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).