Archive

18th century

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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‘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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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New Grub Street is a novel by George Gissing published in 1891, which is set in the London literary and journalistic circles of the 1880s.

Until the early nineteenth century, Grub Street was a street close to Moorfields, one of the last pieces of open land in the City of London. After the 1666 Fire of London, refugees from the calamity evacuated to Moorfields and set up temporary camps there. In the early eighteenth century, Moorfields was the site of open-air markets, shows, and auctions. Homes nearby Moorfields were places of the poor, and the area had a reputation for harbouring highwaymen in hiding from the law. The area was notorious for soliciting prostitutes and cruising gay men. Much of Moorfields was built over in 1777, when Finsbury Square was developed; the remainder followed soon after.

Grub Street became famous for its concentration of poor hack writers, aspiring poets, and low-end publishers and booksellers. It was pierced along its length with narrow entrances to alleys and courts, many of which retained the names of early signboards. Its bohemian society was set amidst the neighbourhood’s low-rent apartments, brothels, and coffeehouses. According to Samuel Johnson (who had lived and worked himself on Grub Street early in his career) in his Dictionary the street was inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems – ‘whence any mean production is called grubstreet’. The street name no longer exists, but Grub Street is still used as a pejorative term writings of low literary value. In fact, the name had already disappeared when Gissing published his novel. However, hack-writing certainly persisted. In the novel, the author contrasts the careers of two central characters a pair of writers: Edwin Reardon, a shy but talented novelist with limited commercial prospects; and Jasper Milvain, an ambitious but unscrupulous young journalist with cynical views about the craft and value of writing.

 

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The dietetics of literature is an open field of research, but the link between writing and cooking has been made by various authors, past and present. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argued more than once that mind and nutrition are inextricably connected. Creativity is a matter of stomach. In Ecce homo he relates the consumption of food directly to intellectual development, not just of the individual, but of a nation as a whole. He blames poor cookery for the mental sloppiness of his German countrymen. Soup before the meal (known as ‘alla tedesca’ in early Venetian cooking books); an addiction to meat; vegetables cooked with fat and flower; the degeneration of pastries into paperweights; the bestial drinking habits – all that, Nietzsche argues, reinforces the notion that the nation’s thinking took its origin in disordered intestines. The philosopher is just as critical about the English kitchen. A diet of beef and pasties constitute to him a ‘return to nature’, that is to say, to cannibalism. Intellectually, to Nietzsche, the most inspiring kitchen is that of Piedmont, an area famously known for its ‘risotto al tartufo’, fine cheeses, and excellent wines such as Barbera and Barolo.

 

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To the booklover Holbrook Jackson’s Anatomy of Bibliomania remains indispensable reading. With great learning and wit, the author comments on why we read, where we take our books, and what happens to us when we get lost in literature. Part nine of the study is dedicated to ‘bibliophagi’ or book-eaters. The miracle of books is one of nourishment. Literature is a banquet. Books are food served out for distinguishing palates. Bibliophiles are gastronomes and epicures. They taste, chew, masticate, nibble, devour, gorge, and cram. They are subject to appetite and repletion. They may also be subject to over-eating. Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary and Croatia, built one of the largest libraries in Europe (second only to the Vatican Library). To some observers he was but a mere glutton of books with an indiscriminate appetite. Books are good wines. Readers relish their literary vintages. In his 1750 pamphlet ‘A New Project for the Destruction of Printing and Bookselling; for the Benefit of the Learned World’ (published anonymously), John Swift put forward the bold proposal for the liquefaction of literature. He advised to barrel and bottle books, thus making them more accessible and easier to consume. A cellar of books would be more invitingly absorbable than a library. Scottish poet Francis Bennoch summarized the experience of drinking books in the opening lines of his poem ‘My books’ which is included in his 1877 collection of Poems, Lyrics, Songs, and Sonnets: ‘I love my books as drinkers love their wine; / The more I drink, the more they seem divine’.

 

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Book historians and bibliophiles have made ample use of gastronomic metaphors to indicate the delight of reading. One early example has survived in a rather spectacular form. Queen Elizabeth was particularly keen on her copy of Laurence Thomson’s 1582 version of the New Testament (printed by Christopher Barker: the book is held in the Bodleian, Oxford), which she bound in a covering of her own make with various motto’s. The words in her own handwriting are written on the fly-leaf of the volume: ‘I walke manie times into the pleasant fieldes of the Holye Scriptures, where I plucke up in the goodlie greene herbes of sentences by pruning, eate them by reading, chawe them up musing, and laie them up at length in the hie seate of memorie by gathering them together; that so hauing tasted thy sweeteness I may the lesse perceave the bitterness of this miserable life’. The gastronomic metaphors collected and presented by Holbrook Jackson all refer to the consumption and digesting of foodstuff, not to the preparation of the dish. He is concerned with the reading and collecting of books, not with the process of creating them. The critic stays at the table without inspecting the kitchen. There is however a close affinity between cooking and creating.

Horace Walpole, youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister, was an odd character. Educated at Eton and Cambridge, he became MP for Callington (Cornwall) in 1743, held the seat for thirteen years, but never set foot in the place. A confirmed bachelor, he drew about him a circle of cultured ‘dear friends’, a semi-erotic camaraderie of sensitive aesthetes. His biographers have described Walpole as an effeminate, asexual, or passively homosexual character. As an author, he is remembered for his Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto and for his extensive correspondence which is of significant political and social interest (a handbook of contemporary gossip). Literary critics such as Isaac D’Israeli and William Hazlitt rejected Walpole’s work as that of a frivolous dilettante, an image that survived well into the twentieth century. Historian and critic Thomas Babbington Macaulay was admired as a brilliant prose stylist in his day. He applied an intriguing gastronomic metaphor in reference to Walpole’s literary output.

Strasbourg pies or paté de foie gras are expensive pasties for which the city of that name was once famous. They are prepared from the livers of geese, which have been tied down for three or four weeks to prevent them from moving. During that period the animals are forced to eat fattening food. In an extraordinary review of Walpole’s two volumes of letters to Sir Horace Mann, British Envoy at the Court of Tuscany, published in the Edinburgh Review (October 1833), Macaulay compared the processing of the Strasbourg pie to the chemistry of the creative process. He describes Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford, as the most eccentric, the most artificial, the most fastidious, and the most capricious of men. His mind is a bundle of whims and affectations; his features are covered by mask within mask making the real man invisible. The overall critical evaluation of Walpole’s writing is expressed in the following manner: ‘His writings, it is true, rank as high among the delicacies of intellectual epicures as the Strasburg pies among the dishes described in the Almanach des Gourmands. But, as the pâté-de-foie-gras owes its excellence to the diseases of the wretched animal that furnishes it, and would be good for nothing if it were not made of livers preternaturally swollen; so, none but an unhealthy and disorganized mind could have produced such literary luxuries as the works of Walpole’.

Historically, food has been part of the never-ending exchange of insults between Britain and France. The surname of John Bull is reminiscent of the English fondness for beef. This is reflected in the French nickname for English people, ‘les rosbifs’. Jean Crapaud is an English jocose name given to a Frenchman. The word ‘crapaud’ is French for a toad (rather than frog). It is a reference to the ancient heraldic device of the kings of France, consisting of ‘three toads erect, saltant’. Yet, frogs, froggies, and frog-eaters have all become terms associated with the French. The Bull – Crapaud antagonism incorporates a variety of elements of patriotic hostility such as English robustness versus French refinement, ruddy health versus decadence, beef versus frog, beer versus wine and, after 1815, Wellington versus Napoleon. According to Macaulay, Walpole’s writings rank as high among the delicacies of intellectual epicures as Strasburg pies. Pâté-de-foie-gras owes its fine taste to the unnaturally swollen liver of the poor animal that furnishes it. Similarly, only an unhealthy and disorganized mind would be capable of producing such stylistic niceties as those of Walpole. It is impossible to guess which of the author’s ‘literary luxuries’ justifies such a comparison, but critical analysis allows for two different interpretations. The metaphor either supplies an illuminating insight into the chemistry of the creative process itself, or, alternatively, it is a playful ploy of restating what is an old stereotype. If the suggestion is correct that Walpole’s style of writing is the product of an unhealthy or unstable mind, then by implication every imaginative work of art may be judged similarly. In the interpretation of Macaulay the creative artist is an unhappy goose. A plateful of pre-Freud – but with a different flavouring. The alternative reading however is the more likely one. The luxurious refinement of the author’s writing is like that of a French gastronomic delicacy – tasty maybe, but unhealthy and decadent. In that sense, Macaulay has contributed an amusing metaphor to the good old tradition of Anglo-French gastronomic ding-dong.


pictures made by and courtesy of Special Collections, Amsterdam

According to Horace Walpole, there was formerly a stone bas-relief over the entrance to London’s Bullhead Court that was the sign of a public house called the King’s Porter and the Dwarf. The sign was dated 1660. It may not seem politically correct nowadays, but dwarfs were immensely popular in early royal and aristocratic circles. The most famous dwarf of the seventeenth century was miniature painter Richard Gibson [called Dwarf Gibson]. In 1677 he accompanied Mary to The Hague on her marriage to Prince William of Orange. Gibson took lodgings in Amsterdam. He emerges from many references in the correspondence of Christiaan Huygens as an active collector and dealer in the art market. Gibson had started his career as a page in the house of an aristocratic lady at Mortlake. There he practiced the art of drawing by copying the works of Peter Lely (who himself drew Gibson’s picture leaning on a bust in 1658). Noticing his talent for drawing, the lady of the estate apprenticed him to Francis Cleyn, under whom he worked at the new Mortlake Tapestry Works (established 1619) until some time in the 1630s, when he entered the service of the Lord Chamberlain Philip Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. There he met Anne Sheppard, his future wife, who was also a member of Pembroke’s household. She also was a dwarf. Anne appears in Anthony van Dyck’s portrait of Mary, Duchess of Richmond, Pembroke’s daughter-in-law, at her first marriage. At the wedding of the two court dwarfs, the King gave the bride away and the Queen presented Anne with a diamond ring. Edmund Waller commemorated the festive occasion with a pleasant poem entitled ‘Of the Marriage of the Dwarfs’, and Sir Peter Lely painted the couple holding hands.

The two persons represented on the sign of the King’s Porter and the Dwarf are William Evans and Jefferey Hudson. The latter was born a dwarf. His father was a butcher employed by the Duke of Buckingham and both parents were of normal stature. By the age of eight, barely eighteen inches in height, his father presented him to the Duchess of Buckingham. She immediately took the dwarf into her service and not long afterwards introduced him to Charles I and Henrietta Maria by having him emerge from a cold baked pie during a feast given in their honour. Soon after, Hudson joined the Queen’s household, adopting her religion and becoming a Roman Catholic. He was known as ‘Lord Minimus’ or the ‘Queen’s Dwarf’. He reportedly became the close companion of her monkey, Pug, with whom he is shown in an Anthony van Dyck portrait of Henrietta Maria. Another portrait, by Dutch-born artist Daniel Mytens, showing Hudson holding the leash of a large dog, alludes to his participation in court hunts. He also danced in several court masques, such as Tom Thumb in Jonson’s Fortunate Isles (1625), a prince from Hell in Chlorida (1631) by the same author, and ‘a little Swiss who played the wag’ in William Davenant’s Salmacida Spolia (1640). Thomas Fuller in the Worthies of England (1662) tells of another appearance in a lost antimasque, in which a massively built porter at the court named William Evans pulled a loaf of bread from one pocket and Hudson, instead of a piece of cheese, from another. Hudson and Evans are pictured together in a print of 1636, along with the legendary Thomas Parr, who was reputedly 152 years old, as the smallest, tallest, and oldest men in the world.

During the first half of the eighteenth century dwarfs and midgets remained very much in vogue with royalty and aristocracy. They often lived in their patrons’ homes. Norfolk-born John Coan, better known as the ‘Norfolk Dwarf’ (he was a midget rather than a dwarf) was first ‘exhibited’ at the Lower Half Moon, Market Place, Norwich, in July 1744. He was aged sixteen and – according to a local newspaper report – was not three foot high. The first evidence of Coan’s move to London is his presentation before Frederick, Prince of Wales, as a guest at a party in Leicester House in January 1751. Much of Coan’s appeal lay in the combined attraction of his very small limbs (he was referred to as the ‘Man in Miniature’) and his precocious personality. He was known for his sharp wit and intelligence. Coan appeared at a number of London fairs and tavern venues. At the age of twenty-three he appeared at the Swan in Smithfield during the Bartholomew fair in 1751 on a show that contained ‘two dwarfs, a remarkable negro, a female one-horned rhinoceros, and a crocodile’. Henry Blacker from Cuckfield, Sussex, was also included in the Swan spectacle. Named ‘The British Giant’, he had travelled to London in 1751 at the age of twenty-seven to launch his career as a touring giant. He gained a large following of admirers. That same year H. Carpenter made an engraving of Blacker, and some years later his full-length portrait was included in James Caulfield’s Portraits, Memoirs, and Characters of Remarkable Persons (published in parts between 1790 and 1795). To witness Coan and Blacker in one show must have been some sight.

Following this performance, Coan featured much more as an individual performer. He appeared in taverns such as the Ship, the Anchor, and the Windmill near Temple Bar and at the famous Star and Garter where Coan’s humorous entertainments over dinner would be followed by Carlo Genovini’s firework displays. The latter was the author of a study on fireworks entitled L’art de composer feux d’artifice which published in Maastricht in 1748. For a short time John Coan kept a house called The Dwarf’s Tavern in Chelsea Fields. Regarded as an oddity, the tavern attracted large numbers of curious customers and even royalty. The reputation of the house was but brief, because its proprietor, the ‘unparalleled’ Coan, died within two years from starting his career as a landlord.

JH

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