James Byres of Tonley (1734-1817), antiquarian and architect

James Byres, son of the Jacobite and Catholic Patrick Byres of Tonley, was taken to the Continent by his parents when they fled Scotland after the failed Rising of 1745.

By 1758, Byres was studying painting in Rome but, by 1768, he had been elected to the Roman artists' guild, the Accademia di San Luca, not as a painter but as an architect. From the early 1760s he was one of the leading figures in the aesthetic world of Rome as experienced by the 'grand tourist'.

Byres acted as an antiquarian guide, most notably to the historian Edward Gibbon, as an agent introducing potential patrons to painters, and dealing in such fine paintings as Poussin's Seven Sacraments, now in the National Gallery of Scotland, and such notable objects as the Portland Vase now in the British Museum.

In Rome he lived in some state in the Strada Paolina with a household which included at various times his parents and nephew and his partner Christopher Norton (c.1740-99) as well as his fellow-painter and antiquary Colin Morison. Byres returned to Scotland in 1790 and lived out a long retirement on his Aberdeenshire estates. Throughout his career he made fine architectural designs, few of which were executed, with the exception of the superb classical mausoleum which he designed for his neighbour Miss Fraser of Castle Fraser.

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