An historic piazza - Marble facades - Florence's Westminster Abbey - Galileo's ancestor and Ruskin - Benedetto's pulpit - Michelangelo's tomb - A fond lady - Donatello's Annunciation - Giotto's frescoes - S. Francis - Donatello magnanimous - The gifted Alberti - Desiderio's great tomb - The sacristy - The Medici chapel - The Pazzi chapel - Old Jacopo desecrated - A Restoration.

The piazza S. Croce now belongs to children. The church is at one end, bizarre buildings are on either side, the Dante statue is in the middle, and harsh gravel covers the ground. Everywhere are children, all dirty, and all rather squalid and mostly bow-legged, showing that they were of the wrong age to take their first steps on Holy Saturday at noon. The long brown building on the right, as we face S. Croce, is a seventeenth-century palazzo. For the rest, the architecture is chiefly notable for green shutters.

The frigid and florid Dante memorial, which was unveiled in 1865 on the six hundredth anniversary of the poet's birthday, looks gloomily upon what once was a scene of splendour and animation, for in 1469 Piero de' Medici devised here a tournament in honour of the betrothal of Lorenzo to Clarice Orsini. The Queen of the tournament was Lucrezia Donati, and she awarded the first prize to Lorenzo. The tournament cost 10,000 gold florins and was very splendid, Verrocchio and other artists being called in to design costumes, and it is thought that Pollaiuolo's terra-cotta of the Young Warrior in the Bargello represents the comely Giuliano de' Medici as he appeared in his armour in the lists. The piazza was the scene also of that famous tournament given by Lorenzo de' Medici for Giuliano in 1474, of which the beautiful Simonetta was the Queen of Beauty, and to which, as I have said elsewhere, we owe Botticelli's two most famous pictures. Difficult to reconstruct in the Piazza any of those glories to-day.

The new facade of S. Croce, endowed not long since by an Englishman, has been much abused, but it is not so bad. As the front of so beautiful and wonderful a church it may be inadequate, but as a structure of black and white marble it will do. To my mind nothing satisfactory can now be done in this medium, which, unless it is centuries old, is always harsh and cuts the sky like a knife, instead of resting against it as architecture should. But when it is old, as at S. Miniato, it is right.

S. Croce is the Westminster Abbey of Florence. Michelangelo lies here, Machiavelli lies here, Galileo lies here; and here Giotto painted, Donatello carved, and Brunelleschi planned. Although outside the church is disappointing, within it is the most beautiful in Florence. It has the boldest arches, the best light at all seasons, the most attractive floor - of gentle red - and an apse almost wholly made of coloured glass. Not a little of its charm comes from the delicate passage-way that runs the whole course of the church high up on the yellow walls. It also has the finest circular window in Florence, over the main entrance, a "Deposition" by Ghiberti.

The lightness was indeed once so intense that no fewer than twenty-two windows had to be closed. The circular window over the altar upon which a new roof seems to be intruding is in reality the interloper: the roof is the original one, and the window was cut later, in defiance of good architecture, by Vasari, who, since he was a pupil of Michelangelo, should have known better. To him was entrusted the restoration of the church in the middle of the sixteenth century.

The original architect of the modern S. Croce was the same Arnolfo di Cambio, or Lapo, who began the Duomo. He had some right to be chosen since his father, Jacopo, or Lapo, a German, was the builder of the most famous of all the Franciscan churches - that at Assisi, which was begun while S. Francis was still living. And Giotto, who painted in that church his most famous frescoes, depicting scenes in the life of S. Francis, succeeded Arnolfo here, as at the Duomo, with equal fitness. Arnolfo began S. Croce in 1294, the year that the building of the Duomo was decided upon, as a reply to the new Dominican Church of S. Maria Novella, and to his German origin is probably due the Northern impression which the interiors both of S. Croce and the Duomo convey.

