, VIII, IX, X
New: Opere Brunetto Latino || Dante vivo || White Silence

3-5 GIUGNO 2004

3-5 JUNE 2004


‘La tentazione di Eva: Paradise Lost nella scultura di Hiram Powers: ‘Eve Tempted’ Paradise Lost in Hiram Powers' sculpture Katerine Gaja, The British Institute of Florence ||L’iscrizione sulla tomba di Walter Savage Landor/ The inscription on Walter Savage Landor's Tomb Mark Roberts, The British Institute of Florence ||La vedova di Arnold Savage Landor: Libri, corpi e l'incisione di memoria in Firenze/ Arnold Savage Landor’s Widow: Books, Bodies and Imprinting Memory in Florence Allison Levy, Wheaton College ||Fanny Trollope, la sua famiglia e la cerchia del Villino Trollope/ Fanny Trollope, her Family and Circle at the Villino Trollope David R. Gilbert, The Middle Temple, London ||Elizabeth Barrett Browning e la Bibbia/ Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the Bible Stephen Prickett, The Armstrong Browning Library, Baylor University ||La pietra e la parola: Elizabeth Barrett Browning a Firenze/ Stone and Word: Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Florence Claudia Vitale

CENA presso il CIMITERO 'DEGLI INGLESI'/DINNER in the 'ENGLISH' CEMETERY, Piazzale Donatello 38




*°§ HIRAM POWERS/ AMERICA / Powers/ Franco [later corrected to Hiram]/ Stefano/ America/ Firenze/ 27 Giugno/ 1873/ Anni 69/ 1220/ F. Hiram Powers, America, Sculpteur, fils de Etienne Powers/ HIRAM POWERS/ DIED JUNE 27TH 1873/ AGED 68/E15D °=Niccolò, Alessio Michahelles, descendants

                         Can it be sin to know?
Can it be death?

Paradise Lost IV-517-518

iram Powers was one of the earliest of the pioneering American sculptors who journeyed to Italy because of vital resources that were absent in America: skilled artisans, live models, abundant supplies of marble from the quarries at Carrara and Seravezza, and, in the case of Florence, a city where the tradition of studying human anatomy had been alive since the Renaissance. When he set up a studio there in 1837, Lorenzo Bartolini urged him to reject the neo-classical approach in favour of the new doctrine of verismo, which attempted to capture the spontaneity and truth of nature by working from live models rather than copying from the antique.

Powers settled with his family in an area of sculptors' studios and remained in Florence for the rest of his life. His home and studio became a focal point for the Anglo-American community, so that his vast correspondence gives us valuable insights into a city and a society that underwent profound changes during his life-time. In many ways he acted as unofficial consul, an aspect of his career that is given due weight in Clara Dentler's unpublished biography, and in this role one of his duties was to answer queries from relatives of Americans who had died in Florence. "A more beautiful spot could hardly be found," he wrote of the cemetery at Porta al Pinti; "It is against the outer wall of the city & it looks more like a beautiful garden than a place of the dead. But tell Mrs. Woodall that all this is nothing, for her dear husband is not there now, nor are my children there. Earth has received her own but the soul is not here." (1)


ALLEN FRANCIS WOODALL/ AMERICA/ Woodall/ Allen F. / / America/ Firenze/ 12 Agosto/ 1864/ Anni 37/ 876/ Allen F. Woodall, Lexington, Amerique
* NORMA (PIERUCCI) WOODALL AND SON/ ITALIA/KENTUCKY/ Woodall nei [nata] Pierucci/ Norma/ / America/ 29 Settembre/ 1864/ Anni 22/ 880/ Norma Pierucci née Woodwall, l'Amerique/ WIFE AND SON/ OF/ FRANCIS WOODALL/ BORN IN KENTUCKY, U.S.A./ DIED IN FLORENCE/ AUGUST 12 1865/ B19O

*°§  FLORENCE POWERS/ AMERICA/ Powers/ Firenze/ Hiram/ America/ Firenze/ 30 Luglio/ 1863/ Anni 17/ 840/ Florence Povers, l'Amérique, fille de Hiram Povers et de Elisabeth/ G23777/1 N° 331, Burial 01/08, Rev Pendleton/ FLORENCE// *° FRANCES AUGUSTINA POWERS/ AMERICA/ Powers/ Francesca Agostina/ Hiram/ America/ Firenze/ 29 Luglio/ 1857/ Anni 8/ 842/ Françoise Povers, l'Amérique, fille de Hiram Povers et de Elisabeth/ G23777/1 N° 332, Burial 03/08/63, Rev Pendleton/ body embalmed to send to America, then retained in Florence/ FRANCES// JAMES GIBSON POWERS/ AMERICA / Powers/ Giacomo Gibson/ Hiram/ America/ Firenze/ 4 Marzo/ 1838/ Anni 5/ 841/ James Gibson Povers, l'Amerique, fil de Hiram Povers et de Elisabeth/ G23777/1 N°333, Burial 03/08/63, Rev. Pendleton/ body embalmed to send to America, then retained in Florence/ JAMES// CHILDREN OF ELIZABETH AND HIRAM POWERS A11P(152)

Although it was the extraordinary success of the statue The Greek Slave (1843) that brought Powers international fame, I shall focuss on his first ideal statue, Eve Tempted (1839-1842), because it originated in a commission for a tomb sculpture and because throughout its complex history it was associated with death and mourning. The five variations on the theme, spanning Powers's entire career, linked up with other writers' interpretations of a subject that had acquired immediacy since the Genesis account of creation had been called into question by new discoveries in geology. John Milton and Salomon Gessner are acknowledged literary sources for at least two versions of the statue, while Swedenborg's interpretation of the Book of Genesis was certainly familiar to Powers. Elizabeth Barrett Browning had recently published A Drama of Exile on the same theme when she first saw the plaster model of Eve Tempted in Powers's studio in 1847, and Henry Tuckerman, who corresponded with Powers, linked this work with Powers's statue of Eve Disconsolate in his Book of the Artists. (2) Robert Browning's Bishop Blougram's Apology gives an account of the erosion of unquestioning faith in the Biblical account of the origin of man, with specific references to geology and the Book of Genesis. (3)

In 1839 Powers's earliest patron, Nicholas Longworth, who had financed his journey to Italy in 1837, asked whether Powers would undertake the design of a monument for his parents in a cemetery in Newark, New Jersey. Powers wrote to Longworth on April 22 1839: "I shall begin a statue of a female figure in a few days. I think it will be an illustration of Gessner's Eve at the moment when she is looking at a dove, which lies dead at her feet and which calls up disagreeable reflections in her mind on the consequence of her trangression. I think I shall call it Eve, Reflecting on Death." (4) Gessner's popular verse drama The Death of Abel was a continuation of the story of Adam and Eve from the point where it ended in Book XII of Milton's Paradise Lost. Eve's first encounter with death is related by Adam with utmost poignancy and a realism that suggests the scientific observation of the anatomy laboratory. "It will not wake! said she to me, in a fearful voice, laying the bird from her trembling hand. - It will not wake! - It will never wake more! She then burst into tears, ...How stiff and cold it is! It has neither voice nor motion: its joints no longer bend: its limbs refuse their office. Speak, ADAM, is this death? Ah! it is. - How I tremble! An icy cold runs thro' my bones. If the death with which we are threaten'd is like this, how terrible!" (5)

The Eve inspired by Gessner, however, never got beyond the stage of a small plaster model, now lost, for when a letter to a friend describing his idea for a statue of Eve, Reflecting on Death was published in the Cincinnati Republican, (6) Powers recoiled from this unwanted and premature publicity, and rejected his original idea altogether.


Instead, between 1839 and 1842, he created two versions of the statue Eve Tempted. In the first version Eve holds out the forbidden fruit in her right hand, while in the second, revised version, her right hand holds the apple close to her breast. Her hair is dishevelled, and in both versions a serpent, modelled with the utmost realism from an American rattle-snake, encircles Eve's feet. As Powers wrote to John Preston, another patron, in May 1840, the serpent is "a real serpent and not a monster." (7) He also drew attention to Eve's "broad and large" feet and "long toes". (8) Both the statue itself, with the 'short and heavy' legs that suggest a common model with Bartolini's Nymph with a Serpent, (9) and Powers's description of it, linking the waves of Eve's hair with the undulations of the snake, (10) reveal a naturalism that several observers found disconcerting.

It was clearly no longer suitable for a tomb sculpture, and in 1842 Longworth proposed a public subscription to raise the money to commission a marble version of Eve Tempted for the Cincinnati Art Museum. However, public distaste for nude sculpture made the enterprise fail, and when the ship transporting the statue to America sank off the coast of Spain in 1850, Powers reflected in his letters with bitter humour on the Puritanism of the American public and the absence of a sense of shame in Eve. (11) The statue was rescued and delivered to Preston's home in Columbia, South Carolina, where it was locked up for years, unseen and unknown to the public in general. This second, revised Eve Tempted, in Seravezza marble, which Powers believed to be his best work, (12) virtually disappeared, and is still today unlocated.

It was this version of Eve Tempted that Elizabeth Barrett Browning saw, in plaster, when she first visited Powers's studio in May 1847, and although it is unlikely that she knew that Eve Tempted had originally been conceived as a tomb sculpture, her interpretation of the statue is in this key. Her Sonnet on Grief compared grief to "a monumental statue set/In everlasting watch and moveless woe"; (13) only superficial mourning found an outlet in shrieking and reproaching. For her, it was a kind of integrity, not to falsify or console in words.

She thus correctly perceived the sadness that was inherent in Powers's original conception of Eve, writing to Arabel of the "Greek Slave & Fisher Boy, & the Eve yet unworked in the marble....of which I liked the Eve best...the sadness rather than the impurity of sin is in her face...just one touch of sadness - the foreshadow of all loss...It is very serene, beautifully sad - the passion is behind a cloud, as it ought always to be in sculpture -". (14)

While The Greek Slave claimed most attention in the public rhetoric of her sonnet Hiram Powers's Greek Slave, significantly, in her letters to her sister Arabel, it was Eve Tempted that interested her most. In the Preface to her verse drama on the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, A Drama of Exile (1844), she had justified her temerity in writing on the theme of Milton's Paradise Lost by saying that Eve's grief had been "imperfectly apprehended hitherto, and more expressible by a woman than a man". (15)


Paradoxically it was this very grief that got Powers's Eve Tempted into theological trouble. According to the American artist William J. Hubard, who saw the statue early in 1839, the sadness she perceived was not theologically correct; she showed too much intellect; she was too independent. "Your idea" - he wrote to Powers - "made Eve appear a heroine as we know these, not as a primitive and sympathetic being created to soothe and partake of man's affections. She was not a rival or equal to his mind, but an accessory to his happiness. Therefore she appears a being of more feeling than mind. In fact, intellect was developed only after she had sinned and knew good from evil." (16)

The expression could bear traces of Powers's original idea, derived from Gessner, of representing Eve at the moment when she realised the significance of death. But the independence of mind is also found in Milton's Eve: it is Eve's wish to work on her own in the garden of Eden, to be independent or, as Milton puts it, temporarily unpropped, that allows the serpent to approach and persuade her so subtly. (17) Nor is it fanciful to assume that Powers was familiar with Milton; Everett assumed so when suggesting the subject of La Penserosa to him, and so did Nathaniel Hawthorne when he claimed that the composition of La Penserosa was derived from an engraving "prefixed to a cheap American edition of Milton's poems, & was probably as familiar to Powers as to myself". (18) Powers's representation of both Eve's "dishevell'd" hair and the "circling spires" of the serpent recall Milton's poem. (19) Finally, his use of the words Paradise Lost as the first title for his statue Eve Disconsolate also suggests that Milton's work was a familiar source. We know that Powers owned a copy of John Flaxman's Lectures on Sculpture, in which the Lecture on Modern Sculpture recommends "biblical subjects and Milton's Paradise Lost". (20) Horatio Greenough followed his advice and sculpted an Abdiel, the loyal seraph from Book V of Paradise Lost, in 1838 and a Lucifer in 1841.


As though taking Hubard's criticisms into account, between 1858 and 1861 Powers worked on the statue known as Repentant Eve, Paradise Lost, Eve After the Fall, or Eve Disconsolate. Eve's hair is loosely bound, her finger points to the serpent slithering downwards, upside down, and her face shows bewilderment, distress and remorse; "she seems as walking in painful meditation." Powers wrote; "Her head is raised - as in supplication for foregiveness". (21) This statue was conceived as a tribute to Nicholas Longworth, and after his death in 1863 it was given to the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Thus, considering that Powers saw La Penserosa as a prototype of Eve Disconsolate (22) and that he also began a model of a statue group, Adam and Eve, in February 1861, and was working on a marble replica of the first Eve Tempted when he died, the Eve-theme was one that interested him throughout his career. The alterations he made in his statues of Eve reveal his sensitive response to criticism, as well as the tension between idealism and naturalism. Rosina Bulwer Lytton complained that in the first version of Eve Tempted 'the ideal' was missing (23), while Lady Stamer praised the sculptor for giving us "not an ideal poetical Eve...not Milton's Eve, but the living Eve of the Bible." (24) Mindful of criticism that there was no 'ideal', 'soul' or 'mind' in the first version of Eve Tempted, Powers wrote stressing just those qualities in the second version: "When I say there is more mind in it, you will understand what I mean. It makes the original look heavy and sleepy." (25) And, as we have seen, he put submission in the face of Eve Disconsolate in response to Hubard's strictures.


Powers spoke of his statues as though they were alive, and had a life in time. He also ventriloquised his creations, so that they uttered their thoughts; America voiced the creed of liberty and La Penserosa her misgivings about the sculptor's talents. The verbal re-casting of a statue might be at odds with the solemnity of the original, as in the sculptor's remarks about original sin and Eve's lack of a sense of shame. Powers stressed the simplicity and innocence of his Eves: "She wears her hair in a natural and most primitive manner..." (26) he wrote of Eve Tempted, speaking, again, as if the statue were alive. "She has never been in society, nor is she educated," he boasted of his Eve Disconsolate, (27) and we can understand the appeal of the Eve theme to a man who had, according to Thomas Adolphus Trollope, "a sort of original, blank-paper mind," who was "a sort of Adam, a fresh, new and original man..." (28) Sophia Hawthorne used the word 'primal' when she saw Eve Tempted in Powers's studio in 1857. (29)

Powers detested the artificiality of fashion and society. He had clear ideas of what constituted Satan: Satan was the fashion for bustles and crinolines; Satan was elaborate hair arrangements, waltzes and polkas; "The serpent who beguiled Eve has never been discharged," he wrote to a friend in 1857; "...he has distorted the human form divine - His own form is monstrous, & therefore he cannot appear in the simple garb of nature - ...I trust you will perceive how superior simplicity is to all his devices." (30) While this  version of Satan might not seem to constitute a serious form of evil, it ran counter to a concept that was sacred to Powers: 'the human form divine', or Swedenborg's doctrine of 'the spiritual body'. This lay at the heart of his ideas on sculpture. The white marble statue was the embodiment of spirit, or the "unveiled soul", as he wrote to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. (31)

Studio visitors also rushed in to supply the absent verbal dimension for a statue, often in the form of poetry. (32) In the poem he dedicated to Eve Tempted, the young Bayard Taylor declared: "The daring of the sculptor's hand has wrought/A soul in that sweet face!", and Powers gratefully acknowledged the non-material dimension: "'Mind remains while matter perishes' and the poem will stand long after the statue has returned in fragments to the earth from which it was taken." (33)

There is a certain anxious insistence on the word soul in the recorded impressions of visitors to the sculptor's studio: a statue did or did not have 'soul'. Marble had a soul, according to the sculptor Thomas Ball, who imagined the plain marble of Powers's tomb in the cimitero degli inglesi voicing its gratitude for being "Raised ..from earth" and given a "soul" in his sculpture. (34)

In their different ways, Powers's five versions of Eve all bear traces of his original concept of a meditation on death, his projected group statue of Adam and Eve (1861) suggesting that the theme of the Fall of Man continued to hold his interest. Swedenborg's interpretation of the Book of Genesis (35) would have made him aware, too, of the more troubling elements in the Christian doctrine of the Fall, which taught that death and the hereditary stain of sin were the direct consequence of Eve's disobedience in eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It would be understandable to query the harshness of a punishment for a natural thirst for knowledge and experience, or the value of a prolonged state of innocence, as the seraph Zerah did in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem The Seraphim. (36) The documented literary source for Powers's first concept of Eve, Gessner's The Death of Abel, related the discovery of death in a context that made it appear not as inevitable and natural, but as a punishment for disobedience.

In his sculpture Powers counteracted the incontrovertible evidence of physical death, as so movingly portrayed in Gessner's poem, with the idea of the spiritual body, as did Gessner in describing the formation of "an etherial body" that "environ'd" the soul of Abel after his death. (37)

The idea of resurrection was implicit in the very process of sculpture, its three stages of clay, plaster and marble being traditionally compared to life, death and resurrection. According to Dentler, this was actually quoted by Thorvaldsen when he visited Powers's studio in 1841 and altered the clay of Eve's hair. (38) And so it was that Powers could write quite naturally - and humourously - in an account that also evokes the Neoplatonic idea of the soul or form being contained, hidden, in the stone, waiting to be released by the sculptor, of raising his Eve to life from the rock-face of marble at Seravezza. (39)


(1) HP to Rev. C. George Currie, 1 September 1864 (Dentler typescript, p.126). I am grateful to Jeffey Begeal for allowing me to quote from his transcription of Clara Dentler's unpublished work White Marble: The Life and Letters of Hiram Powers, Sculptor in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
(2) Henry Tuckerman, Book of the Artists. American Artist Life, New York, Putnam, 1867, p.287.
(3) "How you'd exult if I could put you back/ Six hundred years, blot out cosmogony,/ Geology, ethnology, what not,/ (Greek endings, each the little passing bell/ That signifies some faith's about to die),/ And set you square with Genesis again, -"  (Robert Browning, Bishop Blougram's Apology, 1854-5, lines 678-684)
(4) HP to Nicholas Longworth, April 22 1839 (Donald Reynolds, Hiram Powers's Ideal Sculpture, New York, Garland Press, 1977, p.133).
(5) The Death of Abel. In five books. Attempted from the German of Mr. Gessner (by Mary Colyer), London, 1799, pp.52-55. I am grateful to Claudia Vitale for help in tracing this source.
(6) HP to Lynden Ryder, May 1839 (Richard P. Wunder, Hiram Powers, Vermont Sculptor, 1805-1873, Newark, University of Delaware Press, 1991, I, p.115, p.182). Powers declined Longworth's commission when he learned that the actual carving of the marble for this statue would be entrusted to local stone workers in Cincinnati (Wunder, op.cit., I, p.112).
(7) HP to John Preston, 20 May 1840 (Wunder, op.cit., I, p.183).
(8) HP to Sidney Brooks, 4 December 1849, Wunder, I, p. 187.
(9) D.K.S. Hyland, Lorenzo Bartolini and Italian Influences on American Sculptors in Florence (1825-50), Newark, Univesity of Delaware Press, 1980, p.216.
(10) "The hair is parted &, passing over the ears, falls in wavy masses down the back, and terminates among the flowers of a cluster of plants, around which, after encircling her feet, the serpent appears, with his head projecting in front, just below the right hip & looking cautiously up into her face for whatever may have been his means of seduction." HP to Henry Lea, 10 January 1841 (Wunder, op.cit., I, p. 182).
(11) "Eve is quite 'naked', and she does not appear in the least 'ashamed'. It was very wrong to make her so, but it is too late to correct an error, which Eve herself discovered in the season for fig leaves and managed to set all right where all was wrong before." HP to Sidney Brooks, 4 December 1849 (Reynolds, op.cit., p.158). Cf. "her purification (from original sin) she underwent under water at Carthagena would have been the last of her trials." HP to Sidney Brooks, 17 October 1850 (Wunder, op.cit., I, p.190).
(12) Wunder, op.cit., I, p.305.
(13) "I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless/ ...Deep-hearted man, express/ Grief for thy Dead in silence like to death:-/Most like a monumental statue set/ In everlasting watch and moveless woe,/ Till itself crumble to the dust beneath./ Touch it: the marble eyelids are not wet;/ If it could weep, it could arise and go." Sonnet on Grief.
She wrote to Anna Jameson that the death of her brother had turned her "...white-souled, the past has left its mark with me for ever." EBB to Anna Jameson, 26 February 1852; Kenyon, II, 1897, p.58.
(14) EBB to Arabel, 29-30 May 1847 (The Brownings' Correspondence, ed. P. Kelley and Scott Lewis, 14, Waco, Texas, Wedgestone Press, 1998, p.216)
(15) "[A] peculiar reference to Eve's allotted grief, which, considering that self-sacrifice belonged to her womanhood, and the consciousness of originating the Fall to her offence, - appeared to me imperfectly apprehended hitherto, and more expressible by a woman than a man." Preface to A Drama of Exile, 1844, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Poetical Works, I, London, Smith, Elder & Co., 1890, p.xii.
(16) W.J. Hubard to HP, 20 September 1839. Dentler typescript, p.60.
(17) "Adam and Eve in the morning go forth to their labours, which Eve proposes to divide in several places, each laboring apart: Adam consents not, alledging the danger, lest that enemy, of whom they were forewarn'd, should tempt her found alone: Eve loath to be thought not circumspect or firm enough, urges her going apart, the rather desirous to make trial of her strength." The argument of Book IX, John Milton, Paradise Lost.
    "Eve separate he spies...oft stooping to support/ Each flow'r of slender stalk.../ Hung drooping unsustain'd; them she upstays/ Gently with myrtle band, mindless the while/ Herself, though fairest unsupported flower,/ From her best prop so far, and storm so nigh." John Milton, Paradise Lost, IX, 424 ff.
(18) Nathaniel Hawthorne, Passages from the French and Italian Note-books of Nathaniel Hawthorne, quoted in Wunder, op.cit., II, p.182.
(19) "Her unadorned golden tresses wore/ Dishevel'd.." John Milton, Paradise Lost, IV, 304; "..not with indented wave,/ Prone on the ground, as since, but on his rear,/ Circular base of rising folds, that tower'd/ Fold above fold a surging maze, his head/ crested aloft...erect/ Amidst his circling spires.." John Milton, Paradise Lost, IX, 495 ff.
(20) John Flaxman, Lectures on Sculpture, London, John Murray, 1829, pp.336-8. Evidence for Powers's familiarity with this work is given in the exhibition catalogue Hiram Powers' Paradise Lost, Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, New York, 1985, p. 13, p. 28 (note 15).
(21) HP to George Peabody, 24 October 1861 (Reynolds, op.cit., p.202).
(22) "Nude, as it [La Penserosa] now appears, it would do for an Eve After the Fall, provided there was shade of grief on the face. The subjects are not unlike, so far as the mere form is concerned." HP to James Lenox, 27 December 1853 (Reynolds, op.cit.,p. 180).
(23) Rosina Bulwer Lytton's wrote in the Court Journal of 8 May 1841 that Powers had made two attempts at 'the ideal': "a statue of Eve, still in the clay....beautifully moulded...But the attitude is ungraceful, that of the right elbow resting on the hip, as she holds out the apple, ... the face itself...has the fault of being too discreet, and expressing nothing. Why does not such an artist leave dull realities, and draw a little upon the imagination that I feel sure he must possess!"
(24) 'It is not an ideal, poetical Eve that he has presented to us; - not Milton's Eve, but the living Eve of the Bible.' Lady Stamer, 8 February 1842 (Wunder, op.cit., I, p.185).
(25) HP to Kellogg, 18 January 1848 (Wunder, op.cit., I, p.187).
(26) HP to Sidney Brooks, 4 December 1849 (Wunder, op.cit., I, p.187).
(27) HP to Nathan Denison Morgan, 6 December 1871 (Wunder, op.cit., I, p.305).
(28) T.A. Trollope, Some Recollections of Hiram Powers, Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, 4, February 1875; quoted in Wunder, op.cit., I, p.55.
(29) "Eve looks primal. There is not one hour's experience in her new soul, beaming out of her large, innocent eyes. I am sure she has not yet tasted the apple she holds in her hand, and knows nothing whatever about good and evil." Sophia Hawthorne, Notes in England and Italy, 1869, p.366.
(30) HP to Mary Duncan, 7 September 1857; quoted in C. Colbert, "Each Little Hillock hath a Tongue" - Phrenology and the Art of Hiram Powers, Art Bulletin, XVIII, June 1986, p. 291.
(31) "A nude statue is an unveiled soul, and not a naked body." HP to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 7 August 1853; D. Reynolds, The "Unveiled Soul": Hiram Powers's Embodiment of the Ideal, Art Bulletin, 59, September 1977; K. Gaja, "Scrivendo nel marmo": lettere inedite tra Elizabeth Barrett Browning e Hiram Powers, Antologia Vieusseux, 25-26, 2003.
(32) This dimension is explored by Claudia Vitale in her paper 'La pietra e la parola: Elizabeth Barrett Browning a Firenze', with special reference to Elizabeth Barrett Browning's sonnet Hiram Powers's Greek Slave.
(33) Bayard Taylor to HP, 1 October 1845; HP to Bayard Taylor, 9 October 1845 (Wunder, op.cit., I, p.190-191).
(34) "[A]nd the conceit occurred to me to let the marble, which while living he made so eloquent, pronounce his eulogy. TO HIRAM POWERS
..and I bemoan/ With you, - yes, I, poor, cold, but grateful stone!/ Would you the true interpretation seek?/ His fingers gave me life to breathe and speak:/ Raised me from earth, and let my spirit free;/
The soul God gave him, he breathed into me." Thomas Ball, quoted in Wunder, op.cit., I, p.353.
(35) "Clearly Jehovah would not have placed two trees in a garden, and one for a stumbling block, unless they had some spiritual meaning. Nor does it accord with divine justice that both Adam and his wife should be cursed because they ate of the fruit of some tree; nor that the curse should adhere to all their posterity, and thus that the whole human race should be condemned for a fault involving no evil lust nor badness of heart." Emanuel Swedenborg, The True Christian Religion, London, J.M.Dent, 1933, p. 537 (Vera Christiana Religio, 1771).
(36) "Zerah: Heaven is dull,
      Mine Ador, to man's earth.
      ...The winding, wandering music that returns
      Upon itself, exultingly self-bound
      In the great spheric round
      Of everlasting praises;"  The Seraphim, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Poetical Works, op.cit., I, p.133. The poem is discussed in Isobel Armstrong's essay Casa Guidi Windows: spectacle and politics in 1851 (ed. A. Chapman and J. Stabler, Unfolding the South. Nineteenth-century women writers and artists in Italy, Manchester University Press, 2003, p.68-9).
(37) "The angel of death call'd forth the soul of ABEL from the ensanguin'd dust. It advanc'd with a smile of joy. The more pure and spirituous parts of the body flew off, and mixing with the balsamic exhalations, wafted by the zephyrs from the flowers which sprung up within the compass irradiated by the angel, environ'd the soul, forming for it an etherial body." Gessner, op.cit., p.165.
(38) Dentler typescript, p.79.
(39) "Eve has played me almost as bad a prank as she played my greatest of grandfathers...The fact is I found her in a highly putrefied state wedged in among the rocks at Seravezza, and after taking her out and doing all that lay in my power...to restore her to life and her former personal attractions, in short - after spending some fourteen months in this charitable manner and paying her passage to America, what do you think she has done? Why in a fit of mortification and shame brought on partly by some of Mr Beecher's remarks upon the nudity of the Slave, and mostly by a sense of superior modesty and innocence of her granddaughters, she forgets her gratitude.... & plunged overboard in the midst of a shoal of mermaids, who have since adopted her as their Queen..." HP to Mrs Salmon, 15 April 1850 (Dentler typescript, p.62).

© Katerine Gaja, 2004




§°WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR/ ENGLAND/ Landor/ Gualtiero Savage/ / Inghilterra/ Firenze/ 17 Settembre/ 1864/ Anni 90/ 879/ Walter Savage Landor, l'Angleterre/ GL23777/1 N° 348 Burial 19/09, Rev Pendleton/ Freeman, 223/ Thomas Adolphus Trollope, What I Remember, II.244-262, notes Landor and the Garrows knew each other well from Devon days, gives Landor's letter about Kate Field's Atlantic Monthly article which mentions the Alinari photograph of himself/ IN MEMORY OF/ WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR/ BORN 30th OF JANUARY 1775/ DIED 17th OF SEPTEMBER 1864/ AND THOU HIS FLORENCE TO THY TRUST/ RECEIVE AND KEEP/ KEEP SAFE HIS DEDICATED DUST/ HIS SACRED SLEEP/ SO SHALL THY LOVERS COME FROM FAR/ MIX WITH THY NAME/ MORNING STAR WITH EVENING STAR/ HIS FAULTLESS FAME/ A.G. SWINBURNE/ F9E °=Gen. Pier Lamberto Negroni Bentivoglio

  I strove with none, for none was worth my strife;
  Nature I loved, and next to Nature, Art.
  I warmed both hands before the fire of Life:
  It sinks, and I am ready to depart.

  Walter Savage Landor

n November 1859 Walter Savage Landor – aged eighty-four, angry, confused and bankrupt – was installed, through the kindness of Elizabeth Browning, in a small apartment on the first floor of number 2671 via Nunziatina. It was to be his last home and he was to die there five years later. He had three small rooms and a book closet; his circumstances were certainly very different from what they had been during his earlier Italian sojourn, in the 1820s and 30s, when he had lived in some splendour at the Villa Gherardesca (later called 'Villa Landor' by Daniel Willard Fiske, and now called 'La Torraccia');

after Mrs Browning died in the summer of 1861 her maid Wilson, now the signora Romagnoli, moved into the ground floor rooms to look after the old man.

Nel novembre 1859, Walter Savage Landor,  oramai un  vecchio ottantaquattrenne inasprito, confuso e squattrinato, trovò alloggio – per intercessione dell’amica Elizabeth Barrett Browning -  in un piccolo appartamento al primo piano di via Nunziatina 2671. Questa sarebbe stata la sua ultima dimora per i  seguenti cinque anni e qui sarebbe morto. L’appartamento era composto da tre piccole  stanze e da uno studiolo per i libri: situazione molto diversa da quella che aveva contraddistinto i suoi precedenti soggiorni italiani negli anni 1820 e 1830 – allorché aveva vissuto con un certo fasto alla Villa della Gherardesca (più tardi chiamata “Villa  Landor”  da Daniel Willard Fiske e oggi nota come “La Torraccia”). Alla morte di Elizabeth Browning, nel 1861, era venuta ad abitare al piano terreno dell’edificio in via Nunziatina , la governante dei Browning, Wilson  (adesso “signora Romagnoli”) che avrebbe avuto il compito di vegliare sul vecchio poeta.

Landor’s thoughts turned increasingly to his own demise and the arrangements that would have to be made. His general plan was to be buried in Widcombe churchyard, but in October he received a letter from the vicar saying that if he still wanted to be buried there his grave would have to be made at once, as the burial ground was to be closed. The following January he mentioned the problem of Widcombe churchyard in a letter to the grieving widower Browning, who had other things on his mind, but who evidently encouraged Landor to give up the expensive notion of an English funeral. (Browning was very practical about money, and had earlier scotched a scheme hatched by Landor to make some building alteration to the terrace in via Nunziatina: ‘On this terrace’, the old man had threatened to his friend Kate Field, ‘I shall spend all my October days, and–and–all my money!’) Later in 1862 Landor wrote to Browning: ‘Your letter has induced me to rest my bones in Florence, where my two sons, Walter and Charles, will defray the expenses of my funeral...my express orders are that only the small common stone covers my body, with the inscription–

I pensieri di Landor, adesso,  spesso erano volti a considerare il momento della propria scomparsa e di come avrebbero dovuto esserne gestite le circostanze. In linea di principio desiderava essere sepolto nel terreno adiacente alla chiesa di Widcombe – ma il suo piano fu alterato da una lettera ricevuta  in ottobre di quello stesso anno. Landor vi veniva informato che se avesse ancora avuto il desiderio di essere sepolto a Widcombe, avrebbe dovuto far eseguire subito la propria tomba, giacchè le sepolture in quel cimitero sarebbero state dismesse. Nel gennaio seguente Landor accenna in una lettera inviata a Robert Browning la questione del cimitero di Widcombe. Questi, ancora addolorato per la scomparsa della moglie  e preso da tutti altri problemi, peraltro pare averlo incoraggiato a rinunciare all’idea di un costoso funerale in Inghilterra. (Browning aveva un atteggiamento molto pragmatico nei confronti del denaro  e aveva cercato già di inibire un progetto di alterazione della terrazza di via della Nunziatina che Landor aveva annunciato all’amica Kate Field con la frase: “Vedrà finire i miei giorni e tutti i miei soldi”). Più tardi, nel corso del 1862, Landor scriveva a Browning: “La vostra lettera mi ha indotto a desiderare che le mie ossa riposino a Firenze: qui i miei due figli, Walter e Charles, faranno fronte alle spese del funerale…Il mio ordine esplicito è che solo una comune pietra tombale ricopra il mio corpo con la seguente iscrizione:

 BORN JANUARY 30, 1775
 DIED  . . .  1862'
This prediction was too pessimistic, in the event, and indeed the following year he published yet another book of poems, entitled Heroic Idylls, which came out in October 1863 with a dedication to Edward Twisleton, to whom Landor had entrusted the MS a few months previously.

La predizione si rivelò in effetti eccessivamente pessimistica: infatti l’anno seguente Landor pubblicò un ulteriore libro di poesie (Heroic Idylls). Il volume uscì nell’ottobre 1863 con una dedica a Edward Twisleton – la persona cui Landor aveva affidato il manoscritto pochi mesi prima.

Landor’s grave in the non-catholic cemetery in Piazzale Donatello currently has a stone with an inscription consisting of lines in memory of the poet composed by Algernon Charles Swinburne. This modern inscription is not what Landor wanted, as we have seen, nor is it what he originally got, but it is nevertheless fitting and appropriate, as I shall try to show.

Nel cimitero non cattolico di Piazzale Donatello, la tomba di Landor attualmente reca un’iscrizione in memoria del poeta composta da Algernon Charles Swinburne. Questa lapide non rappresenta, come abbiamo visto,  né ciò che Landor desiderava né quella che ricevette al momento della  morte. Cionondimeno l’iscrizione ci appare appropriata e cercherò di dimostrarne la ragione.

In February 1864 the young Algernon Swinburne travelled to Paris in company with his friend Lord Houghton, as Richard Monckton Milnes had by then become. After a few days he left Houghton in Paris and pressed on to Italy, armed with Houghton’s letter of introduction, specifically in order to pay homage to the great Walter Savage Landor in Florence. The twenty-six-year-old Swinburne had a shock of red hair, but otherwise had a great deal in common with Landor, or so he thought. Both were hellenists, both were atheists and republicans, both idolised Percy Bysshe Shelley. Swinburne was entranced by the notion of receiving the poetic torch from one who had been born in 1775 and might easily have known Shelley. (In fact Landor never did meet Shelley, because he foolishly avoided him on account of his reputation for immorality, of all things, to his later regret.) Swinburne’s first meeting with Landor was not however a success. The young poet wrote to Lord Houghton on 4 March 1864:

Nel febbraio 1864 il giovane Algernon Swinburne compì un viaggio alla volta di Parigi in compagnia dell’amico Lord Houghton – il nome che, per via di ereditarietà di titoli nobiliari, adesso spettava  a Richard Monckton Milnes. Dopo un breve soggiorno parigino, Swinburne lasciò l’amico e proseguì per l’Italia accompagnato da una lettera di presentazione che Houghton gli aveva fornito con lo specifico scopo di introdurlo, a Firenze,  presso il grande Walter Savage Landor. Il ventiseienne Swinburne aveva una folta chioma di capelli rossi, ma sotto  molti altri rispetti aveva parecchio  in comune con Landor – o perlomeno così riteneva. Entrambi erano ellenisti, entrambi si dichiaravano atei e repubblicani e condividevano un’idolatria per Percy Bysshe Shelley. Swinburne era emozionato all’idea di ricevere una sorta di investitura letteraria da qualcuno che era nato nel 1775 e che avrebbe potuto facilmente aver conosciuto Shelley. (In realtà Landor non aveva mai incontrato Shelley:  scioccamente, e anni dopo se ne sarebbe  lamentato, lo aveva evitato apposta per via – colmo dei colmi – della sua reputazione immorale). L’incontro fiorentino  fra i due, comunque, non fu un successo come è testimoniato dalla lettera che il giovane poeta scrive il 4 marzo 1864 a Lord Houghton:

With much labour I hunted out the most ancient of demigods at 93 Via della Chiesa, but (although knock-down blows were not, as you anticipated, his mode of salutation) I found him, owing I suspect to the violent weather, too much weakened and confused to realise the fact of the introduction without distress. In effect, he seemed so feeble and incompatible that I came away in a grievous state of disappointment and depression myself, fearing that I was really too late...

Con molta fatica sono riuscito a rintracciare il più antico dei semi-dei al numero 93 di Via della Chiesa ma – anche se l’accoglienza calorosa   non rientrava, come mi avevate anticipato, nel  suo modo di salutare -  l’ho trovato, forse per via della stagione pessima, in uno stato di debolezza e di confusione tali da non permettergli di evitare la sorpresa smarrita della mia visita. Infatti mi apparve così debole e assente che io stesso  venni via in uno stato deplorevole di delusione e disappunto – temendo davvero di essere arrivato troppo tardi…

Apparently he had thrown himself at Landor’s feet and covered his hands with kisses, and the irascible old man was more bewildered than pleased. Swinburne’s letter goes on:

Quello che il giovane Swinburne aveva fatto era stato di gettarsi ai piedi di Landor e di coprirgli le mani di baci, riuscendo a far sì che il vecchio irascibile fosse più scandalizzato che compiaciuto. La lettera di Swinburne prosegue:

I wrote him a line of apology and explanation, saying why and how I had made up my mind to call upon him after you had furnished me with an introduction...To which missive of mine came a note of invitation which I answered by setting off again for his lodgings. After losing myself for an hour in Borgo S. Frediano I found it at last, and found him as alert, brilliant and delicious as I suppose others may have found him twenty years since.

Gli ho scritto due righe per scusarmi e per spiegargli del perché e del come avessi deciso di andarlo a trovare dopo che mi avevate fornito una lettera di presentazione…A questo mio messaggio è seguito un biglietto di invito cui io ho risposto  dirigendomi nuovamente verso casa sua. L’ho finalmente trovata dopo essermi perso in San Frediano per circa un’ora.  Questa volta mi è apparso vigile, brillante e ameno come immagino altri lo abbiano visto nel corso degli ultimi venti anni.

(It may seem stupid of Swinburne to have got lost for an hour in Borgo San Frediano, especially as he had already been once to the house, but my guess is that people were not able to direct him very well as the name of the street had only the previous year been changed from Via Nunziatina to Via della Chiesa.) Swinburne made various protestations of devotion, and begged Landor to accept the dedication of his forthcoming book of poetry, Atalanta. Having graciously accepted, Landor insisted on giving Swinburne a painting which he said was by Correggio – ‘a masterpiece that was intercepted on its way back to its Florentine home from the Louvre, whither it had been taken by Napoleon Bonaparte.’ Unfortunately it was, like so many of Landor’s pictures, a fake.

 (Può apparire strano che Swinburne si sia smarrito per un’ora in San Frediano – soprattutto perché già  una volta era stato da Landor. La mia ipotesi è che i passanti non fossero in grado di dargli indicazioni stradali  molto precise poiché, solo l’anno precedente,  il nome della strada era cambiato da Via Nunziatina a Via della Chiesa). Swinburne, durante quella visita, fece atto di grande devozione al vecchio poeta e lo pregò di accettare la dedica che gli avrebbe rivolto del suo prossimo libro di poesie, Atalanta. Dopo aver benevolmente ricevuto l’offerta, Landor volle a tutti i costi dare a Swibrune un quadro che disse era di Correggio – “un capolavoro che è stato intercettato sulla via del ritorno verso la sua dimora fiorentina dal Louvre, dove lo aveva trafugato Napoleone Bonaparte”. Purtroppo, come spesso nel caso dei quadri di Landor, si trattava  di un falso.

A few days after Swinburne’s second visit, and while he was contemplating a third, Landor sent him a note (addressed simply to ‘Swinburne, Esq.’):

 Pochi giorni dopo la seconda visita, e mentre Swinburne ne progettava una terza, Landor gli fece recapitare un messaggio indirizzato semplicemente a “Swinburne, Esq”. Qui si diceva

My dear friend,
So totally am I exhausted that I can hardly hold my pen, to express my vexation that I shall be unable ever to converse with you again. Eyes and intellect fail me–I can only say that I was much gratified by your visit, which must be the last, and I remain ever
Your obliged
W. Landor.

Mio caro amico,
sono talmente esausto che appena riesco a tenere la penna in mano e riesco ad esprimere la mia contrarietà per via del mio non poter più conversare con voi. La vista e l’intelletto mi tradiscono – posso solo dire quanto mi abbia gratificato la vostra visita – che peraltro deve essere l’ultima – e resto il vostro

If Swinburne was disappointed by this second rebuff, he never said so: I suspect that he had already got what he wanted. Landor did have a few more visits from other admirers. When Augustus Hare came in late May he too was confused by the change of the street name, but he identified the house because he recognised the pictures he could see through the first-floor windows, just as he remembered them in Bath. Landor was failing: earlier that month he had rang for Mrs Romagnoli at two in the morning, asking for windows to be thrown open, and for pen, ink and paper. Having written a few lines he leaned back and said ‘I shall never write again. Put out the lights and draw the curtains’.

Se Swinburne rimanesse deluso da questo secondo smacco, non si è mai saputo: ritengo che considerasse di aver  già ottenuto  quello  che desiderava. Landor ricevette ancora qualche visita dai suoi ammiratori. Ad esempio, quando Augustus Hare venne a trovarlo a maggio inoltrato, anche questi fu confuso dal cambiamento del nome della strada – ma riuscì a identificarla per via dei quadri che riconobbe attraverso le finestre del primo piano, proprio come li ricordava nella casa di Bath. La salute di Landor andava peggiorando: ai primi di maggio aveva chiamato la signora Romagnoli alle due di notte per dirle di aprire le finestre e per farsi portare penna, inchiostro e carta. Dopo aver scritto poche righe,  si era accasciato dicendo “Non scriverò mai più. Spengete le luci e tirate le tende”.

Yet he was not to be trifled with. Many years before, as is well known, he had thrown a cook out of the window at the Villa Gherardesca. To show that ‘the old volcanic fire still lived beneath its ashes’, Thomas Adolphus Trollope cites another defenestration episode, from this later period, in which Landor, having finished dinner, ‘thinking that the servant did not come to remove the things so promptly as she ought to have done’, gathered everything up in the tablecloth and bundled it out of the window.

D’altra parte Landor non era tipo con cui scherzare. Molti anni prima – com’è ben noto – aveva gettato un cuoco da una finestra di Villa della Gherardesca. Per mostrare che “l’antico fuoco ancora ardeva sotto le braci”, Thomas Adolphus Trollope cita un altro tipo di “defenestrazione” del periodo più tardo. Pare che, avendo Landor finito di cenare, e “ritenendo che il maggiordomo non fosse venuto a ritirare i piatti con la sollecitudine necessaria”, egli avesse raccolto gli avanzi del pranzo  nella tovaglia e ne avesse gettato il fagotto dalla finestra.

In mid September he had such a bad cold and a cough that he stayed in bed, something he never normally did. His sons Walter and Charles arrived separately to visit him on Saturday the 17th. Landor said he would take a pill for his cough, then changed his mind, then tried to take a drink, then laid down his head and died. His daughter who had not seen him for five years drove down from the Villa to view the corpse. On the evening of Sunday the 18th he was buried in the Protestant Cemetery, the service conducted by the Revd I.H.S. Pendleton, chaplain of the English church. Only Walter and Charles followed the coffin to the grave.

 A metà settembre fu afflitto da un raffreddore e da una tosse così persistenti da dover restare a letto – cosa che non faceva in genere. I figli  Walter e Charles vennero, ognuno per conto proprio, a trovarlo il 17 settembre, un sabato. Landor aveva detto che avrebbe preso una pastiglia per la tosse, ma poi cambiò idea e tentò di bere, infine reclinò la testa e spirò. La figlia che non lo aveva più visto nel corso degli ultimi cinque anni,  venne giù dalla Villa per vegliarne la salma. La sera di domenica 18  fu sepolto nel Cimitero Protestante con una cerimonia condotta dal Rev. I.H.S.Pendleton, cappellano della Chiesa Inglese. Solo Walter e Charles seguirono il feretro fino alla tomba.

The poet’s estranged family paid for an upright headstone bearing the following inscription:

 La famiglia pagò distrattamente una lapide verticale che recava la seguente iscrizione:


The Italian stonecutter is said to have bungled the unfamiliar letter ‘w’ in the final line and to have written ‘coife’. The stone itself was of poor quality and friable, and the insincere inscription soon faded.

Si dice che lo scalpellino italiano, stravolgendo la esotica “w” della parola “wife” (moglie) abbia  scritto, invece, “coife”. La pietra era di qualità scadente e friabile; l’iscrizione ipocrita presto impallidì.

In modern times (‘recently’ according to Super, who was writing in 1954) a flat marble slab has been laid over the poet’s grave, lying in the opposite direction to the body, so that it can be read more conveniently from the path. The admirers who paid for this slab – my guess is that they included Mr Christopher Pirie-Gordon – took their cue from the concluding pages of Forster’s celebrated biography of Landor, and quoted two of the thirteen quatrains of Swinburne’s poem ‘In Memory of Walter Savage Landor’, published in Poems and Ballads:

In epoca moderna (“recente” secondo Super che scriveva nel 1954) una lastra di marmo è stata posta sulla tomba del poeta, in direzione opposta alla giacitura del defunto, in maniera da renderne più agevole la lettura. Gli ammiratori che hanno finanziato questa lapide – penso che fra di loro ci fosse Christopher Pirie –Gordon – hanno preso ispirazione dalle pagine finali della nota biografia dedicata a Landor da Forster e hanno utilizzato due delle tredici quartine che Swinburne, aveva scritto nella poesia “In Memory of Walter Savage Landor” e che è inclusa nel suo Poems and Ballads.



This is an apostrophe to Florence, so ‘thy lovers’ refers to the city’s lovers, the artistic and poetical pilgrims who still come, even at this distance in time, to pay their homage. The point about the ‘morning-star’ and the ‘evening-star’ is of course that they are both the same thing, both the planet Venus: this astronomical fact was well known to the ancients, whose poets nevertheless speak of two different heavenly bodies, Eosphoros and Hesperos.

Si tratta di un saluto a Firenze così che “thy lovers” si riferisce agli innamorati della città – a quanti ancora oggi compiono un pellegrinaggio artistico e poetico e, dopo tanto tempo, depongono il loro omaggio. Vale la pena osservare che “la stella del mattino” e la “stella della sera” sono la medesima stella, e cioè il pianeta Venere. Questo dato astronomico era ben noto nell’antichità, ma ciononostante quei poeti parlavano di due diversi corpi celesti – Eosforo e Espero.

Swinburne’s lines, the best ones in the poem, are in fact a passable imitation of Landor’s lapidary manner, which at its best achieved a chiselled finality of expression reminiscent of the finest pages of the Greek Anthology. Here is the very well known ‘Dying speech of an old philosopher’:

I versi di Swinburne, i più belli della poesia, sono in effetti una accettabile imitazione dei versi lapidari di Landor che, nel loro miglior momento, raggiungono una finissima persuasività espressiva e tali che ricordano le più scelte pagine dell’Antologia Greca. Ecco la notissima strofa Landoriana dal DYING SPEECH OF AN OLD PHILOSOPHER:

  I strove with none, for none was worth my strife;
  Nature I loved, and next to Nature, Art.
  I warmed both hands before the fire of Life:
  It sinks, and I am ready to depart.
Non ho gareggiato con nessuno, poiché nessuno era degno della mia rivalità;
La Natura ho amato e accanto a questa, l’Arte.
Entrambe le mani ho scaldato al fuoco della Vita:
questa si  sta spengendo e sono pronto a prenderne commiato.
When Swinburne heard the news of Landor’s death he was rather irritated, as Atalanta had not yet been published and so could not be proudly shown to its dedicatee. To Paulina Lady Trevelyan he wrote on 15 March 1865 that ‘Mr Landor’s death...was a considerable trouble to me as I had hoped against hope or reason that he who in spring at Florence had accepted the dedication of an unfinished poem would live to receive and read it...As it is he never read anything of mine more mature than Rosmund’.

Allorché Swinburne apprese la notizia della morte di Landor, ne rimase alquanto irritato. Infatti il suo Atalanta non era ancora stato pubblicato e pertanto non avrebbe potuto farne sfoggio con il dedicatario. Scrisse a Paulina, Lady Trevelyan, nel marzo 1865 “La scomparsa di Landor è stata per me fonte di un certo disappunto poiché avevo sperato – aldilà di ogni ragionevolezza – che colui che in primavera a Firenze accettava la dedica di un poema non finito, ancora in vita al momento della sua pubblicazione,  avrebbe potuto riceverlo e  leggerlo…Cosi’ come sono andati gli eventi /Landor/ non ha mai letto mai una mia opera più complessa di Rosmund”.

A decade after Landor’s death, Swinburne was an established poet when he wrote to Edmund Clarence Stedman (23 February 1874), giving his considered reflections on the whole incident:

Una decina di anni dopo la scomparsa di Landor, Swinburne che aveva raggiunto nel frattempo un’affermata posizione nel mondo letterario, così scriveva delle sue impressioni maturate sull’intero episodio a Edmund Clarence Stedman (il 23 febbraio 1874):

...I remember well how pleasant and how precious, for all his high self-reliance and conscious autarkeia, the sincere tribute of genuine and studious admiration was even at the last to the old demigod with the head and the heart of a lion. I have often ardently wished I could have been born (say but five years) earlier, that my affection and reverence might have been of some use and their expression found some echo while he was yet alive beyond the rooms in which he was to die. The end was very lonely, and I fear the last echo of any public voice that reached him from England must have been of obloquy and insult.

ricordo con piacere quanto, fino all’ultimo,  – malgrado il suo alto sentimento di sé e la ostentata autosufficienza – il tributo di un’ammirazione sincera e colta fosse prezioso  per il semi-dio, dalla testa e dal cuore di un leone. Ho spesso ardentemente auspicato di essere nato, diciamo, cinque anni prima così che il mio affetto e la mia devozione gli potessero essere di aiuto e la loro eco avesse modo di diffondersi – lui ancora in vita – oltre le stanze che avrebbero visto la fine dei suoi giorni. Il trapasso avvenne in una grande solitudine e temo che l’ultima eco di una voce pubblica che gli arrivasse dall’Inghilterra  fosse carica di insulti e contumelie.”

© Mark Roberts, 2004, trad. Margherita Ciacci

Much better than this image of WSL is one taken later by Alinari, now lost, but which served as frontispiece to a book on him. It shows him with the white mane of hair and beard looking like King Lear. If anyone has a copy could they please scan and send to JBH for inclusion here.

While Laurence Hutton, Literary Landmarks of Florence (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1897), has the following nineteenth-century photograph of the tomb,

noting that its 'inscription simply bears his name and records the fact that it is "The Last Sad Tribute of his Wife and Children".

Here we give Walter Savage Landor's present tombstone immediately before its cleaning, four years ago, the inscription still being legible:

Then Walter Savage Landor's tomb as it is now, after the so-called 'cleaning', the inscription becoming almost illegible:

Contributions were received for this cleaning from descendants and others. The stonemason worked very rapidly, for a very brief time, with well water, more lead letters became dislodged and the tomb surface immediately deteriorated. Opificio delle Pietre Dure says to use neither tap nor well water, only distilled water, as the chemicals in the other two eat into the marble. Fortunately, this is not the original tomb but its replacement. It is no longer shown to visitors because of the deterioration. It may no longer be possible to save the present tombstone, even through employing an expert restorer to undo this damage.

WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR WEBSITE: Recordings of Gebir I, Gebir II || Essay 'Walter Savage Landor' in New Spirit of the Age || Jean Field, 'Walter Savage Landor's Warwick' || 'Black and Red Letter Chaucer' || Kate Field, Atlantic Montly, 'The Last Days of Walter Savage Landor' || Mark Roberts, 'The Inscription on the Grave of Walter Savage Landor' || Alison Levy, 'The Widow of Walter Savage Landor' || Kristin Bragadottir, 'William Morris and Daniel Willard Fiske' (Villa Landor) || Piero Fusi, 'A. Henry Savage Landor'.






ARNOLD SAVAGE LANDOR/ ENGLAND / Landor/ Arnold/ [Savage]/ Inghilterra/ Firenze/ 6 Aprile/ 1871/ Anni 52/ 1127/ Arnault Landor, l'Angleterre/ Freeman incorrectly identifies as Fanny Trollope, 237-239/ SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF ARNOLD SAVAGE LANDOR ESQ./ BORN 5TH OF MARCH 1818/ DIED 2nd OF APRIL 1871// M. AUTERI POMAR 1873// M. AUTERI POMAR 1873/M.Auteri Pomàr [Sculpted figure of grieving mother, back turned to and farthest from Republican husband's tomb, and having the coat of arms and the crest of a 'savage']/ A4T(69)/ M.Auteri Pomàr/

Les yeux de Corinne étaient baissés en achevant cette prière, et ces regards furent frappés par cette inscription d'un tombeau su lequel elle s'était mise à genoux: - Seule à mon aurore, seule à mon couchant, je suis seule encore ici.

Madame de Staël, 'Le séjour à Florence', Corinne ou Italie

his essay stems from research in progress for my forthcoming book, entitled Re-membering Masculinity: Widowed Bodies, Mourning and Portraiture in Early Modern Florence. This interdisciplinary yet fundamentally art historical project recognizes a socio-cultural phenomenon – the fear not merely of death but also of being forgotten – and identifies a set of pictorial, literary and theoretical strategies consequently formulated to ensure memory. Of signal importance, I maintain, is the role and representation of gender within the early modern memorial enterprise. I am specifically concerned with the socio-political construction and maintenance of what I call masculine memory – the memory not merely of an individual, of a dead man, but more so of a collective identity, of manhood and masculinity.1

Today, I will focus on commemorative practice and visual imagery, exploring in depth the role and representation of the widow. Inspired by this year’s conference theme – the printed book in connection to Florence – I read the widow’s body precisely as a text, as a metaphorical memory book. Yet I also suggest that we read between the lines of these visual documents insofar as the widow’s body, in ritual and in representation, offers up a complex and complicating relationship between memory, mourning and masculinity. Following a survey of early modern widowhood and visual culture, primarily in sixteenth-century Florence, I discuss the nineteenth-century tomb of Arnold Savage Landor or, rather, the provocative figure of his grieving widow, Julia, who both perpetuates and complicates masculine memory in the English Cemetery.

Argument and Methodology
I begin with a few words about my methodology. My argument works with the premise that early modern masculinity was inherently anxious. That anxiety, citing Mark Breitenberg on the situation in England, ‘so endemic to patriarchy that the issue becomes not so much its identification but rather an analysis of the discourses that respond to it,’ is also ‘an instrument (once properly contained, appropriated or returned) of [patriarchy’s] perpetuation.’2 Yet if the fear of being forgotten necessitated a set of what he calls ‘compensatory or transferential strategies,’3 that memorial endeavor was more than just one of benign self-preservation. We also have to recognize a gender politics at work, even if it frequently worked against itself.

Historically, strategies of deferral or transcendence have been consciously devised as a response to what Henry Staten calls thanato-erotic anxiety – the fear, within the dialectic of mourning, not of loss of object but of loss of self.4 The fear of one’s own death and the subsequent fear of being forgotten could and did result in auto-mourning – a premature and self-inflicted process of grieving. However, this initial act is eventually and vengefully transferred onto the bodies of women, for it is the woman’s sexuality that undermines the man’s authority, an idea Staten refers to as ‘thanatoerotophobic misogyny.’ By such a process, the social designation of women as primary mourners does much to allay fears and alleviate anxiety. For example, within this cultural environment, a husband might rightfully presume that his wife will not only mourn him but also mourn him properly (that is, sincerely and for the remainder of her life), contributing to his expectations of a so-called ‘good death.’

But for all that widowhood promises – from perpetuity to transcendence – it is undermined by its very performativity and mere prevalence. A critical examination of the realities of widowhood, both during and after mourning ceremonial, reveals a marked discrepancy between the rigidity of expectation and the ambiguity of experience. The death ritual stands as a cultural mechanism designed and performed in order to reaffirm social order after a rupture in the natural order of things. As the ritual process unfolds, social structures and hierarchies, including gender roles, are re-asserted. Thus, the culturally designated primary mourners assume the greater part of public grieving, reminding the living of their duties to the dead. Yet ritual, though certainly authoritative, is, by its very nature, artificial. As carefully scripted as ritual must be and as well concealed as the subtext of this cultural maintenance program might be, it is precisely that basic, underlying element of constructedness and the inevitability of interpretation that leads to ritual failure. A more grave deficiency is the uncertainty of mourning after ceremonial, when supervision of the primary mourners, outside of the public sphere, proved more difficult.5 For example, widows simply remarried, not all of them but enough that, as Christiane Klapisch-Zuber has recorded, the consistently uncertain social, economic and interfamilial mobility of approximately 25% of the adult female population in Florence caused a heightened degree of ‘anxiety among men.’6 Thus, if the widow simultaneously remedies and aggravates the memorial situation – her role just as tenuous as memory itself – what was the alternative? In other words, anxiety re-instated (if ever alleviated), how will the early modern subject ensure his memory?

Among those ‘compensatory or transferential strategies’ operating in the early modern period, I necessarily read portraiture as central to the memorial task. Of course, already in the fifteenth century, Alberti famously opined that painting ‘makes the dead seem almost alive.’7 But before then and since then, so many have understood the obvious connection between portraiture and commemorative practice.8 Appropriating Samuel Cohn’s critical response to recent scholarship, aptly entitled, ‘Collective Amnesia,’ I make the case for my own argument; he writes, ‘With few exceptions, discussions of the instruments and strategies for family memory in Renaissance Florence have been presented in an ideological vacuum. That is to say, they have not explored the other side of the coin – forgetfulness.’9 It is, precisely, a rhetoric of forgetting that structures my contribution to the field. Specifically, I wish to nuance our understanding of Renaissance portraiture as something complexly generated within a discourse of male anxiety and pre-mortuary mourning. In sum, I argue that portraiture could defer memory loss or, at the very least, pictorially console the subject against his own potentially unmourned death.

Widowhood and Visual Culture
Whereas recent studies of early modern widowhood by social, economic and cultural historians have called attention to the often ambiguous, yet also often empowering, experience and position of widows within society, my work considers the distinct and important relationship between widowhood and representation.10 I read widowhood as a catalyst for the production of a significant body of visual material – representations of, for and by widows, whether through traditional media, such as painting, sculpture and architecture, or through the so-called ‘minor arts,’ including popular print culture, medals, religious and secular furnishings and ornament, costume and gift objects. A careful and critical look at this unique and understudied correlation can offer valuable insight into the fashioning and re-fashioning of individual, family and civic identity, memory and history. In sum, I wish to demonstrate some of the ways in which critical visual analyses can nuance the socio-cultural, historic, economic and psychological frameworks in which widowhood was constructed, celebrated, censored and commemorated, allowing us to recognize and appreciate the complexity and contradiction, the iconicity and mutability, and the timelessness and timeliness of widowhood and representation.

A sixteenth-century portrait by Pontormo of Maria Salviati, the mother of Duke Cosimo de’ Medici, provides insight into the ways in which imagery could both present and perpetuate mourning models.11  Dressed in black and depicted with a somber expression, this widow comforts, or rather guides, her young child, whose appearance, complete with pensive gaze, echoes that of the exemplary mother. In this mother-and-child double portrait, the husband gains immortality through both his own commemorative image (referenced by the memorial medal in her left hand) and that of his dutiful wife, who, via his representation, is continually reminded of her role and responsibility as his widow.

Other didactic images include portraits of widows that contain representations of books – open and/or closed, legible and/or illegible – such as another portrait, still of Maria Salviati, by Pontormo.12 I read this and similar portraits against a particular set of texts – conduct books printed in Florence governing the comportment of wives and widows, such as the Book on the Widow’s Life of 1491 by the Dominican friar, Girolamo Savonarola.13 Such books, equally prescriptive and proscriptive, were not printed merely as impartial cultural documents but often as preconceived directives. Thus, the inclusion of the printed book within the visual text underscores the didactic function of widow portraiture, inviting us to extend the memorial narrative even further, allowing for a metaphorical re-reading of the widow’s body precisely as a memory book. Yet this same productive juxtaposition of book and portrait, word and image, demands that we read ever more carefully between the lines of visual and verbal memorial texts.

If the above example identifies the widow, or at least her didactic representation, as conforming to social demands, the next will shift the focus, revolving around the question of agency and examining the various ways in which the widow could manipulate her newly acquired social status by rejecting or circumventing the ideal models described thus far. In so doing, via public and private, contemporary and, even, posthumous imagery, she subtly, though successfully, could re-present herself. For example, we might consider patronage projects undertaken upon widowhood: large-scale sculptural and architectural commissions that were intended to record family history and masculine memory and, in some cases, even the widow’s own identity. Upon widowhood, some women occupied a new and potentially very powerful socioeconomic position, allowing for an often-monumental manner of marking memory. For others, the circumstance was hardly one of power but of promise; in other words, the uncertainty of a widow’s future economic situation frequently cast her in a prominent, even if temporary, role. From managing the household to doing business outside of that domestic space, financial and administrative duties generally fell under the control of the widow. A fresco by the school of Ghirlandaio in the Florentine oratory of San Martino depicts a widow assisting the notary who takes an estate inventory following her husband’s death.14 While her particular economic status, present or future, cannot be securely determined, clearly her role is central at this pivotal moment. Of course, for some widows that moment was not at all short-lived, allowing for unique expressions of memory – and power.

Case Study: Walter Savage Landor’s Grieving Widow
Concluding now with a case study of Walter Savage Landor’s widow, grieving not over her husband but her son, I continue to explore the particular, often ambiguous, status of widowhood and mourning in Florence, suggesting that the very performativity of the widow within and beyond ritual, either sixteenth-century or nineteenth-century, and the multivalence of subsequent representation cannot but result in a precarious identity and memory for both mourner and mourned.

The tomb of Arnold Savage Landor (1819-1871), Walter and Julia Savage Landor's son, in the English Cemetery, can be found on the northeastern slope, or to the right of the central path (Figure 1).15

The work of Michele Auteri Pomàr, the monument is characterized by the large-scale sculpture of Landor’s wife, Julia (Figure 2).

Her effigy defines this monument, though she herself is buried elsewhere, in the Cimitero agli Allori (d. 1879). Still, it is precisely her body – both absent and present in the English Cemetery – that interests me most. As primary mourner, she plays a critical role in maintaining her husband’s and her son's memory; standing in (or, in this case, kneeling) for the one she mourns, her presence marks his absence. Thus, she becomes a replacement, a surrogate for her son. That designation, not just a consequence of her husband’s and son's deaths but also a socio-cultural demand, materializes with our glimpse of her grieving body, simultaneously marked and marking. This widow’s portrait, then, offers up an ideal, playing an obvious key role in recording masculine memory.

Yet such representations, while preventative to some degree, can also be interpreted as problematic. In other words, the portrayal of the woman as widow might protect against memory loss, but her presence also complicates masculine memory insofar as widowhood presumes male absence. That is to say, the widow occupies a precarious position within the memorial discourse in that she is simultaneously representative of commemoration and of death itself. In light of this dualism, what are the repercussions of her dichotomous memorial role for an already anxious audience?

If representation can be read as regulatory fiction, the overcompensatory inclusion of the male portrait would seem to guarantee commemoration – at least pictorially. I have selected two examples from the English Cemetery: First, the tomb of Walter Kennedy Laurie, where his portrait is contained within an ourbouros on a tomb within a tomb, beside which his widow and orphan son grieve,

WALTER KENNEDY LAWRIE/ SCOTLAND/ Lawrie/ Gualtiero Kennedy/ / Inghilterra/ Firenze/ 29 Novembre/ 1837/ Anni 31/ 164/ GL 23774 N° 60 Burial 08-12/ THY WILL BE DONE/ [grieving widow, orphan, in classical garb, with urn and funerary bust, portrait medallion within ourbouros]/ N.164/ WALTER KENNEDY LAWRIE/ BORN IN SCOTLAND 20TH AUGUST/ 1806/ DIED IN FLORENCE 28TH NOVEMBER 1837/ THE LORD GAVE AND THE LORD HATH TAKEN AWAY/ AND BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD/ B19N/ See Kennedy

second, that of Jean Claude Lagersward (1836), to be followed years later by his childless widow Sophia Hugel Lagersward (1853), here shown parting from each other:

*§° JEAN CLAUDE LAGERSVARD/ SVEZIA/ Lagersward/ Giov: Claudio/ / Svezia/ Firenze/ 12 Dicembre/ 1836/ Anni 80/ 148/ / [Sculpture of husband leaving childless wife, angel crowning him with stars with one hand, holding reversed torch with other, winged hourglass on one side, ourobouros around bee on the other] ICI.REPOSE.JEAN.CLAUDE.LAGERSVARD/ DERNIER.REJETON.DE.SA.FAMILLE/ DE S.M. LE  ROI.DE. SUEDE.ET.DE.NORVEGE/ PRES. DES. COURS. D'ITALIE/ ET CONSEILLER DE SA CHANCELLERIE/ NE LA IX AOUT MDCCLVI/ MORT LE XII.DECEMBRE.MDCCCXXVI/SUEDOIS DE COEUR ET D'AME/ HABITANT L'ITALIE DEPUI 11 JUILLIET MDCCLXXXIX/ COMME SECRETAIRE DE LEGATION/ CHARGE D'AFFAIRES. ET. MINISTRE/ SOUS QUATRE DIFFERENTS REGNES EN SUEDE/ ET PENDANT LES REVOLUTIONS DE L'EUROPE/ G.N Bystrom.svedese.inv.e.scolpt. E18E/ For information on G.N. Bystrom, contact Prof. Annette Landen, Department of Art History, Lund University, Sweden

SOPHIA HUGEL LAGERSWARD/ SVEZIA/ Lagersward nata Hugel/ Sofia/ / Svezia/ Firenze/ 11 Dicembre/ 1853/ Anni 83/ 521/ Sophie Lagersward, née Hugel, Suede, rentière, Veuve de Jean Claude Lagersward, en son vivant, Ministré a S.M. le Roi de Suède près la cour de Toscana/ E18E/ see Hugel


If the widow’s body can be read as a memorial text, how, precisely, do we read Julia? We might start with her body language. Dramatically and traumatically, this body grieves inconsolably (Figure 5);

in an isolating and melancholic pose, she turns away from the surrounding monuments (Figure 6).

Perhaps not coincidentally, she also turns her back to her husband, the poet Walter Savage Landor, who had died just seven years earlier than his son (1775-1864). In fact, this cold marble shoulder is nothing new; the Landor family ties had long been severed, cut and divided much like the bisected cemetery itself (Figure 7).

Located on the southwestern slope, or to the left of the central path, is the simple, quite un-monumental tomb slab of Walter Savage Landor – without effigy, without widow, without any mournful text at all, visual or verbal (Figure 8).

Remarkably, the inscription originally contained a reference to his grieving family; it was later removed. Finally, then, those widowed words, along with his widow's suggestive body language, underscore my thesis today: that we must always read between the lines of the memorial text, no matter how blurred they may already be.


1 Whereas the central objective of my earlier publications was to establish widow portraiture as a new genre of female portraiture and to explore the memorial function of such images, my current investigations broaden the socio-cultural context, interpreting widow portraiture as only one pictorial element in a multi-dimensional memorial project that also includes the use of male portraiture to ensure masculine memory. See my articles, ‘Framing Widows: Mourning, Gender, and Portraiture in Early Modern Florence,’ in Allison Levy, ed., Widowhood and Visual Culture in Early Modern Europe (Ashgate, 2003), 211-231; and ‘Good Grief: Widow Portraiture and Masculine Anxiety in Early Modern England,’ in The Single Woman in Medieval and Early Modern England: Her Life and Representation, eds Dorothea Kehler and Laurel Amtower (Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2003), 258-80; and my doctoral dissertation, ‘Early Modern Mourning: Widow Portraiture in Sixteenth-Century Florence’ (Bryn Mawr College, 2000).
2 Mark Breitenberg, Anxious Masculinity in Early Modern England, Cambridge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture, 10 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 2.
3 Ibid.
4 Henry Staten, Eros in Mourning: Homer to Lacan (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), xi-xii.
5 On the role of gender within the death ritual, see, esp., Juliana Schiesari, The Gendering of Melancholia: Feminism, Psychoanalysis and the Symbolics of Loss in Renaissance Literature (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992); and Sharon Strocchia, Death and Ritual in Renaissance Florence (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992).
6 David Herlihy and Christiane Klapish-Zuber, Tuscans and Their Families; A Study of the Florentine Catasto of 1427 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985); see also Klapisch-Zuber, ‘The “Cruel Mother”: Maternity, Widowhood, and Dowry in Florence in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries,’ in idem, Women, Family, and Ritual in Renaissance Italy, trans. Lydia Cochrane (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1985), 117-131, esp. 120.
7 Leon Battista Alberti, On Painting, trans. John R. Spencer, rev. ed. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1966), 63.
8 Space does not permit me to provide a synthesis of Renaissance portraiture studies but only a small selection of those I find most compelling as well as complicating for the present study on commemorative practice: Patricia Lee Rubin, ‘Art and the Imagery of Memory,’ in Art, Memory, and Family in Renaissance Florence, eds Giovanni Ciappelli and Patricia Lee Rubin (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 67-85; Alison Wright, ‘The Memory of Faces: Representational Choices in Fifteenth-Century Florentine Portraiture,’ in Ciappelli and Rubin, 86-113; Jodi Cranston, The Poetics of Portraiture in the Italian Renaissance (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Pat Simons, “Portraiture, Portrayal, and Idealization: Ambiguous Individualism in Representations of Renaissance Women,” in Language and Images of Renaissance Italy, ed. Alison Brown (Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press, 1995), 263-311; Richard Brilliant, Portraiture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991); Diane Owen Hughes, ‘Representing the Family: Portraits and Purposes in Early Modern Italy,’ Journal of Interdisciplinary History 17/1 (1986), 7-38; David Rosand, “The Portrait, the Courtier, and Death,” in Castiglione: The Ideal and the Real in Renaissance Culture, eds Robert W. Hanning and David Rosand (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1983), 91-129; and John Pope-Hennessy, The Portrait in the Renaissance (London and New York: Phaidon, 1966).
9 Samuel K. Cohn, Jr, ‘Collective Amnesia. Family, Memory, and the Mendicants: A Comment,’ in Ciappelli and Rubin, 275-283, citation at 277.
10 The literature on widowhood is extensive. For two recent collections that call attention to the ambiguities of widowhood, see Levy, Widowhood and Visual Culture, 2003; and Sandra Cavallo and Lyndan Warner, eds, Widowhood in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (London and New York: Longman, 1999).
11 Illustrated in Levy, Widowhood and Visual Culture, fig. 13.7.
12 Illustrated in Levy, Widowhood and Visual Culture, fig. 13.9.
13 Girolamo Savonarola, Libro della vita viduale (Florence, 1491).
14 Illustrated in Levy, Widowhood and Visual Culture, fig. 1.3.
15 I am grateful to Peter Kunhardt, whose photographs appear here.

© Allison Levy, 2004

WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR WEBSITE: Recordings of Gebir I, Gebir II || Essay 'Walter Savage Landor' in New Spirit of the Age || Jean Field, 'Walter Savage Landor's Warwick' || 'Black and Red Letter Chaucer' || Kate Field, Atlantic Montly, 'The Last Days of Walter Savage Landor' || Mark Roberts, 'The Inscription on the Grave of Walter Savage Landor' || Alison Levy, 'The Widow of Walter Savage Landor' || Kristin Bragadottir, 'William Morris and Daniel Willard Fiske' (Villa Landor) || Piero Fusi, 'A. Henry Savage Landor'.



am grateful for the opportunity of paying tribute to a lady whom I have long studied and whose remains lie in the 'English Cemetery', Mrs Fanny Trollope, and also to say a few words about her immediate family and circle and their achievements. Here is a photograph of her gravestone (facing and duplicating that of her daughter-in-law, Theodosia Garrow Trollope) together with a translation of the Latin epitaph upon it drafted by her eldest son, Thomas Adolphus Trollope:
DIVINAE . . . 
A.D. 1780 NATA

A.D. 1780

FRANCES (MILTON) TROLLOPE/ ENGLAND/ Trolloape [Trollope] nata Milton/ Vedova Francesca/ Guglielmo/ Inghilterra/ Firenze/ 6 Ottobre/ 1863/ Anni 84/ 849/ Françoise Veuve Trolloope, l'Angleterre, fille de Revd. Guillaume Milton, et de Marie, née Gressley, son épouse/ On the Trollopes in Florence, see Giuliana Artom Treves, Golden Ring, passim, ° archival holdings; Thomas Adolphus Trollope writes the Latin of the inscriptions for his mother, his wife, his father-in-law; GL23777/1 N° 337 Burial 08/10 Age 84 Rev Pendleton / Thomas Adolphus Trollope, What I Remember, I & II/F11E

The Trollopes, mother and eldest son, came to live in Florence in 1843. But the most fruitful period of their residence was 1850-1863, when they bought and modernised a house, which still stands, in the Piazza dell’Indipendenza, known to them and all their friends as the Villino Trollope.

Here in 1850 Thomas Adolphus Trollope moved with his wife of two years, Theodosia Garrow, and had by her in 1853 a daughter, Beatrice, nick­named Bice. Here also lived Joseph Garrow and the family’s (originally Theo’s) favourite maid, Elizabeth (Lizzy) Shinner. There were three floors, three households living closely together, enjoying a large shady garden.

To deal first with Joseph Garrow: he was born in India, the son of an English Army officer and a high-caste Brahmin lady. At 25 he married a Jewish lady, 23 years older than himself, with two children, who gave birth, reputedly at the age of 59, to Theodosia (although wagging tongues suggested that Theo was in truth the illegitimate daughter of her half-sister Harriet, which may explain why she and her mother were never very intimate, although she was always very close to Harriet). Joseph Garrow was an accomplished violinist and evidently a Dante scholar, as Walter Savage Landor’s published edition of Dante’s “Vita Nuova” contains 6 poems translated by Garrow. However, after initial implacable opposition, Joseph Garrow very gradually became reconciled to Thomas Adolphus marrying his daughter. Yet having accepted this and consenting to share the Villino with the Trollope's, he never seems to have been a very cheerful person. He was the first in that household to die and be buried, with a Latin epitaph by Thomas Adolphus in the English Cemetery.
A.D. 1789
A.D. 1857 


^*§JOSEPH GARROW/ INDIA/Garrow/ +/ Giuseppe/ / Inghilterra/ Firenze/ 10 Novembre/ 1867 [1857]/ Anni 67/ 624/ Joseph Garrow, d'Angleterre/ / father of Theodosia Garrow-Trollope (12 Aprile/ 1865/ Anni 46/ 904/+/ F11E), stepfather of Harriet Theodosia Fisher (12 Novembre/ 1848/ Anni 37/ 393/ D23G, epitaph written by Thomas Adolphus Trollope). See Giuliana Artom Treves, Golden Ring, pp. 137/ GL23777/1 N°242, Burial 12/11, Rev O'Neill; marriage of child Theodosia 03/04/48 to Thomas Adolphus Trollope at HBM (Hamilton), Joseph Garrow, Harriet Fisher, Frances Trollope present, Rev Robbins/ Maquay Diaries: 13 Nov 1857: ‘old Garrow wretched man died on Tuesday paralytic stroke.’/ Thomas Adolphus Trollope, What I Remember, II.150-159/ F12G/ See Theodosia Trollope, Harriet Fisher

In the English Cemetery also is the tomb of Joseph’s step-daughter, Harriet Theodosia Fisher, who died of smallpox in 1848 before the Villino Trollope days, with its epitaph:

HARRIET THEODOSIA FISHER (GARROW)/ ENGLAND/INDIA / Fischer/ Enrichetta Teodosia/ / Inghilterra/ Firenze/ 12 Novembre/ 1848/ Anni 37/ 393/ GL 23774 N° 26: Burial 14-11, Rev Robbins, Joseph Garrow's stepdaughter, Theodosia Garrow's half sister/ Thomas Adolphus Trollope, What I Remember, II.150-152, noting their mother was formerly a Miss Abrams and Jewish, who first married a naval officer, Fisher, then Joseph Garrow, whose own mother was East Indian; and that Harriet died of smallpox/ D23G

Theodosia had met Thomas Adolphus in Florence in 1844. At 22, she was 15 years younger than him and her somewhat ethereal and delicate physique was very different from his hearty bluffness. Theo’s verses, regularly written from an early age, caused her to be called by Walter Savage Landor “the new Sappho”, somewhat to the jealous displeasure of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (a friend whom Theo had known since their childhood days in Torquay). Despite the temperamental differences, it was a loving marriage and the Trollopes were united in their espousal of the cause of Italian independence, befriending patriots like Massimo d’Azeglio (who obtained Thomas Adolphus’ intervention with visas to England for certain escaping rebels) and planning a newspaper called the “Tuscan Athenaeum” to keep English readers up-to-date with the Italian cause. Theo translated works by Giusti and G. B. Nicolini, and she also contributed a history of the Tuscan Revolution to the Athenaeum. By contrast to her husband, however, Theo was an implacable critic of the clergy. Florence recorded for posterity the contribution to Italy’s fight for independence and unity made by Theodosia by erecting a plaque in tribute to her on the Villino Trollope. Here is the Villino Trollope as it appears today, together with a close-up of the plaque over the side door:



Translated from Italian into English, the plaque reads:

ON 13 APPRIL 1865

Theodosia had never been robust and, as the plaque records, in 1865 died, being buried in the English Cemetery, opposite the spot where her mother-in-law had been buried two years earlier.

