Rome, Travel and the Sculpture Capital, C.1770–1825

By Hornstein, Katie | The Sculpture Journal, September 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Rome, Travel and the Sculpture Capital, C.1770–1825


Hornstein, Katie, The Sculpture Journal


Tomas Macsotay (ed.), Rome, Travel and the Sculpture Capital, c.1770-1825 London, Routledge, 2017, hardback, ?92. ISBN 978-1-4724-20350

Rome, Travel and the Sculpture Capital, c. 1770-1825 offers a fresh approach to the study of patrons, artists and markets for Roman sculpture in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Instead of focusing on the agency of the traditional cast of powerful tastemakers and artists, such as Antonio Canova, Bertel Thorvaldsen and Johann Winckelmann, the volume emphasizes the shifting status of travellers, trade routes, political systems and institutions that underpinned the production, consumption and reception of marble sculpture in Rome. The book thus points to areas of contingency and flux that have been otherwise obscured by the unquestionably canonical status of Rome as a 'sculpture capital' during the period.

The dates that frame the volume, 1770 to 1825, encompass most of Antonio Canova's career and mark a historical moment when the market for marble sculpture in Rome began to be dominated by foreign visitors, many of whom understood it in terms of a site of 'cosmopolitan projections' (p. 5). While not discounting neoclassicism as a pan-European phenomenon, the volume also makes a case for the uniqueness of Rome as a 'sculpture capital', where 'two types of "goods" were exchanged: aristocratic and tourist taste and the lustre and classical form of Carrara marble' (p. 3). The conditions for the sculpture market in Rome were unique insofar as they relied on 'the constant assembling and disassembling of artistic and national communities and supervisory institutions' (p. 4) in dialogue with a constantly rotating cast of travellers.

One of the most important intervention of the essays in the volume is their implicit challenge of a monolithic understanding of neoclassicism in terms of its public, didactic mission (epitomized by the 'school' of David and Co.), as well as a conception of it as a 'tightly run enactment of Winckelmann's ideas' (p. 6). Many of the essays accomplish this by examining the movements of sculptors and patrons from northern Europe to Rome as a means of providing a critical framework for understanding the mobility of objects, artists and patrons; Rome is understood to be a place where 'the traveling aristocrat met the emigrated sculptor' (p. 5) in official as well as unofficial spaces such as artists' studios.

The book's introduction by Thomas Macsotay is invaluable and is written in a language that will be accessible to new students and specialists alike. In addition to laying out the theoretical and methodological stakes of the volume, the introduction is composed of several sections that provide a historical overview of the development of Rome as a 'sculpture capital' from 1770 to 1825. This includes a dive into questions of historiography and a section that addresses the day-to-day conditions faced by sculptors and patrons during the volatile revolutionary and post-revolutionary period, when riots and war interrupted travel and caused the population of the city to decrease by one-third. The first few sections of this introduction would be useful in an introductory history of sculpture course, in courses related to the grand tour, and for any study abroad programme that is taught in Rome.

The last sections of the introduction summarize the essays in the book and lay out its organizational structure in terms of three thematic sections. The first section, 'A Space for Encounters', addresses the 'socio-economic image of life for sculptors' (p. 17) in late eighteenth-century Rome; Chiara Piva's essay, 'Restoring and Making Sculpture in Eighteenth-Century Rome', offers a lens into the functioning of studios in terms of their transmission of technical knowledge for artists who worked collaboratively in creating new works and, most illuminatingly, restoring sculptures. …

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