Popular Science Monthly/Volume 48/February 1896/Professional Institutions X




THE association between architecture, sculpture, and painting is so close that the description of their origins, considered as distinct from one another, is not easy; and those who judge only from the relations under which they are found in the remains of early civilizations are apt to be misled. Thus Rawlinson remarks that—

"Sculpture in Egypt was almost entirely 'architectonic,' and was intended simply, or at any rate mainly, for architectural embellishment. . . . The statues of the gods had their proper place in shrines prepared for them. . . . Even the private statues of individuals were intended for ornaments of tombs."

Here the implication appears to be that as, in historic Egypt, sculpture existed in subordination to architecture, it thus existed from the beginning. This is a mistake. There is abundant reason to conclude that everywhere sculpture, under the form of carving in wood, preceded architecture, and that the tomb and the temple were subsequent to the image.

In the first volume of this work (§§ 154-158)[1] evidence of various kinds, supplied by various peoples, was given proving that in its initial form an idol is a representation of a dead man, conceived as constantly or occasionally inhabited by his ghost, to whom are made offerings, prayers for aid, and propitiatory ceremonies. Confusion arising in the uncritical mind of the savage between the qualities of the original and the like qualities supposed to accompany a likeness of the original, long survived. Its survival was shown among the Egyptians by their seemingly strange practice of placing, in a compartment of the tomb, a wooden figure (or more than one) intended as an alternative body for the spirit of the departed on his return, in case his mummied body should have been destroyed. Still more strange is the fact referred to in the sections named above, that among ourselves and other Europeans but a few centuries ago, the effigies of kings and princes, gorgeously appareled, were duly presented with meals for some time after death: such effigies being, some of them, still preserved in Westminster Abbey. Merely recognizing this long persistence of the primitive idea, it here concerns us only to note that the making of a carved or modeled figure of a dead man begins in low stages of culture, along with other elements of primitive religion; and that thus sculpture has its root in ghost-worship, while the sculptor, in his primitive form, is one of the agents of this worship.

The tomb and the temple are, as is shown in § 137,[2] developed out of the shelter for the grave—rude and transitory at first, but eventually becoming refined and permanent; while the statue, which is the nucleus of the temple, is an elaborated and finished form of the original effigy placed on the grave. The implication is that, as with the temple so with the statue, the priest, when not himself the executant, as he is among savages, remains always the director of the executant—the man whose in junctions the sculptor carries out.

Of evidence to be set down in support of this general proposition we may begin with that, relatively small in amount, which is furnished by existing uncivilized races.

Concerning the Gold Coast Negroes, Bosman tells us that they "generally build a small cottage or hut. . . on the grave," and also that in some parts "they place several earthen images on the graves." Bastian, writing of the Coast Negroes, says clay figures of departed chiefs with their families are placed in groups under the village tree. Nothing is added about the makers of these clay images; but in another case we find evidence of priestly origin. According to Tuckey, a certain fetich-rock on the Congo "is considered as the peculiar residence of Seembi, the spirit which presides over the river;" that on some of the rocks "are a number of raised figures," made of some composition which appears "like stone sculptured in low relief"—rude representations of men, beasts, ships, etc.: "they were said to be the work of a learned priest of Nokki who taught the art to all those who chose to pay him."

The Polynesian races yield some evidence: relevant facts are narrated of the Sandwich Islanders by Cook and Ellis. The one describes the burying places as containing many wooden images representing their deities, some in huts, others not; and the other tells us that "each celebrated tii [spirit] was honored with an image." That these celebrated spirits were originally the ghosts of deceased chiefs, is implied by the account given of an allied Polynesian race, the New Zealanders. Among these, according to Thomson, the bodies of chiefs, in some cases "interred within the houses where they died," where they were bewailed by relatives for weeks [a rude temple and a rude worship], had "rude human images, twenty or forty feet high," erected as monuments to them. Though in neither of these cases are we told by whom such images of deceased men were made, yet since of New Zealand artists the best are found among the priests, as asserted by Thomson, while Angas tells us that the priest is generally the operator in the ceremony of tattooing, he being supposed to excel in all sorts of carving, the implication is that he is the maker of these effigies—in the cases of chiefs, if not in other cases. For while it is alleged that the house-posts, rudely representing deceased members of an ordinary family, are made by members of the family, we have, in the special characters of the effigies made of chiefs, evidence that priests have been the executants. Dr. Ferdinand von Hochstetter says:—

"The carved Maori-figures, which are met with on the road, are the memorials of chiefs who, while journeying to the restorative baths of Rotorua, succumbed to their ills on the road. Some of the figures are decked out with pieces of clothing or kerchiefs; and the most remarkable feature in them is the close imitation of the tattooing of the deceased, by which the Maoris are able to recognize for whom the monument has been erected. Certain lines are peculiar to the tribe, others to the family, and again others to the individual."

