John Boydell’s engraving of The Tower of London from the Thames is one of several that the artist produced that give a view of the working life of the river in the capital city. The Tower, to the right of the engraving, was built in the late eleventh century and, although its primary function was the incarceration of citizens who committed acts of treason, it was also home to a menagerie and an armoury. Tower Bridge itself was not built until the second half of the 19th century, when increased traffic necessitated a new river crossing downstream from London Bridge. This view shows a range of craft on the river including heavy barges, some sailing ships, a cutter taking passengers downstream and a man with an oar standing up to manoeuvre a wherry (light rowboat). In the distance, a distant view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, rebuilt in 1708 after it was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666, is clearly visible.
John Boydell was born at Dorrington. He was apprenticed to an engraver for seven years before publishing his first volume of printed views of England and Wales in 1748. In 1752 he opened a print shop in Cheapside. Boydell later bought old plates, imported prints and sold works in France, Holland, Germany and Italy. In 1789 he opened his Shakespeare Gallery in Pall Mall and the first set of engravings based on paintings exhibited in the gallery was issued in 1791. Many leading artists exhibited at the venue. Later in life he sustained severe financial losses as a result of the French Revolution and was forced to dispose of his Shakespeare Gallery by lottery. He became an alderman of the City of London and rose to be Lord Mayor of London.
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