The Artist of Florence

  • 02 Apr - 08 Apr, 2022
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

It must be a wonderful painting," said he, "for the duke is usually sparing in his praise. It is probably one of Rafaelle or Guido. Well,

I will soon see it."

Suddenly it was all remembered by him in a glance….

It was evening in Val d'Arno.

The sun was sinking behind the horizon and twilight was descending upon the glorious vale. There lay the garden of Italy enclosed by mountains on either side, green and glowing in its verdant and luxuriant fertility, shaded by its groves of olive and cypress, with long avenues of stately trees. Flocks and herds grazed in the fields, vineyards flourished on the mountain declivities, and in the distance arose the summits of the wooded Apennines. The classic Arno flowed through the valley, bestowing gladness and plenty on every side, its waters rolling on in slow and most melodious motion.

On every side, on the plain, on the sides and summits of the hills, everywhere appeared the white villas of the nobles, now hidden by the thick foliage of surrounding trees, and encircled by gardens where bloomed the most gorgeous and odoriferous flowers, now standing alone and lifting up their stately marble fronts surrounded by magnificent colonnades. In the midst of this lovely place, a queen over all around, lay Florence, the dearest and most charming city of the South–Florence, whose past glows with the brilliancy of splendid achievements in arms, arts and song, whose present state captivates the soul of every traveller, and binds around him a potent spell, making him linger long in dreamy pleasure by the gentle flow of the Arno's waters.

"Here," exclaimed Byron, in a rapture, as he looked down from a neighboring mountain upon this earthly paradise – ‘here', the Etrurian Athens claims and keeps A softer feeling for her fairy halls. Girt by her theatre of bills she reaps Her corn and wine, and oil, and plenty leaps to laughing life from her redundant horn, Twilight came on, and soon the moon arose, throwing a gentle glow upon the scene, and shedding around it a more bewitching influence. It was an evening fitted for pleasing meditation, such meditation as the poet loves, and for the interview of lovers. The gardens of Boboli never appeared more beautiful than now, for the solemn shadow of the groves was relieved by the soft illumination of the broad paths; the sheets of water glistened in the quiet moonbeams, and every statue and every sculptured form was invested with a new and indescribable beauty. Upon the summit of a hill within these gardens, sat a youth and maiden engaged in most earnest conversation.

The maiden was exceedingly beautiful, with a face which reminded one of the Madonna of Murillo, so gentle, so tender, and so bewitchingly lovely. The youth sat at her feet upon the green turf, and with his head turned back, gazing upon her, there was disclosed a noble and most handsome countenance. His long hair, black as night, fell from his forehead, and his eyes burnt like stars in the paleness of his face. There was an expression of genius stamped upon his lofty forehead, but there were care and anxiety in its frown. The stately form of the Palazzo Pitti was near at hand, and in the distance lay the city, with the stupendous dome of the cathedral, and the lofty form of the beautiful Campanile. "Stella," he said, in deeply musical tones – Stella, you know all my love and the desires of my soul. All are fixed upon you.

‘Fame and glory I only wish for as the means of obtaining you. But O, hard is the task and difficult is it for an unknown artist to gain the hand of the proud Count Borelloni's daughter. I would not grieve you by taking you without his consent, even if I were able.’

"Bless you! God bless you, my noble Mario for those noble words! Do not seek to draw me from him. Willingly would I give up all–wealth, and power and all–to live in obscurity with you. But my father loves me so fondly, that if I were to leave him, he would die. Let us wait, and perhaps he may overcome his prejudice toward you."

"He dislikes me because I am poor and unknown. But," exclaimed Mario, with a haughty glance, "the time may come and will come, when he will not he ashamed to acknowledge me. Art can ennoble the poor and obscure."

"I know you will become great, Mario. I know that your name will be spoken with honor, and that before long. When I first saw you here in Florence, when I afterwards heard you tell me your love as we walked by the waters of Lake Perugia, I knew that you would become famous."

"And then, if I ever gain fame and honour, all shall be laid at your feet, Stella."

"You can wait then, and seek for fame, Mario, to give you acceptance in my father's eyes. You can wait, for you know my constancy."

"I know it, and I would trust it always. I know your noble soul, Stella, its lofty qualities lead me captive, and I worship you as a divinity."

The impassioned youth bent down before her, but she prevented him, and suddenly asked: "How do you proceed with your painting?"

"Well, I am proceeding well, for I am inspired by the thoughts of Stella."

"Then I inspire you, do I?"

"O Stella, you fill my soul with new conceptions of angelic beauty, and while your image dwells in my mind, I look back upon it and place every feature, every expression living upon the canvass! If this picture is completed, your father's love for art will make him respect the creator of this new piece."

"And he will honour you and love you."

"It must be completed in two or three months now. I seek new ideas of loveliness from you, Stella, and then my picture receives them."

"And suppose you fail, Mario." said Stella.

"Fail? O I cannot. But if I do, then will I despair? No, I will go to Rome and devote myself entirely to art. But it is late, Stella.

We must go, and I will see you home before your father returns."

