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The Grand Tour: American Tourism in Italy

Beginning around 1660, "The Grand Tour" became an educational rite of passage for English and Northern European elites, usually young men. The Grand Tour was an extended trip across Europe, an immerson in the sites and artistic achievements of classical antiquity and the Renaissance. The significance of the trip for European elites dwindled by the 19th century, but improvements in transportation and the growing economic power of the United States fueled a boom in American tourism on the Continent. They too sought adventure, education, and the boost in prestige the trip provided.

Just like travelers today, these American tourists brought souvenirs home with them. Many of them flocked to Italy, home to the remnants of the Roman Empire and a wealth of Renaissance masterpieces. Quite often, they pilfered artifacts from ancient sites. The Roman bust (EI 229) and mosaic fragment (EI4 228 S2) from the Baths of Caracalla, featured in this exhibit, are two such examples, acquired on a trip to Italy in 1872. Likewise, the Ceramic Tear Vase (EI4 333) was picked up from an Etruscan tomb in 1909. There was little protection from this practice until 1939, when Italy passed a law claiming state ownership of all objects of historic and artistic interest. In recent years, the Italian government has adamantly pursued and repatriated its cultural patrimony.

Intrigued tourists also bought reproductions and everyday objects, which are now interesting and valuable in their own right. Model Gondolas, painted Sicilian carts, cameo shells, and Italian card decks were affordable and easily transportable back to the States. Today, such objects provide small snapshots of Italian material culture at the turn of the century.

Katie Anderson was the Elvira Growdon Intern for Collections Management and Curatorial Practice for winter 2017. She is currently completing her MA in History and Museum Studies at Tufts University.

Browse the collection:

Roman Relief Sculpture, probably early 3rd  century CE

 

Roman Relief Sculpture, probably early 3rd century CE

 

The Baths of Caracalla, Rome, Italy

Marble

Gift of Mrs. Frederick Tappan, 1938

EI 229

Mosaic Fragment, 212-216 CE

 

Mosaic Fragment, 212-216 CE

 

The Baths of Caracalla, Rome, Italy

Marble, clay, stone

Gift of Mrs. Frederick Tappan, 1938

EI4 228 S2

Etruscan Tear Vase, unknown date

 

Etruscan Tear Vase, unknown date

 

Orvieto, Italy

Clay

Gift of Amelia Peabody, 1942

EI4 333

Venetian Gondola, c. 1900

 

Venetian Gondola, c. 1900

 

Italy

Wood, cloth, metal

Gift of Miss Olive Simes, 1950

EI 445

Sicilian Cart

 

Sicilian Cart

 

Italy

Wood, cloth, paint, brass, feather, leather, yarn

Gift of the Estate of Miss Camelia Bowditch, 1946

EI 394


Sicilian carts are colorful, ornate wooden carts pulled by horses or donkeys. They are painted with Sicilian folklore and history, and are thus a means of conveyance in two ways: physical transport and the transmission of culture and memory.

The colors of the Sicilian flag, yellow and red, feature prominently in the designs, as is the case with these models. In the center of the Sicilian flag (first adopted in 1282) appears the triskelion (trinacria). The triskelion is the winged head of Medusa surrounded by three bent legs, which may represent the triangular shape of the island or the three historic provinces of Sicily. The triskelion appears on both of these carts.

One exterior side panel of this cart illustrates a coronation. A pope crowns a kneeling king while spectators look on. Charlemagne and his Paladin knights were among the most popular scenes for Sicilian carts, so it is likely that this scene depicts the coronation of Charlemagne by the pope on Christmas Day, 800.

Sicilian carts were used from the nineteenth century until the second half of the twentieth century. They first garnered the world's attention when they were featured in a Sicilian folk art display at the Esposizione Nazionale in Milan in 1881. In the modern age, Sicilian carts have lost their practical purpose, but are still greatly admired for their craftsmanship and cultural value. They are trotted out for festivals and other special occasions. Miniature Sicilian carts like this one are sold as souvenirs.
Sicilian Cart (detail)

 

Sicilian Cart (detail)

 

Italy

Wood, cloth, paint, brass, feather, leather, yarn

Gift of the Estate of Miss Camelia Bowditch, 1946

EI 394

Sicilian Cart

 

Sicilian Cart

 

Italy

Wood, paint, feather

Gift of Miss Elise H. Carret, 1942

EI 339

For more information on Sicilian Carts, please see previous image (EI 394).

Sicilian Cart (detail)

 

Sicilian Cart (detail)

 

Italy

Wood, paint, feather

Gift of Miss Elise H. Carret, 1942

EI 339

For more information on Sicilian Carts, please see previous image (EI 394).

Deck of Cards, 1895

 

Deck of Cards, 1895

 

Naples, Italy

Lithographed paper

Gift of H.P. Spaulding, 1928.

