Bequest of the Honorable James Bowdoin III
These prints belong to one of several series that Johan Faber the Elder, a well-regarded Dutch portraitist who rose to prominence in early eighteenth-century England, designed depicting notable figures from antiquity. In this series, Faber focused his attention on acclaimed poets, philosophers, and orators of the Greek and Roman past, including the Greek poet Homer, the philosopher Plato, and the Greek and Roman orators Demosthenes and Cicero. Faber paired the depictions with a short biography of each figure. Collecting busts of famous figures past and present was in fashion in the eighteenth century on both sides of the Atlantic. Comporting with this fashion, James Bowdoin III probably acquired the prints during his time in London and considered them exemplars of ancient achievement. At the College, the prints would also serve as useful study aids for students, given their descriptions of each figure.
Faber’s prints reproduced a series of drawings made by the much more famous artist Peter Paul Rubens, which were themselves based on ancient marble sculptures and published by the artist as a series of twelve prints in 1638. Other editions of Faber’s prints omit mention of Rubens in favor of identifying the ancient sculptures more specifically, noting, for example, that the Homer portrait is based on the sculpture in the Farnese Collection. Faber’s workshop produced many portraits of eminent individuals from the pages of ancient history to the present day, including a series of the Roman emperors based on sculptures in English collections. The artist’s works were so popular that he was able to open his own print shop in London in the early eighteenth century.
The son of the wealthy merchant and second governor of Massachusetts, James Bowdoin II, Bowdoin figured among a small group of leading figures who recognized the value of art in fostering enlightened ideals and philosophical contemplation among a budding republic.