In my previous post, I touched on some great discoveries in the Haverfield Archive. This collection consists of correspondence, coloured prints and drawings illustrating mosaic pavements, site plans and publication extracts – an assortment of archaeological paraphernalia, housed at the Sackler Library. I described the process of recording, illustrating and publishing the mosaics. This post considers the people who undertook these processes and how they approached Roman history.
Generally, the people who took an extraordinary interest in the classical past during the 18th and 19th centuries were called antiquarians. Antiquarians tended to be male, middle class or of the aristocracy, and well educated. Indeed, the discipline of archaeology in Britain started out as more or less the past-time of elite gentlemen who sought to build upon their collections of antiquities. For example, the 1st Marquess of Lansdowne (1737-1805) was an avid collector of works of art, including paintings and classical sculptures. Lansdowne employed the Adam Brothers, renowned architects, to redesign the principal rooms at Bowood House (a Grade I Georgian country house in Wiltshire), including a large drawing room. The Haverfield Archive holds two preparatory illustrations, by the architect Joseph Bonomi (1739-1808), of a carpet design for this room, dated 1785 (Inventory n. 1.1 and Inventory n. 1.2). In 1767, Bonomi was invited by the Adam Brothers to work as a draughtsman for them in their London Office. Bonomi left the Brothers’ employ in 1781 and established himself as an independent architect. He began to receive commissions from some of his patrons including Heneage Finch, fourth earl of Aylesford. Presumably, Bonomi was also commissioned to decorate the interior of Bowood House.
The design of the carpet is intriguing as it seems to be heavily influenced by Roman mosaic pavements. Bonomi was revered as a leader in the revival of Grecian architecture. The ‘Orpheus’ mosaic pavement found at Littlecote Park, Wiltshire (Inventory n. 1.5 A) is similar to Bonomi’s carpet design as both have a central panel for the eye to gravitate towards. Bonomi’s design features a centaur roundel (also detailed separately in Inventory n. 1.2), while the ‘Orpheus’ mosaic features its namesake with his lyre.
Whilst Bonomi’s design certainly borrows stylistic aspects from Roman mosaics, it is ultimately neoclassical in approach and is simpler regarding its colour palette and detail. The design was undertaken with a rich connoisseur in mind such as the Marquess of Lansdowne. I have so far been unable to find a mention of this particular carpet in the literature, so it is unclear whether the design was ever realised. Eventually, the Marquess’s lavish spending on his properties caught up with him. With his estate declared bankrupt, it is possible that the carpet never physically existed.
Sometimes, reproductions of mosaic floors were created in textile format. It is unclear what the motivations were behind this. It may have been that some antiquarians wanted to decorate their properties with a reproduction of the mosaic that was found on their land. Upon the discovery of the ‘Orpheus’ mosaic, William George, steward to the owner of Littlecote House and Park, made coloured drawings of it. George died not long afterwards and from the drawings he made, his widow made a complete needlework reproduction in full colour, and the tapestry was hung in Littlecote House. The ‘Bacchus’ mosaic discovered at Stonesfield in 1712 (discussed in my previous post) was also recreated in textile form — as a large (3m, approx.) early 18th century needlework carpet, as described by Herefordshire antiquary, scholar and linguist William Brome (1664-1745) (see Draper, J, Freshwater, T, Henig, M, and Hinds, S. 2000). This carpet exerted a considerable influence on contemporary tastes. Due to the popular fascination for collecting antiquities, neoclassical styles were fashionable and in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, mosaic-style carpets were the height of interior design fashion. A by-product of this fashion was that embroidered tapestry and carpet reconstructions of mosaic pavements often became the only surviving records after the destruction of the mosaics themselves.
The problem with relying on reproductions is that they can reveal little about the actual state, as discovered, of the original mosaics. Most prints in the Haverfield Archive depict fully intact mosaics with bright, vivid colours. The reality of finding such an example in this condition is very unlikely. Pigments fade and mosaics were/are often discovered in fragments. Some publications like Henry Ecroyd Smith’s Reliquiae Isurianae (1852) described the mosaics’ state of preservation when originally excavated. Two of the plates listed in this volume and showing the state of the originals, as found, are not of mosaics but of painted wall plaster (Inventory n. 1.7 and Inventory n. 1.17 B). Smith describes these as ‘fragments’ of plaster, with ‘some found still adhering’ to a building’s original structure. Some damage was inflicted due to ‘atmospheric influences, crumbled away after the lapse of a couple of winters’.
