It was after sunset when we arrived in the birthplace of Palladio, which we found a fair city in the lap of caressing hills. There are pretty villas upon these slopes, and an abundance of shaded walks and drives about the houses which were pointed out to us, by the boy who carried our light luggage from the railway station, as the property of rich citizens "but little less than lords" in quality. A lovely grove lay between the station and the city, and our guide not only took us voluntarily by the longest route through this, but, after reaching the streets, led us by labyrinthine ways to the hotel, in order, he afterwards confessed, to show us the city. He was a poet, though in that lowly walk of life, and he had done well. No other moment of our stay would have served us so well for a first general impression of Vicenza as that twilight hour. In its uncertain glimmer we seemed to get quite back to the dawn of feudal civilization, when Theodoric founded the great Basilica of the city; and as we stood before the famous Clock Tower, which rises light and straight as a mast eighty-two metres into the air from a base of seven metres, the wavering obscurity enhanced the effect by half concealing the tower's crest, and letting it soar endlessly upward in the fancy. The Basilica is greatly restored by Palladio, and the cold hand of that friend of virtuous poverty in architecture lies heavy upon his native city in many places. Yet there is still a great deal of Lombardic architecture in Vicenza; and we walked through one street of palaces in which Venetian Gothic prevailed, so that it seemed as if the Grand Canal had but just shrunk away from their bases. When we threw open our window at the hotel, we found that it overlooked one of the city gates, from which rose a Ghibelline tower with a great bulging cornice, full of the beauty and memory of times long before Palladio.
They were rather troublous times, and not to be recalled here in all their circumstance; but I think it due to Vicenza, which is now little spoken of, even in Italy, and is scarcely known in America, where her straw-braid is bought for that of Leghorn, to remind the reader that the city was for a long time a republic of very independent and warlike stomach. Before she arrived at that state, however, she had undergone a great variety of fortunes. The Gauls founded the city (as I learn from "The Chronicles of Vicenza," by Battista Pagliarino, published at Vicenza in 1563) when Gideon was Judge in Israel, and were driven out by the Romans some centuries later. As a matter of course, Vicenza was sacked by Attila and conquered by Alboin; after which she was ruled by some lords of her own, until she was made an imperial city by Henry I. Then she had a government more or less republican in form till Frederick Barbarossa burnt her, and "wrapped her in ashes," and gave her to his vicar Ecelino da Romano, who "held her in cruel tyranny" from 1236 to 1259. The Paduans next ruled her forty years, and the Veronese seventy-seven, and the Milanese seventeen years; then she reposed in the arms of the Venetian Republic till these fell weak and helpless from all the Venetian possessions at the threat of Napoleon. Vicenza belonged again to Venice during the brief Republic of 1848, but the most memorable battle of that heroic but unhappy epoch gave her back to Austria. Now at last, and for the first time, she is Italian. Vicenza is
"Of kindred that have greatly expiated
And greatly wept,"
and but that I so long fought against Ecelino da Romano, and the imperial interest in Italy, I could readily forgive her all her past errors. To us of the Lombard League, it was grievous that she should remain so doggishly faithful to her tyrant; though it is to be granted that perhaps fear had as much to do with her devotion as favor. The defense of 1848 was greatly to her honor, and she took an active part in that demonstration against the Austrians which endured from 1859 till 1866.
