Browning Pilgrimage

by Rachel Jacob, Armstrong Browning Library Graduate Research Assistant

Part of my duties as a graduate research assistant at the Armstrong Browning Library involve looking through our collections to answer research questions people ask. A recent question related to the Armstrong tours caused me to look through the unprocessed collection of the tour company which Mary Armstrong, Dr. Armstrong’s wife, ran for many years. In researching this collection, I stumbled across the Browning pilgrimage which the Armstrong Educational Tours company created.

Brochure for the first Browning pilgrimage.

In 1926, the Armstrong Tour company offered an exciting tour of Europe highlighting areas of the Browning’s lives. The tour was infused with literary references and readings. The tourists, or “pilgrims”, would even have literary lectures given by Dr. Armstrong and European Browning scholars at various stops on the trip. Dr. Armstrong himself described the tour:

“This pilgrimage to the shrines of the most virile poet of the Nineteenth Century is a spontaneous growth, out of the minds and hearts of Browning Lovers of America. The tour will include all the interesting features along the usual path through artistic and literary and historic and scenic beauties of Europe. But, in addition to these, there will be excursions along the trail of the Brownings. This means charming excursions in out-of-the-way corners of Europe, which lend to this tour peculiar and gripping interest.”

Photograph of the Browning pilgrimage tour at Fano.

On the tour, the group visited important places in Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s story including their home at Casa Guidi, Barrett Browning’s house at 50 Wimpole Street, the church where they were married, and the burial spot of Barrett Browning. The group also visited the Baths of Luca where Barrett Browning presented her Sonnets of the Portuguese to Browning. Another literary stop relating to the Browning’s works was the Piazza S. Lorenzo where the Old Yellow Book, the inspiration for the Ring and the Book, was found. The pilgrims even followed the trail of Pompelia and Caponsacchi while they were traveling. They were also able to visit Fano to see the Guardian Angel, for which Browning wrote his eponymous poem. During the trip, the pilgrims met significant people like Prince Fabrizio Cigala, the Governor of Calabria, professors at the University of Naples, and various Browning scholars and supporters.

 

Brochure for the second Browning pilgrimage.

The first tour must have been a success because in 1930 Armstrong Educational Tours offered a second Browning pilgrimage. This second pilgrimage had 19 pilgrims join on an even more expansive 5-month tour. The new additions to the tour included a trip to Ravenna to place a wreath on the grave of Dante and visit Ferrara which was associated with My Last Duchess. During their celebration in Rome for the fourth of July, the pilgrims met Contessa Zampini-Salazar, Count and Countess Vanutelli, and Donna Olivia Agresti-Rosetti, the niece of Christina and Dante Rossetti. While on the trip they even met the pope.

In discussing the second Browning pilgrimage, Dr. Armstrong remarked, “of all the twenty-odd tours I have made to Europe, this one was by far the most memorable.”

Although there was no documentation in this collection that shows the Armstrong tour company ever leading another Browning pilgrimage, Dr. Roger Brooks resurrected the trip in 1991. Dr. Brooks, the then director of the Armstrong Browning Library, offered a scaled-down week-long version of the trip. During the trip, Dr. Brooks participated in the wreath-laying ceremony at Browning’s grave in Westminster Abbey.

Going into this collection, I only expected to find an answer to the original research question, but instead, I was able to witness the dedication and impact of the Brownings that is still seen to this day.

Kress Collection Digitally Reunited

By Madeleine L. Svehla, MDiv, George W. Truett Theological Seminary

The launch of the Kress Collection’s Digital Archive continues Samuel H. Kress’ vision of making his 13th-19th century European art collection permanently available to the public. The beauty and magnitude of his collection of over 3000 pieces of art is now digitally reunited and can be accessed here: https://www.kressfoundation.org/kress-collection/list. The famous Kress Collection which is known as the premier collection of European art from the 13th to 19th century was distributed all over the United States to various museums, universities, and galleries in what the February 1962 edition of Life called the “Great Kress Giveaway.”

One of the Kress Collection's paintings on display at the Armstrong Browning Library

Francesco Zuccarelli’s “Landscape with Bridge” (1720) was acquired by the Kress Foundation in 1950 and is on display in the Armstrong Browning Library.

Building & Distributing the Kress Collection

The Kress Collection had its beginnings in the 1920s but the story behind the collection begins earlier. This is a story that involves hard work, brotherhood, and legacy. This legacy has been grown like a tree sheltered during its sapling state by the efforts of a younger brother committed to carrying out his older brothers’ vision. This vision could never have been developed without the perseverance shown by Samuel H. Kress in developing his entrepreneurship and building his company from the ground up. This is his story.

Christ the Man of Sorrows 1540 is by Giampietrino an Italian painter. It was acquired by the Kress collection in 1939.

Samuel H. Kress (1863-1955) was born during the Civil War and named after an uncle who recently died in the Battle of Gettysburg. He was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse while he saved up to purchase a Stationery and Notions Shop and eventually a Wholesalers. He opened his first 5 and 10 Cent Store in Memphis, TN in 1896. These stores became wildly popular and new locations opened across the United States. Through the success of these stores, Samuel Kress became one of the wealthiest men in America.

Italian art was not readily available in America in the 1920s when S. Kress through a suggestion by a friend began to be interested in collecting Italian art. He worked with Contini- Bonacossi to build his collection. He came to view it as his duty to share the masterpieces he had discovered. As the collection expanded, the Kress Foundation was founded to take care of the growing needs of the collection. The Kress Foundation was the most active buyer of European Art throughout WWII. Parts of the Collection were selected to tour the country and these local exhibitions were extremely popular. The Foundation decided that—rather than building a museum or gallery for the entire collection to be put on display— they would partner with museums, galleries, and universities around the US to display portions of the collection.

The Holy Family with the Infant St. John 1600 by Flaminio Allegrini. It was acquired by the Kress Collection in 1950.

In 1946, Samuel began to suffer from ill health and his brother Rush H. Kress (1877-1963) took over the foundations’ collection efforts. Under Rush’s guidance, the collection continued to expand and be displayed across the US. This collection has been preserved and remains cared for by those working for the Kress Collection and the institutions housing it. These men and women are continuing the work begun by the Kress brothers.

Kress Collection Donates 5 Paintings to Baylor University

The oldest and most valuable of these paintings is the Madonna and Child 1310. This painting is thought to be painted by a Pietro Lorenzetti follower. It was acquired by the Kress collection in 1939.

In 1961, the Kress Foundation generously donated five paintings to Baylor University that are housed in the Armstrong Browning Museum and Library. These paintings have been on permanent display in the Treasure Room for almost 60 years. Professors and students have been enriched by the ability to work with these paintings. For instance, Heidi Hornik Ph.D. (a professor of Art and Art History at BU) took her upper-division seminar class to the ABL and the students were able to examine the 14th century Madonna and Child in detail. To read more about Dr. Hornik’s work both in and out of the classroom, please visit: https://www.baylor.edu/alumni/magazine/1702/index.php?id=957830

Four of these paintings depict Biblical characters from Jesus’ life, such as Mary and John the Baptist. The final piece is a landscape. Each piece is a beautiful example of Italian art from the 14-18th centuries.

The Christ figure above the Madonna and Child is holding his hand in a distinctive way that has theological significance. The two fingers held up and slightly apart represent the human and divine natures of the person of Christ. The fourth and fifth fingers meeting the thumb represents the three in one mystery of the Trinity. He is also robed in blue and red which represent his divinity and humanity respectively.

Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist and 3 Angels 1560 This painting is thought to be painted by an Andrea del Sarto follower. It was acquired by the Kress collection in 1950.

Robert Browning wrote the poem The Faultless Painter about Andrea del Sarto in 1855. Sarto is known for his meticulous attention to detail. Browning was inspired by one of his paintings and after researching the artist’s life wrote a poem that explores Andrea’s tragic love story with his wife. Though the Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist and 3 Angels is thought to be painted by a follower of Andrea del Sarto, it provides viewers with an idea of what Sarto’s meticulous style is like.

Leaving a legacy is like planting a tree. The one who plants it may never see it grow to full size. However, future generations are blessed by basking in the coolness of its shade and it leaves a lasting mark on the landscape. None of us can ever truly know the long-lasting impact our dreams will have or how the ways that we invest in the future may one day come to fruition. Samuel H. Kress’ vision of making his collection as accessible to the public as possible is now being accomplished in ways never dreamed of during his lifetime. Yet, his legacy lives on in the splendor of this shared collection.

Image Citations