As the priests are the professional tattooers, probably being also the authorities concerning tribal and family marks, it is a fair inference that they are the makers of these images of chiefs, in which the tribal, family, and individual marks are represented.

Certain usages have been found among the Australians which, if not directly relevant, are indirectly relevant. At an initiation ceremony in the Murring tribe, according to Howitt—

"A similar rude outline of a man in the attitude of the magic dance, being also Daramūlŭn, is cut by the old men (wizards) at the ceremonies, upon the bark of a tree at the spot where one of them knocks out the tooth of the novice. . . . "At a subsequent stage of the proceedings a similar figure is molded on the ground in clay, and is surrounded by the native weapons which Daramūlŭn is said to have invented."

Here the obvious implication is that the traditional hero, Daramūlŭn, is represented by the figures which the wizards (medicine-men or priests) make; while the initiation ceremony is the dedication of the novice to him, considered as present in the figure: to which figure, indeed, a road is marked out on the tree, down which Daramūlŭn is supposed to descend to the image.

By the above-named house-posts which, among the New Zealanders, are erected as memorials of members of the family, we are introduced to the further set of illustrations furnished by household gods. These the accounts of various races in various parts of the world make familiar.

Concerning the Kalmucks and Mongols, who have such domestic idols, Pallas tells us that the priests are the painters, as well as the makers, of images of copper and clay.

According to Ellis the idol-worship of the Malagasy "appears to have sprung up in comparatively modern times, and long subsequently to the prevalence of the worship of household gods." But who were the makers of either does not appear.

How it would naturally happen that while, in the first stages, the priest was the actual carver of images, he became, in later stages, the director of those who carved them, will be easily understood on remembering that a kindred relation between the artist and his subordinate exists now among ourselves. The modern sculptor does not undertake the entire labor of executing his work, but gives the rough idea to a skilled assistant who, from time to time instructed in the needful alterations, produces a clay model to which his master gives the finished form: the reproduction of the model in marble by another subordinate being similarly dealt with by the sculptor. Evidently it was in something like this sense that priests throughout the East were sculptors in early days, as some are in our own days. Writing of the Singhalese, Tennent says:—

"Like the priesthood of Egypt, those of Ceylon regulated the mode of delineating the effigies of their divine teacher, by a rigid formulary, with which they combined corresponding directions for the drawing of the human figure in connection with sacred subjects."

From Egypt, here referred to, may be brought not only evidence that the sculptured forms of those to be worshiped were prescribed by the priests in conformity with the traditions they preserved, but also evidence that in some cases they were the actual executants. Mentu-hotep, a priest of the 12th dynasty, yields an example.

"Very skilled in artistic work, with his own hand he carried out his designs as they ought to be carried out." He "besides was invested with religious functions" and "was the alter ego of the king." His inscription says:—"I it was who arranged the work for the building of the temple."

An inscription of the 18th dynasty refers to one Bek, architect of Amenhotep IV, who being described as "the follower of the divine benefactor" was apparently a priest, and who was both an executant and a supervisor of other's work. He is referred to as—

"overseer of the works at the red mountain, an artist and teacher of the king himself, an overseer of the sculptors from life at the grand monuments of the king for the temple of the sun's disk."

A further fact is given. Bek says of himself—"My lord promoted me to be chief architect. I immortalized the name of the king. . . [I caused] to be made two portrait-statues of noble hard stone in this his great building. It is like heaven. . . . Thus I executed these works of art, his statues."

What evidence Greek records yield, though not extensive, is to the point. Curtius, who, referring to actions of the singers and composers of hymns as well as to those of the plastic artists, says that "the service of the temple comprehends the whole variety of these efforts," also says that "the earliest sculptors were persons of a sacerdotal character." On another page he adds, concerning sculpture—

". . . in this domain of artistic activity, all things were bound by the decrees of the priests and by close relations with religion. . . . They [artists] were regarded as persons in the service of the divine religion."

The extent to which sculpture subserved religious purposes may he judged from the statement of Mahaffy that—

"The greatest sculptors, painters, and architects had lavished labor and design upon the buildings [of the oracle at Delphi]. Though Nero had carried off 500 bronze statues, the traveler estimated the remaining works of art at 3,000, and yet these seem to have been almost all statues."

As showing the course of professional development it may be remarked that though, in archaic Greek sculpture, the modes of representing the various deities were, as in Egypt and India, so completely fixed in respect of attitudes, clothing, and appurtenances that change was sacrilege, the art of the sculptor, thus prevented from growing while his semi-priestly function was under priestly control, simultaneously began to acquire freedom and to lose its sacred character when in such places as the pediments of temples, figures other than divine, and subjects other than those of worship, came to be represented. Apparently through transitions of this kind it was that sculpture became secularized. Men engaged in chiseling out statues and reliefs in fulfillment of priestly dictates were regarded simply as a superior class of artisans, and did not receive credit as artists. But when, no longer thus entirely controlled, they executed works independently, they gained applause by their artistic skill and "became prominent celebrities, whose studios were frequented by kings.

