‘Grave-Paved Stars’: Comparing the Death of Two Artists in Nineteenth-Century Rome
Keywords:tuberculosis, Adelaide Ironside, John Keats, nineteenth-century Rome
Adelaide Ironside (1831–1867) is best known as the ﬁrst Australian-born artist to train overseas. While her life offers a portal into Republican Sydney, Pre-Raphaelite London and Risorgimento Rome, the nature of her archive also highlights the limits of historical method and the need to employ what Virginia Woolf called ‘the biographer’s licence’ when researching and writing about subjects with problematic sources. In this article, I employ biographical license to contrast the better-known and better-documented death of the English poet John Keats (1795–1821), with the few records associated with Ironside’s death some forty years later, to speculate about the silences in her sources. There are several factors encouraging this approach. Both artists died in Rome of pulmonary tuberculosis. Both were patients of the famous doctor, Sir James Clark (1788–1870), and both died during winter in the care of the person with whom they are now buried. By situating Ironside within these broader nineteenth-century contexts, my biographical subject evolves from a shadowy historical representative of demographic and an era into a ﬁgure who is more ﬂesh and blood than an account focused upon her accomplishments and acquaintances might otherwise allow.
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