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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Francis, the marginalized Saint

by Caravaggio

G. B. Marino's vast production of verse also includes a group of four short poems dealing with the three standard theological virtues, Faith, Hope, and Love, plus a surprise, i.e. the Stars. Each virtue is associated with a key simile: the shield for Faith, the flower for Hope, fire for Love. In spite of interesting details here and there, these poems keep a low profile, all in all. Probably the most remarkable section is the one that, within "Love," describes Saint Francis of Assisi. In fact, even if Franciscan monks played a major role in the people's spirituality and practice (see Alessandro Manzoni's novel I Promessi Sposi), their holy founder had no significant place in the main Renaissance poems in Italy (as he had had in the Divine Comedy), probably because he is the very symbol of poverty, humility, and peace, while the then mainstream culture followed right the opposite values (see Nietzsche). Anyway, here it is:
Fire, you that wonderfully
change one into his beloved object,
or rather enliven, and inform
the changed heart by acting as its soul:
With this pure affection
the Seraph of Ascesis *
had his desires burning,
so much so that he was finally seen,
turning Christ into himself, turn to Christ.

* punning on "Assisi." Saint Francis is often called "the Seraphic Father."

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Italians' first shock with the 17th century

Don Rodrigo, the villain, blamed by
Father Cristoforo (ill. by G. De Chirico)

One of the 'most hated masterpieces' of Italian literature is Alessandro Mazoni's novel I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), written in the years 1827-42. Hated because it is mandatory to read long passages of it at school in Italy, with the obvious consequences on teenagers' taste. Many people, we included, will rediscover the book only at a much greater age. In our case, what makes it definitely palatable is that the events are set in the epoch that dominates this blog, namely between 1628 and 1630, in a northern Italy then colonized, if not oppressed by Spain.

The 17th century society, both Great History (the Thirty Years' War) and everyday life with its habits and tragedies (corruption, famine, poverty, war, plague), is described with great skill, in a plain and elegant prose that is quite unlike the Baroque standards, in order to make the story reader-friendly, as the author himself states in the introduction. As a matter of fact, Manzoni's language shaped current Italian. In the novel, there appear in the background personages who have been examined in recent posts, e.g. Duke Carlo Emanuele of Savoy and King Louis XIII. At the same time, it is curious to notice that at least three cultural protagonists of that era are not even mentioned, for some reason: Tommaso Campanella, Galileo Galilei, and Giambattista Marino.

Of I Promessi Sposi there also exists a rare 1964 edition illustrated by no less than Giorgio De Chirico, a master of 20th century art as well as the first inspirer of Surrealism -- though never joining the movement -- who in this case chose to adopt a fake-naive style.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable

works by Damien Hirst

Something strange happens as among the waves
the amazing artifact travels:
into the dark waters of the depth, it
is drawn downward by the sea abyss—
Venus herself, hiding inside the sea
and born out of it, and the sea queen,
thinking it Mars, takes it as it passes
to hug it, then being deluded, lets it go.

__G. B. Marino, Adone 11.155

In line 8, the word deluso (here delusa, in the feminine) would mean "disappointed" in current Italian; but in the 17th century it still kept the original meaning of the Latin adjective delusus, like "deluded" in English.
The stanza from Marino's long poem Adone referred to a majestic sculpture of King Henry IV of France, made by Jean Boulogne aka Giambologna, and transported to Paris in 1614. It would be destroyed not many years after the French Revolution.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

"Del gran Martirio hebreo l'historia amara"

Holy Mercy, if in heaven you're not dead
after having fled disgusted to heaven:
See the events down here, see the victims
of your enemy—they are weak and sad.     enemy: Cruelty
Why don't you come? Are offenses against 
the Jews uncared for by you, or unseen?
Look, no other shelter or salvation
is hoped for by the good seed of Israel.

One of the most striking features in Giambattista Marino's poem La strage degl'innocenti (The Slaughter of the Innocents) is a sort of prophecy of the Shoah, the Holocaust. Not simply of persecutions, as there have tragically often been; but of the methods that would be used by Nazism. In the poem, clearly a fictionalization from Matthew, ch. 2, King Herod means to exterminate as many people as possible. In order to accomplish the massacre, the mothers of 0-2 year-old babies are gathered in one place under a false promise (this is not in the Gospel), as Nazis did when ordered the Jews to get on the trains for the concentration camps. And afterward, soldiers search the houses one by one to make sure that no baby has escaped (not even this is in the Gospel). With a final coup de théâtre: The soldiers, out of zeal and by mistake, will kill Herod's only son (pure fiction).

Marino, as appears in other works (see La Sferza), was not exempt from Medieval/Renaissance prejudices against the Jews. In the Strage, however, it looks like he had developed a partially different view on life. The poem had a complex gestation: Marino had been working on it since the earlier years of the 17th century, but it was published only in 1633, eight years after his death. Friends report that at the end of his career, in Naples, he used to read it "at the club," so to speak, namely the Accademia degli Humoristi. So, in spite of its relatively short length, some 3,500 lines divided in six cantos, the poem took twenty years of elaboration. Parts of it -- canto 2, for example -- seem to reflect the quieter, wiser moods of an "old" man (though not much older than 50, in fact). And, a man who had himself experienced persecution.

In this sense, very interesting in the Strage is the character of Joseph, Jesus' adoptive father. He is a . . .  normal guy! An aged, sweet, attentive husband, father, and artisan. There is nothing epic in him, and nothing grotesque, too, as most men of the people tend to be in Marino's poems. This unusual realism is skillfully mixed with Marino's typical themes: here, in particular, a modern imagery about heaven and hell, that preludes John Milton. There also is a female angel, called Vision, whose forehead is a screen showing the events of the future.

More cues: Penelope's lovers treacherously shut inside the royal palace, and killed by Odysseus. King Pentheus, who wants to get rid of a god, Dionysus, and is fiercely punished (Euripides' Bacchae are hinted at in Marino's poem). "The Slaughter of the Innocents" replaces the long-planned poem on "Jerusalem Destroyed," in a very different key.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The oldest "Road Map" for Jerusalem

from William Blake's illustrations
for Paradise Lost (recolored)

Gierusalemme distrutta, "Jerusalem Destroyed," is a Baroque long poem long promised by Giambattista Marino, and never realized but for a 'tiny' part, i.e. more than 700 lines, like six whole cantos of the Divine Comedy. The subject should have been the tragic events of 70 AD, when, after the Jews' rebellion against the Empire, the Holy City was seized and razed to the ground by the Romans, who would build a heathen colony in its place, Aelia Capitolina. In brief, a prequel -- and a competitor -- to Torquato Tasso's Gierusalemme liberata.

Quite interestingly, the remaining canto is not the first, but the seventh. And quite interestingly, it does not deal with battles or other historical episodes, but a dialog in heaven. God looks down onto the war being waged on Earth, where the devil is causing havoc, so He also decides to intervene; a scene of far Homeric origin, more directly based on Gierusalemme liberata. Here, the Almighty opens the book of Destiny, where it is stated that Jerusalem must be destroyed forever because of its "rebellion" against the divine will (i.e. not embracing Christianity). King David, who is among the blessed, is shocked, and implores Virgin Mary to avert that fate. Mary prays her Son, and Christ in his turn shows his mercy to God the Father. God accepts to spare the Holy City; He will just send Archangel Michael to break the devil's plans; and here the canto comes to an end. An important part of the plot is missing, since Jerusalem was actually destroyed, so some unexpected (even by God?) development must have occurred (or, did God only 'make if' He had changed his mind?).

More remarkable than the plot is the style. Marino drew on Tasso as John Milton would, and Milton also read Marino, whose Jerusalem stanzas were published posthumously in 1633. Well, an amazing similarity leaps out between Gierusalemme distrutta and the parallel sections in Paradise Lost -- except for the Catholic devotion, of course. Effects of light and shadow, majesty and paradoxes, colors and music and flowers, dizzy detailed descriptions, belligerence and tenderness, golden curls and shiny armors, Biblical quotations and theatrical phrasings. . .  At the same time, Marino cannot help adding his trademark, especially in the dialog of Mary and Christ. Here, the words exchanged between the Virgin and her Son have an erotic undertone that cannot be wholly justified as Baroque sentimentalism. By the irony of fate, sanctimonious readers of the 17th century hoped that Gierusalemme distrutta would be completed.

Monday, July 9, 2018

A true fake edition

The unfinished, or rather, barely begun long poem Gerusalemme distrutta, "Jerusalem Destroyed," by G. B. Marino turned up to be available through AbeBooks, the biggest book market worldwide. Curiously enough, though in an Italian version, the poem came from India (see the amount of stamps above), and very cheaply so. But there was a trick: As a matter of fact, the 'publisher' simply downloaded some online facsimile file, then printed it on demand.

Anyway, it doesn't matter. What matters is that this work of Marino, together with other fascinating texts, is on my desk now :-) We will be dealing with each poem included in this precious prank.

