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Stuart and Le Roy

"But Athens the Mother of elegance and politeness, whose magnificence scarce yielded to that of Rome, and who for the beauties of a correct style must be allowed to surpass her; has been almost entirely neglected. So that unless exact copies of them be speedily made, all her beauteous Fabricks, her Temples, her Palaces, now in ruins, will drop into Oblivion; and Posterity will have to reproach us, that we have not left them a tolerable Idea of what was so excellent, and so much deserved our attention; but that we have suffered the perfection of an Art to perish, when it was perhaps in our power to have retrieved it....We have therefore resolved to make a journey to Athens; and to publish at our return, such Remains of that famous City as we may be permitted to copy, and that appear to merit our attention...."

Proposals for publishing an accurate description of the Antiquities of Athens (1748)

With an easing of diplomatic relations in the mid-eighteenth century, it became possible for an intrepid traveler to visit Greece, which was part of the Ottoman Empire and a country that, since the destruction of the Parthenon in 1687 and the expulsion of the Venetians, largely had been closed to Europeans. In 1751, the English architects James Stuart and Nicholas Revett announced a proposal they had conceived of several years earlier in Rome. Their intention was to systematically survey the architectural monuments of Athens in three folio volumes, with engraved plates ("the most useful and interesting part of this Work," p. vii) and a descriptive text. For the next two years Stuart made notes and picturesque gouache paintings of the actual state of the principal monuments, and Revett the measured drawings. By early 1755, they had made their way back to London, where Stuart spent much time supervising the engraving, preparing the text, designing the binding—and marrying his housekeeper. Hogarth, in fact, lampooned the delay in publication in a satirical print entitled the Five Orders of Perriwigs (1761), "measured Architectonically," which was to be completed in about seventeen years. To the increasing impatience of subscribers, the first volume of The Antiquities of Athens finally appeared in 1762, more than a decade after its authors had left for Greece.

Even then, there was disappointment that this volume contained only a small portion of what had been proposed initially. Rather than the "Antiquities belonging to the Acropolis," lesser Hellenistic and Roman buildings, such as the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates and the Tower of the Winds, were presented. (Somewhat disingenuously, Stuart later explained in an advertisement to the second volume that the intention of the first had been to illustrate such work "as would exhibit specimens of the several kinds of Columns in use among the ancient Greeks; that, if, contrary to our wishes, nothing more should be demanded of us concerning Athens, those who honoured us with their Subscriptions to that Volume, might find in it something interesting on the different Grecian modes of decorating Buildings.")

Recognized as the first accurate survey of classical Greek architecture, The Antiquities of Athens had a profound influence on the Greek Revival in England. In the nineteenth century especially, it served architects and designers as a principal source book for the Greek orders and decorative motifs. Stuart felt that Greek rather than Roman classicism should be the model for contemporary architecture, a position confirmed by Winckelmann in his seminal History of the Art of Antiquity (1764), and used neoclassical designs in his own work, which earned him the sobriquet "Athenian Stuart." Otherwise, his architectural career was modest and commissions not always completed (at least not in a timely fashion). Rather, Stuart seems to have preferred promoting himself as a connoisseur and arbiter of taste for his patrons rather than establishing a clientele for his practice. Ten years before his death, the sixty-five-year old Stuart married his second wife, also a maid servant, who then was sixteen. He died in 1788, suffering from gout and alcoholism.

  The view of the Horologion (Herologium) above depicts the east, northeast, and north sides of the building—and their respective winds Apelitoes, Kaikias, and Boreas. Stuart relates that "the whole Figure of Libs, or the South West Wind, and half the Figure of Notos or the South Wind, were concealed in the Wall of a neighbouring house; which the Owner was prevailed on to pull down" (p.17). Over the centuries, too, the ground level had risen around the tower, and "to trace the original Form of this Building it was necessary to make several considerable Excavations." Trenches were dug some fifteen feet down to the original level of the pavement, which uncovered the steps of the doors and fragments of the entablature and pediment, "all of which furnished abundant Materials for restoring this Edifice to the Form in which it is represented Plate III [above], every part of which is fairly made out from Remains found on the Spot" (p.14). At the time, the Horologion was a place of worship for the Turks, the dirt and rubbish that had accumulated in the interior covered with wooden flooring on which dervishes whirled. Another seven feet of debris was removed, revealing the channels in the marble floor of the original water clock, which Stuart and Revett were the first to recognize.

