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Romance of Roman Villas (The Renaissance) By Elizabeth W. Champney Characters: 25251

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Giovanni Antonio Bazzi (called Sodoma) to Giulio Romano, painter and architect at Mantua.

Good Friend and sometime Pot-Comrade:

By the which epithet I would signify that comradeship at Chigi's villa at Rome in orgies of paint pots and brushes, flesh pots and flagons, feasts of reason and of unreason, wherein we were alike insatiable until the light of our revels went out in the death of our adored Raphael.

You write me that in the intervals of your labour you are piecing together memoirs of those glorious Roman days in order to leave to the world some record of the more intimate private life of our friend, and you ask me for any anecdotes or remembered conversations which may fill out this sheaf of tribute.

Faith, you, who have a whole garden of such souvenirs from which to cull, in that you shared his labours, his home, his confidence and his largess, have come to a wild and barren pasture for such sweet flowers; and yet there was love between us, love which ever radiated from him as it were sunshine and caused many a briar-rose to blossom in the thorny tangle of my life. I knew him also before you, in the summer of 1503, at Siena; and it is of certain pranks in that early comradeship that I will now write. Raphael was then a youth of scarce twenty years. He had come fresh from his apprenticeship to that old pietist Perugino, to assist in the decoration of the cathedral library. I was twenty-four, but older far in world-knowledge, and exulting in my first success as a painter, for though the spoiled favourite of the town I stood facile princeps among the Sienese of my craft.

We met first at Cetinale, the villa of our patron, Agostino Chigi. From the first Raphael's honest admiration of my work warmed me to friendship and I strove to enlighten his ignorance. Chigi had placed at our joint disposition a loft in his stables which we fitted up as a studio and bed-chamber, and hither we resorted for work or play as opportunity and inclination moved us.

It was oftener play for me, for I was more interested in my host's horses in those days than in my art. Chigi and I were both amateurs of the race-track and though he spent enormous sums on his stud I had once beaten him at the palio. In spite of this we were good friends. I had the run of his stables and many a reckless ride have we enjoyed together. I was fond of all sports which were spiced with danger, and particularly of hunting. But there was no sport I loved so well as a practical joke, no game that for me had so delicious a flavour as the teasing of my friends and especially the more serious and dignified-though such pranks have frequently cost me dear. From the multitude of which I have been guilty I recall one which had different consequences from those I had foreseen.

I was hunting in the neighbourhood of Siena late one afternoon in the summer of which I speak. Chigi was detained at his villa in the expectation of guests, and I was alone save for the company of my ape, Ciacco, which I had purchased of some strolling Bohemians. I was training the creature to retrieve my game, in which service he was extremely zealous and clever.

We had ridden far and were both parched with thirst, when I paused to rest in the shadow of a ruined tower which crowned a hill and commanded the road to Siena. Two sumpter mules, guarded by armed men, had just passed on in the direction of the city, and following at some distance in the rear two travellers, an elderly man and a young girl, were approaching the tower where at that moment I chanced to be stationed.

In spite of the fact that their horses were jaded they were pushing them to the utmost, anxious, doubtless, to rejoin their convoy and to gain Siena before the closing of the gates.

I doubt not, that, armed as I was, and with wind-disordered hair, I presented in front of that grim barbican a sufficiently sinister appearance. Certain it is they took me for a bandit and their faces blanched. The man retained some vestiges of self-possession, however, and, doffing his hat, craved permission to pass.

Apprehending the situation, the spirit of mischief with which I am at all times possessed moved me to personate the character for which he took me, and I gruffly bade him stand and deliver toll of the valuables he carried.

"My property has preceded me," he replied unsteadily, "but I will blow this whistle and bid the knaves unload it for your worship's choice."

"Nay," I replied, "my merry men are dealing with your servants. I am a robber-knight, it is true, but one not altogether devoid of courtesy. I therefore ask but a kiss from your pretty daughter, and that small melon which dangles in the netted pouch at her saddle-bow, for which my thirsty ape is gibbering."

If the traveller had been pale hitherto he was livid now.

"Not that, not that," he cried; "hold me in ransom if you will, but let my niece pass on unmolested. She will send back whatever sum you demand, for we have wealthy friends in Siena."

