In surveying the history of architectural design with attention to its fundamental principles we shall find that there have thus far existed in Europe but three entirely consistent and distinctive styles; namely, the Greek, the Byzantine, and the Gothic. All other varieties of architecture may be broadly divided into two classes, the one consisting of buildings of transitional character, and comprising all organic and progressive types of Romanesque, and the other composed of styles made up of mixed elements not in process of organic fusion. The first architecture of the second class is that of imperial Rome with its offshoots, the Christian Roman and the numerous subsequent forms of the basilican type, and the second is the architecture of the Renaissance. When, after studying the architecture of Greece, we come to examine that of Rome, we are at once struck by the incongruous mixture of elements which it exhibits ; and although we may be impressed by its grandeur, we are unable to give it our unqualified admiration. In Byzantine art we find Greek, Roman, and Oriental elements, logically modified in adaptation to new uses, and fused into a radically new and distinctive style of entire consistency and great nobility.1 In the transitional art of western Europe we see the creative genius of Northern races gradually evolving the Gothic style, in which elements derived from the older systems are wholly recreated and assimilated in a wonderful manner, and when we turn from the beauty, and the structural logic, of the consummate Gothic Art2 to the architecture of the Renaissance, a similar contrast is again apparent.
In one branch of art, however, the best achievements of the Renaissance period command our unqualified admiration; namely, the art of painting. As before remarked, the Italian genius appears to have been primarily a genius for painting, and in this field the conditions all conspired to produce results that were without precedent for excellence, and that still remain unrivalled. Yet here, too, we shall need to discriminate. Italian painting of the sixteenth century presents a variety of phases that are by no means of equal merit, and the noblest forms of it show the least of the essentially Renaissance spirit. The Christian painters of the fourteenth century had laid a foundation on which their successors could build, and this gave a character to much of the art of the Early Renaissance which the dominant influences of the time itself could not give.3 But the spirit of the sixteenth century was unfavourable to the highest ideals and the most exemplary practice, and, save for the works of a few exceptional men, there were no high achievements in painting after about 1520, except in Venice, where more than elsewhere natural and wholesome conditions had been maintained.
1 Cf. my Development and Character of Gothic Architecture, pp. 304-306.
2 The Gothic of northern France of the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, the only true Gothic art, is here meant.
3 The Viscount Delaborde, in his book La Gravure en Italie avant Marc
Among the many influences' that were stirring the artistic minds of the Renaissance there were two of chief importance, the Neo-pagan revival, and the true intellectual life of the people which was independent of the retrospective movement, and had been growing up through the Middle Ages. The most sterling qualities of the artistic products of the period are due to this intellectual life, and Florentine and Venetian painting, the two most admirable phases of the supreme art of Italy, are the finest expression of this. In other words, it was not the revival of interest in ancient thought and feeling, nor the influence of classic models, so much as the ripened development of the native Italian genius itself, that produced what is most excellent in the Fine Arts of the Renaissance. A consciously retrospective motive can hardly be a vital force in artistic development, and the direct attempt, in so far as such attempt was made, to shape the arts after classic models was an unmixed evil. The native traditions and innate tendencies of the Italian people were enough of themselves to give a strong classic quality to their art. In architecture what of classic feeling was natural to them needed only in the fifteenth century to be freed from the elements which had been misappropriated from the mediaeval art of the North to allow it true expression in forms adapted to their needs. In normal human progress each successive stage of development creates its own appropriate forms; but peoples, like individuals, sometimes pass through periods of partial aberration, and while genius may still find scope enough, as in the Renaissance, to produce much that is admirable, the noblest forms of art are not an outgrowth of such conditions.
Antoine, Paris, 1883, p. 32, remarks on this with admirable discrimination as follows : " Certes, sous le pinceau de Botticelli, de pareils sujets [subjects drawn from Classical Mythology] gardent un caractere d'elegance tendre et de melancolie presque analogue a la physionomie des scenes oil figurent PEnfant-Dieu et la Madone. ii y a loin de cette maniere d'interpreter la Fable aux panegyriques violemment ou galamment licencieux que les hotes les plus mal fames de l'Olympe obtiendront dans les siecles suivants; il y a loin des gracieuses inventions de Botticelli aux lascivie brutales de Jules Romain et d'Augustin Carrache ou aux gamineries mythologiques de Boucher et de ses pareils, et Ton a quelque peine aujourd'hui, en face d'aussi chastes tableaux, a comprendre la vehemence des reproches fulmines jadis par Savonarole."