By Louise de la Ramee

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Public Domain Books

The Child of Urbino

It was in the year of grace 1490, in the reign of Guidobaldo, Lord of Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino,–the year, by the way, of the birth of that most illustrious and gracious lady, Vittoria Colonna.

It was in the spring of the year, in that mountain eyrie beloved of the Muses and coveted of the Borgia, that a little boy stood looking out of a grated casement into the calm, sunshiny day. He was a pretty boy, with hazel eyes, and fair hair cut straight above his brows; he wore a little blue tunic with some embroidery about the throat of it, and had in his hand a little round flat cap of the same color. He was sad of heart this merry morning, for a dear friend of his, a friend ten years older than himself, had gone the night before on a journey over the mountains to Maestro Francesco at Bologna, there to be bound apprentice to that gentle artist. This friend, Timoteo della Vita, had been very dear to the child, had played with him and jested with him, made him toys and told him stories, and he was very full of pain at Timoteo’s loss. Yet he told himself not to mind, for had not Timoteo said to him, “I go as goldsmith’s ’prentice to the best of men; but I mean to become a painter”? And the child understood that to be a painter was to be the greatest and wisest the world held; he quite understood that, for he was Raffaelle, the seven-year-old son of Signor Giovanni Sanzio.

He was a very happy little boy here in this stately, yet homely and kindly Urbino, where his people had come for refuge when the lances of Malatesta had ravaged and ruined their homestead. He had the dearest old grandfather in all the world; he had a loving mother, and he had a father who was very tender to him, and painted him among the angels of heaven, and was always full of pleasant conceits and admirable learning, and such true love of art that the child breathed it with every breath, as he could breathe the sweetness of a cowslip-bell when he held one in his hands up to his nostrils. It was good in those days to live in old Urbino. It was not, indeed, so brilliant a place as it became in a later day, when Ariosto came there, and Bembo and Castiglione and many another witty and learned gentleman, and the Courts of Love were held with ingenious rhyme and pretty sentiment, sad only for wantonness. But, if not so brilliant, it was homelier, simpler, full of virtue, with a wise peace and tranquillity that joined hands with a stout courage. The burgher was good friends with his prince, and knew that in any trouble or perplexity he could go up to the palace, or stop the duke in the market place, and be sure of sympathy and good counsel. There were a genuine love of beautiful things, a sense of public duty and of public spirit, a loyal temper and a sage contentment, among the good people of that time, which made them happy and prosperous.

All work was solidly and thoroughly done, living was cheap, and food good and plentiful, much better and more plentiful than it is now; in the fine old houses every stone was sound, every bit of ornament well wrought; men made their nests to live in and to pass to their children and children’s children after them, and had their own fancies and their own traditions recorded in the ironwork of their casements and in the woodwork of their doors. They had their happy day of honest toil from matins bell to evensong, and then walked out or sat about in the calm evening air and looked down on the plains below that were rich with grain and fruit and woodland, and talked and laughed among each other, and were content with their own pleasant, useful lives, not burnt up with envy of desire to be some one else, as in our sickly, hurrying time most people are.

Yes, life must have been very good in those old days in old Urbino, better than it is anywhere in ours.

Can you not picture to yourself good, shrewd, wise Giovanni Sanzio, with his old father by his side, and his little son running before him, in the holy evening time of a feast day, with the deep church bells swaying above-head, and the last sun-rays smiting the frescoed walls, the stone bastions, the blazoned standard on the castle roof, the steep city rocks shelving down into the greenery of cherry orchard and of pear tree? I can, whenever I shut my eyes and recall Urbino as it was; and would it had been mine to live then in that mountain home, and meet that divine child going along his happy smiling way, garnering unconsciously in his infant soul all the beautiful sights and sounds around him, to give them in his manhood to the world.

“Let him alone: he will paint all this some day,” said his wise father, who loved to think that his brushes and his colors would pass in time to Raffaelle, whose hands would be stronger to hold them than his own had been. And, whether he would ever paint it or not, the child never tired of thus looking from his eyrie on the rocks and counting all that passed below through the blowing corn under the leafy orchard boughs.

There were so many things to see in Urbino in that time, looking so over the vast green valley below: a clump of spears, most likely, as men-at-arms rode through the trees; a string of market folk bringing in the produce of the orchards or the fields; perchance a red-robed cardinal on a white mule with glittering housings, behind him a sumpter train rich with baggage, furniture, gold and silver plate; maybe the duke’s hunting party going out or coming homeward with caracoling steeds, beautiful hounds straining at their leash, hunting horns sounding merrily over the green country; maybe a band of free lances, with plumes tossing, steel glancing, bannerets fluttering against the sky; or maybe a quiet gray-robed string of monks or pilgrims singing the hymn sung before Jerusalem, treading the long lush grass with sandaled feet, coming towards the city, to crowd slowly and gladly up its rocky height. Do you not wish with me you could stand in the window with Raffaelle to see the earth as it was then?

