The History of Modern Painting - Vol. 2

The History of Modern Painting - Vol. 2

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The History of Modern Painting - Vol. 2

The History of Modern Painting - Vol. 2

Read FREE!

Excerpt

INASMUCH as modern art, in the beginning of its career, held commerce almost exclusively with the spirits of dead men of bygone ages, it had set itself in opposition to all the great epochs that had gone before. All works known to the history of art, from the cathedral pictures of Stephan Lochner down to the works of the followers of Watteau, stand in the closest relationship with the people and times amid which they have originated. Whoever studies the works of Dürer knows his home and his family, the Nuremberg of the sixteenth century, with its narrow lanes and gabled houses; the whole age is reflected in the engravings of this one artist with a truth and distinctness which put to shame those of the most laborious historian. Dürer and his contemporaries in Italy stood in so intimate a relation to reality that in their religious pictures they even set themselves above historical probability, and treated the miraculous stories of sacred tradition as if they had been commonplace incidents of the fifteenth century. Or, to take another instance, with what a striking realism, in the works of Ostade, Brouwer, and Steen, has the entire epoch from which these great artists drew strength and nourishment remained vivid in spirit, sentiment, manners, and costume. Every man whose name has come down to posterity stood firm and unshaken on the ground of his own time, resting like a tree with all its roots buried in its own peculiar soil; a tree whose branches rustled in the breeze of its native land, while the sun which fell on its blossoms and ripened its fruits was that of Italy or Germany, of Spain or the Netherlands, of that time; never the weak reflection of a planet that formerly had shone in other zones.

It was not until the beginning of the nineteenth century that this connection with the life of the present and the soil at home was lost to the art of painting. It cannot be supposed that later generations will be able to form a conception of life in the ninteenth century from pictures produced in this period, or that these pictures will become approximately such documents as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries possess in the works of Dürer, Bellini, Rubens, or Rembrandt. The old masters were the children of their age to the very tips of their fingers. They were saturated with the significance, the ideals, and the aims of their time, and they saturated them with their own aims, ideals, and significance. On the other hand, if any one enters a modern picture gallery and picks out the paintings produced up to 1850, he will often receive . . .

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