Art in Context | Servants and the Eighteenth-Century Grand Tour

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About this program

Servants are an unknown quantity at the heart of the Grand Tour, one of the most elite topics in eighteenth-century historiography. If each noble or genteel traveler brought at least one employee, then more people knew this kind of travel as a period of work than as a rite of passage or an early form of tourism.

In this talk, Richard Ansell will introduce this hidden majority through four texts that appear in his forthcoming volume, Servants Abroad: Travel Journals by British Working People. These are Thomas Addison’s journal for France and Italy (1765), Edmund Dewes’s diary for France, the Low Countries, Germany, and Italy (1776), James Thoburn’s accounts of several travels to the same destinations and the Ottoman Empire (1787–98), and Ann Scafe’s Parisian journal (1790). Their journals not only contribute to current efforts to look beyond the aristocratic Grand Tour in accounts of eighteenth-century travel, but also constitute important evidence of mobility and life-writing by contemporary working people.

Ansell will set these texts alongside the archives of their employers, exploring servants’ work, their relationships with masters and other domestics, their agency over their own mobility, their specialization over repeated journeys, and their engagement with the cultural objectives of travel. By examining the provenance and materiality of the journals, alongside Scafe’s scrapbook (at the Lewis Walpole Library) and documentation relating to Addison and Thoburn, he will explore what foreign experiences meant to these men and women in later life.

About Richard Ansell

Richard Ansell is a research associate at the University of Leicester, interested in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century travel. He is the author of Complete Gentlemen: Educational Travel and Family Strategy, 1650–1750 (2022) and has published journal articles and book chapters on travel and its relationship with wider social and cultural history. He is now working on two projects: one on British travel to Spain and Portugal, 1750–1830, and another recovering the experiences of eighteenth-century traveling servants.


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Art in Context

Presented by faculty, staff, Student Guides, and Visiting Scholars, these talks focus on a particular work of art—often in the museum’s collections or special exhibitions—through an in-depth look at its style, subject matter, technique, or time period.

Top image
James Bretherton, printmaker, and Henry William Bunbury, artist, A Tour to Foreign Parts (detail), 1799, Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University