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Layard, Austen Henry, Sir

    Full Name: Layard, Austen Henry, Sir

    Other Names:

    • Henry Austen Layard

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1817

    Date Died: 1894

    Place Born: Paris, Île-de-France, France

    Place Died: London, Greater London, England, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): archaeology, Italian (culture or style), Italian Renaissance-Baroque styles, and Renaissance


    Archaeologist, adventurer and amateur scholar of Italian renaissance art; discoverer of Nineveh. Layard was the son of Henry Peter John Layard, a civil servant, and Marianne Austen (Layard). He grew up in Florence near the Palazzo Rucellai, instilling in him a lifelong affection in Italy. He knew the British expatriate esthete Seymour Stocker Kirkup (1788-1880) and poet Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864). At 12, Laynard returned to England and was apprenticed as a solicitor under his uncle in 1833. While heading to Ceylon to assist another uncle’s business in 1839, he detoured to see the archaeological sites Asia Minor, copying cuneiform inscriptions. He elected to stay in Iraq where he learned Arabic. In 1842 he worked on diplomatic missions for Sir Stratford Canning (1786-1880) in Constantinople. By 1845 Layard convinced Canning to support excavating a mound at Mosul (Nimrud, ancient Kalhu)–ahead of the French–then thought to be Nineveh. His excavations included 9th century BC sculptures, the so-called Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III and several pairs of human-headed winged lions and bulls (British Museum). In 1849 Layard published Monuments of Nineveh still believing he had discovered the famous city. It was only while excavating the citadel mound at Kuyunjik that he realized it was the true Nineveh. There his spectacular discoveries included Sennacherib’s palace and its rich relief cycles. The same year he published his popularized account of his findings, Nineveh and its Remains. In 1852 Layard, ever the 19th-century, romantic man of action was elected to Parliament for the Liberal party. His denunciation of the British handling of the Crimean War and British imperialism in general eventually alienated him from government. During his many trips to Italy, which was his homeland in many ways, he became interested in the Risorgimento (reorganization of Italy into the modern secular state) and concerned at the decline of the frescos there. In 1856 he enlisted the Arundel Society (founded in 1848 to disseminate art reproductions) to produce a chromolithography edition of the St. Sebastian by Perugino to publicize the fresco’s plight. Layard also published short books on Pinturicchio and Ghirlandaio to assist the project as well as collecting Italian art personally. In 1853 his second book on his archaeological finds, Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon, appeared. At the new founding of the Crystal Palace in 1854, Layard advised the Assyrian court design and objects. This resulted in the Assyrian-mania design of the following decades. He began corresponding with the connoisseur-art historian Giovanni Morelli in 1863 and taking an ever-increasing role in the governing of the National Gallery. When the director, Charles Lock Eastlake died 1865, Layard was considered a possible successor. He instead became a Trustee in 1866, actively advising the museum on acquisitions. As commissioner of works in Gladstone’s cabinet, he appointed the historian of Indian architecture James Fergusson in 1869 to create a new plan of London public buildings. This was scuttled and Layard, much against protocol, was offered the Ambassador position for Madrid. This allowed Layard to include Spanish art work in his acquisitions as well. That year, too, he married Mary Enid Evelyn Guest (1843-1912), a well-connected woman with whom he had had a relationship since the 1840s. In 1877 Disraeli appointed Layard ambassador to Constantinople. The Layards returned Italy after Austen Henry’s (always known as “Henry”) retirement in 1883, settling in Venice at the Ca’ Cappello, later known as the Palazzo Cappello-Layard. After the death of his friend, Morelli, in 1891, he financed the second and more comprehensive English edition, co-edited by Constance Jocelyn Ffoulkes of Morelli’s Italian Painters, writing a brief biography of Morelli. In 1887 he issued a revised version in English of the 1837 Handbuch der Geschichte der Malerei by Franz Kugler. A revision of the painting galleries section of the original 1843 Murray guidebook of Rome appeared in 1894. Layard returned to London, now suffering from cancer, where he died, his body cremated. His papers are held at the British Library and his collection bequeathed to the National Gallery, London, although only incorporated 1916. His Venetian palazzo is today the Istituto Orientale, Università degli Studi. Layard’s work was important for the discovery of Assyrian objects and the dissemination of the important art-historical writings of Morelli (and connoisseurship) and Kugler to the English-speaking world. His correspondence reveals much about the early history of the National Gallery and the history of conservation of object. His home in Venice became a visiting point for British and an important private art collection.

    Selected Bibliography

    The Monuments of Nineveh: From Drawings Made on the Spot. London: J. Murray, 1849; Nineveh and its Remains: With an Account of a Visit to the Chaldean Christians of Kurdistan, and the Yezidis, or Devil-Worshippers and an Enquiry into the Manners and Arts of the Ancient Assyrians. 2 vols. London: J. Murray, 1849; Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon; with Travels in Armenia, Kurdistan and the Desert: Being the Result of a Second Expedition Undertaken for the Trustees of the British Museum. London: J. Murray, 1853; The Nineveh Court in the Crystal Palace. London: Crystal Palace/Bradbury & Evans, 1854; The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian Painted in Fresco by Pietro Perugino in the Chapel of the Saint at Panicale. London: Arundel Society, 1856; The Frescoes by Bernardino Pinturicchio, in the Collegiate Church of S. Maria Maggiore at Spello. London: Arundel Society, 1858; Domenico Ghirlandaio and his Fresco of the Death of S. Francis. London: Arundel Society, 1860; Handbook of Painting: The Italian Schools, Based on the Handbook of Kugler, Originally Edited by Sir Charles Eastlake, P.R.A. Fifth Edition. 2 vols. London: John Murray, 1887; and Ffoulkes, Constance Jocelyn. [edited and wrote] “Introduction.” Morelli, Giovanni. Italian Painters: Critical Studies of their Works. 2 vols. London: John Murray, 1892-1893; revised section on “Painting Galleries” section in Lanciani, Rodolfo, and Murray, Alexander Stuart, and Pullen, Henry William. A Handbook of Rome and its Environs. 15th ed. London: J. Murray, 1894; The Frescoes by Bern: Pinturicchio, in the collegiate church of S. Maria Maggiore, at Spello. London: Arundel Society, 1858; The Brancacci Chapel and Masolino, Masaccio, and Filippino Lippi. London: Arundel Society, 1868.


    Venturi, Adolfo. “La Formazione della Galleria Layard a Venezia.” L’Arte 15 (1912): 449-62; Waterfield, Gordon. Layard of Nineveh. New York: F. A. Praeger; Anderson, Jaynie. “Layard, Austin Henry.” Dictionary of Art; Fleming, John. “Art Dealing and the Risorgimento.” Burlington Magazine 115 (1973): 4-16; 121 (1979): 492-508, 568-80; Layard, Austin. Sir A. Henry Layard, G.C.B., D.C.L.: Autobiography and Letters from his Childhood until his Appointment as H. M. Ambassador at Madrid. London: J. Murray, 1903; Parry, Jonathan. “Layard, Austen Henry.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


    "Layard, Austen Henry, Sir." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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