W.H. Worthington, Bust of Charles Townley, an engraving for The Gentleman's Magazine

England, AD 1812

The celebrated collector and Trustee of The British Museum

Charles Townley (1737-1805) was born into a wealthy Catholic family and educated abroad. In 1768, after ten years of improving his country estate, Townley set off on the first of three Grand Tours to Italy. He soon became an enthusiastic collector of antiquities.

Returning to England, Townley bought a fine house in Park Street in Westminster and filled it with his collection of classical sculpture. He continued to collect, mainly through his agents in Rome: Gavin Hamilton and Thomas Jenkins. Many grand people visited Park Street to admire his collection of antiquities, which became the talk of London.

Townley became a Trustee of The British Museum in 1791, and on his death the Museum acquired his famous collection by an Act of Parliament. This was the Museum's first major acquisition of classical sculpture.

This engraving is of a marble bust of Townley by Joseph Nollekens (1737-1823), made in 1807 for Townley's uncle, John Towneley, who presented it to the Museum in 1813. It was displayed over the door of the Townley Gallery (demolished in 1846) and in 1847 was in the 'Gallery of Antiquities', part of Smirke's recently completed West Wing. By the early twentieth century it was displayed above one of the book presses in the Medal Room. It did not survive the wartime destruction of the Medal Room in 1941.

A similar bust by Nollekens is in the Department of Medieval and Modern Europe (registration number OA 10272). A further bust of Townley, in the posession of Lord O'Hagan, is on loan to Towneley Hall Gallery and Museum, originally the Lancashire home of Charles Townley (who dropped the first 'e' from his surname).

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More information


A. Dawson, Portrait sculpture, a catalogu (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)


Height: 250.000 mm
Width: 127.000 mm

Museum number

Archives TY 20/70


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