Raphael in Samuel Rogers’s London Home
The long through line from the visit to Hampton Court in 1849, to the acquisition of Hazlitt’s Criticisms on Art in 1870, to the climactic moment in the manuscript of Billy Budd, does not exhaust Melville’s lifelong interest in Raphael and his pictorial legacy. One month after his visit to Hampton Court in November 1849, he saw two Raphael paintings, in addition to several drawings, among the “superb pictures” in the private collection of the poet Samuel Rogers in London. He also saw paintings by other Italian Old Masters whose work he was to acquire in the form of engravings later in life: Francia, Titian, Veronese, Guido, and Domenichino. Melville visited Rogers’s fabled collection at St. James Place on December 19, 1849, soon after having made is third visit to the Old Master paintings in London’s National Gallery. Rogers’s private collection was reputed to be the finest in London—in addition to being the one best suited for introducing a young initiate into the glories of Old Master art. Melville’s initiation into Old Master paintings at Hampton Court had been followed by visits to the Dulwich Gallery in London, the Louvre in Paris, and museums and churches in Cologne in addition to London’s National Gallery, so he was fully primed to absorb whatever could be learned from Rogers and his private picture gallery. On the first of two visits Melville was alone with his host: “No one but he & I together” (NN J 16, 44, 46; Wallace, 1992: 288-96).
When Elizabeth Eastlake published her “Reminiscences of Samuel Rogers” in the Quarterly Review in 1888, while Melville was consolidating his now very extensive collection of Old Master prints, she remembered two paintings with special affection from her visits to Rogers’s collection before his death in 1856. One of those was Titian’s Christ appearing to the Magdalene, better known as Noli me Tangere (see CAT 109, fig. 2). That painting was widely considered to be the “gem” of Rogers’s collection; he bequeathed it to London’s National Gallery, where Melville would have seen it again when he returned to London in late April 1857 on the way home from Italy and the Mediterranean (NN J 128, 52). The other work that still remained indelible in Elizabeth Eastlake’s eye and mind thirty years after Rogers’s death was Raphael’s Virgin and Child (fig. 4), “one of the master’s sweetest compositions; the child standing with one foot on his mother’s hand. It had been reduced by ruthless rubbings to a mere a mere shadow, but the beauty was ineffaceable: hanging—how well remembered!—in the best light on the left hand wall in the drawing-room” (508).