Holiday Souvenirs – and History
9th July 2012
I guess we all bring something back with us as souvenirs of our summer holidays in the sun – I
know I do! Additions to a collection of Americana, or a memento of some seaside resort in Italy. All those fridge magnets, plastic statues of Liberty, etc…. However, they pale to insignificance when compared to what some earlier British travelers brought back as I was reminded the other weekend when I visited the exhibition called “The Capture of the Westmoreland” in the Asmolean Museum, Oxford. The sub-title gives a clue – “An Episode of the Grand Tour”; the Westmoreland was a ship sailing from Livorno in Italy to London in 1779. It was loaded with a cargo of souvenirs acquired by a variety of British tourists (including the dukes of Gloucester and Norfolk) in Italy. These souvenirs ranged from Parmesan cheese to paintings, drawings, watercolours, sculptures, maps, prints, and books that were intended to adorn the homes of British aristocrats and gentry to demonstrate their education and refinement. Unfortunately for them, the Westmoreland was seized by two French ships and taken to Malaga where the contents of the vessel were sold off. Some ended up in the Spanish Royal collection and some items went as far as the court of Catherine of Russia. The exhibition in the Ashmolean shows 120 of the items from the ship and gives a real insight into the meaning of the “Grand Tour” – and suggests rather a different purpose to foreign travel than some of the visitors to Ibiza these days! The exhibition – and the Ashmolean – are well worth a visit.