HANCARVILLE, Pierre-François Hugues d' (1719-1805); - Sir William HAMILTON (1730-1803)
Collection of Etruscan, Greek, and Roman Antiquities from the Cabinet of the Hon. W. Hamilton ... Antiquitès Etrusques, Grecques, et Romaines tirées du Cabinet de M. Hamilton ...
Naples: François Morelli, 1766-1767 [but 1766-1776]. 4 volumes, folio. (18 3/4 x 14 1/2 inches). Text in English and French. Hand-coloured, engraved titles in English and French, 5 engraved dedication plates, 436 engraved plates (183 hand-coloured, 73 double-page, 4 folding), plus engraved headpieces, tailpieces and initials (printed in colours in vol. 4).
Contemporary mottled calf, rebacked and restored at edges, marbled endpapers
Provenance: British Museum (initials M. B. in gilt on the upper covers, inked accession stamp on verso of English titles, and with duplicate release stamps dated 1804); Benjamin Gott (armorial bookplates)
The most important 18th century work on antiquities and among the most beautiful books with hand-coloured plates: the book which launched a style.
Sir William Hamilton was the British ambassador to Naples during the city's golden age, from 1764 to 1800. An avid antiquarian, Hamilton assembled one of the world's finest collections of Greek and Roman antiquities. The core of his collection was bought en bloc from the Porcinari family, after an introduction by art dealer Hugues d'Hancarville. Hamilton added several more choice items before selling the entire collection to the British Museum in 1772 for £8400, where it became one of main collections in the department of Greek and Roman antiquities. However, before the collection was shipped to England, Hamilton arranged for Hugues d'Hancarville to oversee the cataloguing and drawing of 312 vases in the collection. The published work is a triumphant example of graphic art and book production of the highest order. Published by subscription, Hamilton largely financed the publication himself. "While the frontispiece of the first volume bears the date 1766 and those of the third and fourth volumes the date 1767, the actual appearance of the work was long delayed. Under d'Hancarville's direction, draughtsmen, etchers, and printers at first worked on the execution of the large-format plates, along with the unusually elaborate initials and vignettes often based on Piranesi originals. The artists included the draughtsmen Edmondo Beaulieu, Giovanni Battista Tierce and Giuseppe Bracci, and the engravers Filippo de Grado, Carlo Nolli, Tommaso Piroli, Antoine Alexandre Joseph Cardon, Antonio Lamberti and Carmine Pignatari. A leading role was played by Giuseppe Bracci who evidently developed a new printing process specifically for the plates" (Schütze). The first volume would be published at the end of 1767, with the second volume following in 1769. D'Hancarville's financial problems led him to forfeit the finished plates for the final volumes to Florentine creditors in 1773; Hamilton's intervention and additional funding led to the final two volumes to be published in 1776. An elaborate and expensive production, volumes one and two were limited to 500 copies, and only 100 copies of volumes three and four were published. Never before had ancient vases been represented with such meticulous detail and beauty, and the result would become a neoclassical masterpiece. Indeed, the work's publication is largely credited with launching neo-classicism in England, most notably seen in the designs of Josiah Wedgwood. "The sale to a public institution, together with the publication of the Antiquities, were aimed above all at disseminating a new style throughout Europe ... the magnificent plates of Hamilton's vases were quickly given an enthusiastic reception all over Europe. This was the first time ancient vases had been documented so precisely and so comprehensively ... they created a style, and in this sense, doubtless exceeded even Hamilton's own expectations" (Schütze). This set with esteemed provenance to the British Museum, who purchased the collection from Hamilton, and noted Industrial Revolution textile manufacturer Benjamin Gott (1762-1840). An absolutely beautiful set, and extremely rare found complete, as here.
Brunet I, 321; Blackmer 845; Blackmer sale 657; Berlin Katalog 890; Cohen-de Ricci 474; Vinet 1528; Sebastian Schütze, "Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities from the Cabinet of the Hon. W. Hamilton" in The Complete Collection of Antiquities from the Cabinet of Sir William Hamilton (Taschen, Bibliotheca Universale: 2015).