Friday, July 6, 2018

1623: When years were years

photo from a Web source

The Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, Italy, is mostly known for its Medieval frescoes, made by Cimabue, Giotto, and others, that show episodes from the life of the famous Saint as well as from the Gospels and other religious texts. But the basilica inferiore (the lower floor of the church) also hosts a big fresco about the Last Judgment, clearly based on the Sistine Chapel, just reinterpreting it in a Franciscan key, and making it more "standardized" than Michelangelo's.

The Assisi Judgment fresco was made by a Baroque painter called Cesare Sermei, and in a very special year: 1623. That is, when the first (and posthumous) edition of Michelangelo's experimental poems was published. . .
and the First Folio of Shakespeare was published. . .
and G. B. Marino's long poem Adone, too.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Hippogriff, a successful invention

As far as scholarship goes, the hippogriff appeared for the first time in the history of literature in Ludovico Ariosto's long poem Orlando Furioso (1516-32), so it can be considered his own invention. This fascinating creature still soars in our paper skies. Here drawn by Ediano Silva for Pathfinder, volume 6: Runescars, Dynamite Entertainment, 2018 (in Italy: Le Rune di Varisia, Editoriale Cosmo).

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A brief history of the concept of Orient

A very interesting essay included in the new Italian magazine Riscontri is, not by chance, the one that opens the issue. See the abstract here below. Alessandro Ruffo retraces the origin of the concept of "East, Orient" in the Western World, starting from the Greek authors and their depiction of the Persians, then following the developments of the western concept of East until nowadays. (It may be added that the current President of Turkey, Erdogan, is often described according to those old 'categories,' or rather commonplace in our news, where he is dubbed "The Sultan.") To make Orient more thrilling, one day a certain Prophet Muhammad popped up. . .  The abstract does not convey all the rich contents of the essay, a section of which is devoted to the Renaissance, especially Machiavelli.

Breve storia dell’idea di Oriente

di Alessandro Ruffo

L’idea di Oriente precede cronologicamente e concettualmente quella di Occidente, di cui costituisce un fondamento essenziale; soltanto grazie alla realizzazione delle differenze che li separavano da qualcosa di radicalmente altro i popoli occidentali sono stati infatti in grado di autodefinirsi. L’idea di Oriente, nonostante la sua storia lunga e complessa,  è costruita attorno ad una serie di tratti salienti e opposizioni dialettiche con l’Occidente (tra cui spicca in particolare quella tra schiavitù e libertà) individuabili già in opere come I Persiani di Eschilo. 
Tali caratteristiche, mai del tutto inventate ma neanche completamente corrispondenti alla realtà, costituiscono il fondamento della presunta superiorità occidentale alla base del colonialismo europeo e del suo paternalismo. 
Nell’ambito del confronto tra Occidente e Oriente, un posto di particolare rilievo  è occupato dall’islam, considerato a lungo un pericolo mortale a causa della sua estrema novità; e poi trasformato in una distorta versione del cristianesimo, da includere nella rassicurante e ordinata visione della realtà creata dall’Occidente a proprio uso e consumo.

L’articolo completo è disponibile sul numero 1- 2018 di “Riscontri”

Link all’acquisto:
Amazon: cartaceo ed ebook
Ibs: cartaceo ed ebook

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Marino Revival Now Begins

A new cultural magazine has just started to be published in Italy. It also deals with . . .

Giambattista Marino, un pericolosissimo poeta “innocuo”

di Dario Rivarossa

Tra le peggiori devastazioni compiute dal Risorgimento va annoverata la distruzione della nostra immensa cultura rinascimentale. Basti pensare che cosa è rimasto, da De Sanctis in poi e ancora oggi nellʼinsegnamento scolastico, dei tre grandi della nostra letteratura del Cinque-Seicento: Ludovico Ariosto, Torquato Tasso, Giovan Battista Marino. Con Ariosto ridotto a un contafavole, Tasso a un bigotto, Marino a un venditore di fumo.
Di Giambattista Marino le antologie continuano a riportare essenzialmente due brani dal poema Adone: il canto dellʼusignolo e lo sbocciare della rosa. Due brani di riempimento, non irrilevanti ma quasi, inseriti dal poeta come intermezzo tra i vari eventi “di peso” che descrive. Un poeta innocuo? Qualcosa non torna, se è vero che Marino – nonostante le entrature che aveva ai massimi livelli delle autorità politiche e religiose dʼEuropa – alla fine venne condannato dallʼInquisizione per oscenità e blasfemia.
Per dirla con la Censura dello Stato pontificio, Marino si rese colpevole di irreligiosas hiperboles, profanum usum sacrarum vocum, “immagini poetiche blasfeme, uso profano dei termini sacri”. Non era solo questione di una citazione qua e là. Era lʼintera operazione Adone ad apparire insopportabile: apparentemente reazionaria (specie sul piano politico, contro gli ugonotti francesi, e cosmologico, a favore della dottrina geocentrica, sebbene Marino poi fosse amico di Galileo), in realtà sovversiva nel riproporre un cristianesimo paganizzato, o un paganesimo cristianizzato, fuori tempo massimo. Si susseguono nellʼAdone le rielaborazioni dellʼinno a Venere di Lucrezio. Nelle Dicerie sacre si riesce perfino a elogiare la buonanima di papa Alessandro VI Borgia; roba che riproporrà solo Nietzsche in tempi moderni. Trasvalutazione dei valori.
La visione mariniana del mondo e di Dio può essere accostata al fenomeno religioso in tante aree dellʼAmerica Latina, dove Crocifissi e Madonne convivono senza problemi con riti tradizionali, culture pre-cristiane, sacerdotesse, guaritori, magia, sostanze stupefacenti, divinità ricavate perfino dalle statue pubblicitarie dei tabaccai, allegria, Santa Muerte e carnalità.

L’articolo completo è disponibile sul numero 1- 2018 di “Riscontri”

Link all’acquisto:
Amazon: cartaceo ed ebook
Ibs: cartaceo ed ebook

Friday, June 22, 2018

1615: The French Revolution

'Body paint' from Rubens, The Regency of Maria De' Medici

If Giambattista Marino's purpose was to surprise his readers (it was), he succeeded. In his 1615 poem Il Tempio, "The Temple," a lot of Catholic Counter-Reformation wording and imagery is employed, but always with reference to lay subjects. The cloister is embellished with twelve sculptures that do not represent the Apostles, but the nine Muses and three goddesses: Venus, Diana, Minerva. On the gold doors of the building -- see e.g. the Florence Baptistery -- not the events of salvation are carved, but the enterprises of King Henry IV. And inside the church, not only do four large mosaics recall the career of Maria De' Medici, but, just in the altar area under an already 'Berninian' Baldachin, an imposing statue of her is set in order to be worshiped. While looking less sexy than Venus' statue in the goddess' temple described in Marino's long poem Adone, all right, the Queen's effigy does anyway convey a sacral glorification of female beauty, as well as political power.

The poet plays shamelessly on the fact that the Queen's name is the same as the Mother of Jesus'. In brief, this self-proclaimed spokesman of the Catholic Church foreruns some attitudes that will clearly surface in France during the Revolution and later on, during the Napoleonic Era (see A.-J. Gros' paintings) and in 19th century Positivism, aiming to replace the cult of saints with secular heroes, reformers, thinkers, leaders. Just to stress, once again and not for the last time, that G. B. Marino was not a silly singer of roses & nightingales as is still nowadays presented in the school teaching and anthologies in Italy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Thieves and poets in the Temple

This rare 1995 edition (that looks even older than that) provides us a full insight into G. B. Marino's years in Paris, 1615-23. When he arrived there, it was the epoch after Henry IV's assassination (1610) and before the rise (1617) of his young son, Louis XIII, who had to fight for the throne against his own mother, Queen Maria De' Medici, quite unwilling to quit from her role as a Regent. Both the 'short long poem' Il Tempio and the pamphlet La Sferza were written in Italian, then a prestigious language across Europe.

Il Tempio, some 1,800 lines, describes a fantastic "Temple" built by Marino's verse in honor of the Queen -- something midway between the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and an experimental building based on Dante's three worlds. The poem obviously does not keep a low profile while exalting Maria De Medici's beauty, wisdom, and power; but it must also be stressed that she was a real ruler, unlike such heroines as Ariosto's Bradamante or Tasso's Clorinda. A real case of Renaissance women's liberation. The big mosaics in the temple are four, summarizing the main events in the Queen's life: her birth, the wedding, the death of her husband, the reign. Unfortunately, because of courtly rhetoric, the stanzas dealing with the killer of Henry IV, François Ravaillac, do not examine his actual psychological and social background, that would have been interesting. Noticeable are, under the temple's dome, the four statues representing female beauties from all over the world, Europe, Asia, Africa, and America.

