Hamilton, Gavin

, an excellent painter, descended from the ancient family of the Hamiltons of Murdieston, originally of Fife, but now of Lanarkshire, in Scotland, was born at Lanark, and having discovered from his infancy a great predilection for historic painting, went young to Rome, where he became the scholar of Augustine Massuchi. With the exception of a few occasional visits to Britain, he resided the whole of his life at Rome, where he died in 1797. He had not perhaps the genius of an inventor; but the advantages of liberal education, and of a classic taste in the choice of his subjects, and the style at which he always, and often successfully, aimed, made him at least equal to his most celebrated contemporaries. Some of the subjects which he painted from the Iliad bear ample evidence of this. Achilles grasping the body of Patroclus, and rejecting the consolation of the Grecian chiefs, and Hector tied to his chariot, have something of Homeric sublimity and pathos; the moment chosen is the crisis of the fact, and the test of the hero’s character. But in this last he is not always happy, as in Achilles dismissing Briseis, where the gesticulation of an actor supplants the expression of the man. Of his women the Briseis in the same subject is the most attractive. Neither his Andromache mourning over Hector, nor the Helen in the same, or the scene with Paris, reach our ideas of the | former’s dignity and anguish, or the form and graces of the latter. Indeed, what idea can be supposed to reach that beauty, which, in the confession of age itself, deserved the ten years’ struggle of two nations And yet, in the subject of Paris, those graces and that form are to be subordinate to the superior ones of Venus. He would rank with the first names in art, who from such a combination should escape without having provoked the indignation, contempt, or pity of disappointed expectation.

Though he was familiar with the antique, the forms of Hamilton have neither its correctness nor characteristic purity; something of the modern eclectic principle prevails in his works, and his composition is not seldom as much beholden to common-place ornamental conceits and habits, as to propriety. Though solicitous about colour, he was no colourist; he should have disdained what the grandeur of his subjects rejected, and contented himself with negative hues, and grave and simple tones, instead of the clammy greys, harsh blues, and sordid reds, the refuse of the Roman and Bolognese schools, that cut his breadth and dim his chiaroscuro.

A considerable part of the latter periods of this artist’s life was dedicated to the discovery of antique monuments. He opened scavos in various places of ttye Roman state, at Centumcellue, Velletri, Ostia* and above all at Tivoli, among the ruins of Adrian’s Villa; and it must be owned that the success which attended most of his researches made amply up to art in general for the loss which painting perhaps may have suffered by the intermission of his practice and example. In the collection of the Museo Clementino, next to the treasures of Belvedere, the contributions of Hamilton in statues, busts, and basso relievos, were by far the most important to the progress of art and classic learning; and the best collections scattered over Russia, Germany, and this country, owe many of their principal ornaments to his discoveries. Nor was he less attentive to modern art; he published his “Schola Italica Picture” to trace the progress of its styles from Lionardo da Vinci to the successors of the Caracci. It yet remains to be said Hamilton, that however eminent his talents or other qualities were, they were excelled by the liberality, benevolence, and humanity of his character. 1


Anderson’s He, vol. XVI — -Pilkington, by Fusili. — Edwards’s Supplement to Lord Orford.