The first thing to examine in S. Croce is the floor-tomb, close to the centre door, upon which Ruskin wrote one of his most characteristic passages. The tomb is of an ancestor of Galileo (who lies close by, but beneath a florid monument), and it represents a mediaeval scholarly figure with folded hands. Ruskin writes: "That worn face is still a perfect portrait of the old man, though like one struck out at a venture, with a few rough touches of a master's chisel. And that falling drapery of his cap is, in its few lines, faultless, and subtle beyond description. And now, here is a simple but most useful test of your capacity for understanding Florentine sculpture or painting. If you can see that the lines of that cap are both right, and lovely; that the choice of the folds is exquisite in its ornamental relations of line; and that the softness and ease of them is complete, - though only sketched with a few dark touches, - then you can understand Giotto's drawing, and Botticelli's; Donatello's carving and Luca's. But if you see nothing in this sculpture, you will see nothing in theirs, of theirs. Where they choose to imitate flesh, or silk, or to play any vulgar modern trick with marble - (and they often do) - whatever, in a word, is French, or American, or Cockney, in their work, you can see; but what is Florentine, and for ever great - unless you can see also the beauty of this old man in his citizen's cap, - you will see never."

The passage is in "Mornings in Florence," which begins with S. Croce and should be read by every one visiting the city. And here let me advise another companion for this church: a little dark enthusiast, in a black skull cap, named Alfred Branconi, who is usually to be found just inside the doors, but may be secured as a guide by a postcard to the church. Signor Branconi knows S. Croce and he loves it, and he has the further qualifications of knowing all Florence too and speaking excellent English, which he taught himself.

The S. Croce pulpit, which is by Benedetto da Maiano, is a satisfying thing, accomplished both in proportions and workmanship, with panels illustrating scenes in the life of S. Francis. These are all most gently and persuasively done, influenced, of course, by the Baptistery doors, but individual too, and full of a kindred sweetness and liveliness. The scenes are the "Confirmation of the Franciscan Order" (the best, I think); the "Burning of the Books"; the "Stigmata," which we shall see again in the church, in fresco, for here we are all dedicated to the saint of Assisi, not yet having come upon the stern S. Dominic, the ruler at S. Marco and S. Maria Novella; the "Death of S. Francis," very real and touching, which we shall also see again; and the execution of certain Franciscans. Benedetto, who was also an architect and made the plan of the Strozzi palace, was so unwilling that anything should mar the scheme of his pulpit, that after strengthening this pillar with the greatest care and thoroughness, he hollowed it and placed the stairs inside.

The first tomb on the right, close to this pulpit, is Michelangelo's, a mass of allegory, designed by his friend Vasari, the author of the "Lives of the Artists," the reading of which is perhaps the best preparation for the understanding of Florence. "If life pleases us," Michelangelo once said, "we ought not to be grieved by death, which comes from the same Giver." Michelangelo had intended the Pieta, now in the Duomo, to stand above his grave; but Vasari, who had a little of the Pepys in his nature, thought to do him greater honour by this ornateness. The artist was laid to his rest in 1564, but not before his body was exhumed, by his nephew, at Rome, where the great man had died, and a series of elaborate ceremonies had been performed, which Vasari, who is here trustworthy enough, describes minutely. All the artists in Florence vied in celebrating the dead master in memorial paintings for his catafalque and its surroundings, which have now perished; but probably the loss is not great, except as an example of homage, for that was a bad period. How bad it was may be a little gauged by Vasari's tributory tomb and his window over the high altar.

Opposite Michelangelo's tomb, on the pillar, is the pretty but rather Victorian "Madonna del Latte," surrounded by angels, by Bernardo Rossellino (1409-1464), brother of the author of the great tomb at S. Miniato. This pretty relief was commissioned as a family memorial by that Francesco Nori, the close friend of Lorenzo de' Medici, who was killed in the Duomo during the Pazzi conspiracy in his effort to save Lorenzo from the assassins.

The tomb of Alfieri, the dramatist, to which we now come, was erected at the cost of his mistress, the Countess of Albany, who herself sat to Canova for the figure of bereaved Italy. This curious and unfortunate woman became, at the age of nineteen, the wife of the Young Pretender, twenty-seven years after the '45, and led a miserable existence with him (due chiefly to his depravity, but a little, she always held, to the circumstance that they chose Good Friday for their wedding day) until Alfieri fell in love with her and offered his protection. Together she and the poet remained, apparently contented with each other and received by society, even by the English Royal family, until Alfieri died, in 1803, when after exclaiming that she had lost all - "consolations, support, society, all, all!" - and establishing this handsome memorial, she selected the French artist Fabre to fill the aching void in her fifty-years-old heart; and Fabre not only filled it until her death in 1824, but became the heir of all that had been bequeathed to her by both the Stuart and Alfieri. Such was the Countess of Albany, to whom human affection was so necessary. She herself is buried close by, in the chapel of the Castellani.

