Exhibition | The Search for Ancient Ionia, 1764

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on February 24, 2021

William Pars, Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, 1764, pen and grey ink with watercolour and bodycolour and some gum arabic
(London: The British Museum)

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From the Soane Museum:

The Romance of Ruins: The Search for Ancient Ionia, 1764
Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, 3 March – 11 July 2021

Curated by Ian Jenkins

Produced in collaboration with the British Museum, this exhibition showcases a series of powerful and poetic watercolours made on an expedition to discover the ruins of ancient Ionia (modern Turkey) in 1764. The expedition, funded by the Society of Dilettanti, included artist William Pars, antiquary Richard Chandler, and architect Nicholas Revett.

The beauty and fame of the Ionian cities—part of the Greek world from the 8th century BC and ruined in antiquity—lived on in the writings of ancient commentators such as Herodotus and Strabo. This exhibition focuses on the published accounts of the expedition, produced in lavish volumes funded by the Society of Dilettanti, and the evocative images by the brilliant young artist William Pars, placing them in dialogue with the collections and architecture of Sir John Soane, who deeply admired ancient Greek architecture. Pars’ drawings record the classical ruins encountered in Turkey and Greece, and also the living landscape–its flora and fauna, and the customs, manners and dress of the people, bringing to life extracts from Chandler’s diary account. These images represent Enlightenment themes of travel and discovery and embody melancholy reflections on the passing of the great age of antiquity and the reduction of its monuments. They capture the spirit of Edward Gibbon’s reflection on the fall of civilizations and in so doing they portray the romance of ruins.

This exhibition has been made possible thanks to the generosity of David and Molly Lowell Borthwick. The accompanying catalogue has been kindly supported by the Society of Dilettanti Charitable Trust.

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Ian Jenkins, ed., The Romance of Ruins: The Search for Ancient Ionia, 1764 (London: Sir John Soane’s Museum, 2021), 240 pages, ISBN: 978-1999693244, £40.

The Romance of Ruins: The Search for Ancient Ionia, 1764 focuses on a series of highly finished watercolours by the brilliant young artist William Pars. These were based on sketches and drawings made on the spot during the Society of Dilettanti’s 1764 expedition to Ionia. This remarkable set of pictorial documents has never been fully published in spite of their beauty and cultural significance. The book includes an introduction by the exhibition’s curator, Ian Jenkins, Senior Curator at the British Museum; a series of essays by eminent scholars including Alastair Blanshard, J. Lesley Fitt, Jason M. Kelly, Philip Mansel, and Kim Sloan; and a catalogue of works in the exhibition.

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