James "Athenian" Stuart

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James Stuart
James Stuart as a child, self-portrait
Died(1788-02-02)2 February 1788
BuildingsInteriors Spencer House, London
Garden Buildings Shugborough Hall
All Saints' Church Nuneham House
James Stuart, architect, early miniature by Josiah Wedgwood, British Museum James Stuart, architect, early miniature by Josiah Wedgwood, British Museum.jpg
James Stuart, architect, early miniature by Josiah Wedgwood, British Museum

James "Athenian" Stuart (1713 – 2 February 1788) was a Scottish archaeologist, architect and artist, best known for his central role in pioneering Neoclassicism. [1]



Early life

Stuart was born in 1713 in Creed Lane, Ludgate Street, London, to a Scottish sailor who died when he was young. Proving a talented artist while his family was in poverty, he was apprenticed to a fan painter to support the family financially. However, in around 1742, he was able to travel to Italy (albeit on foot) for his artistic improvement, working there as a cicerone and a painter, learning Latin, Italian and Greek, and studying Italian and Roman art and architecture. There he produced his first major work, his illustrated treatise on the Egyptian obelisk of Psammetichus II within A. M. Bandini's De obelisco Caesaris Augusti, and met Nicholas Revett, a young East Anglian nobleman and amateur architect on his Grand Tour.

Naples and Greece

In 1748 Stuart joined Revett, Gavin Hamilton and the architect Matthew Brettingham the younger [2] on a trip to Naples to study the ancient ruins and, from there,they travelled through the Balkans (stopping at Pula) to Greece. Visiting Salonica, Athens, and an Ionic temple on the River Ilissus among others, they made accurate measurements and drawings of the ancient ruins.

Antiquities of Athens

Illustration from The Antiquities of Athens, 1762 Houghton Arc 705.5 - James Stuart, Antiquities of Athens.jpg
Illustration from The Antiquities of Athens, 1762

Stuart and Revett returned to London in 1755 and published their work, The Antiquities of Athens and Other Monuments of Greece, in 1762. There were more than five hundred subscribers to its first volume and, although few of the subscribers were architects or builders, thus limiting its impact as a design sourcebook, it later helped fuel the Greek Revival in European architecture. [3] Its illustrations were among the first of their kind and the work was welcomed by antiquaries, scholars, and gentleman amateurs. William Hogarth satirised its fastidious depiction of architectural detail in his 1761 engraving Five Orders of Periwigs .

In April 1758 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society as "Mr James Stuart of Grosvenor Square History painter and Architect, eminent in his profession and who hath particularly applyed himself to the study of antiquity, during a long residence in Greece and Italy, as will appear in a work now publishing by him in four volumes in folio, entitled, "The antiquities remaining in the city of Athens and province of Attica"." [4]

Work in England

On his return to England, he also acted as an interior designer, medal designer, and architect, creating the first tripod in metal since antiquity, [5] building and remodelling country houses, garden buildings, and town houses (e.g. Shugborough Hall, Hagley Hall, Spencer House, and the Temple of the Winds), creating book illustrations, designing commemorative medals and tomb monuments, and being appointed Surveyor to the Royal Naval Hospital, Greenwich.

Later life

Stuart c.1788 JamesStuart2.jpg
Stuart c.1788

Stuart's more and more chaotic business practices (possibly to be explained by his chronic gout and deteriorating health, and to his coming into a private fortune – a contemporary report on his death in The World stated that "unexpectedly to most people, [he] has died possessed of much property, chiefly on mortgage on new buildings in Marybone") attracted adverse comment from the late 1760s. By the early 1780s, his devoting the afternoons not to business but to drinking (sources state he "regularly frequented a public-house on the north side of Leicester-fields, of the sign of the feathers" and that "his face declared him to be fond of what is called friendly society" – J. T. Smith, Nollekens and his Times, 1929, 27) and playing skittles was even commented on by his friends. Enemies even accused him of 'Epicurianism' in reference to his alcoholism and recent second marriage at 67 to Elizabeth, a maidservant of 20, by whom he had five children, of whom two died before him. (His first marriage had been to someone described in different places as his housekeeper and as a 'Grecian lady'.)

Stuart continued to work on and off, and returned to working on The Antiquities of Athens, though it was still unfinished at the time of his death in 1788, with the final volume only appearing in 1816, when the Greek Revival it had fostered was starting to become the dominant force in British architecture. He died suddenly on 2 February 1788 at his house on the south side of Leicester Square, London and was buried in the crypt of nearby St Martin-in-the-Fields.

His London buildings played some part in popularising Neo-classical taste. The Antiquities of Athens allowed architects, sculptors and designers in Europe and America for the first time to use Neo-Classicism without having to go to Greece themselves and acted as a sourcebook for them for the next two centuries. The first retrospective on his life and works was held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in early 2007. [1]


Related Research Articles

Classicism Art movement and architectural style

Classicism, in the arts, refers generally to a high regard for a classical period, classical antiquity in the Western tradition, as setting standards for taste which the classicists seek to emulate. In its purest form, classicism is an aesthetic attitude dependent on principles based in the culture, art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome, with the emphasis on form, simplicity, proportion, clarity of structure, perfection, restrained emotion, as well as explicit appeal to the intellect. The art of classicism typically seeks to be formal and restrained: of the Discobolus Sir Kenneth Clark observed, "if we object to his restraint and compression we are simply objecting to the classicism of classic art. A violent emphasis or a sudden acceleration of rhythmic movement would have destroyed those qualities of balance and completeness through which it retained until the present century its position of authority in the restricted repertoire of visual images." Classicism, as Clark noted, implies a canon of widely accepted ideal forms, whether in the Western canon that he was examining in The Nude (1956), or the literary Chinese classics or Chinese art, where the revival of classic styles is also a recurring feature.

Greek Revival architecture Architectural movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries

The Greek Revival was an architectural movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, predominantly in Northern Europe and the United States. It revived the style of ancient Greek architecture, in particular the Greek temple, with varying degrees of thoroughness and consistency. A product of Hellenism, it may be looked upon as the last phase in the development of Neoclassical architecture, which had for long mainly drawn from Roman architecture. The term was first used by Charles Robert Cockerell in a lecture he gave as Professor of Architecture to the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 1842.

Neoclassicism Western cultural movement inspired by ancient Greece and Rome

Neoclassicism was a Western cultural movement in the decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that drew inspiration from the art and culture of classical antiquity. Neoclassicism was born in Rome largely thanks to the writings of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, at the time of the rediscovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum, but its popularity spread all over Europe as a generation of European art students finished their Grand Tour and returned from Italy to their home countries with newly rediscovered Greco-Roman ideals. The main Neoclassical movement coincided with the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment, and continued into the early 19th century, laterally competing with Romanticism. In architecture, the style continued throughout the 19th, 20th and up to the 21st century.

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  1. 1 2 Victoria and Albert Museum (Spring 2007). "James 'Athenian' Stuart, 1713–1788". Archived from the original on 16 June 2011. Widely recognised for his central role in pioneering Neo-Classicism, Stuart developed his influential career across various fields: interior decoration, sculpture, furnishing, metalwork and architecture.
  2. Anderson, Stanford (1994). "Matthew Brettingham the Younger, Foots Cray Place, and the Secularization of Palladio's Villa Rotonda in England". Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians . 53 (4): 428–447. doi:10.2307/990911. JSTOR   990911. The younger Matthew Brettingham (1725–1803) ... In 1748, he visited Naples in the company of Gavin Hamilton, James Stuart, ...
  3. Glancey, Jonathan (27 March 2007). "Greece is the Word". The Guardian . London. Retrieved 16 June 2007. He was the Indiana Jones of his day, dodging murderers to pull off astounding architectural coups.
  4. "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  5. Victoria and Albert Museum (Spring 2007). "Tripod perfume burner for Wentworth Woodhouse". Archived from the original on 12 June 2008. This tripod perfume burner is one of Stuart's most important and enduring designs. It is based on his sketch of a reconstruction of the tripod that once stood on the roof of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens. On his return to London, Stuart revived this tripod form, which appears as a decorative object in his drawings dating from as early as 1757.
  6. Stuart, James; Revett, Nicholas (4 August 2006). Customer review of The Antiquities of Athens and other Monuments of Greece.. ISBN   1402159846. According to the publisher "This Elibron Classic Replica Edition is an unabridged facsimile of the edition published in 1837 by Charles Tilt, London." However, where the original is a folio size this reproduction is reduced to an octavo size measuring only 21 x 13.5 x 1.75 centimetres. The text is still very large but the drawings – reduced to a quarter of the original size – suffer: the linework is so fine that it disappears in places and most of the dimensions are unreadable. This paperback has glued binding and 104 pages. The original publication was in 3 volumes. This edition seems to be incomplete. It is certainly missing the full page drawings of the metopes that I recall from my university's first edition.