Mrs. Piozzi, in her "Glimpses of Italian Society," mentions seeing in Florence in 1785 the unhappy Pretender. Though old and sickly, he went much into society, sported the English arms and livery, and wore the garter.

Other tombs in the right aisle are those of Machiavelli, the statesman and author of "The Prince," and Rossini, the composer of "William Tell," who died in Paris in 1868, but was brought here for burial. These tombs are modern and of no artistic value, but there is near them a fine fifteenth-century example in the monument by Bernardo Rossellino to another statesman and author, Leonardo Bruni, known as Aretino, who wrote the lives of Dante and Petrarch and a Latin history of Florence, a copy of which was placed on his heart at his funeral. This tomb is considered to be Rossellino's masterpiece; but there is one opposite by another hand which dwarfs it.

There is also a work of sculpture near it, in the same wall, which draws away the eyes - Donatello's "Annunciation". The experts now think this to belong to the sculptor's middle period, but Vasari thought it earlier, and makes it the work which had most influence in establishing his reputation; while according to the archives it was placed in the church before Donatello was living. Vasari ought to be better informed upon this point than usual, since it was he who was employed in the sixteenth century to renovate S. Croce, at which time the chapel for whose altar the relief was made - that of the Cavalcanti family - was removed. The relief now stands unrelated to anything. Every detail of it should be examined; but Alfred Branconi will see to that. The stone is the grey pietra serena of Fiesole, and Donatello has plentifully, but not too plentifully, lightened it with gold, which is exactly what all artists who used this medium for sculpture should have done. By a pleasant tactful touch the designer of the modern Donatello monument in S. Lorenzo has followed the master's lead.

Almost everything of Donatello's that one sees is in turn the best; but standing before this lovely work one is more than commonly conscious of being in the presence of a wonderful creator. The Virgin is wholly unlike any other woman, and She is surprising and modern even for Donatello with his vast range. The charming terra-cotta boys above are almost without doubt from the same hand, but they cannot have been made for this monument.

To the della Robbias we come in the Castellani chapel in the right transept, which has two full-length statues by either Luca or Andrea, in the gentle glazed medium, of S. Francis and S. Bernard, quite different from anything we have seen or shall see, because isolated. The other full-size figures by these masters - such as those at Impruneta - are placed against the wall. The S. Bernard, on the left as one enters the chapel, is far the finer. It surely must be one of the most beautiful male draped figures in the world.

The next chapel, at the end of the transept, was once enriched by Giotto frescoes, but they no longer exist. There are, however, an interesting but restored series of scenes in the life of the Virgin by Taddeo Gaddi, Giotto's godson; a Madonna ascending to heaven, by Mainardi, who was Ghirlandaio's pupil, and so satisfactory a one that he was rewarded by the hand of his master's sister; and a pretty piece of Gothic sculpture with the Christ Child upon it. Hereabouts, I may remark, we have continually to be walking over floor-tombs, now ruined beyond hope, their ruin being perhaps the cause of a protecting rail being placed round the others; although a floor-tomb should have, I think, a little wearing from the feet of worshippers, just to soften the lines. Those at the Certosa are, for example, far too sharp and clean.

Let us complete the round of the church before we examine the sacristy, and go now to the two chapels, where Giotto may be found at his best, although restored too, on this side of the high altar. The Peruzzi chapel has scenes from the lives of the two S. Johns, the Baptist, and the Evangelist: all rather too thoroughly re-painted, although following Giotto's groundwork closely enough to retain much of their interest and value. And here once again one should consult the "Mornings in Florence," where the wilful discerning enthusiast is, like his revered subject, also at his best. Giotto's thoughtfulness could not be better illustrated than in S. Croce. One sees him, as ever, thinking of everything: not a very remarkable attribute of the fresco painter since then, but very remarkable then, when any kind of facile saintliness sufficed. Signor Bianchi, who found these paintings under the whitewash in 1853, and restored them, overdid his part, there is no doubt; but as I have said, their interest is unharmed, and it is that which one so delights in. Look, for instance, at the attitude of Drusiana, suddenly twitched by S. John back again into this vale of tears, while her bier is on its way to the cemetery outside the pretty city. "Am I really to live again?" she so plainly says to the inexorable miracle-worker. The dancing of Herodias' daughter, which offered Giotto less scope, is original too - original not because it came so early, but because Giotto's mind was original and innovating and creative. The musician is charming. The last scene of all is a delightful blend of religious fervour and reality: the miraculous ascent from the tomb, through an elegant Florentine loggia, to everlasting glory, in a blaze of gold, and Christ and an apostle leaning out of heaven with outstretched hands to pull the saint in, as into a boat. Such a Christ as that could not but be believed in.

