It is a long road of some fifteen miles from Pontedera to S. Miniato al Tedesco: a hot road not without beauty passing through Rotta, own sister to Pontedera, through Castel del Bosco, only a dusty village now, for the castello is gone which guarded the confines of the Republic of Pisa, divided from the Republic of Florence by the Chiecinella, a torrent bed almost without water in the summer heat, while not far away on the southern hills Montopoli thrusts its tower into the sky, keeping yet its ancient Rocca, once in the power of the Bishops of Lucca, but later in the hands of Florence, an answer, as it were, to Castel del Bosco of Pisa in the land where both Pisa and Florence were on guard. There is but little to see at Montopoli, just two old churches and a picture by Cigoli; indeed the place looks its best from afar; and then, since the day is hot, you may spend a pleasanter hour in S. Romano in the old Franciscan church there, which is worth a visit in spite of its modern decorations, and is full of coolness and quiet. It was afternoon when I left S. Romano and caught sight of Castelfranco far away to the north, and presently crossed Evola at Pontevola, and already sunset when I saw the beautiful cypresses of Villa Sonnino and the tower of S. Miniato came in sight. Slowly in front of me as I left Pinocchio a great ox wagon toiled up the hill winding at last under a splendid Piazza fronted with flowers; and it was with surprise and joy that, just as the angelus rang from the Duomo, I came into a beautiful city that, like some forgotten citadel of the Middle Age, lay on the hills curved like the letter S, smiling in the silence while the sun set to the sound of her bells.
And indeed you may go far in Tuscany, covered as it is to-day by the trail of the tourist, before you will find anything so fair as S. Miniato. Some distance from the railway, five miles from Empoli, half-way between Pisa and Florence, it alone seems to have escaped altogether the curiosity of the traveller, for even the few who so wisely rest at Empoli come not so far into the country places.
Lying on the hills under the old tower of the Rocca, of which nothing else remains, S. Miniato is itself, as it were, a weather-beaten fortress, that was, perhaps, never so beautiful as now, when no one keeps watch or ward. You may wander into the Duomo and out again into the cloistered, narrow streets, and climbing uphill, pass down into the great gaunt church like a fortress, S. Domenico, with its scrupulous frescoes, and though you will see many wonderful and some delightful things, it will be always with new joy you will return to S. Miniato herself, who seems to await you like some virgin of the centuries of faith, that age has not been able to wither, fresh and rosy as when she first stood on her beautiful hills. Yet unspoiled as she is, Otto I has dwelt with her, she was a stronghold of the Emperors, the fortress of the Germans; Federigo Barbarossa knew her well, and Federigo II has loved her and hated her, for here he spoke with poets and made a few songs, and here he blinded and imprisoned Messer Piero della Vigna, that famous poet and wise man, accusing him of treason. Was it that he envied him his verses or feared his wisdom, or did he indeed think he plotted with the Pope? Piero della Vigna was from Capua, in the Kingdom; very eloquent, full of the knowledge of law, the Emperor made him his chancellor, and indeed gave him all his confidence, so that his influence was very great with a man who must have been easily influenced by his friends. Seeing his power, others about the Emperor, remembering Piero's low condition, no doubt sought to ruin him; and, as it seems, at last in this they were successful, forging letters to prove that the chancellor trafficked with the Pope. It was a time of danger for Frederick; he was easily persuaded of Piero's guilt, and having put out his eyes, he imprisoned him. Driven to despair at the loss of that fair world, Piero dashed his head against the walls of his prison, and so died. Dante meets him among the suicides in the seventh circle of the Inferno.
But the Rocca of S. Miniato, as it is said, having brought death to a poet and housed many Emperors, gave birth at last to the greatest soldier of the fifteenth century, Francesco Sforza himself, he who made himself Duke of Milan and whose statue Leonardo set himself to make, on which the poets carved Ecce Deus. A mere fort, perhaps, in its origin, in the days of Federigo II the Rocca must have been of considerable strength, size, and luxury, dominating as it did the road to Florence and the way to Rome: and then even in its early days it was a stronghold of the German foreigner from which he dominated the Latins round about, and not least the people of S. Miniato. Like all the Tuscans, they could not bear the yoke, and they fled into the valley to S. Genesio: soon to return, however, for the people of the plain liked them as little as he of the tower. This exodus is, as it were, commemorated in the dedication of the Duomo to S. Maria e a S. Genesio. The church is not very interesting; some fragments of the old pulpit or ambone, where you may see in relief the Annunciation and a coat of arms with a boar and an inscription, are of the thirteenth century. It is, however, in S. Domenico, not far away, that what remains to S. Miniato of her art treasures will be found. Everyone seems to call the church S. Domenico, but in truth it belongs to S. Jacopo and S. Lucia. As in many another Tuscan city, it guards one side of S. Miniato, while S. Francesco watches on the other, as though to befriend all who may pass by. S. Domenico was founded in 1330, but it has suffered much since then. The chapels, built by the greatest families of the place, in part remain beautiful with the fourteenth-century work of the school of Gaddi and of some pupil of Angelico; but it is a work of the fifteenth century by some master of the Florentine school that chiefly delights us. For there you may see Madonna, her sweet, ambiguous face neither happy nor sad, with the Prince of Life in her lap, while on the one side stand S. Sebastian and St. John Baptist, and on the other perhaps S. Jacopo and S. Roch. Below the donors kneel a man and his wife and little daughter, while in the predella you see our Lord's birth, baptism, and condemnation. Altogether lovely, in that eager yet dry manner, a little uncertain of its own dainty humanism, this picture alone is worth the journey to S. Miniato. Yet how much else remains—a tomb attributed to Donatello in this very chapel, a lovely terra-cotta of the Annunciation given to Giovanni della Robbia, and indeed, not to speak of S. Francesco with its spaciousness and delicate light, and the Palazzo Comunale, with its frescoed Sala del Consiglio, there is S. Miniato itself, full of flowers and the wind. Like a city of a dream, at dawn she rises out of the mists of the valley pure and beautiful upon her winding hills that look both north and south; cool at midday and very still, hushed from all sounds, she sleeps in the sun, while her old tower tells the slow, languorous hours; golden at evening, the sunset ebbs through her streets to the far-away sea, till she sinks like some rosy lily into the night that for her is full of familiar silences peopled by splendid dreams. Then there come to her shadows innumerable—Otto I, Federigo Barbarossa, Federigo II, poor blinded Piero della Vigna, singing his songs, and those that we have forgotten. The ruined dream of Germany, the Holy Roman Empire, the resurrection of the Latin race—she has seen them all rise, and two of them she helped to shatter for ever. It is not only in her golden book that she may read of splendour and victory, but in the sleeping valley and the whisper of her olives, the simple song of the husbandman among the corn, the Italian voices in the vineyard at dawn: let her sleep after the old hatred, hushed by this homely music.
 See p. 107.
 "Io son colui che tenni ambo le chiavi Del cuor di Federigo e che le volsi Serrando e disserando si soavi Che dal segreto suo quasi ogni uom tolsi."
IX. EMPOLI, MONTELUPO, LASTRA, SIGNA
It is but four miles down the hillside and through the valley along Via Pisana to Empoli in the plain. And in truth that way, difficult truly at midday—for the dusty road is full of wagons and oxen—is free enough at dawn, though every step thereon takes you farther from the hills of S. Miniato. Empoli, which you come to not without preparation, is like a deserted market-place, a deserted market-place that has been found, and put once more to its old use. Set as it is in the midst of the plain beside Arno on the way to Florence, on the way to Siena, amid the villages and the cornfields, it was the Granary of the Republic of Florence, its very name, may be, being derived from the word Emporium, which in fact it was. Not less important perhaps to-day than of old, its new villas, its strangely busy streets, its cosy look of importance and comfort there in the waste of plain, serve to hide any historical importance it may have, so that those who come here are content for the most part to go no farther than the railway station, where on the way from Pisa or from Florence they must change carriages for Siena. And indeed, for her history, it differs but little from that of other Tuscan towns within reach of a great city. Yet for Empoli, as her Saint willed, there waited a destiny. For after the rout of the Guelphs, and especially of Florence, the head and front of that cause at Montaperti, when in all Tuscany only Lucca remained free, and the Florentine refugees built the loggia in front of S. Friano, there the Ghibellines of Tuscany proposed to destroy utterly and for ever the City of the Lily, and for this cause Conte Giordano and the rest caused a council to be held at Empoli; and so it happened. Now Conte Giordano, Villani tells us, was sent for by King Manfred to Apulia, and there was proclaimed as his vicar and captain, Conte Guido Novello of the Conti Guidi of Casentino, who had forsaken the rest of the family, which stood for the Guelph cause. This man was eager to fling every Guelph out of Tuscany. There were assembled at that council all the cities round about, and the Conti Guidi and the Conti Alberti, and those of Santafiora and the Ubaldini; and these were all agreed that for the sake of the Ghibelline cause Florence must be destroyed, "and reduced to open villages, so that there might remain to her no renown or fame or power." It was then that Farinata degli Uberti, though a Ghibelline and an exile, rose to oppose this design, saying that if there remained no other, whilst he lived he would defend the city, even with his sword. Then, says Villani, "Conte Giordano, seeing what manner of man he was, and of how great authority, and how the Ghibelline party might be broken up and come to blows, abandoned the design and took new counsel, so that by one good man and citizen our city of Florence was saved from so great fury, destruction, and ruin." But Florence was ever forgetful of her greatest sons, and Farinata's praise was not found in her mouth, but in that of her greatest exile, who, finding him in his fiery tomb, wishes him rest.
"Deh se riposi mai vostra semenza Prega io lui."
To-day, however, in Empoli the long days are unbroken by the whisperings from any council; and as though to mark the fact that all are friends at last, if you come to her at all, you will sleep at the Aquila Nera in the street of the Lily; Guelph and Ghibelline hate no more. And as though to prove to man, ever more mindful of war than peace, that it is only the works of love after all that abide for ever, in Empoli at least scarcely anything remains from the old beloved days save the churches, and, best of all, the pictures that were painted for them.
You pass the Church of S. Maria a Ripa just before you enter the city by the beautiful Porta Pisana, but though you may find some delightful works of della Robbia ware there, especially a S. Lucia, it is in the Collegiata di S. Andrea in the lovely Piazza Farinata degli Uberti, that most of the works have been gathered in some of the rooms of the old college. The church itself is very interesting, with its beautiful facade in the manner of the Badia at Fiesole, where you may see carved on either side of the great door the head of S. Andrea and of St. John Baptist.
In the Baptistery, however, comes your first surprise, a beautiful fresco, a Pieta attributed to Masolino da Panicale, where Christ is laid in the tomb by Madonna and St. John, while behind rises the Cross, on which hangs a scourge of knotted chords. And then in the second chapel on the right is a lovely Sienese Madonna, and a strange fresco on the left wall of men taming bulls.
In the gallery itself a few lovely things have been gathered together, of which certainly the finest are the angels of Botticini, two children winged and crowned with roses, dressed in the manner of the fifteenth century, with purfled skirts and slashed sleeves powdered with flowers, who bow before the S. Sebastian of Rossellino. Two other works attributed to Botticini, certainly not less lovely, are to be found here: an Annunciation in the manner of his master Verrocchio, where Mary sits, a delicate white girl, under a portico into which Gabriele has stolen at sunset and found her at prayer; far away the tall cypresses are black against the gold of the sky, and in the silence it almost seems as though we might overhear the first Angelus and the very message from the angel's lips. And if this is the Annunciation as it happened long ago in Tuscany, in heaven the angels danced for sure, thinking of our happiness, as Botticini knew; and so he has painted those seven angels playing various instruments, while about their feet he has strewn a song of songs. A S. Andrea and St. John Baptist in a great fifteenth-century altar are also given to him, while below you may see S. Andrea's crucifixion, the Last Supper, and Salome bringing the head of St. John Baptist to Herodias at her supper with Herod. Some fine della Robbia fragments and a beautiful relief of the Madonna and Child by Mino da Fiesole are among the rest of the treasures of the Collegiata, where you may find much that is merely old or curious. Other churches there are in Empoli, S. Stefano, for instance, with a Madonna and two angels, given to Masolino, and the marvellously lovely Annunciation by Bernardo Rossellino; and S. Maria di Fuori, with its beautiful loggia, but they will not hold you long. The long white road calls you; already far away you seem to see the belfries of Florence there, where they look into Arno, for the very water at your feet has held in its bosom the fairest tower in the world, whiter than a lily, rosier than the roses of the hills. With this dream, dream or remembrance, in your heart, it is not Empoli with its brown country face that will entice you from the way. And so, a little weary at last for the shadows of the great city, it was with a sort of impatience I trudged the dusty highway, eager for every turn of the road that might bring the tall towers, far and far away though they were, into sight. Somewhat in this mood, still early in the morning, I passed through Pontormo, the birthplace of the sixteenth-century painter Jacopo Carrucci, who has his name from this little town. Two or three pictures that he painted, a lovely font of the fourteenth century in the Church of S. Michele Arcangiolo, called for no more than a halt, for there, still far away before me, were the hills, the hills that hid Florence herself.
It was already midday when I came to the little city of Montelupo at the foot of these hills, and, in front of a beautiful avenue of plane trees, to the trattoria, a humble place enough, and full at that hour of drivers and countrymen, but quite sufficient for my needs, for I found there food, a good wine, and courtesy. Later, in the afternoon, climbing the stony street across Pesa, I came to the Church of S. Giovanni Evangelista, and there in the sweet country silence was Madonna with her Son and four Saints, by some pupil of Sandro Botticelli.
It is not any new vision of Madonna you will see in that quiet country church, full of afternoon sunshine and wayside flowers, but the same half-weary maiden of whom Botticelli has told us so often, whose honour is too great for her, whose destiny is more than she can bear. Already she has been overwhelmed by our praise and petitions; she has closed her eyes, she has turned away her head, and while the Jesus Parvulus lifts his tiny hands in blessing, she is indifferent, holding Him languidly, as though but half attentive to those priceless words which St. John, with the last light of a smile still lingering round his eyes, notes so carefully in his book. Something of the same eagerness, graver, and more youthful, you may see in the figure of St. Sebastian, who, holding three arrows daintily in his hand, has suddenly looked up at the sound of that Divine childish voice. Two other figures, S. Lorenzo and perhaps S. Roch, listen with a sort of intent sadness there under that splendid portico, where Mary sits on a throne, she who was the carpenter's wife, with so little joy or even surprise. Below, in the predella, you may see certain saints' heads, S. Lorenzo giving alms, the death of S. Lorenzo, the risen Christ.
But though Montelupo possesses such a treasure as this picture, for me at least the fairest thing within her keeping is the old fortress, ruined now, on her high hill, and the view one may have thence. For, following that stony way which brought me to S. Giovanni, I came at last to the walls of an old fortress, that now houses a few peasants, and turning there saw all the Val d'Arno, from S. Miniato far and far away to the west, to little Vinci on the north, where, as Vasari says, Leonardo was born; while below me, beside Arno, rose the beautiful Villa Ambrogiana, with its four towers at the corners; and then on a hill before me, not far away, a little town nestling round another fortress, maybe less dilapidated than Montelupo, Capraja, that goat which caused Montelupo to be built. For in the days when Florence disputed Val d'Arno and the plains of Empoli with many nobles, the Conti di Capraja lorded it here, and, as the Florentines said:
"Per distrugger questa Capra non ci vuol altro che un Lupo."
To-day Montelupo is but a village; yet once it was of importance not only as a fortress, for that she ceased to be almost when the Counts of Capraja were broken, and certainly by 1203, when Villani tells us that the Florentines destroyed the place because it would not obey the commonwealth; but as a city of art, or at any rate of a beautiful handicraft. Even to-day the people devote themselves to pottery, but of old it was not merely a matter of commerce, but of beauty and craftsmanship.
It was through a noisy gay crowd of these folk, the young men lounging against the houses, the girls talking, talking together, arm in arm, as they went to and fro before them, with a wonderful sweet air of indifference to those who eyed them so keenly and yet shyly too, and without anything of the brutal humour of a northern village, that in the later afternoon I again sought the highway. And before I had gone a mile upon my road the whole character of the way was changed; no longer was I crossing a great plain, but winding among the hills, while Arno, noisier than before, fled past me in an ever narrower bed among the rocks and buttresses of what soon became little more than a defile between the hills. Though the road was deep in dust, there was shadow under the cypresses beside the way, there was a whisper of wind among the reeds beside the river, and the song of the cicale grew fainter and the hills were touched with light; evening was coming.
And indeed, when at last I had left the splendid villa of Antinori far behind, evening came as I entered Lastra, and by chance taking the wrong road, passing under a most splendid ilex, huge as a temple, I climbed the hill to S. Martino a Gangalandi. Standing there in the pure calm light just after sunset, the whole valley of Florence lay before me. To the left stood Signa, piled on her hill like some fortress of the Middle Age; then Arno, like a road of silver, led past the Villa delle Selve to the great mountain Monte Morello, and there under her last spurs lay Florence herself, clear and splendid like some dream city, her towers and pinnacles, her domes and churches shining in the pure evening light like some delectable city seen in a vision far away, but a reality, and seen at last. Very far off she seemed in that clear light, that presently fading fled away across the mountains before the advance of night, that filled the whole plain with its vague and beautiful shadow.
And so, when morning was come, I went again to S. Martino a Gangalandi, but Florence was hidden in light. In my heart I knew I must seek her at once, that even the fairest things were not fair, since she was hidden away. Not without a sort of reluctance I heard Mass in S. Martino, spent a moment before the beautiful Madonna of that place, a picture of the fifteenth century, and looked upon the fortifications of Brunellesco. Everywhere the women sitting in their doorways were plaiting straw, and presently I came upon a whole factory of this craft, the great courtyard strewn with hats of all shapes, sizes, and colours, drying in the sun. Signa, too, across the river as I passed, seemed to be given up to this business. Then taking the road, hot and dusty, I set out—not by Via Pisana, but by the byways, which seemed shorter—for Florence. For long I went between the vines, in the misty morning, all of silver and gold, till I was weary. And at last houses began to strew the way, herds of goats led by an old man in velveteen and a lad in tatters, one herd after another covered me with dust, or, standing in front of the houses, were milked at the doorways, where still the women, their brown legs naked in the sun, plaited the straw. Then at a turning of the way, as though to confirm me in any fears I might have of the destruction of the city I had come so far to see, a light railway turned into the highway between the houses, where already there was not room for two carts to pass. How may I tell my anger and misery as I passed through that endless suburb, the great hooting engine of the train venting its stench, and smoke, and noise into the very windows of the houses, chasing me down the narrow way, round intricate corners, over tiny piazzas, from the very doors of churches. Yet, utterly weary at last, covered with dust, it was in this brutal contrivance that I sought refuge, and after an hour of agony was set down before the Porta al Prato. The bells were ringing the Angelus of midday when I came into Florence.
Florence is like a lily in the midst of a garden gay with wild-flowers; a broken lily that we have tied up and watered and nursed into a semblance of life, an image of ancient beauty—as it were the memento mori of that Latin spirit which contrived the Renaissance of mankind. As of old, so to-day, she stands in the plain at the foot of the Apennines, that in their sweetness and strength lend her still something of their nobility. Around her are the hills covered with olive gardens where the corn and the wine and the oil grow together between the iris and the rose; and everywhere on those beautiful hills there are villas among the flowers, real villas such as Alberti describes for us, full of coolness and rest, where a fountain splashes in an old courtyard, and the grapes hang from the pergolas, and the corn is spread in July and beaten with the flail. And since the vista of every street in Florence ends in the country, it is to these hills you find your way very often if your stay be long, fleeing from the city herself, perhaps to hide your disappointment, in the simple joy of country life. More and more as you live in Florence that country life becomes your consolation and your delight: for there abide the old ways and the ancient songs, which you will not find in the city. And indeed the great treasure of Florence is this bright and smiling country in which she lies: the old road to Fiesole, the ways that lead from Settignano to Compiobbi, the path through the woods from S. Martino a Mensola, that smiling church by the wayside, to Vincigliata, to Castel di Poggio, the pilgrimage from Bagno a Ripoli to the Incontro. There, on all those beautiful gay roads, you will pass numberless villas whispering with summer, laughing with flowers; you will see the contadini at work in the poderi, you will hear the rispetti and stornelli of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries sung perhaps by some love-sick peasant girl among the olives from sunrise till evening falls. And the ancient ways are not forgotten there, for they still reap with the sickle and sing to the beat of the flail; while the land itself, those places "full of nimble air, in a laughing country of sweet and lovely views, where there is always fresh water, and everything is healthy and pure," of which Leon Alberti tells us, are still held and cultivated in the old way under the old laws by the contadino and his padrone. This ancient order, quietness, and beauty, which you may find everywhere in the country round about Florence, is the true Tuscany. The vulgarity of the city, for even in Italy the city life has become insincere, blatant, and for the most part a life of the middle class, seldom reaches an hundred yards beyond the barriera: and this is a charm in Florence, for you may so easily look on her from afar. And so, if one comes to her from the country, or returns to her from her own hills, it is ever with a sense of loss, of sadness, of regret: she has lost her soul for the sake of the stranger, she has forgotten the splendid past for an ignoble present, a strangely wearying dream of the future.
Yet for all her modern ways, her German beer-houses, her English tea-shops, her noisy trams on Lung' Arno, her air as of a museum, her eagerness to show her contempt for the stranger while she sells him her very soul for money, Florence remains one of the most delightful cities of Italy to visit, to live with, to return to again and again. Yet I for one would never live within her walls if I could help it, nor herd with those barbarian, exclamatory souls who in guttural German or cockney English snort or neigh at the beauties industriously pointed out by a loud-voiced cicerone, quoting in American all the appropriate quotations, Browning before Filippo Lippi, Ruskin in S. Croce, Mrs. Browning at the door of S. Felice, Goethe everywhere.
No, I will live a little way out of the city on the hillside, perhaps towards Settignano, not too far from the pine woods, nor too near the gate. And my garden there shall be a vineyard, bordered with iris, and among the vines shall be a garden of olives, and under the olives there shall be the corn. And the yellow roses will litter the courtyard, and the fountain will be full of their petals, and the red roses will strew the paths, and the white roses will fall upon the threshold; and all day long the bees will linger in the passion-flowers by the window when the mulberry trees have been stripped of leaves, and the lilies of Madonna, before the vines, are tall and like ghosts in the night, the night that is blue and gold, where a few fire-flies linger yet, sailing faintly over the stream, and the song of the cicale is the burden of endless summer.
Then very early in the morning I will rise from my bed under the holy branch of olive, I will walk in my garden before the sun is high, I will look on my beloved city. Yes, I shall look over the near olives across the valley to the hill of cypresses, to the poplars beside Arno that tremble with joy; and first I shall see Torre del Gallo and then S. Miniato, that strange and beautiful place, and at last my eyes will rest on the city herself, beautiful in the mist of morning: first the tower of S. Croce, like a tufted spear; then the tower of Liberty, and that was built for pride; and at last, like a mysterious rose lifted above the city, I shall see the dome, the rosy dome of Brunellesco, beside which, like a slim lily, pale, immaculate as a pure virgin, rises the inviolate Tower of the Lowly, that Giotto built for God. Yes, often I shall thus await the Angelus that the bells of all the villages will answer, and I shall greet the sun and be thankful. Then I shall walk under the olives, I shall weigh the promised grapes, I shall bend the ears of corn here and there, that I may feel their beauty, and I shall bury my face in the roses, I shall watch the lilies turn their heads, I shall pluck the lemons one by one. And the maidens will greet me on their way to the olive gardens, the newly-married, hand in hand with her husband, will smile upon me, she who is heavy with child will give me her blessing, and the children will laugh and peep at me from behind the new-mown hay; and I shall give them greeting. And I shall talk with him who is busy in the vineyard, I shall watch him bare-foot among the grapes, I shall see his wise hands tenderly unfold a leaf or gather up a straying branch, and when I leave him I shall hear him say, "May your bread be blessed to you." Under the myrtles, on a table of stone spread with coarse white linen, such we see in Tuscany, I shall break my fast, and I shall spill a little milk on the ground for thankfulness, and the crumbs I shall scatter too, and a little honey that the bees have given I shall leave for them again.
So I shall go into the city, and one will say to me, "The Signore must have a care, for the sun will be hot, in returning it will be necessary to come under the olives." And I shall laugh in my heart, and say, "Have no fear, then, for the sun will not touch me." And how should I but be glad that the sun will be hot, and how should I but be thankful that I shall come under the olives?
And I shall come into the city by Porta alla Croce for love, because I am but newly returned, and presently through the newer ways I shall come to the oldest of all, Borgo degli Albizzi, where the roofs of the beautiful palaces almost touch, and the way is cool and full of shadow. There, amid all the hurry and bustle of the narrow, splendid street, I shall think only of old things for a time, I shall remember the great men who founded and established the city, I shall recall the great families of Florence. Here in this Borgo the Albizzi built their towers when they came from Arezzo, giving the city more than an hundred officers, Priori and Gonfalonieri, till Cosimo de' Medici thrust them out with the help of Eugenius IV. The grim, scornful figure of Rinaldo seems to haunt the old palace still. How often in those September days must he have passed to and fro between his palace and the Bargello close by, the Palace of the Podesta: but the people, fearing they knew not what, barricaded the place so that Rinaldo was persuaded to consult with the Pope in S. Maria Novella. At dawn he dismissed his army, and remained alone. Then the friends of Cosimo in exile went to the Pope and thanked him, thus, as some have thought, surprising him into an abandonment of Rinaldo. However that may be, Rinaldo was expelled, leaving the city with these words, "He is a blind man without a guide, who trusts the word of a Pope." And what figure haunts Palazzo Altovite, the home of that fierce Ghibelline house loved by Frederick II, if not that hero who expelled the Duke of Athens. Palazzo Pazzi and Palazzo Nonfinito at the Canto de' Pazzi where the Borgo degli Albizzi meets Via del Proconsolo, brings back to me that madman who first set the Cross upon the walls of Jerusalem in 1099, and who for this cause was given some stones from Christ's sepulchre by Godfrey de Bouillon, which he brought to Florence and presented to the Republic. They were placed in S. Reparata, which stood where the Duomo now is, and, as it is said, the "new fire" was struck from them every Holy Saturday, and the clergy, in procession, brought that sacred flame to the other churches of the city. And the Pazzi, because of their gift, gave the guard of honour in this procession: and this they celebrated with much pomp among themselves; till at last they obtained permission to build a carro, which should be lighted at the door of S. Reparata by some machine of their invention, and drawn by four white oxen to their houses. And even to this day you may see this thing, and to this day the car is borne to their canto. But above all I see before that "unfinished" palace the ruined hopes of those who plotted to murder Lorenzo de' Medici with his brother at the Easter Mass in the Duomo. Even now, amid the noise of the street, I seem to hear the shouting of the people, Vive le Palle, Morte ai Pazzi.
