Posts Tagged Mrs Piozzi
In April 1786 Mrs Piozzi (the former Mrs Hester Thrale) was about to depart from Rome, the leisurely continental tour she had been enjoying with her second husband, Gabriel Piozzi, former music teacher to her children, was drawing to a close. Her final observation on the Eternal City and its inhabitants – both natives and visitors – is characteristically sharp.
The air of the city is unwholesome to foreigners, but if they pass the first year, the remainder goes well enough. Many English seem very healthy who are established here without even the smallest intention of returning home to Great Britain, for which place we are setting out to-morrow, 19th April, 1786, and quit a town that still retains so many just pretences to be styled the first among the cities of the earth, to which almost as any strangers are now attracted by curiosity as were dragged thither by violence in the first stage of its dominion, impelled by superstitious zeal in the second.
The rage for antiquities now seems to have spread its contagion of connoisseurship over all those people whose predecessors tore down, levelled, and destroyed, or buried underground, their statues, pictures, every work of art; Poles, Germans, Swedes, and Germans innumerable flock daily hither in this age to admire with rapture the remains of those very fabrics which their own barbarous ancestors pulled down ten centuries ado, and give for the head of a Livia, a Probus, or Gallienus, what emperors and queens could not then use with any efficacy for the preservation of their own persons, now grown sacred by rust and valuable from their difficulty to be deciphered.
The English were wont to be the only travellers of Europe, the only dupes, too, in this way; but desire of distinction is diffused among all the northern nations, and our Romans here have it more in their power, with that prudence to assist them which it is said they do not want, if not to conquer their neighbours once again, at least to ruin them, by dint of digging up their dead heroes, and calling in the assistance of their own pagan deities, now useful to them in a new manner, and ever propitious to the city.
From Glimpses of Italian Society in the Eighteenth Century, From the ‘Journal of Mrs Piozzi’, Seeley & Co, 1892
Before images of St Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel disappear from our television screens, I thought you might like to read how this set piece of the Roman scene was viewed at the end of the 18th century by a plain-spoken English woman.
At Easter 1786 Mrs Piozzi (the former Mrs Hester Thrale) was in Rome. The continental tour she had been enjoying with her second husband, Gabriel Piozzi, former music teacher to her children, was drawing to a close.
Like Charlotte Eaton, who arrived in Rome some years later, Mrs Piozzi viewed St Peter’s – and its Easter celebration – with an eye not a little clouded by Protestant prejudice.
‘Nothing can look very grand in St Peter’s church; and though I saw the general benediction given (I hope partook it) upon Easter Day, my constant impression was, that the people were below the place; no pomp, no glare, no dove and glory on the chair of state, but what looked too little for the area that contained them. Sublimity disdains to catch the vulgar eye, she elevates the soul; nor can long-drawn processions, or splendid ceremonies, suffice to content those travellers who seek for images that never tarnish, and for truths that never can decay. Pius Sextus, in his morning dress, paying his private devotions at the altar, without any pageantry, and with very few attendants, struck me more a thousand and a thousand times, than when arrayed in gold, in colours, and diamonds, he was carried to the front of a balcony big enough to have contained the conclave; and there, shaded by two white fans, which, though really enormous, looked no larger than that a girl carries in her pocket, pronounced words which, on account of the height they came from, were difficult to hear.
All this is known and felt by the managers of these theatrical exhibitions so certainly, that they judiciously confine great part of them to the Capella Sistina, which, being large enough to impress the mind with its solemnity, and not spacious enough for the priests, congregation, and all, to be lost in it, is well adapted for those various functions that really make Rome a scene of perpetual gala during the Holy Week – which an English friend here protested to me he had never spent with so little devotion in his life before.’
From Glimspses of Italian Society in the Eighteenth Century, From the ‘Journal of Mrs Piozzi’, Seeley & Co, 1892