The Pitti palace contains also the apartments in which the King and Queen of Italy reside when they visit Florence, which is not often. Florence became the capital of Italy in 1865, on the day of the sixth anniversary of the birth of Dante. It remained the capital until 1870, when Rome was chosen. The rooms are shown thrice a week, and are not, I think, worth the time that one must give to the perambulation. Beyond this there is nothing to say, except that they would delight children. Visitors are hurried through in small bands, and dallying is discouraged. Hence one is merely tantalized by the presence of their greatest treasure, Botticelli’s “Pallas subduing the Centaur,” painted to commemorate Lorenzo de’ Medici’s successful diplomatic mission to the King of Naples in 1480, to bring about the end of the war with Sixtus IV, the prime instigator of the Pazzi Conspiracy and the bitter enemy of Lorenzo in particular—whose only fault, as he drily expressed it, had been to “escape being murdered in the Cathedral”—and of all Tuscany in general. Botticelli, whom we have already seen as a Medicean allegorist, always ready with his glancing genius to extol and commend the virtues of that family, here makes the centaur typify war and oppression while the beautiful figure which is taming and subduing him by reason represents Pallas, or the arts of peace, here identifiable with Lorenzo by the laurel wreath and the pattern of her robe, which is composed of his private crest of diamond rings intertwined. This exquisite picture—so rich in colour and of such power and impressiveness—ought to be removed to an easel in the Pitti Gallery proper. The “Madonna della Rosa,” by Botticelli or his School, is also here, and I had a moment before a very alluring Holbein. But my memory of this part of the palace is made up of gilt and tinsel and plush and candelabra, with two pieces of furniture outstanding—a blue and silver bed, and a dining table rather larger than a lawn-tennis court.
The Boboli gardens, which climb the hill from the Pitti, are also opened only on three afternoons a week. The panorama of Florence and the surrounding Apennines which one has from the Belvedere makes a visit worth while; but the gardens themselves are, from the English point of view, poor, save in extent and in the groves on the way to the stables (scuderie). Like all gardens where clipped walks are the principal feature, they want people. They were made for people to enjoy them, rather than for flowers to grow in, and at every turn there is a new and charming vista in a green frame.