Unshaven, Brooding, Magnificent | Little Holland House (Kensington)

In 1842, Edward Lear began a journey into the Italian peninsula and made the strenuous effort of travelling to the Abruzzo region where he fell in love with the harsh landscape and its hardy inhabitants. In notes and drawings, he gathered his impressions of local life and traditions, and described the splendour of ancient monuments. Lear drew a sketch of the medieval village of Albe; gave an account of Castello Piccolomini dominating the plain of Lago Fucino (which was drained a few years later); and recalled the stillness of snowy mountains that would impress D.H. Lawrence some seventy-five years later during his visit to Valle di Comino. 

Lear published his Illustrated Excursions in Italy in 1846. He firmly put the region and its people on the map of creative discovery. Sudden interest in this ‘forgotten’ locality did not spark a rush of artists to conquer the cut-off terrain. Instead, it led to migrant movement from Abruzzo and neighbouring Ciociaria towards the art capitals of Europe. It would have a notable effect on English aesthetics.

Galera 1842 Edward Lear 1812-1888 Presented by the Earl of Northbrook 1910 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N02749

During the nineteenth century, parts of Italy suffered serious economic hardship. From the 1820s onwards people started to leave en masse. Chain migration played a dominant part in the exodus from a fragmented society. The chain was formed by instrument makers from the valleys around Como; hat makers from Leghorn (Livorno); plaster cast makers from Lucca; waiters from Ticino; glass makers from Altare; and street musicians from Naples. Political integration did not solve the country’s economic problems. Emigration remained high in the following decades, owing to various crises in agriculture, and the inability of manufacture to generate enough jobs. 

Abruzzo and Ciociaria, now hailed as the greenest parts of Europe, were once lands of deprivation. Surrounded by rugged mountains, the districts were long isolated from other parts of Italy. A self-sufficient agricultural economy was crucial for survival. Although remoteness was opened up by an emerging railway network (in 1839, a first segment of railroad was laid stretching the short distance from Naples to Portici; seven years it had reached Venice), the regions remained among the poorest in the country. Their economies were based on traditional methods. Outdated sheep-raising systems and uncompetitive wool manufacture forced labourers to leave the land and move away. Unification in 1860 and the subsequent introduction of conscription, made young men feel that their only escape route was either brigandage or emigration (‘o emigranti o briganti’). The exodus of farmers and workers began there and then, became intense in the mid-1880s, and reached a peak between 1900 and 1915. With the port of Naples connected by the Ferrovia Sangritana rail service, the Americas were their main destination although many of them remained within Europe. Migration was stimulated by the government as it removed the (deeply feared) threat of social unrest. It also helped the balance of payment as most migrants sent money home to support their families. By 1915 half a million Abruzzese were living abroad. 

During the late nineteenth century and early 1900s many ‘romantic’ paintings were produced depicting the colourful costumes of Italian country-folk. Migrants found work acting as sitters for artists, sculptors, and photographers in Paris, Madrid, or elsewhere. They were admired for their grace and beauty. A typical example is Enrique Simonet Lombardo’s painting Woman from Ciociara (1889). The most successful of migrant models was Almerinda Caira. Born in Atina, she moved to France, and married the painter François-Maurice Roganeau, later Director of the Academy of Fine Arts of Bordeaux. She moved in prominent artistic and diplomatic circles and was a close friend of Giuseppe Garibaldi and his family.

In 1870, two significant events took place. The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, and the subsequent Siege of Paris, disturbed social and artistic life in the capital. Many Italian models living in Paris crossed the Channel and settled in London where they were seen as ‘reliable’ workers, willing to supplement their earnings by selling ice creams or chestnuts, or act as organ grinders. They became the elite of the modelling profession and were prominent in leading studios and art classes. The conflict in France coincided with the foundation of the Slade School of Art at University College London. Its first Professor of Fine Art was Edward John Poynter, the future author of Classic and Italian Painting (1880). He urged his students to use Italian rather than English male models, arguing that their physique was superior. To this he added that their feet were not deformed, because they wore traditional sandals rather than tight-fitting modern shoes. An intriguing side line: the name Ciociaria is derived from ‘ciocie’, the primitive local footwear. According to Poynter’s aesthetic theory, the Italian model came close to the ideal of Greek masculinity. 

Victorian artists such as John William Waterhouse, Frederick Leighton, John Everett Millais, or John Singer Sergeant, employed migrant models. Angelo Colarossi had set a precedent. Born in 1838 in the village of Picinisco, he arrived in London in the mid-1860s. Having settled in Hammersmith, his fine physique had not gone unnoticed and he was soon in demand as a model. Posing for Julia Margaret Cameron at Little Holland House, Kensington, she produced the stunning 1867 image ‘Iago, Study from an Italian’ (Iago is a villain Shakespeare’s Othello). Unshaven and brooding, this is one of the finest portraits in early photography. His career soon took off.

John Everett Millais depicted him as a seaman in The Boyhood of Raleigh (1870), while John Singer Sargent cast him in the role of Moses. Frederic Leighton portrayed him as An Athlete Wrestling with a Python (1877)and as Elijah in the Wilderness (1879). Colarossi can also be seen as a figure in relief on the Albert Memorial, Kensington Gardens, and leading a lion as part of Queen Victoria’s Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace. In 1883, John William Waterhouse made him a slave in The Favourite of the Emperor Honorius. Angelo died in London in 1916. His son, also named Angelo, was the teenage model for Albert Gilbert’s Anteros in Piccadilly Circus (commonly known as Eros).

Gaetano Valvona fits the more rustic image of the migrant model. Born in 1857into a family of shepherds, he arrived in London during the early 1870s still wearing the costume of his native countryside. It provoked stone-throwing boys to chase him through Leather Lane, Holborn, where he had settled. His presence caught the eye of Frederick Leighton who made him his chosen model. Valvona posed for the Sluggard (1885), a life size bronze sculpture that Leighton exhibited at the Royal Academy. 

