Florence and Northern Tuscany with Genoa
by Edward Hutton
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

I speak of Donatello elsewhere in this book,[92] but you will find one of his best works among much curious, interesting litter from the Duomo in the Opera del Duomo, the Cathedral Museum in the old Falconieri Palace just behind the apse of the Cathedral. A bust of Cosimo Primo stands over the entrance, and within you find a beautiful head of Brunellesco by Buggiano. It is, however, in a room on the first floor that you will find the great organ lofts, one by Donatello and the other by Luca della Robbia, which I suppose are among the best known works of art in the world. Made for the Cathedral, these galleries for singers seem to be imprisoned in a museum.

The beautiful youths of Luca, the children of Donatello, for all their seeming vigour and joy, sing and dance no more; they are in as evil a case as the Madonnas of the Uffizi, who, in their golden frames behind the glass, under the vulgar, indifferent eyes of the multitude, envy Madonna of the street-corner the love of the lowly. So it is with the beautiful Cantorie made for God's praise by Donatello and Luca della Robbia. Before the weary eyes of the sight-seer, the cold eyes of the scientific critic, in the horrid silence of a museum, amid so much that is dead, here the headless trunk of some saint, there the battered fragments of what was once a statue, some shadow has fallen upon them, and though they keep still the gesture of joy, they are really dead or sleeping. Is it only sleep? Do they perhaps at night, when all the doors of their prisons are barred and their gaolers are gone, praise God in His Holiness, even in such a hell as this? Who knows? They were made for a world so different, for a time that out of the love of God had seen arise the very beauty of the world, and were glad therefor. Ah, of how many beautiful things have we robbed God in our beggary! We have imprisoned the praise of the artists in the museums that Science may pass by and sneer; we have arranged the saints in order, and Madonna we have carefully hidden under the glass, because now we never dream of God or speak with Him at all. Art is dying, Beauty is become a burden, Nature a thing for science and not for love. They are become too precious, the old immortal things; we must hide them away lest they fade and God take them from us: and because we have hidden them away, and they are become too precious for life, and we have killed them because we loved them, we seldom pass by where they are save to satisfy the same curiosity that leads us to any other charnel-house where the dead are exposed.

Thus they have stolen away the silver altar of the Baptistery, that miracle of the fourteenth-century silversmiths, Betto di Geri, Leonardo di Ser Giovanni, and the rest, that it may be a cause of wonder in a museum. So a flower looks between the cold pages of a botanist's album, so a bird sings in his case: for life is to do that for which we were created, and if that be the praise of God in His sanctuary, to stand impotently by under the gaze of innumerable unbelievers in a museum is to die. And truly this is a shame in Italy that so many fair and lovely things have been torn out of their places to be catalogued in a gallery. It were a thousand times better that they were allowed to fade quietly on the walls of the church where they were born. It is a vandalism only possible to the modern world in which the machines have ground out every human feeling and left us nothing but a bestial superstition which we call science, and which threatens to become the worst tyranny of all, that we should thus herd together, catalogue, describe, arrange, and gape at every work of art and nature we can lay our hands on. No doubt it brings in, directly and indirectly, an immense revenue to the country which can show the most of such death chambers. Often by chance or mistake one has wandered into a museum—though I confess I never understood in what relation it stood to the Muses—where your scientist has collected his scraps and refuse of Nature, things that were wonderful or beautiful once—birds, butterflies, the marvellous life of the foetus, and such—but that in his hands have died in order that he may set them out and number them one by one. Here you will find a leg that once stood firm enough, there an arm that once for sure held someone in its embrace: now it is exposed to the horror and curiosity of mankind. Well, it is the same with the Pictures and the statues. Why, men have prayed before them, they have heard voices, tears have fallen where they stood, and they have whispered to us of the beauty and the love of God. To-day, herded in thousands, chained to the walls of their huge dungeons, they are just specimens like the dead butterflies which we pay to see, which some scientific critic without any care for beauty will measure and describe in the inarticulate and bestial syllables of some degenerate dialect he thinks is language. Our unfortunate gods! How much more fortunate were they of the older world: Zeus, whose statue of ivory and gold mysteriously was stolen away; Aphrodite of Cnidus, which someone hid for love; and you, O Victory of Samothrace, that being headless you cannot see the curious, peeping, indifferent multitude. Was it for this the Greeks blinded their statues, lest the gods being in exile, they might be shamed by the indifference of men? And now that our gods too are exiled, who will destroy their images and their pictures crowded in the museums, that the foolish may not speak of them we have loved, nor the scientist say, such and such they were, in stature of such a splendour, carved by such a man, the friend of the friend of a fool? But our gods are dead.


[86] I give this story for what it is worth. So far as I know, however, the font was placed in its present position in 1658, more than a hundred years after the church was roofed in. It may, however, have occupied another position before that.

[87] See p. 82.

[88] To compare an Italian church with a French cathedral would be to compare two altogether different things, a fault in logic, and in criticism the unforgivable sin; for a work of art must be judged in its own category, and praised only for its own qualities, and blamed only for its own defects.

[89] Cf. Donatello, by Lord Balcarres: Duckworth, 1903, p. 12.

[90] Not the ball we see now, which was struck by lightning and hurled into the street in 1492. Verrocchio's was rather smaller than the present ball.

[91] See Crowe and Cavalcaselle, History of Painting in Italy: London, 1903, p. 116, note 4.

[92] See pp. 283-289.



Or San Michele, S. Michele in Orto, was till the middle of the thirteenth century a little church belonging, as it is said, to the Cistercians, who certainly claimed the patronage of it. About 1260, however, the Commune of Florence began to dispute this right with the Order, and at last pulled down the church, building there, thirty years later, a loggia of brick, after a design by Arnolfo di Cambio, according to Vasari, who tells us that it was covered with a simple roof and that the piers were of brick. This loggia was the corn-market of the city, a shelter, too, for the contadini who came to show their samples and to talk, gossip, and chaffer, as they do everywhere in Italy even to-day. And, as was the custom, they made a shrine of Madonna there, hanging on one of the brick pillars a picture (tavola) of Madonna that, as it is said, was the work of Ugolino da Siena. This shrine soon became famous for the miracles Madonna wrought there. "On July 3rd," says Giovanni Villani, writing of the year 1292, "great and manifest miracles began to be shown forth in the city of Florence by a figure of Saint Mary which was painted on a pilaster of the loggia of S. Michele d'Orto, where the corn was sold: the sick were healed, the deformed were made straight, and those who were possessed of devils were delivered from them in numbers." In the previous year the Compagnia di Or San Michele, called the Laudesi, had been established, and this Company, putting the fame of the miracles to good use, grew rich, much to the disgust of the Friars Minor and the Dominicans. "The Preaching Friars and the Friars Minor likewise," says Villani, "through envy or some other cause, would put no faith in that image, whereby they fell into great infamy with the people. But so greatly grew the fame of these miracles and the merits of Our Lady, that pilgrims flocked thither from all Tuscany for her festas, bringing divers waxen images because of the wonders, so that a great part of the loggia in front of and around Madonna was filled." Cavalcanti, too, speaks of Madonna di Or San Michele, likening her to his Lady, in a sonnet which scandalised Guido Orlandi—

"Guido an image of my Lady dwells At S. Michele in Orto, consecrate And duly worshipped. Fair in holy state She listens to the tale each sinner tells: And among them that come to her, who ails The most, on him the most doth blessing wait. She bids the fiend men's bodies abdicate; Over the curse of blindness she prevails, And heals sick languors in the public squares. A multitude adores her reverently: Before her face two burning tapers are; Her voice is uttered upon paths afar. Yet through the Lesser Brethren's jealousy She is named idol; not being one of theirs."[93]

The feuds of Neri and Bianchi at this time distracted Florence; at the head of the Blacks, though somewhat their enemy, was Corso Donati; at the head of the Whites were the Cerchi and the Cavalcanti. After the horrid disaster of May Day, when the Carraja bridge, crowded with folk come to see that strange carnival of the other world, fell and drowned so many, there had been much fighting in the city, in which Corso Donati stood neutral, for he was ill with gout, and angered with the Black party. Robbed thus of their great leader, the Neri were beaten day and night by the Cerchi, who with the aid of the Cavalcanti and Gherardini rode through the city as far as the Mercato Vecchio and Or San Michele, and from there to S. Giovanni, and certainly they would have taken the city with the help of the Ghibellines, who were come to their aid, if one Ser Neri Abati, clerk and prior of S. Piero Scheraggio, a dissolute and worldly man, and a rebel and enemy against his friends, had not set fire to the houses of his family in Or San Michele, and to the Florentine Calimala near to the entrance of Mercato Vecchio. This fire did enormous damage, as Villani tells us, destroying not only the houses of the Abati, the Macci, the Amieri, the Toschi, the Cipriani, Lamberti, Bachini, Buiamonti, Cavalcanti, and all Calimala, together with all the street of Porta S. Maria, as far as Ponte Vecchio and the great towers and houses there, but also Or San Michele itself. In this disaster who knows what became of the miracle picture of Madonna? For years the loggia lay in ruins, till peace being established in 1336, the Commune decided to rebuild it, giving the work into the hands of the Guild of Silk, which, according to Vasari, employed Taddeo Gaddi as architect. The first stone of the new building was laid on July 29, 1337, the old brick piers, according to Villani, being removed, and pillars of stone set up in their stead.[94] In 1339 the Guild of Silk won leave from the Commune to build in each of these stone piers a niche, which later should hold a statue; while above the loggia was built a great storehouse for corn, as well as an official residence for the officers of the market.

