Placentia – Italy

A REFRESHING breeze had succeeded to the oppressive heat of an intensely warm day; the low declining sun, now setting behind the hills, cast a lengthened shadow over the landscape, and gave a pleasing variety to unwooded but rural and richly-cultivated scenery. It was Sunday, and the streets of the city were filled with well-dressed people, most of whom, especially the women, were tall and handsome. There were no carriages; no crowding or bustling in the streets; the whole presenting a character of quiet serenity, which pleasingly reminded me of the Sabbath of a long summer day in a country town of Scotland. Placentia, or Piacenza, is finely situated on a great plain, between the Po and the Trebia, not far from the junction of these two rivers, having received this appellation from the Romans, on account of its delicious situation.

Placentia has nothing of the grandeur of an ancient city; neither does it offer any of the finer features of modern structures; but may be described as presenting a pretty and cleanly aspect, giving the idea of a small town, in which nothing of the bustle of trade appears; and where much of simplicity and equality in manner and station is to be found. On entering it, we are particularly struck with the fresco paintings displayed on its walls, but are more frequently to be seen under the arcades. They immediately attract the attention, more especially because it is in Placentia that we first view works in this style, executed by masters of note. Those adorning the outside of the houses are the labours of Fratti, Campo, Camilla, and Alonzo. The houses are chiefly built with brick, and the streets narrow, but not irregular.

In one of the squares, styled Piazza di Castello, there are two equestrian statues of bronze, by some attributed to John of Bologna Fiammingo, but rather believed to be the work of his pupil, Moca. One of the statues represents Alexander Farnese, the other is that of his son, Ranuccio. On the pedestal of this last, there is an inscription, in which he is styled the just, the renowned, and the patron of arts, and of industry—high-sounding claims to distinction, which are, however, singularly contradicted by historical facts. This prince, avaricious and cruel by nature, became, it is said, gloomy and ferocious, through remorse for having murdered his grandfather, Louis Farnese. He sheltered himself from the consequences of this act by a successful crimination of many great lords of the state, seven of whom suffered in consequence of his pretended charges. He pursued his victims with such severity, that, not content with depriving. the children of these nobles of their inheritance, he threatened their lives, and they were saved only by the humanity of the priests, who secretly conveyed them beyond the reach of his power. Such is the violation of truth in the virtues we here find proclaimed.

These equestrian statues, as works of art, are mentioned in terms of the highest praise. I am tempted, however, to observe, that the strength and power exhibited in the form of the neck, with the fire expressed in the head and eye of Ranuccio’s courser, are sadly counteracted by the mountain of flesh on the shoulders and hips of the animal. The artist seems to have believed, that bulk and grandeur were synonymous; or, guided by the sublime figurative expression, his ” neck is clothed with thunder,” he has given the starting eyeball, nostrils breathing fire, and flying mane; but loaded the hinder parts with sides and haunches of unmeaning weight and dimensions. All that is good in these works, the head, ear, eye, and neck, possess those obvious characters of beauty, which are always in evidence, and therefore easily represented; but we find no swell in the muscle of the thigh; the feet are flat, and motionless; no setting off of the heel; none of the indications of the strength of muscle requisite to motion. The spine, the hip, and hinder limbs, have a claim on the study of the artist, less apparent, indeed, and less imposing, but, nevertheless, equally essential to the formation of a noble war-horse.