La Sferza, i.e. the "Scourge" (see John 2.15) against the Huguenot leaders, apparently calls King Louis to a crusade against the Protestants in France, now that the Thirty Years' War was looming. More in depth, however, the text is marked by some contradictions, in either its logic or its contents, that make its thesis more ambiguous. The climax is reached when Marino blames the Huguenots for mixing the blasphemous to the sacred, that was precisely the reason why he had fled to Paris, far from the Pope's 'claws,' and why he would be condemned by the Inquisition in 1623, as soon as he would go back to Italy. La Sferza implied a Machiavellian view on religion that was frowned upon in the Counter-Reformation era. It was also meant as a call for help to the powerful Jesuits as his future 'attorneys,' in case, but it did not suffice.

Even if Il Tempio, all in all, is less original than Marino's poem Il Ritratto -- the "Portrait of Duke Charles Emmanuel of Savoy" (1608; see) -- it is nonetheless a very rich and intriguing work thanks to its witty reinterpretations of classical sources, fresh references to contemporary history and culture, and refined analysis of the Queen's personality. Although less boldly than in his later masterpiece Adone, in this "Temple," too, Christian concepts are freely used to describe worldly or even erotic circumstances.

P.S. Louis XIII is the King who will be portrayed as an idiot by Dumas in his Musketeers saga. He was no idiot at all.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Lie is more beautiful than Truth

In spite of its very trivial title, Caravaggio segreto. I misteri nascosti nei suoi capolavori [The Secret Caravaggio: The Mysteries Hidden in His Masterpieces], Costantino D'Orazio's book is a precious source because the "mysteries" revealed here concern the links of the paintings with the artist's own biography and the surrounding society. This lets us discover some interesting sides of 17th century life, from the tough universe of prostitution (that did not, as does not, only involve sexual pleasure) to the decadence of Naples, even if it was thrice as big as Rome, to the cultural ambitions of the island of Malta as a then rising 'country.' A "secret" of Caravaggio that many, this book included, don't know about is that he also portrayed Giambattista Marino. Here's the lines the latter devoted to the former in his long poem Adone, canto 6, stanza 55. The pun on "Michael + Angel" had already been used by Ariosto, but referring to Buonarroti.

And you, Michael, honor of Caravaggio,    his hometown's name
through whom Lie is more beautiful than Truth
when, proving a creator rather than painter,
you shame her by means of your hand Angelical
. . .

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Friendly neighborhood spider woman

by ilTM + Nivalis70 (website) + Raphael

Friedrich Nietzsche's Umwertung aller Werte, the re- or trans-valuation of all values, started in the Renaissance, which in fact was the German philosopher's reference point. A champion of this attitude was G. B. Marino, who would be condemned by the Inquisition in 1623 as his friend Galileo Galilei also would, for a different but parallel reason, some years later. A meaningful example, by comparing Dante and Marino, can bee seen e.g. in the treatment of the mythological characters of Myrrha (Inferno 30.37-42 vis-a-vis scattered passages in the long poem Adone, link) and Arachne. For the latter, see here below: Purgatorio 12.43-45, Longfellow version, and Il Ritratto del Serenissimo Don Carlo Emanuello, stanza 76, describing Duke Charles Emmanuel's surcoat ripped up in battle.

O mad Arachne! so I thee beheld
E'en then half spider, sad upon the shreds
Of fabric wrought in evil hour for thee.


Not with chosen, precious gems or pearls did
Arachne's ingenious needle embroider it
. . .

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Adonis paradox

Myrrha by ilTM + Selkis

The most famous play based on the Greek myth of Myrrha is, in Italy at least, Vittorio Alfieri's Mirra, written in 1784-6. The tragedy is entirely set in the girl's mind, fighting against her sudden, crazy desire to make love to her own father, King Cinyras of Cyprus, and resisting desperately until she kills herself. That makes a refined masterpiece in the history of Italian drama; but with a problem, in 'our' humble opinion, that is as readers of G. B. Marino's works: in that case, if things had happened as Alfieri describes them, no Adonis would be born.

Starting from the opposite viewpoint, one of the most interesting messages in Marino's Adone (published in 1623) is to restore Myrrha's honor, especially after Adonis, who was born in exile but has now come back to Cyprus, becomes the new king -- one of Marino's countless variations on the original theme. This intermingles, and strangely so, with the fact that Adonis' lover and mentor is Venus, precisely the one who caused Myrrha's incestuous feelings in order to punish her and her family because she had been praised as being more beautiful than the goddess.

