The consistent pursuit of the Florentine painters was form and movement; of the Venetians, splendour and harmony of colour: what did the Central Italians contribute to the magic of Renaissance art? Rarely does colour penetrate the senses and warm the heart more quickly than in certain frescoes or panels of Simone Martini or Gentile da Fabriano, of Perugino or Raphael. Yet even these great masters could be at times indifferent, or, indeed, harsh, while their inferiors have slight merit as colourists.
Seldom have problems of form and movement been better solved than by Signorelli; but he had few, if any, followers. It is not with the magicians in colour and the creators in form that the Central Italian Painters, as a school, hold high rank. What is it, then, that gives them their place not only with the greatest, but with the most popular names in art? Our present quest, if successful, will yield an answer.
Every time we see an object we carry away in our memory some shadow of its shape and colour. This ghost of animate or inanimate things, passing under the name of 'visual image', haunts different minds in different degrees. Some people scarcely recognize its presence, although they know it exists; others can at will conjure up shadows so defined that they, in their turn, evoke emotions after their kind, and tinged with the poignancy of the feelings aroused by the objects themselves; still others need only shut their eyes to see absent shapes with the vividness and warmth of direct retinal impressions. Strictly speaking, each person varies from every other in the richness of his visual images, but for our purpose it suffices to distribute all people into the three classes we have just defined. Of the first, we say that they visualize badly, or not at all; of the second, that they visualize fairly; of the third, that they visualize perfectly.
The course of art would probably have been a very different one if people had never visualized at all, or had always visualized perfectly. Had we no faculty whatever for calling up the shapes of things, it might never have given us pleasure to see mere reproductions of them. Why should it? Nor should we be any more likely to care for mere reproductions if we had within ourselves the faculty of calling up at will perfect visual images. But most of us belong to the second class -- those who have a moderate power of visualizing. When objects are named, some image of them looms up in our minds. It is, however, apt to be so vague, so elusive, that it tantalizes rather than satisfies. After a vain effort to fix the image of an absent friend, the crudest manual reproduction may be pounced upon with pleasure, and a photograph seem the friend himself; for almost anything may be more complete and more vivid than our indwelling picture of him.
All this would be different if we visualized perfectly. At the mention of a friend's name we should see him almost as if he were present -nay, more -- as we have seen him at a hundred significant moments. Not one, but a thousand sweet shades of himself hover past, each greeting us as our friend; and at will, as mood inspires, we fix upon this or that as his best and faithfullest lieutenant in our affection. Should we still care for the mere reproduction of his likeness? Granting that the reproduction, as such, were perfect, it would be one, and only one, moment in the flux of his life.
Any other instant would represent him perhaps equally well. But does the single moment represent him at all? Even the single images we have of him each take colour and warmth from the others. The mere reproduction of our friend would hardly please us, because it could convey one only of his manifold aspects, an aspect which, even then, would be inferior to any one single image of him in our own minds. The pleasure in mere likeness is, in fact, the outcome of a feeble power of visualizing, and but for this might never have been known.
Now conceive of an art that could have had no purpose in helping out our actual visualizing, each one of our images being perfect. What could such an art have done to please us through the channel of our eyes? It still would have had two broad domains, one of which we shall call Illustration, and the other Decoration. Both terms need explanation, if not apology. By Decoration I mean all those elements in a work of art which appeal directly to the senses, such as Colour and Tone; or directly stimulate ideated sensations, such as, for instance, Form and Movement. The word has never deliberately been used in quite so wide a sense; indeed, it is one of the vaguest and least hedged-in terms of our language; but as the tendency for some time past has been to make it designate all in a work of art that is not merely expressive, or academic, or dexterous, we shall not be imposing upon it too hard a burden if we make it convey the full meaning I have given it.
A definition of Illustration now follows as a matter of course: it is all that which, in a work of art, is not Decorative. But this definition is too negative, too verbal, to satisfy. We must make it more concrete. The current use of the word is at once too comprehensive, and, as I shall try to show, too narrow. Raphael's illustrations to the Bible in the loggia of the Vatican cannot be illustrations in the same sense as are the photographic views which commonly embellish magazine articles on travel. We all feel the difference; but in what does it really consist?
The answer will appear if we stop to consider what each does for us. The view being a mere reproduction, we regard it as a fact, and not as art at all. It may give pleasure, but only to such as crave either for knowledge, or for greater precision of visual imagery. Raphael's frescoes reproduce nothing which was ever seen in that precise form in the world about us, either by himself or by anyone else. They convey no information. But do they also do nothing for our visualizing? On the contrary, they stock our minds with images. Images of what -of scenes that never took place? Just so. But surely these are not the visual images we spoke of a little while ago, which we agreed were but shadows in the mind of things actually seen? What, then, are they?
