25 MAY 1850, Page 13


48, Mortimer Street, Cavendish Square, 21st May 1850.

Me. Enrron—I scarcely believe that Mr. Kirkup wrote and authorized the publication of the personal attack that appeared in your paper of the 11th instant ; for gentlemen do not usually, offer insults when sheltered from. the consequences by the distance of several hundred miles. For the present, therefore, I shall pass over whatever is merely insulting in the letter pur- porting to be from Mr. Kirkup ; but there are some misstatements in it, which tend to throw a doubt upon, and others which positively contradict what has been asserted by me, and several other persons, with regard to the recovery of Dante's authentic portrait kind and as you, Mr. Editor, have given publicity, and I am sorry to see a kind of sanction, to the unprovoked im- putations, I trust that your sense of justice will at least induce you to admit in your next publication my defence. The questions are, what share Mr. Kirkup had in the recovery of the fresco of Giotto in the chapel of the Palazzo del Pedestal. at Florence, and whether directly or indirectly I have been the means of depriving him or any of the cooperators in that good work, of the merit due to their labours. I shall best enable those who take an interest in this matter to arrive at a fair conclusion, by giving a short history of the recovery of that beautiful fresco. It was Mr. Wyide and not Mr. Kirku% who first spoke to me of this buried treasure. Mr. Wylde, an American gentleman respected by all that knew him, was then in Florence, engaged in a work on Dante and his times, which unfortunately he did not live to complete. Among the materials he had collected for this purpose, there were some papers of the antiquarian Moreni, which he was examining when I called one day, (I had then been three or four months in Florence,) to read what he had already written, as I was in the habit of doing from time to time. It was then that a foot-note of Moreni's met his eye, in which the writer lamented that he had spent two years of his life in unceasing and unavailing efforts to recover the por- trait of Dante, and the other portions of the fresco of Giotto in the Bargello, mentioned by Vasari; that others before him had been equally anxious and equally unsuccessful; and that he hoped that better times would come, (vertu= tempi migliori,) and that the painting, so interesting both in an artistic and historical point of view, would be agam sought for, and at last recovered. I did not then understand how the efforts of Moreni and others could have been thus unsuccessful ; and I thought that with common energy and dili- gence they might have ascertained whether the painting, so clearly pointed out by Vasari, was or was not in existence : several months, however, of wearisome labours in the same pursuit taught me to judge more leniently of the failures of my predecessors. Mr. Wylde put Moreni's note before me, and suggested and urged, that being an Italian by birth, though not a Flo- rentine, and having lived many years in England and among the English, I had it in my power to bring two modes of influence to bear upon the re- search ; and that such being the case I ought to undertake it. My thoughts immediately turned to Mr. Kirkup, an artist who had abandoned his art to devote himself entirely to antiquarian pursuits, with whom I was well ac- quainted,.and who, having lived many years in Florence, (I believe fifteen,) would weigh the value of Moreni's testimony on this matter, and effectually assist me in every way, if I took it in hand. So I called upon him, either that same day or the next; and I found that he, like most other people, had read the passage in Vasari's life of Giotto, in which it is explicitly mud, that the portrait of Dante had been painted with others in the Palazzo del Po- dcstd, and was to be seen at the time the historian was writing; but that he had not read, or had not put any confidence in, the note of the Florence edition of Vasari published in 1832,-1838, in which it is stated, that the Pa- lazzo del Podesta had now become a prison—the Bargollo ; that the Chapel had been turned into a dispense, (it was more like a coal-hole where the rags and much of the filth of the prison was deposited) ; that the walls of this dispense exhibited nothing' but a dirty coating, and that Moreni speaks of the painting in some published work ; the annotator concluding thus- " It is hoped that some day or other we shall be able to see what there is under the coating of the walls." So everybody hoped that some day or other the thing would be done, but nobody set about heartily to do it ; and it is inconceivable to me that Mr, Kirkup, who shows in this letter, if it be his, such jealousy for the credit of the recovery, should have lived so many years in Florence either entirely ignorant of that which every shop-boy knew, or knowing there were chances of bringing such a treasure to light, that he should have never moved one step for that purpose. That Mr. Kirkup took no active part in this matter at any time, is quite proved by two admissions I find in the letter of your correspondent. He first says, "I remember that the first time I passed to the Bergen° to see it, I found Marini on a scaffold," &c. The fact us, that several mouths had elapsed between the first presentation of the memorial and the erection of the scaffold, during which Mr. Kirkup admits that he never thought of visit- ing the place, whilst I had spent hours and hours there, under not very pleasant circumstances, and had detected raised aureoles and other evidences of old fresco. But he continues—"Marini was permitted to return to the work on account of the Government ; and at that point Bezzi returned to England. It was some months afterwards that I heard that Marini had found certain figures, and soon afterwards the discovery of Dante himself" (sic). These two passages sufficiently show the nature of M. Kirkup's la- bours, and how far he was really eager in the pursuit of this object, both during the time when I was most deeply engaged in it, and also for "some months " after I had quitted Florence. But to resume : Mr. Kirkup, how- ever ignorant, or culpably negligent, or a little of both, he might previously have been on the subject, yet when I brought it before him, he at once ad- mitted its importance, and made a liberal offer of money, if any should be required, to carry out the experiment. Thus encouraged by Mr. Wylde and by Mr. Kirkup, I sought and found among English, American, and Italian Mends and acquaintances, many that were ready to assist the plan. Then it was that I drew up a memorial to the Grand Duke ; not because I am an "advocate," as your correspondent is pleased to call me, for that is not the case, but simply because, having taken pains to organize the means of work- ing out the common object, the cooperators thought I could best represent what this common object was. In the memorial, I stated that, according to what Vasari, Moreni, and others had written, it was just possible that a trea- sure was lying hidden under the dirty coatings of the walls of the dispense in the Bargello ; that a society was already formed for the purpose of seek- ing with all care for this treasure ; that all expenses would be gladly borne by the society ; that should anything be found,we would either leave the paintings untouched, or have them removed at our expense to the gallery of the Uffizi, and that we begged of the Grand Duke the necessary sanction to begin our operations. The answer was favourable, and I warrreferred to Marchese Nerli, and to the Director of the Academy, to make the necessary arrangements. Then the real difficulties began : first, I was pat off on account of the precautions that were to be taken in working in a prison ; then, the Director was ill; or unavoidably engaged, or absent ; I found, in short, that the object was to tire me out, and that I had to con- tend with the same power that had defeated Moreni and my other prede- cessors in the attempt. This battle ermtinueclmanymonths. I have already spoken too much of my share in the pursuit of this object, and I will not en- ter into further details—some of them ludicrous—of this contention ; but I will say explicitly, that, besides his encouragement, and his repeated offers of money, (which were not aecepted because money was not wanted, at least not to any amount, and what was wanted I furnished myself,) Mr. Kirkup did not afford me any- assistance. At this stage of the business, I met indeed with a most valuable ally, without whom I believe I should have been beaten. ; and that was Paolo Feroni, a Florentine nobleman and artist, to whom I have before expressed and now repeat my best acknowledgments. At the end of this Iong contention against obstacles which often eluded my grasp, the Grand Duke, in consequence of a second memorial I presented to him, issued a decree appointing a commission to carry out the proposed ex- periments. This commission wascomposed of two members I had myself pro- posed, viz. the sculptor Bartolini, and the Marchese Feroni, of myself, of the Daettore of the Edifizi Pubblici Marchese Nerli, and of the Direttore of the Accademia dells Arti, the two Latter ex officio : further, the decree declines the proposed voluntary subscriptions, and places at the disposal of the Com- missioners a sum of money which proved more than sufficient to cover all the expenses of the restoration of the fresco. The Commissioners employed the painter Math* and the happy- result of his careftilness and ability is now before the world.

