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Review of Scarabacchio continued...

Indeed, later when the Meister poses for his portrait, the description of exactly how Danzing situates his model, including the angles, the background and the attributes, leaves no doubts regarding the type of the portrait.

He then asked me to sit for a while before the temple, that he might try the effect in a few sketches. He posed me sitting on a boulder in a semi-reclining position, the temple and hills behind and to my left. My head was turned three-quarters, my gaze directed into the valley below and, farther, out towards the sea. Of course, I was obliged to remove my dark glasses for the sitting, but as I was allowed to keep my hat I was not too uncomfortable. Danzig was good enough to say that he found the hat, a wide-brimmed felt I purchased in Naples, most flattering. It does give me something of a bohemian air, as the soft brim can be turned this way or that according to one's fancy - hardly the thing for Weimar! Danzig arranged it so that it curved well down on the left, shadowing that whole side of my face and softening considerably the impact of the terrible head.

Almost everything in the description matches Tischbein's work except for the "terrible head" that in no way can be called terrible. It seems that it's another drawing of Goethe that is incorporated into the portrait. But whose drawing is it? Did Tischbein make another sketch of Goethe, before starting the portrait?

By mentioning the "terrible head" the Meister actually refers to a preliminary sketch of him, made before they went to the Temple of Segeste.

a drawn, delicate face, I should have said inclined to neurasthenia, prematurely aged around the eyes; a thin mouth, a trifle harsh; the whole overshadowed by a huge, white brow like a skull's, a veritable thought machine in which one sensed the combination and re-combination of innumerable ideas, fired in that brain as in a crucible to produce God alone knew what poisonous, exquisite compounds.  'Who on earth is this fellow?' I said to Danzig, holding up one of the sketches of the terrible head. 'Why, that's you, Meister,' he replied. 'Just a few preliminary studies. Soon I'll begin the real work. I'd like to go to Segeste soon to begin work on the background as well.' 'Yes, of course...'

The description of the face in the portrait matches perfectly a pencil drawing made by a renowned Russian artist, Orest Kiprensky, who met Goethe much later, in 1823, when Goethe was already seventy two. It was also in Italy. Thus, once again, through Danzig, the two paintings, artists, and "models" become united. But how does it enrich our perception of the "course of actions" in the novel?

First of all, the story of Kiprensky overshadows Danzig's relationship with the "marzipan" girl. Second, it elucidates his tie to Italy, cloister, and much more.

An illegitimate son of the landowner, Alexey Dyakonov, Kiprensky was raised in the family of a serf, Adam Shvalbe, a German by birth. This biographical detail may explicate Danzig's German features. Kiprensky was a handsome man. His artistic appearance - disheveled dark locks, full lips, white shirt open at the throat - was imprinted in his self-portraits. As his close friends recollected, he was quite a dandy, and he paid great attention to his looks.

Kiprensky's Italian period was marked by a great scandal that eventually led to his deportation. The scandal occurred in connection with the mysterious death of one of his sitters, a beautiful young woman who lived in his house along with her six-year old daughter, Mariucci. The nymphet-like girl was immortalized in Kiprensky's portrait known as Portrait of Mariucci or Girl Wearing the Poppy Wreath. The sitter, who was believed to be his mistress, was found dead in his apartment. The next day one of Kiprensky's servants died mysteriously, presumably another of the woman's lovers. Kiprensky was accused, though not officially, of carrying on a strange affair with the girl to whom he had become a guardian. He became a suspect in the murder. It was the end of his glorious fame, and he had to leave the country in a hurry. Which he did, but not before sending the girl to a Catholic convent.

He returned to Saint-Petersburg where he lived until the day he received the news from a  friend that Mariucci had been transferred to another convent and he'd lost track of her. Anxious to find her, Kiprensky left the country, and soon he found the convent where she was living. He converted to Catholicism in order to marry her. At that time she was already seventeen and he was forty seven. He died soon afterwards, leaving his wife three months pregnant. According to some sources she had never loved him, and this brought about  his severe depression.

After his death, Mariucci refused to take any of his paintings, sending everything back to Russia. This included her own portrait. The portrait of her he had drawn when she was pregnant was lost. In that portrait she had posed as the Angel of Children…


Kiprensky's biography creates a rich subtext for the theme of pedophilic obsessions and violence as related to the arts. The motif of a strange love affair between Danzig and the "Siamese girl" occurs at the starting point of the Meister's own dark journey.

