Tippoo’s Tiger

Tippoo Sultan's Tiger Automaton/Statue

Contributor: Jean-Marie Fournier

Location: Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Description: Now an exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, Sultan Tippoo’s « Man-Tiger organ » is simultaneously an automaton, a sculpture in the Gothic taste, a musical instrument, an instance of popular craftsmanship in the spirit of the Enlightenment, and an elaborate practical joke. The object enjoyed great popularity in its day, celebrated in penny broadsides, chapbooks and newspapers, so that its fame was well-established long before it reached England. When it did arrive in Britain in 1800, it was exhibited first in the Tower of London, and then in East India House, Leadenhall Street. There it was seen by both William Blake and John Keats.

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Fragment of a cancelled copper plate from William Blake’s America

Contributor: Robert Rix

Location: Library of Congress, Washington DC

Description: The poet and artist William Blake (1757-1827) printed his Illuminated Books, combining text and picture, from copper plates. The technique he used was unique and is still subject to debate. We know that he wrote directly on the copper with an acid-resistant liquid; he then proceeded to cover the plate in corrosive acid that etched away the uncovered areas of the plate, leaving text and design in relief, which was finally inked and placed in a rolling press. The exhibit shows how Blake painted text in mirror writing so that the plate, when pressed against the paper, prints in normal script. Legend has it that Blake was instructed in this peculiar printing technique in 1788, when his dead brother, Robert, appeared to him in a vision. However, Blake never gave any detailed account of how his etchings were made. The exhibit is the only surviving fragment on which Blake’s etching technique is visible. It has therefore been of great interest to critics who have tried to reconstruct how Blake made his Illuminated Books.

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Every House of the Ant-Hill on the Plain: Richard Horwood’s London

Section from Horwood's Plan showing Westminster and the City of London

Contributor: Matthew Sangster

Location: British Library, London

Description: Richard Horwood’s vast PLAN of the Cities of LONDON and WESTMINSTER the Borough of SOUTHWARK, and PARTS adjoining Shewing every HOUSE, a project commenced in 1790 and finally completed in 1799, touches upon many suggestive contradictions between Romantic ideologues and the print culture of the period in which these were theorised. The Plan is deeply Romantic in terms of its reach and ambition: a house-by-house map of the largest city in Europe surveyed and engraved by one man over a period of nearly a decade. Horwood himself was keen to stress the novelty and grandeur of his endeavour: his prospectus described the Plan as an undertaking ‘ON A PRINCIPLE NEVER BEFORE ATTEMPTED’ and when writing to the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce in an attempt to secure a premium for his work, he played up the physical and mental effort it had required:

The execution of it has cost me nine years severe labour and indefatigable perseverance; and these years formed the most valuable part of my life. I took every angle; measured almost every line; and after that, plotted and compared the whole work. The engraving, considering the immense mass of work, is, I flatter myself, well done.

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