Monday, May 25, 2009

Souvenirs—Victorian Style

planning the grand tour

In the 17th to the 19th centuries it was common for young men from the nobility and upper gentry in England and northern Europe to round off their education by traveling to Italy and France.
They usually stayed for at least six months, but many travelers - often accompanied by a secretary and servants - spent anything up to two years away from home. The tour exposed them to what were regarded as the most important developments in science, culture and refined taste in Europe.
Initially, these journeys were the privilege of young men, but in the 19th century more and more women also undertook the Grand Tour.
Of course, no self-respecting tourist would return home without souvenirs. The English tended to dominate the market to such a degree that there was reportedly a saying in Rome that “Were our Amphitheatre portable, the English would carry it off.”
The wealthiest tourists could take home major works of art, such as sculpture, paintings and antiquities; those with more modest means could find lesser works of art and, perhaps, copies, including beautiful and highly portable plaster casts—intaglio: A term that antique dealers and designers have come to associate with these little gems, but which actually refers to the method of carving, rather than the end product-- similar to a cameo, carved in relief. The casts depicted great works that could be seen by a typical grand tourist and were arranged to evoke a typical tour.

c. 1820

Intaglio collection circa 1820
These mementos brought back with the travelers have become known as “Grand Tour souvenirs”, and illustrated the knowledge learned and were symbolic of refined taste. Upon returning home, these travelers exhibited them as objects for study and discussion, and as objects from which to derive status.
Today, these bits of history (and their reproductions) can be found quite easily (1st Dibs and Ebay are good places to start) and can add a bit of classical interest to any room.
Framed Intaglios: Tiberian Design Framed Intaglios

Here, California designer Betty Burgess framed individual intaglio and covered her dining room walls—effectively using them as a layer of texture in a very neutral space.


I found these skillfully arranged groupings at the fabulous Foxglove Antiques on Miami Circle in Atlanta. I love the linen mattes and simple frames.

Framed Intaglios: Tiberian Design Framed Intaglios

Designer Steven Miller used a grouping of intaglio collections in the dining room of the 2007 San Francisco Decorator Showcase House. As in the dining room above, a neutral palette gets a textural boost from these little beauties.
Framed Intaglios: Tiberian Design Framed Intaglios

Once again the designer has chosen to frame a single intaglio in simple gilt frames, effectively making each individual one appear important.


Here is someone’s large collection of original pieces.
I have to say, when it comes to these groupings, I subscribe to the “less is more” theory . I think I would break these collections up into smaller, more symmetrically styled arrangements and mount them on sandy colored linen matte with simple gilt or fruitwood frames.
Whether artfully grouped or mounted individually, I think these souvenir pieces are a great way to add texture in a neutral space and are sure to spark conversation in any room.


  1. Beautiful post and beautiful blog - really really nice - good luck with it!!! and have fun too!

    btw - look at my post from the weekend - one booth had the prettiest intaglios there.

    thanks for your comment today too!!!!!!

  2. I love intaglios, and in fact, have an arrangement of framed intaglios in my dining room (I shamelessly copied the idea from Betty Burgess).

    By the way, Burgess is actually an Atlanta designer who used to work with Dan Carrithers. She had some sort of connection to a family in Pebble Beach, CA, which is why she was hired to create the beautiful interiors mentioned in this post.

    So glad that CDT told me about your blog! I look forward to reading more.


Related Posts with Thumbnails