Ruins of the Most Beautiful Monuments of Greece  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Ruins of the Most Beautiful Monuments of Greece (1758, French: Les Ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Grèce) is a book by French architect and archaeologist Julien-David Le Roy published four years ahead of James Stuart and Nicholas Revett's The Antiquities of Athens.


Stuart and Revett were researching Athens since 1748 but Le Roy had an advantage in accessing the ruins due to good relations between France and the Ottoman Empire. Le Roy's studies, supported by Comte de Caylus and his art circle, recruited the finest engravers and architects to produce illustrations, and became sort of a national project for the pre-revolutionary France. Le Roy spent only three months in Athens (compared to three years taken by Stuart and Revett); he researched Greek monuments in a wide, universal cultural context, comparing them with Roman legacy, and travelled to Constantinople to study the Byzantine development of the Greek tradition.

Le Roy rushed his Les Ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Grèce (Ruins of the Most Beautiful Monuments of Greece) into print in 1758. Stuart and Revett delayed their first volume till 1762 and discouraged their readers by filling it with lesser monuments instead of the expected Parthenon. The delay provided them time to examine Le Roy's book and pinpoint its weaknesses and errors in a bitter critique. Le Roy's success alienated not only the Britons who harshly attacked his book and theories but also Piranesi who considered the Frenchman a threat to his national pride and, worse, means of subsistence.

Le Roy responded with a counterargument that an insight in development of a culture is just as worthwhile as meticulous, surgical rendition of antique relics. Unlike the Britons who rushed to copy the Greek models in new buildings, Le Roy stood by his opinion that architecture always follows evolution of the society, and never intended to imitate these models in stone. His book ultimately had a greater impact on practical architecture than Stuart and Revett's, for example, launching the modern tradition of using colonnade in urban design.

Both British and French projects began as mere attempts to expand knowledge of Greek antiques beyond the work of Antoine Desgodetz and eventually grew into comparative discourse over Roman and Greek art, starting a wide public debate on their relative merits.

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