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D'Annunzio, Bernini, and the Baroque prelude of II Piacere.


This essay investigates the early rediscovery of Bernini and the Roman Baroque in D'Annunzio's II piacere. Starting from the analysis of the few explicit textual references and the many implicit allusions to the Baroque artist in the novel, the present study documents Bernini's impact on Sperelli's persona, poetic method, and artistic projects. At the same time, based on the protagonist's radical re-evaluation of Bernini--after two centuries of critical dismissal--this article also sheds light on the deep and substantial relationship connecting the Roman Baroque and D'Annunzio's aesthetics. The rediscovered culture of the 17th century indeed constitutes not only a key element in II piacere, but also an important poetic prelude for D'Annunzio's hoped-for renaissance of the arts, and for the scholarly re-appreciation of the genius of Bernini (from Riegl to Wittkower). In light of the later success of dannunzianesimo, the novel's Baroque vein can also be read as the first historical spark of the fervent Italian debate known as the questione barocca.


D'Annunzio, Bernini, Roman Baroque, Questione barocca, Decadentism

The second book of Il piacere opens with the account of Andrea Sperelli's healing process after the grave injury inflicted upon him in a duel at the conclusion of Book I. His convalescence is presented as a time of death and rebirth--as evidenced in the opening statement 'la convalescenza e una purificazione e un rinascimento' and in the author's narrative comment ('dopo la mortale ferita, dopo una specie di lunga e lenta agonia, Andrea Sperelli a poco a poco rinasceva, quasi con un altro corpo e con un altro spirito, come un uomo nuovo', D'Annunzio, 1988-1989: 131.Emphasis added). (1) In a similar way, in relation to his creativity, Andrea's recovery is described as a period of emptiness and rejuvenation, in between 'freddo abisso vacuo' and 'spontanea improvvisa agitazion poetica' (pp. 138; 145), generating in him a new inspiration, out of the 'contrasto fra l'abiezion passata e la presente risurrezione' (p. 147).

While staging Sperelli's reawakening at the seafront house of Schifanoja ('ospitato da sua cugina nella villa di Schifanoja, Andrea Sperelli si riaffacciava all'esistenza in conspetto del mare'; p. 132), the opening of Book II not only mirrors D'Annunzio's own posture in writing the novel (similarly described in the dedication letter as a sudden outburst of inspiration sparked in Michetti's house of Francavilla al Mare during a time of personal distress), (2) but also enacts the slow progression of his artistic rinascimento, leading him from a rediscovered sense of happiness ('[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]'; p. 141) to the new poetic awareness that 'il verso e tutto' (p. 145).

Within this context, D'Annunzio introduces a singular digression on Sperelli's creative habits, and constructs a significant mise en abime of his own poetic method. By dwelling on the process which takes his hero from a few quoted verses of a canzone by Lorenzo De' Medici to the composition of four original sonnets, D'Annunzio comments:
Quasi sempre, per incominciare a comporre, egli aveva bisogno d'una
intonazione musicale datagli da un altro poeta; ed egli usava
prenderla quasi sempre dai verseggiatori antichi di Toscana. Un
emistichio di Lapo Gianni, del Cavalcanti, di Cino, del Petrarca, di
Lorenzo de' Medici, il ricordo d'un gruppo di rime, la congiunzione di
due epiteti, una qualunque concordanza di parole belle e bene sonanti,
una qualunque frase numerosa bastava ad aprirgli la vena, a dargli,
per cosi dire, il la, una nota che gli servisse di fondamento
all'armonia della prima strofa. Era una specie di topica applicata non
alla ricerca degli argomenti ma alla ricerca dei preludii.
(D'Annunzio, 1988-1989: 146)

In addition to positioning his work within a cultural framework--the stilnovo poets, Petrarch, and Lorenzo De' Medici--Sperelli also fashions a new approach to his models, by relating to them solely as initial pitches, or preludii, for his novel poetic adventures. As for D'Annunzio the journalist, looking for preambles of storytelling in current events (along the Humanist tradition of the facetiae), and D'Annunzio the poet, opening his poetic collections Primo Vere (1880) and Canto novo (1881) with two Preludio poems, Sperelli's method likewise consists in attuning beginnings, and in weaving original webs of meaning, out of slight variations, selections, (3) and continuous metamorphoses.

Following this reflection, right before the anticipated arrival of the new guest Maria Ferres in Schifanoja, D'Annunzio then opens a deliberate parenthesis illustrating Sperelli's editorial projects.
Egli intendeva trovare una forma di Poema moderno, questo inarrivabile
sogno di molti poeti; e intendeva fare una lirica veramente moderna
nel contenuto ma vestita di tutte le antiche eleganze, profonda e
limpida, appassionata e pura, forte e composta. Inoltre vagheggiava un
libro d'arte su i Primitivi, su gli artisti che precorrono la
Rinascenza, e un libro d'analisi psicologica e letteraria su i poeti
del Dugento in gran parte ignorati. Un terzo libro avrebbe egli voluto
scrivere sul Bernini, un grande studio di decadenza, aggruppando
intorno a quest'uomo straordinario che fu il favorito di sei papi non
soltanto tutta l'arte ma anche tutta la vita del suosecolo.
(D'Annunzio, 1988-1989: 156)

In their function as preludes, the three scholarly essays precede and inform Sperelli's quest for the poema moderno. The project on the poeti del Dugento in gran parte ignorati (presumably Lapo Gianni, Cino, and Cavalcanti), and the art book on the 15th century's Primitivi che precorrono la Rinascenza indeed reflect his stated models (the stilnovo poets, and Lorenzo De' Medici) and favorite artists (Botticelli and Leonardo). (4) In this context, however, the planned research on Bernini's art and on the whole life of his century instead reveals an unprecedented interest, as well as a shocking critical statement.

Sperelli's unexpected taste for the Seicento is allusively reiterated in the subsequent account of his drawing projects, by the pairing of two projected books: the first--modeled on Botticelli's 'raffinatezza di gusto' (p. 156)--illustrating Boccaccio's Decameron, and the second--modeled on the bizarre series 'di Sogni, di Capricci, di Grotteschi, di Costumi, di Favole, di Allegorie, di Fantasie' (p. 156) of the 17th-century printmaker Jacques Callot--giving free release 'a tutte le sue predilezioni, a tutte le sue imaginazioni, a tutte le sue piu acute curiosita e piu sfrenate temerita di disegnatore' (p. 157). (5) Despite the apparent lack of any other immediate confirmation, the radical boldness of a project on Bernini, daring to re-evaluate him as an uomo straordinario after centuries of critical dismissal (since his death in 1680), suggests, however, a much deeper influence of the Baroque artist, both on Sperelli's pursuit of the Poema moderno and on the overall plan of Il piacere.

In their mix of decadence (un libro di decadenza) and rinascenza (i primitivi), (6) Sperelli's sources not only reflect his personality and creative state, but also offer him the cultural background for his attempt to fashion, in his new poema moderno, a mirror, guide and encyclopedia of the present world. Within this plan, what role then does Bernini play in the writing of Sperelli's poema? How do his life and work impact on the composition of Il piacere and mirror D'Annunzio's aspired renaissance of the arts?

By shedding light on Bernini's implicit and continuous presence throughout the novel, the present essay aims at investigating a key--yet underestimated--preludio of Il piacere, counterbalancing, with equal importance, the models offered by stilnovisti and primitivi. At the same time, by locating the preamble of a critical re-evaluation of Bernini and the Roman Baroque in the novel, this article also aims at documenting the influence of Il piacere on the rediscovery of the 17th century that took place at the turn of the 20th century.

