MICHAEL ANGELO. Eccellenza—
VITTORIA. Ser Claudio has banished Eccellenza And all such titles from the Tuscan tongue.
MESSER CLAUDIO. 'T is the abuse of them and not the use I deprecate.
MICHAEL ANGELO. The use or the abuse It matters not. Let them all go together, As empty phrases and frivolities, And common as gold-lace upon the collar Of an obsequious lackey.
VITTORIA. That may be, But something of politeness would go with them; We should lose something of the stately manners Of the old school.
MESSER CLAUDIO. Undoubtedly.
VITTORlA. But that Is not what occupies my thoughts at present, Nor why I sent for you, Messer Michele. It was to counsel me. His Holiness Has granted me permission, long desired, To build a convent in this neighborhood, Where the old tower is standing, from whose top Nero looked down upon the burning city.
MICHAEL ANGELO. It is an inspiration!
VITTORIA. I am doubtful How I shall build; how large to make the convent, And which way fronting.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Ah, to build, to build! That is the noblest art of all the arts. Painting and sculpture are but images, Are merely shadows cast by outward things On stone or canvas, having in themselves No separate existence. Architecture, Existing in itself, and not in seeming A something it is not, surpasses them As substance shadow. Long, long years ago, Standing one morning near the Baths of Titus, I saw the statue of Laocoon Rise from its grave of centuries, like a ghost Writhing in pain; and as it tore away The knotted serpents from its limbs, I heard, Or seemed to hear, the cry of agony From its white, parted lips. And still I marvel At the three Rhodian artists, by whose hands This miracle was wrought. Yet he beholds Far nobler works who looks upon the ruins Of temples in the Forum here in Rome. If God should give me power in my old age To build for Him a temple half as grand As those were in their glory, I should count My age more excellent than youth itself, And all that I have hitherto accomplished As only vanity.
VITTORIA. I understand you. Art is the gift of God, and must be used Unto His glory. That in art is highest Which aims at this. When St. Hilarion blessed The horses of Italicus, they won The race at Gaza, for his benediction O'erpowered all magic; and the people shouted That Christ had conquered Marnas. So that art Which bears the consecration and the seal Of holiness upon it will prevail Over all others. Those few words of yours Inspire me with new confidence to build. What think you? The old walls might serve, perhaps, Some purpose still. The tower can hold the bells.
MICHAEL ANGELO. If strong enough.
VITTORIA. If not, it can be strengthened.
MICHAEL ANGELO. I see no bar nor drawback to this building, And on our homeward way, if it shall please you, We may together view the site.
VITTORIA. I thank you. I did not venture to request so much.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Let us now go to the old walls you spake of, Vossignoria—
VITTORIA. What, again, Maestro?
MICHAEL ANGELO. Pardon me, Messer Claudio, if once more I use the ancient courtesies of speech. I am too old to change.
A richly furnished apartment in the Palace of CARDINAL IPPOLITO. Night.
JACOPO NARDI, an old man, alone.
NARDI. I am bewildered. These Numidian slaves, In strange attire; these endless ante-chambers; This lighted hall, with all its golden splendors, Pictures, and statues! Can this be the dwelling Of a disciple of that lowly Man Who had not where to lay his head? These statues Are not of Saints; nor is this a Madonna, This lovely face, that with such tender eyes Looks down upon me from the painted canvas. My heart begins to fail me. What can he Who lives in boundless luxury at Rome Care for the imperilled liberties of Florence, Her people, her Republic? Ah, the rich Feel not the pangs of banishment. All doors Are open to them, and all hands extended, The poor alone are outcasts; they who risked All they possessed for liberty, and lost; And wander through the world without a friend, Sick, comfortless, distressed, unknown, uncared for.
Enter CARDINAL HIPPOLITO, in Spanish cloak and slouched hat.
IPPOLITO. I pray you pardon me that I have kept you Waiting so long alone.
NARDI. I wait to see The Cardinal.
IPPOLITO. I am the Cardinal. And you?
NARDI. Jacopo Nardi.
IPPOLITO. You are welcome I was expecting you. Philippo Strozzi Had told me of your coming.
NARDI. 'T was his son That brought me to your door.
IPPOLITO. Pray you, be seated. You seem astonished at the garb I wear, But at my time of life, and with my habits, The petticoats of a Cardinal would be— Troublesome; I could neither ride nor walk, Nor do a thousand things, if I were dressed Like an old dowager. It were putting wine Young as the young Astyanax into goblets As old as Priam.
NARDI. Oh, your Eminence Knows best what you should wear.
IPPOLITO. Dear Messer Nardi, You are no stranger to me. I have read Your excellent translation of the books Of Titus Livius, the historian Of Rome, and model of all historians That shall come after him. It does you honor; But greater honor still the love you bear To Florence, our dear country, and whose annals I hope your hand will write, in happier days Than we now see.
NARDI. Your Eminence will pardon The lateness of the hour.
IPPOLITO. The hours I count not As a sun-dial; but am like a clock, That tells the time as well by night as day. So no excuse. I know what brings you here. You come to speak of Florence.
NARDI. And her woes.
IPPOLITO. The Duke, my cousin, the black Alessandro, Whose mother was a Moorish slave, that fed The sheep upon Lorenzo's farm, still lives And reigns.
NARDI. Alas, that such a scourge Should fall on such a city!
IPPOLITO. When he dies, The Wild Boar in the gardens of Lorenzo, The beast obscene, should be the monument Of this bad man.
NARDI. He walks the streets at night With revellers, insulting honest men. No house is sacred from his lusts. The convents Are turned by him to brothels, and the honor Of women and all ancient pious customs Are quite forgotten now. The offices Of the Priori and Gonfalonieri Have been abolished. All the magistrates Are now his creatures. Liberty is dead. The very memory of all honest living Is wiped away, and even our Tuscan tongue Corrupted to a Lombard dialect.
IPPOLITO. And worst of all his impious hand has broken The Martinella,—our great battle bell, That, sounding through three centuries, has led The Florentines to victory,—lest its voice Should waken in their souls some memory Of far-off times of glory.
NARDI. What a change Ten little years have made! We all remember Those better days, when Niccola Capponi, The Gonfaloniere, from the windows Of the Old Palace, with the blast of trumpets, Proclaimed to the inhabitants that Christ Was chosen King of Florence; and already Christ is dethroned, and slain, and in his stead Reigns Lucifer! Alas, alas, for Florence!
IPPOLITO. Lilies with lilies, said Savonarola; Florence and France! But I say Florence only, Or only with the Emperor's hand to help us In sweeping out the rubbish.
NARDI. Little hope Of help is there from him. He has betrothed His daughter Margaret to this shameless Duke. What hope have we from such an Emperor?
IPPOLITO. Baccio Valori and Philippo Strozzi, Once the Duke's friends and intimates are with us, And Cardinals Salvati and Ridolfi. We shall soon see, then, as Valori says, Whether the Duke can best spare honest men, Or honest men the Duke.
NARDI. We have determined To send ambassadors to Spain, and lay Our griefs before the Emperor, though I fear More than I hope.
IPPOLITO. The Emperor is busy With this new war against the Algerines, And has no time to listen to complaints From our ambassadors; nor will I trust them, But go myself. All is in readiness For my departure, and to-morrow morning I shall go down to Itri, where I meet Dante da Castiglione and some others, Republicans and fugitives from Florence, And then take ship at Gaeta, and go To join the Emperor in his new crusade Against the Turk. I shall have time enough And opportunity to plead our cause.
NARDI, rising. It is an inspiration, and I hail it As of good omen. May the power that sends it Bless our beloved country, and restore Its banished citizens. The soul of Florence Is now outside its gates. What lies within Is but a corpse, corrupted and corrupting. Heaven help us all, I will not tarry longer, For you have need of rest. Good-night.
Enter FRA SEBASTIANO; Turkish attendants.
IPPOLITO. Fra Bastiano, how your portly presence Contrasts with that of the spare Florentine Who has just left me!
FRA SEBASTIANO. As we passed each other, I saw that he was weeping.
IPPOLITO. Poor old man!
FRA SEBASTIANO. Who is he?
IPPOLITO. Jacopo Nardi. A brave soul; One of the Fuoruseiti, and the best And noblest of them all; but he has made me Sad with his sadness. As I look on you My heart grows lighter. I behold a man Who lives in an ideal world, apart From all the rude collisions of our life, In a calm atmosphere.
FRA SEBASTIANO. Your Eminence Is surely jesting. If you knew the life Of artists as I know it, you might think Far otherwise.
IPPOLITO. But wherefore should I jest? The world of art is an ideal world,— The world I love, and that I fain would live in; So speak to me of artists and of art, Of all the painters, sculptors, and musicians That now illustrate Rome.
FRA SEBASTIANO. Of the musicians, I know but Goudimel, the brave maestro And chapel-master of his Holiness, Who trains the Papal choir.
IPPOLITO. In church this morning, I listened to a mass of Goudimel, Divinely chanted. In the Incarnatus, In lieu of Latin words, the tenor sang With infinite tenderness, in plain Italian, A Neapolitan love-song.
FRA SEBASTIANO. You amaze me. Was it a wanton song?
IPPOLITO. Not a divine one. I am not over-scrupulous, as you know, In word or deed, yet such a song as that. Sung by the tenor of the Papal choir, And in a Papal mass, seemed out of place; There's something wrong in it.
FRA SEBASTIANO. There's something wrong In everything. We cannot make the world Go right. 'T is not my business to reform The Papal choir.
IPPOLITO. Nor mine, thank Heaven. Then tell me of the artists.
FRA SEBASTIANO. Naming one I name them all; for there is only one. His name is Messer Michael Angelo. All art and artists of the present day Centre in him.
IPPOLITO. You count yourself as nothing!
FRA SEBASTIANO. Or less than nothing, since I am at best Only a portrait-painter; one who draws With greater or less skill, as best he may, The features of a face.
IPPOLITO. And you have had The honor, nay, the glory, of portraying Julia Gonzaga! Do you count as nothing A privilege like that? See there the portrait Rebuking you with its divine expression. Are you not penitent? He whose skilful hand Painted that lovely picture has not right To vilipend the art of portrait-painting. But what of Michael Angelo?
FRA SEBASTIANO. But lately Strolling together down the crowded Corso, We stopped, well pleased, to see your Eminence Pass on an Arab steed, a noble creature, Which Michael Angelo, who is a lover Of all things beautiful, especially When they are Arab horses, much admired, And could not praise enough.
IPPOLITO, to an attendant. Hassan, to-morrow, When I am gone, but not till I am gone,— Be careful about that,—take Barbarossa To Messer Michael Angelo, the sculptor, Who lives there at Macello dei Corvi, Near to the Capitol; and take besides Some ten mule-loads of provender, and say Your master sends them to him as a present.
FRA SEBASTIANO. A princely gift. Though Michael Angelo Refuses presents from his Holiness, Yours he will not refuse.
IPPOLITO. You think him like Thymoetes, who received the wooden horse Into the walls of Troy. That book of Virgil Have I translated in Italian verse, And shall, some day, when we have leisure for it, Be pleased to read you. When I speak of Troy I am reminded of another town And of a lovelier Helen, our dear Countess Julia Gonzaga. You remember, surely, The adventure with the corsair Barbarossa, And all that followed?
FRA SEBASTIANO. A most strange adventure; A tale as marvellous and full of wonder As any in Boccaccio or Sacchetti; Almost incredible!
IPPOLITO. Were I a painter I should not want a better theme than that: The lovely lady fleeing through the night In wild disorder; and the brigands' camp With the red fire-light on their swarthy faces. Could you not paint it for me?
FRA SEBASTIANO. No, not I. It is not in my line.
IPPOLITO. Then you shall paint The portrait of the corsair, when we bring him A prisoner chained to Naples: for I feel Something like admiration for a man Who dared this strange adventure.
FRA SEBASTIANO. I will do it. But catch the corsair first.
IPPOLITO. You may begin To-morrow with the sword. Hassan, come hither; Bring me the Turkish scimitar that hangs Beneath the picture yonder. Now unsheathe it. 'T is a Damascus blade; you see the inscription In Arabic: La Allah illa Allah,— There is no God but God.
FRA SEBASTIANO. How beautiful In fashion and in finish! It is perfect. The Arsenal of Venice can not boast A finer sword.
IPPOLITO. You like it? It is yours.
FRA SEBASTIANO. You do not mean it.
IPPOLITO. I am not a Spaniard, To say that it is yours and not to mean it. I have at Itri a whole armory Full of such weapons. When you paint the portrait Of Barbarossa, it will be of use. You have not been rewarded as you should be For painting the Gonzaga. Throw this bauble Into the scale, and make the balance equal. Till then suspend it in your studio; You artists like such trifles.
FRA SEBASTIANO. I will keep it In memory of the donor. Many thanks.
IPPOLITO. Fra Bastian, I am growing tired of Rome, The old dead city, with the old dead people; Priests everywhere, like shadows on a wall, And morning, noon, and night the ceaseless sound Of convent bells. I must be gone from here; Though Ovid somewhere says that Rome is worthy To be the dwelling-place of all the Gods, I must be gone from here. To-morrow morning I start for Itri, and go thence by sea To join the Emperor, who is making war Upon the Algerines; perhaps to sink Some Turkish galleys, and bring back in chains The famous corsair. Thus would I avenge The beautiful Gonzaga.
FRA SEBASTIANO. An achievement Worthy of Charlemagne, or of Orlando. Berni and Ariosto both shall add A canto to their poems, and describe you As Furioso and Innamorato. Now I must say good-night.
IPPOLITO. You must not go; First you shall sup with me. My seneschal Giovan Andrea dal Borgo a San Sepolcro,— I like to give the whole sonorous name, It sounds so like a verse of the Aeneid,— Has brought me eels fresh from the Lake of Fondi, And Lucrine oysters cradled in their shells: These, with red Fondi wine, the Caecu ban That Horace speaks of, under a hundred keys Kept safe, until the heir of Posthumus Shall stain the pavement with it, make a feast Fit for Lucullus, or Fra Bastian even; So we will go to supper, and be merry.
FRA SEBASTIANO. Beware! I Remember that Bolsena's eels And Vernage wine once killed a Pope of Rome!
IPPOLITO. 'T was a French Pope; and then so long ago; Who knows?—perhaps the story is not true.
BORGO DELLE VERGINE AT NAPLES
Room in the Palace of JULIA GONZAGA. Night.
JULIA GONZAGA, GIOVANNI VALDESSO.
JULIA. Do not go yet.
VALDESSO. The night is far advanced; I fear to stay too late, and weary you With these discussions.
JULIA. I have much to say. I speak to you, Valdesso, with that frankness Which is the greatest privilege of friendship.— Speak as I hardly would to my confessor, Such is my confidence in you.
VALDESSO. Dear Countess If loyalty to friendship be a claim Upon your confidence, then I may claim it.
JULIA. Then sit again, and listen unto things That nearer are to me than life itself.
VALDESSO. In all things I am happy to obey you, And happiest then when you command me most.
JULIA. Laying aside all useless rhetoric, That is superfluous between us two, I come at once unto the point and say, You know my outward life, my rank and fortune; Countess of Fondi, Duchess of Trajetto, A widow rich and flattered, for whose hand In marriage princes ask, and ask it only To be rejected. All the world can offer Lies at my feet. If I remind you of it, It is not in the way of idle boasting, But only to the better understanding Of what comes after.
VALDESSO. God hath given you also Beauty and intellect; and the signal grace To lead a spotless life amid temptations, That others yield to.
JULIA. But the inward life,— That you know not; 't is known but to myself, And is to me a mystery and a pain. A soul disquieted, and ill at ease, A mind perplexed with doubts and apprehensions, A heart dissatisfied with all around me, And with myself, so that sometimes I weep, Discouraged and disgusted with the world.
VALDESSO. Whene'er we cross a river at a ford, If we would pass in safety, we must keep Our eyes fixed steadfast on the shore beyond, For if we cast them on the flowing stream, The head swims with it; so if we would cross The running flood of things here in the world, Our souls must not look down, but fix their sight On the firm land beyond.
JULIA. I comprehend you. You think I am too worldly; that my head Swims with the giddying whirl of life about me. Is that your meaning?
VALDESSO. Yes; your meditations Are more of this world and its vanities Than of the world to come.
JULIA. Between the two I am confused.
VALDESSO. Yet have I seen you listen Enraptured when Fra Bernardino preached Of faith and hope and charity.
JULIA. I listen, But only as to music without meaning. It moves me for the moment, and I think How beautiful it is to be a saint, As dear Vittoria is; but I am weak And wayward, and I soon fall back again To my old ways, so very easily. There are too many week-days for one Sunday.
VALDESSO. Then take the Sunday with you through the week, And sweeten with it all the other days.
JULIA. In part I do so; for to put a stop To idle tongues, what men might say of me If I lived all alone here in my palace, And not from a vocation that I feel For the monastic life, I now am living With Sister Caterina at the convent Of Santa Chiara, and I come here only On certain days, for my affairs, or visits Of ceremony, or to be with friends. For I confess, to live among my friends Is Paradise to me; my Purgatory Is living among people I dislike. And so I pass my life in these two worlds, This palace and the convent.
VALDESSO. It was then The fear of man, and not the love of God, That led you to this step. Why will you not Give all your heart to God?
JULIA. If God commands it, Wherefore hath He not made me capable Of doing for Him what I wish to do As easily as I could offer Him This jewel from my hand, this gown I wear, Or aught else that is mine?
VALDESSO. The hindrance lies In that original sin, by which all fell.
JULIA. Ah me, I cannot bring my troubled mind To wish well to that Adam, our first parent, Who by his sin lost Paradise for us, And brought such ills upon us.
VALDESSO. We ourselves, When we commit a sin, lose Paradise, As much as he did. Let us think of this, And how we may regain it.
JULIA. Teach me, then, To harmonize the discord of my life, And stop the painful jangle of these wires.
VALDESSO. That is a task impossible, until You tune your heart-strings to a higher key Than earthly melodies.
JULIA. How shall I do it? Point out to me the way of this perfection, And I will follow you; for you have made My soul enamored with it, and I cannot Rest satisfied until I find it out. But lead me privately, so that the world Hear not my steps; I would not give occasion For talk among the people.
VALDESSO. Now at last I understand you fully. Then, what need Is there for us to beat about the bush? I know what you desire of me.
JULIA. What rudeness! If you already know it, why not tell me?
VALDESSO. Because I rather wait for you to ask it With your own lips.
JULIA. Do me the kindness, then, To speak without reserve; and with all frankness, If you divine the truth, will I confess it.
VALDESSO. I am content.
JULIA. Then speak.
VALDESSO. You would be free From the vexatious thoughts that come and go Through your imagination, and would have me Point out some royal road and lady-like Which you may walk in, and not wound your feet; You would attain to the divine perfection, And yet not turn your back upon the world; You would possess humility within, But not reveal it in your outward actions; You would have patience, but without the rude Occasions that require its exercise; You would despise the world, but in such fashion The world should not despise you in return; Would clothe the soul with all the Christian graces, Yet not despoil the body of its gauds; Would feed the soul with spiritual food, Yet not deprive the body of its feasts; Would seem angelic in the sight of God, Yet not too saint-like in the eyes of men; In short, would lead a holy Christian life In such a way that even your nearest friend Would not detect therein one circumstance To show a change from what it was before. Have I divined your secret?
JULIA. You have drawn The portrait of my inner self as truly As the most skilful painter ever painted A human face.
VALDESSO. This warrants me in saying You think you can win heaven by compromise, And not by verdict.
JULIA You have often told me That a bad compromise was better even Than a good verdict.
VALDESSO. Yes, in suits at law; Not in religion. With the human soul There is no compromise. By faith alone Can man be justified.
JULIA. Hush, dear Valdesso; That is a heresy. Do not, I pray you, Proclaim it from the house-top, but preserve it As something precious, hidden in your heart, As I, who half believe and tremble at it.
VALDESSO. I must proclaim the truth.
JULIA. Enthusiast! Why must you? You imperil both yourself And friends by your imprudence. Pray, be patient. You have occasion now to show that virtue Which you lay stress upon. Let us return To our lost pathway. Show me by what steps I shall walk in it. [Convent bells are heard.
VALDESSO. Hark! the convent bells Are ringing; it is midnight; I must leave you. And yet I linger. Pardon me, dear Countess, Since you to-night have made me your confessor, If I so far may venture, I will warn you Upon one point.
JULIA. What is it? Speak, I pray you, For I have no concealments in my conduct; All is as open as the light of day. What is it you would warn me of?
VALDESSO. Your friendship With Cardinal Ippolito.
