Madonna and Child with Two Angels - Fra Filippo Lippi


Three hundred years ago, wealthy young Englishmen began taking a post-Oxbridge trek through France and Italy in search of art, culture and the roots of Western civilization. With nearly unlimited funds, aristocratic connections and months (or years) to roam, they commissioned paintings, perfected their language skills and mingled with the upper crust of the continent.
— Matt Gross, Lessons from the Frugal Grand Tour

Three hundred years later, in the galleries of London and Paris, I stood, pencil to paper, in a world of my own. My grand tour may not have been so grand, nor so entwined with the upper crust, nor was it undertaken after my studies (in fact, it was just before my first year at university). Yet, it was a time of growth, of stretching my limits, and of great learning. 

I learnt of the line of Botticelli's painted hands, and of the round cheeks of Raphael's models. I learnt of a time far from my own. Of monks in cells with bare white plaster walls, adorned with only a painting of the Crucifixion; and of the scraping of hides for use in a book of illuminated scripts - so delicate, intertwining, and colourful that a whole day could be spent gazing at their curlicues. I learnt of light and air, and of Monet's garden in all the seasons of the year. 

These are some of the remnants of my Grand Tour: sketches of that time in my life, when I stood in front of those paintings, breathing the very air that had touched them and gazing at the brushstrokes. A thin veil connected me, then, to the brush and the hand that painted those strokes. 

Saint Catherine - Raphael

Portrait of an Unknown Woman - Leonardo da Vinci

Nymphéas - Claude Monet

Mars and Venus - Botticelli