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if "the Word made flesh and dwelling among us may be portrayed at all, you will agree with me that, as a matter of principle, you cannot exclude any part of His earthly life and ministry from the sphere of art. It is a case of “all in all, or not at all.” Concede the sculptured Nativity, or the miracles, and the crucifix needs no apology or defence. Nay, one would say that if one thing more than another should be conspicuously portrayed in every Christian Church, and should be held as most helpful to the ministry of reconciliation, it is that event which in our Lord's prophetic words should be fruitful in drawing men to Him in proportion to the prominence of its exposition. One would say that if one object could speak straight
to men's hearts of the guilt of sin and the need of atonement, it is the Figure of Love, strong as death, thorncrowned and pierced to the heart upon that cross, which is both tree of life and tree of shame.
The second case touches Englishmen nearly, for it robbed us of our best native art-treasures, and brought about that divorce of Religion and Art we so much deplore in the present day.
I said at starting that art is necessary to man. Yes, and the Puritan, too, must have his imagery. If he hacks down the rood, he retains the skull and cross-bones at its foot. If he defaces the Mother and Child he keeps the cherubs that had carolled in their ears, and only alters their expression. If he banishes the imagery of life eternal, he coins an image of death in the shape of an hour-glass, which is useful in the pulpit. If he hews to pieces the Christ and the holy men of the New Dispensation, he sets up the “Schoolmasters” of the law, to flank the Ten Commandments. Not that his mind was quite easy. In the preface to Beza's “ Icons," or Portraits of Illustrious Protestants (1580) the author defends himself against any imputation of idolatry or imageworship, on the plea that these Icons were not to be introduced into God's House. Ah ! there's the rub!
With these exceptions the Puritan's relation to art was of a destructive and not of a constructive character. He would have no dealings with art at any price. He broke down the fittings of our churches, turned them into barns, whitewashed their painted walls, threw down our marble altars and set up deal tables, burnt the coloured vestments of our clergy, and clothed himself from top to toe in a fitting suit of sable. Art was to him inimical to spiritual devotion, and a concoction of Satan. Milton, in his earlier days, had, indeed, spoken with the tongue of an angel of the sweet and solemn influences of Anglican worship
; but the developed Puritan scorned the sacredness of places and things.
Holding such views, it was impossible for the Puritan to be other than an iconoclast. For art works objectively, while his Religion is subjective. Art is genial and expressive, where Puritanism is ungenial and repressive. Religious Art expresses the enthusiasm of belief, and can no more thrive in doubt than a wall can stand in sinking sand; but the Puritan is a man of anarchy and doubts. Axe in hand, he grimly arraigns the Christianity of the past, condemns it all
, and proceeds to efface its memorials. The Puritan's is a gospel of gloom, that checks all joy and heart-affluence. On the other hand, the English Church, at her best times, has a marvellous evocative power
over all that is eloquent and expressive in the best part of man. True it is that here, as elsewhere, the Catholic Church has her Puritan side in services, architecture, and worship. She can sing low as well as high. She can, if need be, strip and sell the silver from her altars to feed the poor, and can build stern churches. But, systematically, she takes man as God made him, and deals with him on that entirely rational principle that religion is made for man and not man for religion. Her endeavour is to make his human nature plastic to divine influences, so she finds fields for his faculties and his emotions. She invites him to rear churches that are sanctuaries for God, yet homes for men-churches garnished with lovely imagery-churches which the poor may be happy in and the little child may love-churches which shall not be whited sepulchres for torpid audiences, but homes of grace, where religious surroundings shall foster holy thoughts and minister to the sanctities of mortal life.
You may remember some stern mo!intain-range that you once saw in a foreign land that stood black and frowning against the sun, and barred the warmth and light from the valleys and homesteads beneath. How cold and dead was the scene ! But you got to the other side of the black wall to find the uplands aglow with light and heat-man and nature were alive—the trees waved, the flowers smiled, the streams flashed, the birds sang, the children played, the gaily-dressed men and women carolled cheerily as they toiled in the fields.
Need I explain my simile ? You know too well how the shadows of Calvinism rested on well-nigh half of the Church of England in the dreary days before the Catholic revival. You know what state Art was in. You know how Calvinistic teaching had chilled our youth, turned our homes and churches into ice-houses, made our social and religious life mawkish and repellent, our schools purgatory, our hospitals and “poor-houses” scarcely human. But one by one, or in small devoted bands, from this side and that, like a tale of romance, came chosen men to beat down peak after peak of the icy barriers that kept out the sunlight-Handel, Beethoven, Charles Wesley with his hymns, Goldsmith, Scott, Lamb, Dickens, Wordsworth, Newman, Keble, Arnold, Maurice, Robertson, Kingsley, Fr. Lowder, Liddon, Joshua Reynolds, Landseer, Turner, Millais, Hunt, Leighton, Watts, Rossetti, Jones, Browning, Tennyson, Pugin, Ruskin, Butterfield, Street, Shaw, Pearson, Bodley-each hero wielding his craft to batter out his little breach in the wall, and make a fresh track for sunbeams to warm the frozen roots of humanity and make the flowers blossom once again about our altars and our homes. Yet how much remains to be done! See how Art and Religion are still estranged !
Has it ever struck you that, with all our bright galaxy of artists, our objective art is all “ profane,” or without the temple ? In other days and other lands it was not so. The Greek's best art came straight to the temple of his gods. Luca-della-Robbias', Luinis's, Michael Angelo's, Murillo's art, was essentially Gods art and the people's art, that came to the old trysting place of God and man—the temple which was common-land to rich and poor. The church walls were covered with frescoes and easel-paintings and sculptures, that had sway over men's hearts and charmed them to the side of religion. The Bible and the Lives of the Saints were open fields for the artists' genius. He made
life full of sacred presences; and as men knelt to pray, they felt the eyes of Christ, and the saints and angels, and the whole court and company of heaven upon them. You tell me that the artist was often a bad man. Was he ! But if mediæval society were as bad as Machiavelli described it ; if the Pope were a fiend, and if all the devils of Inferno danced obscene orgies round the artists' easel, they fouled not his art. His art was divine; he held orders from above. Divine beauty haunted his mind and drove him like a goad. He was in touch with heaven as well as with earth. Hence it was his to embody the beauty of holiness and the God-like glory of redeemed humanity for those about him, for you and me, and for all generations. The times might be bad, and there might be villainy in high places, but the artist, in Christ's stead, taught hope and courage by the triumph of the saints; he gave enthusiasm to the toilers, told men their Divine destiny, and helped to make life lovely and happy.
And if “happy making” art were needed in days when Nature was unspoilt and toil had joy and recompense in it, who shall say England does not want it now! For the face of English society is smeared all over with defilement; the wear and tear of existence increases, and the conditions of life are well-nigh unbearable. The smoke hangs over six counties; the green fields fade yearly farther away from the children's feet; and men, women, and children lie huddled together in our hideous towns in one dark surging mass of misery and crime, hunger and despair. Yet priest and artist make no sign; they do not bring beautiful pictorial art to the churches, where beauty can alone be seen by the poor man without inducing either envy or despair. And the children of the courts are left to feed their souls upon “ The Police News" portraits of distinguished criminals and pictures of their crimes; or upon the local undertaker's painting of a suburban cemetery and funeral, and the elegant coffin adorned with a rustic cross that graces his shop-window.
They say that English art is revived! Yes, revived for selfish ends and to minister to godless culture and vulgar Manchester wealth. In other days Religion and Art, like twin-sisters, went hand-in-hand; but now, each wends her way companionless and mistrustful of the other. I do not say that the fault is primarily the artist's. I say that the Puritan forged chains for the artist, and the clergy go on rivetting them. The Puritan would not have pictorial art in church, and the clergy seem determined to perpetuate his superstitions. You know that the English Church is the best fenced Church in Christendom, and so admirably hemmed in with cast-iron restrictions that, according to the doctrinaire arm-chair churchman, and the 'cute and creedless lawyer, you may not put a sculptured image of your Saviour on the Cross in Church, unless accompanied by the two thieves to spoil the devotional effect. See how the Puritan's malison rests upon us; and are you surprised that the nineteenth century artist (who can get rich without the Church's patronage) should resent your churlish behaviour, and scorn both you and your prejudices. Depend upon it that the devil is right glad to see our church doors barred against the possibilities of pictorial art for drawing souls to Christ. The French infidel knows the power of the Crucifix; its power to touch the loving heart, and reach pain, sorrow,
And art suffers as much as Religion from this estrangement. The artist is truant from God; he lives for Art only, and sips the nectar of existence without caring for its deeper interests. The great stream of religious life, which you and I have found so refreshing, rolls by him leaving him untouched, uninspired. In popular estimate he is the poor trifler of an empty day; one with a thrilling mission to revive obsolete dress; an expensive purveyor of mild stimulants for sluggish imaginations; one with a vocation to paint coronetted babes and fashionable men and women ; a man to sculpt "dirty boys ” and marble soap-suds, or birds in cages after the Chinese manner.
Even the higher side of English art has little sincerity of purpose ; it only echoes the fashionable doctrine of future extinction. It shows delight in woman's charms, it has movement, colour, dress, passion ; it is keen in the sense of enjoyment, but, scratch its skin, and you find written below the old Pagan lament of the brevity of life. Divine revelation might be an exploded fiction : the Church might be in the jaws of hell : God might be dead, for aught you hear of these thenies upon Academy walls !
