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For centuries, one of the most formative cultural experiences a young European could embark upon was the Grand Tour. This tour, mainly enjoyed by English men belonging to the upper classes, was a rite of passage intended to round out one’s classical education. It could last months or even years, and it encompassed a journey across Europe with a special emphasis on Italy. Fashionable from the 16th century into the 19th century, the practice fueled the revival of classicism in England; in turn, the prominence of Neoclassicism fueled a fascination with Italy and ancient art.

One of the greatest minds of 18th century England, writer Samuel Johnson, said, “A man who has not been in Italy is always conscious of an inferiority from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see.” Truly, the Grand Tour was a requisite course for any young aristocrat wishing to be considered a sophisticated, well-educated member of British society. M.S. Rau's virtual exhibition The Grand Tour: The Allure of Antiquity explores the origins and allure of this practice, highlighting some of the important objets d'art that tourists collected along the way, and invites the viewer to embark upon their own virtual Grand Tour.

Silver has been prized above nearly all other metals since antiquity for both its malleability and its white metallic luster. Its conductivity makes it ideally suited for utilitarian purposes, and it has long been used to fashion objects such as flatware and serving dishes. Yet, its intrinsic value has long elevated silver objects into the realm of luxury items, and thus the strata of the wealthy class. 

In both England and America, silver connoisseurs of the 18th and 19th centuries demanded both utility and supreme artistry in their silver acquisitions. Four supreme silversmiths of the age answered, elevating the craft of silversmithing to a true art form: Paul de Lamerie, Hester Bateman, Paul Revere, Jr. and Paul Storr.

M.S. Rau's virtual exhibition All that Glitters: History’s Most Important Silversmiths explores the unrivaled mastery of these smiths within the contexts of their day and age. Showcasing the makers' most important creations, the exhibition invites the viewer to revel in some of the finest silver ever made.

Italy and the Classical World

Although a proper Grand Tour included stops across the European continent, the main attraction was undoubtedly Italy. Italy was seen as the cradle of Western civilization, and its rich history and refined art and architecture were not only hugely appealing to the British but also most relevant to their education. British aristocrats and the upper and middle classes were provided a largely classical curriculum at university, where they studied ancient literature and history and learned Latin and Greek. To complete their education, they were sent off on the Grand Tour to immerse themselves in what they had been studying on paper. Young nobility who chose to go on the Tour became adept at languages, viewed famous antiquities and architecture, and made important social contacts.

The practice of the Grand Tour began with the Enlightenment. During this period, from roughly 1685-1815, European intellectuals sought to understand the world around them through reason instead of faith or superstition, and they looked to the ancient world as a representation of the height of civilized society. The intellectual movement sparked advances in science, art, politics and philosophy, and these ancient civilizations with their heritage of liberty and civic virtue served as an ideal to which to aspire during a time of intense political upheaval and revolution. The Enlightenment made an understanding of the ancient societies of Rome and Greece essential and helped drive a steady stream of European travelers to these locations.


The Emergence of the Grand Tour

The term Grand Tour was introduced by Roman Catholic priest, tutor and writer Richard Lassels in his 1670 book Voyage to Italy. In this book, he insisted that any serious student of antiquity and the arts must travel through France and Italy. According to him, all "young lords" should travel on the "Grand Tour" to gain an understanding of the political, social and economic realities of the world. Lassels’ guide was just one of many published travel accounts that would begin to emerge in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, most of which were written by Englishmen, that were useful to the growing number of young travelers to Italy in identifying where to travel and what to see. An entire tourist industry grew to meet the needs of the travelers and their tutors from across the European continent. 


Souvenirs and the Italian Arts

Classical taste and an interest in exotic customs naturally shaped travelers' itineraries as well as their acquisitions on their journey. Interestingly, the Grand Tour gave concrete form to Northern Europeans' ideas about the Greco-Roman world and helped encourage Neoclassical ideals. While visiting excavations at such sites as Pompeii and Herculaneum, Grand Tourists purchased antiquities to decorate their homes. Before the advent of photography, it was paintings, etchings and drawings of ancient monuments and historically important sites that served as mementos of a trip to Italy — while at the same time displaying one's taste and wealth.

Paintings and drawings of Venice were particularly admired by visitors. The city was widely viewed as medieval Europe's gateway to the East, and for 18th-century travelers it retained an exotic character. By the mid-18th century, Venice had become renowned as the center of production for vedute, a genre of highly detailed cityscapes, or vistas. Some of the greatest view painters and engravers of the period executed works celebrating Venice, capturing the splendor and excitement of traditional Venetian ceremonies and the romance and charm of the city's many canals.


Neoclassicism in England 

The Grand Tour as an institution was ultimately worthwhile for national culture as well as for individuals; indeed, 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. The Neoclassical style naturally arose from the first-hand observation of the Grand Tourists, and it came to dominate British architecture, painting, sculpture and the decorative arts. 


The Colosseum micromosaic by Luigi Gallandt. Circa 1850-1875. (M.S. Rau, New Orleans)

Piazza Navona Allagata by Antonio Joli. Circa 1760. (M.S. Rau, New Orleans)

View of San Giorgio Maggiore by Giacomo Guardi. Circa 1804-1828. (M.S. Rau, New Orleans)

The Education of Achilles by Auguste-Clément Chrétien. Dated 1861. (M.S. Rau, New Orleans)

Italian mythological marble plaques based on antiquity. Circa 1800. (M.S. Rau, New Orleans)

Micromosaic and Pietre Dure Grand Tour Casket. (M.S. Rau, New Orleans) 

Satinwood and mahogany sideboard in the manner of Robert Adam. Circa 1885. (M.S. Rau, New Orleans)