We next see the shipload of bishops and virgins arriving at Cologne. There are fewer Carpaccio touches here, but he has characteristically put a mischievous youth at the end of a boom. There is also a dog on the landing-stage and a bird in the tree. A comely tower is behind with flags bearing three crowns. The next picture shows us, on the left, the horrid massacre of all these nice young women by a brutal German soldiery. Ursula herself is being shot by Julian, who is not more than six feet distant; but she meets her fate with a composure as perfect as if instead of the impending arrow it was a benediction. On the right is her bier, under a very pretty canopy. Wild flowers spring from the earth.
Now should come the apotheosis.
Carpaccio was not exactly a great painter, but he was human and ingratiating beyond any other that Venice can show, and his pictures here and at S. Giorgio degli Schiavoni make the city a sweeter and more lovable place, Vasari is very brief with Vittore Scarpaccia, as he calls him, and there are few known facts. Research has placed his birth at Capo d’Istria about 1450. His earliest picture is dated 1490: his last 1521 or 1522. Gentile Bellini was his master.
Ruskin found Carpaccio by far the most sympathetic Venetian painter. Everything that he painted, even, as I point out later, the Museo Civico picture of the two ladies, he exults in, here, there, and everywhere. In his little guide to the Accademia, published in 1877, he roundly calls Carpaccio’s “Presentation of the Virgin” the “best picture” in the gallery. In one of the letters written from Venice in Fors Clavigera—and these were, I imagine, subjected to less critical examination by their author before they saw the light than any of his writings—is the following summary, which it may be interesting to read here. “This, then, is the truth which Carpaccio knows, and would teach: That the world is divided into two groups of men; the first, those whose God is their God, and whose glory is their glory, who mind heavenly things; and the second, men whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things. That is just as demonstrable a scientific fact as the separation of land from water. There may be any quantity of intermediate mind, in various conditions of bog; some, wholesome Scotch peat,—some, Pontine marsh,—some, sulphurous slime, like what people call water in English manufacturing towns; but the elements of Croyance and Mescroyance are always chemically separable out of the putrescent mess: by the faith that is in it, what life or good it can still keep, or do, is possible; by the miscreance in it, what mischief it can do, or annihilation it can suffer, is appointed for its work and fate. All strong character curdles itself out of the scum into its own place and power, or impotence: and they that sow to the Flesh, do of the Flesh reap corruption; and they that sow to the Spirit, do of the Spirit reap Life.