In the next chapel, the Bardi, we find Giotto at work on a life of S. Francis, and here again Ruskin is essential. It was a task which, since this church was the great effort of the Florentine Franciscans, would put an artist upon his mettle, and Giotto set the chosen incidents before the observers with the discretion and skill of the great biographer that he was, and not only that, but the great Assisi decorator that he was. No choice could have been better at any time in the history of art. Giotto chose the following scenes, one or two of which coincide with those on Benedetto da Maiano's pulpit, which came of course many years later: the "Confirmation of the Rules of the Franciscans," "S. Francis before the Sultan and the Magi," "S. Francis Sick and Appearing to the Bishop of Assisi," "S. Francis Fleeing from His Father's House and His Reception by the Bishop of Assisi," and the "Death of S. Francis". Giotto's Assisi frescoes, which preceded these, anticipate them; but in some cases these are considered to be better, although in others not so good. It is generally agreed that the death scene is the best. Note the characteristic touch by which Giotto makes one of the monks at the head of the bed look up at the precise moment when the saint dies, seeing him being received into heaven. According to Vasari, one of the two monks (on the extreme left, as I suppose) is Giotto's portrait of the architect of the church, Amolfo. The altar picture, consisting of many more scenes in the life of S. Francis, is often attributed to Cimabue, Giotto's master, but probably is by another hand. In one of these scenes the saint is found preaching to what must be the most attentive birds on record. The figures on the ceiling represent Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience, which all Franciscans are pledged to observe. The glass is coeval with the building, which has been described as the most perfect Gothic chapel in existence.

The founder of this chapel was Ridolfo de' Bardi, whose family early in the fourteenth century bade fair to become as powerful as the Medici, and by the same means, their business being banking and money-lending, in association with the founders of the adjoining chapel, the Peruzzi. Ridolfo's father died in 1310, and his son, who had become a Franciscan, in 1327; and the chapel was built, and Giotto probably painted the frescoes, soon after the father's death. Both the Bardi and Peruzzi were brought low by our King Edward III, who borrowed from them money with which to fight the French, at Crecy and Poitiers, and omitted to repay it.

The chapels in the left transept are less interesting, except perhaps to students of painting in its early days. In the chapel at the end we find Donatello's wooden crucifix which led to that friendly rivalry on the part of Brunelleschi, the story of which is one of the best in all Vasari. Donatello, having finished this wooden crucifix, and being unusually satisfied with it, asked Brunelleschi's opinion, confidently expecting praise. But Brunelleschi, who was sufficiently close a friend to say what he thought, replied that the type was too rough and common: it was not Christ but a peasant. Christ, of course, was a peasant; but by peasant Brunelleschi meant a stupid, dull man. Donatello, chagrined, had recourse to what has always been a popular retort to critics, and challenged him to make a better. Brunelleschi took it very quietly: he said nothing in reply, but secretly for many months, in the intervals of his architecture, worked at his own version, and then one day, when it was finished, invited Donatello to dinner, stopping at the Mercato Vecchio to get some eggs and other things. These he gave Donatello to carry, and sent him on before him to the studio, where the crucifix was standing unveiled. When Brunelleschi arrived he found the eggs scattered and broken on the floor and Donatello before his carving in an ecstasy of admiration. "But what are we going to have for dinner?" the host inquired. "Dinner!" said Donatello; "I've had all the dinner I require. To thee it is given to carve Christs: to me only peasants." No one should forget this pretty story, either here or at S. Maria Novella, where Brunelleschi's crucifix now is.

The flexible Siena iron grille of this end chapel dates from 1335. Note its ivy border.

