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Literary figures.

The rise of the author portrait played a fundamental role in the emergence of a national literary canon in 18th-century Britain. Novelists and poets--most notably Alexander Pope-were commemorated in busts and paintings that proclaimed their greatness even during their lifetimes

The exhibition, 'Fame and Friendship: Pope, Roubiliac and the Portrait Bust', which opens this month at Waddesdon Manor (18 June-26 October), brings together eight versions by the sculptor Louis Francois Roubiliac of the poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744; see Contents, p. 19). (1) As well as exploring the role of the portrait bust in articulating bonds of friendship, the exhibition looks at the role of this form of portraiture in celebrating literary fame. The replication and wider dissemination of an image of one particular author is certainly a striking phenomenon within 18th-century British culture. But an equally significant aspect of a culture in which a national literary canon was at this date being shaped may be found in those sequences of author portraits in which writers were related to each other and so placed within a tradition, which was increasingly national in nature.

Just such a configuration of author images had been established by the early 1750s, when George Lyttelton placed Jonathan Richardson's portrait of the young Alexander Pope above the chimneypiece of his library at Hagley Hall, Worcestershire, accompanied by busts of Shakespeare, Dryden, Milton and Spenser (Fig. 1). (2) A recently deceased modern author was thus placed in the company of four of the most celebrated English poets to whom he was a literary successor. In this particular case, the circumstances in which this literary pantheon was created were very specific and personal. George Lyttelton, later Baron Lyttelton, had been Secretary to Frederick, Prince of Wales, as well as a nephew to Lord Cobham, the leader of those Whig Patriots who had opposed Sir Robert Walpole's government. This meant that he was closely involved with those opposition politicians with whom Pope was allied, and to whom he gave a poetic voice. Just as important were Lyttelton's ties to Pope because of their common engagement with poetry. As well as writing poetry himself, Lyttelton was a patron and friend of a number of poets, most closely with James Thomson but also more notably with Pope himself. We do not know when Lyttelton acquired the Richardson portrait of Pope, but the provenance of the adjacent busts by Peter Scheemakers is clear enough. Given by the Prince of Wales to Pope, they were then left to Lyttelton in Pope's will, which makes specific mention of Lyttelton's 'royal master'. If, however, the combination of these images carried a significance that was particular to the relationship between Pope, Lyttelton and the Prince of Wales, it was also informed by assumptions about how such images, both painted and sculpted, would be read together within the setting of a library.


By the early 18th century, busts might even have been seen as a necessary component of any well-appointed private library. Pope's contemporary, Dr Richard Mead, for instance, not only had busts of Newton and Pope himself (perhaps the one by Scheemakers which will be shown in the Waddesdon exhibition) which were displayed 'near the Busts of their great masters, the antient Greeks and Romans', but also possessed (and probably displayed in the library) marbles of Shakespeare and Milton. (3) In addition to the images left to Lyttelton, Pope himself owned busts of Newton and Homer, which he left to his brilliant young lawyer friend, William Murray, later 1st Earl of Mansfield. Busts of ancient authors such as Homer and Virgil of course figured prominently in such groups. In Pope's case, this was hardly surprising given their importance as poetic models. In the headpiece to An Essay on Criticism in his highly innovative 1717 Works the poet is represented being ushered forward by Fame to kneel before an altar with busts of these two poets (Fig. 2). (4) But what of the relationship of portraits of modern authors to those of the past and, given the configuration seen in the library at Hagley, what are we to make of sets of images representing English, or at least British authors alone?

The proliferation of images of authors in 18th-century libraries, both private and institutional, drew on a long tradition. Portraits of dead and living writers and scholars had formed two of the categories of famous men represented in the celebrated collection gathered together by Paolo Giovio at Como. (5) Here these subjects were not placed in a library, but formed part of a far more extensive series of great men worthy of emulation following antique precedents. Poggio Bracciolini in his De nobilitate (1440) had indeed recommended the emulation of Roman practices in setting up images of wise men as exemplars. (6) However, as Justus Lipsius had already recognised in 1602, representations of authors were especially relevant in the setting of a library. (7) Gathering together the references made by classical authors to portraits in libraries, Lipsius had regretted that this had not been adopted in modern times. Their use in this way was advocated again in two influential French publications about the formation and organisation of libraries: Gabriel Naude's Advis pour dresser une bibliotheque (1627) and Claudius Clemens' Musei sive bibliothecae (1635). According to Naude, who cited antique precedents in Pliny and Suetonius of libraries decorated with 'lively statues of all the gallant men' (to quote from John Evelyn's translation), it was desirable to include 'good Copies drawn from such as are most famous in the profession of Letters; that thereby a man may at once make judgement of the wit of authors by their Books, and by their bodies, figure, and physiognomy by these Pictures and Images, which joyn'd to the description which may have made of their lives, may serve, in my opinion, as a puissant spurre to excite a generous and well-born Soul to follow their track and to continue firm and stable in the wayes and beaten paths of some noble enterprise and resolution'. (8) Although Naude does not give any detailed advice about the placing of busts, Clement was rather more specific about their disposition, recommending that the 'bookcases ... are surmounted by statues of men distinguished in the discipline for which the bookcase is intended.' (9) This well-established tradition of using portraits of earlier authors could therefore be employed to articulate the relationship between ancient and modern authors, to represent a literary canon through images, and even to function as a visual key to the library's contents.


