Although during the Middle Ages humanity had not lost its intellectual life, still the name of the Renaissance has been adopted to designate the revival of art and letters in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries. The world, in fact, seemed to be born again. Princes and popes, nobles and monks, knights and burghers, seemed all seized with ardent thirst for knowledge and admiration of art. Scholars argued, poets sang, and in Germany Ulrich exclaimed, in allusion to this outburst of the higher curiosity, “How good it is to live!”
The sudden awakening was caused by a tempest that outwardly seemed little likely to benefit intellectual progress. Constantinople, which still guarded the precious treasures of antiquity, had fallen, in 1453, into the power of rude and ignorant conquerors. The Greeks fled from their enslaved country, and dispersed, carrying with them the books they no longer studied themselves, but which were joyfully welcomed in France and Italy. It was a world refound. The rich imagination, the brilliant language of the Greek writers, masters of every style, suddenly appeared, dazzling the learned, who until then had exhausted themselves in vain efforts to find perfection. Ancient Greek once more reconquered the West. At precisely the same date, Gutenberg succeeded in completing his invention of printing. In a few years it had become universal, and printing multiplied the works of the ancient as well as of the modern authors.
Alphonso the Magnanimous (1416-1458) had founded an academy at Naples, and in Rome Nicholas founded the Vatican Library, where he collected five thousand volumes. In Florence Cosmo de’ Medici (1389-1464) the merchant Pericles, who ruled a republic not less variable than the Athenian State, surpassed all other Princes by the enlightened taste with which he encouraged letters and art. His grandson, Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449-1492), who transformed the purely moral authority wielded by Cosmo into a monarchical power, continued his liberality toward the learned in spite of this changed policy. He created an academy, and admired Plato so much that he revived a festival which his disciples had formerly celebrated in his honor. He founded the library that still bears his name, the Medico-Laurentian Library. The lesser Italian Princes had their court poets, philosophers and artists; for instance the house of Este at Ferrara, the Montefeltro at Urbino, the Gonzagas at Mantua, the Sforza at Milan, the Benti-voglio at Bologna, lastly, John de’ Medici, who became Pope under the name of Leo X, and united in his own person the glory of all these generous protectors of science and art. He deserved, through the incomparable greatness with which he pre-sided over the intellectual movement, to leave his name to a Century thus highly distinguished by its fertility in authors and artists.
The imitation of the antique furnished the forms and rules of poetry, but inspiration was chiefly derived from the chivalric poems of France, whereon the Middle Ages had lavished all the imagination of feudal and Christian society. After some attempts at epic poetry from Luigi Pulci, who recited the “Morgante Maggiore” at the table of Lorenzo de’ Medici, and from Boiardo, who wrote the “Orlando Innamorato,” Ariosto (1473-1500), the poet of the early part of the epoch, appeared. Taking up the legend of Roland, already disfigured by Boiardo (1434-1494), under another form, Ariosto composed and published his great work, “Orlando Furioso,” where his imagination reveled in fantastic palaces, marvelous adventures, golden lances and winged horses, but where he sketched profoundly human characters. Inspired by Homer, Virgil, and Ovid, he borrowed the arts of description and word painting from his great masters, while at the same time he retained the spirit of the “Chansons de Geste,” and animated his characters with Christian sentiments. His poem is the most vigorous expression of the society of that epoch, still enthusiastic for chivalry and religion in spite of a curious retrogression toward pagan idolatry. These characteristics are still more clearly seen in Tasso’s poem (1544-1595), “Jerusalem Delivered.” Following the plan of the “Iliad,” he glorified the Crusades at an epoch when they were not likely to recommence, and blended Christian miracles with chivalric leg-ends and gallantries. We find one sign of the new times in this poem : women are celebrated under the names of Armada, Clarinda, and Hermione; and the charm of the “Jerusalem Delivered” lies in the tenderness of the sentiment, though the extravagance of its conceits almost spoil it. Tasso’s work is well nigh the last epic poem, for this style, which appears spontaneously in young naive societies, was not suited to the rationalistic, studious spirit of the Sixteenth Century.
History and politics were more suited to the men of the Renaissance. Machiavelli (1469-1527), a disciple of Livy, educated in the schools of war and diplomacy of his time, joined the skill of the ancients to the penetration of the moderns. His discourse on the first “Books of Livy” analyzes the causes of the greatness of Rome. His political correspondence displays, together with sagacious observations of human conduct, thorough acquaintance with the interests of States. His “History of Florence” is one of the most literary, if not the most conscientious, models of the art of narration. Machiavellism has always existed, but it owes its name to the author of the “Prince.” He forms the subject of a sketch in the volume devoted to “Foreign Statesmen.”
Fighting for more than a half a Century in Italy, the French were dazzled by the civilization of the land which they invaded; they admired the cities from which they exacted ransom, the palaces they occupied as masters, the magnificent churches which they alone respected. The manuscripts, pictures and sculptures excited their curiosity and envy, even more than the rich materials and elegant furniture. Charles VIII and Louis XII employed Italian workmen. Francis I surrounded himself with scholars and artists.
Humanism then appeared in France to revive the studies that had become fruitless under the influence of scholasticism. Francis I encouraged learning, and Danes, Postel, Vatable, Turnèbe, and Budé adorned his court. Budé induced Francis I to create the College of France. Francis I wished that Hebrew, Greek, and Latin should have special chairs, to which he afterward added chairs of science. The monarch thus encouraged a new method of instruction by the side of scholastic teaching; a fertile innovation, giving an impulse to education, which was never afterward lost. Francis I endeavored to attract to his new college the most famous doctor of his age, Erasmus, born at Rotterdam, who traveled in every country, and had no home but the republic of letters. Erasmus (1465-1536) wrote in Latin, which he handled with con-summate ease; his biting satires against the monks and the abuses of the Church rendered him unwittingly one of the precursors of the Reformation; his aim was merely the diffusion of true learning. His “Praise of Folly” gives him a place among the observers of humanity and the keenest moralists, but his greatest work was perhaps his edition of the Greek Testament.
