Skip to next element


The Grand Tour


In order to experience the unique qualities of a variety of artistic and cultural experiences it is necessary to leave the familiar and embark on adventure. No cultural phenomenon makes this more apparent than the Grand Tour, a tour throughout Europe that became de rigueur for young aristocrats beginning in the sixteenth century.
The practice of the Grand Tour introduced young European nobility to the art and culture of Europe with a focus on France and Italy. The requisite stops were Paris, Florence, Venice and Rome. Travel was really only possible for the privileged class and the time an individual spent traveling was a vital part of his educational experience. Young nobility became adept at languages, viewed famous antiquities and architecture and made important social contacts. As a result the Grand Tour produced gentleman scientists, authors, antiquaries, and patrons of the arts.
The term Grand Tour was introduced by Richard Lassels in his 1670 book Voyage to Italy. Additional guidebooks, tour guides, and the tourist industry were developed and grew to meet the needs of the young male and female travelers and their tutors across the European continent. These tourists often spent two to four years traveling around Europe in an effort to expand their knowledge of the world by learning about language, architecture, geography, and culture.
The lengthy journeys of the Grand Tour required a convenient means of transporting the personal belongings, or necessities, of daily life. Often constructed of luxurious materials such as silver, gold, mother of pearl, crystal, fine woods and leathers, necessaries de voyage became highly personalized symbols of wealth and taste, carrying everything from toiletries and jewelry to sewing and writing instruments.



 A perfect example is this elegant English example veneered with rich coromandel wood with brass inlay. It is protected by rare Bramah locks, making it impeccably suited for carrying everything a person of nobility would need while traveling. The inside features 11 cut crystal boxes and jars with beautifully engraved silver gilt tops and toiletries accented with mother-of-pearl handles. Two secret, leather-lined compartments extend from the right and the front of the case, each activated by pressing discreet buttons located within the interior. The front compartment opens to reveal a fitted jewelry case lined with silk and velvet. The silver gilt tops bear the hallmark of London silversmith William Neal, 1863 and the locking mechanism is signed "Bramah, London.

Travelers on the Grand Tour would carry a large assortment of items conveniently packaged in smaller sizes that were more suitable for travel. Small boxes held liquor or perfumes. Game tables folded up to convenient travel sizes and an assortment of system canes could transform at a moment's notice into easels, naturalist supplies, parasols or even weapons for protection.
Since there were few museums anywhere in Europe before the close of the eighteenth 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. When they traveled they carried letters of reference and introduction with them as most of the fine arts and antiquities were housed in private homes.
Visiting French and Italian royalty and British diplomats was a popular way to both network and gain access to important collections of art and antiquities during the Tour. The new generation of statesmen, scholars, and patrons from all over Europe met in Italy. With the right connections, you might have been invited to the home of a private collector like Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador to Naples from 1764 to 1800.
While the goal of the Grand Tour was educational, a great deal of time was spent in more frivolous pursuits such as extensive drinking, gambling, and intimate encounters. Upon their return home, tourists were supposedly ready to accept the responsibilities of being an aristocrat.
Most Grand Tourists set out with less scholarly intentions, accompanied by their teacher or guardian, and were expected to return home with souvenirs of their travels as well as an understanding of art and architecture formed by an exposure to great masterpieces. Artists also benefited from the patronage of travelers eager to procure mementos of their travels. Classical taste and an interest in exotic customs shaped travelers' itineraries as well as their reactions.
Interestingly, the Grand Tour gave concrete form to Northern Europeans' ideas about the Greco-Roman world and helped encourage Neo-classical ideals. Travelers visited excavations at such sites as Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Tivoli, and purchased antiquities to decorate their homes. Ancient sculpture formed the centerpiece of any collection, but copies, both in large and small scale, were also common. Early private museums combined collections of manmade and natural objects. Tourists could also collect Italy itself, in miniature, through guidebooks and printed views. Sir William Hamilton published illustrated catalogues of his vase collection and a compendium of views of the volcanic landscape. Artists made their own souvenirs, carrying back sketchbooks of studies after art objects, ancient ruins, and the Italian landscape.
Almost certainly a souvenir from a Grand Tour this exceptional piece is a beautiful reminder of the grandeur of ancient Rome. This remarkable antique Italian sculpture is a faithful model of ruins of the Temple of Roman Emperors Vespasian and Titus in Rome. Crafted in intricate detail of Italian Sienna marble on an alabaster base, from the steps leading into the temple to the delicate Corinthian capitals, this realistic statue depicts the three Corinthian columns at southeast corner of the temple's vestibule, one of the few parts of the temple that remain today. The piece is inscribed "ESTITUER" part of the word "restituer," meaning "re-establish," on the entablature. The piece dates from the end of the 19th century and is 7 3/4" wide by 17 5/8" high.
Vespasian was a Roman Emperor from 69 AD to 79 A.D., and the founder of the Flavian dynasty, which ruled the empire for 25 years. This temple was constructed to honor Vespasian, his older son and successor Titus (ruled 79-81 A.D.), and Domitian (ruled 81-96 A.D.), his younger son and successor to Titus. Titus and Vespasian were each deified through the ceremony of apotheosis. Thus, tradition dictated that they be honored by Roman citizens and subjects as Roman deities. This imperial cult worship was as much a sign of allegiance to the emperor of Rome, or as a political and diplomatic gesture, as it was a formal religion.

The temple suffered significant damage during medieval times, particularly circa 1300 under Pope Boniface VIII, and in Pope Nicholas V's remodeling of the Forum. All that survives today is the podium's core, parts of the inner chamber, and the three Corinthian columns depicted in this classic figure.





