A study trip to Rome: Retracing the steps of 18th- and 19th-century Grand Tourists

“Now, at last, I have arrived in the First City of the world! … All the dreams of my youth have come to life … In other places one has to search for the important points of interest; here they crowd in on one in profusion.”

These impressions of Rome were noted down by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1786. His “Italian Journey” (published in 1816-1817) abounds in inspired reflections of the city’s architectural and artistic treasures. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Rome excited similar interest of countless travelers from across Europe, many of whom left invaluable visual and written records of their journeys. However, it is not difficult to imagine such thoughts as Goethe’s being written down by a contemporary traveler to Rome. To this day, the seat of Europe’s ancient Classical heritage has continued to invoke widespread awe and delight.  A desire to see firsthand the finest specimens of art and architecture documented by 18th- and 19th-century Grand Tourists has led the members of the research team Ana Šverko, Ivica Čović, Irena Kraševac, and Iva Raič Stojanović to undertake a tour of their own and visit the Eternal City.

The team’s study trip to Rome, which took place from 19 to 22 April, proved to be a most rewarding and enjoyable experience. We were particularly pleased to be in the company of Ivica Čović, assistant professor at the Politecnico di Milano, who guided us through the city’s bustling streets and gave us valuable information on its monuments. Revisiting the Roman sites commonly described and depicted in travelogues (the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Imperial Fora, the Capitoline Hill, thePantheon, the Baths of Diocletian, etc.) has been important for grasping the narrative of the Grand Tour and framing the topic of Dalmatia as another popular destination among the European 18th- and 19th-century travelers. Ana Šverko and Iva Raič Stojanović, who have been creating a database of travel literature and visual sources relating to Dalmatia, have found the insight into the wider context especially useful. Many of the writers, artists and other travelers who visited the eastern coast of the Adriatic had first spent some time in Rome, so their perception of Dalmatian monuments was shaped by the knowledge of the Roman legacy they had gained in Italy.

A panoramic view of the city (photo: I.R.S.)
A panoramic view of the city (photo: I.R.S.)

The second point of interest of the team’s study trip were institutions and sites associated with Rome’s artistic and academic life of the 18th and 19th centuries. One such place is the Accademia di San Luca, originally the city’s leading art and architecture school, and now home to a well-known gallery, library and archives that document the work of the former students. The visit to the Accademia enabled the team members to study its fine collection of paintings and sculptures, including the recently restored original plaster casts by the Neoclassical sculptors Antonio Canova, Bertel Thorvaldsen, Mathieu Kessels, and others.Two other Canova’s works the team members had an opportunity to see, a large bas-relief representing Friendship and the imposing tomb of Pope Clement XIV, can be found in the church of Santi Apostoli. Irena Kraševac has been doing research on several Neoclassical busts from Croatian museums that have been attributed to Canova, so these works provided a relevant point of reference.

Antonio Canova, Tomb of Pope Clement XIV (1783-87), Santi Apostoli, detail (photo: I.R.S.)
Antonio Canova, Tomb of Pope Clement XIV (1783-87), Santi Apostoli, detail (photo: I.R.S.)

Another institution that played a great role in the city’s cultural development throughout the modern era is the French Academy in Rome, located in the Villa Medici. From the 17th until the 20th century the Academy housed the most promising French arts students who had won the Prix de Rome, and who often became ardent ambassadors of classical art. A stroll around the Villa and its gardens reminded us of their role in the dissemination of ancient canons and ideals across the world.

We rounded off our memorable trip with a visit to the Casa di Goethe. This was particularly valuable to Irena Kraševac, whose research within the project focuses on Austrian and German Grand Tourists. Goethe spent three years journeying around Italy, admiring its classical heritage, and immersing himself in the contemporary art scene. His Roman home, a house on Via del Corso, has been converted into a museum, which provides the visitor with interesting details on the poet’s life and work in late 18th-century Italy. We complemented this by a visit to the Café Greco, one of the oldest Roman cafés and a meeting venue of many of Goethe’s fellow writers and artists. Our contemporary Grand Tour would not have been complete without seeing a number of other Roman landmarks, spanning from the churches of Santa Maria Maggiore, Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, and Sant’Andrea al Quirinale, to the Bibliotheca Hertziana and the Museum of the Ara Pacis.

The dome of the Pantheon, detail (photo: I.R.S.)
The dome of the Pantheon, detail (photo: I.R.S.)

As has been noted many times before, one can only feel the spirit of a place by means of immediate experience. To this we may add that it is only in close contact with a monument that we can fully appreciate our predecessors’ impressions captured in text and image. Our trip to Rome was therefore a significant step towards our better understanding of all the travelogues, pictures and photographs describing Italy and Dalmatia that have been passed on to us.

Team members Ana Šverko, Ivica Čović, and Irena Kraševac at the Pincian Hill (photo: I.R.S.)
Team members Ana Šverko, Ivica Čović, and Irena Kraševac at the Pincian Hill (photo: I.R.S.)

(written by I. R. S.)