time which brought to the surface these great poets, we shall have before us a clearer picture of the stream of civilisation which was then flowing over Central Europe.
Wonderfully, in this work, you see the life of the soul poured out into the facial expression.
Intensely individual expressiveness of soul, not in the least immersed in any Universal type, is here united with a high technique of Form — a faculty which, as I said, they had received from the South.
We will now turn to works derived more out of the Gothic thinking. We will show some sculptures from the Cathedral at Strassburg.
These figures are far more adapted to the surrounding architecture than the ones we saw just now. The expression is still most decidedly determined from within, but the forming of the figures is also called forth by the surrounding architecture. We observe this feature even more if we go further West.
It is characteristic of that time to represent the Church as the power that overcometh. Again and again you will find these motifs of conquered demons or the like.
The Church is represented in the figure of this woman.This, in contrast to the Church, is the Synagogue — a blinded figure. Observe the wonderful gesture.
Please impress upon your minds not only the head with its peculiar expression, but the whole gesture of the figure. We will show the Church once more so that you may compare and see the wonderful contrast of the soul's life expressed in the two figures, Synagogue and Church.
As a further instance of the working-together of Southern and Mid-European impulses, we will now give some examples of the School of Cologne. The Cologne Master of uncertain identity, often known as the Master Wilhelm, combines great delicacy of form and line with tender intimacy of expression, as you will see in the following:
Observe, too, the lower figures, see how the forms are created out of movement and gesture. The following well-known picture of the Virgin in the Cologne Museum is by the same Master.
I beg you to observe, in all the following pictures, how these Masters love to express the life of the soul, not only in facial expression and in gesture, but especially in the whole forming of the hands. That epoch, more than any other, was working at the perfection of the hands, in relation to the inner life. I mention this especially because it is brought to a great height in Dürer who with the greatest joy portrays all that the soul can bring to expression in the hands.
In this Cologne Master, we truly see a pure permeation of the Southern element of Form with Mid-European expressiveness of the soul. We will now go on to the Master who came from Constance to Cologne, in whom the element of expression rebels once more against the element of Form, albeit this later Master learnt very much from his predecessor — from the creator of the last two pictures.
I refer, of course, to Stephen Lochner, who, deeply rooted as he is in the Art of expression, if I may say so, adapts himself with a certain revolutionary opposition to what he learns in Cologne from the former Master and his pupils.
Here, then, ye have the works of Stephen Lochner following on those we showed just now. However closely he adapts himself to them, we see in him a new beginning — once more, a fresh creation from within. He came to Cologne in 1420. He who became more or less his teacher there — the Master of the “Veronica” and of the “Madonna of the Sweet Pea” — had died about 1410. In 1420 Stephen Lochner came to Cologne.
A wonderful picture by Stephen Lochner: Mary in a bower of roses. Observe the immense mobility of the figures and the attempt to bring movement into the picture as a whole. We can only reproduce it in light and shade; far more is expressed in the coloring. See the mobility that comes into the picture by the spread veil, out of which God the Father looks down on the Madonna and the Child. See how every angel does his task, — what movement this brings into the whole picture. The picture grows into a composition born out of the very movement. In the Southern impulse you have composition born of restfulness; movement comes into it only when the Northern impulse is added. Here, in this work of Stephen Lochner's, everything is inner movement from the outset.
We will now show some examples of the work of another Master — one who received strong impulses from Flanders, from the West. The Western impulses are clearly visible in him. I refer to Martin Schongauer, who lived from 1420 to 1490. Here you will see the same artistic tendency, combined, however, with the Western impulse from Flanders.
You see how this brings in a far more realistic element.
This essentially visionary picture is conceived most realistically and with great individuality. It is, indeed, an extraordinarily true Imagination which enables the artist to embody in such realistic figures the human passions, the content of a temptation. Side by side with the human figure he places that which lives as a reality in the astral body when temptation comes upon us.
