Exhibition | The Ince Blundell Collection of Classical Sculpture

Posted in books, exhibitions by InternRW on July 11, 2016


Pantheon interior Blundell Hall

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Now on view at The Atkinson:

Pantheon: Roman Art Treasures from the Ince Blundell Collection
The Atkinson, Southport, 11 June 2016 — 12 March 2017

At the end of the eighteenth century local landowner Henry Blundell (1724–1810) of Ince Blundell Hall amassed a spectacular collection of antique sculpture to rival that of the British Museum. Housed in a scaled-down replica of the Pantheon at Rome, the collection included highly characterful Roman portraits, classical subjects, and elaborate funerary sculpture. The collection has remained virtually intact and this exhibition brings together many of its highlights. The story of Henry Blundell’s creation of the collection and the magnificent setting in which he housed it is a fascinating one and brings to life a powerful and driven personality who played a major role in the art market of the time.

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And due out in October from Liverpool University Press:

Elizabeth Bartman, The Ince Blundell Collection of Classical Sculpture (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016), 272 pages, ISBN: 978-1781383100, £75 / $125.

This book investigates the important antiquities collection formed by Henry Blundell (1724–1810) of Ince Blundell Hall outside Liverpool in the late eighteenth century. Consisting of more than 500 ancient marbles—the UK’s largest collection of Roman sculptures after that of the British Museum—the collection was assembled primarily in Italy during Blundell’s various ‘Grand Tour’ visits. As ancient statues were the preeminent souvenirs of the Grand Tour, Blundell had strong competition from other collectors, both British nobility and European aristocrats, monarchs, and the Pope. His statues represent a typical cross-section of sculptures that would have decorated ancient Roman houses, villas, public spaces, and even tombs, although their precise origins are largely unknown. Most are likely to have come from Rome and at least one was found at Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli.

Although most of the works are likely to have been broken when found, in keeping with the taste of the period they were almost all restored. Because of their extensive reworking, the statues are today not simply archaeological specimens but rather, artistic palimpsests that are as much a product of the eighteenth century as of antiquity. Through them we can learn what antiquarians and collectors of the eighteenth century—a key period in the development of scientific archaeology as a discipline—thought about antiquity. Steeped in the work of such writers as Alexander Pope, an educated Englishman like Blundell sought a visual expression of a lost past. Restoration played a major role in creating that visual expression, and the book pays close attention to the aims and methods by which the Ince restorations advanced an eighteenth-century vision of the ‘classical’. The image of antiquity formed at this time has continued to exert a profound effect on how we see these pieces today. The book will be the first to examine the ideal sculpture of Ince Blundell Hall in nearly a century. In so doing it aims to rehabilitate the reputations of a collector and collection that have largely been been ignored by both art-lovers and scholars in post-war Britain.

Elizabeth Bartman was President of the Archaeological Institute of America between 2011 and 2014 and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, London, as well as a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome. Elizabeth is also a Paul Mellon Visiting Senior Fellow at the Center for the Advanced Study of the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC and a Corresponding Member for the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut.