Editor's note: The following introductory essay to the catalogue for exhibit Classic Ground: Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Painting and the Italian Encounter, being held at the Georgia Museum of Art October 23, 2004 - January 2, 2005, was reprinted July 20, 2004 in Resource Library with permission of the Georgia Museum of Art and Paul A. Manoguerra. The essay is followed by information concerning the exhibit. We express appreciation to Bonnie Ramsey and Becky Yates of the Georgia Museum of Art for bringing the essay to our attention. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or wish to obtain a copy of the exhibition catalogue, please contact the Georgia Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:



 

Classic Ground

by Paul A. Manoguerra, Georgia Museum of Art

 

(above:John Linton Chapman, Via Appia, 1867, oil on canvas, 27 1/2 x 70 inches. Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia; extended loan from the West Foundation Collection, Atlanta. GMOA 1997.99E)

 

In his book The Dream of Arcadia, Van Wyck Brooks noted that, in the mid-nineteenth century, "a Roman winter became 'the fashion'"[i] and that Italy became a popular site for many American tourists and artists. As a result of their mid-nineteenth-century Italian travels within a "Grand Tour," Martin Johnson Heade, Albert Bierstadt, Sanford Robinson Gifford, John Frederick Kensett, Jasper Francis Cropsey, and other American painters created a body of work featuring Italian landscapes, people, buildings, and life. This exhibition and publication examine the cultural history of a group of art objects, their reception and context in America just prior to and after the Civil War. Classic Ground does not offer a survey of mid-nineteenth-century American images of Italy. However, this exhibition and catalogue address broad issues in relation to specific paintings and their American nineteenth-century context. In their images, these American artists shaped and reshaped American political, religious, and cultural ideologies through the construction and manipulation of their subject matter. They encoded the values, ideas, and beliefs of nineteenth-century America within their works. A portion of Classic Ground relies upon the travel stories told by the numerous mid-nineteenth-century American painters who, along with tourists, writers, and sculptors, traveled to Italy. Much of these painters' art addresses seminal questions about faith, nature, and national destiny:

The special relationship with Italy that nineteenth-century Americans constructed for themselves found its base in a single metaphor, particularly powerful and synoptic, which explained the United States as the heir to the democratic ideals of the ancients. One task of this project involves investigating the manner in which the visual and textual representation of a "foreign" land -- Italy -- ultimately becomes a commentary, not on the visited place, but on the homeland -- the United States -- temporarily left behind, as well as the place the homeland occupies within the larger world. American visitors often experienced their Italian sojourn as if they were traveling into some distant, noble past, with the contemporary Italians remaining a colorful, sometimes disdainful, distraction from ennobling historical associations. American tourists (including the painters discussed in this book and featured in the exhibition) believed that they knew and understood more about the great and ancient history of the tourist sites -- Rome, the campagna, Paestum, and Tivoli, among others -- than the Italians themselves. This American "knowledge," objectified and culturally transferred through travel accounts, souvenirs, sculptures and paintings, allowed Americans to use Italy to confirm and advance an American sense of history, perpetuating important beliefs in American exceptionalism.

Classic Ground has been so titled because of the multiple and useful meanings of the two words. The American paintings contextualized in this exhibition and publication are "classic" in the sense that they serve as outstanding representatives and models of nineteenth-century American image-making. As part of museum and gallery collections, these "classic" paintings hold lasting significance and recognized value. The artists painted in a "classic" manner, or in accordance with established principles and methods. And the primary subject matter of the images centers on the ruins (the actual remains of architecture and the remnants of past ideals hidden by contemporary Italy) of the classical era of both ancient Greece and ancient Rome. The ground, the preparatory coat of paint on which these pictures were painted, becomes an area of reference for several beliefs and premises encoded within the images. Primarily landscape paintings, these images use the ground of Italy as a symbolic area of land designated by the painters for constructing meaning related to the American experience.

Synthesizing close textual readings of paintings with concerns for cultural and social analysis, Classic Ground discusses paintings not only as objects of aesthetics and high art but as participants in a discourse of politics, race, gender, and religion.[ii] These paintings, created by Americans and imagining Italy, take part in the definition and construction of a national identity prior to the Civil War, during the war, and throughout the era of Reconstruction. The selected timeframe for Classic Ground includes antebellum American painting with Italian subject matter from the years 1848 to 1860. Several convenient benchmark events make the antebellum era useful for this endeavor: in 1848, with the close of the Mexican War, the death of "the father of American landscape painting" Thomas Cole, and the American reactions to the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe (especially the Risorgimento movement in Italy); and in 1860, with the election of Abraham Lincoln and events leading to the Civil War, and the unification of Italy minus the Papal States in that same year. Post-Civil War images in this exhibition reflect the significant cultural issues leading into the 1870s: Reconstruction of the "Union" in the United States, and the results and problems of unification in Italy.