"Is it so?" I replied; "then I will forego the kiss, which is doubtless reserved for a wealthier suitor, but the fruit you will not deny, for I have ridden far to-day, and have the thirst of the evil one." The man's only reply was to cut the girl's horse so savagely across the flanks that the frightened creature dashed past while his own horse blocked my pursuit.

But Ciacco, perceiving that the coveted fruit was about to be lost, in three flying leaps overtook the fugitive and clambering up the lady's draperies seized on the swaying pouch, which his sharp teeth managed to unravel, and presently came hopping back, man-like upon his hind feet, the melon clasped within his hairy arms.

My prisoner uttered a wail of anguish. One would have thought the ape's trifling booty an inestimable treasure, for he rode so furiously toward Ciacco that the ape dropped the melon and scampered up a neighbouring tree. But my blood was up. I was not to be defrauded of my prey, and as the traveller was on the point of dismounting, I fired my arquebus in the air, and so terrified his horse that it galloped after the fleeing maiden. Its rider was also well frightened, for, though he drew rein uncertainly when he saw me possess myself of his luncheon, when I fired again (though purposely wide of the mark) both travellers resumed their flight, nor paused until they had gained Siena.

I laughed to myself at the success of my prank, thinking of the added mirth I should enjoy in telling the tale that evening. Meantime I hastened to rescue the melon from my pet, but his strong hands had already rent it asunder, and to my astonishment there rolled from its interior and broke open upon the flinty road a little casket for which the rind had been but the concealing envelope.

I was in very truth a highwayman, for unaware I had stolen the travellers' treasure. The melon had hidden a quantity of jewels, which now besprinkled the dust; rubies, emeralds, pearls, sapphires, beryls, as well as semi-precious stones such as jacinths, onyx, and sardonyx, rendered more costly than their brilliant fellows by the skill with which they had been cut into cameos and intaglios. It needed but a glance at an amethyst incised with a scene from the history of Cupid, and Psyche, and at another larger stone bearing a marvellous Apollo and Marsyas, to realise that they were antiques of inestimable value, the collection of some great prince. I gathered up the gems by handfuls and stuffed them into my wallet. I was sobered by the realisation of the enormity of my crime, for I had possessed myself, vi et armis, of jewels worth a king's ransom; and I had no clue by which I could safely return them.

I sifted the dust with my fingers, explored Ciacco's mouth, and gathered up the fragments of the melon-rind that no stray gem should escape me; but it was with sincere repentance and the gravest apprehensions that I took my way to Villa Cetinale.

Repairing to the stables, I put up my horse and climbed with my booty to my loft. Raphael was not there, and tying Ciacco to my bed-post I again examined the gems, gloating over their beauty and yet wishing with all my heart that they had never come into my possession. I compared them with a list in the box, found none missing, and returning them to the little casket carefully corded and sealed the same, and sat for a long time racking my brains for some issue from the dilemma. I was awakened from my dreams by a servant who announced that dinner was served, and that his master awaited my coming to present me to his guests. While hastily dressing, I resolved at the first opportunity to confide frankly in Chigi and to take his advice in the matter. Having thus lightly shifted the responsibility from my mind, and not being able to think of any better method of concealment, I once more placed the casket within the melon with the intention of returning for it in the course of the evening, and so hastened to my friend's table.

Here what was my astonishment at being presented to the very persons who had figured in my adventure, and who proved to be Messer Bernardo Dovizio, Chancellor of his Eminence Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici, and his niece Maria, whose beauty was somewhat lessened by weariness and the traces of recent tears. The Chancellor, also,-who to my relief did not recognise me,-was by no means in good form, nor did he regale us with any of those witty stories for which he is so justly famed, but sighed and groaned between every mouthful. His misfortune had so afflicted him that he could not keep silence, and disregarding my presence, which indeed he hardly noticed, he poured forth the cause of his woe. The gems which he had lost were a part of the famous collection of Lorenzo de' Medici, which his son, the Cardinal Giovanni, had carried with him in his flight from Florence, and was now secretly sending by his Chancellor in the expectation of pledging them to Chigi, in return for bills of exchange which would serve him in good stead during his exile in France.

