« ПредишнаНапред »
branch, the anchor, the fish, the ship. There too were painted the series of types and antitypes from the Old and New Testaments: Noah in the ark, Moses striking the rock, Jonah swallowed by the fish, Jonah thrown from the fish's mouth, Daniel between the lions, Christ restoring Lazarus to life, the miracle of the loaves, the lame man taking up his bed, with a central figure of Christ as the Good Shepherd bearing a sheep upon His shoulders.
Affectionately, as we have said, does the mind cling to these forms, however crude, through which the first Christians speak to us in their ashes. Yet, if ever there were need for circumspection, it is here: just in proportion to the sympathy which moves to easy and pleasant credulity is the necessity for the coolness of judgment which shall guard against apocryphal pretence. There cannot be a doubt but that the Romish Church has sought to make capital out of the Catacombs; with this, however, we have here nothing to do. Our duty is to declare the simple truth, even though apparently to the prejudice of Christian art. Let us say, then, once for all, that Christian art is not like the tables of the law, written by the finger of God-not like those tongues of fire which came at Pentecost; but, of more mundane birth, it rises among the mists and vapours of earth, it shares the infirmity of our race, it is darkened by human passion, it falls in the decay of nations, and only reaches its divine form when man, in the perfecting of Christian civilisation, grows strong in arm and noble in soul.
The one question in the pictorial history of our Lord which above all others incites to speculation-the authenticity of the early portraits of Christ-has received from Lady Eastlake dispassionate consideration. The mind, as we have said, clings fondly to the belief that some record or reliable tradition may have been left of the personal appearance of Jesus
while He sojourned upon earth. We have known students in Rome who would not surrender the conviction that the early heads of the Saviour retain at least some shadowed memory of their divine original. We have ourselves searched the Catacombs in the hope that evidence might be collected which should justify a belief so accordant with the desires of the human heart. Yet we are bound to say, the further the inquiry was prosecuted the more untenable became the assumption that any one of the many presumed portraits of Christ were trustworthy. The calm and impartial manner in which Lady Eastlake has ducted the difficult inquiry which brings her to the same conclusion, is worthy of all commendation. We recollect that the first tentative proposition at which we ourselves arrived was, that the many and somewhat conflicting portraits could scarcely point to one and the same person; and, that each individual work simply reflected and reproduced the type, style, and treatment peculiar to the period and the people which had given it birth. Under the same persuasion Lady Eastlake tells us that "the first known conception of the Saviour's features was inspired by the lingering feeling for classic forms, and is found in the earlier monuments of the Roman Catacombs. Here the type of Christ is simply that of a youth, and of the expression proper to that period." Then, coming into "the wide realm and long reign of Byzantine art-though in many respects allied with classic traditions-we enter into another distinct form of the human countenance, and therefore of that of the Lord. The hair divided in the centre of the forehead may here be said to constitute an unfailing sign of identity. At the same time there was nothing in this feature to prevent the utmost possible difference in every other. We find, accordingly, in the works of Byzantine origin, as much diversity as might be expected from the differing con
alogy between the heads of Christ and the generally received characteristics of the principal northern nations, even to this time. The conception of Christ's countenance in English miniatures has a certain earnest downrightness; in French works it is decidedly gay; while the German have an expression of thought."
ditions to which art was subjected ing any precision, there is a sort of an-from the mere mechanical reproduction of the same ever-copied and ever-deteriorating pattern, to the work of such artists who, though conforming in treatment of subject to the overruling laws of the Greek Church, yet infused into it a feeling for beauty and elevation of character."
Passing northward of the Alps, we enter on distinct races and nationalities, and are in the midst of schools-if arts so untutored can be said to belong to any school marked by a vigour which inheres to naturalism and begets a rude originality.
"The Anglo-Saxon period," continues Lady Eastlake, "which, in respect of Art, seems to mingle both classical reminiscences and Byzantine traditions with a grandly fantastic element, offers more interest. Christ is here more strictly separate: the disciples have one class of features, being chiefly given with classically - formed profiles, the angels and archangels another, and Christ a third. This is of an abstract and weird character, conveying a strange sense of the supernatural, perfectly in keeping with the abstract nature of the more general conception, which represents our Lord in glory. The head rises grandly above the stony stare, the divided head is cinctured with a fillet and jewel, and the beard is formed into three points. The lines are few and equal, as if by a hand accustomed to incise them on a harder material. Another form, with a bushy wig of hair, is more fantastic, though not without a certain grandeur. We now enter streams of Art too numerous and self-intersecting to be pursued in this brief notice. The human head here serves, of course, as in all Art, to distinguish one school from another, but it would be perilous to attempt any nicety of connoisseurship."
Then referring to a woodcut taken from an English MS. of the fourteenth century, the following contribution is made to the ethnology of Christian iconography :
"Other illustrations of Christ in this work will supply ample proof of the diversities of representation during this
and previous centuries. Generally speaking, however, and without affectVOL. XCVI.-NO. DLXXXIX.
It will by this time have become evident that the number and the variety of these heads of the Saviour mutually overthrow any exclusive claim to personal fidelity. In the absence, then, of any specific testimony in support of historic truth, the mere fact that, by the sixth century, every principal Christian community was in possession of "pictures of Christ made without hands," is sufficient to indicate that these creations were but the prolific offspring of fertile imagination. Among the many claimants, which, asks Lady Eastlake with reason, was the true portrait ?
That possessed by the Romans? or that represented by the Hebrews? or that treasured by the Greeks? or that worshipped by the Ethiopians ?-since all in turn maintain that Christ had borne the features of their particular race! Thus it need only be observed, that at the seventh General Council, held at Constantinople in 754, all the pictures purporting to have descended direct from Christ or His apostles were condemned." And here may be allowed to end a controversy which, for the deep interests involved, has scarcely an equal in the entire range of Christian art.
Yet, rightly viewed, is this ending but the starting-point to a new beginning. The ground which the critical intellect surrenders is at once taken possession of by creative imagination, and the blank left on the page of history is at length supplied by the pencil of art. A writer conscious of original power likes not to be bound strictly within a prescribed barrier of facts; he desires rather to call forth his characters out of the dimness of
distance. And so likewise the artist rejoices in themes remotely removed from the foreground of actual and immediate experience, subjects which transcend the life of common day. Perhaps the total absence of any portrait of Christ, which in some moods of mind we are tempted to mourn over, may on the whole be regarded as a providential denial of what had proved a dangerous, though a priceless possession. But whatever doubt we may have on this point, assuredly there can be no question that art could scarcely receive a higher boon, or be intrusted with a nobler mission, than that of forming for itself, and not for itself only, but for the entire world, a tabernacle wherein the Eternal Word might find an earthly dwelling. We have already shown that Christianity brought fulfilment to the art-aspiration of the nations; it satisfied the desire for the union of the perfect God and the perfect man. Here, then, as we have said, is a theme before which genius may bow the head; here a subject that imagination strives after in vain; here a goal towards which every foot tends, and yet no pilgrim shall ever reach. Yet he who is permitted to converse with the Lord in the mount shall, perchance, as the lawgiver of old, descend with glory round the brow. We repeat that, in the truest interests of art, nothing better could have been desired than that the image of the Saviour should be left as now in the uncertainty of conjecture. InInstead of a portrait marred, which, century by century, should receive, like the suffering Saviour himself, cruel indignity, until shorn, there may be reason to fear, of the last rays of Godhead - instead of a form thus disfigured, lying even, it may be, as a stumbling-block at the gate of heaven, an impediment rather than an aid-each mind is left to enjoy its own ideal; each artist is told to go forth and gather throughout creation every scattered member of the body of
divine beauty; he is permitted to form for himself an image of all that is most fair on earth and in heaven; he is bidden to enter, as Fra Angelico, the house of prayer, and there seek in vision for absolute perfection; and then, after all, behold, the infinite rises still above and beyond him. He strives after it in vain. But even in his failure have we the measure of the summit to which he has ascended. The finite may have failed to circumscribe the infinite; art may have faltered as it essayed to transcribe the nature which is above all nature. Yet does the effort bring its own reward; and the artist who waits for whispers from the world of spirits shall, as Beato the Blessed, have power to paint in forms and colours which speak as revelations. Thus it will be seen that, instead of a portrait which, from generation to generation, should lose its original worth, art commenced with a germ which, though at first rude, gathered around it the accumu lative thought and devotion of successive minds and masters, borrowing, assimilating, and rejecting from each in turn, till at length, after the lapse of wellnigh fifteen centuries, was attained the fully developed type, the highest pictorial manifestation yet known of the divine nature incarnate in human form. "The fifteenth century," writes Lady Eastlake, “did not elapse without bequeathing the profoundest conception of the Son of Man which mortal hand has ever executed. Most of our readers will think of that dim ghost of a head, still lingering on the walls of an old refectory in Milan, which, like its divine original, has suffered the contempt and injury of man, yet still defies the world to produce its equal."
Art, whether she assume the guise of prose or of poetry, whether she be content to limit herself to a simple narrative of facts, or add to description the colour of imagi nation, still is ever performing
the function of a language; not, indeed, a language of sounds, but the silent speech uttered through forms. Pictures and the plastic arts being thus the embodiment of thoughts, they necessarily follow closely upon the ebb and flow of the great tidal ideas which from age to age sweep over seas and continents. The arts of Greece swelled with the outburst of poetry, rose with the elevation of philosophy, and as a mirror reflected the master thoughts of the national religion. What rhapsodists sang, what wise men taught, what the people believed and worshipped, the painter delineated and the sculptor carved. Thus it is that any complete cycle of art is as a book, perchance of many chapters and divided under diverse heads, wherein may be read the ideas which have accumulated into a system, grown into a history, and covered, as it were, a wide territory of national thought. And if this be true of art in general, more especially is it true of those arts which congregate around Christianity, and have come to illustrate and glorify the history of our Lord. The thick and closely packed volumes now before us are indeed convincing testimony, if evidence were wanting, of the abounding materials out of which Christian artists reared visible bulwarks to faith. It seems, indeed, that whatever the prophet in vision had seen, whatever Christ and His apostles did and suffered whatever, indeed, the Church believed and held most sacred, just so much was the painter and the sculptor ready to set forth and proclaim in the language which the unlettered multitude could best understand. Hence it is that the history of our Lord as narrated by the artist stands out the complete counterpart of the story told by the theologian, and of the faith held dear by the people. Taking the survey, indeed, of the vast Christian diagram which through the lapse of eighteen centuries has received re-touchings and additions from artists whose name is
legion, we are scarcely able to detect a single break or blank in the all-embracing picture. A rapid sketch of the volumes before us, whereof, as we have seen, the outline was drawn by Mrs Jameson, and the details and enrichments furnished by Lady Eastlake, will best elucidate the line of thought to which we have here given but imperfect expression.
Even as the entire Bible, from the first book of Genesis to the last verse of the Revelation, points to or portrays the history of our Lord; so does art, which is, as we have seen, a mirror set up to reflect the collective thought of Christendom, depict Jesus first as the creator of the world and finally as its judge. Indeed, the Son being coeval with the Father, the history of our Lord is made to stretch back beyond the days of creation into the depth of an unfathomed eternity. Thus the fall of Lucifer and his rebel angels, as in the epic of our great English poet, constitutes the opening scene to the drama of a paradise lost and won. "The fall of Lucifer is found in all forms of the speculum salvationis, always commencing the history of the world:" Michael Angelo intended to have executed the overthrow of the angels on the vast wall of the Sistine which faces the 'Last Judgment; Spinello Aretino painted that war in heaven, when Michael and his angels fought against Satan ;" Rubens poured forth "cataracts of figures," the overthrow of the damned: and then as a typical incident in the great battle which overwhelmed the sky in its fury, we have various pictures of St Michael crushing Satan, among which we may mention as pre-eminent the well-known designs by Raphael and Guido.
The connecting idea between this first act, the overthrow of Satan, and the second act, the creation of man, is supplied by one of those fictions in which legendary art abounds. God created man, it is said, to repair the breaches in
heaven occasioned by the lapse of so many angelic spirits! The six days' creation, together with the temptation, the fall, and the expulsion, which constitute a cycle, closing in the climax of a catastrophe, have received curious and occasionally lovely illustration both in painting and sculptured bas-relief. The distinction already indicated between the literal prose narrative with which early art was content, and the poetic amplifications and adornings to which later and more developed periods became addicted, is specially obvious in subjects of this series such as the creation of Eve. When sculptors and painters were as yet tentative of their powers, they gave to the Biblical story a reading which savours in its untempered grossness of the grotesque. For example, in the bas-reliefs on the façade of the Cathedral of Orvietto, executed in the thirteenth century by the school of the Pisani, Adam lies under profound sleep, his side yawns open in a deep gash, an actual rib protrudes from the wound, and the Creator, as accoucheur, is found in the act of "performing the operation with a kind of surgical intensity." This direct translation of a verbal myth into a visual reality, is one of the most egregious examples of a blunder common to all times, the confounding of the conditions prescribed to separate arts, the transferring of the shadowy metaphor of words into the substantial body of visible forms. We may rest assured that if, instead of a revelation through the instrument of speech, the Creator had spoken through the language of art a state of things not impossible to conceive of the imagery and figures appropriate to the medium of words would have assumed plastic and pictorial forms. And those artists have approached most nearly to the divine mind who dared to use somewhat of the poet's licence, who brought to the verbal text the suggestions of fancy, and who thus were enabled
in the mind's eye to re-fashion, and to clothe again, those scenes which the amanuensis of Deity may have blotted in the writing. This, we think, is specially evident in the various treatments, some mean, others grand, of the theme just mentioned-the creation of Eve. The genius of Michael Angelo has given to this subject his wonted largeness and power. Again, in the doors of Ghiberti declared, it is well known, worthy to be the gates of heaven-creation is less a physical operation than a supreme act of thought. God speaks, and it is done; the Almighty, with outstretched hand, calls Eve into being, and forthwith she rises a form so beauteous that the angels bend from heaven to gaze on her; she floats upborne by attendant ministers, and bends to give to her Maker thanks for life bestowed.
The group of subjects closing with the expulsion from Eden and the death of Abel, is succeeded by the series of Biblical types which point to the coming of Christ, and prefigure His mission and office. More correctly speaking, indeed, the one series overlaps and runs into the other; for the first Adam, whose side was opened at the ribs, became, by an ingenuity which in this legendary art is as amazing as it is but too frequently amusing, the symbol of the second Adam whose side was pierced upon the
This straining after distant analogies we cannot but regard as puerile. Such childish conceits, which do violence to rational religion, and mar the beauty of poetic thought, must, however, be laid to the charge of theologians rather than against artists, who, at the worst, were merely but too ready to do as they were bid. This idea of types having been once started, the indefinite multiplication of the symbol was matter of little else than fictitious conjecture. It were hard, indeed, that a lawgiver, a prophet, a priest, or a king under the old dispensation should not, at least in some one or more points,