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The Grand Tour was the traditional trip of Europe undertaken by mainly upper-class European young men of means, or those of more humble origin who could find a sponsor. The custom flourished from about 1660 until the advent of large-scale rail transportin the 1840s, and was associated with a standard itinerary. It served as an educational rite of passage. Though primarily associated with the British nobility and wealthy landed gentry, similar trips were made by wealthy young men of Protestant Northern European nations on Continental Europe, and from the second half of the 18th century, by some South and North Americans. The tradition declined with the lapse of neo-classical enthusiasm and after rail and steamship travel made the journeys much easier when Thomas Cook made the “Cook’s Tour” of early mass tourism a byword.
The New York Times in 2008 described the Grand Tour in this way:
Three hundred years ago, wealthy young Englishmen began taking a post-Oxbridge trek through France and Italy in search of art, culture and the roots of Western civilization. With nearly unlimited funds, aristocratic connections and months (or years) to roam, they commissioned paintings, perfected their language skills and mingled with the upper crust of the Continent.
— Gross, Matt., “Lessons From the Frugal Grand Tour.” New York Times 5 September 2008.
The primary value of the Grand Tour, it was believed, lay in the exposure both to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and theRenaissance, 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. It was commonly undertaken in the company of a Cicerone, a knowledgeable guide or tutor. The Grand Tour had more than superficial cultural importance; as E. P. Thompson stated, “ruling-class control in the 18th century was located primarily in a cultural hegemony, and only secondarily in an expression of economic or physical (military) power.”
In essence the Grand Tour was neither a scholar’s pilgrimage nor a religious one, though a pleasurable stay in Venice and a cautious residence in Rome were essential. Catholic Grand Tourists followed the same routes as Protestant Whigs. Since the 17th century a tour to such places was also considered essential for budding young artists to understand proper painting and sculpture techniques, though the trappings of the Grand Tour— valets and coachmen, perhaps a cook, certainly a “bear-leader” or scholarly guide— were beyond their reach. The advent of popular guides, such as the Richardsons’, did much to popularize such trips, and following the artists themselves, the elite considered travel to such centres as necessary rites of passage. For gentlemen, some works of art were essential to demonstrate the breadth and polish they had received from their tour: in Rome antiquaries likeThomas Jenkins provided access to private collections of antiquities, among which enough proved to be for sale that the English market raised the price of such things, as well as for coins and medals, which formed more portable souvenirs and a respected gentleman’s guide to ancient history. Pompeo Batoni made a career of painting English milordi posed with graceful ease among Roman antiquities. Many continued on to Naples, where they viewed Herculaneum and Pompeii, but few ventured far into southern Italy or Malta, and fewer still to Greece, still under Turkish rule.
Rome for many centuries had been the goal of pilgrims, especially during Jubilee when they visited the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome.
In Britain, Thomas Coryat‘s travel book Coryat’s Crudities (1611), published during the Twelve Years’ Truce, was an early influence on the Grand Tour but it was the far more extensive tour through Italy as far as Naples undertaken by the ‘Collector’ Earl of Arundel, together with his wife and children in 1613–14 that established the most significant precedent. This is partly because he asked Inigo Jones, not yet established as an architect but already known as a ‘great traveller’ and masque designer, to act as his cicerone (guide). Larger numbers of tourists began their tours after the Peace of Münster in 1648. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of the term (perhaps its introduction to English) was by Richard Lassels (c. 1603–1668), an expatriate Roman Catholic priest, in his book The Voyage of Italy, which was published posthumously in Paris in 1670 and then in London. Lassels’s introduction listed four areas in which travel furnished “an accomplished, consummate Traveller”: the intellectual, the social, the ethical (by the opportunity of drawing moral instruction from all the traveller saw), and the political.
The idea of traveling for the sake of curiosity and learning was a developing idea in the 17th century. With John Locke‘s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), it was argued, and widely accepted, that knowledge comes entirely from the external senses, that what one knows comes from the physical stimuli to which one has been exposed. Thus, one could “use up” the environment, taking from it all it offers, requiring a change of place. Travel, therefore, was necessary for one to develop the mind and expand knowledge of the world. As a young man at the outset of his account of a repeat Grand Tour, the historian Edward Gibbon remarked that “According to the law of custom, and perhaps of reason, foreign travel completes the education of an English gentleman.” Consciously adapted for intellectual self-improvement, Gibbon was “revisiting the Continent on a larger and more liberal plan”; most Grand Tourists did not pause more than briefly in libraries. On the eve of the Romantic era he played a significant part in introducing, William Beckford wrote a vivid account of his Grand Tour that made Gibbon’s unadventurous Italian tour look distinctly conventional.
The typical 18th-century sentiment was that of the studious observer traveling through foreign lands reporting his findings on human nature for those unfortunate enough to have stayed home. Recounting one’s observations to society at large to increase its welfare was considered an obligation; the Grand Tour flourished in this mindset.
The Grand Tour not only provided a liberal education but allowed those who could afford it the opportunity to buy things otherwise unavailable at home, and it thus increased participants’ 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. Artists who especially thrived on Grand Tourists included Carlo Maratti, who was first patronized by John Evelyn as early as 1645,] Pompeo Batoni the portraitist, and the vedutisti such as Canaletto, Pannini and Guardi. The less well-off could return with an album ofPiranesi etchings.
