Lord Byron was the most famous Briton of the 19th century and most likely the best known individual on earth. After the rapid success of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Byron’s poetic fame took off. He became a subject of admiration and desire. People soon started identifying him as Childe Harold: the two figures – the poet and the imagined hero – “merged” into one and the same person, as many artworks of this period show.
Childe Harold, the archetypal Byronic Hero – a proud misanthrope who despises rules, but is capable of strong and deep affection – inspired numerous fictional heroes that followed. Between 1812 and 1816, Byron published six large tales with Orientalist themes: The Giaour: A Fragment of a Turkish Tale (1813), The Bride of Abydos: A Turkish Tale (1813), The Corsair: A Tale (1814), Lara (1814), Parisina (1816) and The Siege of Corinth (1816). The protagonists of his works were often displayed in various works of art and on utility objects: Paintings, table clocks, fine porcelain, etc. Thanks to this trend, Byron and the Byronic heroes circulated, mainly from France, throughout Europe and the USA.
Around the same period, the Greek Revolution (1821-1828) broke off, and gave birth to a vast philhellenic movement in the western world. Byron himself got actively involved in the Greek Struggle for Independence and the philhellenic movement. Especially after the tragic loss of his close friend and ardent supporter of the Greek Revolution, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). Byron’s dedication to the Greek Cause fuelled the whole movement. His poetic talent and fame, youth, appearance and intellect established him as the greatest influencer of his time.
In the public imagination, the Byronic heroes “merged” with heroes of the Greek Revolution. The Giaour i.e. – a Byronic subject which had already captured the artistic imagination of French painters such as A. Scheffer, A. M. Colin, H. Vernet, E. Delacroix and T. Géricault, was interpreted as a Greek fighter; the “infidel” Giaour, who triumphantly steps on the slain Hassan, was an allegory for the final victory of the Christian / Western world over Ottoman tyranny. The characters from the Bride of Abydos were identified with Souliote refugees from Parga. Scenes from The Corsair and Don Juan inspired the themes of Farewell of the Greek Fighter and the Wounded Greek Fighter. The acquisition of such fine artworks with Byron himself or a Byronic and/or Greek revolution related theme, became widely popular in Europe.
As Philhellenism grew stronger in the western world, Byron became its central point of reference. In the same way as his heroes, his figure got depicted in numerous artworks, on decorative and utility objects (paintings, portraits, lithographs, statues and statuettes, snuff boxes, jewellery, table clocks, vases, plates, etc.).
After the poet’s unfortunate death in Missolonghi (1824), Byron’s belongings passed to his aid de camp Georges Jarvis, and from him, into the possession of the American Philhellene Samuel Gridley Howe (1801-1876). Howe used the personal weapons and objects of Lord Byron to attract the support of USA citizens in favour of the Greek Cause: he toured most of the States of USA and organized philhellenic events, during which he presented Byron’s weapons and personal objects to mobilize the public and raise funds in favour of the Greeks. Lord Byron’s influence was so great, that he helped the Greek Struggle even after his physical death.