The poetic sensibility of Luisa Mussini Franchi.
Keywords: Luisa Mussini Franchi, Siena, 19th century, unedited poems, Alessandro Franchi, purist school.
Luisa Mussini was born in Siena, on January 10, 1865 (died on June 18, 1925), to Luigi Mussini (1813-1888) and Luisa (Luigia) Piaggio (18321865). (1) She spent her life sculpting, painting, and writing; yet there are very few records of her artistic career or of her contributions to the career of her husband, Alessandro Franchi (1838-1914), a well-known Sienese painter. Luisa remains among the talented, yet forgotten, female artists and poets of the late 19th-century. In this essay I present recently discovered poems written by Luisa Mussini Franchi, poems that are contained within the Carteggio inedito di Mario Pratesi, (2) and I consider her poetic style in the context of her artistic output.
Luisa Mussini's mother, Luigia (Luisa) Piaggio a gifted artist and writer, was born in 1832 and died January 17, 1865. She was the daughter of Giuseppe Piaggio and Chiara Capurro, both of whom were from well-respected Genoese families. During a visit to Florence Luigia saw, admired and was inspired by the painting La sacra musica by Luigi Mussini at the Galleria d'Arte Moderna dell'Accademia. Carlo Livi, in Luigia's obituary, observes that the work had so affected her that she decided to travel to Siena to study art with Luigi Mussini at the Istituto di Belle Arti (later to become the Accademia di Belle Arti). Livi writes of Luigia: "Giovinetta ancora mostro singolare talento per la pittura. Da' genitori apprese i rudimenti del disegno: e lo ingegno fecondo, il forte volere, un intelletto del bello squisitissimo La fecero ben presto pittrice" (i). In 1863 Luigia Piaggio married her art instructor Luigi Mussini. Their brief union, which lasted only 20 months, produced two daughters, Giulietta and Luisa. Only through Luigia's paintings would her daughters, both proving to be artistically gifted, come to know their mother.
Luisa's father was famous Sienese artist Luigi Mussini, born in Berlin on December 19, 1813. One of four children, his father Natale (from Modena, 1765-1837) was chapel-master in Berlin at the court of William 11 of Prussia. Luigi's mother, Giuliana Sarti (1776-1842), was the daughter of the famous musician Giuseppe Sarti (1729-1802). Given the artistic propensities of the respective families, Luigi Mussini was sent to Florence to study art, music and literature. During his time at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, he was drawn to the great masters of the 14th- and 15th-century, "whose work he admired for their purity and expressive dignity" (Uzzani). Working in the Purist style, (3) his art garnered much critical attention, and in 1851 he was appointed Director of the Istituto di Belle Arte in Siena, where he later established a school dedicated to the pursuit of the Purist style. There he fostered the emergence of such artists as Alessandro Franchi (who would later become his son-in-law), Angelo Visconti, and Amos Cassioli. It was into this environment that Luisa was born.
I first came to know of Luisa Mussini Franchi, the sculptor and painter, through her correspondence with Italian naturalist writer, Mario Pratesi, after the death of her husband Alessandro Franchi. In these letters, I discovered that, in addition to being a respected artist, she was also a published poet and author of a biographical work on her husband. The book titled Alessandro Franchi e le sue opere is a sentimental biographical catalogue of Franchi's paintings and frescoes, each canvas accompanied by commentaries by famous contemporaries. Among the items included in the book, we find two sonnets penned by Luisa, both inspired by her husband's paintings, as well as descriptions of several other artistic compositions. Further evidence of her poetic creativity may be found in a group of five unedited poems sent to Pratesi for his consideration and comment, titled "Rimembranze Pratesi" (see Appendix A). The only other extant samples of her poetry are located in the archives of the Biblioteca degli Intronati in Siena: a sonnet and an acrostic poem commissioned by Sienese relatives and published on the occasion of the nuptials of the lawyer Antonio Ansaldo (Luisa's cousin) and Romilda Cichero (see Appendix C). (It is interesting to note that, while Luisa was composing these touching verses, Franchi was commissioned to execute a painting with a religious theme for the same occasion--Madonna col bambino [Mussini Franchi 193]). Further, research into Luisa's literary career has led to the discovery of several articles of a religious nature, which she wrote for the journal Voce della carita, published in Siena by Tipografia S. Caterina. One of these articles, titled "Una grande santa mal conosciuta (sulle tracce di un gran libro) (1910)", is a brief reflection on the life of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, a 16th-century nun and cofounder of the Visitation Order. In a letter written by Luisa Anzoletti to Alessandro Franchi dated October 2, 1888, Anzoletti refers to an article by Luisa which appeared in the journal Pro Patria Nostra, published prior to the date of the correspondence. As secretary for the group Apostolato di Carita, under the protection of St. Catherine of Siena, Luisa published many annual reports on the charitable work performed by the group.
In the months following Franchi's death, Luisa wrote an extraordinary number of letters to Pratesi soliciting his help as one of Franchi's remaining close friends and as a respected author. Pratesi identified contributors and offered assistance and guidance in the planning and publication of a volume containing images and commentary on all the paintings and frescoes executed by her husband during his long and illustrious career. The volume Alessandro Franchi e le sue opere represents the only comprehensive, accurate, well-documented account of Franchi's life and works, with contributions by the many talented, highly regarded authors and art critics of the period, such as Luisa Anzoletti, Cesare Guasti, Guido Botto, and Eliseo Battaglia. With Pratesi's assistance, Luisa ensured that Franchi's artistic legacy would be remembered outside of Prato and the medieval walls of Siena.
