Artists and craftsmen in Hooke’s London (part 1)

Like many scientists today, the early Fellows of the Royal Society depended on images to explain their work to each other and the outside world. Illustrations accompanied reports of experiments and observations, and the Fellows commissioned drawings of the natural and man-made artefacts shown at meetings or donated to their museum collection. They  were also keenly interested in the processes behind the production of artworks, including printing and dyeing, and colour theory. Recipes for dyes and new techniques that might reduce costs or increase efficiency were regularly discussed at meetings.

Hooke himself shared all these interests. When he first moved to London from the Isle of Wight, aged 13, he had contemplated an apprenticeship in the studio of Sir Peter Lely, the foremost portrait painter of the day. He later told his friend Aubrey that the paint fumes made his head hurt, and that he soon realised he could teach himself painting and save his apprenticeship money. He left Lely, and instead continued his education at Westminster School and then Oxford University. But he never lost his interest in the arts and crafts, and his diary is full of references to painters, sculptors, printmakers and a host of craftsmen. Many of these contacts came about through Hooke’s architectural projects: he often commissioned artworks, particularly sculptures, to install in his buildings. In some cases, though, Hooke seems to have been motivated more by his scientific interest in materials and processes. I want to find out whether these relationships might have helped information to flow (in both directions) between the artistic and scientific communities. Here, in the first of two posts on this subject, I’ll talk about Hooke’s associations with painters and printmakers. In the second post I’ll go on to talk about Hooke’s interactions with makers of other types of decorative art.

Hooke’s most regular contacts in the art world were painters, engravers and miniaturists, and suppliers of prints and architectural books. He kept in contact with Sir Peter Lely, but he also met with many of London’s other artists including the engravers and etchers William Faithorne the elder, David Loggan, Robert White, Wenceslaus Hollar, Walter Dolle and Edward Le Davis, the miniaturist Matthew Snelling, and painters Robert Streater, Abraham Hondius, John Baptist Gaspars, Mary Beale and Mary Moore. Hooke visited several of these painters while they were making portraits of people Hooke knew, particularly Fellows of the Royal Society such as Robert Boyle, Lord Brounker, and John Wallis. Portraiture played an important role in the gift economy of the early scientific community. Just as Hooke presented copies of his own books to his particular friends and patrons, so he was presented with portraits. In April 1676 he visited David Loggan, who gave him ‘Dr Alestreys picture’. The churchman Dr Richard Allestree was a stalwart of Christ Church College, Oxford, where Hooke had attended university – so what seems at first like an odd choice for a gift actually makes perfect sense. Hooke reported that ‘[Loggan] was drawing Dr Whistlers [portrait]’. Daniel Whistler (1619-84), a Fellow of the Royal Society and a former Gresham College lecturer, was well-known to Hooke. In February 1689 Sir Edmund King FRS gave Hooke a mezzotint portrait of himself.

Engraving by Jean Marot

Jean Marot, Le grand Portail et Eglise de Sorbonne (1652-1661) © Trustees of the British Museum

Hooke also actively collected prints. In June 1676, he bought a collection of ’90 pages of Bachinall grotescues, Ceelings, gates, Compartments and Sheilds, besides the Pallace of Richelau and the church of the Sorbon at Large’. The architectural historian Anthony Geraghty has pointed out that these were part of the estate of Wren’s colleague Edward Woodroofe, and clearly they relate to Hooke’s architectural work. The image shown above is part of a series of thirty-six etchings of Parisian churches by Jean Marot. It may not be the specific ‘church of the Sorbon’ print mentioned by Hooke, but Hooke had also purchased Marot’s book of ‘plans, profiles and elevations of several palaces, castles, churches etc in Paris’ in 1675 so he may well have owned this image. Listing his prints in 1677, Hooke mentioned several Italian subjects (‘Piazza del Popolo’, ‘Bernini’s St Peter’, ‘Fornesys Jesuits church at Rome’) as well as further French buildings, ‘eighteen chimneys and altars’, ‘fifteen of Perill’s prospects’ and ‘109 views of Israells’. These last two collections were the work of French engravers Israel Silvestre and Gabriel Perelle, and Hooke seems to have bought them from the engraver and art dealer Edward Le Davis. ‘Le Davis’ (he was originally plain Edward Davis, before his stay in France) had recently returned from Paris and Hooke also bought some French art books from him including Abraham Bosse’s engravings and Claude Boutet’s manual on miniature-painting.

