Celebrating La Serenissima—"The Brothell of Europe": Venice on the Grand Tour

The Grand Tour was both finishing school and rite of passage for the British (male) aristocrat. As Samuel Johnson noted, "a man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority." While Rome was "the great object," Venice was an essential stop on the way. The floating city's wondrous novelty, its reputation for license and luxury (it had earned the name "the Brothell House of Europe"), and its much-touted devotion to liberty were compelling attractions for the Grand Tourist. Famous for its courtesans, its masked revelers, its mystery and secrecy, its appeal inevitably swung toward the sensual and the sexual. 

This talk addresses the British Grand Tourist's experience of 18th-century Venice in the context of the erotic, through a close examination of that city's art (with particular reference to objects in The Met collection), as well as texts and cultural artifacts from both sides, Venetian and British.

Kevin Salatino, Director of the Art Collections, The Huntington Library

Read a MetLiveArts Blog article by Andrea Bayer, Jayne Wrightsman Curator in the Department of European Paintings, in which she surveys a selection of The Met's Venetian paintings.

Recorded February 9, 2017

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