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Italian Renaissance Authors

Melville acquired engraved portraits of three Italian Renaissance authors who built upon the literary tradition of Dante and ancient Italian authors. Machiavelli completed The Prince in 1513. Ariosto completed his first version of Orlando Furioso in 1516, the final version in 1532. Tasso began publishing Jerusalem Delivered in 1575-76, completing the epic poem in 1581.

The portraits Melville acquired of each author originated in 1807, the year in which George Cooke's engraving of Machiavelli appeared in the Historical Gallery of Portraits and Paintings in London. During the same year in Florence, Raphael Morghen engraved portraits of Ariosto and Tasso for forthcoming editions of Orlando Furioso and Jerusalem Delivered in the “Fathers of Italian Language and Poetry” series. In 1863 the copies of the Ariosto and Tasso portraits that Melville acquired, in Robert Hart’s engravings after those by Morghen, were published in The Imperial Dictionary of Universal Biography.

One of the books Melville acquired during the last decade of his life, Lucy Baxter’s The Renaissance of Art in Italy, published under the pseudonym Leader Scott in 1883 (fig. 1), provided a unique link between the books he collected, the prints he collected, and his own travels through Italy in 1857. It also provided some new connections between the portraits of Italian Renaissance authors in his print collection and engraved artworks he collected by Italian Renaissance artists who had been inspired by those authors.

crop to cover CAT 103 intro. Fig 1 Lucy Baxter's The Renaissance of Art in Italy, 1883 (1).jpg

Fig. 1. Cover of Lucy Baxter's The Renaissance of Art in Italy. New York: Scribner and Welford, 1883 (Sealts no. 451.1).

Lucy Baxter was an English writer long resident in Florence, Italy. The Renaissance of Art in Italy was one of many books on Italian art she wrote under the pen name Leader Scott. Her four-part argument in this book followed the rise, development, culmination, and decline of Italian Renaissance art. Baxter approached this subject broadly, locating the achievements of leading Italian Renaissance painters such as Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, and Veronese in the context of the art of Italian architects, sculptors, and authors; she also attended, where appropriate, to the art of mosaic and metal work, printing and engraving, the decorative and sumptuary arts, and needlework and tapestry. Baxter does not claim to be an authority on every subject she discusses. Her goal in this book is to provide a “pictorial guide through the intricate mazes of the arts through the four centuries in which they grew, developed, and culminated.” Baxter freely admits that the illustrations are “chief attractions of this book.” She subtitles this book An Illustrated History and her “List of Illustrations” itemizes 206 excellent reproductions (ix-x, xvii-xxii).

Each major section of The Renaissance of Art in Italy opens with a chronological list of the principal authors, architects, sculptors, and painters of the period to be discussed. Cruising through the images in this book would have given Melville a highly pleasurable review of places he had visited and artworks he had seen in 1857. Several of the Italian Renaissance artists represented in his own print collection are represented by multiple images in this book. Because of the breadth with which it treats the subject of Renaissance art, Melville would have gained new information about the Renaissance authors as well as the Renaissance artists in his own print and book collections. Compare the image of Dante attributed to Giotto, c. 1302, in this book (fig. 2) with the image of Dante in Melville's copy of Carey's translation of the Divine Comedy, derived from Morghen’s 1803 engraving (MBB 2.2).

crop CAT 103 intro. Fig 2 Lucy Baxter's The Renaissance of Art in Italy, 1883 (2).jpg

Fig. 2. Portrait of Dante, attributed to Giotto, c. 1302. In Leader Scott, The Renaissance of Art in Italy, p. 46.

  • Sources cited in this section:
  • Baxter, Lucy E. (pseud. Leader Scott). The Renaissance of Art in Italy: An Illustrated History. New York: Scribner and Welford, 1883 (Sealts no. 451.1).
  • Chappell, Miles.  “Raphael [Raffaelle] Morghen.” New Grove Dictionary of Art, 22: 113-114.
  • Halsey, Frederic Robert. Raphael Morghen’s Engraved Works. New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1885.
  • The Imperial Dictionary of Universal Biography. Ed. John Francis Waller. 3 vol. London: William Mackenzie, 1863.
  • Johnson, Thomas H. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. New York, Little Brown, 1960.
  • Lee, Rensselaer. Poetry into Painting: Tasso and Art. Middlebury VT: Middlebury College, 1970.
  • Leyda, Jay. The Melville Log: A Documentary Life of Herman Melville, 1819-1891. 2 vol. New York: Gordian Press, 1969.
  • Machiavelli, Nicollò. The Prince. Tr. and ed. Robert M. Adams. Norton Critical Edition. New York: W. W. Norton, 1977.
  • Staël-Holstein, Anne Louise Germaine (Necker). Germany. New York: Derby and Jackson, 1859 (Sealts no. 487).
  • Tasso, Torquato. Jerusalem Delivered. Tr. Anthony M. Esolen. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.
  • Valery, Antoine Claude Pasquin. Historical, Literary, and Artistical Travels through Italy, a Complete and Methodical Guide for Travellers and Artists. Tr. C. E. Clifton. With a Copious Index and Road-Map of Italy. Paris: Baudry, 1852. (Sealts no. 533)