Pierre-François Hugues d'Hancarville  

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"A collection of pornographic art from antiquity, presented by the French “art historian” Pierre-François Hugues d'Hancarville (1719-1805). A bit of a drifter, d’Hancarville ended up in Naples where he operated as an amateur art dealer and came in contact with the British ambassador to Naples, Sir William Hamilton (1731-1803). For a time d’Hancarville worked as an intermediary for Hamilton and assisted him in the acquisitions of various antiquities, including over 700 vases, as well as more risqué objects. Described as a libertine who was in and out of money trouble (as well as prison), d’Hancarville fell into trouble over the publication of his pornographic volumes entitled Monumens de la vie privée des douze Césars, Monumens du culte secret des dames romaines, and the work featured here, Veneres uti observantur in gemmis antiquis, which according to Joscelyn Godwin were published in 1780, 1784, and 1785 respectively. The works proved popular and spread in both the original French (featured above) and English translation (featured below). As to why the images are presented so small? D’Hancarville states in the preface that at such a size they are closer to the originals and, perhaps more importantly, that they “would have still been more indecent and they been otherwise.”[1]

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Pierre-François Hugues, known as 'baron d'Hancarville' (Nancy 1719 - Padua 1805) was an art historian and historian of ideas. Son of a bankrupt cloth merchant of Nancy, Hancarville was born Pierre-Francois Hugues, adding the title ‘Baron’ and the aristocratic surname Hancarville himself.

He produced Veneres et Priapi, uti observantur in gemmis antiquis (1771) and Monumens de la vie privée des douze Césars (1780).

He as an intimus of William Hamilton, Charles Towneley and Richard Payne Knight.


Les Antiquités d'Hancarville

An amateur art dealer he introduced William Hamilton to the Porcinari family, whose collection of antiquities Hamilton purchased forming the basis of the collection that was subsequently sold to the British Museum. With Hamilton he edited Les Antiquités d'Hancarville published in 4 volumes 1766-67, a collection of vases and other antiquities from the excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii; one of the most beautiful books ever made, it was influential in informing the emerging taste for neoclassicism and inspired reproductions from pottery manufacturers such as Wedgwood. In 1769 Hancarville was forced to flee his creditors in Naples.

Clandestine work

Hancarville also produced two pornographic volumes under fictitious imprints:
Monumens de la vie privée des douze Césars, d'après une suite de pierres gravées sous leur règne (Capri, chez Sabellus, 1780)
Monumens du culte secret des dames romaines ("Rome. De l'Imprimerie du Vatican, 1787")

These were widely pirated, in variously incompetent editions, during his lifetime.

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Antoine Cardon, Charles Townley, James Forlong, Jasperware, Jefferson in Paris, John Parr (merchant), Meidias Painter, Pottery of ancient Greece, Volumnia Cytheris, William Hamilton (diplomat)

See also

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