Some of these faces are commonplace, with bourgeois cunning written on the heavy features; one is bluff, another stolid, a third bloated, a fourth stately. The sculptors have dealt fairly with all, and not one has the lineaments of utter baseness. To Cristoforo Solari's statues of Lodovico Sforza and his wife, Beatrice d'Este, the palm of excellence in art and of historical interest must be awarded. Sculpture has rarely been more dignified and true to life than here. The woman with her short clustering curls, the man with his strong face, are resting after that long fever which brought woe to Italy, to Europe a new age, and to the boasted minion of Fortune a slow death in the prison palace of Loches. Attired in ducal robes, they lie in state; and the sculptor has carved the lashes on their eyelids, heavy with death's marmoreal sleep. He at least has passed no judgment on their crimes. Let us too bow and leave their memories to the historian's pen, their spirits to God's mercy.
After all wanderings in this Temple of Art, we return to Antonio Amadeo, to his long-haired seraphs playing on the lutes of Paradise, to his angels of the Passion with their fluttering robes and arms outspread in agony, to his saints and satyrs mingled on pilasters of the marble doorways, his delicate Lavabo decorations, and his hymns of piety expressed in noble forms of weeping women and dead Christs. Wherever we may pass, this master-spirit of the Lombard style enthralls attention. His curious treatment of drapery as though it were made of crumpled paper, and his trick of enhancing relief by sharp angles and attenuated limbs, do not detract from his peculiar charm. That is his way, very different from Donatello's, of attaining to the maximum of life and lightness in the stubborn vehicle of stone. Nor do all the riches of the choir those multitudes of singing angels, those Ascensions and Assumptions, and innumerable basreliefs of gleaming marble moulded into softest wax by mastery of art distract our eyes from the single round medallion, not larger than a common plate, inscribed by him upon the front of the high altar. Perhaps, if one who loved Amadeo were bidden to point out his masterpiece, he would lead the way at once to this. The space is small: yet it includes the whole tragedy of the Passion. Christ is lying dead among the women on his mother's lap, and there are pitying angels in the air above. One woman lifts his arm, another makes her breast a pillow for his head. Their agony is hushed, but felt in every limb and feature; and the extremity of suffering is seen in each articulation of the worn and wounded form just taken from the cross. It would be too painful, were not the harmony of art so rare, the interlacing of those many figures in a simple round so exquisite. The noblest tranquillity and the most passionate emotion are here fused in a manner of adorable naturalness.
From the church it is delightful to escape into the cloisters, flooded with sunlight, where the swallows skim, and the brown hawks circle, and the mason bees are at work upon their cells among the carvings. The arcades of the two cloisters are the final triumph of Lombard terra-cotta. The memory fails before such infinite invention, such facility and felicity of execution. Wreaths of cupids gliding round the arches among grape-bunches and bird-haunted foliage of vine; rows of angels, like rising and setting planets, some smiling and some grave, ascending and descending by the Gothic curves; saints stationary on their pedestals, and faces leaning from the rounds above; crowds of cherubs, and courses of stars, and acanthus leaves in woven lines, and ribands incessantly inscribed with Ave Maria! Then, over all, the rich red light and purple shadows of the brick, than which no substance sympathises more completely with the sky of solid blue above, the broad plain space of waving summer grass beneath our feet.
It is now late afternoon, and when evening comes, the train will take us back to Milan. There is yet a little while to rest tired eyes and strained spirits among the willows and the poplars by the monastery wall. Through that grey-green leafage, young with early spring, the pinnacles of the Certosa leap like flames into the sky. The rice-fields are under water, far and wide, shining like burnished gold beneath the level light now near to sun-down. Frogs are croaking; those persistent frogs, whom the Muses have ordained to sing for aye, in spite of Bion and all tuneful poets dead. We sit and watch the water-snakes, the busy rats, the hundred creatures swarming in the fat well-watered soil. Nightingales here and there, new-comers, tune their timid April song: but, strangest of all sounds in such a place, my comrade from the Grisons jodels forth an Alpine cowherd's melody. Auf den Alpen droben ist ein herrliches Leben!
Did the echoes of Gian Galeazzo's convent ever wake to such a tune as this before?
The student of art in Italy, after mastering the characters of different styles and epochs, finds a final satisfaction in the contemplation of buildings designed and decorated by one master, or by groups of artists interpreting the spirit of a single period. Such supreme monuments of the national genius are not very common, and they are therefore the more precious. Giotto's Chapel at Padua; the Villa Farnesina at Rome, built by Peruzzi and painted in fresco by Raphael and Sodoma; the Palazzo del Te at Mantua, Giulio Romano's masterpiece; the Scuola di San Rocco, illustrating the Venetian Renaissance at its climax, might be cited among the most splendid of these achievements. In the church of the Monastero Maggiore at Milan, dedicated to S. Maurizio, Lombard architecture and fresco-painting may be studied in this rare combination. The monastery itself, one of the oldest in Milan, formed a retreat for cloistered virgins following the rule of S. Benedict. It may have been founded as early as the tenth century; but its church was rebuilt in the first two decades of the sixteenth, between 1503 and 1519, and was immediately afterwards decorated with frescoes by Luini and his pupils. Gian Giacomo Dolcebono, architect and sculptor, called by his fellow-craftsmen magistro di taliare pietre, gave the design, at once simple and harmonious, which was carried out with hardly any deviation from his plan. The church is a long parallelogram, divided into two unequal portions, the first and smaller for the public, the second for the nuns. The walls are pierced with rounded and pilastered windows, ten on each side, four of which belong to the outer and six to the inner section. The dividing wall or septum rises to the point from which the groinings of the roof spring; and round three sides of the whole building, north, east, and south, runs a gallery for the use of the convent. The altars of the inner and outer church are placed against the septum, back to back, with certain differences of structure that need not be described. Simple and severe, S. Maurizio owes its architectural beauty wholly and entirely to purity of line and perfection of proportion. There is a prevailing spirit of repose, a sense of space, fair, lightsome, and adapted to serene moods of the meditative fancy in this building, which is singularly at variance with the religious mysticism and imaginative grandeur of a Gothic edifice. The principal beauty of the church, however, is its tone of colour. Every square inch is covered with fresco or rich woodwork, mellowed by time into that harmony of tints which blends the work of greater and lesser artists in one golden hue of brown. Round the arcades of the convent-loggia run delicate arabesques with faces of fair female saints—Catherine, Agnes, Lucy, Agatha,—gem-like or star-like, gazing from their gallery upon the church below. The Luinesque smile is on their lips and in their eyes, quiet, refined, as though the emblems of their martyrdom brought back no thought of pain to break the Paradise of rest in which they dwell. There are twenty-six in all, a sisterhood of stainless souls, the lilies of Love's garden planted round Christ's throne. Soldier saints are mingled with them in still smaller rounds above the windows, chosen to illustrate the virtues of an order which renounced the world. To decide whose hand produced these masterpieces of Lombard suavity and grace, or whether more than one, would not be easy. Near the altar we can perhaps trace the style of Bartolommeo Suardi in an Annunciation painted on the spandrils—that heroic style, large and noble, known to us by the chivalrous S. Martin and the glorified Madonna of the Brera frescoes. It is not impossible that the male saints of the loggia may be also his, though a tenderer touch, a something more nearly Lionardesque in its quietude, must be discerned in Lucy and her sisters. The whole of the altar in this inner church belongs to Luini. Were it not for darkness and decay, we should pronounce this series of the Passion in nine great compositions, with saints and martyrs and torch-bearing genii, to be one of his most ambitious and successful efforts. As it is, we can but judge in part; the adolescent beauty of Sebastian, the grave compassion of S. Rocco, the classical perfection of the cupid with lighted tapers, the gracious majesty of women smiling on us sideways from their Lombard eyelids—these remain to haunt our memory, emerging from the shadows of the vault above.
The inner church, as is fitting, excludes all worldly elements. We are in the presence of Christ's agony, relieved and tempered by the sunlight of those beauteous female faces. All is solemn here, still as the convent, pure as the meditations of a novice. We pass the septum, and find ourselves in the outer church appropriated to the laity. Above the high altar the whole wall is covered with Luini's loveliest work, in excellent light and far from ill preserved. The space divides into eight compartments. A Pieta, an Assumption, Saints and Founders of the church, group themselves under the influence of Luini's harmonising colour into one symphonious whole. But the places of distinction are reserved for two great benefactors of the convent, Alessandro de' Bentivogli and his wife, Ippolita Sforza. When the Bentivogli were expelled from Bologna by the Papal forces, Alessandro settled at Milan, where he dwelt, honoured by the Sforzas and allied to them by marriage, till his death in 1532. He was buried in the monastery by the side of his sister Alessandra, a nun of the order. Luini has painted the illustrious exile in his habit as he lived. He is kneeling, as though in ever-during adoration of the altar mystery, attired in a long black senatorial robe trimmed with furs. In his left hand he holds a book; and above his pale, serenely noble face is a little black berretta. Saints attend him, as though attesting to his act of faith. Opposite kneels Ippolita, his wife, the brilliant queen of fashion, the witty leader of society, to whom Bandello dedicated his Novelle, and whom he praised as both incomparably beautiful and singularly learned. Her queenly form is clothed from head to foot in white brocade, slashed and trimmed with gold lace, and on her forehead is a golden circlet. She has the proud port of a princess, the beauty of a woman past her prime but stately, the indescribable dignity of attitude which no one but Luini could have rendered so majestically sweet. In her hand is a book; and she, like Alessandro, has her saintly sponsors, Agnes and Catherine and S. Scolastica.
Few pictures bring the splendid Milanese Court so vividly before us as these portraits of the Bentivogli: they are, moreover, very precious for the light they throw on what Luini could achieve in the secular style so rarely touched by him. Great, however, as are these frescoes, they are far surpassed both in value and interest by his paintings in the side chapel of S. Catherine. Here more than anywhere else, more even than at Saronno or Lugano, do we feel the true distinction of Luini—his unrivalled excellence as a colourist, his power over pathos, the refinement of his feeling, and the peculiar beauty of his favourite types. The chapel was decorated at the expense of a Milanese advocate, Francesco Besozzi, who died in 1529. It is he who is kneeling, grey-haired and bareheaded, under the protection of S. Catherine of Alexandria, intently gazing at Christ unbound from the scourging pillar. On the other side stand S. Lawrence and S. Stephen, pointing to the Christ and looking at us, as though their lips were framed to say: 'Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto his sorrow.' Even the soldiers who have done their cruel work, seem softened. They untie the cords tenderly, and support the fainting form, too weak to stand alone. What sadness in the lovely faces of S. Catherine and Lawrence! What divine anguish in the loosened limbs and bending body of Christ; what piety in the adoring old man! All the moods proper to this supreme tragedy of the faith are touched as in some tenor song with low accompaniment of viols; for it was Luini's special province to feel profoundly and to express musically. The very depth of the Passion is there; and yet there is no discord.
Just in proportion to this unique faculty for yielding a melodious representation of the most intense moments of stationary emotion, was his inability to deal with a dramatic subject. The first episode of S. Catherine's execution, when the wheel was broken and the executioners struck by lightning, is painted in this chapel without energy and with a lack of composition that betrays the master's indifference to his subject. Far different is the second episode when Catherine is about to be beheaded. The executioner has raised his sword to strike. She, robed in brocade of black and gold, so cut as to display the curve of neck and back, while the bosom is covered, leans her head above her praying hands, and waits the blow in sweetest resignation. Two soldiers stand at some distance in a landscape of hill and meadow; and far up are seen the angels carrying her body to its tomb upon Mount Sinai. I cannot find words or summon courage to describe the beauty of this picture; its atmosphere of holy peace, the dignity of its composition, the golden richness of its colouring. The most tragic situation has here again been alchemised by Luini's magic into a pure idyll, without the loss of power, without the sacrifice of edification.
S. Catherine in this incomparable fresco is a portrait, the history of which so strikingly illustrates the relation of the arts to religion on the one hand, and to life on the other, in the age of the Renaissance, that it cannot be omitted. At the end of his fourth Novella, having related the life of the Contessa di Cellant, Bandello says: 'And so the poor woman was beheaded; such was the end of her unbridled desires; and he who would fain see her painted to the life, let him go to the Church of the Monistero Maggiore, and there will he behold her portrait.' The Contessa di Cellant was the only child of a rich usurer who lived at Casal Monferrato. Her mother was a Greek; and she was a girl of such exquisite beauty, that, in spite of her low origin, she became the wife of the noble Ermes Visconti in her sixteenth year. He took her to live with him at Milan, where she frequented the house of the Bentivogli, but none other. Her husband told Bandello that he knew her temper better than to let her visit with the freedom of the Milanese ladies. Upon his death, while she was little more than twenty, she retired to Casale and led a gay life among many lovers. One of these, the Count of Cellant in the Val d'Aosta, became her second husband, conquered by her extraordinary loveliness. They could not, however, agree together. She left him, and established herself at Pavia. Rich with her father's wealth and still of most seductive beauty, she now abandoned herself to a life of profligacy. Three among her lovers must be named: Ardizzino Valperga, Count of Masino; Roberto Sanseverino, of the princely Naples family; and Don Pietro di Cardona, a Sicilian. With each of the two first she quarrelled, and separately besought each to murder the other. They were friends and frustrated her plans by communicating them to one another. The third loved her with the insane passion of a very young man. What she desired, he promised to do blindly; and she bade him murder his two predecessors in her favour. At this time she was living at Milan, where the Duke of Bourbon was acting as viceroy for the Emperor. Don Pietro took twenty-five armed men of his household, and waylaid the Count of Masino, as he was returning with his brother and eight or nine servants, late one night from supper. Both the brothers and the greater part of their suite were killed: but Don Pietro was caught. He revealed the atrocity of his mistress; and she was sent to prison. Incapable of proving her innocence, and prevented from escaping, in spite of 15,000 golden crowns with which she hoped to bribe her jailors, she was finally beheaded. Thus did a vulgar and infamous Messalina, distinguished only by rare beauty, furnish Luini with a S. Catherine for this masterpiece of pious art! The thing seems scarcely credible. Yet Bandello lived in Milan while the Church of S. Maurizio was being painted; nor does he show the slightest sign of disgust at the discord between the Contessa's life and her artistic presentation in the person of a royal martyr.
A HUMANIST'S MONUMENT
In the Sculpture Gallery of the Brera is preserved a fair white marble tomb, carved by that excellent Lombard sculptor, Agostino Busti. The epitaph runs as follows:—
En Virtutem Mortis nesciam. Vivet Lancinus Curtius Saecula per omnia Quascunque lustrans oras, Tantum possunt Camoenae.
'Look here on Virtue that knows nought of Death! Lancinus Curtius shall live through all the centuries, and visit every shore of earth. Such power have the Muses.' The timeworn poet reclines, as though sleeping or resting, ready to be waked; his head is covered with flowing hair, and crowned with laurel; it leans upon his left hand. On either side of his couch stand cupids or genii with torches turned to earth. Above is a group of the three Graces, flanked by winged Pegasi. Higher up are throned two Victories with palms, and at the top a naked Fame. We need not ask who was Lancinus Curtius. He is forgotten, and his virtue has not saved him from oblivion; though he strove in his lifetime, pro virili parte, for the palm that Busti carved upon his grave. Yet his monument teaches in short compass a deep lesson; and his epitaph sums up the dream which lured the men of Italy in the Renaissance to their doom. We see before us sculptured in this marble the ideal of the humanistic poet-scholar's life: Love, Grace, the Muse, and Nakedness, and Glory. There is not a single intrusive thought derived from Christianity. The end for which the man lived was Pagan. His hope was earthly fame. Yet his name survives, if this indeed be a survival, not in those winged verses which were to carry him abroad across the earth, but in the marble of a cunning craftsman, scanned now and then by a wandering scholar's eye in the half-darkness of a vault.
THE MONUMENT OF GASTON DE FOIX IN THE BRERA
The hero of Ravenna lies stretched upon his back in the hollow of a bier covered with laced drapery; and his head rests on richly ornamented cushions. These decorative accessories, together with the minute work of his scabbard, wrought in the fanciful mannerism of the cinquecento, serve to enhance the statuesque simplicity of the young soldier's effigy. The contrast between so much of richness in the merely subordinate details, and this sublime severity of treatment in the person of the hero, is truly and touchingly dramatic. There is a smile as of content in death, upon his face; and the features are exceedingly beautiful—with the beauty of a boy, almost of a woman. The heavy hair is cut straight above the forehead and straight over the shoulders, falling in massive clusters. A delicately sculptured laurel branch is woven into a victor's crown, and laid lightly on the tresses it scarcely seems to clasp. So fragile is this wreath that it does not break the pure outline of the boy-conqueror's head. The armour is quite plain. So is the surcoat. Upon the swelling bust, that seems fit harbour for a hero's heart, there lies the collar of an order composed of cockle-shells; and this is all the ornament given to the figure. The hands are clasped across a sword laid flat upon the breast, and placed between the legs. Upon the chin is a little tuft of hair, parted, and curling either way; for the victor of Ravenna, like the Hermes of Homer, was [Greek: proton hypenetes], 'a youth of princely blood, whose beard hath just begun to grow, for whom the season of bloom is in its prime of grace.' The whole statue is the idealisation of virtu—that quality so highly prized by the Italians and the ancients, so well fitted for commemoration in the arts. It is the apotheosis of human life resolved into undying memory because of one great deed. It is the supreme portrait in modern times of a young hero, chiselled by artists belonging to a race no longer heroic, but capable of comprehending and expressing the aesthetic charm of heroism. Standing before it, we may say of Gaston what Arrian wrote to Hadrian of Achilles:—'That he was a hero, if hero ever lived, I cannot doubt; for his birth and blood were noble, and he was beautiful, and his spirit was mighty, and he passed in youth's prime away from men.' Italian sculpture, under the condition of the cinquecento, had indeed no more congenial theme than this of bravery and beauty, youth and fame, immortal honour and untimely death; nor could any sculptor of death have poetised the theme more thoroughly than Agostino Busti, whose simple instinct, unlike that of Michelangelo, led him to subordinate his own imagination to the pathos of reality.
The church of Saronno is a pretty building with a Bramantesque cupola, standing among meadows at some distance from the little town. It is the object of a special cult, which draws pilgrims from the neighbouring country-side; but the concourse is not large enough to load the sanctuary with unnecessary wealth. Everything is very quiet in the holy place, and the offerings of the pious seem to have been only just enough to keep the building and its treasures of art in repair. The church consists of a nave, a central cupola, a vestibule leading to the choir, the choir itself, and a small tribune behind the choir. No other single building in North Italy can boast so much that is first-rate of the work of Luini and Gandenzio Ferrari.
The cupola is raised on a sort of drum composed of twelve pieces, perforated with round windows and supported on four massive piers. On the level of the eye are frescoes by Luini of S. Rocco, S. Sebastian, S. Christopher, and S. Antony—by no means in his best style, and inferior to all his other paintings in this church. The Sebastian, for example, shows an effort to vary the traditional treatment of this saint. He is tied in a sprawling attitude to a tree; and little of Luini's special pathos or sense of beauty—the melody of idyllic grace made spiritual—appears in him. These four saints are on the piers. Above are frescoes from the early Bible history by Lanini, painted in continuation of Ferrari's medallions from the story of Adam expelled from Paradise, which fill the space beneath the cupola, leading the eye upward to Ferrari's masterpiece.
The dome itself is crowded with a host of angels singing and playing upon instruments of music. At each of the twelve angles of the drum stands a coryphaeus of this celestial choir, full length, with waving drapery. Higher up, the golden-haired, broad-winged, divine creatures are massed together, filling every square inch of the vault with colour. Yet there is no confusion. The simplicity of the selected motive and the necessities of the place acted like a check on Ferrari, who, in spite of his dramatic impulse, could not tell a story coherently or fill a canvas with harmonised variety. There is no trace of his violence here. Though the motion of music runs through the whole multitude like a breeze, though the joy expressed is a real tripudio celeste, not one of all these angels flings his arms abroad or makes a movement that disturbs the rhythm. We feel that they are keeping time and resting quietly, each in his appointed seat, as though the sphere was circling with them round the throne of God, who is their centre and their source of gladness. Unlike Correggio and his imitators, Ferrari has introduced no clouds, and has in no case made the legs of his angels prominent. It is a mass of noble faces and voluminously robed figures, emerging each above the other like flowers in a vase. Bach too has specific character, while all are robust and full of life, intent upon the service set them. Their instruments of music are all the lutes and viols, flutes, cymbals, drums, fifes, citherns, organs, and harps that Ferrari's day could show. The scale of colour, as usual with Ferrari, is a little heavy; nor are the tints satisfactorily harmonised. But the vigour and invention of the whole work would atone for minor defects of far greater consequence.
It is natural, beneath this dome, to turn aside and think one moment of Correggio at Parma. Before the macchinisti of the seventeenth century had vulgarised the motive, Correggio's bold attempt to paint heaven in flight from earth—earth left behind in the persons of the Apostles standing round the empty tomb, heaven soaring upward with a spiral vortex into the abyss of light above—had an originality which set at nought all criticism. There is such ecstasy of jubilation, such rapturous rapidity of flight, that we who strain our eyes from below, feel we are in the darkness of the grave which Mary left. A kind of controlling rhythm for the composition is gained by placing Gabriel, Madonna, and Christ at three points in the swirl of angels. Nevertheless, composition—the presiding all-controlling intellect—is just what makes itself felt by absence; and Correggio's special qualities of light and colour have now so far vanished from the cupola of the Duomo that the, constructive poverty is not disguised. Here if anywhere in painting, we may apply Goethe's words—Gefuehl ist Alles.
If then we return to Ferrari's angels at Saronno, we find that the painter of Varallo chose a safer though a far more modest theme. Nor did he expose himself to that most cruel of all degradations which the ethereal genius of Correggio has suffered from incompetent imitators. To daub a tawdry and superficial reproduction of those Parmese frescoes, to fill the cupolas of Italy with veritable guazzetti di rane, was comparatively easy; and between our intelligence and what remains of that stupendous masterpiece of boldness, crowd a thousand memories of such ineptitude. On the other hand, nothing but solid work and conscientious inspiration could enable any workman, however able, to follow Ferrari in the path struck out by him at Saronno. His cupola has had no imitator; and its only rival is the noble pendant painted at Varallo by his own hand, of angels in adoring anguish round the Cross.
In the ante-choir of the sanctuary are Luini's priceless frescoes of the 'Marriage of the Virgin,' and the 'Dispute with the Doctors.' Their execution is flawless, and they are perfectly preserved. If criticism before such admirable examples of so excellent a master be permissible, it may be questioned whether the figures are not too crowded, whether the groups are sufficiently varied and connected by rhythmic lines. Yet the concords of yellow and orange with blue in the 'Sposalizio,' and the blendings of dull violet and red in the 'Disputa,' make up for much of stiffness. Here, as in the Chapel of S. Catherine at Milan, we feel that Luini was the greatest colourist among frescanti. In the 'Sposalizio' the female heads are singularly noble and idyllically graceful. Some of the young men too have Luini's special grace and abundance of golden hair. In the 'Disputa' the gravity and dignity of old men are above all things striking.
Passing into the choir, we find on either hand the 'Adoration of the Magi' and the 'Purification of the Virgin,' two of Luini's divinest frescoes. Above them in lunettes are four Evangelists and four Latin Fathers, with four Sibyls. Time and neglect have done no damage here: and here, again, perforce we notice perfect mastery of colour in fresco. The blues detach themselves too much, perhaps, from the rest of the colouring; and that is all a devil's advocate could say. It is possible that the absence of blue makes the S. Catherine frescoes in the Monastero Maggiore at Milan surpass all other works of Luini. But nowhere else has he shown more beauty and variety in detail than here. The group of women led by Joseph, the shepherd carrying the lamb upon his shoulder, the girl with a basket of white doves, the child with an apple on the altar-steps, the lovely youth in the foreground heedless of the scene; all these are idyllic incidents treated with the purest, the serenest, the most spontaneous, the truest, most instinctive sense of beauty. The landscape includes a view of Saronno, and an episodical picture of the 'Flight into Egypt' where a white-robed angel leads the way. All these lovely things are in the 'Purification,' which is dated Bernardinus Lovinus pinxit, MDXXV.
The fresco of the 'Magi' is less notable in detail, and in general effect is more spoiled by obtrusive blues. There is, however, one young man of wholly Lionardesque loveliness, whose divine innocence of adolescence, unalloyed by serious thought, unstirred by passions, almost forces a comparison with Sodoma. The only painter who approaches Luini in what may be called the Lombard, to distinguish it from the Venetian idyll, is Sodoma; and the work of his which comes nearest to Luini's masterpieces is the legend of S. Benedict, at Monte Oliveto, near Siena. Yet Sodoma had not all Luini's innocence or naivete. If he added something slightly humorous which has an indefinite charm, he lacked that freshness as of 'cool, meek-blooded flowers' and boyish voices, which fascinates us in Luini. Sodoma was closer to the earth, and feared not to impregnate what he saw of beauty with the fiercer passions of his nature. If Luini had felt passion, who shall say? It appears nowhere in his work, where life is toned to a religious joyousness. When Shelley compared the poetry of the Theocritean amourists to the perfume of the tuberose, and that of the earlier Greek poets to 'a meadow-gale of June, which mingles the fragrance of all the flowers of the field,' he supplied us with critical images which may not unfairly be used to point the distinction between Sodoma at Monte Oliveto and Luini at Saronno.
THE CASTELLO OF FERRARA
Is it possible that the patron saints of cities should mould the temper of the people to their own likeness? S. George, the chivalrous, is champion of Ferrara. His is the marble group above the Cathedral porch, so feudal in its medieval pomp. He and S. Michael are painted in fresco over the south portcullis of the Castle. His lustrous armour gleams with Giorgionesque brilliancy from Dossi's masterpiece in the Pinacoteca. That Ferrara, the only place in Italy where chivalry struck any root, should have had S. George for patron, is at any rate significant.
The best preserved relic of princely feudal life in Italy is this Castello of the Este family, with its sombre moat, chained drawbridges, doleful dungeons, and unnumbered tragedies, each one of which may be compared with Parisina's history. I do not want to dwell on these things now. It is enough to remember the Castello, built of ruddiest brick, time-mellowed with how many centuries of sun and soft sea-air, as it appeared upon the close of one tempestuous day. Just before evening the rain-clouds parted and the sun flamed out across the misty Lombard plain. The Castello burned like a hero's funeral pyre, and round its high-built turrets swallows circled in the warm blue air. On the moat slept shadows, mixed with flowers of sunset, tossed from pinnacle and gable. Then the sky changed. A roof of thunder-cloud spread overhead with the rapidity of tempest. The dying sun gathered his last strength against it, fretting those steel-blue arches with crimson; and all the fierce light, thrown from vault to vault of cloud, was reflected back as from a shield, and cast in blots and patches on the buildings. The Castle towered up rosy-red and shadowy sombre, enshrined, embosomed in those purple clouds; and momently ran lightning forks like rapiers through the growing mass. Everything around, meanwhile, was quiet in the grass-grown streets. The only sound was a high, clear boy's voice chanting an opera tune.
PETRARCH'S TOMB AT ARQUA
The drive from Este along the skirts of the Euganean Hills to Arqua takes one through a country which is tenderly beautiful, because of its contrast between little peaked mountains and the plain. It is not a grand landscape. It lacks all that makes the skirts of Alps and Apennines sublime. Its charm is a certain mystery and repose—an undefined sense of the neighbouring Adriatic, a pervading consciousness of Venice unseen, but felt from far away. From the terraces of Arqua the eye ranges across olive-trees, laurels, and pomegranates on the southern slopes, to the misty level land that melts into the sea, with churches and tall campanili like gigantic galleys setting sail for fairyland over 'the foam of perilous seas forlorn.' Let a blue-black shadow from a thunder-cloud be cast upon this plain, and let one ray of sunlight strike a solitary bell-tower;—it burns with palest flame of rose against the steely dark, and in its slender shaft and shell-like tint of pink all Venice is foreseen.
The village church of Arqua stands upon one of these terraces, with a full stream of clearest water flowing by. On the little square before the church-door, where the peasants congregate at mass-time—open to the skies with all their stars and storms, girdled by the hills, and within hearing of the vocal stream—is Petrarch's sepulchre. Fit resting-place for what remains to earth of such a poet's clay! It is as though archangels, flying, had carried the marble chest and set it down here on the hillside, to be a sign and sanctuary for after-men. A simple rectilinear coffin, of smooth Verona mandorlato, raised on four thick columns, and closed by a heavy cippus-cover. Without emblems, allegories, or lamenting genii, this tomb of the great poet, the great awakener of Europe from mental lethargy, encircled by the hills, beneath the canopy of heaven, is impressive beyond the power of words. Bending here, we feel that Petrarch's own winged thoughts and fancies, eternal and aerial, 'forms more real than living man, nurslings of immortality,' have congregated to be the ever-ministering and irremovable attendants on the shrine of one who, while he lived, was purest spirit in a veil of flesh.
ON A MOUNTAIN
Milan is shining in sunset on those purple fields; and a score of cities flash back the last red light, which shows each inequality and undulation of Lombardy outspread four thousand feet beneath. Both ranges, Alps and Apennines, are clear to view; and all the silvery lakes are over-canopied and brought into one picture by flame-litten mists. Monte Rosa lifts her crown of peaks above a belt of clouds into light of living fire. The Mischabelhoerner and the Dom rest stationary angel-wings upon the rampart, which at this moment is the wall of heaven. The pyramid of distant Monte Viso burns like solid amethyst far, far away. Mont Cervin beckons to his brother, the gigantic Finsteraarhorn, across tracts of liquid ether. Bells are rising from the villages, now wrapped in gloom, between me and the glimmering lake. A hush of evening silence falls upon the ridges, cliffs, and forests of this billowy hill, ascending into wave-like crests, and toppling with awful chasms over the dark waters of Lugano. It is good to be alone here at this hour. Yet I must rise and go—passing through meadows, where white lilies sleep in silvery drifts, and asphodel is pale with spires of faintest rose, and narcissus dreams of his own beauty, loading the air with fragrance sweet as some love-music of Mozart. These fields want only the white figure of Persephone to make them poems: and in this twilight one might fancy that the queen had left her throne by Pluto's side, to mourn for her dead youth among the flowers uplifted between earth and heaven. Nay, they are poems now, these fields; with that unchanging background of history, romance, and human life—the Lombard plain, against whose violet breadth the blossoms bend their faint heads to the evening air. Downward we hurry, on pathways where the beeches meet, by silent farms, by meadows honey-scented, deep in dew. The columbine stands tall and still on those green slopes of shadowy grass. The nightingale sings now, and now is hushed again. Streams murmur through the darkness, where the growth of trees, heavy with honeysuckle and wild rose, is thickest. Fireflies begin to flit above the growing corn. At last the plain is reached, and all the skies are tremulous with starlight. Alas, that we should vibrate so obscurely to these harmonies of earth and heaven! The inner finer sense of them seems somehow unattainable—that spiritual touch of soul evoking soul from nature, which should transfigure our dull mood of self into impersonal delight. Man needs to be a mytho-poet at some moments, or, better still, to be a mystic steeped through half-unconsciousness in the vast wonder of the world. Gold and untouched to poetry or piety by scenes that ought to blend the spirit in ourselves with spirit in the world without, we can but wonder how this phantom show of mystery and beauty will pass away from us—how soon—and we be where, see what, use all our sensibilities on aught or nought?
In the picture-gallery at Modena there is a masterpiece of Dosso Dossi. The frame is old and richly carved; and the painting, bordered by its beautiful dull gold, shines with the lustre of an emerald. In his happy moods Dosso set colour upon canvas, as no other painter out of Venice ever did; and here he is at his happiest. The picture is the portrait of a jester, dressed in courtly clothes and with a feathered cap upon his head. He holds a lamb in his arms, and carries the legend, Sic Genius. Behind him is a landscape of exquisite brilliancy and depth. His face is young and handsome. Dosso has made it one most wonderful laugh. Even so perhaps laughed Yorick. Nowhere else have I seen a laugh thus painted: not violent, not loud, although the lips are opened to show teeth of dazzling whiteness;—but fine and delicate, playing over the whole face like a ripple sent up from the depths of the soul within. Who was he? What does the lamb mean? How should the legend be interpreted? We cannot answer these questions. He may have been the court-fool of Ferrara; and his genius, the spiritual essence of the man, may have inclined him to laugh at all things. That at least is the value he now has for us. He is the portrait of perpetual irony, the spirit of the golden Sixteenth Century which delicately laughed at the whole world of thoughts and things, the quintessence of the poetry of Ariosto, the wit of Berni, all condensed into one incarnation and immortalised by truthfullest art. With the Gaul, the Spaniard, and the German at her gates, and in her cities, and encamped upon her fields, Italy still laughed; and when the voice of conscience sounding through Savonarola asked her why, she only smiled—Sic Genius.
One evening in May we rowed from Venice to Torcello, and at sunset broke bread and drank wine together among the rank grasses just outside that ancient church. It was pleasant to sit in the so-called chair of Attila and feel the placid stillness of the place. Then there came lounging by a sturdy young fellow in brown country clothes, with a marvellous old wide-awake upon his head, and across his shoulders a bunch of massive church-keys. In strange contrast to his uncouth garb he flirted a pink Japanese fan, gracefully disposing it to cool his sunburned olive cheeks. This made us look at him. He was not ugly. Nay, there was something of attractive in his face—the smooth-curved chin, the shrewd yet sleepy eyes, and finely cut thin lips—a curious mixture of audacity and meekness blent upon his features. Yet this impression was but the prelude to his smile. When that first dawned, some breath of humour seeming to stir in him unbidden, the true meaning was given to his face. Each feature helped to make a smile that was the very soul's life of the man expressed. I broadened, showing brilliant teeth, and grew into a noiseless laugh; and then I saw before me Dosso's jester, the type of Shakspere's fools, the life of that wild irony, now rude, now fine, which once delighted Courts. The laughter of the whole world and of all the centuries was silent in his face. What he said need not be repeated. The charm was less in his words than in his personality; for Momus-philosophy lay deep in every look and gesture of the man. The place lent itself to irony: parties of Americans and English parsons, the former agape for any rubbishy old things, the latter learned in the lore of obsolete Church-furniture, had thronged Torcello; and now they were all gone, and the sun had set behind the Alps, while an irreverent stranger drank his wine in Attila's chair, and nature's jester smiled—Sic Genius.
When I slept that night I dreamed of an altar-piece in the Temple of Folly. The goddess sat enthroned beneath a canopy hung with bells and corals. On her lap was a beautiful winged smiling genius, who flourished two bright torches. On her left hand stood the man of Modena with his white lamb, a new S. John. On her right stood the man of Torcello with his keys, a new S. Peter. Both were laughing after their all-absorbent, divine, noiseless fashion; and under both was written, Sic Genius. Are not all things, even profanity, permissible in dreams?
