Fontainebleau, the Loire and the Valois (part IV)

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In it there already awakens the need for an architectural system; it comes with force, but a force surrounded by that proud grace and by that sense of a nature made aristocratic with which the artists of that time delighted the feudal lords who had lost the coarseness of former times. The architectural system needed is one which shall tend to anticipate that agreement with the commands of the monarchical dogma, an agreement which is to be realized a century later. In Paris, Catherine reigns and Diane Is forgotten. The architect restrains his fantasy and concentrates it upon erecting, in the center of the city, the house symbolic of the autocracy. He is no longer in the heart of the woods, he has no longer to build the great hunting castle where the king, amid the gallantry of his court, comes to rest from war by hunting the stag and the boar, where he and the beautiful women about him direct the course of religion and diplomacy. The architect no longer follows Francis I, going from the verdant parks of the Loire, where the abundance of tranquil waters soothes the fatigue of his flesh, to the deep forests of the Ile de France, where his gross, carnal sensuality appeases itself in bloodshed. In these animated solitudes, if the architect had lost the sense of the need of the people which makes great architecture, the painter and the sculptor felt the rise in themselves of creative elements, the power of which only the pagan world had known. When one wanders the lengths of the mysterious avenues which stretch away beneath the sunny trees; when one listens to the sound of hunters' horns, to the calls, the gallops, and the flights under the branches growing faint in the distance; when, under the shade of an oak, one reads the poems of Ronsard, scented with boxwood and with laurel—it seems as if furtive apparitions of bare breasts and haunches were animating the bed of the peaceful waters where sail the black and white swans. Primaticcio, after Rosso, had brought from Mantua, to decorate Fontainebleau, the enormous and abundant knowledge of his master, Giulio Romano, who had been trained in the Farnesine and in whom the admirable grace of Raphael was stifling under the bestial sensuality that had been loosed, and under which the Italy of the sixteenth century suddenly foundered, after the prophets of the Sistine had made their voices heard. Both artists had met the nymphs of the French forests. Rosso, in order to recover them, disrobed the royal favorites who, like them, wore a crescent in their blond hair. Primaticcio carried them in disorder into the great waxed and gilded halls, audaciously extended their long, wavelike forms amid the golden frames of the mirrors, and set great herculean bodies beside the monumental fireplaces and the windows; with the flowering breasts, the full haunches, and the moving hips of the nymphs he grouped fruits, wheat, grapes, and vegetables which were brought from the fields and the trellises for the table of the king. A worldly Olympus installed itself at the edge of the motionless pools which at times, in the evenings, when the hunter's call resounded, were purpled by torches and by blood.

It is into this atmosphere, drunk with sensuality and with the open air, that all the artists were to enter, when once the increasing glory of the monarchy had swept them into its orbit. Among all of them, one feels Ronsard again, the odor of the woods, the breath that issues from cool caves, a murmur of running waters, and the nude women in whom the poet of the gardens saw beautiful columns entwined with grape vine and ivy. It is as exiles from their true century that these artists appear, apart from the multitude, apart from its needs, its sufferings, and the spirit that stirred it. Nowhere do we find Montaigne, save at times with the Clouets. Nowhere do we find Rabelais save in the valiant and savory humor of the good sculptor, Pierre Bontems. There is no echo of the horrible religious wars, no odor of the fagots that burn flesh and books. The Protestant artists themselves have not all felt the passing of Calvin. Perhaps even so, is there not a little of his stark nature in the tombs of Barthélémy Prieur? And doubtless it is his dry vigor and his anguish that Ligier Richier is bringing back when he sets up on a pedestal a decomposing corpse offering its heart to heaven or when he assembles around the dead Christ a harsh and thin group of weeping women and of the men who bear the body. But Jean Goujon, the greatest of them all, has not set foot in the country. He is a Huguenot, but more pure and more gentle than austere; he wanders from the Loire to Fontainebleau, never averting his eyes from the wheatfields and the waters that are silvered by the breath of the wind.

There is nothing more French among us than this man who yet has nothing of our easy good nature nor our bantering common sense, who owes to the Italians his education as an artist, and who is Hke a bond of union between France exiled in Italy with Giovanni da Bologna and Italy exiled in France with Primaticcio and Rosso. He is of that lyricism of France which very rarely appears alone, but whose flame arises as soon as Latin or Germanic lyricism has passed through the air near it. He is the impalpable idea which, from one end of this soil to the other, bends the harvests and the grasses with the wind. Whatever the material he works in, bronze or marble, statue or medallion, bas-relief or full round, he brings into sculpture, not the processes of painting as do the sculptors of the inferior periods, but a spirit which is not of painting, not even of music, that invisible fluid which passes with the winds, the perfumes, and the sonorous murmurs, through the air, the silence, and the waters; into his work he carries the whole of that diffused substance which floats restlessly in arrested forms—and even when the form stands alone and when around it there is neither air, nor silence, nor waters.

Have you seen how one of Jean Goujon's faces smiles over a bare shoulder, how a young breast blooms in the angle made by a bending arm? Have you seen the wave that runs through these limbs, these hard, arched feet, the high calves of the legs, the long thighs, all the slender roundnesses that hide muscles of iron, the great forms that are made for leaping in the forest in pursuit of the deer or to flee "like a trembling faun" when the royal huntsman crosses its path? From them comes forth an odor of watery moss, a breath of the damp forest. Those beautiful, pure arms which flow from the shoulders are a liquid column issuing from an urn; those torsos turn upon the haunches with the fluidity of the tides that meet and mingle before surrendering themselves to the same current; those draperies stirred by the breeze form lines like those on the surface of the water; there is a sound of springs and of fountains, of the lazy undulation of the willows, of the murmur of the poplars; one sees the long curves of the rivers of France and the silver gleam they make among the reeds and the water plants.

Truly, from Rosso and from Primaticcio to Jean Goujon, and especially with Goujon, there was in this art of the glades, of the ponds, and of the forests, this art of statues and of columns half seen behind a wall of branches, a most admirable sentiment of the feminine body amid nature. This sentiment was to decline very quickly in the measure that monarchical absolutism increased, but it could not fail to assert itself with the passionate vigor of a springtime both on the morrow of the nameless sufferings lived through by the people of France, and in the hope of a resurrection held out to the people by the young and beauty-loving royal family that fled from the devastated cities to take possession of itself. The art of an aristocracy, the art of a caste even, but superior to its function because it sprang like a young shoot from an old tree and because, in a language different from that spoken by the men who lived in the fever of the time—Rabelais, d'Aubigné, the reformers, the printers, the booksellers, and the inventors—it affirmed the invincible vitality of a race that had been crushed to earth by more than a hundred years of sorrow and misery. If the violent fervency of belief in the future, the characteristic of this century, is not felt in the work of Jean Goujon, he, more than any of the others, possesses its humanity, its profound and sacred tenderness for everything that represents the forces of to-morrow. Have we sufficiently noted that these poets of woman were also the poets of childhood? Have we sufficiently noted that the Gothic men, in the strength and in the hardihood of their life, had felt but little of the glory of the child which sprang from the mother's womb as a manifestation of their vigor, too facile and too frequent for them to think of representing it? Have we sufficiently noted that their love goes out to the woman as a mother, that it is the hips, one higher than the other, and her arm wearied by the weight that it carries, which aroused their tenderness lather than the child itself, which is almost always inexpressive and commonplace as it rests upon that arm?

The Italians alone, from the time of their old masters, from Giovanni Pisano, Jacopo della Quercia, and especially Donatello and the della Robbias, had bent attentively over childhood. The idealistic peoples are too much attached to the beauty perceived through the senses not to desire it wherever it is to be found; they are so thoroughly concerned with the future that they cannot fail to perceive it in the being who bears its secret within him. Is it their influence or is it rather the awakening of French individualism, the desire for general investigation, which seizes upon the western world in the sixteenth century? But Jean Goujon suddenly perceives the beauty of childhood, of childhood delicate and plump; and Germain Pilon, the learned sculptor, who seems scarcely to think of anything except how he may prove that he knows his trade of cutting in stone the faithful portraits of his kings or of setting up around funeral urns or extending upon tombs his beautiful forms, bare and full, feels the mystery of a childish face with a great swelling curve of the forehead, the exaggerated smallness of the nose, the exaggerated protrusion of the lips and cheeks, the delicious hesitation that makes all the features so unprecise; and Ligier Richier himself flees from his visions of hell and death as soon as there is a chance to model a skull as round as a ball and the fat, trembling mass, divine and fragile, of the flesh of a child swelling with blood and with milk. And thus we catch a glimpse of one of the faces of this time when the hope in the life of the world was sprouting amid the bruised flesh and the deadly vapors.

The end of the Italian wars, the end of the civil wars, and the definitive triumph of the monarchy which had been active and fighting constantly despite its moral decomposition and its luxury, were to take away the especial accent of French art which had been revived by Roman influence and by contact with the woods and the rivers. The king installs himself in the Louvre of Pierre Lescot and of Chambiges. The artist who follows him thither reads Malherbe instead of Ronsard; the streets of Paris and the words of Rabelais seem very coarse to him after having seen the palaces of Rome and of Venice, the Sistine of Michael Angelo, and the Stanze of Raphael. The fall will be as rapid as the rise was vigorous, and the artists who will mark the passage from the free invasion of Italian genius to the imposing dogmatism of the century of Louis XIV may rather be called witnesses of that passage than factors in it. Bernard Palissy and Jean Cousin are merely workmen in art. That which impresses us with the first man is that he has that human faith which made his century so powerful in western Europe. The second—painter, sculptor, glass maker, and geometrician—is scarcely more than the caricature of the universalist Italians, which the time demanded. Fréminet, the official artist, is a Michael Angelo of the mountebank's stage—his work is riddled with holes, covered with bumps, and full of wind. The soul of the people is mute. A terrible silence reigns over the work of the wearisome chatterers, of literature and painting who, during a third of a century, will mumble the law under the shadow of the throne.

No matter. All that was to be. The Italian Renaissance could not fail to react strongly upon us. Isolation kills. Peoples, like men, cannot live within themselves eternally. They have to penetrate one another in order to seek resources which their contacts with unknown imaginations and sensibilities will reveal. After these encounters there is almost always a partial receding, but a profound work is going on, an invisible march toward further realizations which will be the more vast and complex the greater the number of elements which have come to take part in them. Whether we will it or not, we must, in our battle for the ideas of the future, rely on the spirit that Renaissance Italy brought into us quite as much as on the popular strength which, in the Middle Ages, brought forth a thousand naves and two thousand towers.

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