Of the demonstration we travellers saw an amusing phase at the opera which we attended the evening of our arrival in Vicenza. "Nabucodonosor" was the piece to be given in the new open-air theatre outside the city walls, whither we walked under the starlight. It was a pretty structure of fresh white stucco, oval in form, with some graceful architectural pretensions without, and within very charmingly galleried; while overhead it was roofed with a blue dome set with such starry mosaic as never covered temple or theatre since they used to leave their houses of play and worship open to the Attic skies. The old Hebrew story had, on this stage brought so near to Nature, effects seldom known to opera, and the scene evoked from far-off days the awful interest of the Bible histories,—the vague, unfigured oriental splendor—the desert—the captive people by the waters of the river of Babylon—the shadow and mystery of the prophecies. When the Hebrews, chained and toiling on the banks of the Euphrates, lifted their voices in lamentation, the sublime music so transfigured the commonplaceness of the words, that they meant all deep and unutterable affliction, and for a while swept away whatever was false and tawdry in the show, and thrilled our hearts with a rapture rarely felt. Yet, as but a moment before we had laughed to see Nebuchadnezzar's crown shot off his head by a squib visibly directed from the side scenes,—at the point when, according to the libretto, "the thunder roars, and a bolt descends upon the head of the king,"—so but a moment after some new absurdity marred the illusion, and we began to look about the theatre at the audience. We then beheld that act of dimostrazioni which I have mentioned. In one of the few boxes sat a young and very beautiful woman in a dress of white, with a fan which she kept in constant movement. It was red on one side, and green on the other, and gave, with the white dress, the forbidden Italian colors, while, looked at alone, it was innocent of offense. I do not think a soul in the theatre was ignorant of the demonstration. A satisfied consciousness was reflected from the faces of the Italians, and I saw two Austrian officers exchange looks of good-natured intelligence, after a glance at the fair patriot. I wonder what those poor people do, now they are free, and deprived of the sweet, perilous luxury of defying their tyrants by constant acts of subtle disdain? Life in Venetia must be very dull: no more explosion of pasteboard petards; no more treason in bouquets; no more stealthy inscriptions on the walls—it must be insufferably dull. Ebbene, pazienza! Perhaps Victor Emanuel may betray them yet.
A spirit of lawless effrontery, indeed, seemed to pervade the whole audience in the theatre that night at Vicenza, and to extend to the ministers of the law themselves. There were large placards everywhere posted, notifying the people that it was forbidden to smoke in the theatre, and that smokers were liable to expulsion; but except for ourselves, and the fair patriot in the box, I think every body there was smoking and the policemen set the example of anarchy by smoking the longest and worst cigars of all. I am sure that the captive Hebrews all held lighted cigarettes behind their backs, and that Nebuchadnezzar, condemned to the grass of the field, conscientiously gave himself up to the Virginia weed behind the scenes.
Before I fell asleep that night, the moon rose over the top of the feudal tower, in front of our hotel, and produced some very pretty effects with the battlements. Early in the morning a regiment of Croats marched through the gate below the tower, their band playing "The Young Recruit." These advantages of situation were not charged in our bill; but, even if they had been, I should still advise my reader to go, when in Vicenza, if he loves a pleasant landlord and a good dinner, to the Hotel de la Ville, which he will find almost at his sole disposition for however long time he may stay. His meals will be served him in a vast dining-hall, as bare as a barn or a palace, but for the pleasant, absurd old paintings on the wall, representing, as I suppose, Cleopatra applying the Asp, Susannah and the Elders, the Roman Lucrezia, and other moral and appetizing histories. I take it there is a quaint side-table or two lost midway of the wall, and that an old woodcut picture of the Most Noble City of Venice hangs over each. I know that there is a screen at one end of the apartment behind which the landlord invisibly assumes the head waiter; and I suspect that at the moment of sitting down at meat, you hear two Englishmen talking—as they pass along the neighboring corridor—of wine, in dissatisfied chest-tones. This hotel is of course built round a court, in which there is a stable and—exposed to the weather—a diligence, and two or three carriages and a driver, and an ostler chewing straw, and a pump and a grape-vine. Why the hotel, therefore, does not smell like a stable, from garret to cellar, I am utterly at a loss to know. I state the fact that it does not, and that every other hotel in Italy does smell of stable as if cattle had been immemorially pastured in its halls, and horses housed in its bed-chambers,—or as if its only guests were centaurs on their travels.
From the Museo Civico, whither we repaired first in the morning, and where there are some beautiful Montagnas, and an assortment of good and bad works by other masters, we went to the Campo Santo, which is worthy to be seen, if only because of the beautiful Laschi monument by Vela, one of the greatest modern sculptors. It is nothing more than a very simple tomb, at the door of which stands a figure in flowing drapery, with folded hands and uplifted eyes in an attitude exquisitely expressive of grief. The figure is said to be the portrait statue of the widow of him within the tomb, and the face is very beautiful. We asked if the widow was still young, and the custodian answered us in terms that ought to endear him to all women, if not to our whole mortal race,—"Oh quite young, yet. She is perhaps fifty years old."
