With the best will to do so, I cannot be much impressed by the glory and power of the Doges. They wear a look, to me, very little removed from Town Councillors: carried out to the highest power, no doubt, but incorrigibly municipal none the less; and the journey through these halls of their deliberations is tedious and unenchanting. That I am wrong I am only too well aware. Does not Venetian history, with its triumphs and pageantry of world-power, prove it? And would Titian and Paul Veronese and Tintoretto have done all this for a Mayor and Corporation? These are awkward questions. None the less, there it is, and the Doges' Palace, within, would impart no thrill to me were it not for Tintoretto's "Bacchus and Ariadne."
Having paid for our tickets (for only on Sundays and holidays is the Palace free) we take the Scala d'Oro, designed by Sansovino, originally intended only for the feet of the grandees of the Golden Book. The first room is an ante-room where catalogues are sold; but these are not needed, for every room, or nearly every room, has hand-charts of the paintings, and every room has a custodian eager to impart information. Next is the Hall of the Four Doors, with its famous and typical Titian—Doge Grimani, fully armed and accompanied by warriors, ecstatically acknowledging religion, as symbolized by a woman, a cross, and countless cherubim. Behind her is S. Mark with an expression of some sternness, and beside him his lion, roaring.
Doges, it appears,—at any rate the Doges who reigned during Titian's long life—had no sense of humour, or they could not have permitted this kind of self-glorification in paint. Both here and at the Accademia we shall see picture after picture in which these purse-proud Venetian administrators, suspecting no incongruity or absurdity, are placed, by Titian and Tintoretto, on terms of perfect intimacy with the hierarchy of heaven. Sometimes they merely fraternize; sometimes they masquerade as the Three Kings or Wise Men from the East; but always it is into the New Testament that, with the aid of the brush of genius, they force their way.
Modesty can never have been a Venetian characteristic; nor is it now, when Venice is only a museum and show place. All the Venetians—the men, that is,—whom one sees in the Piazza have an air of profound self-satisfaction. And this palace of the Doges is no training-place for humility; for if its walls do not bear witness, glorious and chromatic, to the greatness of a Doge, it is merely because the greatness of the Republic requires the space. In this room, for example, we find Tiepolo allegorizing Venice as the conqueror of the sea.
And now for the jewel of art in the Doges' Palace. It is in the room opposite the door by which we entered—the ante-room of the Sala del Collegio—and it faces us, on the left as we enter: the "Bacchus and Ariadne" of Tintoretto. We have all seen the "Bacchus and Ariadne" of Titian in our National Gallery, that superb, burning, synchronized epitome of the whole legend. Tintoretto has chosen one incident only; Love bringing Bacchus to the arms of Ariadne and at the same moment placing on his head a starry coronal. Even here the eternal pride of Venice comes in, for, made local, it has been construed as Love, or say Destiny, completing the nuptials of the Adriatic (Bacchus) with Venice (Ariadne), and conferring on Venice the crown of supremacy. But that matters nothing. What matters is that the picture is at once Tintoretto's simplest work and his most lovely. One can do nothing but enjoy it in a kind of stupor of satisfaction, so soothing and perfect is it. His "Crucifixion," which we shall see at the Scuola of S. Rocco, must ever be this giant painter's most tremendous achievement; but the picture before us must equally remain his culminating effort in serene, absolute beauty. Three other mythological paintings, companions of the "Bacchus," are here too, of which I like best the "Minerva" and the "Mercury"; but they are far from having the quality of that other. I have an idea that "The Origin of the Milky Way," in the National Gallery, was painted as a ceiling piece to go with these four, but I have no data for the theory, beyond its similarity in size and scheme. The other great picture in this room is Paul Veronese's sumptuous "Rape of Europa."
The Sala del Collegio itself, leading from this room, is full of Doges in all the magnificence of paint, above the tawdriest of wainscotting. Tintoretto gives us Doge Andrea Gritti praying to the Virgin, Doge Francesco Donato witnessing as an honoured guest the nuptials of S. Catherine, Doge Niccolo da Ponte surveying the Virgin in glory, and Doge Alvise Mocenigo condescending to adore his Saviour. Paul Veronese depicts an allegory of the battle of Lepanto in 1571, at which Venice temporarily overcame the Turks. The kneeling white-bearded warrior beside S. Giustina is the victor, afterwards Doge Sebastiano Venier, and Christ looks on in approval. Tintoretto also painted for the Palace a picture of this battle, but it perished in the fire of 1576. It is Veronese who painted the virtues and attributes on the ceiling, one of his most famous works being the woman with a web, who is sometimes called "Industry" and sometimes "Dialectics," so flexible is symbolism. "Fidelity" has a dog with a fine trustful head. To my weary eye the finest of the groups is that of Mars and Neptune, with flying cherubs, which is superbly drawn and coloured. Nothing but a chaise-longue on which to lie supine, at ease, can make the study of these wonderful ceilings anything but a distressing source of fatigue.
The next room is the Sala del Senato, and here again we find a blend of heaven and Venice, with Doges as a common denominator. A "Descent from the Cross" (by Tintoretto) is witnessed by Doge Pietro Lando and Doge Marcantonio Trevisan; and the same hand gives us Pietro Loredan imploring the aid of the Virgin. In the centre ceiling painting Tintoretto depicts Venice as Queen of the Sea. The other artist here is Palma the younger, whose principal picture represents Doge Leonardo Loredan presiding over an attack by a lion on a bull, typifying the position of the Republic when Pope Julius launched the League of Cambray against it in 1508. The Doge does not look dismayed, but Venice never recovered from the blow.
The room on the right of the throne leads to the chapel, which has several small pictures. A Giovanni Bellini is over the altar, but it is not one of his best. During his long life in Venice Bellini saw ten Doges, and in his capacity as ducal painter painted four of them.
Returning to the Sala delle Quattro Porte (by way of the "Bacchus and Ariadne" room, if we are wise), we make for the Sala del Consiglio dei Dieci, the terrible Council of Ten. All Venetian histories are eloquent upon this secret Tribunal, which, more powerful far than the Doge himself, for five centuries, beginning early in the fourteenth, ruled the city. On the walls are historical paintings which are admirable examples of story-telling, and on the ceiling are Veroneses, original or copied, the best of which depicts an old man with his head on his hand, fine both in drawing and colour. It was in the wall of the next room that the famous Bocca di Leone was placed, into which were dropped those anonymous charges against Venetian citizens which the Council of Ten investigated, and if true, or, very likely, if not true, punished with such swiftness and thoroughness. How a state that offered such easy temptations to anti-social baseness and treachery could expect to prosper one cannot imagine. It suggests that the Venetian knowledge of human nature was defective at the roots.
In the next room the Three Heads of the Council of Ten debated, and here the attendant goes into spasms of delight over a dazzling inlaid floor.
This is all that is shown upstairs, for the piombi, or prison cells in the leaden roof, are now closed.
Downstairs we come to the two Great Halls—first the gigantic Sala del Maggior Consiglio, with Tintoretto's "Paradiso" at one end; historical pictures all around; the portraits of the Doges above; a gorgeous ceiling which, I fear, demands attention; and, mercifully, the little balcony over the lagoon for escape and recovery. But first let us peep into the room on the left, where the remains of Guariento's fresco of Paradise, which Tintoretto was to supersede, have been set up: a necessarily somewhat meaningless assemblage of delicate tints and pure drawing. Then the photograph stall, which is in that ancient room of the palace that has the two beautiful windows on a lower level than the rest.
It is melancholy to look round this gigantic sala of the great Council and think of the pictures which were destroyed by the great fire in 1576, when Sebastiano Venier was Doge, among them that rendering of the battle of Lepanto, the Doge's own victory, which Tintoretto painted with such enthusiasm. A list of only a few of the works of art which from time to time have fallen to the flames would be tragic reading. Among the artists whose paintings were lost in the 1576 fire were, in addition to Tintoretto, Titian, Giovanni and Gentile Bellini, Gentile da Fabriano and Carpaccio. Sad, too, to think that the Senators who once thronged here—those grave, astute gentlemen in furred cloaks whom Tintoretto and Titian and Moroni and Moretto painted for us—assemble here no more. Sightseers now claim the palace, and the administrators of Venetian affairs meet in the Municipio, or Town Hall, on the Grand Canal.
The best thing about the room is the room itself: the courage of it in a little place like Venice! Next, I suppose, all eyes turn to the "Paradiso," and they can do nothing else if the custodian has made himself one of the party, as he is apt to do. The custodians of Venice are in the main silent, pessimistic men. They themselves neither take interest in art nor understand why you should. Their attitude to you is if not contempt only one remove from it. But one of the officials in the Doges' Palace who is sometimes to be found in this Great Hall is both enthusiastic and vocal. He has English too, a little. His weakness for the "Paradiso" is chiefly due to the circumstance that it is the "largest oil painting in the world." I dare say this is true; but the same claim, I recall, was once made for an original poster in the Strand. The "Paradiso" was one of Tintoretto's last works, the commission coming to him only by the accident of Veronese's death. Veronese was the artist first chosen, with a Bassano to assist, but when he died, Tintoretto, who had been passed over as too old, was permitted to try. The great man, painting on canvas, at the Misericordia, which had been turned into a studio for him, and being assisted by his son Domenico, finished it in 1590; and it was the delight of Venice. At first he refused payment for it, and then consented to take a present, but a smaller one than the Senate wished to offer.
The scheme of the work is logical and again illustrates his thoughtful thoroughness. At the head of all is Christ with His Mother, about and around them the angelic host led by the archangels—Michael with the scales, Gabriel with lilies, and Raphael, in prayer, each of whom presides, as we have seen, over one corner of the Palace. The next circle contains the greatest Biblical figures, Moses, David, Abraham, Solomon, Noah, the Evangelists (S. Mark prominent with his lion), and the Early Fathers. The rest of the picture is given to saints and martyrs. Not the least interesting figure is the S. Christopher, on the right, low down by the door. At his feet is the painter's daughter, for years his constant companion, who died while he was at work upon this masterpiece.
The ceiling should be examined, if one has the strength, for Veronese's sumptuous allegory of the Apotheosis of Venice. In this work the painter's wife sat for Venice, as she sat also for Europa in the picture which we have just seen in the Ante-Collegio.
On the walls are one-and-twenty representations of scenes in Venetian history devoted to the exploits of the two Doges, Sebastiano Ziani (1172-1178) and Enrico Dandolo (1192-1205). The greatest moment in the career of Ziani was the meeting of Barbarossa and the Pope, Alexander III, at S. Mark's, which has already been described; but his reign was eventful throughout. His first act as Doge was to punish the assassination of his predecessor, Vitale Michiel, who, for what was held to be the bad management of an Eastern campaign which utterly and disastrously failed, and for other reasons, was killed by the mob outside S. Zaccaria. To him succeeded Ziani and the close of the long feud between the Pope and the Emperor. It was the Pope's sojourn in Venice and his pleasure in the Venetians' hospitality which led to the elaboration of the ceremony of espousing the Adriatic. The Pope gave Ziani a consecrated ring with which to wed his bride, and much splendour was added to the pageant; while Ziani, on his return from a visit to the Pope at the Vatican, where the reconciliation with Barbarossa made it possible for the Pontiff to be at ease again, brought with him various pompous insignia that enormously increased his prestige among simple folk. It was also Ziani who had the columns of S. Theodore and the Lion erected on the Molo, while it was in his reign that the first Rialto bridge was begun. Having been Doge for six years, he retired to the monastery of S. Giorgio and there died some years later, leaving a large fortune to the poor of Venice and the church of S. Mark.
The paintings represent the Pope Alexander III recognized by the Doge when hiding in Venice; the departure of the Papal and Venetian Ambassadors for Pavia to interview the Emperor; the Pope presenting the Doge with a blessed candle; the Ambassadors before the Emperor (by Tintoretto); the Pope presenting the Doge with a sword, on the Molo; the Pope blessing the Doge; the naval battle of Salvatore, in which the Emperor Otto was captured; the Doge presenting Otto to the Pope; the Pope giving Otto his liberty; the Emperor at the Pope's feet in the vestibule of S. Mark's; the arrival of the Pope elsewhere; the Emperor and the Doge at Ancona; the Pope presenting the Doge with gifts in Rome.
Ziani seems to have been a man of address, but the great Enrico Dandolo was something more. He was a superb adventurer. He became Doge in 1193, at the trifling age of eighty-four, with eyes that had long been dimmed, and at once plunged into enterprises which, if not greatly to the good of Venice, proved his own indomitable spirit and resource. It was the time of the Fourth Crusade and the Venetians were asked to supply transports for the French warriors of the Cross to the theatre of war. After much discussion Dandolo replied that they would do so, the terms being that the Venetian vessels should carry 4500 horses, 9000 esquires, and 20,000 foot soldiers, with provisions for nine months, and for this they should be paid 85,000 silver marks. Venice also would participate in the actual fighting to the extent of providing fifty galleys, on condition that half of every conquest, whether by sea or by land, should be hers. Such was the arrangement, and the shipbuilding began at once.
But disaster after disaster occurred. The Christian commander sickened and died; a number of Crusaders backed out; others went direct to Palestine. This meant that the Venetians, who had prepared for a mighty host, incurred immense expenses which could not be met. As some reparation it was suggested to the small army of Crusaders who did arrive in the city for deportation that on their way to the Holy Land they should stop at Zara, on the Dalmatian coast, an unruly dependence of the Republic, and assist in chastising it. The objections to this course were grave. One was that the King of Hungary, in whose dominions was Zara, was a Christian and a Crusader himself; another that the Pope (Innocent III) forbade the project. Old blind Dandolo, however, was adamant. Not only must the Crusaders help the Venetians whom they had so much embarrassed by their broken bond, but he would go too. Calling the people together in S. Mark's, this ancient sightless bravo asked if it was not right that he should depart on this high mission, and they answered yes. Descending from the pulpit, he knelt at the altar and on his bonnet the Cross was fastened.
Before the expedition left, a messenger came from Alexius, nephew of the usurping King of Constantinople and son of the rightful king, praying the Venetians to sail first for Constantinople and support his father's case, and to deal faithfully with Zara later; but Dandolo said that the rebellious Zara had prior claims, and in spite of Papal threats and even excommunication, he sailed for that place on November 10, 1202. It did not take long to subdue the garrison, but winter setting in, Dandolo decided to encamp there until the spring. The delay was not profitable to the Holy Cause. The French and the Venetians grew quarrelsome, and letters from the Pope warned the French (who held him in a dread not shared by their allies) that they must leave Zara and proceed with the Crusade instantly, or expect to suffer his wrath.
Then arrived the Prince Alexius once more, with definite promises of money and men for the Crusades if the allies would come at once and win back for him the Constantinople throne. Dandolo, who saw immense Venetian advantage here, agreed, and carrying with it most of the French, the fleet sailed for the Golden Horn. Dandolo, I might remark, was now ninety-four, and it should not be forgotten that it was when he was an emissary of the Republic at Constantinople years before that he had been deprived forcibly of his sight. He was a soldier, a statesman, and (as all good Doges were) a merchant, but he was humanly mindful of past injustices too. Hence perhaps much of his eagerness to turn aside for Byzantium.
The plan was for the French to attack on the land; the Venetians on the sea. Blind though he had become, Dandolo's memory of the harbour and fortifications enabled him to arrange the naval attack with the greatest skill, and he carried all before him, himself standing on the prow of a vessel waving the banner of S. Mark. The French on land had a less rapid victory, but they won, none the less, and the ex-king Isaac was liberated and crowned once more, with his son. Both, however, instantly took to tyranny and luxurious excess, and when the time came for the promises of reward to be fulfilled nothing was done. This led to the mortification and anger of the allies, who declared that unless they were paid they would take Constantinople for themselves. War was inevitable. Meanwhile the Greeks, hating alike Venetians, French, and the Pope, proclaimed a new king, who at once killed Alexius; and the allies prepared for battle by signing a treaty, drawn up by the wily nonagenarian, in which in the event of victory Venice took literally the lion's share of the spoils.
The fighting then began. At first the Greeks were too strong, and a feeling grew among the allies that withdrawal was best; but Dandolo refused; they fought on, and Constantinople was theirs. Unhappily the victors then lost all control, and every kind of horror followed, including the wanton destruction of works of art beautiful beyond dreams. Such visible trophies of the conquest as were saved and brought back to Venice are now to be seen in S. Mark's. The four bronze horses were Dandolo's spoils, the Pala d'oro, probably the four carved columns of the high altar, and countless stone pillars and ornaments that have been worked into the structure.
The terms of the treaty were carried out faithfully, and the French paid the Venetians their original debt. Baldwin, Count of Flanders, the head of the Crusade, was named Emperor and crowned; Venice acquired large tracts of land, including the Ionian Islands; and Dandolo became "Doge of Venice, Dalmatia, and Croatia, and Lord of one-fourth and one-eighth of the Roman Empire."
The painters have chosen from Dandolo's career the following scenes: Dandolo and the Crusaders pledging themselves in S. Mark's; the capture of Zara; the request of Alexius for help; the first capture of Constantinople by Dandolo, who set the banner on the wall; the second capture of Constantinople; the election of Baldwin as Emperor; the crowning of Baldwin by Dandolo.
I said at the beginning of this precis of a gigantic campaign that it was not of great profit to Venice; nor was it. All her life she had better have listened to the Little Venice party, but particularly then, for only misfortune resulted. Dandolo, however, remains a terrific figure. He died in Constantinople in 1205 and was buried in S. Sofia. Doge Andrea Dandolo, whose tomb we saw in the Baptistery, was a descendant who came to the throne some hundred and forty years later.
Mention of Andrea Dandolo brings us to the portraits of Doges around the walls of this great hall, where the other Dandolo will also be found; for in the place adjoining Andrea's head is a black square. Once the portrait of the Doge who succeeded Andrea was here too, but it was blacked out. Marino Faliero, for he it was, became Doge in 1354 when his age was seventy-six, having been both a soldier and a diplomatist. He found himself at once involved in the war with Genoa, and almost immediately came the battle of Sapienza, when the Genoese took five thousand prisoners, including the admiral, Niccolo Pisani. This blow was a very serious one for the Venetians, involving as it did great loss of life, and there was a growing feeling that they were badly governed. The Doge, who was but a figure-head of the Council of Ten, secretly thinking so too, plotted for the overthrow of the Council and the establishment of himself in supreme power. The Arsenal men were to form his chief army in the revolt; the false alarm of a Genoese attack was to get the populace together; and then the blow was to be struck and Faliero proclaimed prince. But the plot miscarried through one of the conspirators warning a friend to keep indoors; the ringleaders were caught and hanged or exiled; and the Doge, after confessing his guilt, was beheaded in the courtyard of this palace. His coffin may be seen in the Museo Civico, and of his unhappy story Byron made a drama.
One of Faliero's party was Calendario, an architect, employed on the part of the Doges' Palace in which we are now standing. He was hanged or strangled between the two red columns in the upper arches of the Piazzetta facade.
