Past Events

A Window on Antiquity: The Topham Collection at Eton College


  • 17 May 2013
  • 9:00 – 5:00 pm
  • Public Study Room, Paul Mellon Centre

A conference at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London, in collaboration with the University of Buckingham and Eton College, to accompany the exhibition Paper palaces: the Topham drawings as a source for British neo-classicism

Consisting of 37 volumes and more than 3,000 items, the collection amassed by Richard Topham (1671-1730) is one of the most significant resources for the history of antiquarianism and for the culture and industry of the Grand Tour in Europe. This collection of drawings, watercolours and prints after antique sculptures and paintings in Rome and Italy is the largest of its kind assembled in England, surpassing in both scale and breadth those collected by other celebrated antiquarians such as John Talman, Dr Richard Mead or Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester.

Since its arrival at Eton in 1736 the Topham Collection has fascinated and served archaeologists, researchers investigating collections of antiquities and scholars of the history and reception of the classical tradition. The drawings have also attracted the attention of art historians, as Topham managed to assemble an extraordinary range of works by some of the best Italian draughtsmen of the first half of the eighteenth century, such as Pompeo Batoni, Giovanni Domenico Campiglia and Francesco Bartoli, or by artists who later excelled in other fields, including the architect William Kent. More recently it has also emerged that Francesco Bartoli’s drawings of ancient ceilings and wall elevations in the collection were extensively copied and re-adapted by neo-classical architects such as Robert Adam, James Wyatt and Charles Cameron, becoming one of the most important sources for a decorative language that would spread over Europe.

However, despite the growing body of scholarship on the Topham Collection produced in recent decades, notably the work of the late Louisa M. Connor Bulman, a comprehensive study of the whole collection and of its role in eighteenth-century antiquarian and artistic culture is still wanting. This conference wishes to indicate new avenues of research and is intended as the first step towards an online catalogue of the whole collection.

Conference timetable:

Session 1: The Topham Collection and Its Context: Antiquarianism and the Grand Tour Market in the Early Eighteenth Century

Chair: Ian Jenkins (British Museum)

Cinzia Maria Sicca (Università di Pisa)

The Mind behind the collection: John Talman, antiquary and advisor to Richard Topham and Henry Hare, 3rd Baron Coleraine

Eloisa Dodero (Royal Collections Trust, Windsor Castle)

Did Topham know of the ‘Museo Cartaceo’? The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo and the Topham Collection of drawings

Novella Barbolani (Università di Roma La Sapienza) and Valentina Rubechini (Università di Firenze)

Francesco Maria Niccolò Gabburri, John Talman and Richard Topham: their connections with Florentine and British artists

Bruno Gialluca (Independent Scholar)

William Kent’s drawings after the Antique in the Topham and Holkham Collections

Lucia Faedo (Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa)

The Topham Collection and the Roman palaces: British visitors to the Palazzo Barberini

Session 2: The Topham Collection and Its Archaeological Value

Chair: Helen Whitehouse (Ashmolean Museum)

Mirco Modolo (Università degli Studi di Roma Tre)

From philology to the market: the archaeological value of Francesco Bartoli’s drawings in the Topham Collection

Delphine Burlot (Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art-INHA, Paris)

Forgeries of ancient paintings in the Topham Collection

Session 3: Richard Topham: His Library, Legacy and Influence

Paul Quarrie (Maggs Bros Ltd)

Richard Topham and his library

David Noy (University of Wales Trinity St David)

Richard Topham's will: a collector's plans for the future

Adriano Aymonino (University of Buckingham)

The Topham Collection as a source for British eighteenth-century classicism