Posted: 07/30/2009


Brian Sewell’s Grand Tour of Italy

by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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Brian Sewell’s Grand Tour of Italy takes an extensive look at all the fantastic, breathtaking and historic sites of Italy, and it’s narrated by none other than famed British art critic and London Evening Standard columnist Brian Sewell.
Sewell travels through some of Italy’s greatest sights, including Rome, Turin, Naples, Pompeii, Venice and Milan.

These travels, however, are some of the same ones that he experienced 50 years ago. In the DVD from Athena to be released August 4, Sewell takes exciting journeys that he imagined “well-bred English gentlemen would undertake in a Grand Tour of the Continent for refinement, as well as for drinking, gambling and sexual adventures, before assuming their place in society.”

“Eighteen-year-old boys lost their virginity to 40-year-old women,” Sewell says while sharing beautiful scenes throughout Italy.

In Turin, the streets were wide, so wide I suppose that men could travel very freely during the 18th century, as they contracted various sexually transmitted diseases from women, Sewell added. At Turin, Sewell says, “it’s so cold that I can neither taste nor smell,” after being caught in the snow at the bottom of Mount Cenis Pass.

In Rome, Sewell talks about the population being one quarter priests, beggars, prostitutes and aristocrats, where the economy is dependent on the export of art.
The piazzas and fountains in Rome serve as town squares or meeting places for people throughout the day, and Sewell shows the bustling activity that keeps the town vibrant.

At the Vatican, Sewell describes the high Mass as being one of the highpoints of the tour. At St. Peter’s Basilica, Sewell seems to reminisce while looking engagingly around at the people, noting that with the nice Italian marble floors, it might have been a better dance hall.
Other sites include a private operatic performance and a visit to the royal sculpture collection, a tour of the harbor and slopes of Vesuvius in Naples, while Sewell notes that New Pompeii seems to have recovered from “the decadence of the old, once-buried city.”

Sewell’s travels to Rimini, Ferrara and Mantua uncovers Rimini’s Tempio Malatestiano, and he also learns all about the olive oil’s degrees of virginity and admires Palazzo del Te, which is “unapologetically dedicted to pleasures of the flesh.”
Quite a distinguished gentleman, Sewell explores the art and architecture, manners and mores that shaped European civilization.

Brian Sewell’s Grand Tour of Italy brings the dazzling cathedrals, palazzos, paintings and sculptures to your home, while also giving insight into the travels and travails of tourists past.
The DVD also includes such bonus features as a 20-page viewer’s guide, with ideas for further learning instruction, side trips, biographies of Sewell and the Grand Tour artists, and many extras.
Look for this great four-DVD set Tuesday, August 4, from Athena. For more information, visit Web site

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is a writer, editor and film critic in Chicago.

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