Here, again, you have a temptation of Saint Anthony. This one, however, is by Grünewald, who lived from 1470 to 1529. In Grünewald you will admire more or less the culminating point of all that flowed together in the preceding efforts. Real individual expression is combined with great technical power. Grünewald, in many respects, is far more influenced by the Southern imagination than Schongauer. It is most interesting to compare the two “Temptations,” Their subject is the sable. We might even conceiyg,them as the Temptation which came to him on the one day in the former picture, and that which comes on the following day in this one The point is not the detailed subject but the artistic treatment as such which shows, undoubtedly, a higher perfection in this artist than in the forMer.
This is the central picture in the famous Isenhaimer Altar, now at Colmar. Observe, to the very smallest detail, how the characterisation always flows from the expression. Even the little animal down here partakes in the whole action. Study the flowing of the soul into the hands.
One wing of the Isenheimer Altar. Another temptation of St. Anthony, also by Matthias Grünewald.
This is the other wing of the same Altar:
Next is the Predella of the Isenheimer Altar. The representation of character in these works of Art is perfect in its kind.
Also a part of the same Altar-piece.
This, then, is Master Grünewald who represents in a certain respect the very summit of what we have seen coming over, evolving more and more, from the thirteenth century into the fifteenth, and on into the sixteenth.
We will now pass on to a different element, where with comparatively less technical ability (for in these last pictures the technical ability is very great) we find a nee effort to express what I called just now the “rebellion” in individual characterisation. We will pass on to Lucas Cranach, who, though with far less ability, brings out the expressiveness and inner life of the soul with revolutionary impulse. He shows how the soul finds outward expression even in the everyday, workaday life of man. In Lucas Cranach this impulse is especially active.
Here you have the purest Reformation mood, although it is a Madonna, — it is the mood of the Reformation through and through. To a high degree, the human element outweighs all other considerations. Look at the figures, both of Mother and Child, and you will see that this is so.
An individual human being is painted here to show how he reveres the Christ. A personality with both feet on the ground, he expresses as a deliberate Will-impulse of the soul the reverence he feels for the Christ. The whole conception shows how this very soul comes to expression in the human feeling. The man's identity is known, it is Albrecht von Brandenburg.
We now come to the most eminently mediaeval artist, Albrecht Dürer.
More in the period of his youth.
Study once more the hand; observe how the very hair is arranged to bring out the effects of light and darkness.
Here you have Dürer's Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit. The conception is truly born out of the whole spirit of the age — a conception reaching far beyond all thought, and yet in some way it was mastered by that time. The conception is here worked out in Dürer's way, with his wonderful drawing. Study it carefully, and you will see how everywhere, even in his drawing, he is aiming at the light and shade, and arranges the composition accordingly.
For a definite reason we will now once more show Raphael's famous picture known as ‘Disputa,’ which is familiar to you all.
You know what is characterised in this picture: Below, the College of Theologians engaged in the study of the truths of Theology; and there bursts into this gathering the Revelation of the Trinity; Father, Son and Spirit. !le see three stages, as it were: the Spiritual Beings rising ever higher, — those who have passed through the Gate of Death, those who are never incarnated. We see the composition of the figures down below arranged quite in the Southern way; the fundamental conception of the picture is expressed in a restful composition, the various figures balanced side by side; the very movement flows into this state of rest. Now let us return again to Dürer's ‘Holy Trinity,’ painted almost at the same time as this.
Compare this composition with the other. Once more you have three stages, but the composition here arises out of movement. It is wonderfully contrasted with the other, the Southern composition created almost simultaneously with this. The picture is in Vienna, the coloring is very beautiful. It is quite untrue to suggest that in creating this composition Dürer was influenced in any way by anything he had received from the South. On the contrary, the Southern painters can frequently be shown to have been influenced by Northern compositions — if not by Dürer's own. Indeed, in one instance it can be historically proved: —
For his Crucifixion (undoubtedly a later picture), Raphael had Dürer's drawings before him. Needless to say, we make no such assertion in this case; but the idea that Dürer himself was influenced must be rejected. The motif lay in the whole spirit of the time; it existed in the widest circles, and this work of Dürer's is thoroughly a product of the Mid-European impulse.
Here we see Dürer, too, as a master in characterisation. The picture represents Jesus among the Doctors of the Law, but needless to say, the heads of the characters are surch as the artist saw around him in his own environment.
