Sunday, June 23, 2013

In the Library: The European Grand Tour

Where: National Gallery of Art, East Building

When: through August 30, 2013

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time will know how much I enjoy going to see the small shows in the National Gallery's library.  Located on the main floor of the East Building, it houses a few display cases that are open to public examination.  The exhibits change from time to time, and feature items from the library's collection.  When the East Building closes, I'm assuming the library will close as well, and that's a pity.  Granted, the exhibits are nothing like as showy or spectacular as the art shows can be, but the library is a little oasis of quiet, even when a big show is on in the building's main exhibit spaces.

The current offering is a display of objects related to the "European Grand Tour."  This was a journey made by well-heeled young Northern Europeans (particularly the English) and was designed to complete their education in languages and manners.  The phrase "grand tour" was first used in 1670, and 20-somethings from wealthy families made these trips throughout the 1700s and 1800s.  By the mid-nineteenth century, even the middle classes were sending their young people to see the origins of classical literature.

The trip generally began in Paris and continued through Italy, although over the course of time, destinations beyond Italy were included as well.  I could not help but be reminded of Lucy Honeychurch and her trip to Florence, as I looked at the guidebooks and diaries on display.  I was also reminded of the exhibit of view paintings I'd seen in 2011; people on a grand tour would compile view books, a similar kind of memento of their trip.

Verdict: Make a few minutes to see this little display; I'm not sure that there will be another library exhibit before the East building closes for renovation.

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