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.

Contributors: Mark Crosby, Ariel Fried, Richard Goddard, Noah Heringman, Martin Myrone, Bernard Nurse, Matthew M. Reeve, Anna Marie Roos, 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.


Blake, William (1757-1827) by Mark Crosby
Contributions: Plate 2.29-2.35

William Blake was born on 28 November 1757 in London and, from a young age, displayed a precocious talent for drawing. Encouraged by his father, a hosier by trade, Blake enrolled at Henry Pars’s drawing school on the Strand. Under Pars’s direction, Blake learned to sketch the human form by copying casts of classical statues. He also began collecting prints by Albrecht Dürer and after paintings by Raphael and Michelangelo. When Blake entered the professional world, he initially wanted to apprentice at a painter’s atelier but this proved too costly for his family. A less expensive option came through Pars’s connections with the less prestigious profession of engraving.

On 4 August 1772, Blake was indentured to master engraver James Basire for the sum of £52. As an apprentice Blake joined his master’s household for seven years. For the majority of this period, Blake and another apprentice, James Parker, who was six years Blake’s senior and was indentured in August 1773, were Basire’s only apprentices. During his apprenticeship, Blake was taught the mixed method of preliminary etching followed by engraving, quickly mastering the basic techniques of line engraving. In 1774 Basire sent Blake to Westminster Abbey and Temple Church to make preparatory drawings of funerary monuments to be engraved for the first volume of Richard Gough’s Sepulchral Monuments in Great Britain (1786). Blake sketched the royal tombs and effigies around the chapel of Edward the Confessor and the following year made two sets of drawings of the tombs, wall paintings, and decorations that were revealed when the wainscot and tapestries that hung near the high altar were temporarily removed. One set of drawings was displayed at the Society of Antiquaries for Joseph Ayloffe’s lecture on 12 March 1778 while the other set was engraved by Basire’s studio and published in Ayloffe’s An Account of some Ancient Monuments in Westminster Abbey (1780), which was reissued in the second volume of Vetusta Monumenta (1789). Blake spent 1776 copying the tombs on the north side of the Sacrarium, including the monuments of Aymer de Valence and Edmund Crouchback and in 1777 moved to St Edmund’s Chapel, sketching the tombs of John of Eltham, William de Valence, the brass monument of Elenor Bohun, and the monument of William and Blanche, Edward III’s children. Blake also made a finished watercolour of the wall painting in St. Faith’s Chapel, and wash drawings of the stone effigies of three early abbots of Westminster Abbey, Vitalis, Crispinus and Laurentius, and the effigies in Temple Church. Blake engraved some of his preparatory drawings and when his apprenticeship finished set up a short-lived print shop with Parker, pursuing a career as a reproductive engraver.

The engraving and etching techniques Blake mastered during his apprenticeship informed much of his creative output including the experimental relief-etching process he used to create his illuminated books and large colour-printed drawings. Towards the end of his life, Blake refined Basire’s house style to make it a mode of original invention rather than a mechanical technique of reproductive illustration, creating one of his masterpieces and the pinnacle of his achievement as a graphic artist in the Illustrations to the Book of Job (1826). Blake died on 12 August 1827, leaving an astonishing body of poetic, graphic, and pictorial work much of which was informed by the artistic credo he’d learnt as an apprentice and from his time sketching medieval tombs, the “golden rule of art, as well as of life, is this: That the more distinct, sharp, and wirey the bounding line, the more perfect the work of art”.

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.

Folkes, Martin (1690-1754) by Anna Marie Roos
Contributions: Plate 1.20, Plates 1.37-38Plate 1.55, Plate 1.56, Plate 1.65,  Plates 1.66-1.68, Plate 1.69

Martin Folkes (1690-1754) was Sir Isaac Newton's disciple, his unique distinction being President of both the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries. Folkes had a vast numismatic library of over 300 works containing most of the major works devoted to English and European coinage.1 Folkes’s book, the Tables of English Silver and Gold Coins (1763), posthumously published by the Society of Antiquaries, became a standard text in numismatics for a century. Folkes’s diligence in searching Robert Cotton’s library resulted in his rediscovery in 1747 of its extensive coin collection, which was thought to have been lost in 1731 in the fire where it was housed at Ashburnham.2   Folkes was instrumental in the creation of the plate of the Cotton Genesis in the Vetusta Monumenta. As an editor of Newton’s biblical chronologies, and student of James Cappel, the trilingual humanist who had taught at Saumur, Folkes at least had expertise in classical Greek (if not Byzantine Greek) to put the 18 remaining fragments in chronological order, filling in the gaps caused by fire damage with ‘excerpts from Lambert Bos’s edition of the Codex Vaticanus published in 1709. However, Folkes’s fellow antiquary William Stukeley was dismissive of his efforts. He wrote that Folkes conducted ‘the work, at the engravers’ so as the fragments ‘appear crouded in the plates, and much of their true beauty is lost’. Folkes had provided Stukeley with a set of the plates out of friendship,3 which Stukeley proceeded to cut and paste to create his own manuscript booklet, giving each fragment ‘a distinct page . . .and short account of each picture, for we cannot show too much respect, for so invaluable a curiosity’. 4 Stukeley’s animosity towards Folkes was persistent through Folkes’s life, probably due to Folkes’s deism and freemasonary which offended Stukeley’s sensibilities.  Folkes' monument in Westminster Abbey depicts him seated in in typically neoclassical Roman dress as a reference to the connections between Roman collegia and freemasonry. Folkes leans on two books, one a treatise on medals labelled S.A.L (Society of Antiquaries of London), the other the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, a reference to his dual presidencies of these scholarly societies. An adjacent cherub carefully measures a globe with callipers and another is peering into a microscope with close attention. This iconography was an allusion to Folkes’s lifelong passions for metrology and astronomy, to his work with the hydra and Trembley, and to his treatise describing the instruments of Leeuwenhoek.

