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Venus de Medicis; but there is just as much difference between the two, as between a personification of love and lust.
Michael Angelo's most celebrated easel painting is in the Tribune. It is a small picture of the holy family-the Virgin mother upon her knees presenting her child to Joseph. I endeavoured to admire it for the sake of the man, but could not, however perfect it may be. The drawing is said to be very exact, but his manner appeared to me dry, stiff, and formal. Leonardo da Vinci's genius is here admirably represented by his picture of Herodias' daughter receiving the head of John the Baptist from the executioner. The expression of the latter is indescribably powerful. If there is any defect in the piece, it is the smirking indifference of face, with which the daughter accepts such a present. It is unnatural for any female to appear thus light-hearted at such a moment.
Guercino's two productions, the sleeping Endymion and the Samian Sibyl are both fine. In the character of the latter personage, I was much disappointed. With the exception of a slight degree of wildness in her eye, her portrait resembles that of a handsome, well dressed lady. The ancient poets certainly represented these prophetesses, as a sort of weird sisters, as every tyro knows who has read Virgil. Corregio has four pictures in the Tribune-two holy families -the head of St. John in a charger-and the head of a colossal child. Both of the latter are vigorous efforts of his genius. His productions are rare, and highly prized by the Italians.
Guido's pencil is represented by the Virgin in contemplation; and Annibal Caracci has a Bachante, with a group about her, conceived in all the poetry of his imagination, and executed in his best style. There is here one prominent and revolting picture-the Murder of the Innocents. It is a shocking piece of butchery--mothers wild with despair, and clasping their mangled babes to their bosoms. The Grand Duke Leopold did not manifest much taste in adding it as a present to such a collection. A North American Indian taking a scalp would furnish just as fit a subject for the pencil.
In the far-famed group of Niobe and her children, in another part of the gallery, I was disappointed. To me the arrangement appeared horrible, calculated to destroy entirely the picture of family grief. The statues are scattered over a large saloon-twice the size of the Tribune-filled with many intruders upon the pathetic woes of the mother. She, with her youngest child clinging to her side and nestling under the drapery, is tolerably conspicuous and the very image of grief; but the visitant absolutely requires a cicerone to inform him which are Niobe's children, and pick them out from a gang of foreign
personages, who have nothing to do with the story. There is generally so little defect in the arrangement of the articles, that this palpable instance of a want of taste only becomes the more striking.
Among the ten thousand other rare works in the Gallery, are the celebrated marble statue of Bacchus, by Michael Angelo, and a Mercury in bronze, by John di Bologna. The former is one of the greatest efforts of the mighty master; and the latter has a form light, airy, and symmetrical beyond description. He is in the attitude of mounting upon a zephyr blown from the lips of Æolus, and one such breath, all gossamer as it is, would apparently sustain a dozen such aerial beings. The idea is entirely original, and this statue alone is sufficient to immortalize the author.
I visited all the apartments once, and some of them over and over again; but time would fail me were I to retrace the long rounds, even if my readers did not recoil from such a circuit. A very small proportion only of the first rate pictures have been mentioned; and the second portrait, in my opinion, in the Gallery-the Magdalen of Carlo Dolce-has not been named at all. The compartment containing the portraits of celebrated painters, and the rooms appropriated to the Tuscan school are full of interest. So indeed are the long corridors filled with statues; the rich collection of bronzes; and that most resplendent and fantastic of all museums, the cabinet of gems.
The Gallery is constantly thronged with visitants of both sexes from every part of the world, who here assemble as at a great Exchange of the Fine Arts. Numerous artists, both male and female, are constantly busy in making copies of the more celebrated pictures, generally in miniature, which are for sale in the shops of Florence. Every facility is afforded them for working in the gallery. A pretty English girl was attempting to imitate the inimitable face of La Fornarina; and one or two other female painters had planted their easels before the Magdalen of Carlo Dolce. Morghen, the most celebrated engraver probably in the world, has multiplied prints of the principal works of art in the Gallery to an illimitable extent. We visited his immense establishment, which has become a mart for all nations.
During our stay at Florence, one morning was occupied in a delightful excursion on horseback to Fiesolé, three or four miles from town, in a northerly direction. We left before sunrise, by the avenue leading through the Porta Pinta, and after climbing constantly through the splendid environs, reached the brow of the Apennines, on which the old town is perched, at 7 o'clock. The day was fine, and the view into the vale below, reaching far towards Pisa, and embracing
Florence with its dusky battlements, was truly magnificent, alone worth the labour of the arduous ascent.
On the very summit of the hill stands a convent, with a pretty grove of evergreens in front, and enjoying unbroken retirement, save the occasional visits of such intruders as ourselves. It was once celebrated for its learned inmates; and it is said the Medici used here to find a modern Tusculum.* But the cloisters are now silent, and the inmates few. Within a short distance stands a small neat church, on the site of an ancient temple to Bacchus. The nave is separated from the aisles by eighteen beautiful Ionic pillars, which belonged to the fane of the heathen god.
The cathedral, (for Fiesolé has its cathedral,) is in rather a shattered condition, and contains few objects worthy of notice. It was ornamented with red banners and other ornaments preparatory to a festa. The tall square tower is conspicuous even from the banks of the Arno. A few sepulchral monuments were found in the gloomy aisles; and among the rest, one to commemorate a learned peasant. A classical Latin epitaph records the distinction and eminence to which he attained.
Old Fasulæ has almost vanished, and the little that is left is fast wasting away. Even the second city on the same site exhibits but a vestige of its former splendour. We found a section of the ancient walls, planted by a Greek colony long anterior to Rome and Florence. To the former, Fæsulæ gave arts, and to the latter population. The remnants of the ramparts are massive, ten or fifteen feet in height, and composed of large blocks of stone laid without cement. One of the gates is nearly entire. A peasant was ploughing in the midst of
*The poet Milton here resided for some time, and did not forget the secluded retreat of science and learned ease in his immortal work, for the first idea of which he was perhaps indebted to the Divina Comedia of Dante, to which the plan of Paradise Lost in some points bears a striking resemblance. However this may be, one of his grandest images is associated with this seat of the Tuscan Muses:
"He scarce had ceased, when the superior Fiend
Was moving towards the shore; his pond'rous shield,
Behind him cast; the broad circumference
Hung on his shoulders, like the moon, whose orb
At evening, from the top of Fesolé,
Or in Valdarno, to descry new lands,
the very ruins. He stopped his team of oxen, (snowy as ever wore the garland and went to the altar of a heathen god,) and conducted us to the ruins of an amphitheatre in the same field. A mere fragment of it is left. One of the steps at the entrance is visible, and feet which are now dust have worn it nearly through. The part left seems to be the segment of a large structure, whence the size of the town may be inferred. It is certain that the first dramatic corps went hence to Rome.
Near the theatre were the ancient baths, into some of the arches of which, now choked with rubbish, we descended with the ploughman for our guide. Within a few paces, the foundations of a palace peep through the coat of verdure. The peasant stooped down and tore away the rank weeds, which concealed the wreck of former magnificence. A lizard started from his covert, and shot a glance of his keen eye at intruders upon what are now his undisputed dominions. What a picture was here of a city, which was the cradle of Florence, and gave civilization and refinement to Rome! It is said an earthquake commenced the work of destruction, and rival states completed it. Even the daughter (Florence,) instead of paying the tribute of respect to venerable and declining age, turned her parricidal arms against the parent that gave her being, and imposed the same chains which ruined Pisa.
Our visit to this remnant of a city was full of interest. We walked nearly the whole way back, often pausing to contemplate the glories of the vale spreading beneath us, and to examine the villas, whither the Medici, in the golden age of the republic were wont to retreat, to devise new measures for promoting the freedom, prosperity, and greatness of their country. The Tuscan Muses followed them into their classic shades, and the gratulations of thousands welcomed their return. What an era was that for national renown, and how has it vanished under titled dukes!. Our associations were in a moment dissolved by the proud pile of marble, which rises above the gate of St. Gallo, inscribed to Ferdinand III. and surmounted by the double-headed Eagle of Austria. The four captives in chains, which recline on the entablature of twelve rich Corinthian columns, and which hide the figures of Fame and History, are but too true an emblem of the degradation of this once glorious Republic.
On the 18th, I made a solitary excursion to Vallombrosa, my friends preferring the charms of the Gallery to the Paradise of Milton. For the first thirteen miles the road leads up the Vale of the Arno, and is bordered by fields luxuriant in foliage, producing corn, olives, and wine. The air was fragrant with the odours of the sweet-scented
bean, which is extensively cultivated, and was in full blossom. Its flower is as grateful as the product itself.
Virgil was my sole companion, and the attractions of the country left me time to read only a few of his Eclogues. I had the text and comment both before me; for at least a dozen shepherds and shepherdesses were observed during my excursion. They were tending their flocks of sheep and goats by the way-side; and while the latter quietly browsed the herbage, the former employed their time in spinning, or other labour. But it is difficult to trace any of the poet's dramatis persona in these ragged and dirty rustics, who are generally of the lower classes of peasantry.
Thirteen miles from Florence, I was obliged to leave the carriage and mount a donkey for the remaining five miles, over a mountainous and rugged path. Some part of the way was so steep as to compel me to walk. In one instance the by-path actually leads through the porch of an old chateau, and my donkey found himself unexpectedly among Grecian pillars. A fountain in the court bears the following curious inscription :-" Potabunt onagri in siti sua”—the wild asses shall drink in their thirst. My pony understood enough of Latin to take the hint, and ran his nose into the trough without ceremony.
Soon after passing this villa, the path leads along the bank of a little stream, which hurries down from the Apennines to the Arno, filling the solitary vale with its murmurs. It is crossed by a rustic bridge, and the traveller soon finds himself climbing a ridge of mountains clad with forests of chestnut and oak. At short intervals on the way, crosses and little shrines to the Virgin have been erected by the Monks. One of the former was observed bearing the motto of Constantine"in hoc signo vince"-and another bore the profane alliteration"Lux lucet in lucis." A person might trace his way through the woods by means of these pious beacons.
The approach to Vallombrosa bears but a faint resemblance to the gates of a Paradise. A curtain of mountain fir forms the vestibule. The grove is artificial, which detracts much from its beauty. It is, however, thick, dark, and umbrageous, forming rather a pretty screen to hide the convent from the rest of the world. But the smooth lawn beyond is clearly most unromantic. Some dozen dependants on the Monks were cutting and burning the green turf in the field, for the purpose of raising a crop of potatoes, and the whole premises were enveloped in smoke.
On my arrival at the door of the Convent, one of the brotherhood, clad in his surplice and black cap, received me with great cordiality, and bade me welcome to the secluded and hospitable retreat. He con