New Italian sketches
by John Addington Symonds
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The boys of Montepulciano have scratched Messer Aragazzi's sleeping figure with graffiti at their own free will. Yet they have had no power to erase the poetry of Donatello's mighty style. That, in spite of Bruni's envy, in spite of injurious time, in spite of the still worse insult of the modernised cathedral and the desecrated monument, embalms him in our memory and secures for him the diuturnity for which he paid his twenty thousand crowns. Money, methinks, beholding him, was rarely better expended on a similar ambition. And ambition of this sort, relying on the genius of such a master to give it wings for perpetuity of time, is, pace Lionardo Bruni, not ignoble.

Opposite the figure of Messer Aragazzi are two square bas-reliefs from the same monument, fixed against piers of the nave. One represents Madonna enthroned among worshippers; members, it may be supposed, of Aragazzi's household. Three angelic children, supporting the child Christ upon her lap, complete that pyramidal form of composition which Fra Bartolommeo was afterwards to use with such effect in painting. The other bas-relief shows a group of grave men and youths, clasping hands with loveliest interlacement; the placid sentiment of human fellowship translated into harmonies of sculptured form. Children below run up to touch their knees, and reach out boyish arms to welcome them. Two young men, with half-draped busts and waving hair blown off their foreheads, anticipate the type of adolescence which Andrea del Sarto perfected in his S. John. We might imagine that this masterly panel was intended to represent the arrival of Messer Aragazzi in his home. It is a scene from the domestic life of the dead man, duly subordinated to the recumbent figure, which, when the monument was perfect, would have dominated the whole composition.

Nothing in the range of Donatello's work surpasses these two bas-reliefs for harmonies of line and grouping, for choice of form, for beauty of expression, and for smoothness of surface-working. The marble is of great delicacy, and is wrought to a wax-like surface. At the high altar are three more fragments from the mutilated tomb. One is a long low frieze of children bearing garlands, which probably formed the base of Aragazzi's monument, and now serves for a predella. The remaining pieces are detached statues of Fortitude and Faith. The former reminds us of Donatello's S. George; the latter is twisted into a strained attitude, full of character, but lacking grace. What the effect of these emblematic figures would have been when harmonised by the architectural proportions of the sepulchre, the repose of Aragazzi on his sarcophagus, the suavity of the two square panels and the rhythmic beauty of the frieze, it is not easy to conjecture. But rudely severed from their surroundings, and exposed in isolation, one at each side of the altar, they leave an impression of awkward discomfort on the memory. A certain hardness, peculiar to the Florentine manner, is felt in them. But this quality may have been intended by the sculptors for the sake of contrast with what is eminently graceful, peaceful, and melodious in the other fragments of the ruined masterpiece.


At a certain point in the main street, rather more than half way from the Albergo del Marzocco to the piazza, a tablet has been let into the wall upon the left-hand side. This records the fact that here in 1454 was born Angelo Ambrogini, the special glory of Montepulciano, the greatest classical scholar and the greatest Italian poet of the fifteenth century. He is better known in the history of literature as Poliziano, or Politianus, a name he took from his native city, when he came, a marvellous boy, at the age of ten, to Florence, and joined the household of Lorenzo de' Medici. He had already claims upon Lorenzo's hospitality. For his father, Benedetto, by adopting the cause of Piero de' Medici in Montepulciano, had exposed himself to bitter feuds and hatred of his fellow-citizens. To this animosity of party warfare he fell a victim a few years previously. We only know that he was murdered, and that he left a helpless widow with five children, of whom Angelo was the eldest. The Ambrogini or Cini were a family of some importance in Montepulciano; and their dwelling-house is a palace of considerable size. From its eastern windows the eye can sweep that vast expanse of country, embracing the lakes of Thrasymene and Chiusi, which has been already described. What would have happened, we wonder, if Messer Benedetto, the learned jurist, had not espoused the Medicean cause and embroiled himself with murderous antagonists? Would the little Angelo have grown up in this quiet town, and practised law, and lived and died a citizen of Montepulciano? In that case the lecture-rooms of Florence would never have echoed to the sonorous hexameters of the "Rusticus" and "Ambra." Italian literature would have lacked the "Stanze" and "Orfeo." European scholarship would have been defrauded of the impulse given to it by the "Miscellanea." The study of Roman law would have missed those labours on the Pandects, with which the name of Politian is honourably associated. From the Florentine society of the fifteenth century would have disappeared the commanding central figure of humanism, which now contrasts dramatically with the stern monastic Prior of S. Mark. Benedetto's tragic death gave Poliziano to Italy and to posterity.


Those who have a day to spare at Montepulciano can scarcely spend it better than in an excursion to Pienza and San Quirico. Leaving the city by the road which takes a westerly direction, the first object of interest is the Church of San Biagio, placed on a fertile plateau immediately beneath the ancient acropolis. It was erected by Antonio di San Gallo in 1518, and is one of the most perfect specimens existing of the sober classical style. The Church consists of a Greek square, continued at the east end into a semicircular tribune, surmounted by a central cupola, and flanked by a detached bell-tower, ending in a pyramidal spire. The whole is built of solid yellow travertine, a material which, by its warmth of colour, is pleasing to the eye, and mitigates the mathematical severity of the design. Upon entering, we feel at once what Alberti called the music of this style; its large and simple harmonies, depending for effect upon sincerity of plan and justice of balance. The square masses of the main building, the projecting cornices and rounded tribune, meet together and soar up into the cupola; while the grand but austere proportions of the arches and the piers compose a symphony of perfectly concordant lines. The music is grave and solemn, architecturally expressed in terms of measured space and outlined symmetry. The whole effect is that of one thing pleasant to look upon, agreeably appealing to our sense of unity, charming us by grace and repose; not stimulative nor suggestive, not multiform nor mysterious. We are reminded of the temples imagined by Francesco Colonna, and figured in his Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. One of these shrines has, we feel, come into actual existence here; and the religious ceremonies for which it is adapted are not those of the Christian worship. Some more primitive, less spiritual rites, involving less of tragic awe and deep-wrought symbolism, should be here performed. It is better suited for Polifilo's lustration by Venus Physizoe than for the mass on Easter morning. And in this respect, the sentiment of the architecture is exactly faithful to that mood of religious feeling which appeared in Italy under the influences of the classical revival—when the essential doctrines of Christianity were blurred with Pantheism; when Jehovah became Jupiter Optimus Maximus; and Jesus was the Heros of Calvary, and nuns were Virgines Vestales. In literature this mood often strikes us as insincere and artificial. But it admitted of realisation and showed itself to be profoundly felt in architecture.

After leaving Madonna di San Biagio, the road strikes at once into an open country, expanding on the right towards the woody ridge of Monte Fallonica, on the left toward Cetona and Radicofani, with Monte Amiata full in front—its double crest and long volcanic slope recalling Etna; the belt of embrowned forest on its flank, made luminous by sunlight. Far away stretches the Sienese Maremma; Siena dimly visible upon her gentle hill; and still beyond, the pyramid of Volterra, huge and cloud-like, piled against the sky. The road, as is almost invariable in this district, keeps to the highest line of ridges, winding much, and following the dimplings of the earthy hills. Here and there a solitary castello, rusty with old age, and turned into a farm, juts into picturesqueness from some point of vantage on a mound surrounded with green tillage. But soon the dull and intolerable creta, ash-grey earth, without a vestige of vegetation, furrowed by rain, and desolately breaking into gullies, swallows up variety and charm. It is difficult to believe that this creta of Southern Tuscany, which has all the appearance of barrenness, and is a positive deformity in the landscape, can be really fruitful. Yet we are frequently being told that it only needs assiduous labour to render it enormously productive.

When we reached Pienza we were already in the middle of a country without cultivation, abandoned to the marl. It is a little place, perched upon the ledge of a long sliding hill, which commands the vale of Orcia; Monte Amiata soaring in aerial majesty beyond. Its old name was Cosignano. But it had the honour of giving birth to AEneas Sylvius Piccolomini, who, when he was elected to the Papacy and had assumed the title of Pius II., determined to transform and dignify his native village, and to call it after his own name. From that time forward Cosignano has been known as Pienza.

Pius II. succeeded effectually in leaving his mark upon the town. And this forms its main interest at the present time. We see in Pienza how the most active-minded and intelligent man of his epoch, the representative genius of Italy in the middle of the fifteenth century, commanding vast wealth and the Pontifical prestige, worked out his whim of city-building. The experiment had to be made upon a small scale; for Pienza was then and was destined to remain a village. Yet here, upon this miniature piazza—in modern as in ancient Italy the meeting-point of civic life, the forum—we find a cathedral, a palace of the bishop, a palace of the feudal lord, and a palace of the commune, arranged upon a well-considered plan, and executed after one design in a consistent style. The religious, municipal, signorial, and ecclesiastical functions of the little town are centralised around the open market-place, on which the common people transacted business and discussed affairs. Pius entrusted the realization of his scheme to a Florentine architect; whether Bernardo Rossellino, or a certain Bernardo di Lorenzo, is still uncertain. The same artist, working in the flat manner of Florentine domestic architecture, with rusticated basements, rounded windows and bold projecting cornices—the manner which is so nobly illustrated by the Rucellai and Strozzi palaces at Florence—executed also for Pius the monumental Palazzo Piccolomini at Siena. It is a great misfortune for the group of buildings he designed at Pienza, that they are huddled together in close quarters on a square too small for their effect. A want of space is peculiarly injurious to the architecture of this date, 1462, which, itself geometrical and spatial, demands a certain harmony and liberty in its surroundings, a proportion between the room occupied by each building and the masses of the edifice. The style is severe and prosaic. Those charming episodes and accidents of fancy, in which the Gothic style and the style of the earlier Lombard Renaissance abounded, are wholly wanting to the rigid, mathematical, hard-headed genius of the Florentine quattrocento. Pienza, therefore, disappoints us. Its heavy palace frontispieces shut the spirit up in a tight box. We seem unable to breathe, and lack that element of life and picturesqueness which the splendid retinues of nobles in the age of Pinturicchio might have added to the now forlorn Piazza.

Yet the material is a fine warm travertine, mellowing to dark red, brightening to golden, with some details, especially the tower of the Palazzo Communale, in red brick. This building, by the way, is imitated in miniature from that of Florence. The cathedral is a small church of three aisles, equally high, ending in what the French would call a chevet. Pius had observed this plan of construction somewhere in Austria, and commanded his architect, Bernardo, to observe it in his plan. He was attracted by the facilities for window-lighting which it offered; and what is very singular, he provided by the Bull of his foundation for keeping the walls of the interior free from frescoes and other coloured decorations. The result is that, though the interior effect is pleasing, the church presents a frigid aspect to eyes familiarised with warmth of tone in other buildings of that period. The details of the columns and friezes are classical; and the facade, strictly corresponding to the structure, and very honest in its decorative elements, is also of the earlier Renaissance style. But the vaulting and some of the windows are pointed.

The Palazzo Piccolomini, standing at the right hand of the Duomo, is a vast square edifice. The walls are flat and even, pierced at regular intervals with windows, except upon the south-west side, where the rectangular design is broken by a noble double Loggiata, gallery rising above gallery—serene curves of arches, grandly proportioned columns, massive balustrades, a spacious corridor, a roomy vaulting—opening out upon the palace garden, and offering fair prospect over the wooded heights of Castiglione and Rocca d'Orcia, up to Radicofani and shadowy Amiata. It was in these double tiers of galleries, in the garden beneath and in the open inner square of the palazzo, that the great life of Italian aristocracy displayed itself. Four centuries ago these spaces, now so desolate in their immensity, echoed to the tread of serving-men, the songs of pages; horse-hooves struck upon the pavement of the court; spurs jingled on the staircases; the brocaded trains of ladies sweeping from their chambers rustled on the marbles of the loggia; knights let their hawks fly from the garden-parapets; cardinals and abbreviators gathered round the doors from which the Pope would issue, when he rose from his siesta to take the cool of evening in those airy colonnades. How impossible it is to realise that scene amid this solitude! The palazzo still belongs to the Piccolomini family. But it has fallen into something worse than ruin—the squalor of half-starved existence, shorn of all that justified its grand proportions. Partition-walls have been run up across its halls to meet the requirements of our contracted modern customs. Nothing remains of the original decorations except one carved chimney-piece, an emblazoned shield, and a frescoed portrait of the founder. All movable treasures have been made away with. And yet the carved heraldics of the exterior, the coat of Piccolomini, "argent, on a cross azure five crescents or," the Papal ensigns, keys, and tiara, and the monogram of Pius, prove that this country dwelling of a Pope must once have been rich in details befitting its magnificence. With the exception of the very small portion reserved for the Signori, when they visit Pienza, the palace has become a granary for country produce in a starveling land. There was one redeeming point about it to my mind. That was the handsome young man, with earnest Tuscan eyes and a wonderfully sweet voice, the servant of the Piccolomini family, who lives here with his crippled father, and who showed us over the apartments.

We left Pienza and drove on to S. Quirico, through the same wrinkled wilderness of marl; wasteful, uncultivated, bare to every wind that blows. A cruel blast was sweeping from the sea, and Monte Amiata darkened with rain clouds. Still the pictures, which formed themselves at intervals, as we wound along these barren ridges, were very fair to look upon, especially one, not far from S. Quirico. It had for foreground a stretch of tilth—olive-trees, honeysuckle hedges, and cypresses. Beyond soared Amiata in all its breadth and blue air-blackness, bearing on its mighty flanks the broken cliffs and tufted woods of Castiglione and the Rocca d'Orcia; eagles' nests emerging from a fertile valley-champaign, into which the eye was led for rest. It so chanced that a band of sunlight, escaping from filmy clouds, touched this picture with silvery greys and soft greens—a suffusion of vaporous radiance, which made it for one moment a Claude landscape.

S. Quirico was keeping festa. The streets were crowded with healthy handsome men and women from the contado. This village lies on the edge of a great oasis in the Sienese desert—an oasis, formed by the waters of the Orcia and Asso sweeping down to join Ombrone, and stretching on to Montalcino. We put up at the sign of the "Two Hares," where a notable housewife gave us a dinner of all we could desire; frittata di cervelle, good fish, roast lamb stuffed with rosemary, salad and cheese, with excellent wine and black coffee, at the rate of three lire a head.

The attraction of S. Quirico is its gem-like little collegiata, a Lombard church of the ninth century, with carved portals of the thirteenth. It is built of golden travertine; some details in brown sandstone. The western and southern portals have pillars resting on the backs of lions. On the western side these pillars are four slender columns, linked by snake-like ligatures. On the southern side they consist of two carved figures—possibly S. John and the Archangel Michael. There is great freedom and beauty in these statues, as also in the lions which support them, recalling the early French and German manner. In addition, one finds the usual Lombard grotesques—two sea-monsters, biting each other; harpy-birds; a dragon with a twisted tail; little men grinning and squatting in adaptation to coigns and angles of the windows. The toothed and chevron patterns of the north are quaintly blent with rude acanthus scrolls and classical egg-mouldings. Over the western porch is a Gothic rose window. Altogether this church must be reckoned one of the most curious specimens of that hybrid architecture, fusing and appropriating different manners, which perplexes the student in Central Italy. It seems strangely out of place in Tuscany. Yet, if what one reads of Toscanella, a village between Viterbo and Orbetello, be true, there exist examples of a similar fantastic Lombard style even lower down.

The interior was most disastrously gutted and "restored" in 1731: its open wooden roof masked by a false stucco vaulting. A few relics, spared by the eighteenth century Vandals, show that the church was once rich in antique curiosities. A marble knight in armour lies on his back, half hidden by the pulpit stairs. And in the choir are half a dozen rarely beautiful panels of tarsia, executed in a bold style and on a large scale. One design—a man throwing his face back, and singing, while he plays a mandoline; with long thick hair and fanciful berretta; behind him a fine line of cypresses and other trees—struck me as singularly lovely. In another I noticed a branch of peach, broad leaves and ripe fruit, not only drawn with remarkable grace and power, but so modelled as to stand out with the roundness of reality.

The whole drive of three hours back to Montepulciano was one long banquet of inimitable distant views. Next morning, having to take farewell of the place, we climbed to the Castello, or arx of the old city! It is a ruined spot, outside the present walls, upon the southern slope, where there is now a farm, and a fair space of short sheep-cropped turf, very green and grassy, and gemmed with little pink geraniums as in England in such places. The walls of the old castle, overgrown with ivy, are broken down to their foundations. This may possibly have been done when Montepulciano was dismantled by the Sienese in 1232. At that date the Commune succumbed to its more powerful neighbours. The half of its inhabitants were murdered, and its fortifications were destroyed. Such episodes are common enough in the history of that internecine struggle for existence between the Italian municipalities, which preceded the more famous strife of Guelfs and Ghibellines. Stretched upon the smooth turf of the Castello, we bade adieu to the divine landscape bathed in light and mountain air—to Thrasymene and Chiusi and Cetona; to Amiata, Pienza, and S. Quirico; to Montalcino and the mountains of Volterra; to Siena and Cortona; and, closer to Monte Fallonica, Madonna di Biagio, the house-roofs and the Palazzo tower of Montepulciano.


[A] From Leigh Hunt's Translation.



The storm-clouds at this season, though it is the bloom of May, are daily piled in sulky or menacing masses over Vesuvius and the Abruzzi, frothing out their curls of moulded mist across the bay, and climbing the heavens with toppling castle towers and domes of alabaster.