So I shall come into the Proconsolo beside the Bargello, where so many great and splendid people are remembered, and she, too, who is so beautiful that for her sake we forget everything else, Vanna degli Albizzi, who married Lorenzo de' Tornabuoni, whom Verrocchio carved and Ghirlandajo painted. Then I shall follow the Via del Corso past S. Margherita, close to Dante's mythical home, into Via Calzaioli, the busiest street of the city, and I shall think of the strange difference between these three great ways, Via del Proconsolo, Via Calzaioli, and Via Tornabuoni, which mark and divide the most ancient city. I shall turn toward Or San Michele, where on St. John's Day the banners of the guilds are displayed above the statues, and for a little time I shall look again on Verrocchio's Christ and St. Thomas. Then in this pilgrimage of remembrance I shall pass up Via Calzaioli, past the gay cool caffe of Gilli, into the Piazza del Duomo. And again, I shall fear lest the tower may fall like a lopped lily, and I shall wish that Giotto had made it ever so little bigger at the base. Then I shall pass to the right past the Misericordia, where for sure I shall meet some of the confraternita, past the great gazing statue of Brunellesco, till, at the top of Via del Proconsolo, I shall turn to look at the Duomo, which, seen from there, seems like a great Greek cross under a dome, that might cover the world. And so I shall pass round the apse of the Cathedral till I come to the door of the Cintola, where Nanni di Banco has marvellously carved Madonna in an almond-shaped glory: and this is one of the fairest things in Florence. And I shall go on my way, past the Gate of Paradise to the open door of the Baptistery, and returning find the tomb of Baldassare Cossa, soldier and antipope, carved by Donatello: and here, in the most ancient church of Florence, I shall thank St. John for my return.
Out in the Piazza once more, I shall turn into Borgo S. Lorenzo, and follow it till I come to Piazza di S. Lorenzo, with its bookstalls where Browning found that book, "small quarto size, part print, part manuscript," which told him the story of "The Ring and the Book." There I shall look once more on the ragged, rugged front of S. Lorenzo, and entering, find the tomb of Piero de' Medici, made by Verrocchio, and thinking awhile of those other tombs where Michelangelo hard by carved his Night and Day, Twilight and Dawn, I shall find my way again into the Piazza del Duomo, and, following Via Cerretani, that busy street, I shall come at last into Piazza S. Maria Novella, and there on the north I shall see again the bride of Michelangelo, S. Maria Novella of the Dominicans.
Perhaps I shall rest there a little before Duccio's Madonna on her high altar, and linger under the grave, serene work of Ghirlandajo; but it may be the sky will be too fair for any church to hold me, so that passing down the way of the Beautiful Ladies, and taking Via dei Serpi on my left, I shall come into Via Tornabuoni, that smiling, lovely way just above the beautiful Palazzo Antinori, whence I may see Palazzo Strozzi, but without the great lamp at the corner where the flowers are heaped and there are always so many loungers. Indeed, the whole street is full of flowers and sunshine and cool shadow, and in some way, I know not what, it remains the most beautiful gay street in Florence, where past and present have met and are friends. And then I know if I follow this way I shall come to Lung' Arno,—I may catch a glimpse of it even from the corner of Via Porta Rossa over the cabs, past the Column of S. Trinita.
Presently, in the afternoon, I shall follow Via Porta Rossa, with its old palaces of the Torrigiani (now, Hotel Porta Rossa), and the Davanzati into Mercato Nuovo, where, because it is Thursday, the whole place will be smothered with flowers and children, little laughing rascals as impudent as Lippo Lippi's Angiolini, who play about the Tacca and splash themselves with water. And so I shall pass at last into Piazza della Signoria, before the marvellous palace of the people with its fierce, proud tower, and I shall stand on the spot before the fountains where Humanism avenged itself on Puritanism, where Savonarola, that Ferrarese who burned the pictures and would have burned the city, was himself burned in the fire he had invoked. And I shall look once more on the Loggia de' Lanzi, and see Cellini's young contadino masquerading as Perseus, and in my heart I shall remember the little wax figure he made for a model, now in Bargello, which is so much more beautiful than this young giant. So, under the cool cloisters of Palazzo degli Uffizi I shall come at last on to Lung' Arno, where it is very quiet, and no horses may pass, and the trams are a long way off. And I shall lift up my eyes and behold once more the hill of gardens across Arno, with the Belvedere just within the old walls, and S. Miniato, like a white and fragile ghost in the sunshine, and La Bella Villanella couched like a brown bird under the cypresses above the grey olives in the wind and the sun. And something in the gracious sweep of the hills, in the gentle nobility of that holy mountain which Michelangelo has loved and defended, which Dante Alighieri has spoken of, which Gianozzo Manetti has so often climbed, will bring the tears to my eyes, and I shall turn away towards Ponte Vecchio, the oldest and most beautiful of the bridges, where the houses lead one over the river, and the little shops of the jewellers still sparkle and smile with trinkets. And in the midst of the bridge I shall wait awhile and look on Arno. Then I shall cross the bridge and wander upstream towards Porta S. Niccolo, that gaunt and naked gate in the midst of the way, and there I shall climb through the gardens up the steep hill
"... Per salire al monte Dove siede la chiesa...."
to the great Piazzale, and so to the old worn platform before S. Miniato itself, under the strange glowing mosaics of the facade: and, standing on the graves of dead Florentines, I shall look down on the beautiful city.
Marvellously fair she is on a summer evening as seen from that hill of gardens, Arno like a river of gold before her, leading over the plain lost in the farthest hills. Behind her the mountains rise in great amphitheatres,—Fiesole on the one side, like a sentinel on her hill; on the other, the Apennines, whose gesture, so noble, precise, and splendid, seems to point ever towards some universal sovereignty, some perfect domination, as though this place had been ordained for the resurrection of man. Under this mighty symbol of annunciation lies the city, clear and perfect in the lucid light, her towers shining under the serene evening sky. Meditating there alone for a long time in the profound silence of that hour, the whole history of this city that witnessed the birth of the modern world, the resurrection of the gods, will come to me.
Out of innumerable discords, desolations, hopes unfilled, everlasting hatred and despair, I shall see the city rise four square within her rosy walls between the river and the hills; I shall see that lonely, beautiful, and heroic figure, Matilda the great Countess; I shall suffer the dream that consumes her, and watch Germany humble in the snow. And the Latin cause will tower a red lily beside Arno; one by one the great nobles will go by with cruel alien faces, prisoners, to serve the Lily or to die. Out of their hatred will spring that mongrel cause of Guelph and Ghibelline, and I shall see the Amidei slay Buondelmonte Buondelmonti. Through the year of victories I shall rejoice, when Pistoja falls, when Siena falls, when Volterra is taken, and Pisa forced to make peace. Then in tears I shall see the flight at Monteaperti, I shall hear the thunder of the horses, and with hate in my heart I shall search for Bocca degli Abati, the traitor, among the ten thousand dead. And in the council I shall be by when they plot the destruction of the city, and I shall be afraid: then I shall hear the heroic, scornful words of Farinata degli Uberti, when in his pride he spared Florence for the sake of his birth. And I shall watch the banners at Campaldino, I shall hear the intoxicating words of Corso Donati, I shall look into his very face and read the truth.
And at dawn I shall walk with Dante, and I shall know by the softness of his voice when Beatrice passeth, but I shall not dare to lift my eyes. I shall walk with him through the city, I shall hear Giotto speak to him of St. Francis, and Arnolfo will tell us of his dreams. And at evening Petrarch will lead me into the shadow of S. Giovanni and tell me of Madonna Laura. But it will be a morning of spring when I meet Boccaccio, ah, in S. Maria Novella, and as we come into the sunshine I shall laugh and say, "Tell me a story." And Charles of Valois will pass by, who sent Dante on that long journey; and Henry VII, for whom he had prayed; and I shall hear the trumpets of Montecatini, and I shall understand the hate Uguccione had for Castracani. And I shall watch the entry of the Duke of Athens, and I shall see his cheek flush at the thought of a new tyranny. Then for the first time I shall hear the sinister, fortunate name Medici. Under the banners of the Arti I shall hear the rumour of their names, Silvestro who urged on the Ciompi, Vieri who once made peace; nor will the death of Gian Galeazzo of Milan, nor the tragedy of Pisa, hinder their advent, for I shall see Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici proclaimed Gonfaloniere of the city. Then they will troop by more splendid than princes, the universal bankers, lords of Florence: Cosimo the hard old man, Pater Patriae, the greatest of his race; Piero, the weakling; Lorenzo il Magnifico, tyrant and artist; and over his shoulder I shall see the devilish, sensual face of Savonarola. And there will go by Giuliano, the lover of Simonetta; Piero the exile; Giovanni the mighty pope, Leo X; Giulio the son of Guiliano, Clement VII; Ippolito the Cardinal, Alessandro the cruel, Lorenzino his assassin, Cosimo l'Invitto, Grand Duke of Tuscany, bred in a convent and mourned for ever.
