Tag Archives: David Hockney

Monday Verses: Michelangelo Buonarotti – Sulla morte di Cecchino Bracci (1545)

David Hockney, In Memoriam Cecchino Bracci

In 1544, a handsome 15-year-old boy named Cecchino (Francesco) Bracci died, leaving his uncle Luigi del Riccio shattered. At the time Luigi was a close friend and counsellor to Michelangelo Buonarotti, whom he kindly asked to execute a tomb for Cecchino and compose an epitaph.

I was reading a book by Sigmund Freud recently, and the Austrian narrated a story of how a young scientist asked him to review his work. Freud agreed; however, he couldn’t force himself to do it; eventually, he accepted that he didn’t actually want to do the review, and excused himself from the task.

Believe it or not, in 1540s in Italy Michelangelo was in the exact Freud’s position. He barely knew the boy, and it turned out that, in spite of his famous beauty, Cecchino never sat for a portrait. The only source of knowledge and inspiration was supposed to be Cecchino’s uncle, Luigi.

Michelangelo’s autograph of the epitaphs

A kind soul as it seems, Michelangelo took to the job. Luigi sent generous hampers to feed a rather indifferent Muse, which gifts the artist sometimes acknowledged in the draft epitaphs and sketches he’d sent back to del Riccio. Indeed, the texts we have demonstrate the hard times Michelangelo could have when the subject failed to ignite his poetic flame. Even the words stumble, and the lack of acquaintance with the boy fully manifests itself. Several months and almost fifty epitaphs later, Michelangelo pulled out from the job. And yet, in 1545 he’d sent Luigi a beautiful sonnet. It is a short study of the poet labour’s lost, with a beautiful ending that actually re-interprets one of the draft epitaphs, pointing out to the fact that it is a lover who preserves the image of the beloved. In spite of what we know of the Renaissance homoerotism, and Michelangelo’s in particular, I insist that Love here needs to be understood as a pure affection, not a hint at any sexual interest.

The tomb (image: Wikipedia)

The tomb was eventually made by another artist and can be seen at the church dell’Aracoeli in Rome. In 1962, David Hockney painted In Memoriam Cecchino Bracchi. This post also includes the sketches by Michelangelo that were eventually used as the basis for the tomb. The final epitaph was composed in Latin.

Drafts (image: Michelangelo.ru)
Drafts (image: Michelangelo.ru)

The Russian poet Andrei Voznesensky also translated two of the epitaphs on the death of Cecchino. I guess the interest in this series of epitaphs lies in several facts. The genre of an epitaph is unique in itself, and when a famous artist-cum-poet composes the whopping 42 quatrains, it does attract attention. Cecchino’s death devastated “the whole of Rome”, according to his uncle, although the age at which the boy died was likely the main reason. And even though Michelangelo’s pen and Muse refused to work together, he nonetheless appears to have been excited at the opportunity to explore one of the favourite themes of the early Baroque poetry, namely vanitas and preference given to the other life.

I didn’t try to translate the epitaphs. Yet back in 2008, when I discovered the 1545 sonnet, it captivated me so that I had to translate it. I must admit, I fully experienced Michelangelo’s own hardships, it was the first time I was translating from Italian, and as always before my task was to try and preserve the original rhythm and melody in the Russian translation. I was, however, satisfied with the result. It is included below, together with the English translation by John Addington Symonds.

In 2013 my Russian translation was awarded the First Diploma in the “Poetry” nomination in Music in Translation competition.

Michelangelo Buonarotti – Sulla morte di Cecchino Bracci

A pena prima aperti gli vidd’io
i suo begli occhi in questa fragil vita,
che, chiusi el dì dell’ultima partita,
gli aperse in cielo a contemplare Dio.
Conosco e piango, e non fu l’error mio,
col cor sì tardi a lor beltà gradita,
ma di morte anzi tempo, ond’è sparita
a voi non già, m’al mie ’rdente desio.
Dunche, Luigi, a far l’unica forma
di Cecchin, di ch’i’ parlo, in pietra viva etterna,
or ch’è già terra qui tra noi,
se l’un nell’altro amante si trasforma,
po’ che sanz’essa l’arte non v’arriva,
convien che per far lui ritragga voi.

