On a recent visit to Rome, I found myself wondering what it must have been like for the young patrician of the 18th C Grand Tour. Travelling would not have been comfortable and may well have been dangerous at times. But the arrival in Rome would have fortified the adventurer with its abundance of Classical, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture and art. Rome was the principal destination of the Grand Tourist. Although the term ‘Grand Tour’ only first appeared in print in 1760 in Richard Lassel’s printed work, Voyage of Italy. The term ‘tourist’ wasn’t used until about 1800.[i]

Travel has always been a human aspiration. Exploration, trading, pilgrimages and even the Crusades formed part of the travel agenda from early times and throughout the medieval period. Rome grew to become the Caput Mundi (‘Capital of the World’) and is known as the Urbs Aeterna (‘The Eternal City’). It was on the travel itinerary for those at the top of society as well as ordinary folk. It might be business, exploration, or knowledge that set them off on hazardous roads and passes that crossed the Alps and led them down the Italian Peninsula to the city of wonders. Even after its decline, the Avignon Papacy (1309-1376), the Italian Wars (1494 to 1559) – which included the Sack of Rome in 1527 – Rome somehow survived and revived, enabling the art and architecture of the Renaissance and Baroque to flourish.

The connection between Britain and Rome was forming prior to the Roman Conquest of Britain (87 AD) with the development of trading links. The Conquest meant Britain became part of the Roman Empire. After the Empire went into decline, Britain came back on Rome’s radar from a papal perspective. St Augustine of Canterbury was sent on a Christian Mission to Britain from Rome by Pope Gregory the Great in 595 AD. Alfred the Great (c. 848 – 899) visited Rome in his minority. Theobald of Bec (c. 1090-1161) went to Rome in 1139 to take part in the Second Lateran Council and receive the pallium for his new appointment to Archbishop of Canterbury. The English Christian mystic, Margery Kempe, travelled from Norfolk to Jerusalem and Rome in 1413-15. In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales Prologue (c. 1400) we are told that the Pardoner had journeyed straight from the court of Rome and that The Wife of Bath is well travelled:

Rome occupied the place at the centre of western civilisation to which many generations aspired to visit.

The Grand Tour in the Tudor Period

Building a pan-European network had always been a key goal on the travel agenda for the ambitious churchman or diplomatic courtier. However, in the Tudor period, the idea of travel to gain knowledge was developing. This was knowledge of the Classical world, and the art and architecture of the Renaissance. Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586) set off for what amounted to a 3-year tour between 1572 and 1575 with a half-Italian tutor, 3 servants and 4 horses on his travels around France, Germany, the Low Countries, Italy, Poland, the Kingdom of Hungary & Austria, and Germany.[ii] He saw at first hand the splendours of the European Renaissance Courts, He would have viewed the paintings of Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto in splendid settings. He also witnessed from the safety of Sir Francis Walsingham’s embassy, the horrors of the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre in Paris (23-24 August 1572). His uncle Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester described his nephew to Sir Francis Walsingham as ‘young and raw’ at the beginning of his tour, but that he had returned a grown man, with the manner of a prince. Upon his return Sydney’s status was raised when he was appointed an international diplomat, employed on the Queen’s business.[iii]

The Grand Tour as part of the young patrician’s education started in earnest in the 17th C and stretched into the early 19th C. There were interruptions due to politics, war, religious reformation, and revolutions, when it was dangerous to travel through areas of conflict. Travel in Europe became easier with James I of England on the throne when the Treaty of London was signed on 28 August 1604, bringing peace between England and Spain. The Habsburgs in the early 17th C were not only monarchs in Spain but occupied the position of the Holy Roman Emperor, lordship of the Spanish Netherlands, and various other kingdoms and arch-dukedoms.

The Somerset House Conference[iv]

This portrait commemorates The Somerset House Conference (artist unknown, maybe Flemish). Between May and July 1604, conference sessions were held at Somerset House. The treaty was signed on 28 August 1604. The Habsburg delegation is on the left. The English commissioners are on the right with Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury (1563-1612) at the front with the treaty.

A new generation of Jacobean Grand Tourists set forth. Inigo Jones, who vitalised the tradition of English classical architecture, spent time in Italy from circa 1600 onwards. By 1605 he was referred to as ‘a great traveller’ and was fluent in Italian. He studied the remains of Roman antiquity and familiarised himself with the works of Andrea Palladio, Sebastiano Serlio, and Vitruvius. In 1606 Edward Bolton gave him a copy of G. F. Bordino’s De rebus praeclare gestis a Sixto V (1588), with an inscription in Latin that translated as: ‘To his friend Inigo Jones, through whom there is hope that sculpture, modelling, architecture, painting, acting, and all that is praiseworthy in the arts of the ancients will soon find their way across the Alps into our England’. In 1613-14 Jones accompanied Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel (1585-1646) and his wife to Italy. Arundel and his wife were the celebrity Grand Tourists of the day and serious collectors.[v]

Some decided to excuse themselves from England during the Civil War (1642-1651). Arundel kept to Europe at this time. John Evelyn (1620-1706), the diarist, used the time to absent himself on a 4-year tour around Europe. Evelyn met up with Arundel in the Veneto in 1644 and toured Venice with Arundel’s grandson.

The young men of the 18th C, travelled to study and learn with the aim of elevating their taste, polish, virtue, manners, self-confidence, erudition, experience, and breadth of knowledge. This was the ultimate gap year. Although it lasted typically two years. It may be taken after university (Oxford or Cambridge), or instead of it. It was the culmination of the coming-of-age patrician’s education. Later in the 18th C some independent women made their own tours, such as the cousins Jane and Mary Parminter. They embarked on a 10-year Grand Tour, setting off in 1784, Upon their return they built and ornamented their own unique house of Al La Ronde in Devon.

The Grand Tour would start at Dover and cross the Channel and onto Paris for an immersion in the education of courtly manners and polish. Lessons on the curriculum included French, dancing, fencing, riding and manners. In Paris clothes would be bought for the trip. This included a large, engulfing travelling cloak known as a ‘duster’ to keep the mud and dust off clothes when travelling.

From Paris the tourist may travel to Nimes in southern France to get their first experience of impressive Roman architecture: the amphitheatre (Arena of Nimes), Roman temple (Maison Carree), the temple of Diana, the Augustan Gate, and the Pont du Gard aqueduct. The itineraries varied with successive generations, routes, and inclinations. The route may go via Geneva or Lausanne and onto Turin or Milan. Crossing the Alps presented difficulties and may have required more servants or carriers. From there the trip would aim for Rome, via Milan, Parma, Modena, and Bologna. The return trip could take in Florence, Padua, Venice, the Tyrol, and Germany. It maybe that the Tuscan cities were visited on the way down to Rome. Naples also featured on the agenda, if safe, as from the mid-18th C Pompeii and Herculaneum offered opportunities for collectors and designs for antique decoration. Sicily also gained popularity due the survival of Greek ruins and the growing romance of volcanoes. However, Rome was the principal destination.

The young man who had come of age (around 21 years old) would be accompanied by a tutor or older companion. A common name for the accompanying tutor was ‘Bear Leader or Bear Master’ who would take around the ‘Bear Cubs’. Another term for the expert guide was a ‘Cicerone’. There were also ‘valets-de-place’ who were local guides.

The quality of the Bear Leader varied. There were many competent tutors who accompanied their young charges. The Scottish economist, Adam Smith, accompanied the young Henry Scott, 3rd Duke of Buccleuch on his Grand Tour. Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher, travelled with the 2nd and 3rd Earls of Devonshire. John Locke escorted the son of Sir John Banks. Joseph Spence, Professor of Poetry at Oxford made three visits to Italy as tutor to various young Englishmen.[vi] The role of Grand Tour tutor provided an opportunity for professional scholars to experience what they had only read about.

Dr James Hay as Bear Leader (Etching by Pier Leone Ghezzi, 1725).[vii]

Many Grand Tourists did not have the best tutors as their travelling companion. If unlucky, they ended up with types such as Mr. Samgrass, a character in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, employed by his patron Lady Marchmain to keep the young Lord Sebastian Flyte in check. Such men could be over fussy, joyless, incompetent, or obsequious second-rate scholars. Clergymen were also employed and a morally strict one would be tiresome for an exuberant charge. However, the Bear Leader did have the added burden of keeping his young charge on the straight and narrow. In Venice there were official printed guides to the courtesans, providing organised temptation. Keeping one’s young, impressionable, and enthusiastic tourist back from the delights of the city could prove a difficult and onerous task.

It wasn’t just the aristocratic class and wealthy gentry making their way across Europe, but also those wishing to pursue a career in art, architecture, and garden design. Back home the growth in taste required professionals who could implement the reality of the desired country house and estate for the Grand Tourist connoisseur whose inheritance had come through. Architects needed to acquire a grounding in classical and Renaissance buildings. Baroque designs would provide flourish and splendour to their patrons’ interiors and furniture. William Kent (c. 1685-1748) studied in Rome and met key aristocratic figures such as Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington and Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester. He set off to tour northern Italy with Thomas Coke in 1714 where he greatly admired the work of Andrea Palladio in Vicenza. His practice back in England as an architect concentrated on the neo-Palladian style. The meeting and acquisition of a patron was important for the ambitious architect and the Grand Tour had a concentration of possibilities.

Holkham Hall Norfolk. Neo-Palladian style for which William Kent was the architect. Built for the Earl of Leicester with architectural input from the Earl of Burlington. The construction was started in 1734 and was finally completed in 1764.



Other professionals grew around the activities of the Grand Tour. The Grand Tourist often was a collector and needed advisors or agents to secure acquisitions. There was a market in fleecing the naive Englishman with counterfeit copies that needed to be avoided. A small circle of noblemen formed what became known as the ‘Whitehall Group’ to act as connoisseurs for Charles I’s taste for acquiring art (particularly Italian Masters). From this group a whole network developed in the acquisition market. Agents and advisors such as William Petty, Inigo Jones, and Ben Johnson acted for the group. The ‘collecting earl’, Lord Arundel, was part of the Whitehall Group and along with his wife acquired a significant collection (e.g., the Arundel Marbles, now in the Ashmolean). As part of the country house design the display of collected art and sculpture was a necessary accommodation.

University didn’t provide the proprietor of a country estate with the skills necessary to lay it out in the fashion of the day. In fact, university education was not up to much. The poor quality of university education in the 18th C led Adam Smith in 1776 to state that it was the Grand Tour that was an important, if not essential, part of an upper-class education.[viii]

The Grand Tour developed an appreciation of art, architecture, poetry, sculpture, mythology, and philosophy in a classical setting. Classical expression could be applied back home in architectural design and ornament, interior design, garden temples, statues, and the collection of antiquities and art. The young gentleman could bring back ideas for his estate that demonstrated his appreciation of the Italian countryside and gardens. Creating an arcadia for solace, reflection, and refined appreciation, which all required classical knowledge. In circa 1734 the Society of Dilettanti was formed. It was a gentlemen’s club of wealthy men of status and scholars that sought to promote the study of Greek and Roman art and recreate its style. Essentially it was formed to promote and sponsor the development of refined taste.

The other item to be collected was the Grand Tour portrait. Artists in Italy specialised in this genre. The Italian painter Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (1708-1787), based in Rome, specialised in Grand Tour portraits, often featuring a well-known Italian landscape in the background.

In Venice, Rosalba Carriera started out painting miniatures for the lids of snuffboxes. She then progressed to pastel portraits of those on the Grand Tour. Horace Walpole (1717-1797) was painted by her circa 1741 whilst on his Grand Tour of 1739-41. The pastel portrait would be a 2nd portrait. The official 1st one would be in oils.

Thomas Tayleur, 1st Marquess of Headfort (1757-1829): An Irish peer & politician. Painted by Pompeo Batoni in 1782.[ix]

This portrait features the sitter looking out at us, the drawn back curtain, the classical ruin view, dogs, books, globe, spyglass, and quill. This was also a favoured portrait arrangement for those who didn’t go on the Grand Tour. It was to show your elevated class and classical education.


The Grand Tour required a robust constitution, hopefully a decent Bear Leader, and a thirst for knowledge and ideas. It was also part of developing a national and international network of contacts. Architects could pick up patrons, agents could source collectables, artists could find customers, and links could be established for diplomacy and trade. What was learned and what was collected depended on the individual. However, the 18th C country houses of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland are testaments to these expeditions. The classical designs also make it into humbler houses with pedimented doorways, pilasters, and classical cornices. The adventurous spirit of the young patrician and ambitious professionals brought back a whole new world to Britain that we can still enjoy today



[i] Christopher Hibbert, The Grand Tour, (London, Methuen London, 1987), p. 18.

[ii] Hibbert, p. 15.

[iii] H. R. Woudhuysen, ‘Sidney, Sir Philip (1554-1586)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Sep 2004 online Sept 2014 <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/25522 [accessed 16 Mar 2022].

[iv]   ‘The Somerset House Conference’, Wikimedia Commonshttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Somerset_House_Conference_19_August_1604.jpg [accessed 17 Mar 2022]

[v] John Newman, ‘Jones, Inigo (1573-1652)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Sep 2004, online Sep 2010 <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/15017 [accessed 16 Mar 2022].

[vi] Hibbert, p. 20.

[vii] ‘Dr. James Hay als ‘bear-leader’ Radierung von Pier Leone Ghezzi, 1725′, Wikimedia Commons <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hay-Bearleader.jpg> [accessed 18 Mar 2022].

[viii] Hibbert, p. 20.

[ix]  ‘Thomas Tayleur, First Marquess of Headfort – Google Art Project’. Wikimedia Commons, <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pompeo_Batoni_-_Thomas_Tayleur,_First_Marquess_of_Headfort_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg > [accessed 18 Mar 2022].


Hibbert, Christopher, The Grand Tour, (London, Methuen London, 1987)

Newman, John, ‘Jones, Inigo (1573-1652)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Sep 2004, online Sep 2010 < https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/15017 [accessed 16 Mar 2022]

Woudhuysen, H. R., ‘Sidney, Sir Philip (1554-1586)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Sep 2004 online Sept 2014 < https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/25522 [accessed 16 Mar 2022]