Wanley has been described in the ‘Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’ as ‘the greatest Anglo-Saxonist of his generation, and one of the greatest palaeographers and librarians of his age’. Apprenticed as a draper, he left that trade for scholarship. He worked for the Museum’s founder Sir Hans Sloane from 1701 to around 1703, cataloguing his books and manuscripts in a neat hand. His greatest achievement was as librarian to Robert and Edward Harley, Earls of Oxford and Mortimer, from 1708. The manuscripts from the Harleian library were one of the foundation collections of the British Museum. The portrait was painted by Thomas Hill who was a longstanding friend. It is the last of three portraits and is described in the ‘Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’ as ‘the finest and most fully characterised of all his [Hill’s] works’. The sitter’s hand is held over a brass head of the emperor, then the latest antiquity to enter the Harleian collection.
Where to see this painting?
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