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Plate 2.18: Two Roman Bronzes (Silenus and a Lamp)
Scholarly Commentary with DZI View for Vetusta Monumenta, Plate 2.18. Commentary by Thora Brylowe.
Plate: Unsigned engraving by Arthur Pond (1701-1758) after drawings by Pond and Richard Cosway (1742-1821). Although the print is unsigned, its creation is documented in detail in the Minute Books of the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL). Pond is cited as having “promised to favour the Society with a Drawing” on the same day that Lyde Browne (d. 1787) first exhibited the Silenus, the first object on this plate, on 15 May 1755 (SAL Minutes VII.202v.). This small oil lamp in the shape of Silenus is shown from both sides, back and front. On 5 June, the drawing (“of the same size as the figure”) was presented and the secretary notes that it was “returned to Mr. Pond to be engraved by him, and not delivered again to the Society” (VII.208r.). On 8 January 1756, Browne exhibited two more artifacts, “a small antique marble Bust” (not shown here) and “an antique brass Lamp representing a Fawn [sic] squatted down,” shown in profile as Fig. II on this plate (VII.232r). A drawing of this lamp was also requested, and in this case James Theobald took responsibility for commissioning it (232v.). This drawing was presented on 19 February (244v.), and both figures were included on the proof print that Pond presented to the Society of Antiquaries on 11 November—described here as “an Engraving made, under his Direction, of the two small brass [i.e., bronze] Figures much admired by the Society, of the Silenus and Lamp, lately exhibited by Mr. Browne” (284r.). Finally, on 17 March 1757, Pond presented another proof with the substantial caption added (VIII.10v.), 600 copies were ordered, and members received their allotment of three prints each on 7 April (15v.).
Preparatory drawings of both the Silenus and the Ass-head lamps are included in the Society’s online Catalogue of Drawings, but the first is misattributed to Cosway, as explained further in our commentary.
Objects: Two small Roman bronze lamps from the collection of Lyde Browne, the first of which is identified as having been “dug out of the ruins of Herculaneum” (SAL Minutes VII.202v.). Browne’s extensive collection of antiquities is most notable for the marble sculptures it contained, many of which have been at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg since Catherine II purchased the collection in 1784. Browne donated drawings of many of his sculptures to the Society of Antiquaries. Several such drawings by Thomas Jenkins (1722-1798), the antiquities dealer based on Rome, are included in the Society’s online Catalogue of Drawings. The bronzes depicted here appear not to have been included in the sale of Browne’s collection and are currently untraced. Nonetheless, the history of this collection as a whole provides the context for these two objects and for the attention devoted to them by the Society, which “desired to be allowed the favour of taking a Drawing” of both objects (SAL Minutes VII.232v.). The minutes provide an exceptionally full description of the second lamp, which became the basis for the lengthy caption on the plate.
SILENI ICVNCVLA EX AERE.
LAMPAS ANTIQUA EX AERE.
Fig. I HAEC figura Silenum sedentem, et symbolis consuetis adornatum, duplici conspectu exhibet. Caput pileo tectum est, et serto hederaceo redimitum; aures magnas habet et acutas, barbamque prolixam; dextra cyathum, sinistra cantharum genu innixum, tenet; crura cothurnos, pedes soleas sunt induti; cauda longa et inflexa ab imo dorso dependet. In lampadis usum nitidam hanc imaginem factam fuisse, conjectari licet. Venter enim cavus est, et foraminis ope in cantharum ubi cohaerent, patentis ad oleum recipiendum accommodatus, in cujus ore ellychnium collocari potuit. Inter lucernas antiquas, quas edidit Licetus, unam atque alteram, Sileni imaginem diverso corporis situ exhibentes, protulit L.III c.11 et L.VI. c. 53. Ex oppidi autem Herculanei ruinis anno circiter 1748, haec effossa est atque a Lyde Browne armigero, Societatis hujus sodali, qui adhuc possidet isthinc allata.
Fig. II LAMPAS haec capitis asinini formam exhibens, ansa palmitem referente, et bacchantis dorso annexa, in postica parte instructa est. Bacchans autem considet, pampinis coronatus, manusque decussatas prae se tenens. In fronte asini, supra aures, foramen ad oleum infundibuli vice recipiendum apparet. Tempora etiam asini vimine pampineo adornata sunt, linguaque ejus ad ellychnium tenendum protensa et cavata. In Nobiliss. Pembrochiae comitis thesauro haec lampas olim reposita fuit, postea vero ex publica auctione, ubi venum exponebatur, idem, quem supra diximus, harum deliciarum studiosus perquisitor comparavit, et cum multis aliis veteris aevi monumentis conservat. Duas lucernas, ad capitis equini speciem efformatas, quae in plerisque parum ab hac differunt Montfauconus in lucem edidit, Tom. V. pl. CXLI et CLXXIX.
Hanc tabulam, ad archetyporum magnitudinem a se delineatam, et sumptu suo aeri incisam, Societati donavit sodalis ejus bene meritus, ARTHVRVS POND.
Published according to the Act of Parliament, March 17, 1757.
Small figurine of Silenus made of bronze.
Ancient bronze lamp.
Fig. I. This figure shows two views of a seated Silenus adorned with his usual symbols. His head is covered by a felt cap, and garlanded by an ivy wreath; he has large and pointed ears and a bushy beard. He has a ladle in his right and a wine cup in his left hand which is resting on his knee. He has high Greek-style socks that go up to his shins and his feet are covered by sandals. His long and curved tail hangs down from his lower back. One may conclude that this beautiful image was made for use as a lamp, for the belly is hollow and there is an opening in the wine cup, just where it joins the body, for accommodating the oil and placing a lamp-wick. Among the ancient oil lamps which were published by Liceti, one or two show the image of the body of Silenus in many positions and are cited in Book III, chapter 11 and Book VI, chapter 53. From the ruins of the town of Herculaneum in about the year 1748, this lamp was excavated, and was delivered from there by Lyde Browne, esquire, fellow of this Society, who still owns it.
[Note: “Liceti” refers to Fortunius Licetus, De Lucernis Antiquorum Reconditis (1625).]
Fig. II. This lamp, having the form of an ass’s head, has been outfitted on its back end with a handle that resembles a vine, attached to the back of a Bacchant. The bacchant sits, crowned with vine shoots, and has his hands crossed before him. On the brow of the donkey, above the ears, is a hole for oil to be poured in through a funnel. Also the temples of the donkey have been adorned with vine shoots and its tongue has been extended and pierced in order to hold a lamp-wick. This lamp was once in the collection of the most noble Earl of Pembroke, and afterwards in truth, was exhibited for sale in a public auction, when he whom we have mentioned above, the eager purchaser of these treasures, had compared and conserved them with many other monuments of a former age. Montfaucon wrote in Volume V plates CXLI and CLXXIX about two lamps of the horse head kind which differ in splendor very little in most respects from this one.
The well deserving Arthur Pond gave to his fellows of the Society this original image drawn to scale by him and engraved in copper at his expense.
Commentary by Thora Brylowe: These plates represent a transitional moment in the publication of Vetusta Monumenta. The previous 87 plates, with only one exception, were engraved by George Vertue. Plate 17, dated 23 February 1756, has the dubious distinction of being Vertue’s last engraving (Alexander 2008, 389, Item 10290). Plates 17 and 18 are stylistically similar. Plate 18 was probably executed by the painter, engraver and printseller Arthur Pond (1705-1758), although there are some inconsistencies in the record. These plates, along with Plate 19, represent a moment of profound instability for the publication: Vertue’s long relationship to the series was ending, and James Basire had yet to take the reins. Both these plates feature two views of a true-to-size, three-dimensional object at the top of the page, along with singular views of unrelated items of a similar size below. All objects are pictured suspended in the white space of the page but cast shadows as if placed on a flat surface. While the two plates look very much like each other, they bear little resemblance to Vertue’s earlier plates, with the exception of Plate 1.5, which depicts a bronze seal matrix in a similar three-dimensional style, though with far less attention to shading.
Both Plates 17 and 18 depict hand-held objects. As Martin Myrone points out, “It needs to be stressed that there was no programme of publication or systematic approach. Viewed as a serial publication, Vetusta Monumenta was, depending on one’s point of view, enormously flexible and responsive … or simply incoherent” (Myrone 2007, 103). This general lack of systematicity is particularly demonstrated here, as the objects do not have a common origin or purpose and seem to have been placed together largely because of their similar size. The explanatory text is in English on Plate 17 but in Latin on 18. Perhaps the objects were grouped together as a collection of bronze objects or as a collection of objects with religious purpose, though some pagan and others Christian. Any suggestion of chronological order is disrupted by the left-to-right order in which the bells appear on Plate 17. The style of engraving, however, gives objects of unlike provenance an appearance of visual consistency. Because they are made to float in white space, contextual incoherence is smoothed and subdued by a visual consistency to which the eye must acquiesce. This technique was used in other antiquarian publications to similar effect. Montfaucon’s L'Antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures (1655) and Sir William Hamilton’s Collection of Etruscan, Greek, and Roman Antiquities (1766), for example, rendered objects of varying size in a similar fashion, and in so doing brought them under the control of the idealizing antiquarian gaze.1
Plate 17 depicts four separate objects. The top of the page offers a Roman lamp cast to resemble a grotesque head, which is precariously balanced on two dog-like legs. It bears resemblance to images of the ancient Moabite deity Baal-Peor, an entity associated with sexual licentiousness (Thomas 1789, 233). Two views of the lamp are depicted side by side, in profile at left and a three-quarter angle at right. In the center of the plate appears a bronze amphora-style vase featuring three neck handles and four evenly spaced plastic Satyric faces. Below are two elaborately decorated hand bells, one dated 1547 and in the possession of the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) [left] and one dated 1366, “found in a nunnery in Essex” and in the possession of “the late Earl of Oxford” [right]. The bells have little relation to first two items, except perhaps that they are also made of bronze (or “brass” as it is called in the engraving). A later listing of the Vetusta Monumenta plates makes clear that all the items depicted in Plate 17 are bronze (“Publications”), and the text on the plate points out that all objects are more or less the same size. Of the four items displayed, the two Roman objects are from the collection of the physician, antiquarian and collector Charles Chauncey (1706–1777), a Londoner who graduated from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in 1734 and from the Royal College of Physicians in 1739 (Munk 1861, 129). The bells seem to be included for no reason other than their similar size and style to each other and the fact that they are more or less the same size as the Roman artifacts. It is possible that the bells were not of identical size, as they are depicted. The two very similar bells balance the visual appearance of the plate, giving the illusion that five objects (instead of the actual four) are depicted in an hour-glass shape. The consistent doubling at top and bottom, with the slightly larger vase anchoring the center of the image, suggest a left-to-right, top-to-bottom readerly encounter with the objects depicted on the plate. The effect is to emphasize the objects at the top at the expense of the less striking objects at the bottom.
A comparison between the drawings of the lamp and the engraving shows that Vertue made significant alterations in the process of engraving. The first reference to these objects is recorded on 7 February 1754, when “Dr. Chancey [sic] produced a lamp of a very uncommon Form which he supposed to be an Antique and it was ordered that a Drawing of it should be taken in order to its being engraved hereafter if it shall be thought proper” (SAL Minutes VII.102v.). The question of propriety becomes clear upon examination of Vertue’s original drawing, which is housed in the Society’s library at Burlington House. Rather than precariously balancing on two legs as it appears in the engraving, it becomes clear that a third “leg,” in the shape of a phallus, holds the lamp upright. Baal-Peor, closely associated with both phallic worship and the with the demon Belphlegor, was sometimes depicted as a Satyr-like creature with paws rather than hooves. The lamp was evidently determined worth engraving, but Vertue’s expertly executed line engraving obscures the lamp’s phallus-leg completely with the clever use of a heavily cross-hatched shadow. Where the original drawing uses an ink wash to produce tonal effects, the engraving uses much heavier cross-hatching, clearly effected to obscure any evidence of the third leg. The result, of course, is an impossibility: the top-heavy lamp would fall over backward. It is fascinating that concern for propriety trumps visual accuracy in this case, illustrating the distortion implicit in antiquarian visual rhetoric (cf. Coltman 2006, Kelly 2009). The concern for what is “thought proper” distinguishes the SAL from the much wealthier and smaller Society of Dilettanti, which had been active since 1736 and which became known for its raucous membership and scandalous displays of classical sexuality (Kelly 2009; Brewer 1997, 204-31).
Vertue was too ill to continue his work for the SAL. Plate 18 depicts two objects and is visually consistent in style with Vertue’s final plate, perhaps as a way to demonstrate consistency in light of Vertue’s inability to work (Myrone 2007, 109). The plate is dated 17 March 1757. No engraver is named, though evidence points to Arthur Pond. However, in this moment of transition away from the Vertue regime, records do not completely agree. At the top of the page are two views of a small bronze figure of Silenus. Below is an engraved copy of a drawing of a bronze lamp composed of a Bacchanalian figure astride an ass’s head. Both original drawings are in the Society’s collections. They were drawn by two different hands at two different times.
Although they do not appear in the Drawing Book, it would seem that Pond made preparatory drawings of the bronze miniature of Silenus, which was exhibited on 15 May 1755 by Lyde Browne. Silenus, the fat, drunken tutor of Dionysus, is often depicted bearing wine and with a horse’s ears, tail and/or hooves. The Society’s minutes report that the figure was “dug out of the ruins of Herculaneum” and that Pond promised to make drawings (SAL Minutes VII.202v.). However, the Society’s online catalogue does list the original drawing, which is there attributed to Richard Cosway (Britannia Romana 11.3). As the minutes suggest otherwise, this is likely an error, though an understandable one given the particularly tangled origins of this particular engraving.
The Society’s Drawing Book does contain the original drawing of the ass-head lamp that appears in Plate 18. The confusion stems from the drawing’s hand-written caption that reads “A Drawing of a brass Lamp in the possession of Lyde Browne, Esq. by a youth about 14 years of age; presented by Mr. [James] Theobold.” The Society’s catalogue attributes the drawing of Silenus to Richard Cosway, who probably would have been thirteen in 1755 (his exact birthday is unknown). Cosway came to London in 1754 to study drawing, and in 1755 he won first prize in the “category of under-fourteen-year-olds” in the inaugural competition of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce (Lloyd 2008). Given the minutes and the caption, it would appear that he drew the ass-head lamp but not the Silenus.
It is unusual for a single engraving to combine objects from separate original drawings by distinct artists. Browne, who was elected to the SAL in 1752, was in the habit of receiving drawings of objects, which he would subsequently purchase from his agent in Italy and then donate the drawings to the Society (Grindle 2008). In 1755, Cosway resided with his mentor William Shipley and was on his way to what would eventually become an esteemed career as a portrait and miniature painter. We can be certain that the drawing, not the lamp, is the source for the engraving on Plate 18 because the lamp is shown at an identical angle with the same shading. Although the style and hand are not identical to Vertue’s, the plate seems meant to echo Plate 17 in its overall form. Unlike Vertue’s technically skillful production in Plate 17, however, the light source here differs from the top figures to the lamp below. The line work is less expertly produced, and the illusion that these objects occupy the same visual plane is disturbed by the inconsistent fall of their shadows. The obvious reason for the differing quality of this plate is that its engraver—again, very likely Pond—was working from drawings produced by two separate artists. As is often the case with eighteenth-century antiquarian publications, even if the original lamp had been available to copy, it was not used. Drawings were the preferred point of reference for engravings, and engravers rarely redrew an object if a drawing already existed. Of course, a more detail-oriented engraver might have manipulated the light source so that all the objects on the page appeared to be on the same plane. However, Plate 18 attends more carefully to its letterform than it does its drawings. A full half page is dedicated to Latin explanatory inscriptions, which are rendered in a good copperplate hand.