By the end of the 17th century, the Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve in Paris contained no fewer than 26 busts, several of which are shown in engravings of 1692 placed on tapering plinths against the pilasters dividing the bookcases. Although other French libraries were also decorated with busts, the Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve remained by far the most celebrated and widely known example, its collection of sculptural portraits growing steadily throughout the 18th century. (10)

The library was far from the only place in which busts of authors and other celebrated figures might be displayed. According to Pierre-Jean Grosley, visiting Britain in the mid 1760s, 'The British Museum, the palaces of great noblemen, the cabinets of the curious, the houses of citizens, those dark and solitary grottoes which people of fortune consecrate to melancholy in their country retirements, the taverns and inns, the houses where people meet for public diversions, are all adorned with figures painted or engraved, and with busts of all sizes, made of all sorts of materials, of Bacon, Shakespeare, Milton, Locke, Addison, Newton, and even Cromwell himself.' (11)


Already two decades earlier, Lady Luxborough was writing to Lady Hertford about her use of sculpture: 'I have also made a little summer-house that is stuccoed and adorned with the busts of my Brother Bolingbroke, Pope, Dryden, Milton, Shakespeare, Newton and Locke.' (12) Forty years later a similar sequence was seen by a German visitor to the Rotunda at Vauxhall, which was adorned with 'busts of the best English authors, placed all round the sides. Thus a Briton again meets with his Shakespear, Locke, Milton and Dryden, in the public places of his amusements; and there also reveres their memory. Even the common people thus become familiar with the name of those who have done honour to their nation.' (13) While authors figured prominently in such series of images, they were not alone but formed part of clusters of national 'worthies'. The most familiar of these groupings is, of course, the Temple of British Worthies at Stowe (Fig. 3). Here, busts of those monarchs and others who defended English liberties were set up on one side, while writers and thinkers appear on the other, so registering a balance between lives of action and contemplation. (14) But similar conjunctions, often more limited in scale, were frequendy seen elsewhere. While the early versions of Roubiliac's bust of Pope seem to have stood alone and were probably --and at least in one case, certainly--made for close friends of the poet, such as William Murray, a version executed shortly before Roubiliac's death was paired from the start with a bust of Newton. (15) Probably made for the house recently acquired by the 3rd Earl Poulett just down the Thames from Pope's villa, these two busts have socles with inscriptions that offer a key as to how they should be read together. The Latin inscription below Pope translates his own famous phrase from An Essay on Man, 'Whatever is, is right', but is preceded by a line about Newton's achievement in the revelation of nature, so admired by the poet who played a significant role in promulgating the thinker's fame. The text below Newton consists of lines from Book III of Ovid's Fasti, originally celebrating Julius Caesar's reform of the calendar, but used here to refer to the modifications of the Julian calendar as proposed to the Royal Society by Newton. These same lines were inscribed below another bust of Newton (probably by Scheemakers) set up in the gothic hall of James West's Alscot Park along with a bust of the poet Matthew Prior and John Michael Rysbrack's marble of Shakespeare, now in Birmingham.


In other cases, however, the groups of images consist not simply of national "worthies' but more specifically of national authors. Placed in this company, Pope would not be seen just as one of various venerated figures from various fields but in a very particular sense, as an author and a poet. Jacques-Antoine Dassier's medal of him (albeit from a series of 'famous men now living') described him on its reverse as 'Poeta Anglus', a phrase also used on John Faber's mezzotint of the portrait that Jean-Baptiste van Loo had painted for William Murray. (16) Even presented as a single image, the poet was here being incorporated into a national literary canon as it was being formulated and disseminated during the 18th century.

While earlier English writers had drawn on a certain notion of canonicity in the ways in which they publicised their works, the idea of a national literary canon that brought together a plurality of authors within a coherent history of the nation's literature took on its familiar form only in the early 18th century. By the end of the century, this literary canon had been developed further, in part by the increasing availability of anthologies such as John Bell's The Poets of Great Britain (1777-83), which formed a distinctive aspect of the late 18th-century book trade. With their works grouped together and marketed in this way, selected poets came to be seen as classics of English poetry. Around the same time, Samuel Johnson was writing his Lives of the Poets (1779-81), which offered not only biographical details but critical assessments of their poetic qualities that remain unmatched in their subtlety and wit.

From 1750 onwards Pope's sculptural image could be matched with those of other authors, registering his inclusion within this canon by means of sculpture. In two statuettes by John Cheere, Pope is paired with Shakespeare: the latter's image is a reduction of Scheemaker's celebrated statue in Westminster Abbey, while Pope's head is based on the Roubiliac bust, with his pose a mirror image of Shakespeare's. Almost 50 years later Roubiliac's bust was again reproduced, this time by Joseph Nollekens. Here the image was paired with a version of Nollekens' bust of Laurence Sterne, so bringing together his own most highly acclaimed portrait with one of Roubiliac's most celebrated images, while at the same time linking the country's leading modern poet with its most admired novelist. Pope's image--and more particularly copies of his bust by Roubiliac--could also stand alongside those of Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden and Spenser, among others, as part of those series of busts that were, in parallel with the published poetic anthologies, marketed in various sizes by suppliers of plaster figures. In this way, Pope and other modern British poets could complement the busts of ancient authors, with the two series sometimes being placed opposite, as in the Wren Library at Trinity College, Cambridge (Fig. 4). One striking feature of this well-known assemblage, set up in 1755, is that the moderns consist solely of British authors, as if by this date a national literary canon was so familiar that it alone could stand for the moderns. (17)

By the time of his death in 1744, Pope's name was already part of this national canon. In that same year Francis Hayman's composition for the title page of William Mason's Musaeus shows Pope visited on his deathbed by Spenser, Milton and Chaucer (Fig. 5). Twelve years later the frontispiece to The Universal Visiter and Monthly Memorialist represents a somewhat different selection of authors (in the form of busts) being looked up to--literally and metaphorically--by the young Christopher Smart, accompanied by a statue of Apollo, with Britannia's shield at his feet, in the god's 'English Temple' (Fig. 6). (18) Pope's image was not included but his works were among those visible on the shelf above.





Perhaps the most comprehensive visual sequence of author portraits was that assembled by Lord Chesterfield and displayed in his library at Chesterfield House (Fig. 7). (19) As well as being unusually extensive, this series was striking in that it included only English authors and so, despite Chesterfield's well-known Francophile tastes, celebrated what was very much an English literary pantheon. As well as drawing on both the earlier tradition of library portraits and more recent collections such as that formed by the Earl of Oxford--the provenance in fact of some of Chesterfield's images--this remarkable sequence, like the plasters on the bookcases in the Wren library, makes visible a familiar national canon.

As influential as any literary anthology and critical account was a very public and much noted sculptural celebration of English authorship--Poets' Corner in the south transept of Westminster Abbey (Fig. 8). (20) Here a discrete and recognisable area was being used for monuments to national authors alone, so drawing attention to writers in an interior which was becoming steadily more densely populated with monuments to the illustrious (and some who were far from illustrious) in many fields. Authorship was perceived and presented as something that deserved distinctive notice, as well as its own space within what was becoming the national pantheon. Between 1720 and 1750 many recently deceased writers were honoured by their inclusion, but still more striking was the retrospective commemoration of earlier canonical figures such as Dryden, Milton and, most notably, Shakespeare.

The creation of a printed canon was thus paralleled, if not preceded, by the formulation in one of London's most prominent public spaces of a sculptural canon. The campaigns that led to the erection of these monuments involved some of the most influential figures within contemporary letters and polite culture, not least Alexander Pope. As a Catholic, however, Pope could not be included among their number, making this the one visual representation of the national literary canon in which his name and image were missing.

(1) The exhibition has been developed from a wide-ranging study of the bust and the statue, for which see Malcolm Baker, The Marble Index: Roubiliac and Sculptural Portraiture in Eighteenth-Century Britain, New Haven and London, 2014 (forthcoming). For the contents of the exhibition see Malcolm Baker, Fame and Friendship: Pope, Roubiliac and the Portrait Bust in Eighteenth-Century Britain, exh. cat., Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2014.