On entering the left aisle we find the tombs of Cherubini, the composer, Raphael Morghen, the engraver, and that curious example of the Florentine universalist, whose figure we saw under the Uffizi, Leon Battista Alberti (1405-1472), architect, painter, author, mathematician, scholar, conversationalist, aristocrat, and friend of princes. His chief work in Florence is the Rucellai palace and the facade of S. Maria Novella, but he was greater as an influence than creator, and his manuals on architecture, painting, and the study of perspective helped to bring the arts to perfection. It is at Rimini that he was perhaps most wonderful. Lorenzo de' Medici greatly valued his society, and he was a leader in the Platonic Academy. But the most human achievement to his credit is his powerful plea for using the vernacular in literature, rather than concealing one's best thoughts, as was fashionable before his protest, in Latin. So much for Alberti's intellectual side. Physically he was remarkable too, and one of his accomplishments was to jump over a man standing upright, while he was also able to throw a coin on to the highest tower, even, I suppose, the Campanile, and ride any horse, however wild. At the Bargello may be seen Alberti's portrait, on a medal designed by Pisanello. The old medals are indeed the best authority for the lineaments of the great men of the Renaissance, better far than paint. At South Kensington thousands may be seen, either in the original or in reproduction.

In the right aisle we saw Bernardo Rossellino's tomb of Leonardo Bruni; in the left is that of Bruni's successor as Secretary of State, Carlo Marsuppini, by Desiderio da Settignano, which is high among the most beautiful monuments that exist. "Faine, faine!" says Alfred Branconi, with his black eyes dimmed; and this though he has seen it every day for years and explained its beauties in the same words. Everything about it is beautiful, as the photograph which I give in this volume will help the reader to believe: proportions, figures, and tracery; but I still consider Mino's monument to Ugo in the Badia the finest Florentine example of the gentler memorial style, as contrasted with the severe Michelangelesque manner. Mino, it must be remembered, was Desiderio's pupil, as Desiderio was Donatello's. Note how Desiderio, by an inspiration, opened the leaf-work at each side of the sarcophagus and instantly the great solid mass of marble became light, almost buoyant. Never can a few strokes of the chisel have had so transforming an effect. There is some doubt as to whether the boys are just where the sculptor set them, and the upper ones with their garlands are thought to be a later addition; but we are never likely to know. The returned visitor from Florence will like to be reminded that, as of so many others of the best Florentine sculptures, there is a cast of this at South Kensington.

The last tomb of the highest importance in the church is that of Galileo, the astronomer, who died in 1642; but it is not interesting as a work of art. In the centre of the church is a floor-tomb by Ghiberti, with a bronze figure of a famous Franciscan, Francesco Sansoni da Brescia.

Next the sacristy. Italian priests apparently have no resentment against inquisitive foreigners who are led into their dressing-rooms while sumptuous and significant vestments are being donned; but I must confess to feeling it for them, and if my impressions of the S. Croce sacristy are meagre and confused it is because of a certain delicacy that I experienced in intruding upon their rites. For on both occasions when I visited the sacristy there were several priests either robing or disrobing. Apart from a natural disinclination to invade privacy, I am so poor a Roman Catholic as to be in some doubt as to whether one has a right to be so near such a mystery at all. But I recollect that in this sacristy are treasures of wood and iron - the most beautiful intarsia wainscotting I ever saw, by Giovanni di Michele, with a frieze of wolves and foliage, and fourteenth-century iron gates to the little chapel, pure Gothic in design, with a little rose window at the top, delicate beyond words: all which things once again turn the thoughts to this wonderful Italy of the fourteenth and fifteenth century, when not even the best was good enough for those who built churches, but something miraculous was demanded from every craftsman.

At the end of the passage in which the sacristy is situated is the exquisite little Cappella Medici, which Michelozzo, the architect of S. Marco and the Palazzo Medici, and for a while Donatello's partner, built for his friend Cosimo de' Medici, who though a Dominican in his cell at S. Marco was a Franciscan here, but by being equally a patron dissociated himself from partisanship. Three treasures in particular does this little temple hold: Giotto's "Coronation of the Virgin"; the della Robbia altar relief, and Mino da Fiesole's tabernacle. Giotto's picture, which is signed, once stood as altar-piece in the Baroncelli chapel of the church proper. In addition to the beautiful della Robbia altar-piece, so happy and holy - which Alfred Branconi boldly calls Luca - there is over the door Christ between two angels, a lovely example of the same art. For a subtler, more modern and less religious mind, we have but to turn to the tabernacle by Mino, every inch of which is exquisite.

