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Johann Zoffany’s The Tribuna of the Uffizi 1772 – 7.
Most every gentleman of the 18th Century (1660 – 1820) would have set a few years aside in his youth to partake of the Grand Tour. This was an educational experience as well as a status symbol that would take the participant to a variety of locations around Europe but the emphasis was on Italy and the antiquities (i.e. thus the Neoclassical period, which references back to the classical period of European history). Those individuals (mostly wealthy gentleman) who went on the Grand Tour were set apart from their peers as they had seen the original works from the Masters.
Boys of the middle and upper classes of England in this period would receive a thorough classical education and the Grand Tour is something of a capstone to this. (In Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa a brother or cousin is mentioned to be preparing for his Grand Tour.) The advantage of of Italy “meant the furthering of one’s education, the acquisition of intellectual and cultural knowledge that was an integral part of the upbringing of the aristocracy, gentry, writers and artists” explains David Irwin in Neoclassicism. In addition to this list one should certainly include the collector. Part of the emphasis on going to Italy also involved the shroud of secrecy involved in many antiquities where images were censured from being published.
During this period of history Italy is still a grouping of city-states and one that is certainly in financial turmoil. (After all, the Roman Catholic Church does seem to consistently find itself with empty coffers during the Baroque period.) Italy perhaps is the first country that embraces the tourist industry for the capital it yields. Thus the traveler and the collector begin to play integral roles in Italy’s economy. Particularly the collector. Those tourists wealthy enough could obtain replicas of classical paintings, frescoes, sculptures, urns, etc. that could be life size or miniatures. Miniatures seem to have been a growing favorite as a result of the great expense to return to England with these pieces of art.
However, some collectors desired more than replicas and actually acquired the originals. For example, Lord Arundell, starting in the Baroque period, purchased classical works of art from poor Italian aristocrats. Part of the push for Roman and Greek antiquities was the embracing of Enlightenment philosophy, which supported democracy which was found in ancient Greek. Of course the influence of the Greeks on the Romans did not go unnoticed and Rome, for practical purposes, was much easier to physically travel to. In addition, the 18th Century is a period where modern archeology has largely evolved from and a certain fervor seems to have existed in the discovery of Roman antiquities. Perhaps the two central archeological discoveries of the period were the discoveries of Herculaneum and Pompeii, which had been thought to have been destroyed in 79AD from the volcanic eruption of nearby Mt. Vesuvius. The discovery and excavation of these sites “was both to create a heightened awareness of classical antiquity and to stimulate a classical revival in the arts” (Irwin 37).
All of this art collecting and discovery would quickly begin to influence home life back in England too. This period is an interesting period of artistic history as very unlike our own as anything broken or marred was seen as undesirable. For example, statues break and workshops thrived around Rome reassembling damaged statues (i.e. missing the head, limbs) by reworking and reattaching the appropriate pieces from other statues. Even the visual recording of pieces of art and ruins were dramatized and romanticized. Irwin says, “Early eighteenth-century views of them were conceived as attractive pictures, inaccurate in their detailing, sometimes even rearranging monuments to produce a more marketable commodity.”