Rome and its environs, Travellers in 1800s

But in Washington Allston Italian influence for its own sake became apparent. Able, because of independent means, to paint what he wished, and highly susceptible to his surroundings, he was strongly influenced both by Italy's beauty and by the colour and atmosphere of Roman and Venetian painters and of the French who followed them. The three-and-a-half years he spent in Italy from 1804 to 1808, chiefly in and about Rome, added to his natural romantic love of the 'wild and marvellous' a serene, idyllic note, a flowing line and classic grace not unlike the quality of Claude Lorrain. Like Claude, too, Allston painted, not so much specific monuments as atmospheric landscapes flooded with dreamy light and adorned with fanciful ruins.

Allston influenced American romantic painting rather by his compelling personality than by his actual work, which was comparatively small in volume. His pliable genius did not permit a consistent development of his art; but his personality was outstanding and pervasive. Friendly, urbane, always ready to aid and advise young artists, he helped to forge the links of understanding between the ancient culture of Rome and the growing traditions of the New World. Among his friends he numbered Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey, Canova, Thorwaldsen, Vanderlyn, Sully, Irving, Bryant, Longfellow, and Lowell; with some of them he shared long hours of artists' talk in the cafés of Rome. Years later, perhaps in 1836, a young American painter, James Freeman, listened to Vanderlyn's description of the gatherings at the Caffè Greco in the Via Condotti near the Spanish Steps, popular then as now for morning and evening coffee. 'One day Vanderlyn met me at the Greco', wrote Freeman in Gatherings from an Artist's Portfolio, many years later, 'and said, "Thirty years ago I was on this very spot", and, pointing to different seats, observed, "there sat Allston opposite me; that was Turner's corner; here, on my left, sat Fenimore Cooper; and there, I was told, Sir Joshua Reynolds and West sat."'

Irving wrote of the pleasure of seeing the city with Allston: 'We had delightful rambles together about Rome and its environs, one of which came near to changing my whole course of life. We had been visiting a stately villa, with its gallery of paintings, its marble halls, its terraced gardens set out with statues and fountains, and were returning to Rome about sunset. The blandness of the air, the serenity of the sky, the transparent charm which hangs about an Italian landscape, had derived additional effect upon being enjoyed in the company of Allston, and pointed out by him with the enthusiasm of an artist. . . . Suddenly the thought presented itself: "Why might I not remain here and turn painter?" . . . I promised myself a world of enjoyment in his society, and in the society of several artists with whom he had made me acquainted, and pictured forth a scheme of life, all tinted with the rainbow hues of youthful promise.'

Irving's notebooks for England and Wales and parts of the Continent are often illustrated by entertaining sketches, but, oddly enough, none of Rome are known. Perhaps he found the pleasure of absorbing it through Allston's eyes too engrossing to allow time for sketching.

Generation after generation of Americans reacted to Rome in Irving's fashion. Beauty of nature, beauty of men's work, the magic of the past, the companionship of kindred minds and tastes--all these Rome had to offer the traveller, the artist, and the writer, who followed the footsteps of Allston and came to Rome seeking with unconscious nostalgia the homeland in Europe of a common culture.

The spread of the romantic movement, that many-sided force expressed in philosophic thought, in politics, and in all the arts, was diverted somewhat by the French Revolution and its counter-force, the Napoleonic Wars. These upheavals kept Europe in turmoil from the late eighteenth century through the early years of the nineteenth. The romantic movement had begun in England soon after the middle of the century and had found quick acceptance in France in Rousseau's doctrine of 'back to nature' and the revolutionists' belief in the dignity of the individual. Eighteenth-century painting showed its influence in nostalgic mood, in picturesque contrasts of old with new, of ancient ruins with contemporary life. The violence of the Revolution, however, and the anti-English feeling that attended the Napoleonic struggles, almost stifled for a time the Continent's development of reflective, idyllic individualism; over Napoleon's France and the lands she influenced passed a wave of more formal, grandiose classicism, suited to the conqueror's imperial ideal.

The international give and take, the easy travel and exchange of ideas, which had been so characteristic of the eighteenth century, were seriously impaired during these war-torn years. At no time, however, did Rome cease to be a centre for visitors from all nations, and books dealing with its monuments continued to be in demand.

The Scotch traveller, Joseph Forsyth, detained for years on the Continent by order of Napoleon, wrote during this period of restraint one of the popular travel books of the early nineteenth century, Remarks on Antiquities, Arts, and Letters During an Excursion in Italy in the Years 1802 and 1803. About the same time the Englishman, John Chetwode Eustace, compiled his Journal of a Classical Tour through Italy, which was to wring bitter complaints from Byron's circle. How ready Rome herself was to display her monuments may be gathered from the title of Angelo Dalmazonni English volume of 1803: The Antiquarian; or The Guide for Foreigners to Go the Rounds of the Antiquities of Rome. The closing sentences of the author's preface make this readiness even clearer: 'I think, that whoever is furnished with this book, even without an antiquarian will be well satisfied with the guide, and instructive account of it. However if any Gentleman wishes to have my personal attendance, I shall be glad to do myself the honour of serving him.' Among German travel books from the same years were the dramatist August von Kotzebue Erinnerungen von einer Reise . . . nach Rom und Neapel, published in Germany in 1805 and in London in 1807, as Travels through Italy; Ludwig Herman Friedläander Ansichten von Italien während einer Reise in der Jahren 1815 und 1816, translated into English in 1820 as Views in Italy during a Journey in 1815 and 1816; and Elisa von der Recke's Tagebuch einer Reise durch Deutschland und Italien, 1804- 1806, the diary of a journey through Germany and Italy.

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