The Renaissance

April 19, 2012 :: Posted by - admin :: Category - Filmbutiken

Author: Walter Pater


Critics of Michelangelo have sometimes spoken as if the only characteristic of his genius were a wonderful strength, verging, as in the things of the imagination great strength always does, on what is singular or strange. A certain strangeness, something of the blossoming of the aloe, is indeed an element in all true works of art; that they shall excite or surprise us is indispensable. But that they shall give pleasure and exert a charm over us is indispensable too; and this strangeness must be sweet also—a lovely strangeness. And to the true admirers of Michelangelo this is the true type of the Michelangelesque—sweetness and strength, pleasure with surprise, an energy of conception which seems at every moment about to break through all the conditions of comely form, recovering, touch by touch, a loveliness found usually only in the simplest natural things—ex forti dulcedo.

In this way he sums up for them the whole character of medieval art itself in that which distinguishes it most clearly from classical work, the presence of a convulsive energy in it, becoming in lower hands merely monstrous or forbidding, but felt, even in its most graceful products, as a subdued quaintness or grotesque. Yet those who feel this grace or sweetness in Michelangelo might at the first moment be puzzled if they were asked wherein precisely the quality resided. Men of inventive temperament—Victor Hugo, for instance, in whom, as in Michelangelo, people have for the most part been attracted or repelled by the strength, while few have understood his sweetness—have sometimes relieved conceptions of merely moral or spiritual greatness, but with little aesthetic charm of their own, by lovely accidents or accessories, like the butterfly which alights on the blood-stained barricade in Les Miserables, or those sea-birds for which the monstrous Gilliatt comes to be as some wild natural thing, so that they are no longer afraid of him, in Les Travailleurs de la Mer. But the austere genius of Michelangelo will not depend for its sweetness on any mere accessories like these. The world of natural things has almost no existence for him; “When one speaks of him,” says Grimm, “woods, clouds, seas, and mountains disappear, and only what is formed by the spirit of man remains behind”; and he quotes a few slight words from a letter of his to Vasari as the single expression in all he has left of a feeling for nature. He has traced no flowers, like those with which Leonardo stars over his gloomiest rocks; nothing like the fretwork of wings and flames in which Blake frames his most startling conceptions; no forest-scenery like Titian’s fills his backgrounds, but only blank ranges of rock, and dim vegetable forms as blank as they, as in a world before the creation of the first five days.

Of the whole story of the creation he has painted only the creation of the first man and woman, and, for him at least, feebly, the creation of light. It belongs to the quality of his genius thus to concern itself almost exclusively with the creation of man. For him it is not, as in the story itself, the last and crowning act of a series of developments, but the first and unique act, the creation of life itself in its supreme form, off-hand and immediately, in the cold and lifeless stone. With him the beginning of life has all the characteristics of resurrection; it is like the recovery of suspended health or animation, with its gratitude, its effusion, and eloquence. Fair as the young men of the Elgin marbles, the Adam of the Sistine Chapel is unlike them in a total absence of that balance and completeness which express so well the sentiment of a self-contained, independent life. In that languid figure there is something rude and satyr-like, something akin to the rugged hillside on which it lies. His whole form is gathered into an expression of mere expectation and reception; he has hardly strength enough to lift his finger to touch the finger of the creator; yet a touch of the finger-tips will suffice.

This creation of life—life coming always as relief or recovery, and always in strong contrast with the rough-hewn mass in which it is kindled—is in various ways the motive of all his work, whether its immediate subject be Pagan or Christian, legend or allegory; and this, although at least one-half of his work was designed for the adornment of tombs—the tomb of Julius, the tombs of the Medici. Not the Judgment but the Resurrection is the real subject of his last work in the Sistine Chapel; and his favourite Pagan subject is the legend of Leda, the delight of the world breaking from the egg of a bird. As I have already pointed out, he secures that ideality of expression which in Greek sculpture depends on a delicate system of abstraction, and in early Italian sculpture on lowness of relief, by an incompleteness, which is surely not always undesigned, and which I suppose no one regrets, and trusts to the spectator to complete the half-emergent form. And as his persons have something of the unwrought stone about them, so, as if to realise the expression by which the old Florentine records describe a sculptor—master of live stone—with him the very rocks seem to have life; they have but to cast away the dust and scurf that they may rise and stand on their feet. He loved the very quarries of Carrara, those strange grey peaks which even at mid-day convey into any scene from which they are visible something of the solemnity and stillness of evening, sometimes wandering among them month after month, till at last their pale ashen colours seem to have passed into his painting; and on the crown of the head of the David there still remains a morsel of uncut stone, as if by one touch to maintain its connexion with the place from which it was hewn.

And it is in this penetrative suggestion of life that the secret of that sweetness of his is to be found. He gives us indeed no lovely natural objects like Leonardo or Titian, but only the coldest, most elementary shadowing of rock or tree; no lovely draperies and comely gestures of life, but only the austere truths of human nature; “simple persons”—as he replied in his rough way to the querulous criticism of Julius the Second, that there was no gold on the figures of the Sistine Chapel—”simple persons, who wore no gold on their garments”; but he penetrates us with a sense of that power which we associate with all the warmth and fulness of the world, and the sense of which brings into one’s thoughts a swarm of birds and flowers and insects. The brooding spirit of life itself is there; and the summer may burst out in a moment.

He was born in an interval of a rapid midnight journey in March, at a place in the neighbourhood of Arezzo, the thin, clear air of which, as was then thought, being favourable to the birth of children of great parts. He came of a race of grave and dignified men, who, claiming kinship with the family of Canossa, and some colour of imperial blood in their veins, had, generation after generation, received honourable employment under the government of Florence. His mother, a girl of nineteen years, put him out to nurse at a country house among the hills of Settignano, where every other inhabitant is a worker in the marble quarries, and the child early became familiar with that strange first stage in the sculptor’s art. To this succeeded the influence of the sweetest and most placid master Florence had yet seen, Domenico Ghirlandajo. At fifteen he was at work among the curiosities of the garden of the Medici, copying and restoring antiques, winning the condescending notice of the great Lorenzo. He knew too how to excite strong hatreds; and it was at this time that in a quarrel with a fellow-student he received a blow on the face which deprived him for ever of the comeliness of outward form. It was through an accident that he came to study those works of the early Italian sculptors which suggested much of his own grandest work, and impressed it with so deep a sweetness. He believed in dreams and omens. One of his friends dreamed twice that Lorenzo, then lately dead, appeared to him in grey and dusty apparel. To Michelangelo this dream seemed to portend the troubles which afterwards really came, and with the suddenness which was characteristic of all his movements, he left Florence. Having occasion to pass through Bologna, he neglected to procure the little seal of red wax which the stranger entering Bologna must carry on the thumb of his right hand. He had no money to pay the fine, and would have been thrown into prison had not one of the magistrates interposed. He remained in this man’s house a whole year, rewarding his hospitality by readings from the Italian poets whom he loved. Bologna, with its endless colonnades and fantastic leaning towers, can never have been one of the lovelier cities of Italy. But about the portals of its vast unfinished churches and its dark shrines, half hidden by votive flowers and candles, lie some of the sweetest works of the early Tuscan sculptors, Giovanni da Pisa and Jacopo della Quercia, things as winsome as flowers; and the year which Michelangelo spent in copying these works was not a lost year. It was now, on returning to Florence, that he put forth that unique presentment of Bacchus, which expresses, not the mirthfulness of the god of wine, but his sleepy seriousness, his enthusiasm, his capacity for profound dreaming. No one ever expressed more truly than Michelangelo the notion of inspired sleep, of faces charged with dreams. A vast fragment of marble had long lain below the Loggia of Orcagna, and many a sculptor had had his thoughts of a design which should just fill this famous block of stone, cutting the diamond, as it were, without loss. Under Michelangelo’s hand it became the David which stood till lately on the steps of the Palazzo Vecchio, when it was replaced below the Loggia. Michelangelo was now thirty years old, and his reputation was established. Three great works fill the remainder of his life—three works often interrupted, carried on through a thousand hesitations, a thousand disappointments, quarrels with his patrons, quarrels with his family, quarrels perhaps most of all with himself—the Sistine Chapel, the Mausoleum of Julius the Second, and the Sacristy of San Lorenzo.

In the story of Michelangelo’s life the strength, often turning to bitterness, is not far to seek; a discordant note sounds throughout it which almost spoils the music. He “treats the Pope as the King of France himself would not dare to treat him”; he goes along the streets of Rome “like an executioner,” Raffaelle says of him. Once he seems to have shut himself up with the intention of starving himself to death. As we come in reading his life on its harsh, untempered incidents, the thought again and again arises that he is one of those who incur the judgment of Dante, as having “wilfully lived in sadness.” Even his tenderness and pity are embittered by their strength. What passionate weeping in that mysterious figure which, in the Creation of Adam, crouches below the image of the Almighty, as he comes with the forms of things to be, woman and her progeny, in the fold of his garment! What a sense of wrong in those two captive youths, who feel the chains like scalding water on their proud and delicate flesh! The idealist who became a reformer with Savonarola, and a republican superintending the fortification of Florence—the nest where he was born, il nido ove naqqu’io, as he calls it once, in a sudden throb of affection—in its last struggle for liberty, yet believed always that he had imperial blood in his veins and was of the kindred of the great Matilda, had within the depths of his nature some secret spring of indignation or sorrow. We know little of his youth, but all tends to make one believe in the vehemence of its passions. Beneath the Platonic calm of the sonnets there is latent a deep delight in carnal form and colour. There, and still more in the madrigals, he often falls into the language of less tranquil affections; while some of them have the colour of penitence, as from a wanderer returning home. He who spoke so decisively of the supremacy in the imaginative world of the unveiled human form had not been always, we may think, a mere Platonic lover. Vague and wayward his loves may have been; but they partook of the strength of his nature, and sometimes, it may be, would by no means become music, so that the comely order of his days was quite put out: par che amaro ogni mio dolce io senta.

But his genius is in harmony with itself; and just as in the products of his art we find resources of sweetness within their exceeding strength, so in his own story also, bitter as the ordinary sense of it may be, there are select pages shut in among the rest—pages one might easily turn over too lightly, but which yet sweeten the whole volume. The interest of Michelangelo’s poems is that they make us spectators of this struggle; the struggle of a strong nature to adorn and attune itself; the struggle of a desolating passion, which yearns to be resigned and sweet and pensive, as Dante’s was. It is a consequence of the occasional and informal character of his poetry, that it brings us nearer to himself, his own mind and temper, than any work done only to support a literary reputation could possibly do. His letters tell us little that is worth knowing about him—a few poor quarrels about money and commissions. But it is quite otherwise with these songs and sonnets, written down at odd moments, sometimes on the margins of his sketches, themselves often unfinished sketches, arresting some salient feeling or unpremeditated idea as it passed. And it happens that a true study of these has become within the last few years for the first time possible. A few of the sonnets circulated widely in manuscript, and became almost within Michelangelo’s own lifetime a subject of academical discourses. But they were first collected in a volume in 1623 by the great-nephew of Michelangelo, Michelangelo Buonarroti the younger. He omitted much, re-wrote the sonnets in part, and sometimes compressed two or more compositions into one, always losing something of the force and incisiveness of the original. So the book remained, neglected even by Italians themselves in the last century, through the influence of that French taste which despised all compositions of the kind, as it despised and neglected Dante. “His reputation will ever be on the increase, because he is so little read,” says Voltaire of Dante.—But in 1858 the last of the Buonarroti bequeathed to the municipality of Florence the curiosities of his family. Among them was a precious volume containing the autograph of the sonnets. A learned Italian, Signor Cesare Guasti, undertook to collate this autograph with other manuscripts at the Vatican and elsewhere, and in 1863 published a true version of Michelangelo’s poems, with dissertations and a paraphrase.*

*The sonnets have been translated into English, with much poetic taste and skill, by Mr. J. A. Symonds.

People have often spoken of these poems as if they were a mere cry of distress, a lover’s complaint over the obduracy of Vittoria Colonna. But those who speak thus forget that though it is quite possible that Michelangelo had seen Vittoria, that somewhat shadowy figure, as early as 1537, yet their closer intimacy did not begin till about the year 1542, when Michelangelo was nearly seventy years old. Vittoria herself, an ardent neo-catholic, vowed to perpetual widowhood since the news had reached her, seventeen years before, that her husband, the youthful and princely Marquess of Pescara, lay dead of the wounds he had received in the battle of Pavia, was then no longer an object of great passion. In a dialogue written by the painter, Francesco d’Ollanda, we catch a glimpse of them together in an empty church at Rome, one Sunday afternoon, discussing indeed the characteristics of various schools of art, but still more the writings of Saint Paul, already following the ways and tasting the sunless pleasures of weary people, whose hold on outward things is slackening. In a letter still extant he regrets that when he visited her after death he had kissed her hands only. He made, or set to work to make, a crucifix for her use, and two drawings, perhaps in preparation for it, are now in Oxford. From allusions in the sonnets, we may divine that when they first approached each other he had debated much with himself whether this last passion would be the most unsoftening, the most desolating of all—un dolce amaro, un si e no mi muovi; is it carnal affection, or, del suo prestino stato (Plato’s ante-natal state) il raggio ardente? The older, conventional criticism, dealing with the text of 1623, had lightly assumed that all or nearly all the sonnets were actually addressed to Vittoria herself; but Signor Guasti finds only four, or at most five, which can be so attributed on genuine authority. Still, there are reasons which make him assign the majority of them to the period between 1542 and 1547, and we may regard the volume as a record of this resting-place in Michelangelo’s story. We know how Goethe escaped from the stress of sentiments too strong for him by making a book about them; and for Michelangelo, to write down his passionate thoughts at all, to make sonnets about them, was already in some measure to command, and have his way with them—

La vita del mia amor non e il cor mio,
Ch’amor, di quel ch’io t’amo, e senza core.
It was just because Vittoria raised no great passion that the space in his life where she reigns has such peculiar suavity; and the spirit of the sonnets is lost if we once take them out of that dreamy atmosphere in which men have things as they will, because the hold of all outward things upon them is faint and thin. Their prevailing tone is a calm and meditative sweetness. The cry of distress is indeed there, but as a mere residue, a trace of bracing chalybeate salt, just discernible in the song which rises as a clear, sweet spring from a charmed space in his life.

This charmed and temperate space in Michelangelo’s life, without which its excessive strength would have been so imperfect, which saves him from the judgment of Dante on those who “wilfully lived in sadness,” is then a well-defined period there, reaching from the year 1542 to the year 1547, the year of Vittoria’s death. In it the lifelong effort to tranquillise his vehement emotions by withdrawing them into the region of ideal sentiment, becomes successful; and the significance of Vittoria there is, that she realises for him a type of affection which even in disappointment may charm and sweeten his spirit. In this effort to tranquillise and sweeten life by idealising its vehement sentiments, there were two great traditional types, either of which an Italian of the sixteenth century might have followed. There was Dante, whose little book of the Vita Nuova had early become a pattern of imaginative love, maintained somewhat feebly by the later followers of Petrarch; and since Plato had become something more than a name in Italy by the publication of the Latin translation of his works by Marsilio Ficino, there was the Platonic tradition also. Dante’s belief in the resurrection of the body, through which, even in heaven, Beatrice loses for him no tinge of flesh-colour, or fold of raiment even—and the Platonic dream of the passage of the soul through one form of life after another, with its passionate haste to escape from the burden of bodily form altogether—are, for all effects of art or poetry, principles diametrically opposite; and it is the Platonic tradition rather than Dante’s that has moulded Michelangelo’s verse. In many ways no sentiment could have been less like Dante’s love for Beatrice than Michelangelo’s for Vittoria Colonna. Dante’s comes in early youth: Beatrice is a child, with the wistful, ambiguous vision of a child, with a character still unaccentuated by the influence of outward circumstances, almost expressionless. Vittoria is a woman already weary, in advanced age, of grave intellectual qualities. Dante’s story is a piece of figured wood, inlaid with lovely incidents. In Michelangelo’s poems, frost and fire are almost the only images—the refining fire of the goldsmith; once or twice the phoenix; ice melting at the fire; fire struck from the rock which it afterwards consumes. Except one doubtful allusion to a journey, there are almost no incidents. But there is much of the bright, sharp, unerring skill, with which in boyhood he gave the look of age to the head of a faun by chipping a tooth from its jaw with a single stroke of the hammer. For Dante, the amiable and devout materialism of the middle age sanctifies all that is presented by hand and eye. Michelangelo is always pressing forward from the outward beauty—il bel del fuor che agli occhi piace—to apprehend the unseen beauty; trascenda nella forma universale—that abstract form of beauty, about which the Platonists reason. And this gives the impression in him of something flitting and unfixed, of the houseless and complaining spirit, almost clairvoyant through the frail and yielding flesh. He accounts for love at first sight by a previous state of existence—la dove io t’amai prima.

And yet there are many points in which he is really like Dante, and comes very near to the original image, beyond those later and feebler followers of Petrarch. He learns from Dante rather than from Plato, that for lovers, the surfeiting of desire—ove gran desir gran copia affrena, is a state less happy than misery full of hope—una miseria di speranza piena. He recalls him in the repetition of the words gentile and cortesia, in the personification of Amor, in the tendency to dwell minutely on the physical effects of the presence of a beloved object on the pulses and the heart. Above all, he resembles Dante in the warmth and intensity of his political utterances, for the lady of one of his noblest sonnets was from the first understood to be the city of Florence; and he avers that all must be asleep in heaven, if she, who was created “of angelic form,” for a thousand lovers, is appropriated by one alone, some Piero, or Alessandro de’ Medici. Once and again he introduces Love and Death, who dispute concerning him; for, like Dante and all the nobler souls of Italy, he is much occupied with thoughts of the grave, and his true mistress is death; death at first as the worst of all sorrows and disgraces, with a clod of the field for its brain; afterwards, death in its high distinction, its detachment from vulgar needs, the angry stains of life and action escaping fast.

Some of those whom the gods love die young. This man, because the gods loved him, lingered on to be of immense, patriarchal age, till the sweetness it had taken so long to secrete in him was found at last. Out of the strong came forth sweetness, ex forti dulcedo. The world had changed around him. The New-catholicism had taken the place of the Renaissance. The spirit of the Roman Church had changed: in the vast world’s cathedral which his skill had helped to raise for it, it looked stronger than ever. Some of the first members of the Oratory were among his intimate associates. They were of a spirit as unlike as possible from that of Lorenzo, or Savonarola even. The opposition of the Reformation to art has been often enlarged upon; far greater was that of the Catholic revival. But in thus fixing itself in a frozen orthodoxy, the Roman Catholic Church has passed beyond him, and he was a stranger to it. In earlier days, when its beliefs had been in a fluid state, he too might have been drawn into the controversy; he might have been for spiritualising the papal sovereignty, like Savonarola; or for adjusting the dreams of Plato and Homer with the words of Christ, like Pico of Mirandola. But things had moved onward, and such adjustments were no longer possible. For himself, he had long since fallen back on that divine ideal, which above the wear and tear of creeds has been forming itself for ages as the possession of nobler souls. And now he began to feel the soothing influence which since that time the Roman Church has often exerted over spirits too independent to be its subjects, yet brought within the neighbourhood of its action; consoled and tranquillised, as a traveller might be, resting for one evening in a strange city, by its stately aspect, and the sentiment of its many fortunes, just because with those fortunes he has nothing to do. So he lingers on; a revenant, as the French say, a ghost out of another age, in a world too coarse to touch his faint sensibilities too closely; dreaming, in a worn-out society, theatrical in its life, theatrical in its art, theatrical even in its devotion, on the morning of the world’s history, on the primitive form of man, on the images under which that primitive world had conceived of spiritual forces.

I have dwelt on the thought of Michelangelo as thus lingering beyond his time in a world not his own, because, if one is to distinguish the peculiar savour of his work, he must be approached, not through his followers, but through his predecessors; not through the marbles of Saint Peter’s, but through the work of the sculptors of the fifteenth century over the tombs and altars of Tuscany. He is the last of the Florentines, of those on whom the peculiar sentiment of the Florence of Dante and Giotto descended: he is the consummate representative of the form that sentiment took in the fifteenth century with men like Luca Signorelli and Mino da Fiesole. Up to him the tradition of sentiment is unbroken, the progress towards surer and more mature methods of expressing that sentiment continuous. But his professed disciples did not share this temper; they are in love with his strength only, and seem not to feel his grave and temperate sweetness. Theatricality is their chief characteristic; and that is a quality as little attributable to Michelangelo as to Mino or Luca Signorelli. With him, as with them, all Is serious, passionate, impulsive.

This discipleship of Michelangelo, this dependence of his on the tradition of the Florentine schools, is nowhere seen more clearly than in his treatment of the Creation. The Creation of Man had haunted the mind of the middle age like a dream; and weaving it into a hundred carved ornaments of capital or doorway, the Italian sculptors had early impressed upon it that pregnancy of expression which seems to give it many veiled meanings. As with other artistic conceptions of the middle age, its treatment became almost conventional, handed on from artist to artist, with slight changes, till it came to have almost an independent, abstract existence of its own. It was characteristic of the medieval mind thus to give an independent traditional existence to a special pictorial conception, or to a legend, like that of Tristram or Tannhaeuser, or even to the very thoughts and substance of a book, like the Imitation, so that no single workman could claim it as his own, and the book, the image, the legend, had itself a legend, and its fortunes, and a personal history; and it is a sign of the medievalism of Michelangelo, that he thus receives from tradition his central conception, and does but add the last touches, in transferring it to the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel.

But there was another tradition of those earlier more serious Florentines, of which Michelangelo is the inheritor, to which he gives the final expression, and which centres in the sacristy of San Lorenzo, as the tradition of the Creation centres in the Sistine Chapel. It has been said that all the great Florentines were preoccupied with death. Outre-tombe! Outre-tombe!—is the burden of their thoughts, from Dante to Savonarola. Even the gay and licentious Boccaccio gives a keener edge to his stories by putting them in the mouths of a party of people who had taken refuge from the danger of death by plague, in a country-house. It was to this inherited sentiment, this practical decision that to be pre-occupied with the thought of death was in itself dignifying, and a note of high quality, that the seriousness of the great Florentines of the fifteenth century was partly due; and it was reinforced in them by the actual sorrows of their times. How often, and in what various ways, had they seen life stricken down, in their streets and houses! La bella Simonetta dies in early youth, and is borne to the grave with uncovered face. The young Cardinal Jacopo di Portogallo dies on a visit to Florence—insignis forma fui et mirabili modestia—his epitaph dares to say. Antonio Rossellino carves his tomb in the church of San Miniato, with care for the shapely hands and feet, and sacred attire; Luca della Robbia puts his skyeyest works there; and the tomb of the youthful and princely prelate became the strangest and most beautiful thing in that strange and beautiful place. After the execution of the Pazzi conspirators, Botticelli is employed to paint their portraits. This preoccupation with serious thoughts and sad images might easily have resulted, as it did, for instance, in the gloomy villages of the Rhine, or in the overcrowded parts of medieval Paris, as it still does in many a village of the Alps, in something merely morbid or grotesque, in the Danse Macabre of many French and German painters, or the grim inventions of Duerer. From such a result the Florentine masters of the fifteenth century were saved by their high Italian dignity and culture, and still more by their tender pity for the thing itself. They must often have leaned over the lifeless body, when all was at length quiet and smoothed out. After death, it is said, the traces of slighter and more superficial dispositions disappear; the lines become more simple and dignified; only the abstract lines remain, in a great indifference. They came thus to see death in its distinction; and following it perhaps one stage further, dwelling for a moment on the point where all that transitory dignity must break up, and discerning with no clearness a new body, they paused just in time, and abstained, with a sentiment of profound pity.

Of all this sentiment Michelangelo is the achievement; and first of all, of pity. Pieta—pity—the pity of the Virgin Mother over the dead body of Christ, expanded into the pity of all mothers over all dead sons, the entombment, with its cruel “hard stones”—that is the subject of his predilection. He has left it in many forms, sketches, half-finished designs, finished and unfinished groups of sculpture; but always as a hopeless, rayless, almost heathen sorrow—no divine sorrow, but mere pity and awe at the stiff limbs and colourless lips. There is a drawing of his at Oxford, in which the dead body has sunk to the earth between the mother’s feet, with the arms extended over her knees. The tombs in the sacristy of San Lorenzo are memorials, not of any of the nobler and greater Medici, but of Giuliano, and Lorenzo the younger, noticeable chiefly for their somewhat early death. It is mere human nature therefore which has prompted the sentiment here. The titles assigned traditionally to the four symbolical figures, Night and Day, The Twilight and The Dawn, are far too definite for them; for these figures come much nearer to the mind and spirit of their author, and are a more direct expression of his thoughts, than any merely symbolical conceptions could possibly have been. They concentrate and express, less by way of definite conceptions than by the touches, the promptings of a piece of music, all those vague fancies, misgivings, presentiments, which shift and mix and define themselves and fade again, whenever the thoughts try to fix themselves with sincerity on the conditions and surroundings of the disembodied spirit. I suppose no one would come to the sacristy of San Lorenzo for consolation; for seriousness, for solemnity, for dignity of impression, perhaps, but not for consolation. It is a place neither of terrible nor consoling thoughts, but of vague and wistful speculation. Here, again, Michelangelo is the disciple not so much of Dante as of the Platonists. Dante’s belief in immortality is formal, precise, and firm, as much so almost as that of a child, who thinks the dead will hear if you cry loud enough. But in Michelangelo you have maturity, the mind of the grown man, dealing cautiously and dispassionately with serious things; and what hope he has is based on the consciousness of ignorance—ignorance of man, ignorance of the nature of the mind, its origin and capacities. Michelangelo is so ignorant of the spiritual world, of the new body and its laws, that he does not surely know whether the consecrated Host may not be the body of Christ. And of all that range of sentiment he is the poet, a poet still alive, and in possession of our inmost thoughts—dumb inquiry over the relapse after death into the formlessness which preceded life, the change, the revolt from that change, then the correcting, hallowing, consoling rush of pity; at last, far off, thin and vague, yet not more vague than the most definite thoughts men have had through three centuries on a matter that has been so near their hearts, the new body—a passing light, a mere intangible, external effect, over those too rigid, or too formless faces; a dream that lingers a moment, retreating in the dawn, incomplete, aimless, helpless; a thing with faint hearing, faint memory, faint power of touch; a breath, a flame in the doorway, a feather in the wind.

The qualities of the great masters in art or literature, the combination of those qualities, the laws by which they moderate, support, relieve each other, are not peculiar to them; but most often typical standards, or revealing instances, of the laws by which certain aesthetic effects are produced. The old masters indeed are simpler; their characteristics are written larger, and are easier to read, than their analogues in all the mixed, confused productions of the modern mind. But when once we have succeeded in defining for ourselves those characteristics, and the law of their combination, we have acquired a standard or measure which helps us to put in its right place many a vagrant genius, many an unclassified talent, many precious though imperfect products of art. It is so with the components of the true character of Michelangelo. That strange interfusion of sweetness and strength is not to be found in those who claimed to be his followers; but it is found in many of those who worked before him, and in many others down to our own time, in William Blake, for instance, and Victor Hugo, who, though not of his school, and unaware, are his true sons, and help us to understand him, as he in turn interprets and justifies them. Perhaps this is the chief use in studying old masters.

The Renaissance

April 18, 2012 :: Posted by - admin :: Category - Filmbutiken

Author: Jacob Burckhardt


The Italian sculptors of the earlier half of the fifteenth century are more than mere forerunners of the great masters of its close, and often reach perfection, within the narrow limits which they chose to impose on their work. Their sculpture shares with the paintings of Botticelli and the churches of Brunelleschi that profound expressiveness, that intimate impress of an indwelling soul, which is the peculiar fascination of the art of Italy in that century. Their works have been much neglected, and often almost hidden away amid the frippery of modern decoration, and we come with some surprise on the places where their fire still smoulders. One longs to penetrate into the lives of the men who have given expression to so much power and sweetness; but it is part of the reserve, the austere dignity and simplicity of their existence, that their histories are for the most part lost, or told but briefly. From their lives, as from their work, all tumult of sound and colour has passed away. Mino, the Raffaelle of sculpture, Maso del Rodario, whose works add a new grace to the church of Como, Donatello even—one asks in vain for more than a shadowy outline of their actual days.

Something more remains of Luca della Robbia; something more of a history, of outward changes and fortunes, is expressed through his work. I suppose nothing brings the real air of a Tuscan town so vividly to mind as those pieces of pale blue and white earthenware, by which he is best known, like fragments of the milky sky itself, fallen into the cool streets, and breaking into the darkened churches. And no work is less imitable; like Tuscan wine, it loses its savour when moved from its birthplace, from the crumbling walls where it was first placed. Part of the charm of this work, its grace and purity and finish of expression, is common to all the Tuscan sculptors of the fifteenth century; for Luca was first of all a worker in marble, and his works in earthenware only transfer to a different material the principles of his sculpture.

These Tuscan sculptors of the fifteenth century worked for the most part in low relief, giving even to their monumental effigies something of its depression of surface, getting into them by this means a pathetic suggestion of the wasting and etherealisation of death. They are haters of all heaviness and emphasis, of strongly-opposed light and shade, and seek their means of expression among those last refinements of shadow, which are almost invisible except in a strong light, and which the finest pencil can hardly follow. The whole essence of their work is EXPRESSION, the passing of a smile over the face of a child, the ripple of the air on a still day over the curtain of a window ajar.

What is the precise value of this system of sculpture, this low relief? Luca della Robbia, and the other sculptors of the school to which he belongs, have before them the universal problem of their art; and this system of low relief is the means by which they meet and overcome the special limitation of sculpture—a limitation resulting from the material and the essential conditions of all sculptured work, and which consists in the tendency of this work to a hard realism, a one-sided presentment of mere form, that solid material frame which only motion can relieve, a thing of heavy shadows, and an individuality of expression pushed to caricature. Against this tendency to the hard presentment of mere form trying vainly to compete with the reality of nature itself, all noble sculpture constantly struggles: each great system of sculpture resisting it in its own way, etherealising, spiritualising, relieving its hardness, its heaviness and death. The use of colour in sculpture is but an unskilful contrivance to effect, by borrowing from another art, what the nobler sculpture effects by strictly appropriate means. To get not colour, but the equivalent of colour; to secure the expression and the play of life; to expand the too fixed individuality of pure, unrelieved, uncoloured form—this is the problem which the three great styles in sculpture have solved in three different ways.

Allgemeinheit—breadth, generality, universality—is the word chosen by Winckelmann, and after him by Goethe and many German critics, to express that law of the most excellent Greek sculptors, of Pheidias and his pupils, which prompted them constantly to seek the type in the individual, to abstract and express only what is structural and permanent, to purge from the individual all that belongs only to him, all the accidents, the feelings, and actions of the special moment, all that (because in its own nature it endures but for a moment) is apt to look like a frozen thing if one arrests it.

In this way their works came to be like some subtle extract or essence, or almost like pure thoughts or ideas: and hence the breadth of humanity in them, that detachment from the conditions of a particular place or people, which has carried their influence far beyond the age which produced them, and insured them universal acceptance.

That was the Greek way of relieving the hardness and unspirituality of pure form. But it involved to a certain degree the sacrifice of what we call expression; and a system of abstraction which aimed always at the broad and general type, at the purging away from the individual of what belonged only to him, and of the mere accidents of a particular time and place, imposed upon the range of effects open to the Greek sculptor limits somewhat narrowly defined; and when Michelangelo came, with a genius spiritualised by the reverie of the middle age, penetrated by its spirit of inwardness and introspection, living not a mere outward life like the Greek, but a life full of inward experiences, sorrows, consolations, a system which sacrificed so much of what was inward and unseen could not satisfy him. To him, lover and student of Greek sculpture as he was, work which did not bring what was inward to the surface, which was not concerned with individual expression, with individual character and feeling, the special history of the special soul, was not worth doing at all.

