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Monday 6 January 2014

"...seeth no man Gonzaga...": Andrea Mantegna: The Court of Gonzaga / Ezra Pound: from Canto XLV


The Court of Gonzaga: Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), 1465-74, walnut oil on plaster, 805 x 807 cm (Camera degli Sposi, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua)

With usura hath no man a house of good stone
each block cut smooth and well fitting
that design might cover their face,
with usura
hath no man a painted paradise on his church wall
harpes et luthes
or where virgin receiveth message
and halo projects from incision,
with usura
seeth no man Gonzaga his heirs and his concubines
no picture is made to endure nor to live with
but it is made to sell and sell quickly
Ezra Pound, from Canto XLV (1936)

The Court of Gonzaga (detail): Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), 1465-74, walnut oil on plaster (Camera degli Sposi, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua)

Usura -- section of Canto XLV: Ezra Pound holograph ms. (Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

The Court of Gonzaga (detail): Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), 1465-74, walnut oil on plaster (Camera degli Sposi, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua)

Usura -- section of Canto XLV: Ezra Pound typescript (Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

The Court of Gonzaga (detail): Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), 1465-74, walnut oil on plaster (Camera degli Sposi, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua)

Usura -- section of Canto XLV: Ezra Pound typescript (Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

The Court of Gonzaga (detail): Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), 1465-74, walnut oil on plaster (Camera degli Sposi, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua)

Usura -- section of Canto XLV: Ezra Pound typescript (Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

The Court of Gonzaga (detail): Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), 1465-74, walnut oil on plaster (Camera degli Sposi, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua)

The Court of Gonzaga (detail): Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), 1465-74, walnut oil on plaster (Camera degli Sposi, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua)

The north wall: The Court of Gonzaga: Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), 1465-74, walnut oil on plaster (Camera degli Sposi, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua)

View of the north wall (painted by Andrea Mantegna, 1465-1474) Camera degli Sposi, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua

View of the west and north walls and ceiling with oculus (painted by Andrea Mantegna 1465-1474), Camera degli Sposi, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua

Ceiling Oculus: Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), 1465-74, fresco, diameter 270 cm (Camera degli Sposi, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua)


TC said...

Pound's "harpes et luthes" passage paraphrases an image from François Villon's Ballade pour Prier Nôtre Dame (written for his mother). Pound refers to Rossetti's translation:

A pitiful poor woman, shrunk and old,
I am, and nothing learn'd in letter-lore.
Within my parish-cloister I behold
A painted paradise where harps and lutes adore...

Two years before in his ABC of Reading, Pound had written, "Villon, the first voice of man broken by bad economics, represents also the end of a tradition, the end of the mediaeval dream..."

Perhaps the most useful analysis of Canto XLV comes from Christine Froula:

"The traditional definition of usury is the lending of money at exorbitant interest rates. It is this practice which Deuteronomy 23:19-20 forbade in the following terms:

'Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury:
Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.'

"The Catholic Church outlawed the practice categorically up to the time of the Reformation, when John Calvin succeeded in overturning the ban. Calvin argued that Deuteronomy forbids usury only insofar as it is 'opposed to equity or charity.' Pound's definition is more specific: 'A charge for the use of purchasing power, levied without regard to production; often without regard to the possibilities of production.' This definition makes the legitimacy of interest charges dependent upon the real increase in value which the lent money, put to use, achieves. Pound saw the prime offenders against this principle as private banks, which are empowered to create money, or credit, out of nothing; and his Fifth Decad of Cantos is concerned with legitimate and illegitimate -- or good and evil -- banking practices. . . .

"The creation of money ex nihilo by the banks was the outrage against which Pound's entire effort at economic reform was aimed. . . .

"Pound understood (as Marx, 'endowing money with properties of a quasi-religious nature', did not) that money is properly neither a commodity nor 'congealed labor' but nothing more than a symbolic designation of credit, which by rights belongs to the people of a society, and not to private banks. He saw that if the government had retained control over money/credit (assuming its honest implementation), the interest which now goes to private banks, creating their immense wealth, would instead accumulate as communal capital available for public works. Depending on government expenditures then, there might be no need to levy taxes -- indeed, the government might pay its citizens dividends.

"Pound saw, then, that the governments had betrayed the people by authorizing private banks to 'create money out of nothing' and then grow rich merely by charging interest on it. . . .

