ⓘ Conversazione. A conversazione is a social gathering learned or art society for conversation and discussion, especially about the arts, literature, medicine, an ..


ⓘ Conversazione

A conversazione is a "social gathering learned or art society" for conversation and discussion, especially about the arts, literature, medicine, and science.

It would not be easy to devise a happier way what contemporaries say of their schemes and experiments, and much can be said and done with advantage amid the free talk of a general gathering which could not be permitted in the formal meeting of a scientific society. Nature, 5 May 1870.

1. Origin

The writer Horace Walpole is credited with the first recorded English use of conversazione in a letter written from Italy on 11 November 1739 to Richard West 1716-1742 in which he writes, "After the play we were introduced to the assembly, which they call the conversazione ".


2. Historical usage in Britain

In Italy, the term generally refers to a gathering for conversation; and was first used in English to identify the sort of private social gathering more generally known today as an "At Home".

In England, however, it soon came to be far more widely used to denote the gatherings of a far more intellectual character, and was applied in the more specific sense of a scientific, artistic, or literary assembly/soiree, generally held at night.

A conversazione like everything else has undergone conspicuous development in these days. Formerly the word was applicable only to a meeting of cognoscenti, who were themselves proficient in some art or science which might be the immediate subject of learned interest. At the present time the materials for discussion are supplied by the proficients, and the general public are invited to provide the talk or the criticism. Moreover a "conversation" of this kind is not limited to a specific subject, but may comprise topics incidental to any branch of science and art whatever. New Zealand Herald, 17 September 1880.

In its report on the first conversazione ever conducted by the Lambeth Literary Institution on 22 June 1836, The Gentlemans Magazine noted that,

the principal object, may all be amalgamated under one roof; and the rough energies of manly intellect be thus softened and refined by the amenities of the social circle.

3. Knowledge dissemination

According to Yeates 2018:

In Victorian England, the conversazione was one of the most important educational, cultural, and recreational means through which scientific knowledge was disseminated and explanations of technical innovation were delivered to the general public. Conducted by individuals, institutions, or learned bodies, a usually mixed amateur/expert, male/female audience was enlightened by explanations, two-way interactions with participants, experiments, demonstrations, hands-on displays of equipment, and/or the exhibition of specimens. The conversazione’s lectures/explanations delivered knowledge by description, and its experiments, demonstrations, hands-on displays of equipment, and exhibition of specimens delivered knowledge by acquaintance with the concomitant psychological ownership of the knowledge so-acquired.

4. Other uses

University of Cambridge

  • The Cambridge University Natural History Society continues to call its annual public exhibition a Conversazione.
  • The intellectual society at Cambridge University known as the Apostles was founded in 1820 as the Conversazione Society by George Tomlinson.


The arts-oriented social media website Conversazione.org takes its name from the English meaning.


5. Bibliography

  • Plunkett, J., & Sullivan, J.A. 2012, "Fetes, Bazaars and Conversaziones: Science, Entertainment and Local Civic Elites", in J. Kember, J. Plunkett, and J.A. Sullivan eds., Popular Exhibitions, Science and Showmanship, 1840-1910, pp.41–60. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.
  • Hartrick, Elizabeth 2008, "Curiosities and rare scientific instruments: Colonial conversazioni in Australia and New Zealand in the 1870s and 1880s", pp.11.1–11.19 in Seize the Day: Exhibitions, Australia and the World, edited by Kate Darian-Smith, Richard Gillespie, Caroline Jordan, and Elizabeth Willis, Elizabeth, Monash University ePress, Melbourne.
  • Alberti, Samuel J.M.M. 2003, "Conversaziones and the Experience of Science in Victorian England". Journal of Victorian Culture 8.2): 208-30. doi:10.3366/jvc.2003.8.2.208
  • Yeates, Lindsay B., "James Braid II: Mesmerism, Braid’s Crucial Experiment, and Braid’s Discovery of Neuro-Hypnotism", Australian Journal of Clinical Hypnotherapy and Hypnosis, Vol.40, No.1, Autumn 2018, pp.40-92.
  • de Clerq, Peter 2003, "Scientific instruments displayed at the Royal Society conversazioni or soirees in the nineteenth century", in Marco Beretta, Paolo Galluzzi and Carlo Triarico eds., Musa Musaei: Studies on Scientific Instruments and Collections in Honour of Mara Miniati, Florence, Biblioteca di Nuncius Studi e Testi XLIX, pp.395–405.
  • Wood, Jane 2006, "A Culture of Improvement: Knowledge, Aesthetic Consciousness, and the Conversazione", Nineteenth Century Studies, Vol.20, pp.79-97.

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