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Finding aid for the Society of Dilettanti drawings, prints, and letters, 1806-1880
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Society of Dilettanti drawings, prints, and letters
    Date (inclusive): 1806-1880
    Number: 840199
    Creator/Collector: Society of Dilettanti (London, England)
    Physical Description: 28.64 linear feet (14 boxes)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: A collection reflecting the publishing work of the Society of Dilettanti, an English group that promoted the study of ancient sculpture and architecture, primarily that of Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. Drawings and printed proofs relate to three of the Society's major publications: Specimens of Antient [sic] Sculpture, Aegyptian, Etruscan, Greek, and Roman; Antiquities of Ionia; and Unedited antiquities of Attica.
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    Language: Collection material is in English

    Biographical/Historical Note

    The Society of Dilettanti was founded by Sir Francis Dashwood and other collectors in 1734. Formally organized as a London dining club, at least in terms of its bylaws, dues, etc., it consisted of young patricians recruited from acquaintances made on the Grand Tour, among the members were aristocrats, diplomats, courtiers, and men of the church, arts, and letters. With the mission of convival social exchange and cultivating the public interest in classical antiquity, the group aimed to correct and purify the public taste of the country. From the 1740s it began to support Italian opera, and from the 1750s it was the prime mover in establishing the Royal Academy. The most important role that the Society played in the cultural life of England is the contribution it made to the neo-classical movement by fostering an interest in the remains of classical antiquity. The society sponsored expeditions to Italy, Asia Minor, and Greece and published magnificent folio volumes such as the Specimens of Antient [sic] Sculpture, Antiquities of Ionia, and Unedited antiquities of Attica.
    The two volumes of Specimens of Antient [sic] Sculpture were conceived by the collectors Richard Payne Knight (1751-1824) and Charles Townley (1737-1805). The first volume was published in 1809 with a commentary by Knight. The second volume did not appear until 1835. The work was intended as a comprehensive survey of the best specimens of Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, and Roman marble and bronze sculpture and metalwork acquired by members of the Society abroad and housed in their private collections. Works in the collections formed by Knight and Townley account for most of the plates in the first volume. The remainder came from the galleries of Marquess of Lansdowne, Earl of Egremont, Thomas Hope, Earl of Yarborough and the Earl of Cork. By the time the second volume was published the Knight and Townley's collections were in the British Museum. Thus the second volume marks the recognition by a national institution of private and amateur collecting nurtured in the age of the Grand Tour. The work was intended to be an achievement in neo-classical connoisseurship, with images of high quality and scholarly text. Knight's commentary to the first volume aimed to establish a chronology and to affirm the superiority of Greek over Roman work. The symbolic attributes of the sculpture are discussed in the commentary to the second volume, compiled from Knight's papers by John Sawrey Morritt, Thomas Hope, James Christie, and Sir Richard Westmacott. The plates, most executed in stipple engraving, are among the finest representations of marble and bronze works of art before the age of photography.
    Antiquities of Ionia followed the 1764 expedition and exploration of Ionia. The results were published in four parts in 1769 (pt. I), 1821 (2nd ed. of pt. I), 1797 (pt. II), 1820 (2nd ed. of pt. II), 1840 (pt. III), 1881 (pt. IV), and 1915 (pt. V). The results of another expedition by William Gell, John Peter Gandy, and Francis Bedford to Greece and Asia Minor in 1812-1813 were to be issued as the second vol. of pt. III, but the publication was put aside after the death of the architecture editor William Wilkins in 1839. The unpublished printed proofs for the 2nd vol. of part III were later discovered in the Society's archives, the metal plates were located in the custody of a copper-printer, and the fifth part of Antiquities of Ionia was edited and issued by W.R. Lethaby in 1915.
    The English archaeologist, topographer, and explorer William Gell (1777-1836) became a member of the Society of Dilettanti in 1807. He participated in the 1812-1813 expedition to Greece and Asia Minor. The results of that expedition were issued in 1817 in Unedited antiquities of Attica, some were added to the 2nd editions of parts II and III of Antiquities of Ionia, but most were planned to form the second volume of part III of Antiquities of Ionia.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    Society of Dilettanti drawings, prints, and letters, 1806-1880. The Getty Research Insititute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 840199

