A personal view
CHAPTER ONE - THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH
Ruskin said: "Great nations write their autobiographis in three manuscripts, the book of their deeds the book of their words and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others, but of the three the only trustworthy one is the last" If I must choose a speech of the the housing minister or the buildings he put up I'll believe the latter.
But great works of art happen in barbarous society, very vital. Compare a negro mask with appolo the Belvedere (for four humdred years the most admired peice in the world, Napoleons greatest boast to have looted it from the vatican, but now forgotten) But the mask is in a world of fear and darkness, ready to inflict punishment for the smallest infringement of tabboo.. The hellenistic world is of light and confidence, beyond the day to day struggle to survive.
For hundreds of years the greek temples were al over Europe.
Why did Rome fall? hundreds of years of no change breeds exhaustion and boredom. They succumbed to the same weaknesses as the people they conquored.
After the collapse of Rome it was sealed of from its roots by islam surrounding it. If a new civilization was to be born it would have to face the Atlantic. For one hundred years after 550ad group of monks huddled off the coast of ireland. They did art in gold with few human references and copied gospal books
There they encountered vikings who were the last people to convert had a great epic mythology bent and gave us the spirit of columbus. If one wants a symbol of Atlantic man that distinguishes him from Mediterranean man, a symbol to set against the Greek temple, it is the viking ship.
Civilization means something more than energy and wil and creative power, it needs a sense of permanense. Vikings didn't build homes in stone or write books.
Civilized man must feel that he bolongs somewhere in space and time; that he consciously looks forward and looks back. Being able to read and write helps this a lot.
For over 500 years this achievemnet was rare in western europe. It is a shock to realise that during all this time practically no lay person, from kings and emperors down could read or write. Charlemagne learnt to read, but never could write. In so far as we are the heirs of Greece and rome we got through by the skin of our teeth.
But the monestaries couldn't have become the guardians of civilisation unless there had been a minimum of stability; and this, in Western Europe was first achieved in the KIngdom of the Franks. All great civilisations, in their early stages, are base on fighting. Clovis and his successors not only conquered their enemies , but maintained themselves by cruelties and torutures remarkable even by the standards of the last 50 years.
One sometimes feels that the seventh and eigth centures were like a prolonged "western, but it was made more horrible because unredeemed by any trace of sentiment or chivalry.
How did charlemagne do it? With the help of an outstanding teacher and lbrarian named Alcuin of York who collected books and had them copied. People don't always realise that only three or four antique manuscripts of the Latin authors are still in existence. our whole knowledge of ancient literature is due to the collecting and copying that began under Charlemagne and almost any classical text that survived until the 8th has survived till today.
He remade touch with the Byzantine, that had avoided the western barbarians cause it had eastern ones to deal with. A little of its art had filtered through and provided a model for the first figures that appear in eight century manuscripts. Charlemagne's crowning in 800 was said by him to be a mistake. It produced battles for 300 years but the tension between the spiritual and worldly powers throughout the middle ages was preisely what kept Eropean civ alive. if either had achieved absolute power, society might have grown as static as the civilisations of Egypt and Byzantine. Charlemagne even received an elephant from Houn al Raschid of the thousand and one nights. It died on a campaign in saxony.
From his empire breaking there emerged something like the europe we know, france to the west germany to the east. By the 10th the German part was in the ascendant under the three ottos.
Historians usually consider the tenth century almost as dark and barbarous as the seventh. That is because they look at it from the point of view of political history and the written word. Not for the last time in studying civilisation one learns how hard it is to equate art and society. The amount of art is astonishing.
The princely patrons like Lothear and Charles the Bald commissioned quantities of manuscripts, with jewelled book covers. In these splendiferous objects the appetite for gold and wrought gem-work is no longer the symbol of a warrioirs courage and ferocity, but is used for the glory of god.
We have grown so used to the idea that the cricifixion is the supreme symbol of christianity, that it is a shock to realise how late in the history of christian art its power was recognized. The simple fact is that the early church needed converts and from this point of view the cricifixion was not an encouraging subject. So early christian art is concerned with miracles healings and with hopeful things. It was the 10th century, that despised and rejected epoch of European history, that made the crucifixion into a moving symbol of the cristian faith.
If you had asked the average man of the time to what country he belonged. he would not have understood you. He would have know only to what bishopric. And the church was not only an organiser it was a humaniser. Man is nolonger the abstract thing on the irish isles, but a human being with humanity's impulses and fears.
THE GREAT THAW
Around 1100 there seems to have been a strong enlightenment. It was like a russian spring in action philosophy organisatin technology from all quarters.
Much of this through the church's triumph. It could be argued that western civilisation was basically the creation of the church. The church was basically a democratic institution where ability made its was. And then the church wa sinternational. it was , to a large extent, a monastic institution following the Benedictine rule and oweing no territorial allegience.
This expansion of the church was first made visible in the ABBEY of CLUNY. it was founded in the 10th. It had a candlestick of bronze that had an 18' shaft. So much for those who say that hte beliefs and institutions of the early Middle Ages were conditioned by technical incompitence.
The first great eruption of ecclesiastical splendour was unashamedly extravagant. Though it has apologists it seems to have been rather self delighting. All this we know, not from the mother house of Cluny itself, but from the dependencies that spread all over Europe. There were over 1,200 of them in France alone.
St Bernard of Clairvaux hated it. Some of his attacks are the usual purtian objections, as when he speaks of the "lies of poetry" words that wer to echo through the century and become particular favourites in the new religion of science.
But the great thaw of the 12 th century was not achieved by contemplation (which can exist at all times) but by action-a vigerous , violent sense of movement, both physical and intellectual. On the physical side this took the form of pilgrimages and crusades.
Pilgrimages were undertaken in hope of heavenly rewards: in fact hey were often used by the Church as a penitence or a spiritualized form of extradition. The point of a pilgrimage was to look at relics. By the contemplating a reliquary containing the head or even the fingers of a saint he would persuade that particular saint to intercede on his behalf with god.
What was the effect of the crusades on western civ? i simply don't know. But its effect on art was considerable. It explains a great deal that would otherwise be mysterious int he style we call ROMANESQUE. The first attempts at monumental sculpture in the eleventh century, based on Roman remains, are dull and dead. Then about ten years later this stiff antiquarian style is animated by a turbine of creative energy.
The new style was transmitted by manuscripts and it arose from a conjunction of of northern rhythms and oriental motives. I see them as two fierce veasts tugging at the carcass of Graeco-roman art.
This tugging is also apparent in the realm of ideas: To read what was going on in Paris around 1130 makes one's head spin. At the centre of it was the brilliant enigmatic figure of Peter Abelard. The older medieval philosophers like Anselm had said: "I must believe in order that I may understand' Abelard took the opposite course: "I must understand in order that I may believe." "By doubting we come to questioning, and by questioning we perceive the truth". The cluny's saved him from excommunication.
In the Cluniac Abbey of Vezelay which is full of sculture. i can think of no other Romaneque interior that has this quality of lightness, this feeling of Divine reason. And it seems inevitable that this Romanesque should emerge into a beautiful early gothic. The capitals havent the compulsive rhythm of the fines Cluniac art; but , on the other hand, they are not so open to the objections of St Bernard. It also has the an Eve which is the first female nude since antiquity to give a sense of the pleasures of the body.
This was mostly done, probably, by Gislebertus. By the time it was finished, say 1135, a new force had appeared in European art: the Abbey of St Denis.
This was created by Suger. Suger said "the dull mind rises to truth through that which is material" This was really a revolutionary concept in the middle ages. It was the intellectual background of all the sublime works of art of the next century and in fact has remained the basis of our belief in the value of art until today.
In adition to this revolution in theory, Suger's St Denis was also the beginning of many new developments in practice, in architecture in sculpture in painted glass.
Suger introduced, perhaps really invented, the Gothis style of architecture, not only the pointed arch, but the lightness of high windows. and he introduced the idea of the rose window and painted glass and porticoes with rows of standing figures. It is damaged and in Parisian suburbs.
To form any notion of its first effect on the mind one must go to Chartres. the south tower is still as it was when completed in 1164. It is a masterpiece of haronious proportions. To the medieval man geometry was a divine activity.
The main portal has a congregation of beautiful figures. There was far more Greek sculpture visible in the twelfth century than anyone used to realise. And this style was particularly appropriate to Chartres, because it was there that men first began seriously to study Plato and Aristotle. In the arch of the right-hand door Aristotle and Pythagoras are represented.
The kings and queens of Chartres show a new stage in the ascent of western man. Beside them the gods and heroes of ancient Greece look arrogant, soulless and even slightly brutal. To build this men and women came from far away carrying heavy burdens of provisions for the workmen - win, oil, corn. Amongst them were lords and ladies, pulling carts with the rest. There was perfect discipline, and a most profound silence.
Chartes contained a relic, the tunic mary wore during Annunciation, since 876. From the first it worked miracles, but only in the twelfth century did the cult of the virgin appeal to the popular imagination. Perhaps earlier life was simply too rough. The earliest cult figure of the Virgin and child of any size is a painted wooden statue in St Denis. No romenesque chrches were dedicated to the virgin. Then after Chartres the greatest churches in France were dedicated to her.
Why this change? The crusades? Returning warriors tired of fight who wanted to worship gentleness and compassion? This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that the first representations of the Virgin as an object of devotion are in a markedly Byzantine style. St BErnard, who preached the second crusade at the cluniac abbey of vezelay, was one of the first men to speak of the virgin as an ideal of beauty and a mediator between man and god. Dante was right to put into his mouth at the close of the paradiso a hymn to the Virgin which I think one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry ever writtten.
The old romanesque Chartres cathedral had been destroyed by a terribly fire in 1194. Only the towers and the west front remained. When the debris was cleared the relic was found intact and the virgins intentions became clear. That a new church should be built, even more splendid than the last. People came from all over France to pitch in. The building is in the new architectural style to which Suger had given the impress of his authority at st denis: What we now calll gothic.
