A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
Ulrich was now seventeen, and had been allowed to paint for four months.
Sanchez Coello rarely appeared in the studio, for he had gone to study with the architect, Herrera; Isabella vied with Ulrich, but was speedily outstripped by the German.
It seemed as if he had been born with the power to use the brush, and the young girl watched his progress with unfeigned pleasure. When Moor harshly condemned his drawing, her kind eyes grew dim with tears; if the master looked at his studies with an approving smile, and showed them to Sophonisba with words of praise, she was as glad as if they had been bestowed upon herself.
The Italian came daily to the treasury as usual, to paint, talk or play chess with Moor; she rejoiced at Ulrich's progress, and gave him many a useful suggestion.
When the young artist once complained that he had no good models, she gaily offered to sit to him. This was a new and unexpected piece of good fortune. Day and night he thought only of Sophonisba. The sittings began.
The Italian wore a red dress, trimmed with gold embroidery, and a high white lace ruff, that almost touched her cheeks. Her wavy brown hair clung closely to the beautiful oval head, its heavy braids covering the back of the neck; tiny curls fluttered around her ears and harmonized admirably with the lovely, mischievous expression of the mouth, that won all hearts. To paint the intelligent brown eyes was no easy matter, and she requested Ulrich to be careful about her small, rather prominent chin, which was anything but beautiful, and not make her unusually high, broad forehead too conspicuous; she had only put on the pearl diadem to relieve it.
The young artist set about this task with fiery impetuosity, and the first sketch surpassed all expectations.
Don Fabrizio thought the picture "startlingly" like the original. Moor was not dissatisfied, but feared that in the execution his pupil's work would lose the bold freshness, which lent it a certain charm in his eyes, and was therefore glad when the bell rang, and soon after the king appeared, to whom he intended to show Ulrich's work.
Philip had not been in the studio for a long time, but the artist had reason to expect him; for yesterday the monarch must have received his letter, requesting that he would graciously grant him permission to leave Madrid.
Moor had remained in Spain long enough, and his wife and child were urging his return. Yet departure was hard for him on Sophonisba's account; but precisely because he felt that she was more to him than a beloved pupil and daughter, he had resolved to hasten his leave-taking.
All present were quickly dismissed, the bolts were drawn and Philip appeared.
He looked paler than usual, worn and weary.
Moor greeted him respectfully, saying: "It is long since Your Majesty has visited the treasury."
"Not 'Your Majesty;' to you I am Philip," replied the king. "And you wish to leave me, Antonio! Recall your letter! You must not go now."
The sovereign, without waiting for a reply, now burst into complaints about the tiresome, oppressive duties of his office, the incapacity of the magistrates, the selfishness, malice and baseness of men. He lamented that Moor was a Netherlander, and not a Spaniard, called him the only friend he possessed among the rebellious crew in Holland and Flanders, and stopped him when he tried to intercede for his countrymen, though repeatedly assuring him that he found in his society his best pleasure, his only real recreation; Moor must stay, out of friendship, compassion for him, a slave in the royal purple.
After the artist had promised not to speak of departure during the next few days, Philip began to paint a saint, which Moor had sketched, but at the end of half an hour he threw down his brush. He called himself negligent of duty, because he was following his inclination, instead of using his brain and hands in the service of the State and Church. Duty was his tyrant, his oppressor. When the day-laborer threw his hoe over his shoulder, the poor rascal was rid of toil and anxiety; but they pursued him everywhere, night and day. His son was a monster, his subjects were rebels or cringing hounds. Bands of heretics, like moles or senseless brutes, undermined and assailed the foundation of the throne and safeguard of society: the Church. To crush and vanquish was his profession, hatred his reward on earth. Then, after a moment's silence, he pointed towards heaven, exclaiming as if in ecstasy: "There, there! with Him, with Her, with the Saints, for whom I fight!"
