Sunday, January 29, 2006

But Were the English Capable?

The absence of theatri machinarum in England is fascinating (to me at least). One question needs to be addressed: was the English printing industry capable of producing such works? The answer: absolutely.

Rostenberg's English Publishers in the Graphic Arts 1599-1700 provides some tantalizing evidence on the actual capabilities of printers at the time. She bases most of her discussion on the creators and sellers of prints and maps; depictions of monarchs factor largely in her discussion. She also gives us some hints about the status of book publishers.

She notes the importance of the lowly print seller:
"Generally unacknowledged by the august Company of Stationers as well as by the venerable Guild of Painters-Stainers, the specialist dealer plide his trade through the century without restriction. Despite rankless position in a society essentially hierarchical and socially ambitious he sustained himself, nurtured the arts and left to society the wealth of the talent he fostered." (pg. 1)
She then goes on to explore the development of the professional print seller. She discusses how printing skills were developed in response to the relative glamour of the court of Charles I and how print sellers survived the Interregnum (1649-1660). She traces the history of sellers right into the diaries of Evelyn, Hooke, and Pepys--all regular collectors of prints.

Throughout her discussion, it becomes obvious that English printers and sellers were certainly capable of creating machine books as evidenced by the exploits of George Humble, Compton Holland, and Joseph Moxon. Indeed, Moxon created one of the few real examples of an English machine book: Isaac de Caus's.

One of the first technical books of a similar ilk to the TM was the first English edition of Serlio's First Book of Architecture, published in 1611 by Simon Stafford for Robert Peake, Sr. It was elaborately illustrated. Printed on both Recto and Verso, it contains sections on geometry and perspective.


Title page of Peake's Serlio.


A sample page from Peake's edition.

The title page of Jenner's 1657 edition of Serlio.

Another example of technical printing occurred in 1636 when Peake's sons published Hans Blum's Booke of Five Collumnes of Architecture.


Stafford's Blum of 1608.

From Stafford's Blum.


Fisher and Overton's Blum of 1658. Note how the title page differs.


From Fisher and Overton.

Thomas Jenner acted beyond the authority of the Stationer's company. He pirated Compton Holland's "Booke of the Art of Drawing" and Serlio's "First Booke of Architecture," issued by Peake. Holland's work became "A booke of drawing, limning, washing, or colouring of maps and prints and the Art of Painting" (1652). He also copied a whole range of technical works.

Jenner's rival was Peter Stent. He employed a destitute Czech emigre named Wenceslaus Hollar who executed works such as the Theatrum Mulierum(1643), with 26 plates illustrating women's costumes. The small octavo format of the mulierum is quite interesting. Jenner even reused the plates of Compton Holland and the Peake brothers. In partnership with George Miller, he also issued Alexander Browne's The Whole Art of Drawing (1660).

The reign of Charles II (1660-1685) led to a resurgence in the issuence of art books due to his interest in painting. The genre of the machne book, however, seems to have been forgotten.

Godfrey Richards of the Golden Ball--in collaboration with Simon Miller of the Star--translated and published Pierre Le Muet's first book of Palladio. In the introduction he noted that he translated the work due to "the scarcity of Books of Architecture in English and the zeal" which he discovered "Our ingenious Artists have to entertaine anything of that subject." He positioned the books as "an assistance to [English] Ingenious Workmen and [the] improvement of English Architecture." (pg. 54)

It seems that English architects struggled with compiling their own books. For example, the noted architect Roger Pratt collected notes but was unable to put together a complete book

Another notable printer was Robert Morden. He specialized in works on fortifications: He published Anderson's The genuine use and effects of the gunne, The making of rockets, and To cut the rigging. He also published the anonymous works of " S.J.": Military Discipline and Fortification and Military Discipline. While these works are undeniably technical in nature, they lack the sophisticated plates of the TM.


From Fortification and Military Discipline.

There are a few other factors that may have contributed to the distinctly poor uptake of machine books in England. Cost seems like an obvious issue but likely was not a contributing factor. As Rosenberg notes, the cheese and brandy purchased by--respectively--Evelyn and Hooke, would have purchased a bound copy of Pricke's edition of Le Clerc's Magnum in Parvo or the Practice of Geometry.

The Interregnum may also have been a factor. It could have led to a certain rejection of art. It's possible--if unlikely--that the Interregnum led to a certain loss of skills. Or perhaps a rise of a new genre or expectation. For example, Thomas Scott, a "vituperative anti-Spanish publicist" (pg. 27), campagined against "popish fiends" and their books and images.There may have been a situation that dictated that only text was pious; unlike the Continent where visual works were irreligious and available to both Catholics and Protestants.

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