To make it higher on the same foundation flying buttresses were invented. This made possible the weightless expression of spirit. Sugar also used the pointed arch and glass for more light. Chartres is the epitome of the first great awakening in European civilisation. It is also the bridge between Romanesque and Gothis, between the world of Abelard and the world of St. Thomas Aquinas, the world of restless curiosity and the world of system and order.
ROMANCE AND REALITY
I am in the Gothic world, the world of chivalry, courtesy and romance; a world in which serious thigs were done with a sense of play - where even war and theology could become a sort of game; and when architecture reached a point of extravagance unequalled in history. After allt he great unifying convictions of the twelfth century, High Gothic art can look fantastic and luxurious - what Veblen called conspicuous waste. And yet these centuries produced some of the greatest spirits in the history of man, omongst them St Francis of Assisi and Dante. Behind all the fantasy of the Gothic imagination there remained, on two different planes, a sharp sense of reality. medieval man could see things very clearly, but he believed that these appearances should be considered as nothing more than symbols or tokens of an ideal order, which was the only true reality.
The fantasy strikes us first, and last; and one can see it in the room in the Cluny museaum in paris hung with a series of tapestries known as the lady with the unicorn. poetical fanciful and profane, its ostensible subject is the four senses but its real subject is the power of love. which can subdue all.
We have come a long way from the powerful conviction that induced knights and ladies to draw carts of stone up the hill for the building of Chartres Cathedral. And yet the notion of ideal love, and the irresistible power of gentleness and beauty, whcih is emblematically conveyed in the tapestry can be traced back for three centuries; we may even begin to look for it in the north portal of Chartress dedicated in 1220.
Only a very few years before, women were thought of as the squat, bad tempered viragos that we see on the font of wichester cathedral; These were the women who accompanied the Norsemen to iceland. The figures on chartres are amongst the the first consciously graceful women in western art.
Of the two or three faculties that have been added to the European mind since the civilisation of Greeece and rome, none seems to me stranger and more inexplicable than the sentiment of ideal or courtly lobe. it was entirely unknown in antiquity. Passion, yes. desire, yes of course; steady affection yes. But this state of utter subjection to the will of an unapproachable woman, this would have seemed to the Romans or the Vikings not only absurd, but unbelievable. But it lasted for centuries. Even up to 1945 we retained a number of chivalrous gestures; we raised our hats to ladies, and let them pass through doors first. And we still subscribed to the fantasy that they were chaste and pure beings, in whose presence we couldn't tell certain stories or pronounce certain words.
Well thats all over now. But where did it come from. nobody knows. Most people think, with the pointed arch, it came from the east. that pilgrims and crusaders found in the Moslem world a tradition of Persian literature in which women were the subject of compliment and devotion.
Less directly the lady of a castle must have had a peculiar potition with so many unoccupied young men who couldn't spend all their time hunting, and who of course never did any work, and when the lord was away for a year or two, the lady was left in charge.
One troubador poem known as the siege of the Castle of love, in which the ladies leaning on the battlements put up a weak defence as young gallants climb up on rope ladders is on ivory mirror cases.
I ought to add that the idea of marriage doesn't come into the question anymore than it would today. A 'love match' is almost an invention of the late 18th century. medieval marriages were entirely a matter of property, and , as everybody knows, marriage without love means love without marriage.
Then i suppose the cult of the virgin probably had something to do with troubador poetry. You often don't know if the poetry is to the Virgin or to a mistress. The greatest of all writings about ideal love, Dante's Vita Nuova, is a quasi-religious work, and in the end it is Beatrice who introduces dante to Paradise.
For all these reasons, i think it is permissible to associate the cult of ideal love with the ravishing beauty and delicacy that one finds in the madonnas of the thirteenth century. Its certainly what their husbands and admirers wanted ladies to look like. So it is all the more suprising to learn that these exquisite creatures got terribly knocked about. it must be true, because there is a manual on how to treat a woman, actually to raise daughters that was widely used from 1370 to the 16th that says disobedient women must be beaten and starved and dragged around by the hair. But the confident look of Gothic women makes one thing they cuold look after themselves.
One can't say romance was a gothic invention: i suppose that, as the word suggests, it was really Romanesque, and grew up in those southern districts of France where the memories of Roman civilisation had not been quite obliterated. But the chivalrous romances of the Gothic time were a specialty of the gothic mind.
Civ in the late 14th century shows us that the delicacy and refinement of the thirteenth century lasted over one hundred years. It survived the Black death and th eHundred years war and the economic revolution of the first enclosures and became completeley international. There is a spring and tension in the early fourteenth century which is lost after 1380; in compensation there is an increase in subtlety.
The greatest patron of art and learning of the gothic world were four brothers: Charles 5 of France. The Duke of Burgundy, the slyest and most ambitious and ultimately the most powerful of the brothers; Loius d'anjou and the Duke of Berry. All were frilly.
That the Duke of Berry was brutally murdered shows us how civilisation seems to fly in at one window and out another in the middle ages.
The duke of Berry's manuscripts illustrate another capacity of the human mind which had grown up in th epreceeding century: The delighted observation of natural objects. leaves and flowers, animals and birds. The odd thin about the medieval response to nature was that it saw all of those things in isolation. Birds were a medieval obsession.
He found one group of artists that saw life as we see it (without the isolation) and painted realistic scenes of peasants peasanting that are one of the miracles of art history. They show an aspect of life that went on unchanged until the first ww. Another illustration from his book "the very rich hours" shows him having a grand dinner. During it they indulge in a little mild sourtship, so called because it was only in courts that one had time for those agreeable preliminaries.
Those French and Burgundian courts were the model of fashion and good manners all over Europe. "courtesy"
The most courteous of men wasFrancesco BErnadone "st francis d assisi. One day he gave a poor man his coat and he started giving stuff away his father diowned him and he lived in poverty there after partly because he felt that it was discourteous to be in the company of anyone poorer than oneself. From the first everyone recognised that St Francis was a religious genius. His favorite saying was "Foxes have holes and the birds of the air nests ; but the son of man hath not where to lay his head."
Francis's cult of poverty could not survive him - it did not even last his lifetime. It was officially rejected by the Church; for the Church had already become part of the international banking system that originated in thirteenth century italy. His disciples were called heretics and burnt at the stake.
Yet his belief that to free the spirit one must be poor is the belief that all great religious teachers have in common. Rousseau and Wordsworth brought it back. The folk tales "the canticle of the sun" about him are good reading.
But already during the lifetime of St Francis another world was growing up, which for better or worse, is the ancestor of our own, the world of trade and of banking. The banker types were realistic and the proof is that they survived. Florentine banking is similar to today , except that double entry wasn't invented till the fourteenth century.
And just as their economic system was capable of an expansion that has lasted till today, so the painting they commissioned had a kind of solid reality that was to become the dominant aim of western art up to the time of cezanne. It continued to grow because it involved a third dimension. Two dimensional art- is enchanting. But instead of decorative jumble Giotto concentrates on a few simple solid looking forms. When Dr Johnson wished to refute he kicked. Giotto made em look solid.
Giotto was born near florence in about 1265 when italian painting was really only a less posished form of Byzantine painting. Giotto has no predecessors. We know absolutely nothing about him till the year 1304, when he decorated a small, plain building in Padua known as the Arena Chapel, and made it, to anyone who cares for painting, one of the holy places of the world. Its one of the first instances of the new rich commissioning works f art as a kind of atonement, a practice that has benefitted the world almost as much as vanity and self-indulgence.
Almost in the same year that he was born Dante was born. In a way Giotto and Dante stand at the junction of two worlds. Biotto belonged tot he new world of solid realities, the world created by the bankers and wool merchants for whom he worked. Dante belonged t the earlier Gothic world, the world of St thomas aquinas and the great cathedrals. He's more like gothic sculpture.
MAN - THE MEASURE OF ALL THINGS
The men wo had made Florence the richest city lived in grim defensive houses. There seems to be no reason why suddenly out of the dark narrow streets there arose the lights sunny arcades with their round arches. The answer is contained in one sentence by the Greek philospher Protagoras "man is the measure of all things."
We don't feel much like immortal gods now. But in 1400 the Florentines did. There is no beetter instance of how a burst of civilisation depends on confidence than the Florentine state of mind. For thirty years in the early 15th the fortunes of the republic, which in a material sense had declined, were directed by a group of the most intelligent individuals who have ever been elected to power by a democratic government. Their chancellors were schollars.
One such persons tomb is covered in classical symbols and it expresses an ideal that, in 15th century florence was to supplant the idea of chivalry- fame; the ultimate reward of the outstanding individual.
Bruni and his friends had derived these ideals from the authors of Greece and Rome. the old belife that the renaissance was largely based on the study of anique lit remains true.
Almost the first man to read classical authors with real insight was Petrarch. In florence the first thirty years of the fifteenth were the heroic age of scholarship. There are plenty of Renaissance pictures of scholars in their studies.
But although the study of Greek and Latin influenced the thought and style and moral judgements of the Florentines, its influence on their art was not very far reaching- it consisted chiefly of isolated quotations. And their architecture was really the invention of an individual Brunellesco. But an architectural style cannot take root unless it satisfies some need of the time.
People sometimes feel disappointed the first time they see the famous beginnings of renaissance architecture the pazzi Chappel. Everything is adjusted to the scale of reasonable human necesssity. They are intended to make each individual more conscious of his powers, as a complete moral and intellectual being. Theyt are an assersioun of the dignity of man.
What characters these men are: morally and intellectually men of weight, the least frivolous of men, infinitely remote from the gay courtiers of jean de Berry - who were only thirty years older.
And no doubt early Renaissance architecture is based on a passion for mathematics, particularly for geometry. Of course medieval architects had designed on a mathematical basis, but it seems to have been of imense complexity, as elaborate as scholastic philosophy. Renaissance used the circle the square.