Orazio Cerviwas born at some time in the 1860s in Picinisco. As a sixteen-your old he walked to London where he joined the Italian community at Saffron Hill, Clerkenwell, and started work as a street performer. His Abruzzi outfit drew the attention of artists and he soon entered the elite group of models. He was Hamo Thornycroft’s preferred model. Cervi stood for The Stone Putter (1880) and Teucer (1881), the champion Greek archer. After producing classical nudes in the manner of Leighton, the sculptor turned in The Mower to a contemporary subject. Using an Italian model, this is the first sculpture of a British labourer at work (without political connotations). Shortly before World War I, his looks fading and commissions drying up, Cervi returned to his place of birth. In December 1919, D.H. Lawrence and Frieda paid him a visit on their way to Capri. The couple stayed for eight days in the primitive surroundings. In The Lost Girl the novelist based the character of Pancrazio on his host.

Suggestions about home-erotic relationships were rife when, in 1892, Nicola d’Iverno entered the service of John Singer Sargent, acting as his valet and model for two decades. Alessandro di Marco was another intriguing figure. His androgynous features made him an attractive sitter as it was possible for him to pose for both male and female figures. He stood for Merlin in Burne-Jones’s The Beguiling of Merlin (1872/7). He also posed for Walter Crane whose wife forbid her husband to use female models. Di Marco was favoured by Pre-Raphaelite artists exhibiting at Coutts Lindsay’s Grosvenor Gallery, Bond Street, as he was the ‘living embodiment of a classical sculpture’. This relatively short but evocative phase in the Anglo-Italian history of both art and migration came to an abrupt end with the start of World War I. The celebration of bright colour would be replaced by the dark aesthetics of loss and mutilation.

A Belgian at the Bodley

The Victorian establishment preached that art and literature fulfilled crucial ethical roles in society. If a creator dared to stray from the moral code, he was taken to court to be punished for his audacity – and so was his publisher. Critics of Émile Zola despised his ‘lavatorial’ literature and he felt the full power of repugnance when his novels were rendered into English. In 1888/9 publisher Henry Vizetelly of Catherine Street, Strand, was twice convictedof indecency for issuing two-shilling translations. The issue of ‘Corrupt Literature’ was discussed in the House of Commons in May 1888. Zola was rejected as an ‘apostle of the gutter’. To politicians and press barons, the moral health of the nation was at stake. The establishment was shocked when authors and artists of the Aesthetic Movement challenged the status quo by celebrating artistic, sexual, and socio-political experimentation. Having separated art from morality, they demanded an art for its own sake, that is: the disinterested pursuit of beauty. 

Our textbook narrative runs as follows: by the 1890s the term decadence had become fashionable and was used in connection with aestheticism. It originated from Paris and was used to describe the poetry of Baudelaire or Gautier with connotations of refinement, artificiality, ennui, and decline. Decadence was the complex literature of a society that had grown over-luxurious. From France, the movement spread to England thanks to the intervention of figures such as Walter Pater, Arthur Symons, and Oscar Wilde. For a literary movement driven forward by foreign inspiration, however, a number of conditions have to come together. First and foremost, there is a simultaneous emergence (a ‘generation’) of talented representatives; then there is the essential support of a publisher prepared to take risks; and finally, there is the need for publicity (a ‘succès á scandale’ if possible). For such a movement to find wider acceptance and lasting significance in a hostile environment, the presence of a foreign ‘ambassador’ is of particular value. All these elements came together at a property in Vigo Street, Mayfair. Running between Regent Street and the junction of Burlington Gardens and Savile Row, this street was named after the Anglo-Dutch naval victory over the French and Spanish in the 1702 Battle of Vigo Bay during the War of the Spanish Succession. 

In 1887 Exeter bookseller Elkin Mathews and Devon-born John Lane formed a partnership in London to trade in antiquarian and second hand books. They established themselves at no. 6B Vigo Street, Mayfair. Over the shop door was a sign depicting Rembrandt’s head, which had been the insignia of the previous business on the site. Its new owners decided to replace the sign with that of Thomas Bodley, the Exeter-born founder of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and call their business The Bodley Head. Initially, Lane was the silent partner, but by 1892 he became actively involved in the running of the firm. From dealing in antiquarian books the partners changed direction and began to publish contemporary ‘decadent’ poetry. The Bodley Head became a sign of modernism. Nowadays, the house is associated with Ernest Dowson and The Book of the Rhymers’ Club (1892), with Aubrey Beardsley and the cover design of Oscar Wilde’s Poems (1892), and in particular with publication of the stunning Yellow Book series (1894/7; edited by Beardsley and Henry Harland). A contributor to the periodical was George Egerton (real name: Mary Chavelia Dunne). Her Keynotes (1893) caused a sensation by tackling controversial themes including sexual freedom, alcoholism, and suicide. In the public mind, whipped up by the popular press, Vigo Street smelled of immorality. When details about Oscar Wilde’s trial became widely known in April 1895, the premises of The Bodley Head were attacked by a stone-throwing mob.

Disagreements about the running of the firm led to the partnership to be dissolved in September 1894. Lane took the sign of The Bodley Head and moved to new premises in the Albany, Piccadilly. Mathews remained in Vigo Street and published the first editions of a number of important literary works, including Yeats’s The Wind among the Reeds in 1899, and James Joyce’s Chamber Music in 1907. Lane now concentrated mainly on publishing fiction. When he died in February 1925, control of the company passed to Allen Lane, a distant cousin who had learned the book trade from his uncle. He would become the founder and creator of Penguin Books. John Lane’s ‘ambassador’ was a man whose aesthetic outlook and artistic practice were formed by avant garde movements in Antwerp, Brussels, and Paris. The Bodley Head helped push the career of a Belgian poet and illustrator and, in doing so, integrate Continental modernism into mainstream British art and literature. 

Jean de Bosschère was born on 5 July 1878 in Ukkel (Uccle) in the Brussels region. He spent his childhood in Lier and studied art in Antwerp during the late 1890s when the city’s cultural scene was dominated by Art Nouveau. He began writing essays and monographs on (Flemish) art. He published his first collection of poetry Béâle-Gryne in 1909 to which he added his own illustrations in the style of Aubrey Beardsley. He also drew inspiration from Paul Claudel’s spiritual (Catholic) writing and the (French) symbolist poetry of his friend Max Elskamp. The theme of his first ‘poem-novel’ Dolorine et les ombres (1911) is the opposition between life and dream, between divine and profane love. Its content provoked an accusation of Satanism. The book was printed by Paul Buschmann (the ‘house printer’ of the Antwerp Society of Bibliophiles) in a limited edition of 250 copies. His approach was inspired by William Morris’s Kelmscott Press in its ambition to create a perfect harmony between page, typography, and illustration. The Antwerp-based artist René Leclercq provided the novel with a portrait of the author. The impeccable presentation of this novel, aimed at a limited audience, set a precedent for all his later publications.

When World War I broke out, De Bosschère fled to London and settled in Hampstead. John Lane recognised his talent as a poet-illustrator and appreciated the hothouse temperature and erotic sophistication of his creative endeavour. In 1917 The Bodley Head published a collection of his poems under the title of The Closed Door. The translator of these poems was a significant figure. Frank Stuart [F.S.] Flint was a prominent member of the Imagist group. A poet and translator with a sound knowledge of French modernist literature, he ‘competed’ with Ezra Pound for being the brains behind the Imagist movement. The collection made an impact and the poet was admitted to the London elite of modernists. He influenced T.S. Eliot and befriended Pound, Joyce, Huxley, and others. In 1922, tribute was paid to his work by the American translator and Romanist Samuel Putnam in The World of Jean de Bosschère, published in an edition of 100 luxurious copies (with a letter of introduction by Paul Valéry). It cemented his place in the English-speaking world. 

A period of intense activity would follow. He illustrated classic works by Aristophanes, Ovid, Strato, and Apuleius, but he was very much involved with contemporary literature too. In 1927, he illustrated the Boni & Liveright edition (New York) of The Poems of Oscar Wilde. In 1928 he produced the plates for Baudelaire’s Little Poems in Prose, translated by Aleister Crowley, and published in a limited edition of 800 copies. Two years later, he enriched Richard Aldington’s translation (from the French) of Boccaccio’s Decameron with fifteen full-page colour plates. His distinctive, often grotesque style of fantasy illustration (with reminders of Jeroen Bosch) fitted children’s books as well. He authored and illustrated The City Curious (published by Heinemann in 1920), a masterpiece that rivals the achievements of Lewis Carroll. The choice of material indicates that his work was marked by a fascination with the erotic, the obscure, the child-like, and the occult. The pioneering technique of chromolithography as a method of colour printing which was developed in Paris by Godefroy Engelmann and refined by his son Godefroy II during the latter decades of the nineteenth century, did lend itself very well for his work and he applied the technique with great skill. It made him was one of the great colour-plate artists of the early twentieth century.

Apart from The Closed Door, John Lane published four more of books in which Jean de Bosschère participated:

1922: 550 copies of De Bosschère’s Job le Pauvre with fourteen illustrations by the author; frontispiece by Wyndham Lewis; text in French & English.

1923: 3,000 copies of The Golden Asse of Lucius Apuleius; translated by William Adlington; introduction by Edward Bolland Osborn; illustrated by De Bosschère. 

1924: 3,000 copies of Gustave Flaubert’s The First Temptation of Saint Anthony; translated by René Francis from the 1849/56 manuscripts; illustrated by De Bosschère.

1925: 3,000 copies ofThe Love Books of Ovid; a translation of Ars Amatoria by J. Lewis May; illustrated by De Bosschère.

The author and illustrator himself was back in continental Europe by then. His love affair with the translator Vera Anne Hamilton had blossomed in 1920, but she died two years later. He left London towards the end of 1922, spending the remaining years of his life in Paris, Brussels, and Sienna, where he worked on his novels and poetry collections. He remained a prolific artist, but his days of glory were gone. With the darkening socio-political atmosphere of the 1930s, modernist artists came under attack. The general movement was away from individual vision towards joined values. Contemporary society was attacked for the disintegration of principles and decline of moral authority. The brutality of Nazism, the fury of Fascism, and the emergence of Bolshevik realism, dealt a mortal blow to modernist exploration. De Bosschère’s work sunk into relative obscurity. He died in January 1953 in France. From 1946 onwards, he kept a diary titled Journal d’un rebelle solitaire (as yet unpublished). Jean de Bosschère’s work deserves a catalogue raisonné – urgently.

Puzzled Europe | St Martin’s Lane (Covent Garden)

The Enlightenment (‘siècle des lumières’) was the age of European Union proper. Enlightenment was an outlook and an attitude: rational, inclusive, and outward-looking. Geography was its preferred science. Travel, travel-writing, and remote explorations excited the curiosity of the eighteenth century. From dangerous journeys to unexplored parts of the world to the ‘civilised’ passage of Grand Tourists, the age was on the move, both physically and intellectually. The ‘other’ was treated as an intriguing figure, not as a threat or risk. The ambition was to create an open and diverse society by bringing down barriers and borders that obstruct individuals to progress. Enlightenment was both a movement and a state of mind: an intellectual and psychological alliance, not an economic one. Economics alone will not built a community of minds. Instead, it tends to divide and destroy any sense of common purpose or perspective. 