Nine years later there followed the great plague, of which Boccaccio has left us so terrible an impression. In this dreadful calamity, which swept away nearly two-thirds of the population, the Compagnia di Or San Michele grew very wealthy, many citizens leaving it all their possessions. No doubt very much was distributed in charity, for the Company had become the greatest charitable society in the city, but by 1347, so great was its wealth, that it resolved to build the most splendid shrine in Italy for the Madonna di Or San Michele. The loggia was not yet finished, and after the desolation of the plague the Commune was probably too embarrassed to think of completing it immediately. Some trouble certainly seems to have arisen between the Guild of Silk, who had charge of the fabric, and the Company, who were only concerned for their shrine, the latter, in spite of their wealth, refusing in any way to assist in finishing the building. Whether from this cause or another, a certain suspicion of the Company began to rise in Florence, and Matteo Villani roundly accuses the Capitani della Compagnia of peculation and corruption. However this may be, by 1355 Andrea Orcagna had been chosen to build the shrine of Madonna, which is still to-day one of the wonders of the city. It seems to have been in a sort of recognition of the splendour and beauty of Orcagna's work that the Signoria, between 1355 and 1359, removed the corn-market elsewhere, and thus gave up the whole loggia to the shrine of Madonna. Thus the loggia became a church, the great popular church of Florence, built by the people for their own use, in what had once been the corn-market of the city. The architect of this strange and secular building, more like a palace than a church, is unknown. Vasari, as I have said, speaks of Taddeo Gaddi; others again have thought it the work of Orcagna himself; while Francesco Talenti and his son Simone are said to have worked on it. The question is to a large extent a matter of indifference. What is important here is the fact that it is to the greater Guilds and to the Parte Guelfa that we owe the church itself—that is to say, to the merchants and trades of the city—while the beautiful shrine within is due to a secular Company consisting of some of the greatest citizens, and to a large extent opposed to the regular Orders of St. Dominic and St. Francis. It is, then, as the great church of the popolo that we have to consider Or San Michele. Here, because their greatest and most splendid deed, the expulsion of the Duke of Athens, had been achieved on St. Anne's Day, July 26, 1343, they built a chapel to St. Anne, and around the church on every anniversary, above the fourteen niches which hold the statues presented by the seven greater arts, by six of the fourteen lesser arts, and by the Magistrato della Mercanzia, that magistracy which governed all the guilds,[95] their banners are set up even to this day.

The great Guild of Wool was already responsible for the Duomo, and it was for this reason, it might seem, that to the Guild of Silk was given the care of Or San Michele; not altogether without jealousy, it might seem, for when they had asked leave to place the image of their saint in one of the niches there, all the other guilds had demanded a like favour, thus in an especial manner marking the place as the Church of the Merchants, the true popolo; the great popular shrine of Florence, therefore, since Florence was a city of merchants.

It is on the south side, in the niche nearest to Via Calzaioli, that the Guild of Silk set its statue of St. John the Evangelist by Baccio da Montelupo; next to it is an empty niche belonging to the Guild of Apothecaries and Doctors. Here a Madonna and Child by Simone Ferrucci once stood, but, owing to a rumour current in the seventeenth century, that Madonna sometimes moved her eyes, the statue was placed inside the church, so that the crowd which always collected to see this miracle might no longer stop the way. In the next niche the Furriers placed a statue of St. James by Nanni di Banco, and beyond, the Guild of Linen set up a statue of St. Mark by Donatello. On the west, in the first niche, is S. Lo, the patron of the Furriers, carved by Nanni di Banco, and beyond, St. Stephen, set there by the Guild of Wool and carved by Ghiberti; while next to him stands St. Matthew, set there by the Bankers and carved by Ghiberti, and cast in 1422 by Michelozzo. On the north, Donatello's statue of St. George used to fill the first niche, somewhat shallower than the rest owing to a staircase inside the church, but it was removed to the Bargello for fear of the weather: the beautiful relief, also by Donatello, below the copy, is still in its place, under the St. George of the Armourers. The four statues in the next niche were placed there by the Guilds of Sculptors, Masons, Smiths, and Bricklayers; they are the work of Nanni di Banco. Further, is the St. Philip of the Shoemakers, again by Nanni di Banco, and the St. Peter of the Butchers, by Donatello. On the east stands St. Luke, placed there by the Notaries, and carved by Giovanni da Bologna; the great bronze group of Christ and St. Thomas, the gift of the Magistrato della Mercanzia, the governor of all the guilds; and the St. John Baptist, the gift of the Calimala, and the work of Ghiberti: this last was the first statue placed here—in 1414.

Nanni di Banco, that delightful sculptor of the Madonna della Cintola of the Duomo, has thus four works here at Or San Michele—the S. Lo, the group on the north side, the St. Philip, and the St. James. The St. Philip, and the group which represents the four masons who, being Christians, refused to build a Pagan temple, and were martyred long and long ago, have little merit; and though the S. Lo has a certain force, and the relief below it a wonderful simplicity, they lack altogether the charm of the Madonna della Cintola.

Ghiberti has three works here—the St. Stephen, the St. Matthew, and the St. John Baptist, the only sculptures of the kind he ever produced. Full of energy though the St. Stephen may be, it has about it a sort of divine modesty that lends it a charm altogether beyond anything we may find in the St. John Baptist, a figure full of character, nevertheless. It is, however, in the St. Matthew that we see Ghiberti at his best perhaps, in a figure for once full of strength, and altogether splendid.

Donatello, too, had three figures here beside the relief beneath the St. George. The St. Peter on the north side is probably the earliest work done for Or San Michele, and is certainly the poorest. The St. Mark on the south side is, however, a fine example of his earlier manner, with a certain largeness, strength, and liberty about it a frankness, too, in expression so that he has made us believe in the goodness of the Apostle, which, as Michelangelo is reported to have said must have vouched for the truth of what he taught.

The masterpiece, certainly, of these Tuscan sculptures is the bronze group of Christ and St. Thomas by Verrocchio, which I have so loved. All the work of this master is full of eagerness and force: something of that strangeness without which there is no excellent beauty, that later was so characteristic of the work of his pupil Leonardo, you will find in this work also, a subtlety sometimes a little elaborate, that, as I think is but a sort of over-eagerness to express all he has thought to say. Donatello prepared this niche for him at the end of his life it was almost his last work; and Verrocchio, after many years of labour, had thought to place here really his masterpiece, in the church that, more than any other, belonged to the people of the city, that middle class, as we might say, from which he sprang. How perfectly, and yet not altogether without affectation, he has composed that difficult scene, so that St. Thomas stands a little out of the setting, and places his finger—yes, almost as a child might do—in the wounded side of Jesus, who stands majestically fair before him. It is true the drapery is complicated, a little heavy even, but with what care he has remembered everything! Consider the grace of those beautiful folds, the beauty of the hair, the loveliness of the hands: and then, as Burckhardt reminds us, as a piece of work founded and cast in bronze, it is almost inimitable.

* * * * *

Within, the church is strange and splendid. It is as though one stood in a loggia in deep shadow, at the end of the day in the last gold of the sunset; and there, amid the ancient fading glory of the frescoes, is the wonderful shrine that Orcagna made for the picture of Madonna, who had turned the Granary of S. Michele into the Church of the People. Finished in 1359, this tabernacle is the loveliest work of the kind in Italy, an unique masterpiece, and perhaps the most beautiful example of the Italian Gothic manner in existence. Orcagna seems to have been at work on it for some ten years, covering it with decoration and carving those reliefs of the Life of the Virgin in that grand style which he had found in Giotto and learned perhaps from Andrea Pisano. To describe the shrine itself would be impossible and useless. It is like some miniature and magic church, a casquet made splendid not with jewels but with beauty, where the miracle picture of Madonna—not that ancient and wonderful picture by Ugolino da Siena, but a work, it is said, of Bernardo Daddi—glows under the lamps. On the west side, in front of the altar, Orcagna has carved the Marriage of the Virgin and the Annunciation; on the south, the Nativity of Our Lord and the Adoration of the Magi; on the north, the Presentation of the Virgin and her Birth; and on the east, the Purification and the Annunciation of her Death. And above these last, in a panel of great beauty, he has carved the Death of the Virgin, where, among the Apostles crowding round her bed, while St. Thomas—or is it St. John?—passionately kisses her feet, Jesus Himself stands with her soul in His arms, that little Child which had first entered the kingdom of heaven. Above this sorrowful scene you may see the Glory and Assumption of Our Lady in a mandorla glory, upheld by six angels, while St. Thomas kneels below, stretching out his arms, assured at last. It is, as it were, the prototype of the Madonna della Cintola, that exquisite and lovely relief which Nanni di Banco carved later for the north gate of the Duomo, only here all the sweetness that Nanni has seen and expressed seems to be lost in a sort of solemnity and strength.

Between these panels Orcagna has set the virtues Theological and Cardinal, little figures of much force and beauty; and at the corners he has carved angels bearing palms and lilies. Some who have seen this shrine so loaded with ornament, so like some difficult and complicated canticle, have gone away disappointed. Remembering the strength and significance of Orcagna's work in fresco, they have perhaps looked for some more simple thing, and indeed for a less rhetorical praise. Yet I think it is rather the fault of Or San Michele than of the shrine itself, that it does not certainly vanquish any possible objection and assure us at once of its perfection and beauty. If it could be seen in the beautiful spacious transept of S. Croce, or even in Santo Spirito across Arno, that sense as of something elaborate and complicated would perhaps not be felt; but here in Or San Michele one seems to have come upon a priceless treasure in a cave.


[93] Rossetti's translation of Guido Cavalcanti's Sonnet written in exile.

[94] Franceschini, however, in his record (L'Oratorio di S. Michele in Orto in Firenze: P. Franceschini: Firenze, 1892), says that the Tabernacle of Orcagna was built round the old brick pillars. It may well be that the pillar on which the Madonna was painted or was hung (for it is not clear whether the painting was a panel or a wall painting) was saved while the rest was destroyed.

[95] The Parte Guelfa originally set up their statue of St. Louis of Toulouse, carved by Donatello, in the place where now stands the statue of Magistrates, the group of Christ and St. Thomas made by Verrocchio. Eight of the fourteen lesser arts are not represented—namely, the Bakers, the Carpenters, the Leatherworkers, the Saddlers, the Innkeepers, the Vintners, and the Cheesemongers.



It is in the Ciompi rising of 1278, that social revolution in which all Florence seems for once to have been interested, that we catch really for the first time the name of Medici. In 1352, Salvestro de' Medici—non gia Salvestro ma Salvator mundi, Franco Sacchetti calls him—had led the Florentines against the Archbishop of Milan, and in 1370 he had been chosen Gonfaloniere of Justice. He was filling this office against the wishes of the Parte Guelfa, when, not without his connivance, the Ciompi riot broke out against the magnates, whose power he had sought to break by means of the Ordinances of Justice.

