Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments, a Digital Edition

Biographical Register for Vetusta Monumenta

Vetusta Monumenta was a collaborative publication project that extended over almost 200 years. Even the eighteenth-century volumes, the focus of this edition, incorporate 169 prints that involved contributions from dozens of artists and scores of antiquarian researchers and collectors, as well as from the officers of the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) who were responsible for steering the Society's research, especially the directors. This register lists only a few of the most prominent names, and most of them are represented by full biographical essays in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and other standard works. These short notes for readers of the edition highlight the specific role of each of these individuals in the production of Vetusta Monumenta, without attempting to give a full overview of their careers. A few earlier antiquaries are also included because their legacies significantly influenced the production of this print series. This register is a work in progress. Some entries are being expanded and others are being added throughout 2021-2022.

Contributors: Ariel Fried, Richard Goddard, Noah Heringman, Bernard Nurse, Matthew M. Reeve, Rosemary Sweet

Basire Sr, James (1730-1802) by Richard Goddard
Contributions: Drawing of some, and the engraving of most plates for Volumes II-III of Vetusta Monumenta.

James Basire Sr. was the son of a copper-plate engraver and printer, Isaac Basire, who was the son of a French Huguenot soldier who served as a guard to King William III. James Basire was one of the very few native English engravers who had the opportunity to study in Rome under the protection of Richard Dalton, a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and a key figure in the establishment of the Royal Academy. Basire was appointed engraver to the Society in 1759 in succession to James Green, who died three years after he was named as successor to George Vertue. Basire then continued in this role, except for a short hiatus in 1768-1769, until his retirement from the post in 1796 in favor of his son, James Basire Jr. Unlike Vertue, Basire was not a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, but was considered purely as a supplier. As such, Basire simultaneously held other appointments, including as engraver to the Royal Society and to the House of Commons, and was also active in the engraving and printing of a wide variety of plates for commercial print- and booksellers. The Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) nevertheless remained Basire's principal source of income during his career, as he not only engraved and printed the majority of plates for volumes II and III of Vetusta Monumenta, but also had a near monopoly of the Society's other considerable graphic productions. Following the appointment of Richard Gough as director of the SAL in 1771, Basire engraved and printed substantially all of the plates in the Society's new journal, Archaeologia, beginning from volume II, published in 1773. He also engraved and printed nine vastly expensive prints of historical scenes which were intended to enhance the public reputation and prestige of the Society. One of these is believed to be the largest copper-plate engraving ever completed. Outside his official activities for the SAL, Basire is well-known for his private collaboration with a number of its prominent fellows. Among others, he worked with James "Athenian" Stuart on his Antiquities of Athens (1762), with Richard Gough on his Sepulchral Monuments (1786 and 1796), and with the printer, John Nichols, on a string of antiquarian and topographical publications, particularly county histories. Basire is probably best known today as the master of William Blake, who was apprenticed to him from 1772 to 1779. It is almost certain that Blake was at least partially responsible for the preliminary drawings of the monuments in Westminster Abbey published as plates 29-35 of volume II of Vetusta Monumenta. He may also have been involved in the final, colored drawings, as well as in the final engravings, although these were all signed by James Basire. There is a consensus among Blake scholars that the young apprentice's experience working in Westminster Abbey on the Vetusta Monumenta illustrations was a key factor in the development of his peculiar genius.

Goddard, Richard. 2017. Drawing on Copper: The Basire Family of Copper-Plate Engravers and Their Works.

Carter, John (1745-1817) by Bernard Nurse
Contributions: Plates 2.36-37, Plates 2.39-40, Plate 3.5, Plate 3.25, Plate 3.44

John Carter was appointed the Society’s draftsman in 1778 and remained in this post until he resigned in 1785, annoyed because Samuel H. Grimm was commissioned to record Cowdray House instead of him. However, he continued to work for a small but wealthy and influential group of antiquaries, especially Richard Gough, Director of the Society of Antiquaries of London, Sir Henry Englefield and Sir Richard Colt Hoare. They recognised his ability to provide more faithful visual records of medieval buildings than achieved previously. Standards greatly improved in the late eighteenth century and later draftsmen such as Jacob Schnebbelie, Thomas Underwood and Charles Stothard employed by the Society also proved capable of accurate copying of smaller scale monuments and objects.