JULIA. What is there To cause suspicion or alarm in that, More than in friendships that I entertain With you and others? I ne'er sat with him Alone at night, as I am sitting now With you, Valdesso.
VALDESSO. Pardon me; the portrait That Fra Bastiano painted was for him. Is that quite prudent?
JULIA. That is the same question Vittoria put to me, when I last saw her. I make you the same answer. That was not A pledge of love, but of pure gratitude. Recall the adventure of that dreadful night When Barbarossa with two thousand Moors Landed upon the coast, and in the darkness Attacked my castle. Then, without delay, The Cardinal came hurrying down from Rome To rescue and protect me. Was it wrong That in an hour like that I did not weigh Too nicely this or that, but granted him A boon that pleased him, and that flattered me?
VALDESSO. Only beware lest, in disguise of friendship Another corsair, worse than Barbarossa, Steal in and seize the castle, not by storm But strategy. And now I take my leave.
JULIA. Farewell; but ere you go look forth and see How night hath hushed the clamor and the stir Of the tumultuous streets. The cloudless moon Roofs the whole city as with tiles of silver; The dim, mysterious sea in silence sleeps; And straight into the air Vesuvius lifts His plume of smoke. How beautiful it is! [Voices in the street.
GIOVAN ANDREA. Poisoned at Itri.
ANOTHER VOICE. Poisoned? Who is poisoned?
GIOVAN ANDREA. The Cardinal Ippolito, my master. Call it malaria. It was sudden. [Julia swoons.
A room in the Torre Argentina.
VITTORIA COLONNA and JULIA GONZAGA.
VITTORIA. Come to my arms and to my heart once more; My soul goes out to meet you and embrace you, For we are of the sisterhood of sorrow. I know what you have suffered.
JULIA. Name it not. Let me forget it.
VITTORIA. I will say no more. Let me look at you. What a joy it is To see your face, to hear your voice again! You bring with you a breath as of the morn, A memory of the far-off happy days When we were young. When did you come from Fondi?
JULIA. I have not been at Fondi since—
VITTORIA. Ah me! You need not speak the word; I understand you.
JULIA. I came from Naples by the lovely valley The Terra di Lavoro.
VITTORIA. And you find me But just returned from a long journey northward. I have been staying with that noble woman Renee of France, the Duchess of Ferrara.
JULIA. Oh, tell me of the Duchess. I have heard Flaminio speak her praises with such warmth That I am eager to hear more of her And of her brilliant court.
VITTORIA. You shall hear all But first sit down and listen patiently While I confess myself.
JULIA. What deadly sin Have you committed?
VITTORIA. Not a sin; a folly I chid you once at Ischia, when you told me That brave Fra Bastian was to paint your portrait.
JULIA Well I remember it.
VITTORIA. Then chide me now, For I confess to something still more strange. Old as I am, I have at last consented To the entreaties and the supplications Of Michael Angelo—
JULIA To marry him?
VITTORIA. I pray you, do not jest with me! You now, Or you should know, that never such a thought Entered my breast. I am already married. The Marquis of Pescara is my husband, And death has not divorced us.
JULIA. Pardon me. Have I offended you?
VITTORIA. No, but have hurt me. Unto my buried lord I give myself, Unto my friend the shadow of myself, My portrait. It is not from vanity, But for the love I bear him.
JULIA. I rejoice To hear these words. Oh, this will be a portrait Worthy of both of you! [A knock.
VITTORIA. Hark! He is coming.
JULIA. And shall I go or stay?
VITTORIA. By all means, stay. The drawing will be better for your presence; You will enliven me.
JULIA. I shall not speak; The presence of great men doth take from me All power of speech. I only gaze at them In silent wonder, as if they were gods, Or the inhabitants of some other planet.
Enter MICHAEL ANGELO.
VITTORIA. Come in.
MICHAEL ANGELO. I fear my visit is ill-timed; I interrupt you.
VITTORIA. No; this is a friend Of yours as well as mine,—the Lady Julia, The Duchess of Trajetto.
MICHAEL ANGELO to JULIA. I salute you. 'T is long since I have seen your face, my lady; Pardon me if I say that having seen it, One never can forget it.
JULIA. You are kind To keep me in your memory.
MICHAEL ANGELO. It is The privilege of age to speak with frankness. You will not be offended when I say That never was your beauty more divine.
JULIA. When Michael Angelo condescends to flatter Or praise me, I am proud, and not offended.
VITTORIA. Now this is gallantry enough for one; Show me a little.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Ah, my gracious lady, You know I have not words to speak your praise. I think of you in silence. You conceal Your manifold perfections from all eyes, And make yourself more saint-like day by day. And day by day men worship you the wore. But now your hour of martyrdom has come. You know why I am here.
VITTORIA. Ah yes, I know it, And meet my fate with fortitude. You find me Surrounded by the labors of your hands: The Woman of Samaria at the Well, The Mater Dolorosa, and the Christ Upon the Cross, beneath which you have written Those memorable words of Alighieri, "Men have forgotten how much blood it costs."
MICHAEL ANGELO. And now I come to add one labor more, If you will call that labor which is pleasure, And only pleasure.
VITTORIA. How shall I be seated?
MICHAEL ANGELO, opening his portfolio.
Just as you are. The light falls well upon you.
VITTORIA. I am ashamed to steal the time from you That should be given to the Sistine Chapel. How does that work go on?
MICHAEL ANGELO, drawing. But tardily. Old men work slowly. Brain and hand alike Are dull and torpid. To die young is best, And not to be remembered as old men Tottering about in their decrepitude.
VITTORIA. My dear Maestro! have you, then, forgotten The story of Sophocles in his old age?
MICHAEL ANGELO. What story is it?
VITTORIA. When his sons accused him, Before the Areopagus, of dotage, For all defence, he read there to his Judges The Tragedy of Oedipus Coloneus,— The work of his old age.
MICHAEL ANGELO. 'T is an illusion A fabulous story, that will lead old men Into a thousand follies and conceits.
VITTORIA. So you may show to cavilers your painting Of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Now you and Lady Julia shall resume The conversation that I interrupted.
VITTORIA. It was of no great import; nothing more Nor less than my late visit to Ferrara, And what I saw there in the ducal palace. Will it not interrupt you?
MICHAEL ANGELO. Not the least.
VITTORIA. Well, first, then, of Duke Ercole: a man Cold in his manners, and reserved and silent, And yet magnificent in all his ways; Not hospitable unto new ideas, But from state policy, and certain reasons Concerning the investiture of the duchy, A partisan of Rome, and consequently Intolerant of all the new opinions.
JULIA. I should not like the Duke. These silent men, Who only look and listen, are like wells That have no water in them, deep and empty. How could the daughter of a king of France Wed such a duke?
MICHAEL ANGELO. The men that women marry And why they marry them, will always be A marvel and a mystery to the world.
VITTORIA. And then the Duchess,—how shall I describe her, Or tell the merits of that happy nature, Which pleases most when least it thinks of pleasing? Not beautiful, perhaps, in form and feature, Yet with an inward beauty, that shines through Each look and attitude and word and gesture; A kindly grace of manner and behavior, A something in her presence and her ways That makes her beautiful beyond the reach Of mere external beauty; and in heart So noble and devoted to the truth, And so in sympathy with all who strive After the higher life.
JULIA. She draws me to her As much as her Duke Ercole repels me.
VITTORIA. Then the devout and honorable women That grace her court, and make it good to be there; Francesca Bucyronia, the true-hearted, Lavinia della Rovere and the Orsini, The Magdalena and the Cherubina, And Anne de Parthenai, who sings so sweetly; All lovely women, full of noble thoughts And aspirations after noble things.
JULIA. Boccaccio would have envied you such dames.
VITTORIA. No; his Fiammettas and his Philomenas Are fitter company for Ser Giovanni; I fear he hardly would have comprehended The women that I speak of.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Yet he wrote The story of Griselda. That is something To set down in his favor.
VITTORIA. With these ladies Was a young girl, Olympia Morate, Daughter of Fulvio, the learned scholar, Famous in all the universities. A marvellous child, who at the spinning wheel, And in the daily round of household cares, Hath learned both Greek and Latin; and is now A favorite of the Duchess and companion Of Princess Anne. This beautiful young Sappho Sometimes recited to us Grecian odes That she had written, with a voice whose sadness Thrilled and o'ermastered me, and made me look Into the future time, and ask myself What destiny will be hers.
JULIA. A sad one, surely. Frost kills the flowers that blossom out of season; And these precocious intellects portend A life of sorrow or an early death.
VITTORIA. About the court were many learned men; Chilian Sinapius from beyond the Alps, And Celio Curione, and Manzolli, The Duke's physician; and a pale young man, Charles d'Espeville of Geneva, whom the Duchess Doth much delight to talk with and to read, For he hath written a book of Institutes The Duchess greatly praises, though some call it The Koran of the heretics.
JULIA. And what poets Were there to sing you madrigals, and praise Olympia's eyes and Cherubina's tresses?
VITTORIA. No; for great Ariosto is no more. The voice that filled those halls with melody Has long been hushed in death.
JULIA. You should have made A pilgrimage unto the poet's tomb, And laid a wreath upon it, for the words He spake of you.
VITTORIA. And of yourself no less, And of our master, Michael Angelo.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Of me?
VITTORIA. Have you forgotten that he calls you Michael, less man than angel, and divine? You are ungrateful.
MICHAEL ANGELO. A mere play on words. That adjective he wanted for a rhyme, To match with Gian Bellino and Urbino.
VITTORIA. Bernardo Tasso is no longer there, Nor the gay troubadour of Gascony, Clement Marot, surnamed by flatterers The Prince of Poets and the Poet of Princes, Who, being looked upon with much disfavor By the Duke Ercole, has fled to Venice.
MICHAEL ANGELO. There let him stay with Pietro Aretino, The Scourge of Princes, also called Divine. The title is so common in our mouths, That even the Pifferari of Abruzzi, Who play their bag-pipes in the streets of Rome At the Epiphany, will bear it soon, And will deserve it better than some poets.
VITTORIA. What bee hath stung you?
MICHAEL ANGELO. One that makes no honey; One that comes buzzing in through every window, And stabs men with his sting. A bitter thought Passed through my mind, but it is gone again; I spake too hastily.
JULIA. I pray you, show me What you have done.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Not yet; it is not finished.
A room in MICHAEL ANGELO'S house.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Fled to Viterbo, the old Papal city Where once an Emperor, humbled in his pride, Held the Pope's stirrup, as his Holiness Alighted from his mule! A fugitive From Cardinal Caraffa's hate, who hurls His thunders at the house of the Colonna, With endless bitterness!—Among the nuns In Santa Catarina's convent hidden, Herself in soul a nun! And now she chides me For my too frequent letters, that disturb Her meditations, and that hinder me And keep me from my work; now graciously She thanks me for the crucifix I sent her, And says that she will keep it: with one hand Inflicts a wound, and with the other heals it. [Reading.
"Profoundly I believed that God would grant you A supernatural faith to paint this Christ; I wished for that which I now see fulfilled So marvellously, exceeding all my wishes. Nor more could be desired, or even so much. And greatly I rejoice that you have made The angel on the right so beautiful; For the Archangel Michael will place you, You, Michael Angelo, on that new day Upon the Lord's right hand! And waiting that, How can I better serve you than to pray To this sweet Christ for you, and to beseech you To hold me altogether yours in all things."
Well, I will write less often, or no more, But wait her coming. No one born in Rome Can live elsewhere; but he must pine for Rome, And must return to it. I, who am born And bred a Tuscan and a Florentine, Feel the attraction, and I linger here As if I were a pebble in the pavement Trodden by priestly feet. This I endure, Because I breathe in Rome an atmosphere Heavy with odors of the laurel leaves That crowned great heroes of the sword and pen, In ages past. I feel myself exalted To walk the streets in which a Virgil walked, Or Trajan rode in triumph; but far more, And most of all, because the great Colonna Breathes the same air I breathe, and is to me An inspiration. Now that she is gone, Rome is no longer Rome till she return. This feeling overmasters me. I know not If it be love, this strong desire to be Forever in her presence; but I know That I, who was the friend of solitude, And ever was best pleased when most alone, Now weary grow of my own company. For the first time old age seems lonely to me. [Opening the Divina Commedia. I turn for consolation to the leaves Of the great master of our Tuscan tongue, Whose words, like colored garnet-shirls in lava, Betray the heat in which they were engendered. A mendicant, he ate the bitter bread Of others, but repaid their meagre gifts With immortality. In courts of princes He was a by-word, and in streets of towns Was mocked by children, like the Hebrew prophet, Himself a prophet. I too know the cry, Go up, thou bald head! from a generation That, wanting reverence, wanteth the best food The soul can feed on. There's not room enough For age and youth upon this little planet. Age must give way. There was not room enough Even for this great poet. In his song I hear reverberate the gates of Florence, Closing upon him, never more to open; But mingled with the sound are melodies Celestial from the gates of paradise. He came, and he is gone. The people knew not What manner of man was passing by their doors, Until he passed no more; but in his vision He saw the torments and beatitudes Of souls condemned or pardoned, and hath left Behind him this sublime Apocalypse.
I strive in vain to draw here on the margin The face of Beatrice. It is not hers, But the Colonna's. Each hath his ideal, The image of some woman excellent, That is his guide. No Grecian art, nor Roman, Hath yet revealed such loveliness as hers.
VITTORIA COLONNA at the convent window.
VITTORIA. Parting with friends is temporary death, As all death is. We see no more their faces, Nor hear their voices, save in memory; But messages of love give us assurance That we are not forgotten. Who shall say That from the world of spirits comes no greeting, No message of remembrance? It may be The thoughts that visit us, we know not whence, Sudden as inspiration, are the whispers Of disembodied spirits, speaking to us As friends, who wait outside a prison wall, Through the barred windows speak to those within. [A pause.
As quiet as the lake that lies beneath me, As quiet as the tranquil sky above me, As quiet as a heart that beats no more, This convent seems. Above, below, all peace! Silence and solitude, the soul's best friends, Are with me here, and the tumultuous world Makes no more noise than the remotest planet. O gentle spirit, unto the third circle Of heaven among the blessed souls ascended, Who, living in the faith and dying for it, Have gone to their reward, I do not sigh For thee as being dead, but for myself That I am still alive. Turn those dear eyes, Once so benignant to me, upon mine, That open to their tears such uncontrolled And such continual issue. Still awhile Have patience; I will come to thee at last. A few more goings in and out these doors, A few more chimings of these convent bells, A few more prayers, a few more sighs and tears, And the long agony of this life will end, And I shall be with thee. If I am wanting To thy well-being, as thou art to mine, Have patience; I will come to thee at last. Ye minds that loiter in these cloister gardens, Or wander far above the city walls, Bear unto him this message, that I ever Or speak or think of him, or weep for him.
By unseen hands uplifted in the light Of sunset, yonder solitary cloud Floats, with its white apparel blown abroad, And wafted up to heaven. It fades away, And melts into the air. Ah, would that I Could thus be wafted unto thee, Francesco, A cloud of white, an incorporeal spirit!
MICHAEL ANGELO AND BENVENUTO CELLINI
MICHAEL ANGELO, BENVENUTO CELLINI in gay attire.
BENVENUTO. A good day and good year to the divine Maestro Michael Angelo, the sculptor!
MICHAEL ANGELO. Welcome, my Benvenuto.
BENVENUTO. That is what My father said, the first time he beheld This handsome face. But say farewell, not welcome. I come to take my leave. I start for Florence As fast as horse can carry me. I long To set once more upon its level flags These feet, made sore by your vile Roman pavements. Come with me; you are wanted there in Florence. The Sacristy is not finished.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Speak not of it! How damp and cold it was! How my bones ached And my head reeled, when I was working there! I am too old. I will stay here in Rome, Where all is old and crumbling, like myself, To hopeless ruin. All roads lead to Rome.
BENVENUTO. And all lead out of it.
MICHAEL ANGELO. There is a charm, A certain something in the atmosphere, That all men feel, and no man can describe.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Yes, malaria of the mind, Out of this tomb of the majestic Past! The fever to accomplish some great work That will not let us sleep. I must go on Until I die.
BENVENUTO. Do you ne'er think of Florence?
MICHAEL ANGELO. Yes; whenever I think of anything beside my work, I think of Florence. I remember, too, The bitter days I passed among the quarries Of Seravezza and Pietrasanta; Road-building in the marshes; stupid people, And cold and rain incessant, and mad gusts Of mountain wind, like howling dervishes, That spun and whirled the eddying snow about them As if it were a garment; aye, vexations And troubles of all kinds, that ended only In loss of time and money.
BENVENUTO. True; Maestro, But that was not in Florence. You should leave Such work to others. Sweeter memories Cluster about you, in the pleasant city Upon the Arno.
MICHAEL ANGELO. In my waking dreams I see the marvellous dome of Brunelleschi, Ghiberti's gates of bronze, and Giotto's tower; And Ghirlandajo's lovely Benci glides With folded hands amid my troubled thoughts, A splendid vision! Time rides with the old At a great pace. As travellers on swift steeds See the near landscape fly and flow behind them, While the remoter fields and dim horizons Go with them, and seem wheeling round to meet them, So in old age things near us slip away, And distant things go with as. Pleasantly Come back to me the days when, as a youth, I walked with Ghirlandajo in the gardens Of Medici, and saw the antique statues, The forms august of gods and godlike men, And the great world of art revealed itself To my young eyes. Then all that man hath done Seemed possible to me. Alas! how little Of all I dreamed of has my hand achieved!
BENVENUTO. Nay, let the Night and Morning, let Lorenzo And Julian in the Sacristy at Florence, Prophets and Sibyls in the Sistine Chapel, And the Last Judgment answer. Is it finished?
MICHAEL ANGELO. The work is nearly done. But this Last Judgment Has been the cause of more vexation to me Than it will be of honor. Ser Biagio, Master of ceremonies at the Papal court, A man punctilious and over nice, Calls it improper; says that those nude forms, Showing their nakedness in such shameless fashion, Are better suited to a common bagnio, Or wayside wine-shop, than a Papal Chapel. To punish him I painted him as Minos And leave him there as master of ceremonies In the Infernal Regions. What would you Have done to such a man?
BENVENUTO. I would have killed him. When any one insults me, if I can I kill him, kill him.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Oh, you gentlemen, Who dress in silks and velvets, and wear swords, Are ready with your weapon; and have all A taste for homicide.
BENVENUTO. I learned that lesson Under Pope Clement at the siege of Rome, Some twenty years ago. As I was standing Upon the ramparts of the Campo Santo With Alessandro Bene, I beheld A sea of fog, that covered all the plain, And hid from us the foe; when suddenly, A misty figure, like an apparition, Rose up above the fog, as if on horseback. At this I aimed my arquebus, and fired. The figure vanished; and there rose a cry Out of the darkness, long and fierce and loud, With imprecations in all languages. It was the Constable of France, the Bourbon, That I had slain.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Rome should be grateful to you.
BENVENUTO. But has not been; you shall hear presently. During the siege I served as bombardier, There in St. Angelo. His Holiness, One day, was walking with his Cardinals On the round bastion, while I stood above Among my falconets. All thought and feeling, All skill in art and all desire of fame, Were swallowed up in the delightful music Of that artillery. I saw far off, Within the enemy's trenches on the Prati, A Spanish cavalier in scarlet cloak; And firing at him with due aim and range, I cut the gay Hidalgo in two pieces. The eyes are dry that wept for him in Spain. His Holiness, delighted beyond measure With such display of gunnery, and amazed To see the man in scarlet cut in two, Gave me his benediction, and absolved me From all the homicides I had committed In service of the Apostolic Church, Or should commit thereafter. From that day I have not held in very high esteem The life of man.
MICHAEL ANGELO. And who absolved Pope Clement? Now let us speak of Art.
BENVENUTO. Of what you will.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Say, have you seen our friend Fra Bastian lately, Since by a turn of fortune he became Friar of the Signet?
BENVENUTO. Faith, a pretty artist To pass his days in stamping leaden seals On Papal bulls!
MICHAEL ANGELO. He has grown fat and lazy, As if the lead clung to him like a sinker. He paints no more, since he was sent to Fondi By Cardinal Ippolito to paint The fair Gonzaga. Ah, you should have seen him As I did, riding through the city gate, In his brown hood, attended by four horsemen, Completely armed, to frighten the banditti. I think he would have frightened them alone, For he was rounder than the O of Giotto.
BENVENUTO. He must have looked more like a sack of meal Than a great painter.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Well, he is not great But still I like him greatly. Benvenuto Have faith in nothing but in industry. Be at it late and early; persevere, And work right on through censure and applause, Or else abandon Art.
BENVENUTO. No man works harder Then I do. I am not a moment idle.
MICHAEL ANGELO. And what have you to show me?
BENVENUTO. This gold ring, Made for his Holiness,—my latest work, And I am proud of it. A single diamond Presented by the Emperor to the Pope. Targhetta of Venice set and tinted it; I have reset it, and retinted it Divinely, as you see. The jewellers Say I've surpassed Targhetta.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Let me see it. A pretty jewel.
BENVENUTO. That is not the expression. Pretty is not a very pretty word To be applied to such a precious stone, Given by an Emperor to a Pope, and set By Benvenuto!
MICHAEL ANGELO. Messer Benvenuto, I lose all patience with you; for the gifts That God hath given you are of such a kind, They should be put to far more noble uses Than setting diamonds for the Pope of Rome. You can do greater things.
BENVENUTO. The God who made me Knows why he made me what I am,—a goldsmith, A mere artificer.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Oh no; an artist Richly endowed by nature, but who wraps His talent in a napkin, and consumes His life in vanities.
BENVENUTO. Michael Angelo May say what Benvenuto would not bear From any other man. He speaks the truth. I know my life is wasted and consumed In vanities; but I have better hours And higher aspirations than you think. Once, when a prisoner at St. Angelo, Fasting and praying in the midnight darkness, In a celestial vision I beheld A crucifix in the sun, of the same substance As is the sun itself. And since that hour There is a splendor round about my head, That may be seen at sunrise and at sunset Above my shadow on the grass. And now I know that I am in the grace of God, And none henceforth can harm me.
MICHAEL ANGELO. None but one,— None but yourself, who are your greatest foe. He that respects himself is safe from others; He wears a coat of mail that none can pierce.
BENVENUTO. I always wear one.
MICHAEL ANGELO. O incorrigible! At least, forget not the celestial vision. Man must have something higher than himself To think of.
BENVENUTO. That I know full well. Now listen. I have been sent for into France, where grow The Lilies that illumine heaven and earth, And carry in mine equipage the model Of a most marvellous golden salt-cellar For the king's table; and here in my brain A statue of Mars Armipotent for the fountain Of Fontainebleau, colossal, wonderful. I go a goldsmith, to return a sculptor. And so farewell, great Master. Think of me As one who, in the midst of all his follies, Had also his ambition, and aspired To better things.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Do not forget the vision.
[Sitting down again to the Divina Commedia.
Now in what circle of his poem sacred Would the great Florentine have placed this man? Whether in Phlegethon, the river of blood, Or in the fiery belt of Purgatory, I know not, but most surely not with those Who walk in leaden cloaks. Though he is one Whose passions, like a potent alkahest, Dissolve his better nature, he is not That despicable thing, a hypocrite; He doth not cloak his vices, nor deny them. Come back, my thoughts, from him to Paradise.
FRA SEBASTIANO DEL PIOMBO
MICHAEL ANGELO; FRA SEBASTIANO DEL PIOMBO.
MICHAEL ANGELO, not turning round. Who is it?
FRA SEBASTIANO. Wait, for I am out of breath In climbing your steep stairs.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Ah, my Bastiano, If you went up and down as many stairs As I do still, and climbed as many ladders, It would be better for you. Pray sit down. Your idle and luxurious way of living Will one day take your breath away entirely. And you will never find it.
FRA SEBASTIANO. Well, what then? That would be better, in my apprehension, Than falling from a scaffold.
MICHAEL ANGELO. That was nothing It did not kill me; only lamed me slightly; I am quite well again.
FRA SEBASTIANO. But why, dear Master, Why do you live so high up in your house, When you could live below and have a garden, As I do?
MICHAEL ANGELO. From this window I can look On many gardens; o'er the city roofs See the Campagna and the Alban hills; And all are mine.
FRA SEBASTIANO. Can you sit down in them, On summer afternoons, and play the lute Or sing, or sleep the time away?
MICHAEL ANGELO. I never Sleep in the day-time; scarcely sleep at night. I have not time. Did you meet Benvenuto As you came up the stair?
FRA SEBASTIANO. He ran against me On the first landing, going at full speed; Dressed like the Spanish captain in a play, With his long rapier and his short red cloak. Why hurry through the world at such a pace? Life will not be too long.
MICHAEL ANGELO. It is his nature,— A restless spirit, that consumes itself With useless agitations. He o'erleaps The goal he aims at. Patience is a plant That grows not in all gardens. You are made Of quite another clay.
FRA SEBASTIANO. And thank God for it. And now, being somewhat rested, I will tell you Why I have climbed these formidable stairs. I have a friend, Francesco Berni, here, A very charming poet and companion, Who greatly honors you and all your doings, And you must sup with us.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Not I, indeed. I know too well what artists' suppers are. You must excuse me.
FRA SEBASTIANO. I will not excuse you. You need repose from your incessant work; Some recreation, some bright hours of pleasure.
MICHAEL ANGELO. To me, what you and other men call pleasure Is only pain. Work is my recreation, The play of faculty; a delight like that Which a bird feels in flying, or a fish In darting through the water,—nothing more. I cannot go. The Sibylline leaves of life Grow precious now, when only few remain. I cannot go.
FRA SEBASTIANO. Berni, perhaps, will read A canto of the Orlando Inamorato.
MICHAEL ANGELO. That is another reason for not going. If aught is tedious and intolerable, It is a poet reading his own verses,
FRA SEBASTIANO. Berni thinks somewhat better of your verses Than you of his. He says that you speak things, And other poets words. So, pray you, come.
MICHAEL ANGELO. If it were now the Improvisatore, Luigia Pulci, whom I used to hear With Benvenuto, in the streets of Florence, I might be tempted. I was younger then And singing in the open air was pleasant.
FRA SEBASTIANO. There is a Frenchman here, named Rabelais, Once a Franciscan friar, and now a doctor, And secretary to the embassy: A learned man, who speaks all languages, And wittiest of men; who wrote a book Of the Adventures of Gargantua, So full of strange conceits one roars with laughter At every page; a jovial boon-companion And lover of much wine. He too is coming.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Then you will not want me, who am not witty, And have no sense of mirth, and love not wine. I should be like a dead man at your banquet. Why should I seek this Frenchman, Rabelais? And wherefore go to hear Francesco Berni, When I have Dante Alighieri here. The greatest of all poets?
FRA SEBASTIANO. And the dullest; And only to be read in episodes. His day is past. Petrarca is our poet.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Petrarca is for women and for lovers And for those soft Abati, who delight To wander down long garden walks in summer, Tinkling their little sonnets all day long, As lap dogs do their bells.
FRA SEBASTIANO. I love Petrarca. How sweetly of his absent love he sings When journeying in the forest of Ardennes! "I seem to hear her, hearing the boughs and breezes And leaves and birds lamenting, and the waters Murmuring flee along the verdant herbage."
MICHAEL ANGELO. Enough. It is all seeming, and no being. If you would know how a man speaks in earnest, Read here this passage, where St. Peter thunders In Paradise against degenerate Popes And the corruptions of the church, till all The heaven about him blushes like a sunset. I beg you to take note of what he says About the Papal seals, for that concerns Your office and yourself.
FRA SEBASTIANO, reading. Is this the passage? "Nor I be made the figure of a seal To privileges venal and mendacious, Whereat I often redden and flash with fire!"— That is not poetry.
MICHAEL ANGELO. What is it, then?
FRA SEBASTIANO. Vituperation; gall that might have spirited From Aretino's pen.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Name not that man! A profligate, whom your Francesco Berni Describes as having one foot in the brothel And the other in the hospital; who lives By flattering or maligning, as best serves His purpose at the time. He writes to me With easy arrogance of my Last Judgment, In such familiar tone that one would say The great event already had occurred, And he was present, and from observation Informed me how the picture should be painted.
FRA SEBASTIANO. What unassuming, unobtrusive men These critics are! Now, to have Aretino Aiming his shafts at you brings back to mind The Gascon archers in the square of Milan, Shooting their arrows at Duke Sforza's statue, By Leonardo, and the foolish rabble Of envious Florentines, that at your David Threw stones at night. But Aretino praised you.
MICHAEL ANGELO. His praises were ironical. He knows How to use words as weapons, and to wound While seeming to defend. But look, Bastiano, See how the setting sun lights up that picture!
FRA SEBASTIANO. My portrait of Vittoria Colonna.
MICHAEL ANGELO. It makes her look as she will look hereafter, When she becomes a saint!
FRA SEBASTIANO. A noble woman!
MICHAEL ANGELO. Ah, these old hands can fashion fairer shapes In marble, and can paint diviner pictures, Since I have known her.
FRA SEBASTIANO. And you like this picture. And yet it is in oil; which you detest.
MICHAEL ANGELO. When that barbarian Jan Van Eyck discovered The use of oil in painting, he degraded His art into a handicraft, and made it Sign-painting, merely, for a country inn Or wayside wine-shop. 'T is an art for women, Or for such leisurely and idle people As you, Fra Bastiano. Nature paints not In oils, but frescoes the great dome of heaven With sunset; and the lovely forms of clouds And flying vapors.
FRA SEBASTIANO. And how soon they fade! Behold yon line of roofs and belfries painted Upon the golden background of the sky, Like a Byzantine picture, or a portrait Of Cimabue. See how hard the outline, Sharp-cut and clear, not rounded into shadow. Yet that is nature.
MICHAEL ANGELO. She is always right. The picture that approaches sculpture nearest Is the best picture.
FRA SEBASTIANO. Leonardo thinks The open air too bright. We ought to paint As if the sun were shining through a mist. 'T is easier done in oil than in distemper.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Do not revive again the old dispute; I have an excellent memory for forgetting, But I still feel the hurt. Wounds are not healed By the unbending of the bow that made them.
FRA SEBASTIANO. So say Petrarca and the ancient proverb.
MICHAEL ANGELO. But that is past. Now I am angry with you, Not that you paint in oils, but that grown fat And indolent, you do not paint at all.
FRA SEBASTIANO. Why should I paint? Why should I toil and sweat, Who now am rich enough to live at ease, And take my pleasure?
MICHAEL ANGELO. When Pope Leo died, He who had been so lavish of the wealth His predecessors left him, who received A basket of gold-pieces every morning, Which every night was empty, left behind Hardly enough to pay his funeral.
FRA SEBASTIANO. I care for banquets, not for funerals, As did his Holiness. I have forbidden All tapers at my burial, and procession Of priests and friars and monks; and have provided The cost thereof be given to the poor!
MICHAEL ANGELO. You have done wisely, but of that I speak not. Ghiberti left behind him wealth and children; But who to-day would know that he had lived, If he had never made those gates of bronze In the old Baptistery,—those gates of bronze, Worthy to be the gates of Paradise. His wealth is scattered to the winds; his children Are long since dead; but those celestial gates Survive, and keep his name and memory green.
FRA SEBASTIANO. But why should I fatigue myself? I think That all things it is possible to paint Have been already painted; and if not, Why, there are painters in the world at present Who can accomplish more in two short months Than I could in two years; so it is well That some one is contented to do nothing, And leave the field to others.
MICHAEL ANGELO. O blasphemer! Not without reason do the people call you Sebastian del Piombo, for the lead Of all the Papal bulls is heavy upon you, And wraps you like a shroud.
FRA SEBASTIANO. Misericordia! Sharp is the vinegar of sweet wine, and sharp The words you speak, because the heart within you Is sweet unto the core.
MICHAEL ANGELO. How changed you are From the Sebastiano I once knew, When poor, laborious, emulous to excel, You strove in rivalry with Badassare And Raphael Sanzio.
FRA SEBASTIANO. Raphael is dead; He is but dust and ashes in his grave, While I am living and enjoying life, And so am victor. One live Pope is worth A dozen dead ones.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Raphael is not dead; He doth but sleep; for how can he be dead Who lives immortal in the hearts of men? He only drank the precious wine of youth, The outbreak of the grapes, before the vintage Was trodden to bitterness by the feet of men. The gods have given him sleep. We never were Nor could be foes, although our followers, Who are distorted shadows of ourselves, Have striven to make us so; but each one worked Unconsciously upon the other's thought; Both giving and receiving. He perchance Caught strength from me, and I some greater sweetness And tenderness from his more gentle nature. I have but words of praise and admiration For his great genius; and the world is fairer That he lived in it.
FRA SEBASTIANO. We at least are friends; So come with me.
MICHAEL ANGELO. No, no; I am best pleased When I'm not asked to banquets. I have reached A time of life when daily walks are shortened, And even the houses of our dearest friends, That used to be so near, seem far away.
FRA SEBASTIANO. Then we must sup without you. We shall laugh At those who toil for fame, and make their lives A tedious martyrdom, that they may live A little longer in the mouths of men! And so, good-night.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Good-night, my Fra Bastiano.
[Returning to his work.
How will men speak of me when I am gone, When all this colorless, sad life is ended, And I am dust? They will remember only The wrinkled forehead, the marred countenance, The rudeness of my speech, and my rough manners, And never dream that underneath them all There was a woman's heart of tenderness. They will not know the secret of my life, Locked up in silence, or but vaguely hinted In uncouth rhymes, that may perchance survive Some little space in memories of men! Each one performs his life-work, and then leaves it; Those that come after him will estimate His influence on the age in which he lived.
TITIAN'S studio. A painting of Danae with a curtain before it. TITIAN, MICHAEL ANGELO, and GIORGIO VASARI.
MICHAEL ANGELO. So you have left at last your still lagoons, Your City of Silence floating in the sea, And come to us in Rome.
TITIAN. I come to learn, But I have come too late. I should have seen Rome in my youth, when all my mind was open To new impressions. Our Vasari here Leads me about, a blind man, groping darkly Among the marvels of the past. I touch them, But do not see them.
MICHAEL ANGELO. There are things in Rome That one might walk bare-footed here from Venice But to see once, and then to die content.
TITIAN. I must confess that these majestic ruins Oppress me with their gloom. I feel as one Who in the twilight stumbles among tombs, And cannot read the inscriptions carved upon them.
MICHAEL ANGELO. I felt so once; but I have grown familiar With desolation, and it has become No more a pain to me, but a delight.
TITIAN. I could not live here. I must have the sea, And the sea-mist, with sunshine interwoven Like cloth of gold; must have beneath my windows The laughter of the waves, and at my door Their pattering footsteps, or I am not happy.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Then tell me of your city in the sea, Paved with red basalt of the Paduan hills. Tell me of art in Venice. Three great names, Giorgione, Titian, and the Tintoretto, Illustrate your Venetian school, and send A challenge to the world. The first is dead, But Tintoretto lives.
TITIAN. And paints with fires Sudden and splendid, as the lightning paints The cloudy vault of heaven.
GIORGIO. Does he still keep Above his door the arrogant inscription That once was painted there,—"The color of Titian, With the design of Michael Angelo"?
TITIAN. Indeed, I know not. 'T was a foolish boast, And does no harm to any but himself. Perhaps he has grown wiser.
MICHAEL ANGELO. When you two Are gone, who is there that remains behind To seize the pencil falling from your fingers?
GIORGIO. Oh there are many hands upraised already To clutch at such a prize, which hardly wait For death to loose your grasp,—a hundred of them; Schiavone, Bonifazio, Campagnola, Moretto, and Moroni; who can count them, Or measure their ambition?
TITIAN. When we are gone The generation that comes after us Will have far other thoughts than ours. Our ruins Will serve to build their palaces or tombs. They will possess the world that we think ours, And fashion it far otherwise.
MICHAEL ANGELO. I hear Your son Orazio and your nephew Marco Mentioned with honor.
TITIAN. Ay, brave lads, brave lads. But time will show. There is a youth in Venice, One Paul Cagliari, called the Veronese, Still a mere stripling, but of such rare promise That we must guard our laurels, or may lose them.
MICHAEL ANGELO. These are good tidings; for I sometimes fear That, when we die, with us all art will die. 'T is but a fancy. Nature will provide Others to take our places. I rejoice To see the young spring forward in the race, Eager as we were, and as full of hope And the sublime audacity of youth.
TITIAN. Men die and are forgotten. The great world Goes on the same. Among the myriads Of men that live, or have lived, or shall live What is a single life, or thine or mime, That we should think all nature would stand still If we were gone? We must make room for others.
MICHAEL ANGELO. And now, Maestro, pray unveil your picture Of Danae, of which I hear such praise.
TITIAN, drawing hack the curtain.
What think you?
MICHAEL ANGELO. That Acrisius did well To lock such beauty in a brazen tower And hide it from all eyes.
TITIAN. The model truly Was beautiful.
MICHAEL ANGELO. And more, that you were present, And saw the showery Jove from high Olympus Descend in all his splendor.
TITIAN. From your lips Such words are full of sweetness.
MICHAEL ANGELO. You have caught These golden hues from your Venetian sunsets.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Or from sunshine through a shower On the lagoons, or the broad Adriatic. Nature reveals herself in all our arts. The pavements and the palaces of cities Hint at the nature of the neighboring hills. Red lavas from the Euganean quarries Of Padua pave your streets; your palaces Are the white stones of Istria, and gleam Reflected in your waters and your pictures. And thus the works of every artist show Something of his surroundings and his habits. The uttermost that can be reached by color Is here accomplished. Warmth and light and softness Mingle together. Never yet was flesh Painted by hand of artist, dead or living, With such divine perfection.
TITIAN. I am grateful For so much praise from you, who are a master; While mostly those who praise and those who blame Know nothing of the matter, so that mainly Their censure sounds like praise, their praise like censure.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Wonderful! wonderful! The charm of color Fascinates me the more that in myself The gift is wanting. I am not a painter.
GIORGIO. Messer Michele, all the arts are yours, Not one alone; and therefore I may venture To put a question to you.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Well, speak on.
GIORGIO. Two nephews of the Cardinal Farnese Have made me umpire in dispute between them Which is the greater of the sister arts, Painting or sculpture. Solve for me the doubt.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Sculpture and painting have a common goal, And whosoever would attain to it, Whichever path he take, will find that goal Equally hard to reach.
GIORGIO. No doubt, no doubt; But you evade the question.
MICHAEL ANGELO. When I stand In presence of this picture, I concede That painting has attained its uttermost; But in the presence of my sculptured figures I feel that my conception soars beyond All limit I have reached.
GIORGIO. You still evade me.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Giorgio Vasari, I have often said That I account that painting as the best Which most resembles sculpture. Here before us We have the proof. Behold those rounded limbs! How from the canvas they detach themselves, Till they deceive the eye, and one would say, It is a statue with a screen behind it!
TITIAN. Signori, pardon me; but all such questions Seem to me idle.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Idle as the wind. And now, Maestro, I will say once more How admirable I esteem your work, And leave you, without further interruption.
TITIAN. Your friendly visit hath much honored me.
MICHAEL ANGELO to GIORGIO, going out.
If the Venetian painters knew But half as much of drawing as of color, They would indeed work miracles in art, And the world see what it hath never seen.
VITTORIA COLONNA, seated in an armchair; JULIA GONZAGA, standing near her.
JULIA. It grieves me that I find you still so weak And suffering.
VITTORIA. No, not suffering; only dying. Death is the chillness that precedes the dawn; We shudder for a moment, then awake In the broad sunshine of the other life. I am a shadow, merely, and these hands, These cheeks, these eyes, these tresses that my husband Once thought so beautiful, and I was proud of Because he thought them so, are faded quite,— All beauty gone from them.
JULIA. Ah, no, not that. Paler you are, but not less beautiful.
VITTORIA. Hand me the mirror. I would fain behold What change comes o'er our features when we die. Thank you. And now sit down beside me here How glad I am that you have come to-day, Above all other days, and at the hour When most I need you!
JULIA. Do you ever need me?
Always, and most of all to-day and now. Do you remember, Julia, when we walked, One afternoon, upon the castle terrace At Ischia, on the day before you left me?
JULIA. Well I remember; but it seems to me Something unreal, that has never been,— Something that I have read of in a book, Or heard of some one else.
VITTORIA. Ten years and more Have passed since then; and many things have happened In those ten years, and many friends have died: Marco Flaminio, whom we all admired And loved as our Catullus; dear Valldesso, The noble champion of free thought and speech; And Cardinal Ippolito, your friend.
JULIA. Oh, do not speak of him! His sudden death O'ercomes me now, as it o'ercame me then. Let me forget it; for my memory Serves me too often as an unkind friend, And I remember things I would forget, While I forget the things I would remember.
