Mrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) Oliphant.

The makers of Venice; doges, conquerors, painters, and men of letters online

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and for once he had failed. The people called " Sven-
tura! Sventura!" "Misfortune! Misfortune!" in
their dark masses, as they struggled to see the wonder-
ful sight. Their sympathies could scarcely be against
the victim on that day of retribution; and perhaps, had
his voice been free to speak to them, they might have
thought of other things to shout, which the Signoria had
been less content to hear.

Thus ended the great Carmagnola, the most famous of
all Italian soldiers of fortune. Over one of the doors of
the noble church of the Frari there has hung for genera-
tions a coffin covered with a pall, in which it was long sup-
posed that his bones had been placed, suspended between
heaven and earth per infamia, as a romantic Custode says.
This, however, is one of the fables of tradition. He was
buried in San Francesco delle Vigne (not the present
church), whence at a later period his remains were trans-
ferred to Milan. His wife and daughter, or daugh-
ters, were banished to Treviso with a modest pension,
yet a penalty of death registered against them should
they break bounds so determined, it is evident, were


>e might not speak," to the Piazzetta,
ml and so gay, which then had
oiations of any in Venice. "Between the
the blue lagoon, with all its wavelets flinging
upvarci their countless gleams of reflection in the early
the rich-hued sails standing out against the blue;
reat barges coming serenely in, as now, with all
many-colored stores from the Lido farms and
the gondolas crowding to the edge of the fatal
pavement, the populace rushing from behind. No doubt
the windows of the ducal palace, or so much of the gal-
leries as were then in existence, were crowded with
spectators too. Silent, carrying his head high, like him
of whom Dante writes who held great Hell itself in
despite, sdegnoso even of tlMHt gag between his lips, the
great soldier, the general whose praises had rung through
e, and whose haughty looks had been so familiar in
the streets, w to his death. By that strong

argument of Answerable, incontestable, the

Signoria manage< uf many an inconvenient

servaMbl^dcf SAN MARCO, COLUMNS OF/*g&te unate -
Carmagnola had t ft. He was too great,

and for once he had '>le called " Sven-

tura! Svcntura!" "Mi ortune!" in

their dark masses, as thev \ wonder-

ful sight. Their sympathy against

the victim on that day of n prittaps, had

his voice been free to spc . they might har

. ht of other things to shout, which the Signoria had
less content to hear.

is ended the great Carmagnola, the most famous of
.ilian soldiers of fortune. Over one of the doors of
church of the Frari there has hung for genera-
' overed with a pall, in which it was long sup-
-. bones had been placed, suspended between
rth per infamia, as a romantic Custode says.
one of the fables of tradition. He was
mcesco delle Vigne (not the present
t a later period his remains were trans-
ferred His wife and daughter, or daugh-
ters, wer- cviso with a modest pension,
yet a per, gistered against them should
they bre, termined, it is evident, were


the Signoria to leave no means by which the general
could be avenged, And what became of these poor
women is unknown. Such unconsidered trifles drop
through the loopholes of history, which has nothing to
do with hearts that are broken or hopes that cannot be



THE lives of the other condottieri who tore Lombardy
in pieces among them and were to-day for Venice and
to-morrow for Milan, or for any other master who might
turn up with a reasonable chance of fighting, have less
of human interest, as they have less of the tragic element
in their lives, and less of what we may call modern char-
acteristics in their minds, than the unfortunate general
who ended his days "between the columns," the victim
of suspicion only, leaving no proof against him that can
satisfy posterity. If Carmagnola was a traitor at all, he
was such a one as might be the hero of an analytical
drama of our own day; wavering between truth and false-
hood, worked upon by old associations and the spells of
relenting affection, but never able to bring himself to the
point of renouncing his engagements or openly breaking
his word. Such a traitor might be in reality more
dangerous than the light-hearted deserter who went
over with his lances at a rousing gallop to the enemy.
But modern art loves to dwell upon the conflicts of the
troubled mind, driven about from one motive or object
to another, now seized upon by the tender recollections
of the past, and a longing for the sympathy and society
of the friends of his youth, now sternly called back by
the present duty which requires him to act in the service
of their enemy.

