That glowing blue neon sign immediately reminds me of the famous Cup of Nestor, in the museum at Villa Arbusto near Ischia's Lacco Ameno, upon which appears one of the earliest examples of alphabetical language, invented by the Greeks to preserve the oral epics of Homer. The scratched poetic lines on that 800 BC funerary relic are in fact a sex spell:
I am the goodly cup of Nestor. Whomsoever shall drink
of me, fair-crowned Aphrodite will immediately seize.
Did I hesitate to raise that cup and drink deeply, to intoxication?
Shortly after I arrived in Ischia in 1999, Dr. Abigail Brundin, an English scholar, asked me to photograph a fresco for the preface to her translation of Vittoria Colonna's poems, entitled "Sonnets for Michelangelo." While in the convent, I saw also in the adjoining library an oil painting of the famous Renaissance poet.
"A fascinating early altarpiece from Ischia, executed by an unknown Neapolitan artist in the first decades of the sixteenth century in the church of San Francesco or Sant' Antonio di Padova, depicts Colonna and her aunt kneeling beneath the Madonna of Mercy who offers her breast to the infant Christ. Colonna is in sumptuous secular dress, the only known extant depiction of her before her widowhood, and holding a book in one hand; Costanza is dressed in a widow's weeds. The positioning of the two women side by side beneath the Madonna suggests a relationship of parity and their shared role as "first lady" at the court in the abscence of their men folk."
Now, at first sight I was captivated both by Vittoria's beauty and her formidable poetic talent. Her expression of love is mystical, ineffable, and fictional. She thus transcends the cold reality of an always absent husband, the loneliness of a broken marriage.
In 1538 she writes:
I seem to see a woman of passion and spirit,
far from the errant crowd in her lonely dwelling
and joyous in turning away from
all the things rejected by her one true lover,
and I see her halting her desires and setting her feet
upon a high mountain; therefore I mirror and purify myself
in her wondrous example and urge on and raise up my thoughts,
following in her blessed footsteps and imitating her holy deeds.
This cruel rock represents for me her
lofty cave, but the sun that inflamed her
from so close heats my own hear from far off.
I struggle here to free my heart from cold ice and tight knots,
so that she, kneeling at the feet of the one she adores and worships,
may bind it with the strong chains of love.