AN ART BOOK FOR OUTSIDERS.*
Miss Tvmsn's Papers for Thoughtful Girls was so pleasant, wise, simple, and sympathetic a volume, that it almost made us wish The Old Masters and Theft' Pictures. By Sarah Tytler. London; Sisal= andCo, we could lay claim to belonging to the favoured class for whose edification and improvement it was written. It produced a guilty consciousness that we had no business with it, that the male reviewer, although, like Martin Chuzzlewit's acquaintance in the "cars," he have "grey hairs and a moral sense," had no right to meddle with these grave and gentle teachings, suggestions, and views put forth by a woman to girls on the verge of womanhood ; we felt somewhat of the same kind of confusion which has occasionallyover- whelmed us when we have indiscreetly meddled with the contents- of a workbox, thereby reducing bright-coloured silks to hopeless confusion, straining the joint of a pet pair of scissors, and drop- ping a thimble, which immediately conceals itself in some entirely hopeless cranny. But the book before us is of general applica- tion and interest, and is one to be recommended to the learners. and outsiders in art, for whose behoof it is specially inteuded.
The author has done wisely in avoiding definitions of schools, which should form a later and more elaborate portion of art education, and in grouping her painters according to what she holds. to be the primitive arrangements of time, country, and rank be Art. She gives a simple and sympathetic account of the great Old Masters in painting in every age and country, preceded by a bright critical sketch of early Italian Art, from which we take- the following definition of Giotto's work, as a fair sample of the truth and pleasantness of the book : — " He breathed into painting the living soul which had till then—.in mediasval times—been largely absent. Giotto went to Nature for his inspiration, and not content with the immense innovation of super- seding by the actual representation of men and women in outline, Slat, and attitude, the rigid traditions of his predecessors, he put men's passions in their faces,—the melancholy looked sad, the gay glad. This. result, to us so simple, tiled Giotto's lively countrymen, who had seldom seen it, with astonishment and delight. They cried out as at a marvel when he made the commonest deed even coarsely lifelike, AS in the case of a sailor in a boat, who turned round with his hand before- his face, and spat into the sea ; and when he illustrated the deed with the corresponding expression, as in the thrill of eagerness that per- ceptibly pervaded the -whole figure of a thirsty man who stooped down to drink. But Giotto was no mere realist, though he was a great realist; he was also in the highest light an idealist. His sense of harmony and beauty was true and noble ; he rose above the real into 'the things unseen and eternal' of which the real is but a ronghmani- iodation. He was the first to paint a crucifixion robbed of the horrible- triumph of physical power, and of the agony which i8 at its bidding, and invested with the divinity of awe and love."
There is little, perhaps nothing, that is novel in this book,—in- deed there there hardly could be, for it is not offered as criticism, aud- it avoids technicalities ; but we find in it traits and stories of the great painters which are not indeed unfamiliar, but are freshly set, and a summary of the work of each successively, his effect upon his own time, and his bequests to the ages admirably put, so as to take a ready, easy place in the- memory. Miss Tytler quotes too largely ; we wish she had given us her own impressions of Orcagna's "Triumph of Death," instead of Dean Alford's, which everybody knows, though his description is probably as good as any that ever will be written ; but the frequent borrowing of sentiments and descriptions gives an unnecessarily strong character of compilation to a volume which leads us to believe that its author might safely trust herself for such passages. Her picture of Ghiberti's famous gates is admirable, and so is her sketch of Masaccio, to which she adds an anecdote that contains a coincidence. At the age of twenty-six, Masaccio quitted Florence for Rome so suddenly that he left his finest frescoes unfinished, and there he. died shortly afterwards, not without a suspicion of having been poisoned. A curious anecdote exists of the identification of the- time when he forsook Florence to meet his death in Rome. "Just as we have read that the period of the death of Messinger the- dramatist has been settled by an entry in an old parish register, Died Philip Messinger,. a stranger,' so there has been found some quaint equivalent to a modern tax-paper which had been delivered at the dwelling of Masaccio, when the word 'gone' was written- down." With " 11 Beato" the author concludes her general sketch- of Italian art. She writes of the gentle, devout, enthusiastic Fra Angelico with much appreciation, but she is mistaken on one point Henever was "beatified," the loving epithet "II Beat,o," or the Blessed, was purely popular, and bestowed upon him daring his
A chapter on the early Flemish school is too brief ; the out-
siders for whom the book is intended are probably but little- acquainted with the family history of the Van Eycks, one of the most interesting among Art stories. Of course, Titian, Raphael, and Michael Angelo have their due precedence, and of course the inevitable story about Charles V. and Titian's brush is repeated here. But Miss Tytler makes the Emperor's pompous compliment clumsy by a literal translation, "The Titian is worthy of being served by the Cresar " is inadmissible English; we do not say, the Dante, the Tessa, though the article is used in
both French and Italian. A chapter on Tin toret is almost entirely made up of quotations from Mr. Ruskin, but the Caracci and Domenichino are treated in a simple, attractive style, much more intelligible to the class of readers for whom Miss Tytler writes, than the gorgeous dogmatism of the great art critic.
Spanish art does not fare quite so handsomely as the Flemish and Italian schools at the author's hands. We should not be inclined to suppose from her observations that she is personally acquainted with its masterpieces, the portion of the book devoted to them is Iso much more vague and artificial than the other divisions. She :gives an anecdote of Velasquez which we have not met with 'before :—
"It is said that, while painting 'The Water-carrier' day after day, and -when he had been engaged with his work for several hours, Velasquez found himself vexed by perceiving, as it were, the effect of a shadow cast by some of the drapery. Small flaw as it might have been, it appeared to him to interfere with and spoil the picture. Again and again, in endeavouring to do away with this 'shadow,' Velasquez undid portions of his work, and had to repeat them next day, but always, towards the end of the task, the insidious shadow stole upon his vision. At last a friend, who was present and full of admiration for the picture. heard Velasquez exclaim, That shadow again !' and saw him seize a brush and prepare to dash it across the canvas. The friend remon- strated, besought, and at last induced him to leave the picture un- touched till next day, when Velasquez discovered, to his great relief, that the shadow had been in his own wekried young eyes, and not in his admirable representation of The Water-carrier."
French art and artists are briefly, but well sketched, and when the writer takes up the Holbein and Van Dyck era, we get at a little more of her own mind than in the preceding chapters. Her
description of Holbein's grim woodcuts, and her criticisms of them, Btrike us as true, especially in the contrast which she draws
between their spirit and that of Albrecht Diirer's "The Knight, Death, and the Devil," or Orcagna's "Triumph of Death." "In Holbein's designs," she continues, "there is no noble, consoling faith ; there are but a fierce defiance and wild mockery of inevitable fate, such as go beyond the levity with which the Venetians in the time of the plague retired to their country houses, and danced, sang, and told tales till the pestilence was upon them.
'They have a closer resemblance to the piteous madness with which the condemned prisoners during the Reign of Terror in France rehearsed the scenes of the guillotine, or the terrible pageantry with which the Parisians professed to hail the arrival of the cholera."