Description: A story goes that Fryderyk Chopin’s heart was smuggled from Paris to Warsaw in a jar of cognac by his sister, Ludwika, in the weeks following his death on 17 October 1849. The rest of Chopin’s body, we know for sure, was buried at the cemetery of Père Lachaise in Paris, the city where he lived for the last nineteen years of his life. The heart, in its jar, remained in Warsaw, apart from a brief evacuation during the Second World War. It is still there, the amber liquid preserving it in a remarkable state of health for a one hundred and sixty five-year old heart.
Two aspects may excite the curiosity of scholars of European Romanticism: the heart itself, and the notion of home. Firstly, it is the story of the place the heart held in Romantic symbolic thought and its role in artistic creation. Secondly, the homecoming of the heart raises questions about home, nation, and belonging in the context of death. The object’s journey from France to Poland complicates ideas about Romanticism and national identity. Already at the time of Chopin’s death, rumours and conflicting accounts of the heart abounded. The difficulty of establishing the facts that led to the heart’s removal from Chopin’s corpse and its arrival in Warsaw reflects the heart’s status as a mythical object. What does the popularity of this story tell us about Romantic ideas about home, belonging, fatherland, illness, death, and love?
Description: Lovers past and present are united in A. W. N. Pugin’s depiction of the tomb of Abelard (1079–1142) and Héloïse (1098–1164) in the Parisian cemetery of Père Lachaise. The gothic monument with the reclining statues of the medieval lovers serves as suggestive background to the two young lovers, captured in intimate conversation in an Elysian garden, where death and love, stone and vegetation invite a contemplation of the passing of time with love as a transcending force. The solitude à deux contrasts with the overpopulated city of the dead, crammed with funeral monuments, which meets the modern visitor to the cemetery.
Description: This line engraving of the celebrated ‘Falls at Terni’ (the ‘Cascata delle Marmore’) in the central region of Umbria in Italy was created by John Landseer after a watercolour by Joseph William Mallord Turner. Turner produced it in 1818, as part of a series of illustrations for James Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour of Italy. It was based on Hakewill’s drawings and other impressions gathered from descriptions in travel books. The age-old fascination with the spectacle of the leaping and crashing waters of the river Velino, one of the highest falls in Europe, reached new heights in the Romantic period. As Lord Byron organized his journey from Venice to Rome in the spring of 1817, he made sure it would take in the falls. Back in Venice, on 4 June, he wrote triumphantly to his London-based publisher John Murray: ‘I visited twice the fall of Terni – which beats every thing’. He turned the experience into poetry in stanzas 69-72 of the fourth canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, a section that soon became one of the most widely appreciated and quoted from that extremely successful poem. Its popularity contributed to fixing and defining the experience of the falls for English-language readers, first, and then – in translation – for readers all over Europe and beyond. In Victorian times, the stanzas were reproduced in John Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in Central Italy (1843) in the section dedicated to the Cascata delle Marmore, included in Route 27: ‘Florence to Rome by Arezzo and Perugia’.
Location: Lewis Walpole Library, Farmington, Connecticut
Description: This is a broadside advertisement for the Phantasmagoria, an extraordinarily popular form of entertainment that entranced and captivated British audiences when it opened at London’s Lyceum Theatre in the Strand in October 1801. A carefully curated set of ghostly conjurations, optical illusions, trompe l’oeil effects and scientific curiosities, the Phantasmagoria show was both a development of, and an improvement upon, the earlier magic-lantern shows of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and, as Simon During has argued, the first of such practices to make a significant impression upon the urban entertainment industry in the first three decades of the nineteenth century . It is difficult to over-emphasise the importance of the Phantasmagoria to British culture, literary and otherwise, in the first three decades of the nineteenth century. As a primary point of confluence between British and Continental European entertainment, economics and technological advances, its very existence attests to the complexity and the richness of cross-cultural interaction and exchange in the period.
Description: These books in Keswick Museum’s collection were part of Poet Laureate Robert Southey’s Cottonian Library. The library is known for its fabric overcovers, which Southey’s daughters and their friends created, and the name ‘Cottonian’ – coined by the family as a pun on the fabric used and Sir Robert Cotton’s famous book collection – is how we now identify pieces from this library. Fabric and sewing have been traditionally associated with women, and the re-covering of books in recycled dress fabric is a perfect metaphor for how the women of Greta Hall subverted the dichotomy of public and private spheres.
Description: A decorative craze which gripped Paris during the French Empire was for ‘papiers peints panoramiques’, wallpaper which, when strips were aligned, turned into a wide scene, like a fresco. This often replaced ‘boiseries’ or panelling as the main decorative programme of a reception room. Robert Barker’s Panorama, inaugurated in London in 1787, had enthused spectators. It allowed them, from a viewing platform, to be surrounded on all sides by a painted backdrop representing a cityscape like Edinburgh or Constantinople or indeed a battlefield. The design was much imitated and panoramas became hugely popular throughout Europe (1). Obviously private houses, however grand, could not copy the scale of this tourist attraction, but panoramic wallpaper, when used throughout a room, sought to give you a similar immersive experience.
Description: The beau monde of Romantic-period Britain, dashing Regency gentlemen, male characters in the fiction of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, and in recent films and TV series: all of these become strikingly present through this pristine dark blue coat dating from around 1803. It was made in London by a tailor patronized by George Bryan ‘Beau’ Brummell (1778-1840), foremost among the early nineteenth-century dandies and the inventor of a simple but exquisite way of dressing aimed at enhancing the male physique. The coat brings to life the understated style he and his circle developed. By reinventing male fashion, these men created new modes of presenting and being (in) their bodies: besides demanding the highest standards in tailoring and attention to detail, they were innovative in valuing personal cleanliness and grooming. Though, in the Romantic period, such practices were restricted to a few individuals from the privileged elite, they also anticipated later phenomena up to recent forms of metrosexual or fluid masculine identity. This blue coat has these and other intriguing stories to tell – not least that of its rediscovery.
Description (English): This late nineteenth-century watercolour by the caricaturist and theatrical costume designer Draner depicts the Lepeintre brothers in Monsieur Botte (1827), a comedy-vaudeville by Depeuty and Villeneuve based on Pigault-Lebrun’s fiction of the same title of 1802. It evidences the century-long popularity of a novelist now almost forgotten. Despite the critical, legal and religious censorship to which his work was subjected, it was widely disseminated during the nineteenth century through multiple reissues, translations, various imitations and theatrical adaptations. From 1796 (L’Enfant du Carnaval) to 1830 (Contes à mon petit-fils), from the Terror to the Three Glorious Days, Pigault-Lebrun’s novels follow the evolution of French society through the succession of regimes and historical events. Balzac, Stendhal, Hugo, and Flaubert remind us, each in his own way, of the place occupied in their imaginations and their aesthetics by these scandalous novels in which free thought reconnects with the tradition of comic realism to offer a fresh look at morals.
Description(English): Félicité de Choiseul-Meuse is the presumed author of many literary works published between 1797 and 1824, including the libertine fiction Entre chien et loup, published anonymously in 1809. In 1881, the Belgian publisher Henry Kistemaeckers offers to bibliophiles a luxurious reprint, illustrated with this frontispiece by Amédée Lynen, as part of a collection of ‘erotic and literary curiosities’.
Description (English): Marie Joséphine Antoinette Félicité de Choiseul-Meuse, a now forgotten writer from the end of the French Enlightenment, was active between 1797 and 1824. As Élisabeth Guénard, she was one of those successful female novelists who adapted their work to satisfy the imperial authorities and, from 1810, to evade censorship (Granata: 2007, 168). The author of several pornographic novels, including Julie ou j’ai sauvé ma rose (1807), Amélie de Saint-Far ou la fatale erreur (1808), and Elvire ou la femme innocente et perdue (1809), which appeared anonymously (Glessner: 1997, 132-134), also wrote pedagogical novels after 1810. These educational works, which include LesRécréations morales et amusantes, à l’usage des jeunes demoiselles qui entrent dans le monde (1810), are far different from her libertinage and remain unknown.