In the city of Florence, not far from the Piazza del Granduca, runs a little street
called Porta Rosa. In this street, just in front of the market-place where vegetables
are sold, stands a pig, made of brass and curiously formed. The bright color has
been changed by age to dark green; but clear, fresh water pours from the snout,
which shines as if it had been polished, and so indeed it has, for hundreds of
poor people and children seize it in their hands as they place their mouths close
to the mouth of the animal, to drink. It is quite a picture to see a half-naked
boy clasping the well-formed creature by the head, as he presses his rosy lips
against its jaws. Every one who visits Florence can very quickly find the place;
he has only to ask the first beggar he meets for the Metal Pig, and he will be
told where it is.
It was late on a winter evening; the mountains were covered with snow, but
the moon shone brightly, and moonlight in Italy is like a dull winter’s
day in the north; indeed it is better, for clear air seems to raise us above
the earth, while in the north a cold, gray, leaden sky appears to press us down
to earth, even as the cold damp earth shall one day press on us in the grave.
In the garden of the grand duke’s palace, under the roof of one of the
wings, where a thousand roses bloom in winter, a little ragged boy had been
sitting the whole day long; a boy, who might serve as a type of Italy, lovely
and smiling, and yet still suffering. He was hungry and thirsty, yet no one
gave him anything; and when it became dark, and they were about to close the
gardens, the porter turned him out. He stood a long time musing on the bridge
which crosses the Arno, and looking at the glittering stars, reflected in the
water which flowed between him and the elegant marble bridge Della Trinità.
He then walked away towards the Metal Pig, half knelt down, clasped it with
his arms, and then put his mouth to the shining snout and drank deep draughts
of the fresh water. Close by, lay a few salad-leaves and two chestnuts, which
were to serve for his supper. No one was in the street but himself; it belonged
only to him, so he boldly seated himself on the pig’s back, leaned forward
so that his curly head could rest on the head of the animal, and, before he
was aware, he fell asleep.
It was midnight. The Metal Pig raised himself gently, and the boy heard him
say quite distinctly, “Hold tight, little boy, for I am going to run;”
and away he started for a most wonderful ride. First, they arrived at the Piazza
del Granduca, and the metal horse which bears the duke’s statue, neighed
aloud. The painted coats-of-arms on the old council-house shone like transparent
pictures, and Michael Angelo’s David tossed his sling; it was as if everything
had life. The metallic groups of figures, among which were Perseus and the Rape
of the Sabines, looked like living persons, and cries of terror sounded from
them all across the noble square. By the Palazzo degli Uffizi, in the arcade,
where the nobility assemble for the carnival, the Metal Pig stopped. “Hold
fast,” said the animal; “hold fast, for I am going up stairs.”
The little boy said not a word; he was half pleased and half afraid. They entered
a long gallery, where the boy had been before. The walls were resplendent with
paintings; here stood statues and busts, all in a clear light as if it were
day. But the grandest appeared when the door of a side room opened; the little
boy could remember what beautiful things he had seen there, but to-night everything
shone in its brightest colors. Here stood the figure of a beautiful woman, as
beautifully sculptured as possible by one of the great masters. Her graceful
limbs appeared to move; dolphins sprang at her feet, and immortality shone from
her eyes. The world called her the Venus de’ Medici. By her side were
statues, in which the spirit of life breathed in stone; figures of men, one
of whom whetted his sword, and was named the Grinder; wrestling gladiators formed
another group, the sword had been sharpened for them, and they strove for the
goddess of beauty. The boy was dazzled by so much glitter; for the walls were
gleaming with bright colors, all appeared living reality.
As they passed from hall to hall, beauty everywhere showed itself; and as the
Metal Pig went step by step from one picture to the other, the little boy could
see it all plainly. One glory eclipsed another; yet there was one picture that
fixed itself on the little boy’s memory, more especially because of the
happy children it represented, for these the little boy had seen in daylight.
