Memorial to Giustiniana Wynne in Angelo Quirini’s Garden

 

Contributors: Rotraud von Kulessa and Catriona Seth

Location: Unknown (probably destroyed), Italy

Description: Giustiniana Wynne (1737-1791) was a true cosmopolitan from the moment of her birth in Venice, to a ‘Greek’ local woman (born in Lefkos) and an English baronet. The list of her friends and lovers reads like a Who’s Who of the republic of letters from her ‘caro Memmo’, the Venetian patrician Andrea Memmo (1729-1793) who was her first love in the 1750s, to the young William Beckford (1760-1844) when he was touring Europe, 30 years later. She was briefly betrothed to the wealthy French Fermier-Général La Poupelinière (1693-1762). The adventurer Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) recounts in his Memoirs how he failed to help her abort an illegitimate child but tricked her into having sex with him. She married the elderly Austrian ambassador to the Serenissima, Count Orsini von Rosenberg (1691-1765) and once widowed spent much of her time during her final years with Senator Angelo Quirini (1721-1796). Her literary collaborator was sometime government spy Bartolomeo Benincasa (1746-1816). She entertained the poets Melchiore Cesarotti (1730-1808) who reviewed her 1788 novel Les Morlaques, and Ippolito Pindemonte. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Leopold Mozart are amongst those who refer to her in their letters.

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The Shelley Memorial

Image of a white marble statue of Percy Shelley's drowned body on a plinth.

Contributor: Nicholas Halmi

Location: University College, Oxford, UK

Description: This object is a striking marble and bronze sculptural ensemble commemorating Percy Bysshe Shelley and displayed since 1893 at University College, Oxford, from which the poet had been expelled in 1811. Commissioned in 1890 by Lady Jane Shelley, the widow of Percy’s and Mary’s son Percy Florence—the only one of their children who lived to adulthood—the work was created by the English sculptor Edward Onslow Ford (1852–1901), a practitioner of the naturalism characteristic of Britain’s so-called ‘New Sculpture’ movement. The work consists of two visually contrasting elements, an idealized effigy in white Carrara marble and an allegorical base in dark green bronze. The marble, a life-size nude lying on its side, represents the drowned Shelley after he had washed ashore at Viareggio in July 1822. His body, reposing on a pale-green marble slab, is supported by two winged lions, between whom, and in front of Shelley, sits the half-nude figure of a mourning Muse—also in bronze—leaning heavily on her broken lyre. Both the lions and the Muse rest upon a large dark maroon marble plinth labelled (on bronze plaques) with the poet’s surname and two phrases from stanza 42 of Adonais, his elegy to John Keats: ‘IN DARKNESS AND IN LIGHT’ and ‘HE IS MADE ONE WITH NATURE’. Originally Shelley’s head was adorned with a gilt-bronze wreath—a ludicrous embellishment that can only have detracted from the statue’s undeniably arresting appearance. A fragment of this wreath survives in the college archives.

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Narcissa’s Tomb

Image of a stone plaque on Narcissa's tomb.

Contributor: Catriona Seth

Location: Jardin des Plantes, Montpellier, France

Description: The poet Edward Young’s The Complaint: or Night-Thoughts on Life, Death & Immortality, published between 1742 and 1745 entranced readers throughout Europe. Whilst a fairly accurate German version was produced quite rapidly, the first French book-length translation only came out in 1769—it was a free adaptation by Le Tourneur and would be widely reprinted over the years. From Rousseau to Robespierre and Germaine de Staël to Bonaparte, whatever their social status or political sensibilities, the chattering classes read Les Nuits.

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A Mourning Dress brought back from Tahiti by Captain James Cook

A Mourning Dress brought back from Tahiti by Captain James Cook

Contributor: Barbara Schaff

Location: Göttingen, Germany

Description: This elaborate mourning dress, or heva, stands out as a particularly magnificent example of Tahitian artisanship among the about 2000 ethnographical objects which were either received as presents or tokens of exchange by Cook or members of his crew during Cook’s three Pacific voyages. It is one of only six complete surviving mourning costumes of its kind and testifies to an elaborate mourning practice, also called a heva, which would, with the coming of Christianity, soon become a thing of the past on Tahiti. Brought back to England, it was purchased by the British Crown from the London dealer in ethnographic specimens, George Humphrey, in 1782. It was then sent on to the ethnographic collection of Göttingen University, where it remains. As the only German university founded by a British king in the context of the Personal Union between Hanover and Britain, the scientific contacts between Göttingen, the Royal Society and the British Crown in the 18th century were excellent, as this handsome gift evidences. Its passage from Tahiti through London and on to Germany was also marked by the impression it made upon the late eighteenth-century cultural imagination. The heva was to become one of the most widely circulated images of Tahitian culture in late eighteenth-century Europe.

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