Appreciating that there were not enough measured drawings of the buildings on the Acropolis, Stuart instead exemplified the three Greek orders in the first volume of The Antiquities: the Doric by the portico of the Roman Agora (Gate of Athena Archegetis), the Ionic by the temple on the Ilissus, and the Corinthian by the Monument of Lysicrates and the Stoa (Library of Hadrian). On the left is a capital from the columns that flanked the doors of the Horologion, reconstructed from fragments found at the site. It differs from the standard orders in that there is only one row of acanthus leaves, above which is another row of palm leaves. There are no volutes or caulicoli and the abacus is square rather than concave.


Julien-David Le Roy

A winner of the Prix de Rome in 1750, Julien-David Le Roy was a historian and pensionnaire at the French Academy in Rome, where he had the opportunity to study its architecture firsthand. It was there that he learned of Stuart and Revett's proposed book and their trip to Greece in 1751-1753. Receiving permission from the Ottoman Turks in Constantinople, he himself hurried to Athens early in 1755, where for three hectic months he surveyed and drew the principal classical monuments there, including those on the Acropolis.

Dilatory by nature and preoccupied with a fitful architectural career, Stuart dallied and, although some plates had been engraved and work done on the text, the first volume still had not been completed when, in 1758, Le Roy published Les Ruines des plus Beaux Monuments de la Grèce. The next year, exasperated at the delay, Revett quit the undertaking. Stuart, too, must have been annoyed that he had allowed himself to be pre-empted by his rival, a Frenchman who had not even arrived in Athens until after he had departed more than a year before. (Even more maddening, an unauthorized version appeared in English the next year.) Critical of Le Roy's inaccurate drawings and perfunctory observations, Stuart set about completely revising his text to refute them. Four years later, in December 1762, the first volume of The Antiquities of Athens finally appeared.

In the preface, Stuart declared that he, at least, was determined "to avoid Haste, and System, those most dangerous enemies to accuracy and fidelity, for we had frequently, with great regret, observed their bad effects in many, otherwise excellent, Works of this kind." Railing against Le Roy, every misunderstanding and inaccuracy were itemized. There were insinuations of plagiarism and charges that descriptions had been taken from others and not made directly, as well as failures to recognize monuments for what they were (e.g., the gateway to the Roman Agora and Hadrian's Library).

Le Roy's drawing of the Horologion above is an example of Stuart's criticism.

"That figure...he informs us, represents Sciron or the North-West Wind; in this the uppermost Vest with Sleeves is omitted, and of Consequence the Arms are naked; besides this, the Position of the Legs is changed, and an Arm is added that is not in the Original. On the right Hand of this Figure, says Mons. Le Roy, is Zephyrus, and the left Boreas: Zephyrus, he tells us in his Description, is a young Man with his Stomach and Legs naked, carrying Flowers in his Mantle: but in this View, he has represented him with a venerable Beard, clothed in a Vest and without his Mantle; when in the Original he has a Mantle and no Vest. The Figure of Boreas like the former bears little Resemblance to the Original; the Position of the Head, the Legs and the Arms, are very different from it; he has moreover omitted his Conch-Shell, his uppermost Vest, and his Mantle. On the Cymatium of the Cornice, human Faces are placed by Mons. Le Roy; these he supposes represent the twenty-four Winds into which the Romans divided their Compass. As they are very entire, it might easily have been discovered that they are not the Heads of Men, but of Lions; and that they only serve for Spouts" (p. 24)

With the publication of Les Ruines, Le Roy was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Architects. But Stuart's criticisms were sufficiently poignant that he felt obliged to publish a response (Observations sur les édifices des anciens peuples) and, in 1770, a second edition of his work—this time with footnotes, quotations in Greek and Latin, and references. There also was a riposte to Stuart, who, he felt, saw the only merit of publishing a book on Greek monuments as providing their exact measurements—and doing so too often.

"The ruins of antiquity may be looked at in widely differing ways. In publishing them, one may undertake no more than a slavish record of their dimensions; and the most scrupulous accuracy in doing so is, in Mr. Stuart's opinion, almost the only merit that a book of this kind can possess. My journey, I confess, was undertaken with very different ends in view; I would never have traveled to Greece simply to observe the relations of the buildings and their parts with the subdivisions of our foot. Such a claim to fame I gladly resign to anyone who desires it and aspires to nothing higher....As for the vast quantity of plates with which works of the present kind are sometimes laden, these often convey nothing to the public beyond the industry or the want of taste of those who have measured the monuments" (Preface, Vol. I).