No doubt the good folks of Urbino laughed at him often for a little moonstruck dreamer, so many hours did he stand looking, looking,–only looking,–as eyes have a right to do that see well and not altogether as others see. Happily for him, the days of his childhood were times of peace, and he did not behold, as his father had done, the torches light up the street and the flames devour the homesteads.

At this time Urbino was growing into fame for its pottery work: those big dishes and bowls, those marriage plates and pharmacy jars which it made, were beginning to rival the products of its neighbor Gubbio, and when its duke wished to send a bridal gift, or a present on other festal occasions, he oftenest chose some service or some rare platter of his own Urbino ware. Now, pottery had not then taken the high place among the arts of Italy that it was destined very soon to do. As you will learn when you are older, after the Greeks and the Christians had exhausted all that was beautiful in shape and substance of clay vases, the art seemed to die out, and the potters and the pottery painters died with it, or at any rate went to sleep for a great many centuries, whilst soldiers and prelates, nobles and mercenaries, were trampling to and fro all over the land and disputing it, and carrying fire and torch, steel and desolation, with them in their quarrels and covetousness. But now, the reign of the late good duke, great Federigo, having been favorable to the Marches (as we call his province now), the potters and pottery painters, with other gentle craftsmen, had begun to look up again, and the beneficent fires of their humble ovens had begun to burn in Castel Durante, in Pesaro, in Faenza, in Gubbio, and in Urbino itself. The great days had not yet come: Maestro Giorgio was but a youngster, and Orazio Fontane not born, nor the clever baker Prestino either, nor the famous Fra Xanto; but there was a Don Giorgio even then in Gubbio, of whose work, alas! one plate now at the Louvre is all we have; and here in the ducal city on the hill rich and noble things were already being made in the stout and lustrous majolica that was destined to acquire later on so wide a ceramic fame. Jars and bowls and platters, oval dishes and ewers and basins, and big-bodied, metal- welded pharmacy vases were all made and painted at Urbino whilst Raffaelle Sanzio was running about on rosy infantine feet. There was a master-potter of the Montefeltro at that time, one Maestro Benedetto Ronconi, whose name had not become world-renowned as Orazio Fontane’s and Maestro Giorgio’s did in the following century, yet who in that day enjoyed the honor of all the duchy, and did things very rare and fine in the Urbino ware. He lived within a stone’s throw of Giovanni Sanzio, and was a gray-haired, handsome, somewhat stern and pompous man, now more than middle- aged, who had one beauteous daughter, by name Pacifica. He cherished Pacifica well, but not so well as he cherished the things he wrought–the deep round nuptial plates and oval massive dishes that he painted with Scriptural stories and strange devices, and landscapes such as those he saw around, and flowing scrolls with Latin mottoes in black letters, and which, when thus painted, he consigned with an anxiously beating heart to the trial of the ovens, and which sometimes came forth from the trial all cracked and blurred and marred, and sometimes emerged in triumph and came into his trembling hands iridescent and lovely with those lustrous and opaline hues which we admire in them to this day as the especial glory of majolica.

Maestro Benedetto was an ambitious and vain man, and had had a hard, laborious manhood, working at his potter’s wheel and painter’s brush before Urbino ware was prized in Italy or even in the duchy. Now, indeed, he was esteemed at his due worth, and his work was so also, and he was passably rich, and known as a good artist beyond the Marches; but there was a younger man over at Gubbio, the Don Giorgio who was precursor of unequaled Maestro Giorgio Andreoli, who surpassed him, and made him sleep o’ nights on thorns, as envy makes all those to do who take her as their bedfellow.

The house of Maestro Benedetto was a long stone building, with a loggia at the back all overclimbed by hardy rose trees, and looking on a garden that was more than half an orchard, and in which grew abundantly pear trees, plum trees, and wood strawberries. The lancet windows of his workshop looked on all this quiet greenery. There were so many such pleasant workshops then in the land–calm, godly, homelike places, filled from without with song of birds and scent of herbs and blossoms. Nowadays men work in crowded, stinking cities, in close factory chambers; and their work is barren as their lives are.

The little son of neighbor Sanzio ran in and out this bigger, wider house and garden of Maestro Benedetto at his pleasure, for the maiden Pacifica was always glad to see him, and even the sombre master-potter would unbend to him, and show him how to lay the color on to the tremulous, fugitive, unbaked biscuit.

Pacifica was a lovely young woman of some seventeen or eighteen summers; and perhaps Raffaelle was but remembering her when he painted in his after-years the face of his Madonna di San Sisto. He loved her as he loved everything that was beautiful and every one who was kind; and almost better than his own beloved father’s studio, almost better than his dear old grandsire’s cheerful little shop, did he love this grave, silent, sweet-smelling, sun- pierced, shadowy old house of Maestro Benedetto.

Maestro Benedetto had four apprentices or pupils in that time learning to become figuli, but the one whom Raffaelle liked the most (and Pacifica too) was one Luca Torelli, of a village above in the mountains,–a youth with a noble, dark, pensive beauty of his own, and a fearless gait, and a supple, tall, slender figure that would have looked well in the light coat of mail and silken doublet of a man-at-arms. In sooth, the spirit of Messer Luca was more made for war and its risks and glories than for the wheel and the brush of the bottega; but he had loved Pacifica ever since he had come down one careless holy-day into Urbino, and had bound himself to her father’s service in a heedless moment of eagerness to breathe the same air and dwell under the same roof as she did. He had gained little for his pains: to see her at mass and at mealtimes, now and then to be allowed to bring water from the well for her or feed her pigeons, to see her gray gown go down between the orchard trees and catch the sunlight, to hear the hum of her spinning wheel, the thrum of her viol–this was the uttermost he got of joy in two long years; and how he envied Raffaelle running along the stone floor of the loggia to leap into her arms, to hang upon her skirts, to pick the summer fruit with her, and sort with her the autumn herbs for drying!

“I love Pacifica!” he would say, with a groan, to Raffaelle; and Raffaelle would say, with a smile, “Ah, Luca, so do I!”

“It is not the same thing, my dear,” sighed Luca; “I want her for my wife.”

“I shall have no wife; I shall marry myself to painting,” said Raffaelle, with a little grave, wise face looking out from under the golden roof of his fair hair. For he was never tired of watching his father painting the saints with their branch of palm on their ground of blue or of gold, or Maestro Benedetto making the dull clay glow with angels’ wings and prophets’ robes and holy legends told in color.

Now, one day, as Raffaelle was standing and looking thus at his favorite window in the potter’s house, his friend, the handsome, black-browed Luca, who was also standing there, did sigh so deeply and so deplorably that the child was startled from his dreams.

“Good Luca, what ails you?” he murmured, winding his arms about the young man’s knees.

“Oh, ’Faello!” mourned the apprentice, woefully. “Here is such a chance to win the hand of Pacifica if only I had talent–such talent as that Giorgio of Gubbio has! If the good Lord had only gifted me with a master’s skill, instead of all this bodily strength and sinew, like a wild hog of the woods, which avails me nothing here!”

“What chance is it?” asked Raffaelle, “and what is there new about Pacifica? She told me nothing, and I was with her an hour.”

“Dear simple one, she knows nothing of it,” said Luca, heaving another tremendous sigh from his heart’s deepest depths. “You must know that a new order has come in this very forenoon from the duke; he wishes a dish and a jar of the very finest and firmest majolica to be painted with the story of Esther, and made ready in three months from this date, to then go as his gifts to his cousins of Gonzaga. He has ordered that no cost be spared in the work, but that the painting thereof be of the best that can be produced, and the prize he will give is fifty scudi. Now, Maestro Benedetto, having known some time, it seems, of this order, has had made in readiness several large oval dishes and beautiful big- bellied jars: he gives one of each to each of his pupils,–to myself, to Berengario, to Tito, and Zenone. The master is sorely distraught that his eyesight permits him not himself to execute the duke’s commands; but it is no secret that should one of us be so fortunate as to win the duke’s approbation, the painter who does so shall become his partner here and shall have the hand of Pacifica. Some say that he has only put forth this promise as a stimulus to get the best work done of which his bottega is capable; but I know Maestro Benedetto too well to deem him guilty of any such evasion. What he has said, he will carry out; if the vase and the dish win the duke’s praise, they will also win Pacifica. Now you see, ’Faello mine, why I am so bitterly sad of heart, for I am a good craftsman enough at the wheel and the furnace, and I like not ill the handling and the moulding of the clay, but at the painting of the clay I am but a tyro, and Berengario or even the little Zenone will beat me; of that I am sure.”