Bernini's recurring presence in II piacere

Bernini is explicitly referred to in Il piacere on only three occasions. Although never accompanied by any systematic discourse of reappraisal, his presence does run throughout the novel as a recurrent element, offering Sperelli an ideal scenario for his adventures and a poetic avvio for his creative experiments.

Bernini's appearance in the fictional space of the novel and in D'Annunzio's contemporary poetry mirrors his absence from the more controlled space of newspapers and journals, still restricted by the social code of general distaste for Baroque art. In line with a long tradition of critical dismissal and an ongoing rejection of his works (7)--confirmed again in 1882 by the removal of Bernini's bell towers (mocked as torri asinine) from the Pantheon--D'Annunzio knowingly avoids him in his articles. In San Pietro--Cronaca Ecclesiastica (24 April 1886; La Tribuna; reprinted in D'Annunzio, 1996: 529-534), the poet describes the Vatican Basilica without even naming Bernini's works, focusing instead on the social element of the people walking inside the church. Similarly, in Nella Galleria Borghese--L'estate a Roma (22 July 1887; La Tribuna; reprinted in D'Annunzio, 1996: 880-883), he omits any allusion to Bernini's sculptures, (8) dwelling instead on a more detailed description of Botticelli's tondo Vergine in un coro d'angeli (later reappearing in Il piacere).

In D'Annunzio's poetry, by contrast, Bernini is overtly referenced on two occasions. In Rondo (La chimera, 1885-1888), the poet focuses on the light effects produced by Bernini's Tritone fountain on the sky above piazza Barberini: 'Su la piazza Barberini / s'apre il ciel, zaffiro schietto. / Il Tritone de 'l Bernini / leva il candido suo getto' (1982: 524, v. 5-8). In San Pietro (Elegie Romane, 1887), unlike the article on the Vatican basilica for La Tribuna in 1886, D'Annunzio points to Bernini's work in the opening lines of the poem, alluding to the ongoing debate over the Pantheon's demolitions by mentioning the pagano bronzo (shamefully detached from its door and used for the baldacchino in St. Peter's), and by implicitly commenting on the artist's semantics of torsion and on the light-shade effects in his works: 'l'absida e nel mistero raccolta. Un'ombra rossastra / occupa il vano. A1 fondo luce il metallo, enorme. / Sorgono scintillando per l' ombra le quattro colonne /che nel pagano bronzo torse il Bernini a spire' (1982: 377, v. 1-4, my emphasis).

In the fictional space of Il piacere, mostly in the realm of the implicit, Bernini and his monuments (fountains and palazzi) offer a recurring background to Sperelli's life, from the opening paragraph of the novel--introducing his favored itinerary, along via Sistina, between the Barcaccia fountain at Trinita de' Monti and the Tritone fountain in Piazza Barberini--to its end, in the protagonist's final rush from Maria's former house to Palazzo Zuccari, across the space between Piazza del Quirinale and Palazzo Barberini.

The two Bernini fountains of Barcaccia and Tritone symbolically project Sperelli's inner mood, according to the 'abito dannunziano di costruirsi tutto dall'esterno' (Praz, 1999: 358). The Barcaccia fountain reflects Sperelli's sense of ominous imminence on the eve of his duel with Rutolo, by its hoarse sound and its shimmering in front of the moon: 'la Barcaccia metteva un chioccolio roco ed umile, luccicando alla luna che vi si specchiava dall'alto della colonna cattolica' (p. 122). Later on, in its bright shining, it foretells the character's mystical and luminous expectation of Maria at Trinita de' Monti: 'la colonna della Concezione saliva agile al sole, come uno stelo, con la Rosa mystica in sommo; la Barcaccia era carica di diamanti; la scala delia Trinita slargava in letizia i suoi bracci verso la chiesa di Carlo VIII' (p. 291. Emphasis added). In a similar way, the Tritone fountain brings Sperelli's feelings to the foreground along the way to Elena Muti's residence in Palazzo Barberini. Its gloomy shape ('la forma del Tritone cupa' (p. 81)) captures the protagonist's sadness for Elena's sickness after a party, and his exasperation at the noise and vulgarity of the people surrounding it. After Sperelli's return to Rome, as the hero walks back to Elena's abode in Palazzo Barberini, the Tritone fountain, with its illusionary play and seemingly interrupted flow, reflects his ambiguous position, suspended between the remembrance of Maria and his renewed participation in worldly life. On this occasion, however, its explicit attribution to Bernini also coincides with a clear moment of critical assessment, as the writer dwells on the 'illusione momentanea' (p. 265) of its light (shining across the waters, as in the poem Rondo), and its malleable matter, connoted as transparent (diafana), fluid (in the interplay of water, shell, Triton, and dolphins), and self-transforming (in between stone and crystal): 'La fontana del Bernini brillava singolarmente al sole, come se i delfini, la conchiglia e il Tritone fosser divenuti d'una materia piu diafana, non pietra e non ancor cristallo, per una metamorfosi interrotta. (p. 265. Emphasis added).

In addition to the fountains, Bernini's presence also emerges in connection with the palazzi Barberini and Quirinale (partly designed by him), (9) repeatedly paired with each other along Sperelli's route of Quattro Fontane and Via Quirinale. On the snowy night in Book III, the two buildings mark the opposing poles of Sperelli's love frenzy, as he first awaits Elena in front of Palazzo Barberini, and then orders the coachman to take him to Maria at the Piazza del Quirinale. On the one hand, D'Annunzio sketches a description of Palazzo Barberini (Elena's home) by deliberately insisting on its stylistic elements (grandeur, juxtaposition of candor/light and shade, and the fantasy of design):
muta, solenne, profonda, la casa dei Barberini occupava l'aria: tutti
i rilievi grand-eggiavano candidissimi gittando un' ombra cerulea,
diafana corne una luce; e quei candori e quelle ombre sovrapponevano
alla vera architettura dell'edifizio il fantasma d'una prodigiosa
architettura ariostea. (D'Annunzio, 1988-1989: 302. Emphasis added)

On the other hand, a few pages later, D'Annunzio portrays the Quirinale Palace--whose door is explicitly attributed to Bernini--in a similar way, highlighting the same elements of candor, brightness, grandeur (in the repetition of grandeggiare), and illusionistic play.

La piazza del Quirinale appariva tutta Candida, ampliata dal candore, solitaria, raggiante come un'acropoli olimpica su l'Urbe silenziosa. Gli edifizii, intorno, grandeggiavano nel cielo aperto: l'alta porta papale del Bernini, nel palazzo del Re, sormontata dalla loggia, illudeva la vista distaccandosi dalle mura, avanzandosi, isolandosi nella sua magnificenza difforme, dando imagine d'un mausoleo scolpito in una pietra siderea. (D'Annunzio, 1988-1989: 306. Emphasis added)

While emphasizing the same interplay of crystal and stone previously attributed to the Tritone fountain in the door's pietra siderea, D'Annunzio also adds a relevant critical element to the passage, by identifying the intimate beauty and aesthetic pleasure of Bernini's work in its polymorphic and awe-filled grandeur (magnificenza difforme).

Bernini's presence, often evoked in his monuments and openly declared on only three occasions--in reference to Sperelli's book project, the Tritone fountain, and the Papal door of the Quirinale Palace--also appears in the novel through indirect allusions to his statues as well as to his compositional style.

