called the Duomo, which would in time take its place
as the Cathedral Church of Florence, but which would
never take from it its unique privilege of being the
building in which all the little children born in the city
are received into Christ's flock, and enrolled under His
It is curiously dark inside, for the windows are very
narrow, and are high up in the walls, so that most of
Where the Babies are Baptized 43
the light comes in through the north and south doors,
which are always open.
Great marble pillars stand round the walls, while the
space under the dome is quite clear. The interior of
the dome itself is covered with beautiful mosaic work,
representing our Lord showing His pierced hands,
while all ranks of creatures Cherubim, Seraphim,
Angels, men, and even demons (who look very like
the gnomes of our northern fairy tales), worship
It is very cool and quiet, and we are glad to come
here out of the blazing sunshine of the Piazza, and sit
down on one of the benches, and look at the marble
font, standing in an enclosed space to the left of the
altar, and think of the hundreds of thousands of little
children who have been baptized here, and the different
ways they travelled, and the different lives they led.
Some of them were rich, some poor ; the majority of
them absolutely unknown to us ; a few whose names
and work we know so well.
Just think for a moment of one baby in particular
who was carried here from a little house in a narrow
street, not a stone's throw away, more than six long
centuries ago. I suppose he looked just like any other
infant, and no one paid much attention to him, except
the nurse who carried him, and the persons who were
his godparents, as he received his name- -Durante.
Little did they think that, when hundreds of years had
passed away, the shortened form of the baby boy's
name, Dante, would be among the foremost names in
the world's history, and that he would give to all men,
for all time, a vision so strange and startling, and yet so
beautiful, of that other world, to which succeeding
generations pass so slowly, and yet so surely, that it
makes those who read it realize, as perhaps they never
realized before, the value for good or evil of our actions
here on earth, and the reality of " things unseen."
Perhaps as we are sitting here, one of the curtains
which fall over the doorways will be pushed aside, and
a little family party will enter. We are in luck, for
now we will see a baptism, and we watch the service
eagerly, for it is strange to most of us, being, of course,
according to the rites of the Church of Rome.
But the time to see, not one baptism, but many, is on
a Sunday afternoon, when numbers of babies arrive,
often as many as twenty or thirty, one after the other,
some of them evidently very poor, but daintily clean,
in their little white gowns, or swaddling bands, and
some of them belonging to rich parents, in beautifully-
embroidered robes, and covered, faces and all, with
heavy corded silk coverings, with their initials em-
broidered in gold upon them. When we see this heavy
covering, which seems quite enough to suffocate the
poor little things, we think that the poorer infants have
the best of it, who are only veiled in thin white veils.
But there they are, gentle and simple alike, and are
baptized in the order in which they arrive, two priests
being engaged in the work, taking the services alter-
nately for each baby has a service to itself- -and while
one is engaged in the ceremony, the other is filling up
the certificate, and necessary papers for the last child.
Then the little things are carried out into the sun-
shine again, and back to their various homes, to grow
up and fulfil the vows which have just been taken for
them as best they may, in very different surroundings,
and under very different circumstances.
Its Builders 45
Now, after having seen a little of what goes on in the
city of Florence to-day, we must begin to think about
the old buildings, and pictures, and statues which it
contains, and which, above all other things, make it so
famous, and to do this we must go very far back indeed,
to somewhere about A.D. 1294, when the grave and
reverend men who ruled over the city's destinies woke
up to the fact that the neighbouring and rival towns of
Pisa and Sienna were having wonderful Cathedrals built,
while Florence, which was larger, and more important
than either of them, was content to allow her Bishop's
Chair to remain in the humble little Church of St. John
Baptist. But, having once become alive to this fact,
they lost no time in embellishing their city also.
In those days great bands of skilled workmen
travelling Guilds as they were called, went up and
down the country, ready to settle in this town, or that,
according to where their services were needed, and
undertake the building of any edifice.
In one of these bands there was a very skilful
builder, named Arnolfo, and he either came on his own
account or was invited to come to Florence, and was
" commissioned," as we would say, not only to build a
new Cathedral, but a Palace for the Signoria, or rulers
of the city, and another great church as well.
Of course he only acted as the architect, and he must
have collected round him a band of other workers,
for in little more than four years three enormous
buildings were begun ; the Duomo, or Cathedral, the
Palazzo Vecchio, and the Church of Santa Croce, which
stands in the eastern district of the city.
I have called this chapter the "Builders of Florence,"
and in other chapters we will read about its painters and
sculptors, but it is almost impossible to separate the
names of the men who, as it were, made the city, into
any such divisions, for the builders were often also the
painters, and the painters the sculptors, and so on.
For these men were so gifted that they seemed almost
like Jacks-of-all-trades. They could turn their hands
So we find that the next name that stands out from
the mist of these bygone days is that of a painter,
who yet is described as helping Arnolfo with his plans.
This was Cimabue, who may be called the Father of
Florentine Painting, for his is the earliest picture of
note which is preserved to us a very stiff, life-sized
Madonna and Child, which was thought so much of
that the citizens carried it in procession through the
streets, and hung it up in the Church of Santa Maria
Novella, where we can see it to-day. But Cimabue is
most noted because he discovered a little country boy,
who had very great talents, both as a builder, and a
sculptor, and a painter, whose name was Giotto. And
this was how it came about.
Cimabue was riding into the country one day upon
his mule, when he chanced to see a little peasant lad,
about eight years old, who was in charge of a flock of
sheep, but who was letting the sheep tend themselves,
while he drew a picture of one of them on a piece of
slate with a sharp pointed stone. Cimabue dismounted,
and looked at the drawing, and he was so struck with
Its Builders 47
the talent that it displayed, that he went to the boy's
father, and asked if he might take the little Giotto
home with him, and train him in his art.
The father consented, and we do not hear very much
more about the lad until his name appears as a friend
of Dante, and as a well-known fresco-painter, who went
all over the country, painting sacred pictures on the
plastered walls of churches by means of what was known
as "tempera" or, as we would call it, distemper.
That is, in colour which is not mixed with oil, but
with water with a little size in it, to keep it from peel-
ing off the wall, or, as was sometimes done in Giotto's
days, with the whites of eggs, or juice of figs.
You must remember that at this time the common
people could not read, and those pictures, which either
represented scenes from the Life of Our Lord, or from
the Old Testament, or from the Lives of the Saints,
formed a sort of eye lesson by which they could be
taught the truths of their religion.
So Giotto, as he went about his business, painting a
picture of Heaven on the wall over the altar in the
Chapel of the Bagello (where, by the way, he painted a
portrait of his friend Dante as one of the Saints), or
covering the walls of the Peruzzi Chapel in Santa
Crocc with scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist
and St. John the Evangelist, or in Assisi, representing
stories from the life of St. Francis, or in Padua, or
Ferrara, was just a skilful teacher of religion, only he
taught by pictures, not by words.
Meanwhile the great buildings in Florence were
being completed by one Master Builder after another,
for both Arnolfo and Cimabue were dead, and we do
not know who succeeded them. Arnolto had intended
that his magnificent Cathedral should be crowned by a
dome, but he did not live to see his intention carried
into effect, and no one else dare try to attempt such a
difficult piece of building. So it was roofed over with
a wooden " cupola," and doubtless looked very well as
But the City Fathers were not satisfied. Other
Cathedrals had at least a Campanile or Tower, where a
bell could be hung : theirs had none. So they looked
around for someone to erect one for them.
There was Giotto, the famous painter, who had now
returned to Florence, a man of fifty-eight, and was
working away at altar-pieces, or Crucifixes, or bits of
exquisite statuary, in his little bottega^ or workshop.
He was the very man, and they called on him to show
Most men would have said, "Impossible! I cannot
turn to a new craft at my age.'' Not so Giotto. He
laid aside his palette and brushes and carving tools for
the moment, and with compasses and mathematical
calculations he began to plan out a Tower, fit to be the
companion of the Cathedral and the Baptistery. All
the world knows the result. Straight and square, yet
slender and delicate, Giotto's Tower rose to the skies,
a building that is absolutely unearthly in its purity and
its beauty, bright, and fair, and stately, like, as someone
has said, " the Lily of the Annunciation."
But, even after the Campanile was finished, no one
could be found to undertake the task of setting a dome
on the Church of St. Mary of the Flowers.
That honour was reserved for a young man named
Filippo Brunelleschi, who lived nearly a hundred years
afterwards, and about whose carving of a Crucifix there
INTERIOR OF SANTA MARIA NOVELLA. PAC.r
Its Builders 49
is a very pretty story told, which must go into another
chapter. He seems to have been a born architect, and,
when he was quite a youth, he began to turn over in
his mind methods for completing the Cathedral accord-
ing to Arnolfo's original design. But everyone laughed
at him, and told him it was much too difficult a task for
him to attempt. He was not to be daunted, however,
and went to Rome, with a great friend of his, Donatello,
who also figures in the story about the Crucifix, and
there he wandered about old buildings, studying the
way that they were built, until he earned for himself
the nickname of the " Treasure-hunter." He had his
reward, for, when he returned to Florence, he at last
persuaded the Signoria to allow him to make the
attempt, and the result was the enormous dome which
gives the Cathedral its commonest name a wonderful
piece of architecture in any age, more wonderful in those
days, when as yet the dome of St. Peter's at Rome had
not been built, and no one had seen anything to
THE STORY OF THREE FRIENDS
ABOUT the year 1105 there were three friends living in
Florence, or rather two were living there, for one had
gone away for a year to wander up and down Italy,
to see what was going on, and perfect himself in his
Their names were Filippo Brunelleschi, of whom we
have heard before, Donato Bardi, and Lorenzo Ghiberti,
who was the wanderer.
They were all quite young. Brunelleschi was twenty-
three, so was Ghiberti, while Donate, or Donatello (the
little Donate), as he was afterwards called, because he
was very short of stature, was only seventeen.
The Duomo was built then, only it had not its dome.
So was Giotto's Tower, and the Baptistery had been
covered with marble, and one most beautiful pair of
doors had been supplied to it, those on the south side,
which had been modelled in bronze by an artist called
Andrea Pisano. They had taken twenty-two years to
complete, and represented scenes from the life of St.
John the Baptist.
But the doors on the north and east sides were still
plain and commonplace, and the Signoria and the heads
of the Trades Guilds made up their minds that they also
should be taken away, and wrought doors of metal
put in their places. So they issued a proclamation
inviting all the "Masters" in Italy to make a "Story
in Bronze ' -that is, a bronze panel representing
some Scriptural scene, and submit it for their approval.
Ghiberti's stepfather was a goldsmith, a worker in
gold and metals, and his stepson had followed his craft;
and so certain was the old man that the lad had talent
enough to compete, that he sent an urgent message for
him to come home at once, and begin a panel like the rest.
Ghiberti instantly obeyed, for he had confidence in his
own ability, and he knew that the man who was chosen
to model the gates had his fortune made for lite.
Seven competitors entered, among whom was Brunel-
leschi, and the subject chosen was the Sacrifice of Isaac.
We can imagine how eagerly the artists worked, and
with what excitement they looked forward to the
decision of the judges. But there were two young
men who were already quite clear in their minds as to
The Story of Three Friends 51
whose panel was most perfectly wrought. These were
Brunelleschi and Donatello, who went round all the
workshops and gave their verdicts long before the
judges had given theirs.
" Ghiberti's is by far the best," they said ; and the
words must have cost Brunelleschi a pang, for he was
very ambitious, and he naturally had hoped to be the
victor. But if he had been, who would have built the
dome of the Cathedral ?
At last the verdict of the judges was announced, and
it agreed with that of the two friends. Ghiberti had
eclipsed all the other competitors, and, in spite of his
youth, he was chosen for the great work. For a great
work it was. He had already made one panel, but
each of the double doors required fourteen panels for
its completion. These panels were to represent scenes
from the life of Christ, the Apostles, and the early
Fathers, and must be as perfect as the artist could
make them in their design and execution.
It shows us what an important undertaking it was
considered, when we read that a special order was
issued by the magistrates, that Ghiberti and all his
fellow-workmen, the men who looked after the furnaces
in his workshop, and the melting of the bronze, and
the casting, were licensed C to go about Florence at
all hours of the night, but always carrying lamps,
lighted and visible." Other people had to be in their
houses by a certain hour, but Ghiberti's furnaces burned
night and day, and they had to be attended to.
The artist was a young man when he began these
gates, he was an old man when he finished them, tor
he spent twenty-two years over the first two doors, and
twenty-seven years (some people say seventeen) over
the second, which represent scenes from Old Testament
It is worth our while spending some time in studying
these wonderful doors, of which Michael Angelo said
that they were " worthy to be the Gates of Paradise,"
for they are certainly amongst the most perfect works
of art in the world.
They were Ghiberti's lifework, and we already know
what Brunelleschi's was. The third of the trio of
friends, Donatello, was always a sculptor and carver.
He delighted in producing figures, but we do not read
of him attempting to paint.
One of the first really big things he did, and this
must have been when he was little more than a boy,
was to carve a wooden Crucifix we can still see it
hanging in one of the chapels of Santa Croce and he
was so delighted with his work that he showed it to his
friend Brunelleschi, thinking, no doubt, that he would
admire it vastly. But Brunelleschi, who, even in his
early days, was really a very great genius, only smiled
in a superior way without saying anything. Donatello
asked him what was the matter with his carving, and
Brunelleschi, who was always rather contemptuous of
other people's work, said that it was " a countryman,
and not the Christ," whom Donatello had represented
upon the Cross.
Donatello had an exceedingly sweet temper, but he
was nettled at the unkind words, so he replied angrily,
"If it is so easy, take wood, and make a Crucifix
thyself!" and the friends parted.
Brunelleschi never referred to the remark again, but
during the following months he worked secretly at some
very special bi tof work in his own lodgings. Then
The Story of Three Friends 53
one day he asked Donatello to come home to dinner
with him, and, as was the simple custom of the times,
the two apprentices, for they were nothing else, bought
the materials for their repast in the market-place ;
Donatello insisting on paying for it ; and a very plain
little repast it was some eggs, some fruit, and a loaf of
bread and he carried them away with him in his apron.
We can imagine the two lads running up some narrow
flight of stairs which led to Brunelleschi's lodgings,
laughing and talking as they went, and bursting into
his room. Then came the surprise which Brunelleschi
had, rather ill-naturedly, I think, prepared for his friend.
There, standing in the very best light, was a wooden
Crucifix, marvellously carved, and the Figure on the
Cross wonderfully lifelike. It hangs in the Church of
Santa Maria Novella to-day, and we can study it for
Poor Donatello! he stopped short as he looked at it,
leaving go of his apron in his surprise, and, it may be,
in his feeling of disappointment, and of course all the
eggs, and fruit, and bread fell to the ground in one
But if there was a little bit of natural sore feeling,
the generous, open-hearted fellow hid it at once. He
was too honest not to own that his friend had surpassed
him, and too much of an artist not to glory in the
masterpiece before him. " Ah, Brunelleschi," he cried,
in genuine admiration, "to thee it is given to make the
Christ, to me only the countryman !" I think that
Donatello was one of those who had learned to " rule
his spirit," and that at that moment he was more to be
envied than his friend.
After hearing this story it is nice to know that to
Donatello also " it was given " to make many beautiful
statues and bas-reliefs. There is one in particular which
ought to be an inspiration to everyone, especially to
every boy and girl who looks at it. I mean the statue
of St. George, which he carved for the Guild of the
Armourers, to place outside the Church of Or San
This is a very beautiful church situated near the
Duomo, and there are life-sized statues standing in
niches all round the outside of it, placed there by the
various Guilds. Donatello's " St. George ' stood for
centuries in a niche at one corner of the building,
looking down on the passers-by.
But at last it was considered too precious to remain
there any longer, so it was taken down, and a copy of
it put up instead ; and now the original stands in the
great hall of the Bargello or Palace of the Podesta,
which is now used as a National Museum.
It represents a young man, in simple armour, leaning
on his shield, which bears the Sign of the Cross. He
carries no weapons, and his face is grave and purpose-
ful, yet quite calm and restful, as if he were quietly
waiting for the call to go forth and fight the evil which
he knows is sure to attack him.
Below, in bas-belief, is a little representation of St.
George fighting the Dragon, as if to give a hint of
what the young warrior's after-life would be.
Many years after this figure had been placed in its
niche, and when the hands that had fashioned it so
marvellously were mouldering in the dust, that greatest
of all sculptors, Michael Angelo, wandering about the
streets of Florence, stopped in front of it, and uttered
the one word, "Cammina!"
* March !
Its Palaces 55
Close beside the statue of St. George, in the hall of
the Bargello, are other works by Donatello. On the
wall is a bas-relief in bronze, which is very well known,
of St. John the Baptist as a child, showing only the
head and shoulders, with a slender Cross rising behind
him, while near-by is a statue of David with his foot
on the head of Goliath, and another of St. John the
Baptist as a young man.
FLORENCE, as we saw in the first chapter, is a city of
Palaces. Whenever a great noble rose into power,
whenever a member of one of the Merchant Guilds
grew so rich that he thought he could " found a family,"
he straightway built himself a Palace, and these massive
blocks of masonry were erected as much for places of
defence as for places of abode, for who knew at what
moment those who occupied them might not fall into
ill-favour, and be besieged within their walls by the
citizens, or by the followers of another noble house ?
These Palaces are still standing, as grim and strong
as in the days when they were built, and the more
important of them are used as public galleries, or
museums, where wonderful collections of paintings, and
sculpture, and other works of art are exhibited. Others
are used as public offices, others, again, as private
There are about a hundred houses which bear the
name of "Palazzo' in Florence, so we can only visit
one or two of the largest, and see what they look like.
First of all there is the Palazzo del Bargello, or Palace
of the Police, which was at first the Palazzo del
Podesta, or Palace of the Chief Magistrate. It was
built at the same time as the Cathedral and the Palazzo
Vecchio. It stands in the Via Proconsolo, and from the
outside, it is just an enormous square battlemented
building, three stories high, with a tower, also battle-
mented, at one corner.
But when we enter, and pass through the Great Hall,
now filled with armour, but which in the old days was
used as a torture-chamber, we at once find ourselves in
a medieval fortress. The Palace is not a solid block
of buildings, as we might suppose, looking at it from
the street, but it is built round an open courtyard,
paved with stone, and with a well in the middle ; so
that, if plenty of provisions were stored in the under-
ground chambers, and the great gates were bolted and
barred, the Podesta and his friends might have success-
fully sustained a prolonged siege.
The courtyard of this Palace is typical of many
others, only it is larger and grander, and a broad out-
side stone staircase leads from it to the second story,
which is not usual. Round the courtyard runs a stone
loggia, upon which the second and third stories rest.
They are closed in by ordinary walls, and form long
gallery-like rooms, with small windows looking into the
surrounding streets, and large ones looking into the
courtyard. These rooms are now filled with pictures
and statuary, but the old walls and vaulted ceilings,
covered in many places with paintings and frescoes, the
ancient woodwork, and quaint fireplaces, remain to show
us in what a dignified and cultured way these old
Florentine officials and nobles lived.
Here, for instance, on the second story, is the
COURTYARD OF THE PALAZZO VECCH THE
LOGGIA DE LANZI THROUGH THE DOOR- PAGE 6O.
Its Palaces 57
Podesta's Audience-Chamber, with a vaulted ceiling,
painted azure blue, to represent the sky, and studded
with golden stars. On one side is a most magnificent
open fireplace, with a broad hearth, and < dogs," on
which to rest the blazing logs in winter, and we can
well imagine what a beautiful room it would be when
the. firelight fell on the polished floor, and on the quaint
wooden chairs and settles with which it would be
furnished. Opening out of it is a chapel, which must
have been a very stately place of worship. The floor
is of marble, the stalls for the worshippers of carved and
inlaid wood, and the walls and roof are covered with old
frescoes in delicate colours, painted by Giotto.