I sussurri delle cicale (Italian Edition)
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A disciple of Titian almost from his youth, it is the work of that master which gradually emancipates him from Flemish barbarism, from a too serious occupation with detail, the over-emphasis of northern work, the mere boisterousness, without any real distinction, that too often spoils Rubens for us, and yet is so easily excused and forgotten in the mere joy of life everywhere to be found in it.
Well, with this shy and refined mind Italy is able to accomplish her mission; she humanises him, gives him the Latin sensibility and clarity of mind, the Latin refinement too, so that we are ready to forget he was Rubens' country-man, and think of him often enough as an Englishman, endowed as he was with much of the delicate and lovely genius of so many of our artists, full of a passionate yet shy strength, that some may think is the result of continual communion with Latin things, with Italy and Italian work, Italian verse, Italian painting, on the part of a race not Latin, but without the immobility, the want of versatility, common to the Germans, which has robbed them of any great painter since the early Renaissance, and in politics has left them to be the last people of Europe to win emancipation.
Much of this enlightening effect that Italy has upon the northerner may be found in the work of Vandyck on his return to Genoa, really a new thing in the world, as new as the poetry of Spenser had been, at any rate, and with much of his gravity and sweet melancholy or pensiveness, in those magnificent portraits of the Genoese nobility which time and fools have so sadly misused. And as though to confirm us in this thought of him, we may see, as it were, the story of his development during this journey to the south in the sketch-book in the possession of the Duke of Devonshire.
Here, amid any number of sketches, thoughts as it were that Titian has suggested, or Giorgione evoked, we see the very dawn of all that we have come to consider as especially his own.
We may understand how the pride and boisterous 35magnificence of Rubens came to seem a little insistent a little stupid too, beside Leonardo's Virgin and Child with St. Anne now in the Louvre, which he notes in Milan, or that Last Supper which is now but a shadow on the wall of S. Maria delle Grazie.
And above all, we may see how the true splendour of Titian exposes the ostentation of Rubens, as the sun will make even the greatest fire look dingy and boastful. Gradually Vandyck, shy and of a quiet, serene spirit, becomes aware of this, and, led by the immeasurable glory of the Venetians, slowly escapes from that "Flemish manner" to be master of himself; so that, after he has painted in the manner of Titian at Palermo, he returns to Genoa to begin that wonderful series of masterpieces we all know, in which he has immortalised the tragedy of a king, the sorrowful beauty, frail and lovely as a violet, of Henrietta Maria, and the fate of the Princes of England.
And though many of the pictures he painted in Genoa are dispersed, and many spoiled, some few remain to tell us of his passing. But here there is a fine Rubens too; a Gerard David, very like the altar-piece at Rouen; a good Ruysdael, with some characteristic Spanish pictures by Zurbaran, Ribera, and Murillo; and while the Italian pictures are negligible, though some paintings and drawings of the Genoese school may interest us in passing, it is characteristic of Genoa that our interest in this collection should be with the foreign work there. Turning down this little way, you come almost immediately to the Church of S.
The present building dates from the seventeenth century, but the old church, then called Dei Dodici Apostoli, was the Cathedral of Genoa. It was close by that the blessed Sirus "drew out the dreadful serpent named Basilisk in the year Returning to Via Cairoli, at the bottom, in Piazza 36Zecca on your left, is one of the Balbi palaces; while in Piazza Annunziata, a little farther on, you come to the beautiful Church of Santissima Annunziata del Vastato, built by Della Porta in Crossing this Piazza, you enter perhaps the most splendid street in Genoa, Via Balbi, which climbs up at last to the Piazza Acquaverde, the Statue of Columbus, and the Railway.
The first palace on your right is Palazzo Durazzo-Pallavicini, with a fine picture gallery. Here you may see two fine Rubens, a portrait of Philip IV of Spain, and a Silenus with Bacchantes, a great picture of James I of England with his family, painted by some "imitator" of Vandyck, though who it was in Genoa that knew both Vandyck and England is not yet clear; a Ribera, a Reni, a Tintoretto, a Domenichino, and above all else Vandyck's Boy in White Satin, in the midst of these ruined pictures which certainly once would have given us joy.
The Boy in White Satin is perhaps the loveliest picture Vandyck left behind him; though it is but partly his after all, the fruit, the parrot, and the monkey being the work of Snyders. On the other side of the Via Balbi, almost opposite the Palazzo Durazzo-Pallavicini, is the Palazzo Balbi, which possesses the loveliest cortile in Genoa, with an orange garden, and in the Great Hall a fine gallery of pictures. Here is the Vandyck portrait of Philip II of Spain, which Velasquez not only used as a model, or at least remembered when he painted his equestrian Olivarez in the Prado, but which he changed, for originally it was a portrait of Francesco Maria Balbi, till, as is said, Velasquez came and painted there the face of Philip II.