The same approach was appllied to painting, in the system known as perspective. it to seems to have been invented by Brunellesco.
Another reason: The spirit of criticism: the air of Florence making minds naturally free, and not content with mediocrity." And this harsh, outspoken competition between Florentine crafsmen not only tightened up technical standards, but also meant that there was no gap of incomprehension between the intelligent patron and the artist.
Our contemporary attitude of pretending to understand works of art in order not to appear philistines would have seemed absurd to the Florenteens.
The florentines were more realistic than athenians. The athenians loved philosophical arguement, the Florentines were chiefly into making money and playing practical jokes on stupid men. But they were both curious, extremely intelligent, and had the power of making their thoughts visible.
But this atmosphere of liberal materialism is less than half the story. After the middle of the fifteeth century the intellectual life of Florence took a new direction very diffent fromt he robust civic humanism of the 1430s. Florence ceased to be a republic in all but name and for almost thirty years it was ruled by Lorenzo de' Medici. He had books with portraits that are very modest compared to the Duke of Berry. He was a good poet. His cousin commissioned the botticelli.
The discovery of the individual was made in early fifteenth century Florence. But int he last quarter of the century the Renaissance owed almost as much to the small courts of norther italy.
In them Raphael found his earliest impressions of harmony and proportion and good manners in the court of Urbino. Good manners:t aht was another product of urbino. Castliglione's Courtier unites the medieval concept of chivalry with the ideal love of plato. This kind of social organization depended entirely on the individual characters of the rulers. This was one of the weaknesses of renaissance civ. And the other was that it depended on a very small minority. The renaissance only touched a minority. We must wonder how far civ would have evolved if it had been entirely dependent on the popular will.
All the same , as one walks through the splendidly extravagant rooms of the palace at urbino, one can't help thinking what about the people in the fields.
Aman can do all things if he will' how naive alberti's statement seems when one thinks of that great bundle of fears and memories that every indiviual carries around with him; to say nothing of the external forces which are totally beyond his control.
Giorgione, the passionate lover of physical beauty, painted a picture of an old woman and called it "with time'. One can see that she must have once been a beauty. it is one of the first amsterpieces of the new pessimism - new because without the comfort of religion - that was to be given final expression by hamlet.
The truth is, i suppose, that the civilisation of the early italian Renaissance was not broadly enought based. The few had gone too far away from the many, not only in knowledge and intelligence - this they always do- but in basic assumptions. When the first two generations of humanists were dead their movemnet had no real weight behind it, and there was a reaction away from the human scale of vlaues. Fortunately, they left in sculpture, painting architecture, a message to every generation that belues reason, clarity and harmonious proportion and believes in the individual.
THE HERO AS ARTIST
The scene has changed from florence to rome. Rome of the pope is the outward visible sign of the great change that overcame the civilisation of the Renaissance in about the year 1500. this is no longer a world of free and active men, but a world of giants and heroes.
In the nich is a bronze pine-cone big enough to contain a man. IT came from that earlier world of giants, antiquity and was probably the finial of hadrian's tomb. But in the middle ages it was thought to have marked the point at which the chariots turned in their races around the hippodrome, and since in that hippodrome many Christian martyrs were put to death, it was here that the Christian Church elected to make its head quarters. Huge, cloudy concepts, compared to the sharp focus of Florence.
Rome had become a city of cow herders who built homes in the ruins of rome and said demons must have built them. But then by 1500 the Romans had begun to realise that they had been built by men. These lively and intelligent individuals who created the renaissance, bursting with vitality and confidence were inot in a mood to be crished by antiquity. They meant to absorb it, to equal it, to master it. They were going to produce their own race of giants and heroes.
In what is commonly described as the decadence of the papacy, the popes were men of unusual ability who used their international contacts, their great civil service and their increasing wealth in the interest of Civilisation.
Without Pope Julius II's magnanimity and strength of will to inspire and bully, michelangelo would not have painted the sistine ceiling , nor Raphael decorated the papal apartments.
St peter's wasn't completed till almost a century after his death. But the first step in this visible alliance between christianityand antiquity was taken when Julius decided to pull down the old basilica.
Antiquity: the men of fifteenth-century Florence had looked back eagerly to the civilisation of greece and rome. But although their minds were full of antique literature, their imaginations remained enirely Gothic. The ancients were in the costume of his time. The death of cesear in which people are dressed like 15th century dandies.
In 1501 Michelangelo returned to Florence. i said that the gigantic and the heroic spirit of the high renaissance belongs to Rome. But there was a sort of prelude in Florence. AFter kicking out the Medici the Florentines had established a republic, with all the noble, puritanical sentiments which pre-marxist revolutionaries used to dig up out of plutarch and livy. To symbolise their achievement, the republic commissioned various works of art on heroic-patriotic themes. One was for a gigantic figure of david the tyrant slayer.
Only twenty five years separate Michelangelo's marble hero from the dapper little figure which had been the last word in Medician elegance, the David of verrochio. its rather the same as the progression that we shall find in music betweeen mozart and beethoven.
Seen by itself the davids body might be some unusually taut and vivid work of antiquity; it is only when we come to the head that we are aware of a spiritual force that the ancient world never knew. i suppose that this quality , which I may call heroic, is not a part of most people's idea ofr civilisation. it involved a contempt for convenience and a sacrifice of all those pleasures that contribute to what we call civilised life. It is the enemy of hapiness. But since defying fate and forces and in the end civilisation depends on man extending his powers of mind and spirit to the utmost, we must reckon the emergence of Michelangelo as one of the great events in the history of Western man. Later this beethoven element is extended to the bodies as well.
This spirit is seen in his prisoners series.
People sometimes wonder why the renaissance italians, with their intelligent curiosity, didn't make more of a contribution to the history of thought. The reason is that the most profound thought of the time was not expressed in words, but in visual imagry.
The sistine begins with the Creation and ends with the drunkenness of Noah. But michelangelo compels us to read them in reverse order - and indeed they were painted in reverse order.
Michelangelo's power of prophetic insight gives one the feeling that he belongs to every epoch, and most of all, perhaps , to the epoch of the great Romantics, of which we are still the almost bankrupt heirs.
Raphael was a man of his age. He absorbed and combined allt hat was being thought or felt by the finest spirits of his time. He is the supreme harmoniser - that's why he's out of favour today. But in an attempt to describe European civ. he must come right at the top.
In the school of athens, Plato the idealist is on the left and he points upwards to divine inspiration. On the right is Aristotle, the man of good sense, holding out a moderating hand; and behond him are the representatives of rational activities - logic, grammar and geometry. Curiously enough, raphael has put his own prtrait there, next to that of Leonardo da vinci. Below them is a geometer.
While human reason is rooted to the earth, on the opposite wass, Divine wisdom floats in the sky above the heads of those philosophers, theologians and Church fathers who have tried to interpret her.
Some of rapaels works were questionable cause he makes even the apostles noble and huge. Indeed they could not be portrayed otherwise until the middle of the 19th and only a few stood against this. And I think that this convention, which was an element in the so-called grand manner, became a deadening influence on the European mind. It deadened our sense of truth, even our sense of moral responsibility; and led, as we now see, to a hideous reaction.
In the autumn of 1513, soon after the death of Julius, there arrived, to stay in the Belvedere of the VAtican, one more giant - Leonardo da Vinci. Historians used to speak of him as a typical Reaissance man. This is a mistake. If he belongs to any epoch it is the later 17th. But he belongs to none.
All his many gifts were dominated by one ruling passion which was not a Renaissance characteristic - curiosity. Of all the quesions the ones he asks most insistently is about man. Not why is he like an immortal god but how does he walk.
If michelangelo's defiance of fate was superb, there is something almost more heroic in the way that Leonardo, that great hero of the intellect, confronts the inexplicable, ungovernable forces of nature.
PROTEST AND COMMUNICATION
The dazzling summit of human achievement represented by Michelangelo, Raphael and leonardo da Vinci lasted for less than twenty years. It was followed (except in Venice ) by a time of uneasiness often ending in disaster. For the first time since the great thaw of civilised values were questioned and defied and for some years it looked as if the footholds won by the Rennaisance - the discovery of the individual, the belief in human genius, the sense of harmony between man and his surroundings - had been lost. yet this was an inevitable process, and out of the confusion and brutality of 16th century Europe, man emerged with new faculties and expanded powers of thought and expression.
In the late gothic Riemenshneider figures show very clearly the character of northern man at the end of the fifteenth. The men depicted (though staunch catholics) were not to be fobbed off by forms and ceremony (what they called 'works') They believed that there was such a thing as truth, and they wanted to get at it. Many had heard of 15th century attempts to reform the church and wanted something more substantial.
So far so good. But these faces reveal a more dangerous characteristic, a vein of hysteria. The 15th century had been the century of revivalism - religious movements on the fringe of the church. They had in fact, begun in the late fourteenth century, when the followers of John Huss almost succeeded in wiping out the courtly civilisation of Bohemia. Even in italy Savonarola had persuaded his hearers tomake a bonfire of their so-called vanities,( including Botticelli's)
Look at Durer's Oswald Krell compared to one of Raphaels balanced self-contained, cultured portraits it is on the verge ofhysteria. The staring eyes are very german and a nuisance for the rest of the world.
However, in the 1490s these destructive national characteristics had notshown themselves. It was still an age of internationalism.
Then in 1498 there arrived in Oxford a poor scholar who was destined to become the spokesman of northern civilisation and the greatest internationalist of his day, the Dutchman, Erasmus. All his life he moved due to the plague. Loved as a charmer and, like all humanists, perhaps like all civilised men, he put a high value on friendship. He was friend to Thomas More who was, against his will , first minister of the crown and put to death by henry the 8th.
