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BERGAMO THE UPPER 71

fair name over all this countryside; and even in his death
he intervened by his legacy to save the Serene Republic at a
desperate crisis of her existence.

No longer does the Castle of Malpaga present any appear-
ance of that brilliant court which made it famous. The
description of J. A. Symonds upon his visit several decades
ago, included in his delightful article upon " Bergamo and
Bart. Colleoni," gave a sad but true picture of the decay
into which it, — like so many, many historic castles, — had
fallen :

" Its courts and galleries have been turned into a monster-
farm, and the southern rooms, where Colleoni entertained
his guests, are given over to the silk-worms. Half a dozen
families employed upon the vast estate of the Martinengo
family, occupy the still substantial house and stable. The
moat is planted with mulberry trees; the upper rooms are
used as granaries for golden maize; cows, pigs and horses
litter in the spacious yard. Yet the walls of the inner
court and of the ancient state-rooms are brilliant with fres-
coes, executed by some good Venetian hand, which represent
the chief events of Colleoni's life, — his battles, his reception
by the Signory of Venice, his tournaments and hawking
parties, and the great series of entertainments with which
he welcomed Christian of Denmark — " 18 on the latter's
pilgrimage to Rome. Some of these frescoes are by Ro-
manino.

It was in this now forlorn ruin that the great Colleoni
spent a large part of " the last eighteen years of his life, —
at Bergamo and in his castles of Malpaga, Romano and
Martinengo, guarded by the 600 veterans who had grown
grey in his service, and surrounded by a company of savants
and artists in whose society he delighted. The latest biog-

18 J. A. Symonds' " Sketches and Studies in Italy."



72 LOMBARD TOWNS OF ITALY

rapher of this model condottiere (Rio, in his "Art Chre-
tien ") shows him to have been a pattern of every Christian
and knightly virtue, truthful and disinterested, and, though
passionate and impetuous, ever ready to forgive his enemies
and to recognise their good qualities. — He " transformed
Romano into an Escurial, where he divided his time between
pious and military exercises, in the midst of his double troop
of warriors and monks, his young and old guard, which rep-
resented to him his memories and his hopes." " 19

19 C. C. Perkins' " Italian Sculptors."



CHAPTER III

MONZA AND THE IRON CROWN

" It chanced that in our last year's wanderings
We dwelt at Monza, far away from home,
If home we had; and in the Duomo there
I sometimes entered with her when she prayed.
An image of our Lady stands there, wrought
In marble by some great Italian hand

In the days when she and Italy sat on one throne together.
— And so I left her to her prayers, and went
To gaze upon the pride of Monza's shrine,
Where in the sacristy the light still falls
Upon the Iron Crown of Italy."

D. G. Rossetti's " A Last Confession."

Westward, — to that last confine of Venice, that boundary
of patrician ambitions and Visconti hopes, — the Adda. Ber-
gamo lay behind now, upon her massy hilltops, gazing after
me with her receding walls and domes and ancient towers,
— a picture to stay forever in the mind. Around me
stretched the smiling plain, radiant with the varying em-
erald tints of the far stretching fields of wheat and maize,
of the vineyards, the orchards, the rows of mulberry and
poplar; but black as ever soared the lines of pointed cy-
presses, and still in pearly grey extended the endless olive-
groves along the hillsides.

In this part of the plain wheat is really the principal
crop, as the countless fields devoted to its growth bear wit-
ness; over 150,000 bushels annually are said to be raised
in the Milanese; but even at that, much more has to be
imported, to fill the local demands for consumption. It is

73



74 LOMBARD TOWNS OF ITALY

another indication of the advancement of Milan and her
surrounding territory over the rest of Lombardy and the
mountain districts, which still cling so exclusively to the
use of Indian corn, ground into polenta, that the vile
pellagra remains nearly everywhere prevalent, as I myself
had found. That form of skin- or blood-disease — which
is now believed to proceed, not so much from the unvaried
eating of the corn, as from the careless consumption of that
which is mouldy and improperly dried, — has lately begun
to extend its ravages into the southern United States. It
has certainly been an accursed plague to Italy.

When Bergamo had receded from sight, the train crossed
the Bremba, several miles below the mouth of the valley,
and ran slightly south of west, through the beautiful undu-
lating section of the plain which forms the triangle between
that stream and the Adda. Gentle elevations billowed away
on both sides, delightfully checkered with vari-coloured fields,
orchards and copses of wood, and shining with stuccoed
villas and farm-houses; the hills upon the right mounted
quickly to the rocky heights between the Val Brembana and
Lago di Lecco, including the imposing form of Mt. Reseg-
none, 6,100 feet in height. Soon the Adda appeared, wide
and impetuous, rolling southward the deep waters of Lakes
Como and Lecco. We crossed it about ten miles south
of the latter; and half a dozen miles below us, invisible on
account of the river's windings, sat the great historic castle
of Trezzo, commanding the rushing stream from its battle-
mented point. Another time I should by all means journey
to Monza by the tramway, which passes through Trezzo
village and permits a visit to the castle.

This huge structure, once so famed for its combination
of strength and magnificence, now only a shattered ruin,
was built by Bernabo Visconti during his lordship of the



MONZA AND THE IRON CROWN 75

Milanese j — that wretched rule which " displayed all the
worst vices of the Visconti." 1 There, as at Milan and his
other strongholds, he was wont to amuse himself by tor-
turing his helpless subjects, seizing the excuse of any mere
accusation of crime or enmity; he cut off their limbs, ears
and noses, put out their eyes, racked, stretched, and finally
killed them, — even on one certified occasion enjoyed himself
by having a peasant, who was charged with killing a hare,
eaten alive by his famished hounds. He liked to burn their
houses, to watch the flames, and in his zeal even burned a
number of holy friars who had come to try to bring him to
repentance.

Retribution came, however, upon that day of 1385 when
Bernabo rode out of his capital to greet the passing nephew
whom he despised and planned to put out of his way ; Gian
Galeazzo confined him at first in Milan, for a short time,
and then, by a queer stroke of fate, in this very castle of
Trezzo which he had builded and turned to such devilish
uses. But after a few miserable months he perished by
poison, together with his sons. Gian Galeazzo went on his
way of conquest, expelling from his cities all the Guelfic
nobles, and those opposed to him for any reason. Amongst
the many noble Guelfs exiled from Bergamo, was Pietro, of
the ancient house of Colleoni; during his wanderings a son
was born to him, in 1400, at Salza, — the' youngest of his
children, who was christened Bartolomeo. In 1405, during
the confusion following Gian Galeazzo's decease, Pietro
with an armed following seized suddenly, by stratagem, this
same castle of Trezzo, and proceeded to make himself and his
family at home in it.

Then, as he was a generous man, he invited four cousins
to share his plenty; who soon repaid the obligation by

1 Symonds' " Age of the Despots."



76 LOMBARD TOWNS OF ITALY

slaughtering Pietro and his children, leaving alive only the
infant Bartolomeo and his mother, closely confined in a
dungeon. Such was the rueful commencement of the great
condottiere's life. The two were later removed to the
near-by village of Salza, where he grew up in severest pov-
erty until old enough to enter the profession of arms. A
few years later, in 141 7, Carmagnola revenged the treachery
by taking the castle from Paolo Colleoni, after a brilliant
siege.

Across the Adda I was at last upon Milanese territory,
which was here the level plain again, as far as the town
of Usmate, five miles to the west; there a change would be
necessary, — from the branch line to the main road that
runs from Milan to Lecco, and up the lake's eastern side to
the Valtellina and Chiavenna. But before we had advanced
a mile from the river, I was called to the right-hand window
to observe a remarkable alteration in the scenery. This
whole journey, in fact, is one happy sequence of varied land-
scape and delightful views; and the scene which I now be-
held was not only the most beautiful, — it was unforgetta-
ble.

North of the track extended the flat plain, for several
miles, with few trees in the immediate vicinity to interrupt
the view, which thus ranged out above the more distant
woods to a far-spread panorama, entirely different from any
I had yet beheld ; there, beyond the level ground, stretched
indefinitely to the west and northwest a wooded country of
innumerable lovely hills, with broad, rounded tops and gently
sloping sides, — knolls rather than hills, short but astonish-
ingly close together, arranged in no lines nor conformations,
divided by no broad valleys, studding the land like the
countless bolt-heads on a mediaeval door. Another remark-
able fact was the evenness of their height, no summit rising



MONZA AND THE IRON CROWN 77

to obscure a view of those behind it. The endless dark
woods were set off and contrasted by light green pastures
here and there, and occasional slopes brightly checkered by
cultivation; faint streaks of glistening silver marked the
presence of lakes and rivers; and everywhere in the sombre
foliage, from nearly every hilltop, gleamed afar the white
walls of villas, — the finishing touch of human interest that
made the scene enchanting. Not a town nor a village was
visible, — only these numberless country-houses, peeping one
by one from the umbrageous verdure with flashing wall or
red-tiled roof, or raising grey battlemented towers above the
tree-tops, that marked the sites of the more ancient castles.

No less astonishing was the vast extent of this landscape:
on and on it stretched, in beautiful, orderless series of dark,
rounded heights, forest- and villa-crowned, league after
league, the summits dwindling on the far western perspective,
the curving flanks merging in the haze of distance, — till it
seemed that I must be overlooking a full hundred miles of
country. On the north the boundary of the Alpine wall
was nearer, — the peaks around Lake Como, looming bare
and rocky, a score of miles away; but farther to the west,
beyond that indefinite vista of hills and woods, from the
haze in which it ended there rose a sight so magnificent, so
breathless, that the beauty of the countryside dropped in-
significant from my mind.

A stupendous mountain-chain hung there in the upper
air, its mighty form glittering with dazzling eternal snow,
its pinnacles scintillating against the sky of deepest blue.
Never had I beheld an object more lovely and yet more ter-
rible. Vast as it appeared, — its tremendous height indi-
cated by the extent of the gleaming snow, which seemed to
rise from the very foot, up miles of precipices and aretes, —
it was really a hundred miles away, beyond Lago Maggiore,



78 LOMBARD TOWNS OF ITALY

on the borderline of western Switzerland. It was Italy's
loftiest chain, the second in all Europe, — Monte Rosa.
And this wide expanse of charming hill country, with its
woods and lakes and glistening villas, so different from any-
thing else in Italy, — was the celebrated Monte Brianza.

" How faintly flashed, how phantom fair
Was Monte Rosa, hanging there, —
A thousand shadowy pencilled valleys
And snowy dells in a golden air!" 2

The district of Brianza extends from the triangle between
Lakes Como and Lecco, southward halfway to Milan; it
is the great summer playground of Milan and its territories,
— famed, not only for its natural beauties, but for containing
what is doubtless the most numerous assortment of country-
houses of any space of equal size in the world. It is one
huge park, divided mostly into the private grounds of villas,
— thousands upon thousands of them, as I had seen, with
their gardens, terraces, groves, pavilions and pergolas. Half
a dozen small lakes add to the attractiveness of the dashing
streams, the sequestered vales, and the wooded hills crowned
with their chateaus, commanding ever delightful views.
" Nowhere," as Mr. Richard Bagot has well said, " perhaps
in the whole of Italy, is there to be found more idyllic
scenery than in the Lombard paradise." 3 It is a paradise
however, that is seldom, if ever, seen by foreigners, except
the few occasionally invited to share some ville ggiatura.
But, unfortunately, there is a discordant note for the beauty-
lover. Too many of the villas are comparatively recent in
construction, displaying therefore upon closer view the un-
fortunate taste of the modern Milanese, with grounds mal-

2 Tennyson's " The Daisy."

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



MONZA AND THE IRON CROWN 79

treated by being deprived of shade immediately about the
house, and distorted with unsuitable adornments.

Lady Morgan has clearly expressed this: — "The neigh-
bourhood of Milan abounds with villas, few of which bear
any resemblance to the seats of the English nobility. They
are more places of temporary retreat, or casual recreation,
than of a permanent or periodical residence. The nobility
go regularly at St. Martin's Eve, in November, to settle
with their tenants, and frequently stay still Christmas.
Their other visits to the country are few and distant, and
their villeggiature last but a few days. — There were for-
merly no local ties to attach the Italians to rural life. They
had no love of gardening; they did not plant, nor farm,
nor ornament. They built, indeed, extravagantly, but never
completed; generally speaking, their vast and desolate villas
shew a mixture of ruin and neglect, that forms a most gloomy
and dreary picture. Terraces, balustrades, colonnades, pa-
vilions, courts, fortifications, towers, temples, and belvederes
abound very generally; but green, fresh, delicious nature is
almost everywhere excluded." 4 But it must be added that
with the recent great increase of wealth, and constant follow-
ing of English ideas, the estates have steadily improved in
appearance; though the newer villas are hideous, there is
increasing effort to beautify naturally the parks and gardens,
and to adapt the owners themselves to country life.

Baretti gives an interesting picture of this rural existence
in the 18th century, — when it was at the height of fash-
ion, before revolutionary times: " The Milanese — generally
pass the greater part of the summer and the whole autumn
in the country; — Monte di Brianza, where their country-
houses chiefly lie, is in my opinion the most delightful in

4 That is, excluded from the immediate grounds. — Lady Morgan's
" Italy," Vol. I.



80 LOMBARD TOWNS OF ITALY

all Italy. — There they retire — and pass the time in a
perpetual round of merriment, eating, drinking, dancing and
visiting; and contributing small sums towards giving por-
tions to the pretty wenches in the neighbourhood. — There
the richest people have their cappucinas; that is, a part of
their country-houses built after the manner of a Capjuchin
convent, distributed into many small bedrooms, like cells,
for the reception of their visitors, who are always welcome
provided they come fully resolved to eat plentifully, to talk
loudly, and be very merry." 5

That they had abundant need for this supply of small
rooms is shown by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's experience
in 1747, when she had but just settled in a rented villa:
"I had a visit" — she wrote to the Countess of Bute —
" from thirty horse of ladies and gentlemen, with their serv-
ants. They came with the kind intent of staying with me
at least a fortnight, though I had never seen any of them
before ; but they were all neighbours within ten miles around.
I could not avoid entertaining them at supper. — I sent for
the fiddles, and they were so obliging as to dance all night,
and even dine with me the next day, though none of them
had been in bed ; and were much disappointed I did not ask
them to stay, it being the fashion to go in troops to one an-
other's houses, hunting and dancing together a month in each
castle." 6

' — At the station of Usmate I changed to the train from
the north, and headed southwestward to Monza. The Bri-
anza was soon left far behind, and I rolled again through the
flat, thickly settled, and highly cultivated plain, whose villages

5 Baretti's " Manners and Customs in Italy," Vol. II.

6 The Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Vol.
II, edited by Lord Wharcliffe.



MONZA AND THE IRON CROWN 81

and habitations became ever more numerous as we approached
Milan. This was the Milanese proper, one of the few richest
and most densely populated tracts of the earth's surface.
The inhabitants, from their large proportion of Swiss and
German blood, are quite different from the rest of Italians;
they share the northern keen commercial spirit, being some-
times called the Yankees of Italy. They are more ingenious,
resourceful, hard-working, orderly, advanced in knowledge
and the applied sciences, and of more cleanly habits. What
was said of them long ago still holds good : they " value them-
selves upon their being de bon cceur — good-natured. They
are commonly compared to the Germans for their honesty,
to the French for fondness of pomp and elegance in equipages
and household furniture; and — they resemble likewise the
English in their love of good eating, as well as in their talk-
ing rather too long and too often about it." 7 Their invari-
ably genial nature, which is still everywhere displayed to
the grateful traveller, was noted also in the 18th century
by Mrs. Piozzi, who write, " ' II buon cuor Lombardo ' is
famed throughout all Italy, and nothing can become
proverbial without an excellent reason." 8

My thoughts now roved to the little city which I was so
rapidly approaching, — an elongated town of 13,000 people,
stretching along the old highway from Milan to Usmate,
some eight miles north of the metropolis. Monza is of much
antiquity, however, and had considerable importance in the
days of the Lombards; they erected her attractive Cathedral,
and made it the depository of their Iron Crown, with which
so many a monarch has been crowned there during the past
dozen centuries. Theodoric himself was attracted by Monza,

7 Baretti's " Manners and Customs in Italy," Vol. II.

8 Mrs. Piozzi's "Glimpses of Italian Society in the 18th Century."



82 LOMBARD TOWNS OF ITALY

and built a palace there to which he occasionally resorted.
But it was Queen Theodolinda who identified herself with
the place, and made it famous.

This lady, it will be remembered, was the daughter of the
Bavarian King Garibaldo who was wooed and won by An-
tharis, King of the Lombards, while visiting their court in
589, disguised in the train of his own ambassador. Though
the marriage was terminated after a short time by the death
of Antharis, so much already " the virtues of Theodolinda
had endeared her to the nation, — she was permitted to be-
stow, with her hand, the sceptre of the Italian Kingdom." 9
She wedded this time Agilulf, the Lombard Duke of Turin,
who seems to have been a worthy choice ; they went to dwell
at Monza, and Theodolinda converted her bridegroom and
people from the Aryan to the Roman faith, which averted
a threatened assault upon the Papacy. Grateful for this
double success, the Queen set immediately about the erection
of a thanksgiving offering, in the shape of a church to the
Baptist; this was the first Cathedral of Monza, which she
endowed with her famous collection of royal Lombard treas-
ures.

According to the legend, a heavenly voice spoke to Theodo-
linda in her hour of meditation, saying that the church should
be constructed on the spot where stood a single great tree;
and it concluded with the Latin word, " Modo," — mean-
ing, " In such manner." The Queen replied at once,
"Etiam"; which was to say, "Even so will I do." The
spot was found, the building commenced, and the place there-
fore named " Modcetia," which centuries have corrupted into
Monza. — A second Cathedral was erected after several
hundred years, in the romanesque style; and when that too
became decayed and unsafe, in the 14th century, the third

» Gibbon, Vol. IV, Chap. XLV.



MONZA AND THE IRON CROWN 83

and present structure was put up, in the Lombard gothic
manner, by the same brilliant sculptor-architect, Matteo da
Campione, who made the original plans for the mighty ca-
thedral of Milan. Thus did Monza obtain one of the few
most splendid gothic churches of Italy.

In mediaeval and Renaissance times the little city had no
distinctive career of its own ; for a time independent, then
tyrannised by the Torricelli and Cavalazzi families, it became
subject to Milan at an early age. The Visconti acquired a
palace-stronghold in Monza, the Forni, now disappeared, in
which Galeazzo I, the eldest son of Matteo II Grande and
third ruler of the line, constructed a suite of noisome dun-
geons for their political prisoners ; and in those very dungeons
he was himself soon after imprisoned, together with his
brothers Lucchino and Stefano and his son Azzo, by the
Emperor Louis of Bavaria, who acted thus as a result of the
treacherous intrigues of a fourth brother, Marco Visconti, in
1327. They were released after eight months of misery,
thanks to the influence of the celebrated despot of Lucca,
Castruccio Castracani. Galeazzo died the next year, and
Azzo bought the Duchy of Milan back from the Emperor
for 60,000 florins; after which, in 1329, he revenged himself
and his father by the murder of Marco. — At Monza also,
Filippo Maria Visconti fought the battle " by which he
acquired his brother's inheritance, and the only battle in
which he was ever present ; he remarked the brilliant courage
of Francesco Carmagnola, a Piedmontese soldier of fortune,
and immediately gave him a command." 10 This was the
start of the latter's great career, which became eventually so
disastrous to both Filippo and himself.

It was at Monza, according to Symonds, that Bartolomeo
Colleoni was imprisoned by Filippo in 1446. " The Duke

10 Sismondi's " History of the Italian Republics."



84 LOMBARD TOWNS OF ITALY

yielded to the suggestion of his parasites at Milan, who whis-
pered that the general was becoming dangerously powerful.
He recalled him, and threw him without trial into the dun-
geons of the Forni at Monza. Here Colleoni remained a
prisoner more than a year, until the Duke's death, in
1447." 1X Just about this same time, in 1444, the only
Renaissance painter of merit to whom the city gave birth,
Troso da Monza, was executing various frescoes of the life
of Theodolinda in the Cathedral of S. Giovanni Battista,
which are still to be seen.

When my train drew into the long, covered shed of the
station, shortly before noon, there was upon every hand a
crowd, a bustle, a confusion of business, such as one finds only
in the vicinity of a great city, and which seemed to indicate
that Monza must be growing rapidly above the small size of
13,000 population. Emerging, I found myself upon the old
highway from Milan to the north — which forms the long
main street of the city, — and fully a mile to the south of
the latter's centre. Three- and four-storied, stuccoed build-
ings of very modern look lined the way, their ground floors
occupied by shops and cafes; electric double-decked tram-
cars from the metropolis whirled by every few minutes; and
throngs of hurrying vehicles and pedestrians filled the rest of
the thoroughfare.

What a contrast was this from sleepy, retired old Bergamo
on its ancient hilltop ; I felt as if I had suddenly stepped into
the modern riot of Paris or London. Led by a facchino
carrying my bag, I walked a block or two to the north, to
what I was assured was the principal albergo; though occu-
pying a new building, it proved to be in arrangements and
service in no way superior to any little inn of the most rural

11 Symonds' " Sketches and Studies in Italy."



Online LibraryEgerton R. (Egerton Ryerson) WilliamsLombard towns in Italy; or, The cities of ancient Lombardy → online text (page 7 of 47)