The Tribune – Florence

At certain intervals along the range of the gallery, there are large doors, forming the entrance into the different schools of painting, statuary, bronze, &c. one of which, towards the centre of the gallery, opens into the Tribune. I cannot refrain from again repeating how much, in surveying the Gallery, or Tribune, the celebrated repository of the arts, you are led to remember with admiration the apartments of the Louvre, all the splendours of which are in the contrast forcibly recalled to memory. Statues acquire new dignity, and are contemplated with sensations of heightened pleasure, when viewed in rich and noble halls.

The magnificence and the taste displayed in the whole arrangements to be found in the Louvre, are equally striking and beautiful, while the statues of the Tribune, the most exquisite in the world, are lodged in a mean and gloomy chamber, a dull, tasteless, dreary, and melancholy apartment.

It was built after a design of Buontalenti. The form is octagon, and towards twelve feet in diameter, with a roof rising in the manner of a cupola, but being greatly too lofty, according to true proportion, the apartment seems like a narrow tower, or a deep well; while the space of the whole is so limited, that, as you enter, the four celebrated statues seem close upon you, and you have almost touched the Venus di Medici ere you are aware in whose presence you stand.

The paintings of the Tribune, I acknowledge with regret, have disappointed my expectations; there are, doubtless, some few fine things among them; but yet, in the institute of Bologna, or here in Palazzo Gitti, you will find more of admirable and masterly works, than in the whole of this apartment. There is, however, one source of information here particularly interesting, offered in the opportunity of comparing the works of Pietro Perugino with those of his celebrated scholar; as also the three progressive manners of Raphael. While we look on the works of Pietro Perugino, and contemplate his stiff outlines, his formal erect figures, his cold, pale colouring, his golden ornaments, stars, and glories, we cannot but wonder at the excellence so rapidly and so early attained by his gifted pupil.

The paintings of Raphael, to be seen in the Tribune, are-

1st, A Portrait of a Florentine lady, with a cross hanging from her neck, and rings on her finger. In this painting, which is among his earliest productions, much of the cold flat manner of his master may be traced.

2d, Two paintings on wood, the subjects, the Virgin, the Holy Infant, and St John; the manner sweet, but little effective.

3d, John the Baptist in the desert; a full-length figure painted on canvass. The colouring, the expression, and manner, fine.

4th, A Portrait of Pope Julius the Second; most exquisite, with beauty and richness of colouring inconceivable. The artist himself was so pleased with this subject that he copied it several times.

5th, The celebrated Portrait of his Fornarina. Into the countenance of this lovely woman, he has breathed all the sentiment of his own soul. You perceive that she is no longer in early youth, but full of forms presenting the most exquisite softness and grace; a face on which the eye dwells with delight; its beauty fascinates, while the mind with which it is animated seems to speak to the heart.

6th, St John the Evangelist, by Andrea del Sarto; very fine.

7th, A Virgin Mary, by Guido; the countenance contemplative, the expression soft and pleasing, the colouring good.

8th, Herodias receiving the head of St John, by Da Vinci; a subject often chosen, yet surely most unpleasing. This piece is executed in the artist’s best style; the painting fine, the colouring rich, and the expression of the whole powerful. Da Vinci, as if willing to lessen the impression of horror, has rendered Herodias exquisitely beautiful, while he has thrown into the countenance of the executioner an expression savage and ferocious.

9th, Two Venuses of Titian. Although these paintings are so highly esteemed, I cannot bring myself to view them with any portion of the admiration with which they are regarded. One is a portrait of his wife; the other supposed to be that of a Florentine lady.

They are both of the size of life, and may be styled sweet sketches, but only sketches. You see a pallid body, lying on a pale ground, of no beautiful or delicate work; the whole having more the aspect of a thin-washed drawing, than the rich colouring of an oil painting. Those who admire them, maintain that the beauty, languor, and charm infused into the whole composition, especially into that of the Florentine lady, convey the most touching interest to the heart; but I can never be reconciled to such designs. Turning to the opposite side you see the first effort of the great Michael Angelo in painting, and you look upon ft with amazement and incredulity, wondering that such a production could at any period have been the work of this great master. It is badly composed, and ill drawn. All the figures in the distance are in Terra Siena, while scarlet, blue, and green, enliven those of the foreground, which at the same time presents a confusion of limbs, hands, and arms, that no eye can endure.