The result of that bloody struggle was really a victory for the Arti Maggiori, the Arti Minori being bribed with promises and thus separated from the populace, who had sided with the Parte Guelfa, which was beaten for ever. The oligarchy was saved, but the struggle between rich and poor was by no means over. Soon the older Guilds seem to lose grip, and we see instead great trusts arising, associations of wealth, and above all, Banking Companies. What was wanting in Florence, as elsewhere in Italy, was some legitimate authority that might have guided the people in their desire for power. As it was, the city became divided into classes, each anxious to gain power at the expense of others, the result being an oligarchy, continually a prey to schism, merely waiting for a despot to declare himself.

Seemingly in the hands of a group of families without any legitimate right, the government was really in the power of one among them, and thus of one man, the head of it, Maso degli Albizzi. Brilliant, clever, and fascinating, Maso ruled with a certain strength and generosity; but Florence was a city of merchants, and between the Scylla of oligarchy and the Charybdis of despotism, was really driven into the latter by her economic position. The Duke Gian Galeazzo of Milan closed the trade routes, and Florence was compelled to fight for her life. Pisa, too, had to be overcome, again for economic reasons, and in 1414 a long war with King Ladislaus brought Cortona into the power of the Republic; but all these wars cost money, and the taxes pressed on the poor, who obtained no advantage from them. Maso's son Rinaldo, who succeeded him before the wars were over, had less ability than his father, and was certainly less beloved; he seems, however, to have been upright and incorruptible. He was, nevertheless, capable of mistakes, and, while engaged in war with Milan, attempted to seize Lucca. At length, when the grumbling of the poor had already gone too far, he readjusted the taxes, and thus alienated the rich also. His own party was divided, he himself heading the more conservative party, which refused to listen to the clamour of the wealthier families for a part in the government, while Niccolo Uzzano, with the more liberal party, would have admitted them. Among these wealthy families excluded from the government was the Medici.

The Medici had been banished after the Ciompi riots, but a branch of the family had returned, and was already established in the affections of the people. To the head of this branch, Giovanni de' Medici, all the enemies of Rinaldo looked with hope. This extraordinary man, who certainly was the founder of the greatness of his house, had long since understood that in such an oligarchy as that of Florence, the wealthiest must win. He had busied himself to establish his name and credit everywhere in Europe. He refused to take any open and active part in the fight that he foresaw must, with patience decide in his favour, but on his death, Cosimo, his elder son, no longer put off the crisis. He opposed Rinaldo for the control of the Signoria, and was beaten, in spite of every sort of bribery and corruption. It fell out that Bernardo Guadagni, whom Rinaldo had made his creature, was chosen Gonfaloniere for the months of September and October 1433. Rinaldo at once went to him and persuaded him that the greatest danger to the State was the wealth of Cosimo, who had inherited vast riches, including some sixteen banks in various European cities, from his father. He encouraged him to arrest Cosimo, and to have no fear, for his friends would be ready to help him, if necessary, with arms. Cosimo was cited to appear before the Balia, which, much against the wishes of his friends, he did. "Many," says Machiavelli, "would have him banished many executed, and many were silent, either out of compassion for him or apprehension of other people, so that nothing was concluded." Cosimo, however, was in the meantime a prisoner in the Palazzo Vecchio in the Alberghettino tower[96] in the custody of Federigo Malavolti. He could hear all that was said, and the clatter of arms and the tumult made him fear for his life, and especially he was afraid of assassination or poison, so that for four days he ate nothing. This was told to Federigo, who, according to Machiavelli, addressed him in these words: "You are afraid of being poisoned, and you kill yourself with hunger. You have but small esteem of me to believe I would have a hand in any such wickedness; I do not think your life is in danger, your friends are too numerous, both within the Palace and without; if there be any such designs, assure yourself they must take new measures, I will never be their instrument, nor imbrue my hands in the blood of any man, much less of yours, since you have never offended me. Courage, then, feed as you did formerly, and keep yourself alive for the good of your country and friends, and that you may eat with more confidence, I myself will be your taster."

Now Malavolti one night brought home with him to supper a servant of the Gonfaloniere's called Fargannaccio, a pleasant man and very good company. Supper over, Cosimo, who knew Fargannaccio of old, made a sign to Malavolti that he should leave them together. When they were alone, Cosimo gave him an order to the master of the Ospedale di S. Maria Nuova for 1100 ducats, a thousand for the Gonfaloniere and the odd hundred for himself. On receipt of this sum Bernardo became more moderate, and Cosimo was exiled to Padua. "Wherever he passed," says Machiavelli, "he was honourably received, visited publicly by the Venetians, and treated by them more like a sovereign than a prisoner." Truly the oligarchy had at last produced a despot.

The reception of Cosimo abroad seems to have frightened the Florentines, for within a year a Balia was chosen friendly disposed towards him. Upon this Rinaldo and his friends took arms and proceeded to the Palazzo Vecchio, the Senate ordering the gates to be closed against them; protesting at the same time that they had no thought of recalling Cosimo. At this time Eugenius IV, hunted out of Rome by the populace, was living at the convent of S. Maria Novella. Perhaps fearing the tumult, perhaps bribed or persuaded by Cosimo's friends, he sent Giovanni Vitelleschi to desire Rinaldo to speak with him. Rinaldo agreed, and marched with all his company to S. Maria Novella. They appear to have remained in conference all night, and at dawn Rinaldo dismissed his men. What passed between them no man knows, but early in October 1434 the recall of Cosimo was decreed and Rinaldo with his son went into exile. Cosimo was received, Machiavelli tells us, "with no less ostentation and triumph than if he had obtained some extraordinary victory; so great was the concourse of people, and so high the demonstration of their joy, that by an unanimous and universal concurrence he was saluted as the Benefactor of the people and the Father of his country." Thus the Medici established themselves in Florence. Practically Prince of the Commune, though never so in name, Cosimo set himself to consolidate his power by a judicious munificence and every political contrivance known to him. Thus, while he enriched the city with such buildings as his palace in Via Larga, the Convent of S. Marco, the Church of S. Lorenzo, he helped Francesco Sforza to establish himself as tyrant of Milan, and in the affairs of Florence always preferred war to peace, because he knew that, beggared, the Florentines must come to him. Yet it was in his day that Florence became the artistic and intellectual capital of Italy. Under his patronage and enthusiasm the Renaissance for the first time seems to have become sure of itself. The humanists, the architects, the sculptors, the painters are, as it were, seized with a fury of creation; they discover new forms, and express themselves completely, with beauty and truth. For a moment realism and beauty have kissed one another: for reality is not enough, as Alberti will find some day, it is necessary to find and to express the beauty there also. It was an age that was learning to enjoy itself. The world and the beauty of the world laid bare, partly by the study of the ancients, partly by observation, really almost a new faculty, were enough; that conscious paganism which later, but for the great disaster, might have emancipated the world, had not yet discovered itself; in Cosimo's day art was still an expression of joy, impetuous, unsophisticated, simple. In this world of brief sunshine Cosimo appears to us very delightfully as the protector of the arts, the sincere lover of learning, the companion of scholars. To him in some sort the world owes the revival of the Platonic Philosophy, for the Greek Argyropolis lived in his house, and taught Piero his son and Lorenzo his grandson the language of the Gods. When Gemisthus Pletho came to Florence, Cosimo made one of his audience, and was so moved by his eloquence that he determined to establish a Greek academy in the city on the first opportunity. He was the dear friend of Marsilio Ficino, and he founded the Libraries of S. Marco and of the Badia at Fiesole. The great humanists of his time, Leonardo Bruni, Carlo Marsuppini, Poggio and Niccolo de' Niccoli were his companions, and in his palace in Via Larga, and in his villas at Careggi and Poggio a Caiano, he gathered the most precious treasures, rare manuscripts, and books, not a few antique marbles and jewels, coins and medals and statues, while he filled the courts and rooms, built and decorated by the greatest artists of his time, with the statues of Donatello, the pictures of Paolo Uccello, Andrea del Castagno, Fra Filippo Lippo, and Benozzo Gozzoli. Cosimo, says Gibbon, "was the father of a line of princes whose name and age are almost synonymous with the restoration of learning; his credit was ennobled with fame; his riches were dedicated to the service of mankind; he corresponded at once with Cairo and London, and a cargo of Indian spices and Greek books were often imported in the same vessel." While Burckhardt, the most discerning critic of the civilisation of the Renaissance, tells us that "to him belongs the special glory of recognising in the Platonic philosophy the fairest flower of the ancient world of thought, and of inspiring his friends with the same belief."

Among those who had loved Cosimo so well as to go with him into exile, had been Michelozzo Michelozzi, the architect and sculptor, the pupil of Donatello. Already, Vasari tells us in 1430, Cosimo had caused Michelozzo to prepare a model for a palace at the corner of Via Larga beside S. Giovannino, for one already made by Brunellesco appeared to him too sumptuous and magnificent, and quite as likely to awaken envy among his fellow-citizens as to contribute to the grandeur and ornament of the city, and to his own convenience. The palace which we see to-day at the corner of Via Cavour and Via Gori and call Palazzo Riccardi, was perhaps not begun till 1444, and is certainly somewhat changed and enlarged since Michelozzo built it for Cosimo Vecchio. The windows on the ground floor, for instance, were added by Michelangelo and the Riccardi family, whose name it now bears, and who bought it in 1695 from Ferdinando II, enlarged it in 1715.

In 1417, Cosimo, after his marriage with Contessina de' Bardi, had bought and Michelozzo had rebuilt for him the Villa Careggi, where, in the Albizzi conspiracy, he had retired, he said, "to escape from the contests and divisions in the city." It was here that he lay dying when he wrote to Marsilio Ficino to come to him. "Come to us, Marsilio, as soon as you are able. Bring with you your translation of Plato De Summo Bono, for I desire nothing so much as to learn the road to the greatest happiness": and there too Lorenzo his grandson turned his face to the wall, when Savonarola came to him in his last hours and bade him give back liberty to Florence.

It is, however, the palace in the Via Larga that recalls to us most vividly the lives and times of these first Medici, Cosimo Vecchio, Piero the gouty, Lorenzo il Magnifico. Michelozzo, Vasari tells us, deserves infinite credit for this building, since it was the first palace built in Florence after modern rules in which the rooms were arranged with a view to convenience and beauty. "The cellars are excavated," he explains, "to more than half their depth under the ground, having four braccia beneath the earth, that is with three above, on account of the lights. There are, besides buttresses, store-rooms, etc., on the same level. In the first or ground floor are two court-yards with magnificent loggia, on which open various saloons, bed-chambers, ante-rooms, writing-rooms, offices, baths, kitchens, and reservoirs, with staircases both for private and public use, all most conveniently arranged. In the upper floors are dwellings and apartments for a family, with all those conveniences proper, not only to that of a private citizen, as Cosimo then was, but sufficient also for the most powerful and magnificient sovereign. Accordingly, in our time, kings, emperors, popes, and whatever of most illustrious Europe can boast in the way of princes, have been most commodiously lodged in this palace, to the infinite credit of the magnificent Cosimo, as well as that of Michelozzo's eminent skill in architecture."

It is not, however, the splendour of the palace, fine as it is, or the memory of Cosimo even, that brings us to that beautiful house to-day, but the work of Donatello in the courtyard, those marble medallions copied from eight antique gems, and the little chapel on the second floor, almost an afterthought you might think, since in a place full of splendidly proportioned rooms, it is so cramped and cornered under the staircase, where Benozzo Gozzoli has painted in fresco quite round the walls, the Journey of the Three Kings, in which Cosimo himself, Piero his son, and Lorenzo his grandson, then a golden-haired youth, ride among the rest, in a procession that never finds the manger at Bethlehem, is indeed not concerned with it, but is altogether occupied with its own light-hearted splendour, and the beauty of the fair morning among the Tuscan hills. Is it the pilgrimage of the Magi to the lowly cot of Jesus that we find in that tiny dark chapel, or the journey of man, awake now on the first morning of spring in quest of beauty? Over the grass scattered with flowers, that gay company passes at dawn by little white towns and grey towers, through woods where for a moment is heard the song of some marvellous bird, past running streams, between hedges of pomegranates and clusters of roses; and by the wayside rise the stone-pine and the cypress, while over all is the far blue sky, full of the sun, full of the wind, which is so soft that not a leaf has trembled in the woods, nor the waters stirred in a single ripple. Truly they are come to Tuscany where Beauty is, and are far from Bethlehem, where Love lies sleeping. There on a mule, a black slave beside his stirrup, rides Cosimo Pater Patriae, and beside him comes Piero his son, attended too, and before them on a white horse stepping proudly, with jewels in his cap, rides the golden-haired Lorenzo, the youngest of the three kings, already magnificent, the darling of this world of hills and streams, which one day he will sing better than anyone of his time. Not thus came the Magi of the East across the deserts to stony Judaea, and though the Emperor of the East be of them, and the Patriarch of Constantinople another, we know it is to the knowledge of Plato they would lead us, and not to the Sedes Sapientiae. And so it is before an empty shrine that those clouds of angels sing; Madonna has fled away, and the children are singing a new song, surely the Trionfo of Lorenzo, it is the first time, perhaps, that we hear it—

Quant' e' bella giovinezza.

Ah, if they had but known how tragically that day would close.

As Cosimo lay dying at Careggi, often closing his eyes, "to use them to it," as he told his wife, who wondered why he lay thus without sleeping, it was perhaps some vision of that conflict which he saw and would fain have dismissed from his mind, already divided a little in its allegiance—who knows—between the love of Plato and the love of Jesus. Piero, his son, gouty and altogether without energy, was content to confirm his political position and to overwhelm the Pitti conspiracy. It is only with the advent of Lorenzo and Giuliano, the first but twenty-one when Piero died, that the spirit of the Renaissance, free for the first time, seems to dance through every byway of the city, and, confronted at last by the fanatic hatred of Savonarola, to laugh in his face and to flee away through Italy into the world.

Born in 1448, Lorenzo always believed that he owed almost everything that was valuable in his life to his mother Lucrezia, of the noble Florentine house of Tornabuoni, which had abandoned its nobility in order to qualify for public office. A poetess herself, and the patron of poets, she remained the best counsellor her son ever had. In his early youth she had watched over his religious education, and in his grandfather's house he had met not only statesmen and bankers, but artists and men of letters. His first tutor had been Gentile Becchi of Urbino, afterwards Bishop of Arezzo; from him he learned Latin, but Argyropolus and Ficino and Landino taught him Greek, and read Plato and Aristotle with him. Nor was this all, for we read of his eagerness for every sort of exercise. He could play calcio and pallone, and his own poems witness his love of hunting and of country life, and he ran a horse often enough in the palii of Siena. He was more than common tall, with broad shoulders, and very active. In colour dark, though he was not handsome, his face had a sort of dignity that compelled respect, but he was shortsighted too, and his nose was rather broad and flat. If he lacked the comeliness of outward form, he loved all beauteous things, and was in many ways the most extraordinary man of his age; his verse, for instance, has just that touch of genius which seems to be wanting in the work of contemporary poets. His love for Lucrezia Donati, in whose honour the tournament of 1467 was popularly supposed to be held, though in reality it was given to celebrate his betrothal with Clarice Orsini, seems to have been merely an affectation in the manner of Petrarch, so fashionable at that time. Certainly the Florentines, for that day at least, wished to substitute a lady of their city for the Roman beauty, and Lorenzo seems to have agreed with them. Like the tournament that Giuliano held later in honour of Simonetta Vespucci, which Poliziano has immortalised, and for which Botticelli painted a banner, this pageant of Lorenzo's, for it was rather a pageant than a fight, was sung, too, by Luca Pulci, and was held in Piazza S. Croce. A rumour of the splendour of the dresses, the beauty and enthusiasm of the scene, has come down to us, together with Lorenzo's own account of the day, and Clarice's charming letter to him concerning it. "To follow the custom," he writes unenthusiastically in his Memoir—"to follow the custom and do as others do, I gave a tournament in Piazza S. Croce at a great cost, and with a considerable magnificence; it seems about 10,000 ducats were spent. Although I was not a great fighter, nor even a very strong hitter, I won the prize, a helmet of inlaid silver, with a figure of Mars as a crest." "I have received your letter, in which you tell me of the tournament where you won the prize," writes Clarice, "and it has given me much pleasure. I am glad you are fortunate in what pleases you and that my prayers are heard, for I have no other wish but to see you happy. Give my respects to my father Piero and my mother Lucrezia, and all who are near to you, and I send, too, my respect to you. I have nothing else to say.—Yours, Clarice de Orsinis." Poor little Clarice, she was married to Lorenzo on June 4, in the following year. "I, Lorenzo, took to wife Clarice, daughter of Signor Jacopo, or rather she was given to me." He writes more coldly, certainly, than he was used to do. The marriage festa was celebrated in Palazzo Riccardi with great magnificence. Clarice, who was tall, slender, and shapely, with long delicate hands and auburn hair, but without great beauty of feature, dressed in white and gold, was borne on horseback through the garlanded way, in a procession of girls and matrons, trumpeters and pipers, all Florence following after to the Palace. There in the loggia above the garden she dined with the newly-married ladies of the city. In the courtyard, round the David of Donatello, some seventy of the greatest among the citizens sat together, while the stewards were all sons of the grandi. Piero de' Medici entertained each day some thousand guests, while for their entertainment mimic battles were fought, and in the manner of the time wooden forts were built, defended, and taken by assault, and at night there were dances and songs. Almost immediately after the marriage Lorenzo set out for Milan to visit the new Duke, and stand godfather to his heir. All his way through Prato, Pistoja, Lucca, Pietrasanta Sarzana, Pontremoli to Milan was a triumphal progress. He came home to find his father ailing, and on 2nd December 1469, Piero de' Medici died. He was buried in S. Lorenzo, in a tomb made by Verrocchio.

It was to a great extent owing to the prompt action of Tommaso Soderini that the power of the Medici did not pass away at Piero's death, as that of many another family had done in Florence. The tried friend of that house, Soderini gathered some six hundred of the leading citizens in the convent of S. Antonio, and, as it seems, with the help of the relatives of Luca Pitti, persuaded them that the fortunes of Florence were wrapped up in the Medici. "The second day after my father's death," writes Lorenzo in his Memoir, "although I, Lorenzo, was very young, in fact only in my twenty-first year, the leading men of the city and of the ruling party came to our house to express their sorrow for our misfortune, and to persuade me to take upon myself the charge of the government of the city as my grandfather and father had already done. This proposal being contrary to the instincts of my age, and entailing great labour and danger, I accepted against my will, and only for the sake of protecting my friends and our own fortunes, for in Florence one can ill live in the possession of wealth without control of the government." Thus Lorenzo came to be tyrant of Florence. It was a rule illegitimate in its essence, purchased with gold, and without any outward sign of office. That it would come to be disputed might have seemed certain.


[96] The Alberghettino was the prison in the great tower.



For there was another spirit, too, moving secretly through the ways of the city, among the crowds that gathered round the Cantastoria of the Mercato Vecchio, or mingled with the wild procession of the carnival, a spirit not of life, but of denial, a little forgetful as yet that the days of the Middle Age were over: and even as one day that joy in the earth and the beauty of world was to pass almost into Paganism, so this mysticism, that was at first like some marvellous fore-taste of heaven, fell into just Puritanism, a brutal political and schismatic hatred in the fanaticism of—let us be thankful for that—a foreigner. "If I am deceived, Christ, thou hast deceived me," Savonarola will come to say; and amid his cursing and prophecies it is perhaps difficult to catch the words of Pico—"We may rather love God than either know Him or by speech utter Him." But in Cosimo's day men had no fear, the day was at the dawn: who could have thought by sunset life would be so disastrous?

Cosimo de' Medici had a villa near the convent of S. Domenico at Fiesole, where, as it is said, he would often go when Careggi was too far, and the summer had turned the city into a furnace. Here, as we may think, he may well have talked with Fra Angelico, for he would often walk in the cloisters in the evening with the friars, and must have seen and praised the frescoes there. These Dominicans at Fiesole had already sent a colony to Florence, for in June 1435 they had obtained from Pope Eugenius iv, who was then at S. Maria Novella the little church of S. Giorgio across Arno. Seeing the order and comeliness of that convent at Fiesole, Cosimo, on behalf of the magistrates of Florence, presented a petition to the Pope about this time, praying that since he was engaged on a reform of the Religious Orders, which, partly owing to the schism and partly to the plague, were much relaxed, he would suppress the Sylvestrians who dwelt in the old convent of S. Marco, and give it to the Dominicans of Fiesole, who in exchange would give up their convent of S. Giorgio, for in the centre of the city numerous and zealous ministers were needed. Eugenius very gladly agreed to this, and in a Bull of January 1436, S. Marco was given to the Dominican Friars.[97] So they came down from Fiesole in procession, and went through the city accompanied by three bishops, all the clergy, and an immense concourse of people, and Fra Cipriano took possession of S. Marco "in the name of his congregation." The convent at this time would seem to have been in a deplorable state: in the previous year a fire had destroyed much of it, and the church even was without a roof, so that the friars were obliged to build themselves wooden cells to live in, and to roof the church with timber. When Cosimo heard this he prepared at once to rebuild the convent, and sent Michelozzo to see what could be done. Michelozzo first pulled down the old cloister, leaving only the church and the refectory; and in 1437 began to build the beautiful convent we see to-day, completing it in 1443, at a cost of 36,000 ducats. The church which was then restored has suffered many violations since, and is very different to-day from what it was at the end of the fifteenth century. It was consecrated in 1442, on the feast of the Epiphany, by Pope Eugenius in the presence of his Cardinals. The library, Vasari tells us, was built later. It was vaulted above and below, and had sixty-four bookcases of cypress wood filled with most valuable books, among them later the famous collection of Niccolo Niccoli, whose debts Cosimo paid on condition that he might dispose freely of his books, which were arranged here by Thomas of Sarzana, afterwards Nicholas v. The convent thus completed is "believed to be," says Vasari, "the most perfectly arranged, the most beautiful and most convenient building of its kind that can be found in Italy, thanks to the skill and industry of Michelozzo."

Fra Angelico was nearly fifty years old when his Order took possession of S. Marco. Already he had painted three choir books, which Cosimo so loved that he wished nothing else to be used in the convent, for, as Vasari tells us, their beauty was such that no words can do justice to it. Born in 1387, he had entered the Order of S. Dominic in 1408 at Fiesole. The convent into which he had come had only been founded in 1406, and as with S. Marco later, so with S. Domenico, many disputes as to the property had to be encountered, so that he had early been a traveller, going with the brethren to Foligno and later to Cortona, returning to Fiesole in 1418. Who amid these misfortunes could have been his master? It might seem that in the silence of the sunny cloister in the long summer days of Umbria some angel passing up the long valleys stayed for a moment beside him, so that for ever after he could not forget that vision. And then, who knows what awaits even us too, in that valley where Blessed Angela heard Christ say, "I love thee more than any other woman in the valley of Spoleto"? It is certainly some divinity that we find in those clouds of saints and angels, those marvellously sweet Madonnas, those majestic and touching crucifixions, that with a simplicity and sincerity beyond praise, Angelico has left up and down Italy, and not least in the convent of S. Marco.

Yes, it is a divine world he has dreamed of, peopled by saints and martyrs, where the flowers are quickly woven into crowns and the light streams from the gates of Paradise, and every breeze whispers the sweet sibilant name of Jesus, and there, on the bare but beautiful roads, Christ meets His disciples, or at the convent gate welcomes a traveller, and if He be not there He has but just passed by, and if He has not just passed by He is to come. It is for Him the sun is darkened; to lighten His footsteps the moon shall rise; because His love has lightened the world men go happily, and because He is here the world is a garden. In all that convent of S. Marco you cannot turn a corner but Christ is awaiting you, or enter a room but His smile changes your heart, or linger on the threshold but He bids you enter in, or eat at midday but you see Him on the Cross, and hear, "Take, eat; this is My Body, which was given for you."

You enter the cloister, and the first word is Silence; St. Peter Martyr, with finger on lip, seems to utter the first indispensable word of the heavenly life. The second you see over the door of the chapter-house, Discipline and the denial of the body; St. Dominic with a scourge of nine cords is about to give you the difficult book of heavenly wisdom. The third is spoken by Christ Himself; Faith, for He points to the wound in His side. And the fourth Christ speaks too, for none other may utter it; Love, for as a pilgrim He is welcomed by two pilgrims, two Dominican brothers, to their home. Pass into the Refectory and He is there; go into the Capitolo and He is there also, the Prince of life between two malefactors, hanging on a cross for love of the world, and in His face all the beauty and sweetness of the earth have been gathered and purged of their dross, and between His arms is the kingdom of Heaven. In that room the name of Jesus continually vibrates with an intense and passionate life, more wonderful, more beautiful, and more terrible than the tremor of all the sea. And it has brought together in adoration not the world, which cannot hear its music, but those who above the tumult of their hearts have caught some faint far echo of that supernal concord which has bound together this whispering universe: for there beneath the Cross of Jesus are none but saints, Madonna and the two SS. Maries, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Divine, and beside them kneel the founders of the Religious Orders St. Dominic, the founder of the preaching friars, St. Jerome the father of monasticism, St. Francis the little poor man, St. Bernard who spoke with Madonna, S. Giovanni Gualberto the founder of Vallombrosa, St. Peter Martyr who was wounded for Christ's sake. Above him stands St. Thomas Aquinas the angelic doctor, St. Romuald the founder of Camaldoli St. Benedict who overthrew the temples, St. Augustine who has spoken of the City of God, S. Alberto di Vercelli the founder of the Carmelites. And on the other side, beside St. John Baptist, St. Mark the patron of the convent kneels with his open Gospel, St. Laurence stands with his gridiron, and behind him come the two other Medici saints, S. Cosmo and S. Damiano.

Pass into the dormitories, and in every cell you enter Jesus is there before you; on the threshold the angel announces His advent, and little by little, scene by scene, you are involved in the beauty and the tragedy of His life. You see Him transfigured (No. 6), you see Him buffeted (No. 7), you see Him rise from the tomb (No. 8), and you see Him in glory crowning Madonna (No. 9), or as a youth presented in the Temple (No. 11). Many times you come upon Him crucified (15-23), once John baptizes Him in Jordan (24), or Madonna and St. John the Divine weep over Him dead (26). Here He bears His Cross (28), there descends into Hades (31), preaches to the people (32), is betrayed by Judas (33), agonises in the Garden (34), gives us His Body to eat, His Blood to drink (35), is nailed to the Cross (36); crucified (37), and again adored as a Child by the Magi (38), speaks with Mary in the garden (1), is buried (2); the angel announces His birth (3), He is crucified (4), and born in Bethlehem (5). It is the rosary of Jesus that we tell, consisting of the glorious and sorrowful mysteries of His life and death. It is the spirit of Christianity that we see here, blossoming everywhere, haphazard like the wild flowers that are the armies of spring. As Benozzo Gozzoli has expressed with an immense good fortune, the very spirit of the Renaissance at its birth almost, the spirit and the joy of youth, so Angelico with as simple an eagerness and a more sure sincerity has expressed here the very spirit of Christianity,—He that loseth his life shall gain it: take no thought for your life.

It was here, then, amid all this mystical and heavenly beauty, that first S. Antonino and later Savonarola sought to oppose the "new religion of love and beauty" which had already filled Florence with a new joy. At first, certainly, that new joy seemed not unfriendly to the mysterious and heavenly beauty of the Christian ideal. It is not till later, when both have been a little spoiled by love, that there seems to have been any antagonism between them. It is true that it was only with reluctance that S. Antonino accepted the Arch-bishopric of Florence, but this seems rather to have been owing to humility, the most beautiful characteristic of a beautiful nature, than to any perception that he might have to oppose that new spirit fostered so carefully, and indeed so unwittingly, by Cosimo de' Medici, his benefactor. Born of Florentine parents in 1389, the son of a notary, Antonino, at the age of sixteen, had entered the convent of S. Domenico at Fiesole, not without a severe test of his steadfastness, for Fra Domenico made him learn the whole of Gratian's decree by heart before he would admit him to the Order. Later, he became priest, wrote his Summa Theologicae, and was called by Eugenius, who loved him, to the General Council in Florence in 1439; while there he was made Prior of the Convent of S. Marco. Having set his Congregation in order, and, as such a man was bound to do, endeared himself to the Florentines, he set out for other convents, not in Tuscany only, but in Naples, which needed his presence. He was absent for two years. During that time the See of Florence became vacant, and Eugenius, to the great joy of the city, appointed Antonino Archbishop. Surprised and troubled that he should have been thought of for such a dignity, he set out to hide himself in Sardinia, but, being prevented, came at last to Siena, whence he wrote to the Pope begging him to change his mind, saying that he was old, sick and unworthy. How little he knew Eugenius, the on altogether inflexible will in all that time, so full of trouble for the Church! The Pope sent him to S. Domenico at Fiesole and told the Florentines their Archbishop was at their gates. So, with Cosimo de' Medici at their head, they went out to meet him, but he refused to enter the city till Eugenius threatened him with excommunication. He was consecrated Archbishop of Florence in March 1446 borne in procession from S. Piero down Borgo degli Albizzi to the Duomo.[98] As a boy, it is said, he would pray before the Madonna of Or San Michele, and, indeed, in his Chronicle he defends his Order against the charges of scepticism as to the miracles worked there, with a certain eloquence. Many are the stories told of him, and Poccetti has painted the story of his life round the first cloister of S. Marco, where he was buried in May 1459. S. Antonino was a saint and a theologian, not a politician or an historian. Certainly he did not foresee the tragedy that was already opening, and that was to end, not in the lenten fires of Piazza Signoria, nor even in the death of Savonarola, but in the siege of Florence, the establishment of the House of Medici, the tombs of S. Lorenzo. How often in those days Cosimo would walk with him and Fra Angelico in the cloisters on a summer night, after listening may be to Marsilio Ficino or to the vague and wonderful promises of Argyropolis. "To serve God is to reign," Antonino told him, not without a certain understanding of those restless ambitions which at that time seemed to promise the city nothing but good. And then, was it not Cosimo who had rebuilt the convent, was it not Cosimo who had built S. Lorenzo and S. Spirito too, by the hand of Michelozzo?

