Egerton R. (Egerton Ryerson) Williams.

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

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ported the general frieze, of carved, winged putti-heads
interspersed with patterns of grisaille. From the imposing
dome, soaring above the intersection of the spacious transept,
descended a well of soft white light. Around the deep,
apsidal choir extended the same architectural scheme of pilas-
ters, side-arches and frieze, illumined by the great fresco
glowing from its half-dome, — so far away, that the verger
upon the high-altar, arranging the candles, seemed the size
of a small boy, and barely discernible behind him was the
dark semicircle of sculptured stalls.

Six more large frescoes decorated the entrance-wall, — two
above each doorway; all of those in sight were of unusually
light tone and colouring, so that, in spite of the huge figures,
in their tableaux from the New Testament, they did not dis-
tract the attention from the whole grand architectural effect.
This, according to Symonds, was derived by Alberti from the
enormous vaulted baths of the ancients at Rome, — those
coffered halls of Diocletian and Caracalla which still stand.
" The combination of these antique details in an imposing
structure implied a high imaginative faculty at a moment
when the rules of classic architecture had not been as yet re-
duced to a method." 31 This was one of the first churches of
the Renaissance, as well as one of the grandest, for whose
forms they went back to the purely classical: " the type " —
wrote Ferguson — " of all those churches which, from St.

31 J. A. Symonds' " Fine Arts."


Peter's downwards, have been erected — in the past 3 cen-
turies." The nave was finished in 1494; bu t Alberti's de-
signs for the transept and choir were not fulfilled until about
1600, when Ant. Viani carried them out; — for which he
deserves much credit, in that decadent age, seeing that he did
not alter them in any way. The dome was not added until
the 1 8th century. The only feature I did not like was the
huge, disproportionate archway of the facade, which, as Sy-
monds remarked, " serves only for a decoration. Too high
and spacious even for the chariots of a Roman triumph, it
forms an unappropriate entrance to the modest vestibule of a
Christian church."

The frescoes of the nave were also later works, of
the Decadence. The doors in the intermediate wall-spaces
proved to open into smaller, cubical side chapels, four on each
hand; and the first of them to left was that dedicated to S.
Giovanni, which Andrea Mantegna himself built and
adorned, and in which he lies buried. Through a locked
iron grating I saw, by the dim light of one small window, a
cell-like chamber with a flat cupola, which was painted in the
centre with that Gonzaga device of a red sun and a golden
crown, whose use was granted to the artist in 1469 by Lodo-
vico III. In the floor lay a slab of red marble, covering the
grave, bearing the inscription: " Ossa Andreae Mantinii
Famosissimi," etc., with the date, 1506. On the left wall
was a round plaque bearing a bronze bust of the master,
wonderful in its lifelikeness and force of expression. " The
expression of the face is grave, earnest and searching, the
modelling bold, vigorous and true to nature, and the treat-
ment of the hair, which falls in long curling locks on either
side of the laurel-wreathed head, is most masterly. This
consummate work of art, which is perhaps the finest of
modern bronze busts, has been attributed to Mantegna, —


but it is more than probable that it was cast after his death —
and that the tradition is correct which assigns it to the
famous medallist, Sperandio Maglioli." 32 There was further
adornment upon the walls, in the form of some faded fres-
coes by the artist's son Francesco, and three large canvases
by his school; of these two were poor works, and the third
an unusually fine Baptism of Christ, of noble figures and
deep feeling, in a splendid tone and atmosphere.

Over the second altar to left I admired an exceedingly
beautiful though damaged specimen of Lorenzo Costa's
work, — a large, richly toned canvas of Madonna and saints,
graceful in figures and composition, and of languorous, bliss-
ful atmosphere. The sixth chapel to right held the alleged
sepulchre of St. Longinus, consisting of a simple stucco sar-
cophagus in classic lines, affixed to the rear wall, painted
dark brown with gilt trimmings; while roundabout were
some large frescoes said to have been designed by Giulio
Romano, representing the Crucifixion and the discovery of
the vessel containing Christ's blood ; these, however, were
over-crowded and over-strenuous, besides being damaged by
repairing. Upon the altar stood a pleasing cinquecento can-
vas, an Adoration of the Child by the Maries and Longinus,
possessing fine qualities of tone and drawing. The tomb of
Bishop Andreasi in the right transept was interesting: a
black marble sarcophagus, supported on a huge black swan
between two smaller white sphinxes, with two graceful fe-
male Virtues of white marble, leaning upon the base and
weeping; it was carved by Prospero Clementi about 1550.

In the dome I observed an enormous Empyrean with count-
less figures, said to have been done by the Campi, but so high
that the details were lost; directly beneath it on the pave-
ment was an octagonal space railed in by a Siena-marble

32 Perkins' " Italian Sculptors."


balustrade, covering the spot where the vessel of St. Longinus
is supposed to be buried; and round it the people knelt rev-
erently in worship of those imaginary drops of blood. The
large fresco in the apse proved to be a Crucifixion of St.
Andrew, containing an extraordinary number of heroic
figures, and so lifelike as to be fairly harrowing; its author
was Fermo Guisoni, according to Layard and Lanzi, — the
latter saying that the picture " both in point of design and
force of colouring is indeed admirable." Near-by was a
curious kneeling figure in marble, of the church's founder,
Lodovico Gonzaga, portraying faithfully his rounded shoul-
ders and long beard, with a quaint expression on the face.
There was one other interesting piece of sculpture, the monu-
ment of Pietro Strozzi designed by Giulio (about 1530),
placed in the southern chapel of the left transept: four stal-
wart caryatides, facing to front and rear, upheld a white
base and a black sarcophagus, on whose top reposed the de-
cedent's figure, on its side, — a rather unusual and striking
design. Roundabout it lay many other tombs, and fragments
of still others, brought hither, like Strozzi's, from demolished
churches. — ■ Mr. Berenson places a work of Fran. Torbido
here also, representing God the Father with the two Sts..
John, — over the second altar to right.

At the northeastern corner of this Piazza Mantegna a
narrow opening connects it directly with the ancient Piazza
delle Erbe, dominated by its picturesque old city clock-tower,
or Torre dell' Orologio. The latter's square, ponderous
form, of begrimed and crumbling stucco, rises on the eastern
side of the parallelogram, at the southern end of the arcaded
Palazzo della Ragione, or town-hall; its huge clock-face at
mid-height, shaded by a curving cornice like an eyebrow,
gazes with its cyclopean eye over the village of umbrella-
stands and canvas-roofed stalls hiding the pavement below,


and through the connecting passage, across the neighbouring
Piazza of S. Andrea. Just beneath it stands an image of
the Virgin, upon a crescent moon within an oval niche,
underset by a heavy, baroque, marble balcony; and upon the
tower's peaked summit swings the town-bell in the open, sur-
rounded by dwarf-obelisks at the corners. The old stuccoed
palazzo likewise looks as if it had always needed painting or
cleaning, and never received it; before it stretches the long,
projecting arcade, of stucco arches on slender marble col-
umns, which bulge with stands of vegetables, grain and fruits ;
and above, rises a single upper storey with oblong baroque
windows. At the north the piazza is closed by a protruding
three-storied wing, of similar stained stucco, which ends in a
square brick tower, lofty and bare of windows, capped by an
open belfry. Thus has the original palace of the 13th cen-
tury been mutilated by the ages.

The western side of the piazza consists of a number of
mediaeval houses, rising upon the usual continuous arcade,
filled with shops and stalls. The southern side is plain, ex-
cept for the southwest corner, where stands the only hand-
some feature of the square: a narrow, four-storied brick
building, erected in 1444 by Brancaforte, embellished with
the most exquisite terracotta ornamentation, — of gothic ar-
caded string-courses with miniature spiral columns, magnifi-
cent pointed window-frames, and richly moulded cornices;
all rising upon a ground-arcade of fine red-marble shafts.
— This picturesque old Piazza Erbe is the true heart of
the city, the crowded centre of its traffic and its gossip:
thronged as I have pictured it, at morning and midday, but
closing up a large portion of its booths, like folding flowers,
with the westward sinking of the sun.

Traversing another short passage, beside the brick tower,
I entered the smaller Piazza Broletto on the Palazzo's north:


along its west side continued the street proper, with its ar-
cades and shops, and upon the northern and eastern sides
rose common, old, stuccoed buildings; with this exception, —
that from the Palazzo, behind the tower, there leapt at a
goodly height across a street leading eastward, to the near-
est house, a quaint two-storied archway, making a wide brick
curve. This charming relic of the gothic age was adorned
in its lower division with two beautiful triple-arched win-
dows, having marble shafts, and in its upper, with a delight-
ful marble colonnade, of slender, coupled members, one be-
hind another; it was an archway such as one finds in Italy
alone. Near-by on the Palazzo's northern wall, looking over
the inevitable aggregation of canvas-covered stands filling
the square's centre, sat a strange, archaic, marble figure, of
lifesize, within a large, elaborate gothic . niche, displaying
an amused but placid smile upon its bulbous features. It
was Mantua's monument to her beloved Virgil, erected in

" Proud of having given birth to Virgil, Mantua elevated
him to be her prince, painted his likeness upon her banners,
and engraved it upon her coins ; and when in the beginning of
the 13th century her citizens had raised the siege of the castle
of Gonzaga and repulsed the Cremonese, the magistrates
decreed that to commemorate the event a statue of the great
poet should be placed in a niche above the Piazza, whence it
might look down as if taking part in the joys and sorrows
of his compatriots. As it was undoubtedly made by their
best sculptor, we are justified in taking it as a proof that his
art was then in a rude state. Virgil is seated before a read-
ing-desk upon which lies a book, wearing the cap of a rector
of the people and a long robe." 33 The crude, coupled,
gothic columns and the peculiar foliated reliefs of the pointed

33 Perkins' " Italian Sculptors."


arch of the canopy, are also very interesting and significant
of the then state of the sculptor's art.

Another short passage now led me at last, beneath a lofty
brick archway containing dwelling-rooms, into the vast and
famous Piazza Sordello. Its enormous extent flashed upon
me with surprise, stretching far away to the north, and up a
gentle slope to the east; so that the mighty palace-city of
the (jonzaghi, upon which I gazed for the first time, raised
its long and variegated facade of many epochs on the summit
of an elevation, — which was the site of the first settlement
between the lakes. The centre of the huge parallelogram,
cobble-paved and grass-grown, was marked by a marble monu-
ment with a tall obelisk, topped by a female figure bearing
a crown of glory and a flag, — Mantua's memorial to the
Martyrs of Belfiore. It consisted of a mound of artificial
rocks fully ioo feet long, a ponderous granite base mounted
by flights of steps, and a large square pedestal beneath the
obelisk, adorned with a sculptured lion on the front side,
and carved in relievo with the grouped busts of the heroes
upon a golden ground.

Behind this the giant facade of the Reggia crested the
slope, in four or five different buildings. Proceeding north-
ward, the first portion, and latest, consisted of a long front
of crumbling brown stucco, pierced with three tiers of very
modern windows, shaded by a row of fine horsechestnut trees,
and overtopped by a tall mediaeval brick tower, rising some-
what to east of the corner, and frowning down with gaunt,
unwindowed walls. Next came the original gothic palace
of the Buonacolsi, where the Gonzaghi first gained their
power by the tyrant's assassination in 1328: it consisted of
two structures, — the first a lofty, four-storied, gothic, brick
edifice, rising upon a splendid renovated arcade, of red-
marble columns and pillars supporting pointed brick arches,


with voussoirs in alternate red and yellow bands. Above,
the major part of its windows had also been recently recon-
structed in the original manner: the single-arched openings
of the first floor being pointed in the northern half, rounded
in the southern ; those of the second floor were a row of small
square apertures; and those of the third, or piano noblle,
a row of six superb gothic double-arches with marble shafts,
recessed in brown brick frames with several white quoins
to the outer arch, — " the most exquisite examples of their
class," said Street, "that I anywhere met with;" the eaves
were crowned by picturesque, forked battlements of the
Ghibelline style. Behind those upper windows lay the great
hall where Pius II gathered his general council of the Church
to deliberate upon his crusade against the Turks.

The second Buonacolsi structure rose upon a similar ar-
cade, of pointed brick arches with red and white quoins,
resting on heavy marble columns; above which its brownish
brick facade was irregularly broken by a scattering mixture
of variegated windows,-!- large and small, single and double-
arched, gothic and romanesque, some enclosed in frames of
elaborately coloured brickwork ; 33a there were no battle-
ments, but the whole effect was most picturesque. This was
the oldest part of the Reggia, — and the last used for a royal
purpose: for in its first-floor rooms, in 18 14, dwelt the ill-
fated Prince Eugene and his consort. Beyond this the fa-
gade became a plain, unwindowed, stucco wall supported
upon a heavy stucco arcade, entirely painted yellow, fronting
upon the northern bay of the piazza; it was not an edifice
proper, but the face of the vaults upholding the Reggia's

33a All these windows, according to my latest advices, are being
rapidly restored to their original designs, of the early epoch of
the Gonzaghi; so that my description will probably not accord
with what the visitor now sees.


extraordinary hanging garden. At its end came a queer
sort of small triumphal archway, likewise of yellow stucco,
guarding — as I later found — the entrance-passage to the
extensive series of courtyards; and beyond this again was a
modern covered market, used in the annual July fairs, which
stands upon the ground formerly occupied by the ducal thea-
tre, — the latter having been pulled down several years ago
on account of its tottering and dangerous condition.

Returning to the piazza proper 34 I gazed at its western
side, which was fully as picturesque as the eastern, — a suc-
cession of ancient, stuccoed, mouldering palaces, of divers
styles. The two southernmost were of the gothic era, grim,
decayed and battlemented, deprived by the changes of time
of nearly all their original pointed windows of the 13th cen-
tury. Once they were the splendid houses of noble and
famous families : that next the southern entrance-arch was the
Palazzo Cadenazzi, topped by an enormous brick fighting-
tower, rising someway back; from the adjacent southern
street I could see the iron cage still fastened to its side near
the crumbling top, in which the Buonacolsi were wont to
expose their unhappy prisoners for three days running, at the
time when they possessed the palace ; — hence its name of
Torre della Gabbia. The other structure was the Palazzo
Castiglione (originally Buonacolsi), where the family of the
renowned poet-courtier dwelt in after years. (The house
to which he brought the fair young Ippolita Torelli of Bo-
logna, on that bright October day of 15 16 when Isabella and
Elisabetta Gonzaga stood in the entrance-hall to welcome
his bride, then stood near-by, in the Via Pradella.) Here
was the portal which received the Buonacolsi in their days
of power, with its broad marble arch adorned with foliated

34 Its northern bay is but half the width of the main part of the
square, — which is thus narrowed by the bulky Cathedral.


reliefs, and the handsome marble balcony just overhead; four
out of the seven great triple windows of the second floor
also linger yet, with their gleaming slender marble columns.
North of this stretched the huge Palazzo Vescovile, in its
ugly, stuccoed, rococo fagade of inharmonious broken lines
and make-believe solidity, painted the usual yellowish brown
of that period, — its window-frames and cornices shaped in
convoluted baroque, with the customary imitation-pilasters
laid on, to add a little dignity. Two giant Hermes stood
beside the doorway to support the balcony above, and a
long row of urns and statues crowned the balustrade of the
roof. It was a typical building of the 18th century. Ad-
jacent, facing southwestward from the left side of the piaz-
za's end, stood the Cathedral which Giulio rebuilt, — its
fagade likewise of yellowish stucco and baroque design ; four
mighty corinthian pilasters upheld its entablature and pedi-
ment in classic form, embracing the three plain doorways
and rococo windows. Between its right side and the Reggia
extended the piazza's long northern bay, the former looking
upon it with a mass of beautiful cotta decorations — of the
earlier, gothic church, — in frieze, cornice, window-mould-
ings and gables. Here also, behind the transept, rose its
massive, tall, plastered campanile, of the 12th century, pierced
near the top with three irregular rows of romanesque arcaded
windows. — The interior of the Duomo, as the sun was set-
ting, I left for another day; and wended my way slowly
backward through the long series of shadowy, historic piaz-
zas, calling up visions of the countless dead, famous and in-
famous, who had thronged them thus at eventide during two
thousand years.



" The noble-minded Isabel, who, where
It stands on Mincio's bank, in other age
Shall gild the town of Ocnus' mother hight,
With her own glorious rays, by day and night;
Where with her worthiest consort she will strain
In honoured and in splendid rivalry,
Which best shall prize the virtues' goodly train,
And widest ope the gates to courtesy. —
'Twill be upheld, Penelope, the chaste,
As such, was not beneath Ulysses placed."

Ariosto's " Orlando Furioso "; Rose's Tran.

Mantua has been unusually distinguished by her women.
In the glorious Renaissance days she had not only Isabella
d'Este, but Elisabetta Gonzaga, and Leonora Gonzaga, Isa-
bella's daughter, — both duchesses of Urbino, and both re-
markable for their wit, learning and accomplishments. In
the Middle Age she had that foremost of all Italian women,
Matilda of Tuscany, " La Gran Donna d'ltalia" who made
Mantua her home and the capital of her wide domains, as
her fathers had done before her. 1 Thence she defied Em-
peror Henry IV and entered into a league against him with
the Guelfs and various cities ; in consequence of which Henry
besieged the city in 1090, capturing it after a year's wait by
the aid of treachery. In the latter part of her long and
eventful life Matilda devoted much time and treasure to the
neighbouring convent of S. Benedetto, about 15 miles distant,
which was founded by her grandfather Tebaldo, and enriched

1 Mrs. M. E. Huddy's " Matilda, Countess of Tuscany."



by her with many grants of land, besides her celebrated
collection of manuscripts. There she was buried, in a " beau-
tiful, simple ark of alabaster, upheld by eight slender col-
umns; " 2 but her remains were later removed to St. Peter's
at Rome, where they now lie, beneath Bernini's splendid

Matilda and her line were closely connected with the
grand old gothic Cathedral of Mantua, which Giulio Romano
transformed into a classic temple ; but its walls and founda-
tions remain the same. And it was to Countess Matilda that
my thoughts first turned, when I repaired to visit it on the
morning after my arrival. Here her father, Marquis Boni-
face, 3 was buried, and the place where his ashes rest is marked
by a black stone in the west wall of the retro-choir, cut with
this inscription in Latin: " Here lies the excellent Lord
Boniface, Marquis and Father of the most serene Lady
Countess Matilda, who died May 6, 1052." Here her
worthy friend and valued counsellor, Anselm, was buried in
1086, with great ceremony; and within these walls was held

2 Nora Duff's " Matilda of Tuscany."

3 It was he that gathered together the enormous estates afterward
so worthily administered by Matilda, who was the chief support of
Pope Hildebrand in his contest with Emperor Henry IV; her pos-
sessions included " a great part of Tuscany, the province of Viterbo
as far as Orvieto, the province of Umbria, practically all the
Marche of Ancona, and the cities of Mantua, Parma, Piacenza,
Reggio, Ferrara, Modena and Verona." {Annali del Friuli.) She
had her due revenge for the taking of Mantua when she lived to
witness Henry standing barefoot on the frozen ground, fasting and
praying three days before the Pope's castle of Canossa, until Hilde-
brand accepted his abject repentance. Upon Matilda's death, in
1115, she completed her unequalled benefactions to the Papacy by
devising to it in perpetuity those provinces of Umbria and Viterbo,
which formed at once the beginning, and ever afterwards the prin-
cipal part, of the temporal " States of the Church."


that general council of the Church and princes, in 1064, to
discuss the validity of the recent election of Alexander II to
the Papacy. The Pope and the College of Cardinals were
escorted all the way from Rome by Matilda and her step-
father, — Duke Godfrey; and they were met at the city's
outskirts by her mother, with a glittering cortege. All the
decorations and entertainments were upon a magnificent scale.
The conclave duly approved Alexander's election (the choice
of Hildebrand) — although it was attacked one day by a
crowd of rioters, instigated by the latter's enemies ; these were
forcing their way into the Cathedral with arms in hand,
when the Countess-Mother arrived with troops just in time
to prevent a tragedy.

But of this storied past not a sign was visible, as I stood
gazing down the imposing, colonnaded nave; all was gran-
deur, gilding, and comparative newness; none would dream
that a gothic edifice of momentous history once occupied the
place of this Roman temple. Giulio did his work not only
thoroughly, but superbly : 4 down each side ran two long rows
of beautiful corinthian columns, tall and finely proportioned,
topped by no arches, but by rich continuous architraves of
frieze and cornice, adorned with gilded marble reliefs; form-
ing thus double aisles upon each hand, the first covered with
rounded vaulting, elaborately stuccoed and painted, the sec-
ond roofed with lower, flat ceilings, of similar decoration.
The spacious building, thus open from wall to wall, presented
a grand spectacle with these four noble colonnades, rising

4 " Giulio dashed here" — said Forsyth in his "Excursion in
Italy" (1801) — "into all the irregularities of genius, and ran
after the Tuscan graces, the mighty, the singular, the austere, the
emphatic." Eustace in his " Classical Tour," called it " a very reg-
ular and beautiful edifice," and the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament,
" an exquisite specimen of Mantuan taste."


from the polished marble floor. Overhead the nave was

Online LibraryEgerton R. (Egerton Ryerson) WilliamsLombard towns in Italy; or, The cities of ancient Lombardy → online text (page 35 of 47)