John Addington Symonds – English Translation

Scarce had I seen for the first time his eyes,
Which to your living eyes were life and light,
When, closed at last in death’s injurious night,
He opened them on God in Paradise.
I know it, and I weep — too late made wise:
Yet was the fault not mine; for death’s fell spite
Robbed my desire of that supreme delight
Which in your better memory never dies.
Therefore, Luigi, if the task be mine
To make unique Cecchino smile in stone
For ever, now that earth hath made him dim,
If the beloved within the lover shine,
Since art without him cannot work alone,
You must I carve to tell the world of him.

Julia Shuvalova – Russian Translation

Я только раз взглянул в глаза того,
В чьем взоре ты черпал и жизнь, и свет,
Как в вечном сне он их сомкнул, чтоб впредь
Смотреть в раю на Бога самого.

Как глуп я был! И плачу оттого!
Но, право же, моей вины в том нет.
А ты хранишь вовеки счастья след,
Хотя бы Смерть и унесла его.

Луиджи, просишь ты: пусть сохранит
От тлена несравненную улыбку
Чеккино мой прославленный резец.

Но любящий любимого творит,
И, раз уж Муз дела идут не шибко,
Тебя мне должно взять за образец.

October 2008

На русском 

В июне 1544 г. в Риме умер юный Франческо (Чеккино) Браччи, племянник поэта Луиджи дель Риччо. Луиджи, хорошо знакомый с Микеланджело, обратился к поэту-художнику с просьбой создать надгробие для мраморного памятника Чеккино, а также написать текст эпитафии. Микеланджело согласился. До нас, действительно, дошли четыре эпитафии. Однако ни одна из них не украсила надгробие Чеккино, да и сам памятник, в конце концов, был успешно создан другим мастером.

Причина, по которой Микеланджело уклонился от исполнения договора, вероятнее всего изложена им самим в приведенном сонете. Вопреки тому, что можно прочесть в популярных статьях о глубине отношений Микеланджело и Чеккино, степень близости была невелика, что и подчеркивает первая строка сонета. Несмотря на то что Чеккино славился своей красотой, ни один художник, похоже, не соизволил запечатлеть его при жизни. Переводы нескольких набросков эпитафий, сделанные А. М. Эфросом, демонстрируют бесплодные усилия пера Микеланджело, которое дель Риччо изо всех сил старался подпитать – в прямом смысле этого слова:

Здесь рок послал безвременный мне сон,
Но я не мертв, хоть и опущен в землю:
Я жив в тебе, чьим сетованьям внемлю,
За то, что в друге друг отображен.

– Не хотел посылать вам это, потому что скверно вышло,
но форели и трюфели одолели бы и само небо. Вверяю себя вам.

К благой судьбе я смертью приведен:
Бог не желал меня увидеть старым,
И так как рок не властен большим даром,
Все, кроме смерти, было б мне в урон.

– Теперь, когда обещание пятнадцати надписей выполнено,
я больше уже не повинен вам ими, разве что придут
они из рая, где он пребывает.

Рисовать эскиз надгробия оказалось еще тяжелее: “Посылаю вам с запиской дыни, рисунка же пока нет, но я изготовлю его непременно со всем искусством, на какое способен”. И однако же искусства было мало:

Чеккино – в жизни, ныне – я у Бога,
Мирской на миг, небесный навсегда;
Счастливая вела меня звезда:
Где стольким в смерть, мне в жизнь была дорога.

– Так как поэзия этой ночью молчала, посылаю вам
четыре надписи, за три пряника скряги и вверяю себя
вам.

Андрей Вознесенский также перевел две из этих эпитафий:

Я счастлив, что я умер молодым.
Земные муки – хуже, чем могила.
Навеки смерть меня освободила
и сделалась бессмертием моим.

Я умер, подчинившись естеству.
Но тыщи дум в моей душе вмещались.
Одна на них погасла – что за малость?!
Я в тысячах оставшихся живу.
 

Проведя не один месяц в творческих муках, Микеланджело отклонил заказ дель Риччо. Но в 1545 г. написал для него вышеприведенный сонет. При отсутствии каких-либо изображений юноши, Луиджи, как любящий дядя и воспитатель, для которого смерть Чеккино явилась тяжелым ударом, мог бы единственным “источником” вдохновения для художника. На это и намекает Микеланджело, с присущими его веку изяществом и легким юмором предлагая изваять самого дель Риччо, дабы сохранить в веках память о Чеккино. Одновременно в этом сонете сходятся многие темы, поднятые Микеланджело в черновых вариантах эпитафий, в частности, в этих строках: “Я жив в тебе, чьим сетованьям внемлю, за то, что в друге друг отображен”.

История жизни и смерти Чеккино Браччи, о которой известно ровно столько, сколько можно извлечь из этих коротких посланий Микеланджело, послужила источником вдохновения для английского художника Дэвида Хокни (In Memoriam Cecchino Bracci, 1962).

В 2013 г. за перевод этого сонета я получила диплом I степени в номинации “Поэзия” на международном конкурсе перевода “Музыка перевода”.

The Mobile Art of David Hockney

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It is always interesting to observe how the media presents the “news”. When independent artists, especially not well-known, turn to Social Media and mobile technologies, journalists and pundits use them for case-studies. They profile the use of social networks, various online or mobile tools that enable artists to make, publish and broadcast their art to a wide audience, at a potentially low cost. At certain point this even stops being “unthinkable” and becomes something that we almost expect an artist to do: to have a website and some online “profiles”.

Then David Hockney takes to draw a painting on his iPhone and emails it to friends – and this instantly becomes the case of one of the celebrated British artists still being “at the cutting edge of art“.

To think about it, Hockney is not the only “old master” who explores the new media. Already three years ago I briefly mentioned that both Peter Greenaway and David Lynch proclaimed the decline of “traditional” cinema and turned to the new technology. In this regard Hockney isn’t doing anything remotely novel – but it is the conclusion he draws that counts:

One morning recently, I made a drawing on my iPhone while I was still in bed, of flowers through the window, and the sunrise, which I could then [email] to 12 people, without it ever having been photographed or printed, and that’s very new.

We are very aware of the instantaneous quality of online publishing, yet what seems hard to register with us is that it’s still very new in comparison to centuries of traditions based first on handwriting and then on printing press. And yet it is new, and what this means for the artist like Hockney is that his work could be projected straight on the gallery screen or posted to the website immediately as it was finished. For a writer who posts straight to the blog online publishing also creates the precedent of making the work available for a larger or smaller circle of readers immediately as it was composed. Musicians, actors, dancers, even sculptors can use live streaming to show their work in process and in progress. Arguably, the more this is done in the way that Wollheim and Hockney appeared to do it, the better we understand “how art is made”.

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The article in The Daily Telegraph introducing Bruno Wollheim’s documentary about David Hockney is thought-provoking. Like Henri Cartier-Bresson earlier, Hockney turns away from photography to painting. But he does this with a twist, the reaction to which I find amusing:

He’s still obsessed by Secret Knowledge, to which he devoted two years of his life in the aftermath of his mother’s death in 1999. The book and film were controversial, arguing that, for the past 500 years, artists in the West had used lenses and mirrors to aid their work, so presenting the world in photographic terms. Most art historians poured scorn on his researches, but fellow artists tended to agree with him.

I’ve just written about how oblivious the historians can be to their own faults, and it seems that art historians follow in their footsteps. I never studied painting, and I cannot draw, but I will argue in Hockney’s favour, which will certainly prove that he is more right than wrong. This is the story of Filippo Brunelleschi introducing the perspective as early as 1425:

…Brunelleschi secretly painted a small, highly realistic image of the Baptistery of San Giovanni as it would have appeared in a mirror-reversed perspective when seen from a single point of view located just inside the portal of Santa Maria del Fiore. […] For purposes of his demonstration, Brunelleschi also drilled a small hole in the painting of the Baptistery at the point that would have been exactly opposite the point within the portal of the Duomo from which the perspective of the Baptistery had been constructed. […] Brunelleschi then set up his painting between the Baptistery and the entry to Santa Maria del Fiore, and called for volunteers to look through the peephole from behind the surface of the painting with one eye, while holding a mirror at a mathematically correct distance in front of the painting. […] The effect of the mirror was to minimize the viewer’s awareness of the presence of the painted surface and to intensify the sense of depth of the painting. […] By thus demonstrating to the public the breathtaking realism of his newly discovered system of linear geometric perspective, it seemed to Brunelleschi’s contemporaries that he had discovered how to re-create the world through the power of an art that precisely reflected physical reality as it is seen by the detached observer.

