The Small Cone, from the S.E. Summit of the Great Cone
John Auldjo, the artist himself, stands on the far right of the image, poking the lava with a cane and holding a cloth over his mouth. In the background, the eruption of Vesuvius’ small cone, Monte Somma, blasts small bits of lava into the air; these fragments land near Auldjo. Palo, the highest point of Mount Vesuvius, is not shown in the image. An extensive jumble of what appear to be lava flows, hardened sediment, and rocks take up the foreground of the image.
Copyright 2009, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Sketches of Vesuvius: with short accounts of its principal eruptions: from the commencement of the Christian era to the present time
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"The Small Cone" in Sketches of Vesuvius was created in 1831 shortly after a minor eruption by Vesuvius’ small cone, Monte Somma, which is depicted in the sketch. This copy of the image and book was privately owned by Chester H. Thordarson before arriving in Special Collections at the University of Wisconsin—Madison.
Expedition on Mount Vesuvius
John Auldjo’s Climb of Mont Blanc
John Auldjo climbed Mount Vesuvius in 1831 as the volcano’s small cone, Monte Somma, was showing activity. Auldjo’s objective was to sketch the volcano to record its activity. He also studied mineral samples in order to discover where the lava had flowed during past eruptions. Upon completion of his voyage to Vesuvius, Auldjo believed citizens should experience his scientific endeavors through the medium of his sketches. Consequently, he published many copies of Sketches of Vesuvius, which narrates his expedition and findings (S. Flowers, "Auldjo, John").
The Eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1834
This was Vesuvius' first major eruption since 1822; it was characterized by lava flowing slowly in the direction of the commune of Poggiomarino. As a result of warning signs beforehand (such as earthquakes), those in close proximity were able to safely evacuate. Several scientists, John Auldjo among them, stayed in order to study and record observations of the eruption and its preceding portents. No deaths were recorded as resulting from this eruption (S. Flowers, Auldjo, John).
John Auldjo’s Climb of Mont Blanc
Located in northwestern Italy, Mont Blanc is the eleventh tallest mountain in the world. John Auldjo was the fourteenth man to climb this mountain, and the first Englishman. While completing this feat at the age of 22, he wrote a book to his sister-in-law’s uncle, Simon McGillivray. Because of this detailed and dramatic account of his climb, John Auldjo soon became a well-known author and respected scientist in Great Britain (R. Irving Ten Great Mountains 115-117).
Simon McGillivray was the uncle of Auldjo’s sister-in-law, and a grand master of Freemasonry. Because they attended Freemason gatherings together, John Auldjo and Simon McGillivray became close; consequently, Auldjo wrote a book to McGillivray during his ascent of Mount Blanc. This greatly excited McGillivray and the Freemasons, to the extent that McGillivray both aided the publication of Auldjo’s narrative as well as helped finance Auldjo’s future explorations—including his expedition to study Mount Vesuvius’ past eruptions in the 1820’s (S. Flowers, "Auldjo, John").
Prince Charles Ferdinand of Capua
This prince authorized John Auldjo’s exploration of Mount Vesuvius and its surrounding mountains. Without his permission, Auldjo and many other scientific explorers would have been stopped from exploring the volcano (W. Sichel, Memoirs of Emma 435-436).
This private organization meets regularly to discuss religious, scientific, and political issues. A major society in England, the Freemasons pushed for scientific exploration throughout Europe during the Romantic period. Each localized group, or lodge, has an elected high leader called a grand master, a position held by Simon McGillivray. Both McGillivray and Auldjo were encouraged in their desire for exploration by Freemasonry, and McGillivray himself was once a Freemason grand master (an elected position of authority) (J. Ridley, The Freemasons 7).
Geological Society of London
John Auldjo was a “fellow” of this British society; when signing this sketch, he placed the letters F.G.S. after his name to signify "Fellow of the Geological Society". Founded in 1807, the organization's intention is to “investigate the mineral structure of the earth.” Members meet to report their findings and theories, often gathered during extensive travel (Transactions of the Geological Society 2-3).
Classified as a Stratovolcano (one with a tall, multi-layered cone), Mount Vesuvius rises to 4,203 feet (1,281 meters). Within the recent centuries, Vesuvius’ height has decreased due to massive eruptions which have destroyed the volcano’s walls. The volcano is located in the Province of Naples near Pompeii, the city destroyed by its eruption in 79 AD. Today Mount Vesuvius has two craters which emit magma. The larger cone is known locally as Palo. The second, newer cone—formed by massive amounts of magma hardening under pressure—is known as Monte Somma. After the 79 A.D. eruption Mount Vesuvius has erupted about twice every century, with no eruptions occurring after 1944 (S. Bisel Secrets of Vesuvius 2-64).
Meaning “white mountain” in French, this snow-topped mountain rises to 15,781 feet (4,810 meters) in northeastern Italy and southeastern France, forming the border between the two countries. The eleventh tallest mountain in the world, Mont Blanc was climbed first by the Italians Jacque Balmat and Michel Paccard in 1786; since then, many have climbed the summit, including John Auldjo in 1827 and Theodore Roosevelt in 1886 (R. Irving, Ten Great Mountains 115-117).
This commune, located about twenty-five kilometers east of Naples, suffered damage when the lava flow from Mount Vesuvius’ 1834 eruption burned much of its architecture (S. Bisel Secrets of Vesuvius 22).
Vues du Vesuve by John Auldjo (1832)
"A Map of Vesuvius showing the direction of the streams of Lava in the Eruptions from 1631AD. To 1831AD" from the book Sketches of Vesuvius by John Auldjo (1833)
By depicting both the artist himself and the object of his interest, Mount Vesuvius, this image demonstrates the increasing, active curiosity of Romantic culture in the empirical attributes of volcanoes.
Because Auldjo does not appear fearful of his surroundings and because the volcanoe does not loom menacingly overhead (it is instead ensconced at a slight distance and, consequently, miniaturized), Mount Vesuvius does not here represent the sublime. Instead, the drawing serves to depict a scientific phenomenon that is beginning to be understood.
This depiction of Mount Vesuvius represents Romantic culture’s new, more scientific approach to volcanoes, which began to be seen as an attraction for volcanologists and tourists alike. As demonstrated by the human figure—who appears to be performing a hands-on investigation of sputtering lava—the image shows that one can successfully study volcanoes in action. Before this image, Romantic culture was primarily concerned with the volcanoe as an emblem of death and destruction. However, as this engraving suggests, a curiosity grounded in science and notions of the picturesque began to emerge regarding volcanoes and their eruptions.
John Auldjo’s intended that his sketch both educate and inspire his audience; in the accompanying text, Auldjo says that he wants to “excite travelers” (A3). Auldjo hoped his audience would be so captivated by his detailed portrayal of the rocky volcanoe and its rivers of lava that they would venture to see Mount Vesuvius themselves. In this sense, the image functions as an advertisement. Auldjo’s use of a detailed and, as he describes it, panoramic view of Monte Somma allows his viewers to experience more features of the eruption, thus further educating and exciting them.
Bisel, Sara Louise Clark. Secrets of Vesuvius. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc., 1990.
Flower, S. J. “Auldjo, John (1805–1886).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 2 Apr. 2009 http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/37135.
Irving, Robert Lock Graham. Ten Great Mountains. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Limited, 1940.
Mayer, Ralph. HarperCollins Dictionary of Art Terms and Techniques. New York, N.Y: HarperPerennial, 1991.
Ridley, Jasper. The Freemasons A History of the World's Most Powerful Secret Society. Grand Rapids: Arcade Publishers, 2002.
Sichel, Walter Sydney. Memoirs of Emma. New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1910.
Transactions of the Geological Society of London. Geological Society: London, 1856.
Sketches of Vesuvius: with short accounts of its principal eruptions: from the commencement of the Christian era to the present time / by John Auldjo