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired in 1984.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    A collection of drawings and prints reflecting the Society's work in recording and publishing ancient sculpture and architecture, primarily of Greece. The collection contains 277 drawings and printed proofs for three of the Society's major publications: Specimens of Antient [sic] Sculpture, Antiquities of Ionia, and Unedited antiquities of Attica, of which 253 drawings and printed proofs are for the magnificent two volumes of Specimens of Antient [sic] Sculpture. Twenty of the drawings for plates were not included in the final publication.
    Forteen drawings and printed proofs are for plates in pts. III and IV of Antiquities of Ionia. Nine architectural drawings are for plates in Unedited antiquities of Attica.
    Also present are two additional drawings for unknown publications: the ground plan of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and half capital in full scale from the Ionic Temple on the Ilissos near Athens.
    A separate series holds seven letters (1812, 1834) and five bank drafts (1806-1809) by the English archaeologist, traveler, and member of the Society, William Gell. Six letters were written to Sir Henry Englefield, Secretary of the Society, from the expedition to Greece and Asia Minor, 1812-1813.


    Organized in 4 series: Series I. Drawings and printed proofs for , undated; Series II. Drawings and printed proofs for , undated, 1880; Series III. Architectural drawings for , undated; Series IV. Letters and drafts by William Gell, 1806-1834.

    Indexing Terms

    Subjects - Names

    Englefield, Henry, Sir, 1752-1822 -- Correspondence
    Knight, Richard Payne, 1751-1824
    Marguerite Blessington, Countess of, 1789-1849
    Townley, Charles, 1737-1805

    Subjects - Corporate Bodies

    Society of Dilettanti (London, England)

    Subjects - Topics

    Architecture, Ancient--Greece
    Architecture, Ancient--Turkey
    Bronze sculpture--Private collections--England
    Collectors and collecting--England
    Decoration and ornament, Architectural--Greece--Eleusis
    Decoration and ornament, Architectural--Greece--Ramnous Site
    Marble sculpture--Private collections--England
    Neoclassicism (Art)--England
    Propylaea (Acropolis, Athens, Greece)
    Sculpture, Classical--Collectors and collecting--England
    Sculpture, Classical--Private collections--England
    Temple of Nemesis (Rhamnous Site, Greece)
    Temples--Greece--Eleusis--Designs and plans
    Temples--Greece--Ramnous Site--Designs and plans
    Temples--Turkey--Patara (Extinct city)

    Subjects - Places

    Cnidus (Turkey : Extinct city)
    Eleusis (Greece)
    Patara (Extinct city)
    Priene (Extinct city)
    Rhamnous Site (Greece)

    Subjects - Titles

    Antiquities of Ionia Specimens of antient sculpture, Aegyptian, Etruscan, Greek, and Roman Unedited antiquities of Attica

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Architectural drawings--England--19th century
    Drafts (negotiable instruments)--England--19th century
    Drawings--England--19th century
    Engravings--England--19th century
    Etchings--England--19th century
    Ink drawings--England--19th century
    Prints--England--19th century
    Stipple engravings--England--19th century
    Wash drawings--England--19th century


    Agar, John Samuel, ca. 1770-ca. 1835
    Bromley, William, 1769-1842
    Burney, Edward Francis, 1760-1848
    Cooke, William John, 1797-1865
    Corbould, George James, 1786-1846
    Corbould, H. (Henry), 1787-1844
    Fiessinger, Franz Gabriel, 1752-1807
    Finden, W. (William), 1787-1852
    Freebairn, Alfred Robert, 1794-1846
    Gell, William, Sir, 1777-1836
    Howard, Henry, 1769-1847
    Mackenzie, Frederick, 1787 or 8-1854
    Penel, Jules, b. 1833
    Schiavonetti, Niccolo, 1771-1813
    Scriven, Edward, 1775-1841
    Skelton, William, 1763-1848