It is difficult to realize this nineteenth-century struggle
as going on under the corselet of a mediaeval soldier; a
fierce, illiterate general, risen from the ranks, ferocious
in war and arrogant in peace, according to all the de-
scriptions of him. But there is nothing vulgar in the
image that rises before us as we watch Carmagnola lying
inactive on those devastated plains, letting his fame go
to the winds, paralyzed between the subtle wooings of
old associations, the horror of Philip's approaching ruin



wrought by his hands of Philip who had been his play-
fellow when they were both youths at Pavia, the cousin,
perhaps the brother, of his wife and the demands of the
alien masters who paid him so well, and praised him so
loudly, but scorned with fine ridicule his rough, military
ways. Philip had wronged him bitterly, but had suffered
for it; and how was it possible to keep the rude heart
from melting when the rage of love offended had passed
away, and the sinner pleaded for forgiveness? Or who
could believe that the woman by his side, who was a Vis-
conti, would be silent, or that she could see unmoved
her own paternal blazon sinking to the earth before the
victorious Lion of the Venetians? The wonder is that
Carmagnola did not do as at one time or another every
one of his compeers did go over cheerfully to Philip,
and thus turn the tables at once. Some innate nobility
in the man, who was not as the others were, could alone
have prevented this very usual catastrophe. Even if we
take the view of the Venetian Signoria, that he was in
his heart a traitor, we must still allow the fact, quite
wonderful in the circumstances, that he was not so by
any overt act and that his treachery amounted to
nothing more than the struggle in his mind of two influ-
ences which paralyzed and rendered him wretched. The
ease with which he fell into the snare laid for his feet,
and obeyed the Signoria's call, which in reality was his
death warrant, does not look like a guilty man.

The others were all of very different mettle. Gonzaga,
Marquis of Mantua, who, with a few generations of fore-
fathers behind him, might have been supposed to have
learned the laws of honor better than a mere Savoyard
trooper, went over without a word, at a most critical
moment of the continued war, yet died in his bed com-
fortably, no one thinking of branding him with the name
of traitor. Sforza acted in the same manner repeatedly,
without any apparent criticism from his contemporaries,
and in the end displaced and succeeded Philip, and estab-
lished his family as one of the historical families of Italy.
None of these men seem to have had any hesitation in
the matter. And neither had the lesser captain who has
so identified himself with Venice that when we touch
upon the mainland and its wars, and the conquests and
losses of the republic, it is not possible to pass by the


name of Colleoni. This is not so much for the memory
of anything he has done, or from any characteristics of
an impressive nature which he possessed, as from the
wonderful image of him which rides and reigns in Venice,
the embodiment of martial strength and force unhesitat-
ing, the mailed captain of the Middle Ages, ideal in a
tremendous reality which the least observant cannot but
feel. There he stands as in iron nay, stands not, but
rides upon us, unscrupulous, unswerving, though his next
step should be on the hearts of the multitude, crushing
them to pulp with remorseless hoofs. Man and horse
together, there is scarcely any such warlike figure left
among us to tell in expressive silence the tale of those
days when might was right, and the sword, indifferent to
all reason, turned every scale. Colleoni played no such
emphatic part in the history of Venice as his great leader
and predecessor. But he was mixed up in all those
wonderful wars of Lombardy; in the confusion of sieges,
skirmishes, surprises ever repeated, never decisive; a
phantasmagoria of moving crowds; a din and tumult that
shakes the earth, thundering of horses, cries and shouts
of men, and the glancing of armor, and the blaze of
swords, reflecting the sudden blaze of burning towns,
echoing the more terrible cries of sacked cities. From
the miserable little castello, taken again and again, and
yet again, its surrounding fields trampled down, its poor
inhabitants drained of their utmost farthing, to such
rich centers as Brescia and Verona, which lived for half
their time shut up within their walls, besieged by one
army or the other, and spent the other half in settling
their respective ransoms, changing their insignia, setting
up the Lion and Serpent alternately upon their flags, what
endless misery and confusion, and waste of human happi-
ness! But the captains who changed sides half a dozen
times in their career, and were any man's men who would
give them high pay and something to fight about, pur-
sued their trade with much impartiality, troubling them-
selves little about the justice or injustice of their cause,
and still less, it would appear, about any bond of honor
between themselves and their masters. Colleoni alone
seems to have had some scrupulousness about breaking
his bond before his legal time was up. The others do
not seem to have had conscience even in this respect,


but deserted when it pleased them; as often as not in the
middle of a campaign.

