The Influence of the Grand Tour on Antique Collecting
by Bob Brooke
Today』s antique collector most likely doesn』t think about how the idea of collecting began and the influence the Grand Tour played in it. But if it weren』t for the Grand Tour, many of the decorative styles in furniture and accessories—Adams, Sheraton, Heppelwhite, Chippendale, and Rococo and Renaissance Revival—collected today would probably not have even been created.
The sons of elite English families of the 17th,18th , and early 19th centuries often spent two to four years traveling around Europe as an extension of their education to broaden their horizons and learn about language, architecture, geography, and culture in an experience known as the Grand Tour. The custom flourished from about 1660 until the creation of railroad networks in the 1840s. Though primarily associated with the British nobility, the sons, and later daughters of wealthy landed gentry also made similar trips. The sons of wealthy American families began making the journey after the American Revolution.
How It All Began
Richard Lassels, an expatriate Roman Catholic priest, first used the phrase 「Grand Tour」 in his 1670 book Voyage to Italy, published posthumously in Paris in 1670. In its introduction, Lassels listed four areas in which travel furnished "an accomplished, consummate traveler" with opportunities to experience first hand the intellectual, the social, the ethical, and the political life of the Continent.
The English gentry of the 17th century believed that what a person knew came from the physical stimuli to which he or she has been exposed. Thus, being on-site and seeing famous works of art and history was an all important part of the Grand Tour. So most Grand Tourists spent the majority of their time visiting museums and historic sites.
Once young men began embarking on these journeys, additional guidebooks and tour guides began to appear to meet the needs of the 20-something male and female travelers and their tutors traveling a standard European itinerary. They carried letters of reference and introduction with them as they departed from southern England, enabling them to access money and invitations along the way.
With nearly unlimited funds, aristocratic connections and months or years to roam, these wealthy young tourists commissioned paintings, perfected their language skills and mingled with the upper crust of the Continent.
The wealthy believed the primary value of the Grand Tour lay in the exposure both to classical antiquity and the Renaissance, and to the aristocratic and fashionably polite society of the European continent. In addition, it provided the only opportunity to view specific works of art, and possibly the only chance to hear certain music. A Grand Tour could last from several months to several years. The youthful Grand Tourists usually traveled in the company of a Cicerone, a knowledgeable guide or tutor.
However, the Grand Tour was neither a scholar's pilgrimage nor a religious one. Many Grand Tourists traveled with all the trapping—valets and coachmen, perhaps a cook, and certainly a scholarly guide.
For gentlemen, some works of art were essential to demonstrate the breadth and polish they had received from their tour. In Rome, Thomas Jenkins provided access to private collections of antiquities. Many had their portraits painted by Pompeo Batoni while posing among Roman antiquities.
The Acquisition of Souvenirs
The Grand Tour not only provided a cultural education but allowed those who could afford it the opportunity to buy things otherwise unavailable at home, which increased the participant』s prestige and standing. Grand Tourists would return with crates of art, books, pictures, sculpture, and items of culture, which would be displayed in libraries, cabinets, gardens, and drawing rooms, as well as the galleries built purposely for their display. The Grand Tour became a symbol of wealth and freedom and fueled the collections that would later become the foundation for today』s antique market.
An extensive tour through Italy as far as Naples undertaken by the 「Collector」 Earl of Arundel, together with his wife and children between 1613 and 1614 is what established the precedent for collecting while on the Tour. This is partly because he asked Inigo Jones, not yet established as an architect but already known as a great traveler, to act as his Cicerone.
The Grand Tourist was typically a young man with a thorough background in Greek and Latin literature as well as some leisure time, some means, and some interest in art. Most Grand Tourists, however, stayed for briefer periods and set out with less scholarly intentions, accompanied by a teacher or guardian, and expected to return home with souvenirs of their travels as well as an understanding of art and architecture formed by exposure to great masterpieces.
The Grand Tourists wanted to visit Paris, Rome, and Venice, cities considered the major centers of culture at the time. Florence and Naples were also popular destinations. The Grand Tourist would travel from city to city and usually spend weeks in smaller cities and up to several months in the three key cities. Paris was definitely the most popular destination.
The most common itinerary of the Grand Tour began in Dover, England, and crossed the English Channel to Ostend, in Belgium, or to Calais or Le Havre in France. The trip from Dover across the Channel on to Paris customarily took three days. The crossing of the Channel was not an easy one as there were risks of seasickness, illness, and even shipwreck.
From Ostend or Calais, the Grand Tourist could hire or purchase a coach, which he could resell in any city or disassemble and pack to portage across the Alps. Some chose to make the trip by boat as far as the Alps, either traveling up the Seine to Paris, or up the Rhine to Basel.
Upon hiring a French-speaking guide—French was the dominant language of the elite in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries—the Grand Tourist and his entourage would travel to Paris. There he might take lessons in French, dancing, fencing and riding. The appeal of Paris lay in the sophisticated language and manners of French high society, for French was the language of diplomats and would prepare the young man for a leadership position at home, often in government or diplomacy.
From Paris he would typically go to Geneva, Switzerland. From there, the Grand Tourist would endure a difficult crossing over the Alps into northern Italy, which included dismantling his carriage and luggage. If wealthy enough, he might be carried over the hard terrain by servants.
Once in Italy, he would visit Turin, then might spend a few months in Florence, where there was a large expat English community. The Uffizi Gallery offered in one place Roman sculptures and Renaissance paintings and sculptures that would later inspire galleries adorned with antiquities at home. While in Florence, he might make side trips to Pisa, Padua, Bologna, and Venice. The British saw Venice as the epitome of decadent Italian culture, making it a highlight of the Grand Tour.
From Venice Grand Tourists traveled to Rome to study the ruins of ancient Rome, and the masterpieces of painting, sculpture, and architecture of Rome's Early Christian, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. Some also visited Naples to study music, and after the mid-18th century, the archaeological sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii. But Naples was the usual southern end of the tour.
On the return, Grand Tourists traveled north through Italy, traversing the Alps and heading north through to the German-speaking parts of Europe. Travelers might stop first in Innsbruck before visiting Vienna, Dresden, Berlin and Potsdam, with perhaps some study time at the universities in Munich or Heidelberg. From there they visited Holland and Flanders, visiting more galleries, before returning across the Channel to England.
Since there were few museums anywhere in Europe before the end of the 18th century, Grand Tourists often saw paintings and sculptures by gaining admission to private collections, and many were eager to acquire examples of Greco-Roman and Italian art for their own collections. In England, where architecture was increasingly seen as an aristocratic pursuit, noblemen often applied what they learned from the villas of Palladio in Venice and the evocative ruins of Rome to their own country houses and gardens, as well as to the furniture and accessories they contained.
The dining rooms of Robert Adam's interiors, for example, typically incorporated classical statuary. The second earl of Shelburne was a particularly voracious collector. He brought back nine lifesized figures which he set into niches in his dining room at Lansdowne. And when the second duchess of Portland obtained a Roman cameo glass vase in a much-publicized sale, Josiah Wedgwood produced jasper ware reproductions of it.
After the arrival of steam-powered transportation in 1825, the Grand Tour continued, but with several major differences. It was less expensive to undertake, safer, easier, and most importantly, open to anyone. During much of the 19th century, most educated young men of privilege undertook the Grand Tour. Later, it became fashionable for young women to do so as well. Who can forget the trip to Italy, with a spinster aunt as chaperon, Baedecker guide in hand, featured in E. M. Forster's novelA Room with a View