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Italian Renaissance Artists

As Machiavelli, Ariosto, and Tasso were composing their political prose and epic poetry during the sixteenth-century, Francesca Francia, Sebastiano del Piombo, Raphael, Titian, and Veronese were making their own political and epic gestures in paint on fresco and canvas. Melville’s lifelong interest in sixteenth-century Italian painting is seen in the galleries he visited and the books he collected as well as in the prints he acquired. In London in 1849 and in Italy in 1857 he sought out galleries, churches, and villas featuring the work of Italian Renaissance masters, recording the names of artists and their works with considerable care in his journals. The depth of his interest in sixteenth-century Italian art is also shown in his acquisition of such books as Vasari’s 5-volume Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Valery’s Historical, Literary and Artistical Travels in Italy, Baxter’s The Renaissance of Art in Italy, and Bell’s Raphael; he also borrowed Lanzi’s three-volume The History of Painting in Italy from the library of his friend Evert Duyckinck. The fiction Melville wrote in his younger and middle years as well as the poetry he wrote later in life alludes to sixteenth-century Italian art with increasing sophistication.

Among the above books on Italian art, Valery’s Travels in Italy is of special interest because Melville acquired it while he was himself traveling in Italy in 1857. Antoine Claude Pasquin, known as Valery (1789-1847), had been the librarian of Versailles and Trianon in France. He made four tours of Italy before completing the “second and improved edition” of Travels in Italy whose English translation was published as part of Baudry’s European Library in Paris in 1852. Melville bought and inscribed his copy of the book in Florence before leaving for Bologna on March 29 (fig. 1). He carried the book with him for the rest of his Italian travels and retained it as a rich reference resource after returning home. Melville’s personal copy of the book is now in the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library (Sealts no. 533).

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Figure 1. Melville’s inscription on the cover of the 1852 English translation of Valery’s Travels in Italy he acquired in Florence in 1857, now in the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library.

Matching Melville’s inscription on the cover of Travels in Italy are the markings added to the fold-out “Road-Map of Italy” tucked inside the back cover (fig. 2). This extremely detailed map of roads, cities, rivers, mountains, and coastlines throughout Italy would have been very helpful in plotting out his future travel through Central and Northern Italy while also reviewing the path he had taken from Sicily in the South up through Naples to Rome to Florence. The extensive markings added to the map appear to have been designed to help him recognize what might not otherwise be obvious to a newcomer such as himself in such a detailed map in a foreign language: the borders among the various kingdoms, secular states and papal states that were far from being unified and oftentimes in conflict. Recognizing the borders he would be crossing on a given day or week would have been important in planning his itinerary, and highlighting those borders in different colors on Valery’s map would have been very helpful in distinguishing them from the maze or roadways already crisscrossing the peninsula. The borders dividing various states in northern Italy alone are suggested by the subtitle of John Murray’s 1852 Handbook: Embracing the Continental States of Sardinia, Lombardy and Venice, Parma and Piacenza, Moden, Lucca, and Tuscany as far as the Val d’Arno.

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Figure 2. The colored lines running over all the other lines on the fold-out road-map in Melville’s copy of Valery’s Travels in Italy were presumably added to help Melville distinguish the borders and names of the various kingdoms, secular, and papal states he was to be passing through.

Below is a different copy of the fold-out map from the 1852 edition of Travels in Italy without the colored highlighting that was added to Melville’s copy. Here you can see the density of the visual and verbal information on the map even before the colored overlay was added. You can also see the size of the fold-out map in relation to the size of the book into which it folds (fig. 3).

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Figure 3. Unmarked fold-out map in 1852 edition of Valery’s Travels in Italy.

The clearest existing outline of the itinerary of Melville’s travels in Italy in 1857 is found in the Italian section of the map of his entire Mediterranean journey in the Northwestern Newberry edition of his Journals. To assist the reader and ourselves in following Melville’s transit through the towns and topography of the Italian peninsula, we have superimposed the path he took through selected areas of the fold-out map as his journey unfolded. We begin with his travel up the coast of Italy after arriving in the Bay of Naples “before day break” on a steamboat from Messina in Sicily on the morning of February 18. While entering the bay, “Dim mass of Vesuvius soon in sight. Recognized it from pictures of outline. Soon, smelt the city” (NN J 380, 101).

