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James Byres of Tonley, 1734 - 1817. Architect and antiquary

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James Byres of Tonley, 1734 - 1817. Architect and antiquary 1779


  • Scottish Art
James Byres of Tonley was an architect and antiquary who did much to shape neo-classical taste in Britain. Born on the Tonley estate in Aberdeenshire, Byres spent most of his adult life in Rome where he became the principal antiquarian guide to young aristocrats on their ‘grand tour’. He collected and dealt in antique sculpture and works of art, but he also had an interest in geology and fossils. In 1790 Byres left Rome and spent the next twenty-seven years as laird of Tonley, making numerous improvements to the estate. This portrait medallion was made by James Tassie, who was a lifelong friend of Byres. Tassie developed a secret recipe to make the white glass paste and used this technique to capture some 500 likenesses.

Glossary Open


Relating to the study or collection of antiques, particularly from the civilisations of ancient Greece and Rome. It is also used for a person engaged in this work.

Glass paste medallion

Type of portraiture invented by James Tassie. First, a portrait relief is sculpted in wax to create a negative mould. A slab of glass paste is then placed on the mould and heated, so that the paste melts and takes on the shape of the portrait relief.

Grand Tour

An educational tour of Europe, especially through France and Italy taken by (particularly British) aristocratic youth from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Such tours were seen as essential for a full understanding of classical civilisation. They were also important opportunities for collecting art and antiquities.


The revival of ancient Greek and Roman models of art and architecture, with particular importance put on simplicity and discipline. Such ideals have been revived at various points in history and contrast with more decadent and dynamic styles such as the Baroque.

Antiquarian, Glass paste medallion, Grand Tour, Neo-classicism


  • Acc. No. PG 2189
  • Medium Paste
  • Size Height: 6.30 cm
  • Credit Purchased 1971