A letter from Tuscany: The Paradise

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Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good Government—a fourteenth-century fresco in the Palazzo Pubblico in the city of Siena, Italy—is an endless source of inspiration for discussing politics, art, and philosophy of the early Italian Renaissance.

Tangent to the traditional way of thinking about it in terms of historical and cultural significance, it is of note that the effects of good government apparently include inhabiting towns in the midst of perfectly calm, dreamy mountainous landscapes, strikingly similar to those of the Val d’Orcia.

The scenery that seems surreal and almost escapist when portrayed by Lorenzetti, no longer creates an impression of dissonance with reality when experienced in person in the middle of Tuscany.

It might be the only place in the world where landscapes almost explicitly implore the viewer to interpret, critique, and philosophize endlessly, promising comparisons and metaphors for ideas great and small. This temptation seems to be more than enough to propel one into a state of overwhelming pleasure, further intensified by suddenly understanding that the panoramas in question are a perfect replica of Dante’s paradise, having escaped the pages of Divine Comedy only to mistakenly infiltrate the dusty reality. Stopped at the point of having achieved perfection, this is an idyllic little world.

Sit back, and allow me to sketch a study of feeling and color, by mixing in different quantities of white into the Terra di Siena ochre.

First, a bold outline of the tranquil hills that possess both the Siennese school’s regularity and somewhat De Chirico-esque poetic solitude, the sight of which takes away any longing for change or innovation.

Next, a greyish hue punctuated by splashes of rouge and green for the slopes of hills with bold dots of trees; a darker brown for the piercingly bare November fields, and the marron glacé beige for the gravel roads. Anywhere else in the world, these barely visible winding pathways, would have induced anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. Here, they are a part of an unfathomable and omnipresent sensation, probably that of beauty supreme, with only a little excessive pathos in this description.

After the windily clear colors comes the final stage of our painting, an excursion into the realms of the unknown and the fascinating, which is the sweetest and the longest part of any voyage. Resurrecting recollections and memories through photos, small artifacts, proving that the magic seeming to be so distant used to be reality for some short amount of time. My moveable Tuscany—in an analogy to the title of Hemingway’s memoir—is, simply and rather indefinitely, the peaceful smell of rosemary, the latte macchiato with perfectly puffy milk, and the total and overwhelming happiness, that could only be compared to the radiant ideality of the fourth movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony.

Yet there is more. There are the boschi – poetically named forests; and the orange soil rich in clay, and the beautiful sun that perpetually tears through dramatically grey clouds, inspiring comparisons to the landscapes of the Romantic era long gone.

Strangely, and liberatingly, the metaphors no longer matter here. Be it Caspar David Friedrich or Giotto, Goethe or Shakespeare, everything makes sense. In this idyllic place, everything is perfectly in line with any reasoning. There are no external or internal conflicts. All the crises are resolved. There doesn’t seem to be a need for impeccable weather, or impeccable writing; there is no more striving to achieve perfection. The fight is already over without having started. There is nowhere farther to go, as this is both the beginning and the end of the way. This is serenity proper, ideal and ecstatic.

Categories: The Argo

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