Edward Lear.

Journals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c online

. (page 13 of 14)
Online LibraryEdward LearJournals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c → online text (page 13 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

above, the numerous windows, all would repay
a long visit from any one to whom the details
of such architecture are desiderata.

Confining myself to making drawings of the
general appearance of this celebrated castle, I
had hardly time to complete two careful sketches
of it, when the day was so far advanced that my
guardiano recommended a speedy return, and
by the time I had overcome the five hours of
stony " murgie " I confess to having thought
that any thing less interesting than Castel del

~~7 -~


5- p?


Monte would hardly have compensated for the
day's labour. I reached Minervino at one

hour of the night, and found P just arrived

from his giro to Canosa.

While riding over the Murgie, slowly pacing
over those stony hills, my guide indulged me
with a legend of the old castle, which is worth
recording, be it authentic or imaginary. The
Emperor Frederick II. having resolved to build
the magnificent residence on the site it now
occupies, employed one of the first architects
of the day to erect it ; and during its progress
dispatched one of his courtiers to inspect the
work, and to bring him a report of its
character and appearance. The courtier set
out ; but on passing through Melfi, halted to
rest at the house of a friend, where he became
enamoured of a beautiful damsel, whose eyes
caused him to forget Castel del Monte and his
sovereign, and induced him to linger in the
Norman city until a messenger arrived there
charged by the emperor to bring him imme-
diately to the Court, then at Naples. At
that period it was by no means probable


that Barbarossa, engaged in different warlike
schemes, would ever have leisure to visit his
new castle, and the courtier, fearful of delay,
resolved to hurry into the presence and risk a
description of the building which he had not
seen, rather than confess his neglect of duty.
Accordingly he denounced the commencement
of Castel del Monte as a total failure both as to
beauty and utility, and the architect as an
impostor ; on hearing which the emperor sent
immediately to the unfortunate builder, the
messenger carrying an order for his disgrace, and
a requisition for his instant appearance in the
capital. " Suffer me to take leave of my wife
and children," said the despairing architect,
and shutting himself in one of the upper rooms,
he forthwith destroyed his whole family and
himself, rather than fall into the hands of a
monarch notorious for his severity.

The tidings of this event was, however,
brought to the emperor's ears, and with
characteristic impetuosity he set off for Apulia
directly, taking with him the first courtier-
messenger, doubtless sufficiently ill at ease


from anticipations of the results about to follow
his duplicity. What was Barbarossa's indig-
nation at beholding one of the most beautiful
buildings doomed, through the falsehood of his
messenger, to remain incomplete, and polluted
by the blood of his most skilful subject, and
that of his innocent family !

Foaming with rage, he dragged the offender
by the hair of his head to the top of the highest
tower, and with his own hands threw him down
as a sacrifice to the memory of the architect and
his family, so cruelly and wantonly destroyed.

September 24. Having risen before sunrise,
the energetic and practical Don Vincenzino
gave us coffee by the aid of a spirit lamp, and
we passed some hours in drawing the town of
Minervino, the sparkling lights and delicate
gray tints of whose buildings blended charm-
ingly with the vast pale rosy plains of Apulia
in the far distance. At nine we returned to a
substantial dejeuner, and at half-past ten took
leave of our thoroughly hospitable and good-
natured host.


Basilicata, Bari, and the southern or Apulian
province of Otranto, hold as high a place in
the Regno di Napoli for their " civilizazione e
cordialita," as do the Abruzzesi and Calabresi :
the central provinces, either from vicinity to the
capital or other causes, are less amiably depicted,
and assuredly our experience of Principato
Citra had borne out the truth of the legend.

Turning our faces westward, we resumed our
route, which at first was not of the most agree-
able kind, carrying us ever at the bottom of a
narrow valley bounded by low acclivities, until,
ascending the hills which skirt the Apulian
plains, we came in sight of Monte Milone, and
the beautiful form of Monte Voltore beyond.
At Monte Milone we halted, as well to draw
as for refreshment, which, in the shape of bread
and grapes, and good wine, we found in the
village osteria, in whose dark chamber, one
sick unclothed child on a bed, and five others
in similar undress perversely crawling about
the floor like so many brown spiders, were the
only remarkable objects. After leaving the
village we entered on a track leading over a


pleasant plain, through a beautiful scattered
wood of young oaks, between which were noble
views towards the left of Acerenza, and before
us of Venosa ; " Mons Vultur " ever closing the
horizon of the onward landscape. Nothing could
be more agreeable than this latter part of the
day's ride, barring that the horse-flies were so
numerous that we were fain to shelter ourselves
and steeds with gathered oak boughs. At
twenty-three o'clock we arrived at the ancient
town of Venosa, which, both externally and
internally a most picturesque place, stands
on the brink of a wide and deep ravine, its
cathedral and castle overlooking the whole
area of habitations. Extremely clean streets,
paved from side to side with broad flags of
stone, like those in Naples ; numerous bits of
columns or capitals, mediaeval stone lions, and
the machicolated and turreted towers of the
old castle, gave great hopes of great employ for
the pencil.

We easily found the house of Don Nicola
Rapolla, to whom Signer Manassei had ad-
dressed us, the principal proprietor of the place ;


it was an extremely large rambling mansion
in a great court-yard, where granaries, stables,
and a profusion of pigeons, and other domestic
creatures, indicated the wealthy man. Two
ladies of considerable beauty, and graceful
exterior and manners, informed us that Don
Nicola was from home, but his brothers, DD.
Peppino and Domenico, husbands of the two
ladies, soon joined and heartily welcomed us.
Don Peppino, dressed in the extreme of Nea-
politan fashion, and Donna Maria in a riding
habit and hat, appeared to our amazed senses
as truly wonderful and unexpected objects in
this the land of Horace. Presently, Don
Nicola, a sacerdote, but head and eldest of the
house, and lord and master of all Venosa, came
home, and renewed welcome followed ; we
were shown into very good rooms, containing
four-post bedsteads, pier-glasses, wardrobes, and
other luxuries which Horatian ages knew not ;
and after a while we prepared ourselves in
" our best clothes " for supper ; for our hosts
are Neapolitan grandees of the first caste, and
all their household arrangements exhibit good


taste and order. As for the two ladies, they
talk French as well as Italian, and are infinitely
agreeable and intelligent. To-morrow we are
to be lionised over Venosa.

September 25. The castle of Venosa* is a
fine old building of the fifteenth century ; it is
inhabited at present by Don Peppino Rapolla
and his lady. Hither, attended by Don Nicola,
whom I in vain endeavoured to detach from
us, we repaired at early morn, and sate down
before it to draw, our polite host lingering by
our sides, until, on my telling him that we
might be fixed for two or three hours, he at
length withdrew. Afterwards we crossed the
ravine, and drew the town of Venosa, with its
old churches and picturesque houses, and the
purple Monte Voltore behind, one of the
most pleasing landscapes I had seen in this
part of the Kegno.

At noon we paid a visit to the castle and its
inmates. Don Peppino has modernised one of

* Erected in the fifteenth century by Perro di Balzo, Prince
of Altamura and Venosa. (Craven.)


the great halls into a very delightful drawing-
room, where a grand piano and sofas harmonise
well with old carved chairs and ornamented
ceilings ; its pretty and ladylike mistress being
the chief charm of the salon.

We explored the whole of this old feudal
fortress : a long winding stair leads to fearsome
dungeons, their sad and gloomy walls covered
with inscriptions, written by the hands of
despairing captives. Most of these mournful
records are dated in the early years of the
16th century, and a volume of ugly romances
might be gathered from the melancholy list.
Then there were four stables to see, each
made to hold fifty horses ; and a deep moat
round the whole castle, with other et-cetera
" quae nunc describere," &c.

Returning at noon to the Casa Rapolla, we
found the dinner-hour fixed at three woe to
us for the fashionable hours of our hospitable
hosts ! through which arrangement we fear our
afternoon sketching must be relinquished. Don
Peppino and his wife were of the party, and the
entertainment was excellent in all respects.


The conversation is often on English literature
Shakspeare, Milton, &c., on whom there are
various opinions ; but all agree about " quel
Autore adorabile, Valter Scott ! " The Canonico
reads one of the romanzi once a month, and the
whole family delight in them ; and are also
equally conversant with other known English
writers. The cuisine is of a much more
recherche kind than is usually met with in the
provinces, and we are particularly directed to
taste this dish of seppia or cuttlefish, or to do
justice to those mushrooms. The wines, more-
over, are superexcellent, and the little black
olives the best possible ; and all things are well
served and in good taste.

After dinner we move into the library a
large room well stored with books ; here we
have caffe and a visit from the Giudice and
other Venusiani, after which we go out in a
carriage to see the lions of the town. And
first the ancient cathedral, spoiled by modern
" improvements," whitewashed and bedaubed,
one good arch only remaining intact; many
fragments, apparently of Roman workmanship,

s 2


are built up into the walls. Next, the church
of La Trinita, an extremely ancient low building
with pointed arches ; two large stone lions
guard the door, and near it is a vestibule con-
taining a single column, around which, according
to the local popular superstition, if you go hand
in hand with any person, the two circumam-
bulants are certain to remain friends for life.
The interior of this most interesting church is
miserably spoiled by neglect and additions : on
the walls are yet visible many half-effaced
frescoes of early date, one of Pope Niccolo has
suffered but little from time. There are the
tombs also of Eobert Guiscard, and Ademberta
his wife, but so shamefully out of repairs, that
the Trinita church is a disgrace to Venosa.
Hence we went to a church commenced on a
great scale by the Benedictines, but the progress
or completion of the building was interrupted
by an earthquake or want of funds ; there is a
fine perspective of ancient columns and capitals,
but the whole edifice is now overgrown with
vegetation, and part of it turned into a vine-
yard, the vines forming a pergolata walk where


the middle aisle should be : nothing of its kind
can be more picturesque than this verdant

Later we went to the remains of the amphi-
theatre, a ruin only partly excavated ; and
from thence we adjourned to the castle, where
was a " soiree " and some good singing, till four
hours of the night, when we returned to the
Casa Rapolla to supper. Such is the fashion
of Venosa !

September 26. Luxuries again ! Coffee and
hot buttered toast are served at sunrise, the
latter food being firmly believed by Nea-
politans to be as much a part of English break-
fast as roast beef is of dinner. The morning,
fresh and delightful, we passed quietly on the
banks of the ravine, or in the church of the
Benedictines ; the wild air of by-gone times

* The church and monastery of della Trinita was erected about
942, on the site of a temple of Hymen, by Grisulphus, Prince of
Salerno ; repaired one hundred years afterwards by Eobert
Guiscard. In the thirteenth century the Benedictines used up
the great Roman amphitheatre if) mend it, but it was never
completed. (Craven.)


characteristic of Venosa is mournfully charming.
Our mid-day and early afternoon was passed
at the Casa Rapolla, always pleasurably ; the
intelligence and affable cordiality of our host is
very agreeable. Towards evening we walk
out. The grandeur of these great men of
Venosa is observable at every moment, in the
obsequious demeanour of all the people we
meet : as for the peasantry, they doff their
hats a long way off, and crossing over to the
opposite side of the street stand like statues as
we pass.

After seeing the golden sun sink down behind
Monte Voltore, we passed two or three hours
in music, chess, and drawing, at Don Peppino's,
returning to the evening meal at our host's.
We set off to-morrow for Barile, Eio Nero, and
S. Michele.

September 27. With great regret I left
Venosa, and the pleasant family we had staid
with the only people one has greatly cared for
in all this tour. Our route led us over an
uninterrupted series of undulations to the foot


of Monte Voltore, and but that the early
morning was very lovely, we should have voted
the walk tiresome. The bulky Don Sebastiano
had left us, and a guide with a donkey was our
escort. An oak-fringed slope and lanes between
vineyards brought us to Rapollo, a town which
stands on the base of the mountain close to
Melfi, and henceforward we are once more (save
for the digression we shall make to the Convent
of San Michele) in the high carrozzabile road
of civilisation, and commerce. Kapollo is a
picturesque place, but we sketched it hastily,
and left it at noon, expecting better things at
Barile and Rio Nero. In this hope we were
disappointed. A broad high way gradually
ascends and skirts the base of Monte Voltore,
but although at every turn a greater extent of
Apulian plain is unfolded, yet the lines of fore-
ground and middle distance are awkward and
bad. Barile (four miles from Rapollo) possesses
no beauty worth a moment's delay, although it
is one of the Greek or Albanian settlements
of the Regno, and I had expected to see
somewhat of costume. A vain hope! The


inhabitants still speak their own language,
but they have entirely dropped all distinction
of dress.

Another mile brought us to the large and
populous town of Rio Nero, standing at a
considerable elevation on the base of Monte
Voltore, which rises above it not unlike
Vesuvius above Pompeii, and overlooking the
plain southward towards Atella and Lago
Pesole. If the provincial splendours of the
Casa Rapolla had surprised us, what were they
in comparison to the rich mansion of Don
Pasqualuccio Catena, whither we had been
directed by Signer Manassei, whom we found
awaiting us with his son Pirrho. Here were
halls and anterooms, and a whole suite of
apartments for ourselves fitted up as well as
those of any of the first palazzi of the capital.
When dinner was over (the least pleasing
accompaniment of which was the presence of a
great Barbary ape, who made convulsive flings
and bounces to his chain's length, and shrieked

amain), P and I took an hour's walk about

the environs of this increasing and prospering


place ; but vainly did we search for any view to
draw. Kio Nero is not beautiful to the eye;
so we adjourned, with the family of Don Pas-
qualuccio, to the house of his brother Don
Tom mas 'Antonio a palazzo still finer than his
own. Here were long galleries and large
rooms, empty of all but a circle of sofas, and
glittering in all the novelty and magnificence
of blue and gold papers, pedestals and busts,
cornices and mirrors ; and at the end of these
apartments was one of still larger dimensions
and supereminent splendour, where a grand
pianoforte stood the centre of the scene. The
lady of the house sang and played fifteen songs
with terrible energy, and the master played
four solos on the flute ; after which they per-
formed three extensive duets, till the night
wore, and it was time to depart ; but as it
began to rain a little, these extremely obliging
people ordered out their carriage and horses,
and we were driven back to our host's two
streets off. Such are the quasi-metropolitan
" finezze " of Kio Nero,* a place full of thriving

See note, p. 280.


merchants and possidenti, and rapidly rising as
a commercial community by the production
and manufacture of silk, and other articles of



Visit to the Monastery of San Michele del Voltore. Beautiful woods. Ex-
quisite scenery, and position of the Convent. The Lake. The Festa
The Pilgrims. Thoughtful attentions of Don Pasqualuccio Catena.
Rain. Noisy night neighbours. Another morning at the Lake and
Convent. We leave San Michele. Extreme loveliness of the scene.
Return to Rio Nero. Road to Atella. Arrive at Castel del Lago Pesole.
Its situation and slender claims to the picturesque. Italian evening.
Filippopoli. Departure from Castel del Lago Pesole. Avigliano.
Potenza. Vietri di Basilicata. Beautiful scenery. EbolL Pesto.
Return to Naples. Accounts of the late earthquakes at Melfi, &c. &c.

September 28. To-morrow being the great
Fsta of San Michele, all the population of
the surrounding country usually flock to the
monastery, and if we should be fortunate
enough to have fine weather, all the world says
it is one of the prettiest sights in southern

We set off early, with a guardiano and a man
on foot, and at first the road, winding round
the volcanic mountain, was not interesting:


but when we had reached the western side of
the hill, we entered most beautiful beech-
woods, which continued increasing in thickness
and size as we advanced. The path through
these shady forests turns inward to a deep dell
or hollow, formerly the principal crater of the
volcano ; and soon through the branches of
the tall trees we saw the sparkling Lake of
Monticchio, and the Monastery of San Michele
reflected in its waters. A more exquisite spe-
cimen of monastic solitude cannot be imagined.
Built against great masses of rock which project
over and seem to threaten the edifice ; the
convent (itself a picture) stands immediately
above a steep slope of turf, which, descending
to the lake, is adorned by groups of immense
walnut-trees. High over the rocks above the
convent the highest peak of Monte Voltore
rises into air, clad entirely with thick wood:
dense wood also clothes the slopes of the hill,
which spread as it were into wings on each side
of the lakes. The larger sheet of water is not
very unlike Nemi, on a small scale only that
the absence of any but the one solitary building,


and the entire shutting out of all distance,
makes the quiet romance of S. Michele and its
lake complete. Great numbers of peasants
were arriving and encamping below the tall
walnut-trees, forming a Fair, after the usual
mode of Italians at their Fste ; the costumes
individually were not very striking, but the
general effect of the scene, every part of it being
clearly reflected in the water, was as perfectly
beautiful as any I ever saw. We visited the
chapel and the dark grotto of the patron
saint (but the crowd of pilgrims in these cases
makes this no pleasing part of Festa duty), and
at noon, after drawing until rain began to fall,
we came in to our two cells, which were already
well cleaned out by the care of Don Pasqua-
luccio Catena, and arranged for our comfort
with the addition of a large dinner sent ready
cooked from Rio Nero.

