Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Shroud Of Christ By Paul Vignon D.Sc (Fr) Part 29.

It is clear, then, that the .contemporaries of the supposititious forger of Lirey were not men of any lofty artistic ideals, as shown at either Paris or Semur. In a Wooden bust of Christ attributed to the fourteenth century, which is to be found at Pontoise (fig. 24), we rise, however, to a slightly higher level. Here at least is a sincere attempt on the part of the artist to represent the Christ in His true ethnical type, and we realize that in so doing he has had to break with the traditions of his time. The long aquiline nose of the Christ of Pontoise is entirely different from that of the Beau Dieu of Amiens or of the apostle of the church of St. Jacques. Here, then, at least is a man who means to plough his own furrow. What is the result of his efforts ?

Alas! the head is in no way striking, for without laying stress on the poverty of design shown in the brow and mouth, the eyes, cast down, show no indication of intelligence, love, or pity. Such a Christ as this could inspire no respect, no veneration. The formal awkwardness of the head proves moreover that the sculptor was by no means master of his craft.

It may be thought that to strengthen our argument we are purposely bringing forward the commoner class of works, but this is not so.

In the second half of the fourteenth century, there lived an artist of really high renown, Andre Beauneveu of Valenciennes. To arrive at a just appreciation of this artist we have only the statue by him of Charles V at Saint Denis, and the reproductions of some miniatures of his which are given by Monsieur P. Durrieu in his interesting review of this artist's work. The recumbent statue of Charles V is in truth very fine ; it is indeed of the nature of an actual portrait: but many a master could produce a striking likeness when working directly from life, who would fail, when drawing only by his imagination. In a miniature which adorns the Tres Belles Heures du due de Berry we find this to be the case. The portrait of Charles V seen in profile occupies the foreground. This portrait is excellent in every way, but behind the King are the figures of two of the Saints, and these, alas ! are executed in a very inferior manner. How awkward the drawing of the nose and mouth in the St. John the Baptist ! The feet are almost ridiculous, and the same may be said of the hands of St. Andrew.

When M. Durrieu goes on to attribute to Beauneveu Les Petites Heures du due de Berry (an assumption which we are not prepared altogether to endorse), it cannot be denied that in one of the miniatures representing the Trinity the two heads representing God the Father and God the Son are sadly wanting in expression ; indeed it might almost seem that they are modelled on the same lines as the unpleasing heads of St. John the Baptist and St. Andrew, to which we have just referred.

In the first half year of the Gazette des Beaux Arts for 1898 there are two articles by Monsieur A. de Champeaux treating historically of all the ancient schools of Burgundian and Flemish painters, and it must be confessed that the treatment of the figure of Christ as conceived by these ancient masters is anything but attractive. We may specially call attention to a dead Christ, supported by God the Father, by Malouel (about 1400), and to another of Christ on the Cross by Henri de Bellechose (about 1415): both are neither more nor less than ugly.

To sum up, then: neither to Andre Beauneveu, nor to any other sculptor or painter of like ability, can we attribute the artistic breadth and vigour, far less, the nobility of conception, so wonderfully expressed in the Holy Shroud.

We should have given an incomplete idea of what could be done by the art of the fourteenth century if we were to limit our outlook to France alone. The first French Renaissance does not, it is true, seem to us worthy of such a task as the production of the Holy Shroud, but let us consider the claims of the great Italian masters, such as Giotto, Duccio, and others. We may call to mind the Calvary of the Upper Church of Assisi, of which in Plate vi. we have reproduced a curious fragment. Can the author thereof have been Cimabue ? We think not ; that would be to increase its age by half a century. The fresco is much deteriorated by time, and, having turned negative for the most part, it is somewhat difficult to decipher. A whole legion of angels are flying round a Christ of supernatural size ; the grouping and flight of this angelic host is well rendered. Unfortunately, however, the features of the Christ Himself are barely distinguishable, and in this much, our examination must be incomplete. The ability of the artist, however, to produce beautiful and energetic heads cannot be denied, for in the group to the left, the enemies of Christ, there are some remarkable heads, as may be seen in the facsimile we give. But even these heads are so rough in execution, that we see how impossible it would have been for the painter to execute a face with the delicacy and nobility of expression which such a task would demand.