Italian Lakes – Brescia

BRESCIA’S castle hill accords with its proud title of l’armata. It has been a city of sieges and the place of the making of arms. It was burned and sacked by the French in 1512, and bombarded in 1849 by the Austrians. Thus in times past it has spoken mainly of war and weapons, and still leans dependently against the hill the summit of which is occupied by the citadel. Originally a Roman colony, then a free imperial city, Brescia was, like Bergamo, for centuries a redoubtable stronghold of the Venetian Re-public. To-day the soldiers on the streets and the trumpets near the barracks proclaim a united Italy. The city does not lie upon the heights, like the ancient città of Bergamo, and to that extent is less striking as a picture; with its situation in the alpine fore-hills, it may rather be likened to Bologna, recumbent against the ample sides of the spurs of the Apennines. Brescia’s streets, too, though narrow enough to the apprehension of any one coming from newer worlds, are nevertheless wider than those of lofty Bergamo.

The conquests of peace are signalized by the works of its principal painter, Il Moretto, lavishly displayed in local churches and galleries, by great baskets of silk cocoons being carted through the streets, and by the beating of ironware and brass kettles, which sound rises to the ear as we lean for a moment over the fortifications of the citadel. From up there the eye ranges over the great plain southward and toward the Alps north-ward. In the city streets, from this window or that, there issues a pleasant and very Italian smell of something cooking, — with garlic; a few men are stretched out asleep upon the sculptured stone benches of the Municipal Palace; the mules of the Alpini troops pass by, laden with great loaves of dark bread carried in nets.

As in the case of most Italian cities, the railroad station lies outside the gates of Brescia, so that a veritable entry has to be made past the local octroi customs. The municipal centre of Brescia is the Piazza Vecchia. Here is the superb Palazzo Municipio, commonly called La Loggia, white, magnificent, and ornate to a degree. Beneath it is a vaulted hall gracefully arched and columned. There, too, is the ancient round Duomo, called La Rotonda, and close by the massive Broletto, or former town hall, likewise the silver and gold smiths’ shops, and a long arcade. Not far off are the remains of a Roman temple with a marble colonnade of ten Corinthian columns. The cella of the temple is now used as a museum, and contains the famous bronze statue of winged Victory, excavated in 1826. Indeed Brescia contains much for the scholar and the art lover. The grand Biblioteca Comunale with valuable parchments ; the Galleria Municipale, which is especially rich in pictures of Moretto and Romanino; and the churches rejoicing in paintings of the same artists, — all these open their treasures to the searcher for the old and the beautiful.

Brescia also recalls two special names worthy of more than mere mention, since they have become world possessions, — the names of Arnold of Brescia and the Chevalier Bayard.

Arnold (Arnaldo) of Brescia

Neither the year of Arnold’s birth, nor the usual facts about his parents or his child-hood are accurately known. He was of a noble family, so much is known, and born probably at the end of the eleventh, or the beginning of the twelfth, century. He chose an ecclesiastical career, and went to France to study under the famous teacher, Peter Abelard, one of the earliest of the religious reformers, — this probably before the year 1126. Returning to Brescia, he lived simply, but was prodigal in his eloquence against the ecclesiastical abuses of the time. Especially did he set his face against the secular or temporal power of the Church. His activity in this direction led to his deposition from priestly office and to his expulsion from Italy.

First of all he went to his former teacher, Abelard, and taught and preached in Paris; then he sought asylum in Zürich, in Switzerland, and taught there. Persecuted even from that city, he seems to have disappeared for a time, to be next heard of in Rome itself. The conditions in Rome were peculiar at the time of his arrival, in that the people had declared a republic, and were trying to throw off the temporal power of the Church entirely. Arnold showed his interest in this cause by addressing the citizens on the Capitol hill and in their popular assemblies, although he does not appear to have been either the originator nor at first the leader of the revolution, but only associated himself with a movement he found already established. For some ten years thereafter his ideas dominated the city. Adrian IV., the only English Pope, drove Arnold from Rome, and there is reason to believe that the reformer was soon after captured and put to death.

Bayard Sans Peur et Sans Reproche

Among narratives of the age of chivalry the history of Bayard, the good Chevalier sans peur et sans reproche, compiled by the Loyal Serviteur, stands in the first rank. It is now almost a certainty that the name of the Loyal Serviteur was Jacque de Mailles. The narrative was originally printed in Paris in 1527. The Château-Bayard is in France, in the valley of Graisivaudan, about a mile from the station of Pontcharra near Grenoble in Dauphiné.

Bayard’s eventful career, full of feats of arms, was further marked by his exploits at the siege of Brescia in 1512. The city had fallen to France as a result of the League of Cambray, but the Venetians had pounced upon it and held it under Messer Andrea Gritti, the Venetian Proveditore. When the French attacked, they shouted, ” France, France!” They of the company of the good Chevalier cried, ” Bayard, Bayard!” The enemy shouted, ” Marco, Marco!” The Chevalier was wounded in the assault on the first fort, but the Duke of Nemours, that gentil Gaston de Foix, and the rest of the French army used in the attack, pressed on and defeated the Venetians. The Loyal Serviteur states that the plunder of the place was valued at three million crowns, and that he felt sure the taking of so much wealth at Brescia caused the French to abandon the war.

The Chevalier kept his bed, as the result of his wound, for about a month. Then he arose cured. He showed his magnanimity toward the people of the house which had harboured him in a manner entertainingly told by the Loyal Serviteur. He states, ” The lady of his house, who always held herself to be his prisoner, together with her husband and children, and that the house-hold goods she had were his (for so had the French treated the other houses, as she knew well), had many imaginings. . . . The morning of the day on which after dinner the good Chevalier was to depart, his hostess, with one of her serving-men carrying a small box of steel, came into his chamber, where she found that he was reposing in a chair. . . . She threw herself on her knees, but straightway he raised her up, and would never suffer her to speak a word until in the first place she was seated near him.” The good lady brought Bayard this box full of money. At which the Loyal Serviteur states: ” The noble Lord, who never in his life valued money, began to laugh, and then said, ` Madam, how many ducats are there in this box? ‘ ” She told him 2,500 ducats. He refused to accept them at first, but, upon her repeated requests, he finally took the money, saying, ” But fetch me your two daughters, for I would bid them adieu.” Then the good Chevalier, taking the money in hand, gave each of the daughters a thousand ducats as a dowry, and the remaining five hundred he returned to the mother for the poor. So the ” flower of chivalry ” left Brescia, followed by the loving good wishes of at least one happy family.

A dozen years after, in 1524, the French having made an unfortunate invasion of Milanese territory, held at that time by the Spaniards, were forced to beat a retreat. The loyal Bayard fell during this retreat as the result of a bullet hurled from an arque-buse.