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if a man happens to become excited, he will sing instead of speaking what he has to say: the other also replies in song, while the company around, as if touched by a musical wave, murmur a chorus in perfect unison, clapping their hands, undulating their bodies, and perhaps breaking forth into a dance.’1 Here we can watch as it were the rise of the emotion, can see it burst out into excited expression, and can note at the same time in the speaker and in his fellows how the instinct of rhythm restrains and controls the outflow, so that without losing its passion it becomes a measured form of art. Every people, indeed, possessing, like the negroes, a sensitive appreciation of measure will express themselves inevitably in rhythmical chants, to which time will as naturally be kept by the movement of the feet and body in the dance.2
Consider also the great decorative art, embracingas it does in its vast scope almost every form of graphic and ' plastic production known to the ancients. The mere scratching of rudimentary ornament may be, as we have seen, an instinctive—almost a purely physical—act, but significant decoration has from the first a social colour. A very high authority believes that the development of the decorative art in all its branches starts from the adornment of the person.8 Now no one, except poor mad Ophelia and her sisters and brothers in misfortune, dresses up for private satisfaction, but only to make a show in the eyes of others. Where the relation of the sexes (in men or animals) involves the selection of one individual before another, there is at once a natural and powerful motive for
1 Winwood Reade, The Martyrdom of Man, Lond. 1884, p. 44!.
2 So sensitive are the negroes of the African coast to time that any regularly recurring sound like the hammering of a carpenter will set them dancing in unison—H. Spencer, Destriptiw Socialogy, Lond.
1874, pt. ii. p. 24. *3 Semper, tier Stil, 2d ed. Munich, 1878, i, p. 196 f. and [Maxim
CHAP. 1 Social aspect of Decoration 21
acquiring or retaining that distinction, and even, according to the theory worked out by Mr. Darwin in his Descent of Man already quoted, it is possibly to this motive intensified at pairing time, that may ultimately be ascribed the brilliant colours of the male peacock, and creatures apparelled in similar bravery. In man the art may have played the same role in the earliest courtships, though in modern life parts are shifted, and it is not the male who plumes himself up to attract his mate, but rather the tenderer of the pair who is careful to don all that may enhance her beauty in the eyes of an adorer. But whatever its beginnings, the decorative art under the influence of social feeling soon extends itself, and becomes significant of wider relations than those between the sexually contrasted pair. The consideration of art in its decorative aspects is reserved for treatment on a subsequent occasion, or it might here be shown how it advances from being a simple artistic expression of care for a person or object, till it has invested all the outward apparatus of civic, religious and national life with poetic associations and with beauty. All buildings and objects used by members of a family'or brotherhood or state possessed in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome a distinctive character as connected with common celebrations, and their place in the life of the community was accentuated by decorative statues and reliefs, by the representation of sacred creatures and flowers, and by the significant device on warlike shield and standard or on the merchant’s coin. To most people in modern times the objects that make up their material environment are mere things. Cheap, abundant and without character, we use them and lose them and replace them without a thought. In old days they were few in number and proportionately prized. They lasted a lifetime and became as it were a part of their owner’s personality; they descended from generation to generation and family piety made them sacred; they were tokens of the citizen’s rank and office in the community and his patriotism warmed at their sight; or, lastly, as connected with religion they were the pledge of the protecting care of the deity of his clan or state. Art expressing or symbolising all this through significant decorative forms, wove a spell around the material necessary objects to be found in every house or city. Over all there was a charm, a glamour of pious association, which carried something of the ideal excitement of artistic ‘play’ into every corner of the home and into every department of human activity.
§14. The Festival, and the stimulus it affords to
In tracing out the influence of social feeling in setting in motion those waves of ideal sentiment which stir the mind to artistic expression, we quickly find ourselves in the presence of one of the most important institutions of which the history of civilisation takes account. This institution is the festival, the ideas and habits connected with which may be said among some peoples to have filled a large part of human life. It is indeed hardly too much to say that it is to the festival—family, communal, tribal—that almost all the forms of art known to ancient and mediaeval times owe their origin, or, at least, development, and so important does this make it for the proper comprehension of the art of old times, that some special pages must be devoted to the subject of the festal celebration in the classical and mediaeval worlds (§§ 23-31, and 48-60). Here it is sufficient to exp'ain that though, naturally, its characteristic note is gladness, yet we must include under the same idea those celebrations of a mournful kind con
nected with death and sepulture. It is as the expression of common sentiment that we are chiefly concerned with the institution, and in this respect mortuary ceremonies, as especially affecting the family, are as germane to our present purpose as tribal or national thanksgivings, or the periodical feasts that divide the husbandman’s year.
§ 15. The festal origin of graphic and plastic
The very term ‘festal celebration” implies on the one hand the stimulus to feeling of which we have already spoken, and on the other an impulse to attach the emotion aroused to the person or_idea commemorated, and to embody it in some temporary or permanent outward form. Hence the constructor and the decorator, the graphic and the plastic artist had to be at hand at festival-tide to supply apparatus for the ceremony, and especially by their imitative skill to bring before the eyes of the people the similitude of the persons or the deeds of those in whose honour they were assembled. The painter in the earliest times was almost exclusively exercised upon tasks of this kind, and worked in close fellowship with the sculptor. Indeed the most general form of decoration in the ancient world, the painted relief, stands midway between painting and sculpture, partaking of the nature of both. It was the view of Gottfried Semper, explained in many passages of his book der Stil, that this form of decoration was only a copy of embroidered or figured stuffs employed from the earliest period for similar purposes. These products of the textile craft would be used for the temporary clothing of festal structures, and would exhibit, in gaily coloured designs, forms and objects significant of the purpose of the celebration. The carved paintings or painted carvings, which cover the walls of Egyptian temples and run as a dado round the rooms of Assyrian palaces, certainly do resemble textile products, and give a colour to Semper’s theory. They are at any rate thoroughly festal in feeling— a gay and varied show, representing the glories of the gods and the deeds of kings or the departed great ones of the earth. Work of this kind in low relief is not properly sculpture, and to sculpture proper belongs a somewhat ‘ different character.
§ 16. and of monumental Sculpture;
When sculpture is not confined to decorative functions or to the mere imitation of nature, it assumes a monumental or commemorative character on which a word may be said in passing. It is obvious that to set up a monument to a deity or to a human being is a different thing from merely perpetuating his real or supposed lineaments. It implies not a record only, but the expression of honouring regard, and a claim upon future generations that they will share or at any rate respect the feeling thus perpetuated. This character, attaching not to all, but to many of the most important works of sculpture produced in ancient times, possesses significance for the theory of the art in general which must be left for treatment to a subsequent page. The same feeling receives so much more potent an expression in the monument of Arc/zz'tm‘nr: that it is in connection with this art that it will best be noticed here.
§ 17. and especially of Architecture.
It is to the festal celebration that we must look for the 'origin of many distinctive features of this most imposing of the arts of form. Architecture may seem at first sight to