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CHAPTER IX COLLECTORS OF THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
   Collectors of the sixteenth century—Character of the time and the artist’s attitude towards the antique—Cellini restores antique statues—New Roman masterpiece discovered in Rome—Decadence of art—A protest of Raphael against daily destructions of Roman relics—First laws prohibiting exportation of Roman finds—Barbaric attitude of a Barberini—First law against the exportation of painting masterpieces.

As we have already observed, centuries in art cannot be separated like horses in stable-boxes. There are periods between one change and another, transitional times that make it impossible to fix any date whatsoever. Thus we may say, without stating a date, that the sixteenth century not only felt the benefit of the Quattrocento for a certain time, but was itself actually Quattrocento for a score of years or more. The men of the past had not vanished; Riccio, for instance, one of the most active imitators of the antique, died in 1533. But when the sixteenth century began to outline its own character, the cult of art, art patronage and the passion for collecting fine things are seen to have taken another turn. The Cinquecento has of course magnificent patrons of art, and almost every prince collects something or other. Life is still imbued with partiality for the antique.

Lorenzino Medici in playing Brutus and actually killing his cousin, Duke Alexander Medici, is reconstructing an old heroic attitude in his learned, pagan mind; Filippo Strozzi—or whoever planned his suicide—makes one think of some hero of Plutarch when he is found dead, apparently by his own hand, with a line of Virgil, Exoriare aliquis nostris ex102 ossibus ultur (may an avenger arise from my bones), written in his own blood at his side. Painting still deals with subjects from Roman history and so does sculpture, but artists have lost all comprehension of them, a fact still more evident with regard to Biblical subjects. In support of this statement it is sufficient to quote the painting of Paolo Veronese, now in the Academy at Venice, representing Jesus in the house of Levi, one of the artist’s masterpieces, in which Christ is in the company of—Venetian gentlemen of the sixteenth century; but if in this painting disregard for the Oriental side of the scene is carried to an extreme, it must be said that Titian and Tintoretto, and a great many other painters of the time, were no better. This trait, which certainly originated in the good period of the Renaissance and which we now find in its full development, indicates that in its more significant and ripest expression the Cinquecento is the logical decline of a past triumph in art, the victim, as it were, of tradition—of tradition and a few artistic personalities, such as Raphael and Michelangelo, who turned a new leaf in art, awakened a new feeling, a new overpowering school. Michelangelo, especially, with his fascinating and inimitable style draws a legion of followers, fostering an art that during the great sculptor’s life already is ripe for decadence.

Enlightened collectors abound in this period, their collections increase daily, but are they really lovers of art as their predecessors were, are they worshippers of the antique like the bygone collectors? This is what we ask. In the sixteenth century when art is a tradition of the far past, on the one hand, and on the other, almost a tradition of the recent past, life seems to have taken the selfsame attitude: people are not real lovers of art, but are so merely by tradition. Every well-bred gentleman of the Cinquecento was obliged to have the air of understanding art. Machiavelli might have added an interesting chapter to his Principe to demonstrate how important it was for a prince to be interested in art, even though, perchance, utterly indifferent to it in reality. When giving103 instructions in his Cortegiano, as to what a gentleman of his time ought to know, Castiglione adds that he must learn to paint. “Even if this art affords you no pleasure,” advises Castiglione, “it will give you a better understanding of things, and a clearer appreciation of the excellency of ancient and modern statues, vases, monuments, medals, cameos, carvings, and other such objects.”

In a word, ably or otherwise, with natural disposition or not, it was part of good breeding for a gentleman of the sixteenth century to be interested in art and play the connoisseur. It is from this that the Cinquecento suffers. The patent prince-patron of art, the stock gentleman-collector abounds, the genuine lover of art is rare. A prince’s house or that of a simple person of good standing was considered incomplete if without a collection of some sort. Yet while the artists of the sixteenth century had certainly derived no small benefit from their predecessors’ passion for the antique, they had become far too individual, far too engrossed in their own art to be susceptible to the art of the past. Michelangelo, the artist who lived practically through both centuries, the sculptor whose genius, tremendous and over-individual, was nevertheless responsible for the decadence of sculpture, is a good example of this. He can, like many another Italian artist, show his versatility and skill by imitating an art other than his own, as he did with the Sleeping Cupid that deceived Cardinal San Giorgio, but when the artist is genuine and gives his own artistic temperament full play, craft and virtuosity disappear, reminiscence is impossible. Even when the subject and peculiar quality of the work suggest imitation and turn thought to the antique, Michelangelo remains true to his own grand soul. His Brutus exemplifies the point. It was a Roman subject of classical times, and Michelangelo might easily have been infected by the history of the past and the forms he had admired when interested in the excavation of ancient statues in Rome. Yet his Brutus is more Dantesque in its tragic lines than Roman.

Cellini, to illustrate ............
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