Oil paintings inspired by The Grand Tour
In the late 17th and all throughout the 18th centuries, politics, philosophy, science, art and style in Europe underwent some drastic changes. As intellectuals and influencers from the higher ends of society began to turn away from the religious authoritarianism of the Middle Ages in favour of reason, liberty, tolerance and liberalism, the Age of Enlightenment began. As this intellectual movement swept across the continent, it inevitably became hugely popular to become immersed in arts and culture, thus, the trip known as ‘The Grand Tour’ became a rite of passage for fashionable young aristocrats.
This practice became a must for young men who wished to flaunt their education, wealth and intellectual leanings. Beginning with upper class Englishmen, the tour became popular with German, Scandinavian,
Irish and, later, American gentlemen and was the starting point for many illustrious careers in science, literature, history and art.
London was a frequent starting point for the tour, which typically took around three years. From there, most would travel to Paris where they would admire the architectural grandeur of the Louvre and journal their experiences exploring the bustling city streets and hectic life along the banks of the Seine. It was common to take day trips from Paris to countryside villages as well as to Versailles to see the homes of royalty and envoys. After Paris, the more dedicated and adventurous tourers would travel to the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany. An even more select few would go on to see Turkey, Greece and Spain.
The most essential place to visit on the entire tour was most definitely Italy. As most of the people embarking on the Grand Tour were classically trained, the birthplace of the Roman empire would have been the highlight of the trip, so this was where most tours culminated. Once in Italy, the focus would be on Rome. Magnificent town squares, such as the Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Navona were must-see sites, as were iconic fountains including the Trevi and the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers).
Classical tastes also led the Grand Tourists to famous scenes of Greco-Roman antiquity, the Colosseum, the Pantheon and the Baths of Caracalla to name just a few. Outside of Rome, it was also essential to visit
the Baroque masterpieces of Florence and the canals of Venice.
No Grand Tour was truly complete if the tourist didn’t procure some impressive mementoes along the way and, since these trips took place long before the invention of the camera, art was the only way for travellers to document the breath-taking scenes they saw throughout their trip. As a result, Grand Tourists tended to return home with crates filled with oil paintings, sketches, etchings and other artefacts to be ostentatiously displayed in their homes.