Carter recognized some of his weaknesses, such as his inability to record the human figure. He also admitted that he had no formal education after the age of twelve and never learned any foreign languages, which meant he could only read inscriptions in English. Stothard in particular was critical of the accuracy of some of Carter’s drawings. However, Carter came from an accomplished family of marble carvers and sculptors, specializing in church monuments and chimney pieces, and practiced drawing from an early age. After his father died when he was eighteen, he was apprenticed to the surveyor and mason Joseph Dixon. He produced all of the drawings and most of the designs for the Builder’s Magazine from 1774 until 1778 when it folded.

It was during this time when working at Westminster that Carter’s enthusiasm for medieval sculpture and his exceptional abilities as a draftsman brought him to the attention of Richard Gough, as well as an appointment as the Society’s draftsman. For twenty years from 1780, Gough employed him to illustrate his own publications, chiefly his Sepulchral Monuments of Great Britain. The short tours, mostly in London, which Carter had made previously, now became longer. His first tour for Gough in 1780 was a great success, notable particularly for his drawings of Croyland Abbey, Lincolnshire, praised by Gough for their accuracy. The tour brought him over thirty commissions in the next five years.

After his resignation, Carter was brought back briefly from 1790-1796 when the Society commissioned him to work on the lavish Cathedral Series. While he was employed by the Society, ten of Carter’s drawings were published in volumes 2 and 3 of Vetusta Monumenta. They include: three drawings of St Bartholomew’s Church, West Smithfield, drawn and published in 1784 (Plates 2.36-37); four drawings of a font in Winchester Cathedral, drawn 1784 and published in 1786 (Plates 2.39-40); the larger panel of the sedilia in the choir of Rochester Cathedral, drawn 1785 and published in 1790 (Plate 3.5); a font at Sudbury, Suffolk, drawn 1787 and published in 1792 (Plate 3.25); and Hedingham Castle, drawn 1787 or 1795, published in 1796 (Plate 3.44).

Crook, J. Mordaunt. 2004. “Carter, John (1745-1817), draughtsman and antiquary.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nurse, Bernard. 2011. “John Carter, FSA (1748-1817): ‘The Ingenious, and Very Accurate Draughtsman.’” Antiquaries Journal 91: 211-52.

Gough, Richard (1735-1809) by Rosemary Sweet
Contributions: Many letterpress companion essays for Volumes II-III, including those for Plates 2.36-2.37, 2.38, 2.39-2.40, 2.45-2.50, 2.53, 3.12-3.17, 3.31-3.32, 3.33-3.37, and 3.38

As Director of the Society of Antiquaries, Richard Gough (1735-1809) was determined to improve the quality of the Society’s publications. With Jeremiah Milles, the Society’s President, he was responsible for launching Archaeologia, but he also oversaw and regularized the production of the explanatory texts in Vetusta Monumenta that had been introduced by his predecessor John Ward in 1744.  Prior to Gough, the plates had been published with little or no accompanying text. Gough’s commitment to promoting antiquarian research rather than connoisseurship meant that he would have been wary of publishing prints that depended purely on their visual, aesthetic appeal and failed to provide any contextual information to what was being depicted.  In 1768, he had complained to his fellow antiquary Foote Gower of “a certain spirit of Virtu got among the members that pays more attention to the quality of a gem than the inscription on it or history of its discovery” (British Library, Add MS 22936 fol. 138).  In this spirit, Gough regularized the practice of printing companion essays with individual plates in Vetusta Monumenta.  During his tenure these began to appear in English, rather than Latin, driven, one suspects, as much by Gough’s preference for the English tongue over Latin (Sweet 2004, 206), as by the need for more accessible communication.

Gough had a clear sense of the Society’s role as the repository of information on ‘national’ antiquities and of its patriotic duty to record and preserve the monuments of England’s medieval past in particular. He was sharply critical of those who sought out the antiquities of Greece, Rome and Ionia (Gough 1780), while the antiquities of their native country lay neglected. His major works – Anecdotes of British Topography (1765; revised as British Topography in 1780), Sepulchral Monuments (1786-96), and the revised edition of Camden’s Britannia (1789) – individually and collectively promoted this agenda, but he also used his position as Director to influence what the Society chose to engrave for Vetusta Monumenta: under his editorship, there was a clear shift towards the publication of English (or “gothic”) antiquities. Gough authored many of these substantial companion essays himself, some of which are signed with his initials, R. G.  These are substantial essays, drawing upon his deep familiarity with the sources and records of English medieval history. They also bear witness to his own position at the centre of networks of antiquarian correspondence (Sweet 2008).  His essay on the Winchester font, for example, includes information drawn from correspondence with Joseph Warton and John Milner.

Despite his emphasis upon the written word, Gough was keenly aware of the importance of the visual record both as an essential tool for antiquarian research and as a means of preserving monuments that were frequently in danger of disappearing or falling into decay. His interest in architecture and sepulchral monuments is evident from the journals of his earliest antiquarian tours in the 1760s and runs through his correspondence and his publications.  Throughout his career, he cultivated strong collaborative relationships with draughtsmen including James Basire, who became the regular engraver for Vetusta Monumenta and other SAL publications after 1760, John Carter, and Jacob Schnebbelie (Sweet 2008).

Gough, Richard. 1768. Correspondence with Foote Gower. Add MS 22936 fol. 138. British Library, London.

------. 1780. British Topography. 2 vols. London: R. Payne and son and J. Nichols.

Sweet, Rosemary. 2004. The Discovery of the Past in Eighteenth-Century Britain. London: Hambledon and London.

------. 2008. “Gough, Richard (1735-1809), antiquary.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mead, Richard (1673-1754)
Contributions: Plate 1.20, Plate 1.55, Plate 1.65

Mead was the personal physician to George II and one of the most celebrated collectors in Europe. Several coins and medals from his collection were engraved for Vetusta Monumenta and Plate 1.65 is dedicated to two interrelated artifacts from his collection. Mead's older brother Samuel was also a collector and the medal from Samuel Mead's collection on Plate 1.20 passed to Richard after Samuel's death.

Stukeley, William (1687-1765) by Matthew M. Reeve
Contributions: Plate 1.7, Plate 1.8, Plate 1.49

William Stukeley was a co-founder of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1717 and its first Secretary. Not readily understood within modern disciplinary categories, he would make significant contributions to antiquarianism, archaeology, theology, cartography, geology, garden design, and other disciplines. He was born 1687 in Holbeach, Lincolnshire to a local lawyer, and he attended St Benet’s, Cambridge (later Corpus Christi College), matriculating in 1704. It was at Cambridge that his own antiquarian studies properly began. To these years belong his earliest sketches of medieval buildings and the origins of what would be a romantic and ultimately mystical understanding of history, spirituality, and the phenomenological world. Stukeley moved to London in 1709 to pursue medicine under Dr Mead at St Thomas’s Hospital, but he would soon return to his native Lincolnshire (Boston) the following year to practice medicine. Stukeley was drawn to the calm beauty of the countryside, which he often confessed enabled thought and contemplation, but he would temporarily return to London as the hub of his social and intellectual life in 1717. In Lincolnshire he met Maurice Johnson, who in 1709-10 founded the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society of which Stukeley was an active member. The years between 1710-25 were the most active of Stukeley’s career: in the company of various friends, he made a dozen or so extended trips to sketch and record pre-historic through medieval antiquities. Stukeley is one of the most prolific draughtsmen of his period, and a large volume of his work can be studied in his voluminous manuscripts which cover buildings, coins and works of art from prehistory to the present. His early travels were partially published in his Itinerarium Curiosum of 1724. These years also witnessed Stukeley’s pioneering fieldwork at Avebury and Stonehenge, culminating in Stonehenge A Temple Restor’d to the British Druids (1740) and Abury A Temple of the British Druids (1743) upon which his posthumous reputation as an antiquary and “the founder of British archaeology” principally rests.

Stukeley was introduced to the SAL by Maurice Johnson of Spalding, Lincolnshire, and he would draft the Society’s Articles of Incorporation in January 1718. Although acting as its first Secretary, Stukeley appears to have taken little part in the SAL itself and did not share the results of his 1719-25 fieldwork with the members (although he did exhibit a model and drawings of Stonehenge on St Valentine’s Day, 1721-2). He nevertheless was able in 1752 to compose Memoirs Toward an History of the Antiquarian Society which recounted the Elizabethan Society and its 1717 revival, and present it to his patron, George, Earl of Macclesfield. Ricard Gough would quote and expand upon this text in his introduction to the first volume of Archaeologia (1770). Stukeley would also help to establish a committee on numismatics in the same years, but he would resign the secretaryship in 1726 when he returned to again to Lincolnshire (Grantham). As Stuart Piggott suggests, it may be the Society’s dominant interest in medieval over prehistoric and Roman antiquities that distanced Stukeley from its affairs. He would form an independent club of Roman enthusiasts in 1722 entitled “the Society of Roman Knights” and adopt the name Chyndonax. Three of Stukeley’s drawings were engraved and included in Vetusta Monumenta: the Waltham Cross (commissioned by King Edward I to commemorate the death of Queen Eleanor of Castile in 1292), the Map of Verulamium, a Roman city near modern-day St Albans, and the extraordinary Romanesque Bishop’s Chapel at Hereford Cathedral. Although Stukeley was not, it seems, a central member of the Society, his imagery established a high standard for careful recording of Roman and medieval art within the early volumes of Vetusta Monumenta. The 1726-29 portrait of William Stukeley attributed to Richard Collins now hangs at the SAL.

Stuart Piggott, Stuart. 1985. William Stukeley: An Eighteenth-century Antiquary. 2nd. ed. London: Thames and Hudson.

Evans, Joan 1956. A History of the Society of Antiquaries. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Haycock, David Boyd. 2002. William Stukeley: Science, Religion and Archaeology in Eighteenth-Century England. Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer.

Talman, John (1677-1726)
Contributions: Plate 1.1, Plate 1.4, Plate 1.16

John Talman was the first director of the reincorporated SAL from 1718-1726 and designed the lamp emblem still used by the SAL today (Plate 1.1). Scion of a prominent English Catholic family, Talman traveled extensively in Italy, where he collected antiquities and made exquisite architectural and antiquarian drawings now preserved in the Talman Drawing Books in the SAL. On returning to England, he practiced as an architect.

Macandrew, Hugh, et al. 1997. The Volume of the Walpole Society 59.

Vertue, George (1684-1756)
Contributions: Vertue engraved all but one of the plates in Volume I and the first seventeen in Volume II.

The printmaker and antiquary George Vertue was a founder member of the SAL from 1718 and the Society’s principal engraver for nearly forty years. In addition to his eighty-six prints commissioned by the SAL Vertue published hundreds more, many of them in large series, both by commission and by subscription. Many of these are portraits of historic figures. The Minute Books of the SAL refer to Vertue more frequently than any other member in the early eighteenth century, an indication of the multiple roles he played in the institution. He was formally appointed Sub-director in 1735. In addition to serving as the Society's principal engraver, Vertue exhibited many objects at meetings, both on behalf of other collectors and as a collector in his own right. He sometimes transacted business for the SAL, as when he paid a man who transported a Roman mosaic pavement from Kent for them to see (the man received half a guinea). His knowledge of London collections enabled him to produce either sketches or artifacts for comparative analysis of matters in hand. Most important, he was equally dedicated to antiquarian scholarship and to the art of engraving; without him, Vetusta Monumenta would not have been nearly as extensive, or as distinguished, as the signature first publication series of the SAL; it might never have been launched at all. The SAL continued to publish Vertue’s prints, as well as new engravings made from his archived drawings, for many years after his death.

Alexander, David. 2008. “George Vertue as Engraver,” The Volume of the Walpole Society 70: 207-517.

Myrone, Martin. “The Society of Antiquaries and the Graphic Arts.” In Visions of Antiquity: The Society of Antiquaries of London, 1707-2007, edited by Susan Pearce, 98-121. London: Society of Antiquaries.

