A WANDERER IN FLORENCE
By E.V. Lucas
A sentence from a "Synthetical Guidebook" which is circulated in the Florentine hotels will express what I want to say, at the threshold of this volume, much better than could unaided words of mine. It runs thus: "The natural kindness, the high spirit, of the Florentine people, the wonderful masterpieces of art created by her great men, who in every age have stood in the front of art and science, rivalize with the gentle smile of her splendid sky to render Florence one of the finest towns of beautiful Italy". These words, written, I feel sure, by a Florentine, and therefore "inspirated" (as he says elsewhere) by a patriotic feeling, are true; and it is my hope that the pages that follow will at once fortify their truth and lead others to test it.
Like the synthetical author, I too have not thought it necessary to provide "too many informations concerning art and history," but there will be found a few, practically unavoidable, in the gathering together of which I have been indebted to many authors: notably Vasari, Symonds, Crowe and Cavalcaselle, Ruskin, Pater, and Baedeker. Among more recent books I would mention Herr Bode's "Florentine Sculptors of the Renaissance," Mr. F.M. Hyett's "Florence," Mr. E.L.S. Horsburgh's "Lorenzo the Magnificent" and "Savonarola," Mr. Gerald S. Davies' "Michelangelo," Mr. W.G. Waters' "Italian Sculptors," and Col. Young's "The Medici".
I have to thank very heartily a good English Florentine for the construction of the historical chart at the end of the volume.
Preface Chapter I The Duomo I: Its Construction Chapter II The Duomo II: Its Associations Chapter III The Duomo III: A Ceremony and a Museum Chapter IV The Campanile and the Baptistery Chapter V The Riccardi Palace and the Medici Chapter VI S. Lorenzo and Michelangelo Chapter VII Or San Michele and the Palazzo Vecchio Chapter VIII The Uffizi I: The Building and the Collectors Chapter IX The Uffizi II: The First Six Rooms Chapter X The Uffizi III: Botticelli Chapter XI The Uffizi IV: Remaining Rooms Chapter XII "Aerial Fiesole" Chapter XIII The Badia and Dante Chapter XIV The Bargello Chapter XV S. Croce Chapter XVI The Accademia Chapter XVII Two Monasteries and a Procession Chapter XVIII S. Marco Chapter XIX The SS. Annunziata and the Spedale Degli Innocenti Chapter XX The Cascine and the Arno Chapter XXI S. Maria Novella Chapter XXII The Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele to S. Trinita Chapter XXIII The Pitti Chapter XXIV English Poets in Florence Chapter XXV The Carmine and San Miniato Historical Chart of Florence and Europe, 1296-1564
List of Illustrations
The Duomo and Campanile, From the Via Pecori
The Cloisters of San Lorenzo, Showing the Windows of the Biblioteca Laurenziana
The Via Calzaioli, from the Baptistery, Showing the Bigallo and the Top of Or San Michele
The Palazzo Vecchio
The Loggia of the Palazzo Vecchio and the Via de' Leoni
The Loggia de' Lanzi, the Duomo, and the Palazzo Vecchio, from the Portico of the Uffizi
Fiesole, from the Hill under the Monastery
The Badia and the Bargello, from the Piazza S. Firenze
Interior of S. Croce
The Ponte S. Trinita
The Ponte Vecchio and Back of the Via de' Bardi
S. Maria Novella and the Corner of the Loggia di S. Paolo
The Via de' Vagellai, from the Piazza S. Jacopo Trafossi
The Piazza Della Signoria on a Wet Friday Afternoon
View of Florence at Evening, from the Piazzale Michelangelo
Evening at the Piazzale Michelangelo, Looking West
A Cantoria. By Donatello, in the Museum of the Cathedral
Cain and Abel and Abraham and Isaac. By Ghiberti, from his second Baptistery Doors
The Procession of the Magi. By Benozzo Gozzoli, in the Palazzo Riccardi
Tomb of Lorenzo de' Medici, Duke of Urbino. By Michelangelo, in the New Sacristy of S. Lorenzo
Christ and S. Thomas. By Verrocchio, in a niche by Donatello and Michelozzo in the wall of Or San Michele
Putto with Dolphin. By Verrocchio, in the Palazzo Vecchio
Madonna Adoring. Ascribed to Filippino Lippi, in the Uffizi
The Adoration of the Magi. By Leonardo da Vinci, in the Uffizi
Madonna and Child. By Luca Signorelli, in the Uffizi
The Birth of Venus. By Botticelli, in the Uffizi
The Annunciation. By Botticelli, in the Uffizi
San Giacomo. By Andrea del Sarto, in the Uffizi
The Madonna del Cardellino. By Raphael, in the Uffizi
The Madonna del Pozzo. By Franciabigio, in the Uffizi
Monument to Count Ugo. By Mino da Fiesole, in the Badia
David. By Donatello, in the Bargello By Verrocchio, in the Bargello
St. George. By Donatello, in the Bargello
Madonna and Child. By Verrocchio, in the Bargello
Madonna and Child. By Luca della Robbia, in the Bargello
Bust of a Boy. By Luca or Andrea della Robbia, in the Bargello
*Monument to Carlo Marzuppini. By Desiderio da Settignano, in S. Croce
David. By Michelangelo, in the Accademia
The Flight into Egypt. By Fra Angelico, in the Accademia
The Adoration of the Shepherds. By Ghirlandaio, in the Accademia
The Vision of S. Bernard. By Fra Bartolommeo, in the Accademia
Virgin and Child Enthroned, with Saints. By Botticelli, in the Accademia
Primavera. By Botticelli, in the Accademia
The Coronation of the Virgin. By Fra Angelico, in the Convent of S. Marco
The Annunciation. By Luca della Robbia, in the Spedale degli Innocenti
The Birth of the Virgin. By Ghirlandaio, in S. Maria Novella
The Madonna del Granduca. By Raphael, in the Pitti
The Madonna della Sedia. By Raphael, in the Pitti
The Concert. By Giorgione, in the Pitti
Madonna Adoring. By Botticini, in the Pitti
The Madonna and Children. By Perugino, in the Pitti
*A Gipsy. By Boccaccio Boccaccini, in the Pitti
All the illustrations are from photographs by G. Brogi, except those marked , which are by Fratelli Alinari, and that marked *, which is by R. Anderson.
A WANDERER IN FLORENCE
The Duomo I: Its Construction
The City of the Miracle—The Marble Companions—Twilight and Immensity—Arnolfo di Cambio—Dante's seat—Ruskin's "Shepherd"—Giotto the various—Giotto's fun—The indomitable Brunelleschi—Makers of Florence—The present facade.
All visitors to Florence make first for the Duomo. Let us do the same.
The real name of the Duomo is the Cathedral of S. Maria del Fiore, or St. Mary of the Flowers, the flower being the Florentine lily. Florence herself is called the City of Flowers, and that, in the spring and summer, is a happy enough description. But in the winter it fails. A name appropriate to all the seasons would be the City of the Miracle, the miracle being the Renaissance. For though all over Italy traces of the miracle are apparent, Florence was its very home and still can point to the greatest number of its achievements. Giotto (at the beginning of this quickening movement) may at Assisi have been more inspired as a painter; but here is his campanile and here are his S. Maria Novella and S. Croce frescoes. Fra Angelico and Donatello (in the midst of it) were never more inspired than here, where they worked and died. Michelangelo (at the end of it) may be more surprising in the Vatican; but here are his wonderful Medici tombs. How it came about that between the years 1300 and 1500 Italian soil—and chiefly Tuscan soil—threw up such masters, not only with the will and spirit to do what they did but with the power too, no one will ever be able to explain. But there it is. In the history of the world two centuries were suddenly given mysteriously to the activities of Italian men of humane genius and as suddenly the Divine gift was withdrawn. And to see the very flower of these two centuries it is to Florence we must go.
It is best to enter the Piazza del Duomo from the Via de' Martelli, the Via de' Cerretani, the Via Calzaioli, or the Via Pecori, because then one comes instantly upon the campanile too. The upper windows—so very lovely—may have been visible at the end of the streets, with Brunelleschi's warm dome high in the sky beside them, but that was not to diminish the effect of the first sight of the whole. Duomo and campanile make as fair a couple as ever builders brought together: the immense comfortable church so solidly set upon the earth, and at its side this delicate, slender marble creature, all gaiety and lightness, which as surely springs from roots within the earth. For one cannot be long in Florence, looking at this tower every day and many times a day, both from near and far, without being perfectly certain that it grows—and from a bulb, I think—and was never really built at all, whatever the records may aver.
The interior of the Duomo is so unexpected that one has the feeling of having entered, by some extraordinary chance, the wrong building. Outside it was so garish with its coloured marbles, under the southern sky; outside, too, one's ears were filled with all the shattering noises in which Florence is an adept; and then, one step, and behold nothing but vast and silent gloom. This surprise is the more emphatic if one happens already to have been in the Baptistery. For the Baptistery is also coloured marble without, yet within it is coloured marble and mosaic too: there is no disparity; whereas in the Duomo the walls have a Northern grey and the columns are brown. Austerity and immensity join forces.
When all is said the chief merit of the Duomo is this immensity. Such works of art as it has are not very noticeable, or at any rate do not insist upon being seen; but in its vastness it overpowers. Great as are some of the churches of Florence, I suppose three or four of them could be packed within this one. And mere size with a dim light and a savour of incense is enough: it carries religion. No need for masses and chants or any ceremony whatever: the world is shut out, one is on terms with the infinite. A forest exercises the same spell; among mountains one feels it; but in such a cathedral as the Duomo one feels it perhaps most of all, for it is the work of man, yet touched with mystery and wonder, and the knowledge that man is the author of such a marvel adds to its greatness.