So they pass by, and their descendants follow after them, even to poor, unhappy, learned Gian Gastone, the last of his race.
And around them throng the artists; yes, I shall see them all. Angelico will lead me into his cell and show me the meaning of the Resurrection. With Lippo Lippi I shall play with the children, and talk with Lucrezia Buti at the convent gate; Ghirlandajo will take me where Madonna Vanna is, and with Baldovinetti I shall watch the dawn. And Botticelli will lead me into a grove apart: I shall see the beauty of those three women who pass, who pass like a season, and are neither glad nor sorry; and with him I shall understand the joy of Venus, whose son was love, and the tears of Madonna, whose Son was Love also. And I shall hear the voice of Leonardo; and he will play upon his lyre of silver, that lyre in the shape of a horse's head which he made for Sforza of Milan; and I shall see him touch the hands of Monna Lisa. And I shall see the statue of snow that Buonarotti made; I shall find him under S. Miniato, and I shall weep with him.
So I shall dream in the sunset. The Angelus will be ringing from all the towers, I shall have celebrated my return to the city that I have loved. The splendour of the dying day will lie upon her; in that enduring and marvellous hour, when in the sound of every bell you may find the names that are in your heart, I shall pass again through the gardens, I shall come into the city when the little lights before Madonna will be shining at the street corners, and the streets will be full of the evening, where the river, stained with fading gold, steals into the night to the sea. And under the first stars I shall find my way to my hillside. On that white country road the dust of the day will have covered the vines by the way, the cypresses will be white half-way to their tops, in the whispering olives the cicale will still be singing; as I pass every threshold some dog will rouse, some horse will stamp in the stable, or an ox stop munching in his stall. In the far sky, marvellous with infinite stars, the moon will sail like a little platter of silver, like a piece of money new from the mint, like a golden rose in a mirror of silver. Long and long ago the sun will have set, but when I come to the gate I shall go under the olives; though I shall be weary I shall go by the longest way, I shall pass by the winding path, I shall listen for the whisper of the corn. And I shall beat at my gate, and one will say Chi e, and I shall make answer. So I shall come into my house, and the triple lights will be lighted in the garden, and the table will be spread. And there will be one singing in the vineyard, and I shall hear, and there will be one walking in the garden, and I shall know.
 Alas, this too has now become as nothing and its place knows it no more.—E.H.
PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA AND PALAZZO VECCHIO
In every ancient city of the world, cities that in themselves for the most part have been nations, one may find some spot holy or splendid that instantly evokes an image of that of which it is a symbol,—which sums up, as it were, in itself all the sanctity, beauty, and splendour of her fame, in whose name there lives even yet something of the glory that is dead. It is so no longer; in what confused street or shapeless square shall I find hidden the soul of London, or in what name then shall I sum up the lucid restless life of Paris? But if I name the Acropolis, all the pale beauty of Athens will stir in my heart; and when I speak the word Capitolium, I seem to hear the thunder of the legions, to see the very face of Caesar, to understand the dominion and majesty of Rome.
Something of this power of evocation may still be found in the Piazza della Signoria of Florence: all the love that founded the city, the beauty that has given her fame, the immense confusion that is her history, the hatred that has destroyed her, lingers yet in that strange and lovely place where Palazzo Vecchio stands like a violated fortress, where the Duke of Athens was expelled the city, where the Ciompi rose against the Ghibellines, where Jesus Christ was proclaimed King of the Florentines, where Savonarola, was burned, and Alessandro de' Medici made himself Duke.
It is not any great and regular space you come upon in the Piazza della Signoria, such as the huge empty Place de la Concorde of Paris, but one that is large enough for beauty, and full of the sweet variety of the city; it is the symbol of Florence—a beautiful symbol.
In the morning the whole Piazza is full of sunlight, and swarming with people: there, is a stall for newspapers; here, a lemonade merchant dispenses his sweet drinks. Everyone is talking; at the corner of Via Calzaioli a crowd has assembled, a crowd that moves and seems about to dissolve, that constantly re-forms itself without ever breaking up. On the benches of the loggia men lie asleep in the shadow, and children chase one another among the statues. Everywhere and from all directions cabs pass with much cracking of whips and hallooing. There stand two Carabinieri in their splendid uniforms, surveying this noisy world; an officer passes with his wife, leading his son by the hand; you may see him lift his sword as he steps on the pavement. A group of tourists go by, urged on by a gesticulating guide; he is about to show them the statues in the loggia; they halt under the Perseus. He begins to speak of it, while the children look up at him as though to catch what he is saying in that foreign tongue.
And surely the Piazza, which has seen so many strange and splendid things, may well tolerate this also; it is so gay, so full of life. Very fair she seems under the sunlight, picturesque too, with her buildings so different and yet so harmonious. On the right the gracious beauty of the Loggia de' Lanzi; then before you the lofty, fierce old Palazzo Vecchio; and beside it the fountains play in the farther Piazza. Cosimo I rides by as though into Siena, while behind him rises the palace of the Uguccioni, which Folfi made; and beside you the Calzaioli ebbs and flows with its noisy life, as of old the busiest street of the city.
The Palazza Vecchio, peaceful enough now, but still with the fierce gesture of war stands on one side, facing the Piazza, a fortress of huge stones four storeys high—the last, thrust out from the wall and supported by arches on brackets of stone, as though crowning the palace itself. It stands almost four-square, and above rises the beautiful tower, the highest tower in the city, with a gallery similar to the last storey of the palace, and above a loggia borne by four pillars, from which spring the great arches of the canopy that supports the spire; and whereas the battlements of the palazzo are square and Guelph, those of the tower are Ghibelline in the shape of the tail of the swallow. Set, not in the centre of the square, nor made to close it, but on one side, it was thus placed, it is said, in order to avoid the burned houses of the Uberti, who had been expelled the city. However this may be, and its position is so fortunate that it is not likely to be due to any such chance, Arnolfo di Cambio began it in February 1299, taking as his model, so some have thought, the Rocca of the Conti Guidi of the Casentino, which Lapo his father had built. Under the arches of the fourth storey are painted the coats of the city and its gonfaloni. And there you may see the most ancient device of Florence, the lily argent on a field gules; the united coats gules and argent of Florence and Fiesole in 1010; the coat of Guelph Florence, a lily gules on a field argent; and, among the rest, the coat of Charles of Anjou, the lilies or on a field azure.
On the platform or ringhiera before the great door, the priori watched the greater festas, and made their proclamations, before the Loggia de' Lanzi was built in 1387; and here in 1532 the last Signoria of the Republic proclaimed Alessandro de' Medici first Duke of Florence, in front of the Judith and Holofernes of Donatello, whose warning went unheeded. And indeed, that group, part of the plunder that the people found in Palazzo Riccardi, in the time of Piero de' Medici, who sought to make himself tyrant, once stood beside the great gate of Palazzo Vecchio, whence it was removed at the command of Alessandro, who placed there instead Bandinelli's feeble Hercules and Cacus. Opposite to it Michelangelo's David once stood, till it was removed in our own time to the Accademia, where it looks like a cast.
Over the great door where of old was set the monogram of Christ, you may read still REX REGUM ET DOMINUS DOMINANTIUM, and within the gate is a court most splendid and lovely, built after the design of Arnolfo, and once supported by his pillars of stone, but now the columns of Michelozzo, made in 1450, and covered with stucco decoration in the sixteenth century, form the cortile in which, over the fountain of Vasari, Verrocchio's lovely Boy Playing with the Dolphin ever half turns in his play. Altogether lovely in its naturalism, its humorous grace, Verrocchio made it for Lorenzo Magnifico, who placed it in his gardens at Careggi, whence it was brought here by Cosimo I.
Passing through that old palace, up the great staircase into the Salone del Cinquecento, where Savonarola was tried, with the Cappella di S. Bernardo, where he made his last communion, and at last up the staircase into the tower, where he was tortured and imprisoned, it is ever of that mad pathetic figure, self-condemned and self-murdered, that you think, till at last, coming out of the Palazzo, you seek the spot of his awful death in the Piazza. Fanatic puritan as he was, vainer than any Medici, it is difficult to understand how he persuaded the Florentines to listen to his eloquence, spoiled as it must have been for them by the Ferrarese dialect. How could a people who were the founders of the modern world, the creators of modern culture, allow themselves to be baffled by a fanatic friar prophesying judgment? Yet something of a peculiar charm, a force that we miss in the sensual and almost devilish face we see in his portrait, he must have possessed, for it is said that Lorenzo desired his company; and even though we are able to persuade ourselves that it was for other reasons than to enjoy his friendship, we have yet to explain the influence he exercised over Sandro Botticelli and Pico della Mirandola, whose lives he changed altogether. In the midst of a people without a moral sense he appears like the spirit of denial. He was kicking against the pricks, he was guilty of the sin against the light, and whether his aim was political or religious, or maybe both, he failed. It is said he denied Lorenzo absolution, that he left him without a word at the brink of the grave but when he himself came to die by the horrible, barbaric means he had invoked in a boast, he did not show the fortitude of the Magnificent. Full of every sort of rebellion and violence, he made anarchy in Florence, and scoffed at the Holy See, while he was a guest of the one and the officer of the other. His bonfires of "vanities," as he called them, were possibly as disastrous for Florence as the work of the Puritan was for England; for while he burned the pictures, they sold them to the Jews. He is dead, and has become one of the bores of history; and while Americans leave their cards on the stone that marks the place of his burning, the Florentines appear to have forgotten him. Peace to his ashes!
