Tag Archives: Michelangelo

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”.

Sleeping Jesus and Spanking Madonna

We are surely used to the baby Jesus being painted as a healthy kid with big cheeks. He can be suckling on his mother’s breast, or playing with John the Baptist, or otherwise having good time on his mother’s lap.

Unfortunately, we may forget that Jesus was, after all, human in some ways. As far as his babyhood goes, just as he could suckle on his mother’s breast, so could he fall asleep, as babies do. This is precisely what Parmigianino, the Italian Mannerist artist of the 16th c., observed in his famous painting, Madonna dal Collo Lungo (Madonna with the Long Neck, left). As art historians would observe, this is a re-working of the pietà theme. We see Madonna adoringly gazing at her son, who is prostrated on her knees in his innocent slumber. The angels are watching and one of them is holding a jug with the Cross in it – a sign of the baby’s future Passions.

Madonna dal Collo Lungo was painted towards the end of Parmigianino’s life, and Giorgio Vasari in his Lives notes that the artist was not altogether content with the painting. It is dated by 1539, so when Michelangelo made his drawing in about 1560, he would have known about the one by Parmigianino. Today we have a painting based on Michelangelo’s, and the artist, Marcello Venusti, another Mannerist, made it in about 1565. Its full title is The Holy Family (left), but since Venusti’s time it’s been dubbed ‘Il Silenzio‘, and one can easily guess, why. Indeed, we see Christ falling asleep on his mother’s knees, apparently as she was reading to him. The feeling is different to the one we see in Madonna dal Collo Lungo: the baby’s slumber evidently took everyone by surprise, but while St. John the Baptist is making a “silenzio” sign, Joseph and Maria aren’t quite amused. It is also interesting to note Maria’s pose: I cannot instantly remember any painting in which her legs would be crossed. At any rate, the scene we see in this painting after Michelangelo’s drawing could possibly provoke the scene depicted by Max Ernst in his Virgin Spanking the Christ Child Before the Three Witnesses (1926, right).

On Il Silenzio‘s page on the National Gallery website there is an interesting comment about John the Baptist in Michelangelo-Venusti painting, that he is “mysteriously attired in a leopard skin (rather than the traditional camel skin)“. It seems to me that the drawing Michelangelo made could be a kind of hommage to Parmigianino, who, it was well-known and mentioned in Vasari’s Lives, greatly admired the work of both Michelangelo and Rafael. The reason for this is that in Parmigianino’s most celebrated work, The Vision of St. Jerome (right), on which he worked during the Sack of Rome in 1527, we see John the Baptist in the foreground, wearing leopard’s skin. And although the red and blue were the usual colours of Maria’s dress, they nevertheless were not the only combination. Again, it can be significant to an extent that in Venusti’s painting we see Madonna attired in the clothes of the same colours as in The Vision of St. Jerome.

Raphael, Degas, and the 16th c. music

2004 saw the first exhibition of Raphael in England. In November I happened to be in London, and my first visit to the National Gallery naturally included a voyage to the Sainsbury Wing. I had mere half an hour to enjoy some 40 works of one of the Titans of Renaissance. To see them, I had to gently if politely wriggle past some visitors, or queue up where it was impossible to squeeze through. Everyone who knows the Sainsbury Wing will recall its catacomb-like interior: low ceilings, dim light, rather small rooms with dark walls – hardly a backdrop for the rich Italian masterpieces.

At exactly the same time they were exhibiting Edgar Degas upstairs. The works of French artist resided in two or three well lit halls with tall ceilings and light pastel-colour walls, there were not many visitors (it was one of the first days of exhibition, I should note). Most paintings were of medium size, in front of every second or third of which there stood a Far-Eastern girl with a pad and some crayons, copying the works of one of the greatest Impressionists. To this day I cannot fathom why these two exhibitions could not be swapped places.

I wrote a lengthy text about it in Russian in the same 2004, contemplating on how these two exhibitions manifested our attitude to art. I was probably a bit harsh to suggest that it was easy to admire the classical art because then no-one would find a fault in your taste, but on second thoughts this is hardly far from the truth. Indeed, one would rather be ridiculed if they admitted liking pop music than if they admitted liking Mozart. Same with Raphael. As Henry James put it, Raphael was a happy genius, and by looking and admiring his Madonnas we seek to find happiness, too. Raphael is also easier to comprehend, unlike his contemporaries. Leonardo is very intellectual, to which La Gioconda is a good proof. Michelangelo’s devotion to the physique is sometimes baffling, as can be seen, for instance, in the figures on the Medici monument. Raphael, on the contrary, is always pleasant, always radiant, always rich in colour, and even if his end may not be as happy as his paintings, we probably shall still forget about it when we observe his work.

It is different with Degas. Degas was known for his perfectionism, and many times in his life he turned to rework his own paintings, as the examination of certain works, e.g. Portrait of Elena Carafa, shows. The name of the exhibition – “Art in the Making” – further highlights Degas’s critical, intellectual approach to his work. The British art historian Kenneth Clark in his book “The Nude: A Study in the Ideal Form” (N.Y., 1956) says, in particular, that Degas excelled at what the Florentine artists of the 16th c. would call “disegno” (i.e. a drawing, a sketch). He focused on a human figure as his main theme, but aimed to capture the ideal image of the movement of this figure, and especially the energy of this movement. Degas’s painting is more vigorous than Raphael’s, and his Madonnas are not only nude, they are also depicted in the poses or at such activity that many of us would still deem inappropriate. Still, again in the words of Clark, had the figures painted by Michelangelo come to life, they would have scared us to a far bigger extent than Degas’s naked women.

Thanks to his colour palette, techniques, and themes, Degas appears more disturbing, almost revolutionary, compared to Raphael. I noted in my text that in the three centuries, from Raphael to Degas, the very attitude to art had changed. As far as Madonnas are concerned, after the European revolutions of the 19th c. and on the eve of the First World War they became more emancipated, they drank absinthe and spent evenings in the Parisian cafes. Their blurred faces, loose hair and outrageous nudity were the symbols of their time, the sign of the fear of changes and of the vulnerability in the face of the outer world. Their movement and individuality were more prominently expressed in comparison to their Renaissance predecessors. Like many other Impressionists, Degas is much more “relevant” to our time, but as it happens we prefer to turn to what gives us hope and faith, and Raphael seemed to be a perfect saviour. Apparently, I concluded, when people turn to the classical art, they seek peace; and when they find peace, they’ll think of a revolution.

Nevertheless, I bought a wonderful CD at the Raphael’s exhibition, The Music of the Courtier, which contained several beautifully performed pieces by the late 15th – 16th cc. composers. One of this, Dilla da l’acqua, by Francesco Patavino (1497?-1556?), performed by I Fagiolini, has become an instant favourite, and I hope you enjoy it too.

http://media.imeem.com/m/xMPLqzqmmW/aus=false/

The paintings used (from top, left to right, clockwise):

Raphael, La Donna Velata (c. 1514-1516)
Edgar Degas, Portrait of Elena Carafa (c. 1875)
Raphael, Madonna of the Pinks (c. 1506-1507)
Michelangelo, The Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici (1526-1531)
Leonardo da Vinci, La Gioconda (c. 1503-1506)
Raphael, Madonna Connestabile (c. 1502)
Edgar Degas, La Coiffure (Combing Her Hair) (c. 1896)
Edgar Degas, Russian Dancers (c. 1899)
Raphael, Ansidei Madonna (1505)
Raphael, Lady with a Unicorn (c. 1505-1506)
Edgar Degas, Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando (c. 1879)
Edgar Degas, Young Spartans Exercising (c. 1860)
Edgar Degas, After the Bath (c. 1890-1895)
Raphael, St Catherine (c. 1507)

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