For the 874th anniversary of my native city I went to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. There are currently two “Italian” exhibitions. One, in collaboration with Pinacoteca di Siena, focuses on the rise of the Sienese school of art. It features at least one work attributed to workshop of Duccio di Buoninsegna and works by Simone Martini, Giovanni di Paolo, and others. It also demonstrates some rare Sienese biccherni and 13-14th Italian paintings and altarpieces from the Pushkin Museum collection.
Another exhibition features works by Giambattista Tiepolo (18th c.) and other Italian painters of 17-18th cc.
In the city, in one of the boulevards, there is an exhibition of Soviet photography. Photos span 1930s-1980s and focus on celebrations in Red Square and Moscow architecture.
Below is one of exhibits, a painting by a 17th c. Neapolitan master, “The healing of the man sick with palsy”.
Encircled by four-legged friends, it’s so tempting to stay in bed longer. But you still have to get up. Now, just about every visitor to this hall in the Louvre stops at this bath to admire it. I and a few tourists from Australia decided that we would happily accommodate this one at our houses. And so, the question: if indeed this bath were yours and you knew it was waiting for you, would it make you more eager to get up in the morning?
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.
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 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.
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.
Но любящий любимого творит,
И, раз уж Муз дела идут не шибко,
Тебя мне должно взять за образец.
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
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”.
Dilla da l’Acqua is a 16th c. song deploring the fate of a lover who has to overcome the tricks of an obnoxious guardian that protects his beloved. The guardian is not spared every imaginable epithet, including a “pig’s face”. I first heard it interpreted by the British chamber music orchestra, Orlando Consort.
The piece belongs to the 16th c. Italian composer Francesco Patavino (c. 1478-c.1556) from Santa Croce in Padua. He was a rather important figure in the realm of sacred music of the Italian Renaissance and introduced the principle of a “broken choir”, then widely used by the Venetian school of polyphonic composition. Dilla da l’acqua must be one of the seven “profane” pieces that Patavino composed in his lifetime. He died in Loreto (Ancona) around the year 1556.
Russia’s leading fashion and style portal, LookAtMe, has published a photographic digest of Men’s Fashion Week in Milan this year. I’m a rare one for fashion photography, as you know, but men’s fashion has always been a bit underestimated. I must say, however: it is when I look at these photos that I wish I was born a man. Photos by Michele Michelsanti.
The exhibition by Svetlana Konegen “Nome. Cose. Citta” (Names. Things. Cities) follows several Italian towns where the lnguist travelled
I recently went to the Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow, and one of the exhibitions currently on display is a show of photographs made with an iPhone by a renowned Russian TV broadcaster, Svetlana Konegen, Nome, Cose, Citta. Born and bred in Saint Petersburg, Svetlana eventually moved to Moscow where she landed a spot on TV with her own programme. I gather that she must now be dividing her time between Moscow and Italy, the latter being the native country of her husband.
Franco Moroni, Antonio Geusa, Svetlana Konegen (image: RDH)
The exhibition by Svetlana Konegen Nome. Cose. Citta (Names. Things. Cities) follows several Italian towns where Svetlana travelled. She wonders as to exactly what attracts Russians to Italy, concluding that this is a kind of Paradise Regained, especially as far as the artists are concerned. Nikolai Gogol spent years in Rome, Alexander Ivanov travelled throughout Italy, Joseph Brodsky is buried in Venice. It is possible, Svetlana says, that in the process of exploring this country the object and subject constantly swap places: a Russian is constructed by Italy in the same way – and probably at the same time – as Italy is constructed by a Russian. Yet, as far as art is concerned, thanks to modern day technology it has become a truly intergral part of life, so just as David Hockney paints with his iPhone, Svetlana, a classical linguist, has used the same gadget to compose an illustrated diary of fleeting memories, images, and experiences that imbue the Epicurean, Senecan, Renaissance, and 1960s themes. The exhibition is curated by Antonio Geusa and is on display until February 26, 2012.
The photo that captivated me the most was the one to which I couldn’t possibly fail to respond. Having been trained in Medieval and Early Modern History, I first noticed the Latin words. It never registered with me before that Svetlana studied Classical Philology, so at the museum I was simply “impressed”. Later when I realised it was not particularly strange I still marvelled at the fact that there was a place for a Latin dictionary in Svetlana’s life (we obviously have to assume that it was Svetlana, not her husband or somebody else, who was reading this dictionary). What is more peculiar, however, is that this must be a 19th c. Russian edition, or its 20th c. reprint, to judge by the typeface and the Russian language style that was in use before the Revolution.
Frankly, out of all photographs this is probably the most telling and prompting to be contemplated. With a state-of-the-art iPhone in her hand, a 21st century woman is touring through Italy with a 19th c. Russian edition of Latin dictionary. It is as if she is trying to revive the journey of the 19th c. Russians to pay an hommage to the birthplace of the Western imperial culture, the Western law, and much of the art and philosophy. The photo is somehow in sync with the recent years’ fascination with the Russian 19th c., Dostoyevsky, nobility, monarchy, and so on. Whereas the English Grand Tour was mostly about visiting Italy, Russians seem to have always been slightly more attracted to Germany, primarily due to the Universities, so the Russian Grand Tour had its modifications. Yet Italy fascinated the Russians, even though not all were particularly impressed, say, Alexander Blok.
And the page with the words on it is also strangely telling, once you start thinking about it. The words are “consectatio” (pursuit), “consectatrix” (a pursuing female), “consectio” (dismembering), “consector” (to continuously pursue), “consecutio” (consequence), “consenesco” (to grow old). While both Russia and Italy age, Russians are still pursuing Italy as the epitome of Paradise on Earth. Some brave the Venetian vapours, others the Milanese rains, still others bask in the Napolitan sun or chill out in the chic environment of Sardinia, all for the chance to have the glory and luxury of the former Empire to rub off on them.
