Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Howard Pyle’s Early Impressions of Italy

Around Christmastime 1910, Howard Pyle was able to move his family from the cramped Pensione White “just on the outskirts of the slums” to “a suite of apartments in a very nice part of the city, where we shall be exceedingly comfortable, and where all the houses are new, and nice people live about us” at 6 Via Garibaldi. There, on December 28, he wrote about his as-yet ambivalent impressions of Italy to George Perkins Bissell, his friend back in Wilmington (who was also the brother of Emily Perkins Bissell):
I do not think an American of middle age who has spent practically all of his time in the United States should expect too much from Italy. As a rule, it is worn out and dilapidated, dirty and run down. Here in Florence, for instance, there are many old churches and many old palaces dating from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The churches are of black and white marble variegated with brown. They are dirty, stained and muddy with the dirt and dust of centuries: and personally I do not think anything of their architectural effect; but the insides of them are, in many instances, filled with treasures of art. The palaces every one look like prisons, and while inside there are fine carved pillars and some stunning stair cases, and court yards surrounded with coats-of-arms, yet outside they are gloomy and austere. They were nearly all of them built in the fourteenth century, and that was a time when every man’s hand was against every man, and every man’s hand against him: when the guards on the roofs used to shoot darts across the street at the guards on the other roofs, and every moment was the time of an assault. Many of these palaces are now converted into stores and market places, and a poor, homely, exceeding picturesque rabble down in the street below jostle and elbow one another; and there are butcher shops and drogherias (that is, rum shops) and there are bakers, and all sorts of nondescript tradesmen on the ground floors. This as you see is not at all like our well-made and well-arranged American life. It is very picturesque: but when that is said, all is said.

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