« PreviousContinue »
glorious to Dante Alighieri, after suffer- country. I will return with hasty ing in exile almost fifteen years ? Is it steps, if you or any other can open to thus they would recompense innocence me a way that shall not derogate from which all the world knows, and the the fame and honor of Dante ; but if labor and fatigue of unremitting study? by no such way Florence can be enFar from the man who is familiar with tered, then Florence I shall never enter. philosophy be the senseless baseness of What! shall I not everywhere enjoy a heart of earth, that could act like a the light of the sun and stars and may little sciolist, and imitate the infamy of I not seek and contemplate, in every some others, by offering himself up as corner of the earth, under the canopy it were in chains: far from the man of heaven, consoling and delightful who cries aloud for justice, this com- truth, without first rendering myself promise by his money with his perse- inglorious, nay infamous, to the people cutors. No, my father, this is not the and republic of Florence ? Bread, I way that shall lead me back to my hope, will not fail me.
PORTRAITS OF DANTE.
By Charles E. Norton.
In his Life of Dante, Boccaccio, the earliest of the biographers of the poet, describes him in these words : “Our poet was of middle height, and after reaching mature years he went somewhat stooping; his gait was grave and sedate; always clothed in most becoming garments, his dress was suited to the ripeness of his years; his face was long, his nose aquiline, his eyes rather large than small, his jaw heavy, and his under lip prominent ; his complexion was dark, and his hair and beard thick, black, and crisp, and his countenance was always sad and thoughtful. .... His manners, whether in public or at home, were wonderfully composed and restrained, and in all his ways he was
more courteous and civil than any one else.”
Such was Dante as he appeared in his later years to those from whose recollections of him Boccaccio drew this description.
But Boccaccio, had he chosen so to do, might have drawn another portrait of Dante, not the author of the Divine Comedy, but the author of the New life. The likeness of the youthful Dante was familiar to those Florentines who had never looked on the living presence of their greatest citizen.
On the altar-wall of the chapel of the Palace of the Podestà (now the Bargello) Giotto had painted a grand religious composition, in which, after the fashion of the times, he exalted the began when they were young is certain, glory of Florence by the introduction and that it lasted till death divided them of some of her most famous citizens is a tradition which finds ready acceptinto the assembly of the blessed in ance. Paradise. “The head of Christ, full It was probably between 1290 and of dignity, appears above, and lower 1300, when Giotto was just rising to down, the escutcheon of Florence, sup- unrivalled fame, that this painting was ported by angels, with two rows of executed. There is no contemporary saints, male and female, attendant to record of it, the earliest known referthe right and left, in front of whom ence to it being that by Filippo Vilstand a company of the magnates of the lani, who died about 1404. Gianozzo city, headed by two crowned person- Manetti, who died in 1459, also menages, close to one of whom, to the tions it, and Vasari, in his Life of Giotto, right, stands Dante, a pomegranate in published in 1550, says, that Giotto his hand, and wearing the graceful fall- “became so good an imitator of nature, ing cap of the day."* The date when that he altogether discarded the stiff this picture was painted is uncertain, Greek manner, and revived the modern but Giotto represented his friend in it and good art of painting, introducing as a youth, such as he may have been exact drawing from nature of living in the first Aush of early fame, at the persons, which for more than two hunseason of the beginning of their mem- dred years had not been practised, or orable friendship.
if indeed any one had tried it, he had Of all the portraits of the revival of not succeeded very happily, nor anyArt, there is none comparable in in- thing like so well as Giotto. And he terest to this likeness of the supreme portrayed among other persons, as may poet by the supreme artist of mediæval even now be seen, in the chapel of the Europe. It was due to no accident of Palace of the Podestà in Florence, fortune that these men were contem Dante Alighieri, his contemporary and poraries, and of the same country; but greatest friend, who was not less fait was a fortunate and delightful in mous a poet than Giotto was painter cident, that they were so brought to- in those days. . . . . In the same chapel gether by sympathy of genius and by is the portrait by the same hand of Ser favoring circumstance as to become Brunetto Latini, the master of Dante, friends, to love and honor each other and of Messer Corso Donati, a great in life, and to celebrate each other citizen of those times.” through all time in their respective One might have supposed that such works. The story of their friendship a picture as this would have been is known only in its outline, but that it among the most carefully protected and
* Lord Lindsay's History of Christian Art, jealously prized treasures of Florence. Vol. II. p. 174.
