The Grand Tour

NO, NOT an England rugby tour.  The Grand Tour was a tour of parts of Europe in antiquity. It began around the 16th century, with Fynes Moryson being one of the first Grand Tourists in 1591. However, it was not until the 18th century that it became fashionable. By this latter date such travel had become part of the elite youth’s education and social image. It was a fusion of tourism and social status. The popular countries to visit were France and Italy, travelling via Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Paris was fashionable, but Rome was warm and cultural. Italy was in the Mediterranean, which was central to the four great empires, Assyrian, Persian, Greek and Roman, which made Italy a more popular venue for the Oxbridge and classically educated aristocrats. Makes sense.

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Fynes Moryson (1566-1630)

The tutors that accompanied these young gentlemen had little control over them and, although the initial idea behind the Grand Tour was education, some aristocrats focused more on simple enjoyment. This meant few made records of their travels (probably just as well in some cases). The more committed traveller did publish reports but these were more on the lines of advice in travelling rather than educational information about the particular country. As far as education was concerned, the Grand Tourers devoted more time to the art than to the politics, society and economy of the cities that they visited. Several Grand Tourist liked their portraits painted in Rome by the Italian painter, Pompeo Batoni (he did a good business).

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Grand Tourist Francis Basset by Pompeo Batoni in 1778

Some of the less youthful Grand Tourers were more interested in acquisitions. Wealthy aristocrats who had both the time and finance to travel to the exotic ancient world gathered up remains of the past. They were the gentlemen collectors and Thomas Bruce, the Earl of Elgin (1766-1841), fits into this loose category. Arguably, he was a contributor to the preservation of the heritage of the past rather than knowledge, although Sir Arthur Evans gave some credibility to the wealthy ‘traveller’ with his intensive excavations and reconstruction work (even though criticized in some quarters) at Knossos. Some aristocrats intended to collect ancient memorabilia to show off in their stately residences, and they are not to be confused with scholarly researchers of the 18th and 19th century. Others were happy to donate their collections to museums in exchange for some recognition, such as Edward Daniel Clarke (1769-1822) and John Marten Cripps (1780-1853). They brought back from overseas 183 crates of ‘goodies’ in 1802 and the library of Jesus College, Cambridge, benefited from this collection. This library was the ‘museum’ in Cambridge before the Fitzwilliam Museum was completed in 1840. Clarke in particular was held in high regard for his donations and was awarded an LL.D from Cambridge University and thereafter a Professorship.  There was also Charles Wateron (1782-1865), an expert in taxidermy, who returned from South America in 1802 with his tropical animals, not just for the benefit of future generations but also for political satire.

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 Edward Daniel Clarke 

Learned travellers, such as Robert Pashley and Thomas Spratt (I’ve told you about him before), although not interested in treasures as such, were not averse to removing the occasional item. Pashley brought back to England a sarcophagus and Spratt an altar, a lid to a sarcophagus and various small engravings and statuettes which were donated to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the British Museum. Pashley’s and Spratt’s motives were of a scholarly interest, and it could be said that anyone with an interest in antiquity is acquisitive by nature. Certainly Pashley’s and Spratt’s values would not be in question as they did not keep their acquisitions but allowed them to be preserved for public viewing and future prosperity.

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Sarcophagus (2nd Century AD) brought back from Crete by Thomas Spratt, now in the British Museum (height: 130.5 centimetres, length: 266 centimetres, width: 150.3 centimetres)

The Grand Tour was in decline by the beginning of the 19th century, mainly due to the French Revolution (1789) and Britain’s subsequent war with France (1793-1815). As a result, Greece (then part of the Ottoman Empire) became the most popular destination for the Grand Tour travellers from 1790 onwards. However, the Grand Tourers were not all decadent aristocrats and some were looking to classical Greece for inspiration.

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Map of the Grand Tour 

Sir William Gell (1777-1836) wrote about his travels in Greece and his publications were described by Plouviez (Straddling the Aegean, 2001) as “the first really practical travel guides since Pausanias [2nd century AD].” But it was not all 5 Star luxury – Gell (The Itinerary of Greece, 1810) was very specific about the needs for a visit to Greece:

“The most necessary article for a traveller is a bed, which should of course be as portable as possible. A piece of oil-cloth to cover it, when it is rolled up in the day, and to place under it at night, would be useful. A carpet about eight feet square is of service to sit upon. A knife, fork, spoon plate, drinking cup, and some kind of vessel for boiling water, seem almost the only necessary additions. A light umbrella as a shed from the sun would always be found very agreeable, and would be more serviceable if it were fitted to an iron spike, by which it might be stuck into the ground. Curtains suspended to sides of the room by cords, are very useful to exclude insects while the traveller sleeps. If these are made of silk, and tucked under the bed as soon as it is made, the night’s rest will not be disturbed; many will prefer mosquito curtains, but they are not to be depended upon. When a family travels to Greece, it would be advisable to carry a thick curtain, by which a room may be separated, if necessary, into two parts.”

gell Sir William Gell

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Next week: Lord Elgin loses his marbles at Mycenae


 ASIDE: Bagpuss Revisited

Those of you who read my Bagpuss theory last week and are Monty Python fans may be interested in Jonathan Morris’ biography of Michael Palin wherein he says of famous dead parrot sketch: “It was hardly Cleese’s, Chapman’s [they wrote it] or Palin’s fault that the ensuing years the parrot sketch would come to be a mite overanalysed. One overexcited critic has in all seriousness interpreted the parrot sketch as a parody of the Christian belief in eternal life.”  Yeah, right.

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Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

My colleague, Dr Emille Netley-Smythe, said that his son came home from school the other day and said, “Dad, I’ve got a part in the school play as a man who has been married for 25 years.”

Emille replied, “Never mind, son, maybe next time you’ll get a speaking part.”

 

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