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Specimens Of Antient Sculpture, Ægyptian, Etruscan, Greek, And Roman: Selected From Different Collections In Great Britain By The Society Of Dilettanti. Vol. I. (II.)

Society of Dilettanti (London)

RA Collection: Book

Record number



Variant Title

Inquiry Into The Symbolical Language Of Ancient Art And Mythology


London:: Printed By T. Bensley, Bolt Court, For T. Payne, Pall Mall; And J. White And Co., Fleet Street., 1809. (-1835.)

Physical Description

2 vols.; 529 mm. (Folio.)

General Note

Vol. I: [iv], lxxxi, [i], 128 p., 75 pl.: [3] illus. - Vol. II: [iv], lxviii, 88, [30], 83, [1] p., 58 pl.: [3] illus.


Vol. I: [T.p.] - Society Of Dilettanti ... MDCCCX - Errata - Preliminary Dissertation On The Rise, Progress, And Decline Of Antient Sculpture - [Plates, with descriptive texts]; [colophon]. - Vol. II: [T.p.] - Society Of Dilettanti ... MDCCCXXXV - Prefatory Remarks On The History And Principles Of Antient Sculpture - [Plates, with descriptive texts]; [colophon] - [Divisional t.p.] - [T.p.:] An Inquiry Into The Symbolical Language Of Ancient Art And Mythology. By R.P. Knight, 1818. Reprinted By The Society Of Dilettanti ... 1835 - [Text] - Alphabetical Index ... [to Knight's Inquiry]; [colophon].

Responsibility Note

All plates are signed by draughtsmen and engravers, except pl. 21, 26 in Vol. I. Most were drawn by J.S. Agar; some, by A. Tendi (or 'Tende'), H. Howard A., J. Brown, H. Corbould or E.F.Burney; one each, by John Hawkins or Pistrucci. Most were engraved by J.S. Agar; some, by W. Evans W. Skelton, G. Corbould, J. Thomson, W. Finden, E. Scriven or H. Moses ; one each, by W. Bromley, R. Newton, T.A. Dean, Wm. Bond, N. Schiavonetti, Cheeseman, J. Mitchell, J. Vandramini.

The in-text illustrations of Volume I consist of a headpiece and tailpiece for the Preliminary Dissertation - the headpiece unsigned and the tailpiece signed as drawn by W. Gell - and a tailpiece for the whole volume, signed as drawn and engraved by J.S. Agar. Those in Volume II consist of a headpiece to the Prefatory Remarks, signed as drawn by Corbould and engraved by Freebairn, a tailpiece signed as drawn by Corbould and engraved by Finden, and a tailpiece for the volume, signed as drawn by Corbould and engraved by Finden.

The publishers' imprint of T. Payne and J. White appears on each plate in Vol. I (including head- and tail-pieces); that of the Society of Dilettanti on each plate in Vol. II (but not head- and tail-pieces).

The name of the printer of each Volume (T. Bensley or William Nicol) is repeated in its colophon; and that of Nicol again in the colophon at the end of Knight's Inquiry.


A. Ballantyne, '"Specimens of Antient Sculpture": imperialism and the decline of art', in Tracing architecture: the aesthetics of antiquarianism, ed. D. Arnold and S. Bending (2003) (= Art history, 25:4 (2002)); The arrogant connoisseur: Richard Payne Knight, ed. M. Clarke and N. Penny [exhibition catalogue] (1982); L. Cust, History of the Society of Dilettanti (1898/R1914). On the reception of ancient Greek and Roman art in Britain see J. Scott, The pleasures of antiquity: British collectors of Greece and Rome (2003); I. Jenkins, Archaeologists and aesthetes: the sculpture collections of the British Museum in the 19th century (1992); G. Vaughan, The collecting of classical antiquities in England in the eighteenth century [dissertation, Oxford] (1988); B.F. Cook, The Townley marbles (1985); A. Michaelis, Ancient marbles In Great Britain Described (1882).

Summary Note

The publication-date of 1809 for Volume I is confirmed by its plates (all carrying the date 1 January 1809 apart from pl. 74 and tailpiece, both dated 1 July 1809, and pl. 67, dated 1 January 1808); but its list of members of the Society of Dilettanti is dated 1810. Volume II was published in 1835 ('Printed By W. Nicol, Pall Mall, For Payne And Foss. 1835'); and all its plates carry the date of February 1 1834.

In Volume II the text describing plate 58 carries the words, 'End Of The Second Volume'; and this is followed by R.P. Knight's 'Inquiry', with its own divisional title, title-page, pagination and index.

