You are on page 1of 18

14

feeling that nothing could be done there and then


as worthy of the occasion. Explain it as you
will, it was a confession of inferiority to the past,
whether economic or artistic, as happened long
before when Rarnses 11 had statues of earlier
pharaohs rededicated to himself. I t furnishes at
the same time proof that even in Rome the
dilapidation and destruction of earlier achieve- The military scenes represent the march of an
ments, which went on incessantly and has army, the siege of a fortified place (presumably
scarcely stopped yet, had begun already. Verona), a battle at a bridge (Ponte hfolle on
We shall pass by these more dignified, more the Tiber), and the triumphal entrance into a
gracious and more spirited reliefs made for town, in this instance Rome.
Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius, and con- In the first and last scenes one is struck by a
fine ourselves to those carved expressly for the certain impetuosity in the concerted action of thc
arch. figures. In the first, the March (Plate 14), the
They are of several kinds and produce each its soldiers on foot stride along with a swinging gait,
own effect : there are the military scenes and the taking long steps, with feet gripping the ground
ornamental allegorical figures in medallions, on and arms and shoulders free to twist and turn.
keystones, spandrils and bases ; there are the Behind them, officers (presumably) accompany a
two cpisodcs of Constantine addressing the car drawn by four horses preceded by pack
senators (Oratio) and of Constantine distributing animals. Here the action is not so clear. We
largesses (Coxgiariurn), and there are finally the do not see the legs of all the persons who
heads in the Hadrianic hunting-scenes recut to accompany the chariot or of the quadrupeds,
turn them into portraits of Constantine and which fact renders it puzzling to understand thcir
Licinius. spatial relations. In the last, the Entrance into
Rome (Plate 15), these difficulties are avoided.
The composition is, if anything, more crowded,
but one has no doubt as to which are riding, centuries of wind and rain, storm and sunshine,
which walking, which seated on the car. frost and heat have not only cracked and worn
Faulty as these last two friezes may be, they down their surfaces, chipping off bits here and
yet attempt to represent actuality. The frieze there, but also removed every trace of the stucco,
of the Siege (Plate 16) on the contrary looks as the inlay, the paint that completed and gave them
toy-like as if it had been done after puppets a finish that we nowadays can not recover, not
arranged as in an Italian presepio, or as rnarion- even in imagination. What we behold here and
ettcs moved backward and forward on the same everywhere in the remains of later and latest
wire. The chubby faces with a look of offended Antiquity is but the sadly damaged preparation
surprise, the city walls no higher than a garden for an effect that has vanished. We see only the
enclosure and so weak that one legionary batters long grooves in the draperies, the drill-holes in
against them as if by himself he could push them the hair, the hasty and violent chisel marks, none
over, strengthen this impression. The river battle of them meant to be visible and used no doubt as
(Plate 17), with horses and riders struggling in an expeditious way of carving sculpture, whether
the water, sappers and trumpeters pell-mell, in the round or in relief, for the effect the artist
reminds one (not to the advantage of this frieze) had in mind.
of sarcophagi of this period. Similar in style are Parenthetically, we may remark that this pro-
four relick of horse and foot (Plates 18, I 9) on the cedure was one of the principal reasons for the
corners of the same wall and the medallions of decline of sculpture. I t could not but end in
sun and moon (Plates 20, 21)on the side fagade. encouraging habits opposed to the specifically
plastic modelling which characterizes the great
art of earlier centuries, even if stone, marble and
bronze were never left without a certain treatment
Beforc going further, let us recollect that we of their surfaces. Whatever that treatment was,
are looking at something different from what we may infer that it was not done to facilitate
presented itself to the eye of the spectator who and expedite pictorial impressions by abandoning
saw these reliefs when they were fresh. Sixteen delicate and subtle effects in modelling the figures.
'9
I said just now that not even in imagination can and shade and emancipation from background
we reconstruct the aspect that the reliefs we are with the consequent abstraction of space, attri-
studying may have offered when fresh. Happily buted by the first to the artists of late Antiquity
we can get an idea of what they were like by and for the " impressionism " and " illusionism ",
looking at two oblong panels of a wedding chest ascribed to them by the other, would turn out
(Plate 15) representing the story of" Trajan and to be ill founded. Riegl has so much to say of
the Widow" at Klagenfurt (Note 3). In the great importance and employs a mind of such
opinion of many they can be by no less a n artist calibre in saying it that his book on the late
than Andrea Mantegna himself. Their peculi- Roman arts and crafts remains in our field one
arity is that they are not pictures but polychrome of the most stimulating and suggestive ever
bas-reliefs, and, although so much smaller, they written. Yet its success has been far from what
are next of kin to those of late Antiquity. I t Wickhoff's brilfiantly shallow and misguided
took, let me add, an archaeologist of genius to Vienna Genesis has enjoyed. Translated almost
achieve this result, for Mantegna was no less immediately into English, it became the most-
an archaeologist if he painted his archaeology quoted book on the sculpture produced during
instead of writing it. the earlier centuries of our era.
