Today we are taking a close look at a charming souvenir made in Italy during the Grand Tour. Beginning in the 18th century, the Grand Tour was the traditional trip taken by young, wealthy English men across Europe, and particularly in France and Italy. The trip was seen as a culmination of years of education and a preparation for a cultured life in society full of history, antiquity, and philosophy.
Learning the history of art and architecture in ancient Greece and Rome was central to the Grand Tour. Throughout the trip, the travellers would collect various souvenirs as mementos of the trip as well as a way to show off to their contemporaries back in England. Drawings of architectural ruins, specimens of marble, and copies of antique sculptures were all popular items to collect.
This micro mosaic paperweight is a charming example of a Grand Tour souvenir and features a depiction of the Lion of St Mark, the symbol of the city of Venice. This winged lion holds the Gospel of St Mark with the inscription ‘Pax tibi Marce, evangelista meus. His requiescet corpus tuum.’ This translates to ‘May Peace be with you, Mark, my evangelist. Here your body will rest.’
The tradition goes that St Mark was travelling through Europe and arrived upon a lagoon in Venice and an angel said these words to him. St Mark’s remains are interred at the Basilica of St Mark in Venice. Shown above is the Lion of Venice, an ancient bronze winged sculpture in the Piazza San Marco. This figure served as the source for the association of St Mark with the winged lion and its connection to Venice.