Spain at that date exercised intellectual as well as political ascendency. Her language, perhaps the finest of the Romance tongues, had been formed during the Middle Ages; more forcible and sonorous than Italian, it derived from the Arabs strength and a rich vocabulary. From the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries the Spaniards had their “Chansons de Geste,” “The Poem of the Cid.” Poets whose names are now lost, sprang up in Christian Spain, writers of stirring ballads, chiefly historical, relating in short, graceful verse the exploits and gallantries of the knights. This literature was continued by a succession of masterpieces which made the Spanish literature of that date well nigh the first in Europe. The cultured classes imitated the Italian poets, and even borrowed their meters. Boscan copied Petrarch. Garcilaso de la Vega, even while following Petrarch, Bembo, and Sannazaro, caught their full grace and sweetness, but unhappily introduced their conceits and affectation also.
Castillejo rebelled against the too frequent imitation of the Italians, and rejected a pastoral style, which he deemed unworthy of a warrior race. Hurtado de Mendoza (1503-1575), a learned ambassador, poet, novelist, and historian, initiated, in Spain the realistic novel, by his masterpiece, the first part of “Lazarillo de Tormes.”
Fernando de Herrera (1549-1623) revealed the beau-ties of the classic ode to Spain, and celebrated the exploits of a Christian hero, Don Juan of Austria. Fr. Luis Ponce de Leon (1528-1591) was the first of the great Spanish mystic writers. In fact, at this time the destruction of religious unity rekindled a more fervent faith in all Catholics, and Spain produced Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, and Saint Theresa, whose prose writings are admirable, and whose poems remind us of Blake in their dark doggerel gemmed with passages of inimitable beauty.
The writings of chivalry had not yet ended. The “Amadis de Gaul,” translated from old Celtic legends by Montalvo, obtained great success in Spain, and pastoral novels again became fashionable with Jorge de Monte-mayor. But these, particularly the romances of chivalry, soon encountered a terrible adversary in the famous Cervantes (1547-1616). This valiant soldier, who lost his left hand in the battle of Lepanto, and during his whole life was subject to the pressure of narrow means, was indignant with his countrymen for their liking for these romances, and their false extravagances. He found them an admirable subject for parody, and in his marvelous “History of Don Quixote de la Mancha,” he made a hero of a poor hidalgo, whose head had been turned by these writings. If the work of Cervantes had been merely a literary satire it would probably have been forgotten in spite of its merits; but Cervantes, to a biting wit, a vivid imagination and a rare talent for depicting landscapes and characters, added a depth of observation that has rendered his novel a mirror of humanity. Blended with curious episodes, the sole blot on the work, the burlesque, amusing adventures of Don Quixote and his companion, Sancho Panza, Cervantes introduced wise maxims, shrewd remarks upon the passions and vices not only of the society of his times, but of men of all ages. Walter Scott said that his book was one of the master works of the human mind.
Cervantes had endeavored to give the Spanish theater the form that his knowledge and intelligence pointed out as the ideal. But he ceased writing for the stage when he saw the wonderful success achieved by Lope de Vega (1562-1635). Gifted with marvelous imagination and inexhaustible fertility (for it is said that he wrote fifteen hundred plays), Lope de Vega, who was soldier, priest, and monk, added historical and religious dramas to come-dies of intrigues called “Cloak and Sword.” Although composed of a series of improbable adventures, these comedies attracted the crowd by the clearness of the plot, and the vivacious and natural dialogue. With regard to historical tragedies, Lope de Vega never attempted to bind himself by imitating the ancients. He introduced history into his plays, without troubling himself about unity of time or place. His school even in the Sixteenth Century added so much luster to Spanish literature that it strongly influenced the literature of other countries, particularly of France.
Portugal has only one great name, that of Camoens (1525-1579), who in “Os Lusiadas” (in English the “Lusiad”) celebrated the discoveries and exploits of the Portuguese. This work is at the same time a fine epic and a history dealing principally with Vasco da Gama’s expedition to India a narrative of Portuguese history being mingled with splendid poetic descriptions, and Christianity being interwoven with mythological fables. The “Lusiad” is an Iliad to the Portuguese Nation, whose lower classes learn and sing its stanzas. The poem is rich in patriotic feeling, which endears it to the singer’s countrymen; foreign critics place it high among epics of the lower order.
In England mental energy was kindled by the same rays that vivified Spain, France, and Italy. England from the earliest days of modern times had become a great power. The Nation had been formed from mingled Celtic, Saxon, Danish, and Norman elements; the language, which after the Norman conquest had been strongly impregnated with old French idioms, and consequently with Latin words, was of Germanic origin. The literature is marked by a greater variety and breadth, as well as beauty of style, than that of any other Teutonic tongue. In the Fourteenth Century appeared a great poet, Chaucer, who has never been excelled as a bright and cheerful painter in verse of the life of his contemporaries. The Classical and Pagan Renaissance of the Sixteenth Century, coinciding with the Reformation which completed the individuality of the English character, and also with the reign of Elizabeth, completed the conditions most favorable to the development of literature. From the Sixteenth Century English literature has shone with great brilliancy. Spenser (1552-1559) in his “Faerie Queen,” made even epic allegory beautiful, and for splendid, indeed almost excessive, richness of imagery has few rivals.
