THE FOURTH MORNING. THE VAULTED BOOK.
As early as may be this morning, let us look for a minute or two into the cathedral: - I was going to say, entering by one of the side doors of the aisles; - but we can't do anything else, which perhaps might not strike you unless you were thinking specially of it. There are no transept doors; and one never wanders round to the desolate front. From either of the side doors, a few paces will bring you to the middle of the nave, and to the point opposite the middle of the third arch from the west end; where you will find yourself - if well in the mid-wave - standing on a circular slab of green porphyry, which marks the former place of the grave of the bishop Zenobius. The larger inscription, on the wide circle of the floor outside of you, records the translation of his body; the smaller one round the stone at your feet - "quiescimus, domum hanc quum adimus ultimam" - is a painful truth, I suppose, to travellers like us, who never rest anywhere now, if we can help it.
Resting here, at any rate, for a few minutes, look up to the whitewashed vaulting of the compartment of the roof next the west end.
You will see nothing whatever in it worth looking at. Nevertheless, look a little longer.
But the longer you look, the less you will understand why I tell you to look. It is nothing but a whitewashed ceiling: vaulted indeed, - but so is many a tailor's garret window, for that matter. Indeed, now that you have looked steadily for a minute or so, and are used to the form of the arch, it seems to become so small that you can almost fancy it the ceiling of a good-sized lumber-room in an attic.
Having attained to this modest conception of it, carry your eyes back to the similar vault of the second compartment, nearer you. Very little further contemplation will reduce that also to the similitude of a moderately-sized attic. And then, resolving to bear, if possible - for it is worth while, - the cramp in your neck for another quarter of a minute, look right up to the third vault, over your head; which, if not, in the said quarter of a minute, reducible in imagination to a tailor's garret, will at least sink, like the two others, into the semblance of a common arched ceiling, of no serious magnitude or majesty.
Then, glance quickly down from it to the floor, and round at the space, (included between the four pillars), which that vault covers. It is sixty feet square,[Footnote: Approximately. Thinking I could find the dimensions of the duomo anywhere, I only paced it myself, - and cannot, at this moment, lay my hand on English measurements of it.] - four hundred square yards of pavement, - and I believe you will have to look up again more than once or twice, before you can convince yourself that the mean-looking roof is swept indeed over all that twelfth part of an acre. And still less, if I mistake not, will you, without slow proof, believe, when you turn yourself round towards the east end, that the narrow niche (it really looks scarcely more than a niche) which occupies, beyond the dome, the position of our northern choirs, is indeed the unnarrowed elongation of the nave, whose breadth extends round you like a frozen lake. From which experiments and comparisons, your conclusion, I think, will be, and I am sure it ought to be, that the most studious ingenuity could not produce a design for the interior of a building which should more completely hide its extent, and throw away every common advantage of its magnitude, than this of the Duomo of Florence.
Having arrived at this, I assure you, quite securely tenable conclusion, we will quit the cathedral by the western door, for once, and as quickly as we can walk, return to the Green cloister of Sta. Maria Novella; and place ourselves on the south side of it, so as to see as much as we can of the entrance, on the opposite side, to the so-called 'Spanish Chapel.'
There is, indeed, within the opposite cloister, an arch of entrance, plain enough. But no chapel, whatever, externally manifesting itself as worth entering. No walls, or gable, or dome, raised above the rest of the outbuildings - only two windows with traceries opening into the cloister; and one story of inconspicuous building above. You can't conceive there should be any effect of magnitude produced in the interior, however it has been vaulted or decorated. It may be pretty, but it cannot possibly look large.
Entering it, nevertheless, you will be surprised at the effect of height, and disposed to fancy that the circular window cannot surely be the same you saw outside, looking so low, I had to go out again, myself, to make sure that it was.
And gradually, as you let the eye follow the sweep of the vaulting arches, from the small central keystone-boss, with the Lamp carved on it, to the broad capitals of the hexagonal pillars at the angles, - there will form itself in your mind, I think, some impression not only of vastness in the building, but of great daring in the builder; and at last, after closely following out the lines of a fresco or two, and looking up and up again to the coloured vaults, it will become to you literally one of the grandest places you ever entered, roofed without a central pillar. You will begin to wonder that human daring ever achieved anything so magnificent.