Catalogue for the forthcoming exhibition The Romance of Ruins: The Search for Ancient Ionia, 1764.
Opening 19 May, 2021
The Romance of Ruins: The Search for Ancient Ionia, 1764 focuses on a series of highly finished watercolours by the brilliant young artist William Pars. These were based on sketches and drawings made on the spot during the Society of Dilettanti’s 1764 expedition to Ionia. These beautiful images from the collections of the British Museum represent Enlightenment themes of travel and discovery. They are powerful and poetic, embodying often melancholy reflections on the passing of the great age of antiquity and the reduction of its great monuments. They capture the spirit of Edward Gibbon’s reflection on the fall of civilizations and in so doing they portray the romance of ruins.
The 1764 expedition visited the ancient Greek cities that were founded on the coast of Western Anatolia (modern Turkey). This region was known to the ancients as Ionia and was part of the Greek world from the 8th century BC. Although ruined in antiquity the beauty and fame of the Ionian cities lived on in the writings of the ancient commentators such as Herodotus and Strabo. The images record the classical ruins encountered on the expedition and also the living landscape - its flora and fauna, and the customs, manners and dress of the people. They illustrate, with remarkable precision, the published diary account of the expedition by the antiquary Richard Chandler. The book also includes the Society of Dilettanti’s published volumes featuring accounts of the expedition from the collection of Sir John Soane’s Museum.
This remarkable set of pictorial documents has never been fully published in spite of their beauty and cultural significance. The book includes an introduction by the exhibition's curator, Ian Jenkins, Senior Curator at the British Museum, a series of essays by eminent scholars, and a catalogue of works in the exhibition.
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