On the same wall is a curious thing. In the eighteen-sixties died a Signor Lombardi, who owned certain reliefs which he believed to be Donatello's. When his monument was made these ancient works were built into them and here and there gilded (for it is a wicked world and there was no taste at that time). One's impulse is not to look at this encroaching piece of novelty at all; but one should resist that feeling, because, on examination, the Madonna and Children above Signor Lombardi's head become exceedingly interesting. Her hands are the work of a great artist, and they are really holding the Child. Why this should not be an early Donatello I do not see.

The cloisters of S. Croce are entered from the piazza, just to the right of the church: the first, a little ornate, by Arnolfo, and the second, until recently used as a barracks but now being restored to a more pacific end, by Brunelleschi, and among the most perfect of his works. Brunelleschi is also the designer of the Pazzi chapel in the first cloisters. The severity of the facade is delightfully softened and enlivened by a frieze of mischievous cherubs' heads, the joint work of Donatello and Desiderio. Donatello's are on the right, and one sees at once that his was the bolder, stronger hand. Look particularly at the laughing head fourth from the right. But that one of Desiderio's over the middle columns has much charm and power. The doors, from Brunelleschi's own hand, in a doorway perfect in scale, are noble and worthy. The chapel itself I find too severe and a little fretted by its della Robbias and the multiplicity of circles. It is called Brunelleschi's masterpiece, but I prefer both the Badia of Fiesole and the Old Sacristy at S. Lorenzo, and I remember with more pleasure the beautiful doorway leading from the Arnolfo cloisters to the Brunelleschi cloisters, which probably is his too. The della Robbia reliefs, once one can forgive them for being here, are worth study. Nothing could be more charming (or less conducive to a methodical literary morning) than the angel who holds S. Matthew's ink-pot. But I think my favourite of all is the pensive apostle who leans his cheek on his hand and his elbow on his book. This figure alone proves what a sculptor Luca was, apart altogether from the charm of his mind and the fascination of his chosen medium.

This chapel was once the scene of a gruesome ceremony. Old Jacopo Pazzi, the head of the family at the time of the Pazzi conspiracy against the Medici, after being hanged from a window of the Palazzo Vecchio, was buried here. Some short while afterwards Florence was inundated by rain to such an extent that the vengeance of God was inferred, and, casting about for a reason, the Florentines decided that it was because Jacopo had been allowed to rest in sacred soil. A mob therefore rushed to S. Croce, broke open his tomb and dragged his body through the streets, stopping on their way at the Pazzi palace to knock on the door with his skull. He was then thrown into the swollen Arno and borne away by the tide.

In the old refectory of the convent are now a number of pictures and fragments of sculpture. The "Last Supper," by Taddeo Gaddi, on the wall, is notable for depicting Judas, who had no shrift at the hands of the painters, without a halo. Castagno and Ghirlandaio, as we shall see, under similar circumstances, placed him on the wrong side of the table. In either case, but particularly perhaps in Taddeo's picture, the answer to Christ's question, which Leonardo at Milan makes so dramatic, is a foregone conclusion. The "Crucifixion" on the end wall, at the left, is interesting as having been painted for the Porta S. Gallo (in the Piazza Cavour) and removed here. All the gates of Florence had religious frescoes in them, some of which still remain. The great bronze bishop is said to be by Donatello and to have been meant for Or San Michele; but one does not much mind.

One finds occasion to say so many hard things of the Florentine disregard of ancient art that it is peculiarly a pleasure to see the progress that is being made in restoring Brunelleschi's perfect cloisters at S. Croce to their original form. When they were turned into barracks the Loggia was walled in all round and made into a series of rooms. These walls are now gradually coming away, the lovely pillars being again isolated, the chimneys removed, and everything lightly washed. Grass has also been sown in the great central square. The crumbling of the decorative medals in the spandrels of the cloisters cannot of course be restored; but one does not complain of such natural decay as that.