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PISA was vanquished—Pisa where the first architects and the first sculptors of Italy had arisen—Siena was reduced to a semi-voluntary silence, and the Florentine Republic was strongly defined in the face of the rival cities. And now Italian factionalism, which has been but slightly characterized during the chaos of the Middle Ages and which, moreover, has been restrained by a group of beliefs held in common and by the spiritual ascendancy of the Papacy—Italian factionalism is becoming more pronounced. On this burning soil, full of illustrious memories, the municipal spirit tends toward a political idea calculated to fortify still further the passionate individualism   which was to transform Europe. France is exhausting herself through the effort that she has put forth. The cathedral weakens and trembles on its too slender supports. It is not upon its soil, rendered sterile by an interminable war, and in the heart of an unhappy people that the elements of the shattered energy of Europe will be reborn. This role will belong to Flanders and to Italy.

But these elements will not attain again their cohesion in Italy any more than in Flanders. Italian individualism does not understand bowing to the requirements of unity. When the arts in their association were expressing the multitude, they seemed to issue from one mind. They appeared divided and hostile when they expressed a single individual. Every Italian artist willingly took the title of architect, sculptor, and painter. But rarely did he speak with equal power the three languages to which he laid claim. Even after the mediaeval spirit had everywhere dragged down the strength which had erected the monument representative of faith and of the city, Italy did not wholly cease producing architects. War was still agitating the republican cities, and over the flagstones of the streets there was ever the necessity for those hard rectangular palaces, high and bare, that Brunelleschi erected to face the lacework of the churches, to assert, in defiance of the invading soul of the north, the survival of the Latin. She formed fewer sculptors. She saw the birth of so many painters that she seemed to have invented painting, and the memory of the deeds she wrought at this time has not yet ceased affecting us.

From the thirteenth century onward, painting expressed Italian individualism. The Sienese Gothics and Giotto and Cimabue were already making altar pictures or painting their decorations directly on the walls at a time when Frenchmen and Flemings had no other knowledge than that of stained glass or the illuminating of missals. When the Italian painters, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, asked the Flemish painters for the secrets of their technique, they did so because they felt that the language of painting was the one that had always been meant for them. As their natural genius forbade them borrowing from the Flemings anything but the external processes, and as nothing was known about the painting of antiquity, they were, from the first, as painters, themselves—and nothing but themselves. If they were influenced by the sculptors and the humanists, it was by way of so many commentaries and new temperaments that the influence reached them, so that it gave only a more marked character to their work.

The sculptors, on the contrary, claimed that their inspiration was drawn from the ancient works. Nicola Pisano had a collection of old sarcophaguses. His successors, Giovanni, Nanni di Banco, Jacopo della Quercia, Donatello, and Ghiberti were nourished at the warmest hearths of life that the world has ever known, and yet not one of them, whatever the freedom of his inspiration or the fresh vigor of his language, not one of them forgot that on this soil, a thousand years before, had arisen, cities of marble. When still a boy, thin and poor, Donatello followed Brunelleschi to Rome. There they lived like brigands, their hands hardened by the pickax and the spade; the wild vines and the fig trees were the ladders by which they scaled the walls in order to measure their opening and thickness; they passed whole days in the subterranean darkness of the old buried temples, and went mad when they had unearthed a column, a statue, or a cluster of four or five old stones. . . Upon their return they understood better the reasons for their pride.

And so it was not the weight of the memories of antiquity that hampered the growth of sculpture in Italy. She felt too imperious a need of affirming her inner glory to consent to ask the ancient statue makers anything more than a mental discipline, whose chief effect was to accentuate her expressive power even while it attempted to overcome her. If, indeed, sculpture was never the chosen language of her artists, it was because it is difficult to isolate sculpture from the architecture that gives it birth, because in itself it is architecture, since it always responds to the social and religious life of a whole people in action, summarizing the general aspirations of that people when its temples are threatened. It has not the power to dissemble nor to choose; it is in space that it must live its impersonal life; defined on every side, it fails when it tries to hide forms from our eyes in order to impose other forms upon us and to pass from one set of forms to another by those imperceptible gradations, in the use of which painting excels. Too intense to remain quite the master of himself, too subtle to go straight to his object, the Italian never spoke, as the French or the Greeks did, that relentless language which forbids the imagination to go beyond the limits of logical planes and well-defined volumes.