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Figure 4. Detail of fold-out map of Valery’s Travels in Italy overlaid by the path Melville followed up the coastline from Naples to Rome and Leghorn before turning inland to Pisa and Florence on March 23, 1857.

After spending a week in Naples and its environs (including a walk up to the rim of Vesuvius), Melville continued up the coast to Rome, exploring its churches, museums, ruins, and surrounding villas for four weeks before continuing up the coast to Civita Vecchio. Arriving in that port city early on the morning of March 22, Melville immediately boarded an overnight French steamer which landed him in Leghorn early the next morning. From Leghorn he took a train to Pisa which allowed him to spend a few hours admiring its celebrated architecture before continuing to Florence that evening.

Melville acquired and inscribed his copy of Valery’s Travels at some point during the week in which he was admiring and exploring the churches, galleries, and environs of Florence. By the time he crossed the rugged Appenines from Florence to Bologna on March 29 (“Grand scenery. Long reaches of streams through solitary valleys. . . . Drawn by oxen part of the way. 4000 feet above sea”) Valery’s fold-out map was helping him to plot out the rest of his travel itinerary (fig. 5; NN J 116).

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Figure 5. Section of Valery’s fold-out map with the path Melville took from Florence to Bologna, Ferrara, and Padua before arriving in Venice on April 1, 1857.

Once Melville arrived in Bologna, he had a relatively straightforward path to Ferrara and Padua before angling over to Venice and the Adriatic on the afternoon of April 1. Melville’s experience of all four of those cities was to be greatly enriched by the “historical, literary, and artistical” information in Valery’s 781-page text. During six magical days in Venice, Melville had to sacrifice part of one glorious afternoon for visits with “the bankers and Sardinian Consul” (NN J 118).  Sardinia was the nation state anchored by Genoa on the western coast of Italy. Melville presumably had to meet with its consul in Venice to secure approval for the next leg of his journey, which would take him through several national and royal jurisdictions while traveling from Venice through Verona to Milan, from Milan to Turin, and from Turin to Genoa (see fig. 6). It was at this point that the color-coded marking on Melville’s personal copy of the fold-out map (fig. 2) would have been particularly helpful.

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Figure 6. A representation of the path of Melville’s westward journey from Venice to Milan via Verona and from Milan to Turin (Torino) via Novara before continuing south to the Gulf of Genoa on the coast, after which he traveled north from Genoa back through Novaro and across Lake Maggiore to Switzerland and through San Gotthard Pass to Lake Lucerne.

As Melville traveled west from Venice through Verona to Milan before continuing west to Turin (Torino) and south to Genoa, he was highly sensitive to the beauties of mountainous landscapes framing Lake Garda and Lake Como, beauties that became even more striking on the steamer that took him across the length of Lake Maggiore and into Switzerland (“Scenery fine. White-wash brush. Confusion of seasons. Pourings of cascades, numbers of hamlets”). The public and royal art museums of Milan, Turin, and Genoa were, like those in Florence, Bologna, and Venice, full of masterpieces Melville was eager to see and about which Valery’s astute, enjoyable commentary provided valuable insight. Many of the marks and annotations Melville made in his personal copy of Travels in Italy appear to have been made as he was himself traveling. In this sense, Valery’s book served as an auxiliary notebook to the journal entries he was making every day. The two annotations Melville made on the back of Valery’s fold-out map were keyed to specific pages of Valery’s text (fig. 7).

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Figure 7. Melville’s annotations on back of fold-out map in his copy of Travels in Italy, referring to specific passages in the Pisa and Parma sections of Valery’s text. New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division.

Melville’s annotation “410 chain &c” refers to a “captive’s chain” which hangs “on the front of the Landreducci palace” in Pisa beneath “the words Alla giornata (day by day),” a “combination” that had always “inspired” Valery “with a singular melancholy.” Melville's annotation “282 Correggio—Chamber” refers to “the celebrated chamber of Correggio, in the old convent of Saint Paul” in Parma. Above the fire-place was Correggio’s “fresco representing Diana in the clouds in a golden car drawn by two white hinds.” The “azure” ceiling is “covered with graceful genii wantoning among ovals pierced through a vast treillage” (the "figures in ovals” in Melville’s annotation). The “voluptuous and pagan decoration” throughout this chamber seem to Valery to “belong rather to some house of Herculaneum or Pompeii than the ceiling of an abbess’s closet” (Valery 410, 282).

