Exhibition – In Search of Classical Greece: Travel Drawings of Edward Dodwell and Simone Pomardi, 1805–1806

greece_304x384The British Museum, London, 7 February – 28 April 2013

This exhibition will look at Greece through the eyes of the classical scholar Edward Dodwell (about 1777–1832) and his Italian artist, Simone Pomardi (1757–1830). During their travels in 1805–06, they recorded the country and its people in a series of fascinating and spectacular drawings and watercolours. Kindly lent by the Packard Humanities Institute, these works have never been seen in public before. They represent a unique record of an important chapter in the rediscovery of ancient Greece on the eve of the creation of the modern Greek state.

Their landscapes, often featuring the ruins of classical sites, are peopled with modern Greeks and Turks at a time when Greece was under Ottoman rule. Especially fascinating and impressive are five rare surviving panoramas, measuring up to four metres in length, and providing 360 degree views of Corfu harbour, the Acropolis and of Athens and its surrounding countryside.

Dodwell and Pomardi’s travels were part of a great surge of interest in Greece at a time when Napoleon’s military occupation of Rome in 1796 had brought the age of the European Grand Tour to a sudden end. This exhibition will set Dodwell and Pomardi in the tradition of travel in Greece in the age of Enlightenment, examining the motivation and circumstance of such travel as well as its cultural consequences. It will be accompanied by a related display of drawings from the British Museum’s permanent collection exploring the theme of travel in Greece in the Ottoman era and just after the War of Independence.

Throughout the eighteenth century, generations of young men from Europe’s leading families had gone to Italy to complete an education that had comprised, in large part, the learning of Latin and Greek. Rome, Florence and Venice were the cities most visited and for the intrepid traveller there was also Naples. This was the principal city of southern Italy and the stopping-off point for viewing the newly discovered towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, buried in the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in AD 79. When the occupation of Italy prevented Grand Tourists from visiting Italy, Dodwell and Pomardi, like many travellers, chose to go beyond the established Mediterranean regions of the Grand Tour. The understanding these travellers brought to the archaeological remains of ancient Greece encouraged the taste among British Hellenists for Greek architecture. This gave new vigour to the Greek Revival, already begun in the middle of the 18th century by the expeditions of the Society of Dilettanti. Hellenism, the love of ancient Greece, was to promote a new movement of Philhellenism, a sympathy for modern Greek people and a desire to realise the dream, as Byron put it, ‘that Greece might still be free’.

The beauty of its landscape and romance of its classical ruins were the primary reasons for travel to Greece under Ottoman rule. By the first decade of the nineteenth century a sympathy for the Greek-speaking peoples inspired European travellers to call for independence from Ottoman rule. In the years following the Greek War of Independence, many of the monuments recorded by Dodwell and his companions would change considerably as the new nation swept away the accretions of the late Roman, Christian and Ottoman eras and attempted to restore the purity of the classical remains. With hindsight these removals are controversial and they feed into a larger on-going debate around the creation of and the competing identities of modern Greece.

Dodwell was a talented amateur who signed many of the watercolours and drawings, even though some of them he worked on with Pomardi; others were Pomardi’s own work. Many of them were engraved in Dodwell’s own published accounts of his travels in 1819 A Classical and Topographical Tour Through Greece, During the Years 1801, 1805, and 1806. A few drawings exist in other collections, but the majority, over 800 in total, remained in the possession of Dodwell’s Irish descendants until they were purchased in 2002 by David Packard for the Packard Humanities Institute in Los Altos, California. He was advised by the distinguished American archaeologist John Camp, who has carefully catalogued the collection and made a representative selection of 67 works for the display here. He is the guest curator of this exhibition and the principal author of the accompanying publication which contains additional essays by the British Museum curators Ian Jenkins and Kim Sloan, and by Fani-Maria Tsigakou, Curator of Paintings, Prints and Drawings at the Benaki Museum, Athens.

John McKesson Camp, with contributions by Ian Jenkins, Fani-Maria Tsigakou, and Kim Sloan, In Search of Greece: Catalogue of an Exhibit of Drawings at the British Museum by Edward Dodwell and Simone Pomardi from the Collection of the Packard Humanities Institute (Los Altos, CA: The Packard Humanities Institute, 2013), £25.

C H A P T E R S

• Introduction: The Road to Erudite Athens – Ian Jenkins
• Introduction to the Collection – John Camp
• Greece at the Eve of the Nineteenth Century: Poised between Myth and Reality – Fani-Maria Tsigakou
• Seen through a Glass Darkly: Dodwell and Pomardi’s Drawings and Watercolours of Greece – Kim Sloan

John Camp — In Search of Classical Greece
The British Museum, London, 8 February 2013

Guest curator of the forthcoming Room 90 exhibition In Search of Classical Greece and Director of Athenian Agora Excavations, Professor John Camp, explores the reality of the Classical sites pre-independence, when well-to-do European travellers ‘re-discovered’ ancient Greece.

Friday 8 February, 18.30, BP Lecture Theatre (book early, as it’s expected to sell out)
Tickets £5 (Members/Concessions £3), book online here»

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