After the Campo Santo one ought to go to that theatre which Palladio built for the representation of classic tragedy, and which is perhaps the perfectest reproduction of the Greek theatre in the world. Alfieri is the only poet of modern times, whose works have been judged worthy of this stage, and no drama has been given on it since 1857, when the "Oedipus Tyrannus" of Sophocles was played. We found it very silent and dusty, and were much sadder as we walked through its gayly frescoed, desolate anterooms than we had been in the Campo Santo. Here used to sit, at coffee and bassett, the merry people who owned the now empty seats of the theatre,—lord, and lady, and abbé—who affected to be entertained by the scenes upon the stage. Upon my word, I should like to know what has become, in the other world, of those poor pleasurers of the past whose memory makes one so sad upon the scenes of their enjoyment here! I suppose they have something quite as unreal, yonder, to satisfy them as they had on earth, and that they still play at happiness in the old rococo way, though it is hard to conceive of any fiction outside of Italy so perfect and so entirely suited to their unreality as this classic theatre. It is a Greek theatre, for Greek tragedies; but it could never have been for popular amusement, and it was not open to the air, though it had a sky skillfully painted in the centre of the roof. The proscenium is a Greek façade, in three stories, such as never was seen in Greece; and the architecture of the three streets running back from the proscenium, and forming the one unchangeable scene of all the dramas, is—like the statues in the niches and on the gallery inclosing the auditorium—Greek in the most fashionable Vicentine taste. It must have been but an operatic chorus that sang in the semicircular space just below the stage and in front of the audience. Admit and forget these small blemishes and aberrations, however, and what a marvelous thing Palladio's theatre is! The sky above the stage is a wonderful trick, and those three streets—one in the centre and serving as entrance for the royal persons of the drama, one at the right for the nobles, and one at the left for the citizens—present unsurpassed effects of illusion. They are not painted, but modeled in stucco. In perspective they seem each half a mile long, but entering them you find that they run back from the proscenium only some fifteen feet, the fronts of the houses and the statues upon them decreasing in recession with a well-ordered abruptness. The semicircular gallery above the auditorium is of stone, and forty statues of marble crown its colonnade, or occupy niches between the columns.
It was curious to pass, with the impression left by this costly and ingenious toy upon our minds, at once to the amphitheatre in Verona, which, next to the Coliseum, has, of all the works bequeathed us by the ancient Roman world, the greatest claim upon the wonder and imagination. Indeed, it makes even a stronger appeal to the fancy. We know who built the Coliseum, but in its unstoried origin, the Veronese arena has the mystery of the Pyramids. Was its founder Augustus, or Vitellus, or Antoninus, or Maximian, or the Republic of Verona? Nothing is certain but that it was conceived and reared by some mighty prince or people, and that it yet remains in such perfection that the great shows of two thousand years ago might take place in it to-day. It is so suggestive of the fierce and splendid spectacles of Roman times that the ring left by a modern circus on the arena, and absurdly dwarfed by the vast space of the oval, had an impertinence which we hotly resented, looking down on it from the highest grade of the interior. It then lay fifty feet below us, in the middle of an ellipse five hundred feet in length and four hundred in breadth, and capable of holding fifty thousand spectators. The seats that the multitudes pressed of old are perfect, yet; scarce a stone has been removed from the interior; the aedile and the prefect might take their places again in the balustraded tribunes above the great entrance at either end of the arena, and scarcely see that they were changed. Nay, the victims and the gladiators might return to the cells below the seats of the people, and not know they had left them for a day; the wild beasts might leap into the arena from dens as secure and strong as when first built. The ruin within seems only to begin with the aqueduct, which was used to flood the arena for the naval shows, but which is now choked with the dust of ages. Without, however, is plain enough the doom which is written against all the work of human hands, and which, unknown of the builders, is among the memorable things placed in the corner-stone of every edifice. Of the outer wall that rose high over the highest seats of the amphitheatre, and encircled it with stately corridors, giving it vaster amplitude and grace, the earthquake of six centuries ago spared only a fragment that now threatens above one of the narrow Veronese streets. Blacksmiths, wagon-makers, and workers in clangorous metals have made shops of the lower corridors of the old arena, and it is friends and neighbors with the modern life about it, as such things usually are in Italy. Fortunately for the stranger, the Piazza Bra flanks it on one hand, and across this it has a magnificent approach. It is not less happy in being little known to sentiment, and the traveller who visits it by moonlight, has a full sense of grandeur and pathos, without any of the sheepishness attending homage to that battered old coquette, the Coliseum, which so many emotional people have sighed over, kissing and afterwards telling.
