European Exchanges and Cross-pollination in the Era of Art Nouveau

Maria Paola Maino


By the late 1800s, Italy had been a stop on the Grand Tour for over a century thanks to the vestiges of its past and the treasures of the Renaissance. After the publication of Goethe's Italian Journey in 1816-17 and John Ruskin's series of books on architecture, The Stones of Venice, the last of which was published in 1853, Italy became a legendary destination for artists, intellectuals, and the cream of the crop of international society. The era's greatest writers set their novels in Italy after having visited it - Edward Morgan Forster's A Room with a View stands out - while rich bibliophiles collected antique editions of the Divine Comedy, which they displayed in the so-called “Dante cabinets” of opulent mansions and the neo-Renaissance castles of Gino Coppedè (1866- 1927). During the second half of the 19th century, Pre-Raphaelite painters held sway. They adopted Dante and the Italian Middle Ages as an incomparable model of aesthetic beauty, the perfect union between the artist and the craftsman, which they set against the rampant industrialisation that was taking place in England. Their fame reached Italy through the magazine Emporium, founded in 1895, which dedicated monographic essays to each one of the Pre-Raphaelite painters, although it should be said that a decade earlier Gabriele D'Annunzio already owned copies of their paintings, which were admired by the cosmopolitan elites who attended his parties. Additionally, as early as 1881 Edward Burne Jones (1833-1898) had designed the mosaics and William Morris (1834-1896) the majolica decorations for the first non-Catholic church in Rome, St. Paul Within the Walls, supported by the collector and philanthropist J.P.Morgan, after a newly united Italy in 1861 had made freedom of religion possible. In 1893 the Roman painter Giulio Aristide Sartorio (1860-1932) travelled to London to study their paintings and meet them in person. Sartorio's own paintings would be highly influenced by his stay in London, and he was one of the first to write an essay on Pre-Raphaelite painting, published in the Italian magazine Il convito in 1895.

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