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RETABLE OF CLAUDE DE VILLA
them are the noble donor and his wife. They kneel each at a draped prie-dieu, on which are their books of devotion, he in full plate-armour, with by his side his helmet with the mantling, surmounted by the family crest—a horse's head—on the usual fillet: she in a simple dress of the period and wearing the hennin, the steeple-shaped headdress of ladies of quality. In the wings, of which two remain, are, beneath similar rich tabernacle work, other scenes in the Passion—the Last Supper with the Magdalen washing the feet, the raising of Lazarus, the Deposition and the Resurrection. In the last scene the type of the angel at the tomb seems to carry us back to models and the feeling of two centuries earlier.
There can, of course, be no question of further insisting, in relation to compositions of this kind, on the connexion with the great Flemish schools of painting, with which they are contemporary. Every one may determine for himself to which well-known masterpiece this or that work is mostly related, and how much it has directly borrowed from it or from others. It is thought that the retable of Claude de Villa possessed at one time additional wings, painted, perhaps, by Van der Weyden. What was his part in the sculptured composition? Did he, perhaps, furnish the design? However it may be, nothing can detract from the skill of the sculptor who, himself perhaps also the draughtsman, translated his design with all its sentiment and colour into sculptural forms. The history of the important piece just described is known. It was made to the order of a noble Piedmontese family, the head of which, Claude de Villa, had perhaps official relations with Brussels. We have, in this circumstance, an interesting example of the high reputation which Flemish work enjoyed in Italy at such an important period of Italian art when so many great names were preparing to dazzle the world. Most touching is the treatment of the scenes of the Passion that we find in this and so many other similar works of the period. It is unnecessary to refer to them in detail, or from this point of view to make comparisons with the paintings. Often, as here, the pious founder is to be seen with his wife, kneeling with clasped, uplifted hands, he in warlike attire, she with long, trailing robe and the hennin headdress with its flapping wings and long veil falling from the point: forming, as it were, part of the composition, and yet addressing themselves in prayer to the central figure. Here, as more commonly, perhaps, a favourite treatment of the subject in Flemish art than elsewhere, the blessed Virgin is supported fainting in the arms of St. John and the holy women. As we look to-day at the method of picturing these sacred scenes there seems to be nothing incongruous in a Magdalen at the foot of the cross attired in a rich ddcolletde costume of the Middle Ages, of other women in hennin or turban-like headdresses, in the dresses of the chief priests and officials, the arms and accoutrements of the soldiers and their sturdy Flemish horses. It is the poetry and piety of the last days of Gothic times combined, before the completed Renaissance of the sixteenth century made the cultivation of religious art more exclusively the property of the rich, and we may be grateful that we owe to the art of wood-carving an expression of sentiment which in talent of execution reached a height in its way comparable with that of the masters of painting.
WOOD SCULPTURE IN GERMANY IN THE FIFTEENTH AND EARLY SIXTEENTH CENTURIES
THE flourishing period of German art in woodcarving extends from about the middle of the fifteenth, to the middle of the sixteenth, centuries. If,during this period, it cannot be said thatGermany took the lead, at any rate it was conspicuously in the forefront, and the output of figure work for the adornment of altarpieces and shrines, for choirs and choir-stalls, was nothing less than prodigious. But the extent of the empire was great, and we have to consider the reciprocal influences exercised on its various constituent parts, its commercial position on the main route between the Alps and the north, between Venice and the Flemish and Dutch capitals; on the other hand, internal conditions of government, the absence of centralization, the existence of several Free towns, and the restricted means of communication between the provinces, making, for example, Saxony and Thuringia dependent on Franconian schools of art—all these things combining to produce a complication so diverse that it is impossible to treat the subject comprehensively as a whole within reasonable limits. Nor can we forget also that the period with which we shall be most concerned is precisely the one when there was almost a general upheaval in everything connected with the arts, resulting partly from the advancing religious changes, but above all from the strides which the principles of the Renaissance were making. It is true that Germany remained steadfastly faithful to Gothic ideas until close on the end of the fifteenth century, and resisted the Italian invasion longer than other countries. All art continued to be exclusively religious. Even when the enthusiasm for antique styles had established itself in the German Renaissance, still, more than with other peoples, Gothic methods of treatment, in the ornament derived from natural forms, predominated. The ideas of the transitional period found in Germany a favourable soil for their development. Gothic here, modern framing there, with old models revived and adapted, we find greater independence in the design and construction of separate ornaments, less subordination to the general architectural motive, more freedom and an increased intelligence of the individual artist resulting from the extensive travels in other countries which were the rule in his wander-years, before he set up for himself with the grade of master. Remains of earlier art in wood are, as elsewhere, scarce. There are a few—for example the doors of St. Maria im Kapitol at Cologne—but we shall not stay to consider these. There are also a certain number of twelfth-century Madonna figures and colossal crucifixes which may find brief mention in the section devoted to early figure work of this kind. And certainly, if in wood we can advance absolutely nothing to form a link between this archaic figure work and the newly awakened realism which characterizes the prolific period of the decline of Gothic ideas, it must not be forgotten that in the thirteenth century the great cathedrals of Bamberg, of Naumberg, and of Strassburg, were adorned with statuary which vied with, even if it were derived from, that of Chartres or of Reims. The earliest impulse towards naturalism in German wood-carving was undoubtedly from the Netherlands. Reaching first the neighbouring provinces, the new system spread rapidly throughout the empire, and in those more distant from IN GERMANY
its source would seem to have been adopted with more freedom than in the north-west, where we find very numerous importations of the most imposing of Flemish retables and the like. Indeed, these are more numerously represented in North Germany and in Sweden at the present day than in their country of origin. We shall be particularly occupied with the retables and the single figures made to adorn them, of that part of the empire in the district of the Upper Rhine comprising the Franconian and Suabian schools. There will be found, of course, a general character which, while strongly allied to that of Flanders from which it sprung, possesses its own distinctive, absolutely German type. The faces of the women are rounder and more of a simple peasant order, those of the men bony, haggard, and ascetic in the case of the older ones; the hands have peculiarly long and knotted fingers; the hair of the men is of a uniformly adopted fashion of masses of thick curls, so uniform as to become monotonous. The draperies, especially towards the end of the period in question, carry to the utmost extravagance the complications and angularities of folds, breaking up into innumerable crooked tucks and pleats, which, far from being suggestive of reality, present, on the contrary, an appearance unlike anything which ordinary stuffs could assume. The inclination towards naturalism becomes more and more pronounced until it develops into attempts at reproducing realities in the human form, regardless of beauty for its own sake, which are almost revolting. It is the cult of the ugly, which, from time to time in all arts and in all periods, seems to exercise such a strange fascination. It will be necessary to confine our attention almost entirely to the most important of the two great districts or groups, which may be distinguished roughly as North German, with the Lower Rhenish provinces around the centre of the wood-carving industry at Calcar, and the South