Paulo Uccello Replies to Vasari

800px-Paolo_Uccello_047b

This is another in my Vasari series which I hope to include in a book. Giorgio Vasari published the 2nd edition of his famous book Lives of the Artists in 1568 in which he comments on 160 artists and architects. I can highly recommend the edited version published in Penguin Classics Translation by George Bull.

*

I knew you’d like my triads how I posed

three characters, made the cave triangular

and lanced the whole composition

into jousting triangles. I knew you’d like

my hint of supernatural powers broiling

in the cloud top right corner of the canvas.

Not forgetting the stylised dragon of course.

I knew you’d highlight my fallen soldier

deftly foreshortened; my speciality you wrote

and the way the lances disappear at a vanishing point.

* * *

But why must you spread rumours with your gossipy pen!

I didn’t stay up all hours unravelling the mysteries

of perspective and foreshortening; I didn’t tell my wife,

“What a sweet thing perspective is.”

And why did you go on and on about that abbot

feeding me cheese as if I was a mouse. Yes, I know

I wrote in my diary, “If he went on any more I wouldn’t

be Paulo Uccello, I’d be pure cheese.” But I don’t want

to be remembered as the ‘cheese artist,’ it was a joke!

* * *

Although I honour your veneration of artistic perfection

I find it difficult to forgive your epitaph – that throwaway

line after writing that Paulo painted animals, the first man

and woman in a beautiful accomplished style, that he depicted

ploughed fields, furrows, meadows, trees and other details

of country life, “in that dry and hard style of his.” In short

Giorgio, you’ve got things out of perspective: I’m shocked

you think I squandered my time and energy in obsessive

compulsive experiments with multiple vanishing points.

I’m disappointed you depict me in two dimensions living

in disgruntled old age in a hovel at the end. It’s just

not proportionate – not measured, not a balanced picture.

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Blaydon Races

Blaydon races

An Extra in the Blaydon Races; a Painting by William Irving

This painting is displayed along with a key and sound commentary at the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead.

I’ll be reading this poem of mine as part of the Late Shows on 14 May at the Shipley.

*

I told him I wanted to be recognised, immortalised –

why he painted that bloke with his upside-down pipe

and starving whippet on his arm beats me.

He’s stealing my thunder, elbowing me out of the way,

I’m barely visible. I told him to paint my new hat

with the betting slips prominent but I’m too far away, more

an extra rather than a leading player. Surely as manager

of Spencer’s Iron Works I should be in the foreground.

My nether regions have gone; obliterated, why I don’t know

my legs and feet are up to scratch, I’m only half the man

without my twill trousers and brown leather shoes.

It’s just not on; he should have shown me his sketches

before lashing out in oils. Anyway sitting here isn’t fun

the bairn behind me’s bawling its head off; The Punch

& Judy man’s slipped in the mud for the third time.

That’s Nancy in the pink dress sitting on the grass

with her bairn asleep on her lap; hope she doesn’t

recognise me – she can talk the hind legs off

the proverbial. A newspaper’s handy that way – you

can hide behind the small print. Why did he have to

have so many bumpkins -look, there’s goggle-eyed Mally

and Fester the Jester doing a jig; centre stage please note!

There’s some right low life here, a pick-pocketers

paradise to be sure. I don’t trust that card sharper

or the Dick Turpin character on his horse. I wish

the Scots Piper would go and blow his bags

somewhere else or leg it back to bonny Scotland.

*

It’ll soon be time for the three o’clock – I’ve backed

William Irving three ways, lets hope I win some notes!

As a betting man you can bet your bottom dollar

I won’t be recognised in fifty years’ time; no I’ll just be

another extra – a portrait in oils my foot!