Edward Augustus Freeman.

Sketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice online

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arcade? Here are six arches - why did not the architect carry on the
design through the whole length of the building? - which show what, as
late as the fifteenth century, a round-arched style could still do
when it followed its natural promptings, instead of either binding
itself by slavish precedents or striving after a helpless imitation of
foreign forms. Never mind the date; here is Romanesque in all its
truth and beauty; here, in the land which gave Rome so many of her
greatest Cæsars, the arcade of Ragusa may worthily end the series
which began with the arcades of Spalato. Siegmund, the last but one to
wear the crown of Diocletian in the Eternal City, has his name not
quite unworthily engraved on a building less removed in style than a
distance of more than eleven centuries would have led us to expect
from the everlasting house of Jovius. Does some pedantic Vitruvian
brand the columns as too short? The architect has grasped the truth
that, as the arch takes the place of the entablature, the height of
the arch may fairly be taken out of the height of the column. Does he
blame the massive abaci? They are wrought to bear the greater
immediate weight which the arch brings upon the capital, and they
avoid such shifts as the Ravenna stilt and the Byzantine double
capital. Does he blame the capitals, which certainly do not follow the
exact pattern of any Vitruvian order? Let us answer boldly, Why should
art be put in fetters? A Corinthian capital is a beautiful form; but
why should the hand of man be kept back from devising other beautiful
forms? The Ragusan architect has ventured to cover some of his
capitals with foliage which does not obey any pedantic rule; in others
he has ventured - like the artists of the noble capitals which may
still be seen in the Capitol and in Caracalla's baths - to bring in
the forms of animal and of human, as well as of vegetable, life. In
one point his taste seems slightly to have failed him; on some of the
capitals the winged figures with which they are wrought savour a
little of the vulgar _Renaissance_. But who shall blame the capital
long ago engraved and commented on by Sir Gardner Wilkinson, in which
however a neighbouring inscription shows that tradition was right in
seeing the form of Asklêpios, and not that of a mere mortal alchemist,
though tradition was certainly wrong in believing that Asklêpios had
been brought ready made from his old home at Epidauros? And the
capitals bear arches worthy of them, round arches with mouldings and
ornaments, which thoroughly fit their shape, though, like the
capitals, they do not servilely follow any prescribed rule. Altogether
this arcade only makes us wish for more, for a longer range from the
same hand. Compare it with the vulgar Italian work of the two
neighbouring churches. Pisa and Durham might have stretched out the
right hand of fellowship to Romanesque Ragusa before the earthquake;
they would have held it back from Jesuited Ragusa after it.

The rest of the front cannot be called worthy of this admirable
arcade. The windows behind the arcade are of the worse, those above it
are of the better, kind of Italian Gothic. These last in fact are
about as good as Italian Gothic can be. They are well proportioned
two-light windows with Geometrical tracery, and in the general effect
they really agree better than could have been looked for with the
admirable arches below. Still they are Italian Gothic, and at Ragusa
we should not welcome the loveliest form of tracery that Carlisle or
Selby could give us. A Pisan arcade, pierced for light wherever light
was wanted, would have been the right thing for the columns and arches
to bear aloft. He who duly admires the arcade will do well to shut his
eyes as he turns round the corner by the west front of the cathedral;
but let him go inside, and the court, if not altogether worthy of the
outer arcade, is no contemptible specimen of the same style. It
contains one or two monuments of Ragusan worthies. The figure of
Roland, which lay there neglected when we first saw Ragusa, has since
been set up again in the open _piazza_. And, strange to say in these
lands, it ventures to proclaim itself as having been set up, as it
might have been in the old time, by the free act of the _commune_ of
Ragusa, without any of those cringing references to a foreign power
which are commonly found expedient under foreign rule. The court is
entered by a side door with two ancient knockers, one of them a worthy
fellow of the great one at Durham or of that which we saw more lately
at Curzola. But its chief interest comes from its strictly
architectural forms, and from the comparison of them with those which
are made use of on the outside. The court is very small, and it is
surrounded on all sides, save that which is filled by the grand
staircase, by an arcade of two, supporting a second upper range. The
composition is thus better than that of the front itself, as there are
two harmonious stages in the same style, without any intrusion of
foreign elements, like the pointed windows in the front; but the
arcades themselves, though very good and simple, do not carry out the
wonderful boldness and originality of the outer range. Columns with
tongues to their base with flowered capitals, showing a remembrance,
but not a servile remembrance, of Corinthian models, support round
arches. Over these is the upper range of two round arches over each
one below, resting on coupled shafts, the arrangement which, from the
so-called tomb of Saint Constantia, has spread to so many Romanesque
cloisters and to so many works of the Saracen. Were this range open,
instead of being foolishly glazed, this design of two stages of a true
Romanesque, simpler, but perhaps more classical, than the outer
arcade, would form a design thoroughly harmonious and satisfactory.

Now when we come to examine this inner court more minutely, we shall
find that it is certainly of later date than the outer arcade, and
that it supplanted earlier work which formed part of the same design
as the outer arcade. It is impossible to believe that the court is
later than the great earthquake; but 1667 was not the only year in
which Ragusa underwent visitations of that kind; and it is an
allowable guess that a rebuilding took place after an earlier
earthquake in the beginning of the sixteenth century. That some change
took place at some time is certain. There are preparations for
spanning arches at one point of the outer wall of the court, which
could never have agreed with the position of the present columns. And
we have a most interesting piece of documentary evidence which carries
us further. In a manuscript account of the building of the palace, it
is mentioned that at the entrance were two columns, on the capital of
one of which was carved the Judgement of Solomon, while the other
showed the Rector of Ragusa sitting to administer justice after the
model of Solomon. Now this cannot refer to the outer arcade, where
none of the capitals show those subjects. Still less is there anything
like it in the arcade of the court, nor can there have been since the
present arrangement was made. But the description is no freak of the
imagination; both capitals are in being; one of them is still within
the palace. The capital showing the Rector in his chair dispensing
justice to his fellow-citizens is built in at a corner in the upper
story of the court. And a capital of exactly the same style, and with
the Judgement of Solomon carved on one face of it, may still be seen
in the garden of a house outside the city of which we shall have
presently to speak. It is thus perfectly plain that the inner court
was rebuilt at some time later than the days of Siegmund, and that
this rebuilding displaced an inner design more in harmony with the
outer arcade, and of which these two capitals formed a part.

To our mind this palace, to which Sir Gardner Wilkinson hardly does
justice, and of which Mr. Neale takes no notice at all, really
deserves no small place in the history of Romanesque art. It shows how
late the genuine tradition lingered on, and what vigorous offshoots
the old style could throw off, even when it might be thought to be
dead. One or two capitals show that the Ragusan architect knew of the
actual _Renaissance_. But it was only in that one detail that he went
astray. In everything else he started from sound principles, and from
them vigorously developed for himself. And the fruit of his work was a
building which thoroughly satisfies every requirement of criticism,
and on which the eye gazes with ever increased delight, as one of the
fairest triumphs of human skill within the range of the builder's art.

But the palace must not be spoken of as if it stood altogether alone
among the buildings of the city. There is another civic building,
which, though it does not reach the full perfection of its great
neighbour, must also be treated as a true fruit, in some sort a more
remarkable fruit, of the same spirit which called its greater
neighbour into being. This is the building which acted at once in the
characters of mint and custom-house, the second character being set
forth by its name wrought in nails on the great door. This building
stands just where the main street and the _piazza_ join, close by the
arch leading to the town-gate. Here we have an arcade of five, the
columns of which are crowned with capitals, Composite in their general
shape, but not slavishly following technical precedents, nor all of
them exactly alike. They have a heavy abacus, which, as well as the
soffit of the round arch, is enriched with flowered work. One or two
of them are none the better for being new chiselled in modern times.
Here is something which is quite unlike Northern Romanesque, but which
still is absolutely identical with it in principle. The column and the
round arch are there in their purity, and the enrichment is of a kind
which we instinctively feel is in place at Ragusa, though it would be
out of place at Caen or Mainz or Durham. Whatever the date may be, the
thing is thoroughly good, incomparably better than either the Italian
Gothic or the cosmopolite Jesuit style. Above the arcade are
windows with the usual Venetian attempt at tracery, a large square
window between two with ogee arches; above is a stage with square
windows, which we may hope is a later addition. The merits of the
three stages lessen as they get higher. Yet from the date, when we
come to find it out, it seems not impossible that the arcade and both
the stages above it may really be of the same date. In the inner court
there are no such discordant elements as there are without, though the
forms of different styles are quite as much mingled. Octagonal piers
support round arches; pointed doorways with thoroughly Ragusan tympana
open into the chamber behind them. On this arcade rests another, with
round arches on the short sides of the court, and pointed arches on
the long sides, rising from columns and square piers alternately.
Above is a range which might as well be away. Square windows, round
Ragusan windows, might well be endured; but _Renaissance_ shields and
_Renaissance_ angels show that the infection had begun. Now this
beautiful piece of Romanesque work - we give it that name in defiance
of dates - was finished in 1520, when the world on the southern side of
the Alps was, for the most part, running after the dreariest forms of
the mere revived Italian. This amazingly late date makes this building
even more wonderful than the palace, though it certainly is not its
rival in beauty. The arcades, good as they are, cannot be compared to
those of the palace, and the Venetian work above is still more
inferior. Still, the later the date, the more honour to the architect
who designed such a work at such a time. And the later the date, the
more likely that he built his arcade according to the promptings of
his own genius, and added the two ranges of windows in deference to
the two rival fashions of his time.

[Illustration: DOGANA, RAGUSA.]

The arcade of this building, taken alone without reference to the
windows above, is the last link in a chain which shows that the
preservation of good architectural ideas at so late a time is no mere
accident. Indeed, if we pass from public buildings within the city to
private buildings outside of it, we shall begin to doubt whether the
_dogana_ is the last chain, and whether there are not still later
buildings which are fairly entitled to the Romanesque name. The best
of the houses of the Ragusan patricians are to be found, not within
the city, but by the port at Gravosa, and further on on the way to
Ombla. Several of those, while their other features are Venetian
Gothic, or even later still, have - commonly in their upper _loggie_ - a
column or two supporting a round arch, which are certainly not vulgar
_Renaissance_, and which keep on the sound tradition of the palace and
the _dogana_. The finest of these is the house of the Counts Caboga,
known as Batahovina, on the coast on the way to Ombla. Here, as in
the palace, as in the _dogana_, an arcade of this late local
Romanesque supports an upper story of Venetian Gothic, very inferior
and most likely much later than that in either of the civic buildings.
It has however at each end an open _loggia_ matching the arcade below.
The columns, plain and with twisted flutes - distant kinsfolk of
Waltham, Durham, Dunfermline, and Lindisfarn - have capitals such as we
might look for in much earlier Romanesque.

[Illustration: CABOGA HOUSE, GRAVOSA.]

This, we may note by the way, is the house in whose garden the column
from the palace, wrought with the Judgement of Solomon, still lies
hid. Indeed we might go further away from the palace than the _loggie_
of the houses. At Ragusa art extends itself to objects which might
have been thought hardly capable of artistic treatment. Stone is
common, and it is used for all manner of purposes. Among other things
stone vine-props are common. In not a few cases these take the form of
columns, slenderer doubtless than the rules of classical proportion,
realizing the description of Cassiodorus about the tall columns like
reeds, the lofty buildings propped as it were on the shafts of spears.
Sometimes the columns are fluted or twisted; in a great many cases
they have real capitals, with various forms according to taste. It
often happens that a row of such columns, whether on a house-top or in
a vineyard, really becomes an architectural object, a genuine
colonnade. Here the style, the construction at least, is Greek rather
than Romanesque; but the principle is the same. A good and rational
artistic form is kept in use, and is applied to a purpose for which it
is fitted.

All these examples, the palace, the _dogana_, the houses, the remains
in the Dominican church, we might almost say the vine-props, look one
way. All point to the existence of a Ragusan style, to an unbroken
Romanesque tradition, which could not wholly withstand the inroads of
the _pseudo_-Gothic of Italy, but which could at least keep its place
alongside of the intruder. All help us to see how instructive must
have been the course of architectural developement at Ragusa, and how
much has been lost to the history of art by the destruction of so many
of the buildings of the city in the great earthquake. It is easy to
see that for a long time the struggle between the genuine Romanesque
tradition, the Italian Gothic, and the new ideas of the _Renaissance_,
must have been very hard. How long real Romanesque went on, bringing
in new developements of its own, but remaining still as truly
Romanesque by unbroken succession as anything at Pisa or Durham, is
shown by the noble arches of the palace, and the still later _dogana_.
The slight touch of _Renaissance_ in some of the capitals of the
palace in no sort takes away from the general purity of the style.
Still over these noble arcades are windows of Venetian Gothic, and one
of the most characteristic features of the Ragusan streets are the
flat-headed doorways. But these, alternating as they do with pointed
ones, help to make out our case. On the other hand, it is equally
plain that in some cases the _Renaissance_ came in early. A little
chapel by the basin at Ombla, bearing date 1480, is in a confirmed
_Renaissance_ style, and looks more like 1580. Yet of true
_Renaissance_ there is very little. One large house in the city, older
than the earthquake, stands quite alone as the kind of thing which
might easily have been built in Italy or copied in England. But at
Ragusa, in the near neighbourhood of several native doorways of
different shapes, of many native vine-props, of several native
wells - for wells too take an artistic style and copy the form of a
capital - the regular trim Palladian building looks strangely out of
place. Even in the _Stradone_, where in the houses there is little
architecture of any kind, a touch of ancient effect is kept in the
form of the shops, with their arches and stone dressers, thoroughly
after the mediæval pattern. And some architectural features never died
out. The round window with tracery goes on long after every other
feature of Romanesque or Gothic is forgotten. It is to be seen in
endless little chapels of very late date in the city and suburbs,
sometimes standing apart, sometimes attached to private houses.

The plain conclusion from all this is that at Ragusa the use of the
round arch for the chief arcades never went out of use; that it always
remained as a constructive feature, passing from Romanesque to
_Renaissance_, if fully developed _Renaissance_ can at Ragusa be said
to exist at all, without any intermediate Gothic stage, and continuing
to invent and adopt any kind of ornament which suited its constructive
form. In windows and doorways, on the other hand, the forms of the
Italian Gothic came in and stood their ground till a very late date.
In most cases we wish the Venetian features away; in the upper story
of the palace they may be endured; but conceive palace, _dogana_,
Caboga house, with smaller arcades and windows to match the great
constructive arches. Such buildings as these, now so few, make us sigh
over the effects of the great earthquake, and over the treasures of
art which it must have swallowed up. If Ragusa, in her earlier day,
contained a series of churches to match her civic arcades, she might
claim, in strictly artistic interest, to stand alongside of Rome,
Ravenna, Pisa, and Lucca. Her churches of the fifteenth century must
have been worthy to rank with anything from the fourth century to the
twelfth. One longs to be able to study the Ragusan style in more than
these few examples. It is not indeed absolutely peculiar either to
Ragusa or to Dalmatia. Many buildings in Italy and Sicily show a good
native Romanesque tradition, holding its own against the sham Gothic,
and showing a good fight against the _Renaissance_. Not a few arcades,
not a few cloisters, of this kind may be found here and there. But it
would be hard to light on another such group of buildings as the
palace, the _dogana_, and their fellows. In any case the Dalmatian
coast may hold its head high among the artistic regions of the world.
It is no small matter that the harmonious and consistent use of the
arch and column should have begun at Spalato, and that identically the
same constructive form should still be found, eleven ages later,
putting forth fresh and genuine shapes of beauty at Ragusa.



[This paper, as giving the impressions of a first visit to
the soil of Herzegovina, during an early stage of the war,
has been reprinted, with the change of a few words, as it
was first written.]

The first step which any man takes beyond the bounds of Christendom
can hardly fail to mark a kind of epoch in his life. And the epoch
becomes more memorable when the first step is taken into an actual
"seat of war," where the old strife between Christian and Moslem is
still going on with all the bitterness of crusading days. In Europe it
is now in one quarter only that such a step can be made by land with
somewhat less of formality than is often needed in passing from one
Christian state to another. It is now only in the great south-eastern
peninsula that the frontier of the Turk marches upon the dominions of
any Christian power; and, now that Russia and the Turk are no longer
immediate neighbours, the powers on which his frontier marches are,
with one exception, states which have been more or less fully
liberated from his real or asserted dominion. That exception is to be
found in the Hadriatic dominions of Austria; and certainly no more
striking contrast can be imagined than that which strikes the
traveller as he passes on this side from Christian to Moslem dominion.
Let us suppose him to be at Ragusa, with his ears full of tales from
the seat of war, all of which cannot be true, but all of which may
possibly be false. The insurgents have burned a Turkish village. No;
it was a Christian village, and the Turks burned it. The Turks have
murdered seven Roman Catholics. The Turks have murdered seventy Roman
Catholics - a difference this last which may throw light on some cases
of disputed numbers in various parts of history. The Turks have
threatened Austrian subjects. Austrian subjects have attacked the
Turks. An Italian has had his head cut off by the Turks just beyond
the frontier. A Turkish soldier has been found lying dead in the road
a little further on. These two last stories come on the authority of
men who have seen the bodies, so that we have got within the bounds of
credible testimony. Meanwhile the one thing about which there is no
doubt is the presence and the wretchedness of the unhappy
Herzegovinese women and children whose homes have been destroyed
either by friends or by enemies, and who are seeking such shelter as
public and private charity can give in hospitable Ragusa. All these
things kindle a certain desire to get at least a glimpse of the land
where something is certainly going on, though it may not be easy to
know exactly what. Between Ragusa and Trebinje there is just now no
actual fighting; the road is reported to be perfectly safe; only it is
advisable to get a passport _visé_ by the Turkish consul. The
passports are _visé_, but, so far for the credit of the Turks, it must
be added that, though duly carried, they were never asked for. The
party, four in number - three English and one Russian - presently set
forth from Ragusa. It is now as easy to get a carriage at Ragusa as in
any other European town. So our party sets out behind two of the small
but strong and sure-footed horses of the country, to get a glimpse of
what, to two at least of their number, were the hitherto unknown lands
of Paynimrie.

As long as we are on Austrian territory there is nothing to fear or to
complain of but those evils which no kings or laws can cure. The day
was rainy - so rainy that a word was once or twice murmured in favour
of turning back; but it was deemed faint-hearted to turn again in an
undertaking which had been once begun. On the Austrian side the rain
was certainly to be regretted, as damping the charm of the glorious
prospect from the zigzag road which winds up from Ragusa to the
frontier point of Drino. Ragusa, nestling among hills and forts and
castles, the isle of La Croma keeping guard over the haven which has
ceased to be a haven, the wide Hadriatic stretching to the horizon,
form a picture surpassed by but few pictures even in the glorious
scenery of the Dalmatian coast. On the other side, it was perhaps no
great harm if the rain made the savage land between Drino and Trebinje
seem more savage still. At the top of the height the Austrian
guard-house is reached, a guard-house which the line of the frontier
causes to be overlooked by a Turkish fort above it. The guardians of
the borders of Christendom look wild enough in their local dress; but
the wildness is all outside, though one certainly does not envy them
their watch on so dreary a spot. Hard by is the place where the
Italian lost his head; but the Italian was openly in the ranks of the
insurgents; so, though the thought is a little thrilling, our present
travellers feel no real danger for their heads. The frontier is now
passed; we are in the land where the Asiatic and Mahometan invader
still holds European and Christian nations in bondage. We see no
immediate sign of his presence. The Turkish guard-house is at some
distance from the Austrian, in order to watch the pass on the other
side, where the road begins to go down towards Trebinje, as the

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Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanSketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice → online text (page 15 of 23)