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Mapping the “White, Marmorean Flock”: Anne Whitney Abroad, 1867–1868
with Jenifer Bartle and David McClure, assisted by Kalyani Bhatt
The poet and sculptor Anne Whitney (1821–1915) was an important member of Boston’s intersecting literary, artistic, and political circles throughout her long life. She and her companion, the painter Addy Manning, lived abroad from 1867 to 1871 and from 1875 to 1876, primarily in Rome but also in Florence and Paris, with several months each summer spent elsewhere in Europe. Whitney wrote biweekly letters to her family, and they responded in kind; almost 400 letters survive from her time abroad, providing vivid evidence about her movement through time and space and her experience of foreign cultures.
Whitney is usually associated with the group of female artists in Rome that Henry James so evocatively—and dismissively—described as a “white, marmorean flock.” Her letters document her relationships with her sister artists over the years and across the European continent. In fact, Whitney’s letters make her the best documented of these artists, though she is perhaps the least known today. Although contemporaries seemed to understand the women best as indistinguishable members of an artificially constructed group, a careful reading of Whitney’s letters demonstrates how different these women were, not only in the art they produced but also in their backgrounds, ages, and preferred style, materials, and iconography. The letters also show that the desire to travel abroad was not dictated solely by the need to study the celebrated art and architecture of the past. Rather, it was the entire cultural experience, and how that experience transformed an artist’s life in diverse and unexpected ways, that had the greatest and most lingering impact.
The number, length, and complexity of Whitney’s letters and the diverse stories they tell lend themselves to the tools of digital humanities; the depth and breadth of the information they contain could not be utilized to its full potential within the confines of a more traditional article. Instead, this publication features interactive maps and timelines created with a customized version of the Omeka plug-in Neatline to illustrate the first sixteen months of Whitney’s life abroad, with extensive quotations from her letters to provide a sense of her voice and thoughts on a wide variety of topics. My examination begins with her departure from the United States in March 1867 and continues through her arrival in Rome, her summer across the Alps, and her fall, winter, and spring in Rome, ending in July 1868, as she prepared to leave the city for another summer of travel. By visualizing this data in combination with additional information from other archives, primary source materials, and contemporary photographs, and setting it against historical maps, Whitney’s experiences become a richly detailed case study of an American female artist abroad during this important era.