The Dusk of Mankind (part II)

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But the early fervor is soon to be transformed; something a little wearied is to touch the force of the marble. Very quickly the forms lengthen, become more slender, flow like a single caress, and tremble with sensual agitation, with shame invaded by love. The modeling undulates gently, the passage becomes insistent, insinuates itself, and, little by little, effaces the plane. Wandering hollows dapple the skin, the breasts are uncertain flowers which never quite open, the neck swells as if with sighs, the knot of hair secured by the fillets weighs on the beautiful round head over which the tresses course like a stream. As at the end of Egypt, it is the troubled farewell to woman, a farewell in which sleeps the hope of distant resurrections. Look, after seeing the "Victories," after the "Dancers" of Delphi—so natural in their grace that they make one think of a tuft of reeds—look at the "Leda" as she stands to receive the great swan with the beating wings, letting the beak seize her neck, the foot tighten on her thigh—the trembling woman subjected to the fatal force which reveals to her the whole of life, even while penetrating her with voluptuousness and pain. And that is still religious, grave, barely infected by heady agitation, barely turning towards the slope of sensual abandon—it is like the adieu of Greece to the noble life of the pagans. The heroic era of paganism begins its death struggle with a smile that is a little melancholy, but tender and resigned. It seems as if this admirable race had had a feeling of the relativity of our knowledge and as if it had accepted the beginning of its decline as simply as it had accepted its dawn.

Thus, through criticism and sensuality, Greece came to study the actual man and to forget the possible man. Lysippus began again to cast athletes in bronze, muscular and calm young men, whose immediate life, no longer the inner one, goes no deeper than their rippling skin. The form, indeed, is always full and pure; it is dense and unsettled, but coherent, and has the look of a thing conceived as a whole. When these athletes left the stadium they seemed to descend from the temple, so well did the serenity, the assurance of their strength, still concentrate in them. But the hieratic idea of the first periods of sculpture, the divine idea of the great century, no longer interposed between them and the statue maker, who saw them directly. At the same time and by the same means he turned his sculpture toward those character portraits which, in reality, we know only by the Roman copies. The earlier ones—that of Homer, for example—reveal to us disenchanted nobility, discriminating fineness and reserve. But later we find fever, excessive sensitiveness, and virtuosity in description. It is a movement, moreover, which announces the gravest social crisis. Art is no longer a function of the race; it begins to make itself dependent on the rich man, who is to turn it away from its heroic course more and more, to demand of it portraits and statues for apartments and gardens.

The last of the great monuments of the classic epoch, the Mausoleum of Scopas and Bryaxis, is made for a private individual. King Mausolus, and, by an irony which partakes of the symbolic, this monument is a tomb. It is living, certainly—nervous, sparkling, and impregnated with intelligence. In the warriors, in the Amazons and their horses, in the races, the flights, and the attacks, there circulates a free, proud. and delicate spirit, a rapidity of thought which almost forestalls the action, which brings into the material the resonance of the armor, the neighing of the horses, the sound of their hoofs beating on the ground, and of the vibrations of javelins and tightly drawn bowstrings. The chisel attacks the marble with the conquering fire of a too ardent mind in anxious haste to set down at the flood tide of its excitation, an enthusiasm already tainted with doubt. With its extreme elegance of form, its sharp mordant expression, and its direct gesture, it is a cool breeze that crosses an early evening. There are constant parallelisms between fold and fold, between limb and limb, between movement and movement. The empty spaces are very empty, we no longer feel the passage of that abstract wave through which the volumes penetrated one another and, from end to end of the pediment, gave the effect of a sea whose crests brought with them the hollows—which heave to a crest again. The hollow is isolated here, the wave is isolated; picturesque and descriptive detail profits by this dissociation to appear and impose itself. It is to tend, more and more, to predominate over the philosophic ensemble.

The evolution of the great periods is approximately the same everywhere; but in Greece from the seventh to the third century it appears with an astonishing relief. Man, when he realizes himself, proceeds like nature, from anarchy to unity, from unity to anarchy. At first the scattered elements have to seek one another in the darkness of the mind. Then the whole mass of the chaotic creature is weighed down by the soil, which clogs its joints and clings to its heavy steps. Then the forms disengage themselves and find their proper places and agreement; their logical relationships appear, and each organ adapts itself more and more closely to its function. In the end the rhythm is broken, form seems to flee from form, the mind seems to wander at random, the contacts are lost, the unity disintegrates. Thus there are in Greek art four definite epochs: the Primitives, Aegina, the Parthenon, the Mausoleum. First, the stammering analysis followed, with the Archaic men, by a brief and rough synthesis. Then, when the mind is mature, a new and short analysis, luminous and compelling, which ends, with a single bound, in the conscious synthesis of a society in equilibrium. Finally, a last research which Is not to reach its goal, which is to dissipate itself more and more until it has reduced its fragments ad infinitum, has broken all the old bonds, and has, little by little, lost itself through lack of comprehension, fatigue, and the urgent need of a great, new power of feeling.

His forgetting of the essential relations causes the artist to become concerned over the accident, the rare movement, the exceptional expression, the momentary action and, most of all—when men turn back to the horizon of the mystical, the artist's solicitude takes the form of looking for fright, pain, delirium, for physical suffering, and sentimental impulses of all kinds. The plastic synthesis undergoes the same disintegration. It is then that detail appears; it tyrannizes over the artist. The attribute invades the form. The latter gesticulates in vain as if it wanted to defend itself, the attribute rivets itself on like a chain. Lyres, tridents, scepters, lightnings, draperies, sandals, headdresses—the whole rag bag of the studios and the theatrical dressing-room makes its entrance. The deep lyrism of the soul subsides, there is need for an external lyrism to mask its exhaustion. It was enthusiasm that made the statue divine; how is the god to be recognized now if he has no scepter and no crown? Faith uplifted the material and made lightning flash from it to the very heavens of human hope. That is over with. The statues need wings. In the fifth century the wing was rare on the shoulders of the gods. It was to be found among the Archaics as they tried to tear form from the chains of matter. It is found among the decadents where it tries to raise the form, whose own ardor no longer sustains it. The "Victory of Samothrace" already has need of wings to rise from the prow of the ship, because of the complication of the wet draperies which weigh on her legs and make heavy her terrible sweep, the turn of her bust, and the tempest of flight, of clarions, and of the wind that rises in her wake.

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