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P U B L I C A T I O N S  >  F R A N C E S    S T I L L M A N ' S    E U R O P E    D I A R Y

CHAPTER I..........Going from Here to There

CHAPTER II..........Mishap in Milan

CHAPTER III..........Venice

CHAPTER IV..........Florence

CHAPTER V..........Siena

CHAPTER VI..........Rome

CHAPTER VII..........Assisi

CHAPTER VIII..........Nice

CHAPTER IX..........Barcelona

CHAPTER X..........Solsona

CHAPTER XI..........Gerona

CHAPTER XII..........Paris in the Fall

Thursday. June 19th

We arrived in Florence Tuesday afternoon after a hot, dirty and disagreeable train ride from Venice. Fortunately it didn't take us long to install ourselves at the Pension Adria, on the far aide of the Arno River. It is on the top floor of an old three-story office building. Our room is comfortable (we have two towels apiece!) and we have breakfast in a bright, cheerful sittingroom overlooking the river. The Arno, is spanned at this point by a temporary bridge, most of the ancient and historical bridges were blown up by the Germans when they retreated in the Second World War. Fortunately the Ponto Vecchio, most famous of all, was spared.

Wanda, the young Swedish woman who runs the pension, and who speaks English of a sort, recommended the little restaurant Camillo, just a block away, as a good place to dine. We found the food excellent and inexpensive enough, although Pietro, the proprietor's eldest son, who waits on our table, adds extra lire here and there on the bill, as the spirit moves him. When we protest he puts on such a look of injured dignity that we feel like apologizing to him. We are usually the first guests to arrive, and the family, who make up the entire staff of the restaurant, are still at their own dinner in the kitchen, eating with great gusto and talking loudly and excitedly. Somehow, even the most amicable conversation is carried on with all the vehemence of a violent quarrel.

The same noisiness seems to prevail everywhere in the streets. The autos honk their horns incessantly; the little Vespa motorcycles sputter and rattle and whizz by at a precarious speed; the children are boisterous at play and the men and women all seem to shout at one another. Everything is fortissime with never a gradation in intensity.

Thus far it has been difficult for me to get into the spirit of Florence, but this I expected. For one thing, the simplicity — or rather the severity — of the architecture, coming after the lavish ornateness of Venice, has a sobering effect. Moreover, if in Paris I felt that I was walking through a series of paintings, here in Florence I seem to be turning the pages of a history book. A closed chapter of history at that, for entire Florence has retained the appearance, the architecture, and the flavor of the Renaissance, particularly the fifteenth century.

However, closed as the chapter is, one cannot be totally insensible to the reverberations of that turbulent past, when the individual republics of Italy clashed fiercely in their passionate love of independence, when the streets “ran sometimes blood and sometimes wine", when periods of exquisite refinement and sensitivity alternated with those of pagan pomp and display.

The ghosts of the past are with me most strongly when we stand in the gloom of the vast cathedral the Duomo, and when we sit in the evening at the outdoor cafes in the Piazza della Signoria. It was to the Duomo that great multitudes thronged to listen as if hypnotized to the fiery priest Savanarola as he thundered forth his prophecies of punishment and doom. And it was to the Piazza della Signoria that the same frenzied crowds dragged their erst-while prophet, to watch in wild exultation as the flames leaped to consume his body.

Friday, June 20th

Even without the shadow of Savanarola, the Duomo has an overwhelming impact. How striking the exterior is with its facade of white, green and red marble, and the vast interior, austere in style, with a bareness more impressive than the most elaborate ornamentation. There is something awe-inspiring in its immensity, its gigantic and imposing dome, its dim and mysterious light.

The world-famed Baptistry is nearby, and visitors far flock from far and wide to see its magnificent bronze doors by Ghiberti and the richly colored Byzantine mosaics. We never tired of the fine mosaics and the gilded tabernacle, with its exquisitely carved figures, its many little Gothic-style towers, and a beautiful Bernado Daddi Madonna painting in the center.

There are other churches superb in architecture and ornamentation — the Cathedral of Santa Maria Novello, with its Renaissance facade of marble, its beautifully designed Gothic interior and handsome frescoes of Girlandhio and other Florentine masters; the Orsanmichele, with its glowing stained glass windows, the Santa Croce, resting place of some of Florence's most illustrious sons — Michelangelo and Ghiberti, Machiavelli and Galileo. Some of Giotto's most famous frescoes adorn the walls of Santa Croce, very handsome aid strong in design. They are scenes from the life of St. Francis. Unfortunately they had to be repainted because of the ravages of time, and undoubtedly they have lost something of their original beauty in the process of restoration.

Saturday, June 21st.