Antonino was not a politician; the Chronicon Domini Antonini Archipraesulis Florentini is the work rather of a theologian than of an historian: the friend of Leonardo Bruni, or at least well acquainted with his work, he cared rather for charity than for learning; and it was as the father of the poor that Florence loved him. He lived by love. An in those days of uncertain fortune, amid the swift political changes of the time, there were many whom, doubtless, he saved from degradation or suicide. I poveri vergognosi—the poor who are ashamed, it was these he first took under his protection. We read of him sending for twelve men of all classes and various crafts, and, laying the case before them, refounded a charity—Provveditori dei poveri vergognosi, which soon became in the mouth of Florence I Buonomini di S. Martino, the good men of S. Martin, for the society had its headquarters in the Church S. Martino; and, was not S. Martino himself, as it were, the first of this company?

Born in Ferrara in 1452, the grandson of a famous doctor of Padua, Girolamo Savonarola had entered the Dominican Order at Bologna when he was twenty-two years old, finding the world but a wretched place, and the wickedness of men more than he could bear. Something of this strange and almost passionate pessimism remained with him his whole life long. In 1481 he had been sent to the convent of S. Marco, in Florence, when Lorenzo de' Medici had been at the head of affairs for some twelve years. The Pazzi conspiracy, in which Giuliano de' Medici lost his life, had come in 1478, and Lorenzo was fixed more firmly than ever in the affections of the people. Simonetta had been borne like a dead goddess through the streets of the city to burial; Lorenzo was already busy with those carnival songs which, as some thought, were written to corrupt the people: the Renaissance had come. "Gladius Domini super terram cite et velociter," thought Savonarola, unable to understand that life from which he had fled into the cloister. It was the first voice that had been raised against the resurrection of the Gods, but at that moment Martin Luther was lying in his mother's arms, while his father worked in the mines at Eisleben: the Reaction was already born.

On a Latin city such as Florence was, Savonarola at first made little or no impression; too often the friars had prophesied evil for no cause, wandering through every little city in Italy denouncing the Signori. It was in San Gemignano, even to-day the most medieval of Tuscan cities, a place of towers and winding narrow ways, that Savonarola first won a hearing; and so it was not till nine years after his first coming to her that Florence seems to have listened to his prophecy, when, in August 1490, in S. Marco he began to preach on the Revelation of St. John the Divine. It was a programme half political, half spiritual, that he suggested to those who heard him, the reformation of the Church and the fear of a God who had been forgotten but who would not forget. In the spring of the year following, so great were the crowds who flocked to hear his half-political discourses that he had to preach in the Duomo. There unmistakably we are face to face with a political agitator. "God intends to punish Lorenzo Magnifico,—yes, and his friends too"; and when, a little later, he was made prior of S. Marco, he refused to receive Lorenzo in the house his grandfather had built. In the following year Lorenzo died; Savonarola, as the tale goes, refusing him absolution unless he would restore liberty to the people of Florence. Consider the position. How could Lorenzo restore that which he had never stolen away, that which had, in truth, never had any real existence? He was without office, without any technical right to government, merely the first among the citizens of what, in name at least, was a Republic. If he was a tyrant, he ruled by the will of the people, not by divine right, a thing unknown among the Signori of Italy, nor by the will of the Pope, nor by the will of the Emperor, but by the will of Florence. Yet Savonarola, the Ferrarese, whether or no he refused him absolution, did not hesitate to denounce him, with a wild flood of eloquence and fanatic prophecy worthy of the eleventh century. "Leave the future alone," Lorenzo had counselled him kindly enough: it was just that he could not do, since for him the present was too disastrous. And the future?—the future was big with Charles VIII and his carnival army, gay with prostitutes, bright with favours, and behind him loomed the fires of Piazza della Signoria.

The peace of Italy is dead, the Pope told his Cardinals, when in the spring of 1492 Lorenzo passed away at Careggi It was true. In September 1494, Charles VIII, on his way to Naples, came into Italy, was received by Ludovico of Milan at Asti, while his Switzers sacked Rapallo. Was this, then, the saviour of Savonarola's dreams? "It is the Lord who is leading those armies," was the friar's announcement. Amid all the horror that followed, it is not Savonarola that we see to-day as the hero of a situation he had himself helped to create, but Piero Capponi, who, Piero de' Medici having surrendered Pietrasanta and Sarzana, stood for the Republic. On 9th November Piero and Giuliano his brother fled out of Porta di S. Gallo, while Savonarola with other ambassadors went to meet the King. A few days later, on 17th November 1494, at about four o'clock in the afternoon, Pisa in the meantime having revolted, Charles entered Florence[99] with Cardinal della Rovere, the soldier and future Pope, and in his train came the splendour and chivalry of France, the Scotch bowmen, the Gascons, and the Swiss. "Viva la Francia!" cried the people, and Charles entered the Duomo at six o'clock in the evening, down a lane of torches to the high altar. And coming out he was conducted to the house of Piero de' Medici, the people crying still all the time "Viva la Francia!" The days passed in feasting and splendour, Charles began to talk of restoring the Medici, nor were riots infrequent in Borgo Ognissanti; in Borgo S. Frediano the Switzers and French pillaged and massacred, and were slain too in return. Florence, always ready for street fighting, was, as we may think, too much for the barbarians. On 24th November the treaty was signed, an indemnity being paid by the city, but the rioting did not cease. Landucci gives a very vivid account of it. Even the King himself was not slow to pillage: he was discontented with the indemnity offered, and threatened to loot the city. "Io faro dare nelle trombe," said he; Piero Capponi was not slow to answer, "E noi faremo dare nello campane"—and we will sound our bells. The King gave in, and Florence was saved. On 26th November he heard Mass for the last time in S. Maria del Fiore, and on the 28th he departed—si parti el Re di Firenze dopo desinare, e ando albergo alla Certosa e tutta sua gente gli ando dietro e innanzi, che poche ce ne rimase, says Landucci thankfully.

Then the city, free from this rascal, who carried off what he could of the treasures of Cosimo and Lorenzo, turned not to Piero Capponi but to another foreigner, Girolamo Savonarola. The political eagerness of this friar now came to the point of action. He set up a Greater Council, which in its turn elected a Council of Eighty; he refused to call a parliament, since he told them that "parliament had ever stolen the sovereignty from the people." Then, on the 1st of April, he said that the Virgin Mary had revealed to him that the city would be more glorious, rich, and powerful than ever before, and, as Landucci says, "La maggiore parte del popolo gli credeva." He also said that the Greater Council was the creation of God, and that whoever should attempt to change it would be eternally damned. Nor was this all. If it were right and splendid for Florence to be free, free as she always had been from the domination of any other city, so it was for revolted Pisa. Yet this fanatic Ferrarese told the people that he had had a vision in which the Blessed Virgin had told him that Florence should make treaty with France, and thus regain Pisa. This was on the return of the King from Naples with Piero de' Medici in his train. However, he met the King at Poggibonsi, told him Florence was his friend, that God desired him to spare it, and with other tales succeeded in keeping Charles out of the city. This, as it seems to me, is the one good deed Savonarola did for Florence.

But the people still believed in him, though he turned the whole life of the city into a sort of religious carnival. Now, if Lorenzo had kept the people quiet with songs, Savonarola was equally successful with hymns. "Viva Cristo e la Vergine Maria, nostra regina," shouted the people,—merchants, friars, women, and children dancing before the crucifix with olive boughs in their hands. "On 27th March 1496, which was Palm Sunday, Fra Girolamo made a procession of children with olive branches in their hands and crowns of olive on their heads and all bore, too, a red cross. There were some five thousand boys, and a great number of girls all dressed in white, then after came all the Ufici, and all the guilds, and then all the men, and after all the women of the city. There never was so great a procession," says Landucci. Indeed, there was not a man nor a woman who did not join the company. "It was a holy time, but it was short," says Landucci again, whose own children were among "these holy and blessed companies."

Short indeed! The Italian League had been formed against France; only Florence and Ferrara remained outside. If it were politics that had taken Savonarola so high, it was to them he owed his fall. He denounced all Italy, and not least Alexander VI, the vicious but very capable Pope. When he began to denounce Rome he signed his own death; her hour was not yet come. "I announce to you, Italy and Rome, the Lord will come out of His place.... I tell you, Italy and Rome, the Lord will tread you down. I have commanded penance, yet you are worse and worse.... Soon all priests, friars, bishops, cardinals, and great masters shall be trampled down." It was a brave denunciation, and if it were unjust, what was justice to one who had made Jesus King of Florence and established himself as His Vicegerent.

The Pope excommunicated him: the factions in Florence—the Arrabbiati, the Compagnacci, the Palleschi—rejoiced; yet the people he had led so long seemed inclined to support him. Then came the plague, and then the discovery of a plot to bring back Piero. Well, Savonarola began to preach again; but he was beaten. Many would not go to hear him, of whom Landucci was one, because of the excommunication.[100] And at last Savonarola himself seems to have seen the end. "If I am deceived, Christ Thou hast deceived me," he says and at last he challenged the fire to prove it. It was too much for the Signoria; they agreed. It was the Franciscans he had to meet; whether or no they meant to persist with the "trial by fire" we shall never know, but when, on 7th April 1498, the fire was lighted in Piazza della Signoria, it was Savonarola who refused. A few minutes later, amid the uproar, a deluge of rain put out the flames. Savonarola's last chance was gone. The people hounded him back to S. Marco, and but for the Guards of the Signoria he would have been torn in pieces. On 8th April, which was Palm Sunday, in the evening, the attack that had been threatening all day began: through the church, through the cloisters the fight raged, while the whole city was in the streets. At last Savonarola and Fra Domenico, his friend, gave themselves up to the guard, really for protection, and were lodged in Palazzo Vecchio. There the Signoria tortured them, with another friar, Silvestro, and at last from Savonarola even they seem to have dragged some sort of admission. What such a confession was worth, drawn from the poor mangled body of a broken man, one can well imagine; but that mattered nothing to the wild beasts he had taught to roar, who now had him at their mercy. The effect of this on the city seems to have been very great. "We had thought him to be a prophet," writes Luca Landucci simply, "and he confessed he was not a prophet, that he had not from God the things he preached.... And I was by when this was read, and I was astonished, bewildered, amazed.... Ah, I expected Florence to be, as it were, a New Jerusalem, ... and I heard the very contrary."

