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PROCEEDINGS OF THE

THE CITY AND THE BOOK V  INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON



THE AMERICANS IN FLORENCE'S 'ENGLISH' CEMETERY II


SATURDAY, 11 OCTOBER 2008


FLORENCE'S LYCEUM CLUB AND THE 'ENGLISH' CEMETERY

II. Hiram Powers and Amasa Hewins

'The 'English' Cemetery and Historical Reconstruction: Liberating Hiram Powers' 'Greek Slave' to Return to Florence'. Roger J. Crum, University of Dayton
'Hiram Powers, Kate Field and the Italian Risorgimento'. Melissa Dabakis, Kenyon College
'Kate Field'. Francesca Limberti
'Fortunate Associations: The American Painter Amasa Hewins (1795-1855) and Florence
'. John F. McGuigan, Independent Scholar
_______

Professor Roger Crum, Professor of Art History at the University of Dayton, is a Renaissance Scholar, which is why he can include Victorian Studies in his portfolio.


'The English Cemetery and Historical Reconstruction:  Liberating Hiram Powers’ Greek Slave to Return to Florence'
Roger J. Crum, University of Dayton

In 1873 Michelangelo’s David was removed from the steps before the Palazzo Vecchio, transported across town, and reinstalled in a new museum environment in the Galleria dell’ Accademia; in that same year the American sculptor Hiram Powers paid his last respects to Michelangelo’s masterpiece, died in Florence, and was buried in the English Cemetery.  These two events briefly brought the names of Michelangelo and Powers, the latter known at his height as the American “Michelangelo,” into contemporary Florentine consciousness.  These events also led to very different critical fortunes for the two sculptors and their most famous works.  Once relocated to the Accademia, Michelangelo’s David was elevated (at least in Florence) to the status of the artist’s chief masterpiece, celebrated the world over, and admired daily by countless visitors to the city as the most recognized emblem of Florence’s Renaissance past.  In contrast, once buried in almost historical “exile” in the English Cemetery, Hiram Powers seemingly lost the tie of his identity with Florence, a place where he had lived and worked for the last 36 years of his life.  Although Powers remained in Florence between 1837 to 1873, and was there at the center of a thriving American and English expatriate community that included such luminaries as Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, his Florentine history has largely been relegated to the footnotes of a very different art-historical narrative.  Today Powers is known less as an ex-patriot sculptor who worked primarily abroad than as an American Neo-Classical sculptor from Cincinnati, whose most famous work in his Greek Slave of 1841.  As Powers’ uncontested masterpiece, the Greek Slave created an American and international sensation when it was exhibited prominently and sold in multiple copies over the next decades throughout Europe and the United States.  Yet despite being carved in Florence, the statue finds its critical home not in the art history of the Arno city but in the annals of American art history.  Powers’ Greek Slave has been, in a sense and like its maker, “repatriated” to America and, as a result, substantially removed in memory from its original Florentine facture; more significantly, the
statue has been removed in critical interpretation from the mid, nineteenth-century Florentine context that stood behind its making and, I
would suggest, its meaning.

My contribution to the “The Americans in Florence’s English Cemetery” would be to resituate Powers’ Greek Slave and, indeed, Powers himself as product of and participant in mid nineteenth-century Florentine culture.  While Powers is documented as beginning his Florentine period when he moved there in 1837, his engagement with the city, its history, politics, and culture actually began years earlier, in Cincinnati.  There, as a young sculptor, he was commissioned to make animated wax figurines for a display representing Dante’s Inferno for Dorfeuille’s Western Museum in Cincinnati. Though Powers’ Greek Slave was stimulated by reports of contemporary atrocities committed by the Turks against the Greeks in the Greek Revolution, I would argue that the sculptor’s curious, pre-Florentine immersion in the great amalgamation of Florentine culture that is Dante, and Powers’ subsequent embrace of all things Florentine provided him with the deeper foundation for his masterpiece and its meaning as a generalized symbol of righteousness in the face of evil, domination, and subjugation. Furthermore, Powers’ Greek Slave was produced during the early stirrings of the Italian Risorgimento in a city that was deeply jealous of its republican Renaissance past and that would play no small part in that
contemporary, nineteenth-century trajectory for national liberation.  So while the Greek Slave did indeed resonate beyond the Arno city with themes of slavery and its abolition, particularly in the United States, the foundational carving of those themes in Powers’ marble masterpiece were etched with the sculptor’s experience of living in and engaging with Florentine history and Italian contemporary politics.  This is something that Elizabeth Barrett Browning knew intimately when she, a champion herself of Italian national unification, composed a poem entitled “Hiram Powers’ Greek Slave” in 1850 that was directly inspired by the sculptural work of her fellow “Florentine-by-adoption.”  So, indeed, Powers’ Greek Slave was an international work, perhaps among the first modern works of
international resonance in as much as it commented simultaneously on matters of Greek national liberation, Italian Risorgimento spirit, and American abolitionism.  But it was first and foremost a work made in Florence by a sculptor who identified with and understood powerfully that city.  My contribution to the conference will speak to this linked local and international nature of Powers and his work as I seek to lend my voice to the historical reconstruction and reconsideration of the English Cemetery—Powers’ sepulchral home—as an island community in Piazza Donatello but one linked to the “mainland” of Michelangelo’s Florence through the isthmus of Powers and his Greek Slave.
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'Hiram Powers, Kate Field and the Italian Risorgimento'
Melissa Dabakis, Kenyon College

In the mid-nineteenth century, progressive Americans were doubly engaged with events in Italy and in the United States; one might even conclude that Italy was “in vogue” in liberal elite circles.  The Risorgimento, the Italian unification movement, captured the political imaginations of an engaged American citizenry while the growing sectionalism at home propelled many reformers toward the Abolitionist cause.  In Florence, the American neoclassical sculptors Hiram Powers and Horatio Greenough, the American journalist Kate Field, the British poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and many other Anglo/Americans openly supported the Italians and their struggle for independence from foreign control.  In this paper, I wish to discuss Hiram Powers’s sculptures The Greek Slave and America within this important and often over-looked international context.  To progressive political audiences in Italy and in the United States, these sculptures, I shall argue, referenced a range of republican causes:  the Greek Wars of Independence, the Italian Risorgimento, and the growing sectional strife of the young American nation.