Strip these Klagenfurt reliefs of pigment and Strange, by the way, how averse the English-
of the prcparation for receiving it. Then expose reading public of my time has been and is to
I
these wood-carvings to the air not for sixteen translated art and history books of value. Of
centuries but for as many months. At the end Burckhardt's Cicerone Mrs. Clough's translation
of that time they would produce the same has been out of print this half-century, and none
crumbling uncertain effect as do the bas-reliefs of his other works are known in English. Nor
on the Arch of Constantine. are Edward Meyer's. Woefflin's masterpiece
If we agree that the plastic monuments of late " Die A-lassische Kunrt " has, it is true, appeared
Antiquity were painted and gilded (Note 4), the in English, but has found few readers, certainly
talk of the Riegls and Wickhoffs about deliber- less than Worringer's fantasies.
ately thought-out preference for the play of light The idea that the artists of late Antiquity
23
makes any differenceto what we are to think of their no one person nor any number of known indi-
art to-day. If awkward and infantile, it is only viduals. The individual may create marvels and
more deplorable if it was carefully thought out. leave scarcely a mark on the style of his period,
So much for Wickhoff-his followers would say as was the case with a genius almost out of the
" so little " ! Now a word about Riegl's Kunst- blue like Piero della Francesca ; or be like
wollen. If he meant an unconscious tendency or Michelangelo whose activity as a figure artist led
urge, as Schopenhauer employs the word Wille, to the fading out of Tuscan painting and to the
or the equivalent of zeitgeist, we can accept it as reduction of its sculpture to jewellery (even when,
synonymous with the word " taste" or even as with Cellini, it was life-size or over) and who
" style " characterizing an epoch. Nor can I can be regarded, particularly in architecture, as
recall that Riegl means anything different from, a precursor of tlie Baroque. Yet, while at work,
or in the least more metaphysical than, the word he did not bothei about consequences. Only as
" style " as we commonly use it. In the volume an old old man, on his last visit to the Sistine
preparatory to this (see Note I ) I attempted to Chapel, he looked a t his Judgment and cried
describe how imper~etrablewas a real style, how out : " What horrors this will lead to ! " If he
tyrannical and how unswerving. Any smart handed on so much more to his successors than
tailor, dressmaker or " interior decorator " can Piero, was it not because the latter appeared out
start a fashion. A style cannot be manufactured of the blue, as we said, while Michelangelo
by taking thought. Its origin, emergence and brought to a head tendencies inherent in several
formation are due to many causes, and call into generations of technical experimenters ?
play thc mental and moral energies of a people A style, then, is not a fashion and, far from
for previous centuries, besides the technical being planned, calculated and willed, is rarely
activities of its artists. The factors are too many recognized until it has shaped every art product
for an equation and besides most of these factors of a period, and a long period at that. Even we,
remain unknown. What produced the Attic with all our accumulated experience and piercing
style of the vth century, what the French style self-consciousness, have no idea of what to future
known as Gothic, what the Baroque ? Certainly ages may seem to have been the style of our own
24 25
day. We know our fashions only, and these in its shape, the round and oblong holes made by
connection chiefly with the only arts still fully these tools, might help us to ascertain dates, to
alive, the arts of personal adornment and interior constitute groups, but we can afford to ignore
decoration. Our fashions follow one another so them except where they intrude as integral parts
swiftly that they leave no precise impress on the of the artistic effect.
mind, except of newness and ever more newness. I am not a student of anatomy, and many
Yet it is probable that posterity will discover that things that would shock and distress Professore
we had a style. So although we to-day perceive Alessandro della Seta, author of a most praise-
clearly enough that the age of Constantine had worthy treatise on anatomy in the Fine Arts,
a " style "-rather a m a n n e r 4 f its own, it is leave me unaware and unaffected. T o strike me,
more than doubtful whether contemporaries were faults of structure or the relations of different
aware of it, and we must not assume that its parts of the body 'to each other would have to be
artists deliberately thought it out. More likely obviously bad. I am less ashamed to make this
they yawncd, stretched, stumbled, tumbled into confession as I suspect that most enjoyers of the
it, finding, as is the case so clamorously to-day, figure arts are no more sensitive in these matters
eulogists to sing their praises. than I am. SO I find little to disturb me in the
anatomy of the figures in these military reliefs.
Perhaps in the March (Plates 22, 23) the mall
seen rising over the horses like a bust in profile
Now let us turn back to the early ~ ~ t h - c e n t u r y to the right has an arm attached in a n odd and
reliefs on the Arch of Constantine. I n examining ugly way to the shoulder. Of the proportions it
them I shall avoid criticism based on elements is hard to judge, for they are sacrificed to the
that I believe were not meant for the spectator's design ; but as a rule the figures are thick-set
eye, and confine myself to features that the tooth and undersized in a way that has hardly a
of time could not alter so easily, features like parallel in the art of preceding decades. In the
structure, proportion, action and composition. March alone there are in the left part taller
The drill and its various uses, the chisel and men ; one, before the chariot, appears extra-tall,
26
27
another, carrying a lance over his shoulder, in the Entrance (Plate 24) to the rather heavy
swaggers along as if proud of his height. The morose officers in the March (Plate 23). No
general who directs the Siege, protected by a doubt each of these reliefi was allotted to a
flying Victory (Plate 16),towers much higher different individual.
than the fortified town. O n the contrary, horses As for the treatment of space in these friezes
and mules are, as is nearly universal in art, (after having made allowance for what painting
represented as smaller than in actuality, and may have done for them), in the Siege it is puerile,
likewise buildings are subjected to that sense of and elsewhere it is only less so. Compare the
man's own importance which led to the medieval Siege with one still so remarkable a t Leptis (Plate
representation of everything but man himself as 25), only a century earlier, or the marvellous
little more than pictographic. one of the vth century B.c., done no doubt under
The action remains satisfactory. In the relief Assyrian influence, with perspective well on the
representing the Entrance into a Town (Plate 24) way to ours, from Gjoelbashi-Trysa in Lycia near
the soldiers march forward in a concerted way Myra now at Vienna (Plate 26, Note 5). Even
reminiscent of better times. The compositions a humble leaden medal found in the Saone and
are simplicity itself. They are merely illustra- now in the Bibliothtque Nationale coined to
tive. The only attempt at distribution of masses commemorate Maximian's victory over the
consists in trying to niakc heads face each other Germans in 287-8--only twenty-five years earlier
in profile as if they were talking to each other than our frieze-with a view of the Rhine rushing
(Plates 14, 23). Depth is indicated, but not between Mayence and Castel, retains far clearer
achieved, by making the foreground soldiers space relations (Note 6).
much shorter than those behind who rise shoulder It would seem as if the sculptor of the March
high above them. One is tempted to believe that just referred to carved the large medallions of
the sculptor, to make this helpless procedure Sun and Moon (Plates 20, 21) as well. Of these
plausible, has given the foreground troops ex- medallions the superiority may be due to their
tremely youthful countenances, as if not yet f d l being close copies of more classical originals and
grown. The typcs vary from these chubby lads retain something of their appeal, despitc the
A.C.--C;
28
uncertain anatomy of thc principal figures. I t is and coagulated rather than modelled or carved
worthy of rcmark that conventional notation in solid stone. Flabby, relaxed with no possi-
replacing serious drawing scarcely appears as yet bility of return to tension, nearly boneless, and
in these reliefs, in fact is limited to a pear-shaped well on the way to resemble figures in post-Gupta
figure representing the vortex of the tossing waves Hindoo sculpture. Yet these river gods are
in the battle scene (Plate 27j, and of points for anatomically satisfactory compared with the
quieter swirls in the smoother waters under victories on the bases (Plate 34). As a n integral
Okea~lusin the medallion of the sun. part in military tradition these last have been
Coming now to the merely ornamental too continually used in monumental sculpture
carvings, we can begin with the Victories in the not to retain an almost impressive bulkiness.
