The Monument Of Gaston De Foix In The Brera.
( Originally Published 1910 )
The hero of Ravenna lies stretched upon his back in the hollow of a bier covered with laced drapery ; and his head rests on richly ornamented cushions. These decorative accessories, together with the minute work of his scabbard, wrought in the fanciful mannerism of the cinquecento, serve to enhance the statuesque simplicity of the young soldier's effigy. The contrast between so much of richness in the merely subordinate details and this sub-lime severity of treatment in the person of the hero is truly and touchingly dramatic. There is a smile, as of content in death, upon his face; and the features are exceedingly beautiful—with the beauty of a boy, almost of a woman. The heavy hair is cut straight above the forehead and straight over the shoulders, falling in massive clusters. A delicately sculptured laurel-branch is woven into a victor's crown and laid lightly on the tresses it scarcely seems to clasp. So fragile is this wreath that it does not break the pure outline of the boy-conqueror's head. The armor is quite plain. So is the surcoat. Upon the swelling bust, that seems fit harbor for a hero's heart, there lies the collar of an order composed of cockle-shells; and this is all the ornament given to the figure. The hands are clasped across a sword laid flat upon the breast, and placed between the legs. Upon the chin is a little tuft of hair, parted, and curling either way; for the victor of Ravenna, like the Hermes of Homer, was "a youth of princely blood, whose beard bath just begun to grow, for whom the sea-son of bloom is in its prime of grace." The whole statue is the idealization of virtit—that quality so highly prized by the Italians and the ancients, so well fitted for commemoration in the arts. It is the apotheosis of human life resolved into undying memory because of one great deed. It is the supreme portrait in modern times of a young hero, chiselled by artists belonging to a race no longer heroic, but capable of comprehending and expressing the æsthetic charm of heroism. Standing before it, we. may say of Gaston what Arrian wrote to Hadrian of Achilles : " That he was a hero, if hero ever lived, I cannot doubt ; for his birth and blood were noble, and he was beautiful, and his spirit was mighty, and he passed in youth's prime away from men." Italian sculpture, under the condition of the cinquecento, had indeed no more congenial theme than this of bravery and beauty, youth and fame, immortal honor and untimely death ; nor could any sculptor of death have poetized the theme more thoroughly than Agostino Busti, whose simple instinct, unlike that of Michael Angelo, led him to subordinate his own imagination to the pathos of reality.