William Scrots, Anamorphic Portrait of Edward VI Tudor

To carry on, why not remember the Renaissance admiration for anamorphic images? Their popularity had to do with the advances in the optical research, apart from the sheer amusement they provided. This famous portrait of King Edward VI Tudor even has a special slot on one side for a narrow tube through which the painting could be seen “properly”. Hans Holbein the Younger didn’t resist the call of fashion in the famous Ambassadors. Anamorphosis made its way into Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement; and in the whimsical arrangements of Arcimboldo’s works it probably played a moralistic, as well as entertaining, role.

Hans Holbein, Ambassadors
Michelangelo, The Last Judgement(detail)
Ludovico Archimboldo, The Cook

 

Parmigianino,
A Self-Portrait in Convex Mirror
Jan van Eyck,
The Arnolfini Family

There are many examples of mirrors appearing in paintings. The more “traditional” approach would ascribe their presence to some ethical argument on the part of the artist, but what if in truth those artists who included mirrors in compositions simply gave away their “trade secret”, while also indicating that artists and people and objects in their paintings inhabited a three-dimensional, rather than two-dimensional, space? Here is Parmigianino’s self-portrait that he made while looking at himself in a convex mirror. But what if mirrors were introduced to revert, or elucidate, but either way to “personalise” the story in the painting? We may start with the famous Arnolfini portrait where the mirror in the background reveals the “other side” of the story we are watching. And then, to skip through several generations of painters, we could cite Velazquez’s Las Meninas, or better what Kenneth Clark wrote about this painting:

Diego Velazquez, Las Meninas

 

With these speculations in mind I return to the Meninas and it occurs to me what an extraordinarily personal selection of the facts Velasquez has made. That he has chosen to present this selection as a normal optical impression may have misled his contemporaries, but should not mislead us. […] It is true that the Infanta dominates the scene, both by her dignity_for she has already the air of one who is habitually obeyed_and by the exquisite beauty of her pale gold hair. But after looking at her, one’s eye passes immediately to the square, sullen countenance of her dwarf, Maribarbola, and to her dog, brooding and detached, like some saturnine philosopher. These are in the first plane of reality. And who are in the last? The King and Queen, reduced to reflections in a shadowy mirror. To his royal master this may have seemed no more than the record of a scene which had taken his fancy. But must we suppose that Velasquez was unconscious of what he was doing when he so drastically reversed the accepted scale of values?

Here the celebrated photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo – who took much of his inspiration from paintings – would most likely remind us that “this phenomenon of instantaneous choosing is exactly the same thing that happens when I am taking photographs”. Isn’t Las Meninas a potent enough example of making a selection for a painting, akin to capturing the Bressonian “decisive moment” on camera?

Lastly, there will be the artwork by Philip Scott Johnson that stunned millions of viewers around the globe with a precocious arrangement of female portraits from the last 500 years. But I noted specifically that the video (which is a morphic art, as a matter of fact) somehow revealed that artists were painting their models from the more or less same angles for 500 years. Not only did this quality of female portraiture made Johnson’s own work possible – it also potently questioned the originality of form in Western art.

I am not aware of examples Hockney cited; neither do I know exactly why art historians found it hard to agree with the idea that the world was indeed presented in photographic terms throughout the last 500 years. It is quite clear even from the given examples that lenses and mirrors not only were an important part of a creative process (i.e. in the case of a self-portrait) but also affected the techniques, compositions, and “stories”. This may explain perhaps why already Turner’s contemporaries found it hard to “understand” his paintings: because they represented the world as a mixture of elements, untouched by an optical, geometrical arrangement. And the same elementary chaos is what apparently attracts Hockney today:

He is radically re-working his methods, going for speed and directness, using Rembrandt drawings and Van Gogh as his guides. This is his way to make painting escape the stranglehold of the camera.

While his painting may be escaping the stranglehold of the camera, his life in art has finally been caught with the very medium Hockney has abandoned. Whether this is paradoxical or ironic, time will tell; and in the meantime David Hockney: A Bigger Picture is to be broadcast on BBC1 on 30 June.

Illustrations:

William Scrots, The Anamorphic Portrait of Edward VI, 1546
Hans Holbein the Younger, The Ambassadors, 1533
Michelangelo, The Last Judgement, 1534-1541
Guiseppe Arcimboldo, The Cook, 1570
Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434
Parmigianino, A Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, 1524
Diego Velazquez, Las Meninas, 1656

I am very grateful to a reader in Australia who introduced me to the figure of Adi Da Samraj in 2008 and shared several articles, one of which, by Gary J. Coates, I used in this post.