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FLORENCE CONTINUED-GALLERY-SKETCH OF FIESOLE-EXCURSION TO
SOME of my readers may by this time begin to inquire for the Gallery, which is by far the most prominent object at Florence. Let them be assured, that it has not been forgotten. It received both our earliest and our latest visits; but as it contains a little world of curiosities in itself, its contents have been reserved, till other topics were despatched, and until my observations gleaned at sundry times might be thrown together in a connected sketch. How exhaustless the subject is, may be learned from the fact, that one of the hundred works, to which it has given rise, is comprised in seventeen volumes folio, and several other descriptions contain ten folio volumes each. If an acquaintance with the fine arts qualified me to abridge these tomes, or to present an analysis of such a mass of materials, inclination would recoil from the task; and such of my readers, as wish for any thing beyond a desultory and brief notice, must refer to other writers. They have a choice among several scores of authors of all countries, Italian, German, French, English, and even American.
The situation of the Gallery and the splendid specimens of the works of art scattered about its threshold, in some measure prepare the mind for its accumulated treasures. At the end of one of the wings, and near the entrance, stands the Palazzo Vecchio, (the government house of the republic, and once the residence of the Medici,) presenting two of its venerable façades to the Square of the Grand Duke, elevating its fantastic, castellated tower above all the adjacent buildings, and surrounded with an equestrian statue of Cosimo I. a fountain with its pile of marble, the colossal Hercules of Bandinelli, and the David of Michael Angelo. The other wing terminates on the same square, in the open Loggia, or Portico, once used as the rostrum of the republican magistrates, and still adorned with the celebrated bronze statue of Perseus, bearing the head of Medusa, and Judith decapitating Holofernes, in marble, with many other proud monuments of former greatness. The gallery itself, designed by Lorenzo the Magnificent, and built by Vassari, the pupil of Michael Angelo, under the auspices of Cosimo I. in the year 1564, is in the shape of the Greek letter Pi, its parallel sides extending from the public square above described to the Arno, a distance of something
more than five hundred feet. Here the wings are united by an arch and a transverse gallery, upwards of sixty feet in breadth. The open court is traversed by a street, bordered by arcades, which are converted into extensive bazars. But in point of architecture, this stupendous edifice has little to boast. It is of the Tuscan order, two stories high besides the basement, in the uppermost of which is the Gallery. The frequent ascent to such a height is tedious, particularly for ladies; and stately as the flight of steps are, the weariness of the legs more than counterbalances the pleasures of the eye, including the laugh of the jolly god, who waylays the visitant upon the stairs, and the group of Grand Dukes and other patrons, in marble and porphyry, who, at the entrance, welcome him to the fruits of their munificence. In the second vestibule, he cheerfully pauses a moment to take breath, and survey the cabinet of antiques, which crowd the little octagon.
At the door a living custode, in a laced coat, and with a military air, bows to the stranger and gives him free admission, at any hour between 9 o'clock and 3, and on all days except festas. Neither he nor any one of the placemen, scattered through this immense establishment, is allowed to receive a sous from visitants, who are notified of the fact by the regulations posted up at the entrance. The whole expense is defrayed by the government, and all classes of the public are freely permitted to share in the common stock of instruction and pleasure provided by its liberality.
The interior of this great repository of fine arts conforms to the outside as above described. A gallery, twelve or fifteen feet in width, and about twenty in height, extends in unbroken aisles quite round the building, a distance in all of nearly eleven hundred feet. The floor is highly polished and kept perfectly neat, and the ceiling divided into compartments, is covered with frescos. One side of the gallery opens into the court, and is furnished with coarse curtains to regulate the degree of light. Beneath the windows is deposited a range of antiquities, consisting of statues, busts, and sarcophagi, extending the whole length. The other side is lined by a blind wall, covered at top by a series of portraits of distinguished personages, of all ages and all countries, chronologically arranged. Under these is a stratum of pictures, running quite round, and illustrating the progress of the art. At the bottom is another range of antiques, similar to those on the opposite side, disposed in chronological order, which is the governing principle in the arrangement.
Only one moiety of the Gallery has yet been described. A serics of distinct apartments, communicating with one another internally, and opening by a lateral door into the corridors, extend the whole
length of both sides, forming something like twenty magnificent temples of the arts. Many of them would be worth visiting merely for the beauty of their architecture, and their intrinsic decorations. Here are deposited the choicest treasures of this endless and invaluable collection, kept under lock and key, but opened daily to the examination of the admiring multitude, who follow the keepers from room to room. Among these chambers, are several appropriated to paintings of the Italian school in general-two exclusively to the Tuscan school-two to the Venetian-one to the French-one to the Flemish-one to the Dutch-one to the portraits of celebrated painters-one to ancient and another to modern bronzes--one to medals and inscriptions--one to antique vases-and one to gems and precious stones.
Pre-eminent and triumphant over all the rest, rich as they are in the productions of the great masters of every age, is the apartment called the Tribune. This superb little temple in the form of an octagon, twenty feet in diameter, with a pavement of splendid mosaic, walls lined with crimson velvet, and a dome inlaid with pearl, has been selected, on account of enjoying a better light, as the depository of the most precious articles in the Gallery. Immediately on entering the door, the eye of the visitant falls full upon the immortal statue of the Venus de' Medicis, which presents a form as matchless in beauty, as did the goddess herself, when she rose in all her purity from the wave. What must have been the imagination of the man, who could conceive the image of a being so divine-what the skill and taste that could embody the conception, and call it forth from the marble!
But the subject so far transcends my powers, that I will neither repeat old panegyrics, nor attempt new ones. He who has read Byron's poetry will never read my prose. With the authors of some of the folio descriptions of the Gallery, I might apply the scale, and inform the public, that the diminutive goddess is exactly 4 feet, 11 inches, and 4 lines in height: with the dancing master, I could describe her attitude upon the pedestal, resting upon her left foot, with the right brought to the first position; one arm forming a graceful curve, and the other dropping to her waist; her body gently inclining forward, and her head, soldier like, addressed to the right with the antiquary I might trace her to Adrian's Villa, look up the label of old Cleomenes, the Athenian artist, and record just what parts of her legs, and arms, and trunk, have been added by modern sculptors: I might pursue her adventurous voyages and travels to Sicily and across the Alps, in the midst of revolutionary turmoils; her sojourn in the Louvre, and her crowd of Parisian admirers: and after all, he that has never seen the statue would know little of its merits. There is a grace seated upon
the polished brow, and lurking in the tangles of silken tresses, a delicate softness in the slightly contracted eye, a charm in the pouting lip, a sweetness of expression in the whole face, as inimitable as it is indescribable. As to the rest,
“I leave to learned fingers and wise hands,
How well his connoisseurship understands
The graceful bend, and the voluptuous swell."
In the Tribune are four other pieces of ancient sculpture of extraordinary merit. Opposite to the Venus de' Medicis, stands the young Apollo, or Apollino, as he is called on account of his diminutive size, being only four feet and a half high, and designed to represent the beauty of the god of the silver bow, in contrast with the dignity of the Belvidere. He leans in an easy attitude against the trunk of a tree, upon which his quiver is suspended, and his right arm is thrown carelessly over his head. This statue is entirely ancient, and from its similarity has been ascribed to the immortal author of the Venus.
On the left of the latter is the Knife-whetter, whose character has excited much controversy among antiquaries. He has at one time been converted into the barber of Julius Cæsar; at another, into the slave who discovered the conspiracy of Cataline, or that of the sons of Brutus to restore the Tarquins. But the general opinion at present seems to make him the Scythian slave, who was ordered to flay Marsyas; and he is in the attitude of sharpening his broad knife upon a stone, to perform the bloody office.* It is ludicrous enough that such an instrument, which is as broad and as heavy as the point of a scythe,
* I find no authority for the assertion, that Apollo performed the sanguinary operation of skinning the Phrygian musician, by proxy. He is represented as flaying his vanquished rival with his own hands. With all due deference to antiquaries, and to add a Yankee guess to their learned conjectures, may not the Arrotino be a copy of the statue, or a part of the statue, placed at the entrance, of the Roman Forum, as a terror to litigants, alluded to in the satires of Horace ?
Deinde eo dormitum, non solicitus, mihi quod cras
Vultum ferre negat Noviorum posse minoris.
The object of the statue was to frighten the litigious, by the moral of the contest between the god of the lyre and his antagonist, and to warn those, who were disposed to go to law, that they might expect to be fleeced if not flayed. The image of a remorseless executioner, sharpening his instrument, in allusion to the fable, was certainly a striking, forcible, and terrific emblem.
should have ever been considered a razor. Casar would have had more reason to fear such a weapon playing about his throat, than all the spears and darts of his Gallic foes. The slave is sitting upon his Jegs, basy at his task. His short coarse hair, and the rude, deep lines of his face, as well as the tension of every muscle, give a strength of expression which can hardly be surpassed.
On the right of the Venus is the group of the Wrestlers. It is rough and tumble with them, and they do not show what an American ring would consider fair play. If this is a specimen of ancient wrestling, it was a trial of strength, rather than of skill. One of them has the other down; and the great object of the artist seems to have been, to exhibit the muscles to advantage, though the face of the vanquished has a strong expression.
The fifth and last article is the statue of a Faun, whose air expresses all the gaiety of those rural and jolly divinities. He is playing upon cymbals, with a pipe at his feet, and his countenance hung with wreaths of smiles. Michael Angelo gave him a head and arms; all the rest is ascribed to the chisel of Praxiteles. A spectator can perceive no difference in the workmanship; and it is no small credit to the former, that his skill could restore the mutilated relic of one of the greatest of ancient statuaries.
The Tribune is as rich in pictures as it is in sculpture. Here are four or five by Raphael, two of which are considered his masterpieces -St. John in the Wilderness, and a portrait of La Fornarina, or the Baker's Daughter. They are of opposite characters, and show the versatility of his genius. The former is worthy of all the grandeur and sanctity of the subject. But on the latter he has lavished the utmost of his skill and taste. La Fornarina was the lady of his love, or in plain terme, his mistress, and the influence of his passion may be seen in every touch of his pencil. No portrait that has ever fallen under my observation will bear any comparison with this. He has given her one of the sweetest faces imaginable, blending the dignity of the Roman matron with "the amiable weaknesses" of her character. An elegant simplicity is observed in costume and ornament. This picture may probably be regarded as the strongest expression of the taste of Raphael; and taking a similar production of Titian, in the Pitti Palace, as a standard, the striking contrast between the two celebrated artists is infinitely in favour of the former. The latter has two Venuses in the Tribune. Both are gross in person, attitude, and expression. If his pencil was true to nature, he must have been acquainted with a very different class of females from some of his competitors. One of his recumbent and voluptuous goddesses has been called the rival of the