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TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN OF KUGLER, BY A LADY.
EDITED, WITH NOTES,
BY SIR CHARLES L. EASTLAKE, F.R.S.,
PRESIDENT OF THE ROYAL ACADEMY.
WITH MORE THAN ONE HUNDRED ILLUSTRATIONS,
FROM THE WORKS OF THE OLD MASTERS, DRAWN ON WOOD, BY GEORGE SCHARF, JUN.
IN TWO PARTS.-PART II.
LONDON: PRINTED BY W. CLOWES AND SONS, STAMFORD STREET,
AND CHARING CROSS.
PERIOD OF HIGHEST DEVELOPMENT AND DECLINE.
MASTERS OF THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY.
All the elements which had existed apart from each other and had composed distinct styles in the periods hitherto considered, all the qualities which had been successively developed, each to the exclusion of the rest, but which in the aggregate fulfilled the conditions of a consummate practice of Art, were united about the beginning of the sixteenth century. This union constituted a most rare and exalted state of human culture—an era when the diviner energies of human nature were manifested in all their purity. In the master-works of this new period we find the most elevated subjects, represented in the noblest form, with a depth of feeling never since equalled. It was only for a short period that Art maintained this high degree of perfection-scarcely more than one quarter of a century! But the great works then produced are eternal, imperishable. They bear, indeed, the stamp of their own age, but are created for all ages; and as they were the pride and admiration of the time when they were produced, so they will awaken the enthusiasm of the latest posterity. For the truly beautiful depends not on external or local circumstances ; the Madonna di S. Sisto of Raphael, the Heroes of Phidias, Leonardo's Last Supper, and Scopas's group of the Niobe and her Children, belong not exclusively to Catholic Italy, nor to heathen Greece. In all places, in all times, their power must be felt, and must produce its impression on the heart of the spectator.
At the first glance it seems surprising that in this most flourishing period of modern Art there should appear no single supreme representative, as a prominent centre, to which all the others tend like the radii of a circle ; no highest consummation which can be considered as the term—the keystone, as it were—of this wondrous building. On the contrary, many individuals, many works of Art of various kinds, all equally estimable, are presented to our view. Even artists not especially gifted, have, in this favoured time, produced some works of high perfection; and although criticism may here and there detect external deficiencies, the same spirit of divine beauty breathes from them all; they still afford a higher gratification to the mind than the works of any other period, either earlier or later. But such is the essence of beauty, it is confined to no fixed canon, it pervades life in its whole extent, and may still be conceived freely, and represented in a freely created form, by the gifted artist, according to his individual feeling. Its principle is that of the sunbeam, which, though broken into various colours by the prism, is, in each portion, equally saturated with light.
Thus, in the period we now approach, we shall find several prominent groups, each of which, in cultivating peculiar qualities, produced the grandest works. We shall become acquainted with the individual masters who form the centres of these groups, and whose characteristics have been impressed more or less forcibly on their scholars and imitators.
The general course of history which is coincident with this wonderful epoch of Art would seem, at first sight, to warrant no such high results. The period was one totally unfavourable to the political interests of Italy. It was the time of the Leagues, and of the shallowest experimental policy that ever had been known. At that time foreign dominion established itself once and for ever in the land. But the highest development of art is not immediately dependent on the position of the State. Besides the conquerors and the politicians, who at that time disordered all its springs, Italy fortunately possessed princes like Pope Julius II., and magistrates like Pietro Soderini, who were keenly alive to those real and lasting benefits which a country derives from Art. She possessed also rich corporations who gave form and object to the aspirations of a painter, while they guaranteed his daily existence ;