The heartbroken Thomas devised another Latin epitaph on her gravestone. Unfortunately, either because of the erosion of the lettering, or his unconventional Latin, it is impossible to give a satisfactory translation, but what I have I can show:


THEODOSIA (GARROW) TROLLOPE/ ENGLAND/ Trolloape [Trollope]/ Teodosia/ [Joseph Garrow]/ Inghilterra/ Firenze/ 12 Aprile/ 1865/ Anni 46/ 904/+/ Theodosia Trollope, l'Angleterre/GL23777/1 N° 357 Burial 15/04 Age 46 Rev Pendleton; Marriage GL23774 N° 71+170/6 N° 71 03/04/48 Thomas Adolphus Trollope to Theodosia Garrow at HBM (Hamilton) bride d of Joseph Garrow, Devon, Rev Robbins; Baptism of child GL23775 N° 219/40, Beatrice Catherine Harriet 05/05/53, father Thomas Adolphus Esq, mother Theodosia, Rev O'Neill/ Thomas Adolphus Trollope, What I Remember, II.150-159, 166-168, & Chapter XVIII, who describes her as Florence's new Corinne; pp. 171-173, on her childhood friendship with Elizabeth Barrett Browning, both invalids to tuberculosis in Torquay/ F11E/ See Fisher, Garrow, Trollope, Shinner

The Trollope household is completed in the Cemetery with the grave of Lizzy, the servant of whom Thomas Adolphus spoke warmly in his autobiography, although I regret that in her humble condition she does not merit a Latin, but only an English, inscription:

ELIZABETH SHINNER/ ENGLAND/ Shinner/ Elisabetta/ / Inghilterra/ Firenze/ 7 Ottobre/ 1852/ Anni 41/ 488/ GL23774 N° 176 Burial 09/10, Rev M Slopper/ Maquay Diaries: 8 Oct 1852: ‘Mrs Burdett was to have spent today in the country with us but the death of her friend Mrs Tom Trollope’s favourite maid obliges her to remain with her.’[Pietra serena does not endure and an attempt has been made to repair this crumbling tomb]/ D22E


We thus come to our “leading lady”, Frances (familiarly Fanny) Trollope, whose grave and epitaph we have already seen, and painted here by her talented travelling companion and faithful support during her American expedition, Auguste Hervieu, showing her as a very pretty lady in her thirties:


 www.npg.org.uk  © National Portrait Gallery, London
Fanny spent the last phase of her long and remarkable life in the Villino Trollope in Florence, having had many moves of home and country. When she was 29, she had married an English barrister and had many children, although her life was punctuated throughout by their sad deaths, as babies, children or adults, from tuberculosis, so that only her two sons, Thomas Adolphus and Anthony outlived her. The family had fallen into financial difficulties, through the illness and imprudent financial ventures of the father, and a visit by Fanny to America, to establish a bazaar in Cincinnati, had failed miserably. However, her wanderings in America, in a time when travel books were becoming popular, were the basis for her first volume, produced at the age of 52, “Domestic Manners of the Americans”. It was an amusing and pungent description of the American way of life and was an immediate best seller running to several editions. The Americans had not liked Mrs Trollope. When their achievement of Indepencence from Britain was still in living memory, it irked them that this middle.class, middle-aged lady failed to recognize the patent superiority of everything they had achieved in the New World. With the piquant observation of so many of their foibles in her book, they hated this too - but they bought it in great numbers. It helped restore the family fortunes and it catapulted Mrs Trollope into the literary firmament, where she produced in rapid succession over thirty novels and travel books. She visited and wrote about Paris, Belgium, Vienna and other parts of Europe and was an honoured guest at the Hapsburg Palace in Vienna, where she became a close friend of Princess Metternich. She was accompanied throughout these latter travels by Thomas Adolphus, who in his earlier days was a very handsome young man:
Thomas was effectively his mother’s manager and travelling companion, never having found any other profession in life which suited his rather dilettante temperament. That is not to say that he lacked the Trollope family energy: he too was a copious and assiduous author (mainly historical novels set in Italy), correspondent and journalist. At one time his painstaking three-volume “History of the Florentine Republic” was much admired, although now rather ignored by modern scholarship.
When the Trollopes settled in Piazza Dell’Indipendenza, the Villino Trollope became a truly English salon in the city. Good relations were kept with the city’s dignitaries and visits were made by those doing the “Grand Tour”, together with a number of literary greats, when they went to Florence: Dickens, George Eliot, G.H. Lewis, Charles Lever, Thackeray, Anthony Trollope, Thomas Hardy, Walter Savage Landor Harriet Beecher Stowe and many others. It was also a regular venue for parties, receptions, even amateur theatricals, attended by the English community in Florence, and in particular the Brownings, whose son Pen was a playmate of Beatrice. This was after Robert had overcome his initial terror at meeting face-to-face the reputedly “loud and coarse” Mrs. Trollope, only subsequently to find her charming, witty and good company.

Here is an old photograph of the Trollope family group, which also gives some idea of the magnificence of the Villino Trollope that was so impressive to the visitors from England. In Florence Mrs Trollope continued to write novels well into her seventies and to travel – to England twice, to Venice, and through the Alps – although she usually spent the heat of the summer (once in company with Mr Garrow) at the Baths of Lucca. Only gradually did old age and, to her distress, lassitude and forgetfulness, causing even the abandonment of her beloved tables of whist, come upon her, so that her last years, after an unfortunate period of preoccupation with spiritualism, were quietly withdrawn, until her death at the age of 83.

Here is a sadly contrasting portrait of mother and son in their later years:


After the death of his wife and his mother, Thomas Adolphus could no longer bear to live in the Villino Trollope and he moved outside the city. He also married again: the lady his brother Anthony had acquired for him to be governess of Bice. By a strange coincidence, this lady Frances Eleanor Trollope was the sister of Dickens’s mistress, Ellen Ternan, and was also gifted with the pen, producing not only novels but the first loving biography of the mother-in-law she barely knew. Finally the Trollopes moved back to England and Thomas Adolphus is buried in Devonshire.

So ended the brilliant association of the Trollopes with Florence and, sadly, until recent times, they and their works rather fell into oblivion. The most famous Trollope of them all (who had set many scenes in the course of his 43 novels in Italy) — Anthony Trollope —

— had, even in his days as a famous and successful author, been introduced in USA and in Australia as “the son of Mrs Frances Trollope”. Now it is Fanny who tends to be remembered primarily as the “mother of Anthony Trollope”. However, I am pleased to say that her original book, Domestic Manners of the Americans, and also some of her novels, especially The Widow Barnaby and The Vicar of Wexhill”, are now being read again. Critics have found in her work, in manner almost the equal of Dickens, a strong conscience against social injustice, be it slavery, the abuse of child labour or suppression of women’s rights, together with a humour evocative of her most distinguished literary son, and even the creation of plots and characters to which Anthony owed a considerable debt. With this revived interest, she has been the subject of one or two excellent biographies in recent years.

The Florence circle of Trollope intimates would not be complete without mentioning (briefly, as he is the subject of other more detailed papers), Hiram Powers, the distinguished American sculptor, who settled in Florence in 1837.

Longworth Powers, 'Hiram Powers the sculptor', Photograph in the Diary of Susan Horner, Archive, Harold Acton Library British Institute of Florence. See http://www.florin.ms/gimeld.html#price

*°§ HIRAM POWERS/ AMERICA / Powers/ Franco [later corrected to Hiram]/ Stefano/ America/ Firenze/ 27 Giugno/ 1873/ Anni 69/ 1220/ F. Hiram Powers, America, Sculpteur, fils de Etienne Powers/ E15D °=Niccolò, Alessio Michahelles, descendants

He had first met Frances Trollope in her Cincinnati days, when he was 22 years old and working in a museum there. He had sculpted wax figures, which were accompanied by paintings by Hervieu, in a representation of Dante’s Inferno, a public spectacle devised by Fanny, to try to make ends meet during her first days in Cincinnati, which was a great success even thirty years after she had left the city. In his days of international fame, he created a number of sculptures in Carrara marble, one of them, “The Greek Slave”, the subject of a sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, being considered the most visited American statue of the nineteenth century. He died in 1873 and his tomb and those of his family are in the English cemetery, an appropriate reunion with his old friend Fanny Trollope.

In conclusion, I believe that Frances Trollope and her circle, during their sojourn in Florence, with the life in cultured society that they maintained there, their many writings and their espousal of Italian causes, were not unworthy contributors to the heritage of this great and historic city.

© David Gilbert, 2004




Poetry, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sarcophagus

Harp shown with broken slave shackle at left, flowers at right.

ELIZABETH (BARRETT) BROWNING/ ENGLAND/ 79. Barrett Browning/ Elisabetta/ / Inghilterra/ Firenze/ 29 Giugno/ 1861/ Anni 45 [incorrect, 55]/ 737/ [marble with leading, design, Frederic, Lord Leighton, execution, Luigi Giovanozzi (1791-1870), sculptor of Duchess of Albany's tomb, Santa Croce, who signs the work to the bottom left]/ E.B.B./ OB 1861/ GL23777/1 N°293 Burial 01/07 Rev O'Neill; Anthony Webb: heart attack, morphine poisoning; Freeman, 236-239/ E12I

Hilkiah the priest found a book of the law of the Lord given by Moses . . . And the king commanded Hilkiah, . . . saying 'Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found . . . And Hilkiah and they that the king had appointed, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the college) and they spake to her . . . And she answered them
. . .

II Chronicles 34.14-23; II Kings 22.8-15

t first sight a topic that links Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the Bible is problematic only in the sense that it focuses on everything – or nothing.  As every reader knows, as every critic has noted, her entire output is steeped in biblical reference and allusion. Moreover, as is also well known, by the 1830s not merely had she mastered Latin and Greek to read the classics in the original (and, indeed, in the case of Aeschylus, translate them into English verse), she was also reading the New Testament in the original koine Greek (a very different dialect from the classical version of the language) and the Old Testament in Hebrew and Aramaic. Together, the classics and the Bible provided a consistent and lifelong mainspring of her inspiration. The point is so well established that there only remains (for those minded to risk the great ‘so what ?’ test) to note and perhaps debate the abstruser references. Beyond that, one wonders, is there any more to be said ?

The answer, as usual, depends upon the questions we ask. The most recent study of this topic, Linda M. Lewis’s, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Spiritual Progress, (1998) as its title implies, concentrates almost exclusively on the development of her religious views, and only parenthetically on her use of the Bible as it exemplified those views.   By and large, this approach is in line with a whole tradition of earlier critics, trained in the study of literature rather than in the history of biblical interpretation, who, when looking at the way various literary figures have read the Bible, have tended to take the Bible itself for granted.  Yet for the biblical historian, reading Barrett Browning’s poetry at once raises two curious and related questions.

The first is that even when she is writing on apparently well-defined ‘biblical’ subjects, she is actually making remarkably little first-hand use of the Bible.  Let me explain what I mean.  Among her best-known poems of the 1830s and 40s are no less than two ‘biblical’ epics – The Seraphim and A Dream of Exile – the former concerning the Crucifixion of Christ, the latter, the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.  Both would seem to have impeccable biblical and religious credentials, and both were duly much admired by contemporaries for their spiritual profundity.  Yet to the modern reader, the influence that comes across most immediately is not that of the Bible at all, but that of Milton.  The Seraphim does indeed concern the Crucifixion, but that event takes place, as it were, offstage – the dramatic action of the poem itself centres on the theological discussion of two Seraphs, who are, by their own admission, distanced in heaven from the events on earth.  While much of the theological content of their dialogue  is distinctly un-Miltonic, in that it draws indirectly from Paul’s New Testament Christology, the setting and framework is unmistakably that of Paradise Lost.  Except that it draws more on Paradise Regained, much the same can be said of her later Dream of Exile.  Both poems take our knowledge not merely of the Bible, but of Milton, for granted, creating instead extra-human and extra-biblical dramas around scriptural events, staffing them with an extensive cast of angelic and demonic presences, without presuming in any way to re-tell the events themselves. Despite appearances, in neither poem is the Bible or the biblical narrative actually central to the action.

And this, of course, raises our second, even more fundamental question: just how is Barrett Browning reading her Bible ?  Again, this is a question that arises from a precise historical context. In the hundred years leading up to 1844, when Barrett Browning published the second of her ‘biblical’ epics, the study of the Bible had undergone a total transformation.  For the first fifteen hundred years of Christianity biblical interpretation had been typological and polyvalent.   The meaning and truth of the scriptures was not a matter of historical veracity, but primarily of multiple figural interpretation.   The precise number of meanings was a subject of dispute. Western exegetes such as Cassian, or Augustine commonly favoured a mere four, but the Alexandrine tradition detected as many as twelve.   Thus the allegorical levels in Dante,  or in the Romance of the Rose were not in any way optional additions to the basic story; they were a normal and integral part of what literature was expected to be.  History was certainly one such level  – but only one – of the many possible layers of interpretation.   Moreover, ‘history’ itself was understood to be not so much about what had happened, as about the meaning of what had happened.

Nor did this expectation end with the Reformation – despite Protestant insistence on the primacy of scripture.   Figural interpretation – now, of course,  often with a polemically anti-Catholic twist – was to continue for at least another two hundred years.  Milton’s own attitude to the facts of biblical narrative may be gauged by the fact that he deliberately chose to use the Ptolemaic universe – which he knew to be wrong – for the geography of Paradise Lost.  But a system of hermeneutics that now gave primacy to the literal or ‘plain’ meaning of a text had increasing difficulties with books whose traditional classification as ‘apocryphal’ (or ‘hidden’ in Greek) meant that they had to be read primarily for secret or arcane meanings.   In the case of the narrative books, Protestantism imperceptibly narrowed the range of possible interpretation from fluid polyvalency towards a single and (it was assumed) divinely-inspired historical narrative.

It was precisely this relatively new-found historical understanding of the Bible that was to receive its greatest, and, indeed, ultimately fatal challenge in the eighteenth century with the advent of the so-called ‘Higher Criticism’, which insisted on reading biblical history – and especially miracles – in the context of what was known about the world-view, the social structure, and the fundamental beliefs and assumptions of the ancient Israelites.  Beginning in late seventeenth-century France, with the work of Richard Simon, it was taken up in England by Robert Lowth, and then spread to Germany where it was most fully developed by such critics as Michaelis, Reimarus, Lessing and Eichhorn.  In the early nineteenth century this revolutionary critical approach to the Bible was to culminate in the idea of ‘hermeneutics’ – most closely associated with the name of Schleiermacher – and in the iconoclastic revaluations of the New Testament by Strauss and Feuerbach (both of whom were to be translated into English by George Eliot in the 1840s).

In Britain, isolated by language, water, and the Napoleonic Wars for the first fifteen years of the new century, such revolutionary ideas were late arriving, but when they did, the delayed impact was the more unsettling.   While the work of Coleridge, Robert Marsh, the brothers Julius and Charles Hare, and a handful of others was at first largely confined to academic circles, and was for some still controversial in the hands of Matthew Arnold fifty years later,  anyone attempting to study the Bible in a scholarly manner in the 1820s and 30s, such as the young Elizabeth Barrett, was stumbling into a minefield of controversy and debate.  Where, then, did Elizabeth stand in all this?  Was she what we would now consider to be a biblical fundamentalist, believing in the Creation of the world in 4004 BC, and the literal truth of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden ?  or was her evident partiality for Miltonic angels and boastful demons an indication that she saw Paradise Lost as being yet one more myth in what had always been an essentially mythological theology? Or is it possible that her puzzled Seraphs were more than just a poetic device, and a way of distancing herself from closer engagement with texts that were proving increasingly problematic?

The direct evidence is mixed.   After her marriage to Robert, it was clear that both she and her husband were following closely the main theological debates of the day.  In 1863, for instance, we find Browning writing to Isa Blagden about Renan’s Life of Jesus – though without enthusiasm. There are also references to Lessing and Strauss. But what of the earlier period, that of The Seraphim and the Dream of Exile, when Elizabeth was still part of the Barrett entourage? The Barretts were, to say the least, a conservative household, and would have been unlikely to favour what were widely seen as revolutionary, foreign, and atheistic ideas. There is no evidence and little likelihood that she would have known the German or even French critics at that time, but there is a much greater probability that she would have known Robert Lowth’s Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews – first published in Latin in 1753, and in English translation in 1787 – or his new translation of Isaiah (1778), either of which would have given an introduction to the principles of the Higher Criticism.   We know that she had read Lowth’s English Grammar, which was still a standard textbook in the nineteenth century.  Moreover, Lowth’s ideas had received much wider circulation with the publication of Hugh Blair’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1783) which had gone through several editions in the early nineteenth century, and which devotes a whole chapter specifically to Lowth’s biblical criticism.  Robert Browning specifically mentions ‘Blair on Rhetoric’ in a letter to Elizabeth of January 1846 with the clear assumption that it would be familiar to her.  Elizabeth herself discusses Blair’s views on Ossian in a correspondence with Hugh Stuart in early 1843, but it is clear from that that she dislikes Blair’s views on literature intensely (‘a very bad and narrow critic in my opinion,’ who does ‘not know much more of poetry than I do of mathematics.’).

Indirect evidence, however, is much more intriguing.  A central platform of Lowth’s Lectures was the identification of the Hebrew poets with prophecy. The Hebrew word ‘Nabi’, explains Lowth, was used to mean ‘a prophet, a poet, or a musician, under the influence of divine inspiration’.  The prophets of ancient Israel, he argued, were a kind of professional caste, trained both ‘to compose verses for the service of the church and to declare the oracles of God.’ This identification of poet and prophet was an idea that had been taken up with enthusiasm by the romantic poets, in revolt against the Augustan notion of the poet whose role, like that of wit, was to confirm what ‘oft was thought/But ne’er so well expressed.’  But in no romantic – not even Blake – does this identification shine through so clearly as in Elizabeth Barrett. Not merely does she constantly invoke the connection in her writings, it is a comparison constantly made by contemporary observers.  For Alethia Hayter

It is extraordinary how often both her admirers and her detractors compared her with the priestess of Delphi and other prophetesses – she was Deborah, Minerva, Alruna, the Sybil, the Pythoness, the anointed priestess; delirious, shrieking, possessed and contorted, or clamorously earnest and inspired with sacred passion, according to whether she was being blamed or praised, but always the pythoness.
The classical comparison is not to be discounted, but Hayter, however, like most of her fellow-critics, seems unaware that it is only half the story.  Moreover, it is the lesser half.  Whereas the classical comparison is just that – a comparison – the biblical assertion of the poet as prophet is neither metaphor nor comparison.  It is nothing less than a bald statement of fact.

It is this assertion of the poet’s role, as fundamental to the biblical hermeneutics of Lowth and Blair, as it was to Blair’s German contemporary, Herder, that seems to me to provide the clearest evidence of the role of the new biblical criticism in Elizabeth Barrett’s religious thinking.   If we combine this conviction of the poet’s high calling with a sense of the essentially mythological nature of the actual narratives involved, we have what looks like substantial, if indirect, evidence for the impact of the Higher Criticism on Barrett Browning’s work.  Moreover, this was a dynamic process. The movement from Miltonic angels to social causes – whether English child labour, American slavery, or Italian liberty – is a movement towards prophecy in the full biblical sense of a moral commentary on contemporary affairs.   That this was also a movement towards movements of more doubtful value to twenty-first century eyes: mesmerism, spiritualism, and Swedenborgianism must be seen in their nineteenth-century context – in effect, as only added evidence of her sense of the reality of a spiritual world.

© Stephen Prickett, 2004




Poetry, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sarcophagus

Harp shown with broken slave shackle at left, flowers at right.

ELIZABETH (BARRETT) BROWNING/ ENGLAND/ 79. Barrett Browning/ Elisabetta/ / Inghilterra/ Firenze/ 29 Giugno/ 1861/ Anni 45 [incorrect, 55]/ 737/ [marble with leading, design, Frederic, Lord Leighton, execution, Luigi Giovanozzi (1791-1870), sculptor of Duchess of Albany's tomb, Santa Croce, who signs the work to the bottom left]/ E.B.B./ OB 1861/ GL23777/1 N°293 Burial 01/07 Rev O'Neill; Anthony Webb: heart attack, morphine poisoning; Freeman, 236-239/ E12I

For the version in Italian only go to http://www.florin.ms/gimel.html

'Tout à ses yeux se revêt du costume de Florence. Les morts antiques qu'il évoque semblant renaître aussi Toscan que lui; ce ne sont point les bornes de son esprit, c'est la force de son ame qui fait entrer l'univers dans le cercle de sa pensée'.

Madame de Staël sulla Firenze di Dante, 'Corinne au Capitole', Corinne ou Italie

Ich hörte sagen, es sei
im Wasser ein Stein und ein Kreis
und über dem Wasser ein Wort,
das den Kreis um den Stein legt

Paul Celan, 'Ich hörte sagen'

a definition di 'corpo spirituale' creata da Swedenborg e ben messa in risalto dalla dott.ssa Gaja nel suo intervento è un importante punto di partenza per avvicinarsi alla poetica elaborata da Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) in relazione a Firenze; una poetica 'complessa' - come sottolinea attentamente il direttore della Armstrong Browning Library Stephen Prickett - e che si incentra, a mio aviso, sull'idea di sintesi.

The definition of the 'spiritual body' of Swedenborg well shown in Katerine Gaja's paper is an important point of departure for drawing near to Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poetic elaborated by her in relation to Florence; a 'complex' poetic - as Stephen Prickett, Director of the Armstrong Browning Library, carefully emphasizes - and which is focussed, as I see it, on the idea of synthesis.

Il mio contributo vuol mettere in rilievo il motivo della fluida circolarità presente nella produzione di Elizabeth Barrett Browning a Firenze, idea già anticipata dall'intervento della dott.ssa O'Brien in riferimento a quel 'cerchio di interferenze' che viene a crearsi fra il monumento funebre e l'osservatore e, ancora, dalla dott.ssa Melosi con un significativo rimando all'epigrafe di Keats nella quale compare l'elemento dell'acqua.

This essay seeks to place in relief the motif of the fluid circularity present in the works written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning in Florence, an idea already encountered in Anne O'Brien's paper in reference to the 'circle of interaction' created between the funereal monument and the observer and, again, by Laura Melosi with a significant reference to Keats' epitaph with its element of water.

Ho ricollegato quest'idea sia alla struttura architettonica del cimitero 'degli Inglesi', definita dal prof. Trotta, per mezzo di una bella metafora, 'un'isola' nel cuore della città circondata dai 'fiumi' dei viali di circonvallazione e caratterizzata fin dalla sua nascita dalla presenza dei cipressi, sia a quella interezza psicofisica che Elizabeth Barrett Browning, come molte altre viaggiatrici straniere fra Ottocento e Novecento, tentò di raggiungere proprio con il viaggio in Italia riattualizzando concretamente la sua formazione classico-umanistica.

I related this idea both to Poggi's 1865 architectural plan for the 'English' Cemetery, defined by Giampaolo Trotta, by means of a beautiful metaphor, as 'an island' in the heart of the city surrounded by the 'rivers' of the avenues, and characterized from its origins in 1827 by its cypresses, and to the psycho-physical wholeness which Elizabeth Barrett Browning, as with so many other foreign travellers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, tried to attain in journeying to Italy, concretely up-dating her classical Humanist education.

La circolarità si fa dunque sinomimo di proficuo dialogo fra il passato ed il presente, fra il marmo - la targa commemorativa - e la parola, primo importante passo verso una comunicazione fra la Firenze storica e quella attuale il cui significato interculturale, ben messo in risalto dall'assessore alle Relazioni Internazionali Eugenio Giani, diviene lo scopo primario del nostro convegno.

The circularity became thus synonomous with a productive dialogue between the past and the present, between the marble - the commemorative plaque - and the word, the first important step towards a  communication between historic and modern Florence, whose intercultural meaning, well shown by the Assessor for International Relations, Eugenio Ganni, became the primary scope of our conference.

n una lettera del maggio 1854 Elizabeth Barrett definisce così la sua visione di Firenze rispetto a Roma: “Firenze ci sembra più bella che mai dopo Roma. Amo perfino le sue pietre, per non parlare dei cipressi e del fiume”.1  L’accento posto sulle pietre rimanda alla corporeità, alla fisicità che evidentemente la città trasmetteva ad Elizabeth; più dei dipinti, infatti, sembrano essere stati proprio i monumenti, le chiese, gli edifici stessi a parlare alla poetessa. L’archittetura, ed il marmo in particolare, sono al centro dell’attenzione della Barrett a Firenze, catturata soprattutto dal Duomo, capace, attraverso la sua mole, di farsi “concreta realizzazione della teologia”2 e perciò punto di incontro fra ideale neoplatonico e dimensione terrena. È esattamente alla luce di quest’idea di “passaggio” fra dimensioni diverse che va letta l’esperienza artistica fiorentina di Elizabeth Barrett, la quale nelle descrizioni della città, accanto alla pietra sempre menziona l’acqua, simbolo per eccellenza di eterna metamorfosi, di processualità creativa e metafora della stessa femminilità.3 La Firenze di Elizabeth Barrett va colta in questa “duplice visione”,4 ineffabile e materiale ad un tempo,5 espressione di un’antitesi fra spirito e carne che trova la sua conciliazione nella parola poetica.

In a letter written May 1854 Elizabeth Barrett Browning defined her vision of Florence in contrast to Rome in this way:  “Florence looks to us more beautiful than ever after Rome. I love the very stones of it, to say nothing of the cypresses and river”. The accent placed on the stones suggests its corporeality, its physicality which evidently the city conveys to Elizabeth; more than its paintings, in fact, it seems to be the monuments, the churches, the buildings themselves that speak to the poet. The architecture, and the marble in particular, are at the centre of Barrett Browning's attention on Florence, captured above all in the Duomo, capable through its vastness, of making itself a concrete realization of theology, and therefore a point of meeting between the Neoplatonic ideal and the earthly dimension. It is exactly in the light of this idea of 'passage' between different dimensions that one can read Elizabeth Barrett Browning's artistic Florentine experience, who in the description of the city, besides the stone mentions water, symbol par excellence of eternal metamorphoses, of creative process and metaphor for her feminine self. The Florence of Elizabeth Barrett Browning should be caught in this 'double vision', ineffable and material at the same time, the expression of an antithesis between spirit and flesh that finds its reconciliation in poetic words.

È nel “Novel-poem” Aurora Leigh del 1857 che Elizabeth Barrett rende esplicita questa sua poetica attraverso le parole della protagonista che esclama: “Tuttavia i poeti/ sarebbero in grado di esercitare una duplice visione;/ capaci di vedere le cose vicine, comprensibili come se avessero spostato più lontano il loro punto focale;/ E le cose lontane, tanto intimamente esplorate, come/ Se le toccassero”.6 Questo stesso principio si trova ripetuto in altra forma pochi versi dopo sempre per bocca di Aurora che definisce l’esperienza artistica un’opera di sintesi fra “essere” e “fare” perché il poeta sa porre “al vertice della sofferenza l’azione”.7 Dietro questa duplice prospettiva si nasconde lo stesso principio compositivo del romanzo in versi, definito da buona parte della critica, un Bildungsroman e ancor più un Künstlerroman perché dedicato alla formazione del soggetto artista, in questo caso, in termini tutti sovversivi rispetto alla tradizione vittoriana, una donna.8

It is in the 'Novel-poem' Aurora Leigh of 1856 that Elizabeth Barrett Browning makes her poetic explicit through the words of her protagonist who exclaims: “But poets should/ Exert a double vision; should have eyes/ To see near things as comprehensively/ As if afar they took their point of sight,/ And distant things as intimately deep/ As if they touched them”. This same principle is found repeated in another form a few verses later always from Aurora's mouth which define the artistic experience as a work of synthesis between 'being' and 'making' because the poet can set 'action on the top of suffering'. Behind this duplex perspective is hidden the same compositional principle of the novel in verse, defined by many critics as a Bildungsroman and even more a Künstlerroman because it is dedicated to the formation of the artist as subject, in very subversive terms in respect to the Victorian tradition, a woman.

La scelta di Elizabeth Barrett cade sul romanzo e non sul dramma, in quanto genere letterario che sa comunicare, creare un rapporto dialogico sia al suo interno, fra i personaggi - la stessa voce della protagonista tende a moltiplicarsi facendosi al contempo narratrice ed autrice - sia all’esterno, col lettore.9 Lungi dal voler mettere in scena un dicotomico mondo binario, in cui da un lato sta la terra di provenienza della madre di Aurora, l’Italia, una sorta di “matria” che protegge e consola e dall’altra l’Inghilterra, la terra del padre, perciò del raziocinio e dell’autorità,10 Elizabeth Barrett tende invece ad un ritorno all’indistinto mondo originario rappresentato dagli elementi primitivi per eccellenza: la pietra e l’acqua. In tal modo la poetessa mira all’“incarnazione dello spirito”,11 alla riconciliazione degli opposti, all’incontro del femminile col maschile ossia, in termini romantici, e più precisamente novalisiani, alla romanticizzazione12 del reale.

The choice of Elizabeth Barrett Browning falls on the novel and not the drama, as the literary genre in which to communicate, creating a dialogue both within, between the characters - the voice itself of the protagonist tends to multiply making itself at the same time narrator and author - and externally, with the reader. Having no intention of creating a dichotomous binary world, in which on one side is the land of Aurora's mother, Italy, a sort of 'motherland' that protects and consoles, and on the other England, the land of her father, because it is rational and authoritative, Elizabeth tends instead to return to an indistinct originating world represented by primitive elements par excellence: stone and water. In this way the poet aims at the 'incarnation of the spirit', to the reconciliation of opposites, to the meeting of the feminine and the masculine or, in romantic terms, and more precisely of Novalis, to the romanticization of the real.

Nella sua descrizione di Firenze, accanto ai due motivi principali dell’acqua e del fiume,13 Elizabeth Barrett fa spesso riferimento ai cipressi toscani, gli stessi che fanno da cornice alla sua tomba in marmo bianco per opera di Lord Leighton nel cimitero “degli Inglesi” e gli stessi che D.H. Lawrence nella nota poesia Cypresses definirà molto più tardi “etruschi, misteriosi e monumentali”.14 Nel focalizzare l’attenzione sul paesaggio fiorentino, la poetessa fa sì che Firenze divenga sinonimo di “suolo”, come a dire che il vero e vivo patrimonio culturale ed artistico della città appare radicato nella sua stessa terra, nelle sue stesse pietre. In tal modo la “storia” della città si trasforma, in termini tutti romantici, in “storia della cultura”, storia di memorie, di uomini e donne, di corpi ed anime cosicché il confine fra la sfera fisica e quella spirituale si fa sottilissimo e la pietra, il fiume e la morte finiscono per confluire in uno stesso campo semantico: la morte si fa sinonimo di passaggio, momento di transizione fluido, perciò affidato alla memoria e alla poesia. La trama di questa tessitura coinvolge direttamente la tradizione letteraria fiorentina perché la pietra è prima di tutto il noto “sasso”15 di Dante, poeta amatissimo dai preraffaelliti e prima figura rivoluzionaria della storia artistica fiorentina.16 Nella pietra sembra riversarsi lo spirito stesso del genio poetico ed è infatti grazie ad essa che Elizabeth Barrett giunge a proclamare la fine dell’esilio di Dante.

In her description of Florence, beside the two principle motifs of water and of the river, Elizabeth Barrett Browning often refers to the Tuscan cypresses, which even frame her tomb in white marble, designed by Lord Leighton [sculpted by Luigi Giovanozzi] in the 'English' Cemetery, and the same which D.H. Lawrence noted in his poem 'Cypresses' much later as 'Etruscan, mysterious and monumental'. In focussing attention on the Florentine landscape, the poet makes Florence become synomous with earth, as if to say that the true and living cultural and artistic heritage of the city appears rooted in the land itself, in its own stones. In this way the 'history' of the city is transformed, in most romantic terms, to the 'history of culture', the story of memory, of men and women, of bodies and souls, so that the confines between the physical sphere and the spiritual become ultra fine and the stone, the river and death end by flowing together into one semantic field: death becomes synomous with passage, the moment of fluid transition, so entrusted to memory and to poetry. The loom of this weaving directly joins with the Florentine literary tradition because the stone is first of all the famous 'sasso' of Dante, the poet so beloved by the Pre-Raphaelites and the first revolutionary figure in Florentine artistic history. In the stone the spirit itself of the poetic genius seems to flow and it is in fact thanks to this that Elizabeth Barrett Browning comes to proclaim the end of Dante's exile.

La potenza salvifica della pietra viene tradotta in poesia, dimensione utopica con cui è possible vincere la morte, riportare in vita i grandi del passato fino ad intrecciare più sensi e più arti, così si legge in Casa Guidi Windows del 1851: “E ora dicci cos’è l’Italia? Chiesero gli uomini/ e altri risposero, “Virgilio, Cicerone,/ Catullo, Cesare” Cos’altro? Per richiedere alla memoria/ di farsi più vicina – “Boccaccio, Dante, Petrarca” –[…] “Michelangelo, Raffaello, Pergolesi”- tutti quelli i cui forti cuori battono nella pietra”.18

The saving power of the stone is carried over into poetry, a Utopian dimension with which it is possible to overcome death, bringing back to life the great of the past so they can weave more sense and more art, as we read in Casa Guidi Windows in 1851: “Now tell us what is Italy?” men ask:/ And others answer, “Virgil, Cicero,/ Catullus, Caesar” What beside? To task the memory closer – “Why Boccaccio, /Dante, Petrarca,” – “Angelo, Raffael, Pergolesi”- all/ Whose strong hearts beat through stone”.

Attraverso la memoria, che è, come l’acqua, parola viva porosamente filtrata dalla pietra, Elizabeth Barrett riporta in vita i grandi letterati della tradizione italiana e mette in relazione tempi e culture diverse: il periodo classico rappresentato da Virgilio, Cicerone, Catullo e Cesare, quello medievale dei letterati, quello rinascimentale dei pittori e degli architetti fino alla musica rappresentata dalla figura del maestro Pergolesi.

It is through memory, that is, as with water, that living words can porously penetrate through stone, Elizabeth Barrett Browning brings back to life the great writers of the Italian tradition and connects different times and cultures, the classical period represented by Virgil, Cicero, Catullus and Caesar, the medieval writers, the Renaissance painters and architects up to music represented by the figure of maestro Pergolesi.

Da qui l’uso della targa commemorativa al fine di creare una nuova dimensione estetica che permetta una rinascita dell’io grazie alla forza della parola poetica.19 Interessante a tal proposito la poesia intitolata A Child’s Grave in Florence del 1849 scritta per commemorare la morte della giovane Alice di appena un anno, chiamata “Lily” nel testo, figlia della contessa Sophia Cottrell.20 La pietra diventa simbolo della terra stessa che accoglie, come madre, la bimba morta per fondersi con la storia della città, con il suo stesso emblema – il giglio- che a sua volta rimanda alla tradizione dei ghibellini, il cui colore era proprio il bianco, e a Dante.

From this comes the use of commemorative plaques for the purpose of creating a new aesthetic dimension that permits a rebirth of the self, thanks to the force of poetic words. Interesting for this aspect is the poem entitled A Child's Grave in Florence written in 1849 to commemorate the death of the little Alice just a year old, called 'Lily' in the text, daughter of Countess Sophia Cottrell. The stone becomes a symbol of the earth itself, which embraces, like a mother, the dead baby to fuse her with the story of the city, with its same emblem - the lily - that in turn refers to the Ghibelline tradition, whose colour was white, and to Dante.

°§ ALICE ENRICA AUGUSTA COTTRELL/ ENGLAND/ Cottrell/ Alice Enrica/ Inghilterra/ Firenze/ 8 Novembre/ 1849/ Mesi 18/ 418/ GL 23774 N° 141: adds name 'Augusta', Burial 10-11, aged 16 months, Rev Robbins; Baptism GL23774 N° 155, Alice Enrica Augusta; siblings Henry Edward Plantagenet, b 01/08/51, bp 06/12/51, Rev O'Neill, N° 122 Violet Amy, b 15/01, bp 01/05/59, Rev O'Neill, N° 242/63 Clement bp 16/03/55 Rev O'Neill, parents, Count Henry, mother Sophia Augusta Tulk, Grand Duchy of Lucca; Married 1847; Burial, Clement 18/03/55, Charles 12/06/50, Aunt Eleanor Augusta Tulk, 04/08/55, beside these children. EBB knew Sophia Tulk in Wimpole Street. The tomb no longer exists but the Armstrong Browning Library, Baylor University, has placed the epitaph on a plaque of Carrara marble on the Gatehouse wall.

La poesia viene dunque vissuta come luogo di passaggio, momento che permette l’intreccio di più sensazioni, spazio in perenne traduzione: la pietra si fa filtro vivo di memoria e parola. In un passo tratto da Casa Guidi Windows, la poetessa fa nuovamente riferimento ai monumenti fiorentini, il cui valore sembra essere rappresentato dal dialogo che essi mettono in atto:

Her poetry then can be seen as like a place of passage, a moment which permits the mingling of many sensations, a space being always translated: the stone becomes a living filter of memory and word. In one passage from Casa Guidi Windows, the poet refers anew to Florentine monuments, whose value seems to be represented by a dialogue they put in motion:

In the Loggia? Where is set Cellini’s godlike Perseus, bronze or gold/ (how name the metal, when the statue flings its soul so in your eyes?).
[Nella Loggia? Dove è posto il Perseo del Cellini simile ad un Dio, di bronzo o d’oro (come chiamare il metallo, quando la statua lancia la sua anima fin dentro ai tuoi occhi?)]21
Il valore dialogico della scultura sta nel “lanciare” la propria anima fin dentro gli occhi dell’osservatore. In tal modo sembra realizzarsi una compenetrazione assoluta fra la statua, che possiede un’anima come fosse creatura viva, la parola poetica che funziona da tramite, e l’essere vivente che osserva. Ogni separazione logica di ordine spazio-temporale viene perciò a con-fondersi, a mescolarsi grazie al filtro, tutto interiore, della poesia.

The dialogic value of sculpture is in its 'flinging' its own soul into the eyes of the observer. In this way seems to be realized an absolute interpenetration between the statue, which possesses a soul as if a living creature, the poetic words which carry out the transference, and the living being who observes this. Each logical separation of space-time ordering comes thus to be confounded, to mix together thanks to the filter, entirely interior, of poetry.

L’esempio in cui tale fusione raggiunge l’apice è rappresentato dal testo poetico del 1850 dedicato all’opera in marmo bianco dello scultore americano Hiram Powers:22The Greek Slave (1843).23 La poesia si fa concreta realizzazione di parola, marmo ed ideale perché la pietra, in quanto pars pro toto, è al contempo testo poetico, statua e corpo di donna.24

In the Collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Gift of William Wilson Corcoran.

The example in which such a fusion reaches its apex is represented in the poetic text of 1850 dedicated to the work in white marble by the American sculptor Hiram Powers: The Greek Slave (1843). Poetry becomes a concrete realization of words, marble and ideal because the stone, in as much pars pro toto, is at the same time, poetic text, statue and body of a woman.

Quando Elizabeth Barrett vide l’opera per la prima volta nello studio di Hiram Powers a Firenze la definì un “tuono bianco” e la interpretò come appello alla libertà di contro alla schiavitù.25 Già poco prima, nel 1846, durante il suo viaggio di nozze a Pisa, incinta di cinque mesi, Elizabeth aveva scritto un “feroce”26  componimento contro lo sfruttamento degli schiavi, attaccando con particolare veemenza le violenze fisiche esercitate dai padroni sulle donne di colore, costrette spesso all’infanticidio: The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point.27 Qui l’effetto cromatico ha una valenza simbolica di grande rilievo; domina il nero, ripetuto come fosse un lamento all’inizio di molte strofe,28 per farsi grido nell’ultima parte del testo in contrasto con il bianco carnato del figlio ucciso e in riferimento alla morte definita “deep black” – “di un nero profondo”-.29

When Elizabeth Barrett Browning saw the work for the first time in Hiram Powers' studio in Florence she defined it as 'white thunder' and interpreted it as an appeal to liberty against slavery. Already shortly before, in 1846, during her honeymoon in Pisa, five months' pregnant, Elizabeth had written a 'ferocious' composition against the exploitation of the slaves, attacking with particular vehemence the physical violence used by their masters over the women of colour, forcing them often to infanticide: The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point. Here the chromatic effect has a symbolic value of great relief; the black dominates, repeated as if a lament at the opening of many stanzas, to become a scream in the final part of the text in contrast to the white skin of the murdered child and in reference to death defined as 'deep black'.

Il tema dell’oppressione e dello sfruttamento degli schiavi e delle donne è ancora una volta al centro del testo poetico dedicato all’opera di Powers, con la quale viene rappresentata una giovane donna greca catturata dai turchi e pronta per essere venduta al mercato degli schiavi. Se nella poesia del 1846 era il nero a dominare, in The Greek Slave è il bianco, il colore della luce e dell’ideale trasformato però da Elizabeth Barrett in un grido – il tuono-, un appello vivo di contro alle ingiustizie umane.30 Il bianco estetizzante, nell’arte figurativa ottocentesca associato agli ideali di purezza, di bellezza e di divinità, viene rielaborato da Elizabeth Barrett con una lettura che definirei antropologica in quanto colore colto nella sua primitiva essenza, colore originario,31 rimando alla stessa pagina bianca sulla quale è possibile “riscrivere” la storia.

The theme of oppression and of exploitation of the slaves and of women is again at the centre of the poetic text dedicated to Powers' work, in which is represented a young Greek woman captured by Turks and ready to be sold in the slave market. If in the poetry of 1846 it was black which dominated, in The Greek Slave it is white, the colour of light and of the ideal transformed however by Elizabeth Barrett Browning in a scream - the thunder -, a living call against human injustice. The aesthetizing white, in nineteenth century figurative art associated with the ideals of purity, of beauty and of divinity, is re-worked by Elizabeth Barrett Browning with a reading that could be defined anthopologically as the colour in its primitive being, original colour, referring to the same white page upon which it is possible to 'rewrite' history.

L’atto rivoluzionario della poetessa sembra esplicarsi dunque nel ribaltamento dei concetti di “bellezza” e di “arte” non più interpretabili come ideali astratti e perciò estranei alla realtà, bensì come azioni tese alla lotta e alla trasformazione.32 Da qui l’uso di un’immagine tanto concreta come quella del “dito infuocato dell’arte” e della pietra che “colpisce” e “disonora” il potente. L’ideale si avvicina dunque alla realtà e al “tormento”, l’arte si fa azione viva e la parola pietra che si scaglia contro la schiavitù del mondo fino ad una vera e propria compenetrazione di più piani: l’arte e la politica, la carne e il marmo, l’ideale e il tormento, il colore e il suono, tanto che la poesia si materializza non solo agli occhi dell’osservatore quale statua ma anche all’udito dello stesso in quanto grido ed appello. Il componimento poetico si carica di un significato più alto che sta tra la statua e il lettore-osservatore, il suo valore sta nel rendere visibile l’invisibile,33 nel suo essere “in traduzione”, nello spazio dell’in-between come fosse una terza dimensione fra il marmo e la parola poetica stessa. È esattamente in questa “terza” dimensione che si colloca la potenzialità del testo che contiene già di per sé tutto: la parola, il suono e l’immagine.34

The revolutionary act of the poet seems to explain itself therefore in overturning the concepts of beauty and of art, no longer meaningful as abstract ideals and therefore alien to reality, but as action for struggle and for change. From this comes the use of such a concrete image as that of 'art's fiery finger' and of the stone which 'strikes and shames the strong'. The ideal draws therefore near to the real and to the 'anguish', art becomes living action and the stone words that are flung against the slavery of the world as to become a true and proper interpenetration on many planes: art and politics, flesh and marble, ideal and anguish, colour and sound, so much that the poetry is materialized not only to the eyes of the observer as statue but also to the ears of the same in such a scream and appeal. The poetic composition carries a higher meaning that is placed between the statue and the reader-observer, its value being to make the invisible visible, in its being 'in translation', in the space 'in-between' as if it were a third dimension between the marble and the same poetic words. It is exactly in this 'third' dimension that is placed the potentiality of the text that already contains all in itself: word, sound, image.

La sinestesia finale del “silenzio bianco” che pare essere usata in risposta all’esclamazione iniziale di “tuono bianco” allude ad un movimento che dimostra la capacità performativa del testo che nei versi pare aver preso vita, aver agito ed essersi trasformato, cosicché al lettore sembra di aver assistito ad uno spettacolo teatrale che termina con l’abbassarsi del sipario e delle luci. Se infatti in tutto il testo pare essere il bianco il colore dominante, la chiusa espressa con veemenza dal solo participio “sconfitto” (“overthrown”), rimanda al nero, al buio, associato per analogia al suono chiuso e cupo suggerito dalla vocale “o”, a sua volta implicito riferimento alla circolarità della “O” di Giotto, simbolo di sintesi perfetta e perciò, di “fratellanza universale”.35

The final synaesthesia of  'white silence' that seems to be used in response to the initial exclamation of 'thunder' alludes to a movement which demonstrates the performative capacity of the text which in its verses appears to have taken life, to take action and to be transformed, such that the reader seems to have assisted at a theatrical spectacle that ends with the lowering of the curtain and the lights. If in fact in all of the text white seems to be the dominant colour, the ending expressed with vehemence only by the participle 'overthrown', refers to black, to darkness, associated by analogy to the closed and gloomy sound suggested by the vowel 'o', in turn implying the circularity of Giotto's 'O', symbol of perfect synthesis and therefore, of 'universal brotherhood'.

Nell’immagine sinestetica si può inoltre ravvisare un significato più indiretto riferito al silenzio subito dalla giovane poetessa sotto l’autorità paterna, perciò metafora del mutismo e del pallore a cui tutte le donne, in età vittoriana, erano costrette. Da qui la legittima interpretazione del testo come voce femminile che si erge contro il mondo patriarcale in una Firenze che può essere considerata il “luogo simbolo” di tale liberazione.36 Di contro alla poetessa fragile e malata sta infatti la donna politicamente attiva, l’infiammata patriota italiana che combattè per la causa risorgimentale e, in termini strettamente personali, contro un padre despota e una famiglia che da generazioni possedeva schiavi.37 Che il grido rivoluzionario venga innalzato per la liberazione degli schiavi e delle donne, al fine di dar loro voce e importanza, è testimoniato da una nota lettera scritta in risposta ad una corrispondente:

In the synaesthetic image one can see besides a more indirect meaning refering to the silence subjected by the young poet under paternal authority, perhaps a metaphor for the silence and pallour to which all women, in the Victorian period, were constrained. From this comes the legitimate interpretation of the text as feminine voice that rises against the patriarchal world in a Florence which could be considered the 'symbolic place' for such liberation. In contrast to the fragile and ill poet was in fact the politically active woman, the inflamed Italian patriot who fought for the Risorgimento and, in strictly personal terms, against a despotic father and a family that for generations possessed slaves. That the revolutionary cry came to be raised for the Emancipation of the Slaves and of Women, to give them a voice and importance, is witnessed by a famous letter written in response to a correspondent:

  “[…] Is it possible that you think a woman has no business with questions like the question of slavery? She had better subside into slavery and concubinage herself, I think, as in the times of old, shut herself up with the Penelopes in the “women’s apartment”, and take no rank among thinkers and speakers”.

[[…] È possibile che tu ritenga che una donna non debba avere alcun impegno in problematiche come quella della schiavitù? Farebbe certo meglio a sottomettersi a questa e al concubinato come nell’antichità, a rinchiudersi in silenzio con Penelope nelle “stanze delle donne” senza prender posto fra pensatori ed oratori.]38

In questo tipo di approccio dall’afflato estremamente moderno, Elizabeth Barrett fu profondamente influenzata dalla lettura dell’opera di Mme De Staël, Corinne, ou l’Italie del 1807, che incise sulla raffigurazione dell’Italia in chiave romantica e ne elaborò il mito al femminile.39 Da qui l’attenzione dell’autrice anche per un’altra grande artista donna, scultrice di origine americana, che la poetessa frequentò [sia a Firenze sia] a Roma: Harriet Hosmer.40

In this type of approach of ultra-modern inspiration, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was profoundly influenced by the reading of Madame de Staël's 1807 Corinne, ou l'Italie, which carved out the image of Italy in a romantic mode and elaborated its myth in relation to women. From this the attention of the author came also to another great woman artist, an American sculptress, whom the poet frequented in Rome: Harriet Hosmer.

L’artista americana aveva impressionato Elizabeth Barrett per la sua portata rivoluzionaria, per la sua emancipazione in un ambito artistico, quello della scultura, che al tempo, e almeno fino ai primi del Novecento, era destinato a rimanere predominio maschile.41 La scultura in particolare si carica inoltre agli occhi della poetessa, di una valenza ancor più concreta rispetto alla poesia o alla pittura perché arte corporea, perciò esplicito “richiamo all’azione”. Così si legge nell’ottavo libro di Aurora Leigh:

The American artist had impressed Elizabeth Barrett Browning with her revolutionary bearing, with her freedom in an artistic ambience, that of sculpture, at that time, and at least until the beginning of the twentieth century, destined to remain predominately male. Sculpture in particular was freighted in the eyes of the poet with a value that was more concrete than poetry or painting because it was corporeal art, therefore explicitly a 'call to action'. Thus one reads in Aurora Leigh VIII:

                    “I, an artist, - yes,
Because, precisely, I’m an artist, sir,
And woman, - if another sate in sight,
I’d whisper, - Soft, my sister! Not a word!
By speaking we prove only we can speak;
Which he, the man here, never doubted. What
He doubts, is whether we can do the thing
With decent grace, we’ve not yet done at all:
Now, do it; bring your statue, - you have room!”
[Sì, io un’artista
Difatti, signore, proprio questo sono: una donna e
Un’artista. E se qui ci fosse un’altra donna,
Le consiglierei: “piano sorella! Basta con le parole,
Parlando noi dimostriamo soltanto di saper parlare,
Cosa di cui nessun uomo ha mai dubitato.
Egli dubita invece che noi possiamo fare qualcosa
Con la stessa grazia […] Adesso coraggio: scolpisci
La tua statua, lo spazio, l’hai.]42
Firenze diviene dunque per Elizabeth Barrett simbolo di una vera e propria “rinascenza” in quanto donna ed artista: il corpo della donna da sempre malata che pare ritornare a nuova vita proprio durante il soggiorno fiorentino e quello dell’artista che agisce attivamente.43 Da qui la scelta del personaggio di Aurora, il cui nome già di per se stesso è allusione alla rinascita e ancor più all’opera di Michelangelo (l’Aurora del 1524-27) presente nelle Cappelle di San Lorenzo a Firenze, simbolo della ribellione dell’artista alla tirannia medicea.44

Florence therefore became for Elizabeth Barrett Browning a symbol of a true and proper 'Renaissance' in as much as woman and artist: the body of a chronically ill woman who could seem to return to a new life during the Florentine stay and that of the artist who could actively work. For this she chose the figure of Aurora, whose name was already itself an allusion to the Renaissance and even more to the work of Michelangelo (the Aurora of 1524-27) in the Chapel of San Lorenzo in Florence, symbol of the artist's rebellion against Medicean tyranny.

L’amore per i classici, diverso da quello di Robert per lo più volto alla riscoperta del passato, venne vissuto dalla poetessa in termini umanistici, come insegnamento per il presente. Lo studioso Walter Savage Landor, anch’egli protagonista della storia fiorentina durante il soggiorno dei Brownings,45 fu caro amico di Elizabeth e, nel 1836, la definì “una perfetta allieva dei classici”, [“An excellent Greek scholar”,]46 ed è certo sull’esempio della Grecia di Byron che presero vita gli ideali di libertà di Elizabeth, rielaborati e riattualizzati alla luce dei tumulti risorgimentali e in implicito riferimento alla condizione femminile. Anche per Ruskin, intimo amico di Elizabeth Barrett, grande ammiratore di Aurora Leigh47 e autore dell’opera coeva The Stones of Venice (1851-53), l’arte è in primo luogo “mestiere”, perciò manualità, e rappresenta una forza attiva e viva, volta a spezzare le barriere che separano gli uomini, a creare fra loro un legame spirituale, una “fratellanza”.48

Her love for the classics, different from that of Robert who wanted to re-enter into the past much more, came to be lived by the poet in Humanist terms, as teaching for the present. The scholar Walter Savage Landor, even he a protagonist in Florentine history during the Brownings' stay, was a dear friend of Elizabeth's and, in 1836, he defined her 'An excellent Greek scholar', and it is certain that the Greece of Byron gave life to Elizabeth's ideals of freedom, re-elaborated and revived during the tumults of the Risorgimento and in explicit reference to the condition of women. Also for Ruskin, intimate friend of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a great admirer of Aurora Leigh and author of the co-eval work, The Stones of Venice (1851-53), art was in the first place a metière, therefore manual and representing an active and living force, aiming to break the barriers that separate men, and to create among them a spiritual bond, a 'fraternity'.

Tale ideale di conciliazione, che rimanda al concetto di circolarità di stampo classico, è riscontrabile nel motivo dell’anello, chiuso come un cerchio perfetto,49allusione alla stessa struttura architettonica del cimitero “degli inglesi”, vera isola nel cuore della città e implicito riferimento all’opera di Robert Browning The Ring and the Book, dedicata all’amata moglie. L’anello si fa dunque simbolo della connessione dell’arte con la vita, dell’unione del corpo con lo spirito, ma anche rimando all’amoroso e preziosissimo lavoro dei maestri fiorentini, in particolare a quei monili d’oro creati dai gioiellieri Castellani che i Browning ammirarono a Roma intorno al 1859 e che furono un esempio altissimo della cosiddetta “oreficeria archeologica italiana” ("Archaeological jewellery").50 Ma “l’aureo anello” ("golden Ring") è soprattutto quello che unisce Italia ed Inghilterra e al quale fanno riferimento i versi di Niccolò Tommaseo incisi nella targa commemorativa posta sulla facciata di Casa Guidi, una targa in marmo nella quale si iscrivono la poesia ed il corpo di Elizabeth Barrett.

Such an ideal of harmony, that refers to the concept of circularity of the classic stamp, is found in the motif of the ring, closed like a perfect circle, an allusion to the same architectural structure of the English Cemetery, true island in the heart of the city and implicit reference to the work of Robert Browning, The Ring and the Book, dedicated to his loved wife. The ring becomes therefore a symbol of the connection between art and life, of the union of the body and the spirit, but also refers to the loving and most precious work of Italian masters, in particular to the golden objects created by the Castellani jewelers that the Brownings admired in Rome around 1859 and which were the most excellent examples of the so-called Italian 'archeological jewellery'. But the 'golden ring' is above all that which unites Italy and England and to which Niccolò Tommaseo's verses incised on the plaque on Casa Guidi refer, a marble plaque in which is inscribed the poetry and the heart of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.




* I miei più sinceri ringraziamenti vanno al dott. Maurizio Bossi che mi ha dimostrato fiducia, accoglienza e comprensione, alla dott.ssa Katerine Gaja che, con la sua preparazione scientifica e la sua umanità mi ha guidato con pazienza nella ricerca e alla dott.ssa Julia Bolton Holloway la quale mi ha gentilmente messo a disposizione la biblioteca del cimitero “degli inglesi” offrendomi importanti indicazioni.
1 “Florence looks to us more beautiful than ever after Rome. I love the very stones of it, to say nothing of the cypresses and river”. The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, edited by Frederic G. Kenyon, The Macmillan Company, London, 1899, II.168-169.
2 “[The Duomo] struck me with a sense of the sublime in architecture […] It seemed to carry its theology out with it; it signified more than a mere building”. Cfr. Alison Chapman, “All that I have dreamed and more”: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Florence, in Journal of Anglo-Italian Studies, ed. Peter Vassallo, vol. 6 (2001), p. 128.
3 Cfr. Katerine Gaja, 'Scrivendo nel marmo: lettere inedite fra Hiram Powers ed Elizabeth Barrett Browning', Antologia Vieusseux 25-26, 2003, p. 32. La studiosa, mettendo in relazione la poesia con la scultura, sottolinea l’importanza del fiume e dell’acqua stessa, sinonimo di metamorfosi e di impeto creativo. Colgo qui l’occasione per ringraziare la dott.ssa Gaja per le molteplici e preziose informazioni che molto hanno contribuito ad arricchire il mio scritto.
4 Alison Chapman definisce così la visione di Barrett Browning rispetto a Firenze: “Florence is thus accessed in a problematical double vision which attemps a purchase on the city as a temporal, experiential reality, as material and tangible, and yet also as hallucinatory, ineffable, unrepresentable”. Alison Chapman, op. cit., p. 131.
5 Interessante un parallelo con la descrizione di Firenze offerta da Sophia Peabody Hawthorne nelle sue Notes in Italy: “It was not possible to tell where the immaterial city began and the material city ended”. Cfr. il sito del cimitero “degli inglesi” alla pagina: http://www.florin.ms/mshawthorne.html
6 “But poets should/ Exert a double vision; should have eyes/ To see near things as comprehensively/ As if afar they took their point of sight,/ And distant things s intimately deep/ As if they touched them”. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh and other Poems, edited by John Robert Glorney Bolton e Julia Bolton Holloway, Penguin, 1995, p. 142-143.
7 “While Art sets action on the top of suffering:/The artist’s part is both to be and do […]”. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh and other Poems, cit., p. 148
8 Elizabeth Barrett Browning, edited by Simon Avery and Rebecca Scott, Longman, 2003, p. 182.
9 “The multiplicity of the voices that Aurora Leigh’s text incorporates, and increasing self-consciousness it registers as a “Text-in-process” generates the double-voiced discourse representing not only a text-in-process, but a subjectivity-in-process as well, which is, in other words, the dialogic fomation of subjectivity”. Sarolta Marinovich-Resch, The dialogue of the Public and the Private Voice in “Aurora Leigh”, in:  Sabine Coelsch-Foisner/ Holger Klein (eds), Private and Public Voices in Victorian Poetry, Stauffenburg Verlag, Tübingen, 2000, pp. 166. [These practices are a direct borrowing and acknowledgement by Elizabeth Barrett Browning of the Florentine Dante Alighieri in his Commedia, which she had first read in Italian as a child at Malvern.]
10 “The conflict embodied in the Aurora (art/spirit) versus Romney (socialism/body) binary is revealed to be a false one as spirit and body come to ‘correspond’, working together towards reform in the name of love”.  e Rebecca Scott, op. cit., p. 189.
11 “[…] For otherwise we only imprison spirit,/ And not embody.  Inward evermore/ To outward, - so in life, and so in art,/ Which still is life”. E. Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh and other Poems, cit., p. 144.
12 Sottintesa qui la traduzione letterale del principio romantico del “romantisieren” definitivo da Novalis un “potenziamento qualitativo dell’esistenza”. Cfr. Novalis, Schriften, in: Das Philosophische Werk, vol. II, Stuttgart, 1981, p. 545.
13 Si ricordi il bel passo tratto da Casa Guidi Windows in cui Elizabeth mette esplicitamente in relazione l’immagine del fiume con il marmo: “I can but muse in hope upon this shore/ Of golden Arno as it shoots away/ Straight through the heart of Florence, ‘neath the four/ Bent bridges, seeming to strain off like bows,/ And tremble, while the arrowy undertid/ Shoots on and cleaves the marble as it goes,/ And strikes up palace-walls on either side,/ And froths the cornice out in glittering rows […]”(“Non posso che meditare su questa sponda/ dell’Arno dorato mentre saetta/tagliando il cuore di Firenze, sotto i quattro/ curvi ponti, che come archi paiono tendersi,/ e sussultano, mentre la corrente, come freccia/continua a saettare, a e fendere, scorrendo il marmo,/ E batte contro i muri dei palazzi su ambedue le sponde,/ e di spuma copre i cunei sporgenti (trad. it. di Assunta D’Aloi). EBB, Casa Guidi Windows, cit., p. 270.
14 “Tuscan cypresses,/ What is it?// Folded in like a dark thought/ For which the language is lost,/ Tuscan cypresses,/ Is there a great secret?/Are our words no good?/ The undeliverable,/ Dead with a dead race and a dead speech, and yet/ Darkly monumental in you/ Etruscan cypresses […]”. Lawrence intraprese il suo “viaggio nella terra degli Etruschi” insieme all’amico americano Earl Brewster intorno al 1927. Cfr. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Fifth Edition, Vol. II, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1986, p. 2159. L’importanza attribuita ai cipressi è segnalata da Elizabeth Barrett Browning anche in una lettera indirizzata a John Ruskin del 17.03.1855: “But among the advantages of our Florence: - The art, the olives, the sunshine, the cypresses, and don’t let me forget the Arno and mountains at sunset time – […] ”. Cfr. The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, vol. II, op. cit., p. 191.
15 “And touch the holy stone where Dante sate” (Poems before the Congress, 1860); “On the stone/ Called Dante’s, - a plain flat stone scarced / Discerned/From others in the pavement, -whereupon/ He used to bring his quiet chair out, turned / To Brunelleschi’s church, and pour alone/ The lava of spirit when it burned”. (Casa Guidi Windows, Part I, 1851). Quest’ultima citazione è un’esplicita anticipazione del verso contenuto in Aurora Leigh usato per definire la stessa poetica della protagonista: “The burning lava of a song”.
16 Cfr. Graham Smith, The Stone of Dante and later Florentine celebrations of the Poet, Olschki, Firenze, 1990. Si ricordi che Ruskin nell’opera The Stones of Venice lo definì “the central man of all the world”.
17 “For now thou art no longer exiled, now/ Best honoured: we salute thee who art come/ Back to the old stone”. E. Barrett Browning, Casa Guidi Windows, cit., p. 269
18 “Now tell us what is Italy?” men ask:/ And others answer, “Virgil, Cicero,/ Catullus, Caesar” What beside? To task the memory closer – “Why Boccaccio, / Dante, Petrarca,” – “Angelo, Raffael, Pergolesi”- all/ Whose strong hearts beat through stone”. E. Barrett Browning, Casa Guidi Windows, Part I, in: The Complete Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, vol. II, p. 255; from Madame de Staël, 'Corinne au Capitole', Corinne ou Italie, pp. 61-63.
19 Il termine “rebirth” rimanda alla poetica stessa di Robert Browning ma va considerato in un’accezione diversa in riferimento ad Elizabeth perché più terrena e più vitale: “‘The virtue of resuscitation’ so strongly impressed him that it became an element of his poetic theory. The urge to redeem the past, already visible in the poems he had written on historical subjects, was confirmed by the spectacle of what was happening to the frescoes of Florence […] His explanation of his methods in The Ring and the Book identifies poetry itself as an act of ‘resuscitation’”. Cfr. Jacob Korg, Browning and Italy, op. cit., p. 106.
20 La targa è posta all’ingresso del cimitero “degli inglesi”:“And here among the English Tombs/In Tuscan ground we lay her,// A Tuscan Lily, - only white,/ As Dante, in abhorrence/ Of red corruption, wished aright/ The lilies of his Florence”. The Complete Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ed. Charlotte Porter and Helen A. Clarke, New York: Thomas Crowell, 1900; AMS Reprint, 1973, III.219.
21 “In the Loggia? Where is set Cellini’s godlike Perseus, bronze or gold/ (how name the metal, when the statue flings its soul so in your eyes?)”. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Casa Guidi Windows, in: The complete Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, op. cit., vol. III, vv. 581 e segg., p. 268.
22 Significativo il fatto che i rapporti più solidi stretti a Firenze riguardassero proprio il mondo della scultura e in particolare gli scultori americani Hiram Powers, giunto a Firenze nel 1837, William Wetmore Story, amico intimo di Robert per più di quaranta anni - arrivò nel capoluogo toscano nel 1848-, e Joel T. Hart (1810-1877) sepolto al cimitero “degli inglesi”.
23 “They say Ideal Beauty cannot enter/ The house of anguish. On the threshold stands/ An alien Image with enshackled hands,/ Called the Greek Slave: as if the sculptor meant her,/ (That passionless perfection which he lent her,/ Shadowed, not darkened, where the sill expands)/ To so, confront man’s crimes in different lands,/ With man’s ideal sense. Pierce to the centre,/ Art’s fiery finger! – and break up ere long/ The serfdom of this world! Appeal, fair stone,/ From God’s pure heights of beauty, against man’s wrong!/ Catch up in thy divine face, not alone/ East griefs but west, - and strike and shame the strong/ By thunders of white silence, overthrown”. The Complete Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, cit., vol. III, p. 178 (“Dicono che la bellezza ideale non possa entrare/ la casa del tormento. Sulla soglia sta/ una figura estranea con mani incatenate,/ chiamata La Schiava Greca! Come se l’artista l’avesse interpretata (quella perfezione priva di passione che le ha conferito,/ ombreggiata ma non oscurata laddove la soglia si schiude)/ per mettere a confronto i crimini dell’uomo nei diversi paesi/Con il senso ideale dell’essere umano. Tocca il centro,/ dito infuocato dell’arte, e frantuma/ la schiavitù di questo mondo. Fai appello, bella pietra,/ dalle pure alture divine alla bellezza, contro il male dell’uomo!/ Arresta nel tuo volto divino,/ i dolori dell’oriente e dell’occidente, colpisci e disonora il potente/ con tuoni di bianco silenzio,/ sconfitto”, trad. mia).
24 Del resto Powers fu il primo scultore a rappresentare, in modo tanto realista, la pelle umana nel marmo e fu questo uno dei motivi per cui la statua suscitò tanta ammirazione Hiram Powers. Vermont Sculptor 1805-1873, a cura di Richard P.Wunder, vol. I, London and Toronto, 1991, p. 109.
25 Cfr. Julia Markus, Dared and Done. The Marriage of Elizabeth and Robert Browning, Bloomsbury, 1995, pp. 196-197.
26 Così lo definisce Barrett Browning stessa in una lettera del 21 dicembre 1846 indirizzata a Hugh Stuart Boyd: “I am just sending off an antislavery poem for America, too ferocious, perhaps, for the Americans to publish”. Victorian Poetry as Cultural Critique. The Politics of Performative Language, ed. E. Warwick Slinn, University of Virginia Press, London, 2003, p.62.
27 Ibidem.
28 “We were black, we were black!” (Strofa XIV), “”I am black, I am black!” (Strofa XVI), “I am not mad: I am black!” (Strofa XXXII). E. Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh and other Poems, cit., pp. 365-374.
29 “[…] In the name of the white child waiting for me/In the deep black death where our kisses agree,-/White men, I leave you all curse-free/In my broken heart’s disdain!”. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh and other poems, cit., p. 374.
30 “Il bianco è collegato all’ideale, ma è anche il colore del dolore; colpisce la metafora adoperata per definire l’effetto della morte del fratello, della quale non poteva parlare: l’aveva resa «bianca d’anima». Cfr. Katerine Gaja, “Scrivendo nel marmo”, cit., p. 35.
31 Gli antropologi nel delineare una progressione cronologica dell’acquisizione dei colori in ambito linguistico sostengono che il primo colore è appunto il bianco. Cfr. Alberto Castoldi, Bianco, La Nuova Italia, p. 1.
32 In questa sua posizione Elizabeth Barrett pare allontanarsi anche dalla visione di Hiram Powers stesso, il quale in una lettera del 1853 definisce il bianco radioso della scultura antica ripulita dissociandola dalla realtà e rendendola tanto pura e bella da far sì che essa sembri corrispondere alle teorie platoniche delle ideee filosofiche. Per la poetessa invece l’ideale non pare poter esistere senza il tormento ed è esattamente nella tensione di tali opposti che si ha progressione e trasformazione. Cfr. K. Gaja, “Scrivendo nel marmo”, cit., p. 38.
33 Questa formula ricorda i versi di Robert Browning tratti dall’opera Old Pictures in Florence: To cries of  “Greek Art and what more wish you?”-/Replied: “To become more self-acquainters,/And paint man, man, whatever the issue![…]/To bring the invisible full into play!/Let the visible go to the dogs – what/matters?”, Robert Browning, Old Pictures in Florence, Giulio Giannini & Son, Florence, 1923, sezione XIX.
34 Cfr. Michael Eggers, Texte, die alles sagen. Erzählende Literatur des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts und Theorie der Stimme, Königshausen & Neumann, 2003.
35 La struttura del cerchio rimanda sia alla stessa struttura architettonica del cimitero degli “Inglesi”, vera e propria isola nel cuore della città, sia all’elemento dell’anello. Si pensi a tal proposito al titolo dell’opera di Browning, The Ring and The Book.
36 “Quello che risulta interessante sul piano delle scelte stilistiche del componimento è l’iconografia della donna-schiava creata dalle mani dello scultore-Dio: la statua della schiava greca diventa simbolo da un lato di perfezione ideale e di eterna bellezza femminile, e dall’altro di secolare asservimento al mondo patriarcale occidentale.” Cfr. Elizabeth Barrett Browning e il percorso verso la rinascita della donna artista, tesi di laurea di Sheila Frodella, A.A., 2000-2001, Università di Firenze, Dip. Di Filologia Moderna, p. 91.
37 Cfr. The Family of the Barrett. A Colonial Romance, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1938. Il nonno paterno, Samuel Barrett, (muore nel 1760) era considerato uno dei più grandi proprietari terrieri della Giamaica.
38 “[…] Is it possible that you think a woman has no business with questions like the question of slavery? She had better subside into slavery and concubinage herself, I think, as in the times of old, shut herself up with the Penelopes in the “women’s apartment”, and take no rank among thinkers and speakers”. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ed. Simon Avery and Rebecca Scott, cit., p. 111.
39 Cfr. Maddalena Pennacchia Punzi, Il mito di Corinne. Viaggio in Italia e genio femminile in Anna Jameson, Margaret Fuller e George Eliot, Carocci, 2001.
40 A Roma Elizabeth Barrett Browning conobbe molti altri artisti sia inglesi sia americani, fra questi: John Gibson, Thomas Crawford e il pittore William Page ma solo Harriet era destinata a diventare “a great pet” della poetessa. Cfr. The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, edited by Gardner B. Taplin, ARCHON BOOKS, 1970, p.277.
41 La stessa problematica si ravvisa anche fra le artiste tedesche che giunsero a Firenze nel fine secolo. Cfr. gli atti del convegno Cultura tedesca a Firenze: scrittrici ed artiste fra Otto- e Novecento, a cura di Maria Chiara Mocali e Claudia Vitale (in corso di stampa per Le Lettere, Firenze).
42 “I, an artist, - yes,/Because, precisely, I’m an artist, sir,/And woman, - if another sate in sight,/I’d whisper, - Soft, my sister! Not a word!/By speaking we prove only we can speak;/Which he, the man here, never doubted. What/He doubts, is whether we can do the thing/With decent grace, we’ve not yet done at all:/Now, do it; bring your statue, - you have room!”. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, cit., p. 269. Il riferimento allo “spazio” (“room”) nel verso finale richiama alla mente l’opera di Virginia Woolf,  A Room of One’s Own, rimando che non mi pare casuale se si pensa che la Woolf apprezzò molto Barrett Browning e che il suo commento ad Aurora Leigh si incentra proprio su una metafora nella quale la letteratura femminile appare come una “realtà mancata”, il cui unico “spazio” accessibile pare essere “la stanza degli sguatteri”. Cfr. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, edited by Simon Avery and Rebecca Scott, cit. p.11. Anche Emily Dickinson mette in risalto l’importanza di Elizabeth Barrett per la letteratura femminile e, in una delle tre poesie a lei dedicate, giunge ad affermare che la morte della poetessa inglese coinciderebbe con la fine della poesia stessa. Ivi, p. 10.
43 Cfr. Unfolding the South. Nineteenth-century British women writers and artists in Italy, edited by Alison Chapman and Jane Stabler, Manchester University Press, 2003.
44 Nel 1513 Leone X affidò a Michelangelo l’esecuzione della Sacrestia Nuova di San Lorenzo e delle tombe medicee sulle cui pareti M. realizzò il Giorno e la Notte, il Crepuscolo e l’Aurora. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, edited by Simon Avery and Rebecca Scott, cit., p. 164.
45 Le stesse opere di Landor, passate alla storia per la loro forma rigorosamente classica, sono state spesso definite anche “marble-like”. Cfr. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, cit., p. 902.
46 “An excellent Greek scholar”. Cfr. The Family of the Barrett, cit., p. 432.
47 Elizabeth Barrett Browning, edited by Simon Avery and Rebecca Scot, cit., p. 8. La scrittrice conobbe Ruskin intorno al 1848 e mantenne con lui una fitta corrispondenza che andò crescendo negli anni e durò fino al 1859. Intorno al 1860 Ruskin subì una profonda crisi spirituale che lo isolò dalla cerchia di amici e conoscenti ma non dalla poetessa, alla quale egli confidò i suoi più intimi turbamenti: “Sto combattendo contro tutti i possibili dubbi e stranezze: sono privo di forze – non riesco a guardare le cose in faccia”.
48 “The dark stones that have so long been the sepulches of the thoughts of nations, and the forgotten ruins wherein their faith lay charnelled, give up the dead that were in them […] the multitudinous souls come forth with singing, gazing on us with the soft eyes of newly comprehended sympathy and stretching their white arms to us across the grave, in the solemn gladness of everlasting brotherhood”. J. Ruskin, The stones of Venice, pagine scelte ed annotate con studio introduttivo di Dario Gazzoni-Pisani, Roma, 1975, p. 129.
49 Thomas Mann ci offre una bella definizione del significato del cerchio nel romanzo Le storie di Giacobbe: “La natura misteriosa dell’origine si fonda sul fatto che la sua essenza non è la linea ma la sfera. La linea non ha misteri. Il mistero inerisce alla sfera. Ma la sfera consiste di corrispondenze e complementarietà: due metà che vanno a formare un tutto unico”.T. Mann, Giuseppe e I suoi fratelli, a cura di Fabrizio Cambi, Mondadori, 2000, vol. I, p. 219.
50 Cfr. Geoffrey C. Munn, Castellani and Giuliano, Revivalist Jewellers of the 19th Century, Rizzoli, New York, 1984.  Forse proprio in questa relazione fra il passato e le cose appartenenti al presente sta l’interesse di Rainer Maria Rilke per l’opera di Elizabeth Barrett della quale tradusse in tedesco I Sonetti al Portoghese. La “poetica delle cose” di Rilke coinciderebbe con quella di Elizabeth che guarda all’incarnazione dello spirito del passato nella realtà del presente.
© Claudia Vitale, 2004

'English' Cemetery, Piazzale Donatello 38

CENA presso il CIMITERO 'DEGLI INGLESI', Piazzale Donatello, era presente Stephen Prickett, Direttore della Armstrong Browning Library, che ha inaugurato le lapidi che recano incisi due epitaffi di Elizabeth Barrett Browning, donate dalla stessa Biblioteca alla città di Firenze. Era anche presente la scultrice Amalia Ciardi Duprè, alla quale è stata commissionata per il Cimitero 'degli Inglesi' una scultura che rappresenti Dante e Beatrice nello stile delle illustrazioni della Commedia di Botticelli.

DINNER in the 'ENGLISH' CEMETERY, Piazzale Donatello 38, Stephen Prickett, Director, Armstrong Browning Library, Baylor University, Texas, unveiled the two marble plaques engraved with Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poetry. The sculptress, Amalia Ciardi Dupré, who is commissioned to sculpt the Dante and Beatrice in the style of Botticelli's Paradiso for the 'English' Cemetery, was also present.

?, ?, JBH, Doreen Jones, Patricia O'Connor, Luca Bernardini

Mrs & Dr Prickett, USA,  Jeffrey Begeal USA, Mrs O'Connor UK, Sandy Kahn USA, Doreen Jones UK, Rebecca Cole-Turner USA, David Gilbert UK, Mr O'Connor UK, Luca Bernardini Italia, Kristin Björg Sveinsdóttir Islanda, Paolo Re & Amalia Ciardi Dupré Italia, Kristin Bragadottir Islanda

Kristin Bragadottir, Paolo Re, Kristin Björg Sveinsdóttir, Mr O'Connor, David Gilbert, Jeffrey Begeal, Rebecca Cole-Turner, Mrs O'Connor, Anne O'Brien, Gerardo Kraft,  Giovanna Bossi, Michail Talalay, Alison O'Connor, Doreen Jones

David Gilbert, Mr O'Connor, Doreen Jones, Paolo Re, Amalia Ciardi Dupré, JBH, Kristin Björg Sveinsdóttir and Kristin Bragadottir

Assessore alle Relazioni Internazionali del Comune di Firenze Eugenio Giani, Paolo Coccheri

Gerardo Kraft, Presidente, Cimiteri Evangelici di Firenze

Miss and Mrs O'Connor, Chairman, Pre-Raphaelite Society,  Signora Kraft

Marguerite Berardi, Simon Poë, Alyson Price

Maurizio Bossi, Ida Zatelli




Una tomba dal nome svanito: Isa Blagden/ A Faded Inscription: Isa Blagden’s Tomb Corinna Gestri, La Nara di Prato ||Clough, Horner, Zileri: tombe ricordate in un diario inglese inedito/ Tombs Linked in an Unpublished Diary Alyson Price, The British Institute of Florence||William Holman Hunt per la moglie giovane Fanny/ William Holman Hunt for His Young Wife Fanny Patricia O’Connor, The Pre-Raphaelite Society ||L'arte della memoria: John Roddam Spencer Stanhope e la tomba della figlia Mary/ The Art of Memory: John Roddam Spencer Stanhope and the Tomb of His Daughter Mary Nic Peeters, Vrije Universiteit Brussel– Judy Oberhausen, San Mateo, California||Notti bianche d'Islanda a Firenze: William Morris e Daniel Willard Fiske/ Northern Lights in Florence: William Morris and Daniel William Fiske Kristín Bragadóttir, The National Library, Reykjavik ||Marmo bianco: la vita e le lettere di Hiram Powers, un inedito di Clara Louise Dentler/ White Marble: The Life and Letters of Hiram Powers in Clara Louise’s Dentler’s Manuscript Jeffrey Begeal, The International Baccalaureate Organization


Si ringraziano per la collaborazione
Lapo Mazzei, Carlo Steinhauslin, Maurizio Bossi







    POLISTAMPA s.n.c.


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