To the reasons, already more than once suggested, why in Rome the normal development of the professions was broken or obscured, may be added, in respect of the profession of sculptor, a special reason. Says Mommsen:—

"The original Roman worship had no images of the gods or houses set apart for them; and although the god was at an early period worshiped in Latium, probably in imitation of the Greeks, by means of an image, and had a little chapel (aedicula) built for him, such a figurative representation was reckoned contrary to the laws of Numa."

The appended remark that the representation of the gods was "generally regarded as an impure and foreign innovation" appears to be in harmony with the statement of Duruy.

"Even after the Tarquins, the images of the gods, the work of Etruscan artists, were still made only in wood or clay, like that of Jupiter in the Capitol, and like the quadriga placed on the top of the temple."
The contempt felt by the Romans for every other occupation than the military, and the consequent contempt for art and artists imported from conquered peoples, resulted in the fact that in the time of the Cæsars sculptors and painters "were generally either slaves or freedmen." Probably the only concern the priests had with sculpture was when prescribing the mode in which this or that god should be represented.

Such records as have come down to us from early Christian times illustrate the general law of evolution in the respect that they show how little the arts of design were at first specialized. It has been often remarked that in days comparatively modern, separation of the various kinds of mental activity was much less marked than it has since become: instance the fact that Leonardo da Vinci was man of science as well as artist; instance the fact that Michael Angelo was at once poet, architect, sculptor and painter. This union of functions seems to have been still more the rule in preceding ages. Evidence about the sculptors' art is mingled with evidence about kindred arts. Says Emeric-David—"The same masters were goldsmiths, architects, painters, sculptors, and sometimes poets, as well as being abbots or even bishops." We are told by Challamel that the industrial art by pre-eminence was gold-working. The great artists in it were monks or at least clerics. The great schools of it were monasteries. And it was for the use of churches—ecclesiastical vestments and decorations, funeral monuments, etc.

In the last part of this statement we see the implication that the sculpturing of figures on monuments was a priestly occupation. This is also implied by the statement of Emeric-David that In the 10th cent. Hugues, monk of Monstier-en-Der, was painter and statuary. Further proof that miscellaneous art-works were carried on by the clerical class is given by Lacroix and Seré, who say that early in the 11th cent, a monk, named Odoram, executed shrines and crucifixes in gold and silver and precious stones. In the middle of the century another monk, Theophilus, was at once painter of manuscripts, glass-stainer, and enameling goldsmith.

Concerning these relationships in England during early days, I find no evidence. The first relevant statements refer to times in which the plastic arts, which no doubt were all along shared in by those lay-assistants who did the rough work under clerical direction—such as chiseling out monuments in the rough according to order—had lapsed entirely into the hands of these layassistants. Having been in the preceding times nothing but skillful artisans, their work, when it came to be monopolized by them, was for a long time regarded as artisan-work. Hence the statement that—

"Previously to the reign of Charles I the sculptor seems hardly to have been considered an artist." "Nicholas Stone was the sculptor most in vogue. He was master-mason to the king."

I may add that in early days, monks—St. Dunstan being an example—occupied themselves in executing the details of ecclesiastical buildings—the foliations of windows, screens, and the like. It is said that when sculpturing the heads used for gargoyles, they sometimes amused themselves by caricaturing one another.

Recent stages in the development of sculpture are not easy to trace. But there seems to have occurred in modern times a process parallel to that which we saw occurred in Greece. During the first stages in the secularization of his business the carver of marble carried with him the character previously established—he was a superior artisan. Only in course of time, as his skill was employed for other than sacred purposes, did he become independent and begin to gain reputation as an artist. And his position has risen along with the devotion of his efforts more and more to subjects unconnected with religion.

Let it be observed, however, that even still sculpture retains in considerable measure its primitive character as an ancillary to ancestor-worship. A carved marble effigy in a Christian church differs but little in meaning from a carved wooden figure of a dead man placed on his grave in savage and semi-civilized societies. In either case the having an image made, and the subsequent conduct in presence of it, imply the same prompting sentiment: there is always more or less of awe or respect. Moreover, sculpture continues to be largely employed for the expression of this sentiment, not in churches only, but in houses. The preservation of a bust by descendants commonly implies recognition of worth in the original, and is thus in a faint way an act of worth-ship.

Hence only that kind of sculpture which is not devoted to the representation of deceased persons, in either public or in private edifices, or in open places, can be considered as absolutely secularized. One who takes his subjects from ancient myth, or history, or from the life around, may be considered as alone the sculptor who has lost all trace of the original priestly character.

With recognition of the completed process of differentiation there is nothing here to join respecting the process of integration. Sculptors have not yet become sufficiently numerous to form entirely independent unions. Such combination as has arisen among them we shall have to recognize in the next chapter, in association with the combinations of painters.

  1. Principles of Sociology, vol. i.
  2. Principles of Sociology, vol. i.