Classical art - the art of ancient Greece and Rome - had a tremendous influence on the art of Western Europe from at least the fifteenth century through the late nineteenth. During the 1400s and 1500s, the period of the Italian Renaissance, artists and designers regularly emulated aspects of the antique, although in general they attempted to surpass, rather than simply copy, the art of antiquity. In contrast, their counterparts in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries often endeavored to create more precise imitations of classical prototypes, especially in regard to objects for the fashionable domestic interior.
These later artists were aided considerably in their quest for historical accuracy by the discovery of two archaeological sites in southern Italy: Herculaneum, where excavations began in 1738, and Pompeii, where they commenced ten years later. As reports and illustrations of the artifacts and architectural interiors from these digs were disseminated, European artists, designers, and architects utilized them as important sources for inspiration. Artists were similarly inspired by catalogues of prestigious antiquities collections that were published in the eighteenth century, most notably that of Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803), who amassed a large collection of classical vases while serving as British envoy to Naples.
On view in this exhibition are examples of European ceramics and other works of art from The Mint Museum’s permanent collection that were inspired by classical antiquity. Not all of the works are faithful copies of antique prototypes, but they do all reflect the great interest in the classical world in the decades surrounding 1800.