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 (English): A novel with an intriguing title, Le Pirate de Naples. Traduit de l’anglais, came out in Paris between 23rd September and 31st December 1801: it bears the double date An X/1801. Whilst all books labelled as such were not necessarily translations, this one was. At a time when the French were avid readers of English gothic fiction, it was translated particularly swiftly: it was published the same year as the original, also in three volumes. The English book cost 13 shillings and sixpence, the translation 5 or 7.5 francs. LePirate de Naples underscores the importance of translators as cultural intermediaries helping to shape a shared European imaginary.
Location: Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, England (51°10′44″N 1°49′34″W)
Description: The stone circle of Stonehenge is Britain’s most famous monument from a long-lost past. The circa 13 feet high stones, arranged in two circles with horizontal stones as lintels, suggest an impossible feat of construction, and featured in Edmund Burke’s taxonomy of the sublime: “Stonehenge, neither for disposition nor ornament, has anything admirable; but those huge rude masses of stone, set on end, and piled each on other, turn the mind on the immense force necessary for such a work”. (1) Antiquarians of the 17th and 18th centuries posited the circle to have been constructed by the Druids. In William Blake’s prophetic book Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion (1804-1820), Stonehenge accordingly appears as a national landmark, and the site of ancient sacrificial rites. (2)
Location: Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Lapa, Porto, Portugal
Description: Camilo Castelo Branco (1825-1890) was a major figure of late Romanticism in Portuguese literature and one of the first who strove to live by the pen. Camilo’s bohemian existence, an incorrigibly belligerent temperament, the truculency of his social criticism, and the scandal of adultery compounded a situation which was already unfavourable to stability. In the end, blindness, together with family tragedy, led him to shoot himself. His glasses and revolver stand as tokens of a life which resonates with the Romantic myth of the writer as unheeded genius.
Description: This Chinese-style interior belongs to a quintessentially Romantic piece of architecture, the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, designed and redesigned over the course of some 30 years to the specifications of the Prince of Wales, afterwards Prince Regent and eventually King George IV (1762–1830; reigned 1820–30). Silly, charming, witty, light-hearted, extravagant, gloriously eccentric, decadent, childish, painfully vulgar, socially irresponsible, a piece of outrageous folly and a stylistic phantasmagoria, the Pavilion is a flight of Romantic fancy, comparable in its impulse to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘Kubla Khan’ (1798, pub. 1816). It realised many aspects of Regency society: systems of patronage of the arts; ideas of health, leisure and pleasure; notions of technological progress, which drove the Industrial Revolution and were in turn reinforced by it; concepts of public and private and the proper relations between them; ideas of royal authority in the post-Napoleonic era of restoration of hereditary monarchies across Europe; the fashion for Oriental scholarship and the ‘Oriental tale’; and powerfully interconnected ideas of trade, empire and the East. More particularly, The Long Gallery’s chinoiserie encoded a complex of Romantic-period ideas about the nature of Romantic interiority and political power.
Location: Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Lapa, Porto, Portugal
Description: King Peter IV (D. Pedro IV, 1798-1834) was King of Portugal and the first Emperor of Brazil. An advocate of constitutional monarchy, he became the leader of the “liberals” in a civil war against the absolutist King Michael (Miguel), his brother, between 1832 and 1834. Known as “the Liberator” and “the soldier-king”, he bequeathed his heart to the city of Porto, where this mausoleum was built to house it with inscriptions emphasizing the motif of delivery from tyranny.
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.