Portable Museums: Imaging and Staging the "Northern Gothic Art Tour": Ephemera and Alterity

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    During the early nineteenth century, the voyage to the past was to become a central destination for the discerning modern tourist as for artists. Yet such voyages, and the insights they stimulated, were as much ephemeral as actual, creations – and virtual stagings of burgeoning antiquities ‘tour’ phenomena in print, page and image. This article explores the pivotal, yet neglected significance of Northern Gothic ‘tour’ literatures, their itineraries and image-worlds as triggers for potent art ‘rediscoveries’, implicated in projecting amplified types of past experiences for the nineteenth-century art tourist. In turn, such ‘tours’, unfolding as spaces of virtualized museums, were to become entwined with a heightened allure of Northern Gothic sites and place as stimuli, ephemerally constructed, weaving complex palimpsests of past and present to project uncanny cultural ‘exhibitions’ of memory and modernity. Whilst early Romantic travellers, notably Friedrich von Schlegel, Johann-David Passavant and Maria (Lady) Callcott, were galvanic in inspiring growing fascination with Northern medieval and Renaissance visual cultures through the lens of the ‘tour’ medium, this discussion examines lesser-known, yet equally compelling responses to such interests. In particular, in the context of a newly-independent Belgium, it considers the growth of a Northern tour literature phenomenon, flourishing between Britain and the Low Countries. Focusing on key tour literatures from the mid-1830 to early-1870s, the paper considers ways in which such itineraries as John Hoppus’s Sketches in Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Savoy and France (1836), exemplify new types of guidebooks for Northern Gothic art and monuments, building a Romantic imagery of virtual past-ness via tropes of sketch and vignette, to distil perceptions of Northern Gothic and Renaissance cities as places potent for their modern touristic and artistic reinventions. Indeed, this trajectory would be pivotal for more developed ‘tour’ experiences, notably those offered by W.H. James Weale in his compendious 1859 guidebook, Belgium, Aix-la-Chapelle, Cologne, critically engaged with his focus on artistic site as well as his 1860s Bruges School art revivals. The conclusions argue that the treatment of these revivals within a larger projection of Bruges (and its cognates) as a revitalized ‘sacred Capital’ – a nexus of liminal and uncanny artistic potential — gives to the ‘tour’, heightened prominence as portable museums, shaping not only the Gothic ‘rediscoveries’ these excited, but the new imaginaries to be built from them.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationEphemeral Spectacles, Exhibition Spaces and Museums 1750-1918
    EditorsDominique Bauer, Camilla Murgia
    Place of PublicationAmsterdam; US
    PublisherAmsterdam University Press
    ISBN (Print)9789463720908
    Publication statusPublished - 29 Apr 2021
    EventEphemeral exhibition spaces (1750-1918) - University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
    Duration: 15 Mar 201817 Mar 2018

    Publication series

    NameSpatial Imaginaries in Historical Perspectives: New Series, 2017-


    ConferenceEphemeral exhibition spaces (1750-1918)


    • Art and society
    • History
    • Cultural heritage
    • historical contexts
    • creative arts
    • Image analysis

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Arts and Humanities(all)


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