Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A Most Curious Perspective - The “Garter” Engravings of Wenceslaus Hollar

In 1672 Elias Ashmole published his historical account of the laws and ceremonies of the noble orders of knighthood. Entitled The Institution, Laws and Ceremonies of the most Noble Order of the Garter, the book is notable for its suite of fine engravings depicting the many and varied aspects of the various orders of knighthood, in particular those associated with the Order of the Garter and Windsor Castle.

Photograph of Elias Ashmole's The Institution, Laws and Ceremonies of the most Noble Order of the Garter (1672), p. 202. Engraving by Hollar of the habit and ensign of the Order of the Garter. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K. (2014).
Ashmole was a renowned antiquary, politician, officer of arms, astrologer and student of alchemy. He supported King Charles I during the English Civil War. In 1645 he accepted the position of Commissioner of Excise at Worcester, though it seems likely he never participated in any actual fighting.

At the restoration of Charles II he was rewarded with several lucrative offices. Indeed, he has been described as one of those people who attempted to rise up the social ladder at the restoration by seeking favours and advancement at the new court. In June 1660 he was appointed to the College of Arms as Windsor Herald of Arms in Ordinary, a position he still held at the time of publication of his Garter book.

The natural choice for “illustrator” of Ashmole’s great book was already a friend of his. Wenceslaus Hollar. Exile from Bohemia – Artist in England, as the commemorative stone in Southwark Cathedral describes him, was an established draughtsman and engraver in England, having first travelled here in the household of Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel in 1637.

Hollar’s engravings for the Garter book encompass a wide variety of designs, including regalia of the various orders of knighthood, as well as a number of vividly detailed architectural studies. In particular there are 14 engravings of Windsor castle, including two fold-out plates, and a number of prospects and plans of St. George’s Chapel, which define his vision and skill as an engraver.

Photograph of Elias Ashmole's The Institution, Laws and Ceremonies of the most Noble Order of the Garter (1672), p. 143. Engraving by Hollar of the interior of St. George's Chapel. Image Copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K. (2014)
Perhaps the most surprising plate of all, and the most innovative for its time, is the aerial view of Windsor Castle (pictured here). The perspective and viewpoint of this engraving is both surprising and bemusing for its time, and represents a hallmark of Hollar’s astonishing technique. In a fictionalised (though historically accurate) account, Gillian Tindall gives us his son’s view of it in The Man Who Drew London: Wenceslaus Hollar in Reality and Imagination (Pimlico, London. 2002). Indeed it is hard to comprehend, even today, how he was able to achieve such an imaginative perspective.

Photograph of Elias Ashmole's The Institution, Laws and Ceremonies of the most Noble Order of the Garter (1672), p.131. Engraving by Hollar showing an aerial view of Windsor Castle. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K. (2014).
One of Hollar’s Garter engravings bears the intriguing attribution W. Hollar Scenographus Regis, referring to his official status of His Majesty’s Scenographer, a position he petitioned the King for, possibly with Ashmole’s support. Another notable engraving depicts a dinner in Windsor Great Hall showing all the Garter knights (though not depicted here throwing food at each other, as the diarist John Evelyn had disapprovingly seen them do!).

by Steve Hobbs

Gillian Tindall, The Man Who Drew London: Wenceslaus Hollar in Reality and Imagination. Pimlico, London. 2002.
John Evelyn, Memoirs, Illustrative of the Life and Writings of John Evelyn, London 1819, volume 1, p.403
Elias Ashmole, The Order of the Garter, London1672



Thursday, 24 April 2014

Part II: Captain Edward Cooke’s A Voyage to the South Sea and Around the World

Captain Edward Cooke embarked on a marauding voyage around the world that began in 1708 and lasted three years. The voyage was made up of two ships sent out by Bristol merchants. Cooke commanded the ship called the Duchess, whilst William Dampier, a renowned seafarer who completed three circumnavigations in his lifetime, commanded the Duke with Woodes Rogers. Cooke’s account of the voyage was published in two volumes, titled A Voyage to the South Sea and Around the World Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710, and 1711, copies of which are held in Worcester Cathedral library.

