Saturday Volcano Art: Thomas Cole, ‘Mount Etna from Taormina, Sicily’ (1843) 21 March 2009Posted by admin in Etna, Italy, Saturday volcano art, volcano art, volcano culture, volcano images.
Tags: Etna, Italy, volcano art, volcano culture, volcano images
‘What a magnificent site! Etna with its eternal snows towering in the heavens — the ranges of nearer mountains — the deep romantic valley … I have never seen anything like it’. So wrote the American artist Thomas Cole (1801-48) of Taormina in Sicily, which he visited in April 1842. While staying at Taormina he climbed Mount Etna, and made many sketches of the landscape and the Greek and Roman remains that were to be found there. When he returned to the United States he produced several large paintings based on his time in Sicily, of which ‘Mount Etna from Taormina’ is one of the most notable.
Cole is perhaps chiefly known and celebrated today as an artist of the American landscape, and particularly of the Hudson River Valley and the Catskill Mountains. He sought in his art to represent the American landscape as an unspoilt Eden, steeped in natural rather than cultural antiquity, yet the spirit of the Italian landscape, shaped by the hand of man and haunted by history, is always present in his work. He was an artist with a deep sense of the past and a moralizing vision: he was profoundly attracted by the tranquility and harmony of the Italian landscapes he saw and painted during his two visits to Italy in 1830-32 and 1841-2, and which he continued to recreate throughout his career, but just as his American landscape views are haunted by the cycle of natural destruction and renewal, so his Italian views are deeply imbued with the presence of antiquity and the lessons of human pride and folly.
Cole’s view of Etna is structured into three zones, following established classical landscape tradition: foreground, middle ground and distance. The foreground represents the past, in the form of the ancient Teatro Greco, the Greek theatre (although most of the presently visible structure is Roman), one of the celebrated sights of Taormina. Beyond the ruined arches and broken columns of the theatre lies the present, in the form of the cultivated valley in which man and nature exist in pastoral harmony. Still further beyond, and dominating the canvas, is Mount Etna, representing the eternal. Cole thus imbues his landscape with a narrative meaning, reflecting on the long history of human civilization and yet its relative insigificance and fragility compared with the eternal forces of divinely-ordered nature.
Brigitte Bailey, ‘The panoptic sublime and the formation of the American citizen in Cooper’s Wing-and-Wing and Vole’s Mount Etna from Taormina, Sicily‘ (1997) [online here]
Louis L. Noble, The Life and Works of Thomas Cole, N.A. (New York, 1853)
Barbara Novak, American Painting of the Nineteenth Century: Realism, Idealism, and the American Experience (1980; 3rd edn., New York: Oxford University Press, 2007)
Thomas Cole Online (Artcyclopedia)
Wilderness Art of the 1800s (Idaho State University)