The Signoria which tortured Savonarola was presently replaced by another; and though, like its predecessor, it too refused to send him to Rome, it went about to compass his death. Again they tortured him; then on the 23rd May, the gallows having been built over night in the Piazza, they killed him with his companions, afterwards burning their bodies. "They wish to crucify them,"[101] cried one in the crowd; and indeed, the scaffold seems to have resembled a cross. Was it Florence herself perhaps who hung there?


[97] Not without protest, for the Sylvestrians appealed to the schismatic counsel at Basle, but got no good by it; and a whole series of lawsuits followed.

[98] See p. 256.

[99] Cf. L. Landucci, Diario Fiorentino (Sansoni, 1883), p. 80.

[100] It would be wrong to conclude that Savonarola attacked the faith of the Catholic Church. He never did. He protested himself a faithful Catholic to the last. He was a puritan and a politician, and it was on these two counts that he fought the Papacy.

[101] Landucci, op. cit. p. 176.



If Florence built the Baptistery, the Duomo, and the Campanile for the glory of the whole city, that there might be one place, in spite of all the factions, where without difference all might enter the kingdom of heaven, one temple in which all the city might wait till Jesus passed by, one tower which should announce the universal Angelus, she built other churches too, more particular in their usefulness, less splendid in their beauty, but not less necessary in their hold on the life of the city, or their appeal to us to-day. You may traverse the city from east to west without forsaking the old streets, and a little fantastically, perhaps, find some hint in the buildings you pass of that old far-away life, so restless and so fragile, so wanting in unity, and yet, as it seems to us, with but one really profound intention in all its work, the resurrection of life among men. In the desolate but beautiful Piazza of S. Maria Novella, at the gates of the old city, you find a Dominican convent, and before it the great church of that Order, S. Maria Novella herself, the bride of Michelangelo. Then, following Via dei Fossi, you enter the old city at the foot of the Carraja bridge, following Via di Parione past an old Medici palace into Via Porta Rossa and so into Via Calzaioli, where you came upon that strange and beautiful church so like a palace, Or San Michele, built by the merchants, the Church of the Guilds of the city. Passing thence into Piazza Signoria, and so into Via de' Gondi, in the Proconsolo you find the Church of the great monastic Order the Badia of the Benedictines, having passed on your way Palazza Vecchio, the Palace of the Republic, afterwards of the Medici; and the Bargello, the Palace of the Podesta, afterwards a prison; coming later through Borgo de' Greci to the Church of S. Croce, the convent of the Franciscans. Thus, while beyond the old west gate of the city there stood the house of the Dominicans, the Franciscans built their convent on the east, just without the city; and between them in the heart of Florence dwelt the oldest Order of all, the Benedictines, busy with manuscripts. Again, if the tower of authority throws its shadow over the Bargello, it is the tower of liberty that rises over Palazzo Vecchio, and the whole tragedy of the beautiful city seems to be expressed for us in the fact that while the one became a prison the other came to house the gaoler.

So this city of warm brick, with its churches of marble, its old ways, its palaces of stone, its convents at the gates, comes to hold for us, as it were, the very dream of Italy, the dream that was too good to last, that was so soon to be shattered by the barbarian. Yet in that little walk through the narrow winding ways from the west to the east of the city, all the eloquence and renown, the strength and beauty of Italy seem to be gathered for you, as in a nosegay you may find all the beauty of a garden. And of all the broken blossoms that you may find by the way, not one is more fragrant and fair than the sweet bride of Michelangelo, S. Maria Novella.

Standing in a beautiful Piazza, itself the loveliest thing therein, dressed in the old black and white habit, it dreams of the past: it is full of memories too, for here Boccaccio one Tuesday morning, just after Mass in 1348, amid the desolation of the city, found the seven beloved ladies of the Decamerone talking of death; here Martin V, and Eugenius IV, fugitives from the Eternal City, found a refuge; here Beata Villana confessed her sins; here Vanna Tornabuoni prayed and the Strozzi made their tombs. Full of memories—and of what else, then, but the past can she dream? For her there is no future. Her convent is suppressed, the great cloister has become a military gymnasium. What has she, then, in common with the modern world, with the buildings of Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele, for instance?—the past is all that we have left her.

Begun in 1278, as some say, from the design of Fra Ristoro and Fra Sisto, the facade, one of the most beautiful in the world, is really the fifteenth-century work of Leon Alberti working to the order of Giovanni Rucellai—you may see their blown sail everywhere—with that profound and unifying genius which involved everything he touched in a sort of reconciliation, thus prophesying to us of Leonardo da Vinci. For Alberti has here very fortunately made the pointed work of the Middle Age friends with Antiquity, Antiquity seen with the eyes of the Renaissance, full of a new sort of eagerness and of many little refinements. In the fagade of his masterpiece, the Tempio Malatestiano at Rimini, that beautiful unfinished temple where the gods of Greece seem for once to have come to the cradle of Jesus with something of the wonder of the shepherds who left their flocks to worship Him, Leon Alberti has taken as his model the arch of Augustus, that still, though broken, stands on the verge of the city in the Flaminian Way; but as though aware at last of the danger of any mere imitation of antiquity such as that, he has here contrived to express the beauty of Roman things, just what he himself had really felt concerning them, and has combined that very happily with the work of the age that was just then passing away; thus, as it were, creating for us one of the most perfect buildings of the fifteenth century, very characteristic too, in its strange beauty, as of the dead new risen. And then how subtly he has composed this beautiful facade, so that somehow it really adds to the beauty of the Campanile, with its rosy spire, in the background.

Within, the church is full of a sort of twilight, in which certainly much of its spaciousness is lost; those chapels in the nave, for instance, added by Vasari in the sixteenth century have certainly spoiled it of much of its beauty. Built in the shape of a tau cross—a Latin cross that is almost tau, in old days it was divided, where still there is a step across the nave into two parts, one of which was reserved for the friars, while the other was given to the people. There is not much of interest in this part of the church: a crucifix over the great door, attributed to Giotto; a fresco of the Holy Trinity, with Madonna and St. John, by Masaccio, that rare strong master; the altar, the fourth in the right aisle, dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury,—almost nothing beside. It is in the south transept, where a flight of steps leads to the Rucellai Chapel, that we came upon one of the most beautiful and mysterious things in the city, the Madonna, so long given to Cimabue, but now claimed for Duccio of Siena.[102]

Vasari describes for us very delightfully the triumph of this picture, when, so great was the admiration of the people for it that "it was carried in solemn procession, with the sound of trumpets and other festal demonstrations, from the house of Cimabue to the church,—he himself being highly rewarded and honoured for it"; while, as he goes on to tell us, when Cimabue was painting it, in a garden as it happened near the gate of S. Pietro, King Charles of Sicily, brother of St. Louis, saw the picture, and praising it, "all the men and women of Florence hastened in great crowds to admire it, making all possible demonstrations of delight. The inhabitants of the neighbourhood, rejoicing in this occurrence, ever after called that place Borgo Allegri,"—the name it bears to this day. However reluctant we may be to find Vasari, that divine gossip, at fault, it might seem that Cimabue's Triumph is a fable, or if, indeed, it happened, was stolen, for the Rucellai Madonna is apparently the work of Duccio the Sienese.[103] Of the works of Cimabue not one remains to us; we do not know, we have certainly no means of knowing, whether he was, as Ghiberti tells us, a painter in the old Greek manner, or whether, as Vasari suggests, he was the true master of Giotto, in that to him was owing the impulse of life which we find so moving in Giotto's work. And then Vasari, it seems, is wrong in his account of Borgo Allegri, for that place was named not after happiness, the happiness of that part of the city in their great neighbour, but from a family who in those days lived thereabout and bore that name.

It is, however, of comparatively little importance who painted the picture. The controversy, which is not yet finished, serves for the most part merely to obscure the essential fact that here is the picture still in its own place, and that it is beautiful. Very lovely, indeed, she is, Madonna of Happiness, and still at her feet the poor may pray, and still on her dim throne she may see day come and evening fall. Far up in the obscure height she holds Christ on her knees. Perhaps you may catch the faint dim loveliness of her face in the early dawn amid the beauty of the angels kneeling round her throne when the light steals through the shadowy windows across the hills; or perhaps at evening in the splendour of some summer sunset you may see just for a moment the whiteness of her delicate hands; but she is secret and very far away, she has withdrawn herself to hear the prayers of the poor in spirit who come when the great church is empty, when the tourists have departed, when the workmen have returned to their homes. And beside her in that strange, mysterious place Beata Villana sleeps, where the angels draw back the curtain, in a tomb by Desiderio da Settignano. She was not of the great company whose names we falter at our altars and whisper for love over and over again in the quietness of the night; but of those who are weary. Born to a wealthy Florentine merchant, Andrea di Messer Lapo by name, little Vanna went her ways with the children, yet with a sort of naive sincerity after all, so that when she heard Saint Catherine praised or Saint Francis, she believed it and wished to be of that company; but the world, full of glamour and laughter in those days, and now too, caught her by the waist and bore her away, in the person of a noble youth of the Benintendi, who loved her well enough; yet it was love she loved rather than her husband; and life calling sweetly enough down the long narrow streets, she followed, yes, till she was a little weary. So she would question her beauty, and, looking in her glass, see not herself but the demon love that possessed her; and again in another mirror she found a devil, she said, like a faun prick-eared and with goat's feet, peering at her with frightening eyes. So she stripped off her fair gay dresses, and took instead the rough hair-shirt, and came at evening across the Piazza to confess in S. Maria Novella; and gave herself to the poor, and forgot the sun till weary she fled away. Her grandson, as it is said, built this tomb to her memory, and they wrote above, Beata Villana.

It is always with reluctance, I think, that one leaves that dim chapel of the Rucellai, and yet how many wonderful things await us in the church. In the second chapel of the transept, the Chapel of Filippo Strozzi, who is buried behind the altar, Filippino Lippi, the son of Fra Lippo, the pupil of Botticelli, has painted certain frescoes,—a little bewildering in their crowded beauty, it is true, but how good after all in their liveliness, their light and shadow, the pleasant, eager faces of the women—where St. John raises Drusiana from the grave, or St. Philip drives out the Dragon of Hierapolis; while above St. John is martyred, and St. Philip too. But it is in the choir behind the high altar, where for so long the scaffolding has prevented our sight, that we come upon the simple serious work of Domencio Ghirlandajo, whom all the critics have scorned. Born in 1449, the pupil of Alessio Baldovinetti, Ghirlandajo is not a great painter perhaps, but rather a craftsman, a craftsman with a wonderful power of observation, of noting truly the life of his time. He seems to have asked of art rather truth than beauty. Almost wholly, perhaps, without the temperament of an artist, his success lies in his gift for expressing not beauty but the life of his time, the fifteenth century in Florence, which lives still in all his work. Consider, then, the bright facile mediocre work of Benozzo Gozzoli, not at its best, in the Campo Santo of Pisa, remember how in the dark chapel of the Medici palace he lights up the place almost as with a smile, in the gay cavalcade that winds among the hills. There is much fancy there, much observation too; here a portrait, there a gallant fair head, and the flowers by the wayside. Well, it is in much the same way that Ghirlandajo has painted here in the choir of S. Maria Novella. He has seen the fashions, he has noted the pretty faces of the women, he has watched the naive homely life of the Medici ladies, for instance, and has painted not his dreams about Madonna, but his dreams of Vanna Tornabuoni, of Clarice de' Medici, and the rest. And he was right; almost without exception his frescoes are the most interesting and living work left in Florence. He has understood or divined that one cannot represent exactly that which no longer exists; and it is to represent something with exactitude that he is at work. So he contents himself very happily with painting the very soul of his century. It is a true and sincere art this realistic, unimpassioned, impersonal work of Ghirlandajo's, and in its result, for us at any rate, it has a certain largeness and splendour. Consider this "Birth of the Virgin." It is full of life and homely observation. You see the tidy dusted room where St. Anne is lying on the bed, already, as in truth she was, past her youth, but another painter would have forgotten it. She is just a careful Florentine housewife, thrifty too, not flurried by her illness, for she has placed by her bedside, all ready for her need, two pomegranates and some water. Then, again, they are going to wash the little Mary. She lies quite happily sucking her fingers in the arms of her nurse, the basin is in the middle of the floor, a servant has just come in briskly, no doubt as St. Anne has always insisted, and pours the water quickly into the vessel. It is not difficult to find all sorts of faults, of course, as the critics have not hesitated to do. That perspective, for instance, how good it is: almost as good as Verrocchio's work,—and those dancing angiolini; yes, Verrocchio might have thought of them himself. But the lady in the foreground, how unmoved she seems; it is as though the whole scene had been arranged for the sake of her portrait; and, indeed it is a portrait, for the richly dressed visitor is Ginevra de' Benci, who stands too in the fresco of the Birth of St. John. Again in the fresco of the angel appearing to Zacharias in the Temple, there are some thirty portraits of famous Florentines, painted with much patience, and no doubt with an extraordinary truth of likeness. In the left corner you may see Marsilio Ficino dressed as a priest; Gentile de' Becchi turns to him, while Cristoforo Landini in a red cloak stands by, and Angelo Poliziano lifts up his hands.

Does one ever regret, I wonder, after looking at these realistic fifteenth-century works, that the frescoes of Orcagna—for he painted the whole choir—were destroyed in a storm, it is said, in 1358. Fragments of his work, however, we are told, remained for more than a hundred years, till, indeed, Ghirlandajo was employed to replace them. We find his work, however, sadly damaged it is true, and really his perhaps only in outline, in the Strozzi chapel here, the lofty chapel of north transept, where he has painted on the wall facing the entrance the Last Judgment, while to the left you may see Paradise, to the right the Inferno. The pupil of Giotto and of Andrea Pisano, Orcagna is the most important artist of his time, the one vital link in the chain that unites Masolino with Giotto. He was a universal artist, practising as an architect and goldsmith no less than as a painter. In the Last Judgment in this chapel he seems not only to have absorbed the whole art of his time, but to have advanced it; for to the grandeur and force of his work he added a certain visionary loveliness that most surely already foretells Beato Angelico. If in the Paradise and the Inferno we are less moved by the greatness of his achievement, we remind ourselves how terribly they have suffered from damp, from neglect, from the restorer. In the altar-piece itself we have perhaps the only "intact painting" of his remaining to us, and splendid as it is in colour and form, it lacks something of the rhythm of the frescoes that like some slow and solemn chant fill the chapel with their sincere unforgetable music.

As you pass, beckoned by a friar, into the half-ruined cloisters below S. Maria Novella, you come on your right into a little alley of tombs, behind which, on the wall, you may find two bits of fresco by Giotto, the Meeting of S. Joachim and S. Anna at the Golden Gate, and the Birth of the Virgin. On your left you pass into the Chiostro Verde, where Paolo Uccello has painted scenes from the Old Testament in a sort of green monotone, for once without enthusiasm. Above you and around you rises the old convent and the great tower; there, in the far corner, perhaps a friar plays with a little cat, here a pigeon flutters under the arches about the little ruined space of grass, the meagre grass of the south, where now and then the shadow of a white cloud passes over the city, whither who knows. For a moment in that silent place you wonder why you have come, you feel half inclined to go back into the church, when shyly the friar comes towards you, and, leading you round the cloister, enters the Cappellina degli Spagnuoli.

How much has been written in praise of the frescoes in the Spanish chapel of S. Maria Novella, where Eleonora of Toledo, the wife of Grand Duke Cosimo, used to hear Mass; yet how disappointing they are. In so simple a building, some great artist, you might think, in listening to Ruskin, had really expressed himself, his thoughts about Faith and the triumph of the Church. But the work which we find there is the work of mediocrities, poor craftsmen too, the pupils and imitators of the Sienese and Florentine schools of their time, having nothing in common with the excellent work of Taddeo Gaddi, the beautiful work of Simone Martini of Siena. These figures, so pretty and so ineffectual, which have been labelled here the Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas, there the Triumph of the Church, have no existence for us as painting; they have passed into literature, and in the pages of Ruskin have found a new beauty that for the first time has given them some semblance of life.


[102] Mysterious no longer. For in the autumn of 1907 the chapel was destroyed by fools and the Madonna—just an old panel picture after all—set up in the cold daylight (1908).

[103] Crowe and Cavalcaselle, op. cit. vol. i, 187.



The Piazza di S. Croce, in which stands the great Franciscan church of Florence, is still almost as it was in the sixteenth century when the Palazzo del Borgo on the southern side was painted in fresco by the facile brush of Passignano; but whatever charm so old and storied a place might have had for us, for here Giuliano de' Medici fought in a tournament under the eyes of La Bella Simonetta, and here, too, the Giuoco del Calcio was played, it is altogether spoiled and ruined, not only by the dishonouring statue of Dante, which for some unexplained reason has here found a resting-place, but by the crude and staring facade of the church itself, a pretentious work of modern Italy, which lends to what was of old the gayest Piazza in the city, the very aspect of a cemetery.

Not long before the end of the thirteenth century, a little shrine of St. Anthony stood where now we may see the great Church of S. Croce, in the midst of the marshes, as it is said, that waste land which in the Middle Age seems to have surrounded every city in Italy. It belonged, as did the land round about, to a certain family called Altafronte, who appear to have presented it to the friars of the neighbouring convent of Franciscans just outside Porta S. Gallo. St. Francis being dead, and the strictness of his rule relaxed, the first stone of the great Church of S. Croce was laid on Holy Cross Day, 1297. Arnolfo, the architect of the Duomo, was the first builder here, till later Giotto was appointed. The church itself is in the form of a tau cross, the eastern end on both sides of the choir consisting of twelve chapels scarcely less deep than the choir and tiny apse, itself a chapel of St. Anthony. The wide and spacious nave, with two aisles, could doubtless hold half the city, as perhaps it did when Fra Francesco of Montepulciano preached here in the early years of the sixteenth century just after the death of Savonarola. And indeed the very real beauty of the church consists in just that splendour of space and light which so few seem to have cared for, but which seems to me certainly in Italy the most precious thing in the world. And then S. Croce is really the Pantheon, as it were, of the city; the golden twilight of S. Maria Novella even would seem too gloomy for the resting-place of heroes. Already before the sixteenth century it had been here that Florence had set up the banners of those she delighted to honour. And though Cosimo I destroyed them when he let Vasari so unfortunately have his way with the church, some remembrance of the glory that of old hung about her seems to have lingered, for here Michelangelo was buried, under a heavy monument by Vasari, and close by Vittorio Alfieri lies in a tomb carved by Canova at the request of the Duchess of Albany. Not far away you come upon the grave of Niccolo Machiavelli, the statesman, and beside it the monument erected to his memory in the eighteenth century. And then here too you find the beautiful tomb of Leonardo Bruni, one of the first great scholars of the modern world, and secretary to the Republic, who died in 1443. It is the masterpiece of Bernardo Rossellino (1409-1464), achieved at the end of the early Renaissance, and forming the very style of such things for those sculptors who came after him. It is true that the lunette of Madonna is a little feeble and without life, though some have given it falsely to Verrocchio, and the two angioloni bearing the arms have little force; but the tomb itself is a thing done once and for all, and the figure of the dead poet is certainly the masterpiece of a man who was perhaps the first sculptor in marble of his time. If we compare it for a moment with the lovely Annunciation of Donatello (1386-1466) on the other side of the gateway, where for once that strong and fearless artist seems to have contented himself with beauty, we shall understand better the achievement of Rossellino; and though it were difficult to imagine a more lovely thing than that Annunciation set there by the Cavalcanti, with the winged wreath of Victory beneath it to commemorate their part in the victory of Florence over Pisa in 1406, as a piece of architecture Rossellino's work is as much better than this earlier design of Donatello's as in every other respect his work falls below it. Covered with all sorts of lovely ornament, the frame supports an elaborate and splendid cornice on which six children stand, three grouped on either side, playing with garlands. And within the frame, as though seen through some magic doorway, Madonna, about to leave her prayers, has been stopped by the message of the angel, who has not yet fallen on his knees. It is as though one had come upon the very scene itself suddenly at sunset on some summer day.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse