IT is to the profound and patient investigations of German students that we owe the foundations of artistic archæology. Winckelmann, Lessing, Brunn, Overbeck, Michaelis, Hahn, and their compatriots have been for several generations recognized as the leaders of criticism on antique art; and in the volumes which we have before us in so presentable a shape, Dr. Lübke 1 has given a résumé of all that has been collated, up to this time, of the evidences, documentary or other, of the authorship and country of all the most celebrated antiques preserved to us.
If, however, we concede to Dr. Lübke’s work this value, and that which belongs to an accurate chronology of art, we must make the grave objection that it has an inordinate disposition to hazard, on insufficient bases, opinions as to that which cannot be known except by evidence of unmistakable inscription, namely, the authorship of individual works, and in few cases even the schools to which they belong. It is not enough that one should have all the known facts at one’s fingers’ ends ; it is necessary to have also that rare and inexplicable diagnostic perception which is almost unknown in German intellect and only in tolerable degree known to the French, while its best examples are found in the English mind. So far as facts can load him, the German critic goes safely and surely ; but when that faculty of discovery (theory), which is as purely an imaginative power as that involved in the conception of a statue or poem is needed, it is almost (remembering Kepler) hopeless to expect it of a Teutonic brain. That brief flight from the last-found fact to the sure footing in the unknown is more than it has imaginative power for; and the servile fidelity to the minute traces which lead it to so great results debars it from the field of demonstrable truth, or of clear intuition.
It is by his comprehension of Greek art and its relations that a critic must be measured, because that art embodies, in the purest and subtlest forms, all the principles of art so far as the human mind to-day comprehends it, and because it is the basis of all art — as art. And in his opening chapter on the “ Origin and Nature of Greek Plastic Art,” Dr. Lübke expresses more demonstrable error than should be sufficient to upset the authority of any critic. The early civilization of Greece is, for instance, ascribed to the “ Doric migration ” having “ driven the Ionians to the islands and coasts of Asia Minor ” ; which, in some most inexplicable way, “ calls forth the sparks of a new and vigorous life by bringing together different characters, the old civilized relations were shattered and broken through, before they could pass into Oriental deadness.” The only rational explanation of this is that the Dorians, “rude mountain tribes,” broke in on Hellas and drove its people to Asia Minor, whence they brought back civilization ; but Dr. Lübke tells us that “the old civilized relations” (what old ones ?) were shattered before they “ could pass into Oriental deadness,” — whatever that may mean in connection with the idea that the arts were derived from the East by Greece, since he says, “ If, therefore, the Greeks, undoubtedly in the earliest ages, received the elements of the art from the East, — this refers chiefly to the transmission of certain technical rules, namely, those of bronze sculpture, fashioning in clay, and weaving.”
From this point, with a measure of rhetorical absurdity which cannot be ascribed in any considerable degree to the wretched but faithful translation, he goes on as follows : —
“ But in other and no less essential points Greek art seems opposed to the Oriental, namely, in her relation to Nature. The Oriental does not take his stand freely and self-consciously in reference to Nature, but he is entangled in her fetters, whether he is overwhelmed with her tropical luxuriance or dependent in his whole existence on her overpowering requirements as Egypt is on the Nile. Hence, in the plastic works of the East, there is never a perfectly free and completely noble human form ; on the contrary, ruler and slave alike are depicted in the same constrained, unlifelike mode which betrays an inward want of freedom ; hence, the animal world only—in which there can be no idea of mental freedom or the lack of it—is conceived with any truth to life, The Greek was the first, set free as he was from the ban of Nature, who was able to conceive the human form in all its depth, and to depict it in its natural beauty and intellectual freedom. Wholly ideal in her purport, Greek Sculpture reverts to Nature for her forms. But just because the purport powerfully reacts on the form, this adherence to Nature is combined with a grandeur and majesty of feeling which never allows it to degenerate into aught that is base or little” : from all which preposterous nonsense one may gather that the author affects metaphysics, but has a moderate acquaintance only with common-sense.
But it is not only in opinion that Dr. Lübke is superfluous : as soon as he passes into the difficult but important region of conjectural history, he becomes as illogically speculative as in the later periods. “Migrating from the East in the dim ages of antiquity, the ancestors of the Hellenists had an Asiatic type of form, although, perhaps, not so much the Semitic character prevailing on Egyptian and Ninevite monuments as an Aryan character ” ; and again, in this equivocal looking into “ the dim ages of antiquity,” he returns to Egypt and the “Dorian migration.” “ On a closer examination we shall, then, see that, in the first place, no certain evidence is to be found of any Egyptian influence. With regard to the old Babylonish-Assyrian art, on the contrary, there is no doubt that the Greeks in the earliest ages experienced important influence from it. How far the civilization of the heroic age was dependent on that of Asia, we shall demonstrate in the historical survey. But we know moreover that with the Doric migration a new spirit pervaded the Greek people, calling forth a breach with the East and an independent assertion of the true Greek nature in forms of government, life, and art. All that had been learned and acquired from the East in the earlier epoch — not merely technical skill, especially in the working of metals, but also the outward character and even the artistic form of the representations — was firmly retained : but from the still strong Oriental form there struggled forth to light a new and genuine Hellenic spirit, which soon burst asunder the stale traditionary types as a burdensome fetter, and created for itself a peculiar and independent utterance.”
It is impossible for even Lübke not to see that a derivation of Greek art from Egyptian is untenable ; but as he has been educated in the notion that it came in some way from the East, he wanders along the coast of Asia Minor seeking its cradle. It must be “ Babylonish-Assyrian ” ; and the “ Asiatic type of form” must be—what? It is now rather ascribed to Phœnician ancestry ; but in order to maintain this theory, it is necessary to make the Etruscans also Phœnicians, and to attribute the work of the Argive civilization also to Phœnicia ; and so our author says of the Lions of Mycenæ, — a work which is, in fact, the key of the problem : —
“ More important still is a monument belonging certainly to a pre-Homeric age, and recently made accessible to all by plaster casts, namely, the famous Lion Gate at Mycenæ. At the main entrance of the old royal castle of Mycenæ, in a pediment inserted above the upper beam of the portal, there is a slab of limestone with two lions in haut-relief standing erect on either side of a column.....The constrained style and almost heraldic attitude of the animals resulting from their architectural position is combined with a tolerably lifelike adherence to nature, — a circumstance which might infer Ninevite influence ; on the other hand, there is a striking diversity to all Assyrian works in the utter absence of the hair of the mane and body, which is characteristic of their productions. We may therefore assert, with regard to this earliest work of European sculpture, that in severity of style it perceptibly surpasses the works of Nimroud. But at the same time the design itself in its architectural framework calls to mind those figures of Assyrian art which are grouped in symmetrical parallelism round a decorative centre. There it was an ornamental creation of free art; here, in the column with its substructure and entablature, we find a miniature imitation of the earliest wooden building,”
This “ wooden building ” of Dr. Lübke is nothing more nor less than an altar with the wood on it ready for the fire; and its Babylonish-Assyrian derivation may be judged of from the fact that its date is not later than B. C. 1300, and is probably much older ; while the earliest Babylonish-Assyrian work is from B. c. 923 to 899, following the author’s chronology based on the English and French investigations, and from the admitted fact that its character is strikingly diverse from that of Asia. In fact, the Lions of Mycenæ are the direct progenitors of Eginetan sculpture, and, quite likely, of Assyrian as well. They form the culmination, so far as known, of a range of works extending from Fiesole to the coast of Asia Minor, and known as Pelasgic, which have no affinity of any kind with Egyptian work, either in spirit or method of execution.
Dr. Lübke is equally hazardous when he comes to treat of individual works of historical times ; and in his characterization of the epochs of their production he follows a system by far too rigid. There is no law of analysis by which the work of an untrained individual in an advanced epoch can be distinguished from that of an individual in an untrained epoch. Nothing in criticism is more hazardous than assigning a work to a given author on the authority of a verbal tradition; and we must put Pliny and Pansanias where we put the critics of our daily press ; they are good for facts when we know them to be truthful, and only to be accepted as judges when we can compare their judgments with the works. By this standard Pliny is only an old gossip not worth quoting, and Pausanias no more worth listening to than a Correspondent of the Daily Aurora. But Lübke goes far beyond the warrant of these authors. He assumes that, as certain artists are known to have executed certain subjects, and similar works have been found, the former were the authors and the latter their works; but no assumption can be more perilous, few so unjustifiable, as those Lübke has been guilty of. As an example, he says of Cresilas, that he made a wounded Amazon and he assumes at once that several marble statues of wounded Amazons are copies of this, and assigns them categorically to this artist.
In fine, we must count Dr. Lübke, as an authority, the very lowest of all who have devoted themselves to the history of art. It would be difficult to find another so whimsical, unintuitive, pretentious, or weak in critical judgment; and while his book has an incontestible convenience for chronological reference, and a value for its illustrations, which are surprisingly good, we must decline to accept it as an acquisition to art research.
- History of Sculpture from the Earliest Ages to the Present Time. By DR. WILHELM LüBKE, Professor of Art-History at the Polytechnicum of Stuttgart. Translated by F. E. BUNNÉTT. London: Smith, Elder, & Co.↩