We made the most of a tranquil afternoon, where there was an armistice of storm, to climb the bluff of Mount Solaro. A ruined fort caps that limestone bulwark; and there we lay together, drinking the influences of sea, sun, and wind. Immeasurably deep beneath us plunged the precipices, deep, deep descending to a bay where fisher boats were rocking, diminished to a scale that made the fishermen in them invisible. Low down above the waters wheeled white gulls, and higher up the hawks and ospreys of the cliff sailed out of sunlight into shadow. Immitigable strength is in the moulding of this limestone, and sharp, clear definiteness marks yon clothing of scant brushwood where the fearless goats are browsing. The sublime of sculpturesque in crag structure is here, refined and modulated by the sweetness of sea distances. For the air came pure and yielding to us over the unfooted sea; and at the basement of those fortress-cliffs the sea was dreaming in its caves; and far away, to east and south and west, soft light was blent with mist upon the surface of the shimmering waters.

The distinction between prospects viewed from a mountain overlooking a great plain, or viewed from heights that, like this, dominate the sea, principally lies in this: that while the former only offer cloud shadows cast upon the fields below our feet, in the latter these shadows are diversified with cloud reflections. This gives superiority in qualities of colour, variety of tone, and luminous effect to the sea, compensating in some measure for the lack of those associations which render the outlook over a wide extent of populated land so thrilling. The emergence of towered cities into sunlight at the skirts of moving shadows, the liquid lapse of rivers half disclosed by windings among woods, the upturned mirrors of unruffled lakes, are wanting to the sea. For such episodes the white sails of vessels, with all their wistfulness of going to and fro on the mysterious deep, are but a poor exchange. Yet the sea-lover may justify his preference by appealing to the beauty of empurpled shadows, toned by amethyst or opal or shining with violet light, reflected from the clouds that cross and find in those dark shields a mirror. There are suggestions, too, of immensity, of liberty, of action, presented by the boundless horizons and the changeful changeless tracts of ocean which no plain possesses.

It was nigh upon sunset when we descended to Ana-Capri. That evening the clouds assembled suddenly. The armistice of storm was broken. They were terribly blue, and the sea grew dark as steel beneath them, till the moment when the sun's lip reached the last edge of the waters. Then a courier of rosy flame sent forth from him passed swift across the gulf, touching, where it trod, the waves with accidental fire. The messenger reached Naples; and in a moment, as by some diabolical illumination, the sinful city kindled into light like glowing charcoal. From Posilippo on the left, along the palaces of the Chiaja, up to S. Elmo on the hill, past Santa Lucia, down on the Marinella, beyond Portici, beyond Torre del Greco, where Vesuvius towered up aloof, an angry mount of amethystine gloom, the conflagration spread and reached Pompeii, and dwelt on Torre dell'Annunziata. Stationary, lurid, it smouldered while the day died slowly. The long, densely populated sea-line from Pozzuoli to Castellammare burned and smoked with intensest incandescence, sending a glare of fiery mist against the threatening blue behind, and fringing with pomegranate-coloured blots the water where no light now lingered. It is difficult to bend words to the use required. The scene in spite of natural suavity and grace, had become like Dante's first glimpse of the City of Dis—like Sodom and Gomorrah when fire from heaven descended on their towers before they crumbled into dust.


After this, for several days, Libeccio blew harder. No boats could leave or come to Capri. From the piazza parapet we saw the wind scooping the surface of the waves, and flinging spray-fleeces in sheets upon the churning water. As they broke on Cape Campanella, the rollers climbed in foam—how many feet?—and blotted out the olive trees above the headland. The sky was always dark with hanging clouds and masses of low-lying vapour, very moist, but scarcely raining—lightning without thunder in the night.

Such weather is unexpected in the middle month of May, especially when the olives are blackened by December storms, and the orange-trees despoiled of foliage, and the tendrils of the vines yellow with cold. The walnut-trees have shown no sign of making leaves. Only the figs seem to have suffered little.

It had been settled that we should start upon the first seafaring dawn for Ischia or Sorrento, according as the wind might set; and I was glad when, early one morning, the captain of the Serena announced a moderate sirocco. When we reached the little quay we found the surf of the libeccio still rolling heavily into the gulf. A gusty south-easter crossed it, tearing spray-crests from the swell as it went plunging onward. The sea was rough enough; but we made fast sailing, our captain steering with a skill which it was beautiful to watch, his five oarsmen picturesquely grouped beneath the straining sail. The sea slapped and broke from time to time on our windward quarter, drenching the boat with brine; and now and then her gunwale scooped into the shoulder of a wave as she shot sidling up it. Meanwhile enormous masses of leaden-coloured clouds formed above our heads and on the sea-line; but these were always shifting in the strife of winds, and the sun shone through them petulantly. As we climbed the rollers, or sank into their trough, the outline of the bay appeared in glimpses, shyly revealed, suddenly withdrawn from sight; the immobility and majesty of mountains contrasted with the weltering waste of water round us—now blue and garish where the sunlight fell, now shrouded in squally rain-storms, and then again sullen beneath a vaporous canopy. Each of these vignettes was photographed for one brief second on the brain, and swallowed by the hurling drift of billows. The painter's art could but ill have rendered that changeful colour in the sea, passing from tawny cloud-reflections and surfaces of glowing violet to bright blue or impenetrable purple flecked with boiling foam, according as a light-illuminated or a shadowed facet of the moving mass was turned to sight.

Half-way across the gulf the sirocco lulled; the sail was lowered, and we had to make the rest of the passage by rowing. Under the lee of Ischia we got into comparatively quiet water; though here the beautiful Italian sea was yellowish green with churned-up sand, like an unripe orange. We passed the castle on its rocky island, with the domed church which has been so often painted in gouache pictures through the last two centuries, and soon after noon we came to Casamicciola.


Casamicciola is a village on the north side of the island, in its centre, where the visitors to the mineral baths of Ischia chiefly congregate. One of its old-established inns is called La Piccola Sentinella. The first sight on entrance is an open gallery, with a pink wall on which bloom magnificent cactuses, sprays of thick-clustering scarlet and magenta flowers. This is a rambling house, built in successive stages against a hill, with terraces and verandahs opening on unexpected gardens to the back and front. Beneath its long irregular facade there spreads a wilderness of orange-trees and honeysuckles and roses, verbenas, geraniums and mignonette, snapdragons, gazenias and stocks, exceeding bright and fragrant, with the green slopes of Monte Epomeo for a background and Vesuvius for far distance. There are wonderful bits of detail in this garden. One dark, thick-foliaged olive, I remember, leaning from the tufa over a lizard-haunted wall, feathered waist-high in huge acanthus-leaves. The whole rich orchard ground of Casamicciola is dominated by Monte Epomeo, the extinct volcano which may be called the raison d'etre of Ischia; for this island is nothing but a mountain lifted by the energy of fire from the sea-basement. Its fantastic peaks and ridges, sulphur-coloured, dusty grey, and tawny, with brushwood in young leaf upon the cloven flanks, form a singular pendant to the austere but more artistically modelled limestone crags of Capri. Not two islands that I know, within so short a space of sea, offer two pictures so different in style and quality of loveliness. The inhabitants are equally distinct in type. Here, in spite of what De Musset wrote somewhat affectedly about the peasant girls—

Ischia! c'est la qu'on a des yeux, C'est la qu'un corsage amoureux Serre la hanche. Sur un bas rouge bien tire Brille, sous le jupon dore, La mule blanche—

in spite of these lines I did not find the Ischia women eminent, as those of Capri are, for beauty. But the young men have fine, loose, faun-like figures, and faces that would be strikingly handsome but for too long and prominent noses. They are a singular race, graceful in movement.

Evening is divine in Ischia. From the topmost garden terrace of the inn one looks across the sea toward Terracina, Gaeta, and those descending mountain buttresses, the Phlegraean plains and the distant snows of the Abruzzi. Rain-washed and luminous, the sunset sky held Hesper trembling in a solid green of beryl. Fireflies flashed among the orange blossoms. Far away in the obscurity of eastern twilight glared the smouldering cone of Vesuvius—a crimson blot upon the darkness—a Cyclop's eye, bloodshot and menacing.

The company in the Piccola Sentinella, young and old, were decrepit, with an odd, rheumatic, shrivelled look upon them. The dining-room reminded me, as certain rooms are apt to do, of a ship's saloon. I felt as though I had got into the cabin of the Flying Dutchman, and that all these people had been sitting there at meat a hundred years, through storm and shine, for ever driving onward over immense waves in an enchanted calm.


One morning we drove along the shore, up hill, and down, by the Porto d'Ischia to the town and castle. This country curiously combines the qualities of Corfu and Catania. The near distance, so richly cultivated, with the large volcanic slopes of Monte Epomeo rising from the sea, is like Catania. Then, across the gulf, are the bold outlines and snowy peaks of the Abruzzi, recalling Albanian ranges. Here, as in Sicily, the old lava is overgrown with prickly pear and red valerian. Mesembrianthemums—I must be pardoned this word; for I cannot omit those fleshy-leaved creepers, with their wealth of gaudy blossoms, shaped like sea anemones, coloured like strawberry and pine-apple cream-ices—mesembrianthemums, then, tumble in torrents from the walls, and large-cupped white convolvuluses curl about the hedges. The Castle Rock, with Capri's refined sky-coloured outline relieving its hard profile on the horizon, is one of those exceedingly picturesque objects just too theatrical to be artistic. It seems ready-made for a back scene in Masaniello, and cries out to the chromo-lithographer, "Come and make the most of me!" Yet this morning all things, in sea, earth, and sky, were so delicately tinted and bathed in pearly light that it was difficult to be critical.

In the afternoon we took the other side of the island, driving through Lacca to Forio. One gets right round the bulk of Epomeo, and looks up into a weird region called Le Falange, where white lava streams have poured in two broad irregular torrents among broken precipices. Florio itself is placed at the end of a flat headland, boldly thrust into the sea; and its furthest promontory bears a pilgrimage church, intensely white and glaring.

There is something arbitrary in the memories we make of places casually visited, dependent as they are upon our mood at the moment, or on an accidental interweaving of impressions which the genius loci blends for us. Of Forio two memories abide with me. The one is of a young woman, with very fair hair, in a light blue dress, standing beside an older woman in a garden. There was a flourishing pomegranate-tree above them. The whiteness and the dreamy smile of the young woman seemed strangely out of tune with her strong-toned southern surroundings. I could have fancied her a daughter of some moist north-western isle of Scandinavian seas. My other memory is of a lad, brown, handsome, powerfully-featured, thoughtful, lying curled up in the sun upon a sort of ladder in his house-court, profoundly meditating. He had a book in his hand, and his finger still marked the place where he had read. He looked as though a Columbus or a Campanella might emerge from his earnest, fervent, steadfast adolescence. Driving rapidly along, and leaving Forio in all probability for ever, I kept wondering whether these two lives, discerned as though in vision, would meet—whether she was destined to be his evil genius, whether posterity would hear of him and journey to his birthplace in this world-neglected Forio. Such reveries are futile. Yet who entirely resists them?


About three on the morning which divides the month of May into two equal parts I woke and saw the waning moon right opposite my window, stayed in her descent upon the slope of Epomeo. Soon afterwards Christian called me, and we settled to ascend the mountain. Three horses and a stout black donkey, with their inevitable grooms, were ordered; and we took for guide a lovely faun-like boy, goat-faced, goat-footed, with gentle manners and pliant limbs swaying beneath the breath of impulse. He was called Giuseppe.

The way leads past the mineral baths and then strikes uphill, at first through lanes cut deep in the black lava. The trees met almost overhead. It is like Devonshire, except that one half hopes to see tropical foxgloves with violet bells and downy leaves sprouting among the lush grasses and sweet-scented ferns upon those gloomy, damp, warm walls. After this we skirted a thicket of arbutus, and came upon the long volcanic ridge, with divinest outlook over Procida and Miseno toward Vesuvius. Then once more we had to dive into brown sandstone gullies, extremely steep, where the horses almost burst their girths in scrambling, and the grooms screamed, exasperating their confusion with encouragement and curses. Straight or bending like a willow wand, Giuseppe kept in front. I could have imagined he had stepped to life from one of Lionardo's fancy-sprighted studies.

After this fashion we gained the spine of mountain which composes Ischia—the smooth ascending ridge that grows up from those eastern waves to what was once the apex of fire-vomiting Inarime, and breaks in precipices westward, a ruin of gulfed lava, tortured by the violence of pent Typhoeus. Under a vast umbrella pine we dismounted, rested, and saw Capri. Now the road skirts slanting-wise along the further flank of Epomeo, rising by muddy earth-heaps and sandstone hollows to the quaint pinnacles which build the summit. There is no inconsiderable peril in riding over this broken ground; for the soil crumbles away, and the ravines open downward, treacherously masked with brushwood.

On Epomeo's topmost cone a chapel dedicated to S. Niccolo da Bari, the Italian patron of seamen, has been hollowed from the rock. Attached to it is the dwelling of two hermits, subterranean, with long dark corridors and windows opening on the western seas. Church and hermitage alike are scooped, with slight expenditure of mason's skill, from solid mountain. The windows are but loopholes, leaning from which the town of Forio is seen, 2500 feet below; and the jagged precipices of the menacing Falange toss their contorted horror forth to sea and sky. Through gallery and grotto we wound in twilight under a monk's guidance, and came at length upon the face of the crags above Casamicciola. A few steps upward, cut like a ladder in the stone, brought us to the topmost peak—a slender spire of soft, yellowish tufa. It reminded me (with differences) of the way one climbs the spire at Strasburg, and stands upon that temple's final crocket, with nothing but a lightning conductor to steady swimming senses. Different indeed are the views unrolled beneath the peak of Epomeo and the pinnacle of Strasburg! Vesuvius, with the broken lines of Procida, Miseno, and Lago Fusaro for foreground; the sculpturesque beauty of Capri, buttressed in everlasting calm upon the waves; the Phlegraean plains and champaign of Volturno, stretching between smooth seas and shadowy hills; the mighty sweep of Naples' bay; all merged in blue; aerial, translucent, exquisitely frail. In this ethereal fabric of azure the most real of realities, the most solid of substances, seem films upon a crystal sphere.

The hermit produced some flasks of amber-coloured wine from his stores in the grotto. These we drank, lying full-length upon the tufa in the morning sunlight. The panorama of sea, sky, and long-drawn lines of coast, breathless, without a ripple or a taint of cloud, spread far and wide around us. Our horses and donkey cropped what little grass, blent with bitter herbage, grew on that barren summit. Their grooms helped us out with the hermit's wine, and turned to sleep face downward. The whole scene was very quiet, islanded in immeasurable air. Then we asked the boy, Giuseppe, whether he could guide us on foot down the cliffs of Monte Epomeo to Casamicciola. This he was willing and able to do; for he told me that he had spent many months each year upon the hill-side, tending goats. When rough weather came, he wrapped himself in a blanket from the snow that falls and melts upon the ledges. In summer time he basked the whole day long, and slept the calm ambrosial nights away. Something of this free life was in the burning eyes, long clustering dark hair, and smooth brown bosom of the faun-like creature. His graceful body had the brusque, unerring movement of the goats he shepherded. Human thought and emotion seemed a-slumber in this youth who had grown one with nature. As I watched his careless incarnate loveliness I remembered lines from an old Italian poem of romance, describing a dweller of the forest, who

Haunteth the woodland aye 'neath verdurous shade, Eateth wild fruit, drinketh of running stream; And such-like is his nature, as 'tis said, That ever weepeth he when clear skies gleam, Seeing of storms and rain he then hath dread, And feareth lest the sun's heat fail for him; But when on high hurl winds and clouds together, Full glad is he and waiteth for fair weather.

Giuseppe led us down those curious volcanic balze, where the soil is soft as marl, with tints splashed on it of pale green and rose and orange, and a faint scent in it of sulphur. They break away into wild chasms, where rivulets begin; and here the narrow watercourses made for us plain going. The turf beneath our feet was starred with cyclamens and wavering anemones. At last we reached the chestnut woods, and so by winding paths descended on the village. Giuseppe told me, as we walked, that in a short time he would be obliged to join the army. He contemplated this duty with a dim and undefined dislike. Nor could I, too, help dreading and misliking it for him. The untamed, gentle creature, who knew so little but his goats as yet, whose nights had been passed from childhood a la belle etoile, whose limbs had never been cumbered with broadcloth or belt—for him to be shut up in the barrack of some Lombard city, packed in white conscript's sacking, drilled, taught to read and write, and weighted with the knapsack and the musket! There was something lamentable in the prospect. But such is the burden of man's life, of modern life especially. United Italy demands of her children that by this discipline they should be brought into that harmony which builds a nation out of diverse elements.


Ischia showed a new aspect on the morning of our departure. A sea-mist passed along the skirts of the island, and rolled in heavy masses round the peaks of Monte Epomeo, slowly condensing into summer clouds, and softening each outline with a pearly haze, through which shone emerald glimpses of young vines and fig-trees.

