Thomas Jenkins (antiquary)

Thomas Jenkins (ca. 1722 — 1798) was a British antiquary and minor painter who went to Rome accompanying the English landscape painter Richard Wilson about 1750 and remained behind, establishing himself in the city by serving as cicerone and sometime banker to the visiting British, becoming a dealer in Roman sculpture and antiquities to a largely British clientele and an agent for gentlemen who wished a portrait or portrait bust as a memento of the Grand Tour. [Brinsley Ford, "Thomas Jenkins, banker, dealer and unofficial English agent" "Apollo" 99 (1974) pp 416ff.]

Jenkins' often unpleasantly self-serving maneuvers to keep artists in Rome from direct contact with visiting potential clients appear like a "leitmotiv" in the series of letters written from Rome and Tivoli in 1758 by the artist Jonathan Skelton, slandered as a "Jacobite" by Jenkins. [Brinsley Ford, "The letters of Jonathan Skelton written from Rome and Tivoli in 1758" "Walpole Society" 36 (1956-58), ] Among the antiquities that passed through his hands, often improved by Roman sculpture restorers like Bartolomeo Cavaceppi, was the "Discobolus" discovered in Hadrian's Villa, which Jenkins sold to Charles Townley: the Townley "Discobolus" is in the British Museum. Jenkins also exported paintings to London. [T. Ashby, "Thomas Jenkins in Rome" (Papers of the British School at Rome, 6.8 [1913] , pp 487-511.] Jenkins was also instrumental in the formation of Lord Shelburne, later Lord Lansdowne's collection of antiquities and the collection formed by Henry Weddell on his Grand Tour in 1765-66, at Ince Blundell Hall, Lancashire, notably the "Jenkins Venus" (also known as the "Barberini Venus") from Palazzo Barberini. Jenkins' sculptures also went, at secondhand, to form the collection at the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, when Catherine's agents bought the Lyde Browne collection at Wimbledon, which had largely been purchased through Jenkins. [O. Neverov, "The Lyde Browne Collection and the History of Ancient Sculpture in the Hermitage Museum" "American Journal of Archaeology" 88.1 (January 1984), pp. 33-42.]

In 1770, a papal dispensation from Pope Clement XIV enabled Jenkins and the painter-dealer Gavin Hamilton to manage the dispersal of the Mattei antiquities, which had formed one of the most-visited private collections in Rome. Clement made a first selection for his Museo Pio-Clementino at the Vatican before permitting export, with Jenkins and Hamilton acting as agents for Don Giuseppe Mattei. By the time the three volumes of "Monumenta Mattheiana" were issued, 1776-79, most of the Mattei marbles, some bought by Jenkins directly, were no longer in Italy.

Jenkins also dealt in modern works of sculpture: in 1786 he purchased Gian Lorenzo Bernini's "Neptune and Glaucus" from the gardens of Villa Montalto; as a consequence it is the only Bernini sculpture in the UK.

Jenkins kept an apartment in a palazzo in the via del Corso, in the heart of Rome, in the area that was most frequented by the foreigners, between Piazza di Spagna, with its "Caffè Inglese", and Piazza del Popolo. Essential to Jenkins' "modus vivendi" was that he was known to everyone, owners of sellable antiquities, Roman and foreign artists and sculptors, and antiquaries like Cardinal Albani and Winckelmann.

From the 1750s, Jenkins was closely involved with Piranesi, who dedicated to him the frontispiece of his "Raccolta di alcuni disegni del Guercino" (1764). [Noted by John Wilton-Ely, "A Bust of Piranesi by Nollekens" "The Burlington Magazine" 118 No. 881 (August 1976, pp. 591-595) p 594 note 10. ] Jenkins was elected an Honorary Fellow of the London Society of Antiquaries in 1757, the same year Piranesi was elected, and they were elected together to the Accademia di San Luca in January 1761. (Jenkins did not deliver the official portrait that membership in the Accademia required until 1791; it is by Anton Maron.) [Ford 1974:418; Wilton-Ely 1976:594.] Jenkins kept up a constant correspondence with the Society of Antiquaries, and sent them at intervals his drawings of recently-discovered antiquities, not all of which were for sale through his agencies. A series was published in 1965. [S.R. Pierce, "Thomas Jenkins in Rome", "The Antiquaries Journal" 45 (1965), pp 225-29.]

More privately Jenkins also acted as an unofficial spy for the British government, keeping watch on the comings and goings of visitors with Jacobite sympathies at the seat of the Stuart Pretender, James Francis Edward Stuart. This gave him a shady reputation, particularly among Scottish visitors. James Adam, brother of the architect Robert Adam, heard of Jenkins in Florence, even before he reachied Rome, and took him for a countryman: "We have another excellent countryman at Rome who plays his cards there to admiration: Bob will remember him— his name is Jenkins. Last winter he sold no less than £5000 worth of pictures &ca. to the English of which every person of any knowledge is convinced he put £4000 in his pocket." [James Adam's letter, 1760, quoted in John Fleming, "Robert Adam and his Circle" (Harvard University Press) 1962:278f.] Andrew Lumisden reported to his brother-in-law Robert Strange (November 1760) that Jenkins had long been noted "for his villainies. However by consummate impudence joined to the honourable office of spy, he gets himself recommended to many of the English travellers". [Fleming 1962:note p 373.]

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