Raffaelle heard all this in silence, leaning his elbows on his friend’s knee, and his chin on the palms of his own hands. He knew that the other pupils were better painters by far than his Luca, though not one of them was such a good-hearted or noble-looking youth, and for none of them did the maiden Pacifica care.

“How long a time is given for the jar and the dish to be ready?" he asked, at length.

“Three months, my dear,” said Luca, with a sigh sadder than ever. “But if it were three years, what difference would it make? You cannot cudgel the divine grace of art into a man with blows as you cudgel speed into a mule, and I shall be a dolt at the end of the time as I am now. What said your good father to me but yesternight?–and he IS good to me and does not despise me. He said: ’Luca, my son, it is of no more avail for you to sigh for Pacifica than for the moon. Were she mine I would give her to you, for you have a heart of gold, but Signor Benedetto will not; for never, I fear me, will you be able to decorate anything more than an apothecary’s mortar or a barber’s basin. If I hurt you, take it not ill; I mean kindness, and were I a stalwart youth like you I would go try my fortunes in the Free Companies in France or Spain, or down in Rome, for you are made for a soldier.’ That was the best even your father could say for me, ’Faello.”

“But Pacifica,” said the child,–"Pacifica would not wish you to join the Free Companies.”

“God knows,” said Luca, hopelessly. “Perhaps she would not care.”

“I am sure she would,” said Raffaelle, “for she does love you, Luca, though she cannot say so, being but a girl, and Signor Benedetto against you. But that redcap you tamed for her, how she loves it, how she caresses it, and half is for you, Luca, half for the bird!”

Luca kissed him.

But the tears rolled down the poor youth’s face, for he was much in earnest and filled with despair.

“Even if she did, if she do,” he murmured hopelessly, “she never will let me know it, since her father forbids a thought of me; and now here is this trial of skill at the duke’s order come to make things worse, and if that swaggering Berengario of Fano win her, then truly will I join the free lances and pray heaven send me swift shrive and shroud.”

Raffaelle was very pensive for a while; then he raised his head, and said:–

“I have thought of something, Luca. But I do not know whether you will let me try it.”

“You angel child! What would your old Luca deny to you? But as for helping me, my dear, put that thought out of your little mind forever, for no one can help me, ’Faello, not the saints themselves, since I was born a dolt!”

Raffaelle kissed him, and said, “Now listen!”

A few days later Signer Benedetto informed his pupils in ceremonious audience of the duke’s command and of his own intentions; he did not pronounce his daughter’s name to the youths, but he spoke in terms that were clear enough to assure them that whoever had the good fortune and high merit to gain the duke’s choice of his pottery should have the honor of becoming associate in his own famous bottega. Now, it had been known in Urbino ever since Pacifica had gone to her first communion that whoever pleased her father well enough to become his partner would have also to please her as her husband. Not much attention was given to maidens’ wishes in those times, and no one thought the master-potter either unjust or cruel in thus suiting himself before he suited his daughter. And what made the hearts of all the young men quake and sink the lowest was the fact that Signer Benedetto offered the competition, not only to his own apprentices, but to any native of the duchy of Urbino. For who could tell what hero might not step forth from obscurity and gain the great prize of this fair hand of Pacifica’s? And with her hand would go many a broad gold ducat, and heritage of the wide old gray stone house, and many an old jewel and old brocade that were kept there in dusky sweet-smelling cabinets, and also more than one good piece of land, smiling with corn and fruit trees, outside the gates in the lower pastures to the westward.

Luca, indeed, never thought of these things, but the other three pupils did, and other youths as well. Had it not been for the limitation as to birth within the duchy, many a gallant young painter from the other side of the Apennines, many a lusty vasalino or boccalino from the workshops of fair Florence herself, or from the Lombard cities, might have traveled there in hot haste as fast as horses could carry them, and come to paint the clay for the sake of so precious a recompense. But Urbino men they had to be; and poor Luca, who was so full of despair that he could almost have thrown himself headlong from the rocks, was thankful to destiny for even so much slender mercy as this,–that the number of his rivals was limited.

“Had I been you,” Giovanni Sanzio ventured once to say respectfully to Signor Benedetto, “I think I should have picked out for my son-in-law the best youth that I knew, not the best painter; for be it said in all reverence, my friend, the greatest artist is not always the truest man, and by the hearthstone humble virtues have sometimes high claim.”

Then Signor Benedetto had set his stern face like a flint, knowing very well what youth Messer Giovanni would have liked to name to him.

“I have need of a good artist in my bottega to keep up its fame," he had said stiffly. “My vision is not what it was, and I should be loath to see Urbino ware fall back, whilst Pesaro and Gubbio and Castel Durante gain ground every day. Pacifica must pay the penalty, if penalty there be, for being the daughter of a great artist.”