After travelling from Bristol to the Coast of Brazil, then onto Peru and the Galapagos Islands, the Duke and Duchess continued Northwards from Panama along the northern part of South America. Cooke describes how this area of land was divided into “the Tierre Firme, or the continent, the next to the Equinoctial, being the very narrow Isthmus, or neck of land, which joins the North and South parts of that vast part of the world, next Veragua, then Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Vera Paz, Chippa, Soconusco, Tabasco, Yucatan, Guaxaca, Tlascala, Or Los Angeles, Mexico, properly so call’d, Mechoaca, Panuco, Xalisco, Guadalajara, Zacatecas, New Biscay, Culiacan, Cinaloa, the vast province of New Mexico, and the Island of California.” (p. 835)
Cooke gives a short summary of each of the places but devotes most time to describing the layout and customs of the peoples of Mexico City. Cooke uses the account of the Italian traveller Gemelli  Careri who visited Mexico City over a decade earlier in 1693. Cooke (quoting Gemelli) describes Mexico favourably: “The plan of it is square with long, wide, and well pav’d streets, lying east, west, north and south, in straight lines, like a chess board. Few cities in Italy exceed it for beautiful structures and none come near it for fine women”.

The below map was created by Gemelli and is taken from another travel book from Worcester Cathedral library, Harris’ Collection of Voyages and Travels (1745). It shows Mexico City as Gemelli and Cooke encountered it in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The twentieth century has seen the city of Mexico rapidly expand westward and, since 1900 its population has increased from 500,000 to over 8 million. Today the lakes of Chalco (South of the Lake of Mexico), Xal and Nuebo are covered by the sprawling city. As the map is hydrographical it is mainly concerned with recording the lakes and waterways surrounding Mexico City. Yet from it we can nonetheless get an impression of how “five causeways half a league long, lead into the city, which has neither walls nor gates".

Photograph of a "hydrographicall draught of Mexico as it lies in its lakes", Harris' Collection of Voyages and Travels, Vol. IV (1745), p.487. Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral, U.K. (2014).
Like all travel accounts, we cannot be certain of the statistics that Cooke records about Mexico City’s population and he is often very opinionated. He claims that around one million live in the city itself and that of this figure a large proportion of people were racially mixed, “the greater number blacks and mulattos” (Cooke, p. 396). Cooke’s statement simplifies the complex and extremely diverse social demography of Mexico City in this period. African slaves had begun to be imported into New Spain because the introduction of the New Laws in the seventeenth century prohibited the enslavement of the indigenous peoples. Between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Mexico became increasingly ethnically diverse and there were many groups of mixed-racial identity created from the blending of European, African, and Indian cultures.

Mexico City was also surrounded by smaller towns or pueblos (as seen on the map) that were made-up almost entirely of Indians. If you want to learn more about the demography of Mexico City in this period this link provides a good overview and some useful statistical historic research

Cooke’s figure of five million indigenous people living in the towns surrounding Mexico city is undoubtedly inaccurate. In the seventeenth century, the indigenous population had begun to recover from small pox and other infections and the number of Indigenous people had increased by as much as 30% throughout the later seventeenth century; Cooke’s figure probably exaggerates the population growth. Many of Cooke’s observations are, however, accurate. For example, he notes how brass coinage was not used in Mexico at this time, only silver. He also comments that in the city’s markets, you can trade the cacao bean as a form of currency. He says that “in the market cacao nuts pass for honey in the buying of Herbs, 60 or 80 of them passing for a Royal, as the Price of those nuts is higher or lower”. Cacao beans along with textiles were transported into the city during this period from southern Mexico and were eagerly sought after.

After his description of Mexico City, Cooke talks of Acapulco which he is altogether less impressed by! He complains that the conditions are “very unhealthy from November till May because then there falls no ran, and therefore is hotter in January than Italy in the Dog-Days.” (Cooke p. 397). He also complains that there is a lack of inns for travellers to stay in, stating that “Spanish Merchants, as soon as the Ships from Manila and Peru are discharg’d, all retire to oher places”. Acapulco was a busy port in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and was where all the major goods from China and the Philippines were brought to by ship and then transported onwards to Mexico City by the Manila galleons. The city was predominantly made-up of African migrants and slaves, who worked at the port.

