The Napoleonic Wars between 1803 to 1815 saw a halt to the Grand Tour as fighting spread over a lot of Europe but it started up again after the wars, albeit it in a slightly modified way. Travel was easier, with steam powered ships, railways in France and later in Italy, and with detailed guidebooks. More museums had opened up – the Louvre had opened in 1793, the Madrid Royal Museum of Paintings and Sculptures opened in 1819, and the Hermitage opened to the public in 1852 – and so the not so wealthy people who did not have entrée to private collections could still see ancient and antique works of art. Families and single women began to go on tours as did artists and writers. They tried to purchase souvenirs from each place they visited. So where did they go? Although a visit to France was a staple of any Grand Tour, Italy was still the main focus of the Grand Tour. Cities that had to be visited were Rome, Florence, Venice, Turin, Bologna, Padua and Naples.
In 1859 to 1860, Catherine (Kate) Gansevoort, a young American aged 21, travelled to Europe with her family for a Grand Tour. After visiting the UK, France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland, the family arrived in Italy, starting in Florence, where they visited museums, concerts and studios of sculptors. Then they moved onto Naples, where they took a side trip to Pompeii. Back in Naples she shopped for coral and lava jewellery. Next, they visited Herculaneum and Vesuvius. Rome was the last leg of her Italian tour and as well as visiting churches and museums, she shopped for jewellery (see, ‘Kate Gansevoort’s Grand Tour’, Alice. O Kenney, (1966) 47(4) New York History, 343-361, jstor.org).
Naples was an important place for tourists like Kate to visit as it allowed tourists to do side trips to sites like Pompeii and Herculaneum, both of which had been covered in ash when Mt Vesuvius erupted. Edward Bulwyer-Lytton had published a novel called ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’ in 1834 and Kate carried that book with her when she visited Pompeii, trying to match the major scenes of the story and the architectural landmarks referred to. Back in Naples, she visited the Museo Bornonico which contained items excavated from Pompeii. And then she shopped for jewellery to help her remember this part of the trip.
Lava jewellery, said to contain lava from Mount Vesuvius, was very popular with Grand Tour visitors. The lava came in muted brown, grey, greens, ochre and cream, and skilful artists carved and polished beautiful cameos which were turned into bracelets, brooches, pendants, earrings and necklaces. The carvings were usually of classical heads or great Italian artists or writers. As the stone is quite soft, the cameos were usually carved in high relief which means they can suffer from damage over time.
Coral jewellery was also a popular souvenir. The town of Torre del Greco near Naples was then the main coral fishing area although processing and carving of the coral was undertaken in Livorno. The coral was often carved with beautiful cameos of Greek and Roman gods, flowers, and criss-cross patterns. The pieces available ranged from high quality Architectural Revival parures and earrings with classical motifs such as bull’s and ram’s heads, urns and amphoras, and carved medusa heads to small coral charms, often of hands and hearts. In 1876, a School for the Manufacture of Coral and Cameos was founded by Umberto I to train coral carvers and engravers was established in Torre del Greco.