And so, in a way quite personal and peculiar to himself, which often is, and always seems, the effect of accident, he secured for his work individuality and intensity of expression, while he avoided a too hard realism, that tendency to harden into caricature which the representation of feeling in sculpture must always have. What time and accident, its centuries of darkness under the furrows of the “little Melian farm,” have done with singular felicity of touch for the Venus of Melos, fraying its surface and softening its lines, so that some spirit in the thing seems always on the point of breaking out, as though in it classical sculpture had advanced already one step into the mystical Christian age, its expression being in the whole range of ancient work most like that of Michelangelo’s own:—this effect Michelangelo gains by leaving nearly all his sculpture in a puzzling sort of incompleteness, which suggests rather than realises actual form. Something of the wasting of that snow-image which he moulded at the command of Piero de’ Medici, when the snow lay one night in the court of the Pitti palace, almost always lurks about it, as if he had determined to make the quality of a task, exacted from him half in derision, the pride of all his work. Many have wondered at that incompleteness, suspecting, however, that Michelangelo himself loved and was loath to change it, and feeling at the same time that they too would lose something if the half-realised form ever quite emerged from the stone, so rough hewn here, so delicately finished there; and they have wished to fathom the charm of this incompleteness. Well! that incompleteness is Michelangelo’s equivalent for colour in sculpture; it is his way of etherealising pure form, of relieving its hard realism, and communicating to it breath, pulsation, the effect of life. It was a characteristic too which fell in with his peculiar temper and mode of life, his disappointments and hesitations. And it was in reality perfect finish. In this way he combines the utmost amount of passion and intensity with the sense of a yielding and flexible life: he gets not vitality merely, but a wonderful force of expression.

Midway between these two systems—the system of the Greek sculptors and the system of Michelangelo—comes the system of Luca della Robbia. And the other Tuscan sculptors of the fifteenth century, partaking both of the Allgemeinheit of the Greeks, their way of extracting certain select elements only of pure form and sacrificing all the rest, and the studied incompleteness of Michelangelo, relieving that expression of intensity, passion, energy, which might otherwise have hardened into caricature. Like Michelangelo, these sculptors fill their works with intense and individualised expression: their noblest works are the studied sepulchral portraits of particular persons—the monument of Conte Ugo in the Badia of Florence, of the youthful Medea Colleoni, with the wonderful, long throat, in the chapel on the cool north side of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore at Bergamo—monuments which abound in the churches of Rome, inexhaustible in suggestions of repose, of a subdued Sabbatic joy, a kind of sacred grace and refinement:—and they unite these elements of tranquillity, of repose, to that intense and individual expression by a system of conventionalism as skilful and subtle as that of the Greeks, subduing all such curves as indicate solid form, and throwing the whole into lower relief.

The life of Luca, a life of labour and frugality, with no adventure and no excitement except what belongs to the trial of new artistic processes, the struggle with new artistic difficulties, the solution of purely artistic problems, fills the first seventy years of the fifteenth century. After producing many works in marble for the Duomo and the Campanile of Florence, which place him among the foremost sculptors of that age, he became desirous to realise the spirit and manner of that sculpture, in a humbler material, to unite its science, its exquisite and expressive system of low relief, to the homely art of pottery, to introduce those high qualities into common things, to adorn and cultivate daily household life. In this he is profoundly characteristic of the Florence of that century, of that in it which lay below its superficial vanity and caprice, a certain old-world modesty and seriousness and simplicity. People had not yet begun to think that what was good art for churches was not so good, or less fitted, for their own houses. Luca’s new work was in plain white earthenware at first, a mere rough imitation of the costly, laboriously wrought marble, finished in a few hours. But on this humble path he found his way to a fresh success, to another artistic grace. The fame of the oriental pottery, with its strange, bright colours—colours of art, colours not to be attained in the natural stone—mingled with the tradition of the old Roman pottery of the neighbourhood. The little red, coral-like jars of Arezzo, dug up in that district from time to time, are still famous. These colours haunted Luca’s fancy. “He still continued seeking something more,” his biographer says of him; “and instead of making his figures of baked earth simply white, he added the further invention of giving them colour, to the astonishment and delight of all who beheld them”—Cosa singolare, e multo utile per la state!—a curious thing, and very useful for summertime, full of coolness and repose for hand and eye. Luca loved the forms of various fruits, and wrought them into all sorts of marvellous frames and garlands, giving them their natural colours, only subdued a little, a little paler than nature. But in his nobler terra-cotta work he never introduces colour into the flesh, keeping mostly to blue and white, the colours of the Virgin Mary.

I said that the work of Luca della Robbia possessed in an unusual measure that special characteristic which belongs to all the workmen of his school, a characteristic which, even in the absence of much positive information about their actual history, seems to bring those workmen themselves very near to us—the impress of a personal quality, a profound expressiveness, what the French call intimite, by which is meant some subtler sense of originality—the seal on a man’s work of what is most inward and peculiar in his moods, and manner of apprehension: it is what we call expression, carried to its highest intensity of degree. That characteristic is rare in poetry, rarer still in art, rarest of all in the abstract art of sculpture; yet essentially, perhaps, it is the quality which alone makes works in the imaginative and moral order really worth having at all. It is because the works of the artists of the fifteenth century possess this quality in an unmistakable way that one is anxious to know all that can be known about them, and explain to oneself the secret of their charm.

The Renaissance

April 14, 2012 :: Posted by - admin :: Category - Filmbutiken



RENÉE, daughter of Anne of Brittany, was, like her mother, destitute of any sympathy with the intellectuality of the period in which she lived. But the Renaissance brought about the reaction of the Reformation, and Renée’s life is interesting as the story of the domestic difficulties confronted by an individual sympathetic to the new doctrines during their first calamitous strivings in Italy. The danger to a person of the same views in France has been seen in the life of Margaret D’Angoulême.

Renée’s Italian career is interesting, besides, as the intimate history of a stubborn, unimaginative, and unadaptable temperament in a married life betraying from the commencement extreme incompatibility of disposition. The circumstance may occur to any one, and each woman deals with it according to her nature. Exactly how she does so, is one of the clearest tests of her valour and her intelligence. A true woman of the Renaissance—Vittoria Colonna and Isabella of Mantua, for instance, carried a dignified marital complaisance to heroic extremities—would have preserved surface amenities, however distasteful the husband. But Renée, brought up by people to whom she was simply a dull and undesirable orphan, never learnt that small accommodations of behaviour are among the primary and desirable virtues. Her father had been rich in them, but the self-willed spirit of her mother, Anne, was more noticeable in the character of her second daughter than the paternal trait. To have lived with Renée would undoubtedly have rendered affection difficult. But to know her without the irritation of daily intercourse, as a perplexed, mistaken, blundering, wistful, and unloved woman, is to be drawn into a reluctant sympathy. She was, to begin with, ugly, and there is nothing in its consequences more pathetic than a woman’s ugliness. She was also, almost from her babyhood, without one single person who truly loved her. From the outset her character had been chilled and bleakened.

Born on October 25, 1510, though she came disappointingly enough to the woman craving for a son, Renée was made welcome with a careful pomp that bordered almost upon tenderness. Her baptism became the pretext for a magnificent pageant, and in an account of the expenses incurred for her childish household, she is called the king’s “very dear and much loved daughter, Renée.”

Two years after Renée’s birth Anne died. At five years old Renée was an orphan, and with her sister Claude, the patient, piteous, and most mishandled wife of Francis I., passed into the care of Louise de Savoie. They were the children of Louise’s most persistent enemy; she could not, therefore, have done otherwise than dislike them. Brantome says that she was extremely harsh to both, and it is certain that Renée, plain, delicate, and deformed, never became to anybody a person of sufficient importance to be coaxed into prettiness of ways and feelings. The gentle Claude must have loved her smaller sister while she lived, but Claude died of consumption almost immediately after Francis I. started for Italy, when Renée was only fourteen years of age, and from that time until her marriage the girl knew no one prepared to do more than a cold and pleasureless duty towards her.

In justice to Louise it must be admitted that every effort was made to procure Renée a suitable husband. They promised her at one time to the Archduke Charles, but already her want of average good looks rendered some apologies necessary. The life of any girl towards whom such an attitude has to be assumed must possess an undue measure of painfulness. Before presenting the bride to the Archduke it was considered imperative to tell him that “the charm of her conversation greatly atoned for her want of beauty.” The proposal came to nothing, and after several other unavailing negotiations Francis settled upon a marriage with Ercole of Ferrara, the son of Duke Alphonso and Lucrezia.

It was not a good match for a girl in whose veins ran the blood of a king of France. Mezeray said of it, “The king arranged a very poor match for this princess, and sent her into a far country, lest she should ask him one day for a share in Brittany and in the patrimony of Louis.”

Mezeray spoke from a knowledge of Francis’s character, but the motives in this one instance were probably less cunning than he thought them. Renée was not an easy young girl to marry; her own father had said years ago that it would be difficult to find a husband for her. Nevertheless, at this time she was probably as nearly nice-looking as at any time of her existence. She had just turned eighteen, and, in spite of a slight deformity, possessed a certain dignity of carriage, inherited from her mother. She had also the whitest of skins, and beautiful fair hair that reached to the ground. It was said that she had at this time more to thank nature for than to complain of, and the early portraits of her are at least not actually ugly. The principal thing that strikes one in them is a certain dulness of expression, as if heaviness of spirit had crushed out vivacity. Her face suggests strongly the uncared-for upbringing of her childhood—the blue eyes are apathetic and unamused, the mouth wistfully inanimate. It is just possible that Ercole might have kissed her into a childlike lightness of thought; but Ercole did not find her kissable, and she was in any case born with the confined and congealing seriousness of character that came to her as an intensified quality from her unimaginative and easily scandalized mother.

Ercole represented the antithesis of his future wife. His appearance was fascinating, his manners were good; all the culture of the Renaissance permeated his blood. Small wonder, therefore, that Renée’s looks came as a bitter shock to him. He wrote to his father after the first interview, and stated plainly, “Madama Renea non e bella.” The Ferrarese ambassador also wrote that his master would have preferred the lady to possess a better figure. But Ercole had come to France chiefly to make a good political marriage, and his objections to poor Renée personally were greatly outweighed by her parentage and her dowry.

Oddly enough, the girl herself does not appear to have liked the handsome Italian any better than he liked her. At the formal engagement she behaved with extreme shyness and a visible distress of manner. Nobody cared, however, what she thought in the matter, and a month later the wedding was celebrated. For that one day Louise does certainly appear to have tried to make the most of her. The girl’s magnificent hair hung, soft and moving in itself, unbound about her shoulders, and her gown of scarlet and ermine literally gleamed with the jewels heaped upon it. Renée’s skin was undeniably good—Bonnet refers to the whiteness of her breast and throat—and above the heavy splendour of her wedding garments her little subdued and plaintive face could only have worn a look of quaint, appealing incongruity.

The subsequent festivities continued until both bride and bridegroom became rather comically ill—through excess of food and want of sleep. Renée, who all her life suffered from the tragedy of headaches, had the migraine, and they began to think the time had come to start for Italy. Francis I. himself accompanied them to the gates of Paris. Here he solemnly confided his sister-in-law into the care of her husband, who was ordered always to treat her as a daughter of the royal house of France. Ercole, feeling that he had no reason to be diffident as regards his relations to the other sex, answered that he would have no difficulty in both pleasing and managing the lady. Subsequent events rendered the reply a little humorous. The small, meek wife, who heard the remark probably without even the desire to smile, proved in after years to the last degree intractable. Certainly Ercole never succeeded in managing her.