* * * * *
COMO AND IL MEDEGHINO
To which of the Italian lakes should the palm of beauty be accorded? This question may not unfrequently have moved the idle minds of travellers, wandering through that loveliest region from Orta to Garda—from little Orta, with her gemlike island, rosy granite crags, and chestnut-covered swards above the Colma; to Garda, bluest of all waters, surveyed in majestic length from Desenzano or poetic Sirmione, a silvery sleeping haze of hill and cloud and heaven and clear waves bathed in modulated azure. And between these extreme points what varied lovelinesses lie in broad Maggiore, winding Como, Varese with the laughing face upturned to heaven, Lugano overshadowed by the crested crags of Monte Generoso, and Iseo far withdrawn among the rocky Alps! He who loves immense space, cloud shadows slowly sailing over purple slopes, island gardens, distant glimpses of snow-capped mountains, breadth, air, immensity, and flooding sunlight, will choose Maggiore. But scarcely has he cast his vote for this, the Juno of the divine rivals, when he remembers the triple lovelinesses of the Larian Aphrodite, disclosed in all their placid grace from Villa Serbelloni;—the green blue of the waters, clear as glass, opaque through depth; the millefleurs roses clambering into cypresses by Cadenabbia; the laburnums hanging their yellow clusters from the clefts of Sasso Eancio; the oleander arcades of Varenna; the wild white limestone crags of San Martiuo, which he has climbed to feast his eyes with the perspective, magical, serene, Lionardesquely perfect, of the distant gates of Adda. Then while this modern Paris is yet doubting, perhaps a thought may cross his mind of sterner, solitary Lake Iseo—the Pallas of the three. She offers her own attractions. The sublimity of Monte Adamello, dominating Lovere and all the lowland like Hesiod's hill of Virtue reared aloft above the plain of common life, has charms to tempt heroic lovers. Nor can Varese be neglected. In some picturesque respects, Varese is the most perfect of the lakes. Those long lines of swelling hills that lead into the level, yield an infinite series of placid foregrounds, pleasant to the eye by contrast with the dominant snow-summits, from Monte Viso to Monte Leone: the sky is limitless to southward; the low horizons are broken by bell-towers and farmhouses; while armaments of clouds are ever rolling in the interval of Alps and plain.
Of a truth, to decide which is the queen of the Italian lakes, is but an infinita quaestio; and the mere raising of it is folly. Still each lover of the beautiful may give his vote; and mine, like that of shepherd Paris, is already given to the Larian goddess. Words fail in attempting to set forth charms which have to be enjoyed, or can at best but lightly be touched with most consummate tact, even as great poets have already touched on Como Lake—from Virgil with his 'Lari maxume,' to Tennyson and the Italian Manzoni. The threshold of the shrine is, however, less consecrated ground; and the Cathedral of Como may form a vestibule to the temple where silence is more golden than the speech of a describer.
The Cathedral of Como is perhaps the most perfect building in Italy for illustrating the fusion of Gothic and Renaissance styles, both of a good type and exquisite in their sobriety. The Gothic ends with the nave. The noble transepts and the choir, each terminating in a rounded tribune of the same dimensions, are carried out in a simple and decorous Bramantesque manner. The transition from the one style to the other is managed so felicitously, and the sympathies between them are so well developed, that there is no discord. What we here call Gothic, is conceived in a truly southern spirit, without fantastic efflorescence or imaginative complexity of multiplied parts; while the Renaissance manner, as applied by Tommaso Rodari, has not yet stiffened into the lifeless neo-Latinism of the later cinquecento: it is still distinguished by delicate inventiveness, and beautiful subordination of decorative detail to architectural effect. Under these happy conditions we feel that the Gothic of the nave, with its superior severity and sombreness, dilates into the lucid harmonies of choir and transepts like a flower unfolding. In the one the mind is tuned to inner meditation and religious awe; in the other the worshipper passes into a temple of the clear explicit faith—as an initiated neophyte might be received into the meaning of the mysteries.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire the district of Como seems to have maintained more vividly than the rest of Northern Italy some memory of classic art. Magistri Comacini is a title frequently inscribed upon deeds and charters of the earlier middle ages, as synonymous with sculptors and architects. This fact may help to account for the purity and beauty of the Duomo. It is the work of a race in which the tradition of delicate artistic invention had never been wholly interrupted. To Tommaso Rodari and his brothers, Bernardino and Jacopo, the world owes this sympathetic fusion of the Gothic and the Bramantesque styles; and theirs too is the sculpture with which the Duomo is so richly decorated. They were natives of Maroggia, a village near Mendrisio, beneath the crests of Monte Generoso, close to Campione, which sent so many able craftsmen out into the world between the years 1300 and 1500. Indeed the name of Campionesi would probably have been given to the Rodari, had they left their native province for service in Eastern Lombardy. The body of the Duomo had been finished when Tommaso Rodari was appointed master of the fabric in 1487. To complete the work by the addition of a tribune was his duty. He prepared a wooden model and exposed it, after the fashion of those times, for criticism in his bottega; and the usual difference of opinion arose among the citizens of Como concerning its merits. Cristoforo Solaro, surnamed Il Gobbo, was called in to advise. It may be remembered that when Michelangelo first placed his Pieta in S. Peter's, rumour gave it to this celebrated Lombard sculptor, and the Florentine was constrained to set his own signature upon the marble. The same Solaro carved the monument of Beatrice Sforza in the Certosa of Pavia. He was indeed in all points competent to criticise or to confirm the design of his fellow-craftsman. Il Gobbo disapproved of the proportions chosen by Rodari, and ordered a new model to be made; but after much discussion, and some concessions on the part of Rodari, who is said to have increased the number of the windows and lightened the orders of his model, the work was finally entrusted to the master of Maroggia.
Not less creditable than the general design of the tribune is the sculpture executed by the brothers. The north side door is a master-work of early Renaissance chiselling, combining mixed Christian and classical motives with a wealth of floral ornament. Inside, over the same door, is a procession of children seeming to represent the Triumph of Bacchus, with perhaps some Christian symbolism. Opposite, above the south door, is a frieze of fighting Tritons—horsed sea deities pounding one another with bunches of fish and splashing the water, in Mantegna's spirit. The doorways of the facade are decorated with the same rare workmanship; and the canopies, supported by naked fauns and slender twisted figures, under which the two Plinies are seated, may be reckoned among the supreme achievements of delicate Renaissance sculpture. The Plinies are not like the work of the same master. They are older, stiffer, and more Gothic. The chief interest attaching to them is that they are habited and seated after the fashion of Humanists. This consecration of the two Pagan saints beside the portals of the Christian temple is truly characteristic of the fifteenth century in Italy. Beneath, are little basreliefs representing scenes from their respective lives, in the style of carved predellas on the altars of saints.
The whole church is peopled with detached statues, among which a Sebastian in the Chapel of the Madonna must be mentioned as singularly beautiful. It is a finely modelled figure, with the full life and exuberant adolescence of Venetian inspiration. A peculiar feature of the external architecture is the series of Atlantes, bearing on their shoulders urns, heads of lions, and other devices, and standing on brackets round the upper cornice just below the roof. They are of all sorts; young and old, male and female; classically nude, and boldly outlined. These water-conduits, the work of Bernardo Bianco and Francesco Rusca, illustrate the departure of the earlier Renaissance from the Gothic style. They are gargoyles; but they have lost the grotesque element. At the same time the sculptor, while discarding Gothic tradition, has not betaken himself yet to a servile imitation of the antique. He has used invention, and substituted for grinning dragons' heads something wild and bizarre of his own in harmony with classic taste.
The pictures in the chapels, chiefly by Luini and Ferrari—an idyllic Nativity, with faun-like shepherds and choirs of angels—a sumptuous adoration of the Magi—a jewelled Sposalizio with abundance of golden hair flowing over draperies of green and crimson—will interest those who are as yet unfamiliar with Lombard painting. Yet their architectural setting, perhaps, is superior to their intrinsic merit as works of art; and their chief value consists in adding rare dim flakes of colour to the cool light of the lovely church. More curious, because less easily matched, is the gilded woodwork above the altar of S. Abondio, attributed to a German carver, but executed for the most part in the purest Luinesque manner. The pose of the enthroned Madonna, the type and gesture of S. Catherine, and the treatment of the Pieta above, are thoroughly Lombard, showing how Luini's ideal of beauty could be expressed in carving. Some of the choicest figures in the Monastero Maggiore at Milan seem to have descended from the walls and stepped into their tabernacles on this altar. Yet the style is not maintained consistently. In the reliefs illustrating the life of S. Abondio we miss Luini's childlike grace, and find instead a something that reminds us of Donatello—a seeking after the classical in dress, carriage, and grouping of accessory figures. It may have been that the carver, recognising Luini's defective composition, and finding nothing in that master's manner adapted to the spirit of relief, had the good taste to render what was Luinesquely lovely in his female figures, and to fall back on a severer model for his basreliefs.
