A D R I A N S T O K E S
M A I N I N T R O D U C T I O N - Richard Wollheim
As the train came out of the Mont Cenis tunnel, the sun shone, the sky was a deep, deep, bold blue. I had half-forgotten about my table for more than ten years. At once I saw it everywhere, on either side of the train, purple earth, terraces of vine and olive, bright rectangular houses free of atmosphere, of the passage of time, of impediment, of all the qualities which steep and massive roofs connote in the north. The hills belonged to man in this his moment. The two thousand years of Virgilian past that carved and habituated the hillsides, did not oppress: they were gathered in the present aspect. At the stations before Turin, the pure note of the guard's horn but sustained and reinforced the process by which time was here laid out as ever-present space.
Many of these epithets will recur.
Over the next seven or eight years - until, indeed, his analysis with Mrs. Klein kept him in England for the greater part of the year - Stokes came back to Italy many, many times, sometimes staying for long periods. We find him travelling with the Sitwells,'the first to open my eyes'; taking offence at Berenson parading for the benefit of a rich, bored woman the treasures of Rimini; playing tennis with Ezra Pound at Rapallo, introduced to him by the resident tennis coach as someone who 'was a has-been'; but mostly, most often, alone. He became addicted to Italian sounds, to Italian smells, to certain composite experiences of light falling and of the stone on which it fell, and above all to a particular kind of art which he came to isolate from everything else he saw. A bit disingenuously perhaps, he did not claim that it was superior to other forms of art. It was different, and for the values he found in it he favoured such terms as 'direct', 'tense', - 'no other creative power is so direct and tense' he wrote - and also the term 'urgent' and the term 'exuberant' used rather specially. He found this kind of art in small towns and in ordinary houses as well as in the great villes d'art: indeed least of all in Florence, by which he was 'most bitterly disappointed'. He found it in the work of Agostino di Duccio, Alberti, Piero della Francesca, Francesco di Giorgio, Luciano Laurana, and, on and off, Donatello and Verrocchio. He found it supremely in three extraordinary expressions of Renaissance culture: the Tempio Malatestiano at Rimini, the Ducal Palace of Urbino, and the city of Venice, 'city of stone and water', perceived and apprehended as a unitary work of art. And for this particular kind of art Stokes coined a name by a system engagingly eccentric. He took the normal Italian word for the fifteenth century, the quattrocento, and cut it in two. His preferred art was 'Quattro Cento', and the first of the two books of his projected trilogy he called The Quattro Cento. It appeared in 1932 and it had a sequel in 1934: Stones of Rimini - an echo, of course, of Ruskin on Venice. The third volume never appeared, and the idea of the trilogy lapsed.
In The Quattro Cento Stokes identifies the art he is concerned with by eliciting certain characteristics. Let us look at them one by one.