Although Danzig was beaming with good spirits on our safe arrival in the harbour at Palermo, he had been disconsolate the night before our departure on account of a half-grown Siamese girl with dirty feet in whose embraces I more than once had surprised him. She had skin the colour of the local marzipan and wore a sprig of crushed jasmine in her hair, another in the sash of her dress.

The story of Danzig's affair begins with the mention of his parting from the girl, but later they become reunited, though there was nothing explicit about their relationship. There are some details about the girl that allude to Mariucci. The "dirty feet" - the motif that later turns into its variation, a "dirty streak" -  are associated with the poor origin of Mariucci. The symbolism of crushed jasmine (broken virginity) echoes the broken red carnation in Mariucci's hand.  The red carnation is a symbol of passionate love that, in case of the six-year-old, becomes synonymous with broken virginity.

Another curious detail associated with the Siamese girl - Anabella-Faustina is the pink color that appears as a symbol of temptation and obsession. There is no pink color in Mariucci's dress, but there is the pink - another name for the carnation (Rembrandt's Woman with a Pink instantly comes to mind). The scent of a pink is mentioned in the novel as well. It happens when the Meister visits the rose garden, where the scent of the pink borders on the scent of sweetness, blood, and decay.

In the sketch Danzig  shows to the Meister the girl appears as "the child in pink" and you begin to wonder if it's just another word play and it's actually "the child with a pink". Anyway, when Danzig shows the sketch to the Meister, he claims that Faustina is the same Siamese girl they  met in Naples. The entire scene in which Danzig's Mephistophelean features come to light brings up the association with Faust, when the seduction of Gretchen occurs by the interposition of Mefisto.

'Have a look,' he invited me, handing over the portfolio. Inside were several sketches of the children we had seen the night before, including the little girl in pink. 'Recognize her?' he said, laying a finger on the picture. 'Yes, of course - Faustina. But why...?' I looked up at him in confusion. 'It was the same girl, Meister,' he said, shrugging, opening the palms of his hands in bewilderment. 'The very same. I recognized her right away. Did you not, then?' I shook my head, then bent over the sketch once more and examined the child in pink. There was certainly a strong resemblance to the little laundress of Naples. 'But I don't understand,' I said. 'What is she doing here? How could she have arrived so soon? She wasn't on the boat with us, I'm certain of it.' Danzig shrugged again, and his eyes slid away from mine. 'Oh, well, certain - that's difficult to say, isn't it? She may have been... It was a rough crossing. She may have kept below.' 'But why would she come here? And how would she have time to obtain the costume? It was quite the prettiest one there...' Then, it dawning on me, 'You haven't brought her here yourself, have you?' His hands closed over the drawing and he stuffed it, along with the others, back into the portfolio. 'Certainly not,' he said, looking into my eyes with the perfect frankness that belongs only to clear blue eyes in a very young face. I knew then that he was lying. 

It looks as if Danzig wants to use art to tempt the Meister by triggering his memories of the girl, who is presumably just another product of the "marzipan" factory in the cloister. Thus, as an artist, Danzig incarnates the idea of art as a sensual, seductive force. At this point, he acts as an artistic Mefisto who takes the viewers' souls in exchange for  imaginary pleasures. Doctor Praetorius is the one who materializes the imaginary "delicatessen" of human desires, thus, making one's dreams come true. The cloister becomes the place of hedonistic culture, promoting all kinds of sensual pleasures with the help of its artifacts. Clearly, there's no place for the Prince who, like his prototype, Gould, is "the last puritan."

At the biographical level, the story about the girl in the cloister in some way echoes the story of Mariucci, who was sent to the convent. The combination of the themes of Christianity and promiscuity resolves in a gallery of fake female-saints. The theme of a saint harlot is predisposed by the first scene of the Meister's temptation, in which the girl is described as "constantly moving her lips as if in prayer."

In connection to the Meister, Mariucci attains features of Nabokov's Lolita - a demon-child, a Lilith, a "poison lily":

"All I know is that while the Haze woman and I went down the steps into the breathless  garden,  my  knees were  like  reflections  of  knees  in rippling water, and my lips were like sand, and --
"That was my Lo," she said, "and these are my lilies."

With this phrase, Lolita and lilies are put at the same semantic level.