Letters from a Young Painter Abroad: James Russel in Rome, 1740-1763

James Russel was an English artist and antiquary who lived in Rome between 1740 and 1763.  At one time he was among the foremost ciceroni in Italy.  His patrons included Richard Mead and Edward Holdsworth.  Andrew Lumisden, the Secretary to the Young Pretender, wrote that Russel was his ‘ingenious friend’.   Despite his centrality to the British Grand Tour community of the mid eighteenth century, scholars have virtually ignored him. Instead, they favor his fellow artists, such as Robert Adam and William Chambers, and other antiquaries, such as Thomas Jenkins, James Byres, and Gavin Hamilton.   Nevertheless, Russel’s career gives insight into the British community in Italy at the dawn of the golden age of the Grand Tour.  His struggles as an artist reveal the conditions in which the young tyros laboured.  His rise to prominence broadens what we know about both the British and Italian artistic communities in eighteenth-century Rome.  And, his network of patrons reveals some of the familial and political connections that were necessary for social success in eighteenth-century Britain.  In fact, the experience of James Russel reveals the importance of seeing Grand Tourist and expatriate communities as extensions of domestic social networks.  Like eighteenth-century sailors who went to sea, these travelers lived in a world apart that was nevertheless intimately connected to life at home.

“Letters from a Young Painter Abroad: James Russel in Rome, 1740-1763 [Introduction and Critical Edition of the James Russel Manuscripts].” Walpole Society 74 (2012). 61-164.

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