The Capture of the Westmorland, an Episode of the Grand Tour
The British ship the Westmorland is captured by two French ships and taken to a port in Spain in 1779. While the contents were not remarkable; olive oil, anchovies, wheels of Parmesan cheese and bales of silk; the cargo also contained paintings, sculpture, books and souvenirs being sent home by British Grand Tourists. The Grand Tour is one of those traditions of aristocracy that still lingers today, the capstone of life education, with an emphasis on refinement, social graces, art and appreciation of the finer things in life.
The Westmorland is declared a prize of war, and the contents distributed to a Spanish trading company. But the works of art only find their way to storage and languish over four years until King Carlos III buys the lot and deposits the art in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid where they are forgotten for more than 200 years.
In the late 1990s, classical archaeologists researching Roman urns find the records of these items, leading to a discovery of tourism from the 18th century. Using the inventories made at the time of the ship’s capture and correlating them with the contents at the Real Acadamia, the owners of these objects have come into view. A portrait of Francis Bassett, heir to a tin mine in Cornwall, England, reveals the privileged connoisseur. His collection includes watercolors by John Robert Cousins, a suite of pictures reflecting previously unknown images of his style of art during his time in Italy, 1776, lavish books of prints, guidebooks, and dictionaries of grammar, and a significant number of works that are copies of classical paintings, all highly prized items from a Grand Tour.
The video clip is from the Yale Center for British Art, telling the story of the Westmorland, and the journey of the objects. Look for the Duke of Glouster’s head of the Medici Venus sculpture, a copy, but an item that would add greatly to any collection of art. Tourism has changed over the years, but the drive to collect souvenirs carries a unique history.
Still Life with Bowl of Citrons
Giovanna Garzoni (1600-1670)
One of my favorite things when I discover new art online, is the amount of images not currently on view at the museum, but available to the virtual tourist. It is the secret storage room of art that, for whatever reason, the piece is not accessible due to space constraints, age or deterioration.
Giovanna Garzoni was one the first women artists to practice the art of still life painting. Garzoni’s paintings were so well liked that, according to a chronicler of the times, she could sell her work “for whatever price she wished.” One of Garzoni’s earliest works, a 1625 calligraphy book, includes capital letters illuminated with fruits, flowers, birds and insects. These subjects were to become her specialty, and tempera on vellum was her preferred medium. Garzoni’s interpretation of plants and animals suited the taste of her aristocratic patrons, like the Medici family, and could be found decorating their villas.
Scholars have speculated about her early training, but Jacopo Ligozzi was an influence on her style. Like Garzoni, Ligozzi painted botanical and zoological specimens for the Medici court. In 1666, Garzoni made a will bequeathing her entire estate to the painters’ guild in Rome, the Accademia di San Luca, on condition that they erect her tomb in their church. She died four years later, after enjoying a life of steady work and constant success.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Saint Francis of Assisi, 1638
Claude Mellan (1598-1688)
An interesting print from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, also not on view, is from the engraver Claude Mellan. Among the leading engravers of his time, he is best known for his numerous portraits as well as for his engraving techniques. He used parallel lines of varying thickness, rather than the traditional technique of crossing lines of equal thickness. One of his most unique pieces is the engraving of Sudarium of Saint Veronica (1649), created from a single spiraling line that starts at the tip of the nose. This particular piece can be found at the British Museum.
Thank you for visiting This Write Life on Museum Monday. Did you enjoy the microcosm of the Grand Tour?
I would like to thank The Hairpin for including my Reinhold Vasters pictures in their article on fake Renaissance jewelry. I will be visiting their site to cull the archives for some interesting art and history this Wednesday.