A 'Grand Tour'

Beginning in the late 16th Century, it became fashionable for young aristocrats to visit Paris, Venice, Florence and Rome as the culmination of their classical education. Thus, the idea of the "Grand Tour" was born.

Portrait of Douglas, 8th Duke of Hamilton, on his Grand Tour with his physician Dr John Moore and the latter's son John. 
A view of Geneva is in the distance where they stayed for two years. Painted by Jean Preudhomme, 1774.

The Grand Tour was a practice which introduced Englishmen, Germans, Scandinavians and also some Americans to the art and culture of France and Italy for the next 300 years. Travel was arduous and costly at that time.  It was possible only for a privileged class — the same class that produced gentleman scientists, authors, antiquaries and patrons of the arts.  The Grand Tour gave a concrete form to an aristocrat's ideas about the Greco-Roman world and helped further foster those Neoclassical ideals.

The Grand Tourist was typically a young man with a thorough grounding in Greek and Latin literature as well as some leisure time, financial means and an interest in art.  Most Grand Tourists stayed for brief periods and set out with some degree of scholarly intentions.  They were typically accompanied by a teacher or guardian and expected to return home with souvenirs of their travels as well as an understanding of art and architecture formed by the exposure to the masterpieces they had seen. 

Pompeo Batoni, "Portrait of Sir Wyndham Knatchbull-Wyndham," 1758–1759.

As a result of this Grand Tour movement, a new type of souvenir industry was created by those looking to cash in on the pressure of these young aristocrats to bring home baubles that represented their travels.  Although those of more financial means would return with large pieces of statuary, artifacts or paintings (such as those above), there was a rich industry that was created for Grand Tour jewelry - much of which is still popular amongst collectors today. The most prized Grand Tour jewelry is from Italy.

And, the most common forms of Grand Tour jewelry were cameos, micro-mosaics and intaglios.  For the purpose of this blog post, I'm going to focus on cameos and intaglios.  Stayed tuned for a future post all about micro-mosaics!

A rare, large antique Victorian Carved Lava Grand Tour Cameo Brooch from Camelot Cameos & Antiques, $850.

Although on the surface they may appear to be very similar, there are subtle differences.  The difference between an 'intaglio' and a 'cameo' is that a cameo is carved creating a relief.  In other words, the design or image on a cameo is carved from one material so that it is raised from the surface.  An 'intaglio' is carved in contrast to the cameo.  The artist carves down into the stone or material to create a hollowed-out, recessed design.  Both can be made of any material (even latex or plastic in today's world) but the most popular are stone, coral, shell or glass.  

Roman set 18th Century Cameo portrait of Emperor Galba in modern high-carat gold setting, c.1770 from
the Grand Tour period courtesy of Peter Szuhay Antiques.

Victorian Grand Tour Lava Cameo link bracelet from Dresden Dollz, $310.

Often times, the intaglio was used as a seal or identifying stamp to mark a letter or document when it was coated with wax or ink.  Most commonly, intaglios are seen as watch fobs or rings.  Whereas the cameo was used as decorative jewelry - not functional jewelry like the intaglio.  Cameos are prized for their craftsmanship and the intricacies of their design.  Many were used primarily as brooches or pendants.  Often times, a grouping of cameos were strung together to form a bracelet.  Another material used almost exclussively to create cameos during the Grand Tour movement was hardened lava rock.  Today, Italy has remained the epicenter of cameo cutting although the practice was also commonplace in Greece.  Cameos are still a prized souvenir to commemorate visit to Italy.

An 18th Century Intaglio ring of Brutus. Mount and intaglio, c.1770, probably from Rome during the height
of the Grand Tour era from Peter Szuhay Antiques.

Antique 9ct Gold Watch Fob, designed with curving scroll & floral motifs. The piece contains a flush-set Carnelian Intaglio with a personalized carving & beaded surround, English origin, c.1917 from Coach House on 1st Dibs.

Both cameos and intaglios are still prized for their artistry and craftsmanship. Often times, depending on size, condition and subject matter, an outstanding example can have a price tag well into the thousands of dollars! 

Mid-1800s, Victorian Picture Riddle Intaglio Fob Seal made of glass & gilt metal from Erie Basin Antiques.

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