Holiday Souvenirs – and History

I guess we all bring something back with us as souvenirs of our summer holidays in the sun – I
know I do!  Additions to a collection of Americana, or a memento of some seaside resort in Italy.  All those fridge magnets, plastic statues of Liberty, etc….  However, they pale to insignificance when compared to what some earlier British travelers brought back as I was reminded the other weekend when I visited the exhibition called “The Capture of the Westmoreland” in the Asmolean Museum, Oxford.  The sub-title gives a clue – “An Episode of the Grand Tour”; the Westmoreland was a ship sailing from Livorno in Italy to London in 1779.  It was loaded with a cargo of souvenirs acquired by a variety of British tourists (including the dukes of Gloucester and Norfolk)  in Italy.  These souvenirs ranged from Parmesan cheese to paintings, drawings, watercolours, sculptures, maps, prints, and books that were intended to adorn the homes of British aristocrats and gentry to demonstrate their education and refinement.  Unfortunately for them, the Westmoreland was seized by two French ships and taken to Malaga where the contents of the vessel were sold off.  Some ended up in the Spanish Royal collection and some items went as far as the court of Catherine of Russia.  The exhibition in the Ashmolean shows 120 of the items from the ship and gives a real insight into the meaning of the “Grand Tour” – and suggests rather a different purpose to foreign travel than some of the visitors to Ibiza these days!  The exhibition – and the Ashmolean – are well worth a visit.

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One thought on “Holiday Souvenirs – and History

  1. The Grand Tour is such a fascinating subject – what was the role of these early British tourists in cementing a transnational culture amongst wealthy Europeans, both aristocratic and not? How far do we continue to follow the same paths around Europe? How did this process survive the major wars of the 18th and 19th Century?

    For all that, I’m not sure if they were all that different from stereotypical visitors to Ibiza. Even one of the older surveys of the Tour concluded that ‘critics were probably correct in claiming that some tourists were more interested in sex, gambling and drink than improving themselves’ (Jeremy Black, The British and the Grand Tour (Routledge: Beckenham, 2011[1985], p. 82).

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