Refugees played a crucial role in the spread of Enlightenment ideas. The Rainbow Coffee House Group was a circle of mainly Huguenot intellectuals who met informally at the Rainbow Coffee House in Lancaster Court, off St Martin’s Lane, where they exchanged books and ideas, and engaged in discussion on philosophical and theological topics associated with the growth of scepticism in early eighteenth century Europe. With links to Paris and the Low Countries, its members formed part of an international web for the free flow of ideas and views. Convention was the enemy. The driving force behind the group was the journalist and biographer Pierre Des Maizeaux. He promoted the circulation of English scientific and philosophical ideas on the Continent through his contributions to French-language periodicals published in the Netherlands, and maintained an impressive network of contacts. Pierre Coste was a close friend of Des Maizeaux and his translations of John Locke and Newton facilitated the spread of their work throughout Europe. Michael de la Roche was a journalist and translator who worked on the first English translation of Bayle’s Dictionnaire critique. He played a major role in the dissemination of English science and philosophy abroad, and conducted a campaign in favour of religious toleration. The unorthodox bias of the Rainbow group extended to its English members which included Richard Mead, a leading figure in the Royal Society, and the freethinking philosopher Anthony Collins.

Cartographer and author Jean [John] Palairet was born in 1697 in Montauban, near Toulouse, into a Huguenot household. The family was forced into exile and settled in The Hague where Jean’s father worked as a (wine?) merchant. Jean was educated in the Netherlands. At some time he entered the Dutch diplomatic service and was sent to London as an agent for the States General. He was in London by 1727 when he married his first wife Elizabeth Dawson. Having published Nouvelle introduction à la géographie modern in 1754, he created an Atlas méthodique on behalf of William, Prince of Orange (son of Princess Anne, daughter of George II) in 1755. The work offered him an entrance in English Royal circles and he acted as French teacher to three of the children of George II at Leicester House. He remained in Royal service under George III and, at the same time, represented the private interests of the Dutch diplomat, garden designer, and Anglophile Jacob Boreel. Another influential publication, also in 1755, was his Carte des possessions angloises et françoises d’Amérique septentrionale. His brother Elias Palairet, a classical and biblical philologist who had studied at Leiden University, also settled in London and preached at the Dutch Chapel at St James’s Palace, Westminster. 

Palairet’s maps had drawn the attention of author and educationist Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont. Born in April 1711 in Rouen she had been engaged as governess at the court of Lunéville, residence of Duke Leopold, nephew of Louis XIV by marriage. Her duties were primarily with Elisabeth-Thérèse, oldest of the daughters (who, two years later, would marry Charles-Emmanuel III, King of Sardinia). Presence at court brought her in direct contact with many prominent figures, including Voltaire who became a regular contributor to her Nouveau magasin français (1750/2). Having separated from her husband in 1748, she left France for London. That same year she published her first novel Le triomphe de la vérité. She is remembered for her abridged version of La belle et la bête (better known as Beauty and the Beast), adapted from Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s original and published in her Magasin des Enfants (1756), which has been hailed as the best female fiction published during the eighteenth century. To what extent the Enlightenment advanced female emancipation remains a topic of debate, but there can be no doubt that Mme De Beaumont played a significant role in the process.

In London, Beaumont was close to Henrietta Louisa Fermor, Lady Pomfret, who provided her with numerous introductions. Beaumont’s ideas on education (the use of interactive teaching tools) influenced Pomfret’s daughter, the future Lady Charlotte Finch, who from 1762 to 1793 was governess to the fifteen children of George III and Queen Charlotte. The urge to discover and explore the world was reflected in teaching. Practical map-making was an integral part of (aristocratic) male schooling, but young girls were introduced to geography as well. One of Beamont’s suggestions was that Jean Palairet’s maps should be used in the classroom. Finch took up that idea, possibly in consultation with Queen Charlotte who herself was an avid reader of books on the latest developments in child education. But how to teach map-reading to young brains in a playful manner?

The history of jigsaws started with the production of so-called ‘dissected maps’. Virtually all of the oldest surviving puzzles are made of engraved maps which were hand-cut with a fret (bow) saw into irregularly shaped pieces. They were created as educational tools. Beaumont made part of her income by running private classes which were advertised. Her teaching fee included a cost item for the use of wooden maps. An early commercial publisher of these puzzles was John Spilsbury who was based at Russel Court, off Drury Lane. A former apprentice of Thomas Jefferys, Geographer to the King, he is presented in the 1763 Universal Director as an ‘Engraver and Map Dissector in Wood’. His first puzzle map was called ‘Europe Divided into its Kingdoms’ and featured pieces cut along national boundaries. Charlotte Finch acquired such puzzles on behalf of the Royal family. These were (and remained) costly items. In Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park (1814), the poverty-struck heroine Fanny Price is mocked by two privileged cousins for her inability to ‘put the map of Europe together’ using one of those expensive puzzles. Such was the appeal of the new educational tool that by the end of century London was home to nearly twenty engravers who specialised in puzzle making. As the nineteenth century progressed and new colouring and cutting methods streamlined the manufacturing process, puzzle maps declined in cost and became accessible to a wider public. The use of the term jigsaw itself originates from the later nineteenth century (after 1870).

Charlotte Finch commissioned a mahogany cabinet to hold several dissected map puzzles which she had acquired for the Royal children (the cabinet has been preserved and is held at the V&A’s Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green). Eight of the maps in her puzzle cabinet were produced from Palairet’s Atlas méthodique and, most likely, dissected to her direction. In a project of Anglo-French participation, promoted by Dutch and Hanoverian Royalty, the map of Europe was cut into a multitude of pieces which were presented to young pupils to be put together again into a unified geographical entity. In our age of division and disintegration, this is a striking metaphor.