In the theater, after precursors like John Lyly and Marlowe who at any other epoch would have been supreme Shakespeare (1564-1616) appeared, the greatest dramatic genius of England, indeed, it is admitted, of the world. The son of a burgess of Stratford, he became both actor and author, comedian and manager of the theater; under him the drama regained, in the Sixteenth Century, the power and inspiration of the great poets of Greece, added to the vigor and free imagination of the poets of the Middle Ages. Cosmopolitan and yet deeply patriotic, the admirer of modern and ancient Italy, but still more the admirer of his own country, Shakespeare was alternately Italian in Romeo and Juliet and in Othello, Roman in Coriolanus and Casar, but above all English in his dramas founded on episodes in the national history like Henry V, Richard III, and Henry VIII, or Scotch legends like Macbeth. He was a genius who revived the past ages, clothing them with life, and was equally at home in violent scenes from the Italy of the Middle Ages, in the horrors of the War of the Roses, in semi-barbarous times, in depicting his contemporaries, or in weaving into his drama the delicate creations, the fairy glamour of poetic folk-lore. With a genius that breaks through all obstacles, he places an entire population upon the stage, carries history into the theater, and although he gives full play to his imagination, he is yet more true to history than many historians. Nothing can equal the movement and warmth of these complicated dramas, which unravel themselves now in a palace, now in a street, now on a battlefield, placing on the stage and in close proximity men of all ranks, and replacing the old chorus by a crowd. Shakespeare thus passes to every key, grave and gay, often jocular, sometimes coarse. He descends into the common jests of the populace with as much facility as he rises to the sublime, and of his best pieces the world will never tire.
But he has merited the admiration of posterity chiefly through his knowledge and description of the passions of humanity. The characters of his personages are even more true from a human than from an historical point of view. And, when he has had no model to draw from, he has created types of incontestable veracity. Macbeth, and his wife, Lady Macbeth, the types of criminal ambition; Othello, of jealousy; Desdemona, the gentle victim of the noble but deluded Moor; Juliet, the graceful incarnation of love; and, lastly, Hamlet, the philosophical dreamer, the man attacked by a melancholia unknown to antiquity, the precursor of thousands of tormented souls, possessed by the strange sadness that seems peculiar to modern times. Shakespeare had little knowledge of the ancients, but he is a true poet, touched with the imprint of the keen sensibility, the humor, and the weird fancy which are characteristic features of the Northern races. The Greeks and Romans admirably described the sadness produced by misfortune, but they would not have under-stood a vague melancholy and discontent with life in the flower of youth and manhood.
Great as were his contemporaries, Ben Jonson, Massinger, Fletcher, Webster, and Ford, England never produced a second dramatic poet who could rank with Shakespeare, and at that time her literature was only beginning to develop; though it afterward excelled in various other styles.
The age that produced the greatest dramatist produced the greatest essayist. Like Shakespeare, Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) was not appreciated by his contemporaries, but each Century has seen a widening of the circle of his admirers and they include the acutest intellects of every age. To be amusingly and simply selfish is ever the part of this charmingly egotistical man. His motto was Que sais-je? “What do I know?” and frankly the skeptic declared that the answer was nothing. Merely to live, merely to muse over the spectacle of the world, simply to feel even if the thing felt be agony, and to reflect on the pain and on how it may be best borne this is enough for Montaigne. Bacon’s essays appeared in England a few years later and won immediate popularity for their worldly wisdom. Bacon’s philosophical works belong to the Seventeenth Century and they have been discussed in the volume on the World’s Great Philosophers.
Aroused by the great geographical discoveries and the needs of navigation, the curiosity of the human mind was now directed to the observation of nature and the explanation of the system of the world. Science revived at the same time as literature. At first scientific men, like scholars, only devoted themselves to translations of and commentaries on the work of the Greek sages, which, although better known and better interpreted than formerly, could not, like the works of the poets, historians, and philosophers, satisfy the avidity of their readers, who were often discouraged by the small results obtained by their long labor. Meritorious as the works of the Greek mathematicians and astronomers undoubtedly were, particularly of the Alexandrian school, they had never reached any true explanation of the physical system of the universe, or of the movements of the planets and the stars. The glory of seeking and finding this solution belongs to the moderns. In literature they are the disciples of the ancients. In science they are masters and creators. Too much honor can hardly be paid to those men who, dispersing the darkness that had accumulated through the errors of the ancients, have in some degree replaced the world in its true orbit, and made the earth turn round the sun instead of the sun round the earth.
Already some astronomers had, like Nicolas de Cusa, timidly essayed to correct the errors of our senses. Already the knowledge of the sphericity of the earth, victoriously proved by the discoveries of Christopher Columbus, had pointed to the truth. But the great facts of the solar system were first perceived by an obscure Canon of Frauenberg, in Prussia. Copernicus (1473-1543) born at Thorn, in Poland, in his little town on the Vistula, profiting by the knowledge acquired in several journeys to Italy, consecrated his entire life to the observation of the stars and of calculations of their respective positions. It was not until the end of his career that he decided to publish a book on the “Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies,” which annihilated all the systems adopted, or rather imagined until then. The theory of Copernicus that the earth and the planets move round the sun, superseded the old Ptolemaic theory that the earth was the center of the universe, and that the sun, stars, and planets moved round the earth as center. The Copernican theory is the foundation of modern astronomy. It must, how-ever, be remembered that as early as the Third Century before Christ, Aristarchus of Samos had discovered not only that the earth moves, which was known to Pythagoras, but that it moves round the sun. This first explanation of the solar system was naturally very defective. Copernicus made many mistakes such as his idea that the earth, in her course round the sun, always turned the same side toward it but still he had at least glimpses of the truth and founded a new and correct system of astronomy, a century, before the invention of scientific telescopes, by force of unwearied observation, mental independence, and penetrative power of intellect. For a long time men refused to accept his discovery.
