Object: Mezzotint by James Watson (1739/40-1790) of Francis Cotes’s c. 1765 portrait of Charles Lyttelton, who was the President of the Society of Antiquaries of London from 1765 until his death on 22 December 1768. The Society’s Council commissioned the mezzotint in 1769, following Lyttelton’s death; Watson’s print was completed by 22 January 1770, when the Society’s minutes report that copies were distributed among the members and made available for purchase by the general public at 5 shillings each (SAL Minutes XI.249).
F. Cotes pinxt. James Watson fecit. Reverendus Admodum Carolus Lyttelton / Nuper Episcopus Carliolensis et Societatis Antiquariorum Præses / Honoris & Gratitudinis Ergo / Voluit Soc. Ant. Lond. 1770.
Painted by F. Cotes; engraved by James Watson. The Very Reverend Charles Lyttelton, Late Bishop of Carlisle and President of the Society of Antiquaries [of London], which therefore honors and thanks him. 1770.
Commentary by Crystal B. Lake: This 1770 mezzotint portrait of Charles Lyttelton in the second volume of Vetusta Monumenta stands as the last of four portraits of antiquaries to be published in the print series during the eighteenth century. In 1736, the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) printed Plate 1.45 following the death of Thomas Tanner (1674-1735) in order to commemorate his life’s work on medieval monasteries, manuscripts, and seals; in 1744, the SAL enshrined the preservationist efforts of the seventeenth-century antiquary Sir Robert Cotton (1570/1-1631) by including his portrait (Plate 1.66) with fragments from the “Cotton Genesis” manuscript; and with the publication of Plate 2.3 in 1750, they mourned fellow George Holmes’s (1661/2-1749) death by celebrating the contributions he made to antiquarian pursuits in his capacity as the keeper of the records in the Tower of London.
Compared to these other examples, the painterly quality and lack of ornamentation are especially notable in Plate 2.28. While the formal elegance of this plate speaks to what Joan Evans describes as the gentlemanly “polish” that the “new generation” of antiquaries who rose up in the Society’s ranks in middle of the eighteenth century hoped to convey to the public, its style also reflects the artistic crossroads at which the SAL found itself following the death of its principal engraver, George Vertue (1684-1756). After Vertue retired due to his failing health in 1756, the Society struggled to secure a suitable principal engraver for several years. Richard Goddard has documented the appointment of James Basire (1730-1802) to that position in 1759—and the fraught relationship between Basire and the SAL that quickly emerged. Basire was fired as the Society’s principal engraver in March of 1768, and rehired again in the Summer of 1769; Plate 2.28 was commissioned during the interregnum between Basire’s two tenures as the SAL’s principal engraver. Although Basire was not involved in the production of Plate 2.28, its position at the end of a series of engravings depicting architectural antiquities attests to Society’s recognition of the influence that Lyttelton exerted over the Society’s activities as both a longstanding member and, especially, as its president.
Basire’s first production for the SAL was Plate 2.20, which was published in 1763, two years before Lyttelton became the Society’s president. Notable among the Vetusta Monumenta prints for its diagrammatic style and “modernizing features,” Plate 2.20 notably depicts a buckler from Lyttelton’s private collection (Goddard 2016, 129). Plate 2.20 was completed four years after Basire’s appointment as principal engraver, and his work progressed hardly at all even after that print’s publication. Goddard suggests that for the first several years of Basire’s tenure, the SAL struggled to find antiquities suitable for him to document, while Basire struggle to reap the financial rewards of his appointment (2016, 134). Things changed, however, once Lyttelton became president on 29 January 1765, following the death of Hugh Lord Willoughby of Parham (1713-1765). Under the leadership of Lyttelton, Basire completed the production of 150 copies of Plate 2.6, depicting the warrant for beheading Charles I, in 1765: the same year that Lyttelton delivered a sermon marking the anniversary of Charles I’s “martyrdom” (Lyttelton 1765). Likewise, Basire began work on the prints depicting the views of the royal palaces that feature on Plates 2.23-2.24 and Plate 2.25, while he also began redrawing and engraving Plate 2.26, which depicts the East Window of St Margaret’s Church in Westminster—three plates that attest to Lyttelton’s enthusiasm for the history of English architecture (Goddard 2016, 135). The Society’s Council minutes date the first proposal for engraving Plates 2.23-2.24 and 2.25 to 4 April 1765 (SAL Council Minutes I.112). The regular meeting minutes confirm that by 18 April 1765, Lyttelton had personally secured two drawings of Richmond Palace for the purposes of producing Plates 2.23-2.24 (SAL Minutes IX.432). Additionally, Lyttelton presented a paper to members of the Society about six months later, on 7 November 1765, concerning a “curious Map, or Survey” that included a note about Richmond Palace, and although Lyttelton deemed the work of engraving that map too costly to undertake, it undoubtedly testified to his continued investment in the production of Plates 2.23-2.34, which were completed and ready to be distributed to members by the end of 1765 (X.48-50).
Shortly thereafter, Lyttelton also presented members of the SAL with a drawing of “the old Palace at Greenwich” (Minutes X.111). At that meeting, two other drawings of the palace were also shown—and all three were understood to be copies of an earlier drawing purportedly made by Elizabeth I (Minutes X.111). Lyttelton’s drawing was not the one ultimately selected for illustration as Plate 2.25, but he was in the President’s chair at the meeting when Basire delivered the proofs for that print on 26 March 1767, when the Society’s members deemed copies could be made after Basire “add[ed] the Word Royal to the Inscription” (SAL Minutes X.304). Similarly, although Plate 2.26—which depicts the East Window of St Margaret’s Church in Westminster—had been planned as early as 1761 based on a drawing completed by Vertue, Basire redrew and engraved the image of the window during Lyttelton’s presidency, finally finishing the project in 1767 (Goddard 2016, 135). Basire, however, was fired as the Society’s principal engraver over a dispute regarding payment on 17 March 1768, yet the SAL continued to pursue publishing a series of “royal” palaces; at a Council meeting in November 1768, it was proposed that the Society’s new principal engraver, John Pye (b. 1746), produce an image of Hampton Court Palace, which would appear in 1769 as Plate 2.27. Pye’s work, however, was lackluster—and, by then, Lyttelton had died. Although Basire was rehired in 1769 as the Society’s principal engraver, no more prints would appear as part of the Vetusta Monumenta series for nearly a decade (see Plates 2.29-2.35).
Collectively, Plates 2.23-2.24, 2.25, 2.26, and 2.27 speak to Lyttelton’s investments in better understanding the history of English architecture: his most well-known and enduring antiquarian interest. In the context of the relative lull that occurred in the Society’s artistic activities following Vertue’s death, the comparatively rapid production of these prints also offers a correction to Evans’s declaration in her History of the Society of Antiquaries that “Charles Lyttelton was never an active man” (1956, 142). Evans finds that Lyttelton’s “[f]ailing health and public duties prevented him from frequent attendance at the Antiquaries meetings” (1956, 131). Although Lyttelton often missed the Society’s weekly meetings in the months of May and June, he was otherwise in the President’s chair consistently and—as his engagement with source materials for Plates 2.23-2.24 and 2.25 especially suggests—very actively involved in the work of the Society right up until his death; Lyttelton’s presided over his last meeting as President of the SAL just two weeks before he died at the age of 54.
Contrary to Evans’s insistence that Lyttelton and his cohort were “more polished” but “less in touch with reality” than earlier antiquaries, Lyttelton’s activities as President suggest that he was very much a pragmatist and eager to fortify the Society’s status as an institution (Evans 1956, 131). Upon assuming the Presidency, for example, Lyttelton immediately undertook the task of “putting [the Society’s] Finances…upon a proper Footing, by making the Recovery of the Arrears thereof more sure and easy for the future; and providing against an Extension of the Exorbitant Number of Defaulters upon their Books, by some prudent Regulations concerted, for collecting the Annual Payments of the Members, who are not regular in their Attendance” (SAL Minutes IX.387). A year later and at the behest of the SAL’s Council, Lyttelton reported that he had given a copy “of the Society’s Monumenta Vetusta [sic]” along with a “Book of Coins, elegantly bound” to George III, both of which “were very graciously received”—another indicator that Lyttelton was eager to elevate the reputation and visibility of the Society’s work (X.78). In 1767, Lyttelton encouraged members of the SAL to propose designs for “a Common Seal to be made Use of in all the publick Acts of the Society and Council; a Thing much wanted, but wch required Deliberation and Nicety in the selecting a fit Emblem for the Device” (411). As President, Lyttelton also oversaw the expulsion of Emanuel Mendes da Costa (1717-1791) from the Society’s membership in 1768, following the discovery that da Costa had embezzled money from the Royal Society (511). Lyttelton was himself a member of the Royal Society where he explored his interest in fossils, publishing two short papers about the subject in the Philosophical Transactions (Nurse 2004). As President of the SAL, Lyttelton also presented “a copy of the Prints and other Publications of [the SAL] to the Royal Society” in 1765, fulfilling a mandate voted on by the membership in May of the previous year (SAL Minutes IX.424). He ensured that the Royal Society received the copies of Plates 2.23-2.24 (depicting Richmond Palace), too, when they were ready in 1766 (X.145).
