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Untitled ecclesiastical scene in Apse of St. Peter's, the Vatican, Rome

CAT 118 new untitled ecclesiasticalMSCP_Reese_39.jpg

CAT 118. Untitled ecclesiastical scene in apse of St. Peter's, the Vatican, Rome, c. 1830. William Reese Collection, Melville Society Archive, New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Melville’s copy of this colored image contains no information as to its artist, engraver, subject, site, or date. This is certainly a grand ecclesiastical occasion—with drapery in red and gold, the pope on his throne, cardinals in a row on either side, plumed troops at the far left, more soldiers on the right, dignitaries standing in a box, and figures in the center about to make a presentation, with many others, including women, watching. Carlo Pietrangeli, director general of the Vatican Museum, identified the site as the “apse of St. Peter’s” and dated the image to around 1830 (letter to the author 2 October 1992). Neal A. Fiertag recognized this print as the kind of image that was engraved in outline and then handcolorerd, usually by artists working in studios as a group. Such images “served as souvenirs, a forerunner of the modern postcard” (letter to the author 11 September 1992).

Whoever made the print, and wherever and whenever Melville acquired it, this “souvenir” gave him a visual representation of the post-Napoleonic restoration in Italy. Chronologically, its action was midway between Longhi’s 1806 engraving of Napoleon as the king of Italy and the restive condition of the Italian states as Melville experienced them in 1857, especially in Naples.