As you enter the Loggia de' Lanzi, gay with children now, once the lounge of the Swiss Guard, whose barracks were not far away, you wonder who can have built so gay, so happy a place beside the fortress of the Signoria. Yet, in truth, it was for the Priori themselves that loggia was built, though not by Orcagna as it is said, to provide, perhaps, a lounge in summer for the fathers of the city, and for a place of proclamation that all Florence might hear the laws they had made. Yes, and to-day, too, do they not proclaim the tombola where once they announced a victory? Even now, in spite of forgotten greatness, it is still a garden of statues. Looking ever over the Piazza stands the Perseus of Cellini, with the head of Medusa held up to the multitude, the sword still gripped in his hand. It is the masterpiece of one who, like all the greatest artists of the Renaissance—Giotto, Orcagna, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael—did not confine himself to one art, but practised many. And though it would be unjust to compare such a man as Cellini with the greatest of all, yet he was great not only as a sculptor and a goldsmith, but as a man of letters and as a man of the world. His Perseus, a little less than a demigod, is indeed not so lovely as the wax model he made for it, which is now in the Bargello; but in the gesture with which he holds out the severed head from him, in the look of secret delight that is already half remorseful for all that dead beauty, in the heroic grace with which he stands there after the murder, the dead body marvellously fallen at his feet, Cellini has proved himself the greatest sculptor of his time. That statue cost him dear enough, as he tells you in his Memoirs, but, as Gautier said, it is worth all it cost.
On the pedestal you may see the deliverance of Andromeda; but the finest of these reliefs has been taken to the Bargello. The only other bronze here is the work of Donatello—a Judith and Holofernes, under the arch towards the Uffizi. It is Donatello's only large bronze group, and was probably designed for the centre piece of a fountain, the mattress on which Holofernes has fallen having little spouts for water. Judith stands over her victim, who is already dead, her sword lifted to strike again; and you may see by her face that she will strike if it be necessary. Beneath you read—"Exemplum salut. publ. cives posuere, MCCCCXV." Poor as the statue appears in its present position, the three bronze reliefs of the base gain here what they must lose in the midst of a fountain, yet even they too are unfortunate. Indeed, very few statues of this sort were made by the sculptors of the Renaissance; for the most part they confined themselves to single figures and to groups in relief: even Michelangelo but rarely attempted the "freestanding group." It is, however, to such a work we come in the splendidly composed Rape of the Sabines by Giovanni da Bologna in the Loggia itself. Spoiled a little by its too laboured detail, its chief fault lies in the fact that it is top-heavy, the sculptor having placed the mass of the group so high that the base seems unsubstantial and unbalanced. Bologna's other group here, Hercules and Nessus, which once stood at the foot of the Ponte Vecchio, is dramatic and well composed, but the forms are feeble and even insignificant. The antique group of Ajax dragging the body of Patrocles, is not a very important copy of some great work, and it is much restored: it was found in a vineyard near Rome.
The great fountain which plays beside the Palazzo, where of old the houses of the Uberti stood, is rich and grandiose perhaps, but in some unaccountable way adds much to the beauty of the Piazza. How gay and full of life it is even yet, that splendid and bitter place, that in its beauty and various, everlasting life seems to stand as the symbol of this city, so scornful even in the midst of the overwhelming foreigner who has turned her into a museum, a vast cemetery of art. Only here you may catch something of the old life that is not altogether passed away. Still, in spite of your eyes, you must believe there are Florentines somewhere in the city, that they are still as in Dante's day proud and wise and easily angry, scornful too, a little turbulent, not readily curbed, but full of ambition—great nobles, great merchants, great bankers. Does such an one never come to weep over dead Florence in this the centre of her fame, the last refuge of her greatness, in the night, perhaps, when none may see his tears, when all is hushed that none may mark his sorrow?
It was past midnight when once more I came out of the narrow ways, almost empty at that hour, when every footfall resounds between the old houses, into the old Piazza to learn this secret. Far away in the sky the moon swung like a censer, filling the place with a fragile and lovely light. Standing there in the Piazza, quite deserted now save for some cloaked figure who hurried away up the Calzaioli, and two Carabinieri who stood for a moment at the Uffizi corner and then turned under the arches, I seemed to understand something of the spirit that built that marvellous fortress, that thrust that fierce tower into the sky;—yes, surely at this hour some long dead Florentine must venture here to console the living, who, for sure, must be gay so sadly and with so much regret.
In the Loggia de' Lanzi the moonlight fell among the statues, and in that fairy light I seemed to see in those ghostly still figures of marble and bronze some strange fantastic parable, the inscrutable prophecy of the scornful past. Gian Bologna's Sabine woman, was she not Florence struggling in the grip of the modern vandal; Cellini's Perseus with Medusa's head, has it not in truth turned the city to stone?
The silence was broken; something had awakened in the Piazza: perhaps a bird fluttered from the battlements of the Palazzo, perhaps it was the city that turned in her sleep. No, there it was again. It was a human voice close beside me: it seemed to be weeping.
I looked around: all was quiet. I saw nothing, only there at the corner a little light flickered before a shrine; and yes, something was moving there, someone who was weeping. Softly, softly over the stones I made my way to that little shrine of Madonna at the street corner, and I found, ah! no proud and scornful noble mourning over dead Florence, but an old woman, ragged and alone, prostrate under some unimaginable sorrow, some unappeasable regret.
Did she hear as of old—that Virgin with narrow half-open eyes and the sidelong look? God, I know not if she heard or no. Perhaps I alone have heard in all the world.
THE BAPTISTERY—THE DUOMO—THE CAMPANILE—THE OPERA DEL DUOMO
On coming into the Piazza del Duomo, perhaps from the light and space of the Lung' Arno or from the largeness of the Piazza della Signoria, one is apt to think of it as too small for the buildings which it holds, as wanting in a certain spaciousness such as the Piazza of St. Peter at Rome certainly possesses, or in the light of the meadow of Pisa; and yet this very smallness, only smallness when we consider the great buildings set there so precisely, gives it an element of beauty lacking in the great Piazza of Rome and in Pisa too—a certain delicate colour and shadow and a sense of nearness, of homeliness almost; for the shadow of the dome falls right across the city itself every morning and evening. And indeed the Piazza del Duomo of Florence is still the centre of the life of the city, and though to some this may be matter for regret, I have found in just that a sort of consolation for the cabs which Ruskin hated so, for the trams which he never saw; for just these two necessary unfortunate things bring one so often there that of all the cathedrals of Italy that of Florence must be best known to the greatest number of people at all hours of the day. And this fact, evil and good working together for life's sake, makes the Duomo a real power in the city, so that everyone is interested, often passionately interested, in it: it has a real influence on the lives of the citizens, so that nothing in the past or even to-day has ever been attempted with regard to it without winning the people's leave. Yet it is not the Duomo alone that thus lives in the hearts of the Florentines, but the whole Piazza. There they have established their trophies, and set up their gifts, and lavished their treasure. It was built for all, and it belongs to all; it is the centre of the city.
This enduring vitality of a place so old, so splendid, and so beloved, is, I think, particularly manifest in the Church of S. Giovanni Battista, the Baptistery. It is the oldest building in Florence, built probably with the stones from the Temple of Mars about which Villani tells us, and almost certainly in its place; every Florentine child, fortunate at least in this, is still brought there for baptism, and receives its name in the place where Dante was christened, where Ippolito Buondelmonti first saw Dianora de' Bardi, where Donatello has laboured, which Michelangelo has loved.
Built probably in the sixth or seventh century, it was Arnolfo di Cambio who covered it with marble in 1288, building also three new doorways where before there had been but one, that on the west side, which was then closed. The mere form, those octagonal walls which, so it is said, the Lombards brought into Italy, go to show that the church was used as a Baptistery from the first, though Villani speaks of it as the Duomo; and indeed till 1550 it had the aspect of such a church as the Pantheon in Rome, in that it was open to the sky, so that the rain and the sunlight have fallen on the very floor trodden by so many generations. Humble and simple enough as we see it to-day before the gay splendour of the new facade of the Duomo, it has yet those great treasures which the Duomo cannot boast, the bronze doors of Andrea Pisano and of Ghiberti.
