+ -+ Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation and spelling in the original document has been preserved. Greek text has been transliterated and marked with +'s. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. + -+
JOHN ADDINGTON SYMONDS,
AUTHOR OF "SKETCHES IN ITALY," ETC.
The Right of Translation is reserved.
This volume of New Italian Sketches has been made up from two books published in England and America under the titles of "Sketches and Studies in Italy" and "Italian Byways." It forms in some respects a companion volume to my "Sketches in Italy" already published in the Tauchnitz Collection of British Authors. But it is quite independent of that other book, and is in no sense a continuation of it. In making the selection, I have however followed the same principles of choice. That is to say, I have included only those studies of places, rather than of literature or history, which may suit the needs of travellers in Italy.
JOHN ADDINGTON SYMONDS.
DAVOS PLATZ, Dec. 1883.
CHRISTIAN BUOL AND CHRISTIAN PALMY
MY FRIENDS AND FELLOW-TRAVELLERS
I DEDICATE THIS BOOK.
Page AUTUMN WANDERINGS 11
MONTE OLIVETO 34
SPRING WANDERINGS 84
MAY IN UMBRIA 106
THE PALACE OF URBINO 138
A VENETIAN MEDLEY 169
THE GONDOLIER'S WEDDING 212
BERGAMO AND BARTOLOMMEO COLLEONI 261
LOMBARD VIGNETTES 282
NEW ITALIAN SKETCHES.
Italiam petimus! We left our upland home before daybreak on a clear October morning. There had been a hard frost, spangling the meadows with rime-crystals, which twinkled where the sun's rays touched them. Men and women were mowing the frozen grass with thin short Alpine scythes; and as the swathes fell, they gave a crisp, an almost tinkling sound. Down into the gorge, surnamed of Avalanche, our horses plunged; and there we lost the sunshine till we reached the Bear's Walk, opening upon the vales of Albula, and Julier, and Schyn. But up above, shone morning light upon fresh snow, and steep torrent-cloven slopes reddening with a hundred fading plants; now and then it caught the grey-green icicles that hung from cliffs where summer streams had dripped. There is no colour lovelier than the blue of an autumn sky in the high Alps, defining ridges powdered with light snow, and melting imperceptibly downward into the warm yellow of the larches and the crimson of the bilberry. Wiesen was radiantly beautiful: those aerial ranges of the hills that separate Albula from Julier soared crystal-clear above their forests; and for a foreground, on the green fields starred with lilac crocuses, careered a group of children on their sledges. Then came the row of giant peaks—Pitz d'Aela, Tinzenhorn, and Michelhorn, above the deep ravine of Albula—all seen across wide undulating golden swards, close-shaven and awaiting winter. Carnations hung from cottage windows in full bloom, casting sharp angular black shadows on white walls.
Italiam petimus! We have climbed the valley of the Julier, following its green, transparent torrent. A night has come and gone at Muehlen. The stream still leads us up, diminishing in volume as we rise, up through the fleecy mists that roll asunder for the sun, disclosing far-off snowy ridges and blocks of granite mountains. The lifeless, soundless waste of rock, where only thin winds whistle out of silence and fade suddenly into still air, is passed. Then comes the descent, with its forests of larch and cembra, golden and dark green upon a ground of grey, and in front the serried shafts of the Bernina, and here and there a glimpse of emerald lake at turnings of the road. Autumn is the season for this landscape. Through the fading of innumerable leaflets, the yellowing of larches, and something vaporous in the low sun, it gains a colour not unlike that of the lands we seek. By the side of the lake at Silvaplana the light was strong and warm, but mellow. Pearly clouds hung over the Maloja, and floating overhead cast shadows on the opaque water, which may literally be compared to chrysoprase. The breadth of golden, brown, and russet tints upon the valley at this moment adds softness to its lines of level strength. Devotees of the Engadine contend that it possesses an austere charm beyond the common beauty of Swiss landscape; but this charm is only perfected in autumn. The fresh snow on the heights that guard it helps. And then there are the forests of dark pines upon those many knolls and undulating mountain-flanks beside the lakes. Sitting and dreaming there in noonday sun, I kept repeating to myself Italiam petimus!
A hurricane blew upward from the pass as we left Silvaplana, ruffling the lake with gusts of the Italian wind. By Silz Maria we came in sight of a dozen Italian workmen, arm linked in arm in two rows, tramping in rhythmic stride, and singing as they went. Two of them were such nobly-built young men, that for a moment the beauty of the landscape faded from my sight, and I was saddened. They moved to their singing, like some of Mason's or Frederick Walker's figures, with the free grace of living statues, and laughed as we drove by. And yet, with all their beauty, industry, sobriety, intelligence, these Italians of the northern valleys serve the sterner people of the Grisons like negroes, doing their roughest work at scanty wages.
So we came to the vast Alpine wall, and stood on a bare granite slab, and looked over into Italy, as men might lean from the battlements of a fortress. Behind lies the Alpine valley, grim, declining slowly northward, with wind-lashed lakes and glaciers sprawling from storm-broken pyramids of gneiss. Below spread the unfathomable depths that lead to Lombardy, flooded with sunlight, filled with swirling vapour, but never wholly hidden from our sight. For the blast kept shifting the cloud-masses, and the sun streamed through in spears and bands of sheeny rays. Over the parapet our horses dropped, down through sable spruce and amber larch, down between tangles of rowan and autumnal underwood. Ever as we sank, the mountains rose—those sharp embattled precipices, toppling spires, impendent chasms blurred with mist, that make the entrance into Italy sublime. Nowhere do the Alps exhibit their full stature, their commanding puissance, with such majesty as in the gates of Italy; and of all those gates I think there is none to compare with Maloja, none certainly to rival it in abruptness of initiation into the Italian secret. Below Vico Soprano we pass already into the violets and blues of Titian's landscape. Then come the purple boulders among chestnut trees; then the double dolomite-like peak of Pitz Badin and Promontogno.
It is sad that words can do even less than painting could to bring this window-scene at Promontogno before another eye. The casement just frames it. In the foreground are meadow slopes, thinly, capriciously planted with chestnut trees and walnuts, each standing with its shadow cast upon the sward. A little farther falls the torrent, foaming down between black jaws of rain-stained granite, with the wooden buildings of a rustic mill set on a ledge of rock. Suddenly above this landscape soars the valley, clothing its steep sides on either hand with pines; and there are emerald isles of pasture on the wooded flanks; and then cliffs, where the red-stemmed larches glow; and at the summit, shooting into ether with a swathe of mist around their basement, soar the double peaks, the one a pyramid, the other a bold broken crystal not unlike the Finsteraarhorn seen from Furka. These are connected by a snowy saddle, and snow is lying on their inaccessible crags in powdery drifts. Sunlight pours between them into the ravine. The green and golden forests now join from either side, and now recede, according as the sinuous valley brings their lines together or disparts them. There is a sound of cow-bells on the meadows; and the roar of the stream is dulled or quickened as the gusts of this October wind sweep by or slacken. Italiam petimus!
Tangimus Italiam! Chiavenna is a worthy key to this great gate Italian. We walked at night in the open galleries of the cathedral-cloister—white, smoothly curving, well-proportioned logge, enclosing a green space, whence soars the campanile to the stars. The moon had sunk, but her light still silvered the mountains that stand at watch round Chiavenna; and the castle rock was flat and black against that dreamy background. Jupiter, who walked so lately for us on the long ridge of the Jacobshorn above our pines, had now an ample space of sky over Lombardy to light his lamp in. Why is it, we asked each other, as we smoked our pipes and strolled, my friend and I;—why is it that Italian beauty does not leave the spirit so untroubled as an Alpine scene? Why do we here desire the flower of some emergent feeling to grow from the air, or from the soil, or from humanity to greet us? This sense of want evoked by Southern beauty is perhaps the antique mythopoeic yearning. But in our perplexed life it takes another form, and seems the longing for emotion, ever fleeting, ever new, unrealised, unreal, insatiable.
II.—OVER THE APENNINES.
At Parma we slept in the Albergo della Croce Bianca, which is more a bric-a-brac shop than an inn; and slept but badly, for the good folk of Parma twanged guitars and exercised their hoarse male voices all night in the street below. We were glad when Christian called us, at 5 A.M., for an early start across the Apennines. This was the day of a right Roman journey. In thirteen and a half hours, leaving Parma at 6, and arriving in Sarzana at 7.30, we flung ourselves across the spine of Italy, from the plains of Eridanus to the seashore of Etruscan Luna. I had secured a carriage and extra post-horses the night before; therefore we found no obstacles upon the road, but eager drivers, quick relays, obsequious postmasters, change, speed, perpetual movement. The road itself is a noble one, and nobly entertained in all things but accommodation for travellers. At Berceto, near the summit of the pass, we stopped just half an hour, to lunch off a mouldly hen and six eggs; but that was all the halt we made.
As we drove out of Parma, striking across the plain to the ghiara of the Taro, the sun rose over the austere autumnal landscape, with its withered vines and crimson haws. Christian, the mountaineer, who at home had never seen the sun rise from a flat horizon, stooped from the box to call attention to this daily recurring miracle, which on the plain of Lombardy is no less wonderful than on a rolling sea. From the village of Fornovo, where the Italian League was camped awaiting Charles VIII. upon that memorable July morn in 1495, the road strikes suddenly aside, gains a spur of the descending Apennines, and keeps this vantage till the pass of La Cisa is reached. Many windings are occasioned by thus adhering to aretes, but the total result is a gradual ascent with free prospect over plain and mountain. The Apennines, built up upon a smaller scale than the Alps, perplexed in detail and entangled with cross sections and convergent systems, lend themselves to this plan of carrying highroads along their ridges instead of following the valley.
What is beautiful in the landscape of that northern water-shed is the subtlety, delicacy, variety, and intricacy of the mountain outlines. There is drawing wherever the eye falls. Each section of the vast expanse is a picture of tossed crests and complicated undulations. And over the whole sea of stationary billows, light is shed like an ethereal raiment, with spare colour—blue and grey, and parsimonious green—in the near foreground. The detail is somewhat dry and monotonous; for these so finely moulded hills are made up of washed earth, the immemorial wrecks of earlier mountain ranges. Brown villages, not unlike those of Midland England, low houses built of stone and tiled with stone, and square-towered churches, occur at rare intervals in cultivated hollows, where there are fields and fruit trees. Water is nowhere visible except in the wasteful river-beds. As we rise, we break into a wilder country, forested with oak, where oxen and goats are browsing. The turf is starred with lilac gentian and crocus bells, but sparely. Then comes the highest village, Berceto, with keen Alpine air. After that, broad rolling downs of yellowing grass and russet beech-scrub lead onward to the pass La Cisa. The sense of breadth in composition is continually satisfied through this ascent by the fine-drawn lines, faint tints, and immense air-spaces of Italian landscape. Each little piece reminds one of England; but the geographical scale is enormously more grandiose, and the effect of majesty proportionately greater.
From La Cisa the road descends suddenly; for the southern escarpment of the Apennines, as of the Alpine, barrier is pitched at a far steeper angle than the northern. Yet there is no view of the sea. That is excluded by the lower hills which hem the Magra. The upper valley is beautiful, with verdant lawns and purple hill-sides breaking down into thick chestnut woods, through which we wound at a rapid pace for nearly an hour. The leaves were still green, mellowing to golden; but the fruit was ripe and heavy, ready at all points to fall. In the still October air the husks above our heads would loosen, and the brown nuts rustle through the foliage, and with a dull short thud, like drops of thunder-rain, break down upon the sod. At the foot of this rich forest, wedged in between huge buttresses, we found Pontremoli, and changed our horses here for the last time. It was Sunday, and the little town was alive with country-folk; tall stalwart fellows wearing peacock's feathers in their black slouched hats, and nut-brown maids.
From this point the valley of the Magra is exceeding rich with fruit trees, vines, and olives. The tendrils of the vine are yellow now, and in some places hued like generous wine; through their thick leaves the sun shot crimson. In one cool garden, as the day grew dusk, I noticed quince trees laden with pale fruit entangled with pomegranates—green spheres and ruddy amid burnished leaves. By the roadside too were many berries of bright hues; the glowing red of haws and hips, the amber of the pyracanthus, the rose tints of the spindle-wood. These make autumn even lovelier than spring. And then there was a wood of chestnuts carpeted with pale pink ling, a place to dream of in the twilight. But the main motive of this landscape was the indescribable Carrara range, an island of pure form and shooting peaks, solid marble, crystalline in shape and texture, faintly blue against the blue sky, from which they were but scarce divided. These mountains close the valley to south-east, and seem as though they belonged to another and more celestial region.
Soon the sunlight was gone, and moonrise came to close the day, as we rolled onward to Sarzana, through arundo donax and vine-girdled olive trees and villages, where contadini lounged upon the bridges. There was a stream of sound in our ears, and in my brain a rhythmic dance of beauties caught through the long-drawn glorious golden autumn-day.
The hamlet and the castle of Fosdinovo stand upon a mountain-spur above Sarzana, commanding the valley of the Magra and the plains of Luni. This is an ancient fief of the Malaspina House, and still in the possession of the Marquis of that name.
The road to Fosdinovo strikes across the level through an avenue of plane trees, shedding their discoloured leaves. It then takes to the open fields, bordered with tall reeds waving from the foss on either hand, where grapes are hanging to the vines. The country-folk allow their vines to climb into the olives, and these golden festoons are a great ornament to the grey branches. The berries on the trees are still quite green, and it is a good olive season. Leaving the main road, we pass a villa of the Malaspini, shrouded in immense thickets of sweet bay and ilex, forming a grove for the Nymphs or Pan. Here may you see just such clean stems and lucid foliage as Gian Bellini painted, inch by inch, in his Peter Martyr picture. The place is neglected now; the semicircular seats of white Carrara marble are stained with green mosses, the altars chipped, the fountains choked with bay leaves; and the rose trees, escaped from what were once trim garden alleys, have gone wandering a-riot into country hedges. There is no demarcation between the great man's villa and the neighbouring farms. From this point the path rises, and the barren hill-side is a-bloom with late-flowering myrtles. Why did the Greeks consecrate these myrtle-rods to Death as well as Love? Electra complained that her father's tomb had not received the honour of the myrtle branch; and the Athenians wreathed their swords with myrtle in memory of Harmodius. Thinking of these matters, I cannot but remember lines of Greek, which have themselves the rectitude and elasticity of myrtle wands:
kai prospeson eklaus' eremias tychon spondas te lysas askon on phero zenois espeisa tymbo d' amphetheka mursinas.
As we approach Fosdinovo, the hills above us gain sublimity; the prospect over plain and sea—the fields where Luna was, the widening bay of Spezzia—grows ever grander. The castle is a ruin, still capable of partial habitation, and now undergoing repair—the state in which a ruin looks most sordid and forlorn. How strange it is, too, that, to enforce this sense of desolation, sad dishevelled weeds cling ever to such antique masonry! Here are the henbane, the sow-thistle, the wild cucumber. At Avignon, at Orvieto, at Dolce Acqua, at Les Baux, we never missed them. And they have the dusty courtyards, the massive portals, where portcullises still threaten, of Fosdinovo to themselves. Over the gate, and here and there on corbels, are carved the arms of Malaspina—a barren thorn-tree, gnarled with the geometrical precision of heraldic irony.
Leaning from the narrow windows of this castle, with the spacious view to westward, I thought of Dante. For Dante in this castle was the guest of Moroello Malaspina, what time he was yet finishing the "Inferno." There is a little old neglected garden, full to south, enclosed upon a rampart which commands the Borgo, where we found frail canker-roses and yellow amaryllis. Here, perhaps, he may have sat with ladies—for this was the Marchesa's pleasance; or may have watched through a short summer's night, until he saw that tremolar della marina, portending dawn, which afterwards he painted in the "Purgatory."
From Fosdinovo one can trace the Magra work its way out seaward, not into the plain where once the candentia moenia Lunae flashed sunrise from their battlements, but close beside the little hills which back the the southern arm of the Spezzian gulf. At the extreme end of that promontory, called Del Corvo, stood the Benedictine convent of S. Croce; and it was here in 1309, if we may trust to tradition, that Dante, before his projected journey into France, appeared and left the first part of his poem with the Prior. Fra Ilario, such was the good father's name, received commission to transmit the "Inferno" to Uguccione della Faggiuola; and he subsequently recorded the fact of Dante's visit in a letter which, though its genuineness has been called in question, is far too interesting to be left without allusion. The writer says that on occasion of a journey into lands beyond the Riviera, Dante visited this convent, appearing silent and unknown among the monks. To the Prior's question what he wanted, he gazed upon the brotherhood, and only answered, "Peace!" Afterwards, in private conversation, he communicated his name and spoke about his poem. A portion of the "Divine Comedy" composed in the Italian tongue aroused Ilario's wonder, and led him to inquire why his guest had not followed the usual course of learned poets by committing his thoughts to Latin. Dante replied that he had first intended to write in that language, and that he had gone so far as to begin the poem in Virgilian hexameters. Reflection upon the altered conditions of society in that age led him, however, to reconsider the matter; and he was resolved to tune another lyre, "suited to the sense of modern men." "For," said he, "it is idle to set solid food before the lips of sucklings."
If we can trust Fra Ilario's letter as a genuine record, which is unhappily a matter of some doubt, we have in this narration not only a picturesque, almost a melodramatically picturesque glimpse of the poet's apparition to those quiet monks in their seagirt house of peace, but also an interesting record of the destiny which presided over the first great work of literary art in a distinctly modern language.
IV. LA SPEZZIA.
While we were at Fosdinovo the sky filmed over, and there came a halo round the sun. This portended change; and by evening, after we had reached La Spezzia, earth, sea, and air were conscious of a coming tempest. At night I went down to the shore, and paced the sea-wall they have lately built along the Rada. The moon was up, but overdriven with dry smoky clouds, now thickening to blackness over the whole bay, now leaving intervals through which the light poured fitfully and fretfully upon the wrinkled waves; and ever and anon they shuddered with electric gleams which were not actual lightning. Heaven seemed to be descending on the sea; one might have fancied that some powerful charms were drawing down the moon with influence malign upon those still resisting billows. For not as yet the gulf was troubled to its depth, and not as yet the breakers dashed in foam against the moonlight-smitten promontories. There was but an uneasy murmuring of wave to wave; a whispering of wind, that stooped its wing and hissed along the surface, and withdrew into the mystery of clouds again; a momentary chafing of churned water round the harbour piers, subsiding into silence petulant and sullen. I leaned against an iron stanchion and longed for the sea's message. But nothing came to me, and the drowned secret of Shelley's death those waves which were his grave revealed not.
"Howler and scooper of storms! capricious and dainty sea!"
Meanwhile the incantation swelled in shrillness, the electric shudders deepened. Alone in this elemental overture to tempest I took no note of time, but felt, through self-abandonment to the symphonic influence, how sea and air, and clouds akin to both, were dealing with each other complainingly, and in compliance to some maker of unrest within them. A touch upon my shoulder broke this trance; I turned and saw a boy beside me in a coastguard's uniform. Francesco was on patrol that night; but my English accent soon assured him that I was no contrabbandiere, and he too leaned against the stanchion and told me his short story. He was in his nineteenth year, and came from Florence, where his people live in the Borgo Ognissanti. He had all the brightness of the Tuscan folk, a sort of innocent malice mixed with espieglerie. It was diverting to see the airs he gave himself on the strength of his new military dignity, his gun, and uniform, and night duty on the shore. I could not help humming to myself Non piu andrai; for Francesco was a sort of Tuscan Cherubino. We talked about picture galleries and libraries in Florence, and I had to hear his favourite passages from the Italian poets. And then there came the plots of Jules Verne's stories and marvellous narrations about l'uomo cavallo, l'uomo volante, l'uomo pesce. The last of these personages turned out to be Paolo Boynton (so pronounced), who had swam the Arno in his diving dress, passing the several bridges, and when he came to the great weir "allora tutti stare con bocca aperta." Meanwhile the storm grew serious, and our conversation changed. Francesco told me about the terrible sun-stricken sand shores of the Riviera, burning in summer noon, over which the coastguard has to tramp, their perils from falling stones in storm, and the trains that come rushing from those narrow tunnels on the midnight line of march. It is a hard life; and the thirst for adventure which drove this boy—il piu matto di tutta la famiglia—to adopt it, seems well-nigh quenched. And still, with a return to Giulio Verne, he talked enthusiastically of deserting, of getting on board a merchant ship, and working his way to southern islands where wonders are.
A furious blast swept the whole sky for a moment almost clear. The moonlight fell, with racing cloud-shadows, upon sea and hills, the lights of Lerici, the great fanali at the entrance of the gulf, and Francesco's upturned handsome face. Then all again was whirled in mist and foam; one breaker smote the sea-wall in a surge of froth, another plunged upon its heels; with inconceivable swiftness came rain; lightning deluged the expanse of surf, and showed the windy trees bent landward by the squall. It was long past midnight now, and the storm was on us for the space of three days.
For the next three days the wind went worrying on, and a line of surf leapt on the sea-wall always to the same height. The hills all around were inky black and weary.
At night the wild libeccio still rose, with floods of rain and lightning poured upon the waste. I thought of the Florentine patrol. Is he out in it, and where?
At last there came a lull. When we rose on the fourth morning, the sky was sulky, spent and sleepy after storm—the air as soft and tepid as boiled milk or steaming flannel. We drove along the shore to Porto Venere, passing the arsenals and dockyards, which have changed the face of Spezzia since Shelley knew it. This side of the gulf is not so rich in vegetation as the other, probably because it lies open to the winds from the Carrara mountains. The chestnuts come down to the shore in many places, bringing with them the wild mountain-side. To make up for this lack of luxuriance, the coast is furrowed with a succession of tiny harbours, where the fishing-boats rest at anchor. There are many villages upon the spurs of hills, and on the headlands naval stations, hospitals, lazzaretti, and prisons. A prickly bindweed (the Smilax sarsaparilla) forms a feature in the near landscape, with its creamy odoriferous blossoms, coral berries, and glossy thorned leaves.
A turn of the road brought Porto Venere in sight, and on its grey walls flashed a gleam of watery sunlight. The village consists of one long narrow street, the houses on the left side hanging sheer above the sea. Their doors at the back open on to cliffs with drop about fifty feet upon the water. A line of ancient walls, with medieval battlements and shells of chambers suspended midway between earth and sky, runs up the rock behind the town; and this wall is pierced with a deep gateway above which the inn is piled. We had our lunch in a room opening upon the town-gate, adorned with a deep-cut Pisan arch enclosing images and frescoes—a curious episode in a place devoted to the jollity of smugglers and seafaring folk. The whole house was such as Tintoretto loved to paint—huge wooden rafters; open chimneys with pent-house canopies of stone, where the cauldrons hung above logs of chestnut; rude low tables spread with coarse linen embroidered at the edges, and laden with plates of fishes, fruit, quaint glass, big-bellied jugs of earthenware, and flasks of yellow wine. The people of the place were lounging round in lazy attitudes. There were odd nooks and corners everywhere; unexpected staircases with windows slanting through the thickness of the town-wall; pictures of saints; high-zoned serving women, on whose broad shoulders lay big coral beads; smoke-blackened roofs, and balconies that opened on the sea. The house was inexhaustible in motives for pictures.
We walked up the street, attended by a rabble rout of boys—diavoli scatenati—clean, grinning, white-teethed, who kept incessantly shouting, "Soldo, soldo!" I do not know why these sea-urchins are so far more irrepressible than their land brethren. But it is always thus in Italy. They take an imperturbable delight in noise and mere annoyance. I shall never forget the sea-roar of Porto Venere, with that shrill obbligato, "Soldo, soldo, soldo!" rattling like a dropping fire from lungs of brass.
At the end of Porto Venere is a withered and abandoned city, climbing the cliffs of S. Pietro; and on the headland stands the ruined church, built by Pisans with alternate rows of white and black marble, upon the site of an old temple of Venus. This is a modest and pure piece of Gothic architecture, fair in desolation, refined and dignified, and not unworthy in its grace of the dead Cyprian goddess. Through its broken lancets the sea-wind whistles and the vast reaches of the Tyrrhene gulf are seen. Samphire sprouts between the blocks of marble, and in sheltered nooks the caper hangs her beautiful purpureal snowy bloom.
The headland is a bold block of white limestone stained with red. It has the pitch of Exmoor stooping to the sea near Lynton. To north, as one looks along the coast, the line is broken by Porto Fino's amethystine promontory; and in the vaporous distance we could trace the Riviera mountains, shadowy and blue. The sea came roaring, rolling in with tawny breakers; but, far out, it sparkled in pure azure, and the cloud-shadows over it were violet. Where Corsica should have been seen, soared banks of fleecy, broad-domed alabaster clouds.
This point, once dedicated to Venus, now to Peter—both, be it remembered, fishers of men—is one of the most singular in Europe. The island of Palmaria, rich in veined marbles, shelters the port; so that outside the sea rages, while underneath the town, reached by a narrow strait, there is a windless calm. It was not without reason that our Lady of Beauty took this fair gulf to herself; and now that she has long been dispossessed, her memory lingers yet in names. For Porto Venere remembers her, and Lerici is only Eryx. There is a grotto here, where an inscription tells us that Byron once "tempted the Ligurian waves." It is just such a natural sea-cave as might have inspired Euripides when he described the refuge of Orestes in "Iphigenia."
Libeccio at last had swept the sky clear. The gulf was ridged with foam-fleeced breakers, and the water churned into green, tawny wastes. But overhead there flew the softest clouds, all silvery, dispersed in flocks. It is the day for pilgrimage to what was Shelley's home.
After following the shore a little way, the road to Lerici breaks into the low hills which part La Spezzia from Sarzana. The soil is red, and overgrown with arbutus and pinaster, like the country around Cannes. Through the scattered trees it winds gently upwards, with frequent views across the gulf, and then descends into a land rich with olives—a genuine Riviera landscape, where the mountain-slopes are hoary, and spikelets of innumerable light-flashing leaves twinkle against a blue sea, misty-deep. The walls here are not unfrequently adorned with bas-reliefs of Carrara marble—saints and madonnas very delicately wrought, as though they were love-labours of sculptors who had passed a summer on this shore. San Terenzio is soon discovered low upon the sands to the right, nestling under little cliffs; and then the high-built castle of Lerici comes in sight, looking across the bay to Porto Venere—one Aphrodite calling to the other, with the foam between. The village is piled around its cove with tall and picturesquely-coloured houses; the molo and the fishing-boats lie just beneath the castle. There is one point of the descending carriage road where all this gracefulness is seen, framed by the boughs of olive branches, swaying, wind-ruffled, laughing the many-twinkling smiles of ocean back from their grey leaves. Here Erycina ridens is at home. And, as we stayed to dwell upon the beauty of the scene, came women from the bay below—barefooted, straight as willow wands, with burnished copper bowls upon their heads. These women have the port of goddesses, deep-bosomed, with the length of thigh and springing ankles that betoken strength no less than elasticity and grace. The hair of some of them was golden, rippling in little curls around brown brows and glowing eyes. Pale lilac blent with orange on their dress, and coral beads hung from their ears.
At Lerici we took a boat and pushed into the rolling breakers. Christian now felt the movement of the sea for the first time. This was rather a rude trial, for the grey-maned monsters played, as it seemed, at will with our cockle-shell, tumbling in dolphin curves to reach the shore. Our boatmen knew all about Shelley and the Casa Magni. It is not at Lerici, but close to San Terenzio, upon the south side of the village. Looking across the bay from the molo, one could clearly see its square white mass, tiled roof, and terrace built on rude arcades with a broad orange awning. Trelawny's description hardly prepares one for so considerable a place. I think the English exiles of that period must have been exacting if the Casa Magni seemed to them no better than a bathing-house.
We left our boat at the jetty, and walked through some gardens to the villa. There we were kindly entertained by the present occupiers, who, when I asked them whether such visits as ours were not a great annoyance, gently but feelingly replied: "It is not so bad now as it used to be." The English gentleman who rents the Casa Magni has known it uninterruptedly since Shelley's death, and has used it for villeggiatura during the last thirty years. We found him in the central sitting-room, which readers of Trelawny's Recollections have so often pictured to themselves. The large oval table, the settees round the walls, and some of the pictures are still unchanged. As we sat talking, I laughed to think of that luncheon party, when Shelley lost his clothes, and came naked, dripping with sea-water, into the room, protected by the skirts of the sympathising waiting-maid. And then I wondered where they found him on the night when he stood screaming in his sleep, after the vision of his veiled self, with its question, "Siete soddisfatto?"
There were great ilexes behind the house in Shelley's time, which have been cut down, and near these he is said to have sat and written the Triumph of Life. Some new houses, too, have been built between the villa and the town; otherwise the place is unaltered. Only an awning has been added to protect the terrace from the sun. I walked out on this terrace, where Shelley used to listen to Jane's singing. The sea was fretting at its base, just as Mrs. Shelley says it did when the Don Juan disappeared.
From San Terenzio we walked back to Lerici through olive woods, attended by a memory which toned the almost overpowering beauty of the place to sadness.
The same memory drew us, a few days later, to the spot where Shelley's body was burned. Viareggio is fast becoming a fashionable watering-place for the people of Florence and Lucca, who seek fresher air and simpler living than Livorno offers. It has the usual new inns and improvised lodging-houses of such places, built on the outskirts of a little fishing village, with a boundless stretch of noble sands. There is a wooden pier on which we walked, watching the long roll of waves, foam-flaked, and quivering with moonlight. The Apennines faded into the grey sky beyond, and the sea-wind was good to breathe. There is a feeling of "immensity, liberty, action" here, which is not common in Italy. It reminds us of England; and to-night the Mediterranean had the rough force of a tidal sea.
Morning revealed beauty enough in Viareggio to surprise even one who expects from Italy all forms of loveliness. The sand-dunes stretch for miles between the sea and a low wood of stone pines, with the Carrara hills descending from their glittering pinnacles by long lines to the headlands of the Spezzian Gulf. The immeasurable distance was all painted in sky-blue and amethyst; then came the golden green of the dwarf firs; and then dry yellow in the grasses of the dunes; and then the many-tinted sea, with surf tossed up against the furthest cliffs. It is a wonderful and tragic view, to which no painter but the Roman Costa has done justice; and he, it may be said, has made this landscape of the Carrarese his own. The space between sand and pine-wood was covered with faint, yellow, evening primroses. They flickered like little harmless flames in sun and shadow, and the spires of the Carrara range were giant flames transformed to marble. The memory of that day described by Trelawny in a passage of immortal English prose, when he and Byron and Leigh Hunt stood beside the funeral pyre, and libations were poured, and the Cor Cordium was found inviolate among the ashes, turned all my thoughts to flame beneath the gentle autumn sky.
Still haunted by these memories, we took the carriage road to Pisa, over which Shelley's friends had hurried to and fro through those last days. It passes an immense forest of stone-pines—aisles and avenues; undergrowth of ilex, laurustinus, gorse, and myrtle; the crowded cyclamens, the solemn silence of the trees; the winds hushed in their velvet roof and stationary domes of verdure.
In former days the traveller had choice of two old hostelries in the chief street of Siena. Here, if he was fortunate, he might secure a prophet's chamber, with a view across tiled house-roofs to the distant Tuscan champaign—glimpses of russet field and olive-garden framed by jutting city walls, which in some measure compensated for much discomfort. He now betakes himself to the more modern Albergo di Siena, overlooking the public promenade La Lizza. Horse-chestnuts and acacias make a pleasant foreground to a prospect of considerable extent. The front of the house is turned toward Belcaro and the mountains between Grosseto and Volterra. Sideways its windows command the brown bulk of San Domenico, and the Duomo, set like a marble coronet upon the forehead of the town. When we arrived there one October afternoon the sun was setting amid flying clouds and watery yellow spaces of pure sky, with a wind blowing soft and humid from the sea. Long after he had sunk below the hills, a fading chord of golden and rose-coloured tints burned on the city. The cathedral bell-tower was glistening with recent rain, and we could see right through its lancet windows to the clear blue heavens beyond. Then, as the day descended into evening, the autumn trees assumed that wonderful effect of luminousness self-evolved, and the red brick walls that crimson after-glow, which Tuscan twilight takes from singular transparency of atmosphere.
It is hardly possible to define the specific character of each Italian city, assigning its proper share to natural circumstances, to the temper of the population, and to the monuments of art in which these elements of nature and of human qualities are blended. The fusion is too delicate and subtle for complete analysis; and the total effect in each particular case may best be compared to that impressed on us by a strong personality, making itself felt in the minutest details. Climate, situation, ethnological conditions, the political vicissitudes of past ages, the bias of the people to certain industries and occupations, the emergence of distinguished men at critical epochs, have all contributed their quota to the composition of an individuality which abides long after the locality has lost its ancient vigour.
Since the year 1557, when Gian Giacomo de' Medici laid the country of Siena waste, levelled her luxurious suburbs, and delivered her famine-stricken citizens to the tyranny of the Grand Duke Cosimo, this town has gone on dreaming in suspended decadence. Yet the epithet which was given to her in her days of glory, the title of "Fair Soft Siena," still describes the city. She claims it by right of the gentle manners, joyous but sedate, of her inhabitants, by the grace of their pure Tuscan speech, and by the unique delicacy of her architecture. Those palaces of brick, with finely-moulded lancet windows, and the lovely use of sculptured marbles in pilastered colonnades, are fit abodes for the nobles who reared them five centuries ago, of whose refined and costly living we read in the pages of Dante or of Folgore da San Gemignano. And though the necessities of modern life, the decay of wealth, the dwindling of old aristocracy, and the absorption of what was once an independent state in the Italian nation, have obliterated that large signorial splendour of the Middle Ages, we feel that the modern Sienese are not unworthy of their courteous ancestry.
Superficially, much of the present charm of Siena consists in the soft opening valleys, the glimpses of long blue hills and fertile country-side, framed by irregular brown houses stretching along the slopes on which the town is built, and losing themselves abruptly in olive fields and orchards. This element of beauty, which brings the city into immediate relation with the country, is indeed not peculiar to Siena. We find it in Perugia, in Assisi, in Montepulciano, in nearly all the hill towns of Umbria and Tuscany. But their landscape is often tragic and austere, while this is always suave. City and country blend here in delightful amity. Neither yields that sense of aloofness which stirs melancholy.
The most charming district in the immediate neighbourhood of Siena lies westward, near Belcaro, a villa high up on a hill. It is a region of deep lanes and golden-green oak-woods, with cypresses and stone-pines, and little streams in all directions flowing over the brown sandstone. The country is like some parts of rural England—Devonshire or Sussex. Not only is the sandstone here, as there, broken into deep gullies; but the vegetation is much the same. Tufted spleen-wort, primroses, and broom tangle the hedges under boughs of hornbeam and sweet-chestnut. This is the landscape which the two sixteenth century novelists of Siena, Fortini and Sermini, so lovingly depicted in their tales. Of literature absorbing in itself the specific character of a country, and conveying it to the reader less by description than by sustained quality of style, I know none to surpass Fortini's sketches. The prospect from Belcaro is one of the finest to be seen in Tuscany. The villa stands at a considerable elevation, and commands an immense extent of hill and dale. Nowhere, except Maremma-wards, a level plain. The Tuscan mountains, from Monte Amiata westward to Volterra, round Valdelsa, down to Montepulciano and Radicofani, with their innumerable windings and intricacies of descending valleys, are dappled with light and shade from flying storm-clouds, sunshine here and there cloud-shadows. Girdling the villa stands a grove of ilex-trees, cut so as to embrace its high-built walls with dark continuous green. In the courtyard are lemon-trees and pomegranates laden with fruit. From a terrace on the roof the whole wide view is seen; and here upon a parapet, from which we leaned one autumn afternoon, my friend discovered this graffito: "E vidi e piansi il fato amaro!"—"I gazed, and gazing, wept the bitterness of fate."
The prevailing note of Siena and the Sienese seems, as I have said, to be a soft and tranquil grace; yet this people had one of the stormiest and maddest of Italian histories. They were passionate in love and hate, vehement in their popular amusements, almost frantic in their political conduct of affairs. The luxury, for which Dante blamed them, the levity De Comines noticed in their government found counter-poise in more than usual piety and fervour. S. Bernardino, the great preacher and peace-maker of the Middle Ages; S. Catherine, the worthiest of all women to be canonised; the blessed Colombini, who founded the Order of the Gesuati or Brothers of the Poor in Christ; the blessed Bernardo, who founded that of Monte Oliveto; were all Sienese. Few cities have given four such saints to modern Christendom. The biography of one of these may serve as prelude to an account of the Sienese monastery of Oliveto Maggiore.
The family of Tolomei was among the noblest of the Sienese aristocracy. On May 10, 1272, Mino Tolomei and his wife Fulvia, of the Tancredi, had a son whom they christened Giovanni, but who, when he entered the religious life, assumed the name of Bernard, in memory of the great Abbot of Clairvaux. Of this child, Fulvia is said to have dreamed, long before his birth, that he assumed the form of a white swan, and sang melodiously, and settled in the boughs of an olive-tree, whence afterwards he winged his way to heaven amid a flock of swans as dazzling white as he. The boy was educated in the Dominican Cloister at Siena, under the care of his uncle Christoforo Tolomei. There, and afterwards in the fraternity of S. Ansano, he felt that impulse towards a life of piety, which after a short but brilliant episode of secular ambition, was destined to return with overwhelming force upon his nature. He was a youth of promise, and at the age of sixteen he obtained the doctorate in philosophy and both laws, civil and canonical. The Tolomei upon this occasion adorned their palaces and threw them open to the people of Siena. The Republic hailed with acclamation the early honours of a noble, born to be one of their chief leaders. Soon after this event Mino obtained for his son from the Emperor the title of Caesarian Knight; and when the diploma arrived, new festivities proclaimed the fortunate youth to his fellow-citizens. Bernardo cased his limbs in steel, and rode in procession with ladies and young nobles through the streets. The ceremonies of a knight's reception in Siena at that period were magnificent. From contemporary chronicles and from the sonnets written by Folgore da San Gemignano for a similar occasion, we gather that the whole resources of a wealthy family and all their friends were strained to the utmost to do honour to the order of chivalry. Open house was held for several days. Rich presents of jewels, armour, dresses, chargers were freely distributed. Tournaments alternated with dances. But the climax of the pageant was the novice's investiture with sword and spurs and belt in the cathedral. This, as it appears from a record of the year 1326, actually took place in the great marble pulpit carved by the Pisani; and the most illustrious knights of his acquaintance were summoned by the squire to act as sponsors for his fealty.
It is said that young Bernardo Tolomei's head was turned to vanity by these honours showered upon him in his earliest manhood. Yet, after a short period of aberration, he rejoined his confraternity and mortified his flesh by discipline and strict attendance on the poor. The time had come, however, when he should choose a career suitable to his high rank. He devoted himself to jurisprudence, and began to lecture publicly on law. Already at the age of twenty-five his fellow-citizens admitted him to the highest political offices, and in the legend of his life it is written, not without exaggeration doubtless, that he ruled the State. There is, however, no reason to suppose that he did not play an important part in its government. Though a just and virtuous statesman, Bernardo now forgot the special service of God, and gave himself with heart and soul to mundane interests. At the age of forty, supported by the wealth, alliances, and reputation of his semi-princely house, he had become one of the most considerable party-leaders in that age of faction. If we may trust his monastic biographer, he was aiming at nothing less than the tyranny of Siena. But in that year, when he was forty, a change, which can only be described as conversion, came over him. He had advertised a public disputation, in which he proposed before all comers to solve the most arduous problems of scholastic science. The concourse was great, the assembly brilliant; but the hero of the day, who had designed it for his glory, was stricken with sudden blindness. In one moment he comprehended the internal void he had created for his soul, and the blindness of the body was illumination to the spirit. The pride, power, and splendour of this world seemed to him a smoke that passes. God, penitence, eternity appeared in all the awful clarity of an authentic vision. He fell upon his knees and prayed to Mary that he might receive his sight again. This boon was granted; but the revelation which had come to him in blindness was not withdrawn. Meanwhile the hall of disputation was crowded with an expectant audience. Bernardo rose from his knees, made his entry, and ascended the chair; but instead of the scholastic subtleties he had designed to treat, he pronounced the old text, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."
Afterwards, attended by two noble comrades, Patrizio Patrizzi and Ambrogio Piccolomini, he went forth into the wilderness. For the human soul, at strife with strange experience, betakes itself instinctively to solitude. Not only prophets of Israel, saints of the Thebaid, and founders of religions in the mystic East have done so; even the Greek Menander recognised, although he sneered at, the phenomenon. "The desert, they say, is the place for discoveries." For the mediaeval mind it had peculiar attractions. The wilderness these comrades chose was Accona, a doleful place, hemmed in with earthen precipices, some fifteen miles to the south of Siena. Of his vast possessions Bernardo retained but this—
The lonesome lodge, That stood so low in a lonely glen.
The rest of his substance he abandoned to the poor. This was in 1313, the very year of the Emperor Henry VII.'s death at Buonconvento, which is a little walled town between Siena and the desert of Accona. Whether Bernardo's retirement was in any way due to the extinction of immediate hope for the Ghibelline party by this event, we do not gather from his legend. That, as is natural, refers his action wholly to the operation of divine grace. Yet we may remember how a more illustrious refugee, the singer of the Divine Comedy, betook himself upon the same occasion to the lonely convent of Fonte Avellana on the Alps of Catria, and meditated there the cantos of his Purgatory. While Bernardo Tolomei was founding the Order of Monte Oliveto, Dante penned his letter to the cardinals of Italy: Quomodo sola sedet civitas plena populo: facta est quasi vidua domino gentium.
Bernardo and his friends hollowed with their own hands grottos in the rock, and strewed their stone beds with withered chestnut-leaves. For S. Scolastica, the sister of S. Benedict, they built a little chapel. Their food was wild fruit, and their drink the water of the brook. Through the day they delved, for it was in their mind to turn the wilderness into a land of plenty. By night they meditated on eternal truth. The contrast between their rude life and the delicate nurture of Sienese nobles, in an age when Siena had become a by-word for luxury, must have been cruel. But it fascinated the mediaeval imagination, and the three anchorites were speedily joined by recruits of a like temper. As yet the new-born order had no rules; for Bernardo, when he renounced the world, embraced humility. The brethren were bound together only by the ties of charity. They lived in common; and under their sustained efforts Accona soon became a garden.
The society could not, however, hold together without further organisation. It began to be ill spoken of, inasmuch as vulgar minds can recognise no good except in what is formed upon a pattern they are familiar with. Then Bernardo had a vision. In his sleep he saw a ladder of light ascending to the heavens. Above sat Jesus with Our Lady in white raiment, and the celestial hierarchies around them were attired in white. Up the ladder, led by angels, climbed men in vesture of dazzling white; and among these Bernardo recognised his own companions. Soon after this dream, he called Ambrogio Piccolomini, and bade him get ready for a journey to the Pope at Avignon.
John XXII. received the pilgrims graciously, and gave them letters to the Bishop of Arezzo, commanding him to furnish the new brotherhood with one of the rules authorised by Holy Church for governance of a monastic order. Guido Tarlati, of the great Pietra-mala house, was Bishop and despot of Arezzo at this epoch. A man less in harmony with coenobitical enthusiasm than this warrior prelate, could scarcely have been found. Yet attendance to such matters formed part of his business, and the legend even credits him with an inspired dream; for Our Lady appeared to him, and said: "I love the valley of Accona and its pious solitaries. Give them the rule of Benedict. But thou shalt strip them of their mourning weeds, and clothe them in white raiment, the symbol of my virgin purity. Their hermitage shall change its name, and henceforth shall be called Mount Olivet, in memory of the ascension of my divine Son, the which took place upon the Mount of Olives. I take this family beneath my own protection; and therefore it is my will it should be called henceforth the congregation of S. Mary of Mount Olivet." After this, the Blessed Virgin took forethought for the heraldic designs of her monks, dictating to Guido Tarlati the blazon they still bear; it is of three hills or, whereof the third and highest is surmounted with a cross gules, and from the meeting-point of the three hillocks upon either hand a branch of olive vert. This was in 1319. In 1324, John XXII. confirmed the order, and in 1344 it was further approved by Clement VI. Affiliated societies sprang up in several Tuscan cities; and in 1347, Bernardo Tolomei, at that time General of the Order, held a chapter of its several houses. The next year was the year of the great plague or Black Death. Bernardo bade his brethren leave their seclusion, and go forth on works of mercy among the sick. Some went to Florence, some to Siena, others to the smaller hill-set towns of Tuscany. All were bidden to assemble on the Feast of the Assumption at Siena. Here the founder addressed his spiritual children for the last time. Soon afterwards he died himself, at the age of seventy-seven, and the place of his grave is not known. He was beatified by the Church for his great virtues.
At noon we started, four of us, in an open waggonette with a pair of horses, for Monte Oliveto, the luggage heaped mountain-high and tied in a top-heavy mass above us. After leaving the gateway, with its massive fortifications and frescoed arches, the road passes into a dull earthy country, very much like some parts—and not the best parts—of England. The beauty of the Sienese contado is clearly on the sandstone, not upon the clay. Hedges, haystacks, isolated farms—all were English in their details. Only the vines, and mulberries, and wattled waggons drawn by oxen, most Roman in aspect, reminded us we were in Tuscany. In such carpenta may the vestal virgins have ascended the Capitol. It is the primitive war-chariot also, capable of holding four with ease; and Romulus may have mounted with the images of Roman gods in even such a vehicle to Latiarian Jove upon the Alban hill. Nothing changes in Italy. The wooden ploughs are those which Virgil knew. The sight of one of them would save an intelligent lad much trouble in mastering a certain passage of the Georgics.
Siena is visible behind us nearly the whole way to Buonconvento, a little town where the Emperor Henry VII. died, as it was supposed, of poison, in 1313. It is still circled with the wall and gates built by the Sienese in 1366, and is a fair specimen of an intact mediaeval stronghold. Here we leave the main road, and break into a country-track across a bed of sandstone, with the delicate volcanic lines of Monte Amiata in front, and the aerial pile of Montalcino to our right. The pyracanthus bushes in the hedge yield their clusters of bright yellow berries, mingled with more glowing hues of red from haws and glossy hips. On the pale grey earthen slopes men and women are plying the long Sabellian hoes of their forefathers, and ploughmen are driving furrows down steep hills. The labour of the husbandmen in Tuscany is very graceful, partly, I think, because it is so primitive, but also because the people have an eminently noble carriage, and are fashioned on the lines of antique statues. I noticed two young contadini in one field, whom Frederick Walker might have painted with the dignity of Pheidian form. They were guiding their ploughs along a hedge of olive-trees, slanting upwards, the white-horned oxen moving slowly through the marl, and the lads bending to press the plough-shares home. It was a delicate piece of colour—the grey mist of olive branches, the warm smoking earth, the creamy flanks of the oxen, the brown limbs and dark eyes of the men, who paused awhile to gaze at us, with shadows cast upon the furrows from their tall straight figures. Then they turned to their work again, and rhythmic movement was added to the picture. I wonder when an Italian artist will condescend to pluck these flowers of beauty, so abundantly offered by the simplest things in his own native land. Each city has an Accademia delle Belle Arti, and there is no lack of students. But the painters, having learned their trade, make copies ten times distant from the truth of famous masterpieces for the American market. Few seem to look beyond their picture galleries. Thus the democratic art, the art of Millet, the art of life and nature and the people, waits.
As we mount, the soil grows of a richer brown; and there are woods of oak where herds of swine are feeding on the acorns. Monte Oliveto comes in sight—a mass of red brick, backed up with cypresses, among dishevelled earthy precipices, balze as they are called—upon the hill below the village of Chiusure. This Chiusure was once a promising town; but the life was crushed out of it in the throes of mediaeval civil wars, and since the thirteenth century it has been dwindling to a hamlet. The struggle for existence, from which the larger communes of this district, Siena and Montepulciano, emerged at the expense of their neighbours, must have been tragical. The balze now grow sterner, drier, more dreadful. We see how deluges outpoured from thunderstorms bring down their viscous streams of loam, destroying in an hour the terraces it took a year to build, and spreading wasteful mud upon the scanty cornfields. The people call this soil creta; but it seems to be less like a chalk than a marl, or marna. It is always washing away into ravines and gullies, exposing the roots of trees, and rendering the tillage of the land a thankless labour. One marvels how any vegetation has the faith to settle on its dreary waste, or how men have the patience, generation after generation, to renew the industry, still beginning, never ending, which reclaims such wildernesses. Comparing Monte Oliveto with similar districts of cretaceous soil—with the country, for example, between Pienza and San Quirico—we perceive how much is owed to the monks whom Bernardo Tolomei planted here. So far as it is clothed at all with crop and wood, this is their service.
At last we climb the crowning hill, emerge from a copse of oak, glide along a terraced pathway through the broom, and find ourselves in front of the convent gateway. A substantial tower of red brick, machicolated at the top and pierced with small square windows, guards this portal, reminding us that at some time or other the monks found it needful to arm their solitude against a force descending from Chiusure. There is an avenue of slender cypresses; and over the gate, protected by a jutting roof, shines a fresco of Madonna and Child. Passing rapidly downwards, we are in the courtyard of the monastery, among its stables, barns, and out-houses, with the forlorn bulk of the huge red building spreading wide, and towering up above us. As good luck ruled our arrival, we came face to face with the Abbate de Negro, who administers the domain of Monte Oliveto for the Government of Italy, and exercises a kindly hospitality to chance-comers. He was standing near the church, which, with its tall square campanile, breaks the long stern outline of the convent. The whole edifice, it may be said, is composed of a red brick inclining to purple in tone, which contrasts not unpleasantly with the lustrous green of the cypresses, and the glaucous sheen of olives. Advantage has been taken of a steep crest; and the monastery, enlarged from time to time through the last five centuries, has here and there been reared upon gigantic buttresses, which jut upon the balze at a sometimes giddy height.