Cooke’s A Voyage to the South Sea and Around the World Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710, and 1711 is a useful and engaging read for anyone who is interested in the history of Mexico and surrounding countries (Guatamala, Panama and so on). It gives an idea of how one English traveller perceived these places in the early 1700s. As I have suggested, however, we should not necessarily take everything Cooke records as fact. Cooke often relies heavily on the accounts of voyagers that have gone before him and can also be prone to using hyperbole (because he wants readers to find his travels exciting). One can also be frustrated over the amount of time Cooke spends relaying the history of each place, much narrative is concerned with past events instead of present circumstances. This said, there are some very detailed descriptions of the silver mines and other aspects of local economies.
After venturing along the neck of land connecting Northern and Southern America, Cooke and his group departed from the “island” of California to return for England on January 10 1709. After they reached the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) their journey to Texel (North Holland) took three months and seventeen days.  

Friday, 11 April 2014

Amongst the many travel books held within the Cathedral Library there is a published account by Captain Edward Cooke (fl. 1710), in which he describes in detail, his travels and adventures around the world. This voyage was undertaken between August 1st 1708, from the port of Bristol and arrived back in England on October 2nd 1711. The book is written in a diary style and describes all the events, amazing sightings and discoveries encountered on their epic voyage.

Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K), 2014

The first part of Cooke’s voyage was to the Cape Verde islands and then on to the coast of Brazil, where on Sunday 14th of November, land was sighted off the Island Grande. Two crew members bargained for a canoe to take them ashore, but they got lost and, on seeing a number of wild beasts, they thought better of it and returned to the ship “begging for God’s sake to be brought aboard, or they should be devoured”. They were taken on board and confined in irons. The following morning they were whipped then set free.

Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.) 2014.
 One of the first maps to appear in the book is of “The Island Grande”, off the coast of Brazil. It shows the anchorage points, and a few lines of text accompany the map explaining that the island was mainly used by the French in this period, bound for the South Seas. The French generally landed there to gather wood and water before continuing on their journey. The island is also described as having a very rich gold mine. Captain Cooke was particularly taken by the large variety of fish he encountered in the seas surrounding the island. He included another plate and observations on seeing sharks that “seize men as they are swimming taking off a Limb at a Bite”. No. 5 is described as a “sucking-fish”, or what we today call a cat fish.

Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.) 2014

Further on in the book, Cooke describes the city of Santiago, Chile. His account of the city explains its founding and layout. This section is also accompanied by a map of the city, which Cooke describes as being laid out in “the form of a chess-board” (it’s easy to see why!).Churches and the city’s cathedral are the main items plotted.

Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K), 2014

Chapter X of Cooke’s voyage describes the island of San Juan Fernandez, which is famous for being the setting of Daniel Defoe’s classic novel, Robinson Crusoe. In A Cruising Voyage Around the World (1712) Woodes Rogers, who was on board Cooke’s ship, had described saving a Scottish sailor, Alexander Selikirk, who had been marooned on this island for four years. Yet, interestingly, according to Cook’s account, the stranded man was a Mosquito Indian called William, not a Scott.

Cooke also gives an account of the city of Cusco, capital of Peru and the historic capital of the Incas. Cooke’s description of this magnificent city is accompanied by this panoramic view. Cooke says “Nothing inferior were their [the Incas'] stupendious structures, among which the whole city of Cusco deserves to be described but it would take up more room than we can afford”. Central to the woodcut, you can see a picture of the Cathedral of San Domingo, which is today an UNESCO world heritage site. The Cathedral was built atop the Inca palace, which was built for the ruler Viracocha around a century before the Spanish  conquistadors arrived.  

Image copyright the Chapter of Worcester (U.K) 2014
In next week’s blog I follow Cooke as he journeys to the Northern Part of South America, and visits Mexico and Acapulco!