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"Surgt fgftnr tt fac: et erit Bomfnus tecum."
No. CXXIV.—FEBRUARY, 1858.
SOME REMARKS ON GLASS PAINTING.—No. IV.
In continuation of the remarks made in a former paper, the applicability of naturalistic principles of representation to the great scenes and events of Scripture has now to be considered. In the last paper these principles were considered, mainly, in reference to the persons ;—the great characters—Apostles, Prophets, Saints, and Martyrs, both of Scripture and of ecclesiastical history; and more especially with reference to His Person Who, though in the form of man, is in reality far above all men, and Who therefore must, of necessity, be unworthily represented, if delineated only in His human character. And in thus carrying on these remarks, from the persons to the scenes in which, while they were on earth, they were the principal actors, much which would otherwise have to be said, will have been already anticipated. But yet there remains also much which will serve to bring out in still greater clearness the unfitness of any such principles, even in the field to which naturalistic painters chiefly confine themselves—the scenes and events recorded in the Bible. It cannot have escaped the eye of any one, who has paid any sort of attention to the subject, that the naturalistic school chiefly delight in Bible scenes as the subjects for their windows, in preference to single figures. In fact, it is here, in this preference, that one of the most obvious differences between this school and that which has taken the mediaeval painters exclusively for their model, is to be looked for: and it is therefore on this their own peculiar ground that the fitness or unfitness, of their principles of representation in sacred art shall now be further tested.
In the first case, then, what is there to be gained by the introduction of these principles into the school of glass painting? More correct drawing, it is said, of the figures, greater truthfulness and accuracy in the details. So far as the correct delineation of the human form is secured by the adoption of naturalistic, or any other, principles of representation, little opposition to their introduction need be feared; but
VOL. XIX. B
with regard to the second object, which it is thus proposed to ensure, the question will have to be met. Whether what will thus be gained is a sufficient counterbalance for that which must inevitably follow their universal adoption; viz., first, the omission of that which, whether the subject chosen be a person, or an event, must always in such subjects be an essential element; and, secondly, the liability to have introduced into our paintings that which not being required by the subject, would by its introduction be injurious to the reverent effect of the whole.
I. If we turn our thoughts backward for a moment, and try to recollect any particular picture of this kind which we may have seen, and then try to analyse in our own minds what that was which rendered a naturalistic representation—say, of our Lord—not merely unworthy, i.e., one which failed to give us all the ideas which are demanded in our conception of His Person, but positively offensive to us, it will be seen that what in all such cases was wanting, was the Divine element,—the absence of any sign, the symbol of His Godhead—that He is aught beyond what His form would proclaim Him to be. Where, in fact, a mere human representation of Christ would fail in giving any adequate conception of Him to our minds, would be in its failing to mark that union of the Divine with the human nature, which is, to speak reverently, the great characteristic of Christ: that which, to our minds at least, distinguishes Him among the Divine Three, and, equally raises Him far above all of that race whose nature He has assumed into Himself. And it is just this point—this union of the two natures—which naturalistic principles must always fail in reaching, for the simple reason that there is nothing like it in all nature. Men cannot here copy or imitate, simply because there is nothing from which to copy: their favourite principle of " direct imitation," is, in this instance at least, at fault; and they disdain to have recourse to non-natural expedients, consistently on their principles, because none such exist in nature.
How then do they attempt to meet this difficulty? Not by the reverent expedient, adopted of old, of the nimbus or glory encircling the head, while there is infused into the form and countenance as much of majesty and dignity, as well as patient godlike sweetness, as art can compass: no such expedient as this necessary for the expression of that which is above nature, meets their favour, consistently, as has been observed—because no such nimbus or glory was seen in His life on earth to enwrap His head; but the result is, what in fact is an untrue representation—a representation of only His human character; a suffering dignified person, it is true, stands before us; but still only a dignified person—not " God manifest in the flesh."
And the same remark will apply, though of course with much less force, to their representations of saints. These fail, chiefly, in also what may be called the Divine element: they are, it may be, good men, and holy and true and patient men; men who have hazarded their lives for the faith; yea, and who would do so again, were it required of them. All this is marked in their figures and countenances, and we can see it and trace it, and admire its truthfulness. But when all this is done, is there not something more than this still wanting? It is not so much good and holy, and true and patient men that we are thinking of when we name the worthies of old, but saints: not such men as we pee around us, and meet every day and know, but something far higher than these—more Godlike, more like Him Whose eminent servants they in life were. We desire to have in their representations something to mark that they are now not merely washed and sanctified, as we believe, such men are on earth, but glorified also with the light of that blessedness which is to be enjoyed only in the immediate presence of Christ. A saint, in its peculiar and technical sense, in the sense in which it becomes a word of art, is not merely a good and holy man, but a visibly glorified being.
Now to apply this to the question more immediately in hand: there is a similar want found in naturalistic representations of the great scenes and events of Scripture. In fact, here, in what is more peculiarly their own special field, the condemnation of naturalistic principles, as applied to devotional paintings, (and to such a class glass painting must be held to belong,) will be seen to be most strong.
These principles are satisfied if the events selected, as the subject of the picture, are given faithfully in all their details just as they occurred, or if that should be impossible, just as we may conceive them to have occurred. Now there is in all such scenes an element—to us the most important element—which, in neither of these ways, can naturalistic principles ever reach, for the very simple reason that it never could have met the eye of a spectator, but which, if it be omitted, entirely changes their character; i.e. the light in which these events affect men in their relationship to God. The view which a naturalistic painter takes of his subject is, in all cases, just that view, and no more, which a spectator, were he present at those scenes, might be conceived to take: whatever would not fall, or may be conceived not to have fallen, within the range of vision occupied by a man so placed would not, by his principle of direct imitation, fall within his view, and therefore could not legitimately be represented in his picture. Whenever, then, his subject be of such a nature that its real character could not be ascertained at the time by those who were present, there will always be danger, at any rate, of his version falling below the true dignity of his original, even if he is not guilty of positive mis-representation. And of such a nature, it can be shown, the events of Scripture really are.
Let his subject be that in which modern art more especially delights, and which is, in truth, the most momentous event which the world ever saw—the Crucifixion. How very different does this now appear to us who know its true value and meaning from what it must have seemed to them who stood by and were witnesses of it! To us it stands forth as the highest and grandest moral act that the world has ever witnessed; to them who were present at it, either as spectators, and of course still more to them who were actors in it, all its finer features—the moral constituents of the scene, the undying love which prompted it, the unflinching constancy that went through with iti the unhesitating submission to His Father's will, the total absence of self, or any thought of self that marked the sacrifice—all these would be hidden, unseen, not because they were not there, but because there