Contributor: Francesca Benatti
Location: Piazza Santa Croce, Florence
Description: The Basilica of Santa Croce is a late 13th-century Gothic church in Florence, probably designed by architect Arnolfo di Cambio. Home to the Franciscan order in Florence, it contains significant artworks by, among others, Giotto, Donatello, Brunelleschi and Vasari. From the mid 15th century onwards, Santa Croce became the burial place of some of the most prominent literary, artistic and scientific figures from Tuscany and later, the rest of Italy. In the early nineteenth century, it boasted the tombs of Niccolò Machiavelli, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Galileo Galilei and Vittorio Alfieri, the latter completed by Antonio Canova in 1810. These burials attracted the attention of Romantic authors across Europe, who variously interpreted them as metaphors of the state of Italy and for the nature of artistic fame.
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Contributor: Diego Saglia
Location: Istituzione Biblioteca Classense, Ravenna (Italy)
Description: This sizeable travelling chest (48.2 x 80.7 x 19.2 cm) belonged to Countess Teresa Guiccioli, née Gamba (1800-73), the co-protagonist of what Iris Origo called Lord Byron’s ‘last attachment’. A little battered, perhaps, it hides its secrets well. Read carefully, it nonetheless expresses continuity with systems of aristocratic identity construction familiar from the ancien régime, describes the consumerist self-styling of the travelling woman, and testifies to its central role in Teresa’s construction of her relationship with Byron.
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Contributor: Jean-Marc Hovasse
Location: Maison de Victor Hugo, 6, place des Vosges, 75004 Paris.
Description: Mme Victor Hugo organisait régulièrement sous la monarchie de Juillet des loteries ou des ventes de charité au profit de bonnes œuvres. Elle continua en exil. On raconte qu’ayant croisé au marché une fillette de cinq ans qui gardait non sans périls sa petite sœur de six mois, elle eut l’idée de fonder une crèche à Guernesey, où les mères pourraient déposer leurs enfants pendant qu’elles travaillaient, au lieu de les abandonner dans la rue. Telle est l’origine du grand « Bazar » organisé pendant la dernière semaine du mois de juin 1860 à Saint-Pierre-Port. Il avait été préparé très en amont, comme en témoigne ce passage d’une lettre de Mme Victor Hugo à George Sand datée du 25 mars 1860 : « Afin que ma récolte soit bonne il me faut beaucoup d’objets, et de précieux. M. de Lamartine m’a donné un de ses encriers. Vous voyez que je suis riche déjà. Cette richesse je voudrais l’augmenter d’un encrier qui vous ait servi. Je le mettrai en pendant avec celui de l’illustre poëte. Que l’encrier soit de verre ou de cristal, de sapin ou d’érable, qu’importe, pourvu que vous y ayez trempé votre plume et que vous certifiiez par un mot qu’il vous a appartenu. »
Était-ce vraiment un encrier, ce petit vase de verre rose translucide parcouru d’arabesques d’or donné par Lamartine, avec en guise d’autographe cet alexandrin blanc étalé sur deux lignes : « Offert par Lamartine au maître de la plume » ?
Continue reading “The Table of Inkwells / La table aux encriers”
Contributor: Nicola J. Watson
Location: The Princes Czartoryski Museum, Kraców, Poland.
Description: This chair is part of the original collections of the Princes Czartoryski Museum (as of December 2016 part of the Polish National Museum). It is clearly an eighteenth-century chair. It has lion claws for feet, metal snakes for arms and is ornamented idiosyncratically and expensively on the seat back with a golden lyre. Above this, an inscription in Latin reads ‘William Shakespeare’s Chair.’ At first glance, this seems entirely unlikely; however, the back of the chair conceals a surprise. Open up a hinged door and within, reverently entombed in this outer shell, you find the remains of a much older chair. This is what is left of one of ‘Shakespeare’s chairs’. The story of how it travelled from Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon to Kraców describes in little Shakespeare’s import in the Europe of the 1790s as an exemplar both of Enlightenment ideals and Romantic habits of mind.
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Contributor: Zsuzsanna Zeke
Location: Petőfi Literary Museum, Károlyi Street 16, 1053-Budapest, Hungary
Description: This leather wallet was given to her husband, the poet Sándor Petőfi (1823-1849), by Júlia Szendrey for a keepsake. It is held in Budapest in the Petőfi Literary Museum, which also houses some of the Hungarian National Poet’s manuscripts, books and relics. A typical Biedermeier souvenir, made of goatskin, lined with silk and decorated with pearl embroidery (Holbein stitch/gobelin), it measures 30 x 15 cm (when open) and contains coins and a pencil with a metal top. On one side there is a chubby, naked putto ’Amor’ flying with a bunch of flowers and the iconographic lettering Petőfi Sándornak Pest 1848 (for Sándor Petőfi [Buda]Pest 1848). On the other side are embroidered laurel branches and the Hungarian national colours, together with a line from Petőfi’s poem Talpra Magyar versért (‘Rise up, Magyar’). There is a clear tension between the two sides of the object.
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Contributor: Anna Mercer
Location: Fanny Brawne’s Room, Keats House, Hampstead
Description: This is the engagement ring given to Fanny Brawne by the poet John Keats in 1819, probably in sometime in the Autumn of that year. (1) The ring was probably made in the late eighteenth century, and the stone is almandine – a type of garnet – set in a gold openwork scrolled shouldered hoop. It was inexpensive, reflecting Keats’s financial problems, which created anxiety for the poet before his illness the following year. (2) The Historical and Descriptive Guide to Keats House Museum (1934) suggests the ring was worn by Fanny until her death in 1865. (3) It was left to Fanny’s daughter Margaret, who never married. She then left it to her niece Frances Ellis (née Brawne-Lindon) who gifted the ring to Keats House. In 1925, Keats’s old lodgings at Wentworth Place in Hampstead were made into a memorial to the poet and became Keats House Museum. The ring is one of 13 relics relating to Fanny Brawne.
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Contributor: Patrick Vincent
Location: Chillon Castle, Avenue de Chillon 21 · CH 1820 Veytaux · Switzerland
Au milieu de tous les noms obscurs qui égratignent et encombrent la pierre, il reluit seul en trait de feu. J’ai plus pensé à Byron qu’au prisonnier. [In the midst of all the obscure names which scar and clutter the stone, his alone glows with fire. I thought more of Byron than of the imprisoned.] Gustave Flaubert (1845)
As enthusiastic readers of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Julie, ou La Nouvelle Hélöise (1761), Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley sailed around Lake Geneva from 22 to 30 June 1816, visiting settings made famous by the novel, including Chillon Castle at the eastern end of Lake Geneva (or Leman), on Tuesday, June 25, 1816. This first visit inspired Byron’s poem The Prisoner of Chillon, composed in Ouchy two days later on the subject of François Bonnivard (1493-1570), a famous political prisoner held there by the Duke of Savoy between 1530 and 1536. Byron returned to Chillon with his friend John Cam Hobhouse on 18 September 2016, on the first day of their Alpine tour. Louis Simond, who visited Chillon a full year after Byron, on 4 August 1817, was the first to record the presence of Byron’s autograph in the castle’s souterrain, or dungeon, carved into the southern side of the third column, 1.45 meters from the lower edge of the shaft.
The authenticity of this autograph has been a matter of controversy and criticism almost from the very beginning.
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Contributor: Robert W. Rix
Location: The National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen.
Description: In December 1802, Adam Oehlenschläger (1779–1850) published Digte [Poems], a collection of new poetry which is today widely regarded as having inaugurated literary romanticism in the Nordic countries. In this collection, the most famous poem is ‘Guldhornene’ [The Golden Horns], which focuses on two horns made of sheet gold, which had recently been stolen from the Kunstkammer (Royal Collection) at Christiansborg palace, Copenhagen. The two horns were archaeological finds that have since been dated to the early fifth century. They were discovered in Gallehus, southern Denmark, at locations only a few metres apart, in 1639 and in 1734, respectively. The horns were for ceremonial use and had numerous figures (anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and hybrid subjects) embossed on their sides. One of the horns also bore a runic inscription in Elder Futhark. The theft and the subsequent police investigation were followed closely in the press; ‘Guldhornene’ can be situated as part of that national fascination with the loss of these artefacts.
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Location: Istituzione Biblioteca Classense, via Baccarini 3 Ravenna (Italy)
Contributors: Claudia Giuliani, Diego Saglia
Made of gold decorated with enamel, this medallion contains a lock of George Gordon, Lord Byron’s hair. The hair is dark and fastened by a small cord. This jewel is part of Teresa Gamba Guiccioli’s collection of souvenirs, letters and manuscripts kept at Ravenna’s Biblioteca Classense (Classense Library) and donated by the Gamba heirs in 1949.
It was given to Teresa by Byron on the eve of his departure for Greece in July 1823, after a relationship of more than four years. It is preserved together with other such love-tokens: another medallion commissioned by Byron in Genoa before leaving, made from intertwining the two lovers’ locks of hair and bearing Teresa’s “TGG” monogram; a braided lock of Teresa’s hair; and other locks of the poet’s hair, sometimes kept in paper wrappers with her own signature, which Byron gave her at various times during their relationship. The last lock of Byron’s hair in the collection was cut after his death in Greece, where he passed away with her medallion still round his neck, hanging from a cord made of hair. The collection is complete, with cards containing Teresa Gamba’s autograph. Continue reading “Byron’s hair”
Location: Restaurant and Hôtel de l’Île St Pierre, Lac de Bienne, Switzerland
Contributor: Nicola J. Watson
Description: A wooden trapdoor set within the floor in the corner of a first-floor bedroom in the sole farmhouse on the Île St Pierre in the Lac de Bienne, Switzerland. Both its date of origin and original use are obscure. It achieved celebrity in the last decade of the eighteenth century through its association with the philosopher, novelist and essayist Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), and in particular with his posthumously published autobiographical writings, both the latter part of the Confessions (published first in 1789) and the volume of essays entitled Les Rêveries du Promeneur Solitaire (composed between 1776 and 1778, published in 1782). Continue reading “Rousseau’s Trapdoor”