The faithful Dovizio, devoted to the Cardinal's service, as he had been to that of his father, was in an agony of despair. "I will bring this highwayman to the gallows," he continually repeated. "I will move heaven and earth to discover the villain."

"Have you any guess as to whom he may be?" I asked, for the humour of the matter grew apace upon me.

"Certainly not of his name," replied Chigi, "but the description given by my friend is so exact that he cannot fail to be discovered."

"A man of gigantic stature," repeated the Chancellor, "with eyes of green fire gleaming from under his matted hair, a raucous voice which I could not fail to recognise; and on his croup an enormous baboon, as dangerous and malignant a beast as his master, trained also to like acts of brigandage, for it attacked my niece and robbed her while I held the bandit in play with my sword."

"The baboon will bring him to justice," said Chigi, for it so happened that he had never seen Ciacco; "there is no such creature in Siena. This description shall be sent to every town in the vicinity and the miscreant will be easily identified."

I could scarcely conceal my amusement, but turning to the Signorina I asked her if she could recognise their assailant.

"Of a surety," she rejoined "though I cannot corroborate my uncle's description. The brigand's eyes were not green, for I marked them well, and they were black and merry as your own, nor was his voice harsh, but sweetly cadenced. Indeed now I bethink me you resemble him in other particulars."

"You resemble that villain not at all, young man," interrupted her uncle. "He was twice your weight and bulk. I would know him anywhere and at our next meeting he shall not escape me."

"Truly," I said, "a most lamentable mischance, and to think that you lost not only the jewels but your fruit as well. However, since you have a fondness for melons I may be able to furnish this repast with a desert of your liking, and if our host will excuse my absence I will fetch it."

I ran to my loft bubbling over with appreciation of the exceeding wittiness of my own joke, but on opening my door a cry of dismay escaped me. My window was broken, the cord which had tied Ciacco gnawed through, and both the ape and the casket had disappeared.

Nemesis had now loaded me with a despair identical with that of Bernardo Dovizio's. Like him, I foresaw myself suspected of having stolen the jewels. The amusing joke had assumed the proportions of a dangerous situation, and since I could not restore my

ill-gotten gains I rashly determined to make no confession. I reflected that though the Signorina Dovizio might have shrewd suspicions she could bring forward no proofs. Ciacco, my compromising partner in crime, had fled. No one at the villa knew that I had ever owned such a pet. Even Raphael had not seen him, for he had been busy in Siena for a fortnight, and the Bohemians from whom I had bought Ciacco had passed by a week before. In an evil hour I determined to hold my peace for the present, hoping that some happy chance would lead to the discovery of the lost jewels, for which indeed I sought continually with every means at my command.

Chigi too had instituted such search as was possible without putting the matter in the hands of the authorities, which would have brought about awkward complications with the signory of Florence. In the meantime he had invited the Dovizios to remain at the villa as his guests, an invitation which was accepted with much content. The Chancellor gave himself up to the delay with such resignation that I presently perceived that he had business of his own at Cetinale other than procuring funds for his patron, that in fact he had brought his niece in the hope of securing for her husband the banker Chigi, a good match even then in point of fortune. There was in Maria Dovizio such dewy freshness and sweetness, such absolute simplicity and purity as could not fail to appeal to any man with eyes to see; but Chigi was blind, being enamoured of another woman and she of a very different type, the improvisatrice Imperia, accounted the most talented singer in all Italy.

While the Dovizios lingered in this unavailing quest, of which the gentle Maria was in utter ignorance, Raphael returned to the villa, and Love, who is always sharpening his arrows for the unwary, was not idle. It was the lady whom he first wounded, though we suspected it not at the time. Later, in Rome, the Signora Giovanna de Rovere gave me a letter written her by Maria Dovizio when at Cetinale, because forsooth I was mentioned therein, though in no complimentary a wise; and as this letter showeth forth the trend of affairs better than could any words of mine, I enclose it with this memorial.

Alinari

Unknown Lady (probably Imperia), by Sebastian del Piombo Uffizi

Alinari

Virgin and Child, by Sodoma

Pinacoteca, Milan

Maria Dovizio to the Lady Giovanna Feltra de Rovere (Sister of the Duke of Urbino), Duchess of Sora and Prefectissa of Rome at Urbino.

