Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bonomi, Joseph (1739-1808)

BONOMI, JOSEPH, the elder (1739–1808), architect, was born of Italian parents at Rome 19 Jan. 1739. In 1767, on the invitation of the brothers R. and J. Adam, he came to England. He had an excellent knowledge of perspective, which conduced much towards his professional success, In 1775 he married a cousin of Angelica Kauffman. In 1783 he went with his wife and family to Italy. During that visit he received the diploma of Associate of the Clementine Academy at Bologna. In the following year, his return being hastened by the death of a son, became back to England, and tinally settled in practice in London. In his native country he stood in high repute. Already in 1770 he had made a design for a sacristy, which Pope Pius VI proposed to erect at St. Peter’s at Rome, and in 1804 he received from the congregation of cardinals entrusted with the care of the metropolitan cathedral an honorary diploma, constituting him architect to the building. His knowledge of perspective, while it extended his fame and gmve beauty to his designs, made him the innocent cause of that rupture which led to the retirement of Sir Joshua Reynolds from the presidency of the Royal Academy. A sufficient account of the quarrel, and of Bonomi’s merely passive share in it, will be found in Leslie’s and other lives of Sir Joshua, In 1789, by the casting vote of the president, he was elected an associate of the Academy. It was Sir Joshua’s wish to have him made a full member, in order that the vacant chair of the professor of perspective might he suitably filled. The body of the Academy resisted the election, and Bonomi accordingly did not attain the dignity of full membership. He sent drawings to the exhibitions of the Royal Academy at various timcs between the years 1783 and 1806. He died in London on 9 March 1808, in his sixty-ninth year, and was buried in Marylebone Cemetery. His meritorious life and timely death are briefly epitomised in a Latin inscription, which will befound in the supplement to Lysons’s ‘Environs of London,’ p. 227. A good list of his works is given in the ‘Dictionary of the Architectural Publication Society,’ 1858. He was a leader in the revival of Grecian architecture, and his buildings are chiefly in that style. Amongst them may be mentioned Dale Park, Sussex, built 1784-8 for John Smith, Esq., M.P., illustrated in Neale's ‘Seats, &c.,’ v. ser. 2; the gallery at Towneley Hall, Lancashire, built in 1789 for a collection since transferred to the British Museum; a gallery and small church at Packington, Warwickshire, for the Earl of Aylesford (Neale, Seats, &c. iv.) For Langley Hall, Kent, the seat of Sir Peter Burrell, bart., he designed considerable additions. In 1792 he built the chapel in Spanish Place, Manchester Square, London. Langford Hall, Shropshire, designed by Bonomi, shows perhaps the earliest instance of at portico projecting sufficiently to admit carriages. His last and most celebrated work was an Italian villa at Roseneath, Durnbartonshire, for the Duke of Argyll. A ground-plan and perspective View of this building are given, amongst other places, in Gwilt’s ‘Encyclopædia,’ pp. 228-9). The name of Bonomi occurs often in the novels of his time as that of an architect who should be consulted on all occasions in matters of architecture. Ignatius, the elder of his surviving sons, practised as an architect at Durham. Joseph, the younger [q. v.], became a celebrated artist and orientalist.

[Dictionary of the Architectural Publication society, 1853; Gwilt's Encyclopædia of Architecture. p. 227; Leslie’s Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds, ii. ch. 10; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists of Eng. School.]

E. R.