Poi rimirando il campo, ella dicea:
- O belle a gli occhi miei tende latine!
Aura spira da voi che mi ricrea
E mi conforta pur ch'io m'avvicine:
Così a la mia vita faticosa e rea
Qualche honesto riposo il ciel destine,
Come in voi solo il cerco, e solo hor parme
Che trovar pace io possa in mezzo a l'arme.
Then, looking at the camp, she said, "O Western tents, so beautiful to see! (*) From you a comforting(**) breeze blows That now encourages me to approach you. Yes, to my tiring and so far ill-fated life May Heaven give some honest rest: (***) I look for this here only, only now it seems To me that I can find peace in war."
(*) "O brave new world!"
(**) The verb ricrea (cfr. "recreation") echoes Dante, Paradiso 31: 43.
(***) These two lines surely had an autobiographical undertone.
This book of 'some' years ago (different editions available; in Italy, it was published by Rusconi in 1988 with a cover showing the Tondo Doni), the work of a great scholar, Linda Murray, provides -- first of all -- an unbelievably rich and clear focus on the many, tangled historical events that occurred during Michelangelo's life, that means nearly a century, in Italy as well as in the rest of Europe.
The gallery of the artist's works presented here is among the most complete ones, including frescoes, sculptures, drawings, architectural projects, either fulfilled or not. Her comments are enlightening especially as far as the last three arts are concerned. As for the frescoes, the reader's expectations to get keys for the Sistine Chapel, Vault and Last Judgment, were so high that some disappointment followed; on the other hand, there would have been needed one book just to list the endless theories involved, while Murray chose to limit herself to basic data. Bur, rpt, from all other viewpoints, such a precious, well documented, well woven insight into the whole of Michelangelo's life and works has rarely been achieved elsewhere.
Nicaea waits for her messenger to come back from the Christian camp, where he met Tancred and told him that a mysterious woman asks for the permission to talk to him.
Era la notte, e 'l suo stellato velo
Chiaro spiegava e senza nube alcuna,
E già spargea rai luminosi e gelo
Di vive perle la sorgente luna.
L'innamorata donna iva co 'l cielo
Le sue fiamme sfogando ad una ad una,
E secretari del suo amore antico
Fea i muti campi e quel silentio amico.
It was Night, who spread her starry Veil wholly clear, without any clouds; Already luminous rays and chill Of living pearls came from the moon. Meanwhile the woman in love vented Her inner fires with the sky, one by one, Making confidants of her long-time love The mute fields and that friendly stillness.
The genius of Michelangelo was so great that new, unheard-of sides of his art can be discovered after half a millennium. Art historian and teacher Marco Bussagli has recently published a book (Milan: Edizioni Medusa, 2014, 176 pages with 66 photos and illustrations) in which he studies a puzzling detail: many characters painted or sculpted by Michelangelo have a mesiodens, a "tooth in-between," that is a supernumerary incisor between the two upper ones. A rare phenomenon, already known by Renaissance medicine. From an aesthetic/artistic point of view, such a feature simply destroys the symmetry and therefore the perfection of the human shape, with all philosophical consequences, especially in the Renaissance, and more especially in Michelangelo the "body-builder." An analysis of where he modified the dental arch of his models, though seemingly a very secondary subject, does lead to an overall reinterpretation of his art and biography as well as of his anthropological and religious views, shedding light -- and convincingly so -- on several controversial issues.
- Esser mio messaggiero a te convene
(Dice ella al servo suo pronto e sagace).
Vattene al campo, e con sicura spene
Trova Tancredi, ove languendo ei giace.
A cui dirai che donna a lui se 'n vene
Che gli apporta salute, e chiede pace
E benigna accoglienza e fida aita,
Perché l'una sia salva e l'altra vita.
"Now I need you as my messenger," She says to her quick and clever servant. "Go to the Christian camp, and securely Find Tancred, where he lies wounded. You will tell him that a woman comes Who brings health, and asks for peace, Kind reception and trustworthy help, So that both lives may be preserved."