The interior is so dim and strange as to be for a time sheer terra incognita, and to see a bat flitting from side to side, as I have often done even in the morning, is to receive no shock. In such a twilight land there must naturally be bats, one thinks. The darkness is due not to lack of windows but to time. The windows are there, but they have become opaque. None of the coloured ones in the aisle allows more than a filtration of light through it; there are only the plain, circular ones high up and those rich, coloured, circular ones under the dome to do the work. In a little while, however, one's eyes not only become accustomed to the twilight but are very grateful for it; and beginning to look inquiringly about, as they ever do in this city of beauty, they observe, just inside, an instant reminder of the antiseptic qualities of Italy. For by the first great pillar stands a receptacle for holy water, with a pretty and charming angelic figure upon it, which from its air of newness you would think was a recent gift to the cathedral by a grateful Florentine. It is six hundred years old and perhaps was designed by Giotto himself.
The emptiness of the Duomo is another of its charms. Nothing is allowed to impair the vista as you stand by the western entrance: the floor has no chairs; the great columns rise from it in the gloom as if they, too, were rooted. The walls, too, are bare, save for a few tablets.
The history of the building is briefly this. The first cathedral of Florence was the Baptistery, and S. John the Baptist is still the patron saint of the city. Then in 1182 the cathedral was transferred to S. Reparata, which stood on part of the site of the Duomo, and in 1294 the decision to rebuild S. Reparata magnificently was arrived at, and Arnolfo di Cambio was instructed to draw up plans. Arnolfo, whom we see not only on a tablet in the left aisle, in relief, with his plan, but also more than life size, seated beside Brunelleschi on the Palazzo de' Canonici on the south side of the cathedral, facing the door, was then sixty-two and an architect of great reputation. Born in 1232, he had studied under Niccolo Pisano, the sculptor of the famous pulpit at Pisa (now in the museum there), of that in the cathedral in Siena, and of the fountain at Perugia (in all of which Arnolfo probably helped), and the designer of many buildings all over Italy. Arnolfo's own unaided sculpture may be seen at its best in the ciborium in S. Paolo Fuori le Mura in Rome; but it is chiefly as an architect that he is now known. He had already given Florence her extended walls and some of her most beautiful buildings—the Or San Michele and the Badia—and simultaneously he designed S. Croce and the Palazzo Vecchio. Vasari has it that Arnolfo was assisted on the Duomo by Cimabue; but that is doubtful.
The foundations were consecrated in 1296 and the first stone laid on September 8th, 1298, and no one was more interested in its early progress than a young, grave lawyer who used to sit on a stone seat on the south side and watch the builders, little thinking how soon he was to be driven from Florence for ever. This seat—the Sasso di Dante—was still to be seen when Wordsworth visited Florence in 1837, for he wrote a sonnet in which he tells us that he in reverence sate there too, "and, for a moment, filled that empty Throne". But one can do so no longer, for the place which it occupied has been built over and only a slab in the wall with an inscription (on the house next the Palazzo de' Canonici) marks the site.
Arnolfo died in 1310, and thereupon there seems to have been a cessation or slackening of work, due no doubt to the disturbed state of the city, which was in the throes of costly wars and embroilments. Not until 1332 is there definite news of its progress, by which time the work had passed into the control of the Arte della Lana; but in that year, although Florentine affairs were by no means as flourishing as they should be, and a flood in the Arno had just destroyed three or four of the bridges, a new architect was appointed, in the person of the most various and creative man in the history of the Renaissance—none other than Giotto himself, who had already received the commission to design the campanile which should stand at the cathedral's side.
Giotto was the son of a small farmer at Vespignano, near Florence. He was instructed in art by Cimabue, who discovered him drawing a lamb on a stone while herding sheep, and took him as his pupil. Cimabue, of whom more is said, together with more of Giotto as a painter, in the chapter on the Accademia, had died in 1302, leaving Giotto far beyond all living artists, and Giotto, between the age of fifty and sixty, was now residing in Cimabue's house. He had already painted frescoes in the Bargello (introducing his friend Dante), in S. Maria Novella, S. Croce, and elsewhere in Italy, particularly in the upper and lower churches at Assisi, and at the Madonna dell' Arena chapel at Padua when Dante was staying there during his exile. In those days no man was painter only or architect only; an all-round knowledge of both arts and crafts was desired by every ambitious youth who was attracted by the wish to make beautiful things, and Giotto was a universal master. It was not then surprising that on his settling finally in Florence he should be invited to design a campanile to stand for ever beside the cathedral, or that he should be appointed superintendent of the cathedral works.
Giotto did not live to see even his tower completed—it is the unhappy destiny of architects to die too soon—but he was able during the four years left him to find time for certain accessory decorations, of which more will be said later, and also to paint for S. Trinita the picture which we shall see in the Accademia, together with a few other works, since perished, for the Badia and S. Giorgio. He died in 1336 and was buried in the cathedral, as the tablet, with Benedetto da Maiano's bust of him, tells. He is also to be seen full length, in stone, in a niche at the Uffizi; but the figure is misleading, for if Vasari is to be trusted (and for my part I find it amusing to trust him as much as possible) the master was insignificant in size.
Giotto has suffered, I think, in reputation, from Ruskin, who took him peculiarly under his wing, persistently called him "the Shepherd," and made him appear as something between a Sunday-school superintendent and the Creator. The "Mornings in Florence" and "Giotto and his Works in Padua" so insist upon the artist's holiness and conscious purpose in all he did that his genial worldliness, shrewdness, and humour, as brought out by Dante, Vasari, Sacchetti, and Boccaccio, are utterly excluded. What we see is an intense saint where really was a very robust man. Sacchetti's story of Giotto one day stumbling over a pig that ran between his legs and remarking, "And serve me right; for I've made thousands with the help of pigs' bristles and never once given them even a cup of broth," helps to adjust the balance; while to his friend Dante he made a reply, so witty that the poet could not forget his admiration, in answer to his question how was it that Giotto's pictures were so beautiful and his six children so ugly; but I must leave the reader to hunt it for himself, as these are modest pages. Better still, for its dry humour, was his answer to King Robert of Naples, who had commanded him to that city to paint some Scriptural scenes, and, visiting the artist while he worked, on a very hot day, remarked, "Giotto, if I were you I should leave off painting for a while". "Yes," replied Giotto, "if I were you I should."
To Giotto happily we come again and again in this book. Enough at present to say that upon his death in 1336 he was buried, like Arnolfo, in the cathedral, where the tablet to his memory may be studied, and was succeeded as architect, both of the church and the tower, by his friend and assistant, Andrea Pisano, whose chief title to fame is his Baptistery doors and the carving, which we are soon to examine, of the scenes round the base of the campanile. He, too, died—in 1348—before the tower was finished.
Francesco Talenti was next called in, again to superintend both buildings, and not only to superintend but to extend the plans of the cathedral. Arnolfo and Giotto had both worked upon a smaller scale; Talenti determined the present floor dimensions. The revised facade was the work of a committee of artists, among them Giotto's godson and disciple, Taddeo Gaddi, then busy with the Ponte Vecchio, and Andrea Orcagna, whose tabernacle we shall see at Or San Michele. And so the work went on until the main structure was complete in the thirteen-seventies.
Another longish interval then came, in which nothing of note in the construction occurred, and the next interesting date is 1418, when a competition for the design for the dome was announced, the work to be given eventually to one Filippo Brunelleschi, then an ambitious and nervously determined man, well known in Florence as an architect, of forty-one. Brunelleschi, who, again according to Vasari, was small, and therefore as different as may be from the figure which is seated on the clergy house opposite the south door of the cathedral, watching his handiwork, was born in 1377, the son of a well-to-do Florentine of good family who wished to make him a notary. The boy, however, wanted to be an artist, and was therefore placed with a goldsmith, which was in those days the natural course. As a youth he attempted everything, being of a pertinacious and inquiring mind, and he was also a great debater and student of Dante; and, taking to sculpture, he was one of those who, as we shall see in a later chapter, competed for the commission for the Baptistery gates. It was indeed his failure in that competition which decided him to concentrate on architecture. That he was a fine sculptor his competitive design, now preserved in the Bargello, and his Christ crucified in S. Maria Novella, prove; but in leading him to architecture the stars undoubtedly did rightly.
It was in 1403 that the decision giving Ghiberti the Baptistery commission was made, when Brunelleschi was twenty-six and Donatello, destined to be his life-long friend, was seventeen; and when Brunelleschi decided to go to Rome for the study of his new branch of industry, architecture, Donatello went too. There they worked together, copying and measuring everything of beauty, Brunelleschi having always before his mind the problem of how to place a dome upon the cathedral of his native city. But, having a shrewd knowledge of human nature and immense patience, he did not hasten to urge upon the authorities his claims as the heaven-born architect, but contented himself with smaller works, and even assisted his rival Ghiberti with his gates, joining at that task Donatello and Luca della Robbia, and giving lessons in perspective to a youth who was to do more than any man after Giotto to assure the great days of painting and become the exemplar of the finest masters—Masaccio.
It was not until 1419 that Brunelleschi's persistence and belief in his own powers satisfied the controllers of the cathedral works that he might perhaps be as good as his word and was the right man to build the dome; but at last he was able to begin.  For the story of his difficulties, told minutely and probably with sufficient accuracy, one must go to Vasari: it is well worth reading, and is a lurid commentary on the suspicions and jealousies of the world. The building of the dome, without scaffolding, occupied fourteen years, Brunelleschi's device embracing two domes, one within the other, tied together with stone for material support and strength. It is because of this inner dome that the impression of its size, from within the cathedral, can disappoint. Meanwhile, in spite of all the wear and tear of the work, the satisfying of incredulous busy-bodies, and the removal of such an incubus as Ghiberti, who because he was a superb modeller of bronze reliefs was made for a while joint architect with a salary that Brunelleschi felt should either be his own or no one's, the little man found time also to build beautiful churches and cloisters all over Florence. He lived to see his dome finished and the cathedral consecrated by Pope Eugenius IV in 1436, dying ten years later. He was buried in the cathedral, and his adopted son and pupil, Buggiano, made the head of him on the tablet to his memory.
Brunelleschi's lantern, the model of which from his own hand we shall see in the museum of the cathedral, was not placed on the dome until 1462. The copper ball above it was the work of Verrocchio. In 1912 there are still wanting many yards of stone border to the dome.
Of the man himself we know little, except that he was of iron tenacity and lived for his work. Vasari calls him witty, but gives a not good example of his wit; he seems to have been philanthropic and a patron of poor artists, and he grieved deeply at the untimely death of Masaccio, who painted him in one of the Carmine frescoes, together with Donatello and other Florentines.
As one walks about Florence, visiting this church and that, and peering into cool cloisters, one's mind is always intent upon the sculpture or paintings that may be preserved there for the delectation of the eye. The tendency is to think little of the architect who made the buildings where they are treasured. Asked to name the greatest makers of this beautiful Florence, the ordinary visitor would say Michelangelo, Giotto, Raphael, Donatello, the della Robbias, Ghirlandaio, and Andrea del Sarto: all before Brunelleschi, even if he named him at all. But this is wrong. Not even Michelangelo did so much for Florence as he. Michelangelo was no doubt the greatest individualist in the whole history of art, and everything that he did grips the memory in a vice; but Florence without Michelangelo would still be very nearly Florence, whereas Florence without Brunelleschi is unthinkable. No dome to the cathedral, first of all; no S. Lorenzo church or cloisters; no S. Croce cloisters or Pazzi chapel; no Badia of Fiesole. Honour where honour is due. We should be singing the praises of Filippo Brunelleschi in every quarter of the city.
After Brunelleschi the chief architect of the cathedral was Giuliano da Maiano, the artist of the beautiful intarsia woodwork in the sacristy, and the uncle of Benedetto da Maiano who made the S. Croce pulpit.
The present facade is the work of the architect Emilio de Fabris, whose tablet is to be seen on the left wall. It was finished in 1887, five hundred and more years after the abandonment of Arnolfo's original design and three hundred and more years after the destruction of the second one, begun in 1357 and demolished in 1587. Of Arnolfo's facade the primitive seated statue of Boniface VIII (or John XXII) just inside the cathedral is, with a bishop in one of the sacristies, the only remnant; while of the second facade, for which Donatello and other early Renaissance sculptors worked, the giant S. John the Evangelist, in the left aisle, is perhaps the most important relic. Other statues in the cathedral were also there, while the central figure—the Madonna with enamel eyes—may be seen in the cathedral museum. Although not great, the group of the Madonna and Child now over the central door of the Duomo has much charm and benignancy.
The present facade, although attractive as a mass of light, is not really good. Its patterns are trivial, its paintings and statues commonplace; and I personally have the feeling that it would have been more fitting had Giotto's marble been supplied rather with a contrast than an imitation. As it is, it is not till Giotto's tower soars above the facade that one can rightly (from the front) appreciate its roseate delicacy, so strong is this rival.
The Duomo II: Its Associations
Dante's picture—Sir John Hawkwood—Ancestor and Descendant—The Pazzi Conspiracy—Squeamish Montesecco—Giuliano de' Medici dies—Lorenzo's escape—Vengeance on the Pazzi—Botticelli's cartoon—High Mass—Luca della Robbia—Michelangelo nearing the end—The Miracles of Zenobius—East and West meet in splendour—Marsilio Ficino and the New Learning—Beautiful glass.
Of the four men most concerned in the structure of the Duomo I have already spoken. There are other men held in memory there, and certain paintings and statues, of which I wish to speak now.
The picture of Dante in the left aisle was painted by command of the Republic in 1465, one hundred and sixty-three years after his banishment from the city. Lectures on Dante were frequently delivered in the churches of Florence during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and it was interesting for those attending them to have a portrait on the wall. This picture was painted by Domenico di Michelino, the portrait of Dante being prepared for him by Alessio Baldovinetti, who probably took it from Giotto's fresco in the chapel of the Podesta at the Bargello. In this picture Dante stands between the Inferno and a concentrated Florence in which portions of the Duomo, the Signoria, the Badia, the Bargello, and Or San Michele are visible. Behind him is Paradise. In his hand is the "Divine Comedy". I say no more of the poet here, because a large part of the chapter on the Badia is given to him.
Near the Dante picture in the left aisle are two Donatellos—the massive S. John the Evangelist, seated, who might have given ideas to Michelangelo for his Moses a century and more later; and, nearer the door, between the tablets to De Fabris and Squarciaparello, the so-called Poggio Bracciolini, a witty Italian statesman and Humanist and friend of the Medici, who, however, since he was much younger than this figure at the time of its exhibition, and is not known to have visited Florence till later, probably did not sit for it. But it is a powerful and very natural work, although its author never intended it to stand on any floor, even of so dim a cathedral as this. The S. John, I may say, was brought from the old facade—not Arnolfo's, but the committee's facade—where it had a niche about ten feet from the ground. The Poggio was also on this facade, but higher. It was Poggio's son, Jacopo, who took part in the Pazzi Conspiracy, of which we are about to read, and was very properly hanged for it.
Of the two pictures on the entrance wall, so high as to be imperfectly seen, that on the right as you face it has peculiar interest to English visitors, for (painted by Paolo Uccello, whose great battle piece enriches our National Gallery) it represents Sir John Hawkwood, an English free-lance and head of the famous White Company, who after some successful raids on Papal territory in Provence, put his sword, his military genius, and his bravoes at the service of the highest bidder among the warlike cities and provinces of Italy, and, eventually passing wholly into the employment of Florence (after harrying her for other pay-masters for some years), delivered her very signally from her enemies in 1392. Hawkwood was an Essex man, the son of a tanner at Hinckford, and was born there early in the fourteenth century. He seems to have reached France as an archer under Edward III, and to have remained a free-booter, passing on to Italy, about 1362, to engage joyously in as much fighting as any English commander can ever have had, for some thirty years, with very good pay for it. Although, by all accounts, a very Salomon Brazenhead, Hawkwood had enough dignity to be appointed English Ambassador to Rome, and later to Florence, which he made his home, and where he died in 1394. He was buried in the Duomo, on the north side of the choir, and was to have reposed beneath a sumptuous monument made under his own instructions, with frescoes by Taddeo Gaddi and Giuliano d'Arrigo; but something intervened, and Uccello's fresco was used instead, and this, some sixty years ago, was transferred to canvas and moved to the position in which it now is seen.
Hawkwood's life, briskly told by a full-blooded hand, would make a fine book. One pleasant story at least is related of him, that on being beset by some begging friars who prefaced their mendicancy with the words, "God give you peace," he answered, "God take away your alms"; and, on their protesting, reminded them that such peace was the last thing he required, since should their pious wish come true he would die of hunger. One of the daughters of this fire-eater married John Shelley, and thus became an ancestress of Shelley the poet, who, as it chances, also found a home for a while in this city, almost within hailing distance of his ancestor's tomb and portrait, and here wrote not only his "Ode to the West Wind," but his caustic satire, "Peter Bell the Third".
Hawkwood's name is steeped sufficiently in carnage; but we get to the scene of bloodshed in reality as we approach the choir, for it was here that Giuliano de' Medici was assassinated, as he attended High Mass, on April 26th, 1478, with the connivance, if not actually at the instigation, of Christ's Vicar himself, Pope Sixtus IV. Florentine history is so eventful and so tortuous that beyond the bare outline given in chapter V, I shall make in these pages but little effort to follow it, assuming a certain amount of knowledge on the part of the reader; but it must be stated here that periodical revolts against the power and prestige of the Medici often occurred, and none was more desperate than that of the Pazzi family in 1478, acting with the support of the Pope behind all and with the co-operation of Girolamo Riario, nephew of the Pope, and Salviati, Archbishop of Pisa. The Pazzi, who were not only opposed to the temporal power of the Medici, but were their rivals in business—both families being bankers—wished to rid Florence of Lorenzo and Giuliano in order to be greater both civically and financially. Girolamo wished the removal of Lorenzo and Giuliano in order that hostility to his plans for adding Forli and Faenza to the territory of Imola, which the Pope had successfully won for him against Lorenzo's opposition, might disappear. The Pope had various political reasons for wishing Lorenzo's and Giuliano's death and bringing Florence, always headstrong and dangerous, to heel. While as for Salviati, it was sufficient that he was Archbishop of Pisa, Florence's ancient rival and foe; but he was a thoroughly bad lot anyway. Assassination also was in the air, for Galeazzo Maria Sforza of Milan had been stabbed in church in 1476, thus to some extent paving the way for this murder, since Lorenzo and Sforza, when acting together, had been practically unassailable.
In 1478 Lorenzo was twenty-nine, Giuliano twenty-five. Lorenzo had been at the head of Florentine affairs for nine years and he was steadily growing in strength and popularity. Hence it was now or never.
The conspirators' first idea was to kill the brothers at a banquet which Lorenzo was to give to the great-nephew of the Pope, the youthful Cardinal Raffaello Riario, who promised to be an amenable catspaw. Giuliano, however, having hurt his leg, was not well enough to be present, but as he would attend High Mass, the conspirators decided to act then. That is to say, it was then, in the cathedral, that the death of the Medici brothers was to be effected; meanwhile another detachment of conspirators under Salviati was to rise simultaneously to capture the Signoria, while the armed men of the party who were outside and inside the walls would begin their attacks on the populace. Thus, at the same moment Medici and city would fall. Such was the plan.
The actual assassins were Francesco de' Pazzi and Bernardo Bandini, who were nominally friends of the Medici (Francesco's brother Guglielmo having married Bianca de' Medici, Lorenzo's sister), and two priests named Maffeo da Volterra and Stefano da Bagnone. A professional bravo named Montesecco was to have killed Lorenzo, but refused on learning that the scene of the murder was to be a church. At that, he said, he drew the line: murder anywhere else he could perform cheerfully, but in a sacred building it was too much to ask. He therefore did nothing, but, subsequently confessing, made the guilt of all his associates doubly certain.
When High Mass began it was found that Giuliano was not present, and Francesco de' Pazzi and Bandini were sent to persuade him to come—a Judas-like errand indeed. On the way back, it is said, one of them affectionately placed his arm round Giuliano—to see if he wore a shirt of mail—remarking, to cover the action, that he was getting fat. On his arrival, Giuliano took his place at the north side of the circular choir, near the door which leads to the Via de' Servi, while Lorenzo stood at the opposite side. At the given signal Bandini and Pazzi were to stab Giuliano and the two priests were to stab Lorenzo. The signal was the breaking of the Eucharistic wafer, and at this solemn moment Giuliano was instantly killed, with one stab in the heart and nineteen elsewhere, Francesco so overdoing his attack that he severely wounded himself too; but Lorenzo was in time to see the beginning of the assault, and, making a movement to escape, he prevented the priest from doing aught but inflict a gash in his neck, and, springing away, dashed behind the altar to the old sacristy, where certain of his friends who followed him banged the heavy bronze doors on the pursuing foe. Those in the cathedral, mean-while, were in a state of hysterical alarm; the youthful cardinal was hurried into the new sacristy; Guglielmo de' Pazzi bellowed forth his innocence in loud tones; and his murderous brother and Bandini got off.
Order being restored, Lorenzo was led by a strong bodyguard to the Palazzo Medici, where he appeared at a window to convince the momentarily increasing crowd that he was still living. Meanwhile things were going not much more satisfactorily for the Pazzi at the Palazzo Vecchio, where, according to the plan, the gonfalonier, Cesare Petrucci, was to be either killed or secured. The Archbishop Salviati, who was to effect this, managed his interview so clumsily that Petrucci suspected something, those being suspicious times, and, instead of submitting to capture, himself turned the key on his visitors. The Pazzi faction in the city, meanwhile, hoping that all had gone well in the Palazzo Vecchio, as well as in the cathedral (as they thought), were running through the streets calling "Viva la Liberta!" to be met with counter cries of "Palle! palle!"—the palle being the balls on the Medici escutcheon, still to be seen all over Florence and its vicinity and on every curtain in the Uffizi.
The truth gradually spreading, the city then rose for the Medici and justice began to be done. The Archbishop was handed at once, just as he was, from a window of the Palazzo Vecchio. Francesco de' Pazzi, who had got home to bed, was dragged to the Palazzo and hanged too. The mob meanwhile were not idle, and most of the Pazzi were accounted for, together with many followers—although Lorenzo publicly implored them to be merciful. Poliziano, the scholar-poet and friend of Lorenzo, has left a vivid account of the day. With his own eyes he saw the hanging Salviati, in his last throes, bite the hanging Francesco de Pazzi. Old Jacopo succeeded in escaping, but not for long, and a day or so later he too was hanged. Bandini got as far as Constantinople, but was brought back in chains and hanged. The two priests hid in the Benedictine abbey in the city and for a while evaded search, but being found they were torn to pieces by the crowd. Montesecco, having confessed, was beheaded in the courtyard of the Bargello.
The hanging of the chief conspirators was kept in the minds of the short-memoried Florentines by a representation outside the Palazzo Vecchio, by none other than the wistful, spiritual Botticelli; while three effigies, life size, of Lorenzo—one of them with his bandaged neck—were made by Verrocchio in coloured wax and set up in places where prayers might be offered. Commemorative medals which may be seen in the Bargello, were also struck, and the family of Pazzi was banished and its name removed by decree from the city's archives. Poor Giuliano, who was generally beloved for his charm and youthful spirits, was buried at S. Lorenzo in great state.
I have often attended High Mass in this Duomo choir—the theatre of the Pazzi tragedy—but never without thinking of that scene.
Luca della Robbia's doors to the new sacristy, which gave the young cardinal his safety, had been finished only eleven years. Donatello was to have designed them, but his work at Padua was too pressing. The commission was then given to Michelozzo, Donatello's partner, and to Luca della Robbia, but it seems likely that Luca did nearly all. The doors are in very high relief, thus differing absolutely from Donatello's at S. Lorenzo, which are in very low. Luca's work here is sweet and mild rather than strong, and the panels derive their principal charm from the angels, who, in pairs, attend the saints. Above the door was placed, at the time of Lorenzo's escape, the beautiful cantoria, also by Luca, which is now in the museum of the cathedral, while above the door of the old sacristy was Donatello's cantoria. Commonplace new ones now take their place. In the semicircle over each door is a coloured relief by Luca: that over the bronze doors being the "Resurrection," and the other the "Ascension"; and they are interesting not only for their beauty but as being the earliest-known examples in Luca's newly-discovered glazed terra-cotta medium, which was to do so much in the hands of himself, his nephew Andrea, and his followers, to make Florence still lovelier and the legend of the Virgin Mary still sweeter. But of the della Robbias and their exquisite genius I shall say more later, when we come to the Bargello.
As different as would be possible to imagine is the genius of that younger sculptor, the author of the Pieta at the back of the altar, near where we now stand, who, when Luca finished these bronze doors, in 1467, was not yet born—Michelangelo Buonarroti. This group, which is unfinished, is the last the old and weary Titan ever worked at, and it was meant to be part of his own tomb. Vasari, to whose "Lives of the Painters" we shall be indebted, as this book proceeds, for so much good human nature, and who speaks of Michelangelo with peculiar authority, since he was his friend, pupil, and correspondent, tells us that once when he went to see the sculptor in Rome, near the end, he found him at work upon this Pieta, but the sculptor was so dissatisfied with one portion that he let his lantern fall in order that Vasari might not see it, saying: "I am so old that death frequently drags at my mantle to take me, and one day my person will fall like this lantern". The Pieta is still in deep gloom, as the master would have liked, but enough is revealed to prove its pathos and its power.
In the east end of the nave is the chapel of S. Zenobius, containing a bronze reliquary by Ghiberti, with scenes upon it from the life of this saint, so important in Florentine religious history. It is, however, very hard to see, and should be illuminated. Zenobius was born at Florence in the reign of Constantine the Great, when Christianity was by no means the prevailing religion of the city, although the way had been paved by various martyrs. After studying philosophy and preaching with much acceptance, Zenobius was summoned to Rome by Pope Damasus. On the Pope's death he became Bishop of Florence, and did much, says Butler, to "extirpate the kingdom of Satan". The saint lived in the ancient tower which still stands—one of the few survivors of Florence's hundreds of towers—at the corner of the Via Por S. Maria (which leads from the Mercato Nuovo to the Ponte Vecchio) and the Via Lambertesca. It is called the Torre de' Girolami, and on S. Zenobius' day—May 25th—is decorated with flowers; and since never are so many flowers in the city of flowers as at that time, it is a sight to see. The remains of the saint were moved to the Duomo, although it had not then its dome, from S. Lorenzo, in 1330, and the simple column in the centre of the road opposite Ghiberti's first Baptistery doors was erected to mark the event, since on that very spot, it is said, stood a dead elm tree which, when the bier of the saint chanced to touch it, immediately sprang to life again and burst into leaf; even, the enthusiastic chronicler adds, into flower. The result was that the tree was cut completely to pieces by relic hunters, but the column by the Baptistery, the work of Brunelleschi (erected on the site of an earlier one), fortunately remains as evidence of the miracle. Ghiberti, however, did not choose this miracle but another for representation; for not only did Zenobius dead restore animation, but while he was himself living he resuscitated two boys. The one was a ward of his own; the second was an ordinary Florentine, for whom the same modest boon was craved by his sorrowing parents. It is one of these scenes of resuscitation which Ghiberti has designed in bronze, while Ridolfo Ghirlandaio painted it in a picture in the Uffizi. We shall see S. Zenobius again in the fresco by Ridolfo's father, the great Ghirlandaio, in the Palazzo Vecchio; while the portrait on the first pillar of the left aisle, as one enters the cathedral is of Zenobius too.
The date of the Pazzi Conspiracy was 1478. A few years later the same building witnessed the extraordinary effects of Savonarola's oratory, when such was the terrible picture he drew of the fate of unregenerate sinners that his listeners' hair was said actually to rise with fright. Savonarola came towards the end of the Renaissance, to give it its death-blow. By contrast there is a tablet on the right wall of the cathedral in honour of one who did much to bring about the paganism and sophistication against which the impassioned reformer uttered his fiercest denunciations: Marsilio Ficino (1433-1491), the neo-Platonist protege of Cosimo de' Medici, and friend both of Piero de' Medici and Lorenzo. To explain Marsilio's influence it is necessary to recede a little into history. In 1439 Cosimo de' Medici succeeded in transferring the scene of the Great Council of the Church to Florence. At this conference representatives of the Western Church, centred in Rome, met those of the Eastern Church, centred in Constantinople, which was still Christian, for the purpose of discussing various matters, not the least of which was the protection of the Eastern Church against the Infidel. Not only was Constantinople continually threatened by the Turks, and in need of arms as well as sympathy, but the two branches of the Church were at enmity over a number of points. It was as much to heal these differences as to seek temporal aid that the Emperor John Palaeologus, the Patriarch of Constantinople, and a vast concourse of nobles, priests, and Greek scholars, arrived in Italy, and, after sojourning at Venice and Ferrara, moved on to Florence at the invitation of Cosimo. The Emperor resided in the Peruzzi palace, now no more, near S. Croce; the Patriarch of Constantinople lodged (and as it chanced, died, for he was very old) at the Ferrantini palace, now the Casa Vernaccia, in the Borgo Pinti; while Pope Eugenius was at the convent attached to S. Maria Novella. The meetings of the Council were held where we now stand—in the cathedral, whose dome had just been placed upon it all ready for them.
