Souvenirs of The Grand Tour: The Neo-Classical and Archaeological Styles
The eighteenth century saw the start of a Classical revival more intense then any that had preceded it. The influence of Classical antiquity on the arts was all pervading. At its core Classicism was founded upon education, the virtuous pursuit of enlightenment through the study of the arts and sciences of Classical antiquity. Collecting art during this period was about connoisseurship and a deeper understanding of what made something truly beautiful.
This interest evolved further in the nineteenth century, resulting in the archaeological style of jewellery design. Collectors wanted to capture the unique character and patina of the ancient jewels which were being unearthed in the Mediterranean. Classical ornament was not enough, instead faithful reproductions of the ancient treasures were hotly collected. They proved the ultimate assertion of their owner’s credentials as a connoisseur of antiquity.
No education was truly complete until you had embarked on The Grand Tour, making a pilgrimage to see in situ the extraordinary treasures of the ancient world and Renaissance .
The historic cities of Italy, in particular Florence, Rome and Naples, became the home of antique dealers, as well as lapidary and jewellery studios where works of art were created for wealthy visitors to acquire. The artists and their workshops sought to match the skill of their highly lauded predecessors. The highest compliment that could be paid to a gem engraver in the eighteenth century, was to mistake their work for that of one of the famed Greco-Roman engravers.
Below are four examples from our collection of gems and jewels which encompass the Grand Tour spirit.
A Marlborough Gem
Among the most notable collectors of the period was George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough. When he travelled to Italy, he acquired many important works of sculpture and new additions to his ever growing collection of engraved gems.
His collection of gems was the stuff of legend. Before its dispersal during the 19th Century, it boasted eight hundred individual examples, many from Classical antiquity.
This carnelian intaglio, once part of the Marlborough Collection, depicts the Roman general Mark Antony and dates to the 1st Century BCE. It was likely acquired by The Duke on one of his visits to Italy, or sourced by one of his agents and sent to England for his approval.
When he was not in Rome, The Duke commissioned dealers and specialists to source exceptional works on his behalf, such as the English gem engraver Nathaniel Marchant. Collecting was a competitive pastime and he would not have wanted important pieces to go to rivals.
The Crouching Venus
Many of the leading gem engravers looked to the ancient world for their subject matter. Like their Classical forebears, they would often miniaturise famous works of sculpture.
Here we have a sublime sardonyx cameo of the goddess Venus by the master engraver Giuseppe Cerbara (1770-1856). The composition is derived directly from a series of ancient Roman sculptures, one example of which was housed in the Vatican during the 18th Century, known as the Crouching Venus.
The Crouching Venus would have been considered an important work by visitors on The Grand Tour and purchasing an exceptionally fine miniature of it in agate, by one of the great lapidaries of Rome, a significant acquisition.
A Miniaturised Mosaic
The art of micromosaic proved popular with tourists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, acquiring suites of jewels bedecked with the ancient sites of Italy. The art form would however be taken to new heights by the studio of Castellani in the mid to late 19th century.
They turned their attention to recreating Classical and Byzantine mosaics in miniature. This beautiful brooch by Castellani is centred with a micromosaic in blue and white tesserae. It is taken directly from one of the most spectacular ceiling mosaics in Rome, that of the Basilica of Saint Praxedes.
The roundel they have recreated appears above the altar of the church, commemorating Pope Pascal I who was responsible for enlarging and decorating the basilica in circa 822. No doubt the customer who purchased this jewel had marvelled at the ceiling before acquiring it from Castellani’s shop opposite the Trevi Fountain.
The Campana Connection
The desire to collect Classical treasures would certainly not have subsided when travellers returned home. This necklace was made by Carlo Giuliano of 115 Piccadilly, London. It is directly based on a necklace in the Campana collection, an exceptional assemblage of ancient jewellery compiled in the mid-19th Century by Giovanni Pietro Campana (1808-1880), director of the Sacro Monte di Pietà. It was eventually sold to Napoleon III in 1860-61 and proved an important source of inspiration not only to Giuliano, but also Castellani in Rome and Fontenay in Paris.
A printed engraving of the necklace was reproduced in Eugene Fontenay’s book ‘Les Bijoux anciens et modernes’ published in 1887. As Giuliano had worked for Alessandro Castellani and was a highly respected scholar of goldsmithing in antiquity, it is likely he knew the necklace intimately before this engraving was published.