Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/365

This page has been validated.
351
ÆSTHETIC EVOLUTION IN MAN.

pictorial art up to the Renaissance was entirely ecclesiastical and devotional. We have fed and nursed our taste upon Madonnas and Holy Families, upon Crucifixions and Assumptions, upon St. Sebastians, St. Johns, and St. Cecilias. Our architecture is based upon the Romanesque Christian church, whose rounded forms melt into the pointed arches of the Gothic cathedral. It finds its noblest expression in Pisa and Poitiers, Milan and Venice, Cologne and Chartres, Lincoln and Salisbury. And, when the classical revival comes to restore the older schools, it produces the masterpiece of its newer style in the vast dome of St. Peter's, where the four chief arts, architecture and sculpture, painting and music, all alike find their chosen home in the central point and focus of Catholic Christendom.

Nor is it only in these more notable forms that royalty and religion influence æsthetic taste. The purple and fine linen of kings' palaces; the inlaid cabinets and parquetry floors; the jade vases and painted porcelain; the Dresden statuettes and bronze candelabra; the frescoed ceiling, tapestry wall-covers, and carved wood-work—all these belong to the royal home. Even in poetry, the Queen still keeps her laureate; and the drama, originally a sort of royal specialty, is still performed at Drury Lane by "her Majesty's servants." Similarly with religion: the stained-glass window and the marble or mosaic altar; the costly vestments and sweet-perfumed incense; the fretted roof and the sculptured reredos—these in their turn belong to the worship of God. Such royal decorations and sacred ornaments react again upon the popular taste, both actively and passively. As an active effect, they give rise to and foster artistic workmanship: as a passive effect, they educate and strengthen the aesthetic faculties of the mass. Among the lower races, the æsthetic feelings have been closely linked with the sense of proprietorship: among the higher races, they gain more and more with every step in abstractness and remoteness from the personality of the individual. It was in the vast cathedrals of mediæval Europe that modern esthetic feeling received its early education.

So far we have treated little of beauty in nature: beauty in art has occupied almost our whole attention. The latter prepared the human mind for the appreciation of the former. Of the manner in which the love for art passes into the love for smaller natural objects, which exhibit minute beauty of workmanship, I have already treated elsewhere: but the taste for scenery demands a few words here. Children and early races care little for nature: it is only among the most cultivated classes of the most advanced types that the aesthetic faculty reaches this its highest and most disinterested stage. All art is at first frankly anthropinistic. Early painting, such as that of the Egyptians and Assyrians, dealt only with human and animal figures: it represented men and women, kings and queens, gods and goddesses, hunters and lions, herdsmen and cattle: but it never attempted landscape or scenery.