In a sense, by acting on Myrrha, Venus paves the way to the existence of her perfect lover, who in his turn will redeem his mother.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Discovery of American flowers

The Discovery of America among the 17th century ceiling paintings in the Taffini family palace (Palazzo Taffini) in Savigliano, Italy. Since the main subject of the paintings in that hall is flower growing, here a Native American, on the right, gives Neptune a box full of seeds from the New World.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Death Becomes Him

Tu, Morazzon, che con colori vivi
moribondo il fingesti in vive carte,
e la sua dea rappresentasti, e i rivi
de l'acque amare da' begli occhi sparte,
spira agl'inchiostri mei, di vita privi,
l'aura vital de la tua nobil'arte,
et a ritrarlo, ancor morto ma bello,
insegni a la mia penna il tuo pennello.

You, Morazzone, who in vivid colors     a Baroque painter
did depict him dying on lively paper     him: Adonis
showing his goddess too, and the rivers     Venus
of bitter waters poured out by her eyes,
now please inspire into my lifeless ink
the living breath of your own noble art;     see Genesis 2.7
and to portray him, dead but beautiful,
let your paint brush teach my quill.     pennello/penna

__G. B. Marino, Adone, 18.99

(The picture above is a modern collage, not Morazzone's mentioned work.)

Sunday, June 3, 2018


The demi-goddess (as daughter to Pluto and Proserpina), and fairy, and shape-shifter (especially into a snake), and witch from G. B. Marino's Adone, cantos 12-14. Her name means "false/liar mermaid." Beautiful (or apparently so), billionaire (in gold) and powerful, she falls in love with Adonis, but, in spite of her 'talents,' she fails to get his heart because he is already, though secretly, married to no less than Venus, the Ruler of the universe in Marino's poem. It goes without saying that the episode did not appear in the original Adonis myth. Falsirena, furious for having been rejected, will then cause Adonis' death by telling Mars, Venus' violent lover, about the affair between the goddess and the young man.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Humor & the four humors

The classical theory of the four humors still has something to teach, after all. The diagram above is taken from a funny but documented book on "The True History of Hip Hop," precisely La vera storia dell'Hip Hop by Maurizio Piraccini aka Dr. Pira (website). The names of the humors, that correspond to the four classical elements, have been added by hand, but they are obvious from the psychological features belonging to each: Terra/Earth > black bile, Fuoco/Fire > yellow bile, Aria/Air > blood, Acqua/Water > phlegm.

As a consequence of what he gathered from his research, as well as of his own life experiences, the author suggests activities to be carried out as healthy practises according to one's temperament. And, yeah, they correspond to the four pillars of Hip Hop. As the Renaissance authors knew, joking is the main way of speaking seriously. So I will try his prescriptions, but won't tell with reference to which humor ;-)

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Indiana Jones factor

A wall painting showing a battle that took place during the Thirty Years' War; from Palazzo Taffini, Savigliano, Italy. Like in a famous scene from the first Indiana Jones movie, while some knights exhibit vintage weapons, others simply shoot them with pistols. It was the epoch of the transition from the Medieval war techniques to the modern ones.

Giovan Battista Marino described this in his long poem Adone (canto 10, stanza 250), in a section devoted precisely to the Savoys' war enterprises in the early 17th century:

Vedilo in dubbia e perigliosa mischia
passar tra mille picche e mille spade;
già dal volante fulmine che fischia
trafitto il corridor sotto gli cade. . .

See him, in an uncertain, perilous fight,     Thomas of Savoy
ride through a thousand pikes and swords;
now, pierced by a flying and hissing
thunderbolt, the steed under him falls. . .

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Savoys in the Thirty Years' War

Palazzo Taffini (website) in Savigliano, Piemonte, NW Italy, is a 17th-18th century building, originally belonging to Colonel Camillo Taffini (+ 1629), a military leader in the service of Vittorio Amedeo I (1587-1637) of Savoy. Vittorio Amedeo was the son of Duke Carlo Emanuele I, one of the main sponsors of 'our friend' G. B. Marino; and Carlo Emanuele, in his turn, was the son of Emanuele Filiberto, probably the most valiant personage in the history of the Savoy dynasty.

The walls of the great hall are painted with episodes of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) and other battles of that era, more or less connected with the "great war." In the picture, center: Vittorio Amedeo, and right, with a blue band across the armor: Taffini. Marino in his 1608 poem called Il Ritratto, the "Portrait" of Carlo Emanuele I, had predicted Vittorio Amedeo's future heroism and success, that basically happened -- of course, it was obvious to make such prophecies with reference of one's friends, but they would not always prove true. For example, again in the Ritratto, Marino described Carlo Emanuele as destined to become the King of whole Italy, or even the World Emperor!!

The most famous subjects in the wall paintings are the strong, beautiful horses. The artists, some disciples of the Baroque school of Giovanni Antonio Molineri, had a classical take on the battles, exalting the physical prowess of the knights and their steeds while relegating the cannons in the background, even if their role started to be quite significant in the 17th century. Cannons as a symbol of power are overtly exhibited, on the contrary, in the paintings by Giorgio Vasari in Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Ethnography, to and fro

From the very beginning of the 'discovery' of Central America, the missionaries -- surely not the Conquistadores -- started to study the languages, societies, cultures of the native peoples, and produced illustrated books, dictionaries, encyclopedias. Now the "new Indian" peoples repay them with a wonderful book illustrated by the talented Claudio Romo: Monstruos mexicanos (Alas y Raíces, 2012, with essays by Carmen Leñero), also available in Italian as Bestiario mexicano, with different texts (Logos, 2018, essays by Ivan Cenzi).

Some legendary monsters of the Yucatan area are described. Although in that context the concept of "monsters" had a very different meaning than in European folklore, in this Bestiary, in the Italian version at least, the stories of sacred Maya critters are once again explained from the viewpoint of Western anthropology, that makes them quite reassuring. But C. Romo's own comments, and especially his powerful Surrealist pictures suggest that something a bit more dangerous might be lurking over there.

A book to be fully enjoyed while learning. Not to speak of the fact that a crazy, fascinating, dynamic mix between Christian and non-Christian religions is not only a feature of many current cults in Latin America, but had already surfaced in G. B. Marino's long poem Adonis (Greek mythology, in that case), published in 1623 while missionaries of the Old Continent were exporting/importing culture to/from the New World.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

4 Virtues + 4

Carlo Emanuele ("Emanuello") I di Savoia

Giovan Battista Marino, Il Ritratto del Serenissimo Don Carlo Emanuello Duca di Savoia, edizione critica e commentata a cura di Giuseppe Alonzo ["The Portrait of the Most Serene Don Charles Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy," edited by G. A.; Don in its Spanish usage], Rome: Aracne, 2011, pages 200, with some photos of 16th-17th century coins.

If you want to learn more about a Renaissance leader's values, you gotta look up (a ceiling) or down (a book). In Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, the "Older Palace" of the Medici family, there is a set of rooms, each of which is dedicated to one of their main leaders. The portrait of each leader painted on the ceiling is encircled by the symbols of eight virtues, that are not the same as the classical four "cardinal virtues" Prudence, Temperance, Courage, Justice, first because there are twice as much, and secondly, because not all four of them are anyway represented. Nor are they the same eight for each personage.

An interesting variation can be found in Marino's panegyric of Duke Charles Emmanuel (1562-1630), written in 1608; a poem made of 238 stanzas of six lines, i.e. 1,428 lines, one tenth of the Divine Comedy -- just by chance? The Savoy Duchy, in NW Italy, was then in its heyday, working on some of its most important attractions still nowadays: the Savoy Art Gallery and the sacred rites about the Sindone (the shroud that enveloped Jesus' body) in Turin, the capital city, as well as the futuristic Vicoforte shrine in Mondovì.

Charles Emmanuel's virtues were or should have been eight, too: the four cardinal ones, plus Kindness (quite needed in that fierce era), Study (personal culture), Largesse (patronage of the arts, social-oriented enterprises), Piety. And, Piety was not limited to building temples and fighting the "enemies of the Church." Much more than that. The Duke, some years before, had recovered from illness, actually less dramatic than its descriptions; but Marino pushes on, and says that he actually died, then immediately rose again, stronger than ever. As far as we know, though the remaining documents are not very clear, this all too happy ending of the Ritratto made the Inquisition guys raise a brow. But the poet had influential friends in Vatican, at that time.

The Portrait is formally addressed to Giovanni Ambrogio Figino, a painter then working in Turin. Here is his Saint Maurice on exhibition at the Savoy Art Gallery. Marino encouraged him to portray the Duke, but. . . Figino would die in that same year 1608, at the age of 55.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Renaissance additions to Noah's Ark

click to enlarge

From the Museo di Storia Naturale [Natural History Museum, English website] in Casalina, Umbria, Italy. The quetzal, top right, was actually discovered in the 20th century, but the Spanish Conquistadores already knew about its existence, though not precisely where.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Renaissance in 12 frames

Twelve paintings have been cleverly chosen to summarize the history and culture of the 16th century in Italy. Among them, there appear both overfamous masterpieces like Michelangelo's Creation of Adam and mostly ignored works like Dosso Dossi's Allegory of Hercules, or maybe Witchcraft, or whatever. The paintings in fact have been selected not on the basis of their fame or 'beauty' abstractly conceived, but according to their significance insofar as they concentrate elements of all kinds from the society for which they had been made. Sort of a 16th century visual encyclopedia, including riddles alongside facts & figures. More useful and witty than a standard history handbook. An Italian version of the Taschen book is also available, very well translated by Monica Valdettaro, and titled I segreti dei dipinti: Rinascimento italiano.

As for Dosso's painting (below), I also will launch a hypothesis: it might portray Odysseus among the Proci, Penelope's suitors, and the maids, who by night have sex with the Proci inside the very palace. Thanks to one of Athena's special effects, Odysseus (bottom left) looks like an old man, but still strong, and recalls his past glories as an athlete (shot, discus) while planning the suitors' slaughter. They consume his goods (the goat), and boast because they discovered Penelope's trick (the spindle). This of course would only provide the basic subject matter, but the painting would hint at many more, hidden references at the same time, as was the rule.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The 7 Days of CryAction 7: 1051 to the end

Not only master minds
(the angels, clearly)
exalted the Most High,
the sky itself praised Him
and the firmament waters
with synthetic sounds;
the sun and the stars
and satellites entered
and concomitant clouds;
[1060] snow, frost followed
together with thunderbolts
and light and night
set his Name to music,
sky shrines re-echoed
and shadows resounded.
The exhilarated Earth
praised Jehovah joyfully
accompanied by mountains
and viridescent hills
[1070] while seas whispered
with springs and rivers
the ascension of HaShem
and flying birds and fish
and lambs and wolves
applauded Ho Agathos.
Priests would praise Him
later in the temples in
synchrony with the souls
in this life and afterlife
[1080] so that a triple plane
glares with his glory. . . . . . . . .
but poor Tasso is tired
and the Globe grows old
after so many millenniums
and asks for apocalypse:
Déspota kai Pater mou
who made me from nihil
unbelievably beautiful
and safe after all floods
[1090] I am ephemeral
and will finally fall but
Negentropy meantime
supports me in my turns
round speculative points.
In spite of scores of Ages
I still feel like a lad
I did not lose my frills
not even one brilliant
but far away from You
[1100] I would wind up.
I love You sufficiently
and seek You inside me
and long for revelation.
Many times I mourn You
thick like rainmy fault!
and by singing I sanctify
myself lest You may
reject your cosmic icon
your sealed simulacrum.
[1110] I observe outside:
Where have You hidden?
Who stole my sole Lord?
Without You I am nothing
hope nothing tweet nothing
for everything is nothing
if devoid of your voice.
I bounce beyond myself
to meet You my mate
I languish for love
[1120] and if fire finishes
me, your love will make
me still more luminous
not consumed by circling.
Let this older and older
world rest in eternity, no
more a swiveling temple
but granitic Glory”
the universe says.
Let us listen to its Psalm
[1130] and worship and weep.

The End

Friday, May 11, 2018

Will they survive? Something did survive anyway

If the purpose of publishing this book is to save hundreds of endangered species, as the National Geographic project was meant to, it might unfortunately prove a Lost Ark -- all the more so as the foreword has been written by Harrison Ford. But, at least, the absolute beauty of these snapshots by Joel Sartore shows that something did succeed in surviving Man's stupidity: the Renaissance gorgeous art of portraying animals.

The 400-page book is also available in Italian, in both a larger and a smaller size.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Ad Este fideles

Ferrara, not far from Venice, was and remains one of the main centers of Renaissance culture in Italy. Here Ludovico Ariosto and Torquato Tasso (link) wrote their masterpieces. Here a lot of palaces, monuments, museums, works of that time can still be admired. A gorgeous private collection of art is e.g. the Cavallini Sgarbi Collection, the name Sgarbi indicating the in/famous scholar and showman Vittorio, while Marchioness Cavallini was his mother. In the photos, clockwise:

- A scale model of Ferrara as was in the Renaissance. In the foreground, the fortress, no longer existing. Top right, the Este Castle.
- Inside the Castle.
- Father Girolamo Savonarola, who was born in Ferrara in 1452, but his rise and fall are connected with Florence.
- A cannon of the early 17th century.