Saturday, 13 September 2014

Saving Wedgwood 4: the enlightened Scotsman

"We walked hence to see the Palazzo Barberini, design'd by the now Pop<e>s Architect Cavaliere Bernini, & which I take to be as superb, and princely an object, as any modern building in Europ for the quantity:
…to this is annexed a Gallery completely furnish'd <with> whatsoever Art can call rare and singular, & a Library full of worthy Collections, Medails, Marbles, and Manuscripts;"

Diary entry, Rome,  November 1644, John Evelyn, (ed. E.S. de Beer)

Among the Collections, was a Roman blue glass cameo vase,  decorated with scenes in white relief,  dating from the reign of Augustus, which (already famous for its beauty and mystery) was acquired by the Barberini family in 1627.  Over a century and a half  later in 1780 it was sold to meet gambling debts and in turn was sold on by James Byres to Sir William Hamilton in 1783.

James Byres, the dealer and intermediary, was an architect, antiquarian and scholar from Aberdeen, whose family fled to France after the Jacobite rising, then living in Rome and leading English visitors around the sights.
 "My guide was Mr. Byres, a Scottish antiquary of experience and taste.  But in the
daily labour of 18 weeks the powers of attention were sometimes fatigued."   Memoirs  Edward Gibbon


Temple of the Sybil in Tivoli,  etching, G.& F. Piranesi, c. 1756

Byres made a serious study of Etruscan painted tombs, on which the Adam brothers drew for their fashionable neoclassical interiors. His scholarly and philosophical interests also stretched to fossils and volcanoes, interests he shared with Sir William Hamilton, and it was the influence of Byres's pioneering work that led Wedgwood to name his new factory "Etruria".

see:  The Portland Vase  Susan Walker © Trustees of the British Museum

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