Monday, 29 April 2019

James Adam: Portrait by Antonio Zucchi

Portrait of James Adam, architect and designer, by Antonio Zucchi, 1763. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti, National Galleries of Scotland/Victoria and Albert Museum. Cover picture is a detail of the painting.
A magnificient portrait of James Adam, a member of the great eighteenth century Scottish architectural dynasty, by Italian artist Antonio Zucchi, has been purchased by the National Galleries of Scotland and the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is now on show at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, writes Antonio Visconti. Additional reporting by Isabella Lancellotti

Antonio Zucchi's portrait of James Adam
at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti
National Galleries
of Scotland/Victoria
Albert Museum
JAMES Adam was one of the leading Scottish proponents of the European Neoclassical movement and played a key role in developing British architecture. This sumptuous portrait by Antonio Zucchi was bought for £480,000, purchased with £150,000 from the Art Fund and the rest provided by the Victoria & Albert Museum and National Galleries of Scotland.

The painting is on display amid the eighteenth-century collection at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh before being exhibited in the V&A's British Galleries in London later this year. Zucchi’s portrait complements his work as an engraver and decorative painter already held in the collection.

“James Adam’s portrait is a work of great swagger and refinement that demonstrates the confidence of the Scottish Adam family as seminal taste makers for eighteenth-century Europe," said Christopher Baker, Director of European and Scottish Art and Portraiture for the National Galleries of Scotland. "It represents a splendid addition to the collection." The painting will be on show at the V&A for 12 months before returning to Edinburgh and will be shown at each institution for seven years on rotation.

Adam was a leading advocate of the European Neoclassical movement and played a key role in developing British architecture

The painting depicts architect James Adam during his grand tour of Italy in 1763, before he returned to London to work with his brother, Robert Adam. Antonio Zucchi painted James Adam opulently dressed in a resplendent setting. The architect and designer began his trip to Italy in 1760 and the portrait was painted three years later, before he left Rome. 

The portrait shows his profession as an architect as he holds dividers in one hand and paper in the other. However, James Adam is also presented as a man of wealth and discrimination, wearing a silk and fur trimmed gown, at ease with his knowledge of the remains of the classical world that surround him. This type of grand portraiture was most often done for travelling aristocrats, rather than architects.

Hanging Antonio Zucchi's portrait of James Adam
at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti
National Galleries of Scotland
Victoria Albert Museum
“Zucchi’s portrait of James Adam depicts one of the leading Scottish exponents of the European Neoclassical movement who played a formative role in developing British architecture," said Julius Bryant, Keeper of Word and Image at The Victoria and Albert Museum. "It is an ideal portrait for the Neoclassicism section of the V&A’s British Galleries."

The architect is surrounded by objects that refer to the study of the ancient world that inspired the neo-classical designs for which the Adams were renowned. The sculptures depicted in the painting behind James include the Medici Vase and the Giustiniani Minerva, famous examples of ancient art which could be studied in Rome. James Adam and his contemporaries were inspired by these works for their own designs for projects in Britain.

The painting depicts James Adam during his grand tour of Italy in 1763, before he returned to London to work with his brother Robert Adam

The most significant object depicted in the painting is the sculpted capital of a Corinthian column in the foreground, on which James rests his left arm. At first it looks like a work from antiquity, but is actually taken from a sculpture design by James Adam. While he was in Italy, he made detailed plans for rebuilding the Houses of Parliament in London in a neo-classical style, a project that was never realised. As part of this scheme, he produced detailed drawings for a new British architectural order of columns, combining the Scottish unicorn with an English lion.

The drawings James Adam made were used as the basis for creating a model made of wax that was coloured bronze  ~ and it is this column capital that is painted by Zucchi. It advertised Adam’s ingenuity as a designer and the unicorn reminded his clientele of his Scottish heritage.

Antonio Zucchi's portrait of James Adam
at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti
National Galleries of Scotland
Victoria Albert Museum
The portrait has the distinction of being the only known work of a British architect and designer by Antonio Zucchi. The artist was born in Venice and later worked on a number of decorative paintings for major interior schemes designed by the Adam brothers, before marrying the painter Angelica Kauffmann in 1781 and settling with her in Rome.

Robert and James Adam, along with their brothers John and William, were the sons of the mason-architect and entrepreneur William Adam. Together the family enjoyed the status of being Scotland’s foremost architects of the eighteenth century. Their role as designers of neo-classical buildings and interiors was to prove profoundly influential not only in Edinburgh and London but all across Europe, North America and Russia.

Robert and James established their architectural practice in 1758. They not only excelled at designing elegant Palladian buildings but also entire interior decorative schemes, including furniture, creating a great sense of unity to their neo-classical designs. Between 1773 and 1779 the brothers published The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam which played a key role in spreading knowledge of their work internationally.

As neo-classical designers, the Adam brothers were profoundly influential not only in Edinburgh and London but all across Europe, North America and Russia

This portrait of James Adam is the third artwork to be jointly-acquired by the V&A and NGS after acquiring two outstanding sculptures, Lorenzo Bartolini’s The Campbell Sisters in 2015, and Antonio Canova’s The Three Graces in purchased 1994.

“We are very pleased to be helping both National Galleries Scotland and the V&A in acquiring this fine and important portrait of James Adam," said Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund. "It is a fitting addition to both collections, marking the sitter’s legacy as a highly influential Scotsman with great significance to the history of British architecture and design.”