Trinita de Monti

Just at the time when the Catholic reaction against the license of the Cinque Cento had begun to force Italy under the stultifying influence of Spanish domination, France awoke to the full consciousness of her aesthetic nature and to her need of those things which Italy alone could give. The army of Charles VIII had carried back across the Alps imperishable memories of beauty, and soon afterward Francis I had enticed to Paris some of the greatest Italian artists of the time. Even the fierce religious wars of the sixteenth century could not stamp out the seed sown by the soldiers stories and by the works of art left by homesick Italian masters in Fontainebleau. One by one the eager French artists crossed the Alps, and they came in ever-increasing numbers when the genius of Richelieu brought order and amenity into French life, and when Richelieus contemporary, Maffeo Barberini, for many years papal legate to France, had become Pope Urban VIII. To reach Rome all of these voyagers had to endure severe physical hardships, and some of them never returned to France. The greatest of them-Le Poussin and Claude-died in Rome. Painters, engravers, sculptors, and architects came to these terraces to worship and to work, and to this day the galleries and palaces of northern Europe cherish the pictures planned or sketched about the Fountain of the Brimming Bowl.

Pope Urban VIII, who died in 1644, was himself hah0 French, not only by virtue of his temperament and genius, but also by the trend of his sympathies and his foreign policy. Under his enlightened patronage, the artists of France found a congenial home in the Eternal City. This was the beginning of the French Academy of Painting in Rome, which was formally founded in 1666 by Colbert, the great minister of Louis XIV. For the first seven years of its existence this institution had no permanent abode; but in 1673 the Capronica Palace was placed at its disposal, and later on-in Louis XVs time-it moved to the Mancini Palace near the Corso. The slope leading from the Piazza of the Trinita de Monti (now the Piazza di Spagna) to the terraces above had all this time been a natural hillside, whereon grew trees, grass, and wild flowers familiar to Rome. The footpaths leading upward must have been a rather steep climb; but five years before the founding of the Academy an event occurred which was to make the ascent of the hillside not only easy but delightful.

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