Both James Stuart and Nicholas Revett began their careers as painters. Having each independently made their way to Rome, they met there in 1742, and in 1748 the two went together to Naples to study Greek monuments. Stuart felt that contemporary architecture should be modeled on that of ancient Greece, as opposed to Roman examples, and the two men issued proposals to raise funds undertake a “new and accurate description of the Antiquities &c. in the Province of Attica.” Under the auspices of the Society of Dilettanti, and with funds raised from other patrons, Stuart and Revett completed the initial survey for The Antiquities of Athens between 1751 and 1754, taking accurate measurements and making drawings of the ruins of Athens, especially the Acropolis, which became the subject of Volume II. Stuart contributed the topographical views and text, Revett the measured drawings.
Stuart was among the first accomplished English architects to execute neoclassical designs for garden buildings and interiors, directly relying on the Greek architecture illustrated in The Antiquities of Athens, which earned him the sobriquet “Athenian Stuart.” These include his garden pavilion “The Temple of the Winds” at Mount Stewart, Northern Ireland, based on the Tower of the Winds, and his designs for a candelabrum based on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates.
After Stuart left Greece in 1754, Revett attempted to continue his research in other parts of the country under dangerous conditions — at one point pirates kidnapped him. He stayed in London from 1755 to 1764, when he agreed to accompany another British expedition sponsored by the Dilettanti to Ionia, where he spent two years drawing the antiquities, the results of which were eventually published as The Antiquities of Ionia in 1769 and 1797. He also published Balbec and Palmyra. His major architectural design was the Church of Ayott St. Lawrence, Herts, which was influenced by the early architecture of Asia Minor.
The first volume of The Antiquities of Athens was published by John Haberkorn in 1762 and was the only one to be published while both Stuart and Revett were living. John Nichols in London published the second and third volumes after Stuart’s death, Volume II in 1789, Volume III in 1794. Volume IV was compiled using Stuart’s papers and published by J. Taylor in 1816. A final supplemental volume was released in 1830 after much delay.
The chapters in Volume One are as follows:
Chapter 1: Doric Portico at Athens. Today this tall structure with four Doric columns is known as the Gate of Athena Archegetis and stands on the west side of the Roman agora in Athens. Dedicated to the patron goddess of Athens, it was built between 19 and 11 B.C.E. with donations from Julius Caesar and Augustus. During the period of Turkish occupation when Stuart and Revett visited the site, storks nested atop the gate and houses, and workshops and churches packed the area surrounding it. In the 19th century, many of these newer structures were torn down, and from 1837 to the late 20th century, a series of archaeological excavations of the site were undertaken. Restoration of the Gate of Athena Archegetis was carried out in 1915-19 and 1975-76.
Chapter 2: Ionic Temple on the Ilissus. The Temple of Ilissus was located on the banks of the River Ilissus in Athens. Dedicated to the goddess Artemis Agrotera, it was believed to have been built in the mid 5th century B.C.E. and carved by Pericles’ master architect, Kallikrates, and to have been the site where Socrates and his disciples debated philosophy. In 1778, less than 30 years after Stuart and Revett’s visit, an Ottoman governor dismantled the temple and recycled the marble to build Athens’ walls. Today, all that remains is a retaining wall. In January 2005, the British newspaper The Guardian reported that “[w]ith Greece’s powerful Central Archaeological Council (Kas) pondering whether to allow building on the site, conservationists fear one of Athens’s most sacred places is headed for extinction.”
Chapter 3: Octagon Tower of Andronicus Cyrrhestes. The plates depict the structure variously known as the Tower of the Winds or the Horological Monument of Andronicus Cyrrhestes. Still standing in the Roman agora today, this 40-foot-high octagonal marble tower served as an enormous weathervane and timekeeper. Each of the eight sides bears a figure in relief representing the direction of the wind that blows against that side. According to an early description by the ancient Roman architect, Vitruvius, on the conical top of the tower a bronze figure of the Greek sea deity Triton once turned in the wind, and where he stopped, the wand in his right hand pointed toward the sculpture representing the wind blowing at that time. Restoration of the Tower of the Winds was carried out in 1915-19 and 1975-76.
Chapter 4: Choragic Monument of Lysicrates, Commonly Called the Lanthern of Demosthenes. The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens (also called today the Lamp of Diogenes, not Demosthenes) is the only surviving example of a choragic monument – a large, freestanding pedestal upon which the ancient Greeks would display the prizes for competitions, in this case theatrical choruses. It was built in 335/334 B.C.E. and by the 17th century the surrounding land had been taken over by a French monastery. When the monastery was destroyed during the Greek War of Independence in 1821, the monument was partially buried in the rubble. French archaeologists subsequently cleared away the debris in 1845, and in 1876-1887 restoration was begun under the auspices of the French Government.
Chapter 5: Stoa or Portico, commonly supposed to be the remains of the Temple of Jupiter Olympius. Despite the caption, Stuart explains in his text that he disagreed with that common supposition identifying these ruins as the Temple of Jupiter Olympius. They are now identified as the so-called Library of Hadrian (A.D. 132), which, among the buildings constructed by Hadrian for the Athenians, was described by the 2nd century historian Pausanias as the “most famous of all, a hundred pillars of Phrygian marble.”
For a discussion of present-day scholarship concerning the buildings described by Stuart and Revett, including recent photographs of some of the structures portrayed in the engravings, see Jim Grout’s Encyclopaedia Romana web site (in References below).
Four generations of Basires were engravers; three were named James. The elder James Basire (1730-1802) became known as an engraver of architecture and was employed on the first volume of James Stuart and Nicholas Revett’s classic book The Antiquities of Athens (1762). He traveled in Italy the following year, and around that time became Engraver to the Society of Antiquaries. He also became Engraver to the Royal Society in 1770. He produced many fine prints for the Antiquaries and other publications as well as separately issued prints after paintings for publishers such as John Boydell. His print Champ d’or, 1520, executed for the Antiquaries, was exhibited in 1775 as “the largest plate engraved in England.” He exhibited at the Society of Artists from 1761 to 1783. William Blake served as one of his apprentices from 1772 to 1779. Basire’s eldest son, also named James (1769-1822), succeeded his father as Engraver to the Antiquaries and to the Royal Society. The younger James Basire is known for his plates of English cathedrals after John Carter, and for a set after the Bayeux Tapestry. He also engraved the annual Oxford Almanacks for several years.
Condition: Generally very good, each recently professionally cleaned and deacidified to remove light foxing and toning. Some with few scattered book worm holes, mostly marginal, unobtrusive.
“Basire.” The Grove Dictionary of Art. New York: Macmillan. 2000. Online at Artnet.com. http://www.artnet.com/library/00/0067/T006725.asp (4 February 2003).
Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol. 7, p. 197 (Revett); Vol. 8, p. 165 (Stuart).
“Choragic monument.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 9 Jan. 2006 <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?tocId=9082343 (9 January 2006).
Grout, Jim. “Stuart and Revett: The Antiquities of Athens.” Encyclopaedia Romana. 3 October 2009. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/greece/architecture/architecture.html (4 November 2009).
“Lusikrates Monument.” Hellenic Ministry of Culture. 1995-2001.
http://www.culture.gr/2/21/211/21101n/e211an04.html (9 January 2006).
“James Stuart.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed. New York: Columbia University Press: 2001-2005. Online at Bartleby.com. http://www.bartleby.com/65/st/StuartJ.html (31 August 2004).
Redgrave, Samuel. A Dictionary of Artists of the EnglishSchool: Painters, Sculptors, Architects, Engravers and Ornamentists. London: Longmans, Green, and Col., 1874. p. 336.
Skinner, Robin. “Unpacking Ruins: architecture from antiquity: Stuart – Athens v1-4.” University of Otago (New Zealand) Library. 15 January 2003. http://www.library.otago.ac.nz/exhibitions/ruins/case_three.html (6 January 2006).
“The Roman Agora of Athens.” Hellenic Ministry of Culture. 1995-2001. http://www.culture.gr/2/21/211/21101a/e211aa04.html (11 January 2006).
“Threat to Site of Greek Temple.” Originally published in Guardian Newspapers. 31 January 2005. Buzzle.com. http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/1-31-2005-65039.asp (9 January 2006).