To the Convent of San Marco this morning, to see the lovely paintings of Fra Angelico. I was enchanted, particularly by the frescoes on the walls of the little cell-like rooms formerly occupied by the Dominican monks. Sc gently poetic these paintings are, so innocent and movingly sincere. The lines are severe, the colors delicate, with blues and pinks and gold predominating. The Madonnas and angels and saints do not have particularly expressive faces, but there is marvelous race and an intuitive balance of composition, and such joy of creativeness and of religious feeling.

We were interested and amused by the Fra Angelico interpretation of Heaven and Hell. The scene of Paradise radiates a pure happiness, like a child's dream. But the Inferno, despite its grotesque devils, fails to terrify. Some art historians maintain that this part of the painting was done by one of Fra Angelico's pupils. But I prefer to believe that the good friar, in his gentleness of spirit, just couldn't conceive a Hell of horrors.

Sunday, June 22nd

Today we visited palaces. The Ufizzi Palace first, where we saw a magnificent collection of Sienese and Venetian paintings, as well as those of the Florentine school. Among the Florentine paintings there is a large and handsome Cimabue, a representation of the Madonna and child, quite similar to the one at the Louvre and equally arresting in its powerful strength and forceful design. There are Giottos and Fra Fillipo Lippis, Gaddis and Daddis. And there are many Botticellis, especially two of his masterpieces, "Printemps" and "The Birth of Venus". The figures are graceful and ethereal looking, with a haunting chant, quite unrelated to flesh and blood reality. And of course there are Leonardo di Vinci canvases, with that strange, mysterious, almost surrealist quality which characterized his work.

From the Ufizzi we went to the Pitti Palace, but the guard at the door told us we had only half an hour to see the paintings before mid-day closing. "You can make it if you run" he said. We hardly felt like running, and since the paintings at the Pitti are mostly High Renaissance, which doesn't appeal to us especially, we gave up the idea and walked to a cafe at the Piazza della Signoria for lunch.

From our cafe we could look across the square at the Pallazo Vecchio, a massive, forbidding looking mediaeval edifice with two watch-towers rising high into the sky. Here it was the building itself which interested us. As you enter, your attention is focused on the elaborately carved stone columns — such a surprise after the austere looking exterior, and particularly striking since the remainder of the vast room is also extremely severe. The other rooms are equally impressive, with lofty ceilings, handsome stone floors, beautifully inlaid wooden doors and woodwork, and walls covered with Flemish and Italian tapestries elegant in texture and color.

Monday, June 23rd

This morning we said goodbye to several of our favorite buildings, including the Duomo, the Baptistry, and the Orsanmichele with its lovely stained glass windows.

Lunch at our favorite cafe in the Piazza della Signoria. The Piazza was resplendent with flags and banners, and the Pallazo Vecchio and the nearby Loggia della Signoria with its many statues (Benvenuto Cellini's "Perseus" and a copy of Michelangelo's "David" among them) were all bedecked with tapestries of crimson and gold. Grandstands have been erected and chairs placed on the platform of the Loggia, for the dignitaries of church and city. For tomorrow, the day of St. John the Baptist, the annual football game in mediaeval costume will take place.

After lunch we drove up high into the hills, to Fiesole and later to Settingano. There are attractive hotels and luxurious villas in Fiesole, with spacious grounds over-looking the rolling green hills, and the city of Florence far below. Settingano, smaller and more primitive, I always associate with Bernard Berenson, who for so many years sat like a monarch in his villa on the hills and received the adulation of artists and intellectuals from all over the world. He was scholarly and witty and urbane, and probably no single person has done so much to initiate art-lovers into the centuries during which the culture of the Renaissance came to its full flower.

Personally I have never been a worshipper at the shrine of the Renaissance. I feel no particular "sympatico" with this period, with its elegant and polished art expressions, and seeing the Florentine masterpieces at first hand has not changed my views. True, I have utmost admiration for the skillful composition, the superb craftsmanship and the restrained elegance of the Florentine painters. However I prefer a more spontaneous and emotional approach.

Ary and his friends have discussed this very question so many times. It is not, as the worshippers of the Renaissance are apt to maintain, that the "modern" artist negates the accomplishments of the Renaissance masters. However, he resists the pressures that would dictate that our culture must be based on the Renaissance. He rejects the thesis that art must be an expression of logic and clarity of thought and that the intellect must always dominate with conscious control. Perfection of technical accomplishment has lost its meaning for the modern painter. For one thing, he has learned to appreciate the art of the primitive peoples, their implicity and their direct expressiveness, their vision of a "soul-world", of a soul realism that is above surface realism. He feels that the intellectual realism of the Renaissance painters was achieved at the sacrifice of that expressiveness of the spirit.

Since I am in agreement with this point of view, I feel that I could never be entirely happy in Florence, despite its rich treasures of art and historical value. I wonder how I will react to Siena, where it is said that the heart rather than the intellect prevailed.

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