(2) The connection between the Hagley busts and Pope's will was first made by Geoffrey Beard, 'Alexander Pope', Apollo, vol. LVU, no. 335 (January 1953), pp. 4-6. The Richardson portrait, along with 'Busts' are recorded as being in the library at Hagley by Thomas Martyn, The English Connoisseur, London, 1766, vol. I, p.70.

(3) Matthew Maty, Authentic Memoirs of the Life of Richard Mead, M. D., London, 1755, p. 63. The busts, among them busts of Pope, Milton and Shakespeare by Scheemakers (1st day lots 61-63) were included in Mead's sale by Langford on 11-14 March 1755.

(4) For this image and the ambitious nature of the 1717 Works, see James McLaverty, Pope, Print and Meaning, Oxford, 2001, and Vincent Carretta, "'Images Reflect from Art to Art": Alexander Pope's Collected Works of 171T, in Neil Fraisat (ed.), Poems in their Place: The Intertextuality and Order of Poetic Collections, Chapel Hill, 1986, pp. 195-233.

(5) Forthese early series of "worthies' see Francis Haskell, History and its Images, New Haven and London, 1993, pp. 26-79.

(6) On Bracciolini see Christiane L. Joost-Gaugier, 'Poggio and Visual Tradition: "Uomini Famosi" in Classical Literary Description', Artibus et Historiae, vol. 6, no. 12 (1985), pp. 57-74.

(7) Justus Lipsius, De Bibliothecis Syntagma, Antwerp, 1602, cap. X.

(8) Gabriel Naude, trans. John Evelyn, Instructions concerning erecting of a Library, London, 1661.

(9) Claude Clemens [or Clement], Museisive bibliothecae, Leiden, 1635.

(10) R. P. Claude de Molinet, Le Cabinet de la bibliotheque de Sainte-Genevieve, Paris, 1692.

(11) Pierre-Jean Grosley, A Tour to London, 3 vols., Lausanne, 1772, vol. I, p. 196.

(12) Helen Sard Hughes (ed.), The Gentle Hertford: Her Life and Letters, New York, 1940, p. 152; letter from Mrs Knight [Lady Luxborough] to Lady Hertford, Barrels, 26 June 1742.

(13) Karl Philipp Moritz, 7Yavels, chiefly on foot, through several parts of England, in 1782, London, 1795, pp. 37-88.

(14) For the fullest account, with further references, see Katharine Eustace, 'The politics of the past. Stowe and the development of the historical portrait bust', Apollo, vol. CXV1I, no. 437 (July 1998), pp. 31-10.

(15) For Murray's bust of Pope, see Malcolm Baker, 'Bust and Friendship: The Identity and Context of William Murray's Version of Roubiliac's Bust of Pope', Sculpture Journal, vol. XXII, no. 2 (September 2013) pp. 65-76. Fora longer discussion of the Pope-Newton pair and their inscriptions, see Baker, The Marble Index (op. tit. inn. 1 above), chapter 4.

(16) For these see William K. Wimsatt, The Portraits of Alexander Pope, New Haven and London, 1965, pp. 67-72, 326-27.

(17) For the plasters in the Wren Library, see Malcolm Baker, 'The Portrait Sculpture' in David McKitterick (ed.), The Making of the Wren Library, Cambridge, 1995, pp. 110-37.

(18) For a full discussion of the formulation of the English literary canon and its pre-18th-century origins (as well as references to the Universal Visiter) see Trevor Ross, The Making of the English Literaryy Canon from the Middle Ages to the late Eighteenth Century, Montreal, 1998. For the wider cultural context of the canon and anthologies, see John Brewer, The Pleasures of the Imagination, London, 1997.

(19) For a detailed account of Chesterfield's library portraits and their complicated history see David Piper, 'The Chesterfield House Library Portraits', in R. Wellek and A. Ribiero (eds.), Evidence in Literary Scholarship. Essays in memory of James Marshall Osborne, Oxford, 1979, pp. 179-95.

(20) For the most perceptive account of Poets' Corner, see Philip Connell, 'Death and the Author: Westminster Abbey and the meanings of the literary monument', Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. XXXVIII, no. 4 (summer 2005), pp. 557-85.

Malcolm Baker is Distinguished Professor of the History of Art, University of California, Riverside.

'Fame and Friendship: Pope, Roubiliac and the Portrait Bust' is at Waddesdon Manor from 18 June-26 October 2014. To find out more, go to
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Title Annotation:FEATURE: LITERARY MONUMENTS; Fame and Friendship: Pope, Roubiliac and the Portrait Bust
Author:Baker, Malcolm
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2014
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