The story of Joseph Severn’s association with John Keats has often been told. The promising young artist to whom the Royal Academy gave a grant to study the old masters in Italy; his decision to accompany the sick Keats, who had been medically advised that warm Italy might alleviate his tuberculosis; Severn’s care of his dying friend during his final weeks, and then his campaign to promote Keats’s posthumous reputation. Visitors to the Protestant cemetery in Rome are still moved to see the two identically sized tombstones side by side: one with the broken lyre of the poet whose life was cut off in 1821 while full of promise at the age of twenty-five; and the other, with palette and brush, the respected artist who died in 1879 at the age of eighty-five.
In recent years large quantities of letters, accounts, sketch books and other primary materials relating to Severn’s life have been discovered and made available. The discovery of yet more was reported in the 2009