All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com.
Page added in March 2023.
All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Page added in March 2023.
Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) is best known for his fairy tales but in 1834 he achieved international fame by writing The Improvisatore, a semi autobiographical novel which tells the story of a Roman boy from a poor background who achieves success through his talent for improvisation, helped by the members of the Borghese family.
Hans Christian Andersen is one of those men who, from their earliest youth, have had to keep up a warfare with circumstances; men who seemed destined by Fate to end their lives unnoticed in a village, and yet through an instinctive sense of their destined pre-eminence in the beautiful regions of art and literature, and sustained by an irrepressible will, have made themselves a part of the great world. (..) German workmen were principally employed in the manufactory, and to them the children used often to sing their Danish songs. The new-comer, Andersen, was desired to do so, and that he did willingly, because he knew that he could produce great effect with his singing: the neighbours had always listened when at home he sung in the garden; and once, indeed a whole party, who were assembled in the garden of the rich neighbour, had admired his beautiful voice, and loudly applauded him. (..) In 1833 he went through Milan, Genoa, and Florence, on to Rome, where Thorwaldsen and all his countrymen there received him with the greatest affection. His residence in Rome began like a sunshiny summer day. (..) The glorious treasures of art around him, and the fine country within which he was a sojourner, with its bright southern life, operated beneficially on his spirit. With that intense love for Italy, which is peculiar to the most spiritual-minded inhabitants of the cold north (..) Andersen entered into the spirit of the life of the people, and has reflected all back to us with the most beautiful colouring in his Improvisatore.
Mary Howitt, the translator the first English edition of the novel in 1845
Andersen has travelled in Italy, but never resided there for any length of time; but no one has ever made better use of his opportunities for studying and observing the country. (..) To Andersen - a young - man of vivid fancy, fine senses, and cordial sympathies, who had been reared in the blessed air of renunciation every thing was a delight: upon every shape and every scene there hung a brightness like that of the dew of the first morning in Eden. (..) No book brings back the externals of Italy more distinctly and vividly to the eye of the mind than this novel. Its chief literary merit resides in its descriptions, which are correct in substance, and animated with the most sincere poetical enthusiasm. Every thing which an observant traveller may have noted as characteristic of Italy, and not elsewhere found, will be discovered anew in these animated pages. Andersen has a large share of that happy faculty which may be called pictorial memory, - the - power of preserving, in all their original freshness, the impressions made by the sight upon the mind. In his thoughts, Italian pictures dwell like flowers in a conservatory, and not like dried plants in an herbarium. With what fidelity, for instance, he paints the characteristic features of Rome, - its fountains, its architecture, its pines and cypresses, its shops garnished with white buffalo cheeses, like ostrich eggs, the red lamps burning before the pictures of the Madonna, the flickering fires of the chestnut pans in the winter evenings, and the yellow moon reflected in the yellow Tiber! The Campagna, too, is not less faithfully delineated, with its decayed tombs, its purple mountains, its golden clouds, its tropical rainstorms, and its fierce summer heats, when the deadly sirocco blows and the red-eyed buffaloes chase each other with arrowy speed, in great circles, upon the parched soil.
George Stillman Hillard - Six Months in Italy in 1847-1848
The excerpts and illustrations of this page are taken from the 1845 edition.
Piazza Barberini and Fontana del Tritone (Andersen lived nearby in Strada Felice today Via Sistina)
Whoever has been in Rome is well acquainted with the Piazza Barberina in the great square, with the beautiful fountain, where the Tritons empty the spouting conch-shell, from which the water springs upwards many feet. (..) I shouted for joy, when in winter the snow of the mountains sent down to us such severe cold, that icicles hung from the Triton in the square; pity that it was so seldom. Then, also, were the peasants glad, for it was to them a sign of a fertile year; they took hold of each other's hands, and danced in their great woollen cloaks round about the Triton, whilst a rainbow played in the high-springing water.
I was turned six years old and was playing in the neighbourhood of the church of the Capuchins, with some other children who were all younger than myself. There was fastened on the church-door a little cross of metal; it was fastened about the middle of the door, and I could just reach it with my hand. Always when our mothers had passed by with us they had lifted us up that we might kiss the holy sign. (..) The Capuchin monk, Fra Martino, was my mother's confessor, and she related to him what a pious child I was. I also knew several prayers very nicely by heart, although I did not understand one of them.
He took me over with him into the convent, where the open colonnade, which enclosed within a square the little potato-garden, with the two Cyprus and orange-trees, made a very deep impression upon me. Side by side, in the open passages, hung old portraits of deceased monks, and on the door of each cell were pasted pictures from the history of the martyrs, which I contemplated with the same holy emotion as afterwards the masterpieces of Raphael and Andrew del Sarto. "Thou art really a bright youth/' said he; thou shalt now see the dead." Upon this, he opened a little door of a gallery which lay a few steps below the colonnade. We descended, and now I saw round about me skulls upon skulls, so placed one upon another that they formed walls, and therewith several chapels. In these were regular niches, in which were seated perfect skeletons of the most distinguished of the monks, enveloped in their brown cowls, their cords round their waists, and with a breviary or a withered bunch of flowers in their bands. Altars, chandeliers, and ornaments, were made of shoulder-bones and vertebrae, with bas-reliefs of human joints, horrible and tasteless as the whole idea. I clung fast to the monk, who whispered a prayer, and then said to me, - "Here also I shall some time sleep; wilt thou thus visit me ? " I answered not a word, but looked horrified at him, and then round about me upon the strange grisly assembly. (..) This, my first visit to the convent, occupied my imagination for a long time, and stands yet with extraordinary vividness before me.
Wicked Peppo, or the King of the Spanish Steps, a beggar
My mother was a widow, and had no other means of subsistence than what she obtained by sewing, and by the rent of a large room which we ourselves had formerly inhabited. We lived now in a little chamber in the roof, and a young painter, Federigo, had the saloon, as we called it. He was a life-enjoying, brisk young man, who came from a far, far country, where they knew nothing about the Madonna and the child Jesus, my mother said. He was from Denmark. I had at that time no idea that there existed more languages than one, and I believed, therefore, that he was deaf when he did not understand me, and, for that reason, I spoke to him as loud as I could; he laughed at me, often brought me fruit, and drew for me soldiers, horses, and houses. We soon became acquainted; I loved him much, and my mother said many a time that he was a very upright person. (..) A third person who played a great part in my childhood's life was Uncle Peppo, commonly called Wicked Peppo, or the King of the Spanish Steps, where he had his daily residence. Born with two withered legs, which lay crossed under him, he had had from his earliest childhood an extraordinary facility in moving himself forwards with his hands. These he stuck under a frame which was fastened at both ends to a board, and by the help of this he could move himself forward almost as easily as any other person with healthy and strong feet. He sat daily, as has been said, upon the Spanish Steps, never indeed begging, but exclaiming, with a crafty smile, to every passer-by, bon giorno! and that even after the sun was gone down.
Madonnella opposite SS. Vincenzo e Anastasio
On the house of our opposite neighbour there was an image of the Virgin, before which a lamp was always burning. Every evening when the bell rang the Ave Maria, I and the neighbours' children knelt before it, and sang in honour of the mother of God, and the pretty child Jesus, which they had adorned with ribands, beads, and silver hearts. By the wavering lamp-light it often seemed to me as if both mother and child moved and smiled upon us.
Interior of the Church of the Cappuccini with the Monument to Alexander Sobieski
Whether it was through the management of my mother or Fra Martino I know not, but it is enough that my mother, early one morning, arrayed me in a little kirtle, and drew over it an embroidered shirt, which only reached to the knees, and then led me to the glass that I might see myself. I was now a chorister in the Capuchin church, must carry the great censer of incense, and sing with the others before the altar. Fra Martino instructed me in the whole duty. Oh, how happy all this made me! I was soon quite at home in that little but comfortable church, knew every angel's head in the altar-piece, every ornamental scroll upon the pillars, could see even with my eyes shut the beautiful St. Michael fighting with the dragon, just as the painter had represented him, and thought many wonderful things about the death's heads carved in the pavement, with the green ivy wreaths around the brow.
Women and children at prayer (see some similar early XXth century paintings by Alberto Pisa)
My first occupation then was to read over my lesson, for I was one of the children selected, boys and girls, who, between Christmas and New-year, were to preach in the church, before the image of Jesus.
The Wild Buffalo
I then obtained leave to go out, but not too far, nor too near to the river, because the soft ground might so easily fall in with me, said Domenica ; many buffaloes also grazed there, which were wild and dangerous, but, nevertheless, those had for me a peculiar and strange interest. The something demon-like in che look of the buffalo - - the strange, red fire which gleamed in its eyeballs, awoke in me a feeling like that which drives the bird into the fangs of the snake. Their wild running, swifter than the speed of a horse, their mutual combats, where force meets with force, attracted my whole attention. I scrawled figures in the sand to represent what I had seen, and, to make this the more intelligible I sang it all in its own peculiar words to its own peculiar melody, to the great delight of old Domenica, who said that I was a wise child, and sang as sweetly as the angels in heaven.
We strolled down the Via Ripetta, towards the Borghese Palace. How often before now had I, and Domenica no less, gone past this building without regarding it otherwise than any other indifferent object: but now we stood and contemplated it in regular silence; all seemed so great to us, so magnificent, so rich, and especially the long silken curtains in the windows. We knew Excellenza within there; he was actually at our house yesterday; that gave a peculiar interest to the whole. I shall never forget the strange tremor which the pomp of the building and of the rooms produced in me. (..) In the centre of the palace four lofty whitewashed colonnades, filled with statues and busts, inclosed a little garden; tall aloes and cactuses grew up the pillars; citron-trees stood there with grass-green fruit which was not yet yellowed by the sun. Two dancing Bacchantes held a water-bowl aloft, but so obliquely that the water streamed upon their shoulders; tall water-plants drooped over them their juicy, green leaves. How cool, green, and fragrant, was every thing here in comparison with the sterile, burnt-up, burning Campagna!
One day as I was walking on the Piazzo Navone, among the piled-up oranges, and the iron wares which lay on the ground, among the old clothes, and all that chaos of rags which this place exhibits, I came upon a table of old books and prints. There lay caricatures of maccaroni-swallowers, Madonnas with the sword in the bleeding heart, and such-like highly dissimilar things. (..) My eyes caught a titlepage, "Divina Commedia di Dante" - my forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; but the price of this was too high for me, three paoli I could not raise. (..) The bookseller out of inspiration for his poet's works seized the book and threw it to me, demanding only, in return for the paolo short, that I would now read it, the pride of Italy, his beloved, divine Dante.
Bernardo said: "My companions are of the purest patrician blood that Rome possesses; we are the holy father's guard of honour; his blessing absolves our little sins." (..) Now skipped a light figure in helmet and with ringing spurs along the passage, and I after it: it was Bernardo. His joy was not less than mine; he drew me hastily along with him, for he had, he said, a thousand things to tell me. (..) He led me through the great hall, where the papal Swiss kept guard, into a large room fitted up for the accommodation of the officer on duty.
The Roman Carnival
The carnival was all my thought. I went early in the morning to the Piazza del Popolo that I might see the preparations for the races, walked in the evening up and down the Corso, to notice the gay carnival-dresses which were hung out, figures with masks and in full costume. I hired the dress of an advocate, as being one of the merriest characters, and scarcely slept through the whole night that I might think over and regularly study my part. (..) I hastened away to the long Corso, which was changed from a street into a masquerade-hall. From all the windows, and round all the balconies and boxes erected for the occasion, were hung bright-coloured carpets. All the way along, by the house-sides, stood an infinite number of chairs, excellent places to see from, as those declared who had them to let. Carriages followed carriages, for the greatest part filled with masks, in two long rows - the one up, the other down.
The Pontine Marshes
On the right the green plain stretches down to the sea where Cape Circello lifts itself, now a promontory, but formerly Circe's Island, where tradition lands Ulysses. As I went along, the mists, which began to dissipate, floated over the green extent where the canals shone like linen on a bleaching-ground. The sun glowed with the warmth of summer, although it was but the middle of March. Herds of buffaloes went through the tall grass. A troop of horses galloped wildly about, and struck out with their hind feet, so that the water was dashed around to a great height; their bold attitudes, their unconstrained leaping and gambolling, might have been study for an animal painter. (..) I met a peasant, whose pale, yellow, sickly exterior contradicted the vigorous fertility which the marshes presented. Like a dead man arisen from the grave, he rode upon his black horse, and held a sort of lance in his hand with which he drove together the buffaloes which went into the swampy mire, where some of them lay themselves dowm, and stretched forth only their dark ugly heads with their malicious eyes.
We went across the forum to the temple of Jupiter. The sun shone upon the white marble pillars; beyond lay the smoking Vesuvius; pitch-black clouds whirled out from the crater, and white as snow hung the thick steam over the stream of lava, which had formed to itself a path down the side of the mountain. (..) All was dead around us; the great stage of Nature alone breathed of life. The succulent green vineyards, the populous road which led down to Salerno, and in the background the dark blue mountain, with its sharp outline in the warm ethereal colouring was a great theatre, upon which Pompeii itself stood like a tragic chorus which sang of the power of the angel of death. I saw him even himself, whose wings are coal-black ashes, and overflowing lava which he spreads over cities and villages.
The Temple of Neptune lay before us; this, the so-called Basilica, and the Temple of Ceres, are the glorious, proud remains which, like a Pompeii, stand forth again to our age, out of oblivion and night. Buried amid rubbish, and entirely overgrown, they lay concealed for centuries, until a foreign painter, who sought for subjects for his pencil, came to this place, and discovered the uppermost of the pillars; their beauty attracted him; he made a sketch of them; they became known; the rubbish and the wild growth of plants were removed, and again stood forth, as if rebuilded, the large, open halls. The columns are of yellow Travertine marble; wild vines grow up around them; fig-trees shoot up from the floor, and in clefts and crevices spring, forth violets and the dark-red gillyflower. We seated ourselves upon the pedestal of one of the broken columns.
The amphitheatre led me back to Rome, and reminded me of the Coliseum: it is a pretty little model of that, more distinct, and not laid waste by barbarians. The spacious colonnades are converted into warehouses, and in the middle of the arena was erected a little booth of linen and boards, where a little theatrical company, as I was told gave representations. I went in the evening. The Veronese sat upon the stone benches of the amphitheatre where their fathers had sat before them. In this little theatre was acted "La Cenerentola". (..) The whole was miserable and melancholy to witness. The old, antique theatre stood like a giant around the fragile wooden booth. (..) I hastened away. Outside all was still. The great giant-building cast a broad, dark shadow amid the strong moonlight.
Read What Dante Saw.
Read What Goethe Saw.
Read What Lord Byron Saw.
Read What Charles Dickens Saw.
Read What Henry James Saw.
Read What Mark Twain Saw.
Read What William Dean Howells Saw.
Read Dan Brown's Spaghetti Bolognaise (excerpts from Angels and Demons)