X403 • 3 semester units in Classics
From the Elgin marble’ to Grecian urns, Greek art is greatly admired, and with good reason. It has also been highly sought after by collectors. Examine the activities and attitudes of British collectors of classical antiquities during the Enlightenment, and explore the wider influence of this process up until the present day. Study the types of ancient artworks that were the object of collectors' interest, notably inscriptions, vases, architecture and sculpture, and, in so doing, attempt to make the beauty of Greek art more readily accessible and comprehensible.
First, focus on the establishment of the classical collections of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, whose refit was completed in 2010. This brings you into contact with some extraordinary characters—the likes of Arundel, Roe, Pomfret, Ashmole, Tradescant, among others—who went to remarkable lengths to acquire and exhibit their collections.
Turning next to ceramics, analyze Greek vases; how they were produced and how they developed stylistically. Then, you begin the study of the British diplomat, connoisseur and archaeologist Sir William Hamilton, whose fine collection of Greek vases and antiquities was sold to the British Museum and helped to generate English interest in the art of the classical civilizations. You also study the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as the personalities of Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson.
"Pleasure is a serious business," and as you shift your focus principally onto dilettanti, amateurs, virtuosi, antiquaries and connoisseurs, Greek architecture becomes your next area of interest. In particular, you engage with the Society of Dilettanti, and the important contributions of James "Athenian" Stuart, Nicholas Revett and Richard Payne Knight.
Finally, turning to architectural sculpture, explore the activities of Charles Robert Cockerell at Aigina and Bassai, and Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, on the Acropolis in Athens, studying their influence on the British, Ashmolean, Munic, and New Acropolis Museums, and addressing the controversial issues surrounding the collecting and ownership of antiquities. Throughout the course, youencounter a wide range of works of art—from the Parthenon frieze to the cartoons of Gilray—and look at all these various aspects through illustrated presentations supplemented by handouts of text and of relevant images.
It would be helpful but by no means essential to have done some precourse reading, perhaps selecting one or two from the following books and/or websites:
Berry, J., The Complete Pompeii, London, 2007
Jenkins, I., The Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum, London, 2007
Osborne, R., Archaic and Classical Greek Art, Oxford, 1998
Spawforth, A., The Complete Greek Temples, London, 2006.
Woodford, S., An Introduction to Greek Art, London, 1986
The class takes three trips: to the British Museum, London; Sir John Soane’s Museum, London; and neoclassical Cambridge, including the Fitzwilliam Museum and various other buildings typical of that style.
You are expected to write one paper of 1,500 to 2,000 words and to deliver one oral presentation.
15% course participation
25% in-class presentation
60% final paper
Stephen Kershaw, B.A. (Hons), Ph.D., is a tutor in the Department for Continuing Education, University of Oxford. He is the author of A Brief Guide to the Greek Myths (Constable and Robinson, 2007).