THE preeminence of Italy in the world of pictorial art was undisputed from the middle ages to the seventeenth century. During that time and ever since, the fruits of those bountiful years have been eagerly sought by all the nations of the earth. To see Italian art, one does not have to go to Italy, for it is in every museum. But away from home it is detached, uprooted. No one can grasp it with full sympathy who has not walked the narrow streets of Florence and glided past Venetian palaces, entering the dim churches and the banquet-halls for which it was produced, and which were themselves products of the same mysteriously transitory age of creative genius. Much of the best remains in its museums, in spite of centuries of exportation. Forever immovable, in particular, are the frescoes, which include many of the greatest works, and which are painted directly into the walls themselves.
The wide distribution of these important frescoes through Italy makes it necessary for the art student to travel more extensively there than in any other country. Even the smaller, detachable pictures are scattered through local museums from one end of the country to the other; there is no such concentration as exists in England, France and Spain. The list of towns and even villages which possess old pictures taxes even the encyclopedic Baedeker, and only a few of the most outstanding will be mentioned in this chapter..
There is of course no one necessary route to follow. Most people go directly to Florence, then to Rome or Venice, and if one’s time is short that is the wisest plan. Otherwise there is a geographical advantage in following a fairly straight course from north to south or in the opposite direction, stopping off as many times as possible along the way. The route suggested here begins in the south, at Naples, in order to follow more closely the general chronological order of the principal works to be seen. At Naples, and at Rome are the ancient Roman paintings, and at Assisi are the early Giottos. Venice, in the north, represents the culminating phase of Italian art.