After Melville returned to the United States, he gave lectures on “Statues in Rome” in 1857, wrote poems about his travels in Italy that he attempted to publish in 1860, and established the New York City home in which he collected hundreds of books and hundreds of prints while also publishing four books of poetry during the last three decades of his life. Valery’s book was to remain a valuable resource to Melville in all these endeavors far beyond the specific ways in which it had facilitated the last five weeks of his travel in Italy. The full title of Valery’s book was Historical, Literary, and Artistical Travels in Italy, a Complete and Methodical Guide for Travellers and Artists. 74 of its 781 pages of text were devoted to an extremely detailed index. Although Travels in Italy was most remarkable for Valery’s astute and detailed account of the “Artistical” heritage of every city he visited, his life as a librarian had also prepared him well for the “Historical” and “Literary” information he provided about each successive city. In our previous section on “Italian Renaissance Authors,” we have already seen the skill with which Valery, in “examining libraries,” has attempted “to make the history of books bear upon man, and to render bibliography instructive and philosophical” (ii).

Valery’s Travels in Italy was to be especially valuable to Melville as he built his print collection, wrote Clarel and the poetry of Timoleon, and continued to revise “At the Hostelry” and “An Afternoon in Naples in the Time of Bomba.” As soon as Melville opened the copy of Valery’s book he acquired in Florence, he would have seen a skillful composite image on its half-title page of three sites that had become very familiar to him during his previous month in Rome: St. Peter’s, the Bridge, and the Castle of St. Angelo, Rome (fig. 8).


Figure 8. Engraved vignette of St. Peter’s, the Bridge, and the Castle of St. Angelo, Rome on half-title page of Melville’s copy of Valery’s Travels in Italy, 1852. New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division.

Valery had adapted the above image from the illustration that R. Wallis had engraved after a watercolor by J. M. W. Turner for the 1830 edition of Samuel Rogers’s Italy: A Poem (fig. 9). This book of poetry caused a revolution in the British publishing industry because its engravings had been printed from steel plates rather than copper ones. Engraved lines incised in the more resistant surface of steel were clearer and sharper than those cut into softer copper, and they resulted in much larger print runs without losing clarity. The subtle, fluid atmospherics of the twenty-five watercolor designs that Turner provided for this edition of Rogers’s Italy were ideal for the new engraving technique. The book itself sold exceptionally well, but Turner’s designs were also printed in separate portfolios highly desired by collectors. Rogers owned first-proof impressions of each of these engravings on the finest India paper that he loved to show to visitors. Young Melville is likely to have seen them during his two visits to Rogers’s private gallery in December 1849, especially during the first one, in which there was “No one but he & I together,” as they examined Rogers’s “superb” collection (NN J 44, 46, 367-69, 375-76; Wallace, Melville and Turner, 284-88; Piggott, no. 15, p. 102).

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Figure 9. R. Wallis after J. M. W. Turner. Rome (Castle of St. Angelo). Steel engraving in Samuel Rogers, Italy: A Poem (London: Cadell and Moxon, 1830).

The image of Rialto’s Bridge above which Melville inscribed his name on the cover of Valery’s Travels in Italy (fig. 1) was adapted from W. Miller’s steel engraving of Venice (The Rialto—Moonlight), one of 33 engravings after Turner in the 1834 edition of Samuel Rogers’s Poems (fig. 10; Piggott, no. 39, p. 105). This was another steel engraving whose pristine first-proof impression on the finest India paper young Melville is likely to have seen during his visits to Rogers’s private gallery in December 1849.

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Figure 10. W. Miller after J. M. W. Turner. Venice (The Rialto—Moonlight). In Samuel Rogers, Poems (London: Cadell and Moxon, 1834). Tate Gallery, London.

Eight years after his two visits with Samuel Rogers, and less than two weeks after inscribing his name above the engraving of The Rialto—Moonlight on the cover of his copy of Travels in Italy, Melville would be walking directly into the actual world of the image Turner had created for Rogers’s Poems. On the evening of April 5, 1857, after an all-day excursion on the islands and waters surrounding Venice, Melville returned to the city at the Bridge of Sighs and “walked in piazza of St. Mark” with “crowds of people promenading.” From there he walked to the Rialto bridge from which he could “look up and down” the Grand Canal. As he walked “further on,” he savored the “clear, rich, golden brown” skin tones of the city’s “beautiful women.” Melville entered fully into the atmospherics of the engraving when he walked “by moonlight” back to “the piazza of St. Mark,” enjoying “singers, & Musicians” & “tumblers & comic actors in the open space near the Rialto” (NN J 119).

