Page:A history of Japanese colour-prints by Woldemar von Seidlitz.djvu/31

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GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS

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whole of Japanese art, even down to its most recent past, remains in its principles fundamentally opposed to modern European art.

In order to do justice to this peculiarity of Eastern Asiatic art, we must mentally revert to the point of view of such periods as have pursued similar decorative aims in contrast to the naturalistic aims predominating to-day. In the art of Egypt and of Greece up to Alexandrine times, in the Roman and Gothic periods up to the discovery of perspective in Italy and the invention of oil-painting in Flanders at the beginning of the fifteenth century, we meet with very similar endeavours. During all these periods the art of painting was absolutely conventional, and contented itself with certain more or less fixed types that altered only very gradually; yet by the aid of a careful and precise contour, nicely calculated masses of light and shade, and a harmonious colour-scheme, it succeeded in achieving effects at once decorative and monumental, and at the same time in imparting to the representation a varying content of strength, grace, or sublimity, according to the character of the subject. By this method no imitation of nature, no complete deception or illusion is either endeavoured or attained; and yet such an art ranks at least as high in our estimation as that of the realistic period in which we ourselves are living; not only so, but we see that the greatest artists of this very period, a Raphael, a Michaelangelo, a Da Vinci, when they were brought face to face with the highest problems of decorative art, sacrificed a great part of the literal truth which they might have attained in order to augment the grandeur, intelligibility, and impressiveness of their creations, thus approaching once more the simpler ideal of the past, though unable to achieve quite the same effects as the ancients.

The attempt has been made to account for the idiosyncrasy of Eastern Asiatic art on technical grounds inherent in the