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: Richard Goddard, Noah Heringman, Matthew M. Reeve

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.

Gough, Richard (1735-1809)
Contributions: Many letterpress companion essays for Volumes II-III

During Gough’s long tenure as director of the SAL (1771-1796) he regularized the practice of printing companion essays with individual plates in Vetusta Monumenta, introduced by his predecessor John Ward in 1744. At first these essays had appeared with only some of the plates, either in English or in Latin. During Gough’s tenure, these essays began to appear with each and every plate and English became the rule for their composition. He authored many of the essays himself, and some are signed with his initials R. G. Gough was a prolific writer who published journalism in the Gentleman’s Magazine as well as hefty antiquarian tomes including a revised and expanded edition of William Camden’s Britannia (1789) and the five-volume Sepulchral Monuments in Great Britain (1786-1796). Gough also cultivated relationships with James Basire, who became the regular engraver for Vetusta Monumenta and other SAL publications after 1760, with the Society’s publisher John Nichols, and with several talented draftsmen, including John Carter and Jacob Schnebbelie.

Nichols, John, ed. 1812-1816. Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century. Vol. 6, 290-341. London.

Sweet, Rosemary. 2001. “Antiquaries and Antiquities in Eighteenth-Century England.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 34, no. 2: 181-206.

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)
Contributions: Plate 1.65, Plates 1.66-68, Plate 1.70

Ward, a distinguished scholar and Professor of Rhetoric and Gresham College, was director of the SAL from 1747 until his death and became very active around the same time in producing explanatory accounts of objects published in Vetusta Monumenta. His first substantial companion essay was printed directly on Plate 1.65 in the form of a 350-word caption. A similar lengthy caption on Plate 1.66, which concludes by regretting the lack of available space, led to the printing of a separate letterpress companion essay to accompany that plate and the other two plates in the set, which depict fragments from the Cotton Genesis manuscript. While the first two were in Latin, Ward’s next companion essay, for Plate 1.70, was in English. Ward contributed several more texts in both English and Latin for Volume II and set a precedent taken up by Richard Gough, who became director in 1771 and made it a rule to publish companion essays with every print in the series.

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.