Many pass this picture by with indifference, and yet it contains a treasure
of poetic feeling; it represents Christ descending into Hades. They are not
the lost whom the spectator sees, but the heathen of olden times. The Florentine,
Angiolo Bronzino, painted this picture; most beautiful is the expression on
the face of the two children, who appear to have full confidence that they shall
reach heaven at last. They are embracing each other, and one little one stretches
out his hand towards another who stands below him, and points to himself, as
if he were saying, “I am going to heaven.” The older people stand
as if uncertain, yet hopeful, and they bow in humble adoration to the Lord Jesus.
On this picture the boy’s eyes rested longer than on any other: the Metal
Pig stood still before it. A low sigh was heard. Did it come from the picture
or from the animal? The boy raised his hands towards the smiling children, and
then the Pig ran off with him through the open vestibule.
“Thank you, thank you, you beautiful animal,” said the little boy,
caressing the Metal Pig as it ran down the steps.
“Thanks to yourself also,” replied the Metal Pig; “I have
helped you and you have helped me, for it is only when I have an innocent child
on my back that I receive the power to run. Yes; as you see, I can even venture
under the rays of the lamp, in front of the picture of the Madonna, but I may
not enter the church; still from without, and while you are upon my back, I
may look in through the open door. Do not get down yet, for if you do, then
I shall be lifeless, as you have seen me in the Porta Rosa.”
“I will stay with you, my dear creature,” said the little boy.
So then they went on at a rapid pace through the streets of Florence, till they
came to the square before the church of Santa Croce. The folding-doors flew
open, and light streamed from the altar through the church into the deserted
square. A wonderful blaze of light streamed from one of the monuments in the
left-side aisle, and a thousand moving stars seemed to form a glory round it;
even the coat-of-arms on the tomb-stone shone, and a red ladder on a blue field
gleamed like fire. It was the grave of Galileo. The monument is unadorned, but
the red ladder is an emblem of art, signifying that the way to glory leads up
a shining ladder, on which the prophets of mind rise to heaven, like Elias of
old. In the right aisle of the church every statue on the richly carved sarcophagi
seemed endowed with life. Here stood Michael Angelo; there Dante, with the laurel
wreath round his brow; Alfieri and Machiavelli; for here side by side rest the
great men—the pride of Italy.1 The church itself is very beautiful, even
more beautiful than the marble cathedral at Florence, though not so large. It
seemed as if the carved vestments stirred, and as if the marble figures they
covered raised their heads higher, to gaze upon the brightly colored glowing
altar where the white-robed boys swung the golden censers, amid music and song,
while the strong fragrance of incense filled the church, and streamed forth
into the square. The boy stretched forth his hands towards the light, and at
the same moment the Metal Pig started again so rapidly that he was obliged to
cling tightly to him. The wind whistled in his ears, he heard the church door
creak on its hinges as it closed, and it seemed to him as if he had lost his
senses— then a cold shudder passed over him, and he awoke.
It was morning; the Metal Pig stood in its old place on the Porta Rosa, and
the boy found he had slipped nearly off its back. Fear and trembling came upon
him as he thought of his mother; she had sent him out the day before to get
some money, he had not done so, and now he was hungry and thirsty. Once more
he clasped the neck of his metal horse, kissed its nose, and nodded farewell
to it. Then he wandered away into one of the narrowest streets, where there
was scarcely room for a loaded donkey to pass. A great iron-bound door stood
ajar; he passed through, and climbed up a brick staircase, with dirty walls
and a rope for a balustrade, till he came to an open gallery hung with rags.
From here a flight of steps led down to a court, where from a well water was
drawn up by iron rollers to the different stories of the house, and where the
water-buckets hung side by side. Sometimes the roller and the bucket danced
in the air, splashing the water all over the court. Another broken-down staircase
led from the gallery, and two Russian sailors running down it almost upset the
poor boy. They were coming from their nightly carousal. A woman not very young,
with an unpleasant face and a quantity of black hair, followed them. “What
have you brought home?” she asked. when she saw the boy.
