From the mid-seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth century, a Grand Tour was a popular way for the young, upper class gentleman to finish off his education. Accompanied by a tutor, these young men travelled to multiple cultural destinations across Europe, with trips often lasting over a year. Italy was a major destination for art and classical architecture, inspiring the decoration of many wealthy homes back in England. As such, purchasing souvenirs was a major part of the excursion, with many paintings being bought and shipped back home.
Perhaps the most notorious Grand Tour from Temple Newsam was undertaken by Edward, the 4th Viscount (1686-1714). After inheriting the title in 1702 aged 15, he embarked on his tour accompanied by his tutor John Haccius in 1704. The trip, which spanned across three years, was far from uneventful; demands for more money, a duelling incident, the dismissal of Haccius and several calls for Edward to return home (which he proceeded to ignore) fill the correspondence between the young Viscount, his mother Isabella and his Trustees. Despite all this, Edward arrived in Italy in 1705, where he continued to request money to expand to his growing list of souvenirs.
Most Grand Tourists in Italy were drawn to classical imagery, purchasing paintings of ancient ruins and mythological subjects. However, Edward’s tastes were somewhat unusual. Whilst in Venice during the winter of 1706/7, he purchased many paintings by the esteemed Paduan artist Antonio Marini (1668-1725), mainly consisting of dramatic seascapes. Writing to Isabella, Edward said:
‘I beg your Ladyship too to consider what I have bought since I have been abroad for ye ornament of my house, as pictures, books and the ye like I have laid out three hundred pounds… so I desire your Ladyship will hasten me a bill for ye said three hundred pounds’ [January 22nd 1706/7, WYL100:C10]
This request was apparently granted as Edward was sent a total of £800 to cover his expenses in Italy, allowing him to buy 28 Marini paintings. The collection consists of pairs of the same size, intended to be hung as pendants. This suggests that Edward intended to create a comprehensive display for his paintings at Temple Newsam, comparable to those seen in fashionable Italian interiors. Unfortunately, we do not know if Edward’s vision was realised; he died from smallpox in May 1714 before some of his Grand Tour purchases had even arrived at the house. Today, most of Edward’s Marini paintings can be found in the Picture Gallery.
Paintings are not the only items which reflect inspiration from Italian Grand Tours. Decorative arts such as pottery from Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) and neoclassical furniture designed by the famed Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) and Thomas Chippendale Jnr (1749-1822) responds to the eighteenth-century interest in the classical world. At Temple Newsam, the Chippendale Library Writing Table is an excellent example of this. It was commissioned for Harewood House in 1767, and the marquetry design is inspired by images from ancient remains. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact source of Chippendale’s inspiration for these images, however at Harewood, it furnished interiors designed by Robert Adam (1728-1792), who was a pioneer of neoclassical design. Chippendale therefore created the writing table to tie in seamlessly with Adam’s interiors. The structure of the desk is reminiscent of a Roman triumphal arch, a familiar shape for Grand Tourists who had made a stop in Rome.
Another piece of furniture known as the Townley Commode doubles as a Grand Tour souvenir and classical-inspired piece, resulting in what could be considered an avant-garde embodiment of the Grand Tour itself. Like the writing table, the commode also originates outside of Temple Newsam, commissioned by Charles Townley of Towneley Hall (1737-1805). Townley was heavily inspired by his Grand Tours to Italy, leading to him becoming a renowned collector of classical antiquities. His collection of marbles, known as the ‘Townley Marbles’, are now in the British Museum.
During his first Grand Tour of 1768, Townley purchased the ‘lava’ top of the commode. The pieces which make up the top are specimens from Vesuvius. The figurative designs for the marquetry and friezes on the wooden sides of the commode – which are unique to a commode of this type – are taken from Le Antichità di Ercolano, vol. II. This was a series of publications commissioned by Charles VII, King of Naples to document finds from Herculaneum and other sites. Volume II specifically documented paintings. Townley bought his copy on 18 March 1768, just twelve days before he bought the lava top. As the volume was very exclusive, Townley must have provided the source material for the marquetry to a London cabinet maker on his return to England. This shows that the commode was a highly personal commission and was a direct product of Townley’s love for Italian antiquity. His first Grand Tour and in particular his visit to Herculaneum where he purchased Le Antichità di Ercolano and the lava top are seen as the inspiration and starting point for the most important collector in England at the time.
Of course, Grand Tours weren’t entirely the educational and cultural pursuit they were intended to be. Immoral behaviours were a concern for families who had an image to uphold, and the new independence offered by a Grand Tour left plenty of opportunity for young men to have their own adventures, perhaps through the allure of Venetian carnival, or like Edward, getting wound up in an illegal duel. Yet, it remains clear that the Grand Tour had a resounding impact on those who experienced it. Edward died before we could see how his own travels would inspire the decoration of Temple Newsam, however through the house’s collection of paintings, furniture, and decorative arts, we can still see the impact of the classical world on eighteenth century interior design.
By Charlotte Whelan, research volunteer on the project ‘Grief, Joy and Togetherness’, funded by the Designation Development Fund.