“In the 19th century Italy was the most desirable destination for travelers from every corner of  Europe and beyond.  Thousands crossed mountains, even oceans, to go there, leaving their ‘barbarous’ homelands to study and admire Italy’s unsurpassed aesthetic and cultural riches.”

 – Crawford Alexander Mann III, Curator, Museum of Art RISD

     American visitors to Italy in the 19th century wrote travel narratives, collected souvenirs, and some even became expatriates, never to cross the Atlantic again.  This exhibition highlights books, prints, sculpture and photographs from the collections at the Athenaeum that were inspired by visits to Italy in the 19th century.  Several of the objects on display were purchased by Athenaeum members and sent back to the library to be displayed in the public halls so that all could experience and enjoy the treasures of Italy.

Image: Marble copy of Column of Phocas, Roman Forum. Presented by Rev. Dr. Alexis Caswell, 1861. Athenaeum Member 1836-1877 & President of Brown University, 1868-72.

“Every visitor in Rome makes it almost his first business to hasten to the Forum, to see them in their grandeur and their desolation.  When I was here during the last winter, as I gazed again and again upon them, it occurred to me that I could not render a better service to the Providence Athenaeum, than by placing accurate copies of these much admired remains of ancient art in its halls.  I hoped, also, that they would interest and gratify the public, and would be especially welcomed by the lovers of art; and minister, in some degree, to the growth of a correct architectural taste among us.”

– Rev. Dr. Alexis Caswell (1799-1877)

Image: Aurora, large framed photograph of fresco painting in the Palazza Rospigliosi, Rome by Guido Reni, 1613-14.  Donated by Mrs. George (Anna) Richmond in 1867. 

     Guido Reni’s Aurora fresco on the ceiling of the Casino at the Palazza Rospigliosi was a popular attraction for 19th century tourists in Italy, and has become one of the most famous and frequently copied works in the history of art.  Perhaps inspired by her visit to Rome, Anna Richmond also donated funds for the design and construction of the drinking fountain at the Athenaeum.  In 1873, it was one of 30 proposed public drinking fountains approved by the City Water Commission to be supplied with Pawtucket water.  The inscription on the fountain reads “Come Hither Every One That Thirsteth.”  George Richmond was an original member of the Athenaeum in 1836 and lived with his wife Anna at 42 College Street across the road from the Athenaeum.


 Madonna & Child, by Raphael. Engraving. The Renaissance of Art in Italy:  An Illustrated History by Leader Scott (Scribner & Welford, 1883)
Purchased through the Carrington Hoppin Fund.

Carrington Hoppin (1812-1879) was born into a prominent Rhode Island family who could trace their lineage back to the colonial period.  His father, Benjamin Hoppin was an original subscriber to the Providence Athenaeum in 1831 and donated funds to the new building in 1838, while his brother William Warner Hoppin was Governor of Rhode Island from 1854-56.  Mr. Hoppin graduated Brown University in 1834, was an extensive traveler in many lands and died suddenly of heart-disease at Zurich, Switzerland in 1879.  The Carrington Hoppin fund at the Athenaeum was established by his brothers at his bequest and “devoted to the purchase of books, engravings, or photographs relating to Italy and Italian art.”

Image: Rio di Santa Maria Formosa, Venice, by John Singer Sargent.  Watercolor. Coutesy of the RISD Museum of Art.

Thanks to guest blogger, Kate Wodehouse, Collections Librarian for writing about her exhibit Americans Abroad : 19th Century Travelers in Italy. The exhibit will be on display in the Philbrick Rare Book Room May 15th to August 24th 2012.

The Athenaeum’s exhibit was conceived in conjunction with the current exhibition, Pilgrims of Beauty:  Art and Inspiration in 19th-Century Italy at the Museum of Art RISD, on view through Sunday, July 8th 2012. Crawford Alexander Mann III, Curator.