Ahead of a sale of architectural models collected by Grand Tourists during the 18th and 19th centuries, specialist William Russell Jr. takes a look at the history of these superb souvenirs
From around the middle of the 17th century, young, wealthy graduates of Oxford and Cambridge Universities began embarking on voyages around the Mediterranean. The purpose of these expeditions was to discover the roots of European culture through art, literature, and archaeology.
‘Grand Tours’, as they became known, were soon both educational and social rites of passage among the nobility. ‘For any length of time from months to years,’ explains William Russell Jr., a Christie's specialist in European decorative arts, ‘grand tourists would travel with a cohort of guides and chaperones through countries such as Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France, Egypt and the Holy Lands — and most importantly, Italy.’
With deep pockets and aristocratic connections, these privileged travellers would socialise their way across the Continent, perfecting their language skills, visiting ancient ruins and meeting with local artists and dealers to collect coins, sculptures, paintings and models.
These souvenirs would be shipped back to Britain where they would furnish stately homes, serving as symbols of their owner's worldliness and appreciation for ancient culture. ‘The wealthiest of travellers could return with a Canaletto to hang above their fireplace,’ says Russell. ‘The lowliest on the other hand, could instead purchase a book of Piranesi etchings.’
Here, ahead of The Collector sale on 23 October at Christie’s in New York, William Russell Jr. looks at five examples of important 18th- and 19th-century architectural models purchased on the Grand Tour trails.
An Italian painted-bronze equestrian statue of Marcus-Aurelius, circa 1830
Cast by the German sculptor Wilhelm Hopfgarten (1779-1860) while he was active in Rome, this bronze statue is a model of the Equestrian Monument of Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD), which was erected in Rome in 175 AD. During the 16th century, the statue was moved to stand on a Michelangelo-designed base in the Piazza del Campidoglio, one of the city’s must-see sights for Grand Tourists.
‘With its crisp drapery and precise anatomical detailing, this is one of the most important surviving pieces of antique statuary,’ says Russell Jr. ‘Models of this subject were particularly prized amongst European collectors, as they were in the 15th- and 16th-century courts of Renaissance Italy.’
An Italian Giallo Antico model of the Temple of Castor and Pollux and a model of the Temple of Vespasian, circa 1850
The Temple of Castor and Pollux was originally built in Rome in 495 BC and was dedicated to the cult of the eponymous twins of Classical mythology. During antiquity it served as a meeting place for the Roman Senate. The Temple of Vespasian and Titus was built nearby in 79 AD, in the same architectural style. Today, they remain some of the best-preserved features of the Roman Forum.
‘This pair of marble models depict the temples’ fluted columns with their acanthus-leaf-crowned Corinthian capitals and detailed mouldings,’ explains the specialist. ‘Architectural features such as these went on to inspire the Palladian building style in Britain during the 18th century.’
An Italian marble model of the Navicella, 19th century
The Navicella is a 16th-century copy of an ancient Roman sculpture of a ship, which was commissioned for the courtyard of the Church of Santa Maria in Domnica in Rome by Pope Leo X (1475-1521).
Russell Jr. points out that the ship was sketched twice by the artist J.M.W. Turner in 1819 ‘while he embarked on his own European tour to research pictures which would appeal to Grand Tourists back in London.’
A pair of Italian gilt-bronze mounted and Rosso Antico marble models of Trajan's Column and Marcus Aurelius' Column, circa 1820
The triumphal columns of the Roman emperors Trajan (53-117 AD) and Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD), erected in Rome in 113 and 193 AD respectively, both contain running friezes that depict military accomplishments. At the end of the 16th century, the statues on top of each column in Rome were replaced by models of St Peter and St Paul on the orders of Pope Sixtus V (1521-1590). Here, though, the sculptor has recreated their original appearance with the figures of each emperor atop.
‘Prints of these columns began to appear in the 17th century, with architectural models marketed at Grand Tourists following soon after,’ says Russell Jr. ‘This pair has been carved in rosso antico marble, a stone which had been imported to Rome since the reign of the Emperor Augustus (63 BC-14 AD), and the details of the egg-and-dart moulding around their upper platforms, and the shallow relief of their friezes, are particularly fine.’
A Siena marble and tinted alabaster model of the colonnade of Amon-Ofis III, circa 1830
The marble colonnade of Amon-Ofis was constructed at the Temple of Luxor on the banks of the River Nile in Egypt under the orders of the pharaoh Amenhotep III (1411-1351/3 BC). It was later decorated by the boy-king Tutankhamun (circa 1341-circa 1323 BC).
‘Raised on a polished black slate plinth, engraved and gilded with the monument’s name, this model highlights the interest in Ancient Egyptian archaeology amongst antiquarians,’ the specialist explains. ‘This was kick-started in the 19th century when Egypt became easier to reach thanks to the rise of steam travel.’
The full group of nine architectural models will be on view between 19 and 22 October at Christie’s in New York ahead of their 23 October sale as part of The Collector: English and European 18th and 19th Century Furniture, Ceramics, Silver & Works of Art.