Continuing along on our Grand Tour, this week we’ve visited Paris and Rome and now we move further south in Italy. Pompeii, the Roman city lost to Vesuvius in 79AD, was rediscovered by a Spanish engineer in 1748. Located just outside of Naples, Pompeii, together with the rediscovery of the city of Herculaneum, launched an international craze for all things classical and became a must for Grand Tourists of every nationality.
The wonderfully preserved structures and decorative treatments on floors and walls of these cities was something unheard of at the time and much like it is today in places like Angkor Wat, Palenque or Petra, every visitor wanted to see them and find something to take home. Great collections of antiquities were formed in English country houses with whole galleries exhibiting the Italian antiquities purchased on the continent. To make it even easier, English agents in Italy kept abreast of the latest finds and worked to ensure that their clients received the choicest finds.
A more decorative souvenir brought home by the Grand Tourist who perhaps could not get the original, were carved rock copies of famous buildings or plaster casts of ancient columns, pediments, full bodies and body parts. If you’ve been to the V&A in London, you know what I’m talking about. Perhaps the thinking then was just as it is in some circles today. If you can’t get the original (because of availability or price), then get a copy. But it’s likely that many a tourist just bought these casts for purely decorative and educational purposes and not for the sake of forming serious collections with period pieces.
As an aside, I enjoy placing antiquities in modern spaces. A bust of a woman or general can be a great focal point in a long hallway or displayed on a pedestal in a living room. They provide elegance and majesty to a space. But my predilection is for fragments of sculptures; I recently found a bronze arm that would rock an entrance hall, desk or cocktail table. I try to think about these things in a new way and repurpose them for modern living.