"Siena, October, 1504.

"Most magnificent, most beloved, and most sweet Lady:

"For whom my heart longs with true devotion. Truly Madam, since we parted in Urbino most strange adventures have befallen me which I will now relate. On our way to Siena we fell in with a bandit who robbed us, and though my uncle is tarrying here in the hope of the recovery of his property the matter is not altogether simple but presents more complications than I can explain or indeed understand.

"While we are thus delayed we are the guests of the banker Agostino Chigi at his villa of Cetinale. With the exception of our host and of two young painters, also his guests, we see no one, so, for lack of other material, I will describe these young men. The elder is a conceited prankish fop, if no worse, called Giovanni Bazzi, and why his comrade, Raphael Santi, should hold him in affection I can by no means understand, unless the vulgar saying be indeed true that love goes by contraries. In presenting Raphael to us our host assured my uncle that though as a painter he is as yet unknown he is destined to make for himself a great career. But to these eulogies of Chigi's I scarcely listened, my attention being held by the charm of the artist's personality. Though he said but little, his eyes were eloquent, and a smile of heavenly sweetness lighted from time to time the gravity of his thoughtful face.

"At our host's insistence Bazzi showed one of his paintings-a Madonna and Child-which I scarce regarded until Raphael praised its excellencies, boldly defending the painting from my uncle's strictures.

"While he spoke so eloquently I made a feint of examining the picture and was indeed moved by the love which overflowed it, the Madonna caressing her babe and he in turn petting a little lamb; but my uncle pished and poohed, saying that this sentimentality was but a feeble reflection of his master Da Vinci; and our host cut the discussion short by demanding that Raphael should show his own work. This he could not be persuaded to do, modestly persisting that he had naught worthy of our consideration, though he promised later to show us a Sposalizio upon which he was engaged but which was not then finished.

"With all this, I have not related the circumstance which at once put us upon the familiar footing of old acquaintanceship. It was Chigi's chance remark that Raphael was a native of Urbino, where he had been a favourite with all those choice spirits who make your brother's court the most brilliant in Italy.

"And when I demanded of Raphael if he knew you and he told me of your goodness to him, and how you were held in love and admiration of all, then it was that our common affection for your ladyship made us to feel that we had known each other from the time that we first knew you.

"It is true that he did not boast as he might well have done that you had kindly written a letter in his behalf to the Gonfalonier of Florence, whither he intends later to journey. But my uncle learning of this later was duly impressed thereby, and pronounced him a young man of engaging manners who doubtless deserved such distinguished favour.

"Even with this warrant our acquaintance has made no such rapid strides. I meet him rarely except at our host's table where there are often other guests and always that pest Giovanni Bazzi, whom I can in no wise abide, and concerning whose honesty I have of late entertained very grave suspicions. So serious indeed are they that I will not at present divulge them but shall continue to watch the rogue, knowing that the guilty sooner or later accuse themselves. I think he dreads me for he leaves me always to converse with Raphael, with whom my topic is ever Florence, which I knew as a child before the banishment of the Medici.

"He tells me that he longs to see the city on account of the artists there assembled and chiefly the painter Frate, formerly known as Baccio della Porta, who turned monk under the preaching of Savonarola.

"'And truly,' said he, 'I think that art and a monastic life wed well together, and I would willingly retire to some cloistered garden afar from the world if I might carry my box of colours with me, and might sometimes see as in a vision a face like thine to paint from.' Then was I seized with a foolish timidity so that I could in no wise answer-nay, nor so much as lift up my head-but my heart said, 'And why afar from the world? Why not in it making all better and happier?'

"And while I sat thus silent, abashed, he, continuing to gaze upon me, cried: 'Nay, but I must paint thee: for thou art the very embodiment of the ideal which I am striving to shadow forth in my picture. I wish to depict the Virgin at the time of her betrothal to St. Joseph, And to show a soul as pure as any of Fra Angelico's angels shining through a body that shall have all the perfection and charm of Da Vinci's women. It is what my master, Perugino, strove for but never attained. How could he when he had only his beautiful but soulless wife Chiara Fancelli to paint from?'