And the gardens of Boboli were empty. What city is so delightful as Florence on the afternoon of a lovely day in early spring, when the sun glows above from an unclouded sky, and the Arno flows on through the midst of the city, amid its magnificent palaces, beneath its lovely bridges. Then beauty reigns everywhere. The Lung' Arno, the Casino, the Via Calziolajo are thronged with carriages, with horsemen and footmen, with offices and soldiers, men, women and children. Beautiful flower girls carry around their bouquets and bestow them on the stranger, expecting but never asking some little doucer in return. The gloomy palaces of the middle ages, the magnificent churches of early times, towers and colonnades, statues and fountains, arrest the eye and charm the beholder. All is joyousness and beauty. Among the throngs of carriages which rode along the Lung' Arno and down to the Casino, none was more noticed than that of the Count Borelloni. It was a splendid equipage drawn by two fiery horses, to guide which the utmost skill of the coachman was needed. The old count was of a remarkable appearance.

His countenance was noble and his air commanding. He was noted through Florence for his wealth and taste. Artists of every kind found in him a patron. It was at his palace that Mario Fostello had first attracted attention by his genius and the beauty his pictures. He had seen Stella, had loved her, and had spoken to the old count, telling him that he would seek after fame if he would bestow his daughter upon him. But the indignation and pride of Borelloni rose high, and he contemptuously ordered Mario to withdraw and never again to enter his house. There was one feeling in the heart of the old count which far exceeded every other, and that was an intense love for his daughter.

Beautiful, high–souled and accomplished, she was worthy of the highest station in the land, and such a station he desired for her. They now rode in their carriage–father and daughter; an aged oak and a young and tender vine, one supported the other, which gave it beauty and attractiveness. Stella attracted the gaze of all by her exquisite beauty, but there was one whom she saw walking swiftly past, the sight of whom sent a thrill through every vein–for well she knew the tall and stately figure of Mario.

Stella felt a joy which words could not utter. She recollected all that Mario had told her of his picture, and of the duke's visit, of his flattering words of commendation–and she believed at once that his picture was the one he spoke of. The count went off, and at the expiration of the hour entered the palace. He was received by the duke. He was led through the long suite of rooms where the splendor of royal magnificence is all unnoticed amid the charms of priceless paintings, for there the Madonna of Rafaelle tells of the boundless depths of a mother's love, and there Murillo's Madonna breathes forth virgin purity.

At length the duke stopped before a picture covered by a screen.

He turned to the count, and saying, "Now Borelloni prepare for a surprise," drew aside the curtain which covered it. The count started, for not among all the galleries of Italy, not among the priceless collections of Rome, had his eyes ever rested upon so wonderful, so living a picture! It was a living, a breathing form, which there, drawing aside a hanging, seemed to come forth to meet the gazer. Upon the countenance there was the perfection of ideal beauty. Loveliness, angelic, heavenly, was radiant upon the face, and that face was one well known to him, for Stella stood there, but Stella–glorified and immortal.

"Wonderful! Miraculous!" burst from his lips.

"It is the creation of a god.

It is not the work of man! Who is he? Where is he? The genius who formed this? How could it happen that it should be Stella, my daughter? Who is the artist?"

"He is here in the next apartment," said the duke, and going to the door he spoke to someone. He returned, leading the artist.

"This is he," said the duke.

"Mario Fostello."

"Mario!" cried the count.

"Mario, my preserver!"

And he ran up to him and embraced him.

"Mario, is all forgotten?

Forgive me. But I wrong you in asking it."

The duke looked on in wonder, and could not conceal his surprise. But the count begged him to excuse his emotion.

"Would you know the cause of it?" said he.

"I am all curiosity."

The count then related all–told him of Mario's love for Stella,

of his own pride, of Mario's actions. When it was ended, the duke, who had displayed the greatest emotion, arose and went to Mario.

"Never," he cried, "most noble youth–never have I heard of more generosity and greatness of soul. Happy is he who can call you his friend. But you shall not be neglected by me, for while I live, you will always have a friend. I honor your actions. I love your noble character."

Mario was overwhelmed by mingled emotions of happiness and confusion. Joy had rushed in upon him, like a torrent, and unable to speak, he could only express by his glance, the feelings of his soul.

"God bless you, my lord duke!" at length he cried.

"God bless you, Count Borelloni! I am unworthy of such praise, but I can never forget your kindness to an obscure artist."

"An obscure artist? No, not so," answered the duke.

"No longer obscure, you are the greatest in the land, and none shall call you otherwise. I name you count–and in a week your title shall be formally bestowed, so henceforth, Count Fostello, you may not be obscure."

A week afterward the palace of Borelloni was all festivity. Lights gleamed in dazzling rows within the long halls where all the flower of Tuscan nobility, and all the lords and barons and great men of other lands were assembled. For this was the day when the Count Fostello led to the altar the lovely Stella Borelloni. The Grand Duke condescended to be the head groomsman. The magnificent form and features of the noble artist were the admiration of all, and only equalled by the beauty of his bride. The story of his love and constancy, of his wonderful actions and splendid achievements in the realm of art, was told to all, and the city rung with his praise. All courted his friendship. All of noble nature loved him for himself, and the baser spirits were compelled to do him homage, for in him they saw the man whom the duke "delighted to honour."