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Produced in collaboration with the British Museum, this exhibition showcases a series of powerful and poetic watercolours made on an expedition to discover the ruins of ancient Ionia (modern Turkey) in 1764. The expedition, funded by the Society of Dilettanti, included artist William Pars, antiquary Richard Chandler and architect Nicholas Revett.
Part of the Greek world from the 8th century BC and ruined in antiquity, the beauty and fame of the Ionian cities lived on in the writings of ancient commentators such as Herodotus and Strabo. This exhibition focuses on the published accounts of the expedition, produced in lavish volumes funded by the Society of Dilettanti, and the evocative images by the brilliant young artist William Pars, placing them in dialogue with the collections and architecture of Sir John Soane, who deeply admired ancient Greek architecture.
Pars’ drawings record the classical ruins encountered in Turkey and Greece, and also the living landscape – its flora and fauna, and the customs, manners and dress of the people, bringing to life extracts from Chandler’s diary account. These images represent Enlightenment themes of travel and discovery and embody melancholy reflections on the passing of the great age of antiquity and the reduction of its monuments. They capture the spirit of Edward Gibbon’s reflection on the fall of civilizations and in so doing they portray the romance of ruins.
This exhibition has been made possible thanks to the generosity of David and Molly Lowell Borthwick. The accompanying catalogue has been kindly supported by the Society of Dilettanti Charitable Trust.
Header image: William Pars, Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, pen and grey ink with watercolour and bodycolour and some gum arabic, © The Trustees of the British Museum