Exhibition | City of the Soul: Rome and the Romantics

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Caitlin Smits on May 21, 2016

Opening in June at The Morgan Library:

City of the Soul: Rome and the Romantics  
The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 17 June — 11 September 2016

51DiQ-iXepLRome exists not only as an intensely physical place, but also as a romantic idea onto which artists, poets, and writers project their own imaginations and longings. City of the Soul examines the evolving image of Rome in art and literature with a display of books, manuscripts, prints, photographs, and drawings.

This groundbreaking exhibition considers the ever-evolving identities of Rome during a pivotal period in the city’s history, 1770–1870, when it was transformed from a papal state to the capital of a unified, modern nation. Venerable monuments were demolished to make way for government ministries and arteries of commerce. Building projects and improvements in archaeological techniques revealed long forgotten remnants of the ancient metropolis. A tourist’s itinerary could include magnificent ruins, ecclesiastical edifices, scenic vistas, picturesque locales, fountains, gardens, and side trips to the surrounding countryside.

The exhibition juxtaposes a century of artistic impressions of Rome through a superb selection of prints and drawings by recognized masters such as Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778), J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851), and Edward Lear (1812–1888) along with lesser known artists whose work deserves greater attention.

The invention of photography also influenced the image of the city. Photographers consciously played on the compositions of Piranesi and earlier masters of the veduta tradition, while at the same time exploiting the expressive potential of this new medium. As the meditative, measured pace of the Grand Tour gave way to the demands of organized tourism, they supplied their new clientele with nostalgia as well as novelty in their views of the Eternal City.

John Pinto, City of the Soul: Rome and the Romantics (Lebanon, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2016), 224 pages, ISBN: 978-0875981710, $50.

Rome, described by Byron as the ‘City of the Soul’, has always inspired fervid imaginings and visionary renderings of itself and its past. It has existed not only as an intensely physical place but also as a romantic idea onto which artists and writers projected their own imaginations and longings. City of the Soul illuminates how the spirit of Romanticism (the term itself invokes Rome)—its passion, imagination, individuality, transcendence, nonconformity—thrived in the artistic community of Rome in the century between 1770 and 1870.

The expansive artistic response to Rome during that period reflected the timeless yet changing city, when visitors experienced the transition from the Grand Tour to the onset of mass tourism and history witnessed Rome’s dramatic transformation from papal enclave to the capital of a newly unified Italy. Rome in the Romantic era attracted extraordinary writers and visual artists, and, as it had for centuries, facilitated vibrant artistic exchange among them. The records of these encounters—in the form of letters and diary entries, poems, novels, prints, drawings, watercolors, oil sketches, and the exciting new medium of photography—collectively constitute the portrait of a very particular place, a city that touched the very soul.

John A. Pinto taught for twenty-five years at Princeton University in the Department of Art and Archaeology. His research interests focus on the architecture of eighteenth-century Rome and on the relationship between the architecture of classical antiquity and that of the Renaissance. He currently resides in New York City.

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