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Dilettanti: The Antic and the Antique in Eighteenth-Century England

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Dilettanti: The Antic and the Antique in Eighteenth-Century England. By Bruce Redford. (Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum / Getty Research Institute: 2008. Pg. 232. 105 color illustrations, 45 B/W Illustrations.) ISBN: 978-0-89236-924-9.

Reviewed by Boris Segel - December 17, 2008

The Society of Dilettanti came into being in the 1730s and was initially comprising a group of wealthy English men, who, having completed the Grand Tour of Europe, wished to encourage the pursuit of culture, the arts, and to provide for the social interaction between like minded individuals. In Dilettanti: The Antic and the Antique in Eighteenth-Century England, Bruce Redford chronicles the history of this eccentric society and its members.

Redford is a Professor of Art History and of English at Boston University. This book served as the foundation for Grecian Taste and Roman Spirit: The Society of Dilettanti which was on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa from August 7 through October 27, 2008. In addition, this book is filled with 150 illustrations that detail the members of the Society of Dilettanti via portraits of its members painted by the likes of George Knapton, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Thomas Lawrence, and James Gillray, as well as the various artifacts that they collected on their journeys throughout Europe.

The illustrations enhance Redford's vibrant written narrative. Combined they help to bring to life the 'connoisseurs of enlightenment' whose endeavors gave rise to the Neoclassical revival. In Dilettanti, Redford explores the various expeditions, cultural projects, and studies financed and pursued by the society, as well as their push for the restoration of Greek and Roman classical structures and material remains. On a more whimsical note, he also details the various rituals performed by the members of the Society, including their requirements for membership, and the initiation process.

Chapters in this book include:
  1. George Knapton's "Pictures in Oil Colours"

  2. The Antiquities of Athens and Ionian Antiquities - These were two of the proto-archaeological books financed by the Dilettanti. Other publications underwritten by the Dilettanti are also covered in this chapter.

  3. Richard Payne Knight's "Expedition into Sicily" - Continuity and Change

  4. Sir Joshua Reynolds's "Star and Garter" Pictures

  5. Richard Payne Knight's Discourse on the Worship of Priapus

  6. James Gillray's "Cognoscenti" Caricatures: Flaying the Cosmopolitan Amateur, Collector, and Connoisseur

  7. Specimens of Antient Sculpture (1809) - The Climax of Antique Dilettantism
The book concludes with an insightful conclusion entitled The Amateur Dethroned, detailed endnotes, a biographical glossary, a practical bibliography and a list of bibliographic abbreviations.

In writing Dilettanti: The Antic and the Antique in Eighteenth-Century England, Redford has presented a compelling and invigorating overview of the Dilettanti, their Society, and the impact that this group of eccentric amateur scholars has had on history. Redford's engaging account will fascinate both general readers and academicians, and the sublime illustrations make this a perfect candidate for use as a coffee-table book or for general browsing by art lovers of every ilk.

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