A. L. (Antoine Laurent) Castellan.

Letters on Italy : illustrated by engravings online

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the inhabitants of Florence and its environs assemble early in
the morning in the vast and delicious walks of the Casinos, on
the borders of the Arno. There all ranks are mingled and
confounded by pleasure: the day is passed in joy; the air re-
sounds with songs, and with the sounds of the musical instru-
ments which animate the steps of the dancers ; '^and in the
shade of the pines and chesnut-trees small parties seat them-
selves on the turf to enjoy a rural repast.

The festival frequently extends far into the night, but there
is not a single instance of a quarrel attended with bloodshed ;
and yet there are more than twenty thousand persons collected
and enclosed in one place : — this made me love the Tuscans.

Rome and Florence present in their aj)pearance the same
contrast which we have remarked between the two states, and
they are in many respects opposed to each other.

At Rome, the mingling of modern edifices with the ruins of
those of the republic of the Caesars forms an interesting picture
for the artist and the historian : yet this conftision of all the
styles of architecture takes away from the modern city, which
is grafted as it were on the ancient town, every peculiar and
national character. On the contrary, the capital of Tuscany,
possessing no antique monuments, presents the appearance of
a town constructed at the same epoch and in the same style.
That of the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries still predominates^

56 Castellan's Travels in Italy.

and if the Florentine costume did not so much resemble our
own we might think we were still living in the noble age of
the Medici. The ancient monuments of Rome do not produce
this illusion : few of chem are preserved entire, and those which
are, are converted to modern uses, which has despoiled of their
enchantment these venerable relics.

The magnificent portal of the Pantheon would present to the
mind the temple consecrated by Agrippa, %vere it not for the
modern clocks which shew it is converted into a church. Its
interior more especially has preserved nothing of its ancient
decoration ; and the contrast on entering it is the same which
we meet with in buildings the exterior of which displays rustic
simplicity, while within we find saloons ornamented with all
that luxury can bestow.

The arches and triumphal columns have veiy little effect,
surrounded as they are with miserable houses, or buildings in
a modern and frequently extravagant taste : the other remains
of antiquity offer nothing but foundations or naked walls.
The imagination with difficulty views them in their pristine
state. In order effectually to recal the feeling of antiquity,
nothing should remind you of the present; and these reveries,
])roduced by the enthusiasm so common to artists, ought to en-
joy retirement and solitude. The appearance of the Roman
ruins rarely procured me this delight, which I felt in all its
plenitude as I traversed the deserted streets of Pompeii.

If in Rome the mixture of antient and modern recollections
repels the imagination, which only acts to be deceived, this is
by no mea:;»s the case at Florence. It is true the epoch which
is there recalled is neither so ancient nor so interesting, — but
the mind recurs with less effort to the age of the Medici than
to that of Augustus.

On approaching Florence the eye discovers the same walls,
flanked with picturesque towers, which surrounded the city in
the fifteenth century, and against AA'hich the Pisans and the
Siennese so frequently spent their efforts in vain. All the
monuments which rise so proudly, those immense domes, the
embattled palaces, which resemble fortified castles, the chapels
enriched with pious offerings, the handsome streets paved in
tbe ancient style, the flowers which hang in festoons from one
palace' to another, Avhich crown the walls and the summit
of the towers, seeming by their abundance to have given its
name to the city, all recal the age when Florence, free, or
voluntarily submitting herself to the rule of her illustrious
children the Medici, dealt out to the rest of Italy science,
politeness, taste, and magnificence.

Let us enter the ancient public square ; — let us survey this'"'

The Carnival. 67

palace, loaded with escutcheons of old families; — let us
rest under this logge, ornamented like the square with the
works of Donatello, of Michael Angelo, and of Giovanni di
Bologna: but the imagination cannot conjure up the glorious
men of time, who in this place, presided by their magis-
trates, distributing rewards to merit, decreeing peace or war,
and ruling the affairs of the state.

