THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

3 posts categorized "Architecture"

04 April 2018

Shipwrecks and Piracy: John Rocque’s 1750 Map of Rome, part two

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In my last blog I noted how John Rocque’s 1750 map of Rome could be considered both a personal memento for the grand tourist who likely commissioned it – Sir Bourchier Wrey – as well as a useful map for travellers.

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John Rocque, A Plan of Rome, (London, 1750), British Library Maps K.Top.81.22.

My post today will look at events surrounding the production of Rocque’s map of Rome. The ensuing story reveals this London mapmaker to be a rather ruthless opportunist…

 

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Giambattista Nolli, detail of Nuova Pianta di Roma , (Rome, 1748), British Library Maps K.Top.81.21.8.TAB.

In 1748 the Italian cartographer Giambattista Nolli produced a landmark map of Rome. It came in two sizes: a monumental twelve-sheet map entitled Nuova Pianta di Roma, and a reduced single-sheet version called La Topografia di Roma. Scholars sometimes refer to them respectively as the Pianta grande and the Pianta piccola for short, and copies of both can be found in King George III’s Topographical Collection.

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Giambattista Nolli, La Topografia di Roma , (Rome, 1748), British Library Maps K.Top.81.21.a.

The incredible detail of Nolli’s Pianta grande ensured that it was still being used in some form for over 200 hundred years.[1] The story abroad, however, was another matter entirely: in terms of sales, it was a bit of a flop. Among the reasons for this disappointing turnover, at least in Britain, was the quick-witted John Rocque.[2]

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Giambattista Nolli, detail of Nuova Pianta di Roma , (Rome, 1748), British Library Maps K.Top.81.21.8.TAB.

As was common in the eighteenth century, Nolli and his associate Girolamo Belloni attempted to raise funds for the project by seeking advance subscribers.[3] Nolli handled the domestic sales (i.e. the Papal States), while Belloni was responsible for international sales. To this end Belloni travelled across Europe from 1747 to 1756.

Before publication Belloni procured a meagre 59 subscribers abroad. Though we don’t know exactly how many of those came from London, the figure for Paris, by comparison, was 6. By the end of 1756 Belloni recorded that he had sold a grand total of 459 copies abroad. This was a rather disappointing return for a project so long and so dear in the making.

Despite this, the popularity of the map in London was high, relative to other European cities, perhaps reflecting Rome’s status in Britain as the Grand Tour capital. It might have sold even better still, were it not for John Rocque.

Among the first shipments sent out around May 1748 was a batch of 48 maps (or 56, according to a second note) en route to London that were lost in a shipwreck.

Belloni, it seems, did not react quickly enough to this setback, but Rocque did. For in 1750, after a fairly brisk turnaround, Rocque published his own map of Rome, a compilation of the Pianta grande and the Pianta piccola.[4] Even though Rocque did credit Nolli in his title, this was bare-faced plagiarism designed to capitalise on Belloni’s slowness in supplying the London map market.

Seeing an example of Nolli’s map in 1750, the artist Canaletto, in London at that time, remarked: “many gentlemen have already been provided with it by another hand”.[5] Though it is far from explicit, Canaletto was surely referring to Rocque, since he was the only mapmaker who had made a copy by this date.

Thus with a keen eye for an opportunity, John Rocque stole a march on his rivals: what was Nolli and Belloni’s loss was his gain. The eighteenth-century map market could be a ruthless place.

 

[1] In fact, it formed the base of plans of the city by the Italian government until the 1970s, see Ceen, Allan, ‘Nuova Pianta di Roma Data in Luce da Giambattista Nolli l’Anno MDCCXLVIII’, http://nolli.uoregon.edu/nuovaPianta.html.

[2] The details of the history of Nolli’s map come from Bevilacqua, Mario, Roma nel Secolo dei Lumi: Architettura, erudizione, scienza nella Pianta di G.B. Nolli «celebre geometra», (Naples: Electa Napoli, 1998), especially pp. 49-52.

[3] For more information about the subscription model, see Pedley, Mary Sponberg, The commerce of cartography: making and marketing maps in eighteenth-century France and England, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), pp. 84-90.

[4] There is some uncertainty among map historians concerning how long it took to prepare copperplates for printing, with estimates ranging from a few days to many months. Contrast, for example, Pedley (2005), pp. 53-56, and Carhart, George, ‘How Long Did It Take to Engrave an Early Modern Map? A Consideration of Craft Practices’, in Imago Mundi, Vol. 56, No. 2 (2004), pp. 194-197.

[5] “essendo già stati provisti molti Signori Personaggi da altro mano”. My translation; see Bevilacqua (2005), p. 52.

16 October 2017

Shoreditch according to Goldfinger

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A remarkable new acquisition has arrived! Planning your neighbourhood  is a proposal on twenty display boards for post-war reconstruction produced by an architect Ernő Goldfinger and Ursula Blackwell in 1944 for the Army Bureau of Current Affairs.

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Planning Your Neighbourhood. Title page. British Library Maps C.49.e.82.

Goldfinger, educated in Vienna and Paris, played an important part in the development of the modernist movement in Britain. His appreciation for the Brutalist style and unconventional designs (including the Alexander Fleming House at Elephant and Castle, Balfron Tower at Poplar, and Trellick Tower in west London) often upset the general public. Allegedly, the author Ian Fleming, who was Goldfinger’s neighbour in Hampstead, was so opposed to the design of terraced houses in Willow Road, that he named one of the James Bond novel villains after the architect.

Planning your neighbourhood captures an air of optimism in which the designer presented the utopian vision of improved post-war city life. The district of Shoreditch in East London, heavily damaged through enemy actions and “overcrowded and disfigured by slums”, was a perfect candidate for post-war reconstruction. The proposal incorporates maps, aerial photos and diagrams to visualise the concept of comfortable modern housing that caters for all. The idea was that anyone, young and old across different social classes, would enjoy living in the “vertical city”.

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Aerial view of the damaged site in Shoreditch. Board 11. Planning Your Neighbourhood. British Library Maps C.49.e.82.

The set opens with a comparison of country and city life stating that in towns “the advantage of neighbourliness is lost”. The solution suggested by Goldfinger is the creation of neighbourhoods composed of residential units, in line with principles of planning concept introduced by Sir Leslie Patrick Abercrombie and John Forshaw in their Greater London Plan, which promoted development of self-contained communities.

Goldfinger’s scheme advocates vertically built cites over traditional outward expansion. He compared a footprint of a tower block against a street of terraced houses, demonstrating the advantage of the modern approach.

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Board 10. Planning Your Neighbourhood. British Library Maps C.49.e.82.

The importance of planning is strongly emphasized, with the planner having to carefully consider a design which allowed for different sized apartments, depending on individual family needs, and appropriate amenities located nearby. Goldfinger also thought about green spaces and recreational facilities such as local cinemas and swimming pools, playgrounds, cricket and football grounds – all conveniently situated in the centre of the neighbourhood within an easy reach from home. Also, with safety in mind, he introduced the idea of segregated traffic with high speed roads exclusively reserved for heavy vehicles (including buses and trucks), and slow roads for horse carts, bicycles and pedestrians providing safe access to nurseries and schools with no crossing of traffic required.  

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Board 8. Planning Your Neighbourhood. British Library Maps C.49.e.82.

The reconstruction of post-war Britain was less ambitious than Goldfinger estimated and his Shoreditch scheme was never built. One could argue it was realised on a ‘mini scale’ as Trellick Tower Cheltenham Estate in west London completed in 1972 with its own doctor surgery, nursery, school, laundrettes, and shops. Loved or hated, it became one of London’s landmarks and has been given Grade II listed status by English Heritage.

By the mid-1970s concrete tower blocks were no longer perceived as a model for urban regeneration. What originally was intended to provide a solution to the housing problem and growth of a healthy strong community in reality became the main factor for social alienation, crime and creating serious safety hazards.

Unfortunately Planning your neighbourhood was acquired too late to be included in our Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line exhibition held in November 2016 to March 2017 but the set is available for ordering through the online catalogue.

09 March 2015

London through the artist's eye

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About 40% of the King’s Topographical Collection consists of views. Many are drawings and watercolours by enthusiastic amateurs who were keen to record decaying churches, great houses and old buildings. But the work of some of the finest artists working in England in the 18th century such as Paul Sandby, William Pars, Michael ‘Angelo’ Rooker, John ‘Warwick’ Smith and Thomas Jones is also represented.

Most of the views in the collection are printed, but no less splendid for that. In the 17th century, the Bohemian exile, Wencelas (Wenzel/Vaclav) Hollar was the acknowledged master of the etching, a printing technique involving the application of acid to copper. His works are well represented in the Collection which also contains 16th-century engraved views which were once in the collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-1657).

Perhaps most spectacularly, George III’s reign saw the perfection and spread of the aquatint, a printed hand-coloured process imitating watercolour. British artists were in the vanguard and were anxious to present their best work to the King. As a result the King’s Topographical Collection contains perhaps the greatest group of the highest quality aquatints anywhere in the world.
The sections of the collection relating to London and the South-East contain handsome views from the 16th to the 19th centuries with fascinating stories attached to them.

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Frans Hogenberg, [Exterior of the first Royal Exchange seen from Cornhill], ca. 1570.  Maps K Top. 24.11-2-2.

