ROMANCE OF ROMAN VILLAS
ELIZABETH W. CHAMPNEY
Author of "Romance of the Italian Villas," "Romance of the Feudal Chateaux," "Romance of the French Abbeys," Etc.
G. P. Putnam's Sons New York and London The Knickerbocker Press 1908
In came the cardinal, grave and coldly wise, His scarlet gown and robes of cobweb lace Trailed on the marble floor; with convex glass He bent o'er Guido's shoulder.
Still unrivalled, after the lapse of four centuries the villas of the great cardinals of the Renaissance retain their supremacy over their Italian sisters, not, as once, by reason of their prodigal magnificence but in the appealing charm of their picturesque decay.
The centuries have bestowed a certain pathetic beauty, they have also taken away much, and the sympathy which these ruined pleasure palaces evoke whets our curiosity to know what they were like in their heyday of joyous revelling.
If we run down the list of the nobler villas of Rome we will find that, with few exceptions, they were built by princes of the purple, and that the names they bear are not Roman but those of the ruling families of other Italian cities.
That the sixteenth century should have produced the most palatial residences ever inhabited by prelates was but a natural outcome of the conditions then existing. The society of Rome was a hierarchical aristocracy made up of the younger sons of every powerful and ambitious family of Italy, and the red hat was so greatly desired not for the honour or emoluments of the cardinalcy per se but because it was a step to the papacy.
"To an Italian," says Alfred Austin, "it must seem a reproach never to have had a pope in the family, and you will with difficulty find a villa of any pretension, certainly not in Frascati, where memorial tassels and tiara carven in stone over porch and doorway do not attest pontifical kinship."
The young cardinal's first move in the game which he was to play was at all expense to create an impression, and if, as in the case of Ippolito d'Este, he had no benevolent uncle in St. Peter's chair to guide his career, the parental coffers were drawn upon recklessly and the cadet of the great house led a more extravagant life in his Roman villa than the duke his elder brother in his provincial court. The object of his ambition once attained the new Pope unscrupulously enriched his family, and endeavoured to make his office hereditary by elevating his favourite nephew to the cardinalcy, and endowing this future candidate for the papacy with means from the revenues of the Church to purchase the votes of his rivals. This is the constantly reiterated history of the builders of the palaces and villas of Rome.
Sixtus IV. made the fortunes of his numerous de la Rovere and Riario nephews,—one of whom, Pietro, Cardinal of San Sisto, for whom Bramante built the Cancellaria Palace, set the pace for his comrades of the Sacred College by squandering in two years the enormous sum of $2,800,000. Cardinal Raphael Riario of the next generation began the most beautiful of all villas, Lante, which three other cardinals subsequently perfected.
Leo X. after his election as pope, proved to be a greater spendthrift than Sixtus IV., for he not only repaired the broken fortunes of the Medici but eclipsed his father as a patron of art, making the erection of monumental buildings and the collection of objects of art a mania among all men of wealth and culture. Cardinal Giulio (afterwards Clement VII.) in the Villa Madama, and Cardinal Ferdinando in the Villa Medici sustained the family tradition, but Cardinal Alexander Farnese (Pope Paul III.) outrivalled them both, by filling the Farnese palace with the most valuable collections ever amassed by a private individual.
Immediately succeeding Alexander Farnese Julius III. built the noble Villa di Papa Giulio, and Pius IV. the charming Villa Pia; but nepotism did not scandalously reassert itself until the last quarter of the century, when the immense Villa Aldobrandini was erected by a nephew of Clement VIII.
Pope Paul V. in his turn bestowed more than a million dollars upon his Borghese nephews, to one of whom, Cardinal Scipione, we owe the delightful Villa Borghese, just outside the Porta del Popolo.
Early in the next century the evil attained greater proportions. Olimpia Pamphili, whose name and memory are perpetuated in the villa built by her son, received from Pope Innocent X. more than two millions. But Innocent seems to have a fair claim to his name when compared with his immediate predecessor Urban VIII. who conferred upon his nephews, the brothers Barberini, sums amounting to one hundred and five millions!
An architecture of pompous ostentation and riotous overloading of ornament, the Baroque, now took the place of the classical beauty of the Renaissance and art degraded became the slave of wealth, until the great Cardinal Albani erected his villa to serve as her temple.
We are ready to expect great results in the villas and palaces of the millionaires of the earlier half of the sixteenth century when we reflect that they were executed by Bramante, Peruzzi, San Gallo, Michael Angelo, and Raphael with a host of lesser men who would have been great in any other age, and that the ruins of imperial Rome furnished them with models for their designs and an inexhaustible quarry of statues, columns, mosaics, and other materials.
The point of view of the present volume is the life rather than the art of these villas, but it is not possible to ignore the stimulus which the daily discovery of the masterpieces of ancient art afforded to the artists of the day, and the connoisseurship imposed upon the rivalling patrons and collectors.
In the chapters entitled: "The Finding of Apollo" and "The Lure of Old Rome" I have striven to depict the influence of these discoveries upon such sensitive souls as those of Raphael and Ligorio, and the gradual education of the financier Chigi and Cardinal Ippolito d'Este in the refinements of dilettantism.
But the Fornarina left a more potent impression on Raphael's art than the Apollo Belvedere, and her memory and that of Imperia still haunt the villa of the Farnesina indissolubly united with that of the master of art and the master of revels.
In the noble Colonna palace the personality most vividly present to-day is that of Vittoria Colonna, making good the boast of Michael Angelo's sonnet,—
"So I can give long life to both of us In either way by colour or by stone, Making the semblance of thy face and mine, Centuries hence when both are buried thus Thy beauty and my sadness shall be shown And men shall say, 'For her 't was right to pine.'"
But if Michael Angelo carved or painted Vittoria the portrait is lost; and it is to his love, not to his art that she owes her immortality. So from the history of these beautiful dwellings I have chosen as the focal point of each of the following chapters, the half-forgotten face of some woman, and were it not that the story of Vittoria Colonna is so well known that noble woman might well have led the procession. For the same reason, and because her castle of Spoleto could not be classed under my topic, I have laid aside a study of Lucrezia Borgia and of another Lucrezia who may have resided within its walls.
But from the succession of beauties who kissed their lovers beneath the rose-trellises of Rome, I have stolen secrets enough to overfill these pages, secrets which few of the gentle shades would forbid my telling, since for the most part they are sweet and innocent and true. For the others, daughters of disorder, may their sufferings bespeak your pity.