But such was not the case. The shameful neglect of many of the best of such historic and artistic interest, and most interesting works of the ear- would again be sought for, and at lier period of Art, which accompanied length recovered. Stimulated by these and was one of the symptoms of the words, three gentlemen, one an Amerimoral and political decline of Italy can, Mr. Richard Henry Wilde, one during the sixteenth and seventeenth an Englishman, Mr. Seymour Kirkup, centuries, extended to this as to other and one an Italian, Signor G. Aubrey of the noblest paintings of Giotto. Bezzi, all scholars devoted to the study Florence, in losing consciousness of of Dante, undertook new researches, present worth, lost care for the me- in 1840, and, after many hinderances morials of her past honor, dignity, and on the part of the government, which distinction. The Palace of the Po- were at length successfully overcome, destà, no longer needed for the dwells the work of removing the crust of ing of the chief magistrate of a free plaster from the walls of the ancient city, was turned into a jail for common chapel was intrusted to the Florentine criminals, and what had once been its painter, Marini. This new and wellbeautiful and sacred chapel was occu- directed search did not fail. After pied as a larder or store-room. The some months' labor the fresco was walls, adorned with paintings more found, almost uninjured, under the precious than gold, were covered with whitewash that had protected while whitewash, and the fresco of Giotto concealing it, and at length the likeness was swept over by the brush of the of Dante was uncovered. plasterer. It was not only thus hidden . “But,” says Mr. Kirkup, in a letter from the sight of those unworthy in- published in the Spectator (London), deed to behold it, but it almost dis- May 11, 1850, “the eye of the beautiappeared from memory also; and from ful profile was wanting. There was a the time of Vasari down to that of hole an inch deep, or an inch and a Moreni, a Florentine antiquary, in the half. Marini said it was a nail. It early part of the present century, hardly did seem precisely the damage of a nail a mention of it occurs. In a note drawn out. Afterwards ..... Marini found among his papers, Moreni la filled the hole, and made a new eye, ments that he had spent two years of too little and ill designed, and then he his life in unavailing efforts to recover retouched the whole face and clothes, the portrait of Dante, and the other to the great damage of the expression portions of the fresco of Giotto in the and character. The likeness of the Bargello, mentioned by Vasari ; that face, and the three colors in which others before him had made a like Dante was dressed, the same with effort, and had failed in like manner; those of Beatrice, those of young Italy, and that he hoped that better times white, green, and red, stand no more ; would come, in which this painting, the green is turned to chocolate-color ; moreover, the form of the cap is lost te's death. In his Life of Andrea de and confounded.
Verrocchio, Vasari says that this art “I desired to make a drawing. .... began to come into use in his time, It was denied to me. . . . . But I ob- that is, about the middle of the fifteenth tained the means to be shut up in the century; and Bottari refers to the likeprison for a morning; and not only ness of Brunelleschi, who died in 1446, did I make a drawing, but a tracing which was taken in this manner, and also, and with the two I then made a was preserved in the office of the Works fac-simile sufficiently careful. Luckily of the Cathedral at Florence. It is not it was before the rifacimento.”