Three carefully constructed settings elicit oblique references to Bernini's statues, first sparked as visual memories and then revealed through ad hoc critical commentaries. On the opening page of the book, D'Annunzio immediately recalls the Galleria Borghese, by pairing a descriptive notation on Sperelli's roses for Elena, arranged in his room 'a similitudine di quelle che sorgon dietro la Vergine nel tondo di Sandro Botticelli alla Galleria Borghese' (p. 5), with the comparison of Elena's body (surrounded 'd'un pallor d'ambra che richiamava al pensiero la Danae del Correggio' (p. 6)) to a painting--Correggio's Danae--which is conserved in the Borghese collection. (10) Although not openly disclosing it, the author evokes Bernini's link to the Galleria by way of an incidental reference to Daphne, seemingly enriching the established parallel of Elena with Correggio's Danae (often repeated in the novel), (11) yet also implicitly pointing to Bernini's famous statue of Daphne and Apollo ("ella aveva appunto le estremita un po' correggesche, le mani e i piedi piccoli e pieghevoli, quasi direi arborei come nelle statue di Dafne in sul principio primissimo della metamorfosi favoleggiata" (p. 6), my emphasis) The reference to Bernini's masterpiece, prepared by the preceding allusions to its location (the Galleria Borghese) and sources (Ovid's Metamorphoses; in the detail of its verses engraved on Sperelli's maiolica cups, as also on the base of Bernini's Daphne) (12)--is revealed en passant by the author's stylistic recognition of the sculpture's distinguishing element, rendering Daphne in the very moment of her transformation.

In the episode of the dance at Casa Doria, the purposefully chosen setting of Palazzo Farnese contains another implicit reference to Bernini, elicited by way of Sperelli's fascination with Annibale Carracci's decorated ceiling (which represents a key source for Bernini's sculpture). (13) Although D'Annunzio does not trace a direct connection between Carracci's models (Polyphemus, Andromeda and Triton) and the statues Bernini derives from them (David, Proserpina and the Tritone fountain), he does, however, significantly pair the critical judgment on the former's painting to the latter's sculpture, by highlighting the 'formosita' (p. 74) of the figures, their embedded 'life', as they seemingly participate in the dance ('le danze incomincia-vano; nella galleria d'Annibale Carracci le semiddie quiriti lottavan di formosita con le Ariadne, con le Galatee, con le Aurore, con le Diane degli affreschi; le coppie turbinando esalavano profumi', p. 74), and their intrinsic tendency to intermingle with other arts (music) or the pleasure of senses (an opulent garden): 'le onde della musica si propagavano nell'aria calda, sotto le volte concave e sonore, passando su tutta quella mitologia come un vento su un giardino opulento' (p. 78).

Lastly, in the report of Maria Ferres' visit to the Cappella delia Madonna del Voto (or Cappella Chigi) in Siena (narrated in Book II, in the journal entry of September 17), the woman's memory of the chapel, not by chance designed by Bernini and adorned by his two statues of St. Jerome and St. Mary Magdalene, coincides with another implicit critical assessment, similarly focused on the monuments' forms and embedded 'life':
nella cappella preziosa, piena d'un'ombra palpitante, d'una oscurita
animata da' riflessi gemmei delie pietre, ardevano le lampade; e la
luce pareva raccogliersi tutta nel breve cerchio d'olio in cui si
nutriva la fiammella, come in un topazio limpido. A poco a poco, sotto
il mio sguardo intento, il marmo effigiato prendeva un pallor men
freddo, quasi direi un tepore d'avorio; a poco a poco entrava nel
marmo la pallida vita delle creature celesti, e nelle forme marmoree
si diffondeva la vaga trasparenza d'una carne angelicale. (D'Annunzio,
1988-1989: 194. Emphasis added)

Aside from its obvious echo of the other Cappella Chigi, designed by Bernini in Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome for Alexander VII (Fabio Chigi), Maria's description of the Sienese Chapel also hints at other stylistic elements previously associated with Bernini: the contrast of light and shade, the stone's 'gemmei riflessi' (evoking the interplay of sculptures and water in the Tritone fountain), the embedded life in the marble, seemingly turning into flesh, and the emotional/psychological involvement of the viewer.

As documented, these conscious yet undeclared recognitions highlight Sperelli's intimate connection to Bernini, yet also reveal a profound aesthetic correspondence between D'Annunzio and the Roman artist, which finds expression in the novel at various levels. For example, Bernini's attention to drapery, embroidery, and folds (or to what Wittkower defines as the 'dynamic ornamentalization of the form' (1999: 9)) matches D'Annunzio's unique focus on garments and clothing in the psychological rendering of his characters (14)--as emerging in the detailed description of Elena's look upon her entrance into the Zuccari palace, of Sperelli's preparation before the dance at Palazzo Farnese, and of Maria's gown during his convalescence at Schifanoja. (15) Bernini's vivid appeal to the five senses (16) (in the overlapping of mysticism and sensuality of The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, or of Blessed Ludovica Albertoni) and his intent to unify all arts (e.g. in the Cornaro Chapel or in the Cathedra Petri) also mirror the coincidence of the erotic and spiritual dimensions in Sperelli's lovers, as well as D'Annunzio's attention to the emotive impact of the artwork, achieved through the merging of different aesthetic languages. Beyond his artistic model, Bernini himself also offers Sperelli an original persona: as 'a man of infinite charm' (Wittkower, 1999: 5), as a much-revered star in Roman art and society in the 17th century, as an 'artist of all round performance' (including his works on ephemera) (17) and, above all, as an 'uomo universale' ('in line of succession to great Renaissance artists--and probably the last link in that chain' (Wittkower, 2009: 13)).

The Baroque prelude of II piacere

Sperelli's proposed study on Bernini, 'uomo straordinario che fu il favorito di sei papi', intrinsically aims at a larger investigation of the Baroque age, as indicated in his explicit desire to explore 'non soltanto tutta Tarte ma anche tutta la vita del suo secolo' (p. 156). As with Bernini, the culture of the 17th century emerges in the novel through indirect means, as an undeclared poetic prelude, sparking the narrative flow, and implicitly informing Sperelli's new idea of art. Far from elaborating a specific theory of the Baroque (a term that, at the time, exclusively referred to architecture, and which appears only once in the book) (18) or engaging in a historical reconstruction of the seicento--another hapax, associating the style of Lady Ferentino's palace to a grotesque beauty ('quel bel seicento grottesco' (p. 295))--D'Annunzio offers a fictional re-appraisal of the 'cultura secentesca romana' (Buranelli, 2014: 6), by way of Sperelli's alluded taste for Bernini, (19) and his explicit predilection for Baroque Rome.

Sperelli's preference for the underestimated vestiges of Papal Rome, rather than for its cliched imperial ruins, is immediately declared at the beginning of his life story:
Ed egli venne a Roma, per predilezione. Roma era il suo grande amore:
non la Roma dei Cesari ma la Roma dei Papi; non la Roma degli Archi,
delie Terme, dei Fori, ma la Roma delie Ville, delie Fontane, delle
Chiese. Egli avrebbe dato tutto il Colosseo per la Villa Medici, il
Campo Vaccino per la Piazza di Spagna, 1' Arco di Tito per la
Fontanella delle Tartarughe. La magnificenza principesca dei Colonna,
dei Doria, dei Barberini l'attraeva assai piu delia ruinata
grandiosita imperiale. (D'Annunzio, 1988-1989: 38)

