Sunday, 24 August 2014

Il Libro Mio

"If by chance one is disorderly in exercise, in clothes, in coitus or superfluous eating, in a few days it can harm you or even doom you. So you should be prudent in June, July, August and mid September, sweat moderately and most of all beware of the wind after you exercised, and take care in eating and drinking, particularly when you feel warm.
Afterwards, from mid September, get ready for autumn, when, because of the short days and the start of the humid weather, and the humidity of the excess drink you had in the summer, you should prepare yourself by fasting, drinking very little and exercising so that winter colds, finding you not well disposed, might not harm you.
And don't meddle too much with meat, particularly pork, and from mid January on don't eat it at all, that it is fibrous, and bad. And behave moderately, because excess body fluids and catarrh will only appear later on in February, March and April since in winter cold weather freezes them.  
And take care that some times, following the moon phases, one catches cold and immediately everything that's frozen becomes liquid and this might cause dreadful snots and even apoplexy or other dangerous diseases, that everything is caused by this cold temperature: as cold makes you eat and drink too much and everything solidifies, then fairer and humid weather warms it up and it grows and swells. 
And so as I said at the start when you feel congested beware of getting cold when you exercise because it might kill you in a few days. So if you acquired  excess liquids in the winter do as I have above here described and most of all be careful in March, particularly ten days before and ten days after the full moon...that every time the moon fills up it is harmful and it is important to take precautions.
In the year 1555 during the moon that started in March and lasted until the 21st of April, in all that moon pestilent diseases were born that killed many people who were healthy and good and took care of themselves, and everyone was bleeding.
I think what happened was that January wasn't cold and all the cold temperature happened in the March moon, that one could feel a dull and poisonous cold battle the air of the "long days season", which was like listening to fire sizzling in the water, so that I was very scared. 
It is advantageous to be prepared before March moon starts, that she might find you sober in eating, exercised and very mindful of sweating. And don't be surprised that, as soon as [the moon] is over, a man doesn't know why but from feeling ill he will then feel better, as it is happening to me, today 22nd April, first day of the new moon, after I have never really felt any good in the past days.
It must all be because of a certain cold weather that hadn't really finished and had lasted until the 21st; but today, this day I just mentioned, I feel warm and fine because the weather is finally in his own season."

This is a rough translation of the fascinating incipit of Jacopo Pontormo's diary. Written in 1555 and 1556, these few pages, the only ones we have, are a vivid and present testimony that bring the master close to us.

   He was 60 when he wrote this, working at the huge cycle of frescoes in San Lorenzo in Florence ( then completed by Bronzino), now lost apart from some preparatory drawings.
Pontormo cuts a lonely and hypocondriac figure, noting the weather, the food he ate and the bits of work he completed that day. He seems to be writing at the end of each week, as if his notes might help him to device the best conditions for him to work. He records his stomach upsets and the cost of food.
His frequent meals with Bronzino and few others leave him the rest of the day to work, and he never mentions any other distraction. His supper is simple, often only a "fish of egg" ( omelette rolled so that it looks like a fish) and not much else, and accompanied with a few ounces of bread.

There is no glorification of his work, very little pride, just a love for what he does, as he describes finishing the head of a figure, then the next day an arm, then the other one. He writes that he hit his toe against a door or that his assistant has spent the night out at the very time when Jacopo was ill, and " he will never forget this".

   I find his spleen, lunacy and fastidiousness endearing because of the humility that transpires from his words.  "Today 25th March [1556]: the moon is in opposition": the moon governs his life, it's the planet of Mannerism.
Vasari says that in the little house where he lives, across the road from a convent and with a little orchard he tends to, he often climbs up where his bed is, and hauls up the ladder.
In the diary one day he is drawing in his house, perhaps working at this dramatic tangle of falling apart bodies, and he hears Bronzino knocking, then later on his friend Daniello. We can picture him being startled and deciding not to open and continue working. Later on he writes: I don't know what on earth they might have wanted.

The diary ends in October 1556, a few weeks before his death, these are the last entries.

"Monday: I did the head and hair of that boy; I dined, 2 birds.
Tuesday: I woke up one hour before dawn, and I did the torso of that putto that holds a chalice, and the evening I dined, a good wether. but my throat is sore and I can not spit this thing I have.
Today, 11th, Sunday: I went to Certosa. In the evening, I dined.
Today 18th, Sunday, Dined with Piero, wether; and in the evening I dined at Bronzino's fried liver.
Friday it got cold and in the evening we dined in a tavern, Daniello, Giulio, at the Piovano: roasted eel that cost 15 farthing."

I have a connection with Pontormo. His paintings from the Story of Joseph, now in the National Gallery in London, was originally commissioned for a nuptial chamber in the Florentine palazzo Borgherini. After the demise of the Borgherini in 1750 the building was acquired by the Rosselli Del Turco and it's been in our family ever since. 

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