In the 19th century people used tot hink of the invention of printing as the lynchpin in the history of civilisation. Well, 5th century Greece and 12 century chartres and early 15th centry florence got on very well without it, and who shall say that they were less civilised than we. Still on the balance I suppose that printing has done more good than harm.
printing , of course, had ben invented long before the time of erasmus. Gutenberg's bible was printed in 1455. But the first printed books were large, sumptuous and expensive. The printers still thought of themselves as competing with the scribes of manuscripts. Many of them were printed on vellum and had illustrations. It took nearly 30 years to realise what a formidable new instrument they had. just as it took politicians twenty years to recognise the value of television. The first man to take full advantage of the printing pres was Erasmus. He was the first journalist. Opinions on all (in Latin so he could be read everywhere).
He wrote the Praise of Folly and it washed away everything: popes, kings, monks, scholars, war theology - the whole lot. In the ordinary way satire is a negative activity; but there are tunes when in the history of civilisation when it has a positive value.
However, it was not Erasmus's wit and satire that made him, for ten years themost famous man in Europe, bu trather his appeal to the earnest, pious, truth seeking state of mind.
After Praise he translated the new testament from Greek.
During the period in which erasmus was spreading enlightenment and information through the word, another develpment of the art of printing was nourishing the imagination: the woodcut. Albrecht Durer was its user.He was an unusually intense man, compared himself to christ, shared leonardos curiousity, although not his determination to find out how things worked. He collected all kinds of rarities and oddities , the kid of curiosities which a hundred years later were to lead to the first museums. And died going to see a whale in Zeeland.
He produced one of the great prophetic documents of western man, the egraving he entitled Melancholia I. Around her are allt he emblems of constructive action: a saw, a plane, etc. The german mind that produced Durer and the Reformation also produced psychoanalysis.
His woodcuts diffused a new way of looking at art, not as something magical or symbolic, but as something accurate and factual.
He was aware of all the intellectual currents and wrote "O erasmus of Rotterdam, where wilt thou take thy stand? Hark, thou knight of christ ride forth at the side of Christ our lord, protect the truth, obtain the martyr's crown.
For fifteen years after Durer's cry to Erasmus was echoed by his contemporaries all over Europe, and it still appears in old fashioned history books. Why didn't Erasmus intervene? Erasmus says of the protestants: "I have seen them return from hearing a sermon as if inspired by an evil spirit. The faces of all showed a curious wrath and ferocity." He was by nature a man of the preceding century - a humanist in the wider sense. The heroic world that came to birth in Florence in the year 1500 was not his climate. His sucess shows how even in a time of crisis folk yearn for tolerance and reason - in fact for civilisation. But on the tide of fierce emotional and biological impulses they are powerless.
So almost 20 years after the heroic spirit was made visible in the work of michelangelo, it appeared in Germany in the words and actions of luther.
Whatever else he may have been, luther was a hero; and after all the doubts and hesitations of the humanists, luther says "here i stand" No doubt he was extremely impressive, the leader for which the earnest German people is always waiting.
He settled their doubts and gave them courage of their convictions: he also released latent violence and an earthy, animal hostility to reason and decorum that Nordic man seems to have retained from his days in the forest.
HG Wells distinguishes between comunities of obedience (stable societies like Egypt and Mesopotamia) and communities of will (that produced the restless nomads of the north)
Erasmus tells us only one of the protestants raised hishat to him. He was aginst forms and ceremony in religion, but not in society.
luther was the same. He hated the peasants revolt and asked his princely patrons to put it down fiercely. He didn't like the destruction of images (what we now call works of art). But most of his follwers were men who owed nothing to the past - to whom it meant no more than an intolerable servitude. It was an artistic disaster.
I suppose the motive wasn't so much religious as an instinct to destroy anything comely, anything that reflected a state of mind that an unevolved man couldn't share. But it had to happen. if civilisation was not to whither or petrify. It had to draw life from deeper roots than those which had nourished the intellectual and artistic triumphs of the Renaissance. And ultimately a new civiisation was created - but it was a civilisation not of the image, but of the word.
There can be no thought without words. Luther gave his country men words. Erasmus had written soley in Latin. Luther translated the bible into german, calvin into french, tyndale and coverdale into english. These were crucial in the developmet of the western mind; and if I hesitate to say to the deveolopment of civilisation, it is because they were also a stage in the growth of nationalism, and as I have said, nearly allt he steps upward in civilisation have been made inperiods of internationalism. But whatever the long-term effects of Protestantism, the immediate results were very bad: not only bad for art, but bad for life. The north was full of bully boys who rampaged about the country and took any excuse to beat people up. They appear frequently frequently in 16th centruy german art, pleased withthemselves and admired. Thirty years after Durers woodcuts of the apocalypse.
Its a terrible though that so-called wars of religion, religion of course being used as a pretext for political ambitions, but still providing a sort of emotional dynamo, went on for one hundred and twenty years. No wonder the art of the time (MANNERISM) should have abandoned all that belief in decency and high destiny of man of the Rennaissance. Play it for kicks : that is the mannerist motto, and like all forms of indecency, it's irresistible.
What could an intelligent, open-minded man do in the mid-16th? Keep quiet, work in solitude, outwardly conform, inwardly be free. That was what Michel di Montaigne (born in southern france to a Jewish protestant mother in 1533) did.
Only one thing engaged his mind - to tell the truth. But it was a concept of truth very different from that which serious men had sought in Colet's sermons or Erasmus' new testament. It involved always looking at the other side of every question no mattter how shocking. To communicate these ideas (No pleasure hath any savour unless I can communicate it" he said) he invented the essay.
These self-searchings really mark the end of the heroic spirit of the renaissance. montaigne said 'Sit we upon the highest throne in the world, yet sit we only upon our own tail"
He lived in a tower and this isolation was forced on all in late 16th century europe except, after 1570, in England.
England then was brutal unscrupulous and disorderly. But if the first requisites of civilisation are intellectual energy, freedom of mind , a sense of beauty and a craving for immortality it was a civ. It created an architecture intolerably droughty, but designed to give men a free relationship with nature and with each other, which architecture has tried to regain inour own day.
This is the background of Shakespeare. His plays are the poetic fulfilment of Montaignes intellectual honesty. Montaign was a big influence on him, but his scepticism was much more complete. Instead of Montaigne's detatchment there is a spirit of passionate engagement. And shakespeare is the first supremely great poet to have been without religious belief, even without the humanists belief in man.
Shakespeare said "What a piece of work man! How noble in reason....And yet, to me, what isthis quintessence of dust? man delights not me."
How unthinkable before the break-up of Christendom, the tragic split that followed the reformation; and yet i feel that the human mind has gained a new greatness by outstaring this emptiness.
GRANDEUR AND OBEDIENCE
Back in Rome, Baoroque rome.
The amazing thing is it was done only fifty tears after Rome had been (as it seemed) completely humiliated - almost wiped off the map. The city had been sacked and burnt, the people of Northern Europe were herentics, the Turks were threatening Viena. One might have accepted the facts and accepted it dependence on the gold of America as doled out via spain.
People who say the italians exhausted their genious after the renaissance are wrong. After the 1527 sack of rome, symbolic as it may of been, there was a lack of confidence. Michelangelo's last judgement's lower half shows the change. But throughout the problem period the church reacted as puritanically as the protestants.
Its curious that this period should have been inaugurated by Paul III, because in many ways he was the last of the humanist popes. Though cradled in corruption, he was a renaissancer and sanctioned the Jesuit order and he instituted the council of Trent.
In 1546 Michelangelo, by his longeviity no less than by his genius, accepted the post of overseer for the cfonstruction of St Peter's, thus becoming a link between the Renaissance and the counter Reformation.
One reason that medieval and renaissance architecture is so much better than our own it that the architects were artists. Brunellesco and Bernini were artist; painters and sculpters who became architects in mid life.
Though Mickelangeolo, the most adventerous of architects, pulled St Peters together after four other architects had worked on it with his unifying stamp, Della porta did the dome.
For fifty years art was bad and depended, not on men of genious, but on the imaginations of their patrons.
The last stone of ST. Peters went in in 1590 and the period of consolidation was almost over. Greats appear again.
How had the victory been achieved. In England most of us were brought up to believe that it depended on the INquisition , the Index and the Society of Jesus. I don't believe great outbursts of creative energy, as in rome between 1620-60 can come of purely negative factors. Rather they came of factors out of favour in America and England today.
1)Belief in Authority, the absolute authority of the Church. It comes as something of a shock to find that, with a single exception, the great artists of the time were all sincere, conforming christians (except Caravaggio). This conformism was not based on fear of the Inquisition, but on the perfectly simple belief that the faith which had inspired the great saints of the preceeding generation was something by which a man should regulate his life.
Ignatius, Teresa, Filipo Neri and Francis Xavier were all canonised on the same day, 22 May 1622. It was like the baptism of a regenerated rome.
Though itellectual life was freer in the north, the great achievements of the Catholic church lay in harmonising, humanising , civilising the deepest impulses of ordinary, ignorant people. As the Virgin in the 12th had civilized the tough and ruthless. In the Renaissance she became also the human mother in whom everyone could recognise qualities of warmth and love and approachability. Imagine the Catholic peasants feeling upon hearing that the heretics in the north were decapitating her statues.
The stabilising, comprehensive religions of the world, the religions which penetrate to every part of a man's being (Egypt, india or china) gave the female principle of creation at least a smuch importance as the male, and wouldn't have taken seriously a philosophy that failed to include both. These were all what HG Wells called communities of obedience. The aggressive, nomadic societies- communities of will (israel, islam, the protestant north) saw their gods as male. It's a curious fact that the all-male religions have produced no religious imagery- in most cases have forbidden it.
BEsides the need for a compasionate mother another human impulse that can be harmonised is to confess. Now we have confession with the psychologist.
The leaders of the Catholic Restoration made the inspired decidion not to go half way. Luther repudiated the pope : infalliability. ERasmus spoke scornfully of relics: the four corners of St Peter are gigantic reliquaries (one has the lance that pierced our lords side). The heritics condemned the cult of saints; they were made more insistenly real in art.