"Pound portrays and excoriates these economic disruptions, and their cultural effects, in his Usura Canto. . .

"Its austere dirge poses Usura against the real human values that it blights, negates, and overrides: good houses, good bread, good art, natural fertility. These things are emblems, for Pound, of human civilization, as the celebration of human life and creativity in harmony with nature.

"Whatever might be the limitations of his analysis, Pound's Usura Canto remains a powerful protest against a debased culture whose 'painted paradise' is mostly commissioned from Madison Avenue."

-- Christine Froula, 1982

TC said...

"Ludovico [Ludovico II Gonzaga, Marchese of Mantua]’s principal commission from Mantegna was an historiated portrait gallery for the Palazzo Ducale, Mantua; this mural decoration took the artist nearly ten years to complete. The so-called Camera Picta (1465–74), also known as the Camera degli Sposi, shows the Marchese and his consort, Barbara of Brandenburg, together with their children, friends, courtiers and animals engaged in professional and leisurely pursuits, illustrating the present successes and alluding to the future ambitions of the Gonzaga dynasty. The gallery represents the culmination of a series of secular decorative schemes for palace interiors in northern Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries, and the illusionism of the painted vault establishes its status as the progenitor of Correggio’s ceilings and those of the Baroque. The Camera Picta is a room with a square plan (8.1×8.1 m). An inscription, simulating graffiti, on the embrasure of the north window, 1465.d.16.iunii, indicates the date of the official commencement of the decoration.

"Mantegna devised an integrated scheme according to which the room is conceived as a pavilion, open on the sides and topped by an elaborate architectural framework perforated by a Classical oculus...

"Over the fireplace on the north wall is the so-called Court Scene. Ludovico is shown surrounded by members of his family and to the right stand retainers wearing the Gonzaga colours. The Marchese is shown in conversation with his secretary, Marsilio Andreasi, while his dog Rubino rests comfortably under his chair. This image of the reigning marchese is that of an active paternalist governor, head of a secure dynasty. The figures stand before and behind the painted piers, which are crowned by real stone corbels from which the ceiling vaults spring. Mantegna subtly combined fictive elements with real ones, adapting viewpoints so that the spectator is constantly under pressure to believe the illusion and enter into the fiction of the represented scenes. Although it has been claimed that the Court Scene illustrates a specific historical moment (Signorini), it is more likely that it should be understood as an idealized group portrait of the ruler and his family. In 1470 the ambassadors of the Duke of Milan were taken to see the room and they witnessed that this wall was already completed."

-- Grove Dictionary of Art

ACravan said...

Thank you for this. It's magnificent and a great start to our post-Christmas vacation/first day of Winter Term school period. For some reason I was anticipating and hoping you would tackle this and the poem, images and notes (including Prof. Froula's analysis) are all really stirring, stimulating and relevant to things I live (and read). Curtis

TC said...

Ludovico II Gonzaga is regarded by historians as very much the type of an enlightened renaissance prince. His education had centered in the inculcation of moral philosophy in a "vein of laical asceticism almost." He saw to the paving of the streets of Mantua and welcomed to the city famous humanists like the great Florentine architect Alberti. Having an artist of Mantegna's quality on the payroll surely did little to harm the public image of the Marchese. Then again the arrangement was also suitable to Mantegna. He received a salary of 75 lire a month, a sum quite large large for the period and an indicator that the innovative quality of his work was matched by the power of his reputation.

Would that every artist of genius had an enlightened Renaissance prince as patron. However the flaws in the concept of enlightened patronage of the arts leap out at us sharpish, when we pause to reflect a bit.

Is it just me, or does that sleep-with-the-fishes look around the eyes of the Marchese suggest we might do well to be watching our backs while we reflect?

It is interesting to view the concept of enlightened patronage from the point of view of the luxuriously attired female dwarf, a member of the household of the Marchese's wife Barbara. Having a wife like Barbara, from the Hohenzollern family, was, like having a court painter of the quality of Mantegna, a mark of status.

Is it just me, or does the hard expression of the dwarf tell us she is impatient with Mantegna -- who refuses to work quickly, in fact insists on taking years -- and for that matter could do quite well without this concept of enlightened patronage of the arts, thanks very much?

It's that dwarf's (strictly imaginal) point of view that sticks in the craw, at the end of the day. Or I should say the beginning.

