Egerton R. (Egerton Ryerson) Williams.

Lombard towns in Italy; or, The cities of ancient Lombardy online

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of a reddish hue. In this last respect Ferrari showed his
common sense. He used to " object to the Madonna and
the Apostles being painted in gorgeous robes, — ' which,' as
he truly said, ' they never wore.' " 6 The picture was per-
fectly preserved, except for the inevitable slight fading of
his bright tints. The male figures were virile, strongly
modelled and individualised, with speaking faces. To left
of this, below, stood the Baptist holding a lamb; to right of
it, St. Michael, with his arm uplifted to strike a demon upon
the ground, — a superb form, of exquisite shapeliness and
poise, and truly celestial beauty. Above these last were two
smaller, three-quarter figures of saints, and at the top of the
frame, a majestic, imposing, brooding figure of the Eternal
Father, looking down with outstretched hands. Though
Ferrari was 68 years of age when he executed this piece, and
had generally retrograded in his work toward the close of
his life, I could not see in it any marked deterioration ; it
was not equal to his greatest productions, but nevertheless
was full of his old charm of form and colour; and the St.
Michael could hardly be surpassed by any hand.

Still another treat awaited me, at the back of the altar,
— the predelle of the ancona, also executed by Ferrari, upon
wood. They were four delightful little scenes, very prettily
tinted: the Birth of the Virgin, her Presentation, her Wed-

6 Ethel Halsey's " Gaudenzio Ferrari."



THE TOWNS OF THE OLONA VALLEY 177

ding, and a view of her with the youthful Christ in the car-
pentry-shop. All these were happily set in natural, home
backgrounds, the figures realistic but very pleasing, and
effectively grouped to tell the tale. The Wedding was full
of people, but the contracting parties were simply earnest, and
impressive. Most pleasing of all was the scene of the dusky
work-room at eventide, with St. Joseph absorbed in planing
at his bench, the Madonna seated opposite, and the boy Christ
standing by, watching him, — plainly dressed, unmoving, yet
lustrous in His beauty of youth and spirituality.

Returning down the main street, I had lunch at one of
the numerous restaurants, thronged with business men, and
by two o'clock was again aboard train, whirling southeast.
The frequency of these fast, new trains, and their invariable
crowding, with well-dressed, intelligent people, were charac-
teristic of this swiftly developing, commercial Milanese; but
ah, — how utterly different from the dreamy mediaevalism of
other districts of Italy. Yet I was now advancing upon
some of the most historic ground of the Middle Age, —
ground, in fact, more sacred than any other to the Italian
patriot. For at Legnano was fought that ever memorable
battle which destroyed at last the power and pretensions of
Frederick Barbarossa, and brought to the Lombard cities
their long-desired freedom. If Pontida, where the league of
the cities was first ratified by their consuls, can properly be
called the conception of Italian freedom, Legnano is rightly
named its birthplace; and in terrible travail was it born, on
that day of May 29, 11 76, when the Lombards of every
region poured out their blood like water.

Fourteen years previously, in 1162, the relentless Emperor
had taken and destroyed Milan, had razed to the ground
that splendid capital with all its palatial relics of Roman
days, and scattered its 300,000 inhabitants over the plain.



178 LOMBARD TOWNS OF ITALY

This deed was followed by a general sway over the plain-
towns so rigorous and exacting, so forceful and tyrannical,
that at the end of five ignominious years, without one dis-
senting voice, they united themselves at Pontida to resist the
foreigner unto death. Three hundred of their leading young
nobles, from a dozen cities, also joined themselves by holy rite
into the famous " Company of Death," pledged by the most
solemn oaths not to lay down the sword, nor hesitate at any
risk, till they had purchased freedom even with their lives.
No further evidence is needed, of the lasting impression made
upon the Italian people by this occurrence, — when for the
first time since the fall of the Roman Empire they united
together for self-protection — than the fact that one still
finds everywhere in Italian households representations upon
their walls, in oil, chromo, engraving, or wood-cut, of the
" Giuramento di Pontida."

That same year the new allies rebuilt Milan. The Em-
peror took up the challenge, and a long, varying struggle en-
sued, during which the cities held together with remarkable
firmness. At last Frederick determined to end it with an-
other great blow, and in the Spring of 1176 gathered his
heaviest forces at Como; the undaunted Lombards prepared
their army of fellow-citizens at Milan. Foremost in their
preparations was the new Carroccio, 1 or battle-car, which
according to mediaeval custom was to advance in the front
ranks against the enemy, representing all that they fought
for; it was their standard, their leader, their inspiration, their

7 This curious medieval institution was first devised by Ariberto,
Archbishop of Milan, about 1040; and "was soon adopted by cities
throughout Italy. It gave cohesion and confidence to the citizens,
reminded them that the church was on their side in the struggle
for freedom, and served as a symbol of their military strength in
union." J. A. Symonds' " Age of the Despots."



THE TOWNS OF THE OLONA VALLEY 179

ark of the covenant, by which they would stand or fall.
" This car was escorted by a picked company of horsemen,
nine hundred strong, and defended by three hundred young
nobles, — the Company of Death, its members being sworn
rather to die than lose their precious charge. The car itself
was drawn by six milk-white oxen in scarlet harness. In
its centre a huge crucifix surmounted a globe, above which,
from a mast, floated the banner of the Milanese Republic.
It contained an altar on which masses were said, and appli-
ances for tending the wounded." 8

Barbarossa, leaving his Empress at the castle of Baradello
near Como, moved southward with his host, and the brave
burghers advanced to meet him. At Legnano the clash oc-
curred. It was the old, old conflict between mercenaries
bent on conquest and citizens fighting for all they held dear;
and the patriots entered upon it with feelings of sacred devo-
tion, after inspiring ceremonies by the priests. " As the
Carroccio moved forward towards the Imperial army, its
escort kneeled down in prayer." 9 The ensuing struggle was
frightful; for miles over the plain men died by the thou-
sands, but especially around the devoted Carroccio did the
carnage flourish. The Emperor was determined to seize it,
realising that that would give him victory; for hours he
launched against it his best battalions, — but its defenders
fought until they fell, and their places were instantly filled,
again and again. The Company of Death earned its name,
going down to immortal glory. When the day ended Bar-
barossa's host was broken and dispersed, shattered beyond
mending, and he himself was wounded and a fugitive. His
very shield was in the Lombards' hands, and for three days
they believed him dead, unrecognised amongst the countless

8 Richard Bagot's " The Lakes of Northern Italy."

9 Oscar Browning's " Guelfs and Ghibellines."



180 LOMBARD TOWNS OF ITALY

corpses. Meanwhile he was creeping from one hiding-place
to another, avoiding the parties pursuing his crumbled army,
and at the end of the third day " appeared unattended before
the fortress of Baradello, where the Empress was already
mourning for him as dead on the field of battle."

" Frederick realised the situation : he had been beaten ; he
was therefore ready to make peace on the cities' terms. He
met Alexander III (the Pope) at St. Mark's at Venice
( 1 1 77) , fell at his feet, confessed his wrong deeds and
begged the Pope to remove the ban from him. The Pope
yielded, and a truce was declared. Six years later, at Con-
stance, the treaty of peace was signed which granted the
cities substantially all they had demanded." 9a Four hundred
years later, in 1876, the quartercentenary of the birth of
Italian freedom was celebrated at Legnano with great re-
joicings, by a country at last independent and united, from
ocean to ocean. And 24 years after that, following the wish
of the people, the national government erected upon the
battleground the now famous memorial, from the chisel of
the talented sculptor, Butti.

As for Legnano itself, it was until recent times a little,
unimportant place, overshadowed by the adjacent metropolis;
and resembles Busto also in having a single interesting relic
of the Renaissance era, — a church from Bramante's design,
almost identical with Busto's, which is furthermore decorated
by Luini and Lanini. Luini's altar-piece (1524) is ranked
amongst the few greatest works of Lombardy. Like Busto,
again, Legnano has increased her wealth and size through
modern manufacturing, until she too can boast of nearly
20,000 inhabitants; she is perhaps even more typical of the
bustling, rebuilt factory-town. It is the silk-trade, chiefly,
that has made these cities of the Milanese flourish. The

0a Oscar Browning's " Guelfs and Ghibellines."



THE TOWNS OF THE OLONA VALLEY 181

production of raw silk has grown steadily all over the plain,
from that fortunate day when it was introduced by the
mediaeval despots (the one great benefit which they rendered
their country) , until Italy's annual crop now reaches well
over a third of that of the whole world. But it is above all
the staple of northern Lombardy. " Till lately the great
bulk of silk thread was sent abroad to be woven. But in
the last twenty years the old hand-looms and their beautiful
brocades have disappeared, and great textile mills with over
7,000 power-looms have sprung up in the provinces of Como
and Milan." 10

These are the wealth-producing factories with which the
towns of the region are filled, increasing in number month
by month. The railway trains, the steamers on the lakes,
and the barges on the canals, pass before one's eyes laden
always with the bags of raw silk from the farms or the boxes
of woven goods from the mills. " The exports of silk have
risen from £13,250,000 in 1897 to nearly £21,000,000 in
1899," an d the rise has ever since continued. It is not for
nothing that one sees the Milanese covered with a blanket
of mulberry trees, wheresoever he looks.

Ten minutes only after my departure from Busto, — dur-
ing which we had traversed SV2 miles — and I was again de-
scending at a crowded, busy station. Pushing my way out,
after depositing my luggage, I found the main street of
Legnano running straightaway to the east; and following
this I came shortly to a sunny, oval piazza, surrounded by
stuccoed dwellings with walled gardens and trees, including
one stately renaissance palace. But I had no eyes for aught
except the oval's centre, where loomed a great monument re-
quiring instant recognition ; too many a time had I seen re-
produced that giant mailed figure of a 12th century warrior

10 King and Okey's " Italy To-day."



182 LOMBARD TOWNS OF ITALY

— dear to every patriotic heart — not to know it as the na-
tional memorial. There he stood against the blue sky, far
aloft upon a mighty block of granite, — this majestic cham-
pion of human freedom, this representative of the citizen-
soldier as against the robber-knight, of the Italian burgher
roused to defend his land. He was clad cap-a-pie in the
chain-armour of his time, an unvisored morion upon his head,
his left arm holding a long, triangular shield ; his legs were
spread as if he posed upon a mountain-peak, the left one sus-
taining his weight, the right foot considerably higher, ad-
vanced upon a rock; in the right hand he grasped his sword,
stretching it out and upward to the full length of the arm,
which together with the blade, formed one straight line ; the
stalwart shoulders were squared, the martial head thrown
back, and from the open lips of the resolute, fierce counte-
nance there seemed to be proceeding a roar of defiance to his
country's enemies, — a mighty oath upon the extended
weapon, that never should it be sheathed till Italy was free.
A most remarkable, impressive figure, — so lifelike, so pow-
erful, so thrilling with turbulent emotion, that the observer's
heart beats more swiftly with the reflex of its fiery patriotism
and the sense of those terrible days. It is indeed a chef
d'ceuvre, of the new, unconventional sculpture; and its dar-
ing novelty is augmented by the setting, — for its left side
is toward the front of the monument, which gives the most
effective view of its embattled posture. Approaching closer
to this front, I examined the relief upon the polished grey
granite: there was the Carroccio, drawn by its six white
oxen, escorted by foot-soldiers, preceded by a mounted knight
who gazed anxiously ahead; the wide car itself being laden
with a throng of priests, who were engaged in ceremonies
about its tall wooden crucifix. It was a fine, realistic piece
of carving, in spite of the impressionistic manner. And it



THE TOWNS OF THE OLONA VALLEY 183

carried my thoughts to the foregoing evening at Varese,
where by a strange fortune I had chanced to witness a cine-
matograph-film showing this same Carroccio in the midst of
battle. I saw its devoted defenders struggling with the
hordes of savage assailants, men falling like leaves, and fresh
fighters ever taking their places, — wild, fierce figures in
their uncouth chain-armour, long shields and flashing swords ;
while through it all, quite undisturbed, the bishop and his
surpliced attendants continued their sacred rites upon the
platform, praying, swinging incense, sprinkling holy water
and blessings upon the battling, dying Lombards below. It
was the popular Italian piece entitled " Legnano " ; and
toward the conclusion of the vivid battle scenes disclosed the
wounded, beaten Emperor fleeing alone from his triumphant
foes.

Upon the rear side of the base appeared the inscription:
at the sides, in two even rows, the names of the 24 cities
that constituted the Lombard League, and between them the
following: "Dove — il 29 Maggio 11 76 — la lega di
poche citta — rivendico — contra la maesta dell' impero —
la liberta del commune — l'ltalia — a perenne ricordanza —
eresse — il 29 Giugno, 1 900." 21

Farther down the street, upon the left, I passed a long,
high factory-building, of excellent style and cleanliness, occu-
pying with its grounds a full square block. Either it was
one of the latest, model silk-mills, which are renowned for
the comfort of their employes, or else it was the famous
electrical-machinery works of Legnano, which were founded
by the late Signore Tosi, and are known to send their prod-

11 " Where, on May 29, 1176, the League of a few cities revenged
upon the majesty of the Empire the liberty of the Commune, here
Italy, on June 29, 1900, erected (this monument) in perennial re-
membrance."



1 84 LOMBARD TOWNS OF ITALY

ucts all over Europe. Especially remarkable was the pleas-
ing absence of smoke and soot, not only from the factory,
but from all the buildings and the air of the city; such is the
happy result of using electric power, — which comes to these
towns, not merely from Vizzola, but also from the vast
Edison Company at Podermo on the Adda. It is the fall of
the latter river that runs the great tramway and lighting
systems of Milan. So is Italy being at last freed by her
rivers from the long poverty and misery entailed by her lack
of coal, — and freed in a manner that will leave her glorious
cities — thank Heaven — without the destroying curse of the
smoke-pall. Italy is now fast becoming an industrial nation,
whose sons, with their proverbial quickness of intelligence
and their dexterity, have in one generation made themselves
artisans of the highest quality, independent of foreign guid-
ance. They are forming a new, educated, self-respecting
class in the commonwealth.

Taking the first turn to the south, beyond, which brought
me quickly to a small piazza, and again turning to the right
from this, I reached finally the spacious old central piazza,
renamed after Umberto I. It was a very wide, cobble-
paved, treeless space, surrounded by two- and three-storied
stucco buildings, more or less modern, and quite plain in
appearance. At the southern end lingered one quaint, older
edifice, of gothic times, painted red to simulate brick, having
a pointed central archway leading to the courtyard, over
which hung a fine stone balcony with gothic doors ; beside the
pointed windows of the second storey were painted medal-
lions in grisaille, containing busts and coats of arms. But
naught now remained of those noble tenants of long ago ;
business usurped their seat; and, passing through the ancient
doors, whose great iron knockers still survived, I found a
Stable for horses occupying the picturesque, unaltered court,



THE TOWNS OF THE OLONA VALLEY 185

with its singular outer stairway of mediaeval, ladder-like
design.

At the piazza's far eastern end I saw the object of my
search, — the large red-brick church of S. Magno, with its
lofty drum and baroque campanile. Its facade, with lean-to
aisles, was noticeable only for the central portal, of classic
form. Adjacent on its left appeared the new, unfinished
Municipio, upon an intervening side street, built of red brick
and light grey stone in a sort of debased gothic style. Cross-
ing the sunny square and entering the church, I stood under
a domed cube practically identical with S. Maria at Busto,
evidently constructed from the same designs of Bramante ;
the only difference being that the niches around the octagonal
drum were three per side, containing no statues, with no
paintings above them, nor in the quarter-domes of the angles,
and that here there were lateral projections of all the eight
large surrounding archways, — into an entrance passage,
choir, and side-chapels; there being two of the latter in each
corner. The lofty dome was a horrible, decadent display of
grey grotesques on blue ground.

Lanini's frescoes appeared upon all sides, more or less
damaged and of varied worth. In the entrance passage there
remained the lifesize figures of the Madonna, a saint, and
another Madonna between two saints, — the latter quite
fair, seated simply with the Christ-child on her knee; other
pictures had vanished away. In the first chapel to left re-
mained an interesting group of the Madonna between four
standing saints, — two bishops and two women — fairly well
preserved and graceful ; St. Jerome and another adorned its
entrance-pillars, and upon its right wall was a large, badly
retouched Adoration. The chief attraction in all these was
Lanini's bright, tender hues, which he took from his master,
Ferrari.



186 LOMBARD TOWNS OF ITALY

Advancing to the choir, I found its walls also covered by
his works, which were the best I had yet seen ; in fact, they
were surprisingly good, in spots, — for Lanini was always va-
riable. The entrance-piers bore, heroic figures of S. Magno,
and Christ carrying the Cross; on the left wall, above, were
the Visitation and the Marriage of the Virgin, and below,
the Adoration and the Coming of the Magi. In the last
two the Madonna was a most lovely, charming personage,
of alluring form and pose, and devoted expression; and the
other figures were almost equally attractive, especially in the
Adoration. There the Virgin knelt above her Babe in rap-
ture, while St. Joseph, the three shepherds, and two angels
playing upon instruments, all bent tenderly forward with
gentle, loving regard, — making a really delightful scene.
On the right wall, above, there glowed in his usual lively
tints the master's second-best picture, a Circumcision, flanked
by a Massacre of the Innocents; below were the Disputa
and the Journey into Egypt, — the former a strong, effective
tableau, with a beautiful boy Christ. On the rear wall,
beside Luini's great pala, were the large figures of Sts. Roch
and Sebastian, each with an angel hovering above him in the
sky; and six more heroic saints, mostly vanished, occupied
the lunettes beside the three circular windows.

There were some rather interesting, early choir-stalls here,
black with age, embellished with pleasing putti in the place
of columns, — a happy idea. But above and beyond all else
glowed Luini's magnificent altar-piece, illumining the whole
church with the glory 4 of its wondrous forms and opulent
hues. In truth it is one of the most beautiful works con-
ceivable. Words can give no idea of its deeply golden tone,
its idyllic atmosphere, its incredible loveliness of figure and
face, its deliciously moulded and tinted fleshwork, its har-
monious expression of celestial joy. The Madonna sits en-



THE TOWNS OF THE OLONA VALLEY 187

throned, with the Child on her left knee, clad in a rose-
coloured bodice and green gown, looking down with her ex-
quisitely tender and loving face at the very real and pleasing
infant ; beside her appear four saints, of three-quarter figure,
proportioned and modelled to the life; overhead flutter three
little winged cherubs, with the sublime form of the Eternal
Father at the top; at her foot sit three little angels playing
flutes, of the most refined, ethereal loveliness; and two more,
somewhat larger, are playing upon mandolins at the sides.
The central group of the Madonna, Child and three small
angels, is certainly one of the sweetest, most enchanting con-
ceptions of all Art; and perfectly executed, — they actually
breathe and make melody before one's eyes. The shading
throughout is most effective, the colouring a superb scheme
of harmonious, gentle shades. The faces one and all reflect
a beauty and a sense of bliss that could come only from
Paradise.

The predelle of this masterpiece are strangely unworthy
of it, being simply in dark-brown monotone, — nine small
panels, representing the Saviour, the four Evangelists, and
scenes from the Passion. But as to the great canvas itself,
so perfectly preserved, — no one who loves Italian painting
should miss it; and if Luini had never done another work,
it would still rank him among those immortals that Andrea
del Sarto dreamed of, as entitled to paint the walls of
Heaven.



CHAPTER VI

THE MARVELLOUS CERTOSA DI PAVIA

"But let my due feet never fail
To walk the studious cloister's pale
And love the high-embowed roof,
With antique pillars mossy proof,
And storied windows richly dight
Casting a dim religious light."



Milton.



" In the midst of that plain — stands one of the most in-
teresting and most magnificent of Italian churches and mon-
asteries. — This temple — so vast in extent, so minute in de-
tail, so ponderous and so brilliant, stands apart from the
road, and at the extremity of a venerable avenue, deeply se-
cluded within the once sacred precincts of its ancient walls. —
Although commenced in the 14th century, the artists of Italy
were still working at it in the 18th; yet the labour of 400
years scarcely accounts for the immensity of its details, its
sculptures, its carvings, its statuary, its works in gold, bronze,
ivory and ebony, its accumulations of precious stones, of mo-
saics, of pictures, frescoes, and all the wonders of wealth and
art, which go to perfecting its chapels, its choirs, and its
sacristies, its altars, monuments, and mausoleums." *

" Those who have only once been driven round with the
crew of sight-seers, can carry little away but the memory
of lapis lazuli and bronze-work, inlaid agates and laby-
rinthine sculpture, cloisters tenantless in silence, fair, painted
faces smiling from dark corners on the senseless crowd, trim

*Lady Morgan's "Italy," Vol. I.



THE MARVELLOUS CERTOSA DI PAVIA 189

gardens with rows of pink primroses in Spring, and of begonia
in Autumn, blooming beneath colonnades of glowing terra-
cotta. — Thoughts of the two great houses, Visconti and
Sforza, to whose pride of power it is a monument, may be
blended with the recollection of art-treasures alien to their
spirit. — The Certosa is a wilderness of lovely workman-
ship." - — " High in the midst of its silent, solitary, and
overpowering magnificence, rises the mausoleum of its mur-
derous founder, Gian Galeazzo Visconti. This superb
monument was raised by the monks to the memory of their
benefactor, a century after his death ; to give a hint, perhaps,
to his successors, the Sforzas, to go and do likewise." 3



Online LibraryEgerton R. (Egerton Ryerson) WilliamsLombard towns in Italy; or, The cities of ancient Lombardy → online text (page 15 of 47)