25.5 x 15 inches
Copper plate engraving in original colour from the second volume of William Hamilton’s “Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities from the Cabinet of The Honble. W. Hamilton”, published in Naples in 1767.
It was in 1764 that Sir William Hamilton and his first wife, Catherine, arrived in Naples to take up the appointment as British Envoy Extraordinary to the Bourbon Court of King Ferdinand IV. They soon established themselves as leaders of the fashionable and international community based in Naples and their home at the Palazzo Sessa became an essential destination for those embarking upon the Grand Tour. One of Hamilton’s great passions was for archaeology and during this period it was still relatively easy to acquire a cabinet of archaeological curiosities and artefacts. Although he complained to the king about the way in which the sites at Pompeii and Herculaneum were being plundered he still managed to acquire many items for his own private collection. Hamilton’s first collection was shipped to London and sold to The British Museum in 1772 where it formed the basis for what was to become the Greek and Roman Galleries. The arrival of these vases in England and the publication of Hamilton’s lavish work in 1767 heightened public interest in the design of classical vases and led to a huge increase in the popularity of this style, best exemplified by the pottery of Josiah Wedgwood. The costs involved in the publication of Hamilton’s magnificent work were huge and as a consequence only the very wealthy could afford the volumes. The publication left Hamilton £6000 in debt. To recoup some of his losses Hamilton produced a second series of plates and published these between 1791 and 1795. Many of the vases in this second collection were sadly lost at sea on their way back to London when the Colossus sank off the Scilly Isles. Hamilton died in 1803 with his last few years plagued by a hasty retreat from Naples under the threat of invasion by Napoleon and the public humiliation of having to face up to the very open affair between his vivacious second wife, Emma, and the hero of the day, Admiral Horatio Nelson.