A Speculative Grand Tour Excavation: Aubrey Beauclerk, Thomas Brand and Thomas Jenkins at Centocelle
Yarker, Jonathan, Hornsby, Clare, British Art Journal
Writing from Rome in August 76, Father John Thorpe marked to his patron Lord Arundell that 'the reigning passion for digging among ruins in search of antiquities has been unable to wait for the cool season'. (2) Thorpe was referring to a rash of speculative excavations begun around Rome and funded by British travellers. Licensed by the Vatican and organised by dealers in need of capital, the digs offered wealthy tourists the opportunity of acquiring antique sculpture straight from the ground, as well as providing a suitably 'classical' diversion during a stay in Rome. In July 1779 the antiquary Thomas Jenkins, funded by two British travellers, Aubrey Beauclerk and Thomas Brand, began just such an enterprise on an estate belonging to the Capitolo di S Giovanni in Laterano at Centocelle, four miles east of Rome. Despite recent scholarly interest in the provenance of antiquities acquired by travellers on the Grand Tour, the excavations at Centocelle have received little attention. (3) Using a number of recently discovered documents, including a volume of unpublished drawings recording the sculpture acquired by Beauclerk in Italy, among the Townley collection in the British Museum, it has become possible to make a new reconstruction of the cava and its finds, as well as shedding new light on the patronage of such speculative archaeology at the height of the Grand Tour. (4)
'A very pleasant speculation' (5)
Aubrey Beauclerk (1740-1802), later 5th Duke of St Albans, and his family travelled to Italy in 1778 ostensibly to save money. Beauclerk, the son of Lord Vere of Hanworth, had a modest income and at that date no expectation of the dukedom; although the trip might have been precipitated by the 'foolish affair,' reported between Beauclerk's wife, Lady Catherine--daughter of William, 2nd Earl of Bessborough--and Thomas Brand (1749-94). (6) Whatever the Beauclerks reason, Brand abandoned his wife and children to accompany them to Italy, arriving in Rome in 1778. Once there, Beauclerk quickly became one of the many travellers who relied on the dealer and financier Thomas Jenkins (1722-98), banking with him from January 1779. (7) in February lady Catherine organised a raffle on behalf of the sculptor Thomas Banks, whom Jenkins had petitioned Charles Townley to assist the previous April. (8) By March the same year, the Beauclerks and Thomas Brand are recorded staying at Castel Gandolfo in an apartment belonging to Jenkins. (9) Cornelia Knight, noted in her 1805 Description of Latinium or La Campagna di Roma: 'Vigna Margelli [sic], is a large house and vineyard, which formerly belonged to the Jesuits, it contains several good apartments, which are nearly filled up and let to different persons who wish to pass their 'Villaggiatura' here, the suite of rooms which formed the autumnal residence of the general of the order, was for many years inhabited by Mr Jenkins, whose acquisitions transmitted to England such numerous specimens of the classical ornaments of Italy.' (10)
The Beauclerks commemorated their stay at Castel Gandolfo by commissioning a conversation piece from the Polish painter, Franciszek Smuglewicz (1745-1807) (Pl 1). (11) The painting shows Beauclerk and Lady Catherine seated with three of their children, Aubrey, later 6th Duke of St Albans, their eldest daughter Catherine and younger daughter Caroline with a view of Castle Gandolfo and lake Albano in the background. Smuglewicz took evident delight in Lady Catherine's modish dress and perilous coiffure and in depicting the ruminant Beauclerk, who is shown, as William Cole described him, 'short necked and thick made'. (12) This style of stiff family group is typical of Smuglewicz and similar to two canvases he painted of the cicerone James Byres and his family, now in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh and Ford collection, London. (13) It was almost certainly Byres who arranged the commission. Smuglewicz had prepared drawings of Etruscan tombs for a publication on early Italian history that Byres proposed. Byres continued to employ him as a draughtsman and wrote to Charles Townley in March 1781, concerning drawings which Townley wanted of sculpture in the Museo Pio-Clementino, that Smuglewicz 'is the only person capable'. (14) As Francis Russell pointed out in 1978, the presence of a 'portrait of Mr Beauclerk' and a print of Lady Catherine Beauclerk in Byres's Roman house confirms their relationship. (15) To this can be added an unpublished payment from Beauclerk of 180 [pounds sterling] in June 1779 recorded in Byres's London bank account, most probably for the painting. (16)
