Hidden but not Destroyed

Hundreds of years ago, in the very dawning of the fourteenth century, a great painter, Giotto the Glorious, took up his brushes one day and painted a portrait on the wall of one of the rooms of the Bargello in Florence. For many months that fair Italian city had been plunged in civil war, and the hearts of her true children had been heavy within them as every day they heard the clash of swords in the streets. But now, in 1302, peace was once more established, the volatile Florentines had forgotten their feud and chattered like friendly sparrows in the Old Market, while the dark streets and viale once more echoed the songs of the flower-girls calling their sweet wares. It was in commemoration of this happy peace that Giotto painted his picture on the walls of the Bargello,—a group of the leading minds of the hour, among the rest, Dante,—painted it as only Giotto could paint, in glowing splashes of color that time, with all its vaunted power, can scarcely dim.

Years passed. The peace was broken once and again. Giotto and Dante and the singing flower-girls no longer walked by the Arno. The room in the Bargello little by little changed its uses, and gradually filled with rubbish. The walls grew dingy with dirt and dust until only dimly could any eye discern the faces in Giotto's picture—scarcely even dimly unless memory guided the glance. Then came a day when somebody whitewashed the wall, and after that the years did their worst. Dante's pictured face was lost to every eye on earth. Five long centuries and more kept the secret, until in 1851 or thereabouts a certain student of art found, in legend or history, a hint that somewhere in Florence was hidden a masterpiece, precious alike for the artist's sake and for the dark, stern face that it portrayed. He studied and he searched,—found first the building, then the room, then the wall. Careful hands went to work, delicately, daintily, and now Giotto's picture is revealed once more, almost as fresh and bright as in those far-away days when it was painted.

July 25, 1901

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