- Museum number
Portrait plaque, jasper ware (stoneware) coloured blue with darker blue wash, large, of oval form with an applied moulded a white jasper ware bust in relief in profile to left of Sir William Hamilton, ambassador to court of Naples and antiquary; legend impressed; large black and gilt wood frame. Marked.
- Production date
- 1779 (modelled)
Length: 10.50 inches
- Curator's comments
Jenkins & Sloan 1996
Hamilton's was one of a series of large-scale portrait medallions produced in 1779. These were to have been issued in pairs, Sir William's matched with that of the French antiquary and collector the Comte de Caylus (1692-1765). The latter seems never in fact to have been made. Wedgwood's letter to his partner Thomas Bentley on the subject reads as follows:
Can you think of a better match than Count Caylus for our very good friend Sir Wm. Hamilton? We have bosted him out the size of Mr Banks, and I think a suit of eminent moderns, naturalists, amateurs etc., should be made of the same size and style, and so form a constellation, as it were, to attract the notice of the great, and illuminate every palace in Europe. Hamilton must have been flattered to have been included among the illustrious company thus honoured by Wedgwood and Bentley.
LITERATURE: Reilly and Savage, pp.182-3; Reilly, pp.84-5; Ramage, 1990b, p.75; Dawson, p.79, pl.7.
This is one of series portraits of eminent men included outstanding scientists and others - Sir William Hamilton, whose influence on British cultural life at this time was considerable; Sir, Joseph Banks himself a naturalist and President of the Royal Society for over four decades; and the American statesman Benjamin Franklin. All are shown in suitably noble style.
Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803) was, both directly and indirectly, one of the potter's chief mentors. Portraits of him had been produced as early as 1772 from a model supplied by Joachim Smith, and examples of these earlier, more realistic, versions of the sitter are in the British Museum collection (see registration nos. 1887,0307,I.68 and 1909,1201.127). This highly idealised but strongly modelled portrait produced in 1779 shows him without his full wig, elegant coat and Order of the Bath, which he received in 1772. A letter of 9 May 1779 (E.25-18890) from Wedgwood to his partner reveals that the potter had some misgivings about the quality of the jasper portrait: "Sr W(illia)m H(amilton)s Head is too large even for his big body - When that was dimimsh'd it became a monster." However, the portrait went into production and in another letter, written on 2 September 1779 (E.26-18920), Wedgwood asked Bentley if he could think of a better partner than Count Caylus, as a 'match' or companion for "our very good friend Sr. Wm. Hamilton". Caylus's 'Receuil d'Antiquités' was published in five volumes between 1752 and 1788, influencing Wedgwood's choice of decorative motifs through its large collection of engravings of classical antiquities. In the same letter Wedgwood continued: "We have bosted [sic] him out (Sr. Wm.) the size of Mr. Banks, & I think a suit of eminent moderns, naturalists, amateurs &c should be made of the same size, & stile, & so form a constellation, as it were, to attract the notice of the great, & illuminate every palace in Europe."
- On display (G47/dc2)
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number