Hypogaei by James Byres

The subterranean Etruscan tombs at Corneto had been known since the early eighteenth century, but interest in them was revived by etchings of their wall-paintings published by Byres's associate Piranesi in 1765. Byres visited them in 1766, and drafted a history of the Etruscans. Byres's recording of the elegant paintings from these tombs parallels the internationally-influential recovery of Roman wall-decorations from the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum. Byres had planned the publication of this work in 1792, but the etched copperplates were detained for the duration of the Napoleonic wars at Livorno in packing cases with other effects of Byres's nephew's until 1817. They were finally printed posthumously in 1842 as Hypogaei, or sepulchral caverns of Tarquinia the capital of Etruria.

Byres was fascinated by the achievements of these 'first people of Italy' and regarded their subjugation by the Romans as barbaric. It is not unlikely, given the eighteenth-century taste for drawing contemporary parallels with ancient history, that Byres thought of the Etruscans as comparable to the Jacobite Scots.

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