Like his Roman ancestor who, when the sculptors brought Greek formulas to Rome, preserved the Latin spirit there only when he hollowed out his sarcophaguses or the walls of his arches of Triumph, the Italian artist did not really know how to work stone save when he approached the decorative bas-relief where light and shadow seize upon the form to bend it to the needs of the sculptors. Sculpture and painting have always followed, step by step, the outbursts and the eclipses of the spirit of individualism. The least individualistic people of the ancient world, the Egyptians, treated painting itself as sculptors, seeing it only as profiles projected like flat shadows upon the walls. The most highly individualized people of the modern world, the Italians, treated sculpture as painters—Jacopo della Quercia being the possible exception. The Alexandrian bas-relief affirmed ancient individualism as the Italian bas-relief was to indicate to the artists the means of getting away from the sentiment held by the mass of the people, in order to found a new intellectual order. Whenever impersonal art becomes weak, sculpture passes into painting by the intermediary of the image carved on the walls.

Painting is the language of the uncertainties, the outbursts and the retreats of the heart. It is no longer the rebellious material whose wounds, once they are inflicted, are never to be concealed, and which obeys only him who can accept a great collective idea, whose soul moves with security in the closed circle of a social organism that seems unshakable. Stone dominates the mind; it is more ancient than the mind. Man has brought painting under the direction of the mind. It follows his hesitations and his meanderings and his progressions; it bounds or contracts or veils itself with him. It is the language of intellectual passion. It defines the individual.

Therefore, it is by painting especially that Italy has spoken to us. But even in this art she could not have more than a personal conception of the painted surface. The function of a superior mind is to tear the crowd away from its customary idols in order to impose on it those idols which the ardor of his meditations gives to this mind the right and assigns the duty to pursue until death. The walls of the churches and of the municipal palaces alone are sufficiently in view and vast enough to appease the fever of the artist, the eagerness for sentiment of the spectator, and the pride of the priest and the city. Fresco, which, moreover, was counseled by reason of the transparence of the Florentine atmosphere, the clearness of tones and contours, the bareness of Roman walls that had neither windows nor stained glass—fresco became the natural language of all the Tuscan painters. The old masters of the Middle Ages, Cimabue, Giotto, Duccio, Simone Martini, the Gaddis, the Lorenzettis, and Orcagna, scarcely knew any other. Cennino Cennini wrote an ingenuous and touching book about it. When the new awakening comes, Angelico takes possession of it, Masaccio gives it an accent that no one after him can recover, and Michael Angelo makes of it a terrible instrument which causes the whole monument to quiver. It seems as if Andrea del Castagno, Filippo Lippi, Uccello, Ghirlandajo, and Luini are really themselves only through it and thanks to it. Antonio Pollaiuolo and Botticelli, above all, discover themselves in it, become proud and grave and simple as soon as they employ it, and recall, by the depth and purity of their accent, the character of life surprised like a shadow on the wall by the old Etruscan decorators. Fresco was born of a close collaboration between the artist and the mason. How many researches in common were needed, how many discouraging setbacks and bruised enthusiasms there were before the painter was acquainted with the qualities of his material, before he knew how to prepare it, to wait for it, and to seize the instant when it should demand that he deliver to it the final flower of his soul, which he had long been cultivating in his drawings and cartoons! They left their beds in the last hours of the night in order to paint before the sun should dry the walls; all day long they lived in feverish expectation of those admirable moments when they communed with the stone for the sake of the eternity of the spirit. The life of their passions was no more than the superior and tyrannical preparation for the mission to which they felt themselves called. They made of fresco a profound instrument from which they knew how to draw such dramatic accents that the flame of their hearts seems even now to set the walls on fire. There are neither hesitations nor alterations. In order for the damp mortar, in its gradual hardening, to be able to seize the color and crystallize it, to take a little of its splendor, and to give it the earthy and dull beauty of the water and the stone with which it was incorporated, there was needed that sweeping rapidity of the Italian soul, which never retraces its steps, which is forever furious and goaded because it cannot outstrip itself. The especial character of fresco is its ability to fix the moment of passion in a material as solid as meditation.

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