Artist: Antonio Canaletto (1762)
Copyright: RIBA Library Drawings Collection
In the 17th
centuries, wealthy British men and women travelled across Europe absorbing its cultural and architectural highlights in what became known as the 'Grand Tour'.
They were inspired by books: the development of printing in Germany in the 15th century had led to a revolution in the communication of ideas. An increase in the number of books being produced, along with a great reduction in cost, saw the development of new audiences. Books on science, travel, art and architecture, plus the writings of Ancient Greece and Rome became particularly popular.
Venice, Florence, Rome and Naples were the highlights of any Grand Tour. The ruins of the Roman Empire, along with Renaissance and Baroque architecture, were deemed especially important.
As they travelled the tourists studied, busily drawing and making notes. They also collected cultural artefacts:
fragments of Roman architecture and sculpture
paintings by artists such as Titian, Guardi and Canaletto
drawings by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and others
books and drawings by Palladio
Returning home, the grand tourists wanted their homes to reflect the finest they had seen in Italy, and to provide an appropriate setting for their acquisitions. Stately villas and mansions were commissioned, inspired by Roman ruins and the works of Palladio.
By 1800, new worlds had opened up. The Grand Tour became just one of many journeys that the wealthy and learned took.
Nevertheless, the Grand Tour left a profound mark on Britain, leaving it with the finest collections of Italian painting and sculpture outside of Italy, and a wealth of Neo-Palladian architecture.