Lombard Vignettes – A Humanist’s Monument

In the Sculpture Gallery of the Brera is preserved a fair white marble tomb, carved by that excellent Lombard sculptor Agostino Busti. The epitaph runs as follows :

En Virtutem Mortis nesciam. Vivet Lancinus Curtius Siecula per omnia Quascunque lustrans oras, Tantum possunt Camoenæ.

“Look here on Virtue that knows naught of Death ! Lancinus Curtius shall live through all the centuries, and visit every shore on earth. Such power have the Muses.” The time-worn poet reclines, as though sleeping or resting, ready to. be waked; his head is covered with flowing hair, and crowned with laurel; it leans upon his left hand. On either side of his couch stand cupids or genii with torches turned to earth. Above is a group of the three Graces, flanked by winged Pegasi. Higher up are throned two Victories with palms, and at the top a naked Fame. We need not ask who was Lancinus Curtius. He is forgotten, and his virtue has not saved him from oblivion ; though he strove in his lifetime, pro virili parte, for the palm that Busti carved upon his grave. Yet his monument teaches in short compass a deep lesson ; and his epitaph sums up the dream which lured the men of Italy in the Renaissance to their doom. We see before us sculptured in this marble the ideal of the humanistic poet-scholar’s life : Love, Grace, the Muse, and Nakedness, and Glory. There is not a single intrusive thought derived from Christianity. The end for which the man lived was pagan. His hope was earthly fame. Yet his name survives, if this indeed be a survival, not in those winged verses which were to carry him abroad across the earth, but in the marble of a cunning craftsman, scanned now and then by a wandering scholar’s eye in the half-darkness of a vault.