Monday, April 16, 2012
I thought of you yesterday in the National Gallery looking at a painting by Giovanni Bellini, The Assassination of St Peter Martyr. The grisly deed is perpetrated against a background of woodsmen felling a forest, so that the raised dagger of the assassin comes into alignment with the raised axe of one of the woodsmen. It's a parallelism underscored in another version (in the Courtauld Institute) in which the stumps bleed and so share in St Peter's martyrdom.The National Gallery version:
The Courtauld Institute version:
Note the bleeding stump in the lower right hand corner of the Courtauld Institute version.
I haven't seen Jennifer Fletcher and David Skipsey, "Death in Venice: Giovanni Bellini and The Assassination of St Peter Martyr," Apollo 133, no. 347 (January 1991) 4-9, or Donald S. Prudlo, The Martyred Inquisitor: The Life and Cult of Peter of Verona (†1252) (Aldershot: Ashgate Press, 2008), but I did read Prudlo's fascinating account of the murderer, "The Assassin-Saint: The Life and Cult of Carino of Balsamo," Catholic Historical Quarterly 94.1 (January 2008) 1-21. The murder weapon may have been a bill-hook, usually used in tree pruning: see Prudlo's article, p. 5 (with footnote 13) and pp. 11-12 (with footnotes 37-38).
Some examples of bleeding trees in literature:
- Vergil (70-19 BC), Aeneid 3.22-48
- Ovid (43 BC-17 AD), Metamorphoses 8.762-764
- 4 Ezra (also known as 2 Esdras, 2nd century AD) 5.5
- Dante (1265–1321), Inferno 13.31-45
- Boccaccio (1313-1375), Il Filocolo 5.6-12, tr. Thomas G. Bergin and Donald Cheney (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1985), pp. 377-389
- Ariosto (1474-1533), Orlando Furioso 6.27-28
- Torquato Tasso (1544-1595), Jerusalem Delivered 13.41-42
- Edmund Spenser (1552-1599), Faerie Queene 1.2.30
- Charles Speroni, "The Motif of the Bleeding and Speaking Trees of Dante's Suicides," Italian Quarterly 9 (1965) 44-55
- Shirley Clay Scott, "From Polydorus to Fradubio: The History of a Topos," Spenser Studies 7 (1987) 27-57