VITTORIA. Forgive me; I will speak of him no more, The good Fra Bernardino has departed, Has fled from Italy, and crossed the Alps, Fearing Caraffa's wrath, because he taught That He who made us all without our help Could also save us without aid of ours. Renee of France, the Duchess of Ferrara, That Lily of the Loire, is bowed by winds That blow from Rome; Olympia Morata Banished from court because of this new doctrine. Therefore be cautious. Keep your secret thought Locked in your breast.
JULIA. I will be very prudent But speak no more, I pray; it wearies you.
VITTORIA. Yes, I am very weary. Read to me.
JULIA. Most willingly. What shall I read?
VITTORIA. Petrarca's Triumph of Death. The book lies on the table; Beside the casket there. Read where you find The leaf turned down. 'T was there I left off reading.
"Not as a flame that by some force is spent, But one that of itself consumeth quite, Departed hence in peace the soul content, In fashion of a soft and lucent light Whose nutriment by slow gradation goes, Keeping until the end its lustre bright. Not pale, but whiter than the sheet of snows That without wind on some fair hill-top lies, Her weary body seemed to find repose. Like a sweet slumber in her lovely eyes, When now the spirit was no longer there, Was what is dying called by the unwise. E'en Death itself in her fair face seemed fair"—
Is it of Laura that he here is speaking?— She doth not answer, yet is not asleep; Her eyes are full of light and fixed on something Above her in the air. I can see naught Except the painted angels on the ceiling. Vittoria! speak! What is it? Answer me!— She only smiles, and stretches out her hands.
[The mirror falls and breaks.
VITTORIA. Not disobedient to the heavenly vision! Pescara! my Pescara! [Dies.
JULIA. Holy Virgin! Her body sinks together,—she is dead!
[Kneels and hides her face in Vittoria's lap.
Enter MICHAEL ANGELO.
JULIA. Hush! make no noise.
MICHAEL ANGELO. How is she?
JULIA. Never better.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Then she is dead!
JULIA. Alas! yes, she is dead! Even death itself in her fair face seems fair. How wonderful! The light upon her face Shines from the windows of another world. Saint only have such faces. Holy Angels! Bear her like sainted Catherine to her rest!
[Kisses Vittoria's hand.
Macello de' Corvi. A room in MICHAEL ANGELO'S house. MICHAEL ANGELO, standing before a model of St. Peter's.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Better than thou I cannot, Brunelleschi, And less than thou I will not! If the thought Could, like a windlass, lift the ponderous stones And swing them to their places; if a breath Could blow this rounded dome into the air, As if it were a bubble, and these statues Spring at a signal to their sacred stations, As sentinels mount guard upon a wall. Then were my task completed. Now, alas! Naught am I but a Saint Sebaldus, holding Upon his hand the model of a church, As German artists paint him; and what years, What weary years, must drag themselves along, Ere this be turned to stone! What hindrances Must block the way; what idle interferences Of Cardinals and Canons of St. Peter's, Who nothing know of art beyond the color Of cloaks and stockings, nor of any building Save that of their own fortunes! And what then? I must then the short-coming of my means Piece out by stepping forward, as the Spartan Was told to add a step to his short sword.
And is Fra Bastian dead? Is all that light Gone out, that sunshine darkened; all that music And merriment, that used to make our lives Less melancholy, swallowed up in silence Like madrigals sung in the street at night By passing revellers? It is strange indeed That he should die before me. 'T is against The laws of nature that the young should die, And the old live; unless it be that some Have long been dead who think themselves alive, Because not buried. Well, what matters it, Since now that greater light, that was my sun, Is set, and all is darkness, all is darkness! Death's lightnings strike to right and left of me, And, like a ruined wall, the world around me Crumbles away, and I am left alone. I have no friends, and want none. My own thoughts Are now my sole companions,—thoughts of her, That like a benediction from the skies Come to me in my solitude and soothe me. When men are old, the incessant thought of Death Follows them like their shadow; sits with them At every meal; sleeps with them when they sleep; And when they wake already is awake, And standing by their bedside. Then, what folly It is in us to make an enemy Of this importunate follower, not a friend! To me a friend, and not an enemy, Has he become since all my friends are dead.
VIGNA DI PAPA GIULIO
POPE JULIUS III. seated by the Fountain of Acqua Vergine, surrounded by Cardinals.
JULIUS. Tell me, why is it ye are discontent, You, Cardinals Salviati and Marcello, With Michael Angelo? What has he done, Or left undone, that ye are set against him? When one Pope dies, another is soon made; And I can make a dozen Cardinals, But cannot make one Michael Angelo.
CARDINAL SALVIATI. Your Holiness, we are not set against him; We but deplore his incapacity. He is too old.
JULIUS. You, Cardinal Salviati, Are an old man. Are you incapable? 'T is the old ox that draws the straightest furrow.
CARDINAL MARCELLO. Your Holiness remembers he was charged With the repairs upon St. Mary's bridge; Made cofferdams, and heaped up load on load Of timber and travertine; and yet for years The bridge remained unfinished, till we gave it To Baccio Bigio.
JULIUS. Always Baccio Bigio! Is there no other architect on earth? Was it not he that sometime had in charge The harbor of Ancona.
CARDINAL MARCELLO. Ay, the same.
JULIUS. Then let me tell you that your Baccio Bigio Did greater damage in a single day To that fair harbor than the sea had done Or would do in ten years. And him you think To put in place of Michael Angelo, In building the Basilica of St. Peter! The ass that thinks himself a stag discovers His error when he comes to leap the ditch.
CARDINAL MARCELLO. He does not build; he but demolishes The labors of Bramante and San Gallo.
JULIUS. Only to build more grandly.
CARDINAL MARCELLO. But time passes: Year after year goes by, and yet the work Is not completed. Michael Angelo Is a great sculptor, but no architect. His plans are faulty.
JULIUS. I have seen his model, And have approved it. But here comes the artist. Beware of him. He may make Persians of you, To carry burdens on your backs forever.
The same: MICHAEL ANGELO.
JULIUS. Come forward, dear Maestro! In these gardens All ceremonies of our court are banished. Sit down beside me here.
MICHAEL ANGELO, sitting down. How graciously Your Holiness commiserates old age And its infirmities!
JULIUS. Say its privileges. Art I respect. The building of this palace And laying out these pleasant garden walks Are my delight, and if I have not asked Your aid in this, it is that I forbear To lay new burdens on you at an age When you need rest. Here I escape from Rome To be at peace. The tumult of the city Scarce reaches here.
MICHAEL ANGELO. How beautiful it is, And quiet almost as a hermitage!
JULIUS. We live as hermits here; and from these heights O'erlook all Rome and see the yellow Tiber Cleaving in twain the city, like a sword, As far below there as St. Mary's bridge. What think you of that bridge?
MICHAEL ANGELO. I would advise Your Holiness not to cross it, or not often It is not safe.
JULIUS. It was repaired of late.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Some morning you will look for it in vain; It will be gone. The current of the river Is undermining it.
JULIUS. But you repaired it.
MICHAEL ANGELO. I strengthened all its piers, and paved its road With travertine. He who came after me Removed the stone, and sold it, and filled in The space with gravel.
JULIUS. Cardinal Salviati And Cardinal Marcello, do you listen? This is your famous Nanni Baccio Bigio.
MICHAEL ANGELO, aside. There is some mystery here. These Cardinals Stand lowering at me with unfriendly eyes.
JULIUS. Now let us come to what concerns us more Than bridge or gardens. Some complaints are made Concerning the Three Chapels in St. Peter's; Certain supposed defects or imperfections, You doubtless can explain.
MICHAEL ANGELO. This is no longer The golden age of art. Men have become Iconoclasts and critics. They delight not In what an artist does, but set themselves To censure what they do not comprehend. You will not see them bearing a Madonna Of Cimabue to the church in triumph, But tearing down the statue of a Pope To cast it into cannon. Who are they That bring complaints against me?
JULIUS. Deputies Of the commissioners; and they complain Of insufficient light in the Three Chapels.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Your Holiness, the insufficient light Is somewhere else, and not in the Three Chapels. Who are the deputies that make complaint?
JULIUS. The Cardinals Salviati and Marcello, Here present.
MICHAEL ANGELO, rising. With permission, Monsignori, What is it ye complain of?
CARDINAL MARCELLO, We regret You have departed from Bramante's plan, And from San Gallo's.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Since the ancient time No greater architect has lived on earth Than Lazzari Bramante. His design, Without confusion, simple, clear, well-lighted. Merits all praise, and to depart from it Would be departing from the truth. San Gallo, Building about with columns, took all light Out of this plan; left in the choir dark corners For infinite ribaldries, and lurking places For rogues and robbers; so that when the church Was shut at night, not five and twenty men Could find them out. It was San Gallo, then, That left the church in darkness, and not I.
CARDINAL MARCELLO. Excuse me; but in each of the Three Chapels Is but a single window.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Monsignore, Perhaps you do not know that in the vaulting Above there are to go three other windows.
CARDINAL SALVIATI. How should we know? You never told us of it.
MICHAEL ANGELO. I neither am obliged, nor will I be, To tell your Eminence or any other What I intend or ought to do. Your office Is to provide the means, and see that thieves Do not lay hands upon them. The designs Must all be left to me.
CARDINAL MARCELLO. Sir architect, You do forget yourself, to speak thus rudely In presence of his Holiness, and to us Who are his cardinals.
MICHAEL ANGELO, putting on his hat. I do not forget I am descended from the Counts Canossa, Linked with the Imperial line, and with Matilda, Who gave the Church Saint Peter's Patrimony. I, too, am proud to give unto the Church The labor of these hands, and what of life Remains to me. My father Buonarotti Was Podesta of Chiusi and Caprese. I am not used to have men speak to me As if I were a mason, hired to build A garden wall, and paid on Saturdays So much an hour.
CARDINAL SALVIATI, aside. No wonder that Pope Clement Never sat down in presence of this man, Lest he should do the same; and always bade him Put on his hat, lest he unasked should do it!
MICHAEL ANGELO. If any one could die of grief and shame, I should. This labor was imposed upon me; I did not seek it; and if I assumed it, 'T was not for love of fame or love of gain, But for the love of God. Perhaps old age Deceived me, or self-interest, or ambition; I may be doing harm instead of good. Therefore, I pray your Holiness, release me; Take off from me the burden of this work; Let me go back to Florence.
JULIUS. Never, never, While I am living.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Doth your Holiness Remember what the Holy Scriptures say Of the inevitable time, when those Who look out of the windows shall be darkened, And the almond-tree shall flourish?