Astronomy made still further progress with Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) a Dane who, after erecting an observatory, Uranienborg, i. e. the City of the Heavens, on the small island of Hven, three leagues from Copenhagen, and passing twenty-five years there 4n profitable observations, was at last forced to leave it and placing himself under the protection of the Emperor Rudolph II, settled himself in the castle of Benatek, near Prague. His life work chiefly consisted in the vast array of facts stored up by his long and patient investigations for the use of those who followed after him.
The progress of astronomical science in the Sixteenth Century led to an important reform in the calendar. The Julian calendar was based on the tropical year (three hundred and sixty-five days and a quarter, or six hours), but there was a difference of eleven minutes too many on the exact year, which accumulating from century to century produced real disorder in the recurrence of the yearly festivals. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585), after consulting the celebrated astronomers of his time, ordered the suppression of ten days, from the fourth to the fifteenth of October, 1582. Still, as the Julian calendar, they retained one extra day inserted every four years, but it was arranged that certain leap years should be suppressed to maintain the quasi-perpetual equilibrium.
The progress of astronomy had been greatly aided by the advance in mathematics. Tartaglia, Cardan, Ferrari, and others resumed the work of the old Greek geometricians, and continued it with so much ardor that they sent each other solemn challenges for contests of figures, as the knights did for their combats in the tilt yard. They invited each other to solve problems and equations, and the learned world paid great attention to these pacific rivalries, which, however, were not always without bitterness, for the hot passions of the Sixteenth Century invaded even the sanctuaries of science. The French mathematicians rivaled the Italians, and through their noble emulations the science of geometry was built up. Pierre de la Ramée, called Ramus, the celebrated philosopher, secured a solid foundation for it by translating Euclid’s “Elements.” A jurisconsult, Vieta (1540-1603) created algebraic language. Until then numerals were always used for operations, the unknown and its quantities only being represented by abbreviations and signs. Vieta represented all quantities by letters. He thus developed geometry and trigonometry.
Medicine made a decisive step with Paracelsus (1493-1541) who rejected the Greek and Arab authors to devote himself to the direct observation of nature and a search for her remedies. Andreas Vesalius made it the basis of a serious study of anatomy and the human body. Religious respect for the dead had been carried to such a point that dissection of corpses had not been allowed. Vesalius (1514-1564), physician to Charles V and Philip II, braved this prejudice, and from that time the healing science began to develop. Ambroise Paré (1517-1590), surgeon to Charles IX and Henry III, deserves to be called one of the benefactors of humanity. He healed as much as possible, instead of always amputating. Yet medicine and surgery, like other sciences, were still in their infancy.
The efforts of true science were obstructed in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries by the obstinacy of the astrologers and sorcerers. It seems as though the chimerical sciences had doubled their propaganda, judging by the terrible cruelty used for their suppression by the Inquisition and the Princes. Sorcerers multiplied; in vain were they burnt by thousands, for in a few years there were 6,500 cases of sorcery in the electorate of Treves. The moral epidemic (for it was really that) spread everywhere. The horrible persecution only increased the evil which it was intended to cure. Besides, this tendency to persecute astrology and sorcery was a real hindrance to true science. Learned men dared not publish all their theories, and more than one great student perished a victim of his boldness because his works combated some popular errors. Human thought had not yet attained liberty, and even the century of the Reformation, far from being a century of free examination, was an age of persecution. The executions of the printer, Etienne Dolet, and of the learned de Berquin, in the reign of Francis I, and of a number of others in all. Centuries, the growing severity of the Inquisition in Spain, proved that in this society, outwardly so pagan, what was called religion still ruled the State, and many of its chiefs, blinded by ignorance, never realized how Christianity was distorted and dishonored by these cruelties.
Art had escaped from the fetters that in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries hindered the flight of the human mind. The true Renaissance was the revival of art. Architects, painters, and sculptors attained a perfection that has been the despair of later ages, although it has served as their model. There is, however, not much reason for astonishment, for in reality this Renaissance in Italy dated back to the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. The epoch specially designated the Renaissance was only the epoch of its maturity: Italy had preceded other countries in the development of wealth, industry, commerce, and the social spirit which triumphed over civil disunion. For several centuries it had been elegant, cruel, polished, and barbarous. The streets of its cities were the scene of wars and assassinations, mingled with joyous festivals of rare magnificence. Its petty sovereigns, while encouraging the poets, employed assassins; the admiration of the antique was joined to a reckless, ferocious disposition; religious observances followed or preceded grave crimes. Under an outer dress of exquisite refinement, in halls peopled with Greek and Roman statues or adorned with valuable paintings, tragedies took place which rendered the history of the Italian principalities and republics full of sinister incidents. But this state of civil war, of ambuscades, leagues, and persecutions, preserved the mind in such continual activity that the arts profited by it. The most marked feature of the Renaissance is the many-sided culture, the versatility, the fullness of the life of its devotees. The power of the scholar, soldier, poet, theologian, and artist in more than one art were often united in one individual, as in Leonardo, da Vinci (1452-1519) painter, architect, sculptor, scientist, engineer and musician.
