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Diary entry by Gertrude Bell

Reference code
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 entry, paper
Italy ยป Milan

45.4642035, 9.189982

Wednesday 24th. [24 January 1894] Woke at 9. After breakfast went
out wrapped in ulsters - for it rained all day - and drove to Santa
Maria, a red brick church some of it old and the old part very pretty
where in a room to one side we saw the da Vinci. Very old and very
battered, peeling from the walls of the desolate old room, it still has
something of holy grace which is missed by all but the picture itself.
The peaceful figure of the Christ with sorrow lying heavy on the
eyelids and the blue vista of quiet country beyond stands out with
wonderful saintliness between the two agitated groups of apostles,
pressing hither and thither, wondering, questioning, plotting,
protesting. We then went on to S. Ambrogio, a bewitching red brick
church with a courtyard leading to it and wide arched galleries where
the sunshine out [sic] to lie in great flat patches but where now the
snow was dripping. We had a charming little cleric of sorts for a
guide, who was very proud of his church, showed us illumined books
and Luini frescoes and a roof of mosaique older than that at Ravenna,
but was tremblingly modern all the time. He had no hesitation in
pronouncing an old sarcophagus to be that of Stilicho, but when we
came to a bronze serpent he said "Many people think that that was
the very serpent of the Children of Israel, but I think that can scarcely
be so!" He said it came from St Sophia. Then on to the Brera - first of
all let me pay tribute to Rafael's Marriage of the Virgin which gave
one the first pure joy, the first exquisite gliff of perfection which is to
come from Italian pictures. He must have dipped his brush in pure
sunlight; there was a charming Luini Madonna near and a pathetic
sweet J. Bellini and a Mantegna with clustered angels round the
Virgin's head but they all faded away beside the Rafael. Near it was
Leonardo's study for the head of Christ - itself perfection in another
way, and Mantegna's foreshortened Pieta - horrible and powerful - a
foretaste of much that was to be with its ugly striking composition and
realistic heads of the mourning women. Besides them some lovely
John Bellini's - a Pieta wonderfully moving and a St Helena, noble
splendid full of the movement of gracious figures; a charming
Carpaccio presentation of the Virgin, a Francia Annunciation, two
Crivelli's one of them a Crucifixion with the sea for a background! a
Cima, some Oggiono's etc. Oh a delicious gallery! Unfortunately we
did not look at the Luini frescoes which we regretted afterwards as we
did not come back. Then we lunched and walked to the Ambrosian
Library through a charming old piazza dei Marcanti, but it was shut. I
forgot of course our first sight of all: the Duomo. I like it; I like the great
froth of carved marble and the splendid size and the gloomy inside -
not the West front however with its hideous 18th century windows, nor I
think the capitals of the pillars which are companies of statues and
heavy - too heavy even for its great size. It was too snowy to go onto
the roof. Some of the window traceries are very lovely - a wild
excitement of curves and exquisite patterns. Windows divided half
way up. In the evening went to the Scala, a fine house where we saw
La Lorelei, a poor opera by one Catalani.

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