The Grand Tour - Impressions of Antiquity

Excavation of ancient sites in Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Egypt uncovered ancient jewelry and signets that influenced art, jewelry and fashion from Italy to England starting in the 1700s. 

The New York Times recently described the Grand Tour in this way:

Three hundred years ago, wealthy young Englishmen began taking a post-Oxbridge trek through France and Italy in search of art, culture and the roots of Western civilization. With nearly unlimited funds, aristocratic connections and months (or years) to roam, they commissioned paintings, perfected their language skills and mingled with the upper crust of the Continent.

—Gross, Matt., "Lessons From the Frugal Grand Tour." New York Times 5 September 2008.

Young 18th century aristocrats visited the most celebrated sites of ancient culture on the Grand Tour, a tradition of touring Europe that flourished from about 1660 until the railroad arrived in the 1840s. The 1809 publication of Description de l'Égypte offered western European taste-makers the first glimpse of Egyptian natural history and architecture. The study was completed between 1809 and 1826 by a 160-strong collaboration of scholars and scientists under Napoleon's command.  

Many of these early tourists brought home images of Classical style, often in the form of commemorative frames filled with plaster impressions from ancient intaglios. Greek and Roman themes also appeared in Watch fobs and pendants, later adapted to Victorian styles. 


In a 1765 letter to friend and philosopher Jean-Jaques Roussaeu, Scottish writer James Boswell writes:

"You were indeed right to congratulate me when my father gave me permission to travel in Italy. Nine months in this delicious country have done more for me than all the sage lessons which books, or men formed by books, could have taught me. It was my imagination that needed correction, and nothing but travel could have produced this effect "

London was often the starting point for the Grand Tour, and Paris an essential destination. Many traveled to the Netherlands, some to Germany and Switzerland, and a very few adventured to Spain, Greece, or Turkey. The most important place to visit, however, was Italy. 

Classical images appeared in mens pocket watch fobs shaped like Greek and Roman seals through the Victorian era. Collections of cameos, statues and other souvenirs from of antiquity cluttered the Victorian drawing room. 

Themes from antiquity also appeared in women's jewelry, particularly as cameos, as well as fabric and button designs. Queen Victoria's engagement ring was a serpent with turquoise eyes, one of many Egyptian motifs popularized by the Grand Tour. 

Shop our Victorian Keepsakes and Industrial Artifacts for original Victorian and Edwardian Watch Fob Jewelry and other antique treasures.