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18th-century paintings go on display in new exhibition celebrating Scotland's enduring love affair with Italy
Douglas Hamilton, 8th Duke of Hamilton and 5th Duke of Brandon (1756-1799), with Dr John Moore (1730-1802) and Sir John Moore (1761-1809), as a young boy, by Gavin Hamilton, 1775-7.

EDINBURGH.- An enthralling new exhibition set to open at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery this spring will highlight Scotland’s fascination with Italy during the eighteenth century.

Featuring a selection of stunning works from across the National Galleries of Scotland’s collection, Scots in Italy: Artists and Adventurers will bring to life the experiences of the numerous individuals who travelled in pursuit of the unique cultural and professional opportunities that the experience of Italian life and art offered over this period.

A series of paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints will show the impact the journey made on scores of Scots, documenting their experiences and charting their influence, both in Italy and in Scotland.

Celebrated as the centre of classical and modern European civilisation, Italy’s matchless heritage made it the foremost destination for lovers of art and architecture, history and literature. Artists and architects came to hone their skills in the studios and academies of Rome, Florence and Naples. Wealthy young aristocrats refined their manners and broadened their minds in the hope of preparing themselves for life in high society and government. Adventurers and loyalists – intent upon seeing a Jacobite restoration – flocked to the court of the exiled Stuart monarchy in Rome. Dealers and entrepreneurs, meanwhile, exploited a seemingly endless supply of artistic treasures.

Scots in Italy will focus on the striking Scottish personalities who played a key role in the cultural life of the two countries, and especially on their activities in the great cities of Rome and Naples. They included the painter Gavin Hamilton (1730-1803), who helped launch a revolutionary new artistic style, neo-classicism, that would soon spread across Europe; James Byres (1733-1817) of Tonley, who became the leading expert on the art and antiquities of Rome; Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803), a diplomat, collector and patron of the arts who was a central figure in the social and cultural life of Naples; and Robert Adam (1728-92), the leading Scottish architect, whose experience of ancient Roman architecture would help him transform the appearance of the Scottish capital.

In addition, it reveals the close social, personal and professional networks that emerged around these key figures. Bonded by common loyalties, experiences and family connections, the Scots who travelled to Italy in this period formed a remarkably tight-knit and supportive group.

Among the highlights of the exhibition will be some of the most stylish and striking images from the National Galleries’ rich collections of eighteenth-century paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings. Key examples include Gavin Hamilton’s outstanding portrait of Douglas Hamilton, 8th Duke of Hamilton and 5th Duke of Brandon with his tutor, Dr John Moore, and Moore’s son. Painted in Rome in 1775-7, it is one of the artist’s most important works. Brilliantly evoking its three sitters and their shared interest in the classical past, it shows the elegantly poised young duke at its centre, while Dr Moore gestures to the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum and the Temple of Concord. The duke, the artist implies, is not simply in Rome for pleasure, but to learn the lessons of history.

Also on show will be Pompeo Batoni’s magnificent full-length portrait of the 4th Duke of Gordon. Commissioned by the sitter during his visit to Rome of 1762-3, it is one of the finest portraits commissioned by a Scottish traveller from an Italian painter of the period.

Other major works on display include Andrea Soldi’s depiction of the great Italian-trained Scottish architect, James Gibbs, standing before his most important commission, the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford; Franciszek Smuglevicz’s portrait of James Byres and his family, painted in Rome in the late 1770s; Domenico Corvi’s portrait of Scottish artist David Allan, who is shown painting from a cast of the Borghese Gladiator; and Paolo Monaldi’s spectacular view of the Palazzo del Re and the celebrations held to mark Henry Benedict’s appointment as a cardinal deacon in July 1747.

From the beginning of March 2016, these works will be on show at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery for a three-year period.

Christopher Baker, Director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery said: “The lure of Italy was overwhelming for many distinguished Scots in the eighteenth century. A land of sunlight, classical civilisation and beguiling recent artistic achievements, it provided a direct source of inspiration for great buildings, paintings and collections created back home. Through the Portrait Gallery’s rich collection it is possible to encounter key personalities who delighted in the adventure of travel to the Mediterranean world and made the most of it. This exhibition is the first on this important theme to be organised for many years”.

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