Botticelli by Elbert Hubbard

Story type: Essay

In Leonardo’s “Treatise on Painting,” only one contemporary is named–Sandro Botticelli…. The Pagan and Christian world mingle in the work of Botticelli; but the man himself belonged to an age that is past and gone–an age that flourished long before men recorded history. His best efforts seem to spring out of a heart that forgot all precedent, and arose, Venus-like, perfect and complete, from the unfathomable Sea of Existence.

—Walter Pater

One Professor Max Lautner has recently placed a small petard under the European world of Art, and given it a hoist to starboard, by asserting that Rembrandt did not paint Rembrandt’s best pictures. The Professor makes his point luminous by a cryptogram he has invented and for which he has filed a caveat. It is a very useful cryptogram; no well-regulated family should be without it–for by it you can prove any proposition you may make, even to establishing that Hopkinson Smith is America’s only stylist. My opinion is that this cryptogram is an infringement on that of our lamented countryman, Ignatius Donnelly.

But letting that pass, the statement that Rembrandt could not have painted the pictures that are ascribed to him, “because the man was low, vulgar and untaught,” commands respect on account of the extreme crudity of the thought involved. Lautner is so dull that he is entertaining.

“I have the capacity in me for every crime,” wrote that gentlest of gentle men, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Of course he hadn’t, and in making this assertion Emerson pulled toward him a little more credit than was his due. That is, he overstated a great classic truth.

“If Rembrandt painted the ‘Christ at Emmaus’ and the ‘Sortie of the Civic Guard,’ then Rembrandt had two souls,” exclaims Professor Lautner.

And the simple answer of Emerson would have been, “He had.”

That is just the difference between Rembrandt and Professor Lautner. Lautner has one flat, dead-level, unprofitable soul that neither soars high nor dives deep; and his mind reasons unobjectionable things out syllogistically, in a manner perfectly inconsequential. He is icily regular, splendidly null.

Every man measures others by himself–he has only one standard. When a man ridicules certain traits in other men, he ridicules himself. How would he know that other men were contemptible, did he not look into his own heart and there see the hateful things? Thackeray wrote his book on Snobs, because he was a Snob–which is not to say that he was a Snob all the time. When you recognize a thing, good or bad, in the outside world, it is because it was yours already.

“I carry the world in my heart,” said the Prophet of old. All the universe you have is the universe you have within.

Old Walt Whitman, when he saw the wounded soldier, exclaimed, “I am that man!” And two thousand years before this, Terence said, “I am a man, and nothing that is human is alien to me.”

I know just why Professor Lautner believes that Rembrandt never could have painted a picture with a deep, tender, subtle and spiritual significance. Professor Lautner averages fairly well, he labors hard to be consistent, but his thought gamut runs just from Bottom the weaver to Dogberry the judge. He is a cauliflower–that is to say, a cabbage with a college education.

Yes, I understand him, because for most of the time I myself am supremely dull, childishly dogmatic, beautifully self-complacent.

I am Lautner.

Lautner says that Rembrandt was “untaught,” and Donnelly said the same of Shakespeare, and each critic gives this as a reason why the man could not have done a sublime performance. Yet since “Hamlet” was never equaled, who could have taught its author how? And since Rembrandt at his best was never surpassed, who could have instructed him?

Rembrandt sold his wife’s wedding-garments, and spent the money for strong drink.

The woman was dead.

And then there came to him days of anguish, and nights of grim, grinding pain. He paced the echoing halls, as did Robert Browning after the death of Elizabeth Barrett when he cried aloud, “I want her! I want her!”. The cold gray light of morning came creeping into the sky. Rembrandt was fevered, restless, sleepless. He sat by the window and watched the day unfold. And as he sat there looking out to the east, the light of love gradually drove the darkness from his heart. He grew strangely calm–he listened, he thought he heard the rustle of a woman’s garments; he caught the smell of her hair–he imagined Saskia was at his elbow. He took up the palette and brushes that for weeks had lain idle, and he outlined the “Christ at Emmaus”–the gentle, loving, sympathetic Christ–the worn, emaciated, thorn-crowned, bleeding Christ, whom the Pharisees misunderstood, and the soldiers spat upon.

Don’t you know how Rembrandt painted the “Christ at Emmaus”? I do. I am that man.

Shortly after Sandro Botticelli had painted that distinctly pagan picture, “The Birth of Venus,” he equalized matters, eased conscience and silenced the critics, by producing a beautiful Madonna, surrounded by a circle of singing angels. Yet George Eliot writes that there were wiseacres who shook their heads and said: “This Madonna is the work of some good monk–only a man who is deeply religious could put that look of exquisite tenderness and sympathy in a woman’s face. Some one is trying to save Sandro’s reputation, and win him back from his wayward ways.”

In the lives of Botticelli and Rembrandt there is a close similarity. In temperament as well as in experience they seem to parallel each other. In boyhood Botticelli and Rembrandt were dull, perverse, wilful. Both were given up by teachers and parents as hopelessly handicapped by stupidity. Botticelli’s father, seeing that the boy made no progress at school, apprenticed him to a metalworker. The lad showed the esteem in which he held his parent by dropping the family name of Filipepi and assuming the name of Botticelli, the name of his employer.

Rembrandt’s father thought his boy might make a fair miller, but beyond this his ambition never soared. Botticelli and Rembrandt were splendid animals. The many pictures of Rembrandt, painted by himself, show great physical vigor and vital power.

The picture of Botticelli, by himself, in the “Adoration of the Magi,” reveals a powerful physique and a striking personality. The man is as fine as an Aztec, as strong and self-reliant as a cliff- dweller. Character and habit are revealed in the jaw–the teeth of the Aztecs were made to grind corn in the kernel, and as long as they continued grinding dried corn in the kernel, they had good teeth. Dentists were not required until men began to feed on mush.

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Botticelli had broad, strong, square jaws, wide nostrils, full lips, large eyes set wide apart, forehead rather low and sloping, and a columnar neck that rose right out of his spine. A man with such a neck can “stand punishment”–and give it. Such a neck is only seen once in a thousand times. Men with such necks have been mothered by women who bore burdens balanced on their heads, boycotted the corsetier, and eschewed all deadly French heels.

Do you know the face of Oliver Goldsmith, the droop of the head, the receding chin and the bulging forehead? Well, Botticelli’s face was the antithesis of this.

Most of the truly great artists have been men of this Stone Age– quality men who dared. Michelangelo was the pure type: Titian who lived a century (lacking one year) was another. Leonardo was the same fine savage (who in some miraculous way also possessed the grace of a courtier). Franz Hals, Van Dyck, Rembrandt and Botticelli were all men of fierce appetites and heroic physiques. They had animality plus that would have carried them across the century-mark, had they not drawn checks on futurity, in a belief that their bank- balance was unlimited.

Botticelli and Rembrandt kept step in their history, both receiving instant recognition in early life and becoming rich. Then fashion and society turned against them–the tide of popularity began to ebb. One reinforced his genius with strong drink, and the other became intoxicated with religious enthusiasm. Finally, both begged alms in the public streets; and the bones of each filled a pauper’s grave.

Ruskin unearthed Botticelli (Just as he discovered Turner), and gave him to the Preraphaelites, who fell down and worshiped him. Whether we would have had Burne-Jones without Botticelli is a grave question, and anyway it would have been another Burne-Jones. There would have been no processions of tall, lissome, melancholy beauties wending their way to nowhere, were it not for the “Spring.” Ruskin held up the picture, and the Preraphaelites got them to their easels. At once all original “Botticellis” were gotten out, “restored” and reframed. The prices doubled, trebled, quadrupled, as the brokers scoured Europe. By the year Eighteen Hundred Eighty-six every “Botticelli” had found a home in some public institution or gallery, and no lure of gold could bring one forth.

At Yale University there is a modest collection of good pictures. Among them is a “Botticelli”: not a great picture like the “Crowned Madonna” of the Uffizi, or “The Nativity” of the National Gallery, but still a picture painted by Sandro Botticelli, beyond a doubt. Recently, J. Pierpont Morgan, alumnus of Harvard, conceived the idea that the “Botticelli” at Yale would look quite as well and be safer if it were hung on the walls of the new granite fireproof Art- Gallery at Cambridge. Accordingly, he dispatched an agent to New Haven to buy the “Botticelli.” The agent offered fifty thousand dollars, seventy-five, one hundred–no. Then he proposed to build Yale a new art-gallery and stock it with Pan-American pictures, all complete, in exchange for that little, insignificant and faded “Botticelli.”. But no trade was consummated, and on the walls of Yale the picture still hangs. Each night a cot is carried in and placed beneath the picture. And there a watchman sleeps and dreams of that portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire by Gainsborough, stolen from its frame, lost for a quarter of a century, and then rescued by one Colonel Patrick Sheedy (philanthropist and friend of art), for a consideration, and sold to J. Pierpont Morgan, alumnus of Harvard (and a very alert, alive and active man).

A short time ago, there shot across the artistic firmament a comet of daring and dazzling brightness. Every comet is hurling onward to its death: destruction is its only end: and upon each line and tracery of the work of Aubrey Beardsley is the taint of decay.

To deny the genius of the man were vain–he had elements in his character that made him akin to Keats, Shelley, Burns, Byron, Chopin and Stephen Crane. With these his name will in brotherhood be forever linked. He was one made to suffer, sin and die–a few short summers, and autumn came with yellow leaves and he was gone. And the principal legacy he left us is the thought of wonder as to what he might have been had he only lived!

Aubrey Beardsley’s art was the art of the ugly. His countenances are so repulsive that they attract. The psychology of the looks, and leers, and grins, and hot, hectic desires on the faces of his women is a puzzle that we can not lay aside–we want to solve the riddle of this paradox of existence–the woman whose soul is mire and whose heart is hell. Many men have tried to fathom it at close range, but we devise a safer plan and follow the trail in books, art and imagination. Art shows you the thing you might have done or been. Burke says the ugly attracts us, because we congratulate ourselves that we are not it.

The Madonna pictures, multiplied without end, stand for peace, faith, hope, trustfulness and love. All that is fairest, holiest, purest, noblest, best, men have tried to portray in the face of the Madonna. All the good that is in the hearts of all the good women they know, all the good that is in their own hearts, they have made to shine forth from the “Mother of God.” Woman has been the symbol of righteousness and faith.

On the other hand, it was a woman–Louise de la Ramee–who said, “Woman is the instrument of lust.” Saint Chrysostom wrote, “She is the snare the Devil uses to lure men to their doom.” I am not quite ready to accept the dictum of that old, old story that it was the woman who collaborated with the serpent and first introduced sin and sorrow into the world. Or, should I believe this, I wish to give woman due credit for giving to man the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge–the best gift that ever came his way. But the first thought holds true in a poetic way: it has always been, is yet, and always will be true, that the very depths of degradation are sounded only by woman. As poets, painters and sculptors have ever chosen a woman to stand for what is best in humanity, so she has posed as their model when they wanted to reveal the worst.

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This desire to depict villainy on a human face seems to have found its highest modern exponent in Aubrey Beardsley. With him man is an animal, and woman a beast. Aye, she is worse than a beast–she is a vampire. Kipling’s summing up of woman as “a rag and a bone and a hank of hair” gives no clue to the possibilities in way of subtle, reckless reaches of deviltry compared with a single, simple, outline drawing by Beardsley. Beardsley’s heroines are the kind of women who can kill a man with a million pin-pricks, so diabolically, subtly and slyly administered that no one but the victim would be aware of the martyrdom–and he could not explain it.

As you enter the main gallery of statuary at the Luxembourg, you will see, on a slightly raised platform, at the opposite end of the room, the nude figure of a man. The mold is heroic, and the strong pose at once attracts your attention. As you approach closer you will see, standing behind the man, the figure of a woman. Her form is elevated so she is leaning over him and her face is turned so her lips are about to be pressed upon his. You approach still closer, and a feeling of horror flashes through you–you see that the beautiful arms of the woman end in hairy claws. The claws embrace the man in deadly grasp, and are digging deep into his vitals. On his face is a look of fearful pain, and every splendid muscle is tense with awful agony.

Now, if you do as I did, you will suddenly turn and go out into the fresh air–the fearful realism of the marble will for the moment unnerve you.

This is the piece of statuary that gave Philip Burne-Jones the cue for his painting, “The Vampire,” which picture suggested the poem, by the same name, to Rudyard Kipling.

Aubrey Beardsley gloated on the Vampire–she was the sole goddess of his idolatry.

No wonder it was that the story of Salome attracted him! Salome was a woman so wantonly depraved that Beardsley, with a touch of pious hypocrisy, said he dared not use her for dramatic purposes, save for the fact that she was a Bible character.

You remember the story: John the Baptist, the strong, fine youth, came up out of the wilderness crying in the streets of Jerusalem, “Repent ye! Repent ye!” Salome heard the call and looked upon the semi-naked young fanatic from her window, with half-closed, catlike eyes. She smiled, did this idle creature of luxury, as she lay there amid the cushions on her couch, arid gazed through the casement upon the preacher in the street. Suddenly a thought came to her! She arose on her elbow–she called her slaves.

They clothed her in a gaudy gown, dressed her hair, and led her forth.

Salome followed the wild, weird, religious enthusiast. She pushed through the crowd and placed herself near the man, so the smell of her body would reach his nostrils, and his eyes would range the swelling lines of her body.

Their eyes met. She half-smiled and gave him that look which had snared the soul of many another. But he only gazed at her with passionless, judging intensity, and repeated his cry, “Repent ye, Repent ye, for the day is at hand!”

Her reply, uttered soft and low, was this: “I would kiss thy lips!”

He turned away and she reached to seize his garment, repeating, “I would kiss thy lips–I would kiss thy lips!” He turned aside and forgot her, as he continued his warning cry, and went his way.

The next day she waylaid the youth again; as he came near she suddenly and softly stepped forth and said in that same low voice, “I would kiss thy lips!”

He repulsed her with scorn. She threw her arms about him and sought to draw his head down near hers. He pushed her from him with sinewy hands, sprang as from a pestilence, and was lost in the pressing throng.

That night she danced before Herod Antipas, and when the promise was recalled that she should have anything she wished, she named the head of the only man who had ever turned away from her–“The head of John the Baptist on a charger!”

In an hour the wish is gratified. Two eunuchs stand before Salome with a silver tray bearing its fearsome burden. The woman smiles–a smile of triumph–as she steps forth with tinkling feet. A look of pride comes over the painted face. Her jeweled fingers reach into the blood-matted hair. She lifts the head aloft, and the bracelets on her brown, bare arms fall to her shoulders, making strange music. Her face presses the face of the dead. In exultation she exclaims, “I have kissed thy lips!”

The most famous picture by Botticelli is the “Spring,” now in the Academy at Florence. The picture has given rise to endless inquiry, and the explanation was made in the artist’s day, and is still made, that it was painted to illustrate a certain passage in Lucretius. This innocent little subterfuge of giving a classic turn to things in art and literature has allowed many a man to shield his reputation and gloss his good name. When Art relied upon the protecting wing of the Church, the poet-painters called their risky little things, “Susannah and the Elders,” “The Wife of Uriah,” or “Pharaoh’s Daughter.” Lucas van Leyden once pictured a Dutch wench with such startling and realistic fidelity that he scandalized a whole community, until he labeled the picture, “Potiphar’s Wife.”

When the taste for the classics began to be cultivated, we had “Leda and the Swan,” “Psyche,” “Phryne Before the Judges,” “Aphrodite Rising From the Sea,” and, later, England experienced quite an artistic eruption of Lady Godivas. Literature is filled with many such naive little disguises as “Sonnets From the Portuguese,” and Robert Browning himself caught the idea and put many a maxim into the mouth of another, for which he preferred not to stand sponsor.

Botticelli painted the “Spring” for Lorenzo the Magnificent, to be placed in the Medici villa at Castello. The picture, it will be remembered, represents seven female figures, a flying cupid, and a youth. The youth is a young man of splendid proportions; he stands in calm indifference with his back to the sparsely clad beauties, and reaches into the branches of a tree for the plenteous fruit. This youth is a composite portrait of Botticelli and his benefactor, Lorenzo. The women were painted from life, and represent various favorites and beauties of the court. The drawing is faulty, the center of gravity being lost in several of the figures, and the anatomy is of a quality that must have given a severe shock to the artist’s friend, Leonardo. Yet the grace, the movement and the joyous quality of Spring are in it all. It is a most fascinating picture, and we can well imagine the flutter it produced when first exhibited four hundred years ago.

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Two figures in the picture challenge attention. One of these represents approaching maternity–a most daring thing to attempt. This feature seems to belong to the School of Hogarth alone–a school which, let us pray, is hopelessly dead.

Cimabue and several of his pupils painted realistic pictures representing Mary visiting Elizabeth, but the intense religious zeal back of them was a salt that saved from offending. Occasionally, the staid and sober Dutch successfully attempted the same theme, and their stolidity stood for them as religious zeal had done for the early Italians–we pardon them simply because they knew no better than to choose a subject that is beyond the realm of art.

The restorers and engravers have softened down Botticelli’s intent, which was originally well defined, but we can easily see that the effect was delicate and spiritual. The woman’s downcast gaze is full of tenderness and truth. That figure when it was painted was history, and must have had a very tender interest for two persons at least. Had the painter dared to suggest motherhood in that other figure–the one with the flowered raiment–he would have offended against decency, and the art-sense of the world would have stricken his name from the roster of fame forever, and made him anathema. More has been written and said, and more copies made of that woman in the flowered dress in the “Spring” than of any other portrait I can remember, save possibly the “Mona Lisa.”

The face is not without a certain attractiveness; the high cheek- bones, the narrow forehead, and the lines above her brow show that this is no ideal sketch–it is the portrait of a woman who once lived. But the peculiar mark of depravity is the eye: this woman looks at you with a cold, calm, calculating, brazen leer. Hidden in the folds of her dress or in the coil of her hair is a stiletto–she can find it in an instant–and as she looks at you out of those impudent eyes, she is mentally searching out your most vulnerable spot. In this woman’s face there is an entire absence of wonder, curiosity, modesty or passion. All that we call the eternally feminine is obliterated.

“Mona Lisa” is infinitely wise, while this woman is only cunning. All the lure she possesses is the lure of warm, pulsing youth–grown old she will be a repulsive hag. Speculation has made her one of the Borgias, for in the days of Botticelli a Borgia was Pope, and Cesare Borgia and his court were well known to Botticelli–from such a group he could have picked his model, if anywhere. Ruskin has linked this unknown wicked beauty with Machiavelli. But Machiavelli had a head that outmatched hers, and he would certainly have left her to the fool moths that fluttered around her candle. Machiavelli used women, and this woman has only one ambition, and that is to use men. She represents concrete selfishness–the mother-instinct swallowed up in pride, and conscience smothered by hate. Certainly sex is not dead in her, but it is perverted below the brute. Her passion would be so intense and fierce that even as she caressed her lover, with arm about his neck, she would feel softly for his jugular, mindful the while of the stiletto hidden in her hair. And this is the picture that fired the brain of Aubrey Beardsley, and caused him to fix his ambition on becoming the Apostle of the Ugly.

To liken Beardsley to Botticelli, however, seems indeed a sin. The master was an artist, but Beardsley only gave chalk talks. His work is often crude, rude and raw. He is only a promise, turned to dust. Yet let the simple fact stand for what it is worth, that Beardsley had but one god, and that was Botticelli. Most of the things Beardsley did were ugly; many of the things Botticelli did were supremely beautiful.

Yet in all of Botticelli’s work there is a tinge of melancholy–a shade of disappointment. The “Spring” is a sad picture. On the faces of all his tall, fine, graceful girls there is a hectic flush. Their cheeks are hollow, and you feel that their beauty is already beginning to fade. Like fruit too much loved by the sun, they are ready to fall.

Botticelli had the true love nature. By instinct he was a lover, proof of which lies in the fact that he was deeply religious. The woman he loved he has pictured over and over again. The touch of sorrow is ever in her wan face, but she possessed a silken strength, a heroic nature, a love that knew no turning. She had faith in Botticelli, and surely he had faith in her. For forty years she was in his heart; at times he tried to dislodge her and replace her image with another; but he never succeeded, and the last Madonna he drew is the same wistful, loving, patient face–sad yet proud, strong yet infinitely tender.

In that piece of lapidary work, “How Sandro Botticelli Saw Simonetta in the Spring,” is a bit of heart psychology which, I believe, has never been surpassed in English.

Simonetta, of the noble house of Vespucci, was betrothed to Giuliano, brother of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Simonetta was tall, stately–beautiful as Venus, wise as Minerva and proud as Juno. She knew her worth, realized her beauty, and feeling her power made others feel it, too.

On a visit to the villa of the Medici at Fiesole she first saw Sandro Botticelli at an evening assembly in the gardens. She had heard of the man and knew his genius. When they suddenly met face to face under the boughs, she noted how her beauty startled him. His gaze ranged the exquisite lines of her tall form, then sought the burnished gold of her hair. Their eyes met.

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First of all this man was an artist: the art-instinct in him was supreme: after that he was a lover.

Simonetta saw he had looked upon her merely as a “subject.” She was both pleased and angry. She, too, loved art, but she loved love more. She was a woman. They separated, and Simonetta inwardly compared the sallow, slavish scion of a proud name, to whom she was betrothed, with this God’s Nobleman whom she had just met. Giuliano’s words were full of soft flattery; this man uttered an oath of surprise under his breath, on first seeing her, and treated her almost with rudeness.

She fought the battle out there, alone, leaning against a tree, listening to the monotonous voice of a poet who was reading from Plato. She felt the disinterested greatness of Sandro, she knew the grandeur of his intellect–she was filled with a desire to be of service to him. Certainly she did not love him–a social abyss separated them–but could not her beauty and power in some way be allied with his, so that the world should be made better?

“Shame is of the brute dullard who thinks shame,” came the resonant voice of the reader. The words rang in her ears. Sandro was greater than the mere flesh–she would be, too. She would pose for him, and thus give her beautiful body to the world–beauty is eternal! Her action would bless and benefit the centuries yet to come. She was the most beautiful of women–he the greatest of artists. It was an opportunity sent from the gods! Instantly she half-ran, seeking the painter. She found him standing apart, alone. She spoke eagerly and hotly, fearing her courage would falter before she could make known her wish: “Ecco, Messer Sandro,” she whispered, casting a furtive look about–“who is there in Florence like me?”

“There is no one,” calmly answered Sandro.

“I will be your Lady Venus,” she went on breathlessly, stepping closer–“You shall paint me rising from the sea!”

Very early the next morning, before the household was astir, Sandro entered the apartments of the lady Simonetta. She was awaiting him, leaning with feigned carelessness against the balustrade, arrayed from head to toe in a rose-colored mantle. One bare foot peeped forth from under the folds of the robe.

Neither spoke a word.

Sandro arranged his easel, spread his crayons on the table, and looked about the room making calculations as to light.

He motioned her to a certain spot. She took the position, and as he picked up a crayon and examined it carelessly she raised her arms and the robe fell at her feet.

Sandro faced her, and saw the tall, delicate form, palpitating before him. The rays of the morning sun swept in between the lattices and kissed her shoulder, face and hair.

For an instant the artist was in abeyance. Then from under his breath he exclaimed: “Holy Virgin! what a line! Stay as you are, I implore you–swerve not a hair’s breadth, and soon you shall be mine forever!”

The pencil broke under his impetuous stroke. He seized another and worked at headlong speed. The woman watched him with eyes dilated. She was agitated, and the pink of her fair skin came and went. Her face grew pale, and she swayed like a reed.

All the time she watched the artist, fearfully. She was at his mercy!

Ah God! he was only an artist with the biggest mouth in all Florence! She noted how he tossed the hair from his eyes every moment. She saw the heavy jaw, the great, broad-spreading feet, the powerful chest. His smothered exclamations as he worked filled her with scorn. What had she done? Who was she, anyway, that she should thus bare her beauty before such a creature? He had not even spoken to her! Was she only a thing? She grew deadly pale and reeled as she stood there. Two big tears chased each other down her cheeks. The painter looking up saw other tears glistening on her lashes. He noted her distress.

He dropped his crayon and made a motion as if to advance to her relief.

A few moments before and he might have folded her mantle about her and assisted her to a seat–then they would have talked, reassured each other, and been mutually understood. To be understood–to be appreciated–that is it!

It was too late, now–she hated him.

As he advanced she recovered herself.

She pointed her finger to the door, and bade him begone.

Hastily he huddled his belongings into a parcel, and without looking up, passed out of the door. She heard his steps echoing down the stairway, and soon from out the lattice she saw him walk across the court and disappear. He did not look up!

She threw herself upon her couch, buried her face in the pillows and burst into tears.

In one short week word came to Sandro that Simonetta was dead–a mysterious quick fever of some kind–she had refused all food–the doctors could not understand it–the fever had just burned her life out!

Let Maurice Hewlett tell the rest:

“They carried dead Simonetta through the streets of Florence, with her pale face uncovered and a crown of myrtle in her hair. People thronging there held their breath, or wept to see such still loveliness; and her poor parted lips wore a patient little smile, and her eyelids were pale violet and lay heavy on her cheek. White, like a bride, with a nosegay of orange-blossoms, and syringa at her throat, she lay there on her bed, with lightly folded hands and the strange aloofness and preoccupation all the dead have. Only her hair burned about her like molten copper.

“The great procession swept forward; black brothers of Misericordia, shrouded and awful, bore the bed or stalked before it with torches that guttered and flared sootily in the dancing light of day.

“Santa Croce, the great church, stretched forward beyond her into the distances of gray mist and cold spaces of light. Its bare vastness was damp like a vault. And she lay in the midst listless, heavy-lidded, apart, with the half-smile, as it seemed, of some secret mirth. Round her the great candles smoked and flickered, and mass was sung at the High Altar for her soul’s repose. Sandro stood alone, facing the shining altar, but looking fixedly at Simonetta on her couch. He was white and dry–parched lips and eyes that ached and smarted. Was this the end? Was it possible, my God! that the transparent, unearthly thing lying there so prone and pale was dead? Had such loveliness aught to do with life or death? Ah! sweet lady, dear heart, how tired she was, how deadly tired! From where he stood he could see with intolerable anguish the somber rings around her eyes and the violet shadows on the lids, her folded hands and the straight, meek line to the feet. And her poor wan face with its wistful, pitiful little smile was turned half-aside on the delicate throat, as if in a last appeal: Leave me now, O Florentines, to my rest. Poor child! Poor child! Sandro was on his knees with his face pressed against the pulpit and tears running through his fingers as he prayed.

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“As he had seen her, so he painted. As at the beginning of life in a cold world, passively meeting the long trouble of it, he painted her a rapt Presence floating evenly to our earth. A gray, translucent sea laps silently upon a little creek, and in the hush of a still dawn the myrtles and sedges on the water’s brim are quiet. It is a dream in halftones that he gives us, gray and green and steely blue; and just that, and some homely magic of his own, hint the commerce of another world with man’s discarded domain. Men and women are asleep, and as in an early walk you may startle the hares at their play, or see the creatures of the darkness–owls and night-hawks and heavy moths–flit with fantastic purpose over the familiar scene, so here it comes upon you suddenly that you have surprised Nature’s self at her mysteries; you are let into the secret; you have caught the spirit of the April woodland as she glides over the pasture to the copse. And that, indeed, was Sandro’s fortune. He caught her in just such a propitious hour. He saw the sweet wild thing, pure and undefiled by touch of earth; caught her in that pregnant pause of time ere she had lighted. Another moment and a buxom nymph of the grove would fold her in a rosy mantle, colored as the earliest wood- anemones are. She would vanish, we know, into the daffodils or a bank of violets. And you might tell her presence there, or in the rustle of the myrtles, or coo of doves mating in the pines; you might feel her genius in the scent of the earth or the kiss of the west wind; but you could only see her in mid-April, and you should look for her over the sea. She always comes with the first warmth of the year. But daily, before he painted, Sandro knelt in a dark chapel in Santa Croce, while a priest said mass for the repose of Simonetta’s soul.”

George Eliot gives many a side-glimpse of the art life of Florence in the days of the luxury-loving Medici. She saturated herself in Italian literature and history; and the days of Fra Angelico, Fra Lippo Lippi and Fra Girolamo Savonarola are bodied forth from lines deeply etched upon her heart.

When you go to Florence carry “Romola” in your side-pocket, just as you take the “Marble Faun” to Rome. “Romola” will certainly make history live again and pass before your gaze. The story is unmistakably high art, for from the opening lines of the proem you hear the slow, measured wing of death; and after you have read the volume, forever, for you, will the smoke of martyr-fires hover about the Piazza Signoria, and from the gates of San Marco you will see emerge that little man in black robe and cowl–that homely, repulsive man with the curved nose, the protruding lower lip, the dark, leathery skin–that man who lured and fascinated by his poise and power, whose words were whips of scorpions that stung his enemies until they had to silence him with a rope; and as a warning to those whom he had hypnotized, they burned his swart, shrunken body in the public square, just as he had burned their books and pictures.

Sandro Botticelli, the painter, who made sensuality beautiful, ugliness seductive, and the sin-stained soul attractive, renounced all and followed the Monk of San Marco–sensuality and asceticism at the last are one. When the procession headed for the Piazza Signoria, where the fagots were piled high, Sandro stood afar off and his heart was wrung in anguish, as he saw the glare of the flames gild the eastern sky. And this anguish was not for the friends who had perished–no, no, it was for himself; the thought that he was unworthy of martyrdom filled his mind–he had fallen at the critical moment. Basely and cravenly he had saved himself. By saving all he lost all. To lose one’s self-respect is the only calamity. Sandro Botticelli had failed to win the approval of his Other Self–and this is defeat, and there is none other. He might have sent his soul to God on the wings of victory, in glorious company, but now it was too late–too late!

From this time forth he ceased to live–he merely existed. Into his soul there occasionally shot gleams of sunshine, but his nerveless hands refused to do the bidding of his brain. He stood on crutches, hat in hand, at church-doors, and asked for alms. Sometimes he would make bold to tell people of wonderful pictures within, over the altar or upon the walls; and he would say that they were his, and then his hearers would laugh aloud, and ask him to repeat his words, that others, too, might laugh. Thus dwindled the passing days; and for him who had painted the “Spring” there came the chilling neglect of Winter, until Death in mercy laid an icy hand upon him, and he was still.

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