The Keats-Shelley House in Rome is a small but mighty jewelry box of a museum in a city that boasts some of the greatest museums in the world. The apartment at 26 Piazza di Spagna overlooking the Spanish Steps is where John Keats died of tuberculosis at the age of 25, his best friend, portrait artist Joseph Severn, by his side. Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary Shelley stayed nearby in 1819 and their three-year-old son William died there. George Gordon, Lord Byron lived in the palazzo opposite the Keats-Shelley House when he was in Rome in 1817.
Today the apartment is a museum dedicated to the lives and works of the Romantic poets who were so inspired by Italy, lived there and in the cases of Keats and Shelley, who died there 18 months apart. It is curated by the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association, a UK charity, which has been tending to the house and its exceptional collection of manuscripts, art, letters and memorabilia since it first opened as a museum in 1909.
This month marks the 200th anniversary of Keats’ death. Next year is the 200th anniversary of Shelley’s death. To honor these icons of Romantic English literature, the museum launched the Keats-Shelley200 project, a two-year program of events to include exhibitions, academic scholarships, performances, concerts, poetry festivals, educational activities and much more held in Rome and in the UK.
Much like the museum exhibitions in honor of the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death last year, these efforts have been cut off at the knees by a certain pandemic. The Keats-Shelley House has ramped up its YouTube presence to compensate, posting videos of events like the concert held late last year to mark the 200th anniversary of Keats’ arrival in Rome and a wonderful reading of the essential poems of Keats, Shelley and Byron by actor Julian Sands.
On Monday, a new immersive video tour of the Keats-Shelley House narrated by Bob Geldof premieres. It is filmed in Ultra HD and can be viewed on a screen or with a VR headset for a fully realized virtual experience that puts you in the apartment where Keats lived for the last 14 weeks of his all-too-brief life. Even if you’re watching on screen, you can still control the experience, navigating to different rooms and browsing the collection.
Geldof will return to the Keats-Shelley House’s YouTube channel on February 23rd, 200 years to the day after Keats died there, to narrate The Death of Keats, a video story of Keats’ arduous journey to Italy, his life in Rome, his final illness and death in the apartment.
On the same day, the Keats-Shelley House is launching a new panoramic virtual tour. This is a novel approach to museum-going and the possibilities are intriguing. It’s a virtual tour led by a live guide. Tours are available in English, Italian and Russian and you book your spot in advance. It is completely interactive. You can ask questions of the guide just as if you were there in person. The cost is €6 a ticket for adults, €5 for school groups and senior citizens, and there’s a maximum of 30 people allowed per tour. Advanced bookings can be made here.