Archive

18th century

Image

Bishopsgate was anciently divided into Bishopsgate Street Within (i.e. within the walls of London) and Bishopsgate Street Without, and derives its name from an ancient gate in the city walls which is attributed to Erkenwald, elected Bishop of London in 675. Throughout its history this street in Camden has been one of the City’s main commercial centres. A specific nineteenth century addition to the history of city- and streetscapes is the dimension of industrial and commercial activity. This, the age in which religion was replaced by economics, opened up an urban imagery of ports, docks, industrial sites, smoke stacks, factories and shop fronts in painting, poetry and fiction.

Image

Walter Riddle may not be a household name in the annals of English painting, but the Guildhall Art Gallery holds a few interesting canvases by him. One of these paintings, created in 1872, is entitled ‘Bishopsgate in 1871’. The image shows a busy commercial street with in the centre the warehouse of Moore & Moore, pianoforte manufacturers. The firm started production in London in 1837 and was taken over by the Kemble group in 1933. Whatever the quality of their pianos may have been, the firm was part of a lively history of making musical instruments in the capital.

Image

Having arrived from Switzerland in 1718 as a simple journeyman joiner, Burkat Shudi set up his own workshop as a harpsichord maker in 1728. It was the foundation of the famous business now known as John Broadwood & Sons. Some time in the 1720s Burkat Shudi became apprenticed to Hermann Tabel, a Fleming who had learned the art of harpsichord making in the famous Antwerp house of the Ruckers dynasty of instrument makers. He was the first person who built harpsichords in London where he resided between 1680 and 1720. Little is known about Tabel, but a harpsichord made by him is in the possession of Helena, Countess of Radnor, and bears the inscription ‘Hermannus Tabel fecit Londini, 1721’. Another London pupil of Tabel was the German immigrant Jacob Kirkman, who set up a rival workshop producing harpsichords of equal quality to those of Shudi. Later, both Broadwood and Kirkman became leading manufacturers of pianos (between 1771 and 1851 no fewer than 103,750 pianos were produced by Broadwood, one of the main London employers at the time).

Image
The piano was first demonstrated in London by the multi-talented Charles Dibdin (composer, singer, actor, novelist), who is most famous for his sea songs. Between the acts of a performance of The Beggar’s Opera at Covent Garden, on 16 May 1767, he accompanied Miss Bricklet on the ‘new pianoforte’. Dibden lived in Arlington Road, Camden Town, and it was there that the piano industry blossomed. Camden was a suitable centre for its manufacture. Transport conditions by water and rail were ideal. By the middle of the century, London had over two hundred piano making firms, three quarters of them north of the river. Some firms made instruments on a mass production system, as Collard & Collard (originally established as Longman & Broderip in 1767) did in their famous circular factory in Oval Road. Others were merely small assembly shops. Besides manufacturers there were part makers, such as piano key makers; wrench pin makers; hammer coverers; truss carvers; gilders; marquetry workers; veneer, timber and ivory suppliers; makers of piano castors; piano stool makers, piano-back makers; piano tuners and others. All these professionals found a living in and around Bishopsgate.

Image

The London Tavern was once situated at the western side of Bishopsgate Street. The house was destroyed during a terrifying blaze that took place on 7 November 1765. The fire broke out at a peruque-maker’s shop opposite. The flames were carried by a high wind across the street to the property immediately adjoining the tavern, quickly spreading to other streets. Fifty houses and buildings were destroyed or damaged. The new London Tavern was designed by architect Richard Jupp and re-opened in September 1768. The size of the place was phenomenal. The dining room, known as the ‘Pillar Room’ for its Corinthian columns, was decorated with medallions and garlands. At the top of the building there was a ballroom that extended over the full length of the structure which, if laid out as a banqueting area, offered room to hundreds of people. The walls were covered with paintings. The cellars occupied the whole basement of the building. They were filled with barrels of porter, pipes of port, and butts of sherry. At any time some 1,200 bottles of champagne were kept in store, in addition to six or seven hundred bottles of claret and ‘floods’ of other wines. The original purpose of the tavern was not so much to create a venue for feasting, but to offer space for public meetings.

Image

In 1817, Robert Owen was determined to publicize his conversion from philanthropic cotton prince to socialist campaigner. He spent much of his time in London organizing public meetings. On 14 August he made his most notable address before an audience of hundreds of politicians, intellectuals, and followers at the London Tavern. The new religion of terrestrial paradise was promised in the tavern. In 1848, the London Chest Hospital was founded here at a meeting held by a group of nineteen City merchants and philanthropic bankers (which at the time was not a contradiction in terms), thirteen of whom were Quakers. Tuberculosis or consumption was then the major endemic killing disease, accounting for twenty per cent of all fatal illnesses. Charles Dickens presided here at the 1851 annual dinner for the General Theatrical Fund. Especially during the spring season meetings were numerous and these often concluded with a sumptuous dinner and entertainment. The London Tavern employed an army of sixty to seventy servants at any time. The majority of City companies held there banquets there; there were la large number of annual balls; Masonic Lodges met in the London Tavern, etc. Business was booming.

Image

The London Tavern holds a niche in the history of English late eighteenth century music. Dublin-born John Field was the eldest son of violinist Robert Field. He studied first with his father and his grandfather, John Field, a church organist. In 1793, the family moved to London where John Field entered an apprenticeship for seven years with Muzio Clementi, the Italian composer, pianist, and publisher who had settled in the capital. John’s first public appearance in England took place at the London Tavern on 12 December 1793, when he played a ‘Lesson on the new Grand Piano Forte’ at a benefit concert under the patronage of the Prince of Wales. In return for his instruction, Field had to work as a salesman-demonstrator in Clementi’s piano warehouse (the latter had created a successful association with the Collard family under the name of Clementi & Company; Munzio retired in 1815 after which the firm was called Collard & Collard). Field’s early talent as a composer was put to use by his Clementi who published several of young John’s piano pieces anonymously. Field’s professional career as a composer was launched on 7 February 1799 with the performance of his Piano Concerto No. 1 at the King’s Theatre. His apprenticeship expired shortly thereafter, and for the next two years he was in great demand as a concert pianist. Field’s Opus 1 Piano Sonatas was published in 1801. It was dedicated to Clementi. Field’s creation of the ‘Nocturne’ as a genre is his substantial contribution to music. Having experimented with titles such as Pastorale, Serenade, and Romance, he settled on the name when Nocturne No. 1 was published in 1812. In conception and style, Field anticipated Chopin by nearly two decades. Liszt, Mendelssohn, and other composers were influenced by the Nocturnes. These pieces strengthened the Romantic belief that music is the language of emotion that begins where words fail. They were the first ‘songs without words’. Celestial music for piano found its first expression in the London Tavern.

Image
A successful undertaking as the London Tavern depended heavily on master chefs and cooks. And management hired the best. John Farley is a figure about whom little is known apart from his best-selling book, The London Art of Cookery published in 1783 (it went into twelve editions by 1811). His claim to fame rests on this book, although ninety per cent of the text was compiled – ‘stolen’ – from two culinary best-sellers of the eighteenth century, Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747) and Elizabeth Raffald’s The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769). In 1792 Farley was listed as being cook at the London Tavern.

Image

What about the food at the famous tavern? The house was above all appreciated for its turtle soup. There were a number of London outlets where turtles were presented as a speciality. Of specific interest in this context is the Ship and Turtle tavern in Leadenhall Street. It has been claimed that the house dated back to 1377. The tavern was the meeting place of numerous Masonic lodges and a sought-after venue for corporation and companies’ livery dinners. Inevitably, management prided itself upon the quality of its turtle soup. Another house was the Queens Arms Tavern at St Paul’s Churchyard which was popular with City politicians and booksellers. Great numbers of turtles of differing sizes were being dressed at the tavern. In 1787, the New, Complete and Universal Body, or System, of Natural History describes three turtles being prepared at the tavern, ‘two of which together did not weigh three ounces, and the other exceeded nine hundred pounds in weight’. The London Tavern however enjoyed a supreme reputation when it came to turtles.

