Sunday, January 4, 2009

Love in the 14th century

I found this portrait at this wonderful website. It is always a surprise to me when I discover a portrait that I haven't encountered before, as this is the genre that I have always found the most compelling. When I was young, I spent many hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, looking at portraits, wondering just who these people were. I've also spent many an hour copying old portraits, trying to get into the mindset of the old masters, a tried and true learning technique that is probably scoffed at in art schools today.

In this painting, Agnolo Bronzino's "Laura Battiferri" (1555-60), Laura, herself a poet, holds open a page of Petrarch's Sonnets. From 1342-1347, Petrarch wrote 366 verses of the Canzioniere, dedicated to yet another Laura, Laura DeNoyes.

You who hear the sound, in scattered rhymes,
of those sighs on which I fed my heart,
in my first vagrant youthfulness,
when I was partly other than I am,

I hope to find pity, and forgiveness,
for all the modes in which I talk and weep,
between vain hope and vain sadness,
in those who understand love through its trials.

Yet I see clearly now I have become
an old tale amongst all these people, so that
it often makes me ashamed of myself;

and shame is the fruit of my vanities,
and remorse, and the clearest knowledge
of how the world's delight is a brief dream.

You can read and listen to all 366 sonnets here. I suspect they are infinitely more beautiful in Italian.

Luca Marenzio: Cruda amarilli (madrigal)

Luca Marenzio set poem #322 from the Canzioniere to music. To listen, go here.

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