Presumably, the patron, Aldborough patron, Andrew Lawson, acted swiftly to preserve the existing fragments as they were brought into the museum established in the grounds of Aldborough Manor in 1863. Given the rich history underpinning Aldborough’s ‘Orpheus’ mosaic, questions have arisen regarding the accuracy of illustrations that were made. Original drawings of the mosaic have now been lost, while engravings made by George Vertue are thought to be somewhat inaccurate. A lack of a consistent discovery and preservation methodology at many sites – for example, Stonesfield – meant that records were not kept in a systematic order. As a result, errors in illustrations were inevitable. Although sites such Aldborough promoted a ‘drive’ among antiquarians to produce more detailed, archaeological records, prints of Roman mosaics were not intended to be scientifically accurate. Instead, they appeared to function as aesthetically pleasing ‘reproductions’ of Roman art.
Despite this, Sarah Scott (2013) has pointed out how the antiquarian and engraver Samuel Lysons (1763-1819) did not ‘repair’ flaws in his engravings of mosaics, clearly showing the state of the original. One example of Lysons’ work is the floor plan of an excavation site at Weldon, Northamptonshire (Inventory n. 1.3), and illustrates how Lysons decided to depict the mosaics in their fragmentary form.
This work was quite unusual for the time, as mosaics were typically drawn as complete, pristine works, the inferences made from partial remains. Amongst antiquarians there was a view that the accuracy of archaeological illustrations reflected the overall quality of the excavation. For example in 1916, J. Charles Cox compared the engravings of a mosaic found at Roxby, Lincolnshire. The earliest engraving was completed in 1799 by William Fowler (Inventory n. 2.15), followed much later by Cary Elwes in 1873. Focusing more on the archaeological properties of the engravings, Cox held that Elwes’s version was ‘more accurately engraved and coloured’ than Fowler’s. From a 21st century perspective, it can be safely said that the prints are definitely not scientific reconstructions. Yet it must be recognised that there were at least some efforts made by antiquarians to produce ‘accurate’ records.
Many of the excavations which took place in the 18th and 19th centuries can be viewed as methodologically crude by modern standards. Since that time, archaeological practices have changed in order to reduce the damage done when excavating. However, records which include prints of mosaics are vital as they are often all that remain from an antiquarian excavation. Rich discoveries stimulated further interest and subsequent research, thus helping to shape archaeology as the discipline we know today. The main reason for the growing interest in British archaeology was the Industrial Revolution, as infrastructural expansion revealed more archaeological discoveries. This helped fuel a desire to live up to European collecting and connoisseurship practices against the backdrop of a shared Classical heritage and growing nationalism. Excavations across Europe were busy, churning out discoveries at sites like Herculaneum and Pompeii, further intensifying national rivalries. At the foreground of the period was the European conflict, with the Napoleonic Wars resulting in restrictions on travel. In order to stay current and fashionable, the average Georgian gentleman had little choice but to focus his attention on British antiquities.
Members of the Society of Antiquaries had an interest in all things Roman Britain. They perceived Roman remains as a tangible link between the British and Roman Empires. In my previous post, I discussed how the Society was very much interested in mosaics, and at Cotterstock they commissioned George Vertue to produce an engraving based on William Bogdani’s drawing of it. This active interest demonstrated an acute attention to British archaeological discoveries when, in 1739, the Society made a decision to compile a list of all Roman mosaics discovered in Britain. Despite this enthusiasm, a collective approach to the study of archaeology was not yet fully realised. Britain did not pass any heritage protection legislation until the 1882 Ancient Monuments Protection Act. There was not even a gallery of national antiquities in the British Museum until the 1850s. Instead, antiquarians acted individually, developing the significance of their own sites, linking them to the glory of imperial Rome.
Antiquarians such as Andrew Lawson at Aldborough funded excavations and publications. In the Haverfield Archive, Lawson is cited as the patron on several prints of mosaics from Aldborough. Henry Ecroyd Smith’s Reliquiae Isurianae was dedicated to Lawson and he was credited with procuring most of the illustrations and keeping accurate records of recent discoveries. In an article in the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ (Nichols 1853), Lawson was considered to be in ‘high estimation among antiquaries’. It was reported by the magazine that when the Archaeological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland held their annual meeting at York in 1846, they were ‘entertained by Mr Lawson’ at Aldborough. Lawson was not alone in such activities. In 1807, Colonel Leigh of Combe Hay ordered a Roman mosaic to be uncovered at Wellow, in Somerset, purely for the amusement of his friends and those interested in antiquities. What made Lawson different from Colonel Leigh, however, was that his motivation for uncovering the mosaics at Aldborough was to preserve them and to provide systematic documentation.
Whilst there were rich, well-meaning antiquarians such as Lawson, there were also enterprising engravers like William Fowler (1761-1832). The print of Roxby’s pavement mosaic (Inventory n. 2.15) mentions one ‘Jas. Barber’ as its creator; in fact, it was engraved by Fowler, who, in 1799, published his print for sale at half a guinea. He was very much a business man in terms of producing plates, quickly realising that if he was to make any money out of publishing, he had to sell prints at a high price. As a result of Fowler’s entrepreneurship, he acquired supporters who subscribed to standing orders for every print he published, including the libraries of two Oxford colleges. Because prints were produced individually and were not published as part of a single large volume, Fowler announced his new prints by means of printed prospectuses. The Haverfield Archive includes a few excerpts from a similar prospectus by Henry Ecroyd Smith. The page details illustrations one could order from H. Ecroyd Smith’s Lithographs of Romano-British Tessellated Pavements (Inventory n. 2.9). Acquiring prints from such publication lists appealed to antiquarians who wished to showcase their interests to their like-minded, erudite friends.
Volumes discussing excavations with detailed illustrations of archaeological discoveries were produced, but they were costly undertakings, affordable only to the elite. Indeed, one of the subscribers to Ecroyd Smith’s Reliquiae Isurianae was listed as ‘HRH Prince Albert’, indicating that excavations at Aldborough were dependant on subscribers and patronage. Support from those who could afford it was highly valued as the cost of producing lavishly illustrated volumes was high. Due to the huge expense involved in production, publishers were also highly selective as to the volumes that they chose to support. Subscribers were willing to pay up to several guineas for a publication whose textual content they were not necessarily interested in reading so long as it was well illustrated with engravings. Mosaic pavements were attractive to Georgian and Victorian gentlemen because they served as a link to a Roman era of wealth and grandeur. Despite this (and doubtless due to their cost), such publications were not necessarily widely circulated. Thomas Hearne recorded that his volume on the Stonesfield mosaic consisted of only 120 copies, with successive editions issued in similarly small numbers. As a result, information about and images of the mosaic were only accessible to a privileged few.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, archaeology was still in its infancy as a discipline. Whilst there were keen antiquarians who were motivated to provide what they viewed as systematic and accurate records of archaeological sites, methodologies were still being developed. Some antiquarians were influenced purely by the fashion for collecting antiquities and lavishly decorating their properties with them, less so by historical-archaeological documentation. Efforts regarding the preservation of archaeological discoveries were undertaken by individuals, not groups. Publications were not widely circulated and appeared to be available only to rich, erudite individuals. It is clear, however, that many of the prints preserved in the Haverfield Archive provided the only surviving documentation of original mosaics. Following their discovery, many mosaic pavements were readily destroyed or reburied, with their exact sites lost from social memory. Although the illustrations are often inaccurate or have been exaggerated it is important that they be preserved for future study and research.
Next time, in the final post of this series, I will be looking at the man responsible for the archive, Francis Haverfield himself. I will examine why he and his associates decided to collect prints of Roman mosaics, and consider his motivations and the future projects he may have had in mind.
Chloe Bolsover, Graduate Trainee, Taylor Institution Library
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