The Grand Tour

British-Art-2Andrea here, thinking about the joys of traveling, and how much I have missed the heady experience of of being inspired by visiting new places—or cherished favorite spots that hold a place in my heart. As the world continues to open up, it feels like it’s possible to venture far from home, and I'm busy plotting where to go . . .

British-Art-3As you’ve probably noted, a number of the Wenches have been traveling hither and yon. Research beckons! (That’s always a good excuse for us to pack our bags!) But along with exploring specific sites for our books, it's also just  good to get the general creative juices flowing by being in a foreign place and seeing the world from a different perspective.

And human nature being human nature, this desire to experience the world beyond one’s own familiar turf is nothing new in history. In the Georgian and Regency era, the "Grand Tour" was a rite of passage for the beau monde.

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Travels in Italy–Part Two

Swiss guardsPat here, still rambling about our Italy trip. (The Vatican's masked Swiss guards to the left just because) In my last segment, I was so eager to get to hill country that I forgot to mention Rome at all. We’ve visited Rome several times over the years. It’s still a very busy city, much of it walkable if you’re staying in the forum area, which we were. The beauty of this visit was that the number of tourists was waaaay down. The lines at the forum and the Vatican were, at best, maybe fifteen minutes long. The guides—just now getting back to work after our long Covid vacation—were ecstatic about how much more they could show us without crowds.

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The Grand Tour

WestmorelandCara/Andrea here,
I recently attended an “Art In Context” lecture at Yale’s British Art Center which highlighted the opening of an exhibit entitled “The English Prize.” It’s a small but very interesting show, not just for the artwork but for the intriguing story behind it. And given the unique insights it gives to “The Grand Tour”—a term we aficionados of British history hear so often—I thought I would share some of the fascinating things I learned.

PerseusAll of the pieces on display were part of the cargo carried by the Westmoreland, a 26-gun British merchant ship which set sail for London from Livorno, Italy in January 1779. Other goods included parmesan cheese, anchovies, olive oil and textiles, but the fifty crates containing artwork acquired by English “Grand Tourists” and other travelers was the most valuable loot. For loot it became when the ship was captured by two French warships and declared a prize of war.

The contents were sold off in Spain, and much of it was purchased by King Carlos III (though one painting ended up in
Cozens-1Catherine the Great’s collection in St. Petersburg.) Because a
detailed inventory listing who owned what ended up being preserved, scholars recently began taking a closer look at this seemingly insignificant moment and as they looked more carefully at the individual pieces, they realized that taken together, the captured art actually showed a grand picture—as the Yale exhibit states, “It is a rare time capsule, giving insights into the personalities and trends of the important cultural phenomena known as the Grand Tour.”

British-Art-1 Now, most of us have heard the term “Grand Tour” and know it refers to the trip through the Continent made by rich young British gentlemen in order to acquire some polish. However, the scholars looking at the Westmoreland cargo have learned some wonderful details about this rite of passage by looking at who had purchased the artwork, and then going back and studying the letters and diaries of those individuals.

Piranesi-PortraitFrom those sources, we have learned that the ritual had a well-established route that was followed by many of the travelers. The first stop was Paris, where the young men were expected to learn about the social graces—dancing, fencing, and how to dress fashionably, as well as the art of conversation and an appreciation of the theatre. From there, they would head south, usually to Nimes, where they would get their first exposure to the classical Roman ruins of the Mediterranean area. From there, they often headed across the Alps and stopped in Geneva before heading south into the Italian peninsula.

British-Art-3Rome were the ultimate destination (with Florence and Naples—especially at Carnival time—also important stops.) It was here that the classical education that these young gentlemen studied at school and university was meant to come alive. But how, you might wonder, did these callow youths appreciate all the culture and history surrounding them? An excellent question! And that brings us to another interesting detail of the Grand Tour.

PiranesiArchTrajanBeneventoTraveling with a tutor was considered part of the ritual. Often these men were teachers the young gentlemen had become acquainted with during their university studies, but a few of them were actually professional tutors, who studied specifically to lead this specific educational trip. Through previous travels, they often had well-established connections in Rome with artists and dealers. This was important because collecting  was a large part of the Tour’s purpose. But more on that in a moment.

Basset1Letters and diaries show that relationship between a tutor and his protégé was far from a simple teacher-student relationship. The young man’s father expected the tutor to control the finances and the wilder impulses of his son. And yet, the two men were travel companions for a lengthy period of time, and were together, as we say today, 24/7, so they often developed a close friendship. (Many Grand Tour tutors went on to become influential men in their own right—government ambassadors, playwrights to name just a few—because of the bonds they had developed with their aristocratic pupils.)

The tutor’s official role was to show his pupil the important classical sites and through these travels to educate him to appreciate the art and culture of classical antiquity. And in doing so, he often shaped that young gentleman’s taste in art. One of the individual travelers highlighted in the exhibit is Francis Basset, who at age 12 came into great wealth on inheriting copper and tin mines in southern England. After attending Harrow and Cambridge, he hired William Sands to guide him on his Tour.

