Sir Edwin Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen, c. 1851

Painting of a stag

Contributor: Fanny Lacôte

Location: Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

Description: The painting The Monarch of the Glen (c. 1851), by Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873), has become a quintessentially Scottish image. The most ‘[…] potent, visual evocation of Scotland’s impact upon the popular imagination’, according to Scottish artist Lachlan Goudie, ‘it’s right up there with bagpipes, tartan and a mouthful of shortbread’. Until 2017, The Monarch of the Glen remained in private and corporate collections. Following a public appeal in 2016, the National Galleries of Scotland purchased the painting from the Diageo drinks conglomerate for £4 million.

Its iconic dimension set aside, The Monarch of the Glen is also a late expression of the Romantic era, and Sir Edwin Landseer’s homage to Highland Romanticism. The English romantic artist became a regular visitor to Scotland from 1824 onwards, combining hunting expeditions with sketching trips. Commissioned to hang in the House of Lords refreshment rooms, The Monarch of the Glen was painted in Landseer’s studio in London, and is considered a triumph of Victorian Romanticism. The English work crystallised romantic representations of the Scottish Highlands, with its wilderness, its sublime landscapes and sweeping vistas, castles, waterfalls, and herds of deer.

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Ruth in Boaz’s fields (1856)

Image of the painting of Ruth

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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Mount Vesuvius

Painting showing the eruption of the Vesuvius volcano

Contributor: Cian Duffy

Location: Gulf of Naples, Italy (40°49N’ 14°26’E)

Description: Located just outside the Italian city of Naples, the volcano Vesuvius was one of the most spectacular instances of the ‘natural sublime’ typically visited as part of the Grand Tour of Europe. Vesuvius was in a more-or-less constant state of activity throughout the Romantic period and had a least six significant eruptions between 1774 and 1822. In a letter of December 1818, the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) describes it as ‘after the glaciers [of the Alps] the most impressive expression of the energies of the nature I ever saw’ and his response is visible in the volcanic landscapes and imagery of Prometheus Unbound (1820). (1) Influential Romantic-period travel writing, such as A Classical Tour through Italy (1812) by John Chetwode Eustace (1762-1815) and Remarks […] During an Excursion in Italy (1813) by Joseph Forsyth (1763-1815), offered extended descriptions of the volcano and its environs for the increasing numbers of tourists who visited as well as information about the latest speculations in natural philosophy. Eruptions of Vesuvius were made the subject of numerous paintings, including celebrated works by the British artists Joseph William Mallord Turner (1775-1851) and Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-97), by the German Jacob Philipp Hackert (1737-1807), and by the Frenchman Pierre-Jacques Volaire (1729-99), who died in Naples. They were often depicted in panoramic exhibitions in London and other European capitals – and, of course, they feature in countless works of fiction, poetry, and drama by authors across Europe. Arguably, Vesuvius drove the explosion (if the pun may be forgiven) in the use of volcanoes and volcanic eruptions in Romantic-period cultural texts right across Europe as metaphors and similes for everything from poetic inspiration to political revolution. Hence Lord Byron (1788-1824) no doubt had Vesuvius in mind when he lamented, in the thirteenth canto of Don Juan (1823), what he saw as the clichéd ubiquity of volcanic imagery: ‘I hate to hunt down a tired Metaphor –/ So let the often-used Volcano go;/ Poor thing! how frequently be me and others/ It hath been stirred up, till its Smoke quite smothers’ (ll. 285-8).

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Goya Frescoes

Image of cupula frescoes by Francisco de Goya depicting St Antony

Contributor: Clare Brant

Location: La Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida, Madrid

Description: In 1798, Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) was commissioned to decorate a newly-rebuilt Neoclassical chapel devoted to St Antony of Padua (1195-1231) in a fashionable district of Madrid. Its frescoes, painted when Goya was 52 and working for the court, are a remarkable survival, and a masterpiece of religious art by Romanticism’s most versatile and original painter. Goya’s subject is a profound belief that the truth can be spoken, even if you have to revive a father’s corpse.

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Romantic ruins in a Luxembourg landscape: William II and B.C. Koekkoek’s View of the Castle of Larochette (1848)

 

Koekkoek’s painting View of the Castle of Larochette

Contributor: Asker Pelgrom

Location: Musée National d’Histoire et d’Art, Luxembourg

Description: In 1845 the Dutch King William II (1840-1849) commissioned a series of canvasses from the famous Dutch landscape painter Barend Cornelis Koekkoek (1803-1862). The artist had finished eight of the nine paintings originally planned when production was interrupted by the king’s unexpected death in March 1849. The series depicts Luxembourg landscapes, showing green hills, farmhouses and forests and, at the centre of each scene, a castle – in some cases in ruins. The existing canvasses depict Beaufort (3), Schoenfels, Berg, Hollenfels and Larochette (2); the last painting should have depicted a ‘View of the town of Mersch or of the Mersch valley’. Koekkoek’s choice of Luxembourgish themes was quite exceptional. Romantic landscape artists in the Low Countries rather sought the picturesque in the Belgian Ardennes or the valleys of the Rhine, Moselle or Ahr and Koekkoek typically followed this practice. His series of Luxembourg landscapes is also stylistically distinct from the rest of his oeuvre. His compositions usually show ‘pleasant lies’: ‘a selection of various pretty elements […] constituting a whole that does not correspond to any existing reality’, but in this case they are striking for their topographical accuracy. This painting, and the series as a whole, can therefore only be explained taking into consideration the political and private needs of Koekkoek’s patron, which turn out to be surprisingly international in contour.

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A Cloud

John Constable's Cloud Study, Hampstead, Tree at Right

Contributor: Clare Brant

Location: Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, London

Description: ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’: the first line (and proper title) of Wordsworth’s poem about daffodils (pub.1807) has epitomised Romantic poetry for generations of English schoolchildren (and for some, created resistance to it.) What made clouds Romantic? Why did poets and artists across Europe follow William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and John Constable (1776-1837) in making them subjects of Romantic poems and paintings?

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A real picture from the fictional Corinne’s gallery

 

Location: Private Collection

Contributor: Catriona Seth

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”

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