George Wightwick

Select Views of the Roman Antiquities (London, 1827)

(Thomas Phillips, 1846)

The architect George Wightwick (1802-72) went on an educational tour in Italy in 1825-6. On his return he entered the office of Sir John Soane, before opening his own architectural practice in Plymouth, where he spent the rest of his working life. His numerous buildings included the South Devon and East Cornwall Hospital (1836), Plymouth Town Hall (1848) and the Collonian Library there (1850). In 1851 he retired to Clifton, and moved in 1855 to Portishead, where he is buried.

On the title page of Select Views Wightwick already styles himself 'Architect', and it is very clear from the speed with which the volume was published after his return from his tour, and from the 'Advertisement' on p.1, that his purpose in producing it was to get himself noticed as an up-and-coming entrant to the profession. In the Advertisement he explains:

The expense of professional education is usually considerable  - the architect finds it so at all events - and if, at the conclusion of his professional studies, he be unaided by the patronage of the great, or unsupported by hereditary maintenance, he is too frequently obliged, either to repeat the toils of apprenticeship in the office of another, or to suffer the more serious inconvenience of doing nothing in his own. That he should, therefore, make use of whatever means he may for the attainment of more liberal patronage, is surely not strange ...

The object, then, of submitting these Views of Roman antiquities to public notice, is at once candidly proclaimed by the artists. They are not vainly put forth as evidence that he deserves professional encouragement, but as an intimation that he desires it: not speaking his capacity as an architect, but acting merely as a card - a notice - an advertisement.

The Advertisement is followed on pp. 3-6 by an introductory essay headed 'ROMAN ANTIQUITIES' with the evocative sub-title '"Chaos of Ruins!"'.

Plate 2, shown here, is entitled 'The Forum of Nerva' - though in fact it shows the Temple of Mars Ultor in the Forum of Augustus. The wrong identification seems to have been fairly general at the time, and to go back at least to Piranesi; Dubourg's view of the same building in his Plate 14 [cf. no.8] bears the same title. The mistake is perhaps not surprising, given that the area was heavily built over in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Wightwick's description, given below, states correctly that Nerva's forum, which was indeed begun by Domitian, contained a temple to Minerva (Pallas). But he assumes, as also does Dubourg that the temple of Mars Ultor in the Forum of Augustus was a second temple in the Forum Nerva, dedicated to Nerva himself. He is correct, however, in saying that his plate 3 entitled 'Remains of the Temple of Pallas' is actually, despite its title, part of the wall flanking Nerva's forum, and in this he is more accurate than Dubourg.

Wightwick's description runs:


DOMITIAN, last of the Caesars, was equally noted for his love of learning and addiction to folly. His business was, at one time, to write on the important subject of preserving the hair; and his chief pleasure consisted in killing flies with a bodkin. He commenced building a new Forum, and erected therein a temple to Pallas, giving to the forum, in consequence, the name Palladium.

II. Domitian after his death was disgraced, and his forum took the name of his successor Nerva, in celebration of whose virtue, Trajan erected a temple, distinguished by its uncommon grandeur. Of this structure only these columns and a pilaster remain, now merely serviceable as the supports of a heavy bell tower. [Dubourg in the text to his plate 14 calls this 'the steeple of the Church of the Nunziatina'.)

III. The fragment shown in plate III. formed one compartment of the wall which encircled the Forum, and is remarkable for the richness and excellence of its scupture.

Most of Wightwick's numerous other publications were on architectural topics, for example The Palace of Architecture: A Romance of Art and History (London, 1840) and Hints to Young Architects (London and New York, 1847); but he also wrote a 'Romantic play' Richard the First (London, 1848) and a 5-act tragedy Henry the Second (London, 1851).