So far as it concerns pictures painted upon panel or canvas in tempera or oils, the history of painting begins with Cimabue, who worked in Florence during the latter half of the thirteenth century. That the art was practised in much earlier times may readily be admitted, and the life-like portraits in the vestibule at the National Gallery taken from Greek tombs of the second or third century are sufficient proofs of it; but for the origin of painting as we are now generally accustomed to understand the term we need go no further back than to Cimabue and his contemporaries, from whose time the art has uninterruptedly developed throughout Europe until the present day.

Oddly enough it is to the Christian Church, whose early fathers put their heaviest ban upon all forms of art, that this development is almost wholly due. The reaction against paganism began to die out when the Christian religion was more firmly established, and representations of Christ and the Saints executed in mosaic became more and more to be regarded as a necessary, or at any rate a regular embellishment of the numerous churches which were built. For these mosaics panel paintings began in time to be substituted; but it was long before any of the human feeling of art was to be found in them. The influence of S. Francis of Assisi was needed to prepare the way, and it was only towards the close of the thirteenth century that the breath of life began to be infused into these conventional representations, and painting became a living art.

As it had begun in Italy, under the auspices of the Church, so it chiefly developed in that country; at first in Florence and Siena, later in Rome, whither its greatest masters were summoned by the Pope, and in Venice, where, farther from the ecclesiastical influence, it flourished more exuberantly, and so became more capable of being transplanted to other countries. In Germany, however, and the Low Countries it had appeared early enough to be considered almost as an independent growth, though not till considerably later were the northern schools capable of sustaining the reputation given them by the Van Eycks and Roger Van der Weyden.

But for the effects of the Renaissance in Italy in the fifteenth century it is questionable whether painting would ever have spread as it did in the sixteenth and seventeenth to Spain and France. But by the close of the fifteenth century such enormous progress had been made by the Italian painters towards the realisation of human action and emotion in pictures, that from being merely an accessory of religious establishments, painting had become as much a part of the recognised means of intellectual enjoyment of everyday life as music, sculpture, or even the refinements of food and clothing.

Portraiture, in particular, had gradually advanced to a foremost place in painting. Originally it was used exclusively for memorials of the dead—as we have seen in the case of the paintings from the Greek tombs—and on coins and medals. But gradually the practice arose, as painters became more skilful in representing the appearance of the model, of introducing the features and figures of actual personages into religious pictures, in the character of "donors," and as these increased in importance, the sacred personages were gradually relegated to the background, and ultimately dispensed with altogether. At the beginning of the sixteenth century we find Hans Holbein (as an example) recommended by Erasmus to Sir Thomas More as a portrait painter who wished to try his fortunes in England; and during the rest of his life painting practically nothing but portraits.

By the end of the sixteenth century, if not earlier, painting had become almost as much a business as an art, not only in Italy but in most other countries in Europe, and was established in each country more or less independently. So that making every allowance for the various foreign influences that affected each different country, it is convenient to trace the development of painting in each country separately, and we arrange our chapters accordingly under the titles of Tuscan and Venetian (the two main divisions of Italian painting), Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, German, French, and British Schools. In each country, as might be expected—and especially in Italy—there are subdivisions; but, broadly speaking, the lover of pictures will be quite well enough equipped for the enjoyment of them if he is able to recognise their country, and roughly their period, without troubling about the particular district or personal influence of their origin.

For while it is undoubtedly true that the more one knows about the history of painting in general the greater will be the appreciation of the various excellences which tend to perfection, it is absolutely ridiculous to suppose that only the learned in such matters are capable of deriving enjoyment from a beautiful picture, or of expressing an opinion upon it. In the first place, the picture is intended for the public, and the public have therefore the best right to say whether it pleases them or not—and why. And it may be noted as a positive fact that whenever the public, in any country, have a free choice in matters of art, that choice generally turns out to be right, and is ultimately endorsed by the best critics. Most of the vulgar art to be found in advertisements and the illustrated papers is put there by ignorant and vulgar providers, who imagine that the whole public are as ignorant and vulgar as themselves; whereas whenever a better standard of taste is given an opportunity, it never fails to find a welcome. Until Sir Henry Wood inaugurated the present régime, the Promenade Concerts at Covent Garden were popularly supposed to represent the national taste in music. Until the Temple Classics and Every Man's Library were published it was commonly supposed that the people at large cared for nothing but Bow Bells, the Penny Novelette, or such unclassical if alluring provender. In the domain of painting, the Royal Academy has such a firm and ancient hold on the popular imagination of the English that its influence is difficult to dispel; but there are many signs that its baneful ascendency is at length on the decline; and it is well known that the National Gallery is attracting more and more visitors and Burlington House less and less as the years go on.

In the following attempt at a general survey of the history of painting—imperfect or ill-proportioned as it may appear to this or that specialist or lover of any particular school—I have thought it best to assume a fair amount of ignorance of the subject on the part of the reader, though without, I hope, taking any advantage of it, even if it exists; and I have therefore drawn freely upon several old histories and handbooks for both facts and opinions concerning the old masters and their works. In some cases, I think, a dead lion is decidedly better than a live dog.

R. D.

Chelsea, 1914.