Fra Angelico we know already as the painter who devoted his life to picturing the departing mediæval vision of a heaven upon earth. Nothing could have been farther from the purpose of Uccello and Castagno. Different as these two were from each other, they have this much in common, that in their works which remain to us, dating, it is true, from their years of maturity, there is no touch of mediæval sentiment, no note of transition. As artists they belonged entirely to the new era, and they stand at the beginning of the Renaissance as types of two tendencies which were to prevail in Florence throughout the whole of the fifteenth century, partly supplementing and partly undoing the teaching of Masaccio.

Uccello had a sense of tactile values and a feeling for colour, but in so far as he used these gifts at all, it was to illustrate scientific problems. His real passion was perspective, and painting was to him a mere occasion for solving some problem in this science, and displaying his mastery over its difficulties. Accordingly he composed pictures in which he contrived to get as many lines as possible leading the eye inward. Prostrate horses, dead or dying cavaliers, broken lances, ploughed fields, Noah’s arks, are used by him with scarcely an attempt at disguise, to serve his scheme of mathematically converging lines. In his zeal he forgot local colour—he loved to paint his horses green or pink—forgot action, forgot composition, and, it need scarcely be added, significance. Thus in his battle-pieces, instead of adequate action of any sort, we get the feeling of witnessing a show of stuffed figures whose mechanical movements have been suddenly arrested by some clog in their wires; in his fresco of the “Deluge,” he has so covered his space with demonstrations of his cleverness in perspective and foreshortening that, far from bringing home to us the terrors of a cataclysm, he at the utmost suggests the bursting of a mill-dam; and in the neighbouring fresco of the “Sacrifice of Noah,” just as some capitally constructed figures are about to enable us to realise the scene, all possibility of artistic pleasure is destroyed by our seeing an object in the air which, after some difficulty, we decipher as a human being plunging downward from the clouds. Instead of making this figure, which, by the way, is meant to represent God the Father, plunge toward us, Uccello deliberately preferred to make it dash inward, away from us, thereby displaying his great skill in both perspective and foreshortening, but at the same time writing himself down as the founder of two families of painters which have flourished ever since, the artists for dexterity’s sake—mental or manual, it scarcely matters—and the naturalists. As these two clans increased rapidly in Florence, and, for both good and evil, greatly affected the whole subsequent course of Florentine painting, we must, before going farther, briefly define to ourselves dexterity and naturalism, and their relation to art.