Mirthful, keen-witted Sanzio smiled to himself, and went his way in silence; for he who loved Andrea Mantegna did not bow down in homage before the old master-potter’s estimation of himself, which was in truth somewhat overweening in its vanity.

“Poor Pacifica!” he thought; “if only my ’Faello were but some decade older!”

He, who could not foresee the future, the splendid, wondrous, unequaled future that awaited his young son, wished nothing better for him than a peaceful painter’s life here in old Urbino, under the friendly shadow of the Montefeltro’s palace walls.

Meanwhile, where think you was Raffaelle? Half the day, or all the day, and every day whenever he could? Where think you was he? Well, in the attic of Luca, before a bowl and a dish almost as big as himself. The attic was a breezy, naked place, underneath the arches supporting the roof of Maestro Benedetto’s dwelling. Each pupil had one of these garrets to himself,–a rare boon, for which Luca came to be very thankful, for without it he could not have sheltered his angel; and the secret that Raffaelle had whispered to him that day of the first conference had been, “Let ME try and paint it!”

For a long time Luca had been afraid to comply, had only forborne indeed from utter laughter at the idea from his love and reverence for the little speaker. Baby Sanzio, who was only just seven years old as the April tulips reddened the corn, painting a majolica dish and vase to go to the Gonzaga of Mantua! The good fellow could scarcely restrain his shouts of mirth at the audacious fancy; and nothing had kept him grave but the sight of that most serious face of Raffaelle, looking up to his with serene, sublime self-confidence, nay, perhaps, rather, confidence in heaven and in heaven’s gifts.

“Let me try!” said the child a hundred times. He would tell no one, only Luca would know; and if he failed–well, there would only be the spoiled pottery to pay for, and had he not two whole ducats that the duke had given him when the court had come to behold his father’s designs for the altar frescos at San Dominico di Cagli?

So utterly in earnest was he, and so intense and blank was Luca’s absolute despair, that the young man had in turn given way to his entreaties. “Never can I do aught,” he thought, bitterly, looking at his own clumsy designs, “And sometimes by the help of cherubs the saints work miracles,”

“It will be no miracle,” said Raffaelle, hearing him murmur this; “it will be myself, and that which the dear God has put into me.”

From that hour Luca let him do what he would, and through all these lovely early summer days the child came and shut himself up in the garret, and studied, and thought, and worked, and knitted his pretty fair brows, and smiled in tranquil satisfaction, according to the mood he was in and the progress of his labors.

Giovanni Sanzio went away at that time to paint an altar-piece over at Citta di Castello, and his little son for once was glad he was absent. Messer Giovanni would surely have remarked the long and frequent visits of Raffaelle to the attic, and would, in all likelihood, have obliged him to pore over his Latin or to take exercise in the open fields; but his mother said nothing, content that he should be amused and safe, and knowing well that Pacifica loved him and would let him come to no harm under her roof. Pacifica herself did wonder that he deserted her so perpetually for the garret. But one day when she questioned him the sweet- faced rogue clung to her and murmured, “Oh, Pacifica, I do want Luca to win you, because he loves you so; and I do love you both!" And she grew pale, and answered him, “Ah, dear, if he could!” and then said never a word more, but went to her distaff; and Raffaelle saw great tears fall off her lashes down among the flax.

She thought he went to the attic to watch how Luca painted, and loved him more than ever for that, but knew in the hopelessness of her heart–as Luca also knew it in his–that the good and gallant youth would never be able to create anything that would go as the duke’s gifts to the Gonzaga of Mantua. And she did care for Luca! She had spoken to him but rarely indeed, yet passing in and out of the same doors, and going to the same church offices, and dwelling always beneath the same roof, he had found means of late for a word, a flower, a serenade. And he was so handsome and so brave, and so gentle, too, and so full of deference. Poor Pacifica cared not in the least whether he could paint or not. He could have made her happy.

In the attic Raffaelle passed the most anxious hours of all his sunny little life. He would not allow Luca even to look at what he did. He barred the door and worked; when he went away he locked his work up in a wardrobe. The swallows came in and out of the unglazed window, and fluttered all around him; the morning sunbeams came in, too, and made a nimbus round his golden head, like that which his father gilded above the heads of saints. Raffaelle worked on, not looking off, though clang of trumpet, or fanfare of cymbal, often told him there was much going on worth looking at down below. He was only seven years old, but he labored as earnestly as if he were a man grown, his little rosy ringers gripping that pencil which was to make him in life and death famous as kings are not famous, and let his tender body lie in its last sleep in the Pantheon of Rome.

