Krystle Attard Trevisan, a PhD candidate at the Institute of English Studies, explores Rome’s  Academies and their role in cultural and intellectual development which she says is closely intertwined with that of print and books.

The history of print is the history of disseminating knowledge. The importance of printing in humanistic thought and in the Enlightenment cannot be disputed. Ideas travelled throughout Europe within networks of learned men and women, known as the Republic of Letters. Academies were founded across Europe in which literati with common interests shared ideas and where authors, artists and poets could find patrons. The role of Academies in cultural and intellectual development and that of prints and books are closely intertwined. This was the object of my studies in Rome earlier this summer, funded by the Stefania Barichello Bursary. A minor grant from the Bibliographical Society was also used to study print albums.

My doctoral research is about the print collection of the Maltese intellectual Count Saverio Marchese (1757–1833). He was an active member of the Academy of Arcadia, which opposed pretentious and frivolous Baroque literature by promoting pastoral Classical and Renaissance inspiration. Its aesthetic ideals were adopted throughout Europe in poetry, prose and art. The Arcadian concept of ‘good taste’ influenced painting in pastoral landscape and in the development of Neoclassicism, however, its impact on printmaking and print collecting has not been studied. During my trip, I learned more about ‘good taste’ to identify examples of it in the print collection of Marchese and of other contemporary collectors.

The perfect timing of the bursary award allowed me to plan my trip to attend a conference on Academies in Rome in the 16th century organised by the still active Academy of Arcadia and Academy of St Luke. I gained a wealth of information on the purpose and origin of Academies dedicated to music, science, theatre, mathematics, and art. This helped me understand the vast network of influential people that Marchese frequented while studying in Rome. He was a poet, art historian and art collector, and, through the two abovementioned Academies, he met seminal figures like the poet Metastasio and the artists Piranesi, Gavin Hamilton, and Angelica Kauffman.

At the beautiful Biblioteca Angelica housing the manuscripts of the Arcadian Academy, I found the entries recording Saverio Marchese’s acceptance into the Academy in 1775 when he was given his pastoral name, Algisio Fasideo. All members received such a name. At the Academy of St Luke’s art library, I found material pertaining to Arcadian aesthetics, where the Renaissance painter Raphael is revered as a god in the temple of ‘good taste.’ A sonnet by Marchese on Raphael’s Adam and Eve Vatican fresco was published by the Academy together with other writings by Arcadian poets celebrating Belle Arti.

I visited the National Institute for Graphic Arts behind the Trevi Fountain to study 18th-century print albums from the superb collection of Lorenzo Corsini, later pope Clement the XII and his nephew cardinal Neri Maria Corsini. They were Arcadians contemporary to Marchese, and I could therefore compare their print collections. Many of the prints in the Corsini collection also feature in Marchese’s so my theory of the prevalence of ‘good taste’ in Arcadians’ print collections is correct.

I presented the valuable material I gathered in Rome in July at the International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies ‘Enlightenment Identities’ conference. As I further develop this research, it will provide insight on how Arcadian aesthetic influenced print culture, the role of the Academy’s members as art and print collectors, and how their artistic tastes spread through prints. It will also contribute to the field of print collecting, as a collector’s purchases are not based just on artistic inclinations, but also on other personal preferences, in this case pastoral and classical literature, and through involvement in intellectual spheres.

Krystle Attard Trevisan is a PhD candidate at the Institute of English Studies researching print and book history and print collecting.