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t was many centuries before art, at first devoted exclusively to figure painting, turned to the study of natural scenery. Thus it was that Madonna pictures, of various kinds, had long been established in popular favor before the idea of a landscape setting was introduced. We need not look for interesting pictures of this class before the latter part of the fifteenth century, and it was not until the sixteenth that the pastoral Madonna, in its highest form, was first produced. Even then there was no great number which show a really sympathetic love of nature.

In the ideal pastoral, the landscape entirely fills the picture, and the figures are, as it were, an integral part of it. Such pictures are so rare that we write in golden letters the names of the few who have given us these treasures.

Raphael's justly comes first in the list. His earliest Madonnas show his love of natural scenery, in the charming glimpses of Umbrian landscape, which form the background. These are treated, as Müntz points out, with marked "simplicity of outline and breadth of design." They are, however, but the beginning of the great things that were to follow. The young painter's sojourn in Florence witnessed a marvellous development of his powers. Here he was surrounded by the greatest artists of his time, and he was quick to absorb into himself something of excellence from them all. His fertility of production was amazing. In a period of four years (1504-1508), interrupted by visits to Perugia and Urbino, he produced about twenty Madonnas, in which we may trace the new influences affecting him.

Leonardo da Vinci was, doubtless, his greatest inspiration, and it was from this master-student of nature that the young man learned, with new enthusiasm, the value of going directly to Nature herself. The fruit of this new study is a group of lovely pastoral Madonnas, which are entirely unique as Nature idyls. Three of these are among the world's great favorites. They are, the Belle Jardinière (The Beautiful Gardener), of the Louvre Gallery, Paris; the Madonna in Grünen (The Madonna in the Meadow), in the Belvedere Gallery, Vienna; and the Cardellino Madonna (The Madonna of the Goldfinch), of the Uffizi, Florence.

We turn from one to another of these three beautiful pictures, always in doubt as to which is the greatest. Fortunately, it is a question which there is no occasion to decide, as every lover of art may be the happy possessor of all three, in that highest mode of possession attained by devoted study.

In each one we have the typical Tuscan landscape, filling the whole picture with its tranquil beauty. The "glad green earth" blossoms with dainty flowers; the fair blue sky above is reflected in the placid surface of a lake. From its shores rise gently undulating hills, where towers show the signs of happy activity. In the foreground of this peaceful scene sits a beautiful woman with two charming children at her knee. They belong to the landscape as naturally as the trees and flowers; they partake of its tranquil, placid happiness.

Raphael.—Madonna in the Meadow. Raphael.—Madonna in the Meadow.

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Almost identical in general style of composition, the three pictures show many points of dissimilarity when we come to a closer study of the figures. Considered as a type of womanly beauty, the Belle Jardinière is perhaps the most commonplace of the three Virgins, or, to put it negatively, the least attractive. She is distinctly of the peasant class, gentle, amiable, and entirely unassuming. The Madonna in the Meadow is a maturer woman, more dignified, more beautiful. The smooth braids of her hair are coiled about the head, accentuating its lovely outline. The falling mantle reveals the finely modelled shoulders. The Madonna of the Goldfinch is a still higher type of loveliness, uniting with gentle dignity a certain delicate, high-bred grace, which Raphael alone could impart. Her face is charmingly framed in the soft hair which falls modestly about it. One wonders if any modern coiffeur could invent so many styles of hair dressing as does this gifted young painter of the sixteenth century.

Turning from the mother to the children, we find the same general types repeated in the three pictures, but with some difference of motif. The Christ-child of the Belle Jardinière is looking up fondly to his mother. In the Vienna picture he is eagerly interested in the cross which the little St. John gives him. In the Uffizi picture he is more serious, and strokes the goldfinch with an air of abstraction, meditating on the holy things his mother has been reading to him.

The arrangement of the three figures is the same in all the pictures, and is so entirely simple that we forget the greatness of the art. The Virgin, dominating the composition, brings into unity the two smaller figures. This unity is somewhat less perfect in the Belle Jardinière, because the little St. John is almost neglected in the intense absorption of mother and child in each other.

Once again, in the later days at Rome, Raphael recurred to the pastoral Madonna type of this Florentine period, and painted the picture known as the Casa Alba Madonna. We have again the same smiling landscape and the same charming children, but a Virgin of an altogether new order. A turbaned Roman beauty of superb, Juno-like physique, she does not belong to the idyllic character of her surroundings. It is as if some brilliant exotic had been transplanted from her native haunts to quiet fields, where hitherto the modest lily had bloomed alone.