The difficulty in arriving at just estimates has only made the attempt the more engrossing, as those will attest who have tracked through the mass of conflicting histories the story of the elusive lady who gave the name of Madama to the exquisite villa which Raphael designed for Clement VII.
The Villa Aldobrandini recalls an ancient legend preserved in more than one of the Italian novelli; and reading between the lines of the Amyntas we may trace Tasso's love for Leonora which blossomed in the terraced garden of the Villa d'Este.
The villas Borghese and Mondragone are still instinct with the personality of a romantic little lady of a later period, the bewildering Pauline Bonaparte. It is impossible while enthralled by her portrait statue to remember any other princess of that noble house; but as we wander through the portrait gallery of the Colonna palace it is equally difficult to choose a favourite from its brilliant gallery. My apologies are due to many another in fixing upon Giulia Gonzaga, wife of Vespasian Colonna as my heroine, though such was the fame of her beauty that the Sultan of Turkey despatched a fleet for her capture.
In the last decade of the century, Marie de' Medici looked down upon Rome from the villa of her uncle, Cardinal Ferdinando, and wandered among that wonderful array of statues which now form the glory of the Pitti Palace.
This was the time, if ever, that Shakespeare visited Italy, and I have attempted to give a true picture of the life and scenes which he may have viewed.
To my last chapter is left the confession that the supreme charm of Rome of the Renaissance lies not in itself, but in the fact that it is the bridge which unites modernity to the Rome of antiquity.
Each statue unearthed in the cardinal's garden, as it reassumed its place upon the familiar terrace, must have whispered to its marble companions: "They call this the Villa d'Este! We know better, it is Hadrian's. Their learned men have labelled you, 'By an Unknown Sculptor,' little suspecting that your lips were arched by Praxiteles. They have christened our friend in the garden of Lucullus, the 'Venus de' Medici,' ignorant of the prouder name she bore, and they call the relief in that new villa, 'The Antinous of Cardinal Albani,' not knowing that the portrait and its original were alike, Faustina's."
Shall we, indulgent reader, on some fair, future day, led by the lure of old Rome, together revisit our loved villas and win the confidences of these marble men and women who smile on us so inscrutably, and yet with such all-compelling fascination?
Dear Italy, the sound of thy soft name Soothes me with balm of Memory and of Hope. Mine for the moment height and steep and slope That once were mine. Supreme is still the aim To flee the cold and grey Of our December day, And rest where thy clear spirit burns with unconsuming flame.
Fount of Romance whereat our Shakespeare drank! Through him the loves of all are linked to thee, By Romeo's ardour, Juliet's constancy He sets the peasant in the royal rank, Shows, under mask and paint, Kinship of knave and saint And plays on stolid man with Prospero's wand and Ariel's prank.
Then take these lines and add to them the lay All inarticulate, I to thee indite; The sudden longing on the sunniest day, The happy sighing in the stormiest night, The tears of love that creep From eyes unwont to weep, Full with remembrance, blind with joy and with devotion deep.
I.—THE EYES OF A BASILISK (Vatican, Villa of the Belvedere)
II.—THE FINDING OF APOLLO (Villa Farnesina)
III.—A CELLINI CASKET (Villa Madama)
IV.—FLOWER O' THE PEACH (Villa Aldobrandini)
V.—WITH TASSO AT VILLA D'ESTE (Villa d'Este)
VI.—MONDRAGONE (Villas Borghese and Mondragone)
VII.—THE ADVENTURE OF THE KNIGHT OF THE BRANDISHED LANCE (Villa Medici)
VIII.—THE LADIES OF PALLIANO (Colonna Palace and Castle of Palliano)
IX.—THE LURE OF OLD ROME (Hadrian's Villa. Villas d'Este and Albani)
Pope Julius II. Viewing the Newly-found Statue of the Apollo Belvedere Frontispiece
From the painting by Carl Becker. Permission of the Berlin Photographic Co.
From a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. (Pope Alexander VI. regards the dancing children, Lucrezia plays the viol, Cesar beats time with his stiletto on the stem of a wine glass.) Permission of George Bell & Sons.
Pope Leo X. at Raphael's Bier
From the painting by Pietro Michis. Permission of Franz Hanfstaengl.
Face of Young Girl in the Coronation of the Virgin
By Fra Filippo Lippi. Permission of Alinari.
The Floral Games
From the painting by Jacques Wagrez. Permission of Braun, Clement & Co.
In the Garden of Villa d'Este
From a photograph by Mr. Charles A. Platt.
Choosing the Casket
From the painting by F. Barth. Permission of the Berlin Photographic Co.
Antinous as Bacchus, in the Museum of the Vatican
Permission of Alinari.
OTHER THAN PHOTOGRAVURE
*Caterina Sforza. Castle of Forli in Background By Palmezzani.
*Unknown Lady (probably Imperia) By Sebastian del Piombo. Uffizi.
*Virgin and Child By Sodoma. Pinacoteca, Milan.
*Raphael and Sodoma Fragment of School of Athens, in the Vatican—Raphael.
*Villa Farnesina, Rome
*Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, called Sodoma From the portrait by himself in the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore.
*By permission of Messrs. Alinari.
*Margherita (La Fornarina) Attributed to Raphael. Pitti Gallery, Florence.
*Pope Leo X., Giulio de Medici (afterward Pope Clement VII.), and Luigi de Rossi By Raphael. Pitti Gallery.
Detail of Vault in Villa Madama Stucchi by Giovanni da Udine.
Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Parma, 1586 From an old engraving.
Stucchi by Giovanni da Udine Villa Madama.
*Villa Aldobrandini, Frascati. The Grand Cascade and Fountain of Atlas
*Upper Cascade, Villa Aldobrandini
*Villa d'Este, at Tivoli—Present State
Hydraulic Organ, Villa d'Este
Villa d'Este in 1740 From an etching by Piranesi.
*Villa d'Este—Terrace Staircase *By permission of Messrs. Alinari.
*Fountain in Gardens of the Villa Borghese
*Pauline Bonaparte, Princess Borghese Portrait statue by Canova at Villa Borghese.
Henri IV. Receiving the Portrait of Marie de Medici Painted at her order by Rubens.
View from the Garden of the Villa Medici
Colonna Palace, Rome—The Grand Salon
Garden of the Colonna Palace, Rome With permission of Charles A. Platt.
Castle of Vittoria Colonna at Ischia
The Cascade Villa Conti Torlonia, Frascati.