Knight was the author of the 'Preliminary Dissertation' of Volume I as well as the 'Inquiry' of Volume II; but the 'Preliminary Remarks' of Volume II were by J.B.S. Morritt. Knight follows Hancarville in associating artistic creativity with sexuality and religion (though not with Christian 'bigotry'), and joins Winkelmann in asserting its link with political liberty. He shows an uncritical veneration for ancient Greek art and society, and finds little to praise in those of the 'imperial' Macedonian and Roman periods. Yet, having a low opinion of architectural sculpture, he denigrates the Parthenon marbles and does not show them, although they were already in Britain. Praise is given to a marble believed to be a copy of Phidias's chryselephantine cult-statue of Athene; which is shown in both volumes (pl. I:25). The 'most perfect work of art now extant' is a small bronze of the Didymaean or 'androgynous' Apollo (pl. I:43, 44).

The plates show a few ancient Egyptian, Etruscan or Roman sculptures, but mostly ancient Greek works or copies of Greek marbles or bronzes. Captions name the original material and the British collector; the accompanying texts describe the subject, and its provenance and origin. The subjects are in most cases mythological; a few are thought to be historical portraits.

An unusual feature of the work is the author's expressed concern for the quality of the reproductions. For example, the character of a head of Bacchus (pl. I:39) is said to be 'faithfully rendered in the print'. In the case of Egremont's Apollo (pl. I: 62) Knight believes that 'justice has not been done in the print' [drawn by H. Howard, engraved by W. Skelton] 'to the truth of the proportions, the elegance of the limbs' - this rendering was judged so inadequate that a second version was printed in Vol. II. (pl.45). For Towneley's Faun (I:59) 'The artist ... was rather too fond of introducing effects of light and shade ... and this fault of refinement is retained in the print'; for his androgynous Apollo (I:64) 'the artist has introduced too much of the painter's beauties of play of light and shadow', which 'sculpture does not admit of, and which therefore ought not to be employed in the imitation of it, since fidelity of representation and not beauty of effect is the excellence required in such secondary productions of art'.

Among the British collections here surveyed one sculpture is included that was never in Britain - the sculptural relief from the Lion Gate of Mycenae; which as 'the most antient monument of Grecian sculpture now extant' is shown as a tailpiece in Volume I and again as a plate in Volume II (pl.3). (Its design was afterwards adapted to form part of the insignia of the Royal Institute of British Architects.) The British collections included are those of (in Volume I) R.P. Knight, 'Townleian', Lansdown, T. Hope, Egremont, Yarborough, Upper Ossory; (in Volume II) British Museum, National Gallery, R.P. Knight/British Museum, Egremont, T. Hope, Lansdowne, Bedford, De Grey, 'Townleian'/British Museum, J. Smith Barry, S. Rogers, C. Blundell, J. Hawkins, T.W. Coke, W.M. Leake, E.W. Drummond Hay, W.R. Hamilton, W.J. Bankes, R. Westmacott R.A., H.T.Hope, and 'Strawberry Hill'. Several collectors are listed as members of the Society of Dilettanti, viz. R.P. Knight, John Towneley, Ld. Lansdowne, the Duke of Bedford, John Hawkins, W.M. Leake, W.R. Hamilton, W.J. Bankes, R. Westmacott R.A. and H.T. Hope.

The list in Volume I of fifty-four Members of the Society of Dilettanti in 1810 mentions two Royal Academicians, Thomas Lawrence and Benjamin West; that in Volume II of the sixty-seven Members in 1835 mentions the Academician Sir Martin A. Shee.


A microfilm was made by the British Library.


Volume I was acquired between 1809 and 1821. Recorded in RAA Library, Catalogue, 1821.

Binding Note

20th-century calf, gilt borders on upper and lower covers; spines lettered 'Antient Sculpture Vol. I. (II.)'.

Name as Subject


Sculpture, Egyptian - Sculpture, Etruscan - Sculpture, Greek - Sculpture, Roman - History
Collections - Great Britain - 19th century
Mythology, Greek - Symbolism - Iconography
Art history - Essays - Great Britain - 19th century
Pictorial works - Great Britain - 19th century


Thomas Bensley, printer
Thomas Payne, bookseller
John White, bookseller
Richard Payne Knight
William Nicol, printer
Henry Foss, bookseller
Agar, draughtsman, engraver
A. Tendi, draughtsman
Henry Howard RA, draughtsman
Edward Francis Burney, draughtsman
John Brown, draughtsman
Sir William Gell, draughtsman
W. Evans, engraver
William Skelton, engraver
Henry Corbould, draughtsman
John Hawkins, draughtsman
Benedetto Pistrucci, draughtsman
Alfred Robert Freebairn, engraver
William Finden, engraver
William Bromley ARA, engraver
R. Newton, engraver
George James Corbould, engraver
James Thomson, engraver
T.A. Dean, engraver
William Bond, engraver
Niccolò Schiavonetti, engraver
Edward Scriven, engraver
Thomas Cheesman, engraver
James Mitchell, engraver
Henry Moses, engraver
Giovanni Vendramini, engraver
John Bacon Sawrey Morritt
Payne and Foss (London), bookseller