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Fabricating the Antique

Neoclassicism in Britain, 1760-1800

Between 1760 and 1800, British aristocrats became preoccupied with the acquisition of ancient Greek and Roman artifacts. From marble busts to intricately painted vases, these antiquities were amassed in vast collections held in country houses and libraries throughout Britain. In Fabricating the Antique, Viccy Coltman examines these objects and their owners, as well as dealers, restorers, designers, and manufacturers. She provides a close look at the classical revival that resulted in this obsession with collecting antiques.

Looking at the theoretical foundations of neoclassicism, Coltman contends this reinvention of ancient material culture was more than a fabrication of style. Based in the strong emphasis on classical education during this time, neoclassicism, Coltman claims, could be more accurately described as a style of thought translated into material possessions. Fabricating the Antique is a new take on both well-known collections of ancient art and newly cataloged artifacts. This book also covers how these objects—once removed from their original context—were received, preserved, and displayed. Art historians, classicists, and archaeologists alike will benefit from this important examination of British eighteenth-century history.

248 pages | 5 color plates, 85 halftones | 7 1/2 x 9 | © 2005

Art: Ancient and Classical Art, British Art

History: European History


"As her study proceeds, Dr. Coltman’s arguments gather force and fluency, and her chapters come alive. . . . A worthwhile, cogently argued book that quickens the reader’s responses and awakens new lines of enquiry."

Ruth Guilding | Apollo

"This is an impeccably researched and beautifully illustrated volume, founded on a broad-ranging analysis of documents that relate to some of the most important movers and shakers of the eighteenth century. . . . Of major interest to art historians, cultural critics, and classicists alike."

Michael Squire | Journal of British Studies

"A sophisticated and welcome look at British eighteenth-century antiquarianism, targeted to (art) historians but essential reading for classicists reliant on early collections and publications. . . . The book offers new paradigms for thinking about what classicism meant to its elite British consumers."

Jeffrey Collins | Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"A useful study of an important period in British art history, both from a visual and cultural perspective. . . . Fabricating the Antique shows how Britain came to assimilate antique ideas into the national psyche in a way that still resonates today."

Matt Cambridge | The Art Book

"There is much here to interest those concerned with the art and architecture of the period, with country house interiors, the social roles of libraries, and the taste for classical sculpture."  

Martin Myrone | Art Newspaper

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


List of Abbreviations

Getting into the Classical Mood 1

1          (Neo)classicism in the British Library

2          “Worth looking at with reflection”

Monuments as Texts and Texts as Monuments

3          “Fitt to furnish 2 or more rooms”

The Influence of Sir William Hamilton’s Vase Publications on English

Country House Furnishings

4          “Under the sun there is nothing new”

(Re)constructing Pompeii and Herculaneum

5          “Familiar objects in an unfamiliar world”

The Cachet of the Copy

6          The Cream of Antiquity

Charles Townley and His August Family of Ancient Marbles

Select Bibliography



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