He had covered hundreds of sheets with designs before he had succeeded in getting embodied the ideas that haunted him. When he had pleased himself at last, he set to work to transfer his imaginations to the clay in color in the subtile luminous metallic enamel that characterizes Urbino majolica.

Ah, how glad he was now that his father had let him draw from the time he was two years old, and that of late Messer Benedetto had shown him something of the mysteries of painting on biscuit and producing the metallic lustre which was the especial glory of the pottery of the duchy!

How glad he was, and how his little heart bounded and seemed to sing in this his first enjoyment of the joyous liberties and powers of creative work!

A well-known writer has said that genius is the power of taking pains; he should have said rather that genius HAS this power also, but that first and foremost it possesses the power of spontaneous and exquisite production without effort and with delight.

Luca looked at him (not at his work, for the child had made him promise not to do so) and began to marvel at his absorption, his intentness, the evident facility with which he worked: the little figure leaning over the great dish on the bare board of the table, with the oval opening of the window and the blue sky beyond it, began to grow sacred to him with more than the sanctity of childhood. Raffaelle’s face grew very serious, too, and lost its color, and his large hazel eyes looked very big and grave and dark.

“Perhaps Signer Giovanni will be angry with me if ever he knows," thought poor Luca; but it was too late to alter anything now. The child Sanzio had become his master.

So Raffaelle, unknown to any one else, worked on and on there in the attic while the tulips bloomed and withered, and the honeysuckle was in flower in the hedges, and the wheat and barley were being cut in the quiet fields lying far down below in the sunshine. For midsummer was come; the three months all but a week had passed by. It was known that every one was ready to compete for the duke’s choice.

One afternoon Raffaelle took Luca by the hand and said to him, “Come.”

He led the young man up to the table, beneath the unglazed window, where he had passed so many of these ninety days of the spring and summer.

Luca gave a great cry, and stood gazing, gazing, gazing. Then he fell on his knees and embraced the little feet of the child: it was the first homage that he, whose life became one beautiful song of praise, received from man.

“Dear Luca,” he said softly, “do not do that. If it be indeed good, let us thank God.”

What his friend saw were the great oval dish and the great jar or vase standing with the sunbeams full upon them, and the brushes and the tools and the colors all strewn around. And they shone with lustrous opaline hues and wondrous flame-like glories and gleaming iridescence, like melted jewels, and there were all manner of graceful symbols and classic designs wrought upon them; and their borders were garlanded with cherubs and flowers, bearing the arms of Montefeltro, and the landscapes were the tender, homely landscapes round about Urbino; and the mountains had the solemn radiance that the Apennines wore at eveningtime; and amidst the figures there was one supreme, white-robed, golden-crowned Esther, to whom the child painter had given the face of Pacifica. And this wondrous creation, wrought by a baby’s hand, had safely and secretly passed the ordeal of the furnace, and had come forth without spot or flaw.

Luca ceased not from kneeling at the feet of Raffaelle, as ever since has kneeled the world.

“Oh, wondrous boy! Oh, angel sent unto men!” sighed the poor ’prentice, as he gazed; and his heart was so full that he burst into tears.

“Let us thank God,” said little Raffaelle again; and he joined his small hands that had wrought this miracle, and said his Laus Domini.

When the precious jar and the great platter were removed to the wardrobe and shut up in safety behind the steel wards of the locker, Luca said timidly, feeling twenty years in age behind the wisdom of this divine child: “But, dearest boy, I do not see how your marvelous and most exquisite accomplishment can advantage me. Even if you would allow it to pass as mine, I could not accept such a thing; it would be a fraud, a shame: not even to win Pacifica could I consent.”

“Be not so hasty, good friend,” said Raffaelle. “Wait just a little longer yet and see. I have my own idea. Do trust in me.”

“Heaven speaks in you, that I believe,” said Luca, humbly.

Raffaelle answered not, but ran downstairs, and, passing Pacifica, threw his arms about her in more than his usual affectionate caresses.

“Pacifica, be of good heart,” he murmured, and would not be questioned, but ran homeward to his mother.

“Can it be that Luca has done well,” thought Pacifica; but she feared the child’s wishes had outrun his wisdom. He could not be any judge, a child of seven years, even though he were the son of that good and honest painter and poet, Giovanni Sanzio.

The next morning was midsummer day. Now, the pottery was all to be placed on this forenoon in the bottega of Signor Benedetto; and the Duke Guidobaldo was then to come and make his choice from amidst them; and the master-potter, a little because he was a courtier, and more because he liked to affect a mighty indifference and to show he had no favoritism, had declared that he would not himself see the competing works of art until the eyes of the Lord of Montefeltro also fell upon them.

