From "Slowtuscany": Stories about Tuscany by Damiano Andrei
Translation by: Andrea Brown, Giovanna Novelli, Munmun Gosh
Throughout our “journey” in Tuscany we never stopped in Lucca. Actually, this city would be worth a series of newsletters only for its millenarian history, for its extraordinary treasures of art and architecture, for its delightful aristocratic gardens. That's why I apologize with those who visited Lucca and loved it more than any other Tuscan city. We must say that Lucca could be even thought not too much as a Tuscan city, because...Lucca is Lucca, just Lucca. We discover this city at the feet of three mountains, which protect it like a jewel-case: the Mount Pisano, the Apuanian Alps, and the Mount Barbona, well 4,000 meters of white marble and Verrucano stone. Despite the protection given by these mountains to its proud independence from the rest of Tuscany, yet Lucca in XVI century was provided with an imposing circle of powerful and impregnable walls.
In this way, its "hundred churches" and its elegant palaces could remain safe for many centuries, even to the point that the Grand duchy of Tuscany, the big state engine ruled by Florence, was never able to include Lucca amongst its cities. I often liked thinking that such a strong protection and isolation could conceal a treasure, perhaps a treasure hidden somewhere in the city and jealously kept by its all inhabitants. Of course, Lucca, as I already said, has quite a lot of treasures, but I really didn't think of one so much precious as to put a shadow over the others. Until, some years ago, I entered the Cathedral third and latest jewel-case engineered by the inhabitants of Lucca. Only there, in fact, I could realize, among other people and among other future people who will visit it, as follows: the treasure has a name, a time, two clasped hands, with long thin fingers, a serene face, a smooth and clear skin under the pale moon rays; the treasure has a bright mantle and a couch provided with silk cushions and velvet clothes.
The treasure has half-open eyes and a choir of angels all around her to cheer her sleep. When Ilaria del Carretto, the daughter of the Marquesses of Savona, reached Lucca, in 1403, coming from the close Liguria, she was 17 and she went married to Paolo Guinigi, lord of the Tuscan town. Their marriage was then followed by the birth of their first-born Ladislao, but only two years later, on 8th December 1405, Ilaria died at her second delivery. Paolo believed that the young beauty of Ilaria would deserve the same honor reserved to a queen or to a saint; therefore he decided to transfigure her beauty in a sculpture, engaging Jacopo della Quercia - a sculptor whose art was keen on fine and gentle expressions as well capable of a classical and still solemn attitude towards his works- and thereby sublimating his love for her in the grace of the marble.
This time we are not allowed to talk about style, art and shape. Icy considerations far from emotion and from the sweet shudder that Ilaria still can give us, from her half-open eyes and her just joined lips. Someone said that Ilaria, in the way we can now admire her, "did not ascend to the sky, rather she descended from the sky". If you ever have the chance to visit her grave, you will notice that the small sacristy of the Cathedral of Lucca, where she rests on her smooth marble couch, is the most precious place of a city which is able to maintain its secrets.
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