Contributor: Lene Østermark-Johansen
Location: National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington. Gift of Molly F. Sheppard
Description: An encounter in Rome in 1853 between the Brownings and the American sculptor Harriet Hosmer resulted in a life-long friendship and in this plaster cast of the poets’ hands, a year after Hosmer had become apprenticed to the English John Gibson in Rome. The Brownings had married in secret in London in 1846 and eloped to Italy, where they settled in Florence. The life-casting of their hands, subsequently joined into one compact piece, is a peculiar artwork, metonymic, truncated, indexical. The imprint of Elizabeth’s aging nails, thin veins, and atrophied right hand resting in Robert’s larger, firmer hand conveys the texture of skin and bone structure, giving the modern spectator a sense of being unusually close to the two long-dead poets: Elizabeth was 47 years old, Robert 41, when the casts were taken, and the eeriness of these hands, detached from their respective bodies, make us wonder about the purpose of this piece of sculpture.
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Contributor: Diego Saglia
Location: Umbria, Italy
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’.
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Contributors: Maria Kalinowska (Faculty Artes Liberales, University of Warsaw), Milena Chilińska (Faculty Artes Liberales, University of Warsaw)
Location: The Russian State Library, Moscow, Russia
Description: This travel diary belonged to Juliusz Słowacki (born 1809 in Krzemieniec, Volhynia, now part of Ukraine, died 1849 Paris), second only to Adam Mickiewicz as the most important Polish Romantic poet. He is considered one of the most important Polish writers influencing national consciousness and culture, expressing the problems of modern Polish history in the greatest depth. Słowacki’s oeuvre reflects the European historiosophical and aesthetic issues of his time. Romantic ideals of freedom, revolution, progress, and sacrifice, as well as Romantic irony and artistry, gain unique and original interpretations in his works. Because of the prevailing political situation in his homeland, he lived in exile and travelled throughout Western Europe from the early 1830s onwards, never able to return to Poland.
From 1836 to 1837 Słowacki completed a major journey to Greece and the Middle East. He made extensive notes and drawings on his journey, as well as drafts of poems, in a notebook now known as the Eastern Diary. This notebook was thought to have been lost, but in 2010 it resurfaced unexpectedly in a library in Moscow. The story of this document is as fascinating as the story of Słowacki’s journey itself.
Continue reading ““The Eastern Diary”: Juliusz Słowacki’s travel notebook from his journey to Greece, Egypt and the Holy Land”
Contributor: Simon Bainbridge
Location: The Alps
Description: The summit of Mont Blanc was first reached in 1786, when the Chamonix-based doctor Michael-Gabriel Paccard and the crystal hunter Jacques Balmat attained the highest point in Western Europe. The following year, the Genevan man of science, Horace Bénédict de Saussure, fulfilled his obsessional desire to reach the loftiest of vantage points, which for him became the most elevated of outdoor laboratories; he spent four hours on the summit conducting various experiments. De Saussure, best known for his four volume Voyages dans les Alpes (1779-1796), speedily published an abbreviated narrative of his ‘Journey to the Summit of Mont Blanc’. De Saussure’s evocation of his mountain ascent was a major contribution to the developing genre of Alpine travel writing, which became a key form in materialising and transmitting Romantic ideas and sentiments across Europe.
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Contributor: Francesca Benatti
Location: no longer extant
Description: On the 11th of October, 1819, Thomas Moore left Venice, headed for Ferrara. He was carrying one of the most infamous lost objects of European Romanticism: Byron’s manuscript memoirs. Moore agreed not to publish the Memoirs during Byron’s lifetime, but he was left free, in Byron’s words “to do whatever you please” with it after his death. Byron later supplemented the Memoirs with further additions, which he sent to Moore by post. The two did not know it at the time, but they were never to meet again face to face.
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Contributor: Lilla Maria Crisafulli
Location: In the possession of the author
Description: This medal, struck in 1817, commemorates the work of one of the greatest dancers and choreographers of ballet history, creator of the so-called choreodrama, Salvatore Viganò (1769-1821). It reads:
A SALVATORE VIGANO’ / IMPAREGGIABILE COREOGRAFO/ CHE COLLA/ RAPPRESENTAZIONE DEL PROMETEO/ DATA L’ AN MDCCCXIV/ NEL REGIO TEATRO DI MILANO / IMMORTALATOSI. /TANTA GLORIA. NELLA MIRRA / E NEL PSAMMI / BRILLANTE. TVTTAVIA / SOSTIENE/ GLI AMMIRATORI DEL BELLO/ SACRAVANO MERITATAMENTE/ NEL MDCCCXVII.
[TO SALVATORE VIGANO’ SUPREME CHOREOGRAPHER WHO WAS IMMORTALIZED FOR THE STAGING OF HIS PROMETEO IN THE YEAR 1814 IN THE ROYAL THEATRE OF MILAN. MUCH GLORY FOR HIS MIRRA AND BRILLIANT IN PSAMMI. HOWEVER ADMIRERS OF THE BEAUTIFUL PRAISED HIM DESERVEDLY IN 1817.]
Viganò’s Prometeo opened on 22 May 1813 and met with an unprecedented popular triumph. This ballet was one of Viganò’s fantastic-allegorical dances that Ritorni calls pantomimo-dramas, transitional ballets located somewhere between the ballet en action and the danced poem. In all, Viganò composed more than 40 ballets of which 15 were these pantomimo-dramas, heroic dances or grand ballets animated by hero-comic or tragicomic actions. The so-called “passo d’azione alla Viganò“ [pas en action à la Viganò] was to dance what Wagner’s infinite melody was to opera. The ballet entirely danced à la Viganò disappeared with his death in 1821, until, a century later, the Russians rediscovered it, and used it as a basis for their choreographies. Admiration for Salvatore Viganò and his revolutionary dance had a lot to do with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Italian experience and underlies the expression of his revolutionary poetics in Prometheus Unbound (1820).
Continue reading “A medal commemorating the performance of Viganò’s ballet Prometeo in 1814”
Contributor: Harald Hendrix
Location: Centro Dantesco dei Frati Conventuali, Ravenna [showcase]
Description: On May 27, 1865, in the small provincial town of Ravenna, a spectacular event occurred that made headlines all over the world, from New York to the East Indies. The mortal remains of one of the greatest poets that had ever lived, Dante Alighieri, were discovered after having been lost over some 350 years. Coinciding with the celebrations marking the sixth centenary of his birth — in Ravenna and well beyond, particularly in Florence — this remarkable event fueled unprecedented curiosity, coercing the local authorities to publicly exhibit Dante’s bones and the simple wooden coffin that had contained them for centuries. To such purpose this crystal showcase was used. During one month, from May 27 until June 26 1865, the public was allowed to see what remained of Italy’s national poet, an experience never to be repeated again. While satisfying the audience’s urge to establish a direct connection to a man as highly venerated as Dante was, the exhibition of his bones also revealed something about the cult of the author. As a consequence, this episode of hero worship signals a paradigmatic instance in a field where popular curiosity, scientific interest and concerns of heritage conservation meet and clash.
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Contributor: Elena Musiani
Location: Museo Civico del Risorgimento di Bologna
Description: This statuette, L’addio dello studente bersagliere (The Bersagliere student’s goodbye), is held in the Museo Civico Del Risorgimento of Bologna. The piece, in polychrome terracotta, by the sculptor Fortunato Zampanelli (1828-1909) from Forlì, was acquired by the Museum in 1939 from the sculptor’s son. The work was made during the years in which Zampanelli was still a student at the Accademia di Belle Arti of Bologna, as evidenced by the slightly ‘raw’ nature of the piece and the simple facial features of the young couple. At first glance, it seems a conventionally, even insipidly, sentimental and patriotic piece; but hidden within it lies a more urgently autobiographical and historical story of the young caught up in the war and revolution associated with Romanticism.
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Contributor: Antonella Mampieri
Location: Bologna, Collezioni Comunali d’Arte
Description: This painting by Francesco Hayez (1791–1882), one of the leading painters of Italian Romanticism, was commissioned by Severino Bonora (1801-1866), a rich Bolognese landowner, for his collection. Its subject is an Old Testament story from the Bible. Ruth, a poor Moabite widow, returns with her widowed mother-in-law Naomi to Israel, and is depicted gleaning in the fields of one of her former husband’s relations, Boaz, in order to gain a living for herself and her mother-in-law. The exiled Ruth will eventually marry Boaz.
However, the subject of the painting, and indeed the painting itself, are far less significant here than the life and ideas of its patron and collector. Severino intended to lead a Romantic and adventurous life. A passionate traveller in spite of his epilepsy which brought him twice very near death during his travels, Severino organized a six month long tour every year through Europe, Asia or Africa, taking with him young artists who couldn’t otherwise afford to travel. He chose dramatic and moving subjects for his collection of paintings, helped his fellow artists develop their skills through his patronage and input, and more generally worked to form modern Romantic taste.
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Contributor: Valentina Varinelli
Location: Keats-Shelley House, Rome
Description: Percy Bysshe Shelley’s copy of Homer’s Odyssey is on long-term loan to Keats-Shelley House, Rome, from the present Lord Abinger, the Shelleys’ heir. Homer occupied a pre-eminent position in Shelley’s personal canon, yet the existence of this copy is largely unknown. It consists of volumes 3 and 4 of the so-called ‘Grenville Homer’ (1801) bound together in one volume (the complete set would have included volumes 1 and 2, again bound in one volume, which comprised the Iliad), and it is contained in a custom-made red quarter-leather solander box with “Homer Odyssey” and “Shelley’s Copy” gold-tooled on the spine, which is both an indication and a product of the fetishisation of this volume. The recto of the second front fly-leaf is inscribed: “Percy Bysshe Shelley March 5 – 1816”. (However, the inscription is not Shelley’s autograph. Nora Crook has established that it is in fact in Mary Shelley’s hand of 1816 (private email communication).)
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