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.