- Museum number
- Series: Vivarium Grenovicanum
Titleplate, with six lines of text with a dedication to Charles II by Jonas Moore. 1676
- Production date
Height: 112 millimetres
Width: 446 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- (Text from Antony Griffiths, 'The Print in Stuart Britain', BM 1998 cat.193)
This series (Hake 6-13) with a titlepage and an uncertain number of views was issued in September 1676 to commemorate the opening of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, which was established to assist in calculating longitude, the distance east or west from a fixed point on the globe, as an aid to navigation. The Duchess of Portsmouth, pressed upon Charles the cause of the Sieur de St. Pierre, who had developed a system based upon lunar observations. Charles was sceptical, but appointed a group chaired by the mathematician Sir Jonas Moore and including Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke, to study the claims. The committee in turn appointed John Flamsteed to advise them. Flamsteed quickly concluded not only that St. Pierre's methodology was incorrect, but also that no reliable means of making the astronomical observations requisite to a solution then existed. He recommended the establishment of an observatory and, under the patronage of Moore, was appointed astronomer royal in March 1675 and assigned the task of designing the Observatory.
Although no documents have yet been found about this set of prints, they were almost certainly made when the Observatory opened in the autumn of 1676, and must have been intended to broadcast the existence of the new Observatory to a wide public, and to announce to the scientific world its programme of research and its equipment, much of it influenced by Hooke's designs. Although Moore and Hollar had known each other on the Tangier expedition of 1668-69, and Hollar had etched for him a map (Pennington 1202), the commission for the plates went for reasons unknown to Francis Place. The titleplate states that they are after drawings by Robert Thacker (d.1687), about whom very little is known except that he made drawings of Tangier.
Whatever the intentions behind the series, it was never published and its distribution must have been by presentation. It is now extremely rare, and its original composition is uncertain. The fullest surviving set, of titleplate and eleven plates, is in the Pepys library in Cambridge (2972.262-9); the British Museum has only the title and seven plates (on ewith two views). Most of the plates have key letters against details, and a letterpress text must have been intended to explain them; but if one was made, it has never been found. One oddity, if a text was intended, is that the plates vary considerably in size. Five of them show landscape views of or from the Observatory, while the rest show the scientific instruments employed there. This is the only plate of the interior, and shows the Great Room (now called the Octagon Room), one of the few Wren interiors that remain largely intact to this day.
(See D.Howse, 'Francis Place and the History of the Greenwich Observatory', New York, 1975, which reproduces the Pepys set.)
Sent: Monday, April 19, 2021 9:40 AM
To: Collection Database
Subject: Francis Place etchings of the Royal Observatory
I have been making a study of the Francis Place etchings of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich that are held in different collections. I’m particularly interested in the provenance of the Towneley set at the British Museum. Their object numbers are.
Plate 1: Museum number: 1865,0610.946.
Plate 4: Museum number: 1865,0610.947.
Plate 5: Museum number: 1865,0610.948.
Plate 6: Museum number: 1865,0610.949.
Plate 7: Museum number: 1865,0610.950.
Plate 8: Museum number: 1865,0610.951.
Plate 9: Museum number: 1865,0610.952.
Plate 10: Museum number: 1865,0610.953.
The Plate numbers in the list above are those used by Derek Howse in his Book ‘Francis Place and the Early History of the Greenwich Observatory’ (1975)
The Museum catalogue for Plate 1 states (the other entries are similar except for the mention of 7 prints which is omitted)
Purchased from: Edward Daniell
Previous owner/ex-collection: John Towneley (sale Sotheby's, 10-11.v.1865/126)
Lot 1267 contained 7 prints of Greensiwch and fetched £3 16s
I have a number of questions as to what this actually means
1. Does this mean that Edward Daniell bought them at auction in 1865 and then sold them on to the Museum the same year?
2. Does the association with John Towneley come from the auction catalogue or elsewhere?
3. The link on the Museum website to John Towneley states “Life dates: 1731-1813. Book collector, nephew of John Towneley (1697-1782; q.v.). Prints and drawings sold Sotheby's 10-11.v.1865. Recorded in Alexander's reports to the Trustees as working as a volunteer in P&D in 1811-12. Presented 31 prints by Hollar to the BM on 8 June 1811. His collection of Hollar prints sold by Thomas King, 26-30 May 1818 .” This raises the question of who actually put them up for auction if John Towneley died in 1813.
4. The Catalogue entry for Plate 1 states that it was one of 7 prints, but there are 8 prints linked to Towneley in the series. Is the number 7 a typo?
John Towneley appears to to be a direct heir of Richard Towneley, a friend and correspondent of Flamsteed (the first Astronomer Royal). In 1676, while the Observatory was still under construction Flamsteed sent Richard Towneley a letter, dated 22 January, in which he had drawn a sketch plan (with accompanying key) of the Observatory (RS MS/243/19). Given that in 1680 Flamsteed informed Towneley that he had sent sets to his (Towneley’s) brother in Paris for Roemer and Cassini, it seems highly likely that Towneley himself was also an early recipient of a set. Given the rarity of the prints, it would seem likely that the British Museum set consists of some or all (if none have been lost) of those given by Flamsteed to Richard Towneley. There is no direct record however of Richard Towneley ever having been given a set.
There is one further question I have, which is about the Museum number of the Objects. Is there a record of when the etchings were assigned these particular object numbers? I am struck by the fact that plates themselves do not have numbers on them but that the sequence in which the BM etchings have been numbered is the same sequence that has been used by Howse in his book. What I’m trying to establish, is did the BM take the lead from Howse or did Howse take the lead from the BM? The etchings in the Royal Observatory Archives at Cambridge have recently been re-catalogued and they are now ordered in the same sequence as that used by Howse.
Graham Dolan from the Royal Observatory Greenwich (email April 2021): 'John Towneley appears to to be a direct heir of Richard Towneley, a friend and correspondent of Flamsteed (the first Astronomer Royal). In 1676, while the Observatory was still under construction Flamsteed sent Richard Towneley a letter, dated 22 January, in which he had drawn a sketch plan (with accompanying key) of the Observatory (RS MS/243/19). Given that in 1680 Flamsteed informed Towneley that he had sent sets to his (Towneley’s) brother in Paris for Roemer and Cassini, it seems highly likely that Towneley himself was also an early recipient of a set. Given the rarity of the prints, it would seem likely that the British Museum set consists of some or all (if none have been lost) of those given by Flamsteed to Richard Towneley. There is no direct record however of Richard Towneley ever having been given a set'.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Lot 1267 contained 7 prints of Greensiwch and fetched £3 16s
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number