Despite the loss of its centrality, eighteenth-century Italy was still regarded as “the grand object of travelling” by Samuel Johnson. The Doctor used to display a sense of inferiority towards the lucky ones who touched the shores of the Mediterranean. Edmund Burke felt similarly frustrated by the inability to travel to what he considered “a sort of Native land to us all”. Even deprived of power – Burke maintained – Italy had still lessons to teach, in elegance and taste. For a visual artist such as Burke’s countryman James Barry, who prided himself to know Burke’s famous Enquiry by heart, it was indeed the final destination to complete the training started in London under James “Athenian” Stuart. Burke made it possible, financing both the training and the travel. My contribution focuses on what I consider to be the critical phase in Barry’s Bildung as an artist, not only because the direct experience with what remained of the ancient world proved key to his art, but more because Barry’s agon with the ancient symbolically reveals an attempt to negotiate his identity with ghosts of fatherly figures far more real and close than the classics.
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