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Howard Family Holidays: Grand Tour
By Curator Blogger // Thu 10th August 2023
curator, grand tour, ancient world
Across the month of August, when many of you may be on your own holidays, we are exploring some of the holidays enjoyed by previous generations of the Howard family. This week we are looking at the 4th Earl of Carlisle’s Grand Tours.
What is a Grand Tour?

But what is a ‘Grand Tour’, and what makes it so noteworthy? At the beginning of the eighteenth-century, rich young men began to make educational pilgrimages to Italy. The ‘Grand Tour’, as it became known, was the prerogative of the governing classes, being to them a rite of passage. Having been brought up on the cultures of the Ancient World, for the tour-ists this would be an inspiring immersion into its art, architecture, and other ever lurking pleasures as they roamed from city to city over the course of months or years. Duly, they often bought souvenirs assiduously with the intention of transforming their country houses back in Blighty into the classical creations that they had seen on their travels. 

Henry Howard, 4th Earl of Carlisle [1694-1758] was one such traveller. Aged twenty, Viscount Morpeth (the courtesy title given to the heir of the Earl of Carlisle) set out on a year-long trip around Europe. Though there is no information within the archives to inform us about these early travels, the Grand Tour proved to be the great formative experience of his life. It is unknown what, if any, treasures were acquired on this trip, but the enthusiasm for antiquity that he did acquire was never abated. Unlike some of his peers, Morpeth did not have the arcadian agenda to rebuild his ancestral seat upon his return, for his father had already begun the construction of a new mansion - Castle Howard - in 1700. However, Morpeth did utilise the knowledge gained on his tour in design discussions relating to the various follies that populate the park. It was in this, the early part of his life, that a portrait miniature was painted by Charles Boit [PMN093]. He is depicted wearing a banyan (a loose-fitting robe) and a cap or ‘turban’, and this ‘Hogarthian’ dress belies his fashionable and erudite tastes. 

Figure 1: Miniature of Henry Howard, 4th Earl of Carlisle by Charles Boit (c.1715). Castle Howard Collection.

When Morpeth became the 4th Earl of Carlisle in 1738, he set out for Europe once more. The rationale for this second Grand Tour was twofold; firstly, having inherited Castle Howard, Carlisle had the essential errand of shopping for contents to fill his mansion; secondly, his own son and heir, Charles Howard, Viscount Morpeth [1719-1741], had reached an age at which he was due to set out on his own Grand Tour. It is testament to Carlisle’s love of Italy that he did not relinquish another opportunity to visit, even if it did risk cramping his teenage son’s style! Once more, there is little information within the archives to inform us about the travels of these intergenerational culture vultures, but it is likely that they followed the common route of some 2000 miles to Italy – Greece was still largely inaccessible – through the Low Countries, France, and Switzerland.

As the proverb states, all roads lead to Rome, and the classical ruins of that empire’s epicentre were the most famous and most venerated of them all. Here we see Carlisle’s prerogative to purchase. Grand Tourists were eager to possess souvenirs showing the monuments of antiquity that they most admired, and so sought out artists such as Giovanni Paulo Panini. He produced cappricci, architectural landscapes with artistic groupings of objects that were not confined to straightforward topography. In format, these were the multi-view postcard of their day. Carlisle commissioned six such views, one of which shows the Pantheon with the Temple of the Sybil adjacent – the latter is actually some thirty miles away from the former! The paintings were still incomplete after Carlisle and Morpeth had returned home, as a letter to him from an agent in Italy states ‘I continue to press for Signor Panini to deliver the pictures, and as soon as he sends them to me completed, I shall have them dispatched’.

Figure 2: A Roman Capriccio with the Pantheon by Giovanni Paulo Panini (c.1738). Castle Howard Collection.

After leaving the gates of Rome the Grand Tour continued on to Naples before swinging northwards, and homewards, to the last and most seductive destination, Venice, the city nestled into the bosom of the sea. Its secular and intellectual temptations beguiled the Brits, and as souvenirs they purchased precise topographical paintings, or vedute, of the places, processions, and pageants that they had witnessed by artists such as Giovanni Antonio Canaletto, Bernardo Bellotto, and Michele Marieschi. In an age before the camera vedute were the closest thing to a photograph. Carlisle purchased upwards of forty Venetian views - of which three remain in the collection today – and by pure proportion of paintings purchased one might infer that Venice was his favourite destination on the Grand Tour.

However, Carlisle’s shopping-cart did not only contain contemporary Italian paintings; on his travels he also amassed ancient sculpture, mosaics, bronzes, gems, and porcelain, and continued to do so through dealers and agents even after his return to Castle Howard in 1739. There was of course the all too familiar issue of how to bring these holiday purchases home – he would have been well over his baggage allowance. A handful of accounts with his Italian agents survive within the archives, providing an insight into the shipping of the purchases. There was no ‘next day delivery’, and indeed across a number of years a steady stream of packing-cases must have arrived at Castle Howard. Resultantly, as we walk around the castle today, we do so through corridors and halls filled with the fruits of the Grand Tour that bare silent witness to the 4th Earl of Carlisle’s discernment. He is, as he was deemed by a contemporary, a ‘great virtuoso’. Yet whilst the collection is rich with the spoils of his holidays, he did not spoil us with detailed accounts of his travels…

Figure 3: A historic multi-view postcard of Castle Howard (c.1900). Christopher Stone.