During the latter part of 1914, Luisa wrote to Pratesi to request that he speak about Franchi and his works during the ceremonies planned in the city of Prato to commemorate the anniversary of Franchi's death. Luisa Anzoletti, a close friend of both the couple and Pratesi, wrote in the Rassegna Nazionale, as transcribed by Luisa Mussini Franchi in a letter to Pratesi dated June 26, 1914:
Per approfondire la concezione estetica dei lavori a cui egli ha raccomandato il suo nome, sarebbe desiderabile che la penna del Guasti fosse ripresa da uno scrittore di originale e acuto senso critico e di intendimento artistico profondo, come Mario Pratesi, che fu del Franchi amico carissimo (4).
This letter not only marks the beginning of a long conversation between Luisa and Pratesi concerning both the book and the dedication ceremonies at the Museo Comunale in Prato, but it also marks the beginning of a deeper relationship that would see the two sharing a profound friendship, until Pratesi's death in 1921.
The Pratesi archive provides the evidence that, in addition to being a talented sculptor, painter, and illustrator, Luisa was a published author. In a letter to Pratesi dated November 13, 1914, she refers to a sonnet she had written to accompany the image of Franchi's Addolorata for the book she was preparing (see Appendix B). In a response to Luisa, written during this same period, Pratesi comments as follows on a collection of her poems published in book form and sent to him as a gift:
Chiudo ora il libro delle sue memorie religiose, e me ne rimane un eco nel cuore con un senso di calma che prima di quella lettera non c'era. Lei mi assicura delia sincerita e della gentilezza buona [?] delle sue rime. Io penso come bene si accordasse quel suono della sua lira alie immagini dipinte dal suo Sandrino, e anche da Lei che dove avere tanta parte nelle ispirazioni buone e belle del suo compagno. Non le dispiaccia che io le distingua queste sue poesie che piu mi sono piaciute per la placita loro serenita non gioconda invero ma religiosamente mesta, e anche per 1'eleganza dei verso e 1'affettuosa sua felicita dei pensiero; e queste sono il primo sonetto ove la stella risplende sulle quiete immagini del mattino il Buon Pastore, "Dio Amore", "Sant Agnese", "La Croce", "A Sua Giacinta": piu vivo in questa mi risplende il fervore gentile che del resto e in tutti i suoi versi (5).
Sadly, I have not yet been able to identify or locate the book to which Pratesi is referring. This text represents one more missing piece of this talented woman's artistic life.
From a letter dated November 2, 1915, we learn that Luisa sent Pratesi five poems for his consideration and critical review. These were inspired by her visit to Prato on the occasion of the dedication of a room in the Museo Comunale to the work of her husband and the unveiling of a plaque at Franchi's place of birth. From this same letter, we understand that Pratesi must have commented positively on other poems sent to him, since she thanks him for the kind words: "Le sono tanto grata delle buone parole che mi dice, anche per i miei poveri versi: e cio mi da coraggio mandarle anche cinque sonetti che Prato m'ispiro". At the moment, these five sonnets, two poems located in the archive of the Biblioteca degli Intronati and those in her husband's biography written by her, remain the only illustration of Luisa's poetic style available to us.
In order to understand Luisa's style as we experience it in the limited scope of the extant poems, we must look to her sculptures and paintings, both those on which she worked independently and those on which she collaborated with her husband. Important influences on the formation of Luisa's artistic identity were, of course her father, Luigi Mussini, her husband Alessandro Franchi, and likely also the Sienese sculptor and close friend of Luigi Mussini, Giovanni Dupre. (6) A quick survey of both her father's artistic production and that of her husband reveals that the dominant concerns of these artists are religious in nature. Their paintings typify the Purist school, which is characterized by works that re-adopt the 15th-century Italian tradition of spiritual and religious themes. In the catalogue for the 2007 exhibit housed in Santa Maria della Scala, Nel segno di Ingres: Luigi Mussini e I'accademia d'Europa nell'Ottocento, Villari observes that Luisa's art reflects "il richiamo alie piu illustri radiei della tradizione toscana, ma anche l'eco di suggestioni preraffaellite" (288). These stylized features reminiscent of the "illustrious Tuscan tradition," (288) referred to by Villari, are not only visible in Luisa's sculptures and paintings, but also very much present in her limited poetic compositions.
