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Romance of Roman Villas (The Renaissance) By Elizabeth W. Champney Characters: 12509

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Federigo de Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, gives his views of Raphael

Then why too will he try so many things,

Instead of sticking to one single art;

He must be studying music, twanging strings,

And writing sonnets with their "heart and dart,"

Lately he's setting up for architect,

And planning palaces, and, as I learn,

Has made a statue-every art in turn.

W. W. Story.

Raphael, as I have said, betook himself to Florence, that centre of the arts, and for a matter of four years I saw him not, nor can I, my Giulio, give you any record of his Florentine experiences, vital as they were to the flowering of his character and genius. I saw only the change; he left me a youth, na?ve, ignorant, but filled with a divine enthusiasm, inspired as it were by the very spirit of God. In those four years he became instructed, absorbing all that was best from ancient and modern art, but still a mystic, a young archangel in knowledge and power.

He studied first with Fra Bartolommeo in the cloister of San Marco, and the painter-monk yearned over him, as the child of his soul. But he divined also from the mere beholding of Da Vinci's pictures what I had been able to learn only by painful study, the secret of the master's charm.

At the same time the strong undercurrent of the Greek spirit rife in Florence was bearing him irresistibly on to his mission as leader of all that is beautiful, joyous, and noble in classical art. Fra Bartolommeo could not fail to be distressed by these tendencies in his disciple. Raphael came to him one day saying, "Beloved Master, his holiness the Pope has called me to Rome; and I go with joy, for it has been revealed to me that there I shall find Apollo."

"Ah! my son," the pious painter replied in anguished warning, "beware, for whoso findeth Apollo loseth Christ."

And now I come to our Roman life and especially to that familiar intercourse at the Villa Chigi where Raphael and I were nearer of one spirit, for all your opportunities, than were you and he, my Giulio. In Rome, as in Siena, I preceded him, and had the better chance for fortune's favours, which I wilfully threw away. For early in his pontificate, Pope Julius II. made Agostino Chigi his banker and farmer of the alum mines whose yearly revenue was estimated at $100,000. Nor did Chigi with this elevation forget old friends, for in the spring of 1507 he came to Siena to fetch me as a personal favour to Rome, but on our arrival he introduced me to the Pope, and obtained from him my commission to decorate the Stanza della Segnatura. But, fool that I was, I fancied my luck could not desert me, and painted only when it pleased me, ran my horses at all the races in Italy, and played the dandy, the spendthrift, and the roistering spark, until his Holiness in disgust turned me from the Vatican, and called Raphael to take my place, bidding him erase the little work I had done upon the ceiling.

This, however, Raphael refused to do. On the contrary he did me the honour to paint my portrait beside his own, where you may see both of them to-day in that glorious fresco of the School of Athens, the serious inspired face of the young maestro cheek by cheek with the coarser features of his laughing, devil-may-care friend; and I prize more highly that testimony of his esteem than all the other honours of my life.

I lingered on aimlessly at Rome, watching him at his work, fascinated by the superb conceptions with which he glorified the walls of the Vatican, and admiring the daring which enthroned Apollo and his attendant muses there in the very sanctuary of Christendom.

It was his homage to the old worship, his endeavour to bring back Apollo, and that he thought then of Maria Dovizio's promise that he should find her when this was accomplished I had one day convincing proof; for, turning over his sketches, I found scribbled upon the back of a study for the Disputa this sonnet:


"Love, thou hast bound me with a cruel force,

The light of her two tender starry eyes,

A face like snow flushed rose 'neath sunset skies,

With gentle bearing and with chaste discourse.

But I would make no plaint, so great my bliss.

The more I love, I long to love again.

How light the yoke, how sweet the circling chain

Of her arms round my neck! And 'neath her kiss

Leaps forth the embodied soul in ecstacy.

Unloosed those bonds I suffer ceaseless pain,

For great joy kills whom it doth wholly move.

Though throbbing still with tender thought of thee,

My heart is heavy and I speak in vain,

But be my silence eloquent of love."[3]

Raphael and Sodoma

Fragment of School of Athens, in the Vatican-Raphael Alinari

I knew that the poem was addressed to Maria, for it was at this time that Bernardo Dovizio, dazzled by the change in Raphael's fortunes and repenting of his hasty action at Cetinale, offered my friend the hand of his niece.

Raphael had told me of this, begging my congratulations. "She is at Urbino," he said, "but has written me confirming our betrothal. She tells me, too, that she has loved me all these years. Such constancy is miraculous, and I am the happiest of men."

It was with a sore heart that I wished my friend joy. He knew not of my trouble, or I think it would have poisoned his happiness, for he sympathised so deeply with all his friends that their sorrows were his own. I mind me that we met Agostino Chigi that day, and that he told us of his prosperity; how he was sole owner of five score banking houses outrivalling those of the Medici and, indeed, every other firm in the world; how he monopolised not alone the alum, but also the wheat and salt industries; how his lakes alone supplied Rome with fish and his stock farms its markets; that his fleet numbered upwards of an hundred merchant vessels, while thousands of men did him service; that, in short, his fortune was now past computation, and his income beyond his power of spending.