The first Doge to be represented here is Antenorio Obelerio (804-810), but he had had predecessors, the first in fact dating from 697. Of Obelerio little good is known. He married a foreigner whom some believe to have been an illegitimate daughter of Charlemagne, and her influence was bad. His brother Beato shared his throne, and in the end probably chased him from it. Beato was Doge when Rialto became the seat of government, Malamocco having gone over to the Franks under Pepin. But of Beato no account is here taken, Obelerio's successor being Angelo Partecipazio (810-827), who was also the first occupant of the first Ducal Palace, on the site of a portion of the present one. It was his son Giustiniano, sharing the throne with his father, who hit upon the brilliant idea of stealing the body of S. Mark from Alexandria and of preserving it in Venice, thus establishing that city not only as a religious centre but also as a place of pilgrimage and renown. As Mrs. Richardson remarks in her admirable survey of the Doges: "Was it not well that the government of the Doge Giustiniano and his successors throughout the age should become the special concern of a Saint-Evangelist in whose name all national acts might be undertaken and accomplished; all national desires and plans—as distinct from and dominant over purely ecclesiastical ones—be sanctified and made righteous?" The success of the scheme of theft I have related in an earlier chapter; and how this foresight was justified, history tells. It is odd that Venice does not make more acclamation of Giustiniano (or Partecipazio II). To his brother Giovanni, who early had shown regrettable sympathy with the Franks and had been banished accordingly, Giustiniano bequeathed the Dogeship (as was then possible), and it was in his reign (829-836) that S. Mark's was begun.
The last Doge in this room is Girolamo Priuli (1559-1567), of whom nothing of account is remembered save that it was he who invited Tintoretto to work in the palace and on one of the ceilings. You may see his portrait in one of the rooms, from Tintoretto's brush, in the company of Venice, Justice, S. Mark and the Lion.
Of the others of the six-and-seventy Doges around the room I do not here speak. The names of such as are important will be found elsewhere throughout this book, as we stand beside their tombs or glide past their palaces.
Before leaving the Hall one should, as I have said, walk to the balcony, the door of which the custodian opens for each visitor with a mercenary hand. It should of course be free to all; and Venice would do well to appoint some official (if such could be found) to enforce such liberties. Immediately below is all the movement of the Molo; then the edge of the lagoon with its myriad gondolas; then the sparkling water, with all its busy activities and swaying gondoliers; and away beyond it the lovely island of S. Giorgio. A fairer prospect the earth cannot show.
The first Doge in the Sala dello Scrutinio is Pietro Loredan (1567-1570) and the last of all Lodovico Manin (1788-1797) who fell before the inroads of Napoleon. "Take it away," he said to his servant, handing him the linen cap worn beneath the ducal corno, "we shall not need it any more." He retired into piety and left his fortune to good works.
This room, also a fine and spacious hall but smaller than the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, has historical pictures, and a "Last Judgment," by Palma the younger, which immensely interests the custodian by reason of a little human touch which may or may not be true. On the left of the picture, in the Infernal regions, low down, will be seen a large semi-nude female sinner in torment; on the right, in heaven, the same person is seen again, in bliss. According to the custodian this lady was the painter's innamorata, and he set her in both places as a reward for her varying moods. The other pictures represent the capture of Zara by Marco Giustiniani in 1346. Zara, I may mention, had very badly the habit of capture: this was the eighth time it had fallen. Tintoretto is the painter, and it is one of his best historical works. The great sea-fight picture on the right wall represents another battle of Lepanto, a later engagement than Venier's; the painter is Andrea Vicentino, who has depicted himself as the figure in the water; while in another naval battle scene, in the Dardanelles, the painter, Pietro Liberi, is the fat naked slave with a poniard. For the rest the guide-book should be consulted. The balcony of the room, which juts over the Piazzetta, is rarely accessible; but if it is open one should tarry there for the fine view of Sansovino's Old Library.
The second set of showrooms (which require the expenditure of another lira)—the oldest rooms in the palace—constitute the Archaeological Museum. Here one sees a few pictures, a few articles of vertu, some sumptuous apartments, some rich ceilings, and a wilderness of ancient sculpture. The first room shown, the Sala degli Scarlatti, is the bedroom of the Doges, with a massive and rather fine chimney piece and an ornate ceiling. The next room, the Sala dello Scudo, has a fine decorative, if inaccurate, map of the world, made by a monk in the fifteenth century. The next, the Sala Grimani, has rival lions of S. Mark by Jacobello del Fiore, an early Venetian painter, in 1415, and Carpaccio a century later. Jacopo's lion has a very human face; Carpaccio's picture is finer and is also interesting for its architectural details. The next room, the Sala Erizzo, has a very splendid ceiling. The next is not remarkable, and then we come on the right to the Sala dei Filosofi where the custodian displays, at the foot of the staircase, the charming fresco of S. Christopher which Titian made for Doge Andrea Gritti. It is a very pleasing rendering, and the Christ Child never rode more gaily or trustfully on the friendly saint. With true patriotism Titian has placed the incident in a shallow of the lagoon and the Doges' Palace is seen in the distance.
Then follow three rooms in the Doges' suite in which a variety of treasures are preserved, too numerous and heterogeneous for description.
The antique section of the Archaeological Museum is not of general interest. It consists chiefly of Greek and Roman sculpture collected by Cardinal Grimani or dug from time to time from the soil of Venetian provinces. Here are a few beautiful or precious relics and much that is indifferent. In the absence of a Hermaphrodite, the most popular possession is (as ever) a group of Leda and the Swan. I noted among the more attractive pieces a Roman altar with lovers (Baedeker calls them satyrs), No. 68; a Livia in black marble, No. 102; a nice girl, Giulia Mammea, No. 142; a boy, very like a Venetian boy of to-day, No. 145; a giant Minerva, No. 169; a Venus, No. 174; an Apollo, No. 223. A very beautiful Pieta by Giovanni Bellini, painted under the influence of Duerer, should be sought and found.
The Bridge of Sighs, a little way upon which one may venture, is more interesting in romantic fancy than in fact, and its chief merit is to span very gracefully the gulf between the Palace and the Prison. With the terrible cells of the Doges' Palace, to which we are about to descend, it has no connexion. When Byron says, in the famous line beginning the fourth canto of "Childe Harold,"
I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs,
he probably meant that he stood in Venice on the Bridge of Straw (Ponte di Paglia) and contemplated the Bridge of Sighs. Because one does not stand on the Bridge of Sighs but in it, for it is merely dark passages lit by gratings. But to stand on the Ponte di Paglia on the Riva and gaze up the sombre Rio del Palazzo with the famous arch poised high over it is one of the first duties of all visitors to Venice and a very memorable experience.
Lastly, the horrible cells (which cost half a lira more), upon which and the damp sinister rooms where the place of execution and oubliette were situated, a saturnine custodian says all that is necessary. Let me, however, quote a warning from the little Venetian guide-book: "Everybody to whom are pointed out the prisons to which Carmagnola, Jacopo Foscari, Antonio Foscarini, etc., were confined, will easily understand that such indications cannot be true at all."
THE DOGES' PALACE. II: THE EXTERIOR
The colour of Venice—Sunny Gothic—A magical edifice—The evolution of a palace—A fascinating balcony—The carved capitals—A responsible column—The Porta della Carta—The lions of Venice—The Giants' Stairs—Antonio Rizzo—A closed arcade—Casanova—The bronze wells—A wonderful courtyard—Anonymous accusations—A Venetian Valhalla.
"That house," said an American on a Lido steamboat, pointing to the Doges' Palace, "is a wonder in its way."
Its way is unique. The soft gentle pink of its south and west facades remains in the memory as long and as firmly as the kaleidoscopic hues of S. Mark's. This pink is, I believe, the colour of Venice.
Whether or not the Doges' Palace as seen from S. Giorgio Maggiore, with its seventeen massive arches below, its thirty-four slender arches above, above them its row of quatrefoiled circles, and above them its patterned pink wall with its little balcony and fine windows, the whole surmounted by a gay fringe of dazzling white stone—whether or not this is the most beautiful building in the world is a question for individual decision; but it would, I think, puzzle anyone to name a more beautiful one, or one half so charming. There is nothing within it so entrancing as its exterior—always with the exception of Tintoretto's, "Bacchus and Ariadne."
The Ducal Palace is Gothic made sprightly and sunny; Gothic without a hint of solidity or gloom. So light and fresh is the effect, chiefly the result of the double row of arches and especially of the upper row, but not a little due to the zig-zagging of the brickwork and the vivid cheerfulness of the coping fringe, that one has difficulty in believing that the palace is of any age at all or that it will really be there to-morrow. The other buildings in the neighbourhood—the Prison, the Mint, the Library, the Campanile: these are rooted. But the Doges' Palace might float away at any moment. Aladdin's lamp set it there: another rub and why should it not vanish?
The palace as we see it now has been in existence from the middle of the sixteenth century. Certain internal changes and rebuildings have occurred, but its facades on the Piazzetta and lagoon, the Giants' Stairs, the courtyard, were then as now. But before that time constant structural modification was in progress. The original palace ran beside the Rio del Palazzo from S. Mark's towers to the Ponte di Paglia, with a wing along the lagoon. Its width was equal to that from the present Noah or Vine Corner by the Ponte di Paglia to the fifth column from that corner. Its wing extended to the Piazzetta. A wall and moat protected it, the extent of its ramparts being practically identical with the extent of the present building. This, the first, palace was erected in the ninth century, after the seat of government was changed from Malamocco to Venice proper.
Various conflagrations, in addition to the growing needs of the State, led to rebuilding and enlargement. The first wing was added in the twelfth century, when the basement and first floor of the portion from the Porta della Carta to the thick seventh column from the Adam and Eve group, under the medallion of Venice, on the Piazzetta facade, was set up, but not in the style which we now know. That was copied three centuries later from the Riva or lagoon facade. In 1301 the hall above the original portion on the Rio del Palazzo side, now called the Sala del Senato, was added and the lagoon wing was rebuilt, the lower arches, which are there to-day, being then established. A few years later, a still greater hall being needed, the present Sala del Maggior Consiglio was erected, and this was ready for use in 1423. The lagoon facade as we see it now, with its slender arches above the sturdy arches, thus dates from the beginning of the fifteenth century, and this design gave the key to the builders of later Venice, as a voyage of the Grand Canal will prove.
It was the great Doge Tommaso Mocenigo (1413-1423) who urged upon the Senate the necessity of completing the palace. In 1424 the work was begun. Progress was slow and was hindered by the usual fire, but gradually the splendid stone wall on the Rio del Palazzo side went up, and the right end of the lagoon facade, and the Giants' Stairs, and the Piazzetta facade, reproducing the lagoon facade. The elaborately decorated facades of the courtyard came later, and by 1550 the palace was finished. The irregularity of the windows on the lagoon facade is explained by this piecemeal structure. The four plain windows and the very graceful balcony belong to the Sala del Maggior Consiglio. The two ornate windows on the right were added when the palace was brought into line with this portion, and they are lower because the room they light is on a level lower than the great Council Hall's. The two ugly little square windows (Bonington in his picture in the Louvre makes them three) probably also were added then.
When the elegant spired cupolas at each corner of the palace roof were built, I do not know, but they look like a happy afterthought. The small balcony overlooking the lagoon, which is gained from the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, and which in Canaletto and Guardi's eighteenth-century pictures always, as now, has a few people on it, was built in 1404. It is to be seen rightly only from the water or through glasses. The Madonna in the circle is charming. She has one child in her arms and two at her knees, and her lap is a favourite resting-place for pigeons. In the morning when the day is fine the green bronze of the sword and crown of Justice (or, as some say, Mars), who surmounts all, is beautiful against the blue of the sky.
The Piazzetta facade balcony was built early in the sixteenth century, but the statue of S. George is a recent addition, Canova being the sculptor.
Now let us examine the carved capitals of the columns of the Ducal Palace arcade, for these are extremely interesting and transform it into something like an encyclopedia in stone. Much thought has gone to them, the old Venetians' love of symbols being gratified often to our perplexity. We will begin at the end by the Porta della Carta, under the group representing the Judgment of Solomon—the Venetians' platonic affection for the idea of Justice being here again displayed. This group, though primitive, the work of two sculptors from Fiesole early in the fifteenth century, has a beauty of its own which grows increasingly attractive as one returns and returns to the Piazzetta. Above the group is the Angel Gabriel; below it, on the richly foliated capital of this sturdy corner column, which bears so much weight and splendour, is Justice herself, facing Sansovino's Loggetta: a little stone lady with scales and sword of bronze. Here also is Aristotle giving the law to some bearded men; while other figures represent Solon, another jurist, Scipio the chaste, Numa Pompilius building a church, Moses receiving the tables of the law, and Trajan on horseback administering justice to a widow. All are named in Latin.
The second capital has cherubs with fruit and birds and no lettering.
The third has cranes and no lettering.
The fourth is allegorical, representing, but without much psychology, named virtues and vices, such as misery, cheerfulness, folly, chastity, honesty, falsehood, injustice, abstinence.
The fifth has figures and no lettering. A cobbler faces the campanile. It is above this fifth column that we notice in the upper row of arches two columns of reddish stain. It was between these that malefactors were strangled.
The sixth has symbolical figures which I do not understand. Ruskin suggests that they typify the degradation of human instincts. A knight in armour is here. A musician seated on a fish faces the Old Library. There is no lettering, and as is the case throughout the figures on the wall side are difficult to discern.
The seventh represents the vices, and names them: luxury, gluttony, pride, anger, avarice, idleness, vanity, envy.
The eighth represents the virtues and names them: hope, faith, fortitude, temperance, humility, charity, justice, prudence.
The ninth has virtues and vices, named and mixed: modesty, discord, patience, constancy, infidelity, despair, obedience, liberality.
The tenth has named fruits.
Ruskin thinks that the eleventh may illustrate various phases of idleness. It has no lettering.
The twelfth has the months and their employments, divided thus: January (indoors) and February, March blowing his pipes, April with a lamb and May, June (the month of cherries), July with a sheaf of corn and August, September (the vintage), October and November, and December, pig-sticking.
The thirteenth, on a stouter column than the others, because it has a heavier duty, namely, to bear the party wall of the great Council Hall, depicts the life of man. There is no lettering. The scenes represent love (apparently at first sight), courtship, the marriage bed, and so forth, the birth of the baby, his growth and his death. Many years ago this column was shown to me by the captain of a tramp steamer, as the most interesting thing in Venice; and there are others who share his opinion. Above it on the facade is the medallion of the Queen of the Adriatic ruling her domains.
The fourteenth capital represents national types, named: Persian, Latin, Tartar, Turk, Hungarian, Greek, Goth, and Egyptian.
The fifteenth is more elaborate and ingenious. It represents the ages of man and his place in the stellar system. Thus, infancy is governed by the moon, childhood by Mercury, youth by the sun, and so forth.
The sixteenth depicts various craftsmen: the smith, the mason, the goldsmith, the carpenter, the notary, the cobbler, the man-servant, the husbandman. Over this are traces of a medallion, probably of porphyry, now removed.
The seventeenth has the heads of animals: lion, bear, wolf, and so forth, including the griffin each with its prey.
The eighteenth has eight stone-carving saints, some with a piece of coloured marble, all named, and all at work: S. Simplicius, S. Symphorian, who sculps a figure, S. Claudius, and others.
And now we are at the brave corner column which unconcernedly assumes a responsibility that can hardly be surpassed in the world. For if it were to falter all would go. Down would topple two of the loveliest facades that man ever constructed or the centuries ever caressed into greater beauty. This corner of the palace has an ever-increasing fascination for me, and at all hours of the day and night this strong column below and the slenderer one above it hold the light—whether of sun or moon or artifice—with a peculiar grace.
The design of this capital is, fittingly enough, cosmic. It represents the signs of the Zodiac with the addition, on the facet opposite the Dogana, of Christ blessing a child. Facing S. Giorgio are Aquarius and Capricornus, facing the Lido are Pisces and Sagittarius. Elsewhere are Justice on the Bull, the Moon in a boat with a Crab, and a Virgin reading to the Twins.
Above this capital, on the corner of the building itself, are the famous Adam and Eve, presiding over the keystone of the structure as over the human race. It is a naive group, as the photograph shows, beneath the most tactful of trees, and it has no details of beauty; and yet, like its companions, the Judgment of Solomon and the Sin of Ham, it has a curious charm—due not a little perhaps to the softening effect of the winds and the rains. High above our first parents is the Angel Michael.
The first capital after the corner (we are now proceeding down the Riva) has Tubal Cain the musician, Solomon, Priscian the grammarian, Aristotle the logician, Euclid the geometrician, and so forth, all named and all characteristically employed.
The second has heads of, I suppose, types. Ruskin suggests that the best looking is a Venetian and the others the Venetians' inferiors drawn from the rest of the world.
The third has youths and women with symbols, signifying I know not what. All are corpulent enough to suggest gluttony. This is repeated in No. 11 on the Piazzetta side.
The fourth has various animals and no lettering.
The fifth has lions' heads and no lettering.
The sixth has virtues and vices and is repeated in the fourth on the Piazzetta.
The seventh has cranes, and is repeated in the third on the Piazzetta.
The eighth has vices again and is repeated in the seventh on the Piazzetta. Above it are traces of a medallion over three triangles.
The ninth has virtues and is repeated in the eighth on the Piazzetta.
The tenth has symbolical figures, and is repeated in the sixth on the Piazzetta.
The eleventh has vices and virtues and is repeated in the ninth on the Piazzetta.
The twelfth has female heads and no lettering.
The thirteenth has named rulers: Octavius, Titus, Trajan, Priam, Darius, and so forth, all crowned and ruling.
The fourteenth has children and no lettering.
The fifteenth has heads, male and female, and no lettering. Above it was once another medallion and three triangles.
The sixteenth has pelicans and no lettering.
The seventeenth and last has children with symbols and no lettering.
Above this, on the corner by the bridge, is the group representing the Sin of Ham. Noah's two sons are very attractive figures. Above the Noah group is the Angel Raphael.
The gateway of the palace—the Porta della Carta—was designed by Giovanni and Bartolommeo Bon, father and son, in the fourteen thirties and forties. Francesco Foscari (1423-1457) being then Doge, it is he who kneels to the lion on the relief above, and again on the balcony of the Piazzetta facade. At the summit of the portal is Justice once more, with two attendant lions, cherubs climbing to her, and live pigeons for ever nestling among them. I counted thirty-five lions' heads in the border of the window and thirty-five in the border of the door, and these, with Foscari's one and Justice's two, and those on the shields on each side of the window, make seventy-five lions for this gateway alone. Then there are lions' heads between the circular upper arches all along each facade of the palace.
It would be amusing to have an exact census of the lions of Venice, both winged and without wings. On the Grand Canal alone there must be a hundred of the little pensive watchers that sit on the balustrades peering down. As to which is the best lion, opinions must, of course, differ, the range being so vast: between, say, the lion on the Molo column and Daniele Manin's flamboyant sentinel at the foot of the statue in his Campo. Some would choose Carpaccio's painted lion in this palace; others might say that the lion over the Giants' Stairs is as satisfying as any; others might prefer that fine one on the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi by the Rialto bridge, and the Merceria clock tower's lion would not want adherents.
Why this lovely gateway was called the Porta della Carta (paper) is not absolutely certain: perhaps because public notices were fixed to its door; perhaps because paper-sellers frequented it; perhaps because the scriveners of the Republic worked hereabouts. Passing through it we have before us the Giants' Stairs, designed by Antonio Rizzo and taking their name from the two great figures of Mars and Neptune at the top by Jacopo Sansovino. On the upright of each step is a delicate inlaid pattern—where, in England, so often we read of the virtues of malted milk or other commodity. Looking back from the foot of the stairs we see Sansovino's Loggetta, framed by the door; looking back from the top of the stairs we have in front of us Rizzo's statues of Adam and Eve. This Antonio Rizzo, or Ricci, who so ably fortified Sansovino as a beautifier of Venice, was a Veronese, of whom little is known. He flourished in the second half of the fifteenth century.
Every opportunity of passing through the courtyard should be taken, and during the chief hours of the day there is often—but not invariably—a right of way between the Porta della Carta and the Riva, across the courtyard, while the first floor gallery around it, gained by the Giants' Stairs, is also open. For one of those capricious reasons, of which Italian custodians everywhere hold the secret, the delightful gallery looking on the lagoon and Piazzetta is, however, closed. I once found my way there, but was pursued by a frantic official and scolded back again.
The courtyard is inexhaustible in interest and beauty, from its bronze well-heads to the grated leaden prison cells on the roof, the terrible piombi which were so dreaded on account of their heat in summer and cold in winter. Here in the middle of the eighteenth century that diverting blackguard, Jacques Casanova, was imprisoned. He was "under the leads" over the Piazzetta wing, and the account of his durance and his escape is one of the most interesting parts, and certainly the least improper, of his remarkably frank autobiography. Venice does not seem to have any pride in this son of hers, but as a master of licentiousness, effrontery, adventurousness, and unblushing candour he stands alone in the world. Born at Venice in 1725, it was in the seminary of S. Cyprian here that he was acquiring the education of a priest when events occurred which made his expulsion necessary. For the history of his utterly unprincipled but vivacious career one must seek his scandalous and diverting pages. In 1755, on an ill-starred return visit to his native city, he was thrown into this prison, but escaping and finding his way to Paris, he acquired wealth and position as the Director of State Lotteries. Casanova died in 1798, but his memories cease with 1774. His pages may be said to supply a gloss to Longhi's paintings, and the two men together complete the picture of Venetian frivolity in their day and night.
The well-head nearer the Giants' Stairs was the work of Alberghetti and is signed inside. The other has the head of Doge Francesco Venier (1554-1556) repeated in the design and is stated within to be the work of Niccolo Conti, a son of Venice. Coryat has a passage about the wells which shows how much more animated a scene the ducal courtyard used to present than now. "They yeeld very pleasant water," he writes. "For I tasted it. For which cause it is so much frequented in the Sommer time that a man can hardly come thither at any time in the afternoone, if the sunne shineth very hote, but he shall finde some company drawing of water to drinke for the cooling of themselves." To-day they give water no more, nor do the pigeons come much to the little drinking place in the pavement here but go rather to that larger one opposite Cook's office.
Everything that an architect can need to know—and more—may be learned in this courtyard, which would be yet more wonderful if it had not its two brick walls. Many styles meet and mingle here: Gothic and Renaissance, stately and fanciful, sombre and gay. Every capital is different. Round arches are here and pointed; invented patterns and marble with symmetrical natural veining which is perhaps more beautiful. Every inch has been thought out and worked upon with devotion and the highest technical skill; and the antiseptic air of Venice and cleansing sun have preserved its details as though it were under glass.
In the walls beneath the arcade on the Piazzetta side may be seen various ancient letter-boxes for the reception of those accusations against citizens, usually anonymous, in which the Venetians seem ever to have rejoiced. One is for charges of evading taxation, another for those who adulterate bread, and so forth.
The upper gallery running round the courtyard has been converted into a Venetian—almost an Italian—Valhalla. Here are busts of the greatest men, and of one woman, Catherine Cornaro, who gave Cyprus to the Republic and whom Titian painted. Among the first busts that I noted—ascending the stairs close to the Porta della Carta—was that of Ugo Foscolo, the poet, patriot, and miscellaneous writer, who spent the last years of his life in London and became a contributor to English periodicals. One of his most popular works in Italy was his translation of Sterne's Sentimental Journey. He died at Turnham Green in 1827, but his remains, many years after, were moved to Santa Croce in Florence. Others are Carlo Zeno, the soldier; Goldoni, the dramatist; Paolo Sarpi, the monkish diplomatist; Galileo Galilei, the astronomer and mathematician; the two Cabots, the explorers, and Marco Polo, their predecessor; Niccolo Tommaseo, the patriot and associate of Daniele Manin, looking very like a blend of Walt Whitman and Tennyson; Dante; a small selection of Doges, of whom the great Andrea Dandolo is the most striking; Tintoretto, Giovanni Bellini, Titian, and Paul Veronese; Tiepolo, a big-faced man in a wig whom the inscription credits with having "renewed the glory" of the two last named; Canova, the sculptor; Daniele Manin, rather like John Bright; Lazzaro Mocenigo, commander in chief of the Venetian forces, rather like Buffalo Bill; and flanking the entrance to the palace Vittorio Pisani and Carlo Zeno, the two patriots and warriors who together saved the Republic in the Chioggian war with the Genoese in the fourteenth century.
This collection of great men makes no effort to be complete, but it is rather surprising not to find such very loyal sons of Venice as Canaletto, Guardi and Longhi among the artists, and Giorgione is of course a grievous omission.
The two columns—An ingenious engineer—S. Mark's lion—S. Theodore of Heraclea—The Old Library—Jacopo Sansovino—The Venetian Brunelleschi—Vasari's life—A Venetian library—Early printed books—The Grimani breviary—A pageant of the Seasons—The Loggetta—Coryat again—The view from the Molo—The gondolier—Alessandro and Ferdinando—The danger of the traghetto—Indomitable talkers—The fair and the fare—A proud father—The rampino.
The Piazzetta is more remarkable in its architectural riches than the Piazza. S. Mark's main facade is of course beyond words wonderful; but after this the Piazza has only the Merceria clock and the Old and the New Procuratie, whereas the Piazzetta has S. Mark's small facade, the Porta della Carta and lovely west facade of the Doges' Palace, the columns bearing S. Mark's lion and S. Theodore, Sansovino's Old Library and Loggetta; while the Campanile is common to both. The Piazzetta has a cafe too, although it is not on an equality either with Florian's or the Quadri, and on three nights a week a band plays.
The famous Piazzetta columns, with S. Theodore and his crocodile (or dragon) on one and the lion of S. Mark on the other, which have become as much a symbol of Venice as the facade of S. Mark's itself, were brought from Syria after the conquest of Tyre. Three were brought in all, but one fell into the water and was never recovered. The others lay on the quay here for half a century waiting to be set up, a task beyond human skill until an engineer from Lombardy volunteered to do it on condition that he was to have any request granted. His request was to be allowed the right of establishing a gaming-table between the columns; and the authorities had to comply, although gambling was hateful to them. A few centuries later the gallows were placed here too. Now there is neither gambling nor hanging; but all day long loafers sit on the steps of the columns and discuss pronto and subito and cinque and all the other topics of Venetian conversation.
I wonder how many visitors to Venice, asked whether S. Theodore on his column and the Lion of S. Mark on his, face the lagoon or the Merceria clock, would give the right answer. The faces of both are turned towards the clock; their backs to the lagoon. The lion, which is of bronze with white agates for his eyes, has known many vicissitudes. Where he came from originally, no one knows, but it is extremely probable that he began as a pagan and was pressed into the service of the Evangelist much later. Napoleon took him to Paris, together with the bronze horses, and while there he was broken. He came back in 1815 and was restored, and twenty years ago he was restored again. S. Theodore was also strengthened at the same time, being moved into the Doges' Palace courtyard for that purpose.
There are several saints named Theodore, but the protector and patron of the Venetians in the early days before Mark's body was stolen from Alexandria, is S. Theodore of Heraclea. S. Theodore, surnamed Stretelates, or general of the army, was a famous soldier and the governor of the country of the Mariandyni, whose capital was Heraclea. Accepting and professing the Christian faith, he was beheaded by the Emperor Licinius on February 7, 319. On June 8 in the same year his remains were translated to Euchaia, the burial-place of the family, and the town at once became so famous as a shrine that its name was changed to Theodoropolis. As late as 970 the patronage of the Saint gave the Emperor John I a victory over the Saracens, and in gratitude the emperor rebuilt the church where Theodore's relics were preserved. Subsequently they were moved to Mesembria and then to Constantinople, from which city the great Doge Dandolo brought them to Venice. They now repose in S. Salvatore beneath an altar.
The west side of the Piazzetta consists of the quiet and beautiful facade of Sansovino's Old Library. To see it properly one should sit down at ease under the Doge's arcade or mount to the quadriga gallery of S. Mark's. Its proportions seem to me perfect, but Baedeker's description of it as the most magnificent secular edifice in Italy seems odd with the Ducal Palace so near. They do not, however, conflict, for the Ducal Palace is so gay and light, and this so serious and stately. The cherubs with their garlands are a relaxation, like a smile on a grave face; yet the total effect is rather calm thoughtfulness than sternness. The living statues on the coping help to lighten the structure, and if one steps back along the Riva one sees a brilliant column of white stone—a chimney perhaps—which is another inspiriting touch. In the early morning, with the sun on them, these statues are the whitest things imaginable.
The end building, the Zecca, or mint, is also Sansovino's, as are the fascinating little Loggetta beneath the campanile, together with much of its statuary, the giants at the head of Ricco's staircase opposite, and the chancel bronzes in S. Mark's, so that altogether this is peculiarly the place to inquire into what manner of man the Brunelleschi of Venice was. For Jacopo Sansovino stands to Venice much as that great architect to Florence. He found it lacking certain essential things, and, supplying them, made it far more beautiful and impressive; and whatever he did seems inevitable and right.
Vasari wrote a very full life of Sansovino, not included among his other Lives but separately published. In this we learn that Jacopo was born in Florence in 1477, the son of a mattress-maker named Tatti; but apparently 1486 is the right date. Appreciating his natural bent towards art, his mother had him secretly taught to draw, hoping that he might become a great sculptor like Michael Angelo, and he was put as apprentice to the sculptor Andrea Contucci of Monte Sansovino, who had recently set up in Florence and was at work on two figures for San Giovanni; and Jacopo so attached himself to the older man that he became known as Sansovino too. Another of his friends as a youth was Andrea del Sarto.