It is through Luisa's correspondence with Pratesi that we gain insight into aspects of her professional life and personality and better understand why she did not embrace the avant-garde poetics of the period. In these letters, we discover that Luisa, a member of the educated Sienese upper class, was devoted to Franchi and committed to the religious ideals of her time and place. She speaks of her marital life as an "apostolato". Research into her personal life reveals a woman involved actively in her community; both she and Franchi fostered a very close rapport with Mother Savina Petrilli (founder of the congregation of the Poor Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena), who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988. Mother Savina, in turn, commissioned from the couple many paintings with a religious subject matter, most of which are located in the Chiesa di S. Elisabetta della Visitazione. In this small church, designed by Sienese architect Agenore Socini and completed in 1901, we find Luisa's painting of 5. Antonio da Padova, two small bronzes (Santa Cecilia and San Giorgio) and a collaborative painting with her husband titled Stimmate di S. Caterina da Siena. Luisa's faith also manifests itself in her relationship with intimate friends like Pratesi, who, she is concerned, has distanced himself from God. In her letters, Luisa repeatedly encourages Pratesi to pray for strength and guidance. The ideals of humility and unpretentiousness, qualities that also emanate from her sculptures and paintings, (7) are clearly present in her letters to Pratesi, even in the manner in which she perceives and writes about her own artistic and literary limitations. (8)
The sonnets discovered among Luisa's letters to Pratesi are written in hendecasyllables, an alternate rhyme scheme of ABAB in the quatrains, and varying patterns in the tercets, typical of the 13th-century dolce stil novo. Not only do these poems maintain the structural features of the Stilnovisti sonnet but, it would appear, the poets of the dolce stil novo and Petrarch served as models of artistic expression. Yet, as we explore the form and language of the poems, we discover that Petrarch was not the only male model to influence Luisa's style; we also hear echoes of Carducci and Leopardi in her verses. It is interesting to note that, even though Luisa Mussini Franchi had a long-standing friendship with author and poet Luisa Anzoletti, (9) dating as far back as her childhood, Anzoletti's compositional schemas do not appear to have had an impact on Luisa's poetry, (10) nor, for that matter, did the work of other female figures of her time, women such as Confessa Lara (1849-1896) and Vittoria Aganoor Pompilj (1855-1910), whose sensibilities and subject matter were quite different from those of Luisa. Of these post-Risorgimento female poets, Luisa is the most traditional. During a period when the feminist movement, in its infancy, is taking shape, and female writers are searching for a voice of their own, Luisa holds true to traditional themes, values and life experiences and does not participate in or embrace this pivotal moment for women (Wood 1011). Luisa looks, instead, to male poets as models for her verses. She speaks of love, loss and faith, communicating her sentiments in a voice that may not be considered truly her own. Certainly, a discussion of feminism in the Italian Ottocento is beyond the scope of this essay, but we must acknowledge that, in post-Unification Italy, women writers began to assert their presence and to seek recognition, equality, and emancipation (Wood 10-11).
How, then, does one read Luisa's "Rimembranze Pratesi" and her other poems? The answer to this question, I believe, is contained in the letters to Pratesi and in her reflections on her husband and their marriage, which are expressed in Alessandro Franchi e le sue opere. In a letter dated November 2, 1915, Luisa provides the key with which we may approach her poetry when she confides to Pratesi that she was sending him "cinque sonetti che Prato m'ispiro". Through the intense personal memories evoked during Luisa's stay in Prato on the occasion of the dedication at the Museo Comunale and at Franchi's childhood home, this collection of five sonnets forms an idealized trajectory of the artist's life from birth to death and beyond. The poems are personal, biographical, and an unmediated expression of the author; Luisa does not distance herself from the sentiments communicated. Given this context, I feel that it is possible to use these two figures outside the context of the Carteggio and extend this view to my reading of the poems. I prefer, therefore, to use the proper name of the speaker, that is Luisa, and of her interlocutor, Alessandro Franchi, rather than to use the more neutral "lyric subject" or "poetic voice" and addressee when discussing the poems contained in the Carteggio inedito di Mario Pratesi.
The Luisa crafting her art in the "Rimembranze Pratesi," appears autobiographical, while in the latter four poems presented in this essay (those published in Alessandro Franchi e le sue opere [Mussini Franchi 61, 217] and the two sonnets dedicated to Antonio Ansaldo and Romilda Cichero), Luisa is engaged in an abstract manner, exploring themes of faith, Christian love, and marriage, and not her own sentiments. Here the poet is detached from the subject matter and is composing poetry to demonstrate her ability; therefore I will use the more conventional mode of analyzing these poems by referring to the lyric voice or addressee.
In the letters to Pratesi and in her husband's biography, the reader feels Luisa's deep affection and admiration for him, as well as the loneliness she experiences after his death. These sentiments are mirrored in the poems in the Pratesi archive; all the compositions lament Franchi's passing and convey the belief in his spiritual presence, together with her conviction that his life's work--dedicated almost exclusively to sacred themes--had earned him a place before God. The gentle rhythm of the verses reveals the speaker Luisa as a humble, kind soul whose life was dedicated to honouring God. In Franchi's biography, Luisa describes the artistic life she shared with her husband as an apostolate.
