Excerpt from ‘Taste and Temperament’ by Joan Evans III

Excerpt from ‘Taste and Temperament’ by Joan Evans. To see a modern and updated version of the same theme, go here.

The quick introvert is often versatile enough to work in more than one field, but two genres are peculiarly his: decoration and landscape. As a decorator he is generally anonymous; but in all the field of ornament that is based on natural forms, from Minoan pots through Greek gems and Gothic sculpture and illumination to Turkish brocades and Audenarde tapestries, we may recognize his hand. He loves the sweetness of a curve more than the rigidity of geometric forms; but his designs have a boldness of idea, a consistency of form, that makes them completely different from the soft and graceful achievements of the quick extravert. Similarly, his colours run through a deeper and more resonant gamut than the quick extravert’s pale and elegant hues; but blacks and whites he usually eschews, preferring dark browns and creamy yellows for his extreme tints. His decoration is often sculptured, but it has always the curve of natural growth rather than the angularity of stone, whether it be the plane leaves that lie upon the surface of a Roman altar, the budding foliage of a Gothic capital, or the more formal leafage of Donatello’s balustrade. Even in iron work it will lose all spear-like quality and be as easy and gracious in its curves as is the gate of the Casa de Pilatos at Seville. Something so formal as script he will turn from Trajanic severity into a decorative arabesque, whether it be the Gothic alphabet of the Studley Royal bowl or the magnificent Cufic of such metal-work as Alp Arslan’s silver dish and of such architectural ornament as that of the Mosque of Sultan Hassan.

The quick introvert decorator enjoys many of the forms of classical architecture, but is apt to use them freely and unclassically, as decoration rather than as architecture. At its worst his enjoyment of curves and mouldings for their own sake may become as extravagant as the interior of the Cartuja at Granada; at its best it may have the sober dignity and elegant proportion of Philibert de I’Orme’s ‘French Order’ or of the French classicism of Versailles. It is never very scholarly; and the classic purity of line is often obscured. We may suspect his hand in the most diverse buildings in which architecture and ornament are completely fused, whether in the Erechtheum at Athens, or in the Mosque of the Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem, or in Exeter Cathedral or in the cloister at Gloucester. Such work will often show two characteristics: a preference for the ogival line, and a multiplication of structural forms in order to achieve decorative effect. The ogival line will be found in structures as diverse as the Alhambra at Granada, the Lady Chapel at Ely, the tower of Jacques Coeur’s house at Bourges, the choir screen at Albi and the baroque baldacchino of the Cathedral of Worms. The multiplication of forms recurs as far apart in time and space as the Alhambra of Granada and Tessin’s Riddarhus at Stockholm. We are apt to accept all Gothic as structural; but Exeter Cathedral might well have been built with fewer than sixteen colonnettes to the piers, eightfold mouldings to the archivolts and eleven ribs to the vaulting.

I have already instanced William Morris as a quick introvert. He may stand as the type of all the unnamed decorators and architects of that temperament. Characteristically plenteous in production  and generous in mind; impulsive, yet with a deep-lying consistency of purpose, hot tempered, self-centred, decisive; in every-thing responsive to beauty and in everything a reformer. His biographer tells us: ‘To him the House Beautiful represented the visible form of life itself. Not only as a craftsman and manufacturer, a worker in dyed stuffs and textiles and glass, a pattern designer and decorator, but throughout the whole range of life, he was from first to last the architect, the master-craftsman, whose range of work was so phenomenal and his sudden transitions from one to another form of productive energy so swift and perplexing because, himself secure in the centre, he struck outwards to any point on the circumference with equal directness, with equal precision, unperplexed by artificial subdivisions of art, and untrammelled by any limiting rules of professional custom.’ It is entirely characteristic that he considered the qualities fatal to art to be vagueness, hypocrisy and cowardice.

In his pictures and sculpture as in his designs the quick introvert has always a strong sense of weight. Compare with a Byzantine mosaic a painting by Mantegna, that has a massiveness that gives to his figures what we call a sculptural quality, since material weight is inescapably bound up with plastic art. Compare with the levitational scheme of the Sistine Madonna the triptych of the Virgin Enthroned by the Maitre de Moulins. She sits in an aureole nimbed by a glory of rainbow light, and beyond it floats a circle of adoring angels. Yet the Virgin and the angels alike obey the laws of gravity, and their earthly weight in no wise detracts from their heavenly beauty. Compare with the weight of a figure painted by Gains-borough the weight of a figure painted by Reynolds, and the same contrast is evident; one tends to float, the other stands.

A quick introvert’s compositions tend to be static; it is not that his personages cannot move, but they are not moving at the moment when he portrays them. Compare the dynamic schemes of Rodin with the static compositions of his pupil Maillol, and you see the difference between extravert and introvert sculpture. No sculptor can lay less stress on muscle than Maillol, or more on static mass. Bronzino balances the traditional dynamic scheme of his Christ in Limbo by the static figure of a woman, just as Manet stresses and centres his Musique aux Tuileries with the static seated figures in the left foreground. Even when the figures are in motion they still obey the laws of gravity; Mantegna’s dancing figures in Parnassus have more weight than Botticelli’s standing ones. The quick introverts’ are the compositions which Mademoiselle Marcelle Wahl has qualified as ‘immobilized’. A quick introvert artist most often finds religious significance in a scheme of hieratic stability; Berenson admirably defines this quality as ‘processional gravity’.

The quick introvert’s innate gift for simplification-‘the liberating of what is significant from what is not’-makes him paint pictures that are stylized designs, interpretations of nature far more vivid than any exacter portrayals. Wilson’s Snowdon, for example, is no topographical study, nor does it slavishly follow the classical tradition of Italian landscape, yet few pictures better convey the essential beauty of the landscape of Wales. In these compositions there is often a great sense of space and distance caused by crossing and receding planes; and often a sense of what Morris calls ‘the melancholy born of beauty’. For if the slow extravert brings wit into art, and the quick gaiety, the art of the introvert is always serious. Roger Fry has left a remarkable description of the process by which such a composition is achieved:

‘Almost any turn of the kaleidoscope of nature may set up in the artist a detached and aesthetic vision, and, as he contemplates the particular field of vision, the (aesthetically) chaotic and accidental contemplation of forms and colours begins to crystallize into a harmony; and, as this harmony becomes clear to the artist, his actual vision becomes distorted by the emphasis of the rhythm that is set up within him. Certain relations of line become for him full of meaning; he apprehends them no longer curiously but passionately, and these lines begin to be so stressed and stand out so clearly from the rest that he sees them more distinctly than he did at first. Similarly, colours which in nature have almost always a certain vagueness and elusiveness, become so definite and clear to him, owing to their now so necessary relation to other colours, that, if he chooses to paint his vision, he can state it positively and definitely.’ As Binyon says of Francis Towne, ‘His attitude, perhaps, is intellectual even more than emotional. He feels the need to understand.’ This is confirmed by some of the precepts in Leonardo da Vinci’s treatise on painting. All our knowledge, he says, comes from feeling; but the painter should always be transmuting into thought the things that he sees and always be conscious of the effect of their surroundings upon their light and colour. He sets painting before sculpture because it is inimitable; and characteristically combines the need for a fine theory to precede practice with a need for the direct and profound observation of nature. This same need for the transmutation of things seen by thought has been likewise felt by quick introverts whose medium is words: Keats writes of ‘the innumerable compositions and decompositions which take place between the intellect and its thousand materials before it arrives at that trembling, delicate and snail-horn perception of beauty’. Steamer the centres of pictures in which the actual facts are transmuted into a strange beauty that is yet essentially true.

The quick introvert’s need for simplification of scheme is sometimes, especially outside landscape, balanced by his delight in decorative detail. Mantegna paints an Adoration in which one of the Kings from the East offers the Child a bowl of blue and white Persian porcelain; Domenico Ghirlandajo delights in jewels; Bartolommeo Veneto uses them almost as a signature, and Simone Martini combines a characteristic emphasis on formal line, balance and weight with exquisite flower detail, delicately figured brocade, jewelled ornament, and elaborate woodwork, in a fashion that shows that had he not been a great painter he would have been a great decorative artist.

It is comparatively rarely that a quick introvert devotes himself to portraiture. When he does the picture is transmuted into something essentially decorative. The well-known portraits of the Duke, and Duchess of Monte-feltro by Piero della Francesca may stand as examples: characterized yet stylized, perfectly static, exquisite in their decorative detail, and set .against a landscape back-ground, only a quick introvert could have painted them. The same characteristics reappear in the Renaissance in Bronzino; and their essentials will be found in work as apparently diverse as the portraits of Reynolds and Manet.