Ferrara, at the time of Renée’s marriage, had been devastated by the plague. Before she made her state entry, an order was issued commanding the people to reopen their shops, put on their best clothes, and, whatever their private emotions, show a cheerful countenance upon the arrival of their future duchess. Triumphal arches were erected, windows hung with silk, and through an almost painful effort Renée was received with the usual good-natured welcome from the people. Isabella of Mantua, the new bride’s aunt-in-law, always in great request for social occasions, had come to assist in receiving her, and several days were filled with public pageants, banquets, and plays.

But below the surface neither the new arrival nor those that received her were in a rejoicing mood. The last duchess to be welcomed to Ferrara had been the attractive, sweet-faced Lucrezia Borgia, dubious, it is true, in morals, but pleasant as a flower to look upon. This “ugly and hunch-backed” French girl could not avoid coming as a disagreeable shock, both to the crowd and to her new connections. It is the bitter fate of an ugly woman that she must always destroy antipathetic first impressions before she can hope to sow favourable ones. And Renée, on her side, was as little pleased as those who received her. It is generally supposed, in fact, that her instant and intense dislike to Ferrara had a good deal to do with her initial mistakes in Italy.

Certainly Ferrara was not an attractive city. Set in the middle of an enormous plain, a dreary monotony encompassed it, while the town itself, having pre-eminently to consider the necessities of defence, was grim, sinister, and aggressive looking. Even the Castello appeared nothing more than a powerful and gloomy fortress. Subject to unhealthy mists from the Po, the climate, moreover, underwent continual extremes of temperature, and one of Renée’s ladies-in-waiting describes it bitterly as a perfect hotbed of fleas. Frogs croaked all night and crows cawed all day. The inside of the castle, besides, was pitiably dilapidated. The house of Ferrara, constantly in want of money, had a habit of leaving matters needing repairs until repairs were no longer needed.

To Renée the place exhaled the chill of exile. In addition, as all the amusements arranged for her reception were in Italian, they only bored her beyond expression. In fact, one of the gravest faults of the girl’s Italian career lay in her reluctance to acquire Italian phrases. She arrived in Ferrara ignorant of even a rudimentary knowledge of her husband’s language, and taking an immediate dislike to the place and to the people, refused to make any real effort to learn the speech of those about her. This slow, and at all times inefficient, acquirement of Italian remained steadily against her, keeping her, apart from any other consideration, a very isolated person in her own establishment—an outsider where she should have been the central figure.

The only attempt she made in the right direction was to order, soon after her arrival, a number of dresses cut after the Italian fashions. But even this, due probably to an evanescent dazzlement at the charming appearance of the Italian women, she rendered an actual affront in the sequence. For shortly afterwards, either in bitterness of soul at her own poor appearance in them, or because she deliberately wished to behave with provocation, they were discarded for her former French style of dressing, which she then bluntly stated to be “more holy and more decent.” From the beginning Renée persistently refused to identify herself with her husband’s interests. She clung with stupid pathos to the associations of her by no means happy childhood, and was homesick all the years of her Italian sojourn for the ways of her own people.

All through, her conduct was hopelessly mistaken. In the give and take of marriage it is part of a woman’s lovely chances always to give a little more than is yielded back to her. At the same time, it is questionable whether, owing to her ugliness and want of charm, Renée, whatever she had done, could have become popular. There ought, in truth, almost to exist a different code for the really ugly woman. The fact is so profoundly and entirely tragic. Tenderness is the heart of life to women, and any woman so misused by nature as to be unable to rouse this becomes, through subtle piteousness, beyond ordinary judgment. She lives in a world both unjust and inimical, practically with her back to the wall. Sweet follies have never harmonized her to the unreason of humanity; failure lies always upon her soul. For inherited, deep-rooted, ineradicable, is in most women the unformulated knowledge that to attract men is the normal fate of their sex; the creature who cannot do this once at least in life, carries a hidden sense not only of loneliness, and of something vital ungranted by destiny, but of secret shame and humiliation.

Renée had never glowed bewildered under absurdities of praise. If only as an isolated experience, this mad blitheness is curiously good for character. Afterwards a woman knows—is sympathetically inside the circle of things—seeing the dramas of others, not like a child staring starved at a food shop, but as one who has already had her fill of cakes with the best of them.

All her life Renée remained the hungry child who sees others overfed on the sweets denied to her. Small wonder, in consequence, that she hated the ways of frivolity, and was slow in advances of friendship. No soft remembrances freighted her thoughts with gentleness, and when she came to Italy she was already destitute of the exaltation that, out of the abundance of its own contentment, craves to create nothing but contentment about it. For this immediate hostility Ercole must have been in a measure responsible. A woman happy in her married life is incapable of passionately revolting against the accessories that encompass it. Renée never liked her husband, and the fact that she did not may have been due to his half-hearted efforts as lover. A girl of eighteen, ugly, neglected, and unattractive, cannot be a difficult person for a handsome man to ensnare. Renée, besides, was a very ordinary woman—she had inherent need to cling to some one. It would certainly have bored Ercole had he been the creature she clung to, but the boredom would at least have saved him years of dangerous domestic friction, and a life of disagreements in which he did not always get the best of it.

As it was, mutual dissatisfaction came almost immediately. Very soon after their arrival in Ferrara they had begun to quarrel. Among the French women Renée had brought with her from France was her old governess, Madame de Soubise, whose leanings were strongly Protestant. She had instilled the same sympathies into her pupil, and a very short time after her arrival in Ferrara the new duchess was surrounded by a large number of persons professing the new religion. A good deal of her personal income also went in assisting French fugitives who happened to pass through the city. Both proceedings were objected to by Ercole. The presence of Protestants in his household constituted an actual danger to his own and his father’s position. The tenure of the Dukedom of Ferrara depended upon the maintenance of friendly relations with Rome and Germany. Renée’s monetary kindness to French fugitives he complained about as “inordinate and ill-considered expenses,” and since her allowance from France was very irregularly paid, this grievance had a certain rational basis. Nobody attached to the duchess’s personal service was Italian, a final discourtesy in her arrangements that added to the growing exasperation of her new relations.

As regards the Protestantism of Renée’s household, no direct mention was made of it in Ercole’s objections. With the indirect methods of his family, he merely stated that the duchess had surrounded herself with a number of people unfit for the functions attributed to them. That certainly was true. A certain number of Renée’s so-called servants did absolutely nothing for their pay, save keep some lingering memories of her French home vivid in her thoughts. Consequently, in the first definite publication of friction between the newly married couple, most of the reasonable complaints were Ercole’s. They show, however, the rapidity with which these two had got upon each other’s nerves. Neither, at any stage of their intercourse, made the least attempt to adopt a conciliatory attitude.

Renée’s generosity, nevertheless, was the redemption of her character. For there is more than one kind of generosity. There is the careless output of a person chiefly feckless, and not desirous of uttering disagreeable refusals, and the deliberate, anxious, continuous assistance of a nature really capable of fretting for the distresses of other people. Renée’s generosity was essentially of this sort. The most prominent facts in the book of her daily expenses are sums given in some form of charity. She appears, indeed, to have been unable to refuse any cry for assistance, and all her life gave with equal pleasure either to Roman Catholics or to Protestants. Anne had been generous, but in the showy and semi-profitable manner so easy for great people. Renée’s generosity was entirely lovely and intuitive.

Concerning her attitude in the matter of her household arrangements, it is more difficult to guess what lay in her peevish spirit. Madame de Soubise had obviously brought her up—sub rosa—to a tentative liking for the new religion. But by character she belonged to the conservatives; she was supremely among those who consider that what has been good enough for their parents is good enough for them also. And Louise and Francis—of whom she stood in awe—were not likely to receive pleasantly the news that her religious soundness had become doubtful. At the beginning there are no statements suggesting that she was not fairly comfortable in the tenets she conformed to. It is possible, in fact, that the people of her entourage were originally chosen without intention of offence, from sheer obtuseness to perceive unsuitability. Then when it became evident that they caused annoyance to Ercole, it may have become a sulky pleasure to retain them.

Ercole and Renée were two personalities that ought never to have come together. Both were capable of pleasant relations with other people, but there existed between them the instinctive and intractable antipathy which almost every nature experiences against some one person in the world. It is an emotion outside the reach of argument and very nearly beyond control. And no person can flower into the best possibilities of character when confronted with another fundamentally antagonistic. In the presence of a mind closed to perceive any kind of graciousness and merit, only the worst of nature will rise uppermost, flung out in a despairing perversity, distress, and irritation. For the actual sweetness of their souls no two people capable only of mutual repugnance should even make an effort to live together. Good—bewildered and assaulted—shrivels like a frozen plant under the chilling air of interminable disparagement.

Renée, less than a year after her marriage, already wrote unhappy letters to France. She spoke in one of them of being badly treated, but of not expecting that the real truth about the matter would ever reach the king and queen. She mentioned that both her husband and her father-in-law nourished some grievance against her. Soon afterwards she fell ill, and for a short time Ercole’s repugnance lulled into vague compassion. He sent two bulletins every day to Paris, and mentioned, almost with a hint of pleasure, when she was well enough to leave her bed for a little while daily. Even after her recovery no quarrels are mentioned for some time. The duchess had become enceinte, and the fact in itself, where an heir was so urgently needed, yielded sufficient pleasure to bring about temporary toleration.

Nevertheless, irritation between husband and wife must have smouldered unceasingly, and after the birth of a daughter in November, 1531, contention flared once more into an open blaze between them. Madame de Soubise represented the duke’s new object of denunciation. A good deal of the turmoil of Renée’s existence, in fact, arose from the influence of her former governess. She was old enough to be the girl’s mother, and had lived sufficiently long in the world to know all the needful facts about life and character. Renée clung to her as the one friend familiar from childhood, and the older woman was in a position to have incalculably helped a rather dense nature in the first crucial months of marriage.

For reasons difficult to understand, she did exactly the opposite. Ercole loathed her, and at any cost desired to have her back in Paris. Under ordinary circumstances this would have been a simple matter, but the position of Madame de Soubise was not so straightforward as it seemed. The Ferrarese authorities knew perfectly that she acted as secret agent to the French king. Owing to this fact, dismissal was unpolitic: Ferrara could not afford to offend France. It is to Ercole’s credit that Madame de Soubise did not die a sudden death. The temptation to bring about an untimely ending must have been extraordinarily insistent.

To add to Ercole’s domestic discomfort, Madame de Soubise’s daughter was also among Renée’s ladies-in-waiting. About this time, in fact, she married Monsieur Pons, another member of the household, and the man whose later friendship with Renée was to fleck the solemnity of her character with an incongruous suggestion of scandal.

During the time that husband and wife were bitterly fighting out the question of Madame de Soubise, Renée gave birth to another child—the son so necessary to the welfare of the house. A second lull in hostilities followed. For the first time since she had come to Italy, Ercole’s wife had done a truly desirable and conciliatory thing—she had given an heir to the dukedom. A feeling of pleasure lightened the constant tension of Ercole’s establishment. Even the mother, conscious of being at last approved of, yielded to the warmth of a fugitive commendation and became almost frivolous. Her clothes, during the rejoicings that followed, were for once so sumptuous that all Ferrara talked of them.

