Divine Punishment, by Zacharias Papantoniou
Divine Punishment, by Zacharias Papantoniou
Divine Punishment by Zacharias Papantoniou
The Holy Mountain monk named Ionas is at his cell and paints the birth of the Lord. How quiet! The only thing heard is the rosary of two other monks who, seated on low taborets, pass their infinite hours looking at the brush of the painter resuscitating with patience the divine story. But, as soon as Ionas started to paint (in the scene) out of the cave of Bethlehem the little shepherd that seats on a rock and plays the flute to his sheeps, suddenly he remembered of his enemy... The blood flooded in his head. He remembered the hagiograph Ambrosios from the Kafsokalyvia monastery, that often paints the Birth in a quite different way, with bizzare faces and many animals, as Europeans do. He can't stand this man... What was now that, in the quiet of his work, to remember about him? Vexed, he began to talk about him, while he was painting. -The time-honored things, he was saying to the others, while inclined on his painting, we, the painters have the duty to keep, because through us the believers see the mysteries of the Orthodoxy. Nevertheless yesterday Ambrosios sold to the island of Tinos one Birth with two shepherds that play musical instruments (made) with animal skin. Are you hearing? With three dogs within the flock! And next to the others also a little black goat, that goes and eats small twigs by the hand of Joseph. As if this can ever happen! And then, what about the bath of the infant? What are those things? How did she get there the woman who plunges him in the water? Jesus was born in the barn and as the only treatment he received the breathing of the animals that bent over and warmed him up. This must depict the worthy orthodox painter! Not the foreignisms of the Italians and of the Russians...
Then he showed signs of life, from the shadow of the corner where he was immersed and seated on the chest, the old monk Seraphem. -You are angry, Ionas! he told him with paternal air. -I wonder, replied the painter, without changing his posture, that they mean these antichrists for us to adulterate the hagiography of Mount Athos, that is in itself our orthodox faith, and they go on and imagine opposite things from those that were delivered to us by the holy script of the monk Dionyssios of Fourna. Thus he said. But the deepest truth is that, that monk takes from him his good orders! And now indeed he feels that his brush is shaking due to the pasion against his fellow artist. He is human! How could he hide it! Humans live with wrath. And the monks, without it, that keeps them humans, would be corpses. -But since you are painting the sacred, said father Seraphem, wait until you find again the peace in your soul. -I shall paint just that, the cloth of the shepherd, because I have to finish it. Father Seraphem rose from his seat, he came to the painting and looked for some time at the painted little shepherd. -With the melody of the flute the lambs graze better! he said. And he smiled. -Its from the tradition... replied Ionas. (Ancient Greek) 'Song accompanied by shepherd flutes, an army of angels was singing.' The most ancient pictures depict this flute playing. But the foreign-styled things that Ambrosios is painting, you know what I mean... Three guardian dogs in the flock! Musicians playing bagpipes! Josef feeding the little goat!... These things are up side down and they must be ashamed the ignorant committees, that send him orders... At this point he paled. The pupils of his eyes, small like dots, trembled restlessly. He realised it and he bent towards the painting, for his thoughts not to be shown. But old Seraphem saw these thoughts of his! His Seventy-five years of age learned a lot. And since he saw them, he folded his hands on his knees, as he was at his low taboret seated, and said:
-Once upon a time, already, four centuries ago, a famous painter in Italy, who was called Andrea Castagnio, and he enjoyed a great reputation from lords, kings, and popes of his time. He used to skin corpses of animals and of humans, in order to learn the anatomy. Wherever he happened to be, he was lurking the human and the animal, in order to conceive them in the execution of the bad or the good, of the hidden or apparent purposes of them, indifferent what. He was not interested in the actions, but in the forms. He was studying naked beggars, laden porters, drunkards of the taverns, as well as handicapped of the asylums. And when they asked him to describe the divine, he used to place sometimes in the picture such people disguised in saints. And because they liked it, as it seems, the masters of that time to see that mix of carnal filth and of sanctity, Castagnio has been heard a lot all