Edward Augustus Freeman.

Sketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice online

. (page 17 of 23)
Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanSketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice → online text (page 17 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

it does on pointed arches, it suggests the thought of Périgueux and
Angoulême. But this arrangement, which is shared by a neighbouring
Latin church, is well known throughout the East. The Latin _duomo_,
which has been minutely described by Mr. Neale, is of quite another
type, and is by no means Dalmatian in its general look. A modern west
front with two western towers does not go for much; but it reminds us
that a design of the same kind was begun at Traü in better times. The
inside is quite unlike anything of later Italian work. It seems like a
cross between a basilica and an Aquitanian church. It is small, but
the inside is lofty and solemn. The body of the church, not counting
the apses and the western portico, has seven narrow arches, the six
eastern ones grouped in pairs forming, as in so many German examples,
three bays only in the vaulting. The principal pillars are rectangular
with flat pilasters; the intermediate piers are Corinthian columns
with a heavy Lucchese abacus, enriched with more mouldings than is
usual at Lucca. As there is no triforium, and only a blank clerestory,
the whole effect comes from the tall columns and their narrow arches,
the last offshoots of Spalato that we have to record. For the
ecclesiologist proper there is a prodigious _baldacchino_, and a grand
display of metal-work behind the high altar. A good deal too, as Mr.
Neale has shown, may be gleaned from the inscriptions and records. The
traveller whose objects are of a more general kind turns away from
this border church of Christendom as the last stage of a pilgrimage
unsurpassed either for natural beauty or for historic interest. And,
as he looks up at the mountain which rises almost close above the east
end of the _duomo_ of Cattaro, and thinks of the land and the men to
which the path over that mountain leads, he feels that, on this
frontier at least, the spirit still lives which led English warriors
to the side of Manuel Komnênos, and which steeled the heart of the
last Constantine to die in the breach for the Roman name and the faith
of Christendom.




The solemn yearly marriage between the Venetian commonwealth and the
Hadriatic sea had much more effect on the eastern shore of that sea
than on the western. On the eastern side of the long gulf there are
few points which have not at some time or other "looked to the winged
lion's marble piles," and for many ages a long and nearly continuous
dominion looked steadily to that quarter. On the western shore Venice
never established any lasting dominion very far from her own lagoons.
Ravenna was the furthest point on that side which she held for any
considerable time, and at Ravenna we are hardly clear of the delta of
the Po. In the northern region of Italy her power struck inland, till
at last, defying the precepts of the wise Doge who could not keep even
Treviso, she held an unbroken dominion from Bergamo to Cividale. That
she kept that dominion down to her fall, that that dominion could live
through the fearful trial of the League of Cambray, may perhaps show
that Venice, after all, was not so unfitted to become a land-power as
she seems at first sight, and as Andrew Contarini deemed her in the
fourteenth century. Yet one might have thought that the occupation of
this or that point along the long coast from Ravenna to the heel of
the boot would have better suited her policy than the lordship over
Bergamo and Brescia. And one might have thought too that, amid the
endless changes that went on among the small commonwealths and
tyrannies of that region, it would have been easier for the Republic
to establish its dominion there than to establish it over great cities
like Padua and Verona. Yet Venice did not establish even a temporary
dominion along these coasts till she was already a great land power in
Lombardy and Venetia. And then the few outlying points which she held
for a while lay, not among the small towns of the marches, but within
the solid kingdom which the Norman had made, and which had passed from
him to kings from Swabia, from Anjou, and from Aragon. It is this last
thought which gives the short Venetian occupation of certain cities
within what the Italians called _the Kingdom_ a higher interest in
itself, and withal a certain connexion in idea with more lasting
possessions of the commonwealth elsewhere. At Trani and at Otranto, no
less than in Corfu and at Durazzo, the Venetian was treading in the
footsteps of the Norman. Only, on the eastern side of Hadria the
Republic won firm and long possession of places where the Norman had
been seen only for a moment; on the western side, the Republic held
only for a moment places which the Norman had firmly grasped, and
which he handed on to his successors of other races. And, if we pass
on from the Norman himself to those successors, we shall find the
connexion between the Venetian dominion on the eastern and the western
side of the gulf become yet stronger. The Venetian occupation of
Neapolitan towns within the actual Neapolitan kingdom seems less
strange, if we look on it as a continuation of the process by which
many points on the eastern coast had passed to and fro between the
Republic and the Kings of Sicily and afterwards of Naples. The
connexion between Sicily and southern Italy on the one hand and the
coasts and islands of western Greece on the other, is as old as the
days of the Greek colonies, perhaps as old as the days of Homer. The
singer of the Odyssey seems to know of Sikels in Epeiros; but, if his
Sikels were in Italy, we only get the same connexion in another shape.
A crowd of rulers from one side and from the other have ruled on both
sides of the lower waters of Hadria. Agathoklês, Pyrrhos, Robert
Wiscard, King Roger, William the Good, strove alike either to add
Epeiros and Korkyra to a Sicilian dominion or to add Sicily to a
dominion which already took in Epeiros and Korkyra. So did Manfred; so
did Charles of Anjou. And after the division of the Sicilian kingdom,
the kings of the continental realm held a considerable dominion on the
Greek side of the sea. And that dominion largely consisted of places
which had been Venetian and which were to become Venetian again. To go
no further into detail, if we remember that Corfu and Durazzo were
held by Norman Dukes and Kings of Apulia and Sicily - that they were
afterwards possessions of Venice - that they were possessions of the
Angevin kings at Naples, and then possessions of Venice again - it may
perhaps seem less wonderful to find the Republic at a later time
occupying outposts on the coasts of the Neapolitan kingdom itself.

