Tuesday, September 23, 2008

'Make the jewel which you paint seem Rich'

I am gearing up to take a party of students off to ‘Renaissance Faces’


The image above is a Hilliard of an unknown lady (in the collection of the Metropolitan museum on their pleasing website here: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/liza/hd_liza.htm); but I thought I’d expound a little on one of his lost works, one that would have been the companion piece to his famous ‘Young Man Amongst Roses’. The lost portrait was commended in a sonnet by Henry Constable:

‘To Mr Hilliard, upon occasion of a picture he made of my Lady Rich’

If Michael the archpainter now did live,
Because that Michael he an angel hight,
As partial for his fellow-angels, might
To Raphael’s skill much praise and honour give.

But if in secret I his judgment shrive,
It would confess that no man knew aright
To give to stones and pearls true dye and light,
Till first your art with orient nature strive.

But think not yet you did that art devise;
Nay, thank my Ladie that such skill you have;
For often sprinckling her black sparckling eyes,
Her lips and breast, taught you the [.....]
To diamonds, rubies, pearls, the worth of which
Doth make the jewel which you paint seem Rich.

In his rather stilted first quatrain, Constable sets off on Michaelangelo having a high opinion of Raphael, product of an angel-Angelo’s bias towards another angelically-named painter. But, says Constable, if I had a living Michaelangelo’s secret opinion disclosed to me under confession, he would drop this bias, and confess to Hilliard’s superiority. The specific superiority is in representing jewels with undiminished lustre. Joan Grundy in her edition of Constable makes a very apposite citation of Hilliard’s own ‘Arte of Limning’: ‘Limning excelleth all other painting whatsoever in sundry points, in giving the true lustre to pearl and precious stone’. This shows that Constable was following Hilliard’s own opinion: the highest art is shown in rendering the most precious things.

But he was also working towards a play on ‘Rich’. He next tells Hilliard that actually he owes these skills to having painted Penelope Rich’s eyes, lips and breast: it was doing this that taught Hilliard how to render jewels. The sonnet ends with a clever commingling of Penelope Rich in the miniature (a true likeness), and the miniature painting as a piece of composite jewelry, because of her brilliant eyes, ruby lips, etc. Only by being very convincing can the precious things depicted contribute to a convincing Penelope Rich.

The gap in the manuscript leaves us three syllables short. Park in 1812, Joan Grundy noted, suggested ‘art you gave’. I thought ‘way most brave’ – the best way to learn how to depict precious stones, with a hint of the authentic 16th century attention to getting riches for yourself from your patroness.

But, so sadly, the miniature doesn’t survive. Joan Grundy suggests that Henry Constable may have taken the miniature up to the Scottish court in 1589, when the Earl of Essex and Penelope his sister were making overtures to James VI of Scotland, indicating their future loyalties lay with him rather than Arabella Stuart. How could the greatest miniaturist’s portrait of Sidney’s Stella ever have been so undervalued as to be lost? It must have been comparable to his famous image of her brother as the young man among roses. I imagine its fate: King James subsequently gave it to Charles Blount, it passed down in that family until someone wanted to re-use the case for another portrait miniature. Lady Penelope, limned on uterine vellum wrapped round card, got placed in a drawer. A 17th century teenage boy thought she was the most wonderful thing he’d ever seen, and stole her away.

So we have to make do with a sonnet about the painting of the lady in the sonnets. Lady Penelope Rich, a dark-eyed blonde, is associated throughout ‘Astrophel and Stella’ with light, as ‘star’ and in many other imaginative ways (‘and Stella spied / Who hard by made a window send forth light’, 53 – ‘and hath she vanished by?’, 105). I imagine, then, Hilliard’s miniature as Lady Rich wearing stunning jewels, and with glittering dark eyes. The care Hilliard took in painting the pupil of an eye! Freshly made paint of the blackest black, the pigment made utterly smooth with a mounted tooth of a squirrel as a diminutive grinder, the finical care lest a mote of dandruff fall down from the artist’s head… If only we had the portrait that complemented those Sidney sonnets!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Remembering Sir Philip Sidney

I’ve been looking at verse materials published in commemoration of Sir Philip Sidney: Thomas Churchyard’s Sir Phillip Sidney, his honorable life, his valiant death, and true virtues, Angel Day’s Upon the life and death of the most worthy, and thrise renowmed knight, Sir Phillip Sidney and John Philips, The life and death of Sir Phillip Sidney, late lord governour of Flushing his funerals solemnized in Paules Churche where he lyeth interred; with the whole order of the mournfull shewe, as they marched thorowe the citie of London, on Thursday the 16 of February. 1587.

What was the cause of all this grief, asks Day’s poem rhetorically, and answers that it was the loss of:

the choice of all the powers divine:
The influence self, where Virtues erst did flow,
The very work of all the Muses nine:

The care of earth and skies, in one self twine,
The rarest Type of courtly gentleness:
Adorned erst with stem of nobleness …

None of these writers know about ‘Astrophel and Stella’, but Day knows about the prose and other poetry:

Arcadia now, where is thy sovereign guide,
who stately Pembroke erst did to thee knit,
Where be the notes, his skill did erst divide,
In sundry meters, wound from finest wit,
Which he so well in covert shapes could fit…

‘Which he so well in covert shapes could fit’: I suppose Day refers to Sidney’s use of pastoral personae. But the subject of my post here, and shown in one of the two composite images above, is the use of overt shapes in the learned elegies on Sidney’s death. It seems from the Oxford collection of neo-Latin elegies, that beyond the normal elegiac meters, concrete poetry was in fashion locally, and so we get tapering pyramids and bulging columns in Exequiae illustrissimi equitis, D. Philippi Sidnaei, gratissimae memoriae ac nomini impensae. , Oxonii : Ex officina typographica Iosephi Barnesii, anno Domini (1587).

Such picture poems did not appear in the Cambridge volume, which gets upside of its Oxford rival by including elegies in Greek, and one in Hebrew: Academiae Cantabrigiensis lachrymae tumulo nobilissimi equitis, D. Philippi Sidneij sacratae per Alexandrum Nevillum , Londini : Ex officina Ioannis Windet impensis Thomae Chardi, Anno salutis humanae, M.D.lxxxvij.

Cambridge students did, though, seem to have a weakness for acrostics, and I was pleased to find a neo-Latin acrostic whose ingenious author has managed to make his first and last letters on each line spell out the latinised form of Sidney’s name.

But I will end this with John Philips’ closing stanza: in his poem, the dead man speaks from beyond the grave, and has a very simple message:

Thus from my grave I bid you all adieu.
Your Sidney’s words remember rich and poor,
Though dead, my life doth daily call to you.
Think ye how death knocks daily at life’s door,
Provide your lamps of oil prepare you store,
My tale is told, and I my race have run,
My body earth, my soul the heavens hath won.

Somehow I doubt that the neo-Latinists said anything that much better than this gauche directness.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Books in a 17th century pornographic 'library'

Alas, I have digressed today from reading Petrarchist poetry to seventeenth century smut, in the anonymous novella, The Practical part of love. Extracted out of the extravagant and lascivious life of a fair but subtle female. (1660). The main narrative, after the author’s prologue, is entitled ‘The History of the exorbitant and Lascivious Life of Lucia and her daughter Hellena’.

This is wretched and tawdry stuff indeed, hack writing that only rarely shows any kind of engagement between writer and subject. The prologue itself has some flourishes defending the human sex drive:

“Our affections once touched by Loves Loadstone, puts the Axle-tree of our Microcosme, into a trembling motion, and never is quiet till it stands opposite to that point, where that Gulf is that Sir Francis Drake shot when he was first married. The Worlds Creator ordain’d that there should be pleasure in copulation, to the end that men might delight in procreation.”

The narrative, though, switches from ‘men’ delighting in procreation to the insatiable woman pornography seems to require. But the tale is humdrum throughout. First Lucia, and then her daughter Hellena, have an appetite for lots of sex. The would-be pornographer barely approves, and can hardly suppress his own desire for moral reprisal.

In one of his more committed pieces of writing, he gets to imagining the library at the ‘love’s academy’ the exquisite and hot blooded Hellena attends:

“This Gallery is the introductorium to the Library. Opposite to the door stands always open on a Desk Aretins postures in Folio done to the life; and just by it lies chaind Embammata amoris; by this in a Manuscript, fairly written with a Frontispeece stands a Pece called Venus undrest, likewise the Life of Mother Cunny, never yet printed, in Folio. The Anatomy of Cuckoldry, Luteners lane decipher’d, cum mille aliis. On the right hand stood Francions bawdy History, Folio, bound in Turky lether, Jovial drollery, marbled Venus and Adonis, Lusty Drollery, Venus her Cabinet unlockt, Ovids Art of Loving, Natures chief Rarities, The crafty whore reprinted in Folio, with the English bawd, and errant rogue, together with a catalogue of all the Whores in this Citty, containing thirty sheets of paper. There were likewise all sorts of books of Midwifery, as Culpepper’s Midwife, the compleat Midwife, the birth of Mankind, Child-birth, &c”

Pornography and fine books have always gone round together: but what a limited collection this is: Aretine, Ovid, and then he’s scratching around. The Emblemata Amoris I’ve seen is just not erotic: it’s here because it sounds as though it might be. Poor old Venus and Adonis gets dragged in again. Other items seem to qualify this list for ‘The Invisible Library’ (link below), the online catalogues of imaginary books mentioned in other books: so ‘Mother Cunny’ seems to have been the alias of a brothel keeper (she appears in the title The ladies champion confounding the author of The wandring whore, by Eugenius Theodidactus … Approved of by Megg. Spenser Damrose Page Priss. Fetheringham Su. Leming Betty Lawrence Mother Cunny, 1660). My writer imagines a biography of this lady. ‘Luteners Lane’ is similarly a feature of the London underworld re-imagined as a book. Prostitutes working off that street feature in Poor Robins Character of France:

“the first time I came to London, being but a young Novice, scarcely writing Man, passing through Luteners-lane, a Gentlewoman standing at the door accosted me with these words, How do you Sir, I am heartily glad to see you well, how have you done a long time? … (Sir said she) pray come in and let us discourse together: but notwithstanding her bold invitation away I went, and coming to my Lodging, relating the story, Sir, said one to me, you must have a care of such Creatures, for notwithstanding their brave Garbe, they are no other then common Strumpets.”

Returning to identifiable texts, ‘Francion’ must mean the original of The most delightfull and pleasant history of Francion wherein all the vices that usually attend youth are plainly laid open by Monsieur De Moulines Sier De Parc. ; done into English by a person of honour (1661). ‘Lusty Drollery’ is most likely the collection Sportive wit the muses merriment, a new spring of lusty drollery, joviall fancies, and a la mode lamponnes, 1656. ‘The Crafty Whore’ survives: The crafty whore or, the mistery and iniquity of bawdy houses laid open, in a dialogue between two subtle bawds, wherein, as in a mirrour, our city-curtesans may see their soul-destroying art, and crafty devices, whereby they insnare and beguile youth, pourtraied to the life, by the pensell of one of their late, (but now penitent) captives, for the benefit of all, but especially the younger sort. Whereunto is added dehortations from lust drawn from the sad and lamentable consequences it produceth, 1658.

Accessions in the ‘Library’ then have to be swelled (as the author’s imagination fails him) by books of midwifery (and indeed the writer makes pregnancy feature as the almost inevitable result of any sexual congress, though Hellena does have recourse to hopping up and down post coitally, and employs a douche).

Anyway, here’s her mother Lucia getting the biological payback for all that carnal intercourse with her first lover:

“Her nine moneths being expired, she was brought to bed of a goodly Daughter, who had all the symptoms in her of the approaching Spring of a most transcendent Beautie. Lucias comfort and hopes was solely in this pretty sweet babe, for Lovit had now taken his leave of her.

So shalt thou be despis'd, faire Maid,
When by the sated lover tasted;
What first he did with teares invade,
Shall afterwards with scorne be wasted;
When all thy Virgin-springs grow dry,
When no streames shall be left, but in thine eye.”

I half recognized the stanza: it’s from Thomas Carew’s ‘Good counsell to a young Maid’:

When you the Sun-burnt Pilgrim see
fainting with thirst, hast to the springs;
Marke how at first with bended knee
He courts the crystall Nimphs, and flings
His body to the earth, where He
Prostrate adores the flowing Deitie.

But when his sweaty face is drencht
In her coole waves, when from her sweet
Bosome, his burning thirst is quencht;
Then marke how with disdainfull feet
He kicks her banks, and from the place
That thus refresht him, moves with sullen pace.

So shalt thou be despis'd, faire Maid,
When by the sated lover tasted;
What first he did with teares invade,
Shall afterwards with scorne be wasted;
When all thy Virgin-springs grow dry,
When no streames shall be left, but in thine eye.


Monday, September 08, 2008

Tour of Britain Stage 2

A day off today to see the Tour of Britain riders tackle Reading Cycling Club's hill climb course at Streatley Ian Stannard is the solo breakaway rider, I trimmed out most of the intervening two minutes before the peloton came up after him. The professionals were pretty much universally making light of what is a pig of a climb. My awful little video then cuts to the finish at Newbury. As the Tour took a loop to the west, we made our best pace along the B4009, and cheered by schoolchildren along the way, got there twenty minutes before the Tour; and that's my glimpse of the sprint.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

‘At hand quoth pickpurse’

Michael Drayton finished off the 1605 version of his sonnet sequence Idea with a set of dedicatory sonnets, ‘Certaine other Sonnets to great and worthy Personages. There’s one ‘To the high and mighty Prince, James king of Scots’, then one to Donne’s patroness, ‘To Lucy Countess of Bedford’; followed by ‘To the Lady Anne Harington.’, then ‘To the Lady L. S.’ The final one is the only one that has any circulation at all:

To Sir Anthony Cooke. Sonnet 64.

Vouchsafe to grace these rude unpolished rhymes,
Which but for you had slept in sable night,
And come abroad now, in these glorious times,
Can hardly brook the pureness of the light.
But sith you see their destiny is such,
That in the world their fortune they must try,
Perhaps they better shall abide the touch,
Wearing your name, their gracious livery.
Yet these mine own, I wrong not other men,
Nor traffic further then this happy clime,
Nor filch from Portes, not from Petrarch’s pen,
A fault too common in this latter time:
Divine Sir Philip, I avouch thy writ,
I am no pick-purse of another’s wit.

One of Drayton’s regular topics was his own ‘fantastic’ inventiveness, which he affects to defend so as to go on about it in a self-advertising way. Here, though, he rather oddly stakes his claim for originality (unlike others, he neither steals from Desportes nor Petrarch, he brags) by using and roundly endorsing a line from Sir Philip Sidney (‘Astrophel and Stella’, no 74). He doesn’t lift phrases from other writers!

At least one early modern writer apparently found this a strange way to profess how original you are:

Henry Parrot, Epigram 168, ‘Trahit sua quemque voluptas’ in Laquei ridiculosi: or Springes for Woodcocks (1613):

Wat wills you know how much he scorneth it,
To be a pick-purse of another’s wit:
But in a pocket, please you understand,
He hath a reaching, deep, and diving hand.

It appears to be a ‘pop’ (as we say these days) at Drayton. But the other possible reading of the epigram is that Parrot’s jest was merely that while ‘Wat’ (in this reading, just an invented epigrammatic malefactor) scorns to steal wit, ‘Wat’ is nevertheless in the literal sense an active pickpocket. This would make Parrot a secondary re-user of Sidney’s phrase about not lifting phrases.

There’s probably a Note and Query about this lofty matter, but I profess not to have read one, honestly.

Image, a detail from Adriaen van Utrecht, ‘Fishmonger's Stall’