To the astonishment of her compatriots, when they came out of the theatre it was not raining; the night was as brilliantly starlit as a night could be in Germany, and they sauntered home richly content through the narrow streets and through the beautiful old Damenthor, beyond which their hotel lay. How pretty, they said, to call that charming port the Ladies’ Gate! They promised each other to find out why, and they never did so, but satisfied themselves by assigning it to the exclusive use of the slim maidens and massive matrons of the old Nuremberg patriciate, whom they imagined trailing their silken splendors under its arch in perpetual procession.
The life of the Nuremberg patriciate, now extinct in the control of the city which it builded so strenuously and maintained so heroically, is still insistent in all its art. This expresses their pride at once and their simplicity with a childish literality. At its best it is never so good as the good Italian art, whose influence is always present in its best. The coloring of the great canvases is Venetian, but there is no such democracy of greatness as in the painting at Venice; in decoration the art of Nuremberg is at best quaint, and at the worst puerile. Wherever it had obeyed an academic intention it seemed to March poor and coarse, as in the bronze fountain beside the Church of St. Lawrence. The water spins from the pouted breasts of the beautiful figures in streams that cross and interlace after a fancy trivial and gross; but in the base of the church there is a time-worn Gethsemane, exquisitely affecting in its simple-hearted truth. The long ages have made it even more affecting than the sculptor imagined it; they have blurred the faces and figures in passing till their features are scarcely distinguishable; and the sleeping apostles seem to have dreamed themselves back into the mother-marble. It is of the same tradition and impulse with that supreme glory of the native sculpture, the ineffable tabernacle of Adam Krafft, which climbs a column of the church within, a miracle of richly carven story; and no doubt if there were a Nuremberg sculptor doing great things today, his work would be of kindred inspiration.
The descendants of the old patrician who ordered the tabernacle at rather a hard bargain from the artist still worship on the floor below, and the descendants of his neighbor patricians have their seats in the pews about, and their names cut in the proprietary plates on the pew-tops. The vergeress who showed the Marches through the church was devout in the praise of these aristocratic fellow-citizens of hers. “So simple, and yet so noble!” she said. She was a very romantic vergeress, and she told them at unsparing length the legend of the tabernacle, how the artist fell asleep in despair of winning his patron’s daughter, and saw in a vision the master-work with the lily-like droop at top, which gained him her hand. They did not realize till too late that it was all out of a novel of Georg Ebers’s, but added to the regular fee for the church a gift worthy of an inedited legend.