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Knights of the Art

The Bellini
Almost all the stories of the lives of the painters which we have been listening to, until
now, have clustered round Florence, the City of Flowers. She was their great mother, and
her sons loved her with a deep, passionate love, thinking nothing too fair with which to
deck her beauty. Wherever they wandered she drew them back, for their very heartstrings
were wound around her, and each and all strove to give her of their best.
But now we come to the stories of men whose lives gather round a different centre.
Instead of the great mother-city beside the Arno, with her strong towers and warlike
citizens, the noise of battle ever sounding in her streets, and her flowery fields encircling
her on every side, we have now Venice, Queen of the Sea.
No warlike tread or tramp of angry crowds disturbs her fair streets, for here are no
pavements, only the cool green water which laps the walls of her marble palaces, and
gives back the sound of the dipping oar and the soft echo of passing voices, as the
gondolas glide along her watery ways. Here are no grim grey towers of defence, but fairy
palaces of white and coloured marbles, which rise from the waters below as if they had
been built by the sea nymphs, who had fashioned them of their own sea- shells and
mother-of-pearl.
There are no flowery meadows here, but instead the vast waters of the lagoons, which
reach out until they meet the blue arc of the sky or touch the distant mountains which lie
like a purple line upon the horizon. Here and there tiny islands lie upon its bosom, so
faint and fairylike that they scarcely seem like solid land, reflected as they are in the
transparent water.
But although Venice has no meadows decked with flowers and no wealth of blossoming
trees, everywhere on every side she shines with colour, this wonderful sea-girt city. Her
white marble palaces glow with a soft amber light, the cool green water that reflects her
beauty glitters in rings of gold and blue, changing from colour to colour as each ripple
changes its form. At sunset, when the sun disappears over the edge of the lagoon and
leaves behind its trail of shining clouds, she is like a dream-city rising from a sea of
molten gold--a double city, for in the pure gold is reflected each tower and spire, each
palace and campanile, in masses of pale yellow and quivering white light, with here and
there a burning touch of flame colour. She seems to have no connection with the solid,
ordinary cities of the world. There she lies in all her beauty, silent and apart, like a white
sea-bird floating upon the bosom of the ocean.
Venice had always seemed separate and distinct from the rest of the world. Her cathedral
of San Marco was never under the rule of Rome, and her rulers, or doges, as they were
called, governed the city as kings, and did not trouble themselves with the affairs of other
towns. Her merchant princes sailed to far countries and brought home precious spoils to
add to her beauty. Everything was as rich and rare and splendid as it was possible to
make it, and she was unlike any other city on earth.
 
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