Showing posts with label 1764. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1764. Show all posts

3 May 2019

Francesco Algarotti - writer and art collector

Francesco Algarotti was a man of many talents with a colorful love life
Francesco Algarotti was a man of many talents
with a colorful love life

Philosopher and polymath with a playboy lifestyle

The multi-talented writer, philosopher and art connoisseur Francesco Algarotti, one of the most prominent and colourful individuals in 18th century intellectual society, died in this day in 1764 in Pisa.

Algarotti, who wrote many essays and a number of books, was something of a polymath in his breadth of knowledge on a wide number of subjects, including architecture and music as well as art. He was also a charismatic figure who became friends with most of the leading authors of his day, including Voltaire, Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d'Argens and Pierre-Louis de Maupertuis.

His urbane manner and suave good looks, combined with his considerable intellect, led him to acquire admirers of both sexes. Indeed, at one time he is said to have found himself at the centre of a colourful bisexual love triangle involving John Hervey, the English peer and politician, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the aristocratic travel writer, who became infatuated with Algarotti at the same time as Hervey, her one-time lover.

Algarotti was often engaged by the courts of European monarchs to acquire or commission paintings and other decorative artworks, or to advise on architectural projects, but also amassed a considerable collection of his own.  He commissioned works by Tiepolo, Pittoni, Piazzetta, Castiglione, Panini and Balestra among others, while helping to further the careers of Giuseppe Nogari, Bernardo Bellotto and Francesco Pavona.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is said to have become infatuated with Algarotti
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is said to have
become infatuated with Algarotti
Giovanni Paolo Panini’s famous view of the interior of the Pantheon in Rome, painted in around 1734, was commissioned by Algarotti.

One painting thought to have been in his collection, Sebastiano Ricci’s Vision of St Bruno, sold at auction in the United States for $500,000 after turning up in a warehouse in Texas in 2008.

Algarotti was born in Venice in 1712. His father, a wealthy merchant, was an art collector and it was expected he would join his older brother, Bonomo, in the family business.

Instead, he went Rome to for a year, and then studied natural sciences and mathematics at Bologna and Florence. At age of 20, he went to Paris, where he became friendly with Voltaire and, in 1737, published Newtonianesimo per le dame, ovvero Dialoghi sopra la luce e i colori (Newtonianism for Ladies, or Dialogues on Light and Colour), a work on Newtonian optics, in which he had a particular expertise.

He spent time in London, where he met Lord Hervey, who would later become Lord Privy Seal in the government led by Robert Walpole. Hervey, who is known to have had many affairs with both men and women, was drawn towards his sophistication and physical attractiveness, but at the same time Algarotti attracted the attention of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who became so enamoured of him that she left her husband and proposed that they live together in Italy.

Algarotti's tomb, paid for by Frederick the Great, at Campo Santo in Pisa
Algarotti's tomb, paid for by Frederick
the Great, at Campo Santo in Pisa
The relationship came to nothing, however, after Algarotti received an invitation to go to Berlin from Frederick the Great of Prussia, and stayed there for more than nine years as court chamberlain.

A member of the Royal Society, Algarotti was popular in many European courts. Frederick the Great made him a Prussian count.  Augustus III of Poland also honored him with the title of Councillor.

In 1754, he returned to Italy, living in Bologna, Venice and then Pisa, where he died from tuberculosis ten years later at the age of 51. In his memory, Frederick the Great erected a monument to him on the Campo Santo in Pisa.

Algarotti's writings include several studies on classical themes and a series of treatises on language, opera, architecture, the poet Horace, painting and on influences on national character. He is credited with introducing the genre of essay-writing into Italy.

His 1745 book Il congresso di Citera, which was published in English as The Modern Art of Love, was a lighthearted comparison of English, French, and Italian attitudes toward love.

Panini's painting of the interior of  The Pantheon in Rome
Panini's painting of the interior of
The Pantheon in Rome
Travel tip:

The Pantheon in Piazza della Rotonda in Rome is considered to be Rome’s best preserved ancient building. It was built in AD 118 on the site of a previous building dating back to 27 BC. It was consecrated as a church in the seventh century and many important people are buried there, including Victor Emmanuel II, his son, Umberto I, and his wife, Queen Margherita.  It was as much a tourist attraction in Panini’s day as it is today and Panini manipulated the proportions and perspective to include more of the interior that is actually visible from any one vantage point.

The Campo Santo is part of the Piazza dei Miracoli complex, the most famous landmark of which is the Leaning Tower
The Campo Santo is part of the Piazza dei Miracoli complex,
the most famous landmark of which is the Leaning Tower
Travel tip:

The Campo Santo, also known as Camposanto Monumentale, is a huge oblong Gothic cloister at the northern edge of the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa. Designed by Giovanni di Simone, who began work on it in 1278, it was the fourth and final structure erected in the piazza, following the cathedral, the baptistery and the campanile - the leaning tower. It is thought the building was not meant to be a cemetery, but a church called Santissima TrinitĂ  (Most Holy Trinity), but the project changed during construction.  It is called Campo Santo, which literally means ‘holy field’, because it is said to have been built on sacred soil from Calvary, or Golgotha, the site outside the walls of Jerusalem where the Gospels say Christ was crucified, which had been brought back to Pisa from the Third Crusade by Ubaldo Lanfranchi, archbishop of Pisa.

More reading:

Panini's eye for capturing scenes of Rome

Tiepolo's legacy to Venice

How 18th century Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni reinvigorated commedia dell'arte

Also on this day:

1461: The birth of patron of the arts Cardinal Raffaele Riario

1469: The birth of statesman and diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli

1815: Austria defeats Napoleon's troops at the Battle of Tolentino


15 October 2016

Gibbon's moment of inspiration

Walk around the Forum sparked idea for epic work 

Edward Gibbon, as depicted by the English portrait artist Joshua Reynolds
Edward Gibbon, as depicted by the English
portrait artist Joshua Reynolds
The English writer and historian Edward Gibbon claimed that the inspiration to write the book that - unbeknown to him - would grant him literary immortality came to him while exploring the ruins of the Forum in Rome on this day in 1764.

Gibbon, who had enjoyed modest success with his first book, entitled Essay on the Study of Literature, was in Rome after deciding to embark on the Grand Tour, taking in the Italian cities of Florence, Naples and Venice as well as the capital.

Later, in his memoirs, Gibbon wrote that:

"It was at Rome, on the fifteenth of October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted friars were singing Vespers in the temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the City first started to my mind."

In the event, the book expanded to cover rather more than the city of Rome.

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire ran to six volumes and as many as 5,000 pages in the original version and saw Gibbon, whose second work - Memoires Litteraires de la Grande Bretagne - had been dismissed as having little merit by fellow writers and historians, eventually recognised as in the forefront of historians in Europe.

The scope of the work was vast, covering a period in the history of the empire from 98 to 1590.  He began the project in the 1770s and the first volume was published in 1776 by Strahan & Cadell of London.

All six volumes of the epic work can still be purchased
All six volumes of the epic
work can still be purchased
Encouraged by its success - he was paid £1,000 and the book had to be reprinted six times - Gibbon continued with the subsequent volumes, although it was not until 1789 that it was completed with the publication of the final three volumes.

The book took in early Christianity, the Roman State Church and the broader history of Europe, and discusses the decline of the Roman Empire in the East and West.

Its objectivity and the heavy use of primary sources was unusual at the time and signalled a change in methodology that became a model for later historians. Gibbon was dubbed the first "modern historian of ancient Rome".

It is still being reprinted today, in the full six volumes or in a number of abridged versions.

Gibbon's theory about the collapse of the Roman Empire was that it succumbed to barbarian invasions mainly due to the gradual loss of civic virtue among its citizens.

They had become weak, he argued, and to defend the Empire its leaders had to call upon the help of barbarian mercenaries, who then became so numerous and ingrained that they were able to take over the Empire. Romans themselves, he believed, began to reject the tough military lifestyle that had been required of them.

He argued that the rise of Christianity had created a belief that a better life existed after death, which fostered an indifference among Roman citizens to the idea of sacrificing themselves for a greater purpose. Christians, moreover, were comparatively pacifist compared with the Romans.

A general view of the site of the Roman Forum
A general view of the site of the Roman Forum
Gibbon also pointed the finger at the Praetorian Guard for plotting against emperors who did not suit them and for continually demanding increased pay.

He attracted criticism for what appeared to be a scathing assessment of Christianity, which resulted in the book being banned in several countries.  Gibbon was accused of disrespecting the idea of sacred Christian doctrine by treating the rise of Christianity as a historical phenomenon rather than something with a supernatural explanation.

Gibbon, who had converted to Catholicism as a young man but reverted to Protestantism under threat of being disowned by his father, from whom he would later inherit a substantial fortune, explained that he wanted to write a history not influenced by official church doctrine, although he undermined any claim that he was aiming for a neutral perspective by accusing the Christian movement of "supplanting in an unnecessarily destructive way the great culture that preceded it" and for "the outrage of [practising] religious intolerance and warfare".

Decline and Fall had so absorbed Gibbon that he felt a sense of loss when the final draft was completed.  "A sober melancholy was spread over my mind by the idea that I had taken my everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion," he wrote.

His later years were unhappy ones.  He struggled with depression and the physical discomfort of various ailments and died in 1794 at the age of 56.

Travel tip:

Rome's historic Forum, situated between Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum, was at the heart both of the ancient city of Rome and the Roman Empire itself, the nucleus of political affairs and commercial business, a place where elections took place and great speeches were made.  The site fell into disrepair with the fall of the Empire and over time buildings were dismantled for the stone and marble, with much debris left behind.  Eventually it was abandoned and became overgrown and was used mainly for grazing cattle.  Attempts at uncovering and restoring buildings began in the early 19th century and the process of excavating areas long buried continues today.  The impressive and extensive ruins are now one of Rome's major tourist attractions.

The triumphal Arch of Septimius Severus
The triumphal Arch of Septimius Severus
Travel tip:

Entry to the Forum costs €12 (€7.50 for concessions), which also permits entry to the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill.  The site opens at 8.30am and closes one hour before sunset.  Visitors should allow at least two hours to explore the Forum and an hour to tour the Colosseum, although many will spend much longer.  Monuments that would be popular choices on a must-see list include the white marble Arch of Septimius Severus, the Curia Julia, where the Senate met, and the circular Temple of Vesta. 

(Photo of Forum by Marco Verch CC BY 2.0)
(Photo of Septimius Arch by Jebulon CC0)