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Nice Statues – Shame about the Facades… 16/04/2011

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c. 1800 relating to a visit at the end of the eighteenth century

Few cities in Europe of the same size as Florence offer so fine a field of amusement to those who are fond of churches, palaces, public buildings. But the lovers of architecture will be shocked to find several of the finest churches without fronts, which, according to some, is owing to a real deficiency of money; while others assert, they are left in this condition as a pretext for levying contributions to finish them. The chapel of St. Lorenzo is, perhaps, the finest and most expensive habitation that ever was reared for the dead. It is encrusted with precious stones, and adorned with tlic workmanship of the best modern sculptors. Some complain that it has a gloomy appearance. There seems to be no impropriety in that, considering what the building was intended for.  

The statues which ornament the streets and squares of Florence amount to about one hundred and fifty; many of them of exquisite workmanship, and admired by those of the best taste. Churches, and palaces, and statues are no doubt ornamental to a city; and the princes are praiseworthy who have taken pains to rear and collect them; but the greatest of all ornaments are cheerful happy living countenances. The taste is not general; but there are some people, who, to a perfect knowledge and unaffected love of the fine arts, join a passion for a collection of this kind, who cannot without uneasiness see one face in a different style, and whose lives and fortunes are employed in smoothing the corrosions of penury and misfortune, and restoring the onginal air of satisfaction and cheerfulness ro the human countenance. Happy the people whose sovereign is inspired with this species of vertu!

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.

The Cat Woman 26/12/2010

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c. 1890

Now an odd creature approaches, and pauses to feed the cats with a dainty morsel taken from a capacious pocket. She is the English woman so familiar to Florence, and more mad than forestieri are usually supposed to be. The cats are her sole care. Poveretta! Some affair of the heart turned her brain in early maidenhood. Let her have her own way in peace. It is all the same to cat and citizen. The insane woman has a round, white, and vacant face, curiously resembling the physiognomy of Maggy in Little Dorrit. She wears a faded gown of a bygone fashion, a hoop-skirt, a flowered shawl, and a large poke bonnet of yellow straw, with the ribbons of white watered silk floating over her shoulders. She might have emerged from a woodcut of Cruikshank, in a city where eccentric waifs of all nationalities abound. The cats receive their gifts capriciously.

The vegetable-woman smiles compassionately. Surely it is an indication of remarkable refinement in a people, that no one mocks at nor molests her footsteps with an attendant, jeering rabble of boys, as might so readily happen in the large capitals of the world. Here is a limit to the street Arab’s witticisms, who sang beneath the windows of the archiepiscopal palace, when Pope Martin V was lodged there in an hour of misfortune, that he was not worth a penny, thereby laying up a future grudge of affronted dignity for the Flower City in the mind of the pontiff. The English woman rambles on, with the purposeless movements of an unsettled mind. Doubtless she will find her way to that palace courtyard of the Lung’ Arno Nuovo, which is a startling feline nightmare, where heads peer out of the shrubbery in every stage of cathood. Nor will she return home without pausing at the cloister of the Church of San Lorenzo, where homeless animals receive municipal bounty on occasion, possibly in imitation of the hospital once existing near the Gate of Victory at Cairo.

The Statue of Lorenzo de’ Medici by James Ernest Nesmith 21/12/2010

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James Ernest Nesmith (obit 1898) was a nineteenth-century New England poet. This poem was published in 1894 in Philoctetes and Other Poems and Sonnets.

Mark me how still I am – The sound of feet

Unnumbered echoing through this vaulted hall,

Or voices harsh, on me unheeded fall,

Placed high in my memorial niche and seat,

In cold and marble meditation meet

Among proud tombs and pomp funereal

Of rich sarcophagi and sculptured wall,

In death’s elaborate elect retreat.

I was a Prince, this monument was wrought

That I in honor might eternal stand;

In vain, subdued by Buonarroti’s hand.

The conscious stone is pregnant with his thought;

He to this brooding rock his fame devised,

And he, not I, is here immortalized.

