The Origins of European Philhellenism

In Europe Philhellenism – the romantic desire arising from admiration of ancient Greece to further understanding of all things Greek – had its origins in the sixteenth and seventeenth-century.

For the Renaissance, despite its preoccupation with classical antiquity, Greece remained a country of the mind. Painters who devoted scrupulous attention to their drawing of Italian antiquities, allowed book learning mixed with fantasy to direct their depiction of ancient Greece. Marten van Heemskerck, who made drawings of all the buildings of Rome, presented an impossibly grandiose assemblage of the Seven Wonders of the World and other buildings as the backdrop to his Abduction of Helen; Nicolas Poussin, whose studies of the Campagna arc among the first accurate topographical paintings, painted an Athens filled with domes and arches such as classical Greece never saw.

It was widely believed that nothing remained of classical Greece. Robert Burton wrote in 1621:

The lanthorn in Athens was built by Xenocles, the theatre by Pericles, the famous port Piraeus by Musicles, the Pantheon (sic) by Callicrates; but these brave monuments are decayed all, and ruined long since, their builders' names alone flourish by mediation of writers.

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