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Reconstructing the Lansdowne Collection of Classical Marbles

Reconstructing the Lansdowne Collection of Classical Marbles

By Elizabeth Angelicoussis. 2 vols. Munich: Hirmer 2017. Vol. 1, History. Pp. xxi + 170; vol. 2, Catalogue. Pp. 534. $80. ISBN 978-3-7774-2817-8 (cloth).

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When Britain was an empire and a dominant force in the world, members of its landed gentry built palatial houses and filled them with collections of antiquities and other works of art. That they were compelled to build the structures in a neoclassical style and decorate the interiors with special niches and spaces designated for particular ancient marble statues was the result of renewed interest in ancient Greece and Rome.

While the Lansdowne collection did not possess the greatest number of ancient sculptures compared with other British collections, it formed one of the most influential, as Angelicoussis demonstrates in her splendid two-volume publication. The number and quality of the sculptures were remarkable for the time as well as its curation by the renowned Gavin Hamilton. Since the sculptures have subsequently been sold and dispersed to many later collectors and museums, it is more fragmented than other contemporaneous collections. Angelicoussis managed to track down, examine, and document all but two of the 117 sculptures from the collection, which are currently owned by more than 50 museums and private individuals.

The History volume contains nine chapters, with the first devoted to the main personalities in the formation of the collection: Thomas Jenkins (1722–1798), Gavin Hamilton (1723–1798), and William Petty-Fitzmaurice, First Marquess of Lansdowne (1737–1805). The second chapter describes the building of Lansdowne House by the architects Robert and James Adam. 

Chapter 3 discusses the purchases made by Lansdowne in 1771, while on a Grand Tour on which he met Thomas Jenkins in Naples. Through Jenkins, Lansdowne acquired 55 antiquities sourced from a variety of sculptors and restorers. Subsequently, Lansdowne met Gavin Hamilton, a more discerning and ethical man than Jenkins (1:24). As Angelicoussis describes, “Hamilton was ideally suited to understand the psychology of a young aristocrat [i.e., Lansdowne] who lacked something in aesthetic sensitivities but nevertheless wished to present himself to his peers as a cultured and cosmopolitan gentleman” (1:25). Hamilton not only acquired statues for Lansdowne but also designed their situation in the house. Chapter 4 goes into more depth on Gavin Hamilton, his scholarship, connoisseurship, and his role in the display of the marbles. One of the aims for Angelicoussis in undertaking the arduous task of tracing, documenting, and reconstructing the Lansdowne collection is her hope that Hamilton’s role in the acquisition and display of the marbles will be more widely known and appreciated. “Although this grand collection of sculptures never bore his name, he was its true creator. Gavin Hamilton, archaeologist, connoisseur and . . . true lover of the antique deserves such recognition” (1:121).

The next two chapters (chs. 5, 6) deal with various projects to transform the annex of Lansdowne House, which was to be a sculpture gallery, into a library between the years 1774 and 1789; the house then finally had a place for its books and manuscripts, but it still lacked a permanent scheme for the display of the marbles. Chapter 7 documents the display of the sculptures and further additions made to the collection during the 19th century by Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, Third Marquess of Lansdowne (1780–1863). In 1861, 1873, and 1877, the German classicist and art historian Adolf Michaelis (1835–1910) visited Lansdowne House. While at the house, Michaelis recorded the locations of the sculptures, made drawings, and marked positions of the marbles on floor plans of the dining room and sculpture gallery. Angelicoussis provides a fold-out plan of the sculpture gallery with the placement of the marbles, which are designated by type (e.g., statue, herm, relief) and catalogue number. Michaelis published the collection in Ancient Marbles in Great Britain (Cambridge University Press 1882). Seven years later, Arthur Hamilton Smith (1860–1941) edited an updated version of Michaelis’ publication, A Catalogue of the Ancient Marbles at Lansdowne House, Based upon the Work of Adolf Michaelis (Woodfall and Kinders 1889), which included the acquisitions made by the third marquess.

The final two chapters describe the dispersal of this great collection of classical sculpture, first through a London Christie’s sale in 1930, and then in subsequent sales by various art dealers of at least 22 unsold lots from the 1930 auction. Volume 1 of Angelicoussis’ magisterial work, however, is simply the hors d’oeuvre to the meat of her extensive research, volume 2, containing catalogue entries for all of the 117 marbles. 