“Don’t be angry,” he pleaded; “I received nothing,
I have nothing at all;” and he seized his mother’s dress and would
have kissed it. Then they went into a little room. I need not describe it, but
only say that there stood in it an earthen pot with handles, made for holding
fire, which in Italy is called a marito. This pot she took in her lap, warmed
her fingers, and pushed the boy with her elbow.
“Certainly you must have some money,” she said. The boy began to
cry, and then she struck him with her foot till he cried out louder.
“Will you be quiet? or I’ll break your screaming head;” and
she swung about the fire-pot which she held in her hand, while the boy crouched
to the earth and screamed.
Then a neighbor came in, and she had also a marito under her arm. “Felicita,”
she said, “what are you doing to the child?”
“The child is mine,” she answered; “I can murder him if I
like, and you too, Giannina.” And then she swung about the fire-pot. The
other woman lifted up hers to defend herself, and the two pots clashed together
so violently that they were dashed to pieces, and fire and ashes flew about
the room. The boy rushed out at the sight, sped across the courtyard, and fled
from the house. The poor child ran till he was quite out of breath; at last
he stopped at the church, the doors of which were opened to him the night before,
and went in. Here everything was bright, and the boy knelt down by the first
tomb on his right, the grave of Michael Angelo, and sobbed as if his heart would
break. People came and went, mass was performed, but no one noticed the boy,
excepting an elderly citizen, who stood still and looked at him for a moment,
and then went away like the rest. Hunger and thirst overpowered the child, and
he became quite faint and ill. At last he crept into a corner behind the marble
monuments, and went to sleep. Towards evening he was awakened by a pull at his
sleeve; he started up, and the same old citizen stood before him.
“Are you ill? where do you live? have you been here all day?” were
some of the questions asked by the old man. After hearing his answers, the old
man took him home to a small house close by, in a back street. They entered
a glovemaker’s shop, where a woman sat sewing busily. A little white poodle,
so closely shaven that his pink skin could plainly be seen, frisked about the
room, and gambolled upon the boy.
“Innocent souls are soon intimate,” said the woman, as she caressed
both the boy and the dog. These good people gave the child food and drink, and
said he should stay with them all night, and that the next day the old man,
who was called Giuseppe, would go and speak to his mother. A little homely bed
was prepared for him, but to him who had so often slept on the hard stones it
was a royal couch, and he slept sweetly and dreamed of the splendid pictures
and of the Metal Pig. Giuseppe went out the next morning, and the poor child
was not glad to see him go, for he knew that the old man was gone to his mother,
and that, perhaps, he would have to go back. He wept at the thought, and then
he played with the little, lively dog, and kissed it, while the old woman looked
kindly at him to encourage him. And what news did Giuseppe bring back? At first
the boy could not hear, for he talked a great deal to his wife, and she nodded
and stroked the boy’s cheek.
Then she said, “He is a good lad, he shall stay with us, he may become
a clever glovemaker, like you. Look what delicate fingers he has got; Madonna
intended him for a glovemaker.” So the boy stayed with them, and the woman
herself taught him to sew; and he ate well, and slept well, and became very
merry. But at last he began to tease Bellissima, as the little dog was called.
This made the woman angry, and she scolded him and threatened him, which made
him very unhappy, and he went and sat in his own room full of sad thoughts.
This chamber looked upon the street, in which hung skins to dry, and there were
thick iron bars across his window. That night he lay awake, thinking of the
Metal Pig; indeed, it was always in his thoughts. Suddenly he fancied he heard
feet outside going pit-a-pat. He sprung out of bed and went to the window. Could
it be the Metal Pig? But there was nothing to be seen; whatever he had heard
had passed already. Next morning, their neighbor, the artist, passed by, carrying
a paint-box and a large roll of canvas.
“Help the gentleman to carry his box of colors,” said the woman
to the boy; and he obeyed instantly, took the box, and followed the painter.
They walked on till they reached the picture gallery, and mounted the same staircase
up which he had ridden that night on the Metal Pig. He remembered all the statues
and pictures, the beautiful marble Venus, and again he looked at the Madonna
with the Saviour and St. John. They stopped before the picture by Bronzino,
in which Christ is represented as standing in the lower world, with the children
smiling before Him, in the sweet expectation of entering heaven; and the poor
boy smiled, too, for here was his heaven.
“You may go home now,” said the painter, while the boy stood watching
him, till he had set up his easel.
“May I see you paint?” asked the boy; “may I see you put
the picture on this white canvas?”
“I am not going to paint yet,” replied the artist; then he brought
out a piece of chalk. His hand moved quickly, and his eye measured the great
picture; and though nothing appeared but a faint line, the figure of the Saviour
was as clearly visible as in the colored picture.
“Why don’t you go?” said the painter. Then the boy wandered
home silently, and seated himself on the table, and learned to sew gloves. But
all day long his thoughts were in the picture gallery; and so he pricked his
fingers and was awkward. But he did not tease Bellissima. When evening came,
and the house door stood open, he slipped out. It was a bright, beautiful, starlight
evening, but rather cold. Away he went through the already-deserted streets,
and soon came to the Metal Pig; he stooped down and kissed its shining nose,
and then seated himself on its back.
“You happy creature,” he said; “how I have longed for you!
we must take a ride to-night.”
But the Metal Pig lay motionless, while the fresh stream gushed forth from
its mouth. The little boy still sat astride on its back, when he felt something
pulling at his clothes. He looked down, and there was Bellissima, little smooth-shaven
Bellissima, barking as if she would have said, “Here I am too; why are
you sitting there?”
A fiery dragon could not have frightened the little boy so much as did the
little dog in this place. “Bellissima in the street, and not dressed!”
as the old lady called it; “what would be the end of this?”
The dog never went out in winter, unless she was attired in a little lambskin
coat which had been made for her; it was fastened round the little dog’s
neck and body with red ribbons, and was decorated with rosettes and little bells.
The dog looked almost like a little kid when she was allowed to go out in winter,
and trot after her mistress. And now here she was in the cold, and not dressed.
Oh, how would it end? All his fancies were quickly put to flight; yet he kissed
the Metal Pig once more, and then took Bellissima in his arms. The poor little
thing trembled so with cold, that the boy ran homeward as fast as he could.
“What are you running away with there?” asked two of the police
whom he met, and at whom the dog barked. “Where have you stolen that pretty
dog?” they asked; and they took it away from him.
“Oh, I have not stolen it; do give it to me back again,” cried
the boy, despairingly.
“If you have not stolen it, you may say at home that they can send to
the watch-house for the dog.” Then they told him where the watch-house
was, and went away with Bellissima.
Here was a dreadful trouble. The boy did not know whether he had better jump
into the Arno, or go home and confess everything. They would certainly kill
him, he thought.
“Well, I would gladly be killed,” he reasoned; “for then
I shall die, and go to heaven:” and so he went home, almost hoping for
The door was locked, and he could not reach the knocker. No one was in the
street; so he took up a stone, and with it made a tremendous noise at the door.
“Who is there?” asked somebody from within.
“It is I,” said he. “Bellissima is gone. Open the door, and
then kill me.”
Then indeed there was a great panic. Madame was so very fond of Bellissima.
She immediately looked at the wall where the dog’s dress usually hung;
and there was the little lambskin.
“Bellissima in the watch-house!” she cried. “You bad boy!
how did you entice her out? Poor little delicate thing, with those rough policemen!
and she’ll be frozen with cold.”
Giuseppe went off at once, while his wife lamented, and the boy wept. Several
of the neighbors came in, and amongst them the painter. He took the boy between
his knees, and questioned him; and, in broken sentences, he soon heard the whole
story, and also about the Metal Pig, and the wonderful ride to the picture-gallery,
which was certainly rather incomprehensible. The painter, however, consoled
the little fellow, and tried to soften the lady’s anger; but she would
not be pacified till her husband returned with Bellissima, who had been with
the police. Then there was great rejoicing, and the painter caressed the boy,
and gave him a number of pictures. Oh, what beautiful pictures these were!—figures
with funny heads; and, above all, the Metal Pig was there too. Oh, nothing could
be more delightful. By means of a few strokes, it was made to appear on the
paper; and even the house that stood behind it had been sketched in. Oh, if
he could only draw and paint! He who could do this could conjure all the world
before him. The first leisure moment during the next day, the boy got a pencil,
and on the back of one of the other drawings he attempted to copy the drawing
of the Metal Pig, and he succeeded. Certainly it was rather crooked, rather
up and down, one leg thick, and another thin; still it was like the copy, and
he was overjoyed at what he had done. The pencil would not go quite as it ought,—he
had found that out; but the next day he tried again. A second pig was drawn
by the side of the first, and this looked a hundred times better; and the third
attempt was so good, that everybody might know what it was meant to represent.
And now the glovemaking went on but slowly. The orders given by the shops in
the town were not finished quickly; for the Metal Pig had taught the boy that
all objects may be drawn upon paper; and Florence is a picture-book in itself
for any one who chooses to turn over its pages. On the Piazza dell Trinita stands
a slender pillar, and upon it is the goddess of Justice, blindfolded, with her
scales in her hand. She was soon represented on paper, and it was the glovemaker’s
boy who placed her there. His collection of pictures increased; but as yet they
were only copies of lifeless objects, when one day Bellissima came gambolling
before him: “Stand still,” cried he, “and I will draw you
beautifully, to put amongst my collection.”
But Bellissima would not stand still, so she must be bound fast in one position.
He tied her head and tail; but she barked and jumped, and so pulled and tightened
the string, that she was nearly strangled; and just then her mistress walked
“You wicked boy! the poor little creature!” was all she could utter.
She pushed the boy from her, thrust him away with her foot, called him a most
ungrateful, good-for-nothing, wicked boy, and forbade him to enter the house
again. Then she wept, and kissed her little half-strangled Bellissima. At this
moment the painter entered the room. In the year 1834 there was an exhibition
in the Academy of Arts at Florence. Two pictures, placed side by side, attracted
a large number of spectators. The smaller of the two represented a little boy
sitting at a table, drawing; before him was a little white poodle, curiously
shaven; but as the animal would not stand still, it had been fastened with a
string to its head and tail, to keep it in one position. The truthfulness and
life in this picture interested every one. The painter was said to be a young
Florentine, who had been found in the streets, when a child, by an old glovemaker,
who had brought him up. The boy had taught himself to draw: it was also said
that a young artist, now famous, had discovered talent in the child just as
he was about to be sent away for having tied up madame’s favorite little
dog, and using it as a model. The glovemaker’s boy had also become a great
painter, as the picture proved; but the larger picture by its side was a still
greater proof of his talent. It represented a handsome boy, clothed in rags,
lying asleep, and leaning against the Metal Pig in the street of the Porta Rosa.
All the spectators knew the spot well. The child’s arms were round the
neck of the Pig, and he was in a deep sleep. The lamp before the picture of
the Madonna threw a strong, effective light on the pale, delicate face of the
child. It was a beautiful picture. A large gilt frame surrounded it, and on
one corner of the frame a laurel wreath had been hung; but a black band, twined
unseen among the green leaves, and a streamer of crape, hung down from it; for
within the last few days the young artist had — died.
Opposite to the grave of Galileo is the tomb of Michael Angelo. His bust stands
upon it, with three figures, representing sculpture, painting and architecture.
Close by is a monument to Dante, whose body is buried in Ravenna. On this monument
Italy is represented pointing to the colossal statue of Dante, while poetry
weeps over his loss. A few steps farther is Alfieri’s monumnet, which
is adorned with laurel, the lyre, and dramatic masks: Italy weeps over the grave.
Machiavelli is the last in the list of these celebrated men.