IL LIBRO III
VOCI DEL RICORDO INCISE NEL
CIMITERO 'DEGLI INGLESI',
3-5 GIUGNO 2004
THE BOOK III
'MARBLE SILENCE, WORDS ON STONE:
FLORENCE'S' ENGLISH CEMETERY',
GABINETTO VIEUSSEUX AND
'ENGLISH CEMETERY', FLORENCE
3-5 JUNE 2004
I ‘FIORENTINI’ INGLESI E AMERICANI/ ENGLISH AND AMERICAN ‘FLORENTINES’
Venerdì 4 giugno 2004/ Friday 4 June 2004/ Ore 9.30/ 9:30 a.m.
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Gestri, La Nara di Prato||Clough, Horner, Zileri: tombe ricordate in un diario inglese inedito/ Tombs Linked in an Unpublished Diary Alyson Price, The British Institute of Florence||William Holman Hunt per la moglie giovane Fanny/ William Holman Hunt for His Young Wife Fanny Patricia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|| Louisa Catherine Adams Kuhn, Florence and Chaos, 1859-1860, Robert J. Robertson || 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
Ore 14.45/ 2:45 p.m. VISITA
A CASA GUIDI/ VISIT
UNA TOMBA DAL NOME SVANITO: ISA BLAGDEN
Isa Blagden, portrait owned by Lilian Whiting, reproduced in Jeanette Marks,
The Family of the Barrett, 1938. Even her portrait is indistinct.
*§ ISABELLA BLAGDEN/ ENGLAND?/ +/135. Blagden/ Isabella/ Tommaso/ Svizzera/ Firenze/ 20 Gennaio/ 1873/ Anni 55/ 1194/ Isabelle Blagden, l'Angleterre, fille de Thomas/ GL23777/1 N°447, Burial 28/01, Rev. Tottenham/ Thomas Adolphus Trollope, What I Remember, II.173-175; Giuliana Artom Treves,The Golden Ring: The Anglo-Florentines (London: Longmans, Green, 1956), passim / ISABELLA [Cross on Flower Garland] BLAGDEN/ BORN 1816 DIED . . . 1873/ . . . WILL BE DONE . . ./F11C
ISABELLA BLAGDEN(1818-1873), is buried near her friends Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Theodosia Trollope : a love of liberty and a passionate involvement in the vicissitudes of the Italian Risorgimento cemented the friendship of these women who lived and wrote in Florence. Born in the East Indies, Isa Blagden came to live on the Bellosguardo hill in 1843. Although a talented poet and narrator (publishing as 'Ivory Beryl'), she is remembered for those human qualities which made her the gentle helpmate of R. Bulwer Lytton (Owen Meredith, the poet), the patient hostess of the old eccentric Walter Savage Landor , and an attentive observer of the Tuscan society of her times. Exotic mysticism and romanticism are mixed in her writing, now all but forgotten, effaced like the inscription on her tombstone (No. 1194). Yet her personality remains that of a lively, strong, passionate woman faithful to the most precious gift, that of friendship. L.S.
O'er the old tower, like red flame curled
Which leapeth sudden to the sky
Its emblem hues all wide unfurled
Upsprings the flag of Italy
Its emblem hues! the brave blood shed
The true life blood by heroes given,
The green palms of the martyred dead,
The snowy robes they wear in Heaven.
. . .
My Florence, which so fair doth be
A dream of beauty at my feet
While smiles above that dappled sky
While glows around that rip'ning wheat
As fair, as peaceful and as bright
Art thou as she we hear came down
From Heaven in bridal robes of light
Thy new Jerusalem St. John!
l fenomeno della “colonizzazione” da parte di numerosi angloamericani di Firenze intorno alla metà dell’ottocento è ben noto e più volte studiato. Ma consultando le autobiografie, le memorie e le lettere degli “anglofiorentini”, non si può fare a meno di notare il nome di Isabella Blagden, ovunque menzionato. Questa donna sembra essere stata l’amica di tutti, il punto in comune fra personalità diversissime tra loro; occupava insomma una posizione eccentrica, di cerniera. Ma oggi Isa Blagden, autrice di romanzi e poesie e figura centrale nell’ambiente della colonia angloamericana a Firenze, è relegata a una posizione di margine, anzi è quasi completamente dimenticata dalla storia della letteratura inglese, è come scomparsa dopo un breve periodo di notorietà.
The phenomenon of 'colonization' on the part of numerous Anglo-Americans in Florence around the middle of the nineteenth century is well known and often studied. But consulting the autobiographies, the memoires and the letters of the 'Anglo-Florentines' one cannot but note the name of Isa Blagden, which is mentioned everywhere. This woman seems to have been the friend of all, the common factor among the most diverse of them; she thus occupied an eccentric position, the networker. But today Isa Blagden, author of novels and poems and the central figure of the Anglo-American colony in Florence, is relegated to the margins, is almost forgotten in the history of English literature, as if she disappeared after a brief period of fame.
Eppure, oltre a essere l’epicentro riconosciuto della colonia anglofiorentina, la sua esperienza è fondamentale anche per capire il rapporto della donna con la difficile realtà sociale del suo periodo storico. Soggetto dalle innumerevoli contraddizioni, dalle identità multiple, un sé indefinibile, non identificabile per assoluti, ha certamente il diritto di salire sulla scena pubblica.
However, apart from being the recognized epicentre of the Anglo-Florentine community, her experience is fundamental also for understanding the relation of women to the difficult social reality in this historical period. Subjected to innumerable contradicitons, multiple identities, an undefinable self, not identifiable by absolutes, she certainly has the right to sally forth on the public scene.
Isa Blagden è brevemente ricordata nel Modern English Biography, che elenca le sue opere, presentandocela però soprattutto come “amica” di autrici ritenute più importanti di lei quali Elizabeth Barrett Browning e Theodosia Trollope. L’aver conosciuto e l’essere stata la confidente di personalità tutt’oggi ritenute tra le più significative del secolo diciannovesimo è stato al contempo la fortuna e la sfortuna di Blagden. Ha infatti ottenuto una sorta di immortalità indiretta nel ricordo dei posteri: era l’amica di Elizabeth Barrett Browning, con la quale condivideva le idee politiche e la passione per le pratiche spiritiche; era la confidente dello sconsolato Robert Browning, che dopo essere ritornato in Inghilterra in seguito alla morte della moglie mantenne con Isabella un rapporto epistolare conclusosi solo con la scomparsa della scrittrice.
Isa Blagden is briefly noted in Modern English Biography which lists her works, presenting her though as 'friend' of authors, among them, considering as more important, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Theodosia Trollope. To have known her and to have had her as confidente today would be held among the most significant personalities of the nineteenth century was both the fortune and misfortune of Blagden. She has in fact obtained a sort of oblique immortality in the memory of the past: she was Elizabeth Barrett Browning's friend, with whom she shared political ideas and the passion for spiritualist practices; she was the confidente of the unconsolable Robert Browning, who after returning to England following the death of his wife maintained an epistolary correspondence with Isabella which only ended with the death of that writer.
Sebbene Blagden “viva” soprattutto all’ombra dei Browning, essa viene ricordata anche nelle opere che trattano di altri scrittori o scrittrici che abitarono o solo visitarono il capoluogo toscano, visto che era improbabile per gli artisti angloamericani soggiornare a Firenze senza conoscere e rimanere affascinati da questa donna dall’animo gentile, che riceveva i suoi numerosi ospiti nelle ville di Bellosguardo. Ma questo suo aspetto di “amica universale” ha messo in ombra altri lati della sua personalità, e soprattutto il fatto che non solo amava circondarsi di artisti e letterati, ma che era essa stessa scrittrice. Romanziera e poetessa, viene abbandonata dopo aver affermato che era autrice mediocre e poco originale, poiché scriveva seguendo i canoni vittoriani. Di lei si recupera la personalità, tanto affascinante da attrarre intorno a sé gli artisti più importanti del periodo, trascurando le opere. Si dimentica che i romanzi e le poesie di Blagden sono l’unica fonte diretta da cui traspare l’identità dell’autrice e grazie alla penna riusciva a condurre una vita assai agiata, seppur nell’“economica” Bellosguardo.
Even when alive Blagden was always under the shadow of Browning, she became remembered even in the works on other writers who lived or who only visitied the Tuscan capital, seeing that it was unlikely that Anglo-American artists would stay in Florence without coming to know and to remain drawn to this gentle-souled woman, who received numerous guests in her villas at Bellosguardo. But this aspect of 'universal friend' has placed other sides of her personality in the shadows, and above all the fact that not did she love to surround herself with artists and writers, but that she was herself a writer. Novelist and poet, she is dropped after it is said she was a mediocre and scarcely original writer, because she wrote according to the Victorian canon. From her we can recover her personality, always drawn to attract around her the most important artists of the period, obscuring her work. We forget that Blagden's novels and poems are the one direct source from which can come the identity of the author and who thanks to the pen succeeded in leading a very well-to-do life, even if in the 'economical' Bellosguardo.
La caratteristica più singolare di Isabella Blagden è la scarsità di informazioni che si hanno sulla sua vita, in particolar modo per il periodo che va dalla sua nascita alla scelta di stabilirsi in Italia. La scrittrice non ha lasciato né autobiografie né diari, e anche nelle opere autobiografiche dei suoi amici più intimi non vi sono informazioni su di lei risalienti al periodo antecedente al 1849. Fra l’altro, la maggior parte delle lettere che ella scriveva regolarmente ai suoi numerosi amici sono andate perdute.
The most outstanding characteristic of Isabella Blagden is the lack of information that we have about her life, in particular for the period from her birth to her choice to settle in Italy. The writer left neither autobiography nor diary, and in even the autobiographical works of her most intimate friends there is no information on the period before 1849. Besides, the greater part of the letters that she regularly wrote to her numerous friends have been lost.
In mancanza di materiale diretto, le fonti fondamentali per avere notizie biografiche riguardanti Blagden sono l’introduzione al suo volume di versi dovuta al poeta laureato Alfred Austin, conosciuto da Blagden a Firenze nel 1865, e le lettere spedite mensilmente dal caro amico Robert Browning, conservate da Isa con cura e fortunatamente giunte fino a noi.
Lacking primary documentation, the fundamental sources for biographical information concerning Blagden are the introduction to her volume of poetry written by the Poet Laureate Alfred Austin, Blagden's friend in Florence in 1865, and the letters sent every month by her dear friend Robert Browning, kept by Isa with care and which fortunately have come down to us.
Le origini di Blagden appaiono avvolte nel più fitto mistero. Sebbene sia circondata da una folta schiera di amici, non vi è traccia di alcun legame familiare. Non sappiamo neppure con esattezza la data della sua nascita. Il registro del cimitero degli inglesi di Firenze, dove la scrittrice è sepolta, afferma che il nome del padre era Thomas e che Isa morì il 23 gennaio del 1873 a cinquantacinque anni. Tuttavia le date sulla sua tomba sono 1816–1873. In What I Remember Thomas Adolphus Trollope, nato nel 1810, ci dice che Blagden era molto più giovane di lui1 e ciò potrebbe far pensare al 1818, ma questa, naturalmente, è solo una supposizione, tanto più che i critici a tal proposito si dividono.2
Blagden's origins seem wrapped up in a most obscure mystery. Though surrounded by a full crowd of friends, there is not a trace of any family relation. We do not even know with any exactitude the date of her birth. The English Cemetery's Register in Florence, where the writer is buried, affirm that her father's name was Thomas and that Isa died 23 January 1873 at 55. Though the dates on her tomb are 1816-1873. In What I Remember, Thomas Adolphus Trollope, born in 1810, tells us that Blagden was much younger than he and this makes us think of 1818, but this, naturally, is only a supposition, so much are critics divided on the issue.
Nathaniel Hawthorne nel suo The Marble Faun,3 parlando di una delle protagoniste del romanzo, ha scritto parole che si adattano perfettamente alla situazione di Blagden, con l’unica differenza che l’eroina di Hawthorne è pittrice, anziché scrittrice. Parla di una certa “ambiguità”, che non implicava necessariamente niente di sbagliato; nessuno sapeva niente di lei, aveva fatto la sua apparizione senza introduzione.
Nathaniel Hawthorne in his Marble Faun, speaking of one of the romance's protagonists, has written words that apply perfectly to Blagden's situation, with the one difference that Hawthorne's heroine is a painter, rather than a writer. He speaks of a certain 'ambiguity' which does not necessarily imply anything wrongful; no one knew anything about her, since she made her appearance without an introduction.
Le origini di Blagden dovevano essere ignote anche a molti (se non tutti) suoi amici. Correva voce che le scorresse nelle vene sangue indiano. Lilian Whiting4 afferma che essa era la figlia di un gentiluomo inglese e una principessa Hindu. Le origini indiane di Blagden sembrano essere confermate dalle descrizioni fisiche che di lei riportano i suoi contemporanei. Kate Field e Margaret Jackson5 parlano di una donna di piccola statura, con occhi e capelli neri e carnagione olivastra; Henry James, che la conobbe brevemente durante uno dei suoi primi viaggi a Firenze, ricorda una sua passeggiata mattutina dal centro della città a Bellosguardo durante la quale parla con una piccola ed energica signora con occhi scuri e dall’aspetto vagamente indiano.6
Blagden's origins were unknown even to most (if not all) her friends. Rumour had it that in her veins ran Indian blood. Lilian Whiting affirms that she was the daughter of an English gentleman and a Hindu princess. Blagden's Indian origins seem to be confirmed by the physical descriptions given of her by her contemporaries. Kate Field and Margaret Jackson speak of a woman of small stature, with black eyes and hair and an olive complexion; Henry James, who knew her briefly during one of his first visits to Florence, writes of a morning walk from the centre of the city to Bellosguardo during which he spoke with a little and energetic lady with dark eyes and a vaguely Indian aspect.
E’ degno di nota il fatto che una donna come Isabella Blagden, il cui passato è avvolto nel mistero, abbia scelto come patria di adozione l’Italia, ed in particolar modo la tollerante Firenze, universalmente nota anche per il suo accogliere gli ospiti più “stravaganti”.
It is worthwhile noting the fact that a lady like Isabella Blagden, whose past is wrapped in mystery, had chosen Italy for her country of adoption, and in particular the tolerance of Florence, universally noted also for its acceptance of the most 'extravagant' guests.
I viaggi che significavano lunghi soggiorni fornivano l’opportunità di assumere atteggiamenti e ruoli che a casa sarebbero stati proibiti o impossibili. L’Italia era il luogo delle possibilità, il luogo dell’eccesso dove un altro io viveva la vita. L’Italia era il luogo dove l’amore tra Elizabeth e Robert Browning era possibile, dove persone altrove definite eccentriche venivano ricercate e stimate; si pensi a Walter Savage Landor, di cui sono leggendari gli scoppi di collera o Seymour Kirkup, pittore e collezionista d’arte, fanatico sostenitore dello spiritismo e conosciuto tra i connazionali come lo “stregone”.
The travels which meant long stays gave the opportunity to assume manners and roles that at home would have been forbidden or impossible. Italy was the place of opportunity, the place of excess where another self lived life. Italy was the place where the love between Elizabeth and Robert Browning was possible, where persons elsewhere considered eccentric came to be sought out and admired; one thinks of Walter Savage Landor, of whom there are legends about his great anger, or Seymour Kirkup, painter and art collector, fanatic supporter of spiritualism and known amongst his compatriots as the 'wizard'.
L’Italia, dunque, veniva a significare il luogo delle possibilità per le donne: allentate le maglie dell’identità, potevano vivere più liberamente secondo i propri desideri. Ecco allora che artiste come Harriet Hosmer, Louisa Lander, entrambe scultrici, Charlotte Cushmann, attrice, o anche donne immaginarie come Agnes Tremorne, protagonista dell’omonimo romanzo di Isa Blagden, ambientato a Roma, potevano permettersi di girare per le città da sole senza protezione maschile, ritenuta quasi “obbligatoria” nella madrepatria.
Italy, then, came to mean a place of opportunity for women: loosening the garb of their identity they could live more freely according to their own desires. This was so with artists like Harriet Hosmer, Louisa Lander, both of them sculptresses, Charlotte Cushmann, actress, and also imaginary women like Agnes Tremorne, protagonist of the novel of the same name by Isa Blagden, set in Rome, who could permit themselves to go about the cities alone without masculine protection, considered almost obligatory in their motherland.
Viene da domandarsi poi, se Isa Blagden, donna non sposata che viveva da sola o condividendo la villa del momento con altre donne nubili, sarebbe stata egualmente da tutti ricordata ed elogiata se avesse intrattenuto i suoi ospiti in qualche salotto vittoriano invece che sulla terrazza di villa Brichieri-Colombi. In Italia Isa poteva permettersi di non rilevare le sue origini e di scegliersi così l’identità che preferiva.
One can ask whether Isa Blagden, unmarried woman living alone or sharing her villa at times with other unmarried women, would have been equally remembered and praised by all if she had welcomed guests in some English Victorian salon instead of on the terrace of the Villa Brichieri-Colombi. In Italy Isa could permit herself to not disclose her origins and to choose thus the identity she prefered.
La vita fiorentina di Blagden iniziò, come testimonia Alfred Austin,7 nell’introduzione alle poesie di Blagden apparse postume nel 1873, nel 1849 e in questa città rimase fino alla morte, anche se, seguendo le abitudini degli angloamericani, trascorse lunghi periodi in altri parti d’Italia o all’estero. La città toscana si trasformò per lei in patria d’adozione, divenne il luogo fisso dove fare ritorno alla fine di ogni viaggio. Sebbene all’inizio del suo soggiorno Blagden occupasse Villa Moutier, un’abitazione vicino a Poggio Imperiale, a circa un chilometro di distanza da Porta Romana, la scrittrice si innamorò di un luogo particolare di Firenze: quella località situata sulla riva sinistra dell’Arno denominata Bellosguardo, che divenne nel corso dell’Ottocento una sorta di “isola” angloamericana. Se Bellosguardo ebbe mai una regina, questa fu sicuramente Isabella Blagden, che trascorse gran parte dei suoi ventiquattro anni italiani su questa collina, cambiando più volte dimora, ma scegliendo sempre ville che si trovavano a pochi passi l’una dall’altra e addirittura invitando i suoi amici più cari (come Austin e gli Hawthorne) a seguire il suo esempio e a stabilirsi sul “colle delle grazie”.8 Non a caso Kate Field, in un articolo intitolato English Authors in Florence, non chiama Blagden col suo nome e preferisce definirla “our Lady of Bellosguardo”. Field era consapevole che qualsiasi angloamericano che fosse anche solo passato per Firenze, avrebbe riconosciuto nella “little lady with blue black hair and sparkling jet eyes”9 la scrittrice inglese.
Blagden's Florentine life began, as Alfred Austin notes, in his introduction to Blagden's Poems published posthumously in 1873, in 1849 and she remained in this city until her death, even if, following the habits of the Anglo-Americans, she spent long periods in other parts of Italy or abroad. The Tuscan city became for her her adopted country, becoming the fixed abode to which she would return after each journey. Although at the beginning of her stay Blagden lodged at Villa Moutier, a place near Poggio Imperiale, about a kilometre from Porta Romana, the writer came to love a particular part of Florence: that locality situated on the left of the Arno called Bellosguardo, that became in the course of the nineteenth century a sort of Anglo-American 'island'. If Bellosguardo ever were to have a queen, she would have certainly been Isabella Blagden, who spent the great part of her twenty four years in Italy on this hill, changing her dwelling place often, but always choosing villas which were found a few steps from each other and even inviting her most dear friends (such as Austin and the Hawthornes) to follow her example and to settle on this 'gracious hill'. Not by chance Kate Field, in an article entitled 'English Authors in Florence', calls Isa Blagden not by her name prefering to name her 'Our Lady of Bellosguardo'. Field was aware that any Anglo-Americans who were only passing through Florence, would have recognized in the 'little lady with blue black hair and sparkling jet eyes' the English writer.
Tre sono le ville di Bellosguardo maggiormente associate con Blagden: villa Brichieri-Colombi, villa Giglioni, e villa Castellani, sebbene essa abbia abitato brevemente in un altro edificio situato sul colle, la villa Isetta.
Da Alta Macadam, Americans in Florence: A Complete Guide to the City and Places Associated with Americans Past and Present, Florence: Giunti, 2003.
There are three villas in Bellosguardo most associated with Blagden: Villa Brichieri-Colombi, Villa Giglioni and Villa Castellani, although she lived briefly in another house on the hill, Villa Isetta.
Come ho già detto, da un punto di vista economico la scrittrice aveva non poche difficoltà: disponeva di mezzi modesti e si guadagnava da vivere soprattutto grazie alla scrittura. Una delle ragioni per cui elle visse così a lungo a Bellosgurado è appunto la relativa conomicità del luogo rispetto ad altre zone di Firenze. La povertà e quindi la necessità di alleggerire le spese domestiche, era anche la giustificazione che Blangen indicava per condividere l’appartamento con altre donne. Nel corso del 1860 Blagden divise villa Brichieri –Colombi con Frances Power Cobbe, che illustrò nella sua autobiografia il lato finanziario della vita a Bellosguardo.
As already said, from the economic point of view the writer had not a few problems: she had modest means and earned her living above all from her writing. One of the reasons why she lived for so long at Bellosguardo is precisely because of the relative economy of the place in comparision with other parts of Florence. Her poverty and therefore the necessity to save on domestic costs, was also the justification that Blagden gave for sharing her apartment with other women. In the course of 1860 Blagden shared Villa Brichieri-Colombi with Frances Power Cobbe, who illustrated in her autobiography the financial side of life at Bellosguardo.
Cobbe non è l’unica persona con cui Blagden ha condiviso l’appartamento, quella di dividere le spese con un’altra donna era una vera e propria consuetudine per la scrittrice. Tra quest’ultima e le sue “ospiti paganti” si veniva a creare un rapporto basato su una profonda amicizia, la quale durava ben oltre il periodo di convivenza.
Cobbe was not the only person with whom Blagden had shared her apartment, sharing expenses with another woman was a true and proper custom for the writer. Between this last and her 'paying guests' she came to create a relationship based on deep friendship, which lasted beyond their time of living together.
In tutti i romanzi di Blagden l’amicizia, la solidarietà e la convivenza tra donne è esaltata in continuazione. Alla luce di ciò che la scrittrice propone nei suoi testi, la sua posizione di donna nubile che condivideva le sue abitudini con varie amiche assume tutta l’importanza di una decisione autonoma che in qualche modo si contrapponeva alle regole della società, secondo le quali ogni “zitella” era infelice a causa del suo stato civile, dovuto a cause di forza maggiore e non ad una libera scelta.
In all Blagden's novels friendship, solidarity and the living together of women was continuously praised. In the light of what the writer promoted in her texts, her position as a single woman who shared her life with various friends assumes all the importance of an autonomous decision which in someways contrasted with social rules, according to which each 'spinster' would be unhappy because of her civil state, due to force majeure and not a free choice.
Blagden divise i suoi appartamenti sia con letterate e artiste, i cui nomi sono ancora conosciuti e apprezzati, sia con donne che non si dedicavano all’arte, oggi del tutto dimenticate. Dalla corrispondenza tra Elizabeth Barrett Browning e Blagden si deduce che intorno alla metà del secolo l’autrice di Agnes Tremorne condivideva l’appartamento con una certa Miss Agassiz. Se ne ha conferma da una lettera datata 1850 circa in cui la poetessa invita Blagden e Agassiz a casa Guidi, e da un’altra del maggio del 1851, in cui Browning chiede notizie sulla salute di Agassiz.10 Nel 1852, di ritorno da una visita in Inghilterra, Blagden portò con se Louisa Alexander, una donna invalida di cui la scrittrice si prese cura e che visse con lei fino al giugno del 1855, quando Alexander partì per l’India. Blagden instaurò un rapporto di grande amicizia con questa donna e la sua morte, avvenuta nel 1858, la rattristò molto. Sia Elizabeth sia Robert Browning, che quell’inverno risiedevano a Parigi, le scrissero lunghe lettere di consolazione, consapevoli del dolore che questa perdita aveva provocato.11
Blagden shared her apartments both with writers and artists, whose names are still known and appreciated, and with women not dedicated to art, today all forgotten. From the correspondence between Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Blagden one can deduce that around mid-century the author of Agnes Tremorne shared the apartment with a certain Miss Agassiz. This is confirmed in a letter dated about 1850 in the poetess invites Blagden and Agassiz to Casa Guidi, and by another of May 1851, in which Browning asks about Agassiz's health. In 1852, returning from a visit to England, Blagden brought with her Louisa Alexander, an invalid whom she looked after and who lived with her until June 1855, when Alexander left for India. Blagden established a great friendship with this woman whose death, which came about in 1858, left her very sad. Both Elizabeth and Rober Browning, who that winter were residing in Paris, wrote to her long consoling letters, being aware of the sorrow this loss provoked.
In data 27 giugno 1858, Hawthorne ci parla nel suo diario di viaggio di una giovane compagna che divideva Villa Brichieri Colombi con Blagden.12 “Dal 1857 al 1858 infatti Blagden divise il suo appartamento con Annette Bracken, una giovane inglese di ventiquattro anni.13In una lettera alla cognata, Barrett Browning14 illustrava i termini dell’accordo tra le due donne. Bracken aveva a sua completa disposizione una camera e un salotto di villa Brichieri-Colombi, e pagava anche una quota per la carrozza. “Annette” venne ben accolta dagli amici di Blagden che si riunivano regolarmente sul balcone di villa Brichieri-Colombi; accompagnava la padrona di casa durante le sue visite agli angloamericani residenti a Firenze15 e seguiva l’amica più anziana anche durante le vacanze estive. Nell’agosto del 1857 le due donne visitarono assieme Bagni di Lucca, dove incontrarono altri angloamericani, (tra cui i Browning e il poeta Robert Lytton) che avevano abbandonato la torrida Firenze per rifugiarsi sulle fresche colline lucchesi.
Hawthorne in his travel diary for 27 June 1858 spoke of a young companion who shared Villa Brichieri-Colombi with Blagden. From 1857 to 1858, in fact, Blagden shared her apartment with Annette Bracken, a young Englishwoman of 24. In a letter to her sister-in-law, Barrett Browning described the arrangement between the two women. Bracken had at her complete disposition a bedroom and a sitting room in the Villa Brichieri-Colombi and paid even a share for the carriage. 'Annette' was welcomed amongst Blagden's friends who came together regularly on the balcony of the Villa Brichieri-Colombi; accompanying her landlandy during her visits to the Anglo-Americans residing in Florence and followed the older friend also on her summer holiday. In August of 1857 the two women went together to Bagni di Lucca, where they met other Anglo-Americans (among them the Brownings and the poet Robert Lytton) who had left torrid Florence for a refuge amongst the cool hills of Lucca.
Un’ altra coinquilina di Blagden in questo periodo fu Kate Field. Arrivò in Italia all’inizio del 1859 accompagnata dagli zii, i signori Sanford. Field, che successivamente diverrà una giornalista di grande talento e fama, era allora una giovane di vent’anni, felice di realizzare un suo sogno: quello di venire nella penisola a studiare musica. Dopo un breve periodo trascorso a Roma, Field giunse a Firenze. Grazie ad alcune lettere di presentazione indirizzate ai Browning, ai Trollope e agli Hawthorne, che Field aveva ricevuto dal direttore del Boston Courier, il Signor Launt, riuscì ben presto ad inserirsi nell’ambiente culturale anglofiorentino. Alla partenza degli zii, Field volle trattenersi nella città toscana e fu, come afferma Whiting “placed in the care of Miss Blagden.”16 Quest’ultima portava con se Kate Field ovunque si recasse. Ad esempio, nel settembre del 1859 Blagden fu invitata dai Browning che stavano trascorrendo i mesi estivi nella campagna senese e vi si recò assieme alla giovane amica.17 A villa Brichieri-Colombi Kate Field rimase fino ai primi mesi del 1860, quando la signora Field raggiunse Kate a Firenze. Tuttavia, anche dopo che madre e figlia si furono trasferite in un appartamento in città continuarono a frequentare assiduamente Bellosguardo, dove si recavano quasi ogni giorno. L’amicizia tra Blagden e Field non cessò nemmeno quando quest’ultima fece ritorno in America.
Kate Field, from Lilian Whiting, Jeannette Marks
Another house guest for Blagden during this period was Kate Field. Arriving in Italy at the beginning of 1859 accompagnied by her Sanford aunt and uncle. Field, who later become a journalist of great talent and fame, was then a young woman of 20, happy to realize her dream: that of living in Italy and studying music. After a brief period at Rome, Field came to Florence. Thanks to some letters of presentation directed to the Brownings, to the Trollopes and to the Hawthornes, that Field had received from the director of the Boston Courier, Mr Launt, she quickly succeeded in fitting into the Anglo-Florentine cultural milieu. When her relatives left, Field wanted to stay in the Tuscan city and was, as Whiting affirms, 'placed in the care of Miss Blagden'. This last took Kate Field with her wherever she went. For example, in September 1859 Blagden was invited by the Brownings who were spending some months in the Sienese countryside and she went there with her young friend. Kate Field stayed at Villa Brichieri-Colombi until the first months of 1860, when Mrs Field joined Kate at Florence. However, even after the mother and daughter moved to an apartment in the city they continued to frequent Bellosguardo assiduously, where they went almost daily. The friendship between Blagden and Field never ceased, not even when this last made her return to America.
Quando Kate Field, all’inizio del suo soggiorno italiano, era giunta a Roma, aveva fatto la conoscenza di tre donne, anch’esse legate a Blagden da una profonda amicizia: l’attrice Charlotte Cushman, e le scultrici Harriet Hosmer e Emma Stebbins. All’inizio del 1859, quando le incontrò, esse condividevano (da pochi giorni) una casa al numero 38 di via Gregoriana. L’edificio, grazie alla presenza di queste grandi artiste, divenne uno dei luoghi di incontro di Roma più frequentati dagli anglo-americani. Le tre donne erano legate dalla comune amicizia per Isabella Blagden; tutte e tre furono ospiti a Bellosguardo. Durante il loro periodo italiano, soggiornavano di preferenza a Roma e quando visitavano il capoluogo toscano venivano accolte da Isa Blagden. Talvolta l’ospitalità veniva ricambiata e la scrittrice si recava a Roma dalle tre amiche.
When Kate Field, at the beginning of her Italian sojourn, came to Rome, she had made the acquaintance of three women, also tied to Blagden with a deep friendship: the actress Charlotte Cushman, and the sculptresses Harriet Hosmer and Emma Stebbins. At the beginning of 1859, when she met them they were sharing (from a few days before) a house at number 38, Via Gregoriana. The building, thanks to the presence of these great artists became one of the meeting places in Rome most frequented by the Anglo-Americans. The three women were tied by common friendship to Isabella Blagden; all three had been guests at Bellosguardo. During the long Italian period, staying by preference in Rome and when visiting the Tuscan capital they were welcomed by Isa Blagden. Sometimes the hospitality came to be reciprocated and the writer would come to the Rome of her three friends.
L’ospitalità di Blagden non si riduceva, come abbiamo visto, nell’accogliere e dividere la propria casa con altre donne. Durante gli anni che vanno dal 1856 al 1861 Isabella Blagden consacrò principalmente il suo tempo e la sua energia alla vita sociale. Questo fu il periodo in cui la scrittrice abitò a villa Brichieri-Colombi, dimora che divenne il luogo di ritrovo per eccellenza.
Blagden's hospitality was not limited, as we have seen, to the welcoming and sharing of her own house with other women. During the years from 1856 to 1861 Isabella Blagden principally dedicated her time and energy to social life. This was the period in which the writer lived at Villa Brichieri-Colombi, the dwelling which became the meeting place par excellence.
John Brett, Florence from
Brichieri, Bellosguardo, 1863, painted after reading Aurora Leigh
Hebrew Cemetery on left outside wall.
Frances Power Cobbe ricorda nella sua autobiografia che sul balcone di villa Brichieri-Colombi si ritrovavano regolarmente una compagnia interessante e molteplice.18 Blagden riceveva nelle sue ville di Bellosguardo numerosi ospiti di diverse nazionalità; sebbene i ricevimenti veri e propri si tenessero una volta alla settimana (il sabato), gli amici più intimi si recavano alla villa quasi ogni giorno. Nei salotti di Blagden si ritrovavano sia gli angloamericani stabilitisi a Firenze, sia coloro che si trovavano nella città toscana anche solo per un breve periodo. Alfred Austin ci ricorda come Blagden amasse circondarsi di “truly congenial spirits” e come fosse molto raro che un letterato o un artista passasse per Firenze senza fare la sua conoscenza.19
Frances Power Cobbe recalls in her autobiography that one regularly found an interesting and varied company on the balcony of the Villa Brichieri-Colombi. Blagden received in her Bellosguardo villas numerous guests of different nationalities; although the true and proper receptions were only once a week (on Saturdays), her intimate friends were received at the villa amost every day. In Blagden's drawing rooms one would meet Anglo-Americans resident in Florence, and those who came to theTuscan city for only a brief period. Alfred Austin notes how Blagden loved to have around herself 'truly congenial spirits' and how it would be rare for a writer or artist passing through Florence not to make her acquaintance.
Cobbe, che si vantava delle personalità che aveva avuto occasione di incontrare a villa Brichieri-Colombi, ha anche elencato i nomi dei vari ospiti che più frequentemente lei e Blagden ricevevano durante quella primavera del 1860.20 Dopo aver ricordato tra gli amici più intimi di Blagden, i Browning, specificando che dato le precarie condizioni di salute della moglie, solo Robert frequentava abitualmente villa Brichieri-Colombi, Cobbe parla di Thomas Adolphus Trollope come di un altro assiduo ospite del salotto di Bellosguardo.21
Cobbe, who boasted of the personalities she had had the occasion of meeting at Villa Brichieri-Colombi, has also listed the names of the various guests whom she and Blagden most frequently received during the Spring of 1860. After having noted among the most intimate of Blagden's friends, the Brownings, specifying that due to the precarious state of health of his wife, only Robert habitually frequented Villa Brichier-Colombi, Cobbe speaks of Thomas Adolphus Trollope as another frequent guest to Bellosguardo's salon.
Cobbe cita inoltre Linda White, la scrittrice, autrice tra l’altro di Tuscan Hills and Venetian Waters, che successivamente sposò lo storico Pasquale Villari. Essa fu l’unica dei numerosi conoscenti di Blagden a essere presente durante la sua ultima malattia. Frequentatore assiduo di Belloguardo era anche Walter Savage Landor, di cui Blagden fu una delle persone più vicine durante gli ultimi anni della sua vita. Fino a quando Robert Browning era rimasto a Firenze si era occupato di lui, gli aveva persino trovato un alloggio quando, in seguito ad un litigio, la moglie lo aveva cacciato da villa Gherardesca a Fiesole;22 dopo che Browning lasciò la Toscana, Blagden si prese cura di Landor andando spesso a fargli visita fino alla morte, avvenuta nel settembre del 1864. Cobbe ricorda inoltre tra i loro ospiti abituali il dottor Grisanowski, di nazionalità polacca, Jessie White Mario e Frederick Tennyson, il poeta e musicista che aveva precedentemente soggiornato a Bellosguardo, proprio nella villa Brichieri-Colombi.
Cobbe also mentions Linda White, the writer, author among other books of Tuscan Hills and Venetian Waters, who later married the historican Pasquale Villari. She was only one of the many acquaintances of Blagden to be present during her last illness. A frequent visitor at Bellosguardo was also Walter Savage Landor, Blagden being one the people closest to him duirng the last years of his life. As long as Robert Browning remained in Florence he took care of him, having already found him a lodging, when, following an argument, his wife had chased him out of the Villa Gherardesca at Fiesole; after Browning left Tuscany, Blagden cared for Landor going often to visit him until his death in September 1864. Cobbe notes also among the usual guests the doctor Grisanowski, who was Polish, Jessie White Mario and Frederick Tennyson, the poet and musician who had previously stayed at Bellosguardo, indeed at the Villa Brichieri-Colombi itself.
Nel 1860 erano inoltre presenti a Firenze l’americana Harriet Beecher Stowe, autrice di Uncle Tom’s Cabin, che frequentò il salotto di Bellosguardo, e George Eliot. Quest’ultima non si recò mai a villa Brichieri, tuttavia Blagden ebbe occasione di conoscerla quando questa si trovava a Villino Trollope e “was enchanted, like all the world, with [her].”23
In 1860 there was also present in Florence the American Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, who frequented the salon at Bellosguardo, and George Eliot. This last never went to Villa Brichieri, however Blagden had the occasion to know her when she went to Villino Trollope and 'was enchanted, like all the world, with her'.
Cobbe tralascia, per dimenticanza o perché assenti da Firenze nel 1860, alcune personalità che frequentarono assiduamente il salotto di Blagden e con le quali la scrittrice instaurò durature amicizie: tra questi Nathaniel e Sophia Hawthorne, che soggiornarono a Firenze nel 1858, lo scultore americano Hiram Powers, il musicista Francis Boott, che abitava a Bellosguardo, in un appartamento di villa Castellani, Anna Jameson, la storica dell’arte e una delle più care amiche di Barrett Browning, Robert Lytton, il poeta che scriveva utilizzando lo pseudonimo di Owen Meredith e che aveva soggiornato a villa Brichieri-Colombi nei primi anni Cinquanta.
Cobbe omitted, from forgetfulness or because they were absent from Florence in 1860, other personalities who were frequent visitors at Blagdon's salon and and with whom the writer established a lasting friendship: among these Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne who stayed in Florence in 1858, the American sculptor Hiram Powers, the musician Francis Boott, who lived at Bellosguardo, in an apartment in the Villa Castellani, Anna Jameson, the art historian and one of the dearest friends of Barrett Browning, Robert Lytton, the poet who wrote using the pseudonym of Owen Meredith and who had lived at the Villa Brichieri-Colombi in the beginning of the 1850s.
Con questo elenco non intendo certo esaurire il numero delle persone che frequentavano il salotto di Blagden a Bellosguardo. Alfred Austin a proposito delle amicizie della scrittrice parla di “the widest circle of friends I have ever heard of one person possessing” e successivamente la definisce “a universal favourite”.24Sarebbe quindi quasi impossibile citare tutti i suoi conoscenti.
With this list we have certainly not exhausted the number of people who frequented Blagden's salon at Bellosguardo. Alfred Austen concerning the writer's friendships spoke of 'the widest circle of friends I have heard of one person possessing' and later defined her 'a universal favourite'. It would be almost impossible to give all her acquaintances.
Blagden era la protagonista principale di questi incontri, sebbene non fosse in alcun modo quella che veniva definita una “grande dame”. La sua conversazione era animata e gaia, sebbene di carattere non fosse particolarmente estroversa ed espansiva, non possedeva cioè quelle qualità che qualche anno prima avevano permesso alla brillante Contessa Blessington di dominare nel suo elegante salotto situato sul Lung’Arno. Uno degli attributi di Isabella Blagden che più colpiva i suoi amici era l’umiltà, caratteristica che poco si accorda con la comune concezione della figura della salonnière, di solito una donna di temperamento esuberante, abituata ad essere al centro dell’attenzione. Ma Blagden, pur nella sua pacatezza, riusciva ad intrattenere e divertire i suoi numerosi ospiti che spesso erano caratterialmente diversissimi tra loro. A questo proposito Austin ci dice che niente rendeva così contenta Blagden come l’ospitare nella sua villa i suoi amici, ma la sua benevolenza era così grande che spesso ella commetteva l’errore di mescolare l’acqua con il fuoco. “Yet she herself possessed some secret charm, which enabled her to fuse equally with either.”25 Lilian Whiting, nel suo The Florence of Landor, ha scritto riferendosi ai membri che facevano parte della colonia angloamericana: “the many strong and altogether dissimilar individualities that composed this cercle entime all found some point of common meeting with “Isa”, as they all called her.”26Per tutti basta ricordare che i rapporti che intercorrevano tra Robert Browning e Alfred Austin, due dei migliori amici Blagden, erano tutt’altro che amichevoli.27
Blagden was the principle protagonist in these encounters, although she was not in any way like what came to be defined as a 'grand dame'. Her conversation was animated and gay, although not of a particularly extroverted or expansive character, not possessing that quality which had some years earlier permitted the brilliant Lady Blessington to dominate over her elegant salon situated on the Lung'Arno. One of Isabella Blagden's attributes that most struck her friends was her humility, a characteristic that little accords with the common conception of the figure of the salon leader, usually a woman of exuberant temperament, accustomed to being the centre of attention. But Blagden, even in her quietness, succeeded in pleasing and entertaining her numerous guests who often were in character very different from each other. About this, Austin tells us that nothing made Blagden so content as to host her friends in her villa, but her benevolence was so great that often she committed the error of mixing water and fire. 'Yet she herself possessed some secret charm, which enabled her to fuse equally with either'. Lilian Whiting, in her The Florence of Landor, has written refering to members who made part of the Anglo-American colony: 'the many strong and altogether dissimilar individualities that composed this cercle entime all found some point of common meeting with 'Isa', as they all called her.' It is enough to mention that the relationship between Robert Browning and Alfred Austin, two of Blagden's best friends, was far other than amicable.
Gli argomenti di cui si discuteva durante questi ricevimenti erano vari. Le discussioni vertevano su temi di arte, di musica e di letteratura, ma soprattutto di politica e di spiritismo, un argomento quest’ultimo che appassionava quasi tutti gli ospiti, eccezion fatta per qualche scettico come Walter Savage Landor e Robert Browning. Ma il tema di discussione più interessante era certamente la questione politica italiana.
The topics which they discussed during these receptions were varied. The discussions turned upon themes of art, of music and of literature, but above all of politics and spiritualism, this last argument about which almost all of the guests were passionate, exceptions being made for some sceptics like Walter Savage Landor and Robert Browning. But the most interesting discussion was certainly that of the Italian political question.
Nel periodo in cui Isabella Blagden visse a villa Brichieri-Colombi, le questioni dell’indipendenza e dell’unità nazionale dominavano il pensiero dell’opinione pubblica italiana. Gli anglofiorentini che si trovavano regolarmente sul terrazzo di Bellosguardo non potevano evitare di interessarsi all’Italia contemporanea: in effetti tra gli argomenti sovente affrontati vi erano i problemi politici e sociali della loro “seconda” patria.
In the period in which Isabella Blagden lived in the Villa Brichieri-Colombi, the questions of independenze and of national unity dominated the thinking of Italian public opinion. The Anglo-Florentines who were regularly to be found on the terrace of Bellosguardo could not but be interested in contemporary Italy: indeed among the arguments often brought up were those of the political and social problems of their 'second' country.
Esistevano opinioni profondamente diverse all’interno del gruppo e non raramente accadeva che anche in un singolo individuo si configurassero opinioni complesse e anche contraddittorie. Si configurava una conflittualità tra il persistere di un certo conformismo che si adeguava all’ideologia vittoriana e l’apertura verso modi di pensare nuovi. Gli anglofiorentini erano tutti a favore a favore dell’unità d’Italia, ma erano intimoriti dal fatto che promuovendo l’unità della penisola non si sapeva bene a che tipo di governo si andasse incontro e avevano paura che la loro serenità venisse in qualche modo turbata. Se messi a confronto con i connazionali che non avevano lasciato la patria, gli anglofiorentini apparivano più aperti a riconoscere l’esistenza di altri mondi oltre quello britannico; essi si impegnarono in lotte politiche che non gli “appartenevano”, mantenendo però un atteggiamento conservatore e di rifiuto verso qualsiasi sconvolgimento sociale che avrebbe potuto turbare la tranquillità della loro vita fiorentina.
There were profound differences within the group and it sometimes happened that even in a single individual there would be complex and even contradictory opinions. There was a conflict between a certain obstinate conformism which adapted to the Victorian ideology and the opening toward new modes of thought. The Anglo-Florentines were all in favour of the Unity of Italy, but were timid about it at the same time because in promoting the unity of the peninsula they would not know what type of government they would meet with and were afraid that their serenity would be in some way disturbed. In comparision with their compatriots who had not left England, the Anglo-Florentines seemed more open to recognising the existence of other worlds than the British one; they engaged in political struggles which did not belong to them, maintaining, however, a conservative and negative attitude towards whatever social turmoil that could have disturbed the tranquillity of their Florentine life.
Se analizziamo i rapporti che concretamente venivano a instaurarsi tra angloamericani e italiani, ci troviamo di fronte a un’incredibile assenza di contatti. Rimane la sensazione che la società inglese in Italia si presentasse come un circolo chiuso, nel quale si veniva a creare una realtà vicino a quella della madrepatria, che si credeva si fosse lasciata alle spalle.
If we analyse the relations that came about concretely between the Anglo-Americans and the Italians, we find before us an incredible absence of contact. The sensation remains that English society in Italy presented itself as a closed circle, in which was created a reality close to that of the motherland, which it believed had been left behind.
L’Italia, con i suoi problemi di unità, era un argomento centrale nelle loro discussioni, ma gli italiani che venivano ammessi a partecipare a queste riunioni erano pochissimi. Blagden non era certo un’eccezione. Fondamentalmente il suo punto di vista rimase sempre quello imperialista; nonostante la sua volontà ad aprirsi a nuove esperienze, di prendere in considerazione nuove realtà politiche diverse da quelle dell’Inghilterra. L’italiano fu sempre considerato da Blagden, come dalla maggioranza degli anglofiorentini, come “l’altro”, un individuo “diverso” e quindi inferiore.
Italy, with its problems of unity, was a central argument in their discussions, but the Italians who were admitted to participate in these gatherings were very few. Blagden was no exception. Fundamentally her point of view remained always imperial; notwithstanding her will to open herself to new expereinces, to take into consideration new and different political realities than those of England. The Italian was always considered by Blagden, as by the majority of the Anglo-Florentines, as the 'other', an individual 'different' than themselves and therefore inferior.
Gli unici italiani con cui Blagden e gli angloamericani in genere venivano in contatto appartenevano a classi sociali basse: i domestici, che venivano preferiti a quelli inglesi perché più economici, e i modelli di cui si servivano gli artisti, i quali possedevano quelle qualità “pittoresche” che gli angloamericani perennemente ricercavano. Se talvolta il rapporto tra i “signori” e i loro domestici andava al di là del semplice contatto lavorativo, i ruoli e le classi sociali rimanevano divisi in maniera netta. La convivenza dava luogo a un affetto che non intaccava la superiorità nazionale e di classe.
The only Italians with whom Blagden and the Anglo-Americans generally came into contact belonged to the lower social classes: the servants, who were prefered to the English because more economical, and the models who served the artists, those who possessed 'picturesque' qualities that the Anglo-Americans always sought. If sometimes the relationship between the 'Master' and the servant went beyond the mere work contact, the roles and the social classes remained decidedly divided. Shared living gave place to an affection that did not override national superiority or class.
Più o meno tutti coloro di cui ho parlato hanno descritto nei loro diari, nelle loro lettere o nelle loro autobiografie le piacevoli serate trascorse sul colle fiorentino e hanno ricordato con parole di stima e di affetto la padrona di casa. Dai resoconti che di lei hanno lasciato i suoi contemporanei traspare una donna intelligente e dalla vasta cultura, in grado di affrontare conversazioni su argomenti disparati. Ma gli aspetti della personalità di Blagden che più vengono evidenziati sono il suo altruismo e la sua generosità, che la rendevano, come afferma Trollope, “more universally beloved than any other individual among us”.28Anche Henry James, che ha dedicato qualche pagina del suo William Wetmore Story and His Friends all’amica di Bellosguardo, sottolinea l’altruismo di Blagden e parla di lei come di una piccola leggenda.29Inoltre, Austin scrive: “No matter what might be at the moment her own occupations, her own plans, or the demands of her own interest, she quitted them on the instant at the invitation of helplessness.”30 Il poeta, a conferma di quanto ha scritto, riporta anche un episodio che lo riguarda. Nel 1865 Blagden, sebbene fosse molto occupata per motivi personali, non negò il suo aiuto all’amico quando questi gli chiese di procurargli un alloggio a Firenze.
