Florence – San Salvi

ABOUT a mile outside the Gate of Santa Croce stands the convent and church dedicated to San Salvi, a Bishop of Amiens who lived in the eleventh century. The convent was originally composed of Benedictine monks of the Vallombrosian Order, who remained there till the middle of the sixteenth century, when they were replaced by nuns of the same Order, whose convent near the Porta al Prato had been demolished to give place to the Fortezza del Basso, The monastery of San Salvi has been more than once destroyed ; it was burnt down in 1062 when San Giovanni Gualberto, the founder of the Vallombrosian Order, preached a crusade against the simoniacal Bishop of Florence, Pietro Mezzo-Barba of Pavia ; and again, in 1312, it was sacked by the troops of the Emperor Henry VII., when he was besieging Florence. Shortly before this, in i 308, the monks received into their sanctuary the body of Corso Donati, which they found bleeding on the road near their convent. Corso Donati, the Guelphic leader and hero of the Neri faction in Florence, was accused by the opposite party of ambition and a desire to make himself tyrant of the city. He refused to obey the summons of the authorities, and he was consequently condemned to lose his life. He was at that time confined to bed by a severe fit of the gout, but with the aid of his friends bravely resisted the attacks of the Signory on his fortress home (Via della Condotta). Finding there was no hope of rescue, he and some of his friends contrived to escape by a back door, and fled from the city, hoping to reach the district of the Casentino, in the direction of Arezzo. The fugitives, however, had not advanced much further than the village of Rovezzano, when they were overtaken by some Catalonian troopers in the service of the Republic, and taken prisoners. The proud old chief could not brook the ignominy of a public execution, but threw himself from his horse, which dragged him for some distance, till he was killed by his head hitting against a stone.

The monks of San Salvi took up his bleeding body, and secretly buried it. Both Villani and Dino Compagni, con-temporary chroniclers of the opposite factions, speak of Corso Donati as a man of handsome person, and dignified, pleasing manners, even when in advanced years, but at the same time say that he was ambitious and haughty with his inferiors, and consequently the occasion of much discord in his native city.

In the sixteenth century, during a season of plague, San Salvi was used as a Lazaretto. In 1529, the Florentine citizens caused a great portion of the convent to be destroyed, that it might not shelter the army of the Prince of Orange, and the work would have been completed, had it not been from respect for the wonderful representation of the Last Supper, which had been recently painted on the walls of the Refectory by Andrea del Sarto (1488-1530). It is one of his latest works, as well as one of the best. Vasari states that he had painted the arch with the four saints upon it some years previously, and had received the commission to paint the `Cenacolo,’ or `Last Supper’; but owing to the behaviour of the abbot and monks, who were in the habit of holding their disorderly meetings in this hall, much delay was occasioned, so that Andrea did not execute the fresco till the years 1526 and 1527.

The Last Supper is painted on the wall at the end of a spacious chamber, facing the entrance. The reality of the scene represented within the arch is most striking. The figures are ranged on three sides of a long table. The countenance of the Saviour, as He appears looking towards John, is calm and beautiful ; His left hand rests tenderly on that of the young Apostle, as He seems to check the eager, `Is it I?’ in His beloved disciple : our Lord holds the bread, which He extends towards Judas, who is seated on His right. The traitor starts back, laying his hand on his breast, as if discovered in his guilty thought, while he at the saine time denies it, and involuntarily stretches forward to take the bread presented to him. Peter, beyond Judas, with a serious and almost indignant look, quietly contemplates the scene ; he makes no movement, and seems to have no fear or doubt of his own fidelity. The Saviour is clothed in red ; He has a pale blue mantle across His knees, and John and Peter, the two most faithful and devoted disciples, are in garments of the same colour. The head of John is singularly beautiful ; it forms a contrast with the dark but grand head of Judas, over which a shadow is passing. The young disciple behind has started eagerly to his feet, with parted lips, in horror at the idea suggested by our Saviour’s words. On the opposite side, another standing figure stretches out his arm to arouse the attention of the disciple beside him, by touching his shoulder. The gradual increase of interest from either end of the table where the words have only been repeated, to those nearer the centre who have heard the Saviour speak, is very striking. There is a hushed suspense, a whispered question and reply among those further removed. Nothing is more wonderful than the drawing and action of the hands and feet in this fresco. Each corresponds to the age, and the expression of the individual to whom they belong. The utmost care has been bestowed, yet there is no unnecessary dwelling on details. The green earthenware dishes on the table are the same as those still in ordinary use in Florence. Above the Saviour and the apostles, is a window with a balcony, or terrazzo, on which stand a man and woman as spectators. The man leans on the balustrade ; he has been looking down,. but turns to relate what has happened to the woman, who is going away, but looks back. Around the arch above the fresco are full-length figures of bishops and saints, already mentioned as having been executed some time previously to the Cenacolo below. We can well understand the astonish-ment and veneration of the rude Florentine citizens, who paused in their work of destruction when in front of this painting.

