Brian Sewell's Grand Tour of Italy
Brian Sewell may not be a name immediately recognizable in the US but he is well known in Europe, he is a world class art historian and also art critic for the Evening Standard, a large English newspaper.

Well heeled young English gentlemen of the 18th century would often finish their education by spending a year or so exploring parts of Europe, the major country of interest being Italy. The ‘finishing’ of a young gentleman’s education was not just about culture, there was also ‘much coming of age’ as part of being a ‘Grand Tourist’. Today we we talk about ‘sex, drugs and rock n roll’, in the 18th century it was ‘Sex, booze, and opera’. If you think about, not much has changed.

Brian Sewell takes us on a glorious and at times irreverent excursion through the length and breadth of Italy. As Brian Sewell points out, being a ‘Grand Tourist’ was a lot of hard work. The route was a well traveled one, and each city had a particular feature that had to be ‘enjoyed’.

I am not an art professional but I do enjoy art and architecture, and I enjoyed this set of ten programs a great deal. Brian Sewell is well educated, very British, and just ever so slightly snobish, with a dry humor that I found hugely amusing. One particularly vile piece of architecture, a church, is described as “early Wedding Cake, or late Water Closet (an early English term for a toilet)”. Interestingly enough this is not the first time that Brian has taken the ‘Grand Tour’, he did it as a student 50 years ago, and he peppers his commentary with anecdotes from his first tour.

No one could ever accuse Brian Sewell of beating around the bush, it is very clear what he likes in art, culture, and architecture, and he makes no bones about what he hates. Michelangelo he loves, although he does not like the St. Peters. Of Bernini’s canopy over the alter, he merely says “Vulgar”. He thinks Leonardo Da Vinci was at best a fraud. Actually I recently watched another DVD set on the history of art Every Picture Tells A Story, that too casts great doubt on Da Vinci. A man who liked to start things, but never actually finished them.

Certainly Rome does not seem to be a favorite city for Brian Sewell. One scene in particular had me laughing so hard I had to hit the pause button. He is discussing the river Tiber and how at one time it was used as a source for fresh water, then Rome started using it as an open sewer, even tossing dead bodies into it as a method of disposal.

Caravaggio even fished a few out and turned them into unholy virgins

If you look at Caravaggio’s work I think you will understand the reference.

Or, how about this delightful quote that he attributes to Boswell……

Rome would have been wonderful if only there were no Romans

Having spent a lifetime, one long weekend in Paris I share the same sentiment about that city.

About Naples, Brian Sewell explains that the stop here on the Grand Tour was about two things, sex and opera! Actually the Napes segment has me somewhat confused, and I hate it when that happens. I am by no means an expert on musical instruments, but there is a segment where an opera singer is demonstrating some techniques, and is accompanied by what looks like a Grand Piano, but the more I listen to it, the more it sounds like a Harpsichord. For those not familiar with the difference, one strikes the wire, the other plucks it. It’s a minor thing, but it is a mystery I feel I must solve!

Grand Tour Of Italy is one of the first releases on the new imprint Athena, this imprint specializes in documentaries, and the ones I have seen so far have been nothing short of outstanding. This label is going to go far.

You can order your copy of Brian Sewell’s Grand Tour Of Italy by clicking on the cover art. Please do, it is a wonderful series. While I am not sure that Brian would be interested in doing an interview, I am certainly going to be pursuing one.
Brian Sewell's Grand Tour of Italy

Simon Barrett

Be Sociable, Share!