He explained all this not in a spirit of boastfulness, but, with an arm about each of us, told how he desired that we should share in his glory. He had determined to build a villa in Lungara upon the Tiber which should excel all of the Roman palaces, and while P

eruzzi was his chosen architect, Raphael and I should divide its decoration. "For if I have become a prince of finance," he ended, "you, dear friends, are princes of art, and we will all three join in making this villa a worthy dwelling-place for one whom you knew and admired at Cetinale."

Thinking for the instant that he referred to Imperia, who was now in Rome, Raphael congratulated him warmly and confided his own betrothal to Maria Dovizio. But at that news a sudden transformation was wrought in the demeanour of our old friend. His face became purple and swollen and his arms fell to his sides. Not a word spake he for a full minute, but he drew his breath hard, flinging out at length a bitter sarcasm on the faithlessness of women, and bidding Raphael trust not too much to their promises, he abruptly left us.

Villa Farnesina, Rome Alinari

There was only one construction to be put upon his conduct. Maria's loveliness had apparently made no impression upon him at Cetinale, but the memory of it had lingered in his heart, and when he met her after a lapse of years and saw how her beauty had matured, an affection, of which he himself may not have been conscious, flowered suddenly, just as a rose-tree set in ungrateful soil and long accounted dead may in the fulness of time come to unlooked-for efflorescence.

Sharing his envy, I could only mark it with a laugh, but Raphael said, kindly, "Poor fellow, with all his wealth, I am many times richer than he."

In my heart I knew that of her three lovers Maria had chosen wisely, and Chigi's disappointment would not have added to my own affliction, but for the reflection that in the present turn of affairs he would not be likely to hasten the building of his villa, and my last hope of employment in Rome was fading like a cruel mirage. But Raphael could well afford to waive Chigi's patronage, for him it was but another step in the golden staircase of success which now mounted invitingly before him. The Pope not only overwhelmed him with projects for the decoration of the Vatican but made him curator of all antiques which might be discovered near Rome, with full power to direct excavations.

Returning to the Vatican from the walk during which we had encountered Chigi, Raphael found awaiting him a letter from the Pope, announcing that certain ancient statues had been discovered in the gardens of the villa of Nero at Antium, (now Porto d'Anzio), and desiring him to examine them and arrange for the transportation of the more remarkable to Rome.

"Come with me," Raphael cried, "since you have nothing better to do-pardon me, my friend-since such an excursion is exactly what you would enjoy. We will ride to-morrow morning to Ostia and charter some fishing craft there for the sail to Porto d'Anzio."

I accepted the invitation, glad to visit this favourite seaside resort of the Roman emperors. Even before we landed we could see the ruins of their villas deep in the clear waters of the bay, fish gliding through arches and the seaweed waving its pennons from the walls. The cliff at the back of the town presented a most impressive appearance, being pierced by great arched openings like the portals of a Roman bath. And such, indeed, they were, for on the promontory above had been the gardens of the imperial villa, and from them staircases carven in the rock descended to this subterranean chamber, which at full-tide the sea, rushing through a long canal, once converted into a swimming-pool. The great cavern had been dry for centuries, for the tides had piled their own sandy dykes before it, and the vaulting had fallen bringing with it a portion of the garden of the imperial villa and burying its statues beneath the debris. It was here that excavations had been begun, and as we entered the cave from the beach, our way was bordered by the fragments of many a column and capital, by broken vases and by headless statues.

But none of these attracted us, for in the centre of the chamber, perfectly illumined by a shaft of light which fell upon it slantwise from the chasm in the roof, was the most superb statue which our eyes, nay, which any human vision had ever beheld.

Apollo's very self stood there, god-like in superhuman majesty, as though he were an archangel who had alighted from his flaming chariot to lift a threatening hand against the workers of iniquity.

I cannot describe the profound impression which this discovery made upon Raphael. He was raised to the seventh heaven, as on that memorable night at Siena, and while he gazed at the statue a mysterious voice, clear but freighted with intense emotion, chanted the Hymn to Apollo to which we had listened at Chigi's villa.

At first we could not tell from whence it came but looked about in startled surprise. Presently, however, a branch of laurel fell through the opening in the roof, the song ended in a peal of laughter, and we knew that some one was looking down upon us from the old Roman garden. No one but Imperia could sing like that, and when Raphael exclaimed. "It is the same song, the same singer that we heard at Cetinale." I cried out. "The same, the same. She is celebrating the discovery of Apollo."

"She promised to come to me when I had found Apollo," he said, and bounded up the rude stairway. Even then I did not realise that though Raphael had recognised the voice he still supposed that it was Maria Dovizio who had sung on that evening, and that it was she whom he now believed he was about to meet.

There was no one in the ruined villa. A goatherd at a little distance, of whom I inquired, pointed to the shore, and we saw some pleasure-seekers embarking in a small sailboat.

"It is Chigi's yacht," said Raphael, "that is his pennon which flaps from the mast, and Chigi himself is standing at the stern waving his cap to us. There is a lady with him. He is steadying her with his arm. Your eyes are better than mine, is it she?"

"It is indeed," I replied, "I would know her anywhere. His arm is around her waist and she is clinging to him as of old. The unsteadiness of the vessel is but an excuse. Many times at Cetinale have I seen them standing thus. What else could you expect of such a woman? He is the richest man in Italy."

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