Son of Lord Archibald Hamilton, seventh son of the 3rd Duke of Hamilton, and Lady Jane Hamilton, daughter of the 6th Earl of Abercorn and possibly mistress of Frederick, Prince of Wales, Sir William Hamilton (1730 - 1803) was born at Park Place, near Henley. Lady Jane's appointment as Mistress of the Robes in the royal household ensured that he was brought up as a 'foster brother' of the future George III. In 1758 he married the heiress Catherine Barlow (d. 1782) who was of weak health. When the doctors perscribed that she move to a warmer climate to improve her health, Sir William applied for the post as His Majesty's Envoy Extraordinaire to the Court of the King of the Two Sicilies in Naples.
Hamilton was possibly best known for his enormous collection of Antique vases, which was catalogued by Baron d'Hancarville and published in Antiquités Etrusques, Grecques et Romaines tirées du Cabinet de M. Hamilton envoyé extraordinaire et plénipotntiaire de S.M. Britannique en Cour de Naples in 1776 in four volumes. Sir William subsequently sold the entire first collection to the British Museum. Invigorated by the craze for such wares that was created by his books, he embarked on a second collection which, famously, was illustrated by Wilhelm Tischbein and published in four further volumes between 1791 and 1793. Hamilton tried to sell this second collection in its entirety (1,000 vases) but did not succeed and when the collection had to be saved from the invading French troops in 1798, the ship on which it was transported sunk and most vases, save some that missed the shipment, were lost.
Hamilton arrived in Naples in 1764 and his interest in volcanoes was sparked with by eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in September 1765. He recorded the event in detail during this period of activity that lasted until October 1767. For the observations that he sent to the Royal Society in London, he was elected a fellow. Specimens from Mount Vesuvius were amongst the collections of rocks and lava that he despatched to the British Museum in 1767 and again in 1770; and he wrote an account of Mount Aetna after his visit there in 1770 (I. Jenkins and K. Sloan, Vases and Volcanoes, British Museum, London, 1996, pp. 65 and 68). Interestingly Sir William does not appear to have taken particular interest in collecting volcanic stones for himself, and if so only as evidence to back up his theories. He did, however, initiate the publication of Campi Phligraei: Observations on the Vocanos of the Two Sicilies in 1776 with the illustrations by his own engraver Pietro Fabris. Considered one of the foremost researchers in the field if Volcanology, he earned the title amongst fellow 'volcanists' or 'vulcanologists' as Le Pline moderne du Vesuve. It was indeed he, who was asked to take the future Tsar Paul I and his wife up mount Vesuvius by the King of Naples when they came to Naples in 1782. Sir William stayed in Naples until 1800, when he finally was too old for the post and a scandal involving his second wife Emma Hart and admiral Nelson erupted and made his diplomatic mission difficult. He moved back to London and died in 1803.
The present colorful collection of polished tablets of Sicilian volcanic rocks and lavas were presented to Sir William in 1781, when he first recruited the Sicilian Count Joseph Giveni of Catania, a knight of Malta, to prepare studies of Mount Etna. Some of these studies were later sent to the Royal Society of Arts. Some objects from his collection were sold as the Property of Sir William Hamilton, K.B. and the Rt. Hon. Lord Viscount Nelson at Christie's, London, 8 June 1809. They included as lot 103 a larger slab of volcanic specimens described as 'A fine slab, composed of various specimens of lava, inlaid, on a stand', but it has not been possible to identify when the Love presentation panel left Hamilton's collection.
(J. Thackaray et al., 'exhibition catalogue', Vases & Volcanoes, London, 1996)