Not long afterwards the old Duke Alphonso died, and Ercole became reigning Duke of Ferrara. Concerning his accession a curious incident is reported. After the religious ceremony of his inauguration, Renée met him at the entrance to the palace, where, it is said, in an outburst of mutual excitement and satisfaction, they fell into each other’s arms. For a moment the interests of husband and wife were identical. The motive for this passing concord was in itself unworthy enough, but it is curiously interesting as an example of how intensely married people are fortified, by the very nature of marriage itself, into some sort of fellowship and good feeling. The immense number of mutual interests should be in themselves sufficient to save any but the really vicious or abnormally unsuited from total disunion and antipathy.

But the impulse of an exultant moment rapidly chilled in the case of Ercole and his duchess. Madame de Soubise’s secret labours prevented any but the briefest pacification. And Ercole had not long been duke when he came to the conclusion that, even at the price of a break with France, the daily infliction of her person was no longer supportable. With as much tact as the circumstances permitted, he wrote to Francis I. upon the subject, and in the end received authority for her departure. But even so, difficulties arose about the actual journey, and she still continued long enough in Ferrara to negotiate one last unpleasantness for Ercole.

He went away for a short time, and during his absence Madame de Soubise subtly arranged with the French royalties that Renée should at last go on a visit to her own country. Ercole returned to find the invitation waiting for him. He was placed by it in a very awkward position. An unhappy wife, quivering to tell a tale of misery and ill-treatment, was not a politic person to send to her own people when, should it suit them, they possessed the power to make affairs very difficult for the husband. On the other hand, to refuse might be to rouse suspicion and displeasure.

Not entirely unperturbed, Ercole chose the second risk as the less dangerous of the two. In reply to the French invitation, he wrote that Renée had several small children to take care of, and that she was also still too feeble in health to undertake so long and dangerous a journey. The refusal came almost like a loss of all hope to Renée. Thought of it had been a sudden irradiating anticipation in the drear distastefulness of life. Nothing in a monotonous existence is more uplifting than an incident to make plans for, and now from the sudden quickening influence of a contemplated holiday she was flung back again upon the old confusing friction of her days in the grim Castello.

Every year Ercole’s interests diverged more widely from her own. Renée loved France instinctively, as people love the home of their forefathers. When she first married Ferrara’s interests lay in friendship with France. But Ercole’s policy brought him later to the side of Pope and Emperor, when support from France ceased to be important. After Madame de Soubise, therefore, had at last been sent from Italy, and all hope of Renée’s going home had been withdrawn, the latter must have experienced almost a sense of desolation. The easement of heart entailed by merely telling the hoarded mischances of her married life would have warmed her spirit like a cordial.

She did not naturally love Ercole better for getting rid of the woman who had been motherly to her all her days, and for having thwarted the one intense longing which it was in his power to gratify. Their antagonism quieted not a whit through the departure of Renée’s governess; Ercole had rid himself of one grievance only to find another grow more hardy.

Its first public demonstration took place during a Good Friday service in the church of Ferrara. As the cross was being raised for adoration, a little singer, Zanetto, belonging to the duchess’s service, suddenly walked out of the building, making blasphemous comments in a voice of penetrating clarity. He was arrested that evening, and trouble and danger swept into Renée’s household. She herself had for some time past secretly belonged to the Protestant party. Ercole’s hope that his wife would fall into a weary acquiescence of conduct, when the influence of Madame de Soubise had been withdrawn, ended in inevitable failure. Renée was disastrously obstinate, and in addition, the doctrines of Calvin had already become too deeply engrafted in her ever to be really uprooted. Religion was an urgent necessity to her.

She was an unloved woman, and consequently the other world had never slunk into vagueness through the engrossing sufficiencies of this one. The appeal made to her by the new religion is easy to understand. Her little soul was narrow, but it was at the same time eager, and temperamentally attuned to austere and dreary dogmas. Renée belonged to the class who prefer to take life sadly—a gloomy religion, hedged in by appalling terrors, met the needs of her character far more closely than the shifty and cheerful methods of Roman Catholicism could ever have done.

Before the Good Friday incident Calvin had secretly been to see her, had preached to her, and exhorted her. No man was better fitted to keep a hold over Renée; for Calvin was not merely the great preacher of a new religion, he was an impassioned and autocratic schoolmaster. When later he controlled the town of Geneva, it became impossible to indulge in even the mildest private weaknesses. Domestic conduct fell under the jurisdiction of a council, which inflicted penalties for the least undesirable idiosyncrasy. It was at Geneva, for instance, that Calvin had a gambler set in the stocks for an hour, with his playing-cards hung round his neck; the inventor of a masquerade was forced to ask pardon for it on his knees in the cathedral; a man guilty of perjury they hoisted on a ladder and kept there for several hours, his right hand fastened to the top; while a man and woman, whose love lay under the stigma of impropriety, were paraded through the streets of the city for the abuse of virtuous horror. Calvin flung immense energy into the conversion of Renée. As an individual he thought little of her, but converts among the socially great were momentous for the growth of the cause. Renée, moreover, gave awed and pliant assent to the uncompromising preacher’s teaching, until the arrest of her singer for blasphemy brought the sudden sharpness of danger into her household. This created panic. Not actually for herself—while Francis I. remained King of France she relied implicitly upon French protection—but for the people of her entourage. Zanetto, placed upon the rack, broke down at the third twist of the screw, and a list of names poured out of his lips. They were all persons employed in the duchess’s service. Several had already been arrested as accomplices, though concerning one of them, usually thought to be Calvin, there is considerable mystery. The arrests had been made by Ercole’s orders, chiefly, it would appear, to exasperate his wife.

He owed her a fresh sword-thrust. This public religious scandal constituted a really serious danger for him. The Vatican had some time previously realized that the new heresy must be exterminated if it were not to become a growing danger to the power at Rome. Apart from this, Renée had been behaving with an inimical cunning difficult for any man to pass over good-humouredly. She had been writing secret letters to the Pope, supplicating him to have the prisoners delivered out of the power of Ercole into the authority of France.

In retaliation, Ercole had Cardillan, treasurer and controller of finances to Renée ever since her arrival in Ferrara, imprisoned with the others. Few things could have hurt her more, and the scenes that took place between the two over the Zanetto business must again have driven them into unforgettable personalities. In the matter of personal interviews Ercole no doubt had the best of it. Renée did not possess the gift of facile utterance; her face alone shows a mind easily disconcerted. But her stolid silence would have held as much inner rancour as the other’s violence. Beyond question, when roused, Ercole frightened her, but not sufficiently to abate forlorn contrariness. All he could achieve was to make her hate him a little more desperately than before, and to fling her with renewed tenacity upon the policy of aggravation. According to current rumour, Ercole beat her. The allegation has not been proved, but she was the type of woman liable to ill-treatment, and it is more than likely that he did. Certainly no respect was enforced towards her, for Renée, writing to Margaret of Navarre, complained that the Inquisitor whom she interviewed concerning the arrested heretics spoke to her with so much contempt and insolence, that the other would have been dumbfounded had she been present.

The situation of husband and wife at that period could not possibly have been worse. Ercole’s enflamed resentment also found utterance in a letter. It was written to the Ferrarese envoy at the French court. Extreme caution in statements conveyed to paper formed part of Italian education, and the plain truthfulness of the duke’s expressions could only have issued from a spirit choking with a sense of injury. He wrote: “If it were not for the respect I owe to the king, I should certainly not have suffered such an insult, and should have shown madame the deep resentment I feel.”

The bustling distress and excitement roused by the heretics nevertheless fizzled out. That a scandal of this sort should take serious proportions would have brought very evil notoriety upon the Ferrarese court. Cardillan was released and banished; the other prisoners conveniently permitted to escape. Ercole still gained his main object—the satisfaction of depriving Renée of another of her French attendants. Probably husband and wife hated each other a little more keenly than before, but to all appearances another storm had passed over. For the two still continued to share one bedroom. They must in consequence have enjoyed intervals of ordinary conversation and apparent friendliness. Moreover, they had children. In all the divergences of their interests, there remained some that could not be separated. After the sharp encounter brought about by the unwisdom of Zanetto, Renée gave birth to another infant. Household trivialities provided permanent groundwork for amiable bedroom discussions, and, however apathetically, they must at least have gone through intervals of superficial good-humour.

Outwardly, at any rate, there occurred another lull in the fighting. The court removed into the country, and eased everything by an out-of-door existence. Marot, who had been sent by Margaret of Navarre to Renée for safety, made light, enticing verses upon the ladies he transiently delighted in. He also wrote a sonnet to Renée herself, that, besides containing one line of exquisite musicalness—“O la douceur des douceurs feminines”—shows how unconcealed the failure of her marriage had become. It suggests, in fact, that Ercole’s behaviour was publicly abusive and unpardonable. He wrote—

“Souvenant de tes graces divines
Suis en douleur, princesse, en ton absence,
Et si languis quand suis en ta presence
Voyant ce Lys au milieu des épines.
O la douceur des douceurs feminines?
O cœur sans fiel? O race d’excellence?
O dur mari rempli de violence.”
The rest is uninteresting. But the reference to Ercole, allowing for prejudice, could not have been uttered, one imagines, wholly without justification. No fundamentally pleasant person could be referred to so uncompromisingly as steeped in hateful violences.

Marot sided deeply with Renée, and wrote some additional verses to Margaret, which he told her openly were intended to convey a picture of the wrongs and sufferings to which the duchess was subjected. All the lines dealing directly with the subject read as if sincere and vivid, while the note of gravity was struck in the poignant bluntness of the opening verse. Marot meant the queen to realize that he handled something unmistakably and acutely tragic—

“Playne les morts qui plaindre les voudra
Tant que vivrai mon cœur se résoudra
A plaindre ceux que douleur assauldra
En cette vie.
* * * * *
“Ha Marguerite, écoute la souffrance
Du noble cœur de Renée de France
Puis comme sœur plus fort que d’espérance
“Tu sais comment hors son pays alla
Et que parens et amis laissa là,
Mais tu ne sais quel traitement elle a
En terre étrange.
“De cent couleurs en une heure elle change,
En ses repas percée d’angoisse mange
Et en son vin larmes fait melange
Tout par ennui.
“Ennui reçu du côté de celui
Qui dut être sa joie et son appui
Ennui plus grief que s’il venait d’autrui
Et plus à craindre.”
* * * * *
Few phrases could expose more explicitly a brutal husband. Allowing for exaggeration, Ercole obviously behaved like a boor, making his wife’s meals, when he was present, little else than a weeping martyrdom. Renée certainly had the temperament to cry often and easily, though not tempestuously; but at Ferrara the vague-looking eyes seem to have possessed ample reason for being constantly and bitterly watered. Marot, of course, had neither the opportunity nor the desire to dwell upon intervals of passivity. But, as one knows, there must inevitably have been some in the hectored years of Renée’s Italian existence. And among them was certainly the visit of Vittoria Colonna. She stayed for ten months, and all the information given implies that during that period there was almost peace at the Castello. This is to Ercole’s credit, for Vittoria Colonna would have bored any but a practised intelligence. Her forte lay in an unerring sense of what was fine in everything—art, conduct, and deliberation. Clever men adored her, and her brain was certainly imposing, deliberate, attentive, and comprehending. The woman who understood Michelangelo could scarcely fail to grasp the meanings of lesser intelligences. But the minor gaieties she had not; the quaint, swift humour with which subtle women sweep away tension would never have lightened Vittoria’s solid arguments. She wrote poetry—very insincere and laboured—but she possessed no imagination. The gravity of existence, and the fact that each soul in it is born to exist eternally, clothed her thoughts with an almost restricting austerity. Few jokes would have sounded suitable in her presence. She appeared too exquisitely reasonable, cool, and punctiliously magnificent for any descent into the ridiculous.

