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Parting Thought on Seventeenth-Century Italian Artists

By time of Solimena’s death in 1747, the eighteenth century was halfway over. The classical element of the Roman Baroque that had crystallized under the Carracci in Bologna at the end of the sixteenth century, and had extended to Rome in the paintings of Annibale, Guido, and Domenichino, had flourished in Naples from Domenichino's arrival in the 1630s to the death of Solimena in the 1740s. This rich pictorial tradition had helped to inspire the massive archaeological excavations in Rome that were to fuel the expansion of the Vatican Museums under Popes Clement XIV and Pius VI in the late eighteenth century. The excavation of ancient Greek and Roman artworks that led to the creation of the Pio-Clementine Museum also helped to inspire the neo-classical revolution in late-eighteenth-century European culture exemplified by Winkelman and Gibbon in history, Gluck and Mozart in music, Goethe and Lessing in literature, and Piranesi and Flaxman in visual art. That neo-classical revolution then helped to inspire the Romantic revolution in early nineteenth-century Europe that strongly influenced the American literary Renaissance of the mid-nineteenth century.

The impetus given to European culture by the archeological excavations in Rome in the mid-eighteenth century is represented in Melville’s print collection by the imaginative recreation of The Arch of Emperor Marcus Aurelius that Piranesi published as plate 35 of his Campo Marzio of Ancient Rome in 1762 (CAT 79). Another direct result of those massive Roman excavations was Melville’s copy of Achille in Sciro, Mochetti’s 1795 engraving of an ancient Greek sarcophagus that had been unearthed near the Porta Maggiore gate, published as plate 17 in volume 5 of Il Museo Pio Clementino (CAT 15). Yet another result of the neo-classical revival in Rome the mid-eighteenth century in Melville’s collection is his copy of Volpato’s engraving of Raphael’s Loggia in the Vatican, published as the frontispiece of volume 1 of Camporesi’s three-volume Loggie di Raphaele nel Vaticano in 1772 (CAT 108). All three of these engravings, as we have seen, were to serve as mementos of Melville's 1857 residence in Rome while also enriching the poetry of Clarel and Timoleon.

Supplementing the above three prints created by eighteenth-century Italian artists and printmakers in Melville’s collection were those reproducing the work of three English artists resident in Rome in the eighteenth-century, Richard Wilson, Angelica Kaufmann, and John Flaxman. Melville acquired prints after three classical landscapes that Wilson painted after residing in Rome and its environs in the 1750s and one mythological scene Kaufmann painted after visiting Rome in the 1750s and 1760s (CAT numbers to be assigned). We have already seen two groups of engravings Melville acquired resulting from Flaxman’s residence in Rome from 1787 to 1794: four images inspired by Aeschylus’s The Persians and twenty three inspired by Dante’s Purgatorio (CAT 2-5 and 80-102). Melville also acquired a print after a neo-classical landscape painting by Francesco Zuccarelli, a transplanted Italian Baroque artist who became a founding member of London’s Royal Academy of Art during the same decade in which Piranesi published the Arch of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (CAT number to be assigned).