Prompts Architectural Neoclassicism Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Stuart and Revett’s The Antiquities of Athens shifted the focus of architectural inspiration from ancient Rome to classical Greece and resulted in a uniquely Greek style of neoclassicism often referred to as Greek Revival. The work is considered a landmark in the history of archaeology.

Summary of Event

In the mid-eighteenth century, what the Europeans knew about the classical world they mainly knew from depictions of Roman ruins in artworks and from Roman copies of Greek original art. The discoveries Archaeology of the ancient Roman cities of Herculaneum Herculaneum in 1738 and Pompeii Pompeii, Italy in 1748 fired the public’s interest in classical antiquity and initiated a new style of art and architecture now known as neoclassicism, Architecture;neoclassicism Neoclassicism;architecture a new classicism based on ancient Roman art and architecture. The term “neoclassicism” was not contemporary with the movement itself; it was first coined in the late nineteenth century to describe the stylistic period from the mid-eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century, during which there was a revival of ancient classical motifs in literature, art, and architecture. [kw]The Antiquities of Athens Prompts Architectural Neoclassicism (1762) [kw]Neoclassicism, The Antiquities of Athens Prompts Architectural (1762) [kw]Architectural Neoclassicism, The Antiquities of Athens Prompts (1762) [kw]Athens Prompts Architectural Neoclassicism, The Antiquities of (1762) [kw]Antiquities of Athens Prompts Architectural Neoclassicism, The (1762) Antiquities of Athens, The (Stuart and Revett) [g]Greece;1762: The Antiquities of Athens Prompts Architectural Neoclassicism[1620] [g]England;1762: The Antiquities of Athens Prompts Architectural Neoclassicism[1620] [c]Art;1762: The Antiquities of Athens Prompts Architectural Neoclassicism[1620] [c]Architecture;1762: The Antiquities of Athens Prompts Architectural Neoclassicism[1620] [c]Literature;1762: The Antiquities of Athens Prompts Architectural Neoclassicism[1620] [c]Cultural and intellectual history;1762: The Antiquities of Athens Prompts Architectural Neoclassicism[1620] Stuart, Athenian Revett, Nicholas Winckelmann, Johann Joachim Piranesi, Giovanni Battista

A photograph of the ruins of the Temple of Zeus in Greece.

(Library of Congress)

During this era, travel to Italy was an essential part of the Grand Tour, Grand Tours of Europe an obligatory journey undertaken by Europeans of wealth and social standing to study the cultures of ancient Rome Roman antiquities and Renaissance Italy. Travel to Christian Italy was relatively easy, rather safe, and typically quite pleasant. Travel to Greece, however, was much more challenging and considerably more dangerous because of the hostile political situation under the Ottoman Turks, who were in control of Greece at the time.

Athenian Stuart and Nicholas Revett, two intrepid English architects, were among the first European scholars to brave the uncertainties of travel in Greece. Stuart and Revett had met in London in 1742 and afterward traveled together to Rome, where they studied for several years, and then on to Naples. Stuart and Revett belonged to an organization of fellow English travelers known as the Society of Dilettanti. Society of Dilettanti (England) In 1751, Stuart and Revett convinced the society to finance their bold proposal for an expedition to Greece to document ancient Greek architectural Architecture;ancient Greece monuments. Their groundbreaking expedition reopened the world of ancient Greece to the West. Greek Revival

From 1751 to 1754, Stuart and Revett worked and lived among the Muslims in Athens. Political unrest, the presence of a Turkish army post stationed atop the Acropolis, a mosque located in the interior section of the Parthenon, and an outbreak of the plague all served to hinder progress on Stuart and Revett’s project. To keep attention away from themselves, Stuart and Revett wore Turkish attire as they worked to create meticulous topographical studies and to draw painstakingly measured illustrations. Illustration, architectural Architectural illustrations

Through their combined efforts, Stuart and Revett produced the first accurate survey of the buildings on the Athenian Acropolis, which was later published in four volumes and a supplement as The Antiquities of Athens. The process of creating and printing the numerous plates and engravings from the hand-drawn originals was arduous and expensive, making the publication process remarkably slow. Volume 1, published in 1762, contains their surveys of minor buildings. Volume 2, published in 1789, was devoted to the buildings on the Acropolis; this volume came out one year after Stuart’s death. Volume 3 was published in 1794 with the assistance of the Society of Dilettanti, and volume 4, which contained detailed images of the Parthenon sculptures, appeared in 1816, the same year that Lord Elgin sold the Parthenon sculptures (known as the Elgin marbles) to the British Museum. A supplement was published in 1830. From the time of Stuart and Revett’s original proposal to the final book in 1830, the entire project took eighty years. The lapse of time between volumes served to prolong the public’s interest in classical Greece, and each new volume fed the public’s enthusiasm for ancient Greek architecture, thereby sustaining the neoclassical movement.

