Tuesday 24 October 2017

What Lies Beneath: Emily Dickinson by Stefania Morgante

Emily Dickinson by Stefania Morgante Courtesy of the artist

Emily Dickinson by Stefania Morgante.
Emily Dickinson by Stefania Morgante.

Niall MacMonagle

'Because I could not stop for Death - He kindly stopped for me", and stop he did for Miss Emily Dickinson of Main Street, Amherst, Massachusetts on this day, 15 May, in 1886. Unknown in her lifetime, she lived an ostensibly quiet life. "I do not go from home" she claimed; when her nephew died from typhoid, aged eight, Dickinson went next door, to her brother's house, for the first time in 15 years. Now world-famous, her poetry reminds us that "The Brain - is wider than the Sky . . . The Brain is deeper than the sea".

Italian artist Stefania Morgante discovered Dickinson at 16, "during a summer of passion, torments, high-school boredom and uncertainty. I loved her sharp, essential and blinding language, her beautiful metaphors, her scalpel-like words". Born in southern Italy, educated at Europe's oldest university, Bologna, where Umberto Eco and Gianni Celati were her professors, Morgante now lives in Tarcento, in her grandfather's house, built 1850 - "old house, old garden, old roses. I have a studio that faces the mountains, I cycle, I garden; I'm a kind of Emily Dickinson myself after all."

This portrait, part of a series, features "universally famous women: Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Amelia Rosselli, whom I knew, Grazia Deledda, Nobel Laureate." One well-known image of Dickinson survives - a daguerreotype - and Dickinson described herself as "small, like the Wren, and my hair is bold, like the chestnut burr - and my eyes, like the Sherry in the Glass, that the Guest leaves". Using watercolour and collage, Stefania Morgante captures Dickinson's powerful, confident intelligence. The dress and ribbon are "deliberately made from pages from inappropriate, glamorous, fashionable Vogue."

Dickinson was, as she put it, "Called Back" 130 years ago today. Buried, as instructed, in one of her white dresses, a sprig of violets and a single pink orchid pinned at the throat, her white coffin was carried to her grave, three fields away, from her father's house by six Irishmen, all of whom had worked one time on her father's grounds. When her Gentleman Caller, Death, came, "The Carriage held but just Ourselves - and Immortality." And wasn't she right. Si, si.

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