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The Dilettanti, Art Pedagogy, and Roman Models for an Art Academy in London

  • British School at Rome 61 Via Antonio Gramsci Roma, Lazio, 00197 Italy (map)


In 1732, a group of elite British and Irish men who had traveled to Italy founded The Society of Dilettanti in London. Originally formed as a convivial dining society, at mid-century the Dilettanti had become major patrons of both Italian and British artists and architects and attempted to take on a leading role in cultural matters through sponsoring new cultural institutions and architectural research.

Between 1748 and 1785, the members of the Dilettanti put forward multiple schemes for art academies and museums. Particularly important to informing these plans were their experiences with institutions in Rome, Florence, and Bologna; aesthetic and pedagogical conversations taking place in the Roman context; and the numerous Italian artists and artisans who were shaping and reshaping the expectations of their Dilettanti patrons. While the Dilettanti never enacted their plans they did influence national and international conversations about art and art pedagogy. They shaped formal art education through their influence on schools such as the Royal Academy and the British Institution. Informally, they influenced education through their publications, direct patronage, and their and influence over the discourse of “taste.”

This paper examines the Dilettanti’s proposals in this broader sociocultural context, revealing shifting intellectual and aesthetic patterns and demonstrating the ways that the Roman art world shaped ideas about art pedagogy and the place of academies in Britain during the long eighteenth century. 

About the Conference

The Roman Art World in the 18th Century and the Birth of the Art Academy in Britain

The Accademia Nazionale di San Luca and the British School at Rome (Rome, 10-11 December 2018)

The Accademia Nazionale di San Luca and the British School at Rome (BSR) will host the conference The Roman Art World in the 18th Century and the Birth of the Art Academy in Britain, to be held in Rome between 10 and 11 December 2018. The conference will focus on the role of the Roman pedagogical model in the formation of the British academic art world in the long 18th century.

Even as Paris progressively dominated the modern art world during the 18th century, Rome retained its status as the ‘academy’ of Europe, attracting a vibrant international community of artists and architects. Their exposure to the Antique and the Renaissance masters was supported by a complex pedagogical system. The Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, the Capitoline Accademia del Nudo, the Concorsi Clementini, and numerous studios and offices, provided a network of institutions and a whole theoretical and educational model for the relatively young British art world, which was still striving to create its own modern system for the arts. Reverberations of the Roman academy system were felt back in Britain through initiatives in London such as the Great Queen Street Academy, the Duke of Richmond’s Academy, the Saint Martin’s Lane Academy and the Royal Society of Arts. But it was a broader national phenomenon too, inspiring the likes of the Foulis Academy in Glasgow and the Liverpool Society of Artists. The foundation of the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1768 officially sanctioned the affirmation of the Roman model.

If past scholarship has concentrated mainly on the activities of British artists while in Rome, this conference wishes to address the process of intellectual migration, adaptation and reinterpretation of academic, theoretical and pedagogical principles from Rome back into 18th- century Britain. It responds to the rise of intellectual history, building on prevalent trends in the genealogy of knowledge and the history of disciplines, as well as the mobility and exchange of ideas and cultural translation across borders.

The conference will conclude a series of events celebrating the 250th anniversary of the foundation of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. It will also be part of a series of conferences and exhibitions focusing on the role of the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca in the spread of the academic ideal in Europe and beyond, inaugurated in 2016 with an exhibition and conference on the relationship between Rome and the French academy, held at the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca and at the Académie de France à Rome.

click here to see conference program

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