- Museum number
Design for a staircase with scenes from the story of Achilles; a quasi-diagrammatic layout showing three main walls, with a 'bust' of a philosopher and a military trophy, another with a military trophy, pilasters, medallion-heads of philosophers and urns in shell-topped niches, a third with a female 'statue' in a niche, Ulysses before Achilles and the daughters of Lycomedes, a ceiling with Thetis before Jupiter, a wall with the education of Achilles by Chiron and another showing Achilles dipped in the Styx
Pen and brown ink, with grey wash
- Production date
Height: 300 millimetres
Width: 433 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- This drawing was acquired as by James Thornhill and, according to Croft-Murray (report to Trustees 23.iv.1962), it shared a possible connection with the staircase design for Hanbury Hall, near Droitwich, Worcestershire, the only known instance of the use of the Achilles story by Thornhill. Despite having the same subject matter as the finished staircase design, Croft-Murray noted that the present drawing shows the staircase rising in flights to the right, whereas that at Hanbury rises to the left. Further inspection of the stylistic differences between this drawing and that of Thornhill’s other known works for Hanbury have recently brought the attribution of this work into question.
In their catalogue ‘The Spirit & Force of Art: Drawing in Britain 1600-1750’ (Lowell Libson & Jonny Yarker Ltd, London, 2018, pp.136), Lowell Libson, Jonny Yarker and Richard Stephens attribute the present drawing to Thomas Carwitham, a pupil of Thornhill. According to Libson et al. ‘Thornhill’s working method was to make his first thoughts about a project in rapid pen and ink sketches’ and ‘worked up several competing treatments of the same story’. A drawing by Thornhill in their catalogue (no. 48, ‘The Discovery of Achilles Amongst the Daughters of Lycomedes’), is certainly a study for the staircase at Hanbury Hall. This corresponds to a further developed pen and ink study that depicts the same composition in reverse, in the Cooper Hewitt Museum, in New York (inv. no.1900-1-1); both drawings demonstrate the rapid lines of Thornhill’s sketching process. The compositional and stylistic differences between the latter studies – as well as other works known to be by Thornhill in the BM collection – and the present drawing are strong enough to warrant the change of attribution of this work from James Thornhill to Thomas Carwitham.
Croft-Murray also noted the similarities in style between the present drawing and another in the BM collection (1957,0731.11) that depicts an altered version of the central section of the wall and was bought five years prior to the present drawing. The striking resemblance between these two works strongly suggests that Thomas Carwitham also drew 1957,0731.11.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- This item has an uncertain or incomplete provenance for the years 1933-45. The British Museum welcomes information and assistance in the investigation and clarification of the provenance of all works during that era.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number