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PIETRO FABRIS (fl.1740-1792)
  • PIETRO FABRIS (fl.1740-1792)


    Titled in pen & ink u.m., further inscribed with references to Sir William Hamilton's illustrations & additional notes

    Watercolour and pen and grey ink, partly with preliminary drawing in pencil, on wove, laid down on laid paper. 

    22.2 x 34.2 cm 



    Engraved by the artist in William Hamilton, Campi Phlegraei, vol. I (1776), pl. XLI;

    B. Fothergill, Sir William Hamilton envoy extraordinary, New York (1969), pp. 138-143;

    John Thackray, '"The modern Pliny": Hamilton and Vesuvius', in Ian Jenkins and Kim Sloan, Vases and volcanoes, London (1996), p.42 (print repr., pl. XIV)

    Markus Bertsch, Entfesselte Natur. Das Bild der Katastrophe seit 1600 (exhib. cat.), Hamburg (2018), p.220, cat. no. 98, ill. p. 222.

    Iain Gordon Brown, ‘The “real” Pietro Fabris? A caricature of Sir William Hamilton’s “Favourite Painter”’, in Apollo, CXLIV, no, 413 (July 1996), pp. 41-42



    Private collection, Heidelberg



    Hamburg, Hamburger Kunsthalle Entfesselte Natur. Das Bild der Katastrophe seit 1600, 2018, cat. no. 98




    We are grateful to both Dr Kim Sloan and Dr Iain Gordon Brown for assisting in the cataloguing of this work. 



    'The Temple of Isis is certainly extremely curious, it is now entirely cleared, the very bones of the victims were upon the altars, and the paintings and stuccos as fresh as if they had been just executed...Glorious discoveries might still be made, if they would pursue the excavations with vigour' - Sir William Hamilton in a letter to Lord Palmerston, 19 August 1766 (1)




    The present sheet is one of the most thrilling original depictions of the early excavations of Pompeii to come to light in recent years: a premiere pensée for one of the prints in the seminal Campi Phelgraei, it shows both tourists and labourers standing in the rubble of the emergent Temple of Isis, one of the first ruins to be discovered at the beginning of the Pompeiian excavations in 1764. Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803), who was appointed British Envoy Extraordinary to the Kingdom of Naples in the same year, was one of, if not the keenest observer of the excavations. His activities as an antiquarian, collector and volcanologist are today well-known, but few subjects in the extraordinary series of views around Naples and Vesuvius - the Campi Phlegraei - combine all three of Hamilton's passions so concisely: the legendary eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD buried almost the entire Temple for the following 1685 years, preserving beneath ash much of one of the most important loci of the Cult of Isis in Italy. The excavations began in 1764 under the direction of Karl Jacob Weber and, on the 20th July 1765, Francisco la Vega transcribed the inscription that identified the temple as having been dedicated to the Egyptian godess. Shortly after this, Hamilton sent the artist Pietro Fabris to the Temple. 



    The letters inscribed throughout this drawing are much the same as the system employed in Fabris' earlier studies of Pompeii, a number of which now belong to the Society of Antiquaries of London. Hamilton sent these examples of Fabris' drawings to the Society to illustrate his account of the excavations, which was read aloud at a series of meetings and subsequently published in their Journal. When the present work was published in the Campi, it was accompanied by the text seen in fig. II above, which acted as a key to Fabris' notations. That the inscription to the upper margin of our sheet is in French is no surprise, as the Campi were composed as bilingual editions, likely as a mark of respect to the Bourbon Dynasty who then controlled Naples.



    • NOTES

      (1) Quoted in Sloan & Jenkins, ibid., p.42

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