A noble painting by a great artist was placed the other day outside a Whitechapel Church : its theme is Mother Death striking a youthful victim. I was at its dedication, and, what with the picture, the speeches, and the eulogy upon defunct Christianity delivered by our master of elegy—Matthew Arnold—I felt that it was all like a solemn farce where Christianity assisted at her own obsequies! If that is the best the clergy can do for the witness of Christianity upon church walls—and that the best that a great living artist can do in that line —then we must wait till things mend !
And the pity is, that we must have modern art for modern people. Old pictures may be advantageously copied for educational purposes, but not for devotion. The old-world air in them is fatal to their general attractiveness. Each age must write its own religious books, and paint its own religious pictures, the old Art is pitched in an old key and won't suit. Hunt's “ Light of the World,” or Millais' “Carpenter's Shop,” is worth a score of £70,000 Raphael's Madonnas to nineteenth century Christians. Not that old pictures have yet done their work for God. You remember how Robertson of Brighton was resigned to his sufferings and drawn to his daily task by the face of Da Vinci's Christ at the foot of his bed. It was only the other day that a friend of mine saw two men looking at an autotype of a Crucifixion by an old master in Oxford Street, and one said to the other, “I s'pose, Bill, that be the Saviour on the cross ; well I never know'd it wur like that!”
The practical question for us, is, can we churchmen do anything to heal the breach between Religion and Art, and draw the forces of evidential art again to the church's side ? Have you no commissions to offer for the vacant roods in your churches ? Will you not claim that a figure of Christ upon the cross shall be reared upon the screen at Westminster Abbey, to redeem the utterly Pagan aspect of the place? We are looking anxiously for the decorations on the dome of St. Paul's, but is not there room for Holman Hunt's pictures in the chapels and aisles ? Are there no dead walls in our Cathedrals and Parish Churches to be made alive by bas-reliefs and paintings? Are there no pillars on which to hang easel paintings—no dreary church
walls to make resonant of Gospel truth ? (that is if the clergy will allow that they do not quite exhaust the whole charm of the Gospel in their discourses). Have you no trumpery“ Ecclesiastical Art” reredosesconcocted of baked mud tiles, British stones, and scrabbled monograms that no one understands--to replace with a good picture or sculpture ?
Let me tell you that it is only the parson and the chance archæological squire who care for mere spic and span dilettante Gothic churches. The peasant, the artisan, the farmer, the little child, does not care a dump for them, nor yet for hideous antiquated ninth century Saints that “conventional” artists outline on your walls; nor for the highly correct but particularly ill-made saints in your stained glass windows ! I asked a man who was staring up at some ghostly, ghastly paintings in a London church what his impression was of them : “Well," he said, “ I think they are curious,”and so do I! In old days, the poor man who “took a turn ”round your unrestored church could at least find a little human interest in the monuments, but you have left him neither a skeleton, nor a weeping cherub, nor a skull and cross-bones, nor Maud's “ Angel watching an urn,"—not even the lion and unicorn a-fighting for the crown !
Believe me, the poor do care for pictures and sculptures in churches. “For the learned and the lettered,” says an old Spanish writer, “written knowledge may suffice, but for the ignorant what master is like painting!” You put religious paintings and crucifixes in your homes, your schools, your mission rooms and mission chapels; why exclude them from your churches! If you cannot afford to employ living sculptors and painters, call the immortals of old days to your aid. Get Arundel Society pictures, autotypes, or coloured prints from the Religious Tract Society, or S.P.C.K., or the National Society.
Art is in no sense of the word an equivalent for Religion. Pictures cannot save man or turn this naughty world into paradise. Yet is it God's way that Art shall bring happiness to man,-shall educate his spiritual intelligence--give strength and elevation to his character--make religion more close ; and more lovely to man-produce hallowed emotions--witness for the faith, and help to lead men to the throne of God where all His servants shall see His face.
F. T. PALGRAVE, Esq.
IF I have anything to complain of in the subject allotted to me, it would be that it is only too good a subject. We have all, I suppose, some general ideas about it. We speak of Religion as having inspired Art with its highest and most important themes ; and then before our minds arises perhaps a vague image of a museum of ancient sculpture, with its crowd of gods and mythological persons,—or we recollect the great mediæval painters of Italy and Germany, and their masterpieces in the European galleries. On the other hand, we think of religious art, sometimes as having been a source of superstition, sometimes as a powerful means for instructing the ignorant, sometimes—as in our own age and country-as capable of leading men's minds upward, and co-operating with religion, if not directly teaching it.