Keats-Shelley House

July 29, 2009

I spent yesterday at the Keats-Shelley House, a haunted little museum where Keats exhaled his last breath while gazing from his window at the artists’ models lounging on the Spanish Steps. Having been ordered to Italy by his doctor, he only lived here for three months before his consumption killed him. I stood for a while in his tiny room. There’s a fireplace next to the bed where his friend Joseph Severn would often prepare meals for him. The blue ceiling must be twenty-feet high, which gives one the sensation of the walls closing in. It seemed a proper place to die. Beneath a window is Bernini’s Barcaccia sculpture, depicting a sinking boat.

At some point during the last century, they turned the apartment into a formidable research library, but now they’ve locked all the books behind oakwood prison bars, so one can only stare longingly at the leather spines of the inmates. But I heard that in old days, they allowed writers, scholars, and other interested people to waste their afternoons in the stacks.

It was a common gesture of affection in the time of the Romantics to give someone a lock of hair as a sign of friendship and affection. They have on display locks of hair from the heads of Keats, Shelley, Byron, Leigh Hunt, Elizabeth Browning, and even Milton.

Above is a portrait Severn produced of Keats on his death bed. Below are some photos of the museum in the Piazza di Spagna.

Keats-Shelley House facade
Stacks at the K-S House
Locks of hair from Milton and E.B. Browning
Plaque in Keats' bedroom
Keats's bedroom
Keats' window on the Spanish Steps


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