James Stuart and Nicholas Revett

The Antiquities of Athens (London, 1787)

(Thomas Phillips, 1845)


James ‘Athenian’ Stuart (1713-88) and Nicholas Revett (1720-1804) arrived in Athens in March 1751 and stayed for almost exactly two years, engaged in measuring and drawing the monuments. While there, they were visited by Wood and Dawkins, who were on their way back to England from their own tour. Chapter V, Plate I of The Antiquities of Athens Volume III (London, 1794) shows the four of them at the Monument of Philopappos in Athens - Stuart and Revett in what seems like an approximation of local dress, and Wood and Dawkins standing out as the visitors in their fashionable English clothes.

Subsequent travels to Smyrna and the Greek islands meant that Stuart and Revett did not return to England until early in 1755.There was a considerable delay before the first volume of The Antiquities of Athens appeared in 1762 (Stuart being a notoriously slow worker), and an even longer one before the publication of Volume II. Though the date on its title page is 1787, it cannot actually have appeared until well into 1788. Stuart died, after a long period of failing health, on 21 February 1788, and the second volume is prefaced by a notice 'TO THE PUBLICK' written  by his widow Elizabeth, in which she expresses her indebtedness to 'Mr William Newton, of Greenwich, for his assistance by generously taking a very principal part in the completion of this volume'. Newton (1735-90) had in 1781 been invited to assist Stuart, then Surveyor to Greenwhich Hospital and already in ill health, with the designs for the rebuilding of Greenwich Chapel after a fire. By the following year he was officially apppointed Stuart's Assistant and later his Clerk of Works, and he designed nearly all the decorative ornament for the Chapel and superintended its execution. He was thus the natural choice to edit the second volume of The Antiquities of Athens after Stuart's death.

Although Revett's name appears on Volume II, he was only concerned in the production of the first volume. After that appeared, Stuart's fame had grown; he had become a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries, as well as a prosperous architect working in the new fashionable 'Grecian' style, and he was accorded the sobriquet 'Athenian'. Revett seems to have resented what he considered to be the undue share of the credit for their work being given to Stuart, and he subsequently resigned all his interests in The Antiquities of Athens to his erstwhile partner.

Volume II contains the principal monuments of the Acropolis - the Parthenon, Erechtheion, 'theatre of Bacchus' (actually the Odeion of Herodes Atticus), the monument of Thrasyllos and Propylaia. Plate I of Chapter I, shown here, is entitled  'A View of the Eastern Portico of the Parthenon'. On p.9 Stuart's description reads: 'This Front was more injured by the explosion of the powder, which happened during the Seige already mentioned [by the Venetians under Morosini in 1687, cf. no. 2], than the Front facing West, for here much the greater part of the pediment is wanting. In the space between the Columns is seen the present Moschea [mosque], built within the area of the Parthenon'.

See further: D Watkin, Athenian Stuart (London, 1982)