William Wetmore Story, Walt Whitman, and Enrico Nencioni
A node in the web of transatlantic ‘traffic’ in the second half of the nineteenth century
in Republics and empires
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The Florentine critic and poet Enrico Nencioni (1837–96) devoted remarkable critical attention to two major American cultural figures: William Wetmore Story and Walt Whitman. Story and Whitman, both born in 1819, belong to sharply different conceptions of the arts in America, but they both fascinated Nencioni. This chapter reads Nencioni’s relationship with Story and Whitman from a semiotic critical perspective and within the parallel processes of political unification in Italy and national consolidation in the United States. Story’s engagement with the Union side in the Civil War is explored through his 1863 sculpture, Judith, and Nencioni’s appreciation of Story’s book Roba di Roma is linked to sculptor’s pro-Risorgimento politics. His attraction to Whitman was also furthered by his admiration for the poet’s revolutionary sympathies, leading him to compare Whitman to both Mazzini and Courbet. Nencioni also devoted six long critical essays to the poet, which included the first Italian translations of his poems. While Nencioni’s role in introducing Whitman to the Italian public has been amply acknowledged, the transnational historical context has been insufficiently explored. Moreover, Nencioni’s relationship with Story, and what he did to promote the sculptor’s work, have also been largely ignored. The relational nodes constituted by Story and Nencioni, and Nencioni and Whitman, are seen as part of a larger network that contributed to the shaping of an asynchronous, complex transnational and transatlantic cultural sphere.

Republics and empires

Italian and American art in transnational perspective, 1840–1970


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