Violence of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries led, among Protestants as well as among Catholics, to a reaction, which tended to the greater influence of Christianity. The Protestants, divided as they were, at least agreed upon the necessity for personal devotion, for living faith, for obedience to the maxims of the Bible and the Gospel. Although less visible in its external demonstrations, religious sentiment was as deeply imprinted among the Puritans as among the Anglicans; among the Calvinists as strongly as among the Lutherans. Society in England, Germany, Holland, and Switzerland even assumed a religious tone, and affected a severity which has not yet disappeared, although greatly softened in our own days. Assiduous attendance at church, the taste for the perusal of the Bible, the passion for theological and moral discussions, the, at all events outward, rigidity of manners, the strict observance of the Sabbath rest, imposed by public opinion quite as much as by the civil authorities, distinguished Protestant countries, where religion concentrated in the soul assumed an importance that heightened the earnestness and gravity of the populations of the North. Protestantism imprinted its seal upon the English, the Americans and the Dutch, the Swiss and the Germans. It became a national characteristic, it is a part of true patriotism, and rules society, which, in these nations more than others, glories in the name of Christian.
Catholicism in the countries where it still predominated devoted itself, without renouncing its external pomp, to returning to a more serious practice of the Christian virtues. New religious orders, founded in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries, endeavored some, like the Capuchins and the Feuillants to reestablish the severe rules of the old mendicant orders; others like the Congregation of the Oratory and the Reformed Benedictines of Saint Maur to revive learning at the same time as piety among the clergy.
But although the Seventeenth Century was remark-able for a spirit of charity, which contrasted with the still prevalent intolerance, it affected no improvement in the relations between the nations. The Thirty Years’ war saw the formation of great armies, and the exploits of a number of generals who rivaled each other in skill and courage. Gustavus Adolphus revived strategy and tactics. His bold and sudden marches, the way in which he marshaled his troops on an improved system while extending his lines, the use he made of his cavalry, which then formed the greater part of the armies, the topographical knowledge with which he placed his artillery, gave birth to military art. His reforms were adopted everywhere. The heavy horse soldiery was reformed and lances taken away; it was separated from the arquebusiers, who formerly mingled in its ranks and who became dragoons. Nearly all body armor was abandoned and the men retained only their open helmets and breastplates; they then became cuirassiers. The cavalry, posted on the wings, reconnoitered the front and scoured the country; it had found its true mission. The old bands of infantry were divided into regiments, the arquebus was replaced by the musket, the foot soldiers were relieved of the iron corselet, which hindered their march. The close order of four ranks deep was still retained, but it was a substantial improvement upon the old irregular masses that were so difficult to move. Discipline was established and uniforms were introduced. Louvois, the Secretary of State in the wars of Louis XIV, organized the French army, diminished without suppressing the pikemen, formed files of soldiers to throw grenades, grenadiers substituted the rifle for the musket, and the rifle, completed by the bayonet, became the most used weapon of the modern times. He ordered that the men should walk in step, and forced the noble officers to serve before commanding; to study before directing. He furnished Louis XIV with admirable armies, numbering 400,000 men, provided with stores of provisions, ammunition, clothes, and all the necessary bag-gage for such large numbers.
At the same time sieges became scientific. Fabert invented parallel trenches at the siege of Stenay (1654), and Vauban and Cohorn perfected the art of attack and defense of cities and positions. The old Roman and feudal walls became useless, since balls could form breaches in them, and bombs could be dropped even into the city. Vauban lowered the fortifications, making them level with the ground, and relied for protection upon a simple earthen wall preceded by a moat and interrupted by so many angles and zigzags that it was impossible to approach it from the front; the wall sheltered powerful batteries, which kept the assailants at a distance; citadels or forts, often designed in the form of stars, also defended important places. The science of military engineering was created.
The Seventeenth Century continued and extended the movement which urged European Nations toward navigation, industry, and commerce. But the chief actors had changed. The Spanish annexation of Portugal in 1580, by attaching the Portuguese colonies to a monarchy in decadence, led to their ruin. Spain, exhausted by the ambition of Philip II and the insensate despotism of his successors, in spite of its vast colonial Empire, through bad administration had become, from the most influential, one of the weakest powers in Europe. The Dutch replaced the Portuguese in the markets of Hindustan; settled in Ceylon; took possession of the Moluccas; then of the magnificent islands of Sunda, Java, Sumatra, Celebes, Amboyna, and Timor. In the Island of Java they founded a city (1619), to which they proudly gave their old historical name Batavia, the city of the Batavians. From 1609 they traded with Japan, and to secure the road, did not neglect the necessary settlements on the coast of Africa, which led to the formation of the West India Company (1621). This company also traded with America. The Dutch had occupied several points on the Western coast of North America, and founded (1614) New Amsterdam, on the site now occupied by New York. In the Seventeenth Century, they possessed a merchant fleet which surpassed all the combined fleets of other countries. Amsterdam replaced Antwerp, ruined by the closing of the Scheldt. She became the Northern Venice. The Dutch were now the only European importers of spice, cinnamon, sandalwood, indigo, Chinese tea, lacquer, Japanese porcelain and silk. In the Baltic they had, through competition, ruined the commerce of the Hanseatic cities. All the Continental peoples were their tributaries, and the Zealand fishers, so long obscure and poor, now exchanged their barrels of herrings for barrels of gold.
The English were the chief rivals of the Dutch in these enterprises. In the Seventeenth Century the English colonies were founded, and with extraordinary labor the settlers cleared the forests of New England, dug the soil, worked the mines, and replaced the solitude by admirably cultivated plantations and industrious towns. But how-ever inclined the English might be to imitate the Dutch, they were at first unable to rival them. Cromwell forced them to make the attempt. By the Navigation Act 1651), completed under Charles II in 1660, the coasting trade was reserved for English vessels, as was all trade with English colonies. By a single blow the Dutch found themselves excluded from the ports and colonies. They were still more injured by the clauses in the Navigation Act which provided that the produce of Asia, Africa, and America could be carried only in English ships. The European Nations could import only the produce of their own soil and labor to England. Now the Dutch had not sufficient agriculture nor industries to nourish their commerce. They were only commission merchants, the carriers of the sea, as they were called. These provisos completely ruined their trade with England, and they only submitted to them after two sanguinary and disastrous wars. England succeeded in depriving Holland of the empire of the seas, and after the Revolution of 1688 the momentary union of the two, countries, under the rule of William III, was naturally unfavorable to Holland, the less important of the two States.
The improvement of the material conditions of life, security, tranquillity protected by a power which no one dreamed of disputing, the luxury increasing with industry, all modified the aspects of society. The nobles, instead of fighting, visited each other. The court, peopled with noblemen, now rivals only in elegance and deportment, gave the. tone to the city; women asserted their empire, enforced politeness, and the chivalric as it softened ended in gallantry. Chiefly in France, but also in Italy, from the reign of Louis XIII, the intercourse of society and art of conversation were sedulously cultivated, and the assemblies and drawing-rooms almost recalled the Academy of Athens in the days of Greek literature and philosophy. The Hotel de Rambouillet became the model of these learned but not pedantic assemblies, where French society became refined, displayed its gayety, and purified its language. Conversation became an important business, and woman’s quick, delicate intelligence gave a lively fascination, a refined, agreeable tone to conversation, so that it won admiration for the French language and made it the fashionable tongue in almost every court of Europe.
Pierre. Corneille (1606-1684) rediscovered, we can truly say, the ancient tragedies. More restrained, more sober than Shakespeare, who never bound himself to any rules, more concentrated than the Spaniards, from whom he borrowed the subject of his first masterpiece, “The Cid” (1636), he arranged his plays in the triple unity of time, scene, and action, without too much injuring their probability, and increased their interest by the rapid succession of the scenes. Though Corneille cannot compare with the Greek tragedians, nor with Shakespeare in the wide range of his power, nor even with the Spanish dramatists in the rich beauty of their verse, his plays are admirably adapted for the stage. He has real enthusiasm for the heroic virtues and for patriotism as then understood. As rhetorical declamation in verse his pieces have never been surpassed. They give a dignity to every worthy actor of them, and it is probably owing to them that the stage in France has had a greater influence, and exercised more power than in any other country, and that, too, even when actors were excommunicated by the Church.
At the same time that tragedy was influencing and elevating the heart and soul, ancient philosophy reappeared to occupy the intellect. One year after Corneille had written the first masterpiece of dramatic art, Descartes (1596-1650) published the first book on philosophy.
Racine, Moliére, Boileau, three friends and three of the writers most honored by Louis XIV, possessed very different styles. Racine (1639-1699) divides with Corneille the glory of French classical tragedy. Inferior in force and declamation, his verse is more flowing and harmonious; he deals better with the softer passions. If we except the Spaniards, he alone has succeeded in making religious and Biblical themes acceptable on the modern stage. Molière (1622-1673) may be regarded as the creator of French comedy, in spite of Corneille’s “Menteur.” Far higher than either Racine or Corneille, he is supreme in his own art and within his limits. For the only pure comedy which has equaled that of Molière we must go back to the Greeks. He is unrivaled in modern Europe. Although Boileau (1636-1711) cannot be admitted to the same rank as his two friends, he was a laborious poet and a better critic. His influence over poetry ruled in Europe down to the beginning of the present century. Through Pope it prevailed in England to the age of Byron and of Wordsworth, who mark a new school. He is the head of the Classic in opposition to the Romantic school.
But the inspiration of Christianity was chiefly demonstrated in the orators of the pulpit: Bourdaloue, Bossuet, Fénelon. Bourdaloue (1632-1704) was only a sermon writer, and his reputation never attained the height of that of the two other preachers. He was too logical, too formal, and too special. Bossuet (1627-1704) and Fénelon (1651-1711) were of wider genius. The former, orator, historian, philosopher, filled the pulpit with the most sublime eloquence, particularly in his funeral orations. He threw a penetrating glance over the past in his “Discourse upon Universal History,” and reconciled philosophy with the religion in his “Treatise on the Knowledge of God and One’s Self.” Fénelon also, showed himself a philosopher in his treatise on the “Existence of God”; he was not an historian, but his romance of “Telemacbus” revived the primitive ages of Greece, and his sermons were masterpieces of grace and unction. In addition, in his ideas on education, Fénelon was in advance of his time. The Télémaque proves that its author, in a time of tyranny and toadyism, had discovered the great and now familiar truth that governments exist, and have a right to exist, only for the good of the people, and that the many are not made for the use and enjoyment of one. This glorious originality of spirit, contrasted with that which pervades the French literature of the age of Louis XIV, was in reality “the first faint dawn of a long and splendid day of intellectual light, the dim promise of a great deliverance” to be wrought out hereafter in the French Revolution of 1789. Télémaque is, in its kind, a masterpiece of literature, delivering the best morality in pleasing language.
Women, who had contributed to the elegance of this society, could not fail also to find expression in a superior writer. This genius was Madame de Sévigné (1626-’696), whose letters, lively, observant, and witty, still charm by their pictures of a past society, which there reap-pears as in a mirror. The first of feminine letter-writers, she raises, embellishes, animates and illumines all that she touches, and she touches every subject save the highest.
English literature from the Seventeenth Century was still dominated by the great name of Shakespeare. But Ben Jonson (1574-1637) was honored by his side. He was classical, theoretically fascinated by the unities of Aristotle, imitating Juvenal as a satirist, but succeeding better in lyrical poetry, and in his tragedies drawing inspiration from Tacitus and Sallust.
Francis Bacon,* a member of Parliament, Baron Verulam, Viscount St. Albans, Lord Chancellor of England under James I, led men’s ideas back- to philosophy and science. Exerting himself to embrace both the intellectual and physical world, he formed the scheme of an immense work, the “Great Restoration of Science,” of which he only completed three parts. The most important was the ”Novum Organum” (1620), by which he opened a method of investigation of nature by induction which had been too much neglected since the days of Aristotle. To deduction he opposed induction. Bacon mounted from the particular to the general, a method tried by Descartes in creating philosophy, and by men of science in discovering the laws of the physical world. Bacon placed the human mind on the right path. In England Bacon’s principles were almost immediately applied to philosophy by Hobbes (1588-1680), whose philosophy has been lately revived, but whose writings in his own day had more influence on politics than on philosophy.
The two revolutions of 1640 and 1688 produced grave effects upon men’s minds, and almost equal consequence on literature. That of 1640 was chiefly religious; it ruined the theater, and almost put secular poetry to flight. But it inspired the genius of John Milton (1608-1674), an independent in politics as in religion, an ardent reformer, who lost his sight through overwork; after the storm had calmed, he wrote his magnificent poem of “Paradise Lost.” In secular poetry he reached his highest marks in “Cornus” and “Lycidas”; but the majestic organ roll of his blank verse in the “Paradise Lost” has influenced English literature in all departments. His “Samson Agonistes” is the one English tragedy successfully modeled on the old Greek drama, if we except Swinburne’s “Atalanta in Calydon.”
John Bunyan (1628-1688), the son of a poor tinker, was also filled with religious inspiration. A courageous, persecuted preacher, he wrote the “Pilgrim’s Progress from this World to the Next”; not less original for being on an old theme, and the one allegory whose characters are flesh and blood, and which has thus become really popular.
Samuel Butler (1612-1680) in his burlesque epic of “Hudibras,” derided the savage zeal of the sectarians, and in his satires lashed the licentiousness of the court of Charles II. The English theater applied itself to the imitation of the French theater, but was unsuccessful both in tragedy and comedy.
John Dryden (1631-1700), in the first rank, not through his tragedies and comedies, but in secondary style, excelled in political satire, as in “Absalom and Achitophel,” and in the “Ode.” His poetry, though it introduced the classical couplet, is far more vigorous than that of Pope, as are also his translations; his style, especially in prose, is full of mirth, and through it he is worthy to be called a classic.
The revolution of 1688 was in its turn represented by Locke,* who was its theorist and apologist. In his “Essay upon Civil Government” he explained the new government, and already anticipated Rousseau’s “Social Contract.” In politics as in philosophy he was already most a man of the Eighteenth Century. In fact, if he adopted Descartes’ method, he combated his doctrines. In his “Essay upon the Human Understanding,” seeking for the origin of ideas, he imagined he had found it in reflection and sense; he was the father of the English idealists and, by reaction, of the Scotch empirical school. English literature was never subjected to rules in the same way as French literature. It was the true expression of an energetic, active, varied society, which had grasped political and religious liberty. Less polished and less elegant, it sought, not for beauty of form, but for strength of ideas, yet it almost reached perfection of expression in Milton’s poems. The coffee-houses and clubs filled the office of the salons and academies of France.
Holland, which was also a land of liberty, then afforded a refuge to a colony of skeptics, and French scholars, such as Bayle, Basnage, and Leclerc. The Jew Spinoza (1632-1677) formulated a philosophical doctrine, that contrasted with the French doctrines. Only seeing substance in the world, he declared that God cannot exist without nature, even as nature cannot exist without God. He thus tended to pantheism. Spinoza denied free will, and in politics supported the omnipotence of the State. His doctrines were afterward developed by disciples.
The German Leibnitz (1646-1716), a mathematician and philosopher, protested against Descartes, whose books he called “the antechamber of truth.” But he endeavored to reconcile his doctrine with Locke’s theories. He combated innate ideas, and made an important restriction in the maxim of philosophers of the experimental school: “There is nothing in the mind that has not first been in the senses.”- Leibnitz added, “unless it is the mind itself.”
Spain, rapidly decaying in the Seventeenth Century, still retained a reflection of her literary glory of the pre-ceding century. The school of Lope de Vega (1562-1635) multiplied religious and secular dramas and comedies. Montalvan and Tellez were of almost inexhaustible fertility. Guillem de Castro borrowed from the popular romances his magnificent drama of the “Cid,” which inspired Corneille. Alarcon, by his comedies, furnished models that Corneille imitated in the “Menteur.”
Calderon de la Barca (1600-1681), first soldier, then priest, was perhaps the most fertile, and certainly the greatest dramatic poet of Spain. His secular dramas are animated with powerful and passionate interest, and in them he exalts the sentiment of honor, also dear to Spaniards. His comedies were full of complicated intrigues and surprises. He used considerable variety in the meters he employed; deficient in the study of character, and often trivial and ridiculous, no writer has lavished more brilliant poetry on his plays, which number more than five hundred. We quite forget who utters the sentiments in the dazzling beauty of the verses. Even scholastic abstractions can gain a hearing thus. Decadence had commenced in literature as well as in politics. The Inquisition stifled thought by its increasing suspiciousness. Spain was then full of intolerance, and the butcheries of the autos-da-fe threw a sinister light over the popular rejoicings of which they formed a part. Poets therefore took refuge in affected conceits, and Luis de Gongora founded a school of bad taste; Gongorisms reigned without rival. Such a country could not develop philosophy and history.
The Seventeenth Century, which in literature revived the glory of the ancients, had its peculiar distinction in its scientific progress. The human mind has attained real knowledge chiefly through combination of figures, numbers and lines, and through the science of mathematics; thus freeing itself from the dreams of astrology, discovered through astronomy the true movements of the celestial bodies; lastly, observing physical phenomena, experimenting with them, studying their laws, it has made them instruments which have increased the power of industry tenfold. Men of science are the most active pioneers of civilization, the most worthy of admiration and of the gratitude of all. They have really created the modern world.
In the Sixteenth Century, Tycho Brahe still mingled astrology with astronomy. One of his disciples, Kepler (1571-1630), born in Wurtemberg, calculated instead of dreaming. Striving to find unity and harmony in the apparent disorder of the world, he nearly touched the law of universal gravitation. He at least found three laws, which bear his name, which laid the foundation of true mathematical astronomy, and placed their author among the great thinkers of all time. They assert and prove that every planet describes an ellipse round the sun; that the rate of movement in the planets is, in a certain sense, uniform; that the times occupied by the planets in revolution round the sun bear a certain proportion to their mean distances from the sun. The laws of the attraction of gravitation were founded by Newton upon these discoveries of the illustrious man whose outward life was embittered by poverty of purse while his inward being was gladdened in the consciousness of priceless services rendered to the cause of truth and well-grounded discovery in the realm of nature’s laws.
Galileo (1564-1642), born in Pisa, constructed the first astronomical telescopes magnifying the diameter one hundred times, studied the moon, the stars and planets, and discovered Jupiter’s four satellites, the spots on the sun, the revolution of the sun on its axis, and, reviving the system of Copernicus, he confirmed the rotary movement of the earth. Superstition was still so powerful that Galileo, although protected by the more enlightened Popes, was condemned to retract his works by the tribunal of the Inquisition; but this did not impede the earth’s motion, and Galileo himself, rising after abjuring his pretended error, murmured, “And yet it moves!” Galileo had marked the earth’s place in the solar system.
Isaac Newton (1642-1727), the son of a Lincolnshire farmer, gifted with an extraordinary aptitude for mathematics, discovered the law of gravitation that law which binds the earth to the celestial bodies. He proved that the sun acted upon the planets and the planets acted upon each other in proportion to their bulk, and formulated the universal law in the simple words : “The force of attraction of a body is inversely proportional to the square of the distance.” This principle, which became the starting point of all astronomical studies, was not well understood at first, and yet it is one of the most astonishing discoveries that have been made by man. Newton solved by it one great secret of the Universe. The heavens were opened to fruitful observations.
Edmund Halley (1656-1742) calculated the orbit of a comet which appeared in 1681, and which has retained his name. John Flamsteed (1646-1719) made a catalogue of the stars, and was the first director of the Greenwich Observatory (1676). Observatories had already been established at Copenhagen (1632) by Longomontanus, at Dantzic (1641), founded by Hevelius, the Pole, and at Altorf, in Bavaria (1667). The one in Paris was commenced in 1667, and completed in 1671, from Cassini’s plans.
Huyghens (1625-1695), a Dutchman, a universal savant, manufactured his own telescope, which surpassed all that had yet been attempted. He was the first to see Saturn surrounded by a luminous band which was the ring (1655) ; he afterward discovered one of the satellites, and Dominique Cassini, of France, discovered some of the others. A Dane, Olaus Roemer, brought to France by Picard in 1672, and lodged in the Observatory, had a large share in the astronomical labors of the French; then, recalled to Copenhagen, he continued his researches there. He succeeded (1700) in arranging a magnifying glass that, while remaining fixed in the plane of the meridian, was movable on its axis. He calculated that the light was eight minutes coming from the sun to the earth.
The labors of astronomers and mathematicians were valuable aids to physical science. Bacon estimated them at their true value; he kept them ever in view when exalting the dignity of science. He advised savants to observe nature, to study and analyze phenomena, and to found laws on facts alone. “Man is the servant and interpreter of nature” was his motto. The recognition of this places the name of Bacon at the head of the list of natural philosophers, although personally he made no scientific discoveries, and though, while an admirable moral essayist, his conduct fell far short of his teaching. His philosophy is discussed in the volume “Great Philosophers.”
A few men of great genius had not waited for Bacon’s writings before devoting themselves to experiment. We are amazed when we think what simple daily facts have led men to their greatest discoveries. Galileo watched a lamp that oscillated in the cathedral of Pisa (1583). He observed that even when this oscillation diminished, the arcs, although smaller, were all traversed in the same space of time. He formulated hence the law of the isochronism of the oscillation of a pendulum that afterward determined the law of gravity. A Florentine gardener, having constructed an unusually large pump, observed with surprise that the water never rose above thirty-two feet; Galileo vainly endeavored to explain the fact. His disciple, Torricelli (1608-1647), solved the difficulty, and his experiments on the weight of the atmosphere led him to construct the tubes which led to the invention of the barometer.
Pascal (1623-1662) continued Torricelli’s experiments, measured the height of a column of mercury at Clermont, and on the top of the Puy-de-Dôme (1648), and found that the height was inversely proportionate to the elevation of the country. He verified this fact by fresh observations at Paris, on the tower of Saint Jacques-la-Boucherie. Descartes, although learned in physical science, was rather a mathematician, and followed a mistaken theory of vortices, which, however, may be noted from an historical point of view, for it, perhaps, directed Newton toward the road which led to his discoveries.
Lastly, one of those discoveries which effect a revolution in the world dates from this epoch; that of the power of steam. Denis Papin (1647-1714), born at Blois, but driven from France by the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, had from the year 1674 made various experiments upon water heated in the open air and overheated in a closed vase. His invention is attributed to the observation of the effect produced upon the lid of a sauce-pan by the steam of the boiling water. However that may be, he succeeded in constructing, under the name of the “digester,” an apparatus intended to extract, by steam at high pressure, the gelatinous portion of bone. He also invented the first steam-engine with a piston, and launched on the Fulda, in Germany, a real steamboat, which ignorant and jealous sailors destroyed. Another century passed before this new force, which Papin had discovered, could be turned to account by Watt; it has since changed the face of the world.