In all these ways the Church gave imaginative expression tot he deep-seated human impulses. And it had another great strength : it was not afraid to look at the body.
For all these reasons Baroque was a popular art. The renaissance had appealed through intellectual means (geomenty, perspective, knowledge of antiquity) to a small group of humanists.
Close ups shifting lights disolves huge scales. Things done in the movies too. But Bernini's is ideal and eternal not cheap. BErnini gave Baroque rome its character, but he was the chief source of an international style that spread all over europe, as gothic had done and the renaissance never did.
At sixteen he was selling impressively. by 20 he was already commisioned to do a portrait of the pope. His david is not static like michelangelos and the face is a self portrait. At 25 he was made architect of St peter interior. Bernini also 'painted the scenes, cut the statues, invented the engines, composed the music, wrote the comedy and built the theatre, for plays Diarist record how people in the front row ran away, fearing that they would be drenched by water or burnt by fire.
No one can accuse me of underestimating the catholic restoration or Gianlorenzo Bernini. So i end by saying that this episode in the history of civilisation arouses misgivings due to illusion and exploitation. All art creates illusion, but he went very far. It escapes the harsh realities into a world of illusion. And expooitation, in the middle ages seats of government and churches were matters, somewhat, of local pride. The palaces of the papal families were simply expressions of private greed and vanity. The families , whose progeny would become popes speant allt heir time competeing as to who should build the largest most ornate salons. Their contribution to civ is limited to this kind of visual exuberance. The sense of grandeur is no doubt a human instinct, but, carried to far , it becomes in human. I wonder if a single thought that has helped forward the human spirit has ever been conceived or written down in an enormous room: except, perhaps, in the reading room of the British museum.
THE LIGHT OF EXPERIENCE
The Berckheyde painting of the square at haarlem one could almost walk into. The revolution that replace divine authirity by experience, experiment and observation.
I am in holland not only because dutch painting is a visible expression of this change of mind, but because Holand - economically and intellectually - was the first country to profit fromt he change. When one begins to ask the question 'does it work? or "does it pay?" instead of "is it gods will?" one gets new answers. one is that to try to suppress opinions which one doesn't like is less profitable than to tolerate them. The protestants should have known this but didn't. They persecute eachother right up to the middle of the 17th century. Trials of witches positively increas in this age of reason. It seemed as ifthe spirit of persecution was like some kind of poison that couldn't be cured by the new philosophy, it had to work itself out of the system. But this said holland was remarkably tolerant, and one proof is that nearly all the great books which revolutionised thought were first printed in Holand.
We know more about what the seventeenth century dutch looked like than we do about anyother society, except the first - century romans. These are individuals who are prepared to join in a corporate effort for the public good. For the most part they are solid, commonplace people, as they would be today, and the y were portrayed by commonplace artists. But from this dead level of group portraiture there arose one of the summits of European painting Rembrant.
The tulip shows how 17th century dutch combined their two chief enthusiasms - scientific investigation and visual delight. When the bottom fell out of the tulip market in 1637 the Dutch economy survived for another fifty years based on silver cups and bottles, gold-stamped leather walls and pottery imitated from the Chinese (done with such skill it could be sold back to the chinese) But unfortunately this kind of visual self-indulgence very soon leads to ostentation andthis, in bourgeois democracy, means vulgarity.
One could say this is what they get from a materialist interpretation of society. But they also got Rembrandt.
In studying the history of civilisation one must try to keep a balance between individual genius and the moral or spiritual condition of a society. However irrational it may seem, I believe in genius. Ibelieve that almost everything of value which has happened in the world has been due to individuals. Nevertheless, one can't help feeling that the supremely great figures in history - Dante, michelangelo, shakespear, newton, geothe - must be to some extent a kind of summation of their times. They are too large, too all embracing to have developed in isolation.
Rembrandt was the great poet of that need for truth and that appealt o experience which had begun with the Reformation, had produced the first translations ofthe Bible, but had had to wait almost a century for visible expression. Rembrandt spent alot of time in synagogues to learn something new about the bible, but in the end the evidence he used for interpreting the Bible was the life he saw around him. In his drawings one often doesn't know if he is recording an observation or illustrating the scriptures. The psychological truths in his painting go beyond any other painter. We used to be told that painting should't compete with literature. Rather the literary element should not obtrude itself till it has taken the right shape. But when form and content are one, what a heavenly bonus this kind of human revelation can be. This is seen in his Jewish Bride and Bathsheba.
The greatest of his contemporaries were looking for a different kind of truth-truth that could be established by intellectual, not emotional means.
This could be done either by the acccumulation of observed evidence or by math. and of the two mathematics offered to the men of the 17th the more attractive solution. Math was the religion of the finest minds of the time. Bacon was the only philosopher of the period who was not a mathematician. he thought he could solve everything by material evidence. But compared to the great thinkers who succeeded him - descartes, pascal, spinoza - there is something disreputable about him because he lacked faith in math.
Descartes is an extremely sympathetic figure. He started as a soldier and wrote a book on fencing. But soon he discovered that all he wanted to do was to think. He went to holland where he said everyone was concerned with making money and so would leave him alone to think. He had to move 24 times to be alone. He examined everything like Da Vinci. He thought that all matter consisted of whirlpools, with an outer ring of curving vortices, and an inner core of small globules sucked into the center. Descarte had a French tidy-mindedness and alll his observations were made to contribute to a philosophic scheme. It was based on absolute scepticism - ala montaigne's summing up 'what do i know" he answered "I know that i think' and visa versa.
Descarte wanted to cut away all preconceptions and get back to the facts of direct experience, unaffected by custom and convention. We see this in the paintings of Vermeer. Vermeer wrote "study to be quiet" and inthe same period two religious sects came into being quietism and the quakers.
One characteristic of Vermeer is his passion for light. it is in this more than anything else that he is connected with the scientists and philosophers of his time. All the greatest exponents of civilisation, from Dante to Goethe, have been obsessed by light. But int he seventeenth century light passed through a crucial stage. The invention of the lens was giving it a new range and power.h The telescope 9invented in Holland, although developed by Galileo) discovered new worlds in space; the microscope showed new worlds in a drop of water. And Spinoza polished these lenses (he was the greatest lensmaker in Europe) In holand Descartes studied refraction and Huygens invented the wave theory. Finally newton put forward his corpuscular theory, which was wrong, or at any rate, less nearly right than Huygen, but held the field till the 19th.
The scientific approach to experience ends in poetry. And I suppose that this is due to an almost mystical rapture we feel in the perception of light. Dutch painters achieved a spiritualization of matter in their still lifes. The aesthetic equivalent of that passion for accurate observation that impelled their great scientists.
But the coordination of society and art isn't so tidy Valesquez painted realistically in crazy Spain 5 years before vermeer.
1660 was the zenith.Spinoza's tractatus was printed in 1670. During that decade the leadership of of intellectual life passed from Holland to England. The change began in 1660 when charles II embarked from the Dutch beach to return to england, and ended the isolation and austerity which had afflicted England for almost 15 years.
As so often happens, a new freedom of movement led to an outburst of pent up energy. The Royal society with Robert boyle, the father of chemistry, hook who perfected the microscope and halley who predicted the comet. we waiting , with Newton at the head for the moment of expansion.
Newtons principia gave a mathematical account of the universe which for three hundred years weemed irrefutable. It was both the climax of the age of observation and the sacred book of the next century.
Christopher wren was a geometer and astronomer anda member ofthe royal society who became an architect at the age of thirty. One of his buildings is the greatest architectural unit built in England since the Middle Ages. It is sober without being dull, massive without being oppressive. HE became the most famous architect in England, met bernini.
The fire of london endd on sept 5 1666. Six days later Wren submitted a plan for reguilding the city. Ingenious is the word for the results that folowed. The thirty new churches are each a solution of a different problem. And the crown, ST Pauls, he made the chief monument of English classsicism.
Wren's buildings show us that mathematics, measurement, observation (the things of the philosophy of science) were not hotile to architecture; nor to music (for this was the age of englands great Henry Percell)
But what of poetry. Without Galileo's discoveries Milton's universe would have taken a less grandiose form. Milton was an anarchronism, a survivor from the belated English Renaissance. The year of Paradise Lost, 1667, the supreme example of anti-poetic rationalism - Sprat's history of the royal society - said Poetry is the parent of superstition.
Not all members were so hostile to the imagination. Infact Newton spent or wasted alot of time on biblical stories. But these men didn't believe in constellation. And so began that division between scientific truth and the imagination which was to kill poetic drama, and give a feeling of artificiality to all poetry during the next hundred years. However there was a compensation: the emergence of a clear workable prose. The strange thing is that none of these mid-century writers (except for Carlyle and Ruskin) seemed to notice that the triumph of rational philosophy had resulted in a new form of barbarism. If, from the balcony of the Greeenwich observatory, I look beyond the order of Wrens's hospital I see the squalid disorder of industrial society. Industrial societies nemesis' were population the greedy getting greedier, the ignorant lost touch with traditional skills, and the grand designs became waste of money that no accountant could condone.
CHAPTER NINE - THE PURUIT OF HAPPINESS
By the year 1700 the German speaking countries have once more become articulate. For over a century the disorderly aftermath of the reformation, followed by the thirty years war kept them from playing a part in civilisation.
This program is primarily about music; and some of the qualities of 18th century music - its melodious flow, its complex symmetry, its decorative invention - are reflected in the architecture; but not its deeper appeal to the emotions. And čt the ROCOCO style has a place in civ. Serious-minded people used to call it shallow and corrupt because it was intended to give pleasure; well the founders of America weren't frivolous and thought to include the pursuit of happiness as a goal for mankind. That and the puruit of love are apparent in rococo.
Before we plunge into rococo a word about the austere ideal that had preceded it. For 60 years France's rigidly centralised authoritarian government and classic style had dominated Europe. IT produced Racine, poussin and magnificent architecture. But it was stiff and of authoritarian granduer illuminated.
