King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
‘A brighter Hellas’: rediscovering Greece in the 19th century

Edward Daniel Clarke

Engraved view of the temple of ErectheusThe temple of Erectheus [Erechtheion] near the Parthenon at AthensDuring the 18th century scholars began to make a distinction between the writings and art of the ancient Romans and that of the ancient Greeks, viewing the former as derived from the latter. The theories of the German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68) were fundamental to this school of thinking and promoted the study of ancient Greece.

From the mid-18th century onwards European architects, travellers and collectors were enticed to Greece by itsancient past. Alongside legitimate research activities and excavations, however, a lucrative trade in the sale of antiquities emerged that led to the export of Greek treasures.

Following a tour of Scandinavia in 1799, Edward Daniel Clarke (1769-1822) travelled through Russia, reaching Constantinople in 1800, where his party devoted time to discovering the site of Homer’s Troy. Clarke was a mineralogist and antiquary and while touring Greece he collected marbles, coins and vases and purchased a large ancient statue at Eleusis. Upon his return to England, Clarke presented his Greek marbles to the University of Cambridge, which later deposited them in the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Clarke’s journals provided the content for six volumes of his Travels, published between 1810 and 1823. The plate on display shows the temple of Erectheus [Erechtheion] near the Parthenon at Athens, drawn by an artist named Preaux. In the preceding passages Clarke gives a poignant eye-witness account of the removal of one of the marble metopes from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin’s agent, Giovanni Battista Lusieri:

We saw this fine piece of sculpture raised from its station between the triglyphs: but the workmen endeavouring to give it a position adapted to the projected line of descent, a part of the adjoining masonry was loosened by the machinery; and down came the fine masses of Pentelican marble, scattering their white fragments with thundering noise among the ruins.

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