Roman British Priestesses
Coloured aquatintpublished 1 June 1815
About the work
This early 19th-century aquatint print was published as an illustration to Charles Hamilton Smith’s ‘Ancient Costumes of Great Britain and Ireland: From the Druids to the Tudors’, first published in two volumes in 1821. ‘Roman British Priestesses’ shows (to the left) a priestess in ancient dress, based on that of some sculptures found in Northumberland. To the right, a second priestess wears Roman dress and she, according to the author, represents ‘the true British style… and therefore affords a specimen of a Roman-British Priestess in the latter time of the residence of the Romans in Britain.’
Smith’s ‘Ancient Costumes of Great Britain and Ireland’ goes beyond the subject of costume history to describe and illustrate armies, battles, weapons, ships, tournaments and every day activities of the period. The text and illustrations on fashion encompass armour, ecclesiastical costume and clothes worn by the general population. However, the illustrations not only depict the costume of the time but also include relevant background scenes and illustrations of actual artefacts.
About the artist
Charles Hamilton Smith was a soldier and natural historian. However, Smith also produced accurate drawings for his publications. By 1815 he had written two books on the subject of costume worn in Britain and Ireland before the 17th century: ‘Ancient Costumes of Great Britain and Ireland’ (published 1821) and ‘The Costume of the Original Inhabitants of the British Islands from the Earliest Periods to the Sixth Century’ (published 1814-15), which was co-authored by antiquary and historian of arms and armour Samuel Rush Meyrick.
Robert Havell senior, son of artist and publisher Daniel Havell, was born in Reading but moved to London as a child. After Robert launched his career, father and son collaborated on illustrations for Henry Salt’s ‘Twenty Four Views Taken in St. Helena’ (1809–10). However, the partnership was short-lived and Robert later established himself at premises in Fitzrovia. He married Lydia Miller Phillips and had a son, Robert junior. Robert junior and his father formed the firm of R. Havell & Son, working on numerous projects including ‘Birds of America’ for John James Audubon. The scale of this project led them to employ 50 additional staff and move to larger premises in Oxford Street. Robert senior died a year after the company expansion.