Lyttelton, then, was hardly inactive as President of the SAL, and his efforts on behalf of the Society preceded his presidency. Lyttelton’s antiquarian sensibilities appear to have taken hold at a remarkably young age; at Eton College in the 1720s, Lyttelton completed Horace Walpole’s (1717-1797) famed “triumvirate” with George Montagu (1713-1780). In 1731, at the age of 16, Lyttelton began inquiring into the history of Worcester, the county of his birth (Nurse 2004). He was officially elected into the SAL’s membership in 1740. In the course of his lifetime, Lyttelton would evince an interest in a wide range of medieval as well as classical antiquities, but he would become best known for his studies of English architecture. Beginning in the 1740s, Lyttelton collaborated with Smart Lethieullier (1701-1760), another member of the SAL, to commission and collect drawings of churches, and he shared his knowledge with other antiquaries, such as John Hutchins (1698-1773), William Borlase (1696-1772), and Andrew Ducarel (1718-1780), who gratefully acknowledged Lyttelton’s assistance and insights in their own publications (Cocke 1984, 362). Later antiquaries, including Treadway Nash (1724-1811) and Valentine Green (1739-1813), likewise drew on Lyttelton’s papers for their own publications (Nurse 2004).
Lyttelton took a particular interest in what’s now described as the English Romanesque style of architecture. Although Lyttelton’s important essays on subjects such as the history of bricks and Exeter Cathedral would be published posthumously, he regularly read papers on the subject at meetings of the SAL. As Thomas Cocke puts it, Lyttelton “promoted—almost created—the study of Romanesque on its own” during his lifetime (1984, 362). Denoted primarily as “Saxon” in the eighteenth century, English Romanesque architecture is distinguished primarily by its stony massiness and round arches (Cocke 1984, 360). Relying on a comparative observational method, Lyttelton recognized that Romanesque architecture was “distinct” from the “pointed Gothic style” of the architecture that would predominate in England after the twelfth century (Cocke 1984, 362). Whereas other antiquaries either failed to distinguish the Romanesque as a style in its own right or denigrated the Romanesque as inferior to both neoclassical architecture and the later Gothic, Lyttelton “delighted in the luxuriancy of what he took to be the Saxon imagination, which ran riot in the ornamentation of arches and capitals—the artistic manifestation of Saxon liberties” (Sweet 2004, 251).
By the time Lyttelton succeeded Hugh Willoughby (1713-1765) to the president’s chair, he had been a member of the Society for 25 years, and he had notably played an important role in helping the SAL to secure its royal charter in 1751 (Nurse 2004). It’s very likely, in fact, that the portrait shown in Plate 2.28 was produced to mark Lyttelton’s election as the Society’s president in 1765: a testament, perhaps, to the pride he felt upon the occasion. At the time Cotes painted Lyttelton’s portrait, Cotes was likewise ascending the height of his career; increasingly in demand as one of London’s most fashionable artists, Cotes vied with Joshua Reynolds in popularity and acclaim, and the two men collaborated in establishing the Society of Artists, with Cotes serving as its first director in 1765. Cotes was renowned for his pastel techniques, which lent his portraits a characteristically colorful vibrance, and for the natural likeness he achieved in rendering his subjects (Johnson 1976).
