Francis Russell, Marquess of Tavistock (1739-1767) was the eldest son of the 4th Duke of Bedford. He was educated at Westminster and Trinity College, Cambridge. He embarked on the Grand Tour in October 1761 and by January had reached Naples. He spent two months in Rome before travelling through Bologna and Venice and then Turin. He returned to England in May 1762.
The Marquess's letters to his Cousin, the 2nd Earl of Upper Ossory, provide an account of his visit. He wrote from Genoa 'I have already received infinite entertainment from Italy and hope to receive a great great deal more' (22 Dec 1761). After a brief stop in Rome on his way to Naples he returned in mid February 1762, this time spending nearly two months there. From where he wrote 'I have only bought some prints and a little Basso releivo, but at present I am engaged in the pretty deep affair-buying some of the best things in the Barberini Palace'. Tavistock commissioned Archilles dragging the Body of Hector (sold by the family after Tavistock's early death in 1767) from Gavin Hamilton, who also helped him purchase ancient marbles. He sat for Batoni (Woburn), acquired bronze reproductions of classical figures by Giacomo Zoffoli and the Abbé Chiozzi made drawings for him after frescoes by Guido Reni and Domenichino.
Raphael's fresco the School of Athens, one of four vaulted scenes representing the renaissance ideals of the four faculties of humanism, theology, philosophy, poetry and jurisprudence, marks the highpoint of renaissance narrative painting. Executed in 1511-12 it stands as the most accomplished heir to the traditions of solidity, perspective and form begun by Masaccio's Brancacci Chapel and made naturalistic by Leonardo's Last Supper, the latter painted only 15 years before this work. Set in the Vatican's Stanza della Segnatura, the supreme ecclesiastical tribunal, Raphael's embodiment of philosophy is set within an architectural framework reminiscent of his own plans for St. Peter's, Rome. Each of his fifty-two figures brings its own individual movement, adding to the enormous energy of the composition. Raphael records his own image as the figure to the far right, while amongst the other well-known personalities of the day include Leonardo, in the guise of Plato, upper centre left and the lower centre figure of a brooding Heraclitus is his great rival Michelangelo.