The Italian Presence in American Art, 1760-1860

By Irma B. Jaffe | Go to book overview

small model could be copied by someone else, he wrote, the workman could never claim to be the "author, designer, or creator of it." 40

Hosmer and Story believed that creation was an act of genius, an idea prevalent in the nineteenth century. The North American Review discussed this point and promulgated the belief that a work by a "man of genius," a poet, painter, or orator, to use their examples, was at its best when it first came from the mind, and within proper limits, revision and correction were allowed. 41

The concept of creation as an act of inspiration guided the artists of the nineteenth century. This notion prompted by Madame de Staiël Corinne, or Italy became an immensely popular idea, indeed a powerful one, especially for women. As the Southern Literary Messenger pointed out in 1849, "Madame de Staiël (Corinne was her alter ego) would have been a dangerous companion for an imaginative girl. . . ." 42 Women who modeled themselves after Corinne responded to de Staiël's description of her as the most celebrated woman in Rome where she was known for "the originality of her expression," which came from "her own peculiar turn of thought" and "constituted an involuntary spell." 43

In America, Corinne's influence circulated through the intellectual community of Boston promoted by Margaret Fuller. In 1839 Fuller even referred to herself as a "paid Corinne" 44 when she began her "Conversations" gatherings to discuss intellectual issues patterned after de Staiël's salons. 45 With a reputation as one of the best impromptu talkers of the time, Fuller capitalized on her ability to extemporize at length on a subject, a gift she attributed to inspiration. 46 Like Corinne, who experienced an "involuntary spell," Fuller later could not recall what she had said. In a contemporary account of these meetings with Fuller, Caroline Healey noted, "In no way was Margaret's supremacy so evident as in the impulse she gave to the minds of younger women."47 Fuller's influence was not, however, limited to women. In 1841 she opened the "Conversations" to men. Among those in attendance was William Story.

In Italy inspiration was to be found among the vine-encrusted ruins and ancient sculptures, and especially in the atmosphere. Hosmer called it "'something in the air of Italy,'" 48 but Story summed up the opinion when he said, "'Art' in the easy view of the age, was to be picked up in the favouring air. There, presumably, it hung in clusters and could be eaten from the tree. . . . one had but to set sail and partake.'"49

Hosmer thrived on the "favoring air." Despite the campaign against her, few took seriously the attempt to discredit her. The brief line in the Art Journal in September 1863 was actually beneficial. Her response initiated international press coverage which continued for the next two years, especially in American publications. The articles helped to promote the sculptor's reputation and Zenobia in New York, Boston, and Chicago -- it was no coincidence that Hosmer wrote her continuing defense for American newspapers and magazines. Thus she ensured her fame on both sides of the Atlantic and, ironically, the allegation actually enhanced her career and acclaim.


NOTES
1.
Other women sculptors who worked in Rome were Emma Stebbins, Anne Whitney, Margaret Foley, and Edmonia Lewis, to name a few. Henry James described them as "that strange sisterhood of American 'lady sculptors' who at one time settled upon the seven hills in a white, marmorean flock" in William Wetmore Story and His Friends, from Letters, Diaries, and Recollections

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