AN EXTREMELY RARE PLAN OF OXFORD BY HOLLAR. In the annals of English copper plate engraving Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-77) holds a high reputation. He is one of the first to record in such detail and quantity the English way of life in the seventeenth century. The breadth and depth of his work is remarkable. He was born in Prague on 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. The Arundel’s had left London for Holland just before the outbreak of the Civil War.
Oxford was staunchly Royalist during the English Civil War and hosted the Royal Court of Charles I from 1642-46. Hollar no doubt was present in Oxford at the time and engraved this superb birds-eye plan of the city orientated with north approximately at the bottom. A numbered key identifies 48 notable places with the arms of the city beneath. A small inset lower left identifies the surrounding countryside. At the top is a fine prospect Oxford from the east with a further key identifying 16 places.
Sixteen coats of arms of the colleges flank the side borders topped by the arms of the founder of the city, Eldred, and the University. Each of the colleges bears the year of foundation with University College being stated as the year 872, following the legend which rose in the fourteenth century that King Alfred was the founder in that year. It was in fact 1249. Signed ‘W. Hollar sculp’, the additional trimmed imprint is not however by his hand. This example is laid down and came from a composite work sold at Sotheby’s, London, 7 December 1993 as 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.
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. Private English collection. British Museum Q,6.106; ESTC R212330; not in Globe (1985); Griffiths (1998); Griffiths & Kesnerová (1983); Pennington 1054; Sotheby’s London 7 December 1993 lot 185; Worms & Baynton-Williams (2011).