Sands was a professional tutor with many useful connections in Rome, and through his journals we have learned many interesting details of the Grand Tour. There was a well-established English community in the Eternal City, and on arrival, Grand Tour travelers would stay in this enclave. There, they would usually engage the services of a resident agent/dealer—James Byres and Thomas Jenkins were the two most prominent—to help arrange access to artist studios and to help negotiate the
British-Art-2purchases of antiquities. Who the tutor or agent knew often helped shape the taste of the pupil. For example, Sands was good friends with the noted Italian artist Giovanni Piranesi, who was known for his dramatic etchings of classical subjects. So it’s no surprise that Basset’s crates on the Westmoreland contained numerous prints by Piranesi. (Other notable pieces among the captured art include watercolors by John Robert Cozens and portrait busts by Irish sculptor Christopher Hewetson, who was working in Rome.)

Perhaps the most significant piece of art among the Westmoreland’s treasure is the full length portrait of Basset by the painter Pompeo Batoni because it’s a wonderful example of yet another important cultural tradition of the time—having a formal Grand Tour portrait painted to display at home. There is a very specific symbolism to these portraits—the gentlemen are usually shown holding a map of Rome, which indicates that they had visited the city. Fragments of ruins are meant to show their familiarity with classical art, and lastly, the scenic views of important buildings in the background serve to show how well-traveled they were.

CozensLakeNemiThese portraits were intended to be hung in a prominent place back home and their purpose was not only to be a “travel snapshot” for the men shown, but also to trumpet to viewers that the subject of the portrait was a sophisticated, well-traveled, well-cultured individual.

I hope you have enjoyed this quick dash through the Grand Tour. Now, let’s play collector too! If you could choose any piece of art from Rome to bring home, what would your heart desire? I would have asked an agent to find me a chalk drawing done by Michelangelo or DaVinci. Or perhaps some Roman coins, or . . . Sigh—It’s so hard to choose!

On the move

Underwood Hi, here's Jo, with a picture that seems an auspicious welcome to our new home.

Here, there, everywhere!

We all talk about being busy, but I really have been. Early in October I went to France for a Dorothy Dunnett gathering, which was delightful. I got home in time to prepare to move from Yorkshire to Devon. We'd hardly settled, and certainly not opened all the boxes, before I set off to Rome to play with Mary Jo and attend a writer/reader conference there. It was delightful, too, but now I can try to settle back to ordinary life, pick up the MIP, refresh my web page and generally get caught up with everything.

Including picking the winners from my last blog. I haven't forgotten!

First Paris, and Dorothy Dunnett.

To save space I'll just say, if you haven't tried her historical novels, do so. (Click on the link above for more.) You may not like them, but if you do, they're a feast. Her 15th and 16th century books travel a lot, so they naturally lead to exploratory visits to very interesting places.

You can enjoy some picture journeys to a few here. There's one coming up next year to Istanbul.

 Pictures of Paris.

No one's putStbarbe up Paris pictures yet, so here are a few, but mostly not your usual Paris pics!

Sainte Barbe. These students were bewildered to find a group of tourists staring reverently at the uninspiring modern College de Ste Barbe. But the original, founded 1460, was where Lymond, Dunnett's great hero, went for his education in France. And in one of the novels, he climbs the walls as he had as a student. Of course we gathered! Seine

The Seine. For a more conventional offering, one early start caught magical light on the Seine near our apartment.

Jeu de Paume Back tPaummeo the unusual, but not so much, this is the jeu de paumme court in Fontainebleau. A game of jeu de paumme between King Henri II and one of the fictional characters plays a significant part in book 2 of the Lymond Chronicles, Queens' Play.

I'll blog more about this later, but it was fascinating to watch a demonstration of this ancient forerunner of tennis. The original game was played in the streets, bouncing the ball off walls, which is why it's enclosed, and even incorporates a sloping bit at the left to represent the roofs of stalls.


In the books, Lymond never visited the Chateau de Chantilly (yes, of the cream fame) but it's definitely in the period, and we had a wonderful private tour and a delicious dinner. As we all left happily at a late hour, I took this picture of part of the chateau reflected in water. Chantilly


Rome was mainly to meet fans there. Both Mary Jo and I have many books translated into Italian and published by Mondadori, and we did indeed meet a bunch of very happy readers, which is always delightful.

Back to the Convent! We also got to stay in a hotel — the Domus Sessoriana — which was once a convent. I attended convent boarding school, and the high, echoing corridors brought back memories.

Lhme My school was Layton Hill Convent, now St. Mary's College in Blackpool, and on the website here I found a picture of me! I'm in the back row next to the nun.

The pic of the Blessed Sacrament dormitory is from the '40s, but it was still the same when I slept in it in the '60s. In the senior years we had rooms.

Roman Ruins. I reckon everyone's seen pictures of Roman ruins, but this one caught our eye as we walked along a very ordinary street near the convent. Rruin The grass and other weeds indicated it had been in this state for quite a while, but inside one could see magnificent details and painted ceilings. The next picture shows a door.

RomeRrruin2 really is so full of historic buildings that perhaps this is just another one and no one can be bothered with it, but it was rather boggling to see.


The end of the journey.

A wandering blog to go with my wandering life. And now I'm curious as to what you find most interesting or suitable for comment here.

At home for a while, thank heavens,