Sir Francis Ronalds' Travel Journal: Northeast Italy
Milan October 1820
I am detained at home today by bad weather, otherwise you would not be favoured or pestered with any more of my Grumpings. I shall put down little besides a few dates and the names of some pictures which pleased me.
At length the happy Sunday the 10th of September arrived and a Gondola came to convey me from Hell to Paradise. You cannot conceive with your experience the happiness of exchanging the Society of salt Greeks and puppet show men in a lazaretto for that of the gay venetian women & their still gay town. But as I had to pass through several of the smaller canals at an early hour of the morning when these "children of the night" were recruiting their powers of enjoyment in the arms of Morpheus and only a few silent funeral like gondolas glided silently along like "Summer flies in winter" amid the murky fogs of vapour and stinks, nothing seemed less like a paradise than Venice.
"having established myself comfortably took a pinch or two of Snuff and began to think of Business, but I had been... so little accustomed to act latterly that I found myself lying upon the Sofa whilst I ought to have been lost in admiration of the fine old Saracen Cathedral of St Mark"
"It was indispensably necessary to have a little to say to Signore Cupid you know in Venice & I was dreadfully at a loss... to begin my devotions at the little devil's shrine, so had recourse to my snuff box & Sofa again"
"How often have I seen parties come into picture gallerys, walk round them and out again without having received the smallest degree of pleasure beyond that derived from the consciousness of having fulfilled a small part of their morning's task like schoolboys"
I went to the Regina d'Inghilterra (not the best Inn but a good one) and having established myself comfortably took a pinch or two of Snuff and began to think of Business, but I had been so much accustomed to think and so little accustomed to act latterly that I found myself lying upon the Sofa whilst I ought to have been lost in admiration of the fine old Saracen Cathedral of St Mark, of a Palladio's Pallace or of a Titian's Venus. However the next day I lost no time and having hired a Cute Neapolitan Servo di Piazza, proceeded in regular order to see all that was to be seen & do all that was to be done.
It was indispensably necessary to have a little to say to Signore Cupid you know in Venice & I was dreadfully at a loss (having been so much out of practice) to begin my devotions at the little devil's shrine, so had recourse to my snuff box & Sofa again. How I had at last began, proceeded in & finished this affair cannot be related, I wish it could for I think it would furnish Whig with a tolerably good dish of laughter. At one time I was so perplexed that I had almost determined to skip this duty allthogether & was only resolved to persevere by way of not infringing upon my invariable rule of allways "doing as they do at Rome".
I spent 3 weeks at Venice occupied almost entirely with this concern and in looking at Pictures. Either my relish for Pictures is very much increased or travellers are ridiculously indifferent about them. How often have I seen parties come into picture gallerys [sic], walk round them and out again without having received the smallest degree of pleasure beyond that derived from the consciousness of having fulfilled a small part of their morning's task like schoolboys. Parties who have taken the pains to toil over many a weary mile to see 2 - 3 ancient Columns, or a ruined Wall, one old bone, or a rusty helmet, or a Temple whose beauty they can as little taste as that of a Picture - really I begin to think that I and my numerous tribe of brother & sister squirrels who come abroad to see they don't know what & go they don't know where, & leave the enjoyment of their comfortable fire sides for no other enjoyment than their self complacency in performing such a wonderful feat, deserve some of the significant smiles of the show men, innkeepers & postilions.
I made very few acquaintances at Venice. Mr Dorville the vice consul whom I had seen at Rome and Captn Stevens of the navy were the only ones I had except the salt greeks whom I now and then stumbled upon in the Piazza. So I soon grew tired of being cooped up by the Lagune & Canals, and of Gondolas, of Coffee Houses, of Theatres, & even of the life of a Cavalier Servente (alias a water Spaniel) & I longed once more to resume my course homeward, but it was not so easy a matter as I had imagined to get my Congé, it required or seemed to require much ingenuity. However I accomplished it at last and on the evening of the 4th of Octr got into a public boat which ascends the Brenta to Padua called the Courier as it is engaged by the government to carry letters. It was crowded with Passengers amongst whom were some Austrian officers who seemed perfectly aware of their authority and I thought were rather injudicious in their behaviour to the natives. If you turn back to my letter from Naples you will see that I prognosticated some change[?] from the disposition on the part of the government to riot as it were in their oppression & insolence and the surly discontent of the governed - some change near at hand. I don't think any such event can take place in the Austro Venetian states at present because the government is much stronger, the governed much weaker & the natural Furore of a Venetian is much less than that of a Neapolitan. The Neapolitan Thermometer of public opinion rose to the boiling point much sooner than the Venetian thermometer will because it was plunged into a much more inflammable fluid, the latter must rise to the point of desperation before the fluid will boil I think. It is gradually advancing however.
