Curator’s Choice – Fowler’s Engravings

Posted: 9th June 2021

Humber Museums Partnership - Curator’s Choice – Fowler’s Engravings

William Fowler was a joiner and architect, who lived during the Georgian period. He was born in 1761 and died in 1832.

He lived all in his life in this house in Winterton, with the family’s joinery business operating from a workshop out the back.

Fowler was interested in what we now call archaeology and this interest developed into a side career publishing and selling engravings of Roman mosaics, Medieval tile floors, stained glass windows and church architecture.

This engraving of Fowler is from a portrait painted of him during his lifetime. We can see how proud he was of his engravings, as he is holding rolled mosaic and stained-glass engravings, and the background has been copied from an architectural engraving.

The engravings were printed and then hand coloured and sold by subscription, either singly or collated in volumes. The Museum collection contains a full series of Fowler’s engravings, bound in the order in which they were published. Today I am going to share with you my favourite – Volume 1, which contains Fowler’s early engravings.

I particularly like this volume because it includes Fowler’s very first engravings of Roman mosaics that were found near where he lived in North Lincolnshire. These are from Winterton Villa and Roxby Villa. The mosaics were soon reburied. The Roxby mosaic is still in the ground, though the Winterton Mosaics were re-excavated and two were lifted in the 1970s.

This is one of the mosaics – the Fortuna Mosaic. We can see it looks a little different to Fowler’s engraving. The central figured panel has been turned so we can see Fortuna the right way up. The other mosaics, the Ceres Mosaic, was put in what was then the council building known as Pittwood House.

Fowler recorded lots of things that have since been lost or have changed over the last 300 years. When he recorded the Winterton Orpheus Mosaic, the central panel showing Orpheus with his fox friend, was still there. When the mosaic was excavated in the 1970s, archaeologists found that he Orpheus panel has been removed by someone unknown. In its place was this 18th century chamber pot.

What I really like about Fowler is that at this time, most antiquarians were people who had money and high status, so the nobility, large landowners, wealthy clergy – people who had the time to investigate ancient remains really as a hobby. Fowler was not like that; he was a joiner in his family business from a small Lincolnshire village. Yet through his engravings, he went on to meet many notable people. These included Sir Walter Scott and famous scientists like his patron Sir Joseph Banks. His greatest moment was being presented to the Royal Family at Windsor Castle.

Image: Bonhams