After passing one whole day at Placentia, we proceeded on our journey. and travelling through the same luxuriant and lovely country, reached Parma at an early hour.
This city, receiving the name of Parma from the Romans, either because its form resembled that of a shield, or, perhaps, because it had served as a protection to them, was, together with Placentia, among the cities left by Charlemagne to his son Pepin. The distance of these towns from the seat of government rendered revolt easy, and they soon erected themselves into independent republics. After this period, they belonged sometimes to the Duke of Milan, sometimes to the Pope; then becoming the property of the Ferranese, this family long reigned over them with the title of Dukes of Parma. Parma was next possessed by the French, in their revolutionary conquests; and, finally, at the Congress of Vienna, was assigned to the Arch-Duchess Maria Louisa, wife of Buonaparte. In contemplating Italy, its beautiful cities, valleys, and rich plains, we cannot wonder that it has so often been an object of contention, and an alluring prize to the conqueror’s arm. But it must excite astonishment, that a country having sea-ports to favour trade, vast rivers to open canals, a climate so beautiful, so temperate, possessing the sources of all that is most valued, as well as most refined, in life, presenting at once all the luxuries of art and nature, with such means to obtain power, and such objects to stimulate exertion, should so long have suffered itself to be the sport of contending and conflicting nations. The French overran all Italy so easily, that they believed and styled themselves invincible; but they did not reflect, that their arms were directed against those who had long forgotten to contend for their rights, a nation become more zealous to preserve tranquillity than to assert independence.
Parma is finely situated on the banks of the small river of the same name, that falls into the Po, at the distance of eight or ten miles below. The streets, which are in various places connected by bridges crossing the stream, are wide and regular for an Italian city. The approach is picturesque and pretty; as you advance along the public road, you distinguish, as in a lengthened vista, the turrets and steeples of the city, connected by low, square, flat-roofed buildings, the intervals between being filled up by the rich dark green foliage of fine full-leafed trees, yielding a pleasing and refreshing relief to the eye. Entering by one of the gates, you cross the river, passing along an antique stone bridge, and proceed through cleanly, solitary streets, towards the principal square of the city, which is large and handsome. Parma is said to contain 28,000 souls, but neither its magnitude, nor its apparent population, gives this impression. There is no attempt at courtly grandeur, as at Turin; none of the stir and busy bustle of Milan; nor anything of the filth, meanness, and confusion of Pavia; but simply a beautiful little city, the general aspect of which is striking; the public walks, lying on the ramparts high above the town, are pleasant, as well as the roads around, which are lined with fine trees. One great and very handsome street extends from the square; there are others broad, but not continuous, and without any attraction of architecture. The ancient palace, a very extensive building, now forms a superb Library, an Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Gallery of Paintings. The theatre is vast, too vast for so small a place, as it would seem large even in Paris or London. The chief interest in this city, however, arises from the fine paintings it contains; Parma being more especially styled the city of Correggio, from the celebrated works of that great master, with which it is richly adorned. This artist, whose family name was Allegri, styled Lieto in the Latin epitaph inscribed on his tomb-stone, was born in the year 1494, and closed his life shortly after attaining his fortieth year. He is reported to have been of a melancholy temperament, laborious in study, modest even to humility, and of so mild a nature, that while his contemporaries were writhing under the feelings of envy excited by his fine talents, his spirit was undisturbed, their enmity towards him having no power to move his placid and unassuming nature. It is positively asserted that he never visited Rome, and consequently did not enjoy the advantage of drawing from the antique statues. This seems, however, almost impossible; for at that period we find this study regarded as indispensable, and as forming the only pathway to excellence. Correggio directed his attention particularly to the art of foreshortening, in which he was singularly successful. It was his particular care always to draw from nature.
Of the many fine paintings executed by this great master, esteemed the inventor of his style, so remark-able for his foreshortenings, the bold relief in his drawing, and the easy flow of his draperies, the work which first raised his name to distinction is the fresco painting of the cupola, or dome, of the Cathedral of Parma. The subject is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, who is seen ascending into Heaven, surrounded by innumerable angels; the foreground being occupied by the Apostles and Saints. This celebrated work, which raised Correggio’s fame so high, was finished in his thirty- second year. In the churches of this city, there are many fine fresco paintings by this artist, as well as by other masters; but in the few hasty remarks which my short stay enabled me to make, my observations were more particularly directed to the works contained in the Gallery and Academy of Sculpture and Painting, which, with the Library, are under one roof. In the last men tioned, we find Correggio’s fine painting, representing the Coronation of the Virgin by St John.