In the middle decades of the 16th century the most influential supporters in the documentation of classical antiquity were members of the Society of Dilettanti, British connoisseurs who overcame considerable obstacles to travel through the eastern Mediterranean examining, measuring, and drawing classical architecture with painstaking precision.
In conjunction with the exhibition “The Measure of Ruins: Dilettanti in the Levant, 1750-1770,” currently on display at Houghton Library, Bruce Redford, guest curator, will present a lecture on Jan. 22 at 5:30 p.m. in the library’s Edison and Newman Room. The slide lecture, “Vice and Virtu: The Society of the Dilettanti at Home and Abroad,” will focus on the content of the exhibition, but will expand on the Society of Dilettanti’s role prior to 1750. The lecture is part of the Philip and Frances Hofer Lecture series and is sponsored by the Friends of the Harvard College Library.
“I am extremely pleased to have had the opportunity to mount the exhibition. The topic was an excellent match between Houghton Library’s collection of Dilettanti material, and my research. And as always, it is wonderful to see the treasures of Houghton on display,” said Redford, university professor and professor of English, Boston University.
The exhibition contrasts the Dilettanti proto-archaeological folios with material produced by Dilettanti’s French contemporaries, Julien David Le Roy and Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Le Roy and Piranesi cultivated not only the measure but also the pleasure of ruins — using theatrical distortions, subjective reverie, and an eclectic vision of the antique in their representations of classicism. The impact of these romantic depictions outweighed the Society of Dilettanti’s achievement; not until the advent of academic neo-classicism did the Dilettanti receive recognition for their accuracy in topography and edifice measurement.
“The Measure of Ruins: Dilettanti in the Levant, 1750-1770” is on display through Jan. 26 in the Edison and Newman Room, Houghton Library.