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Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Gallery: Galileo Galilei

by Selkis

Giambattista Marino and Galileo Galilei were friends. As soon as the poet came back to Italy from France, in 1623, he was given an early copy of Il Saggiatore by the author himself.

Argus' fearless pilot dared already
break the sea with bold pine wood,     the ship's material
and satiated with gold his greed     like the Conquistadores
leading him to violate the waves.
The warrior from Liguria went beyond     Columbus (N.B. warrior)
the borders of Hercules the strong,
and by strange, secret ways did find
a new sky, new land, new empire.
But you, you greater than both,
spied on the remote, inaccessible
fields of the universe of stars;
and entering such recesses unknown,
in its deep bosom, could discover
new orbs, new lights, new motions. *

* Simply meaning new satellites, etc., or a different (heliocentric) pattern to cosmic motions?

Friday, September 28, 2018

That's where I saw it!

Above: my old parish church of Saint Peter, a former Benedictine abbey in my home town Savigliano, Italy. While the final look of the façade dates back to the 19th century, the doors belong to the Renaissance/Baroque epoch. But a more interesting thing is that the general structure clearly draws on Michelangelo's project for the Basilica of St. Lawrence in Florence, a façade that for many reasons was never executed (in the photo below, Michelangelo's 3D wood rendering).

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Sistina "secrets"

The general structure of Picasso's Guernica and its main elements (the bull looking at us, the desperate horse, the fire/light, the victims on the ground, the geometries) seem to originate from Michelangelo's Sacrifice of Noah in the Sistine Chapel. Not necessarily did Picasso do it on purpose; it is well known that his memory registered everything like a camera when he admired somebody else's art, and as he used to say, "If it is worth stealing, I steal."

At the same time, there is a hidden -- albeit gigantic -- woman among the Ignudi on the Sistine Ceiling. Her breasts are small, as they often were in Renaissance art, so, in the picture above, her body has been partially 'rebuilt' with Eve's from the Original Sin, in order to make her womanliness clearer.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Gallery: Bernardino Telesio

by Selkis

Praising Bernardino Telesio was just a step before praising Tommaso Campanella -- and two steps before praising Giordano Bruno. Giambattista Marino, who had dedicated a quite trivial poem to Aristotle, now shows the other, more interesting side of Renaissance science and philosophy, as well as of his own personality.

Against the unconquered leader
of the Peripatetic standard
you dared arm your mind, you
honor and light of Cosenza's people.
And even though against his army
you didn't gain the victory palm,
be content with what you did:
For the true glory and victory
of sublime, honorable enterprises
lies in having attempted them.

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Gallery: Heraclitus & Democritus

In the section "Philosophers" in his Galeria, Marino praises in a quite standard, un-original way Plato and Aristotle. Much more sincere is the poem on Heraclitus and Democritus. A quite long one; here are the first lines.

Raise your eyes to your eternal home,
bent-over souls, submerged in this abyss
called World, which is rather Hell.
Oh deadly blindness, twisted minds!
If you don't look at the sky light,
wrongly did the Sun open your eyes.
Ha, as a prisoner inside a net,
many deaths in one life uniting,
can ever-troubled Man find peace?
Wretched, he from the cradle
(shaken by the nurse's foot)
is shaken by Fortune too.
. . .

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Gallery: Actaeon

by Selkis

The myth of Actaeon proved unexpectedly successful during the post-classical, i.e. Christian era, too. He was reinterpreted as a symbol of Christ -- as all sorts of characters were, indeed, Hercules and Adonis included. Giordano Bruno worked out a very personal, fascinating philosophy about Actaeon's meaning in his book De gli eroici furori ("The Heroic Frenzies"). Here below is G. B. Marino's interpretation, who comments on a painting by Bartolomeo Schedoni (but Marino spelled his name Bartholomeo Schidoni). The dogs as a symbol of devouring sins will also appear in John Milton's Paradise Lost.

How many, oh how many Actaeons
more miserable than the one
expressed by your brush
can be discovered, Schidoni?
The hungry passions,
the biting instincts
of our human senses, what
else are they, than dogs
we ourselves feed, to
be then wounded by them?

