Somerset House

  • About the work
    Country: UK
    City: London
    Place: Downing Street

    The principal feature of this bird's-eye view engraving is the former building of Somerset House. The engraving was first published in or before 1705 and was included as one of the 80 plates in the first edition of ‘Britannia Illustrata’ (later editions are sometimes referred to as ‘Nouveau Théâtre de la Grande Bretagne’), a collection of high-quality engraved bird's-eye prospects. The plates were initially sold as single engraved sheets from about 1700 and then collated and reissued as a single volume publication of 80 topographical etchings in 1707 by London-based Dutch publisher and printseller David Mortier. Mortier chose fellow Dutch immigrants to work on the plates and this work was drawn by Haarlem-born painter Leonard Knyff and the original version was engraved by Amsterdam-born printmaker Johannes Kip.

    This 1755 version of the print was published for a later, illustrated edition of ‘The Survey of London’, a minute account of the buildings, social conditions and customs of London, written by historian John Stow (c.1525-1605) and first published in 1598.

  • About the artist
    Benjamin Cole was from a well-known family of engravers. He began his career engraving maps and trade cards. His earliest architectural works are thought to be his series of English and Welsh cathedrals, published in 1715. These prints were incorporated into a series of ‘Prospects’, published by John Overton in the 1720s. Cole also engraved plates for ‘Views of the Several Parts of the Palace or Castle of Versailles’ (1725) for Overton. In 1736 Cole and William Henry Toms engraved the plates for architect Nicholas Hawksmoor’s ‘A Short Historical Account of London Bridge’. However, Cole more commonly engraved portraits and decorative subjects, such as bookplates, after works by contemporary artists.
    Leendert Knijff, better known as Leonard Knyff, was born in Haarlem in 1650 and followed his brother Jacob (also an artist) to London at some point after 1676. In 1694, Knyff was made a British citizen. He began his career painting still lifes but became better-known in Britain for his views of gardens and country houses. The birds-eye view format, which was popularised in the UK by Knyff, is thought to have first been introduced to the British landscape tradition by his brother, Jacob.
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  • Details
    Somerset House
    Coloured engraving
    height: 21.80 cm, width: 33.80 cm
    Presented by Dr. Peter Rusk, November 1971
    GAC number