The real school of the Italian artists was antiquity at least, for architecture and for sculpture, since they had no examples of the painting of the ancients. To this love of antiquity they added religious inspiration, if not genuine, still forcible enough to produce masterpieces of art, for the churches were the chief works of the architects. The Pointed or Gothic style had hardly been acclimatized in Italy, where, in architecture, Byzantine influence had always predominated. At the end of the Thirteenth Century the study of the Roman monuments, the ruins of which were then being explored, inspired Arnolfo di Lapo, the architect of the cathedral of Florence. He designed the cathedral upon the plan of the primitive basilicas. Brunelleschi (1379-1446) completed Arnolfo’s work by adding the cupola, an octagonal arch on an eight-sided drum, the chief work of the Renaissance. This dome, which afterward inspired Barmante and Michael Angelo, was 358 feet high. From that time the Italians erected buildings in imitation of the antique, and architecture merited the name of classic. Rome was embellished with palaces, like the Massimi Palace, the object of study and admiration of all artists, with its Doric vestibules and courts; and the Farnese Palace. But the churches were the chief objects of emulation to the architects, Peruzzi, Antonio de San Gallo, Vignoles, and Jacques de la Porte. The monument which best represented the new art, which most majestically transmitted profane traditions and blended them with religious requirements, is the immense basilica of Saint Peter’s at Rome, commenced under Julius II from the plans of the celebrated Barmante (1444-1514), continued under Leo X and his successors, and only completed under Sixtus V. A series of illustrious artists after Bramante Giocondo, Julian de San Gallo, Raphael, Peruzzi, Antonio de San Gallo, and lastly Michael Angelo, labored upon this gigantic work, one of the wonders of modern times by its mass, by its extraordinary proportions (for it could contain several cathedrals), by the beauty of its marbles, stuccos, and mosaics, and by the boldness of its dome, which rises to nearly 420 feet above the pavement of the church. It is a triumph of science and art, of lines and curves, the perfection of magnificence in architecture, and the most wonderful monument ever raised to the Christian religion with the aid of pagan tradition; but it is wanting in the deeply religious sentiment that pervades the Gothic cathedrals. In the following century Bernini (1598-1680) placed a double semicircular colonnade in front of the porch of Saint Peter’s, worthy of this prodigious temple. St. Paul’s, in London, is the great specimen of the style of the Renaissance and of the employment of the dome in England; it was built by Sir Christopher Wren (1675-1710).
Sculpture had preceded architecture in Italy, and from the Thirteenth Century Nicholas of Pisa had carved the pulpits of Siena and Pisa, and the Tomb of Saint Dominic at Bologna. He was followed by Andrea de Pisa and Andrea Orcagna. In the Fifteenth Century Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) made himself famous by the bronze gates of the Baptistery at Florence, to which he devoted forty years’ labor. Donatello, Mino de Fiesola, Lucadella Robbia, and Sansovino ornamented the churches with numerous statues. Lastly, Michael Angelo (1475-1564) appeared, the universal artist, who, whilst yet quite young, opened his career by sculpture. He adorned the mausoleum of Lorenzo de’ Medici with magnificent statues of “Dawn,” “Twilight,” and “Night,” and decorated the churches of Rome with his masterpieces. Torreggiano merited the rank of Michael Angelo’s rival. Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1570)jeweler, engraver, goldsmith, chaser, sculptor, and artist has left some sculptures at Florence, but worked chiefly at Fontainebleau. The “Perseus” ornaments the Loggia de Lanzi at Florence.
The Byzantine painters, like the ancient Egyptians, had failed through conventionality and religious restrictions. Yet from the Thirteenth Century the progress of study in Italy and the mental ardor awakened in the West, placed Cimabue (1240-1302) in the way of true art, which emancipated itself under Giotto (1276-1337), in the Fourteenth Century. This little shepherd, whom Cimabue had noticed drawing his sheep on the sand, and who became painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, mosaic-worker, etc., really founded the Italian school. He observed nature, studied foreshortening and perspective, and gave his figures both life and expression. Painting was at this time treated in water colors, but, although its materials were imperfect, it made great progress. The Italian love of fresco decorations for churches and palaces gave birth to a great number of artists, and the walls of the civil or religious edifices were covered with vast pictures which time has, unfortunately, effaced. Andrea Orcagna (1329-1368) painted a grand fresco of “Hell” in Santa Maria Novella, of Florence, and an eccentric “Last Judgment,” inspired by Dante, for the Campo Santo, at Pisa. Fra Giovanno, surnamed Fra Angelico, was the most devotional of painters. Michael Angelo observed that “the good monk must have visited Paradise, and obtained permission to paint his models from there.” Masaccio (1401-1443), by his fresco and pictures, was one of the first restorers of painting. An old man’s head, painted on a canvas, and now preserved in the Museum of Florence, is a masterpiece of drawing and observation. The Florentine school was founded.
Religious feeling, which is so deeply imprinted on the works of the earliest Italian painters who lived almost in the Middle Ages, was still more fervent in the Northern countries, particularly in Flanders, where the Corporation of Artists, formed in imitation of the Drapers’ Guilds, worked with the ambitious desire to illuminate the churches like religious manuscripts. The wealth of the Flemish cities was not only displayed in the growing luxury of the houses belonging to the manufacturing burghers, but also in the Guildhalls and in the ornamentation of oratories and altars. The Dukes of Burgundy encouraged the first efforts of art, and an illustrated Bible, by Jehan of Bruges, who became famous toward 1372, is preserved in the Museum
of The Hague. This artist, the first Flemish painter, was employed by the Duke of Anjou, brother of Charles V, to design the cartoons for the famous tapestries of the Apocalypse, which are preserved or, at least, some portion of them, in the Cathedral of Angers. In a short time nearly every town produced some artists, and the Renaissance commenced amongst the fogs of Flanders at the same time as under the beautiful Italian sun. In Flanders, the brothers Van Eyck, by the invention of oil colors and varnish, gave to painters the medium by which their compositions could be preserved practically forever. By this invention (discovered about 141o) Jan Van Eyck rendered to art the same service that Gutenberg rendered to literature by his discovery of printing.
Toward the middle of the Fifteenth Century an Italian, Antonello of Messina (1414-1493), came to Flanders, was initiated into the new method of painting, and carried it into his own country, where the artists gladly adopted it. Painting in oil was discovered at a favor-able moment, when the sudden impetus given to the studies of ancient art and literature aroused and excited the enthusiasm of the artists. The Renaissance of Painting was the result of the Renaissance of Letters. Fascinated by Dante and Petrarch, who had aided them to understand Homer, Virgil, and Horace, the painters evoked and presented in immortal pictures the immortal descriptions of the ancient and modern authors.
But although mythology and history greatly influenced the work of the Italian masters, the Christian religion had a yet larger share in its- development. From this point of view, the Italian painters are the followers of the sculptors in wood and the illuminators. Dramatic and touching histories from the Bible, the lives of the patriarchs and prophets, the Gospel parables, the impressive incidents of the Passion, legends of saints and martyrs, mysterious ecstacies of the faithful, all furnished subjects, which, with infinite variety in the combination of the natural and the supernatural, of heaven and earth; of men and angels, never seemed to have wearied admirers, in spite of their perpetual repetition. The artists transferred the adorations, prayers, and aspirations of the Christian world to the walls of their churches, or the pages of their illuminated manuscripts. But this does not imply that all these artists were imbued with the naive, ardent faith of the masons who built the cathedrals, the sculptors who ornamented their walls, and the artists who decorated the Bibles. What we know of the luxurious life, corruption, and skepticism of the Sixteenth Century removes all the illusions on that head, and we can hardly suppose that the artists who surrounded Julian II and Leo X were bet-ter Christians than the warrior Pope or his epicurean successor, whose elegant but dissolute court would have drawn upon him the anathemas of the Fathers of the Church. This state of society explains the curious fashion in which some of the Italian painters have often travestied, rather than idealized, Christian subjects. They treated them in the style of Greek art, using them only as a pretext for representing the human body in every posture, and for thus displaying their anatomical knowledge. As a rule, they have taken their subject from religion, their inspiration from antiquity; they have painted Christian figures like heathen Deities.
Masaccio (1401-1429), in the Fifteenth Century, founded the first school of painting at Florence, and its renown increased steadily until the end of the Sixteenth Century. Pietro Vanucci (1446-1524), called Perugino, gave a particularly graceful expression, a vivid coloring, and a golden tone to his religious pictures. He was worthy to be Raphael’s master. Near Florence, at the Castle da Vinci, in 1452, Leonardo was born. Like Michael Angelo, he was at the same time sculptor, painter, and architect, in addition to his great powers as a mechanic and engineer. Brought into France to be the ornament of the brilliant court of Francis I, his pictures are not numerous, for Leonardo allowed himself to be fascinated too much by scientific, to the detriment of artistic efforts, and some of his finest efforts, such as the “Last Supper,” a fresco in an old convent at Milan, quickly perished. He died at Amboise, in 1519. Leonardo, the first of the great masters, inspired by the monk Bartolommeo della Porta (1475-1517), known by the simple name of Frate, beautified his figures of saints with an elevated expression and a fine tone of color. Andrea del Sarto (1486-1531) was distinguished by the purity of his drawing, the unity of his compositions, and the grace of the attitudes in which he placed his religious or profane person-ages. Florence produced Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), less known by his paintings than by his histories of the painters.
Although a native of Tuscany, Michael Angelo Bounarrotti (1475-1564) founded the school of Rome. For nearly a Century Michael Angelo lived and worked, the glory of every art, foremost in sculpture as well as in painting and architecture. Disdaining narrow frames, he delighted in vast surfaces, which he covered with grand compositions, reproducing on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel the Creation of the World, and Scripture History, interpreting scenes from the Bible, and making them live again before our eyes with a vigor that equaled the descriptions of Moses. Thoroughly master of anatomy, knowing every movement of the body, and how to vary the attitudes, exhausting all the resources and mechanism of the art of drawing, Michael Angelo was not afraid of handling even the subjects which had inspired Dante’s genius, and he painted the “Last Judgment,” a fresco which filled the whole wall of the Sistine Chapel, facing the entrance. A colossal composition, where 300 personages are rep-resented; a poem in color, cleverly arranged; a skillful combination of many scenes, harmoniously grouped this unique fresco compels admiration by the elevation of the subject, by the life that illumines the bodies of the elect and torments the condemned, by the contrast between the terrestrial and celestial groups.
Michael Angelo shut himself into the Sistine Chapel for nine years, working with enthusiasm, and no one else has attained such extraordinary power or such astonishing majesty.
