Florence 1900


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The Quest for Arcadia

Bernd Roeck; Translated by Stewart Spencer

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An absorbing picture of turn-of-the-century Florence and those who traveled there to experience its cultural riches

By the end of the nineteenth century, Florence was a key destination for cultured travelers from Europe and America. Writers such as Wilde, Rilke, and Mann; painters such as Degas and Klee; and not least, the young art historian Aby Warburg and his wife, Mary, flocked to Florence to escape the encroachments of modern life at home and to revel in the city’s rich artistic and cultural past.

This beguiling book fuses narrative and ideas to consider how the encounter between modernism and Renaissance culture was experienced by both visitors to Florence and its inhabitants. Based on Aby Warburg’s letters, diaries, and notebooks; on Italian and German archives; and on conversations with E. H. Gombrich (director of the famous Institute that Warburg founded), the book is an intimate guide to life in Florence and the theaters, restaurants, galleries, and salons frequented by visiting cultural exiles. At the same time, the book paints an evocative picture of a city at the cusp of the modern age, adjusting to electricity and the motor car on one hand and to social unrest and a clash of cultures on the other.

Bernd Roeck is professor of history at the University of Zurich. He lives in Zurich. Stewart Spencer is an acclaimed translator. He lives in London.

“Never has the fascination that Florence held for artists and intellectuals been so thoroughly portrayed as here by Bernd Roeck.”—Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

“…this fascinating and elegantly translated study…offers us many insights into an era that seems impossibly remote, but which laid the foundations for our own world.” — Richard Goy, The Art Newspaper

“In a similar way to Paris in the 1920s, Florence in 1900 was a magnet for unconventional expatriates from all walks of life. Bernd Roeck catches beautifully this extraordinary mix of writers, artists, millionaire collectors, intellectual dilettantes or merely the simply curious who flooded in Florence in huge numbers in the few years left before the First World War … A marvellous book.” — Richard Edmonds, Birmingham Post

‘Roeck’s book’s great merit is its breadth of approach…The book is well informed about the social and economic life of Florence, aswell as about other topics like art dealing and art collecting in Florence.’ — Alison Brown, Burlington Magazine

"Drawing largely on letters and diaries of Aby Warburg in London's Warburg Institute and archives in Berlin, Munich, and Florence, Roeck . . . provides a detailed description of the culture, perceptions, and mentality of exile communities in Florence seeking an illusory Arcadia. . . . Several of Roeck's chapters deal with the modern urban reordering not only in center Florence (with new monuments unveiled) and the encroaching modern art scene, but also in the advent of socialism witnessed in the strikes between 1896 and 1900." — M. S. Miller, Choice

'Fascinating, evocative and highly original book.' — William Whyte, Journal of Urban History
ISBN: 9780300095159
Publication Date: April 21, 2009
336 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
12 b/w illus.