Classic Ground builds upon scholarship in three areas: (1) historical texts on republicanism, Neo-classicism, cultural identity, and the social and political aspects of the mid-nineteenth-century United States; (2) art historical literature on art production in nineteenth-century America; and (3) art historical works on the history of the Grand Tour of Europe, and the English and Americans as tourists in Italy. Numerous recent works on antebellum America focus on the social, political, and cultural history of the "new" country between the Revolution and the Civil War. In The Radicalism of the American Revolution, Gordon S. Wood states that within a single lifetime there was a "reconstitution of American society," the overthrow of the "bonds holding together the older monarchical society -- kinship, patriarchy, and patronage." He maintains that equality and, in a certain sense, democracy were the unintended consequences of the "forces unleashed" by the radical and republican reconstitution of American society.[iii] This exhibition and catalogue investigate questions of cultural identity -- how Americans of the Civil War era examined not only who they were but also who they wanted to become. How does this set of paintings reflect questions of self-government, republicanism, class, race, and gender within American visual culture? How might issues of cultural hegemony appear in specific images and in the larger mid-nineteenth-century visual culture?

Artists of mid-nineteenth-century America depicted Italy as the subject in many of their works.[iv] American artists had many reasons to visit Italy: to view the classical world, to learn ancient history, to celebrate classical moral virtue, and to have a personal adventure. They went to copy famous paintings, to behold the galleries of Rome, Florence and Venice, and to experience the sights, the light, and the local color. American artists endeavored "to come to terms with the European past, which they recognized as their own, and their sense of living in the American present."[v] The late nineteenth-century Americans in Italy were continuing the English tradition of the Grand Tour. Paul Hazard, in referring to seventeenth-century individuals including Christina of Sweden, John Locke and Gottfried Willhelm Leibnitz, says that "philosophers went abroad, not to go and meditate in peace in some quiet retreat, but to see the wonders of the world." For eighteenth-century Englishmen, the Grand Tour almost always involved a trip to Paris and a tour of Venice, Florence, Naples and Rome. From this itinerary, various other sites were added to the Grand Tour, often including Amsterdam, Bruges, Brussels, Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Vienna, Munich, and Geneva. Travel was an education and a valuable life experience for a proper English gentleman and thinker. For British tourists, "Rome was the goal.... In a culture dominated by the classics, Rome was the focus of interest." All of the ancient republics, Athens, Thebes, Sparta, and Rome, were familiar to learned people in the eighteenth century. The Roman writers, including Cicero, Virgil, Sallust, Tacitus and others, with their emphases on political and social virtues, fascinated English intellectuals of the eighteenth century. [vi]

By the time mid-nineteenth-century Americans traveled abroad, an elaborate cultural apparatus had attached itself to the landscape of Italy. Guidebooks provided detailed lists of sights and towns to visit according to specified routes. Followed repeatedly for decades, the routes achieved canonical status. Each site held its own associations with historical, artistic, and literary traditions. For all American painters in Italy from the 1840s through the 1870s, especially for those working for patrons while on a Grand Tour, the veduta tradition and the imagery of Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) operated as a constant influence. American landscape painter George Inness serves as an excellent example of a young artist who absorbed the influence of the "old masters," especially Claude Lorrain and Gaspard Poussin (1615-1675). Following his marriage in 1850, Inness and his wife spent two years in Italy, taking up residence in Florence and Rome. Back in New York in 1852, after having "studied and painted eagerly, searching and studying the masters with an intensity and an eagerness which almost consumed him," Inness painted A Bit of the Roman Aqueduct (fig. 1). Painting as a "young Claude," he fashioned a view of the Roman campagna following seventeenth-century conventions of landscape painting.[vii] Mid-nineteenth-century American artists, including Inness, in Rome and its environs had also been preceded in Italy by the British watercolorists, including John Robert Cozens, Richard Wilson, and J.M.W. Turner, and by generations of French, German and Dutch painters.[viii]

In this book, Janice Simon discusses John Frederick Kensett's Italian Scene (fig. 13), also reminiscent of Claude Lorrain's paintings inspired by the countryside of Italy. Born in Cheshire, Connecticut, in 1816, Kensett was in Italy, traveling to Rome, Naples, Paestum, and Capri, from 1845 to 1847.[ix] Using a hazy, illuminated atmosphere in Italian Scene, Kensett references the Italian past through the inclusion of an ancient Roman bridge in the middle ground. Kensett also includes an anthropomorphized rocky cliff in the left foreground. The rocky natural form suggests a divine presence, a silent witness to the course of history. Writing from Italy in the summer of 1847, Margaret Fuller discussed the constant historical associations that an American tourist in Italy feels: "Every stone has a voice, every grain of dust seems instinct with spirit from the Past, every step recalls some line, some legend of long-neglected yore." In The Marble Faun, based upon observations by its author from travels in 1857 to 1859, Nathaniel Hawthorne's description of an Italian vista resonates with Kensett's painted version of the Italian ancient landscape:

Before them again, lies the broad valley, with a mist so thinly scattered over it as to be perceptible only in the distance, and most so in the nooks of the hills. Now that we have called it a mist, it seems a mistake not rather to have called it sunshine; the glory of so much light being mingled with so little gloom, in the airy material of that vapor. Be it mist or sunshine, it adds a touch of ideal beauty to the scene, almost persuading the spectator that this valley and those hills are visionary, because their visible atmosphere is so like the substance of a dream. [x]

Simon argues that Kensett's Italian Scene reverberates with the dream-like history of Italy, reflective of geological time and the epiphanic, apocalyptic history of humankind. In the ancient rocks, river valleys, and venerable woods, so exhilarating to the numerous romantic poets and artists who visited Italy, resided crucial clues to Creation and the Divine Order of history. Italy, its landscape, its architecture, and its people, functioned as a didactic window, a living museum, of the past. [xi]

But these American artists of the 1840s through the 1870s built upon an American tradition of depicting and interpreting Italy. Gordon Wood writes that "Classical republican values existed everywhere among educated people in the English-speaking world, but nowhere did they have deeper resonance than in the North American colonies.... The Americans did not have to invent republicanism in 1776; they only had to bring it to the surface."[xii] American republicanism carried with it an affinity for the ancient history of the Italic peninsula, especially for pre-imperial Rome. During the formative years of the early republic in the United States, the classical world bewitched America. The promise of perfect beauty and a model of austere civic virtue (and American patriotism) were some of the ideals that classical taste held for wealthy Americans.[xiii] In the colonial era, Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley sought the fellowship and artistic life of London and Rome. In the first half of the nineteenth century, Rembrandt Peale, John Vanderlyn, and Washington Allston, among others, went to Italy to view the tourist sites and to sketch scenes made famous through historical associations. The more famous a location, the more noble a subject the site became. Primeval wilderness, as in the New World, was almost unknown and the character of Italy had been shaped not only by the passage of centuries but also the rise and fall of human civilizations. For Americans, the golden age of Italian travel, beginning with the 1840s, coincided with the age of romanticism and the vision of the United States as involved in a democratic experiment. Italy operated as a museum of the past and in an atmosphere of golden historic dreams. Nathaniel Hawthorne, in the opening chapter to The Marble Faun, notes the vague intermingling of history, memory and texture that Italy impressed upon many American visitors: "Side by side with the massiveness of the Roman past, all matters that we handle or dream of nowadays look evanescent and visionary alike."[xiv] Thomas Cole's Sunset on the Arno (fig. 2) reflects Cole's belief that Italy was a "land evoking the classical ideals of harmony and prosperity," and in the Italian landscape "the pastoral state represents man existing in harmony with nature, and with himself."[xv] For American artists of the generation after Cole, Italy was established not only as a great "museum" of the past with classic beauty but also as a site of beautiful light, interesting local people, and sublime and picturesque views.

Thomas Cole serves as a seminal figure in understanding American artistic approaches to Italy in the mid-nineteenth century. His death on 11 February 1848, just ten days after his forty-seventh birthday, precipitated an outpouring of printed and painted eulogies. The New-York Evening Post described Cole's passing as a "public and national calamity." William Cullen Bryant, in his Funeral Oration, compared it to a violent convulsion in the natural order that "amazes and alarms us." Concluding, Bryant asserted that "[Cole] will be reverenced in future years as a great master in art." Later that year the members of the American Art-Union, the National Academy of Design, and the New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts cooperated and displayed a memorial exhibition of Cole's paintings at the Art-Union building. This exhibition, which included many of Cole's Italy-inspired paintings, had a significant impact on a younger generation of landscape painters -- many whose works appear in this project -- and their potential patrons. [xvi]

Several young American artists made the journey to Italy as a significant part of their ongoing artistic education. After a short-lived career as an architect, Jasper Francis Cropsey turned to landscape painting in the mid-1840s. He became famous for his landscapes of American autumns in the northeast. In 1847, Cropsey traveled to Europe on a honeymoon with his wife, Maria. They went to England, Scotland, France, and Switzerland before arriving in Italy that fall, and, while in Rome, visited the historic sites that had become a canonical part of any stay in the city. The Colosseum (Coliseum) (fig. 3) shows the ancient Flavian amphitheater and the Arch of Constantine in Rome as viewed by tourists from the Arch of Titus. The following summer, the Cropseys shared a villa with sculptor and author William Wetmore Story and his wife in Sorrento. With the revolutionary events in Europe in spring 1849, the Cropseys left Italy for France and England, arriving back in the United State in mid-summer. Although Cropsey never returned to Italy, for the rest of his career he created oil paintings, including Ruins at Narni, Italy (fig. 4), recollected from the sketches he made during his sojourn in the late 1840s.

In 1856 and 1857, young American painter Albert Bierstadt, following study in Düsseldorf, traveled with fellow artists Worthington Whittredge, William Stanley Haseltine, and Sanford Robinson Gifford throughout Switzerland and Italy. Bierstadt spent the winter of 1856 and 1857 in Rome. That spring, Gifford and Bierstadt traveled together on foot, camping outdoors and sketching, throughout Lazio and Abruzzi, and on to Naples, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast. Bierstadt returned to Massachusetts in the summer of 1857 and created numerous oil paintings based upon his Swiss and Italian sketches over the next several years, including View of Subiaco, Italy (fig. 5). The Italian hill town of Subiaco, east of Rome, still serves as the headquarters of the Benedictine order where, in the fifth century, St. Benedict lived as a hermit in a cave (Sacro Speco) and wrote his famous "Rule" for monasteries at Monte Cassino. Like Cropsey, Bierstadt would use his Italian sketchbooks as source material for paintings for several years after his tour. [xvii]

Some American artists, including Bierstadt's friend Sanford Robinson Gifford, made several trips to Italy during their lifetimes. Artists often used small oil sketches to assist them in translating compositional ideas and elements to larger canvases. Gifford's The Roman Campagna (fig. 6), featuring the Claudian aqueduct diminishing in perspective toward the mountains outside of Rome, served as the basis for other, larger exhibition pieces. [xviii]

Other American painters became expatriates and lived in Italy for large portions of their careers. For example, the Philadelphia-born William Stanley Haseltine visited and then lived in Italy in 1856 through 1858, 1865, 1867 through 1873, and again in 1874 through his death in Rome in 1900. Italian scenes of Capri, Venice, Sicily, Lago Maggiore, and Genoa thus dominate Haseltine's oeuvre. Although American artists like Haseltine spent years abroad, they never were removed completely from the political and cultural events in the United States. Haseltine's Torre degli Schiavi, Campagna Romana (fig. 7) features the Roman countryside from the site of an ancient mausoleum. The monument "became an architectural surrogate for Liberty, symbolic of [the artists'] optimistic faith in the American cause" prior to the Civil War. [xix]

American painters were a solid constituency around the sites and scenery of Italy during the three decades following Thomas Cole's death. American newspapers and journals reported on the actions of artists abroad. Tourists served as art patrons and their guidebooks were quick to offer the addresses of artists' studios. Murray's Handbook mentions that the "intellectual traveller" in Rome should visit "the studios of the artists" because they afford a visit of "the highest interest" and fewer sites "possess a greater charm." American artists in Rome became part of a larger fraternity of mostly young men. Murray's Handbook romanticizes the artists' community and notes that "it is an honourable circumstance that men speaking so many different languages meet at Rome upon common ground, as if there were no distinction of country among those whom Art has associated in her pursuit." American painters made up a significant proportion of that "honourable circumstance" and, in 1858, William Cullen Bryant estimated the number of American artists in Rome at "thirty or more." [xx]

Several American painters became part of the tourist guide list of "the most celebrated of the artists of Rome" and their respective studios operated as tourist stops on the "Grand Tour." With a studio listed at 135 Via Babuino in Rome, John Gadsby Chapman, "landscape painter, and author of a good work on 'the Elementary Principles of Art,'" hosted "the intellectual visitor" looking to experience the great "charm" of a studio in Rome.[xxi] Born in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1808, John Gadsby Chapman took his first trip to Europe, financed by friends and by commissions to copy the old masters (Chapman made a copy of Guido Reni's Aurora for James Fenimore Cooper), in 1828. In the spring of 1848, Chapman, with his wife, daughter, and two sons, relocated to Italy. Of Rome, he wrote in 1854: "I have every reason to be happy and contented.... In a professional point of view I have all that I could desire, facilities of study and production, quiet, profitable association with art and artists of every nation at all times, and ... [I am] free from the wearing toil that I formerly endured in New York." Living in a top-floor studio apartment, with windows looking toward St. Peter's, Chapman and his family resided in Rome until 1884. He made his living painting small souvenir oils, including Service of Mass on the Campagna (fig. 8), for which he received the occasional large commission from British and American tourists who traveled to Rome.

Among the American artists in Rome who also created numerous versions of the same Italian locale for the tourist trade was John Gadsby Chapman's elder son, John Linton Chapman. He moved with his expatriate family to Europe, settling in Rome as a child. Born in Washington, D.C., in 1839, John Linton Chapman lived in Rome until 1878, exhibiting paintings of Italian subjects at the National Academy of Design in the early 1880s. J.L. Chapman painted the Via Appia (fig. 9), the ancient section of the great Roman road that led to Southern Italy, several times over the course of his career.[xxiii] "One of the most interesting excursions from Rome, and one of those most easily accomplished," a tour of the Via Appia not only served as a visit to "one of the most celebrated lines of communication which led from the capital of the Roman World" but as a chance to view the archaeological remains of the many ancient tombs and funerary monuments that lined the road. In Chapman's paintings of the Via Appia, as in George Loring Brown's Effect Near Noon-Along the Appian Way (fig. 10), local peasants or shepherds with their goats inhabit the ancient road. In Via Appia and Along the Appian Way, Chapman and Brown, respectively, show the view along the ancient road looking back toward the city of Rome. The dome of St. Peter's, the most visible landmark for any American tourist approaching the city for the first time, stands at the distant horizon in Chapman's image but looms large at the left side of Brown's painting. The Via Appia, its historical associations, and its ancient ruins of mausoleums resonated for nineteenth-century Americans as both a beautiful, picturesque site and as a tangible reminder of the cycle of human history.

Largely because of its Catholic heritage, Rome often stirred contradictory or ambiguous feelings for mid-nineteenth-century visitors, typically Protestants. In spite of American fascination with the history of Rome, American tourists often noted Roman vices, especially beggary. William Wetmore Story observed that "begging, in Rome, is as much a profession as praying and shopkeeping. Happy is he who is born deformed, with a withered limb, or to whom Fortune sends the present of a hideous accident or malady; it is a stock to set up trade upon." Making connections between idleness and the Catholic Church, Story continued: "The splendid robes of ecclesiastical Rome have a draggled fringe of beggary and vice.... Industry is the only purification of a nation; and as the fertile and luxuriant Campagna stagnates into malaria, because of its want of ventilation and movement, so does this grand and noble people." For Story, "the restrictive policy of the [Roman Catholic] Church," in contrast to the "industrious" character of U.S. Protestantism, caused idleness, beggary, and vice; if only the church of the "grand and noble" Romans would promote freedom of thought and action, then beggary and other social ills would disappear. Americans in the mid-nineteenth century believed that the Italian people had been prevented, by the tradition and power of the Roman Catholic Church, from advancing in science, art, and technology. Instead the church engendered superstition, poverty, and indolence, and perhaps worst of all, was tyrannical and undemocratic. [xxiv]

Most of the people who produced, commissioned, or collected paintings of Italy belonged, or aspired to belong, to a northern American, Protestant, urban professional and business culture. Typically, they held strong values centered in American republican Protestant traditions. The patrons and painters established and utilized art organizations like the National Academy of Design, the Boston Athenaeum, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Richard L. Bushman has argued that "the culture of the educated elite in the eighteenth century had become by 1840 the primary stylistic vocabulary of the entire nation." The majority of American images of Italy reflect the perspective of those best able to travel to Europe -- Protestant men and women representing a northeastern, upper- to middle-class. The preponderance of classical allusions in American civic culture exposes the nation's longing to fulfill greatness comparable to that of Periclean Athens or Republican Rome, under the leadership of men who personified the virtues of the ancients. Among the painters themselves, it was widely held that European subjects were more readily salable, a fact that sent more than one young American artist abroad with sketchbook in hand looking to store up a reservoir of scenes for future large canvas commissions. The paintings of Italian scenes reflect, encode, and encapsulate the issues and concerns that were forefront for the patrons, art associations, and museums of the mid-nineteenth century. As the pictures and the essays in this book argue, these American images of Italy help us to understand questions of race, gender, immigration, politics, religion, history, and aesthetics in the years -- 1840s to 1870s -- surrounding the Civil War in the United States. [xxv]

The United States after the Civil War differed in numerous ways from antebellum America. Emancipation and the effects of war revolutionized the social and economic order of the United States. During the Civil War and Reconstruction, a powerful national government, possessing greatly augmented authority and a new commitment to the ideal of national citizenship, came into being. The end of slavery in the United States produced extensive discussions over the role former slaves and their offspring would play in American life and freedom. Economic developments and changes brought new political issues to the foreground and re-determined concepts of race, class, and labor ideology in both North and South. But perhaps the most profound impact of the Civil War on American society was its human cost. As historian David M. Potter writes, "Slavery was dead; secession was dead; and six hundred thousand men were dead."[xxvi] Many of the issues confronting American artists, writers, critics, and art patrons of the Reconstruction era differed greatly from pre-Civil War concerns. By the 1880s, Rome was no longer the primary pilgrimage site for young artists, overshadowed by the more poetic Venice or the more cosmopolitan and modern Paris. Paintings by mid-nineteenth-century Americans either created in Italian studios or from numerous sketches made abroad, reflect the social, economic, religious, and artistic concerns of the Americans who created, purchased, disseminated, and displayed these images of Italy.

Notes:

i. Van Wyck Brooks, The Dream of Arcadia: American Writers and Artists in Italy 1760-1915 (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1958), 85.

ii. Jules David Prown and Kenneth Haltman, eds., American Artifacts: Essays in Material Culture (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2000). See Prown, "The Truth of Material Culture: History or Fiction?," 11-27, and Haltman, introduction, 1-10. For a discussion of the material culture methodology within the context of art historical scholarship in the United States see Wanda Corn, "Coming of Age: Historical Scholarship in American Art," Art Bulletin 70 (June 1988): 203. The overall goal of Classic Ground involves synthesizing close textual readings of paintings of Italy created by American artists with an understanding of the context of the paintings within the social and cultural history of the late antebellum United States. Classic Ground is also based upon the premise that paintings, like historical events, do not just happen; they are the results of causes. My approach to antebellum American paintings of Italy utilizes a material culture methodology. The method derives from the analysis recently outlined by Jules David Prown and Kenneth Haltman. The methodology involves a rigorously practical approach to understanding things, and analysis followed by interpretation. Prown and Haltman outline the basic approach: (1) choose an object; (2) thoroughly describe the object; (3) make clear intellectual and sensory responses to the object; (4) elucidate emotional responses; (5) entertain hypotheses concerning what the object signifies and the cultural work it might have accomplished; (6) think creatively about what research would be necessary to test the interpretive hypotheses; and (7) compose a polished interpretive analysis. My goal in using a material culture approach embraces a grounding of the social context of the paintings within the messages encoded in the works of art themselves.

iii. Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York: Vintage Books, 1991).

iv. Some of the exhibitions and scholarship on American artists in Italy include E. P. Richardson and Otto Whittmann, Jr., introduction to Travelers in Arcadia: American Artists in Italy, 1830-1875 (Detroit and Toledo: Detroit Institute of Arts and Toledo Museum of Art, 1951); Otto Whittman, "The Attraction of Italy for American Painters," Antiques 85, no.5 (May 1964): 552-557; The Arcadian Landscape: Nineteenth-Century American Painters in Italy (Lawrence: University of Kansas Museum of Art, 1972); Barbara Novak, "Arcady Revisited: Americans in Italy," in Nature and Culture: American Landscape Painting 1825-1875, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995); Regina Soria, Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century American Artists in Italy, 1760-1914 (East Brunswick, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1982); Irma B. Jaffe, ed., The Italian Presence in American Art 1760-1860 (New York and Rome: Fordham University Press and Instituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1989) and The Italian Presence in American Art 1860-1920 (New York and Rome: Fordham University Press and Instituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1992). Also, see Wendy A. Cooper, Classical Taste in America 1800-1840 (New York: The Baltimore Museum of Art and Abbeville Press, 1993); William L. Vance, America's Rome (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989); and Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., The Lure of Italy: American Artists and The Italian Experience 1760-1914 (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1992).

v. Jaffe, preface, Italian Presence 1860-1920, vii.