There is more to the large engraved view of the First Royal Exchange than meets the eye. The view was created, shortly after the completion of the building in 1569 by the artist and engraver Frans Hogenberg. The inscription mentions that it was paid for, as a benefit to the public and an adornment to the City, by Sir Thomas Gresham, whose grasshopper crest adorns the top of the weathervane. What it doesn’t say is that the building was meant as a challenge to Antwerp, where Hogenberg had been living until he was expelled because of his protestant beliefs in 1569. He may have felt that this print was a way of getting back at his persecutors. The building was certainly viewed as a thorn in the flesh by the Catholic powers of Europe. When in 1572 Hogenberg was commissioned to prepare a reduced copy of a map of London as the first town view in a multi-volume atlas of town views and maps, Civitates Orbis Terrarum, it was omitted – only for the publishers to be compelled, two years later, to insert a miniaturised version of this view to show the location of Gresham’s Royal Exchange.

Maps K. Top. 28.9-e.Wenceslaus Hollar, On the North Side of London , 1664  Maps K. Top. 28.9-e.

The next image moves a century later, to the summer of 1664, when Wenceslaus Hollar was seeking refuge from smells and diseases prevailing in the city. He moved to the fashionable suburban village of Islington, from which he made a series of exquisite little etchings of the view towards London. This view is dominated by old St Paul’s Cathedral, as seen from the North rather than across the Thames and lacking its steeple that had burnt down in 1561. Hollar shows it two years before its destruction in the Great Fire. In the foreground can be seen a group of Londoners practising their archery on the site of what are now the elegant Georgian houses of Canonbury. Though they doubtless regarded the archery as a sport, it had long been one of the compulsory skills of the members of the citizen militia, the trainbands, who a generation earlier had defended London against the armies of King Charles I.

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S.H. Grimm, A drawn View of the Distribution of His Majesty's Maundy by the Sub-Almoner, in the Chapel Royal at Whitehall, 1773.  Maps K. Top 26.5-r

A little more than a century later, on Maundy Thursday, 1773, the King’s Almoner, the Rev. Sir Richard Kaye, the King’s Sub-Almoner, distributed the royal alms to needy pensioners in the Banqueting House in Whitehall, which was then used as a royal chapel. He gave 35  pensioners 35 specially minted silver pence each, reflecting the King’s age in  1773.  The King, dressed in red, looked on from a gallery: unlike today, the monarch  did not actually distribute the alms. Kaye commissioned a Swiss artist, Samuel Hieronymous Grimm, who had moved to London 5 years earlier, to depict the scene in watercolour. Grimm produced two large watercolours which are widely regarded as his masterpieces and exhibited them the next year, 1774, at the Royal Academy. There they were seen by George III – who was captivated by them. He tried to get Kaye to present them to him – but Kaye would not listen. George tried again and again to get Kaye to change his mind over the following decades but with no more success. Finally, in 1810 Kaye bequeathed them to George in his will – if he were still interested. By the time Kaye died, the King himself had gone incurably insane, but the watercolours were placed in his geographical collections, the trophies of a pursuit that had lasted nearly four decades.

Maps_k_top_21_31_5_c_port_11_tab (detail)William Daniell, A View of the East India Docks1808.  Maps K . Top. 21.31-5-c. Port.II. Tab

Aquatints enjoyed their heyday just as Great Britain was experiencing a technological revolution and our last two views commemorate different aspects of it. The first, an aquatint by William Daniell, shows the newly-built East India Docks, designed by John Rennie and Ralph Walker, that had just been constructed on the Isle of Dogs in East London. A masterpiece of engineering, it – with the West India and London Docks – gave London the capacity to absorb the goods that were flooding into Great Britain, making London the greatest trading city in the world. Had they not been built, the Thames alone could not have accommodated all the ships, which would have been compelled to go elsewhere. The River Lee is seen entering the Thames to the left and across the river is the site of the O2 Arena.

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Augustus Charles Pugin, engraved by J. Hill, View of the Excavated Ground for Highgate Archway,  1812.  Maps K Top 30.1-1-g.

The second aquatint, by Augustus Charles Pugin, the father of the man who decorated the interior of the present-day Houses of Parliament, commemorates a disaster. In around 1800 John Rennie proposed that one of the first by-passes should be created. It would enable horse traffic to avoid the steep slope of Highgate Hill, along the main road North from London. The new road would run along a cutting at the side of the hill until it disappeared into a tunnel beneath a ridge that ran east from Highgate. Rennie’s geological researches were faulty however, and in April 1812 the tunnel collapsed in spectacular fashion, much to the glee of the gossiping classes. This print shows the aftermath. A year later, John Nash constructed a permanent bridge over the chasm and its descendant continues to carry traffic to and from Highgate, while the Archway Road thunders beneath.

This is just a fraction of what is contained in the King’s Topographical Collection and there are many more treasures to be uncovered. We are now fundraising to catalogue, conserve and digitise this collection and you can help us by making a donation today at www.bl.uk/unlock-london-maps. If would like to learn more about the project and how you can get involved, please get in touch with Rachel Stewart (rachel.stewart@bl.uk) and me, Peter Barber, at the British Library (peter.barber@bl.uk).