Monday, 1 December 2014

The Keats-Shelley House in Rome

I'm not a fan of poetry, but after the visit to the Acatholic Cemetery and the chance to go out with a friend, a few days ago I visited this tiny house museum dedicated to some of the most charming Romantic poets.
The Keats-Shelley House is conveniently located by the Spanish Steps, set up by the donations and passion of British and American fans of the poet John Keats and his circle of friends and admirers.
If you're a fan of British Romanticism, or even if you're just curious about the experience of an English gentleman in the Rome that preceeded the unification of Italy, I highly encourage your visit.
John Keats and his faithful painter friend, Joseph Stevern, left his residence in Wentworth Place on September to reach Italy.
He would get to Rome on November, where he'd take residence in this house now turned into a museum, where he'd die of tubercolosis on the February of 1821, in the arms of his dear friend Joseph.
Keats didn't write anything during his stay in Rome, as the sickness was already getting a toll on his body, so we are informed about the daily life of the two Englishmen only thanks to the packed correspondence of Stevern, who wrote frequent reports on the decourse of Keats' sickness and his daily life to his wife Fanny Brawne and his sister, Fanny Brown.

The museum was founded in 1909 by Robert Underwood Johnson, Rennel Rodd and Harry Nelson Gay, who enstablished the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association to preserve the memory and contribution to the city of these artists.
Percy Bisshe Shelley and Lord Byron never visited the house of Keats, but of course they shared an intense friendship and admiration for each other.
The founders of the museum decided to dedicate it to their memory too, hosting a collection of works and relics to remind the love that these personalities had for Italy and the city of Rome.

Keats and Stevern shared the house with the landlady, Anna Angeletti.
The woman lived on the other side of the arc that is now part of the hall dedicated to the popularity of Keats and Shelley and the library.
The most impressive feat of the room is its huge library. It's the creation of Harry Nelson Gay, who joyously collected the books and magazines dedicated to Keats, Shelley, Byron and Leigh Hunt, from the first prints and original manuscripts of the authors themselves to modern essays in Italian and English.
Many relics and curiosities are hosted in this room, from the portrait of Shelley that Stevern painted in Rome in 1845 to a gracious selection of hair locks of the various poets and their friends, tiny gifts to exchange according to the use of the times.

In the hall are preserved also letters, comments and tributes of the illustrious fans of Keats and Co: Oscar Wilde, who kneeled down in front of Keats' tomb and called it "the holiest place in Rome", but also Walt Whitman and the President of the USA Theodore Roosvelt, who showed his appreciation to the work of the Foundation with a letter on 1906, and visited the place in 1911.

The next room that we access is the living room, that Stevern used as his bedroom.
Here are preserved the portraits and paintings that he dedicated to his friend and his family.
Peculiar attention must be given to the cast of Keats face when he was still alive:
It's interesting to compare it to the funerary mask of the poet that can be found in his room.

The room of Keats was completely destroyed and every bit of it burned down, according the the laws of the time on the matter of tubercolosis.
What we see now is a reconstruction, compiled with furnitures dating the same period of Keats' stay.
Out of the whole room, the only original bit is the fireplace, used by Stevern to warm up the food destined to his friend.

During our visit the kitchen ("The Terrace Room"), now turned into a room dedicated to the life of Shelley and Byron and connected to a cute terrace opening on the Spanish Steps, was hosting an exhibition dedicated to the correspondence of English poet Robert Browning with the American sculptor William Story (in case this name sounds familiar: he's the author of the "Angel of Desperation" of the Acatholic Cemetery).
Through the letters one could get the idea of the Rome of the period and the whereabouts of Browning and his wife... Very interesting!
The exhibition had also its cute "Cabinet of Curiosities" with loans from Provost & Fellows of Eton College.

Though, we were really looking forward to the view from the terrace-- Here's a shot taken from the window that faced the entrance to the Hall out of stubborness:
And here's a shot of the lovely terrace from the Spanish Steps:
Going there on Spring must be a delight..!

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