The “perhaps” in Gibbon’s opening remark cast an ironic shadow over his resounding statement. Critics of the Grand Tour derided its lack of adventure. “The tour of Europe is a paltry thing”, said one 18th century critic, “a tame, uniform, unvaried prospect”. The Grand Tour was said to reinforce the old preconceptions and prejudices about national characteristics, as Jean Gailhard‘s Compleat Gentleman (1678) observes: “French courteous. Spanish lordly. Italian amorous. German clownish.” The deep suspicion with which Tour was viewed at home in England, where it was feared that the very experiences that completed the British gentleman might well undo him, were epitomised in the sarcastic nativist view of the ostentatiously “well-travelled” maccaroni of the 1760s and 1770s.
After the arrival of steam-powered transportation, around 1825, the Grand Tour custom continued, but it was of a qualitative difference — cheaper to undertake, safer, easier, open to anyone. During much of the 19th century, most educated young men of privilege undertook the Grand Tour. Germany and Switzerland came to be included in a more broadly defined circuit. Later, it became fashionable for young women as well; a trip to Italy, with a spinster aunt aschaperon, was part of the upper-class woman’s education, as in E. M. Forster‘s novel A Room with a View.
It is important to see the contribution of anthropology to the study of the Grand Tour. An anthropologist, [Maximiliano E. Korstanje] argues that the Grand Tour emerged in England and was rapidly adopted by other Northern countries because its cultural roots came from Norse Mythology. Among Indo-Arian mythologies, Norse culture is the only one where its major God, Odin/Wodan, travels long distances to learn the customs and habits of humans. The ruler of Asgaard was accustomed to undertake his adventures in the form of animals. In the Ynlinga Saga, Odin/Wodan is described as an ongoing wanderer whose hunger of adventure and risk has no limits. This legend tells us that Odin, who operated under many disguises, used a false identity (Vegtam the wanderer) to defy the Giant trespassing through Jotunheim (Jotunheimr). Once there, Odin drank from the well of wisdom and was rushed to sacrifice his own eye in order to know the meaning of sorrow. This founding event symbolizes how pain is a necessary step to access unlimited knowledge, and this is the main value that the Grand tour emulates.
The most common itinerary of the Grand Tour shifted across generations in the cities it embraced, but the British tourist usually began in Dover, England and crossed the English Channel to Ostend, in the Netherlands/Belgium, or to Calais or Le Havre in France. From there the tourist, usually accompanied by a tutor (known colloquially as a “bear-leader“) and (if wealthy enough) a troop of servants, could rent or acquire a coach (which could be resold in any city or disassembled and packed across the Alps, as in Giacomo Casanova‘s travels, who resold it on completion), or opt to make the trip by boat as far as the Alps, either travelling up the Seine to Paris, or up the Rhine to Basel.
Upon hiring a French-speaking guide, as French was the dominant language of the elite in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, the tourist and his entourage would travel to Paris. There the traveler might undertake lessons in French, dancing, fencing and riding. The appeal of Paris lay in the sophisticated language and manners of French high society, including courtly behavior and fashion. This served the purpose of preparing the young man for a leadership position at home, often in government ordiplomacy.
From Paris he would typically go to urban Switzerland for a while, often to Geneva (the cradle of the Protestant Reformation) orLausanne. (“Alpinism” or mountaineering developed in the 19th century.) From there the traveller would endure a difficult crossing over the Alps into northern Italy (such as at the Great St Bernard Pass), which included dismantling the carriage and luggage. If wealthy enough, he might be carried over the hard terrain by servants.
Once in Italy, the tourist would visit Turin (and, less often, Milan), then might spend a few months in Florence, where there was a considerable Anglo-Italian society accessible to traveling Englishmen “of quality” and where the Tribuna of the Uffizi gallery brought together in one space the monuments of High Renaissance paintings and Roman sculptures that would inspire picture galleries adorned with antiquities at home, with side trips to Pisa, then move on to Padua, Bologna, and Venice. The British idea of Venice as the “locus of decadent Italianate allure” made it an epitome and cultural setpiece of the Grand Tour.
From Venice the traveler went 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 travellers also visited Naples to study music, and (after the mid-18th century) to appreciate the recently discovered archaeological sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii, and perhaps (for the adventurous) an ascent of Mount Vesuvius. Later in the period the more adventurous, especially if provided with a yacht, might attempt Sicily (the site ofGreek ruins), Malta or even Greece itself. But Naples – or later Paestum further south – was the usual terminus.
From here the traveler traversed the Alps heading north through to the German-speaking parts of Europe. The traveler might stop first inInnsbruck before visiting Vienna, Dresden, Berlin and Potsdam, with perhaps some study time at the universities in Munich or Heidelberg. From there travellers visited Holland and Flanders (with more gallery-going and art appreciation) before returning across the Channel to England.
Published (and often polished) personal accounts of the Grand Tour provide illuminating detail and a first-hand perspective of the experience. Examining some accounts offered by authors in their own lifetimes, Jeremy Black] detects the element of literary artifice in these and cautions that they should be approached as travel literature rather than unvarnished accounts. He lists as examples Joseph Addison, John Andrews, William Thomas Beckford, whose Dreams, Waking Thoughts, and Incidents was a published account of his letters back home in 1780, embellished with stream-of-consciousness associations,William Coxe, Elizabeth Craven, John Moore, tutor to successive dukes of Hamilton, Samuel Jackson Pratt, Tobias Smollett, Philip Thicknesse, and Arthur Young. Lord Byron‘s letters to his mother with the accounts of his travels have also been published. The letters written by sisters Mary and Ida Saxton of Canton, Ohio in 1869 while on a six-month tour offer insight into the Grand Tour tradition from an American perspective.