impossible that so simple an art may This fac-simile afterwards passed into have been sometimes practised at an the hands of Lord Vernon, well known earlier period ; and if so, there is no for his interest in all Dantesque studies, inherent improbability in the supposiand by his permission it had been admi- tion that Guido Novello, the friend rably reproduced in chromo-lithogra- and protector of Dante at Ravenna, phy under the auspices of the Arundel may, at the time of the poet's death, Society. The reproduction is entirely have had a mask taken to serve as a satisfactory as a presentation of the au- model for the head of a statue intended thentic portrait of the youthful Dante, to form part of the monument which in the state in which it was when Mr. he proposed to erect in honor of Dante. Kirkup was so fortunate as to gain ad. And it may further be supposed, that, mission to it. ....
this design failing, owing to the fall of This portrait by Giotto is the only Guido from power before its accomlikeness of Dante known to have been plishment, the mask may have been made of the poet during his life, and is preserved at Ravenna, till we first of inestimable value on this account. catch a trace of it nearly three centuBut there exists also a mask, concern- ries later. ing which there is a tradition that it There is in the Magliabecchiana Liwas taken from the face of the dead brary at Florence an autograph manupoet, and which, if its genuineness script by Giovanni Cinelli, a Florentine could be established, would not be of antiquary who died in 1706, entitled inferior interest to the early portrait. La Toscana letterata, ovvero Istoria degli But there is no trustworthy historic Scrittori Fiorentini, which contains a testimony concerning it, and its author- life of Dante. In the course of the ity as a likeness depends upon the evi- biography Cinelli states that the Archdence of truth which its own character bishop of Ravenna caused the head affords. On the very threshold of the of the poet which had adorned his inquiry concerning it, we are met with sepulchre to be taken therefrom, and the doubt whether the art of taking that it came into the possession of the casts was practised at the time of Dan- famous sculptor, Gian Bologna, who
left it at his death, in 1606, to his fords, however, the only really satispupil Pietro Tacca. “One day Tacca factory ground for confidence in the showed it, with other curiosities, to truth of the tradition concerning it. It the Duchess Sforza, who, having wrap- was plainly taken as a cast from a face ped it in a scarf of green cloth, carried after death. It has none of the characit away, and God knows into whose teristics which a fictitious and imagihands the precious object has fallen, or native representation of the sort would where it is to be found. . . . . On ac- be likely to present. It bears no trace count of its singular beauty, it had often of being a work of skilful and decepbeen drawn by the scholars of Tacca.” tive art. The difference in the fall of It has been supposed that this head the two half-closed eyelids, the differwas the original mask from which the ence between the sides of the face, the casts now existing are derived. Mr. slight deflection in the line of the nose, Seymour Kirkup, in a note on this pas- the droop of the corners of the mouth, sage from Cinelli, says that “ there are and other delicate, but none the less three masks of Dante at Florence, all convincing indications, combine to of which have been judged by the show that it was in all probability first Roman and Florentine sculptors taken directly from nature. The counto have been taken from life, [that is, tenance, moreover, and expression, are from the face after death,] - the slight worthy of Dante; no ideal forms could differences noticeable between them so answer to the face of him who had being such as might occur in casts led a life apart from the world in which made from the original mask.” One he dwelt, and had been conducted by of these casts was given to Mr. Kirkup love and faith along hard, painful, and by the sculptor Bartolini, another be- solitary ways, to behold longed to the late sculptor Professor “L'alto trionfo del regno verace.” Ricci, and the third is in the possession The mask conforms entirely to the of the Marchese Torrigiani. .... description by Boccaccio of the poet's
In the absence of historical evidence countenance, save that it is beardless, in regard to this mask, some support is and this difference is to be accounted given to the belief in its genuineness for by the fact that to obtain the cast by the fact that it appears to be the the beard must have been removed. type of the greater number of the por- The face is one of the most pathetic traits of Dante executed from the four- upon which human eyes ever looked, teenth to the sixteenth century, and for it exhibits in its expression the was adopted by Raffaelle as the original conflict between the strong nature of from which he drew the likeness which the man and the hard dealings of forhas done most to make the features of tune, – between the idea of his life the poet familiar to the world.
and its practical experience. Strength The character of the mask itself af- is the most striking attribute of the