Arundel marbles

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Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, collector

The Arundel marbles are a collection of carved Ancient Greek sculptures and inscriptions collected by Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel in the early seventeenth century, the first such comprehensive collection of its kind in England. They are now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, having been donated in two groups.

The bulk of the collection was a gift by Arundel's grandson Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk in 1667, at the prompting of John Evelyn and John Selden. The remainder were received in a second gift of 1755, when the extravagant 2nd Earl of Pomfret sold back to his mother those that had been at his house at Easton Neston and she donated them to the Ashmolean, where they are sometimes called the Pomfret marbles.

The Earl of Arundel had supervised excavations in Rome, and deployed his agents in the Eastern Mediterranean, above all at Istanbul. Late in the seventeenth century, an visitor to Ottoman Turkey could complain that:

"the scarcity of antiquities now to be found in Smyrna arises from hence, that it furnished the greatest part of the Marmora Arundeliana."[1]

The earl displayed his unrivalled collections at Arundel House, London, and one which his grandson did not leave to the collection, a 2nd-century AD relief from Ephesus is on display in the 17th century gallery at the Museum of London. Some of these are not works of art but important inscriptions, the first Greek inscriptions that had been seen in England, from which historians have confirmed many dates in Greek history. Among them is the Parian Chronicle, inscribed about 263 BC so called because it was found on Paros, which gives Greek dates from 1582 BC down to 354 BCE [2] Among outstanding pieces is a relief that shows parts of the human body, outstretched arms: elbow to finger tips, foot, clenched fists and fingers each used as in that period of Ancient Greece as standard units of measure. Another important object from Arundel's collection is the so-called Arundel Head, an Hellenistic bronze portrait of a philosopher or king from Asia Minor now in the British Museum.[3]

The Arundel marbles were catalogued as early as 1628, when, at the suggestion of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, John Selden compiled a catalogue: Marmora Arundeliana with the assistance of two others, Patrick Young and Richard James. In 1763 Richard Chandler published a fine edition of the inscriptions as Arundelian Marbles, Marmora Oxoniensia with a Latin translation, and a number of suggestions for filling the lacunae (gaps).

References[edit]

  1. ^ Chambers' Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities, 1869 "July 7th"
  2. ^ A smaller fragment of the relief, covering 356–299 BCE is conserved in the museum on Paros.
  3. ^ British Museum Collection [1]