Story type: Essay
What genius disclosed all these wonders to thee? All the fair images in the world seem to have sprung forward to meet thee, and to throw themselves lovingly into thy arms. How joyous was the gathering when smiling angels held thy palette, and sublime spirits stood before thy inward vision in all their splendor as models! Let no one think he has seen Italy, let no one think he has learnt the lofty secrets of art, until he has seen thee and thy Cathedral at Parma, O Correggio!
There is no moment that comes to mortals so charged with peace and precious joy as the moment of reconciliation. If the angels ever attend us, they are surely present then. The ineffable joy of forgiving and being forgiven forms an ecstacy that well might arouse the envy of the gods. How well the theologians have understood this! Very often, no doubt, their psychology has been more experimental than scientific–but it is effective. They plunge the candidate into a gloom of horror, guilt and despair; and then when he is thoroughly prostrated–submerged–they lift him out and up into the light, and the thought of reconciliation possesses him.
He has made peace with his Maker!
That is to say, he has made peace with himself–peace with his fellowmen. He is intent on reparation; he wishes to forgive every one. He sings, he dances, he leaps into the air, clasps his hands in joy, embraces those nearest him, and calls aloud, “Glory to God! Glory to God!” It is the moment of reconciliation. Yet there is a finer temperament than that of the “new convert,” and his moment of joy is one of silence–sacred silence.
In the Parma Gallery is the painting entitled, “The Day,” the masterpiece of Correggio. The picture shows the Madonna, Saint Jerome, Saint John and the Christ-child. A second woman is shown in the picture. This woman is usually referred to as Magdalene, and to me she is the most important figure in it. She may lack a little of the ethereal beauty of the Madonna, but the humanness of the pose, the tenderness and subtle joy of it, shows you that she is a woman indeed, a woman the artist loved–he wanted to paint her picture, and Saint Jerome, the Madonna and the Christ-child are only excuses.
John Ruskin, good and great, but with prejudices that matched his genius, declared this picture “immoral in its suggestiveness.” It is so splendidly, superbly human that he could not appreciate it. Yet this figure of which he complains is draped from neck to ankle–the bare feet are shown–but the attitude is sweetly, tenderly modest. The woman, half-reclining, leans her face over and allows her cheek, very gently, to press against that of the Christ-child. Absolute relaxation is shown, perfect trust–no tension, no anxiety, no passion–only a stillness and rest, a gratitude and subdued peace that are beyond speech. The woman is so happy that she can not speak, so full of joy that she dare not express it, and a barely perceptible tear-stain upon her cheek suggests that this peace has not always been. She has found her Savior–she is His and He is hers.
It is the moment of reconciliation.
The Renaissance came as a great burst of divine light, after a thousand years of lurid night. The iron heel of Imperial Rome had ground individuality into the mire. Unceasing war, endless bloodshed, slavery without limit, and rampant bestiality had stalked back and forth across Europe. Insanity, uncertainty, drudgery and crouching want were the portion of the many. In such a soil neither art, literature nor religion can prosper.
But now the Church had turned her face against disorder, and was offering her rewards for excellence and beauty. Gradually there came a feeling of safety–something approaching security. Throughout Italy, beautiful, stately churches were being built; in all the little principalities, palaces were erected; architecture became a science. The churches and palaces were decorated with pictures, statues filled the niches, memorials to great ones gone were erected in the public squares. It was a time of reconciliation–peace was more popular than war–and where men did go to war, they always apologized for it by explaining that they fought simply to obtain peace.
Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo and Botticelli were doing their splendid work–work palpitating with the joy of life, and yet upon it was the tinge of sorrow, the scars of battles fought, the tear- stains that told of troubles gone. Yet the general atmosphere was one of blitheness, joyous life and gratitude for existence. Men seemed to have gotten rid of a great burden; they stood erect, they breathed deeply, and looking around them, were surprised to perceive that life was really beautiful, and God was good.
In such an attitude of mind they reached out friendly hands toward each other. Poets sang; musicians played; painters painted, and sculptors carved. Universities sprang into being–schools were everywhere. The gloom was dispelled even from the monasteries. The monks ate three meals a day–sometimes four or five. They went a- visiting. Wine flowed, and music was heard where music was never heard before. Instead of the solemn processional, there were Barnabee steps seen on stone floors–steps that looked like ecclesiastical fandango. The rope girdles were let out a trifle, flagellations ceased, vigils relaxed, and in many instances the coarse horsehair garments were replaced with soft, flowing robes, tied with red, blue or yellow sashes of silk and satin. The earth was beautiful, men were kind, women were gracious, God was good, and His children should be happy–these were the things preached from many pulpits.
Paganism had got grafted on to Christianity, and the only branches that were bearing fruit were the pagan branches. The old spirit of Greece had come back, romping, laughing in the glorious Italian sunshine. Everything had an Attic flavor. The sky was never so blue, the yellow moonlight never before cast such soft, mysterious shadows, the air was full of perfume, and you had but to stop and listen any time and anywhere to hear the pipes o’ Pan.
When Time turned the corner into the Sixteenth Century, the tide of the Renaissance was at its full. The mortification of the monasteries, as we have seen, had given place to a spirit of feasting–good things were for use. The thought was contagious, and although the Paulian idea of women keeping silence in all due subjection has ever been a favorite one with masculine man, yet the fact is that in the matter of manners and morals men and women are never far apart–there is a constant transference of thought, feeling and action. I do not know why this is. I merely know that it is so. Some have counted sex a mistake on the part of God; but the safer view is for us to conclude that whatever is, is good; some things are better than others, but all are good. That is what they thought during the Renaissance. So convent life lost its austerity, and as the Council of Trent had not yet issued its stern orders commanding asceticism, prayers were occasionally offered accompanied by syncopated music.
The blooming daughters of great houses were consigned to convents on slight excuse. “To a nunnery go, and quickly, too,” was an order often given and followed with alacrity. Married women, worn with many cares, often went into “retreat”; girls tired of society’s whirl; those wrung with hopeless passion; unmanageable wives; all who had fed on the husks of satiety; those who had incurred the displeasure of parents or kinsmen, or were deserted, forlorn and undone, all these found rest in the convents–provided they had the money to pay. Those without money or influential friends simply labored as servants and scullions. Rich women contracted the “Convent Habit”; this was about the same thing as our present dalliance known as the “Sanitarium Bacillus”–which only those with a goodly bank-balance can afford to indulge. The poor, then as now, had a sufficient panacea for trouble: they kept their nerves beneath their clothes by work; they had to grin and bear it–at least they had to bear it.
In almost every town that lined the great Emilian Highway, that splendid road laid out by the Consul Marcus Emilius, 83 B. C., from Rimini and Piacenza, there were convents of high and low degree– some fashionable, some plain, and some veritable palaces, rich in art and full of all that makes for luxury. These convents were at once a prison, a hospital, a sanitarium, a workshop, a school and a religious retreat. The day was divided up into periods for devotion, work and recreation, and the discipline was on a sliding scale matching the mood of the Abbess in charge, all modified by the prevailing spirit of the inmates. But the thought that life was good was rife, and this thought got over every convent-wall, stole through the garden-walks, crept softly in at every grated window, and filled each suppliant’s cell with its sweet, amorous presence.
Yes, life is good, God is good! He wants His children to be happy! The white clouds chase each other across the blue dome of heaven, the birds in the azaleas and in the orange-trees twitter, build nests and play hide-and-seek the livelong day. The balmy air is flavored with health, healing and good-cheer.
Life in a convent had many advantages and benefits. Women were taught to sew and work miracles with the needle; they made lace, illumined missals, wove tapestries, tended the flowers, read from books, listened to lectures, and spent certain hours in silence and meditation. To a great degree the convents were founded on science and a just knowledge of human needs. There were “orders” and degrees that fitted every temperament and condition.
But the humble garb of a nun never yet changed the woman’s heart that beats beneath–she is a woman still.
Every night could be heard the tinkle of guitars beneath bedroom- windows, notes were passed up on forked sticks, and missives freshly kissed by warm lips were dropped down through lattices; secret messengers came with letters, and now and again rope ladders were in demand; while not far away, there were always priests who did a thriving business in the specialty of Gretna Green.
Every sanitarium, every great hotel, every public institution–every family, I was going to say–has two lives: the placid moving life that the public knows, and the throbbing, pulsing life of plot and counterplot–the life that goes on beneath the surface. It is the same with the human body–how bright and calm the eye, how smooth and soft the skin, how warm and beautiful this rose-mesh of flesh! But beneath there is a seething struggle between the forces of life and the disintegration–and eventually nothing succeeds but failure.
Every convent was a hotbed of gossip, jealousy, hate and seething strife; and now and again there came a miniature explosion that the outside world heard and translated with emendations to suit.
Rivalry was rife, competition lined the corridors, and discontent sat glum or rustled uneasily in each stone cell. Some of the inmates brought pictures, busts and ornaments to embellish their rooms. Friends from the outside world sent presents; the cavalier who played the guitar beneath the window varied his entertainment by gifts; flowers filled the beautiful vases, and these blossoms were replaced ere they withered, so as to show that true love never dies.
Monks from neighboring monasteries preached sermons or gave lectures; skilled musicians came, and sang or played the organ; noblemen visited the place to examine the works of art, or to see fair maids on business, or consult the Abbess on matters spiritual. Often these visitors were pressed to remain, and then receptions were held and modest fetes given and banquets tendered. At intervals there were fairs, when the products made by the marriage of the hand and brain of the fair workers were exhibited and sold.
So life, though in a convent, was life, and even death and disintegration are forms of life–and all life is good.
The Donna Giovanni Piacenza was appointed Abbess of San Paola Convent, Parma, in Fifteen Hundred Seven. The Abbess was the daughter of the nobleman Marco. Donna Giovanni was a woman of marked mental ability; she had a genius for management; a wise sense of diplomacy; and withal was an artist by nature and instinct.
The Convent of San Paola was one of the richest and most popular in the Emilia.
The man to whose influence the Abbess owed most in securing her the appointment was the Cavaliere Scipione, a lawyer and man of affairs, married to the sister of the Abbess.
As a token of esteem and by way of sisterly reciprocity, the Abbess soon after her appointment called the Cavaliere Scipione to the position of Legal Adviser and Custodian of the Convent Funds. Before this the business of the institution had been looked after by the Garimberti family; and the Garimberti now refusing to relinquish their office, Scipione took affairs into his own hands and ran the chief offender through with his sword. Scipione found refuge in the Convent, and the officers of the law hammered on the gates for admission, and hammered in vain.
Parma was split into two factions–those who favored the Abbess Giovanni and those who opposed her.
Once at midnight the gates were broken down and the place searched, for hiding cavaliers, by the Governor of the city and his cohorts, to the great consternation of the nuns.
But time is the great healer, and hate left alone is shortlived, and dies a natural death. The Abbess was wise in her management, and with the advice and assistance of Scipione, the place prospered. Visitors came, delegations passed that way, great prelates gave their blessing, and the citizens of Parma became proud of the Convent of San Paola.
Some of the nuns were rich in their own right, and some of these had their rooms frescoed by local artists to suit their fancies. Strictly religious pictures were not much in vogue with the inmates –they got their religion at the chapel. Mythology and the things that symbolized life and love were the fashion. On one door was a flaming heart pierced by an arrow, and beneath in Italian was the motto, “Love while you may.” Other mottoes about the place were, “Eat, drink and be merry”; “Laugh and be glad.” These mottoes revealed the prevailing spirit.
Some of the staid citizens of Parma sent petitions to Pope Julius demanding that the decree of strict cloistration be enforced against the nuns. But Julius sort of reveled in life himself, and the art spirit shown by the Abbess was quite to his liking. Later, Leo the Tenth was importuned to curb the festive spirit of the place, but he shelved the matter by sending along a fatherly letter of advice and counsel.
About this time we find the Abbess and her Legal Adviser planning a scheme of decoration that should win the admiration or envy–or both–of every art-lover in the Emilia. The young man, Antonio Allegri, from Correggio should do the work. They had met him at the house of Veronica Gambara, and they knew that any one Veronica recommended must be worthy of confidence. Veronica said the youth had sublime talent–it must be so. His name, Allegri, meant joy, and his work was charged with all his name implied. He was sent for, and he came–walking the forty miles from Correggio to Parma with his painter’s kit on his back.
He was short of stature, smooth-faced and looked like a good-natured country bumpkin in his peasant garb, all decorated with dust. He was modest, half-shy, and the nuns who peered at him from behind the arras as he walked down the hallway of the Convent caused his countenance to run the chromatic scale.
He was sorry he came, and if he could have gotten away without disgrace he surely would have started straight back for Correggio. He had never been so far away from home before, and although he did not know it he was never to get farther away in his life. Venice and Titian were to the east a hundred miles; Milan and Leonardo were to the north about the same distance; Florence and Michelangelo were south ninety miles; Rome and Raphael were one hundred sixty miles beyond; and he was never to see any of these. But the boy shed no tears over that; it is quite possible that he never heard of any of these names just mentioned, save that of Leonardo. None loomed large as they do now–there were painters everywhere, just as Boston Common is full of poets. Veronica Gambara had told him of Leonardo– we know that–and described in glowing words and with an enthusiasm that was contagious how the chief marks of Leonardo’s wonderful style lay in the way he painted hands, hair and eyes. The Leonardo hands were delicate, long of finger, expressive and full of life; the hair was wavy, fluffy, sun-glossed, and it seemed as if you could stroke it, and it would give off magnetic sparks; but Leonardo’s best feature was the eye–the large, full-orbed eye that looked down so that you really never saw the eye, only the lid, and the long lashes upon which a tear might glisten. Antonio listened to Veronica with open mouth, drinking it all in, and then he sighed and said, “I am a painter, too.” He set to work, fired with the thought of doing what Leonardo had done–hands, hair and eyes–beautiful hands, beautiful hair, beautiful eyes! Then these things he worked upon, only he never placed the glistening tear upon the long lash, because there were no tears upon his own lashes. He had never known sorrow, trouble, disappointment or defeat.
The specialty of Allegri was “putti”–tumbling, tumultuous, tricksy putti. These cherubs symboled the joy of life, and when Allegri wished to sign his name, he drew a cherub. He had come up out of a family that had little and expected nothing. Then he needed so little–his wants were few. If he went away from home on little journeys, he stopped with peasants along the way and made merry with the children and outlined a chubby cherub on the cottage-wall, to the delight of everybody; and in the morning was sent on his way with blessings, Godspeeds, and urgent invitations to come again. Smiles and good-cheer, a little music and the ability to do things, when accompanied by a becoming modesty, are current coin the round world over. Tired earth is quite willing to pay for being amused.
The Abbess Giovanni showed Antonio about the Convent, and he saw what had already been done. He was appreciative, but talked little. The Abbess liked the youth. He suggested possibilities–he might really become the great painter that the enthusiastic Veronica prophesied he would some day be.
The Abbess gave up one of her own rooms for his accommodation, brought him water for a bath, and at supper sat him at the table at her own right hand.
“And about the frescos?” asked the Abbess.
“Yes, the frescos–your room shall be done first. I will begin the work in the morning,” replied Antonio. The confidence of the youth made the Abbess smile.
Many of our finest flowers are merely transplanted weeds. Transplantation often works wonders in men. When Fate lifted Antonio Allegri out of the little village of Correggio and set him down in the city of Parma, a great change came over him. The wealth, beauty and freer atmosphere of the place caused the tendrils of his imagination to reach out into a richer soil, and the result was such blossoms of beauty, so gorgeous in form and color, that men have not yet ceased to marvel.
The Convent of San Paola is a sacred shrine for art-lovers–they come from the round world over, just to see the ceiling in that one room–the room of the Abbess Giovanni, where Antonio Allegri, the young man from Correggio, first placed his scaffolds in Parma.
The village of Correggio is quite off the beaten track of travel. You will have to look five times on the map before you can find it. It is now only a village, and in the year Fourteen Hundred Ninety- four, when Antonio Allegri was born and Cristoforo Colombo, the Genoese, was discovering continents, it was little better than a hamlet. It had a church, a convent, a palace where dwelt the Corregghesi–the Lords of Correggio–and stretching around the square, where stood the church, were long, low, stone cottages, whitewashed, with trellises of climbing flowers. Back of these cottages were little gardens where the peas, lentils, leeks and parsley laughed a harvest. There were flowers, flowers everywhere– none was too poor to have flowers. Flowers are a strictly sex product and symbol the joy of life; and where there are no flowers, there is little love. Lovers give flowers–and they are enough–and if you do not love flowers, they will refuse to blossom for you. “If I had but two loaves of bread, I’d sell one of them and buy white hyacinths to feed my soul”–that was said by a man who loved this world, no less than the next. Do not defame this world–she is the mother that feeds you, and she supplies you not only bread, but white hyacinths to feed your soul.
On market-day in every Italian town four hundred years ago, just as now, the country women brought big baskets of vegetables and also baskets of flowers. And you will see in those markets, if you observe, that the people who buy vegetables usually buy sprays of mignonette, bunches of violets, roses upon which the dew yet sparkles, or white hyacinths. Loaves alone are not quite enough–we want also the bread of life, and the bread of life is love, and didn’t I say that flowers symbol love?
And I have noted this, in those old markets: often the pile of flowers that repose by the basket of fruit or vegetables is to give away to the customers as tokens of good-will. I remember visiting the market at Parma one day and buying some cherries, and the old woman who took my money picked up a little spray of hyacinth and pinned it to my coat, quite as a matter of course. The next day I went back and bought figs, and got a big moss-rose as a premium. The peculiar brand of Italian that I spoke was unintelligible to the old woman, and I am very sure that I could not understand her, yet the white hyacinths and the moss-rose made all plain. That was five years ago, but if I should go back to Parma tomorrow, I would go straight to the Market-Place, and I know that my old friend would reach out a brown calloused hand to give me welcome, and the choicest rose in her basket would be mine–the heart understands.
That spirit of mutual giving was the true spirit of the Renaissance, and in the forepart of the Sixteenth Century it was at its fullest flower. Men gave the beauty that was in them, and Vasari tells of how at Correggio the peasants, who had nothing else to give, each Sunday brought flowers and piled them high at the feet of the Virgin.
There were painters and sculptors at the village of Correggio then; great men in their day, no doubt, but lost now to us in the maze of years. And there was, too, a little court of beauty and learning, presided over by Veronica Gambara. Veronica was a lover of art and literature, and a poet of no mean quality. Antonio Allegri, the son of the village baker, was a welcome visitor at her house. The boy used to help the decorators at the church, and had picked up a little knowledge of art. That is all you want–an entrance into the Kingdom of Art, and all these things shall be added unto you. Veronica appreciated the boy because he appreciated art, and great lady that she was, she appreciated him because he appreciated her. Nothing so warms the cockles of a teacher’s heart as appreciation in a pupil. The intellect of the village swung around Veronica Gambara. Visitors of note used to come from Bologna and Ferrara just to hear Veronica read her poems, and to talk over together the things they all loved. At these conferences Antonio was often present. He was eighteen, perhaps, when his sketches were first shown at Veronica’s little court of art and letters. He had taken lessons from the local painters, and visiting artists gave him the benefit of advice and criticism. Then Veronica had many engravings and various copies of good pictures. The boy was immersed in beauty, and all he did he did for Veronica Gambara. She was no longer young–she surely was old enough to have been the boy’s mother, and this was well. Such a love as this is spiritualized under the right conditions, and works itself up into art, where otherwise it might go dancing down the wanton winds and spend itself in folly.
Antonio painted for Veronica. All good things are done for some one else, and then after a while a standard of excellence is formed, and the artist works to please himself. But paradoxically, he still works for others–the singer sings for those who hear, the writer writes for those who understand, and the painter paints for those who would paint just such pictures as he, if they could. Antonio painted just such pictures as Veronica liked–she fixed the standard and he worked up to it.
And who then could possibly have foretold that the work of the baker’s boy would rescue the place from oblivion, so that anywhere where the word is mentioned, “Correggio” should mean the boy Antonio Allegri, and not the village nor the wide domain of the Corregghesi!
The distinguishing feature of Correggio’s work is his “putti.” He delighted in these well-fed, unspanked and needlessly healthy cherubs. These rollicksome, frolicsome, dimpled boy babies–and that they are boys is a fact which I trust will not be denied–he has them everywhere!
Paul Veronese brings in his omnipresent dog–in every “Veronese,” there he is, waiting quietly for his master. Even at the “Assumption” he sits in one corner, about to bark at the angels. The dog obtrudes until you reach a point where you do not recognize a “Veronese” without the dog–then you are grateful for the dog, and surely would scorn a “Veronese” minus the canine attachment. We demand at least one dog, as our legal and inborn right, with every “Veronese.”
So, too, we claim the cherubs of Correggio as our own. They are so oblivious of clothes, so beautifully indifferent to the proprieties, so delightfully self-sufficient! They have no parents; they are mostly of one size, and are all of one gender. They hide behind the folds of every apostle’s cloak, peer into the Magdalen’s jar of precious ointment, cling to the leg of Saint Joseph, make faces at Saint Bernard, attend in a body at the “Annunciation”–as if it were any of their business–hover everywhere at the “Betrothal,” and look on wonderingly from the rafters, or make fun of the Wise Men in the Stable.
They invade the inner Courts of Heaven, and are so in the way that Saint Peter falls over them, much to their amusement. They seat themselves astride of clouds, some fall off, to the great delight of their mates, and still others give their friends a boost over shadows that are in the way.
I said they had no parents–they surely have a father, and he is Correggio; but they are all in sore need of a mother’s care.
I believe it was Schiller who once intimated that it took two to love anything into being. But Correggio seems to have performed the task of conjuring forth these putti all alone; yet it is quite possible that Veronica Gambara helped him. That he loved them is very sure–only love could have made them manifest. This man was a lover of children, otherwise he could not have loved putti, for he sympathized with all their baby pranks, and sorrows as well.
One cherub bumps his head against a cloud and straightway lifts a howl that must have echoed all through Paradise. His mouth is open to its utmost limit; tears start from between his closed eyes, which he gouges with chubby fists, and his whole face is distorted in intense pigmy wrath. One might really feel awfully sorry for him were it not for the fact that he sticks out one foot trying to kick a playfellow who evidently hadn’t a thing to do with the accident. He’s a bad, naughty cherub–that is what he is, and he deserves to have his obtrusive anatomy stung, just a little, with the back of a hairbrush, for his own good.
This same cherub appears in other places, once blowing a horn in another’s ear; and again he is tickling a sleeping brother’s foot with a straw. These putti play all the tricks that real babies do, and besides have a goodly list of “stunts” of their own. One thing is sure, to Correggio heaven would not be heaven without putti; and the chief difference that I see between putti and sure-enough babies is, that putti require no care and babies do.
