Page images

figure in the Berlin Museum, ascribed by Dr. Bode to Montanez. It is still more expressive of grief, with solid tears of crystal upon the painted cheeks. Both are of oak, and painted in oils. It would be impossible to pass by the celebrated statue of St. Francis in the cathedral of Toledo, though we may not agree with the somewhat extravagant praise which has been given to it. At one time attributed to Alonso Cano, it is now generally admitted to be by Pedro da Mena. There is another, at one time in the Odiot collection, with which it has considerable analogy, and, indeed, as it is more generally known and as opportunities for examining it are more favourable, one may be justified in considering it by far the finer of the two. Both are of walnut, fully painted. The saint is represented in his habit, the hood drawn over his head, the waist girdled with a cord, the pale ascetic face, that one sees in the depth of the hood, calm, yet, as it were, in an ecstasy of pious suffering. Of the time there is certainly no other work so fine in painted Spanish sculpture in wood.



FIGURES for crucifixes, statuettes, and groups of the Virgin and Child, and single figures of various saints, in Gothic and pre-Gothic times, form a very important division of our subject. All art of these periods being religious art, the first named are almost sufficient by themselves to reconstitute the history of sculpture and its development through the Romanesque period and until the Gothic merged into Renaissance methods. But whatever may have been the relative importance of wood sculpture among the other arts, it must not be forgotten that, equally with monumental figure work, it held its place in subordination to architecture. An examination of this class of the figure work of the earlier period would show two different types: the one resulting from carefully transmitted traditions derived from oriental sources, the other the rude efforts of the independent self-taught artist doing his best to copy faithfully from models, which, in one way or another, came into his hands. Some examples are evidently the work of simple country people rather than of trained artists or established workshops, but they are on this account none the less touching and valuable. In previous chapters frequent references have been made to the gradual emancipation of the artist from the hieratic domination which had long prevailed. But our information is vague indeed concerning the practical methods by which this was accomplished. From the designing and erection of buildings and their monumental sculpture, down to the smallest details of artistic work of any description, the impulse and direction were in the hands of the monasteries, but we have no means of knowing what was the actual work of the monks and what of lay artists outside their precincts. There are references to monastic art in the carving of crucifixes in the chronicles of Subiaco of the second half of the eleventh century, which prove their activity in this line, but, as usual, the information is vague. Even with regard to dates we have to be content with such vague ascriptions as the eleventh or twelfth century. Now the lapse of a hundred years is a considerable time, and from the beginning of one century to the end of another involves twice as long. In addition, we have to bear in mind the persistence of types and the copying and adapting which would have gone on for perhaps a century longer. It is unfortunate that our examples of an earlier date than the eleventh century are few indeed. When we reach the twelfth they become, even if still few in number, of the highest importance, not only as connecting links in the evolution of the arts, but also from their own intrinsic beauty. The dark ages, during which all arts had slept except the art of war, had passed. Everything was waking up. It was the age of literature, of chivalry, of devotion, and of a passionate longing for graphic expression. The archaic, squat proportions of the figure sculpture, the total disregard of truth to nature, and a uniform blank stolidity of expression give place to a tendency towards the opposite extreme, and the effort to express elegance of form is sought after in an exaggerated length of limb and straightflowing draperies in parallel folds. Progress is comparatively rapid, and sculptural art seems to have arrived in the thirteenth century at the point of its highest idealistic expression. Unfortunately we cannot hope to find in our museums and churches many examples of single figures in wood. Even in monumental sculpture what exists are, for the most part, on the facades of famous cathedrals, saved, by their position, from the destructions which a law of nature seems to impose on every country from time to time. In addition, there is the perishable nature of wood.

The crucifix (more strictly, the figures for crucifixes) is one of the most important applications of sculpture to religious purposes; but examples in any material of an earlier date than the twelfth, or of mid-Gothic type than the fourteenth, century are of extreme rarity. In ivory there exist scarcely any at all earlier than the seventeenth century, but in wood rood figures abound in all countries except in England. It will be unnecessary here to review the history of the representation of the crucifixion. I have referred to it at considerable length in my Ivories of this series. Many centuries —five hundred years at least—passed by before the reverential awe which hung about all reference to the sacred event permitted any representation at all in which a human figure should be used, and many more during which the figure was hardly more than a conventional formula. St. Gregory of Tours, about 593, mentions a painting in the church of Narbonne representing Christ on the Cross. He remarks that the Saviour was unclothed, except by a loin-cloth, and that this nudity was a cause of scandal to the faithful. {In gloria Mariyrum, 22.) It would not be difficult, starting from the doors of Santa Sabina in Rome and continuing up to the crucifix which Brunelleschi made in competition with Donatello, to write from the examples we have in wood alone the story of the evolution of the crucifix as we find it in the universal type of to-day. But it would require more space than we have at our disposal and many illustrations. A

« PreviousContinue »