A. L. (Antoine Laurent) Castellan.

Letters on Italy : illustrated by engravings online

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me quickly, that he did not sell them retail, but in baskets
full. " Cannot you, at least," said I, " permit me to select a
few for my refreshment ?" at the same time shewing him a
piece of silver. " Hold your hat," he answered, " and you
shall have the best." He filled it in spite of me, although I
told him I had more than enough, and that the rest would be
all wasted. " I must give you the worth of your silver," said
he, still showering them down. The conscience of this man
was inexorable, and the fruit being very abundant and cheap,
I should have been overloaded if I had allowed him.

After making a delicious repast, for the young girl offered
me a piece of a thin light cake Avhich she had kneaded her-
self, I began to think of returning to Fiesole, and inquired
the way of my friend. " You are far enough off," said the
villager, " and you had better go to Pratolino, which is in the
neighbourhood ; the agent will show you all sorts of hospitality
in the name of our dear Archduke." Delighted with the ac-
cident which had conducted me to a place I had so great
a desire to visit, I followed his advice, and my conductor

84 Castellan's Travels in Italy.

^.-continued to talk in the florid language of Tuscany. " Do

you see that mountain shaded by the great chesnut trees, and

in the midst of that green spot, the burning windows of that

old edifice ? Go along this side, leave the house on your left,

and you will see a pathway where the fountain throws up its

c sparkling waters, and rolls away along the green-sward; then

follow^ the windiil^s of the stream, and it will serve you as a

guide through the leafy darkness; when you come to the

meadow you may take your time, for you will soon reach the

gardens of Pratolino ; you Avill have no longer need to follow

the banks of the stream, for you will see on a hill-side the

bouse of the agent. A ])leasant walk to you," said he, " good

X bye — may the Avoods afford you a pleasant shelter — may the

winds refresh you, and the benediction of a poor man procure

you peaceful slumbers." The young girl seconded the good

^.wishes of her father by a gentle sigh, and a graceflil court-


I gaily resumed my way, well refreshed and well directed,
yet not Avithout frequently turning my head to look back at
the beautiful Italian, Avho called out, "Don't lose sight of
the ruins, the fountain by the side, and the stream that mur-
murs over the turf." These sweet Avords, repeated by the
echo, died in murmurs on my ear, till I could no longer per-
ceive the fair villager or her father, AA'hom the foliage of the
wood hid from my vIcaa^, nor even the clump of cheny-trees
to which I OAved so much.

At the entrance of the Avood I met a man AA^ho offered to
conduct me to the factory, Avhither he Avas going himself;
the kindness and politeness of the inhabitants of these regions
assured me of a pleasant reception at Pratolino. I met with
marvel after marvel ; for, after pursuing a Aery uncA'en path,
through AAhich my conductor guided me, forcAvarning me
against making false steps over the more unequal parts, I Avas
absolutely overwhelmed Avith astonishment, Avhen on arriving
at my destination I found that the guide to whom I had en-
trusted myself, was blind ! He Avas, indeed, a man of great
intelligence; the acuteness of some of his faculties had been
carried to such perfection, that lie manufactured a number of
A^ery delicate mechanical instruments, and, in fact, became
clock-maker to all the neighbourhood.

The little adA^entures of the day gained me a very gracious
. reception from the agent and his agreeable family ; they com-
^.■^ pelled me to partake of the supper to Aviiich they \A^ere just
'^^''sitting doAvn, and aa^c deferred till to-morroAv exploring the
^''retreat of Bianca Capello, the enchanting habitation of a new
"^ '^Armida. .

Pratolino-^Bianca Capello» 85

Erected in the sixteenth century under the directions of
one of the Medici, the Villa real di Praiolino united all the
grandeur, beauty, riches, and ingenuity, which that remark-
able age could furnish ; and although now only the shade of
what it was, it still preserves so many charms, and recalls
such memories, that a description of it cannot but possess
considerable interest.

In 1569, Francesco, the son of Cosmo de Medici, wishing
to possess an agreeable retreat in the country bought a vast
tract of land, situated six miles from Florence, on the shelving
side of Monte Morello ; it was a savage, rough spot, covered
with wood, and irrigated with numerous streams ; the air
was fresh and healthy, and although this valley was but a few
miles from the capital of Tuscany it was uninhabited. It ap-
peared consecrated to mystery and silence, yet it was destined
to become the secret asylum of beauty, of that Bianca Ca-
pello, whose singular history presents a striking example of
the vicissitudes of fortune, and of the terrible changes which
wait on the votaries of love and ambition.

Francesco de Medici, like the generality of Princes, had
married from motives of policy ; his wife was a Princess of the
House of Austria, more virtuous than amiable, and better
fitted to inspire respect than love. The young Prince only
beheld in this union a golden chain, the weight of which he
attempted to alleviate, by giving himself up to his taste for
the fine arts, but from which he was too well disposed to dis-
embarrass himself.

In the mean while, Bianca, the daughter of Bartolomeo
Capello, a noble Venetian, arrived at Florence, already known
by her beauty, her weakness, and her misfortunes ; she had
fled from her own country, and now sought protection from
the Prince of Tuscany. A young man of no fortune, but ac-
complished and beautiful as herself, had carried her off from
the bosom of her family : the Capellos denounced him to the
Council of Ten, and he was condemned to die. This fair and
unfortunate pair found an asylum in the Court of Florence,
where the adventures of the beautiful Venetian awakened the
curiosity and compassion of Prince Francesco : the latter feel-
ing was nearly allied to love, and the husband of Bianca hav-
ing been assassinated by his enemies, the passion of the Prince
became unbounded ; it would indeed have been difficult to
break the charm, for Bianca, to her natural attraction, joined
artifices which could not fail to ensure her a triumph ; in
turn she played off all the vivacity of her wit, her attractions,
her graces, and even her caprices, to amuse the melancholy
humour of her lover: in this manner she became necessary

86 Castellan' sTravels in Italy.

to him, making him forget his domestic grievances, and
neglect his affairs — love had tied the knot, habit confirmed it,
and each day drew it still closer.

To enjoy less disturbance Francesco had resolved to retire
with his mistress to the solitude of Pratolino. He entrusted
to an ingenious artist, of the name of Buontalenti, the duty of
embellishing the scene of his retirement. A magnificent palace
and superb gardens appeared, changing this savage spot into
the most enchanting residence. Here was assembled a
brilliant court of which Bianca became the sovereign. The
Grand Duke's love knew no bounds; every thing y^^as lavished
on the objeot of his attachment. She was the aim of all
pleasures, the idol of all homage. The great nobility of the
state, the ministers, the courtiers, were all of them at her feet,
and she alone dispensed places and favours, while the Grand
Duchess could scarcely obtain those common marks of respect
which were due to her rank. The chagrin which she ex-
perienced from the constantly increasing triumphs of her rival,
and the weakness of her health, were too much for her to
resist, and she died in giving birth to a dead child. The Grand
Duke shed many sincere tears 5 he reproached himself as the
cause of this calamitous accident, and he fled at last from his
palace suffering all the agonies of remorse. He wandered
about for some time in the most solitary places of Tuscany,
avoiding sedulously the presence of his seducer. He was
weak, however, and his resolutions were soon forgotten ; re-
tirement, public opinion, nothing could withhold him, and he
again delivered himself up to the undisturbed indulgence of
his passion.

Bianca, during the life of her husband, had made the Grand
Duke swear on a consecrated image that she should be his
princess, should they both become free. Weak promise ! Yet the
madness which had dictated it still continued. The daughter
of the Capellos usurped the place of Jane of Austria. The
marriage, which was solemnized secretly, Avas not made
public until after the appointed time of mourning had expired.
The new sovereign princess was then adopted by the republic
of Venice, and declared a true and peculiar daughter of
St. Mark ; and as she did not appear to be inferior to two other
daughters of the saint, one of whom had been married to the
king of Hungary, and the other to the king of Cyprus, the
republic decreed to her the royal crown. This ceremony, at
which a deputation of Venetian senators assisted, was one of
the most brilliant which had ever been seen. Balis, carousals,
tournays, vcUegiature, or rural parties, bull-fights, and encoun-
ters of wild beasts followed one another without cessation.

Death of Francesco de Medici and Bianca Capello. 87

The Grand Duke, fatigued with the affairs of govern-
ment retired ag-ain to Pratolino, where he was reposing
in the bosom of pleasure, when his son died, the only fruit of
his former marriage, and the heir of the family of Medici. He
might perhaps have fovmd consolation beneath this infliction,
had he had any expectation of a family by Bianca, but of this
he now despaired, and, not having adopted the son which she
had borne him before their marriage, he fell into a state of

Inclosed in his retreat, far from the palace, which only re-
called the memory of his son, and from the city, the inhabitants
of which he had alienated from his authority, invisible to his
people, and rarely seeing even his minister, he had no other
consolation than the company of tlie Grand Duchess. Solitude^
luxury, and the want of occupation, inflamed his passions and
placed him completely in the power of this woman, to whom
all the calamities which Tuscany at this period suffered were
attributed. Hatred, however, v/as changed into pity, when
the calamity was known which terminated at once her existence
and that of her husband.

The circumstances of this affair do not appear to have oc-
curred in the common course of things : the causes and the
details of it are alike unknown, and they have been differently
explained. Those who love the marvellous have collected a
thousand fables more or less absurd on the subject; others
have alleged poison as the instrument; but the problem still
remains to be solved.

Whatever the real facts may have been, it is known that the
Cardinal de Medici had always been the enemy of Bianca
Capello, and that he never pardoned his brother for forming
this degrading alliance. Some pretend to say that the Grand
Duchess, who had resolved to avenge herself, seized the oppor-
tunity of the Cardinal's visiting her in the absence of her hus-
band. She prepared for her brother-in-law some pastry, which
she knew was very agreeable to his palate ; in this a subtle
poison had been mingled: the Grand Duke, returning from the
chace, and hungry from exercise, unluckily found this poisoned
meat and ate a large quantity of it. Bianca hearing the in-
telligence, and desperate at the idea of having poisoned her
husband, resolved to share his fate, and the poison in both
instances taking effect at the same moment, they both expired
in inexpressible tortures, Avithout the Cardinal permitting any
one, as it is said, to afford them succour, which circumstance
has made him pass as the author of this calamity. , ,,

One of the historians of the Medici, Galuzzi, has endeavoured
to prove the incorrectness of this account. He confesses.

98^ Castellan's Travels in Italy,

however, that the Cardinal de Medici, who under the name of
Ferdinand succeeded his brother, persecuted Bianca even after
her life had expiated her crime, and sought even to extinguish
the remembrance of her. In fact, he ordered the body of this
unfortunate creature to be conveyed to the common cemeter)'^,
where she was confounded with all the ignoble dead; and
soon afterwards he ordered the arms of the Capellos to be ob-
literated from all the public edifices where they had been
quartered with those of the Medici, and he substituted in their
place the bearings of Jane of Austria.

Don Antonio, whom Francesco had recognised as his natural
son, had resolved, if possible, to establish a right to the crown ;
but the Cardinal Ferdinand gave him to understand that unless
he contented himself with his station and quality of prince,
he would declare him to be the son of a locksmith, who, as he
asserted, was his real father. Don Antonio, who had much
good sense, acceded to the determination of the Grand Duke,
and was made a Knight of Malta, Grand Prior of Pisa, and
Lord of Capestrano. He lived in the royal edifice in the
gardens of the Medici, where Lorenzo the Magnificent had
established his school of Arts. This prince, in imitation of
Francesco, devoted himself to the studies of the occult sciences.
He also established a printing-press at that place.

The morals of Francesco had a great influence over those
of the age. His weakness towards Bianca was productive of
great evils. Every body and every thing in the state had been
rendered subservient to the caprices of this woman. She
made offices venal, justice arbitrary, and ministers servile, and
the prince himself became a passive instniment in her hands
which she wielded at will. The court of Florence, the richest
and most polished one in Europe, was a model to the princes
who sought to imitate the Grand Duke in his taste for magni-
ficence and pleasure. Gallantry became a fashion which spread
abroad the most scandalous consequences, divisions in families,
and private animosities. But of all its evil effects the most
deadly was that relaxation of morals which is even now tole-
rated, which gained ground and influence insensibly, and
which has served succeeding ages as a model and an excuse.

On the other hand, the taste of this prince for the arts, and the
encouragement which he lavished on artists, instead of giving
genius an impelling motion, seemed only to extinguish or to
enervate it. It almost makes one think that the arts are the
children of Luxury, who, like Satuni, ends by devouring his

The reign of Francesco de Medici, though favourable to
the fortunes of artists, prevented them from making any

Pratolino. ^^

nearer approaches towards perfection. This honorable career
became the path of ambition, and the productions of art be-
came the furniture of the auctioneer's sale-room. Taste in-
deed was becoming more general. Festivals and spectacles
became, as it were, essential to the happiness of every rank.
The liveliest emulation reigned in every class of society, and on
all sides arose the most gorgeous monuments. This species of
luxury was in the highest vogue amongst the rich and powerful
princes of Italy. Francesco, however, piqued himself on sur-
passing all the others. He boasted particularly of his archi-
tectural talents, and he used to display to his inquisitive guests
the palace of Pratolino as the work of his own invention.

But the glory of the Medicean age was about to set for ever.
The splendid light which had illuminated Europe began now
to fade in the dearth of aliment. The dispersion of the school
of RafFaele, and above all, the death of Michael Angelo, had
left a void which it M^as impossible to supply. Nevertheless
the arts still flourished in appearance ; there was no want of
ready and amiable talent; luxury, gallantly, pleasure, still"
inspired the hand of the artist — the master-age was pa?*


Description of the Palace and Gardens of Pratolino.

i\MONGST the numerous and magnificent palaces of the
sovereigns of Tuscany, that of Pratolino is acknowledged to
be most worthy of the traveller's attention. The hand of na-
ture had prepared the elements, that of the artist had only to
reduce them to shape and symmetry. The forests which co-
vered the ground, needed only the axe in certain parts, or to
be formed in others into avenues. The thick tufts of trees,
when pierced by winding path-ways, were transformed into
retired asylums and inextricable labyrinths. On all sides foun-
tains sparkled up which did not demand the human hand to
guide them. Their waters were either collected in vast basins,
or flowed through channels open to the air, or forcing their
way through canals from which they sprung in jets, they then
fell in cascades, carrying along into every part their freshness
and the gentle murmur of their motion.

These woods composed of firs, laurels, and other ever-green
trees, seemed the asylum of perpetual spring. To provide for
the pleasures of the chace and angling, the park was stocked

Voyages and Travbls, No, 5, Vol, JII, N

90 Castellan's Travels in Italy,

with wild animals, and the waters were filled with fish of every
species. The gardens were under the management of expe-
rienced gardeners, who transplanted thither the rarest trees
and flowers, and brought to perfection the fruits of all nations.
In short this retreat called to mind the delicious abodes which
the voluptuous emperors of Rome retired to, in pursuance of
the counsels of Epicurus, to lay down the purple and to crown
themselves with the roses of pleasure.

The presiding idea of him who constructed the palace,
seems to have been to form an abode of mystery. In fact,
travellers pass by the route of Bologna, only a short distance
from Pratolino, without the least suspicion that the forest
which they behold, contains a royal mansion — not a single
avenue announces it. A single, narrow, unequal way leads to
a square in the centre of the park where the house is situated,
in such a manner as not to be seen until you arrive before it.
This vast court is surrounded by a railing supported and united
by pilasters of the rustic Tuscan order. On the left side, in
front of the palace, and beyond the trellis-work, there is a
large tract of ground covered with trees, at the extremity of
which, the colossal statue of the Apennines rises in majesty.

There is an air of grandeur in the general disposal of the
palace and the objects which surround it, but the plan of the
building, and its exterior decorations, are not conformable.
The architecture has been praised on account of the numerous
apartments being lighted without the aid of interior courts;
In the building is contained a handsome theatre. Several
organs, distributed in different apartments, and played by
means of water, produce the effect of a great number of dif-
ferent instniments, and give the hearer a good idea of the style
of music of the sixteenth century. We shall give a more de-
tailed account of the grottos, which have frequently served as
models for things of this kind.

A person must have resided in Italy, or in some other
torrid climate, to be able to appreciate the delight which the
shade, the murmurs, and the flowing of waters can procure.
There the rich find the means of cheating nature, and provide
retreats into which they may retire from the fer\' ors of summer.
The aphorism of Rousseau, which at first appears like a pa-
radox, is founded in the strictest truth, that cold is best pre-
served in hot countries. There the houses are constructed on
a plan adapted to the climate. The walls are very thick, the
windows fcAV and narrow. Every advantage is taken of a
current of air when it can be procured; living waters distri-
bute in each apartment a reviving freshness by their moist
evaporations, and as a last combination of all that is cool.

Pratolino. 91

they imitate nature in the formation of artificial grottos, which
abound with all the advantages which such places afford.
— They cover them with stalactites, shells, and marine pro-
ductions; and they thither lead numerous springs, which mur-
mur or leap through those subterraneous abodes. But, in spite
of all they can do, they only obtain at last, with great cost, a
feeble imitation of the marvels which Nature has produced
"without effort.

The grottos of Pratolino are situated in that part which is
exposed to the south. They occupy the level ground beneath
the terrace which surrounds the castle, and serves it as a base.
You descend by a double staircase, in the form of a horse-shoe,
to an esplanade in front of the grottos, which forms a second
terrace lower than the first. On the side of the gardens it is
cut off precipitately, on account of the declivity of the ground,
but the lateral extremities are on a level with the grass plot.

The distribution of the grottos, although they are unequal
in size and grandeur, is remarkable for the advantages which
have been taken of the situation in which they have been con-
structed. They are all of them vaulted, and rest on beautiful
columns of marble. One certainly cannot too much admire
the brilliancy of the interior decoration, which is nearly the
same through them all. The walls and the vaulted roofs are
ornamented with stalactites, madrepores, marine plants, corals,
shells, and mother-of-pearl; and all those objects are mingled
with paintings in Mosaic. Everywhere one sees statues of
marble or of bronze, which cast streams of water into basins of
marble or of gilded lead. These waters, by secret passages,
flow beneath the pavement, and escape into the gardens, where
they are again applied to a thousand different purposes.

Amongst the statues, many are to be attributed to celebrated
artists, and are no less remarkable for their composition than
tbeir execution. The most beautiful have been transported to
Florence ; yet, notwithstanding, there are several left worthy
of observation.

The Grotto of the Deluge is the first the stranger arrives at :
it is so called from the quantity of water which flows in it, not
only from the ceiling, but from the walls, and even from the
pavement. When you enter it, you are completely in the
power of the fountain players, who can inundate you without
the possibility of your avoiding it, for the fountains bar the
passage, and even reach you on the esplanade ; the pavement
of which, constructed like that of the grotto — of small round
stones of various colours, and arranged in compartments, so as
imitate Mosaic work, is pierced by innumerable holes, through
which a multitude of little spouts of water issue. .„„,„.

92 Castellan's Travelsjn Italy,

It may be added, that we may not have again to return to
this subject, that every sort of surprise, and all arts of deceit,
are used to entrap the curious. — Sometimes the commodious
seats which invite them to repose themselves break with their
weight, and duck them in an unexpected bath : — sometimes
a ladder is placed as if it led to some curious object, but
scarcely have you placed your foot on the first step, when a
catch goes off, and unmasks a fountain, which rushes direct
into your face : — sometimes, M'hen you are least expecting it,
a marine monster, or some other strange figure, rises, — rolls
its eyes on you, opens its mouth, and covers you with a flood
of water.

In a colder climate this sort of amusement would prove
somewhat inconvenient. It is, however, foreseen ; no one is
exposed to it against his will, and you may avoid it by proper

The Grotto of the Samaritan is one of the most curious,
from the numerous mechanical inventions of Buontalenti,
which force the water into action. There is a sort of theatre,
in which several complicated movements successively take
place. The cave represents a hamlet composed of huts inter-
mingled with trees. — The door of a house opens, and a beauti-
ful village girl comes out, carrying a vase, and approaches one
of the fountains to draw water.— Her movements are veiy
natural, and her body possesses a kind of suppleness and grace.
She arrives at the fountain, fills her vase with water, places it
again on her head, and returns towards the cottage; not,
however, without frequently turning round her head to gaze
at a shepherd seated near, who seems to admire her, and who
attempts to prevail on her to stay and listen to his music. On
the sides of the theatre, a blacksmith opens his shop, and is

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Online LibraryA. L. (Antoine Laurent) CastellanLetters on Italy : illustrated by engravings → online text (page 10 of 12)