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Certainly Velasquez may have sketched the picture and used it later, but it seems unlikely that he would have painted the face of Philip II, whom he had never seen, though the Genoese at that time might well have asked him to do so. Some statues by Giovanni da Bologna make it worth a visit, while of old the tomb of Simone Boccanegra, the great Doge, made such a visit pious and necessary. Opposite the University is the Palazzo Reale, which once belonged to the Durazzo family.
A crucifixion by Vandyck is perhaps not too spoiled to be still called his work. So at last you will come to the Piazza Acquaverde and the Statue of Columbus, which is altogether dwarfed by the Railway Station. Not far away to the left, behind this last, you will find the great Palazzo Doria. It is almost nothing now, but in John Evelyn's day, when accompanied by that "most courteous marchand called Tornson," he went to see "the rarities," it was still full of its old splendour.
The house is most magnificently built without, nor less gloriously furnished within, having whole tables and bedsteads of massy silver, many of them sett with achates, onyxes, cornelians, lazulis, pearls, turquizes, and other precious stones. The pictures and statues are innumerable.
To this palace belong three gardens, the first whereof is beautified with a terrace supported by pillars of marble; there is a fountaine of eagles, and one of Neptune, with other sea-gods, all of the purest white marble: they stand in a most ample basine of the same stone. Bacon describes in his Sermones Fidelium or Essays, wherein grow trees of more than two foote diameter, besides cypresse, myrtils, lentiscs, and other rare shrubs, which serve to nestle and pearch all sorts of birds, who have an ayre and place enough under their ayrie canopy, supported with huge iron worke stupendious for its fabrick and the charge.
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The other two gardens are full of orange trees, citrons, and pomegranates; fountaines, grotts, and statues; one of the latter is a colossal Jupiter, under which is a sepulchre of a beloved dog, for the care of which one of this family receiv'd of the K. The reservoir of water here is a most admirable piece of art; and so is the grotto over against it. Close by Palazzo Doria is the Church of S. This is the quarter of booty, the booty of the Crusaders, and it is in such a place and in the older part of the town near Piazza Sarzano and in the narrow ways behind the Exchange that, as I think, Genoa seems most herself, the port of the Mediterranean, the gate of Italy.
Yet what I prefer in Genoa are her triumphant slums, then the palaces and villas with their bigness, so impressive for us who came from the North, which seem to be a remnant of Roman greatness, a vision as it were of solidity and grandeur. Something of this, it is true, haunts almost every Italian city; only nowhere but in Genoa can you see so many palaces together, whole streets of them, huge, overwhelming, and yet beautiful houses, that often seem deserted, as though they belonged to a greater and more splendid age than ours.
It is altogether another aspect of these splendid buildings that you see from the ramparts towards Nervi, from the height of the Via Corsica or from the hills. From there, with the whole strength and glory of the sea before you, these palaces, which in the midst of the city are so indestructible and immortal, seem flowerlike, full of delicate hues, fragile and almost as though about to fade; you think of hyacinths, of the blossom of the magnolia, of the fleeting lilac, and the lily that towers in the moonlight to fall at dawn. From the roofs where they seem to live, from the high narrow windows, the warren of houses that would be hovels in the North, but here in the sun are picturesque, women look down lazily and cry out, with a shrillness peculiar to Genoa, to their friends in the street.
It is a bath of multitude that you are compelled to take, full of a sort of pungent, invigorating, tonic strength, life crowding upon you and thrusting itself under your notice without ceremony or announcement. If on the 2nd November you chance to be in Genoa, you will find the same insatiable multitude eagerly flocking to the cemetery, that strange and impossible museum of modern sculpture, where the dead are multiplied by an endless apparition of crude marble shapes, the visions of the vulgar hacked out in dazzling, stainless white stone.
What would we not give for such a "document" from the thirteenth century as this cemetery has come to be of our own time. It is the crude representation of modern Italian life that you see, realistic, unique, and precious, but for the most part base and horrible beyond words. The husk of the immortality of the poet and the hero has been thrust upon the mean and disgusting clay of the stockbroker; the grocer, horribly wrapped in everlasting marble, has put on ignominy for evermore; while the plebeian, bewildered by the tyranny of life, crouches over his dead wife, for ever afraid lest death tap him too on the shoulder.
How the wind whistles among these immortal jests, where the pure stone of the Carrara hills has been fashioned to the ugliness of the middle classes. This is the supreme monument not of Genoa only, but of our time. In that grotesque marble we see our likeness. For there is gathered in indestructible stone all the fear, ostentation, 40and vulgar pride of our brothers. Ah, poor souls! Therefore, with an obscene and vulgar gesture, they have set up their own image as well as they could, and, in a frenzied prayer to an unknown God, seem to ask, now that everything has fallen away and we can no longer believe in the body, that they may not be too disgusted with their own clay.
Thus in frenzy, fear, and vanity they have carved the likeness of that which was once among the gods. Donath, , a useful and informing book, to which I am indebted for more than one curious fact. Le Mesurier thinks that "this angel" refers to "the central figure in a bas-relief" above the inscription and below the right-hand window of the church. It was already summer when, one morning, soon after sunrise, I set out from Genoa for Tuscany.
