|Philipp von Stosch as Maecenas. Portrait based on a famous Roman engraved portrait gem of Maecenas, signed by Dioscorides. Drawing by G.-N. Ritter, engraved by G.A. Liebe. Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliotek (in the public domain, WikiMedia)|
This study discusses various forms of male homosociability and their effects on the study and reception of ancient art and culture in eighteenth-century Rome and Florence. I’m especially interested in the dynamic interaction within and between intersecting networks and clusters comprising foreign visitors and various expatriate and local community groups in the two cities. Michel Foucault’s «queer chronology» has recently been pushed back a century and further by Robert Tobin’s pioneering work on the age of Goethe, Warm Brothers (2004) and later by George Haggerty, Clorinda Donato, Matthew Reeve and other scholars who have shown that gender and queer perspectives can be successfully applied to eighteenth-century contexts in order to gain a fuller, more valid, picture of the whole. Focus here is on the relatively well-documented but little studied case of the German antiquary and collector Philipp von Stosch (1691-1757), who visited Rome in 1715- 17 on his Grand Tour and returned to settle there permanently in the early 1720s. The study also includes Stosch’s long involuntary exile in Florence from 1731 until his death in 1757. It discusses his involvement with freethinking and radical circles and freemasonry as well as his relations with instrumental actors in the overlapping networks in which he operated and which at one point of other intersected with the Museo Stoschiano and its library such as François Fagel, Prince Eugene, Sir Andrew Fountaine, Alessandro Albani, Gian Gastone de’ Medici, Horace Mann, Horace Walpole, Wilhelm Muzell Stosch, Winckelmann and others. The witty but controversial Stosch expertly combined the worlds of antiquaria and diplomatica with interests of a more private nature, blending and moving effortlessly between high and low, thus gaining both powerful friends and formidable enemies and also attracting the interest of the Inquisition. Male friendship, sexuality and erotic tension played a not inconsiderable part in all this. Although he was the subject of much controversy, gossip and ridicule in the travelogs, diaries and letters of Keyßler, de Brosses, Cocchi, and the two Horaces—Mann and Walpole—there was never any doubt among his contemporaries that Stosch was in fact a serious actor within the Republic of Letters. His extensive library has been called a key toehold for the radical Enlightenment in Italy, and his private museum was certainly a key meeting-place for foreign visitors and the local community of letterati. But posterity’s verdict has, on the whole, been rather negative, and Stosch’s scholarly and collecting activities have often been deliberately obscured by the many entertaining but mostly malicious anecdotes and rumours that began to circulate already during his lifetime. Stosch’s importance is acknowledged, undermined and questioned, often in one and the same sentence; moral dissolution and sexual licentiousness is more often than not introduced by critics to emphasize the sinister or disturbing qualities of Stosch’s character and thereby undermine his scholarly repute in contexts where it has little or no relevance. Ambivalence and moral objection has thus clouded modern reception of what is in fact a substantial contribution to the history of scholarship and collecting. Stosch was an exceptionally well-informed and well-connected figure whose casa-museo became a key intersecting space for the transfer of knowledge and culture in Italy. The various roles that these two network nodes (Stosch himself and the Museo Stoschiano) played in this decisive period before the high tide of the Grand Tour cultural phenomenon are little known because insufficiently studied. Through his not very secret work as a spy for the British government, his active involvement in setting up the first masonic lodge in Italy, and his extensive collecting and dealing activities, especially in antiquities and rare books, Stosch managed to build and position himself at the very centre of several overlapping and highly useful networks and clusters, thus gaining easy access— often where other contemporaries failed—to people, collections and information. Attempts have previously been made to reconstruct parts of these networks, but their specific dynamics, exactly how and around which actors and clusters they were constructed, and why they became so efficient and successful are significant questions that have interested scholars to a much lesser degree. This study investigates Stosch’s various points of departure and intensive interaction with these intersecting communities and clusters, and puts his taste for the Antique in context by providing a fuller and more balanced overall picture.