Artists came to Italy from across the Atlantic as they had come for centuries from the rest of Europe. Many were painters, but they no longer came to learn a manner or technique of painting; the centres for such training were already shifting. They came rather to the wellsprings of western art, to that Latin land through which there had flowed into the West its ancient inheritance from Greece and from which had spread the quickening spirit of the Renaissance. They were quick to feel the wonder of its past; they were even quicker, perhaps, to respond to its present beauty.
Sculptors reaped the most immediate practical benefits, for here were patrons attracted by the fame of Thorwaldsen and of the English sculptor, John Gibson, ready to buy statues they would never have considered at home. Here, too, was a plentiful supply of good and inexpensive marblecutters, such as existed in no other land. Material conditions could scarcely have been more favourable, but the results were disappointing. The gap between the artist's intent and the craftsman's execution all too often led to lifelessness in the finished product. This danger seems to have affected untrained American talent even more than that of Europeans schooled in the classical tradition. Indeed, this declining tradition itself was not the best in which to develop a vigorous group of sculptors coming from a very different kind of life. Yet, if the works of Thomas Crawford, Harriet Hosmer, William Henry Rinehart, William Wetmore Story, and Moses Ezekiel seem remote today, these sculptors played an important part in the relationship between Rome and nineteenth-century America. Harriet Hosmer has become a legend as the centre of a group of women active in the artistic life of Rome. The Rinehart scholarships for American sculptors studying in Paris and Rome still keep green the memory of a gentle artist's love for the Old World and the New as well as for his art. The studios of Crawford, Story, Ezekiel and others were centres of pleasant social life. Crawford's son, Marion, carried on the tradition of this life in his romantic novels of Rome and his Ave Roma Immortalis. In his lifetime Story's interests were divided between the law, for which he was trained at Harvard, the art of sculpture, which he practised with considerable success in Rome, and his writing, which expressed a romantic side not apparent in his solidly classical sculpture. It was almost inevitable that Hawthorne's American hero in Rome should be a sculptor, that his studio should be modelled after Story's, that the statue described there should be Story Cleopatra, and that the heroines, Miriam and Hilda, should be drawn from Harriet Hosmer's group. Story's own 0 volume, Roba di Roma, remains a haunting word picture of Roma sparita, the 'vanished Rome' of the days just before the papal city became the capital of united Italy. 'The golden air, as I look over its pages, makes a mist,' Henry James wrote of it in later years.
Painters and writers, able to practise their arts with less expenditure of money than sculptors and with less dependence on other hands, were less hampered by circumstances and tradition and freer to take inspiration from a slant of light or the shadow of a cloud. Landscape painters, of course, were strongly attracted by the deep, mellow colours, the tempered intensity of light, and the endless combinations of the works of nature and of man which formed irresistible compositions on every side. Even portrait and figure painters were drawn to landscape in this land, or at least to sketching picturesque scenes. Samuel F. B. Morse, still primarily interested in painting rather than in the telegraph, turned aside in 1830 from the portraits that furnished his living to paint his Chapel of the Virgin at Subiaco. As a pupil of Allston, of course, it is not surprising that he should have delighted in this serene landscape. Daniel Huntington, Morse's pupil, painter of portraits and religious subjects, was also strongly attracted by the Roman landscape in the forties; and in the fifties and sixties such portrait painters as William Page and George Peter Alexander Healy were touched by the spell of Roman light and Roman monuments. Elihu Vedder, too, though best known for his fanciful excursions into the fields of mythology and literature, painted a few delightful Roman views when he first visited Italy in the fifties, and more when he settled there a decade later.
In the Italian countryside, American painters saw at first hand the beauty they had admired in the landscapes of Claude Lorrain. The artists of the romantic Hudson River School, America's first recognized group of landscape painters, were with few exceptions men from the northern, north-middle, or midwestern states, to whom the Roman light and the teeming life and colour of Mediterranean lands were a revelation. Thomas Cole, pioneer of the group, who was already well trained in his art when he first saw Italy in 1831, delighted in the combination of this gracious beauty with the handiwork of men. Describing the hill country north of Rome he lovingly pointed out the effects of changing lights on its 'distant villages and towers', implying its contrast with the wilder mountains that he loved in his homeland or in the quiet England in which he had been born. His descriptions exemplify his typically romantic axiom that an artist should 'walk with nature as a poet'. If he wrote much of Rome itself, little is now known except for one exquisite description of the Colosseum and a shorter passage on the Pantheon. 'The things that most affect me, in Rome', he wrote in a letter of 1832, 'are the antiquities. None but those who have seen the remains can form an idea of what Ancient Rome was.' His sketchbooks, however, are filled with drawings of the city's monuments and of the wide Campagna which spread between the city and the hills; some of these he translated into such paintings as the Roman Aqueduct.
The Campagna, especially that section south of Rome through which the Claudian Aqueduct passes along the Appian Way and thence up into the hills, was a favourite haunt of artists and authors alike. Among many fine descriptions, two are outstanding; one in Story Roba di Roma, begun in 1862, and one included in Henry James' Transatlantic Sketches of 1875.
'Over these long unfenced slopes', wrote Story, the complete romantic, 'one may gallop on horseback for miles without let or hindrance, through meadows of green smoothness on fire with scarlet poppies--over hills crowned with ruins that insist on being painted, so exquisite are they in form and colour, with their background of purple mountains--down valleys of pastoral quiet, where great tufa caves open into subterranean galleries leading beyond human ken; or one may linger in lovely secluded groves of ilexes and pines, or track the course of swift streams overhung by dipping willows, and swerving here and there through broken arches of antique bridges smothered in green . . . or sit beneath the sun-looped shadows of ivy-covered aqueducts, listening to the song of hundreds of larks far up in the air, and gazing through the lofty arches into wondrous deeps of violet-hued distances.'
Henry James' description has a more solid structure beneath its romantic atmosphere; his period of elaborate style for its own sake had not yet begun. 'The landscape here has two great features', he wrote of the Campagna, 'close before you on one side is the long, gentle swell of the Alban Mountains, deeply, fantastically blue in most weathers, and marbled with the vague white masses of their scattered towns and villas. It is hard to fancy a softer curve than that with which the mountain sweeps down from Albano to the plain; it is a perfect example of the classic beauty of line in the Italian landscape--that beauty which, when it fills the background of a picture, makes us look in the foreground for a broken column couched upon flowers, and a shepherd piping to dancing nymphs.' In painting, these descriptions are paralleled by Cole Roman Aqueduct and Inness' Italian Landscape, Roman Campagna.
Sooner or later most of the men associated with the Hudson River group came to Rome. Asher Durand, best known for his carefully detailed paintings of sunny New World fields and hills, was in Rome in the forties, as was also Jasper Cropsey, painter of the Hudson country. Sanford Gifford was there for the first time in the mid-fifties and again in later years. Healy painted Gifford with Longfellow and the poet's daughter Edith at the Arch of Titus in 1869. Gifford's own view of Tivoli, its hills, cascades, and ancient ruins enveloped in a rosy autumn haze, is dated 1879. George Loring Brown, in his time perhaps the most celebrated American landscape painter in Europe, spent some years in Rome in the fifties and sixties, while Albert Bierstadt, later to become a pioneer painter of the Rockies, passed the winter of 1857-1858 in the city, where he painted landscapes and genre scenes such as the Portico of Octavia. In 1868-1869Frederic E. Church, last of the great Hudson River men and the only pupil whom Cole himself had taught, spent some time in and about Rome on his return journey from Syria and Palestine. Panoramic views of then comparatively remote places, such as the Aegean Sea and the Andes, are more representative of his work, but his small sketches of Roman scenes and ruins have a boldness and freedom of handling lacking in his large canvases.
George Inness, beginning in the tradition of the Hudson River School, went on to a broader, less detailed style. The Italian Landscape of 1858 marks a period of transition. Inness' first visit to Italy, when he spent considerable time in and near Rome, was made in 1847-1848, but he returned often. The greater part of his Roman work belongs to his last residence there, from 1870 to 1874.