Syon House

For those who do not have convenient access to a copy of Ruth Guilding’s Owning the Past: Why the English Collected Antique Sculpture, 1640-1840 (Yale University Press, 2014), as referred to in the Comments section, this is what it tells one about the genesis of the sculpture collection at Syon. The house was inherited in 1749 by Lady Elizabeth Seymour, the only daughter of Algernon Seymour, 7th. Duke of Somerset, who had been responsible for the landscaping of the grounds of his house at Marlborough, including putting a grotto into the prehistoric Mound. Together with her husband, Hugh Smithson, she took the name of Percy and, in 1766, he became Duke of Northumberland. In 1760, they commissioned James and Robert Adam to do up the house in the latest Roman antique manner, based on Robert’s deep knowledge of Roman antiquity, prompted not so much by his friendship with Winckelmann, who he had never met, as Piranesi, as well as being much influenced by his interest in the archaeological remains of Spalatro (now Split). Since it was not straightforward to acquire original sculptures in Rome, they commissioned replicas, including a cast of the Apollo Belvedere by Joseph Wilton. I’m not sure that this in any way invalidates Mary Beard’s conjunction of Winckelmann, Robert Adam and Syon in her second programme, merely demonstrates that the eighteenth-century passion for antiquity was longstanding and that Robert Adam, like Mary Beard, belonged to the admirers of things Roman, as opposed to Winckelmann, who liked (and idealised) the Greeks.

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