When the neoclassical sculptor Hiram Powers expatriated to Italy in 1837, he found the Italian peninsula comprised of isolated states under foreign control.  During the heady years of 1847 to 1849, Italy, along with France, Germany, and Hungary, participated in revolutionary struggles.  Powers and many American expatriate artists, writers and reformers supported Florentine independence from Austrian rule, seeing parallels between the Italian struggle and the founding of their own young republic.  In 1847, Powers identified himself as a citizen of the world and proudly proclaimed:  “We Italians have been doing something in the way of revolution.”  For Powers, his sculptures expressed these new revolutionary ideals.   To American audiences, Neoclassicism bespoke notions of liberty, freedom, and republicanism.  For Italians, it formed part of a broader cultural discourse that represented a romantic longing for a glorious political past.
Producing multiple versions of The Greek Slave between 1843/44 and 1869--the most famous American Neoclassical sculpture of the nineteenth century, Powers exhibited the sculpture in his Florentine studio to many Anglo/American visitors. The sculpture was first shown in New York in 1847 and traveled to New England, Philadelphia, Washington, Louisville, and St. Louis in the later 1840s and 1850s.  Not surprisingly, the expatriate Elizabeth Barrett Browning interpreted the sculpture within an international context.  In her poem, “To the Greek Slave” (1850), she urged the sculpture’s “white silence” to be overthrown, “confront man’s crimes in different lands . . . and break up ere long the serfdom of the world.”  In the aftermath of the failed Italian revolution, Anglo/American expatriates and informed travelers read the sculpture as a disavowal of colonial tyranny—the nude female figure serving as a symbol of Italy’s victimized status.  Simultaneously, the modest and demure figure invoked the horror of slavery among abolitionist sympathizers.  To be sure, the sculpture’s popularity was confirmed by its ability to articulate a range of meanings to a wide and varied audience.

His sculpture 'America', begun in 1848 (marble statue is no longer extant; plaster is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum), was also wedded to both American and Italian republican values.  In fact, Powers intended the sculpture as an emblem of the 1848 European revolutions and as a national icon for the U. S. Capitol, selling busts of the sculpture to both American and European patrons. The sculpture demonstrated many changes between 1848 and 1855. Originally she held a liberty cap aloft—a popular republican symbol.   “I am making a statue to suit the times,” Powers wrote in 1848. “She is to be the republican Liberty . . . a very radical Liberty.” With the failure of the revolutions in Italy, Powers revised the sculpture to pertain to abolitionism which gained his support in 1854.  The final version of the figure stands crowned with a diadem decorated with 13 stars representing the original states in the Union.  She steps on a manacle, an emblem of despotism and of slavery, and raises her arm in a posture of address, proclaiming the triumph of national unity and liberty.  In the 1850s, thus, the sculpture stood as an allegory for two nations:  for Italy, it represented a hopeful beacon of independence and republicanism; for the United States, it served as a reminder of the preciousness of the union in the face of sectional disharmony caused by the “peculiar institution” of slavery.

“The new birth of Italy is already the grandest event of the modern period,” Harvard art historian Charles Elliot Norton exclaimed in 1860.  The American journalist Kate Field, a resident of Florence between 1859 and 1861, kept an engaged American citizenry informed of the unfolding political events in Italy. An authority on the Italian struggle for unification, she witnessed the birth of the independent nation state of Italy in 1860 with King Victor Emmanuelle II at its head while Florence served as the nation’s provisional capital.  This paper will bring to light the passionate participation of Hiram Powers, Kate Field, and others in the Anglo/American community in Florence in the political events that dominated Italian history in the mid-nineteenth century.
______


Francesca Limberti, a member of Aureo Anello, wrote her dissertation at the University of Florence on the American Lilian Whiting, Kate Field's disciple, and their Spiritualism.


Lilian Whiting and Kate Field
Francesca Limberti, Università di Firenze

This paper is about Kate Field (1838-1896) and her Florentine days, described by Lilian Whiting (1847-1942), who became Field's biographer and disciple.

There is no official biography of Lilian Whiting, only a few and sometimes rather controversial remarks about her life are to be found in certain parts of New Thought, in some biographical dictionaries and, concerning certain episodes, even in some f her books. According to the more recent biographical notices and those given in the commemorative article written by William Gardner (titled 'In Thankfulness for the Life of Lilian Whiting', Nantucket Island, p. 3).

Lilian Whiting was born 11 October 1847 (a date found in the Bible belonging to her family) at Olcott, in Niagora County, New York. Her name was Lucretia Dow Whiting, the only daughter of the three children born to Lorenzo Dow Whiting and Lucretia Calistia Clement. Whiting's education, as she herself said, was begun many years before her birth, with Cotton Mather on one saide and the Rev. William Whiting, first minister at the Unitarian Church in Concorde, Massachusetts, on the other. She did not go to any public school, being taught with her brothers privately but above all by her mother and the great writers present in their home library. She died in her sleep the night of 29 April 1942 at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. At her request her aches lie by those of Kate Field in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The first period of her life was marked by intense journalistic activity; she worked for leading journals and it was on an assignment from the editor fo the Boston Traveler, that in 1880 she met Kate Field for the first time and interviewed her. From this was born the closeness that was not only to become the biography of Field but also After Her Death. The Story of a Summer (1897).It was this work that described the psychic expereinces that brought Whiting in contact with  Spiritualism.    

In the 90s Europe weakened Whiting's ecstasy for Boston. That was when she began her pilgrimage through Europe: one must follow the interests of her letters penned by a competent and expert journalist. The first voyage became an annual series of crossings: she stayed in the summers in Italy (for brief periods also in France or England) and in winter in Boston. Flroence became her principle goal./1 In her imagination the Florentine stays came to be focussed from 1860 on the famous literary group which enjoyed the hospitality offered by the Trollopes. Florence became her new inspiring muse and The Life and Poetry of Mrs Browning (1898), The Florence of Landor (1905), The Brownings: Their Life and Art (1911), are vivid portraits of the impulse which Italy gave to writers and artists in the '80s and '70s. Above all in The Florence of Landor Whiting brings the reader of the present into the past, a continuing recall through the years when she lived in Florence more as an atmosphere than as a city.

Of Lilian Whiting's stays in Florence with various interruptions that dragged out to some thirty years, there seem to be few traces, apart from the list of foreigners in Florence in the weekly Italian Gazzette and her signature sometimes in the books as a reader in the Gabinetto Vieusseux library that give enough of a precise indication of her stays in the Tuscan capital and of the places where she lived. From 29 August 1898 to January 1925 we know for certain that, with interruptions of some months, almost every year and above all in the winters she stayed in Florence. The longest period when she did not make the journey was during the First World War. After February 1914 we find her signature again at the Vieusseux until January of 1922 (strangely Whiting signed the date as December 1922). Until 1908 she stayed at the Villino Trollope, then until her last stays at the Florence Washington Hotel.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's tomb and Kate Field's spirit formed with Whiting a mystic triangle, symbol of a tradition which in the preceding years had gathered about the Brownings many Anglo-Americans interested in Spiritualism. What bonded Field and Whiting was a friendship that they always considered to be 'celestial'. From childhood Whiting had felt this influence, probably from the tales which she heard from her mother./3 Whtiing was drawn to Field's spiritual energy before she knew her, exalting in her capacity to have her mind dominate over her body. Both were fascinated by the power of the invisible world and by psychic science, believing in the existence of a spiritual life and in immortality.

Through Whiting's writings one can perceive the strenght of their bonding and the love that both of them had for Florence, the city which succeeded in uniting their souls for eternity, basing the past in the present.

To Lilian Whiting Florence was a dream, an enchantment, an atmosphere, rather than a city in Italy. To use her words this city is utterly unique, a vision, a memory and a prophecy. In her writings she often mentioned the stately sculpture of Santa Croce, the dim shadows of the cathedral, the rich treasures of the Pitti and the Uffizi, the historic past of Palazzo Vecchio and the cloisters of Santa Maria Novella: amid these were gathered impressions which she affirmed influenced all her after life. Florence, which Lilian Whiting considered the most fascinating in its romance, held over her a mysterious power

Before moving to what Lilian Whiting wrote about Field's Florentine days it seems worthwhile to see how Whiting described Field, the woman and the friend. She continuously refers to Kate as a woman who impressed the imagination, who abounded in spiritual vitality, delicate in physique, artistic in temperament. Hypocrisy shrank abashed before her presence. A keen sense of honour was among her strongest qualities and as a friend she was for Whiting perfect.

It is through the words of Lilian Whiting that Field's Florentine days are described, starting from her arrival. It was on January 8, 1859 that the young Kate with her uncle and aunt embarked on the steamer Fulton sailing from New York to Havre. After Paris they moved towards Italy, where Kate was sent to study music.

In February they reached Florence. Florence captivated Kate's imagination; Whiting in Kate Field: A Record (Whiting 105) claimed that by temperament Kate Field was singularly calculated to enter into the most sympathetic and responsive rapport with the stimulating life she encountered in Florence. Whiting continued describing Kate as an artist born, very honest and with an uncompromising demand for truth. Moreover, she had at her early age a keen intellectual judgement.

As Kate Field was very young, she might have suffered from loneliness even if her aunt travelled with her (her mother reached Kate in the late winter 1860); but she was welcomed by everyone she met and became a vital part of the English-speaking colony then in Florence. The idea is given by Whiting through the description of a June evening during which Miss Blagden (an English lady then living in one of the villas in Bellosguardo) had invited the Brownings and Walter Savage Landor together with Kate and her mother to tea.
According to Lilian Whiting, as Kate entered Bellosguardo she was embraced and kissed by all the guests; she appeared radiant and lovely that night. After having kissed the young girl even the lonely Landor, to the amusement of everyone, proudly affirmed that it was the happiest day of his life. All in all Kate should have really impressed Landor, if driving homeward he confessed to Elizabeth Barrett Browning that Kate Field was the most charming young lady he had ever seen. That kiss was memorable to Landor who, in reference to that night, wrote what Lilian Whiting called a bit of playful verse entitled To Kate Field.

Landor's friendship for Kate increased each day and he described himself as an old creature if compared to Kate's superiority. He went to visit her every day, bringing her flowers or books: she appreciated these books very much because it was in Florence, according to Whiting, that literature was more her own than music, her girlish ambition for the lyric stage being modified.

Kate Field was an appreciated guest at Casa Guidi, too. In 1860, Florence was thronged with Americans but Kate seemed to join particularly with the little group of the Brownings, Trollopes, Landor and Isa Blagden. It was mostly during summer that the group met almost daily. Writing to her mother Kate reports that Robert Browning one evening told her that she was the most ambitious person of his acquaintance.

Even if in a letter to her aunt Kate wrote that she could not leave Italy and return to America due to her income and that her health would not permit her to stay in New York, she felt for Florence a strong passion and an intense magnetism. She loved the dreamy air, the golden sunsets as seen from Bellosguardo, the streets full of history.

In June 1861 the death of her beloved friend Elizabeth Barrett Browning, transformed Florence into a cemetry to her eyes and soul. It represented for Field the end of her happy days in Florence. It is interesting to note that it is in the biography of Kate Field that we find a lot of details concerning the life of Elizabeth, including her death. She affirmed that her hopes in this town were dead. Her despair is reported by Whiting in two letters that Kate Field addressed to her aunt Corda. On the 29th of June she wrote that she had never seen Elizabeth during her illness because she was unable to converse, but she went every day to have news about her health. In her letters Field described exactly her last moments on earth: at 4.30 Elizabeth pronounced her last words: It is beautiful. With sorrow Kate recollected the last thing that she had done in her presence: kneeling before her saying that she always longed to be at her feet. According to what Whiting reported, Kate considered Elizabeth a guiding light.

The funeral and the grief of Mr. Browning and his son are impressively expressed in a way that shows despair and unbearable sorrow. Kate was told that no ladies were to be at the grave but Mr Browning expressed a wish that all the friends who desired should be present. Kate was scarcely consoled by the idea that her friend's release from a long-suffering diseased body was Heaven's reward for her pure life.

After the death of his wife Mr. Browning left for Paris and just before leaving he wrote to Kate that he knew she was true in all she professed to feel about Elizabeth.

At the time of Elizabeth's death Kate Field wrote for the Atlantic Monthly a paper on this great woman, which Whiting considered the most perfect interpretation ever given of Mrs Browning.

It is really astonishing to reflect on what happened to Lilian Whiting exactly thirty-five years after the death of Elizabeth. She described it as an incantation, a vision, a dream. On a June morning Lilian Whiting sat alone in the English Cemetery in Florence by the tomb of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, with the grave of Isa Blagden almost within touch and that of Landor, with the kneeling woman sculpted in marble, his wife, on the other side. As Lilian Whiting sat in the shadow of the tall, dark cypress trees, the silence broken only by the chirp of birds, the life of Kate Field seemed to rise as a panorama before her.

By some coincidence it was but five weeks since the mortal form of Kate Field had been placed in the flower-laden casket in Honolulu, and it was thirty five years since Kate had stood by that grave of one who had been to her supremely a friend. The gifted girl, who had been the idol of that choice circle of Mrs. Browning, Walter Savage Landor, Isa Blagden, by whose graves Lilian Whiting was sitting, had in that moment rejoined them in the life just beyond.

Bibliography

Whiting, Lilian. The World Beautiful. First Series. London: Little Brown and Co., 1894.
_____. “A Story of Psychical Communication.” Arena. 13, 1895: 263-270.
_____. “Kate Field.” Arena. 16, 1896: 919-27.
_____. The World Beautiful. Second series. London: Gay and Bird, 1896.
_____. After Her Death. The Story of a Summer. London: Sampson Low, Marston and Company, 1897.
_____. The World Beautiful. Third Series. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1898.
_____. Kate Field. A Record. Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1899.
_____. A Study of Mrs. Browning. Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1902.
_____. “Florentine Days.” Arena. 30, 1903: 623-25.
_____. The Florence of Landor. London: Gay and Bird, 1905.
_____. Italy the Magic Land. Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1907.


_________

Non esiste una biografia ufficiale di Lilian Whiting; poche e a volte controverse notizie sulla sua vita si trovano in certi testi sul New Thought, in alcuni dizionari biografici e, riguardo a specifici episodi, anche in alcuni dei suoi libri. Secondo notizie biografiche più recenti e da quanto riportato nell'articolo commemorativo scritto da William Gardner, (William Gardner, "In Thankfulness for the Life of Lilian Whiting", Nantucket Island, 1942: p. 3.) Lilian Whiting nacque l’11 ottobre del 1847 (data ritrovata anche in un volume della Bibbia appartenuto alla sua famiglia) ad Olcott, nella contea di Niagara, New York. Il suo nome era Lucretia Dow Whiting, unica femmina dei tre figli di Lorenzo Dow Whiting e Lucretia Calistia Clement. L’educazione di Whiting, secondo quanto lei stessa affermava, era iniziata molti anni prima della sua nascita, con Cotton Mather da un lato e il reverendo William Whiting, primo ministro della chiesa Unitaria a Concord nel Massachusetts, dall’altro. Non frequentò nessuna scuola pubblica, i suoi furono insegnanti privati ma soprattutto sua madre e i grandi scrittori presenti nella biblioteca di casa. Morì durante il sonno la notte del 29 aprile 1942 all’hotel Copley-Plaza di Boston, su sua richiesta le sue ceneri riposano accanto a quelle di Kate Field al Mount Auburn Cemetery di Cambridge nel Massachusetts.

Il primo periodo della sua vita è contrassegnato da una intensa attività giornalistica; collaborò per riviste famose e fu proprio per un incarico ricevuto dal direttore del Boston Traveler, che nel 1880 per la prima volta incontrò Kate Field e la intervistò. Ne nacque una empatia destinata non solo a dar luogo alla biografia di Field ma anche a After Her Death. The Story of a Summer (1897). Proprio in questo lavoro vengono descritte le esperienze psichiche che portarono Whiting a contatto con i fenomeni dello spiritualismo.

Negli anni '90 l’Europa attenuò l'estasi di Whiting per Boston. Iniziò quindi il suo pellegrinare per l’Europa: da brava e ormai esperta giornalista doveva seguire gli interessi dei suoi lettori. Il primo viaggio fu l’inizio di una serie annuale di traversate: soggiornava d’estate in Italia (per brevi periodi anche in Francia o Inghilterra) e in inverno a Boston. Firenze divenne la meta principale./1 Nella sua immaginazione il soggiorno fiorentino era ambientato intorno al 1860 con il famoso gruppo letterario che godeva dell’ospitalità offerta dai Trollope. Firenze rappresentò la sua nuova musa ispiratrice e The Life and Poetry of Mrs Browning (1898), (1905), The Florence of LandorThe Brownings: Their Life and Art (1911), sono vividi ritratti dell’impulso che l’Italia aveva dato a letterati e artisti negli anni ‘60 e ’70. Soprattutto in The Florence of Landor Whiting trasporta continuamente il lettore dal presente al passato, un richiamo continuo agli anni trascorsi e dei quali, dopo molto tempo, lei continuava a percepire un forte magnetismo. Più volte la stessa Whiting affermava di aver vissuto Firenze come una atmosfera piuttosto che come una città.

Dei soggiorni a Firenze di Lilian Whiting, che con varie interruzioni si protrassero per quasi trenta anni, sembrano esser rimaste poche tracce, sebbene gli elenchi degli stranieri a Firenze sul settimanale The Italian Gazette e la sua firma riportata più volte sui libri dei soci del Vieusseux ci diano una indicazione abbastanza precisa della sua permanenza nel capoluogo toscano e delle abitazioni nelle quali dimorava. A partire dal 29 agosto del 1898 fino al gennaio del 1925 sappiamo sicuramente che, con interruzioni anche di diversi mesi, quasi ogni anno e soprattutto nei periodi invernali soggiornava a Firenze. Il periodo più lungo nel quale probabilmente non viaggiò fu durante la prima guerra mondiale. Dopo febbraio 1914 ritroviamo la sua firma per l'accesso al Vieusseux nel gennaio del 1922 (stranamente Whiting firmò per errore con data dicembre 1922). Fino al 1908 alloggiò al villino Trollope, poi fino agli ultimi soggiorni all'hotel Florence Washington./2

La tomba di Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) e lo spirito di Kate Field (1838-1896) formarono con Whiting un triangolo mistico, simbolo di una tradizione che negli anni precedenti aveva riunito intorno ai Browning molti anglo-americani interessati allo spiritualismo. Quella che legò Field e Whiting, fu una amicizia che da sempre si era configurata come “celestiale”. Fin dall'infanzia Whiting aveva percepito la sua influenza, probabilmente dai racconti che sentiva dalla madre./3 Whiting era attratta dall’energia spirituale di Field prima ancora di conoscerla, esaltava la capacità che la sua mente aveva di dominare il corpo. Entrambe erano sicuramente affascinate dal potere del mondo invisibile e dalle scienze psichiche, credevano nell’esistenza di una vita spirituale e nell’immortalità.
 
Attraverso gli scritti di Whiting si percepisce la forza del loro legame e l'amore che entrambe provavano per Firenze, la città che riuscì ad unire per l'eternità le loro anime, a fondere il passato con il presente.
___

1 Margaret Fuller paragonava Firenze (vi arrivò nel 1849) più a Boston che alle altre città italiane. Artom Treves nel suo testo sottolinea come allora il New England e Boston in particolare fossero considerate, almeno da chi ci viveva, come le perle degli Stati Uniti. In Giuliana Artom Treves, Gli Anglo-fiorentini di cento anni fa (Firenze: Sansoni, 1953), pp. 237-38

2 Altre date sui libri dei soci sono: gennaio 1900 (quasi con certezza Whiting iniziò a Firenze il nuovo secolo), maggio 1900, aprile 1905, marzo 1908 e febbraio 1910. Le iscrizioni ai servizi del Vieusseux iniziarono con il pagamento di una settimana e si protrassero fino a due mesi. La costruzione del villino Trollope, dove Whiting dimorò a lungo, fu terminata intorno al 1850 e da allora divenne uno dei luoghi più ospitali di Firenze; era situato in Piazza Maria Antonia divenuta poi Piazza Indipendenza. Thomas Trollope aveva venduto il villino dopo la morte della moglie Theodosia avvenuta nel 1865. Al villino Trollope e ai suoi abitanti è dedicato un capitolo dello studio di Artom Treves, pp. 190-215. Gli anglo-americani permanenti o di passaggio a Firenze, sceglievano con particolare cura la loro dimora, sia che fosse in alberghi, nati quasi esclusivamente per loro, in palazzi antichi e spesso gestiti da compatrioti, oppure in appartamenti quasi sempre presi in affitto. Il "quadrilatero d'oro" della presenza anglo-americana in città spesso coincideva ovviamente con l'area del centro storico, dalla quale era possibile accedere facilmente ad ogni tipo di servizio. Daniela Lamberini ha dedicato un intero capitolo alle residenze di anglo-americani a Firenze nello studio curato da Marcello Fantoni, Gli anglo-americani a Firenze. Idea e costruzione del Rinascimento (Roma: Bulzoni Editore, 2000), pp. 125-40.

3 In una lettera datata 22 agosto 1941 ed indirizzata a William Raymond, Whiting parlava di come già sua madre fosse devota all’Italia e in particolare a Firenze, attribuiva ai racconti materni le prime impressioni ricevute fin da piccola su Field. La notte pregava Dio di far apparire nel buio della sua camera il volto di colei che sarebbe diventata sua guida per l’eternità. Epperly, p. 147.

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John McGuigan and I share a fascination for the figure of Amasa Hewins and his work.


"Fortunate Associations: The American Painter Amasa Hewins (1795-1855) and Florence."
John F. McGuigan Jr, Independent Scholar. Paper.

