We decided each to define "Grand Tour" before going on our trip to Europe this October... Here they are! And we'll have all our updates about the countries and things we find here on the website.
Jenny's take on Grand Tours: The past
I studied Renaissance literature and art, so here is my perspective.
The great rival of playwright William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, was well over 200 pounds. It’s an image to remember when considering his exploits.
He walked (yes, walked) 450 miles from London to Scotland in 1618, for one. It was a publicity stunt. He was such a celebrity at that point that people brought out barrels of wine and carts of food to him, celebrating his arrival to their towns on the route.
Two, he wrote court masques for royal holiday celebrations from 1605 to 1634. These performances showcased the grace and dancing skills of the elite classes, including Queen Anne of Denmark and her son King Charles I (Who later got beheaded by the people, unfortunately. They didn’t get to see him dance but paid a lot for it…). I don’t know how much of a hand Jonson had in choreography, though.
And three, he was the tutor and chaperone of the famous English explorer of Virginia Sir Walter Raleigh’s son while the lad was on the pretty much mandatory tour of Europe in 1613.
Most wealthy and noble people did this trip for a couple of years. Touring Europe, the Grand Tour, showed that you had culture - and allowed you to shop for items that reflected that educated lifestyle. It kept you up with the Jonses. Plus there were so many amazing places to see - churches, palaces, gardens, etc. This Grand Tour was popular among the upper classes and later the other classes from the 17th century. It became an out-and-out institution from the 18th to the 19th centuries.
Apparently chaperoning Walter junior was no small feat. The boy was a mischief maker in the extreme. Here’s what Raleigh’s son did to Jonson in Paris:
The youth being knavishly inclined, among other pastimes . . . caused him to be drunken, and dead drunk, so that he knew not where he was; thereafter laid him on a car, which he made to be drawn by pioneers through the streets, at every corner showing his governor stretched out, and telling them that was a more lively image of the Crucifix than any they had: at which sport young Raleigh’s mother delighted much (saying, his father young was so inclined), though the father abhorred it . . . (William Drummond, Ben Jonson’s Conversations, 1619, p. 27)
The father Walter Raleigh was disgusted to see the well-respected Jonson carted through the streets and announced to the Catholic world of Paris in such an embarrassing - and Protestant English - way. But his mother Elizabeth loved it because it reminded her of her husband’s mischief when he was young.
A very unusual image of the Virginia explorer’s family life! Poor Jonson. But notice the whole family went on this extensive trip, including the mother. They apparently ate and drank well. And the son Walter had visited Catholic churches at some point. I wonder what beautiful items they found and brought back to England?
Nicole's take on Grand Tours: The present and future
Some might think that The Grand Tour is a car show on television. I do, too, but mainly because it reminds me of the kilometer-long list of cars that I have rented over the years for various getaways across the European Continent. The Grand Tour I really think of, though, is the 19th century variety. It is the extended tour of Europe to learn culture and history and to acquire art, literature, and rare bits of nature.
The Grand Tour was long derided as just a thing the rich (and mostly male) could do. But by that golden epoque of the 1800s, mass transportation, cheaper printing, and subsequent wanderlust in this rapidly-changing world led to easier access to these journeys. Journeys that sparked a variety of opinions, reminiscences, and art and ephemera collections, some of which have changed the world.
With each generation, the concept of the Grand Tour is within reach for more and more people. It can even be seen in its recent manifestation for college students, the gap year.
The Grand Tour is the very thing that started the idea of a “wunderkammer” or “curio.” The items brought back from such a trip widely varied. They included ancient sculptures and artifacts, unusual plants, medieval manuscripts, and the quintessential purchase of a Tour, a Canaletto landscape painting from Venice, for everyone stopped in Venice.
These items were not mere souvenirs. They were collections of memories, gathered on a shelf in your living room for reflection on what you learned and how it connects to your daily work and play. Collections in these curio cabinets were thus conversation pieces. And the interchange of ideas they started propelled forward humanity.
Many an author wrote from the burgeoning cafe scene long before Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir haunted Boulevard Saint Germain in Paris. Many an artist went to Venice to drink in the light of sunrise over the canals before Claude Monet painted it in Impressionist glory. And many a scientist went to Berlin to conduct research at Humboldt University before Albert Einstein was there.
This was not a mere romp on a yacht off Cannes, but rather a study of different ways of life and perspectives geared toward making a positive change in your life. (Of course, a romp in a yacht off Cannes would have been more like a hike through the seaside hills of Eze in the 1800s, with a vague hope to run into Nietzsche… But I digress…)
During The Curio’s Grand Tour this October, our “yacht” will be an Audi A4 or a BMW 3 series wagon, rented from Sixt, as they have the cheapest one way rental in Europe and good, clean cars. The jaunt across the German autobahn in a fine piece of engineering sounds like a far better idea than some overgrown boat in a sea, too. We shall read and write a bit from historic cafes, let you know what is happening at Biennale in Venice, and most importantly, bring back a few gorgeous and unique items from our Tour with historical The Grand Tour in mind.
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