Madonna (Мадонна), Alexander Pushkin

The Bridgewater Madonna, National Gallery of Scotland
The Bridgewater Madonna, National Gallery of Scotland

All is not as it seems. This was dedicated to Natalia Goncharova, who was to become Pushkin’s wife. Michael Wachtel unlocks the riddle in his Commentary to Pushkin’s Lyric Poetry, 1826–1836. Pushkin had seen Raphael’s Bridgewater Madonna (above), and was reminded of Natalia (see portrait below). He wrote to her: “The ladies are asking to see your portrait and they do not forgive me for not having it. I console myself passing entire hours in front of a blonde Madonna that resembles you as two drops of water, and I would buy it if it didn’t cost 40,000 rubles.” Wachtel points out: “Accordingly, the title plays on two meanings of ‘Madonna’ – the first is religious, while the second goes back to troubadour poetry and the literal translation of ‘madonna’ as ‘my lady’.” (Wachtel, p. 184)

I’ve never wished to decorate my mean abode
With rows and rows of fine and celebrated pictures,
To draw from guests some fawning, superstitious rictures,
Attending as the experts’ clever views have flowed.

No, in the simple corner where my labour’s done,
I’ve only ever wanted but one painted witness,
And only one: as from the heavens, so from canvas,
The Virgin pure, presenting her beloved Son –

Majestic, she, and he with wisdom in his eyes –
There calmly watch in glory, under radiant skies,
Alone in Zion, with no angels in attendance.

They are enough for me. Madonna, you have been
Revealed to me by God Almighty’s sweet transcendence,
The purest model, of the purest joy the queen.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Не множеством картин старинных мастеров
Украсить я всегда желал свою обитель,
Чтоб суеверно им дивился посетитель,
Внимая важному сужденью знатоков.

В простом углу моем, средь медленных трудов,
Одной картины я желал быть вечно зритель,
Одной: чтоб на меня с холста, как с облаков,
Пречистая и наш божественный спаситель –

Она с величием, он с разумом в очах –
Взирали, кроткие, во славе и в лучах,
Одни, без ангелов, под пальмою Сиона.

Исполнились мои желания. Творец
Тебя мне ниспослал, тебя, моя Мадонна,
Чистейшей прелести чистейший образец.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

Natalia Pushkina, Alexander Brullov, 1831
Natalia Pushkina, Alexander Brullov, 1831

 

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