Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

Before saying anything of the personal characteristics of Giotto, we must return to that revolution in art which originated with him —which seized at once on all imaginations, all sympathies; which Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarch have all commemorated in immortal verse, or as immortal prose ; which, during a whole century, filled Italy and Sicily with disciples formed in the same school and penetrated with the same ideas. All that had been done in painting before Giotto, resolved itself into the imitation of certain existing models, their improvement to a certain point in style of execution ; there was no new method; the Greek types were everywhere seen, more or less modified—a Madonna in the middle, with a couple of lank saints or angels stuck on each side, holding symbols; or with their names written over their heads, and texts of Scripture proceeding from their mouths; or at the most a few figures, placed in such a position relatively to each other as sufficed to make a story intelligible, and the arrangement generally traditional and arbitrary; such seems to have been the limit to which painting had advanced previous to 1280. : Giotto appeared ; and, almost from the beginning of his career, he not only deviated from the practice of the older painters, but stood opposed to them. He not only improved_he changed; he placed himself on wholly new ground. He took up those principles which Nicolo Pisano had applied to sculpture, going to the same source, — to Nature, and to those remains of pure antique art which showed him how to look at Nature. His residence at Rome, while he was yet young and in all the first glowing development of his creative powers, must have had incalculable influence on his after works. Deficient to the end of his life in the knowledge of form, he was deficient in that kind of beauty which depends on form ; but his feeling for grace and harmony in the expression of his heads and the arrangement of his groups was exquisite ; and the longer he practiced his art, the more free and flowing became his lines. But, beyond grace and beyond beauty, he aimed at the expression of natural character and emotion, in order to render intelligible his newly-invented scenes of action and his religious allegories. A writer of his time speaks of it as something new and wonderful, that in Giotto's pictures “the personages who are in grief look melancholy, and those who are joyous look gay.” For his heads he introduced a new type exactly reversing the Greek pattern

long-shaped, half-shut eyes; a long straight nose, and a very short chin. The hands are rather delicately drawn, but he could not design the feet well, for which reason we generally find those of his men clothed in shoes or sandals wherever it is possible, and those of his women covered with flowing drapery. The management of his draperies is, indeed, particularly characteristic, distinguished by a certain lengthiness and narrowness in the folds, in which, however, there is much taste and simplicity, though in point of style as far from the antique as from the complicated meanness of the Byzantine models; and it is curious that this peculiar treatment of the drapery, these long perpendicular folds, correspond in character with the principles of Gothic architecture, and with it rose and declined. For the stiff wooden limbs and motionlėss figures of the Byzantine school, he substituted life, movement, and the look, at least, of flexibility. His notions of grouping and arrangement he seems to have taken from the ancient bassi-relievi ; there is a statuesque grace and simplicity in his compositions which reminds us of them. His style of coloring and execution was, like all the rest, an innovation on received methods; his colors were lighter and more roseate than had ever been known; the fluid by which they were tempered more thin and easily managed ; and his frescoes must have been skilfully executed to have stood so well as they have done. Their duration is, indeed, nothing compared to Egyptian remains; but the latter have been for ages covered up from light and air in a dry climate; those of Giotto have been exposed to all the vicissitudes of weather and of underground damp, have been whitewashed and in every way ill-treated, yet the fragments which remain have still a surprising freshness, and his distemper pictures are still wonderful. Beyond one or two in the Louvre and in the Berlin Gallery, none of his pictures can be found, except in his native country. Those who are curious may consult the engravings after Giotto in the plates to the Storia della Pittura of Rossini, in those of D'Agincourt's Histoire de l'Art par les Monumens, and in Ottley's Early Italian School.