But the high Baroque of Rome was exactly what the north of Europe needed because it was elastic and adaptable. German musicians built on Scarlatti's international style and the architect Borromini did architecture that fit Germany's social order (the reverse of Frances centralization).
The formative element in German art and GErman music lie in the multiplicity of regions and twons and abbeys. Zimmerman is the german for carpenter. The finest buildings we look at are local pilgrimage churches. The backs were a family of local musical craftsman.
The sound of Bach's music remind one of a cruious fact that people don't always remember- the great art of the 18th century was religious. The thought was anti-religious; the way of life profane. But in the arts, what did this rationalism produce? One adorable painter Watteau, nice furniture; but nothing to set beside the Messiah or the abbeys and pilgrimage churches of Bavaria and Franconia.
Another contributer to German music was that though luther (himself a singer) forbid art, he encouraged music. Organs have played a variable role in European civ. In the 19th they were symbols of newly-won affluence; but in the 17th and 18th they were expressions of municipal pride and independence. ?They were the work of the leading local craftsman.
Dutch competition informed the attitudes that fueled Johann Sebastian's rise. His family had been professional musicians for 100 years. So in certain districts 'bach' meant musician. He belongs to all time. Small principalities rulers competetive ambitions benefited architecture and music in a way that the democratic obscurity of the Hanoverians in England did not.
I felt some scruples in comparing the music of Bach with a baroque interior. No such hesitations need prevent me from invoking the same for George Frederick Handel.
Great men have a way of appearing in complementary pairs. So often it probably wasn't invented by symmetrically minded historians; but represents a need for ballance.
Both Bach and Handel were born in 1685; they both went blind from copying musical scores and were unsuccessfully operated on by the same surgeon, but otherwise they were opposites.
In contrast to BAch's timeless uiversality, Handel was completely of his age. Instead of BAch's frugal, industrious career, handel made and lost several fortunes. He went to rome and as a youth and was immediately taken up by good society.
I have called Handel a Baroque composer, and Neumann's buildings northern Baroque. I could almost equally well have called them Rococo- in areas the terms overlap. But there is a real diffference.
Baroque, however modified in Germany and Austria, was an Italian invention. Baroque first came into being as religious architecture and expressed the emotional aspirations of the Catholic church. Rococo was to some extent a parisian ivention, and provocatively secular. It was superficially a reaction against the heavy Classicism of Versailles. INstead of the static orders of antiquity, it drew inspiration from natural objects. Rococo was a reaction, but it was not negative. It represented a real gain in sensibility. It achieved a new freedom of association and captured new and more delicate shades of feeling.
All this is expressed by Watteau (1684). He saw transitoriness and so a feeling of the seriousness of pleasure.
Watteau died in 1721 at 37. By that date the Rococo style was begining to affect decoration and architecture. Ten years later it was as international as early 15th gothic. And like gothic the art of small courts, an art of elegance rather than greatness, an art in which religious motives were treated with grace and sentiment rather than solemn conviction.
An international style overrides convienience or functionalism. No one supposed that rococo knife handles were easy to hold or the soup tourins easy to hold or clean. They had to be like rocks and shells. Walter Pater said that all art aspired to the condition of music. Probably not applied art. But it is true of Rococo
In rococo churches the faithful are persuaded not by fear, but by joy. To enter them is a foretaste of paradise: sometimes rather more like the islamic paradise than the disembodied paradise of Christianity.
In Haydn's early works, particularly those for small orchestras and strings, his music does seem to be in exactly the same style as the Rococo rooms in which it was performed.
And yet to pronounce the name of Mozart in one is dangerous. It gives color - pretty color - to the notion that Mozart was merely a Rococo composer. Fifty years ago this was what most people thought about him, and the notion was supported by horrible little plaster busts which made him look the perfect 18th century dummy.
I like the story of Mozart sitting at table absentmindedly folding and refolding his napkin into more and more elaborate patterns, as fresh musical ideas passed through hius mind. But this formal perfection was used to express two characteristics which were very far from the rococo style. One a peculiar kind of melancholy amounting almost to panic that haunt the isolation of genius (mozart felt it young) The other was a passionate interest in humans and their relations.
Dr Johnson is said to have called opera "an extravagant and irrational entertainment" True. It seems strange that it was brought to perfection in the age of reason. But just as the greatest art of the early 18th was religious, so the greatest artistic creation of the Rococo is completely irrational. Opera had been invented in the 17th. It came to the north from Catholic itoly and flourished in Catholic capitals- Vienna, munich and prague. Indignant protestants said rococo churches were like opera houses. true but backwards. Opera came in when churches went out. They expressed the new profane religion and are often the biggest and best buildings in catholic countries.
Why do folk still spend 3 hours seeing something they don't understand? Why devote a large portion of German and Italian budgets to it? Partly due to skill. But chiefly because it is irrational" what is too silly to be said may be sung.
At the beginning of Mozarts Don Giovanni each character sings their feelings. It is complex. The pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of love, which had once seemed so simple an dlife giving, have become complex and destructive, and his refusal to repent, which makes him heroic, belongs to another phase of civ.
CHAPTER 10 - THE SMILE OF REASON
The 17th century with all its outpouring of genius in art and science still had senseless persecutions and brutal wars waged with unparalled cruelty. By 1700 people had begun to feel that a little calm and detatchment wouldn't come amiss. The smile of reason may seem to betray a lack of emotion; but it didn't preclude strongly held beliefs - belief in natural law, belief in justice, belief in atonement. The philosophers of the Enlightenment pushed civ uphill. Theis gain was consolidated throughout the nineteenth. Up to the 1930s people were not supposed to burn witched and other minorities, extract confessions by torture or go to prison for speaking the truth. We owe this all to the enlightenment and voltaire.
Although the victory of reason and tolerance was won iin France, it was initiated in England and the French philosophers never concealed their debt to the country that produced Newton, locke and the bloodless revolution. And though intellectuals there got hard nocks in print they weren't beaten up or put in prison. But this happened to voltaire and he took refuge in England in 1726.
18th century england was the land of the amatuer. Wren was an amatuer that made himself professional. In a way they inherited the Renaissance ideal of universal man. Amateurism ran through chemistry, philosophy, botany and natural history.
The dark side; 18th century england made two societies (urban and genteel country).
In talking about the 12th and 13th I said how great an advance in civ was then achieved by a sudden consciousness of feminine qualities; the the same was true of 18th century france due to its salons. Conversation is life giving and can only flourish in a small company where no one is stuck up. That is a condition which cannot exist in a court. And, fortunately, the court and government of France wasn't in Paris but in versailes.
Another thing that kept the 18th century salons free from too much pomposity is that the French upper classes were not oppressively rich. They had lost a lot of money in a financial crash. A margin of wealth is helpful to civilisation, but for some mysterious reasongreat wealth is destructive. Ssplendour is dehumanising, a sense of limitation seems to be a condition of good taste.
The people who frequented the salons of 18th century france were not merely a group of gashionable good-timers they were the outstanding philosophers and scientists of their time. They wanbted to publish their views on religion, change government.
The dynamo of the encyclopedia was Diderot. The aims of the Encyclopedia seem harmless enough to us. But authoritarian governments don't like dictionaries. They live by lies and bamboozling abstractions and can't afford to have words accurately defined.
The encyclopedia was twice suppressed and by its ultimate triumph the polite reunions in these elegant salons became precursors of revolutionary politics. They were also precursors of science. In the illustrated science supplement are pictures by Wright of Derby. His picture of an experiment shows the natural philospher with his long hair and dedicated stare, the little girls who can't bear to witness the death of their Cocattoo and a sensible middle age man who tells them that such sacrifices must be made in the interest of science. It shows that science was to some extent an after dinner occupation, like playing the piano in the next century. Voltaire did amatuer science.
In the 18th emerged a country where civilisation still had the energy of newness - scotland. The scottish character shows an extraordinary combination of realism and reckless sentiment. Adam smith David Hume, joseph Black and James Watt soon after the year 1760 changed the whole current of European thought and life. If on the practical side the scene must change to Scotland, on the moral side we must return to France. The remarkable thing about the frivolous 18th century was its seriousness. It was, in many ways, the heir to Renaissance humanism, but there was a vital difference. The renaissance took place within the church. A few humanists had shown signs of scepticism but not about christianity as a whole. People had the comfortable moral freedom that goes with an unquestioned faith.
The encyclopediest were total materialists whothought that moral and intellectual qualities were due to an accidental conjunction of nerves and tissues. It was a courageous belief to hold in 1770, but it was not (and will never be) an easy one on which to found or maintain a civ. So the 18th was faced with the task of making a new morality without christianity.
This morality was built on two foundations: one of them was the doctrine of natural law: the other was the stoic morality Rome. The belief that the simple goodness of natural man was superior to the artificial goodness of sophisticats. The complement to this agreeable delusion was an ideal of virtue drawn from Plutarch.
The romans who sacrificed for the state were made more memorable by the pictorial imagination of Jacques Louis David. In his Oth of the horatii (1785) the melting outlines and poos of sensuous shadow are gone and instead is a firmly outlined expression of will. Two years later he painted a more grimly Plutarchian picture, Brutus having his two dead sons, who were convicted of treachery, being brought to him. These incidents in Roman history do not appeal to us but were in harmonsy with the mood of and explain the next 5 years.
Well again we must look at a young underpopulated country. And we look at Thomas Jefferson. He crated monticello with inventiveness: Doors that open as one approaches them, a clock that tells the days of the week, a bed so placed that one gets out of it in either of two rooms. All this shows a man of inginuity working alone outside any accepted body of tradition. But Jefferson wasn't a crank. He was the typical universal man of the eighteenth century, linguist, scientist, agriculturist, educator, town-planner and architect. Almost the reincarnation of Leon Battista Alberti. Jefferson wasn't the architect as alsberti, but then he was also the president of the united states. And as an architect he wasn't bad. MOnticello was the beginning of that simple almost rustic classicism that stretches up our eastern seaboard. It lasted for 100 years producing a body of civilised, domestic architecture equal to any in the world.
The establishment of religious freedom that earned him so much hatred and abuse in his own day we now take for granted. But the university of Virginia is still a suprise. He designed the whole thing himself. There are ten pavilions for ten professors and the students rooms behind them but all within reach; the corporate humanism. Jeffersons romanticism is shown by the way he left eh fourth side of his courtyard open so young scholars could look across to the mountains still inhabited by his fathers friends the indians.
How confidently the Founding Fathers assumed the mantle of republican virtue and put into practice the french enlightenment. The greatest sculptor, Houdon, who did the Voltaire with the smile, Did the Richmond Va Washington. The smile is gone on this republican hero.
Washington DC was laid out by a French engineer named l'Enfant, under the direction of Jefferson and is certainly the most grandiose piece of town planning since Sixtus V's rome.
CHAPTER 11 - THE WORSHIP OF NATURE
For almost a thousand years the chief creative force in western civilisation was Christianity. Then in about the year 1725 it suddenly declined and in intellectual society practically disappeared. This left a vacuum. There are said to be 52 meanings of nature in 18th century it meant common sense. The first stage in this new direction of the human mind was very largely achieved in England. In 1730 Montewquieu noted: There is no religion in England. If anyone mentions religion people begin to laugh. It appears in minor poets and provincial painters and fashions like the one that changed straight formal gardens into twisting paths with pseudo-natural prospects. What were known all over the world for a hundred years as English Gardens. Englands biggest effect on Europe outside of early 19th clothes fashions.
Trivial? Well all fashions seem so but are serious.
Then in about the year 1760 this English prelude of melancholy, minor poets and picturesque gardens touched Rousseau. Though he got high on Swiss mountains. For over 2000 years mountains had been considered simply a nuisance: unproductive, obstacles to communication, the refuge of bandits and heretics.
Other than one 1340 hike by Petrarch to see a view and a trip by Leonardo to see botany no other mountain climbs are recorded. And to ERasmus, montaigne, descartes, or newton practically all ofthe great civilisers the thought of climbing a mountain for pleasure would have seemed ridiculous. People who crossed the alps never thought to admire the scenery until 1739 when the poet Thomas Grey did. This started a small swiss tourist industry.
Rousseau was a hounded genius. He said I feel therefore I am. Hume reached the same conclusion by logical means. It was an intellectual time-bomb, which after sizzling away for almost two hundred years has only just gone off.No one, except the marquis de Sade, saw through the new God or goddes. "Nature averse to crime" he said in 1792 "I tell you nature lives and breathes by it, hungers at all her pores for bloodshed, yearns with all her heart for the futherance of cruelty.
Rousseau's view was partly a survival of the old myth of the Golden Age and partly a feeling of shame at the corruption of European Society. Voltaire said "no one has ever used so much intelligence to persuade us to be stupid. After reading your book one feels that one ought to walk on all fours. unforunately during the last sixty years i have lost the habit."
On whether primitive man is good or evil: Polynesia produced no Dante, michelangelo, shakespeare newton or Goethe. And we perhaps had disasterous consequence for them, perhaps the very frailty of those Arcadian societies shows that they were not civilisations in the sense of the word which he has been using.
Far the greatest man to approximate nature and truth was Goethe. He saw all living things as striving for fuller development through an infinitely long process of adaptation. But this analytic aproach to nature had less immediate effect on people's minds than the purely inspirational approach of the English Romantic poets coleridge and wordsworth.
Wordsworth's approach to nature was religious in the moral Anglican manner. He had seen alot though. He left the revolution to England tlaking only to trapmps and begars and discharged prisoners. He was crushed by man's inhumanisty to man. In 1793 he realized only total absorption in nature could heal and restore his spirit. HE had earned the right to be retracted in nature. Sympathy with the voiceless and the oppressed, humna or animal is the prerequisit tot ehworship of nature from st francis on.
Robert Burns noted that animals often show more courage and loyalty and unselfishness than sophisticated people, and also a greater sense of the wholeness of life.
What was it that made Wordsworth turn from mman to nature? it was going to live with his sister. The burning heat of reomantic egoism. Both Byron and Wordsworth fell deeply in love with their sister. The inevitable prohibition was a desaster for both of them. IT made Byron restless and cynical and he wrote Don Juan. Wordsworth lost inspiration.
Then Constable appeared with his landscapes. We have got so used to this approach to painting that it is difficult for us to see how strange it was to love shiny posts and rotten banks more than heroes in aromor. A picture like his Willows by a Stream is the forerunner of a quantity of mediocre painting, just as wordsworth's poems to daisies aticipated a quantity of bad poetry. It was rejected from the academy.
The simple life; it was a necessary part of the new religion of nature, and one instrong contrast to earlier aspirations. civ, not from a monestary or palace or salon, but from a cottage. This worship was connected with walking. And so, for over 100 years, going for a country walk was the spiritual as well as the physical exercise of all intellectuals, poets and philosophers.
Turner was the supreme exponent of the picturesque sublime; and sometimes his storms and avalanches seem preposterous, just as Byrons rhetoric is. But all the time Turner was perfecting for his own private satisfaction and entirely new approach to painting which was only recognised in our own day. Briefly it consisted of transforming everything into pure color. One must remember that for centuries objects were though to be real because they were solid. Color was considered immoral - perhaps rightly so, because it is an immediate sensation and makes its effect independently of those ordered memories which are the basis of morality. Turner declared the indepencdence of color and thereby added a new faculty to the mind.
Nobody takes seriously Ruskins belief that nature illustrates moral law. All the same when he says "the power which causs the several portions of a plant to help each other we call life. Intensity of life is an intensity of helpfulness. The ceasing of this help is what we call corruption" He defended turner and accumulated acurate observations of nature to show nature worked according to law.
This religion is shown in the sky in the paintings.
Constable said" I never saw anything ugly in my life" Landscaping was popular for almost a hundred years. Then came photography and the three great lovers of nature of the late 19th, Monet, cezanne and VAn gogh had to make a more radical transformation. The enraptured vision that first induced Rousseau to live in sensation had one more triumph in the 19th from Monet and Renoir.
A long time simce Hume said all was an impression but Monet said "light is the principle person in the picture" gave them a philsophic unity. It changed our way of seeing, was very short movement. The period which men can work together happily inspired by a single aim last only a short time. This is a tragedy of civilisation.
Monet painted two rooms of the Nympheas in Paris going blind. Total immersion: this is the ultimate reason why the love of nature has been for so long accepted as religion. It is a means by which we can lose our identity in the whole and gain thereby a more intense conscousness of being.
CHAPTER 12 - THE FALLACIES OF HOPE
The reasonable world of an 18th century library is symmetrical consistent and enclosed. Symmetry is a chuman concept, because with sll our irregularities we are more or less symmetrical as reflected in Mozarts phrases. Consistency and enclosure can be a prison, they are the enemies of movement.
Beethoven is the sound of spiritual hunger and European man once more reaching for something beyond his grasp. We must leave the trim, finite interiors of 18th century classicism and go confront the infinite.
Byron, like all great romantics was obsessed with the sea.
IN america it might be possible for a new political constitution; but it took something more explosive to blast the heavy foundations of Europe, just as it had in the reformation.
Towards the end of the 18th rational declineds and vivid assertions take its place. William Blakes Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1789) is a handbook of anti-rational wisdom comparable to Neitzsche's Zaranthustra. Robert Burns was the Scottish equivalent
In June 1789 the first phase, the liberal bourgeois phase of the revolution came to a climax. The members of the National Assembly had found themselves locked out of their usual meeting place and went off to a tennis court where they swore an oath to establish a constitution. The constitutional, one might almost say the American phase of the French Revolution belonged to the age of reason
Three years later we hear the sound of a new world of citizens marching marching all the way from mareilles to paris, tugging three pieces of cannon and singing a new song - the Merseillaise
Perhaps the romantic movements greatest legacy is the message to the young that those who are strong in ove may yet find a way of escape from the rotten parchment ponds that tie us down. Early on mens belief in a new world was so strong that they changed the year 1792 to the year 0. and the month names to names that express the love of nature. Also womens huge clothing get thrown out for simple dresses.
A more formidable job was to replace christianity. They wanted to tear down chartres and build a temple of wisom in its place. Not even robespierre could pull of a new religion. And then the Committee of Public Safety started killing people. "in a republic which can only be based on virtue, any pity shown towards crime is a flagrant proof of treason" Many of the subsequent horrors were due to anarchy. The men of 1793 tried to quell it by violence. Communal enthusiasm may be a dangerous intoxicant; but if humans were to lose altogether the sense of glory, I think we should be the poorer and when religion is in decline it is an alternative to naked materialism.
What happened to the heroes that spoke for humanity during this time? Nothing can be more depressing than the withdrawal of the great romantics. Wordsworth saying he'd give his life for the Church of England. Goethe saying it was better to support a lie than admit political confusion in the state.
But two did not retreat and so became architypal Romantic heroes. Beethoven and Byron. Both held an attitude of defiance to convention and believed unshakably in freedom. Byron, couth and charming, was expelled. Beethoven uncouth and argumentative was accepted. perhaps because genius was more valued in vieena than london. maybe beethoven was a better symbol.
Beethoven liked napoleon until he was proclaimed emporer. As a young man he saw mozart's Don giovanni and was shocked by its cynicism. He determined to write an opera in which unwavering love and freedom were associated: Fidelio.
When the Bastille fell in 1792 it was found to contain only seven old men who were annoyed at being disturbed. Beethoven was an optimist. Then in the 1790s real horrors came and by 1810 all the hopes of the 18th century had been proved false: the rights of man, the discoveries of science, the benefits of industry, all delusion.
The spokesman of this pessimism was Byron. From Goete to t he most brainless schoolgirl his works were read with hysterical enthusiasm. His bad poetry made him famous. The positive side of Byron's genious was a self-identification with the forces of nature: not wordsworth's daisies but colossal storms: with the sublime.
Consciousness of the sublim was a faculty that the Romantic movement added to the European imagination. It was an English discovery, related tot he discovery of nature: not the truth-giving nature of Goethe, or the moralising nature of wordswoth, but the savage incomprehensible power outside orselves that makes us aware of the futility of human arrangements. Blake gave this memorable expression. Turner painted it (and loved Byron) in slavers throwing overboard the dead and dying - typhoon coming on. At almost the same date Gericault the most byronic of all painters, had also made his name with medusa.
In romantic imagery the horse is the complement to the shipwreck. Gericault died riding the most unruly horses he could find. Forturnately, he left a spiritual heir hous pessimism was supported by a more powerful intellect. He had the utmost contempt for th eage in which he lived, for its crass materialism and complacent belief in progress; and his art is almost entirely an attempt to escape from it into romantic poetry. Delacroix had a small circle of friends including Chopin the only man he loved without reservation. Though not a christian he was the only great religious painter of the nineteenth century. Delacroix valued civilisation all the more because he knew that it was fragile and he would never have been so naive as to go to Tahiti for an alternative like Gauguin. He heroically stuck to his Tahiti dream despite grotesque incidents and his paintings make up for it.
The early 19th created a chasm in the european mind as great as that whicfh had split up Christendom in the 16th and even more dangerous. On the one side the new middle class (hopefull and energetic without values. sandwiched between a corrupt aristocracy and a brutalised poor. It produced a defensive conventional hypocritical morality) on the other side of the chasm were the poets, painters of the romantic movement. But what could they put in placfe of middle-class morality? They themselves were still in search of a soul.
The search went on throughout the nineteenth century: in Kierkegaard, in Schopenhauer, in Baudelaire, in Nietzsche and in the visual arts in Rodin. He was the last great romantic artist.
His statue of Balzac is the greatest piece of sculpture of the nineteenth century - indeed since michelangelo. Balzac, with his prodigious understanding of human motives scorns conventional values, defies fashionable opinion, as Beethoven did, and should inspire us to defy all those forces that threaten to impair our humanity: lies, tanks, tear gas, ideologies, opinion polls, mechanisation , planners, computers - the whole lot.
CHAPTER 13 - HEROIC MATERIALISM
New york being built sped up is godless, brutal and violent but has energy strength of will. The cathedrals were built to glorify god, New york for mammon - money gain (the new god). Luxury and squalor. One sees why heroic materialism is still linked with an uneasy conscience. It has been from the start. Historically the first discovery and exploitation of these technical means coincide with the first organised attempts to improve the human lot.
The early pictures of heavy industry are optomistic. The only people who saw through industrailism were the poets. (the workers didn't object cause they were afraid the machines would replace them.
I have often heard it said by people who want to seem clever that civilisation can only exist on the basis of slavery. And in support of their thesis they point to 5th century Greece. If one defines civilisation in terms of leisure and superfluity, there is a grain of truth in this repulsive doctrine. I have throughout this series tried to define civilisation in terms of creative power and the enlargemnet of human faculties; and from that point of view slavery is abominable. The masses of poor people have always had a hard time up through the 19th. Nobody thought they could be cured: St Francis wanted to sanctify poverty, not abolish it. Laws concerning the poor were made to control them.
But slaves and the trade in slaves that was different. It was contrary to christianity; Most people didn't see it as much as local poverty and it was much more horrible. 9 million died on the middle voyage. So the anti-slavery movement became the first communal expression of the awakened conscience.
In its early stages the Industrial Revolution was also a part of the romantic movement. Iron foundaries were used to heighten romantic effect. However the influence of the industrial revolution on Romantic painting is a side issue almost an impertinence when compared to cruel degredations for 60 or 70 years. Arkwright's spinning fram , invented about 1770 is said to start it and it is painted by Wright of Derby and it produced dehumanisation. Long before Carlyle and Marx Wordsworth described the night shift.
Malthus' text said "man has no claim of right to the smallest portionof food" When I call them sacred text I am not joking. Malthus and Ricardo were taken as gospels by the most serious and pious men. The 19th, with its insecure middle class produced hypocrisy on an uprecedented scale. Hypocrisy has been attached tot he 19th as frivolity has been to the 18th. The reaction against this has done more harm than good by making pious respectable worthy joke words. Mass hypocrisy is often referred to as victorian but infact dates from the beginning of the century.
Marx read Engels - I don't know who else did: that was enough. Everybody read Dickens. His novels produced reform in the law, in magistrates courts, in the prevention of public hanging - in 12 more ways. But his description of poverty did no good because the problem was too big and he took a kind of sadistic pleasure in the horrors he described.
The early reformers struggle with industrialised society ilustrates what I believe to be the greatest civilising achievment of the 19th , humanitarianism. Ask americans what matters most and they will say "kindness: Its not a word that would have crossed the lips of any of the earlier heroes of this series. St Francis would have said chastity, obedience and poverty. Dante or Michelangelo: disdain of baseness and injustice: Goethe - to live in the whole andthe beautiful. We forget that horrors were taken for granted in Victorian England. Army and navy lashings, chained workers.
Certain philosophers, going back to Hegel, tell us that humanitarianism is a weak, sloppy, self-indulgent condition spiritually much inferior to cruelty and violence.
At the very beginning of this series I said that I thought one could tell more about a civilisation from its architecture than from anything else it leaves behing. Painting and literature depend largely on unpredictable individuals. But architecture is communal. Judged by its architecture the 19th doesn't come off so well. The public buildings are mostly lacking in style and conviction, perhaps because the strongest creative impulse went into engineering.
Smiles wrote the lives of the engineers. Isambard kingdom Brunel was a born romantic. His every bridge and tunnel was a drama, demanding incredible feats of imagination, energy and persuasion. Brunel is the ancestor of new york. The Brooklyn Bridge was built by Roebling in 1867 and was long the tollest building in new York. The crystal palace was built on Brunel's principles and it housed art for the Great exhibition. The art was weak but the crystal palace wasn't.
Ingres and Delacroix had grown old. In France Gustave Courbet an Millet emerged and did communist art. Courbet's pictures of workers in the fields influenced Van gough.
Throughout this series I have used art to illustrate various phases of civ. But the relationship isn't neat and predictable. A pseudo-Marxist approach works well for decorative arts and mediocrities, but not artists of real talent.
Never before in history have artists been so isolated from society and from official sources of patronage as were the so called impressionists. Their sensuius approach to landscape via the medium of color seems to have no connection with the intellectual currents of the time. In their best years 1865-85 they were ignored.
Before one makes gloomy generalizations about the late nineteenth century. its well to remember that two of the most beautiful pictures of the period are renois boating party. No awakened conscience, no heroic materialism, marx or frued. just ordinary humans enjoying themselves.
The only painter who longed for popularity was Van Gogh. Early awakened conscience had been practical and involved reformers. But later 19th needed atonement. Van Gogh expressed this completely. He set out to be a preacher in the worst areas. He was going to paint poor people ala Millet (his god).
Van Goghs other hero was Tolstoy. Tolstoy towered above his age as DAnte or Michelangelo or beethoven. His novels are marvels of sustained imagination but he was inconsistent. He loved the peasants but lived like an aristocrat. His last words were how do peasants die? His funeral is a filmed riot.
that was in 1910. Within two years Rutherford and Einstein made their discoveries and so, even before WW I a new era, our era, began. Of course science had achieved great triumphs in the 19th, but all were practical in nature. But from the time of Einstein and Niels Bohr science no longer existed to serve human needs but in its own right. When scientists could use a mathematical idea to transform matter they had achieved the quasi magical relationship with the world as artists. When I look at karsh's photograph of an aged Einstein I ask where have i seen that face before; the aged rembrandt.
The incomprehensiblity of our new cosmos (Haldane said "my own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose")seems to me, ultimately, to be the reason for the chaos of madoern art. machines have ceased to be tools and have begun to give us direction (Uzi to the computer). Our other specialty is our urge to destruction.
And yet I don't think we are entering a new dark ages. On the universities the inheritors of our catastrophes look cheerful enough Very different from the melancholy late romans. In fact I should doubt if so many people have ever been as well fed, as well read as bright minded as curious and as critical as the young today.
One mustn't overrate the culture of what used to be called "top people" before the wars. They had charming manners, but they were as ignorant as swans. They question institutions. But civ needs institutions.
At this point I reveal myself in my true colors, as a stickin the mud. I hold a number of beliefs that have been repudiated by the liveliest intellects of our time I believe that order is better than chaos, creation is better than destruction. I prefer gentlenss to violence, forgiveness to vendetta. On the whole knowledge is preferable to ignorance and sympathy more important than ideology.
I believe that in spite of the tiumphs of science, men haven't changed much in the last tow thousand years and in consequence we must still try to learn from history. History is ourselves. I also hold one or two beliefs that are more difficult to put shortly. For example I believe in courtesy, the ritual by which we avoid hurting other's feelings by satisying our own egos. And I think we should remember that we are part of a great whole, which for convenience we call nature. Above all, I believe in the God-given genius of certain individuals, and I value a society that makes their existence possible.
This series has been filled with great works of genius. There they are; you can't dismiss them. And they are only a fraction of western man's output. Often after setbacks and deviations. Western civ is a series of rebirths. Surely this should give us confidence.
I said at the beginning that it is a lack of confidence, more than anything else that kills a civilisation. we can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as efectively as by bombs.
"the best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
True between the wars. The trouble is that there is stillno cneter. The moral and intellectual failure of marsxism has left us with no alternative to heroic materialism and that isn't enough. One may be optimistic, but one can't exactly be joyful at the prospect before us.