Sperelli's itineraries through the Rome 'delle Ville, delle Fontane, delle Chiese' confirm his special bond to the Mannerist and Baroque aspect of the city. His love affairs and urban flaneries indeed find a recurring background in the 'ville dei car-dinali e dei principi' (p. 89), all tied to the late 16th- and 17th-century Popes: (20) Villa Medici (to Leo XI, Alessandro de' Medici; 1605), Villa Borghese (to Paul V, Camillo Borghese; 1605-1621), Villa Ludovisi (to Gregory XV, Alessandro Ludovisi; 1621-1623), Palazzo Barberini (to Urbano VIII, Maffeo Barberini; 1623-1644), Villa Pamphily (to Innocent X, Giovanni Battista Pamphily; 1644-1655), and Palazzo Chigi (to Alexander VII, Fabio Chigi; 1655-1667). In conjunction with these palazzi, Sperelli also builds a mental map of Baroque Rome by dwelling on the symbolic landmarks of its 17th-century urban transformation (inaugurated by Pope Sixtus V and carried on by Urban VIII, Innocent X, and Alexander VII), (22) namely fountains (e.g. Fontanella delle Tartarughe, Fontana delle Api, Barcaccia, Tritone), churches (both in his panoramic views of the city and in his Roman walks with Maria), piazzas (Quirinale, Venezia, Trinita de' Monti, Colonna, Montecitorio, Piazza del Popolo), (23) roads (e.g. Via del Corso), crossroads (marked by columns or obelisks), gardens (e.g. Villa Medici and Villa Pamphily), stairs (both interior, in Palazzo Zuccari and Palazzo Barberini, and exterior, at Trinita dei Monti and Villa Medici), and statues or 'colossi' (populating Bernini's piazzas and bridges, or silently acting in the novel in the Barberini gardens, and in Piazza Quirinale). (24)

As he mirrors himself in the 'Roma delie ville, delie fontane, delle chiese,' Sperelli also creatively fashions his own identity in reference to it. The Roman culture of the 17th century indeed gives him the model of an idealized aristocratic and aesthetic life, as suggested by his aspiration to become a 'principe romano' (p. 38), or by the location of his home in Palazzo Zuccari (built and decorated in 1590 by the Mannerist painter, architect, and art critic Federico Zuccari). At the same time, the Baroque elements of the city also assemble a spectacular background for his mundane adventures, as stressed in its panoramic visions of Rome from Trinita de' Monti, not by chance 'irta di campanili, di colonne e d'obelischi, incoronata di cupole e di rotonde, nettamente intagliata, come un'acropoli, nel pieno azzurro' (p. 125), or from Piazza del Quirinale: 'tutte le case, le chiese, le torri, tutte le selve confuse e miste dell'architettura pagana e cristiana biancheggiavano come una sola unica selva informe, tra i colli del Gianicolo e il Monte Mario'(307, my emphasis) As hinted at in the awe for its beauty, (25) and in the coincidence of its pagan and Christian architecture, Rome represents the true object of Sperelli's unconditional love, mirroring the complementary dimensions of his lovers Elena and Maria. Sperelli's love for Rome will be acknowledged by Maria in Book IV ('- avete ragione d'esser tanto innamorato di Roma'; p. 292), as she accepts his 'vergiliato sentimentale' (292) through the city. In reply to her statement, Sperelli will singularly define himself as her and its guide ('Oh, voi non la conoscete ancora! [...] Io vorrei essere il vostro duca...'; p. 292. Emphasis added). As indicated by the parallel between his role as duca and D'Annunzio's own journalistic pseudonym as II Duca Minimo, Sperelli's tour with Maria through the unknown parts of the city embodies the novel's intrinsic purpose to accompany its readers in the loving discovery of the previously unexplored Baroque Rome.

In line with his hero, D'Annunzio's 'vergiliato' to the reader would similarly draw his 'forma speciale di vedere' (Calcaterra, 1960: 123) from Baroque aesthetics. Even beyond its focus on Rome, the cultura secentesca offers the author an indispensable stylistic tool, which, although cautiously surfacing in the text, profoundly impacts on its narration, as documented in the novel's title, referencing il giardino del piacere of Marino's (2013) Adone (Book VI), in its plot, similarly built on a plethora of events upon a purely circumstantial present, and, above all, in its overall rhetoric and themes. (26)

The key traits of D'Annunzio's Baroque style emerge from the novel's incipit:
L'anno moriva assai dolcemente. Il sole di San Silvestro spandeva non
so che tepor velato, mollissimo, aureo, quasi primaverile, nel ciel di
Roma. Tutte le vie erano popolose come nelle domeniche di maggio. Su

la piazza Barberini, su la piazza di Spagna una moltitudine di vetture
passava in corsa traversando; e dalle due piazze il romorio confuso e
continuo, salendo alla Trinita de' Monti, alla via Sistina, giungeva
fin nelle stanze del palazzo Zuccari, attenuato. (D'Annunzio,
1988-1989: 5)

A number of staged contrasts open Il piacere: a sweet end to a year (l'anno moriva... dolcemente), a warm May-like December (with its tepor... quasiprimaverile), and a seething life--crowding the streets of Rome with people (vie popolose), coaches (moltitudine di vetture), and clamor (romorio confuso e continue)--marred by the deadly omen of its end, as reflected in the softened background noise of Sperelli's empty house. These binary oppositions foreshadow the core of Sperelli's life, bordering dream and reality, and ultimately encompass the bittersweet essence of pleasure, portrayed indeed as a 'godimento rapido' (p. 13) followed by a sudden 'dissolvimento' (p. 103). At the same time, these contrasts also constitute the intrinsic engine of Sperelli's love experiences, as revealed in Elena and Maria's interplay of obscenity and purity, lie and truth, or in his inner fluctuation of heat and cold (reflected in the 'caldo lume rossastro e il gelato crepuscolo' of his room; p. 6), (27) fullness and emptiness, or creative furor ('folle agitazione'; p. 32) and sense of 'vacuita' (p. 251). (28) Along with these tensions, D'Annunzio stages, in the opening lines, a key stylistic oxymoron of his prose, built upon the deliberate overlapping of rhetorical artifice (as in the sound effect of the alliterated s in il Sole di San Silvestro spandeva non so che tepor velato) with a seemingly natural non so che. As later explained in describing Sperelli's way of speaking to Elena ('egli parlava con naturalezza quel linguaggio manierato, quasi estenuando nell' Yartifizio delle parole la forza del suo sentimento'; p. 57. Emphasis added), D'Annunzio consciously constructs the prose of Il piacere as a similar tension of opposites, aimed at achieving naturalness in manners, spontaneity in dissimulation, and ineffability in the artifice of style.

As a way to render the indefiniteness of pleasure, and a seemingly natural atmosphere of vagueness and beauty (related, aesthetically and erotically, to the 17th-century category of je ne sais quoi), (29) D'Annunzio refers throughout the novel to a deliberate set of Baroque figures. He relies on concetti, for example in transferring the semantics of boiling from Andrea's tea water to his steaming desires for Elena in the book's opening, or in transforming the phonetic relation of bere and bacio into the actual scene of the hero drinking tea while kissing Maria. He adopts accumulation (of details, adjectives and metaphors) and synesthesia, as also outlined in his initial montage of elements from different sensorial realms (the tepor velato, mollissimo, aureo, the road's romorio confuso e continuo). As in the pictorial language of the still life, he re-enacts a live experience of pleasure, involving all five senses, as seen in the intermingling of colors, scents, fabrics, flowery decorations, and sounds during the tea scene, where Sperelli's love imagination blends with the aroma of tea, cigarette smoke, and the house's tapestries. (30) As in Marino's poetic mix of literature, music, and painting (in La lira, La sampogna, and La galleria), he finally constructs in the novel a voluntary fusion of arts, by blurring music into versification, drawing into writing, and poetry into criticism.

