Claude Lorrain, Landscape with Apollo guarding herds of Admetus and Mercury. Oil on canvas

The Hall

On Loan

The Earl of Leicester is passionate about ensuring Holkham’s collections of art and antiquities, manuscripts and books, are enjoyed by as many people as possible. Every year, roughly 45,000 visitors come to Holkham to see the collection in situ. In addition to this, many works are loaned to other institutions, both internationally and within the UK, ensuring that the Holkham collection can be appreciated by an even wider audience.

Following the confusion caused by the coronavirus pandemic, many exhibitions were forced to postpone. However, for the Autumn of 2020, running into January 2021, one exhibition will be displaying works from Holkham.

Gaspar van Wittel (1652-1736), View of the Colosseum, Rome
Pompeo Batoni (1708-1878), Portrait of Thomas William Coke (1754-1842)

On loan from 19 November 2021 – 27 March 2022, ‘The Grand Tour: the Myth, Vision and Sentiment of Italy’, Galleria d’Italia, Milan, Italy

The Grand Tour developed during the seventeenth century as an essential component of a young man’s education. Italy and France were the two most important elements of any Grand Tour – France for its contemporary style, and Italy for its classical history – though it was not uncommon for tourists to also visit Germany, the Low Countries or Switzerland as part of their travels. It was also a chance for wealthy young men to acquire items – books, paintings, antiquities – with which to adorn their stately homes. The first two male inhabitants of Holkham would, like their contemporaries, undertake Grand Tours.

Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester (1697-1759) undertook what is perhaps the longest recorded Grant Tour, leaving England in 1712 only to return in 1718. This experience was fundamental in defining his understanding of Roman architecture – which would later be put to use in the construction of Holkham – as well as allowing him to acquire the nucleus of the Holkham collection.

Thomas William Coke (1754-1842), known as Coke of Norfolk, also undertook a Grand Tour, travelling between 1771 and 1774. His travels were partly funded by Thomas Coke’s widow, Margaret, Countess of Leicester, who was desirous the young man who inherited Holkham should acquire an education befitting a gentleman. Although less of a collector than his great-uncle, Thomas William did acquire a few important items for the collection, such as the micro-mosaic of the lion and the leopard displayed in the Long Library.

Visiting a list of key sites was a major component of Grand Tour, and Rome was undoubtedly the main destination. Seen as the melting pot between contemporary and ancient culture, tourists often sought to collect views of the city, particularly those representing Roman sites and monuments. Thomas Coke collected a number of views of the city by the celebrated landscape painter Gaspar van Wittel – known in Italian as Vanvitelli – and the View of the Colosseum represents just one of these works from Holkham’s collection. It was purchased by Thomas Coke on his Grand Tour in Rome in 1716, for the sum of 50 crowns.

Alongside views of important sites, having one’s portrait painted was an essential component of the Grand Tour, and during the eighteenth century, Pompeo Batoni emerged as the most important portrait painter in Italy, if not in Europe. He is believed to have painted 300 portraits, of which over half depicted British travellers. Thomas William Coke, who inherited the Holkham Estate (but not his ancestor’s title) in 1776 was one of the wealthiest young men in England at the time. He was despatched on Grand Tour in 1771 and it was towards the end of his tour, in 1774, that this work was painted. It has an interesting and romantic history to it, which you can read all about here.

The exhibition at the Gallerie d’Italia, unites paintings, sculptures and objets d’art amassed during the Grand Tour. They are displayed in dialogue with each other, and aim to reproduce the image of Italy as understood by the Grand Tourists.