TTHERE is a weariness of the sea. Yes, for all the fading beauty of Venice, the pure delight of the lagoons, the silence and loneliness of the islands, in time one grows weary of them, and is homesick for the hills ; one remembers the long roads that lead on for ever in the sunshine, one regrets the vineyards and the gardens of olives, not this waste of island-sprinkled water but the firm earth is the heart of our desire. To be weary with the length of the way, to set out where the road leads, these are the inalienable needs of a man, and how can Venice ever satisfy them ? For all her beauty and for all her delight, she comes at last to be a kind of prison from which there is no visible escape. The waters lie everywhere about her, and the farthest of her islands is but a cell in a fortress not made with hands, where she lies now in durance, and of which she has lost the key. For in a very real sense she is caught at last in her own trap. Once she was sufficient for herself, and in the midst of her natural bastion, the lagoon, she was able for many centuries to defy all corners. But now life has departed from her, she is derelict in the shallow sea, and is wrecked on the shoals that were once her protection, and there is no one who comes to her and remains with her but at last becomes aware that he is a prisoner, that he, too, like any wretched captive, must go round and round, that there is no free way out. Then it is that he knows that he must ere long take ship or deliver himself to the train and escape, for it is escape, and leave these strange and shallow waters, and set foot upon the firm and stable earth whence he is sprung. It may be a few weeks, it may be a long series of years, that bring this home to him, for men are strangely different, and in Venice only this is sure, that he who is not Venetian born will know that he is a prisoner at last. Then when the narrow ways grow irksome, when the lagoon seems only a desert, something reveals itself suddenly in the heart, and the stranger is restless to be gone. Perhaps it is in the sweet o’ the year that this comes to him at last, and a memory of spring in the world he knew, a world of fields and hedge rows, of valleys and hills, of corn and wine and oil, of the sentient and awakening world, raises rebellion in his heart, and the barren sea seems the way of a fool, for the whole wide world is calling to him, and there is nothing that can prevent him in finding her. Certainly it was the spring that broke for me the spell of Venice. I dreamed of the highways, I desired the hills, when the sweet of the year broke over the valleys red and white, when the green bud began to appear, when the wind came softly from the south, and the birds were come from over the sea. So I set out.
One night on the Fondamenta Nuova I found a barge for the mainland. I made friends, I went aboard, and by dawn my foot pressed terra firma. I was in Mestre, on the road to Treviso.
Of that road who can say enough? It leads across the plain towards the mountains, it leads through many a pleasant village, and all the way is green with the new sprung corn and red and white with almond blossom, and whispering with the south wind among the vines, among the twisted fig trees and unchanging cypresses. I breakfasted in Mogliano, a brief handful of houses ; I lunched in Preganziol, and, going slowly, for I was weary after the winter, I came into Treviso at nightfall, into Treviso with its memories of Venice.
Treviso, which ever wears an aspect so smiling and so youthful, is nevertheless a city of very ancient foundation, far older than Venice, which is, indeed, the latest born of all those towns which came at last to owe her life and allegiance. In the time of the Empire TrevisoTarvisium as it was called was a prosperous and important place. With the coming of Attila, however, it, like all the cities of Venetia, fell into ruin. That barbarian entered Italy, crossing the Alps in 452, and, as we have seen, at once laid siege to Aquileia, with an innumerable host. Unskilled as he was in the methods of conducting a regular siege, he was yet able with the enforced assistance of his many prisoners and the impressed provincials of the country places to make a very formidable assault upon the strong walls of that great city with battering rams, movable turrets, and engines that threw darts and fire. Aquileia was at that time not only one of the richest and most populous of the cities of this coast, but it was also the most formidable fortress on the frontier. It made the most splendid and the most heroic resistance to the Hun, who consumed three months ineffectually before it, and was, indeed, on the verge of starvation and about to raise the siege, when a mere chance gave him the city. ” As he rode round the walls,” says Gibbon, “pensive, angry, and disappointed, he observed a stork preparing to leave her nest in one of the towers, and to fly with her infant family towards the country. He seized with the ready penetration of a statesman this trifling incident which chance had offered to superstition, and exclaimed in a loud and cheerful tone that such a domestic bird, so constantly attached to human society, would never have abandoned her ancient seats unless those towers had been devoted to impending ruin and solitude. The favourable omen inspired an assurance of victory ; the siege was renewed and prosecuted with fresh vigour ; a large breach was made in the part of the wall from whence the stork had taken her flight, and the Huns mounted to the assault with irresistible fury ; and the succeeding generation could scarcely discover the ruins of Aquileia.”
