The Roman art world in the 18th century and the birth of the art academy in Britain


Roma • London

The Roman art world in the 18th century and the birth of the art academy in Britain

(BSR, Monday 10 December; Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, Tuesday 11 December)

Organised by Adriano Aymonino, Carolina Brook, Gian Paolo Consoli and Thomas-Leo True

On Monday 10 December 2018 the BSR will stage the finale to a celebratory year of nationwide and international exhibitions and events marking the 250th anniversary of the foundation of the Royal Academy of Arts.

Our conference is a milestone in a major research initiative to better understand the intellectual history of instruction in the arts. We are studying Italian influences on the emergence of an institutionalized system of education for artists and architects in 18th-century Britain. Paris had captured pole position amongst artistic centres, but national conversations around the teaching of art were still powerfully conditioned by Rome, its intellectual traditions and its pedagogical models.

The conference will show what, how and why Roman ideals infused the curricula of British arts institutions, driven by motivations that ranged from niggling over standards of draughtsmanship to propounding grandiose new national visions. We will hear interpretive studies on painting collections, plaster casts, portfolios of sketches, publications and a range of Rome-inspired teaching materials used to evidence intellectual claims made upon art. This interdisciplinary study also reveals how newly devised pedagogical models in the arts and architecture intersected with cognate studies such as reason and natural philosophy, as well as demonstrating how these related to Roman paradigms.

The Royal Academy was the most illustrious and successful of all fledgling foundations that hatched during the 18th century as the nation strove to create its own modern system of the arts. The structure of our conference, splitting into two sessions labelled Before the Royal Academy of Arts and After the Royal Academy of Arts, reflects the magnitude of the path-breaking development of its foundation. But the course to its creation was not plain sailing, and our keynote speaker, Robin Simon (UCL), will address a century of erratic progress preceding the eventual foundation of a professional academy along European lines in Great Britain.

There were precursors and followers too. Contributors will recover lost episodes and compelling narratives of parallel projects, some with a mayfly lifespan, to formulate theoretical and educational models, or propose new institutions, that held Rome aloft as exemplar. Geographically, the conference will break free from its focus on London to incorporate regional movements, travelling from Oxford to Scotland, enabling a comprehensive reconstruction of the principles, networks and academies, inspired by Rome, which shaped British art and its institutions in the 18th century.

Although at the vanguard of the art world today, the RA was one of the last royal academies to be created in Europe. If the British trailed conspicuously behind in the foundation of an academy for arts, the BSR is punctual in toasting its accomplishments, launching the first day of our conference exactly 250 years to the day since George III signed the Instrument of Foundation.

We are thrilled that the second day of the conference will be held at the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca. There could be no more appropriate partner than the pre-eminent centre for arts education and theory in the Early Modern period and the model for subsequent academies of art worldwide. The bill of fayre will include a tour of the accompanying exhibition Roma-Londra. Scambi, modelli e temi tra l’Accademia di San Luca e la cultura artistica britannica tra XVIII e XIX secolo and, guided by the ethos of interdisciplinarity, proceedings will draw to a close with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ musical meditations on the architectural and mathematical principles on which Borromini’s work is based.

Unlike our 18th-century antecedents, the BSR is open to all! We hope to welcome you there.


Thomas-Leo True