Giotto's personal character and disposition had no small part in the revolution he effected. In the union of endowments which seldom meet together in the same individual,-extraordinary inventive and poetical genius, with sound, practical, energetic sense, and untiring activity and industry,Giotto resembled Rubens; and only this rare combination could have enabled him to Aling off so completely all the fetters of the old style, and to have executed the amazing number of works which are with reason attributed to him. His character was as independent in other matters as in his own art. He seems to have had little reverence for received opinions about anything, and was singularly free from the superstitious enthusiasm of the tiines in which he lived, although he lent his powers in the direction of embodying that very superstition. Perhaps the very circumstance of his being employed in painting the interiors of churches and monasteries opened to his discerning and independent mind reflections which took away some of the respect for the mysteries they concealed. There is extant a poem of Giotto's entitled “ A Song against Poverty," which becomes still more piquant in itself, and expressive of the peculiar turn of Giotto's mind, when we remember that he had painted the Glorification of Poverty as the Bride of Saint Francis ; and that in those days songs in praise of poverty were as fashionable as devotion to Saint Francis, the “ Patriarch of Poverty.” Giotto was celebrated, too, for his joyous temper, for his witty and satirical repartees, and appears to have been as careful of his worldly goods as he was diligent in acquiring them. Boccaccio, in a cynical vein, thus describes Giotto's personal appearance, at the same time doing full justice to the extraordinary genius of the artist: “And seeing that through Giotto that art was restored to light which had been for many centuries buried, (through fault of those who, in painting, addressed themselves to please the eye of the vulgar, and not to content the understanding of the wise,) I esteem him worthy to be placed among those who have made famous and glorious this our city of Florence. Nevertheless, though so great a man in his art, he was but little in person, and ill-favored enough.” This unceremonious description becomes more amusing when it is remembered that Boccaccio must have lived in personal intercourse with the painter, as did Petrarch and Dante. When Giotto died in 1336, his friend Dante had been dead three years, Petrarch was thirty-two, and Boccaccio twenty-three years of age. When Petrarch died in 1374, he left to his friend, Francesco da Carrara, Lord of Padua, a Madonna painted by Giotto, as a most precious legacy, “ a wonderful piece of work, of which the ignorant might overlook the beauties, but which the learned must regard with amazement.” All writers who treat of the ancient glories of Florence,-Florence the beautiful,-Florence the free, from Villani down to Sismondi, count Giotto in the roll of her greatest men. Antiquaries and connoisseurs in art search out and study the relics which remain to us, and recognize in them the dawn of that splendor which reached its zenith in the beginning of the sixteenth century ; while to the philosophic observer Giotto appears as one of those few Heaven-endowed beings whose development springs from a source within-one of those unconscious instruments in the hand of Providence who, in seeking their own profit and delight through the expression of their own faculties, make, unawares, a step forward in human culture, lend a new impulse to human aspirations, and, like the “bright morning star, day's harbinger," may be merged in the succeeding radiance, but never forgotten.

WILLIAM DE BEAUVOIR FRYER.

BEYOND THE SNOW LINE. I. On the rocky. promontory which juts from the Valais Fiescher

· horn towards the Aletsch Glacier, the largest ice river of the European mountain ranges, stands a stone hut erected for the protection of travellers. I reached this spot September 1, 1879, accompanied by Peter Egger, one of the best guides in Switzerland, and Fritz Roth, who did admirable service. It was my intention, after a short interval of ręst, to set out with Egger the same night for the Finsteraarhorn, and, four and twenty hours after, accompanied by both, cross the Jungfrau.

Coming from Eggischhorn, we had entered the great Aletsch near the Märjelen See, into which the glacier sometimes casts milky blocks of ice, and wandered for several hours over its majestic surface. The hut is. 2800 meters* above the level of the sea, in a spot towards which four large glacier-reservoirs extend horizontally. They come from the slopes of a chain of mountains which only separates to allow the passage of the Aletsch Glacier, and are surrounded by peaks like the Grünhorn, the Fiescherhorn, the Mönsch, the Jungfrau, and the Aletschhorn. Nothing is visible save ice and snow, interrupted here and there by rocky cliffs and ridges; a living creature seems like an intruder.

Night brought stormy weather. A violent wind had risen, black clouds swept across the sky, and lightning flashed in the southern horizon; at intervals, the thunder of an avalanche was heard. The moon rode high in the heavens, often veiled by the passing clouds, thus causing a perpetual alternation of light and shadow, which dispelled the monotony of the ice-world. Amid the rushing of the tempest, we reached the summit of the Finsteraarhorn the morning of September 2d. Soon after returning to the hut, a thunder-storm burst, and fair weather was again restored. During the following night, I emerged from the hut, prepared for another expedition, for night is the loyal helper of all great mountain ascensions. From the rock on which the hut rises, as if on a platform, the first glance beheld the whole vast panorama. The brilliancy of the landscape, illumined by the moon-beams, at first dazzled the eyes; far and wide stretched the glacier, surrounded by

* A meter is 39.37 inches.

« VorigeDoorgaan »