Seeing two of the images that Turner had created for the poetry of Samuel Rogers reproduced in the edition of Valery’s Travels in Italy that Melville acquired in Florence was just one of the ways in which his own travels in Italy in 1857 linked the young novelist who had visited Rogers’s private gallery in 1849 with the future poet who was to publish four books of poetry between 1866 and 1891. During those two visits in December 1849, Rogers was the ideal source of information about not only the literary and publishing worlds of England within which young Melville was striving to make his mark, but also about the European Old Master artists whose authentic paintings he recently been encountering for the first time at Hampton Court, the Dulwich Gallery, and the National Gallery.

At the same time in 1849, Rogers and his unrivalled private collection of European Old Master paintings were to be the perfect preparation for the two months of travel through Italy and its art galleries in 1857 that were to shape and inspire much of the rest of Melville’s life as a poet, book collector, and art collector. In his journal in 1849, Melville depicted Samuel Rogers as a “remarkable looking old man truly” (NN J 44). The portrait of Rogers by John Linnell currently at the Tate Britain Museum in London was painted in the early 1830s (fig. 11). The print that Melville was to acquire of Titian’s Landscape, with Herdsmen, from England’s Royal Collection, was engraved by Linnell in 1840 (CAT 109).

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Figure 11. John Linnell. Samuel Rogers, oil on canvas, c. 1832-33. Tate Gallery, London.