EI 63


This is a Napoletane style playing card deck, the most common style of Italian playing cards. It is of Spanish origin and used primarily in the southern half of Italy, including Sicily. Each deck contains forty cards, and there are four suits: spade (swords), bastoni (clubs), denari (coins), and coppe (cups). Each suit contains three face cards: il Re (king), il Cavallo (knight), and il Fante (knave). The other cards in each suit range numerically from il Azzo (Ace) to seven, represented by the appropriate number of swords, clubs, coins, or cups. Popular games that utilize a forty-card deck include Scopa, Briscola, and Tressette.

This deck was manufactured by Guglielmo Murari in Bari, Italy. The Ace of Coins card is stamped "18 MAG. 95," indicating that it was made in May 1895. Another stamp on the same card reads "Regno D'Italia Centesimi 30," which translates to "Kingdom of Italy, 30 Cents." This is probably the price of the deck.
Deck of Cards, 1895 (detail)

 

Deck of Cards, 1895 (detail)

 

Naples, Italy

Lithographed paper

Gift of H.P. Spaulding, 1928.

EI 63


This is a Napoletane style playing card deck, the most common style of Italian playing cards. It is of Spanish origin and used primarily in the southern half of Italy, including Sicily. Each deck contains forty cards, and there are four suits: spade (swords), bastoni (clubs), denari (coins), and coppe (cups). Each suit contains three face cards: il Re (king), il Cavallo (knight), and il Fante (knave). The other cards in each suit range numerically from il Azzo (Ace) to seven, represented by the appropriate number of swords, clubs, coins, or cups. Popular games that utilize a forty-card deck include Scopa, Briscola, and Tressette.

This deck was manufactured by Guglielmo Murari in Bari, Italy. The Ace of Coins card is stamped "18 MAG. 95," indicating that it was made in May 1895. Another stamp on the same card reads "Regno D'Italia Centesimi 30," which translates to "Kingdom of Italy, 30 Cents." This is probably the price of the deck.
Deck of Cards, c. 1895

 

Deck of Cards, c. 1895

 

Treviso, Veneto, Italy

Lithographed paper

Gift of H.P. Spaulding, 1928.

EI 64


This is a trevigiane deck from Treviso in the Veneto region of Italy. There are 52 cards in this deck divided into four suits: denari (coins), spade (swords), bastoni (clubs), and coppe (cups). Each suit proceeds numerically from il Azzo (Ace) to ten, each with the appropriate number of coins, swords, clubs, or cups. The face cards are il Fante (jack), il Cavallo (knight), and il Re (king). The face cards are reversible, meaning they can be held with either end up, like modern day playing cards. Three of the cards have phrases, a typical feature among Venetian decks. These are not specific to any game, but were likely common expressions the players used.

  •  Ace of Spades: "Non tifidar di me se il cuor ti manca" - Don't trust me if you don't have the guts
  •  Ace of Clubs: "Se ti perdito danno" - If your lose, your loss
  •  Ace of Cups: "Per un punto Martin perse la capa" - By one point Martin lost his head
Deck of Cards, c. 1895 (detail)

 

Deck of Cards, c. 1895 (detail)

 

Treviso, Veneto, Italy

Lithographed paper

Gift of H.P. Spaulding, 1928.

EI 64


This is a trevigiane deck from Treviso in the Veneto region of Italy. There are 52 cards in this deck divided into four suits: denari (coins), spade (swords), bastoni (clubs), and coppe (cups). Each suit proceeds numerically from il Azzo (Ace) to ten, each with the appropriate number of coins, swords, clubs, or cups. The face cards are il Fante (jack), il Cavallo (knight), and il Re (king). The face cards are reversible, meaning they can be held with either end up, like modern day playing cards. Three of the cards have phrases, a typical feature among Venetian decks. These are not specific to any game, but were likely common expressions the players used.

  •  Ace of Spades: "Non tifidar di me se il cuor ti manca" - Don't trust me if you don't have the guts
  •  Ace of Clubs: "Se ti perdito danno" - If your lose, your loss
  •  Ace of Cups: "Per un punto Martin perse la capa" - By one point Martin lost his head
Cameo Shell, late 19th or early 20th century

 

Cameo Shell, late 19th or early 20th century

 

Italy

Shell

Gift of Wickliffe Draper, 1934

EI 127


A cameo is a method of carving in which a raised relieve figure emerges from a background of a different color. The earliest prevalent use of shells for cameos was the Renaissance, although they were sometimes found in the Roman period. In the mid-18th century, the discovery of more shell varieties led to a surge in popularity of cameo shells. By the 19th century, they were popular souvenirs among the upper class.
Tintinnabulum (Bell), Reproduction

 

Tintinnabulum (Bell), Reproduction

 

Pompeii, Italy

Bronze

Gift of Miss Marian Thomas, 1959

EI 59-2 a

Letter Opener

 

Letter Opener

 

Sorrento, Italy

Wood, paint

Gift of Mrs. George H. MacKay, 1940

EI 279