The Haunted Pool Villa Conti Torlonia, Frascati.
Vittoria Colonna From a portrait in the Colonna Gallery.
Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna From a portrait in later life by Netscher.
Court of the Massimi Palace
Marie Mancini Colonna, Principessa di Palliano By Mignard. Photographische Gesellschaft, Berlin.
*By permission of Messrs. Alinari.
Antinous Bas-relief found at Hadrian's Villa, now in the Villa Albani.
Ruins of a Gallery of Statues in Hadrian's Villa From an etching by Piranesi.
*Villa Pia in Garden of the Vatican Pirro Ligorio, architect.
*Villa Pia, Vatican The rotondo—Pirro Ligorio, architect.
Eros Bending the Bow Capitoline Museum.
Faun of Praxiteles Capitoline Museum.
*Casino, Villa Albani
*Candelabra from Hadrian's Villa Museum of the Vatican.
Museum of the Vatican.
View through the Key-hole of the Gate of the Villa of the Knights of Malta
*By permission of Messrs. Alinari.
ROMANCE OF ROMAN VILLAS
THE EYES OF A BASILISK
(AN EPISODE OF THE FRENCH WARS IN ITALY, FROM THE MEMOIRS OF THE GOOD KNIGHT YVES D'ALLEGRE)
There is not one that looketh upon her eyes but he dieth presently. The like property has the basilisk. A white spot or star she carrieth on her head and setteth it out like a diadem. If she but hiss no other serpent dare come near.—PLINY.
A strange story is mine, not of love but of hatred, the slow coiling of a human serpent about its prey, with something more than human in the sudden deliverance which came from so unexpected a quarter when all hope had gone and struggle ceased.
Certes, I am not one of your practised romancers thus to reveal my plot at the beginning, and yet, with all I have told, you will never guess in what mysterious guise, yet so subtly that it seemed a breath of wind had but fluttered a leaf of paper, the enemy we feared was struck with such opportune paralysis.
Let those who doubt the truth of this tale or the existence of the basilisk question Cesare Borgia, for we saw the creature at the same time as we rode together near Imola in northern Italy. It was the beginning of that campaign in which I, much against my will, was in command of the French troops, which his Majesty Louis XII. had sent to aid his ally in the conquest of Romagna. I would far liefer have gone with my brother knights deputed to sustain Louis's right to the Milanese, for it is one thing to fight honourably for France and another, as I soon discovered, to aid a villain in the massacre of his own countrymen, and all for aims in which I had no interest. But it was only by degrees that I was enlightened concerning the character of Borgia. He was brave beyond doubt, and courage had for me great fascination. I never saw him flinch but once, and that before a thing which seemed so trivial that I counted it but a matter of physical repulsion.
We were riding thus side by side in advance of our men, when a small snake darted from the thicket and hissed its puny defiance. I stooped from my saddle, impaled it on my sword, and waved it writhing in the air. But Cesare, to my astonishment, turned deadly pale and galloped incontinently in the opposite direction.
When I rejoined him after throwing the reptile into the underbrush he explained the seizure. The astrologer, Ormes, had predicted that he would meet his death neither from natural sickness nor from poison, nor yet by the sword or cord, but from the eye of a basilisk.
"And what manner of creature may that be?" I asked, wonderingly.
"It is a serpent," he replied, "but one so rare in Italy that not once in a century is it met with. The monster is gifted with the evil eye, killing whomsoever it looks upon. It bears a star-shaped spot upon its head, and when you whirled yon reptile in the air methought I discerned its baleful flash."
"And so you did," I replied, "but you need have no apprehension, the creature is blind."
"Blind!" he repeated incredulously.
"Of a verity. Its eyes have long since been removed, for the flesh has grown over the empty sockets."
"Then," said Cesare, "some wizard must have extracted them to serve him in his black art, and has let the serpent go free knowing that it is only by the eye of a living basilisk that this prodigy can be wrought. Fortunately you have killed it and there is no longer any danger."
"Nay," I replied, "I but wounded the creature. It crawled away when it fell."
"Then he who holds its eyes holdeth my life and by his hand I shall die," he stammered with white lips. Little thought I then that Cesare's inhuman cruelty and perfidy would cause me to thank God for his belief in the creature's malignancy and that the basilisk was to aid in the one episode which was in some measure to take the evil taste of this campaign from my mouth.
Only a few weeks later, on the first of January, 1500, our combined forces began in earnest the assault of the citadel of Forli, which we had held in siege throughout the previous month. Little stomach had I for the business, since to my shame I was making war upon a woman. Imola which had already surrendered to us, was also her fief, but had she commanded its forces in person we would not have taken it so easily. For fighting blood ran in the veins of the Lady of Forli, she being the grand-daughter of the great condottiere Francesco Sforza. And this was not the first time that she had fought for her castle.
She had come to it first as the bride of Girolamo Riario, but the townspeople had refused to recognise his authority and had stabbed him to death, throwing his naked, mutilated body into the moat before her windows.
The young widow instantly trained the guns of the citadel upon the town, and when it surrendered caused the murderers and their families to be hacked in pieces; and this was but one of many instances reported of her dauntless and vindictive character. She had remarried, but her second husband, Giovanni de' Medici, had recently died, and Caterina Sforza Riario de' Medici, in spite of her noble birth and connexions, had none to help her.
If Cesare Borgia had not already married perchance the opportunity would have been offered her to add another great name to those she already bore, for he recognised in this tigerish woman a fitting mate. He hated her indeed, but one does not hate one's inferiors, one despises or pets them, and Cesare hated the Lady of Forli because he knew that he could never master her.
Therefore on New Year's Day, we having, as I have said, drawn our forces so closely about the citadel that for weeks past not a mouse could escape, Cesare before ordering the assault sent me to its lady with sealed conditions of capitulation.
I thought, as I rode across the draw-bridge with the white truce pennon fluttering from my lance, how at that other siege when summoned to surrender on pain of having her children put to death before her walls, this unnatural mother had replied coldly: "Children are more easily replaced than castles," and I was unprepared for the vision which greeted me in the gloomy hall.
For Caterina was no repulsive termagant, but a woman of marvellous charm. This fascination was something quite different from ordinary beauty. Its seat was in her eyes, which many thought not at all beautiful, for they were like those gems called aquamarine, of a puzzling tint varying from blue to green, lustrous and lapping the beholder with their gentle lambency, except when passion moved her, when I have seen them glow with a menacing light as though they might shoot forth green flames. But now she was all loveliness. The vicissitudes of her tragic life had left no trace except the slight scowl, which might be due to defective vision, for from the curiously linked chatelaine there depended a lorgnon with which she had a nervous trick of trifling.
