A Speculative Grand Tour Excavation: Aubrey Beauclerk, Thomas Brand and Thomas Jenkins at Centocelle

By Yarker, Jonathan; Hornsby, Clare | British Art Journal, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

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 (3) Using a number of recently discovered documents, including a volume of unpublished drawings recording the sculpture acquired by Beauclerk in Italy, among the Townley collection in the British Museum, it has become possible to make a new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)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

'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. …

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