Ward, John (1679-1758) by Ariel Fried
Contributions: Plate 1.65, Plates 1.66-68, Plate 1.70, Plate 2.9, and Plates 2.15-2.16

Born around 1679 to father John Ward (1635-1717), a dissenting minister, and mother Constancy Rayner (d. 1697), John Ward was one of only two children in his family to survive into adulthood. In his young adulthood, Ward served as clerk for the Navy Office and then as a teacher in Moorfields. He became Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College in September 1720 and there completed one of his major works, Lives of the professors of Gresham College, to which is prefaced the life of the founder, Sir Thomas Gresham, published in 1740. He also contributed captions, edits, and translations to other prominent works of the early eighteenth century, including those of Robert Ainsworth, Martin Folkes, and Richard Mead.

Ward became a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) in February 1736 and was later elected as director in January 1747 and vice president in April 1753, both positions which he held until his death in 1758. Perhaps his most notable contribution to Vetusta Monumenta during his time as director was the introduction of explanatory accounts to supplement the visual representations of monuments on the plates. The first of these companion essays was printed for Plate 1.65 as a 350-word caption in Latin, which surrounds the image of a Roman net-fighter and his opponent. Dissatisfied with the available space to caption the next plate series in Vetusta Monumenta, Ward published a three-page letterpress companion essay in Latin to accompany Plates 1.66-1.68. This explanatory account more thoroughly delineates the history of the Cotton Genesis manuscript and argues for both the authentic antiquity of the object and its antiquarian and scholarly value. Ward contributed another lengthy caption in Latin for Plate 2.9, and two more letterpress accounts—these in English—for Plates 1.70 and 2.15-2.16. Ward’s contributions to the first two volumes of Vetusta Monumenta exhibit his particular scholarly interests in medieval political and religious documents and Romano-British objects. His inclusion of extended letterpress accounts also set a precedent for Vetusta Monumenta that was maintained by Richard Gough (1735-1809), who saw to the publication of explanatory essays with every succeeding plate series, beginning during his tenure as director of the SAL from 1771-96.

Ward’s scholarly inclinations also extended beyond his academic life at Gresham College and his scholarly contributions to the SAL. He was an active fellow of the Royal Society from 1723 until his death. He contributed to the Royal Society’s publication, Philosophical Transactions, throughout the time of his membership and was eventually elected as one of the society’s vice presidents in 1752. He was also elected as a trustee of the British Museum upon its founding in 1753. His contributions to these learned societies were stalled due to illness in November 1757 and Ward died on 18 October 1758. Two volumes of his lectures at Gresham were published posthumously under the title A system of oratory, delivered in a course of lectures publickly read at Gresham College, London (1759).

Cooper, Thomas. 1899. “Ward, John (1679?-1758).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McConnell, Anita. (2004) 2008. “Ward, John (1678/9-1758.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

West, James (1703-1772)
Contributions: Plate 1.43, Plates 1.50-1.52, Plate 1.55, Plate 1.56, Plate 1.62, Plates 1.66-1.68

James West, a barrister and public servant who became a fellow of both the SAL and the Royal Society in 1726, was an exceptionally avid collector whose collection is among those most fully represented in Vetusta Monumenta, with coins, medals, and a portrait from his collection appearing on numerous plates. West also communicated Thomas Sympson’s discovery of the Lincoln hypocaust to the SAL, which led to the creation of Plate 1.57, and he himself drew a Roman mosaic that he discovered at Wellow, Somerset in 1737; this drawing was engraved together with others for Plates 1.50-1.52.

Willis, Browne (1682-1760)
Contributions: Plate 1.20, Plate 1.55, Plate 1.56

Browne Willis, an active member of the SAL over a long period, contributed specimens from his collection of coins and medals for illustration in Vetusta Monumenta, and he participated actively in the research for several other plates. In two cases, the knowledge and the connections he had acquired in the course of writing one of his major works, a multi-volume survey of the cathedrals of England and Wales, published between 1717 and 1730, helped to facilitate the work of the series. Willis’s input based on his research at Hereford and Lincoln contributed significantly to the production of Plate 1.49 and Plate 1.57, respectively.

Nichols, John, ed. 1812-1816. Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century. Vol. 6, 186-211. London.