Imágenes de página
[ocr errors]

buildings were affected by it, and all the weight of the groined roof and the arcades within, and of the spires and towers without, was left to rest on slender piers and flying buttresses, which alone remained for their support, the solid walls having given place to sheets of pictured glass.'

The earliest form of this developement was in the great wheel windows, ... among the earliest of which was the * circular window of the north transept of Lincoln Cathedral,' date about 1200. Gothic architects adopted this form of window, which was probably the origin of the develope* ment of ordinary window-heads to the entire space under "the groining.' Instances of this are given from the Ste. Chapelle at Paris, completed 1248, most of the windows of which contain the original glass, and from the east window of Gloucester Cathedral, where the walls of the most • eastern bay are sloped outwards to obtain an extra space

for the mouldings of the window frame, and thus to secure • the entire width of the choir for the glass. This great

window still retains its original glass, dating from about • 1370 A.D.'

Mr. Gambier Parry proceeds to show, with great force, how greater pictorial freedom and naturalism became the ruin of the art of glass painting :

• It happily took centuries before that degradation brought it to its close. It had been by that thoroughly architectonic sense which prevailed in its earlier phases, and till the closing years of the fifteenth century, that this noble art, with all the dignified reserve of selfrespect, had held its right place among its compeers; but as time advanced it happened with it, as with other things, that the idea of developement became confounded with that of progress, and a system was introduced which delighted the unthinking popular sense with much that was admirable in the strictest sense of art, and glorious in effect, but with it also a loss of principle and a flattery of ambition that brought it to a lingering but certain fall.' This is followed by the assertion of the sound principle that every art should recognise its own limits. Architecture has its laws, so has picture-painting. How can glass painting claim to be free from laws which bind all other branches of art? As a matter of fact, glass painters erred by aiming at effects beyond their art, by disregarding the bounds of space, by attempting pictorial effects of atmosphere, and by excessive finish. A perfect work of art must be thought out in its own language.'

Those who have not painted on glass or canvas them. selves, and have not thought out the different conditions of


the different branches of art, will nevertheless do well to recognise the truth of the statement that glass painting is • a special art, with its own laws, its own powers, its own ' limits; that it is light that has to be dealt with, not • shadow; translucent glass, not solid canvas; open air, not 'a picture frame.'

Mr. Gambier Parry says: “The history of this art in · England has as yet been but imperfectly written.' His readers will, we think, acknowledge that he has himself made a very valuable contribution towards such a history in laying down the true principles of the art, upon which, as upon a solid foundation, a superstructure might be raised by some who had the leisure and inclination to sketch the ins • and outs of artistic life in England in the middle ages, its • styles and schools, its connexion with foreign countries, 'its patronage, its roving confraternities, and so forth.

The Eighth Essay, on the Adornment of Sacred Buildings, Part I., begins with an eloquent, but not very clearly expressed, attempt to account for the deep sadness that per- vaded all pagan religions.' National religion, in the opinion of Mr. Gambier Parry, requires, more than individual religion, the aid of externals, and has always called for the best that the nation can give to lend dignity to public worship. If this be the case, it follows that the responsibility of the artist is great, as his work is intended not only for the present, but for future generations. The purpose of the adornment of sacred buildings is stated. It is the expression of the universal religious sense of mankind.' Human infirmity sought aids to faith by representing objects ' in which both memory and hope were centred.' Association hallowed the sacred shrines, and brought together the souls of the living worshippers and of those who had gone before. Mr. Gambier Parry asks, 'Who would offend their household

gods?' His attempt to make this clear leaves the reader in darkness. One thing he points out clearly, that in ancient mythology there was no object of love and devotion. All there was, the reality of the unseen, was grasped by a few minds, and genius expressed it in language and art. He goes on to show how the early Christians shrank from pagan art, and what they strove to keep before their minds; how the earliest lessons of their faith had been conveyed ; and how accordingly they were disposed to receive spiritual instruction in the forms of allegory, type, and symbol. In the second century art was feeble. The symbols usually employed were the vine, the lamb, the crown, the phenix,


[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

. and the peacock,' and 'the fish and the cross still more ' intimately told the story of their creed. A desire to restore a sense of the proximity of the great drama of their redemption led Christians to adopt some consecutive com

position, one of the earliest of which was the figure of the Good Shepherd. “He is represented in many ways, • sometimes in the attitude of walking, with a lamb across His shoulders; sometimes in repose, standing with His

sheep about Him, some feeding, some gazing up at Him, ‘or listening to His voice.'

We cannot rightly estimate the value of early Christian works of art unless we take into account the difficulties under which the artists laboured. Moreover, it must be remembered that pictorial art in classic times was more sculpturesque and conventional than it afterwards became, especially in regard of landscape, and this simplicity and conventionality are reproduced in early Christian art:

• We often find both single and grouped figures left with only plain monotone backgrounds, and this even where natural objects form part of the illustration. ... The love and labour of the artist were thrown into the expression of his figures, and all else was omitted but a few conventional or emblematical accessories to explain his subject and to enhance its dramatic interest.' After this general description of the character of early Christian art, illustrated by reference to well-known symbols, Mr. Gambier Parry adds the following summary:

On these good and simple artistic principles all the painting of the early Christians is based. And although the style of art was entirely changed in after times, those principles remained inviolate until the science of perspective and the new passion for realistic landscape painting at the close of the fourteenth century opened a new era in the theory and practice of fine art.' He accounts for the reserve which is observable in the works of early Christian artists, first by reverence, and secondly by the savagery of the times, which made them shrink from the direct outward expression of their faith. The main subject of Christian adoration being the person of Christ, the representation of His person in sacred buildings would naturally be demanded of Christian artists. But there was this difficulty—that there was no authentic contemporary portrait of Christ, from which in after ages copies might be taken and faithful likenesses handed down. Mr. Gambier Parry suggests that the mind of early Christendom had · been so entirely concentrated on the character and gospel

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

• of Christ that all material sense or memory of Him had • been overwhelmed in the halo of His divinity.'

Though St. Augustine's assertion that no portrait of Him in His maturer years existed may be true, yet it appears that through phases of art which the events of centuries

had modified, and the varying tones of religious sentiment “had changed, the same ideal can be traced throughout.'

A really eloquent passage follows, showing how different nations and succeeding ages have changed the aspect of - the divine head of which Origen said that it had no cer<tain aspect.'

* They began by the attempt to glorify it according to classic models; in the troubles of a subsequent age they cast their own gloom over it, and in the days of ascetic discipline they marred it with the lines of agony and grief; but by none has that noble, loving face been more degraded than by the degenerate schools of more modern times, which, taking refuge in the meekness and gentleness of Christ to screen the feebleness of their own conceptions, ignoring the grander elements of His character, His splendid independence, His boldness in denunciation, and, when needed, His ruthless severity, they picture Him a mere creature of weak sentimentality, effeminate, inane.'

"The portrait in St. Peter's at Rome, described as that given by our Lord to Sta Veronica, is without doubt of great antiquity.' The name “ Veronica' has been accepted as the popular name for the likeness itself-vera-icon (true likeness); but of its authenticity there is no evidence worth mention. Nor is there any more authority for the portrait of our Lord, said to have been painted by St. Luke, and even mentioned with respect by such an one as Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1274).'

Reverence withheld the hands of the early Christians from the representation of our Lord's death, and till the sixth century ‘no hand had dared to portray a subject surrounded

with such awful mystery as the self-sacrifice of Christ-an event so stupendous as the crucifixion of the Son of God.' • The symbols of the Lamb, the Cross, the Altar, and the * Book as “the Word of God ” were employed and approved.'

“ Illustrations of this are given, chiefly drawn from churches in Italy :

For above one thousand years, among the numberless subjects which have covered the walls of sacred places, the bare cross was still prominent. In the sacred solitudes of the Catacombs the crucified figure was not seen till for seven hundred years the cross alone had sufficed to fill the minds of Christian worshippers.

• The unoccupied cross expressed the idea of Christendom as the

[ocr errors]


symbol of victory. Its form was drawn upon the ground as the plan on which Constantine's great basilicas were built, the Church of the Holy Apostles at Constantinople, and of St. Peter's within and St. Paul's without the walls of Rome.'

The same subject is illustrated in great variety of detail. Both to painting and sculpture the same remark appliesthat the crucified figure of Jesus is, down to the close of the tenth century, the one subject omitted. How reverence withheld Christians from the realistic exhibition of our Lord's death, and how artists employed various symbols to signify His crucifixion, forms a large and instructive portion of this very interesting essay.

Mr. Gambier Parry gives instances of the treatment of the subject of the crucifixion in early English art.

A gravestone belonging to the Saxon period * was discovered at Wirkworth, or Wirksworth Church, in Derbyshire, in 1820, of which the side that had been reversed was found covered with elaborate sculpture, though of the rudest kind. A detailed account, in which special attention is drawn to the figure of a dead lamb - with his head drooped and his * legs crumpled together,' is followed by the remark, having reference to some previous observations : Thus the poorest art often contains the deepest poetry, and is often more effective from its pure and simple suggestiveness, incapable of realism.'

In the year 692 the Greek Council at Constantinople gave effect to the wishes of those worshippers who were wearied of syinbolic representation by ordering that, in place of the received symbols, the figure of Christ should be represented. Mr. Gambier Parry supplies a reason for this, which goes deeper than the craving of the human heart to see portrayed objects of worship.

* Realism is the absolute opposite to that mysticisin in which disordered imagination loses its way into the regions of idolatry. . . . A vaguer art, symbolic and ideal, whether simply so or made so by consummate artifice, touches another chord in human nature, sets the heart free, and opens wide the springs of association--an art apparently unconscious of itself, that all generations have loved for its pure and fresh suggestiveness, an art that had no power to satisfy, but set the mind pondering far off in time and place, on the realities of the past and of the future, where the affections might rest or the imagination wander free.'

[ocr errors]


* In Dr. Westcott's admirable essay on the “Relation of Christianity to Art,' in his edition of St. John's Epistles, second edition, 1886, special mention is made of this slab, p. 360.

« AnteriorContinuar »