So we went to Villa Carlotta, a villa on the shore of Lake Como that was once a famous stop on the Grand Tour because of its collection of sculptures, engravings, cameos and so on. It also has botanical gardens if you like that kind of thing, which to be honest I don’t very much. Not that they’re not beautiful, but they just don’t fascinate me for more than the ten minutes or so we spent strolling around the grounds. The official tour can take up to 90, it seems.
But what of the house itself? Well, it’s definitely full of stuff. It’s got:
It was fascinating, not because it made me think what life was like for the people who lived there — indeed, there was very little about their actual lives, something I don’t think you’d see in a similar British or American historical building — but because it made me think about the process of the grand tour. Indeed, visiting the place seems to me to have a lot of the Grand Tour still about it, a feeling that I can’t quite put my finger on. Call it …
… call it the aesthetic experience of being educated. The thing that makes you walk out of a stately home, museum or historical site with a little feeling of satisfaction, that sense of “well, that was educational!” This has to combine with some kind of aesthetic appreciation, or it doesn’t work — you look at some paintings, you look at some furniture, you learn a fact or two about Napoleon, and you gaze out across the sparkling water at the villas on the far shore. It’s lovely, and it produces a tremendous sense of satisfaction that a more explicitly educational experience wouldn’t.
I’m not criticising that, by the way; obviously I enjoy adding trivia to my storehouse and obviously I enjoy feeling like I’m learning something. But it’s interesting to see a place that focused so solely on that. Of course, in the Grand Tour, the tourist himself or his tutor would be expected to provide the context that made it all make sense.
Again, I’m not knocking education-as-entertainment. That’s basically my career goal, after all. It was just interesting.