Over the south doorway there was placed in the end of the sixteenth century a group by Vincenzo Danti, said to be his best work, the Beheading of St. John Baptist; and under are the gates of Andrea Pisano carved in twenty bronze panels with the story of St. John and certain virtues: and around the gate Ghiberti has twined an exquisite pattern of leaves and fruits and birds, it is strange to find Ghiberti's work thus completing that of Andrea Pisano, who, as it is said, had Giotto to help him, till we understand that originally these southern gates stood where now are the "Gates of Paradise" before the Duomo. Standing there as they used to do before Ghiberti moved them, they won for Andrea not only the admiration of the people, but the freedom of the city. To-day we come to them with the praise of Ghiberti ringing in our ears, so that in our hurry to see everything we almost pass them by; but in their simpler, and, as some may think, more sincere way, they are as lovely as anything Ghiberti ever did, and in comparing them with the great gates that supplanted them, it may be well to remind ourselves that each has its merit in its own fashion. If the doors of Andrea won the praise of the whole city, it was with an ever-growing excitement that Florence proclaimed a public competition, open to all the sculptors of Italy, for the work that remained, those two doors on the north and east. Ghiberti, at that time in Rimini at the court of Carlo Malatesta, at the entreaty of his father returned to Florence, and was one of the two artists out of the thirty-four who competed, to be chosen for the task: the other was Filippo Brunellesco. You may see the two panels they made in the Bargello side by side on the wall. The subject is the Sacrifice of Isaac, and Ghiberti, with the real instinct of the sculptor, has altogether outstripped Brunellesco, not only in the harmony of his composition, but in the simplicity of his intention. Brunellesco seems to have understood this, and, perhaps liking the lad who was but twenty-two years old, withdrew from the contest. However this may be, Ghiberti began the work at once, and finished the door on the north side of the Baptistery in ten years. There, amid a framework of exquisite foliage, leaves, birds, and all kinds of life, he has set the gospel story in twenty panels, beginning with the Annunciation and ending with the Pentecost; and around the gate he has set the four Evangelists and the doctors of the Church and the prophets. Above you may see the group of a pupil of Verrocchio, the Preaching of St. John.
In looking on these beautiful and serene works, we may already notice an advance on the work of Andrea Pisano in a certain ease and harmony, a richness and variety, that were beyond the older master. Ghiberti has already begun to change with his genius the form that has come down to him, to expand it, to break down its limitations so that he may express himself, may show us the very visions he has seen. And the success of these gates with the people certainly confirmed him in the way he was going. In the third door, that facing the Duomo, which Michelangelo has said was worthy to be the gate of Paradise, it is really a new art we come upon, the subtle rhythms and perspectives of a sort of pictorial sculpture, that allows him to carve here in such low relief that it is scarcely more than painting, there in the old manner, the old manner but changed, full of a sort of exuberance which here at any rate is beauty. The ten panels which Ghiberti thus made in his own way are subjects from the Old Testament: the Creation of Adam and Eve, the story of Cain and Abel, of Noah, of Abraham and Isaac, of Jacob and Esau, of Joseph, of Moses on Sinai, of Joshua before Jericho, of David and Goliath, of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. At his death in 1455 they were unfinished, and a host of sculptors, including Brunellesco and Paolo Uccello, are said to have handled the work, Antonio del Pollajuolo being credited with the quail in the lower frame. Over the door stands the beautiful work of Sansovino, the Baptism of Christ.
It is with a certain sense of curiosity that one steps down into the old church; for in spite of every sort of witness it has the air of some ancient temple: nor do the beautiful antique columns which support the triforium undeceive us. For long enough now the mosaics of the vault have been hidden by the scaffolding of the restorers; but the beautiful thirteenth-century floor of white and black marble, in the midst of which the font once stood, is still undamaged. The font, which is possibly a work of the Pisani, is on one side, set there, as it is said, because of old the roof of the church was open, and many a winter christening spoiled by rain. It was not, however, till 1571 that the old font, surrounded by its small basins, one of which Dante broke in saving a man from drowning there, was removed from the church by Francesco I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, for the christening of his son.
Certain vestiges of the oldest church remain: you may see a sarcophagus, one of those which, before Arnolfo covered the church with marble, stood without and held the ashes of some of the greater families. But the most beautiful thing here is the tomb that Donatello made for Baldassare Cossa, pirate, condottiere, and anti-pope, who, deposed by the Council of Constance (1414), came to Florence, and, as ever, was kindly received by the people. It stands beside the north door. On a marble couch supported by lions, the gilt bronze statue of this prince of adventurers, who grasped the very chair of St. Peter as booty, lies, his brow still troubled, his mouth set firm as though plotting new conquests even in the grave. Below, on the tomb itself, two winged angiolini hold the great scroll on which we read the name of the dead man, Johannes Quondam Papa XXIII: to which inscription Martin V, Cossa's successful rival at Constance, is said to have taken exception; but the Medici who had built the tomb answered in Pilate's words to the Pharisees, "What I have written, I have written." The three marble figures in niches at the base may be by Michelozzo, who worked with Donatello, or possibly by Pagano di Lapo, as the Madonna above the tomb almost certainly is.
Coming up once more into the Piazza from that mysterious dim church, dim with the centuries of the history of the city, you come upon two porphyry columns beside the eastern door. They are the gift of Pisa when her ships returned from the Balearic Islands to Florence, who had defended their city from the Lucchesi. The column with the branch of olive in bronze upon it to the north of the Baptistery reminds us of the miracle performed by the body of S. Zenobio in 490. Borne to burial in S. Reparata, the bier is said to have touched a dead olive tree standing on this spot, which immediately put forth leaves: the column commemorates this miracle. So in Florence they remind us of the gods.
In turning now to the Duomo we come to one of the great buildings of the world. Standing on the site of the old church of S. Salvatore, of S. Reparata, it is a building of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, begun in 1298 from the designs of Arnolfo; and it is dedicated to S. Maria del Fiore. Coming to us without the wonderful romantic interest, the mysticism and exaltation of such a church as Notre Dame d'Amiens, without the more resolute and heroic appeal of such a stronghold as the Cathedral of Durham, it is more human than either, the work of a man who, as it were, would thank God that he was alive and glad in the world. And it will never bring us delight if we ask of it all the consummate mystery, awe, and magic of the great Gothic churches of the North. The Tuscans certainly have never understood the Christian religion as we have contrived to do in Northern Europe. It came to them really as a sort of divine explanation of a paganism which entranced but bewildered them. Behind it lay the Roman Empire; and its temples became their churches, its halls of justice their cathedrals, its tongue the only language understood of the gods. It is unthinkable that a people who were already in the twelfth century the possessors of a marvellous decadent art in the painting of the Byzantine school, who, finding again the statues of the gods, created in the thirteenth century a new art of painting, a Christian art that was the child of imperial Rome as well as of the Christian Church, who re-established sculpture and produced the only sculptor of the first rank in the modern world, should have failed altogether in architecture. Yet everywhere we may hear it said that the Italian churches, spoken of with scorn by those who remember the strange, subtle exaltation of Amiens, the extraordinary intricate splendour of such a church as the Cathedral of Toledo, are mere barns. But it is not so. As Italian painting is a profound and natural development from Greek and Roman art, certainly influenced by life, but in no doubt of its parentage; so are the Italian churches a very beautiful and subtle development of pagan architecture, influenced by life not less profoundly than painting has been, but certainly as sure of their parentage, and, as we shall see, not less assured of their intention. Just as painting, as soon as may be, becomes human, becomes pagan in Signorelli and Botticelli, and yet contrives to remain true to its new gods, so architecture as soon as it is sure of itself moves with joy, with endless delight and thanksgiving, towards that goal of the old builders: in such a church as S. Maria della Consolazione outside Todi, for instance,—in such a church as S. Pietro might have been,—and that it is not so, we may remind ourselves, is the fault of that return to barbarism and superstition which Luther led in the North.
What then, we may ask ourselves, were the aim and desire of the Italian builders, which it seems have escaped us for so long? If we turn to the builders of antiquity and seek for their intention in what remains to us of their work, we shall find, I think, that their first aim was before all things to make the best building they could for a particular purpose, and to build that once for all. And out of these two intentions the third must follow; for if a temple, for instance, were both fit and strong it would be beautiful because the purpose for which it was needed was noble and beautiful. Now the first necessity of the basilica, for instance, was space; and the intention of the builder would be to build so that that space should appear as splendid as possible, and to do this and to enjoy it would necessitate, above all things, light,—a problem not so difficult after all in a land like Italy, where the sun is so faithful and so divine. Taking the necessity, then, of the Italian to be much the same as that of the Roman builder when he was designing a basilica,—that is to say, the accommodation of a crowd of people who are to take part in a common solemnity,—we shall find that the intention of the Italian in building his churches is exactly that of the Roman in building his basilica: he desires above all things space and light, partly because they seem to him necessary for the purpose of the church, and partly because he thinks them the two most splendid and majestic things in the world.
Well, he has altogether carried out his intention in half a hundred churches up and down Italy: consider here in Florence S. Croce, S. Maria Novella, S. Spirito, and above all the Duomo. Remember his aim was not the aim of the Gothic builder. He did not wish to impress you with the awfulness of God, like the builder of Barcelona; or with the mystery of the Crucifixion, like the builders of Chartres: he wished to provide for you in his practical Latin way a temple where you might pray, where the whole city might hear Mass or applaud a preacher. He did this in his own noble and splendid fashion as well as it could be done. He has never believed, save when driven mad by the barbarians, in the mysterious awfulness of our far-away God. He prays as a man should pray, without self-consciousness and not without self-respect. He is without sentiment; he believes in largeness, grandeur, splendour, and sincerity; and he has known the gods for three thousand years.
What, then, we are to look for in entering such a church as S. Maria del Fiore is, above all, a noble spaciousness and the beauty of just that.
The splendour and nobility of S. Maria del Fiore from without are evident, it might seem, to even the most prejudiced observer; but within, I think, the beauty is perhaps less easily perceived.
One comes through the west doors out of the sunshine of the Piazza into an immense nave, and the light is that of an olive garden,—yes, just that sparkling, golden, dancing shadow of a day of spring in an old olive grove not far from the sea. In this delicate and fragile light the beauty and spaciousness of the church are softened and simplified. You do not reason any longer, you accept it at once as a thing complete and perfect. Complete and perfect—yet surely spoiled a little by the gallery that dwarfs the arches and seems to introduce a useless detail into what till then must have been so simple. One soon forgets so small a thing in the immensity and solemnity of the whole, that seems to come to one with the assurance of the sky or of the hills, really without an afterthought. And indeed I find there much of the strange simplicity of natural things that move us we know not why: the autumn fields of which Alberti speaks, the far hills at evening, the valleys that in an hour will make us both glad and sorry, as the sun shines or the clouds gather or the wind sings on the hills. Not a church to think in as St. Peter's is, but a place where one may pray, said Pius IX when he first saw S. Maria del Fiore: and certainly it has that in common with the earth, that you may be glad in it as well as sorry. It is not a museum of the arts; it is not a pantheon like Westminster Abbey or S. Croce; it is the beautiful house where God and man may meet and walk in the shadow.
Yet little though there be to interest the curious, Giovanni Acuto, that Englishman Sir John Hawkwood of the White Company, one of the first of the Condottieri, the deliverer of Pisa, "the first real general of modern times," is buried here. You may see his equestrian portrait by Paolo Uccello over the north-west doorway in his habit as he lived. Having fought against the Republic and died in its service, he was buried here with public honours in 1394. And then in the north aisle you may see the statue called a portrait of Poggio Bracciolini by Donatello. Donatello carved a number of statues, of which nine have been identified, for the Opera del Duomo, three of these are now in the Cathedral: the Poggio, the so-called Joshua in the south aisle, which has been said to be a portrait of Gianozzo Manetti; and the St. John the Evangelist in the eastern part of the nave. The Poggio certainly belongs to the series: it would be delightful if the cryptic writing on the borders of the garment were to prove it to be the Job. The St. John Evangelist is an earlier work than the Poggio; it was begun when Donatello was twenty-two years old, and, as Lord Balcarres says, "it challenges comparison with one worthy rival, the Moses of Michelangelo." It was to have stood on one side of the central door. Something of the wonder of this work in its own time may be understood if we compare it, not with the later work of Michelangelo, but with the statues of St. Mark by Niccolo d'Arezzo, the St. Luke of Nanni di Banco, and the St. Matthew of Bernardo Ciuffagni, which were to stand beside it and are now placed in a good light in the nave, while the work of Donatello is almost invisible in this dark apsidal chapel. Of the other works which Donatello made for the Opera del Duomo, the David is in the Bargello, while the Jeremiah, and Habbakuk, the so-called Zuccone, the Abraham, and St. John Baptist are still on the Campanile.
The octagonal choir screens carved in relief by Baccio Bandinelli, whom Cellini hated so scornfully because he spoke lightly of Michelangelo, will not keep you long; but there behind the high altar is an unfinished Pieta by Michelangelo himself. It is a late work, but in that fallen Divine Figure just caught in Madonna's arms you may see perhaps the most beautiful thing in the church, less splendid but more pitiful than the St. John of Donatello, but certainly not less moving than that severe, indomitable son of thunder. Above, the dome soars into heaven; that mighty dome, higher than St. Peter's, the despair of Michelangelo, one of the beauties of the world. One wanders about the church looking at the bronze doors of the Sagrestia Nuova, or the terra-cottas of Luca della Robbia, always to return to that miracle of Brunellesco's. Not far away in the south aisle you come upon his monument with his portrait in marble by Buggiano. The indomitable persistence of the face! Is it any wonder that, impossible as his dream appeared, he had his way with Florence at last—yes, and with himself too? As you stand at the corner of Via del Proconsolo, and, looking upward, see that immense dome soaring into the sky over that church of marble, something of the joy and confidence and beauty that were immortal in him come to you too from his work. Like Columbus, he conquered a New World. His schemes, which the best architects in Europe laughed at, were treated with scorn by the Consiglio, yet he persuaded them at last. In 1418 he made his designs, and the people, as now, were called upon to vote. Two years went by, and nothing was done; then in 1420 he was elected by the Opera to the post of Provveditore della Cupola, but not alone, for Lorenzo Ghiberti and Battista d'Antonio were elected with him. Still he persisted, and, as the Florentines say, by pretending sickness and leaving the work to Ghiberti, who knew nothing about it and could do nothing without him, in 1421 he won over the Consiglio. He began at once. What his agonies may have been, what profound difficulties he discovered and conquered, we do not know, but by 1434, when Eugenius IV was in Florence and the Duomo was consecrated, his dome was finished, wanting only the lantern and the ball. These he began in 1437, but died too soon to see, for the lantern was not finished till 1458, and it was only in 1471 that Verrocchio cast the bronze ball.
Wandering round to the facade, finished in 1886, it is a careful imitation of fifteenth-century work we see, saved from the mere routine of just that, in its design at any rate, by the vote of the people, who, against the opinion of all the artists in Florence at that time, insisted on the cornice following the basilical form of the tower, refusing to endorse the pointed "tricuspidal" design. It is not, however, in such merely competent work as this that we shall find ourselves interested, but rather in the beautiful door on the north just before the transept, over which, in an almond-shaped glory, Madonna gives her girdle to St. Thomas. Given now to Nanni di Banco, a sculptor of the end of the fourteenth century, whom Vasari tells us was the pupil of Donatello, it long passed as the work of Jacopo della Quercia. Certainly one of the loveliest works of the early Renaissance, it is so full of life and gracious movement, so natural and so noble, that everything else in the Cathedral, save the work of Donatello, is forgotten beside it. Madonna enthroned among the Cherubim in her oval mandorla, upheld by four puissant fair angels, turns with a gesture most natural and lovely to St. Thomas, who kneels to her, his drapery in beautiful folds about him, lifting his hands in prayer. Above, three angels play on pipes and reeds; while in a corner a great bear gnaws at the bark of an oak in full leaf.
In turning now to the Campanile, which Giotto began in 1334, on the site of a chapel of S. Zenobio, we come to the last building of the great group. Fair and slim as a lily, as light as that, as airy and full of grace, to my mind at least it lacks a certain stability, so that looking on it I always fear in my heart lest it should fall. It seems to lack roots, as it were, yet by no means to want confidence or force. Can it be that, after all, it would have seemed more secure, more firm and established, if the spire Giotto designed for it had in truth been built? The consummate and supreme artist, architect, sculptor, and painter was not content to design so fair, so undreamed-of a flower as this, but set himself to make the statues and the reliefs that were necessary also. And then has he not built as only a painter could have done, in white and rose and green? He died too soon to see the fairest of his dreams, and it is really to two other artists—Taddeo Gaddi and Francesco Talenti—that the actual work, after the first five storeys—those windows, for instance, that add so much to the beauty of the tower—is owing.
The reliefs that, set some five-and-twenty feet from the ground, are so difficult to see, are the work of Andrea Pisano, the sculptor of the south gate of the Baptistery. Born at Pontedera, the pupil of Giovanni Pisano, this great and lovable artist has been robbed of much that belongs to him. Vasari tells us—and for long we believed him—that Giotto helped him to design the gate of the Baptistery; and again, that Giotto designed these reliefs for Andrea to carve and found. It might seem impossible to believe that the greatest sculptor then living, fresh from a great triumph, would have consented to use the design of a painter, even though he were Giotto. However this may be, the reliefs really speak for themselves: those on the south side—early Sabianism, house-building, pottery, training horses, weaving, lawgiving, and exploration—are certainly by Andrea; while among the rest the Jubal, the Creation of Man, the Creation of Woman, seem to be his own among the work of his pupils. It is to quite another hand, however, to Luca della Robbia, that the Grammar, Poetry, Philosophy, Astrology, and Music must be given. The genius of Andrea Pisano, at its best in those Baptistery gates, in the panel of the Baptism of our Lord, for instance, or in those marvellous works on the facade of the Duomo at Orvieto, so full of force, vitality, and charm, is, as I think, less fortunate in its expression when he is concerned with such work as these statues of the prophets in the niches on the south wall of the Campanile,—if indeed they be his. Seen as these figures are, beside the large, splendid, realistic work of Donatello, so wonderfully ugly in the Zuccone, so pitiless in the Habakkuk, they are quickly forgotten; but indeed Donatello's work seems to stand alone in the history of sculpture till the advent of Michelangelo.