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

Bibliography
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

 

 

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