Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/224

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

"It is only exceptionally and as by flashes that the writings of the middle ages give the impression of true beauty. The conceptions are often grand, but the expression is always weak and dragging. On the other hand, Roman or Gothic churches are not less beautiful after their manner than Greek temples. Their beauty is of another fashion, but many souls are touched more deeply. They manifest no less clearly the power of the religious faith which constructed them. The particular character of Christian faith is shown with singular clearness in their majesty, in the elevation of their vaults, in the half lights which flood them, and in the thousands of figures which populate and animate every surface. As in Greece, the sculptor co-operates intelligently and docilely with the architect and has occupied no less happily the allotted fields. As Phidias and Alcamenes represented on the pediments and friezes of Doric temples the great gods of Greece and the local myths of Athens and Olympia, so anonymous masters, called to decorate the cathedrals of the middle ages, have placed impressive statues on the sides and in the voussoirs of the portals, in the open galleries which run along the facades, on the top of the pinnacles which throng the roof—in fact, everywhere where space is offered. These statues, distributed in an order regulated by doctrine and tradition, show forth the Saviour, the Virgin, saints and angels, prophets and apostles, and hosts of personages and scenes suggested by Holy Writ or by local and popular legends. Among these images there are many at Bourges, Chartres, Rheims, Amiens, and Nôtre Dame de Paris, which are marvels of severe elegance, of chaste and haughty grace, and of lofty moral nobility. This wonderful statuary has but lately been investigated, exposed, and studied, but already it would be difficult to find a connoisseur unwilling to compare with the most boasted statues of antiquity that admirable image of the teaching Christ of the west portal of Amiens, to which the popular surname has been attached of le Beau Dieu d'Amiens.

"For evident reasons, French sculpture of the thirteenth century did not, as did Greek sculpture, devote itself to the study and reproduction of the nude. It denied itself this attraction. All figures are clad; but beneath the drapery, which is in fine masses with large folds, the outline and the movement of form are indicated with precision. The principal interest and the rare originality, however, of this sculpture is that it is perhaps the most expressive that has ever existed. This expressiveness appears in the general effect of the pose, in the disposition of the drapery, but especially in the character which the artist has succeeded in giving to the features of the face.