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The evolution toward evolutionism

But, I cannot see for sure if there is any sense whose functioning Nature has provided with more 'machines' and more wonderful tools than the mouth . . .  Not to speak of the brain, from which many nerves originate in order to move, and turn, and rotate the tongue nimbly in every direction . . .
It is a passage from Giambattista Marino's Dicerie sacre (1614), oration 2, part 2. Even if he himself mentions Galen (first/second century AD) as his source in the footnotes, as a matter of fact it was simply usual in the Renaissance that they resorted to ancient books to justify their own worldview. A Medieval scholar might read Galen too, but would not have drawn the same consequences. In the 16th and 17th centuries the concept of Nature -- i.e. Nature itself, in a way -- was starting to change, to the extent that the first signs of evolutionism appeared. Here Marino highlights the tongue's role because he is dealing with music, but other authors, such as Giordano Bruno and Tommaso Campanella, indicate the hand/intelligence combination as the reason of man's dominant position on Earth. Marino and many of his contemporaries were fascinated by the "intermediate" forms of life, e.g. those existing on the sea shores, as well as genetic malformations. The study of actual wildlife behavior started to replace the allegories of Medieval Bestiaries. Bruno's doctrines of metempsychosis and the cosmic cycles, albeit of Neoplatonic origin, already suggested a process of animal and environmental evolution.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Clash of Heretics: Marino replies to Bruno

There are passages in Giambattista Marino's works that, more or less clearly, react to Giordano Bruno's ideas. The philosopher was burned at the stake in Rome in the year 1600; the poet's texts date back to his stay in Turin, 1608-14. In 1623, Marino too would be condemned by the Inquisition, though in a much milder way than Bruno.

For a starter, in the Dicerie sacre ("Sacred Orations," more precisely in oration 1, part 1) Marino has God himself say, to glorify his begotten Word as superior to the whole creation, repudiating Genesis 1.31 by doing so: "In all other [pictures of Myself] I was not well pleased, since indeed my infinite power could have created infinite worlds . . ."  Could, and did not; but could, and possibly would like to. There emerges the Renaissance and Baroque approach versus the classical authors and the Middle Ages, when perfection meant delimitation.

Above in the same text, he had faced up to Pythagoras' doctrine of metempsychosis/reincarnation, that was one of the pillars of Bruno's worldview. Marino does not attack this doctrine as such, just suggests a more 'acceptable' way to refer to it: "I am not speaking of the external [metempsychosis], that, as is well known, is false, legendary, and impossible . . .  but of the inner one. That occurs each time our soul, overpowered by vices, loses the use of the intellect; and made a slave of irrational drives, in a sense, it de-humanizes itself, and takes on an animal quality according to its different evil inclinations . . ."  Marino meanwhile planned to write a remake of Ovid's Metamorphoses, of which many episodes have survived in his long poem Adone.

But, probably the most interesting reply to Bruno can be found in the 1,400-line long poem Il Ritratto, the "Portrait of Duke Charles Emmanuel [Carlo Emanuello] of Savoy." In the final section, it is prophesied that the Duke, after his hopefully late death, will not only go to heaven, but replace a constellation. This was precisely the literary frame of Bruno's Spaccio de la bestia trionfante. Marino sings: "Let then Hercules and Perseus give / their seats to your fine image. / And like a new Orion, new Cepheus, / a frightening star to your enemies, / laurel-worthier than his pupil [Achilles], / be welcomed by your Centaur in heaven!" (stanza 233). The Centaur, Chiron, is here identified with Sagittarius, the Duke's rising sign. Well, things worked the other way round in the Spaccio. Bruno in fact exalted Hercules and Perseus as permanent heroes while ridiculing Orion and Chiron as symbols of the decadence of religion. Just a chance?

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Who painted the Holy Shroud? Jesus!

by Igor Mitoraj
You wanted to work, O Lord, in order not to remain idle — I dare say — even during that short time period [in the Sepulcher]. But what did you do, consistently with your Father's being at work [John 5.17]? God the Father portrays himself by begetting the Word; so did you, precisely alike, paint and leave your own portrait imprinted on this holy linen, with the only difference that the former image is all luminous and shining, while the latter is all gory and dark.

__G. B. Marino

from his Dicerie sacre, "Sacred Orations" published in Turin, Italy, in 1614; oration 1, part 1, end.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Dinner is served

Those — Yours Truly included  who regret that the Renaissance is over, can find reasons of comfort by admiring, in some world areas at least, the many remaining legacies that still exist. Not only, for example, 16th and 17th century works of art, and churches, and buildings. Much less so with some modern events that supposedly recreate Renaissance parades, pageants, games, etc. (they could do so, maybe, if they invested a hundred times as much money). The true bliss of the Renaissance lover consists in finding contemporary authors who still think and work as people did half a millennium ago.

