RISE OF NATIONAL STYLES

The fourteenth century the true Golden Age of Gothic illumination—France the cradle of other national styles—Netherlandish, Italian, German, etc.—Distinction of schools—Difficulty of assigning theprovenance of MSS.—The reason for it—MS. in Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge—The Padua Missal—Artists' names—Whence obtained.

Through the thirteenth century is the epoch of the Gothic renaissance, it is the fourteenth to which really belongs the title of the Golden Age. The style of work remains precisely the same, only it grows. It changes from the bud to the leaf. It casts off the severity and much of the restraint of its earlier character. To the grace of youth it adds beauty, the beauty of adolescence. To fourteenth-century illumination we can give no higher praise than that it is beautiful. Not, indeed, because of its deliberate limitations, but in spite of them. For after ages have taught us that if in pure ornament and resplendent decorative completeness the pages of the fourteenth century cannot be surpassed, in miniature historiation it must take a second place. The skilled illuminators of the later schools are the masters of the mere picture. For surely no judge of art could possibly assert that the miniatures of the Grunani Breviary or of the Brera Graduals as miniatures are inferior to those of the Psalter of St. Louis, the Berry Bible, or the Prayer-book of Margaret of Bavaria. Yet these are typical MSS. of the highest rank. Hence we say that while the illumination of the Golden Age of the art was beautiful, it was not absolutely perfect. It is not to be taken by modern students as the only possible model or basis simply because it was the best of its kind. There is no such despotism in art. To those who think it the only possible form of book decoration, let it be so by all means, but we may as well hope to clothe our soldiers in chain or plate armour, and send the elite of our nobility on another crusade to Jerusalem, or satisfy our universities with the quod libets andquiddities of the trivium and quadrivium, as hope to make popular to the England of the twentieth century the artistic tastes of the fourteenth. We indulge in no such dreams. If we are to have illuminated books, our own age must invent them. The illuminators of the Bibles, Romances, Mirrors, and Chronicles of the fourteenth century no doubt did their best, and we honour and praise them for it. We think their work among the loveliest gratifications of the eye that can be imagined. But the eye is very catholic—it has immense capacities for enjoyment. The window of the soul opens on illimitable prospects, and if the soul be satisfied for the time, it is not necessarily repleted for ever. Golden ages are cyclical, and it may be that the glory of the books of the future shall surpass all the glories of the past.

By 1350 France had absorbed all the antecedent varieties of illumination. From France, therefore, spring all the succeeding styles now considered national.

And as is most natural, these styles develop by proximity—the nearest to French being Netherlandish. The next, as a result of immediate intercourse, Italian. Then German, Spanish, and the rest, as intercourse gave opportunity. It is not always an easy matter to say offhand whether a MS. is French or Flemish. In the earlier days it is not easy to say whether it be French or English, or even whether French or Italian. But the distinctness comes later on.

In the fifteenth century the Italian, German, French, and English are quite distinct varieties. Towards the sixteenth the Netherlandish is quite as distinct. But the styles of Spain, Bohemia, Hungary, Poland, though possessing features which identify them to an experienced eye, are to the ordinary spectator merely sub-varieties of Netherlandish, Italian, or German.

With regard to the distinctions of schools or local centres within the same country, the evidence of probable origin has to be corroborated by historic fact. It is not safe without further proof than that afforded by general features to affirm that this or that MS. was executed at Paris, Dijon, Amiens, or Limoges in France; or at Ghent, Bruges, or elsewhere in Flanders; or whether a MS. be Rhenish or Saxon, Bavarian or Westphalian, in Germany; Bolognese, Florentine, Siennese, Milanese, or Neapolitan in Italy; or executed at Westminster, St. Albans, Exeter, or elsewhere in England. Nevertheless the special characteristics of all these schools are quite distinguishable. In the attempt to distinguish them, although the diagnosis may be perfectly accurate, the actual facts may be otherwise accounted for. Hence the danger to which even the experienced connoisseur is liable. For example, certain MSS. are written in a fine Bolognese hand, which it is proved were actually executed in Flanders; others that one would feel sure were Netherlandish, were illuminated in Spain. Some very fine typical Flemish miniatures were painted in Italy; certain Florentine miniatures were the work of artists residing in Rome. Milanese illumination is quite distinguishable from Neapolitan, and Venetian from both, yet the school is not proof of the provenance.