"'And do I look thus to thee?' I asked in wonder. 'Then, indeed, I would that I might pose for thy painting; but, alas! I fear that to this my uncle would in no wise consent.'

"And so, indeed, it proved. For later, when my uncle fancied that he perceived some likeness to myself in the Sposalizio, though I had given Raphael no sittings, he was vehement in his denunciation of the presumption of all artists.

"My uncle might not have been so vexed but for the ill-timed jesting of this same Bazzi. We had been asked to inspect the picture before it should be sent to the monks for whom it was painted, and while I stood entranced with its exceeding loveliness and my uncle himself was astonished by the skill displayed, the Signor Chigi explained the details of the composition.

"'It is a tradition,' he said, 'that the blessed Virgin was sought in marriage by so many young men that her parents besought the high-priest to aid them in their choice of her husband. He accordingly demanded that her suitors should give their staves into his keeping, to be placed over night before the altar, with the understanding, in which Mary herself meekly acquiesced, that he whose staff budded should become her husband. On the morrow Joseph's staff was found to have put forth blossoms. This legend, as you see, our artist has followed in his painting, for not only is Joseph's staff tipped by a cluster of small flowers, but the young men who accompany him, the disappointed suitors, bear flowerless staves, and one of the rejected is breaking his across his knee in token of his vexation.'

"Of this incident I would make no account, had it not been the occasion for Bazzi's unmannerly trick. For that graceless fellow chancing to spy leaning against his easel, the rod upon which Raphael was wont to rest his hand while painting, he very slyly made fast to it a nosegay of orange blossoms which the Signor Chigi had presented to me on my entrance and which I had carelessly let fall.

"You cannot imagine the coil which this trick occasioned, for its author speedily called our host's attention to the decorated rod, and the signification of its adornment was at once apprehended to be my own approval of the painter.

"Raphael alone retained his senses, for he at once divined that the perpetrator of the jest was his scapegrace friend and extorted from him full confession of his prank, asserting that it was inconceivable that I could have had any part in it.

"My confusion was such that I accepted the explanation with gratitude as an escape from the bantering of the Signor Chigi and the displeasure of my uncle. But as days passed by and Raphael held himself aloof, giving me no opportunity to thank him for his tactful defence, I perceived that it was not so much the meaning of the token which had been imputed to me at which my heart revolted, as the shameless and public way in which it had been thrust upon my friend. In this plight I still remain and turn to you for sympathy in my trouble, to you sweet lady who cannot fail to think me sadly love-sick and bold, but I pray you chide me not, seeing the matter can go no further, for I learn that Raphael has been recalled to Urbino by your ladyship's brother to execute certain commissions. So that your ladyship will soon see him and will have an opportunity of learning from him whether he at all regrets leaving Siena, though I beg that you will ascertain this without so much as suffering him to suspect that I have in any way signified that I have met him. For it is perchance best that he is going, for were I to see him often I do fear me that my heart might become so pitched and set upon him, that I should in time most rashly and inconsiderately fall in love, which were a bold and unmaidenly thing to do, and I mind that you once said that no virtuous woman would allow her affections to conduct themselves thus insubordinately until the Church had by the sacrament of marriage given her good and sufficient license thereto.

"And so Madam, praying Maria Sanctissima and Maria, the sister of Lazarus, my patroness, to keep me constant in this mind, I rest your ladyship's loving friend and devoted servitor

"Maria Dovizio."

It must be understood that this letter came not to my knowledge until long after its writing. I knew not then either the deep affection of the writer for Raphael, or her aversion for myself. By an irony of fate we had begun our acquaintance by loving at cross purposes. The "prankish fop" and "graceless fellow"-whose affection had indeed been hitherto no great compliment to a woman, being lightly caught and as lightly lost-was to his own surprise falling very honestly in love. So accustomed was I to the attraction of false lights that I said to myself often in the earlier stages of the malady, "This will pass like the others," not realising that I was entering upon the one great passion of my life, which all my later experience would but deepen, and death itself, if the soul be immortal, will have no power to quench.

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