It was whilst staying with Jenkins at Castel Gandolfo that Brand and Beauclerk became involved in financing a dig. Jenkins was the pre-eminent British dealer and antiquary operating in the Papal States, supplying travellers and connoisseurs from across Europe with marbles. To keep his famous museo in the Casa Celli on the Corso well stocked with sculpture, Jenkins financed explorations of known Roman sites in the hope of unearthing antiquities. Excavations were specifically licensed by the papal government and were permitted as a way of controlling archaeological activity and gaining revenue but most importantly as a way of ensuring access to fresh discoveries for the newly founded Vatican museum. (17) It was the museum's first curator, the Commissario delle Antichita e Cave di Roma Giovanni Battista Visconti, who was in charge of overseeing all excavations, advising the Camerlengo on the matter of licences to excavate and granting licences for export. (18)
To turn to the specifics of the Centocelle dig, the licence was granted by the Cardinale Camerlengo Carlo Rezzonico to Thomas Jenkins after an inspection of the site by Alessandro Bracci, the Assessore delle Antichita e Cave, who wrote a report on 2 April 1779. (19) The following day Visconti signed the request for the licence, which the Camerlengo ordered to be granted. (20) The estate where the dig was to take place was part of the extensive land holdings of the Chapter of S Giovanni in Laterano, the cathedral of Rome (Pl 2). It was also known as Tor S Giovanni, in reference to the medieval tower that was still visible in the 18th century. The word Centocelle is one of the toponyms that were originally popular names given by local inhabitants that refer to unspecified antique remains, here 'a hundred rooms'. It is on the east of the city, about four Roman miles outside the walls. Formerly the estate was situated within the boundaries of the large imperial property known as Ad Duas Lauros which was given to the Church in the 4th century, and it was known as the location of at least two imperial villas. (21) This area, now rich in archaeological remains, was heavily urbanised in the antique period with country villas and burial sites. Water was provided by the Alessandrino aqueduct, some arches of which are still preserved. The ruins of the villa known as dei Flavi Cristiani--the area in which excavation in the 18th century was possible--were still partially visible at the beginning of the 20th century, but in 1923 the area was flattened for the construction of the now defunct military airport of F Baracca. The site can be located on contemporary maps and was excavated on several occasions before and after the Jenkins/Beauclerk enterprise. (22)
By the 1770s Jenkins realised the expediency of gaining financial backing from rich travellers for his digs; in 1776 he opened an excavation at Quadraro, south of Rome on the Via Latina-Tusculana in partnership with William, Duke of Gloucester. (23) Beauclerk and Brand were natural partners, based at Castel Gandolfo during the summer months whilst travel was uncomfortable, wealthier than most of the younger Grand Tourists and, according to Jenkins, with a 'spirit for the arts'. (24) The level of their involvement is suggested by Beauclerk's payments to Jenkins. Having arranged credit with Jenkins's nephews, John and Joseph, on arrival in Rome, his London account records regular transfers to Rome, but two payments in October and November 1779 made directly to Thomas Jenkins and totalling 500 [pounds sterling] may well relate specifically to Centocelle. If so, it gives some idea of how much Beauclerk was contributing to the overheads of the enterprise and the cost of the sculpture he acquired. (25)
Beauclerk commemorated his involvement at Centocelle by commissioning a second conversation piece from Smuglewicz (Pl 3). The picture is now at Cheltenham Museum and Art Gallery and shows the tourists in familiar mode, arranged amongst antique ruins in the Roman Campagna, with Beauclerk and his wife seated on up-turned capitals. The landscape setting is typical for group portraiture of the period: tourists were often depicted against a backdrop of famous antique ruins, such as the Coliseum or the Campo Vaccino, while the foreground was often dressed with famous sculptures from Roman collections. But rather than being a generic scene, the location of Smuglewicz's portrait can now be precisely identified as Centocelle by the inclusion of the aqueduct of Alessandrino and the medieval Torre S Giovanni in the background. The …
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Publication information: Article title: A Speculative Grand Tour Excavation: Aubrey Beauclerk, Thomas Brand and Thomas Jenkins at Centocelle. Contributors: Yarker, Jonathan - Author, Hornsby, Clare - Author. Journal title: British Art Journal. Volume: 11. Issue: 3 Publication date: Spring 2011. Page number: 21+. © 2007 British Art Journal. COPYRIGHT 2011 Gale Group.
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