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The road to Spezia along the Riviera di Levante, among the orange groves and the olives, between the mountains and the sea, is one of the most beautiful in Europe. Forgotten, or for the most part unused, by the traveller who is the slave of the railway, it has not the reputation of its only rivals, the Corniche road from Nice to Mentone, the lovely highway from Castellamare to Sorrento, or the road between Vietri and Amalfi, where the strange fantastic peaks lead you at last to the solitary and beautiful desert of Paestum, where Greece seems to await you entrenched in silence among the wild-flowers.
And there, too, on the road to Tuscany, after the pleasant weariness of the way, which is so much longer than those others, some fragment of antiquity is to be the reward of your journey, though nothing so fine as the deserted holiness of Paestum, only the dust of the white temple of Aphrodite crowning the western horn of Spezia, where it rises splendid out of the sea in the sun of Porto Venere. This forgotten way among the olive gardens on the lower slopes of the mountains over the sea, seems to me more joyful than any other road in the world.
It leads to Italy. Within the gate where all the world is a garden, the way climbs among the olives and oranges, fresh with the fragrance of the sea, the perfume of the blossoms, to the land of heart's desire, where Pisa lies in the plain under the sorrowful gesture of mountains like a beautiful mutilated statue, where Arno, 42parted from Tiber, is lost in the sea, dowered with the glory of Florence, the tribute of the hills, the spoil of many streams, the golden kiss of the sun; while Tuscany, splendid with light and joy, stands neither for God nor for His enemies, but for man, to whom she has given everything really without an afterthought, the songs that shall not be forgotten; the pictures full of youth; and above all Beauty, that on a night in spring came to her from Greece as it is said among the vineyards, before the vines had budded.
For even as Love came to us from heaven, and was born in a stable among the careful oxen, where a few poor shepherds found a Mother with her Child, so Beauty was born in a vineyard in the earliest dawn, when some young men came upon the hard white precious body of a goddess, and drew her from the earth, and began to worship her. Then in their hearts Beauty stirred, as Love did in the hearts of the shepherds and the kings.
Nor was that vision, so full of wisdom a vision of birth or resurrection, was it? Well, if the resurrection of God was revealed in Palestine, it was here among the Tuscan hills that man rose from the dead and first saw the beauty of the flowers and the mystery of the hills. Here, too, is holy land if you but knew it, full of old forgotten gods, out-fashioned deities beside whose shrines, though they be hushed, you may still hear the prayers of worshippers, the tears of desire, the laughter of the beloved.
For the old gods are not dead.
Though they be forgotten and the voice of Jesus full of sorrowful promises has beguiled the world, still every morning is Aphrodite new born in the spume of the sea, and in many an isle forsaken you may catch the notes of Apollo's lyre, while Dionysus, in the mysterious heat of midday when the husbandman is sleeping, still steals among the grapes, and Demeter even yet in the sunset seeks Persephone among the sheaves of corn.
If Jesus wanders in the ways of the city to comfort those who have forgotten the sun, in the woods the 43gods are still upon their holy thrones, and their love constraineth us. Immortal and beloved, how should they pass away, for, beside their secret places, of old we have hushed our voices, and children have played with them no less than with Jesus of Nazareth.
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The gods pass, only their gifts remain, the sun and the hills and the sea, but in us they are immortal, not one have we suffered to creep away into oblivion. Thus I, thinking of the way, came to Nervi. Now the way from Genoa out of the Pisan gate to Nervi is none of the pleasantest, being suburb all the way; but those eight chilometri over and done with, there is nothing but delight between you and Spezia. Nervi itself, that surprising place where beauty is all gathered into a nosegay of sea and seashore, will not keep you long, for the sun is high, and the road is calling, and the heat to come; moreover, the beautiful headland of Portofino seems to shut out all Italy from your sight.
Once there, you tell yourself, what may not be seen, the Carrara hills, Spezia perhaps, even Pisa maybe, miles and miles away, where Arno winds through the marshes behind the Pineta to the sea.
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Now, whether or not in your heart of hearts you hope for Pisa, a white peak of Carrara you certainly hope to see, and that So you set out, leaving Genoa and her suburb at last behind you, and, climbing among olive groves, orange gardens, and flaming oleanders, with here a magnolia heavy with blossom, there a pomegranate mysterious with fruit and flowers, after another five miles you come to Recco, a modest, sleepy village, where it is good to eat and rest.
Beside you are the sea and the hills, two everlasting things, with here an old villa, beautiful with many autumns, in a grove of cypress, ilex, and myrtle, those three holy trees that mark death, mystery, and love; while far down on the seashore where the foam is whitest, stands a little ruined chapel in which the gulls cry all day long.
But your heart turns ever toward Italy yonder—towards the hills of marble. Will one ever reach them, those far-away pure peaks immaculate in silence, like a thought of God in the loneliness of the mountains?