From Florence he passed to Rome, where he came under the patronage of the Pope Julius II, of Bramante, the architect, and of Perugino, the painter, and learned much by his studies there. Returning to Florence, he became one of the most desired of sculptors and executed that superb modern-antique, the Bacchus in the Bargello. Taking to architecture, he continued his successful progress, chiefly again in Rome, but when the sack of that city occurred in 1527 he fled and to the great good fortune of Venice took refuge here. The Doge, Andrea Gritti, welcomed so distinguished a fugitive and at once set him to work on the restoration of S. Mark's cupolas, and this task he completed with such skill that he was made a Senior Procurator and given a fine house and salary.
As a Procurator he seems to have been tactful and active, and Vasari gives various examples of his reforming zeal by which the annual income of the Procuranzia was increased by two thousand ducats. When, however, one of the arches of Sansovino's beautiful library fell, owing to a subsidence of the foundations, neither his eminent position nor ability prevented the authorities from throwing him into prison as a bad workman; nor was he liberated, for all his powerful friends, without a heavy fine. He built also several fine palaces, the mint, and various churches, but still kept time for his early love, sculpture, as his perfect little Loggetta, and the giants on the Staircase, and such a tomb as that in S. Salvatore, show.
This is Vasari's description of the man: "Jacopo Sansovino, as to his person, was of the middle height, but rather slender than otherwise, and his carriage was remarkably upright; he was fair, with a red beard, and in his youth was of a goodly presence, wherefore he did not fail to be loved, and that by dames of no small importance. In his age he had an exceedingly venerable appearance; with his beautiful white beard, he still retained the carriage of his youth: he was strong and healthy even to his ninety-third year, and could see the smallest object, at whatever distance, without glasses, even then. When writing, he sat with his head up, not supporting himself in any manner, as it is usual for men to do. He liked to be handsomely dressed, and was singularly nice in his person. The society of ladies was acceptable to Sansovino, even to the extremity of age, and he always enjoyed conversing with or of them. He had not been particularly healthy in his youth, yet in his old age he suffered from no malady whatever, in-so-much that, for a period of fifty years, he would never consult any physician even when he did feel himself indisposed. Nay, when he was once attacked by apoplexy, he would still have nothing to do with physic, but cured himself by keeping in bed for two months in a dark and well-warmed chamber. His digestion was so good that he could eat all things without distinction: during the summer he lived almost entirely on fruits, and in the very extremity of his age would frequently eat three cucumbers and half a lemon at one time.
"With respect to the qualities of his mind, Sansovino was very prudent; he foresaw readily the coming events, and sagaciously compared the present with the past. Attentive to his duties, he shunned no labour in the fulfilment of the same, and never neglected his business for his pleasure. He spoke well and largely on such subjects as he understood, giving appropriate illustrations of his thoughts with infinite grace of manner. This rendered him acceptable to high and low alike, as well as to his own friends. In his greatest age his memory continued excellent; he remembered all the events of his childhood, and could minutely refer to the sack of Rome and all the other occurrences, fortunate or otherwise, of his youth and early manhood. He was very courageous, and delighted from his boyhood in contending with those who were greater than himself, affirming that he who struggles with the great may become greater, but he who disputes with the little must become less. He esteemed honour above all else in the world, and was so upright a man of his word, that no temptation could induce him to break it, of which he gave frequent proof to his lords, who, for that as well as other qualities, considered him rather as a father or brother than as their agent or steward, honouring in him an excellence that was no pretence, but his true nature."
Sansovino died in 1570, and he was buried at San Gimignano, in a church that he himself had built. In 1807, this church being demolished, his remains were transferred to the Seminario della Salute in Venice, where they now are.
Adjoining the Old Library is the Mint, now S. Mark's Library, which may be both seen and used by strangers. It is not exactly a British Museum Reading-room, for there are but twelve tables with six seats at each, but judging by its usually empty state, it more than suffices for the scholarly needs of Venice. Upstairs you are shown various treasures brought together by Cardinal Bessarione: MSS., autographs, illuminated books, and incunabula. A fourteenth-century Dante lies open, with coloured pictures: the poet very short on one page and very tall on the next, and Virgil, at his side, very like Christ. A Relazione della Morte de Anna Regina de Francia, a fifteenth-century work, has a curious picture of the queen's burial. The first book ever printed in Venice is here: Cicero's Epistolae, 1469, from the press of Johannes di Spira, which was followed by an edition of Pliny the Younger. A fine Venetian Hypnerotomachia, 1499, is here, and a very beautiful Herodotus with lovely type from the press of Gregorius of Venice in 1494. Old bindings may be seen too, among them a lavish Byzantine example with enamels and mosaics. The exhibited autographs include Titian's hand large and forcible; Leopardi's, very neat; Goldoni's, delicate and self-conscious; Galileo's, much in earnest; and a poem by Tasso with myriad afterthoughts.
But the one idea of the custodian is to get you to admire the famous Grimani Breviary—not alas! in the original, which is not shown, but in a coloured reproduction. Very well, you say; and then discover that the privilege of displaying it is the perquisite of a rusty old colleague. That is to say, one custodian extols the work in order that another may reap a second harvest by turning its leaves. This delightful book dates from the early sixteenth century and is the work of some ingenious and masterly Flemish miniaturist with a fine sense of the open air and the movement of the seasons. But it is hard to be put off with an ordinary bookseller's traveller's specimen instead of the real thing. If one may be so near Titian's autograph and the illuminated Divine Comedy, why not this treasure too? January reveals a rich man at his table, dining alone, with his servitors and dogs about him; February's scene is white with snow—a small farm with the wife at the spinning-wheel, seen through the door, and various indications of cold, without; March shows the revival of field labours; April, a love scene among lords and ladies; May, a courtly festival; June, haymaking outside a fascinating city; July, sheep-shearing and reaping; August, the departure for the chase; September, grape-picking for the vintage; October, sowing seeds in a field near another fascinating city—a busy scene of various activities; November, beating oak-trees to bring down acorns for the pigs; and December, a boar hunt—the death. And all most gaily coloured, with the signs of the Zodiac added.
The little building under the campanile is Sansovino's Loggetta, which he seems to have set there as a proof of his wonderful catholicity—to demonstrate that he was not only severe as in the Old Library, and Titanic as in the Giants, but that he had his gentler, sweeter thoughts too. The Loggetta was destroyed by the fall of the campanile; but it has risen from its ruins with a freshness and vivacity that are bewildering. It is possible indeed to think of its revivification as being more of a miracle than the new campanile: for the new campanile was a straight-forward building feat, whereas to reconstruct Sansovino's charm and delicacy required peculiar and very unusual gifts. Yet there it is: not what it was, of course, for the softening quality of old age has left it, yet very beautiful, and in a niche within a wonderful restoration of Sansovino's group of the Madonna and Child with S. John. The reliefs outside have been pieced together too, and though here and there a nose has gone, the effect remains admirable. The glory of Venice is the subject of all.
The most superb of the external bronzes is the "Mercury" on the left of the facade. To the patience and genius of Signor Giacomo Boni is the restored statuary of the Loggetta due; Cav. Munaretti was responsible for the bronzes, and Signor Moretti for the building. All honour to them!
Old Coryat's enthusiasm for the Loggetta is very hearty. "There is," he says, "adjoyned unto this tower [the campanile] a most glorious little roome that is very worthy to be spoken of, namely the Logetto, which is a place where some of the Procurators of Saint Markes doe use to sit in judgement, and discusse matters of controversies. This place is indeed but little, yet of that singular and incomparable beauty, being made all of Corinthian worke, that I never saw the like before for the quantity thereof."
Where the Piazzetta especially gains over the Piazza is in its lagoon view. From its shore you look directly over the water to the church and island of S. Giorgio Maggiore, which are beautiful from every point and at every hour, so happily do dome and white facade, red campanile and green roof, windowed houses and little white towers, compose. But then, in Venice everything composes: an artist has but to paint what he sees. From the Piazzetta's shore you look diagonally to the right to the Dogana and the vast Salute and all the masts in the Giudecca canal; diagonally to the left is the Lido with a mile of dancing water between us and it.
The shore of the Piazzetta, or more correctly the Molo, is of course the spot where the gondolas most do congregate, apparently inextricably wedged between the twisted trees of this marine forest, although when the time comes—that is, when the gondolier is at last secured—easily enough detached. For there is a bewildering rule which seems to prevent the gondolier who hails you from being your oarsman, and if you think that the gondolier whom you hail is the one who is going to row you, you are greatly mistaken. It is always another. The wise traveller in Venice having chanced upon a good gondolier takes his name and number and makes further arrangements with him. This being done, on arriving at the Molo he asks if his man is there, and the name—let us say Alessandro Grossi, No. 91 (for he is a capital old fellow, powerful and cheerful, with a useful supply of French)—is passed up and down like a bucket at a fire. If Alessandro chances to be there and available, all is well; but if not, to acquire a substitute even among so many obviously disengaged mariners, is no joke.
Old Grossi is getting on in years, although still powerful. A younger Herculean fellow whom I can recommend is Ferdinando, No. 88. Ferdinando is immense and untiring, with a stentorian voice in which to announce his approach around the corners of canals; and his acquaintanceship with every soul in Venice makes a voyage with him an amusing experience. And he often sings and is always good-humoured.
All gondoliers are not so. A gondolier with a grudge can be a most dismal companion, for he talks to himself. What he says, you cannot comprehend, for it is muttered and acutely foreign, but there is no doubt whatever that it is criticism detrimental to you, to some other equally objectionable person, or to the world at large.
The gondolier does not differ noticeably from any other man whose business it is to convey his fellow creatures from one spot to another. The continual practice of assisting richer people than oneself to do things that oneself never does except for a livelihood would seem to engender a sardonic cast of mind. Where the gondolier chiefly differs from, say, the London cabman, is in his gift of speech. Cabmen can be caustic, sceptical, critical, censorious, but they do occasionally stop for breath. There is no need for a gondolier ever to do so either by day or night; while when he is not talking he is accompanying every movement by a grunt.
It is this habit of talking and bickering which should make one very careful in choosing a lodging. Never let it be near a traghetto; for at traghetti there is talk incessant, day and night: argument, abuse, and raillery. The prevailing tone is that of men with a grievance. The only sound you never hear there is laughter.
The passion for bickering belongs to watermen, although loquacity is shared by the whole city. The right to the back answer is one which the Venetian cherishes as jealously, I should say, as any; so much so that the gondolier whom your generosity struck dumb would be an unhappy man in spite of his windfall.
The gondolier assimilates to the cabman also in his liking to be overpaid. The English and Americans have been overpaying him for so many years that to receive now an exact fare from foreigners fills him with dismay. From Venetians, who, however, do not much use gondolas except as ferry boats, he expects it; but not from us, especially if there is a lady on board, for she is always his ally (as he knows) when it comes to pay time. A cabman who sits on a box and whips his horse, or a chauffeur who turns a wheel, is that and nothing more; but a gondolier is a romantic figure, and a gondola is a romantic craft, and the poor fellow has had to do it all himself, and did you hear how he was panting? and do look at those dark eyes! And there you are! Writing, however, strictly for unattended male passengers, or for strong-minded ladies, let me say (having no illusions as to the gondolier) that every gondola has its tariff, in several languages, on board, and no direct trip, within the city, for one or two persons, need cost more than one franc and a half. If one knows this and makes the additional tip sufficient, one is always in the right and the gondolier knows it.
One of the prettiest sights that I remember in Venice was, one Sunday morning, a gondolier in his shirt sleeves, carefully dressed in his best, with a very long cigar and a very black moustache and a flashing gold ring, lolling back in his own gondola while his small son, aged about nine, was rowing him up the Grand Canal. Occasionally a word of praise or caution was uttered, but for the most part they went along silently, the father receiving more warmth from the consciousness of successful paternity than we from the sun itself.
Gondoliers can have pride: but there is no pride about a rampino, the old scaramouch who hooks the gondola at the steps. Since he too was once a gondolier this is odd. But pride and he are strangers now. His hat is ever in his hand for a copper, and the transference of your still burning cigar-end to his lips is one of the most natural actions in the world.
THE GRAND CANAL. I: FROM THE DOGANA TO THE PALAZZO REZZONICO, LOOKING TO THE LEFT
The river of Venice—Canal steamers—Motor boats—Venetian nobility to-day—The great architects—A desirable enactment—The custom house vane—The Seminario and Giorgione—S. Maria della Salute—Tintoretto's "Marriage in Cana"—The lost blue curtain—San Gregorio—The Palazzo Dario—Porphyry—The story of S. Vio—Delectable homes—Browning in Venice—S. Maria della Carita.
To me the Grand Canal is the river of Venice—its Thames, its Seine, its Arno. I think of it as "the river." The rest are canals. And yet as a matter of fact to the Venetians the rest are rivers—Rio this and Rio that—and this the canal.
During a stay in Venice of however short a time one is so often on the Grand Canal that a knowledge of its palaces should come early. For fifteen centimes one may travel its whole length in a steamboat, and back again for another fifteen, and there is no more interesting half-hour's voyage in the world. The guide books, as a rule, describe both banks from the same starting-point, which is usually the Molo. This seems to me to be a mistake, for two reasons. One is that even in a leisurely gondola "all'ora" one cannot keep pace with literature bearing on both sides at once, and the other is that since one enters Venice at the railway station it is interesting to begin forthwith to learn something of the city from that point and one ought not to be asked to read backwards to do this. In this book therefore the left bank, from the custom house to the railway station, is described first, and then the other side returning from the station to the Molo.
The Grand Canal has for long had its steamers, and when they were installed there was a desperate outcry, led by Ruskin. To-day a similar outcry is being made against motor-boats, with, I think, more reason, as I hope to show later. But the steamer is useful and practically unnoticeable except when it whistles. None the less it was an interesting experience in April of this year (1914) to be living on the Grand Canal during a steamer strike which lasted for several days. It gave one the quieter Venice of the past and incidentally turned the gondoliers into plutocrats.
But there is a great difference between the steamers and the motor-boat. The steamer does not leave the Grand Canal except to enter the lagoon; and therefore the injustice that it does to the gondolier is limited to depriving him of his Grand Canal fares. The motor-boat can supersede the gondola on the small canals too. It may be urged that the gondolier has only to become an engineer and his position will be as secure. That may be true; but we all know how insidious is the deteriorating influence of petrol on the human character. The gondolier even now is not always a model of courtesy and content; what will he be when the poison of machinery is in him?
But there are graver reasons why the motor-boat should be viewed by the city fathers with suspicion. One is purely aesthetic, yet not the less weighty for that, since the prosperity of Venice in her decay resides in her romantic beauty and associations. The symbol of these is the gondola and gondolier, indivisible, and the only conditions under which they can be preserved are quietude and leisure. The motor-boat, which is always in a hurry and which as it multiplies will multiply hooters and whistles, must necessarily destroy the last vestige of Venetian calm. A second reason is that a small motor-boat makes a bigger wash than a crowded Grand Canal steamer, and this wash, continually increasing as the number of boats increases, must weaken and undermine the foundations of the houses on each side of the canals through which they pass. The action of water is irresistible. No natural law is sterner than that which decrees that restless water shall prevail.
Enjoyment of voyages up and down the Grand Canal is immensely increased by some knowledge of architecture; but that subject is so vast that in such a hors d'oeuvre to the Venetian banquet as the present book nothing of value can be said. Let it not be forgotten that Ruskin gave years of his life to the study. The most I can do is to name the architects of the most famous of the palaces and draw the reader's attention to the frequency with which the lovely Ducal gallery pattern recurs, like a theme in a fugue, until one comes to think the symbol of the city not the winged lion but a row of Gothic curved and pointed arches surmounted by circles containing equilateral crosses. The greatest names in Venetian architecture are Polifilo, who wrote the Hypnerotomachia, the two Bons, Rizzo, Sansovino, the Lombardis, Scarpagnino, Leopardi, Palladio, Sammicheli, and Longhena.
In the following notes I have tried to mention the place of practically every rio and every calle so that the identification of the buildings may be the more simple. The names of the palaces usually given are those by which the Venetians know them; but many, if not more, have changed ownership more than once since those names were fixed.
Although for the most part the palaces of the Grand Canal have declined from their original status as the homes of the nobility and aristocracy and are now hotels, antiquity stores, offices, and tenements, it not seldom happens that the modern representative of the great family retains the top floor for an annual Venetian sojourn, living for the rest of the year in the country.
I wish it could be made compulsory for the posts before the palaces to be repainted every year.
And so begins the voyage. The white stone building which forms the thin end of the wedge dividing the Grand Canal from the Canale della Giudecca is the Dogana or Customs House, and the cape is called the Punta della Salute. The figure on the Dogana ball, which from certain points has almost as much lightness as Gian Bologna's famous Mercury, represents Fortune and turns with the wind. The next building (with a green and shady garden on the Giudecca side) is the Seminario Patriarcale, a great bare schoolhouse, in which a few pictures are preserved, and, downstairs, a collection of ancient sculpture. Among the pictures is a much dam-aged classical scene supposed to represent Apollo and Daphne in a romantic landscape. Giorgione's name is often associated with it; I know not with what accuracy, but Signor Paoli, who has written so well upon Venice, is convinced, and the figure of Apollo is certainly free and fair as from a master's hand. Another picture, a Madonna and Child with two companions, is called a Leonardo da Vinci; but Baedeker gives it to Marco d'Oggiano. There is also a Filippino Lippi which one likes to find in Venice, where the prevailing art is so different from his. One of the most charming things here is a little relief of the manger; as pretty a rendering as one could wish for. Downstairs is the tomb of the great Jacopo Sansovino.
And now rises the imposing church of S. Maria della Salute which, although younger than most of the Venetian churches, has taken the next place to S. Mark's as an ecclesiastical symbol of the city. To me it is a building attractive only when seen in its place as a Venetian detail; although it must always have the impressiveness of size and accumulation and the beauty that white stone in such an air as this can hardly escape. Seen from the Grand Canal or from a window opposite, it is pretentious and an interloper, particularly if the slender and distinguished Gothic windows of the apse of S. Gregorio are also visible; seen from any distant enough spot, its dome and towers fall with equal naturalness into the majestic Venetian pageant of full light, or the fairy Venetian mirage of the crepuscle.
The church was decreed in 1630 as a thankoffering to the Virgin for staying the plague of that year. Hence the name—S. Mary of Salvation. It was designed by Baldassarre Longhena, a Venetian architect who worked during the first half of the seventeenth century and whose masterpiece this is.
Within, the Salute is notable for possessing Tintoretto's "Marriage in Cana," one of the few pictures painted by him in which he allowed himself an interval (so to speak) of perfect calm. It is, as it was bound to be in his hands and no doubt was in reality, a busy scene. The guests are all animated; the servitors are bustling about; a number of spectators talk together at the back; a woman in the foreground holds out a vessel to the men opposite to show them the remarkable change which the water has undergone. But it is in the centre of his picture (which is reproduced on the opposite page) that the painter has achieved one of his pleasantest effects, for here is a row of pretty women sitting side by side at the banquetting table, with a soft light upon them, who make together one of the most charming of those rare oases of pure sweetness in all Tintoretto's work. The chief light is theirs and they shine most graciously in it.
Among other pictures are a S. Sebastian by Basaiti, with a good landscape; a glowing altar-piece by Titian, in his Giorgionesque manner, representing S. Mark and four saints; a "Descent of the Holy Ghost," by the same hand but under no such influence; and a spirited if rather theatrical "Nativity of the Virgin" by Lucia Giordano. In the outer sacristy the kneeling figure of Doge Agostino Barbarigo should be looked for.
The Salute in Guardi's day seems to have had the most entrancing light blue curtains at its main entrance, if we may take the artist as our authority. See No. 2098 in the National Gallery, and also No. 503 at the Wallace collection. But now only a tiny side door is opened.
A steamboat station, used almost wholly by visitors, is here, and then a canal, and then the fourteenth-century abbey of S. Gregorio, whose cloisters now form an antiquity store and whose severe and simple apse is such a rebuke to Longhena's Renaissance floridity. Next is a delightful little house with one of the old cup-chimneys, forming one of the most desirable residences in Venice. It has a glazed loggia looking down to the Riva. We next come to a brand new spacious building divided into apartments, then a tiny house, and then the rather squalid Palazzo Martinengo. The calle and traghetto of S. Gregorio, and two or three old palaces and the new building which now holds Salviati's glass business, follow. After the Rio del Formase is a common little house, and then the Palazzo Volkoff, once Eleonora Duse's Venetian home.
Next is the splendid fifteenth-century Palazzo Dario, to my eyes perhaps the most satisfying of all, with its rich colouring, leaning walls, ancient chimneys and porphyry decorations. Readers of Henri de Regnier's Venetian novel La Peur de l'Amour may like to know that much of it was written in this palace. We shall see porphyry all along the Canal on both sides, always enriching in its effect. This stone is a red or purple volcanic rock which comes from Egypt, on the west coast of the Red Sea. The Romans first detected its beauty and made great use of it to decorate their buildings.
Another rio, the Torreselle, some wine stores, and then the foundations of what was to have been the Palazzo Venier, which never was built. Instead there are walls and a very delectable garden—a riot of lovely wistaria in the spring—into which fortunate people are assisted from gondolas by superior men-servants. A dull house comes next; then a stoffe factory; and then the Mula Palace, with fine dark blue poles before it surmounted by a Doge's cap, and good Gothic windows. Again we find trade where once was aristocracy, for the next palace, which is now a glass-works' show-room, was once the home of Pietro Barbarigo, Patriarch of Venice.
The tiny church of S. Vio, now closed, which gives the name to the Campo and Rio opposite which we now are, has a pretty history attached to it. It seems that one of the most devoted worshippers in this minute temple was the little Contessa Tagliapietra, whose home was on the other side of the Grand Canal. Her one pleasure was to retire to this church and make her devotions: a habit which so exasperated her father that one day he issued a decree to the gondoliers forbidding them to ferry her across. On arriving at the traghetto and learning this decision, the girl calmly walked over the water, sustained by her purity and piety.
The next palace, at the corner, is the Palazzo Loredan where the widow of Don Carlos of Madrid now lives. The posts have Spanish colours and a magnificent man-servant in a scarlet waistcoat often suns himself on the steps. Next is the comfortable Balbi Valier, with a motor launch called "The Rose of Devon" moored to its posts, and a pleasant garden where the Palazzo Paradiso once stood; and then the great and splendid Contarini del Zaffo, or Manzoni, with its good ironwork and medallions and a charming loggia at the side. Robert Browning tried to buy this palace for his son. Indeed he thought he had bought it; but there was a hitch. He describes it in a letter as "the most beautiful house in Venice." The next, the Brandolin Rota, which adjoins it, was, as a hotel, under the name Albergo dell'Universo, Browning's first Venetian home. Later he moved to the Zattere and after that to the Palazzo Rezzonico, to which we are soon coming, where he died.
Next we reach the church, convent and Scuola of S. Maria della Carita, opposite the iron bridge, which under rearrangement and restoration now forms the Accademia, or Gallery of Fine Arts, famous throughout the world for its Titians, Tintorettos, Bellinis, and Carpaccios. The church, which dates from the fifteenth century, is a most beautiful brown brick building with delicate corbelling under the eaves. Once there was a campanile too, but it fell into the Grand Canal some hundred and seventy years ago, causing a tidal wave which flung gondolas clean out of the water. We shall return to the Accademia in later chapters: here it is enough to say that the lion on the top of the entrance wall is the most foolish in Venice, turned, as it has been, into a lady's hack.
The first house after the Accademia is negligible—newish and dull with an enclosed garden; the next is the Querini; the next the dull Mocenigo Gambara; and then we come to the solid Bloomsbury-blackened stone Palazzo Contarini degli Scrigni and its neighbours of the same ownership. Then the Rio S. Trovaso, with a pretty garden visible a little way up, and then a gay new little home, very attractive, with a strip of garden, and next it the fifteenth-century Loredan. A tiny calle, and then the low Dolfin. Then the Rio Malpaga and after it a very delectable new residence with a terrace. A calle and traghetto, with a wall shrine at the corner, come next, and two dull Contarini palaces, one of which is now an antiquity store, and then the Rio S. Barnaba and the majestic sombre Rezzonico with its posts of blue and faded pink.
This for long was the home of Robert Browning, and here, as a tablet on the side wall states, he died. "Browning, Browning," exclaim the gondoliers as they point to it; but what the word means to them I cannot say.
THE GRAND CANAL. II: BROWNING AND WAGNER
The Palazzo Rezzonico—Mr. and Mrs. Browning—Browning's Venetian routine—In praise of Goldoni—Browning's death—A funeral service—Love of Italy—The Giustiniani family—A last resource—Wagner in Venice—Tristan und Isolde—Plays and Music—The Austrians in power—The gondoliers' chorus—The Foscari Palace.
The Rezzonico palace and one of the Giustiniani palaces which are its neighbours have such interesting artistic associations that they demand a chapter to themselves.
Browning is more intimately associated with Florence and Asolo than with Venice; but he enjoyed his later Venetian days to the full. His first visit here in 1851, with his wife, was however marred by illness. Mrs. Browning loved the city, as her letters tell. "I have been," she wrote, "between heaven and earth since our arrival at Venice. The heaven of it is ineffable. Never had I touched the skirts of so celestial a place. The beauty of the architecture, the silver trails of water up between all that gorgeous colour and carving, the enchanting silence, the moonlight, the music, the gondolas—I mix it all up together, and maintain that nothing is like it, nothing equal to it, not a second Venice in the world."
Browning left Florence for ever after his wife's death, and to Venice he came again in 1878, with his sister, and thereafter for some years they returned regularly. Until 1881 their home was at the Brandolin Rota. After that they stayed with Mrs. Arthur Bronson, to whom he dedicated Asolando, his last book, and who has written a record of his habits in the city of the sea. She tells us that he delighted in walking and was a great frequenter of old curiosity shops. His especial triumph was to discover a calle so narrow that he could not put up an umbrella in it. Every morning he visited the Giardini Pubblici to feed certain of the animals; and on every disengaged afternoon he went over to the Lido, to walk there, or, as Byron had done, to ride. On being asked by his gondolier where he would like to be rowed, he always said, "Towards the Lido," and after his failure to acquire the Palazzo Manzoni he thought seriously for a while of buying an unfinished Lido villa which had been begun for Victor Emmanuel. Browning's desire was to see sunsets from it.
Mrs. Bronson tells us that the poet delighted in the seagulls, which in stormy weather come into the city waters. He used to wonder that no books referred to them. "They are more interesting," he said, "than the doves of St. Mark." Venice did not inspire the poet to much verse. There is of course that poignant little drama entitled "In a Gondola," but not much else, and for some reason the collected works omit the sonnet in honour of Goldoni which was written for the ceremonies attaching to the erection of the dramatist's statue near the Rialto. Mrs. Orr tells us that this sonnet, which had been promised for an album in praise of Goldoni, was forgotten until the messenger from the editor arrived for the copy. Browning wrote it while the boy waited. The day was November 27, 1883.
Goldoni—good, gay, sunniest of souls— Glassing half Venice in that verse of thine— What though it just reflect the shade and shine Of common life, nor render, as it rolls, Grandeur and gloom? Sufficient for thy shoals Was Carnival: Parini's depths enshrine Secrets unsuited to that opaline Surface of things which laughs along thy scrolls. There throng the people: how they come and go, Lisp the soft language, flaunt the bright garb,—see,— On Piazza, Calle, under Portico And over Bridge! Dear king of Comedy, Be honoured! Thou that did'st love Venice so, Venice, and we who love her, all love thee.
The Rezzonico is the house most intimately associated with Browning in the public mind, although most of his Venetian life was spent elsewhere. It was here, on his last visit to his son, that the poet died. He had not been very well for some time, but he insisted on taking his daily walk on the Lido even although it was foggy. The fog struck in—it was November—and the poet gradually grew weaker until on December 12, 1889, the end came. At first he had lain in the left-hand corner room on the ground floor; he died in the corresponding room on the top floor, where there was more light.
Browning was buried in Westminster Abbey, but a funeral service was held first in Venice. In his son's words, "a public funeral was offered by the Municipality, which in a modified form was gratefully accepted. A private service, conducted by the British Chaplain, was held in one of the halls of the Rezzonico. It was attended by the Syndic of Venice and the chief City authorities, as well as by officers of the Army and Navy. Municipal Guards lined the entrance of the Palace, and a Guard of Honour, consisting of City firemen in full dress, stood flanking the coffin during the service, which was attended by friends and many residents. The subsequent passage to the mortuary island of San Michele was organized by the City, and when the service had been performed the coffin was carried by firemen to the massive and highly decorated funeral barge, on which it was guarded during the transit by four 'Uscieri' in gala dress, two sergeants of the Municipal Guard, and two firemen bearing torches. The remainder of these followed in their boats. The funeral barge was slowly towed by a steam launch of the Royal Navy. The chief officers of the Municipality, the family, and many others in a crowd of gondolas, completed the procession. San Michele was reached as the sun was setting, when the firemen again received their burden and bore it to the principal mortuary chapel."