Sunday, February 6, 2011

Quotations on creativity — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Art is the gift of God, and must be used
Unto His glory.…


This quote is found in a dramatic lyrical poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow entitled, Michael Angelo. Longfellow’s illustrated book was published in 1884.

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. Michael Angelo. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1884. 25-26. University of California Libraries/California Digital Library. Web. 5 Feb. 2011.

Head-Piece engraving from the book; S.L. Smith, illustrator. p.7

A scene from the poem: “A Chapel in the Church of San Silvestro. Vittoria Colonna, Claudio Tolommei, and others.” The noblewoman, Vittoria Colonna has received the Pope’s blessing to build a new convent. Caption: Vittoria Colonna, Michael Angelo, and others. In the Chapel of San Silvestro. “If friends of yours, then are they friends of mine. Pardon me, gentlemen. But when I entered I saw but the Marchesa.” Book engraving was illustrated by F. D. Millet. p. 23

The scene begins as the building committee is meeting with Michelangelo. The scene unfolds with Vittoria and Michelangelo discussing the design of the convent. Here are passages from pages 25 and 26 that reveal Longfellow’s quote (I’ve used bold face for emphasis):

But that
Is not what occupies my thoughts at present,
Nor why I sent for you, Messer Michele.
It was to counsel me. His Holiness
Has granted me permission, long desired,
To build a convent in this neighborhood,
Where the old tower is standing, from whose top
Nero looked down upon the burning city.

Michael Angelo.
It is an inspiration!

I am doubtful
How I shall build; how large to make the convent,
And which way fronting.

Michael Angelo.
Ah, to build, to build!
That is the noblest art of all the arts.
Painting and sculpture are but images,
Are merely shadows cast by outward things
On stone or canvas, having in themselves
No separate existence. Architecture,
Existing in itself, and not in seeming
A something it is not, surpasses them
As substance shadow. Long, long years ago,
Standing one morning near the Baths of Titus,
I saw the statue of Laocoön
Rise from its grave of centuries, like a ghost
Writhing in pain; and as it tore away
The knotted serpents from its limbs, I heard,
Or seemed to hear, the cry of agony
From its white, parted lips. And still I marvel
At the three Rhodian artists, by whose hands
This miracle was wrought. Yet he beholds
Far nobler works who looks upon the ruins
Of temples in the Forum here in Rome.
If God should give me power in my old age
To build for Him a temple half as grand
As those were in their glory, I should count
My age more excellent than youth itself,
And all that I have hitherto accomplished
As only vanity.

I understand you.
Art is the gift of God, and must be used
Unto His glory.
That in art is highest
Which aims at this. When St. Hilarion blessed
The horses of Italicus, they won
The race at Gaza, for his benediction
O’erpowered all magic; and the people shouted
That Christ had conquered Marnas. So that art
Which bears the consecration and the seal
Of holiness upon it will prevail
Over all others. Those few words of yours
Inspire me with new confidence to build.
What think you? The old walls might serve, perhaps,
Some purpose still. The tower can hold the bells.

Michael Angelo.
If strong enough.

If not, it can be strengthened. …
Soli Deo Gloria

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