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Article May by Francesco Bartolozzi, painter and engraver, 1727-1815 after a painting by William Hamilton, history and portrait painter, 1751-1801

May by Francesco Bartolozzi, after a painting by William Hamilton, 18th century
May by Francesco Bartolozzi, after a painting by William Hamilton, 18th century. Dayton C. Miller Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

after a painting by William Hamilton, history and portrait painter, 1751-1801

This is a country scene in which young men appeal to a pair of young women to join them at the village fair where other young people can be seen dancing around a May pole. At the far right stands a young man who plays a recorder. One of the two young women seated near the recorder player looks longingly toward him as the other two men engage the other young woman. A cow stands beneath a tree at the upper right and, in the left distance, is the May pole next to the village church. Pale tints of pink color the flesh of the figures and the roofs of the chuch and house at the far left.

This etching seems to be described in a book on Bartolozzi's prints by Alessandro Baudi de Vesme, Francesco Bartolozzi..., a translation of which is given here: "MAY. At the left, two young peasants and two young shepherdesses of which one is seated and the other kneeling on the ground; farther in the distance, at the left near a church, [are] dancers around a Maypole. At the far right, a young shepherd plays a chalumeau."[1]

May was one of a series of colored etchings of the Months of the Year, after paintings by William Hamilton. All were engraved by Bartolozzi, excepting January and November by W. N. Gardiner. The series was apparently first published by John and Josiah Boydell, London, though no date is given. At least five states of the prints are described. In each state, the images are oval-shaped. None in the series is described as being circular like the Miller print. The third state of the series was published by Thomas Macklin who had a publishing house called The Poet's Gallery in London. Each of the published Macklin prints, also oval in shape, carried lines of verse at the lower left and right corners, and the series was published from April 1788 to October 1793.

The Miller etching does not match any of the states described in Baudi de Vesme, and it is much smaller in its dimensions -- in the average size of each etching and in the size of the plate impressions. The Miller print is round, with a square plate impression, and it does not carry the lettering described in each of the five states. However, the description given for May in Baudi de Vesme certainly does match the Miller print, but the Miller etching must represent still another state not described in Baudi de Vesme.

See 577/K, also by Bartolozzi. See also works in the Miller Collection by Peltro William Tomkins, Bartolozzi's assistant, 419/K, 587/O (after William Hamilton), and 603/K.

About the Artists

Francesco Bartolozzi, painter and engraver, 1727-1815
Francesco Bartolozzi, the son of a Florentine goldsmith, Gaetano Bartolozzi, was born in Florence in 1727, and he died in Lisbon in 1815. He studied at the Academy in Florence, then went to Rome and Venice where he entered the studio of the master engraver, Joseph Wagner. Bartolozzi perfected a technique of stipple engraving in the crayon manner that was especially fine in replicating chalk drawings of Renaissance and Baroque artists. It was because of his beautifully engraved reproductions of drawings by Guercino in Venetian collections that Bartolozzi was invited by Richard Dalton, the librarian to George III, to come to England in 1764 as engraver to the King, and to engrave the drawings of Guercino in the Royal Collection. For the next 38 years, Bartolozzi lived in England. He was one of the founding members of the Royal Academy and engraved its diploma in 1768, based on a design by Cipriani, with whom he collaborated on many other projects, such as the illustrations of Ariosto's Orlando furioso.

Bartolozzi also engraved many of the works of his contemporaries - the allegorical works of Cipriani, Angelica Kauffman, and William Hamilton, as well as portraits by Reynolds, Gainsborough, Romney, Copley and others. In addition, Bartolozzi produced many engravings for the English publisher and print seller, John Boydell, including some engravings he made after paintings commissioned by Boydell from many of the above artists for Boydell's "Shakespeare Gallery." This was a large exhibition space on Pall Mall in London that opened to the public in 1789 and featured paintings illustrating scenes from Shakespeare's plays by the finest artists then working in England. New paintings, and engravings after them, were commissioned by Boydell for annual spring exhibitions until the gallery closed in 1805 after financial reverses. The first set of engravings after these paintings was published in 1791, and a nine-volume folio edition of Shakespeare, illustrated with engravings, was published by Boydell in 1802. To assist him in the production of the more than 2500 prints he made in England, Bartolozzi had as many as fifty assistants and students, among them his son, Gaetano, Peltro William Tomkins, and Luigi Schiavonetti. In 1802, Bartolozzi left England to accept the directorship of the National Academy in Lisbon. Bartolozzi died in Portugal in 1815 at age 87.[2]

William Hamilton, history and portrait painter, 1751-1801
The painter of this scene was William Hamilton, a British painter, draughtsman and book illustrator, born in Chelsea in 1751, and who died in London in 1801. He began his studies as a decorative painter in the studio of Robert Adam (1728-1792), the architect, draughtsman, watercolorist and engraver. About 1766, Adam sent Hamilton to Italy to study with Antonio Zucchi (1726-1795). (Zucchi was a decorative painter who had traveled to Italy with the Adam brothers from 1750 to 1760 to draw ancient monuments and ruins. On his return to England, Zucchi did much of the decorative paintings in houses designed by the Adam brothers and exhibited his work in London from 1770 to 1784, becoming an associate of the Royal Academy in 1784. Zucchi married the painter Angelica Kauffman in 1781 and eventually returned to Italy).

Hamilton was back in London by 1768 and enrolled in studies at the Royal Academy beginning in 1769. He exhibited portraits and history paintings at the Royal Academy from 1774 to 1801. He was elected as an associate of the Royal Academy in 1784 and as a member in 1789. In 1779, Hamilton began to provide illustrations for book publishers John Murray, Robert Dodsley, and Francis Isaac Du Roveray. He was also commissioned to paint 23 works for John Boydell's "Shakespeare Gallery" as well as to paint works for the galleries of Robert Bowyer and Thomas Macklin. Hamilton also provided illustrations for Bowyer's History of England, for Thomas Macklin's Bible and Macklin's British Poets. Hamilton painted more designs for James Thomson's poem, The Seasons, than any other illustrator, preparing designs for five editions between 1777 and 1801. Hamilton also collaborated with the painter, Henry Fuseli (1740-1825), in book illustration. Together, Hamilton and Fuseli contributed designs for illustrations for editions of Thomas Gray's Poems (1800) and Milton's Paradise Lost (1802).[3]


  1. Alessandro Baudi de Vesme, Francesco Bartolozzi: Catalogue des Estampes, with a critical study by Augusto Calabi. Milan: Guido Modiano, 1928. Library of Congress. General Collection. LC call number: NE662.B3B3 Folio. It is described on page 186, cat. no. 677 as follows: "MAY. & à gauche, deux jeunes paysans et deux jeunes bergères, dont l'une est assise et l'autre agenouillée par terre; plus loin, & à gauche près d'une église, des danseurs autour d'un mai. & à l'extrême droite, un jeune berger joue du chalumeau." [back to article]
  2. For more biographical information on Bartolozzi, see Bénézit and an article, "Francesco Bartolozzi," in Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online External Link (subscription only). [back to article]
  3. For additional biographical information on William Hamilton and his book illustrations, see Hanns Hammelmann, Book Illustrators in Eighteenth-Century England, edited and completed by T. S. R. Boase. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 1975, pp. 48-49. Library of Congress. General Collection. LC call number: NC978.H28. Further discussions of Hamilton as an illustrator of books can be found in Richard D. Altick, Paintings from Books: Art and Literature in Britain, 1760-1900. Columbus: Ohio University Press, 1985, see index, under Hamilton; see p. 392 for a discussion of his illustrations for James Thomson's The Seasons. LC call number: PR408.A68A48. Also, see a biography of Hamilton by Geoffrey Ashton, "William Hamilton," in Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online External Link (subscription only). [back to article]

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