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Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Emily Brontë's drawing of Trajan's Arch in Ancona

Emily Brontë, Ancona and Maddalena De Leo, a subtle Fil Rouge

Maddalena De Leo writes:
Emily Brontë's drawing
In September 2018 news was given in the Brontë Society Gazette of the recent successful finding of a pencil drawing by Emily Brontë in Dallas, reported by email. To announce the news Sarah Laycock, the curator of the Brontë Parsonage Museum, who after the necessary checks to ensure the authenticity of the object in question and with the opinion of experts such as Ann Dinsdale and Jane Sellars, contributed with many difficulties to the transport of the drawing from America to the UK and its restoration. It was then displayed in the bicentennial year of the birth of Emily in the museum to be admired by visitors from all over the world.

The design in question is entitled 'Ancona' and is signed 'E.J.Brontë 1835', as usual for the author and the sisters on the sidelines of all their figurative and literary works. It represents the Arch of Trajan, an important monument of Roman origin located in the Italian city of Ancona near the port and close to the hill where the Duomo of S.Ciriaco stands.

One wonders how and why Emily Brontë wanted to reproduce with her own pencil a monument she had clearly never seen, located in a place that she could not even imagine visiting. In fact, the four Brontës especially in their youth often copied images from books and prints and delighted in building stories around them with unparalleled imagination. Many of their artistic products, from the hands of Charlotte, the sisters as well as Branwell, are very accurate copies of illustrations taken from books they possessed or borrowed.

Print in the book
Emily copied her drawing entitled 'Ancona' from the print contained in the book Life and works of Lord Byron by John Murray, a grandiose work articulated in several volumes and published in 1833. The print was by a certain Edward Francis Finden and reproduced a drawing of Samuel Prout (1783-1852), at the time one of the main masters of watercolors depicting architectural monuments. Since he had the opportunity to stay in various European countries including Italy, he painted various sketches of the most important monuments he had admired in his travels.

The Arch of Trajan in Ancona dates back to 114-115 AD, and it is named after the Roman emperor who built it. It was an example of gratitude for the man who had given the Doric city a port, thus allowing it an important commercial life on the Adriatic and to the east. The English essayist Joseph Addison (1701) spoke of the Triumphal Arch of Ancona, built in honor of Trajan, located near the sea in white marble and exposed to winds and sea air.

Why did Emily choose to reproduce the drawing from this print? Was she attracted by the imposing arch or by the fact that it was a tangible proof of the greatness of the ancient Romans? Would she have liked to see it in person?

The arch today
Analyzing at the same time the drawing of Emily and the print of Finden taken from Prout I can immediately notice the almost complete elimination of the crowd of people walking near the Roman monument. Emily thus emphasizes the Arch which, by itself stands out in the centre of the image appearing closer to the observer than it is in the drawing reproduced in print. For this purpose, the details of the hill with the cathedral beyond the Arch, well outlined in the press, are almost absent in Emily’s drawing. I even hypothesize that Emily's interest in Ancona finds an echo in the name 'Alcona', one of the four provinces of the fantastic kingdom of Gondal she created, whose queen is A.G.A., otherwise known as Rosina from Alcona, as Fannie Ratchford stated.

Since I was born just in Ancona and although I have not lived there except for the first six years of my life, I am still very attached to my hometown of which I have a vivid memory. Often as a child I found myself walking with my father right under the Arch of Trajan, without even imagining that a few years later I would have been fascinated by the English literary family to whom I have dedicated myself for a lifetime. Learning today that my Emily reproduced with such alacrity a very important monument of Ancona from a print found in nineteenth century England produces in me great enthusiasm. And it naturally leads me to meditate on the curious coincidence that binds me further to this unpredictable author so dear to me.

 My thanks to BPM curator Sarah Laycock for the images