Remembering Lucrezia Buti, Marie Fel, and Company

Years ago, when I saw Quentin de la Tour`s portrait of Marie Fel (an opera singer of the 18th century – born Oct. 24, 1713, transformed Feb. 2, 1794) it moved me. A beautiful, lively, a bit secretive and mysterious face, a suggestive and eloquent physiognomy, staring at you, it has a high degree of presence and immediacy – but is long dead! Does this make me melancholic? Yes! The contours are soft, it seems like an emanation from an obscure, nebulous, eternal, undifferentiated background; well: a momentous epiphany of (distinguished) man out of the silence of eternity, into which it must pass again after some instants in time – or maybe still is there, behind the veil. Ahh, the human condition! Does this make me melancholic? Yes! Thoughful, to say the least. So it goes. Marie Fel´s heart will go on somewhere in mine and I have her on my mind.

As I wanted to write the note about Childishness in Art I borrowed a book from the library (Kinder in der Kunst) (unfortunately I did not find much else about that valuable subject). In that book I also saw Filippo Lippi´s Madonna with Child and Two Angels (1465), which moved me as well. The Madonna is supposed to have been a nun named Lucrezia Buti, who had been turned into a monastery together with her sister Spinetta by her brother Antonio. She fell in love with Filippo and fled from the monastery, causing a scandal, later giving birth to two children, Fillipino and Alessandra. Because of the couple´s courage and the sincerity of their love they later found pardon by clerical authorities. In the heavy book about Filippo´s paintings there wasn´t much information about Lucrezia, unfortunately. Maybe I can get a better book about her and the story of her life. That would interest me. At any rate I like Lucrezia´s idiosyncratic beauty. Because of this also she seems immediately present.

In Kinder in der Kunst there is also the fresco Leucothea and Dionysos, which was painted in the year 20 A.D. in a villa in Rome. What a gracious lady! And so you may ask yourself: How did the ancient Romans look like? How did Messalina look like? Were they graceful and, occasionally, vulgar as well, like people in our times? A while ago I read Quo vadis? by Sienkiewicz. The depiction of the massacres of Nero against the Christians are colourful, although I cannot actually tell how exactly. It is a horrible book as concerns the (exaggerated) portrayal of Nero´s holocaust-like atrocities, but the depiction of the Christian´s strong and transcendent faith and of their nice (actually, a bit faded) personalities had an impression on me. A main character of Quo vadis? is Petronius Arbiter, author of the Satyricon, the product of a very free and independent mind – Nietzsche loved it, I do it as well. Someone like the Arbiter occurs very rarely among humans. And hence it is alleged in Quo vadis? that Petronius was the only person in the culturally most high standing Rome who actually understood what poetry is about (whereas the others all took it as an extension of their ego or an instrument to flatter the emperor or so). When Petronius was sentenced to death by suicide by Nero he would say that the loss of life is not actually something to be sorry about: as things in this world are beautiful, but men are, in their majority, so wicked that an escape from them into the void is not regrettable. Long ago I was very impressed by Robert Graves´ I, Claudius, a historical novel that brings ancient Rome triumphantly to life. Graves was massively intelligent and had a stupendous output. I also read his White Goddess – although the specific anima of the White Goddess has not been a direct muse for myself, I like Graves´concept of analeptic thought: throwing one´s mind into the past to receive impressions. Indeed, it is good to have everything on the monitor, yes.

In the book there was also a portrait of young Mozart by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, a painter who painted in the style of rococo. In the book it was said that while Greuze enjoyed great success in his earlier days, he increasingly came to be seen as outdated, could not live from his sales anymore and had to become a teacher and finally died in great poverty. That moved me a lot and I got me a book about Greuze (since I also like the name „Greuze“). To be correct, Greuze´s influence declined in later years, but not substantially and he died in poverty mainly because of mismanagement and embezzlement by his wife. When I look at this Portrait of a Young Lady I wonder about her, like I wonder about Marie and Lucrezia. There is mysterious life in this face, evanescent but still very present and stronger than decay. What would the young lady have to tell? – Greuze was a painter of sentiment. His paintings usually carried a message respectively tought a lesson in moral. He lived in an age of sentiment, where a spirit of moral responsibility and enabling a good, decent life for everyone was in the air (and stood in relation to the bourgeoisie as a (proto-) revolutionary class – the cult of sentimentality could, in a Foucaultian sense, be understood as a formation of identity and self-awareness by internalising the moral codex of the state). Greuze´s most distinguished pupil was Constance Mayer, who would later commit suicide. Unfortunately I could not find much about her neither in the library nor on the internet. (Also Quentin de la Tour was associated with a female painter, Rosalba Carriera, as Rosalba made pastel-coloured painting popular again in Paris at his time. So I got me a book with Rosalba´s paintings. But I have to say that I hardly find in this book such glimpses of eternity as you have it in the portrait of Marie Fel et al. Indeed, that is rare in the domain of human physiognomy respectively art anyway.) The abbé de La Porte said: „I am sure that Moniseur Greuze is a man attentive to all that surrounds him: he is an observer who keeps nature constantly in view, and knows how to capture it in its most interesting aspects… What nobility!“

As you see, these (mostly ordinary) folks have long since passed and left no other trace in history, but they´re on my mind. Their presence is, actually, heavy. You see, I am not very talkative and I feel profoundly isolated from society (actually: from humanity), even from the high IQ societies, since these structures never seem to be resemblant to me, yet actually/but on the other hand I am so attached to and affected by the world that for instance when I look at the tree in front of me, it seems to immediately come near, even overrun me. The most common feeling I have (or had, especially when I wrote the Book of Strange and Unproductive Thinking) is that I am drawn, absorbed into the universe, and stick on it (a feeling that was, when I wrote the Book of Strange and Unproductive Thinking, quite painful as I felt literally enchained and grown together with the universe/the totality of being and unable to detach myself from the pain and the impositions existence includes). And so, although I am quite alone I am always surrounded by people, maybe even grown together with them, and Marie Fel and company are an expression of that. They reach into the depths of myself. When I look up, Lucrezia Buti may sit on the bench next to me. I live in a heavily populated world. Where does my self end and that of other begin? And ghosts are, in this respect, real (and more human than human).

Because of this, I am an unemployed social reject. When I was waiting for my adivisor in an institution for unemployed people recently I asked myself: When I somehow say that: after my death I am still a part of the flow/the continuum of life or so (I cannot remember the exact wording): is this a rational allegation, an emotional one, or a spiritual one? This is actually not easy to distinguish and it is correct in all those dimensions. I´ve been thinking for a while how rational, spitirual, emotional etc. sentences can be seperated, i.e. in the Wittgenstein manner. But maybe there´s some Quine to the whole problem who said that the analytical and the synthetical are not so easily to be seperated (if I remember correctly). The thing is, if your attachment to the living world/creature and capacity to get immersed in it is profound and not as superficial as in the case of ordinary man, respectively if you´re the overman, such distinctions are superfluous, indeed. But what it means among man is to be philosophised upon.