The Portland Vase, £5.00
Letter to Charles Townley from Gavin Hamilton, describing excavations in Italy
About AD 1771
Reporting on the excavations at Monte Cagnolo in Rome
In this thirteen-page letter to Charles Townley, Gavin Hamilton (1723-98), the Scottish painter, excavator and antiquities dealer, describes his recent excavations in Italy. The excavations included those carried out at Monte Cagnolo in Rome, where several pieces of sculpture now in the Townley collection were unearthed. The excavations turned up one of his more famous pieces, a sculpture of two greyhounds now on display in The British Museum's Wolfson Galleries (Room 84).
Here, Hamilton writes, 'Your group of a bitch caressing a dog is a masterpiece of its kind, the companion being a dog caressing a bitch is now much admired in the Museo Clementino.' There were other sculptures of dogs from this site, prompting Hamilton to remark 'It is somewhat peculiar that so many dogs should be found in a place which still preserves the name of Monte Cagnolo [literally: Dog Hill]'
This letter is one of more than 120 written to Charles Townley by Gavin Hamilton over a period of twenty-five years.
M. Caygill, The British Museum A-Z compani (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)
B.F. Cook, The Townley Marbles (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)
A. Wilton and I. Bignamini (eds.), Grand Tour: the lure of Italy (London, Tate Gallery Publishing, 1996)