|"Excuse me sir; which way is Leonardo's Statue of David?"|
My own European Grand Tour involved run-ins with the police of Denmark, Germany, Italy, Spain and Yugoslavia and had absolutely nothing to do with Art or Culture whatsoever, but that's a story I'm going to keep until we meet sometime for a beer.
Of course, for most people, carousing around and being waited on hand and foot seems like a luxury and, well, it is. The ability to breeze around Europe implies lots of free time and money. The traditional Italian Grand Tour was taken by pretty much everyone of means; aristocrats, intellectuals, the curious and bon vivants alike. Stendhal seemed to speak for a generation of over-indulged rich kids when in 1817 he wrote of his impending voyage: “Outbursts of joy, heart pounding. How crazy I still am at twenty-six! I’m going to see beautiful Italy!” I probably wouldn't have burst into flames like Stendahl, but I do know what he means. Viva Italia!
|Antique map of Urbino, home of the famous Palazzo Ducale with it's remarkable intarsia studiolo|
|Grand Tourists passed through the Alpine wonderland of South Tyrol on their way to Italy|
|Hippolyte Taine wrote that "Venice is the pearl of Italy. I have seen nothing equal to it."|
Grand Tourists were often drawn to Italy by Romantic notions of languorous evenings sketching under crumbling ruins. Pampered toffs from all over Northern Europe wore pot-pourri bags under their armpits and foreswore bathing for months on end to endure such physical hardships as dozing under trees and endless social engagements in Venice or Florence. Poor Rupert must be exhausted.
But while on one level it was all a "larf" to the English, they also took it all very seriously. Almost like doing military service. Young men [I'm not sure if any women were included in this rite of passage] galloped off as cultural spies to bring back all they could glean from the Old World to use as valuable fodder for Empire, King and Country.
|Thomas Cole, 'The Course of Empire - Desolation', 1836|
"The primary value of the Grand Tour lay in the exposure both to the cultural legacy of 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" New York Times
|Giuseppe Agostino Vasi illustrated St. Peter's Basilica in 1774|
|18th Century street scenes of Florence and Rome|
Rome was, of course, the main destination. Sure there was always Florence, which according to Kenneth Clark, was a "city of hard heads, sharp wits, light feet, graceful movement", but it was still Rome with all it's bustling humanity, "a city that is like a huge compost heap of human hopes and ambitions, despoiled of its ornament, almost indecipherable, a wilderness of imperial splendor", that enticed countless young suitors from England's shores.
|An Assassination at the Porto Del Popolo|
Dickens complained in Pictures from Italy that Rome is filled with "a multitude of chattering strangers" and "narrow streets choked by heaps of dunghill rubbish." At one point, he turned a corner and ran right into the Dead Cart, with the bodies of the poor on their way to an unofficious dumping outside the city walls.
He seemed underwhelmed by other tourist destinations too, saying of St.Peter's Basilica that he'd "been infinitely more affected in many English Cathedrals when the organ is playing." The Jewish Quarter he described with casual anti-semitism as a "miserable place reeking of bad odors, but where the people are industrious and money-getting." He even called Bernini's monuments "intolerable abortions"! Ouch.
|Beautiful Albumen Silver print of a panorama of Rome, 1885|
Dickens went to bed that night "with a very considerably quenched enthusiasm."
|I traced the traditional Grand Tour route in red on this antique map of Europe.|
I don't know, it all sounds pretty good to me. I remember my days traveling around Europe with not a care in the World as being some of the best of my life. All these old prints are making me want to hit the road again. Who's with me?
|The famous Bay of Naples, and Sorrento|
"How I long to return to Sorrento,
To the lonely sea and sky,
I left my vest and socks there,
I wonder if they're dry"
|Albumen photo (circa 1820) of an incredibly animated street scene in Naples by Giacomo Brogi|
|Ruth Orkin's classic 'An American Girl in Italy' speaks volumes about being a stranger in a strange land.|