Page images
PDF
EPUB

prince like Federico di Montefeltro, might lead us to infer that he was possessed of some claims to attention superior to those of the numerous painters whom the Duke of Urbino attracted to his court. It is, however, but fair to the painters of Italy to suppose, that Justus was employed in consequence of his knowledge of oil medium, and not because of any surpassing talents in art. That such men as Pietro della Francesca, Paolo Uccello, Fra Carnevale, Melozzo da Forlì, and Luca Signorelli, should always have painted in the old and well-known method of tempera is easily conceived, when we consider the facility with which they used it, and their high attainments in art; and we are inclined to think that they looked with less jealousy upon the followers of the new system than has been generally supposed. The neglect of Giovanni Santi to mention the names of Justus and Van der Goes in his verses in praise of John Wan Eyck and Roger Van der Weyden, may be explained by supposing that he intended only to notice the greatest men of art in each country. To accuse him of neglecting Justus because of jealous feelings towards that painter, on account of his secretly practising oil medium, is to suppose that the improvements were considered of such paramount importance as to have become a necessity in Italy; whereas, the history of art proves to us that amongst the painters of central Italy the sincere admiration for the minuteness and patience of the Flemings did not proceed so far as to create the immediate desire to use their improvements, the majority rather shrinking from a style which was opposed, in more than one sense, to all their previous teaching. This feeling was so strong

that the Tuscan schools long held aloof even from that of Venice, which, in their view, sacrificed the great aims of composition and design to the secondary one of colour. We cannot, in truth, discover in Urbino a single example of a painter influenced by the Flemish manner, or the teaching of Justus of Ghent. If, however, a certain similitude of feeling is to be noticed between Flemish and Umbrian painters, we should point to the production of draperies of a certain angular form, such as are to be found in Giovanni Santi. This peculiarity, however, we believe attributable in this painter to the influence of Melozzo da Forlì, who, notwithstanding the teaching of Pietro della Francesca, was characterised by some of the manner of Mantegna. In the painters of that period in Italy we already find the tendency to abandon the simplicity of the early Italian artists; and, in search of greater detail of form, to fall into a certain dryness and angularity of fold. The Italians, however, escaped from this unfavourable impression after they became masters of the form, which they idealized; but the Flemings never made a step in that direction. We now turn to the consideration of a picture in the possession of Sir C. Eastlake, attributed to Justus of Ghent, and one of the best that issued from the school of the Van Eycks. The subject (for of that we must first speak) is the sepulture of a holy personage, whose mitre proclaims him to be a high dignitary of the Church. The body of this figure, clothed in full costume, and wearing the purple, is partially lowered into a tomb by two uncowled monks, surrounded by princes of the Church and others, both clerical and lay. A bishop waves the censer over his feet, whilst a silent crowd of Churchmen and others looks on in pious silence. The scene of this solemn ceremony is laid in a Gothic church dedicated to St. Peter, as appears from the statue of that saint standing in a niche above the altar. This portion of the sacred building is itself adorned with a large bronze reliquary, in which St. Hubert is enshrined, and is surmounted by a Cruci-. fixion in chiaro-'scuro. The stone railing which surrounds the altar is sufficiently wide to allow spectators a view of the ceremony, and curious heads are visible at each interstice, looking with varied expressions at the burial. On the pinnacles of the columns which support the arches of the choir are statues of the Apostles. More than one quality seems to constitute the excellence of this picture, and place it amongst the best of the Flemish school of the Van Eycks. These qualities are to be found in the composition and perspective of the whole, the types and character of the heads, the intelligence of form, as well as the variety and truth which mark the painter, and cause him to rival, in some instances, John Wan Eyck himself. Besides this, the artist has exhibited a degree of nature in the movements and grouping of his figures rarely to be found in other productions of the school of the Van Eycks. We have often noticed the peculiarities that distinguish the pupils of Hubert Van Eyck from those of John. The picture before us is marked by a fresh and luminous colour, and an even and well-blended series of tints; not by the dark, compact, and reddish tone peculiar to the pupils of Hubert. The manner of using the pencil—the execution, in fact, is more remarkable for ease of handling than

for the dry, hard, and marked outline so common in the works of the artists just mentioned. Nor do we discover other features peculiar to these men, such as the imperfect mode of using oil-colours. On the contrary, here we find the execution improved, as regards the practical use of colour to the standard of John Wan Eyck. In truth, the painter can only be said to have followed Hubert's manner, if we suppose him afterwards to have gone over to John's, learning by the change all the improvements peculiar to the latter. This is possible ; and were it otherwise, this picture would be the first example of its kind—that of a production from the hand of a pupil of Hubert, versed in the improvements of John. That Van der Goes and Cristus remained faithful to the manner of Hubert we know ; but not so the painter of the picture before us, which not only has some of the features of John Van Eyck, but many of those peculiar to Van der Weyden. Van der Weyden is to John Wan Eyck what the pupils of the elder brother were to Hubert. We must invert the terms, however. Whilst Hubert's scholars exaggerated his style by making their painting reddish, and heavy in tone, and dark in shadow, Roger Wan der Weyden exaggerated on the other side, being less powerful in colour and weaker in tint and tone than his master. In this particularity, the picture attributed to Justus more resembles Van der Weyden than John Wan Eyck. In local tones it lacks the vigour and force of the latter master, being clearer, more vague and transparent in shadow, whilst in the general intonation of the whole there is more lightness. These points are dwelt on for the sake of showing that, whilst the practical difficulties of oil-painting as regards chemical materials and manipulation have been overcome by the artist, he has been unable to rival John Van Eyck in the application of the principles of colour, as well as other essential qualities in art. The treatment of accessory parts, the touch of the pencil exhibited in the mode of finishing beards and hair, inferior as they are to similar parts in John Wan Eyck, make a nearer approach to Wan der Weyden's manner than to that of Hubert's pupils. Indeed, the clearness and transparence of the painting lead to the belief that the first covering may have been a tempera, and the last in oil—a method practised not unfrequently, it is believed, by Roger Wan der Weyden. Notwithstanding these points of resemblance, however, petween the attributes of the author of this picture and Roger Van der Weyden, especially as regards the practical parts of handling and colour, there are great features peculiar to the former, which remind us more of Wan der Goes and Justus of Ghent—the latter especially being characterised by the good composition, truthful distribution of groups, variety, and nice proportion of forms, energy of design, and nature of attitude, which we discover in the picture of Sir Charles Eastlake." For these qualities, doubtless, Dr. Waagen and Mr. Passavant were led to the same conclusions as ourselves; but we are inclined to dissent from the former in his opinion that there is a resemblance of style and execution between this picture and the Last Supper of St. Pierre at Louvain,

[ocr errors]
« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »