« ZurückWeiter »
his wish to have the artist in his service. Benvenuto instantly wrote in answer, professing his readiness to obey the king's pleasure. In the mean time, however, he was accused of having in his possession an immense treasure, consisting of jewels and other costly things belonging to the church, to the amount of eighty-thousand ducats, which it was alleged he had abstracted from the Castle of St. Angelo at the sack of Rome.
Pier-Luigi obtained a grant of this vast treasure. Notwithstanding the accused artist demonstrated his innocence, by shewing that all the jewels belonging to Clement the Seventh were registered, and that none of them were now missing, he was committed a prisoner to the Castle of St. Angelo, which he had before so bravely defended. Whilst he was allowed to walk about the castle, he scorned to make his escape, which he might easily have done; but when, through the odd fancies of the crazy constable, he was committed a close prisoner, he publicly declared he would make his escape in spite of them all. Having prepared every thing necessary with the greatest patience and ingenuity, he fixed upon the night of a holiday to make the attempt.
"Two hours before day break I took the iron plates from the door, with great trouble and difficulty, for the bolt, and the wood that received it, made great resistance, so that I could not open them, but was obliged to cut the wood: I, however, at last, forced the door; and, having taken with me the above-mentioned slips of linen, which I had rolled up in bundles, with the utmost care, I went out, and got upon the right side of the tower, and having observed, from within, two tiles of the roof, I leaped upon them with the utmost ease. I was in a white doublet, and had on a pair of white spatterdashes, over which I wore a pair of little light boots, that reached half way up my legs, and in one of these I put my dagger. I then took the end of one of my bundles of long slips, which I had made out of the sheets of my bed, and fastened it to one of the tiles of the roof, that happened to jet out four inches; and the long string of slips was fastened to the tiles in the manner of a stirrup: when I had fixed it firmly, I addressed myself to the Deity in these terms: Almighty God! favour my cause, for thou knowest it is a just one, and I am not, on my part, wanting in my utmost efforts to make it succeed. Then letting myself down gently, and the whole weight of my body being concentrated in my arm, I at last reached the ground. It was not a moon-light night, but the stars shone with a resplendent lustre. When I touched the ground, I first contemplated the great height, which I had descended with so much courage; and then walked away in high joy, thinking I had recovered my liberty; but I soon found myself mistaken, for the constable had caused two pretty high walls to be erected on that side, which made an inclosure for a stable and a yard to keep his poultry in: this place was shut, with great bolts on the outside. When I saw myself immured in this inclosure, I felt the greatest anxiety imaginable. Whilst I was walking backwards and forwards, my foot happened to hit against a
long pole covered with straw; this, I, with much difficulty, fixed against the wall, and, by the strength of my arms, climbed to the top of it but, as the wall was sharp, I could not get a sufficient hold to enable me to descend, by the pole, to the other side; I, therefore, resolved to have recourse to my other string of slips, for I had left one tied to the great tower; so I took the string, and having fastened it properly, I descended down the steep wall; this put me to a great deal of pains and trouble, and likewise tore the skin off the palms of my hands, insomuch, that they were all over bloody, for which reason I rested myself a little. When I thought I had sufficiently recruited my strength, I came to the last wall, which looked towards the meadows, and, having prepared my string of long slips, which I wanted to get about one of the nitched battlements, in order to descend this as I had done the other higher wall, a sentinel perceived what I was about. Finding my design obstructed, and myself in danger of my life, I resolved to cope with the soldier, who, seeing me advance towards him, resolutely, with my drawn dagger in my hand, thought it most adviseable to keep out of the way. After I had gone a little way from my string, I instantly returned to it, and though I was seen by another of the soldiers upon guard, the man did not care to take any notice of me. So I fastened my string to the nitched battlement, and began to let myself down: whether it was owing to my being near the ground, and preparing to give a leap, or whether my hands were quite tired, I do not know, but being unable to hold out any longer, I fell, and becoming quite insensible, continued in that state about an hour and a half, as nearly as I can guess: having, afterwards, for a while, refreshed myself with sleep, and the day beginning to break, the cool breeze that precedes the rising of the sun brought me to myself; but I had not yet thoroughly recovered my senses, for I had conceived a strange notion that I had been beheaded, and was then in purgatory. I, however, by degrees, recovered my strength and powers, and, perceiving that I had got out of the castle, I soon recollected all that had befallen me. As I perceived that my senses had been affected, before I took notice that my leg was broke, I clapped my hands to my head, and found them all bloody: I afterwards searched my body all over, and thought I had received no hurt of any consequence; but, upon attempting to rise from the ground, I found that my right leg was cut three inches deep, just above the heel, which threw me into a terrible consternation. I, thereupon, pulled my dagger out of the scabbard, which had a sharp point, for that occasioned the hurt to my leg; as the bone could not bend either way, it broke in that place; I, therefore, threw away the scabbard, and cutting the part of my string of slips that I still had left, I bandaged my leg the best I could; I then crept on, upon all four, towards the gate, with my dagger in my hand, and, upon coming up to it, found it shut; but, observing a stone under the gate, and thinking that it did not stick very fast, I prepared to push it away; clapping my hands to it, I found that I could move it with ease, so I soon pulled it out, and effected my entrance. It was above five hundred paces from the place where I had had my fall, to the gate, at which I entered the city. As soon as I got in, some mastiff dogs came
up, and bit me severely; finding that they persisted to worry me, I took my dagger, and gave one of them so severe a stab, that he set up a loud howling; whereupon, all the dogs in the neighbourhood, as it is the nature of those animals, ran up to him; and I made all the haste I could, to crawl towards the church of St. Mary Transpontina."
Whilst he was crawling along, he was observed by the servants of Cardinal Cornaro, and carried to his apartments. During his convalescence, he was visited by great numbers of nobility, gentry, and friends, and received a variety of valuable presents. His enemies stirred heaven and earth to effect his recaption, and he was finally sacrificed, by the good cardinal, for a bishopric. Transferred once more to the custody of the mad constable, he ed to a dark subterraneous cell, covered with water, full of tarantulas and other noxious insects; his only furniture, a mattress and blanket; and his only companions, a Bible and the Chronicles of Villani. With a broken leg, wasted body, and consuming spirits, he dosed away the night and the day in this wretched den, except for about an hour and a half, during which time only he could see to read the Bible. He attempted to destroy himself, but was prevented by an invisible being. He made a composition of some rotten bricks, gnawed a splinter of wood from his prison door, and after waiting impatiently for his modicum of sun-shine, wrote a sonnet with the composition in his Bible, in a sort of dialogue between his body and his soul. He got accustomed to this purgatory, recovered his strength, and resumed his cheerfulness of mind, and continued to read his Bible three hours a-day. The rest he passed in pious meditation and singing psalms, or drawing images upon the wall, and writing, with the compound brick-dust, stanzas in praise of the prison and on other subjects. His nails grew to an immoderate length and his teeth began to rot. After remaining in this situation four months, he was removed, and placed in the deepest subterranean cell of the castle. The whole of the first day he solemnized with God, and, at the end of the second, was taken back to his old prison, where he wept with joy and gladness of heart, at the sight of the images he had drawn on the wall.
So many fatigues and cruelties, operating on a man of such intensity of feeling, produced a high degree of nervous excitement. He continually fancied himself in the presence of the invisible guardian, before mentioned, and held conversations with him. Deprived, for so long, of the blessed light of the sun, he prayed fervently that he might once more behold that glorious luminary. He was immediately hurried away, by his invisible guardian, to an apartment, where he unveiled himself in a human form, having the figure of a youth, with the first down upon his cheeks, and of a most beautiful countenance, on which
a particular gravity was conspicuous. He was then conducted to a situation where he beheld the object of his desire, on which he gazed and meditated profoundly for some time, and, raising his voice, exclaimed
"O wonderful power! O glorious influence divine! how much more bounteous art thou to me, than I expected! The sun, divested of his rays, appeared a ball of purest melted gold. Whilst I gazed on this noble phenomenon, I saw the centre of the sun swell and bulge out, and, in a moment, there appeared a Christ, upon the cross, formed of the self-same matter as the sun, and so gracious and pleasing was his aspect, that no human imagination could ever form so much as a faint idea of such beauty. As I was contemplating this glorious apparition, I cried out, aloud, A miracle! a miracle! O God! O clemency divine! O goodness infinite! what mercies dost thou lavish on me, this morning! At the very time that I thus meditated, and uttered these words, the figure of Christ began to move towards the side where the rays were concentered; and the middle of the sun swelled and bulged out, as at first: the protuberance having increased considerably, was, at last, converted into the figure of a beautiful Virgin Mary, who appeared to sit with her son in her arms, in a graceful attitude, and even to smile; she stood between two angels of so divine a beauty, that imagination could not even form an idea of such perfection. I likewise saw in the same sun, a figure dressed in sacerdotal robes; this figure turned its back to me, and looked towards the blessed Virgin, holding Christ in her arms. All these things I clearly and plainly saw, and, with a loud voice, continued to return thanks to the Almighty. This wonderful phenomenon having appeared before me about eight minutes, vanished from my sight, and I was instantly conveyed back to my couch.
The Cardinal of Ferrara, at this juncture, made his appearance at Rome, and being detained, by the Pope, one evening, to supper, took advantage of the high spirits and good humour of his holiness, to urge the liberation of our artist, in the name of his master the king of France. The holy father, who was given to indulge in the good cheer of the vatican, somewhat beyond apostolic warrant, perceiving his time of vomiting was at hand, said to the cardinal, laughing, " take Benvenuto home with you directly, without a moment's delay." The cardinal, who knew the necessity of expedition, sent for Benvenuto, at midnight, and engaged him in the service of the French king. He soon afterwards set out for Paris, where he arrived in due time, after encountering his usual series of adventures. He met with a gracious reception, and was put under the care of his friend, cardinal, who proposed, as an ample remuneration, to allow him three hundred crowns a year. Great was the ire of Benvenuto at the proposal of so small a salary; and, after thanking the cardinal, with all his heart, for the blessing of liberty, which, by
his intervention, he now enjoyed, he took his leave, determined to make a pilgrimage to the holy sepulchre, and never more to work upon any thing but a figure of Christ, wishing to make as near an approach, as possible, to the extraordinary beauty he had so often displayed to him in visions. He had not proceeded far on this devotional scheme before he was overtaken, and brought back, by a company of horsemen. Every thing was now settled to his satisfaction: he was directed to make twelve silver statues, for his majesty; and a house being assigned him, which had formerly been granted by his majesty to the Provost of Paris, he began to work, in God's name. Our artist, however, found the greatest difficulty in retaining possession of his residence, against the daily assaults to which he was subjected, by the friends of the provost. Grants of naturalization, and of the house, were, without solicitation, made out, and he would have been tolerably quiet, but for the interference of Madame D'Estampes, the king's mistress, whose resentment he incurred by neglecting to court her favour. He proceeded to finish one of the statues, and made his first attempt to cast in bronze; he also designed a model for the gate of Fontainebleau, his majesty's favorite residence. The king, during the progress of his different works, paid him frequent visits: on one occasion, when he had signified his intention to visit the artist, Madame D'Estampes spoke so bitterly against him, that the king promised to scold him heartily. The author's account of this interview is equally creditable to the generosity of the monarch, and the address and spirit of the artist.
"When he came to my house," says he, "I shewed him into some ground-floor apartments, in which I had put together the several parts of the gate of Fontainebleau; the king was seized with such astonishment, that he could not find in his heart to load me with abuse, as he had promised Madame D'Estampes. He did not, however, chuse entirely to go back of his word, as appears from his having expressed himself to this effect: it is something extraordinary, Benvenuto, that you men of genius are not sensible of your inability to display your talents without our assistance, and that you shew yourselves great, only by means of the opportunities that we afford you; it would become you to be a little more humble, and less proud and opinionative: I remember I gave you express orders to make twelve silver statues for me, and that was all I desired of you; but took it into your you head to make me a salt-cellar, vases, heads, and a thousand other fancies of your own; insomuch, that I am quite surprised you should neglect all that I required of you, and mind nothing, but pleasing yourself. If you continue to behave thus, I will shew you in what manner I am used to proceed, when I want to have things done my own way; I must therefore repeat it to you, that I insist upon your shewing yourself obedient when I lay my commands upon you, because,
VOL. IV. PART I.