Gavin Hamilton (1723 – 1798), the Scottish-born painter who spent most of his life in Italy, was one of the most prominent figures among the artists and collectors of 18th
-century Europe. Although he first went to Rome to further his career as a painter and pursue his interests in the Antique, he soon found himself in the circle of distinguished artists, critics and antiquarians, many of whom were British visitors to Italy on the Grand Tour seeking to build or augment their collections of paintings and ancient culture. It was thus an easy move for Hamilton to begin dealing in Old Master paintings and antiquities, and his activities as a dealer almost overshadowed his reputation as an innovative painter of classical themes.
The present publication, with its introductory essay on Hamilton’s life and career, and the corpus of more than 300 edited and annotated letters, provides a significant contribution to the literature on the history of collecting. It brings evidence of Hamilton’s wide-ranging personal contacts with the most eminent collectors of the time and of the many great works of art that passed through his hands, among them Leonardo’s Madonna of the Rocks
(now in London, National Gallery), Tintoretto’s large Adoration of the Shepherds
(Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum), Salvator Rosa’s Pythagoras
(Fort Worth, Kimbell Museum). The correspondence documents Hamilton’s dealings with agents and purchasers and provides new source material on the dispersal of Italian art collections, on the fate of individual pictures and more generally on British artistic taste in the second half of the eighteenth century.
There is also a body of illustrations that includes both Hamilton’s own works – history paintings and portraits – as well reproductions of some of the works mentioned in the letters.
The author, Brendan Cassidy, took his Ph.D at Cambridge, and was Research Associate at the Warburg Institute before becoming Director of the Index of Christian Art, Princeton University. He is currently Professor and Head of the School of Art History at the University of St. Andrews.
"These volumes are a marvellous store of information about an important episode in the history of collecting." (Jonathan Scott, in: The Burlington Magazine, July 2013, p. 494)
"The Life & Letters of Gavin Hamilton(1723-1798) propose à ce jour l’étude la plus complète dédiée à Hamilton et apporte un nouvel éclairage sur sa carrière en mettant en lumière ses différentes activités et non seulement son travail de peintre d’histoire. Cet ouvrage s’adresse plus particulièrement aux dix-huitièmistes, aux spécialistes de Hamilton, du Grand Tour et aux historiens de l’art. Toutefois, les biographies des correspondants de Hamilton et le glossaire figurant dans le premier volume, ainsi que les nombreuses notes de bas de page donnant, entre autres, des précisions sur le contexte historique et sur les objets et œuvres d’art mentionnées dans les lettres, rendent cet ouvrage accessible aux lecteurs non-spécialistes." (Marion Amblard, dans: Études écossaises, n°16, 2013, http://etudesecossaises.revues.org/867)
"There has been a notable revival over the last twenty years or so, in Britain, France and Italy, of interest in the Settecento art world, and a recognition that Hamilton sat at the centre of it. His letters are key material for research, not only into his own career, but those of patrons, the environment in which they operated, and the histories of the objects and collections to which they gave passionate attention. This substantial and attractively presented and illustrated edition should significantly further the enterprise." (Elizabeth Moignard, in: The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 103, 2013, p. 315)
"Cassidy presents a thorough and valuable picture of this pivotal figure. The abundant selection of (monochrome) illustrations are especially revealing as they bring to light numerous works not often featured in the standard surveys of British classicism." (William S. Rodner, in: Scotia, Journal of Scottish Studies vol. XXXVI, 2014, p. 46-49)