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This engraving was published to illustrate a work written by compiler of histories and biographer Thomas Birch (1705-1766), titled ‘The Lives and Characters of Illustrious Persons’ (published 1743-52). The work was published by John and Paul Knapton of Ludgate Street, London, and featured portraits of 108 famous Britons from the time of King Edward III (reigned 1327-77) to contemporary figures. Each portrait was accompanied by Birch’s account of the sitter’s life.
Where possible, the engraved portraits were copies of existing paintings. Artists Charles and George Knapton (cousins of the booksellers and publishers John and Paul Knapton), artist and printseller Arthur Pond, and book illustrator and engraver Hubert-François Gravelot are all thought to have been involved in finding and copying the older portraits required for the project. The engraver and antiquary George Vertue was initially employed to engrave the plates but produced just nine before being dismissed for slowness and replaced by Dutch engraver Jacobus Houbraken, who worked from Amsterdam. The ornamental surrounds of the portraits were designed and engraved by Gravelot. The plates are in most cases dated, some as early as 1740.
Flemish engraver Jacobus Houbraken was born in Dordrecht; the son of engraver Arnold Houbraken (1660-1719). He engraved portraits after contemporary artists and Old Master painters. Houbraken produced plates for the third edition of ‘History of England’ (1743-47), written by army officer and historian Paul de Rapin (1661-1725), and for ‘The Heads of the Illustrious Persons of Great Britain’ (1743-52), written by historian and biographer Thomas Birch (1705-1766). For both publications the book illustrator and engraver Hubert-François Gravelot (1699-1773) produced the ornamental surrounds for Houbraken's portraits.
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