But he who would know the innocent charm of a ruin as yet almost wholly uncourted by travel, must go to the Roman theatre in Verona. It is not a favorite of the hand-books; and we were decided to see it chiefly by a visit to the Museum, where, besides an admirable gallery of paintings, there is a most interesting collection of antiques in bronze and marble found in excavating the theatre. The ancient edifice had been completely buried, and a quarter of the town was built over it, as Portici is built over Herculaneum, and on the very top stood a Jesuit convent. One day, some children, playing in the garden of one of the shabby houses, suddenly vanished from sight. Their mother ran like one mad (I am telling the story in the words of the peasant who related it to me) to the spot where they had last been seen, and fell herself into an opening of the earth there. The outcry raised by these unfortunates brought a number of men to their aid, and in digging to get them out, an old marble stairway was discovered. This was about twenty-five years ago. A certain gentleman named Monga owned the land, and he immediately began to make excavations. He was a rich man, but considered rather whimsical (if my peasant represented the opinion of his neighbors), and as the excavation ate a great deal of money (mangiava molti soldi), his sons discontinued the work after his death, and nothing has been done for some time, now. The peasant in charge was not a person of imaginative mind, though he said the theatre (supposed to have been built in the time of Augustus) was completed two thousand years before Christ. He had a purely conventional admiration of the work, which he expressed at regular intervals, by stopping short in his course, waving both hands over the ruins, and crying in a sepulchral voice, "Qual' opera!" However, as he took us faithfully into every part of it, there is no reason to complain of him.
We crossed three or four streets, and entered at several different gates, in order to see the uncovered parts of the work, which could have been but a small proportion of the whole. The excavation has been carried down thirty and forty feet below the foundations of the modern houses, revealing the stone seats of the auditorium, the corridors beneath them, and the canals and other apparatus for naval shows, as in the great Amphitheatre. These works are even more stupendous than those of the Amphitheatre, for in many cases they are not constructed, but hewn out of the living rock, so that in this light the theatre is a gigantic sculpture. Below all are cut channels to collect and carry off the water of the springs in which the rock abounds. The depth of one of these channels near the Jesuit convent must be fifty feet below the present surface. Only in one place does the ancient edifice rise near the top of the ground, and there is uncovered the arched front of what was once a family-box at the theatre, with the owner's name graven upon the arch. Many poor little houses have of course been demolished to carry on the excavations, and to the walls that joined them cling memorials of the simple life that once inhabited them. To one of the buildings hung a melancholy fire-place left blackened with smoke, and battered with use, but witnessing that it had once been the heart of a home. It was far more touching than any thing in the elder ruin; and I think nothing could have so vividly expressed the difference which, in spite of all the resemblances noticeable in Italy, exists between the ancient and modern civilization, as that family-box at the theatre and this simple fireside.
I do not now remember what fortunate chance it was that discovered to us the house of the Capulets, and I incline to believe that we gravitated toward it by operation of well-known natural principles which bring travellers acquainted with improbabilities wherever they go. We found it a very old and time-worn edifice, built round an ample court, and we knew it, as we had been told we should, by the cap carven in stone above the interior of the grand portal. The family, anciently one of the principal of Verona, has fallen from much of its former greatness. On the occasion of our visit, Juliet, very dowdily dressed, looked down from the top of a long, dirty staircase which descended into the court, and seemed interested to see us; while her mother caressed with one hand a large yellow mastiff, and distracted it from its first impulse to fly upon us poor children of sentiment. There was a great deal of stable litter, and many empty carts standing about in the court; and if I might hazard the opinion formed upon these and other appearances, I should say that old Capulet has now gone to keeping a hotel, united with the retail liquor business, both in a small way.