As Raphael's first inspiration for the pastoral Madonna came from the influence of Leonardo da Vinci, it is of interest to compare his work with that of the great Lombard himself. Critics tell us that the Madonna pictures in which he came nearest to his model are the Madonna in the Meadow and the Holy Family of the Lamb. (Madrid.) These we may place beside the Madonna of the Rocks, which is the only entirely authentic Da Vinci Madonna which we have.

It is only the skilled connoisseur who, in travelling from Paris to Vienna, and from Vienna to Madrid, can hold in memory the qualities of technique which link together the three pictures; but for general characteristics of composition, the black and white reproductions may suffice. Leonardo availed himself of his intimate knowledge of Nature to choose from her storehouse something which is unique rather than typical. The rock grotto doubtless has a real counterpart, but we must go far to find it. In the river, gleaming beyond, we see the painter's characteristic treatment of water, which Raphael was glad to adopt. The triangular arrangement of the figures, the relation of the Virgin to the children, the simple, childish beauty of the latter, and their attitude towards each other—all these points suggest the source of Raphael's similar conceptions. The Virgin's hair falls over her shoulders entirely unbound, in gentle, waving ripples.

Leonardo da Vinci.—Madonna of the Rocks. Leonardo da Vinci.—Madonna of the Rocks.

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We do not need to be told, though the historian has taken pains to record it, that a feature of personal beauty by which Leonardo was always greatly pleased was "curled and waving hair." We see it in the first touch of his hand when, as a boy in the workshop of Verrochio, he painted the wavy-haired angel in his Master's Baptism; and here, again, in the Virgin, we find it the crowning element of her mysterious loveliness. We try in vain to penetrate the secret of her smile,—it is as evasive as it is enchanting. And herein lies the distinguishing difference between Leonardo and Raphael. The former is always mysterious and subtle; the latter is always frank and ingenuous. While both are true interpreters of nature, Leonardo reveals the rare and inexplicable, Raphael chooses the typical and familiar. Both are possessed of a strong sense of the harmony of nature with human life. The smile of the Virgin of the Rocks is a part of the mystery of her shadowy environment;[2] the serenity of the Madonna in the Meadow belongs to the atmosphere of the open fields.

[2] That the Leonardesque smile requires a Leonardesque setting is seen, I think, in the pictures by Da Vinci's imitators. The Madonna by Sodoma, recently added to the Brera Gallery at Milan, is an example in point. Here the inevitable smile of mystery seems meaningless in the sunny, open landscape.

Among others who were affected by the influence of Leonardo—and chief of the Lombards—was Luini. His pastoral Madonna has, however, little in common with the landscapes of his master, judging from the lovely example in the Brera. The group of figures is strikingly suggestive of Da Vinci, but the quiet, rural pasture in which the Virgin sits is Luini's own. In the distance is a thick clump of trees, finely drawn in stem and branch. At one side is a shepherd's hut with a flock of sheep grazing near. The child Jesus reaches from his mother's lap to play with the lamb which the little St. John has brought, a motif similar to Raphael's Madrid picture, and perhaps due, in both painters, to the example of Leonardo.

It is said by the learned that during the period of the Renaissance the love of nature received an immense impulse from the revival of the Latin poets, and that this impulse was felt most in the large cities. In the pictures noted, we have seen its effect in Florentine and Lombard art; that it was also felt in isolated places, we may see in some of Correggio's work at Parma, at about the same time. Two, at least, of his Madonna pictures are as famous for their beautiful landscapes as for the rare grace and charm of their figures. These are the kneeling Madonna, of the Uffizi, and "La Zingarella," at Naples. Both show a perfect adaptation of the surroundings to the spirit of the scene. In the first it is morning, and the gladness of Nature reflects the Mother's rapturous joy in her awakening babe. A brilliant light floods the figures in the foreground and melts across the green slopes into the hazy distance of the sea-bound horizon. In the second it is twilight, and a calm stillness broods over all, as under the feathery palms the Mother bends, watchful, over her little one's slumbers. Such were the revelations of Nature to the country-bred painter from the little town of Correggio.

Turning now to Venice for our last examples, we find that the love of natural scenery was remarkably strong in this city of water and sky, where the very absence of verdure may have created a homesick longing for the green fields. It was Venetian art which originated that form of pastoral Madonna known as the Santa Conversazione. This is usually a long, narrow picture, showing a group of sacred personages, against a landscape setting, centering about the Madonna and child. The composition has none of the formality of the enthroned Madonna. An underlying unity of purpose and action binds all the figures together in natural and harmonious relations.

