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Bellini

And if in our day Raphael must give way to Botticelli, with how
much greater reason should Titian in the heights of his art, with
all his earthly splendor and voluptuous glow, give place to the
lovely imagination of dear old Gian Bellini, the father of Venetian
Art?

--Mrs. Oliphant, in "The Makers of Venice"

It is a great thing to teach. I am never more complimented than when
some one addresses me as "teacher." To give yourself in a way that
will inspire others to think, to do, to become--what nobler
ambition! To be a good teacher demands a high degree of altruism,
for one must be willing to sink self, to die--as it were--that
others may live. There is something in it very much akin to
motherhood--a brooding quality. Every true mother realizes at times
that her children are only loaned to her--sent from God--and the
attributes of her body and mind are being used by some Power for a
Purpose. The thought tends to refine the heart of its dross,
obliterate pride and make her feel the sacredness of her office. All
good men everywhere recognize the holiness of motherhood--this
miracle by which the race survives.

There is a touch of pathos in the thought that while lovers live to
make themselves necessary to each other, the mother is working to
make herself unnecessary to her children. The true mother is
training her children to do without her. And the entire object of
teaching is to enable the scholar to do without his teacher.
Graduation should take place at the vanishing-point of the teacher.

Yes, the efficient teacher has in him much of this mother-quality.
Thoreau, you remember, said that genius is essentially feminine; if
he had teachers in mind his remark was certainly true. The men of
much motive power are not the best teachers--the arbitrary and
imperative type that would bend all minds to match its own may build
bridges, tunnel mountains, discover continents and capture cities,
but it can not teach. In the presence of such a towering personality
freedom dies, spontaneity droops, and thought slinks away into a
corner. The brooding quality, the patience that endures, and the
yearning of motherhood, are all absent. The man is a commander, not
a teacher; and there yet remains a grave doubt whether the warrior
and ruler have not used their influence more to make this world a
place of the skull than the abode of happiness and prosperity. The
orders to kill all the firstborn, and those over ten years of age,
were not given by teachers.

The teacher is one who makes two ideas grow where there was only one
before.

Just here, before we pass on to other themes, seems a good place to
say that we live in a very stupid old world, round like an orange
and slightly flattened at the poles. The proof of this seemingly
pessimistic remark, made by a hopeful and cheerful man, lies in the
fact that we place small premium in either honor or money on the
business of teaching. As, in the olden times, barbers and scullions
ranked with musicians, and the Master of the Hounds wore a bigger
medal than the Poet Laureate, so do we pay our teachers the same as
coachmen and coal-heavers, giving them a plentiful lack of
everything but overwork.

I will never be quite willing to admit that this country is
enlightened until we cease the inane and parsimonious policy of
trying to drive all the really strong men and women out of the
teaching profession by putting them on the payroll at one-half the
rate, or less, than what the same brains and energy can command
elsewhere. In this year of our Lord, Nineteen Hundred Two, in a time
of peace, we have appropriated four hundred million dollars for war
and war-appliances, and this sum is just double the cost of the
entire public-school system in America. It is not the necessity of
economy that dictates our actions in this matter of education--we
simply are not enlightened.

But this thing can not always last--I look for the time when we
shall set apart the best and noblest men and women of earth for
teachers, and their compensation will be so adequate that they will
be free to give themselves for the benefit of the race, without
apprehension of a yawning almshouse. A liberal policy will be for
our own good, just as a matter of cold expediency; it will be
Enlightened Self-interest.


With the rise of the Bellinis, Venetian art ceased to be provincial,
blossoming out into national. Jacopo Bellini was a teacher--mild,
gentle, sympathetic, animated. His work reveals personality, but is
somewhat stiff and statuesque: sharp in outline like an antique
stained-glass window. This is because his art was descended from the
glassworkers; and he himself continued to make designs for the
glassworkers of Murano all his life. Considering the time in which
he lived he was a great painter, for he improved upon what had gone
before and prepared the way for those greater than he who were yet
to come. He called himself an experimenter, and around him clustered
a goodly group of young men who were treated by him more as comrades
than as students. They were all boys together--learners, with the
added dignity which an older head of the right sort can lend.