In contrast, as a way to artificially construct the experience of pleasure, D'Annunzio frames the novel within a deliberate theatrical atmosphere (recalling Baroque aesthetics), aimed at projecting Sperelli's feelings both externally, upon the crowds, monuments, and sky of Rome, and internally, upon the 'perfettissimo teatro' (p. 17) of Palazzo Zuccari. Sperelli's house (as a metaphor for the book itself) represents an arranged theatrical deceit (3) ' and a self-projecting space for his illusion of happiness (rapidly vanishing into oblivion), his 'sogno poetico, quasi mistico' (p. 303), his erotic 'imaginazione' (p. 232), and his love fiction ('nell'arte d'amare, egli non aveva ripugnanza ad alcuna finzione, ad alcuna falsita, ad alcuna menzogna. Gran parte della sua forza era nella ipocrisia'; p. 14). At the same time, Sperelli's house also represents a Baroque museum of marvels, where objects not only portray his life and feats, but also reveal their 'inganno, enorme e crudele' (p. 257) as they become bibelots (feeding the new trend for 'curiosita'; p. 67), or fragmentary remnants of the past, drained of any vestiges of life (like the final armario, occluding Sperelli's way into Palazzo Zuccari).

These direct or indirect cultural references to the 17th century, as well as to Papal Rome and Bernini, indicate its relevance in the writing of Sperelli's poema moderno (in parallel with the other sources of the stilnovo and the quattrocento). Although kept in the realm of the implicit out of critical discretion, the Baroque vein of Il piacere will also constitute an important preludio in the later evolution of D'Annunzio's aesthetic project.

D'Annunzio's impact on the critical assessment of the Roman Baroque

In parallel with the opening of Book II, staging the coincidence in Sperelli of 'convalescenza' and 'purificazione,' decay and 'rinascimento' (p. 131), (32) the Baroque tension of Il piacere contributes to identifying the hero's present as a time 'non di una crisi, ma di una trasformazione' (Raimondi, 1988: XVI). In the years following the publication of the novel, the same view on the present age would reappear in two newspaper articles by D'Annunzio about the state of Italian literature and art--Il romanzo futuro (31 January 1892; La Domenica del Don Marzio), and Elogio dell'epoca (23 June 1893; La Tribuna; reprinted in D'Annunzio, 2003: 17-21; 201-207; 1375-1390)--as well as in the vate's famous interview with Ugo Ojetti in 1895. (33) In the interview (which refers almost verbatim to large portions of the articles), D'Annunzio indeed acknowledges (with a certain annoyance) the predominant sense of decadence in his contemporaries, (34) yet detects in it the seed of an extraordinary new development ('la letteratura contro ogni profezia funebre e destinata nel prossimo avvenire a uno straordinario sviluppo'; 2003: 1384). Based on this assumption, he explicitly encourages artists to create new languages, recomposing (fondere) a lost unity, substituting scientific formulas with life, and inspiring a new sense of marvel and awe: 'spetta ora agli artisti la ricomposizione dell'unita. [...] essi soltanto possono essere gli esemplari, gli interpreti e i messaggeri di questo tempo, poiche la scienza non e per loro una formula, ma la stessa vita.' (D'Annunzio, 2003: 1386). In calling artists to move beyond pre-formatted languages and creatively blend different arts, according to Sperelli's model, D'Annunzio also foresees the advent of a new Renaissance of the arts, and sketches its characteristics. In the affirmative response to the question 'tutto e dunque favorevole a un Rinascimento?' he indeed delineates the unprecedented, vast, and profound essence of the contemporary soul, which:
non soltanto contiene l'immenso flutto delle idee, delle sensazioni e
dei sentimenti definiti--accumulato dalle innumerevoli generazioni
anteriori--ma anche un oscuro viluppo di germi nuovi, dei quali taluno
gia si va schiudendo con vigore subitaneo e sta per invadere le piu
lucide sfere della coscienza. E dal contrasta delle vecchie e delle
nuove energie si producono ogni giorno forme di vita spirituale
mirabili, non mai conosciute prima, o al meno non mai osservate e
rivelate; nelle quali un'infinita diversite di elementi si palesa in
una sola vibrazione. (D'Annunzio: 2003: 1387. Empahsis added)

Far from replicating the 16th century in Florence, D'Annunzio's hoped-for rinascimento assumes instead a Dionysian connotation, alluded to in its obscure tangling of new sprouts, vital flow, sudden vigor, contrast of energies, and infinite blending of elements in one vibration. (35) On the background of Sperelli's ascertained taste for the 17th century, the elements of this new rinascimento (hybridization of forms, energetic pursuit of life, tension of extremes, immense force) once again point to the core of Baroque art. The same categories also strikingly mirror the new emphasis on restlessness, movement, and metamorphosis of contemporary European art (along with the French rediscovery of still life painting and the Commedia dell'arte), as well as the critical notions accompanying the late 19th-century scholarly debate on the Baroque, dawning after the publication of Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy in 1873 (reprinted 2000), (36) and of Heinrich Wolfflin's Renaissance and Baroque in 1888 (reprinted 1966), a year before Il piacere. (37) Within this broader context, D'Annunzio's renewed sensitivity toward Bernini and the Baroque signals not just a tangible connection of Italian culture with the preliminary phase of European modernism, but rather an important, albeit self-censored, watershed in the debate on the Seicento. Along the lines of Nietzsche and Wolfflin's pioneering interest in the 17th century, D'Annunzio's novel advances a new appreciation for the Baroque, against the backdrop of its radical theoretical dismissal--outlined by Jacob Burckhardt's The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860, reprinted in 1945), (38) and, in Italian literary scholarship, by Tommaseo and Bellini's Dizionario (1865), Luigi Settembrini's Lezioni di letteratura italiana (1867, reprinted in 1964), and Francesco De Sanctis' Storia della letteratura italiana (1870, reprinted in 1991) (39). The critical prelude of Il piacere would impact over the years, on the one hand, on the academic re-evaluation of Bernini and 17th-century art (which was taking place in the German-speaking world), and, on the other, on the militant Italian querelle known as the questione barocca. (40)

D'Annunzio's fictional appraisal of Bernini pioneers the rediscovery of his art and of the Roman Baroque--given that, as Payne points out, 'Bernini was synonymous with the Baroque' and that 'regardless of the geography that the path toward the Baroque followed, one thing was clear for all scholars [Burckhardt, Gurlitt, Wolfflin]: Rome was its epicenter' (Payne, 2010: 12, 14). The first scholarly studies on Bernini significantly appeared in the 1890s, after Il piacere. In 1894-95, the art critic Alois Riegl delivered a series of lectures on the Baroque at the University of Vienna, (41) and in 1899 he first taught a seminar on Bernini there. As he later admitted in the preface to his critical masterpiece The Origins of the Roman Baroque (1908), the idea for the seminar came the year before, from the exhibition, organized in Rome, celebrating the third centenary of Bernini's birth. On that occasion, he indeed realized that Italians 'had a debt of honor to redeem' toward Bernini, and began to see in him 'a grand'uomo of the seventeenth century who had not yet found a modern biographer' (Riegl, 2010: 99). (42) This new interest is also confirmed in the contemporary publication of Enrico Nencioni's essay Del Barocco (recommended by D'Annunzio in his preface to the critic's Saggi letterari: 'leggete il suo discorso Del barocco'; see Nencioni, 1898: XV), which praised Bernini as Tultimo veramente grande e originale artista italiano' (Nencioni, 1898: 110), and first introduced a positive critical break in the Italian account of the Baroque age. (43) Following the Roman exposition of 1898, in 1900, the Italian critic Stanislao Fraschetti (1900) released the first monograph on Bernini, which included images and a catalogue of his monuments. In response to Fraschetti's unsatisfactory work, (44) in 1902, Riegl began working on the annotated translation of Filippo Baldinucci's biography Vita del cavaliere Gio. Lorenzo Bernini (1682). (45) His return to Bernini's original sources would provide him with the documentary base for his Die Entstehung der Barockkunst in Rom (The Origins of Baroque Art in Rome), published in 1908. In this pioneering study, Riegl defined Italy's primacy in sculpture during the Baroque age in relation to Bernini ('in this field, the Italians always remained leaders. While other artistic nations have their painters--Rubens, Rembrandt, Velazquez--the Italians have their incomparable sculptor: Bernini' (Riegl 2010: 96)), thus opening the lengthy process of his critical acceptance, which would culminate after WWII, with the publication of Rudolph Wittkower's monograph Bernini: the Sculptor of the Roman Baroque (1950). At the same time, in his critical masterpiece, Riegl also related the origins of the Roman Baroque to Michelangelo's sculpture and Correggio's painting, identifying its traits--in a surprising correspondence with Sperelli's intuitions--with the former's 'depth' (2010: 115), 'power of emotions', 'empowerment of feeling' (2010: 116), and 'intensification of tactile physicality' (2010: 117), as well as with the latter's 'optical reception' and 'heightening of psychological perception' (2010: 125). While explaining the evolution (Entstehung) from Mannerist art to the Baroque with the concept of kunstwollen (will to form)--an idea also surfacing in D'Annunzio's 1895 interview--Riegl then openly ascertained its mature form in Bernini and in the architectural civilization of Papal Rome. (46)

In spite of these critical evolutions, which led 17th-century art to gain positive ground in relation to modernism (England, Spain, Latin America, and the United States) or the avant-garde (France, Germany, Russia), Benedetto Croce's radical dismissal of dannunzianesimo and of the decay of contemporary art would instead lead to a continuing negative stance toward the Baroque in Italian scholarship. In the essay Di un carattere della piu recente letteratura italiana (1907), Croce adopted the categories of falsehood, insincerity, and lack of moral enthusiasm (used by De Sanctis to criticize the Baroque) to discard D'Annunzio, Pascoli, and Fogazzaro as 'operai delia medesima grande industrial la grande industria del vuoto' (1907: 182). In Saggi sulla letteratura italiana del Seicento (1910; reprinted 1962), he explicitly tied dannunzianesimo (seen as empty and artificial) to the art of the 17th century: 'il decadentismo europeo dell'ultimo trentennio al quale l'Italia ha dato la voce piu potente, Gabriele D'Annunzio, ci ha messo in grado di comprendere piu agevolmente la poesia e l'arte in genere del Seicento' (1910: XVI). Later on, in his Storia dell'etd barocca in Italia (Croce, 1929), Croce definitively condemned Baroque art as 'un peccato estetico, ma anche un peccato umano, e universale e perpetuo'; 1993: 54), tracing in it the origin of Italian decadence (which would lead to the Italian anomaly of Fascism). (47) Croce's notion of decadentismo, conceived of as an 'excogitation a posteriori' (Moroni, 2004: 66) and developed by Walter Binni as the influential critical school, (48) would constitute a relevant factor in the prolonged Italian dismissal of the Baroque, a refusal which would be reversed only after WWII, with Giulio Carlo Argan's 1954 exposition La rettorica e l'arte barocca (delivered at the third International Congress of Humanistic Studies in Venice) and Luciano Anceschi's Barocco e Novecento (1960). (49) Notwithstanding this general rejection, scholars had, however, gradually started to retrieve the historical contents of Baroque culture starting in the early 20th century. In the 1910s, in addition to Croce's pioneering anthology of Lirici marinisti (1911), 17th-century art would gain some timid critical consensus with the spreading of Futurism (similarly depicted as bizarre, ugly, barbarian, and grotesque). From the pages of La voce, the Futurist artist Ardengo Soffici first defended still life painting (in the 1911 essay on Picasso and Braque) and Roberto Longhi first praised Futurism in light of the Baroque categories of dynamic tension and vital force in I pittori futuristi (1914). (50) In the 1920s, a number of scholarly initiatives aimed at documenting the culture of the 17th century, as seen in the 1922 exhibit La pittura del sei e settecento, organized by Ugo Ojetti at Palazzo Pitti in Florence, in Mario Praz's publication of Secentismo e Marinismo in Inghilterra in 1925 (inspiring Eliot's rediscovery of metaphysical poets), (51) and in Roberto Longhi's Quesiti caravaggeschi (1928-1934; reprinted 1968), leading to the reappraisal of Caravaggio.

In the light of these evolutions, and starting from D'Annunzio's reappropriation of 17th-century art as an implicit force driving the rinascimento latino, (52) Baroque aesthetics would also acquire a growing relevance in Italian culture between the 19 (th) and 20th centuries, emerging, for example, in Arrigo Boito's theory of arte decorativa, in the spreading of the stile floreale, in Soffici's interest for Marino (defined as 'pioniere delia modernita' and as the model of the Futurist poetica della meraviglia), (53) in Rebora and Campana's espressionismo, as well as in Ungaretti's later rediscovery of gongorismo. As foreseen in Il piacere and in the 1895 interview with Ojetti, this rediscovered Baroque force would constitute the productive spark of new aesthetic languages throughout the 20th century, influencing the evolution of new industrial art forms like cinema (in its marvelous quest for the total art), advertising (in its hybrid space between visual and verbal communication), and design (in its endless pursuit of new solutions through constant metamorphosis and self-adjustment). Although discarded by Croce's purismo as unworthy forms of art, these new aesthetic languages constitute the vital laboratory of Italy's later success in design and fashion after World War II. Sperelli's attention to objects, the aesthetic workshop of Il piacere, and the rediscovery in Bernini of a new idea of art, could represent the prelude to this contemporary Italian Renaissance.


(1.) From now on, I will reference quotes from Il piacere (D'Annunzio, 1988-1989) using only the page number.

(2.) In the dedicatory letter, D'Annunzio presents the novel as a 'rendimento di grazie' (p. 3) to Michetti, for hosting him and offering him relief in a period of stress: 'nella stanchezza della lunga e grave fatica, la tua presenza m'era fortificante e consolante come il mare.' (p. 3).

(3.) In an 1881 letter to Guido Biagi, D'Annunzio confirms this method, starting from clear models (like the contemporary master Carducci), and moving away from them through a laborious process of selections: 'c'era quel mago del Carducci che mi schiacciava [...]. Ho avuto la forza di ribellarmi, e con un lento, laboriosissimo processo di selections sono venuto fuori io, tutto io' (see Anceschi, 1982: XXI).

(4.) The passion for Botticelli and da Vinci is explicit in Il piacere, and defines the very core of Sperelli's personality. In the scene of Andrea and Elena's kiss, D'Annunzio invokes them as a narrator, yet deals with them also as a critic: 'Due quattrocentisti meditativi, perseguitori infaticabili d'un Ideal raro e superno, psicologi acutissimi a cui si debbon forse le piu sottili analisi della fisionomia umana, immerse di continuo nello studio e nella ricerca delie difficolta piu ardue e de' segreti piu occulti, il Botticelli e il Vinci, compresero e resero per vario modo nell'arte loro tutta l'indefinibile seduzione di tali bocche' (p. 91).

(5.) Seventeenth-century art had also been defined as a key polarity of Sperelli's compositional style in the previous coupling of his project to write 'riallacciandosi ai poeti dello stilnovo e ai pittori che precorrono il Rinascimento' (p. 94) with the practice of etching in the 'maniera rembrandtesca' (p. 94), or of his love for the primitivi with the intent to refashion them in light of Rembrandt (Tintendimento suo [...] era questo: rischiarare con gli effetti di luce del Rembrandt le eleganze di disegno de' Quattrocentisti fiorentini' (P. 95)).

(6.) Mario Praz will also similarly define D'Annunzio 'oltre che un decadente, un primitivo' (Praz, 1999: 357).