The Abbate received us with true courtesy, and gave us spacious rooms, three cells apiece, facing Siena and the western mountains. There is accommodation, he told us, for three hundred monks; but only three are left in it. As this order was confined to members of the nobility, each of the religious had his own apartment—not a cubicle such as the uninstructed dream of when they read of monks, but separate chambers for sleep and study and recreation.
In the middle of the vast sad landscape, the place is still, with a silence that can be almost heard. The deserted state of those innumerable cells, those echoing corridors and shadowy cloisters, exercises overpowering tyranny over the imagination. Siena is so far away, and Montalcino is so faintly outlined on its airy parapet, that these cities only deepen our sense of desolation. It is a relief to mark at no great distance on the hill-side a contadino guiding his oxen, and from a lonely farm yon column of ascending smoke. At least the world goes on, and life is somewhere resonant with song. But here there rests a pall of silence among the oak-groves and the cypresses and balze. As I leaned and mused, while Christian (my good friend and fellow-traveller from the Grisons) made our beds, a melancholy sunset flamed up from a rampart of cloud, built like a city of the air above the mountains of Volterra—fire issuing from its battlements, and smiting the fretted roof of heaven above. It was a conflagration of celestial rose upon the saddest purples and cavernous recesses of intensest azure.
We had an excellent supper in the visitor's refectory—soup, good bread and country wine, ham, a roast chicken with potatoes, a nice white cheese made of sheep's milk, and grapes for dessert. The kind Abbate sat by, and watched his four guests eat, tapping his tortoise-shell snuff-box, and telling us many interesting things about the past and present state of the convent. Our company was completed with Lupo, the pet cat, and Pirro, a woolly Corsican dog, very good friends, and both enormously voracious. Lupo in particular engraved himself upon the memory of Christian, into whose large legs he thrust his claws, when the cheese-parings and scraps were not supplied him with sufficient promptitude. I never saw a hungrier and bolder cat. It made one fancy that even the mice had been exiled from this solitude. And truly the rule of the monastic order, no less than the habit of Italian gentlemen, is frugal in the matter of the table, beyond the conception of northern folk.
Monte Oliveto, the Superior told us, owned thirty-two poderi, or large farms, of which five have recently been sold. They are worked on the mezzeria system; whereby peasants and proprietors divide the produce of the soil; and which he thinks inferior for developing its resources to that of affito, or lease-holding.
The contadini live in scattered houses; and he says the estate would be greatly improved by doubling the number of these dwellings, and letting the sub-divided farms to more energetic people. The village of Chiusure is inhabited by labourers. The contadini are poor: a dower, for instance, of fifty lire is thought something: whereas near Genoa, upon the leasehold system, a farmer may sometimes provide a dower of twenty thousand lire. The country produces grain of different sorts, excellent oil, and timber. It also yields a tolerable red wine. The Government makes from eight to nine per cent upon the value of the land, employing him and his two religious brethren as agents.
In such conversations the evening passed. We rested well in large hard beds with dry rough sheets. But there was a fretful wind abroad, which went wailing round the convent walls and rattling the doors in its deserted corridors. One of our party had been placed by himself at the end of a long suite of apartments, with balconies commanding the wide sweep of hills that Monte Amiata crowns. He confessed in the morning to having passed a restless night, tormented by the ghostly noises of the wind, a wanderer, "like the world's rejected guest," through those untenanted chambers. The olives tossed their filmy boughs in twilight underneath his windows, sighing and shuddering, with a sheen in them as eery as that of willows by some haunted mere.
The great attraction to students of Italian art in the convent of Monte Oliveto is a large square cloister, covered with wall-paintings by Luca Signorelli and Giovannantonio Bazzi, surnamed Il Sodoma. These represent various episodes in the life of S. Benedict; while one picture, in some respects the best of the whole series, is devoted to the founder of the Olivetan Order, Bernardo Tolomei, dispensing the rule of his institution to a consistory of white-robed monks. Signorelli, that great master of Cortona, may be studied to better advantage elsewhere, especially at Orvieto and in his native city. His work in this cloister, consisting of eight frescoes, has been much spoiled by time and restoration. Yet it can be referred to a good period of his artistic activity (the year 1497) and displays much which is specially characteristic of his manner. In Totila's barbaric train, he painted a crowd of fierce emphatic figures, combining all ages and the most varied attitudes, and reproducing with singular vividness the Italian soldiers of adventure of his day. We see before us the long-haired followers of Braccio and the Baglioni; their handsome savage faces; their brawny limbs clad in the parti-coloured hose and jackets of that period; feathered caps stuck sideways on their heads; a splendid swagger in their straddling legs. Female beauty lay outside the sphere of Signorelli's sympathy; and in the Monte Oliveto cloister he was not called upon to paint it. But none of the Italian masters felt more keenly, or more powerfully represented in their work, the muscular vigour of young manhood. Two of the remaining frescoes, different from these in motive, might be selected as no less characteristic of Signorelli's manner. One represents three sturdy monks, clad in brown, working with all their strength to stir a boulder, which has been bewitched, and needs a miracle to move it from its place. The square and powerfully outlined drawing of these figures is beyond all praise for its effect of massive solidity. The other shows us the interior of a fifteenth century tavern, where two monks are regaling themselves upon the sly. A country girl, with shapely arms and shoulders, her upper skirts tucked round the ample waist to which broad sweeping lines of back and breasts descend, is serving wine. The exuberance of animal life, the freedom of attitude expressed in this, the mainly interesting figure of the composition, show that Signorelli might have been a great master of realistic painting. Nor are the accessories less effective. A wide-roofed kitchen chimney, a page-boy leaving the room by a flight of steps, which leads to the house door, and the table at which the truant monks are seated, complete a picture of homely Italian life. It may still be matched out of many an inn in this hill district.
Called to graver work at Orvieto, where he painted his gigantic series of frescoes illustrating the coming of Antichrist, the Destruction of the World, the Resurrection, the Last Judgment, and the final state of souls in Paradise and Hell, Signorelli left his work at Monte Oliveto unaccomplished. Seven years later it was taken up by a painter of very different genius. Sodoma was a native of Vercelli, and had received his first training in the Lombard schools, which owed so much to Lionardo da Vinci's influence. He was about thirty years of age when chance brought him to Siena. Here he made acquaintance with Pandolfo Petrucci, who had recently established himself in a species of tyranny over the Republic. The work he did for this patron and other nobles of Siena, brought him into notice. Vasari observes that his hot Lombard colouring, a something florid and attractive in his style, which contrasted with the severity of the Tuscan school, rendered him no less agreeable as an artist than his free manners made him acceptable as a house-friend. Fra Domenico da Leccio, also a Lombard, was at that time General of the monks of Monte Oliveto. On a visit to this compatriot in 1505, Sodoma received a commission to complete the cloister; and during the next two years he worked there, producing in all twenty-five frescoes. For his pains he seemed to have received but little pay—Vasari says, only the expenses of some colour-grinders who assisted him; but from the books of the convent it appears that 241 ducats, or something over 60l. of our money, were disbursed to him.
Sodoma was so singular a fellow, even in that age of piquant personalities, that it may be worth while to translate a fragment of Vasari's gossip about him. We must, however, bear in mind that, for some unknown reason, the Aretine historian bore a rancorous grudge against this Lombard, whose splendid gifts and great achievements he did all he could by writing to depreciate. "He was fond," says Vasari, "of keeping in his house all sorts of strange animals: badgers, squirrels, monkeys, cat-a-mountains, dwarf-donkeys, horses, racers, little Elba ponies, jackdaws, bantams, doves of India, and other creatures of this kind, as many as he could lay his hands on. Over and above these beasts, he had a raven, which had learned so well from him to talk, that it could imitate its master's voice, especially in answering the door when some one knocked, and this it did so cleverly that people took it for Giovannantonio himself, as all the folk of Siena know quite well. In like manner, his other pets were so much at home with him that they never left his house, but played the strangest tricks and maddest pranks imaginable, so that his house was like nothing more than a Noah's Ark." He was a bold rider, it seems; for with one of his racers, ridden by himself, he bore away the prize in that wild horse-race they run upon the Piazza at Siena. For the rest, "he attired himself in pompous clothes, wearing doublets of brocade, cloaks trimmed with gold lace, gorgeous caps, neck-chains, and other vanities of a like description, fit for buffoons and mountebanks." In one of the frescoes of Monte Oliveto, Sodoma painted his own portrait, with some of his curious pets around him. He there appears as a young man with large and decidedly handsome features, a great shock of dark curled hair escaping from a yellow cap, and flowing down over a rich mantle which drapes his shoulders. If we may trust Vasari, he showed his curious humours freely to the monks. "Nobody could describe the amusement he furnished to those good fathers, who christened him Mattaccio (the big madman), or the insane tricks he played there."
In spite of Vasari's malevolence, the portrait he has given us of Bazzi has so far nothing unpleasant about it. The man seems to have been a madcap artist, combining with his love for his profession a taste for fine clothes, and what was then perhaps rarer in people of his sort, a great partiality for living creatures of all kinds. The darker shades of Vasari's picture have been purposely omitted from these pages. We only know for certain, about Bazzi's private life, that he was married in 1510 to a certain Beatrice, who bore him two children, and who was still living with him in 1541. The further suggestion that he painted at Monte Oliveto subjects unworthy of a religious house, is wholly disproved by the frescoes which still exist in a state of very tolerable preservation. They represent various episodes in the legend of S. Benedict; all marked by that spirit of simple, almost childish piety which is a special characteristic of Italian religious history. The series forms, in fact, a painted novella of monastic life; its petty jealousies, its petty trials, its tribulations and temptations, and its indescribably petty miracles. Bazzi was well fitted for the execution of this task. He had a swift and facile brush, considerable versatility in the treatment of monotonous subjects, and a never-failing sense of humour. His white-cowled monks, some of them with the rosy freshness of boys, some with the handsome brown faces of middle life, others astute and crafty, others again wrinkled with old age, have clearly been copied from real models. He puts them into action without the slightest effort, and surrounds them with landscapes, architecture, and furniture, appropriate to each successive situation. The whole is done with so much grace, such simplicity of composition, and transparency of style, corresponding to the naif and superficial legend, that we feel a perfect harmony between the artist's mind and the motives he was made to handle. In this respect Bazzi's portion of the legend of S. Benedict is more successful than Signorelli's. It was fortunate, perhaps, that the conditions of his task confined him to uncomplicated groupings, and a scale of colour in which white predominates. For Bazzi, as is shown by subsequent work in the Farnesina Villa at Rome, and in the church of S. Domenico at Siena, was no master of composition; and the tone, even of his masterpieces, inclines to heat. Unlike Signorelli, Bazzi felt a deep artistic sympathy with female beauty; and the most attractive fresco in the whole series is that in which the evil monk Florentius brings a bevy of fair damsels to the convent. There is one group, in particular, of six women, so delicately varied in carriage of the head and suggested movement of the body, as to be comparable only to a strain of concerted music. This is perhaps the painter's masterpiece in the rendering of pure beauty, if we except his S. Sebastian of the Uffizzi.
We tire of studying pictures, hardly less than of reading about them! I was glad enough, after three hours spent among the frescoes of this cloister, to wander forth into the copses which surround the convent. Sunlight was streaming treacherously from flying clouds; and though it was high noon, the oak-leaves were still a-tremble with dew. Pink cyclamens and yellow amaryllis starred the moist brown earth; and under the cypress-trees, where alleys had been cut in former time for pious feet, the short firm turf was soft and mossy. Before bidding the hospitable Padre farewell, and starting in our waggonette for Asciano, it was pleasant to meditate awhile in these green solitudes. Generations of white-stoled monks who had sat or knelt upon the now deserted terraces, or had slowly paced the winding paths to Calvaries aloft and points of vantage high above the wood, rose up before me. My mind, still full of Bazzi's frescoes, peopled the wilderness with grave monastic forms, and gracious, young-eyed faces of boyish novices.
For the sake of intending travellers to this, the lordliest of Tuscan hill-towns, it will be well to state at once and without circumlocution what does not appear upon the time-tables of the line from Empoli to Rome. Montepulciano has a station; but this railway station is at the distance of at least an hour and a half's drive from the mountain upon which the city stands.
The lumbering train which brought us one October evening from Asciano crawled into this station after dark, at the very moment when a storm, which had been gathering from the south-west, burst in deluges of rain and lightning. There was, however, a covered carriage going to the town. Into this we packed ourselves, together with a polite Italian gentleman who, in answer to our questions, consulted his watch, and smilingly replied that a little half-hour would bring us easily to Montepulciano. He was a native of the place. He knew perfectly well that he would be shut up with us in that carriage for two mortal hours of darkness and down-pour. And yet, such is the irresistible impulse in Italians to say something immediately agreeable, he fed us with false hopes and had no fear of consequences. What did it matter to him if we were pulling out our watches and chattering in well-contented undertone about vino nobile, biftek, and possibly a pollo arrosto, or a dish of tordi? At the end of the half-hour, as he was well aware, self-congratulations and visions of a hearty supper would turn to discontented wailings, and the querulous complaining of defrauded appetites. But the end of half an hour was still half an hour off; and we meanwhile were comfortable.
The night was pitchy dark, and blazing flashes of lightning showed a white ascending road at intervals. Rain rushed in torrents, splashing against the carriage wheels, which moved uneasily, as though they could but scarcely stem the river that swept down upon them. Far away above us to the left, was one light on a hill, which never seemed to get any nearer. We could see nothing but a chasm of blackness below us on one side, edged with ghostly olive-trees, and a high bank on the other. Sometimes a star swam out of the drifting clouds; but then the rain hissed down again, and the flashes came in floods of livid light, illuminating the eternal olives and the cypresses which looked like huge black spectres. It seemed almost impossible for the horses to keep their feet, as the mountain road grew ever steeper and the torrent swelled around them. Still they struggled on. The promised half hour had been doubled, trebled, quadrupled, when at last we saw the great brown sombre walls of a city tower above us. Then we entered one of those narrow lofty Tuscan gates, and rolled upon the pavement of a street.
The inn at Montepulciano is called Marzocco, after the Florentine lion which stands upon its column in a little square before the house. The people there are hospitable, and more than once on subsequent occasions have they extended to us kindly welcome. But on this, our first appearance, they had scanty room at their disposal. Seeing us arrive so late, and march into their dining-room, laden with sealskins, waterproofs, and ulsters, one of the party hugging a complete Euripides in Didot's huge edition, they were confounded. At last they conducted the whole company of four into a narrow back bed-room, where they pointed to one fair-sized and one very little bed. This was the only room at liberty, they said; and could we not arrange to sleep here? S'accomodi, Signore! S'accomodi, Signora! These encouraging words, uttered in various tones of cheerful and insinuating politeness to each member of the party in succession, failed to make us comprehend how a gentleman and his wife, with a lean but rather lengthy English friend, and a bulky native of the Grisons, could "accommodate themselves" collectively and undividedly with what was barely sufficient for their just moiety, however much it might afford a night's rest to their worse half. Christian was sent out into the storm to look for supplementary rooms in Montepulciano, which he failed to get. Meanwhile we ordered supper, and had the satisfaction of seeing set upon the board a huge red flask of vino nobile. In copious draughts of this the King of Tuscan wines, we drowned our cares; and when the cloth was drawn, our friend and Christian passed their night upon the supper table. The good folk of the inn had recovered from their surprise, and from the inner recesses of their house had brought forth mattresses and blankets. So the better and larger half of the company enjoyed sound sleep.
It rained itself out at night, and the morning was clear, with the transparent atmosphere of storm-clouds hurrying in broken squadrons from the bad sea quarter. Yet this is just the weather in which Tuscan landscape looks its loveliest. Those immense expanses of grey undulating uplands need the luminousness of watery sunshine, the colour added by cloud-shadows, and the pearly softness of rising vapours, to rob them of a certain awful grimness. The main street of Montepulciano goes straight uphill for a considerable distance between brown palaces; then mounts by a staircase-zigzag under huge impending masses of masonry; until it ends in a piazza. On the ascent, at intervals, the eye is fascinated by prospects to the north and east over Val di Chiana, Cortona, Thrasymene, Chiusi; to south and west over Monte Cetona, Radicofani, Monte Amiata, the Val d'Ombrone, and the Sienese Contado. Grey walls overgrown with ivy, arcades of time-toned brick, and the forbidding bulk of houses hewn from solid travertine, frame these glimpses of aerial space. The piazza is the top of all things. Here are the Duomo; the Palazzo del Comune, closely resembling that of Florence, with the Marzocco on its front; the fountain, between two quaintly sculptured columns; and the vast palace Del Monte, of heavy Renaissance architecture, said to be the work of Antonio di San Gallo.
We climbed the tower of the Palazzo del Comune, and stood at the altitude of 2000 feet above the sea. The view is finer in its kind than I have elsewhere seen, even in Tuscany, that land of panoramic prospects over memorable tracts of world-historic country. Such landscape cannot be described in words. But the worst is that, even while we gaze, we know that nothing but the faintest memory of our enjoyment will be carried home with us. The atmospheric conditions were perfect that morning. The sun was still young; the sky sparkled after the night's thunderstorm; the whole immensity of earth around lay lucid, smiling, newly washed in baths of moisture. Masses of storm-cloud kept rolling from the west, where we seemed to feel the sea behind those intervening hills. But they did not form in heavy blocks or hang upon the mountain summits. They hurried and dispersed and changed and flung their shadows on the world below.
The charm of this view is composed of so many different elements, so subtly blent, appealing to so many separate sensibilities; the sense of grandeur, the sense of space, the sense of natural beauty, and the sense of human pathos; that deep internal faculty we call historic sense; that it cannot be defined. First comes the immense surrounding space—a space measured in each arc of the circumference by sections of at least fifty miles, limited by points of exquisitely picturesque beauty, including distant cloud-like mountain ranges and crystals of sky-blue Apennines, circumscribing landscapes of refined loveliness in detail, always varied, always marked by objects of peculiar interest where the eye or memory may linger. Next in importance to this immensity of space, so powerfully affecting the imagination by its mere extent, and by the breadth of atmosphere attuning all varieties of form and colour to one harmony beneath illimitable heaven, may be reckoned the episodes of rivers, lakes, hills, cities, with old historic names. For there spreads the lordly length of Thrasymene, islanded and citadelled, in hazy morning mist, still dreaming of the shock of Roman hosts with Carthaginian legions. There is the lake of Chiusi, set like a jewel underneath the copse-clad hills which hide the dust of a dead Tuscan nation. The streams of Arno start far far away, where Arezzo lies enfolded in bare uplands. And there at our feet rolls Tiber's largest affluent, the Chiana. And there is the canal which joins their fountains in the marsh that Lionardo would have drained. Monte Cetona is yonder height which rears its bristling ridge defiantly from neighbouring Chiusi. And there springs Radicofani, the eagle's eyrie of a brigand brood. Next, Monte Amiata stretches the long lines of her antique volcano; the swelling mountain flanks, descending gently from her cloud-capped top, are russet with autumnal oak and chestnut woods. On them our eyes rest lovingly; imagination wanders for a moment through those mossy glades, where cyclamens are growing now, and primroses in spring will peep amid anemones from rustling foliage strewn by winter's winds. The heights of Casentino, the Perugian highlands, Volterra, far withdrawn amid a wilderness of rolling hills, and solemn snow-touched ranges of the Spolentino, Sibyl-haunted fastnesses of Norcia, form the most distant horizon-lines of this unending panorama. And then there are the cities, placed each upon a point of vantage: Siena; olive-mantled Chiusi; Cortona, white upon her spreading throne; poetic Montalcino, lifted aloft against the vaporous sky; San Quirico, nestling in pastoral tranquillity; Pienza, where AEneas Sylvius built palaces and called his birthplace after his own Papal name. Still closer to the town itself of Montepulciano, stretching along the irregular ridge which gave it building ground, and trending out on spurs above deep orchards, come the lovely details of oak-copses, blending with grey tilth and fields rich with olive and vine. The gaze, exhausted with immensity, pierces those deeply cloven valleys, sheltered from wind and open to the sun—undulating folds of brown earth, where Bacchus, when he visited Tuscany, found the grape-juice that pleased him best, and crowned the wine of Montepulciano king. Here from our eyrie we can trace white oxen on the furrows, guided by brown-limbed, white-shirted contadini.
The morning glory of this view from Montepulciano, though irrecoverable by words, abides in the memory, and draws one back by its unique attractiveness. On a subsequent visit to the town in spring time, my wife and I took a twilight walk, just after our arrival, through its gloomy fortress streets, up to the piazza, where the impendent houses lowered like bastions, and all the masses of their mighty architecture stood revealed in shadow and dim lamplight. Far and wide, the country round us gleamed with bonfires; for it was the eve of the Ascension, when every contadino lights a beacon of chestnut logs and straw and piled-up leaves. Each castello on the plain, each village on the hills, each lonely farmhouse at the skirt of forest or the edge of lake, smouldered like a red Cyclopean eye beneath the vault of stars. The flames waxed and waned, leapt into tongues, or disappeared. As they passed from gloom to brilliancy and died away again, they seemed almost to move. The twilight scene was like that of a vast city, filling the plain and climbing the heights in terraces. Is this custom, I thought, a relic of old Pales-worship?
The early history of Montepulciano is buried in impenetrable mists of fable. No one can assign a date to the foundation of these high-hill cities. The eminence on which it stands belongs to the volcanic system of Monte Amiata, and must at some time have formed a portion of the crater which threw that mighty mass aloft. But aeons have passed since the gran sasso di Maremma was a fire-vomiting monster, glaring like Etna in eruption on the Tyrrhene sea; and through those centuries how many races may have camped upon the summit we call Montepulciano! Tradition assigns the first quasi-historical settlement to Lars Porsena, who is said to have made it his summer residence, when the lower and more marshy air of Clusium became oppressive. Certainly it must have been a considerable town in the Etruscan period. Embedded in the walls of palaces may still be seen numerous fragments of sculptured bas-reliefs, the works of that mysterious people. A propos of Montepulciano's importance in the early years of Roman history, I lighted on a quaint story related by its very jejune annalist, Spinello Benci. It will be remembered that Livy attributes the invasion of the Gauls, who, after besieging Clusium, advanced on Rome, to the persuasions of a certain Aruns. He was an exile from Clusium; and wishing to revenge himself upon his country-people, he allured the Senonian Gauls into his service by the promise of excellent wine, samples of which he had taken with him into Lombardy. Spinello Benci accepts the legend literally, and continues: "These wines were so pleasing to the palate of the barbarians, that they were induced to quit the rich and teeming valley of the Po, to cross the Apennines, and move in battle array against Chiusi. And it is clear that the wine which Aruns selected for the purpose was the same as that which is produced to this day at Montepulciano. For nowhere else in the Etruscan district can wines of equally generous quality and fiery spirit be found, so adapted for export and capable of such long preservation."
We may smile at the historian's naivete. Yet the fact remains that good wine of Montepulciano can still allure barbarians of this epoch to the spot where it is grown. Of all Italian vintages, with the exception of some rare qualities of Sicily and the Valtellina, it is, in my humble opinion, the best. And when the time comes for Italy to develop the resources of her vineyards upon scientific principles, Montepulciano will drive Brolio from the field and take the same place by the side of Chianti which Volnay occupies by common Macon. It will then be quoted upon wine-lists throughout Europe, and find its place upon the tables of rich epicures in Hyperborean regions, and add its generous warmth to Transatlantic banquets. Even as it is now made, with very little care bestowed on cultivation and none to speak of on selection of the grape, the wine is rich and noble, slightly rough to a sophisticated palate, but clean in quality and powerful and racy. It deserves the enthusiasm attributed by Redi to Bacchus:[A]—
Fill, fill, let us all have our will! But with what, with what, boys, shall we fill? Sweet Ariadne—no, not that one—ah no; Fill me the manna of Montepulciano: Fill me a magnum and reach it me.—Gods! How it glides to my heart by the sweetest of roads! Oh, how it kisses me, tickles me, bites me! Oh, how my eyes loosen sweetly in tears! I'm ravished! I'm rapt! Heaven finds me admissible! Lost in an ecstasy! blinded! invisible!— Hearken all earth! We, Bacchus, in the might of our great mirth, To all who reverence us, are right thinkers; Hear, all ye drinkers! Give ear and give faith to the edict divine; Montepulciano's the King of all wine.
It is necessary, however, that our modern barbarian should travel to Montepulciano itself, and there obtain a flask of manna or vino nobile from some trusty cellar-master. He will not find it bottled in the inns or restaurants upon his road.
The landscape and the wine of Montepulciano are both well worth the trouble of a visit to this somewhat inaccessible city. Yet more remains to be said about the attractions of the town itself. In the Duomo, which was spoiled by unintelligent rebuilding at a dismal epoch of barren art, are fragments of one of the rarest monuments of Tuscan sculpture. This is the tomb of Bartolommeo Aragazzi. He was a native of Montepulciano, and secretary to Pope Martin V., that Papa Martino non vale un quattrino, on whom, during his long residence in Florence, the street-boys made their rhymes. Twelve years before his death he commissioned Donatello and Michelozzo Michelozzi, who about that period were working together upon the monuments of Pope John XXIII. and Cardinal Brancacci, to erect his own tomb at the enormous cost of twenty-four thousand scudi. That thirst for immortality of fame, which inspired the humanists of the Renaissance, prompted Aragazzi to this princely expenditure. Yet, having somehow won the hatred of his fellow-students, he was immediately censured for excessive vanity. Lionardo Bruni makes his monument the theme of a ferocious onslaught. Writing to Poggio Bracciolini, Bruni tells a story how, while travelling through the country of Arezzo, he met a train of oxen dragging heavy waggons piled with marble columns, statues, and all the necessary details of a sumptuous sepulchre. He stopped, and asked what it all meant. Then one of the contractors for this transport, wiping the sweat from his forehead, in utter weariness of the vexatious labour, at the last end of his temper, answered: "May the gods destroy all poets, past, present, and future." I inquired what he had to do with poets, and how they had annoyed him. "Just this," he replied, "that this poet, lately deceased, a fool and windy-pated fellow, has ordered a monument for himself; and with a view to erecting it, these marbles are being dragged to Montepulciano; but I doubt whether we shall contrive to get them up there. The roads are too bad." "But," cried I, "do you believe that man was a poet—that dunce who had no science, nay, nor knowledge either? who only rose above the heads of men by vanity and doltishness?" "I don't know," he answered, "nor did I ever hear tell, while he was alive, about his being called a poet; but his fellow-townsmen now decide he was one; nay, if he had but left a few more moneybags, they'd swear he was a god. Anyhow, but for his having been a poet, I would not have cursed poets in general." Whereupon, the malevolent Bruni withdrew, and composed a scorpion-tailed oration, addressed to his friend Poggio, on the suggested theme of "diuturnity in monuments," and false ambition. Our old friends of humanistic learning—Cyrus, Alexander, Caesar—meet us in these frothy paragraphs. Cambyses, Xerxes, Artaxerxes, Darius, are thrown in to make the gruel of rhetoric "thick and slab." The whole epistle ends in a long-drawn peroration of invective against "that excrement in human shape," who had had the ill-luck, by pretence to scholarship, by big gains from the Papal treasury, by something in his manners alien from the easy-going customs of the Roman Court, to rouse the rancour of his fellow-humanists.
I have dwelt upon this episode, partly because it illustrates the peculiar thirst for glory in the students of that time, but more especially because it casts a thin clear thread of actual light upon the masterpiece which, having been transported with this difficulty from Donatello's workshop, is now to be seen by all lovers of fine art, in part at least, at Montepulciano. In part at least: the phrase is pathetic. Poor Aragazzi, who thirsted so for "diuturnity in monuments," who had been so cruelly assaulted in the grave by humanistic jealousy, expressing its malevolence with humanistic crudity of satire, was destined after all to be defrauded of his well-paid tomb. The monument, a master work of Donatello and his collaborator, was duly erected. The oxen and the contractors, it appears, had floundered through the mud of Valdichiana, and struggled up the mountain-slopes of Montepulciano. But when the church, which this triumph of art adorned, came to be repaired, the miracle of beauty was dismembered. The sculpture for which Aragazzi spent his thousands of crowns, which Donatello touched with his immortalising chisel, over which the contractors vented their curses and Bruni eased his bile; these marbles are now visible as mere disjecta membra in a church which, lacking them, has little to detain a traveller's haste.
On the left hand of the central door, as you enter, Aragazzi lies, in senatorial robes, asleep; his head turned slightly to the right upon the pillow, his hands folded over his breast. Very noble are the draperies, and dignified the deep tranquillity of slumber. Here, we say, is a good man fallen upon sleep, awaiting resurrection. The one commanding theme of Christian sculpture, in an age of Pagan feeling, has been adequately rendered. Bartolommeo Aragazzi, like Ilaria del Carretto at Lucca, like the canopied doges in S. Zanipolo at Venice, like the Acciauoli in the Florentine Certosa, like the Cardinal di Portogallo in Samminiato, is carved for us as he had been in life, but with that life suspended, its fever all smoothed out, its agitations over, its pettinesses dignified by death. This marmoreal repose of the once active man symbolises for our imagination the state into which he passed four centuries ago, but in which, according to the creed, he still abides, reserved for judgment and reincarnation. The flesh, clad with which he walked our earth, may moulder in the vaults beneath. But it will one day rise again; and art has here presented it imperishable to our gaze. This is how the Christian sculptors, inspired by the majestic calm of classic art, dedicated a Christian to the genius of repose. Among the nations of antiquity this repose of death was eternal; and being unable to conceive of a man's body otherwise than for ever obliterated by the flames of funeral, they were perforce led back to actual life when they would carve his portrait on a tomb. But for Christianity the rest of the grave has ceased to be eternal. Centuries may pass, but in the end it must be broken. Therefore art is justified in showing us the man himself in an imagined state of sleep. Yet this imagined state of sleep is so incalculably long, and by the will of God withdrawn from human prophecy, that the ages sweeping over the dead man before the trumpets of archangels wake him, shall sooner wear away memorial stone than stir his slumber. It is a slumber, too, unterrified, unentertained by dreams. Suspended animation finds no fuller symbolism than the sculptor here presents to us in abstract form.