Goldsmith on Bianchi and Wolfe, 'Turin and the British in the Age of the Grand Tour'

Paola Bianchi, Karin Elizabeth Wolfe, eds.
Sarah Goldsmith

Paola Bianchi, Karin Elizabeth Wolfe, eds. Turin and the British in the Age of the Grand Tour. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. 514 pp. $135.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-107-14770-6.

Reviewed by Sarah Goldsmith (University of Leicester) Published on H-Travel (November, 2018) Commissioned by Evan Ward (Brigham Young University)

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Any Grand Tour scholar will have at some point noted that Turin, the capital of the Duchy of Savoy, the Kingdom of Sicily (from 1713-20), and Sardinia (from 1720 onwards), was a regular feature on Grand Tour itineraries. Turin was the first Italian city encountered after crossing Mount Cenis, the location of a fashionable court and academy, and frequently admired for its architecture. Nevertheless, as Paola Bianchi and Karin Wolfe observe in their introduction to Turin and the British in the Age of the Grand Tour, British travel to Savoy has only been sporadically studied and rarely contextualized—a frustrating oversight given its regular presence in the Grand Tour experience. Bianchi and Wolfe’s aim is to address this lacuna and to go much further in investigating “the reverse side of the equation of the Grand Tour” (p. xxii). This is achieved through an ambitious and impressively wide-ranging edited collection of twenty-two essays, generously accompanied by illustrations and appendices. This international and interdisciplinary collection offers an in-depth examination of the relationship between Savoy-Piedmont and Britain between 1600 and 1800.

The collection focuses on recovering the unique aspects of Britain’s relationship with an under-considered capital of the Grand Tour, and examining “the less celebrated and previously underappreciated pathways along which intellectual and artistic trends were spread across Europe in the early modern period” (p. 2). In doing so, it thoroughly locates the practice of the Grand Tour within the wider context of eighteenth-century political, cultural and diplomatic activity.

Part 1 traces the shifting seventeenth-and eighteenth-century fortunes and diplomatic relationships between the Courts of Savoy, Stuart, and Hanover. Part 2 fleshes out the networks, interests, and practical experiences of Grand Tourists and other British travelers in Turin. Part 3 presents four in-depth case studies of the intersection between diplomacy and cultural brokerage, in examining two British diplomats, a Savoyard court painter, and the Sardinian Chapel in London. Parts 4 and 5 examine the significance of cross-cultural exchanges surrounding architecture and chinoiserie. Part 6 turns to other forms of cultural exchange, focusing on the experiences of Savoyard sculptors and musicians in Britain and the literary reflections of Savoyard intellectuals on Britain and the British perception of Italy.

Individually, the essays are rich contributions to their specific fields. Collectively they are a very welcome, valuable addition to the Grand Tour scholarship that offers a persuasive, instructive example of how the Grand Tour can be used as useful vehicle in assessing the wider eighteenth century. The collection considerably extends our understanding of eighteenth-century travel culture through often painstaking archival research. Its contribution to the more traditional interests of Grand Tour scholarship—art collecting, patronage, and the development of taste—are refreshing in shifting attention away from Rome and Florence. However, the collection pushes beyond these traditional boundaries in making much wider observations concerning the deeply cosmopolitan, trans-European nature of British and Savoyard society and in carefully considering the nuances, depth, and complexity of early modern political, diplomatic, religious, cultural, and social relationships on international and individual levels.

The collection is also striking for its moderation. The contributors carefully situate Turin and Britain’s relationship and political positions within a keen awareness of the overall power balances and relationships of the early modern international stage. They resist the temptation to overplay the strength or importance of this relationship, and in doing so showcase the value of examining cultural and diplomatic exchanges that are less dominant and overt in nature. For example, through this, the essays shed new light on the complex interplay surrounding religious toleration and persecution, and on how Grand Tourists valued cities for their modernity, not just for their antiquity.

Turin and the British is part of a rapidly developing historiography on the Grand Tour and eighteenth-century travel. A revised approach began with a developing appreciation of travel writing as a form of literature and the participation of women, middling sorts, and families in experiences of tourism. More recently, scholars have begun to assess the non-Italian and non-aesthetic elements of the Grand Tour’s itineraries, a process that has similarly uncovered a celebration of, and attraction to, sites of modernity (see, for example, Madeleine Van  Strien-Chardonneau’s, Corine Maitte’s, and Elodie Duché’s essays in Rosemary Sweet et al.’s Beyond the Grand Tour: Northern Metropolises and Early Modern Travel Behaviour [2017]). There has been a rising interest in tracing eighteenth-century Britain’s transnational and cosmopolitan elements, through studies such as Stephen Conway’s Britain, Ireland, and Continental Europe in the Eighteenth Century (2011) and Jennifer Mori’s The Culture of Diplomacy (2011). This has been complemented by valuable contributions from European scholars investigating non-British cultures of travel (for example, Gerrit Verhoeven’s Europe within Reach: Netherlandish Travellers on the Grand Tour and Beyond [2015]). As importantly, scholars such as Melissa Calaresu and Wendy Bracewell have undertaken fascinating work on the “reverse side” of the Grand Tour, in considering the reactions of communities such as the Neapolitan elite to travelers’ commentaries.

Inevitably, an edited collection as full and wide-ranging as this faces the very real challenge of word count limits. In general, these challenges have been well handled, although some essays felt a little truncated. Some space given in the introduction to the complex evolution of the House of Savoy from dukes to kings would have provided welcome orientation for the reader and saved on repetition across chapters. Furthermore, it would have been very useful to have seen this excellent work more comprehensively situated within the historiography outlined above, as well as the individual historiographies relevant to each chapter. A perusal of the bibliography and footnotes shows an extensive use of Italian scholarship, which received little direct discussion. This felt a little like a missed opportunity to showcase the Italian historiography of Turin and the Savoyard state to the English-speaking reader.

At their finest, the essays interact and build on one other so well that I would strongly suggest reading them collectively to gain the most out of their individual and collective arguments. At other points, it is evident that several schools of thought are in play concerning, for example, the degree to which the Dukes of Savoy truly supported the Stuart cause. Given that this held considerable ramifications for how diplomatic relationships and networks regarding freemasonry, art collecting, and patronage played out, it would have been interesting to see the differing arguments more overtly acknowledged.

Overall, Turin and the British in the Age of the Grand Tour is an excellent, highly valuable intervention into the study of the eighteenth-century Grand Tour and beyond. The fresh information excavated, the arguments advanced, and the opportunities offered for further debates and avenues of research in multiple fields will ensure that it will be used extensively for years to come.

Citation: Sarah Goldsmith. Review of Bianchi, Paola; Wolfe, Karin Elizabeth, eds., Turin and the British in the Age of the Grand Tour. H-Travel, H-Net Reviews. November, 2018. URL:

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