I made mention yesterday of the manner in which ‘source-books’ were employed by porcelain and glass decorators in the 18th century, in that they would use such collections as libraries from which they could take original images for reproduction on their contemporary works.


My hunt for swans has thrown up an excellent example of this process – an early Worcester porcelain finger bowl, dating to around 1758 and bearing an image, amongst other things, of swans. They are seen, rather sedately, to be milling about in a watercourse, or around its margins, in a tranquil scene, albeit rather inelegantly posed for the purposes of ornithological record.


The image, it transpires, is based on an original which had been produced almost 100 years earlier, by an artist named Francis Barlow who created his initial painting as part of a fifteen-image set entitled, rather snappily, Multae Et Diversae Avium Species (Many Different Species of Birds). Barlow was something of a curious fish amongst artists of the day, as he both painted and then engraved his own images, whereas it was often the case that these tasks were undertaken by different people.


Barlow’s works, for instance, were often replicated by a chap named Wenceslaus Hollar, a renowned engraver from Prague who was best known for maps and topographic prints, and who first travelled to England in the company of the Earl of Arundel. He was named ‘Scenographer to the King’ by Charles II and ‘commissioned’ to produce an updated and enormously detailed version of his 1647 panoramic ‘long view’ of London, but this ambitious project was brought to a somewhat undignified end when much of the city burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1666 !


Barlow went on to produce many more sketches from nature, and also detailing the manner in which any amount of wildlife met an untimely end by compiling a picture set of ‘severall ways of hunting, hawking and fishing’ (again etched by Hollar). This included ferreting, hare and fallow deer coursing, springing pheasants, herons and partridges with spaniels so they could be caught by hawks, hunting stags, otters and foxes with hounds, netting salmon and conventional angling.


It should be noted – having had sight of this series of prints – that swans were spared the indignity of being unduly harassed, goaded, prodded, poked and ultimately beaten to death with sticks by the common folk of Merrie England, this task – one imagines – being the preserve of Royalty !

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