The titles of the first four poems refer to inanimate objects that elicit powerful images of Franchi in the speaker's mind; only the last poem--"La tua sorella"--is titled differently. It is a poetic account of Luisa's encounter with her sister-in-law on that occasion. In the first sonnet, "Dov'egli nacque" (see Appendix A), Franchi's childhood home is personified, invoked as the only remaining witness to the birth of the man who would be her husband. The poem, though permeated by a perhaps desperate nostalgia, remains hopeful and full of enduring love. In this poem we see the first execution of the Petrarchan model. The noun "luci" describes Franchi's eyes, a feature reminiscent of the Stilnovisti. Other examples of the application of the conventions of earlier canonical poets is the presence of the term 'Tumi"; consider Canzone XXXVII of the Canzoniere, "m'ascondon que' duo lumi" or LIX "e T volger de' duo lumi honesti et belli" as only two of several poems by Petrarch, in which Luisa's poetizing resembles that of Petrarch. A more modern model may be found in Leopardi, particularly in his canzone "Bruto Minore", where we find the phrase "la terrena pieta" echoed in "la terrena vita" found in the above sonnet. Luisa's voice, humble and unassuming, is that of a woman devoted to both her husband and God. The unpretentious nature of the poet is conveyed by such terms and expressions as "dolcezza", "pochezza", "umile", "casetta", "alia sua gloria". This tone is sustained throughout the poems and lends itself effectively to the general softness of the rhythmic form and nature of the sentiments expressed.
Also of interest in this sonnet is the juxtaposition of verbs "aprire" and "chiudere". The poem begins with the clause "Umile casa, ove le luci aprio", referring to Franchi's birth, and ends with the line "casa che chiudi la dolce memoria". These verses give clear expression to a concern for the themes of life and death, set the tone for the poems which follow, and establish the structure for the collection of poems. We note that the first poem speaks of Franchi's birth, while the last conveys the sense of emptiness generated by his demise.
In the second poem, "La spola" (see Appendix A) Luisa addresses Franchi with these words, "Quando passando dalla tua cassetta". Ffere, she imagines him as a child, when his tiny hands would wind thread on a bobbin or when, seated on the floor, he would be absorbed in his sketches of horses and soldiers. The first glimmer of personal suffering and sense of loss at Franchi's death appear in the final verse, "Or della spola tua s'e gia spezzato / il fil d'oro, e la Madonna e i Santi, / che ritraesti, or gia godi beato". Despite her pain, Luisa finds comfort in her belief in the afterlife.
In the sonnet "La spola", the reader experiences echoes of both Leopardi's and Carducci's poems. The description of Franchi's childhood--"rivedervi fanciulletto a quello / Intento"--recalls Leopardi's remembrance of Silvia in the homonymous poem: "all'opre femminili intenta / Sedevi"; both poets use the adjective "intento", with the obvious change in the grammatical gender of the adjective "intento". Both subjects are focused on the task at hand, and in the idealized recollection of the moment. The phrase "la piccoletta mano" interestingly recalls Carducci's "Pianto antico", a poem dedicated to the poet's deceased child in which we find: "l'albero a cui tendevi la pargoletta mano". Yet, unlike Carducci's poem, where death is the end of all things, where the possibility of an afterlife is not contemplated, Luisa's poems overflow with her conviction in the hereafter, which brings with it reunion with the departed and a continued journey.
Luisa' use of the word "filo", a conventional trope in poetry and prose, is reminiscent of Canzone XXXVII of Petrarch's Canzoniere, "Si e debile il filo a cui s'atten / la gravosa mia vita". The metaphorical "filo" indicating the life-line of the individual, echoes the title of this poem, "La spola". The imagery associated with the thread of life recurs in the poem. Consider the verse, "awolgendo il fil sopra il cannello", where the child is winding thread onto a bobbin, signifying perhaps the working out of his own life and destiny; and later in the same composition, we read "or della spola tua s'e gia spezzato". The reference here is to Franchi's death, visualized as the snapping of the thread of life. Furthermore, this term has a particular association with Franchi's own life in that his mother, a seamstress, as Luisa recounts in Franchi's biography, spent her evenings sewing for clients in order to help meet the financial needs to the family (Mussini Franchi 10).
In the sonnet "In Duomo" (see Appendix A) Luisa addresses the Cathedral di Santo Stefano in Prato, where she admires the image of the Redeemer painted by Franchi, which adorns the city walls within which he prayed as a child. The church also marks the site where Franchi began to learn his craft or, as Luisa considers it, his "apostolato," studying and admiring the frescoes of the life of the Saint Stephen painted by Filippo Lippi between 1452 and 1466. The phrase "dolce memoria" echoes Petrarch's "dolce ne la memoria" from "Chiare, fresche et dolci acque", while the presence of the noun "travaglio" is reminiscent of 14th-cenfury usage. In this poem Luisa also alludes to Franchi's artistic style when she writes, "alia sincera / Arte sua pura si venia addestrando". In his study of the works of Filippo Lippi, Franchi came to understand and to develop his own artistic sensibility. This would take him to Siena to study his craft with Luigi Mussini, founder of the artistic school of Purism.