She leaned forward as I entered, her lips a little apart and her cheeks glowing with excitement.
"You have brought me a message from your commander?" she asked, and I presented the letter.
But as she read her colour flamed to deeper crimson and her small hands tore the missive in fragments. "And these are the terms proposed by a belted knight, companion of Bayard sans reproche; this your fufilment of your sworn devoir to women in distress? Then here is my answer," and she dashed the bits of paper in my face, "for my garrison will prefer annihilation rather than permit me to submit to such indignity."
"Believe me," I protested, "that, far from assisting in the framing of those terms, I am in utter ignorance of their purport. Believe also that though what I have hitherto heard has not prepossessed me in your favour, I now count those charges as lying slanders, knowing that no evil soul could inhabit so lovely a person."
Her lip curled scornfully. "I have listened to lovers' flatteries ere this," she answered, "and know how little they are worth."
"By your pardon," I retorted, "I am a lover indeed, but none of yours. It is because I love my good wife in Auvergne that I honour all women."
She had lifted her eyeglass as though to scan my face the more keenly to know if I spoke the truth; but apparently my words alone convinced her, and, feeling the discourtesy of such an act, she looked about the room irresolutely and let the lorgnon fall without meeting my eyes.
"Good," she said at length, "I like you better for that word. 'Tis a pity we must be enemies. Tell your master that I shall defend my fortress to the last extremity. If I am so unfortunate as to be conquered, demand that he appoint you my jailer, for to no one else will I submit myself alive."
I have taken part in many sieges but never saw I a more gallant defence than the one made by that doomed citadel. Its besiegers were quartered within the town, fattening on the supplies which flowed in from the country and sleeping warm at night, while the garrison of the castle burned its carved wainscotings for fuel and daily buried some famine-stricken sentry. Twice with blazing missiles Caterina's archers set fire to the houses within range of her guns, striving by destroying the homes of her own people to drive us from our shelter, and once in the dead of night she made sortie and strove to cut her way through only to be beaten back. She seemed more a deluding spirit of evil leading us on to our own destruction than an ordinary mortal, and when Cesare gave orders to bombard the castle it made our flesh creep to see her seated nonchalantly upon the ramparts scanning the artillerymen through her lorgnon, laughing when their shots went wild, and clapping her hands when they tore off fragments of the parapet on which she leaned as though she were but applauding a play. That very night an epidemic so deadly broke out among the cannoneers that some foolishly superstitious declared she had bewitched them with the evil eye, and others as falsely that the springs in the hills above the castle which supplied the fountains of the town were poisoned at her command.
But the inevitable day came when the Lady of Forli announced that she was ready to surrender. Even then she demanded lenient and honourable terms as though mistress of the situation.
There must be neither bloodshed nor pillage. The allegiance of her subjects should be transferred indeed to Cesare as Duke of Romagna, and she offered herself and her children as hostages for their loyalty, but not to Cesare. They would trust themselves only to the watch-care of the Pope, and she stipulated that the French troops should be their body-guard to Rome.
Cesare laughed maliciously. "She is as safe in my care as in that of his Holiness," he said, "and it is to my interest that the boy alone should die. It was the great statesman Machiavelli who counselled that when a city was captured every male heir to its former lord should be slain, to guard against uprisings in the future. I will take her son into my own safe-conduct, but you may escort his sisters and mother in welcome, for I have no wish to come within the range of her quizzing glasses."
When I reported this to Caterina she shuddered slightly and answered questioningly, "From Cesare's so great personal solicitude I gather that the health of the young duke might suffer at the Borgia's table?"
To these alarms I could not reply reassuringly, but the lady presently laughed gleefully. "This is not a recent thought of mine," she said. "The idea occurred to me when Cesare first laid claim to our estates. Tell him that I cannot take advantage of his kind offer for I sent my son before the siege to join his cousin and godfather, Cardinal de' Medici, in his exile. The Cardinal's family feeling extends even to his most distant relatives and the boy could have no better guardian."
"Surely it is fortunate that you were so wise," I replied, and even Cesare had no doubt that she spoke truly.
It was the twelfth of January, the very day of the surrender, that I set out with my captives for the Eternal City. Caterina was conveyed in her litter with her elder daughter, but the younger insisted on riding on horseback at my side. She was an ugly little hoyden of five years, this Giovanna, who, squat of stature and swarthy as a gypsy, bestrode her little pony like a man; but, though by nature stubborn and subject to fits of anger in which she bit and scratched like a wildcat, to me she had taken a fancy as intense as it was inexplicable.
When I upbraided her manners as ill befitting a little maid, and marvelled at her unlikeness to her mother, she made answer: "Nay, but mamma can scratch also. You should have seen the face of the messenger who told us that the town of Forli had opened its gates to the besiegers. I am like my father in looks, but I have my mother's spirit. Cardinal de' Medici said that if my father had worn the petticoat and my mother had been the man, the Medici would be ruling now in Florence."
"Would you like to rule, little princess?" I asked.
"Nay, I would rather fight. When I am grown I will be a great condottiere like you, Sir Knight."
"Tush!" I reproved her. "A girl a condottiere—who ever heard of such a prodigy?"
The child smiled mysteriously. "I have a mind to tell you a secret," she said.
"Giovanna, Giovanna!" her mother called, beckoning from her litter, but the little maid had fast hold of my stirrup leather, and pulled me close while she confided: "I am not Giovanna, I am not a girl at all. I am Giovanni de' Medici, Duke of Forli, and one of these days I will cut off that Borgia man's head. But fear not; I will be good to you if only you do not tell."
I had no mind to tell, and though I let the Duchess know that her little son had betrayed his disguise, and reproached her for bringing him into the wolf's jaws, I swore to her that the secret should be safe in my keeping.
The bob of gold Which a pomander ball doth hold, This to her side she doth attach With gold crochet or French pennache.
Then raises to her eyes of blue Her lorgnon, as she looks at you.