vi. Paul Hazard, The European Mind, 1680-1715 (New York: New American Library, 1963), 7. Jeremy Black, The British Abroad: The Grand Tour in the Eighteenth Century (Pheonix Mill: Sutton Publishing, 1992), 48. For the British origins of the Grand Tour, see Edward Chaney, The Evolution of the Grand Tour (London: Frank Cass, 1998) and Christopher Hibbert, The Grand Tour (London: Thames Methuen, 1987). The social and cultural impact of the Grand Tour and British tourism on Rome is detailed in the chapter "Letters, Art and Visitors" in Maurice Andrieux, Daily Life in Papal Rome in the Eighteenth Century, trans. Mary Fitton (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1968).

vii. For more on George Inness's A Bit of the Roman Aqueduct, see Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., and Michael Quick, George Inness (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1985), 70; and American Paintings at the High Museum of Art (New York and Atlanta: Hudson Hills Press and the High Museum of Art, 1994), 68-69. The quotation about Inness's trip to Italy comes from George Inness, Jr., Life, Art, and Letters of George Innes (1917; repr., New York: Kennedy Galleries and Da Capo Press, 1969), 27.

viii. For European artists on the Grand Tour in Italy, see Andrew Wilton, The Art of Alexander and John Robert Cozens (New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, 1980); Cecilia Powell, Turner in the South: Rome, Naples, Florence (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1987); Keith Andrews, The Nazarenes: A Brotherhood of German Painters in Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964); and Peter Galassi, Corot in Italy: Open Air Painting and the Classical-Landscape Tradition (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1991); and Andrew Wilton and Ilaria Bignamini, eds., Grand Tour: The Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth Century (London: Tate Gallery Publishing, 1996).

ix. See John Paul Driscoll, John F. Kensett Drawings (University Park: Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania State University, 1978); John K. Howat, John Frederick Kensett 1816-1872 (New York: The American Federation of Arts, 1968); and John Frederick Kensett: A Retrospective Exhibition (Saratoga Springs: Hathorn Gallery, Skidmore College, 1967).

x. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun or the Romance of Monte Beni ( New York: New American Library, 1980), 215.

xi. See Novak, Nature and Culture, 203-225; Martin Christadler, "Romantic Landscape Painting in America: History as Nature, Nature as History," in Gaehtgens and Ickstadt, 93-117; and J. Gray Sweeney, "The Nude of Landscape Painting: Emblematic Personification in the Art of the Hudson River School," Smithsonian Studies in American Art (Fall 1989): 43-65.

xii. Wood, Radicalism, 101.

xiii. See Richard L. Bushman, introduction, Classical Taste.

xiv. Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, 14.

xx. Eleanor L. Jones, catalogue entry for Dream of Arcadia in Stebbins, Lure of Italy, 178-179.

xvi. New-York Evening Post, 19 February 1848, 4. William Cullen Bryant, Funeral Oration Occasioned by the Death of Thomas Cole (New York: D. Appleton, 1848), 3 and 37. See J. Gray Sweeney, "The Advantages of Genius and Virtue: Thomas Cole's Influence, 1848-58," in William H. Truettner and Alan Wallach, eds., Thomas Cole: Landscape into History (New Haven, London, and Washington, DC: Yale University Press and National Museum of American Art, 1994), 113-135; and Mary Bartlett Cowdrey, American Academy of Fine Arts and American Art-Union, Exhibition Record 1816-1852 (New York: New-York Historical Society, 1953).

xvii. For more on Cropsey's trip to Italy, see William S. Talbot, Jasper Francis Cropsey 1823-1900 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1970). For some of the more detailed descriptions of Bierstadt's first European tour, see Nancy K. Anderson and Linda S. Ferber, Albert Bierstadt: Art & Enterprise (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1990); Gordon Hendricks, Albert Bierstadt: Painter of the American West (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1973); and Paul Manoguerra, "Anti-Catholicism in Albert Bierstadt's Roman Fish Market, The Arch of Octavius," Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide 2, no. 1, Winter 2003, http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org/.

xviii. A discussion of Gifford's Italian sojourn is included in Ila Weiss, Poetic Landscape: The Art and Experience of Sanford R. Gifford (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1987) and America and the Grand Tour: Sanford Robinson Gifford at Home and Abroad (Poughkeepsie, NY: Vassar College Art Gallery, 1991).

xix. Charles C. Eldredge, "Torre dei Schiavi: Monument and Metaphor," Smithsonian Studies in American Art 1, no. 2 (Fall 1987): 32. For more on Haseltine, see Marc Simpson, Andrea Henderson, and Sally Mills, Expressions of Place: The Art of William Stanley Haseltine (San Francisco: The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1992).

xx. A Handbook for Travellers in Central Italy, Vol. 2: Rome and its Environs, 3rd ed. (London: John Murray, 1853), 224 and 12. Letter to the Evening Post, 21 May 1858, from William Cullen Bryant II and Thomas G. Voss, eds., The Letters of William Cullen Bryant, vol. 4 (New York: Fordham University Press, 1984), 34.

xxi. A Handbook of Rome and Its Environs; Forming Part II of the Handbook for Travellers in Central Italy, 6th ed. (London: J. Murray, 1862), 284 and 286.

xxii. Chapman's known versions of Via Appia are dated between 1868 and 1879, and are in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum and the Denver Art Museum, among others. For more on John Gadsby Chapman, see William P. Campbell, John Gadsby Chapman (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1962).

xxiii. Murray, A Handbook of Rome, 337-338.

xxiv. William Wetmore Story, Roba di Roma, 7th ed. (London: Chapman and Hall, 1876), 46. Story's chapter from Roba di Roma on "Beggars in Rome" also appeared in Boston's Atlantic Monthly 4, no. 12 (August 1859): 207-219. Essayists in Robert K. Martin and Leland S. Person, eds., Roman Holidays: American Writers and Artists in Nineteenth-Century Italy (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2002) argue that Italy served American nineteenth-century writers and artists as "a kind of laboratory site for encountering Others and 'other' kinds of experience."

xxv. See Bushman, introduction, Classical Taste, 14.

xxvi. See Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 (New York: Harper & Row, 1988) and David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis 1848-1861 comp. and ed. Don E. Fehrenbacher (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 583.

 

About the author:

Paul A. Manoguerra is Curator of American Art at the Georgia Museum of Art

 

About the exhibit:

Classic Ground: Mid-Nineteenth-Century American Painting and the Italian Encounter will be on view at the Georgia Museum of Art from October 23, 2004 through January 2, 2005.

Classic Ground brings together a group of paintings by American artists as a result of their mid-nineteenth-century Italian travels on what was known as the "Grand Tour." Included in this exhibition are paintings by Thomas Cole, Martin Johnson Heade, Albert Bierstadt, and jasper Francis Cropsey, as well as other American painters who created a body of work featuring Italian landscapes, people, buildings and life. The time frame for this exhibition includes American painting with Italian subject matter from the 1840s and the 1870s and focuses on a group of paintings and their reception and context in America just prior to and after the Civil War.

Antebellum Americans believed that they had a special relationship with Italy as a result of their European travels. Many Americans, including the artists whose work appears in this exhibition, believed that they knew more about the history of the tourist sites than the Italians themselves. In the mid-19th century a trip or winter season in Italy, mainly Rome, became fashionable for many American artists and tourists. American artists visited Italy for a number of reasons. The opportunity to view the classical world, to learn ancient history, to celebrate classical moral virtue, and to have a personal adventure were among these. Traveling to Italy and other countries in Europe gave Americans another point of view and a window into a world rich in history. Artists from the United States visited Rome, Florence, and Venice to copy the paintings of the masters and to experience the light of Italy. This journey for Americans was a continuation of the English tradition of the Grand Tour. Several American painters even became part of the list of "the most celebrated of the artists of Rome." Travel was seen as an education and a valuable life experience and Rome was seen as the "goal," the traveler's focus of interest because of its classical history.

Achieving canonical status, thanks to guidebooks, many of the sights and towns in Italy were visited repeatedly for decades adding to the popularity of certain monuments and ruins. Many young American artists made the journey to Italy as a part of their ongoing artistic education and began to paint popular sites in Italy because they were well received in the United States. The American images of Italy give a better understanding to race, gender, immigration, politics, religion, history, and aesthetics in the years surrounding the Civil War in the United States.

This exhibition is organized by Paul Manoguerra, curator of American art.

 

About the catalogue

Featuring essays by Paul Manoguerra, curator of American Art at the Georgia Museum of Art, and Janice Simon, professor of art history at the Lamar Dodd School of Art, Classic Ground: Mid-Nineteenth-Century Painting and the Italian Encounter, published in October, 2004 by the Georgia Museum of Art, ISBN: 0-915977-54-0, accompanies the exhibition of the same title. (right: Front cover of Classic Ground: Mid-Nineteenth-Century Painting and the Italian Encounter. Courtesy of Georgia Museum of Art)

rev. 2/16/05

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