Etna has always been a real ‘magnet’ for travellers even in the past. Numerous, over the centuries, have been the writers and artists who have made Etna the protagonist of their works.
Specifically, today we are talking about Jean-Pierre Houёl, eclectic French artist, architect, painter and engraver. He was one of the most important faces of the famous Grand Tour. He lived in Sicily from 1776 to 1779, depicting in great detail the Sicilian landscape and, of course, Mount Etna. Many of his countless precious works depicting our island are now at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
But how did they get there? Thanks to a meeting in Paris in 1781 with Friedrich Melchior von Grimm, a German baron and writer and emissary of Ekaterina II of Russia.
It was Grimm himself who informed Ekaterina II of Houёl’s works. In a letter addressed to the most powerful woman in Russia, Grimm wrote about the French artist: “he spent four years in Sicily, depicting this renowned and enchanting island in its entirety”. So it was that Ekaterina II decided to acquire these works to decorate the newly built Winter Palace.
How did the French artist reach the summit of Mount Etna? Surely everything is easier today. With our excursions, you can reach the roof of Europe and return to your hotel in the same day. In the past, it was much more difficult, since you had to travel on horseback and the expedition lasted several days. Staying several days on Etna can be complicated because of the ever-changing weather conditions. In addition, it became difficult to move around with canvases, easels and palettes. Houёl, once he reached the base of the summit craters, had quite a few difficulties, as we can see from his memoirs: “the always violent wind hindered me a lot, so Don Luigi and my servant stood at my side trying to give me shelter”.
And again, he added: “I think I have never done anything more tiring”. However, and those who have visited Etna with us know this, it’s worth it. We recognise ourselves in the words of Houёl, who, having reached the summit, wrote: “our eyes could barely embrace this unique spectacle, we let ourselves be carried away by the joy and were afraid to even breathe so as not to miss any of the spectacle”.
In short, times change, people change, ways of experiencing Etna change, but the emotions that our volcano arouses will always remain the same!
If you too, like Houёl and many other people, are thinking of experiencing these emotions on Etna, contact us. We will be happy to share our love for this volcano with you too!