Pompeii As Source And Inspiration
A Book Review

For many Wedgwood collectors, both in the past and currently, finding the source of designs produced by Josiah Wedgwood FRS is part of the collecting magic. We are seeing a bevy of new books regarding Josiah and his work these days, and of course, one of the most notable, hot off the French press, is the Taschen Publication of the reproduction of The Complete Collection of Antiquities from the Cabinet of Sir William Hamilton, by Pierre Francois Hugues D'Hancarville. This new book is large, heavy, expensive but oh, so gorgeous! One can purchase it from the WSNY, from Amazon.com, or from the publisher's website. A certain Wedgwood collector we all know and love viewed HER new copy wearing latex gloves so not to mar the fabulous color prints!

However, if one is not quite THAT excited about viewing Hamilton's fabulous encaustic vases, and one does have time and patience to search around a bit, one can find a nice lightweight, probably inexpensive tome entitled Pompeii As Source and Inspiration, Reflections in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Art. This soft cover book of 58 pages is the catalog of "An Exhibition Organized by the 1976-77 Graduate Students in the Museum Practice Program", April 7 to May 15, 1977 at The University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor. The cover will be familiar, from "an elegant series of dancing figures swathed in diaphanous draperies…". There are many black drawings and photos that will be familiar either in style or in actuality to Wedgwood collectors. Figure 21 is the oval plaque of the Tambourine player made for the 1851 London Exhibition, illustrated in Buten's Wedgwood Rarities, and on view in my home also I'm proud to add. There are many other specific Wedgwood examples illustrating the text.

This was an exhibit surrounding Pompeian design, which commonly defined decorative arts. Among the artists illustrated and discussed are such familiar names as Piranesi, Giovanni Ciprianni, William Hamilton and Antonio Zucchi. "These artists, equipped with a well stocked repertoire of Greek, Roman, Herculanean, and Pompeian designs, plied their craft and contributed largely to the neoclassic decor..."

One will find references to many Wedgwood now-standard design motifs such as Achilles, Hercules, Bacchus, Bacchanalian figures, of course the Muses and many more. The catalog states, "The more chaste and publicized images found on Greek and Roman coins, vases, cameos, and public architecture, all duly illustrated by Bernard de Montfaucon, William Hamilton, and others, dominated neoclassic design. Yet the motifs and designs which were used from Pompeii were imbued with a great richness, grace, and an undeniable charm." I think many Wedgwood collectors looking through their collections would concur.

This book is printed on thick cream stock and measures 11 inches by 8.25 inches. It was printed and bound by the University of Michigan Printing Services. The endpapers are black enlargements of what look like woodcuts of Vesuvius erupting alongside the water with ships, very reminiscent of the old Queen's Ware pattern "Landscape", pieces of which sport the erupting volcano scene. The decorative illustrations reproduced in this catalog are, for the most part, from Le Antichita de Ercolano Esposti.

The Contents consist of: A list of lenders to the exposition among which are the Buten Museum, Fogg Art Museum- Harvard, Henry Ford Museum, The Met, Art Museum of Princeton University, The V & A, A La Vieille Russie and the Virginia Museum to name just a few that might be familiar to our readers; Preface; Introduction (explaining the exhibit and participation by Museum students); Destruction and Discovery: A Brief History of Pompeii; Pompeii as Source; Pompeii as Inspiration; Visits to the Ruins (excerpts from letters and journals of 18th & 19th Century artists and writers including as diverse personalities as Walpole and Twain); Catalogue; Illustrations; and Bibliography. There are illustrations throughout.

Finding this great resource book might be a bit difficult, but one might try amazon.com, and of course the various internet and otherwise Rare Book Dealers. (On 11/2/04 I tried Amazon.com which had no entries, however, when I Googled the title, www.alibris.com has one interesting entry, a black and white "print on demand" reprint, which one can order for $29.95. The Art Museum at U of Michigan had a link and listed the title in their books for sale list, but the link looped right back to the Alibris link.) At any rate, there are plenty of excellent reviews floating around for THE new Hamilton masterpiece, but here is a little-known treasure that just might be the right thing for some of you who only want a small dose of design resource material!

Happy Hunting!

Leslie V. Canavan, November, 2004