‘Portable Museums: Imaging/Staging the ‘Northern Gothic Art Tour': '― Ephemera and Alterity’

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


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 Exhibition Spaces, 1760-1914
EditorsDominique Bauer, Camillia Murgia
Place of PublicationAmsterdam; US
PublisherAmsterdam University Press
Pages(in press)
Number of pages14
Volume(in press)
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jun 2019

Publication series

NameSpatial Imaginaries in Historical Perspectives: New Series, 2017-


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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  • Activities

    • 3 Participation in conference
    • 2 Invited talk
    • 1 Editorial activity
    • 1 Visiting an external academic institution

    Oud Holland: Journal of Art for the Low Countries (Journal)

    Juliet Simpson (Associate Editor)
    8 Feb 202026 Apr 2020

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workEditorial activity

    ‘Walter Benjamin’s Uncanny Artists: Reisebilder, Memory and Iconic Presences’

    Juliet Simpson (Keynote speaker)
    27 Jun 2019

    Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk

    University of London

    Juliet Simpson (Visiting researcher)
    1 Oct 201930 Jun 2020

    Activity: Visiting an external institutionVisiting an external academic institution

    Research Output

    • 2 Chapter
    • 1 Anthology or Edited Book

    'Gothic Modernisms, 1880-1940s'

    Baetens, J-D., Bauduin, T., von Bonsdorff, A-M. & Simpson, J., 2019, (Accepted/In press) Peter Lang AG. 310 p. (Critical Interactions and Relations in the Arts)

    Research output: Book/ReportAnthology or Edited Book

    Nordic Devotions: Gothic Art as Erotic Affect: ― J.- K. Huysmans’s and Maurice Barrès’s Decadent Devotio Moderns

    Simpson, J., 11 Jul 2019, Nordic Literature of Decadence. Rossi, R., Lyytikäinen, P., Parente-Čapková, V. & Hinrikus, M. (eds.). UK/USA: Routledge, p. 276-294 18 p.

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    Art as Cosmopoetics : Ferdinand Hodler, Mallarmé, and ‘La Revue de Gèneve’ – Cosmopolitanism, Nation and Creation

    Simpson, J., 2016, Internationalism and Cultural Exchange in the Arts at the Fin de Siecle. Brockington, G. (ed.). Oxford, Vienna, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

  • Cite this

    Simpson, J. (Accepted/In press). ‘Portable Museums: Imaging/Staging the ‘Northern Gothic Art Tour': '― Ephemera and Alterity’. In D. Bauer, & C. Murgia (Eds.), Ephemeral Exhibition Spaces, 1760-1914 (Vol. (in press), pp. (in press)). (Spatial Imaginaries in Historical Perspectives: New Series, 2017-). Amsterdam; US: Amsterdam University Press.