Arrived at Rome, the Pope assigned the captives to the Villa of the Belvedere, so named from a graceful tower which shot high above the encircling walls, and commanded a delightful prospect. A charming garden connected the villa with the Vatican, but it was none the less a prison whose only approach or egress was through the corridors of the papal palace. The Lady of Forli had been received with hypocritical cordiality by the family of the Pope at one of those intimate gatherings in the Borgia apartments which, devoted to song, dance, and feasting were greatly enjoyed by Alexander and his children, and so shamelessly disgraced the residence consecrated to the head of the Church.
Cesare upon his return would find in them an opportunity for meeting his prisoner, and, if she denied him further familiarity, he held the power of executing swift vengeance. It behooved us therefore to act quickly and before the arrival of my superior. The only hope which seemed to me at all reasonable was of French interference.
Cardinal d'Amboise was in Milan, having recently arrived from the French Court, and acting upon my advice the Lady of Forli appealed through him to the King of France, I urging her petition with every conceivable argument.
While anxiously awaiting his reply I took advantage of my authority as her body-guard to station a French sentinel at her door, relinquishing my own cook to protect her from poisoning, and my faithful valet as groom and guardian of the children.
But all these precautions were swept away by Cesare on his arrival in the middle of February. For he sent me at that time a curt note stating that after we had taken part in the triumph granted him by the Pope in recognition of his victories in Romagna, he would have no further need either of my troops or myself; and we would be at liberty to report ourselves at Milan to the commander of the French army.
The "triumph" to which he referred consisted of a procession with allegorical floats and every description of gala costume. The houses along its course were hung with brilliant draperies; flags and pennons should wave, martial music bray, and salvos of artillery were to be fired at frequent intervals.
But the principal feature of the demonstration and the one on which the Pope counted to raise popular enthusiasm to the point of delirium was to be the parade of the captives.
Cesare, in emulation of the celebration of the conquest of Palmyra by the Emperor Aurelian, had conceived the brilliant idea of compelling Caterina to walk in the procession bound like Zenobia with golden chains.
Hitherto Caterina and I had discussed with each other every plan of action, but now unfortunately we had no opportunity of taking counsel with one another. Still she had been accustomed too long to self-reliance to hesitate for that reason, and divining by a flash of woman's intuition how this spectacle might be converted into an opportunity of escape, she consented gracefully to Cesare's plans, requesting only that the French troops should march as her guard.
To this arrangement Cesare gave his ready acquiescence, promising also of his own accord that I should ride directly behind her and beside her children. It was well thought out, for she had counted not alone upon my assistance, but had determined to use every detail of the programme which Cesare had devised to rouse the populace of Rome to aid in her rescue.
She robed herself therefore in most becoming though sable garments, allowing her veil of thinnest gauze to flutter artfully and display her beautiful face while the long velvet sleeves open to the shoulder showed the double manacles at the wrist and above the elbow, made purposely too tight and cutting into the lovely rounded arm.
Growls of indignation from the men and cries of sympathy from the women rose as they marked her fatigue, and how ruthlessly the men-at-arms who led her dragged her on, and the demonstration was a triumph to Caterina rather than to Cesare. As the float representing the dismantled citadel of Forli tottered by with her little girls upon the battlements, waving, the one the bull-blazoned ensign of the Borgias and the other the reversed and degraded arms of the Medici, shouts of "Shame, shame!" were heard, and the riotous crowd surged so close to the float that it was impossible for it to proceed. We had reached at this critical juncture the Porta del Popolo and through its open gates the via Flaminia stretching straight to the north across the free Campagna was discernible. With that sight I comprehended Caterina's intention and at the same instant the boy-girl Giovanni let fall the Borgia emblem, which was instantly trampled in the mire by the mob, and snatching the banner bearing the Medici balls from his sister's hand he waved it triumphantly in its proper position, crying "Palle, palle! Rescue, rescue!"
Then it was that Caterina had counted on my trusty Frenchmen to sweep her and her children on to liberty while the mob hindered pursuit. But alas! Cesare had suspected some such plot, and had interposed between the prisoners and my brave troopers his own corps of veteran pikemen. For an instant they wavered, for Caterina had sprung upon the float and was gazing at them through her lorgnon. They remembered what had happened to the gunners at Forli, and shuddered, but the mob attacking them with paving stones interposed a screen between them and the danger they dreaded and roused their mettle. With their old war cry their first battalion charged the rioters while their second division, halting, kept back my men.
As the full signification of this lost opportunity overwhelmed me, I could not in my mortification meet Caterina's reproachful eyes. Her last gallant stroke for liberty had failed through my lack of co-operation. Cesare's pikemen enclosed her with a wall of bristling spears; the populace slunk into side alleys, the gates of the Porta del Popolo had been closed during the tumult, and the procession resumed its line of march in the direction of the castle of St. Angelo. As I cursed my stupidity, Cesare, purple with rage, rode back to me with Giovanni struggling wildly in his arms.
"Take this brat of a girl to the Belvedere," he commanded, "and beat her soundly."
But as I lifted the child before me he ceased not to shriek to Cesare: "Beat me if you dare. I am no girl-brat. I am Giovanni de' Medici, Duke of Forli!"
There was a chance that Cesare had not rightly understood him, for I had held my hand over the boy's mouth. I would not save him and desert his mother, so I rode with him to the Belvedere; but I paused on the way to obtain a rope-ladder, and to conceal it in a basket of fruit which I bade Giovanni give to his mother. I dared not write a letter had there been time to I do so, but the child was intelligent and I made him repeat my message again and again.
With the help of the ladder they must descend at midnight into the garden of the Belvedere, and climb by the rose espalier to the top of the garden wall. I would be on horseback on the other side and would receive them in my arms. Then with forged passports I would take them to Milan.
A light in the window of the tower at eleven would signify her acquiescence in this plan.
But at the time appointed I saw no light, and though my men waited in the lofts of the stable where their horses stood ready saddled, and I paced the lane on the hither side of the garden wall until dawn, no fugitives joined me.
When I returned to my lodgings at daybreak I found a summons from the Pope awaiting me which bade me attend him at the Vatican at his morning levee. Presently, too, a man in Cesare's livery brought me the basket of fruit and the rope-ladder which I had sent to Caterina.
"My master bade me return this to you," said the lackey, "as you may find it useful for your own needs in future."
I understood the cold sarcasm of the message. I was to be imprisoned, and I did not flatter myself that any opportunity for use of a rope-ladder would be left me. But in that supreme moment it was not my own doom that I thought upon but that of the unfortunate Lady of Forli.