(And by the way, though the candidates for inheritance are thick upon the wall, I don't see any concubines. The lovely fair girl behind Barbara is apparently a daughter-in-law. Barbara was known for her cunning arrangements of marriages and inheritances for her numerous offspring.)

Mantegna was reported to be a temperamental fellow. Perhaps there is an element of identification for Pound.

And there is the story of Pound's disastrous audience with his own sordid imitation dwarf Renaissance prince. Mussolini seems to have been nonplussed. "Get this nut out of here!" he is to have shrieked to the handlers (or words to that effect).

Poet Red Shuttleworth said...

Jesus drove, whipped too few money lenders from the temple. Recently read "Too Crooked to Fail" (the saga of Bank of America) in "Rolling Stone." Castrate all bankers, eh? As for Ezra, mercy and a stand of lovely spruce and juniper in heaven!

Hazen said...

Yes, certain aspects of the artist/patron arrangement “leap out sharpish.” The expression that most shows up on all those courtly phizes is . . . no expression at all; the dead, lightless eyes in poker faces. Even the bleeping dog is giving nothing away. Is this flat affect Mantegna’s doing, I wonder, or his subjects guardedness? Or both? Scheming each and every day about money, more than asceticism, could do that. The painter seems acutely conscious of his dependent position.

The words, “ . . . for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” are attibuted to the same man who broke up the money lenders in the temple.

TC said...

Well, I don't think that anybody could deny that Mantegna has had the nerve to portray his boss in what might latterly be termed an unflattering light, for what that's worth. Another word might be honest.

Pound revered juniper, a sacred plant in his poetic herbarium.

Endarkened through many passages of his life, as are most of us, yet may his spirit, along with those of most of the rest of us, rest in the calm light of that peace that (or so it's been claimed) passeth understanding.

And at least he didn't spend his whole life in the continuous persistent kissing-up-to-the-money which so distinguishes the vast majority of the pack of more or less interchangeable fakers who are deemed the official major majors of our day.

TC said...

If there was perhaps a certain personal/psychic endarkenment in the period of EP's money theorizing, a curiously corresponding sense of weightlessness and uplift accompanies much of the later writing, from which the certainties have vanished entirely and there is the feeling of a disembodied voice speaking not only without intention to persuade or convince, but, in effect, much as if being overheard, and directed to no audience outside that final audience, the conscience, sometimes troubled, of the poet himself.

A Paradise Lost (Notes for Canto CXX)

As toward a bridge over worlds

Farfalla in Tempesta

The black panther lies under his rose tree

The gods have never left us / Rock's World (from Canto CXX)

Nin Andrews said...

I love looking at the different drafts. So interesting. And of course, the topic never gets old, does it? Such a beautiful post.
I attended Hamilton College, and there was quite a lot of Pound legend--one of which was that he came back for a visit, late in his life, and he didn't say a single word. He was completely spent.

TC said...


Coincidentally, about the time I was losing my poetry virginity to Ezra Pound, I was also studying Greek, at Ann Arbor -- where my Greek classes always began at 8 am, so that my memories of learning Greek always seem to include a sort of Proustian memento of nostrils being frozen fast in the endless northern winter. Anyway I had two Greek teachers from Princeton who had been undergrads at Hamilton when Ezra's son Omar was there. So inevitably there were the legends and tales.

That late visit to which you refer came in 1968. Pound was accompanied by Olga Rudge, and by his American publisher James Laughlin, whom the college was then awarding an honorary degree.

E. P. was hauled along for the degree ceremony. He sat on stage in cap and gown and did not utter a word.

Afterwards Laughlin and his wife drove Pound to their country estate in Norfolk, Connecticut. On the way they stopped at a roadside hamburger joint. Ezra was talked into swallowing a bite of American apple pie. While Laughlin was paying the bill, Ezra snuck out and could not be found for a period of time. Finally he was spotted "heading for the woods", and apprehended.

"Why don't you discard me here, so that I won't be any more trouble to anyone," he is to have then said.

Ann Laughlin later called this "the saddest night... I can ever remember".

This anecdote is occasionally cited as proof Pound had lost his mind.

Strange that, because in the circumstances it may be that heading for the woods was the most sensible thing he could have done.

Nora said...

Thanks for this, Tom. Fantastic.