ITALIAN PAINTING. THE DECADENCE AND MODERN WORK. 1600-1894.

Books Recommended: As before, also General Bibliography, (page xv.); Calvi, Notizie della vita e delle opere di Gio. Francesco Barbiera; Malvasia, Felsina Pittrice; Sir Joshua Reynolds, Discourses; Symonds, Renaissance in Italy—The Catholic Reaction; Willard, Modern Italian Art.

THE DECLINE: An art movement in history seems like a wave that rises to a height, then breaks, falls, and parts of it are caught up from beneath to help form the strength of a new advance. In Italy Christianity was the propelling force of the wave. In the Early Renaissance, the antique, and the study of nature came in as additions. At Venice in the High Renaissance the art-for-art's-sake motive made the crest of light and color. The highest point was reached then, and there was nothing that could follow but the breaking and the scattering of the wave. This took place in Central Italy after 1540, in Venice after 1590.

Art had typified in form, thought, and expression everything of which the Italian race was capable. It had perfected all the graces and elegancies of line and color, and adorned them with a superlative splendor. There was nothing more to do. The idea was completed, the motive power had served its purpose, and that store of race-impulse which seems necessary to the making of every great art was exhausted. For the men that came after Michael Angelo and Tintoretto there was nothing. All that they could do was to repeat what others had said, or to recombine the old thoughts and forms. This led inevitably to imitation, over-refinement of style, and conscious study of beauty, resulting in mannerism and affectation. Such qualities marked the art of those painters who came in the latter part of the sixteenth century and the first of the seventeenth. They were unfortunate men in the time of their birth. No painter could have been great in the seventeenth century of Italy. Art lay prone upon its face under Jesuit rule, and the late men were left upon the barren sands by the receding wave of the Renaissance.

FIG. 52.—BRONZINO. CHRIST IN LIMBO. UFFIZI. 
FIG. 52.—BRONZINO. CHRIST IN LIMBO. UFFIZI.

ART MOTIVES AND SUBJECTS: As before, the chief subject of the art of the Decadence was religion, with many heads and busts of the Madonna, though nature and the classic still played their parts. After the Reformation at the North the Church in Italy started the Counter-Reformation. One of the chief means employed by this Catholic reaction was the embellishment of church worship, and painting on a large scale, on panel rather than in fresco, was demanded for decorative purposes. But the religious motive had passed out, though its subject was retained, and the pictorial motive had reached its climax at Venice. The faith of the one and the taste and skill of the other were not attainable by the late men, and, while consciously striving to achieve them, they fell into exaggerated sentiment and technical weakness. It seems perfectly apparent in their works that they had nothing of their own to say, and that they were trying to say over again what Michael Angelo, Correggio, and Titian had said before them much better. There were earnest men and good painters among them, but they could produce only the empty form of art. The spirit had fled.

THE MANNERISTS: Immediately after the High Renaissance leaders of Florence and Rome came the imitators and exaggerators of their styles. They produced large, crowded compositions, with a hasty facility of the brush and striking effects of light. Seeking the grand they overshot the temperate. Their elegance was affected, their sentiment forced, their brilliancy superficial glitter. When they thought to be ideal they lost themselves in incomprehensible allegories; when they thought to be real they grew prosaic in detail. These men are known in art history as the Mannerists, and the men whose works they imitated were chiefly Raphael, Michael Angelo, and Correggio. There were many of them, and some of them have already been spoken of as the followers of Michael Angelo.