The fourth poem, "La sala 'Alessandro Franchi'" (see Appendix A) continues Luisa's dialogue with her beloved. She remembers Franchi's desire to donate his work to his childhood city of Prato. She recounts the inauguration, in May 1915, of the room dedicated to his works. The verses, "E d'alloro intessea serto onorato / D'un eletto scrittor l'alto linguaggio", may in fact allude to Pratesi, who had been asked by Luisa to speak on the occasion of the inauguration, and who had praised Franchi's artistic achievements in his speech. (11)
In the last sonnet, "La tua sorella" (see Appendix A) Luisa, still speaking to Franchi, finally reveals her profound sense of loss. Her verses recall the image of the broken thread of life in her earlier poem when she writes, "Par che rinsaldi le spezzate anella". Her words have no religious overtones, nor is she comforted by her faith. She finally speaks of her "dolore"; it is not masked by metaphors or religious conventions, and she acknowledges the tears she has shed and continues to shed. These verses seem to repeat the words of her introduction to Franchi's biography: "Se le lacrime potessero scrivere, quante pagine gia direbbero di te, [...] Ma tacciono le lacrime mie cocenti, e la penna trema nelle mani [...] Ma scrivero, o Compagno mio dolcissimo [...]" (1). Furthermore, when we view the original images of the letter in the Carteggio inedito di Mario Pratesi website, we notice that he had intervened in the poem, offering alternatives to the last line of the first tercet and the first line of the second tercet, suggestions which enhance the rhythm of the lines. The light in the eyes of Franchi's sister is juxtaposed to the tears that fill Luisa's. For the first time Luisa acknowledges her sorrow in fully human terms and not through the filter of her religious beliefs. The reader cannot but be moved by her simple yet deep affection. The verse "Di pianto gli occhi miei son pieni" recalls Petrarch's Canzoniere XXXVII ("occhi di sempre pianger vaghi'), LUI ("gli occhi di dolor bagnati e molli"), LV ("gli occhi tristi versar sempre") and CXXXV ("cosi gli occhi miei piangono d'ogni tempo"). In the final line of Luisa's sonnet, "e me stringi sul cuore", we hear echoes from "La sera del di di festa" by Leopardi who writes "mi stringeva il core".
In analyzing the sonnets the reader is struck by three recurring themes: Luisa's love for Franchi, her quiet sorrow at his loss, and a refusal to succumb fully to that sorrow. The diction reveals the essence of her soul, both as a woman and an artist; words and phrases, such as "umile", "casetta", "fanciulletto", "pochezza", "le dolci memorie", and "amato", evoke the image of a humble, sensitive woman sustained and encouraged by her faith and love. These same qualities are reflected in her volume Alessandro Franchi e le sue opere. Here, approximately two months after Franchi's death, Luisa laments his passing in the following terms: "... le feste di questa terra sono ormai chiuse per la tua Luisina: ma dal 29 Aprile si sono aperte per lei, in una luce piu radiosa, le eterne feste del Cielo!" (1). The poet's humility, gentle fervour, spirituality, and serenity are evident in these poems, giving substance to Pratesi's observations on the style and content of the lost poems.
Two poems by Luisa, published in her book Alessandro Franchi e le sue opere, written to accompany Franchi's painting of the "Madonna Addolorata" (see Appendix B) and the "Sacro Cuore di Gesu" (12) (see Appendix B) read as hymns or prayers. These compositions are verbal transcriptions of Franchi's images; not only do the poems verbalize the theme of the paintings, they also present the emotions elicited when one is standing before the works described. In a letter dated November 13, 1914, Luisa explains to Pratesi why she decided to publish, in Alessandro Franchi e lesue opere, her sonnet on the image of the "Madonna Addolorata" instead of one penned by Anzoletti. She confides,
ma devo dirle che per l'Addolorata avevo gia scelto una bella pagina di Luisa Anzoletti, ed anche un mio povero sonetto, non per la sfacciataggine di preferire i miei versi ai Suoi, ma per contentare un poco anche il cuore che ha pur le sue esigenze: e a Sandrino questo sonetto era caro (13).
The sonnet that accompanies the image of the "Madonna Addolorata" is written in the canonical ABAB rhyme scheme. Here, we experience Luisa's religious fervour as she reflects on the theme of suffering. The sonnet begins with an invocation to the Virgin Mary. The reader is reminded of the Virgin's suffering as she witnesses her son's crucifixion, as well as her continued suffering through the ages due to mankind's sinfulness. The crown of thorns worn by the Madonna mirrors the one worn by Christ, a Christian symbol of pain and suffering. The metaphorical use of the noun "spine" refers to the thorns, the superficiality of human existence, removed from divine grace and distanced from God, that pierce the heart of the Virgin. The poem concludes with a reflection on personal suffering and a prayer that, in the afterlife, one may be rewarded for one's earthly woes and tribulations. In this poem Luisa makes use of 13th-century religious imagery expressed through the deployment of nouns and adjectives such as "ovil" (sheep-fold), "alma" (soul), "oblio" (forgetfulness), terms that typically appear in the medieval lyric.
In the introductory paragraph which accompanies the image of the "S. Cuore di Gesu", found in Franchi's biography penned by Luisa not only does she outline the challenges faced by Franchi in executing this commission, she also provides her own interpretation and critique of the painting, commenting: "lo sguardo del Cristo ha una profonda, mestissima dolcezza" (217). The sweet melancholy of the image is reflected in the sentiment conveyed by the lyric voice of the sonnet, as are the ideas of devotion to the Sacred Fleart of Christ as set out by the Catholic Church in the twelve promises made to man by God through St. Margaret Mary Alacoque. The poetic voice imagines the figure of Christ who invites the devout to consecrate oneself to "His sacred heart," to offer his/her sufferings to Him. The Christ figure, as depicted, welcomes back to the fold all those who seek Him, offering a safe haven for the down-trodden. The reader is invited to renounce deceptive earthly pleasures in order to find eternal peace in Christ. Pratesi praised Luisa's religious poems for "la placita loro serenita non gioconda invero ma religiosamente mesta, e anche per l'eleganza del verso e l'affettuosa sua felicita del pensiero (14)". These verses convey a corresponding sense of peace and hope. Luisa indicates in that the last verse of the poem was dictated to her by her husband Alessandro Franchi, as she struggled to complete the poem (Mussini Franchi 217).
The last two poems (15) (also sonnets, with one being in the form of an acrostic), commissioned to celebrate the marriage of Antonio Ansaldo and Romilda Cichero (see Appendix C), contain elements clearly derived from the Petrarchan and Stilnovist traditions. The sonnet is written in an ABBA rhyme scheme. The poetic form is consistent with Luisa's style and temperament: simple, humble and without artifice. The two poems commissioned for the young couple explore the theme of love experienced within the confines of Christian belief.
The first composition is a celebration of the wonders of love which, we are told, can only be truly lived if blessed by the sacrament of marriage. It is this human earthly depiction of love that distinguishes this poem from much of the love poetry and religious poetry of the 14th -century. The images are reminiscent of medieval poetic diction such as "fiore" (flower), "affanni" (love's woes), "lieto albore" (pleasant day break), "musa" (muse). The presence of archaic terms such as "vanni" (wings), "sorridea" (smiled), "temea" (feared) further position the model for this sonnet in the Middle Ages. The religious sentiment, never far from Luisa's mind in her compositions, is expressed in the final verses of this poem. We read of blessings from heaven bestowed on the couple through the gift of children, which the sacrament of marriage bestows, children who will bless the union and ensure that love continues to flourish in the relationship.
In the acrostic poem (see Appendix C), the newlyweds are addressed "In questi nomi che il mio verso esprime". The poem is dominated, by a religious tone that celebrates the union of a man and woman before God. The common metaphor of the journey of marriage, found in the opening lines, parallels the artistic creation of the acrostic "sbocciato" in their honour. The poet is very much aware that she is not creating new or original images or expressions of love or marriage, and she apologizes for her lack of poetic innovation (we could expect no less from this humble writer). The poem concludes with a wish for eternal love.
Luisa's life within the medieval walls of Siena sheltered her from the modern wave of change that affected and impacted the Italian artistic and poetic worlds of the late Ottocento. The fact that she worked quietly in the shadow of her famous father, Luigi Mussini, and that of her well-known husband, Alessandro Franchi sheltered metaphorically her from the modern trends of post-Risorgimento Italy. She embraced traditional life, governed by religion, and made visible in the religious iconography that surrounded her both in the city itself and in the artistic production of her father and husband. This view is further supported by her charitable work and close association with Mother Savina Petrilli. Luisa herself informs us of the comfort she felt in her isolated domestic life in her book Alessandro Franchi e le sue opere.
In the lyrical work presented in this essay, it is clear that Luisa Mussini Franchi is not influenced by the Decadentismo of her day, such as the Scapigliatura of the 1860s and 1870s, nor with those of the Crepuscolari of the first decade of the 20th-century. Unlike these poets, Luisa, in her poetic style, demonstrates a desire to adhere the traditional poetic metre and themes of the dolce stil novo. The characteristics of modern, post-Risorgimento movement are absent in her poetic and artistic temperament. A humble, unpretentious woman, she is not in any way attracted to radical or innovative movements; rather her work is reminiscent of the great tradition of Italian lyrical and religious poetry as she looks to the linguistic and poetic models of the dolce stil novo for inspiration.
Appendix A: Rimembranze Pratesi (16)
Dov'egli nacque Umile casa, ove le luci aprio II mio diletto alia terrena vita, Vedi quale mestissimo desio A revederti omai sempre m'invita. Una lastra, una dedica, con pio Pensier quella casetta a tutti addita, E de' lumi cui all'uom fe' dono Iddio Dall'alto esempio a trar profitto incita. Altro linguaggio a me tu parli, umile Casa che chiudi la dolce memoria: Tu ricordi che a me era serbato, Nella dolcezza di un sereno aprile, Unir la mia pochezza alia sua gloria, Dargli il mio cuore e risentirlo amato. La spola Quando passando dalla tua casetta Il guardo levo all'umil finestrello, Ove la mamma tua della spoletta Il moto conducea rapido e snello, Quasi la mente innamorata aspetta Te rivedervi fanciulletto a quello Intento, e docil con la piccioletta Mano awolgendo il fil sopra il cannello. O ti riveggo sulle lastre assorto Con la brace a ritrar cavalli e fanti Della pia procession di Gesu morto Or della spola tua s'e gia spezzato Il fil d'oro, e la Madonna e i Santi, Che ritraesti, or gia godi beato. In Duomo O sante mura, archi vetusti e austera Volta, ove lo spirito cercando Pace al travaglio diuturno, a sera Si raccoglie e consola a quando a quando, Tra voi saliva l'infantil preghiera Del mio diletto, e qui l'occhio educando Di Filippo nell'opra, alia sincera Arte sua pura si venia addestrando E un di la mano sulle sante mura Condusse a pennellar le sacre storie Di Cristo