Sheldon Museum of Art


Date of this Version



SHELDON MUSEUM OF ART, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. May 7- September 5, 2010.


All images are copyright by the original artists. Publication copyright 2010 The Regents of the University of Nebraska


ItalY had long been a destination for American travelers, but by the nineteenth century American tourists flooded into Rome and Florence, hunted for picturesque vistas on the Bay of Naples and roamed through ancient ruins in Paestum. Armed with Baedeker guidebooks or the Hand-Book for American Travellers in Europe, Collated from the Best Authorities, they sought the authentic spirit of Dante, Petrarch, and Virgil, and chronicled their lengthy tours in detailed journals and letters to friends. Americans traveled to Italy for various reasons: to gain social prestige, to pursue artistic and literary interests, or simply to enjoy a beautiful country. Americans in nineteenth-century Italy sought to capture and make sense of their cross-cultural experiences. Through works of art, travel diaries, and guidebooks, Voyage to Italia: Americans in Italy in the Nineteenth Century documents the idealizing and critical attitudes that American tourists had about Italy.

During the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the Grand Tour was a rite of passage for wealthy, young European men, and for a few American men as well. Led by a tutor, the young men traversed the Continent for a few months to as long as five years. The Grand Tour might supplement a college education, or in some cases, replace it entirely. It was intended to give a young gentleman the polish and education he needed to fulfill adequately his role in society. During the course of their travels, these students would become immersed in the Classical world of the Greeks and Romans, the artistic world of the Renaissance, and the atmosphere of royal courts and halls of diplomacy. The final leg of the trip was Rome, where visits to the Coliseum and to St. Peter's tomb were the highlights. By the nineteenth century, the Grand Tour as a cultural touchstone had dwindled in importance, but the concept of travel as an educational and cultural experience was still significant. Advances in technology, such as an extensive railway network throughout Europe, made the journey easier, and Americans had become a much greater percentage of the tourists.