More or less all those who have written in their diaries, their letters, or their autobiographies were pleased to have crossed over to the Florentine hill and have remembered the lady of the house with admiration and affection. From the accounts about her that have come down to us from her c ontemporaries we are shown a lady of intelligence and of great culture, capable of fielding conversations on different arguments. But the aspects of Blagden's personality that are most in evidence are her altruism and her generosity, which render her, as Trollope affirmed, 'more universally beloved than any other individual among us'. Even Henry James, who had dedicated some pages of his William Wetmore Story and his Friends, to the friend of Bellosguardo, underlined Blagden's altruism and spoke of her as like a little legend. Also, Austin wrote: 'No matter what might be at the moment her own occupations, her own plans, or the demands of her own interest, she quitted them on the instant at the invitation of helplessness'. The poet, to confirm what he had written, reported another episode concerning her. In 1865 Blagden, although much occupied with personal troubles, did not refuse her help to her friend when he asked her to find him lodging in Florence.
Il suo altruismo è dimostrato dalla solerzia con cui aiutava gli amici che avevano bisogno di lei per motivi di salute. Nel 1857, durante un’estate a Bagni di Lucca, il poeta Robert Lytton si ammalò gravemente di febbri gastriche. Le lettere dei Browning, anche loro residenti sulle colline lucchesi, testimoniano con quanta cura Blagden si prendesse cura dell’amico. All’inizio si rifiutò persino di chiamare un’infermiera, ostinandosi a voler occuparsi da sola dell’ammalato. Quando il poeta iniziò a sentirsi meglio e fu in grado di muoversi da Bagni di Lucca, Blagden lo portò con se a villa Brichieri-Colombi, dove egli trascorse i giorni della sua convalescenza.
Her altruism is shown by thecare with which she helped her friends who had need of her for health reasons. In 1857, during a summer at Bagni di Lucca, the poet Robert Lytton became gravely ill with gastric fever. The Brownings' letters, they also being resident then in the hills above Lucca, witnessed to how much care Blagden took of their friend. At the beginning she refused to call for a nurse, obstinately wanting to take on the care alone of the invalid. When the poet began to feel better and was ready to move from Bagni di Lucca, Blagden took him with her to Villa Crichieri-Colombi, where he passed the days of his convalescence.
Alcuni critici, tra cui William Raymond e Giuliana Artom Treves, avanzano l’ipotesi di una sorta di relazione sentimentale che nacque in questo periodo tra Blagden e Lytton, amore che sembrerebbe incoraggiato dai Browning. Elizabeth Barrett Browning identificò Isa come la “Cordelia” della poesia di Lytton intitolata The Wanderer, e con questo nome la poetessa si rivolge all’amica in una lettera del 1859.31 William Raymond prende spunto da alcune parole della figlia di Lytton, Betty Balfour, la quale scrisse che appena giunto in Italia il padre incontrò una donna a cui si affezionò, ma a cui non si poté legare a causa di barriere insormontabili. Balfour aggiunse che comunque questo legame influenzò gran parte degli scritti giovanili del padre. Raymond individua le “barriere” per cui il matrimonio tra i due sarebbe stato impossibile (prima fra tutti i quindici anni di età che dividevano i due scrittori) e analizza una poesia giovanile di Lytton, Lucile, dove nell’eroina riscontra alcune caratteristiche che potrebbero adattarsi alla Blagden. Lucile è infatti un’euroasiatica, viene descritta come una donna matura e le caratteristiche fisiche corrisponderebbero a quelle della scrittrice anglofiorentina.32
Some critics, among them William Raymond and Giuliana Artom Treves, have advanced the hypothesis of a sort of romance that blossomed in this time between Blagden and Lytton, a love that seemed to be encouraged by the Brownings. Elizabeth Barrett Browning identified Isa with the 'Cordelia' of Lytton's poetry in The Wanderer, and with this name the poet turned to her friend in an 1859 letter. William Raymond took this from some words from Lytton's daughter, Betty Balfour, who wrote that just when her father reached Italy he met a woman whom he loved, but whom he could not marry because of insurmountble barriers. Raymond defined the 'barriers' for which marriage between the two would have been impossible (first there being fifteen years difference in age between the two writers) and analyzed Lytton's juvenile poetry, Lucile, where the heroine matches some characteristics that could be applied to Blagden. Lucile is in fact a Euro-Asian, described as a mature woman with with characteristic physical features which could correspond to those of the Anglo-Florentine writer.
Isabella Blagden comunque non riservò le sue cure come infermiera solo a Lytton. Nel 1865 assistette Theodosia Trollope nella sua ultima malattia e dopo la sua scomparsa si prese cura della figlia Beatrice, che ospitò a Bellosguardo nei giorni successivi alla morte della madre.
Isabella Blagden, however, did not limit her nursing care only to Lytton. In 1865 she helped Theodosia Trollope in her final illness and after her demise took care of her daughter Beatrice who stayed with her at Bellosguardo in the days following her mother's death.
Anche Elizabeth Barrett Browning, che tanto aveva lodato l’amica nel periodo in cui era stata infermiera di Lytton, fu assistita negli ultimi giorni di vita da Blagden. Eccezion fatta per i familiari, ella fu l’ultima persona che vide e parlò con la poetessa. Kate Field scrisse in un articolo dedicato a Barrett Browning: “on this final evening, an intimate female friend was admitted to her bedside and found her in good spirits, [...] willing to converse on all the old loved subjects”.33 L’ “intimate female friend” di cui parla Field, altri non è che Isa Blagden, la quale però, quella notte non riuscì a prendere sonno, nonostante avesse trovato l’amica in condizioni di salute migliori. Racconta Lilian Whiting che ella rimase l’intera notte alzata a scrivere delle lettere, finche all’alba un domestico non venne ad annunciarle la morte della signora di Casa Guidi.34
Also Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who so much praised her friend during the period when she was nurse to Lytton, was helped in her last days of life by Blagden. Except for the members of the household she was the last person who saw and spoke with the poetess. Kate Field wrote in an article dedicated to Barrett Browning 'on this final evening, an intimate family friend was admitted to her bedside and found her in good spirits, [ . . . ] willing to converse on all the old loved subjects'. The 'intimate female friend' of whom Field spoke, is none other than Isa Blagden, who, that night not being able to sleep, nevertheless had found her friend in better health. Lilian Whiting says that she stayed up the entire night writing letters, until at dawn a servant came to announce to her the death of the lady of Casa Guidi.
Blagden fu l’amica più vicina e sicuramente più utile a Robert Browning nei giorni che seguirono la scomparsa della moglie, durante il periodo che ella denominò “apocalyptic month.”35 Si addossò ogni cura materiale, condusse immediatamente il figlio dei Browning nella sua casa di Bellosguardo e dopo il funerale convinse il padre a passare le notti a villa Brichieri-Colombi,36 mentre gli ultimi doveri lo trattenevano a Firenze. Inoltre, come abbiamo visto, Blagden chiuse la sua dimora, depositò i suoi averi a villino Trollope e partì assieme a Robert Browning e il figlio per accompagnarli fino a Parigi.37
Blagden was the closest and certainly the most useful friend to Robert Browning in the days following the demise of his wife, during the period which she called the 'apocalyptic month'. She took care of every material need, immediately taking the Brownings' child to her house at Bellosguardo and after the funeral convincing the father to pass the night at Villa Brichieri-Colombi, while his last duties kept him in Florence. Then, as we have seen, Blagden closed her house, deposited her belongings at the Villino Trollope and left together with Robert Browning and his son to accompany them as far as Paris.
Sebbene una volta giunta a Firenze Isabella Blagden elesse la città toscana a sua residenza permanente, il viaggio rimase una parte fondamentale della sua vita. Infatti la scrittrice trascorse lunghi periodi lontana da Bellosguardo, recandosi sia in altre città italiane sia all’estero. Priva di legami familiari, poteva permettersi di viaggiare più liberamente di quanto normalmente fosse consentito alle donne, spesso “recluse” nello spazio privato della casa e della famiglia.
Although, having come to Florence, Isabella Blagden chose the Tuscan city as her permanent residence, travel remained a fundamental part of her life. In fact the writer spent long periods away from Bellosguardo, staying sometimes in other Italian cities or abroad. Having no family ties, she could permit herself to travel freely in a way not normally permitted to women, often 'recluses' in the private space of the house and of the family.
Tramite il viaggio, primo fra tutti quello che l’aveva portata dalla patria d’origine a Firenze, Blagden aveva avuto la possibilità di uscire dalla stabilità (il mondo “conosciuto” che viene lasciato alle spalle) per entrare nel regno dei cambiamenti, delle modificazioni, della frammentarietà.
Among the journeys, first among those being that which had brought her from her country of origin to Florence, Blagden had the possibility to come away from stability (the 'known' world which she had left behind) to enter into the realm of change, of modification, of fragmentation.
Ma per Blagden, donna inglese della middle-class, viaggiare significava solo parzialmente disfarsi della stabilità. Potrei definire gran parte dei suoi viaggi come “codificati”; per gli angloamericani residenti in città italiane era infatti un’abitudine radicata lasciare il luogo prescelto come fissa dimora per trascorrere lunghi periodi altrove. Isabella Blagden, come gran parte degli anglofiorentini, abbandonava la città toscana durante i mesi estivi, anche se, a causa delle sue precarie condizioni economiche, non poteva permettersi di lasciare la soffocante Firenze ogni anno.
But for Blagden, a middle-class English woman, to travel meant only partially to be removed from stability. One could define most of her journeys as 'codified'; for the Anglo-Americans residing in Italian cities it was in fact a rooted habit to leave the place chosen as the fixed abode to spend long periods elsewhere. Isabella Blagden, like many of the Anglo-Florentines, left the Tuscan city during the summer months, even if, because of her precarious economic condition, she could not afford to leave suffocating Florence every year.
Blagden spesso peccava di originalità anche per quanto riguarda le mete prescelte. L’itinerario seguito era costruito su una mappa dell’Italia molto selettiva. Sebbene virtualmente il territorio italiano potesse essere visitato per tutta la sua estensione, Blagden, come gran parte delle viaggiatrici straniere, si limitava a ricalcare un percorso classico che risaliva ai tempi del Grand Tour. Secondo un antico preconcetto vi erano solo alcune città che valeva la pena di visitare e poi eventualmente descrivere. Questo itinerario era, per quanto non fosse percepito come tale, una vera e propria restrizione culturale; di fatto lo spazio peninsulare era delimitato da tutta una serie di confini che dividevano spazi accessibili (le grandi città d’arte) e altri non accessibili (per esempio la costa adriatica).
Blagden was often culpable also as to the conventional goals she chose. The itinerary followed was constructed on a map of Italy that was very selective. Even if all the Italian territory could have been visited everywhere, Blagden, like the great part of the foreign travellers, limited her itinerary to the classic journey that arose at the time of the Grand Tour. According to an ancient preconception there were only some cities that were worthwhile visiting and then eventually describing. This itinerary was, though not perceived as such, a veritable cultural crippling; in fact the peninsula space was delimited by a series of confines which divided accessible spaces (the great cities of art) from those that were not accessible (for example the Adriatic coast).
Nel 1857, seguendo la “moda” angloamericana del periodo, si recò a Bagni di Lucca, dove sperava di trascorrere piacevolmente i mesi estivi. I Browning erano già confortevolmente alloggiati a “casa Betti”, quando Blagden arrivò accompagnata da Annette Bracken (che in quel periodo condivideva la villa Brichieri-Colombi con la scrittrice) e Robert Lytton. Essi presero alloggio in un albergo, il “Pelicano”, ma la vacanza si rivelò tutt’altro che piacevole, visto che Lytton ben presto si ammalò. Bagni di Lucca era un luogo di vacanza particolarmente gradito ai Browning, che vi avevano già trascorso le estati del 1849 e del 1853. Nella mente di Blagden il luogo divenne però associato con ricordi spiacevoli e Elizabeth Barrett era sicura che non vi avrebbe mai fatto ritorno.38Tuttavia, dieci anni dopo la scrittrice tornò sulle colline lucchesi e questa volta riuscì a apprezzarne la bellezza,39tanto che vi rimase diversi mesi, dal maggio all’ottobre del 1867.
In 1857, following the Anglo-American fashion of the period, she came to Bagni di Lucca, where she hoped to pass the summer months peaceably. The Brownings were already comfortably lodged at 'Casa Betti', when Blagden arrived accompanied by Annette Bracken (who at that period shared the villa Brichieri-Colombi with the writer) and Robert Lytton. She took lodging in a hotel, the 'Pelican', but the holdiday was far other than peaceable, seeing that Lytton soon took ill. Bagni di Lucca was a holiday place that particularly pleased the Brownings, who came there in the summers of 1849 and 1853. In Blagden's mind however the place became associated with unpleasing memories and Elizabeth Barrett was sure that she would never return. Nevertheless, ten years later the writer returned to the Luccan hills and this time succeeded in appreciating their beauty, so much that she remained for several months, from May to October in 1867.
Quella di Bagni di Lucca non fu l’unica vacanza trascorsa con i Browning. Nel settembre del 1859 fu, assieme a Kate Field, ospite di Villa Alberti, un edificio situato nella campagna senese, che i Browning avevano affittato per l’estate e in cui l’anno successivo i due coniugi tornarono a soggiornare. Anche Blagden prese in affitto una villa nelle vicinanze. Quell’estate, inoltre, erano nella campagna senese anche Landor e lo scultore William Wetmore Story con la famiglia. Barrett Browning stessa affermò: “this make a sort of colonization of the country here.”40Successivamente, Blagden tornò a trascorrere l’estate a Siena nel 1870, quando ormai Barrett Browning e Landor erano deceduti e Robert Browning era da lungo tempo in Inghilterra.
That at Bagni di Lucca was not the only holiday spent with the Brownings. In September 1859 she was, together with Kate Field, a guest at Villa Alberti, a building situated in the Sienese countryside, which the Brownings had rented for the summer and where the following year the married couple returned to stay. Even Blagden came to rent a villa in the vicinity. That summer, beside, in the Sienese countryside were also Landor and the sculptor William Wetmore Story and his family. Barrett Browning herself affirmed: 'this makes a sort of colonization of the country here'. Afterwards, Blagden returned to spend the summer in Siena in 1870, when Barrett Browning and Landor were already deceased and Robert Browning was for a long time in England.
Oltre ai luoghi come Bagni di Lucca e la campagna senese, che durante i mesi estivi venivano “colonizzati” dagli angloamericani, per Isa Blagden ebbero molta importanza le visite a Roma e Venezia, le due città italiane che, assieme a Firenze, i turisti stranieri ritenevano più degne di attenzioni. Il termine “visitare” non è del tutto esatto quando ci si riferisce a Roma, visto che Blagden, in due occasioni, risiedette nella città per vari mesi. Sebbene Firenze fosse il luogo di residenza prescelto da un gran numero di letterati, pochi artisti (tra i quali è però d’obbligo ricordare Hiriam Powers, un caro amico di Blagden) avevano deciso di stabilirsi definitivamente nel capoluogo toscano, preferendo Roma.
Apart from places like Bagni di Lucca and the Sienese countryside, which during the summer months came to be colonized by Anglo-Americans, for Isa Blagden visits to Rome and Venice were very important, the two Italian cities which, together with Florence, foreign tourists considered more worthy of attention. The term 'visit' is not at all exact in reference to Rome, given that Blagden on two occasions resided in the cities for various months. Although Florence was the chosen place of residence for a great number of writers, few artists (among whom we must, however, remember Hiram Powers, a dear friend of Blagden) had decided to establish themselves definitively in the Tuscan capital, preferring Rome.
La lista degli scultori e dei pittori che fecero della futura capitale il loro luogo di residenza permanente o comunque prolungato, è lunga e comprende tra gli altri John Gibson, William Wetmore Story, William Page e Harriet Hosmer, tutte persone con le quali Blagden era in contatto. Non di rado accadeva che coloro i quali avevano eletto Firenze a loro città adottiva, passassero alcuni mesi dell’anno, in particolar modo quelli invernali, a Roma. Blagden dunque, con la sua scelta di soggiornare per un periodo nella città preferita dagli artisti, non faceva altro che seguire una consuetudine radicata tra i cittadini angloamericani residenti a Firenze. Anche i Browning passarono più di un inverno nella “città eterna”. Per Blagden questa immersione nella Roma “of the artists”41fu utilissima da un punto di vista letterario, basta pensare al suo primo romanzo, Agnes Tremorne, la cui protagonista che dà il nome al libro, è una pittrice inglese che abita a Roma.
The list of sculptors and painters who made the future capital their place of permanent or at least prolonged residence, is long and includes among others John Gibson, William Wetmore Story, William Page and Harriet Hosmer, all persons with whom Blagden was in contact. Sometimes it happened that those who chose Florence as their adoptive city, would pass some months of the year, in particular those of the winter, at Rome. Blagden therefore, with her choise of staying for a period in the city preferred by artists, could not but follow the ingrained habit of the Anglo-Americans resident in Florence. Even the Brownings passed more than one winter in the 'Eternal City'. For Blagden this immersion in the Rome 'of the artists' was most useful from the literary point of view, suffice to think of her first novel, Agnes Tremorne, whose eponymous protagonist, is an English painter who lives in Rome.
Nel 1851 Isa abitò, assieme a Agassiz, in una casa situata al numero diciotto di via de’ Prefetti e tra gli anni 1854/55 scelse di stabilirsi al numero tredici di via Gregoriana. Questa strada, che si trova vicino a Trinità dei Monti, fu abitata da diversi nomi importanti della letteratura e dell’arte. Qui, infatti, come abbiamo visto, vennero ad abitare nel 1859 Charlotte Cushman, Harriet Hosmer e Emma Stebbins. In Via Gregoriana, Blagden colloca lo studio di pittore di Godfrey Wentworth, protagonista maschile di Agnes Tremorne. A Roma la scrittrice tornò anche in periodi successivi, ma non prese più case in affitto; vi si recava come ospite di qualche suo conoscente, come quando nel 1864 fu accolta da Charlotte Cushman.
In 1851 Isa lived, together with Agassiz, in a house at number 18 of the Via de' Prefetti and between the years 1854/55 chose to settle at number 13 in Via Gregoriana. This street, which is near Trinità dei Monti, was inhabited by diverse important persons in literature and art. Here, in fact, as we have seen, Charlotte Cushman, Harriet Hosmer and Emma Stebbins came to live in 1859. In Via Gregoriana, Blagden placed the studio of the painter of Godfrey Wentworth, the male protagonist of Agnes Tremorne. The writer returned to Rome in later periods, but never again rented a house; here she was a guest of those who knew her, as when in 1865 she was welcomed by Charlotte Cushman.
A Venezia Isabella Blagden probabilmente si recò quasi sicuramente prima del 1862, anno in cui uscì la sua seconda opera in prosa, The Woman I Loved and the Woman Who Loved me. La città è infatti uno dei luoghi in cui si sviluppa la storia, anche se il romanzo è principalmente ambientato in Inghilterra. E’ certo comunque che la scrittrice vi fece ritorno nel maggio del 1865, ospite di William Bracken, parente di quella Annette Bracken, con cui aveva condiviso villa Brichieri-Colombi. Era un periodo particolarmente triste per la scrittrice, poiché poco tempo prima era deceduta l’amica Theodosia Trollope, che aveva assistito negli ultimi giorni della sua malattia. Il viaggio comunque riuscì a distrarla e le offrì lo spunto per un articolo, intitolato A Holiday in Venice, che fu pubblicato sul Cornhill Magazine nell’ottobre di quello stesso anno.
Isabella Blagden probably went to Venice almost certainly before 1862, the year in which her second work in prose, The Woman I Loved and the Woman who Loved Me, was published. The city is in fact one of the places in which she develops the story, although the novel is mainly set in England. It is certain anyway that the writer returned there in May 1865, as guest of William Bracken, relative of that Annette Bracken, with whom she had shared Villa Brichieri-Colombi. It was a particularly sad time for the writer, since shortly before her friend Theodosia Trollope had died, whom she had nursed during the last days of her illness. The journey however succeeded in distracting her and gave the inspiration for an article, titled 'A Holiday in Venice', which was published in Cornhill Magazine, in October of that same year.
Isabella Blagden non si limitava a viaggiare in Italia, spesso si recava per lunghi periodi anche all’estero. Dal novembre del 1858 al marzo dell’anno successivo, soggiornò a Madrid. Nel luglio del 1871 la scrittrice visitò l’Austria, ma era l’Inghilterra il luogo in cui si recava tutte le volte che poteva permetterselo.42 Principalmente ella sceglieva Londra come meta, ma visitava anche altre zone, quasi sempre ospite di amici. Si recò in questo paese nel 1852 e successivamente a cavallo tra il 1854 e il 1855. Poi lasciò villa Brichieri-Colombi alla morte di Elizabeth Barrett Browning con l’intenzione di stabilirsi nell’isola britannica, ma dopo circa un anno fece ritorno a Bellosguardo. In Inghilterra tornò poi nell’estate del 1866 e in quella del 1868, quando visitò anche la Scozia. L’ultima visita di Blagden in questo paese risale all’estate del 1872. Nel gennaio dell’anno successivo ella morì.
Isabelle Blagden did not limit herself to travel in Italy, often going for long periods also abroad. From November 1858 to March of the following year, she stayed in Madrid. In July of 1871 the writer visited Austria, but England was the place which she visited as often as she could permit herself to do so. Principally she chose London as goal, but visited also other areas, almost always as a guest of friends. She went to that country in 1852 and later between 1854 and 1855. She left Villa Brichieri-Colombi at the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning with the intention of settling in the British Isles, but after about a year returned to Bellosguardo. She returned to England in the summer of 1866 and in that of 1868 (when she also visited Scotland). Blagden's last visit to that country goes back to the summer of 1872. In January of the following year she died.
Nella vita di Isabella Blagden il viaggio ha avuto un ruolo fondamentale e questo lo si nota anche nei suoi romanzi; sin dalla prima lettura è facile osservare come quasi tutti i suoi personaggi viaggino, per un motivo o per un altro: per salute, per istruzione o, più spesso, per fuggire dal dolore provocato da delusioni sentimentali. Dalle sue peregrinazioni Blagden ricava il materiale per scrivere; nonostante essa non abbia lasciato opere collocabili nell’ambito della letteratura di viaggio, nei suoi romanzi e nelle sue poesie sono visibili delle tracce che testimoniano le sue esperienze come viaggiatrice. Blagden si “appropria” dello spazio che incontra viaggiando tramite la scrittura; il suo vissuto interiore si trasforma in qualcosa di trasmettibile. Ecco allora che le città italiane che ha visitato e in cui ha vissuto diventano l’argomento dei suoi articoli, lo spunto da cui partire per comporre una poesia, il setting dei suoi romanzi.
During Isa Blagden's lifetime travel played a fundamental role and this is noted also in her novels: from an initial reading it is easy to observe how almost all of her characters travel, for one motive or another: for their health, for their education or, more often, to flee the sorrow brought on by sentimental delusions. Blagden drew the material for her writing from her pilgrimages; although she had not left works that could be placed in the field of travel literature, in her novels and in her poems are visible traces that witness to her experiences as a traveller. Blagden 'appropriates' the space she encountered while travelling in her writing; her interior life was transformed into something she could transmit. So then it was the Italian cities she had visited and in which she had lived which became the argument of her articles, the point of departure for composing a poem, the setting for her novels.
Alla morte di Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Blagden lasciò villa Brichieri-Colombi per accompagnare Robert Browning e il figlio a Parigi. La morte dell’autrice di Aurora Leigh, avvenuta nel giugno del 1861, segnò la prima e forse la più grande spaccatura nel circolo degli amici di Blagden. Nell’estate dello stesso anno la giovane giornalista Kate Field, che aveva vissuto per un periodo a villa Brichieri con Blagden, fece ritorno in America. Nel 1863 morì Frances Trollope, seguita nel 1864 da Walter Savage Landor, nel 1865 da Theodosia Trollope. Quattro anni dopo la “chiusura” di Casa Guidi, cessò di esistere anche Villino Trollope, poiché Thomas Adolphus, dopo la morte della madre e della moglie, decise di vendere la proprietà e di stabilirsi a Ricorboli. Delle tre abitazioni che erano state i centri più importanti di ritrovo per le persone di lingua inglese, rimase solo la villa di Blagden, anche se non più la Brichieri-Colombi.
At the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Blagden left Villa Brichieri-Colombi to accompany Robert Browning and his son to Paris. The death of the author of Aurora Leigh, in June of 1861, was the first and perhaps the greatest break in Blagden's circle of friends. In the summer of the same year the young journalist Kate Field, who had lived for a time at Villa Brichieri with Blagden, returned to America. In 1863 Francis Trollope died, followed in 1864 by Walter Savage Landor, in 1865 that of Theodosia Trollope. Four years after the 'closure' of Casa Guidi, Villino Trollope also ceased to exist, because Thomas Adolphus, after the death of his mother and of his wife, decided to sell the property and establish himself at Ricorboli. Of the three dwellings that had been such important gathering places for English-speaking persons, remained only Blagden's villa, and that no longer the Brichieri-Colombi.
A dire la verità, dopo la morte di Elizabeth Barrett Browning, anche Isabella Blagden aveva pensato di lasciare il capoluogo toscano per trasferirsi in Inghilterra, come testimonia una lettera che Robert Browning scrisse allo scultore William Wetmore Story.43 Blagden rimase lontana dall’Italia dall’agosto del 1861 allo stesso mese dell’anno successivo. In Inghilterra ella era costretta, per ragioni economiche, a cambiare spesso indirizzo; inoltre risentì fisicamente del cambiamento di aria e la sua salute cominciò a peggiorare. Anche Browning si rese conto che per Blagden vivere in Inghilterra non era più consigliabile; in una lettera la incitava ritornare in Italia dove “the life there and ways are become yours.”44
To say the truth, after the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, even Isabella Blagden had thought of leaving the Florentine capital to move to England, as witnesses a letter that Robert Browning wrote to the sculptor William Wetmore Story. Blagden remained away from Italy from August of 1861 until the same month of the following year. In England she was constrained, for economic reasons, to change addresses frequently; besides she felt physically the change in climate and her health began to worsen. Even Browning realized that for Blagden to continue to live in England was not advisable; in a letter he begged her to return to Italy where 'the life there and ways are become yours'.
Tornata sul colle di Bellosguardo Isabella Blagden affittò la villa Giglioni dove rimase fino al 1866. Dal 1866 al 1868 Isabella Blagben visse in una casa denominata Isetta, poi si trasferì in quella che si rivelò essere la sua ultima dimora: la villa Saracino al Belvedere.
Returning to her hill at Bellosguardo Isabella Blagden rented the Villa Giglioni where she remained until 1866. From 1866 to 1868 Isabella Blagden lived in a house called Isetta, then she moved to one which was to be her last dwelling: the Villa Saracino at Belvedere.
In tutte queste case Blagden continuò a ricevere gli amici, ma gli incontri non tornarono mai ad essere quelli di un tempo, quando Elizabeth Barrett Browning era ancora in vita. Questi si rivelarono soprattutto anni di intensa produzione artistica: dal 1862 al 1872 Blagden pubblicò cinque romanzi, scrisse diverse poesie e numerosi articoli per conto di varie riviste.
In all these houses Blagden continued to receive her friends, but the gatherings never returned to being those of the time when Elizabeth Barrett Browning was still alive. These are revealed above all as years of intense artistic production: from 1862 to 1872 Blagden published five novels, wrote much poetry and numerous articles for various journals.
Isa Blagden non iniziò a scrivere giovanissima, infatti il suo Agnes Tremorne fu pubblicato quando la scrittrice aveva ampiamente superato i quarant’anni. Dal 1861, data della pubblicazione della prima opera, al 1873, anno della sua morte, ha scritto complessivamente sei romanzi, cinque dei quali pubblicati in volume e il rimanente apparso a puntate su una rivista.
Isa Blagden did not begin to write when very young; in fact, her Agnes Tremorne was published when the writer was more than 40. From 1861, from the publication of her first work, to 1873, the year of her death, she wrote in all six novels, five of them published in volumes and the last appearing serially in a review.
La ricostruzione della figura di Blagden non può non passare attraverso le sue opere, che invece sono state sottovalutate. Infatti, viene considerata semplicemente come una scrittrice di sottordine, una delle tante lady writers vittoriane, che scriveva romanzi di stampo sentimentale per ragioni meramente economiche. Il canone letterario che funge da parametro di valore e gusto, sembra aver irrimediabilmente relegato le sue opere nell’ambito della letteratura “bassa”, popolare. Perciò questi testi sono stati in un primo testo/tempo? emarginati e successivamente dimenticati.
The reconstruction of the figure of Blagden cannot omit her works, which instead have been undervalued. In fact, she is considered simply as a writer of the lower sort, one of the many Victorian lady writers, who wrote sentimental novels for merely economic reasons. The literary canon that functions as a parameter of value and taste, seems to have irremediably relegated her works to the region of 'low', popular literature. Thus these texts have been at first marginalized and later forgotten.
Non si può certo negare che i testi di Blagden contengano pagine artisticamente poco felici: basta pensare al modo in cui la scrittrice dipinge gli abitanti della penisola per rendersi conto che rimaneva imprigionata nei più scontati stereotipi costruiti dalla cultura angloamericana. E’ inoltre innegabile la tendenza di Blagden a sottomettersi sia alle esigenze del mercato editoriale (che ordinava triple decker o romanzi adattabili alla pubblicazione seriale) sia alle norme che nella società vittoriana regolavano la produzione “femminile”. Si pensi ai temi affrontati, quali l’amore e il matrimonio e al finale “giusto” , quasi sempre presente, che prevedeva il matrimonio o la morte dell’eroina ribelle.
We cannot deny that Blagden's texts contain pages which are artistically lacking: it is enough to think of the way in which the writer shows the inhabitants of the peninsula to realize that she remained imprisoned within the most common stereotypes of Anglo-American culture. And it is also undeniable that Blagden's tendency to submit herself both to the exigencies of the publishing market (which required triple decker novels or novels adapted for serial publication) and to the norms that Victorian society dictated to women's productivity. One thinks of her themes, such as love and marriage and the 'just' ending, almost always present, that determined the marriage or the death of the rebellious heroine.
Nonostante ciò le opere di Blagden vantano anche dei meriti letterari; le trame sono avvicenti e la scrittrice riesce a salvaguardare una sua originalità. L’elemento che sicuramente più di ogni altro accomuna e rende uniche le opere di Isabella Blagden è la presenza dell’Italia, infatti gli intrecci non sono mai sprovvisti di un setting e/o di un personaggio italiano.
Notwithstanding this the works of Blagden have some literary merit; the plots are enthralling and the writer succeeds in safeguarding her originality. The element in common which surely more than any other makes all the works of Isabella Blagden unique is the presence of Italy, in fact the plots never lack an Italian setting and/or an Italian character.
Ma i suoi romanzi sono interessantissimi soprattutto se di considera il discorso dei diritti delle donne, che entra a far parte dei suoi scritti. Isabella Blagden ha creati bellissime figure femminili, che ricoprono sempre un ruolo primario all’interno della struttura narrativa, si interrogano sulla posizione della donna all’interno della società vittoriana e propongono scelte diverse da quelle indicate dalla cultura dell’epoca., Tra queste il nubilato e la convivenza tra donne come alternativa all’unione coniugale e la rivendicazione al diritto al lavoro, remunerato in maniera equivalente a quello maschile.
But her romances are most interesting above all when considering the discourse on the rights of woman, which enters into part of her writings. Isabella Blagden created very beautiful female figures, who take up a primary role within the narrative structure, questioning the position of women within Victorian society and proposing different choices that those dictated by her contemporary culture. Among these the single woman and the shared living among women as alternative to the conjugal marriage and the demand to the right to work, to be compensated in the same way as are men.
Thomas Adolphus Trollope ricorda nella sua autobiografia il triste evento della scomparsa dell’amica. Lo scrittore anglofiorentino pensava che la morte prematura avrebbe potuto essere evitata; spiega come Isa vivesse sola e come fosse ostinata a non voler chiamare un medico quando si trattava della sua salute. Il dottore la visitò soltanto il secondo giorno della malattia, ma Trollope pensava che se fosse stata curata sin dai primi sintomi avrebbe potuto salvarsi. Lo scrittore era momentaneamente assente da Firenze e quando tornò in città apprese la notizia della scomparsa dell’amica.45
Thomas Adolphus Trollope records in his autography the sad passing of his friend. The Anglo-Florentine writer thought that the premature death could have been averted; he explained how Isa lived alone and was obstinate about not calling for a doctor when it came to her health. The doctor only visited her the second day of her illness, but Trollope thought that she could have been cured . . . The writer was momentarily absent from Florence and when he returned he learned of the news of his friend's demise.
Isabella Blagden fu sepolta nel cimitero protestante di Firenze, accanto a numerosi cari amici che condivisero con lei l’amore per la città e per l’Italia.
Isabella Blagden was buried in
Protestant Cemetery of Florence, besides the numerous and dear friends
who shared with her the love for the city and for Italy.
1 Scrive Trollope “It was (yes, as usual “was”,
though she was very much my junior) …” Trollope, What I Remember,
vol. II, 173
2 Dentler accetta come valida la data del 1818, mentre Raymond afferma che Lytton, nato nel 1831, era di quindici anni più giovane di Blagden, e Miller la ritiene di quattro anni più giovane di Robert Browning, nato nel 1812. Clara Louise Dentler, Famous Foreigners in Florence, 1400-1900 (Firenze: Bemporad Marzocco, 1964) 34; Raymond, 450; Betty Miller, Robert Browning: A Portrait (London: John Murray, 1952) 200
3 Hawthorne, “There was an ambiguity about this young lady, which, though it did not imply necessarily anything wrong, would have operated unfavourably as regarded her reception in society, anywhere but in Rome. The truth was that nobody knew anything about Miriam, either for good or evil. She had made her appearance without introduction, had taken a studio, put her card upon the door, and showed very considerable talent as a painter in oils.” The Marble..., 23.
4 Lilian Whiting, The Florence of Landor (London: Gay and Bird, 1905) 138.
5 Field, “English Authors ...”, 671. La descrizione di Margaret Jackson è riportata in Browning, Dearest Isa, xxi.
6 Henry James, “I talk with an eager little lady who has gentle, gay black eyes and whose type gives, visibly enough, the hint of East-Indian blood.” William Wetmore Story and His Friends: from Letters, Diaries and Recollections (New York: Grove, 1903) vol II, 95.
7 Blagden, xviii.
8 Barfucci Enrico, Giornate fiorentine: la città, la collina, i pellegrini stranieri (Firenze: Vallecchi, 1961) 247.
9 Field, “English Authors ...” 671.
10 Barrett Browning, The Letters, vol. I, 467 e vol. II, 5.
11 Barrett Browning, The Letters, vol. II, 290; e Browning, Dearest Isa, 21-22.
12 Hawthorne, There was Miss Blagden’s companion, a very pretty and pleasant young lady.” The French..., 338.
13 Successivamente, nel 1863, Bracken si stabilì a Genova e l’anno successivo sposò, strano a dirsi, un ritrattista italiano, Giuseppe Frascheri.
14 Browning, Dearest Isa, 6.
15 Hawthorne, per esempio, ricorda la visita al pittore Seymour Kirkup: “My wife and I drove into town yesterday afternoon, with Miss Blagden and Miss Bracken to call on Mr Kirkup.” Hawthorne, The French ..., 390.
16 Whiting, The Florence..., 134.
17 Elizabeth Barret Browning scrive in una lettera del 26/09/1859 indirizzata ai Trollope: “Miss Blagden and Miss Field are staying with us, and are gone to Siena today to see certain pictures.” Trollope, vol. II, 183.
18 Cobbe, . “On the balcony, and in our drawing rooms, assembled regularly every week and often on other occasions, an interesting and varied company” Life..., vol. II, 13-14.
19 Blagden, “English, French, Germans, or Americans touched her threshold, the same genial ‘salve’ greeted them”. Poems, xxii.
20 Cobbe, Life..., vol. II, 14 e segg.
21 Trollope, Quest’ultimo, nella sua autobiografia, ha scritto a proposito di Blagden: “Isa was [...] the intimate and very specially highly-valued friend of my wife and myself” vol. II, 173.
22 A tale proposito vedi la lettera che Elizabeth Barrett Browning scrisse da Siena nell’agosto del 1861: “Also, we brought with us from Florence [...] our friend Mr. Landor, who is under Robert’s guardianship, having quarrelled with everybody in and out of England. I call him our adopted son.” Barrett Browning, The Letters, vol. II, 403.
23 Cobbe, Life..., vol. II, 19.
24 Blagden, Poems, vii e xxi.
25 Blagden, xxi.
26 Whiting, The Florence ..., 131. Per il diminutivo vedere anche Trollope, che a tal proposito scrive: “We all called her “Isa” always.” Trollope, vol. II, 173.
27 Austin scrisse nel 1869 un articolo molto severo riguardo alle capacità poetiche di Browning, il quale a sua volta attaccò Austin in Pacchiarotto. Browning, Dearest Isa, 334.
28 Trollope, vol. II, 173.
29 “These friendships and generosities, in a setting of Florentine villas and views, [...] formed her kindly little legend.” James, William Wetmore Story ..., vol II, 94.
30 Blagden, Poems, xiii.
31 “Lytton’s book is out – The wanderer – and you observe how the Athenaeum praises it – don’t you Cordelia?” Browning, Dearest Isa, 33.
32 Raymond, 449-52.
33 Field “Elizabeth Barrett ...”, 374.
34 Whiting, Women ..., 43.
35 Orr, 358.
36 Robert Browning scrisse alla sorella: “I went up two days ago to Isa’s Villa for the night and have done so since, returning in the morning – and that has stopped further progress of some unpleasant symptoms.” Robert Browning, New Letters of Robert Browning. A cura di William Clyde De Vane e Kenneth Leslie Kniclerbocker. (London: John Murray, 1951) 132
37 “Isa goes with me to Paris – which will be a great comfort: she is one of the warmest hearted persons I ever knew – she has been invaluable to me and Pen (who stays always with her).” Browning, New Letters..., 135.
38 Nel 1858 Barrett Browning scrisse: “Oh no – Isa Blagden would never go to the Bagni – never. She suffered too much last time – and she hates the place besides.” Browning, Dearest Isa, 276.
39 Vedi le lettere di Robert Browning del 19/06/67, del 19/07/67 e del 19/09/67 in Browning, Dearest Isa, 268-83.
40 Barrett Browning, The Letters, vol. II, 407.
41 Whiting, Italy..., 10.
42 Blagden, Alfred Austin scrisse: “Though Italy was the land of her adoption, she entertained so warm a love for her English friends, that she visited this country as often as she could afford to do so”Poems, xix.
43 “Miss Blagden will not return to Italy – at all events not before she has made an endeavour to live in England. She goes to Clifton, in all probability, where Miss Cobbe is to see her comfortably settled. I cannot believe she will bear the change.” James, William Wetmore Story..., vol. II, 97.
44 Browning ha inoltre scritto: “I am glad you think twice before committing yourself to a residence in Clifton, your friend there can only wish your good, and what good goes with broken health – which your reason and resolution might have remedied? So consider: why should Italy be barred to you? [...] For me, – I should lose something by every inch that you were removed from me; you know that. But if you were up at Clifton and suffering beside, I should be practically as far off as if you were at Florence.” Browning, Dearest Isa, 88.
45 Trollope, vol. II, 175.
See also Dearest Isa; Robert Browning's Letters
Isabella Blagden. Ed. Edward C McAleer (Publisher: Westport, Conn.,
Greenwood Press,1970, ©1951) ISBN: 0837130360; http://www.florin.ms/blagdenfauveau.html
© Corinna Gestri, 2004
CLOUGH, HORNER, ZILERI: TOMBS LINKED IN AN UNPUBLISHED DIARY/
SEPOLCHRI CHE UN DIARIO INEDITO RICONGIUNGE
usan Horner, author with her sister Joanna of the popular guide book Walks in Florence, published in 1873, travelled to Florence in October 1861. She lived in the city with her parents and sister until the following June. The purpose of this voyage to Italy was to improve the health of Susan’s mother. While in Florence Susan kept a Diary, now part of the archives of the British Institute of Florence, and four people who appear in that Diary are buried in the Porta a' Pinti Cemetery. Susan's Diary can confirm or add to the information we have on the tombstones of those four, or indeed correct suppositions we might make from them, while the tombstones themselves can inform us of the lives and the movements of the Horners. The four tombs are those of the poet Arthur Hugh Clough, of Susan Horner’s mother, Anne Susannah Lloyd Horner, of the Horner family servant, Margaret Edmund Zileri and of that servant’s child Joanna Horner Zileri. The unpublished Diary of Susan Horner gives a context to these tombs that we would not otherwise have.Hear it from thy broad lucent Arno-vale
(For there thine earth-forgetting eyelids keep
The morningless and unawakening sleep
Under the flowery oleanders pale)
Matthew Arnold, Thyrsis1
Susan Horner, co-autrice insieme alla sorella Joanna, di Walks in Florence (una celebre guida di viaggio pubblicata nel 1873), era venuta a Firenze nell’ottobre 1861. Vi avrebbe soggiornato con i genitori e la sorella fino al giugno del seguente anno. Scopo del viaggio in Italia era stato quello di cercare condizioni climatiche che favorissero la salute malferma della madre. Nel corso del soggiorno Susan tenne un diario (ora conservato negli archivi del British Institute di Firenze). In quel diario sono nominati i quattro personaggi che sono accomunati dal loro essere sepolti nel cimitero presso Porta a Pinti e di cui si occupa questa relazione. In tal modo il diario di Susan ci dà occasione di ottenere conferme o di arricchire le informazioni di cui disponiamo circa i quattro sepolcri o addirittura può permetterci di correggere idee che ci fossimo fatte dei personaggi stessi, mentre dalle lapidi possiamo evincere notizie sulla vita e gli spostamenti degli Horner. Le quattro tombe sono quelle di Arthur Hugh Clough, della madre di Susan, Anne Susannah Lloyd Horner, della domestica della famiglia Horner – Margaret Edmund Zileri – nonché di sua figlia, Joanna Horner Zileri.
Susan Horner and her sister Joanna were the third and the sixth daughters of Leonard Horner the geologist and social reformer, and nieces of Francis Horner, co-founder of the Edinburgh Review and politician. Susan’s eldest sister, Mary, was married to the geologist Charles Lyell. Frances was married to Charles James Fox Bunbury, a botanist, Katharine to Charles Lyell’s younger brother Henry and Leonora to the German historian Georg Heinrich Pertz. All the sisters except Mary published in their lifetimes, either original works or translations from the German and the Italian. The family was very well connected in liberal intellectual circles.
Susan e sua sorella Joanna erano, rispettivamente, la terza e la sesta figlia di Leonard Horner – geologo e riformatore sociale – nonché nipoti di Francis Horner, co-fondatore dell’ Edinburgh Review e uomo politico. La sorella maggiore di Susan, Mary, aveva sposato il geologo Charles Lyell; Frances aveva sposato Charles James Fox Bunbury, un botanico, mentre Katherine era la moglie del fratello minore di Lyell, Henry. Infine Leonora aveva sposato lo storico tedesco Georg Heinrich Pertz. Tutte quante le sorelle, ad eccezione di Mary, durante la vita ebbero familiarità con la scrittura – sia che componessero propri saggi o che si dedicassero a tradurre dal tedesco e dall’italiano. Vasta era la rete di rapporti che la famiglia intratteneva con gli ambienti intellettuali liberali.
Once in Florence, and unlike the majority of English residents of the period, the Horners made the acquaintance of and mixed with Italian residents. These included Filippo Parlatore of the Natural History Museum and his wife Eugenia, the historian and later statesman Pasquale Villari, the Egyptologist Migliarini, the Marchesi Capponi, Feroni, Sauli and Carlo Torrigiani, and Baron Gaetano Ricasoli. Some introductions to these people came through their friend the scientist and astronomer Mary Somerville who was by then living in Italy. Susan’s own work (she had published a translation of Pietro Colletta’s History of the Kingdom of Naples in 1858 and her own A Century of Despotism in Naples and Sicily in 1860) also served as an introduction. While in Florence her father Leonard Horner worked on the first English translation of Villari’s history of Savonarola which was published in England in 1863. Susan herself spent a great deal of her time researching at the Uffizi with the help of Migliarini.
Arrivati a Firenze e diversamente dalla maggior parte degli inglesi che vi risiedevano all’epoca, gli Horner conobbero e frequentarono gli ambienti italiani. Questi erano animati da persone come Filippo Parlatore del Museo di Storia Naturale e dalla moglie Eugenia; dallo storico e, in seguito, uomo politico Pasquale Villari, dall’egittologo Migliarini, dai marchesi Capponi, Feroni, Sauli, e da Carlo Torrigiani nonché dal barone Gaetano Ricasoli. Lettere di presentazione erano state fornite da una loro amica, la scienziata ed astronoma Mary Somerville che, a quell’epoca già viveva in Italia. Del resto, lo stesso lavoro di Susan (che, nel 1858, aveva tradotto una versione de La storia del regno di Napoli di Pietro Colletta mentre nel 1860 aveva pubblicato il suo A century of despotism in Naples and Sicily) facilitò quel certo tipo di frequentazioni. Durante il soggiorno fiorentino il padre Leonard, per parte sua, aveva messo mano alla prima traduzione inglese dell’opera di Villari dedicata alla vita del Savonarola che sarebbe apparsa nel 1863 in Inghilterra mentre Susan trascorreva molto del suo tempo facendo ricerche agli Uffizi con l’aiuto di Migliarini.
Moving on to the tombs, the first thing to be said about all four tombs under discussion is how very English they are, and more than just English they are Victorian. It is as though the Victorian way of death has been lifted from English soil and replanted in Florence. In the case of one of the four, both stone and body were quite literally transplanted.
Venendo adesso a parlare delle
possiamo subito osservare come tutte e quattro rivelino un gusto
inglese, per non dire vittoriano. E’ come se l’atmosfera funeraria
fosse stata sollevata di peso dall’Inghilterra e fosse stata trasposta
a Firenze. In un caso addirittura siamo
di fronte ad un vero e proprio trapianto della piccola defunta e della sua tomba.
I take up the tomb of Arthur Hugh Clough first, both because, unlike the other three, he was not a member of the Horner household and because his death is chronologically the first.
Consideriamo dapprima la tomba
Arthur Hugh Clough sia perché, diversamente dalle altre tre,
non ha a che fare con la famiglia Horner, sia perché,
fu lui il primo a morire.
ORIEL COLLEGE OXFORD
DIED AT FLORENCE
NOVEMBER 13 MDCCCLXI
THE LAST FAREVVELL
HIS SORROVVING VVIFE AND SISTER
Friends of the Horners, Clough and his wife Blanche arrived in Florence on 12th October and Clough died on 13th November. Clough had been to Italy before. A radical in politics and religion, unable to subscribe to the dogma of the established Church, he had resigned his Oriel Fellowship in 1848 and travelled to France in support of the revolution and on to Italy the following year to take part in Mazzini’s republic. His most famous, though not his best poem, ‘Say not, the struggle not availeth’ was inspired by the events of 1848-49. In the 1850s he worked as an administrator until his health drove him abroad. His arrival in Florence in October 1861 was the last stop on that journey.
Amici degli Horner, Clough e la moglie Blanche arrivarono a Firenze il 12 ottobre 1861: un mese più tardi qui egli veniva a mancare. Clough era già stato in Italia: il suo radicalismo sia in ambito politico che religioso, gli impediva di accettare i dogmi della chiesa istituzionale. Era così che aveva rinunciato al suo posto a Oriel College nel 1848 ed era partito per la Francia dove avrebbe dato il suo contributo alla causa rivoluzionaria, proseguendo poi per l’Italia l’anno seguente per prendere parte agli episodi della repubblica mazziniana. La sua più celebre – anche se non la sua migliore poesia “Say not, the struggle not availeth” – fu ispirata dagli eventi del periodo 1848-49. Nel 1850 riprese il suo incarico amministrativo fino a quando le cattive condizioni di salute lo costrinsero a partire per l’estero. Il suo arrivo a Firenze nell’ottobre 1861 rappresenta l’ultima tappa di quel viaggio.
Susan Horner’s Diary records Clough on arrival as, ‘looking very ill with his head quite on one side from a pain in the back of the neck…he quite tottered in walking.’ Over the following weeks she describes the progress of Clough’s disease, initially as neuralgia or rheumatism, then as ‘a sort of malaria’ as she puts it, with the cause of death recorded by her as ‘paralysis of the lung.’ Her Diary also takes us through the rituals surrounding his death, from the drawings Susan made of the dead Clough to the purchase of a mourning ring by his wife.
Dal diario di Susan Horner apprendiamo che “Clough è arrivato con un aspetto molto malandato, la testa storta per via di un dolore nel collo…nel camminare traballava tutto”. Nel corso delle settimane seguenti Susan descrive il progredire della malattia come quello di una nevralgia o di un reumatismo, poi come una “specie di malaria” ed infine come quella che lei definisce una “paralisi del polmone” quale causa del decesso. Dal diario apprendiamo anche dei rituali che ne circondarono la morte: dai disegni che Susan eseguì dell’amico defunto all’acquisto di un anello vedovile per sua moglie.
Susan’s Diary confirms that this is the stone put up by his wife and though terse therefore contains the information she desired. Clough’s sister Annie (later the first Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge) arrived in Florence two days before her brother’s death and it is those present who put up this ‘last farewell.’ Clough is not described as a poet as he had published little by the time of his death and it was his wife who would edit his verse for publication. The image on the tomb might leave the casual observer to believe Clough a freemason, but the placing of this winged sun disc was also his wife’s request.
Il diario di Susan,
ci conferma che la lapide attualmente visibile nel cimitero è
fatta erigere dalla vedova e che, benché succinta, contiene
le informazioni che essa desiderava vi fossero incluse. La sorella di
Annie ( quella che più tardi sarebbe diventata la direttrice di
Newnham College a Cambridge) era arrivata a Firenze due giorni prima
morte del fratello e quindi furono le due donne a dettare il “saluto
In effetti Clough non è descritto come poeta perché, al
della morte, non aveva ancora pubblicato molto e sarà poi la
a curare la pubblicazione dei suoi versi postumi. Osservando
il visitatore superficiale potrebbe pensare che Clough appartenesse
massoneria – ma l’inclusione del disco solare alato nella decorazione
lapide corrispondeva al desiderio di sua moglie.
Susan wrote on 8th December, ‘the Marchese Torrigiani sent me Champollion’s work on Egypt as Blanche wanted me to take a drawing from the winged figure of the Divinity for Mr Clough’s tombstone.’ This disc, flanked by snakes is seen over the gates and doorways of ancient Egyptian temples. As the symbol of a solar deity it wards off evil and protects sacred territory from malign influences.
Scriveva l’8 dicembre nel suo diario Susan: “Il marchese Torrigiani mi ha inviato il lavoro di Champollion sull’Egitto giacchè Blanche desiderava che io potessi ricopiarne un disegno della figura alata della divinità per la tomba di suo marito”. Tale immagine, circondata da serpenti, rappresenta un motivo frequente sugli stipiti e le porte degli antichi tempi egizi, allontanando il male e proteggendo dagli spiriti maligni.
Six months after the death of Clough, and all that meant in terms of the support the Horners gave to his wife and sister until these two left Florence in late December, the Horner family faced the death of Susan’s mother.
Sei mesi dopo la scomparsa di
– e tutto ciò che questo aveva implicato in termini
offerto dagli Horner alla vedova e alla sorella fin quando
queste avevano lasciato Firenze a fine dicembre – la famiglia Horner fu
colpita dalla morte della signora Horner.
ANNE SUSANNA LLOYD,
FOR FIFTY-SIX YEARS THE WIFE
OF LEONARD HORNER ESQr OF LONDON, F.R.S.
SHE DIED IN FLORENCE ON THE 22d OF MAY 1862,
IN THE 76th YEAR OF HER AGE.
SHE CAME FOR THE RECOVERY OF HER HEALTH, WITH
HER HUSBAND AND DAUGHTERS SUSAN AND JOANNA
AFTER THEY AND FOUR MARRIED DAUGHTERS
FROM WHOM SHE HAD PARTED IN ENGLAND
HAD BEEN BLESSED BY THE UNSPEAKABLE COMFORT
OF HER RECOVERY WHICH ENABLED HER TO ENJOY
BEAUTIFUL FLORENCE FOR SEVEN MONTHS,
IT PLEASED GOD TO AFFLICT THEM BY HER
ALMOST SUDDEN DEATH
"THE LORD GAVE AND THE LORD
"THUS DO WE WALK WITH HER, AND KEEP
Susan’s mother’s elaborate tomb is packed with detail. We learn here that the reason for the family’s journey to Italy was for her health. Her ‘sudden death’ described here was a period of about five weeks during which time Anne Horner suffered from double vision, taking to her bed only a few days before her death. All her six daughters are mentioned on the tomb, though only Susan and Joanna are named. Her husband’s position as a Fellow of the Royal Society is recorded as is the length of his marriage. Susan in her Diary gives a charming picture of this couple married for fifty-six years, for example opening one entry with the words, ‘Papa and Mamma quarrel over the Infinitive Verbs in the morning.’ The four lines of verse on the tomb are from Longfellow’s Resignation. This is verse nine of the poem and it has been transcribed accurately to the stone,
La lapide della madre di Susan è molto elaborata e ricca di dettagli: vi apprendiamo, ad esempio, che la ragione del viaggio in Italia era stata dettata dalle condizioni di salute della madre. La “improvvisa scomparsa” che vi viene richiamata si riferisce, altresì, ad un periodo di circa cinque settimane durante le quali Anne Horner aveva sofferto di disturbi alla vista e che solo pochi giorni prima di morire si era allettata. Tutte e sei le figlie vengono ricordate sulla lapide, anche se solo i nomi di Susan e Joanna vi sono menzionati. La carica di Fellow della Royal Society del marito viene specificata, così come la durata del loro matrimonio. Nel suo diario Susan ci dà un’amena descrizione di questa coppia sposata da cinquantasei anni riferendo, in una sua annotazione: “ Il papà e la mamma la mattina litigano a proposito dell’infinito dei verbi”. I quattro versi che concludono l’iscrizione sono ripresi da Resignation di Longfellow: si tratta della nona strofa che è stata diligentemente incisa sulla pietra
Thus do we walk with her, and keep unbrokenIn 1862 when the sisters left Florence with their father and their servants the Zileris they took with them a photograph of their mother’s burial place, planted with a white rose bush from the Torrigiani garden. Susan’s Diary makes it clear how hard it was for the family to leave the body of her mother behind, ‘I wished,’ she wrote on the night before departure, ‘I could have seen her spirit.’
The bond which nature gives,
Thinking that our remembrance, though unspoken,
May reach her where she lives
Nel 1862, allorché le sorelle Horner lasciarono Firenze assieme al padre ed ai loro domestici, gli Zileri, portarono con sé una fotografia della tomba della madre, ornata da un cespuglio di rose bianche proveniente dal giardino Torrigiani. Nel suo diario Susan rivela quanto pesasse alla famiglia di dover lasciare la madre sepolta a Firenze: la sera prima di partire scriveva: “Magari avessi potuto vedere il suo spirito!”.
Walking around Anne Horner’s tomb, further detail informs us of the intentions of the Horners only two years after their departure from Florence:
Compiendo un giro
alla tomba di Anne Horner, ulteriori dettagli ci informano sulle
degli Horner – appena due anni dopo la loro partenza da Firenze:
MARITI VOTUM PER FILIAS SOLUTUM
[Below medallion and olive branches]
THIS MEDALLION IS PLACED HERE BY THE DESIRE OF
LEONARD HORNER F.R.S.
HE WAS PREPARING TO REVISIT THE GRAVE
WHEN HE DIED LOVING AND BELOVED
IN THE 80TH YEAR OF HIS AGE IN LONDON
5 MARCH 1864
AND WAS BURIED IN THE CEMETERY AT WOKING
THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT IS LOVE, JOY, PEACE,
LONGSUFFERING, GENTLENESS, GOODNESS, FAITH
So, Leonard Horner intended to revisit the tomb as early as 1864 but died before he could do so. The Latin inscription carved around the medallion tells us that the children have done what the husband wished. A puzzle here requires further research. Beside Anne Horner's plot is one that is apparently empty.
Da questa lapide possiamo dunque inferire che Leonard Horner volesse tornare a visitare la tomba di sua moglie già nel 1864 ma che la morte glielo impedisse. L’iscrizione in latino, scolpita attorno al medaglione ci informa anche che i figli avevano fatto quanto era nei desideri del padre vedovo. Ma a questo punto si apre un ulteriore interrogativo. Accanto alla tomba di Anne Horner, vi è uno spazio apparentemente vuoto la cui destinazione non ci è tuttora chiara. Forse Leonard Horner aveva ipotizzato di potervi seppellire altri componenti della famiglia?
While the Horner sisters were
Florence in the period covered by Susan’s Diary they may have come up
the idea for their guide book Walks in Florence but the Diary
that they certainly did not have time to carry out research for it
they returned to England, a rushed departure occasioned by their
death. The Diary also confirms that Susan’s last visit before this one
was in 1848 so at some point in the 1860s the sisters must have
for research in order to have published by 1873.
Here we are assisted by the two remaining tombs.
Durante il soggiorno fiorentino di cui il diario di Susan ci rende conto, può darsi che le due sorelle avessero abbozzato l’idea che in seguito sfocerà nella loro guida – Walks in Florence : Ma certamente non riuscirono a concretizzare il progetto prima della loro partenza precipitosa per l’Inghilterra, determinata – come abbiamo visto – dalla scomparsa di loro madre. Dal diario di Susan sappiamo anche che l’ultima sua visita in Italia – prima di quella di cui parla nel diario – aveva avuto luogo nel 1848. Pertanto le sorelle dovevano probabilmente essere tornate nuovamente in Italia durante gli anni 1860 per rifinire il libro che sarebbe stato pubblicato nel 1873. Ad arricchire il mosaico troviamo le altre due tombe che abbiamo menzionato.
These are the tombs of the Horner family servant Margaret Edmund Zileri and her daughter Joanna Horner Zileri. Both died outside the time period of Susan’s Diary but both feature in it. Here we have a closer view of the child’s tomb.
Si tratta della domestica
famiglia Horner – Margaret Edmund Zileri – e di sua figlia Joanna
Zileri. Ambedue morirono in un periodo cui il diario di Susan non fa
ma ambedue vi vengono menzionate. Ecco quanto si legge sulla lapide
THE MEMORY OF OUR
JOHANNA HORNER ZILERI
MASSIMILIANO AND MARGARET ZILERI
B: AT FLORENCE SUNDAY 15 DECR 1861
D: AT NORWOOD, SUNDAY 25 AUGT 1867
PERFECT LOVE CASTETH OUT FEAR
I JOHN IV.18
THE IS NOT DEAD, THE CHILD OF OUR AFFECTION
BY GUARDIAN ANGELS LED
SAFE FROM POLLUTION, SAFE FROM SINS TEMPTATION
SHE LIVES WHO WE CALL DEAD
HER MORTAL REMAINS
This child died in England in 1867 aged five and a half. Her tombstone in the English cemetery here in Florence was made in England. The maker’s name and place, Piper of Norwood (the London suburb) are carved on the side of the tomb. The lead lettering on stone will be familiar to anyone who has visited English cemeteries.
La bambina morì, come è detto, in Inghilterra nel 1867 ad appena cinque anni e mezzo e anche la sua lapide nel Cimitero degli Inglesi è stata fatta in Inghilterra. Il nome dello scalpellino e il luogo dell’esecuzione della lapide vi sono richiamati: chiunque abbia visitato i cimiteri inglesi può riconoscere le tipiche iscrizioni eseguite con il piombo.
On the tombstone her parents describe their daughter as their ‘Florentine lily’ which, had the original intention been to leave her buried in England, would have recalled there her Florentine birth, also noted on the tomb. The stone informs us though that her remains were brought to Florence a year and a half after her death. Following the customary Biblical reference are some jumbled lines from that same Longfellow poem Resignation. The lines are taken from verses six and seven of this thirteen verse poem,
Sulla lapide i genitori descrivono la bambina come il loro “giglio fiorentino”: qualora l’intenzione fosse stata quella di lasciare la bambina sepolta in Inghilterra, l’appellativo avrebbe servito a ricordarne la nascita in terra fiorentina – così come confermato dall’iscrizione. Ma da questa invece apprendiamo che i suoi resti mortali furono portati a Firenze un anno e mezzo dopo la sua morte. All’abituale usanza di iscrivere versetti biblici sulle lapidi cimiteriali, viene in questo caso preferito l’apporre alcuni versi dalla già ricordata poesia di Longfellow, Resignation
She is not dead,—the child of our affection,—This child was of course, as you can see from the information on the tomb, born while the Horner family was in Florence. Margaret Edmund and her husband Massimiliano Zileri, originally from Parma, travelled from England to Florence with the Horner family in 1861 and returned to England with them in 1862.
But gone unto that school
Where she no longer needs our poor protection,
And Christ himself doth rule.
In that great cloister's stillness and seclusion,
By guardian angels led,
Safe from temptation, safe from sin's pollution,
She lives, whom we call dead,
Da quanto si evince dalla lapide, la bambina era nata a Firenze durante il soggiorno della famiglia Horner in quella città. Margaret Edmund e il marito Massimiliano Zileri, originario di Parma, erano venuti dall’Inghilterra a Firenze con gli Horner nel 1861 e avevano fatto con loro il viaggio di ritorno in Inghilterra nel 1862.
There is a photograph of Joanna Horner Zileri, taken by the son of Hiram Powers, Longworth Powers, and pasted into Susan’s Diary. After her birth on 15 December 1861 this child became the focus of attention in the household. As we’ve seen from the tomb she was named after one of the sisters, Joanna, and was also given the family name, Horner. Susan’s Diary makes it abundantly clear that Margaret and her husband Massimiliano were particularly well trusted servants. There was a strong bond between Leonard Horner and Massimiliano. Without the Diary the Horner name on the tomb might lead us to believe there were blood or marriage ties with the tomb of Susan’s mother but the Diary enlightens us to the fact that the children were named through affection. I say ‘children’ advisedly as we see here on Margaret Edmund Zileri’s tomb that there were two.
Esiste una fotografia di
Horner Zileri eseguita dal figlio di Hiram Powers – Longworth Powers –
che è conservata fra le pagine del diario di Susan. Da quando
nata, il 15 dicembre 1861, la bambina aveva costituito un centro di
per tutta la famiglia Horner. Non solo era stata chiamata Joanna, ma
anche il cognome della famiglia Horner. Dal diario di Susan apprendiamo
che Margaret ed il marito erano molto familiarmente trattati dai loro
di lavoro; c’era un forte legame anche fra Leonard Horner e
Se non disponessimo del diario di Susan, potremmo pensare che vi
rapporti di consanguineità o di matrimonio fra le famiglie
Horner e Zileri: in realtà i legami erano solo di affetto.
Scopriamo addirittura, leggendo la lapide sulla tomba di Margaret
Zileri, l’esistenza di una seconda bambina Horner Zileri .
THE FAITHFUL AND BELOVED WIFE OF
MASSIMILIANO ZILERI AND
THE LOVING MOTHER OF JOANNA
HORNER AND ANNE SUSIE ZILERI
WHO DIED IN FLORENCE
THE 14 FEBRUARY 1872
AGED 49 YEARS
COME UNTO ME, ALL YE
Margaret Edmund Zileri died in Florence in 1872, aged only 49. Her tomb informs us that she had another child, Anne Susie Zileri, called after Susan’s mother and perhaps Susan herself.
Margaret Edmund Zileri era morta a Firenze nel 1872, a soli quarantanove anni. Dalla sua lapide apprendiamo, appunto, dell’esistenza di una seconda bambina – Anne Susie Zileri – forse così chiamata per via della madre Horner e di Susan stessa.
Did the Zileris return to Florence in 1868 with the Horner sisters? Did they dig up and transport their child’s remains and tombstone because the sisters planned a prolonged stay in Florence and the Zileris could not bear to leave their child behind? It is safe to assume that this was the case. The loyalty of Margaret and Massimiliano was well repaid by the sisters. When Margaret Edmund’s husband Massimiliano Zileri himself died six years after his wife he was buried in the Allori cemetery outside Florence. The couple’s second child Anne Susie Zileri was left an orphan. This child became the ward of the Horner sisters and it is she who gave Susan’s Diary to the British Institute of Florence before her death in 1964.
Ci possiamo chiedere se gli
fossero tornati a Firenze con le sorelle Horner nel 1868 e se – pur di
non abbandonare in Inghilterra i resti mortali della
prima figlia – li avessero portati con sé in vista di un
fiorentino prolungato. Può darsi proprio che le cose andassero
D’altra parte, l’affezione dimostrata da Margaret e Massimiliano fu
dalle sorelle. Quando il marito di Margaret – Massimiliano Zileri –
sei anni dopo sua moglie, queste lo fecero seppellire nel cimitero
Allori ed essendo la secondogenita della coppia Anne Susie Zileri
orfana, sempre le sorelle Horner la adottarono. Fu Anne Susie che fece
dono del diario di Susan al British Institute di Firenze prima di
1 From Thrysis,
poem in memory of his friend Arthur Hugh Clough.
© Alyson Price, 2004,
See also: http://www.igiardinidelleregine.it;http://www.florin.ms/hwalks.html; http://www.nahste.ac.uk/index.html; http://histoire.typographie.org/museum/figeac/index.html; M. Champollion le jeune, Lettre a M. Dacier, Secrétaire perpétuel de l'Académie Royale des inscriptions e belles-lettres, relative a l'alphabet des hiéroglyphes phonétiques employés par les égyptiens pour inscrire sur leurs monuments les titres, les noms et les surnoms des souverains grecs et romains (Fontfroide, Bibliothèque artistique e littèraire, 1989).
WILLIAM HOLMAN HUNT AND FANNY HOLMAN HUNT
A TRAGEDY IN FLORENCE
(Wough)[Waugh]/ Holman Hunt]/ Fanny/ / Inghilterra/ Firenze/ 20
1866/ Anni 33/ 959/ Fanny Wough Hunt, l'Angleterre/
227-230]/ [Written in Medallions on Coffin
with 'Pelican in its Piety' or Noah's Dove with Olive Branch in its
at one end, Lilies at each end, floating on water, on the waves of the
I WILL BE WITH THEE
AND THRO THE FLOODS
THEY SHALL NOT
BE NOT AFRAID
IS STRONG AS
MANY WATERS CANNOT
NEITHER CAN THE
28th December 1865 Christ Church Paddington: the Pre-Raphaelite artist
William Holman Hunt and Fanny Waugh were married. The bridegroom was
and the bride was thirty-two. The service was officiated by the very
Richard Maul. The best man was William Rossetti, civil servant, art
and chronicler to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The witness was
Coombe of the Clarendon Press Oxford, an important patron of
art. The bride’s sister Marion Edith Waugh aged thirteen was
An affectionate kiss given to this young attendant was to become a
memory for many years to come.
Acknowledgement to Mrs Elizabeth Tompkin (Antique Collectors Club). Seen also in Fanny Holman Hunt's portrait by her husband, painted in Florence, later given to her sister, and his second wife, Edith.
It was not until August 1866,
of the early spring as originally planned, that the happy couple
left England for the Holy Land. Hunt wanted to return to the East in
to continue his pursuit of painting the actual sites of Biblical
His father-in-law Dr George Waugh raved about “The cursed Holy Land“
his favourite daughter, now seven months pregnant, was about to
a perilous journey. Horror of horrors - the thought of a foreign doctor
attending to her needs was beyond a parent’s comprehension.
The Hunt’s took the boat train to France and then continued to Marseilles. At Marseilles the couple’s journey was halted because of cholera and no boat was permitted to leave for Alexandria. A representative for the P & O line assured them that the next boat would be allowed to dock but this was not to be so. Hunt heard that it was possible to embark from Leghorn and reach Alexandria via Malta. Despite Fanny being heavily pregnant he decided they would cross the Maritime Alps to Florence. When they reached Florence they heard that bans has been imposed on all Italian ports and that Egypt had been quarantined also.
In view of Fanny’s confinement they decided to stay in Florence because there was a well-established English community. Lodgings were secured at 32 Via Montebello with a studio for Hunt.
Using his attractive wife as a model Hunt set to work painting. He asked her to pose in a standing position for many hours. This placed great strains upon her constitution as she was constantly bathed in perspiration from the merciless heat, with swollen feet and of course, the baby becoming heavier. The reason he did not use professional models was not because of financial restraint but because he was so enamoured with his wife. When Fanny was not modelling for “Isabella and the pot of Basil “ the couple were scouring the streets for antiques, fine pieces of Italian majolica glass, objects d’art and interesting furniture to decorate their temporary abode and the studio. These items they believed to be shrewd investments for the future.
According to Consular records on October 27th 1866 Fanny gave birth to a son with an Italian doctor in attendance. The delivery was a difficult and painful one with forceps being used as a necessity. Hunt wrote to Frederick Stephens “Fanny has had to live at the gates of death for many an hour.” She hung on to life for six weeks in extreme pain, but she had been damaged internally. She finally contracted both puerperal and miliary fevers (this last fever common to Florence) and died on December 20th 1866 exhausted. Her death was eight days short of her first wedding anniversary.
Miraculously her son survived and was named Cyril Benoni Holman Hunt– the second name in Hebrew means child of sorrow/ distress.
Hunt and the Waughs were totally distraught. Both the Waughs and Hunt’s sister Emily wrote wanting to take charge of the babe. Their offers were refused and a wet-nurse found. Hunt placed the baby in the care of his English friends the Spencer Stanhopes whose own child had died. Hunt then moved from the rooms he had shared with Fanny because they held too many potent memories. He rented a new studio at 14, Lungarno Acciajoli. This new studio had been recently vacated by his friend the artist Simeon Solomon.
On December 22nd 1866 the very Reverend Robert Loftus Tottenham, Chaplain of Holy Trinity Church Florence, officially registered Fanny Waugh’s death and conducted the funeral service on the same day. Her body was buried in the English Cemetery Florence.
On December 28th 1866 the very Reverend Tottenham registered the birth of Cyril Benoni Hunt and baptised him on the same day at Holy Trinity Church Florence.
