His correspondence from Pietra Santa and Serravezza, where he lived when he was opening the Florentine quarries of Monte Altissimo, does not begin, with any certainty, until March 1518. We have indeed one letter written to Girolamo del Bardella of Porto Venere upon the 6th of August, without date of year.
His picture, for instance, of the lovely Gulf of Spezia and Porto Venere, which he inserts at the end of the sixth book of the 'Africa, for the reason that none of the ancients or moderns had sung of it, is no more than a simple enumeration, but Petrarch is also conscious of the beauty of rock scenery, and is perfectly able to distinguish the picturesqueness from the utility of nature.
San Terenzio is soon discovered low upon the sands to the right, nestling under little cliffs; and then the high-built castle of Lerici comes in sight, looking across, the bay to Porto Venere one Aphrodite calling to the other, with the foam between. The village is piled around its cove with tall and picturesquely coloured houses; the molo and the fishing-boats lie just beneath the castle.
And one day as he paced the terrace with Williams, they saw her round the headland of Porto Venere. Twenty-eight feet long by eight she was: built in Genoa from an English model that Williams, who had been a sailor, had brought with him.
To the latter celebrated spot it bears somewhat of a resemblance, but a stronger still to the Porto Venere, or bay of Spezia, both in the wilder and the softer part of its features; and the illusion is kept up by the grouping and form of the houses, and the Italian patois of the inhabitants, who are mostly a colony of Genoese fishermen.
Sometimes the songs provoked conversation, which, as is usual in Italy, turned mostly upon 'le bellezze delle donne. I remember that once an animated discussion about the relative merits of blondes and brunettes nearly ended in a quarrel, when the youngest of the whole band, a boy of about seventeen, put a stop to the dispute by theatrically raising his eyes and arms to heaven and crying, 'Tu sei innamorato d' una grande Diana cacciatrice nera, ed io d' una bella Venere bionda. Though they were but village lads, they supported their several opinions with arguments not unworthy of Firenzuola, and showed the greatest delicacy of feeling in the treatment of a subject which could scarcely have failed to reveal any latent coarseness.
My recreation was a rare cruise to the lovely gulfs which the bay embosoms, to the Casa di Mare, to Fezzano, to the Temple of Venus at the Porto Venere; or a walk when there was golden-red light on the clustering vines, and the Apennines were capped with the spreading fire which falls on them when the sun passes low at twilight.
Seeing that the Venere del Pardo has gone through two fires those of the Pardo and the Louvre besides cleanings, restorations, and repaintings, even more disfiguring, it would be very unsafe to lay undue stress on technique alone.
I told him that I knew of a Porto Venere not far from Carrara, on the rocky coast of Liguria, where I spent three nights on the way to Basle; I also found that there was a mountain called Eryx, in Sicily, which was dedicated to Venus, but I did not know whether magic was taught here.
We embarked in the morning before day, with a gale that made us run the lee-gunwale in the water; but, when we pretended to turn the point of Porto Venere, we found the wind full in our teeth, and were obliged to return to our quarters, where we had been shamefully fleeced by the landlord, who, nevertheless, was not such an exorbitant knave as the post-master, whose house I would advise all travellers to avoid.