Nothing could be more natural, after seeing the house of the Capulets, than a wish to see Juliet's Tomb, which is visited by all strangers, and is the common property of the hand-books. It formerly stood in a garden, where, up to the beginning of this century, it served, says my "Viaggio in Italia," "for the basest uses,"—just as the sacred prison of Tasso was used for a charcoal bin. We found the sarcophagus under a shed in one corner of the garden of the Orfanotrofio delle Franceschine, and had to confess to each other that it looked like a horse-trough roughly hewn out of stone. The garden, said the boy in charge of the moving monument, had been the burial-place of the Capulets, and this tomb being found in the middle of the garden, was easily recognized as that of Juliet. Its genuineness, as well as its employment in the ruse of the lovers, was proven beyond cavil by a slight hollow cut for the head to rest in, and a hole at the foot "to breathe through," as the boy said. Does not the fact that this relic has to be protected from the depredations of travellers, who could otherwise carry it away piecemeal, speak eloquently of a large amount of vulgar and rapacious innocence drifting about the world?
It is well to see even such idle and foolish curiosities, however, in a city like Verona, for the mere going to and fro in search of them through her streets is full of instruction and delight. To my mind, no city has a fairer place than she that sits beside the eager Adige, and breathes the keen air of mountains white with snows in winter, green and purple with vineyards in summer, and forever rich with marble. Around Verona stretch those gardened plains of Lombardy, on which Nature, who dotes on Italy, and seems but a step-mother to all transalpine lands, has lavished every gift of beauty and fertility. Within the city's walls, what store of art and history! Her market-places have been the scenes of a thousand tragic or ridiculous dramas; her quaint and narrow streets are ballads and legends full of love-making and murder; the empty, grass-grown piazzas before her churches are tales that are told of municipal and ecclesiastical splendor. Her nobles sleep in marble tombs so beautiful that the dust in them ought to be envied by living men in Verona; her lords lie in perpetual state in the heart of the city, in magnificent sepulchres of such grace and opulence, that, unless a language be invented full of lance-headed characters, and Gothic vagaries of arch and finial, flower and fruit, bird and beast, they can never be described. Sacred be their rest from pen of mine, Verona! Nay, while I would fain bring the whole city before my reader's fancy, I am loath and afraid to touch any thing in it with my poor art: either the tawny river, spanned with many beautiful bridges, and murmurous with mills afloat and turned by the rapid current; or the thoroughfares with their passengers and bright shops and caffès; or the grim old feudal towers; or the age-embrowned palaces, eloquent in their haughty strength of the times when they were family fortresses; or the churches with the red pillars of their porticos resting upon the backs of eagle-headed lions; or even the white-coated garrison (now there no more), with its heavy-footed rank and file, its handsome and resplendent officers, its bristling fortifications, its horses and artillery, crowding the piazzas of churches turned into barracks. All these things haunt my memory, but I could only at best thinly sketch them in meagre black and white. Verona is an almost purely Gothic city in her architecture, and her churches are more worthy to be seen than any others in North Italy, outside of Venice. San Zenone, with the quaint bronzes on its doors representing in the rudeness of the first period of art the incidents of the Old Testament and the miracles of the saints—with the allegorical sculptures surrounding the interior and exterior of the portico, and illustrating, among other things, the creation of Eve with absolute literalness—with its beautiful and solemn crypt in which the dust of the titular saint lies entombed—with its minute windows, and its vast columns sustaining the roof upon capitals of every bizarre and fantastic device—is doubtless most abundant in that Gothic spirit, now grotesque and now earnest, which somewhere appears in all the churches of Verona; which has carven upon the façade of the Duomo the statues of Orlando and Olliviero, heroes of romance, and near them has placed the scandalous figure of a pig in a monk's robe and cowl, with a breviary in his paw; which has reared the exquisite monument of Guglielmo da Castelbarco before the church of St. Anastasia, and has produced the tombs of the Scaligeri before the chapel of Santa Maria Antica.
I have already pledged myself not to attempt any description of these tombs, and shall not fall now. But I bought in the. English tongue, as written at Verona, some "Notices," kept for sale by the sacristan, "of the Ancient Churg of Our Lady, and of the Tombs of the most illustrious Family Della-Scala," and from these I think it no dereliction to quote verbatim. First is the tomb of San Francesco, who was "surnamed the Great by reason of his valor." "With him the Great Alighieri and other exiles took refuge. We see his figure extended upon a bed, and above his statue on horsebac with the vizor down, and his crest falling behind his shoulders, his horse covered with mail. The columns and capitals are wonderful." "Within the Cemetery to the right leaning against the walls of the church is the tomb of John Scaliger." "In the side of this tomb near the wall of Sacristy, you see the urn that encloses the ashes of Martin I.," "who was traitorously killed on the 17th of October 1277 by Scaramello of the Scaramelli, who wished to revenge the honor of a young lady of his family." "The Mausoleum that is in the side facing the Place encloses the Martin II.'s ashes…. This building is sumptuous and wonderful because it stands on four columns, each of which has an architrave of nine feet. On the beams stands a very large square of marble that forms the floor, on which stands the urn of the Defunct. Four other columns support the vault that covers the urn; and the rest is adorned by facts of Old Testament. Upon the Summit is the equestrian statue as large as life." Of "Can Signorius," whose tomb is the most splendid of all, the "Notices" say: "He spent two thousand florins of gold, in order to prepare his own sepulchre while he was yet alive, and to surpass the magnificence of his predecessors. The monument is as magnificent as the contracted space allows. Six columns support the floor of marble on which it stands covered with figures. Six other columns support the top, on that is the Scaliger's statues…. The monument is surrounded by an enclosure of red marble, with six pillars, on which are square capitols with armed Saints. The rails of iron with the Arms of the Scala, are worked with a beauty wonderful for that age," or, I may add, for any age. These "rails" are an exquisite net-work of iron wrought by hand, with an art emulous of that of Nicolò Caparra at Florence. The chief device employed is a ladder (scala) constantly repeated in the centres of quatre-foils; and the whole fabric is still so flexible and perfect, after the lapse of centuries, that the net may be shaken throughout by a touch. Four other tombs of the Scaligeri are here, among which the "Notices" particularly mention that of Alboin della Scala: "He was one of the Ghibelline party, as the arms on his urn schew, that is a staircase risen by an eagle—wherefore Dante said, In sulla Scala porta il santo Uccello."
I should have been glad to meet the author of these delightful histories, but in his absence we fared well enough with the sacristan. When, a few hours before we left Verona, we came for a last look it the beautiful sepulchres, he recognized us, and seeing a sketch-book in the party, he invited us within the inclosure again, and then ran and fetched chairs for us to sit upon—nay, even placed chairs for us to rest our feet on. Winning and exuberant courtesy of the Italian race! If I had never acknowledged it before, I must do homage to it now, remembering the sweetness of the sacristans and custodians of Verona. They were all men of the most sympathetic natures. He at San Zenone seemed never to have met with real friends till we expressed pleasure in the magnificent Mantegna, which is the pride of his church. "What coloring!" he cried, and then triumphantly took us into the crypt: "What a magnificent crypt! What works they executed in those days, there!" At San Giorgio Maggiore, where there are a Tintoretto and a Veronese, and four horrible swindling big pictures by Romanino, I discovered to my great dismay that I had in my pocket but five soldi, which I offered with much abasement and many apologies to the sacristan; but he received them as if they had been so many napoleons, prayed me not to speak of embarrassment, and declared that his labors in our behalf had been nothing but pleasure. At Santa Maria in Organo, where are the wonderful intagli of Fra Giovanni da Verona, the sacristan fully shared our sorrow that the best pictures could not be unveiled as it was Holy Week. He was also moved with us at the gradual decay of the intagli, and led us to believe that, to a man of so much sensibility, the general ruinous state of the church was an inexpressible affliction; and we rejoiced for his sake that it should possess at least one piece of art in perfect repair. This was a modern work, that day exposed for the first time, and it represented in a group of wooden figures The Death of St. Joseph. The Virgin and Christ supported the dying saint on either hand; and as the whole was vividly colored, and rays of glory in pink and yellow gauze descended upon Joseph's head, nothing could have been more impressive.
Parma is laid out with a regularity which may be called characteristic of the great ducal cities of Italy, and which it fully shares with Mantua, Ferrara, and Bologna. The signorial cities, Verona, Vicenza, Padua, and Treviso, are far more picturesque, and Parma excels only in the number and beauty of her fountains. It is a city of gloomy aspect, says Valery, who possibly entered it in a pensive frame of mind, for its sadness did not impress us. We had just come from Modena, where the badness of our hotel enveloped the city in an atmosphere of profound melancholy. In fact, it will not do to trust to travellers in any thing. I, for example, have just now spoken of the many beautiful fountains in Parma because I think it right to uphold the statement of M. Richard's hand-book; but I only remember seeing one fountain, passably handsome, there. My Lord Corke, who was at Parma in 1754, says nothing of fountains, and Richard Lasells, Gent., who was there a century earlier, merely speaks of the fountains in the Duke's gardens, which, together with his Grace's "wild beasts" and "exquisite coaches," and "admirable Theater to exhibit Operas in," "the Domo, whose Cupola was painted by the rare hand of Corregio," and the church of the Capuchins, where Alexander Farnese is buried, were "the Chief thing to be seen in Parma" at that day.
The wild beasts have long ago run away with the exquisite coaches, but the other wonders named by Master Lasells are still extant in Parma, together with some things he does not name. Our minds, in going thither, were mainly bent upon Correggio and his works, and while our dinner was cooking at the admirable Albergo della Posta, we went off to feast upon the perennial Hash of Frogs in the dome of the Cathedral. This is one of the finest Gothic churches in Italy, and vividly recalls Verona, while it has a quite unique and most beautiful feature in the three light-columned galleries, that traverse the façade one above another. Close at hand stands the ancient Baptistery, hardly less peculiar and beautiful; but, after all, it is the work of the great painter which gives the temple its chief right to wonder and reverence. We found the fresco, of course, much wasted, and at first glance, before the innumerable arms and legs had time to order and attribute themselves to their respective bodies, we felt the justice of the undying spite which called this divinest of frescos a guazzetto di rane. But in another moment it appeared to us the most sublime conception of the Assumption ever painted, and we did not find Caracci's praise too warm where he says: "And I still remain stupefied with the sight of so grand a work—every thing so well conceived—so well seen from below—with so much severity, yet with so much judgment and so much grace; with a coloring which is of very flesh." The height of the fresco above the floor of the church is so vast that it might well appear like a heavenly scene to the reeling sense of the spectator. Brain, nerve, and muscle were strained to utter exhaustion in a very few minutes, and we came away with our admiration only half-satisfied, and resolved to ascend the cupola next day, and see the fresco on something like equal terms. In one sort we did thus approach it, and as we looked at the gracious floating figures of the heavenly company through the apertures of the dome, they did seem to adopt us and make us part of the painting. But the tremendous depth, over which they drifted so lightly, it dizzied us to look into; and I am not certain that I should counsel travellers to repeat our experience. Where still perfect, the fresco can only gain from close inspection,—it is painted with such exquisite and jealous perfection,—yet the whole effect is now better from below, for the decay is less apparent; and besides, life is short, and the stairway by which one ascends to the dome is in every way too exigent. It is with the most astounding sense of contrast that you pass from the Assumption to the contemplation of that other famous roof frescoed by Correggio, in the Monastero di San Paolo. You might almost touch the ceiling with your hand, it hovers so low with its counterfeit of vine-clambered trellis-work, and its pretty boys looking roguishly through the embowering leaves. It is altogether the loveliest room in the world; and if the Diana in her car on the chimney is truly a portrait of the abbess for whom the chamber was decorated, she was altogether worthy of it, and one is glad to think of her enjoying life in the fashion amiably permitted to nuns in the fifteenth century. What curious scenes the gayety of this little chamber conjures up, and what a vivid comment it is upon the age and people that produced it! This is one of the things that makes a single hour of travel worth whole years of historic study, and which casts its light upon all future reading. Here, no doubt, the sweet little abbess, with the noblest and prettiest of her nuns about her, received the polite world, and made a cheerful thing of devotion, while all over transalpine Europe the sour-hearted Reformers were destroying pleasant monasteries like this. The light-hearted lady-nuns and their gentlemen friends looked on heresy as a deadly sin, and they had little reason to regard it with favor. It certainly made life harder for them in time, for it made reform within the Church as well as without, so that at last the lovely Chamber of St. Paul was closed against the public for more than two centuries.
All Parma is full of Correggio, as Venice is of Titian and Tintoretto, as Naples of Spagnoletto, as Mantua of Giulio Romano, as Vicenza of Palladio, as Bassano of Da Ponte, as Bologna of Guido Reni. I have elsewhere noticed how ineffaceably and exclusively the manner of the masters seems to have stamped itself upon the art of the cities where they severally wrought,—how at Parma Correggio yet lives in all the sketchy mouths of all the pictures painted there since his time. One might almost believe, hearing the Parmesans talk, that his manner had infected their dialect, and that they fashioned their lazy, incomplete utterance with the careless lips of his nymphs and angels. They almost entirely suppress the last syllable of every word, and not with a quick precision, as people do in Venice or Milan, but with an ineffable languor, as if language were not worth the effort of enunciation; while they rise and lapse several times in each sentence, and sink so sweetly and sadly away upon the closing vocable that the listener can scarcely repress his tears. In this melancholy rhythm, one of the citizens recounted to me the whole story of the assassination of the last Duke of Parma in 1850; and left me as softly moved as if I had been listening to a tale of hapless love. Yet it was an ugly story, and after the enchantment of the recital passed away, I perceived that when the Duke was killed justice was done on one of the maddest and wickedest tyrants that ever harassed an unhappy city.
The Parmesans remember Maria Louisa, Napoleon's wife, with pleasant enough feelings, and she seems to have been good to them after the manner of sovereigns, enriching their city with art, and beautifying it in many ways, besides doing works of private charity and beneficence. Her daughter by a second marriage, the Countess Sanvitali, still lives in Parma; and in one of the halls of the Academy of Fine Arts the Duchess herself survives in the marble of Canova. It was she who caused the two great pictures of Correggio, the St. Jerome and the Madonna della Scodella, to be placed alone in separate apartments hung with silk, in which the painter's initial A is endlessly interwoven. "The Night," to which the St. Jerome is "The Day," is in the gallery at Dresden, but Parma could have kept nothing more representative of her great painter's power than this "Day." It is "the bridal of the earth and sky," and all sweetness, brightness, and tender shadow are in it. Many other excellent works of Correggio, Caracci, Parmigianino, and masters of different schools are in this gallery, but it is the good fortune of travellers, who have to see so much, that the memory of the very best alone distinctly remains. Nay, in the presence of prime beauty nothing else exists, and we found that the church of the Steccata, where Parmigianino's sublime "Moses breaking the Tables of the Law" is visible in the midst of a multitude of other figures on the vault, really contained nothing at last but that august and awful presence.
Undoubtedly the best gallery of classical antiquities in North Italy is that of Parma, which has derived all its precious relics from the little city of Valleja alone. It is a fine foretaste of Pompeii and the wonders of the Museo Borbonico at Naples, with its antique frescos, and marble, and bronzes. I think nothing better has come out of Herculaneum than the comic statuette of "Hercules Drunk." He is in bronze, and the drunkest man who has descended to us from the elder world; he reels backward, and leers knowingly upon you, while one hand hangs stiffly at his side, and the other faintly clasps a wine-cup—a burly, worthless, disgraceful demigod.
The great Farnese Theatre was, as we have seen, admired by Lasells; but Lord Corke found it a "useless structure" though immense. "The same spirit that raised the Colossus at Rhodes," he says, "raised the theatre at Parma; that insatiable spirit and lust of Fame which would brave the Almighty by fixing eternity to the name of a perishable being." If it was indeed this spirit, I am bound to say that it did not build so wisely at Parma as at Rhodes. The play-house that Ranuzio I. constructed in 1628, to do honor to Cosmo II. de' Medici (pausing at Parma on his way to visit the tomb of San Carlo Borromeo), and that for a century afterward was the scene of the most brilliant spectacles in the world, is now one of the dismalest and dustiest of ruins. This Theatrum orbis miraculum was built and ornamented with the most perishable materials, and even its size has shrunken as the imaginations of men have contracted under the strong light of later days. When it was first opened, it was believed to hold fourteen thousand spectators; at a later fête it held only ten thousand; the last published description fixes its capacity at five thousand; and it is certain that for many and many a year it has held only the stray tourists who have looked in upon its desolation. The gay paintings hang in shreds and tatters from the roof; dust is thick upon the seats and in the boxes, and on the leads that line the space once flooded for naval games. The poor plaster statues stand naked and forlorn amid the ruin of which they are part; and the great stage, from which the curtain has rotted away, yawns dark and empty before the empty auditorium.