Pierre-François Hugues d’Hancarville
Antiquités étrusques, grecques et romaines : tirées du cabinet du M. William Hamilton, envoyé extraordinaire de. S.M. Britanique en cour de Naples. Collection of Etruscan, Greek, and Roman antiquities from the cabinet of the Honble. Wm. Hamilton, His Britannick Maiesty’s envoy extraordinary at the court of Naples.
Naples, François Morelli 1766-67
Sumptuous, seminal illustrations, now very rare, of Greco-Roman vases, in the renowned collection of Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803). Sir William had become British Ambassador at Naples between 1764-1800, where he had not only made a study of the volcanoes of Vesuvius and Etna, witnessing the 1776-7 eruptions, but also formed a huge collection of Etruscan and classical vases and antiquities, some of which he sold to the British Museum in 1772. Hamilton was one of the first Englishmen to collect and appreciate classical vases. Although he valued them chiefly as good models for modern artists rather than as archaeological finds or ancient works of art. He is said to have ridiculed antiquarians by training his pet monkey to hold a collector’s magnifying glass. Hamilton’s second wife Emma Hart (1761-1815), had become Admiral Nelson’s mistress in 1798 (his ‘Bequest to the Nation’), and Hamilton’s last collection of vases, part of which was lost at sea on the Colossus, was sold to Thomas Hope in 1801 (also later acquired by the British Museum). Thus part of the importance of these plates lies in their being the only record of the vases that were lost in the disaster. Each plate shows the decoration on a vase, both the earlier black figure and the slightly later red figure styles, each with its chracteristic patterned border, delicately executed in black etched line and ground, with terracotta (bistre) and white hand-colouring. Printed in an edition of 500 copies only, and costing Hamilton the princely sum of £6000 to publish, Hamilton’s brother in law, the diplomat Lord Cathcart showed proofs of these plates to Josiah Wedgewood, just at the time the celebrated potter was building his new and aptly named Etruria factory near Burslem. They had a profound effect on the work of this artist / craftsman, and were one of the earliest influences in forming his neo-classical style. In 1769 Wedgewood and his partner Thomas Bentley celebrated the opening of the factory by throwing six black vases which were painted in red encaustic enamel with three figures taken directly from Hamilton’s book. The antiquarian, adventurer and swindler Pierre-Francois Hugues d’Hancarville (1719-1805) became a friend of the gullible and naïve Hamilton, to whom he was introduced at Naples. Son of a bankrupt cloth merchant of Nancy, Hancarville was born Pierre-Francois Hugues, adding the title ‘Baron’ and the aristocratic surname Hancarville himself. Hancarville had a prodigious memory enabling him to excel at ancient languages and mathematics. He worked hard on the chronological development of the items in Sir William’s collection, but unfortunately in 1769 was forced to flee his creditors in Naples, taking some of the plates for his patron’s book with him.