  • Works cited in this section:
  • Ariosto, Ludovico. Orlando Furioso. Tr. Guido Waldman. London: Oxford University Press, 1974.
  • Averett, Matthew Knox. “Becoming Giorgio Cornaro: Titian’s ‘Portrait of a Man with a Falcon.’” Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 74.4 (2011): 559-568.
  • Baxter, Lucy E. The Renaissance of Art in Italy: An Illustrated History, by Leader Scott [pseudo]. Tr. Russell Stockman. New York: Scribner and Welford, 1883. (Sealts, no. 451.1)
  • Bell, Nancy R. E. (Meugen). Raphael, by N. D’Anvers [pseud.]. 2nd ed.  New York: Scribner and Welford, 1880.  (Sealts, no. 55)
  • Bersani, Christina, and Valeria Roncuzzi. Bologna nei libre d’arte dei secoli XVI-XIX. Exhibition catalog 16 September – 16 October 2004. Bologna: Biblioteca dell’Archiginnasio, 2004.
  • Bishop, Ray. Paintings of the Royal Collection. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1937.
  • Butlin, Martin, and Evelyn Joll. The Paintings of J. M. W. Turner: Text. Rev. Ed. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1984.
  • Cocke, Richard. Veronese’s Drawings: with a Catalog Raisonne. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984.
  • Couché, Jacques, et al. Galerie du Palais royal, gravée d'après les tableaux des differentes ecoles qui la composent: avec un abrégé de la vie des peintres & une description historique de chaque tableau. 3 vol. Paris: Chez J. Couché and J. Bouilliard, 1786-1808.
  • Crowe, J. A., and G. B. Cavalcaselle. Titian: His Life and Times. With Some Account of his Family, Chiefly from New and Unpublished Records. 2 vol. London: John Murray, 1877.
  • Darwin, Charles. The Voyage of the Beagle, vol. 29 of the Harvard Classics. New York: P. F. Collier, 1909.
  • Ekserdjian, David. “Francesco Francia.” Grove Dictionary of Art, 1996, 11:699-702.
  • “Giorgio Cornaro (H-4).”
  • Gould, Cecil. “Titian [Vecellio Tiziano].” Grove Dictionary of Art, 1996, 31: 31-45.
  • Hazlitt, William. “Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures belonging to Samuel Rogers.” Appendix IX in Criticisms on Art and Sketches of the Picture Galleries of England.  Second series. London: Templeman, 1844.
  • ______. Table Talk: Opinions on Books, Men, and Things. First American Edition. New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1845. 2 vol. in 1 (Sealts no. 266a).
  • Hirst,  Michael. Sebastiano del Piombo. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980.
  • Lanzi, Luigi Antonio. The History of Painting in Italy, from the Period of Revival of the Fine Arts to the End of the Eighteenth-Century. Tr. Thomas Roscoe. 3 vol. New edition, revised. London: Bohn, 1847 (Sealts no. 320).
  • Leyda, Jay. The Melville Log: A Documentary Life of Herman Melville, 1819-91. 2 vol. New York: Gordian Press, 1969.
  • Looney, Dennis. “Ariosto, Ludovico.” Grove Dictionary of Art, 1996, 2: 412.
  • Lucco, Mauro. “Sebastiano del Piombo.” Grove Dictionary of Art, 28: 331-36.
  • McIntosh, James. “Melville’s Copy of Goethe’s Autobiography and Travels.” Studies in the American Renaissance (1984): 384-407.
  • Murray, John, publisher. Handbook for Travellers in Central Italy: including the Papal States of Rome and the Cities of Erutria. London: John Murray, 1843 (Sealts no. 375).
  • ------. Handbook for Travellers in Central Italy, Part 1: Southern Tuscany and Papal States. Third ed. London: John Murray, 1853.
  • ------. Handbook for Travellers in Northern Italy: Embracing the Continental States of Sardinia, Lombardy and Venice, Parma and Piacenza, Moden, Lucca, and Tuscany as far as the Val d’Arno. With Traveling Map and Plans. Fourth ed., carefully revised and corrected to the present time. London: John Murray, 1852.
  • Parker, Hershel. Herman Melville, A Biography, Volume 2, 1851-1891. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U P, 2002.
  • Pérez-Jofre, Teresa. Highlights of Art: Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid. Köln: Taschen, 2001.
  • Piggott, Jan. Turner’s Vignettes. London: Tate Gallery, 1993.
  • Piovene, Guido, and Remigo Marini. L’opera complete del Veronese. Milan: Rizzoli 1968.
  • Ridolfi, Carlo. “Life of Paolo Caliari Veronese, Painter.” From Marvels of Art or; the Lives of the illustrious Painters of Venice and the Republic, 1648. In Xavier F. Salomon, ed. and tr. The Lives of Veronese by Giorgio Vasari, Raffaele Borghini, and Carlo Ridolfi. London: Pallas Athene, 2009. 39-157.
  • Rigby, Elizabeth (Lady Eastlake). “Reminisence of Samuel Rogers.” Quarterly Review 167 (October 1888): 504-13.
  • Roettgen, Steffi. Italian Frescoes: The Flowering of the Renaissance, 1470-1510. New York: Abbeville, 1996.
  • “Rogers’s Treasures.” The Athenaeum (London), 1470 (December 29, 1855): 1533-34.
  • Ruskin, John. Works. Ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn. 39 vol. London: George Allen, 1903-12.
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  • Scott, Leader. See Baxter, Lucy E.
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  • Sumner, Charles. The Best Portraits in Engraving. New York: F. Keppel & Co., 1875.
  • “The Collection of Samuel Rogers.” The Art Union (London) 9: 1847, pp. 83-85.
  • Valery, Antoine Claude Pasquin. Historical, Literary and Artistical Travels in Italy, a Complete and Methodical Guide for Travellers and Artists. Tr. C. E. Clifton. Paris: Baudry, 1852. (Sealts no. 533).
  • Von Hadeln, Detlev, Baron. “A Portrait by Paolo Veronese.” Burlington Magazine 52 (April 1928): 191-93.
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  • Vogel, Mark. "The Light from the Whale." The Keeper's Log 30 (Fall 2014): 56-62.
  • Waagen, Dr. [Gustav]. “Mr. Rogers’s Collection.” In Treasures of Art in Great Britain. London: John Murray, 1954; facsimile reprint London: Cornmarket Press, 1970. 73-82
  • Wallace, Robert K. “Melville’s ‘Venice,’ Turner’s Vignette, Ruskin’s Stones, and Darwin’s Voyage.” In Mediterranean Perspectives: Philosophy, Literature, History and Art. Ed. James E. Carraway. Dowling College Press, 1997. 21-35.
  • ------.  Turner and Melville: Spheres of Love and Fright. Athens: U. of Georgia P, 1992.
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