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    Tuscan Cities

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    Chapter 19
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    The cities I refer to are Leghorn, Pisa, Lucca and Pistoia,
    among which I have been spending the last few days. The most
    striking fact as to Leghorn, it must be conceded at the outset,
    is that, being in Tuscany, it should be so scantily Tuscan. The
    traveller curious in local colour must content himself with the
    deep blue expanse of the Mediterranean. The streets, away from
    the docks, are modern, genteel and rectangular; Liverpool might
    acknowledge them if it weren't for their clean-coloured, sun-
    bleached stucco. They are the offspring of the new industry which
    is death to the old idleness. Of interesting architecture, fruit
    of the old idleness or at least of the old leisure, Leghorn is
    singularly destitute. It has neither a church worth one's
    attention, nor a municipal palace, nor a museum, and it may claim
    the distinction, unique in Italy, of being the city of no
    pictures. In a shabby corner near the docks stands a statue of
    one of the elder Grand Dukes of Tuscany, appealing to posterity
    on grounds now vague--chiefly that of having placed certain Moors
    under tribute. Four colossal negroes, in very bad bronze, are
    chained to the base of the monument, which forms with their
    assistance a sufficiently fantastic group; but to patronise the
    arts is not the line of the Livornese, and for want of the
    slender annuity which would keep its precinct sacred this curious
    memorial is buried in dockyard rubbish. I must add that on the
    other hand there is a very well-conditioned and, in attitude and
    gesture, extremely natural and familiar statue of Cavour in one
    of the city squares, and in another a couple of effigies of
    recent Grand Dukes, represented, that is dressed, or rather
    undressed, in the character of heroes of Plutarch. Leghorn is a
    city of magnificent spaces, and it was so long a journey from the
    sidewalk to the pedestal of these images that I never took the
    time to go and read the inscriptions. And in truth, vaguely, I
    bore the originals a grudge, and wished to know as little about
    them as possible; for it seemed to me that as patres
    patrae
    , in their degree, they might have decreed that the
    great blank, ochre-faced piazza should be a trifle less ugly.
    There is a distinct amenity, however, in any experience of Italy
    almost anywhere, and I shall probably in the future not be above
    sparing a light regret to several of the hours of which the one I
    speak of was composed. I shall remember a large cool bourgeois
    villa in the garden of a noiseless suburb--a middle-aged Villa
    Franco (I owe it as a genial pleasant pension the tribute
    of recognition), roomy and stony, as an Italian villa should be.
    I shall remember that, as I sat in the garden, and, looking up
    from my book, saw through a gap in the shrubbery the red house-
    tiles against the deep blue sky and the grey underside of the
    ilex-leaves turned up by the Mediterranean breeze, it was all
    still quite Tuscany, if Tuscany in the minor key.

    If you should naturally desire, in such conditions, a higher
    intensity, you have but to proceed, by a very short journey, to
    Pisa--where, for that matter, you will seem to yourself to have
    hung about a good deal already, and from an early age. Few of us
    can have had a childhood so unblessed by contact with the arts as
    that one of its occasional diversions shan't have been a puzzled
    scrutiny of some alabaster model of the Leaning Tower under a
    glass cover in a back-parlour. Pisa and its monuments have, in
    other words, been industriously vulgarised, but it is astonishing
    how well they have survived the process. The charm of the place
    is in fact of a high order and but partially foreshadowed by the
    famous crookedness of its campanile. I felt it irresistibly and
    yet almost inexpressibly the other afternoon, as I made my way to
    the classic corner of the city through the warm drowsy air which
    nervous people come to inhale as a sedative. I was with an
    invalid companion who had had no sleep to speak of for a
    fortnight. "Ah! stop the carriage," she sighed, or yawned, as I
    could feel, deliciously, "in the shadow of this old slumbering
    palazzo, and let me sit here and close my eyes, and taste for an
    hour of oblivion." Once strolling over the grass, however, out of
    which the quartette of marble monuments rises, we awaked
    responsively enough to the present hour. Most people remember the
    happy remark of tasteful, old-fashioned Forsyth (who touched a
    hundred other points in his "Italy" scarce less happily) as to
    the fact that the four famous objects are "fortunate alike in
    their society and their solitude." It must be admitted that they
    are more fortunate in their society than we felt ourselves to be
    in ours; for the scene presented the animated appearance for
    which, on any fine spring day, all the choicest haunts of ancient
    quietude in Italy are becoming yearly more remarkable. There were
    clamorous beggars at all the sculptured portals, and bait for
    beggars, in abundance, trailing in and out of them under convoy
    of loquacious ciceroni. I forget just how I apportioned the
    responsibility, of intrusion, for it was not long before fellow-
    tourists and fellow-countrymen became a vague, deadened, muffled
    presence, that of the dentist's last words when he is giving you
    ether. They suffered mystic disintegration in the dense, bright,
    tranquil air, so charged with its own messages. The Cathedral and
    its companions are fortunate indeed in everything--fortunate in
    the spacious angle of the grey old city-wall which folds about
    them in their sculptured elegance like a strong protecting arm;
    fortunate in the broad greensward which stretches from the marble
    base of Cathedral and cemetery to the rugged foot of the rampart;
    fortunate in the little vagabonds who dot the grass, plucking
    daisies and exchanging Italian cries; fortunate in the pale-gold
    tone to which time and the soft sea-damp have mellowed and
    darkened their marble plates; fortunate, above all, in an
    indescribable grace of grouping, half hazard, half design, which
    insures them, in one's memory of things admired, very much the
    same isolated corner that they occupy in the charming city.

    Of the smaller cathedrals of Italy I know none I prefer to that
    of Pisa; none that, on a moderate scale, produces more the
    impression of a great church. It has without so modest a
    measurability, represents so clean and compact a mass, that you
    are startled when you cross the threshold at the apparent space
    it encloses. An architect of genius, for all that he works with
    colossal blocks and cumbrous pillars, is certainly the most
    cunning of conjurors. The front of the Duomo is a small pyramidal
    screen, covered with delicate carvings and chasings, distributed
    over a series of short columns upholding narrow arches. It might
    be a sought imitation of goldsmith's work in stone, and the area
    covered is apparently so small that extreme fineness has been
    prescribed. How it is therefore that on the inner side of this
    façade the wall should appear to rise to a splendid height and to
    support one end of a ceiling as remote in its gilded grandeur,
    one could almost fancy, as that of St. Peter's; how it is that
    the nave should stretch away in such solemn vastness, the shallow
    transepts emphasise the grand impression and the apse of the
    choir hollow itself out like a dusky cavern fretted with golden
    stalactites, is all matter for exposition by a keener
    architectural analyst than I. To sit somewhere against a pillar
    where the vista is large and the incidents cluster richly, and
    vaguely revolve these mysteries without answering them, is the
    best of one's usual enjoyment of a great church. It takes no deep
    sounding to conclude indeed that a gigantic Byzantine Christ in
    mosaic, on the concave roof of the choir, contributes largely to
    the particular impression here as of very old and choice and
    original and individual things. It has even more of stiff
    solemnity than is common to works of its school, and prompts to
    more wonder than ever on the nature of the human mind at a time
    when such unlovely shapes could satisfy its conception of
    holiness. Truly pathetic is the fate of these huge mosaic idols,
    thanks to the change that has overtaken our manner of acceptance
    of them. Strong the contrast between the original sublimity of
    their pretensions and the way in which they flatter that free
    sense of the grotesque which the modern imagination has smuggled
    even into the appreciation of religious forms. They were meant to
    yield scarcely to the Deity itself in grandeur, but the only part
    they play now is to stare helplessly at our critical, our
    aesthetic patronage of them. The spiritual refinement marking the
    hither end of a progress had n't, however, to wait for us to
    signalise it; it found expression three centuries ago in the
    beautiful specimen of the painter Sodoma on the wall of the
    choir. This latter, a small Sacrifice of Isaac, is one of the
    best examples of its exquisite author, and perhaps, as chance has
    it, the most perfect opposition that could be found in the way of
    the range of taste to the effect of the great mosaic. There are
    many painters more powerful than Sodoma--painters who, like the
    author of the mosaic, attempted and compassed grandeur; but none
    has a more persuasive grace, none more than he was to sift and
    chasten a conception till it should affect one with the sweetness
    of a perfectly distilled perfume.

    Of the patient successive efforts of painting to arrive at the
    supreme refinement of such a work as the Sodoma the Campo Santo
    hard by offers a most interesting memorial. It presents a long,
    blank marble wall to the relative profaneness of the Cathedral
    close, but within it is a perfect treasure-house of art. This
    quadrangular defence surrounds an open court where weeds and wild
    roses are tangled together and a sunny stillness seems to rest
    consentingly, as if Nature had been won to consciousness of the
    precious relics committed to her. Something in the quality of the
    place recalls the collegiate cloisters of Oxford, but it must be
    added that this is the handsomest compliment to that seat of
    learning. The open arches of the quadrangles of Magdalen and
    Christ Church are not of mellow Carrara marble, nor do they offer
    to sight columns, slim and elegant, that seem to frame the
    unglazed windows of a cathedral. To be buried in the Campo Santo
    of Pisa, I may however further qualify, you need only be, or to
    have more or less anciently been, illustrious, and there is a
    liberal allowance both as to the character and degree of your
    fame. The most obtrusive object in one of the long vistas is a
    most complicated monument to Madame Catalani, the singer,
    recently erected by her possibly too-appreciative heirs. The wide
    pavement is a mosaic of sepulchral slabs, and the walls, below
    the base of the paling frescoes, are incrusted with inscriptions
    and encumbered with urns and antique sarcophagi. The place is at
    once a cemetery and a museum, and its especial charm is its
    strange mixture of the active and the passive, of art and rest,
    of life and death. Originally its walls were one vast continuity
    of closely pressed frescoes; but now the great capricious scars
    and stains have come to outnumber the pictures, and the cemetery
    has grown to be a burial-place of pulverised masterpieces as well
    as of finished lives. The fragments of painting that remain are
    fortunately the best; for one is safe in believing that a host of
    undimmed neighbours would distract but little from the two great
    works of Orcagna. Most people know the "Triumph of Death" and the
    "Last Judgment" from descriptions and engravings; but to measure
    the possible good faith of imitative art one must stand there and
    see the painter's howling potentates dragged into hell in all the
    vividness of his bright hard colouring; see his feudal courtiers,
    on their palfreys, hold their noses at what they are so fast
    coming to; see his great Christ, in judgment, refuse forgiveness
    with a gesture commanding enough, really inhuman enough, to make
    virtue merciless for ever. The charge that Michael Angelo
    borrowed his cursing Saviour from this great figure of Orcagna is
    more valid than most accusations of plagiarism; but of the two
    figures one at least could be spared. For direct, triumphant
    expressiveness these two superb frescoes have probably never been
    surpassed. The painter aims at no very delicate meanings, but he
    drives certain gross ones home so effectively that for a parallel
    to his process one must look to the art of the actor, the
    emphasising "point"-making mime. Some of his female figures are
    superb--they represent creatures of a formidable temperament.

    There are charming women, however, on the other side of the
    cloister--in the beautiful frescoes of Benozzo Gozzoli. If
    Orcagna's work was appointed to survive the ravage of time it is
    a happy chance that it should be balanced by a group of
    performances of such a different temper. The contrast is the more
    striking that in subject the inspiration of both painters is
    strictly, even though superficially, theological. But Benozzo
    cares, in his theology, for nothing but the story, the scene and
    the drama--the chance to pile up palaces and spires in his
    backgrounds against pale blue skies cross-barred with pearly,
    fleecy clouds, and to scatter sculptured arches and shady
    trellises over the front, with every incident of human life going
    forward lightly and gracefully beneath them. Lightness and grace
    are the painter's great qualities, marking the hithermost limit
    of unconscious elegance, after which "style" and science and the
    wisdom of the serpent set in. His charm is natural fineness; a
    little more and we should have refinement--which is a very
    different thing. Like all les délicats of this world, as
    M. Renan calls them, Benozzo has suffered greatly. The space on
    the walls he originally covered with his Old Testament stories is
    immense; but his exquisite handiwork has peeled off by the acre,
    as one may almost say, and the latter compartments of the series
    are swallowed up in huge white scars, out of which a helpless
    head or hand peeps forth like those of creatures sinking into a
    quicksand. As for Pisa at large, although it is not exactly what
    one would call a mouldering city--for it has a certain well-aired
    cleanness and brightness, even in its supreme tranquillity--it
    affects the imagination very much in the same way as the Campo
    Santo. And, in truth, a city so ancient and deeply historic as
    Pisa is at every step but the burial-ground of a larger life than
    its present one. The wide empty streets, the goodly Tuscan
    palaces--which look as if about all of them there were a genteel
    private understanding, independent of placards, that they are to
    be let extremely cheap--the delicious relaxing air, the full-
    flowing yellow river, the lounging Pisani, smelling,
    metaphorically, their poppy-flowers, seemed to me all so many
    admonitions to resignation and oblivion. And this is what I mean
    by saying that the charm of Pisa (apart from its cluster of
    monuments) is a charm of a high order. The architecture has but a
    modest dignity; the lions are few; there are no fixed points for
    stopping and gaping. And yet the impression is profound; the
    charm is a moral charm. If I were ever to be incurably
    disappointed in life, if I had lost my health, my money, or my
    friends, if I were resigned forevermore to pitching my
    expectations in a minor key, I should go and invoke the Pisan
    peace. Its quietude would seem something more than a stillness--
    a hush. Pisa may be a dull place to live in, but it's an ideal
    place to wait for death.

    Nothing could be more charming than the country between Pisa and
    Lucca--unless possibly the country between Lucca and Pistoia. If
    Pisa is dead Tuscany, Lucca is Tuscany still living and enjoying,
    desiring and intending. The town is a charming mixture of antique
    "character" and modern inconsequence; and! not only the town, but
    the country--the blooming romantic country which you admire from
    the famous promenade on the city-wall. The wall is of superbly
    solid and intensely "toned" brickwork and of extraordinary
    breadth, and its summit, planted with goodly trees and swelling
    here and there into bastions and outworks and little open
    gardens, surrounds the city with a circular lounging-place of a
    splendid dignity. This well-kept, shady, ivy-grown rampart
    reminded me of certain mossy corners of England; but it looks
    away to a prospect of more than English loveliness--a broad green
    plain where the summer yields a double crop of grain, and a
    circle of bright blue mountains speckled with high-hung convents
    and profiled castles and nestling villas, and traversed by
    valleys of a deeper and duskier blue. In one of the deepest and
    shadiest of these recesses one of the most "sympathetic" of small
    watering-places is hidden away yet a while longer from easy
    invasion--the Baths to which Lucca has lent its name. Lucca is
    pre-eminently a city of churches; ecclesiastical architecture
    being indeed the only one of the arts to which it seems to have
    given attention. There are curious bits of domestic architecture,
    but no great palaces, and no importunate frequency of pictures.
    The Cathedral, however, sums up the merits of its companions and
    is a singularly noble and interesting church. Its peculiar boast
    is a wonderful inlaid front, on which horses and hounds and
    hunted beasts are lavishly figured in black marble over a white
    ground. What I chiefly appreciated in the grey solemnity of the
    nave and transepts was the superb effect of certain second-storey
    Gothic arches--those which rest on the pavement being Lombard.
    These arches are delicate and slender, like those of the cloister
    at Pisa, and they play their part in the dusky upper air with
    real sublimity.

    At Pistoia there is of course a Cathedral, and there is nothing
    unexpected in its being, externally at least, highly impressive;
    in its having a grand campanile at its door, a gaudy baptistery,
    in alternate layers of black and white marble, across the way,
    and a stately civic palace on either side. But even had I the
    space to do otherwise I should prefer to speak less of the
    particular objects of interest in the place than of the pleasure
    I found it to lounge away in the empty streets the quiet hours of
    a warm afternoon. To say where I lingered longest would be to
    tell of a little square before the hospital, out of which you
    look up at the beautiful frieze in coloured earthernware by the
    brothers Della Robbia, which runs across the front of the
    building. It represents the seven orthodox offices of charity
    and, with its brilliant blues and yellows and its tender
    expressiveness, brightens up amazingly, to the sense and soul,
    this little grey comer of the mediaeval city. Pi stoia is still
    mediaeval. How grass-grown it seemed, how drowsy, how full of
    idle vistas and melancholy nooks! If nothing was supremely
    wonderful, everything was delicious.

    [Illustration: THE HOSPITAL, PISTOIA.]

    1874.
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