The Grand Tour in Italy – Goethe and the German perspective

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Birgitta Hoffmann

A look at the Grand Tour in the 18th century through the Eyes of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s memoirs

Dayschool: Saturday,  17th August 2024      Time: 11.00– 16.00 GMT


Visiting Italy in the second half of the 18th century became one of the rights of passage to the young European aristocrat. Our accounts are full of English Milordi and their ‘bear keepers’, teacher/guardians who were engaged specifically to try to keep the 18-20-year-olds on message and out of trouble.

The Grand Tour was however not a British phenomenon just as many French and German aristocrats travelled south, amongst them Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who left us his memoirs of his trip in 1786-88, and recorded them in 1816.

Unlike the Milordi Goethe travelled in his late 30s, as an established writer and well-connected polymath, but also as somebody who was in the throes of what would be later called a mid-life crisis, which gives us a very different view of the Grand Tour, but also a more informed view of what he was hoping to see and to experience of Rome, Naples, but also Medieval Italy.