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Per la Nativita di Nostro Signore

Esther Frances (Francesca) Alexander

American Art

In this exquisite drawing, a buttercup plant, rendered in fine, precise pen strokes applied in a stippled pattern, is nestled between the lyrics of an Italian folk ballad about Saint Zita. Although the floral decoration is not explicitly related to the song, the plant seems to interact with the verse, with a few bladelike leaves overlapping the text registers.

An expatriate living in Florence, Francesca Alexander gained international attention through the advocacy of the famous English art critic John Ruskin, who admired her artistic naturalism and religious piety. Ruskin helped her publish a compilation of embellished song sheets, including S. Zita, as Roadside Songs of Tuscany (1884–85).
MEDIUM Pen and ink on paper
DATES 1868-1882
DIMENSIONS Sheet: 15 1/8 x 10 15/16 in. (38.4 x 27.8 cm)
INSCRIPTIONS Inscribed upper right corner in ink: "xcvii"
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CREDIT LINE Dick S. Ramsay Fund
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION This drawing is one of a set of 122 illustrations the artist made for "Roadside Songs of Tuscany" (English edition, 1885; American edition, 1897). Sheet with music for hymn in upper half; in lower half, two verses flanking drawing of irises and, along bottom, inscribed banner. Verse at left, in English, reads: "Unto Bethlehem let us depart, / Ere the cold Winter morning shall break: / I would see thee, oh heart of my heart, / Born on earth, a poor child, for my sake! / Jesus, who art precious to see! / E'en from heaven, love hath brought thee to me. / Oh believers, come with me and gaze / O this sun which at midnight arose! / He who warms all the earth with his rays, / Hath come down with the frost and the snows. / Wonder and praise! There doth he lie! / Yet his throne is of stars in the sky!" Verse at right, in Italian, reads: "A Bethlem, a Bethlem, oh cuor mio, Andiam pure, con rapido piè: E vedremo fatt'uomo quel Dio / Ch'or languisce, vagisce per me! / O Gesu mio, cuor del mio cuore! / Fin dal Cielo ti trasse l'amore. / Oh fedeli, venite, mirate, / Che bel sole di note spuntò! / Ecco, rema fra l'ombre gelate, / Chi d'amore ogni cuore infiammò. / Deh, non tardate, anime belle! / Sta sul fieno, chi trono ha di stelle." In banner at bottom: "From the corona di sacre canzone. I have translated only two verses of this little hymn, though it is very beautiful in the original, because / the sentiment is so very like that of the first Christmas hymn in the book: 'Mira cuor mio durissimo': these two I have put in for the sake of the pret- / -ty tune."
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