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The Accademia c. 1850 11/08/2011

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c. 1850

The collection of the Academy of Fine Arts is not extensive, nor is it interesting or valuable, but in a strictly historical point of view. In that light it is interesting and instructive; invaluable to any historian of art. The purpose of the institution was to present on its walls an unbroken series of works, from the earliest glimmerings of art in the twelfth century, down to the close of the sixteenth. The design has been successfully carried out, and there are few artists of Tuscany in all that time who are not represented there in their works. When I looked at the earliest pictures of those earliest times, appearing like the drawing and coloring of the old Egyptians and Mexicans, or the unskilful daubings of children, I received new impressions of the reality of the darkness of the dark ages. I saw how all that had been done in art in the previous ages by the Greeks, &c., had all as much perished out of the knowledge and memory of mankind as if it had never existed – and how it was no figure of speech that the people of those days had just awakened from the sound sleep of centuries. When Cimabue and Giotto first drew and painted, they were as ignorant as our North American savages that art had ever existed before. It was not till the accidental discovery of the treasures buried in the soil of Rome had furnished them with models, and it had also occurred to Giotto to make copies of his own sheep and goats, that art, from those two sources, received for the second time its birth.

Il giro in Florence 15/01/2011

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c. 1880

We have spent two mornings in the Uffizi and Pitti galleries, one in each. The latter is now called the ‘Palatine’. When I was here in 1870 admittance was free as air, whereas now, as in every museum or ancient building, a franc each is the fee. But these galleries are always crowded and, indeed, the sum is very small as compared with prices in America, and considering the richness of the collections. There are pictures in these galleries which I can shut my eyes and see, and which are a great joy to me. This time we have given more attention than ever before to Fra Angelico and Botticelli the latter on account of an article on his works in a late Harper. But your sisters have for some time been reading up for this week, which is, as the theatre people say, their ‘benefit’, and which they richly deserve. I do wish them to get the best of Italy so that in case of their removal to America they may have stored in their memories precious pictures in abundance of this land of art and beauty.

One morning was given to Santa Croce, the Westminster Abbey of Italy, and yesterday morning to San Marco, with the wonderful frescoes of Fra Angelico in the convent there, now a government museum, and the cell from which Savonarola went forth to die. It never seemed so real to me before. An hour was given also to the church of San Lorenzo, with its double-starred new sacristy and Medici chapel. Tomorrow we must go to the Academy of the Belle Arti. Of course, we have given due attention to the Duomo and Giotto’s Tower and the Baptistery. The Duomo is now resplendent in its facade completed only last year. At the Baptistery we witnessed an infant sprinkling (what a contradiction in that place!), and at San Lorenzo witnessed a bridal procession issue as we entered. There was a wealth of lovely bouquets fastened to the doors of the carriages, but the bride seemed neither young nor beautiful. Two afternoons we have sauntered on Lung’ Arno, looking at the pretty bric-a-brac in this capital of brica-bracdom, and one bright clear afternoon we rode in a carriage on the famous and beautiful ride over the hills of San Miniato, enjoying a lovely view of the city, river and encircling hills. This paper was made at Ponte di Lima, about three miles from Cutigliano, where also the government stamp paper is made.