Each entry is a model for the kind of information that should be contained in any catalogue of ancient sculpture, including current location (when known), measurements, date, publications and documents, provenance details, condition with restorations noted, description, and fulsome commentary. The catalogue is remarkable for containing extensive information on original findspots and details of acquisition for most of the sculptures. This is due in large part to the survival of extensive correspondence between Gavin Hamilton and Lansdowne. Hamilton’s letters included provenances and purchase prices for many of the sculptures. 

In her groupings of the marbles, Angelicoussis follows the traditional methodology of beginning with Greek ideal sculptures (nos. 1–19), which in actuality were all created in the Roman period (this practice is changing, see M. Marvin, The Language of the Muses: The Dialogue Between Roman and Greek Sculpture, Getty 2008). Subsequent categories include Roman ideal sculpture (nos. 20–31); Roman statuary (nos. 32–34); Roman portraits (nos. 35–44); reliefs, puteal, altar and furniture (nos. 45–51); funerary sculpture (nos. 52–60); Egyptiana (nos. 61–64); post-antique sculptures (nos. 65, 66); marbles obtained by the third marquess (nos. 67–71); and finally, missing, inaccessible, and recently recognized marbles (nos. 72–117). Five appendices contain an abundance of additional information, including references to the sculptures between 1762 and 1930, a concordance of Angelicoussis’ catalogue numbers with those of Michaelis (1882) and Smith (1889), an index of museums and sculptures cited, a glossary, and a chronology. Both of Angelicoussis’ volumes are richly illustrated, containing a wealth of photographs and images, including stunning full-page color images of 17 statues and relief sculptures. 

In recent years, the history of collecting has become an established discipline within art history. Oxford University began the Journal of the History of Collections in 1989 and this year will be publishing volume 32. There is interest in the formation and display of country house collections of art and antiquities in Britain, and particularly those created as a result of a Grand Tour to Italy in the 18th century. 

Scholars have reconstructed past collections of antiquities in exhibitions, publications, and now online (e.g., Attic Inscriptions in UK Collections [AIUK Papers], which invariably includes many inscribed ancient sculptures). In 1995, the J. Paul Getty Museum assembled works from the collection of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (1585–1646), and Aletheia Talbot, Countess of Arundel (ca. 1590–1654). Their collection of Greek and Roman sculpture and of Renaissance and Baroque paintings and drawings made them taste-setters during a period that marked the beginning of the English tradition of collecting (D. Jaffee et al., The Earl and Countess of Arundel: Renaissance Collectors, Apollo Magazine 1995). In 2008, an exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art focused on the American collector William Randolph Hearst (M.L. Levkoff, Hearst: The Collector, Abrams 2008). 

Most of the sculptures that entered Britain during the 18th century were bought and restored in Rome. Many collectors acquired at least part of their collection themselves when on their Grand Tour; others bought through agents acting for them on the antiquities market. The way that ancient sculpture was perceived and displayed in Britain during the 18th century is reflected in the restoration of the sculptures that were directed toward that market. The art market of the 18th century continues to play a vital role in collecting today; with so many of the objects acquired during a Grand Tour since dispersed in house sales and auctions, or bequeathed or sold to museums. 

In 2003, J. Fejfer published a histogram showing the influx of classical marbles from Italy to Britain, based on more than 4,000 marbles registered in the database on marbles in Britain at the University of Cologne, the Forschungsarchiv für Antike Plastik. The diagram shows the basic chronological trends in ancient sculpture collecting in England in the years between 1600 and 1900, with 43 named collections included (“Restoration and Display of Classical Sculpture in English Country Houses: A Case of Dependence,” in History of Restoration of Ancient Stone Sculptures, J.B. Grossman, J. Podany, M. True, eds., Getty 2003, 87–104; histogram 92, fig. 5). 

The production qualities for Angelicoussis’ publication are of the highest standard and would appeal to bibliophiles, whether interested in ancient sculpture or not. For art historians, classicists, and archaeologists, the volumes are essential as documents of one of the most influential and important British collections of ancient sculpture.

Janet Burnett Grossman

Book Review of Reconstructing the Lansdowne Collection of Classical Marbles, by Elizabeth Angelicoussis
Reviewed by Janet Burnett Grossman 
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 124, No. 4 (October 2020)
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1244.BurnettGrossman

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