Age of Enlightenment, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Arnold J. Toynbee, art patrons, Baldessare Castiglione, Beatrice Webb, Book of Genesis, Bronzino, Charles L. Mee, Christianity, Giulio Romano, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Hans Baldung-Grien, Hendrik Goltzius, Industrial Revolution, J. H. Elliott, J.H. Plumb, Leonardo da Vinci, Lucretia Panciatichi, Madonna with the Long Neck, Malcolm Muggeridge, Mannerism, Michelangelo, monotheism, Orsini Gardens, Palazzo Zuccari, Parmigianino, Pollution, Raphael, servants, Sidney Webb, The Book of the Courtier, Uffizzi Gallery, Vladimir Lenin
Something very strange happened in the world of the visual arts during the sixteenth century. In its opening years, the golden age of the Italian High Renaissance, the arts seemed to attain perfection. Leonardo, Raphael, the young Michelangelo, had shown that there was nothing that the artist could not do. Surpassing even the artists and craftsmen of classical antiquity, they had captured for their generation the lineaments of the ideal world that existed beyond the world of appearances. Beauty, harmony, proportion – these were the supreme characteristics of the ideal world of the Renaissance, an orderly, rational world in which man himself, divinely endowed with power and wisdom, walked godlike and majestic.
But moving on a generation or so, what do we find? The repose and serenity of the High Renaissance are gone, to be replaced by restlessness and confusion. The calm, statuesque figures have become strangely elongated, their gestures extravagant, their limbs so contorted as to remind us less of men than of corkscrews. Where is the proportion? Where the order? Where, above all, as we look at those incredible vegetable portraits by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, is the dignity of man?…
If we are to get any closer to this most stylish of styles, we must attempt to abandon our twentieth-century preconceptions and approach the sixteenth century on its own terms. In particular we must look at the changing relationship between patron and artist as the status of the artist was itself transformed. For the medieval artist had been, above all, a craftsman – a manual worker whose identity tended to be merged into that of his guild. But the artistic theories of the Renaissance depicted the painter, the sculptor, the architect, in a new and distinctly more flattering light. The artist became a man who possessed a special insight into the ideal world, together with the capacity to bring that world alive for less privileged mortals. He was no longer a mere craftsman, but a figure more akin to the gentleman scholar – a man of culture, insight, and intellect, with a nobility of soul that was inevitably mirrored in his work.
…The patron, for his part, was now at something of a disadvantage. He might have to move heaven and earth to acquire for his collection a work bearing the distinctive stamp of a Raphael or a Michelangelo.
To acquire for his collection. . .For the sixteenth century was pre-eminently the age of the collector. The discovery of new worlds overseas, and the increasingly close observation of nature, had brought home to European man the incredible variety and multiplicity of objects in the world he inhabited. Rich men who prided themselves on their taste and learning began to collect everything they could lay their hands on – gems, antique marbles and cameos, books and manuscripts, medals and bronzes, plants and animals, and every kind of outlandish artifact…
Artists naturally responded with delight to an environment of patronage in which they were expected to produce works that would display to the best advantage their own special vision and technical skills. They were expected to do their own thing – but to do it in ways that conformed to the mood and requirements of both their patrons and the times…
…The artist was more likely to find himself working for the court than for the city. The new patrons, whether princes, nobles, churchmen, or bankers, had their own special tastes or requirements, which were different from those of town councils or guilds. They wanted their artists to be courtiers, and they wanted them to express in their paintings the ideals and the aspirations of a courtly society. The handbook of this society was a best seller of the sixteenth century: The Book of the Courtier by Baldessare Castiglione, himself a connoisseur of the arts.
Also in this issue:
A letter from Editor Charles L. Mee, Jr reflects on Horizon’s 15th anniversary: ‘At fifteen, the youngster is still curious, still learning, and still very much alive and looking forward to the years ahead…Like most teenagers today, on some subjects it is very stubborn.’
In ‘The Genesis of Pollution’, Arnold J. Toynbee, who was then aged eighty-four, looks at an issue that had first come to prominence in the 1960s and was becoming ever more urgent. He looks back to the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment, as seen in the foundation of the Royal Society. He notes that the founders of the Royal Society were religious men:
…the pioneers of the Enlightenment were not challenging the Christian doctrine about the relations between God, man, and nature.
The doctrine is enunciated in on sentence in the Bible: ‘And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis I, 28)…In 1663, this read like a blessing on the wealth of Abraham in children and livestock; in 1973, it reads like a license for population explosion, and like both a license and an incentive for mechanization and pollution.
The thesis of this essay, then, is that some of the major maladies of the present-day world…can be traced back to a religious cause, and that this cause is the rise of monotheism.
…I was brought up in the same sect of Christianity as Bishop Sprat. But I was also educated in pre-Christian Greek and Latin literature. This pre-Christian education, which has had a more enduring effect on my Weltanschauung than my Christian upbringing, made me aware long ago that the religion of my pre-Christian predecessors at the western end of the Old World had been a different kind of religion from monotheism.
For premonotheistic man, nature was not just a treasure-trove of ‘natural resources.’ Nature was, for him, a goddess, ‘Mother Earth’…The whole of his environment was divine, and his sense of nature’s divinity outlasted his technological feats of cultivating plants and domesticating animals: wheat and rice were not just ‘cereals,’ they were Ceres herself, the goddess who had allowed man to cultivate these life-giving plants and had taught him the art.
…[M]onotheism, as enunciated in the Book of Genesis, has removed the age-old restraint that was once placed on man’s greed by his awe.
…Man needs to reintegrate himself into the nature of which he is, in truth, an integral part, and he can do this only through ecstasy or contemplation – through religion or philosophy.
In ‘The Vanishing Servant’, part of his ‘In the Light of the Past’ series, J.H. Plumb looks at household servants, so common in the Victorian era, but now dying out:
The English nanny was, in a sense, the animal mother of the young child: she fed it, cleaned it, spent days and nights with it, and gave it the warmth, the physical affection, that all young animals need; whereas the true mother was, more often than not, an idealized and glamorous creature living in a different world. Indeed, many would argue that nineteenth-century upper-class Englishmen were addicted to working-class girls because all the physical warmth they knew had come from their lower-class nannies. For the boys, again, there could be another odd servant-master relationship: it was from grooms, gamekeepers, and young footmen that the sons of the house learned about sex, and their first attempts were often made on the servant girls of the household.
…the less patriarchal a society is, the less easy its members find it to accept the master-servant bond. The best servants in Europe today still come from regions where the authority of the family and the father is strong – Portugal, Spain, southern Italy, France. And this may help explain why black men spurn such work, no matter how lucrative. Whatever the reasons – profoundly sociological or superficially economic – the servant class is following the dodo into oblivion.
In ‘A Visit with the Mole and the Eagle’, Malcolm Muggeridge recalls his visits from the 1920s to the 1940s to his wife Kitty’s Fabian aunt Beatrice Webb and Beatrice’s husband Sidney, in an extract from his 1972 autobiography Chronicles of Wasted Time. On his last visit before her death in 1943:
…she said she had something to show me. It turned out to be a portrait of Lenin presented to her by the Soviet government, as stylized and cheap, artistically speaking, as any print of a saint of the Church or blessed martyr offered for sale at Lourdes…It was extraordinary and rather horrifying. Afterward, I reflected that the two scenes I had witnessed – the Webbs at work and Mrs. Webb at prayer before her Lenin picture – embodied the whole spirit of the age, showing her to be a true priest and prophetess, pursuing truth through facts and arriving at fantasy, seeking deliverance through power and arriving at servitude.