“Maestro Antonio of Ferrara was a man of very great parts, almost a poet, and as entertaining as a jester, but he was very vicious and sinful. Being in Ravenna during the time that Messer Bernardino of Polenta held the lordship, it chanced that this Messer Antonio, who was a very great gambler, had been gambling one day and had lost nearly all he possessed. Being in despair, he entered the church of the Friars Minor, where there is the tomb which holds the body of the Florentine poet Dante, and having seen an antique Crucifix half-burned and smoked by the great number of lights placed around it, and finding just then many candles lighted there, he immediately went and took all the tapers and candles which were burning there and going to the tomb of Dante he placed them before it saying, ’Take them, for thou art far more worthy of them than it is.’ The people beholding this and marvelling greatly said, ‘What doth this man?’ And they all looked at one another....”
[Illustration: PORTAL OF S. GIOVANNI EVANGELISTA]
Sacchetti does not answer the question asked by the astonished people of Ravenna, but goes on to tell us of the lord “who delighted in such things as do all lords.” He could not have answered it for he did not know himself what it meant. We are in better case, I think, and know that what that wild and half—blasphemous act meant was that the Renaissance had made an end of the Middle Age here in Ravenna as elsewhere.
RAVENNA IN THE RENAISSANCE
When in the year 1438 duke Filippo Maria Visconti of Milan forced Ostasio da Polenta, the fifth of that name, into an alliance and the Venetians thereupon invited him to visit them, Venice had decided for her own safety to annex Ravenna and Ostasio soon learned that the new government had proclaimed itself in his old capital. He, as I have said, presently disappeared, the victim of a mysterious assassination; and Venice governed Ravenna by provveditori and podesta, as happily and successfully, it might seem, as she governed Venetia and a part of Lombardy. For her doubtless the acquisition of Ravenna was not a very great thing, nor does it seem to have changed in any very great degree the half-stagnant life of the city itself, which, as we may suppose, had for so long ceased to play any great part in the life of Italy, that a change of government there was not of much importance to any one except the Holy See, the true over-lord.
The Holy See, however, had no intention of submitting to the incursion of the republic into its long established territories without a protest. In the war of Ferrara, Venice had come into collision with the pope and had in reality been worsted, though the peace of Bagnolo (1484) gave her Rovigo, the Polesine, and Ravenna. But she had adopted a fatal policy in appealing to the French, a policy which led straight on to Cambray, which, as we may think, so unfortunately crippled her for ever.