Magazine article History Today

The Lure of the Grand Tour

Magazine article History Today

The Lure of the Grand Tour

Article excerpt

More than just an upper class form of early tourism that reached a pinnacle in the eighteenth century, the fashion for embarking on a grand tour of Europe had enormous repercussions on the taste and attitudes of those who returned. A major new exhibition opening at the Tate Gallery in London this month focuses on Italy - perhaps the most influential and certainly the most popular of Grand Tour destinations, with its classical appeal and fine art and architecture.

Among other first-time loans to Britain from the Vatican museums is the partnering sculpture to this 2nd century AD marble of a bitch caressing a dog, excavated by Gavin Hamilton in 1773 and acquired by Charles Townley the following year ((below). Reuniting them after more than 200 years, the Vatican will be lending the opposite duo of a dog nuzzling a bitch, excavated at the same time and also pursued by Townley for his collection, as the finer of the two sets, but export was refused and this pair remained in Italy.

Andrew Wilton, Keeper of the British Collection at the Tate and Ilaria Bignamini, a freelance art historian based in Milan, the curators of `Grand Tour: The Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth Century', have had to set themselves strict parameters to deal realistically with such a vast subject, both in terms of timescale and content (the seventeenth century, therefore, is referred to only in passing). Nevertheless, they have taken an imaginative approach to the organisation of the exhibition, exploring the inspiration and expectations of Grand Tourists; who they were, what they visited and what they took away from the visit, both materially and experience-wise.

An introductory section, `Dreaming of Italy' sets the scene with well-known paintings of the principal cities and Italian countryside by such landscape masters as Claude, Poussin, Canaletto and Bellotto. This provides both a context against which to appreciate the rest of the exhibition, as well as reminding us of the kinds of images of Italy that tempted contemporaries to see it for themselves.

A portrait-gallery of The Travellers' follows. Numerous foreigners visited Italy, many of whom commissioned portraits of themselves while there as a grandiose souvenir of their time spent abroad and testimony to their cultured tastes. …

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