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JAMES 'ATHENIAN' STUART EXHIBITION

Early Years, Journey to Greece & Antiquities of Athens

Kedleston Hall, design for the decoration of the end wall in a state room, James Stuart, 1757-8. Courtesy of Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, The Scarsdale Collection (The National Trust), © NTPL / John Hammond

Kedleston Hall, design for the decoration of the end wall in a state room, James Stuart, 1757-8. Courtesy of Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, The Scarsdale Collection (The National Trust), © NTPL / John Hammond (click image for larger version)

Early Years & Artistic Training

James Stuart was born in London in 1713, the son of a Scottish sailor whose death left his young family in poverty. A talented artist even as a child, Stuart was apprenticed to a fan painter.

In about 1742 he set off on foot to Italy, intent on improving his artistic skills. Here Stuart worked as a painter and guide to antiquities (or cicerone) while studying art and architecture and also learning Italian, Latin and Greek.

A major work during these years was his De Obelisco, an illustrated treatise on the Egyptian obelisk of Psammetichus II.

Journey to Greece

In 1751 Stuart and his friend Nicholas Revett visited Greece to measure and record antiquities. Detailed scholarly studies of Roman ruins already existed, but this attempt to apply the same approach to Greek remains was new. Stuart and Revett's intention was to increase the repertoire of correct decorative and architectural elements from the classical past, while also making a
reputation for themselves.

Antiquities of Athens

Antiquities of Athens, volume 1, James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, 1762. Courtesy of the Library, The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, New York

Antiquities of Athens, volume 1, James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, 1762. Courtesy of the Library, The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, New York (click image for larger version)

After their return to London in 1755, Stuart worked on the first volume of Antiquities of Athens, which was published in 1762. He wrote and revised the text, had the illustrations engraved and designed a binding, as well as painting views of Greece and Pola in gouache for exhibition.