Shorter, yet more productive in proportion to its duration, the career of Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520) marked the highest point of the Christian yet pagan art of the Renaissance. In his frescoes and pictures, his portraits (Julius II, Leo X, and the Fornarina), and his Holy Families, Raphael, without apparent effort, attained perfection by his genius for composition, drawing, and painting. We admire the calm effect produced by a skill certain of its own powers, making no effort to express its thoughts, pious or secular, observing yet idealizing nature, and satisfied, when it had succeeded, in representing upon canvas the images by which it wished to please and touch the spectators. Raphael’s genius was essentially Greek. This not only because he made great use of mythology and history in his ‘works, but chiefly because he had caught anew the serenity and grace of the old ideals. The principal pictures by Raphael can be admired in museums, but in the Vatican is the Loggia, the external gallery of one of the palace courts. In the ceiling of each of the triforiums of these galleries Raphael has painted four pictures, and thus obtained a series of fifty-two subjects, comprising the principal scenes of sacred history a really grand work, in which the master employed his pupils’ services, chiefly those of Giulio Romano (1492-1546). In the same palace Raphael painted the chambers that is, four large halls where he arranged his vast compositions : The “Dispute of the Holy Sacrament” (also called “Theology”), and the “School of Athens” (or “Philosophy”), the “Parnassus” and “Jurisprudence,” the history of Heliodorus stabbed on the threshold of the temple of Jerusalem, the “Deliverance of Saint Peter,” the “Pope Saint Leo Stopping the Advance of Attila,” and the vast scenes wherein Raphael glorified Constantine, the protector of the Church. In these large compositions the arrangement is majestic and noble, the groups harmonize, the drawing is free, vigorous, correct, and elegant, the figures are graceful without affectation, and the whole picture is full of delicate sentiments which produce an undying charm. But the artist surpasses himself in the “Trans-figuration,” a picture which was exhibited at the head of the bed on which Raphael lay after death; it was carried in his funeral procession. Raphael, in spite of the eminent artists that have succeeded him, has remained incontestably the inimitable model and the educator of the painters who followed him.
Michael Angelo and Raphael had carried the secrets of the Florentine school to Rome, and had created the Roman school. But Italian genius for art is so pre-dominant that masters were found in most of the Italian cities. In the north, where Leonardo, who inhabited Milan for a long time, had also introduced Florentine methods, the so-called Lombardy School had boasted even before Leonardo’s appearance of Andrea Mantegna of Padua, and Bernardino Luini. Then alone, without seeing either Florence or Rome, and without any other inspiration than a single picture by Raphael (the “Saint Cecilia”), but which he felt awakened his genius, Antonio Allegri, called Correggio (1494-1534), almost rivaled the great masters. At Parma he painted the “Ascension” which decorates the dome of the church of San Giovanni, and the “Assumption” painted on the Doumo of Parma. Correggio was not only elegant and graceful, his painting is distinguished by a softness and suavity which none of his pupils have been able to equal. Caravaggio (1569-1609), an original painter, who only studied his own works and followed his own ideas, uncultivated, illiterate, disdaining the antique, affecting to despise Raphael and Correggio, recognized but one master, nature. But he only represented the trivial, common side of nature, out of harmony with his refined epoch, though full of energy and truth.
The clear sky of Venice reflected in the blue waters of the Adriatic seems to have given the painters of that city something of its color and luster. The Venetians are masters of color, and their artists lavished the most brilliant tints upon their pictures. The Bellini, two brothers, commenced that famous Venetian school afterward so seductive and so fertile. Giorgio Barbarelli (1439-1502), who died very young, decorated the Palaces of the Doges at Venice with his frescoes, remarkable for their warm tones. He left very few pictures, for which the European museums eagerly compete. Giorgio or Giorgione was Titian’s contemporary. Titian (1483-1520), like Michael Angelo, lived nearly a Century and occupied this long career with a quantity of works, decorating the Venetian churches and palaces, composing religious and secular pictures for Princes and for wealthy citizens, scarcely able, in spite of the great facility with which he worked, to satisfy his crowd of customers of bishops and Kings, and it is said that the most illustrious of them, the Emperor Charles V, condescended to pick up the great artist’s brush when he dropped it one day in the royal presence. With the greatest freedom he passed from sacred to heathen subjects, from saints to mythological divinities, from Holy Families to Venus and Adonis, giving them all life with his magic brush, even to the coldest allegories or the most untruthful apotheoses. Art with him was completely emancipated, and in religious subjects he was even less scrupulous than the other painters of the Renaissance. Titian allowed himself to be led away by his imagination, his tastes, his caprices. But he portrayed his most capricious ideas in such glowing colors, his painting is of such brilliant tone, that it is still dazzling after the lapse of several Centuries.
Titian, who was jealous in spite of his glory, had dismissed one of his pupils from his studio. This was the son of a dyer, who rendered the name of his trade famous by becoming Tintoretto (1518-1594). This artist endeavored to be original instead of merely a copyist, and to avoid one of Titian’s defects, for the latter was so much preoccupied with his color that he neglected his drawing, which Tintoretto studied under Michael Angelo. His reputation was so great that he was invited to fill the churches and palaces of Venice with his work. He decorated the ceiling of the Great Council Hall, in the Ducal Palace, with a vast composition sixty-four feet long by thirty feet wide: the “Glory of Paradise.” He seemed to have derived his spirit as well as his drawing from Michael Angelo, and was called the “Furious;” but he worked too quickly, and never attained the perfection of his master, although he succeeded in rivaling Titian by his brilliant coloring.
Paul Veronese (1528-1588), another of Titian’s rivals, was also one of the great magicians of art. He decorated the Hall of the Council of Ten, in the Ducal Palace, with the “Apotheosis of Venice.” He also painted the “Abduction of Europa,” and above all four “Meals of our Lord” for monastic refectories. Of these works, the “Marriage of Cana” is one of the finest ornaments of the Louvre Museum. Paul Veronese broke through the traditions of the Roman school : he did not seek for historical truth but dressed all his personages in the fashion of his own times, whatever epoch they may have lived in. His apostles are rich Venetians, feasting in palaces. His groups are so well arranged, his figures (which were all portraits) have so much nobility, so much life, his coloring is so bright and rich, that one never wearies of admiring his prodigious works. To this school we may also add Canaletto (1697-1768), who painted the canals, the buildings, and landscapes of his native city.
