Maps and the Italian Grand Tour: Meanings, Mobilities and Materialities in George III’s Topographical Collection, 1540-1789

Jeremy Brown

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis is concerned with the use of maps by British grand tourists to Italy during the early modern period. Primarily, it studies the cartographic material contained within the British Library’s King George III’s Topographical Collection, formerly part of his private reference library (before it was donated to the British Museum). The usefulness of maps for Grand Tour journeys has frequently been assumed in historical narratives but discussion is generally cursory, instead favouring the important literary productions or artistic collections that resulted from touring. This thesis applies concepts developed in the history of cartography, the history of the book and visual and material culture studies in order to explore travellers’ interactions with maps of Italy. Divided into four thematic chapters that deal in turn with the topics of education, topography, travel and return, the thesis examines when and how maps were deployed by British travellers on the Italian Grand Tour.

Having introduced the aims, objectives and key themes of the thesis, Chapter 1 locates the Grand Tour in the history and historiography of travel, whilst also dealing with the growth of map collecting in the early modern period. In Chapter 2, I review theoretical understandings of the nature of maps, showing how these have underpinned my research framework, but have also been complemented by methodological exchanges with visual and material culture studies. Chapter 3 explores the theme of education: how and what did British travellers learn about Italy through maps. It centres on a case study that describes and analyses annotated maps that were seemingly used for geography homework, most likely assigned to King George III when he was Prince of Wales. Interactions between myth and geography in the production of maps of Calabria are the focus of Chapter 4; the imaginations of both the mapmaker and the map user are shown to be significant to the complex and changing genre of topography in the early modern period. In Chapter 5, I address maps that were more specifically designed for wayfinding. After surveying the history of written itineraries and the display of roads and post houses on maps of Italy, I concentrate on the sudden growth and pirating of printed strip-map atlases of Italy in the 1770s. Questions about the role of maps in self-fashioning after return from a Grand Tour are considered in Chapter 6, which analyses the role of maps in Grand Tour portraits by the eighteenth-century Italian artist Pompeo Batoni.

The narrative provided by this thesis has a twofold ambition: to highlight the King’s Topographical Collection as a rich and broadly overlooked archival resource and to redress some of the balance that has been weighted against maps as an aspect of study in the context of the Grand Tour. Blurring the boundaries between map history, art history and cultural geography (among other humanistic disciplines), the thesis combines recent theoretical developments concerning the processual nature of maps with an appreciation for maps as physical objects, as well as visual artefacts and cultural representations of space. This leads to an analysis that details the numerous and creative ways in which maps were not only put to work by but also influenced British travellers, demonstrating that maps were a vital presence in the material culture of the Grand Tour.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Della Dora, Veronica, Supervisor
  • Barber, Peter, Supervisor, External person
  • Harper, Tom, Advisor, External person
  • Driver, Felix, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Apr 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 2020


  • Early modern Italy
  • Italian maps
  • Grand tour
  • History of travel
  • Map use
  • British tourists
  • King's Topographical Collection
  • George III

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