Notes

[1] George Kolbe, ‘Godfather to All Monkeys: Martin Folkes and his 1756 Library Sale’, Asylum (June 2014), pp. 45-46.  

[2] Bodl. MS Eng. Misc. c. 113, ff. 343r-344v, Bodleian Library, Oxford, printed as ‘Maurice Johnson, Jr to William Stukeley, 20 June 1747’, in Family Memoirs of William Stukeley, vol. 3, p. 354; See also Hugh Pagan, ‘Martin Folkes and the Study of the English Coinage in the Eighteenth Century’, p. 158.  

[3] MS.4726, Wellcome Library, London. There is a note by Stukeley on the first (unnumbered) leaf: ‘13. Aug. 1749. Martin Folkes Esq. LL.D. gave me the set of prints done by the Antiquarian Society . . .’.  

[4] MS.4726, f. 2r, Wellcome Library, London.

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) by Martin Myrone
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 engraved hundreds more, mainly of antiquarian interest, and many of them in large series, both by commission and by subscription. This included a number of portraits of historic figures which proved particularly commercial and enduring. In contrast to his successors as official engraver for the SAL, Vertue's role extended considerably beyond his duties in produced and engraved works and serving as draughtsman. 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, frequently providing expert advice, serving as consultant and undertaking a range of different duties. He was formally appointed Sub-director in 1735. 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), or when he acted as agent for the Society at the Talman sale in a 1727. He also provided a 'press for holding prints' in 1754. His knowledge of London collections enabled him to produce either sketches or artifacts for comparative analysis of matters in hand. Most importantly, he was equally dedicated to antiquarian scholarship and to the art of engraving line engraving. He saw the latter as having a particular role in supporting the production of antiquarian knowledge; the rigour, precision and physical laboriousness of the technique guaranteeing authenticity and cultural value. Diverging from what was emerging as a dominant emphasis on originality, formalised by Hogarth's Act of 1735 which provided copyright protection for the originating artist of an image, but not the reproductive engraver, Vertue saw the task of reproduction as hugely distinguished and creative: 'an engraver is properly translator of an author from one language to another'.

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, and might well have developed a quite different visual character. 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) by Ariel Fried
Contributions: Plate 1.20, Plates 1.37-38, Plate 1.49, Plate 1.55, Plate 1.56, Plate 1.57

Browne Willis’s education began at Beachampton, under Reverend Abraham Freestone, and at Westminster School. In 1700 he enrolled at Christ Church, Oxford as a gentleman commoner but did not take a degree until 1720, when he was awarded a master of arts, followed by a doctorate of civil law in 1749. A rather ardent patriot, Brown served as a tory MP for his native Buckingham from 1705-08, but ultimately devoted himself to charitable and antiquarian pursuits.

Willis’s scholarly interests varied widely. He published notable book-length works on medieval churches and architecture (A survey of the cathedrals of York, Durham, Carlisle, Chester, Man, Lichfield, Hereford, Worcester, Gloucester, and Bristol, 1727), law and government (Notitia Parliamentaria, 1715), and numismatics (A Table of The Gold Coins of the Kings of England, 1733). He corresponded extensively with other prominent antiquaries, such as William Cole, Thomas Hearne, Samuel Gale, and Andrew Ducarel, and his input contributed to several of their published works. Willis also expressed interest in ecclesiastical pursuits and concern over the appropriate preservation of antiquities, both of which influenced him to raise funds for the rebuilding and restoration of several churches in his home county of Buckinghamshire.

As a founding member of the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) in 1717, he brought this wide range of interests to bear on the publication of plates for Vetusta Monumenta. Willis contributed a silver crown from his private collection to the engraving for Plate 1.20, and he and engraver George Vertue influenced the production of two other numismatic engravings: the Stuart Medals of Plate 1.55 and further rare medals and coins for Plate 1.56. In addition, he wrote to the SAL about errors regarding the historical attribution of certain coins in Plates 1.37-1.38 and published these corrections in his own 1733 work. His interest in ecclesiastical history is reflected in his presentation of images and a written account of the bishop’s chapel at Hereford (Plate 1.49) during an SAL meeting on 13 April 1738 (SAL Minutes III.122). And finally, his research at Lincoln contributed to the production of Plate 1.57, which depicts the Roman hypocaust excavated there.


Doggett, Nicholas. 2009. “Willis, Browne (1682-1760).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nichols, John, ed. 1812-1816. Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century. Vol. 6, 186-211. London.
Society of Antiquaries of London. 1718-. Minutes of the Society’s Proceedings.