Alas ! there was heavy rain all the afternoon,
quite deranging the peasant-encampment and
Fair : all those, and they were many, who could
not be accommodated within the walls of the
monastery, returned ere the daylight faded away


to their respective homes, and no others supplied
their places, so that the numerous body of
pilgrims who should have been the chief charm
of the scene was wanting. Neither could we
do more than sketch hastily between the
showers : but we wandered about the neigh-
bourhood of this most beautiful of places,
enjoying its variety of aspects with infinite

The long passage or gallery adjoining our
rooms was full of peasants, sheltered from the
weather by the monks of the convent, and during
half the night, their jovial festivities were
very noisy, not to speak of the proximity to
our chamber door of asses and mules, which
frequently brayed and outnoised the clamour of
an improvisatore, and four or five zampognari
in full practice, as well as some large choral
parties employed in singing, in a very terrestrial
manner, spiritual songs concerning the miracles
of S. Michele.

September 29. It rained all night, and
chillingly damp were the woods of Monte


Voltore at sunrise yet as the day wore on, the
sun brightened everything, and numbers of
peasants arrived ere midday was passed.

In the afternoon we left San Michele. As
we returned by the beech-woods of the great
dell, nothing could be prettier than the view
of the convent through the foliage, the blue
smoke from the peasant-fires on the green
glades rising filmily among the high woody
hills, the hundreds of people in many-coloured
dresses on the green sward beneath, and the
numerously windowed monastery beneath the
great rocks all clearly reflected in the watery
mirror below.

We reached Kio Nero by sunset, where our
good hosts were as usual hospitable and
attentive, and appeared greatly charmed by
our expressions of pleasure at the result of
our visit to the convent the great lion of the
northern part of Basilicata.

September 30. At sunrise we were ready to
start in our entertainer's own carriage, accom-
panied by the good-natured Don Pasqualuccio


on our way as far as Atella (two or three miles
distant from Kio Nero), a picturesque but
melancholy town, lying lowest of all those
placed on the slope of Monte Voltore, and
indeed almost on the plain. Here we found
a guardiano with horses waiting to take us
on to Castel del Lago Pesole,* the last of
Prince Doria Pamfili's possessions in this
part of Italy which we had arranged to

The castle on its elevated hill was soon in
sight, and perhaps from a considerable distance
it is better worth the trouble of drawing than
on a nearer approach. It was a favourite resort
of the Emperor Frederick II. as a hunting-seat
(its surrounding territory is still famous for
game), and in later days inhabited by Queen
Joan ; but this ancient place has no pretensions
to beauty, nor, excepting from the south whence
it combines as part of the landscape with the
plain and Monte Voltore beyond, is it in any

* Castel del Lago Pesole is reputed to have been built by the
Emperor Frederick II. ; but according to Antonini it is of much
older date. Frederick probably rebuilt or enlarged it.


way picturesque : the lines around are desolate
and bare of interest, and the lake (or rather
marsh) from which it derives its name, lies
altogether hidden in the wooden tract below
the castle hill.

We found our Melfi friend, Signor Manassei,
and his son, staying at the castle, which in its
interior is modernised and comfortable, but so
little is there of interest either outside or in,
that for once we could not find wherewithal
to employ our pencils during the afternoon.
Below the castle is a small village of cottages,
increasing under the care of the active and
social Signor Vittorio Manassei, who has named
it Filipopoli, in honour of the present
possessor of the estate. As the sun set we
sate upon the treeless slope opposite the un-
picturesque castle, which, indeed, has greatly
disappointed us ; yet, at this hour, there was
the inevitable charm which eventide in Italy
brings even to the least promising scenery;
the deep purple Monte Voltore, its long lines
blending with the plain, across which the last
crimson lights were flickering ; the dark copse-

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13

Online LibraryEdward LearJournals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c → online text (page 13 of 14)