Then putti are practical and useful–they hold up scrolls, tie back draperies, carry pictures, point out great folks, feed birds, and in one instance Correggio has ten of them leading a dog out to execution. They carry the train of the Virgin, assist the Apostles, act as ushers, occasionally pass the poorbox, make wreaths and crowns–but, I am sorry to say, sometimes get into unseemly scuffles for first place.
They have no wings, yet they soar and fly like English sparrows. They are not troubled with nerv. pros. or introspection. What they feed upon is uncertain, but sure it is that they are well nourished. A putti needs nothing, not even approbation.
In the dome of the Cathedral at Parma, there is a regular flight of them to help on the Ascension. They mix in everywhere, riding on clouds, clinging to robes, perching on the shoulders of Apostles– everywhere thick in the flight and helping on that glorious anabasis. Away, away they go–movement–movement everywhere–right up into the blue dome of Heaven! As you look up at that most magnificent picture, a tinge of sorrow comes over you–the putti are all going away, and what if they should never come back!
A little girl I know once went with her Mamma to visit the Cathedral at Parma. Mother and daughter stood in silent awe for a space, looking up at that cloud of vanishing forms. At last the little girl turned to her mother and said, “Mamma, did you ever see so many bare legs in all the born days of your life?”
Some years ago in a lecture John La Farge said that the world had produced only seven painters that deserved to rank in the first class, and one of these is Correggio. The speaker did not name the other six; and although requested to do so, smilingly declined, saying that he preferred to allow each auditor to complete the list for himself.
One person present made out this list of seven Immortals, and passed the list to Edmund Russell, seated near, for comments. This is the list: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Titian, Rembrandt, Correggio, Velasquez, Corot.
Mr. Russell approved the selection, but added a note claiming the privilege to change and substitute names from time to time as his mood might prompt. This seems to me like a very sensible verdict. “Who is your favorite author?” is a question that is often asked. Just as if any one author ever got first place in the mind of a strong man and stuck there! Authors jostle each other for first place in our hearts. We may have Emerson periods and Browning periods, when they alone minister to us; and so also pictures, like music, make their appeals to mood.
This peaceful, beautiful May day, as I write this at my cabin in the woods, Correggio seems to me truly one of the world’s marvelous men. He is near, very dear, and yet before him I would stand silent and uncovered.
He did his work and held his peace. He was simple, modest, unobtrusive and unpretentious. He was so big that he never knew the greatness of his work, any more than the author of Hamlet knew the immensity of his.
Correggio was never more than a day’s journey from home–he toiled in obscurity and did work so grand that it made its final appeal only to the future. He never painted his own portrait, and no one else seemed to consider him worth while; his income was barely sufficient for his wants. He was so big that following fast upon his life came a lamentable decline in art: his personality being so great that his son and a goodly flock of disciples tried to paint just like him. All originality faded out of the fabric of their lives, and they were only cheap, tawdry and dispirited imitators. That is one of the penalties which Nature exacts when she vouchsafes a great man to earth–all others are condemned to insipidity. They are whipped, dispirited and undone, and spontaneity dies a-borning. No man should try to do another man’s work. Note the anatomical inanities of Bernini in his attempts to out-Angelo Michelangelo.
In this “rushing-in” business, keep out, or you may count as one more fool.
Correggio struck thirteen because he was himself, and was to a great degree even ignorant and indifferent to what the world was doing. He was filled with the joy of life; and with no furtive eye on the future, and no distracting fears concerning the present, he did his work and did it the best he could. He worked to please himself, cultivated the artistic conscience–scorning to create a single figure that did not spring into life because it must. All of his pictures are born of this spirit.
Good old Guido of Parma, afar from home, once asked, with tear- filled eyes, of a recent visitor there–“And tell me, you saw the Cathedral and the Convent of San Paola–and are not the cherubs of Master Correggio grown to be men yet?”
It is only life and love that give love and life. Correggio gave us both out of the fulness of a full heart. And growing weary when scarce forty years of age, he passed out into the Silence, but his work is ours.