The city of Bologna filled a place in the schools of painting, chiefly through the Caracci Louis Caracci (1555-1619) and his two cousins, Augustine and Annibal. The last named, the boldest and most original, succeeded in religious pictures, but above all in landscapes, for which his works are the first fine examples of that style found in Italy. But the Bolognese school was particularly renowned in the Seventh Century through the pupils of the Caracci Domenichino, Guido Reni, and Albano.
The influence of Italy spread all over Europe, and every artist desired to emulate the great masters. The relations between Italy and Spain were so closely linked that Spain was one of the first to imbibe enthusiasm for Italian art, and the schools of Valencia, Toledo, Seville, and Madrid were formed. Yet, however great the merits of Alonzo Berruguete, Juan de Juanes, Luis de Morales, el Mudo surnamed the Spanish Titian or of Alonzo Sanchez Coello may have been, Spanish painting did not really flourish until the following Century. It required time before study could produce its fruits. In France Italian artists were instructors of the French.
Flanders in some measure anticipated Italy, but the Flemish artists, without losing their original characteristics, were influenced by the great Italian movement, and profited by the lessons of those to whom they had taught painting in oil. Roger Van der Weyden went to Italy at the moment when Masaccio at Florence, Bellini at Venice, and Fra Angelico at Rome, were restoring the art of painting. Hans Memling has left considerable and varied work, displaying scenes from the life and passion of Christ, in admirable landscapes, full of elegance, feeling, and charm. It would take too long to enumerate the artists who now appeared in all the Flemish cities, but we must not omit Quentin Matsys, the friend of Erasmus and of Sir Thomas More. The imitation of Italian painting was carried so far in the Sixteenth Century that entire colonies of Flemings settled in Florence and Rome. The taste for art aroused by wealth and luxury was so great that in 156o the city of Antwerp alone contained three hundred and sixty painters and sculptors. But this was only a beginning, and in the following Century Flemish genius attained a degree of excellence that quite equaled the Italian art of the Sixteenth Century.
The excellence of the Flemish painters aroused emulation in Germany. From the Rhine cities, the nearest to the Belgian provinces, art penetrated into Germany, and in the Sixteenth Century the country boasted of Holbein (1497-1543) from the school of Augsburg, who lived in Basle and England. His works, composed of historical pictures and portraits, are now in Hampton Court Palace. Basle contains his best designs and cartoons; amongst other things the famous “Dance Macabre,” or “Dance of Death.” Although his style was still naïve, we cannot but admire Holbein’s knowledge and correctness, and above all his brilliant coloring, which places him amongst the masters of the Renaissance.
At Dresden appeared Lucas Sunder or Lucas Kranch, friend of Luther’s who has left a portrait of the Reformer and his disciple Melanchthon. At the same time Albert Durer, (1471-1528) whose genius was universal, since he was sculptor, architect, painter, engraver, and author, unites in his pictures the Flemish method with Italian inspiration, but his art seems to belong to a much earlier period. His serious style is powerful, profound, and mystical. He was the last great German artist. The Reformation, in its hostility to images, turned Germany from the cultivation of the arts, which the long vicissitudes of the Thirty Years’ War also forcibly interrupted. Painting in Germany commenced and ended with Albert Durer and Holbein.
Art tended to embellish everything. Princes, nobles, and burghers prided themselves on a worthy use of their wealth; tapestries worked from designs furnished by the great painters were used to ornament the sumptuous dwellings which the architects built with so much taste and skill and the sculptors decorated so carefully. The old for-gotten art of ceramics now revived. From the Fifteenth Century, Luca della Robbia, (1400-1482) sculptor and painter, was seized with the idea of taking his earthen models and enveloping them in a vitrified unbreakable coating. His process was imitated, and the Italian majolicas, attributed to the Renaissance, were eagerly competed for. Francis of Medici himself owned workshops and furnaces; he ranked amongst the artists. Tuscany, the Marches, and Venetia, became covered with factories from whence issued an infinite number of varied and elegantly shaped vases. Italian artists went to France, Amboise, Lyons, Nantes, and Croisie, but Bernard Palissy, at first a common glazier, soon resolved to do better, to abandon the use of painting on the surface, and to discover enamel through fusion. Pursuing his idea with rare pertinacity, sacrificing his modest resources, burning even his furniture and the floors of his house to feed his furnace, sometimes wearied but still unconquered, Bernard Palissy (Circa 1505-1590) was one of those men who cannot be too highly honored, for he was one of those extraordinary inventors who triumphed over difficulties, and enriched the world with new sources of wealth and with masterpieces of art; in fact, Bernard Palissy succeeded in making enamel in encasing in unalterable colors, figures of animals or human faces upon his vases, dishes, and cups. Modern races had regained all that the ancients had acquired, they now possessed ceramics as well as sculpture, painting, and architecture.
We cannot judge the music of the ancients, but modern times are supreme in this art, or rather this language of the soul. The instruments of the middle ages, the rebecq, monochord, and spinet, were perfected; the rebecq became the violin. An Antwerp carpenter, Hans Buckers, improved the keyboard by giving it four octaves. From that time chants with different parts could be arranged for the masses, and religious music found a voice through Palestrina ( 1529-1594) , several of whose chants are still used in churches. Religious music opened the way to secular music, which in the following Centuries so successfully translated the sentiments of the heart. Such progress in the arts denotes the great power that the human mind acquired in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries; men learned to see and to aspire after the beautiful, a sublime pleasure which never wearies, but which raises man above the common passions of daily life.