As for Pacifica, she had locked herself in her chamber, alone with her intense agitation. The young men were swaggering about, and taunting each other, and boasting. Luca alone sat apart, thrumming an old lute. Giovanni Sanzio, who had ridden home at evening from Citta di Castello, came in from his own house and put his hand on the youth’s shoulder.

“I hear the Pesaro men have brought fine things. Take courage, my lad. Maybe we can entreat the duke to dissuade Pacifica’s father from this tyrannous disposal of her hand.”

Luca shook his head wearily.

There would be one beautiful thing there, indeed, he knew; but what use would that be to him?

“The child–the child–” he stammered, and then remembered that he must not disclose Raffaelle’s secret.

“My child?” said Signor Giovanni. “Oh, he will be here; he will be sure to be here: wherever there is a painted thing to be seen, there always, be sure, is Raffaelle.”

Then the good man sauntered within from the loggia, to exchange salutations with Ser Benedetto, who, in a suit of fine crimson with doublet of sad-colored velvet, was standing ready to advance bareheaded into the street as soon as the hoofs of the duke’s charger should strike on the stones.

“You must be anxious in your thoughts,” said Signor Giovanni to him. “They say a youth from Pesaro brings something fine: if you should find yourself bound to take a stranger into your workroom and your home–”

“If he be a man of genius, he will be welcome,” answered Messer Ronconi, pompously. “Be he of Pesaro, or of Fano, or of Castel Durante, I go not back from my word: I keep my word, to my own hindrance even, ever.”

“Let us hope it will bring you only joy and triumph here,” said his neighbor, who knew him to be an honest man and a true, if over-obstinate and too vain of his own place in Urbino.

“Our lord the duke!” shouted the people standing in the street; and Ser Benedetto walked out with stately tread to receive the honor of his master’s visit to his bottega.

Raffaelle slipped noiselessly up to his father’s side, and slid his little hand into Sanzio’s.

“You are not surely afraid of our good Guidobaldo!” said his father, with a laugh and some little surprise, for Raffaelle was very pale, and his lower lip trembled a little.

“No,” said the child, simply.

The young duke and his court came riding down the street, and paused before the old stone house of the master-potter,–splendid gentlemen, though only in their morning apparel, with noble Barbary steeds fretting under them, and little pages and liveried varlets about their steps. Usually, unless he went hunting or on a visit to some noble, Guidobaldo, like his father, walked about Urbino like any one of his citizens; but he knew the pompous and somewhat vainglorious temper of Messer Benedetto, and good- naturedly was willing to humor its harmless vanities. Bowing to the ground, the master-potter led the way, walking backward into his bottega; the courtiers followed their prince; Giovanni Sanzio with his little son and a few other privileged persons went in also at due distance. At the farther end of the workshop stood the pupils and the artists from Pesaro and other places in the duchy whose works were there in competition. In all there were some ten competitors: poor Luca, who had set his own work on the table with the rest as he was obliged to do, stood hindmost of all, shrinking back, to hide his misery, into the deepest shadow of the deep- bayed latticed window.

On the narrow deal benches that served as tables on working days to the pottery painters were ranged the dishes and the jars, with a number attached to each–no name to any, because Signor Benedetto was resolute to prove his own absolute disinterestedness in the matter of choice: he wished for the best artist. Prince Guidobaldo, doffing his plumed cap courteously, walked down the long room and examined each production in its turn. On the whole, the collection made a brave display of majolica, though he was perhaps a little disappointed at the result in each individual case, for he had wanted something out of the common run and absolutely perfect. Still, with fair words he complimented Signor Benedetto on the brave show, and only before the work of poor Luca was he entirely silent, since indeed silence was the greatest kindness he could show to it: the drawing was bold and regular, but the coloring was hopelessly crude, glaring, and ill-disposed.

At last, before a vase and a dish that stood modestly at the very farthest end of the deal bench, the duke gave a sudden exclamation of delight, and Signor Benedetto grew crimson with pleasure and surprise, and Giovanni Sanzio pressed a little nearer and tried to see over the shoulders of the gentlemen of the court, feeling sure that something rare and beautiful must have called forth that cry of wonder from the Lord of Montefeltro, and having seen at a glance that for his poor friend Luca there was no sort of hope.

“This is beyond all comparison,” said Guidobaldo, taking the great oval dish up reverently in his hands. “Maestro Benedetto, I do felicitate you indeed that you should possess such a pupil. He will be a glory to our beloved Urbino.”