Image
For a long time turtle had been considered synonymous with filth. The word ‘tortoise’ (tartarus) means ‘resident of hell’. Turtle was not considered fit for food. The shell however was used for medicinal purposes and promoted as an aphrodisiac. At sea it was a different matter altogether. During the seventeenth century, the edibility of the giant sea turtle had been exploited by mariners and whalers. Turtles were stored on deck and would remain alive for up to a year without feeding, thus providing fresh meat for long voyages. During the nineteenth century however turtle meat developed into a delicacy wreaking havoc on the species from which it has never fully recovered. Soup was made from the green cartilage that lines the shell of the turtle. These reptiles were kept in massive tanks, which occupied a whole vault. Gastronomical wisdom at the time dictated that turtles will live well in cellars for three months as long as they were kept in the same water in which they had been transported. Changing the water would lessen the weight of the turtle and affect is flavour. An estimated 15,000 turtles were imported to London yearly. When, as a consequence, the turtle became rarer as a species, soup prices shot up dramatically to a level of imported luxuries like truffles or caviar today.

Image
Mock turtle soup was introduced by the early 1800s. This was a consommé with a calf’s head and maybe a calf’s foot, hooves or tail, and root vegetables like turnips and carrots. The non-muscular meat was used to imitate that of the turtle. This is why the John Tenniel’s illustration of ‘Alice with the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon’ in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is depicted as a collection of creatures that make up the ingredients of mock turtle soup. The illustration shows the Mock Turtle with the body of a turtle, and the head, hooves, and tail of a calf. ’Turtle Soup’, as sung by the Mock Turtle in the story, makes it clear that special pots were created for this soup:

Beautiful soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!

A turtle soup tureen could hold up to six litres of soup in its body. Interestingly, ‘Mockturtlesuppe’ is a traditional meal in Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen). In 1714 the House of Hanover had succeeded the House of Stuart as monarchs of Great Britain and Ireland. Up to 1837 the Kingdom of Hanover and Britain were joined in a personal union, thus sharing the same person as their respective head of state. The union was ended when different succession laws resulted in Queen Victoria ascending the British throne and her uncle Ernest Augustus that of Hanover. During that period of close contact both the recipe and the name for the dish were transported from England to the northern part of Germany. Did mock turtle soup enhance the mutual understanding of the two nations? It certainly is a challenging question for socio-political researchers to answer. History is a lady with a wicked sense of humour.

Image

Image

The architectural splendour of cities such as Liverpool in Britain or Middelburg in the Netherlands bears witness to the financial rewards of the slave trade, the largest forced migration in global history. The main slaving nations were European powers with coasts on the Atlantic Ocean or North Sea. They were the dominant colonial states of the early modern period: Spain, Portugal, England, France, and the Netherlands.

Image

However, the organisation of the slave trade was concentrated in relatively few places. In the two decades preceding abolition, Liverpool was responsible for 75% of all slaving voyages across Europe. In France, Nantes sent 45% of all the ships in the slave trade. In Spain, initially Seville and later Cadiz were central to slaving initiatives. In Holland, after the monopoly of the West Indies Company was lifted, the ports of Flushing and Middleburg accounted for 78% of all Dutch voyages. Most of those harbour cities had earlier trading links with the Americas before they became involved in slaving. The specialist slave trade necessitated a comprehensive infrastructure in which shipbuilders, ship-owners and suppliers were all involved. The lucrative voyages were generally financed on credit by consortia of several merchants. The entire mercantile community was involved and the whole region profited from it. There are similarities between the ports.

Image

Slaving merchants built impressive town houses and apartments. Liverpool’s Town Hall is known for its frieze including African heads, elephants and crocodiles. Similar decorations are found on buildings in Nantes and Bordeaux. Street names reflect not only the names of slave traders such as Earle, Tarleton, or Cunliffe in Liverpool, but also in names like Goree (the slave island off Dakar which name is derived from the Dutch Goeree at the time when it was ruled by the Netherlands from 1588 to 1664) and Jamaica Street, and in Bristol again Jamaica Street, Guinea Street and Black Boy Hill.

Image

Although the nature of the trade was triangular and Africans were transported to the Americas where their labour was needed, some people of African descent were brought back to Europe. All slave ports had black populations to varying degrees. Lisbon is estimated to have had 10,000 black slaves in 1620. In England, the largest black population was found in London, probably numbering between 5,000 and 15,000 at the end of the eighteenth century. Bristol has its famous tombstone to Scipio Africanus in Henbury churchyard. Nantes, too, had a significant black population. At the beginning of the Revolution the city was able to raise a black battalion known as ‘les hussards de Saint-Domingue’.

Image

The Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery holds a painting dating from around 1785 which is called ‘Broad Quay, Bristol’. The work is attributed to Dutch immigrant Philip Vandyke who had settled in the city and classified as an example of ‘naïve’ art. The label is supposed to imply such qualities as naturalness, innocence and ‘artlessness’. This is a misnomer. The unfortunate term also carries with it associations of the primitive, the amateur, and the non-academic (i.e. lacking formal education). This is a value statement, underlining the inadequacies of our critical jargon. There is no such species as naïve art. Art history, more than any other academic discipline, suffers from the snobbery of its subject and the pomposity of its practitioners. There is probably more waffle in art criticism than there is in psychoanalysis (and that takes some doing).

Image

The study of European art has been suffocated by its long classical legacy and the overwhelming riches of its heritage. Ever since the Grand Tour, which was an education at best and an expression of sophisticated boredom at worst, fine art has become the realm of aristocrats and scholars who have thrown up barriers of taste that persist to this day. However, when it comes to the genre of town- and streetscape, ‘naïve’ painting has made a substantial contribution to its development, influencing artists such as John Atkinson Grimshaw and culminating in the work of L.S. Lowry. They continued a tradition that preceded the cult of individuality and originality that dates back to Romanticism. The ‘naïve’ artist used whatever was available to him, freely lifting details or compositional aspects from various sources, either painted or printed. Technique and virtuosity always remained subordinate to the subject matter of the picture. In order to supply as many details as possible in his townscape, the artist would be totally unconcerned to distort perspective and optical facts in order to enhance the effect upon the mind’s eye.

Image

We have inherited our critical jargon largely from the nineteenth century. In Britain, John Ruskin was the pre-eminent art critic of his time. He provided the impetus that gained respectability for the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1870, he was appointed the first Slade Professor of Art at Oxford and then, removing to the Lake District, he helped to start the Environmental Movement out of concern for the deformation of the landscape caused by the cancerous expansion of industry. Ruskin’s linking of art and social reform struck a chord at the time. The tension between two interpretations of art persisted throughout his day. On the one hand there is the theory that claims that creative activity is an end in itself. Art should be independent of all claptrap (in the words of Ruskin’s great opponent James McNeill Whistler); it should stand alone, and appeal to the artistic sense of eye and ear, without confounding this with such emotions as devotion, pity or patriotism. This stance is opposed by those who regard the creative act as a means, a vehicle for carrying a religious conviction, a social program, or a moral message.

Image

Art serves society. Ruskin’s belief in the power of art to mitigate the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution led him inexorably into the political arena. The ambition to link aesthetics to public commitment was based on the presumption that a just social order would inspire new depths of artistic expression, and that a flourishing of creativity in turn would deepen the desire for a more ‘beautiful’ society. In this clash of ideas between grand aesthetic ambitions there was no place for the practitioner of naïve art. His work was side-lined, hidden in the dusty attic of amateurism, banned from the glossy magazines of artistic fineries. As an artist, he was doomed to remain an outsider. And yet, there is plenty of aesthetic pleasure and factual information to be gained from the contemplation of such works of art. What these paintings may lack in composition, they gain in observation. There is delight in detail, love for signs and lettering, a keen eye for human enterprise and activity. Many of the urban images are snapshots of the here and now. They do not pay tribute to some grand aesthetic theory or academically defined ideal of beauty. The education of such artists differed fundamentally from what was taught at the academies.

Image

Harp Alley, Shoe Lane, formerly called Harper Alley, was for many years the centre for sign painting and sign-irons (the carved grapes or gilded sugar-loaves that served as pendants). Hogarth loved to visit the sign painting shops in Harp Alley for the purpose of introducing some of their original and unorthodox subjects into his pictures. Sign and coach painting offered aspiring artists an effective training and education in their art and craft. The importance of being educated in the vernacular language of art is exemplified in the careers of a number of academic artists. Royal academician Charles Carton was in early life a coach and sign painter and Robert Smirke, also a member of the Royal Academy of Arts, served his time under a herald painter of the name of Bromley. John Baker, another Royal academician, was well known for decorating coach panels with borders and wreaths of flowers.

Image

George Morland also painted signs. He is credited with sign for the Goat in Boots, an alehouse on the Fulham Road; one for the White Lion at Paddington; and for the sign of the Cricketers near Chelsea Bridge. For Morland painting signs was a way of settling his outstanding bills. In one instance he charged a fee of ‘unlimited gin’. In contrast to this sort of empirical training, art academies focused on correct ways of drawing and on theoretical issues of aesthetics.

Image

Until the Industrial Revolution urban skylines were punctuated by their churches in towns and by their cathedrals in cities. Vandyke’s view shows the town centre of Bristol with the towers of St Mark’s on the left and those of St Michael’s in the distance. Ships were once able to sail right into the heart of the city on a section of the River Frome (which is now surfaced). The shipping in the river reflects the large amount of trade into and out of the docks. Workers are unloading a ship using the dockside crane, and merchants stand discussing business amongst the workmen and shoppers. The depiction of a sled being used for carrying merchandise was peculiar to Bristol: wheeled vehicles were not allowed in the streets of the old city, because their weight could cause damage to the storage cellars just beneath the roads and pavements.

Sleds ‘to carry all things about’ are already mentioned by Celia Fiennes in the journal notes of her visit to Bristol in 1698. The daughter of a Colonel in Cromwell’s army, she had already been travelling England’s roads for more than a decade before she set off on her ‘Great Journey to Newcastle and Cornwall’. She worked up her notes into a travel memoir which she never published, intending it for family reading only (an issue for feminists to comment upon). Robert Southey published extracts in 1812, and the first complete edition appeared in 1888 under the title Through England on a Side Saddle (a scholarly edition titled The Journeys of Celia Fiennes was produced by Christopher Morris in 1947). Fiennes describes commerce, industry, bustling cities, and emerging fashionable spa towns such as Bath. She showed a lively interest in the ‘productions and manufactures of each place’ she visited. Her curiosity in urban economic activity anticipates the claims with which Daniel Defoe would advertise his travelogue A Tour through the Whole Islands of Great Britain (1724/6). Fiennes was a dispassionate observer, but Defoe turned travel writing into a professional enterprise, a formal survey and accounting of the national stock. His book founded the modern genre of ‘economic tourism’. Breaking with the antiquarian tradition established with the 1586 publication of William Camden’s topographical survey Britannia, Defoe highlighted trade and industry as the foundation of the nation’s wealth. He looks to the future, whilst Camden contemplated the past. Patriotic commitment to progress and reform was a staple of this approach.

Image

The Industrial Revolution forever changed the face of the city. Expansion in trade and manufacture required centralized places of production, distribution, exchange, and credit, as well as a system of communication and transport. All these demands led to a vast increase in urbanization. In 1801 about a fifth of the British population lived in towns and cities of 10,000 or more inhabitants. By the year of Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, the census recorded three-quarters of the population as urban. In the course of a single century a largely rural society had become an urban one. The Industrial Revolution changed every aspect of human lifestyle. The application of coal fundamentally altered social and environmental history. The Industrial Revolution produced more goods for consumption, but in the production process natural resources were ruthlessly exploited, industrial waste polluted both street and soil, and harmful fumes darkened the sky. Factories, warehouses and chimneys blocked out most natural light in cities and towns. Steam was used to power the factory machines and the burning coal produced an ‘ink-sea of vapour, black, thick, and multifarious as Spartan broth’ (Thomas Carlyle). The streets of the industrial cities were covered with greasy dirt. A rise in urban population exacerbated the effects of pollution. Increased consumption in turn led to new levels of waste. City life became unbearable. Industrialized Britain produced a new cityscape, one that was broken by smoking factory chimneys. It took some time for artists to incorporate the grim reality of urban living into their art. It was left to Gustave Doré, a regular visitor to Britain from France, to depict the horror of London’s slums.

Image

Vandyke’s ‘naïve’ view of Bristol, like Fiennes’s travelogue, is an attempt at social documentary. In documenting the development towards urbanization Vandyke and other painters occupied a largely unexplored territory. They had to express new spectacles of city life and urban activity in an idiom without clear precedent. In those days preceding photography, the artist strove for topographical completeness – which is not entirely the same as accuracy – as if creating a document of record. This attempt is illustrated by a telling detail in Vandyke’s painting. From the late 1300s to the mid-eighteenth century, Bristol’s main income was related to seaborne trade, and ship owners were always looking for lucrative new routes and additional business opportunities. By the eighteenth century Bristol was England’s second port, and as a result of growing prosperity a building and investment boom took place in the city. Local merchants lobbied King William III to be allowed to participate in the African trade which was a crown monopoly granted to the Royal African Company. They were given the right to trade in slaves in 1698. From this year to the end of British slave trade in 1807, just over 2,100 Bristol ships set sail on slaving voyages, amounting to around 500,000 Africans who were forced into slavery on the British-owned islands in the Caribbean where they were put to work on the plantations.
Image

Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade peaked between 1730 and 1745 with the city becoming the leading slaving port. Only a few Africans ended up in Bristol while the trade was active, mostly as servants or as crew on board ships. Vandyke’s painting includes a black figure in a frock coat and wig at the quayside which suggests that these black Bristolians were accepted into the local working class community. The fate of black people in London and elsewhere deteriorated after the arrival of a substantial number of slave soldiers who had fought on the side of the British in the American Revolutionary War (Black Loyalists). These former soldiers were deprived of pensions and forced into beggary due to a lack of work and racial discrimination.
Image

The high visibility of deprived black people in London is evidenced by William Hogarth’s 1738 engraving ‘Four Times a Day: Noon’. Hogarth also seems to suggest a degree of ‘integration’ of blacks into the society of white poor. So much so that in 1768 magistrate John Fielding complained that black slaves who had run away from their owners were difficult to recapture since they gained the protection of London’s ‘mob’. In 1786, botanist Henry Smeathman proposed a plan to ‘remove the burthen of the Blacks from the public forever’. The government adopted his Sierra Leone Scheme in which black people were encouraged to sign a ‘repatriation’ agreement. On 9 April 1787 three vessels left London with 350 black passengers on board. During the voyage itself thirty-five of them died, many others succumbed in the grim and hostile surroundings of their ‘new’ home. By 1791, there were only sixty survivors.

Image

Image

Terror as subject-matter is common in both art and literature and has a long history. Art tells its own story of horrors. Francisco Goya and Giovanni Battista Piranesi were the outstanding printmakers of their time. Their images of human brutality still resonate in our violent day and age. As court painter to both Charles III and Charles IV of Spain, Goya achieved considerable fame as a portraitist. In 1819, at the age of seventy-three, he had fallen seriously ill. His doctor Eugenio García Arrieta nursed him back to health. On recovering, the artist presented him with a painting entitled ‘Self-Portrait with Dr Arrieta’, the last of many self-portraits which shows the physician ministering to his patient.

Image

The inscription of thanks at the bottom of the painting gives the canvas the look of an ex-voto (a votive offering to a saint or divinity), a type of religious painting which expresses gratitude for deliverance from a calamity. In a further response to his narrow escape from death, Goya decorated the walls of his villa in the outskirts of Madrid, named the ‘Quinta del Sordo’ (House of the Deaf Man), with fourteen ‘black’ paintings.
Image

These are the most hellish visions he ever created, images of a world consumed by hate. One of those paintings is ‘Saturn Devouring his Son’, depicting the myth of Saturn who, fearing that his children would supplant him, ate each one upon their birth. In the depiction of this scene by Rubens (which Goya would have seen in Madrid), Saturn bends his head over the body, sinks his teeth in the flesh and sucks the spurting blood of his screaming child. Goya’s version shows a bleeding remnant of a body, one of its stumps entering the giant’s gaping mouth. The mouth plays a prominent role in Goya’s art. Mouths guzzle ferociously, living flesh as well as dead. Saturn grips his child in his fists and with his mouth tears him limb from limb.

Image

Piranesi’s work is relevant in this context for a different reason. Trained in Venice as an architect, his work occupies an intriguing place in the development of the cityscape. He studied with leading printmakers of the day and settled permanently in Rome in 1745. He created about 2,000 plates in his lifetime and there are two distinct aspects to his work. First there is the series of etchings of imaginary prisons, and secondly there are his famous views of Rome. His collection of Vedute di Roma (Views of Rome) features 135 perspectives on the ruins of the Eternal City in all its decayed glory. Piranesi captured an imaginary cityscape based on real architectural elements assembled in fantastical ways.