Mysteriously, the last line of the caption translates, “The deserving Arthur Pond gave to his fellows of the Society this original image drawn to size by him and engraved in copper at his expense.” This assertion seems at odds with the evidence, which suggests only one of the two images was drawn by Pond—though the Society’s records conflict as to which one. Notably, Plate 18 of the complete copy of Vetusta Monumenta housed in the Society’s library is printed on unmarked wove paper. This paper differs completely from the laid paper on which are printed the rest of the plates in Volume II. Moreover, this paper is unique to this particular impression of Plate 18. The usual laid paper with crown-and-fleur-de-lis watermark and a VG or VI countermark was present in all other copies examined. This evidence suggests that the Society’s copy probably contains the final proof print which was presented by Pond before the meeting of 17 March 1757. The minutes note that the plate “with the inscription now added hereto, was shown and approved of, and 600 copies thereof for the use of the Society were directed to be printed off” (SAL Minutes VIII.10v.). The plate is dated 17 March, suggesting that Pond inscribed the plate with the intention of presenting a final proof at the meeting. It is curious that the drawings’ attribution should be left out of the inscription, but it is very possible that this was done in the interest of smoothing out a rough patch in Vetusta Monumenta’s publication history.
The inscription reports that the Silenus was probably intended as a lamp and directs readers to consult “Fortunius Licetus” [Fortunio Liceti’s] De Lucernis Antiquorum Reconditis Book III, chapter 11 and Book VI, chapter 53 for commentary on lamps in the shape of Silenus.2 The commentary also informs readers that the lamp depicted in Figure II was previously in the possession of the Earl of Pembroke and was purchased by Browne at auction. It notes that Montfaucon “wrote in Volume V plates CXLI and CLXXIX about two lamps of the horse head kind which differ in splendor very little in most respects from this one.” Indeed, Montfaucon’s L'Antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures does contain images of some astonishingly similar lamps, especially in the second plate cited in the caption, at the bottom.
Despite their inconsistencies, both plates do demonstrate the importance the Society placed on collectors. Charles Chauncey and his brother Nathaniel were serious book collectors, styled “bibliomaniacs” in their remembrance in the Rolls of the Royal College of Physicians (Munk 1864, 129). Chauncey purchased the items depicted in Plate 17 from the collection of “Baron Wassenaer at the Hague,” probably Frederick Hendrick Baron van Wassenaar (1701-1771), a Dutch statesman of some renown (Will). In addition to their many donations to the College of Physicians and other institutions, the Chauncey collections were dispersed at auction in 1790 upon Nathaniel’s death, and although three catalogues remain, no listing appears either for the vase or lamp. The fact that these items were depicted in a relatively lavish way in Vetusta Monumenta, a book ostensibly devoted to British antiquities, probably speaks to Chauncey’s prominence. Browne, too, was a prominent member and collector, who would be appointed a trustee to the Bank of England and would write catalogues of his own collection, which is now in the Hermitage (Neverov 1984). Ultimately, these plates represent a period of transition and instability in the history of the Vetusta Monumenta. Their style renders consistent objects of different kinds from different periods through association with prominent collectors. Thus these two plates, produced by two engravers and three artists, manage to hold together disparate times, geographies, typologies and use values with little more than white space and the names of important men.
1On the antiquarian gaze, see Coltman and Wood. I take my argument about the regularizing and idealizing effect of engraving from Morris Eaves, who in turn cites William Ivins.
2I am indebted to Jordi Alonso for his translation of the Latin text.
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Greenwood, John. 1790. A catalogue of the extensive, valuable, and superb collection of prints, books of prints, drawings, and miniatures, Selected from the various cabinets which have been offered to the public during the last 50 years, uniting the collections of those-well-known connoisseurs Charles Chauncy, M.D.F.R.S. and F.S.A. and Nathaniel Chauncy, Esq; his brother. Eighteenth Century Collections Online, London.
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