On returning to London the first duty of every one who has drunk deep of delight in the Bargello is to visit that too much neglected treasure-house of our own, the Victoria and Albert Museum at South Kensington. There may be nothing at South Kensington as fine as the Bargello’s finest, but it is a priceless collection and is superior to the Bargello in one respect at any rate, for it has a relief attributed to Leonardo. Here also is an adorable Madonna and laughing Child, beyond anything in Florence for sheer gaiety if not mischief, which the South Kensington authorities call a Rossellino but Herr Bode a Desiderio da Settignano. The room is rich too in Donatello and in Verrocchio, and altogether it makes a perfect footnote to the Bargello. It also has within call learned gentlemen who can give intimate information about the exhibits, which the Bargello badly lacks. The Louvre and the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin—but particularly the Kaiser Friedrich since Herr Bode, who has such a passion for this period, became its director—have priceless treasures, and in Paris I have had the privilege of seeing the little but exquisite collection formed by M. Gustave Dreyfus, dominated by that mirthful Italian child which the Bargello authorities consider to be by Donatello, but Herr Bode gives to Desiderio. At the Louvre, in galleries on the ground floor gained through the Egyptian sculpture section and opened very capriciously, may be seen the finest of the prisoners from Michelangelo’s tomb for Pope Julius; Donatello’s youthful Baptist; a Madonna and Children by Agostino di Duccio, whom we saw at the Museum of the Cathedral; an early coloured terra-cotta by Luca della Robbia, and No. 316, a terra-cotta Madonna and Child without ascription, which looks very like Rossellino.
In addition to originals there are at South Kensington casts of many of the Bargello’s most valuable possessions, such as Donatello’s and Verrocchio’s Davids, Donatello’s Baptist and many heads, Mino da Fiesole’s best Madonna, Pollaiuolo’s Young Warrior, and so forth; so that to loiter there is most attractively to recapture something of the Florentine feeling.
An historic piazza—Marble facades—Florence’s Westminster Abbey—Galileo’s ancestor and Ruskin—Benedetto’s pulpit—Michelangelo’s tomb—A fond lady—Donatello’s Annunciation—Giotto’s frescoes—S. Francis—Donatello magnanimous—The gifted Alberti—Desiderio’s great tomb—The sacristy—The Medici chapel—The Pazzi chapel—Old Jacopo desecrated—A Restoration.
The piazza S. Croce now belongs to children. The church is at one end, bizarre buildings are on either side, the Dante statue is in the middle, and harsh gravel covers the ground. Everywhere are children, all dirty, and all rather squalid and mostly bow-legged, showing that they were of the wrong age to take their first steps on Holy Saturday at noon. The long brown building on the right, as we face S. Croce, is a seventeenth-century palazzo. For the rest, the architecture is chiefly notable for green shutters.