Adventures in Reading

More on the Grand Tour
September 16, 2007, 3:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

How did the hubbub going on in Italy effect England and English society? We have a whole assortment of people (the gentry, artists, writers, collectors, etc.) traveling to Italy, living their (some for years), and eventually returning with all of this classical and Enlightened information as well as the pieces of art – whether a signet ring or an original Grecian urn – they have acquired. Embracing the antiquities, much as a result of the democracies they represented, of course flooded over into modern adaptations of them. This can be seen in many aspects of life from architecture to fashion trends. The Empire waistline dress – a waist that cinches below the breasts and drapes down to the feet – is very much a throwback to certain versions of the toga. Undergarments were even wetted to better show off the wearer’s feature. The look (especially when wetted) certainly has erotic suggestions but also embraces the artistic idea of displaying the body (almost as if nude) to its best advantage while still maintaining the sensual folds of fabric. This influence would become more forceful after the British Museum opened to the public in 1759.

Art received the same hierarchal arrangement that science received in this period. A rubric was even created that placed Raphael as perhaps the best Reniassance artist while Caravaggio (personally one of my favorites) was written off. Embracing the beauty of antiquity could also be seen flooding into the beauty standards of the day (i.e. the Neoclassical version of The Beauty Myth.) Above and to the left is the Apollo Belvedere and on the right the Medici Venus – these two statues reflected the ideal physical figures for both men and women. I will admit my own amusement to this as I have always personally found both figures somewhat bland but after reading about them in makes more sense. For example, the Apollo Belvedere’s measurements are perfect for a mathematically ideal figure. He is young and handsome and physically lithe and elegant, and a certain homo-erotic or androgynous tone is suggested. The Medici Venus offers the viewer a glimpse into the ideal female form. The statue is in a venus pudica stance (perhaps my favorite art term), which simultaneously suggests that the figure is demure and modest but also attractive the viewer’s eye to her barely covered nether regions and breasts. These forms tie in nicely with the Enlightenment philosophy’s idea of the perfect human mind, soul, or the Greek arete, which is perfection or the ideal mind, body, and spirit.

The entire idea of art history also is born in this period. Its founding father is perhaps Johan Winckelmann who abhorred the representation of the mundane daily life and held Greek society and art up as perfection (which has resulted centuries of debate whether the Roman’s ripped off the Greeks or whether they can stand on their own). Winckelmann’s German works also gave the German language a bit of a push into the must know modern languages. He also published the first chronological text looking at art though he often mis-dated and mis-identified items with his partialiality to the Greek civilization. Winckelmann was also a proponent that ideal art is more perfect than anything nature can create and obtaining this quality of perfection through the male nude.


THE GRAND TOUR. *Sigh*. How I dream of taking such a journey, viewing the sources of our Western civilization, taking my entire family and spending 6 months traversing Europe–seeing everything from Stratford-on-Avon to the tombs of the pharaohs. In the old days it was de rigeur for artists and writers to make this pilgrimage (and it should have been). If I had the finances, I’d leave tomorrow…

Comment by Cliff Burns

The more I read about it the more I wish to do it! To think of spending months looking at the great works of art and being surrounded by people just as interested in discussing them.

Comment by bookchronicle

How about doing the Grand Tour in dribs and drabs? That is all my puny salary can afford. I visit all the great museum in each European city I visit, but I can accomplish this only one city at a time. Thus, a grand tour that would have taken a gentleman of leisure two years a couple of hundred years ago will take me 20 years to complete!

Oh, how I long to see the sights of Firenze before my own eyesight goes!

Comment by Ms. Place

[…] von Lipwig visit the Discworld’s Unseen University to see the Cabinet of Curiosity. In prior posts about the Grand Tour I mentioned that people participating in this tour would bring items back with them. Those with […]

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