« PreviousContinue »
lately been extended, so as to afford a full view of the enormous edifice. At night it appears to rise like a mountain against the horizon. The inside of course conforms in a great measure to the exterior, in the general contour of its features. Splendid chapels fill the octagonal projections; and long lines of immense pillars separate the aisles from the nave. Directly under the centre of the dome, closed at top, is the choir, some thirty feet in diameter, still preserving the octagon, and surrounded with Ionic columns, better suited to the lightness and gaiety of a theatre, than to the solemnity of a sanctuary. Elevated upon a throne, on one side of this enclosure, is a statue-of whom? of the Supreme Being, or God the Father, as the valet-deplace familiarly termed him! He is represented in a sitting posture, with one hand resting upon his thigh, and the other raised, as if in the act of speaking. His countenance is that of an old man, with a hoary beard and a stern look. Within a few paces of this image, one of the Medici was stabbed to the heart by his rival, while in the attitude of kneeling at his devotions; and if I am correctly informed, crimes of an opposite character are often perpetrated before the altar. The Cathedral is the rendezvous of the whole city, and among the crowd of fashionables, vows are said to be whispered to other ears than those of the Virgin. Such a mixture of sacred and profane objects, of human passions and devotional feelings, must shock every person of correct taste, to say nothing of moral or religious principles.
But I am not yet done with a description of the church. The walls are lined with piles of monumental marble, and the chapels are filled with pictures of the Tuscan school. Whatever merit any of these works may possess, it is not displayed to much advantage, owing to the more than twilight dimness, glimmering through the Gothic windows, of painted glass, and unusually small, added to the total obscurity of the dome. The forms of devotees, gliding round the choir, or kneeling before the altars, appeared like spectres, half disclosed by the rays of tapers, blending with the indistinct light of day; and peals of the chant, sometimes bursting from unseen lips, and sent back in echoes from the vaulted roof, had no tendency to diminish the effect. Towards the foot of the cross, the front and lateral doors render the vacant aisles less gloomy, and more fully bring to view the mosaic pavement, which is partly the work of Michael Angelo. Beneath it sleeps the dust of great men-Brunellesco, Giotto, and others.
A shattered picture of Dante, in the attitude of reading his Divine Comedy, is suspended from the wall, and arrests the attention of every traveller, although it forms but a frail and inadequate memorial of the great Tuscan poet, the creator of a new language, and in point of
prominence the Shakspeare of modern Italy.* His remains still rest at Ravenna, upon the shores of the Adriatic, whither he was driven into exile by the persecutions of his countrymen, who are proud of his reputation, and have in vain sought to reclaim his ashes. He died
in 1321. A cenotaph monument to his memory is now in the hands of Ricci, a celebrated Florentine artist, and will soon be erected in the church of St. Croce, among the other illustrious names, which consecrate its aisles. It is to be of white marble, presenting a group of statues, which will comprise a figure of Italy pointing to her favourite poet, together with his own likeness and suitable illustrations of his works. The whole expense is estimated at $40,000—a greater sum than Dante ever saw during his life. It is some gratification to see the posterity of his fellow-citizens, attempting by these acts of liberality to obliterate the ingratitude of their fathers, and to appease the manes of persecuted genius.
But let us turn to a less poetical subject: In front of the Cathedral and at the distance of a few yards, stands the Baptistry, an octagonal edifice, encrusted with black and white marble, and finished in the same style as the primary structure to which it belongs. The interior is extremely rich, the pavement consisting of beautiful mosaics, and the shrines glittering with precious stones. On the whole, however, it is
less splendid than its Pisan rival, dedicated to the same purposes. The three bronze doors are reckoned masterpieces of art, and old Michael Angelo, in the enthusiasm of his admiration, and in his characteristic liberality towards the works of others, used to call them "the Gates of Paradise." They are enriched with bas-relief of exquisite workmanship, and appropriately representing the principal events in the life of St. John the Baptist.
What shall we say of two massive iron chains, suspended by rings from the antique pillarst on each side of the principal portal, all taken from captive Pisa, and still displayed as trophies of conquest? Coming as I recently had from the wreck of that interesting little Republic, these spoils from a port now in utter ruin, thus ostentatiously exhibited to the eyes of slaves, who suffer themselves to be trampled under foot
* "The power of the human mind," says Sismondi, "was never more forcibly demonstrated, in its most exquisite master-pieces, than in the poem (the Dirina Camedia) of Dante. Without a prototype in any existing language, equally novel in its various parts, and in the combination of the whole, it stands alone, as the first monument of modern genius, the first great work which appeared in the reviving literature of Europe."
+ These columns of porphyry are said to have been brought from Jerusalem.
by the modern Goths of the north, awakened in my breast a tide of mingled emotions. The Florentines attempt to soften the features of the picture by stating, that the chains were presented to them by the Pisans for guarding their territory, while they were engaged in foreign wars. Notwithstanding this explanation, the traveller regards the manacles in no other light than as an emblem of the subjugation of Pisa. If either state had been benefitted by the conquest, such a boastful display of the trophies of war would admit of some palliation; but both were ruined and depopulated by civil dissensions. Let the citizens of the United States mark the picture, and see what must be the fate of our country, if any of the flourishing and happy little Republics, which like the planetary world now form parts of the great system, and are mutually supported by one another, should yield to the impulses of ambition, wander from their orbits, and strive for the mastery over their neighbours.
The Campanile or Belfry in this group of buildings, like that of Pisa, is an insulated tower, standing a few paces from the corner of the Cathedral, and rising to the height of 288 feet. It is perhaps twenty feet square, constructed of the most solid materials, and faced on the outside with variegated marbles, among which the white prevails, beautifully clouded with other colours. The workmanship is as finished as the smallest and nicest piece of mechanism; and for five centuries, it has stood the admiration of all travellers, from Charles the Vth, down to less imperial visitants. It was built by Giotto, who by dint of genius became, from a peasant boy, one of the most renowned architects of the age.
Arduous as was the ascent by means of spiral flights of steps in the interior, the word as usual was upward! and we climbed to the very top, even to the tiled roof, which rises above the open balustrade. The view of Florence and its antique towers; of the Vale of the Arno both above and below the town; of the river itself, at this height divested of its minor defects, and flowing through its bright and luxuriant borders; of the hilly environs, infinitely varied, and crowned with castles, palaces, villas, gardens, churches, and convents-such a landscape glittering beneath an Italian sky, and blooming in all the freshness of Spring, may be conceived, but cannot be adequately described. East ward the prospect reaches to the woody heights of Vallombrosa, and the peaks of mountains overhanging it, still enveloped in snow. Three or four miles towards the north, the dilapidated walls and nodding towers of old Fiesolé, seated upon one of the loftiest swells of the Apennines, imperfectly show themselves through the intervening foliage. The seven gates of Florence, and all the great avenues by
which it is approached, were distinctly traced. Of these the Porta St. Gallo, leading across the mountains to Bologna, St. Croce, the Roman, and Pisan are the principal. The walls, of an elliptical form, are seven miles in circuit, and enclose a population of about 70,000. Crowded faubourgs, extending on all sides, considerably augment the amount; but what is this handful of inhabitants, compared with the 400,000, whom the city alone contained in the prosperous times of the Republic! Can any person ask a more palpable demonstration than this of the superiority of one form of government over another? Yet the Florentines, slumbering in ignoble ease, enslaved by ecclesiastics, and bound hand and foot by the despotism of the Holy Alliance, are suffering the glorious inheritance of their fathers to waste away, without one generous effort to regain their long-lost liberties.
While we stood leaning over the balustrades of the Campanile, surveying the dusky battlements of the city, the bells tolled and the chants of numerous processions of priests in their robes, followed by a ragged multitude, ascended in murmurs from below. As they moved through the deep and dark windings of the streets, they alternately vanished and re-appeared, and the sound of their voices by turns faded and revived upon the ear. There was something absolutely melancholy and painful in the picture. What a different scene did the acti vity and bustle of the town present in the early days of the Medicean family, when commerce and the arts flourished; when the citizens assembled on the public squares to discuss the interests of state; when every high-minded Florentine was ready to rally at a moment's warning under the banners of the Republic, and the enthusiastic shouts of freemen rang along the banks of the Arno! But the jargon of bawling ecclesiastics is now the only watch-word, which circulates through a declining city.
The Piazza del Duomo is spacious, and surrounded on all sides by blocks of stately buildings, some of which have an air of venerable antiquity. On the western side stands a monument, to commemorate the miracle of St. Zenobi, whose coffin coming in contact with a withered oak, is said to have caused it to put forth its foliage afresh. This square has from time immemorial been the rendezvous of all loungers, literary, political, and fashionable. It is a sort of Exchange, whither the Florentines resort at evening, to converse and gather the news of the day. Here are several of the principal coffee-houses in town and the very benches are shown, on which Machiavelli and his contem poraries used to lounge.
TOMBS OF THE MEDICI-LAURENTIAN LIBRARY-SANTA MARIA NOVELLA-ANNUNZIATA-MUSEUM-BOTANIC GARDEN-PITTI PALACE -BOBOLI GARDEN-CASCINA.
To the church of Santa Croce we paid several visits, chiefly on account of its interesting associations. It stands on a large square of the same name, surrounded with antique and grotesque buildings, some of which have been the cradles of distinguished men. The church itself, elevated by half a dozen steps above the piazza, presents a rude exterior. It was built in the same age with the Cathedral, but the outside has never been, and probably never will be finished. The colossal proportions of its interior, its long-drawn aisles, its ranges of massive columns, its Gothic wooden roof, and the sombre aspect of its chapels and altars, impress the mind with a solemnity of feeling. An inattention to the lesser ornaments, such as embellish most of the Florentine churches, comports with the dignity of a sanctuary, which enshrines much of the holiest dust of Italy.
On entering the front door, the eye of the visitant is at once arrested by the tomb of Michael Angelo, erected against the wall to the right. It is enough to know, that the ashes of such a man, equally distinguished for his genius, his skill, his patriotism, and noble attachment to liberty, sleep beneath the pavement. But the monument itself is worthy of his memory, and furnishes another proof that his countrymen are much more fond of heaping honours upon the dead, than of doing justice to the living.* It consists of a pyramidal pile of marble, which rises above a splendid sarcophagus. Among its ornaments are figures of Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting, with their appropriate insignia, designed to be emblematic of the three great departments of the fine arts, in which this astonishing man attained an almost equal degree of eminence. A little medallion of his own painting also forms one of its most interesting embellishments.
*On the downfal of republican liberty, Michael Angelo, who had manfully struggled for its support, became a self-exile from his country, indignantly retiring to Rome, whence he refused to return, till his remains were restored to his native earth by his enslaved and degraded countrymen.