Ordinary and extraordinary in two Eighteenth century Swedish travel accounts from Italy

Stefano Fogelberg Rota (Umeå Universitet)

Ordinary and extraordinary in two Eighteenth century Swedish travel accounts from Italy

During the eighteenth century, a number of Swedes journeyed to Italy and wrote about their experiences in letters and diaries. The writings of these travellers bear testimony to a great fascination for the ancient history of the region, combined with a general tone of dissatisfaction with regards to contemporary society on the peninsula, which is often criticized for its cultural backwardness. Art collections, architecture and music are, with few exceptions, the only parts of Italian society that are praised by the Swedish travellers. There are, however, two who stand out by, at the same time, confirming this trend and also challenging it: master builder Georg Fröman (d. 1767) and sea captain Carl Tersmeden (1715–1797).

Fröman and Tersmeden travelled to Italy in 1736-1737 and 1755-1756 respectively. While Fröman’s journey was part of his appointment as master builder at the Royal palace in Stockholm, and therefore strongly motivated by the construction of the new palace, Tersmeden benefited of a leave of absence from his employment as captain in Dutch service in order to visit Italy. The different circumstances of their journeys are reflected in their writings. The official character of Fröman’s travel to Rome, via the German speaking countries, together with royal architect Jean Erik Rehn (1717–1793) and royal artist Johan Pasch (1706–1769), stands out in his detailed diary in which he thoroughly records, in an objective and detached style, every single site visited, as well as all the money spent for transportation, accommodation and board. Tersmeden’s extensive memoirs are equally detailed, but often spiced up with unrealistic descriptions of his adventures at sea and on land. In his writings Tersmeden focuses on social and festive occasions describing – with both precision and vivid imagination – his meeting with the aristocratic milieus of the Italian courts he visited. Fröman and Tersmeden exemplify thus two main trends in eighteenth century travel writing, that is an everlasting interest for practicalities and a more markedly subjective representation. Moreover, they both show, albeit with different tones unusual interest for contemporary Italian societies. Most clear Tersemeden whose appraisal of Italian noblewoman is constantly reiterated.

In this paper I will not only focus on the differences between the two Swedes’ accounts of the foreign topographies they encountered in Italy and the rhetorical strategies they employed to describe them, I will also consider their similarities and the ways in which their writings oscillate between reality and fiction, subjectivity and claims to objectivity.

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23 novembre 2018 11:45