‘Egad George, we’re bit!’ Italy and neo-classicism 1773–5
The most significant figure for Romney among English-speaking artists in Rome was the erudite Swiss, Henry Fuseli, who had come late to painting from literature, where he had been formed by the ‘Sturm und Drang’ movement. In the artistic crucible of Rome, Romney spent some of the pleasantest hours of his life, exploring the city’s art collections and sculpture. In the Sistine Chapel, Romney made an especial study of the anatomy and drapery of the prophets and sibyls, whilst several figures in Michelangelo’s Last Judgement influenced his Medea series and his own drawings of devils. In later life, and notably in The Tempest, Romney strove, as ‘a closet Romantic bedevilled by Neo-classicism’, to merge both traditions, as did Fuseli in The Nightmare. A related paradox in Romney’s work is his alternate rejection and adoption of classicism.