The following is a list of the pictures which I liked best. I don't doubt that I have missed many which I should have put down had I spent more time upon them, and if you should think me vain in giving you my taste recollect again that I write this journal for myself more than you.
The Pallace Barbarigo called the school of Titian contains perhaps the most interesting collection in Venice, I select the following:
|in the 2nd Chamber -||Titian.||Turchetta[?]|
|"||Giorgione.||Three half figures|
|"||Giulio Romano.||Circe & Ulysses|
|3rd Chamber||Carlo Bononi.||Moses conjuring Water out of the Rock|
|Marco Ricci.||Landscape (over the door)|
|4th Chamber||Titian.||Deposition for the cross|
|Rembrandt.||Portrait (frill on the neck)|
|5th Chr||D Teniers.||Bacchanal|
|Giovanni da Udine.||Madonna &c|
|6th Chr||Carlo Dolci.||St Cecilia|
|7th Chamber||Raphael.||Noah's Ark|
|Palma junr.||Time carrying off Cupid (Cupid scratching his head)|
"I asked one of these old blue faced gentlemen to direct me the best Inn, who after he had wiped away the drop at the tip of his nose & taken a survey of me said lifting up the latch of a Caffè house, Have a coffee sir, and contemplate a little"
I saw Padua under the most disadvantaged circumstances possible. The morning of the 5th when I arrived was gloomy & wet. The usual dullness of the Town was much increased by the Vacation which had not terminated, certainly nothing could be more forlorn than its appearance as I passed to the Town. Scarcely a Soul was to be seen except a few poor ancient professors crawling to the Coffee houses to take their miserable breakfast of a little cup of nasty coffee shrouded up in their old musty cloaks &c shivering like myself with cold & starvation. I asked one of these old blue faced gentlemen to direct me the best Inn, who after he had wiped away the drop at the tip of his nose & taken a survey of me said lifting up the latch of a Caffè house, Prendiamo un Caffè Sigr bisogna pensare un poco. I followed him into the Caffè and there he gave me the necessary information but required in return with true italian inquisitiveness[?] to know where I came from, where I was going & all other particulars which I might chuse to let out. I excited his Curiosity by saying that I came from Jerusalem to Venice from which last place I had just escaped. Escaped! exclaimed[?] the old gentleman removing a [?] breadth from me, surely you have not broken your quarantine! No my chains[?]! Good God what chains! What are you saying? [?] Chains [?].
We soon became very sociable & he conducted me to the Public school where he showed me a quantity of beautiful manuscripts & an undoubted original latin letter of Petrarch to Laura. It was full of corrections and written in a bad hand for which he apologises in a postscript saying he has not time to write it out fairly (a precious excuse for an innamorato hey!). The Pictures did not seem to me very famous, the best was one of Bassano, a Deposition from the Cross which I think possesses both his chief excellence and his chief defect. The chiaroscuro is admirable if considered in reference to the particular figures &c &c but the shadows as in most of his work are too much divided which makes the picture look mottled.
As I had told my old conductor that Natl Philosophy was my favourite study and particularly electricity he took down the Pensieri diversi of Tassoni and asked if[?] I had ever seen his observation upon sparks emitted from a head of hair whilst being combed, which I certainly had not and which is not referred to by any writer on the subject I believe. It is very curious. Brydone was not aware of it certainly.
He took me next to the Church degli Eremitani where we saw 2 works of Mantegna viz the Martyrdom of S. Cristofolo & the life of St James, & a St John by Guido Reni. Then to the Church dell'Annunziata, a little church in the Arena (the anct Theatre very imperfect) which is painted in Fresco by Giotto with the Life of Christ. Then the Church of St Anthony with paintings in Fresco also by Giotto. One represents the death of St Mark where he has placed the Saint in a Boat to convey him to heaven and an angel stands at the head of the boat spreading out a large pair of wings to serve the purpose either of sails or of aerial paddles. We must not enquire why the angel could not as well have taken him under his arm at once said my friend, I suppose the painter had his reasons for making a ferryman of him.
