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Here we see not the evanescent soul of a Fra Angelico nor the Platonic soul of a Botticelli; nor do we see a body poised and adjusted to its environment as in the best Greek sculpture. The bodies of naturalistic, realistic art have through emotional conflict been brought to the focus, to the center of consciousness. Bouguereau's figures, with their palpable surfaces, their flesh tints, their veins through which is suggested the purple flow of blood, their odorous hair, are bodies that breathe and move with life under our gaze. And Bouguereau belongs to the Venetian tradition which accents sensuous realism as over against the classic form of Rome and Florence. But the naturalistic ideal of the body without a soul is just as much the result of a conflict of body and soul as the mediæval ideal of a soul without a body. It is the tortured mediæval soul climbing through asceticism above the body which has left the outstanding materialistic physical body of naturalistic art and literature. The body is a living organism but as a living organism it is always something more than a physical thing. On the other hand, the medieval protest against body made of the soul a pale suffering ghost. Moral poise and harmony and strength can come not through a body breaking loose from mind and will, nor from a soul ashamed of its body, but through a vital unity of the will and the bodily life. One sees this in the Russian ballet where mind and body are fused in an unfolding artistic drama. One sees it in the Venus de Milo in which the soul of woman, the mother of the race, is incarnated in the most perfect of female human forms. This synthesis of medieval form and pagan realism is the secret of
the supremacy of Florentine art over the art of Venice. Rich embroidery, gorgeous apparel, sparkling wine, luscious fruits, are glorious symbols of life. But these elements in a Titian or a Veronese are never found with those ideal qualities of limb and face, of mind and soul, to be seen in a Botticelli, a da Vinci, a Raphael or a Michael Angelo. The reason why Giotto is so great is that he accomplished this synthesis as early as the thirteenth century. To break with the mediaval heaven and yet have something more than the material earth; to reject universal truth and yet hold to something more than individual opinion; to surrender a changeless soul and yet retain something more than a body of clay; to break with the authority of Pope and Emperor and yet steer clear of the chaos of individualism, was the problem presented by Renaissance thought. In other words, the problem was the synthesis of the soul of the church and the life of the world. And the earliest form in which this synthesis was effected was the art of the Italian Renaissance. In the aesthetic intuition of art paganism humanized mediæval Christianity and the latter idealized and spiritualized the naturalism of paganism. Sometimes these elements were juxtaposed rather than harmonized; the mediæval sense of sin and the old pagan joy of life often existed side by side in unmediated dualism. Sometimes as in Fra Angelico, the mediæval ideal stood in opposition to the naturalness of human life. On the other hand, as in Venetian art, realism overbalanced the idealism of the Christian spirit. But Florentine art brought about a perfect fusion of Greek naturalism and the Christian spirit. The same thing
is true of Michael Angelo (d. 1564). The spirit of Savonarola and that of Plato are fused together in Angelo's prophets and sibyls. The powerful human forms of his art are the expression of neither the naturalism of Greek paganism nor the medieval spirit of world-denial; they are the expression of a balanced fusion of both ideals. In Raphael (d. 1520) is seen a still more ideal combination of the pagan and Christian points of view. Raphael has given the world a new type of Madonna, which is neither the rounded figure of Giorgione nor the sensuous form of Rubens nor again the angelic figure of Fra Angelico; the Madonna of Raphael is rather the fusion of mediæval asceticism and Greek naturalism, the Christian spirit dwelling in a human body. Symonds sums it all up in the statement that between the Athens of Pericles and Renaissance Florence lay twenty centuries of Christian history.
The Virgin of the Renaissance art was Aphrodite but not Aphrodite in her ancient form because the western mind had been for centuries saturated with asceticism and the ideal of pure soul. The western mind having acquired the subtlety of feeling, the complexity of sentiment which we see in Dante could see in the Virgin not the pagan Aphrodite but Aphrodite idealized by the alchemy of mediaval asceticism. The same synthesis of motives, the same reorganization of ideals, was taking place in regard to the institutions of property and the state. The opulence and luxury portrayed in Venetian art was being interpreted and idealized and given a newer and richer form in the art of Florence and Rome. Likewise a newer, pagan,
civic consciousness was evidenced in the rise of the Italian republics in Florence, Venice, and Milan. This is the meaning of the appearance of Machiavelli's Prince. But these modern states, although in themselves they may have been pagan enough, were created by people who were Christian at heart. And people who know and love Plato and Jesus and St. Francis and Dante, cannot wholly forget or ignore their ideals in their state-building.
This synthesis of paganism and Christianity, this reconstruction of life's objectives, was the special achievement of Florentine and Roman art. And this synthesis acquires a newer and richer meaning when we compare the achievement of Italian art with the fragmentary achievements in other fields. No such synthesis has yet been achieved in philosophy or science or religion as was achieved by the great Italian masters of art.
If mediæval introversion was merely a form of day-dreaming, if its thinking was a form of phantasy, then the mediæval inner life was a hysterical return to a narcissistic emotionalism; it was a flight from reality. But if it was an unconscious rehearsal for a deeper, a richer reorganization of the older ethnic patterns of life, then the mediæval process of introversion was one of the most significant stages in the evolution of the human mind. To cut off one's reactions to life because the mind is lost in phantasy is to exemplify a loss of nerve; but to gaze into the mirror of thought in order that there may be a better reorganization of life is to lay the basis for a creative civilization.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF REALISM IN THE RENAISSANCE
The break with medieval thought is clearly seen in Chaucer (d. 1400). To the medieval mind there was an inner mental world which was an end in itself. No such world exists in Chaucer. His characters do not find the world of sense to be extraneous and unreal; they drink deep the joy of life. In the Prelude to the Canterbury Tales we meet characters whose dominant interests are realistic. There is the Squire, who loves so ardently and is as fresh as the month of May; the Prioress, whose pleasure was all in courtesy; the Monk, who owned many a blooded horse, who let old things pass and followed the ways of the newer world, who didn't pore over books but followed his greyhounds as swift as birds. "He was not pale like a wasted ghost . . . He was a sleek, fat lord . . . His bright eyes rolled in his head, glowing like the fire under a cauldron." Such are Chaucer's characters. The medieval soul, the soul of Fra Angelico's art, for example, like a vapor, a breath, a divine fire, was hardly linked to sense at all. Of this there is nothing in Chaucer. Hear his Theseus speak in the Knight's Tale at the death of Arcite, the knight: "His spirit changed house and went to a place where I never was.