Her voice -- that was very like the knight Clorinda's -- made her deceit easier: Who might think that armed on horseback Is one of the other harmless women? So the gatekeeper immediately obeys And with her two servants, she leaves. For safety's sake they start riding down The valley on a long and crooked path. When she sees herself in a solitary And low place, she slows down a little Since the first risks have been left behind And nobody should stop her presently. Now however she minds things that She had not thought about earlier, And now it seems to be very dangerous To reach the Camp with such a mask on.
La voce feminil sembiante a quella
De la guerrera agevolò l'inganno:
Chi crederìa vedere armata in sella
Una de l'altre, ch'arme oprar non sanno?
Sì che 'l portier tosto ubbidisce, et ella
N'esce veloce, e i due che seco hor vanno.
E per lor sicurezza entro la valle
Discendono per obliquo e lungo calle.
Poi che la donna in solitaria et ima
Parte si vede, alquanto i passi allenta,
Ch'i primi rischi haver passati estima
Né d'esser ritenuta homai paventa.
Hor pensa a quello a che pensato in prima
Non bene haveva, et hor le s'appresenta
Pericoloso più che pria non parve
L'entrar nel campo in sì mentite larve.
An English translation will be provided on Oct. 20.
Nicea, benché 'l suo dubbio alquanto sceme,
Non va per quelle vie molto sicura,
Ché d'esser conosciuta a la fin teme,
E dal suo troppo ardir nasce paura.
Ma pur, giunta a la porta, il timor preme
Et inganna colui che n'ha la cura:
- Io son Clorinda (disse), apri la porta,
Che 'l Re m'invia dove l'andare importa -.
Although Nicaea silences her doubts, She does not advance very secure Since she thinks she will be recognized, And from boldness now fear comes out. Yet, coming to the gates, she represses Fear, and deceives the gatekeeper Saying, "I am Clorinda. Open the door! The King sends me where needed most."
This (picture 1) is maybe not Picasso's masterpiece, but has some interesting connections with the Renaissance. Titled Straw Hat with Blue Leaves, 50 x 61 cm, it was painted on May 1, 1936; it is exhibited in the Picasso Museum in Paris. Portraits became a major art genre in the 16th century, often structured precisely like this work by the Spanish/French master. The leaves, moreover, seem to recall another typical Renaissance 'creature,' the poetess or, more in general, the cultured woman, that was one of the most significant social achievements then.
The most famous poetess and salon organizer in Rome, as well as an important supporter of a Catholic Reformation, was Vittoria Colonna(picture 2), the widow of an officer in the army of Emperor Charles V. She was even rumored to have a love story with Michelangelo -- that sounds quite unlikely as she was very chaste and he was gay. Now, since her second name means "column, pillar," can we infer that Picasso portrayed her? It is anyway worth to have a careful look at Picasso's whole production because he often dealt with Greek mythology, and he did so with all the genius and humor of his colleagues of a half millennium before.
Another cultured woman of the late Renaissance was the mother of Count Giovanni Battista Manso, in Naples, who inspired Torquato Tasso to write his long poem Il Mondo Creato . . . of which the regular followers of this blog may already have heard a bit.
Con le mentite spoglie occulta, ascosa,
E per secreta via con lor si parte.
Pur in molti s'aviene, e l'aria ombrosa
Splender di ferro vede in qualche parte;
Ma impedir quel viaggio altri non osa
Che la fortuna sua mena in disparte,
E la notte gli affida, o pur la tigre
Temuta insegna è fra le genti impigre.
Hidden under false garments she leaves With them(*) through a secret passage. She bumps into several people, and sees Iron shining in the dark in some places; But no one prevents her from going, (**) All being taken away by her good luck; Night helps them, or else the waking men Are afraid of the device of the tiger. (***)
(*) Nicaea with her two servants.
