Padua – Italy Travel

Padua is an ancient city and exhibits a rather respectable appearance against the horizon with its bell-turrets, its domes, and its old walls upon which myriads of lizards run and frisk in the sun. Situated near a center which attracts life to itself, Padua is a dead city with an almost deserted air. Its streets, bordered by two rows of low arcades, in nowise recall the elegant and charming architecture of Venice. The heavy, massive structures have a serious, somewhat crabbed aspect, and its somber porticos in the lower stories of the houses resemble black mouths which yawn with ennui.

We were conducted to a big inn, established probably in some ancient palace, and whose great halls, dishonored by vulgar uses, had formerly seen better company. It was a real journey to go from the vestibule to our room by a host of stairways and corridors; a map of Ariadne’s thread would have been needed to find one’s way back. Our windows opened upon a very pleasant view; a river flows at the foot of the wall—the Brenta or the Bacchiglione, I know not which, for both water Padua. The banks of this water-course were adorned with old houses and long walls, and trees, too, overhung the banks; some rather picturesque rows of piles, from which the fishermen cast their lines with that patience characteristic of them in all countries; huts with nets and linen hanging from the windows to dry, formed under the sun’s rays a very pretty subject for a water-color.

After dinner we went to the Cafe Pedrocehi, celebrated throughout all Italy for its magnificence. Nothing could be more monumentally classic. There are nothing but pillars, columnets, ovolos, and palm leaves of the Percier and Fontain kind, the whole very fine and lavish of marble. What was most curious was some immense maps forming a tapestry and representing the different divisions of the world on an enormous scale. This somewhat pedantic decoration gives to the hall an academic air; and one is – surprized not to see a chair in place of the bar, with a professor in his gown in place of a dispenser of lemonade.

The University of Padua was formerly famous. In the thirteenth century eighteen thousand young men, a whole people of scholars, followed the lessons of the learned professors, among whom later Galileo figured, one of whose bones is pre-served there as a relic, a relic of a martyr who suffered for the truth. The facade of the University is very beautiful; four Doric columns give it a severe and monumental air; but solitude reigns in the class-rooms where to-day scarcely a thousand students can be reckoned.

We paid a visit to the Cathedral dedicated to Saint Anthony, who enjoys at Padua the same reputation as Saint Januarius at Naples. He is the “genius loci,” the Saint venerated above all others. He used to perform not less than thirty miracles each day, if Casanova* is to be believed. Such a performance fairly earned for him his surname of Thaumaturge, but this prodigious zeal has fallen off greatly. Nevertheless, the reputation of the saint has not suffered, and so many masses are paid for at his altar that the number of the priests of the cathedral and of days in the year are not sufficient. To liquidate the accounts, the Pope has granted permission, at the end of the year, for masses to be said, each one of which is of the value of a thousand; in this fashion Saint Anthony is saved from being bankrupt to his faithful devotees.

On the place which adjoins the cathedral, a beautiful equestrian statue by Donatello, in bronze, rises to view, the first which had been cast since the days of antiquity, representing a leader of banditti: Gattamelata, a brigand who surely did not deserve that honor. But the artist has given him a superb bearing and a spirited figure with his baton of a Roman emperor, and it is entirely sufficient.

One thing which must not be neglected in passing through. Padua is a visit to the old Church of the Arena, situated at the rear of a garden of luxuriant vegetation, where it would certainly not be conjectured to be located unless one were advised of the fact. It is entirely painted in its interior by Giotto. Not a single column, not a single rib, nor architectural division interrupts that vast tapestry of frescoes. The general aspect is soft, azure, starry, like a beautiful, calm sky; ultramarine dominates; thirty compartments of large dimensions, indicated by simple lines, contain the life of the Virgin and of her Divine Son in all their details; they might be called illustrations in miniature of a gigantic missal. The personages, by naive anachronisms very precious for history, are clothed in the mode of the times in which Giotto painted.

Below these compositions of the purest religious feeling, a painted plinth shows the seven deadly sins symbolized in an ingenious manner, and other allegorical figures of a very good style; a Paradise and a Hell, subjects which greatly imprest the minds of the artists of that epoch, complete this marvelous whole. There are in these paintings weird and touching details; children issue from their little coffins to mount to Paradise with a joyous ardor, and launch themselves forth to go to play upon the blossoming turf of the celestial garden; others stretch forth their hands to their half-resurrected mothers. The remark may also be made that all the devils and vices are obese, while the angels and virtues are thin and slender. The painter wishes to mark the preponderance of matter in the one class and of spirit in the other.