Burking the Italian Boy | Nova Scotia Gardens (Shoreditch)

Before being pulled down in 1910, the Fortune of War was a notorious public house located on the junction of Giltspur Street and Cock Lane in Smithfield. Here the London Burkers met, a criminal gang led by John Bishop and Thomas Williams, which included such characters as Michael Shields, a Covent Garden porter, and James May, an unemployed butcher, also known as Black EyedJack. As bodysnatchers (or ‘resurrection men’), they had modelled their gruesome activities on the practices of the notorious Edinburgh duo of Burke & Hare. The Burkers unearthed recently buried bodies which they sold to anatomists at London’s major hospitals. The newly created verb ‘burking’ implied an even more sinister practice. It meant ‘killing a person for his/her marketable cadaver’.

In July 1830, Bishop & Williams rented a slum house at no. 3 Nova Scotia Gardens, a former brick field filled in with human waste. On 5 November 1831, the fresh corpse of a fifteen year old boy was delivered to King’s College School of Anatomy in the Strand. Members of staff there were suspicious and summoned the police. During a methodical search of the Nova Scotia premises, items were recovered that suggested multiple crimes. B & W confessed having abducted and murdered the youngster. They also admitted to stealing between 500 and 1,000 bodies over a period of twelve years. Both men were convicted at the Old Bailey and hanged at Newgate on 5 December before a crowd of 30,000. Their bodies were removed for dissection the same night. The public display of their remains attracted large crowds of curious viewers. The criminals had attracted all attention, but who was the victim?

Carlo Ferrari was a teenage migrant from Piedmont who was living near Smithfield meat and livestock market. The physical state of the area was abysmal. The market was choked with animal remains and excrement.Young Carlo scraped a living by exhibiting caged white mice and pet rats to Smithfield passersby. Working in such a rough area, he and other young men exposed themselves to a particular danger. Smithfield’s proximity to St Bartholemew’s hospital [Barts] meant it was ideally situated for the traffic in human corpses. It was here that the B & W gang operated. Ferrari was slaughtered by these resurrectionists and his body sold for cash. Londoners were outraged and their anger was whipped up by the popular press. Throughout the court hearings, sentimental sketches of the ‘Italian Boy’ appeared in the newspapers in combination with horror stories about the practice of bodysnatching (the case was attended by young Charles Dickens as a note-taker for the publisher John Fairburn who issued a chapbook entitled Burking the Italian Boy). Multiple portraits of the poor Italian victim were in circulation.

It was fake news. From the trial documents it appears that the murdered young man was a Lincolnshire drover who worked at the cattle pens just off Smithfield’s Chick Lane (one of London’s most infamous streets). Bishop confessed that the victim had been taken from the Bell public house in Smithfield to their dwellings where he was drugged with rum and laudanum. B & W then went for a drinking session at the Feathers, near Shoreditch church. On their return they calmy killed the young man. 

Why did this made-up story stir London’s feverish imagination? For a sensationalist journalist, the butchering of an endearing Piedmontese boy (as he was portrayed) made for a more captivating story than the cold-blooded murder of a youngster from the Lincolnshire flat lands. But there were deeper reasons for the tale to make a social impact. The affair seemed to catch the mood of the age. There were concerns about crime, degradation, and filth in the metropolis. More particularly, there was an intense disgust with and anxiety about the presence of bodysnatchers. The immediate effect of the public outcry was the passing of the Anatomy Act of 1832, providing a regulated and legitimate supply of corpses for medical schools. Calls for urban regeneration would eventually lead to the clearing of the Nova Scotia slums and the creation of Columbia Market (which included the building of a new livestock market).

There was a burning issue of immigration as well. As early as 1820 an editorial in The Times highlighted what was called the Italian ‘slave trade’, a system whereby a London-based padrone imported children from destitute Italian parents. Living in overcrowded lodgings, the kids were given a street organ and send out to beg and perform on the streets of the capital. In a practice known as ‘La tratta dei fanciuculli’, the boss took all the earnings of his organ grinders. Such was the demand for instruments that a barrel-organ manufacturer such as Giuseppe Chiappa could make a good living at Saffron Hill, Clerkenwell (part of an area known as ‘Little Italy’).

Parma-born Luigi Rabbiotti was recorded in the 1841 census as a married man, living in Laystall Street, just off Leather Lane. Leading a seemingly respectable life, he was naturalised in 1867. Yet, the back of the same house was shared by twenty-five organ boys. Later he was associated was an address in Eyre Hill Street, Clerkenwell, were some fifty organ grinders were held. In 1845, fifteen-year old Giuseppe Leonardi died in the street of lung disease, thought to have been brought on by abuse. Rabbiotti was charged with manslaughter, but acquitted. The system persisted in spite of public sympathy for the victim. In May 1864 brewer and liberal MP Michael Thomas Bass put forward a bill on ‘Street Music in the Metropolis’. The resulting Act introduced fines to discourage the spread of organ grinders. The measure received support from artists and authors, including Charles Dickens who regularly complained about noise pollution in the capital. The condition of child-musicians was ignored. As late as 1876 Thomas Barnardo called for the rescue of ’White Slaves’ from Italy. It was not until 1889 that a charter was passed to stop child exploitation.

During the 1830s a number of Italian political exiles settled in London. Giuseppe Mazzini arrived in January 1837 after being expelled from Geneva. With funds provided by British friends (including Charles Dickens), he opened a free school where two hundred deprived children received a rudimentary education. Established on 10 November 1841, it was London’s first Italian school. Dickens seemed to embody a more general ambivalence towards migrants at the time, expressing empathy for the fate of young immigrants from Italy, but mixing it with irration about their noisy and continuous presence. Support for Mazzini’s ideal of unification may well have been seen as a way of solving the fragmented country’s socio-economic problems and hence: reducing Italian chain migration to London and other major cities. British attitudes towards immigrants were (and are) seldom straight forward.

Robbing the Past: London and Paris

Librarian and art dealer Abbé Luigi Celotti was born on 12 August 1759 in Treviso in the Veneto region. His name appears as an art dealer after the Napoleonic invasion of Italy in 1796 when he was active in Paris. His contact with the British art market was evident in November 1828 when he sold Titian’s Portrait of Two Boys (said to be members of the Pesaro family) to James Irvine on behalf of William Forbes, 7th Baronet of Pitsligo. Celotti was trading from premises in London by the spring of 1825. His presence on the British art market is significant not for the paintings or antiques he sold, but for his dealings in illuminated miniatures. 

The scale of French plundering in Italy was unprecedented in modern history. Napoleon turned his campaign into a looting expedition and transported his gains of war to Paris (including the the Bronze Horses of Saint Mark in Venice and the Laocoön in Rome – later returned) where the works of art were received in classic imperial style of a triumphal procession. 

During Napoleon’s Italian campaign, French troops had looted the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Library in 1798. Soldiers were dealing in priceless devotional books and liturgical manuscripts. Celotti took the stolen goods from their hands. Having acquired the volumes, he removed the illuminated miniatures, kept the best ones for himself, and sold others to collectors. London was his prime commercial market. In March 1825 he sold a set of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin manuscripts at Sotheby’s. The sale was recorded as the first known specialist auction of a collection of medieval manuscripts in London. 

Two months later, Christie’s announced the sale (on 26 May) of more than two hundred miniatures. Such a sale had never occurred before on the art market. The title of the catalogue indicated the rarity of that occasion: A Catalogue of a Highly Valuable and Extremely Curious Collection of Illumined Miniature Paintings taken from the Choir Books of the Papal Chapel in the Vatican during the French Revolution; and subsequently collected and brought to this Country by the Abate Celotti. London, Mr Christie, May 26, 1825. A precedent was set. Collectors realised that the best of medieval painting survived within the covers of manuscripts rather than on panels or walls. It stimulated the large-scale cutting up of volumes and the disposal of the body of text. Miniatures were preserved as ‘monuments of a lost art’ and framed like small panels. 

A great collector of miniatures was William Young Ottley, Keeper of Prints at the British Museum, who had catalogued the 1825 Celotti sale at Christie’s; so was Charles Brinsley Marlay, a wealthy Anglo-Irish landowner and member of the Burlington Fine Arts Club. On his death in 1912, he bequeathed 240 illuminated cuttings (dating from the twelfth to the sixteenth century) to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge where the collection is known as the ‘Marlay Cuttings’ and includes leaves from the celebrated choirbooks of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence, San Marco in Venice, and the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Another cutting was originally part of one of the sixteenth-century missals listed in an early eighteenth-century inventory of the Sistine Chapel. Showing Pope Leo the Great worshipping the Virgin, it is known to have passed through Celotti’s hands. The dealer himself died in October 1843 at the Palazzo Barbarigo, Venice. 

Why was Celotti so successful in flocking his ‘orphan’ leaves in Britain? In 1796 the Rev James Granger had published his Biographical History of England (1769) which introduced the practice of inserting leaves and prints which do not belong to the book, but were pertinent to the subject treated. The result was a rise in value of books containing portraits which were cut out and inserted in collector’s copies. Critics introduced the term ‘grangerising’ for the bizarre process of adding extra illustrations to the printed text. Celotti further encouraged biblioclastic pursuits where by researchers and/or dealers removed individual leaves and re-assembled them in a different form. Defending themselves against critics, those involved in the practice argued that the leaves came from books already imperfect or damaged. By dismantling the document concerned, images could be made available to and appreciated by a wider audience, particularly if the leaves were accompanied by an explanatory essay. Even John Ruskin subscribed to that theory. He created leaf collections out of his private holdings of medieval manuscripts. In retrospect, it seems an extraordinary contradiction that someone of Ruskin’s calibre would knowingly destroy the bibliographical evidence showing how a particular medieval text was materialised in a codex format. 

The secularisation of religious houses across Europe in general, and Napoleon’s art thievery in particular, led to irredeemable damage to sacred books. Illumination was taken out of context in a similar manner as the removal of paintings out of cathedrals. Our national museums originate in art robbery of which Napoleon was the Godfather. Celotti’s practice of ripping apart books and manuscripts fits into a wider context of cultural vandalism. The discovery of early civilisations was an adventure tale of the nineteenth century. Those were the pioneer days of historical digging when excavators employed hundreds of workers in a frenzied search for and acquisition of ancient monuments and treasures. From these excavations archaeology was born. They also spawned a legacy of efforts to rob the past (and subsequent requests for repatriation). 

Between 1801 and 1805 Lord Elgin transported the Parthenon (‘Elgin’) Marbles from Greece to London. Considering Napoleon’s pillaging in order to stock his ambitious Musée Napoléon (as the Louvre was renamed in 1802 under the stewardship of Vivant Denon), it was ironic that the French responded by adding the word ‘elginisme’ to their vocabulary in the sense of an act of cultural vandalism by which artefacts are diminished when torn out of their cultural and spatial context. It was a typical case of the pot calling the kettle black; or, the French desecrator accusing his English counterpart of being a vandal.

The Gay Gondolier

The Gay Gondolier

Seymour Street (Marylebone)


On 7 December 1889 the Savoy Theatre on the Strand premiered the opera The Gondoliers. It was Gilbert and Sullivan’s last great success and ran for 554 performances, closing on 30 June 1891. Its title highlighted the long-lasting British passion for Venice and its gondolas. From then to the Italian Exhibition at Earls Court in 1904 (with a special section on ‘Venice at Night’) gondola-mania was at its height.


Venice installed its first Doge as leader of the young autonomous state in 697. It amassed its wealth from agriculture, local industry (textiles), maritime trade, and international banking. Shipbuilders provided commercial vessels and a naval fleet to protect and control the seaways. Commercial growth was matched by an astonishing cultural development. From Titian to Tintoretto, the city was home to renowned Renaissance painters and laid claim to the celebrated architects Jacobo Sansovino and Andrea Palladio. Aldus Manutius founded the Aldine Press producing the first printed editions of many of the Greek and Latin classics. Venice ruled the world, commercially, intellectually, and artistically. Known as Seranissima (‘most serene’), the Republic divided its power amongst members of the Doge’s Inner Circle which included six councillors and three inquisitors who were responsible for law and order. Policing the expanding domain was a necessity. After all, Venice produced Giacomo Casanova, Europe’s most notorious ruffian.


During the Renaissance it was also a city of courtesans of which there were two classes, namely ‘cortigna onesta’ (educated prostitutes) and ‘cortigna lume’ (common prostitutes). The first group was of a patrician or merchant background. In a society that dictated exorbitant dowries, many daughters were denied the opportunity of marriage. They would become nuns or spinsters. Alternatively, they followed a path into prostitution which enabled them to support themselves and other members of the family. As it was a duty for a Venetian male to make his fortune before marriage, many youngsters sought pleasure with women of taste and refinement (and most likely without disease). Elderly men were happy to supply young courtesans with a luxurious lifestyle.


British (English) School; A Venetian Courtesan at Her Dressing Table; National Trust, Calke Abbey; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-venetian-courtesan-at-her-dressing-table-169362

The prostitute appeared in influential circles and mixed with artists, poets, politicians, and philosophers. She was introduced into art and poetry (the trend was set by Pietro Aretino) – and with her presence the gondola became a regular feature. Boat ride and sex became intertwined. Sometimes in a shocking manner. In Il trentuno della Zaffetta (1532) Lorenzo Venier – a friend of Aretino – recounts the alleged ‘trentuno’ (gang rape) of Angela del Moro on 6 April 1531. The attack was organised by her noble lover as a punishment for her betrayal. He lures Angela into a gondola for a sumptuous day trip, but instead she ends up in the fishing town of Chioggia where she is raped by eighty of his cronies. She is then sent back to Venice in a boat full of melons, a fruit loaded with erotic connotations at the time. The impact of Vernier’s poem was significant and soon the word ‘trentuno’ became common place as a euphemism for the group violation of a single female victim. It appeared in English for the first time in John Florio’s Anglo-Italian dictionary A Worlde of Words in 1598.


The British passion for manifestations of Italian culture has a long history. The sonnet was introduced into English literature during the 1550s in imitation of models pioneered by Francesco Petrarca (known as Petrarch in English). For generations to come, Italy was considered the home of poetry. To Shakespeare, it was the domain of imagination. His plays may be set in France, Austria, or Denmark, but his references to Italy are frequent and mostly accurate (John Florio, the London-born son of a Reformed refugee from Tuscany, was tutor of the Earl of Southampton, patron of the bard). Such is the contemporary association of Shakespeare with Venice that Stratford-upon-Avon offers the affluent tourist a romantic passage on the river in his/her private gondola. 


During the eighteenth century Venetian painting came to the fore. Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto, produced urban panoramas in which the painter tended to include architectural distortions for pictorial effect. From the late 1720s to the early 1750s Canaletto’s fortunes were bound up with the figure of Joseph Smith, British Consul in Venice. The latter was one of the foremost collectors in the city who, over three decades, acquired fifty paintings by the artist which he housed in his palazzo on the Grand Canal. They were eventually sold en bloc to George III in 1762. Canaletto was and remains one of Britain’s favourite artists, widely appreciated as the genius of gondolas.


Lord Byron lived between 1816 and 1823 in Italy and adored the country’s cultural history and vibrant present. He was the most Italian of British poets and certainly the most Venetian one. During his stay, Venice had an exuberant gay community although the punishment for sodomy remained severe. However, the topography of the city provided unparalleled opportunities for clandestine meetings. According to Casanova, gondolas were primarily used for ‘sex acts on water’. Venetian gondoliers sold a range of erotic services to both male and female clients (John Addington Symonds for years had an affair – love at first sight – with a blue-eyed gondolier named Giacomo ‘Angelo’ Fusato). Byron greatly enjoyed the Venetian Carnival in which gay men happily took part. The traditional costumes disguised the features of the masked wearer making it impossible to guess his or her gender. In Beppo: A Venetian Story (1817) Byron praised the carnival in terms of its ‘Gaiety’. During his lifetime, the word gay was already understood in its current use.


Giovanni Battista [Tita] Falcieri was born in Venice in 1798 into a family of hereditary gondoliers. He was described as a huge but gentle person, black-bearded, and ferocious in appearance. He was first employed as manservant by Matthew ‘Monk’ Lewis, the Gothic and homosexual novelist. Tita accompanied the author on his tour of the Continent and joined him on the long voyage to inspect his plantations in Jamaica. When in the early summer of 1818 Byron rented the Palazzo Mocenigo on the Grand Canal, Falcieri entered into the poet’s service as his personal gondolier, probably through Lewis’s intervention. Like the former, Byron liked the proximity of young and muscular men. There have been suggestions of a homo-erotic exchange between the two authors of an attractive male member of staff in their entourage.

Falcieri was close to Byron at Missolonghi when the poet died on 19 April 1824. He accompanied the body to England and was a mourner at his funeral. Tita subsequently fought for the Greek cause in an Albanian regiment. Having returned to England, he was employed as butler by Isaac D’Israeli at Bradenham House, Buckinghamshire. On Isaac’s death in 1848, Byron’s friend John Hobhouse arranged for him to be employed as a Government messenger at the (Indian) Board of Control’s headquarters at Canon Row, Westminster. He got married a year later. Falcieri was later appointed chief messenger at the new India Office, but without the liability of having to carry any messages. Venice had become a distant memory. The gay gondolier had become a grey civil servant, living at no. 60 Seymour Street in respectable Marylebone where he died in December 1874.

