Issues of race and power in nineteenth-century American responses to early modern Italian public sculpture
Paul H. D. Kaplan
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 showcases transnational perspectives that address the significance of Italy for American art and visual culture while outlining the impact of the United States on Italian art and popular culture. Covering the period from the Risorgimento to the Cold War, this collection of chapters illuminates the complexity of the visual discourses that bound two relatively new nations together. It also pays substantial attention to literary and critical texts that addressed the evolving cultural relationship between Italy and the United States. Taking into account the significant historical events that linked Italy and the United States, Part I: ‘Hybrid Republicanisms’ and Part II: ‘The Courses of Empire’ highlight important cross-cultural issues. The first section concentrates on the shared notions of republicanism and tyranny that animated American and Italian politics in the long nineteenth century. Rather imperfectly, both nations attempted to bind a community of diverse peoples together on the common values of liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness. The second exposes how the liberal tendencies of nationalism gave way to imperial ambition, and how this transition was given visual and cultural form in Italian and American high art and popular culture. The anthology serves as a valuable introduction to American-Italian cultural relations. Its fourteen historicised case studies by Italian and American scholars trace how gender, race, ethnicity, and class interests intersect with the powerful political and cultural dynamics of both nations.
Italy and the United States have enjoyed a fruitful cultural relationship, from Benjamin West’s first trip to Italy in 1760 to the more recent collaborations between Italian and American artists, critics, and gallerists in the post-World War II era. This anthology makes apparent the influential web of cultural connections that has existed between these two countries over the last three centuries. Showcasing transnational methodologies, the chapters in this book examine the significance of Italy to American art and visual culture, and outline the impact of the United States on Italian art and popular culture from the antebellum period in the United States through the Cold War years. Divided into two parts, the anthology’s thematic focus considers the ways in which several overlapping versions of republican ideology were manifested in the visual and literary cultures of the United States and Italy throughout the long nineteenth century (Part I), followed by an examination of the fascination with ‘empire’ that occurred in late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century Italian and American art (Part II). The first section concentrates on the shared notions of republicanism and tyranny that animated American and Italian politics, and the ways in which both nations attempted to bind a community of diverse peoples together on the common values of liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness. The second addresses the various ways in which liberal tendencies gave way to imperial ambition, and how this transition was given visual and cultural form in both the United States and Italy.