We left in a boat with four oarsmen for Pozzuoli. For about an hour the breeze carried us well, while Ischia behind grew ever lovelier, soft as velvet, shaped like a gem. The mist had become a great white luminous cloud—not dense and alabastrine, like the clouds of thunder; but filmy, tender, comparable to the atmosphere of Dante's moon. Porpoises and sea-gulls played and fished about our bows, dividing the dark brine in spray. The mountain distances were drowned in bluish vapour—Vesuvius quite invisible. About noon the air grew clearer, and Capri reared her fortalice of sculptured rock, aerially azure, into liquid ether. I know not what effect of atmosphere or light it is that lifts an island from the sea by interposing that thin edge of lustrous white between it and the water. But this phenomenon to-day was perfectly exhibited. Like a mirage on the wilderness, like Fata Morgana's palace ascending from the deep, the pure and noble vision stayed suspense 'twixt heaven and ocean. At the same time the breeze failed, and we rowed slowly between Procida and Capo Miseno—a space in old-world history athrong with Caesar's navies. When we turned the point, and came in sight of Baiae, the wind freshened and took us flying into Pozzuoli. The whole of this coast has been spoiled by the recent upheaval of Monte Nuovo with its lava floods and cindery deluges. Nothing remains to justify its fame among the ancient Romans and the Neapolitans of Boccaccio's and Pontano's age. It is quite wrecked, beyond the power even of hendecasyllables to bring again its breath of beauty:

Mecum si sapies, Gravina, mecum Baias, et placidos coles recessus, Quos ipsae et veneres colunt, et illa Quae mentes hominum regit voluptas. Hic vina et choreae jocique regnant, Regnant et charites facetiaeque. Has sedes amor, has colit cupido. Hic passim juvenes puellulaeque Ludunt, et tepidis aquis lavantur, Coenantque et dapibus leporibusque Miscent delitias venustiores: Miscent gaudia et osculationes, Atque una sociis toris foventur, Has te ad delitias vocant camoenae; Invitat mare, myrteumque littus; Invitaut volucres canorae, et ipse Gaurus pampineas parat corollas.[B]

At Pozzuoli we dined in the Albergo del Ponte di Caligola (Heaven save the mark!), and drank Falernian wine of modern and indifferent vintage. Then Christian hired two open carriages for Naples. He and I sat in the second. In the first we placed the two ladies of our party. They had a large, fat driver. Just after we had all passed the gate a big fellow rushed up, dragged the corpulent coachman from his box, pulled out a knife, and made a savage thrust at the man's stomach. At the same moment a guardia-porta, with drawn cutlass, interposed and struck between the combatants. They were separated. Their respective friends assembled in two jabbering crowds, and the whole party, uttering vociferous objurgations, marched off, as I imagined, to the watch-house. A very shabby lazzarone, without more ado, sprang on the empty box, and we made haste for Naples. Being only anxious to get there, and not at all curious about the squabble which had deprived us of our fat driver, I relapsed into indifference when I found that neither of the men to whose lot we had fallen was desirous of explaining the affair. It was sufficient cause for self-congratulation that no blood had been shed, and that the Procuratore del Re would not require our evidence.

The Grotta di Posilippo was a sight of wonder, with the afternoon sun slanting on its festoons of creeping plants above the western entrance—the gas lamps, dust, huge carts, oxen, and contadini in its subterranean darkness—and then the sudden revelation of the bay and city as we jingled out into the summery air again by Virgil's tomb.


On to Pompeii in the clear sunset, falling very lightly upon mountains, islands, little ports, and indentations of the bay.

From the railway station we walked above half a mile to the Albergo del Sole under a lucid heaven of aqua-marine colour, with Venus large in it upon the border line between the tints of green and blue.

The Albergo del Sole is worth commemorating. We stepped, without the intervention of courtyard or entrance hall, straight from the little inn garden into an open, vaulted room. This was divided into two compartments by a stout column supporting round arches. Wooden gates furnished a kind of fence between the atrium and what an old Pompeian would have styled the triclinium. For in the further part a table was laid for supper and lighted with suspended lamps. And here a party of artists and students drank and talked and smoked. A great live peacock, half asleep and winking his eyes, sat perched upon a heavy wardrobe watching them. The outer chamber, where we waited in arm-chairs of ample girth, had its loggia windows and doors open to the air. There were singing-birds in cages; and plants of rosemary, iris, and arundo sprang carelessly from holes in the floor. A huge vase filled to overflowing with oranges and lemons, the very symbol of generous prodigality, stood in the midst, and several dogs were lounging round. The outer twilight, blending with the dim sheen of the lamps, softened this pretty scene to picturesqueness. Altogether it was a strange and unexpected place. Much experienced as the nineteenth-century nomad may be in inns, he will rarely receive a more powerful and refreshing impression, entering one at evenfall, than here.

There was no room for us in the inn. We were sent, attended by a boy with a lantern, through fields of dew-drenched barley and folded poppies, to a farmhouse overshadowed by four spreading pines. Exceedingly soft and grey, with rose-tinted weft of steam upon its summit, stood Vesuvius above us in the twilight. Something in the recent impression of the dimly-lighted supper-room, and in the idyllic simplicity of this lantern-litten journey through the barley, suggested, by one of those inexplicable stirrings of association which affect tired senses, a dim, dreamy thought of Palestine and Bible stories. The feeling of the cenacolo blent here with feelings of Ruth's cornfields, and the white square houses with their flat roofs enforced the illusion. Here we slept in the middle of a contadino colony. Some of the folk had made way for us; and by the wheezing, coughing, and snoring of several sorts and ages in the chamber next me, I imagine they must have endured considerable crowding. My bed was large enough to have contained a family. Over its head there was a little shrine, hollowed in the thickness of the wall, with several sacred emblems and a shallow vase of holy water. On dressers at each end of the room stood glass shrines, occupied by finely-dressed Madonna dolls and pots of artificial flowers. Above the doors S. Michael and S. Francis, roughly embossed in low relief and boldly painted, gave dignity and grandeur to the walls. These showed some sense for art in the first builders of the house. But the taste of the inhabitants could not be praised. There were countless gaudy prints of saints, and exactly five pictures of the Bambino, very big, and sprawling in a field alone. A crucifix, some old bottles, a gun, old clothes suspended from pegs, pieces of peasant pottery and china, completed the furniture of the apartment.

But what a view it showed when Christian next morning opened the door! From my bed I looked across the red-tiled terrace to the stone pines with their velvet roofage and the blue-peaked hills of Stabiae.


No one need doubt about his quarters in this country town. The Albergo di Pompeii is a truly sumptuous place. Sofas, tables, and chairs in our sitting-room are made of buffalo horns, very cleverly pieced together, but torturing the senses with suggestions of impalement. Sitting or standing, one felt insecure. When would the points run into us? when should we begin to break these incrustations off? and would the whole fabric crumble at a touch into chaotic heaps of horns?

It is market day, and the costumes in the streets are brilliant. The women wear a white petticoat, a blue skirt made straight and tightly bound above it, a white richly-worked bodice, and the white square-folded napkin of the Abruzzi on their heads. Their jacket is of red or green—pure colour. A rug of striped red, blue, yellow, and black protects the whole dress from the rain. There is a very noble quality of green—sappy and gemmy—like some of Titian's or Giorgione's—in the stuffs they use. Their build and carriage are worthy of goddesses.

Rain falls heavily, persistently. We must ride on donkeys, in waterproofs, to Monte Cassino. Mountain and valley, oak wood and ilex grove, lentisk thicket and winding river-bed, are drowned alike in soft-descending, soaking rain. Far and near the landscape swims in rain, and the hill-sides send down torrents through their watercourses.

The monastery is a square, dignified building, of vast extent and princely solidity. It has a fine inner court, with sumptuous staircases of slabbed stone leading to the church. This public portion of the edifice is both impressive and magnificent, without sacrifice of religious severity to parade. We acknowledge a successful compromise between the austerity of the order and the grandeur befitting the fame, wealth, prestige, and power of its parent foundation. The church itself is a tolerable structure of the Renaissance—costly marble incrustations and mosaics, meaningless Neapolitan frescoes. One singular episode in the mediocrity of art adorning it, is the tomb of Pietro dei Medici. Expelled from Florence in 1494, he never returned, but was drowned in the Garigliano. Clement VII. ordered, and Duke Cosimo I. erected, this marble monument—the handicraft, in part at least, of Francesco di San Gallo—to their relative. It is singularly stiff, ugly, out of place—at once obtrusive and insignificant.

A gentle old German monk conducted Christian and me over the convent—boy's school, refectory printing press, lithographic workshop, library, archives. We then returned to the church, from which we passed to visit the most venerable and sacred portion of the monastery. The cell of S. Benedict is being restored and painted in fresco by the Austrian Benedictines; a pious but somewhat frigid process of re-edification. This so-called cell is a many-chambered and very ancient building, with a tower which is now embedded in the massive superstructure of the modern monastery. The German artists adorning it contrive to blend the styles of Giotto, Fra Angelico, Egypt, and Byzance, not without force and a kind of intense frozen pietism. S. Mauro's vision of his master's translation to heaven—the ladder of light issuing between two cypresses, and the angels watching on the tower walls—might even be styled poetical. But the decorative angels on the roof and other places, being adapted from Egyptian art, have a strange, incongruous appearance.

