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Jones, Owen, 1809-1874. / The grammar of ornament

Renaissance ornament,   pp. 107-128

Page 109

IF two intelligent students of Italian Art and Literature diligently set
themselves to trace, the
-one the latest date at which the direct, though lingering, light of Roman
greatness waned to its feeblest
glimmer in the land over which it had once shed its dazzling rays, and the
other the earliest effort made
to excite a veneration for what most historians declare to have almost utterly
died out in the lapse of
ages-classical beauty-there is little doubt that they would not only meet,
but cross one another,
in the progress of their researches. The truth is, that the material monuments
of the ancient Romans,
scattered thickly over the soil of Italy, were so substantial and majestic,
that it was impossible to
live under their shadow and to forget them. Fragments of exquisite beauty,
in stone, bronze, and
marble, were to be had for the trouble of turning up the soil that scarcely
covered them; and thus
they were, from time to time, pressed into service for tombs, and as accessories
in buildings, in the
construction of which the principles of Art to which those fragments owed
their beauty had been
entirely lost sight of.  Hence, the Gothic style was at once slow to take
root in Italy, and destined
to bloom brilliantly, but for a short season.  Almost concurrently with the
introduction of the pointed
arch into Northern Italy by an Englishman, in the construction of St. Andrea,
at Vercelli, early in
the thirteenth century, and with the German works of Magister Jacobus, at
Assisi, a protest was
commenced in favour of the ancients and their arts by that great reviver
of antique sculpture, Nicola
Pisano. The close of the thirteenth century was further marked by a complete
revolution in the
world of letters. Dante, in his time, was scarcely less known as a Christian
poet than as an emulator
of the great Mantuan, and a profound student in classical learning.  In the
fourteenth century,
Petrarch and Boccaccio, intimate friends, spent long and laborious lives,
not in writing Italian poetry
or prose, as is often fancied, but in labouring incessantly in the preservation
and restoration to the
world of the long-lost texts of the Roman and Grecian authors.  Cino da Pistoia
and other learned
commentators and jurists brought into fashion the study of the great "Corpus"
of ancient law, and
maintained academies in which it was adopted as a text.  Boccaccio it was
who first gave to Italy a
lucid account of Heathen Mythology, and who first instituted a chair for
the study of the Grecian
language at Florence, bringing over Leontius Pilatus, a learned Greek, from
 Constantinople, to be
the first professor.  These efforts at a revival of classical learning were
seconded by a numerous band
of notables, among whom the names of John of Ravenna (Petrarch's pupil),
Lionardo Aretino, Poggio
Bracciolini, Xneas Sylvius (ultimately Pope Pius II., 1458-1464), and Cosmo,
the father of the
Medici, are most popularly and familiarly known. It was at a moment when
the labours of such
men as these had accumulated in public and private libraries all that could
be recovered of classical
learning, that about the middle of the fifteenth century the art of printing
was introduced into Italy.
Under the auspices of the Benedictines of Subiaco, the Germans Sweynheim
and Pannartz set up their
press in the celebrated Monastery of Santa Scholastica, from which issued,
in the year 1465, their
edition of Lactantius.  Removing to Rome in 1467, the first-fruits of their
labour was "Cicero de
Oratore." Thus, while in Germany and France biblical and ecclesiastical
literature, and in England
popular, first gave employment to the printer; in Italy, classical, for a
time, almost exclusively
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