Modern Art: Being a Contribution to a New System of Aesthetics - Vol. 1

By Julius Meier-Graefe; Florence Simmonds et al. | Go to book overview
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GERMANY now made atonement for the dependence on French art that had marked the eighteenth century. Since the time of Dürer there had been no great painter in Germany, and even at this era of florescence the essential genius of German art expressed itself rather in design than in painting. On the other hand, Germany wag the one country in which the Germanic tradition had remained pure, and where the influence of the Renaissance had been almost imperceptible. The political events of the seventeenth century, the desolation wrought by the Thirty Years War, were not the only causes that deterred her from taking part in the beneficent artistic consummation, the migrations, so to speak, of the artistic instincts of various lands, that signalised the seventeenth, and still more, the eighteenth century. She was less impressionable than other countries. They, too, had known the scourge of war; we have, indeed, instances of nations who produced their greatest painters in periods of deepest political depression. The greatest poets of Germany sang in the darkest days of her history. If there is no parallel to this in her art, it is because her genius is deficient in the pictorial instinct. The German is a musician, a poet, but not a painter. This opinion may be maintained even before the works of the most brilliant of the early German masters, when we see these out of Germany. The Tribuna of the , Uffizi in Florence contains marvellous pictures both by Italians and Germans. Dürer Adoration of the Kings and Cranach Eve are classic examples of the masters, and as it happens, their pictorial qualities reach their highest point of accomplishment in these works, notably in the case of Dürer. (To see Cranach at his greatest, we ought perhaps to supplement the Eve by the Nymph in the Leipzig Museum.) Yet, looking at the two examples we have cited in this place, it is just their pictorial qualities that seem the least admirable of their merits. Marvellous as is the wealth of detail in the Dürer, exquisite as is the cool nud'ity of the Eve, they seem to belong to a different art from that of the Raphaels and Titians beside them. It is as if accident had provided their authors with the same materials for wholly different purposes, and it seems scarcely possible that their works should have been contemporary with Raphael's. What we admire in the one, we forget entirely before the other. This is not due to, a difference of personality, such as that which distinguishes a Raphael from a Leonardo; it is not the difference of nationality, as in the case of an Antonello and a Bellini, nor the dissimilarities of period and culture--for great as these may be, a simultaneous study not only of Italian and Northern examples, but of the works of all possible cultures, has so accustomed us to them that they have become hardly more than a question of costume. The difference here is one of species, irreconcilable as the antithesis on which they partly rest : that of painting and sculpture, the difference between two arts.

German art has never freed itself from the Gothic tradition. Its dearest, most characteristic qualities remained Gothic, even after the Gothic form had


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Modern Art: Being a Contribution to a New System of Aesthetics - Vol. 1


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