Images de page
PDF
ePub

critic* has lately raised a certain Sienese · Sassetta' to a place of superior eminence, and asserts that, as an erponent of Franciscan tradition, of what he calls .seraphic spirituality, Giotto is outmatched. The greatness of Giotto, according to this critic, lay in his perception that the human body, like other objects, not being flat, a painting could not be effective that represented it so. It was the same author who affirmed that a painting could not be said to exist artistically unless it implied a recognition of this fact; who seemed to suggest that the value of a painting might be tested according to the degree of vividness with which it represented depth, and was led to find a more tangible reality in Giotto's pictures than in the common world. It is tempting to say that Giotto might accommodate himself to any theory if to this; and the statement would conceal a truth.

It will be remembered that Ruskin, in his earlier evangelical period, found many a happy text in the Arena Chapel. And so the lovers of composition 'find composition in Giotto; while sentimentalists of every kind succeed in drawing their proper comfort from this single source. Giotto is a stronghold for the subjective idealist, presenting the mirror to every intelligence, dismissing each admirer with a new vision of himself. Only the occasional upstart, as perverse as he is superficial, reads him blank; and the dissentient voice is futile against that popular acclaim which, with unerring instinct, has raised Giotto to a place among the greatest. Probably, therefore, his work is of that balanced order which defies a hasty interpretation. The sovereign intellect was at work in him, many-sided, all-inclusive ; to the common mortal he stands for some mysterious force of nature, which, in all its manifestations, is felt more keenly because he cannot comprehend it. Consider Giotto in his relation to his time, and again the same conflict of superficial evidence similarly testifies to the presence of an agency for which none can account. The various streams meet and mingle, and their separate identity is lost. There is truth in the hasty contention, only too characteristic of modern criticism, that this man's master is a myth. If to one critic Giotto seems

* Mr Berenson, in The Burlington Magazine,' No. 7, rol. 3, Sept. 1903.

related most obviously to the Roman, to another to the French ; if tradition represents him as the translation of a Greek into a native style; if he presents himself to our authors as a Florentine of the Florentines-in each of these various aspects an element of truth appears. To what, in their combination, do they point, if not to an absorbing personality, a sifting intelligence which, with living magnetism, drew life from every source, and reconciled what seemed irreconcilable?

Such a power is recognisably manifested in his relation to the great religious movement of his day. Violent antagonisms were characteristic of the time; the various impulses that govern human action personified themselves in individual men; and the result was that kind of excess which is familiar in philosophical abstractions. The Franciscan order, which had sprung from an idealism too pure to be governed by existing circumstance, was, in Giotto's time, conspicuous already for its degradation. Giotto distinguishes the purity of the original purpose from its error; he devotes his genius to Saint Francis, but directs attention in the plainest terms to the fallacy of his cardinal doctrine. Christ's poverty, says Giotto in his canzone on the subject, becomes a pitfall to men who profess and cannot realise it. His words have double meaning, like those of every great teacher. Our action must be governed by that meaning which bears helpfully upon it. The value of poverty in Him lay in the protest against avarice in us. Thus Giotto summarises and seems to dismiss what, in appearance, was the main motive of religious thought in his day, and was, in fact, the life profession of that order from whose teaching the artists of Italy drew their inspiration. Those who will may doubt the sincerity of his religious life; none familiar with his work can do so.

Giotto gathered up all that was vital from the inheritance bequeathed him by the past, he looked with a discerning eye upon the present, cleaving to reality and setting its counterfeit aside; yet it is not until he is confronted with his better known successors that his greatness is rightly understood. It is customary to regard him as the first term in a developing series, to imagine the art of Florence magnificently expanding till, at the end of an array of noble names, Raphael and Michael

[ocr errors]

Angelo unite to form its crown. The conception is too simple to be true; nor could it possibly have held its ground had not a genuine progress in the technique of the art obscured the profounder issue and increased the difficulty of an impartial judgment. No serious musician would suppose that Bach is inferior to Brahms as a composer because of the more numerous devices of which the latter could avail himself. A sound comparison must be based on the emotional quality of their work, its expressiveness as conceived in relation to the means of expression that each possessed. Yet the critic of painting seems sometimes to forget that the development of the technical medium does not of necessity carry with it an increase of artistic seriousness and depth of purpose. It is the last-named qualities, spiritual in their scope, that determine finally the value of the work; and it is only when their due prominence is given them that Giotto's true stature can appear.

The art of Italy owed its origin to a religious awakening, and it remained in the service of religion till the end. Some artists accepted, some refused the faith for which they worked ; they are not, as artists, to be differently judged on that account. It is the artist's privilege to identify himself with whatever in human life is passionate and pure, untrammelled by the dictates of the abstract intelligence. In Giotto, undoubtedly, it might be difficult to distinguish his strength from his faith. Yet the value of his achievement is independent of his belief, and goes beyond it. His Nativity, his Crucifixion, his Resurrection—to choose subjects which include the most direct relation to the religion he professed-make an absolutely universal appeal. Whether these representations are historic or not is an almost irrelevant question. They are more than historic; they adequately symbolise the aspiration, the renunciation, the sense of kinship with the divine, which govern and inspire the life of every human spirit.

Art. III.-RECENT LIGHTS ON ANCIENT EGYPT.

1. A History of Egypt from the End of the Neolithic Period

to the Death of Cleopatra VII. By E. A. Wallis Budge.

Eight vols. London: Kegan Paul, 1902. 2. A History of Egypt. Six vols. Vol. 1 (fifth edition):

From the Earliest Kings to the 16th Dynasty. Vol. II (second edition): The 17th and 18th Dynasties. By

W. M. Flinders Petrie. London: Methuen, 1897-1903. 3. The Dawn of Civilisation : Egypt and Chaldæa.

By G. Maspero. Edited by A. H. Sayce; translated by M. L. McClure. Fourth edition. London: S. P. C. K.,

1901. 4. Manual of Egyptian Archæology. By G. Maspero.

Translated by Amelia B. Edwards. Fifth edition.

London: Grevel, 1902. 5. Methods and Aims in Archæology. By W. M. Flinders

Petrie. London: Macmillan, 1904. 6. The Gods of the Egyptians. By E. A. Wallis Budge.

Two vols. London: Methuen, 1904. 7. The Religions of Ancient Egypt and Babylonia. (Gifford

Lectures.) By A. H. Sayce. Edinburgh : Clark, 1902. AMONG all the branches of knowledge pursued in spite of the absence of any utilitarian advantages to recommend them, there are few that prove more generally attractive than Egyptology. The prestige of Old Egypt, the extraordinary range of its history into the remote past, the perfect preservation of many early and most perishable relics, the massiveness of its greatest monuments, the part played by the land and people in biblical history and in the development of civilisation, appeal to every educated man. In spite of protestations that Egypt would be a very pleasant country if it were not for the antiquities, it is certain that the multitude of visitors drawn to the banks of the Nile in the search for health or amusement, or driven thither by the imperious command of Fashion, furnishes a stream of recruits to the ranks of Egyptologists, both professional and amateur.

Apart from private archæological undertakings, which in some cases are on a large scale, the Egypt Exploration Fund-an archæological society with two flourishing

[ocr errors]

branches—is entirely supported by subscriptions raised in England and America. Nor is the Anglo-Saxon by any means alone in feeling the charms of Egyptology. To the French, Egypt has, for more than a century, had a peculiar attraction, scientific, political, and sentimental ; the German gelehrter has made this branch of learning, like every other, his own; and the Governments of France and Germany spend large sums in the encouragement of Egyptian research. Champollion's triumphs in the first interpretation of hieroglyphs were won between 1820 and 1831; and since that time there has been no cessation of labour on the philological side in defining the values of the hieroglyphic signs, the meaning of the words, and the general sense of the inscriptions. Every successful attempt at decipherment brought with it some new contribution to knowledge, establishing the existence or the succession of kings, their monumental or warlike activity, the age of tombs and temples, or throwing light on the beliefs and practices illustrated by the texts. Archæological exploration and discovery, begun a century ago, are now proceeding more rapidly than ever; and decipherment has progressed so fast that ordinary texts are read with fluency if not with complete accuracy, and even those that are difficult may generally, in the hands of the best scholars, be compelled to yield up their secrets.

Many and various have been the histories of ancient Egypt written since Champollion's time. At first, like the brief account of Sharpe and the bulky work of Bunsen, they were founded on the statements of classical authors, with scraps of half-understood monumental evidence worked in. In 1859 the great Egyptologist, Heinrich Brugsch, wrote in French a history of Egypt down to the conquest by Alexander, based upon the inscriptions. In 1876 he was able to boast on the title-page of a recast edition in German that it was derived entirely from the monuments,' though it must be admitted that the later portion is extremely meagre as a result of excluding the literary authorities. Brugsch's History dispensed with footnotes or other citations of the sources, and was therefore of little value as a work of reference. These were abundantly supplied in 1884 by Wiedemann, whose Ægyptische Geschichte' is mainly an elaborate and

Vol. 200,-No. 399,

6

« PrécédentContinuer »