Monasteries are almost invariably disappointing to one who goes in search of what gives virtue and solidity to human life; and even Monte Cassino was no exception. This ought not to be otherwise, seeing what a peculiar sympathy with the monastic institution is required to make these cloisters comprehensible. The atmosphere of operose indolence, prolonged through centuries and centuries, stifles; nor can antiquity and influence impose upon a mind which resents monkery itself as an essential evil. That Monte Cassino supplied the Church with several potentates is incontestable. That mediaeval learning and morality would have suffered more without this brotherhood cannot be doubted. Yet it is difficult to name men of very eminent genius whom the Cassinesi claim as their alumni; nor, with Boccaccio's testimony to their carelessness, and with the evidence of their library before our eyes, can we rate their services to civilised erudition very highly. I longed to possess the spirit, for one moment, of Montalembert. I longed for what is called historical imagination, for the indiscriminate voracity of those men to whom world-famous sites are in themselves soul-stirring.


[B] These verses are extracted from the second book of Pontano's Hendecasyllabi (Aldus, 1513, p. 208). They so vividly paint the amusements of a watering-place in the fifteenth century that I have translated them:

With me, let but the mind be wise, Gravina, With me haste to the tranquil haunts of Baiae, Haunts that pleasure hath made her home, and she who Sways all hearts, the voluptuous Aphrodite. Here wine rules, and the dance, and games and laughter; Graces reign in a round of mirthful madness; Love hath built, and desire, a palace here too, Where glad youths and enamoured girls on all sides Play and bathe in the waves in sunny weather, Dine and sup, and the merry mirth of banquets Blend with dearer delights and love's embraces, Blend with pleasures of youth and honeyed kisses, Till, sport-tired, in the couch inarmed they slumber. Thee our Muses invite to these enjoyments; Thee those billows allure, the myrtled seashore, Birds allure with a song, and mighty Gaurus Twines his redolent wreath of vines and ivy.



We left Rome in clear sunset light. The Alban Hills defined themselves like a cameo of amethyst upon a pale blue distance; and over the Sabine Mountains soared immeasurable moulded domes of alabaster thunder-clouds, casting deep shadows, purple and violet, across the slopes of Tivoli. To westward the whole sky was lucid, like some half-transparent topaz, flooded with slowly yellowing sunbeams. The Campagna has often been called a garden of wild-flowers. Just now poppy and aster, gladiolus and thistle, embroider it with patterns infinite and intricate beyond the power of art. They have already mown the hay in part; and the billowy tracts of greyish green, where no flowers are now in bloom, supply a restful groundwork to those brilliant patches of diapered fioriture. These are like praying-carpets spread for devotees upon the pavement of a mosque whose roof is heaven. In the level light the scythes of the mowers flash as we move past. From their bronzed foreheads the men toss masses of dark curls. Their muscular flanks and shoulders sway sideways from firm yet pliant reins. On one hill, fronting the sunset, there stands a herd of some thirty huge grey oxen, feeding and raising their heads to look at us, with just a flush of crimson on their horns and dewlaps. This is the scale of Mason's and of Costa's colouring. This is the breadth and magnitude of Rome.

Thus, through dells of ilex and oak, yielding now a glimpse of Tiber and S. Peter's, now opening on a purple section of the distant Sabine Hills, we came to Monte Rotondo. The sun sank; and from the flames where he had perished, Hesper and the thin moon, very white and keen, grew slowly into sight. Now we follow the Tiber, a swollen, hurrying, turbid river, in which the mellowing Western sky reflects itself. This changeful mirror of swift waters spreads a dazzling foreground to valley, hill and lustrous heaven. There is orange on the far horizon, and a green ocean above, in which sea-monsters fashioned from the clouds are floating. Yonder swims an elf with luminous hair astride upon a sea-horse, and followed by a dolphin plunging through the fiery waves. The orange deepens into dying red. The green divides into daffodil and beryl. The blue above grows fainter, and the moon and stars shine stronger.

Through these celestial changes we glide into a landscape fit for Francia and the early Umbrian painters. Low hills to right and left; suavely modelled heights in the far distance; a very quiet width of plain, with slender trees ascending into the pellucid air; and down in the mystery of the middle distance a glimpse of heaven-reflecting water. The magic of the moon and stars lends enchantment to this scene. No painting could convey their influences. Sometimes both luminaries tremble, all dispersed and broken, on the swirling river. Sometimes they sleep above the calm cool reaches of a rush-grown mere. And here and there a ruined turret, with a broken window and a tuft of shrubs upon the rifted battlement, gives value to the fading pallor of the West. The last phase in the sunset is a change to blue-grey monochrome, faintly silvered with starlight; hills, Tiber, fields and woods all floating in aerial twilight. There is no definition of outline now. The daffodil of the horizon has faded into scarcely perceptible pale greenish yellow.

We have passed Stimigliano. Through the mystery of darkness we hurry past the bridges of Augustus and the lights of Narni.


The Velino is a river of considerable volume which rises in the highest region of the Abruzzi, threads the upland valley of Rieti, and precipitates itself by an artificial channel over cliffs about seven hundred feet in height into the Nera. The water is densely charged with particles of lime. This calcareous matter not only tends continually to choke its bed, but clothes the precipices over which the torrent thunders with fantastic drapery of stalactite; and, carried on the wind in foam, incrusts the forests that surround the falls with fine white dust. These famous cascades are undoubtedly the most sublime and beautiful which Europe boasts; and their situation is worthy of so great a natural wonder. We reach them through a noble mid-Italian landscape, where the mountain forms are austere and boldly modelled, but the vegetation, both wild and cultivated, has something of the South-Italian richness. The hill-sides are a labyrinth of box and arbutus, with coronilla in golden bloom. The turf is starred with cyclamens and orchises. Climbing the staircase paths beside the falls in morning sunlight, or stationed on the points of vantage that command their successive cataracts, we enjoyed a spectacle which might be compared in its effect upon the mind to the impression left by a symphony or a tumultuous lyric. The turbulence and splendour, the swiftness and resonance, the veiling of the scene in smoke of shattered water-masses, the withdrawal of these veils according as the volume of the river slightly shifted in its fall, the rainbows shimmering on the silver spray, the shivering of poplars hung above impendent precipices, the stationary grandeur of the mountains keeping watch around, the hurry and the incoherence of the cataracts, the immobility of force and changeful changelessness in nature, were all for me the elements of one stupendous poem. It was like an ode of Shelley translated into symbolism, more vivid through inarticulate appeal to primitive emotion than any words could be.


The rich land of the Clitumnus is divided into meadows by transparent watercourses, gliding with a glassy current over swaying reeds. Through this we pass, and leave Bevagna to the right, and ascend one of those long gradual roads which climb the hills where all the cities of the Umbrians perch. The view expands, revealing Spello, Assisi, Perugia on its mountain buttress, and the far reaches northward of the Tiber valley. Then Trevi and Spoleto came into sight, and the severe hill-country above Gubbio in part disclosed itself. Over Spoleto the fierce witch-haunted heights of Norcia rose forbidding. This is the kind of panorama that dilates the soul. It is so large, so dignified, so beautiful in tranquil form. The opulent abundance of the plain contrasts with the severity of mountain ranges desolately grand; and the name of each of all those cities thrills the heart with memories.

The main object of a visit to Montefalco is to inspect its many excellent frescoes; painted histories of S. Francis and S. Jerome, by Benozzo Gozzoli; saints, angels, and Scripture episodes by the gentle Tiberio d'Assisi. Full justice had been done to these, when a little boy, seeing us lingering outside the church of S. Chiara, asked whether we should not like to view the body of the saint. This privilege could be purchased at the price of a small fee. It was only necessary to call the guardian of her shrine at the high altar. Indolent, and in compliant mood, with languid curiosity and half-an-hour to spare, we assented. A handsome young man appeared, who conducted us with decent gravity into a little darkened chamber behind the altar. There he lighted wax tapers, opened sliding doors in what looked like a long coffin, and drew curtains. Before us in the dim light there lay a woman covered with a black nun's dress. Only her hands, and the exquisitely beautiful pale contour of her face (forehead, nose, mouth, and chin, modelled in purest outline, as though the injury of death had never touched her) were visible. Her closed eyes seemed to sleep. She had the perfect peace of Luini's S. Catherine borne by the angels to her grave on Sinai. I have rarely seen anything which surprised and touched me more. The religious earnestness of the young custode, the hushed adoration of the country-folk who had silently assembled round us, intensified the sympathy-inspiring beauty of the slumbering girl. Could Julia, daughter of Claudius, have been fairer than this maiden, when the Lombard workmen found her in her Latin tomb, and brought her to be worshipped on the Capitol? S. Chiara's shrine was hung round with her relics; and among these the heart extracted from her body was suspended. Upon it, apparently wrought into the very substance of the mummied flesh, were impressed a figure of the crucified Christ, the scourge, and the five stigmata. The guardian's faith in this miraculous witness to her sainthood, the gentle piety of the men and women who knelt before it, checked all expressions of incredulity. We abandoned ourselves to the genius of the place; forgot even to ask what Santa Chiara was sleeping here; and withdrew, toned to a not unpleasing melancholy. The world-famous Saint Clair, the spiritual sister of S. Francis, lies in Assisi. I have often asked myself, Who, then, was this nun? What history had she? And I think now of this girl as of a damsel of romance, a Sleeping Beauty in the wood of time, secluded from intrusive elements of fact, and folded in the love and faith of her own simple worshippers. Among the hollows of Arcadia, how many rustic shrines in ancient days held saints of Hellas, apocryphal, perhaps, like this, but hallowed by tradition and enduring homage![C]


