Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History of Art

First Advisor

David B. Brownlee




Robert Adam (1728-92) was a revolutionary artist and, unusually, he possessed the insight and bravado to self-identify as one publicly. In the first fascicle of his three-volume Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam (published in installments between 1773 and 1822), he proclaimed that he had started a “revolution” in the art of architecture. Adam’s “revolution” was expansive: it comprised the introduction of avant-garde, light, and elegant architectural decoration; mastery in the design of picturesque and scenographic interiors; and a revision of Renaissance traditions, including the relegation of architectural orders, the rejection of most Palladian forms, and the embrace of the concept of taste as a foundation of architecture. In his own time, he became the second architect in European history (after Andrea Palladio 1508-80) to be associated with an eponymous style —today known as the “Adam Style,” and, in the eighteenth-century, the “Adamitic mode.” Adam further distinguished himself as one of the first professional architects in modern Britain, within an era that had only recently adopted widespread use of the term “architect.” To elevate his professional status, he freshly and sharply differentiated between the architect and builder, and undertook considerable self-promotional efforts. With his two pioneering publications (Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia of 1764 and his Works), he established himself as an erudite, scientific antiquarian and as a connoisseur of buildings. Moreover, the architect-cum-marketer deftly and innovatively composed his books to address a modern, critical, reading public (especially the emergent architectural connoisseur) and made robust arguments for the leading roles of domestic architecture and architectural decoration in shaping British identity. Drawing on a wide-range of sources, this project argues for a more comprehensive vision of the nature of Adam’s revolution and new consideration of his significance as an architect, writer, and public figure. It also builds on scholarship that seeks to contextualize Adam as a product of the Enlightenment, the Romantic era, and a rapidly-changing, modern Britain.

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