The king had rarely come to the treasury in such a mood. He seemed to feel this too, and after recovering his self-control, said:
"It pursues me even here, I cannot succeed in getting the right coloring to-day. Have you finished anything new?"
Moor now pointed out to the king a picture by his own hand, and after Philip had gazed at it long and appreciatively, criticising it with excellent judgment, the artist led him to Ulrich's portrait of Sophonisba, and asked, not without anxiety: "What does Your Majesty say to this attempt?"
"Hm!" observed the monarch. "A little of Moor, something borrowed from Titian, yet a great deal that is original. The bluish-grey leaden tone comes from your shop. The thing is a wretched likeness! Sophonisba resembles a gardener's boy. Who made it?"
"My pupil, Ulrich Navarrete."
"How long has he been painting?"
"For several months, Sire."
"And you think he will be an artist of note?"
"Perhaps so. In many respects he surpasses my expectations, in others he falls below them. He is a strange fellow."
"He is ambitious, at any rate."
"No small matter for the future artist. What he eagerly begins has a very grand and promising aspect; but it shrinks in the execution. His mind seizes and appropriates what he desires to represent, at a single hasty grasp. . . ."
"Rather too vehement, I should think."
"No fault at his age. What he possesses makes me less anxious, than what he lacks. I cannot yet discover the thoughtful artist-spirit in him."
"You mean the spirit, that refines what it has once taken, and in quiet meditation arranges lines, and assigns each color to its proper place, in short your own art-spirit."
"And yours also, Sire. If you had begun to paint early, you would have possessed what Ulrich lacks."
"Perhaps so. Besides, his defect is one of those which will vanish with years. In your school, with zeal and industry. . . ."
"He will obtain, you think, what he lacks. I thought so too! But as I was saying: he is queerly constituted. What you have admitted to me more than once, the point we have started from in a hundred conversations--he cannot grasp: form is not the essence of art to him."
The king shrugged his shoulders and pointed to his forehead; but Moor continued: "Everything he creates must reflect anew, what he experienced at the first sight of the subject. Often the first sketch succeeds, but if it fails, he seeks without regard to truth and accuracy, by means of trivial, strange expedients, to accomplish his purpose. Sentiment, always sentiment! Line and tone are everything; that is our motto. Whoever masters them, can express the grandest things."
"Right, right! Keep him drawing constantly. Give him mouths, eyes, and hands to paint."
"That must be done in Antwerp."
"I'll hear nothing about Antwerp! You will stay, Antonio, you will stay. Your wife and child-all honor to them. I have seen your wife's portrait. Good, nourishing bread! Here you have ambrosia and manna. You know whom I mean; Sophonisba is attached to you; the queen says so."
"And I gratefully feel it. It is hard to leave your gracious Majesty and Sophonisba; but bread, Sire, bread--is necessary to life. I shall leave friends here, dear friends--it will be difficult, very difficult, to find new ones at my age."
"It is the same with me, and for that very reason you will stay, if you are my friend! No more! Farewell, Antonio, till we meet again, perhaps to-morrow, in spite of a chaos of business. Happy fellow that you are! In the twinkling of an eye you will be revelling in colors again, while the yoke, the iron yoke, weighs me down."
Moor thought he should be able to work undisturbed after the king had left him, and left the door unbolted. He was standing before the easel after dinner, engaged in painting, when the door of the corridor leading to the treasury was suddenly flung open, without the usual warning, and Philip again entered the studio. This time his cheeks wore a less pallid hue than in the morning, and his gait showed no traces of the solemn gravity, which had become a second nature to him,--on the contrary he was gay and animated.
But the expression did not suit him; it seemed as if he had donned a borrowed, foreign garb, in which he was ill at ease and could not move freely.
Waving a letter in his right hand, he pointed to it with his left, exclaiming:
"They are coming. This time two marvels at once. Our Saviour praying in the garden of Gethsemane, and Diana at the Bath. Look, look! Even this is a treasure. These lines are from Titian's own hand."