The building-fund for the Duomo was raised in Como and its districts. Boxes were placed in all the churches to receive the alms of those who wished to aid the work. The clergy begged in Lent, and preached the duty of contributing on special days. Presents of lime and bricks and other materials were thankfully received. Bishops, canons, and municipal magistrates were expected to make costly gifts on taking office. Notaries, under penalty of paying 100 soldi if they neglected their engagement, were obliged to persuade testators, cum bonis modis dulciter, to inscribe the Duomo on their wills. Fines for various offences were voted to the building by the city. Each new burgher paid a certain sum; while guilds and farmers of the taxes bought monopolies and privileges at the price of yearly subsidies. A lottery was finally established for the benefit of the fabric. Of course each payment to the good work carried with it spiritual privileges; and so willingly did the people respond to the call of the Church, that during the sixteenth century the sums subscribed amounted to 200,000 golden crowns. Among the most munificent donators are mentioned the Marchese Giacomo Gallio, who bequeathed 290,000 lire, and a Benzi, who gave 10,000 ducats.
While the people of Como were thus straining every nerve to complete a pious work, which at the same time is one of the most perfect masterpieces of Italian art, their lovely lake was turned into a pirate's stronghold, and its green waves stained with slaughter of conflicting navies. So curious is this episode in the history of the Larian lake that it is worth while to treat of it at some length. Moreover, the lives of few captains of adventure offer matter more rich in picturesque details and more illustrative of their times than that of Gian Giacomo de' Medici, the Larian corsair, long known and still remembered as Il Medeghino. He was born in Milan in 1498, at the beginning of that darkest and most disastrous period of Italian history, when the old fabric of social and political existence went to ruin under the impact of conflicting foreign armies. He lived on until the year 1555, witnessing and taking part in the dismemberment of the Milanese Duchy, playing a game of hazard at high stakes for his own profit with the two last Sforzas, the Empire, the French, and the Swiss. At the beginning of the century, while he was still a youth, the rich valley of the Valtelline, with Bormio and Chiavenna, had been assigned to the Grisons. The Swiss Cantons at the same time had possessed themselves of Lugano and Bellinzona. By these two acts of robbery the mountaineers tore a portion of its fairest territory from the Duchy; and whoever ruled in Milan, whether a Sforza, or a Spanish viceroy, or a French general, was impatient to recover the lost jewel of the ducal crown. So much has to be premised, because the scene of our hero's romantic adventures was laid upon the borderland between the Duchy and the Cantons. Intriguing at one time with the Duke of Milan, at another with his foes the French or Spaniards, Il Medeghino found free scope for his peculiar genius in a guerilla warfare, carried on with the avowed purpose of restoring the Valtelline to Milan. To steer a plain course through that chaos of politics, in which the modern student, aided by the calm clear lights of history and meditation, cannot find a clue, was of course impossible for an adventurer whose one aim was to gratify his passions and exalt himself at the expense of others. It is therefore of little use to seek motives of statecraft or of patriotism in the conduct of Il Medeghino. He was a man shaped according to Machiavelli's standard of political morality—self-reliant, using craft and force with cold indifference to moral ends, bent only upon wringing for himself the largest share of this world's power for men who, like himself, identified virtue with unflinching and immitigable egotism.
Il Medeghino's father was Bernardo de' Medici, a Lombard, who neither claimed nor could have proved cousinship with the great Medicean family of Florence. His mother was Cecilia Serbelloni. The boy was educated in the fashionable humanistic studies, nourishing his young imagination with the tales of Roman heroes. The first exploit by which he proved his virtu, was the murder of a man he hated, at the age of sixteen. This 'virile act of vengeance,' as it was called, brought him into trouble, and forced him to choose the congenial profession of arms. At a time when violence and vigour passed for manliness, a spirited assassination formed the best of introductions to the captains of mixed mercenary troops. Il Medeghino rose in favour with his generals, helped to reinstate Francesco Sforza in his capital, and, returning himself to Milan, inflicted severe vengeance on the enemies who had driven him to exile. It was his ambition, at this early period of his life, to be made governor of the Castle of Musso, on the Lake of Como. While fighting in the neighbourhood, he had observed the unrivalled capacities for defence presented by its site; and some pre-vision of his future destinies now urged him to acquire it, as the basis for the free marauding life he planned. The headland of Musso lies about halfway between Gravedona and Menaggio, on the right shore of the Lake of Como. Planted on a pedestal of rock, and surmounted by a sheer cliff, there then stood a very ancient tower, commanding this promontory on the side of the land. Between it and the water the Visconti, in more recent days, had built a square fort; and the headland had been further strengthened by the addition of connecting walls and bastions pierced for cannon. Combining precipitous cliffs, strong towers, and easy access from the lake below, this fortress of Musso was exactly the fit station for a pirate. So long as he kept the command of the lake, he had little to fear from land attacks, and had a splendid basis for aggressive operations. Il Medeghino made his request to the Duke of Milan; but the foxlike Sforza would not grant him a plain answer. At length he hinted that if his suitor chose to rid him of a troublesome subject, the noble and popular Astore Visconti, he should receive Musso for payment. Crimes of bloodshed and treason sat lightly on the adventurer's conscience. In a short time he compassed the young Visconti's death, and claimed his reward. The Duke despatched him thereupon to Musso, with open letters to the governor, commanding him to yield the castle to the bearer. Private advice, also entrusted to Il Medeghino, bade the governor, on the contrary, cut the bearer's throat. The young man, who had the sense to read the Duke's letter, destroyed the secret document, and presented the other, or, as one version of the story goes, forged a ducal order in his own favour. At any rate, the castle was placed in his hands; and affecting to know nothing of the Duke's intended treachery, Il Medeghino took possession of it as a trusted servant of the ducal crown.
As soon as he was settled in his castle, the freebooter devoted all his energies to rendering it still more impregnable by strengthening the walls and breaking the cliffs into more horrid precipices. In this work he was assisted by his numerous friends and followers; for Musso rapidly became, like ancient Rome, an asylum for the ruffians and outlaws of neighbouring provinces. It is even said that his sisters, Clarina and Margherita, rendered efficient aid with manual labour. The mention of Clarina's name justifies a parenthetical side-glance at Il Medeghino's pedigree, which will serve to illustrate the exceptional conditions of Italian society during this age. She was married to the Count Giberto Borromeo, and became the mother of the pious Carlo Borromeo, whose shrine is still adored at Milan in the Duomo. Il Medeghino's brother, Giovan Angelo, rose to the Papacy, assuming the title of Pius IV. Thus this murderous marauder was the brother of a Pope and the uncle of a Saint; and these three persons of one family embraced the various degrees and typified the several characters which flourished with peculiar lustre in Renaissance Italy—the captain of adventure soaked in blood, the churchman unrivalled for intrigue, and the saint aflame with holiest enthusiasm. Il Medeghino was short of stature, but well made and powerful; broad-chested; with a penetrating voice and winning countenance. He dressed simply, like one of his own soldiers; slept but little; was insensible to carnal pleasure; and though he knew how to win the affection of his men by jovial speech, he maintained strict discipline in his little army. In all points he was an ideal bandit chief, never happy unless fighting or planning campaigns, inflexible of purpose, bold and cunning in the execution of his schemes, cruel to his enemies, generous to his followers, sacrificing all considerations, human and divine, to the one aim of his life, self-aggrandisement by force and intrigue. He knew well how to make himself both feared and respected. One instance of his dealing will suffice. A gentleman of Bellano, Polidoro Boldoni, in return to his advances, coldly replied that he cared for neither amity nor relationship with thieves and robbers; whereupon Il Medeghino extirpated his family, almost to a man.
Soon after his settlement in Musso, Il Medeghino, wishing to secure the gratitude of the Duke, his master, began war with the Grisons. From Coire, from the Engadine, and from Davos, the Alpine pikemen were now pouring down to swell the troops of Francis I.; and their road lay through the Lake of Como. Il Medeghino burned all the boats upon the lake, except those which he took into his own service, and thus made himself master of the water passage. He then swept the 'length of lordly Lario' from Colico to Lecco, harrying the villages upon the shore, and cutting off the bands of journeying Switzers at his pleasure. Not content with this guerilla, he made a descent upon the territory of the Trepievi, and pushed far up towards Chiavenna, forcing the Grisons to recall their troops from the Milanese. These acts of prowess convinced the Duke that he had found a strong ally in the pirate chief. When Francis I. continued his attacks upon the Duchy, and the Grisons still adhered to their French paymaster, the Sforza formally invested Gian Giacomo de' Medici with the perpetual governorship of Musso, the Lake of Como, and as much as he could wrest from the Grisons above the lake. Furnished now with a just title for his depredations, Il Medeghino undertook the siege of Chiavenna. That town is the key to the valleys of the Spluegen and Bregaglia. Strongly fortified and well situated for defence, the burghers of the Grisons well knew that upon its possession depended their power in the Italian valleys. To take it by assault was impossible, Il Medeghino used craft, entered the castle, and soon had the city at his disposition. Nor did he lose time in sweeping Val Bregaglia. The news of this conquest recalled the Switzers from the Duchy; and as they hurried homeward just before the battle of Pavia, it may be affirmed that Gian Giacomo de' Medici was instrumental in the defeat and capture of the French King. The mountaineers had no great difficulty in dislodging their pirate enemy from Chiavenna, the Valtelline, and Val Bregaglia. But he retained his hold on the Trepievi, occupied the Valsassina, took Porlezza, and established himself still more strongly in Musso as the corsair monarch of the lake.
The tyranny of the Sforzas in Milan was fast going to pieces between France and Spain; and in 1526 the Marquis of Pescara occupied the capital in the name of Charles V. The Duke, meanwhile, remained a prisoner in his Castello. Il Medeghino was now without a master; for he refused to acknowledge the Spaniards, preferring to watch events and build his own power on the ruins of the dukedom. At the head of 4,000 men, recruited from the lakes and neighbouring valleys, he swept the country far and wide, and occupied the rich champaign of the Brianza. He was now lord of the lakes of Como and Lugano, and absolute in Lecco and the adjoining valleys. The town of Como itself alone belonged to the Spaniards; and even Como was blockaded by the navy of the corsair. Il Medeghino had a force of seven big ships, with three sails and forty-eight oars, bristling with guns and carrying marines. His flagship was a large brigantine, manned by picked rowers, from the mast of which floated the red banner with the golden palle of the Medicean arms. Besides these larger vessels, he commanded a flotilla of countless small boats. It is clear that to reckon with him was a necessity. If he could not be put down with force, he might be bought over by concessions. The Spaniards adopted the second course, and Il Medeghino, judging that the cause of the Sforza family was desperate, determined in 1528 to attach himself to the Empire. Charles V. invested him with the Castle of Musso and the larger part of Como Lake, including the town of Lecco. He now assumed the titles of Marquis of Musso and Count of Lecco: and in order to prove his sovereignty before the world, he coined money with his own name and devices.
It will be observed that Gian Giacomo de' Medici had hitherto acted with a single-hearted view to his own interests. At the age of thirty he had raised himself from nothing to a principality, which, though petty, might compare with many of some name in Italy—with Carpi, for example, or Mirandola, or Camerino. Nor did he mean to remain quiet in the prime of life. He regarded Como Lake as the mere basis for more arduous undertakings. Therefore, when the whirligig of events restored Francesco Sforza to his duchy in 1529, Il Medeghino refused to obey his old lord. Pretending to move under the Duke's orders, but really acting for himself alone, he proceeded to attack his ancient enemies, the Grisons. By fraud and force he worked his way into their territory, seized Morbegno, and overran the Valtelline. He was destined, however, to receive a serious check. Twelve thousand Switzers rose against him on the one hand, on the other the Duke of Milan sent a force by land and water to subdue his rebel subject, while Alessandro Gonzaga marched upon his castles in the Brianza. He was thus assailed by formidable forces from three quarters, converging upon the Lake of Como, and driving him to his chosen element, the water. Hastily quitting the Valtelline, he fell back to the Castle of Mandello on the lake, collected his navy, and engaged the ducal ships in a battle off Menaggio. In this battle he was worsted. But he did not lose his courage. From Bellagio, from Varenna, from Bellano he drove forth his enemies, rolled the cannon of the Switzers into the lake, regained Lecco, defeated the troops of Alessandro Gonzaga, and took the Duke of Mantua prisoner. Had he but held Como, it is probable that he might have obtained such terms at this time as would have consolidated his tyranny. The town of Como, however, now belonged to the Duke of Milan, and formed an excellent basis for operations against the pirate. Overmatched, with an exhausted treasury and broken forces, Il Medeghino was at last compelled to give in. Yet he retired with all the honours of war. In exchange for Musso and the lake, the Duke agreed to give him 35,000 golden crowns, together with the feud and marquisate of Marignano. A free pardon was promised not only to himself and his brothers, but to all his followers; and the Duke further undertook to transport his artillery and munitions of war at his own expense to Marignano. Having concluded this treaty under the auspices of Charles V. and his lieutenant, Il Medeghino, in March 1532, set sail from Musso, and turned his back upon the lake for ever. The Switzers immediately destroyed the towers, forts, walls, and bastions of the Musso promontory, leaving in the midst of their ruins the little chapel of S. Eufemia.
Gian Giacomo de' Medici, henceforth known to Europe as the Marquis of Marignano, now took service under Spain; and through the favour of Anton de Leyva, Viceroy for the Duchy, rose to the rank of Field Marshal. When the Marquis del Vasto succeeded to the Spanish governorship of Milan in 1536, he determined to gratify an old grudge against the ex-pirate, and, having invited him to a banquet, made him prisoner. II Medeghino was not, however, destined to languish in a dungeon. Princes and kings interested themselves in his fate. He was released, and journeyed to the court of Charles V. in Spain. The Emperor received him kindly, and employed him first in the Low Countries, where he helped to repress the burghers of Ghent, and at the siege of Landrecy commanded the Spanish artillery against other Italian captains of adventure: for, Italy being now dismembered and enslaved, her sons sought foreign service where they found best pay and widest scope for martial science. Afterwards the Medici ruled Bohemia as Spanish Viceroy; and then, as general of the league formed by the Duke of Florence, the Emperor, and the Pope to repress the liberties of Tuscany, distinguished himself in that cruel war of extermination, which turned the fair Contado of Siena into a poisonous Maremma. To the last Il Medeghino preserved the instincts and the passions of a brigand chief. It was at this time that, acting for the Grand Duke of Tuscany, he first claimed open kinship with the Medici of Florence. Heralds and genealogists produced a pedigree, which seemed to authorise this pretension; he was recognised, together with his brother, Pius IV., as an offshoot of the great house which had already given Dukes to Florence, Kings to France, and two Popes to the Christian world. In the midst of all this foreign service he never forgot his old dream of conquering the Valtelline; and in 1547 he made proposals to the Emperor for a new campaign against the Grisons. Charles V. did not choose to engage in a war, the profits of which would have been inconsiderable for the master of half the civilised world, and which might have proved troublesome by stirring up the tameless Switzers. Il Medeghino was obliged to abandon a project cherished from the earliest dawn of his adventurous manhood.
When Gian Giacomo died in 1555, his brother Battista succeeded to his claims upon Lecco and the Trepievi. His monument, magnificent with five bronze figures, the masterpiece of Leone Lioni, from Menaggio, Michelangelesque in style, and of consummate workmanship, still adorns the Duomo of Milan. It stands close by the door that leads to the roof. This mausoleum, erected to the memory of Gian Giacomo and his brother Gabrio, is said to have cost 7800 golden crowns. On the occasion of the pirate's funeral the Senate of Milan put on mourning, and the whole city followed the great robber, the hero of Renaissance virtu, to the grave.
Between the Cathedral of Como and the corsair Medeghino there is but a slight link. Yet so extraordinary were the social circumstances of Renaissance Italy, that almost at every turn, on her seaboard, in her cities, from her hill-tops, we are compelled to blend our admiration for the loveliest and purest works of art amid the choicest scenes of nature with memories of execrable crimes and lawless characters. Sometimes, as at Perugia, the nexus is but local. At others, one single figure, like that of Cellini, unites both points of view in a romance of unparalleled dramatic vividness. Or, again, beneath the vaults of the Certosa, near Pavia, a masterpiece of the serenest beauty carries our thoughts perforce back to the hideous cruelties and snake-like frauds of its despotic founder. This is the excuse for combining two such diverse subjects in one study.
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BERGAMO AND BARTOLOMMEO COLLEONI
From the new town of commerce to the old town of history upon the hill, the road is carried along a rampart lined, with horse-chestnut trees—clumps of massy foliage, and snowy pyramids of bloom, expanded in the rapture of a southern spring. Each pair of trees between their stems and arch of intermingling leaves includes a space of plain, checkered with cloud-shadows, melting blue and green in amethystine haze. To right and left the last spurs of the Alps descend, jutting like promontories, heaving like islands from the misty breadth below: and here and there are towers, half-lost in airy azure; and cities dwarfed to blots; and silvery lines where rivers flow; and distant, vapour-drowned, dim crests of Apennines. The city walls above us wave with snapdragons and iris among fig-trees sprouting from the riven stones. There are terraces over-rioted with pergolas of vine, and houses shooting forward into balconies and balustrades, from which a Romeo might launch himself at daybreak, warned by the lark's song. A sudden angle in the road is turned, and we pass from airspace and freedom into the old town, beneath walls of dark brown masonry, where wild valerians light their torches of red bloom in immemorial shade. Squalor and splendour live here side by side. Grand Renaissance portals grinning with Satyr masks are flanked by tawdry frescoes shamming stonework, or by doorways where the withered bush hangs out a promise of bad wine. The Cappella Colleoni is our destination, that masterpiece of the sculptor-architect's craft, with its variegated marbles,—rosy and white and creamy yellow and jet-black,—in patterns, basreliefs, pilasters, statuettes, encrusted on the fanciful domed shrine. Upon the facade are mingled, in the true Renaissance spirit of genial acceptance, motives Christian and Pagan with supreme impartiality. Medallions of emperors and gods alternate with virtues, angels and cupids in a maze of loveliest arabesque; and round the base of the building are told two stories—the one of Adam from his creation to his fall, the other of Hercules and his labours. Italian craftsmen of the quattrocento were not averse to setting thus together, in one framework, the myths of our first parents and Alemena's son: partly perhaps because both subjects gave scope to the free treatment of the nude; but partly also, we may venture to surmise, because the heroism of Hellas counterbalanced the sin of Eden. Here then we see how Adam and Eve were made and tempted and expelled from Paradise and set to labour, how Cain killed Abel, and Lamech slew a man to his hurt, and Isaac was offered on the mountain. The tale of human sin and the promise of redemption are epitomised in twelve of the sixteen basreliefs. The remaining four show Hercules wrestling with Antaeus, taming the Nemean lion, extirpating the Hydra, and bending to his will the bull of Crete. Labour, appointed for a punishment to Adam, becomes a title to immortality for the hero. The dignity of man is reconquered by prowess for the Greek, as it is repurchased for the Christian by vicarious suffering. Many may think this interpretation of Amadeo's basreliefs far-fetched; yet, such as it is, it agrees with the spirit of Humanism, bent ever on harmonising the two great traditions of the past. Of the workmanship little need be said, except that it is wholly Lombard, distinguished from the similar work of Della Quercia at Bologna and Siena by a more imperfect feeling for composition, and a lack of monumental gravity, yet graceful, rich in motives, and instinct with a certain wayward improvvisatore charm.
