Featured Image: George Gordon (Lord Byron) by Richard Westall (1765-1836). National Portrait Gallery, London.
Letter to the poet Thomas Moore, October 28, 1815. Byron’s Letters and Journals, vol. 4 (1973-81; edited by Leslie A. Marchand).
Byron’s Letters and Journals, vol. 8 (1973-81; edited by Leslie A. Marchand).
Out of chaos God made a world, and out of high passions comes a people. Byron was describing the early nationalist fervor in Italy for which the poet played an active role. Byron’s Letters and Journals, vol. 8 (1973-81; edited by Leslie A. Marchand).
I do detest everything that is not perfectly mutual. Letter, October 21, 1813. Byron’s Letters and Journals, vol. 3 (1973-81; edited by Leslie A. Marchand).
I only go out to get me a fresh appetite for being alone. Journal, December 12, 1813. Byron’s Letters and Journals, vol. 3 (1973-81; edited by Leslie A. Marchand).
Journal, March 22, 1814. Byron’s Letters and Journals, vol. 3 (1973-81; edited by Leslie A. Marchand).
In solitude, where we are LEAST alone.Childe Harold, canto 3, stanza 90.
Byron’s Letters and Journals, vol. 8 (1973-81; edited by Leslie A. Marchand).
Byron’s Letters and Journals, volume 9, edited by Leslie A. Marchand, 1979. The journal was written on Byron’s final journey to aid the Greek revolt.
If we must have a tyrant, let him at least be a gentleman who has been bred to the business, and let us fall by the axe and not by the butcher’s cleaver. Letter, February 21, 1820 to John Murray, publisher. Byron’s Letters and Journals, volume 7, edited by Leslie A. Marchand, 1973-1981.
Dosso Dossi (c. 1489-1542)– whose actual name was Giovanni de Lutero–was an Italian Renaissance painter who belonged to the School of Ferrara. Its scores of artists painted mainly in the Venetian style greatly influenced by Giorgione (c. 1477-1510). Dosso Dossi dominated the school that maintained its tradition of painterly artificiality. Melissa is Dosso Dossi’s masterpiece–a benign personage in the Italian epic poem Orlando Furioso (1516) of Ludovico Ariosto (1574-1533). The enchantress frees humans from the black arts of the wicked sorceress Alcina. The painting depicts Melissa at the moment she burns the seals and spells of Alcina and liberates two men from the tree trunks. The realistic dog is certainly a human being under Alcina’s spell who will be liberated by Melissa and take up again the suit of armor he watches earnestly. The trees are Giorgionesque–stylized, artificially-lighted elements that provide the magical setting for the poem’s characters. The figure of Melissa, draped in a fringed red-and-gold-brocaded robe and enriched by Titianesque glazes, is particularly alluring in the sparkling gold and green setting moored by meticulously and softly portrayed meadows, background figures, and distant city towers.
SOURCE: History of Italian Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Third Edition, Frederick Hartt, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1987.
Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255-c.1319).
The artistic tradition of the Sienese master, Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1255-c. 1319), was based on older Greek painting. Yet Duccio was no less “modern” than Giotto (1266-1377). Giotto, who was trained by Cimabue (1240-1302), directed his creative artistry towards concrete reality whose perception derived from the artist’s thoughts and feelings of it. Duccio would achieve a similar but unique synthesis through and from a different direction.
Duccio modernized the older Greek style creating the painting styles of the Sienese school as well as all of early Renaissance painting. Duccio’s artwork is distinguished by his discriminating advance of the Byzantine Post-Hellenism tradition in Tuscany—and following his own encounter with Cimabue who gave the Sienese artist his first important commission in Florence in 1285 —in a masterly delicate way. This delicacy and discrimination are seen in Duccio’s elegant, often light and airy, compositions and rich colors.
Over the next almost 25 years Duccio learned and deployed the elements of various pictorial traditions that by his constant intelligent blending enriched them. Duccio’s style used the iconographic schemata of the ancient Oriental-Byzantine tradition including its glorious color and poetic composition along with the ultra-contemporary French and Gothic linear style. Duccio’s oeuvre epitomizes the artist’s temperament and taste as well as a lifetime of artistic education and culture.
Yet beyond its representation of an event in a scene, Duccio’s painting, not unlike Giotto’s histories, is raised to another level by some of its formal elements – a figure, episode, or gesture – into the artist’s magical world. This quality of Duccio’s art provides a textually clear and comprehensibly observed episode—such as of the Gospels— within a setting that is carefully observed and delineated—and with its totality imbued in finer artistic and aesthetic sensibilities.
The imminent drama manifested in Duccio’s iconography works to transcend its representational anecdote, even as figures or episodes of the Bible are easily recognizable. His artwork’s plasticity, with figures and surroundings in serene harmony, emanates a power whose message supersedes, or at least is contiguous to, the painting’s ostensible, usually religious, subject matter.
In the display of such a unique artistic quality, Duccio’s artwork functions in a dream-like and imaginatively timeless dimension—a unique poetical language—while it conveys an historical condition in any of his intentionally-varying episodes. Duccio’s carefully delineated religious scenes, softly and carefully conveyed, would characterize emerging Sienese painting and make religious painting exceedingly popular in Europe over the next 450 years.
SOURCE: Giotto and His Contemporaries, Enzo Carli, trans. Susan Bellamy, New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1958.
Duccio Di Buoninsegna (c.1255-c.1319), The Apparition of Jesus at the Closed Doors. The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena, Italy.
Featured Image: John Keats (detail) by Joseph Severn (1793-1879), 1819.
John Keats’s first book of poems was published in 1817 when the English poet was 22 years old. From an early age, Keats, studying under the literary Rev. John Clarke, became a passionate reader of poetry and was introduced to the theater and music which he loved. Though both of his parents had died by the time Keats was in his early teens, their respectable estate never reached him in his short lifetime. His guardian sent the minor Keats to work in the medical field. But in 1813, the young Keats abandoned that apprenticeship for another — and began to write poetry.
Keats’ early poetic mentor was Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), editor of the Examiner, who introduced Keats to great established poets such as William Hazlitt (1778-1830), Charles Lamb (1775-1834), and Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). Keats also made the acquaintance of painter Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846) and made other intimate lifelong friends. In 1816 Keats wrote his first major sonnet (On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer) in which he laid out an ambitious plan for his poetry.
In 1817 Keats wrote the 4,000-line Endymion though, ever a perfectionist, Keats considered it merely a poetic exercise. Keats soon isolated himself consciously from others to benefit his art. His over-riding quest was to seek his artistic individuality and poetic voice.
In 1818 external personal and professional events circumscribed Keats’ precious independence. First, his poetry for political rather than artistic reasons was ridiculed in the press. But more problematic for the brave Keats was that some of his immediate family members had become suddenly destitute or died. Keats’ spring and summer walking tour in 1818 of England, Scotland, and Ireland resulted in Keats’s personal inspiration but a chronically weakened state of physical health. In those same months, the 23-year-old poet had fallen in love with the vivacious, pretty and thoroughly nonliterary 18-year-old Fanny Brawne (1800-1865). They soon became engaged, but Keats’ inferior health and his strained to nonexistent finances impeded their getting married which frustrated Keats.
In the rapidly reached final period of his life and poetic career, Keats wrote several of his masterpieces. In 1819 Keats wrote, one after another, The Eve of St. Agnes, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, his Odes (including Ode To a Grecian Urn), Lamia, and several major sonnets. These poems possess the characteristics of Keats’ mature work—that of grace, sensuality, and sympathetic objectivity. It sets before the reader the conflicting and contradictory nature of existence, signaling a “both-and” experience of living in the world, including grappling with the problem of good and evil. Keats writes plainly in a letter in that period about life’s suffering—it is a “world…full of misery and heartbreak, pain, sickness and oppression.”
Weakened by tuberculosis, Keats’ health took a bad turn in February 1820 so much so that the poet realized he was dying. By that fall he traveled to Italy seeking a milder climate for his health. He stayed in Rome until the end came. On February 23, 1821 —like his mother and brother before him— Keats died of tuberculosis. The 25-year-old poet was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.
Despite his gallant reluctance to yield to bitterness or despair for his life’s wasteful circumstances, with death died Keats’ ambitious plans of renewed poetic achievement and an ongoing passionate love for Fanny Brawne. Although today’s reader can continue to savor John Keats’ poems and letters prior to his having stopped writing at 24 years old, what might have been in terms of the English Romantic poet’s fully realized potential is to offer a conjecture about one of the English language’s greatest poets.
SOURCES: The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Third Edition, Volume 2, W.W. Norton & company, Inc. New York, 1974.
John Keats, Walter Jackson Bate, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1964.
John Keats, letter to his brother and sister, 1819.
John Keats, letter to his brother George Keats (1797-1841) and his wife Georgiana Augusta Wylie Keats (1798-1879). Married in England in May 1818, the Keats soon departed for America, specifically to Kentucky and southeastern Illinois by way of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The Keats are buried in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. Mrs. Keats re-married following the death of the poet’s brother who died of natural causes while experiencing serious financial setbacks.
The poet suffered from– and died of– tuberculosis at the age of 25 years.
Letter to his brothers, George and Thomas Keats, January 13-19, 1818. Letters of John Keats, no. 37, edited by Frederick Page, 1954.
Endymion, Preface (1818). The complete line is : “This may be speaking too presumptuously, and may deserve a punishment: but no feeling man will be forward to inflict it: he will leave me alone, with the conviction that there is not a fiercer hell than the failure in a great object.”