"Old Jacopo" they used to call him, and there was a touch of
affection in the term to which several of them have testified. All
of the pupils loved the old man, who wasn't so very old in years,
and certainly was not in heart. Among his pupils were his two sons,
Gentile and Gian, and they called him Old Jacopo, too. I rather like
this--it proves for one thing that the boys were not afraid of their
father. They surely did not run and hide when they heard him coming,
neither did they find it necessary to tell lies in order to defend
themselves. A severe parent is sure to have untruthful children, and
perhaps the best recipe for having noble children is to be a noble
parent.

It is well to be a companion to your children, and just where the
idea came in which developed into the English boarding-school
delusion, that children should be sent away among hirelings--
separated from their parents--in order to be educated, I do not
know. It surely was not complimentary to the parents. Old Jacopo
didn't try very hard to discipline his boys--he loved them, which is
better if you are forced to make choice. They worked together and
grew together. Before Gian and Gentile were eighteen they could
paint as well as their father. When they were twenty they excelled
him, and no one was more elated over it than Old Jacopo. They were
doing things he could never do: overcoming obstacles he could not
overcome--he clapped his hands in gladness, did this old teacher,
and shed tears of joy--his pupils were surpassing him! Gian and
Gentile would not admit this, but still they kept right on, each
vieing with the other. Vasari says that Gian was the better artist,
but Aldus refers to Gentile as "the undisputed master of painting in
all Venetia." Ruskin compromises by explaining that Gentile had the
broader and deeper nature, but that Gian was more feminine, more
poetic, nearer lyric, possessing a delicacy and insight that his
brother never acquired. These qualities better fitted him for a
teacher; and when Old Jacopo passed away, Gian drifted into his
place, for every man is gravitating straight to where he belongs.

The little workshop of one room now was enlarged: the bottega became
an atelier. There were groups of workrooms and studios, and a small
gallery that became the meeting-place for various literary and
artistic visitors at Venice. Ludovico Ariosto, greatest of Italian
poets, came here and wrote a sonnet to "Gian Bellini, sublime
artist, performer of great things, but best of all the loving
Teacher of Men."

Gian Bellini had two pupils whose name and fame are deathless:
Giorgione and Titian. There is a fine flavor of romance surrounds
Giorgione, the gentle, the refined, the beloved. His was a spirit
like unto that of Chopin or Shelley, and his death-dirge should have
been written by the one and set to music by the other--brothers
doloroso, sent into this rough world unprepared for its buffets,
passing away in manhood's morning. Yet all heard the song of the
skylark. Giorgione died broken-hearted, through his ladylove's
inconstancy. He was exactly the same age as Titian, and while he
lived surpassed that giant far, as the giant himself admitted. He
died aged thirty-three, the age at which a full dozen of the
greatest men of the world have died, and the age at which several
other very great men have been born again--which possibly is the
same thing. Titian lived to be a hundred, lacking six months, and
when past seventy used to give alms to a beggar-woman at a church-
door--the woman who had broken the heart of Giorgione. He also
painted her portrait--this in sad and subdued remembrance of the
days agone.

The Venetian School of Art has been divided by Ruskin into three
parts: the first begins with Jacopo Bellini, and this part might be
referred to as the budding period. The second is the flowering
period, and the palm is carried by Gian Bellini. The period of ripe
fruit--o'erripe fruit, touched by the tint of death--is represented
by four men: Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto and Paul Veronese. Beyond
these four, Venetian Art has never gone, and although four hundred
years have elapsed since they laughed and sang, enjoyed and worked,
all we can do is wonder and admire. We can imitate, but we can not
improve.

Gian Bellini lived to be ninety-two, working to the last, always a
learner, always a teacher. His best work was done after his
eightieth year. The cast-off shell of this great spirit was placed
in the tomb with that of his brother Gentile, who had passed out but
a few years before. Death did not divide them.


Giovanni Bellini was his name. Yet when people who loved beautiful
pictures spoke of "Gian," every one knew who was meant, but to those
who worked at art he was "The Master." He was two inches under six
feet in height, strong and muscular. In spite of his seventy summers
his carriage was erect and there was a jaunty suppleness about his
gait that made him seem much younger. In fact, no one would have
believed that he had lived over his threescore and ten, were it not
for the iron-gray hair that fluffed out all around under the close-
fitting black cap, and the bronzed complexion--sun-kissed by wind
and weather--which formed a trinity of opposites that made people
turn and stare.

Queer stories used to be told about him. He was a skilful gondolier,
and it was the daily row back and forth from the Lido that gave him
that face of bronze. Folks said he ate no meat and drank no wine,
and that his food was simply ripe figs in the season, with coarse
rye bread and nuts. Then there was that funny old hunchback, a
hundred years old at least, and stone-deaf, who took care of the
gondola, spending the whole day, waiting for his master, washing the
trim, graceful, blue-black boat, arranging the awning with the white
cords and tassels, and polishing the little brass lions at the
sides. People tried to question the old hunchback, but he gave no
secrets away. The master always stood up behind and rowed, while
down on the cushions rode the hunchback, the guest of honor.

There stood the master erect, plying the oar, his long black robe
tucked up under the dark blue sash that exactly matched the color of
the gondola. The man's motto might have been, "Ich Dien," or that
passage of Scripture, "He that is greatest among you shall be your
servant." Suspended around his neck by a slender chain was a bronze
medal, presented by vote of the Signoria when the great picture of
"The Transfiguration" was unveiled. If this medal had been a
crucifix, and you had met the wearer in San Marco, one glance at the
finely chiseled features, the black cap and the flowing robe and you
would have said at once the man was a priest, Vicar-General of some
important diocese. But seeing him standing erect on the stern of a
gondola, the wind caressing the dark gray hair, you would have been
perplexed until your gondolier explained in serious undertone that
you had just passed "The greatest Painter in all Venice, Gian, the
Master."

Then if you showed curiosity and wanted to know further, your
gondolier would have told you more about this strange man.

The canals of Venice are the highways, and the gondoliers are like
'bus-drivers in Piccadilly--they know everybody and are in close
touch with all the secrets of State. When you get to the Giudecca
and tie up for lunch, over a bottle of Chianti, your gondolier will
tell you this: The hunchback there in the gondola, rowed by the
Master, is the Devil, who has taken that form just to be with and
guard the greatest artist the world has ever seen. Yes, Signor, that
clean-faced man with his frank, wide-open, brown eyes is in league
with the Evil One. He is the man who took young Tiziano from Cadore
into his shop, right out of a glass-factory, and made him a great
artist, getting him commissions and introducing him everywhere! And
how about the divine Giorgione who called him father? Oho!

And who is Giorgione? The son of some unknown peasant woman. And if
Bellini wanted to adopt him, treat him as his son indeed, kissing
him on the cheek when he came back just from a day's visit to
Mestre, whose business was it? Oho!

Besides that, his name isn't Giorgione--it is Giorgio Barbarelli.
And didn't this Giorgio Barbarelli, and Tiziano from Cadore, and
Espero Carbonne, and that Gustavo from Nuremberg, and the others
paint most of Gian's pictures? Surely they did. The old man simply
washes in the backgrounds and the boys do the work. About all old
Gian does is to sign the picture, sell it and pocket the proceeds.
Carpaccio helps him, too--Carpaccio, who painted the loveliest
little angel sitting crosslegged playing the biggest mandolin you
ever saw in your life.

That is genius, you know--the ability to get some one else to do the
work, and then capture the ducats and the honors for yourself. Of
course Gian knows how to lure the boys on--something has to be done
in order to hold them. Gian buys a picture from them now and then;
his studio is full of their work--better than he can do. Oh, he
knows a good thing when he sees it. These pictures will be valuable
some day, and he gets them at his own price. It was Antonello of
Messina who introduced oil-painting into Venice. Before that they
mixed their paints with water, milk or wine. But when Antonello came
along with his dark, lustrous pictures, he set all artistic Venice
astir. Gian Bellini discovered the secret, they say, by feigning to
be a gentleman and going to the newcomer and sitting for his
picture. He it was who discovered that Antonello mixed his colors
with oil. Oho!

Of course not all of the pictures in his studio are painted by the
boys--some are painted by that old Dutchman what's-his-name--oh,
yes, Durer, Alberto Durer of Nuremberg. Two Nuremberg painters were
in that very gondola last week just where you sit--they are here in
Venice now, taking lessons from Gian, they said. Gian was up there
at Nuremberg and lived a month with Durer--they worked together,
drank beer together, I suppose, and caroused. Gian is very strict
about what he does in Venice, but you can never tell what a man will
do when he is away from home. The Germans are a roystering lot--but
they do say they can paint. Me? I have never been there--and do not
want to go, either--there are no canals there. To be sure, they
print books in Nuremberg. It was up there somewhere that they
invented type, a lazy scheme to do away with writing. They are a
thrifty lot--those Germans--they give me my fare and a penny more,
just a single penny, and no matter how much I have talked and
pointed out the wonderful sights, and imparted useful information,
known to me alone--only one penny extra--think of it!

Yes, printing was first done at Mayence by a German, Gutenberg,
about sixty years ago. One of Gutenberg's workmen went up to
Nuremberg and taught others how to design and cast type. This man
Alberto Durer helped them, designing the initials and making title-
pages by cutting the design on a wooden block, then covering this
block with ink, laying a sheet of paper upon it, and placing it in a
press; then when the paper is lifted off it looks exactly like the
original drawing. In fact, most people couldn't tell the difference,
and here you can print thousands of them from the one block!

Gian Bellini makes drawings for title-pages and initials for Aldus
and Nicholas Jenson. Venice is the greatest printing-place in the
world, and yet the business began here only thirty years ago. The
first book printed here was in Fourteen Hundred Sixty-nine, by John
of Speyer. There are nearly two hundred licensed printing-presses
here, and it takes usually four men to a press--two to set the type
and get things ready, and two to run the press. This does not count,
of course, the men who write the books, and those who make the type
and cut the blocks from which they print the pictures for
illustrations. At first, you know, the books they printed in Venice
had no title-pages, initials or illustrations. My father was a
printer and he remembers when the first large initials were printed
--before that, the spaces were left blank and the books were sent out
to the monasteries to be completed by hand.

Gian and Gentile had a good deal to do about cutting the first
blocks for initials--they got the idea, I think, from Nuremberg. And
now there are Dutchmen down here from Amsterdam learning how to
print books and paint pictures. Several of them are in Gian's
studio, I hear--every once in a while I get them for a trip to the
Lido or to Murano.

Gentile Bellini is his brother and looks very much like him. The
Grand Turk at Constantinople came here once and saw Gian Bellini at
work in the Great Hall. He had never seen a good picture before and
was amazed. He wanted the Senate to sell Gian to him, thinking he
was a slave. They humored the Pagan by hiring Gentile Bellini to go
instead, loaning him out for two years, so to speak.

Gentile went, and the Sultan, who never allowed any one to stand
before him, all having to grovel in the dirt, treated Gentile as an
equal. Gentile even taught the old rogue to draw a little, and they
say the painter had a key to every room in the palace, and was
treated like a prince.

Well, they got along all right, until one day Gentile drew the
picture of the head of John the Baptist on a charger.

"A man's head doesn't look like that when it is cut off," said the
Turk contemptuously. Gentile had forgotten that the Turk was on
familiar ground.

"Perhaps the Light of the Sun knows more about painting than I do!"
said Gentile, as he kept right on at his work.

"I may not know much about painting, but I'm no fool in some other
things I might name," was the reply. The Sultan clapped his hands
three times: two slaves appeared from opposite doors. One was a
little ahead of the other, and as this one approached, the Sultan
with a single swing of the snickersnee snipped off his head. This
teaches us that obedience to our superiors is its own reward. But
the lesson was wholly lost on Gentile Bellini, for he did not remain
even to examine the severed head for art's sake. The thought that it
might be his turn next was supreme, and he leaped through a window,
taking the sash with him. Making his way to the docks he found a
sailing-vessel loading with fruit, bound for Venice. A small purse
of gold made the matter easy--the captain of the boat secreted him,
and in four days he was safely back in Saint Mark's giving thanks to
God for his deliverance.

No, I didn't say Gian was a rogue--I only told you what others say.
I am only a poor gondolier--why should I trouble myself about what
great folks do? I simply tell you what I hear--it may be so, and it
may not; God knows! There is that Pascale Salvini. He has a rival
studio, and when that Genoese, Cristoforo Colombo, was here and made
his stopping-place at Bellini's studio, Pascale told every one that
Colombo was a lunatic and Bellini another, for encouraging him to
show his foolish maps and charts. Now, they do say that Colombo has
discovered a new world, and Italians are feeling troubled in
conscience because they did not fit him out with ships instead of
forcing him to go to Spain.

No, I didn't say Bellini was a hypocrite--Pascale's pupils say so,
and once they followed him over to Murano--three barca-loads and my
gondola besides. You see it was like this: Twice a week, just after
sundown, we used to see Gian Bellini untie his boat from the landing
there behind the Doge's palace, turn the prow, and beat out for
Murano, with no companion but that deaf old caretaker. Twice a week,
Tuesdays and Fridays--always at just the same hour, regardless of
weather--we would see the old hunchback light the lamps, and in a
few moments the Master would appear, tuck up his black robe, step
into the boat, take the oar, and away they would go. It was always
to Murano, and always to the same landing--one of our gondoliers had
followed several times, just out of curiosity.

Finally it came to the ears of Pascale that Gian took this regular
trip to Murano. "It is a rendezvous," said Pascale; "worse than
that, an orgy among those lacemakers and the rogues of the
glassworks. Oh, to think that Gian should stoop to such things at
his age--his pretended asceticism is but a mask--and at his age!"

The Pascale students took it up, and once came in collision with
that Tiziano of Cadore, who they say broke a boat-hook over the head
of one of them who had spoken ill of the Master.

But this did not silence the talk, and one dark night, when the air
was full of flying mist, one of Pascale's students came to me and
told me that he wanted me to take a party over to Murano. The
weather was so bad that I refused to go--the wind blew in gusts,
sheet-lightning filled the eastern sky, and all honest men, but poor
belated gondoliers, had hied them home.

I refused to go.

Had I not seen Gian the painter go not half an hour before? Well, if
he could go, others could, too.

I refused to go--except for double fare.

He accepted and placed the double fare in silver in my palm. Then he
gave a whistle and from behind the corners came trooping enough
swashbuckler students to swamp my gondola. I let in just enough to
fill the seats and pushed off, leaving several standing on the stone
steps cursing me and everything and everybody.

As my good boat slid away into the fog and headed on our course, I
glanced back and saw the three barca-loads following in my wake.

There was much muffled talk, and orders from some one in charge to
keep silence. But there was passing of strong drink, and then talk,
and from it I gathered that these were all students from Pascale's,
out on one of those student carousals, intent on heaven knows what!
It was none of my business.

We shipped considerable water, and several of the students were down
on their knees praying and bailing, bailing and praying.

At last we reached the Murano landing. All got out, the barcas tied
up, and I tied up, too, determined to see what was doing. The strong
drink was passed, and a low heavy-set fellow who seemed to be
captain charged all not to speak, but to follow him and do as he
did. We took a side-street where there was little travel and
followed through the dark and dripping way, fully a half-mile, down
there in that end of the island called the sailors' bagnio, where
they say no man's life is safe if he has a silver coin or two. There
was much music in the wine-shops and shouts of mirth and dancing
feet on stone floors, but the rain had driven every one from the
streets.

We came to a long, low stone building that used to be a theater, but
was now a dance-hall upstairs and a warehouse below. There were
lights upstairs and sounds of music. The stairway was dark, but we
felt our way up, and on tiptoe advanced to the big double door, from
under which the light streamed.