With the fall and ruin of Aquileia the frontier lay open. Attila apparently crossed the Piave out of Friuli into Venetia proper, and the first city in his way was Tarvisium. This also he overthrew, and marched on to Padua, which he left a heap of stones before he swung westward to destroy the inland towns, Vicenza, Verona, and Bergamo, and so to Milan and Pavia, which submitted without resistance. This march of utter destruction is, I imagine, without parallel in the history of Europe. It was like a flight of locusts ; before it was plenty and civilization, behind it starvation, anarchy, and barren ruin. Everything went down, not only the cities, but man and his work of a thousand years. Venetia returned to a state of barbarismVenetia which had been one of the richest and most vigorous provinces of the Empire. As Attila himself boasted, the grass never grew on the spot where his horse had trod.
What exactly was the fate of Tarvisium during the ensuing centuries we do not know. The Dark Ages lay over Europe, and, as has been said, though Charlemagne lifted the veil for a moment and assured the world of the sun, there were many years to pass away after that splendid and heroic coronation in S. Peter’s Church, before Europe could again be said to be a living thing. It is, however, part of the irony of history, and also but another proof that none of us really knows what he is doing, that in his destructive and incredible march Attila may be said to have founded Venice, the city and the State which was at length to renew the life of the old Roman Province of Venetia, and to rebuild, perhaps on more secure foundations, the civilization of Rome and of Europe in this corner of the Empire which had suffered more severely than any other in that never to be forgotten disaster.
When Treviso next appears upon the stage of history very nearly a thousand years had passed away since Attila laid her low. Venice, which had grown out of the ruin of Aquileia and Altinum, was by the year 1339 about to become mistress of the sea. She had disposed of the Dalmatian pirates, she had broken Constantinople, she was to strew the beaches of Chioggia with the wrecks of the galleys of Genoa. Her trade was paramount in the East, and her many possessions through the Levant glittered in the cap of her Doge like jewels. She had become by dint of her enterprise, her virility, and her hard fighting the emporium of Europe. Yet in that year 1339 she was but a kind of fortress in the sea, she held nothing in the ancient province whose name she bore. This, which had for long been her salvation, had come now to be her gravest danger. The old weapon that had always been used against Venice was the threat of starvation; this, she knew, would be used again, and with the consolidation of Italy of the various provinces of Italy, with ever increasing success. She could not grow corn in the lagoons, she must import it from the mainland. And, moreover, that mainland, so hazily visible across the shallow waters, had lately become of vast importance in this also, that the various powers there, small princelings or great States, were always able to shut the passes of the Alps against her commerce, so that she understood what it was to face both starvation and commercial ruin. With the sea almost in her hands, but with Genoa unbeaten, she suddenly turned her attention to this, and, like every other problem that was presented to her before inward decadence and exterior revolutions in the conditions of Europe brought her to nothing, she solved it.
Nor was the solution, which she adopted so successfully, any new idea. It was but a revival of an old intention that had always lain in her soul, but that till now she had not been forced to carry out with all her strength. Already in 996 she had secured a port and a marketplace on the Sile, which runs through Treviso, and of old flowed into the lagoon at or near Altinum. In 1142 she had for the first time undertaken a war on terra firma to keep the Brenta open for her merchantmen. In 1 240 she had fought on the mainland to maintain her commercial rights in Ferrara. The second war of Fernara in 1308 gives us, according to Mr. Horatio Brown, “the earliest indications of a distinctly aggressive land policy.” Before then, certainly, Genoa, we must remember, had defeated Pisa, and was thus become tremendously formidable ; at least as formidable as Germany is to us today. It is then, in 1308 that we find the Doge, Gradenigo, advocating a policy of territorial expansion ; but I think it must always have been the creed of the commercial adventurers, the true heroes of Venice as of England. The Closing of the Great Council gave them their opportunity ; the few, as ever, drove the many, the futile democracy was demolished, and Venice rose up, ready to face even the Pope in the patriotic cause. In 1308 war was declared, though the Pope, in vain, placed the city under an interdict.
At first Venice was not successful. The Venetian garrison in the Rocca of Ferrara was put to the sword ; she made peace, and bought her rights again from the Ferrarese. But what she had failed to attain by war, the security of her trade, she, restless, sought at once to achieve by treaty. In 1317 we find her making treaties with Milan, Brescia, Bologna, Como, and for the political cause of all this we look to Genoa. We hear of her goods in Flanders and in England. Yet more and more the patriotic policy of her merchant adventurers was forced upon her by circumstances, and this because it was the way of life.
Those circumstances were indeed formidable enough. On the sea the long Genoese campaigns were yet to be fought and won; on the mainland the growing trade of Venice, the commercial treaties she had made brought her face to face with the military powers of Venetia and of Lombardy, with the Scala of Verona, the Carrara of Padua, the Visconti of Milan. Of these the first to be faced were the Scala of Verona. The greatest member of this great house, Can Grande himself, had by 1328 become master of Vicenza and Padua. In the following year Mastino della Scala took Feltre, Belluno, and Treviso. What did this mean for Venice ? Open any map of Northern Italy, and it will at once be obvious that such a move on the part of Verona gave the lords of that city an absolute command of the westward trade of the lagoons. Venice was completely hemmed in on the mainland. Padua and Vicenza, supported by Verona, held her immediately ; on the north Treviso, backed by the Piave, held the way, while Feltre and Belluno closed the mountains against her. This action on the part of the Scala struck at the very existence of Venice, for her wealth was dependent on the markets of the west and north, the roads to which these cities held. For every ounce of merchandise she sent forth she must henceforth pay Mastino della Scala tribute an ever growing tribute. Venice replied at once by cutting off his salt supply, but that was of little effect. Her true reply was war, and she at once prepared to make it. And here, again, Venetian history is very like that of England. There was, we read, a party in Venice which strongly opposed the war. Such creatures seem even then to have been the curse of their country. Apparently a Pro-Scala Doge was in power, but either circumstances were too strong for him or the Venetians had a better and a readier way of dealing with their traitors than we have with ours. We do not read that the Doge was allowed to escape from the angry citizens in the disguise of one of the city police, but we do read that war was declared and Venice saved, and that from this time Venice set herself to found a dominion on the mainland, a dominion which for good government, happiness, and the administration of justice had no equal in any other part of Italy, or perhaps of Europe.
The Doge had bolstered up his counsel of non-resistance by the assertion that the Republic had no army and would be compelled to employ mercenaries. In this he was, as it proved, entirely at sea. Venice raised a native army from her own sons between the ages of twenty and sixty years ; but her real triumph was one of diplomacy. For now that she showed her readiness and capacity to fight, she was able to find allies in the Florentines, the Rossi of Parma, the Visconti of Milan, and the Gonzaga of Mantua ; and, as it proved, Rossi of Parma alone was so formidable an enemy, that Mastino della Scala sought terms of Venice. In this business he employed Marsilio di Carrara, his governor in Padua, a member of the family which the Scala had displaced in 1328. Why he chose such an unproved and dangerous instrument we do not know. What we know is that Carrara turned traitor and came to secret terms with the Doge. He agreed to make Venice mistress of Padua on condition that he himself was established there as Signore. Scala was undone. Visconti was all but in Brescia, which Scala in vain tried to relieve, only to learn that in his absence Rossi of Parma had actually taken Padua and that Venice was in possession of it and the House of Carrara restored. Then Brescia fell. Mastino della Scala sued for peace, which was given him in 1339 on the following conditions so far as Venice was concerned. The Republic was to have and to hold as part of her dominion the cities and territories of Treviso and, Bassano, and to recover her original commercial rights in Vicenza and Verona.
What did this mean to Venice? It meant three things. In the first place Treviso gave her the road from the sea to the mountains, while Bassano gave her the command and control of a great pass over the Alps into the Germanies. In the second place it gave her a vast corn growing district and a fine pasture land, so that her food supply was assured so long as she could hold what she had won. In the third place it founded her dominion on the mainland.
Treviso, then, holds a very important place in the history of Venice, and its acquisition marks the beginning of a new period. Yet I suppose that no one visiting this prosperous little town of 33,000 inhabitants, the capital of a province and see of a bishop, would realize as much today as he passed up and down the narrow arcaded streets and in and out of the great bare churches. Yet this, perhaps, would strike him, that Treviso was the birthplace of three great painters of the Venetian school Lorenzo Lotto, Rocco Marconi, and Paris Bordone. And in noting this fact he would be right. For Venice gained more than security, more than a permanent food supply, more than a free trade route by the war which ended in the annexation of this territory. She gained the energy and genius of its people ; for this follows as the night the day, that to him that hath shall be given. Had Venice followed the craven and provincial policy of her Doge, she would have lost more than those material advantages for which she waged her war ; she would have lost the new spiritual energy and strength which she thus gathered to herself. She, too, was of the number of those, and they include us all, who do not know what they are doing.
If we set out to explore Treviso, as I suppose most travellers do, from the Railway Station, we shall first cross the Canal Polveriera, an artificial branch of the river Sile. We thus enter the city by the Barriera Vittorio Emanuele, and passing through this Borgo and crossing the river itself, we enter the city proper by the Via Vittorio Emanuele. The walls which on all sides, save this which is guarded by the river, surround the city and are flanked by moats or canals are the work of Fra Giocondo, one of the most famous engineers and architects of the Renaissance, born in Verona. They date from the end of the fifteenth century. Following the Via Vittorio Emanuele across another canal, a canal which passes through the whole city we presently come to a little piazza, out of which on the left the Via Venti Settembre leads into the Piazza dei Signori. If we were to judge of Treviso by the names of its chief streets, we might think that it was scarcely fifty years old. The Piazza dei Signori, however, tells another story. Here stand the Palazzo Pubblico, and behind the Palazzo Pubblico the Monte di Pietà. We pass out of the Piazza by the Via Calmaggiore on the left, which presently brings us straight to the Duomo.
The Cathedral of S. Peter, chiefly a building with fine domes by Tullio Lombardo in the fifteenth century, has a fine Renaissance portico, on whose steps are two ancient porphyry lions. Within, by the first pillar on the left, is a statue of S. Sebastian by Lorenzo Bregno, a work of the early sixteenth century. It is at the second altar on the right, however, that we come upon a work by one of those three painters born in Treviso which are part of the glory of the school of Venice. It is a Nativity by Paris Bordone.
Paris Bordone was born at Treviso in 1500 and died in Venice in 1570. And though his education as a painter was Venetian, the provincial shows itself clearly enough in his works in a certain personal way he has of seeing things and expressing them for himself. Even his colour is not altogether Venetian. That delicate rosy tinge in his flesh, the purple and shot tints of his draperies, might seem to be inventions of his own, as are certainly the strangely crumpled folds of his draperies. The greatest of his works, the Fisherman Presenting the Ring of S. Mark to the Doge, remains, as is meet and right, in Venice ; but here in Treviso we have several of his works, among them this Nativity in the Duomo, and Madonna with SS. Sebastian and Jerome, with some Gospel scenes, and. a small picture in the same church, together with a picture in the Gallery.
By the second pillar is a relief of the Visitation by one of the Lombardi, and over the third altar on the left a fine work by Francesco Bissolo of S. Justina, S. John the Baptist, and S. Catherine with donor.
Close by is the Renaissance Cappella del S. Sagramento, to the left of the choir, by Lorenzo and Battista Bregno of Verona. In the choir itself is the fine tomb of Bishop Zanetto by the Lombardi and some modern frescoes. The Cappella Malchiostro, to the right of the choir, contains the terra-cotta bust of the founder, Broccardo Malchiostro, who died in 1520, and some frescoes of that date by Pordenone and Pomponio Amalteo, showing the influence of Michelangelo’s work in the Sixtine Chapel in the Vatican. In the antechapel, too, is an interesting work a Madonna by Girolamo da Treviso, a painter of the Paduan school, born here in the fifteenth century. This altarpiece, which has considerable merit, is dated 1487, and would seem to show, for all the Paduan education, a Bellinesque influence. The great treasure of this chapel, however, and indeed of the city of Treviso, is the picture of the Annunciation by Titian which it possesses. This fine picture was painted for Canon Malchiostro, the founder of the chapel, before 1517, when Titian brought the finished picture with him to Treviso. No one, I think, who has ever seen this picture has been satisfied with it. To begin with, the donor insisted, apparently, on being included in the scene. The result is that here we have an impossible situation presented to us. We see a priest lurking behind a pillar, eavesdropping, while Gabriel delivers his message. Nothing could be more revolting. Whether Titian himself felt this or not, who can say ? But he painted Gabriel as coming in with so much haste, and altogether in so great a confusion and so rudely, that we understand why the book has slipped from Mary’s hand and why she lays that hand as though in protest upon her gentle breast and is all confused. We have only to remember such masters as Lorenzo Monaco, Simone Martini, Fra Angelico, and Filippo Lippi, and what they have made for all time of this scene something spellbound, some-thing as wonderfully lovely as the Alma Redemptoris Mater to be altogether disgusted by this vulgarity with a priest for listener.
In the sacristy close by we have something that better contents us : a very interesting picture of a procession in the Piazza del Duomo by a pupil of Paris Bordone.
One other work of Titian’s, though sadly faded, remains in Treviso. I mean the figure of Christ which he painted on the façade of the Scuola del Santissimo, adjoining the Cathedral, when he came to Treviso in 1517. This was a representation of the risen Christ ascending triumphantly with the banner of victory in His hand. Titian was more than once in Treviso about this time. In 1 519 he there gave his opinion as an expert in favour of his friend Pordenone in a dispute that painter had with his employer, who had refused to pay for the painting of a façade, and later he wanted to buy a quantity of land in the neighbourhood from the monks of S. Benedetto.
His work, however, is not to be found in the little Galleria Comunale in the Borgo Cavour, which is reached from the Piazza del Duomo by the Via Riccati. This little collection contains a fine altarpiece by Paris Bordone, a Nativity by Caprioli, a pupil of Bordone’s, painted in 1518, and, best of all, a fine portrait of a Dominican Friar, painted in 1526 by another of Treviso’s sons, Lorenzo Lotto, by whom again there is a very wonderful altarpiece, a lunette of the Dead Christ, an early work, in S. Cristina, some five miles west of Treviso on the road to Padua.
From the Gallery we pass to the Via Cavour, where we turn left into the broad Via delle Mura di S. Teonisto, and passing that church come to the great Dominican sanctuary of S. Niccolh. This is one of the largest Gothic brick churches in Italy, and was built by two Dominicans in 1310-1352. Over the High Altar is a picture of the sixteenth centurya Madonna Enthroned with her little Son. To the left is the tomb of Conte d’ Onigo (1494) by Tullio Lombardo. Its background is painted by some pupil of Giovanni Bellini. In the chapel to the right of the High Altar is an early work by Sebastiano del Piombo of Christ and S. Thomas with donors.
Nothing more of much interest remains in Treviso. Only in S. Maria Maggiore, on the other side of the city, is the tomb of Mercurio Bua, the condottiere, and in the Monte di Pietà is a fine picture of the Dead Christ by Beccaruzzi, another pupil of Pordenone.