Excerpt from “A Soldier of the Great War” by Mark Helprin ~~Bindo Altoviti~~

picture-SoldieroftheGreatWar-HelprinWith neither apologies nor care, nor thought, nor credit given to the many contrary proofs, Alessandro believed that the portrait of Bindo Altoviti – “il ritratto suo quando era giovane,” his portrait when he was young – was as alive as any of the light that calibrates the time that says of us that we live. His eyes could see, his hand could touch, and he was breathing. The black silk that fell from his shoulder was new, and beyond the emerald wall behind him, Rome breathed in May.
Young Bindo Altoviti, looking out from time, made a perfect coalition with the mountains, the sky, and the tall redheaded woman who had bent over just slightly to examine a raging battle that was long over. Alessandro imagined that Bindo Altoviti was saying, half with longing, half with delight, “These are the things in which I was so helplessly caught up, the waves that took me, what I loved. When light filled my eyes and I was restless and could move, I knew not what all the color was about, but only that I had a passion to see. And now that I am still, I pass on to you my liveliness and my life, for you will be taken, as once I was, and although you must fight beyond your capacity to fight and feel beyond your capacity to feel, remember that it ends in perfect peace, and you will be as still and content as am I, for whom centuries are not even seconds.”
The striking visage of Bindo Altoviti was of a type that had lasted and could be seen on the boys who worked in the cafes on the Via del Corso or drove tourists through the back streets, in carriages that hardly fit between the walls. If Bindo Altoviti could last through time not only to live in his portrait in a German cloister but to sweat in the bakeries of Rome, then perhaps Alessandro had to abandon his own short view of history in favor of the careful process of descent, the awesome repetitions, the inexplicable similarities and reappearances that made a unity of many generations of fathers and sons.
In the eyes of Bindo Altoviti, Alessandro saw wisdom and amusement, and he knew why the subjects of paintings and photographs seemed to look from the past as if with clairvoyance. Even brutal and impatient men, when frozen in time, assumed expressions of extraordinary compassion, as if they had reflected the essence of their redemption back into the photograph. In a sense they were still living. Bindo Altoviti, unknowingly, had become the young men, unknowing, on the streets of Rome. Had they been aware, they might have come to see his portrait, but it hardly mattered, for what they did would make no difference in the way time cracked and burst above their short lives like a thundering star shell. Except that now Alessandro had seen a benevolent diagram of passion and color in perfect balance, and he knew from Bindo Altoviti’s brave and insolent expression that he was going to stay alive forever.


Bindo Altoviti by Raphael

Bindo Altoviti by Raphael


1 Comment

Filed under Fiction, Literature

One response to “Excerpt from “A Soldier of the Great War” by Mark Helprin ~~Bindo Altoviti~~

  1. Mark Helprin was born in Manhattan, New York on 28 June 1947.
    “A Soldier of the Great War” was published in 1991.
    The story has Alessandro Giuliani visiting the ‘Alte Pinakothek’, an art museum in Munich, Germany, after the commencement of the First World War, but before Italy joined the fight against Germany and the Austria-Hungary empire.
    The portrait of Bindo Altoviti as a young man, was painted by the great Italian painter Raphael around the year 1515.

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