At the National Gallery
We mustn’t take the Old Masters too literally,
the message always where you least expect it.
for example, in Sassetta’s Wolf of Gubbio,
our modern sensibility tends to focus on the bloody
dismembered body of the wolf’s victim,
how that contrasts with the saint’s friendly gesture,
taking in his hand the appeased animal’s paw.
But notice the four sets of heads among the merlons
and crenels looking down, or the eight birds
in flight forming a letter C in the empty space of sky
in the middle distance, or coming out of the farther distant
haze three large birds flying toward the scene.
The message is not in the human faces, comprehending,
pious, compassionate, nor in the sweet state conveyed
by the saint’s forehead, brought out masterfully in the highlights--
there is a face looking up at something outside the picture--
not even in the shocked eyes of the face half-hidden
behind the gorgeous red halo of the saint; all these--
someone is writing this down—all these still represent
the human spectrum, the postures of our peopled selves,
even the wolf must stand for some part of our selves--
a scribe seated on a bench with quill and inkwell in hand,
the parchment unrolling down his crossed leg, Francis
turning to him, gesturing, saying, “seal this pact in writing:
the wolf here agrees to stop ravaging the people,
and in return shall be fed at public expense.”
Of course, what our eye fixes on are the severed limbs,
a bloody leg cut off above the knee, another incomprehensible
body part—like after a plane crash—and the partial
bloody torso—wonderfully foreshortened.
One may note how the graceful line of the saint’s arm,
extended to take the wolf’s paw, continues along the profile
of the beast’s head, enclosing the body parts cozily
in a bowl-shaped space, but fail to see
the ten trees of the grove through which the mountain
road passes, that both the saint and the fellow behind him
have five toes of the right foot and three toes of the left foot showing,
that there are ten towers, very far, among the distant mountains.
Stefano Petrizzo is an Italian-American poet living in the Sierra Foothills of Northern California where he facilitates a weekly workshop. He is the co-editor of The Day Barque and he holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. He is also a miller-baker making French style artisan breads in a wood-fired oven.
The Ekphrastic Review
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