The acknowledged leader of this style of composition—the inventor indeed, according to many—was Palma Vecchio. It is curious that of a painter whose works are so widely admired, almost nothing is known. Even the traditions which once lent color to his life have been shattered by the ruthless hand of the modern investigator. The span of his life extended from 1480 to 1528. Thus he came at the beginning of the century made glorious by Titian, and contributed not a little in his own way to its glory.

It is supposed that he studied under Giovanni Bellini, and at one time was a friend and colleague of Lorenzo Lotto. A child of the mountains—for he was born in Serinalta—he never entirely lost the influence of his early surroundings.

To the last his figures are grave, vigorous, sometimes almost rude, partaking of the characteristics of the everlasting hills. Perhaps it was these traits which made the Santa Conversazione a favorite composition with him. He has an intense love of Nature in her most luxuriant mood.

Palma Vecchio.—Santa Conversazione. Palma Vecchio.—Santa Conversazione.

For a collection of Palma's pictures, we should choose at least four to represent his treatment of the Santa Conversazione: those at Naples, Dresden, Munich, and Vienna. The Naples picture is considered the most successful of Palma's large pictures of this kind, but it is not easy for the less critical observer to choose a favorite among the four. One general formula describes them all: a sunny landscape with hills clad in their greenest garb; a tree in the foreground, beneath which sits the Virgin, a comely, country-bred matron, who seems to have drawn her splendid vigor from the clear, bright air. On her lap she supports a sprightly little boy, who is the centre of attention.

In the simpler compositions the Madonna is at the left, and at the right kneel or sit two saints. One is a handsome young rustic, unkempt and roughly clad, sometimes figuring as St. John the Baptist, and sometimes as St. Roch. With him is contrasted a beautiful young female saint, usually St. Catherine. Where the composition includes other figures, the Virgin is in the centre, with the attendant personages symmetrically grouped on either side. In the Vienna picture the two additional figures at the left are the aged St. Celestin and a fine St. Barbara.

Of all schools of painting, the Venetian is the least translatable into black and white, so rich in colors is the palette which composed it. This is especially true of Palma, and to understand aright his Santa Conversazione, we must read into it the harmony of colors which it expresses, the chords of blue, red, brown, and green, the shimmering lights and brilliant atmosphere.

Filippino Lippi.—Madonna in a Rose Garden. Filippino Lippi.—Madonna in a Rose Garden.

The subject of the Santa Conversazione should not be left without a brief reference to other Venetians, who added to the popularity of this charming style of picture. Berenson mentions seven by Palma's pupil, Bonifazio Veronese, and one by his friend, Lorenzo Lotto. Cima, Cariani, Paris Bordone, and last, but not least, the great Titian,[3] lent their gifts to the subject, so that we have abundant evidence of the Venetian love of natural scenery.

It remains to consider one more form of the pastoral Madonna, that which represents the Virgin and child in "a garden inclosed," in allusion to the symbolism of Solomon's Song (4:12). The subject is found among the woodcuts of Albert Dürer, but I have never seen it in any German painting.

[3] See particularly Titian's works in the Louvre, of which the Vierge au Lapin is an especially charming pastoral.

In Italian art there are two famous pictures of this class: by Francia, in the Munich Gallery, and by Filippino Lippi (or so attributed), in the Pitti, at Florence. In both the motif is the same: in the foreground, a square inclosure surrounded by a rose-hedge, with a hilly landscape in the distance; the Virgin kneeling before her child in the centre. Filippino Lippi's is one of those pictures whose beauty attracts crowds of admirers to the canvas. Copyists are kept busy, repeating the composition for eager purchasers, and it has made its way all over the world. The circle of graceful angels who, with the boy St. John, join the mother in adoring the Christ-child, is one of the chief attractions of the picture. It is a pretty conceit that one of these angels showers rose leaves upon the babe.

The pastoral Madonna is the sort of picture which can never be outgrown. The charm of nature is as perennial as is the beauty of motherhood, and the two are always in harmony. Here, then, is a proper subject for modern Madonna art, a field which has scarcely been opened by the artists of our own day. Such pastoral Madonnas as have been painted within recent years are all more or less artificial in conception. Compared with the idyllic charm of the sixteenth century pictures, they seem like pretty scenes in a well-mounted opera. We are looking for better things.