Lasting Impressions of the Grand Tour: Giuseppe Vasi's Rome

On View March 5 through June 12, 2011


Princeton University Art Museum to present
Lasting Impressions of the Grand Tour: Giuseppe Vasi’s Rome
Princeton, N.J. - In the 18th century, the Grand Tour of Europe was an educational and social rite of passage for wealthy young men, particularly from England and Germany. The journey, which could last a year or more, might involve a number of stops. But Rome was the essential destination. 

Rome’s wealth of classical art and architecture and the glories of its Renaissance and Baroque periods were considered the pinnacle of Western civilization by the cultural elite of the time. Modern Rome awaited discovery as well, for during this period the capital of the Papal States underwent a dazzling urban and artistic renewal, with the construction of new public and private monuments such as the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. The Papacy also sponsored lavish festivals featuring elaborate fireworks displays accompanied by large amounts of food and wine. Aristocratic families, wishing to further elevate the manners, tastes and social standing of their sons through exposure to great works of art, fueled a phenomenon of cultural pilgrimage which became known as the Grand Tour, and eventually gave birth to more widespread tourism in the 19th century. In addition, the Grand Tour created a thriving market for prints of the great vedute, or views, of Rome and inspired generations of gifted artists skilled at capturing the sights and spectacles of the Eternal City. 

The exhibition Lasting Impressions of the Grand Tour: Giuseppe Vasi’s Rome, at the Princeton University Art Museum from March 5 through June 12, 2011, reveals the rich variety of representations of 18th century Rome that were prompted by the intersection of a flourishing artistic community and the increasing demand for souvenirs of the Grand Tour. This phenomenon is examined through the particular lens of Giuseppe Vasi (1710 -1782), a prolific printmaker and architect who created a comprehensive, multi-volume series of more than 200 etchings of Rome for the tourist trade. 

Born in Corleone, Sicily, Vasi lived and worked in Rome, where he was a contemporary of other notable vedutisti (view painters) such as Giovanni Paolo Panini and Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Vasi’s student. Vasi’s work, renowned for its exacting topographical accuracy and lively social observation, is viewed here in the context of the artistic and cartographic traditions from which it emerged and which it, in turn, influenced. An understanding of Vasi’s particular vision and its impact on ways of seeing and interpreting the city as a work of art is enhanced by a strong contextual component, demonstrated by loans of paintings, watercolors, drawings and prints from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Firestone and Marquand Libraries at Princeton University, as well as by several works from the Princeton University Art Museum’s own collections, that together create a compelling view of a great world capital in the age of the Grand Tour. 

After an introduction to Vasi’s work as a whole, and in the context of late 17th and 18th century Roman cartography (including, most notably, Giovanni Battista Nolli’s monumental Pianta Grande di Roma, 1748), the exhibition will situate a selection of Vasi’s Magnificenze (both individual plates and bound volumes) within the tradition of the Roman veduta by juxtaposing them with examples in different media by contemporaries including Canaletto, Panini and Piranesi. Finally, the exhibition will conclude by presenting these popular images as souvenirs of the Grand Tour, complementing the prints with other collectibles, including a box of plaster casts and a reproduction of an ancient Roman bust of the emperor Caracalla. These, together with portraits and portrayals of identifiable Grand Tourists and Roman inhabitants by such artists as Nathaniel Dance, Pompeo Batoni and Giuseppe Ghezzi, create a compelling ensemble that brings the distant world of the Grand Tour and 18th century Rome closer to today’s spectator. 

“Lasting Impressions of the Grand Tour is an exhibition that highlights the significance of the Grand Tour as an important aesthetic and cultural phenomenon,” said Laura M. Giles, Heather and Paul G. Haaga, Jr., Class of 1970, Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Princeton University Art Museum and curator of the exhibition at Princeton. “Vasi’s prints—of critical importance to historical studies in urbanism and architecture—serve as the springboard for a broad investigation into the representation of Rome and its impact on collecting practices and, indeed, on taste itself in the age of the Grand Tour. The exhibition also addresses the universal desire to capture a visual reminder of one’s journeys and experiences abroad. Before the invention of photography, Vasi’s etchings, either individually framed or displayed in bound volumes, served as souvenirs—high-end postcards—recalling the splendors visited after one returned home, and prompting others to embark on their own Grand Tour.” 

Lasting Impressions of the Grand Tour: Giuseppe Vasi’s Rome was organized by the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon. Two University of Oregon faculty members, James Tice, professor of architecture and James Harper, associate art history, were the curators of the exhibition, and principal authors of the fully illustrated catalogue published by the Schnitzer. 

About the Museum Founded in 1882, the Princeton University Art Museum is one of the nation’s leading art museums. Its collections feature approximately 72,000 works of art ranging from ancient to contemporary, and concentrating geographically on the Mediterranean regions, Western Europe, Asia and the Americas, with particular strengths in Chinese painting and calligraphy, the art of the ancient Americas and pictorial photography. The Museum is committed to advancing Princeton’s teaching and research missions while serving as a gateway to the University for visitors from around the world. Intimate in scale yet expansive in scope, the Museum offers a respite from the rush of daily life, a revitalizing experience of extraordinary works of art and an opportunity to delve deeply into the study of art and culture. 

The Princeton University Art Museum is located at the heart of the Princeton campus, a short walk from Princeton’s Nassau Street. Admission is free. Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Free highlight tours of the collections are given every Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. The Museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. For information, please call (609) 258-3788 or visit the Museum’s Website at