Classical principles of order and proportion were taught and practiced by architects, artists, and artisans throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Interest in the classical world increased dramatically, however, after the 1740s and 1750s when archaeologists began excavating ancient Greek and Roman cities in Italy. The material remains unearthed at sites such as Pompeii and Paestum excited the modern world and inspired a new taste for ornament derived from antique models. Classical urns, vases, garlands, rams' heads, acanthus leaves, and anthemion (a leafy ornament depicting honeysuckle) became the cornerstones of this new design vocabulary.
The renewed fascination with the classical world coincided with the founding of the new American republic. Relics associated with the culture of ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy, and with the republic of ancient Rome thus resonated both politically and aesthetically with Americans. Henry Francis du Pont's collecting was similarly motivated by both artistic and patriotic concerns. His admiration for America's founding fathers led him to collect major examples of fine and decorative arts from the era of this nation's birth.