Antiquarian, archaeologist, vulcanologist, and envoy to the British Embassy in Naples, Sir William Hamilton (1731–1803) was a leading European figure of his time. Though the romance between his wife Lady Emma Hamilton and Horatio Nelson tends to eclipse Sir William’s own activities, his work as a scientist and a classicist made major contributions to the study of Pompei, Herculaneum, and Mt. Vesuvius.
As an expert in ancient art, Hamilton also built up an invaluable collection of ancient Greek vases, subsequently sold to the British Museum in London in 1772. Before the pieces were shipped off to England, Hamilton commissioned Pierre-François Hugues d’Hancarville, an adventurous connoisseur and art dealer, to document the vases in words and images. The resulting catalog, published in four volumes and known as Les Antiquités d’Hancarville, represents a neoclassical masterpiece. Never before had ancient vases been represented with such meticulous detail and sublime beauty.