The Society of Dilettanti: Archaeology and Identity in the British Enlightenment

Society of DilettantiThe Society of Dilettanti: Archaeology and Identity in the British Enlightenment.  New Haven and London: Yale University Press and Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2010

In 1732, a group of elite young men, calling themselves the Society of Dilettanti, held their first meeting in London. The qualification for membership was travel to Italy where the original members had met each other on the grand tour. These noblemen’s youthful indulgences while on the Continent and upon their return to London were often topics of public discussion, and ribald and licentious tales about the group circulated in the press. Originally formed as a convivial dining society, by the middle of the eighteenth century the Dilettanti took on an influential role in cultural matters. It was the first European organisation fully to subsidise an archaeological expedition to the lands of classical Greece, and its members were important sponsors of new institutions such as the Royal Academy and the British Museum. The Society of Dilettanti became one of the most prominent and influential societies of the British Enlightenment.

This lively and illuminating account, based on extensive archival research, is the most detailed analysis of the early Society of Dilettanti to date. Not simply an institutional biography, three themes dominate this history of the Dilettanti: eighteenth-century debates over social identity; the relationships between aesthetics and archaeology; and the meanings of natural philosophy. Connecting the world of the grand tour to the sociable masculinity of London’s taverns, this book reveals that the trajectory of British classical archaeology was as much a consequence of shifting notions of politeness as it was a product of antiquarian discoveries and elite tastes. The book places the Society of Dilettanti at the complex intersection of international and national discourses that shaped the British Enlightenment, and, thus, it sheds new light on eighteenth- century grand tourism, elite masculinity, sociability, aesthetics, architecture and archaeology.

one of “the best Christmas books for Art lovers” –Brian Sewell, Evening Standard

“Immensely satisfying and beautifully produced, this important book overturns common misconceptions about the society . . . [and] opens promising avenues for addressing 18th-century elite culture.” –Craig Hanson, Choice

“[a] handsome and compendious volume” –Ann V. Gunn, The Burlington Magazine

“[a] wide‐ranging, fluently written, and lavishly illustrated cross‐disciplinary study” –Holger Hoock, The American Historical Review

“fascinating and wonderfully well researched” –Richard Edmonds, Birmingham Post

“[M]eticulously researched and elegantly presented . . . [a] fine and important study.” –Bill Lubenow, Journal of British Studies

Dilettanti

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