Imágenes de páginas

only were recorded, using nature as a vehicle for their ideals of composition and colour. Turner, who attained the highest expression of subjective art of his time, possibly of all time, was in no period of his career a student of nature in the modern acceptation of that term. Then the art died, as the Greek and Italian schools had died, from a method of study initiated by portraiture, and the sudden recognition of an interest in nature never felt before by the general mind. When the modern landscape and genre painter brought into painting a clear unconventional way of seeing nature, and uncompromising fidelity in rendering facts requiring neither knowledge of, nor feeling for, art in its public, or poetic insight in its painter, it brought into existence what is commonly supposed to be a rational art, but which is, in reality, the negation of art. That the inspiration, however, is not extinct we see in Delacroix, J. F. Millet, Watts, Burne Jones, and Rossetti. To know nature and employ her terms for the expression of the artist's ideal is a widely different thing from the imitation of her forms and facts. The former

is an education; it awakens a kinship to all great thought, and all great thinkers: the latter narrows and dwarfs the intellect and exterminates the imagination.



It is an error to suppose that the ancients were insensible to the charm and beauty of external nature. The Greek way of regarding nature differed widely from ours, and encouraged a different order of artistic symbolism. In their religion they deified the powers of the universe under concrete forms of human personality. When they gazed upon sky, earth, and sea, the image of an idealized man or woman intervened between their imaginative reason and the natural object, Pan, Fauns, Tritons, Naiads, etc. Haunted by such conceptions, the poet and the artist could not look on nature as we do. The Latin religion remained more abstract in its character, more rigid and utilitarian, less poetical and picturesque. Their gods and goddesses intervened with no legendary charm of human fate and passion between the Latin mind and landscape. Accordingly we find in the Latin poets a feeling akin to our own, when they came close to nature in her solitudes. The deep and solemn passion of Lucretius, the pathos of Virgil, their common love for the Saturnian earth, their sense of things and thoughts too deep for tears, sounded in Latin poetry a note we do not hear among the Hellenes. There is in their verse the mystery, the awe, the feeling after an indwelling deity, the communion with nature as nature, which we are accustomed to call modern. In the decline of the Latin and Greek languages, we find scenery being treated with some degree of appreciation, and nature is used as a background to humanity. This nascent feeling for landscape had no opportunity of attaining to independence during the first eight centuries which succeeded to the downfall of the Empire. Christianity introduced a vehemently hostile spirit, which in its reactionary fervour opposed God to nature, Man's one business was to work out his salvation, and to wean his heart from the enjoyment of terrestrial delights. Beauty came to be regarded as a snare. Literature and the plastic arts decayed. Architecture, the most abstract and utilitarian of the fine arts, bridged over the long tract of æsthetical vacuity between the death of Claudian and the rebirth of poetry in Provence. Renan observes that the most important product of the Middle Ages was a sentiment of the infinite. Everything had been swept away except the selfconscious spirit of man and the transcendent reality of God, the earth on which man dwelt, and the heavens to cover it over with a canopy. Infinity and fact, both shadowy, unreal, and unimaginable. What would happen should theology relax her grasp upon the intellect, and men once more begin to gaze around with curious delight on their terrestrial dwelling-place? But an intermediate stage of long duration had to be traversed. To this we give the name of Renaissance. In it the intellect of man came painfully and gladly to new life through the discovery of itself and nature, until, with Dante, a new spirit is awake in the world. It was not until the seventeenth century that landscape attained to independence. Five great painters initialled this new

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »