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Tower and Fountain of Evolution in the Court of the Ages
The Renaissance is generally presumed to have been a revolution or a revival of art but it was more than this. It was an uplift of the entire mental attitude of the world.
It was a vital change in the relation of man to his neighbor, to himself, to his country, and to his God. It had its roots in mans sense of personal power and independence. He began to consider himself a free agent. He thought; he acted; he dared; he did for himself and by himself. His ideals raised in character; his religion became broader and politically; he began to free himself from the shackles of serfdom and the domination of clan and family. He turned to the classics for inspiration, and on the splendid form thus set he branched out into new ways in literature, in science, in music, in art, in architecture and generally in the expression of all forms of this new personality.
The Renaissance was an awakening. For years the world had slept. It had lain in the lethargy brought about by over three centuries of Roman domination with its attendant splendor, pomp, power and decay. It had passed through the period of the most cruel of all persecutions, and the light of Christianity burned feebly, The world rested, as the tired child rests. From the fifth to the eleventh century, in that strange sleep known as the Dark Ages, the world apparently relapsed into what seemed barbarism but was in reality a great germinating period.
In the eighth century began that superstition, widely spread and generally accepted, that the world would come to an end in the year 1000 - the Millennium. Pestilence, war, disaster, floods, fire, comets in the skies, and earthquakes seemed to give color and to justify this belief in approaching dissolution.
The year 1000 came - and passed - and the world still lived on.
Following the dawning of the fateful year 1000 was a mild beneficent period. No storms, no pestilence, not even a comet crossed the sky. Sunshine and plentiful rain, rich harvests and peace blessed the earth. The people slowly began to realize that the God they had worshiped in fear was in fact tender and merciful. The whole scheme of the practice of religion changed. From a system of fear worship became a wild enthusiasm, and in the midst of this atmosphere the Crusades were born. That the tomb of the Son of God should remain in the hands of unbelievers became a thought intolerable - that the Holy of Holies where He had lain in the manger was used again as a stable, inflamed all Europe.
The world had experienced a tremendous revulsion of gratitude and relief. The people had turned with new ardor to the churches, and when the message of the Crusaders came to them they blazoned the Cross on their shoulders and streamed forth against the Moslems in a religious frenzy that knew no restraint, raising the cry, "It is the Will of God." Even the children took up the call to arms and followed the standard of the Cross into the plains of Palestine.
Thousands of the Crusaders perished in the desert sands, but many more returned and these brought with them new thought, new creeds, new science. It was thus that into the life of mankind swept that overwhelming power, that irresistible force, the greatest educational uplift the world has ever known, the spirit of the Crusades.
Men awoke to the joy of exploration and expansion. A broader, kindlier spirit arose in this new brotherhood. Nations forgot their petty quarrels in the issue that stirred the souls of the people, and in this marvelous outpouring of the inner, finer self, this awakening of the soul, the Renaissance had its being. Italy first, and then later the other romance nations - France and Spain, then distant England and Germany - seized this spirit with new vigor and new power. From dreamers and drifters the people became creators. In Italy they turned to art, painting and sculpture; in Spain to architecture; in England to literature, and in Germany to building and to music; and they gave to their work in those early days of this great awakening a subtle beauty, an idealistic strength that seems in this later time to have died out of the world.
The Renaissance did not come suddenly. It was born in the long sleep of the Dark Ages. But its splendid gifts matured and blossomed within a few centuries. We, the inheritors of this time, do best when we imitate and emulate that marvelous spirit.
To the Renaissance Spain gave one dominant note - a lavish profusion in architectural decoration, Oriental in form and barbaric in its splendor. Spain was then the richest country in Europe and the taste for display and a certain ornateness in beauty, inherited from the Moors, was given free indulgence and expression. In the arts of Spain there must always be considered this deep impress that the Saracenic influence made upon them. After throwing off the yoke of the Romans, the Spaniards fell a prey to onrushing hoards of the infidels, and even in the days of her greatest glory Spain has never freed herself from this Saracenic impression. Under Ferdinand and Isabella, down through Philip and Charles and Philip again, even beyond the days of degradation and demoralization that followed the destruction of the Armada, Spain has been more Oriental in her architecture and in her art than any other European nation.
In the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella a certain compact was sealed - that the last of the unbelievers should be driven from Spain - and this was done. With the ebbing tide of Saracenic power however, passed much of the romance and glamour and beauty in Spain. Rich, ambitious and daring, the young king and queen sought to build upon the ruins of this earlier time a splendid empire. The proposition of Columbus was in direct line with their soaring ambitions his gift of the Western world to his queen, a fitting tribute to her adventurous spirit. In the long line of Spanish explorers who poured the gold of the New World into the coffers of the Spanish kings is seen the spirit of Aragon and Castile living on. It came to full height under the haughty Philip, husband of Mary Tudor. It fell into the throes of death in the defeat of the Armada, and passed splendidly into slow and sure decay. But through it all there lived the strange, fantastic touch of the Orient in form, in color, in decoration, in conception of design, that stamped the art and the architecture of Spain with all individuality that cannot be mistaken nor concealed.
It is fitting, therefore, that in this land where the Spanish romance and influence are woven into the filler of its history, the greatest expression of its artistic feeling, the Panama-Pacific Exposition, should draw for its inspiration upon the splendor and beauty of old Spain.