In the landscape of Raphael's votive picture, known as the Madonna di Foligno, there is a town with a few towers, placed upon a broad plain at the edge of some blue hills. Allowing for that license as to details which imaginative masters permitted themselves in matters of subordinate importance, Raphael's sketch is still true to Foligno. The place has not materially changed since the beginning of the sixteenth century. Indeed relatively to the state of Italy at large, it is still the same as in the days of ancient Rome. Foligno forms a station of commanding interest between Rome and the Adriatic upon the great Flaminian Way. At Foligno the passes of the Apennines debouch into the Umbrian plain, which slopes gradually toward the valley of the Tiber, and from it the valley of the Nera is reached by an easy ascent beneath the walls of Spoleto. An army advancing from the north by the Metaurus and the Furlo Pass must find itself at Foligno; and the level champaign round the city is well adapted to the maintenance and exercises of a garrison. In the days of the Republic and the Empire, the value of this position was well understood; but Foligno's importance, as the key to the Flaminian Way, was eclipsed by two flourishing cities in its immediate vicinity, Hispellum and Mevania, the modern Spello and Bevagna. We might hazard a conjecture that the Lombards, when they ruled the Duchy of Spoleto, following their usual policy of opposing new military centres to the ancient Roman municipia, encouraged Fulginium at the expense of her two neighbours. But of this there is no certainty to build upon. All that can be affirmed with accuracy is that in the Middle Ages, while Spello and Bevagna declined into the inferiority of dependent burghs, Foligno grew in power and became the chief commune of this part of Umbria. It was famous during the last centuries of struggle between the Italian burghers and their native despots, for peculiar ferocity in civil strife. Some of the bloodiest pages in mediaeval Italian history are those which relate the vicissitudes of the Trinci family, the exhaustion of Foligno by internal discord, and its final submission to the Papal power. Since railways have been carried from Rome through Narni and Spoleto to Ancona and Perugia, Foligno has gained considerably in commercial and military status. It is the point of intersection for three lines; the Italian government has made it a great cavalry depot, and there are signs of reviving traffic in its decayed streets. Whether the presence of a large garrison has already modified the population, or whether we may ascribe something to the absence of Roman municipal institutions in the far past, and to the savagery of the mediaeval period, it is difficult to say. Yet the impression left by Foligno upon the mind is different from that of Assisi, Spello, and Montefalco, which are distinguished for a certain grace and gentleness in their inhabitants.

My window in the city wall looks southward across the plain to Spoleto, with Montefalco perched aloft upon the right, and Trevi on its mountain-bracket to the left. From the topmost peaks of the Sabine Apennines, gradual tender sloping lines descend to find their quiet in the valley of Clitumnus. The space between me and that distance is infinitely rich with every sort of greenery, dotted here and there with towers and relics of baronial houses. The little town is in commotion; for the working-men of Foligno and its neighbourhood have resolved to spend their earnings on a splendid festa—horse-races, and two nights of fireworks. The acacias and pawlonias on the ramparts are in full bloom of creamy white and lilac. In the glare of Bengal lights these trees, with all their pendulous blossoms, surpassed the most fantastic of artificial decorations. The rockets sent aloft into the sky amid that solemn Umbrian landscape were nowise out of harmony with nature. I never sympathised with critics who resent the intrusion of fireworks upon scenes of natural beauty. The Giessbach, lighted up at so much per head on stated evenings, with a band playing and a crowd of cockneys staring, presents perhaps an incongruous spectacle. But where, as here at Foligno, a whole city has made itself a festival, where there are multitudes of citizens and soldiers and country-people slowly moving and gravely admiring, with the decency and order characteristic of an Italian crowd, I have nothing but a sense of satisfaction.

It is sometimes the traveller's good fortune in some remote place to meet with an inhabitant who incarnates and interprets for him the genius loci as he has conceived it. Though his own subjectivity will assuredly play a considerable part in such an encounter, transferring to his chance acquaintance qualities he may not possess, and connecting this personality in some purely imaginative manner with thoughts derived from study, or impressions made by nature; yet the stranger will henceforth become the meeting-point of many memories, the central figure in a composition which derives from him its vividness. Unconsciously and innocently he has lent himself to the creation of a picture, and round him, as around the hero of a myth, have gathered thoughts and sentiments of which he had himself no knowledge. On one of these nights I had been threading the aisles of acacia-trees, now glaring red, now azure, as the Bengal lights kept changing. My mind instinctively went back to scenes of treachery and bloodshed in the olden time, when Corrado Trinci paraded the mangled remnants of three hundred of his victims, heaped on muleback, through Foligno, for a warning to the citizens. As the procession moved along the ramparts, I found myself in contact with a young man, who readily fell into conversation. He was very tall, with enormous breadth of shoulders, and long sinewy arms, like Michelangelo's favourite models. His head was small, curled over with crisp black hair. Low forehead, and thick level eyebrows absolutely meeting over intensely bright fierce eyes. The nose descending straight from the brows, as in a statue of Hadrian's age. The mouth full-lipped, petulant, and passionate above a firm round chin. He was dressed in the shirt, white trousers, and loose white jacket of a contadino; but he did not move with a peasant's slouch, rather with the elasticity and alertness of an untamed panther. He told me that he was just about to join a cavalry regiment; and I could well imagine, when military dignity was added to that gait, how grandly he would go. This young man, of whom I heard nothing more after our half-hour's conversation among the crackling fireworks and roaring cannon, left upon my mind an indescribable impression of dangerousness—of "something fierce and terrible, eligible to burst forth." Of men like this, then, were formed the Companies of Adventure who flooded Italy with villany, ambition, and lawlessness in the fifteenth century. Gattamelata, who began life as a baker's boy at Narni and ended it with a bronze statue by Donatello on the public square in Padua, was of this breed. Like this were the Trinci and their bands of murderers. Like this were the bravi who hunted Lorenzaccio to death at Venice. Like this was Pietro Paolo Baglioni, whose fault, in the eyes of Machiavelli, was that he could not succeed in being "perfettamente tristo." Beautiful, but inhuman; passionate, but cold; powerful, but rendered impotent for firm and lofty deeds by immorality and treason; how many centuries of men like this once wasted Italy and plunged her into servitude! Yet what material is here, under sterner discipline, and with a nobler national ideal, for the formation of heroic armies. Of such stuff, doubtless, were the Roman legionaries. When will the Italians learn to use these men as Fabius or as Caesar, not as the Vitelli and the Trinci used them? In such meditations, deeply stirred by the meeting of my own reflections with one who seemed to represent for me in life and blood the spirit of the place which had provoked them, I said farewell to Cavallucci, and returned to my bed-room on the city-wall. The last rockets had whizzed and the last cannons had thundered ere I fell asleep.


Spello contains some not inconsiderable antiquities—the remains of a Roman theatre, a Roman gate with the heads of two men and a woman leaning over it, and some fragments of Roman sculpture scattered through its buildings. The churches, especially those of S. M. Maggiore and S. Francesco, are worth a visit for the sake of Pinturicchio. Nowhere, except in the Piccolomini Library at Siena, can that master's work in fresco be better studied than here. The satisfaction with which he executed the wall paintings in S. Maria Maggiore is testified by his own portrait introduced upon a panel in the decoration of the Virgin's chamber. The scrupulously rendered details of books, chairs, window seats, &c., which he here has copied, remind one of Carpaccio's study of S. Benedict at Venice. It is all sweet, tender, delicate, and carefully finished; but without depth, not even the depth of Perugino's feeling. In S. Francesco, Pinturicchio, with the same meticulous refinement, painted a letter addressed to him by Gentile Baglioni. It lies on a stool before Madonna and her court of saints. Nicety of execution, technical mastery of fresco as a medium for Dutch detail-painting, prettiness of composition, and cheerfulness of colouring, are noticeable throughout his work here rather than either thought or sentiment. S. Maria Maggiore can boast a fresco of Madonna between a young episcopal saint and Catherine of Alexandria from the hand of Perugino. The rich yellow harmony of its tones, and the graceful dignity of its emotion, conveyed no less by a certain Raphaelesque pose and outline than by suavity of facial expression, enable us to measure the distance between this painter and his quasi-pupil Pinturicchio.

