John Samuel Agar (1773–1858)
“Plate XXX”, 1808, printed by T Bensley, published by T Payne and J White in 1809 for the Society of Dilettanti in “Specimens of Ancient Sculpture, Aegyptian, Etruscan, Greek, and Roman”, London. According to Christie’s catalogue for Sale 7725, Lot 151, most of the illustrations in this two-volume book were made from the collections of Richard Payne Knight and Charles Townley. Christie’s also advise that there were 133 engraved plates in an edition of 200 copies.
Stipple engraving on chine-collé on thick laid paper lined on a fine washi paper support sheet.
A proof impression before lettering for publication.
Size: (sheet) 43.6 x 33.2 cm; (plate) 35.9 x 31 cm; (chine-collé) 29.7 x 23 cm
Condition: strong impression with margins. There are light surface marks and a minor spot of discolouration; otherwise the sheet is in good condition (i.e. there are no tears, holes, significant stains or foxing).
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This print has been sold
Even a quick glance at this superb study will leave little doubt that it has more than a little leaning towards neoclassical tastes. Such an assessment is correct, as this engraving was commissioned by the Society of Dilettanti that had taken on (according to what I have gleaned from Wikipedia) the full moral duty in London “to correct and purify the public taste of the country” by exposing the impressionable to artefacts from the classical world. Although the ambition of the society may seem a little haughty in its conceit, the outcome is that the society funded archaeological expeditions, Italian opera and, with the help of Sir Joshua Reynolds, helped to establish the Royal Academy, as well as publishing the two-volume book in which this print is featured. (Note that this impression is likely to be a proof before publication as it does not have the lettered details of the published prints).
Although the grand vision and mission of the Society of Dilettanti may not be served very well by Horace Walpole’s (1743) caustic comment: "...a club, for which the nominal qualification is having been in Italy, and the real one, [is] being drunk: the two chiefs are Lord Middlesex and Sir Francis Dashwood, who were seldom sober the whole time they were in Italy” (Jeremy Black (1985), “The British and the Grand Tour”, p.120), there were members of the Society that had a very interesting outlook on art. For example, one of the luminaries of the Society and a central figure in the publication of this book is Richard Payne Knight (1750–1824)—an authority on classical art and an active archaeologist. My understanding of Knight’s vision of art is that he saw paintings and music—and no doubt Agar’s print—as addressing “the organs of sight and hearing." By contrast, the art of poetry and sculpture appeal "entirely to the imagination and passions." More interesting with regard to this print, Knight had the curiously interesting belief that (again, according to Wikipedia) “artists should seek to reproduce primal visual sensations, not the mental interpretative processes which give rise to abstract ideas.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Payne_Knight). In other words, the neoclassicism of Agar’s print.
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