Evocation of images
Ultimately they also are shadows of things actually seen, but combined, blended, and composed in the artist's mind under the spell of the Bible narrative. The process which went on in Raphael's brain takes place in all of us who visualize with any ease. Every word tends to evoke an image, and as we read we are accompanied by an ever unfolding scroll of vague and evanescent shapes -- blendings and fusings of the shadows dwelling within -- which correspond to the sense of the phrases. Even if this panorama in our own minds lacked nothing in distinctness, we still should get a certain pleasure from the images conjured up by the same words in another mind; not, as in the case of very poor visualizers, because we longed for greater precision of imagery, but simply for the reason that the imaginary picture can never be quite the same in any two minds.
And what if another mind is stocked with shadows of shapes in themselves superior to those of our individual world; what if that mind also possesses a more effective power of fusing and blending these images, already more attractive than ours? Let that person read the Old Testament, or contemplate anything that can possibly have its graphic counterpart, and pictures will troop past his mental vision which, could we but see them, would reveal higher conceptions and deeper meanings than we ourselves had found, would thrill us with the contagious presence of an imagination -- here and at the moment, at least -- richer, warmer, and completer than our own.
But how does a mental picture like this become a work of art? The answer would seem simple enough: before the mental image becomes a work of art it must be copied exactly in marble or on canvas. But is that really all? Most people would unhesitatingly say yes. They would define art as the faithful reproduction of things in themselves beautiful, or of the fused and blended images of such things. The old talk of the ideal, the new talk of the temperament, Aristotle and Zola, nestle comfortably in this basket. And the common difficulty, the difference between a photograph and such a work of art as, for example, a portrait by Watts, most people would explain by saying that the one reproduces a single image of a person, the other reproduces a composite formed by a mind of exceptional power. And thus great art would be defined not as the blind imitation of nature, but as the reproduction of the visual images haunting great minds.
Art as reproduction
There are some people, however, who would not rest happy in this definition. Mere reproduction, they would say, is not art, no matter how beautiful and exalted the object reproduced. The pleasure this gives, they would add, is not artistic, but aesthetic in a more general sense, or perhaps only intellectual; and they would insist on making a difference between a thing in itself beautiful (or a beautiful mental picture) on the one hand, and a work of art on the other. They would insist also on distinguishing between the terms 'aesthetic' and 'artistic', allowing the meaning of the first to include the second, but confining 'artistic' to designate that pleasure only which is derived from a conscious appreciation of the quality that makes the difference between objects, or mental images -- in themselves beautiful -- and works of art having the qualities which I have called Decorative.
They would not deny that a work of art might gain from the character of the object, or of the mental image reproduced, but they would uphold that its specific value as Art was perfectly distinct from, and but slightly dependent upon, the value of the original. They would go even farther and say that the work of art, as such, had comparatively little to gain from the attractiveness of the object represented, but that the artist could enhance and glorify almost any object that lent itself to his treatment. Mere reproductions of things, no matter how exalted in themselves, no matter whether of objects in actual existence, or of the sublimest visions of the sublimest imaginations, they would speak of as 'Literature' -- and I, disagreeing with them only in phrase, as Illustration.
Definition of art
At last we have seen the definition we have been seeking. Illustration is everything which in a work of art appeals to us, not for any intrinsic quality, as of colour or form or composition, contained in the work of art itself, but for the value the thing represented has elsewhere, whether in the world outside, or in the mind within. If a work of art has no intrinsic value whatever, or if we fail to perceive it, for us it is nothing but an Illustration, and it does not matter whether it be drawn, engraved, or coloured on sheets of paper, or painted on a panel or wall. Raphael and Michelangelo, Leonardo and Giorgione, if we perceive in them no qualities except such as, in the realms of actual or ideal things, belong to the images set down in their paintings, are as much mere Illustrators as the hacks who furnish designs for the popular press. In the domain of Illustration, there are, it is true, whole universes of difference between the illustrations of the great men just named and the illustrations of the nameless folk of today, but from this point of view they are all mere Illustrators.
'Illustration', as I shall employ the word, is, then, somewhat narrower, and, at the same time, considerably wider a term than the current use, which confines it to art as subordinated to letterpress. It will exclude mere reproduction of single perceptions of objects, too formless to give pleasure to any but the quite uncultivated, for whom simple recognition is already a delight. It will comprise, on the other hand, the mere reproduction of all those visual images, no matter how elaborate and significant, and no matter in what shapes they are cast, of which the form has no intrinsic merit of its own that we more or less consciously perceive.
Renaissance Art, Renaissance Painting, Giorgione, Italian Art, Lotto, Giotto, The School of Leonardo, Raphael, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, Velasquez, Longhi, Massacchio, Verocchio, Naturalism, Duccio, Simone Martini, Renaissance Painters, Donatello, Pisanello, Liberale, Boticelli, Melozzo da Forli, Luca Signorelli, Michelangelo, Butinole, Zenalle, Bramante, Bramantino, Correggio, Leoardo da Vinci, Tactile Values, Humanism, The School of Verona, The Umbrian School, The School of Perugia, Domenico Brusasorci, Vincenzo Foppa, Milanese Art, Venetian Art, The School of Piedmont, Florence Art
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