(**) Echoing Dante, Inferno 5: 22.
(***) Clorinda's device. There is another narrative inconsistency here, because Clorinda will not notice that her armor has disappeared!
Co 'l durissimo acciar preme et offende
Il delicato collo e l'aurea chioma,
E la tenera man lo scudo prende,
Pur troppo grave e inusitata soma;
Così tutta di ferro homai risplende
E 'n atto militar se stessa doma.
Gode Amor, ch'è presente, e così ride
Come alhorch'egli avolse in gonna Alcide.
With hard steel, she presses and offends Her delicate neck and her golden hair; Her tender hand seizes the shield, A too heavy and unusual weight. (*) Now she shines enveloped in iron And masters herself as soldiers do. Eros is there, and enjoys, and laughs As he did while giving Hercules a skirt. (**)
(*) Hinting at 1 Samuel 17: 38-39.
(**) When, as a punishment for a murder, he served Queen Omphale among her slaves. The episode has been depicted, for example, by Lucas Cranach the Elder in different versions.
In the Sistine Chapel, the prophet Jonah is even bigger than Christ! On the other hand, the "big fish" that supposedly swallowed him is depicted too small to be able to do so. But a hypothesis surfaces: maybe the "fish" on the right is only the head of a sea serpent, whose long body is hidden-and-marked by the lines of the draperies -- the castor-oil plant in the background working as the tail end, in case. As a consequence, Jonah is at the same time inside and outside the beast, a subtle symbol of the dead and risen Christ (Matthew 12: 40). Such a visual joke would not be a novelty in Michelangelo, if we recall e.g. the arms in the Tondo Doni, that may belong to Joseph as well as to Mary.
So Jonah as an icon of salvation is the opposite of the damned man who, in Michelangelo's Last Judgment, is encircled and bitten by a snake. The paradoxical role of the Serpent as both the enemy and the symbol of Christ (John 3: 14) was well known to the artist, who painted the episode of the Brass Serpent (Numbers 21: 8-9) in this same Chapel.
Michelangelo's House in Florence is a unique museum -- "house" rather than "home" since he bought it when he already lived in Rome. The artist's closer relatives themselves started to take care of the building and the collections from the beginning. The museum in fact owns an amazing set of sculptures, drawings, projects, sketches, letters, poems, notes, even invoices in Michelangelo's own handwriting, plus other important works that complete the collection, e.g. reproductions of his paintings that meanwhile have gone lost. We can follow Michelangelo's life and ideas almost as if we were in real time. Above: the wonderful catalog of an exhibition that took place in 2002. It was called Grafia e biografia, "Graphic & Biographic."
Pronto il fanciullo e la donzella è presta,
E l'uno e l'altro al suo parlar dà fede.
Nicea si spoglia la feminea veste
Che dagli homeri scende infino al piede;
E con vestire schietto ancora honesta
E bella ch'ogni credenza eccede,
Simile a chi già corse a' pomi d'oro
Et a lei che diè nome al verde alloro.
The boy and the maid readily come And both believe her explanations. Nicaea strips of her feminine dress That covered her, shoulders to feet; In her petticoat she still looks modest While beautiful beyond belief, like She who raced for the golden apples And she who gave the laurel her name.
The final printed text has been mostly followed here, because it looks more 'reliable' than the manuscript (where, e.g., the woman is still called "Erminia" like in Gerusalemme Liberata).
The similes in the last lines refer to Atalanta and Daphne -- or rather, there has been an interesting change: In the manuscript the last verse read, "she who turned into a laurel," properly Daphne, while the new version mixes (up) the Greek myth with Petrarch's Laura, who took her name from the laurel.
Finally, this stanza -- like scores of other episodes -- shows the falseness of much commonplace according to which Tasso in the remake of his Gerusalemme rejected the erotic sections. No reference to sex has been deleted in the Conquistata: there is even more of it than in the Liberata, as a matter of fact.