The pleasures of the carnival broke in upon my researches
into the monuments of Florence ; but it will furnish me with
some shades of habits and manners which I should not have
been able to catch at any other season. It really seems that
one forms a worse judgment (though the assertion may seem
paradoxical) of the human character in society when the true
sentiments of the mind are dissembled under false colours,
than when under the mask of folly they make themselves
amends for the habitual restraint in which the rules of society
hold them, well assured that they are less likely to be recog-
nised in proportion as they act with the freedom of unassumed

In some of the towns of Italy the period of the carnival is
a time of riot and sanguinary quarrels. It is here charac-
terised by a bustling joy and lively pleasure, yet tempered by
the politeness and natural suavity of the inhabitants. In these
public festivals the population for twenty leagues round are
collected without the least trouble or accident. The carnival
frequently lasts the whole season, that is, the three winter
months. This is the only period of the year when the theatres
are open at Rome. But at Florence two of them do not close
all the year, those of Pergola and Cocomero. During the car-
nival others are opened, in which a variety of pieces are per-
formed. Besides this the squares and the streets are filled with
rope-dancers and pantomimic performers of every kind, and
winter wears away in a round of amusements in which all

I shall not give a long list of all the particulars which com-
pose the character of this carnival, as it resembles in many
respects similar festivals in other cities. I shall only relate
what seemed to me peculiar to Florence; the description of
one day alone will be sufficient.

The carnival opens with the procession of the Befana, in the
midst of torches and Avith the noise of horns and drums
mingling with the noisy gaiety of the people. In the midst
appears a ludicrous colossal figure representing a woman, or
rather a sorceress, cloathed in flowing garments. The move-
ments of the figure are directed by a man who is not seen

Voyages and Travels, No. 6, Vol. IIL I

5S Castellan's Travels in Italy.

himself. As it traverses the streets it turns on every side to
terrify the children, Avhich it attacks even in the second storj'.
The enormous phantom called the Befana is all the year round
the bug-bear of the young Florentines, who, if they behave
ill, are threatened with its presence. When they have tra-
versed the city they stop on the bridge and throw the image
into the water amid the cries and imprecations of the multi-

The nurses of Florence al.«o call Befana, or Beffania, those
good or evil fairies which, according to them, enter the houses
by the chimney on the night of this festival. And children
suspend their cloaths above the hearths that the fairies may
fill their pockets with cakes in proportion as they have behaved
themselves well or ill.

I shall not endeavour to account for the procession of the
Befana from the saturnalia, or any other ancient pagan rite.
I am rather of opinion with Maimi, that it is a reHc of the re-
presentation of the ancient mysteries, and is intended to com-
memorate the gifts of the magi : the black and ugly figures
represent the magi, and the presents which the children expect
to receive commemorate those offered to the Holy Family.
Whatever the true explanation may be, as soon as the Befana
announces the opening of the carnival every person in good
circumstances is never seen abroad but in his bauto, or domino,
which is a kind of black cloak. This mantle, Avhich crosses
in front, conceals all the other garments, and serves equally
well for the promenade, for company, for the stanza, or for the
theatre. The women wear a kind of high black bonnet,
shaded with plumes of the same colour : this is equally the
head-dress of all the females. Exercise, fresh air, and pleasure
animate their complexion and their eyes 5 and, mingled together
in this uniform dress, they appear still more striking. During
the days of the festival gaiety is pushed almost to excess, and
few persons can preserve a solemn or an indifferent coun-

The men wear a hat, clasj)ed up in front and ornamented
with plumes. Though ordinarily they only wear a small
white mask fastened to the loop of their hats, or a pasteboard
nose, yet they are considered as disguised, and they pass before
their most intimate acquaintance without noticing them, and
even without the air of knowing them. They in return pre-
serve an equal distance, and thus both sides enjoy the greatest

How well would this fashion suit some ];eople in society!
They might then pass their superiors without respect, their
benefactors without any mark of gratitude, their creditors

TTie Carnival. 59

without being dunned, and their mistresses without agitation !
Towards noon the fashionables assemble at the UJizii, an
arcade under the celebrated gallery. Here witty repartees are
exchanged, pleasantries cross one another, and bon mots cir-
culate. Laughter communicates itself like an infection, and
joy becomes universal. And, in the midst of the confused
murmurs and rapid movements the spirit of intrigue is not
idle, but assignations are made for an evening meeting at the
Corso, in the square of Santa Croce, and thence for a visit
to the theatre or the ball-room.

The Florentines, like the inhabitants of all southern coun-
tries, are great mimics ; they can do what they will with their
figures and countenances ; and frequently, by a mere change
of dress, they disguise themselves wonderfully, though their
figure is seen. A young man disguised himself and walked
for many days in the most frequented streets without a single
person of his acquaintance recognising him. He dressed him-
self as an Abbe, in a little mantle ; his hair, which was black,
and had been usually combed high on the forehead, was curled,
combed back over the head, tied in a knot behind, and pow-
dered. Naturally pale, he rouged himself carefully, aufl, to
conceal the thinness of his cheeks, he put a ball of ivory on
each side of his mouth. In this state he gravely met his ac-
quaintance, stopped before them, and boldly eyed them, while
they supposed that this grave personage (for the balls of ivory
prevented him from laughino) was an absolute stranger.

Sometimes, in addition to this little mask, a strange-shaped
nose is added, which forms a strong contrast with the other
features. Some masks are made from wax moulded on the
human face, and afterwards tinted by portrait-painters so as to
represent well-known faces, while the wearer imitates the
dress, countenance, gestures, and even tone of voice of the
original, in a manner which almost deceives you.

Other masquerades imitate the costume of the ancient
statues ; thus we saw the Capitoline Juno walking arm in arm
with Silenus, and Diana entering with the Apollo Belvidere.

The square of Santa Croce, however, is the great rendezvous
of the masks. Its length, and the beauty of the palaces which
surround it, fit it for the theatre of the festivals which are given
in it, and which were formerly more frequent. Here were
tiltings, and tourneys, and races, and lastly games at foot-ball.
We have descriptions of many of these festivals ; and, amongst
others, of a magnificent masquerade given by Cosmo I. in the
carnival of 1565: the carnival of 1615 has been engraved by
Callot, and many others have exercised the graver of La Bella.
The taste for these amusements was so great that during the

60 Castellan's Tra'veh'm Italy.

reign of Ferdinand II. and in the space of five months, six
f^tes of different kinds were given, each more magnificent
than the preceding.

The square of Santa Croce is surrounded with a boundary
of chains, which leave sufficient space for the passage of car-
riages before the houses. On certain occasions amphitheatres
are raised, round which also carriages can drive. The square
was thus laid out in 1/38 for the last festival of the Calzio or
foot-ball, which has been engraved by Gioseppe Zocchi.
This print gives a good idea of the masquerades of Florence.
Besides the harlequins and punchinellos, which the French
have in such numbers, the other characters are very various
and well kept up.

All ranks, without exception, are turned into ridicule. A
carriage filled with porters has a judge dressed in along robe
and large wig, for a coachman. A physician is mounted on a
lean ass, with panniers and cages filled with cats, and carrying
a long staff", from wiiich some large dead rats are suspended,
while a scroll on the top of it bears the words Remedi da topi,
' antidotes against' rats :' to these may be added doctors with
asses' heads, &c. The spectators themselves form a spectacle ;
the windows of the houses, and the balconies of the palaces,
are all ornamented with rich tapestry, and graced with brilliant
company. The people cover the tiles of the houses, and on
these aerial theatres engage in games, from which Italian con-
fidence and address take away all danger, and which afford a
very diverting appearance.

The spectacle which we ourselves saw was very agreeable.
The carriages, which throng the road, give great brilliancy to
the scene ; they are filled with masks who answer the joy and
acclamations of the multitude by throwing them cakes and
confetti, and by sprinkling showers of perfumed water from
little syringes towards the spectators who line the windows and
the balconies : some of the carriages Contain musicians, and
others are in the shape of triumphal cars, ornamented with
different symbols.

I shall only mention one of these masquerades, where luxury
was united to good taste, and the contrivance appeared to me
new and ingenious : the car, drawn by twelve beautiful horses
richly caparisoned, represented Olympus ornamented with
foliage, and on which stood the principal heathen deities, sur-
rounded by nymphs and rural gods, and a numerous orchestra.
Jupiter occupied the summit of the mountain, seated on the
extended wings of an eagle, and enveloped with clouds,
whilst Apollo and the Muses were singing and reciting some
sonnets, copies of which were thrown amongst the crowd, and

Tlie Carnival. 61

in the midst of the deafening- noise of the musical instruments
Jupiter M^as perceived to be agitated on his throne of clouds.
He shortly leaves the summit of the mountain, rises majestically
in the air, and sails along amid the applause of the wondering
multitude, on whom he lances his artificial thunder, which, as
it falls, changes into serpents; he still ascends, and as the last
rays of the sun shine upon him he vanishes from the e^yes of
the enchanted crowd, who load with prolonged applause the
contrivers of a spectacle as splendid ^s it is ingenious.

The inhabitants of Olympus did not disdain to mingle in the
evening with simple mortals, and to appear at a masked ball
which was given at the theatre of la Pergola ; where we had
the pleasure of finding ourselves in the company of the muses,
who, forgetting the sanctity of their former existence, gave
themselves up to pleasure and joy. Here we beheld the sage
Lucina transformed into the youngest of the graces, Venus
here quitted the mask of Minerva, though still as wise as be-
fore, while Juno tempered the majesty of heaven's queen
with sweetness and affability.

The assembly of the Stanze was one of the most agreeable
for select company ; though none but masks were admitted,
the door-keeper suffered none to pass but whom he knew :
the sagacity of this man was wonderful — though you disguised
your voice, and altered your walk, th6 door-keeper instinc-
tively apprised, as it were, of the approach of an intruder,
suffered you to proceed no further. This tact, this nice dis-
crimination, though 1 believe it is perfectly mechanical, and
common to many individuals in Italy, was one of the things
which particularly excited my attention ; this rare faculty, the
mark of a more perfect organization, explains the facility with
which the Italians execute all their undertakings — a facility
which astonishes other nations, amongst whom such works
are only the result of time, study, and reflexion.

The denomination of stanze or saloons, is applied to an es-
tablishment formed by the middle ranks of the city, in oppo-
sition to the cazina of the nobility; the latter, indeed, only
comprises a small number of the commimity, and the nobles
frequently abandon it for the stanze of the citizens, where
more freedom and gaiety reign than in their own circle, over
which, it is said, the pretensions of etiquette throw a coldness
and constraint ; the founders of the stanze bear all the ex-
pense, and admit such persons as are presented to them ;
here, for conversation, there are various rooms, which are
filled with good company; here are news-rooms, billiard-
rooms, ball-rooms, and also a garden; in short, nothing is
wanting to render the place agreeable j the evening flies in a

62 Castellan's Travels in Italy.

circle of varied and decent amusements ; the building com-
municates with one of the theatres, so you may walk thither
under the arcade and hear a song, return and eat an ice, join
in conversation, or figure in a dance.

This establishment, where manners are respected, and
where fashion reigns, supplies the place of our Athenaeums,
and other places of public amusement ; every stranger of
respectability is received with distinction : thus means are
discovered, laoth instructive and amusing, of employing the
long evenings of winter.


The Palazzo Pitti — The Gallery of Florence.

1 HE celebrated gallery of Florence is commonly the first
object which attracts the attention of strangers, and this is
too frequently all they see of the city : it seems that all their
interest is concentrated in this museum ; but ere they have
well examined it, the colossal idea of Rome crosses their
minds, and they hasten thither as the object of their desire,
observing few of the objects of curiosity on their route.

I have paid considerable attention, during my stay here, to
the subject of Tuscan architecture, and to the exterior cha-
racter of the principal monuments of Florence ; in this study
I was much favoured by the beauty of the season which is here
called winter, and which from the softness of the temperature
would be esteemed summer in other countries; in fact, till
February the weather has been constantly serene, and the
cold so little perceptible, that I have not omitted my usual
custovn of sketching in the open air; sometimes, indeed, the
heat of the sun has been so great, that 1 have been com-
pelled to shelter myself beneath the foliage of the ever-green
trees, which give a false yet pleasing appearance of spring to
the landscape.

I have been very much delighted with the delicious gardens
of Boboli, which are situated on the hill commanding the Pa-
lazzo Pitti, the usual residence of the Grand Dukes.

The palace is connected with the gardens by means of a
large sort of amphitheatre, in the middle of which rises an
obelisk of Egyptian granite ; this amphitheatre is composed
of white marble, and the steps are supported by balustrades,
and surmounted by niches containing statues an(l vases, which
are finely relieved by the dark back-ground of ever-green

TTie Gallery of Florence. 63

verdure. The gardens, planted under the directions of Tri-
bolo, and of the ingenious Buontalenti, are ornamented with
monuments of architecture and sculpture, distributed by Va-
sari and Giovanni di Bologna. The distribution of the gar-
dens into various terraces, which are gained by flights of steps,
offers a fine contrast of lines, and different points of views of
great richness.

As yet Me have had neither ice nor snow, and I have not
yet felt melancholy at the sight of those sombre clouds, which
shade the face of heaven for so considerable a period of the
year in the north of France ; we have yet no need of fires
and in the house in which I live, as indeed in all the others in
the city, the kitchen chimney is the only one. It is onlv
within these few years, that one or two others have been added
in the Duke's palace, less from necessity than from curiosity.
If at any time they feel cold they U'^e a brazier of copper,
sometimes of silver, in which they burn charcoal prepared
from the wood of the olive tree, the fumes from which are
not considered prejudicial. This brazier is called veggio, and
they sometimes carry it with them when they walk abroad,
though at most the cold is not two degrees below the freezing

At last the bad season has commenced, and it has termi-
nated, as is frequently the case, with heavy showers, which
have lasted without intermission for three weeks.

We do not see here as in the other towns of Italy, porticoes
or covered galleries along the houses ; but the inconvenience
of sudden showers is guarded against by providing in various
quarters of the town open logge : you may also prevent yourself
being wet if you Avalk close to the houses, as you are pro-
tected by the projecting roofs, which are thus constructed to
protect the front of the building from showers, and to ward
off the rays of the sun. The streets, however, have one great
advantage, being paved with large and Avell joined flags, so
that the rain runs easily off them, and they are dry again in
half an hour.

I have employed all the time the rainy season continued, in
an examination of the celebrated gallery of Florence ; as I
surveyed it my admiration scarce knew any bounds, and I felt
penetrated with veneration and gratitude towards the family
of the Medici, who first set the example of such a noble em-
ployment of power and riches.

The arts always follow the fortune of empires : borii at the
same time, they experience the same vicissitudes, and their
progress is equally regulated by circumstances. Flourishing
in the bosom of peace, their flowers have sometimes been.

64 Castellan's Travels in Italy.

blasted by political storms, or have withered under the in-
fluence of bad taste or of court corruption. They only bear
their true fruit in a time of public prosperity, and under the
protection of a wise and pacific g-overnment. What has chiefly
contributed to expand the taste, and to promote the study of
the arts, has been the establishment of museums, where the
great works of ancient and modern times are collected. The
Gallery of Florence, without doubt the most celebrated of all,
merits a particular description; and, at the same time, I shall
endeavour to give a sketch of its origin, of the vicissitudes
which it has experienced, and of the successive additions which
have been made to it.

The ancients, like the moderns, were much attached to the
collecting of curiosities, and the remains of antiquity. Both
in Greece and Rome they ornamented in this manner their
porticoes, their temples, their schools, their libraries, and even
their baths. But this attachment to objects of art was unknown
to other nations, which possessed neither knowledge, taste, nor
riches ; and it was extinguished even in Italy during the long
ages of barbarism.

It was the Medici, in the fifteenth century, when their family
possessed no other influence but that of virtue and opulence,
who awakened the genius, and afforded protection to the arts
of peace. And, after they filled the throne of Tuscany, they
contributed all in their power to the regeneration of Letters
and Arts, and had the glory of giving their name to this me-
morable epoch. Cosmo the Elder, named by a decree, and
still more by the voice of pubhc gratitude, the Father of his
Country, extended his paternal care to scholars and artists.

The sons of Cosmo, educated in the midst of a polished court,
imbibed there a taste for study, and transmitted it to their
descendants, and even to their people.

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Online LibraryA. L. (Antoine Laurent) CastellanLetters on Italy : illustrated by engravings → online text (page 7 of 12)