The road outside the Barrier della Rocca Majano,’ a short distance east of the Salvi, leads most directly to the Castle of the Vincigliata. Passing the small churches of Santa Maria Coverciano on the left hand, and of San Martino in Mensola on the right, neither of which contains objects of interest, a bridge crosses the stream of the Affrico very near its junction with the Mensola. These streams, which in spring and autumn are sometimes torrents, formed the subject of Boccaccio’s poem of `Il Ninfale Fiesolano.’ They descend from beyond Majano, the Mensola from Monte Ceceri passing Mr. Temple Leader’s villa, the Affrico from the west, below the Villa Tegliacci, formerly Salviati, which is now the property of Count Resse. A story has been handed down from the period when the Salviati lived in this villa, of a dog of great size and strength named Neptune, which was in the habit of carrying despatches from a Cardinal Salviati in Rome to the family who lived in their villa near Florence. On one occasion, however, the practice having been discovered by an enemy of the house, Neptune was overtaken and wounded. The faithful animal contrived to reach his destination with the letters beneath his collar, when, his strength being exhausted, he sank to the ground and expired. The discovery recently of the portrait of a big dog in a corner of the old villa kitchen, and of a small slab of stone near the outside wall, with the name Neptune inscribed upon it, seem to confirm the tale.

Just below Villa Tegliacci, a winding lane to the left, following the course of the Affrico—here a very small stream–leads to another old villa, `the Palmerino,’ and higher up on the road, between hedges, is a Tuscan farmhouse, both of which belong to Count Resse. This last was formerly the residence of Sir Robert Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, sometimes called by the Italians the Earl of Warwick ; he was the son of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and of the unhappy Amy Robsart. The peasants who now inhabit the house are direct descend-ants of those who cultivated the land during the lifetime of the Duke of Northumberland, but the careful finish of the stonework and the remains of frescoes attest its superior elegance in former days.

The small village of Majano has no especial object of interest attached to it, except as the birthplace of the celebrated sculptor Benedetto da Majano, who was one of three sons of a stonecutter, born in this village in 1442. His brothers followed the same calling, and the elder brother, Giuliano, acquired some fame as an architect, sculptor, and worker of intarsiatura. Benedetto began life by exercising this last art, intarsia, or wooden mosaic ; but having made two finely inlaid chests and travelled to Hungary with the intention of presenting them to the great patron of art at that period, King Matthias Corvinus, he discovered on his arrival that they had fallen to pieces, from exposure to sea damp ; he therefore resolved to spend no more time on so fragile a material, but to turn to sculpture he also devoted much attention to the study of architecture, and was employed by Filippo Strozzi to give a design for his magnificent palace in the Via Tornabuoni in Florence. The monument to Filippo Strozzi in the Church of Santa Maria Novella and the pulpit at Santa Croce are both singularly beautiful specimens of his work. Benedetto died in 1497, leaving his property, failing male and female relations, to the Bigallo, who thus came into possession of a Madonna and Child, and a St. Sebastian, which they bestowed on the Misericordia, within whose precincts they may now be seen.

The Castle of Vincigliata stands very high on arid and rocky ground, and with its battlemented fortress walls, forms a prominent object in the landscape. The road rises steeply amidst plantations of fir and cypress, and to the left it commands a view of Monte Ceceri, honeycombed with numerous quarries, which have supplied building stone to Florence ever since the days of Filippo Brunelleschi, who first called attention to the rock being adapted for building purposes : it is a hard siliceous sandstone, popularly called in Italy ` Macigno,’ and has been used for the erection of the Duomo, San Lorenzo, Santo Spirito, the Pazzi Chapel of Santa Croce, and many other of the most important buildings in Florence. Several of the quarries supply long straight blocks of stone fitted for columns, and are named the `Cave Lunghe,’ or ‘ Long Quarries.’ The columns supporting the Loggia of the Mercato Nuovo have been constructed from these. They are no longer worked, but may still be visited. Mr. Temple Leader has employed the stone of these quarries for the restoration of the Castle of Vincigliata. This old fastness dates from very early times, and has been mentioned by several of the Florentine historians. It is doubtful whether it was originally a baronial residence, or under episcopal jurisdiction. It is first mentioned in a parchment of the Florentine Badia in 1031, when a portion of its lands was sold to the little church of San Martino in Florence. In 1069 another document proves that it belonged at that period to the family of the Visdomini. It passed through the hands of several Florentine families before the year 1345, when it was sold to one Niccolô degli Albizzi, who had two sons, Alessandro, and Bartolommeo. In 1372 the latter, in order to evade the dangers incurred in Florence by those who belonged to the nobility, separated from his family, and taking the sur-name of Alessandri, assumed the arms of a lamb with two heads. • The grandsons of this Bartolommeo restored the little church of Santa Maria and San Lorenzo, situated a little above the castle. From this time Vincigliata continued in the family of the Alessandri till 1827, when it was purchased by Signor Galli of Rovezzano, who sold it to Mr. John Temple Leader, already in possession of much land in this neighbourhood. By him it was restored from a state of complete ruin to its present condition. Mr. Leader has endeavoured to restore the fastness to what it was in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries ; adapted to resist the attacks of freebooters and marauders, dimly lighted by narrow windows, and deprived of all the luxuries of modern life. Much care has been bestowed on the furniture in the interior of the castle, kitchen utensils, &c., which the few habitable rooms contain, and which are curious and interesting to the modern traveller. The outskirts of the castle, within the outer massive wall, form a vineyard and rough garden. In a recess of the wall is a fresco of St. Christopher, executed by the living painter, Gaetano Bianchi. It refers to the popular belief that any one looking on the image of this saint is for the whole of that day preserved from the danger of sudden death, and in this position anyone entering or leaving the castle cannot fail to see it.

Some of the lower rooms of the castle open on a small cloister, which contains an interesting sarcophagus with early Christian bas-reliefs, brought hither from Pisa by Mr. Leader. A lunette over one of the doors—Christ rising from the tomb, the Virgin and Magdalene kneeling on either side—is a pleasing Robbia bas-relief. The walls of the cloister are decorated with frescoes in imitation of the old style, also by Gaetano Bianchi, and represent subjects connected with the history of the castle ; such as Sir John Hawkwood’s raid from Pisa, when the castle was battered by his English company, also incidents in the history of the Alessandri family, the marriage of one of the Alessandri to a Ricasoli, &c. Ascending a narrow stone staircase to the first floor, the refectory contains a canvas picture representing a Last Supper by Santo di Titi (1536-1603). Santo di Titi, was a painter who, according to Lanzi, though not one of the best, acquired a great reputation in his day. The kitchen and the adjoining rooms are furnished with large cupboards, and with brass urns, pans, lanterns, &c. Some steps higher is the court-yard of the castle, which on one side has a covered Loggia, beneath which Mr. Leader has recorded, on marble tablets inserted into the wall, the various visits he has received from distinguished personages. There are also shields with coats of arms, and a variety of objects in altorilievo, Robbia ware, and marble. The well at one angle of the Cortile is very handsome. It is said to supply good water from a depth of eighty metres (240 feet). The Armoury opens into this Cortile, to the left of which is a small chapel containing an Annunciation in Robbia ware over the altar, brought hither from the former convent of the Montedomini in Florence. To the right of the Armoury is the council chamber, on the walls of which are some frescoes with the date 1498. These formerly decorated the chapel of the hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, now the convent of San Martino. They represent miracles and incidents in the life of San Bernardo degli Uberti, who was successively Abbot of San Salvi and Abbot of Vallombrosa, and afterwards Cardinal and Bishop of Parma. An inscription states that they were brought to this Tuscan baronial castle in order to preserve the memory of one who held posts of authority in the courts of Popes Urban II., Pasqual II., and of the Countess Mathilda. Out of this chamber is another, containing some handsome marriage chests, and still further is a bedroom.

A flight of steps leads from the Cortile to a terrazzo above, as well as to the tower, which rises to a height of 873 feet above the level of the sea.

The little church of Santa Maria and San Lorenzo, belonging to the castle, is situated rather higher on the hill. It is still under the patronage of the Alessandri family, and formerly contained a good altar-piece by Fra Filippo Lippi, of San Lorenzo, and other saints, with the donor, one of the Alessandri family, and his two sons, kneeling below. This has been removed to the Palazzo Alessandri in the Borgo degli Albizzi, and two Giottos, which formerly also existed here, have been removed to a villa belonging to that family near Empoli, as attempts have twice been made to steal them. In a still more elevated position are the ruins of another castle, called Castel del Poggio. This castle appears to have belonged originally to a fierce and turbulent family, of Manzena, who domineered over all the country round, imposing tribute on wayfarers and travellers. The castle was, therefore, almost entirely destroyed by the Florentine Commonwealth towards the end of the fourteenth century, when it passed into the hands of the Alessandri. The ruin now belongs to the Forteguerri, of Pistoia. Some of the surrounding walls and the central tower still remain, but the ancient chapel with its frescoes has been used for secular objects, and is a complete ruin.

One of the roads from the castle of Vincigliata to return to Florence is by the village of Rovezzano, which for a long distance skirts the old highway to Arezzo. It is best known as the birthplace of the sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano (1474-1552), whose delicate reliefs adorn the churches of the SS. Apostoli, and Ogni Santi ; some of them are preserved in the Museum of the Bargello. This sculptor has also left traces of his work in England, which he visited in 1524, when Cardinal Wolsey, at Windsor, commissioned him to make a bronze sarcophagus for the reception of his remains. After Wolsey’s disgrace, Henry VIII. ordered Rovezzano to finish the work, but the king died before it was completed. Charles I. intended it for his own sepulchre, but, after his execution, the parliament gave orders to knock off and melt down the decorations. Finally, Rovezzano’s work, shorn of its beauty, was destined to contain the bones of Lord Nelson, and may be seen in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Benedetto da Rovezzano returned to Italy to die, a blind old man.

The village of Rovezzano contains little besides of interest : it has two parish churches, San Michele and Sant’ Andrea. San Michele dates from the thirteenth century, but was restored and altered in 184o. Sant’ Andrea is also old, but has been recently restored, and contains a painting attributed to Giorgio Vasari, besides a modern fresco, by Luigi Ademollo, of the crucifixion of St. Andrew.

There are two tabernacles in Rovezzano ; one represents a Crucifixion with Saints, by Franciabigio (1482-1525), the friend and companion of Andrea del Sarto. It is cited by Vasari, but very little of it remains. The other tabernacle near Sant’ Andrea is in better condition ; it has a Madonna and Child with saints, and bears the date 1410, but the author is unknown.

A short distance beyond Rovezzano, a road to the left leads to Settignano, a village of considerable size, situated on a height amidst vines and olives. This village is also associated with the name of a sculptor, Desiderio, whom Giovanni Santi, the father of Raffaelle, styles Il bravo Des/der si dolce e bello, who was born here in 1428. He was the son of a stonemason. The sculptures he has left behind him are not very numerous, but are chiefly to be seen in Florence. They are characterised by singular delicacy and refinement of feeling, and great technical skill in the finish, giving tenderness or reality to the fiesh—morbidezza, as it is expressed in Italian. One of his most beautiful works is the monument to Carlo Marsuppini, in the church of Santa Croce in Florence. It was in Settignano also that Michael Angelo passed his childhood, and the house where he was put out to nurse is still shown, with the charcoal drawing of a Satyr on the wall of the kitchen, by the hand of the young sculptor.

The church of Settignano is very old, and contains. a lunette in Robbia ware, a Madonna and Child, which is somewhat injured. The chapel of Santa Lucia, founded by the company of this name in 1475, and restored in 1593, contains a painting of four saints, attributed to Cigoli. They are called the four stonemasons, who were martyred—Martini Scarpellini. Santa Lucia is the patron saint of the labouring poor, and Settignano is noted for the number of industrious stonemasons, several of whom have left a name. The inhabitants continue to the present day to follow the same calling ; Marruccelli, from $ettignano, is master mason of the new façade of the Cathedral of Florence.

The circular pulpit, against a pillar hewn out of a single block of granite, is by Bernardo Buontalenti (1536-1608).

There is a small chapel for the ` Misericordia ‘ (Brothers of Mercy) in the Piazza beside the church, which contains a bassorilievo of the Madonna and Child. It is extremely delicate and beautiful, and is by Desiderio da Settignano. At one corner of the Piazza is the colossal Torso of a Roman Emperor, said to be that of Septimius Severus, who, according to tradition, laid the foundations of this village.

The blind Venetian patriot and poet, Niccolb Tommaseo, ended his days here, in 1869 ; and in grateful acknowledgment of his services to his country, his statue has been placed in the Piazza di Settignano.