- Museum number
Gold finger-ring set with a cornelian intaglio of a profile portrait of George John, 2nd Earl Spencer. Engraver's mark.
- Production date
Height: 2.40 centimetres (intaglio)
- Curator's comments
- Text revised from catalogue of the Hull Grundy Gift (Gere et al 1984) no 831:
Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1791. This portrait of the 2nd Earl is said by family tradition to have been commissioned from Marchant by the Spencer family at the time of the marriage of the 2nd Earl Spencer to Lavinia, eldest daughter of Charles, 1st Earl of Lucan, in 1781. Marchant made portrait intaglios of both Lord and Lady Lucan at about this date. Nathaniel Marchant was described by King (1872) as a pupil of Edward Burch (p.447). He spent the period from 1772 to 1788 working in Rome. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1781 to 1811 and was elected an ARA in 1791. He was named 'Sculptor of Gems' to HRH Prince of Wales in 1789 and 'Chief Engraver to His Majesty' in 1799. In 1792 he issued his catalogue of a hundred of his gems, accompanied by a set of casts. See also exhibition catalogue, 'The Most Beautiful Statues' (Haskell & Penny 1981b, pp.59-61). (Charlotte Gere)
Text from Ward, Cherry et al, 'The Ring from Antiquity to the Twentieth Century,' London 1981, pl.256.
This portrait intaglio of Earl Spencer, engraved MARCHANT, was cut by the famous English engraver Nathaniel Marchant (1739-1816) at the time of Spencer's marriage in 1781 to Lavinia, daughter of the Earl and Countess of Lucan. The portrait was exhibited in London at the Royal Academy in 1791.
This gem was not included in the Catalogue of 100 Impressions from Gems engraved by Nathaniel Marchant published in 1792.
See also Gertrud Seidmann, 'Nathaniel Marchant, Gem Engraver, 1739-1816', Walpole Society vol. 53, 1987, no. 151, where it is suggested that the gem is more likely to have been cut shortly before it was exhibited at the Royal Academy, London in 1791.
Text from Seidmann 1987: no 151. Fig. 152.
A portrait is said to have been commissioned from Marchant at the time of the marriage of Lord Althorp, as he was styled before his father's death in 1783, to Lavinia Bingham, daughter of Baron Lucan in the Irish peerage, later Earl of Lucan. This is probable, as Marchant found generous friends and patrons in the Lucans and their connections; but it is unlikely to have been the gem under discussion, which portrays the sitter at an age of considerably more than twenty-three. It is more likely to have been engraved shortly before being shown at the Royal Academy Exhibition of 1791 as 'Portrait of a nobleman' (no. 340, identified as Spencer in Anderton's garnerized collection of Royal Academy catalogues, Royal Academy) and fits comfortably into the series of Whig portraits created in the 1790s. Marchant knew Lord Spencer well, for he was a frequent visitor to Spencer's houses in London and the country, went to the Nore in his party when he was First Lord of the Admiralty, was apparently asked to design a Nelson medal, and was commissioned to engrave Spencer's Garter 'George' on an onyx sent to him by Tzar Paul I of Russia in 1799 (see St George, Seidmann no. 123). Lucans and Spencers owned a number of works by Marchant; on Lord Spencer's commissions see Homer (63) and portrait of William Windham (153). Although Marchant could hardly have competed in the sale-room with Lord Spencer, whose rent-roll was said to be over forty thousand pounds a year, the artist, who owned some fine early books, must have appreciated the tastes of his host, a noted bibliophile who built up a magnificent library at Althorp. This portrait probably existed in more than the two versions known at present; it was included by Paoletti in his collection of reproductions after Marchant, although he could attach no name to it (Collection of Paoletti Moulds, Museo di Roma, Book V.14, see Biroli) and a cast was mounted with the 100 Impressions in the frames at Stourhead, see Pylades and Orestes (99). It received an even wider distribution in the form of a print by Bartolozzi, published in 1792, the year Marchant's 100 Impressions finally appeared. O'Donoghue, Freeman, Catalogue of Engraved Portraits preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, London 1908-1925, IV, p. 160, 6, 7. (not from a cameo, as stated there, but from this intaglio).
One replica, on a brown sard, 25x20, similarly signed, in a gold mount, is in the Devonshire Collection at Chatsworth, no. M4. This is perhaps the portrait Marchant showed to Farington on 30 May 1796 who pronounced it 'very like', though he may be speaking of an impression. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was one of Spencer's sisters; she figures in Marchant's list of subscribers, as does his second sister, Henrietta, Countess of Bessborough. The Duchess's great friend and successor as her husband's second wife, then Lady Elizabeth Foster, a daughter of Marchant's patron, the Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol, who in her years of widowhood moved to Rome where she financed excavations of antiquaries, was also a subscriber.
If there was indeed a marriage portrait, it is astonishing that no companion portrait of Lady Althorp should have been engraved; this would still be surprising if the portrait were later, as Marchant was devoted to Lady Spencer, to whom he bequeathed the antique ring he used to wear.
- On display (G47/dc3)
- Exhibition history
2001-2002 Oct 17-Jan 20, London, Courtauld Institute of Art, Art on the Line: The Royal Academy exhibitions at Somerset House 1780-1836
1999 17 Sep-10 Oct, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, The Emperor in the Ring Stone
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Hancocks & Co, 1 Burlington Gardens, London W1. Original invoice for £1500 to Anne Hull Grundy dated 21.9.1978, described as 'Ring: Intaglio of George John, 2nd Earl Spencer signed by Marchant. (Earl Spencer married daughter of 1st Earl of Lucan)'.
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: HG.817 (masterlist number)