over Florence. But, while he was enjoying the fame and the money, (he) appeared one opponent of his, that started to receive important orders, Domenico Veneziano. It was heard that he knows well the art of the colors and also that he chronicles with sweetness and respect the divine scenes, holding many angels in the air, as if they are floating with their white wings for the glory of the Lord and God. The celestial incidents they can depict only painters that are pure and without self-interest. They find these (incidents) within their soul, before they transfer them on the image. They can say that, because Veneziano was a pure and clear soul, that hated to conceive evil into his mind against a fellow artist or to say improper and poisonous words, for this reason his imagination could form these exquisite virgin forms and these postures that he presented in his paintings. They were those forms angelic psalms, you would think, that arrived from clouds and he was conceiving them and he saw them like heavenly faces and were depicted by his brush with patience in the picture, as if he had them in front of him, so that the suffering mortals, looking at his paintings, could feel that they are what they perfectly visualised in their prayers and their daydreamings. Fortunate are the artists, who can see beyond the clouds! Blessed their imagination, that brings us messages from the divine! Thanks to them, the intelligible becomes visible! There coincided in the materialistic back then Italy people, tired from enjoyment and from crime, that, seeing the seraphic art of Veneziano, they felt becoming free from the shackles of the earth. Orders for the churches, the monasteries and the palaces were coming plenty to him. His name was famous together with the name of Castagnio. There were people from Florence that loved the one and people from Florence that prefered the other, according their making. Each one takes the painting that serves his character.
Castagnio, after learning these, lost his sleep. What? Is he going to allow glory to exit his door? Is it perhaps his cat ? Fame and reputation that slips away once won't come back. Ah! No! Castagnio was not a kind of man that accepts such things. He won his fame with toil and patience, he will keep it. Every day he was attentive to see: Maybe some other artist had made a small step to success? He intented to turn him back. He would trip him up! He would conspire against him, he would discredit him, he would pay footlers and jabberers, women, priests, in order to put him obstacles on the road. This way he turned arround the others as soon as they were starting and preserved his own fame. He had his eyes four (wide open): whether some talent has sprout out, or ambition or beautifoul soul? he would benire it immediately by any means he could. The centres of Florence, where it initiated the public opinion, he had them under control by diabolical means, for that reason. Even in the houses of the lords and in the monasteries he had people. He was saying that art is not only the good aesthetics, but also the conspiration and the passion, because otherwise the artist is incapable to safeguard his work. He had time to study the people in the taverns, to skin dead animals in his laboratory and to persecute his fellow artists. But now how could he resist to this unexpected that he heard? They told him that Domenico Veneziano keeps a big secret... Some first time seen liquid, that makes colors very shiny like precious stones, maintains them for ever and permits the image many imaginations. The colors of Venezianos get fermented, they say, with the oil. They become solid like the steel. They shine like the sapphire and the ruby. The secret he took from Flanders the great painter Antonello di Messina and, returning to Italy, he trusted it to his favorite disciple Vaneciano. But he conjured him not to disclose it to no one until his grave. And Venezianos considered his promise sacred and kept it. Well he didn't loose his sleap without a reason Castagnio!... He doesn't wriggle on his bed, he doesn't drink wine and he doesn't loose weight without a reason. He is thinking that no conspiracy can bring the cure here... Here colors fight with colors, matter with matter, science with sciense. The egg and the glue that he is using are dry and dark compared with the admirable vernice of Venezianos... Every time that he twitched from his scarce sleep, one voice was telling him: 'The secret! You must learn the secret!' And again, at the tavern that he painted poor workers and beggars, in the street that he followed old women and crippled people, at the hospital that he studied sick people and dead ones, the same voice was haunting him: 'You are loosing yourself! The glory escapes from you! Catch up!'
I shall go to see him! he said one day. And he set out. Him! Castagnio! To run to see his adversary!... Like ten deaths were his first ten steps. But then he took the decision. He arrived. At the Saint Maria of the Charitas, a small church of a lord, inside a deep garden, the young disciple was at the door and with a knife was scraping from the surface of a thin piece of wood some thick colors. Castagnio looked at them for quite some time. Then he asked for the painter. 'He is inside my Master', said the boy, 'and he is working on the birth of Jesus.' 'I wanted to see him to order him a painting. 'The master is at your disposal', replied the boy; 'I go to bring a tool, as he commanded me.' And he went on towards the city the young disciple. Castagnio followed him with the eyes until he disappeared. Then he entered the church. He kneeled. He made the sign of the cross with reverence and slowly he approached at the place, where, near the clear light, that poured from the window, crouched the painter was working. 'I don't know this art, Master', he said to him; 'and its the first time that I see closely to paint. But it's a wonderful art! In what way it shines the little child in the cave! How gentle are the forms in the fluttering of angels! The one that sees such painting, becomes a shepherd in Bethlehem. What he said he believed it. They were biting him the things he was saying, but they were dictated by his consious. He had to say something, to justify his curiosity -and he said the bitter truth. The beauty of the painting upset him. Why himself, with so many studies, cannot reach to the pure and the virgin-like fantasies? Publicly he curses the virtue and the kindness. But out of sight he is burning for not having them. What secret bites! What hell! How jealous he is of his enemies! How much he knows what he is missing and how much he fights against nature, that made him the way he is! How much he wanted to lift himself up from the taverns of Florence untill he can paint such 'hymn to god'? 'Castagnio', told him the voice inside him, 'you are doomed!'
Venezianos raised his head toward the stranger, he greeted him, he put color to his brush and stopped for a moment, looking both at him and the picture. 'It is bold', said Castagnio, 'to talk about paintings ourselves the ignorants, but I say what I feel.' Venezianos looked at him with sweet smile and sympathy. 'Ohh!' he replied. 'Those that do not know the art don't they allegedly see better? How much blurred it must be the judgment of those that possess it! I often consult the young disciples and the sacristans in order to enlighten myself. And he bowed again towards the painting. What a position! The devil prepared it! Damn moment! Castagnio, as he was behind the painter, he dived in his shoulder a knife from those that can not be removed after. -God save us! murmured a monk making the sign of the cross. -Instant death. Poor Venezianos fell down at the feet of the easel breathless. The angels, the same angels that he had painted, took his soul and, chanting wonderful melodies, led it to the Lord to be recompensed. The young disciple had not returned yet. Castagnio snatched some colors, wrapped them up in a cloth and, without being seen, he left to his studio, impatient to find out the secret. He didn't learn anything. He only satisfied his villainous nature and applied his axiom, that crime is the same with art. The same believed other artists as well at that time.
But is it true that the conspiration and the villainous feeling are justified in the artist? This was proposed by villain natures, the ones that seek refuge in art in order to beautify with it their hideous instincts. The art is as one with virtue. The purpose of both is the divine. For this Andrea Castagnio was panished... You might say: How was he punished? With paralysis maybe? No. With the same art of painting and with the same character of his. The Divine Providence let him live for much more, strong and powerful, without loosing his fame. But it condemned him to paint the objects as they are! According to that curse, the religious images that he left behind are suffering within the reality, full of scarred and wasted faces, turbulent, naked bodies, where the muscles and the tendons and the shapes of the bones are distinct one by one. Stormy anatomy and miserable truth, that cannot reach a little above the ground! Not one ray of peace and of prayer at that work! Nothing! Only spasms. Thus it was punished the villainous nature of that artist, that believed that the purpose of art is himself, as if he wanted to be the chief of a whole generation of such pitiful humans, of those that wish the divine discipline of art (to be) a servant no matter what of their insignificant passions, and when they don't kill by the knife, they besmirch with aspersion. Castagnio died at his seventy years in spasms -as in his paintings. The last moment, seeing that this world has an end, he said: 'Know that I killed that angelic Venezianos out of inability to be like him!' After listening to the narration Ionas, looked within himself... And he chucked up immediately the brush. END