Contenuti arrow Numero 2, 2009 arrow Le arti di William Roscoe: biblioteca e collezione (I parte)

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Deve essere chiaro quindi che il rapporto tra Roscoe e le arti figurative si basa su questo fecondo intreccio tra studio e collezionismo, due aspetti non separati o separabili. Henry Roscoe riporta una lettera del padre a Lord Dunchan, stando alla quale dichiara concluse, con il Leone X, le sue ricerche sulla storia e la cultura italiana, e declina altri lavori intorno a questo argomento:

 

The history of the rise and progress of literature and fine arts in Italy […] is, indeed, a noble subject, but to execute it would require a fortunate uman of talents, acquirements and circumstances, which it has not fallen to my lot to enjoy […]. For perhaps the history of literature and of art should each be treated separately; and of these, if I were to make my choice, I should prefer the latter[33].

 

Il fatto che però Roscoe non si fosse dedicato sistematicamente alle arti figurative, almeno con l’obiettivo di redarre uno studio organico, secondo il sempre valido schema del «rise and progress», non significa che le sue ricerche si fossero arrestate. Anzi, proprio le ricerche intorno ai Medici avrebbero senz’altro acuito il suo interesse particolare per la storia delle arti, rispetto anche ad altre branchie degli studi umanistici, la letteratura su tutti, che pure egli aveva approfondito. Non è casuale che Roscoe si fosse dedicato alla «illustration of his son’s translation of Lanzi’s History of italian painting, by a small collection of engravings»[34].

La scelta di tradurre la Storia pittorica del Lanzi, e illustrarla con incisioni, induce a una serie di riflessioni. Innanzitutto essa era un’operazione che si costituiva a via mediana tra l’interruzione e la prosecuzione degli studi italiani, perché consentiva di affrontare tematiche ancora legate all’Italia senza dover effettuare un viaggio nella penisola. La traduzione di Lanzi, la prima in lingua inglese, cui aveva inizialmente atteso Thomas Traill, venne effettivamente compiuta dall’altro figlio di Roscoe, Thomas, che la pubblicò nel 1828, tre anni avanti la morte di suo padre. Suo fratello Henry confermava questa vicenda:

 

Another literary project entertained by Mr. Roscoe at this time was a translation of the excellent work of Lanzi: “Storia pittorica della Italia”. At his suggestion, his intimate friend, Dr. Traill, undertook the vision of the work, which was to be accompained by notes, and an introductory dissertation from the pen of his son, but the preliminary dissertation is not appended to it[35].

 

La traduzione lanziana cadeva all’interno di una serie massiccia di ricerche sulle arti figurative portate avanti da Roscoe negli anni precedenti o ancora in corso, destinate a restare in parte inedite. In effetti, sempre stando al racconto dei biografi, questi alla morte aveva lasciato, oltre a una «extensive and valuable correspondance», anche «a large mass of papers». All’interno di tale corposo insieme di carte, Traill scrive di aver potuto visionare un testo, redatto proprio per la Liverpool Academy

 

on the progress and vicissitudes of taste which remain in manuscript, and which he appears to have, at one time, contempled to publish, as I find among them a title page, thus ‘An historical inquiry into the rise, progress and vicissitudes of taste, as exemplified in works of literature and art. In two volumes. Vol. I’. The manuscript, however, does not seem to have received his last corrections, though many of the observations are original and interesting[36].

 

Non solo, ma egli contava inoltre

 

various dissertations on the fine arts, some of which appear in a finished state. In the year 1814 Mr. Roscoe had proposed to the writer of this memoir to undertake the translation of Lanzi’s Storia pittorica della Italia, and he engaged to fournish notes, and a preliminary dissertation. I had made considerably progress in the translation, when Mr. Roscoe’s misfortunes, and my own professional avocations, interrupted the work; which has since been well executed by his son, Mr. Thomas Roscoe. Among the papers of my venerable friend, I find a very interesting introductory dissertation, intended for our joint work, tracing the history of the art of painting and sculpture to a much later period than their supposed extinction in the west, indeed almost to within 200 years of their supposed revival by the Pisani and Cimabue. This treatise is in such a state that it might be published, and it would form an excellent introduction to Lanzi’s work. It is entitled, ‘An historical sketch on the state of the fine arts during the middle ages’. I find also a curios dissertation ‘On painters drawings’; another ‘On the origin of engraving on wood and copper’; a third ‘On the engravings of early german school’. There are large fragments also of a work ‘On the etchings of italian painters, which contain much useful information’; and a lecture ‘On the use of prints’, another on the ‘Pratical part of painting’, and two ‘On the origin and progress of taste’. There is also a poem on the origin of engraving, written in 1783, of which there are two copies in MS. I have already mentioned, that the lectures on the origin and progress of taste were extended into a treatise, which is not finished. This is also the case with some dissertations on the state of letters and the arts anterior to the greeks, and their progress among that people. The whole seem to have been parts of a great work on the fine arts, which he left imperfected;

 

e infine un altro trattato «on the fine arts» che lo stesso Traill non esitava a dichiarare addirittura «far superior to any thing on that subject which British literature possesses»[37].



[33] ROSCOE 1833, vol. I, p. 350.
[34] TRAILL 1853, p. 42.
[35] Roscoe 1833, vol. II, p. 62; LANZI-ROSCOE 1828. La fortuna di Lanzi fu duratura per tutto l’Ottocento inglese: si veda Levi 2005, in part. pp. 34, 46, nota 8. Il 17 luglio del 1806 Henry Fuseli chiedeva proprio a Roscoe una copia di Lanzi in prestito: «I am writing something on art, in which I find it is indispensably necessary for me to consult Lanzi»: WEINGLASS 1982, pp. 348-350.
[36] TRAILL 1853, pp. 15, 18.
[37] TRAILL 1853, pp. 43-45, 47; cfr. ad esempio ROSCOE 1805, vol. IV, pp. 86-88, 90-92.
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