Image

Eighteenth-century European writers and philosophers routinely compared the social order to a prison. During the eighteenth century penal institutions such as London’s Newgate Prison and the Bastille in Paris were imposing structures that developed into powerful symbols of oppression. In England, the Bloody Code referred to a system of laws and punishments that was in use from 1400 to 1850. By the early nineteenth century there were more than 200 offences carrying the death penalty. Crimes that were punishable by execution included stealing anything worth more than five shillings, stealing horses or sheep, right through to arson, treason and murder.

Image

The century also gave rise to the notion of the Panoptikon (or Inspection House). Jeremy Bentham developed the idea of creating a more effective mode of reforming convicts. Prison was to remain a place of detention, but at the same time it had to become a workshop, in which inmates were to be employed in various trades. Part of the system consisted in placing prisoners under constant surveillance. From a room in the centre of the building, wardens could observe all parts of the prison. A reflecting apparatus enabled them to watch the prisoners in their cells at night. The design was invoked by Michel Foucault as metaphor for modern ‘disciplinary’ societies and its pervasive inclination to control and normalize.

Image

Rome’s most famous prison was the underground Carcere Mamertino (Mamertine prison; the medieval name is most likely a reference to a nearby temple of Mars), known in antiquity as Tullanium, located on the northeastern slope of the Capitoline Hill. It consisted of a vast network of dungeons under the city’s main sewer system connected to the surface via a grand entranceway. Corridors and chambers descended downward, and were marked by the symbol of an upside-down cross. These vaults of horror would have been an inspiration to young Piranesi’s wild and macabre imagination.

Image

Piranesi, a stonemason and builder’s son, arrived in Rome in 1740 as part of the entourage of Marco Foscarini, the Venetian ambassador to the new pope, Benedict XIV. He was trained in architecture and stage design, and had acquired knowledge of the techniques of perspective which are essential to both disciplines. As early as 1741 he was producing small Roman views for inclusion in popular guide books and almost immediately he seemed to be searching for a new and more personal mode of urban representation. His career as an architect went nowhere. The lack of commissions was a bitter blow and made him unsure about the direction to take, that of the architect or that of the artist/engraver. The ambivalence can be traced throughout his career.

Image

From 1745 onwards he produced fourteen of his most disturbing prints, the Carceri d’invenzione or ‘Imaginary Prisons’ which show the interior of vast prisons, littered with arches, stairways, pulleys, ropes and various relics of classical antiquity. The spaces of the Carceri, simultaneously vast and claustrophobic, are clearly based on the vaults of antiquity, but the parts have been jumbled: stairs and drawbridges go nowhere, arches pile up to form an inescapable labyrinth. Using his theatrical set experience and knowledge of architecture, these images are well ordered yet menacingly chaotic, realistic and dreamlike. The ultimate inspiration for these works was not dissimilar from Goya’s experience. Supposedly based on a malarial fever-dream, the Carceri suggest a descent into the subconscious, an extraordinarily detailed nightmare. The particulars are drawn from the vocabulary of ancient Rome. The emotional atmosphere speaks to universal anxieties. Ten years later Piranesi radically reworked the same plates and added two new ones.

Image

He made the architectural forms more elaborate, and introduced new sequence of vaults, arches, and stairs that recede indefinitely. The imagery speaks of a grey world of stone and ritual in which the human factor is utterly insignificant. Tiny figures struggle in these huge interiors, including, according to Thomas de Quincey inConfessions of an English Opium Eater Piranesi himself: ‘Creeping along the sides of the walls, you perceived a staircase; and upon it, groping his way upwards, was Piranesi himself: follow the stairs a little further, and you perceive it come to a sudden abrupt termination, without any balustrade, and allowing no step onwards to him’. The immensity of the architecture seems to embody the workings of an evil supernatural power. The machinery of cables and levers suggests awful horrors. Piranesi’s etchings of imaginary prisons held a hypnotic fascination for later Romantic writers such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Edgar Allen Poe (his story ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ is a transcription of the world of Piranesi’s prisons) and artists such as Charles Meryon in his haunting visions of Paris. They had a huge influence on the development of the Gothic novel and the creation of the Gothicscape. Reacting against the Enlightenment idea that society is founded upon rational thought processes, the Romantics injected the drug of dreams and nightmares instead.

Image

Piranesi’s prisons not only recall Rome’s Mamertine, but also medieval ways of physical punishment. Grates, hooks and pulleys suggest a hellish mechanism in which the prisoner is subjected to the various instruments of torture. In literary terms such images date back to medieval vision literature which initially consisted of stories handed down by word of mouth. The stories describe experiences of people who allegedly had been taken to hell. A famous example is the ‘Vision of Tundale’, an Irish knight who had been in a coma for three days from which he returned to urge others to repent. The tale dates from the middle of the twelfth century (over 150 years before Dante’s Inferno) and was written in Latin by a Benedictine monk. His experiences are divided into ten Passus or ’paces’ (a division of parts in medieval narrative) which are a neatly arranged as a catalogue of sins in which every crime has a ‘fitting’ punishment. The worst the sin, the more severe is the pain. Piranesi offers an elaborate and corresponding set of torture instruments in his images. A wheel with spikes around its circumference; a post with more spikes; a kind of chandelier suspended from a beam ringed with meathooks, etc. The act of torture does not take place in these prints, but Piranesi is a master of suggestion. There are just glimpses of the damned, a couple of men digging a grave in the middle of the prison, a person being pulled on a rack, or naked figures chained to posts. While prisoners undergo mysterious torments, luckier souls pass by on parapets or bridges that in the context of the image have no logic or necessity. Piranesi seems less interested in the plight of the prisoners than in an unsettling fantasy of space. His prison is a place without limits, the interiors have no outer walls, and each vista is cut off only by the frame of the image itself. They may not even be interiors because they are integrated into a cityscape where – even if certain settings are recognizable – interior and exterior are no longer definable.

Image

Although these prison scenes were produced in Rome, they belong to a Venetian tradition. The capriccio was developed as an art form in early eighteenth century Venice. Influenced by Italian theatre, the genre grew as a result of the Grand Tour when capricci were offered as an addition or alternative to the townscape. Piranesi built on the work of two other Venetians, on Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s playful Capricci and on the set designs of Ferdinando Galli Bibiena, a master of Baroque scenography and founder of a dynasty of stage designers. In painting, capricci are a playful mixture of architectural and sculptural elements – both real and fictional – in which tombs and urns, pillars and pyramids, are decorated with inscriptions. Locations are rearranged and peopled by mythological beings and symbolic animals. Such scenographic presentation perfectly suited the theatrical character of Rome’s public spaces, but Piranesi’s series of etchings of imaginary prisons remain Venetian in spirit. He could never free himself from his native city’s air of decline. In the haunting visions of a doomed city one recognizes the source of his gloomy inspiration. He produced a cityscape in which Kafka seems to embrace Escher.
Image

The Romans created a vast network of roads across the Empire, initially to move troops to trouble spots, but also for speedy communication and ease of travel. Roman viae were the arteries of the military system. The Via Appia was the ‘queen of long roads’ (‘Appia teritur regina longarum viarum’), stretching across southern Italy and joining Rome with Brindisi at the Adriatic coast. It was named after Appius Claudius Caecus, the Roman censor who completed the first section as a military road to the south in 312 BC during the Samnite War. In one of the frontispieces in the four-volume Le antichità Romane (1756), Piranesi’s vision of the intersection of the Via Appia and the Via Ardeatina is piled high with mausoleums, gravestones, marble busts and body parts, and a stone she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus.
Image

The Via Appia typifies his Roman views that became as much a tourist attraction as the city’s sights themselves. In the early fifteenth century, Flavio Biondo created a guide to the ruins and topography of ancient Rome for which he has been called an early founder of archaeology. However, it was only during the eighteenthth century that the systematic study of the past through its physical remains began to be carried out. The excavations of Pompeï and Herculaneum during the late 1730s and 1740s made an impact throughout Europe. By the time Piranesi arrived in Rome nevertheless, the city’s ancient temples and arches were used as cheap sources of raw materials. Over a period of time the Colosseum had been stripped of usable stone. Maffeo Barberini, who reigned as Pope Urban VIII, had carted off the bronze of the Pantheon. Rome was either plundered or neglected – the Roman Forum was known as the Campo Vaccino (the cow field). Piranesi, the Venetian, found his calling in Rome’s ruins. He was outraged by the city’s decay. Regretting that the ancient buildings were gradually reduced by vandalists who used ancient rubble to built modern houses, he decided to preserve their memory in art. While ancient Roman urban planners introduced the rational grid to cities across the Empire, the city of Rome itself remained topographically a chaotic assemblage of spaces that were shaped haphazardly against the background of its seven hills. The artist took delight in the city’s irrationality. In the Vedute di Roma and Antichità he captured the ruins in all their decrepit glory. Piranesi the antiquarian was shocked by the state of ancient Rome. Piranesi the salesman explored and exploited the potential of a newly discovered art market. Few works can match his Vedute for artistic influence, commercial success and political impact. He was also a polemicist who claimed Roman sovereignty in ancient architecture. In works such as Della magnificenzo ed archetettura de’ Romani (1761) he opposed fashionable Grecophilia that was inspired by Winckelmann’s aesthetic theories.
Image

Piranesi’s powerful prints were produced in large quantities and, just like Canaletto’s paintings, conceived as souvenirs. This mass distribution inspired the ‘ruin lust’ that gripped European art and literature in the eighteenth century and reached its height in the romantic period. Piranesi’s business enterprise also included dealing in antiquities and publishing ‘pattern books’ such as Vasi, candelabri, cippi, sarcophagi (1778), an artifact catalogue, and Diverse maniere d’adornare i cammini (1769), decorative schemes based on pastiches of antique styles. In Diverse maniere Piranesi gave prominence to the design (sixty-one in total) for chimney-pieces. This form of interior feature did not have a precedent in antiquity. He applied the ancient Roman approach to design to contemporary demands which allowed his flamboyant fantasy to run free.

Image

Egyptian and Etruscan elements merge with the myths of antiquity and the Renaissance. These works had widespread influence on eighteenth-century design. Not in the least on Scottish architect and decorator Robert Adam who spent five years in Rome studying with him. The latter went on to become a principal exponent of British and European Neoclassicism. Horace Walpole was attracted to his work. John Soane, an extremely successful neoclassical architect, was also an admirer of Piranesi, acquiring fifteen drawings of the Italian master which are now part of the rich collection of Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. What was the specific appeal of his work? From a stylistic and technical point of view his engravings were highly original. Piranesi created images by etching with a stylus on a waxed copper plate after which this plate was set in an acid bath where the sharp lines would be etched away. This method gives his prints a hand-drawn look. He worked exclusively in black-and-white, but he was a master of re-creating the effects of shadow, sunlight, and the movement of clouds. Just as important was the psychological effect of his images. During the first half of the eighteenth century Rococo was at its height. Piranesi’s work is a reaction to the soft elegance and sugary optimism of Rococo art. Instead of images of ideal forms, he shed light on the débris of a doomed metropolis. Ruins register both the termination and the survival of matter. These fragments of the urban past symbolize transience and durability, dissolution and survival. Piranesi produced etchings of Roman ruins and deliberately enlarged them suggesting both the might of ancient civilization and the inevitable fate of human hubris in the face of a remorseless cosmos. The Roman views of Giovanni Battista Piranesi have lost none of their power over the centuries. Because he was depicting the city before proper excavations were undertaken, his Roman cityscape was genuinely ancient. His craftsmanship made his images transcend their immediate circumstances to become evocative expressions of the grandeur that once was Rome.

Image

ImageThe Oosterpark is the first large park laid (in 1891) out by the municipality of Amsterdam. It was designed on the principles of an English garden by Leonard Springer. The ‘Oosterparkbuurt’ in its current shape was constructed at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1926, a corner of the park was used to house a newly built museum. The Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen (Royal Tropical Institute) was established in Haarlem in 1864. It was then known as the Colonial Museum, founded to house the collection of artefacts brought back from the Dutch colonies in the East. Its mission included the scientific study of plants and products derived from the colonies. Today, the collection is housed in the Tropenmuseum with its entrance on the Linnaeusstraat, one of the main streets in the district.

Image

‘De Linnaeusstraat in Amsterdam, gezien vanaf de Middenweg’ produced by Heertje van Doornik, a painter who had settled in the capital in 1891, supplies a fine image of the street.

Image

Impressionist painter and photographer Willem Witsen lived in the area. His house at no. 82 Oosterpark is now a museum (Witsenhuis) – it was here that Paul Verlaine stayed during his brief visit to the Netherlands.
Image

There is one Dutch author whose work is closely associated with the East of Amsterdam. Nescio (Latin for ‘I don’t know’) is a pseudonym for Jan Hendrik Frederik Grönloh who made a professional career for himself at the Holland-Bombay Trade Company in Amsterdam and was a talented author at the same time. He hated his job, but felt unable to fully commit himself to his creative endeavours. The Nescio corpus includes stories, unfinished compositions, a nature diary and correspondence, but the works for which he is remembered consist essentially of three extensive prose-poems: De uitvreter (The Freeloader, 1911), Titaantjes (Young Titans, 1915) and Dichtertje (Little Poet, 1918). The translation of a collection of stories by Damion Searles was published in the New York Review Books Classics series under the appropriate title of Amsterdam Stories. Aptness of title, and quality of the first sentence, are crucial aspects of any novel.

Image

In his 2011 study How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One, Stanley Fish devoted an entire chapter to memorable English opening sentences. If his approach had been multi-lingual, he would certainly have included the start of De uitvreter which announces the author’s unique style and idiosyncratic manner of storytelling. As a story this is an evocative mix in which dreams and youthful rebelliousness are beaten down by an indifferent world. Although set in the city, there are lyrical descriptions of the Dutch landscape, often triggered by author’s fascination with water (a Dutch theme if ever there was one). Nescio stresses the Dutch dichotomy of money-mindedness with the visionary wealth of Jeroen Bosch, Multatuli, or Vincent van Gogh. The dominating tone is one of an aching melancholy. Grönloh himself was careful to keep his business and creative identities separate. He only revealed true name in 1933, over twenty years after the publication of De uitvreter.

Image

Samuel Sarphati was a physician and city planner. He descended from Portuguese Sephardi Jews who had settled in Amsterdam during the seventeenth century. Having qualified in medicine at the University of Leiden, he became a practitioner in the capital where he initiated projects to improve the quality of hygiene in the poorer parts of the city. The Sarphatistraat is named after him and runs between Frederiksplein and Oostenburgergracht. To many locals the name Sarphati means little nowadays. It is just an ordinary Amsterdam street. However, to those familiar with Dutch literature, the Sarphatistraat has made an indelible impression. Why? Because of Nescio first sentence in De uitvreter: ‘Behalve den man die de Sarphatistraat de mooiste plek van Europa vond, heb ik nooit een wonderlijker kerel gekend dan den uitvreter’ (Except for the man who thought Sarphatistraat was the most beautiful place in Europe, I’ve never met anyone more peculiar than the freeloader). To me, as an utterly biased reader, this remains a classic opening.

Image

Tramline no. 7 connects the short distance between Sarphatistraat and Linnaeusstraat. From 1735 to 1739, young Carl Linnaeus lived in the Netherlands. This was an important period in his life. He defended his doctoral thesis at the University of Harderwijk in 1735 and met with many Dutch scientists during his visits to the Amsterdam botanical gardens. Among them was one figure who took a central place in the development of the young Swedish botanist. George Clifford III was a wealthy Amsterdam banker and one of the directors of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). He was known for his interest in plants and gardens.

Image

His estate the Hartekamp had a rich variety of plants and he engaged Linnaeus to write the Hortus Cliffortianus, a masterpiece of early botanical literature. Many specimens from Clifford’s garden were also studied by Linnaeus for his two-volume study Species plantarum (1753), a work that laid the foundation for plant nomenclature as we know it today. The Clifford dynasty originated from East Anglia. The first recorded member of the family was Richard Clifford who studied at Corpus Christi, Cambridge, which at the time was an important training-institution for Anglican clergy. In 1569 he was appointed rector of Landbeach, a fen-edge village near Ely, just north of Cambridge (beach most likely means ‘shore’ here: both Landbeach and nearby Waterbeach were at one time situated at the edge of the estuary named The Wash).

Image

Henry Clifford was born in Landbeach. Like his father, he studied at Corpus Christi. He named his son George. Somewhere between 1634 and 1640 George Clifford I moved to Amsterdam and lived the rest of his life on the Zeedijk. Six of his children were baptized in Amsterdam’s historical Presbyterian Church at the Begijnhof, and two in the Oude Kerk. He established the family business in the city and, in 1664, is recorded as owning a sugar plantation in Barbados.

Image

George Clifford II was born in 1657. He continued in the trade his father had started. Business prospered and, in 1709, he was able to buy the Hartekamp (for the substantial amount of 22,000 guilders), an estate with a formal garden and conservatory in Heemstede, just outside Bennebroek, near to the coastal dunes and close the famous Dutch bulb fields. The original house had been built by Johan Hinlopen in 1693. The latter had been in charge of running the lucrative postal route between Amsterdam and Antwerp. Hinlopen designed the basic garden and built the orangery. His grandfather had been of Flemish origin, one of the countless cosmopolitan merchants who left Antwerp after the Spanish suppression of the city. A trader in cloth and Indian ware he was a co-founder of the Dutch East India Company in 1602. His son Jan Jacobszoon expanded the business and became an important art collector and supporter of Rembrandt, Gabriel Metsu, and others.

Image

George Clifford III was born in 1685 into by what at that time had become an extremely wealthy Anglo-Dutch merchant dynasty. The family business entered banking at the start of the eighteenth century and established an international reputation lending money to royalty, the Vatican, and to the English and Danish governments. George III also was a Governor of the Dutch East India Company (but not, as is often stated, at any time Burgomaster of Amsterdam) and a keen botanist. On the Hartekamp he accumulated a famous living- and dried plant collection. He gave the garden its international reputation, acquiring specimens of new species from all over the world. He acted as patron of the young Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus whom he employed in the double capacity of ‘hortulanus’ (supervisor) of his collection and of physician (the master of the house was somewhat of a hypochondriac).

Image

Linnaeus had been introduced to Clifford by Johannes Burman, Director of the Amsterdam Botanic Garden and Professor of Botany, who was a supplier of tropical plants to the Clifford collection through his close connections with the East India Company. Linnaeus named after him the Burmannia, a family of chiefly tropical herbs with basal leaves and small flowers. The meeting between the two men turned out well for both of them. Linnaeus was overwhelmed by the botanical riches of the gardens and in particular by the ‘houses of Adonis’ (hothouses) where he encountered a bewildering variety of plants from Southern Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Clifford on the other hand was impressed by Linnaeus’s effortless ability to classify plants that were new to him. Clifford offered Linnaeus free board and lodging, and a financial allowance of one ducat a day, or 1,000 florins per annum. The young scientist was overjoyed. By the time he took up his employment in 1735 the estate contained in addition to the garden, a large collection of animals, an orangery and four heated greenhouses. Through the activities of eminent botanists such as Herman Boerhaave, Adriaan van Royen and others, many exotic plants were added to Clifford’s collection and dried plants were exchanged as herbarium sheets. International cooperation between collectors and scientists contributed to the rapid development of plant systematic, both in terms of taxonomy and of practical knowledge of the world’s botanical wealth and variety.

Image

The herbarium played an important role in the development of scientific botany. The preparation of herbarium specimens goes far back to the Egyptians, but the systematic technique for keeping plants as dried reference specimens began in Tuscany during the sixteenth century. Luca Ghini, founder of the first botanical garden in the world at Pisa, introduced this method to his students at the University of Bologna. Initially herbaria were bound together to form books, such as that of the apothecary Petrus Cadé, the oldest herbarium known in the Low Countries.

In the eighteenth century botanists started to keep the individual herbarium sheets separate which allowed systematic ordering rearrangement according to developing systematic ideas. Thus it became possible to lend individual herbarium sheets and exchange duplicates. Because of such exchanges it was no longer immediately clear who the owner of a particular specimen actually was. This is perhaps the reason – apart from mere aesthetics – why ornamentations such as pots, medallions, pennants, or cartouches were printed onto the sheets and thus acted as a kind of ex libris for the owner. The tradition of using ornamentations in herbaria is of Dutch origin. It dates back to the 1720s and had gone out of fashion by the end of the century. Clifford’s herbarium consists of 3,461 sheets. Many of the specimens are mounted in such a manner that they appear to be growing out of engraved paper urns, and are held down by ribbons and their names inscribed on ornate labels. In 1791, Clifford’s herbarium was acquired by botanist Joseph Banks, Director of Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens, and President of the Royal Society of London, at the sale of the collections. It is now part of the collections of the Natural History Museum.

Image

At the time of Linnaeus’s inventory, the garden at Hartekamp had 1,251 living plant species in the greenhouses, gardens and woods. Linnaeus catalogued the family’s complete collection of plants, herbarium and library. The result was his book Hortus Cliffortianus, whose publication was paid for by George Clifford III. Linnaeus compiled his study with astonishing speed. It took him nine months to prepare the manuscript. Until this time the individual herbarium sheets owned by Clifford were arranged according to the system applied by Boerhaave in his Index alter plantarum. Linnaeus ranked the plant species according to a sexual system which he himself had designed. The system is based on the number and shape of both male and female reproductive parts which determine the class into which the plant species is placed. Within this system every species is placed in a genus and given its own unique Latin adjective. The Hortus Cliffortianus formed the basis for all of Linnaeus’s subsequent work. Many of his plant descriptions are repeated in the Species plantarum which appeared some fifteen year later. In this book Linnaeus introduced the consistent use of the binomial nomenclatural system with a genus name and a species epithet. The many samples taken from the Clifford collection were type specimens for Linnaeus’s new systematic ordering.

The Hortus Cliffortianus came into existence through the collaboration of a brilliant scientist and an outstanding botanical artist. In 1735 German painter and draughtsman George Ehret had travelled to England with glowing letters of introduction to patrons including Hans Sloane and Philip Miller, curator of the Chelsea Physic Garden. In the spring of 1736 Ehret spent three months in the Netherlands and stayed for several weeks at the Hartekamp where he made the majority of the illustrations. He then returned to England to settle in Chelsea from where he sent the remainder of the illustrations. His efforts proved indispensable for the rapid dissemination of the underlying concepts of Linnaeus’s new systematic ordering. Through his famous illustrations, Ehret made Linnaeus’s new system more intelligible. Ehretia, a genus of flowering plants in the borage family (Boraginaceae – containing some fifty species) was named in his honour. Ehret’s plates served as the basis for the etchings of Jan Wandelaar who made the final prints for the book. The latter also produced the outstanding baroque cover, the symbolism of which includes a young Apollo with Linnaeus’s features who brings light into the darkness (of ignorance). Jan Wandelaar – literally: Johnny Walker – is perhaps best remembered for his cooperation with the surgeon and anatomist Bernard Siegfried Albinus. Teaching anatomy at Leiden University, Albinus was famous for his studies of bones and muscles, and for his attempts at improving the accuracy of anatomical illustration. He used Wandelaar’s considerable artistic talent to achieve that aim. The artist’s earlier involvement with Clifford and Ehret had established his reputation. Clifford used the Hortus as a splendid gift for his contacts within the plant-exchange network. Boerhaave and Van Royen were the first to receive a copy.

In 1760 Pieter Clifford, the oldest son of George, inherited the Hartekamp, but he lacked his father’s passion for plants and the importance of the garden declined. After his death the estate was auctioned on 2 June 1788, probably due to financial problems relating to the bankruptcy of the Clifford Bank in 1772. It was the final chapter in what had been a grand Anglo-Dutch-Swedish undertaking in which natural beauty, science and art had been harmoniously merged. Linnaeus in the meantime became a legendary figure in the Netherlands. In 1853, Hendrik Hollander painted the scientist in Laponian costume. The painting is part of the Hartekamp Estate, but a replica is in possession of the University of Amsterdam.

Image

Rue Saint-Jacques once was a major passage in the Quartier Latin of old Paris before it was turned into a backstreet with the creation of the Boulevard Saint-Germain as part of Haussmann’s regeneration scheme of the capital. It was the starting point for pilgrims to make their way along the Chemin de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle that led eventually to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia where the remains of the apostle Saint James are supposed to be buried. The Paris base of the Dominican Order was established in 1218 in the Chapelle Saint-Jacques. However, it was not for religion or piety that the street won its reputation, but for the crucial role it played in the history of French printing.

