Page images
PDF
EPUB

Europe, however, afford so fine a field of amusement to those who are fond of such subjects; though the lovers of architecture will be shocked to find several of the finest churches without fronts, which, according to some, is owing to a real deficiency of money ; while others assert, they are left in this condition, as a pretext for levying con,, tributions to finish them,

The chapel of St. Lorenzo is, perhaps, the finest and most expensive habitation that ever was reared for the dead; it is encrusted with precious stones, and adorned by the workmanship of the best modern sculptors. Some complain that, after all, it has a gloomy appearance, There seems to be no impropriety in that, considering what the building was intended for; though, certainly, the same effect might have been produced at less expense. Mr. Addison remarked, that this chapel advanced so very slowly, that it is not impossible but the family of Medicis may be extinct before their burial-place is finish- . ed. This has actually taken place: The Medici family is extinct, and the chapel remains still unfinished.

Of all the methods by which the vanity of the great has distinguished them from the rest of mankind, this of erecting splendid receptacles for their bones excites the least envy. The sight of the most superb edifice of this kind, never drew a repining sigh from the bosom of one poor person ; nor do the unsuccessful complain, that the bodies of Fortune's favourites rot under Parian marble, while their own will, in all probability, be allowed to moulder beneath a plain turf,

I have already mentioned the number of statues which ornament the streets and squares of Florence, and how much they are respected by the common people. I am told, they amount in all to above one hundred and fifty, many of them of exquisite workmanship, and admired by those of the best taste. Such a number of statues, without any drapery, continually exposed to the public eye, with the far greater number of pictures, as well as statues, in the same state, to be seen in the palaces, have

produced, in both sexes, the most perfect insensibility to nudities.

Ladies who have remained sometime at Rome and Flo. rence, particularly those who affect a taste for virtù, acquire an intrepidity and a cool minuteness, in examining and criticising naked figures, which is unknown to those who have never passed the Alps. There is something in the figure of the God of Gardens, which is apt to alarm the modesty of a novice; but I have heard of female dilettantes who minded it no more than a straw.

The Palazzo Pitti, where the great duke resides, is on the opposite side of the Arno from the gallery. It has been enlarged since it was purchased from the ruined family of Pitti. The furniture of this palace is rich and curious, particularly some tables of Florentine work, which are much admired. The most precious ornaments, however, are the paintings. The walls of what is called the imperial chamber, are painted in fresco, by various painters; the subjects are allegorical, and in honour of Lorenzo of Medicis, distinguished by the name of the Magnificent. There is more fancy than taste displayed in those paintings. The other principal rooms are distinguished by the names of heathen deities, as Jupiter, Apollo, Mars, Venus, and by paintings in fresco, mostly by Pietro da Cortona. In the last mentioned, the subjects are different from what is naturally expected from the name of the room, being representations of the triumphs of virtue over love, or some memorable instance of continency. As the Medici family have been more distinguished for the protection they afforded the arts, than for the virtues of continency or self-denial, it is probable the subject, as well as the execution of these pieces, was left entirely to the painter,

I happened lately to be at this palace, with a person who is perfectly well acquainted with all the pictures of any

merit in Florence. While he explained the peculiar excellences of Pietro's manner, a gentleman in company, who, although he does not pretend to the smallest skill

[ocr errors]

arms.

in pictures, would rather remain ignorant for ever, than listen to the lectures of a connoisseur, walked on, by himself, into the other apartments, while I endeavoured to profit by my instructor's knowledge. When the other gentleman returned, he said, " I know no more of painting than my pointer; but there is a picture in one of the other rooms, which I would rather have than all those you seem to admire so much; it is the portrait of a healthy, handsome, country woman, with her child in her

There is nothing interesting in the subject, to be sure, because none of us are personally acquainted with the woman. But I cannot help thinking the colours very natural. The young woman's countenance is agreeable, and expressive of fondness and the joy of a mother over a first-born. The child is a robust, chubby-cheeked fellow; such as the son of a peasant should be.

We followed him into the room, and the picture which pleased him so much, was the famous Madonna della Seggiola of Raphael. Our instructor immediately called out Viva! and pronounced him a man of genuine taste; because, without any previous knowledge or instruction, he had fixed his admiration on the finest picture in Florence. But this gentleman, as soon as he understood what the picture was, disclaimed all title to praise ; ben cause,' said he, although, when I considered that picture, simply as the representation of a blooming country wench hugging her child, I admired the art of the painter, and thought it one of the truest copies of nature I ever saw ; yet, I confess, my admiration is much abated, now that you inform me his intention was to represent the Virgin Mary.' Why so ? replied the Cicerone: - the Virgin Mary was not of higher rank. She was but a poor woman, living in a little village in Galilee. No rank in life,' said the other, “ could give additional dignity to the person who had been told by an angel from heaven, that she had found favour with God; that her son should be called the Son of the Highest ; and who, herself, was conscious of all the miraculous circuinstances attending his conception and birth. In the countenance of such a woman, besides comeliness, and the usual affection of a mother, I looked for the most lively expression of admiration, gratitude, virgin modesty, and divine love. And when I am told, the picture is by the greatest painter that ever lived, I am disappointed in perceiving no traces of that kind in it.' What justice there is in this gentleman's remarks, I leave it to better judges than I pretend to be to determine.

After our diurnal visit to the gallery, we often pass the rest of the forenoon in the gardens belonging to this palace. The vale of Arno; the gay hills that surround it; and other natural beauties to be viewed from thence, form an agreeable variety, even to eyes which have been feasting on the most exquisite beauties of art. The pleasure arising from both, however, diminishes by repetition ; but may be again excited by the admiration of a new spectator, of whose taste and sensibility you have a good opinion. I experienced this on the arrival of Mr. Faw. kener, a gentleman of sense, honour, and politeness, whose company gave fresh relish to our other enjoyments in this place. It is now sometime since he left us; and I am not at all unhappy in the thoughts of proceeding, in a day or two, to Bologna, in our road to Milan.

LETTER LXXVIII.

Milan.

For a post or two after leaving Florence, and about as much before you arrive at Bologna, the road is very agreeable; the rest of your journey between those two cities is over the sandy Apennines.

We had the good fortune to find at Bologna Sir William and Lady Hamilton, Mr. Fitzherbert, Mr. Kennedy, Lord Lumley, and Sir: Harry Featherston. Our original intention was to have proceeded without delay to Milan, but on such an agreeable meeting it was impossible not to remain a few days at Bologna.

I went to the academy on the day of distributing the prizes for the best specimens and designs in painting, sculpture, and architecture; a discourse in praise of the fine arts was pronounced by one of the professors, who took that opportunity of enumerating the fine qualities of the cardinal legate ; none of the virtues, great or small, were omitted on the occasion; all were attributed in the superlative degree to this accomplished prince of the church. The learned orator acknowledged, however, that this panegyric did not properly belong to his subject, but hoped that the audience, and particularly the legate himself, who was present, would forgive him, in consideration that the eulogy had been wrung from him by the irresistible force of truth. The same force drew forth something similar in praise of the gonfalonier and other magistrates who were present also; and what you may think very remarkable, the number and importance of the qualities attributed to those distinguished persons kept an exact proportion with their rank. Power in this happy city seems to have been weighed in the scales of justice, and distributed by the hand of wisdom. All the inferior magistrates, we were informed, are very worthy men, endowed with many excellent qualities; the gonfalonier has many more, and the legate possesses every virtue under the sun.

If the pope had entered the room, the too lavish professor would not have been able to help him to a single morsel of praise which had not been already serv

ed up

This town is at present quite full of strangers, who came to assist at the procession of Corpus Domini. The duke of Parma, several cardinals, and other persons of high distinction, besides a prodigious crowd of citizens, attended this great festival. The streets through which the Host was carried under a magnificent canopy, were adorned with tapestry, paintings, looking-glasses, and all the various kinds of finery which the inhabitants could produce. Many of the paintings seemed unsuitable to the occasion ; they were on profane, and some of them on wanton sub

« PreviousContinue »