Britain in the classical world : Samuel Lysons and the art of Roman Britain 1780-1820
journal contributionposted on 20.06.2014, 08:57 by Sarah Ann Scott
This article shows how the eminent antiquary Samuel Lysons (1763–1819) used his publications of Romano-British remains, which were aimed at a British and Continental audience, to challenge the widely held view that Britain’s climate and national characteristics were incompatible with artistic excellence and that Britain was culturally inferior to its Continental neighbours, most notably France, in both past and present. In particular, it shows how he depicted villas and mosaics as some of the finest examples of British cultural achievement under Roman rule, in a period when Roman Britain was largely seen as a military province and cultural backwater, and when aristocratic tastes were predominantly cosmopolitan. He asserted a dramatic improvement from former barbarism and placed Britain firmly within a pan-European classical tradition. The publications also showcased British achievements in the recording of Roman remains and antiquities and in landscape painting, serving as an impressive statement of intellectual and artistic superiority. Samuel Lysons and his associates were working collaboratively to an international agenda, celebrating Britain’s cultural leadership in Europe. Their efforts, most notably in the recording of Romano-British mosaics, have underpinned an exemplary tradition of mosaic scholarship in Britain, and merit far greater recognition.