Cosimo’s Library 13/12/2010

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Vespasiano da Bisticci c. 1480, Le Vite

When Cosimo had finished the residence and a good part of the church [San Lorenzo], he fell to thinking how he should have the place peopled with honest men of letters; and in this way it occurred to him to found a fine library; and one day when I happened to be present in his chamber, he said to me: ‘In what way would you furnish this library?’ I replied that as for buying the books it would be impossible, for they were not to be had. Then he said: ‘How is it possible then to furnish it?’ I told him that it would be necessary to have the books copied. He asked in reply if I would be willing to undertake the task. I answered him, that I was willing. He told me to commence my work and he would leave everything to me; and as for the money that would be necessary he would refer the matter to Don Archangel, then prior of the monastery, who would draw bills upon the bank, which should be paid. The library was commenced at once, for it was his pleasure that it should be done with the utmost possible celerity; and as I did not lack for money I collected in a short time forty -five writers, and finished 200 volumes in twenty-two months; in which work we made use of an excellent arrangement, that of the library of pope Nicholas, which he had given to Cosimo, in the form of a catalogue made out with his own hands.

Coming to the arrangement of the library, in the first place there is the Bible and the Concordance, with all their commentaries, as well ancient as modern. And the first writer who commenced to comment on the Holy Scriptures, and who indicated the manner of commenting to all the others, was Origen; he wrote in Greek, and St. Jerome translated a part of his works, on the five books of Moses. These are the works of St. Ignatius the martyr, who wrote in Greek, and was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist; most fervent in his Christian zeal, he wrote and preached and for this won the crown of martyrdom. There are the works of St. Basil, bishop of Cappadocia, a Greek; of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, of Gregory of Nyssa, his brother, of St. John Chrysostom, of St. Athanasius of Alexandria, of St. Ephraem the Monk, of John Climacus, also a Greek; all the works of the Greek doctors that are translated into Latin are there. Then follow the holy doctors and holy writers in Latin, beginning with the works of Lactantius, who was very ancient and had praiseworthy qualifications; Hilary of Poitou, a most solemn doctor; St. Cyprian of Carthage, most elegant and saintly; the works of Tertullian, the learned Carthaginian. Then follow the four doctors of the Latin church, and all their works are here; and there is no other library that has these works complete. Then begin the works of St. Jerome; all the works of St. Gregory, the moral doctor; all the works of St. Bernard the Abbot, of Hugh of St. Victor, of St. Anselm, of St. Isidore, bishop of Seville, of Bede, of Rabanus Maurus. Coming then to the modern doctors, of St. Thomas Aquinas, of Albert Magnus, of Alexander of Hales, of St. Bonaventura; the works of the Archbishop Antonino of Florence, that is, his Stimma.

Coming to the philosophers, all the works of Aristotle, both his moral and natural Philosophy; all the commentaries of St. Thomas and Albertus Magnus on the philosophy of Aristotle, and still other commentators upon the same; his Logic and other modern systems of Logic. In canon law, the Decretum, the Decretals, Liber Sexius, the Clementines, the Summa of the bishop of Ostia; Innoceutius; Lectures of the bishop of Ostia on the Decretals; Giovanni Andrea, on Liber Sextus, and an anonymous lecture on the Decretum, and still other works on canon law by the abbott of Cicilia and others. Of histories, all the Ten of Livy; Caesar’s Commentaries; Suetonius Tranquillus, The Lives of the Emperors; Plutarch’s Lives; Quiutus Curtius, the Deeds of Alexander the Great; Sallust, De bello Jugurthino et Catilinario; Valerius Maximus, The Memorable Deeds and Sayings of the Ancients; Emilius Probus, Great Leaders of Foreign Peoples; a history by Ser Zembino, who commenced at the beginning of the world, and came down to pope Celestine, a work of great information; the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphili, and De temporibus  the Historiale of Vincenzo; all the works of Tully in three volumes; all the works of Seneca in one volume; Quintilian, De institutione oratoria, and the Declamations; Vocabulista; Nonius Marcellus; Pompeius Festus; the Elegantiaeoi Valla; Papias; Uguccione; Catholicon. Poets: Virgil, Terence, Ovid, Lucan, Statius, the tragedies of Seneca, Plautus. Of grammarians, Priscian. And all the other works necessary to a library, of which no one was wanting; and since there were not copies of all these works in Florence, we sent to Milan, to Bologna and to other places, wherever they might be found. Cosimo lived to see the library wholly completed, and the cataloguing and the arranging of the books; in all of which he took great pleasure, and the work went forward, as was his custom, with great promptness.