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  • JONATHAN RICHARDSON Sr. (1667-1745)



    Inscribed l.l. Dr Mead's Bust of Homer / drawn by Richardson

    Bears the artist's collector's stamp to the base of the sculpture (L.2184)

    Red, black & white chalks on blue-tinted paper

    40 x 27 cm



    (Possibly part of) Jonathan Richardson Jr., his sale, Langford's, London, 05.02.1772, Lot 6 (One hundred sketches of portraits, &c. from the antique by Richardson, sen.);

    Henry Jeffrey, Christie's, London, 01.03.1800, Lot 15 (Richardson, A Head of Homer, and a Head of Pope, sold for £6. 6);

    Sir James Winter Lake, Bt. (1742-1807), London;

    His sale, Stewart's, 194 Piccadilly, London, 03.04.1808 (4th day of sale), Lot 490 (Nine, Drawings by Richardson: Homer, from Dr Mead's Bust; John Milton, from Mr Hollis's ditto &c. VERY FINE) [sold for £ 2. 6 to Greaves)] [see final image above] (1);

    Property of a Gentleman, Sotheby's, London, 19.11.1970, lot 136 (Sold to Grenfell for £140);

    Private collection, Dorset, U.K.



    D.L. Dudley, Henrietta Louisa Jeffreys, Oxford University and the Pomfi-et Benefaction of 1755: Vertu made Visible (PhD Thesis), University of Victoria (2004), p.91 (not repr.) [a]



    The subject of this work is an important Hellenistic bust that was among the best-known and most closely-studied (2) classical sculptures in 18th century Britain, one which was reproduced in print on a number of occasions and familiar to collectors and cognoscenti across the country (see image 3 for the bust itself, now in the British Museum, acc. no. 1760,0919.1).


    This exquisite sculpture entered the collection of the celebrated physician Dr Richard Mead (1673-1754) in 1720, with Mead likely acquiring it from Lord Stafford's sale of Tart Hall, before it joined the collection of the Earl of Exeter, who then gifted it to the nation. Recent research has suggested that this so-called 'Arundel Head' may have originally been found in Smyrna, the ancient name for Izmir in Turkey. The bronze sculpture was brought to England from Constantinople in the early seventeenth century as part of the collection of Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel, from whom it earned its moniker. The head's eventual donation by Lord Exeter in 1760 made it one of the earliest pieces of classical antiquities to enter the national collection, and it is today one of the most widely-exhibited Hellenistic sculptures in the British Museum's collection. It has recently been questioned whether or not the subject is in fact Homer as it was thought to be since Arundel acquired it, with the current consensus that it is more likely to be the Greek playwright Sophocles, or perhaps an as-yet-unidentified ancient ruler. 



    Dr Richard Mead's collection of statuary, books, coins, gems and drawings was one of the largest formed in his time, and he allowed anyone who wished to view it to do so at his purpose-built gallery at his residence in Great Ormond Street. Richardson, who knew Mead socially through his Royal Society connections, painted a portrait of the doctor (NPG, London, inv. no. 4157) and made a number of further drawings of him in 1738 and 1739, suggesting a rough date of execution for the present work. Intriguingly, Richardson also produced at least one print of another of Mead's sculptures, a bust of Xenocrates (image 4), and it is possible therefore that our drawing may have been intended once for publication too. The bust features in at least one portrait in oils of Mead, that painted by Allan Ramsay in the NPG, London (acc. no. 15, see image 5), and was also reproduced in profile as an engraving whilst in his possession (image 6).



    Carol Gibson-Wood has written extensively on Richardson Sr.'s practice of drawing from the Antique; however, she had previously noted that '...none of his drawings in this category have been identified' - we are pleased therefore to present the first published example of this part of Richardson's oeuvre, all the more so given the importance of the subject itself on this occasion. Gibson-Wood writes, ' is unusual for an English portraitist (especially one who had never travelled abroad or studied at an academy) to have executed so many drawings of this type' [in spite of the absence of extant examples, his practice of making such studies is well-documented] and states that 'he apparently executed his sketches as a way of studying the principles of classical idealization that he praised repeatedly in his writings...Richardson believed that not just history painters, but also portrait painters should aspire to idealize their subjects, and his own sketches after the Antique were probably related to this goal' (3). 

    • NOTES

      [a] Cf. Dudley, eadem, p. 91, 'Arundel's Homer appears rather prominently in a 1740 portrait of Mead. Jonathan Richardson made several drawings of it in the 1730s and so did George Vertue, who may have intended to produce an engraving of it'

      (1) A further drawing from this lot in Sir James Winter Lake's sale - Drawing of the blind Milton from the bust by Hollis now at Christ’s College, Cambridge - is now in the New York Public Library collection, where it is incorrectly catalogued as being by the 18th century naturalist John Richardson: [last accessed 07.08.2023, see image 7 above]

      (2) For further discussion of the bust itself, cf. R.J.D. Harding, 'The head of a certain Macedonian King': an old identity for the British Museum's 'Arundel Homer', in The British Art Journal, vol. IX no.2 (Autumn 2008), pp.11-16; N. Spivey, 'Homer and the Sculptors', in The Archaeology of Greece and Rome: Studies in Honour of Anthony Snodgrass (eds. Bintliff & Rutter), pp.113-152; I.G. Brown, 'Most capital in its kind': Further observations on Dr Richard Mead's 'Head of Homer', in The British Art Journal, vol. 10 no.2 (Winter 2009), pp.9-14

      (3) C. Gibson-Wood, 'Jonathan Richardson as a Draftsman', in Master Drawings, vol. 32, no. 3 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 204-205 [ibid. for all quotations from Gibson-Wood]

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