Historians Rome 1800s

While painters, sculptors, and writers drew their inspiration from the city, historians were busy as well, carrying on the great tradition of Gibbon and consolidating Rome's position as a centre of scholarship. Niebuhr Roman History was published between 1811 and 1832; Mommsen's, from 1854 to 1856. Between 1855 and 1872 Ferdinand Gregorovius wrote his monumental and delightful History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages, conceiving the idea, as he noted in his Roman Journals, during a 'view of the city as seen from the bridge leading to the island of the Tiber'. During these same years the French Jean Jacques Ampère was weaving a web of mingled history and poetic interpretation in his Histoire romaine à Rome unfinished at his death in 1864, and its posthumous second part, L'Empire romain à Rome. He had already disclosed the pattern of his thought in La Grèce, Rome et Dante in 1848: 'To compare is to comprehend. You choose an object--no matter what--observe how it has been regarded by different men at different times, and a whole portion of human history passes before you.' In a more restrictedly historical vein the Englishman, Thomas Hodgkin, described the early medieval period in his Italy and HerInvaders Invaders, published from 1885 to 1899. Narrower in scope than Gregorovius' History, Hodgkin's work deals at great length with 'the changes by which classical Italy . . . became that Italy of the Middle Ages'.

During this period of intensive scholarship and rapidly growing travel, modern guidebooks came into being, to spread still more widely a general knowledge of the Eternal City. These guides, complete with lists of hotels, restaurants, and places of amusement as well as sights to be seen, began with the increase of travel after the Napoleonic Wars. John Murray, third of the British firm of Murray which had published the works of Scott and Byron, set out for the Continent in 1829, 'unprovided,' as he later wrote, 'with any guide excepting a few manuscript notes about towns and inns'. This situation he set about to remedy. The first edition of his Handbook for Central Italy appeared in 1843; by the time Hillard made his tour in 1847, he commented that 'there is not an innkeeper who does not turn pale at the name of Murray'. The German Baedeker followed the Murray tradition; early in the First World War the Scot, Findlay Muirhead, who had worked on the Baedeker staff, began the English Blue Guide series. Augustus Hare Walks in Rome was a development of Murray's guides. Having written some of the Murray handbooks, Hare put into his popular 'Walks' series the wealth of quotations and associations for which there had been no place in the more compact volumes. Heterogeneous as some of this material may seem, it is of endless value, not only as a key to what has been said of Roman monuments over almost two thousand years but also as to what the more reflective and widely read tourist of the nineteenth century wanted to know concerning them. The need for the book was evidently real; first published in 1870, it had gone through twelve editions on both sides of the Atlantic by the early eighties and reached its twenty-first in 1923.

By the time Hare first wrote, Rome was changing so rapidly that it was necessary to revise the volumes frequently. It was this changing Rome, more changeless, though, than he could have known, that Story described in passages of the Roba di Roma that might have been written to accompany the paintings of Ernst Meyer, Bierstadt, or Roesler-Franz. The opening chapter records his return in 1856 for his third visit to the city: 'We plunge into long, damp, narrow, dirty streets. . . . Yet--shall I confess it? they had a charm for me. Twilight was deepening into dark as we passed through them. Confused cries and loud Italian voices sounded about me. Children were screaming,--men howling their wares for sale. Bells were ringing everywhere. Priests, soldiers, contadini, and beggars thronged along. The Trasteverini were going home, with their jackets hanging over one shoulder. Women, in their rough woollen gowns, stood in the doorways, bare-headed, or looked out from windows and balconies, their black hair shining under the lanterns. Lights were twinkling in the little cavernous shops, and under the Madonna shrines far within. . . .

'It was dirty, but it was Rome; and to any one who has long lived in Rome even its very dirt has a charm which the neatness of no other place ever had. . . . Fancy for a moment the difference for the worse, if all the grim, browned, rotted walls of Rome, with their peeling mortar, their thousand daubs of varying grays and yellows, their jutting brickwork and patched stonework, from whose intervals the cement has crumbled off, their waving weeds and grasses and flowers, now sparsely fringing their top, now thickly protruding from their sides, or clinging and making a home in the clefts and crevices of decay, were to be smoothed to a complete level, and whitewashed over into one uniform and monotonous tint. What a gain in cleanliness! what a loss in beauty!'

In this second half of the nineteenth century, while artists, architects, historians, and travellers were busy each in his own way, Rome passed through the political upheavals which produced the modern capital. Left under Austrian domination after Napoleon's downfall, her citizens rebelled when the European revolutions of 1848 swept the Continent. Under the leadership of Garibaldi and Mazzini they declared their city a republic in 1849, but neither France nor Austria would permit the movement to succeed. France, though herself a republic at the time, moved to forestall Austria and restored the nominal papal power in 1850, under French protection, leaving to Austria the rest of Italy.

The northern state of Piedmont, with its expanded title of Sardinia, alone kept its revolutionary constitution. Count Cavour, leader of the movement there, maintained a steady pressure for a united kingdom free from foreign domination, which was finally achieved in 1861 with Victor Emmanuel of Savoy, king of Sardinia, as ruler of united Italy.

The kingdom's capital was first at Florence, Rome remaining separate under papal rule. In 1870, however, the French garrison finally withdrew, and before the end of the year a plebiscite made Rome a part of united Italy, and its capital. The Piedmont constitution of 1848 was the basis for that of the new kingdom and continued in force, at least nominally, even through the Fascist rule of 1922-1943. The present republic was voted in 1946; its new constitution went into effect on January 1, 1948.

This Roma sparita, dear alike to artists and travellers, was recorded for later eyes by both painters and early photographers. There was, indeed, but a fine line of distinction between the academically trained painter of the time and the photographer; each was bent on reproducing reality in the popular romantic mood and the work of each amplified that of the other. Outstanding among the painters who at this moment devoted themselves to portraying the vanishing Rome, was Ettore Roesler-Franz, Roman-born of Teutonic stock. Near the century's end he began the series of pictures in which the moment's transitory charm lives on in its moods of gray cloud and silver rain as well as its golden sun. Though a comparatively young man in the 1870's, he must have shared the feeling of the ageing Gregorovius, who had just completed his History of Rome in the Middle Ages. The historian wrote in his Journal for January, 1873: 'Building is proceeding at a furious pace. . . . Almost every hour witnesses the fall of some portion of ancient Rome. New Rome belongs to the new generation, while I belong to the ancient city, in whose spell-bound silence my history arose. Were I to come to Rome now for the first time, I neither should nor could conceive the idea of such a work.'

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