Athens in its Present State of Ruin

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Athens in its Present State of Ruin
Athens in its Present State of Ruin
Athens in its Present State of Ruin
The Trustees of the British Museum
title=Credit line
Benjamin Pouncy after Solomon Delane (1727-1784)
Athens in its Present State of Ruin
Etching and engraving
Metric: 485 x 573 mm
Imperial: 19 1/16 x 22 9/16 in.
Accession Number
Wilson Online Reference
View of a ruined classical temple on the left before which a beggar woman stands with an infant in her arms, attempting to attract the attention of three gentlemen examining the antiquities. In the foreground on the right a group of three men excavate, two smoking long pipes while the other digs, uncovering an armless female statue. In the middle distance a funeral procession passes. The city and sea can be seen beyond.
Purchased from Edward Daniell, 53 Mortimer Street, Cavendish Square, London, 1866
Tombstone lower right inscribed in Greek: 'SOCRATOU | ATHANATOU | ANDROS [of Socrates, immortal man]
Scratched below the image lower right: 'Etched by B T Pouncy 1782'
Ralph Willett's description of the missing original oil reads:

' ... it represents the Ruin of the Arts and of Science; the celebrated vain-glorious City, now in the Hands of the Turks, teaches us to bewail the short-lived Excellency of sublunary Fame. The Temple, once the Pride of Athens, affords, in this View, only broken Columns and dismembered Capitals; the Ivy and the Briars almost hide the little Remains of its Wall, and scattered Heaps of truncated Heroes and Pedestals cover the ground; on one of them is still legible [in Greek notation] Andros Athanatou, and is used by a Turk to sit upon while he smoaks his Pipe. A mortifying Lesson to human Vanity! Two curious European Travellers are surveying these Ruins; one of them meditates on the sad Scene before his Eyes; another is addressed by a very picturesque Grecian Girl in white, with a Child at the Breast, who seems soliciting his Charity; a third,who may be the Captain of their Vessel, is looking, with less Curiosity, at the Objects about him. Several Turks are busied in loading Saiques in the Bay; another is employed in breaking to pieces a fine Torso, for the most common Uses, while his Companion sits with stupid Indifference on the Bust of it.

Instead of the Temple is a Turkish Mosque; and instead of the Sacrifice to Minerva, a Turkish Funeral. The Distance across the Bay is made out by the Port of Athens, before which are several Saiques, ruined Temples, &c. and a savage Country. Every Object in this Picture is calculated to impress the Mind with the most awful Reflections on the Decline of Knowledge, and to excite in the Spectator the most resolute Attention to hold fast that large Portion of it, with which Providence and the united Labours of so many excellent Men have enriched us. Long, very long, may the first Picture [P180] be the Picture of Great Britain; and late, if ever, may the second bear the least resemblance to her sinking State! Esto perpetua!'
Related Prints
E51 Benjamin Pouncy after Wilson Athens in its Flourishing State, The British Museum (X,8.5)
E51A Benjamin Pouncy after Wilson Athens in its Flourishing State, The British Museum (X,8.6)
Critical commentary
The final state of the print is the last illustration but three (unpaginated) in Ralph Willett's folio A Description of the Library at Merly, London, 1785, where it is additionally lettered lower left: 'Ralph Willett inv. Sol. Delane pinx.' The present location of the original painting is unknown but it was part of a decorative scheme.
Ralph Willett, A Description of the Library at Merly, London, 1785, pp. 36-38; Proposals for publishing by Subscription a Series of Prints, that illustrate the Rise and Progress of Civilization and of Knowledge, as founded on Religion [ ...] in the Library of Ralph Willett, Esq., at Merley, in Dorset, n.d. [1785], p. 3, no. 25; A Description of the Library at Merly [...] / Description de la Bibliothèque de Merly [...], 1785, p. 13 and preceding illustration; T. Knox, 'A mortifying Lesson to human Vanity: Ralph Willett's Library at Merly House, Dorset', Apollo,vol. 152, July 2000, pp. 38-45
Unfinished state with scratched engraver's name, before hatching on the fold nearest the woman's right cheek