In the Sixteenth Century, the progress of surgery had stirred the emulation of the physicians. The celebrated William Harvey (1578-1657) then commenced his labors, and he discovered the laws of the circulation of the blood, and thus in a measure the vital principle. Thomas Sydenham (1625-1689) studied the laws of epidemics; there are also to be named the Dutchman Boerhaave (1668-1738), one of the founders of clinical medicine; and the Frenchman Pecquet (1622-1674), whose name has been given to one of the canals in the human body which serves to distribute the chyle. The old a priori medicine vainly endeavored to contend against experimental science, and speedily succumbed under the ridicule which Molière directed against the pedantry of the doctors, who were formerly powerful enough to humiliate the surgeons, by causing their college to be amalgamated with the company of master barbers.
Italy, although in decadence, still attracted and inspired painters. She awakened the genius of the Spanish painter Ribera (1588-1656). Living like a vagabond in Rome, he studied the pictures of Caravaggio and Correggio, then settling in Naples, he accumulated wealth, and became one of the most important personages of his time. But though he deserted his country, he never renounced it, and infused Spanish fire into Italian imitations. He preferred subjects in which he could introduce violent contrasts of light and shade. He was a realist, who reveled in the terrible, the savage, and the hideous, and we are forced to admire the power of his work.
Zurbaran (1598-1662) has been surnamed with some exaggeration “the Spanish Caravaggio,” probably because of the bluish tints which he preferred, but no one ever depicted the rigors of an ascetic life better than he. Herrera (1576-1656) the elder, and Pacheco (1571-1654) are chiefly distinguished because they were the masters of Velasquez. Velasquez (1599-1660), painter and friend of Philip IV, the greatest painter of the Spanish school, succeeded in every style history portraits, landscapes, scenes of familiar life, animals, flowers, and fruit. Jean Jacques Rousseau called him “the man of nature and of truth.” His portraits are masterpieces and seem almost able to speak. Velasquez was not so ascetically or mystically religious as other Spanish painters, and his paintings have a wider range. He is the artist of the Court rather than of the Convent and Church. But in Catholic Spain religious painting could not be abandoned, and Murillo (1618-1682) rendered it glorious. A follower of Velasquez, he also imitated the Italian masters. At Seville he painted innumerable works for the churches and convents, and many of them have now been collected in a convent, which has been converted into a picture gallery. His Virgins, the ecstasies of the saints, his Annunciations and Assumptions are distinguished by a nameless charm which reproduces the mystical inspiration of the artist, who is classed among the glories of Spain and of painting. But after Murillo and Juan Carreno, an imitator of Velasquez, the arts in Spain fell into the decadence that had already affected literature. The languor which had seized the nation spread to literature and art.
In the Sixteenth Century the French had not only been instructed, but also supplanted in their own country by Italians; in the Seventeenth they rivaled their teachers. Simon Vouet, after fourteen years’ sojourn in Rome, brought back specimens of the Bolognese school, and himself deserved to be a model to the painters who succeeded him. Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665) arrived at Rome, like Ribera, as a beggar, settled there, like him, remained true to his own country. The grave, austere tendency of his genius was blended with great knowledge of anatomy and philosophy and familiarity with history and poetry. Poussin shows how much science has done to raise and nourish art. In religious subjects, in secular pictures, and in landscapes, for he cultivated all styles with equal success, Poussin carried the arrangement and composition of his subjects, the expression of sentiment, and the always noble style of his personages to great perfection. He is one of the most brilliant disciples of the great Italian masters, and at the same time an original artist, who retained in his pictures the logic and good taste that belong to his native land. He is the Prince of the elder French school.
The Flemish school was the most prolific and most brilliant in the Seventeenth Century. The Flemings, through their study of Italy, replaced the latter, and the Seventeenth Century was their golden age. Rubens (1577-1640), by his prodigious activity, his facility and powerful work, and also by his brilliant coloring, recalled the great artists of the Sixteenth Century, whom he surpassed by his wealth, his luxury, and the favor he enjoyed in his own country, in France, Spain, and England, where he was the guest and painter of sovereigns. Religious and mythological, historical and allegorical, portrait or landscape, he mastered every style. It was no longer the concentration of an artist striving to attain perfection in a few finished works, but the genius of an artist reveling in the somewhat coarse beauty of the flesh, delighting in difficulties, in love with his occupation, throwing in the principal of his frequently happy compositions, and concealing all imperfections of drawing and unshapeliness of outline under a brilliancy of color that dazzles the eye.
Rubens, admired and fêted, had a large school, from which some pupils issued that rivaled their master. Van Dyck (1599-1641) traveled like him, and was also a favorite with Princes. He painted magnificent pictures for churches, but he was chiefly celebrated for his portraits. He painted thirty-eight portraits of Charles I and Henrietta, without counting nobles or Princesses, who eagerly competed for the honor of seeing their own features reproduced on canvas by a brush which gave them the expression and vitality of nature, whilst it flattered them by a distinction and grace peculiar to Van Dyck’s work. Jordaens, another of Rubens’ pupils, succeeded equally in portraiture, but he also touched every other subject, religious or popular, allegorical or historical. Gaspard de Crayer treated religious and historical subjects, and with Corneille de Vos deserves mention; nor must Franz Snyders, the painter of the chase, be forgotten among the contemporaries of Rubens.
David Teniers (1610-1694), son of a painter, son-in-law of Velvet Breughel, raised himself to the first rank by the creation of genre painting. Teniers depicts life, and particularly Flemish life. Teniers saw with the eyes of genius the blustering sensual life of his fellow countrymen; he reproduced the smoky taverns, the card parties, the pots of beer, the abundant feasting, the animated fairs of his country, and portrays initimably the coarse, shrewd humor of the peasants of the North. Teniers brings us down to earth; but better than any historian he has described for us one side of the spirit of his age.
Nature awakened the, Dutch genius; the green trees, the damp meadows, the herds of cattle, the sea and the ships, impressed and inspired the artists of the land that had been wrested from the water by the patient industry of its inhabitants. For a long time the Dutch, united to the Flemings under the Spanish rule, had only the Flemish artists. But art emancipated itself at the same time as the country, and in the Seventeeth Century a school appeared that rivaled the Flemish. Rembrandt (1607-1669) was the chief and most glorious of its masters. While Rubens sought for brilliant light and exaggerated coloring, Rembrandt found new poetry in the opposition of light and shade. He sought for night effects and contrasts of color. He loved to illuminate and brighten his figures on a dark back-ground. His work was considerable, and is distributed amongst the different museums of Europe. His masterpieces, “The Anatomy Lesson” (at The Hague), and “The Night Watch” (at Amsterdam), are popular classics, continually reproduced by engravings. Rembrandt designed his pictures admirably. They at once seize the imagination, and by his cleverly graduated distribution of colors, by his powerful contrasts, they leave a profound impression. He was also in the first rank of portrait painters.
Art in the Seventeenth Century assumed the realistic tone it was to retain. In some degrees it descended to earth, although French art still tended toward the idealism of the Italians. Thought, already freed, though the century was given up to intolerance, had opened the vast fields of natural science, where reason braced and strengthened herself, and by her speculations, more and more daring, approached nearer to the Infinite reason, whose laws she had vainly sought to understand by a priori argument. Modern languages had their classical authors, who again inspired others.
Science made its appearance with discoveries that have produced marvelous results. Human society was transformed and polished. Kingdoms were established, and England offered a model of liberty. The march of ideas was accelerated in the Seventeenth Century. Already over Europe, still priest-ridden and still feudal, a breath of criticism was passing, which in the Eighteenth Century broke down the old barriers, prejudices, and tyrannies.