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Wonders Of The World:
St. Mark's Church
Tower Of London
Cathedral Of Antwerp
The Taj Mahal
Cathedral Of Notre Dame
Kremlin
Cathedral Of York
Mosque Of Omar
Cathedral Of Burgos
The Pyramids
Saint Peter's Cathedral
Cathedral Of Strasburg
The Shway Dagohn
Cathedral Of Siena
Town Hall Of Louvain
Cathedral Of Seville
Windsor Castle
Cathedral of Cologne
Palce Of Versailles
Cathedral Of Lincoln

Cathedral Of Siena

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Quitting the Palazzo, and threading narrow streets, paved with brick and overshadowed with huge empty palaces, we reach the highest of the hills on which Siena stands, and see before us the three Duomo. This church is the most purely Gothic of all Italian cathedrals designed by national architects. Together with that of Orvieto, it stands to show what the unassisted genius of the Italians could produce, when under the empire of medieval Christianity and before the advent of the neopagan spirit. It is built wholly of marble, and overlaid, inside and out, with florid ornaments of exquisite beauty. There are no flying buttresses, no pinnacles, no deep and fretted doorways, such as form the charm of French and English architecture; but instead of this, the lines of party-coloured marbles, the scrolls and wreaths of foliage, the mosaics and the frescoes which meet the eye in every direction, satisfy our sense of variety, producing most agreeable combinations of blending hues and harmoniously connected forms. The chief fault which offends against our Northern taste is the predominance of horizontal lines, both in the construction of the facade, and also in the internal decoration. This single fact sufficiently proves that the Italians had never seized the true idea of Gothic or aspiring architecture. But, allowing for this original defect, we feel that the Cathedral of Siena combines solemnity and splendour to a degree almost unrivalled. Its dome is another point in which the instinct of Italian architects has led them to adhere to the genius of their ancestral art rather than to follow the principles of Gothic design. The dome is Etruscan and Roman, native to the soil, and only by a kind of violence adapted to the character of pointed architecture. Yet the builders of Siena have shown what a glorious element of beauty might have been added to our Northern cathedrals, had the idea of infinity which our ancestors expressed by long continuous lines, by complexities of interwoven aisles, and by multitudinous aspiring pinnacles, been carried out into vast spaces of aerial cupolas, completing and embracing and covering the whole like heaven. The Duomo, as it now stands, forms only part of a vast original design. On entering we are amazed to hear that this church, which looks so large, from the beauty of its proportions, the intricacy of its ornaments, and the interlacing of its columns, is but the transept of the old building lengthened a little, and surmounted by a cupola and campanile. Yet such is the fact. Soon after its commencement a plague swept over Italy, nearly depopulated Siena, and reduced the town to penury for want of men. The Cathedral, which, had it been accomplished, would have surpassed all Gothic churches south of the Alps, remained a ruin. A fragment of the nave still stands, enabling us to judge of its extent. The eastern wall joins what was to have been the transept, measuring the mighty space which would have been enclosed by marble vaults and columns delicately wrought. The sculpture on the eastern door shows with what magnificence the Sienese designed to ornament this portion of their temple; while the southern facade rears itself aloft above the town, like those high arches which testify to the past splendour of Glastonbury Abbey; but the sun streams through the broken windows, and the walls are encumbered with hovels and stables and the refuse of surrounding streets. One most remarkable feature of the internal decoration is a line of heads of the Popes carried all round the church above the lower arches. Larger than life, white solemn faces, they lean, each from his separate niche, crowned with the triple tiara, and labelled with the name he bore. Their accumulated majesty brings the whole past history of the Church into the presence of its living members. A bishop walking up the nave of Siena must feel as a Roman felt among the waxen images of ancestors renowned in council or in war. Of course these portraits are imaginary for the most part; but the artists have contrived to vary their features and expression with great skill.

Not less peculiar to Siena is the pavement of the Cathedral. It is inlaid with a kind of tarsia work in stone, not unlike that which Baron Triqueti used in his " Marmer Homeiicum y' - less elaborately decorative, but even more artistic and subordinate to architectural effect than the baron's mosaic. Some of these compositions are as old as the cathedral y others are the work of Beccafumt and his scholars. They represent, in the liberal spirit of rnediaevai Christianity, the history of the Church before the Incarnation. Hermes Trismegistus and the Sibyls meet us at the doorway: in the body of the church we find the mighty deeds of the old Jewish heroes -of Moses and Samson and Joshua and Judith. Independently of the artistic beauty of the designs, of the skill with which men and horses are drawn in the most difficult attitudes, of the dignity of some single figures, and of the vigour and simplicity of the larger compositions, a special interest attaches to this pavement in connection with the twelfth canto of the " Purgatorio."Did Dante ever tread these stones and meditate upon their sculptured histories? That is what we cannot say; but we read how he journeyed through the plain of Purgatory with eyes intent upon its storied floor, how " morti i morti, e i vivi parean vivi," how he saw " Nimrod at the foot of his great work, confounded, gazing at the people who were proud with him."The strong and simple outlines of the pavement correspond to the few words of the poet. Bending over these pictures and trying to learn their lesson, with the thought of Dante in our mind, the tones of an organ, singularly sweet and mellow, fall upon our ears, and we remember how he heard the Te Deum sung within the gateway of repentance.



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