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STUART, James / REVETT, Nicholas. Les Antiquités d’Athènes, mesurées et dessinées par J. Stuart and N. Revett, peintres et architectes. Ouvrage traduit de l’Anglais, par L.F.F.…, vol. Ι, Paris, Firmin Didot, 1808.

The British architect and painter James Stuart (1713-1788), son of a Scottish sailor, started painting from a very early age. While still an adolescent, he was awarded a scholarship to attend the Society of Arts, where he cultivated his talent in drawing and geometry. In 1741, his siblings aided him to travel to Rome, as he had fervently desired. Stuart walked most of the journey, earning money from odd jobs on the way. In Rome, Stuart made friends with painter Gavin Hamilton and architects Matthew Brettingham and Nicholas Revett.

The British architect and designer Nicholas Revett (1720-1804) met Stuart, Hamilton and Brettingham in 1842, while he was in Rome studying painting with Cavaliere Benefiale. In April 1748, the four artists made an excursion on foot to Naples and toured the antiquities. At that time, in their treatise "Proposals for Publishing an Accurate Description of the Antiquities of Athens", Stuart and Revett first formulated the idea that would lead to their project in Greece. The idea gained the fervent support of the Society of Dilettanti in Rome, which financed the mission. Stuart and Revett arrived in Greece in the spring of 1751. They stayed there for about two and a half years, facing a multitude of adversities in their work, and returned to England in 1755.

The two worked mainly in Athens and Attica, but also visited Corinth, Thessaloniki and Delphi. Revett measured the monuments and Stuart made the drawings. All the work was completed "in situ". Determined to delineate everything as accurately as possible, they excavated almost to the foundations. As they note in the introduction to the publication, no element was added to picturesque effect and even the human figures were depicted from nature.

The first volume of "The Antiquities of Athens Measured and Delineated by James Stuart F.R.S. and F.S.A. and Nicholas Revett Painters and Architects", was published in 1762, receiving a warm welcome from the British public. The work was a landmark in European classicism. Stuart became famous, was surnamed “Athenian” and elected a member of the Royal Society. Revett, on the other hand, remained relatively obscure, as he ended his collaboration with Stuart and sold him his rights to the work. Stuart turned to architecture and designed the first Neoclassical buildings in England. He died suddenly in 1788, while preparing for publication the second volume of the work. Revett continued to participate in archaeological expeditions, always as a member of the Society of Dilettanti, and also built Neoclassical houses. He died aged 84. The four-volume edition of the "The Antiquities of Athens" was completed posthumously by other prominent members of the Society of Dilettanti in 1816. More than three hundred drawings, with depictions and delineations (measured drawings) plans, sections and details of ancient monuments and architectural members, in exquisite copper-plate engravings, accompanied by explanatory texts on the use of the monument, archaeological comments and travel impressions, inaugurated a new era, in which meticulous measurement replaced the generic and often imaginary representation of ancient monuments. This edition is the French translation of the first volume of the work, and the engravings are smaller than in the original edition.

The Society of Dilettanti, one of the many clubs of the British aristocracy, was founded in 1734 in order to facilitate closer contact between its members, who had a special inclination for the arts. As they state in the introduction to one of their publications, the future members of the Society, particularly after their grand tour in Italy, wanted to have a taste of these objects in their home countries, that is, to have the opportunity to study ancient Greek and Roman art. Gradually, the Society of Dilettanti promoted, inspired and organized the most important archaeological missions to Greek lands up until 1846. It published the findings of these and of other expeditions in monumental tomes. It also contributed to the establishment of European classicism in the eighteenth century, and helped the European public acquire a comprehensive idea of ancient Greek architecture. However, the work of the Society, while vital to the progress of the discipline of Archaeology, did not always contribute to the preservation of the antiquities themselves. In an era when antiquarianism was tantamount to antiquities’ theft, participants in the missions engaged in pillaging ancient remains, with catastrophic consequences for the monuments.

Written by Ioli Vingopoulou

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