van Eyck in literature: The Island of the Day Before by Umberto
first novel featuring Jacob van Eyck has yet to be written, but there
is one literary work in which the Utrecht Orpheus appears, even though
he is not named specifically. It is the book L'isola del giorno prima
or The Island of the Day Before (1994) by Umberto Eco, known
primarily for his previous best-selling novels The Name of the Rose
and Foucault's Pendulum. The author, Professor of Semiotics at
the University of Bologna, is also a keen amateur recorder player.
Island of the Day
Before is an adventure story set in 1643. The main character,
the young Italian nobleman Roberto, is shipwrecked aboard the
Amarilli (in the English version translated as Amaryllis).
He winds up on a Dutch vessel then known as a 'fluyt' in
Dutch, the same word for 'recorder'. The ship is called the Daphne.
And in his imagination there is another ship called the Tweede
Daphne, "that is to say, Daphne
the Second, a sign [
] that somewhere there must be a
Daphne the First, which showed how those Protestants lacked
not only faith but also imagination."
(transl. W. Weaver, p. 403)
[mia bella]', '[Doen] Daphne' and 'Tweede Daphne': recorder players
will recognize these as titles of variation works from Van Eyck's Der
Fluyten Lust-hof. Chapter 7 of The Island of the Day Before,
moreover, is entitled 'Pavane Lachryme'.
relationship with Van Eyck becomes apparent in one of Roberto's dreams
was early morning, and Roberto again was dreaming. He dreamed
of Holland. It was while the Cardinal's men were conducting him
to Amsterdam to put him on the Amaryllis. During the journey
they stopped at a city, and he entered the cathedral. He was impressed
by the cleanliness of the naves, so different from those of Italian
and French churches. Bare of decorations, only a few standards
hanging from the naked columns, the glass windows plain and without
images: the sun created there a milky atmosphere
dotted only by the few black forms of the worshippers below. In
that peace a single sound was heard, a sad melody that seemed
to wander through the ivory air, born from the capitals or the
keystones. Then he noticed in one chapel, in the ambulatory of
the choir, a man in black, alone in one corner playing a little
recorder, his eyes staring into the void.
the musician finished, Roberto went over to him, wondering if
he should give him something; not looking into Roberto's face,
the man thanked him for his praise, and Roberto realized he was
blind. He was the master of the bells (der Musicyn
en Directeur van de Klokwerken, le carillonneur, der Glockenspieler,
he tried to explain), but it was also part of his job to delight
with the sound of his flute the faithful who lingered at evening
in the yard and the cemetery beside the church. He knew many melodies,
and on each he developed two, three, sometimes even five variations
of increasing complexity, nor was it necessary for him to read
notes: born blind, he could move in that handsome luminous space
(yes, he said luminous) of his church, seeing, as he said, the
sun with his skin. He explained how his instrument was so much
a living thing, that it reacted to the seasons, and to the temperature
of morning and sunset, but in the church there was always a sort
of diffuse warmth that guaranteed the wood a steady perfection-and
Roberto reflected on the notion of diffuse warmth a man of the
north might have, for he himself was growing cold in this clarity.
musician played for him the first melody twice more, and said
it was entitled "Doen Daphne d'over schoone Maeght."
He refused any offering,touched
Roberto's face and said, or at least Roberto understood him to
say, that "Daphne" was something sweet, which would
accompany Roberto all of his life.
on the Daphne, Roberto opened his eyes and, without doubt,
heard coming from below, through the fissures in the wood, the
notes of "Daphne," as if it were being played by a more
metallic instrument which, not hazarding variations, repeated
at regular intervals the first phrase of the tune, like a stubborn
told himself at once that it was a most ingenious emblem: to be
on a fluyt named Daphne and to hear music for flute
entitled "Daphne." It was pointless to persist in the
illusion that this was a dream. It was a new message from the
evokes splendid, poetic images, although they do not always tally
with actual historical circumstances.
melody Roberto hears is produced by a water organ with twenty
pipes, "which Father Caspar had taught
him how to set in motion: he heard always and only 'Daphne,' because
he had not learned how to change the cylinder; but he was not
sorry to listen hour after hour to the same tune."
to listen to the theme of 'Doen Daphne', performed by Erik
Eco, L'isola del giorno prima. Milano: Fabbri/RCS Libri, 1994.
The Island of the Day Before. Translated by William Weaver. London:
Secker & Warburg, 1995.
Die Insel des vorigen Tages. Übersetzt von Burkhart Kroeber.
München: Hanser, 1995.
L'Île du jour d'avant. Traduction de Jean-Noël Schifano.
Paris: Grasset, 1996.
Het eiland van de vorige dag. Vertaald door Yond Boeke en Patty
Krone. Amsterdam: Bert Bakker, 1995.