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This item is taken from PN Review 211, Volume 39 Number 5, May - June 2013.INSIDE COVER : Stella Halkyard Pictures from a Library 8: Wenceslaus Hollar
Views of the Thames and the Danube, c. 1630s-40s, by Wenceslaus Hollar, English manuscript 883, verso 24. Reproduced by courtesy of the University Librarian and Director, The John Rylands Library, The University of Manchester.
The recording I/eye in Humphrey Jennings' poem 'I See London', written during the Blitz of 1941, imagines 'the dome of St Paul's like the forehead of / Darwin'. Separated by some three hundred years and torn by a different and far from civil war, another eye seeks to capture a likeness of St Paul's. This version of that cathedral was home to the author of the Holy Sonnets, Dr Donne. Delineated in pencil, pen and ink on paper (top image), this slight but deliberate rendering of the city from the South Bank of the Thames is the work of Wenceslaus Hollar.
Born in Prague in 1607, Hollar left Bohemia to avoid religious persecution and headed for Germany. While living in Frankfurt he was employed as an etcher in the workshop of Matthäus Merian, where he learned the techniques of topographic and cartographic printing. In the 1630s Hollar moved, settling in England under the patronage of the collector Lord Arundel.
Rylands English Manuscript 883 is a small, vellum-bound book containing a cache of Hollar's drawings. Originally these were independent pieces that were later gathered and sewn together. Dating from the 1620s to the 1640s, they are of various sizes, and in their subject matter they trace the arc of Hollar's travels in Germany, the Netherlands, Prague and London. Although his tiny city prospects are not 'the performance of a finished work' (Kathleen Jamie), they are evidence of the accurate description that came into vogue in artistic circles in the seventeenth century.
In keeping with Hollar's usual artistic practice, his 'View of the Thames' shown here is a preliminary drawing made on the spot (probably from the vantage point of Southwark Cathedral), which was later reconfigured in more detail 'with greater regard for spatial organisation and composition'. It is closely associated with two other drawings that survive in the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art. All three were probably used as sources for his panoramic etching The Long View of London from Bankside.
Produced from six etched plates in 1647, this magnificent print teems with visual information. During its production in the printer's workshop written inscriptions were added to help viewers find their bearings. Unhappily for Hollar, these well intentioned printers mistook the little wooden O of Shakespeare's Globe for a 'beere beyting h', identifying instead the Hope Theatre (which did indeed double up as a bear-baiting house) as the Globe. When printers confuse their bears and our bearings we should expect to encounter the lumbering of ursine exits, and entrances, across the pages of our books.
This item is taken from PN Review 211, Volume 39 Number 5, May - June 2013.