Bartolommeo Colleoni, or Coglioni, as his biographer
calls him, was born in the year 1400, of a family of small
rustic nobility near Bergamo, but was driven from his
home by a family feud, in the course of which his father
was displaced from the fortress which he seems to have
won in the good old way by his spear and his bow by a
conspiracy headed by his own brothers. This catastrophe
scattered the children of Paolo Colleoni, and threw into
the ranks of the free lances (which probably, however,
would have been their destination in any case) his young
sons as soon as they were old enough to carry a spear.
The first service of Bartolommeo was under the con-
dottiere Braccio, in the service of the Queen of Naples,
where he is said, by his biographer Spino, to have
acquired, from his earliest beginnings in the field, singu-
lar fame and reputation. It is unfortunate that this
biographer, throughout the course of his narrative,
adopts the easy method of attributing to Colleoni all the
fine things done in the war; appropriating without scruple
acts which are historically put to the credit of his com-
manders. It is possible, no doubt, that he is right, and
that the young officer suggested to Gattamelata his
famous retreat over the mountains, and to the engineer
who carried it out the equally famous transport overland
to the Lago di Garda of certain galleys to which we shall
afterward refer. Colleoni entered the service of Venice
at the beginning of Carmagnola's first campaign, with a
force of forty horsemen, and his biographer at once
credits him, on the authority of an obscure historian, with
one of the most remarkable exploits of that war, the dar-
ing seizure of a portion of the fortifications of Cremona,
before which Carmagnola's army was lying. He was at
least one of the little party which executed this feat of

Bartolommeo, accompanied by Mocimo da Lugo, and by Cavalcabue,
the son of Ugolino, once Lord of Cremona, both captains in the army,
the latter having friends in the city, approached the walls by night, with
great precaution, and, on that side where they had been informed the de-
fenses were weakest, placed their ladders. Barlolommeo was the first,
con intrepidissimo animo, to ascend the wall and to occupy the tower of
San Luca, having killed the commander and guards. News was sent at
once to Carmagnola of this success, upon which, had he, according to


their advice, hastened to attack, Cremona, without doubt, would have
fallen into the hands of the Venetians.

The young adventurers held this tower for three days,
as Quentin Durward or the three Mousquetaires of
Dumas might have done, but finally were obliged to
descend as they had come up, and return to the army
under cover of night, with nothing but the name of a
daring feat to reward them though that, no doubt, had
its sweetness, and also a certain value in their profession.
The curious complication of affairs in that strange, dis-
tracted country, may be all the more clearly realized if
we note that one of the three, and most probably the
leader of the band, was a Cremonese, familiar with all the
points of vantage in the city, and the son of its former
lord, with, no doubt, partisans and a party of his own, had
he been able to push his way out of the Rocca to the
interior of the city. Thus there was always someone
who, even in the subjection of his native place to the
republic, may have hoped for a return of his own family,
or at least for vengeance upon the neighboring despot
that had cast it out.

We hear of Colleoni next in a rapid night march to
Bergamo, which was the original home of his own race,
and which was threatened by the Milanese forces under
Piccinino. Knowing the city to be without means of de-
fense, though apparently still in a state of temporary
independence, Colleoni proposed to his commanders to
hurry thither and occupy and prepare it for the approach-
ing attack, with the condition, however, that the affairs
of the city, lecose de Bergamaschi, at least within the walls,
should receive no damage another consolatory gleam of
patriotism in the midst of all the fierce selfishness of the
time. With his usual promptitude, and what his biogra-
pher calls animosita, impetuosity, he rushed across the
country while Piccinino was amusing himself with the lit-
tle independent castles about; "robbing and destroying
the country, having given orders that whatever could not
be carried away should be burned; so that in a very short
time the villages and castles of the valleys Callepia and
Trescoria were reduced to the semblance and aspect of a
vast and frightful solitude." Colleoni had only his own
little force of horsemen and three hundred infantry, and
had he come across the route of the Milanese, would have


been but a mouthful to that big enemy. But he carried
his little band along with such energy and inspiration of
impetuous genius that they reached Bergamo while still
the foe was busy with the blazing villages; and had time
to strengthen the fortifications and increase both ammu-
nition and men before the approach of Piccinino, who,
finally repulsed from the walls of the city in which he had
expected to find an easy prey and harbor for the stormy
season, and exposed to that other enemy, which nobody
in those days attempted to make head against, the winter,
with its chilling forces of rain and snow, streamed back
disconsolate to Milan al suo Duca, who probably was not
at all glad to see him, and expected with reason that so
great a captain as Piccinino would have kept his troops
at the expense of Bergamo, or some other conquered city,
until he could take the field again, instead of bringing
such a costly and troublesome following home.

We cannot, however, follow at length the feats which
his biographer ascribes to Colleoni's animosita and im-
petuous spirit, which';was combined, according to the same
authority, with a prudence and foresight "above the
captains of his time."

One of these was the extraordinary piece of engineer-
ing by which a small fleet, including one or two galleys,
was transported from the Adige to the Lago di Garda
over the mountain pass, apparently that between Mori
and Riva. Near the top of the pass is a small lake called
now the Lago di Loppio; a little mountain tarn, which
afforded a momentary breathing space to the workmen
and engineers of this wonderful piece of work. The
galleys, " two of great size and three smaller," along with
a number of little boats which were put upon carts, were
dragged over the pass, with infinite labor and pains, and
it was only in the third month that the armata the little
squadron painfully drawn down hill by means of the
channel of a mountain stream found its way to the lake
at last. This wonderful feat was the work, according to
Sabellico, of a certain Sorbolo of Candia. But the biog-
rapher of Colleoni boldly claims the idea for his hero,
asserting with some appearance of justice that the fathers
of Venice would not have consented to such a scheme
upon the word of an altogether unknown man, who was
simply the engineer who carried it out. It was for the


purpose of supplying provisions to Brescia, then closely
besieged, that this great work was done. Sabellico gives
a less satisfactory but still more imposing reason. "It
was supposed," he says, "that the intention of the
Venetian senators was rather to encourage the Brescians,
than for any other motive, as they were aware that these
ships were of no use; the district being so full of the
enemy's forces that no one could approach Brescia, and
great doubts being entertained whether it would be possi-
ble to retain Verona and Vicenza." On the other hand,
Spino declares that the armata fulfilled its purpose and
secured the passage of provisions to Brescia. It was, at
any rate, a magnificent way of keeping the beleaguered
city, and all the other alarmed dependencies of Venice,
in good heart and hope.

None of our historians have, however, a happy hand in
their narratives of these wars. They are given in end-
less repetitions, and indeed, were without any human
interest, even that of bloodshed; an eternal see-saw of
cities taken and retaken, of meaningless movements of
troops, and chess-board battles gained and lost. One of
the greatest of these, in which Colleoni was one of the
leaders against Sforza, who led the troops of Milan, bore
a strong resemblance to that battle of Maclodio, in which
Carmagnola won so great but so unfortunate a victory.
Sforza had established himself, as his predecessor had
done, among the marshes; and although, at the first onset,
the Venetians had the best of it, their success was but
momentary, and the troops were soon wildly flying and
floundering over the treacherous ground. Colleoni, who
led the reserve and who made a stand as long as he could,
escaped at last on foot, Sanudo says, who writes the
woeful news as it arrives at the fifteenth hour of the i5th
of September, 1448. "The Proveditori Almoro Donate
and Guado Dandolo were made prisoners," he says,
"which Proveditori were advised by many that they
ought to fly and save themselves, but answered that they
would rather die beside the ensigns than save themselves
by a shameful flight. And note," adds the faithful
chronicler, " that in this rout only one of our troops was
killed, the rest being taken prisoners and many of them
caught in the marshes." The flight of the mercenaries
on every side, while the two proud Venetians stood by


their flag, perhaps the only men of all that host who cared
in their hearts what became of St. Mark's often-triumph-
ant Lion, affords another curious picture in illustration of
surely the strangest warfare ever practiced among men.

But not for this [Sanudo goes on] was the doge discouraged, but
came to the council with more vigor than ever, and the question was
how to reconstruct the army, so that, having plenty of money, they should
establish the camp again as it was at first.

Thus Venetian pride and gold triumphed over mis-
fortune. The most energetic measures were taken at
once with large offers of pay and remittances of money,
and the broken bands were gradually regathered together.
Sforza, after his victory, pushed on, taking and ravaging
everything till he came once more to the gates of Brescia,
where again the sturdy citizens prepared themselves for
a siege. In the meantime pairs of anxious Proveditori
with sacks of money went off at once to every point of
danger; thirty thousand ducats fell to the share of Brescia
alone. At Verona, these grave officials " day and night
were in waiting to enroll men, and very shortly had col-
lected a great army by means of the large payments they

While these tremendous efforts were in the course of
making, once more the whole tide of affairs was changed
as by a magician's wand. The people of Milan had
called Sforza back on their duke's death, but had held his
power in constant suspicion, and were now seized with
alarm lest, flushed with victory as he was, he should take
that duke's place which was indeed his determination.
They seized the occasion accordingly, and now rose
against his growing power, "desiring to maintain them-
selves in freedom." Sforza no sooner heard of this than
he stopped fighting, and by the handy help of one of the
Proveditori who had been taken in the battle of the
marshes, and who turned out to be a friend of his secre-
tary Simonetta, made overtures of peace to Venice, which
were as readily accepted. So that on the i8th of October
of the same year, little more than a month after the
disastrous rout above recorded, articles of peace were
signed, by which the aid of four thousand horsemen and
two thousand foot was granted to Sforza, along with a
subsidy of thirteen thousand ducats a month, according


to Sanudo, though one cannot help feeling that an extra
cipher must have crept into the statement. Venice
regained all she had lost; and the transformation scene
having thus once more taken place, our Colleoni among
others, so lately a fugitive before the victorious Milanese,
settled calmly down in his saddle once more as a lieu-
tenant of Sforza's army, as if no battle or hostility had
ever been.

A curious domestic incident appears in the midst of the
continued phantasmagoria of this endless fighting. The
Florentines, more indifferent to consistency than the
Venetians, and always pleased to humiliate a sister state,
not only supported Sforza against the Milanese, but pre-
sumed to remonstrate with the Signoria when, after a time,
getting alarmed by his growing power, they withdrew
from their alliance with him. This was promptly
answered by a decree expelling all Florentine inhabitants
from Venice, and forbidding them the exercise of any
commercial transactions within the town. Shortly before,
King Alfonzo of Naples had made the same order in
respect to the Venetians in his kingdom. These arbi-
trary acts probably did more real damage than the blood-
less battles which, with constant change of combinations,
were going on on every side.

The remaining facts of Colleoni's career were few.
Notwithstanding a trifling blacksliding in the matter of
aiding Sforza, he was engaged as captain-general of the
Venetian forces in 1455, and remained in this office till
the term of his engagement was completed, which seems
to have been ten years. He then, Sanudo tells us,
"treated with Madonna Bianca, Duchess of Milan"
(Sforza being just dead), " to procure the hand of one of
her daughters for his son. But the marriage did not
take place, and he resumed his engagements with our
Signoria." It is difficult to understand how this pro-
posal could have been made, as to all appearance Col-
leoni left no son behind him, a fact which is also stated
in respect to most of the generals of the time a benevo-
lent interposition of nature, one cannot but think, for
cutting off that seed of dragons. The only other men-
tion of him in the Venetian records is the announcement
of his death, which took place in October, 1475, in n * s
castle of Malpaga, surrounded by all the luxury and


wealth of the time. He was of the same age as the cen-
tury, and a completely prosperous and successful man,

Online LibraryMrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) OliphantThe makers of Venice; doges, conquerors, painters, and men of letters → online text (page 22 of 35)