Image

In 1466, German-born Johann Heynlin obtained a doctorate in theology at the Sorbonne. Three years later he was elected Rector of the university and became Professor of Theology. He established of the first printing-press in France in cooperation with Guillaume Fichet who also taught at the Sorbonne. Around 1469/70, Heynlin hired three Swiss printers, Ulrich Gering, Michael Friburger and Martin Crantz, to install and run this press in the buildings of the university. He also gave financial aid to their undertakings, especially for the printing of the works of the Church Fathers. Their first publication with this press – the first book printed in France – was a collection of letters (Epistolae Gasparini) by the fifteenth century grammarian Gasparinus de Bergamo. The book dates from 1470. During the following two years over twenty works appeared from the press, including Fichet’s own Rhetorica. By the end of 1472 the venture came to an end and the three printers left the Sorbonne to set up on their own at the sign of the Soleil d’Or on the Rue Saint Jacques, thus starting a long tradition of printing in the street (the proximity of the Sorbonne attracted many later booksellers and printers).

ImageThe Rue Saint-Jacques has been associated with a number of new printing techniques that were introduced over the ages. Jacques Chéreau was a portrait engraver and publisher of ‘optical prints’ at the Rue Saint-Jacques. From about 1740 to about 1820 such prints were made to be viewed through a so-called zograscope. This was an optical device for enhancing the sense of depth perception from a flat picture. The machine consists of a large magnifying lens through which the picture is viewed. Some models have the lens mounted on a stand in front of an angled mirror allowing a person to sit and look through the lens at the picture flat on the table. Pictures viewed in this way need to be left-right reversed. They are called ‘vues perspectives’.

Image

The origin of the term zograscope has been lost, but it is also known as a diagonal mirror or as an optical pillar machine. Machines of that kind were popular during the Georgian era as parlour entertainments. They were produced for the luxury market as fine pieces of furniture, with turned stands, mouldings, and brass fittings. Intaglio optical prints have deliberately exaggerated converging lines and bright colours which contribute to the illusion of depth. Jacques Chéreau and his brother were amongst the most prolific publishers and producers of such prints in Paris. Typical subjects include current events, views of the known world, fantasy compositions, and cityscapes. Chéreau himself for example, around 1750, produced a coloured print ‘Vue de la ville et du pont de Francfort’ which shows the city’s Medieval bridge over the river Main.

Image

Auguste Delâtre was an artist’s printer who pioneered the ‘mobile etching’ technique, a method of painting ink on to the plate so that up to forty unique impressions could be made from the same plate, rather than a uniformly wiped edition. This influenced the practice of monotype amongst artists such as Ludovic Lepic and Edgar Degas. He built up a considerable reputation amongst artists and it was to him that the majority of progressive etchers turned. One of those artists was Whistler. In 1855, the latter asked the printer to produce a number of sets of his ‘Douze eaux-fortes d’après nature’. Twenty were printed at Delâtre’s shop at no. 171 Rue St Jacques, and a further fifty sets were printed later in London.

Image

Delâtre was also involved in the printing of Whistler’s ‘Sixteen Etchings of Scenes on the Thames and Other Subjects’ in 1861. In return Whistler etched his portrait. In 1862 Delâtre helped to found the Société des Aquafortistes in Paris. In the disastrous Prussian siege of Paris in 1870 his studio was destroyed, as were his works and equipment. He fled to London, where he met up with other expatriate French artists such as James Tissot and Jules Dalou. He returned to Paris in 1876 and set up a new studio in Montmartre.

Image

Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard was a French cloth merchant who, in the 1840s, became a student of photography. In 1850, he introduced the albumen paper printing technique and started the Imprimerie Photographique in Lille a year later. It was the first commercially viable method of producing a print on a paper base from a negative. It used the albumen found in egg whites to bind the photographic chemicals to the paper and remained the dominant form of photographic positives from 1855 to the turn of the twentieth century.

Image

The process produced some stunning images, including those of Jane Morris (née Burden), wife of William Morris, who was an embroiderer and model. She worked with her husband in their furnishings business. In the late 1860s, Jane began a romantic liaison with Rossetti that lasted until 1876. She was the model for some of his most famous paintings, and her striking appearance provided him with inspiration for over twenty years. Emery Walker produced with an iconic image with his albumen print of Jane Morris seated, leaning forward with her face towards the viewer and her left hand leaning on her face.

Image

There are, furthermore, a number of albumen images of the Rue Saint-Jacques. There is, for example, Charles Marville’s 1865/9 print of the ‘Rue Saint-Jacques’. This photograph depicts an intersection near the Sorbonne University. Marville was hired by the government to record the old city before modernization. Made for documentary purposes, this delightful image captures the street’s architectural character and shows the light flooding through the narrow passageway and lingers on the contrast between the bold lettering of advertisements and the peeling walls that threaten to absorb them.

Image
Eugène Atget was equally passionate in preserving memories of old Paris and a one-man archive. Between 1897 and 1927, he made roughly 10,000 negatives from which he produced and sold some 25,000 prints to individuals and institutions. His photographs show Paris in its various facets: narrow lanes, historic courtyards and pre-Revolution palaces under threat of demolition, bridges and quays on the banks of the Seine, and shops with their window displays. Whilst Impressionist painters recorded the transformation of the city with its new boulevards and stations in bright colours, photographers hurried to capture the last remnants and muted tones of the Medieval town.

ImageBath is a spa city on the River Avon which was known in Roman times as Aquae Sulis. During the eighteenth century it was rebuilt in Palladian style. Laura Place was designed by Thomas Baldwin and John Eveleigh between 1788 and 1794. It lies at the end of Pulteney Bridge and consists of four blocks of houses around an irregular quadrangle with a fountain which was added in the late nineteenth century.

Image

Literary references to Bath are too numerous to sum up. One of the early mentions of the city dates back to Geoffrey Chaucer. The best-known pilgrim in his collection of Canterbury tales is Alisoun, the Wife of Bath, a bawdy female who is the very antithesis of virtuous womanhood. In her delightful tale she challenges all contemporary wisdom about the female role in society. The Wife of Bath claims to be an expert on married life having had five husbands (her first at the age of twelve). She ridicules virginity and poses the question: what are genitals for if not for procreation? She insists that street knowledge and experience outweigh the wisdom of scripture and tradition. The Wife of Bath probably lived in the parish of St Michael without the Walls (now: the area around North Gate Street). The more recent history of the city is closely associated with the arrival of one figure in particular – Richard Nash.

Image

Poor health drove novelist Oliver Goldsmith to Bath in the summer of 1762. There he gained access to the papers of Richard ‘Beau’ Nash, and collected anecdotes from witnesses about this legendary figure who had recently died. On 14 October 1762 The Life of Richard Nash was published and a second edition appeared in December. Swansea-born Richard Nash was the son of a glass maker of modest means, but he received nevertheless a sound education and matriculated from Jesus College in March 1692 with the idea of pursuing a legal career. However, for Richard, Oxford’s attractions were not intellectual but social. In 1695 Nash supervised a successful pageant held in honour of William III. It was the start of a career in which he acquired the reputation as the ‘Prince of High Fashion’. By 1705 Nash had moved to Bath. The sudden rise of this city was due in part to William’s heir, Queen Anne, who visited the spa in 1702 and 1703. The Queen’s stay at what was then a relatively poor resort prompted the arrival of well-to-do guests who were keen to drink the Bath waters and be entertained. Nash was appointed assistant to the Master of Ceremonies, a man named Captain Webster. When the latter was killed in a duel, Nash took over the main role and began to transform the city into the most fashionable place in England. Music performances which had previously been played in an open space called the Grove were removed to the grand Pump Room. By late 1705 Nash was appointed Master of Ceremonies, a post he would hold for over half a century. He was, in his own words, ‘a beau of three generations’.