"How many idle vagabonds in these parts are paid ten times as much for wearing a gown and living at their ease because they profess to teach a quantity of dogmatical nonsense called Religion & Theology"
"The celebrated head of the Virgin by Giotto in the cathedral can scarcely be seen for a gauze veil over it. It performs miracles by the Dozen"
I was much obliged to my old friend for showing me these things as I should not have seen them all certainly for they were not all down in my book. He was a very intelligent old gentleman and we parted on extreemly good terms. I could not help thinking that he was very ill paid as a professor with a Salary of about 40 Pounds a year for the labours of a life spent in the cause of literature & science. How many idle vagabonds in these parts are paid ten times as much for wearing a gown and living at their ease because they profess to teach a quantity of dogmatical nonsense called Religion & Theology.
I went to the famous hall of Justice containing paintings of Giotto and the so called monument to Titus Livius, it is recently enriched with 2 black granite figures of Isis sent by Belzoni a native of Padua from Egypt. The anatomical preparations in Wax of Dr Caldani are removed. The celebrated head of the Virgin by Giotto in the cathedral can scarcely be seen for a gauze veil over it. It performs miracles by the Dozen. There are some paintings in fresco by Titian in the college near the Church of St Anthony which pleased me the least of any I have seen of this master. I laboured hard to see everything I could in Padua on the same day that I arrived but I don't recollect any other very striking objects. I could not see the university on account of the Vacation & absence of the Librarian.
I left it on the next morning (6th) by the Diligence having taken my place at Venice and arrived at Vicenza to Breakfast. Here I had a great treat. I had seen I believe almost all the remains of ancient roman & Grecian theatres which have been discovered but could never on account of the absence or of the dilapidated state of their Proscenia appreciate the effect they produced, & here I saw a perfect model built on the design of Palladio. I need not describe it. I was so much pleased that I spent almost all the time allowed me by the Diligence in it and had none left for the other objects scarcely. Nothing now existing can inspire greater Respect for the ancient state of Architecture than such an object; here one sees all that we can imagine to be necessary to the purpose intended, all and nothing more than is exactly fitting; and how much more chastity of design & ornament, true symmetry & exact proportion than we have any original conception of. The fruits of modern genius are ill begotten Bastards compared with these, whenever we deviate from such models we blunder.
"Bassano is a Unitarian Painter. He makes Mary a good wholesome Dame, Joseph a country lad,
& Jesus a chubby little fellow always ready for the bottle & the society of this holy family generally consists in a conclave of Cows & Pigs"
"One of Ld Byron's friends now keeps the caffè dei Nobili here at Verona. She is crummy and has a large train of admirers - prettyish, youngish, very come-atable"
I just ran over the other places & was very much tempted to stay a day or two for there are many good pictures of Titian, Bassano &c & other things to admire. Bassano is a Unitarian Painter. He makes Mary a good wholesome Dame, Joseph a country lad[?], & Jesus a chubby little fellow always ready for the bottle & the society of this holy family generally consists in a conclave of Cows & Pigs. He is censured for his low taste by Lanzi & other writers. But he is a unitarian Painter. He had not the bad taste of the Romish Church or else he was ashamed of it. - Bassano studied nature so long and so very successfully that he did not care to leave natural for supernatural objects. Truth for Mystery. However he was perhaps rather too fond of Cows & Pigs even for the age he lived in.
I ran over a most excellent Gallery of the Marquis of [blank] but had no time to stop a moment. They are fitting up a new public picture gallery here. I arrived in Verona in the afternoon where I remained a week. The Amphitheatre with no pillars or other ornament appears a dreadfully heavy mass on the outside to any one who has seen the Coliseum but however imposing, & the inside being kept in a state of good preservation is very interesting certainly. They perform in it now Goldoni's comedies and the feats of Signr Pulcinella &c.
One of Ld Byron's cari amici now keeps the caffè dei Nobili here at Verona. She is crummy[?] and has a large train of admirers - prettyish, youngish, very come-atable. One of her cavaliere marches into the Caffè house with a great newfoundland dog to protect him I suppose from the others, he seems very bad poor soul.
Verona appeared to me a pretty and pleasant town enough, something in the style of Canterbury, a first rate Country town where the people take the liberty of thinking for themselves & following their own fashions & thus preferring rather to remain in mediocrity and independence than to learn from their more renowned neighbours. This unfortunate habit I think I have observed not infrequently in other Towns. The Ancient Gates are nothing remarkable.
