December 12, 2006

Engraved and Etched English Title-Pages (i)

A couple of months ago I acquired a book with the descriptive title of A Catalogue of Engraved and Etched English Title Pages down to the death of William Faithorne, 1691. In this entry, and, I hope, in the one following, I will present a selection from the hundred or so title-pages reproduced therein. In his introduction, the book’s editor Alfred Forbes Johnson writes that ‘Engraved title-pages may be said to date from the middle of the sixteenth century, a surprisingly late development in book-decoration, since the art of engraving had then been practised for at least a hundred years.’ According to Forbes Johnson, the earliest such title-page seen in England, on which the title formed part of the engraved design, was the one made for Thomas Geminus’s Compendiosa totius Anatomie delineatio in 1545. It wasn’t until the seventeenth-century, however, that pictorial title-pages became commonplace.

Detail from the title page for Drayton's 'Poly-Olbion' by William Hole (1612).

The detail above shows part of the comely Britannia at the centre of William Hole’s title-page for Michael Drayton’s topographical epic Poly-Olbion, the first edition of which was published in 1612. Hole (fl. 1607-24) also engraved the county maps which illustrated the book. The engraver’s other main claim to fame was as the designer and publisher of Parthenia, or the Maydenhead (1613) one of the earliest publications of English keyboard-music ‘the first attempt in England to print music from copper plates, and the first carefully arranged miscellaneous anthology of keyboard music anywhere.’ There seems to have been a general skill-shortage in the graphic arts in Jacobean England: for every title-page or frontispiece by a homegrown artist like Hole, there were several others by transplanted Frenchmen, Flemings or Dutchmen. Most of the best ‘English’ prints of the period were executed by foreigners.

Detail from the title page for Bacon's 'Instauratio Magna' by Simon van de Passe (1620).


Detail from the title page for Chapman's translation of the 'Batrachomyomachia' by William van de Passe (1624).

The brothers Simon (1595-1647) and Willem (1598-1636) van de Passe were two of the best esteemed of the expatriate engravers in London. Both had studied printmaking under their father Crispin’s direction. Simon moved to London in 1613 ‘and worked for the publishers of that city for a period of around ten years’ where he was ‘also employed by the famous miniature painter, Nicholas Hilliard, to create engravings after his paintings of the English Royal Family.’ William came to London in 1621, and remained there until his death. The ship in the first of the details above forms the centrepiece for Simon’s fittingly bold design for the title-page of the first volume of Bacon’s Instauratio Magna (1620); while the face in the second detail is William’s depiction of Homer, on the 1624 title page of George Chapman’s translation of the Batrachomyomachia: the comic epic long misattributed to ‘the blind bard.’

Detail from the title page for Burton's 'Anatomy of Melancholy' by C. Le Blon (1628).

In keeping with the prevalence of emblematic and allegorical imagery, many title-pages and frontispieces were charged with more-or-less complex symbolism. Some authors of works thus illustrated took it upon themselves to expound on their meaning with explanatory verses. An excellent example is the ‘Argument of the Frontispiece:’ a poem included by Robert Burton among the introductory texts for the third (1628) edition of his Anatomy of Melancholy, this being the first edition of the work to carry the famous title-page, which was engraved by Christophe (or Christoffel) Le Blon (or Leblon) ‘of Mons and Amsterdam’ (ca. 1560-1650). This ‘Argument’ begins Ten distinct Squares here seen apart, / Are joined in one by Cutter’s art. The panel shown in the detail above is that where Old Democritus under a tree, / Sits on a stone with book on knee…

Detail from the title page for 'All the Works' of John Taylor, by Thomas Cockson (1630).

Other title-pages were much more simply illustrative. The ornamented yet uncomplicated design behind the detail above is for an edition of All the works by the ‘water-poet’ John Taylor issued in 1630. It was the work of one Thomas Cockson (or Coxon, fl. 1591-1636). Other designs used the multi-panel format to illustrate various aspects of an author’s work. The detail below highlights one of the vignettes in a title-page by Thomas Cecill (fl. 1626-40) for a 1634 English translation of the Works of the 16th-Century French physician Ambrose Paré, a compendium which apparently included ‘general discussions of living creatures, of human anatomy, and of surgery, as well as more particular considerations of the brain, muscles, tumors, wounds of various sorts, and other human maladies, along with “the arts to repaire those things which are defective, either by nature or accident.”’

Detail from the title page for the translated 'Works' of Ambrose Paré, by Thomas Cecill (1634).

The process of commissioning an engraved title-page did not always run smoothly. The wildly elaborate design by the prolific William Marshall (fl. 1617-1649) for George Wither’s 1635 collection of Emblemes, for example, left the author vexed and out-of-pocket, as is evident from his Preposition to this Frontispiece:

This BOOKE contayning EMBLEMS, ’twas thought fit,
A Title-page should stand to usher it,
That’s emblematicall: And, for that end,
Our AUTHOR, to the Graver did commend
A plaine Invention; that it might be wrought,
According to his Fancie had forethought.
Insteed thereof, the Workeman brought to light,
What, here, you see; therein, mistaking quite
The true Designe: And, so (with paines, and cost)
The first intended FRONTISPIECE, is lost.
Detail from the title page for the 'Emblemes' of George Wither, by William Marshall (1635).


Detail from the title page for Braithwait's 'The English Gentleman...', by William Marshall (1642).

Forbes Johnson catalogues 114 title-pages as Marshall’s handiwork. He admits that this engraver’s work was ‘very unequal’ and quotes an earlier authority, Sir Siney Colvin, of having said that Marshall’s efforts, at their worst, were ‘crude and bungling.’ Certainly his design for Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici is none too sophisticated. The last of the details above comprises four of the small panels from Marshall’s 1641 title-page for R. Braithwait’s The English Gentleman and English Gentlewoman.

Posted by misteraitch at December 12, 2006 11:00 PM

I've been toying with a piece on Drayton's Poly-Olbion for a while, but have not quite been happy with it. The poem is simply stunning. Does your book contain the title-page of Thomas Coryate's Crudities? That's probably the most elaborate piece I've seen in the genre, and the text begins with an exposition of it.

Posted by: Conrad H. Roth on December 13, 2006 10:26 AM

Conrad—sadly not. It’s just listed (as one of William Hole’s designs) in the catalogue.

Posted by: misteraitch on December 13, 2006 06:41 PM

Well, perhaps I can remedy that.

Posted by: Conrad H. Roth on December 13, 2006 10:52 PM

Thanks, Conrad! For anyone else interested: here is the title page of Coryat’s Crudities which can be found as part of a full, freely downloadable edition of the work: Vol. 1; Vol 2.

Posted by: misteraitch on December 14, 2006 08:07 AM

Very nice! The reason why engraved plates generally took so long to arrive was that they could not be printed together with the letterpress (intaglio vs relief printing) so were rather a pain. Earlier books used woodcut for illustrations. English painting & all offshoots were amazingly retarded throughout the whole C17 until right at the end - one can blame the Reformation but it still seems odd when you compare with music & literature.

The king of English title-pages has to be "Leviathan" (1651) - commissioned from Abraham Bosse in Paris, with I think pretty detailed notes from Hobbes of what he wanted - it's on english Wikipedia at the book or Bosse.

Posted by: JohnB on December 14, 2006 08:37 PM

What a great blog entry - I never get enough of Renaissance engravings.

Posted by: Anniina on February 6, 2007 08:51 AM
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