"A peerless old man," Moor began; but Philip impetuously interrupted: "Old man, old man? A youth, a man, a vigorous man. How soon he will be ninety, and yet--yet; who will equal him?"
As he uttered the last words, the monarch stopped before Sophonisba's portrait, and pointing to it with the scornful chuckle peculiar to him, continued gaily:
"There the answer meets me directly. That red! The Venetian's laurels seem to have turned your high flown pupil's head. A hideous picture!"
"It doesn't seem so bad to me," replied Moor. "There is even something about it I like."
"You, you?" cried Philip. "Poor Sophonisba!"
"Those carbuncle eyes! And a mouth, that looks as if she could eat nothing but sugar-plums. I don't know what tickles me to-day. Give me the palette. The outlines are tolerably good, the colors fairly shriek. But what boy can understand a woman, a woman like your friend! I'll paint over the monster, and if the picture isn't Sophonisba, it may serve for a naval battle."
The king had snatched the palette from the artist's hand, clipped his brush in the paint, and smiling pleasantly, was about to set to work; but Moor placed himself between the sovereign and the canvas; exclaiming gaily: "Paint me, Philip; but spare the portrait."
"No, no; it will do for the naval battle," chuckled the king, and while he pushed the artist back, the latter, carried away by the monarch's unusual freedom, struck him lightly on the shoulder with the maul-stick.
The sovereign started, his lips grew white, he drew his small but stately figure to its full height. His unconstrained bearing was instantly transformed into one of unapproachable, icy dignity.
Moor felt what was passing in the ruler's mind.
A slight shiver ran through his frame, but his calmness remained unshaken, and before the insulted monarch found time to give vent to his indignation in words, he said quickly, as if the offence he had committed was not worth mentioning:
"Queer things are done among comrades in art. The painter's war is over! Begin the naval battle, Sire, or still better, lend more charm and delicacy to the corners of the mouth. The pupil's worst failure is in the chin; more practised hands might be wrecked on that cliff. Those eyes! Perhaps they sparkled just in that way, but we are agreed in one thing: the portrait ought not to represent the original at a given moment, ruled by a certain feeling or engaged in a special act, but should express the sum of the spiritual, intellectual and personal attributes of the subject--his soul and person, mind and character-feelings and nature. King Philip, pondering over complicated political combinations, would be a fascinating historical painting, but no likeness. . . ."
"Certainly not," said the king in a low voice; "the portrait must reveal the inmost spirit; mine must show how warmly Philip loves art and his artists. Take the palette, I beg. It is for you, the great Master, not for me, the overworked, bungling amateur, to correct the work of talented pupils."
There was a hypocritical sweetness in the tone of these words which had not escaped the artist.
Philip had long been a master in the school of dissimulation, but Moor knew him thoroughly, and understood the art of reading his heart.
This mode of expression from the king alarmed him more than a passionate outburst of rage. He only spoke in this way when concealing what was seething within. Besides, there was another token. The Netherlander had intentionally commenced a conversation on art, and it was almost unprecedented to find Philip disinclined to enter into one. The blow had been scarcely perceptible, but Majesty will not endure a touch.
Philip did not wish to quarrel with the artist now, but he would remember the incident, and woe betide him, if in some gloomy hour the sovereign should recall the insult offered him here. Even the lightest blow from the paw of this slinking tiger could inflict deep wounds--even death.
These thoughts had darted with the speed of lightning through the artist's mind, and still lingered there as, respectfully declining to take the palette, he replied "I beseech you, Sire, keep the brush and colors, and correct what you dislike."
"That would mean to repaint the whole picture, and my time is limited," answered Philip. "You are responsible for your pupils' faults, as well as for your own offences. Every one is granted, allowed, offered, what is his due; is it not so, dear master? Another time, then, you shall hear from me!" In the doorway the monarch kissed his hand to the artist, then disappeared.