sidebar text

The Project


The art world in Britain 1660 to 1735 will create a searchable corpus of the principal primary materials relating to the arts in early modern Britain. It will present new research in the form of a biographical dictionary, a database of art sales, a topographical dictionary and a group of subject-based texts. It will provide tools for further research with a database of financial records and a large checklist of works of art. The art world in Britain 1660 to 1735 is a major initiative of Court, Country, City: British Art 1660-1735. It is a long-term project, based at the University of York, which collaborates with other scholars and institutions and welcomes the involvement of its users. The website will be published as a developing work in progress: substantial additions of data will be uploaded every three months, and functional enhancements will keep pace with the growing body of material. The project aims to reach completion in October 2020.

Back to top


The years 1660 to 1735 comprise a fascinating and dynamic period in the history of the arts in Britain. War, revolution, fiscal revolution and demographic change had huge cultural impacts. London attracted an international traffic of artists and artefacts from across Europe and was at the centre of a nationwide circulation of skills and ideas about art. As London expanded westwards, a new public for paintings and prints was fostered in the rapidly growing periodical press and at coffee house meetings. Great collections were formed by the Duke of Devonshire and Sir Robert Walpole, among many others. It was an era of iconic building projects in London and beyond: St Paul's Cathedral and the City churches; the palaces of Chatsworth and Blenheim; public buildings such as Oxford's Sheldonian Theatre and Greenwich hospital. Around Britain painting occupied hundreds in trades such as house, ship and coach painting. Colourmen, frame makers, carvers and sculptors, picture sellers, drawing masters, writers, publishers, surveyors and engravers collectively gave shape, in their many varied ways, to the art world in Britain, 1660 to 1735.

The University of York and Tate Britain have established a collaborative research project to investigate this period. Named Court, Country, City: British Art 1660-1735 the project has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council for the academic years 2009-12 and will communicate its findings through conferences, museum displays, doctoral theses and scholarly publications. This website, The art world in Britain 1660 to 1735, is one of the main outcomes of the project.

The ambitious goal of The art world in Britain 1660 to 1735 is to create a corpus of transcribed primary sources relating to the arts in Britain between 1660 and 1735 and, using these sources, to create a group of secondary texts and research tools. Together, the sources and tools will represent the existing knowledge, publish significant new research, and create new opportunities for future investigations. There is a huge opportunity to discover much more about the period through a closer knowledge of its documentary sources. While some major sources - such as George Vertue's notebooks - are well known, others - such as Charles Beale's notebooks - are much less studied. Cumulatively, even very modest sources - a painter's receipt, or a trade card - can have a significant impact. The art world in Britain 1660 to 1735 aims to catalogue and, where possible, transcribe all the primary sources that can be discovered over the 11 years of the project. The databases of secondary texts that draw on this evidence will focus chiefly on the people, events, networks and places that have been overlooked in the secondary literature, and on established figures for whom archival sources are slim. Because of the exemplary biographical researches of Sir Howard Colvin, Ingrid Roscoe and others into the lives and careers of architects and sculptors during our period, those two professions are less extensively represented on The art world in Britain 1660 to 1735 than painting, print and related occupations.

As well as making it easy to reach a wide audience, publication on the internet - rather than in book form - makes possible two guiding principles of the project: that content and functionality will develop gradually, and that the participation of users and other scholars is welcomed. By putting material online periodically, rather than in one go, the project can hope to be of some benefit from early in its life. Ideas and material contributed by users can shape the future development of the website.

Back to top


The site will consider a wide range of primary and secondary sources, which will be presented as either bibliographic records or full-text sources. Primary sources to be consulted include newspapers, sale catalogues, travel journals and diaries, wills, inventories and other lists, apprenticeship records, parochial sources, correspondence, book subscription lists, trade cards, state papers, tax and insurance records, bills, receipts and accounts, biographical accounts and treatises. Each category of source will receive a detailed introductory text; those for newspapers and sale catalogues are already online.

Exhaustive searches will be made for material in record office catalogues; in the national and Scottish registers of archives; in research libraries great and small; through electronic collections and published transcriptions of primary material; among records of manuscript material handled by the major auctioneers and book dealers; and throughout the secondary literature. We encourage scholars to bring material to our attention, and seek permission to publish material already assembled by others. However, the extent of manpower available to the project will define the limits of this process. Clearly, not everything can be examined at first hand. Material in private collections may not be made available. Overseas archives are likely to remain largely untouched by the project. The project has already excluded most British writing of the period on the subject of artists and the arts elsewhere in Europe. At some future point the project hopes to encourage voluntary contributions of material from county archives, but until that point only selected repositories can be visited.

The website attempts to record its sources in some detail, both so that readers can better understand precisely what they are reading, and to ensure that we acknowledge the many scholars, past and present, whose work has informed the site. Secondary texts created for this website appear with a full list of sources used. Transcribed sources are usually out of copyright, and we aim to identify the repository where the original source is held and to clarify whether we used a surrogate copy (such as a photocopy) as our immediate source. Quite often we rely on an existing published transcription, which itself is in copyright; sometimes we have used texts of copyright works on the site so extensively that it has been necessary to gain permission from the copyright owner(s). Sometimes other rights exist over items that are out of copyright (for example, when the owner of a manuscript has allowed us to transcribe and publish it, but only under certain conditions). In these cases, a statement will appear in the source note thanking the copyright (or other) owner for granting permission to use the source.

Back to top


The full-text primary sources on this website will serve as the core materials for several indexes, research tools and secondary texts, to which they will be hyperlinked. It is not intended that these products will exhaust all possible uses of these primary sources; rather, they are merely among the most immediately obvious ways of exploiting the material. It is hoped that users of this website may also find these tools a productive way of accessing the source materials for their own research purposes. Introductory texts will describe in detail the scope, methods and organisation of each research product, but the paragraphs below provide an initial outline:


A biographical dictionary of the art world will draw extensively on the full text sources. The dictionary will appear initially only as an index of names, whose size will grow and which will be enhanced progressively with full biographical entries. The dictionary will includes painters in all genres and sectors - including ship, house, coach and fan painters - known to have worked in Britain during the period; associated occupations, such as middlemen and suppliers of artists' materials; print makers; owners of pictures; authors and teachers. Sculptors and architects will be covered briefly, given their extensive treatment elsewhere. Users of the dictionary may browse entries alphabetically by name, and limit results by date and by applying categories based on an individual's role within the art world. Relationships between individuals within the dictionary will be identified, and hyperlinks established between the biographical entries: such as between master and pupil, family members, business associates, clients and suppliers. The dictionary will function as a reference source in its own right, and as a finding aid to sources. It will point to opportunities for further study (for example, when a biographical entry describes in brief the author of an unpublished art treatise that has not been examined for the website). The dictionary will also provide the materials to interrogate our notions of the 'art world': what points of contact and exchange existed between and within the various sectors and categories of activity?


Newspaper advertising shows that public sales of art in this period were much more numerous than recent accounts have allowed. A database of art sales will provide a short narrative account of each sale, list primary and secondary materials, and provide full transcripts of all surviving sale catalogues. Users of this database will be able to browse sales by date, venue and organiser, and to limit results to only those sales for which a catalogue survives. The database of art sales will provide the fundamental materials to explore the marketing and marketers of art in the period and will shed much light on questions of specialisation, segmentation, sales networks, communications strategies, supply lines, and the impact of regulation on the art market.


References to geographical locations occur throughout the sources. All locations within Britain and its territories will be indexed, and allocated categories that reflect their core art world function: as art sale venue, artist's premises, printseller's shop; location of an art collection; site of a decorative painting scheme; place of origin of a painter; and so on. Initially the topographical information will function as an index only, arranged by country and county, to be browsed alphabetically and with results limited by category. But where evidence can be found in property tax, insurance and other records that add to our understanding of the use of the property for purposes related to the arts, this will be written up in notes attached to each address. Thinking about the locations of art world activity can enhance our appreciation of the zoning of London's business districts and the westward expansion of the city; it can reveal the itineraries and circuits of the art world, within London and across Britain; it offers new perspectives on the environments in which painters and others worked, and may suggest unexpected interactions between occupants of nearby addresses.


Short texts will draw out points of interest from the primary and other sources that are not treated elsewhere, and answer basic reference questions. For example, the subject area will provide lists of the members of artists' clubs and of office holders; it will summarise surviving data relating to the import and export of pictures; describe the basic facts of apprenticeship; and explain technical terms.


Sale catalogues, inventories, bills and receipts and newspaper advertising are full of references to the cost of things. All mentions of a monetary value among the full-text primary sources will be indexed and a basic product category applied. Categories applied thus far include: annuity, book, clothing, colour, drawing, frame, household goods, medal, painting, picture (for images of an uncertain medium), postage and packaging, print, rates, repair (of a picture), sculpture, studio equipment, tuition. Using this tool it will be possible to access financial data sorted not only by monetary value, but also limited by date, by product category, by the maker or provider of the product or service and, where a transaction is documented, by buyer and seller. It is hoped that this tool will facilitate the study of the economic lives of painters and the organisation of markets for art in Britain during our period.

Works of Art

Checklists of works of art that survive in the present day will be accumulated from museum catalogues, 20th and 21st century auction catalogues and secondary works of scholarship. This tool will enable users to search this data by collection, artist or maker, title, medium and (where available) date. The initial offering comprises an index of 8,100 paintings in British and Irish public collections contributed by Christopher Wright and others. In 2012 we will add data from the unrivalled collection of British prints and drawings at the British Museum. When collected together, even quite brief information about paintings and other works of art can tell us much about an artist: his or her period of activity, clientele, aspirations as a creative individual, the market sectors where the artist operated and his or her relations with other artists. We can also learn about treatments of particular subjects through the period as a whole, by searching the titles of artworks.

Back to top


Initial research for the databases that underpin this website began in October 2009 with the launch of the project Court, Country, City: British Art 1660-1735. The website was conceived in early 2010 and scoping continued into 2011, with the appointment of Paul Young, the software developer. The site was launched in October 2011 with an initial offering of data and will continue to grow through regular updates and enhancements of functionality. Under current plans, we envisage that the site will reach completion in October 2020.

Information about the publication schedule on the site over the coming months can be found here.

Back to top

The Team

The website was conceived initially under the auspices of a collaborative research project between Tate Britain and the University of York, called 'Court, Country, City: British Art 1660-1735', which was funded by the AHRC for the academic years 2009-12. The following people have helped to create this website:

  • Julie Allinson, Digital Library Manager at the University of York. Julie Allinson managed the JISC-funded 'Open Art' project, and oversees the whole website's technical development.
  • Stephen Bayliss, Acuity Unlimited. Stephen Bayliss created linked data for the art sales database as part of the 'Open Art' project in 2011.
  • Martin Dow, Acuity Unlimited. Martin Dow created linked data for the art sales database as part of the 'Open Art' project in 2011.
  • Diana Dethloff, University College, London. Diana Dethloff is a member of the editorial board, which meets three times a year.
  • Joseph Friedman, Joseph Friedman Ltd. Joseph Friedman was a major contributor to the website in 2011, as compiler of 'The trade in cultural goods in late Stuart England: a corpus of newspaper advertisements.'
  • Prof Mark Hallett, Paul Mellon Centre, London. As head of the History of Department at York until 2012, Professor Hallett was principal investigator of the 'Court, Country, City' research project. Until 2012 he chaired the website's editorial board and continues to sit on the board.
  • Prof Nigel Llewellyn, Tate Britain. Professor Llewellyn is a member of the editorial board of the website.
  • Peter Moore, University of York. Peter Moore, a phd student funded by the 'Court, Country, City' project, is a contributor to the website.
  • Dr Martin Myrone, Tate Britain. Dr Myrone is a member of the editorial board of the website.
  • Prof Elizabeth Prettejohn, University of York. Professor Prettejohn is the head of the History of Art Department and since 2012 chairs the website's editorial board.
  • Sanne van der Schee, University of Leicester. Sanne van der Schee has translated texts from Dutch to English, including the diaries of Constantijn Huygens.
  • Dr Richard Stephens, University of York. Dr Stephens conceived the website and serves as its editor.
  • Dr Greg Sullivan, Tate Britain. Dr Sullivan is a member of the editorial board of the website.
  • Dr Lizzie Williamson, Queen Mary, University of London. Dr Williamson provided research assistance in 2012.
  • Dr Paul Young, Digital Library, University of York. Dr Young worked as the software programmer 2011-12, who created the website and the database that underpins it.

Back to top

Thank You

The project is especially grateful to the following organisations that have funded the work of this website:

The editor would like to thank the following authors for making significant bodies of research material freely available to The art world in Britain 1660 to 1735. Their gifts testify not only to these authors' scholarly achievements, but demonstrate also their huge generosity and commitment to the community of scholarship:

Joseph Friedman, compiler of The trade in cultural goods in late Stuart England: a corpus of newspaper advertisements
Christopher Wright, compiler of Index of British and Irish Paintings

The editor would like to thank the many generous people who have encouraged this project by contributing their enthusiasm, knowledge, ideas, practical assistance and the fruits of their research:

David Alexander, Brian Allen, Julie Allinson, Isabelle Baudino, Stephen Bayliss, Ed Bottoms, Cécile Brett, Charlotte Brunskill, Iain Gordon Brown, Tim Clayton, Sir Robert Clerk of Penicuik, Ann Compton, Brian Cowan, Mrs Croft-Murray, Diana Dethloff, Brett Dolman, Martin Dow, Adam Eaker, Emma Floyd, Anthony Frater, Joseph Friedman, Claire George, Erin Griffey, Antony Griffiths, Mark Hallett, Lydia Hamlett, Matthew Hargraves, Karen Hearn, Claudine van Hensbergen, David Howarth, Chia-Chuan Hsieh, Christian Huemer, Helen Jacobsen, Richard Johns, Sander Karst, Laurie Lindey, Kevin Littlewood, Nigel Llewellyn, Elizabeth Lloyd, Dries Lyna, Giles Mandelbrote, Neil de Marchi, Francis and John Markham, Cristina Martinez, Bénédicte Miyamoto, Andrew Moore, Martin Myrone, Sheila O'Connell, Caroline Pegum, Francis Russell, Sanne van der Schee, Richard Sharp, Philip Shaw, Jacob Simon, Kim Sloan, Sam Smiles, Mary Smith, Carys and Isabel Stephens, Greg Sullivan, Stephen Town, Roel Vismans, Jeremy Wood, Christopher Wright, Jonny Yarker and Paul Young.

Finally, the editor apologises to anyone he has left off this list. Thank you to all!

Back to top

Richard Stephens, September 2011, rev. September 2012