Browning || Madame de Staël || Anna Jameson || Theodosia Garrow
Trollope || Isa Blagden
|| Mary Somerville || Jessie White Mario || Anita Garibaldi || Cristina Trivulzio, Principessa Belgioioso || Sarah Parker Remond
Beecher Stowe || Margaret Fuller || Harriet Hosmer || Félicie de Fauveau
|| Lily Wilson || Cristina Rossetti
nna Jameson prefaced her Loves of the Poets with a quotation from Madame de Staël:
Leighton's cameo on Elizabeth Barrett
Browning's Tomb of a Poetess with laurel
The laurel wreath laid
by the Comune of Florence on Elizabeth Barrett Browning's tomb
by Lord Leighton on her 200th anniversary, 2006
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
lizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning eloped together from her Wimpole Street sickroom in 1846 and came to Casa Guidi in 1847. Their first glimpse of their new home would have been of its frescoed walls, then covered with laurel garlands. It was at Casa Guidi that Elizabeth gave birth to her child, in 1849, celebrating that event while mourning the Austrian takeover of Tuscany and the downfall of the Mazzini Republic of Rome to the French in that same year in her political poem, Casa Guidi Windows, and it was here in 1850, that she was proposed for Poet Laureate, and here where she wrote her epic poem, Aurora Leigh, whose heroine crowns herself one June day with ivy and not with laurel.
It was in this room that Elizabeth read novels and wrote poems, her favourites being Madame de Staël's novel, Corinne ou Italy and those of George Sand. She had as a child studied Hebrew and Greek, and knew the poetry of Homer, Sophocles and Lord Byron intimately, their pictures and their books being her cherished possessions. It was to this room that many other women came, women like the Americans Margaret Fuller, Kate Field, Harriet Hosmer, Harrier Beecher Stowe, and the Englishwomen Anna Jameson, Jessie White Mario, Frances Trollope and Isa Blagden, but not George Sand or George Eliot or Anita Garibaldi or the Princess Belgioioso.
None of these women could attend university. But they could and did write, or sculpt, or heal the sick, or advise nations on freedom. They share a passionate hatred of the abuse of children, of slavery, of the oppression of nations, all as paradigms of their own exploitation as women. In the nineteenth-century they banded together, especially espousing the cause of the Italian Risorgimento. In this essay I shall give portraits of these women, just as much as did Elizabeth Barrett Browning herself adorn its walls, decked with the colours of Beatrice's garb and Italy's then-forbidden flag, with engravings and paintings of poets she loved, and in the same way as would later Lytton Strachey write Eminent Victorians and Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader, and as had Anna Jameson and even Plutarch before them written biographical sketches of great women and men. These women can be her laurel and her ivy, her Casa Guidi Windows opened to the world.
In an earlier
lecture at the British Institute I
discussed in detail Elizabeth and Robert's family backgrounds as
deeply implicated in slavery in the West Indies. Elizabeth
Barrett Moulton Barrett was of slave as well as slave-owning
stock (her aunt is the famous Pinkie, born in Jamaica, and dying
sooner after this painting was finished, and this is Pinkie's
brother, Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett, owner of countless
slaves). And likewise was Robert, who was also celebrating, in
his Bells and Pomegranates his partly Jewish ancestry.
We are dealing with Citizens of the Globe, not merely of Italy
or of England or of America.
Madame de Staël
et me begin with Madame de Staël (1766-1817), the author of the novel, Corinne ou Italie (1804), which profoundly influenced Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Anna Jameson, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Margaret Fuller. Anne Louise Germaine was the daughter of Suzanne Curchod and supposedly Jacques Necker, the Swiss banker who became France's Minister of Finance in 1776 and 1789. But more likely Edward Gibbon, author of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and who had loved Suzanne Curchod for many years, was her real father. Gibbon, two years before she married, described her to a friend: "Mlle. Necker, one of the greatest heiresses of Europe, is now about eighteen, wild, vain, but good-natured, and with a much larger provision of wit than of beauty." Her husband was to be Eric Magnus, Baron de Staël-Holstein, Sweden's ambassador to Paris.
De Goncourt described her political role:
Napoleon: Madame, in what chapter of the work you are now about to publish shall we read this brilliant passage?'
She next visited England where she was treated with the highest consideration and above all enjoyed the friendship of Lord Byron.
In 1816, she wrote "There is a nation which will one day be very great--the Americans." Only slavery she felt, marred its perfection. "What is more honourable for mankind than this new world which has established itself without the prejudices of the old?--this new world where religion exists in all its fervor without needing the support of the state to maintain it, where the law commands by the respect it inspires although no military power backs it up." In a letter to Thomas Jefferson she wrote, "If you succeeded in doing away with slavery in the South, there would be at least one government in the world as perfect as human reason can conceive it."