As I prepared to obey the papal summons my landlady brought me a letter which had arrived during my absence, the long-expected instructions from Cardinal d'Amboise. They called me and my troop to Milan—the Pope would not dare controvert that command; and as my eye sought eagerly for an answer to my appeal for Caterina it caught at the bottom of the page this line:
"As for Caterina Sforza Riario de' Medici and her children——"
Trembling with excitement I turned the leaf but my hopes died within me as I read on:
"——that belligerent and unwomanly woman hath but received her just deserts. We are to be congratulated that her fortresses and her army fell into the power of our ally before it was possible for her to aid her uncle Lodovico Sforza, usurper of Milan, at present our prisoner.
"Our fortunes are now so assured either by conquest or alliance that all the leading families of northern Italy are on our side. Even the Medici are with us. Sooner or later"——
Here I turned a page again.
"They must be returned to Florence, as the King desires the good will of the Medici."
There was more to the effect that the Cardinal desired me to kiss for him the hands of his Holiness, and to assure both him and Cesare that—if their promise to the King of France were carried out—they would ever find in the French army a sure defence. But all this seemed of little moment to me since the letter contained no hope for Caterina. I thrust it in my pouch and pursued my way to the Vatican, cudgelling my brains for some other means by which to save her.
Was there, I questioned, no motive within the complicated mechanism of Cesare's mind upon which I could play? Was there nothing which he held sacred, no terror in earth or hell which could daunt his inexorable will?
Then suddenly I remembered the flaw in his armour, and that he who could neither be persuaded by friendship nor coerced by authority trembled before a baseless superstition—the dread of the evil eye.
I had still a card to play, and would continue the game resolutely to the end. It might be that I could arm his captive with the one weapon which he feared.
With this thought in my mind I came upon Cesare suddenly, in the ante-room of the Pope's audience chamber.
"Ah," he exclaimed maliciously, "you thought to anticipate me in gaining my father's ear. I confess I had the same intention. Well, since chance will have it so, we will go in together."
"One moment," I replied; "I am glad to have met you thus opportunely, for I have a word of warning for you."
"Of warning?" he questioned.
"Yes," I replied, "in return for that you so kindly sent me with the rope-ladder this morning. You may need mine first. Let me beg you to pursue the Lady of Forli no further. If you do not instantly let her go free she may work you a terrible mischief—the only one you dread."
The scornful smile which had curled his lip died out, and though he asked my meaning I knew he already had an inkling of it.
"You remember the eyeless basilisk which we found near Imola?" He nodded and caught my hand. "She has the eyes?" he asked. "Nay, you need not answer, I know where she keeps them,—in the pomander that hangs always at her chatelaine." "That is no pomander," I replied, "but a lorgnon. She is near-sighted; have you not noted, as she looks from her window of the Belvedere how she scans the objects in the garden through its lenses?"
"She was looking for me," he chattered insanely, "she was looking for me through the eyes of the basilisk; but I am not so dull as you think. I have long suspected this, and when she glared at my men as they charged the rioters I struck the diabolical things from her hand with the flat of my sword. I know not where they fell but she has them no longer."
"Be not so sure of that," I ventured with a grimace, which I strove to make a smile. "I found the lorgnon in the street and carried it back to the Belvedere. Be warned and anger her no more."
"It was a thoughtful and friendly act," he sneered exultantly, "but useless, dear fellow, quite useless. Mal vedere should that falsely named villa be called; but neither for good nor for evil will she evermore gaze forth from any casement. She and the son whom she thought to palm off as a girl lie at this moment in a windowless dungeon in the vaults of the castle of St. Angelo. I had thought for a moment to give you guest-room beside her, but you have warned me of her designs, and my father argues that we must not anger the French King in any fashion. Had he demanded my prisoners I might even have lost this dear revenge, but now I shall give orders to their gaoler that he waste no good money on their nourishment. In less than a week's time their career and my danger will be over."
I would have strangled him as he stood there but at that instant the doors of the audience-chamber flew open and the Pope, attended by his guards, stood between us.
He extended his left hand, which Cesare kissed, and he gave me his benediction with the other.
"I have sent for you, my friend," he said, "to bid you farewell, for I have just received word from Cardinal d'Amboise that you and your good fellows are needed in the Milanese. The Cardinal informs me that he has written you by the same post. May I read the letter? Perchance I may gain from it a clearer understanding concerning his desires and how we may forward them."
"I will go and fetch it," I stammered, for the request was a demand, and the thought came to me that I might cut out all reference to the Lady of Forli from the letter.
"I think we shall not need to trouble you to do so," cried the lynx-eyed Cesare. "Your pouch is open, and if I mistake not that is the handwriting of the Cardinal."
He had snatched the letter, and it was in his father's hand before he had said half these words. I am not a man given to prayer, but from the bitterness of my despair my soul cried silently in that instant, "O God, save her, for vain is the help of man!"
The Pope ran his eye quickly along the lines without speaking until he came to the name of the Lady of Forli.
"As to Caterina Sforza Riario de' Medici and her children"—he read aloud with illy suppressed excitement, and then in his eagerness to know more he turned two pages at once, without perceiving that the one which should have followed next adhered to that which he had just read—"As to Caterina Sforza Riario de' Medici and her children," he repeated, "they must be returned to Florence, as the King desires the good will of the Medici."
In utter stupefaction, I could not at first understand how this misreading had chanced.
"Hem, hem!" grunted the Pope—"but she is only the widow of a member of the cadet branch, a person of no importance. I see not why the King of France should concern himself with her fate. Nevertheless, since our prisoners have his patronage, they shall be detained no longer. I will write to the Florentine signory commending the lady and her children to their loving watch-care, and as you, Sir Yves, have been their conductor hither, so shall you escort them to their destination."
Cesare could not gainsay his father's command. An hour later the gates of St. Angelo opened for the departure of the Lady of Forli and her children. I waited not for any chance of fate to turn backward the wheel of fortune, and as my faithful troop galloped into line about her litter, I gave the triumphant order—
She dwells there even as I write these chronicles, in the Medicean villa of Castello, and as at first she dared not keep her little son with her (the men of the Medici being banished from Florence), she confided him, still habited in girlish disguise, to the care of a community of nuns, who kept a seminary for the daughters of noble families. But at length, on the restoration of the Medici, he issued from that retreat, and is now being bred to the profession of arms, in the which he bids fair to realise the ambitions confided to me as we rode from Forli, what time I deemed him the most unmannerly little princess which it had been my lot to meet.
THE FINDING OF APOLLO
(AN ESCAPADE OF BAZZI'S)
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.
