The Life and Works of Vittorio Carpaccio

By Pompeo Molmenti; Gustav Ludwig et al. | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

THE more ancient mosaics in S. Mark's would suggest to the observer that no School of Art in Italy is more mystic and symbolic in its origin than that of Venice. The walls of the great sanctuary of the Republic are overlaid with gold; ascetic saints, austere prophets and emaciated virgins, their gaze lost in the Infinite, stand forth from an ideal background entirely of gold, representing the radiance of the Empyrean seen through the rifts of the blue vault of heaven. The single figures stand alone, seemingly without relation one to another, in a cold and transcendent aloofness which would seem to exclude any tenderness of feeling from their hearts and render them inaccessible to any prayer that could ascend towards them from this earth.

This mode of pictorial representation, where symbolism is so closely allied to the artist's vision, seems scarcely to embody the Art of that hard-working community of active and practical men who drew their livelihood exclusively from trade and traffic. All, however, becomes clear if we remember that at the outset of Venetian life Art was not of indigenous growth, but rather an importation from Byzantium; although it was in Venice that the imaginative features of Byzantine Art, filled with symbolism and wealth of fancy, attained its greatest brilliance. When in later ages all Italy awoke to the cult of Classic Antiquity, in Venice also the Art of Painting forsook the immaterial world of the ideal for regions more akin to reality. With the revival of the sense of form a host of lovely figures invaded the churches, bearing with them, potentially at least, the feelings, joys and sorrows of this present world. The backgrounds of the paintings no longer represent Infinity but are limited by the laws of space, and Madonnas of benign and gentle mien receive the homage of the faithful from niches ornamented with mosaics, sculpture and oriental lamps. The Madonna is attended by Saints, still imperfect in form and somewhat awkward in treatment, yet the expression of whose countenances is not devoid of

-xxvii-

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