Twice she published novels, Delphine first, then Corinne ou Italie. Corinne is an intensely political book. In it a young Scottish nobleman, Oswald, Lord Nevil, finds his childhood friend become an Italian patriot. He witnesses her being crowned with laurel, made Poet Laureate, while dressed as the Sibyl, on the Capitol in Rome and hears her utter political prophetic verses. Perhaps, in this scene on the Capitol, Madame de Staël/Corinne was playing with her biological father's conception of his great work, The Decline and Fall of Rome. In her chef-d'oeuvre, she metamorphoses that into the Renaissance, the Risorgimento, of Italy.
But, instead of
marrying Corinne, Lord Nevil weds a pallid proper young
girl--and Corinne dies of a broken heart. This novel was read
and admired by Victorian generations. Though unbeautiful, Madame
de Staël had herself portrayed as enacting the role of Corinne,
by the woman portrait painter, Madame Vigée Le Brun.
nna Jameson had come to Italy for the first time in 1821, a buxom twenty-five year old with a head of reddish-blond hair (just the colour of Poetry in Carlo Dolci's painting, Ruskin noted). She was the eldest daughter of an Irish miniature painter of considerable talent, Denis Murphy, Lady Byron in 1841 writing a poem 'On a Portrait of Mrs. Jameson by her Father'. At first she earned her sustenance as a governess, observing that "the occupation of governess is sought merely through necessity, as the only means by which a woman not born in the servile classes can earn the means of subsistence".
In moments when she was alone, or if her employers went out to some reception to which she was not invited, Anna Murphy immediately opened two diaries. In the second, she has herself die of a broken heart, the work being published as a governess novel with the title, The Diary of an Enuyée, modeled upon de Staël's Corinne ou Italie, but which is also filled with art historical observations. Mrs. Fanny Kemble said, "While under the immediate spell of her fascinating book, it was of course very delightful to me to make Mrs. Jameson's acquaintance, which I did. . . The Ennuyée , one is given to understand, dies, and it was a little vexatious to behold her sitting on a sofa in a very becoming state of blooming plumpitude".
The Frontispiece is of Beatrice Cenci.
In reality, rather than dying of Victorian tuberculosis, Anna Murphy married.
But the marriage failed, and the alcoholic Mr. Jameson went off to Canada.
Because of the failed marriage, Anna could no longer even return to being a governess. She therefore wrote further books: The Memoirs of the Loves of the Poets by the Author of the "Diary of an Ennuyëe, 1829, in two volumes; Memoirs of Celebrated Female Sovereigns, 1831; Memoirs of the Beauties of the Court of Charles II, 1831; Characteristics of Shakespeare's Women. Anna Jameson had a warm temperament, her friends including Ottilie von Goethe, Lady Byron, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her own niece Geraldine Bate, who married and became Geraldine MacPherson. This is Anna Jameson describing the Coronation of Queen Victoria, whom she knew well:
Anna Jameson, with her young niece, helped the eloping Elizabeth Barrett, who was seriously ill, and Robert Robert Browning, who was robust, in Paris and Pisa while on her way to Rome and working on her masterpiece, Sacred and Legendary Art. The couple seemed to have walked out of the pages of her volumes, The Loves of the Poets .
In 1857 Anna Jameson
lived around the corner from Casa Guidi in Via Maggio; like
Elizabeth, she was to die, in 1860, without seeing Italian
Theodosia Garrow Trollope
heodosia Garrow and Elizabeth Barrett
Browning already knew each from Torquay in Devon where
Elizabeth had been sent because of her tuberculosis, an
illness she shared with Theodosia. Like Elizabeth, she was
small and exotic, her own background being part East Indian,
part Jewish, and from this she is partly the model for
Nathaniel Hawthorne's Miriam in The Marble Faun. Both Theodosia and Elizabeth were to come to
Florence where Theodosia met and married Thomas Adolphus
Trollope, bearing him the child Bice, Pen's playmate,
translating Niccolini's plays, supporting the Risorgimento,
until her own early death.
lizabeth set her epic poem's most important Dantesque-scene at Bellosguardo. She knew of it because of her friend, Isa Blagden . Isa is likewise the model for Miriam in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Romance, The Marble Faun. Alfred Austin said of her: "The news, 'Isa is coming,' invariably thrillled with an almost childlike delight a certain Florentine circle." "She gloried in the gorgeous apparel of the external world, just as--many will remember--she delighted in bright textures and vivid colours for feminine adornment." Kate Field said:
Henry James talked with her one morning at Bellosguardo:
Jessie White Mario
essie White ' is a great woman to whom we Italians owe a lot' Giosué Carducci said. She had met Garibaldi in London in 1854, when he was more or less engaged to be married to an Englishwoman. As this lady's friend she had come to Italy to rejoin the General. Garibaldi valued her masculine energy and her gifts as a medically trained nurse. She was a most fervent disciple of Mazzini who held her in high esteem. Even before meeting him Miss White had been fired with his theories, and once she had met him, she threw herself into the cause with such passion that the apostle himself was frightened. 'Good and devoted as she is, Jessie infuriates me. She talks like a soldier; she insults everyone; she uses a dictatorial manner which is more imperious than Garibaldi's own.'
Jessie White arrived in Genoa in 1857 to take part in the Mazzinian rising for which she had collected considerable funds, but she was promptly arrested and kept in jail for four months. In prison she made the acquaintance of Alberto Mario, an exceedingly handsome young patriot who shared her views. From that moment, the heart of Jessie White nursed not only a fraternal friendship for Garibaldi and a disciple's cult for Mazzini, but a flaming woman's passion for Mario, whose wife she soon became, and with whom she pursued her devoted service to the cause of her adopted country. After 1860, along with her husband, she followed Garibaldi on the field of battle in all his campaigns, and was always in the thick of the fight as an heroic nurse. Miss Henrietta Corkran gave a portrait of Jessie White:
Though they were friends, inevitably things moved towards open disagreement between the invalid Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the robust Jessie White Mario. In fact when Mrs Mario went to America to give a series of propaganda talks and used the name of the Brownings as a recommendation for the cause they were horrified lest they be taken as patrons of revolutionary ideas, and they issued a denial in an American newspaper. Polemical correspondence ensued in the columns of the Athenaeum, which ended with a letter from the Browning stating that ' despite our high esteem and personal affection' for Jessie Mario, there was diversity in their political opinions. They became reconciled later, but when Elizabeth heard of the arrest of Jessie and of her expulsion to Switzerland, she did not conceal a certain feeling of relief.
Thomas Adolphus Trollope said of Jessie White:
nita, Garibaldi's tiny, determined wife, had met him in Latin America, and joined him through terrible times, being pregnant with their child at the Fall of the Roman Republic in 1849. Margaret Fuller describes that Fall of Mazzini's Roman Republic to the French:
. . . all are light, atheletic, resolute figures, many of the forms of the finest manly beauty of the South, all sparkling with its genius and ennobled by the resolute spirit, ready to dare, to do, to die. We followed them to the piazza of St. John Lateran. never have I seen a sight so beautiful, so romantic, and so sad. Whoever knows Rome knows the peculiar solemn grandeur of that piazza, scene of the first triumph of the Rienzi, and whence may be seen the magnificence of the "mother of all churches," . . . The sun was setting, the crescent moon rising, the flower of the Italian youth were marshalling in that solemn place. They had been driven from every other spot where they had offered their hearts as bulwarks of Italian independence.
. . They had all put on the beautiful dress of the Garibaldi legion, the tunic of bright red cloth, the Greek cap, or else round hat with Puritan plume. Their long hair was blown back from reslute faces; all looked full of courage. . . I saw the wounded, all that could go, laden upon their baggage cars; some were already pale and fainting, still they wished to go. . . The wife of Garibaldi followed him on horseback. He himself was distinguished by the white tunic; his look was entirely that of a hero of the Middle Ages,--his face still young, for the excitements of his life, though so many, have all been youthful, and there is no fatigue upon his brow or cheek . . . And Rome! Must she lost also these beautiful and brave, that promised her regeneration, and would have given it, but for the perfidy, the overpowering force, of the foreign intervention?
Cristina Trivulzio, Princess Belgioioso
argaret Fuller, writing from Italy to America, described the hospital work being done by Jessie White Mario and by Cristina Trivulzio, the Princess Belgioioso.
But . . . the hospitals: these were put in order, and have been kept so, by the Princess Belgioioso. The princess was born of one of the noblest families of the Milanese, a descendant of the great Trivalzio, and inherited a large fortune. Very early she compromised it in liberal movements, and, on their failure, was obliged to fly to Paris, where for a time she maintained herself by writing, and I think by painting also. A princess so placed naturally excited great interest, and she drew around her a little court of celebrated men.
After recovering her fortune, she still lived in Paris, distinguished for her talents and munificence, both toward literary men and her exiled countrymen. Later, on her estate, called Locate, between Pavia and Milan, she had made experiments in the Socialist direction with fine judgement and success. Association for education, for labor, for transaction of household affairs, had been carried on for several years; she had spared no devotion of time and money to this object, loved, and was much beloved by, those objects of her care, and said she hoped to die there. All is now despoiled and broken up, though it may be hoped that some seeds of peaceful reform have been sown which will spring to light when least expected.
From Milan she went to
France, but, finding it impossible to effect anything
serious there in behalf of Italy, returned, and has been in
Rome about two months. Since leaving Milan she receives no
incomes, her possessions being in the grasp of Radetzky, and
cannot know when, if ever, she will again. But as she worked
so largely and well with money, so can she without. She
published an invitation to the Roman women to make lint and
bandages, and offer their services to the wounded; she put
the hospitals in order; in the central one, Trinita de'
Pellegrini, once the abode where the pilgrims were received
during Holyweek, and where foreigners were entertained by
seeing their feet washed by the noble dames and dignatories
of Rome, she has remained day and night since the 30th of
April, when the wounded were first there. Some money she
procured at first by going through Rome, accompanied by two
other ladies veiled, to beg it. Afterward the voluntary
contributions were generous.
Parker Remond, collection of the Massachusetts Historical
At the age of forty Sarah Parker Remond moved to Florence where she embarked on medical studies at Santa Maria Nuova, the hospital founded in the thirteenth century by Dante's Beatrice's father and which served as Florence Nightingale's model of medical care and training.
The black publication, The Christian Recorder, reported on what was probably one stage of her medical education with the notice that, 'Miss Sarah Remond, a gifted colored lady, who studied medicine with Dr. Appleton --the friend and physician of Theodore Parker, during the latter portion of his life at Rome and Florence, has been regularly admitted as a practitioner of midwifery in Florence, where she is now residing, with excellent prospects of employment and success. Her merit has won her friends on the continent of Europe, as it did in England. On going to Italy, she had excellent letters of introduction from Mazzini, among others. With this satisfactory passport, Dr. Appleton went with her to call on Garibaldi, and, though many others were waiting for an interview, they were instantly admitted. Miss Remond is not only well received everywhere in Florence, but she has friends among the very best people there.'
A few years later, Sarah Remond’s sister, Caroline Putnam, an Oberlin College graduate and founder of a school for freed men and women in Lottsburg, Virginia, lived with her for a while in Florence. Putnam’s school was supported by Louisa May Alcott (senior) and Ellen Emerson. Elizabeth Buffum Chace, human rights activist and former conductor on the Underground Railroad, visited Remond in Florence in 1873 and wrote that: 'Sarah Remond is a remarkable woman and by indomitable energy and perseverance is winning a fine position in Florence as a physician and also socially; although she says Americans have used their influence to prevent her by bringing their hateful prejudices over here. If one tenth of the American women who travel in Europe were as noble and elegant as she is we shouldn’t have to blush for our country women as often as we do.'
Sarah Parker Remond certainly aroused curiosity and comment in Florence, but the city had a particular sophistication about race unusual on the Continent. After all, the fabled dynasty of the Medici displayed the likeness of Alessandro, the first Duke of Florence, born of a union between a slave of African origin named Simonetta, and, it appears, the future Pope Clement VII. Alessandro lies buried in the tomb of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino sculpted by Michelangelo, with its spectacular figures of Dusk and Dawn.
Jacopo Pontormo, Alessandro de Medici, The Art Institute of Chicago.
Decades after Sarah Parker Remond's
arrival, Frederick Douglass and his second wife, Helen,
visited Florence 10 May 1887. Douglass went straight from
breakfast to the 'English' Cemetery to visit the tomb of Elizabeth Barrett Browning
honouring her poetry against slavery and to stand, lost in reverie, at the grave of the
abolitionist clergyman Theodore Parker. Parker, during his
final illness, refused to die, if die he must, in Papal Rome.
He longed for Boston but knew he would never survive the
journey home and so, announcing that 'I will not die on this
accursed soil, I will not leave my bones in this detested
soil,' insisted on being lifted from his deathbed and
transported by carriage to Florence. The real Theodore Parker,
he told his friends, was in America; this was just a dying man
they saw before them. The remarks of his final day included
the wish to walk once more on Boston Common. If he could not
die in Boston, Florence, the Boston of Italy, was his chosen
arriet Beecher Stowe, the apostle of freedom for the slaves, came to Florence in 1857. The fabulous success on two continents of Uncle Tom's Cabin assured her an enthusiastic reception in Italy also. "We find her reading Madame de Staël, and especially Corinne, with eager delight. In Rome one day she visited the workshop of the brothers Castellani, patriots and goldsmiths, and admired the exquisite workmanship of their jewelry. Castellani handed her the head of an Egyptian slave chiselled in black onyx saying:
" agnificent, prophetic, this new Corinne. She never confounded relations; but kept a hundred fine threads in her hand, without crossing or entangling any." So wrote Emerson on of New England's Margaret Fuller. Born in 1810, her tragic death by drowning occurred 16 July 1850. At age of six Margaret read Latin as well as English and soon after Greek, at 15 revelling in Madame de Staël and Petrarch.
She travelled to Italy as a journalist, already deeply committed to women's position.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote that
The weather was intensely hot; her health was feeble and delicate; the dead and dying were around her in every form of pain and horror; but she never shrank from the duty she had assumed. Her heart and soul were in the cause for which these men had fought, and all was done that a woman dould do to comfort them in their sufferings. I have seen the eyes of the dying, as she moved among them, extended upon opposite beds, meet in commendation of her unwearied kindness; and the friends of those who tehn passed away may derive consolation from the assurance that nothing of tenderness and attention was wanting to soothe their last moments. And I have hear many of those who recovered speak with all the passionate fervor of the Italian nature of her, whose sympathy and compassion throughout their long illness fulfilled all the offices of love and affection. Mazzini, the chief of the Triumvirate,-who, better than any man in Rome, knew her worth,-often expressed to me his admiration of her high character; and the Princess Belgioioso, to whom was assigned the charge of the Papal Palace on the Quirinal, which was converted on this occasion into a hospital, was enthusiastic in her praise. And in a letter which I received not long since from this lady, who is gaining the bread of an exile by teaching languages in Constantinople, she alludes with much feeling to the support afforded by Miss Fuller to the Republican party in Italy. Here, in Rome, she is still spoken of in terms of regard and endearment; and the announcement of her death was received with a degree of sorrow which is not often bestowed upon a foreigner, and especially one of a different faith.
She informed me that she had sent for me to place in my hands a packet of important papers, which she wished me to keep for the present, and, in the event of her death, to transmit it to her friends in the United States. She then stated that she was married to the Marquis Ossoli, who was in command of a battery on the Pincian Hill. . . The packet which she placed in my possession, contained, she said, the certificates of her marriage, and of the birth and baptism of her child. . .
On the same day the French army entered Rome, and, the gates being opened, Madame Ossoli, accompanied by the Marquis, immediately proceeded to Rieti, a village lying at the base of the Abruzzi Mountains, where she had left her child in the charge of a confidential nurse, formerly in the service of the Ossoli family. She remained, as you are no doubt aware, some months at Rieti, whence she removed to Florence, where she resided until her ill-fated departure for the United States. During this period I received several letters from her, all of which, though reluctant to part with them, I inclose to your address, in compliance with your request.
One is Michelangelo's 'Aurora' from the Medici Tomb in the New Sacristy at San Lorenzo. The Republic of Florence commissioned these sculptures. Later Michelangelo wrote a poem for Dawn to speak in which she desires not to awake while the Medici have robbed Florence of her freedom. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote about it at length in Casa Guidi Windows and used it for the title of her epic poem, Aurora Leigh.
The other is Hiram Powers' 'Greek Slave'. It appears to be about the War of Greek Independence, in whose cause Lord Byron fought and died. But it is really about Hiram Powers' own knowledge of himself as both American and Native American, and about Italy, which in this period was ground under by Austria, Spain, France and the Pope, as had Greece been by Turkey. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who was Hiram Powers' great friend and admirer, spoke of him as part Native American. Another sculpture of his is 'The Last of her Tribe', in which an Indian maiden is fleeing from her persecutors. It is exquisite. Elizabeth wrote a powerful sonnet about the 'Greek Slave', which Queen Victoria read. The Queen also saw the sculpture for it was at the centre of the Great Crystal Palace Exhibition she visited, leaning upon her Prince Consort's arm. Margaret Fuller had written:
Hiram Powers' 'Greek Slave' is normal in its proportions. But Hiram Powers also sculpted colossal statues, as did similarly the tiny Harriet Hosmer. One gigantic statue of Calhoun by Powers was shipwrecked, if indeed it did not cause the wreck of the ship on which the Fuller-Ossoli family perished; one marble effigy of a statesman never reached America, another ended at the bottom of the Bay of Biscay.
I am absurdly fearful about this voyage. Various little omens have combined to give me a dark feeling. Among others, just now we hear of the wreck of the Westmoreland bearing Power's 'Eve."
Angiolino was nourished by means of a goat on shipboard, there being no refrigeration for the Victorian sea voyage. Small pox broke out, Angiolino miraculously recovering, but the Captain died. The first mate failed in navigating the ship and it wrecked off Fire Island. "Neither Margaret's body, nor that of her husband was ever recovered; that of little Angelo was borne through the breakers by a sailor and laid lifeless on the sands. The manuscript of her "History of Italy" was lost in the wreck." The still warm bodies of steward and child and trunk with letters beween her husband and herself were all that survived.
It was this drowning
of her friend, in a ship named the `Elizabeth', that
paradoxically released Elizabeth to write Aurora Leigh,
whose two heroines she models upon Margaret Fuller and upon
herself as gypsy.
arriet Hosmer initially studied anatomy in St Louis, though as a woman she was not permitted to attend medical school, coming to Rome from Boston when she was 22. She became the pupil of John Gibson, who in turn was the pupil of Canova, and she "used to ride out along through the streets of Rome, her short brown curls cut like a boy's, gathered under a little velvet capt, and her hands deep in the pockets of a velvet jacket, to the astonishment and fascination of everyone'. 'A slight, delicate, though well-rounded figure, a forehead "royal with truth," short curling hair and rosy, smiling cheeks, not to speak of the "dimples" that Mrs. Browning loved in her "Hattie," made up a buoyant and magnetic personality." Brownings write to her lovingly, mentioning her Greek studies.
In the winter of 1853 she sculpted the clasped hands of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning.
There are photographs of Hattie in short skirts on steps working on male statue three times her size, then of her sculpture of 'Beatrice Cenci', which was exhibited in the Royal Academy, 1857. That sculpture shows Beatrice Cenci, the night before her execution, asleep in her Castel Sant'Angelo cell. Harriet Hosmer, like the Pre-Raphaelite Brethren before her, is likely influenced by Anna Jameson.
When I was in Florence I searched in the Pitti and the Magliabechian libraries for costumes and hints . . . Prof Nigliarini told me that if I copied the dress and ornaments of the Madonna in the old mosaic of San Marco, it would be the very thing, as she is represented in Oriental regal costume. I went to look and found it. The model is invaluable, requiring little change save a large mantle thrown over it all. The ornaments are quite the thing, very rich and Eastern, with just such a girdle as is described in Vopiscus.
Félicie de Fauveau
he sculptress Félicie de Fauveau was no lover
of the Risorgimento but a French Royalist, having to live in
exile in Florence because of her politics, following even
imprisonment in France. She was much admired by Elizabeth
Barrett Browning and Isa Blagden, the latter writing a fine
essay on her, worthy of being read here.
n Elizabeth Barrett Browning's day and in her circle were such women as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Hosmer, Harriet Martineau, Anna Jameson, Cristina Rossetti, Margaret Fuller, Isa Blagden , Princess Belgioioso, Theodosia Garrow Trollope , Jessie White Mario, Anita Garibaldi, and last but not least Elizabeth Wilson without whom Elizabeth could never have come to Italy nor borne the child Pen nor written Aurora Leigh. It was Lily who persuaded Elizabeth to come off laudanum long enough for a successful pregnancy, the child Pen Browning, who was her great joy. I suggested to Margaret Forster the writing of Lady's Maid, and now I wish I could rewrite that book and make it more poetical. Lily Wilson called her two sons, Orestes and Pylades, the classical pair whom Elizabeth, as Electra, had mentioned in her Sonnet V. Elizabeth was very jealous of Wilson and dismissed Lily from her service for her second pregnancy, her two sons having to be raised apart, one in England, one in Italy. When the brothers eventually met neither shared a language with the other. Like Walter Savage Landor and Marian Erle, Elizabeth Wilson, too, was capable of great madness, learning and poetry and did not just have the 'damp housemaid's soul' Forster gives her. Walter Savage Landor was her boarder at a time of his greatest dementia.
hristina Rossetti and Dante Gabriel Rossetti were the children of Italian parents, their father, Gabriele Rossetti, being from Naples of illiterate parents but educated at the University of Naples, then as a political exile, being Professor of Italian, at King's College, while their mother was of Tuscan aristocracy. They spoke Italian with their father, English with their mother, whose commonplace book from which she taught them contained Byron and Sappho.
The figures of Dante and Beatrice became for this family the ideal of love between men and women. While the Risorgimento was taking place in Italy, in England we witness the Oxford Movement in religion and the Pre-Raphaelite Movement in art. We could almost say that the Italian Risorgimento was inspired by English-speaking ladies from both sides of the Atlantic while the English Pre-Raphaelite and Oxford Movements were inspired by Englishmen in love with Italy. Dante Gabriel Rossetti sketched Lord Tennyson reading Maud at a dinner party Elizabeth and Robert attended and Elizabeth treasured that sketch, keeping it on the mantle piece at Casa Guidi. But it was Tennyson whom Queen Victoria had had become Poet Laureate in 1850, not Elizabeth.
These women, as poets, writers, journalists, sculptors, and in all but license, doctors, lived in flesh and blood the pages of Madame de Staël's Romance, Corinne ou Italie. They similarly understood the language of freedom being spoken in marble by Michelangelo and Hiram Powers, and that spoken in poetry by Sophocles and Byron. Even Elizabeth and Robert's child, Pen, grew up to become a sculptor, studying under Rodin, and sculpting his illegitimate daughter, Ginevra, as this bust of the murdered heroine Pompilia of his father's The Ring and the Book. Ginevra is Elizabeth's granddaughter. Some day I should like to publish a book in Italian on these women (its English title being Laurel Garland: Women of the Risorgimento), awarding a chapter, a laurel leaf, to each of them. These women, gathered from the British Isles, Europe and the Americas, shaped the histories of Florence and Rome, and earned Laura's wreath.
Cameo with Poet's Laurel
Garland, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Tomb
In compiling this lecture/essay I am greatly indebted to the Armstrong Browning Library and Museum, Baylor University, Texas, U.S.A., to the kindness of the Browning Institute's Casa Guidi, 1987-1988, and to Giuliana Artom Treves, The Golden Ring: A Study of Anglo-Italian Relations, to which I now add the contributions by Marilyn Richardson and Silvia Mascalchi. Julia Bolton Holloway.
Negli ultimi anni si è verificata una vera e propria riscoperta
delle donne che hanno partecipato, a vario titolo, al Risorgimento
e alla costruzione dell’Italia liberale, ma manca ancora uno
studio su un personaggio interessante come Margherita Albana
Mignaty, nonostante l’importanza del suo ruolo intellettuale e
sociale. Certo gli interessi di Margherita, sostenuti da una
vivida curiosità verso tutte le problematiche del suo tempo, non
riguardavano solo la politica, che la coinvolse e appassionò
soprattutto negli anni dell’unificazione nazionale, ma anche e
soprattutto l’arte, la letteratura, la religione. Una religione
laica spiritualista che condivideva con molti intellettuali della
sua epoca e che l’aveva avvicinata alla teosofia e allo
spiritismo. Forse la sua vita sentimentale, molto libera, la
rendeva poco adatta ad essere trasformata in esempio di virtù
nazionali da esibire nelle raccolte agiografiche
postrisorgimentali, e questo può spiegare l’oblio in cui è caduta.
Margherita ha avuto invero l’onore di un intenso ritratto biografico scritto da Edouard Schuré e pubblicato nel suo volume Donne inspiratrici (tradotto e pubblicato in Italia da Laterza, nel 1930)1, ma per quanto questa opera abbia conosciuto un grande successo e una straordinaria diffusione – la traduzione italiana è stata fatta sull’undicesima edizione francese – è stata dimenticata, come tutto il movimento di cultura esoterica che ha caratterizzato l’Europa fra la fine dell’Ottocento e i primi decenni del Novecento.
Margherita Albana nacque a Corfù, allora protettorato inglese, da una famiglia agiata, sorella maggiore di due fratelli maschi. Il suo anno di nascita rimane misterioso: secondo Angelo De Gubernatis è intorno al 1830, per Edouard Schuré nel 1831, ma i suoi due biografi, che le erano legati da rapporti sentimentali differenti ma entrambi molto intensi, come vedremo, le fanno uno sconto di diversi anni, volendo probabilmente assecondare una civetteria dell’amica2. È rivelatrice una lettera datata 24 agosto 1831, giorno del compleanno di Margherita, in cui lo zio Frederick Adam, facendole gli auguri, le scrive affettuosamente: «Giovane come sei, sei abbastanza vecchia per capirmi quando ti dico che i prossimi cinque o quattro anni sono quelli da cui dipende il tuo avvenire»3. Sono parole che fanno pensare a un’interlocutrice adolescente, intorno ai quattordici, quindici anni, coerentemente, del resto, al tono generale di tutto il gruppo di lettere datato intorno ai primi anni Trenta e indirizzato dallo zio alla nipote, con ogni evidenza ancora giovane in quel tempo ma certamente non più bambina. Sir Adam, allora alto commissario per le isole Jonie4, e la moglie Nina Palatianò, zia di Margherita per parte materna, non avendo figli, avevano chiesto e ottenuto di adottare come tale la nipote: la portarono quindi con loro in India dopo che lui divenne governatore di Madras, ricoprendo questa carica dal 1832 al 1837. Per una giovane come Margherita, intelligente, colta, curiosa della vita e sensibilissima l’impatto con l’India, il suo clima, la sua natura, la sua spiritualità fu forte e destinato a lasciare tracce profonde, costituendo forse il primo viatico per quell’attenzione al misticismo esoterico che ne caratterizzò, da adulta, gli interessi. Trasferitasi poi con la famiglia a Roma, qui essa conobbe Giorgio Mignaty, pittore originario di Cefalonia, e lo sposò nei primi anni Quaranta, stabilendosi con lui in diverse città italiane (tra cui Venezia) e infine, intorno al 1844-45, a Firenze. La coppia ebbe tre figli: due, Demetrio Federick ed Elena, morti rispettivamente a diciotto mesi nel ’46 e a cinque anni nel ’53, l’altra, Aspasia, pittrice dilettante, molto vicina alla madre fino alla morte di lei5.
A Firenze Margherita, che scriveva e parlava correntemente inglese e francese, oltre che greco e italiano, si inserì con autorevolezza nella vita sociale e mondana e cominciò a gestire un salotto dall’impronta cosmopolita e aperta, punto di incontro di stranieri e intellettuali di passaggio in città ma anche di molti esponenti dell’élite liberale locale. Le stanze della casa di via Larga (poi via Cavour), dall’arredamento suggestivo ed esotico, colorate da vivaci paraventi di lacca e scialli orientali, costituivano una sorta di luogo di contatto tra la Destra moderata di stretta osservanza e un’area di opinione più mobile e vasta, come dimostra l’elenco dei frequentatori, da Ubaldino Peruzzi a Francesco Dall’Ongaro, ad Angelo De Gubernatis6. Negli anni dell’unificazione Margherita appoggiò con passione la causa italiana scrivendo dal 1859 al 1866 apprezzate corrispondenze fiorentine per il “Daily News”: agli occhi dell’opinione pubblica inglese una signora di origini greche che, da Firenze, scriveva a favore dell’indipendenza italiana doveva costituire l’incarnazione stessa del mito romantico della nazione, unendo idealmente al Risorgimento la Grecia per cui Byron era morto combattendo.
Morì a Livorno il 20 settembre del 1887: la salma ebbe pubblici onori, esposta in una sala della stazione di Firenze dove Edouard Schuré e Angelo De Gubernatis recitarono un’orazione funebre7.
L’immagine che ricordi e testimonianze ci hanno tramandato di lei è quella di una donna particolare, la cui sensibilità, cultura, fascino fisico emanavano un intenso magnetismo, capace di incantare uomini e donne8. Molte furono, infatti, le sue relazioni: l’epistolario di Margherita, conservato nella Biblioteca Nazionale fiorentina, rivela un’ampia cerchia di corrispondenti ed amici, uomini e (moltissime) donne, italiani e stranieri, illustri e sconosciuti, in sintonia con la vivacità intellettuale, la curiosità umana, che tutti sembrano riconoscerle9.
Nei saggi che seguono, ne ripercorreremo la vita attraverso la dimensione dell’intenso rapporto con due uomini sui quali si esercitò in modo determinante la sua influenza: Pasquale Villari e Edouard Schuré.
1. E. Schuré, Donne inspiratrici, Laterza, Bari
1930. Edizione originale: Femmes inspiratrices et poétes
annonciateurs. Mathilde Wesendork, Cosima Listz, Marguerite Albana
Mignaty, Perrin et Co., Paris 1908.
2. Cfr. A. De Gubernatis, Dizionario biografico degli scrittori contemporanei, successori Le Monnier, Firenze 1879 ad vocem e E. Schuré, Donne inspiratrici, Laterza, Bari 1930, p. 103. I genitori di Margherita erano Demetrio Albana e Caterina Palatianò.
3. Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, cv, b. 192, 73. Presso la biblioteca fiorentina è conservata una nutrita corrispondenza di Sir Adam alla nipote.
4. Un profilo biografico su Frederick Adam (1781-1853), tra l’altro generale dell’esercito inglese a Waterloo, in Dictionary of National Biography, edited by L. Stephen and S. Lee, Smith Elder e Co., London 1908, vol. 1, ad vocem.
5. Secondo la testimonianza di Schuré, Elena era una bambina precoce, dotata di particolare sensibilità e preveggenza (Donne inspiratrici, cit., pp. 128 ss.). I piccoli Mignaty sono entrambi sepolti, a Firenze, nel Cimitero degli Inglesi; Aspasia, invece, in quello evangelico “Degli Allori”, accanto ai genitori.
6. Sul salotto della Mignaty, che De Gubernatis definisce «animato e continuo conversare di uomini dotti» (Dizionario biografico degli scrittori contemporanei, cit., ad vocem), oltre alla testimonianza di E. Schuré (Donne inspiratrici, cit., pp. 34-5) cfr. G. Artom Treves, Anglo-fiorentini di cento anni fa, Sansoni, Firenze 1953, pp. 186-7 e M. T. Mori, Salotti. La sociabilità delle élite nell’Italia dell’Ottocento, Carocci, Roma 2000, pp. 85 ss. e Regesto, ad vocem.
7. Cfr. Margherita Albana Mignaty. Parole di compianto proferite sopra la salma in una sala della stazione ferroviaria di Firenze nel pomeriggio del 30 settembre 1887 da A. De Gubernatis ed E. Schuré, Tip. Luigi Niccolai, Firenze 1887. Margherita, sepolta nel cimitero evangelico “Degli Allori”, riposa in una semplice tomba accanto al marito Giorgio (1824-95) e alla figlia Aspasia. Recita l’epigrafe, in francese: «Greca ha donato il suo grande cuore all’Italia il suo spirito universale all’umanità la sua anima ardente all’Ideale».
8. Sophia Hawthorne, ad esempio, descrive Margherita, da lei incontrata nel settembre del 1858 durante un soggiorno a Firenze, come una splendida bellezza mediterranea: «The lady was a queenly woman, with glorious eyes and brow, and shining black hair curling, from a coronet of braid, down her cheeks, like flexible paragon» (Notes in England and Italy, G. P. Putman and Son, New York 1872, 18691, p. 489). T. Adolphus Trollope, nel suo libro di memorie, ricorda la Mignaty come una donna bellissima, che molti pittori imploravano di posare per loro (What I remember, Bentley and son, London 1872, vol. 2, p. 311).
9. Tra i corrispondenti di Margherita, oltre a quelli citati in seguito, qualche nome indicativo: Malwida von Meysenburg, Cesare Correnti, Carlo Cantoni, Francesco Dall’Ongaro, Camillo Boito, Ludmilla Assing, Alfred von Reumont.
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