A Grand Tour of Italy

From the 17th century, a cultured gentleman made a European Grand Tour, collecting art, anecdotes and experience along the way. Italy was his most important destination. In this four-part course, we examine the art and history of the Bay of Naples, Rome, Florence and Venice. Armchair travellers, as well as those planning a trip, will contextualise their knowledge of Italy’s great artists and key moments. And we make sure to go beyond the beaten track of well-known museums, to explore interesting and innovative ideas for visits.


  • Barzini, Luigi. The Italians (any edition). A classic account of the Italian national psyche.
  • Beard, Mary. Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town. Profile Books, 2010. Entertaining and erudite.
  • Da Mosto, Francesco, Francesco’s Italy Top to Toe (documentary, 2006). An armchair tour of the main sites.
  • Edsel, Robert M. Saving Italy. Norton, 2014. Not well-written but fascinating.
  • Forster, E.M. Room with a view. Penguin, various editions. Classic exploration of English awakenings on a Grand Tour. The Merchant Ivory film production is also wonderful.
  • Frugoni, Chiara. A Day in a Medieval City. University of Chicago Press, 2006. How did medieval Italians really live?
  • Gilmour, David. The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012. Fascinating investigation of whether Italian unification “worked”.
  • Hooper, John. The Italians. Viking, 2015. An updated version of Barzini’s classic.
  • Italy Unpacked (documentary, with Andrew Graham-Dixon and Giorgio Locatelli). You can watch snippets on YouTube.
  • King, Ross. Brunelleschi’s Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling. Accessible and engaging.
  • La grande bellezza. (“The Great Beauty”, film, 2013). Brilliant homage to Fellini in post-Berlusconi Rome. The original is Federico Fellini’s 1972 film Roma.
  • La meglio gioventù. (“The Best of Youth”, film, 2003). Can be melodramatic but great introduction to modern Italy. See also 1992, Italy’s version of House of Cards (recently screened by SBS).
  • McCloud, Kevin, The Grand Tour (documentary, 2010). Funny, easy to watch, comprehensive.
  • Pane e tulipani (film, 2000). Charming and fun – how life can improve when you’re left behind on a group tour.
  • Paoletti, John T. and Gary Radke. Art in Renaissance Italy. Harry Abrams, various editions. Comprehensive introduction to the topic.
  • Parks, Tim. Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo. Norton, 2014. Park’s most recent collection.
  • Sterne, Lawrence. A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (electronic versions available online). A spoof response to Tobias Smollett’s Grand Tour account, Travels through France and Italy (also available online).
  • Wharton, Edith. Italian Backgrounds (free electronic publications available online). Classic Grand Tour account.


  • Naples: From ancient Greece and Rome, to Naples' undiscovered art treasures. Caravaggio on the run and the best museums you’ve never heard of.
  • Florence: Beyond the Uffizi and Michelangelo’s David. How to avoid the queues and where to see the masterworks on your own. Spotlight on the Renaissance.
  • Rome, Eternal City: Rise and fall of the empire, and unexpected Roman masterpieces. Gardens of popes and cardinals, patrician villas and palaces. The palimpsest, or where to appreciate Rome’s many historical layers all at once.
  • Venice, la Serenissima: Why Venice was different, and how to see a different Venice. The stories of Venetian painting, the drama of the Baroque and the rise of modern art festivals.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Recognise the key historical moments of Naples, Rome, Florence and Venice.
  2. Identify major artistic trends in pre-modern Italy.
  3. Analyse and appreciate Italian artworks and objects, 1400-1800.
  4. Discuss the continuing impact of Italian art and history on the Western imagination.