Before leaving this room one should look again at the haunting portrait of S. Lorenzo Giustiniani, No. 570, by Gentile Bellini, which has faded and stained so graciously into a quiet and beautiful decoration.
It is the S. Ursula pictures in Room XVI for which, after Titian’s “Assumption,” most visitors to Venice esteem the Accademia; but to my mind the charm of Carpaccio is not displayed here so fully as in his decorations at S. Giorgio. The Ursula pictures are, however, of deep interest and are unforgettable.
But first for the story. As The Golden Legend tells it, it runs thus. Ursula was the daughter of a Christian king in Britain named Notus or Maurus, and the fame of her beauty and wisdom spread afar, so that the King of England, who was a heathen himself, heard of it and wished her for his son’s wife. His son, too, longed for the match, but the paganism of his family was against it. Ursula therefore stipulated that before the marriage could be solemnized the King of England should send to her ten virgins as companions, and each of these virgins and herself, making eleven, should have a retinue of a thousand other virgins, making eleven thousand in all (or to be precise, eleven thousand and eleven) for prayer and consecration; and that the prince moreover should be baptised; and then at the end of three years she would marry him. The conditions were agreed to, and the virgins collected, and all, after some time spent in games and jousting, with noblemen and bishops among the spectators, joined Ursula, who converted them. Being converted, they set sail from Britain for Rome. There they met the pope, who, having a prevision of their subsequent martyrdom, resigned the papacy, much against the will of the Church and for reasons which are not too clear. In Rome they were seen also by two fellow-princes named Maximus and Africanus, who, disliking them for their Christianity, arranged with one Julian, a prince of the Huns, that on their arrival at Cologne, on their return journey, he should behead the whole company, and thus prevent them from further mischief. Meanwhile Ursula’s betrothed went to Cologne to meet his bride. With the eleven thousand were many of the most eminent bishops and other men of mark, and directly they arrived at Cologne the Huns fell on them and killed every one except Ursula and another named Cordula. Julian offered to make Ursula his wife, but on her repudiation of the suggestion he shot her through the body with his bow and arrow. Cordula hid in a ship, but the next day suffered death by her own free will and earned a martyr’s crown. All this happened in the year A.D. 238.
[Illustration: THE DEPARTURE OF THE BRIDEGROOM
AND HIS MEETING WITH
FROM THE PAINTING BY CARPACCIO
In the Accademia]