Page images
PDF
EPUB

fortress of the feudal masters of the town had been replaced, in those later years of the Quattro-cento, by a consummate monument of Quattro-cento taste, a museum of ancient and modern art, the owners of which lived there, gallantly at home, amid the choicer flowers of living humanity. The ducal palace was, in fact, become nothing less than a school of ambitious youth in all the accomplishments alike of war and peace. Raphael's connection with it seems to have become intimate, and from the first its influence must have overflowed so small a place. In the case of the lucky Raphael, for once, the actual conditions of early life had been suitable, propitious, accordant to what one's imagination would have required for the childhood of the man. He was born amid the art he was, not to transform, but to perfect, by a thousand reverential retouchings. In no palace, however, but in a modest abode, still shown, containing the workshop of his father, Giovanni Santi. But here, too, though in frugal form, art, the arts, were present. A store of artistic objects was, or had recently been, made there, and now especially, for fitting patrons, religious pictures in the old Umbrian manner. In quiet nooks of the Apennines Giovanni's works remain; and there is one of them, worth study, in spite of what critics say of its crudity, in the National Gallery. Concede its immaturity, at least, though an immaturity visibly susceptible of a delicate grace, it wins you nevertheless to return again and again, and ponder, by a sincere expression of sorrow, profound, yet resigned, be the cause what it may, among all the many causes of sorrow inherent in the ideal of maternity, human or divine. But if you keep in mind when looking at it the facts of Raphael's childhood, you will recognize in his father's picture, not the anticipated sorrow of the “Mater Dolorosa” over the dead son, but the grief of a simple household over the mother herself taken early from it. That may have been the first picture the eyes of the world's great painter of Madonnas rested on; and if he stood diligently before it to copy, and so copying, quite unconsciously, and with no disloyalty to his original, refined, improved, substituted— substituted himself, in fact, his finer self, he had already struck the persistent note of his career. As with his age, it is his vocation, ardent worker as he is, to enjoy himself —to enjoy himself amiably, and to find his chief enjoyment in the attitude of a scholar. And one by one, one after another, his masters, the very greatest of them, go to school to him. It was so especially with the artist of whom Raphael first became certainly a learner—Perugino. Giovanni Santi had died in Raphael's childhood, too early to have been in any direct sense his teacher. The lad, however, from one and another, had learned much, when, with his share of the patrimony in hand, enough to keep him, but not tempt him from scholarly ways, he came to Perugia, hoping still further to improve himself. He was in his eighteenth year, and how he looked just then you may see in a drawing of his own in the University galleries, of somewhat stronger mold than less genuine likenesses might lead you to expect. There is something of a fighter in the way in which the nose springs from the brow between the wide-set, meditative eyes. A strenuous lad! capable of plodding, if you dare apply that word to labor so impassioned as his—to any labor whatever done at Perugia, center of the dreamiest Apennine scenery. Its various elements (one hardly knows whether one is thinking of Italian nature or of Raphael's art in recounting them), the richly-planted lowlands, the sensitive mountain lines in flight one beyond the other into clear distance, the cool yet glowing atmosphere, the romantic morsels of architecture, which lend to the entire scene I know not what expression of reposeful antiquity, arrange themselves here as for set purpose of pictorial effect, and have gone with little change into his painted backgrounds. In the midst of it, on titanic old Roman and Etruscan foundations, the later Gothic town had piled itself along the lines of a gigantic land of rock, stretched out from the last slope of the Apennines into the plain. Between its fingers steep dark lanes wind down into the olive-gardens; on the finger-tips military and monastic builders had perched their towns. A place as fantastic in its attractiveness as the human life which then surged up and down in it in contrast to the peaceful scene around. The Baglioni who ruled there had brought certain tendencies of that age to a typical completeness of expression, veiling crime—crime, it might seem, for its own sake, a whole octave of fantastic crime—not merely under brilliant fashions and comely persons, but under fashions and persons, an outward presentment of life and of themselves, which had a kind of immaculate grace and discretion about them, as if Raphael himself had already brought his unerring gift of selection to bear upon it all for motives of art. With life in those streets of Perugia, as with nature, with the work of his masters, the mere exercises of his fellow-students, his hand rearranges, refines, renews, as if by simple contact; but was met here half-way in its renewing office by some special aptitude for such grace in the subject itself. Seemingly innocent, full of natural gaiety, eternally youthful, those seven and more deadly sins, embodied and attired in just the jaunty dress then worn, enter now and afterwards as spectators, or assistants, into many a sacred foreground and background among the friends and kinsmen of the Holy Family, among the very angels, gazing, conversing, standing firmly and unashamed. During his apprenticeship at Perugia Raphael visited and left his work in more modest places round about, along those seductive mountain or lowland roads, and copied for one of them Perugino's “Marriage of the Virgin” significantly, did it by many degrees better, with a very novel effect of motion everywhere, and that grace which natural motion evokes, and for a temple in the background a lovely bit of his friend Bramante's sort of architecture, the true Renaissance or perfected Quattro-cento architecture. He goes on building a whole lordly new city of the like as he paints to the end of his life. That subject, we may note, as we leave Perugia in Raphael's company, had been suggested by the famous mystic treasure of its cathedral church, the marriage ring of the Blessed Virgin herself. Raphael's copy had been made for the little old Apennine town of Citta di Castello; and another place he visits at this time is still more effective in the development of his genius. About his twentieth year he comes to Siena— that other rocky Titan's hand, just lifted out of the surface of the plain. It is the most grandiose place he has yet seen; has not forgotten that it was once the rival of Florence; and here the patient scholar passes under an influence of somewhat larger scope than Perugino's. Perugino's pictures are for the most part religious con

templations, painted and made visible, to accompany the
action of divine service—a visible pattern to priests, at-
tendants, worshippers, of what the course of their invisible
thoughts should be at those holy functions. Learning in
the workshop of Perugino to produce the like—such
works as the Ansidei Madonna—to produce them very
much better than his master, Raphael was already become
a freeman of the most strictly religious school of Italian
art, the so devout Umbrian soul finding there its purest
expression, still untroubled by the naturalism, the intel-
lectualism, the antique paganism, then astir in the artistic
soul everywhere else in Italy. The lovely work of Peru-
gino, very lovely, at its best, of the early Raphael also,
is in fact “conservative,” and at various points slightly
behind its day, though not unpleasantly. In Perugino's
allegoric frescoes of the Cambio, the Hall of the Money-
changers, for instance, under the mystic rule of the
Planets in person, pagan personages take their place
indeed side by side with the figures of the New Testa-
ment, but are no Romans or Greeks, nor the Jews Jews,
nor is any one of them, warrior, sage, king, precisely of
Perugino's own time and place, but still contemplations
only, after the manner of the personages in his church-
work; or, say, dreams—monastic dreams—thin, do-noth-
ing creatures, conjured from sky and cloud. Perugino
clearly never broke through the meditative circle of the
Middle Age.
Now Raphael, on the other hand, in his final period at
Rome, exhibits a wonderful narrative power in painting;
and the secret of that power—the power of developing a
story in a picture, or series of pictures—may be traced
back from him to Pinturicchio, as that painter worked on
those vast, well-lighted walls of the cathedral library at
Siena, at the great series of frescoes illustrative of the life
of Pope Pius the Second. It had been a brilliant personal
history, in contact now and again with certain remarkable
public events—a career religious yet mundane, you
scarcely know which, so natural is the blending of lights,
of interest in it. How unlike that Peruginesque concep-
tion of life in its almost perverse other-worldliness, which
Raphael now leaves behind him, but, like a true scholar,
will not forget. Pinturicchio then had invited his remark-

[ocr errors]

able young friend hither, “to assist him by his counsels,” who, however, pupil-wise, after his habit also learns much as he thus assists. He stands depicted there in person in the scene of the canonization of Saint Catherine; and though his actual share in the work is not to be defined, connoisseurs have felt his intellectual presence, not at one place only, in touches at once finer and more forcible than were usual in the steady-going, somewhat Teutonic, Pinturicchio, Raphael's elder by thirty years. The meek scholar you see again, with his tentative sketches and suggestions, had more than learned his lesson; through all its changes that flexible intelligence loses nothing; does but add continually to its store. Henceforward Raphael will be able to tell a story in a picture, better, with a truer economy, with surer judgment, more naturally and easily than any one else. And here at Siena, of all Italian towns perhaps most deeply impressed with mediaeval character—an impress it still retains—grotesque, parti-colored—parti-colored, so to speak, in its genius—Satanic, yet devout of humor, as depicted in its old chronicles, and beautiful withal, dignified. It is here that Raphael becomes for the first time aware of that old pagan world, which had already come to be so much for the art-schools of Italy. There were points, as we saw, at which the school of Perugia was behind its day. Amid those intensely Gothic surroundings in the cathedral library where Pinturicchio worked, stood, as it remained till recently, unashamed there, a marble group of the three Graces—an average Roman work, in effect—the sort of thing we are used to. That, perhaps, is the only reason why for our part, except with an effort, we find it conventional or even tame. For the youthful Raphael, on the other hand, at that moment, antiquity, as with “the dew of herbs,” seemed therein “to wake and sing” out of the dust in all its sincerity, its cheerfulness and natural charm. He turned it into a picture; has helped to make his original only too familiar, perhaps, placing the three sisters against his own favorite, so unclassic, Umbrian background indeed, but with no trace of the Peruginesque ascetic, Gothic meagreness in themselves; emphasizing rather, with a hearty acceptance, the nude, the flesh; made the limbs, in fact, a little heavy.

« PreviousContinue »