Society of Dilettanti  

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The Dilettante Society or Dilettanti is a society of noblemen and scholars which sponsors the study of ancient Greek and Roman art, and the creation of new work in the style. It first met in 1732 and was formally established as a London dining club in 1734 by a group of people who had been on the Grand Tour. In 1743 Horace Walpole condemned its affectations and described it as such; "...a club, for which the nominal qualification is having been in Italy, and the real one, being drunk: the two chiefs are Lord Middlesex and Sir Francis Dashwood, who were seldom sober the whole time they were in Italy" The group, initially led by Francis Dashwood, contained several dukes and was later joined by Joshua Reynolds, David Garrick, Uvedale Price and Richard Payne Knight, among others.

The society quickly became wealthy, through a system in which members made contributions to various funds to support building schemes and archaeological expeditions.

The first artist associated with the group was George Knapton.

The Society of Dilletanti aimed to correct and purify the public taste of the country; from the 1740s, it began to support Italian opera. A few years before Sir Joshua Reynolds became a member, the group worked towards the objective of forming a public academy, and from the 1750s, it was the prime mover in establishing the Royal Academy. In 1775 the club had accumulated enough money towards a scholarship fund for the purpose of supporting a student's travel to Rome and Greece, or for archaeological expeditions such as that of Richard Chandler, William Pars and Nicholas Revett, the results of which they published in Ionian Antiquities, a major influence on neo-Classicism in Britain.

The Society has 60 members, elected by secret ballot. An induction ceremony is held at a London club. It makes annual donations to the British Schools in Rome and Athens, and a separate fund set up in 1984 provides financial assistance to for visits to classical sites and museums.

Leading Dilettante Richard Payne Knight wrote a daring treatise on the worship of Priapus, which was published by the society in 1786. It argues that all art is grounded in religion, and all religion in sexuality—or, "the worship of the generative powers." The popular press responded with scathing attacks on antiquities collectors in general and on the Dilettanti in particular.


See also

Notable members


<references/> Template:Nuttall

The Penguin Dictionary of British and Irish History, ed. Juliet Gardiner

This article incorporates text from:The Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Vol. 2, James Northcote, 1819


  • Cust, Lionel and Sir Sidney Colvin, History of the Society of Dilettanti (London: Macmillan, 1898).
  • Dorment, Richard. The Dilettanti: exclusive society that celebrates art (Daily Telegraph 02 Sep 2008 [[1]])
  • Harcourt-Smith, Sir Cecil and George Augustin Macmillan, The Society of Dilettanti: Its Regalia and Pictures (London: Macmillan, 1932).
  • Kelly, Jason M., The Society of Dilettanti: Archaeology and Identity in the British Enlightenment (New Haven and London: Yale University Press and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2009).
  • Redford, Bruce, Dilettanti: The Antic and the Antique in Eighteenth-century England (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008).
  • Simon, Robin, “Reynolds and the Double-entendre: the Society of Dilettanti Portraits,” The British Art Journal 3, no. 1 (2001): 69-77.
  • West, Shearer, “Libertinism and the Ideology of Male Friendship in the Portraits of the Society of Dilettanti,” Eighteenth Century Life 16 (1992): 76–104.

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