The gallery is situated in the upper part of a vast edifice, supported in front by Doric pillars, which were formerly adorned with statues. Perhaps the Florentines more than any moderns have sought to honour and perpetuate the memories of their celebrated men. We have a list from an author, who wrote in the first year of the fifteenth century, recording the names of distinguished poets and artists, whose statues were placed at each gate in the entrance of the city, among whom Dante, Boccacio, and Petrarch are mentioned. Time and chance have caused the destruction or removal of these honourable testimonies of departed worth.
The colonnade formed by the Doric pillars of the Gallery, leads to apartments styled gli Ufzi; after an ascent of two flights of stairs, singularly long, and most precipitous, you reach the landing place, and enter a small vestibule, which opens into the Gallery.
Here you find yourself at once in the midst of the works of art, but so crowded, that they seem deposited rather than arranged; and so mutilated, that your first sensation is that of being surrounded by a rabble of nose-less and headless beings, some of which seem to bear the traces only of what they have been, and others are so badly restored, as to cause a regret that they had not shared the same fate.
The difficulty and delicacy of the task of restoration, although generally acknowledged, is, notwithstanding, hardly understood to its full extent.
You must look to the callida junctura before you can pronounce on the correctness of the artist’s work, and ascertain whether he has given the parts restored their original form and intention.
In this vestibule you find them restored, even to the boar’s tail, which being broken in the hurry of removal, in the great fire of the year 176, is replaced; not, how-ever, according to the brazen copy to be seen in the Mercato Nuovo, which was originally taken from this, and is finely executed, but ad libitum. This fine animal deserved more care. It is inimitable. The surly brute is represented in the attitude of his lair, as if in his den, angry, roused, half rising, and showing his formidable tusks. His hair is stubby and clotted, his paws broad, coarse, and heavy; the whole finely expressing the growling ire kindling in an irritated animal.
The horse of this vestibule is generally noticed with high commendations, and, perhaps, on a slight survey, it may seem to have some merit; but on a closer examination many faults must soon be discovered.
I find in it no preparation for any one part; no fore-head to provide for the eye; no socket, nor any bones to project above it; no ribs, only a round tub of a body; no spine, nor rump projecting to mark the crupper, distinguishing the back from the haunches; no preparation for the tail, which is stuck straight out betwixt the hips; none for the mane in the forms of the neck; nor for the legs on proceeding from the haunches; in short, it is a boy’s hobby-horse, and, moreover, has been cruelly restored; yet it serves well enough as an ornament to the place. It is imagined that the horse belonged to the Niobes, although upon what grounds is not clearly explained.
The two wolf-dogs are most exquisite; bold, spirited, and true to nature.
Gassing through the doorway, which is guarded by these two noble animals, you enter this far famed Gallery; and here your first feelings and sensations are those of surprise and disappointment.
You look along a corridor, which seems almost inter-minable, being nearly five hundred feet in length, gloomy, narrow, and with no proportioned height of ceiling to give dignity or grandeur to the general effect. Compared to the Louvre, or Versailles, it appears very mean.
The walls on each side of the Gallery are lined with paintings, furnishing specimens from the earliest times; and the first of these, from the wonderful poverty they display in composition, colouring, perspective, and de-sign, add new lustre to the abilities of the great masters who succeeded them.
From space to space there are statues, the intervals being occupied with busts of the celebrated men among the ancients, with Roman Emperors, and distinguished Roman ladies. The head-dresses of the female busts are worth noticing, being the most whimsical and fantastic things imaginable.