This is the famous picture of the four Apostles. The excellence of the picture lies in the sharp characterisation of the difference of the four Apostles, in temperament and character.
This is the center-piece of the ‘Paumgartner altar.’
I have inserted this picture because it shows Dürer's conception of movement, — movement proceeding directly out of the human being.
This is the famous picture of the Christian knight, or, as it is often called: ‘Ritter, Tod und Teufel,’ — the Knight, Death and the Devil. Observe how entirely this picture is a product out of the age. Compare it with the passage from ‘Faust’ to which I just now referred.
“Tis true, I am shrewder than all your dull tribe, Magister, doctor, priest, parson and scribe; Scruple or doubt comes not to enthral me, Neither can devil nor hell now appal me.”
There you have the character who will fear neither Death nor the Devil, but go his way straight forward through the world. So, indeed, he must be represented — the Christian knight who has revolted thoroghly against all the doctors, masters, scribes and priests that have encumbered him. He has to go his way through the world alone, fearing neither Death nor the Devil that stand across his path. He leaves them on one side, and perseveres on his way. ‘The Christian Knight’ this picture should be called. Death and the Devil stand in the way; he marches over them, passes them by unfalteringly. The same mood of the time, out of which the monologue in Goethe's "Faust" is consciously created, comes to expression in this picture by Dürer.
Look at this thoroughly medieval room. The composition is born purely out of the light and darkness, and it is consciously intended so. Look at the light that floods the room. Placed into the light, there is the dog asleep, getting least light of all, more or less in the shade. Then the lion, as it were, a creature of more [?ill; he seems to be dreaming, and there is much light on his face. The contrast of the two animals is intentionally thus expressed in their relation to the light that falls upon them. And now contrast with these St. Jerome himself. On him the light is also falling, but at the same time he seems to ray it back again out of himself. Man and animal — saint and animal — are contrasted simply by being placed in the light. So, too, the skull. Dog and lion, saint and skull; the whole composition is ordered with respect to the light and shade.
It is like a very history of evolution, magnificently expressed by placing the different figures thus into the light. It is one of the greatest qualities in Dürer to bring out with such creative power mthe inherent force of composition that lies in the interplay of light with different objects and living creatures. Of course, the main figures do not alone make up the composition. But we must especially adraire in this picture the bringing out of the force of composition which lies inherent in the light and shade.
Of course, you must not take such a statement as beyond cavil, but this picture seems placed into the world for the express purpose of showing what Dürer intended in his treatment of light and shade, his power of composition out of light and darkness. As if to show what he intends, he puts together the angular body of the polyhedron and the round sphere. In the sphere he shows how light and darkness work together; he lets the light fall on the sphere in a quite peculiar way. Having studied the distribution of the light on the sphere, you may proceed to observe how the effects of light expressed in the folds of the garment correspond to those of the spherical surface. Dürer lets them fall in such a way as to express in the arrangement of the folds all that comes to expression by way of light and shade on the simple surface of the sphere. Now let us go on to the polyhedron, and compare this in turn. According to the angle of the surface, it is light, half-dark, quite dark, and brilliantly illumined. Then he sets down a being of more fleeting form, once more in order to portray the falling of the light upon the surfaces, even as he showed it in the polyhedron. So that in every place you have the question: What says the light to this object? What says the light to this being? You may compare the effect of light and shade in every case as in the Polyhedron and in the sphere. In this picture Dürer has created a work of immense educational value. You cannot do better than use this picture if you want to teach the art of shading. Up here, to the right of the bat that carries the word, ‘melancholia,’ he lets a source of light appear — something that is self-luminous, in contrast to the reflected light expressed on all the other surfaces.
(At this point some one interposed the question: Has the picture any deeper meaning?)
