Monuments to tyranny
Issues of race and power in nineteenth-century American responses to early modern Italian public sculpture
in Republics and empires
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A particular subset of complex, monumental sculpture from the early modern era – especially the ‘Quattro Mori’ bronzes in Livorno (1626) and the black African telamones of the Pesaro tomb in Venice (1669) -- were read by American writers and artists in the light of contemporary political anxieties around race, slavery, and abolition. The most fraught and thus most revealing era for these interactions runs from the 1840s through the Civil War and into Reconstruction, but a few telling responses from well after 1876 are also considered. The American reception of these monuments of the past, appearing in travel guides and published memoirs as well as diaries and letters, composed by the famous (like Mark Twain) and the obscure, is alternately suffused with empathy and hostility, depending on the writers’ views on American slavery and abolition. The final section of the chapter traces the artistic impact of the Livorno sculptures and the Pesaro tomb on the monumental imagery of Harriet Hosmer (1866–68, designed in Rome for display in the United States) and Fred Wilson (2003, installed at the Venice Biennale).

Republics and empires

Italian and American art in transnational perspective, 1840–1970

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