Friday, June 8, 2018

Decorating With Grand Tour Souvenirs

The term "Grand Tour" refers to the 17th and 18th century custom of elite English families sending their sons (and sometimes daughters) on an extensive two to four year European pilgrimage designed to introduce young European nobility to the art and culture of Europe with a focus on France and Italy. Traveling around Europe served to broaden their horizons and was considered an educational rite of passage. The primary value of the Grand Tour was exposure to the classical antiquity. The young people would learn about language, architecture, geography, culture and classical music. In addition, they would be provided exposure to great masterpieces of art since there were few museums anywhere in Europe before the close of the eighteenth century.

While on the Grand Tour young aristocrats were encouraged to purchase antiquities to decorate their homes. Collecting became a trend of the day. Today’s antique collector most likely doesn’t know about how the idea of collecting began and the influence the Grand Tour played in it.

The custom of Grand Tour flourished from about 1660 until the beginning of rail transport in the 1840s. Though primarily associated with the British nobility, the sons, and later daughters, of  wealthy landed gentry also made similar trips as did sons of wealthy American families after the American Revolution. 

On the Grand Tour one had opportunity to acquire things otherwise unavailable, lending an air of accomplishment and prestige to the home. The Grand Tour informed northern Europeans about the Greco-Roman world and helped create the neo-classical style of decor.

Grand Tourists would return with crates full of art, books, antiques,  and cultural artifacts. Paperweights, architectural specimens, obelisks, columns, monuments, altars, fountains, and statuary were brought back as souvenirs that were displayed proudly in libraries, drawing rooms, curiosity rooms, and gardens. Because of the grand tour souvenir making became a cottage industry.

Jacques Garcia

One can still see their treasures on mantles and in vignettes in many of England's great houses. The souvenirs these Grand Tour travelers brought back are still considered a tasteful form of decorating even in today's interiors.

Inside The Beautiful World of Robert Zellinger de Balkany in Paris

France was the ultimate Grand Tour destination as the appeal of Paris lay in the sophisticated language and manners of French high society. Since French was the dominant language of the elite in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, the young people would hire a French tutor upon their arrival in Paris. There the traveler might take lessons in French, dancing, riding, and fencing. 

Christopher Gollut

The required stops on the Grand Tour were Paris, Florence, Venice and Rome. The Italians were quick to begin making miniature souvenir buildings in bronze, alabaster and marble in the late 18th century when they began to realize the numbers of titled young travelers visiting Rome to study the monuments of the ancient city.

These souvenirs included models of ancient buildings and ruins.  Such collectibles were displayed prominently within their homes and became conversation pieces as well as objects for further study.

The Grand Tourists came home with an appreciation of the architecture of the Renaissance and Baroque eras and they brought with them miniature models of ancient architecture. This images shows how collecting miniature architecture as ''souvenirs of the Grand Tour'' was very popular.

Sometimes larger pieces were also acquired on Grand Tour travels.

Luis Bustamante

If you like a neo-classical look then some of these Grand Tour items are a must as they will immediately add the flair.

This image and the following one features a beautiful collection of Grand Tour souvenirs in the home of Sheldon Barr and Tom Gardner.

Photographs by Jeff Hirsch ...via

The Grand Tour travelers were expected to return home with souvenirs of their travels as well as an understanding of art and architecture formed by an exposure to great masterpieces and enchanting and magnificent objects related to the history. Upon their return home, these young men and women were supposedly ready to accept the responsibilities of being an aristocrat.The custom of the Grand Tour was for the purpose of preparing the young man for a leadership position at home, often in government.

Monuments were especially popular Grand Tour collectibles.

images via Pinterest

John Pope’s home via

I love Grand Tour vignettes that have souvenirs in a variety of sizes. Keep in mind that vignettes should "draw you in".

The look of the Grand Tour can be created today by just knowing what to look for. While it is nice to have the "real deal" as most of these vignettes contain, you can purchase some pieces that may not be fine antiques and yet display them in a way that they look more expensive then they actually are. I see bronzes and other metal figures like these at auctions, antique malls and shows. And they are affordable. Do your homework before you treasure hunt and you will be surprised what you can find.

Lars Bolander

Look for classical pieces made from bronze, marble, alabaster, both sculptural and architectural.

 Pieces of bronze will be great additions to a Grand Tour interior.

images via Pinterest

Grand Tour plaster intaglios, obelisks , and monuments.

Jaya Ibrahim, Designer

There is a variety of reproduction neo-classical home decor items. Look for obelisks, urns, and prints featuring classical elements like the gallery of urn prints in this image. Architectural prints are also a good choice.

Via Pinterest

Keep your eyes open for classical lamps and urns to play a part in your Grand Tour style vignette.

This is a collected look and if you like it you have to start with one piece. Then always be on the lookout for something to add to your collection. Think of it as a modern day Grand Tour and have fun with it.

via Pinterest

Here is a place you can start. This Arc De Triomphe sculptural end table by Design Toscano can be purchased through Amazon. Go treasure hunting for the rest!!!

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This blog post was published by Lisa Farmer

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