Lapas attēli
PDF
ePub

"Enough, child, enough," said Christian Kneller, with a heavy sigh; "I see thou dost indeed love him. If he does not change his mind in Italy, let him be thy husband in God's name; and if he loves and prizes thee only half as much as thy old father, thou mayest not be unhappy after all." "Oh, he does love me," exclaimed Marguerite, coming back to her father again and sitting down beside him; "he will love me and prize me even as much as you could wish, dear father." And persuading herself that it was his dread of losing her that had made the good old man for once in his life unjust, she

told him with her loving heart beaming in her happy eyes, that she would never leave him, and that Maurice had promised they should all live together in the dear old house, from which, and all its associations, she well knew her father could never have borne to be separated.

Christian Kneller said little in reply; but he smoked his pipe quietly, and let Marguerite weave her bright fancies of future bliss unchecked, and Marguerite was perfectly happy.

To be continued.

[blocks in formation]

Nay, even if her note we miss,
Our craving does thee wrong:
Thy brooding hum of perfect bliss
Is sweet as sweetest song.

Yon tiny nest that gems the spray,
The mansion of thy love,
Might well on Beauty's natal day
Have hung in Eden's grove.

We, serfs fast-fettered to the soil,
Rejoice when thou dost bring
Thy sunshine to our home of toil,
Mourn when thou takest wing.

But thou, unbound by care or fear
Of want, dost lightly roam

To North or South as roams the year:
The Summer is thy home.

Could mortal sorrow look on thee

Without a pulse of joy?

Could mortal mirth thy joyaunce see

Nor feel its own alloy?

What art thou on this tear-stained earth,

Far from thy native sphere,

'Midst things of dark and doleful birth?

What is thine errand here?

Dost thou through clouds of doubt and woe,
That o'er our being lower,

The ever-brooding presence show

Of some benigner power

Some power that suffers darkness now

To make a dawn divine

Of rapture, like thy bosom's glow

Of beauty, such as thine?

G. NEOT.

EARLY CHRISTIAN ART AND SYMBOLISM.

BY THE REV. W. H. WITHROW, M.A.

HE conditions, under which Christian | opment and of the changes it has undergone.

[ocr errors]

ries, were eminently unfavourable to its highest development. It was not, like pagan art, the æsthetic exponent of a dominant religion; enjoying the patronage of the great and wealthy; adorning the numerous temples of the gods and the palaces and banquet chambers of emperors and senators; commemorating the virtues of patriots and heroes, and bodying forth the conceptions of poets and seers. There was no place in the Christian system for such representations as the glorious sun-god, Apollo, or the lovely Aphrodite, or the sublime majesty of Jove, which are still the unapproached chefs d'autre of the sculptor's skill. The beautiful myths of Homer and Hesiod were regarded with abhorrence; and the Christian converts from paganism shrank, as from sacrilege, from any representation of the supreme object of their worship.

Nevertheless the testimony of the catacombs gives evidence that art was not, as has frequently been asserted, entirely abjured by the primitive believers on account of its idolatrous employment by the pagans. They rather adopted and purified it for Christian purposes, just as they did the diverse elements of ancient civilization. It was not

till the increasing power and growing opulence of the Church, led to the more lavish employment of art, that it called forth the condemnation of the Fathers of the third and fourth centuries.

The art of any age is an outgrowth and efflorescence of an internal living principle; and as is the tree so is its fruit. The iconography of the early centuries of Christianity is, therefore, a pictorial history of its devel

mas, the strifes of heresiarchs and schismatics are all reflected therein. The frescoes of the catacombs are illustrations, inestimable in value, of the pure and lofty character of that primitive Christianity of which they were the offspring. The very intensity of that old Christian life under repression and persecution created a more imperious necessity for religious symbolism, as an expression of its deepest feelings, and as a common sign of the faith. Early Christian art, therefore, was not realistic and sensuous, but ideal and spiritual. Of the unknown artists of the catacombs, no less than those of the Rénaissance, may it be said:

"They never moved their hand Till they had steeped their inmost soul in prayer."

The decoration of these subterranean crypts is the first employment of art by the early Christians of which we have any remains. A universal instinct leads us to beautify the sepulchres of our departed. This is seen alike in the rude funereal totem of the American savage, in the massive mausolea of the Appian Way, and in the magnificent Moorish tombs of the Alhambra. It is not, therefore, remarkable that the primitive Christians adorned with religious paintings, expressive of their faith and hope, the graves of the dead, or in times of persecution traced upon the martyr's tomb the crown and palm, the emblems of victory, or the dove and olive branch, the beautiful symbol of peace.

It must not, however, be supposed that the first beginnings of Christian art were rude and formless essays, such as we see among barbarous tribes. The primitive be

lievers had not so much to create the principles of art as to adapt an art already fully developed to the expression of Christian thought. Like the neophyte converts from heathenism, pagan art had to be baptized into the service of Christianity. "The germs of a new life," says Dr. Lübke, "were in embryo in the dying antique world. Ancient art was the garment in which the young and world-agitating ideas of Christianity were compelled to veil themselves."* Hence the earlier paintings are superior in execution, and manifest a richness, a vigour, and a freedom like those of the best specimens of the classic period. Their design is more correct, their ornamentation more chaste and elegant, and the accessories more graceful than in the later examples. These shared the gradual decline which characterized the art of the decaying empire, becoming more impoverished in conception, stiff in manner, and conventional and hieratic in type, till they sink into the barbarism of the Byzantine age.