A memorandum of Leonardo da Vinci is no ordinary to-do list: it is a map of mental search and intellectual development that illuminates the nature of genius
I’ve been writing my to-do lists religiously since 2010. Before that I always used to make a list for groceries shopping (because you cannot possibly remember all the items you need to buy, especially when the respective shelves are scattered all over the store). And I had also made notes of what needed to be done, but I rarely set it up as a list. Then one day in 2010 I had to run 8 places for errands, so I wrote them all up in a list, grouped them by location… and by the end of the day I did visit them all! This was a real proof of the list-mania working, so I just carried on.
Frankly speaking, my lists mostly deal with work and errands. Work – because I do a lot of that, and unless I list and prioritise I won’t accomplish much. Errands – because I love doing my work, and I may genuinely forget paying that bill or buying that item. So, I have to be really exacting.
More seldom, unfortunately, I schedule breaks and rest and other activities, like sport or languages. I think this is where I need to up the level of my list-making.
Yet I’m sure very few of us follow in Leonardo’s footsteps, whose to-do list is in the photo. Strictly speaking, this list is called a “memorandum of Leonardo da Vinci”, and it’s not exactly a “to-do list” but rather a reminder of things one needs, or wants, to do, know, learn, and ask about. As I see it, there’s a difference between the two. A to-do list has a trait of immediacy; it’s usually a list of actions one needs to take in a more or less precise frame of time. That’s why it’s a list, and that’s why it may even have times added to it, to make it more like a timetable.
The memorandum of Leonardo da Vinci is of a different nature. It is a list of subjects for contemplation and investigation. Obviously, learning the size of the Sun isn’t the most important thing on anyone’s agenda, neither is the Lombard manner of repairing locks, or understanding why on Earth the Tower of Ferrara has the wall without a single loophole. This is a list of things a person wants to learn. I’d rather think of it as a map of a learning process, and as such it is far more valuable than a mere to-do list. How many of us jot down things they want to learn? Those little matters that tickle our curiosity, do you write them down or just let them die off? How many of us actually expand the learning process beyond an immediate field of specialisation?
Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Ambroise Vollard (1910)
The cross-cultural year between Italy and Russia, celebrated in 2011, is quickly picking up the pace with the several exhibitions of outstanding Italian artists visiting Moscow – in exchange to a reciprocal visit of the collections from Russian museums.
In particular, the visitors to the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow will see Giotto’s Madonna and the Child (Madonna col Bambino at the Museo diocesano di Santo Stefano al Ponte, also known as Madonna di San Giorgio alla Costa, in Florence), and the famous polyptich from the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. In exchange, the Florentines will be able to first-hand explore the icons by Andrei Rublev, Dionisius, and the Pskov School.
Meanwhile, the visitors to the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan can see the works of French painters that had been bought by the Russian art collectors and donated to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibition includes paintings by Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Gauguin, and Pablo Picasso. This is the first time these precious specimens of world’s painting are exhibited in Italy. One of the art collectors, Ivan Morozov, went to Paris to personally buy Picasso’s Portrait of Ambroise Vollard. Over 15 years, in which Morozov spent 200-300 thousand francs annualy, he collected over 200 works of European artists.
The exhibition in Milan runs until February 5th, 2012.
I have just come across the audio of Luciano Pavarotti and Patty Pravo singing Pazza Idea (Crazy Idea), and there is a video of a 2001 performance. Not sure I am fully keen on it, if only because Pavarotti’s demure demeanor and Pravo’s performance harks back too much to the good old days… plus the two managed to start singing out of tune, so I chose not to let you see it.
Instead there is a video to the song in Italian. Back in 2007 I discovered Patty Pravo via Pensiero Stupendo song. I’ve never become so hooked on her as I am on Mina, but there are a few songs that I enjoy.
What I definitely liked about this year’s Moscow Design Week is its higher class. Last year’s MDW was a first attempt, clearly done with a bit of scepticism towards its own necessity. The quality of English translation of booklets, the infrastructure of events, venues and displays – all was done for the purpose of actually doing it.
I wasn’t sceptical about MDW’s future, but I was wondering how they were going to improve. The improvement came by almost secretly, I’m sure some people didn’t even realise the Design Week was going to happen. It did happen though and amassed such a huge number of high caliber designers from Europe and America that we are already feeling hungry for more. This is exactly what a girl at the Central Artist’s House said in response to my question, whether or not she enjoyed the Week: “I would love to see more“.
2011 being a cross-cultural year between Russia and Italy, it probably made sense to bring the leading Italian designers to Moscow and to dedicate one of the major exhibitions to all things “made in Italy”. This is also a curious reference to last year’s Design Week when visitors were invited to the Manezh Exhibition Centre to explore ‘the French art of living’. This year it was the same “art de vivre” – but Italian style.
Compared to the Italian, the French “art de vivre” looks almost too classical. Although the French played with matryoshkas and Eiffel towers in their own way, the Matrioska Superhero by Jacopo Foggini, or a classical chair painted in rainbow colours by Giulio Cappellini both breathe new life into familiar, if not dull, objects.
Being a Fabio Novembre Chair
Needless to say, such irreverence to classical things inspires, provokes and prompts. It’s not been the first time ever that I saw and sat down into a Fabio Novembre chair. However, it’s been the first time I realised that the entire experience of sitting in this chair reeks on the plot of the famous film, Being John Malkovich. I called my ‘exploits’ with it rather simply: “Being a Fabio November Chair“.