Published 20th May 2019
The idea of a Grand Tour was introduced to Europe by a 17th Century travel writer Richard Lassels and his guidebook 'The Voyage of Italy', which was published in 1670. It was the first guide for young gentlemen travelling abroad to immerse themselves in architecture, antiquity and art.
Particularly during the 18th century, it provided the opportunity for young aristocrats and gentry who had had a formal classical education in Latin and Greek, to absorb those past cultures. Their tours usually lasted for up to four years and included major European capitals but most importantly Italy.
Italian cities and towns included Turin, Lucca, Florence, Rome, Naples, Venice and Verona amongst others and, of course, Herculaneum and Pompeii where excavations had taken place since 1738. Here they would come under the influence of artists, designers, agents of the antiques trade and other well educated men and women. It was a time when wealthy aristocrats formed collections back in England. Paintings, statues, bronzes and other antiquities were exported from Rome back to the stately homes each vying to have the best collection.
Not only were Works of Art exported back to England but souvenirs of their travels and places where they stayed. Amongst the most popular items to be offered at auction are micro-mosaics, bronze and marble copies of ancient statues and busts, plaster gems and such like.
Micro-mosaics, formed from tiny pieces of glass (tesserae), frequently depicting views of Rome such as St Peter's Square, the Collosseum, the Pantheon and views of Pompeii, often set within black slate or marble. During this period, micro-mosaic jewellery became all the fashion and are still popular items for collectors today.
One of the best ways to remind the young gentlemen what they had seen was to buy collections of plaster gems, which depicted famous paintings, statues, historical figures or buildings. Moulded in either cameo or intaglio, each gem was surrounded by a gilt paper frame and numbered, a list was provided for all the gems, which would be fixed into three or more trays.
The most stunning pieces were large marble copies of antique statues, difficult to carry around so there was a whole industry of carvers and founders producing smaller copies as mementoes of people's visits to museums and galleries. Both in bronze and marble, they generally derived from Greek and Roman mythology all of which enforced the idea of a well-educated English aristocrat.
Collecting on the Grand was written on Monday, 20th May 2019.