“It is indeed most excellent work, my lord duke,” said the master- potter, who was trembling with surprise and dared not show all the astonishment and emotion that he felt at the discovery of so exquisite a creation in his bottega. “It must be,” he added, for he was a very honest man, “the work of one of the lads of Pesaro or Castel Durante. I have no such craftsman in my workshop. It is beautiful exceedingly!”

“It is worth its weight in gold!” said the prince, sharing his emotion. “Look, gentlemen–look! Will not the fame of Urbino be borne beyond the Apennines and Alps?”

Thus summoned, the court and the citizens came to look, and averred that truly never in Urbino had they seen such painting on majolica. “But whose is it?” said Guidobaldo, impatiently, casting his eyes over the gathered group in the background of apprentices and artists. “Maestro Benedetto, I pray you, the name of the artist; I pray you, quick!”

“It is marked number eleven, my lord,” answered the master-potter. “Ho, you who reply to that number, stand out and give your name. My lord duke has chosen your work. Ho, there! do you hear me?”

But not one of the group moved. The young men looked from one to another. Who was this nameless rival? There were but ten of themselves.

“Ho, there!” repeated Signor Benedetto, getting angry. “Cannot you find a tongue, I say? Who has wrought this work? Silence is but insolence to his highness and to me!”

Then the child Sanzio loosened his little hand from his father’s hold, and went forward, and stood before the master-potter.

“I painted it,” he said, with a pleased smile; “I, Raffaelle.”

Can you not fancy, without telling, the confusion, the wonder, the rapture, the incredulity, the questions, the wild ecstasy of praise, that followed on the discovery of the child artist? Only the presence of Guidobaldo kept it in anything like decent quietude, and even he, all duke though he was, felt his eyes wet and felt his heart swell; for he himself was childless, and for the joy that Giovanni Sanzio felt that day he would have given his patrimony and duchy.

He took a jewel hung on a gold chain from his own breast and threw it over Raffaelle’s shoulders.

“There is your first guerdon,” he said; “you will have many, O wondrous child, who shall live when we are dust!”

Raffaelle, who himself was all the while quite tranquil and unmoved, kissed the duke’s hand with sweetest grace, then turned to his own father.

“It is true I have won my lord duke’s prize?”

“Quite true, my angel!” said Giovanni Sanzio, with tremulous voice.

Raffaelle looked up at Maestro Benedetto.

“Then I claim the hand of Pacifica!”

There was a smile on all the faces round, even on the darker countenances of the vanquished painters.

“Oh, would indeed you were of age to be my son by marriage, as you are the son of my heart!” murmured Signor Benedetto. “Dear and marvelous child, you are but jesting, I know. Tell me what it is indeed that you would have. I could deny you nothing; and truly it is you who are my master.”

“I am your pupil,” said Raffaelle, with that pretty serious smile of his, his little fingers playing with the ducal jewel. “I could never have painted that majolica yonder had you not taught me the secrets and management of your colors. Now, dear maestro mine, and you, O my lord duke, do hear me! I by the terms of the contest have won the hand of Pacifica and the right of association with Messer Ronconi. I take these rights and I give them over to my dear friend Luca of Fano, because he is the honestest man in all the world, and does honor Signor Benedetto and love Pacifica as no other can do so well, and Pacifica loves him, and my lord duke will say that thus all will be well.”

So with the grave, innocent audacity of a child he spoke–this seven-year-old painter who was greater than any there.

Signor Benedetto stood mute, sombre, agitated. Luca had sprung forward and dropped on one knee; he was as pale as ashes. Raffaelle looked at him with a smile.

“My lord duke,” he said, with his little gentle smile, “you have chosen my work; defend me in my rights.”

“Listen to the voice of an angel, my good Benedetto; heaven speaks by him,” said Guidobaldo, gravely, laying his hand on the arm of his master-potter.

Harsh Signor Benedetto burst into tears.

“I can refuse him nothing,” he said, with a sob. “He will give such glory unto Urbino as never the world hath seen!”

“And call down this fair Pacifica whom Raffaelle has won,” said the sovereign of the duchy, “and I will give her myself as her dower as many gold pieces as we can cram into this famous vase. An honest youth who loves her and whom she loves–what better can you do, Benedetto? Young man, rise up and be happy. An angel has descended on earth this day for you.”

But Luca heard not; he was still kneeling at the feet of Raffaelle, where the world has knelt ever since.


The Nurnberg Stove  •  The Ambitious Rose Tree  •  Lampblack  •  The Child of Urbino  •  Findelkind