And, one of the main examples was undoubtedly Salvador Dalí. His big-sized cooking book, manufactured in the early 1970s with the help of authoritative chefs, includes 136 original recipes; originally written in French, has recently been republished by Taschen in translation. It is a hymn to Who Cares about egalitarianism, envy, vegan crazes, and cholesterol. Is an unmethodical collection of Dali's paintings, both masterpieces and minor sketches, from the very early years to the present, while also showing gorgeous collages assembled for the occasion, all of this alternating with magnified details from Bosch's visions and quotes from Rabelais. Is a refined, delirious pâté of sacred imagery and profane drives, Renaissance splendor and Surrealist raspberries. The joy of life and the omen of death. Even joy while thinking of death. Because "the mandible is the best tool for philosophical knowledge we possess" (S. D.)

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Off Topic: "We see as through a glass darkly"

One of the most fascinating features of Renaissance writers is the very free way in which they reuse the Bible. Medieval authors might play with allegories, yes, but 16th-17th century authors loved to mix Christian Scripture and classical mythology, and their contemporary culture too, often with alienating results. Here is a 20th century example of that same approach, especially if we keep in mind the mentioned novel's subject:
. . .  Phil immediately began a new project, which became the novel A Scanner Darkly. That title is a Biblical reference. In the King James Version of the New Testament, Paul says, "We see as through a glass darkly", which means that we see dim reflections in a mirror. This is quite similar to Plato's idea that what we call reality is really shadows on the wall of a cave, and not the real objects that cast those shadows.

Tessa B. Dick's autobiographical book Blade Runner Creator Philip K. Dick is available via Amazon here. The book both examines the two Blade Runner movies in detail and reports many first-person memories (Tessa having been PKD's fifth and last wife) about the great writer. Memories that are not rarely sad. Life is not a movie.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Gallery: Narcissus

by Nivalis70

Most poems in G. B. Marino's Galeria end in a pointe (French), i.e. a line or very few lines that, while summing up the main contents, suddenly add an unexpected, intriguing development. The pointe of the poem below, based on a painting by Francesco Vanni, is among the best ones in the collection, imho.

O credulous boy,
who with a fake object in a Lethal spring     pun on "Lethal"
did sadly, tragically amuse yourself:
If in those quiet waves you
had seen yourself as beautiful —
or if, as I can see you so
lively in colors, you now saw yourself,
the extreme ardour would change you
into a flame, not flower;
and now, to admire your vain shadow,     shadow = reflection, too
you would take on human form again.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Gallery: Adonis

Starting from this post, we will be translating a selection from the collection of poems titled La Galeria del Cavalier Marino, distinta in pitture e sculture, that is, verse dedicated to a virtual gallery of paintings and sculptures, written by G. B. Marino, who in fact was an important art collector. Both actual and 'possible' works are praised, which portray mythological characters as well as historical personages. La Galeria, that puts together texts from a number of years, was published in 1620, when the expectation for Marino's long poem Adone was high throughout Europe. And with an eye to sales, the poet starts precisely there. The poem below is based on The Birth of Adonis by an Italian engraver, Giovanni Valesio. A reference to Renaissance paintings showing Virgin Mary with the Infant Jesus can be detected too.

Of the handsome Adonis being born,
hear the wails, Goddess of Cyprus; prepare     Venus
to the dear baby a cradle and bands of roses —
but tearful and sad,
to his woeful grave
already prearrange funeral honors.
. . .

Saturday, September 1, 2018

In praise of the Savoy Art Gallery

A poem by Giambattista Marino on Duke Carlo Emanuele's collections in the early 17th century, that would develop into the current, wonderful Galleria Sabauda (Savoy Art Gallery) in Turin, Italy.

A work surely worthy of you, my Lord,
to assemble in a closed place the fallen
relics of past centuries,
their memories lost;
to lift from the ground
old, scattered statues broken by time,
and upon high stands to give
back whole heads to truncated busts.
This halo, this alone *
your deeds and my lines lacked:
To be magnanimous to marble. **

* A different pun in Italian: Questo Sol ( = Sun), questo solo. . .
** Marble, in poetry, was a symbol of the hardness of heart.