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HOLLAR, Wenceslaus

Byrsa Londinensis vulgo The Royall Exchange of London

London, 1644-[c.50]
290 x 390 mm., trimmed close to the neatline, laid down onto larger paper, otherwise in good condition.
The second state of one of Hollar’s most important engravings. In the annals of English copper plate engraving few hold such a high reputation as Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-77). It is the seventeenth century in which he contributed so much. He is one of the first to record in such great detail and quantity the English way of life at the time. The breadth and depth of his work is remarkable. He was born in Prague 13 July 1607 as Václav Hollar which he would later anglicise. His childhood was a life of some privilege which enabled him access to some of the finest art works of the era including that of the principal court engraver Aegidius Sadeler with whom it is believed Hollar learnt to engrave. Hollar’s early work was in Prague but the turmoil at home encouraged him to go to Stuttgart, Germany in 1627. Two years later he appears to have moved further west to Strasbourg. His natural talent flourished alongside the likes of Jan van de Velde and shortly after Matthaus Merian in Frankfurt. He worked all along the River Rhine including the Dutch towns.

It was in 1636 that a fortuitous meeting occurred with the English envoy Thomas Howard, the Earl of Arundel. Hollar joined the entourage and was employed to record their travels. At the end of the year the Earl of Arundel returned to England and was joined by Hollar. For the next six years he worked closely alongside him. The Earl and his circle were fervent Royalists which it appears matched Hollar’s own sympathies. According to the eighteenth century engraver George Vertue, he fought during the Civil War being present at the garrison of Basing House in 1644 with other notable artists such as Inigo Jones and William Faithorne. During this period some of his engravings were published by the largest printseller at the time Peter Stent. Indeed it was in the same year that this engraving was published. The Arundel’s had left London for Holland just before the outbreak of the Civil War. Sometime later in 1644 Hollar joined them. He would spend the next eight years in Antwerp about which we know relatively little.

This engraving is one of the finest of the Royal Exchange, the first built on the site by Sir Thomas Gresham, merchant, 1566-67. Destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, it is orientated to the west with the Cornhill seen through the entrance arch on the left. The main floor is a hive of activity and would have included merchants from all corners of the globe, there can be seen Russian merchants on the left in their fur hats, turbaned Turkish traders and a women hawking her paper nearby. The first floor gallery included stalls, the facades of which contain statues of the Kings and Queens of England. That of Charles I is the last on the right and was removed just five years later following his execution in 1649. Its pedestal had the words ‘Exit tyrannus regum ultimus’ inscribed on it. The grasshopper can be seen above two of the corners of the building, the symbol from Gresham’s family crest. The title and dedication are held aloft by two angels and Hollar’s imprint and the date 1644 are found lower right. Provenance: Sotheby’s London 7 December 1993 lot 185, a five volume composite ‘History of England’ by David Hume 1806 with 1,644 plates! It had the bookplate of Richard Henry Alexander Bennet. The prints were collected by the noted Richard Bull (1721-1805) whose daughter was Elizabeth Bull of North Court Manor, Isle of Wight (1749-1809). She left her books to R. H. Alexander Bennet of Beckenham, Kent. The lines round the sheets are typical of Richard Bull, who had put the collection together. Griffiths & Kesnerová (1983) pl. 61; Hind (1922) no. 29; Pennington 1036 st. 2; Worms & Baynton-Williams (2011).
Stock number: 8355


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