JULIUS. That is in Ecclesiastes.
MICHAEL ANGELO. And the grasshopper Shall be a burden, and desire shall fail, Because man goeth unto his long home. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; all Is vanity.
JULIUS. Ah, were to do a thing As easy as to dream of doing it, We should not want for artists. But the men Who carry out in act their great designs Are few in number; ay, they may be counted Upon the fingers of this hand. Your place Is at St. Peter's.
MICHAEL ANGELO. I have had my dream, And cannot carry out my great conception, And put it into act.
JULIUS. Then who can do it? You would but leave it to some Baccio Bigio To mangle and deface.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Rather than that I will still bear the burden on my shoulders A little longer. If your Holiness Will keep the world in order, and will leave The building of the church to me, the work Will go on better for it. Holy Father, If all the labors that I have endured, And shall endure, advantage not my soul, I am but losing time.
JULIUS, laying his hands on MICHAEL ANGELO'S shoulders. You will be gainer Both for your soul and body.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Not events Exasperate me, but the funest conclusions I draw from these events; the sure decline Of art, and all the meaning of that word: All that embellishes and sweetens life, And lifts it from the level of low cares Into the purer atmosphere of beauty; The faith in the Ideal; the inspiration That made the canons of the church of Seville Say, "Let us build, so that all men hereafter Will say that we were madmen." Holy Father, I beg permission to retire from here.
JULIUS. Go; and my benediction be upon you.
[Michael Angelo goes out.
My Cardinals, this Michael Angelo Must not be dealt with as a common mason. He comes of noble blood, and for his crest Bear two bull's horns; and he has given us proof That he can toss with them. From this day forth Unto the end of time, let no man utter The name of Baccio Bigio in my presence. All great achievements are the natural fruits Of a great character. As trees bear not Their fruits of the same size and quality, But each one in its kind with equal ease, So are great deeds as natural to great men As mean things are to small ones. By his work We know the master. Let us not perplex him.
A street in Rome. BINDO ALTOVITI, standing at the door of his house.
MICHAEL ANGELO, passing.
BINDO. Good-morning, Messer Michael Angelo!
MICHAEL ANGELO. Good-morning, Messer Bindo Altoviti!
BINDO. What brings you forth so early?
MICHAEL ANGELO. The same reason That keeps you standing sentinel at your door,— The air of this delicious summer morning. What news have you from Florence?
BINDO. Nothing new; The same old tale of violence and wrong. Since the disastrous day at Monte Murlo, When in procession, through San Gallo's gate, Bareheaded, clothed in rags, on sorry steeds, Philippo Strozzi and the good Valori Were led as prisoners down the streets of Florence, Amid the shouts of an ungrateful people, Hope is no more, and liberty no more. Duke Cosimo, the tyrant, reigns supreme.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Florence is dead: her houses are but tombs; Silence and solitude are in her streets.
BINDO. Ah yes; and often I repeat the words You wrote upon your statue of the Night, There in the Sacristy of San Lorenzo: "Grateful to me is sleep; to be of stone More grateful, while the wrong and shame endure; To see not, feel not, is a benediction; Therefore awake me not; oh, speak in whispers."
MICHAEL ANGELO. Ah, Messer Bindo, the calamities, The fallen fortunes, and the desolation Of Florence are to me a tragedy Deeper than words, and darker than despair. I, who have worshipped freedom from my cradle, Have loved her with the passion of a lover, And clothed her with all lovely attributes That the imagination can conceive, Or the heart conjure up, now see her dead, And trodden in the dust beneath the feet Of an adventurer! It is a grief Too great for me to bear in my old age.
BINDO. I say no news from Florence: I am wrong, For Benvenuto writes that he is coming To be my guest in Rome.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Those are good tidings. He hath been many years away from us.
BINDO. Pray you, come in.
MICHAEL ANGELO. I have not time to stay, And yet I will. I see from here your house Is filled with works of art. That bust in bronze Is of yourself. Tell me, who is the master That works in such an admirable way, And with such power and feeling?
MICHAEL ANGELO. Ah? Benvenuto? 'T is a masterpiece! It pleases me as much, and even more, Than the antiques about it; and yet they Are of the best one sees. But you have placed it By far too high. The light comes from below, And injures the expression. Were these windows Above and not beneath it, then indeed It would maintain its own among these works Of the old masters, noble as they are. I will go in and study it more closely. I always prophesied that Benvenuto, With all his follies and fantastic ways, Would show his genius in some work of art That would amaze the world, and be a challenge Unto all other artists of his time.
[They go in.
IN THE COLISEUM
MICHAEL ANGELO and TOMASO DE CAVALIERI
CAVALIERI. What have you here alone, Messer Michele?
MICHAEL ANGELO. I come to learn.
CAVALIERI. You are already master, And teach all other men.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Nay, I know nothing; Not even my own ignorance, as some Philosopher hath said. I am a schoolboy Who hath not learned his lesson, and who stands Ashamed and silent in the awful presence Of the great master of antiquity Who built these walls cyclopean.
CAVALIERI. Gaudentius His name was, I remember. His reward Was to be thrown alive to the wild beasts Here where we now are standing.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Idle tales.
CAVALIERI. But you are greater than Gaudentius was, And your work nobler.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Silence, I beseech you.
CAVALIERI. Tradition says that fifteen thousand men Were toiling for ten years incessantly Upon this amphitheatre.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Behold How wonderful it is! The queen of flowers, The marble rose of Rome! Its petals torn By wind and rain of thrice five hundred years; Its mossy sheath half rent away, and sold To ornament our palaces and churches, Or to be trodden under feet of man Upon the Tiber's bank; yet what remains Still opening its fair bosom to the sun, And to the constellations that at night Hang poised above it like a swarm of bees.
CAVALIERI. The rose of Rome, but not of Paradise; Not the white rose our Tuscan poet saw, With saints for petals. When this rose was perfect Its hundred thousand petals were not Saints, But senators in their Thessalian caps, And all the roaring populace of Rome; And even an Empress and the Vestal Virgins, Who came to see the gladiators die, Could not give sweetness to a rose like this.
MICHAEL ANGELO. I spake not of its uses, but its beauty.
CAVALIERI. The sand beneath our feet is saturate With blood of martyrs; and these rifted stones Are awful witnesses against a people Whose pleasure was the pain of dying men.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Tomaso Cavalieri, on my word, You should have been a preacher, not a painter! Think you that I approve such cruelties, Because I marvel at the architects Who built these walls, and curved these noble arches? Oh, I am put to shame, when I consider How mean our work is, when compared with theirs! Look at these walls about us and above us! They have been shaken by earthquake; have been made A fortress, and been battered by long sieges; The iron clamps, that held the stones together, Have been wrenched from them; but they stand erect And firm, as if they had been hewn and hollowed Out of the solid rock, and were a part Of the foundations of the world itself.
CAVALIERI. Your work, I say again, is nobler work, In so far as its end and aim are nobler; And this is but a ruin, like the rest. Its vaulted passages are made the caverns Of robbers, and are haunted by the ghosts Of murdered men.
MICHAEL ANGELO. A thousand wild flowers bloom From every chink, and the birds build their nests Among the ruined arches, and suggest New thoughts of beauty to the architect, Now let us climb the broken stairs that lead Into the corridors above, and study The marvel and the mystery of that art In which I am a pupil, not a master. All things must have an end; the world itself Must have an end, as in a dream I saw it. There came a great hand out of heaven, and touched The earth, and stopped it in its course. The seas Leaped, a vast cataract, into the abyss; The forests and the fields slid off, and floated Like wooded islands in the air. The dead Were hurled forth from their sepulchres; the living Were mingled with them, and themselves were dead,— All being dead; and the fair, shining cities Dropped out like jewels from a broken crown. Naught but the core of the great globe remained, A skeleton of stone. And over it The wrack of matter drifted like a cloud, And then recoiled upon itself, and fell Back on the empty world, that with the weight Reeled, staggered, righted, and then headlong plunged Into the darkness, as a ship, when struck By a great sea, throws off the waves at first On either side, then settles and goes down Into the dark abyss, with her dead crew.
CAVALIERI. But the earth does not move.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Who knows? who knowst? There are great truths that pitch their shining tents Outside our walls, and though but dimly seen In the gray dawn, they will be manifest When the light widens into perfect day. A certain man, Copernicus by name, Sometime professor here in Rome, has whispered It is the earth, and not the sun, that moves. What I beheld was only in a dream, Yet dreams sometimes anticipate events, Being unsubstantial images of things As yet unseen.
MACELLO DE' CORVI
MICHAEL ANGELO, BENVENUTO CELLINI.
MICHAEL ANGELO. So, Benvenuto, you return once more To the Eternal City. 'T is the centre To which all gravitates. One finds no rest Elsewhere than here. There may be other cities That please us for a while, but Rome alone Completely satisfies. It becomes to all A second native land by predilection, And not by accident of birth alone.
BENVENUTO. I am but just arrived, and am now lodging With Bindo Altoviti. I have been To kiss the feet of our most Holy Father, And now am come in haste to kiss the hands Of my miraculous Master.
MICHAEL ANGELO. And to find him Grown very old.
BENVENUTO. You know that precious stones Never grow old.
MICHAEL ANGELO. Half sunk beneath the horizon, And yet not gone. Twelve years are a long while. Tell me of France.
BENVENUTO. It were too long a tale To tell you all. Suffice in brief to say The King received me well, and loved me well; Gave me the annual pension that before me Our Leonardo had, nor more nor less, And for my residence the Tour de Nesle, Upon the river-side.
MICHAEL ANGELO. A princely lodging.
BENVENUTO. What in return I did now matters not, For there are other things, of greater moment, I wish to speak of. First of all, the letter You wrote me, not long since, about my bust Of Bindo Altoviti, here in Rome. You said, "My Benvenuto, I for many years Have known you as the greatest of all goldsmiths, And now I know you as no less a sculptor." Ah, generous Master! How shall I e'er thank you For such kind language?
MICHAEL ANGELO. By believing it. I saw the bust at Messer Bindo's house, And thought it worthy of the ancient masters, And said so. That is all.
BENVENUTO. It is too much; And I should stand abashed here in your presence, Had I done nothing worthier of your praise Than Bindo's bust.
MICHAEL ANGELO. What have you done that's better?
BENVENUTO. When I left Rome for Paris, you remember I promised you that if I went a goldsmith I would return a sculptor. I have kept The promise I then made.