We had received our orders, and when we got to the landing we stood
there just an instant. "Now we have him--Gian the hypocrite!"
whispered the stout man in a hoarse breath. We burst in the doors
with a whoop and a bang. The change from the dark to the light sort
of blinded us at first. We all supposed that there was a dance in
progress of course, and the screams from women were just what we
expected, but when we saw several overturned easels and an old man,
half-nude, and too scared to move, seated on a model throne, we did
not advance into the hall as we intended. That one yell we gave was
all the noise we made. We stood there in a bunch, just inside the
door, sort of dazed and uncertain. We did not know whether to
retreat or to charge on through the hall as we had intended. We just
stood there like a lot of driveling fools.

"Keep right at your work, my good people! Keep right at your work!"
called a pleasant voice. "I see we have some visitors."

And Gian Bellini came forward. His robe was still tucked up under
the blue sash, but he had laid aside his black cap, and his tumbled
gray hair looked like the aureole of a saint. "Keep right at your
work," he said again, and then came forward and bade us welcome and
begged us to have seats.

I dared not run away, so I sat down on one of the long seats that
were ranged around the wall. My companions did the same. There must
have been fifty easels, all ranged in a semicircle around the old
man who posed as a model. Several of the easels had been upset, and
there was much confusion when we entered.

"Just help us to arrange things--that is right, thank you," said
Gian to the stout man who was captain of our party. To my
astonishment the stout man was doing just as he was bid, and was
pacifying the women students and straightening up their easels and
stools.

I was interested in watching Gian walking around, helping this one
with a stroke of his crayon, saying a word to that, smiling and
nodding to another. I just sat there and stared. These students were
not regular art-students, I could see that plainly. Some were
children, ragged and barelegged; others were old men who worked in
the glass-factories, and surely with hands too old and stiff to ever
paint well. Still others were young girls and women of the town. I
rubbed my eyes and tried to make it out!

The music we heard I could still hear--it came from the wine-shop
across the way. I looked around--and what do you believe? My
companions had all gone. They had sneaked out one by one and left me
alone.

I watched my chance, and when the Master's back was turned I tiptoed
out, too. When I got down on the street I found I had left my cap,
but I dare not go back after it. I made my way down to the landing,
half running, and when I got there not a boat was to be seen--the
three barcas and my gondola were gone.

I thought I could see them, out through the mist, a quarter of a
mile away. I called aloud, but no answer came back but the hissing
wind. I was in despair--they were stealing my boat, and if they did
not steal it, it would surely be wrecked--my all, my precious boat!

I cried and wrung my hands. I prayed! And the howling winds only ran
shrieking and laughing around the corners of the buildings.

I saw a glimmering light down the beach at a little landing. I ran
to it, hoping some gondolier might be found who would row me over to
the city. There was one boat at the landing and in it a hunchback,
sound asleep, covered with a canvas. It was Gian Bellini's boat. I
shook the hunchback into wakefulness and begged him to row me across
to the city. I yelled into his deaf ears, but he pretended not to
understand me. Then I showed him the silver coin, the double fare,
and tried to place it in his hand. But no, he only shook his head.

I ran up the beach, still looking for a boat.

An hour had passed.

I got back to the landing just as Gian came down to his boat. I
approached him and explained that I was a poor worker in the glass-
factory, who had to work all day and half the night, and as I lived
over in the city and my wife was dying, I must get home. Would he
allow me to ride with His Highness? "Certainly--with pleasure, with
pleasure!" he answered, and then pulling something from under his
sash he said, "Is this your cap, signor?" I took my cap, but my
tongue was paralyzed for the moment so I could not thank him.

We stepped into the boat, and as my offer to row was declined, I
just threw myself down by the hunchback, and the prow swung around
and headed toward the city.

The wind had died down, the rain had ceased, and from between the
blue-black clouds the moon shone out. Gian rowed with a strong, fine
stroke, singing a "Te Deum Laudamus" softly to himself the while. I
lay there and wept, thinking of my boat, my all, my precious boat!

We reached the landing--and there was my boat, safely tied up, not a
cushion or a cord missing. Gian Bellini? He may be a rogue as
Pascale says--God knows! How can I tell--I am only a poor gondolier.

Elbert Hubbard

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