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): In early nineteenth-century France, Eugénie Servières ‘took to painting medieval themes under the influence of romanticism’ (Handley, p.29). Although Servières is little-known, more than one of her paintings interact with the work of one of the most popular novelists of the era: Sophie Cottin. Given Servières’s taste, it is unsurprising that she was inspired by Cottin’s Mathilde ou mémoires tirés de l’histoire des croisades (1805), which is replete with examples of early French Romantic Medievalist imagery. Painted in 1820, this painting, entitled Maleck-Adhel [sic] attendant Mathilde au tombeau de Josselin de Montmorency, was the second of Servières’s paintings to be inspired by Mathilde. Here, she chooses to focus on two particular Romantic tropes: Orientalism and death. In so doing, she emphasises Cottin’s own juxtaposition of these two common features of Romantic texts and images, both representative of the ‘au-delà’, within Mathilde. Servières depicts the scene which takes place at the tomb of Montmorency, and several features of the image aid the reader to unlock the power Cottin attributes to this scene and its spatial setting.
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.
Description: The catalogue for an auction of “a Collection of Books” advertised as “LATE THE PROPERTY OF A NOBLEMAN ABOUT TO LEAVE ENGLAND ON A TOUR,” highlights some of the volumes it will include, among them: “The Large Plates to Boydell’s Shakespeare, 2 vol. . . . – Morieri, Dictionnaire Historique, 10 vol. . . . Malcolm’s History of Persia, 2 vol. russia. . . –And some Romaic books of which no other Copies are in this Country.” It adds, set off from this assorted list of books, “AND A Large Skreen [sic] covered with Portraits of Actors, Pugilists, Representations of Boxing Matches, &c.” The volumes in this collection were far-flung, not unlike the Nobleman about to leave on a tour: he was Lord Byron, the most famous poet in Europe, poised to travel to Switzerland, through Italy, and finally to Greece after signing the deed of separation from his wife in April 1816. Perhaps even more out of place than the Lord and the “Romaic books of which no other Copies are in this Country,” the large screen singled out for notice on the cover of the catalogue has more than one story to tell about the mobility of the Romantic imagination.
Description: In the early 1820s, the British Museum passed up the opportunity to purchase what is now among the most celebrated objects in the Sir John Soane Museum and, according to Tim Knox, “one of the most spectacular Egyptian antiquities outside Egypt” (105): the alabaster sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I, dating from about 1279 BC. It was carved from a single block of semi-transparent aragonite and covered with hieroglyphs from the Book of Gates. Inside, on the floor of the coffin, an image of the goddess Nut, guardian of the dead king’s soul, has been incised. (1) Admittedly, the price tag was 2,000 pounds, and the precise value of newly excavated antiquities from Egypt—received as curiosities more ‘wondrous’ than aesthetically pleasing—was difficult to establish. After some protracted dithering, the object went instead, in 1824, to John Soane whose house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields was not just a working architect’s studio, but also a dramatic showcase for his collections of architectural fragments, antiquities, artworks, and curiosities – many of which are documented in this watercolour by Richardson, Soane’s former pupil and assistant. The sarcophagus, given pride of place, can be thought of as a romantic ‘medium’ apart from the occult connotations of the term: it is itself a transported or displaced vehicle for transport into the afterlife, a museum monument to the way memory can be materialized, and death made a living (if empty) object of meditation in the present. It is also part of a narrative about the attractions of Egypt for Romantic traveller-explorers, and the perils of imperial appropriation.
Description: The ‘Malta Notebook’, as this manuscript has become known, measures 177 x 120 x 38mm and is bound in vellum. It has one hundred and eighty-six leaves of hand-made paper of different tints, written mostly on both sides, and holding about eight thousand lines of poetry of Wordsworth’s unpublished work at that time. It is the result of an intense period of sorting, assimilation and copying of verses involving William, Dorothy and Mary Wordsworth in February and March of 1804. Significantly, it is a gift of love from the Dove Cottage household to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, their close friend and fellow poet, to be his companion during his forthcoming time in the Mediterranean.
Taken together, it is one of the greatest treasures in the Wordsworth Trust’s Designated Collection.
Contributor: Anne Bohnenkamp, Frankfurt am Main (Deutsches Romantik-Museum
Location: Frankfurt am Main (Germany)
Description: Letters belong to the most important media of the Romantic era. Apart from the general rise of private correspondence in the eighteenth century, which was marked by profound social, political and technical change, specific characteristics of the Romantic movement are responsible for the growing importance of letters in this period. These include characteristic tendencies of border transgressions – such as to abolish the distinction between life and art, to declare life a work of art and art as life, so that the distinction between private letters and works of art begins to blur. Last but not least emerging forms of female authorship frequently operate with the medium of the letter because it allows the author to disguise their claim to produce a literary work, which was still considered to be a very inappropriate aspiration for women. Today, the letters of the Romantic period give us intimate insights into the communication between the protagonists of this era.
This letter that Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau in Frankfurt am Main wrote on July 16, 1834, is addressed to “Frau von Arnim / née Fräulein Brentano / frey / in Berlin.” This handwritten inscription can be found on the reverse of the sheet shown here. The recipient of the letter – Bettine von Arnim, née Brentano – is one of the most important female authors of Romanticism in the German-speaking world. Her published work consists almost exclusively of ‘letter books’. Her “epistolary worlds of desire” combine a documentary impression with imaginative inventions forming “fantasy correspondences”, which are based in part on letters that were actually exchanged.
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.
Description: Looking at this photograph of my husband holding a Claude glass reflecting Manhattan as seen from our Brooklyn rooftop, I can’t help thinking how much my feelings about both the view in the mirror and the mirror itself have changed. For the last months, during the lock-down, Manhattan has hung like an inaccessible mirage across the river, first uncannily silent, now backed with the low drone of the protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd. A dark mirror means something different in dark times.