Franco-British History
5 January 2012
Rosemary Sweet (University of Leicester)
British Travellers in Italy in the 18th century

Summary: Both the Georgians and the Victorians were fascinated by Italy, but they saw the country with very different eyes. Eighteenth-century travellers sought out the monuments of classical antiquity; their nineteenth-century counterparts, by contrast, whilst still admiring the glory that was Rome , were also drawn to the art and architecture of the middle ages and  the “primitives” of the early renaissance.   Most studies of British travellers in   Italy focus on either the eighteenth century, finishing with the outbreak of war in Europe ,  or take their starting point after the end of the Napoleonic Wars,  leaving the continuities and connections between the two periods under-explored.     This article uses contemporary guides and topographical literature and unpublished correspondence and diaries to examine how the classically oriented Grand Tour evolved into a different journey of historical inquiry which focussed upon the middle ages and the story of how Italy emerged from the fragmentation and disorder of the middle ages to the cultural flowering of the renaissance.  Rome’s centrality became less prominent as   a different Italy was now being sought out: that of medieval towers and palazzi, of gothic churches and of the primitive simplicity of painting in an age in which the arts were first beginning to recover.   These changes were the consequence of broader interest in the middle ages as a formative period in European history, and by the ongoing researches of British antiquaries into the origins and diversity of gothic architecture.  

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