Creative Collecting

By the late eighteenth century if a young British gentleman’s formal education was to be judged complete, a tour of continental Europe was necessary. Mostly this would entail the visitation of important major cities offering much to do and see, like Paris, Venice and Rome, but jaunts down less well traveled paths could also be undertaken in order to make the experience as full as one was willing to undertake.

Wealthy adults with leisure time to do so also traveled extensively to take in the arts, architecture or ‘sites’ to be found elsewhere. Sometimes these perambulations would continue for several years. Visits to locations steeped in the history of great and successful civilizations, including Greece and Rome, often laid the groundwork for a desire to collect antiquities. Remembrance of rough landscapes and cityscapes with the ruins of earlier glory close by came home with travelers, too. Landowners carried visual souvenirs in their minds eye until eventually these memories were manifested on their estates in the form of romanticized gardens. Elaborate landscaping to essentially create artificial scenery often exhibited picturesque vistas, pools, grottoes and classical statuary. Architectural effects were added in the form of pavilions shaped to look like Greek or Roman temples, and imaginary ‘ruins’ were sometimes installed to complete the romanticized effect.

Creative anachronism in the gardens of the landed gentry helped to increase curiosities about the ancient world and its pantheon of gods. This collective need to seek and know historical truths, as opposed to merely treasure hunting for the purpose of collecting ancient artifacts, lead directly to the creation of a professional field of study, the science of Archeology. Each generation decides what to collect, study and venerate. The historical perspective is ever changing, presenting to all that come after a trace portrait of those who were before. Like Janus, the dual faced mythological god of gates and doorways, beginnings, and endings, humanity simultaneously looks into its past with one noble face, and into its future with another.


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