Sir William Hamilton (1730-1806) was a prominent collector and enthusiast of the arts and sciences at the height of the Age of Enlightenment. Born to an aristocratic Scottish family, he assembled one of the world’s finest collections of Greek and Roman antiquities as British Envoy Extraordinaire to the two Sicilies from 1764-1800. Most of the antiquities he collected came from excavations in Southern Italy and Sicily. In 1766, he watched the excavation of the Trebbia Tomb, and decided to produce accurate drawings of the vases found there.
The glories of his Hamilton’s vase collections were recorded in color-plate folios, which served as souvenirs for the great libraries of Grand Tour travelers and patrons, and provided inspiration to decorative art designers in England, such as Josiah Wedgwood. Hamilton’s first collection of vases was published in a series of etchings called Antiquites Etrusques, Greques et Romanes. Tirées du Cabinet de M. Hamilton, Enoye Extraordinaire de S.M. Britannique à la Cour de Naples, published in Naples, 1766-67. His second collection of vases was partly lost at sea in transit to Britain; the remainder was bought by Thomas Hope, one of the leading exponents of neoclassical architecture in Britain in the early 19th century. Vases of the second collection were illustrated in the Florence edition, 1801-08, the engravings by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein.
Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein was a German painter, engraver and theorist, a leading advocate and practitioner of the Neoclassical style. He was part of a family that produced 28 artists in the 18th and 19th centuries, including his uncle, Johann Heinrich Tischbein I, who gave him his initial art training in the late Baroque style popular at the time. In 1776, he went to Hamburg, where he studied with his relative Johann Jakob Tischbein. During the 1770s, he also traveled to the Netherlands and other European cities to study the old masters. From 1777 to 1779 he worked as a portrait painter to the Prussian court in Berlin. He spent the following two years in Italy, mainly studying under the Swiss sculptor Alexander Trippel in Rome, from whom he learned the principles of Neoclassicism. In 1787, he accompanied the author Goethe to Naples, painting a well-known portrait that earned him the nickname “the Goethe Tischbein” to distinguish him from his other artistic relatives. Two years later, Tischbein became director of the academy in Naples. While living there, he met the antiquary and British envoy Sir William Hamilton, and painted a portrait of Hamilton’s wife as well as making an influential series of folio-size engravings of Greek vases in Hamilton’s collection, published in Florence, 1801-08. Tischbein also made 81 etchings illustrating Homer. When the French occupied Naples, he returned to Germany, spending the last 21 years of his life at Eutin.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual light toning, soiling, scattered foxing, soft creases.
Burgess, June. “Sir William Hamilton: a Scottish Neapolitan.” IRC-CNR Napoli. http://www.irc.na.cnr.it/CI/26symp/hamilton.html (14 June 2002).
“(Johann Heinrich) Wilhelm Tischbein.” The Grove Dictionary of Art. New York: Macmillan. 2000. Artnet.com.http://www.artnet.com/library/08/0852/T085224.asp (4 January 2006).
“Italy on the Grand Tour: Witness Ceremonies and Theater.” J. Paul Getty Trust. 2001. http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/grand_tour/t7_spectacle.html (14 June 2002).
“Tischbein.” The Grove Dictionary of Art. New York: Macmillan. 2000. Artnet.com. http://www.artnet.com/library/08/0852/T085218.asp (4 January 2006).
Williamson, George C., ed. Bryan’s Dictionary of Painters and Engravers. London: G. Bell and Sons: 1930. Vol. 5, pp. 184-185 (Tischbein).