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Richardson, Jonathan, the Elder

Date born:  1665

Place Born:  London, England

Date died:  1745

Place died:  Bloomsbury, England

Collector, artist and art writer; first to use the term "connoisseur."  Richardson's principal vocation was as a portrait painter. His early writing focused on art theory, such as An Essay on the Theory of Painting (1715).  It is today considered the first important treatise on the subject by an English writer.  In 1719 he wrote An Essay on the Whole Art of Criticism as it Relates to Painting and an Argument in Behalf of the Science of the Connoisseur.  Richardson's son, also named Jonathan (1694-1771), traveled to Italy in 1721 where he made copious and careful notes of the monuments he saw.  The elder Richardson compiled these into a major early art history and travel guide, useful for much of the English speaking world taking the "grand tour":  An Account of Some of the Statues, Bas-Reliefs, Drawings, and Picture in Italy (1722).  The treatise was republished with other works by the Richardsons in a French language edition in 1728.  Johann Joachim Winckelmann (q.v.) and the painter theorist Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779) mention it as an inspirational work.  The work became so popular among the wealthy class that it virtually function as a "wish list" for those assembling collections.

The Richardson's demonstrated the value of common-sense attitude toward art.  In terms of classical sculpture, the correctly surmised that multiple copies of ancient work indicated, not an original among copies, but that all were copies of a lost original.  They sensed that originals might be gleaned from coinage and recognized, for example,  the Knidian Aphrodite of the Belvedere was in fact the well-known statue of Praxiteles appearing on a coin of the reign of Caracalla.  They were true connoisseurs, whose eyes told them as much about the truth of classical art as the known history.

Home Country: United Kingdom

Sources: Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Research Guide to the History of Western Art. Sources of Information in the Humanities, no. 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1982, p. 47;  The Dictionary of Art  26: 345-6;  Wood, C. Gibson.  Studies in the Theory of Connoisseurship from Vasari to Morelli (Disseration, Warburg Institute, 1982);  Dictionary of National Biography 16:  1122-24; Haskell, Francis, and Penny, Nicholas. Taste and the Antique: the Lure of Classical Sculpture, 1500-1900.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981, pp. 99-100; Gibson-Wood, Carol. Jonathan Richardson: Art Theorist of the English Enlightenment.  New Haven:  Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art /Yale University Press, 2000.

Bibliography: "The Connoisseur." In The Works of Mr. Jonathan Richardson. London: T. Davies, 1773. Facsimile, The Works. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1969.  Two Discourses. London: W. Churchill, 1719.