We did not, however, drive to Spello to inspect either Roman antiquities or frescoes, but to see an inscription on the city walls about Orlando. It is a rude Latin elegiac couplet, saying that, "from the sign below, men may conjecture the mighty members of Roland, nephew of Charles; his deeds are written in history." Three agreeable old gentlemen of Spello, who attended us with much politeness, and were greatly interested in my researches, pointed out a mark waist-high upon the wall, where Orlando's knee is reported to have reached. But I could not learn anything about a phallic monolith, which is said by Guerin or Panizzi to have been identified with the Roland myth at Spello. Such a column either never existed here, or had been removed before the memory of the present generation.


We are in the lower church of S. Francesco. High mass is being sung, with orchestra and organ and a choir of many voices. Candles are lighted on the altar, over-canopied with Giotto's allegories. From the low southern windows slants the sun, in narrow bands, upon the many-coloured gloom and embrowned glory of these painted aisles. Women in bright kerchiefs kneel upon the stones, and shaggy men from the mountains stand or lean against the wooden benches. There is no moving from point to point. Where we have taken our station, at the north-western angle of the transept, there we stay till mass be over. The whole low-vaulted building glows duskily; the frescoed roof, the stained windows, the figure-crowded pavements blending their rich but subdued colours, like hues upon some marvellous moth's wings, or like a deep-toned rainbow mist discerned in twilight dreams, or like such tapestry as Eastern queens, in ancient days, wrought for the pavilion of an empress. Forth from this maze of mingling tints, indefinite in shade and sunbeams, lean earnest, saintly faces—ineffably pure—adoring, pitying, pleading; raising their eyes in ecstasy to heaven, or turning them in ruth toward earth. Men and women of whom the world was not worthy—at the hands of those old painters they have received the divine grace, the dove-like simplicity, whereof Italians in the fourteenth century possessed the irrecoverable secret. Each face is a poem; the counterpart in painting to a chapter from the Fioretti di San Francesco. Over the whole scene—in the architecture, in the frescoes, in the coloured windows, in the gloom, on the people, in the incense, from the chiming bells, through the music—broods one spirit: the spirit of him who was "the co-espoused, co-transforate with Christ;" the ardent, the radiant, the beautiful in soul; the suffering, the strong, the simple, the victorious over self and sin; the celestial who trampled upon earth and rose on wings of ecstasy to heaven; the Christ-inebriated saint of visions supersensual and life beyond the grave. Far down below the feet of those who worship God through him, S. Francis sleeps; but his soul, the incorruptible part of him, the message he gave the world, is in the spaces round us. This is his temple. He fills it like an unseen god. Not as Phoebus or Athene, from their marble pedestals; but as an abiding spirit, felt everywhere, nowhere seized, absorbing in itself all mysteries, all myths, all burning exaltations, all abasements, all love, self-sacrifice, pain, yearning, which the thought of Christ, sweeping the centuries, hath wrought for men. Let, therefore, choir and congregation raise their voices on the tide of prayers and praises; for this is Easter morning—Christ is risen! Our sister, Death of the Body, for whom S. Francis thanked God in his hymn, is reconciled to us this day, and takes us by the hand, and leads us to the gate whence floods of heavenly glory issue from the faces of a multitude of saints. Pray, ye poor people; chant and pray. If all be but a dream, to wake from this were loss for you indeed!


The piazza in front of the Prefettura is my favourite resort on these nights of full moon. The evening twilight is made up partly of sunset fading over Thrasymene and Tuscany; partly of moonrise from the mountains of Gubbio and the passes toward Ancona. The hills are capped with snow, although the season is so forward. Below our parapets the bulk of S. Domenico, with its gaunt, perforated tower, and the finer group of S. Pietro, flaunting the arrowy "Pennacchio di Perugia," jut out upon the spine of hill which dominates the valley of the Tiber. As the night gloom deepens, and the moon ascends the sky, these buildings seem to form the sombre foreground to some French etching. Beyond them spreads the misty moon-irradiated plain of Umbria. Over all rise shadowy Apennines, with dim suggestions of Assisi, Spello, Foligno, Montefalco, and Spoleto on their basements. Little thin whiffs of breezes, very slight and searching, flit across, and shiver as they pass from Apennine to plain. The slowly moving population—women in veils, men winter-mantled—pass to and fro between the buildings and the grey immensity of sky. Bells ring. The bugles of the soldiers blow retreat in convents turned to barracks. Young men roam the streets beneath, singing May songs. Far, far away upon the plain, red through the vitreous moonlight ringed with thundery gauze, fires of unnamed castelli smoulder. As we lean from ledges eighty feet in height, gas vies with moon in chequering illuminations on the ancient walls; Etruscan mouldings, Roman letters, high-piled hovels, suburban world-old dwellings plastered like martins' nests against the masonry.

Sunlight adds more of detail to this scene. To the right of Subasio, where the passes go from Foligno towards Urbino and Ancona, heavy masses of thunder-cloud hang every day; but the plain and hill-buttresses are clear transparent blueness. First comes Assisi, with S. M. degli Angeli below; then Spello; then Foligno; then Trevi; and, far away, Spoleto; with, reared against those misty battlements, the village height of Montefalco—the "ringhiera dell'Umbria," as they call it in this country. By daylight, the snow on yonder peaks is clearly visible, where the Monti della Sibilla tower up above the sources of the Nera and Velino from frigid wastes of Norcia. The lower ranges seem as though painted, in films of airiest and palest azure, upon china; and then comes the broad, green champaign, flecked with villages and farms. Just at the basement of Perugia winds Tiber, through sallows and grey poplar-trees, spanned by ancient arches of red brick, and guarded here and there by castellated towers. The mills beneath their dams and weirs are just as Raphael drew them; and the feeling of air and space reminds one, on each coign of vantage, of some Umbrian picture. Every hedgerow is hoary with May-bloom and honeysuckle. The oaks hang out their golden-dusted tassels. Wayside shrines are decked with laburnum boughs and iris blossoms plucked from the copse-woods, and where spires of purple and pink orchis variegate the thin, fine grass. The land waves far and wide with young corn, emerald green beneath the olive-trees, which take upon their underfoliage tints reflected from this verdure or red tones from the naked earth. A fine race of contadini, with large, heroically-graceful forms, and beautiful dark eyes and noble faces, move about this garden, intent on ancient, easy tillage of the kind Saturnian soil.


On the road from Perugia to Cortona, the first stage ends at La Magione, a high hill-village commanding the passage from the Umbrian champaign to the lake of Thrasymene. It has a grim square fortalice above it, now in ruins, and a stately castle to the south-east, built about the time of Braccio. Here took place that famous diet of Cesare Borgia's enemies, when the son of Alexander VI. was threatening Bologna with his arms, and bidding fair to make himself supreme tyrant of Italy in 1502. It was the policy of Cesare to fortify himself by reducing the fiefs of the Church to submission, and by rooting out the dynasties which had acquired a sort of tyranny in Papal cities. The Varani of Camerino and the Manfredi of Faenza had been already extirpated. There was only too good reason to believe that the turn of the Vitelli at Citta di Castello, of the Baglioni at Perugia, and of the Bentivogli at Bologna would come next. Pandolfo Petrucci at Siena, surrounded on all sides by Cesare's conquests, and specially menaced by the fortification of Piombino, felt himself in danger. The great house of the Orsini, who swayed a large part of the Patrimony of S. Peter's, and were closely allied to the Vitelli, had even graver cause for anxiety. But such was the system of Italian warfare, that nearly all these noble families lived by the profession of arms, and most of them were in the pay of Cesare. When, therefore, the conspirators met at La Magione, they were plotting against a man whose money they had taken, and whom they had hitherto aided in his career of fraud and spoliation.

The diet consisted of the Cardinal Orsini, an avowed antagonist of Alexander VI.; his brother Paolo, the chieftain of the clan; Vitellozzo Vitelli, lord of Citta di Castello; Gian-Paolo Baglioni, made undisputed master of Perugia by the recent failure of his cousin Grifonetto's treason; Oliverotto, who had just acquired the March of Fermo by the murder of his uncle Giovanni da Fogliani; Ermes Bentivoglio, the heir of Bologna; and Antonio da Venafro, the secretary of Pandolfo Petrucci. These men vowed hostility on the basis of common injuries and common fear against the Borgia. But they were for the most part stained themselves with crime, and dared not trust each other, and could not gain the confidence of any respectable power in Italy except the exiled Duke of Urbino. Procrastination was the first weapon used by the wily Cesare, who trusted that time would sow among his rebel captains suspicion and dissension. He next made overtures to the leaders separately, and so far succeeded in his perfidious policy as to draw Vitellezzo Vitelli, Oliverotto da Fermo, Paolo Orsini, and Francesco Orsini, Duke of Gravina, into his nets at Sinigaglia. Under pretext of fair conference and equitable settlement of disputed claims, he possessed himself of their persons, and had them strangled—two upon December 31, and two upon January 18, 1503. Of all Cesare's actions, this was the most splendid for its successful combination of sagacity and policy in the hour of peril, of persuasive diplomacy, and of ruthless decision when the time to strike his blow arrived.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse