The Society of Dilettanti


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Archaeology and Identity in the British Enlightenment

Jason M. Kelly

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In 1732 a group of elite young men who had met on the grand tour formed a convivial dining club called the Society of Dilettanti. By the middle of the 18th century the Dilettanti took on an influential role in cultural matters, organizing archaeological expeditions, forming the Royal Academy and the British Museum, and ultimately becoming one of the most prominent and influential societies of the British Enlightenment.


This lively and illuminating account is the most detailed analysis of the early Society of Dilettanti to date. Jason M. Kelly places the group at the complex intersection of international and national discourses that shaped the British Enlightenment; thus, it sheds new light on 18th-century grand tourism, elite masculinity, sociability, aesthetics, architecture, and archaeology.

Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

Jason M. Kelly is Assistant Professor of History at Indiana University–Purdue University, Indianapolis.

"Jason M. Kelly has written an engaging cultural history of the formative years of this convivial dining society and its attempts to rebrand its public image from that of aristocratic excess, licentiousness, and pagan rituals into public-spirited sponsorship of archaeological expeditions to the lands of ancient Greece."—Holger Hoock, American Historical Review

"[M]eticulously researched and elegantly presented . . . [a] fine and important study."—W.C. Lubenow, Journal of British Studies

"In addition to its other virtues, Kelly’s book is meticulously researched, generously illustrated, and handsomely produced. Full of nuanced ideas but historically grounded, it makes an important contribution to the study of culture and sociability – and the ways in which they were related – in eighteenth-century Europe."—Carole Paul, European History Quarterly
ISBN: 9780300152197
Publication Date: February 23, 2010
Publishing Partner: Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
366 pages, 7 1/2 x 10
125 b/w + 43 color illus.