I will now conclude by asserting, that I had nothing to do with what has been said or written at Florence of this recovery, either in the Stream, or at the meeting of the Scienziati, which was held in 1911, I believe, and at which the fresco of Giotto was naturally a great object of in- terest. I left Florence in /flay 1840, before the portrait of Dante was ac- tually uncovered, so that I only saw a portion of the fresco; but I assert that as far as I know, in no publication has Mr. Kirkrup's share in this recovery- been underrated. I assert, that I never published anything in England, nor anywhere else, about this matter, except a letter same time since in the Atheneum, which I have not by me, but in which, after having vindicated myself from some accusations of Signor Lasinio of wishing to monopolize the credit of the recovery, I believe I syoke ungrudgingly of Mr. share in it. For the inscription which is at the back of the copy of Dante's portrait I have lately received from Florence, and which is mistranslated by your couespondent, I am not answerable, even if it were exuberantly laudatory ; whether it is or not, those must decide who have weighed what my opponents adduce and this my vindication. This copy of Dante was not exhibited at all in the sense in which your correspondent uses the word. I was asked whether I would allow the portrait to be pub- lished; and I, without having any pecuniary interest in the publication, readily consented, principally because I think the publication of such a spe- cimen of the bright morning of Italian art would materially help the pur- poses- of the Arundel Society; and it needs not be said that no man could be whether lwhether it be desery ed or not, to be published also. The portrait was shown

of the absurdity of allowing the laudatory inscription at the back,

by Mr. D. Colna,giri, for the purpose of procuring subscribers to the intended publication. I assert that I have never heard, or read, or said, or written, anything tending to disparage the real cooperation of Mr. Kirkup, or of my lamented friend 3dr. Wylde, or of anybody else in this matter,—nay, that it was at my request that the editor of the English translation of Kugler's Handbook of the History of Painting, published in 1842, has in the preface of that book mentioned Mr. Kirkup as having assisted materially in the re- covery. Besides the Marchese Feroni and the artist Signor Marini, there are many disinterested witnesses who have stated, and if called upon will repeat again, all the material points of my narrative ; but, better than all, there is now in London an English gentleman, whom I am happy to be al- lowed to call my friend, who was in Florence part of the time, and saw with his own eyes the share I had in this laborious undertaking, which ought not to have brought this bitter contention upon me: he was an intimate friend of Mr. WvIde, with whom he had a long correspondence on this very sub- ject after Mr. Wylde's return to America. This gentleman, whom I do not name, that he may not be wearied by mere idle buriosity, but who will easily be recognized by those who are taking an interest in. 4is now personal matter, will vouch for the strict accuracy of all that I have here said ; and hie voucher will neutralize all the delusion and all the spontaneous or in- duced malevolence that has been directed against Your obedient servant, G. AUBREY BEZZI.