The Council failed in its purpose, and, as we know, Constantinople was lost some years later, and the great empire of which John Palaeologus was the last ruler ceased to be. That, however, at the moment is beside the mark. The interesting thing to us is that among the scholars who came from Constantinople, bringing with them numbers of manuscripts and systems of thought wholly new to the Florentines, was one Georgius Gemisthos, a Greek philosopher of much personal charm and comeliness, who talked a bland and beautiful Platonism that was extremely alluring not only to his youthful listeners but also to Cosimo himself. Gemisthos was, however, a Greek, and Cosimo was too busy a man in a city of enemies, or at any rate of the envious, to be able to do much more than extend his patronage to the old man and despatch emissaries to the East for more and more manuscripts; but discerning the allurements of the new gospel, Cosimo directed a Florentine enthusiast who knew Greek to spread the serene creed among his friends, who were all ripe for it, and this enthusiast was none other than a youthful scholar by name Marsilio Ficino, connected with S. Lorenzo, Cosimo's family church, and the son of Cosimo's own physician. To the young and ardent Marsilio, Plato became a god and Gemisthos not less than divine for bringing the tidings. He kept a lamp always burning before Plato's bust, and later founded the Platonic Academy, at which Plato's works were discussed, orations delivered, and new dialogues exchanged, between such keen minds as Marsilio, Pulci, Landini, Giovanni Cavalcanti, Leon Battista Alberti, the architect and scholar, Pico dell a Mirandola, the precocious disputant and aristocratic mystic, Poliziano, the tutor of Lorenzo's sons, and Lorenzo the Magnificent himself. It was thus from the Greek invasion of Florence that proceeded the stream of culture which is known as Humanism, and which, no doubt, in time, was so largely concerned in bringing about that indifference to spiritual things which, leading to general laxity and indulgence, filled Savonarola with despair.
I am not concerned to enter deeply into the subject of the Renaissance. But this must be said—that the new painting and sculpture, particularly the painting of Masaccio and the sculpture of Donatello, had shown the world that the human being could be made the measure of the Divine. The Madonna and Christ had been related to life. The new learning, by leading these keen Tuscan intellects, so eager for reasonableness, to the Greek philosophers who were so wise and so calm without any of the consolations of Christianity, naturally set them wondering if there were not a religion of Humanity that was perhaps a finer thing than the religion that required all the machinery and intrigue of Rome. And when, as the knowledge of Greek spread and the minute examination of documents ensued, it was found that Rome had not disdained forgery to gain her ends, a blow was struck against the Church from which it never recovered;—and how much of this was due to this Florentine Marsilio, sitting at the feet of the Greek Gemisthos, who came to Florence at the invitation of Cosimo de' Medici!
The cathedral glass, as I say, is mostly overladen with grime; but the circular windows in the dome seem to be magnificent in design. They are attributed to Ghiberti and Donatello, and are lovely in colour. The greens in particular are very striking. But the jewel of these circular windows of Florence is that by Ghiberti on the west wall of S. Croce.
And here I leave the Duomo, with the counsel to visitors to Florence to make a point of entering it every day—not, as so many Florentines do, in order to make a short cut from the Via Calzaioli to the Via de' Servi, and vice versa, but to gather its spirit. It is different every hour in the day, and every hour the light enters it with new beauty.
The Duomo III: A Ceremony and a Museum
The Scoppio del Carro—The Pazzi beneficent—Holy Saturday's programme—April 6th, 1912—The flying palle—The nervous pyrotechnist—The influence of noon—A little sister of the Duomo—Donatello's cantoria—Luca della Robbia's cantoria.
In the last chapter we saw the Pazzi family as very black sheep, although there are plenty of students of Florentine history who hold that any attempt to rid Florence of the Medici was laudable. In this chapter we see them in a kindlier situation as benefactors to the city. For it happened that when Pazzo de' Pazzi, a founder of the house, was in the Holy Land during the First Crusade, it was his proud lot to set the Christian banner on the walls of Jerusalem, and, as a reward, Godfrey of Boulogne gave him some flints from the Holy Sepulchre. These he brought to Florence, and they are now preserved at SS. Apostoli, the little church in the Piazza del Limbo, off the Borgo SS. Apostoli, and every year the flints are used to kindle the fire needed for the right preservation of Easter Day. Gradually the ceremony enlarged until it became a spectacle indeed, which the Pazzi family for centuries controlled. After the Pazzi conspiracy they lost it and the Signoria took it over; but, on being pardoned, the Pazzi again resumed.
The Carro is a car containing explosives, and the Scoppio is its explosion. This car, after being drawn in procession through the streets by white oxen, is ignited by the sacred fire borne to it by a mechanical dove liberated at the high altar of the Duomo, and with its explosion Easter begins. There is still a Pazzi fund towards the expenses, but a few years ago the city became responsible for the whole proceedings, and the ceremony as it is now given, under civic management, known as the Scoppio del Cairo, is that which I saw on Holy Saturday last and am about to describe.
First, however, let me state what had happened before the proceedings opened in the Piazza del Duomo. At six o'clock mass began at SS. Apostoli, lasting for more than two hours. At its close the celebrant was handed a plate on which were the sacred flints, and these he struck with a steel in view of the congregation, thus igniting a taper. The candle, in an ancient copper porta fuoco surmounted by a dove, was then lighted, and the procession of priests started off for the cathedral with their precious flame, escorted by a civic guard and various standard bearers. Their route was the Piazza del Limbo, along the Borgo SS. Apostoli to the Via Por S. Maria and through the Vacchereccia to the Piazza della Signoria, the Via Condotta, the Via del Proconsolo, to the Duomo, through whose central doors they passed, depositing the sacred burden at the high altar. I should add that anyone on the route in charge of a street shrine had the right to stop the procession in order to take a light from it; while at SS. Apostoli women congregated with tapers and lanterns in the hope of getting these kindled from the sacred flame, in order to wash their babies or cook their food in water heated with the fire.
Meanwhile at seven o'clock the four oxen, which are kept in the Cascine all the year round and do no other work, had been harnessed to the car and had drawn it to the Piazza del Duomo, which was reached about nine. The oxen were then tethered by the Pisano doors of the Baptistery until needed again.
After some haggling on the night before, I had secured a seat on a balcony facing Ghiberti's first Baptistery doors, for eleven lire, and to this place I went at half-past ten. The piazza was then filling up, and at a quarter to eleven the trams running between the Cathedral and the Baptistery were stopped. In this space was the car. The present one, which dates from 1622, is more like a catafalque, and unless one sees it in motion, with the massive white oxen pulling it, one cannot believe in it as a vehicle at all. It is some thirty feet high, all black, with trumpery coloured-paper festoons (concealing fireworks) upon it: trumpery as only the Roman Catholic Church can contrive. It stood in front of the Duomo some four yards from the Baptistery gates in a line with the Duomo's central doors and the high altar. The doors were open, seats being placed on each side of the aisle the whole distance, and people making a solid avenue. Down this avenue were to come the clergy, and above it was to be stretched the line on which the dove was to travel from the altar, with the Pazzi fire, to ignite the car.
The space in front of the cathedral was cleared at about eleven, and cocked hats and red-striped trousers then became the most noticeable feature. The crowd was jolly and perhaps a little cynical; picture-postcard hawkers made most of the noise, and for some reason or other a forlorn peasant took this opportunity to offer for sale two equally forlorn hedgehogs. Each moment the concourse increased, for it is a fateful day and every one wants to know the issue: because, you see, if the dove runs true, lights the car, and returns, as a good dove should, to the altar ark, there will be a prosperous vintage and the pyrotechnist who controls the sacred bird's movements will receive his wages. But if the dove runs defectively and there is any hitch, every one is dismayed, for the harvest will be bad and the pyrotechnist will receive nothing. Once he was imprisoned when things went astray—and quite right too—but the Florentines have grown more lenient.
At about a quarter past eleven a procession of clergy emerged from the Duomo and crossed the space to the Baptistery. First, boys and youths in surplices. Then some scarlet hoods, waddling. Then purple hoods, and other colours, a little paunchier, waddling more, and lastly the archbishop, very sumptuous. All having disappeared into the Baptistery, through Ghiberti's second gates, which I never saw opened before, the dove's wire was stretched and fastened, a matter needing much care; and the crowds began to surge. The cocked hats and officers had the space all to themselves, with the car, the firemen, the pyrotechnist and the few privileged and very self-conscious civilians who were allowed inside.
A curious incident, which many years ago might have been magnified into a portent, occurred while the ecclesiastics were in the Artistry. Some one either bought and liberated several air balloons, or the string holding them was surreptitiously cut; but however it happened, the balls escaped and suddenly the crowd sent up a triumphant yell. At first I could see no reason for it, the Baptistery intervening, but then the balls swam into our ken and steadily floated over the cathedral out of sight amid tremendous satisfaction. And the portent? Well, as they moved against the blue sky they formed themselves into precisely the pattern of the palle on the Medici escutcheon. That is all. But think what that would have meant in the fifteenth century; the nods and frowns it would have occasioned; the dispersal of the Medici, the loss of power, and all the rest of it, that it would have presaged!
At about twenty to twelve the ecclesiastics returned and were swallowed up by the Duomo, and then excitement began to be acute. The pyrotechnist was not free from it; he fussed about nervously; he tested everything again and again; he crawled under the car and out of it; he talked to officials; he inspected and re-inspected. Photographers began to adjust their distances; the detached men in bowlers looked at their watches; the cocked hats drew nearer to the Duomo door. And then we heard a tearing noise. All eyes were turned to the great door, and out rushed the dove emitting a wake of sparks, entered the car and was out again on its homeward journey before one realized what had happened. And then the explosions began, and the bells—silent since Thursday—broke out. How many explosions there were I do not know; but they seemed to go on for ten minutes.
This is a great moment not only for the spectator but for all Florence, for in myriad rooms mothers have been waiting, with their babies on their knees, for the first clang of the belfries, because if a child's eyes are washed then it is unlikely ever to have weak sight, while if a baby takes its first steps to this accompaniment its legs will not be bowed.
At the last explosion the pyrotechnist, now a calm man once more and a proud one, approached the car, the firemen poured water on smouldering parts, and the work of clearing up began. Then came the patient oxen, their horns and hooves gilt, and great masses of flowers on their heads, and red cloths with the lily of Florence on it over their backs—much to be regretted since they obliterated their beautiful white skins—and slowly the car lumbered off, and, the cocked hats relenting, the crowd poured after it and the Scoppio del Carro was over.
The Duomo has a little sister in the shape of the Museo di Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Museo dell' Opera del Duomo, situated in the Piazza opposite the apse; and we should go there now. This museum, which is at once the smallest and, with the exception of the Natural History Museum, the cheapest of the Florentine museums, for it costs but half a lira, is notable for containing the two cantorie, or singing galleries, made for the cathedral, one by Donatello and one by Luca della Robbia. A cantoria by Donatello we shall soon see in its place in S. Lorenzo; but that, beautiful as it is, cannot compare with this one, with its procession of merry, dancing children, its massiveness and grace, its joyous ebullitions of gold mosaic and blue enamel. Both the cantorie—Donatello's, begun in 1433 and finished in 1439, and Luca's, begun in 1431 and finished in 1438—fulfilled their melodious functions in the Duomo until 1688, when they were ruthlessly cleared away to make room for large wooden balconies to be used in connexion with the nuptials of Ferdinand de' Medici and the Princess Violante of Bavaria. In the year 1688 taste was at a low ebb, and no one thought the deposed cantorie even worth preservation, so that they were broken up and occasionally levied upon for cornices and so forth. The fragments were collected and taken to the Bargello in the middle of the last century, and in 1883 Signer del Moro, the then architect of the Duomo (whose bust is in the courtyard of this museum), reconstructed them to the best of his ability in their present situation. It has to be remembered not only that, with the exception of the figures, the galleries are not as their artists made them, lacking many beautiful accessories, but that, as Vasari tells us, Donatello deliberately designed his for a dim light. None the less, they remain two of the most delightful works of the Renaissance and two of the rarest treasures of Florence.
The dancing boys behind the small pillars with their gold chequering, the brackets, and the urn of the cornice over the second pair of pillars from the right, are all that remain of Donatello's own handiwork. All else is new and conjectural. It is supposed that bronze heads of lions filled the two circular spaces between the brackets in the middle. But although the loss of the work as a whole is to be regretted, the dancing boys remain, to be for ever an inspiration and a pleasure. The Luca della Robbia cantoria opposite is not quite so triumphant a masterpiece, but from the point of view of suitability it is perhaps better. We can believe that Luca's children hymn the glory of the Lord, as indeed the inscription makes them, whereas Donatello's romp with a gladness that might easily be purely pagan. Luca's design is more formal, more conventional; Donatello's is rich and free and fluid with personality. The two end panels of Luca's are supplied in the cantoria by casts; the originals are on the wall below and may be carefully studied. The animation and fervour of these choristers are unforgettable.
It is well, while enjoying Donatello's work, to remember that Prato is only half an hour from Florence, and that there may be seen the open-air pulpit, built on the corner of the cathedral, which Donatello, with Michelozzo, his friend and colleague, made at the same time that the cantoria was in progress, and which in its relief of happy children is very similar, although not, I think, quite so remarkable. It lacks also the peculiarly naturalistic effect gained in the cantoria by setting the dancing boys behind the pillars, which undoubtedly, as comparison with the Luca shows, assists realism. The row of pillars attracts the eye first and the boys are thus thrown into a background which almost moves.
Although the cantorie dominate the museum they must not be allowed to overshadow all else. A marble relief of the Madonna and Children by Agostino di Duccio (1418-1481) must be sought for: it is No. 77 and the children are the merriest in Florence. Another memorable Madonna and Child is No. 94, by Pagno di Lapo Portigiani (1406-1470), who has interest for us in this place as being one of Donatello's assistants, very possibly on this very cantoria, and almost certainly on the Prato pulpit. Everything here, it must be remembered, has some association with the Duomo and was brought here for careful preservation and that whoever has fifty centimes might take pleasure in seeing it; but the great silver altar is from the Baptistery, and being made for that temple is naturally dedicated to the life of John the Baptist. Although much of it was the work of not the greatest modellers in the second half of the fourteenth century, three masters at least contributed later: Michelozzo adding the statue of the Baptist, Pollaiuolo the side relief depicting his birth, and Verrocchio that of his death, which is considered one of the most remarkable works of this sculptor, whom we are to find so richly represented at the Bargello. Before leaving this room, look for 100^3, an unknown terra-cotta of the Birth of Eve, which is both masterly and amusing, and 110^4, a very lovely intaglio in wood. I might add that among the few paintings, all very early, is a S. Sebastian in whose sacred body I counted no fewer than thirty arrows; which within my knowledge of pictures of this saint—not inconsiderable—is the highest number.
The next room is given to models and architectural plans and drawings connected with the cathedral, the most interesting thing being Brunelleschi's own model for the lantern. On the stairs are a series of fine bas-reliefs by Bandinelli and Giovanni dell' Opera from the old choir screen of the Duomo, and downstairs, among many other pieces of sculpture, is a bust of Brunelleschi from a death-mask and several beautiful della Robbia designs for lunettes over doors.
The Campanile and the Baptistery
A short way with Veronese critics—Giotto's missing spire—Donatello's holy men—Giotto as encyclopaedist—The seven and twenty reliefs—Ruskin in American—At the top of the tower—A sea of red roofs—The restful Baptistery—Historic stones—An ex-Pope's tomb—Andrea Pisano's doors—Ghiberti's first doors—Ghiberti's second doors—Michelangelo's praise—A gentleman artist.
It was in 1332, as I have said, that Giotto was made capo-maestro, and on July 18th, 1334, the first stone of his campanile was laid, the understanding being that the structure was to exceed "in magnificence, height, and excellence of workmanship" anything in the world. As some further indication of the glorious feeling of patriotism then animating the Florentines, it may be remarked that when a Veronese who happened to be in Florence ventured to suggest that the city was aiming rather too high, he was at once thrown into gaol, and, on being set free when his time was done, was shown the treasury as an object lesson. Of the wealth and purposefulness of Florence at that time, in spite of the disastrous bellicose period she had been passing through, Villani the historian, who wrote history as it was being made, gives an excellent account, which Macaulay summarizes in his vivid way. Thus: "The revenue of the Republic amounted to three hundred thousand florins; a sum which, allowing for the depreciation of the precious metals, was at least equivalent to six hundred thousand pounds sterling; a larger sum than England and Ireland, two centuries ago, yielded to Elizabeth. The manufacture of wool alone employed two hundred factories and thirty thousand workmen. The cloth annually produced sold, at an average, for twelve hundred thousand florins; a sum fully equal in exchangeable value to two millions and a half of our money. Four hundred thousand florins were annually coined. Eighty banks conducted the commercial operations, not of Florence only but of all Europe. The transactions of these establishments were sometimes of a magnitude which may surprise even the contemporaries of the Barings and the Rothschilds. Two houses advanced to Edward III of England upwards of three hundred thousand marks, at a time when the mark contained more silver than fifty shillings of the present day, and when the value of silver was more than quadruple of what it now is. The city and its environs contained a hundred and seventy thousand children inhabitants. In the various schools about ten thousand children were taught to read; twelve hundred studied arithmetic; six hundred received a learned education."
Giotto died in 1386, and after his death, as I have said, Andrea Pisano came in for a while; to be followed by Talenti, who is said to have made considerable alterations in Giotto's design and to be responsible for the happy idea of increasing the height of the windows with the height of the tower and thus adding to the illusion of springing lightness. The topmost ones, so bold in size and so lovely with their spiral columns, almost seem to lift it.
The campanile to-day is 276 feet in height, and Giotto proposed to add to that a spire of 105 feet. The Florentines completed the facade of the cathedral in 1887 and are now spending enormous sums on the Medici chapel at S. Lorenzo; why should they not one day carry out their greatest artist's intention?
The campanile as a structure had been finished in 1387, but not for many years did it receive its statues, of which something must be said, although it is impossible to get more than a vague idea of them, so high are they. A captive balloon should be arranged for the use of visitors. Those by Donatello, on the Baptistery side, are the most remarkable. The first of these—that nearest to the cathedral and the most striking as seen from the distant earth—is called John the Baptist, always a favourite subject with this sculptor, who, since he more than any at that thoughtful time endeavoured to discover and disclose the secret of character, is curiously unfortunate in the accident that has fastened names to these figures. This John, for example, bears no relation to his other Baptists; nor does the next figure represent David, as is generally supposed, but owes that error to the circumstance that when the David that originally stood here was moved to the north side, the old plinth bearing his name was left behind. This famous figure is stated by Vasari to be a portrait of a Florentine merchant named Barduccio Cherichini, and for centuries it has been known as Il Zuccone (or pumpkin) from its baldness. Donatello, according to Vasari, had a particular liking for the work, so much that he used to swear by it; while, when engaged upon it, he is said to have so believed in its reality as to exclaim, "Speak, speak! or may a dysentery seize thee!" It is now generally considered to represent Job, and we cannot too much regret the impossibility of getting near enough to study it. Next is the Jeremiah, which, according to Vasari, was a portrait of another Florentine, but which, since he bears his name on a scroll, may none the less be taken to realize the sculptor's idea of Jeremiah. It is (according to the photographs) a fine piece of rugged vivacity, and the head is absolutely that of a real man. On the opposite side of the tower is the magnificent Abraham's sacrifice from the same strong hand, and by it Habakkuk, who is no less near life than the Jeremiah and Job, but a very different type. At both Or San Michele and the Bargello we are to find Donatello perhaps in a finer mood than here, and comfortably visible.
For most visitors to Florence and all disciples of Ruskin, the chief interest of the campanile ("The Shepherd's Tower" as he calls it) is the series of twenty-seven reliefs illustrating the history of the world and the progress of mankind, which are to be seen round the base, the design, it is supposed, of Giotto, executed by Andrea Pisano and Luca della Robbia. To Andrea are given all those on the west (7), south (7), east (5), and the two eastern ones on the north; to Luca the remaining five on the north. Ruskin's fascinating analysis of these reliefs should most certainly be read (without a total forgetfulness of the shepherd's other activities as a painter, architect, humorist, and friend of princes and poets), but equally certainly not in the American pirated edition which the Florentine booksellers are so ready (to their shame) to sell you. Only Ruskin in his best mood of fury could begin to do justice to the misspellings and mispunctuations of this terrible production.
Ruskin, I may say, believes several of the carvings to be from Giotto's own chisel as well as design, but other and more modern authorities disagree, although opinion now inclines to the belief that the designs for Pisano's Baptistery doors are also his. Such thoroughness and ingenuity were all in Giotto's way, and they certainly suggest his active mind. The campanile series begins at the west side with the creation of man. Among the most attractive are, I think, those devoted to agriculture, with the spirited oxen, to astronomy, to architecture, to weaving, and to pottery. Giotto was even so thorough as to give one relief to the conquest of the air; and he makes Noah most satisfactorily drunk. Note also the Florentine fleur-de-lis round the base of the tower. Every fleur-de-lis in Florence is beautiful—even those on advertisements and fire-plugs—but few are more beautiful than these.
I climbed the campanile one fine morning—417 steps from the ground—and was well repaid; but I think it is wiser to ascend the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, because one is higher there and, since the bulk of the dome, which intrudes from the campanile, is avoided, one has a better all-round view. Florence seen from this eminence is very red—so uniformly so that many towers rise against it almost indistinguishably, particularly the Bargello's and the Badia's. One sees at once how few straight streets there are—the Ricasoli standing out among them as the exception; and one realizes how the city has developed outside, with its boulevards where the walls once were, leaving the gates isolated, and its cincture of factories. The occasional glimpses of cloisters and verdure among the red are very pleasant. One of the objects cut off by the cathedral dome is the English cemetery, but the modern Jewish temple stands out as noticeably almost as any of the ancient buildings. The Pitti looks like nothing but a barracks and the Porta Ferdinando has prominence which it gets from no other point. The roof of the Mercato Centrale is the ugliest thing in the view. While I was there the midday gun from the Boboli fortress was fired, instantly having its punctual double effect of sending all the pigeons up in a grey cloud of simulated alarm and starting every bell in the city.
Those wishing to make either the campanile or Duomo ascents must remember to do it early. The closing hour for the day being twelve, no one is allowed to start up after about a quarter past eleven: a very foolish arrangement, since Florence and the surrounding Apennines under a slanting sun are more beautiful than in the morning glare, and the ascent would be less fatiguing. As it was, on descending, after being so long at the top, I was severely reprimanded by the custodian, who had previously marked me down as a barbarian for refusing his offer of field-glasses. But the Palazzo Vecchio tower is open till five.
The Baptistery is the beautiful octagonal building opposite the cathedral, and once the cathedral itself. It dates from the seventh or eighth century, but as we see it now is a product chiefly of the thirteenth. The bronze doors opposite the Via Calzaioli are open every day, a circumstance which visitors, baffled by the two sets of Ghiberti doors always so firmly closed, are apt to overlook. All children born in Florence are still baptized here, and I watched one afternoon an old priest at the task, a tiny Florentine being brought in to receive the name of Tosca, which she did with less distaste than most, considering how thorough was his sprinkling. The Baptistery is rich in colour both without and within. The floor alone is a marvel of intricate inlaying, including the signs of the zodiac and a gnomic sentence which reads the same backwards and forwards—"En gire torte sol ciclos et roterigne". On this very pavement Dante, who called the church his "beautiful San Giovanni," has walked. Over the altar is a gigantic and primitive Christ in mosaic, more splendid than spiritual. The mosaics in the recesses of the clerestory—grey and white—are the most soft and lovely of all. I believe the Baptistery is the most restful place in Florence; and this is rather odd considering that it is all marble and mosaic patterns. But its shape is very soothing, and age has given it a quality of its own, and there is just that touch of barbarism about it such as one gets in Byzantine buildings to lend it a peculiar character here.
The most notable sculpture in the Baptistery is the tomb of the ex-Pope John XXIII, whose licentiousness was such that there was nothing for it but to depose and imprison him. He had, however, much money, and on his liberation he settled in Florence, presented a true finger of John the Baptist to the Baptistery, and arranged in return for his bones to repose in that sanctuary. One of his executors was that Niccolo da Uzzano, the head of the noble faction in the city, whose coloured bust by Donatello is in the Bargello. The tomb is exceedingly fine, the work of Donatello and his partner Michelozzo, who were engaged to make it by Giovanni de' Medici, the ex-pontiff's friend, and the father of the great Cosimo. The design is all Donatello's, and his the recumbent cleric, lying very naturally, hardly as if dead at all, a little on one side, so that his face is seen nearly full; the three figures beneath are Michelozzo's; but Donatello probably carved the seated angels who display the scroll which bears the dead Pope's name. The Madonna and Child above are by Donatello's assistant, Pagno di Lapo Portigiani, a pretty relief by whom we saw in the Museum of the Cathedral. Being in red stone, and very dusty, like Ghiberti's doors (which want the hose regularly), the lines of the tomb are much impaired. Donatello is also represented here by a Mary Magdalene in wood, on an altar at the left of the entrance door, very powerful and poignant.
In the ordinary way, when visitors to Florence speak of the Baptistery doors they mean those opposite the Duomo, and when they go to the Bargello and look at the designs made by Ghiberti and Brunelleschi in competition, they think that the competition was for those. But that is wrong. Ghiberti won his spurs with the doors on the north side, at which comparatively few persons look. The famous doors opposite the Duomo were commissioned many years later, when his genius was acknowledged and when he had become so accomplished as to do what he liked with his medium. Before, however, coming to Ghiberti, we ought to look at the work of an early predecessor but for whom there might have been no Ghiberti at all; for while Ghiberti was at work with his assistants on these north doors, between 1403 and 1424, the place which they occupy was filled by those executed seventy years earlier by Andrea Pisano (1270-1348), possibly from Giotto's designs, which are now at the south entrance, opposite the charming little loggia at the corner of the Via Calzaioli, called the Bigallo. These represent twenty scenes in the life of S. John the Baptist, and below them are eight figures of cardinal and Christian virtues, and they employed their sculptor from 1330 to 1336. They have three claims to notice: as being admirably simple and vigorous in themselves; as having influenced all later workers in this medium, and particularly Ghiberti and Donatello; and as being the bronze work of the sculptor of certain of the stone scenes round the base of Giotto's campanile. The panel in which the Baptist is seen up to his waist in the water is surely the very last word in audacity in bronze. Ghiberti was charged with making bronze do things that it was ill fitted for; but I do not know that even he moulded water—and transparent water—from it.
The year 1399 is one of the most notable in the history of modern art, since it was then that the competition for the Baptistery gates was made public, this announcement being the spring from which many rivers flowed. In that year Lorenzo Ghiberti, a young goldsmith assisting his father, was twenty-one, and Filippo Brunelleschi, another goldsmith, was twenty-two, while Giotto had been dead sixty-three years and the impulse he had given to painting had almost worked itself out. The new doors were to be of the same shape and size as those by Andrea Pisano, which were already getting on for seventy years old, and candidates were invited to make a specimen relief to scale, representing the interrupted sacrifice of Isaac, although the subject-matter of the doors was to be the Life of S. John the Baptist. Among the judges was that Florentine banker whose name was beginning to be known in the city as a synonym for philanthropy, enlightenment, and sagacity, Giovanni de' Medici. In 1401 the specimens were ready, and after much deliberation as to which was the better, Ghiberti's or Brunelleschi's—assisted, some say, by Brunelleschi's own advice in favour of his rival—the award was given to Ghiberti, and he was instructed to proceed with his task; while Brunelleschi, as we have seen, being a man of determined ambition, left for Rome to study architecture, having made up his mind to be second to no one in whichever of the arts and crafts he decided to pursue. Here then was the first result of the competition—that it turned Brunelleschi to architecture.
Ghiberti began seriously in 1408 and continued till 1424, when the doors were finished; but, in order to carry out the work, he required assistance in casting and so forth, and for that purpose engaged among others a sculptor named Donatello (born in 1386), a younger sculptor named Luca della Robbia (born in 1400), and a gigantic young painter called Masaccio (born in 1401), each of whom was destined, taking fire no doubt from Ghiberti and his fine free way, to be a powerful innovator—Donatello (apart from other and rarer achievements) being the first sculptor since antiquity to place a statue on a pedestal around which observers could walk; Masaccio being the first painter to make pictures in the modern use of the term, with men and women of flesh and blood in them, as distinguished from decorative saints, and to be by example the instructor of all the greatest masters, from his pupil Lippo Lippi to Leonardo and Michelangelo; and Luca della Robbia being the inspired discoverer of an inexpensive means of glazing terra-cotta so that his beautiful and radiant Madonnas could be brought within the purchasing means of the poorest congregation in Italy. These alone are remarkable enough results, but when we recollect also that Brunelleschi's defeat led to the building of the cathedral dome, the significance of the event becomes the more extraordinary.
The doors, as I say, were finished in 1424, after twenty-one years' labour, and the Signoria left the Palazzo Vecchio in procession to see their installation. In the number and shape of the panels Pisano set the standard, but Ghiberti's work resembled that of his predecessor very little in other ways, for he had a mind of domestic sweetness without austerity and he was interested in making everything as easy and fluid and beautiful as might be. His thoroughness recalls Giotto in certain of his frescoes. The impression left by Pisano's doors is akin to that left by reading the New Testament; but Ghiberti makes everything happier than that. Two scenes—both on the level of the eye—I particularly like: the "Annunciation," with its little, lithe, reluctant Virgin, and the "Adoration". The border of the Pisano doors is, I think, finer than that of Ghiberti's; but it is a later work.
Looking at them even now, with eyes that remember so much of the best art that followed them and took inspiration from them, we can understand the better how delighted Florence must have been with this new picture gallery and how the doors were besieged by sightseers. But greater still was to come. Ghiberti at once received the commission to make two more doors on his own scale for the south side of the Baptistery, and in 1425 he had begun on them. These were not finished until 1452, so that Ghiberti, then a man of seventy-four, had given practically his whole life to the making of four bronze doors. It is true that he did a few other things besides, such as the casket of S. Zenobius in the Duomo, and the Baptist and S. Matthew for Or San Michele; but he may be said justly to live by his doors, and particularly by the second pair, although it was the first pair that had the greater effect on his contemporaries and followers.
Among his assistants on these were Antonio Pollaiuolo (born in 1429), who designed the quail in the left border, and Paolo Uccello (born in 1397), both destined to be men of influence. The bald head on the right door is a portrait of Ghiberti; that of the old man on the left is his father, who helped him to polish the original competition plaque. Although commissioned for the south side they were placed where they now are, on the east, as being most worthy of the position of honour, and Pisano's doors, which used to be here, were moved to the south, where they now are.
On Ghiberti's workshop opposite S. Maria Nuova, in the Via Bufalini, the memorial tablet mentions Michelangelo's praise—that these doors were beautiful enough to be the Gates of Paradise. After that what is an ordinary person to say? That they are lovely is a commonplace. But they are more. They are so sensitive; bronze, the medium which Horace has called, by implication, the most durable of all, has become in Ghiberti's hands almost as soft as wax and tender as flesh. It does all he asks; it almost moves; every trace of sternness has vanished from it. Nothing in plastic art that we have ever seen or shall see is more easy and ingratiating than these almost living pictures.
Before them there is steadily a little knot of admirers, and on Sundays you may always see country people explaining the panels to each other. Every one has his favourite among these fascinating Biblical scenes, and mine are Cain and Abel, with the ploughing, and Abraham and Isaac, with its row of fir trees. It has been explained by the purists that the sculptor stretched the bounds of plastic art too far and made bronze paint pictures; but most persons will agree to ignore that. Of the charm of Ghiberti's mind the border gives further evidence, with its fruits and foliage, birds and woodland creatures, so true to life, and here fixed for all time, so naturally, that if these animals should ever (as is not unlikely in Italy where every one has a gun and shoots at his pleasure) become extinct, they could be created again from these designs.
Ghiberti, who enjoyed great honour in his life and a considerable salary as joint architect of the dome with Brunelleschi, died three years after the completion of the second doors and was buried in S. Croce. His place in Florentine art is unique and glorious.
The broken porphyry pillars by these second doors were a gift from Pisa to Florence in recognition of Florence's watchfulness over Pisa while the Pisans were away subduing the Balearic islanders.
The bronze group over Ghiberti's first doors, representing John the Baptist preaching between a Pharisee and a Levite, are the work (either alone or assisted by his master Leonardo da Vinci) of an interesting Florentine sculptor, Giovanni Francesco Rustici (1474-1554), who was remarkable among the artists of his time in being what we should call an amateur, having a competence of his own and the manners of a patron. Placing himself under Verrocchio, he became closely attached to Leonardo, a fellow-pupil, and made him his model rather than the older man. He took his art lightly, and lived, in Vasari's phrase, "free from care," having such beguilements as a tame menagerie (Leonardo, it will be remembered, loved animals too and had a habit of buying small caged birds in order to set them free), and two or three dining clubs, the members of which vied with each other in devising curious and exotic dishes. Andrea del Sarto, for example, once brought as his contribution to the feast a model of this very church we are studying, the Baptistery, of which the floor was constructed of jelly, the pillars of sausages, and the choir desk of cold veal, while the choristers were roast thrushes. Rustici further paved the way to a life free from care by appointing a steward of his estate whose duty it was to see that his money-box, to which he went whenever he wanted anything, always had money in it. This box he never locked, having learned that he need fear no robbery by once leaving his cloak for two days under a bush and then finding it again. "This world," he exclaimed, "is too good: it will not last." Among his pets were a porcupine trained to prick the legs of his guests under the table "so that they drew them in quickly"; a raven that spoke like a human being; an eagle, and many snakes. He also studied necromancy, the better to frighten his apprentices. He left Florence in 1528, after the Medici expulsion, and, like Leonardo, took service with Francis the First. He died at the age of eighty.
I had an hour and more exactly opposite the Rustici group, on the same level, while waiting for the Scoppio del Carro, and I find it easy to believe that Leonardo himself had a hand in the work. The figure of the Baptist is superb, the attitude of his listeners masterly.
The Riccardi Palace and the Medici
An evasion of history—"Il Caparra"—The Gozzoli frescoes—Giovanni de' Medici (di Bicci)—Cosimo de' Medici—The first banishment—Piero de' Medici—Lorenzo de' Medici—Piero di Lorenzo de' Medici—The second banishment—Giuliano di Lorenzo de' Medici—Leo X—Lorenzo di Piero di Lorenzo de' Medici—Clement VII—Third banishment of the Medici—The siege of Florence—Alessandro de' Medici—Ippolito de' Medici—Lorenzino de' Medici—Giovanni delle Bande Nere—Cosimo I—The Grand Dukes.
The natural step from the Baptistery would be to the Uffizi. But for us not yet; because in order to understand Florence, and particularly the Florence that existed between the extreme dates that I have chosen as containing the fascinating period—namely 1296, when the Duomo was begun, and 1564, when Michelangelo died—one must understand who and what the Medici were.
While I have been enjoying the pleasant task of writing this book—which has been more agreeable than any literary work I have ever done—I have continually been conscious of a plaintive voice at my shoulder, proceeding from one of the vigilant and embarrassing imps who sit there and do duty as conscience, inquiring if the time is not about ripe for introducing that historical sketch of Florence without which no account such as this can be rightly understood. And ever I have replied with words of a soothing and procrastinating nature. But now that we are face to face with the Medici family, in their very house, I am conscious that the occasion for that historical sketch is here indeed, and equally I am conscious of being quite incapable of supplying it. For the history of Florence between, say the birth of Giotto or Dante and the return of Cosimo de' Medici from exile, when the absolute Medici rule began, is so turbulent, crowded, and complex that it would require the whole of this volume to describe it. The changes in the government of the city would alone occupy a good third, so constant and complicated were they. I should have to explain the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, the Neri and the Bianchi, the Guilds and the Priors, the gonfalonieri and the podesta, the secondo popolo and the buonuomini.
Rather than do this imperfectly I have chosen to do it not at all; and the curious must resort to historians proper. But there is at the end of the volume a table of the chief dates in Florentine and European history in the period chosen, together with births and deaths of artists and poets and other important persons, so that a bird's-eye view of the progress of affairs can be quickly gained, while in this chapter I offer an outline of the great family of rulers of Florence who made the little city an aesthetic lawgiver to the world and with whom her later fame, good or ill, is indissolubly united. For the rest, is there not the library?
The Medici, once so powerful and stimulating, are still ever in the background of Florence as one wanders hither and thither. They are behind many of the best pictures and most of the best statues. Their escutcheon is everywhere. I ought, I believe, to have made them the subject of my first chapter. But since I did not, let us without further delay turn to the Via Cavour, which runs away to the north from the Baptistery, being a continuation of the Via de' Martelli, and pause at the massive and dignified palace at the first corner on the left. For that is the Medici's home; and afterwards we will step into S. Lorenzo and see the church which Brunelleschi and Donatello made beautiful and Michelangelo wonderful that the Medici might lie there.
Visitors go to the Riccardi palace rather to see Gozzoli's frescoes than anything else; and indeed apart from the noble solid Renaissance architecture of Michelozzo there is not much else to see. In the courtyard are certain fragments of antique sculpture arranged against the walls, and a sarcophagus is shown in which an early member of the family, Guccio de' Medici, who was gonfalonier in 1299, once reposed. There too are Donatello's eight medallions, but they are not very interesting, being only enlarged copies of old medals and cameos and not notable for his own characteristics.
Hence it is that, after Gozzoli, by far the most interesting part of this building is its associations. For here lived Cosimo de' Medici, whose building of the palace was interrupted by his banishment as a citizen of dangerous ambition; here lived Piero de' Medici, for whom Gozzoli worked; here was born and here lived Lorenzo the Magnificent. To this palace came the Pazzi conspirators to lure Giuliano to the Duomo and his doom. Here did Charles VIII—Savonarola's "Flagellum Dei"—lodge and loot, and it was here that Capponi frightened him with the threat of the Florentine bells; hither came in 1494 the fickle and terrible Florentine mob, always passionate in its pursuit of change and excitement, and now inflamed by the sermons of Savonarola, to destroy the priceless manuscripts and works of art; here was brought up for a year or so the little Catherine de' Medici, and next door was the house in which Alessandro de' Medici was murdered.
It was in the seventeenth century that the palace passed to the Riccardi family, who made many additions. A century later Florence acquired it, and to-day it is the seat of the Prefect of the city. Cosimo's original building was smaller; but much of it remains untouched. The exquisite cornice is Michelozzo's original, and the courtyard has merely lost its statues, among which are Donatello's Judith, now in the Loggia de' Lanzi, and his bronze David, now in the Bargello, while Verrocchio's David was probably on the stairs. The escutcheon on the corner of the house gives us the period of its erection. The seven plain balls proclaim it Cosimo's. Each of the Medici sported these palle, although each had also his private crest. Under Giovanni, Cosimo's father, the balls were eight in number; under Cosimo, seven; under Piero, seven, with the fleur-de-lis of France on the uppermost, given him by Louis XI; under Lorenzo, six; and as one walks about Florence one can approximately fix the date of a building by remembering these changes. How many times they occur on the facades of Florence and its vicinity, probably no one could say; but they are everywhere. The French wits, who were amused to derive Catherine de' Medici from a family of apothecaries, called them pills.
The beautiful lantern at the corner was added by Lorenzo and was the work of an odd ironsmith in Florence for whom he had a great liking—Niccolo Grosso. For Lorenzo had all that delight in character which belongs so often to the born patron and usually to the born connoisseur. This Grosso was a man of humorous independence and bluntness. He had the admirable custom of carrying out his commissions in the order in which they arrived, so that if he was at work upon a set of fire-irons for a poor client, not even Lorenzo himself (who as a matter of fact often tried) could induce him to turn to something more lucrative. The rich who cannot wait he forced to wait. Grosso also always insisted upon something in advance and payment on delivery, and pleasantly described his workshop as being the Sign of the Burning Books,—since if his books were burnt how could he enter a debt? This rule earned for him from Lorenzo the nickname of "Il Caparra" (earnest money). Another of Grosso's eccentricities was to refuse to work for Jews.