Undoubtedly Vittoria’s presence eased domestic friction, though it is doubtful, notwithstanding, whether Renée liked her. There are letters between Vittoria and Ercole, but none to be found between the two women. Vittoria Colonna was inherently good, but she was also triumphant, pampered, flattered, and successful. When she came to Ferrara she was received with a voluntary public ovation. Flanked by the mental sumptuousness of this efficient creature, Renée’s insignificance was accentuated; the contrast dragged the whole extent of her ineffectuality into light. And Renée, almost meek in appearance, with her “weakened body,” as Brantome put it, and her vague-looking face, was not meek in disposition. She forgot at no time of her life that but for the Salic law she would have sat upon the throne of France.

There is no statement against the existence of affection between the two women, but the probabilities are not for it. There is far more likelihood that Vittoria got upon her hostess’s nerves, and chilled her by flaming, for all her disadvantages of years, with a sort of opulent beauty that intensified the pallid ugliness of the foreign duchess. Small wonder that Renée turned to the sympathy offered by Monsieur Pons; small wonder that she permitted the elegant and amiable Frenchman to make inroads upon her affections.

Monsieur Pons represents the solitary scandal of Renée’s existence. Some writers do not like Monsieur Pons. They desire the page unblemished by this warm and doubtful incident. To them Renée must stand as a blameless martyr to the cause of Protestantism, and this friendship confuses the picture. In such hands Monsieur Pons fades into an insignificance not sufficiently substantial for impropriety.

The effacement is entirely to be regretted. Monsieur Pons was the one wholly tender circumstance in Renée’s life. It is ridiculous to pretend that she did not love him. Her harassed heart, unaccustomed to being besieged, surrendered naturally to sympathetic advances from a fascinating man of her own nationality. He made love to her discreetly, mildly, and, no doubt, indirectly, while the woman warmed under it before she realized the fearsome pleasantness of the sensation. They may actually have had sympathy of temperament. Monsieur Pons also may really have experienced a slight compassionate tenderness for the frail, misshapen little duchess, who was openly ill-treated by a lusty and unfaithful husband. It is difficult to probe Monsieur Pons’s motives. Policy is rarely absent from the mind of those who deal with powerful persons. He was upon admirable terms with his own wife. So was Renée, notwithstanding a friendship for the husband exhilarated by a hint of something just a little more alive and poignant. Genuine impropriety, one feels assured, there was not. Yet to those anxious for scandal the duchess’s letters would in themselves be considered sufficient to take away any woman’s character. They are personal, intimate, and interwoven with unspoken statements. Actually they have charm—the charm that issues when a woman with some grace of mind desires her letter to be chiefly a persuasive form of flirtation. The word “love” is not mentioned in them, but for all that they are undeniably love-letters. They are, in addition, the love-letters of a woman not yet muddled by any uncertainty as to the recipient’s reciprocity.

It must be admitted that Renée, had she behaved with strict decorum, would not have written these documents. Married persons forfeit the licence to indulge in a certain kind of correspondence. But there is no reason to suppose that because a woman writes a delicately flirtatious letter she has any evil thoughts at the back of it, or that the relations of the two will at any time transgress the limits of an audacious friendliness. The mistake is usually made, though few things show less acquaintance with human nature.

Renée of Ferrara was temperamentally incapable of the scandal some of her biographers have foisted upon her. Putting it upon the lowest basis, she had neither sufficient courage nor sufficient pliancy for unfaithfulness. The distinguishing trait of Renée’s character was her incapacity ever to go the extreme length in anything. There are no tenable grounds, besides, for supposing that she desired to forget right living for Monsieur Pons and passion. She was not an ardent woman; the dull face expresses nothing so unmistakable as a wistful apathy and a bad circulation.

From the internal evidence of the letters themselves, one finds a romantic and sentimental friendship, or, phrased more colloquially, a flirtation. But the essence of a flirtation is to play at being more than it is in reality—to hover skilfully about borders neither player would really care to trespass. Not a phrase in Renée’s letters reveals any desire to thrust aside cautious boundaries. She had also perfect knowledge of Monsieur Pons’s comfortable domestic circumstances. Madame de Pons was her friend, the closest woman companion remaining to her. What is more than likely is that she and Madame Pons—madame with a finger secretly to her nose—enjoyed a perfect understanding as to Renée’s relations with the husband. They agreed together in worship of Monsieur Pons, while he on his side was supposed to love them both—though Renée, of course, with discretion, with reverence, with the distance that her rank necessitated.

Madame Pons was safe; she could afford this dismal and lonely woman some farcical illusions. Renée, in consequence, was allowed her pathetic share in Monsieur Pons. The real, warm, comfortable possession could only be the wife’s, but Renée felt that she also had her small, vague place; she was included; she was dear to Monsieur Pons; she had her right of confidences, and perhaps—who knows?—in certain ways, might convey an appeal his wife lacked possession of. The wanderings of a heart ill-fed are always wild and a little tragic.

The letters were written during a diplomatic mission to France, upon which Monsieur Pons had been sent by the duke. They contain intimate accounts of little everyday doings, put down with a woeful disregard of grammar, and yet with something approaching literary instinct. Reading them, one discovers that the duchess was not an entirely stupid woman. Without possessing the least intellectual capacity, she shows a gift of irony, of graceful utterance, and of oblique suggestion that is totally unexpected.

She says in one, “If this letter is badly written, it is because of the place and the hour, for I write in bed, and I began so early that I can scarcely see clearly; but I hope to write more every day until the Basque starts again. I began yesterday, the very day he arrived…. The wee doggie came, and fondled me a thousand times, in betweenwhiles seizing the pen with his little teeth, after which he came and settled himself on my arm, with the pen under his head, and so went to sleep, and I too, to keep him company, for I don’t know which of us needed it most.” This little pet dog, and another, evidently given to her by Monsieur Pons, figure several times in the correspondence. She writes again, “The Basque will give you an account of your wife’s state of health, of our little company, and, above all, of the wee doggies who still, as always, sleep with me, and refuse to leave my side.”

How much Monsieur Pons was missed, is said many times and in diverse ways. She conveys it very prettily upon one occasion, in the statement, “Lesleu was saying that since you had gone the house seems deserted. He is not the only one who thinks this. Several others say the same, and there are some who are only too well aware of it.” In French the meaning is both more finely and more definitely transmitted. In another place she says, “We need you to bring back the joy you took away with your departure.”

Madame Pons gave birth to a boy during her husband’s absence, and Renée writes that it resembles its father in chin and mouth, adding immediately that she had kissed the little lips “two or three” times. She also says, “He has such a sweet expression; everybody likes to look at him. He does not sulk like the others.” His mouth, she states, is infinitesimal. Later, when his wife continued very unwell, Renée wrote, “I beg you to try and return before the winter, as much for her as for me, of whom I will say nothing, for I think less of my own troubles than that you should be successful in your undertaking.”

There were no concealments between Monsieur Pons and herself concerning Ercole. She tells the diplomatist that her visit to France had once more been broached by the ambassador, who had received the usual answer, “when the weather permitted.” With delicious irony the duchess adds, “I think he means when the wind carries me.” At all times she was indifferent to her husband’s mistresses. And she tells Monsieur Pons, “Monday, which was the eve of St. John, I took him (the ambassador) to the mountain where monsieur was having supper with the Calcaquine…. The day after the birth of your son I had supper with the cardinal and monsieur, and the day of St. John I had supper in the ‘bosquet’ with monsieur and the ambassador.” The Contessa Calcaquine was at that time Ercole’s mistress.

In the continuation of daily details Renée makes it quite clear how little she enjoyed “monsieur’s” society. She had been asked by him to join, if she cared to, a little party spending the evening on the hill—presumably at the contessa’s. But, she says, with an undercurrent of wider meaning than the actual words express, “I made the excuse that it would be too late.”

Renée implied no objection upon the grounds of the hostess. She mentions quite gaily a visit to one of Ercole’s ladies, concluding, “That is all the fresh air I have had since you left, but I am waiting till your wife is up again, and then we shall go out together, and with all the more pleasure because you will be with us.”

It is deeply to be regretted that all these letters, unknown to Renée, were intercepted by the duke, though he must have been interested at the almost contemptuous calm of his wife’s attitude towards him personally. Renée wondered why the answers from France were so few. She had no suspicion that her lengthy correspondence lay locked up in the care of her husband, and never journeyed across the Alps at any time. Ercole, secretive by nature and by training, made no remarks about these intercepted letters. With a house full of spies, he stood in a position to know how flimsy the flirtation really was. When Monsieur Pons returned, he allowed the same intimacy as previously. Only very soon afterwards Renée was sent into the country and kept there, away from her friend.

Then Ercole, considering the moment opportune, got rid of both wife and husband. A story of an extremely mischievous nature was foisted upon them. The charges were, in fact, dangerous for two foreigners in the power of a man hating them both. Renée’s household became shaken to the depths with fear and excitement, and Monsieur and Madame Pons fled almost immediately to Venice. The action was no more than wise. Ercole had called Madame Pons “an infernal fury.” Any possible extremity would have been proceeded to, if even a fraction of the charges stated could have been proved against them.

The months that followed were among the most dismal of Renée’s life. The flight of her friend chilled her to the marrow of her being. Realization could not be avoided. She was over thirty, and the bitter sense of being suddenly old and weary is unavoidable in any woman brusquely abandoned by the man who has kept her young with kindnesses. All the vaporous flimsiness of her hold upon Monsieur Pons lay brutally exposed and patent. His wife had got into difficulties; his business lay immediately with the welfare of his wife. No outside woman existed in the intimate agitation of private affairs. Renée was simply dropped like some acquaintance grown needless, and husband, wife, and the baby, whose mouth Renée had described as so incredibly small, practically withdrew from her existence.

The next crucial circumstance—perhaps the most crucial of Renée’s long and uncomfortable life—was her encounter with the Inquisition. This supreme test of Renée’s character came when Paul III. died and Julius III. succeeded to the throne of Rome. Paul had been mild, gentle, and favourable to some reformation in the ways of the Church. Contarini, in a letter, spoke of him as “this our good old man.” His successor had no leanings towards change; mercy sent no gentle warmth through his system. The heresy practised by the Duchess of Ferrara had been notorious for a considerable period; her household constituted a sanctuary for heretics; she permitted herself Protestant preachers and Protestant services. Her attendance at mass had ceased, and she was accused, though it seems unjustly, of eating meat on Fridays.

