The Comte de Caylus and the Birth of Archaeology

Count de Caylus by Alexander Roslin

Count de Caylus by Alexander Roslin

On September 5, 1765, French antiquarian, proto-archaeologist and man of letters Anne Claude de Tubières-Grimoard de Pestels de Lévis, comte de Caylus, marquis d’Esternay, baron de Bransac, was born. The Comte de Caylus is credited with being the first to conceive archaeology as a scientific discipline. Caylus was also a painter and an engraver, and he is also credited with finding a new process to inlay colors in marble.

Anne Claude de Tubières-Grimoard de Pestels de Lévis was the only son of Marquise de Caylus. He fought for several years in the War of the Spanish Succession and after the peace of Rastatt in 1714, the Comte de Caylus resigned in order to travel to Italy, Greece, the Levant, England, and Germany. He devoted much of his time to art, and the study and collection of antiquities. The Comte de Caylus became an active member of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture and of the Académie des Inscriptions.

Probably the most important among the Comte de Caylus’ works is the profusely illustrated Recueil d’antiquités égyptiennes, étrusques, grecques, romaines et gauloises. It was mined by the designers of Neoclassical arts for the rest of the century. His Numismata Aurea Imperatorum Romanorum, treats only the gold coinage of the Roman emperors, those worthy of collection by a grand seigneur. Caylus’ concentration on the object itself marked a step towards modern connoisseuship. In his Mémoire on the method of encaustic painting, the ancient technique of painting with wax as a medium mentioned by Pliny the Elder, he claimed to have rediscovered the method. However, Diderot, maintained that the proper method had been found by J.-B. Bachelier.

Caylus is known widely for his etching works and he opied many paintings of the great masters. Caylus caused engravings to be made, at his own expense, of Bartoli’s copies from ancient pictures and published Nouveaux sujets de peinture et de sculpture (1755) and Tableaux tirés de l’Iliade, de l’Odyssée, et de l’Enéide. Caylus also encouraged other artists and befriended the connoisseur and collector of prints and drawings Pierre-Jean Mariette. Caylus acquainted also with with the disreputable sides of Parisian life. He left a number of more or less witty stories dealing with it which were collected as his Œuvres badines complètes.

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