The Grand Tour was a journey through Italy undertaken by wealthy young aristocrats. The route included Turin, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Naples. These original tourists were often sent by their families in an attempt to ‘complete their education’. Naples was a very popular stopping-off point. Lord Hamilton, the British Ambassador in Naples, was a wonderful host and put on spectacular parties and musical evenings.
His beautiful and very sociable wife Emma Hamilton would dress in Roman and Greek style clothing and perform a series of dances known as ‘Attitudes’. It was here at the Hamilton residence that Emma attracted the attention of Lord Nelson, British naval hero of the day, and they became lovers.
Meanwhile, Vesuvius, the volcano that dominates the Bay of Naples, was having an active phase in the 1760s and 1770s: most days steam could be seen rising from the crater, and frequently, especially after nightfall, streams of glowing lava could be observed. Lord Hamilton wrote several articles on Vesuvius and the lava flows that he witnessed. Many visiting painters were inspired to paint Vesuvius and the surrounding area. The spectacle that Vesuvius offered visitors most nights was like a natural ‘Son et Lumière and must have seemed quite extraordinary to the early Grand Tourists.
For a more detailed article on the Grand Tour, click here: The History of the Grand Tour