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
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.
Little we see of Nature that is ours.
* * *
It moves us not,—Great God! I'd rather be A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn, So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
Raphael, at the period of which I write, had but one mistress,—his art,—and after finishing the Sposalizio he withdrew from the society of the Dovizios, painting most assiduously. I remember that his model was a pretty maid of seven years, named Margherita, the child of one of Chigi's servants, as playful and as ignorant as a little fawn. The startled look in her eyes, when spoken to by any one but Raphael, reminded me of some wild creature of the woods. But with him she was never shy,—singing and prattling the livelong day with the most charming and naive affection. While Raphael painted, Bernardo Dovizio, who apparently regretted having wounded him, came from time to time to lend him books, much deploring that one so gifted by nature should be unread in the classics.
His daughter watched them from a distance, and when Raphael left his easel would steal near and study the picture or chat with me and with the little Margherita. On such occasions the child, usually merry and loving, would sulk and scowl unhandsomely, and though Maria Dovizio was sweet and generous to her, she showed an unreasoning prejudice amounting to discourtesy, for which at first I was at a loss to account. I mind me that she was present when I tied the bunch of orange blossoms to Raphael's mahl stick, and after the visitors had left the studio the child, believing that the flowers were the gift of the Signorina Dovizio, tore them from the rod and trampled them beneath her feet.
When I chid her for such savage behaviour Margherita burst into tears and cried out passionately that Raphael was her friend, and that the strange lady had no business to try to steal him from her. Seeing her so unreasoningly jealous at such a tender age I was mightily amused, having no premonition that these two would one day be rivals in good earnest for Raphael's love.
But Margherita's jealousy woke in me a curiosity as to how far it was well-founded, and bantering Raphael thereon I came to the conclusion that he loved Maria Dovizio, but that he had so modest an estimate of his own talent and prospects that he would never tell her of his affection. The knowledge that I had a rival enlivened mightily my own passion, and determined me to lay the matter plainly before the lady and demand that she should choose between us.
Finding my opportunity I argued my friend's cause, as it seemed to me with great magnanimity, but at the same time I neglected not to set forth how superior were my own advantages. To my immense surprise she refused me in such terms as to leave me with no ground for hope,—persisting at the same time that I was mistaken in regard to Raphael's feelings.
In sheer contrariety and because her refusal had temporarily taken away my senses, I maintained that I knew whereof I spoke.
"Would that I had known this before," she said turning from me.
"You would not then have disclaimed sending the message implied by the flowers which I attached to his mahl stick?" I persisted rudely.
"Nay, nay," she cried all of a tremble, "it is best as it is," and she made me swear that I would tell nothing of all this. The oath sat lightly on my conscience, and when my pride had somewhat recovered from the wound which it had received, my better nature asserted itself for I reflected that here were two young creatures whom nature intended for one another and I determined to give these bashful lovers another opportunity in which to understand each other.
Though I prided myself not a little on the rare nobility of soul which I manifested by such unusual procedure, it was not so disinterested as might at first appear. For, I reasoned in my heart, when all comes to be known Maria Dovizio will give me credit for great self-sacrifice and delicacy of feeling, while Raphael cannot fail to be touched by my magnanimity. Back of all this self-laudation there was an ulterior motive hardly confessed to myself. By springing the mine prematurely I would either cement their union or drive them permanently apart, thus clearing my path of a dangerous rival while removing any imputation of underhand dealing upon my part. I dared the risk for I was nearing that point of desperation where uncertainty is worse than the knowledge of absolute defeat.
While I sought for some promising way in which to execute my scheme, Raphael read the translations of the pagan writers which Dovizio had lent him, and this plunge into a bath of the old literature, so new to him, had a tremendous effect upon his susceptible mind. He regretted deeply that Pico della Mirandola, who strove to harmonise Greek mythology with the Christian religion, had been snatched away by death before he could have had the opportunity to converse with him. He read his writings with avidity and listened to what Dovizio remembered of his arguments that the religion of the Greeks was as truly a revelation from God as our own, and he could readily believe the assertion of certain of the humanist's friends that at Pico's death-bed the Virgin and Venus had met, and comforting his dying gaze with their presence, had together borne away his soul to the regions of the blest.
Without being any less Christian, Raphael's soul expanded in the sunshine of these influences, absorbing all that was joyous and beautiful in pagan ideas. Chigi lent him his favourite manuscript, the Myth of Psyche, translated from Apuleius, which he declared Raphael must one day paint for him. But of all the gods of antiquity the one which roused our young enthusiast to deepest admiration was Apollo, whose avatar was the sun, but whose spiritual significance was infinitely more, the light of the soul, the god of music, art, and poetry and all that elevates the spirit of man.
"Listen Giovanni," he said to me one day, "I could pray to such a deity. Think you that it would be sin to utter a prayer like this of Socrates: 'Beloved Pan, and all ye gods who haunt this place, give me beauty of the inward soul, and may the outward and the inward man be at one'?"
Seeing sport in the idea I assured him that such adoration was commendable and would doubtless meet with a response. I had my own idea of what form that response should take. Chigi held revel that night to celebrate a visit from the improvisatrice Imperia, who was on her way to Rome. Raphael could not be induced to join the company, preferring to spend the night devouring some books lately come from Venice. He had striven to tell me of a mysterious experience. A stone bearing the image of Apollo had fallen before him as he read, and he had accepted it as a propitious omen. I laughed rudely and he shrank from me offended.
"I would have shown it to you," he said, "but now you shall not see it."
I repeated this hallucination to Chigi and Imperia, and they also found it amusing.
"He is as drunk with poesy," I insisted, "as ever I have been with wine. If the Signorina would graciously sing some old Greek chant yonder in the garden he would believe that he heard the voice of the gods."
Imperia's eyes sparkled with mischief. "Let us humour this young enthusiast to his bent," she said. "I will hide in the laurel copse at the foot of the garden if Bazzi here will bring him out upon the terrace."
"He could never be content to hear your divine voice," Chigi objected, "without seeking you out, and then—"
"And then, my friend, you would imply that the disillusion would be too cruel. No, I am too evidently a part of this solid earth to pass as a nymph of Apollo."
I remained silent but I looked meaningly at Maria Dovizio, who stood near the window, her slight figure outlined against its darkness. Imperia followed my glance.
"Ah! there is a girl, graceful and ethereal enough to satisfy an artist's ideal."
"What a pity," Chigi said, "that she has not your voice."
"Nay, if the Signora will but deign to sing as she suggested," I persisted, "we will robe the Signorina Dovizio in Greek draperies and pose her in the little pillared temple in front of the laurel thicket and Raphael will not doubt that the voice is hers."
Thus, at last, my scheme was carried out, though we had much difficulty in persuading Maria Dovizio to lend herself to it. Only when Chigi explained that it was an ovation to Raphael, in which she was to crown him with a wreath of laurel and foretell him a glorious future, did she consent. Even then she had no suspicion that I had any ulterior motive in suggesting the little tableau.
It was late at night, or rather early in the morning, when all our arrangements were completed and, returning to the studio, I dragged Raphael from his books on pretence that we both had need to cool our brains.
The view from the terrace was a favourite one with each of us. In the mysterious morning twilight there seemed something supernaturally sentient in the atmosphere, as though it quivered in expectation of the dawn. A soft trill, faint with rapture, filtered through the foliage of the neighbouring wood. It was a solitary nightingale calling his mate; and presently he was answered by flute-like notes which soared above the soft murmur of a viol still strumming in the villa as a skylark cuts the mists. It was not another nightingale as I at first thought, but Imperia's voice from the laurel thicket mocking the melody. As she sang there appeared within the circle of the tiny temple's columns a white-robed figure, outlined against the pale green and lemon yellow of the dawn. It might have been a statue save that as the song of the improvisatrice, a rhapsody to Apollo, thrilled the air with passionate sweetness, it raised its perfect arms in invocation. As though in response to the gesture the clouds flushed through delicate rose to crimson, while the radiance beneath their exquisite arch burned like molten gold, with ever-increasing intensity, until the sun itself blinded our eyes with its intolerable white fire.
Though this was exactly the event which I had planned, I was not prepared for such phenomenal success, and I stole nearer the temple spellbound by my own artifice.
The effect upon Raphael in his exalted mood may readily be imagined. To him my little comedy was a supernatural vision, and kneeling before Maria Dovizio he exclaimed: "Beautiful priestess, beseech Apollo to grant me the power to make the world more beautiful."
Mechanically the Signorina repeated the lines which I had assigned her: "To you it is decreed to find Apollo and to bring back the Golden Age."
Then, as she bent to crown him with the wreath of laurel, the perfume and warmth of her person intoxicating his senses, her bared arms encircling his neck, her soul in her eyes, Raphael awoke to the consciousness that this was no phantom but a woman pulsing with life and love, and that woman Maria Dovizio.
He might have revolted at the trick and have thrust her from him; but look you—it is always the unforeseen which happens. His arms were around her and he drew her to him unresisting till for an instant her lips touched his forehead and his face was buried in her bosom. Then she withdrew herself, pushing him from her very gently and steadying herself tremblingly with her hands upon his shoulders.
"And shall I not find you again, O my beloved?" he cried, springing to his feet.
"Surely," she answered, "surely, when you have found Apollo."
She had turned from him and was hurrying toward the villa, but he followed her, calling her name.
"Claim me not now, not now!" she cried, as he caught her hand.
"When you will," he answered, closing her fingers over some small object, "this is my pledge that when you call me I will keep the tryst."
He passed me a moment later, but so great was his preoccupation that he did not see me. I knew by the exalted look upon his face that I had played and lost. Raphael had awakened from his dreams to love. That instant of mutual enlightenment for two such natures was not alone an ineffaceable memory but a sacred though wordless betrothal.
Through my pain I vaguely heard Chigi calling and returned to the villa. Neither he nor his friends had understood the full significance of what had just happened, and Bernardo Dovizio was demanding of his niece an explanation of the scene.
"He thought me one of the muses," she said, "and begged me to beseech for him the favour of Apollo."
"But he gave you something," said Dovizio. "Show it to me," and he wrenched open his niece's fingers.
For one instant he gazed wonder-stricken at the token, and as I pressed close with the others I also recognised the famous Apollo intaglio, the gem of the collection of Lorenzo the Magnificent, of which for a few hours I had been the unlawful possessor.
Exclamations of wonder and admiration arose on all sides. But Dovizio, recovering his power of speech, seized Chigi by the arm, exclaiming: "We have the thief! Look you Agostino, I have had my suspicions all along. It was Raphael who played the bandit, and robbed me of my jewels. I demand that you arrest the villain."
Maria's look of anguish cut me to the heart. "Nay, listen to me," I cried; "it was not Raphael but I who stole your gems. You shall not burst in upon him and kill him with the shock of your accusations. Listen while I confess the truth." And then and there I did confess it, to the wonder but not to the satisfaction of Dovizio.
"But where are the other gems?" he insisted. "You are a pair of rogues, the two of you. Come with me to your confederate and disgorge your booty."
"Give o'er, my good Dovizio," said Chigi. "I will sift this matter; come with me but keep silence, for I believe in my soul that Bazzi speaks the truth. I will hear Raphael's version of how he came by this intaglio; since a portion of your lost property has been returned, perchance the remainder is on the way."
And so indeed it proved. Raphael had not returned to the studio, but as we opened the door we heard a scampering and chattering, and caught a glimpse of Ciacco leaping to the top of a high cabinet and thence to a rafter where he perched whimpering in fear of punishment.
"Come down, you rogue," I cried, "come down and retrieve your game."
The creature understood and climbing into the hay loft, which joined the studio, returned, hugging to his breast the lost casket.
Dovizio, nearly fainting with excitement, counted his treasures, and compared them with the list. All were there, excepting the Apollo intaglio, which Ciacco, driven by hunger, had that evening restored to Raphael.
As it came so pat with the matter of his reading, it is no wonder that he imagined it had fallen from the skies, and this view of the case even the placated Dovizio took upon reflection.
"It were a pity to rob him of his illusions if they are an inspiration to him," he mused. "Let him think himself favoured by Apollo; and as for my niece, since our business here is now accomplished and we shall leave Siena on the morrow, he will probably never see her again, and it is as well that he should not connect her with his visions."
Thus ended our adventures at the villa of Cetinale for Raphael also presently left us for Urbino and Florence and all things seemed as they had been before our meeting together. But I knew that the day would surely come when he would claim his beloved, and that in the spinning of their fates so slight a thing as the pranking of a fool had twisted itself into the very fibre of their lives, never to be unravelled until the shears of Atropos should cut the cords asunder.
APOLLO FULFILS HIS PROMISE
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, naive, 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.