The Grand Tour as an institution was ultimately worthwhile for national culture as well as for individuals as the Tour has been given credit for a dramatic improvement in British architecture and culture. The exposure to ancient art and architecture that was a key component of the Grand Tour encouraged an appreciation for the art of ancient Greece and Rome and set a standard for beauty and culture that 18th-century Europeans hoped to copy and surpass. Original works done in the style of the ancients, called Neo-classicism, were and continue to be highly valued.

Some other examples of souvenirs that would have been attractive to travelers during their Grand Tour were artworks, furniture or jewelry utilizing the ancient technique of micromosaic.
This extraordinary table is beautifully crafted with cartouches of micromosaic tiles depicting nine famous Roman sites and a border with four doves. A band of precious malachite surrounds the central "picture" of St. Peter's Square. Set on a fine painted and carved wooden base this table is a remarkable example of the very finest of the mosaic craftsman's art.
Historically, glorious mosaics of unprecedented beauty and complexity enjoyed great popularity among the ancient Romans who decorated their homes with massive mosaic masterpieces. The art of the mosaic re-emerged during the 18th and 19th centuries, most notably in the workshops of the Vatican, finding favor among the surge of affluent tourists making their requisite Grand Tour across Europe. Splendid images of ancient Rome were painstakingly recreated in miniature using tiny tiles and precious stones, in what is commonly known as micromosaic. Furnishings adorned with this rare form of decoration are increasingly rare and very desirable. This piece is dated circa 1860.





This stunning Victorian Egyptian Revival necklace, comprised of 21 individual micromosaic pendants, is a wonder of meticulous craftsmanship and intricate beauty. Crafted of sumptuous yellow gold, the necklace exhibits a magnificent inlaid Egyptian motif of exceptional detail and artistry. As with other micromosaic work, micromosaic jewelry reached the height of fashion during the 19th century, when affluent Europeans making their Grand Tour throughout the continent brought these pieces back as souvenirs of their journey. Mainly crafted in the Vatican workshops in Italy, these pieces were works of skillful craftsmanship and are highly coveted by collectors today.





Italy being the primary destination of the Grand Tour greatly encouraged the fashions and the tastes of the period. Both 18th and 19th century taste revered the art and culture of the ancients. The British, in particular, were lured to Italy by their admiration of antiquity and their desire to see firsthand such monuments of ancient civilization as the Colosseum in Rome, and such wonders of nature as the volcanic eruptions of Mount Vesuvius, near Naples.

While nobles came to view the art of ancient Rome, art students also came to Italy to learn from ancient models. The art produced in Italy during the age of the Grand Tour shows close observation of the natural landscape and ancient artifacts, celebrates modern Italian customs, and commemorates the visits of wealthy patrons.
In the absence of photography, paintings, etchings, and drawings of ancient monuments and historically important sites served as mementos of a trip to Italy, while at the same time showing off the traveler's taste and wealth.
Images of Venice were particularly admired as it was regarded as medieval Europe's gateway to the East, and for 18th-century travelers it retained an exotic character. Tourist's would often visit Venice during Carnival.  In Venice the period of Carnival was particularly lengthy and was celebrated for the entire period between Christmas and Lent, which could be more than 2 months. Some of the greatest view painters and engravers of the 18th century executed works from Venice and the surrounding area. In their works they capture the splendor and excitement of Venetian ceremonies and also the peculiar quality of light that reflected off of the city's many canals.
In this beautiful painting by French artist Antoine Bouvard, the captivating views of Venetian canals and architecture are celebrated. A View of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice captures Bouvard's undeniable talent for utilizing light and atmospheric effects to portray the warmth and magnificence of Venice. In this stunning cityscape, the Basilica of St. Mary of Health glows in the rays of the setting sun at the far end of the famed Grand Canal.
Bouvard's body of work demonstrates the artist's fascination with light and compositions, as he would often paint the same scene, but at different angles and times of day. This particular work examines the Basilica in the evening, with gondolas and sail-bearing ships in the distance gliding across the still waters at the mouth of the Grand Canal.




Bouvard was born at St. Jean-de-Bournay in L'Isere, studying art and architecture at the Ècole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He traveled extensively throughout southern Europe and the Mediterranean, finding a true connection with the picturesque city of Venice. Scenes of the unique city became his most successful and sought after subject. So profitable was he in London and Paris with his Venetian views that he began painting under the pseudonym "Marc Aldine" in an effort to further expand his market. Bouvard had his first one-man exhibition at Gladwell & Company in 1928, where he achieved the incredible honor of the exhibition's most prestigious attendee, Queen Mary, purchasing two of his works. Today, Bouvard's picturesque paintings are highly collectible works that have made a significant impact among fine art connoisseurs.


Beginning in the 16th-century and lasting for over three hundred years the Grand Tour was considered by many to be a necessary tradition. Even today, ambitious travelers set out on international adventures to see a variety of sights in exotic locales and to gain a better understanding of the contemporary world we live in. A traveler's collection of images, sculptures, paintings and a variety of other souvenirs create a fascinating record of their adventures. Over three hundred years ago the beginning of a process in the creation of fine objects d'art were created by artisans as luxurious mementos of Grand Tours for those who could afford the extravagance.  M.S. Rau Antiques has a tremendous collection of enchanting and magnificent objects related to the history of the Grand Tour. They are as special today as they were centuries ago and they tell a vivid history of the timeless pursuit of cultural awakening and worldly knowledge.


Sign up below to be the first to know about new acquisitions, exhibits, blogs and more.

back to top
back to top