Image

Nash appreciated the importance of establishing a strong physical presence. Dress was central to developing a distinctive appearance by which he underpinned his career as a self-publicist. From the start he cultivated the image of a dandy (although the word itself was coined later). Fashion decreed that wigs should be white. Nash insisted on wearing a black wig with a contrasting white hat. He finished this off with brocaded waistcoats and ruffled shirts. Before long, men were copying his style. His laws were so strictly enforced that he was styled ‘King of Bath’. Well into old age Nash retained his youthful attachment to fine clothes complemented by a cane and a white beaver hat which had become symbolic of his majestic position. He organized magnificent public balls, on a scale which had never been witnessed before in Bath. Nash matched ladies with dancing partners and even brokered marriages. He raised capital to improve the roads in and around the city and encouraged the design of new public buildings. He met all fresh arrivals into the city in order to judge their social standing. Although himself a heavy gambler, he regulated gaming in the city. Gambling had frequently led to disputes and the use of arms in Bath. Nash banned the wearing of swords, initially in public rooms alone, and later in the city as a whole. The Corporation of Bath was delighted with the efforts Nash made on behalf of the town. In his honour a full marble statue of him was erected in the Pump Room. It was placed between the busts of Newton and Pope.

Image

Bath became a cultural centre, a place for the wealthy to seek the healing agents of the water and air, while increasing their society and social status. During the late eighteenth century, some 40,000 visitors come to the city each year. Richardson and Sterne were among the regulars. Burke and Goldsmith had lived in North Parade, Sheridan in the Royal Crescent (at no. 11), and young Horatio Nelson had a house in Pierrepont Street. Bath became, after London, the most memorialized city in Britain. Apart from numerous guide-books and directories, the city provoked an unparalleled mass of writing. The city appeared in prose, poetry, drama (Foote’s The Maid of Bath, 1771), satire, sermons and moral tales. Painters and print-makers recorded its splendours for a mass market, and cartoonists poked fun at the goings-on in Britain’s premier spa resort. In 1798, caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson produced a series of twelve satiric prints ‘The Comforts of Bath’. He depicted both the social and medical scene in the city just before the period described by Jane Austen in her novels. The pages of Austen’s work are filled with references to places in Bath: the Octagon rooms, the Lower rooms, Edgar’s Buildings, Laura-place, and Market-place in her first novel Northanger Abbey; Camden Place, Bond Street, the baths and Westgate buildings, the colonnade on Bath Street, and the famous Union Street where Captain Wentworth declares his love for Anne in Persuasion, the last novel she wrote. As any Londoner will testify, status is defined by one’s post-code. A house is more than just a home; its location is a signal of social hierarchy, an emblem of elevation or degradation. There is nothing new in that. Jane Austen used the topographic characteristics of Bath to symbolize social hierarchy in Persuasion. Sir Walter chooses a ‘very good house in Camdenplace, a lofty, dignified situation, such as becomes a man of consequence’ as his temporary lodgings in Bath. Camden Place (now Camden Crescent) was close to the northernmost and highest point of the city. From this height Sir Walter could literally look down on almost everyone else in Bath.

Image

Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple and her daughter Miss Carteret took a house in Laura Place, situated across the River Avon. Why did Jane Austen choose this specific location? The ‘other side’ of the river emphasizes the independence of the two ladies and their relative isolation from the rest of the characters. Apart from a benefit concert held at her place, Lady Dalrymple and her daughter remain outside the real action of the story. They do not interact with the main characters, Anne and Captain Wentworth. Moreover, Lady Dalrymple is of Irish aristocratic descent. She does not really fit in an English sense of hierarchy that was strictly upheld in society. The urban lay-out in other words is woven into the action and emotion of the novel and integrated with each character’s rank in life. Bath is a metaphor for the society Jane Austen portrays.

Detail from a picture by Valerie Pirlot, painter in Bath. (http://valeriepirlot.com)

The historical part of Warsaw’s Old Town (Stare Miasto) dates back to the thirteenth century. Most of it was destroyed during the Second World War but later painstakingly reconstructed. Miodowa Street is located in the Old Town and links Feta Street with Krasiński Square. Miodowa literally means honey. In the sixteenth century the street was famous for its ginger bread shops – hence its name. The street has a rather tasty cultural history too.

Bernardo Bellotto was a Venetian urban landscape painter or vedutista, famous for his views of European cities such as Dresden, Vienna, or Turin. He was the pupil and nephew of Canaletto and sometimes used the latter’s name, signing himself as Bernardo Canaletto. Like many fellow artists, he was a well-travelled man. In 1764, he accepted an invitation from Poland’s newly elected king, Stanisław August Poniatowski, to become his court painter in Warsaw. Here he remained for the rest of his life, producing numerous delightful urban views. With meticulous detail he depicted the streets and architecture of the capital. In 1777, he painted a view Miodowa Street with the hustle and bustle of the traffic and the architectural splendour of its Rococo palaces, mansions and churches. One of the buildings (the roof at least) which the artist included on the painting is the late seventeenth century church of the Capuchins, founded by King Jan III Sobieski. The church was built by Tylman van Gameren, an architect and engineer who was born in Utrecht. At the age of twenty-eight he settled in Poland where he was employed by Maria Kazimiera, wife of King Jan III. Tylman was responsible for a number of buildings that are regarded as gems of Baroque architecture. In Poland, he is known as Tylman Gamerski.

How did such a talented Dutch artist end up in Poland? In a time that the notion of nationhood was not a matter of concern, Holland was effectively made up of cities. This city-culture created a society that did not nurture the leading role of an aristocracy as was the case elsewhere in Europe. Socio-economic life was dominated by well-to-do ‘burghers’ who lived and worked in the cities. Equality of opportunity in Dutch economic life gave society a competitive edge that was unrivalled. The Dutch ‘Golden Age’ was an era of extraordinary vitality, be it in economic, scientific or artistic terms. With the growing prosperity of the Republic, the demand for works of art increased. Intense competition made art cheap. It meant that painters needed to supplement their income in order to keep their families afloat. Jan Steen ran a public house, Jan van de Capelle was a textile merchant, Willem Kalf an antique dealer, Jacob van Ruysdael was a surgeon, and most cruelly of all: Meindert Hobbema stopped painting altogether after marriage. He found a more lucrative job in an Amsterdam tax office. The seventeenth century produced too many artists and not enough clients. The market was too small for such an overwhelming presence of talent. To young artists, the presence of so many painters proved inhibiting. For many there was but one solution: move – move elsewhere, anywhere. And move they did during the Golden Age. They moved in droves. They headed for England, Italy, Sweden, Germany, even for Russia. It is interesting to note that foreign ambassadors in the Netherlands functioned as ‘scouts’ who encouraged artists to move abroad with the promise of employment or commissions. William Temple for instance was known to persuade artists to cross the Channel and settle in England. The situation for a talented young architect was similar to that of other artists. Tylman was trained by Jacob van Campen whilst the latter was busy building the famous Amsterdam Stadhuis on the Dam. In 1650, Tylman left for Italy, the dream and ambition of any seventeenth century artist. While in Venice, he earned the reputation as a skilled painter of battle scenes. In 1660, he was working in Leiden. There he met Prince Jerzy Sebastian Lubomirski, and accepted the tempting invitation to come to Poland as his architect and military engineer (to design fortifications). From 1670 onwards, he won fame as a court architect of palaces, gardens, country houses, monasteries and churches in and around Warsaw. In 1685 he was formally acknowledged as a Polish nobleman. Van Gameren left behind more than seventy grand buildings and a collection of architectural some 1,000 drawings.

The most famous person to hang around Miodowa Street was young Chopin. Thanks to his extensive correspondence, much can be learned about the composer’s favourite places in Warsaw. One of them was the area on and around Miodowa Street where the entire social life of the Polish capital was concentrated. The street had a number of bookshops. One of the shops which sold books about musical composition was owned by Antoni Brzezina who, between 1822 and 1832, ran a firm that published mainly small piano compositions of Polish composers: Chopin, Elsner, Kurpiński, and Ogiński. After 1832 Sennewald took over the publishing house. Young Chopin was a regular customer at Brzezina’s shop. The surrounding area had numerous cafés where students and intellectuals debated for hours about art and politics. Apparently, Chopin could be found here almost every day. It was in this area that the composer’s early career took off. In January 1821 a new music society was established under the aegis of the Warsaw Merchant Club, located at that time at Miodowa Street. The merchants of the city were keen to promote art, culture and entertainment for the benefit of the educated classes in town and in support of various altruistic causes. The first confirmed Chopin performance at the club took place on 19 December 1829. Krasiński Square was the former home to the Polish National Theatre. It was the site where Chopin premiered his first piano concerto in March of 1830. Six months later he played his farewell concert there before leaving the country forever.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 591 other followers