Edward Dodwell's approach to Ancient Greece offers a startling
contrast to the way in which enlightened collectors of recent
decades have been responding to artifacts from the Greek and Roman
The Western world is about to turn its back on a 600-year-old
tradition that molded the mind-set of its cultivated elites until
the last century.
How profound the attraction of ancient Greek culture was on the
European establishment is revealed in a brilliant book published in
conjunction with a British Museum show, "In Search of Classical
Greece," that ended last week. John Camp, the renowned American
archaeologist, describes in the book the passionate recording
campaign in which an Englishman, Edward Dodwell, accompanied by the
Italian artist Simone Pomardi, drew all the ancient monuments they
came across from 1805 to 1806.
Dodwell's approach to ancient Greece offers a startling contrast
to the way in which enlightened collectors of recent decades have
been responding to excavated artifacts from the Greek and Roman
world, as was made clear at the Bonhams auction of "Antiquities"
The story of Dodwell reads like an English novel of the Romantic
age. Having obtained a bachelor of arts degree from Cambridge
University in 1800 at age 22 or 23, he took a long trip to Greece a
year later. Soon after his return to England, he left the country
again, this time heading for Rome, which would be his home until his
death in 1832. The Englishman, who clearly belonged to the upper
class, took up his quarters at the Palazzo Doria. His marriage in
1816 to the daughter of Count Giovanni Giraud, a famous beauty in
Roman society, leaves no doubt about his social status.
But Dodwell was no gadfly in the style of P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie
Wooster. In his day, a top university education up to the bachelor's
of arts level usually implied immersion in ancient Greek and Latin
literature. In his account of Greek sites, "A Classical and
Topographical Tour Through Greece," published in 1819, the traveler
used 50 different ancient sources. Mr. Camp notes that in the diary
of his 1801 trip, young Dodwell quoted Tacitus in a manner that
reveals intimate familiarity with the Roman historian's text.
Yet the Briton was anything but a bookworm. His education had
included mastering the rudiments of drawing. Helped by Pomardi, who
was admired for his views of Rome, and progressing as he went on,
the Englishman brought back impeccably documentary images. He
evidently had hit it off with the Italian painter, who was his elder
by 20 years.
Kim Sloan, the British Museum curator of British drawings
preceding 1880, analyzes the watercolors reproduced in Mr. Camp's
book. She quotes the relevant passages in Dodwell's 1819 publication
and describes in detail the condition of the sites and monuments
then and now.
Dodwell's passion for ancient Greece comes across forcefully in
his notations. He vents his fury at witnessing the damage caused to
the Parthenon by Lord Elgin, who had just received an edict from the
Ottoman sultan. It left his lordship at liberty to rip off the
marble slabs carved in high relief, or "metopes," that crowned the
top of the structure.
These "were fixed in between the triglyphs [rectangular stone
blocks] as in a groove, and in order to lift them up it was
necessary to throw to the ground the magnificent cornice by which
they were covered," the traveler observed.
His denunciation is the more telling because Dodwell was an eager
collector. He came to own some 150 pieces of stone from monuments in
Greece picked up on the ground or dug up, plus 259 Egyptian pieces
and 602 Greek, Etruscan and Roman objects essentially bought in
Italy. The bulk of his collection, acquired after his death by King
Ludwig I of Bavaria, can be seen in the Staatliche Antikensammlung
in Munich -- barring objects destroyed by Allied bombing in World
War II. These tragically included the imposing archaic urn painted
with a frieze of lions bought by Dodwell at Mertese, near Corinth. …