Ercole’s position, consequently, at this time was far from easy, the basis of his political security requiring that he should maintain peace with the authorities of Rome. Renée’s new religion endangered his duchy. She either did not understand the political risks of what she persisted in doing, or did not care. But Ercole, alarmed as well as furious, wrote bluntly to the King of France, saying what he thought of her. The unburdenment was no longer incautious. Francis I. had been dead some time. Henry II. felt no obligation to be bothered by an elderly woman whom he did not know, and whose claims upon him were negligible. Himself an intolerant Roman Catholic, he wrote to her upon receiving Ercole’s letter, and explained unambiguously that should she be relying upon the support of France, her confidence was founded upon false anticipations. He did more—he sent the famous Inquisitor Orriz, with orders to use “rigour and severity,” sooner than return to France without having reduced the elderly lady to a proper religious disposition.

The letter in which Orriz received directions shows a curious method of thinking. Renée was exhorted to return more easily to the Mother Church, “by consideration of the great favours which God has granted to her, and among others that of being the issue of the purest blood of the most Christian house of France, where no monster has ever existed.” The sentence ended with the statement that should she “choose to remain in stubbornness and pertinacity, it would displease the king as much as anything in the world, and would cause him entirely to forget the friendship, with all the observances and demonstrations of a good nephew, he hating nothing with a greater hatred than all those of the reprobate sects, whose mortal enemy he was.”

The following paragraph was still more plain spoken, and might well have sent a shiver through the hard-pressed duchess. Henry wrote, “And if, after such remonstrances and persuasions, together with those which the said Doctor Orriz shall employ of his own way and profession, to make her know the truth, and the difference there is between light and darkness, it shall appear that he is unable by gentle means to gain her and to reclaim her, he shall take counsel with the said lord duke as to what can possibly be done in the way of rigour and severity to bring her to reason.”

Renée’s position had at last become dire and dangerous. She stood with none to help her, pressed about by a crowd of enemies. From the moment Orriz arrived in Ferrara her life became a nightmare. When he chose to preach, she had to listen; when he questioned, she had to answer; when he threatened, she had to preserve quiescence. Morning, noon, and evening, the menacing presence of the French Inquisitor kept her shaken, sickened, lacerated. His arguments could only have been torture to her, for pitted against the subtlety of the trained heretic-catcher, Renée’s mentality would have been the incarnation of incoherent feebleness. Her person, moreover, made no appeal to mercy; ugly, drear, and wrinkled, she did not even possess dramatic dignity—only tears and an obstreperous dismalness of manner. Gradually, however, Orriz was to discover that dismalness did not necessarily accompany weakness. He could make her cry, but that was about all he could do with her. His own temper must have quickly sharpened. The position left him ridiculous. Presently the Inquisitor and the husband took counsel together. Renée’s unexpected fortitude proved equally serious for both. Ercole had given his word to the Pope that the lady should return duly submissive to the fold she outraged. Renée had got to be mastered somehow. Words left her tearfully obstinate—there remained nothing but harsher measures. Ercole himself wrote in a letter, “We kept her shut up for fifteen days, with only people who had no sort of Lutheran tendencies to wait upon her. We also threatened to confiscate all her property.”

She held out, notwithstanding. Some decree of courage must have stiffened resistance, but it also is probable that the little creature relied upon a definite limit to persecution. A daughter of the royal house of France stood too high for genuine martyrdom. She had, in addition, a secret Bull previously given her by Paul III., which exempted her from the jurisdiction of all local inquisitions.

Up to a certain point there is, beyond question, an underflow of sweetness in being persecuted, especially when, besides the persecutors, there are people who realize the persecution. To show endurance is softly comforting to the soul. Character, exultant at finding itself not wholly worthless, is joyous below its pain. There are few people, indeed, who do not want to prove themselves morally better than their ordinary conduct, and who are not exalted by a sudden blaze of inner illumination when they have let the good rise triumphant over an ardent and forceful temptation. At any rate, whether Renée was, or was not, sustained by a sense of proving something finer than she had hoped for, she certainly showed such curious tranquillity that those who attended her remarked upon it. The fact puzzled everybody—she was by nature distinctly flaccid. It has since been put down to the possession of the Bull from Paul III., but the explanation is unlikely. Nothing could be more simple than a fresh Papal Bull annulling the first. Besides, what followed shows that she either made no use of it, or was quickly undeceived as to its utility.

But the crisis of her life was stalking grimly nearer every hour. Confinement leaving steadfastness intact, a rasped husband and exasperated inquisitor flung themselves upon a last extremity, and Renée, Duchess of Ferrara, was actually brought before the Ferrarese Inquisition, and tried for heresy by that body. Her answers at the trial are not given, but that she went through the ordeal at all compels admiration. She was utterly alone—hemmed in by Roman Catholics and Italians—and grievously subject to prostration and headaches. Few people thought of her save as an unmitigated nuisance. Still she continued firm. Her answers were probably stupid and reiterated, but if flustered on the surface she was stolid at the foundations. After an angry, blustering trial, during which nobody could browbeat her into helplessness, defeat had to be admitted, and a formal sentence passed against the duchess. She may have winced for a moment when it came; the indignity alone would have stung her like a blow upon the face. There was nothing in this world she felt more pride in than the fact that she was a king’s daughter; this sentence put her on the level of any refractory woman that the Church and her husband considered in need of punishment. She was to suffer perpetual solitary imprisonment, and her children and the greater part of her revenue were to be taken from her.

Still she maintained the same unaccountable self-possession. It seemed almost as if some store of inner strength placed her beyond the reach of personal sufferings. All who knew her were bewildered. For, the very morning after condemnation, she was driven from the Castello to an old building next door, to be imprisoned under guards chosen carefully by Ercole. Two servants, also picked out by him, were the only people allowed in her presence.

She held out for a week. It was too little; mere sulkiness could have endured that period. Six months would have made her sympathetic and dignified, a week rendered her previous fortitude useless. Still, it should be borne in mind that imprisonment for life with two foreigners of a different class is very cold to the heart after the first glow of resistance has faded. Renée had known her triumph. The famous Inquisitor, so proud of his infallible method, had exhausted cunning for nothing. They were obliged to shut her up for the humiliating reason that not one of them had been able to move her by a hair’s breadth. She had that victory to kindle satisfaction with for the rest of existence.

During a day or two she probably lived supported by the joy of steadfast conduct. Then gradually the meaning of a lifetime’s solitude pressed upon imagination. At any rate, by the end of seven days, everybody knew in Ferrara that the duchess had surrendered. The news reduced her to an absurdity; she had possessed sufficient courage to be maddening, and no more. Capitulation, however, was complete. She not only expressed her desire openly to attend mass, but her willingness to return to confession. By her own choice, a Jesuit confessor was sent for, and in a “flood of tears” the necessary recantation was given.

Instantly the guards were withdrawn, and her ordinary household allowed to recommence attendance. The struggle was over. Ercole could feel at last that he had tamed her, and in a few days the surface showed no signs of the immense upheaval it had suffered. Only the Protestants stood aghast. Calvin wrote bitterly when he heard of it: “What shall I say, except that constancy is a very rare virtue among the great of this world?” Olympia Morata, who had a sore place in her thoughts made by Renée, declared that she was not surprised, and that she had always said it was une tête légère.

Upon one point, notwithstanding, the duchess remained unexpectedly firm. She had surrendered a good deal. But she drew the line for the future at playing love-scenes with the man who had caused her to be tried and imprisoned like a common criminal.

From the time of her trial, Renée occupied a separate establishment, though Ercole, to whom she could do no right, made even this a grievance, and complained that “the duchess refused to return to the chamber they had shared for fifteen years, and in which they had made such beautiful children.”

With this brief, tense, and futile drama, the interest of Renée’s life evaporates. The remainder,—long and untranquil though it was,—reads like an anti-climax. She never knew a year’s serenity to the end of her lengthy and eventful existence. And yet all that followed has a certain sameness and monotony. The unhappinesses were constantly repeated; also the piteous efforts to remain firm in Protestantism only to be driven back again to the old faith of her people.

In 1559 Ercole died, and from that day Renée passed entirely out of the sphere of the Renaissance into that of the Reformation. She returned to France, and went to live at the town of Montargis, which belonged to her. Comfort she never knew again. Her castle was so constantly overcrowded that it became impossible to move in it for people. Brantome, who visited her there, says he saw “three hundred Protestant refugees,” on the occasion of his visit. Horrors, bloodshed, and persecutions became her daily preoccupations. Blood, at that period in France, made the world look red. During the massacre of St. Bartholomew, she was in Paris, and remained for nine days shut up in her rooms, before the gates of Paris were opened once more, and she was able to fly back to Montargis.

But the latter part of her existence nobly atoned for the dispirited uselessness of the beginning. She took mass, and professed to be a humble and obedient daughter of the Pope when there was no alternative between that and being driven out of Montargis. But continuously, hourly, and unhesitatingly, she helped all those who came to her.

At the time of her death she was sixty-four, though long before that time she had looked a hundred. All her friends died before she did. Even Calvin, who from the day she left Ferrara, had been the real prop of her existence, passed out of life twelve years earlier.

Though almost all that was best of the Renaissance seemed gathered into the stretch of Renée’s existence, it is difficult to remember her association with it. Tintoretto, Titian, Correggio, and Raphael were the joy of Italy during her lifetime. Ariosto, Tasso, Montaigne, all belong to this period—Ariosto dying when she was twenty-three, while Tasso outlived her by many years. She passed the whole of her married life in a court of impassioned connoisseurs, and never rose above a taste for cheap majolica. Her niche was in a convent, a hospital, or a training school for orphans, not in a centre of artistic and literary efflorescence.

She was unfortunate all her life, and even after death it remained her tragic fate to be a nuisance. Her son, Alphonso III., found difficulty in coming to a decision as to what behaviour to observe about the circumstance. She had been his mother, but she had also been a heretic. In the end he compromised, ordering mourning for a brief period, but omitting any mourning services. They buried her at Montargis, and on her tomb made no mention of Italy, or of her discomforted connection with the House of Ferrara. The inscription merely bore the words—

“Renée de France, Duchesse de Chartres, Comtesse de Gisors et Madame de Montargis.

May many daughters of France yet rise to emulate the example of her faith, patience, and charity.”

At a brief glance only the last virtue appears appropriate. But the grace of Renée’s life lies in the fact that she used it for development. The self-engrossed, unfriendly girl who fought with Ercole, slowly but momentously learned from experience. Handicapped both by nature and circumstances, she yet issued from the tempestuous stumblings of youth into an old age, still clumsy enough to an eye seeing only in a dull moment, but exquisite to a consciousness aware how the soul had continuously developed through every untoward incident of existence. As a girl Renée had been too querulous to circumvent her own ugliness. But as an old woman she rendered it of no account. Surely—though probably unconsciously—she learnt at last that it is what a nature gives from within that is the ultimate test of value, and that to a great heart there are no denials, and cannot be—in the world’s colossal and unceasing need of sympathy—anything but welcome and appreciation.