Meanwhile, James Watson—the engraver of Plate 2.28—succeeded fellow Irishman James Macardell in 1765 as Reynolds’s principal engraver (Clayton and McConnell, 2008). Like Cotes, Watson was celebrated for his portraiture and well-known for the “delicacy and finish” of his mezzotint engravings (Goodwin 1904, 73). Lyttelton’s personal accounts reflect that he commissioned Jacques-François Blondel (1705-1774) to produce an engraving of his finished portrait in 1766, shortly after Cotes had completed painting it.1 In the Blondel engraving—only one impression of which has been traced, indicating that it may have been designed exclusively for private use—an image of the Lyttelton coat of arms appears below the portrait along with an inscription denoting Lyttelton’s status as both the Bishop of Carlisle and the President of the SAL. Watson preserved these inscriptions but Latinized them in his own engraving of the portrait for Vetusta Monumenta.
When Lyttelton assumed the presidency of the SAL, Walpole snipped—despite his and Lyttelton’s early friendship, which had cooled substantially in the years following their time together at Eton—that “[t]he Antiquarian Society have got Goody Carlisle for their President, and I suppose she will sit upon a Saxon chalkstone till the return of King Arthur” (Walpole 1765, 148). Lyttelton’s tenure as president, however, was lamentably short-lived, and members of the Society appear to have been genuinely grieved by his death. At the first meeting of the Society in 1769, the membership learned that “[t]hat during the Interval of their last meeting the [President’s] Chair became vacant by the Demise of the late Rt Revd. Charles Lord Bishop of Carlisle,” and that Jeremiah Milles (1714-1784) had been elected as Lyttelton’s successor. Milles proceeded to eulogize Lyttelton, confessing that he could hardly “repeat the Name of our most respectable and much lamented President, without paying that gratefull [sic] tribute to his Memory” (SAL Minutes XI.2). Milles celebrated Lyttelton’s “Study of Antiquity” and “especially that part of it which relates to the History and Constitution of these Kingdoms”; he singled out for particular praise Lyttelton’s travels to make “judicious Observations” in person of the antiquities that were to be found in “every County in England, and through many Parts of Scotland and Wales,” (SAL Minutes XI.3).
In Milles’s assessment, Lyttelton’s work formed the heart of the Society’s activities; not only did Lyttelton present “many valuable Papers” to members of the Society—both those he had written himself as well as those communicated to him by his correspondents—he also “act[ed] the Part of a judicious Commentator, and candid Critick, explaining, illustrating, and correcting, from his own Observations” the papers read by other members of the SAL (SAL Minutes XI.3-4). Milles maintained, too, that although Lyttelton’s “Station, and connection in the World” inevitably demanded “a considerable Part of his time,” his “Attention to the Business and Interests of the Society” never waned (4). Lyttelton’s “Doors,” in short, “were always open,” and Milles attributed the “present flourishing State of our Society” directly to Lyttelton’s influence (4). Milles’s eulogy for Lyttelton was published in the first volume of the Society’s official journal, Archaeologia, when it was released in 1770—along with two essays by Lyttelton.2
Lyttelton’s spirit of generosity was also exemplified by the substantial and “valuable bequest” he made to the SAL of manuscripts as well as printed books from his personal library, which included the “Lindsey Psalter”—a thirteenth-century prayer book featuring “perhaps the most dazzling example of early Gothic style as practiced in England” (Melikian 2007). One treasure, however, does not fully convey the scope of the material that Lyttelton left to the SAL, which necessitated rearranging the Society’s rooms at Chancery Lane (Evans 1956, 161).3 By April of 1769, the library—now dominated by Lyttelton’s bequest—was open for members to use on Wednesday and Friday mornings (Evans 1956, 161). The Council also imposed a one-year moratorium on borrowing any of the materials, but beginning in 1770, members could borrow “manuscripts” so long as they left a collateral bond worth £100 guaranteeing that they would be returned (Evans 1956, 161).
Plate 2.28, therefore, commemorates Lyttelton’s efforts on behalf of the SAL as well as his generous bequest. Neither the regular meeting minutes nor the Council minutes appear to indicate the exact timing of the decision to commission Watson’s engraving of Cotes’s portrait, but the decision must have been made relatively shortly after Lyttelton’s death. The Society’s Council had what they deemed to be an acceptable proof of the engraving in hand by 2 January 1770 (SAL Council Minutes I.187); a month later, the Council moved to provide prints of Lyttelton’s portrait to members of the SAL, the Royal Society, and Lyttelton’s family—and to offer additional prints for general sale (190-91). Milles was pleased to report at the general SAL meeting on 22 February 1770 that “the Mezzotinto Print of Bp. Lyttelton, late President of this Society, executed by an Order of Council” would be ready within the week to be delivered to all members of the SAL as well as offered for sale to the public at the cost of five shillings each (SAL Minutes XI.249). As the minutes attest, the engraving was a “Testimony of this Society’s Esteem, Gratitude and Respect for the Memory of that great and good Man, and of his valuable Benefaction at his Death” (249).
The print itself captures these sentiments of “esteem, gratitude, and respect” by portraying Lyttelton in a genial, affable light. Compared to the Blondel engraving of Cotes’s portrait, Watson’s mezzotint is notably softened and muted. The tone achieved by Watson’s gradations of gray present a vision of Lyttelton that is at once more sumptuous and more welcoming than Blonde’s more strident reliance on contrasts between black and white; the difference can especially be seen in how both engravers have rendered Lyttelton’s robes. Watson has likewise relaxed the expression on Lyttelton’s face. In Blondel’s engraving, Lyttelton seems almost to scowl as he turns away from the book primly held on his lap and looks to the right in what might be described as a pinched, even disappointed, look of bored condescension. In Watson’s engraving, however, Lyttelton seems almost to smile as he looks to the left, as if he’s pleasantly lost in thinking about the book on his lap, which is depicted more thoroughly in Watson’s version as a book not of printed pages, but of bound and uneven manuscript leaves. Watson’s engraving invites its viewers to imagine that Lyttelon’s reading has led him to look outside—subtly staging the kind of observational and comparative antiquarianism for which Lyttelton was and remains most well-known. Lyttelton, in other words, seems as if he is looking at a monument just outside of the portrait’s frame, which viewers might presume relates to the book on his lap. Whether Watson based his engraving on Blondel’s or on Cotes’s portrait—that is, whether he reversed or realigned the direction of Lyttelton’s gaze—Plate 2.28 is arranged so that Lyttelton seems to look back at the prints that precede his own commemorative portrait in Vetusta Monumenta: a fitting gesture acknowledging Lyttelton’s prominence in the Society’s history and his important contributions to the history of English architecture, both as a scholar in his own right and as an institution-builder who facilitated the contributions of others.
 John Nichols published an additional engraving of Cotes’s portrait of Lyttelton in 1818: this one by Philip Audinet (1766-1837), in the third volume of his Illustrations of the Literary History of Eighteenth Century (Nichols 1817-1858, 3.313).
 The Council Minutes report that the decision to include Milles’s eulogy for Lyttelton in the first issue of Archaeologia was made on 21 February 1770 (SAL Council Minutes I.191). The two essays by Lyttelton are his “Dissertation…on the Antiquity of Brick Buildings” and his “Accoun of New Years Gifts presented to Queen Elizabeth, 1584-5.”
 Following his eulogy, Milles itemized Lyttelton’s bequest (SAL Minutes XI.5-8).
Clayton, Timothy and Anita McConnell. 2008. “James Watson.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cocke, Thomas. 1984. “Rediscovery of the Romanesque.” In English Romanesque Art, 1066-1200, edited by George Zarnecki, Janet Holt, and Tristram Holland, 360-66. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Evans, Joan. 1956. A History of the Society of Antiquaries. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Goddard, Richard. 2016. “Drawing on Copper”: The Basire Family of Copper-Plate Engravers and their Works. [Maastricht, Netherlands:] Datawyse / Universitaire Pers Maastricht.
Goodwin, Gordon. 1904. Thomas Watson, James Watson, Elizabeth Judkins. London: A. H. Bullen.
Johnson, Edward Mead. 1976. Francis Cotes. Oxford: Phaidon.
Lyttelton, Charles. 1765. A Sermon Preached Before the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in the Abbey church of Westminster, on Wednesday, January 30, 1765. Being The Day appointed to be observed as the Day of the Martyrdom of King Charles I. London.
Melikian, Souren. 2007. “The Society of Antiquaries: Reshaping the Way History is Recorded.” The New York Times. October 12, 2007.
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Nurse, Bernard. 2004. “Lyttelton, Charles.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Sweet, Rosemary. 2004. Antiquaries: The Discovery of the Past in Eighteenth-Century Britain. London: Hambledon and London.
Walpole, Horace. 1765. “To Montagu, Tuesday 19 February 1765.” In The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence (1937-1983), edited by W.S. Lewis, 10.147-48. New Haven: Yale University Press.