James ‘Athenian’ Stuart (1713–88)

Stuart began as a professional fan painter until, while visiting Italy in impoverished circumstances, he discovered both classical languages and classical antiquity. He studied art and architecture in Rome, and met Nicholas Revett, an amateur architect. Together they visited Naples, with painter Gavin Hamilton, travelling on under the auspices of the Society of the Dilettanti of London to the Balkans and Greece.

Seven years later, in 1755, Stuart and Revett returned to London and in 1762 published volume I of The Antiquities of Athens, with three more volumes appearing later, two after Stuart’s death. The work earned him the nickname ‘Athenian’ and created a desire for Greek revival architecture. As an invaluable source material for his designs, Josiah Wedgwood had volumes I and II in his library.

Stuart’s connection with the members of the Society of the Dilettanti led to numerous commissions, creating a strong rivalry with other neo-classical architects, Adam and Chambers.  Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire and the interiors of Spencer House in London were two of his notable achievements. He was one of the few distinguished architects to incorporate Wedgwood jasper plaques into his schemes and proved a good friend to both Josiah and Bentley; Stuart was among a number of men who composed epitaphs to Bentley on his untimely death and nominated Josiah for his Fellowship to the Royal Society in 1783. 

 

 

 

Images

James 'Athenian' Stuart, portrait medallion by Wedgwood, in white jasper, green dip, with white relief, 1785, © Wedgwood Museum

James 'Athenian' Stuart, portrait medallion by Wedgwood, in white jasper, green dip, with white relief, 1785
© Wedgwood Museum