It was not till the last years of the fifteenth century, when so many
of her Greek and Albanian possessions had passed away, that the
Republic appeared as a ruler on the coasts of Apulia and of that land
of Otranto, the heel of the boot, from which the name of Calabria had
long before wandered to the toe. It was in 1495, when Charles of
France went into southern Italy to receive for himself a kingdom and
to return, - only to return without the kingdom, - that the Venetians,
as allies of his rival Ferdinand, took the town of Monopoli by storm,
and one or two smaller places by capitulation. What they took they
kept, and in the next year their ally pledged to them other cities,
among them Trani, Brindisi, Otranto, and Taranto, in return for help
in men and money. These cities were thus won by Venice as the ally of
the Aragonese King against the French. But at a later time, when
France and Aragon were allied against Venice, the Aragonese King of
the Sicilies, a more famous Ferdinand than the first, took them as his
share in 1509. We cannot wonder at this; no king, or commonwealth
either, can be pleased to see a string of precious coast towns in the
hands of a foreign power. Again in 1528 Venice is allied with France
against Aragon and Naples, and Aragon and Naples are now only two of
the endless kingdoms of Charles of Austria. For a moment the lost
cities are again Venetian. Two years later, as part of the great
pageant of Bologna, they passed back from the rule of Saint Mark to
the last prince who ever wore the crown of Rome.

So short an occupation cannot be expected to have left any marked
impress on the cities which Venice thus held for a few years at a late
time as isolated outposts. These Apulian towns are not Venetian in the
same sense in which the Istrian and Dalmatian towns are. In those
regions, even the cities which were merely neighbours and not subjects
of Venice may be called Venetian in an artistic sense; they were in
some sort members of a body of which Venice was the chief. Here we see
next to nothing which recalls Venice in any way. The difference is
most likely owing, not so much in the late date at which these towns
became Venetian possessions, as to the shortness of time by which they
were held, and to the precarious tenure by which the Republic held
them. As far as mere dates go, Cattaro and Trani were won by Venice
within the same century. But, as we have seen, the architectural
features which give the Dalmatian towns their Venetian character
belong to the most part to times even later than the occupation of
Trani. Men must have gone on building at Cattaro in the Venetian
fashion for fully a century and a half after Trani was again lost by
Venice. There are few Venetian memorials to be seen in these towns;
and if the winged lion ever appeared over their gates, he has been
carefully thrust aside by kings and emperors. More truly perhaps,
kings and emperors rebuilt the walls of these towns after the Venetian
power had passed away. Still the occupation of these towns forms part
of Venetian history, and they may be visited so as to bring them
within the range of Venetian geography. Brindisi is the natural
starting point for Corfu and the Albanian coast, and Brindisi is one
of the towns which Venice thus held for a season. The two opposite
coasts are thus brought into direct connexion. The lands which owned,
first the Norman and the Angevin, and then the Venetian, as their
masters, may thus naturally become part of a single journey. We may
have passed through the hilly lands, we may have seen the hill-cities,
of central Italy; we may have gone through lands too far from the sea
to suggest any memories of Venice, but which are full of the memories
of the Norman and the Swabian. We find ourselves in the great Apulian
plain, the great sheep-feeding plain so memorable in the wars of Anjou
and Aragon, and we tarry to visit some of the cities of the Apulian
coast. The contrast indeed is great between the land in which we are
and either the land from which we have come, or the land whither we
are going. Bari, Trani, and their fellows, planted on the low coast
where the great plain joins the sea, are indeed unlike, either the
Latin and Volscian towns on their hill-tops, or the Dalmatian towns
nestling between the sea and the mountains. The greatest of these
towns, the greatest at least in its present state, never came under
Venetian rule. Bari, the city which it needed the strength of both
Empires to win from the Saracen, is said to have been defended by a
Venetian fleet early in the eleventh century, when Venetian fleets
still sailed at the bidding of the Eastern Emperor. Further than this,
we can find few or no points of connexion between Venice and these
cities, till their first occupation at the end of the fifteenth
century. But that short occupation brings them within our range. We
are passing, it may be, from Benevento to fishy Bari, as two stages of
the "iter ad Brundisium." Thence we may go on, in the wake of so many
travellers and conquerors, to those lands beyond the sea where the
Lords of one-fourth and one-eighth of the Empire of Romania, and the
Norman lords of Apulia and Sicily, the conquerors of Corfu and
Albania, were alike at home. Between Benevento and Bari the eye is
caught by the great tower of Trani. Such a city cannot be passed by;
or, if we are driven to pass it by, we must go back to get something
more than a glimpse of it. And Trani is one of the towns pledged to
Venice by Ferdinand of Naples. In the midst of cities whose chief
memories later than old Imperial times carry us back to the Norman and
Swabian days of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries, we
find ourselves suddenly plunged into the Venetian history of the end
of the fifteenth.

* * * * *

Trani then will be our introduction to the group of towns with which
we are at present concerned. At the present moment, it is undoubtedly
the foremost among them; but it is hard to call up any distinct memory
of its history till we reach the times which made it for a moment a
Venetian possession. Trani, like other places, doubtless has its
history known to local inquirers; but the more general inquirer will
very seldom light upon its name. It is hard to find any sure sign of
its being in Roman times, but it must be the "Tirhennium quæ et Trana"
of the geographer Guido. Let us take such a common-place test as
looking through the indices to several volumes of Muratori and Pertz
till the task becomes wearisome. Such a task will show us the name of
Trani here and there, but only here and there. We do by searching find
it mentioned in the days of King Roger and in the days of the Emperor
Lothar, but it is only by searching that we find it. The name of Trani
does not stand out without searching, like so many of the cities even
of southern Italy. Yet Trani is no inconsiderable place; it is an
archæpiscopal see with a noble metropolitan church; and in our own
day, though much smaller than its neighbour Bari, it seems to share in
the present prosperity of which the signs at Bari are unmistakeable.
The visitor to Trani will find much to see there, but he will not find
the stamp of Venice on the city. Trani, like its fellows, had received
its distinctive character long before it had to do with Venice, and
that character was not one that was at all marked by Venetian
influences. The city is not without Venetian monuments; the memory of
its Venetian days is not forgotten even in its modern street
nomenclature. There is a _Piazza Gradenigo_, and an inscription near
one of the later churches records the name of Giuliano Gradenigo as
the Venetian governor of Trani in 1503, and as having had a hand in
its building. The castle might be suspected of containing work of the
days of the Republic; but a threatening man of the sword forbids any
study of its walls even with a distant spy-glass; not however till the
chief inscription has been read, and has been found to belong to days
later than those of Venetian rule. There is no knowing what may not
happen to places when they have once fallen into the hands of
soldiers; to the civilian mind it might seem that, when a king writes
up an inscription to record his buildings, he wishes that inscription
to be read of all men for all time. It is hard too to see how an
antiquary's spy-glass can do anything to help prisoners confined
within massive walls to break forth, as Italian - at least
Sicilian - prisoners sometimes know how to break forth. The
metropolitan church of Trani is happily not in military hands; neither
are the streets and lanes of the city, the houses, the smaller
churches, the arcades by the haven, the buildings of the town in
general. All these may therefore be studied without let or hindrance;
civil officials, even cloistered nuns, see no danger to Church or
State if the stranger draws the outside of a window or copies an
inscription on an outer wall. But though we may find at Trani bits of
work which might have stood in Venice, it is only as they might have
stood in any other city of Italy. There is nothing in Trani, besides
the memorial of Gradenigo, which brings the Serene Republic specially
before the mind. The great church, the glory of Trani, bears the
impress of that mixed style of art which is characteristic of Norman
rule in Apulia, but which is quite different from anything to be found
in Norman Sicily. It has some points in common with its neighbours at
Bitonto and Bari, and some points very distinctive of itself. It is
undoubtedly one of the noblest churches of its own class. If we were
to call it one of the noblest churches of Christendom, the phrase
would be misleading, because, to an English ear at least, it would
suggest the thought of something on a much greater scale, something
more nearly approaching the boundless length of an English minster or
the boundless height of a French one. In southern Italy bishops and
archbishops were so thick upon the ground that even a metropolitan
church was not likely to reach, in point of mere size, to the measure
of a second-class cathedral or conventual church in England or even in
Normandy. But mere size is not everything, and, as an example of a
particular form of Romanesque, as an example of difficulties ably
grappled with and thoroughly overcome, the church of Trani might
almost claim to rank beside the church of Pisa and the church of
Durham. And higher praise than that no building can have.

[Illustration: CATHEDRAL, TRANI.]

Fully to take in the effect of this grand church, it will be well not
to hurry towards it on reaching the city. Go straight from the
railway-station towards another bell-tower, not to that of the
_duomo_. That course will lead to the so-called _villa_ or public
garden. The suppressed Dominican convent close by its gate has no
attractive feature except its tower, one of the usual Italian type,
only with pointed arches. But the grounds of the _villa_, raised on
the ancient walls of the monastic precinct, look down at once on the
waves of Hadria. In the northern view we look out on lands and hills
beyond the water; but no man must dream that the eastern peninsula of
Europe is to be seen from Trani. We look out only over the gulf of
Manfredonia - the name of the Hohenstaufen king is as it were stamped
upon the waters - to the Italian peninsula of Mount Garganus. Hence, on
our way to the metropolitan church, we pass by the basin which forms
the haven of Trani, a basin which reminds us of the _cala_ which is
all that is left of the many waters of Palermo. The distant view
clearly brings out its main outline; above all, it brings out those
arrangements of the eastern end which form the most characteristic
feature. We see the tall tower at the south-west corner; we see the
line of the clerestory with its small round-headed windows; above all,
we see - so unlike anything in Northern architecture - the tall transept
seeming to soar far above the rest of the church, with the three
apses, strangely narrow and lofty, treated simply, as it would seem,
as appendages to the transept itself. Those who have not seen Bitonto
and Bari will not guess how great a danger these soaring apses have
escaped. The Norman of Apulia did not, like the native Italian, deal
in detached bell-towers; he clave to the use of his native land which
made the tower or towers an integral part of the church. But he seems
to have specially chosen a place for them which is German rather than
Norman, and then to have treated them in a way which is neither
German, Norman, nor Italian. At Bitonto and in the two great churches
of Bari, a pair of towers flanks the east end. In Italy it might be
safer to say the apse end; but we think that in all these cases the
apse end is the east end or nearly so. Such pairs of eastern towers
are common in Germany; but there the great apse projects between them.
At Bari and Bitonto the whole apsidal arrangement is masked by a flat
wall. The towers rise above the side apses; the great central apse is
hidden by the wall carried in front of it. We thus get at the east end
a flat front, like a west front; we lose the curves of the apses, and
with them the arcades and grouped windows which form so marked a
feature in the ordinary Romanesque of Germany and Italy. A single
window, of larger size than Romanesque taste commonly allows, marks
the place of the high altar. And this window is adorned with shafts
and mouldings of special richness, and with animal figures above and
below the shafts. Now here at Trani, though all the apses stand out,
yet a like arrangement is followed. The central apse has only a single
window of the same enriched type; the side apses have also only a
single window each, but of a much plainer kind. Thus much, without
taking in every detail, we can mark in our distant view; we can mark
too somewhat of the unusually rich and heavy cornice of the transept,
and the upper part of the transept front, the wheel window and the two
rich coupled windows beneath it. We can mark too the arrangements of
the great square tower, crowned with its small octagonal finish; and
even here we can see that, with all its majesty of outline, it is far
from ranking in the first class of Italian bell-towers. Its
composition lacks boldness and simplicity, while it has nothing
remarkable in the way of ornament. Saint Zeno among the simpler
towers, Spalato among the more elaborate, stand indeed unrivalled. But
the cathedral tower of Trani, when closely examined, is less
satisfactory than its own majestic neighbour at Bari. It is not merely
that the pointed arch, always out of place in an Italian bell-tower,
is used in the upper stages. The pointed arch is used with better
effect, both far away in the noble tower of Velletri, and close by at
Trani itself, in the far humbler tower of the Dominican church. The
fault lies in this, that the windows, instead of being spread over the
whole face of each stage, are gathered together in the centre of each,
while two of them have rather awkward pointed canopies over the groups
of windows. Still, seen from far or near, it is a grand and majestic
tower, though its faults, which catch the eye at a distance, become
more distinct as we draw nearer.

The road by which we approach the _duomo_ will give us no view of it
from the west, and, till we come quite near to the church, we shall
hardly see how closely it overhangs the sea. We take our course by the
harbour, for part of the way is under heavy and dark arcades which
remind us of Genoa. Presently, before we reach the great church, we
come across the east end of a smaller one, with which we shall
afterwards become better acquainted from its western side. At this end
it seems to be called _Purgatorio_; at the other end we shall find
that its true name is _Ogni Santi_ - All Hallows. Here there is no
transept; still the three apses may pass for a miniature of those in
the metropolitan church; there is the same single large and elaborate
window in the mid apse, the same smaller single windows in the side
apses. We go landwards for a short way, and we presently find
ourselves on a terrace overlooking the sea, close under the east end
of the _duomo_. We now better take in both the grandeur and the
singularity of the building whose general effect we have studied from
a distance. We take in some fresh features, as the tall blank arcades
along the walls, a feature shared by Trani with Bari, and we guess
that the extraordinary height of the apses must be owing to the
presence of a lofty under-church. We see signs too at the east end
which seem to show that at some time or other there was a design for
some other form of east end, inconsistent with the present design. The
visitor will now perhaps be tempted to go at once within, though he
ought in strictness to pass under the tower in order to finish his
outside survey at the west end. It is curious to see how the same
feeling which prevails in the east end prevails in the west front
also. Here we have no continuous arcades like Pisa, Lucca, and
Zara - happily we have no sham gables like the great one at Lucca; we
have again the single great window with the small ones on each side.
Only here the mid window has over it a rich wheel, the favourite form
of the country, a form which the apsidal east end would not allow. And
it is treated in exactly the same way, with the same kind of
surrounding ornaments, as the single-light windows.

This west front, as it now stands, has a rather bare look; the windows
have too much the air of being cut through the wall without any
artistic design, and there is too great a gap between the windows and
the west doorway with its flanking arcades below. But this last fault
at least is not to be charged on the original design, which clearly
took in a projecting portico. We may doubt however whether the portico
could have been high enough to have much dignity, and we shall find

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryEdward Augustus FreemanSketches from the subject and neighbour lands of Venice → online text (page 17 of 23)