(7.) 'L'oblio e l'incomprensione per l'opera di Bernini [...] accompagnarono tutto l'ottocento [...]. Persino le vandaliche spoliazioni della villa Borghese da parte dei napoleonici ignorarono (fortunatamente, ma e comunque un indice del gusto) i capolavori berniniani' (Coliva, 2005: 12).

(8.) As with Bernini, D'Annunzio deliberately also avoids any mention of Caravaggio in the contemporary article San Luigi, published in La Tribuna on 10 April 1886 (reprinted D'Annunzio, 1996: 512-517).

(9.) Bernini and Borromini worked in Palazzo Barberini after Maderno's death in 1629. Bernini designed the squared stairs, the grand two-story hall, and the oval salon of the Palazzo. In the Quirinale palace, Bernini authored the Manica Lunga and the entrance door under the patronage of Alexander VII.

(10.) The parallel mention of Botticelli and Correggio (seen as a precursor of Baroque painting in his illusionistic experiments and serpentine lines) in relation to the Galleria Borghese once again matches Sperelli's compositional polarity, documented in his two projects on the quattrocento and on Bernini.

(11.) During their first encounter, Andrea talks to Elena about the Correggio painting: 'Voi, se non erro [...] dovete avere il corpo della Danae del Correggio. [...] Conoscete il quadro della Galleria Borghese?' (p. 56). Later on in the book, while describing the participation of Rome in Andrea and Elena's love, D'Annunzio once again includes a reference to the Danae painting (see p. 89).

(12.) 'Tazze e sottocoppe in maiolica di Castel Durante ornate d'istoriette mitologiche [...] ove sotto le figure erano scritti in carattere corsivo a zaffara nera esametri d'Ovidio' (p. 5).

(13.) 'Hellenistic antiquity and Annibale Carracci's Farnese ceiling were the essential guides to Bernini's revolutionary conceptions' (Wittkower, 1999: 6).

(14.) The novel's meticulous attention to the characters' costumes (habits and dresses) is reflected not only in D'Annunzio's own participation in Rome's worldly life, but also in his practice of fashion design (as documented by Paola Sorge; 2015).

(15.) See descriptions at pp. 20 (Elena); 73 (Andrea); 171 (Maria).

(16.) The appeal to the senses, a 'hall-mark of Bernini's work' (Wittkower, 1999: 2), represents a fundamental tool for him to 'enhance the beholder's emotional participation' (p. 14).

(17.) Bernini executed many impermanent works during his lifetime. He designed statues and machinery for operas, painted scenery for his own comedies, and assembled ephemeral pieces for ritual occasions or public ceremonies (e.g. festival decorations, fireworks, liturgies, carnival cars, and catafalques).

(18.) The term barocco exclusively referred to architecture until the 1880s. It appears in the book in a description picturing a Roman Church on the eve of the duel with Rutolo ('dall' architrave barocco d'una chiesa di travertino pendevano i paramenti del mese di Maria', p. 125).

(19.) 'It was he more than any other artist who gave Rome its Baroque character' (Wittkower, 2009: 13).

(20.) D'Annunzio explicitly recalls these villas (e.g. Pamphily, Medici, Ludovisi) in reference to Sperelli's love for Elena: 'tutte le ville gentilizie, sovrana gloria di Roma, conoscevano il loro amore' (p. 89).

(21.) Villa Medici and Villa Borghese on the Pincio Hill are often mentioned together (see pp. 241, 310). Villa Ludovisi then Palazzo Montecitorio, was partly designed by Bernini. Palazzo Barberini, home of Bernini's patron Maffeo Barberini (Urban VIII), is the home of Sperelli's lover Elena. Villa Pamphily is an opulent garden of love (as signaled by its 'trionfi delie magne rose' p. 74). Palazzo Chigi is the backdrop for the turmoil related to the Italian colonial defeat in Dogali (see p. 287).

(22.) The 17th-century reconfiguration of Rome as the universal center of Christianity mirrors the late 19th-century transformation of the city into the capital of the newly created Italian state.

(23.) The main Roman piazzas of the 17th century--Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo and Saint Peter's Square--are the visible sign of the urban reconfiguration promoted by Innocent X and Alexander VII.

(24.) As he walks by night near Palazzo Barberini, Sperelli indeed notices 'a traverso i cancelli, tra i colossi di pietra [...] il giardino oscuro animato da un mormorio fioco di acque, dominato dall'edifizio biancheggiante ove il solo portico aveva ancora un lume' (p. 274).

(25.) In Book III, Sperelli is once again portrayed as overwhelmed by the 'sentimento sover-chiante' of his old love 'per la dolcissima Roma, per l'immensa augusta unica Roma, per la citta delie citta, per quella ch'e sempre giovine e sempre novella e sempre misteriosa, corne il mare' (p. 230).

(26.) Baroque concepts, like the interaction of the arts, the quest for the 'artifizio dello stile' (p. 3), the inquiry into the mutability of forms in relation to laws, and the study of life in the present, inform the novel from its dedication, when Sperelli presents his poetics of metamorphosis ('la sua legge era dunque la mutabilite; il suo spirito aveva l'inconsistenza d'un fluido; tutto in lui si trasformava e si difformava, senza tregua' (p. 253, emphasis added) and focus on the present ('la mia legge e in una parola: NUNC; p. 290).

(27.) Sperelli's lovers also experience the same contrast, like Maria, who felt 'ardere le guance e le tempie, intorno agli occhi, d'un ardore intenso, mentre pel resto del corpo rabbrividiva' (p. 280, emphasis added).

(28.) Sperelli's furore is also described as 'agitazione poetica' (p. 145), 'allucinazione' (p. 263) 'cupo ardore' (p. 354), and, in his final escape from Maria's former palace, as follia ('fuggi, quasi folle' (p. 358)). Conversely, Sperelli's dissatisfaction is also described as 'uno scontento', 'un malessere', 'una nausea improvvisa', 'una specie di rassegnazione cupa' and 'una miseria mortale' (p. 251).

(29.) In Baroque aesthetics, the category of non so che is related to artistic pleasure, along the lines of the century-long debate on the je ne sais quoi. In Il piacere, the expression non so che often refers to Sperelli's erotic experience with Elena, as well as to her mysterious attraction (see pp. 40; 46).

(30.) 'Il fumo saliva nell'aria tingendosi ai raggi quasi orizzontali del sole; le tappezzerie s'armonizzavano in un colore caldo e festoso. L'aroma del te si mesceva all'odor del tabacco' (p. 236, emphasis added).

(31.) As admitted by Sperelli himself, 'egli era un abilissimo apparecchiatore. Ma nell'artificio quasi sempre egli metteva tutto se; vi spendeva la ricchezza del suo spirito largamente; vi si obliava cosi che non di rado rimaneva ingannato dal suo stesso inganno' (p. 17).

(32.) In reviewing the book Il Tesoro dell' ornato (Modes e Mendel, 1886) for La Tribuna (Libri nuovi, 27 November 1886; reprinted in D'Annunzio, 1996: 693-697), D'Annunzio, with the pseudonym of Duca Minimo, similarly foresees a new renaissance after the decadence brought forth by the appearance of industrial art: 'oggi l'arte industriale, dopo un periodo di decadenza massima, accenna a un rinascimento che portera buoni frutti se sara promosso e condotto con serieta d'intenti nuovi e con rispetto alle buone tradizioni paesane' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 693, my emphasis).

(33.) The interview belongs to a series, entitled Alla scoperta dei letterati, in which Ugo Ojetti outlines the situation of contemporary Italian literature in conversation with its great authors.

(34.) 'In verita, mai forse epoca fu, come questa, tenuta pubblicamente a vile dagli artisti e dai filosofi in essa generati. Non v'e in Italia conferenziere girovago che non inframmetta ne'suoi vaniloquii una qualche deplorazione su la trista fine del secolo e su la decadenza irreparabile della nostra razza. Non v'e poeta che non si rammarichi d'esser nato troppo tardi o troppo presto. Non v'e romanzatore che non lamenti la poverta della materia da elaborare e l'imperfezione del proprio istrumento d'arte. Sembra, a detta dei piu, che la fine del secolo debba trar seco il naufragio di tutte le cose belle' (D'Annunzio, 2003: 1382).

(35.) In reply to Ojetti's further question--'questo prossimo invocato Rinascimento avra ne' suoi caratteri qualche somiglianza con il Rinascimento anteriore?' (D'Annunzio, 2003: 1388)--D'Annunzio reinforces his point, by equating his present to the two previous 'primavere dello spirito'--the 'Rinascimento anteriore' (2003: 1388) and Athens' golden age--which singularly derived 'il loro straordinario rigoglio da una magnified forza: del sentimento dell' energia e della potenza elevato al sommo grado' (2003: 1389, emphasis added).

(36.) Breaking with two centuries of denigration, Nietzsche first reinterpreted the Baroque in a positive key as a Dionysian critique of the schemata of (neo)-classicism, neo-Romantic mannerism, and neo-Enlightened positivism, and related it to present modernity in an 1878 note ('the reawakening of interest in the Baroque was impelled by the crisis of modernity'; On the Baroque, see Parkinson and Kaup, 2010: 41).

(37.) After Gurlitt's (1887) Geschichte des barockstiles in Italien, discarded by critics, Wolfflin first isolated the core elements of the Baroque in its anti-Manneristic 'ideal of tenseness' (1966: 63), Herculean restlessness, and 'elusiveness' (p. 33). He also traced the roots of present modernity to the Roman Baroque.

(38.) Burckhardt had condemned the Baroque in the travel notes of Der Cicerone (1855), preceding The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. In spite of his rejection, he shared with Nietzsche the conviction that Michelangelo was the father of the Baroque. After the presentation of Berlin's Pergamon in 1879, he partially re-evaluated Baroque art in the light of his profound love for Hellenistic culture.

(39.) Tommaseo and Bellini relate the term barocco (synonymous with gotico) to a 'stile goffo e bizzarro che incomincio a prevalere sulla fine del sec. XVI e duro quasi tutto il XVII' (see Getto, 2000: 395). Settembrini sums up the culture of the 17th century with the term secentismo, which, in his Lezioni di letteratura italiana, is parallel to marinismo (equal to bad taste) and gesuitismo (observed through the prejudice of antispagnolismo and anticlerical hatred for the Counter-Reformation). Lastly, De Sanctis discards the 17th century as 'comico vuoto e negativo' (p. 434), and first makes explicit the link between the letteratura secentista--'vuota d'idee e di sentimenti, un gioco di forme, una semplice esteriorita' (p. 439)--and his own culture, similarly accused of 'disfacimento' (p. 590), lack of interiority, and Mannerism.

(40.) In the early 20th century, the questione barocca became 'un problema vivo e attuale, quasi un problema di letteratura militante, di un'accesa contemporaneita' (Getto, 2000: 414).

(41.) Riegl's 1894-95 lectures at the University of Vienna offered a critique of Gurlitt's History of the Baroque Style, and anticipated the publication in 1897 of August Schmarsow's first critical study on Baroque architecture, entitled Barock und Rokoko: das Malerische in der Architektur: eine kritische Auseinandersetzung (Baroque and Rococo, the Painterly in Architecture: A Critical Comparison).

(42.) Emilio Retrosi's publication Per il terzo centenario della nascita di Gianlorenzo Bernini architetto e scultore sommo (Tipografia V. Bicchieri, Roma, 1898) provides the only testimony of the event.

(43.) Although continuing to portray the Seicento as 'un secolo falso e barocco' (Nencioni, 1898: 126), or as 'un'epoca sinistra ed odiosa nella quale il Barocco, il mostruoso invadono la letteratura, l'arte, il teatro' (p. 28), Nencioni also revisited it in positive terms: by defining the Baroque as 'essenzialmente moderno, nella sua appassionata ricerca del nuovo a ogni costo' (1898: 139), and even identifying it with the present: 'noi siamo oggi tutti un po' barbari, un po' bizantini, un po' barocchi' (1898: 140, emphasis added).

(44.) In discarding Fraschetti's work, which 'has changed nothing,' Riegl additionally notes that 'an art historical discussion of Bernini's oeuvre still remains to be written, and this actually means that an art historical discussion of Italian Baroque sculpture must first be written' (2010: 99).

(45.) The complete text of Filippo Baldinuccis Vita des Gio. Lorenzo Bernini mit Ubersetzung und Kommentar (ed. Arthur Burda and Oskar Pollak; Vienna: Schroll) would appear in 1912.

(46.) 'During the Baroque, the leading role shifted from Florence to Rome--not for local reasons [...] but rather in correspondence with the overwhelming importance of the papacy. The universal supremacy of the papacy in the wake of the Counter-Reformation was the guiding principle. For this reason, one can speak of a Roman Baroque style' (Riegl, 2010: 97).

(47.) Croce's goal of returning the Baroque 'al significato negativo che ebbe in origine e ritenne per quasi due secoli' (1993: 599) matches his profound critique of the present 'decadenza [...] nel vigore e nella larghezza del pensiero' (1928: 133), and his stated awareness that Italy's long decline 'comincia non nel 1815, come nei manuali scolastici, ma, sia pure in forma crepuscolare, intorno al 1670' (1928: 77).

(48.) In his La poetica del decadentismo (first published 1936), Binni mirrors Croce's arguments in rejecting D'Annunzio as 'decadente anzitutto per l'assoluta mancanza del contenuto, dell'argomento' (1961: 95), Pascoli, for his 'infantilismo' and 'monotonia spirituale' (p. 116), and the Futurists, for their lack of poetry. In testament to the long-lasting influence of Binni's thought, in the 1972 book Il decadentismo, the critic Elio Gioanola would prolong the negative judgment on the age, defining it 'epoca delia noluntas, cioe dell'abulia, dello spleen, della mancanza di ideali' (p. 80).

(49.) After WWII, the philosopher Luciano Anceschi would first re-evaluate the Baroque as a 'concetto metastorico' (1960: 8), and as a 'nozione critica' (1984: 67).

(50.) Roberto Longhi states that 'il problema del futurismo rispetto al cubismo e quello del Barocco di fronte al rinascimento. Il barocco non fa che porre in moto la massa del rinascimento' (see Raimondi, 2003: 83).

(51.) The publication precedes Praz's La carne, la morte e il diavolo nella letteratura romantica (1930), written in response to Croce's Storia dell'eta barocca and Storia d'Italia dal 1870 al 1915.

(52.) On January 1, 1895, the French critic Eugenio Melchiorre di Vogue published an article for La Revue Des Deux Mondes, entitled La Renaissance latine, and dedicated it entirely to praise of D'Annunzio.

(53.) Soffici writes: 'Il cavalier Marino, il quale come tutti i Barocchi, fu un creatore di forme nuove, un pioniere della modernite (e questo sia detto contro gl'incompetenti che in quella scuola vedono una decadenza anziche una coraggiosa e feconda rinascita), il cavalier Marino scrisse questo verso che per noi acquista oggi il valore di una verita fondamentale: "e del poeta il fin la meraviglia"' (1959: 696).


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Luca Cottini

Villanova University, USA

Corresponding author:

Luca Cottini, Villanova University, 800 E Lancaster Ave., SAC 339, Villanova, PA 19085, USA. Email:
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Date:Aug 1, 2017
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