The following are the Pictures which I noted down at Verona [blank].
I left Verona on the morning of the 13th & was very happy to find that I had for my companion de Voyage to Milan Mr Belzoni, who was good enough to show me his work which is not yet published and to give me a great deal of very interesting information about Upper Egypt. We arrived at Brescia in the afternoon but I was unwell and could not stir out. The Next morning we started for Milan but were in great danger of being detained on the Road by some Austrian Driver[?] boys who were sent to Milan with orders to be furnished with post horses gratis, to the exclusion even of the Public Diligence & Post of Letters. The People grind their teeth at these things but say little. We arrived at Milan on the afternoon of the 14th within a day or two I think of the same time of year that I left it two years ago when I thought myself very ill and had no conception that a Journey in Egypt, Syria, Greece &c could ever have come into my head.
I could not get away from Milan in less than about a Week altho' I had been here before for I found much to admire which had either escaped me or been forgotten, & I had the pleasure of renewing one or two acquaintances & making the acquaintance of Mr Aldini the nephew of Galvani. He is attempting to introduce gas lights at Milan using Oil instead of Coals.
"I visited the scene loft twice and was much amused with the manner & facility of producing the effects. I even envie[?] the man... his apparent content & self complacency while he walked about with his long brushes giving a dab here & a splash there, growing a tree or building a house as large as life in about 10 Minutes"
The Scala did not fail to attract me regularly every night. They have not a v famous company here at present but the Prima donna[?] Mariani altho' not discerned[?] a first rate Singer has an originality or style, a full rich & melodious voice which gives her a great deal of applause, she squints[?] but she has a good tempered jolly face, figure[?] very gammy[?]. The scene painter struck me as being the best performer. His predecessor is I suppose the first scene painter who has been honoured with a monument erected to his memory in an Academy. I think he richly deserved it however, is not Scenic illusion a higher art than we generally take it for? If it had more encouragement our theatrical amusements would be greatly heightened. We avail ourselves of the best musical talent, why not enlist also the painter's highest powers in ministering to our theatrical enjoyments. I visited the scene loft twice and was much amused with the manner & facility of producing the effects. I even envie[?] the man tho' only an assistant his apparent content & self complacency while he walked about with his long brushes giving a dab here & a splash there, growing a tree or building a house as large as life in about 10 Minutes. - I'll [?] scene painter.
I was most agreeably surprised one morning by a call from Mr Davidson & Dr Coats, they had arrived at Venice on the day of my departure. They had been in Sicily & Naples during part of the troubles but remained unmolested.
The Academy of arts is now making its annual exhibition which is certainly extreemly creditable to Milan. There are some very excellent specimens of workmanship & manufactures of many kinds but few new inventions. The title of Professor is often assumed here seemingly, for amongst others I observed that a shoe maker styles himself on his card the Professor.
Now you will want to know what the People in these parts say of our most gracious Queen Caroline. I have heard as much about the matter as I could by enquiry amongst people of all ranks & of all the towns which I have passed thru. The captain & Crew of the Vessel in which I came to Venice from Corfu were belonging to Pesaro, they said that nobody there [?] at all of what we call her guilt. They said that she did as all other ladies did who kept a man and seemed to make no secret of the matter. At Venice they are too delicate to talk much about it, they think it highly dishonourable to spoil sport. Cosa volete? Una Donna senza Cavaliere! At Verona they call us downright fools to make such a fuss about the matter. At Milan they are more in [?], the men say she is guilty & the women shake their[?] fists or fans and say it is an abominable shame to treat a poor lady so & that if it was their case they would do they don't know what. The swiss are much of the same way of thinking but less vehement & some think she ought to be disowned[?]. I believe I may say that the general opinion in these parts seems very much against her innocence & also very much against the prosecution as might be naturally expected. In the other remoter parts of her journeyings [sic] I heard very few remarks upon the subject for the trial not being known, I did not enquire. I heard nothing against her at Jerusalem, Constantinople, Athens or any of the Greek islands. I don't think she left a bad name in those parts.
The Pictures in the Academy which pleased me most are these [blank]. Amongst those in the [?] of the Cathedral there were also many very excellent but I did not note them down because I thought them all much inferior to the others.
Now Good bye, I shall write again when I have reached Strasbourg. The nearer I approach home the greater is my impatience to be there.