Stuart and Revett were committed to absolute standards of measurement, to be sure, sometimes to the tenth or hundredth (even thousandths) of an inch, figures that are far too precise to have been accurately measured by a brass yard rule. Rather than by physical measurement, they were calculated mathematically, especially those numbers that were the most minute. In spite of being so meticulous, Stuart failed to recognize entasis (the slight swelling of columns) and other optical illusions. Too, he tended to pay disproportionate attention to the picturesque and to architectural decoration and ornamental detail, such as capitals—Ionic capitals, in particular.

It is telling that the only two plates to be removed from the second edition of Les Ruines were the plans and elevation of the Horologion, which Stuart had shown to be inaccurate. Le Roy also moved the Tower of the Winds, which Stuart had measured so accurately and illustrated so beautifully, to his second volume, which dealt with the period of decline following the golden age of Pericles.

Rather than adapting the architecture of the past to the present, as Stuart did in reviving the Greek past, Le Roy sought to capture its spirit and was more concerned with placing the monuments within a broader historical and theoretical context (both volumes of Les Ruines were prefaced, respectively, with essays on those topics) and showing their relationship to what had come before and after. To him, they were not antiquities but ruins, to be appreciated as objects of beauty in themselves. The Temple of Hephaestus (Hephaisteion), for example, the best preserved classical monument of the fifth-century BC, is portrayed with brambles on its roof even though it then was being used a church (in fairness, Stuart shows brambles as well, just not as many). The Areopagus (Hill of Ares, from which Paul is said to have preached to the Athenians) is placed so close to the temple that it seemingly almost blocks the entrance, and the towers and crenelations of the Acropolis are exaggerated. Fourteen columns, too, are shown on the long side of the temple when, in fact, there are thirteen.

Stuart must have such a image in mind when he proclaimed in the Preface to his own volume that "The Views were all finished on the spot; and in these, preferring Truth to every other consideration, I have taken none of those Liberties with which Painters are apt to indulge themselves, from a desire of rendering their representations of Places more agreeable to the Eye and better Pictures. Not an Object is here embellished by strokes of Fancy, nor is the situation of any one of them changed..." (p. viii).

Le Roy, in turn, disparaged such an approach and prided himself that "In the views that I present, the ruins occupy a far greater part of the picture than in those of Mr. Stuart; they make a livelier impression on the viewer and fill his mind with all the admiration that strikes us when we see the monuments themselves" (Preface, Vol. I). And so the acrimonious exchange continued between the two, to the detrimentand benefitof both works.


Stuart and Revett had not been permitted to survey the Acropolis until a few months before they left and, although Stuart never did return to Athens, Revett visited again in 1765. Their partnership had dissolved in 1759, but Stuart eventually was given permission to use those drawings for his second volume, which was devoted to the Acropolis, including the Parthenon, Erechtheion and Propylaea. It was published posthumously in 1789, a year after Stuart's death (the title page actually bears the date 1787 and the volume may have been published in January 1790). Here, the descriptions are more brief, in part because Stuart did not deign to respond to Le Roy's criticism. A third volume (which included the Temple of Hephaestus, Hadrian's Arch, and Temple of Olympian Zeus) was published in 1794 and, from notes and drawings acquired from Stuart's daughter, a fourth volume in 1816, prompted, no doubt, by the British Museum's purchase of the Elgin marbles that year and the debate as to whether they were truly Periclean or merely Roman restorations. In 1830, the year that Greece was declared an independent monarchy, there was a final volume with the same title but written by a new generation of British architects. Smaller abridged copies also were made available as guides for travelers.


References: Julien-David Le Roy: The Ruins of the Most Beautiful Monuments of Greece [Les Ruines des Plus Beaux Monuments de la Grèce] (1770/2004) translated by David Britt; The Antiquities of Athens: Measured and Delineated by James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, Painters and Architects (1762-1816/2007) introduction by Frank Salmon (both editions are much reduced in size compared to the original folio volumes); James "Athenian" Stuart, 1713-1788: The Rediscovery of Antiquity (2006) edited by Susan Weber Soros (a sumptuous catalog for the Victoria and Albert Museum exhibit); "Stuart and Revett: Their Literary and Architectural Careers" (1938) by Lesley Lawrence, Journal of the Warburg Institute, 2(2), 128-146; "James 'Athenian' Stuart and the Antiquities of Athens" (1998) by Kerry Bristol, Antiquarian Book Monthly, 25(8), 23-26; "Stuart and Revett: Pioneer Archaeologists" (1956) by Jacob Landy, Archaeology, 9(3), 252-259; Athenian Stuart: Pioneer of the Greek Revival (1982) by David Watkin.

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