JAMES 'ATHENIAN' STUART EXHIBITION
Medals and Monuments
James Stuart designed at least twenty medals, many for the Society for the Promotion of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, also known as the Society of Arts. Stuart and his patrons used the design of these medals not just to promote patriotism, but also as a propaganda tool to influence public opinion and advance a particular political agenda.
Adapting the imagery of classical coinage to celebrate British military, artistic and scientific accomplishments, Stuart made an explicit visual link between the achievements of the Roman and the British empires. This was especially the case with the series of medals commissioned by the Society of Arts to commemorate British victories during the Seven Years' War.
In his designs for memorials and monuments Stuart used many of the traditional motifs of 18th-century funerary art, such as sarcophagi, portrait busts, grieving women, putti and obelisks. He was innovative in other ways. His versions of funerary sarcophagi, for example, were specifically Greek, after a model he had sketched for Antiquities of Athens. He was also one of the first designers to use low-relief portrait medallions in monuments instead of the more customary portrait busts.
In his monument designs, Stuart worked closely and almost exclusively with the father and son sculptors Peter and Thomas Scheemakers. This collaboration took place at a time when the standing of stone carvers was rising, and individual sculptors were beginning to lay claim to the status of liberal artists in their own right. The Scheemakers exploited their alliance with Stuart to enhance their reputations.
The next generation of sculptors also owed Stuart a debt. Antiquities of Athens had made available a vast collection of classical ornament, which sculptors could use without the intervention of an architect or designer.
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