- Museum number
A sheet from a bird's-eye plan of London: from St Giles on the left to Chancery Lane on the right, Holborn at top, the Thames from Savoy Stairs to Essex Stairs at the bottom. 1660/6
- Production date
Height: 344 millimetres
Width: 455 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- (Text from Antony Griffiths, 'The Print in Stuart Britain', BM 1998 cat.131)
This is the unique surviving impression from an unfinished plate which is the only remaining fragment of Hollar's greatest project, which he undertook after his return to England. Although he earned his bread and butter making plates for Ogilby and Dugdale, his own energies from 1660 went into a plan to make a giant map-view of London. He had been trained in this skill under Merian in Germany before he met the Earl of Arundel, and the opportunity for such a new wall-map had been revealed by the success of William Faithorne's engraving on twelve sheets of 1658 (Fagan p.87: see1881-6-11-254).
An etched sheet of 'Propositions concerning the map of London and Westminster etc. which is in hand by Wentsel Hollar' dated 1660 begins: 'This map is to contain 10 foot in bredth, and 5 foot upward wherein shall be expressed, not onely the streets, lanes, alleys etc. proportionably measured; but also the buildings (especially of the principall houses, churches, courts, halls, etc.) as much resembling the likeness of them, as the convenience of the roome will permitt. Example whereof is in considerable part to be seen. The charge thereof being found by experience to be wery great and too heavy to be borne by the author himselve alone', Hollar sought subscribers at ,3, payable in three instalments. In return, the subscriber got a copy of the map with his arms and name 'as a benefactour, in a convenient place of the map designed for that purpose' (see Pennington p.xlii).
This etching is the only known print by Hollar that answers this description, being a combination of a map and view on a very large scale. If the overall size was really 10 x 5 foot, and each sheet was this size, there would have been 24 sheets in all. But not all would have been map, and the borders would have filled with views and coats of arms in the manner of Dutch wall-maps of the period. The project would have required a fresh survey of the whole city, and this, rather than etching the plates, must have occupied a vast amount of time until the Great Fire made most of his survey obsolete.
Hollar tried to keep up the project. In November 1666 he was appointed the King's Scenographer, and Pepys recorded on 22 November 1666: 'My Lord Brouncker ... tells me that he [Hollar] was yesterday sworn the King's servant, and that the King hath commanded him to go on with his great map of the city, which he was upon before the City was burned'. In August 1667 he petitioned for aid to perfect his ground-plot with the houses, which he called 'his monument and masterpiece' on which he had spent seven years labour and run ,100 into debt, 'and now the city being destroyed, no man living can leave such a record to posterity of how it was as himself' (Pennington pp.xli-xlii). But Charles was always penniless, and nothing came of this. The only paid job that Hollar was given was in 1668 to survey the territory in Tangier that had come to the English crown with the dowry of Catherine of Braganza. Posterity can indeed regret the collapse of Hollar's great project. This sheet shows its quality, and London would have boasted the finest map-plan ever made of any city in the world.
See R. Godfrey, 'Wenceslaus Hollar: A Bohemian Artist in England', New Haven and London, 1994, no.102.
In 2010 another impression of the sheet appeared in the sale of books from the library of the Earls of Macclesfield and was purchased by the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2006/7 Nov-Feb, London, British Library, 'London: A Life in Maps'
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number