spandrels over the central arch. These are about Anatomically, however, they are nearly on as
as effective as the sun and moon of the large low a level as eaily imperial work done in peri-
medallions. The two on the south front (Plates pheral Italian regions like Susa, in westernmost
28, 29) are perhaps better because they are less Gaul, in the heart of the Balkans, in Phrygia or
ambitious than the couple on thc city side, where in Palmyra. The reproductions of Palmyrene
thc legs and draperies leave one puzzling (Plates sculpture of our 1st century (Note 7) reveal also
30, 3 1 ) . Yet neither they nor the small nudes that the tendency toward unstructural, stringy
undcr them representing the seasons are of a draperies that we find realized in Rome in
different or inferior quality to the sun and moon our ~ v t hcentury was already started some
just referred to. Nor are they as inferior to the three centuries earlier in a marginal province
corresponding figures in the Arch of Severus, as of art like Palmyra. The farthest outposts of
are the friezes of the Arch of Constantine that civilization in direct and continuous contact with
we have already examined. the barbarians, anticipate decline by hundreds of
Great, on thc other barid, is the drop to the years. As in these peripheral works of art, so in
spralvling, huge-faced, vast-chested, puffed out the Victories on the Arch of Constantine the folds
nudes in the spandrels over the side arches (Plates of draperies are reduced, to a mesh of fine closely
32, 33). They look gelatinous, as if poured out parallellines engraved or simply scratched without
30 3'
any attempt at modelling : lines as unfunc- pheral, less ultra-provincial, and many far more
tional as any that will appear in the worst ordinary, more disintegrated, more shapeless
medieval painting. On the other hand, for all than any on the stone and marble coffins done
the faults that may be found with the groups of at the same time for Christians who could not,
prisoners on the bases (Plate 38), they retain a or dared not afford better workmanship.
certain grandeur, a certain nobility even, which There would seem but one explanation. I t is
the Roman victors were magnanimous enough to that in the troubled state of the world, and of
attribute to the vanquished. Rome in particular, the stonecutters who were
real sculptors (and Greeks almost to a man) ran
away for relative safety to Gaul, to Spain, or back
to the Aegean world, leaving behind them the
humble native ariisans who had little to lose and
nowhere to go to. I t is as if the fashionable dress-
makers, tailors and bootmakers deserted Paris
Let us briefly turn back to what we have been and London, leaving behind nothing but cobblers
seeing. Nothing new or startling, except the and sweated sempstresses. If the absence of the
strange fact that thc capital of the world, the seat better class lasted long enough and became
of wealth and culture, the greatest patroness of definite, the unskilled labourers would have
the arts if not the surest and most refined, which things their own way and end by producing a
to the end of the 111rd century had been pro- '' popular art ", an art we admire nowadays as
ducing, apart from public monuments, hundreds the expression of that mystic entity called " the
of " pagan " sarcophagi endowed with a certain people ". Of this, more later. For Rome the
wistful, crepuscular charm, should find, when end was not yet, not for another century and
celebrating the victorious soldier, the restorer of more. No inconsiderable number of artists did
" law and order ", the mighty Emperor Con- return, although it may be doubted whether
stantine, no abler artists than the executants of the best of those that had run away were among
these reliefs. None are less marginal, less peri- them. None had come back, it would seem,
33
when this arch of Constantine was being erected. cletian. Among the least bad of the victories on
There was nothing for it but to employ what the bases of the Arch of Constantine is one in
artisans could be discovered, with the results that profile to our left with a palm in her right hand and
we have noted. a barbarian captive cowering at her feet. Pro-
O r shall we assume with the fashionable art- fessor Kaehler, who identified the Boboli pedestals
historians of to-day that these friezes on the arch (Note 8), reproduces it (Plate 34) and on the
we are discussing were done purposefully by the opposite page (Plate 35) a victory from the
best sculptors of the time, each vying with the Boboli pedestals. The one is a transcript of the
other to express more completely the Kunstwollen, other and for most of us there can be no question
the zeitgeist which was inspiring them and their as to which is the original.
patrons ? Which, then, had the best of it ? Was Except to the expert eye the Diocletianic
it any of the carvers of the military friezes ? O r victory might go hack to Hadrian or even
was it the author of the sprawling moon-faced Trajan, retaining much of the distinction as well
river-gods in the spandrels ? O r perhaps the as grace that still radiated from the sculpture of
sculptor of the victories on the pedestals with those last happy days of Antiquity. The pro-
their shapeless bodies covered with meshes of portions are elegant, the draperies rational. The
thread instead of draperies ? Which of these palm branches are to be sure stiff and wooden but
achievements was conceived deliberately to carry may have looked better when enlivened with
the future in its womb ? If we should find it in stucco and paint. Then glance at the corre-
the figures farthest frorn what had hitherto been sponding figure from the Arch of Constantine.