A photograph of an ancient Greek tomb with two female figures.

(Library of Congress)

The Antiquities of Athens initiated a scholarly debate about the relative value and importance of ancient Greece versus ancient Rome, a debate known as the Greco-Roman controversy. Greco-Roman controversy[Greco Roman controversy] Prior to The Antiquities of Athens, nearly all that was known of antiquity was from examples of Roman art and architecture and from Roman copies of original Greek works. Stuart and Revett’s work changed this limited knowledge when it opened up the ancient Greek world. Stuart ardently favored Greece as the fount of all classical ideals. For his work on The Antiquities of Athens and his strong pro-Greek stance, he earned the nickname “Athenian.” Johann Joachim Winckelmann, a German art scholar, argued that the classical Greeks, having flourished prior to the imperial Romans, were indeed the wellspring of classicism. Winckelmann advised young artists to study the Greeks if they wanted to become great artists; for Winckelmann, the Greeks invented beauty. The Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi, however, argued against the importance of the Greeks and in favor of the supremacy of ancient Roman art and architecture in both his writings and his excellent engravings of idyllic Roman landscapes. The Greco-Roman controversy polarized neoclassicism into two camps: those who were attracted to the refined simplicity of the classical Greeks and those who favored the ornate grandeur of imperial Rome.

Upon their return to England, Stuart and Revett returned to the practice of architecture, producing numerous examples of Greek Revival and neoclassical design. During this period, the developing picturesque movement Picturesque movement emphasized decorative elements in garden landscape settings. Artistically designed and carefully situated classical “ruins” were well suited to the picturesque ideal. Stuart and Revett designed many such classically inspired ornamental buildings for English country houses. Stuart designed a small Doric temple for the garden at Hagley Park (1758), inspired by the Temple of Hephastos in Athens. Stuart’s other Greek Revival designs included a garden pavilion, called the Tower of the Winds (1764-1765), based on the octagonal building of the same name in Athens, and the Monument of Lysicrates (1764-1771), inspired by the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens. At West Wycombe, Revett designed picturesque structures such as an Ionic portico based on the Temple of Bacchus at Teo, a Temple of Flora, and an Island Temple (1778-1780).


The Antiquities of Athens influenced the art world in a way that cannot be overstated—the interest in Greek art and architecture that it spawned spread throughout Europe, across to the Americas, and eventually around the world with the expansion of the colonial powers. Not only were artists and architects enamored with the classical cultures of Greece and Rome, but political leaders and philosophers also looked to the ancients for inspiration and precedent. Compared to the excesses of the grand Baroque Baroque style and the highly frivolous rococo, Rococo both of which were definitively aristocratic styles associated with suppressive European monarchies, Greco-Roman classicism was thought to be restrained, rational, moral, and democratic. The leaders of the American Revolution cited Greco-Roman practices to underpin and justify their fight for liberty. Once established, the new nation drew from classical sources to establish its principles of government and its national architecture. French revolutionaries, too, held up antiquity as a moral and political ideal, and neoclassicism became the defining style of revolutionary France and the Napoleonic era.

Stuart and Revett were among the first archaeologists to classify art and architecture into chronological time periods and to create a systematic history Art history of classical art and architecture. Their practice of making accurate renderings and taking careful measurements introduced a new scholarly approach to the young science of archaeology. Rather than removing items from their original locations, Stuart and Revett drew and measured ancient buildings and sculptures in situ (in place). Because of their precise methodology and their careful attention to detail, today’s scholars can see through illustration the ancient Greek buildings and sculptures that have since been moved, sold, looted, or destroyed. The work of Stuart and Revett stands as a landmark in the history of archaeology.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bergdoll, Barry. European Architecture, 1750-1890. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. A good overview of the influence of the new discoveries in Greece and Rome during the mid-eighteenth century on the neoclassical movement in Europe.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Coltman, Viccy. Fabricating the Antique: Neoclassicism in Britain, 1760-1800. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. An overview of the origins and beginnings of the neoclassical movement in Britain.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Soros, S., ed. James “Athenian” Stuart. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006. A collection of essays on Stuart’s architecture.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stoneman, Richard. A Luminous Land: Artists Discover Greece. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1998. An account of how artists have viewed Greece, including the important contributions of Stuart and Revett.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stuart, James, and Nicholas Revett. The Antiquities of Athens. New York: Arno Press, 1980. An affordable reprint of Stuart and Revett’s original work.

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Robert and James Adam; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; Immanuel Kant; Angelica Kauffmann; Gotthold Ephraim Lessing; Sir Joshua Reynolds; Friedrich Schiller; William Stukeley; Johann Joachim Winckelmann. Antiquities of Athens, The (Stuart and Revett)

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