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Visit to Giotto’s Birthplace 26/01/2011

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
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c. 1900

The hill of Vespignano, Giotto’s birthplace, is much too steep for the chestnuts and calash; moreover, we are only too glad of an excuse for walking up the pretty path cut into the hillside, bordered by trees hung with ivy, and leading to a serried rank of young cypresses, ranged together like a black watch on the crest of the hill, as if to guard the modest stone building, which tradition says is the very house where the artist Giotto was born. Even for a shepherd’s dwelling, the house is small and uninteresting, which naturally flings a suspicion over its verity; nevertheless, the spirit which actuates the preservation of all historical sites and relics by the Italian government cannot be too highly commended. The house is converted into a meagre museum, and kept in good order on estates at present belonging to the Villa Capriani-Cateni, the various buildings of which cover the crest of a considerable height and possess a noble outlook into the near hills, which are now taking on a hazy blue mystery in the afternoon light.

A large portion of the villa is of modern architecture, plain and dignified, but the massive, square battlemented tower at one corner is of quite an early date, perhaps the thirteenth century, while not far away is the ruined prison-house of ruddy grey stones and brickwork, with a picturesque round tower, presumably of a still earlier time, and reminding one of the ancient towers still found in parts of Ireland.

The whole pile speaks eloquently of a long residence on this hilltop of a people whose wants were few. their tastes stern and simple as the mighty Apennines which encircled them.

A fine-looking old man is weaving an osier basket as he sits on the terrace in the shadow of the old tower. He answers all our questions with quiet courtesy; but upon our offering him a fee, as we have learned is generally expected, it is gently but firmly declined, and we walk away somewhat abashed, thinking of the varied influences which surrounded young Giotto amid such pastoral scenes and such kindly, self-respecting people. He certainly must have carried much of the experience and knowledge of his shepherd life into his art.