Contributor: Catriona Seth
Location: Château Borély (Marseille)
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.
Continue reading “Swiss Roll? Mongin’s Helvétie wallpaper”
Contributor: Patrick Vincent
Location: Musée Alpin, Chamonix
Description: The Livre d’or de La Flégère, a 635-page, folio-sized, leather-bound book held at the Musée Alpin in Chamonix, is one of the few extant alpine visitor books from the first half of the nineteenth century, and the only one to cover such a wide time span. It contains over fifteen thousand names, comments in various languages, and roughly a hundred and fifty poems, sketches, and doodles, offering us rare insight into the cultural practices of European Romantic travel as well as the concomitant commoditising of the Alps. Belonging to what historian Kevin James has described as ‘an experimental space of self-exposure’ with its well-established dramaturgy, visitor books such as this one played a central role in disseminating and democratizing the Romantic Sublime.
Continue reading “Livre d’or de la Flégère”
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 1816, 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.
Continue reading “Lord Byron’s Autograph at the Castle of Chillon”
Contributor: Anna Mercer
Location: Library of Congress, Washington D.C., United States of America
Description: This is the inside cover of a notebook jointly owned by Percy Bysshe Shelley (PBS), Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (MWS), and Claire Clairmont. It was used by this close-knit group of writers from 1814-18, and is now held in the Library of Congress. The notebook accompanied the Shelleys and Claire on their 1816 travels through Europe, and contains material in all three of their hands, some of which pertains to the composition and publication of MWS’s first novel Frankenstein. Continue reading “The notebook shared by the Shelleys, 1814-1818”
Contributor: Nicola J. Watson
Location: Restaurant and Hôtel de l’Île St Pierre, Lac de Bienne, Switzerland
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”
Contributor: Catriona Seth
Location: Private Collection
Description: The heroine of Germaine de Staël’s Corinne, ou l’Italie (1807) is a poet and improviser who displays great sensitivity to the arts. She takes the Scottish aristocrat who falls in love with her, Oswald, Lord Nelvil, around the monuments of Rome. She also shows him her own paintings and statues in her villa at Tivoli. Her collection was probably imagined on the basis of Angelica Kauffmann’s, which the novelist had seen. Continue reading “A real picture from the fictional Corinne’s gallery”
Location: Chawton House Library, Chawton, United Kingdom
Contributor: Gillian Dow
Description: A letter from Isabelle de Montolieu to Arthus-Bertrand, dated 3 May 1814.
On the surface, nothing links this unassuming letter – from the Franco-Swiss novelist Isabelle de Montolieu (1751-1832) to her Paris-based publisher Claude Arthus-Bertrand (1770-1834) – to ‘England’s Jane’. Yet Isabelle de Montolieu may now be best-known – or of most interest to a general reading public – as the first translator of Jane Austen. And Claude Arthus-Bertrand was Austen’s French publisher in her own lifetime – a fact certainly unknown to Austen and doubtless also unknown to John Murray II, whose publication of Austen’s Emma (1816) appeared in Paris under Arthus-Bertrand. Continue reading “The European Jane Austen”