Redentor nunzio e figura. Or siete voi tra le fulgide glorie Che al mio diletto l'arte sua procura, E del mio cor tra le dolci memorie. La sala "Alessandro Franchi' E qui raccolto tu volesti, o amato, Della vasta opra tua non piccol saggio. Di', lo vedesti? Era fiorito il maggio Quando il pensiero suo memore e grato Ti volgea con gentil, solenne omaggio, Quivi adunata, la diletta Prato E d'alloro intessea serto onorato D'un eletto scrittor l'alto linguaggio. E mentre il plauso risuonava intorno, Io te solo sentiva a me d'appresso, Quasi facessi tra di noi ritorno [in Pratesi's hand: Come se tu facessi a noi ritorno] [in Pratesi's hand: Ti e lontano e ognora] Lunge e oramai quel di, ma torna ancora Il cor da tante rimembranze oppresso, A rivederti qual ti vide allora. La tua sorella Umile e buona presso a me scalzetta Con agil moto la tua pia sorella, E mentre rapida avanza la soletta Ella con semplicita meco favella. Io ad ascoltar, ella a dir si diletta Del tempo antico che mai si cancella Dalla memoria [sic]: anzi vivace e schietta Par che rinsaldi le spezzate anella. Cosi di te mi narra, e ne' sereni Occhi riluce il suo fraterno amore Mentre di pianto gli occhi miei son pieni. E forse al suo richiamo e al mio dolore, Tacito ed invisibile ti vieni: A lei sorridi e me stringi sul cuore
Appendix B: Alessandro Franchi e le sue opere (17)
Madonna Addolorata O madre di dolor, che queste spine, Alla Fronte adorata appena tolte. Muta contempli, e duol senza confine. Tutte le senti nel tuo cor rivolte; Ah! Non piangi per te, ma le ruine Piangi dell'alme, dietro a vane e stolte Gioie perdute, e, rawedute alfine, Tutte vorresti nell'Ovil raccolte. O madre, dona pure a me 1'oblio Del mio penar, e piu celeste ardore Sol degli erranti desti in me desio: Ed ogni spina che mi punga il core Si posso dir: "t'offro l'affanno mio. Ma tu un'anima dammi, almen, Signore". Sacro Cuore "Venite a me"--Cosi del Cuor piu santo A noi si volge l'amoroso invito; E a lui risponde, gemito infinito, Il mesto suono dell'umano pianto. Voce d'amor, si volge a te, smarrito Di folli gioie nel fatale incanto; A te si volge, mesto core infranto, Finor lontano dal suo amor fuggito. Aperto e il Cor: ah! II pianto tuo s'asconda Nella dolce ferita, ed al fallace Gaudio terren non piu il tuo cor risponda. Allor, se in Lui racchiuso, adora e tace, Dira nella dolcezza che l'inonda: "Ecco l'asilo dell'eterna pace".
Appendix C: Poems commissioned to celebrate the marriage of Antonio Ansaldo and Romilda Cichero (18)
Quando di giovinezza il vago flore A me pur sorridea, e degli affanni, Or gia passati, non temea gl'inganni L'alma dischiusa appena al lieto albore, La mia musa gioconda aperse i vanni E di gioia canto: un santo amore Due cuori unia, ne in lor vien meno o muore Per sorger di vicende o volger d'anni. Volgero gli anni, e nei diletti figli Del benedetto amor videro il segno Firmato in Ciel dagli eterni consigli. Or si rinnova nel connubio eletto Del caro Figlio quell'amor si degno, E in Lui dal Ciei di nuovo e benedetto. A voi, cui s'apre la novella via Nel santo affetto innanzi a Dio giurato Tornar gradito forse non potria O cari, il verso ch'e per voi sbocciato? Non degli antichi vaga leggiadria In questo ritrovar vi sara dato, O strana novita di poesia; Render pero un suono a voi ben grato Or si presume che vi scenda al core Molcendovi l'orecchio in sua dolcezza: In questi nomi che il mio verso esprime Leggete, o Cari, come una carezza D'eterna unione, d'inviolato amore Augurio ardente espresso in queste rime.
(1) I would like to express my thanks and gratitude to Corrado Federici for his support and assistance in clarifying the ideas expressed in this essay.
(2) The Carteggio inedito di Mario Pratesi is a web-based archive composed of a collection of approximately 1500 unedited letters sent to and by Italian novelist Mario Pratesi. The archive can be accessed at the following website: http:// pratesi.vicu.utoronto.ca.
(3) Purism is an artistic Italian movement that emerged between 1830 and 1840. It was bom in Rome as a movement when, in 1843, A. Bianchini wrote Del purismo delle arti. The artists of the Purist school re-proposed the style, classical composition, and spiritual themes of the 14th- and 15th- century art, imitating the manner of expression of such artists as Giotto, Beato Angelico, Da Vinci and Raffaello.
(4) Letter from Luisa Mussini Franchi to Mario Pratesi, 1914-06-26 Carteggio inedito di Mario Pratesi (accessed April 14, 2013).
(5) Letter from Mario Pratesi to Luisa Mussini Franchi, 1914-11-verso-il-30, Carteggio inedito di Mario Pratesi (accessed April 14, 2013).
(6) See the correspondence between Mussini and Dupre, Scritti minori e lettere di Giovanni Dupre; con un'appendice ai suoi Ricordi autobiografici per Luigi Venturing Firenze: Le Monnier, 1882. Consider Luisa Mussini's Deh ... Non la destate, also referred to as La bambina dormente today located in the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena. The pose, subject matter, and sentiment have similarities with Dupre's II sonno dell'Innocenza (1844-1845), today located in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena.
(7) It is documented that, after her marriage to Franchi, Luisa assisted him with his work. In Alessandro Franchi e le sue opere, she writes, "Fin dal primo anno della nostra unione avemmo occasione di lavorare insieme ad affresco: (nei primi tempi naturalmente il mio aiuto era piti di garzone che di collaboratore) ... chiesa del Carmine, dove nel secondo affresco, eseguito appunto nel 1892, egli aveva voluto segnare il mio nome" (52).
(8) Consider, for example, her words to Pratesi: "Capisco che non ho saputo dirle abbastanza e la mia riconoscenza e la mia ammirazione: compatisca la incapacite della mia penna" (Carteggio inedito di Mario Pratesi, letter from Luisa Mussini Franchi to Mario Pratesi dated 1914-11-13).
(9) Luisa Anzoletti is the author of Luigi Mussini's biography, Epistolario artistico di Luigi Mussini colla vita di lui scritta da Luisa Anzoletti. Siena: Libreria edit, di I. Gati, 1893. Letters belonging to Luisa Anzoletti deposited in the Biblioteca Comunale di Trento reveal a prolific correspondence with Alessandro Franchi. In a letter to him dated October 2, 1888, Anzoletti refers to Luisa and her sister as "le mie sorelline." Furthermore, Anzoletti was contacted by Luisa Mussini Franchi to contribute to her book, Alessandro Franchi e le sue opere.
(10) In a letter to Mario Pratesi (Carteggio inedito di Mario Pratesi, 1915-11-02) Luisa comments on Anzoletti's writting style, comparing it to her own, "No, Luisa [Anzoletti] non mi mando le Sue poesie [Canti dell'ora], ed io le comprai a Firenze. Ammiro come sempre il valore della nostra Arnica, ma, per esser sincera devo dire che non tutto mi piace di questi nuovi canti. Io scrivo anche troppo alia buona, lo so: ma che proprio per scriver bene s'abbia ad essere oscuri non mi parrebbe necessaria. Che ne dice Lei, caro Professore?"
(11) For a copy of the speech given by Mario Pratesi, see Pratesi, M. "Alessandro Franchi", Rassegna Nazionale (1 giugno 1915).
(12) In 1915, when Luisa wrote Alessandro Franchi e le sue opere, this painting was located in the Cappella dell'Istituto del Sacro Cuore a Pomarance (Pisa). The work was completed in 1894.
(13) Letter from Luisa Mussini Franchi to Mario Pratesi, 1914-11-13, Carteggio inedito di Mario Pratesi (accessed April 14, 2013).
(14) Letter from Mario Pratesi to Luisa Mussini Franchi, 1914-11-verso-il-30, Carteggio inedito di Mario Pratesi (accessed April 14, 2013).
(15) From the archives of the donation made by the Estate of Luisa Mussini Franchi to the Biblioteca degli Intronati in Siena, 1910, [mis. sen. C 75 #7],
(16) Poems were included in the letter sent to Mario Pratesi dated 1915-11-02 found in the Carteggio inedito di Mario Pratesi.
(17) Mussini Franchi, L. Alessandro Franchi e le sue opere. Siena: Stabilimento Tipografico S. Bernardino, 1915, p. 61, p. 217.
(18) From the archives of the donation made by the Estate of Luisa Mussini Franchi to the Biblioteca degli Intronati in Siena, 1910, [mis. sen. C 75 #7].
Anzoletti, Luisa. Epistolario artistico di Luigi Mussini colla vita di lui scritta da Luisa Anzoletti. Siena: Libreria edit, di I. Gati, 1893. Print.
Dupre, Giovanni e Luigi Venturini. Scritti minori e lettere di Giovanni Dupre; con un'appendice ai suoi Ricordi autobiografici per Luigi Venturini. Firenze: Le Monnier, 1882. Print.
Livi, Giovanni. Ricordo di Luisa Mussini. Siena: Tipografia dell'Ancora, 1865. Print.
Mussini Franchi, Luisa. Alessandro Franchi e le sue opere. Siena: Stabilimento Tipografico S. Bernardino, 1915. Print.
Mussini Franchi, Luisa. Estate of Luisa Mussini Franchi. Siena: Biblioteca degli Intronati. Print.
Pratesi, Mario. "Alessandro Franchi. Discorso". Testo Monografico. Firenze: Rassegna nazionale, 1915. Print.
Petrarca, Francesco. Canzoniere. Torino: Einaudi, 1966.
Urbancic, Anne e Carmela Colella. Carteggio inedito di Mario Pratesi. E.J.Pratt Library [Toronto], Web.
Uzzani, Giovanna. "Franchi, Alessandro". Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online [Oxford]. Web April 23, 2013.
Villari, Anna. "Luisina Mussini". Nel segno di Ingres: Luigi Mussini e l'Accademia in Europa nell'Ottocento. Sisi e Spalletti (a cura di). Cinisello Balsamo: Silvana Editoriale, 2007. Print.
Wood, Sharon. Italian Women's Writing 1860-1994. London: The Athlone Press, 1995. Print.
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2015|
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