Art, Smoke and Bubbles 

In 1807 Andrew Pears started a small factory just of Oxford Street producing transparent soap. It proved a huge success in an age that became aware of the social value of hygiene. Pears Soap became a household name not in the last because of the firm’s brand marketing strategy introduced by the inspirational figure of Thomas J. Barratt, the ‘father of modern advertising’ (and son-in-law of the company’s founder). 

It all started with the commissioning of sculptor Giovanni Focardi. Born in Florence around 1843 and having studied under Enrico Pazzi, he moved to London in 1875 where he spent most of his working years at no. 10 Auriol Road, Baron’s Court. For the Pears Company he produced his most famous creation, a group of mother and child titled You Dirty Boy.

This statue of a ragged young boy having his ears washed was exhibited at the Paris Exhibition Universelle in 1878 where it was greatly appreciated. It was also part of Pears’s soap stand at London’s International Health Exhibition in 1884 under the patronage of Queen Victoria.

Pears had purchased the copyright to produce copies of the statue as advertisements for their products. They were made for shop counter displays in terracotta, plaster, or metal, and sold worldwide. Pears became famous for other advertising drives involving artists. Its campaign using John Everett Millais’s painting Bubbles (1886) continued over many decades. Art entered the domain of commerce.

Through the late 1800s Spitalfields, Whitechapel, and Bethnal Green were home to the tobacco industry. Production was driven by immigrants. The decline of the Dutch economy had prompted many skilled Amsterdam Jews to settle in London. Jewish immigrants from Germany were also involved in the industry. Samuel Gluckstein was born on 4 January 1821 in Rheinberg. He moved to London in 1841, starting his own business in Crown Street, Soho, in 1855. His two sons Isidore and Montague joined the firm. His daughter Helena married Barnett Salmon, also a tobacco salesman. The Salmon & Gluckstein firm was established in 1873.

By the turn of the century it was the world’s largest retail tobacconist (taken over by Imperial Tobacco in 1902). In 1887 Montague Gluckstein put forward the idea of providing catering services for large exhibitions that had become fashionable. Family members gave their consent on condition that their name would not be used in such a ‘vulgar’ enterprise. 

Montague employed Joseph Lyons, a water-colour artist, who had experience in dealing with exhibition authorities. In 1894 the company started a teashop in Piccadilly. Within a couple of decades a chain of so-called Lyons’ Corner Houses was established, including a number of huge restaurants on four or five levels. Each floor had its own eatery and all had orchestras playing to its diners. Corner Houses were treasures of Art Deco. This style of building in Britain was introduced by Oliver Percy Bernard. Having acted as technical director of the British Pavilion at the influential 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (from which Art Deco took its name), he operated as consultant for Lyons and designed the interior for their iconic Oxford Street and Coventry Street establishments. In 1929, he conceived an Art Deco entrance to the illustrious Strand Palace Hotel. Dresden-born refugee Hans Arnold Rothholz who had been trained in the Bauhaus tradition, also worked on behalf of the company and created a mural for the Lyons Corner House restaurant at Marble Arch.

There is an even more immediate link between tobacco and Art Deco. Bernhard Baron was born on 5 December 1850 in the Russian town of Brest Litovsk into a Jewish family of French descent. In 1867 Baron moved to New York where he manufactured handmade cigarettes. He later moved his business to Baltimore. In 1872 Baron took out his first patent for a cigarette making machine. In 1895 he visited London to sell the patent rights of his invention. Attracted by business opportunities, he decided to settle at St James’ Place, Aldgate, where he established the Baron Cigarette Machine Company. In 1903 he joined the board of Carreras Limited, becoming its managing director and chairman. He held both positions until his death in August 1929. Carreras’s cigarettes, notably their Black Cat brand, proved popular. 

Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun made a huge impact on art and architecture. The 1925 Paris Exhibition extended the vogue. Egypt-o-mania was in full swing. The country was also a major cigarette manufacturer. After British (BTE) troops were stationed in Egypt in 1882, soldiers developed a liking for local tobacco. Soon this ‘sophisticated’ smoke was in demand throughout the country. Tobacco companies adopted Egyptian motifs in their advertising to cash in on this all-gender fashion. Kate Chopin presented an image of the new ‘progressive’ woman in her story ‘An Egyptian Cigarette’, published in Vogue Magazine in April 1902. During the First World War smoking increased sharply and the Carreras Company came to the fore in supplying cigarettes to the armed forces. In 1920 the business moved to new premises, the Arcadia Works at City Road, Moorgate. Six years later, architects Collins & Porri were commissioned to design a new factory to be built on Mornington Crescent’s communal garden. The white building’s ornamentation included a solar disc to the Sun-god Ra, two effigies of black cats flanking the entrance, and colourful painted details. The plant was opened in style in 1928. The pavements were covered with ‘desert’ sand; there was a procession of cast members from a production of Verdi’s Aida; a performance was given by actors in Egyptian costume; and a chariot race was held on Hampstead Road. The Carreras factory is one of London’s finest surviving Art Deco designs.

The success of the Lyons and Carrera companies points at growing ties between business and design. Romantic thinkers feared the corrupting impact of commerce on the creative impulse. During the last decades of the nineteenth century this perspective changed, at least within the visual arts (Symbolist poets stubbornly defended their art against all intrusions from the ‘market’). Department stores and restaurants redefined the bond between commerce and aesthetics. Eye-catching design boosted sales. Increased profitability provided commissions to aspiring artists. The age of graphic art and advertising was born. With it, the artist modified the interpretation of his position in society. Much of the Romantic humbug of his ‘leading’ role was dumped. Simplification became the new catchword. An idealistic aspect (especially amongst the pupils of Bauhaus) remained a feature of socially engaged design, but even Utopia acquired a more human dimension. During man’s brief spell on earth, architecture and design could make his journey physically more pleasant and aesthetically more pleasing. Style became equated with wellbeing.