The art of the catacombs thus sprang out of that which was pre-existing, selecting and adapting what was congenial in spirit, and rigorously rejecting whatever savoured of idolatry or of the sensual character of ancient heathen life. As Christianity was diametrically opposed to paganism in spirit, so its art was singularly free from pagan error. There were no wanton dances of nude figures like those upon the walls of that exhumed Roman Sodom, Pompeii, but chaste pictures with figures clothed from head to foot; or where historical accuracy required the representation of the undraped form, as in pictures of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, or of the story of Jonah, they were instinct with modesty and innocence. Pagan art, a genius with drooping wing and torch reversed, stood at the door of death but cast no light upon the world beyond. Christian

[blocks in formation]

art, inspired with lofty faith, pierced through the veil of sense-beyond the shadows of time-and saw the pure spirit rising from the grave, "as essence from an alembic, in which all the grosser qualities of matter have remained." Hence only images of hope and tender joy are employed. There is no symptom of the despair of paganism, scarce even of natural sorrow.

Independent statues were, in the first ages, rarely if ever used. There seemed to be greater danger of falling into error by the imitation of these—the forms in which were most of the representations of the heathen deities-than in the employment of plastic art. The fabrication of these, therefore, was especially avoided; and in nothing is the contrast between ancient Christianity and the Roman Catholicism of later days more striking than in the profusion of "graven imagery" in the latter compared with its entire absence in the former. Indeed sculpture never became truly Christian, and even in the hands of an Angelo or a Thorwaldsen failed to produce triumphs of skill like those of Phidias or Praxiteles. Christian plastic art, however, in its noblest development, far surpassed even the grandest achievements, of which we have any account, of the school of Apelles and Zeuxis. Christianity is the glorification of the gentler graces, paganism of the sterner virtues. The former finds its best expression in painting, the latter in sculpture.

Primitive Christianity was eminently congenial to religious symbolism. Born in the East and in the bosom of Judaism, which had long been familiar with this universal Oriental language, it adopted types and emblems as its natural mode of expression.* They formed the warp and woof of the symbolic drapery of the tabernacle and temple service, pre-figuring the great truths of the Gospel. The Old Testament sparkles with

[blocks in formation]

mysterious imagery. In the sublime visions of Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel move strange fantastic creatures of monstrous form and prophetic significance. In the New Testament, the Divine Teacher conveys the loftiest lessons in parables of inimitable beauty. In the Apocalyptic visions of St. John, the language of imagery is exhausted to represent the overthrow of Satan, the triumph of Christ, and the glories of the New Jerusalem. The primitive Christians, therefore, naturally adopted a similar mode of art expression for the purposes of religious instruction. They also, as a necessary precaution, in times of persecution, concealed from the profane gaze of their enemies the mysteries of the faith under a veil of symbolism, which yet revealed their profoundest truths to the hearts of the initiated. That such a disguise was not superfluous is shown by the recent discovery of a pagan caricature of the Crucifixion, on a wall beneath the Palatine, and the recorded desecration of the Eucharistic vessels by the apostate Julian.* To those who possessed the key to the "Christian hieroglyphs," as Raoul Rochette has called them, they spoke a language that the most unlettered as well as the learned could understand. What to the haughty heathen was an unmeaning scrawl, to the lowly believer was eloquent of loftiest truths and tenderest consolation.

Although occasionally fantastic and farfetched, this symbolism is generally of a profoundly religious significance, and often of extreme poetic beauty. In its perpetual canticle of love, it finds resemblances of the Divine object of its devotion throughout all nature. It beholds, beyond the shadows of time, the eternal verities of the world to come. It is not of the earth, earthy, but is entirely super

When persecution ceased, this veil of mystery was thrown off and a less esoteric art employed; but even when Christianity came forth victorious from the catacombs, symbolical paintings celebrated its triumph upon the walls of the basilicas and baptisteries which rose in the great centres of population.

sensual in its character; and employs material forms only as suggestions of the unseen and spiritual. It addresses the inner vision of the soul, and not the mere outer sense. Its merit consists, therefore, not in artistic beauty of execution, but in appositeness of religious significance-a test lying far too deep for the apprehension of the uninitiated. was, perhaps, also influenced, as Kügler remarks, in the avoidance of realistic representation, by the fear which pervaded the primitive church, of any approach to idolatry.

It

Some of the Christian symbols, indeed, were common also to pagan art, as the palm, the crown, the ship, and others; but they acquired, under Christian treatment, a profounder and nobler meaning than they ever possessed before. Moreover there are other and more striking examples of the adoption, when appropriate to Christian themes, of subjects from pagan art. Orpheus charming the wild beasts with his lyre is a frequently recurring figure in the catacombs, and is referred to by the early Fathers as a type of the influence of Christ in subduing the evil dispositions of the heart, and drawing all men unto him by the sweet persuasive power of his divine word. The victory of Our Lord over death and hell, and probably an ancient interpretation of his preaching to the spirits in prison*, may have found a sort of parallel in the beautiful legend of the faithful lover seeking in the under-world the lost Eurydice, bitten by a deadly serpent; while at the sound of his wondrous harp, gloomy Dis was soothed, Ixion's wheel stood still, Tantalus forgot his thirst, and the stone of Sisyphus hung poised in air. The Orphic verses were also said by the Fathers to have I Peter, iii., 19.

*

The Medieval conception of Christ's "Harrowing of Hell," and delivery of our first parents, ruined through the guile of the serpent, is a striking analogue of this myth. Compare, also, Bacon's rather fantastic interpretations of this legend, by the principles of natural and moral philosophy. See his "Wisdom of the Ancients," chap, xi.

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »