A. L. (Antoine Laurent) Castellan.

Letters on Italy : illustrated by engravings online

. (page 6 of 12)
Online LibraryA. L. (Antoine Laurent) CastellanLetters on Italy : illustrated by engravings → online text (page 6 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

commanded a view of all the town of Tibur and its environs,
and could easily be perceived by the inhabitants of Rome:
and even at this day, when we see, rising from the green sum-
mits of the rocks which impend above the stream, two pro-
digious ranges of arcades, built in a noble and impressive style
of architecture, we are struck with admiration of this edifice,
one of the most extraordinary relics of an age fertile in the
productions of genius and splendour.


St. Peter's — View of the Pontiff— History of Mosaic Painting —
Villas of the Italians — their Gardens — the Villa Borghese.

1.T is impossible to enter the cathedral of St. Peter without
experiencing a sentiment of respect which produces awe and
silence. This is, in fact, the first and most celebrated temple
in Christendom. It is the sanctuary of devotion, the scene of
the most solemn ceremonies. As I slowly gazed on the details
of this vast edifice,and as my thoughts were employed with equal
surprize and admiration on the astonishing objects which envi-
roned me, my attention was attracted by a scene, most simple,
yet most impressive, the lively memory of which brings it now
before my eyes. 1 saw, slowly advancing in tlie midst of a
crowd which fell prostrate at his feet, a venerable old man.
His finely shaped head was covered with white locks, and
kindness and calmness were expressed in his countenance. I
beheld the floating of his long white robe, and, though devoid
of every ornament, I recognized the sovereign Pontiff". The
deepest silence reigned around him. — Advancing alone to the
middle of the nave, he knelt down — and, prostrate on the
marble pavement, he humiliated himself before the sanctuaiy,
contbuuded and mingled with the other worshippers, I have

St. Peter' s^View of the Pontiff. 47

since seen him under a magnificent canopy, crowned with the
triple tiara, and environed with all tlie pomp of sovereignty :
but to me lie appeared far more great when, lonely, bending
over a tomb, and plunged in deep meditation, he prayed for
the peace and safety of the human race. His humility elevated
him in my eyes: he then appeared a worthy successor of
St. Peter, a fit pastor for the Christian world — his lowly atti-
tude inspired more respect in my bosom than if I had seen him
officiating at the most gorgeous ceremonies.

A picture of another kind, yet no less interesting to me, now
engaged my attention — the sublime representation of the trans-
figuration of Christ. I know not whether it was accident, or
the consequence of the ingenious mode in which this Mosaic
was placed, — but a sunbeam shed its light on the Glory, while
the rest of the composition was in a soft and harmonious demi-
tint. The appearance of this inimitable painting, for it must
be called so; the sanctity of the place; the religious silence,
succeeded by the swell of harmonious voices which rolled along
the vaulted roofs ; the whole scene ended so truly imposing,
left such traces in my mind, that I doubt whether the sublime
original* could give rise to similar sensations.

Some observations on the art of Mosaic painting will not be
impertinent in this place. This art, which consists in uniting
small pieces of various coloured marbles, so as the surface may
have the effect of a painting, was discovered by an artist, whose
industry Pliny qualifies with the term of importunum ingenium.
The invention is most probably due to the Persians, from whom
it passed to the Assyrians, and thence to the Greeks ; it was
not practised at Rome till the later years of the republic, when
works of this kind were introduced from Persia, Numidia,
Phrygia, and Egypt, and raised amongst the Romans a desire
of imitation. Accordingly, marbles were collected from various
countries, and a school of Greek artists established at Rome.
The art was at length gradually naturalized in that city, and
was carried to great perfection under the emperor Adrian, who
was much attached to it; and the relics of Mosaics, which
have been found in our time in the villa of that emperor, do
not behe the pompous descriptions which Statins has left us.

The art continued in great estpem during the two first ages
of the empire ; but under Septimus Severus, with the other
arts, it also began to decline. Still, in Italy, they worked in
Mosaic under Gallienus, Aurelian, and their successors. The
Goths, who sometimes imitated the Romans in their protection
of the fine arts, professed some esteem for Mosaic painting;

* This picture had been can:ied to Paris. The copy is in Mosaic work.

48 '. Castellan's Travels in Italy.

and Theocloric, when he became King of Italy, caused a pave-
ment to be worked at Santa Maria, in Cosmediyi, at Ravenna.
The Goths seem to me to have been unreasonably accused of
destroying- the monuments of art : that destruction should be
attributed to other causes ; but a dissertation on this subject
would detain me too long.

In the sixth century the working in Mosaic was much prac-
tised at Constantinople, and was patronized by Justinian. By
the orders of that prince, the dome of St. Sophia was orna-
mented with paintings of this kind, which were rather distin-
guished for the selection and richness of the materials, than
for the purity of the design. It was at this period that the
custom of executing paintings and Mosaics on a gold ground
was introduced, a custom continued to our days in the churches
of the modern Greeks. From the seventh to the tenth century,
the art of Mosaic painting was promoted by various pontiffs;
but, at the latter period, this, with the other arts, suffered so
much neglect, that the abbot of Monte Cassino, wishing to
have some designs executed in it, was compelled to procure
artists from Constantinople. From this period, few Mosaics
were painted in Italy till the fourteenth century, when Venice
became the true school of the art. Andrea Tafi, a Florentine,
having been instructed by Apollonius, a Greek, established a
school for Mosaic painting in Florence, in which Gaddo Gaddi^
Vicino de Pisa, and many others were instructed.

This art was in great request at Rome, under the pontificate
of Benedict XII. ; and to the talents of Giotto, aided by Simone
Memmi, and by Piero Cavallini, we owe the celebrated picture
of the bark of St. Peter agitated by the waves. Towards the
end of the fifteenth century, Ghirlandajo completed, at Flo-
rence, a magnificent Mosaic, composed of cubical pieces of
stained glass, which procured him much fame. As design
grew more perfect, the works in Mosaic became less stiff in
their contour, and the colouring was better understood. Titian
perfected the art, when he had the direction of the decoration
of St. Mark's, by causing imitations in Mosaic of his own im-
mortal paintings to be executed. Under Clement VIII. it was
determined to ornament the church of St. Peter with paintings;
and, in consequence of the humidity of the place. Mosaics were
preferred ; the ablest artists were engaged Cigoli, Passignano,
Vanni, &c. It is impossible in this place to give a detailed
account of these productions : it may be sufficient to say, that
some of the finest works of Domenichino, Guercino, and Pous-
sin, were imitated in the most durable materials. The Trans-
figuration, after Raffaelle, executed by the orders Clement XII.
is one of the most perfect specimens of the modern school of
Mosaic painting.

Mosaic Painting, 49

We shall now give a succinct idea of the mechanical part of
this art as it is practised at Rome. The fragments of marble,
coloured glass, or stones, which are made use of, vary in size.
They are square, triangular, or lozenge-shaped ; or, rather,
they take every angular form which allows of their suiting the
purposes of the artist in the contour of design, and at the same
time enables him to join them without leaving the least
interval. There are various ways of shaj)ing these fragments;
and, after they are cut into prisms or cubes, they are disposed
in order, according to the diiferent shades of colour. The
artist then selects as many of these as he imagines will furnish
him with a day's work ; and he prepares a ground of plaster,
formed of chalk and marble powder mixed with gum-adragant
and the white of eggs. The stucco thus prepared is spread
very thick on the walls, where it remains fresh and moist,
sometimes for three or four days; and it is occasionally
moistened with damp linen. The artist chalks on this plaster
the outline of his design after his sketch, then with a pair of
fine pincers he takes the small squares of glass and inserts them
in the stucco, arranging them one after another so as to give
the lights and shades and the various tints. In this he follows
the design which he has under his eye, taking care to leave no
opening between the pieces, and placing them all equal and
at the same height. At length, by continuing this process, and
polishing the surface with very fine sand and water, the artist
completes his labours.

As my object is peculiarly to recommend the application of
Mosaic work to splendid and magnificent subjects of decoration,
I shall only add, that the moderns appear to have surpassed
the ancients in this art, at least in the immense proportion of
some of their works. There is no ancient monument of this
kind which can be compared in richness to the church of
St. Peter, where twelve or fifteen of these large comj)ositions
which I have mentioned may be seen. The vast cupola and
the lantern are also magnificently ornamented with Mosaics.

There is also another process, derived, no doubt, from the
same idea of durability; the origin and history of which are
curious and little known. I mean the terra invetriata awl the
majolica^ which have given I'ise to the painting on enamel and
porcelain, and perhaps also to the staining of glass. But
enough at present of the arts.

Rome presents so many interesting objects to the traveller,
that an age would be necessary to see and describe them. The
Vatican alone would fill volumes. I find myself unable to dwell
for a long time together on the same object. Notw ii-
standiug \vinter, the country offers many charms ; and tl te

Voyages and Travels, No, 5, Vol. III. H

5Q Castellan's Travels in Italy.

are most delightful when, surrounded by hills whose summits
are white with snows, we breathe all the sweetness of the
spring-tide ; and, though the verdure be less fresh than at that
beautiful season, we scarce lack anything of the charms of the


Yet ' it was with regret that I turned from the magnificent
galleries, even though it was to wander in the laurel shades of
the Villa Medicis, or under the verdant chesnut trees and pines
of the Boro-hese garden?. These delicious spots where Nature
and Art have united to produce beauty, are my delight. — There
I read I draw, and I meditate; and, although alone, [ am
never tired of my occupation. — There I never experience
either the wild elevation of joy, nor the dejection of deep sor-
row ; but that peaceable contentment of soul, arising from the
calmness of the passions, and the absence of worldly business,
which permits me to give myself up to the sweet and tranquil
pleasures which a liberal cultivation of the arts induces.

The name of Villa, which the French, by a periphrasis, trans-
late maison de plaisance, awakens in the mind ideas of peace,
grandeur, prosperity, and pleasure. In fact, these little palaces,
built in picturesque situations, can only be inhabited with ease
and security in nations where the country is peaceable and
the towns flourishing. Thus amongst the ancient Greeks, who
were always at war with one another, and perpetually menaced
with foreign incursions, the husbandmen were forced to shut
themselves up in the cities, seeking within their walls a shelter
for their fortunes, their liberty, and their lives, and edifices of
this kind werejcompletely unknown. It was the same among the
Romans, till the time of Augustus, when that powerfid people
had repelled the waves of war from their shores. Then the
plain of Rome, the borders of Campania, and the margins of
the lakes of Lombardy, became covered with those charming
habitations which, for a jjart of the year, aftbrded a retreat to
the illustrious Romans. This luxury was carried to such an
excess, that the Ciceros, the Mecsenases, and the Plinies, could
travel over almost the whole of Italy, from the capital to the
confines of Apulia, without, as it were, quitting their own pro-
perty ; for, during the whole route, they rested at their own
villas or houses, which supplied them and their suite,
frequently very numerous, with every thing which was either
necessary or agreeable. In fact, these journeys, where every
thing which pride or luxury could require was found, were
converted into parties of pleasure.

Amongst the moderns none but sovereigns can travel in this
; le. One is surprised to think how a simple Roman knight
rpassed in this respect some of the greatest monarchs of
ntiquity, and even many of the sovereigns of our o\vn day.

Italian Gardens. 81

The wars, of which Italy became the theatre, during- the
convulsions of the Lower Emph-e, soon swept away these de-
licious villas of which scarce anything but disfigured ruins
remained; and it was not till the epoch of the restoration of
the arts and of peace that great men began to imitate in the
disposition of their villas the example of the ancients. In this
the French were very late, and it was not till the age of
Louis XIV. that we saw any royal edifices, or castles, worthy
of the name.

The villas of the Italians have served as a model for all
Europe. Celebrated by poets, and admired by travellers, they
well deserve a faithful graphic representation: and yet to this
day there is scarcely a single work which gives a tolerable idea
of these edifices.

Disposed in the best manner for effect, the builders have
taken advantage, with admirable address, of the nature of the
situation, and the position in which frequently they have been
obhged to build; their gardens, above all, have a fairy- like
appearance which is rarely found elsewhere, and which re-
sults less fi-om the wildness v/ith which they affect to imitate
nature, than from a sort of regularity which harmonises with
the decorations and the architectural effect. The gardens of
the Tuilleries perhaps convey the best idea of their Italian

It may perhaps appear extraordinary, that, in a country
which naturally presents svich a variety of beautiful walks,
the forms of regular gardens should have been adopted ; but
this surprise will probably cease when we reflect, that all
these natural beauties are the property of every peasant who
can feast his eyes on the variety of woods, and hills, and
brooks, and cottages, and ruins, which form the elements of
English gardening. But this prospect, which is so common
in Italy, on that very account possesses no attractions for the
great and the rich ; they esteem it necessaiy that nature
should present to their eyes a new, an imposing, and a singular
appearance. Thus they plant in lines, and trail their trees
in a thousand different forms; they imprison their streams
in narrow channels, force them to spout into the air, and to
fall down precipices in symmetric cascades.

In this the modern Italians only follow the example of their
ancestors ; the art was restored by the Medici, as favourable
to the decoration of the brilliant fetes with which they wished
to amuse their fellow-citizens; in their sumpcuous gardens
nature was subjected to the rules of art ; the brilliant fictions
of the poets were realised, and every sense, flattered and de-
lighted, held the imagination in continued enchantment.

52 Castellan's Travels in Italy >

It may be objected, it is true, that all these effects are false
and that nature here is entirely factitious; that the long
wedge-shaped alleys, the forced fountains, the well-assorted
flowers enclosed in regular compartments, and all these ob-
jects so symmetrically repeated, only fatigue by their length,
and speak little to the mind, and still less to the heart ; but,
in fact, the only object is to amuse the senses, to excite asto-
nii^hment and admiration, and to make a royal habitation har-
monize with the pomp and splendour of a court; and this is
besides the true mode of laying out a public garden, where
people walk less for the sake of solitude, than for the purpose
of meeting pleasing society, and where it is so frequently the
object of every one to shine.

The citizen, to be sure, fatigued with town-pleasures, may
convert his little garden to the English model ; he may make
mountains scarce comparable to American ant-hills; vallies a
few feet long; and he may now and then pump a respectable
stream which shall fio%y a full quarter of an hour.

The passionate lovers of the true beauties of nature, will
pardon these observations on the contemptible imitations
which outrage their model, and will prefer in many situations
the monotonous uniformity of our old French gardens, to
those which are laid out in what is called the English
style ; it is true, that very regular plantations are far from
pleasing ; the Italians have perceived this, and they have
stopped at a point Avhen the deformity becomes monstrous.
It is a correct remark, that the gardens of Italy present all
the variety and picturesque efiect of modern gardens, without
any of their monotony or puerile simplicity ; they are planted
regularly round the houses, and, by a skilfully managed pro-
gression as they recede, they mingle with the sylvan appear-
ance of the country ; they do not, as amongst us, endeavour
to make a fine situation of a garden ; but they make the gar-
den in a fine situation ; art follows nature, and does not strive
to create it ; even in the least thing, the traces of genius, the
refinement «f good taste, and the decorum of art, are percep-
tible in this country. Frequently we see architecture, sculp-
ture, and painting, all directed by one mind, often executed
by the same hand, concurring to produce a general effect, and
by their perfect harmony a most delightful agreement of parts.
In fact, these gardens give the best idea of the boasted villas
of the ancients, and nothing probably better resembles the
habitations of LucuUus, the gardens of Sallust, and the re-
treats of Cicero and of Pliny, than the Ville Aibani, Panfili,
Aldobrandini. and Borghese ; the latter more especially, which
is the constaat boundary of my walks, well supplies the place

Italian Gardens. 53

of the villa of Porapey the Great, which was situated in this
place, and which that celebrated general bought in the year
of Rome 692, under the name of his freedman Demetrius
Liberius, with the produce of the riches which he had ac-
quired in his wars with the Armenians, the Parthians, and the
Assyrians, and in his triumph over Mithridates.

This vast piece of land, which extended over all Mount Pin-
cius, contained large gardens of unequal ground, ornamented
with fountains and other superb buildings : though now of
less extent, it contains nearly as many objects of curiosity as
formerly. The mode in which they are distributed is full of
taste, and might serve for a model.

The inequality of the land is taken advantage of in order
to produce the most extraordinary effects, one of which sur-
prises the beholder the more as it is rarely met with ; it is a
lake suspended, as it were, on the summit of a mountain : the
waters are carried there at a great expense, but then they
give life to these beautiful gardens. They rush from the top of
a rock filling the urns of many sculptured nymphs, and at
last, flowing round a temple consecrated to Esculapius, this
irregular lake is surrounded by magnificent trees, such as
chesnut trees, laurels, weeping-willows, and also with fragrant
shrubs, the trembling and dome-shaped foliage of which is
reflected in the waters which it darkens.

During those beautiful nights, the calmness and freshness of
which are so much prized in Italy, this temple and these
cascades are sometimes illuminated in an ingenious and pleas-
ing manner. Elegant boats shoot along the boj'ders of the
lake, or linger under the flowery bowers ; bands of musicians,
distributed here and there, make the scene echo with the sub-
lime notes of Paesiello and of Cimorosa, while select com-
panies wander amid the enchanting arbours, or form them-
selves into parties for dancing.

These beautiful gardens in every part offer some object of
interest ; little edifices appropriated to various uses are scat-
tered throughout — here rises a chapel in the middle of a
quincunx ; there extend the ruins of a Grecian temple sur-
rounded with laurels ; farther on there rose a vast Hippodrome,
used for equestrian exercises and races. In a retired valley,
the arid sides of which are covered with immense pines, an
old embattled castle bursts upon the view, and herds of deer
may be seen wandering along the sylvan shades ; fragments
of antiquity, statues, monuments, and bas-reliefs, which have
not been fortunate enough to find a place in the palace, nor
in the museum which has been recently constructed, are
tastefully distributed along the walls, along the paths, and in
the arbours.

54 Castellan's Travels in Italy.

The Princes of Italy do indeed thus make a noble use of
their riches; in other respects they live in a veiy simple
manner, and they seem only to exist for the arts ; in labouring
for them they effectually extend the glory of their country,
and contribute to render it worthy the homage of men of
taste of every country.


Journey from Rome to Florence — Remarks on the two cities —
TJie Carnival — The Stanza and Cazina.

ill Y journey was so rapid from Rome to Florence, that I
shall not permit myself to describe a country which I travelled
over without stopping; yet, in spite of the speed with which I
travelled, I could not help remarking the great contrast be-
tween the states of the church, and the grand duchy of Tus-
cany : it appeared to me so striking, that I could scarcely be-
lieve it was the effect of prejudice.

When two states are separated by an arm of the sea, by a
river or by a chain of mountains, the communication between
the inhabitants becomes difficult, and a distinction in manners
and character and habits ensues ; but here the line of demar-
cation is in fact only ideal : the nature of the land is indeed the
same, but every thing else, even to the physiognomy of the
people, is different. The Romans have a taciturn and almost
savage air among the lower orders ; 1 frequently remarked
figures, which always enveloped in their mantles, and eye-
ing you with a scrutinizing look, appeared as if they were
meditating some act of vengeance, and we might feel uneasy
if we were not aware that these people all this time are ab-
solutely thinking of nothing, and only in their own way en-
joying their benedetto far niente ; this, when continued, is un-
doubtedly a state of ennui, and gives to their features an ex-
pression which becomes frightful from its immobility.

The plains of Rome, and here there is no illusion, are badly
cultivated j the villages are miserable, and the country, almost

Remarlcs on Rome and Florence. 55

a desert, presents moors and heaths over which the traveller
passes with reluctance. The towns, filled with monks rather
than with citizens, seem the asylum of sloth. Such is the pic-
ture which all this territory, even to its frontier, presents !
But on entering the bounds of Tuscany every thing changes,
even to the countenances of the inhabitants, which seem full of
contentment and benevolence. Their rural cottages, adapted
to all the necessities of agriculture, are well built; their fields,
skilfully cultivated, bear good crops; for Nature, avaricious
only towards the idle, always recompenses industry and labour
with treasures, the sources of prosperity and pleasure. 1 shall
pursue no farther a comparison which may be injurious, and,
perhaps, unjust, to one of these governments. I content
myself with pointing out the difference without seeking for
the cause. Perhaps I have overcharged |the painting, but
carefiil observation will be found to fortify my opinion.

It is very rare at Rome to find a meeting of a few individuals
which is not disturbed by a quarrel, often terminating with the

At Florence, on the contrary, on occasion of their many
ceremonies and public fetes, frequently the largest crowds as-
semble peaceably : on the festival of tlie Assumption, especially,

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryA. L. (Antoine Laurent) CastellanLetters on Italy : illustrated by engravings → online text (page 6 of 12)