It was from the Boboli hill-side before it was a garden that much of the stone of Florence was quarried. With such stones so near it is less to be wondered at that the buildings are what they are. And yet it is wonderful too—that these little inland Italian citizens should so have built their houses for all time. It proves them to have had great gifts of character. There is no such building any more.
The Grotto close to the Pitti entrance, which contains some of Michelangelo’s less remarkable “Prisoners,” intended for the great Julian tomb, is so “grottesque” that the statues are almost lost, and altogether it is rather an Old Rye House affair; and though Giovanni da Bologna’s fountain in the midst of a lake is very fine, I doubt if the walk is quite worth it. My advice rather is to climb at once to the top, at the back of the Pitti, by way of the amphitheatre where the gentlemen and ladies used to watch court pageants, and past that ingenious fountain above it, in which Neptune’s trident itself spouts water, and rest in the pretty flower garden on the very summit of the hill, among the lizards. There, seated on the wall, you may watch the peasants at work in the vineyards, and the white oxen ploughing in the olive groves, in the valley between this hill and S. Miniato. In spring the contrast between the greens of the crops and the silver grey of the olives is vivid and gladsome; in September, one may see the grapes being picked and piled into the barrels, immediately below, and hear the squdge as the wooden pestle is driven into the purple mass and the juice gushes out.
English Poets in Florence
Casa Guidi—The Brownings—Giotto’s missing spire—James Russell Lowell—Lander’s early life—Fra Bartolommeo before Raphael—The Tuscan gardener—The “Villa Landor” to-day—Storms on the hillside—Pastoral poetry—Italian memories in England—The final outburst—Last days in Florence—The old lion’s beguilements—The famous epitaph.
On a house in the Piazza S. Felice, obliquely facing the Pitti, with windows both in the Via Maggio and Via Mazzetta, is a tablet, placed there by grateful Florence, stating that it was the home of Robert and of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and that her verse made a golden ring to link England to Italy. In other words, this is Casa Guidi.
A third member of the family, Flush the spaniel, was also with them, and they moved here in 1848, and it was here that Mrs. Browning died, in 1861. But it was not their first Florentine home, for in 1847 they had gone into rooms in the Via delle Belle Donne—the Street of Beautiful Ladies—whose name so fascinated Ruskin, near S. Maria Novella. At Casa Guidi Browning wrote, among other poems, “Christinas Eve and Easter Day,” “The Statue and the Bust” of which I have said something in chapter XIX, and the “Old Pictures in Florence,” that philosophic commentary on Vasari, which ends with the spirited appeal for the crowning of Giotto’s Campanile with the addition of the golden spire that its builder intended—