This coloured engraving, set within an ornamental cartouche, shows a view of Tunis in the 18th century. Spanish boats sail along the calm sea, as the Gulf of Tunis opens up before our eyes,. In the distance, between the rolling hills, the city of Tunis emerges with its eclectic architecture. Oscillating between Spanish and Ottoman occupation since the 16th century, Tunisia entered into a new period of history in the 18th century. Tunis prospered as a centre of commerce under the Husainid dynasty, leading to urban expansion.
This print was originally published in George Millar’s ambitious work 'The New and Universal System of Geography: Being a Complete History and Description of the Whole World'. This book aimed to provide the reader with ‘a particular, full, accurate, circumstantial and entertaining Account’ of everything from the geographical features of countries to their histories, and from descriptions of flora and fauna to local customs.
In his description of the city of Tunis, which accompanies the print, Millar singles out some of the most important monuments. For instance: the grand mosque with its magnificent tower, Turkish marble tombs, the bey’s palace with four gates and turrets and spacious galleries as well as the strong castle by the fort of La Goletta.
John Keyse Sherwin was born in Sussex, the son of Francis Sherwin, a labourer. He initially worked as a gardener on William Mitford’s estate near Petworth. In 1769, Mitford sent one of his drawings to the Society of Arts and the work won the silver medal. Sherwin later moved to London, where he studied painting under John Astley and engraving under Bartolozzi. In 1770 he entered the Royal Academy Schools. He set up his own studio in 1774, publishing his first engraving in 1775. During the next ten years he exhibited drawings of historical subjects. He also engraved works by Reynolds, Kauffman, Gainsborough and others. In 1785 he was made Historical Engraver to King George III. However, he died aged just 37 in an alehouse in Westminster.
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