Charles Towneley

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Charles Townley (October 1, 1737 – January 3, 1805[1]) was an English country gentleman, antiquary and collector of the Townley Marbles (or Towneley Marbles).

He was born at Towneley Hall, the family seat, near Burnley in Lancashire, on the 1st of October 1737. (He regularly spelt his name Townley, so this is the spelling usually used in modern literature for him, but still usually not for his marbles.[2]) From a Catholic family and thus excluded both from public office and from English universities, he was educated at the college of Douai, and subsequently under John Turberville Needham, the physiologist and divine. In 1758 he took up his residence at Towneley Hall [1], where he lived the ordinary life of a country gentleman until 1767, when he left England on the Grand Tour, chiefly to Rome, which he also visited in 1772-3 and 1777. He also made several excursions to the south of Italy and Sicily. In conjunction with various dealers, including Gavin Hamilton, artist and antiquarian, and Thomas Jenkins, a dealer in antiquities in Rome, he got together a splendid collection of antiquities, known especially for the "Towneley Marbles" (or "Townley"), which was deposited in 1778 in a house built for the purpose in Park Street, in the West End of London, where he died on the 8th of January 1805. His solitary publication was an account of the Ribchester Helmet in Vetusta Monumenta, a Roman cavalry helmet found near Towneley Hall,[3] and now in the British Museum.[4] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in March 1791.[5] He became a member of the Society of Dilettanti 1786, and made a trustee of the British Museum in 1791.[3]

The trustees of the British Museum obtained from Parliament a grant of £20,000, probably not half the original cost; and for this sum his marbles and the larger bronzes and terracottas were purchased from the family in 1805, and still form the core of its Graeco-Roman collection. The small antiquities, including coins, engraved gems, and pottery, followed in 1814.

He became the most famous member of the family and another of the treasures now at Towneley is a conversation piece [2] by Johan Zoffany of Townley in his London house surrounded by an imaginary arrangement of his sculptures.[6] Engaged in discussion with him are three fellow connoisseurs, the palaeographer Charles Astle, Hon. Charles Francis Greville, F.R.S., and Pierre-François Hugues D'Hancarville. Prominent in front are Townley's Roman marble of the Discobolos,[7] the Nymph with a Shell, of which the most famous variant was also in the Borghese collection[8] and a Faun of the Barberini type. On a pedestal in front of the fireplace, the Boys Fighting from the Barberini collection had been Towneley's first major purchase, in 1768: Winckelmann had identified it as a lost original by Polyclitus. In point of fact, Towneley's only Greek original appears to have been the grave relief on the left wall above the Bust of a Maenad posed on a wall bracket. The so-called Bust of Clytie[9] perches on the small writing-table, in Zoffany's assembly of the Townley marbles: it was extensively reproduced in marble, plaster, and the white bisque porcelain called parian ware for its supposed resemblance to Parian marble. Goethe owned two casts of this.[10] The Townley Venus on a Roman well-head that serves as drum pedestal had been discovered by Gavin Hamilton at Ostia and quietly shipped out of the Papal States as two fragmentary pieces[11] The marble Townley Vase, also furtively exported, stands on the bookcase at the rear: it was excavated about 1774 by Gavin Hamilton at Monte Cagnolo.

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