The following essay owes its origin to the author's belief that Venetian painting is the most complete expression in art of the Italian Renaissance. The Renaissance is even more important typically than historically. Historically it may be looked upon as an age of glory or of shame according to the different views entertained of European events during the past five centuries. But typically it stands for youth, and youth alone—for intellectual curiosity and energy grasping at the whole of life as material which it hopes to mould to any shape.
Every generation has an innate sympathy with some epoch of the past wherein it seems to find itself foreshadowed. Science has of late revealed and given much, but its revelation and gifts are as nothing to the promise it holds out of constant acquisition and perpetual growth, of everlasting youth. We ourselves, because of our faith in science and the power of work, are instinctively in sympathy with the Renaissance. Our problems do not seem so easy to solve, our tasks are more difficult because our vision is wider, but the spirit which animates us was anticipated by the spirit of the Renaissance, and more than anticipated. That spirit seems like the small rough model after which ours is being fashioned.
Italian painting interests many of us more than the painting of any other school not because of its essential superiority, but because it expressed the Renaissance; and Venetian painting is interesting above all because it was at Venice alone that this expression attained perfection. Elsewhere, particularly in Florence, it died away before it found complete utterance.
In order to keep the main idea clearly before the mind of the reader, to show him how the Renaissance reveals itself in Venetian painting, the introduction of anything not strictly relevant to the subject has been avoided. The salient points once perceived and connected with the more important painters, the reader will find no difficulty in seeing the proper place of any given work by a great master, or the relative importance of those second-and third-rate painters of whom no special mention has been made because they are comprised within what has been said about the greater artists.
But happily art is too great and too vital a subject to be crowded into any single formula; and a formula that would, without distorting our entire view of Italian art in the fifteenth century, do full justice to such a painter as Carlo Crivelli, does not exist. He takes rank with the most genuine artists of all times and countries, and does not weary even when "great masters" grow tedious. He expresses with the freedom and spirit of Japanese design a piety as wild and tender as Jacopo da Todi's, a sweetness of emotion as sincere and dainty as of a Virgin and Child carved in ivory by a French craftsman of the fourteenth century. The mystic beauty of Simone Martini, the agonized compassion of the young Bellini, are embodied by Crivelli in forms which have the strength of line and the metallic lustre of old Satsuma or lacquer, and which are no less tempting to the touch. Crivelli must be treated by himself and as the product of stationary, if not reactionary, conditions. Having lived most of his life far away from the main currents of culture, in a province where St. Bernardino had been spending his last energies in the endeavour to call the world back to the ideals of an infantile civilisation, Crivelli does not belong to a movement of constant progress, and therefore is not within the scope of this work.
To make the essay useful as a handbook to Venetian painting, lists have been appended of the works, in and out of Italy, by the principal Venetian masters. These lists do not pretend to absolute completeness. Only such private collections have been mentioned as are well known and accessible to students, although in the case of very rare painters all of their known works are given, and even such as are of doubtful authenticity are alluded to. The author has seen and carefully considered all the pictures he mentions, except one or two at St. Petersburg, which are, however, well known from the photographs of MM. Braun & Cie. The attributions are based on the results of the most recent research. Even such painstaking critics of some years ago as Messrs. Crowe and Cavalcaselle laboured under terrible disadvantages, because most of their work was done at a time when travelling was much slower than it has now become, and when photography was not sufficiently perfected to be of great service. Rapid transit and isochromatic photography are beginning to enable the student to make of connoisseurship something like an exact science. To a certain extent, therefore, Messrs. Crowe and Cavalcaselle have been superseded, and to a great degree supplemented by the various writings of Morelli, Richter, Frizzoni, and others. The author takes pleasure in acknowledging his indebtedness to the first systematic writers on Italian painting no less than to the perfectors of the new critical method, now adopted by nearly all serious students of Italian art. To the founder of the new criticism, the late Giovanni Morelli, and to his able successor, Dr. Gustavo Frizzoni, the author feels bound to ascribe many of his attributions, although a number are based on independent research, and for these he alone is responsible. Special thanks are due to a dear friend, Enrico Costa, for placing his notes of a recent visit to Madrid at the author's disposal. They have been used, with a confidence warranted by Signor Costa's unrivalled connoisseurship, to supplement the author's own notes, taken some years ago.
Having noted the dependence of scientific art study upon isochromatic photography, the author is happy to take this opportunity of expressing his gratitude to such able photographers as Löwy of Vienna, Tamme of Dresden, Marcozzi of Milan, Alinari Bros. of Florence, and Dominic Anderson of Rome, all of whom have devoted themselves with special zeal to the paintings of the Venetian masters. The author is peculiarly indebted to Signor Anderson for having materially assisted his studies by photographing many pictures which at present have a scientific rather than a popular interest.
The frontispiece is a reproduction of Giorgione's "Shepherd" at Hampton Court, a picture which perhaps better than any other expresses the Renaissance at the most fascinating point of its course. The author is indebted to Mr. Sidney Colvin for permission to make use of a photograph taken at his order.
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