Portrait plaque of Sir William Hamilton, by Josiah Wedgwood I and Thomas Bentley

Etruria factory, Staffordshire, England, around AD 1774

Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803) was the British Envoy to the Kingdom of Naples and the Two Sicilies from 1764 to 1798. He was a renowned collector of antiquities as well as a student of the natural world. His collection of antiquities included objects from the recently excavated ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which he published.

The first part of Hamilton's collection was offered to the British Parliament for sale in 1772, and entered the collections of the British Museum for the then outstanding sum of £8,400. The British Museum subsequently received generous gifts of antiquities from Hamilton.

Hamilton's collections of vases also proved a great influence on the partnership of Josiah Wedgwood I (1730-95) and Thomas Bentley (1730-80). Their firm profited greatly from the production of vases in the antique manner.

In 1772, the sculptor Joachim Smith modelled three portraits of Hamilton for Wedgwood. This portrait is made of an unglazed stoneware composition that Wedgwood developed from 1770, which he called 'white terracotta biscuit'. Another portrait of Hamilton in the classical style was created in 1779 for the series of large-scale portrait plaques of renowned scientists, doctors and statesmen of the time (see Related Objects and Information).

Find in the collection online

More information


K. Sloan (ed.), Enlightenment. Discovering the (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)

I. Jenkins and K. Sloan, Vases and Volcanoes: Sir Willi (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)


Length: 7.000 inches

Museum number

P&E MLA 1887,3-7,I.68


Gift of Sir A.W. Franks


Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore