Saturday, 10 December 2011

Sir Gregory Page-Turner

I thought I'd start off with someone who isn't quite popular culture, but there we go.

Sir Gregory Page-Turner, or Greg, to his friends (presumably). The wiki article says that the "Page" was added later. Clearly he had the foresight to not want to be associated with a certain Pirates of the Carribean character.  Here's a picture of him:

This is, from a historian's point of view, quite possibly the best picture of anyone ever*. It was painted c.1768, so Greg was ninteen or twentyish, and like all the best young people, he was taking a gap year.

The Grand Tour
 The Grand Tour was a kind of "rite of passage" for young men from wealthy families. They would pack up, say a tearful goodbye to mater and pater, and swan off around Europe for two to four years. It was, supposedly, a chance for them to engage with high culture: the Rennaissance, and Classical Antiquity (that's ancient Greece and Rome to you and me). They would go around art galleries, museums, visit ruins and famous cities. They would also learn dancing, French, and probably a good deal about seducing local girls.

Sometimes, they would have their portraits painted, and the artist behind the above masterpiece was one such Grand Tourist Painter: Pompeo Batoni.

Pompeo Batoni
There are records of over 200 portraits of Brits by Batoni during his life. His work was considered in the finest of taste by the British elite, and he was greatly in demand. Italian artists also thought he was pretty fantastic. In 1760, Benjamin West complained that Italian artists "talked of nothing, looked at nothing but the works of Pompeo Batoni"

His Grand Tour portraits were rather formulaic, and this is a fantastic example of just how a Grand Tourist wanted to be portrayed, no matter how tacky or clich├ęd.

Let's take another look at him:

 As you can see, he's now sporting some rather fetching bright red arrows. Starting at the top, they refer to
  • A bust of Athena, Greek goddess of Wisdom (and War)
  • The view of the ruins of the Colosseum
  • Greg's pose, particularly this hand
  • Some books, of either history or poetry
  • and a map of the ruins of ancient Rome.
These props are not a mistake. They reflect a carefully constructed persona. All of these things reference the classical world, as a way of making him seem manly, noble, intelligent and well-educated.
Gregory Page-Turner, then, was nothing more than a poser, who wanted to look like an ancient Roman.

Yup, the tradition of toga parties and Roman soldier themed stag parties has a long and illustrious history, starting with this ridiculous man and his posh cronies.

History, do you stand any chance at all?

*Disclaimer: not really.


  1. Looks rather male to be Athena... oh wait, i forgot, it is Greek.

  2. That particular bust is in quite a few of Batoni's paintings. She does look quite masculine, but then she is a warrior godess. Having said that, she must have been quite pretty because there's a story about one of Athens' tyrants (Peisistratos, I think) who gets re-instated by having a pretty girl dressed as Athena and riding back into the city in a chariot with her. This, of course, meant that he had her approval, so he could be put back as tyrant over Athens.