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Eighteenth-Century Studies 36.1 (2002) 86-92

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Exhibition Review

Naples and Vesuvius on the Grand Tour

Rome on the Grand Tour

Drawing Italy in the Age of the Grand Tour

Naples and Vesuvius on the Grand Tour, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (21 December 2001-24 March 2002); Rome on the Grand Tour, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (8 January-11 August 2002); Drawing Italy in the Age of the Grand Tour, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (5 February-12 May 2002).

Over the past two decades, pathbreaking blockbuster exhibitions have focused welcome attention on the interrelated subjects of eighteenth-century Italy and the Grand Tour, emphasizing not only Italian artistic achievement, long—and still—underappreciated, but also the extremely influential role of the peninsula in European culture during the period. Grand Tour: The Lure of Italy in the Eighteenth Century appeared in London and Rome in 1996-7, while shows were devoted to Naples in 1981-2, to Venice in 1994-5, and to Rome in 2000. Correlated with this interest is the increase in serious scholarly activity in these areas among art historians, as well as by all those considering such inherently interdisciplinary topics as travel and tourism.

With academic and public awareness primed, curators at the Getty Center in Los Angeles set out not to rival the blockbusters, but rather to create a group of intimate exhibitions designed to introduce their visitors to these subjects without overwhelming them. Drawn from the Getty and other local collections and highlighting recent Getty acquisitions, the three shows each focused on different aspects or destinations of the Grand Tour, while treating interconnected themes and together presenting works in a variety of media. They overlapped in date and were housed in various locations in the Museum and Research Institute but tied together by signage throughout the Center.

The first show to open, in the Getty Research Institute Exhibition Gallery, was Naples and Vesuvius on the Grand Tour, assembled by Marcia Reed, Curator of Rare Books at the Institute. Naples was the largest city in Italy in 1700 and the fourth-largest in Europe, noted for its natural beauty and artistic riches. In the eighteenth century, it was known for the antiquities that began to be unearthed from the nearby Roman cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii, buried since 79 A.D. by a volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The show centered around the interests in art and nature of one of the great English figures of the time in Naples, Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador to the city from 1764 to 1800, when the Spanish Bourbon dynasty ruled the kingdom of Naples and Sicily. Hamilton had a passion for vases and volcanoes, both of which formed the subjects of large, lavish publications that he wrote or sponsored. The various sections of the exhibition were devoted to those interests, particularly as they related to Hamilton's books.

The first part of the show focused on Mount Vesuvius and travelers' fascination with its dramatic volcanic eruptions. Hamilton studied geology and volcanology and within four years had ascended the mountain twenty-two times. He fearlessly witnessed its eruptions in March 1766 and October 1767. Included in [End Page 86] the exhibition were two of Hamilton's publications describing the eruptions, the Campi Phlegraei and Supplement to the Campi Phlegraei (1776 and 1779), so named for the "fiery fields" to the southeast of Naples where Vesuvius is located. These books contained charming and evocative hand-colored views of the volcano made from sketches commissioned by Hamilton from the painter Pietro Fabris. As the exhibit could show only one page of each book, the display in the Getty Research Institute was supplemented by facsimiles of the views and of images of geological specimens from the region, such as those Hamilton found and sent to the Royal Society in London.

In this part of the show there was also an earlier publication concerning Vesuvius, the Mundus subterraneus of 1678 by the...


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