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MORE than five hundred years ago the good orations. It is about these that I wish especially people of Florence were much troubled because to tell you. And to do so, I must begin with a of the many poor homeless children in their city. few words about the artist and his family. There were but few foundling asylums in those There lived in Florence, in the fifteenth century, days, and the poor little waifs and strays perished a sculptor whose name was Luca della Robbia. miserably or grew up to be beggars and thieves, He was the son of a Florentine. He was taught, excepting now and then when they were found in when a child, to read and write, and then, while time and cared for by kind men and women. And he was still young, he was apprenticed to one of so it was decided that there ought to be a home, the goldsmiths whose work was famous throughout where all could be taken in and saved from their Europe. But, like many other young Florentines misery. And no sooner was the good work thought who have begun life as he did, he did not keep very of than every one wished to do something to help long at this work, but became a sculptor. He it. Leonardo Aretino, one of the greatest schol- cared so much for his work—as much as most ars of that day, spoke so earnestly and eloquently boys of his age care for play - that he would about it, that Giovanni de' Medici, the gonfalo- keep at it all night long. Sometimes he would niere of justice, or chief magistrate of the city, took be very cold, for Florence, with high mountains the matter into his own hands, and commanded that all around it, is cold enough in winter; and even an asylum should be built. One of the most pow- in summer-time a sculptor's studio, full of wet clay, erful Florentine associations of workmen, known as as it must always be, is chilly and damp. But the guild of silk, agreed to manage the work. Luca bore it bravely, only stopping now and then A famous architect furnished the designs for it, to kindle a fire of shavings with which to warm and a great artist made it beautiful with his dec- his half-frozen feet. He lived for a while in from palaces and hospitals, poured in upon him; for no one knew the secret of this kind of work but himself. And, by and by, he had more commissions than he could attend to, and so he called to him his brothers they all were sculptors and he told them the secret, and they and their sons worked with him. And one of the nephews of the great Luca, known as Andrea, became almost as famous as his uncle. And so they went on working and sending their lovely reliefs to every part of Italy for many years. But the family died out with Luca's grandchildren, and as none of them had ever revealed their secret, no one after their death could work in majolica, or glazed clay, as they had done.
It was with this majolica that Andrea, the great Luca's nephew, decorated the asylum for the poor children - the Spedale degl' Innocenti, as it was called. On the outer side of the building, toward the broad piasza by which it stands, is an arcade. On this he set up a row of medallions, each of which represents a baby in swaddling-clothes. The medallions are colored in blue, but the pretty little babies are white; and, though there are many of them, no two are alike. Some have curling hair tumbling over their foreheads; some have the short straight locks you so often see on real babies; and some have hardly any hair at all. Here is one who looks as if he were laughing outright; here another who is half pouting; and here still another, who is smiling in that gentle, quiet way in which babies so often smile in their sleep, when their mothers or nurses will tell you the angels are whispering to them. It was a pretty idea to put these little figures where every one passing can see them,
and where they seem like suppliants for the chilRimini, but it was at this time that artists in Flo- dren within, whose smiles and pouts too often rence were working with their whole hearts and change to tears and wailing, and whose needs are souls to make their new cathedral beautiful. There many. never were people who loved their city as the If you go under the arcade and into the square Florentines loved theirs, and Luca hurried back, around which the asylum is built, you will see over that he too might have a share in the great deco- a door on your left another bas-relief by the same rations. And very lovely were his contributions, great master. It is a picture of the Annunciation, for he represented on a marble bas-relief for the that hour when Mary, the mother of the Saviour, organ-screen a choir of boys singing and playing was told of the coming of the Holy Child; it is a on many musical instruments, and so life-like are subject which the old artists never grew tired of they, that as you look at them you almost forget representing, either on canvas, or in marble or clay. they are marble, and wait to hear their music. But nowhere can you find one more beautiful than
But it is by another kind of work that Luca this of Andrea della Robbia ; and around the group, della Robbia is best known. For he longed, in like a border, is a semicircle of cherubs' heads. Such his great ambition, to do what no one else had demure little angels as some of them are, with done; and there were Florentine sculptors as hair neatly parted in the middle, and a resigned great as he, and even greater. And so he soon or attentive expression on their fresh baby faces ! began to work in clay alone, which he glazed and But others look so mischievous and roguish that colored, and in this way he made beautiful things you feel sure, if they were to come to life and which every one wanted as soon as they were descend from their high place, they would play seen. And orders from churches and convents, many merry, fairy-like pranks.
THE TOWER OF THE FOUNDLING HOSPITAL IN FLORENCE.
The hospital grew richer as time went on, until are made servants or are taught a trade. But to-day it supports more than seven thousand poor they all are under the care of the charity founded friendless children. But they do not all live in the by the good Florentines so many years ago; and old building, with its beautiful decorations. Boys, when they are in trouble they go back to the old when they are old enough, are sent out into the building designed by Brunelleschi and decorated country that they may work in the fields. Girls by Andrea della Robbia, with the beautiful little figures, called nowadays the Della Robbia Bambini white babies have never moved from their blue (or babies).
beds over the arcade, and they still smile and pout And so, year
year children are brought in, and laugh at the passer-by, whether the rain pours to grow up and go out into the great world, and to down upon them, or whether the sun shines over have their places taken by more poor little shelter- the wide piazza, even as they did in the days long less ones, of whom there are in Florence, as in ago before the last of the Della Robbias had died every other large city, always too many. But, and their beautiful secret of making their special while foundlings have come and gone, the pretty kind of glazed majolica had been lost forever.