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Art. IV.- Rime di Michelagnolo Buonarroti, (il vecchio,)
Manni. Firenze. 1726. 8vo. Never, perhaps, did a ray of the divine nature so visibly break through its mortal covering as in the instance of Michel Angelo Buonarroti. Not content with being sublime in painting and in sculpture, and matchless in architecture, his mighty genius grasped at and won the poetic wreath ; and although he did not attain to the same lofty pre-eminence in poetry as in the sister arts of imitation, yet was he such a poet as to gain the applauses of an age, in which it appeared that the Muses had quitted their immortal seats and descended to bless and to irradiate Italy. Nature, and the sacred Italian sky, had inspired him with his all-mastering genius in the fine arts, but love alone made him a poet; and while he stamped upon the marble or the canvass the beautiful conceptions of his divine mind, he charmed the hours of labour by singing, like the ancient Parrhasius, hymns to the pure, celestial Venus.
It was reserved for the most beautiful and glorious lady, Vittoria Colonna, to be the fortunate object of his adoration. Born in Marino, she was wife to that illustrious Marquess of Pescara who died of the wounds he received at the battle of Pavia, when Francis I. was taken prisoner by Charles V. At the time when the affrighted princes of Italy sought to turn Pescara from his fidelity to the Spanish cause, she wrote these noble words to her husband : “ Remember your virtue, which raises you above fortune and above kings. By that alone, and not by the splendour of titles, is glory acquired, that glory which it will be your happiness and pride to transmit unspotted to your posterity.” After she lost her husband, this nobleminded woman betook herself to solitude, in which she might lament his loss and celebrate his exploits. Young, and of consummate beauty of mind and of person, she refused to accept another husband, and consecrated herself priestess, to the Muses first, and afterwards to religion, in which she hoped to find peace and hope under her grievous bereavement. Her fame as a poet was so great throughout Italy, that Ariosto dedicated to her not a few of his immortal verses. And the poems of this illustrious lady which have come down to us are truly of great value, both for the correctness and elegance of the style, and for a certain strength and gravity of thought which are rarely met with in the productions of the weaker
As often as she celebrates the memory of her husband, a' sweet and deep and true tenderness is so blended with the most dignified sentiments, that it is clearly seen with what a noble love she loved him. One example of this is to be found in a most beautiful sonnet, in which she describes the
return of Pescara laden with warlike trophies, in which she calls to mind how, as she beheld him approach thus adorned with royal spoils, the day seemed brighter to her. She recalls his gestures, his dauntless countenance, and his wise and graceful discourse, and continues;
“ Vinto dà prieghi miei, poi mi mostrava
She concludes with an allusion to her past happiness, which makes her present sorrow more grievous and her tears more bitter. But the greatest glory of Vittoria Colonna lies, perhaps, in this—that she was the first who consecrated her lyre to subjects of piety unmixed with other matter. Women's softer natures have ever inclined them most to devotion, and this sentiment was so strong in her that it seemed to produce, as it were, a necessity to employ her song about the mysteries and graces of religion, and to give vent to the tender emotions of a soul which had ever been consecrated to love. Before her time there were indeed sacred poems, since almost all the poets of Italy, after having passed their youth in singing the joys and sorrows of an amorous passion, at length confessed their errors, and proclaimed their repentance and sorrow for their ill-spent lives. Of this, Petrarch gave the first example in his divine canzone, “ Virgine bella che di sol vestita,” &c. and was followed by Bembo, Casa, and others; but to Vittoria alone belongs the praise of having been the first to compose expressly a collection of sacred poems, in which it must be allowed that the beauty of the style rarely falls short of the sublimity of the argument. From this cause she had, while yet alive, the title of Divine, which was granted to Dante and Ariosto only after death. And it is worthy of note, that this extraordinary lady was accused of a leaning towards the then growing notions of the Reformation, so that she was exposed to the satire and reproach of some, and particularly of a most calumnious and biting one of Aretino, who wrote thus,
“ Cristo, la tua discepola Pescara
Che favella con teco faccia a faccia,
lines terrible indeed, if founded on truth, but infamous if false, as they really were.
To this lady, Michel Angelo Buonarotti devoted his soul and his Muse. It is not known whether she felt any answering
affection, though some traces of such a correspondence do, we think, appear in his poems. So that, perhaps, she who refused the band of princes did not scorn the pure and almost heavenly flame of the chiefest of artists. It is, at any rate, certain, that she wrote to him, frequently, letters of very warm regard, and that she many times went to Rome expressly to see and converse with him; and that she took singular pleasure in his company, and openly, and with extreme satisfaction, avowed this. But in the verses of Vittoria Colonna, not the slightest tinge of passion appears, whilst it glows with infinite ardour and tenderness in all that remains to us of Buonarroti's. . Of these it is now time that we should speak.
The judgments which the contemporaries and friends have left us of his poetry, are truly such as are fit to adorn the memory of such a man. Varchi, in the funeral oration he pronounced to the afflicted people of Florence, calls him “a most excellent poet;" and says that "he composed with new invention, and most divine expressions." Vasari, who was his most dear friend and disciple and admirer, exalts him yet higher, when he says that, besides a matchless genius for the fine arts, heaven was pleased to bestow upon him the gift of true philosophy, with the ornament of sweet poesy, that so the world might choose him to look upon as its rarest mirror both for his life, his works, the holiness of his manners, and for all the actions that can adorn humanity. And Aretino himself, who “ disse mal d'ognuno fuor che di Cristo,” could not keep from uttering this most beautiful saying, " that his writings (Buonarroti's) deserve to be preserved in an urn of emerald.” It appears to us wonderful that the Italians who have employed themselves, and still do employ themselves, more than enough with sonnets and canzoni, should leave, almost in forgetfulness, the verses of this noble spirit, who, of all the followers of Petrarch, has, perhaps, shewn himself the most true and worthy; as being the one who knew best how to penetrate most deeply, and to express the most clearly, the too sublime imagination of that great master of Tuscan verse.
Buonarroti was a follower of the doctrines of Petrarch, though he adorned them rather with the vigorous conceptions and severe style of Dante, which, though, in the few and short compositions of our poet, it is at times somewhat dry and niggardly, nevertheless gives to his verses a certain original and unaccustomed air, which, by separating them from every thing vulgar, renders them precious and admirable. Nor let it be imagined that by following the refined doctrines of Petrarch, Buonarroti departed in any degree from those of his great master, Alighieri, since both these suns of Italy borrowed their light from the sacred fount of the divine Plato. But the
fearless Ghibellin, despising mortal affairs, loosed his fervent spirit from the bonds of sense; mounted from Heaven to Heaven till he reached the Supreme Beatitude; and there, in the presence of the Almighty Architect, dared to contemplate unveiled the eternal beauties of his Beatrice. Whilst Petrarch, —who abode more among men, although he loved sublimity, yet loved like a mortal, and lived the slave of love up to his latest day; thus holding human converse with this mighty power, often questioning and invoking him on every spot which had been most blest by his sacred and propitious smile; and had thus full opportunity of proving his power and learning his ways, and thence of revealing, in golden verse, his most hard and secret mysteries to those who were worthy to contemplate them with a near view. To penetrate into which is certainly not a thing to be attempted by the vulgar, and therefore those, whose heart and mind are not fully exercised that do well to turn their thoughts wholly from the matter, since to them it must needs appear incomprehensible, or subtle, or vain. For which reason, if we would form any just notion as to the poetry of Michel Angelo, we must raise the veil which hides the immaculate countenance of that sacred love which was the sole argument of his song.
The Platonic notions, which, by nourishing the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, render immortal the thoughts and the deeds of those who are truly imbued with them, found a happy entrance into the minds of the Italian poets, at the time when the fine arts and poesy came forth out of the thick darkness which had shrouded them. These men, drawing love from the slavery of the senses to the guidance of reason, did not represent its exterior acts and sensible enjoyments, but delineated and drew forth that which had its source in the depth of their souls, and which springs up in the souls of the wise alone, where this, like all other affections and passions, is purified and made conformable with virtue. Thus did they depart from all likeness to the Latin poets, who made themselves dear and pleasant to the multitude, by flattering them with the lively representation of their own wishes and delights. For which cause, Dante, Petrarch, and Michel Angelo, did not receive applause, except from learned men and philosophers, and particularly those whose minds were familiar with the Platonic conceptions of love, without which these poets remain in good part hidden, like the sun clouded by thick vapours, or the night bereft of stars. Still more utterly are they concealed from the followers of Democratic philosophy, the materialists; who, while they are curiously intent on the actions of the body, forget those of the soul, and treat
this love as a chimera of Socrates or Plato, or as a decent veil for forbidden desires. But if they would contemplate the nature of virtue, which is an orderly and regular motion of the soul, they would see that its office is entirely employed about the good use of human gifts,; as the business of liberality is the good use of riches, that of temperance is the good use of pleasures ; under which temperance and decorous enjoyment of pleasures may be classed this sort of love, whose office is concerned about the right use of beauty, drawing from it delight, not of the senses but of the reason, to which beauty serves as an occasion or way of reaching the mind of the thing beloved. And this is the chiefest gift that God has given to his creatures, because the virtue which springs from beauty draws us to its contemplation; and this contemplation urges us on to the desire of heavenly things, as a specimen and earnest of which it was sent amongst us.
“Gli occhi miei, vaghi delle cose belle,
E quel si chiama Amore.” Such are the graceful and simple expressions of our poet, in whose mind nature had, perhaps, engraved the most perfect idea of beauty, which he knew and felt to be the seat and abode of love ; of that love which is the source and fountain of all the blessings of life ; at whose bidding, the fine arts descended to gladden the earth ; by whom sacred poesy, the sole aliment of pure and generous spirits, was brought among us; by whom piety, which can place smiles upon the lip of misfortune, was kindled in our breasts; from whom springs pleasure, the renewer of our being ; and without whom the earth would become unkindly, the animals hostile one to another, the sun a consuming fire, and the whole world sorrow, affright, and destruction. This love, nourished by the resemblance of those common virtues by which souls are bound together, kindles in them a most gentle and steady flame, which, feeding upon the incorporeal substance, lives so long as life endures, wholly free and exempt from all changes of the body; and this Buonarroti, who, no longer young, loved, and was, perchance, beloved by one whose youth was also past, seems to signify, when he says to Vittoria Colonna