This Chapel was built by the great Condottiere Bartolommeo Colleoni, to be the monument of his puissance even in the grave. It had been the Sacristy of S. Maria Maggiore, which, when the Consiglio della Misericordia refused it to him for his half-proud, half-pious purpose, he took and held by force. The structure, of costliest materials, reared by Gian Antonio Amadeo, cost him 50,000 golden florins. An equestrian statue of gilt wood, voted to him by the town of Bergamo, surmounts his monument inside the Chapel. This was the work of two German masters, called 'Sisto figlio di Enrico Syri da Norimberga' and 'Leonardo Tedesco.' The tomb itself is of marble, executed for the most part in a Lombard style resembling Amadeo's, but scarcely worthy of his genius. The whole effect is disappointing. Five figures representing Mars, Hercules, and three sons-in-law of Colleoni, who surround the sarcophagus of the buried general, are indeed almost grotesque. The angularity and crumpled draperies of the Milanese manner, when so exaggerated, produce an impression of caricature. Yet many subordinate details—a row of putti in a cinquecento frieze, for instance—and much of the low relief work—especially the Crucifixion with its characteristic episodes of the fainting Maries and the soldiers casting dice—are lovely in their unaffected Lombardism.
There is another portrait of Colleoni in a round above the great door, executed with spirit, though in a bravura style that curiously anticipates the decline of Italian sculpture. Gaunt, hollow-eyed, with prominent cheek bones and strong jaws, this animated, half-length statue of the hero bears the stamp of a good likeness; but when or by whom it was made, I do not know.
Far more noteworthy than Colleoni's own monument is that of his daughter Medea. She died young in 1470, and her father caused her tomb, carved of Carrara marble, to be placed in the Dominican Church of Basella, which he had previously founded. It was not until 1842 that this most precious masterpiece of Antonio Amadeo's skill was transferred to Bergamo. Hic jacet Medea virgo. Her hands are clasped across her breast. A robe of rich brocade, gathered to the waist and girdled, lies in simple folds upon the bier. Her throat, exceedingly long and slender, is circled with a string of pearls. Her face is not beautiful, for the features, especially the nose, are large and prominent; but it is pure and expressive of vivid individuality. The hair curls in crisp short clusters, and the ear, fine and shaped almost like a Faun's, reveals the scrupulous fidelity of the sculptor. Italian art has, in truth, nothing more exquisite than this still sleeping figure of the girl, who, when she lived, must certainly have been so rare of type and lovable in personality. If Busti's Lancinus Curtius be the portrait of a humanist, careworn with study, burdened by the laurel leaves that were so dry and dusty—if Gaston de Foix in the Brera, smiling at death and beautiful in the cropped bloom of youth, idealise the hero of romance—if Michelangelo's Penseroso translate in marble the dark broodings of a despot's soul—if Della Porta's Julia Farnese be the Roman courtesan magnificently throned in nonchalance at a Pope's footstool—if Verocchio's Colleoni on his horse at Venice impersonate the pomp and circumstance of scientific war—surely this Medea exhales the flower-like graces, the sweet sanctities of human life, that even in that turbid age were found among high-bred Italian ladies. Such power have mighty sculptors, even in our modern world, to make the mute stone speak in poems and clasp the soul's life of a century in some five or six transcendent forms.
The Colleoni, or Coglioni, family were of considerable antiquity and well-authenticated nobility in the town of Bergamo. Two lions' heads conjoined formed one of their canting ensigns; another was borrowed from the vulgar meaning of their name. Many members of the house held important office during the three centuries preceding the birth of the famous general, Bartolommeo. He was born in the year 1400 at Solza, in the Bergamasque Contado. His father Paolo, or Puho as he was commonly called, was poor and exiled from the city, together with the rest of the Guelf nobles, by the Visconti. Being a man of daring spirit, and little inclined to languish in a foreign state as the dependent on some patron, Puho formed the bold design of seizing the Castle of Trezzo. This he achieved in 1405 by fraud, and afterwards held it as his own by force. Partly with the view of establishing himself more firmly in his acquired lordship, and partly out of family affection, Puho associated four of his first-cousins in the government of Trezzo. They repaid his kindness with an act of treason and cruelty, only too characteristic of those times in Italy. One day while he was playing at draughts in a room of the Castle, they assaulted him and killed him, seized his wife and the boy Bartolommeo, and flung them into prison. The murdered Puho had another son, Antonio, who escaped and took refuge with Giorgio Benzone, the tyrant of Crema. After a short time the Colleoni brothers found means to assassinate him also; therefore Bartolommeo alone, a child of whom no heed was taken, remained to be his father's avenger. He and his mother lived together in great indigence at Solza, until the lad felt strong enough to enter the service of one of the numerous petty Lombard princes, and to make himself if possible a captain of adventure. His name alone was a sufficient introduction, and the Duchy of Milan, dismembered upon the death of Gian Maria Visconti, was in such a state that all the minor despots were increasing their forces and preparing to defend by arms the fragments they had seized from the Visconti heritage. Bartolommeo therefore had no difficulty in recommending himself to Filippo d'Arcello, sometime general in the pay of the Milanese, but now the new lord of Piacenza. With this master he remained as page for two or three years, learning the use of arms, riding, and training himself in the physical exercises which were indispensable to a young Italian soldier. Meanwhile Filippo Maria Visconti reacquired his hereditary dominions; and at the age of twenty, Bartolommeo found it prudent to seek a patron stronger than d'Arcello. The two great Condottieri, Sforza Attendolo and Braccio, divided the military glories of Italy at this period; and any youth who sought to rise in his profession, had to enrol himself under the banners of the one or the other. Bartolommeo chose Braccio for his master, and was enrolled among his men as a simple trooper, or ragazzo, with no better prospects than he could make for himself by the help of his talents and his borrowed horse and armour. Braccio at this time was in Apulia, prosecuting the war of the Neapolitan Succession disputed between Alfonso of Aragon and Louis of Anjou under the weak sovereignty of Queen Joan. On which side of a quarrel a Condottiere fought mattered but little: so great was the confusion of Italian politics, and so complete was the egotism of these fraudful, violent, and treacherous party leaders. Yet it may be mentioned that Braccio had espoused Alfonso's cause. Bartolommeo Colleoni early distinguished himself among the ranks of the Bracceschi. But he soon perceived that he could better his position by deserting to another camp. Accordingly he offered his services to Jacopo Caldora, one of Joan's generals, and received from him a commission of twenty men-at-arms. It may here be parenthetically said that the rank and pay of an Italian captain varied with the number of the men he brought into the field. His title 'Condottiere' was derived from the circumstance that he was said to have received a Condotta di venti cavalli, and so forth. Each cavallo was equal to one mounted man-at-arms and two attendants, who were also called ragazzi. It was his business to provide the stipulated number of men, to keep them in good discipline, and to satisfy their just demands. Therefore an Italian army at this epoch consisted of numerous small armies varying in size, each held together by personal engagements to a captain, and all dependent on the will of a general-in-chief, who had made a bargain with some prince or republic for supplying a fixed contingent of fighting-men. The Condottiere was in other words a contractor or impresario, undertaking to do a certain piece of work for a certain price, and to furnish the requisite forces for the business in good working order. It will be readily seen upon this system how important were the personal qualities of the captain, and what great advantages those Condottieri had, who, like the petty princes of Romagna and the March, the Montefeltri, Ordelaffi, Malatesti, Manfredi, Orsini, and Vitelli, could rely upon a race of hardy vassals for their recruits.