While Amasa Hewins (1795-1855) is largely forgotten today as a painter, he is perhaps best remembered as a man of fortunate associations: having formed part of an estimable colony of American artists in Florence on three different occasions; having traveled throughout Italy with two of America’s most prominent artists; having been appointed United States Commercial Agent to Florence, essentially performing the duties of consul; and, ultimately, having been buried in the famous “English Cemetery” at Florence. Had these interesting events not transpired, history would likely never have given Hewins—whose known painting oeuvre is quite small—a second thought. We are, therefore, fortunate that they did occur because an examination of the life of Amasa Hewins pleasantly reveals a rich history and the extent to which he was inextricably linked to Florence, a city he dearly loved. 

In 1795, in the middle of George Washington’s presidency, Amasa Hewins was born in Sharon, Massachusetts, a typical New England town where his family had resided for four generations. Like many Americans of the Federal period, he received limited formal schooling, but he supplemented it with a passion for reading and foreign languages. This auto-didactic classical education proved invaluable to him later in life, and he wisely advised his eldest son Charles (1822-98) to do likewise. He wrote to the ten-year-old boy from Italy in 1832: “I wish that you should acquire a taste for reading and study, that if ever you should travel, you may be able to understand and enjoy what you see.”[i] 

We know little of Hewins’ early life until his marriage in 1820 to Elizabeth Alden (dates unknown) of Dedham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, where they raised a family. In 1821 he was listed as a merchant of West India goods on Brattle Street in Boston, trading in rum, sugar, molasses, and cotton. Hewins probably harbored artistic aspirations from an early age, but no anecdote survives to corroborate this theory. Perhaps he studied under one of the numerous portrait painters resident in Boston, but this, too, is unrecorded. In the first decades of the nineteenth century, portraiture was unquestionably the best avenue to financial success in the fine arts, and, by 1827, Hewins had abandoned his mercantile interests and moved his household to Washington, DC to pursue that line of work. Then as now, the nation’s capital was rife with politicians eager to commemorate their exalted status by commissioning their likenesses, and Hewins remained profitably employed there for two years, at which time he moved his family back to Boston and secured a painting studio at 73 Cornhill. 

We can reasonably surmise that Hewins successfully cultivated a wealthy patron base in both Washington, DC and Boston and that his nascent portrait practice thrived because on 22 August 1830 he could afford to attain the goal of many artists of his era: he sailed for Italy to study the old masters. Judging by the large number of commissions for copies and original compositions that he received to execute abroad, he had resources enough to sustain him for the three years he would spend overseas. After a protracted journey of three and a half months—culminated by a tedious fifteen-day quarantine in Genoa—Hewins observed with typical New England reserve on 7 December that “at length I am in Italy.”[ii] Though Florence was his ultimate destination, he savored an unhurried pace towards that city, taking in the sights, monuments, and art galleries on his route through Genoa, Pisa, and Livorno over the next three weeks. 

Arriving in the Tuscan capital on 27 December 1830, Hewins spent his first night at Madame Hombert’s popular hotel facing the Lungarno. But with a thought toward total acclimation, he moved in the next day with a language teacher, Signor Mutini, in order to master the Tuscan dialect. On 29 December he visited the Uffizi, which, perhaps because he was still fatigued from travel, failed to impress him, as he wrote, “I was somewhat disappointed in the paintings generally, which did not equal my expectations.” A visit to the Palazzo Pitti on New Year’s Day reinvigorated him, however, and he pronounced it “probably the best collection of cabinet pictures in the world.”[iii] 

Hewins’ decision to study in Florence rather than Rome may have been guided by the presence of a contingent of fellow Bostonians resident in the former place: the sculptor Horatio Greenough (1805-52); his brother, the painter Henry Greenough (1807-83); and the portraitist John Gore (1806-68). The four men had likely been acquainted in Boston and fell into a very comfortable routine in Florence centered around the ever-popular artists’ retreat, the Caffè Doney. Together they frequented the Accademia delle Belle Arti, shared models, and visited each other’s lodgings and studios. Over the next five months Hewins profited greatly from these strong friendships, which allowed him to freely exchange ideas, copy in art galleries, and take sketching trips to nearby villages with the support of his fellow countrymen. 

Another fixture within the American colony at Florence was James Ombrosi (ca. 1777-1852), who held the post that Hewins would ultimately succeed him in almost a quarter century later, namely, that of U.S. consular representative.[iv] James Edward Freeman (1808-84), the American figure painter and consul to Ancona, brilliantly described Ombrosi in his memoirs, observing that “he was a Tuscan, with a competent income, a bachelor, and proud, above all things, of being our representative as consul.” Freeman continued, “Ombrosi was of a portly mien—his cheeks very broad and fat, his forehead extremely small, his ears large, and his nose little short of immense, which he saddled conspicuously with a pair of gold spectacles. . . . His dress, somewhat of an exploded fashion, was studiously respectable, and his gold-headed cane a conspicuous accessory to his general appearance.”[v] 

An esteemed connoisseur and collector of old master paintings and drawings, Ombrosi was especially fond of artists and maintained strong convictions about how they should study. He was partial to sending Americans to two teachers, Giuseppe Bezzuoli (1784-1855) and Pietro Benvenuti (1769-1844), the future director of the Accademia. But if these pupils faltered in or rebelled against their discipline, Ombrosi could turn quite nasty. As the American painter Robert Weir (1803-89) recalled: “Another of my acquaintance, who appeared to take a great interest in my welfare, was a Mr. O[mbrosi], a most rare specimen of Italian character: he was fawning, subtle, and vindictive, and took umbrage at my leaving Signor Benvenuti. Several little circumstances took place which sometimes irritated and sometimes soothed him, but at length he let me know that unless I left Florence, my life was in danger.”[vi] We do not know if Hewins studied drawing under a Florentine master—for his sparse journal entries from this period mention little of his training—nor how well he got on with Ombrosi. We can assume, however, that his experience may have paralleled that of Horatio Greenough, who recently lamented that Ombrosi had been “coming out with occasional demonstrations of ill will which have induced me to drop from intimacy to civility, from civility to wary caution, which last feeling actuates my every action where he is concerned.”[vii] 

On 9 March 1831 the American colony in Florence was greatly enriched by the arrival of Samuel Finley Breese Morse (1791-1872), the illustrious president of the National Academy of Design in New York, traveling with his colleague, the portraitist John Cranch (1807-91). Morse had already conceived the germ of his idea for the electric telegraph, an invention that would indelibly change civilization, but it was supplanted for the time being by his passion to become a great painter. The following two months must have been a whirlwind of excitement and learning because the three most avid diarists of the intimate group—Cranch, Hewins, and Morse—found little or no time to record their daily activities. We can discern, however, that Hewins and Morse shared a deep love for the Venetian School because the two men departed together for Venice on 16 May. 

Although they first stopped in Bologna to leisurely explore its rich collections of art, this was disappointingly not to be the case, as Hewins reported in his journal that “the streets as we entered appeared quite deserted and desolate; scarcely a person was seen. The revolution which but a few days before had broken out was quelled and everything appeared quiet.”[viii] Hewins and Morse remained only three days in Bologna, barely long enough to visit the galleries and confirm their profound admiration for the Bolognese School, because as Hewins wrote, “Strangers as well as their own citizens are watched like thieves, and the slightest pretext is said to be sufficient motive for arrest.”[ix] Therefore, they wisely resolved to proceed directly to Venice, although Hewins pledged to return to Bologna. 

They arrived in Venice on 22 May 1831, and Hewins was instantly enamored by “singing girls with their guitars, at every few steps chanting the airs of Rossini, and accompanying themselves upon their favorite instruments.”[x] In spite of the rainy spring weather, they immersed themselves in the celebrated artworks housed in the Accademia, and Hewins painted an ambitious copy after Paolo Veronese’s Rape of Europa (1575-80) in the Palazzo Ducale. With introductions from friends in Florence and Bologna, Hewins and Morse developed many diverse and stimulating acquaintances that included Ludovico Lipparini (1800-56), a professor at the Accademia; Count Leopoldo Cicognara (1767-1834), friend and biographer of Antonio Canova (1757-1822) and former director of the Accademia; Count Bernardino Corneani (1780-after 1855), amateur painter and general superintendent of pictures in Venice; Father Paschal Aucher (dates unknown), Lord Byron’s Armenian language teacher; and the British consul, W. T. Money (dates unknown). That 4 July, Hewins noted in his journal that “the only Americans in Venice were Mr. Morse and myself, and although we could not make a very large dinner party we could not forget the day of our independence,” and they abstemiously toasted the occasion over a cup of coffee.[xi] Their fruitful and quite social two-month sojourn ended on 16 July, when Hewins departed for Bologna, and Morse for Paris. 

The next three months found Hewins back in Bologna, as promised, where life had almost returned to normal after the revolution. He reflected that “I have found the Bolognese, generally, exceedingly obliging and attentive to strangers, more so perhaps than any other city in Italy. . . . This, to be sure, may be in consequence of their not seeing so many travelers and strangers as are at Florence and Rome.”[xii] He appears to have spent most of his time at the Accademia executing a copy of Guido Reni’s Massacre of the Innocents (1611, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna). Back in the Tuscan capital on 10 November, Hewins briefly reentered his exhilarating social circle. One distinguished new addition was Thomas Cole (1801-48), widely regarded as the father of America’s Hudson River School, who had been living with the Greenough brothers since July. Hewins invited his peers to his rooms to see the progress he had made in his copies and sketches over the last six months, as well as the print collection that he had assembled. Staying in Florence only nine days, Hewins dispatched his paintings, drawings, and prints to Boston, bade his goodbyes, and on 19 November departed Florence for Rome, where he arrived five days later. 

Disappointingly, Hewins penned only four entries over the ensuing five months in Rome, and we know little of his activities. Not until 12 April 1832 do we learn from Thomas Cole that the two set off together in a vettura for a three-day sketching excursion to Tivoli.[xiii] Hewins evidently proved to be such an agreeable traveling companion that, one month later, Cole invited him, along with another Boston portrait painter, Francis Alexander (1800-80)—who, like Hewins, would expatriate to Florence in the 1850s—on a three-week sketching expedition to Naples, Paestum, Pompeii, and Salerno. 

Back in the Eternal City on 1 June, Hewins lingered a further two weeks before the malarial season drove him back to Florence on 19 June. Unfortunately for us, Hewins only recorded two entries in his journal that summer, but we can imagine that he passed his days copying in galleries or working from the live model, while in the evenings he attended the theater or sought the camaraderie of Cole, Cranch, Gore, Alexander, and the Greenoughs. On 2 September 1832 Hewins chronicled his departure from Florence and expressed regret that he may never return. He spent the next ten months in Paris, followed by a one-month tour of the Continent, before eventually reaching Boston in June 1833. 

We are privileged to know quite a bit about Hewins’ first sojourn abroad from the diaries of his colleagues, Morse and Cranch, as well as his own travel journal. Whereas Morse transcribes fascinating details about Italian life and his daily painting habits, and Cranch provides a gossipy account of the comings and goings of the art colony, Hewins’ journal is a rather matter-of-fact itinerary with a few interesting asides, rather than an insightful reflection on personal growth and self-discovery. Thus, while we have a good idea of his travels, he shares very little with us about his craft, his views on art, or even his output beyond a few copies after the old masters. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to reconstruct Hewins’ oeuvre and patronage from his subsequent exhibition record in America. 

In 1834 Hewins displayed eight pictures from his European trip at the Annual Exhibition of the prestigious Boston Athenæum. A large copy after Raphael’s celebrated Madonna di Foligno (1512, Pinacoteca Vaticana) was owned by Charles Lyman (dates unknown) of Waltham, Massachusetts, who also commissioned Thomas Cole’s famous monumental work, Remains of the Great Roman Aqueduct (1832, Washington University Gallery of Art, St. Louis). Hewins balanced three other copies, one after Murillo and two after Titian, with original compositions, such as Father Giuseppe, A Capuchin Monk, Painted at Rome; A Roman Peasant Woman; and The Blind Mandolin Player, Taken in Italy from Life. Only one work was listed for sale that year, Genardo, the Blind Minstrel of Capua, near Naples (Drawn from Life). The following summer, Hewins debuted four more Italian subjects at Boston’s American Gallery of Fine Arts, namely, a copy after Il Volteranno’s Sleeping Cupid (Palazzo Pitti) and three original compositions: Mount Vesuvius, A Florentine, and Capuchin Monk, the last listed for sale. At this point, Hewins’ Italian oeuvre—all of which today remains unlocated—had been dispersed, and he returned to exhibiting bespoke portraits for the next five years. 

Then in August 1839 an international incident captivated the entire nation, and Hewins seized the opportunity to capitalize on the excitement. The occasion was the U.S. Navy’s seizure of the renegade Spanish slave ship La Amistad in Long Island Sound. The subjugated Africans on board—accused of murdering the Amistad’s captain and cook in order to gain control of the ship—were taken to New Haven, Connecticut to await what would become one of the most sensational trials in American history. Anticipating the public’s lust for information, Hewins traveled to the neighboring state to take the portraits of the key individuals involved. The result was a monumentally sized painting, now unlocated, entitled The Death of Capt. Ferrer, the Captain of the Amistad, July, 1839, which he exhibited to paying audiences in 1840. It was advertised that “this thrilling event with 26 of the principal characters is correctly delineated on 135 feet of canvas, and strikes the beholder as real life. Its faithfulness to the original has been attested by those who participated in the awful tragedy. The hundreds of visitors both in New Haven and Hartford where the Africans have been seen, have bestowed the most unqualified praise upon the merits of the painting.”[xiv] Surviving woodblock prints of the work reveal that  while Hewins portrayed the exact moment of the captain’s death during the insurrection, he did not take sides but let the audience decide if the slaves were murderous mutineers or victims of an evil institution who acted in self-defense—the very two arguments at the center of their ongoing trial, which became a beacon for the abolitionist movement. Thus, Hewins’ dramatic depiction of this still unfolding current event did not conform to the idiom of history painting but more closely approximated reportage, firmly situating it within a great American artistic tradition that extends from John Singleton Copley’s (1738-1815) iconic Watson and the Shark of 1778 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC) to the immediacy of Winslow Homer’s (1836-1910) Civil War pictures. 

Family lore tells of Hewins’ longing to return to Florence, a city that, it was said, he loved so much that he named one of his daughters after it. This affinity was borne out in November 1841, eight years after his first trip ended, when, using the proceeds from his Amistad picture, he once again sailed across the Atlantic. Back in Florence, his old friend Horatio Greenough remained firmly ensconced as the lion among other eminent American sculptors that now included Shobal Vail Clevenger (1812-43) and Hiram Powers (1805-73), in whose studio Hewins made a sketch (Private Collection) of the plaster model for Eve Tempted (1842, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC) in May 1842. Ombrosi continued to perform his consular duties with the same vigor—and spite—as before, making as many enemies as he did friends. Even though the Government of Tuscany had refused to recognize Ombrosi’s status as U.S. consular agent ever since 1834, and President Andrew Jackson revoked his consulship that same year, it did little to prevent him from obstinately keeping his title and performing his regular duties for American travelers. 

The timing of Hewins’ second trip, whether by plan or coincidence, dovetailed neatly with a veritable invasion of American artists into Florence, including Thomas Cole, James DeVeaux (1812-44), Asher B. Durand (1796-1886), Francis William Edmonds (1806-63), James E. Freeman, Daniel Huntington (1816-1906), Thomas P. Rossiter (1818-71), Luther Terry (1813-1900), and Samuel Bell Waugh (1814-85). Hewins’ journal—if he kept one—is unlocated, so that his exact itinerary is uncertain, but we do know the purpose of his journey: he intended to capitalize on the format and success of his Amistad picture by painting a panorama of the Mediterranean coastline. While panoramas had been a commercially popular form of art and entertainment in America since at least 1800, Hewins’ project was unique in that, as the promoter William E. Hutchings (dates unknown) later claimed, it was the only one of “‘Coasts, Cities, and Sea, beyond the Ocean,’ ever painted by a native of the United States.”[xv] Though neither the panorama nor any of Hewins’ preparatory drawings has yet surfaced, a descriptive brochure explained that it was “executed from drawings made by A. Hewins, during his voyages in the Mediterranean, and his travels in Spain, France, and Italy; embracing views of Gibraltar, Barcelona, Toulon, Genoa, Naples, Vesuvius, &c.”[xvi] Certainly the idea of depicting Italy and the Mediterranean in a panorama was not novel. John Vanderlyn (1775-1852), who painted a panorama of Versailles in 1819 (Panoramic View of the Palace and Gardens of Versailles, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), toyed with a similar notion while he was in Italy from 1805 to 1807; Thomas Cole contemplated one of the Bay of Naples during his trip there with Hewins in 1832; and Samuel Bell Waugh was currently gathering material for two different Italian-themed panoramas that he would exhibit in America throughout the 1850s. 

Returning to America in August 1842 with his preparatory sketches, Hewins scandalized stuffy Boston Brahmins by sporting an outward manifestation of the bohemian lifestyle: “a little mustache that excited some comment in a society where smooth-shaven faces were the rule.”[xvii] Over the next six years work progressed on what Hutchings boasted was “the largest painting in the world” until its debut at the Masonic Temple on Boston’s Tremont Street in 1848. [xviii] At a cost of twenty-five cents per viewing, crowds flocked to see the Grand Classical Panorama of the Sea and Shores of the Mediterranean. Hutchings, who conducted tours worthy of P. T. Barnum, touted every evening that “indeed, no pains nor expense has been spared to render it not only worthy of the vastness and grandeur of the subject, but superior in every respect to anything of the kind heretofore known or attempted.”[xix] Giving us the only truly effective description of Hewins’ work, he tantalized that “the spectator will behold in this painting, the steamers, men-of-war, merchantmen, ships, boats, and craft of every class and all nations, in their natural and all-various positions, in the famous gulf, bays, and ports.”[xx] After its run in Boston, the panorama traveled to great acclaim throughout the United States, as far away as Ohio and Alabama.

Ultimately, Hewins’ successful portrait practice, combined with the revenue earned from his panorama, afforded him the financial wherewithal to expatriate to his beloved Florence. He received his passport from the State Department on 15 March 1852 and commenced his third and final voyage.[xxi] A surviving sketchbook (Boston Athenæum), the only record of his trip, begins with a view of the Cape of St. Vincent on the coast of Portugual and faithfully records the artist’s movements until he reached Florence in the first week of June. In addition to Greenough and Powers, the American presence in Florence was newly fortified by the painters Thomas Buchanan Read (1822-72) and Walter Gould (1829-93), and the sculptors Joseph Mozier (1812-70) and Joel Tanner Hart (1810-77). From what we can infer, Hewins was particularly close to Powers and shared with him a fascination for spiritualism. One Halloween he wrote to son Charles that he was grateful for the papers and pamphlets that he had sent, but that he “should be glad of anything relating to spiritualism,” especially for “Powers who asks me every time I see [him for] more.”[xxii] 

Over the next two years, Hewins filled his sketchbook with delightfully fresh drawings of scenes in and around Florence that show a vast improvement from the rather stiff and amateur productions of his first trip. While he was a fully mature draftsman, however, he seems now to have only pursued art for his personal pleasure. Instead, we see from his business ledger (Boston Athenæum), which begins in September 1852, that he returned to his roots in commerce and became an exporter of purported old master paintings, as well as of “carved wooden boxes, pieces of old damask, Florentine frames, and mosaics—things of a sort not often seen in the New England of the fifties.” [xxiii] All of this material he collected and sent to son Charles in Boston, who then consigned everything to various public auctions. Nine massive shipments were logged, listing over two hundred objects in each—mostly paintings. In reality, Hewins would have barely had any time to pursue his art considering that the remainder of his life was spent on one giant buying spree, followed by the bureaucratic tedium of applying for export permits and negotiating fees and duties. 

Judging from several auction catalogues annotated with prices realized (Boston Athenæum), it is difficult to imagine that Hewins made much money or, for that matter, broke even on his exported goods. But whatever the pecuniary considerations, they did little to deter him, with the result that by August 1853 he was desperately in need of additional funds to keep his scheme afloat. Hiram Powers obligingly lent him sixty francesconi—roughly equivalent to sixty-six dollars—with the promise that it be repaid within a month.[xxiv] At this low ebb in his plans, Hewins’ correspondence with his son nevertheless belies tremendous confidence that the items he was supplying for markets in Boston and New York would eventually find a demand and make a profit.

It was no easy matter shipping thousands of paintings and objets d’art out of the Duchy of Tuscany. It typically required the services of a banker as well as the American consul, who collected the various moneys owed to the local government. James Ombrosi had acted in this last capacity for Americans for nearly thirty years. Even though he had reconciled with the State Department and was reinstated as Acting U.S. Consul to Florence in 1849, the Government of Tuscany never accredited his office and only bestowed upon him the meager title of “Commercial Agent.” Ombrosi soon after went senile, and for the last two years of his life his office was run by assistants—none of whom spoke a word of English. The burdens of the consulate gradually shifted to the Irishman John Leland Maquay Jr. (1791-1868) of the Florentine banking firm Maquay, Pakenham and Smyth, as well as to Hiram Powers, who found the constant applications from travelers a major hindrance to his sculpture practice. When Ombrosi died in March 1852, three months before Hewins’ arrival, the State Department rather audaciously appointed Powers to the post without consulting him, to which the sculptor quickly shot back: “Commercial agent! Obliged to keep my office open from 9 till 3 and attend to everybody’s business but my own and no pay! . . . I can’t afford to serve my country in that way.”[xxv] 

Everyone offered the consulship over the next two years essentially turned it down until Powers, alerted to Hewins’ financial instability, offered him the job.[xxvi] Hewins, who had already learned the labyrinthine bureaucratic system through his own wheeling and dealing and had familiarized himself with all the basic responsibilities of the office, readily accepted, and on 16 August 1854 he was officially commissioned by his government, much to the great relief of both Powers and Maquay.[xxvii] Not everyone, however, was optimistic about the decree, as a correspondent for the Newark Advertiser reported that October: “Mr. A. Hewins, a venerable artist from Boston, long resident in this city, has received from Washington the appointment of United States Commercial Agent. . . . As there is but little trade with the United States, the office is of no great value, and will scarcely pay for the trouble it may occasion.”[xxviii]

Furthermore, it appears that American travelers had become spoiled by the social standing and connections that Ombrosi had maintained within the Florentine community—a facet of the job that Hewins was either unable or unwilling to fulfill. As Freeman recorded, Ombrosi’s greatest appeal was that “he devoted himself to the service of every American citizen who arrived in the beautiful capital of Tuscany, got them all indiscriminately presentations to the grand duke [Leopold II], advised them where to live, how to live, what to pay for it, and stood between them and all impositions.”[xxix] In contrast, the Florence correspondent for the New York Times complained that Hewins was entirely unsuited to the task. A dispatch dated 3 January 1855 stated that “Americans desirous of being presented to this potentate and of attending a series of court balls, would, under ordinary circumstances, apply to their representative. But there is none of any grade whatever in Florence, except Mr. Hewins, whom nobody knows, and who rejoices in the title of United States Commercial Agent. He has no exequatur, and is recognized in no degree whatever by the Government. However, American travelers usually have a banker, and this banker is nine times out of ten Mr. Maquay . . . [who] makes out a list of applicants, and forwards it to the Chamberlain, who draws up the invitations in accordance with it.”[xxx] 

Hewins seems to have led a rather focused and insular life in his last year. During the summer of 1855, while he prepared a shipment of paintings—which dubiously claimed works by Poussin, Rubens, Caravaggio, Guercino, and Titian—destined for the Boston auction house of Broadhead & Co., tragedy stuck when a cholera epidemic that had raged throughout Italy finally reached Florence. As a precautionary measure, Powers sent his family away, but he stayed, as did Hewins and Thomas Buchanan Read. Sadly, on 24 June, Read’s wife and young daughter succumbed to the epidemic, and he belatedly fled the city with his surviving child. Even after this, in what many would consider an ill-advised decision, both Powers and Hewins remained in Florence. The devastating repercussions were felt just under two months later when Hewins contracted the bacterial disease and died on 18 August 1855. 

Once again, the lugubrious responsibilities of settling the affairs of other people fell to Powers, and he was obliged to arrange multiple funerals in addition to Hewins’ burial in Florence’s “English Cemetery.” Though Hewins died at the relatively young age of sixty, he left behind a large family consisting of nine children, whose descendants are today scattered throughout America. In 1928 his daughter Louisa (1840-1933) bequeathed all of her father’s papers in her possession to the Boston Athenæum, which published his journal three years later, thus ensuring that Hewins’ legacy would never be completely forgotten to history.[xxxi]


[i]. Francis H. Allen, ed., A Boston Portrait-Painter Visits Italy: The Journal of Amasa Hewins 1830-1833 (Boston: Boston Athenæum, 1931), xiii.

[ii]. Allen, Journal, 29.

[iii]. Ibid., 45-46.

[iv]. President James Monroe appointed Ombrosi America’s first consul to Florence in 1819.

[v]. James Edward Freeman, Gatherings from an Artist’s Portfolio (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1877), 233-34.

[vi]. William Dunlap, History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States, 2 vols. (New York: George P. Scott and Co., 1834), 2:390.

[vii]. Horatio Greenough to James Fenimore Cooper, 20 December 1830. Nathalia Wright, Letters of Horatio Greenough, American Sculptor (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1972), 67.

[viii]. Allen, Journal, 57.

[ix]. Ibid., 63.

[x]. Ibid., 66.

[xi]. Ibid., 74.

[xii]. Ibid., 77.

[xiii]. Thomas Cole Journal, 12 April 1832. Thomas Cole Papers, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan.

[xiv]. Ellen Strong Bartlett, “The Amistad Captives. An Old Conflict between Spain and America,” New England Magazine, n.s. 22, no. 1 (March 1900): 82.

[xv]. William E. Hutchings, Description of Hutchings’ Grand Classical Panorama of the Sea and Shores of the Mediterranean (Boston: George C. Rand and Co. Printers, 1848), 49.

[xvi].Ibid.

[xvii]. Allen, Journal, xv.

[xviii]. Hutchings, Panorama, 49.

[xix]. Ibid., 4.

[xx]. Ibid., 48.

[xxi]. Randal L. Holton and Charles A. Gilday, “Moses B. Russell: Yankee Miniaturist,” Magazine Antiques (November 2002): 165.

[xxii]. Amasa Hewins to Charles A. Hewins, 31 October 1853. Amasa Hewins Papers, Boston Athenæum.

[xxiii]. Allen, Journal, xviii.

[xxiv]. Amasa Hewins to Hiram Powers, 22 August 1853. Hiram Powers Papers, Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Art, Washington, DC.

[xxv]. Richard P. Wunder, Hiram Powers: Vermont Sculptor, 1805-1873, 2 vols. (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1991), 1:280.

[xxvi]. For a good description of everyone who was offered the consulship in the two years after Ombrosi’s death, see Wunder, Hiram Powers, 280.

[xxvii]. Howard R. Marraro, Diplomatic Relations between the United States and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies: Instructions and Despatches, 1816-1861, 2 vols. (New York: S. F. Vanni, 1952), 42-43.

[xxviii]. Newark Advertiser, as quoted in New York Times, 26 October 1854.

[xxix]. Freeman, Gatherings, 234.

[xxx]. Dick Tinto, “Dick Tinto on His Travels: A Ball at the Palace—The Grand Duke—The Heir Who Was Not Sent to Bed Before the Party Was Over—The Wit of the Occasion—Italian Opera at Home, &c., &c.,” New York Times, 8 February 1855.

[xxxi]. I am grateful to Julia Bolton Holloway for putting me in touch with several of Hewins’ descendants, one of whom, Martha Coolidge Rudd, I am most obliged to for sharing genealogical information.

________

Go to Introduction
         I. Abolitionists in the 'English' Cemetery
         II. Hiram Powers, Kate Field, Amasa Hewins
         III. Joel Tanner Hart
         IV. William Wetmore Story
         V. Collectors and Visitors




With the Sponsorship of the Comune di Firenze, the United States Consulate General in Florence, Syracuse University in Florence, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the Lyceum Club of Florence, the Chiesa Evangelica Riformata Svizzera of Florence, and the Aureo Anello Associazione Mediatheca 'Fioretta Mazzei' e Amici del Cimitero 'degli Inglesi'

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