the normal, it is these victories that reached the 4 I t shows a certain independence in the head,
goal of deliberate purposeful newness and other- which seems to have been more massive, and
ness. Let us see whether we can catch in the instead of ringlets curling down daintily to the
act the genius who created these shapes. shoulders, the hair is held with a ribbon and piled
I n the Boboli gardens of Florerice there are two into a bun. The chest is broader and flatter and
pedestals or bases which probably served for an the draperies hetween throat, breast and girdle,
arch erected in Kome in 294 to honour Dio- instead of being functional, are reduced to a
34 35
rectangle filled with close parallel lines that have Boboli bases or of the reliefs nearly contemporary
no meaning. Under the belt the anatomy ceases with them on the arch of GaHerius a t Salonica
to be legible, and an uninstructed person would (Note g), never the centre of the Oecumene nor
scarccly recognize belly, hips, and members under capital of the empire, as Rome still was. More-
these straight-lined or curving presumably crtpe- over, as I suggested, there must have been a
&-Chine draperies. The whole is a desiccated, reflux of artists to Rome, artists of a lower order
petrified version of the one in the Boboli gardens, to be sure, yet artists and not mere artisans :
a version moreover scratched on the stone by an whereas these who worked on the Arch of Con-
artisan who knew nothing of the nude, let alone stantine never rise above a rough artisanship that
in life, not even in art, not even in debased art. carelessly repeats well-known classic models.
He and his partners and assistants were the best, This is not the occasion for demonstrating by
no doubt, that could be discovered in Rome, still what successive kopying the carvings of the base
the capital of the world, to carve the pedcstals reached their degree of abjectness. The student
of this triumphal arch. Very likely these were may amuse himself by tracing them back through
all copicd from monuments then existing and still the fragments of an arch discovered by Curnont
as classical as those of the Boboli gardcns (see (Memorie della Pontificia Accadernia Ronzana di
also the two groups of soldiers and prisoners, Archeologia, 111, 1932, Plates I-III), and the
Plates 36, 37). arches of Severus, at Rome and Leptis, to the
hly primary intercst, however, is not to prove arch of Trajan a t Beneventum. What I want to
that artists had temporarily dcserted Rome, prove is that nothing could have been further
leaving merc artisans to exccute a work of such from the conceit of these humble stone-cutters
importancc as the Arch of Constantine. I bring than that they were precursors, pioneers, torch-
the suggestion because I can account in no other bearers of a revolution, of an entirely new way
way for the inferiority of the reliefs on that of feeling, visualizing and representing the world
structure--an inferiority so unexpected after such outside themselves. No process, no momentum,
a short interval of time had elasped between its no facilis desccnsus, is more unaware of ultimate
erection and that of the arch whence come the results than successive copying.
Except in unique moments like the vth century
B.C. in Hellas or some three thousand years earlier
in Egypt and Sumeria, conscious, deliberate, pur-
poseful, goalful art is constantly looking backward,
renaissancing-if I may be allowed this uncouth
but necessary verb-striving to recapture some
phase of its choice in the art of the past, or at least
to model itself upon or draw inspiration from it.
One may assume that ever since the vth Thus far, we have seen nothing on the arch
century B.c., European art, whenever it was self- that was unmistakably new. The reliefs were of
conscious, that is to say whenever it rose above the kind and quality to be expected when mere
artisanship, whenever artists did not themselves artisanship was feeding on the crumbs fallen from
sink to mere fumbling (as in our day), yet talking the table of art. The Oratio addressed to the
with bated breath of their mud-pies of clay and Senators (Plate 40) and the distribution of money,
their messes of paint as if they were hierophants food and wine to the children of the people
of some mystic rite4onscious European art has (Congiarium, Plate 40), represented in relief on the
ne\.er ceased to look backward to light its way city side of the arch, are of another kind. They
as it was groping forward. Thus the Dioscuri are unexpected. They are no longer " antique ".
ant1 Victories carved on the Boboli bases are They seem medieval and to one's first startled
perfectly classical (Note 10) in intention and not glance look like the work of the childish sculptors
altogether unsuccessful in execution. Techni- who preceded Niccolb Pisano in Tuscany (Plate
calities alone betray how far they are from their 41) or even like some crowded Romanesque
source in relatively early Hellenistic sculpture. X11th-century reliefs in France (Plate 42) (Note
As far as the ivory tablets celebrating an alliance 11). This impression is attenuated when one
between the great senatorial families of Symmachi comes closer and recognizes the same types and
and Nichomachi, a century later, but as self- tricks of trade with which we became acquainted
consciously, as deliberately Renaissance (Plate 39). while studying the military reliefs on the same

Related Interests