Why should this not be deep enough? Why look for any deeper meaning? If you only study the magical and mysterious qualities of light in space, you will find in this a far deeper meaning than if you set to work with symbolic and mysterious interpretations. Such interpretations lead us away from the true domain of Art. Even if deeper meanings can be seen in it — as, for instance, in the table of planetary figures on the right, and other things of that kind, — it is far better simply to associate these things with the character and setting of the time. It was natural in that age to put such things as these together. But we do better to remain within the sphere of Art than to look for symbols. I even think there is considerable humour in this picture, inasmuch as the title (somewhat amateurishly translated, I admit) may be intended to convey, as a more humorous suggestion, the words, ‘black colouring.’ What he really meant with the word ‘Melancholia’ was something like ‘black coloring.’ In a rather hidden way (though, as I said, this is a little amateurish) the word may well be held to designate ‘black coloring’ or ‘blackness.’ That, at any rate, is far more likely than that it was intended to express some profound symbol. Dürer was concerned with the artistic treatment — the plastic quality, the forming of the light. Please do not think there is no depth in this plastic treatment of the light; do not look out for artificial symbolical interpretations. Is not the world deep enough if it contains such light-effects as these? They, indeed, are far deeper than any mystical contents we might hunt for in this picture because it happens to be entitled ‘Melancholia.’
We now pass on to Holbein, an artist essentially different from Dürer. Born in Augsburg, he then lives in Basle, and afterwards loses himself — disappears, as it were, — in England. He is a realist in an especial sense. Even where he creates a composition, he carries his strong realism into the clement of portraiture. At the same time he strives to express what I referred to just now; the things of everyday in the life of the soul. I beg you to observe how the milieu, the calling, the whole environment in the midst of which a man is living, is stamped upon his soul and character. Holbein expresses this in a wellnigh extreme way; he seeks to draw it forth out of the soul, creating the whole human being out of the very time in which he lives.
Here, again, you have the same motive. An actual human being of the time (it is the Burgomaster of Basel, Herr Mayer, with his family) is shown worshipping the Madonna. This picture is in Darmstadt. There is a very good copy in Dresden, so good that for a long time it passed as a second version by Holbein himself. Here you will see the extreme realism of Holbein, whereas in Dürer there are those elements which we tried to characterise before — quite universal elements. I'm sorry we have no slides of Holbein's ‘Dance of Death.’ Perhaps we may show these another time, for Holbein is especially great in his treatment of the motif of Death:
In conclusion, I will show you something which, while not in direct connection with the other, belongs, nevertheless, to the same artistic context.
This sculpture of the Madonna, which is in Nuremburg, reveals to perfection what the Mid-European art could achieve in gesture and tenderness of feeling. It is by an unknown artist. You must imagine this Madonna, opposite her, perhaps, St. John, a great Cross with the Christ in the center; for this Madonna of Nuremberg belongs undoubtedly to a Crucifixion group. Here you have the very flower of German Art in the 16th century or perhaps a little later. Much of the tenderness in the Madonnas which we showed today will be found again in this one, especially in the unique posture.
We have tried to show you, my dear friends, all those things which, seen in the connection I have tried to indicate, bring out in clear relief the individuality of Dürer. One only learns fully to recognise Dürer when one considers him in connection with the time — his own time and the time before him. More than is generally imagined, there lives in Dürer the greatness of that impulse which led, in another sphere, to the assertion and rebellion that we associate with Faust. In Dürer, indeed, there lived, artistically speaking, a goodly piece of Faust.
You will get a real feeling of the time in which Dürer lived and out of which he was born, if you take such pictures as his ‘St. Jerome,’ his ‘Melancholia,’ and his ‘Christian Knight,’ and many another, and compare them with the mood that goes out from the first monologues of Goethe's Faust — which must, of course, be placed in the whole setting of the time, even as Goethe himself intended it. Nay, more, you could compare Dürer's ‘St. Jerome’ with certain actual pictures of Faust and you would find a real connecting link. When I spoke of Dürer's creating out of light and shade, I certainly did not mean it in a banal sense. Needless to say, anyone who wishes to imitate some fragment of reality can work out of the light and shade. This is one of the most characteristic features in Dürer, while on the other hand he also has in him the longing for individual characterisation which is so remarkably expressed in his ‘Heads of Apostles.’
We have thus tried to bring before you a few of the important points in the old Christian Art. On the next occasion we shall refer to some others which entered the main stream here or there. Then we shall see the whole in its totality.