Thomas Woolner, who was Hunt’s brother-in-law and a Pre-Raphaelite sculptor, went out to Florence to offer support and assistance. Hunt was beyond consolation and wrote to his friend Frederick Stephens who was in London “I am more alone now – more solitary than ever I knew a man in this world could be … I cannot say “Thy will be done.” There was an outbreak of the disease Scarlet Fever at the Stanhope’s house so Hunt made arrangements to take the baby Cyril to his in-laws the Waughs in England. He arranged a wetnurse for his son and commissioned a stonemason to work on a tomb in memory of Fanny. He finally arrived on October 9th 1867 at Queensborough Terrace, London with a dying Cyril but his sensible mother-in-law realised that the child was starving and that the wet-nurse had no milk. The nurse was promptly dismissed and the child was fed. Cyril began to thrive.
Eighteen months after his wife’s death, in July 1868, Hunt returned to Florence and took up residence at the Villa Medici near Fiesole. The villa is probably one of the most impressive of the Medici Villas in Florence and was surrounded by a beautiful garden.
Da Alta Macadam, Americans in Florence: A Complete Guide to the City and Places Associated with Americans Past and Present, Florence: Giunti, 2003. Villa Medici is towards the top.
Hunt used the stables as a studio. William Blundell Spence, an affluent amateur dealer in Florentine art, was his landlord. He tells us that “…my health required me to live out of the city … and so kept myself in the pure air”. It was during this second stay that he painted Bianca (currently in the Galleria degli Uffizi exhibition, 'I giardini delle regine'),
Tuscan Straw Plaiters and a number of views of Florence. During this period he sketched a self-portrait which shows him with a shaggy mane of a beard sitting alone in a restaurant drinking Chianti.
Shortly after this return, he sacked the stonemason working on his wife’s tomb because so little progress had been made and he could never see it being completed. He says in his autobiography “I took up his tools and finished the work, being then so ready to leave this city of flowers, which had been so sad a resting place to me”. By this we know that Hunt had not with him stone-working tools of his own. He then set to work in earnest designing a tomb worthy of the memory of his beloved wife Fanny. A plan of the design exists on paper.
It is interesting that Hunt, whom we regard as a painter and who we know made models in clay in order to assist his painting, felt competent enough to tackle this project. We know that he was friendly with Alexander Munro and Thomas Woolner (his brother-in-law) both sculptors, yet this does not explain his confidence in this trade. William Rossetti tells us “and there I found him in the spring of 1869, occupied partly in carving a tomb for his wife, in a shape approximating to what one might suppose for Noah’s ark”. There has been comparatively little research into these sculptural abilities of this major Pre-Raphaelite artist.
Fanny Waugh’s grave and tomb
the English Cemetery here in Florence are adjacent to that of the
female poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The tomb is sarcophagus in
upon a sandstone pedestal. The pedestal has begun to flake at the
and in areas which are in contact with the ground. The principal part
the monument appears to be carved from a type of limestone which over
years has become granular and sugary in texture due to natural erosion,
the elements and pollution. The sarcophagus appears to be floating upon
waves. A plaque on the side of the monument states “FANNY
/ the wife of / W. HOLMAN HUNT /
in Florence Dec 20 1866 / in the first year of her marriage”, repeating
the now faint inscription on the tomb itself and thus likely a later
Diaper patterns have been carved into the stone separating the
into a base and cover. Lilies are at each end, but at one end they
a large cross, while on the other they surround a Pelican in its Piety.
The 'Pelican in its Piety' is unusual in seeming also to be a dove and
holding in its beak an olive branch, as in the account of Noah and the
Ark, conflating both images. Ornamental medallions are incised into the
stone, one of which is a trefoil and triangle entwined, and the
texts are written in the medallions:
I WILL BE WITH THEE
AND THRO THE FLOODS
THEY SHALL NOT
BE NOT AFRAID
IS STRONG AS
MANY WATERS CANNOT
NEITHER CAN THE
The inscription on the tomb makes references to floods, waters and love. Hunt wishes to convey to his loved one that there is no need for to her to be fearful in her journey into the unknown. Jesus Christ is with her. He then expresses the point that their love for each other transcends both the spiritual world (the Kingdom of Heaven) and the Earth itself.
The tomb decoration abounds with symbolic meaning. The most dramatic and competent of the carving is the waves upon which the tomb appears to float. Water symbolically represents purification and the Christian sacrament of baptism – the cleansing of the soul from Original Sin. St. John the Baptist baptised Jesus in the river Jordan.
According to the Bible and the Creation we are told that water was created on the second day. Water represents salvation of our spiritual life and it is an attribute of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her Immaculate Conception. The comparison made is between Mary our spiritual Mother and Fanny being the earthly mother of Cyril Benoni, her baby son. We are told in Genesis 2:10-14 that the Garden of Eden is watered by four rivers. According to Babylonian tradition the rivers are the Pison, Gihon, Tigris and the Euphrates. In the Middle Ages these rivers symbolised the Gospels. Often in early Christian Art Christ or the Lamb (Agnes Dei) is represented standing on a small mound from which four streams flow. He is therefore the river or fountain of life.
In mythology the fountain in the Garden of Love is crowned by the figure of Cupid, a comforting thought for a grieving widower. Also Charon is the ferryman who rowed the souls of the dead across one of the four rivers of Hades. The river across which he rowed was the Styx where the infant Achilles was dipped. In Dante’s writing the rivers are four stages of punishment of the soul. Ferrymen represented in Christian Art are St. Christopher and St. Julian The Hospitaler.
Lilies are a motif used on the tomb. They are a symbol of purity particularly associated with our Blessed Virgin Mary. In depictions of the Annunciation they may be held in the hand of the Angel Gabriel or seen in a vase. Christ in Judgement may have a lily and a sword on either side of his face. Here the flower represents both purity and majesty. The Iris, often mistaken for the Lily, is the symbol of Florence.
The trefoil and the triangle are symbols of the Holy Trinity. A triangular halo represents God the Father.
The pelican in its piety, a symbol used by Hunt, is a particularly poignant one. The pelican plucking and piercing its breast to nourish its young with its own blood was seen as an act which represents self-sacrifice and charity - an action likened to the blood of Christ whom through the Crucifixion and the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist brought salvation to Mankind. The medieval church sanctified Faith, Hope and Charity and called them the three cardinal virtues. Charity was seen to be the mother of the virtues. Many Renaissance paintings depict Charity as a woman giving alms or as a caring and tender mother [Cranach’s “Charity”]. St. Augustine saw Charity as the link between God and mankind. Fanny Hunt offered God the Father the ultimate gift through the birth of her son – her mortal life.
Finally the cross represents the Christian faith and Jesus Christ’s Crucifixion. The Latin cross with its single transverse arm is thought to be the type of cross Christ was crucified on. Hunt carved a large cross at one end of the tomb with lilies that appear to be blooming from each end and the end of both arms of the cross.
In was June 1869 when Hunt finally completed his homage to his dear wife Fanny. He then left Florence and visited both Venice and Rome before finally returning to England where he was reunited with his young son Cyril. A long and fraught romance and an eventual marriage to his wife’s younger sister Marion Edith Waugh (the young Bridesmaid at his wedding in 1866) were in the future. His second wife chose to be known by her middle name Edith.
Triumph of the Holy Innocents
(Mrs Edith Holman Hunt posed for The Virgin Mary with her young son as the Infant Jesus)
A postscript: Hunt presented a
Chalice in memory of his first wife Fanny to Holy Trinity Church
In 1938 Gladys Mulock Holman Hunt presented a silver Paten to fit and
the Chalice in memory of her stepbrother Cyril Benoni. Both
of silver are now kept at St. Mark’s in Florence because Holy Trinity
has been sold.
Fanny/ Waugh/ Holman Hunt/ Died in Florence/ December 20 1866
Blessed are the pure in heart
In dear and grateful remembrance of CYRIL BENONI HOLMAN HUNT born in Florence Oct 27 1866 died in Bridport 25 July 1934
For further information on St Mark's English Church see http://www.florin.ms/stmarksenglish.html
See also http://www.igiardinidelleregine.it
© Patricia O'Connor, 2004
L'ARTE DELLA MEMORIA: JOHN RODDAM SPENCER STANHOPE E LA TOMBA DELLA FIGLIA MARY
JOHN RODDAM SPENCER STANHOPE AND THE TOMB OF HIS DAUGHTER MARY
AN ONGOING RESEARCH PROJECT
NIC PEETERS AND JUDY
"THE LORD IS
I SHALL NOT
TO LIE DOWN
IN GREEN PAS
SPEAKER NIC: This presentation will tell the story of how we came to discover the tomb of Mary Spencer Stanhope (1859-1867) in the English Cemetery in Florence and how we were led to eventually go in search of two of her father's missing artistic masterpieces.1 Mary, who died tragically at the age of seven, was the only daughter of the British artist John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908). During the 1890s he painted two magnificent altarpieces for the church of Holy Trinity in Florence. The first altarpiece consisted of fourteen individual panel paintings, while the second one was comprised of four and had been specifically created as a memorial to Mary. When Judy and I first learned about these paintings in 2003, all eighteen of them were missing. This intrigued us so much that we decided to find out what had happened to them.
In the first part of our presentation we will explain precisely how we came to investigate this mysterious affair. In the second part we will outline our methods and describe the missing paintings. In parts three and four we will assess their significance within the life and career of the artist John Roddam Spencer Stanhope and assign them a place in 19th century art history. Throughout this presentation we want to demonstrate how the study of these two altarpieces contributes to a better understanding of the career of Stanhope, an important but neglected artist, and also how this study provides us with a clearer view of early Italian art's influence on British art.
I. A Ramble Around Florence
ctually it all began with a letter that was written almost a hundred years ago. Judy brought it to my attention early in 2003. The author of the letter was the artist Evelyn De Morgan (1855-1919). The recipient was her sister Wilhelmina Stirling (1865-1965). In her letter De Morgan mentions the Florentine church paintings of their uncle Stanhope. As a painter Stanhope was part of the British Pre-Raphaelite Movement although from 1880 until his death in 1908 he lived permanently in Florence. De Morgan wrote, and I quote: ‘Not half enough has ever been known about the work he did in the church there. I think attention ought to be drawn to that.’2
After reading these lines early in 2003 I decided to follow De Morgan’s advice. It seemed to me that taking a week off in Florence to visit its Anglican church and study Stanhope's work there would quickly provide me with all the necessary information to write an original article. I was deluding myself. The hunt for these masterpieces has involved numerous conundrums and is still ongoing 12 months after it was first begun. As it turned out, the first of these mysteries was the location of the church De Morgan had referred to.
I knew that at present the only Anglican church in Florence is Saint Mark’s on Via Maggio. I arranged with the vicar, Father Lawrence MacLean, to be given a tour of this building which had originally been a fifteenth-century palazzo. During our tour he revealed that there were no actual paintings by Stanhope in Saint Mark's other than the ceiling decoration and wall stenciling much of which had been destroyed during the 1966 flood. He further explained that the church to which Evelyn De Morgan had referred in her letter was not Saint Mark’s, but was actually Holy Trinity. In Stanhope's time Holy Trinity had been Florence’s first Anglican community church, but since then it has undergone an ownership and name change. In 1967 the building on Via Micheli had been sold to the Waldensian community and since then has become known as the Chiesa Valdese.
And so off I went to the Via Micheli and the Chiesa Valdese. When I finally met the churchwarden there, he had distressing news for me. He told me that not long after the Waldensians had taken possession of the building it had been gutted.
I further learned that up until 1967 it had contained two polyptychs by Stanhope. One was placed above the main altar while a second, dedicated to the artist’s daughter Mary, hung in the Memorial Chapel.
When I eagerly asked about the paintings’ current whereabouts, he told me that sometime during the renovation of the church, the altarpieces had been sold on the art market and dispersed. In other words, they had vanished into thin air!!
The next day I treated myself to a ramble around Florence’s captivating streets. Soon, however, I began to ponder my failure to find the works of which Evelyn De Morgan had spoken so highly and mentally I even asked her what I should do next.
As I continued my walk I found myself in Piazzale Donatello near the ‘English Cemetery’. I decided that it might be enjoyable to visit this cemetery but I found that it was closed. Just as I was about to bemoan another stroke of bad timing the iron gate – as if by miracle – swung wide open. A lady suddenly appeared and I explained to her that I had come a long way to see the famous tomb of Elizabeth Barrett Browing. She took pity on me and let me pass. I was amazed at the splendor of Barrett Browning’s grand, sculpted sarcophagus, and, by contrast, the small headstone nearby. It was dedicated to none other than Mary Spencer Stanhope. At last, I had found a concrete trace! Here was the tomb of the young daughter of Stanhope to whom the Memorial Chapel altarpiece had been dedicated. After taking pictures of both tombs I returned to the gatehouse where the lady introduced herself as Julia Bolton Holloway. We had a long conversation in her library during which I explained what had brought me to Florence and she invited me to speak about it at this conference. Soon after that I enlisted Judy’s help to continue the search and write this paper.
II. Our Sources and Methods
a Description of the Two Altarpieces
SPEAKER JUDY: In this part of our presentation we will discuss the sources and methods of our investigation and describe the two altarpieces. Nic's discovery that the altarpieces John Roddam Spencer Stanhope had donated to Holy Trinity in the 1890s were now missing only served to pique our interest and so as art historians we began to feel compelled to search for these lost masterpieces. As an artist whose total output was not large, the loss of these two multi-panelled works was significant to a comprehensive appraisal of Stanhope's role as a Pre-Raphaelite artist who also designed works for ecclesiastical settings. The disappearance of the altarpieces has also prevented scholars from being able to assess the full impact of early Italian art upon this English artist who had chosen Florence as his adopted home. We soon became obsessed with the search for evidence of the altarpieces' physical existence and of their current whereabouts.
Our search for the missing masterpieces would employ a variety of methodologies: conventional primary and secondary source research; web surfing; personal contacts; and travel. In our quest we have had the great good fortune to have been aided by our British colleague, Simon Poë, an acknowledged expert on the work and life of the artist.
We would find the basic
of how and why Stanhope came to create these altarpieces for Holy
Church in the writings of the previously mentioned Mrs. Stirling. She
the biographer of both her sister Evelyn De Morgan and their uncle
In several of her books she tells the story of her uncle’s artistic
and career, and of his love for his adopted city, Florence. Having made
the first of many visits to Florence in 1853 he spent time regularly
from 1864 on, and in 1873 he purchased the Villa Nuti (now Villa lo
From Alta Macadam, Americans in Florence: A Complete Guide to the City and Places Associated with Americans Past and Present, Florence: Giunti, 2003.
Finally, in 1880, he would move permanently to Italy. Stirling draws a brief sketch of his artistic contributions to Saint Mark's and to Holy Trinity in her book entitled Life's Little Day. Though she seems to have conflated both projects into one, her description is worth noting because it conveys the enthusiasm he had for both these projects.
My uncle gave with a lavish hand both money and personal labour to beautify the English Church of the Holy Trinity in the Via Maggio, which he attended. He decorated its previously bare spaces, painting for it a fine triptych as altarpiece and reredos and by and by he parted with one of his most treasured possessions, an exquisite Madonna and Child by Botticelli, in order that he might build a tower to the edifice.3Between 1892 and 1896 he would design and install the two altarpieces for the reconstructed Holy Trinity church. The smaller of the altarpieces was a 4-panelled polyptych installed in the church's Memorial Chapel. This chapel was dedicated to former members of the parish and, in this case, Stanhope produced his work as a very personal memorial to his own young daughter, Mary. The second altarpiece was a 14-panelled polyptych that was installed behind the main altar. Both altarpieces were executed in tempera and gold on panel.
Concurrent with finding out why the art works had been created we also began to learn more about what they looked like. We discovered black and white photos of both altarpieces, which had been taken in Stanhope's own studio. From these photos we learned that the larger of the two pieces was constructed around two main scenes of the Annunciation and Crucifixion flanked by prophets and angels. The smaller Memorial Chapel altarpiece had main scenes of the Resurrected Christ and the Three Maries at the Tomb and two angel panels. Both reredos were in elaborate gold frames.
However, because the photos were black and white, our next task was to discover what colors Stanhope had employed for these altarpieces. This was particularly critical because one of the hallmarks of the artist's work was his use of color. His fellow artist, Edward Burne-Jones, had said of him: "His color was beyond any the finest in Europe."4 In this regard an early break in this investigation was locating the watercolor study for the Annunciation/Crucifixion altarpiece. Though slightly different from the finished work it reveals much about artistic intent. This study displays a rich use of gold and deeply saturated red, green and blue tones throughout, which is further enhanced by the ornate gold frame. The Prophet figures of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John the Baptist are seen in full figure profile on the outer edges of the altarpiece. Moving inwards toward the center of the altarpiece is a series of eight angels, each of whom is playing a musical instrument and is placed in front of a golden screen. At the center of the reredos are larger scenes of the Annunciation and the Crucifixion. The Annunciation is a shallow composition showing the Angel Gabriel making his announcement to a young Mary with a group of three angels looking on. The Crucifixion is a densely packed composition showing Christ flanked by several tiers of angels and being mourned by Saint John and an older Virgin Mary.
While the gathering of this information would provide us with vital documentation about the creation of the altarpieces and clues to their physical appearance, the information about the dispersal of the works and their current whereabouts was much harder to come by. As already mentioned sometime around 1967 both works were removed from the church building and dispersed through sale and auction. We would find sale and auction evidence from 1967, 1970, and 1987 but despite our best efforts we could find no further auction activity or trace of any of the works.
However, a major break in our case would come in February of this year when in preparation for this conference we heard that there was to be an exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite art at the Uffizi entitled Of Queens' Gardens: The Myth of Florence in the Pre-Raphaelite Milieu and in American Culture (19th-20th Centuries). When we inquired about details of the exhibition, Julia Bolton Holloway told us that during a chance meeting, the show’s curator, Margherita Ciacci, had brought to her attention that the Memorial Chapel altarpiece was listed as one of the exhibits! As if by magic this 4-piece polyptych had not only re-assembled itself but was set to materialise in Florence to coincide with our visit.
III.A: Spencer Stanhope’s
as an Homage to Florence and Its Art
SPEAKER NIC: In this part of our presentation we would like to assess the significance of the altarpieces within the life and career of John Roddam Spencer Stanhope. They operate on a variety of personal and aesthetic levels.
First of all we can read them as the artist’s personal expression of his love for the city of Florence and its artistic heritage. As a Pre-Raphaelite, Stanhope was fascinated by early Italian art and would have been well acquainted with it from exhibitions in London5 even before his first trip to Italy.
The subject matter and composition of the Holy Trinity panels are clearly reminiscent of Stanhope's illustrious Florentine forebears. It is, for instance, hard to imagine that he was not familiar with Fra Angelico's work at the Convent of San Marco entitled Christ Resurrected and the Maries at the Tomb (1439-1443).6 Likewise, the musical angels in the main altarpiece, although more distinct in drawing and color, are reminiscent of countless angel musicians that Fra Angelico had painted.
Another Florentine master that Stanhope greatly admired was Sandro Botticelli. We have already mentioned that he owned a painting by this artist and considered it amongst "his most treasured possessions".7 Botticelli’s stylistic influence and especially that of his Mystic Nativity (c. 1501) is evident in the Annunciation and Crucifixion panels where Stanhope has emulated the Florentine master's depiction of angels as elegant androgynous beings executed in a linear manner. On the other hand, Stanhope's prophet panels quote the more sculptural appraoch of Piero della Francesca (a Florentine in spirit if not in domicile). Specifically, the figures of Jeremiah and Isaiah echo Piero’s Saint John the Evangelist in the Polyptych of Saint Augustine (1460-70).
Stanhope was extremely thorough in his tribute to the early Florentines. First of all he pioneered the redevelopment of the meticulous tempera on panel method.8He believed, after all, that recapturing the glory of the Quattrocento artists demanded using their own materials. Secondly, for his donation to Holy Trinity he deliberately chose the altarpiece, which was the quintessential format for their art. And finally, he commissioned a local firm to create each polyptych’s elaborate, carved and gilded framework, which is clearly reminiscent of early Florentine gothic frameworks. [See also Félicie de Fauveau, likewise creating Gothic tabernacle frames, for her sculptures and tombs, in Florence at this time.]
Though the artist paid homage to the early Florentine masters, he nevertheless developed his own distinct personal style. Because Stanhope actually came to live and work permanently in Florence and his altarpieces were created after he had already spent many years in this city, their character is just as much Italian as it is British. The artist’s depictions of biblical figures in Tuscan landscapes are slightly more robust than those of the Quattrocento masters, but they lack the raw realism of Old and New Testament scenes by his fellow Pre-Raphaelite artists William Holman Hunt or John Millais. The importance of these particular panel paintings lies in their unique fusion of Pre-Raphaelite candor, Florentine subtlety, and, in their intensity of color, something that is typically John Roddam Spencer Stanhope.
III. B: And as a Personal
to His Daughter Mary
Stanhope’s daughter and only child Mary died at the age of seven of scarlet fever in 1867. Despite the fact that childhood illness and mortality were commonplace occurrences in the 19th century, the loss of their only child must have been devastating to the artist and his wife, Lilla. And so her parents buried her in Florence’s ‘English Cemetery’. Mary's headstone was designed by her grieving father and is inscribed with consoling verses from the Twenty-Third Psalm. The decoration on the back includes three floral motifs. On top we find the Fleur-de-lis,9 the symbol of Florence. At the bottom we see the daffodil, representing those who died young,10 and the poppy, the flower of sleep and death.11 The rather unconventional shape of its cross is identical to that of Stanhope's own tombstone in the Allori Cemetery (Florence),
AUG 2 1908
John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, Cimitero agli Allori, monumento che scolpì egli stesso/ tomb sculpted by himself.
as well as his memorial
in both Saint Mark’s
AUG 2 1908
and All Saints Parish Church in Cawthorne (Yorkshire), his birthplace, repeating the above inscription on the cross, for the third time, while lacking that on the base. [Photograph courtesy of Sharon Pitt, Cawthorne, Yorkshire]
This painful loss must have left a strong impression upon the artist. Throughout the following decades he regularly painted scenes exploring the afterlife, one of the most impressive being Charon and Psyche (c.1883), based on William Morris’ version of the Cupid and Psyche story. Stanhope shows Psyche, a king’s daughter, about to be ferried across the river Styx and into the underworld by the boatman Charon. Later, however, Psyche manages to return to the world of the living and ultimately even becomes immortal.12 Stanhope may have wished the same fate for his daughter. The painting represents Psyche as a young adult and in the Victorian era it was not unusual for parents who had lost young children to believe that they lived on to achieve adulthood in another existence.13
The Memorial Chapel altarpiece (1892-4) was painted nearly thirty years after Mary had passed away. The Three Maries at the Tomb, one of the altarpiece’s panels, shows an image that seems to have haunted Stanhope's imagination for many years. The artist painted the same subject c.1876 for the Marlborough College Chapel (The Sepulchre, 1874-9) and c. 1886 for an exhibition at the Grosvenor (Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead, c. 1886). The three paintings are nearly identical but the Memorial Chapel version stands out as the most dramatically powerful of all of them and, indeed, of all the Holy Trinity paintings. Its precise rhythmic composition, confidently executed drawing, and balanced use of colors strengthen the impact of The Three Maries at the Tomb in testifying to the artist’s belief in the continued life of the human soul, particularly that of his daughter Mary.
IV. Stanhope’s Altarpieces as
SPEAKER JUDY: As already suggested the Holy Trinity altarpieces may be seen in the larger context of Pre-Raphaelitism and its interest in sacred subjects and church decoration. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood had taken the art world by storm in 1848 by introducing piety, religious symbolism, and a love of Italian art into English literary painting. The Pre-Raphaelites successfully translated onto canvas the enthusiasm for early Italian art and its sacred subjects that had been promoted by aestheticians such as John Ruskin and by the Oxford Movement within the Anglican church. Their re-interpretation of sacred subjects taken from the bible and the lives of the Virgin Mary, Christ, and the saints not only invigorated mid-century British painting but also church decoration. Working in collaboration with gothic revival architects, these artists, especially William Morris, would extend this aspect of Pre-Raphaelitism into the realm of ecclesiastical art by producing altarpieces, church furnishings, and brilliant stained glass.
Because Stanhope had the good fortune to live in daily communion with the Quattrocento men of genius he was able to view their art not only in galleries but also in the original sacred spaces for which they were created. Consequently, in addition to his own individual paintings on sacred subjects such as The Winepress (1864), the artist would also produce a significant body of work destined for ecclesiastical settings in both Florence and his native England. These would include panel painting, pulpits, stained glass, and altarpieces.
His most extensive project was his work for the Chapel of Saint Michael and All Angels at Marlborough College in Wiltshire executed between 1875 and 1886. This project was the first of several collaborations with George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907), one of Britain's most prominent Gothic Revival architects. The Marlborough project consisted of a series of twelve panels entitled The Ministration of Angels on Earth and was accompanied by another eight panels of angels playing musical instruments.14 Marlborough pre-figures Stanhope's work at Holy Trinity in that he would repeat both the angel musician figures and the Sepulchre/Three Maries composition later in Florence.
In general, the ecclesiastical works of Stanhope are accomplished in a style that is more decorative, restrained, and highly colored than the rest of his work. They pay homage to both early Italian painting and to the decorative work of his compatriots, the Pre-Raphaelites.
In conclusion our ongoing search for John Roddam Stanhope's Florentine altarpieces has become both an intriguing art mystery and a mission to contribute to a better understanding of the career of this neglected artist. The Holy Trinity works stand apart from his body of work as a unique expression of his respect for Italy and its artists; the need to create a lasting memorial for his beloved daughter and a desire to make a lasting contribution to his adopted community of Florence. By creating them Stanhope modestly placed himself within the great tradition of artists who had designed sacred works for ecclesiastical settings in Florence. Evelyn De Morgan was indeed correct when she told her sister and us that "attention should be drawn" to these works. Almost 100 years on, we hope that we are finally honoring her request.
List of Mentioned Works of Art
SPENCER STANHOPE, J.R.
Charon and Psyche, c. 1883, oil on canvas, 95.2 x 138.4 cm, private collection: Lord Lloyd Webber.
Holy Trinity Main Altar Polyptych, 1892-4, tempera and gold on panel, location unknown.
Holy Trinity Memorial Chapel Polyptych, 1892-4, tempera and gold on panel, private collections.
The Sepulchre (part IX of The Ministration of Angels on Earth), 1874-9, oil or tempera on canvas, 135 x 174 cm, Marlborough College Chapel of St. Michael and All Angels, Wiltshire.
The Wine Press, 1864, Oil on canvas, 99 X 66.7 cm, Tate Gallery, London.
Why Seek Ye the Living Among the Dead? (also called Resurrection), c. 1886, oil, gesso, goldleaf, wax medium on canvas, 129.8 x 168.8 cm, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
BOTTICELLI, S., Mystic Nativity, c. 1501, Watercolour on canvas 108.5 x 75 cm, National Gallery, London.
FRA ANGELICO (and assistant), Christ Resurrected and the Maries at the Tomb, 1439-1443, Fresco, 181 x 151 cm, Cell 8, Convent of San Marco, Florence.
PIERO DELLA FRANCIESCA, Saint John the Evangelist (previously part of Polyptych of Saint Augustine), 1460-70, 132 x 56.6 cm, New York, Frick Collection.
1 A full-length annotated
documenting this research material will be forthcoming.
2 DE MORGAN, E., unpublished letter, UC Berkeley, Bancroft, BANC MSS 73/17z, undated. - Quoted with permission from the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, California.
3 STIRLING, A.M.W., Life’s Little Day: Some Tales and Reminiscences, Thornton Butterworth, London, 1924, p. 148.
4 LAGO,M. (ed), Burne-Jones Talking: His Conversations 1895-1898 Preserved By His Studio Assistant Thomas Rooke, University of Missouri Press, Missouri, 1981, p. 76.
5 WEINBERG, G.S., D.G. Rossetti’s Ownership of Botticelli’s “Smeralda Brandini”, in The Burlington Magazine, Jan 2004, CXLVI, p. 20-26.
6 HOOD, W., Fra Angelico at San Marco, YUP, New Haven/London, 1993, p. 222.
7 STIRLING, A.M.W., 1924, op. cit., p.148.
8 VALLANCE, A., The Tempera Exhibition at the Carfax Gallery, in The Studio, 35, 1905, p. 289-96.
9 HALL, J., Hall’s Iconografisch Handboek, Primavera, Leiden, 1996/2000, p. 108 (Orig.: Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, John Murray, London, revised edition 1979).
10 Ibid., p. 249.
11 FERGUSON, G., Signs and Symbols in Christian Art , OUP, London/Oxford/NY, 1954/89, p. 37.
12 POE, S., Mythology and Symbolism in Two Works of Roddam Spencer Stanhope’s Maturity, in The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies, New Series 12, Spring 2003, p. 35-57.
13 OPPENHEIM, J., The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914, C.U.P., Cambridge/London/NY, p. 36.
14 HALL, M., How Angels Came to School, in Country Life, March 8, 2001, p. 98-101.
For further information on St Mark's English Church see http://www.florin.ms/stmarksenglish.html
See also http://www.igiardinidelleregine.it
© Nic Peeters & Judy
LOUISA CATHERINE ADAMS KUHN
FLORENCE AND CHAOS, 1859-1870
ROBERT J. ROBERTSON
° CATHERINE LOUISA (ADAMS) KUHN/ AMERICA/ Kühn/ Caterina Luisa/ / America/ Bagni di Lucca/ / / / 1117/ Catherine Louise Kuhn, l'Amerique/ [Henry Adams' sister (for whom there is no extant tomb in the 'English' Cemetery in Florence). Her death from tetanus in Bagni di Lucca is described in the 'Chaos' chapter of the autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams. We are seeking a copy of Henry Adams' The Education of Henry Adams for the Biblioteca e Bottega Firoetta Mazzei.]
Proposed Subject: The Florentine letters of Louise Catherine Adams Kuhn (1831-1870), granddaughter of John Quincy Adams, daughter of Charles Francis Adams and Abigail Brooks Adams, sister of Henry Adams, and wife of Charles Kuhn of Philadelphia.
efore the American Civil War, Louisa and her husband Charles Kuhn traveled extensively in Europe, sojourning during 1859-1860 in Florence, Italy. Louisa loved Italy; she was 'hotly Italian', said her brother Henry. In a home letter, she referred to 'lovely Italy - the land of poetry & art & beauty'.
Louisa and Charles Kuhn were aristocratic Victorians; She was a Brahmin, a bona fide member of the New England elite. In Florence they leased a grand apartment in the Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore, employed a staff of servants, and went about constantly in an upper class society, a group composed of Americans as well as English, Italians, French, Germans, Greeks and Russians. Nathaniel and Anne Frothingham, Annie Jessie Smight, Count Alessandri, Count Bonci, Baron Lonenburg, and Countess Bobrinsky were among their friends. Louisa and Charles were eager Anglo-Florentines: they promenaded in the Cascine park, attended the opera, and danced all night at parties during Carneval. They both studied Italian. He lunched at the Jockey Club and read newspapers at the Gabinetto Vieusseux library. She circulated in Florentine society, paying and receiving social calls, and also hosting lunches and dinners.
In addition to living the 'gay' life in Florence, Louisa wrote twenty-six letters to her parents in America, letters that demonstrated remarkable powers of observation and expression; some of her prose was lyrical, almost poetical. She reported numerous details of her social and domestic lives, on several occasions demonstrating she was subject completely to the whim and will of her husband, She commented intelligently on political affairs, both American and Italian. In some letters she praised her father's achievements as a freshman Congressman, and in others, she reported the progress of Tuscany and Florence in the Risorgimento, the ongoing movement for the unification of Italy. Proclaiming herself a 'liberal', Louisa favoured the ouster of the Austrian Duke Leopold II and unification of Tuscany with Piedmont under King Victor Emanuel II. On 31 March 1860, she gleefully reported the results of a Tuscan plebiscite: 'we are annexed to Piedmont'. A few weeks later, she witnessed the triumphant arrival of Victor Emanuel II and his prime minister, Count Cavour. The king's parade through the streets of Florence was 'a splendid pageant', Louisa wrote, 'so brilliant in color & movement & sunshine, and music that it seemed like a dream'.
During the American Civil War,
and her husband Charles resided in the United States but later they
to Italy. In 1870 they lived again in Florence and summered in nearby
di Lucca. While residing at the Hotel d'Amerique in Bagni di Lucca,
suffered minor foot injuries in a carriage accident, injuries that
a tetanus infection and resulted in an agonizing death on the 13th of
Louisa was buried in Florence in the 'English' Cemetery, the final
place of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Theodore Parker and other
© Robert J. Robertson
NORTHERN LITERATURE IN NORTHERN LIGHTS
ravelling to Iceland in the nineteenth century was neither easy nor usual. Two nineteenth-century scholars, one an Englishman and one American, both of them connected to Florence and both enthusiastic about Iceland and Icelandic literature, visited Iceland. William Morris and Daniel Willard Fiske each wrote a poem on their first seeing Iceland. Both wrote diaries during their stay which are valuable sources for their impressions of the country and the literature. Both men were strange with strong wills.
William Morris (1834-96), an English poet, designer and socialist belonged to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and is still famous for his designs such as his wallpapers, typography and his books printed in the Kelmscott Press (1891). His patterns refer to the Gothic and Orient traditions and his colourful and decorative plants became widely and well known and influenced for example the style of Jugend. His motto was that 'Art must be useful', and he wished that every single little thing in people's homes should be a piece of art. In his spare time, besides writing poems and stories, Morris was modelling in clay, carving in wood and stone and working at illumination and embroidery. Thus the pattern to be followed all his life of running a number of different crafts simultaneously, and jumping from one to the other as the humour took him, was established early. Morris was already developing his natural facility for pattern designing, in which he at first followed the example of illuminated manuscripts in the Bodleian Library and the British Museum. He visited Florence in 1873 and was very fond of the city with all wealth of craft and art.
Daniel Willard Fiske (1831-1904) is remembered today primarily as a book collector, and rightfully so. His Icelandic Collection, his Dante Collection, his Petrarch Collection, all of which he donated to the Cornell University Library, are lasting monuments to his scholarly and bibliophile interests. The Icelandic Collection, that is largest one, was closest to his heart, and is best known in the scholarly world today. Taking retirement as a Professor at Cornell, Fiske lived his last 21 years in Florence, and he bought Villa Gherardesca, calling it Villa Landor (now Villa Torracia), in San Domenico, Fiesole, which was formerly owned by Walter Savage Landor.
From Alta Macadam, Americans in Florence: A Complete Guide to the City and Places Associated with Americans Past and Present, Florence: Giunti, 2003. Villa La Torraccia is towards the middle right of the map.
Iceland was still a poor society, enduring deeply difficult years, including periods of famine and heavy emigration, but the granting of a new constitution by the Danish Crown introduced a measure of home rule that marked a first step on the road to independence. The emigration topic was a poignant one for Icelanders, as they were deeply attached to land and culture, and generally told 20% of the population emigrated to North America during the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.
Under any circumstances a tour in Iceland involved a good deal of discomfort, and roughing it in a manner to which few travellers were accustomed; hence it happened that the comparatively small number of persons who visited its shores usually did so with some definite object in view, other than simple change of air and scene. The principal objects were geographical researches, sports and literature. “Those who go without any special interest in anything are likely to be disappointed,” says A Handbook for Travellers from the late nineteenth century. The main feeling for Iceland of foreign travellers was the the country was either like heaven or like hell. Fiske was of the first opinion. Morris was not so sure!
Morris belonged to the so-called Pre-Raphaelite Brethren, founded 1848, that were a group of people, educated artists such as English painters and poets, who wanted to emphasise that they belonged to the Italian fifteenth-century masters, i.e. before Raphael. They wanted to make art more simple and more profound and they were admired medieval impression and adoration of Romantic beauty. In this group were for example. John Everett Millais (1829-96) and Holman Hunt (1827-1910) as well as the poet and the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82). Later on people like the painter Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98) as well as the art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900) joined the Brotherhood.
From an early age Morris adored old Icelandic mythology and literature and a turning point for him was in the year 1868 when he became acquainted with Eiríkur Magnússon, an Icelander who specialised in Danish and Norse literature at Cambridge. Magnússon encouraged Morris to get knowledge of the medieval Icelandic literature. Their friendship was to result in Morris´ serious study of Icelandic, under Magnússon´s direction, and in their collaboration in translating many of the Sagas. Morris threw himself passionately into Icelandic literature. It is interesting to follow their co-operative work. Morris preferred to use old English words to get closer to the original sagas. Morris reaches for the clearer, more dramatic and, quite often, more archaic language, substituting “bade” for “ordered”, “mickle” for “great”. The word “leiðtogi” a guide, was translated as “load-tugger” having the accumulated meaning of the person who leads on with a rope. Translating was a word-game, an Anglo-Icelandic Scrabble. After many years of practice such coinings of composite words become second nature to Morris. His old fashioned Icelandic became the magic language of the fairy stories he turned to late in life. By the time he went to Iceland he and Magnússon had completed their prose translation of Gunnlaug's Saga Ormstungu (The Saga of Gunnlaug the Wormtongue), Grettis Saga (The Saga of Grettir the Strong), Laxdæla Saga and some of the poems from the Poetic Edda. They had finished Eyrbyggja Saga in April, only a few weeks before they left for Iceland 1871. Their prose version of the Völsunga Saga, entitled the Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs, had been published by glorious of stories, unrivalled in its depth and intensity and passion. When he arrived in Iceland he was already an eager propagandist for the epic of the Volsungs: “This is the Great Story of the North, which should be to all our race what the Tale of Troy was to the Greeks,” he said.
Morris was very influenced by the Icelandic Family Sagas and worked on his poetic work The Earthly Paradise, published 1868. “Gudrun´s Lovers,” perhaps the best poem in the entire work, was finished by June, 1869, and work was begun on “The Fostering of Aslaug.” The Lovers of Gudrun displays the Northern influence most clearly: A Northern influence that was to be marked in much that Morris wrote and thought hereafter. This poem was based in part upon Morris´ own adaptation of the Laxdæla Saga. Laxdæla Ssaga tells about the strong woman Gudrun, her four husbands and not least about the one she never got, but loved most of all of the men around her. Morris had always seen as the key to the enigma of Guðrún the last line of Laxdæla Saga. When she is old, her son asks her which of the men she had known she loved the best. She replies, “þeim var ek verst er ek unni mest”, which Morris translates. “I did the worst to him I loved the most”. He travelled gloomily through the scenery of the Laxdæla Saga.
As Morris had been stimulated for many years by the Old Icelandic literature he decided to travel to that country. And as a matter of fact he had, as a child, read all of Sir Walter Scott´s novels, and as we know Scott had quite a lot of his sources in Old Icelandic literature. Morris made two trips to Iceland, the first in the summer 1871 and the second 1873. On each of these expeditions he was away from England for around two months. Although of such short duration these journeys had an extraordinary impact upon Morris, providing much-needed emotional sustenance and suggesting a more positive political direction. It was in Iceland, seeing life lived at the barest limits of survival, that Morris learned the lesson he turned into a belief of political view over the next decade: “that the most grinding poverty is a trifling evil compared with the inequality of classes” The landscape itself, in its barrenness and luridness, so different from England, had the force of revelation. Morris´s romantic desert stayed in his mind for ever! Both Morris and Fiske liked the sagas first of all for their story-telling qualities.
Morris responded to the directness of the sagas. The concise language mirrored his emotional sterness, as in the Völsunga Saga, at the terrible parting of Sigurd and Brynhild, there is nothing wanting in it, nothing forgotten, nothing repeated, nothing overstrained; all tenderness is shown without the use of a tender word. Sigurd Völsung is his last and longest poem, published 1876 under strong influences from his acquintances with Iceland and Icelanders. Morris looked on himself as a quasi-saga hero. Morris came to Iceland as a place of pilgrimage. His sincere interest in the saga sites gave shape to his works. Morris admired especially the saga treatment of male friendship: “the dealings between the two friends Gunnar and Njál in the noble story of Burnt Njál are matchless for manly and far-sighted friendliness in the midst of the most trying surroundings.” Could the same be said of Morris and Rossetti or Burne-Jones, the former mentioned Pre-Raphaelites?
Morris' marriage with Jane Burden was not a happy one and a love affair beetween her and the former mentioned poet and painter Rossetti was probably the main course for his travel to Iceland and to make it stronger Rossetti despised the country. Much has been written about the triangle of him Rossetti and Jane and a part of that could his journey have been a rescue. In leaving his wife at Kelmscott with Rossetti, “the man of the South”, and in setting off to Iceland Morris cut himself off decisively from old allegiances. His new passion for the sagas was itself in effect a discarding of Rossetti and Pre-Raphaelite influence: he regarded the bluntness of the old Norse literature as “a good corrective to the maundering side of mediaevalism”. In travelling to Iceland with good male companions, only one of whom – Charles Faulkner, also from the Brotherhood – was even remotely connected with Rossetti, he was close to recreating the carefree expeditions of his Pre-Rossetti period.
They set off in July with the Danish mail boat, 'Diana', and Morris found the slow journey northwards frustrating beyond belief. But finally on board he wrote in his journal: “I felt happy and adventurous, as if all kinds of things were going to happen and very glad to be going.” On the west side we could see a line of rocks and skerries cut out from the shore, low green slopes behind them, and them the mountain feet; looking up from the firth, which was all sunlighted now, the great peaks lowered too they seemed to run into the same black, green-striped hill-sides as on the east.” He also found Iceland the most romantic of all deserts! That desert stayed within his mind forever.
After Morris arrived back to England he worked on his Kelmscott Manor. He was making his beautiful book design, which made him so famous. He stayed in Florence for a while. After that the city stayed in his mind as an architectural spectacular. Then he made his second trip to Iceland 1873. Only weeks after Italy, Morris was again on board the 'Diana'.
In the summer of 1873 the 'Diana' crossing was rough. When in Reykjavík he had planned to take a different route this summer, not a trek around the Saga sites but a more adventurous journey north-east across the relatively untravelled tracts of the interior to Dettifoss as did Fiske six years later, the most powerful waterfall in Europe, and to Akureyri, the main port on the northern coast. As he had read quite a lot of the medieval Icelandic literature he was very keen on being able to visit as many of the places of the sagas as possible. In his trips to Iceland he was very faithful to himself as he had intended to get really acquinted to the country from the point of the sagas.
Morris had a profound sense of history, particulary that of Iceland and the Golden Age of the sagas during the medieval Commonwealth. His knowledge of the saga literature itself was similary intimate, as was his fluency with the classic meters of Old Icelandic poetry. In London he had come to be regarded as an expert on Nordic literature and culture and was frequently referred to in questions of classical Nordic literature.
Daniel Willard Fiske was born in Ellisburg in state of New York. He was a bit older than Morris and travelled to Iceland six years after Morris had been there, in the summer of 1879. Fiske mentioned Morris in his letters and he was acquanted with his poetry. Shortly after the establishment of Cornell University in Ithaca, North America, Fiske was named Professor of North European languages as well as the Librarian of the University Library, and he held the office until 1883. He taught Old Icelandic, German, Swedish and Danish. Then he moved to Italy and settled down in Florence.
Several books had already been published on geography and travels in Iceland. Concerning literature he had access to Dasent´s translations on the Icelandic Sagas and had prepared his visit to Iceland very well and read those travelling books that were available. He read the works of Bayard Taylor and he describes the landscape and the country as beautiful and rough. He describes the light, the northern light. Both Fiske and Morris considered the light is nowhere so clear, clean and bright as in Iceland. They were very impressed by the landscape, its clear colours and nuances. The northern bright light during 24 hours a day effected them deeply.
Many of his private letters now kept in Fiske Icelandic Collection are about book collecting of Icelandic books. Also letters from the greatful Icelandic people thanking him for sending books, pictures, chessboards and chessmen because he did not only collect Icelandic materials, he also gave a lot of books to the inhabitants. He was considered the benefactor and a friend to the Iceland people. Fiske sent constantly bookboxes to the only school of high level in Reykjavík and after a while they decided to found a library for that school. That library has been, from that time, in a pretty house, called Ithaca or Íþaka.
He employed several arduous and ambitious bookcollectors for collecting Icelandic material, to whom he sent booklists and they put much effort in searching and collecting all over the country. Fiske paid well. It never occurred to him that any Icelandic item was too expensive. It seems that he sent a certain amount of money for them to debit from as might be needed. Every now and then they tell him how much of money is left. It is really nice to read their letters because they are discussing books both from the inside and the outside. His collectors did really make effort to get him the best exempla to be found in the whole country. Necessary also for his bibliographical work.
Fiske and the Icelandic nation shared a love of chess. Chess is an important chapter in Fiske's correspondence. Chess was considered the national sport in Iceland long before Fiske came on his visit. The play is even mentioned in the Icelandic sagas from the thirteenth century. Fiske became very enthusiastic about The Chess Association and he sent them many grand gifts. Chessbooks, chesstables and chessmen both in large sizes and pocket variants and at the beginning 25 English pounds. In 1901 Fiske was elected the member of honour and the chief of honour of the society. He himself was a good chessplayer. He wrote “A very little booklet of chess” and another work “Í uppnámi”. He also published the book “Chess in Iceland”.
Fiske donated to the National Library of Iceland all his chess books. This collection is one of 13 special collections there and has a special place of honour in the library. There are many rare books, beautifully bound. I can mention books from the sixteenth century. That collection is called Collection of Fiske's Chessbooks and is an excellent one.
There were quite similar purposes behind Fiske´s and Morris travels to Iceland. Both were curious about this mysterious country far in the north. Morris came to revive the medieval literature and he was very keen on taking trips to so many of the sagas´ places as possible. Fiske was also thinking of the literature and of the wonders of the country. He was already then eager to buy Icelandic books and took the opportunity to get acquinted to all the people who could possibly help him in collecting. Fiske's affection for Iceland and Icelanders cannot be entirely separated from his bibliomania, for which close and frequent contacts were vital. During his last twenty-one years, the years he lived in Florence, he amassed an incomparable collection of Icelandic imprints. Already then in Florence he had founded the fine large library. After his death the library was delivered to Cornell University in Ithaca, State of New York.
In Florence he compiled the book Mímir, firstly in order to inform the people of Iceland, on the one hand, of the wide and encouraging interest taken by the learned of other nations in their early literature and history, and of the valuable results of that interest, and, secondly, to bring the foreign student of Old-Northern letters into nearer relations with the only region in which the Old-Northern language is still a living speech, in which the Sagas are still household reading, and the sense and sentiment of the ancient poems are still felt, in other Germanic lands, the classics of the earlier periods.
Icelandic nature exerted a major influence on both Willard Fiske and William Morris through their trips. The landscape and forces of nature frightened them a bit, as they imagined malevolent creatures in them. Fiske writes in his diary that all is beautiful, it is all fascinating – although sometimes with the fascination of awe. For there is no country, travelled of man, which combines as Iceland does, the opposite marvels of frost and steam, of ice and fire, of gloom and conour, of darkness and light. He thinks it is, on the whole, unequalled in all Europe for its flowing fountains of seething water, for its astonishing streams of lava, of its vast volumes of milk-white torrents plunging over grim and swarthy rocks, for the varied, weird and fantastic forms of its mountains, for the intense green of its meads and lowlands and of its climbing slopes, for the luminous tints of its peaks, for the splendors of its heavens, and for the gray, overawing desolation poured out by its volcanoes. Once one has got over the surprise at learning that God has given the sun to this favoured land for a light by night as well as by day, where at midnight one can reads a guide-book, or gaze at the landscape, near or far, with the same ease and enjoyment as at midday. If one is early enough, a pale aurora can still be seen shimmering in the sky, or see that phenomenon in its full magnificence, wrapping the whole sky in a mantle of overwhelming and ever shifting beauty. Obviously the light effects him very much. When back home Morris dreamed of “the beautiful and terrible land,” and of the many tales that had yet to be told concerning it. These dreams and these tales were to haunt him for the rest of his life. All these natural phenomena – fjords and strands, greenery and snow, light and shadow, mountains and plains, crags and rock-stewn fields, murmur of water falling and distant sound of silence. Nothing again could ever quite take the place of the northern light, the northern land, and the northern people.
© Kristin Bragadottir,
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'.
'WHITE MARBLE: THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF HIRAM POWERS, SCULPTOR'
THE DRAFT MANUSCRIPT OF DR CLARA LOUISE DENTLER DONATED TO THE SMITHSONIAN' INSTITUTE OF AMERICAN ART
Dentler and Powers: Kindred
hat Clara Dentler should write an authoritative biography on Hiram Powers appears as the epitome of poetic justice since the two shared many similar circumstances in life. Both were of humble family origins from New England: Dentler a native of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and Powers born at Woodstock, Vermont. They demonstrated precocious ability among their respective siblings; she was musically and academically gifted with proficiency for languages; he possessed a strong analytical curiosity that made him a mechanical wizard with an artistic eye. Their religious affiliations were in the Protestant churches. Dentler, a Lutheran, married a seminarian student, who later became a minister in that faith. She capitalized on this association by attending Hamma Theological Seminary at Wittenberg College with her husband and consequently became the first woman in her denomination to earn a theological degree. Powers’ ancestors had begun the Universalist church in Vermont, and from its liberal teachings he later joined the Swedenborgian sect influenced by friends and supporters in Cincinnati, Ohio. Neither of them was rigid in their in their acceptance of religious creeds and both tolerated an open dialogue as Dentler would attend the Episcopalian Church of St James in Florence and Powers often discussed his convictions on spiritualism in many letters particularly with Elizabeth Barrett Browning, his good friend and neighbor. Indeed, Dentler so admired Mrs. Browning’s poem on Powers’ ideal statue, The Greek Slave, that she incorporated the idea of the line “Thunders of White Silence” in her manuscript for all the “White Marble” that the artist used in his works.
In the Collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Gift of William Wilson Corcoran.
Both Dentler and Powers succeeded in part because of the support from dedicated people who saw in them the spark of genius. Dentler’s college professors and her husband encouraged her to pursue research and writing. Publishers in America and the United Kingdom accepted over 400 articles by Dentler between 1922 and 1932 on her travels and view of European culture. Along with her duties as a pastor’s wife, Dentler also taught European History part time at a public high school in Redlands, California for over twenty years. In 1924 she published a biography of Katherine Luther, wife to the profoundly important Protestant Reformation thinker, Martin Luther. Although she never completed her doctoral studies at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, the Senate records of this institution clearly reveal the faith among the faculty in her scholarship. Powers’ creative talents were likewise encouraged and promoted seriously by others.
While a salesman for a clock factory in Ohio, the owner, Luman Watson, urged Powers to pursue his mechanical skills and inventiveness. He was promoted to foreman and his talents attracted the attention of a museum/exhibit hall manager the Frenchman, Joseph Dorfeuille. Powers was able to create the movable wax figures and displays that earned him a solid reputation among Cincinnati’s populace. His obvious authentic creations drew the praise of the German sculptor Frederick Eckstein who offered Powers an apprenticeship, and Mrs. Frances Trollope who promoted him to her influential friends. Indeed the Trollope family would later come to Florence themselves as expatriates and rekindle their glowing admiration of Powers’ artistic talents. Both Dentler and Powers’ abilities would lead them to the pinnacle of their careers in Europe and each gained greatly from their travels to their final destination of Florence.
Dentler was a well traveled scholar, visiting European destinations almost annually with her husband from 1920 to 1932. Powers’ travels from Vermont to Ohio began as a matter of survival after his father lost the family farm to an unsecured debt. But it was in Ohio that Powers earned his keep as a traveling salesman from Indiana to Kentucky on horseback. He learned about people and he was later welcomed as a budding artist in Boston and Washington, D C before making the decision to achieve greater fame in Italy.
As American expatriates in Florence, both Dentler and Powers perfected their crafts and reached the pinnacle of their careers. Each was honored by visiting Americans and Europeans alike. Each garnered government accolades and awards. Both lived to see the fulfillment of a life time’s achievement of struggle in their respective fields.
Dentler may have had a more onerous path in one very harsh contrast to Powers. She arrived in Florence at the age of fifty-eight recently widowed with no other family or staff in a Europe just emerging from the horrors of World War II in 1945. Powers had traveled to Italy as a young man in 1837 with his devoted wife and two small children. His family grew and prospered as did his reputation and the demand for his work. He gathered a loyal and able group of expert Italian carvers that harmonized well with his quest for creating fine white marble statuary.
Not surprisingly, both Dentler and Powers were their best marketing agents, promoting their work through extensive correspondence. While many of Dentler’s letters on Powers remain archived and have yet to be published, a substantial number of Powers’ letters have been published from numerous repositories and museum collections. Each had maintained a connection to the US Consulate in Florence: Powers during its nascent formation and even serving briefly as a consul himself, and in later years befriending the US Consul General James Lorimer Graham, Jr. who ordered two works from Powers’ studio. Dentler received her honorary Doctorate of Letters in the ballroom of the American consulate and was included on the guest list for many of its social functions.
With their devotion to American ideals of freedom, both appreciated the political diversity needed to sustain republican principles. Powers witnessed the rise of nationalism in Italy and favored the independence of the common people from foreign rule and that of the Roman Popes. Dentler began her work in Florence as a visiting professor at the University of Florence teaching American democracy; and this position was before the Marshall Plan or the crucial 1948 Italian elections that re-established a parliamentarian system on the peninsula after more than twenty-five years of fascist dictatorship.
Remarkably both Dentler and Powers despite their financial struggles managed to remain vital contributing members of their crafts. Dentler worked well into her late 80’s. From 1945 to 1977 she did all of her own typing and worked as a teacher, translator, magazine editor, researcher and writer. Orders for Powers’ work continued into his declining years. His studio was a critical stop on virtually every foreigners’ entry into Florence. With a large family to support in Italy and numerous relatives depending on him in Ohio, Powers succeeded during the last few years of his life to buy land above the Boboli Gardens and design his villa and studio in an area where his married children could also construct nearby residences.
The only incongruity between these two very deserving and extraordinary talents is how history has treated them. Dentler’s publications are out-of-print, and there is no monograph on her life’s achievements. Powers’ work is greatly valued and in the annals of American Art has become a classic among 19th Century sculptors. Many articles and several biographies explore his genius. And yet there is strong evidence in text analysis that Dentler’s ten year effort to research Powers’ life and her completed manuscript were fundamental sources for Dr. Richard P Wunder’s two volume biography on Powers published in 1991. Through their correspondence from1967 to 1977, located at the Van Wylen Library in Hope College, Holland, Michigan, it was understood that Dentler and Wunder would co-author a biography on Hiram Powers. The Smithsonian agreed to accept Dr. Wunder’s proposal but only wanted his name on the final version. After receiving a copy of Dentler’s draft manuscript on Powers, the Smithsonian representatives decided that the work did not possess conclusive documentation, and that Dentler’s reputation as a scholar was labeled an “enthusiast” at best. Undeterred, Dentler had settled on more than one occasion to allow others the publication credit for her words and research obviously favoring the extension of knowledge over authentication. In contrast, Powers often had the choice of producing copies of his original models to eager clients. He controlled the orders and held the original plaster casts of his designs. His business acumen and success were far greater than Dentler’s work.
Dentler on Powers: The Sources
One of the fortunate avenues for researchers in tracing the genealogy of New Englanders is the availability of recorded material. Documents from the arrival of the first Europeans in the early 1600s are largely intact. Land records, deeds, court proceedings, tax levies and marriage contracts by and large are extant in the numerous collections of local and state historical archives. Dentler was able to establish Powers’ pedigree with such ample resources. She also had access to the letters between Hiram Powers and his friend George Perkins Marsh in which details survive on the early Powers’ family ancestry. (1) Dentler was determined in her attempt to recreate a family chart from the Irish progenitor, Walter Powers, to Hiram’s grandchildren especially the lines of Longworth Powers (2) and Louise Greenough Powers Ibbotson (3). Unfortunately when the Smithsonian Institution had their staff microfilm the enlarged, crumbling sheets drawn by Dentler’s hand, the camera did not clearly connect all the family members in an easily discernable lineage. It is suffice to say that Dentler was able to interview several of the members of the Michahelles branch of the Powers’ family. She was lent many of Hiram Powers’ letters from Roger and Mark Michahelles who resided in Florence. She also had access to Powers’ studio records from Signora Seeber when the later was remodeling the Powers’ villa above the Boboli Gardens. Much of this primary source material was later sold or destroyed. Signora Seeber only allowed Dentler to view materials at the villa and to take notes. She was never allowed to copy individual letters. Once Dentler had reviewed materials, Signora Seeber often burned much of the Powers’ family letters and the diaries kept by Louise Powers Ibbotson on account of the family arguments that these sources revealed. Even what Dentler was given by Roger and Mark Michahelles has not survived intact, as the contents of Dentler’s apartment were removed by the American consulate, whose agents appeared after her unexpected death during a trip to Perugia to visit friends in February 1977 attests. What letters she had been permitted to keep by Roger Michahelles she had sold to private collectors as a way of earning her fees when writing the biography. Only the draft manuscript White Marble; The Life and Letters of Hiram Powers, Sculptor, which she had donated to the Smithsonian in the 1960s survived as a testimony of the primary resources provided by the Michahelles family. Her other papers and a copy of her manuscript on Powers were presented by her nephew, Charles R Snow, as the executor of her estate, to Dr. Wunder.
Regarding the surviving financial records of Powers’ life, Dentler was able to gain access to a variety of other archival sources that exist for scholars to examine today. Letters between Sidney Brooks, Powers’ agent in New York, and the artist exist in part at the William L Clements Library at The University of Michigan. (4) Letters between Miner Kilbourne Kellog (5) were also available to Dentler as were letters between C M Eaton and Powers concerning the order for statues of the American Presidents Washington and Jackson. (6)
Dentler also had access to other documents and photographs particularly those created by Longworth Powers in his Florence Photography studio. (7) Because Powers’ work was controversial in some segments of American society for his portrayal of the nude female form, Dentler also had a rich source of contemporary articles from newspapers and periodicals, which though widely written and successfully located by Dentler, have now some formation at the Smithsonian. (8) Finally among the interviews recorded in her alumnae file at Wittenberg University, Dentler indicated that she had written over 600 letters herself to authenticate as accurately as possible the provenance and present-day-ownership of existing Powers’ statuary.
The Legacy of White Marble:
It is a daunting task for any historian to review the draft manuscript of another and try to discern their final intention when no authorized and completed copy has been accepted for publication. In this case, Dentler’s work is mostly a final typed draft with minor spelling revisions in her own handwriting. Since she had been hired in 1951 to produce a biography on Powers by Roger Michahelles, in part both as a family record and as a way to promote the sale of the remaining Powers’ works in his Florence studio, Dentler remained determined to do her best. Once the Powers’ collection, however, was sold to the Smithsonian in the 1960s, Dentler did not deliver a copy of her Powers’ manuscript to Roger Michahelles. He had suffered head injuries when he was hit by an automobile in Florence. With his mental faculties reduced, Dentler unwisely tried to prod his memory but did little more than to disturb his equilibrium such as it remained. When Dentler received partial payment for her Powers’ manuscript from the Smithsonian upon the sale of the Powers’ studio and with the difficulties she encountered with Roger’s health, she finally gave up trying to present the Michahelles family with a copy of her work.
Even with these developments, one can advance substantially the biography of Hiram Powers based on the analysis of Dentler’s research. In her introductory chapter, she mirrors her desire to illuminate her subject’s life by focusing on the theme of Powers’ quest to study and produce art in Italy. She frames his thoughts as he travels simply on his journey. His great faith in himself is revealed, as he speaks neither French nor Italian, languages critical to his route and final destination. Rather, he believed in his talents, his honest character, and his devotion to sculpture which he sensed would lead him to achieve greatness. Dentler sets this tone well noting that the existential difficulties of travel through strange lands did not deter Powers’ fundamental confidence in himself. Yet there is no hint of an inflated ego or pride in her subject.
In chapters II through VIII Dentler reviewed the humble family origins of the Powers in America during the 18th and 19th Centuries. His paternal grandfather was a strong influence being a frontier doctor who often had to travel among hostile Indian tribes. With this hardy example of backwoods life, Powers’ education was, however, limited. He was taught by a young school teacher who was also his cousin; not an unusual circumstance in small rural communities of a then sparsely populated Vermont. Even though he never advanced beyond the elementary level of formal book learning, Powers was an adept learner. He was able to absorb mechanical knowledge easily and had an eye for invention. In his temperament, he was able to take direction well when offered and he learned at an early age to be politic and to later seek out patrons. He possessed a good deal of common sense and believed that, if he were to survive and prosper as an artist, he would need the financial support of wealthy men. Powers only accepted money as loans, working very hard in later years in Florence to repay his benefactors. His debts were personal obligations that he would not dismiss.
Dentler provided excellent documentation regarding Powers’ personal philosophy on art often from his own letters to clients and patrons explaining his views. The most telling subject or controversy surrounding his work was the use of nudity particularly in his female ideal statues which he addressed directly in letters found in Chapter XVII. Powers considered the human form as divine inspiration, hence it held for him a profound, religious meaning. He answered many of his critics that Victorian prudishness on the subject of undraped statues was not an affront to his artistic sense of beauty but also a negation of God’s creating mankind in His image. Powers’ statues of Eve Tempted and The Greek Slave deal best with his belief in the dignity and sacredness of the human nude. He dismissed, however, as unacceptable the idea of people worshipping his creation of white marble statuary as divine objects which Dentler described in Chapters XVIII and XIX. Powers insisted that the rage or fad among such people when viewing his work was inappropriate behavior. He even went so far as to chastise and ban those from his studio who attempted to kiss the marble models or faint in their presence. In answering his critics and admirers, Dentler showed that Powers was firm but also fair in his sense of balance between his artistic views and practices and those who attempted to express their opinion on his work.
The character of the man comes across well in this manuscript. In Chapter VI, Powers appears all too human as an expatriate. He suffered homesickness from the separation of friends and family in America. While living and working in Florence, Powers addressed this feeling with hard work and associating liberally with other American and English expatriates. His kindness to strangers was almost a fault as revealed in Chapters XX and XXI. Seldom did he refuse to offer his assistance to other struggling artists and their families. Sometimes his efforts met with dangerous consequences but mostly he was rewarded with tremendous gratitude. All who sought admission to his home or studio were graciously received. Meals consisted of uncomplicated dishes but a hardy cuisine.
Powers was friendly with other artists and not the least bit competitive. He often went to great lengths to aid those in financial difficulties without seeking favors in return. Dentler emphasized correctly that his success in life and as an artist was the balancing of his common sense with his perseverance to tackle obstacles and not to be ashamed to ask for help himself when needed. Powers understood the need to manage one’s life and one’s beliefs in harmony as much as possible and to leave the greater complex issues to a higher power. Dentler recorded correctly that Powers’ almost daily letter writing, mainly composed in the evening hours, was his saving grace. He poured his concerns about life and art into his correspondence. It gave him great pleasure to maintain contact with his many friends and family in this manner.
Dentler’s chapter notes are informative and well documented offering further rich insights. She provided a list of names of the Italian marble carvers in the Powers’ studio and their specialties from the Chapter XII notes. She likewise detailed the location of many of Powers’ works. His friends, patrons and subscribers are portrayed often with brief biological sketches, and Dentler quotes more of Powers’ letters at length in her notes section. She omits foreign contemporary views which seems rather peculiar when viewing the names of some of his European clients. Even when reviewing the materials in the English language that were available to her, Dentler did not resolve the mystery of those attending Powers’ funeral and his daughter’s diary account of the event. Louise Powers Ibbotson claimed that her father was buried next to his previously deceased children. Yet in the Porta á Pinti Cemetery his tomb (E15D) is located in a different section from theirs (A11P(152)).
*°§ 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)
*°§ 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
Contemporary Photograph of Hiram Powers in his workclothes in the Diary of Susan Horner, 1861-1862. See entries for Horner and Zileri for members of this family. Courtesy of Alyson Price, Archivist, Harold Acton Library, The British Institute of Florence.
POWERS (1805-1873), an
American, even American Indian, came to Florence in 1837 to study and
and settled in Via Serragli, the artists' street of the day, with his
and two children. He earned an international reputation for his
for which he liked to choose the marble and supervise its quarrying
and he received considerable acclaim for the busts he did of several
of the United States. The cemetery also contains evidence of his grief:
James (+1838), Frances (+1857) and Florence (+1857), his children, who
died at five, eight and seventeen years of age in this their adopted
Pastore Luigi Santini
See Giuliana Artom Treves, Golden Ring, passim. We are seeking descendants of Hiram Powers, son of Hiram Powers, the sculptor, who moved to Florida where he married and had a daughter.
This statue, 'The Greek Slave', was the centrepiece of the Crystal Palace Exhibition and the subject of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Epigraph/Sonnet. It shows a Greek Christian slave being auctioned by Muslim Turks. In her poem Elizabeth draws the analogy also to American enslavement of Africans, Russian enslavement of serfs. Near Hiram Powers' tomb is that of Nadezda (Hope) De Santis, a black Nubian slave baptized Orthodox, who died in Florence in freedom.
Hiram Powers' 'The Last of Her Tribe', shows a Native American woman fleeing her captors. Every detail is observed down to the delicate sewing of the mocassins. The theme repeats that of 'The Greek Slave', a woman representing freedom against male oppressors.
Hiram Powers' statue of America, which is more truly American and more beautiful, than the Statue of Liberty, the gift of France. This plaster cast was discovered in his Florentine studio in 1966, along with many others which were purchased by museums in Washington, D.C. but which have not been adequately studied, publicized or exhibited. Margaret Fuller's death, along with her husband and baby in the shipreck of the Elizabeth off Fire Island was partly caused by the colossal statue by Hiram Powers of Calhoun in its hold. Nathanael Hawthorne observed him and his studio for the writing of The Marble Faun . Among Powers' works is the head of the Princess Matilde Buonaparte Demidoff. Hiram Powers' sculpture career had begun with his modelling Dante's Commedia in wax in Cincinatti, Ohio, for Frances Trollope .
Dentler also did not always reveal clearly where her information came from when she wrote over 500 letters of inquiry. Rather she often suggested that the information was correct when gleaned from several confirming sources. In her defense, she did admit when something was unknown to her through her own research.
Dentler’s appendix is a master-stroke of cataloging which is not surprising given her previous experience in creating the inventory of the James Lorimer Graham, Jr. (B181) papers located mysteriously in Florence after World War II in the Palazzo Orsini, now part of the Palazzo dei Congressi, on the Via Valfonda where he at one time resided.
JAMES LORIMER GRAHAM, JR/ AMERICA/ ( Graam [Graham]/ Giacomo Lorimer/ Natale/ America/ Firenze/ 30 Aprile/ 1876/ Anni 41/ 1355/ [Coat of Arms, Portrait Medallion] [Alpha] /NEW YORK/ 1835/ JAMES LORIMER GRAHAM, JR/ [Omega] /FLORENCE/1876/ Freeman, 224/ B18L/ Medallion, Launt Thompson, 1833-1894
She gave a very detailed
of works created by Powers. When she located an unknown date for a
she grouped it within the category or modeling copy that Powers had
Her thoroughness achieved almost precise authentication of the
of each piece. Powers’ American and European clients are listed
well as orders from institutions and governments. These
revealed repeat orders from several patrons. Powers himself kept
accurate accounts and Dentler had access to them. Many of his
have become part of museum collections as the original owners
the legacy of the artist’s works. Indeed even in his lifetime,
undertakings were made to salvage two of his statues, 'Eve Tempted' and
'Calhoun', which met with shipwrecks. One, the 'Calhoun', notably
was from the passenger steamer the 'Elizabeth', which when it sank off
of Long Island, New York, 19 July 1850, claimed the lives of many of
passengers including Margaret Fuller Ossoli, and her husband the
and their infant son. A sad irony perhaps that the body of this
and talented woman was never recovered from the sea, but the enduring
of Powers was saved at great expense and risk. Truly his
realized his genius, both the man and his creations.
1. Letters between Perkins and
are located in three repositories:
I. The Marsh Collection at the Special Collections Department, Bailey-Howe Library, University of Vermont has letters from 1847 to 1871.
II. The Powers’ Papers at the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC has numerous holdings on the artist.
III. The New York Historical Society.
2. Documents and letters on the Longworth Powers’ line are preserved in the Powers’ Family Collection at the Winter Park Public Library in Florida. It is part of the Winter Park History and Archives Collection. A grandson, named Hiram Powers, who married Rose Mills, was active in real estate in the beautiful lakes around the Winter Park and Orlando area. He was also a Professor of Literature at what is now Rollins College in Winter Park which therefore has original statuary by the sculptor.
3. Louise Greenough Powers (1838-1929) married Alfred Ibbotson. She maintained several diaries that remained in the family. Louise and Alfred built a villa near her father’s in Florence. Their daughter, Mary Florence Ibbotson, married Henri Michahelles of Florence and they had four children: Ernest, Mark, Roger and Christine. Dentler had access to the original diaries and information in private family correspondence from these Michahelles grandchildren.
4. A miscellaneous bound collection called the Sidney Brooks Letterbook. Pages 2-10, 30-31, 56, 60-61 and 79 hold direct correspondence between the two men.
5. The Miner Kilbourne Kellog Papers 1841-1863 are deposited in the Manuscript and Archives Collection of the Indiana Historical Society.
6. Letters from Powers to Eaton, 1845-1867, concerning these statues are found in The Eaton-Mayhew Papers in the Library of Maryland History belonging to the Maryland Historical Society.
7. The University Portrait Collection for the Harvard University Art Museums in Cambridge, Massachusetts contain several photographs of Powers and of his statues in their Archives and Manuscript repositories.
8. There is a Hiram Powers’
of printed American articles and advertisements titled Notices of
Powers Works, 1847-1849, 1873 and 1876 among a collection on Hiram
and Powers'’Family Papers transferred from the National Museum of
American Art to the Smithsonian Institution between 1975 and 1985.
© Jeffrey Begeal, 2004
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Religione, nazione, affari: Il patrimonio della memoria nella comunità svizzera di Firenze/ Religion, Nation, Commerce: Memory as Heritage Among the Swiss in Florence Alessandro Volpi, Università di Pisa || 'Sotto i mirti della dolce Italia': I russi/ 'Beneath the myrtles of sweet Italy': The Russians Michail Talalay, Russian Academy of Sciences || Da Mosca a Firenze: i Kudrjavcev e l’Italia/ From Moscow to Florence: The Kudriavcev and Italy Lucia Tonini, Università 'l'Orientale', Napoli || Le ragioni di una assenza, i motivi di una presenza: Polacchi e Ungheresi nel Cimitero 'degli Inglesi'/ Reasons for absence, motives for their presence: Poles and Hungarians in the 'English Cemetery' Luca Bernardini, Università di Milano || Gli Europei del Nord: dall'Olanda, dalla Scandinavia e dai Paesi baltici/ Northern Europeans: Holland, Scandinavia and the Baltic Countries Asker Pelgrom, Rijkuniversiteit Groningen, Olanda || Due sepolture al Cimitero ‘degli Inglesi’: una traccia per l’attività fiorentina di Félicie de Fauveau/ Two Tombs in the ‘English’ Cemetery: Vestiges of Felicie de Fauveau’s work in Florence Silvia Mascalchi, Istituto Statale d'Arte di Firenze || Robert Davidsohn, un autore della memoria storica di Firenze/ Robert Davidsohn, Historian of Medieval Florence Giuliano Pinto, Università di Firenze
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