Fine art shipping history: The Grand Tour

Fine art shipping history: The Grand Tour

What the Grand Tour is

... I felt a pleasant delirium that only souls like ours can understand, and incapable of controlling my ecstasy that flowed from statue to statue, from room to room like a dazed butterfly surrounded by a universe of flowers…” that is how Thomas Beckford, well-known English art collector, reacted after visiting the collection of the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, Italy. Thomas Backford was one of the young nobles of Northern Europe that decided to embark on a journey in the name of culture: the Grand Tour. “Grand Tour” refers to the 17th- and 18th-century custom of a traditional trip of Europe undertaken by upper-class young European men of sufficient means and rank (typically accompanied by a chaperone, such as a family member) when they had come to the age of 21 years old. The motivation of the voyage lied in the curiosity of the travellers towards distant cultures, customs and traditions. Furthermore, travelling was a way to learn more about politics, economics and - especially - art in all its forms.

The stages of the journey

Usually, the itinerary of the Grand Tour began in Dover, England and crossed the English Channel to Ostend in Belgium, or to Calais or Le Havre in France. From there, the tourists (accompanied by their tutor and troop of servants) had either to cross the Alps by renting/acquiring a coach or to make the trip by riverboat travelling up the Seine to Paris, or up the Rhine to Basel.

Paris 18th century

Paris was the first destination: there the young students undertook lessons in French, dancing, fencing, and riding. While staying in the French capital they could learn the sophisticated language and manners of French high society, including courtly behavior and fashion. This served to polish the young men's manners in preparation for a leadership position at home, often in government or diplomacy. Subsequently, from Paris they would typically sojourn in urban Switzerland, often in Geneva or Lausanne.

Geneva 18th century

However, the main target of the Grand Tour was Italy. Once in Italy, the tourists would visit Turin (and sometimes Milan), they might spend a few months in Florence and - after a side trip to Pisa - they would move on to Padua, Bologna, and Venice. From Venice the young nobles went to Rome and some visited Naples as well. The wealthier travellers could attempt reaching Sicily, Malta or even Greece.

Greece 18th century

Returning northward, the tourists might recross the Alps to the German-speaking parts of Europe, visiting Innsbruck, Vienna, Dresden, Berlin and Potsdam, with perhaps a period of study at the universities in Munich or Heidelberg. From there, travellers could visit Holland and Flanders before returning across the Channel to England. You may be wondering how much did this voyage last… Well, for the wealthiest travellers it usually lasted around 8 years!!! Definitely not a bad way to study politics, culture and arts.

Pursuit of art

Every step of the journey had a specific purpose. The tourists wanted to learn and collect something from every destination and - especially from Italy - what they collected was mainly art. These students used to travel accompanied by their portraitists, so that they could do sketches of the beauties admired. When this was not possible, they commissioned the work to local artists, to keep what today we would call “a postcard”. One of the Italian artists better known in this context is Giovanni Battista Piranesi, whose paintings have been handed down from nobles to nobles until today. All the young travellers aspired to come back home with one of his paintings!

Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Venice was extremely charming for the tourists, since it was a city that recently flourished thanks to Rinascimental investments in arts and culture. The travellers went to Venice to admire the masterpieces of Tiziano, Giovanni Bellini and Jacopo Bassano. Furthermore, one of the most loved artists was the landscaper Canaletto. In our opinion he is a real genius for his capacity of depicting scenes and landscapes and for giving the observer the impression of diving into the painting. What do you think? Have a look:


Rome was considered the milestone of the Tour. On the one hand, the city represented a privileged access to the historical heritage of previous centuries, through its patrimony of Greco-Roman ruins. On the other hand it was emblematic of the Renaissance and Baroque movements, of which the artists Michelangelo and Gian Lorenzo Bernini were respectively the main exponents. See for example a “veduta” (= view) of the artist Piranesi of the Basilica di San Pietro, made by Bernini. Don’t you think it reminds of a contemporary postcard?


When the travellers decided to reach Naples, they did so for admiring the “city of the sun”, with its culture, music, opera houses, Caravaggio’s works of art and the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. In this way, they discovered a new interest towards archeology. This contributed to the development of the Neoclassical movement during the late 18th century, of which the German art historian and archeologist Winckelmann represents one of the main exponents. It’s a pity that Convelio didn’t exist at that time, our instant quoting and multipickups solution would have been perfect for the Grand Tour! The grandtourist would have had a trusted shipping partner to import Italian and European beauties in their countries, avoiding the difficult and unsafe shipping!

July 5, 2020