These purchases of prints and books about art and architecture enabled Hooke to keep up with the latest continental theory and practice in these fields. Occasionally he set his assistants the task of copying prints, which also suggests that his collection had an educational function. Of course Hooke was not unique among Royal Society Fellows in his interest in prints, particularly architectural prints – Hooke’s fellow diarist John Evelyn is another key figure here, and Evelyn was similarly familiar with many of the artists mentioned above.

Feltmakers at work

Drawing by Hooke of feltmakers at work. Note the instructions to the engraver (left) – but this image seems not to have been printed. © The Royal Society

Hooke was not just a collector of prints – he also worked with engravers on the illustrations for his own books. His diary shows him giving plates either directly to engravers, or via the intermediary of John Martin, the Royal Society’s official printer. In August 1674 Hooke gave a plate to Le Davis to engrave, possibly one of the plates from his Attempt to prove the motion of the Earth. In December the same year he wrote ‘Harry finish plate but grumbling. Put plates to Lamb to Letter.’ and the following day ‘to Martins Lamb had finisht plate. Book compleat about Hevelius’. Sure enough, two days later he ‘took of Martin 6 Guilt 6 plaine’ copies of his Animadversions on the first part of the Machina Coelestis of J. Hevelius and presented copies to Lord Brounker, Sir George Ent and Sir Christopher Wren. Harry Hunt was Hooke’s assistant. He was a skilled artist and as Sachiko Kusukawa has shown, the author of many of the Royal Society’s early drawings. ‘Lamb’ was probably the map engraver Francis Lamb*. On other occasions William Faithorne and William Sherwin engraved plates for Hooke.

This shows that the engraving for Hooke’s plates was a collaborative process, often with the printer or bookseller as an intermediary between Hooke and the engraver. On at least one occasion Hooke seems to have got Henry Hunt to do his plates, and in 1674 he noted ‘Letterd Faithorns plate’, which suggested he himself was doing the lettering (that is, any writing that needed to accompany the images on the plate). It would be interesting to know whether other Restoration authors kept such a close eye on the plates for their books. Hooke’s own technical skill may have come into play here – he mentions several inventions for printing processes in his diary including a way of lettering plates. Or perhaps the illustrations mattered more to the scientific community. An interesting parallel case here is that of Hooke’s Royal Society colleague Martin Lister, who went so far as to teach his daughters how to draw and engrave so they could do the illustrations for his seminal work on conchology.

This is just a brief introduction to Hooke’s associations with artists in Restoration London, but it shows him not just viewing art (particularly portraits of his friends and colleagues), but buying prints and using them in his architectural practice and to instruct his assistants, and taking an active role in the illustration of his own books. In the next instalment, I’ll introduce the potter John Wright and the cloth-printer William Sherwin, and talk about their associations with Hooke.

* I’m very grateful to Richard for his comment identifying Francis Lamb (below), and I’ve updated the post to include this info.

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9 thoughts on “Artists and craftsmen in Hooke’s London (part 1)

  1. Might Lamb be the engraver Francis Lamb? He may have been a member of the Pewterer’s Company, and he engraved a few maps for Blome in the 1660s [Tyacke, p.120].

    Hooke’s diary is an important biographical source for Edward Davis, even though the references are scanty. It tells us who Davis’s father was; gives a date by which Davis must have returned from France; and provides information about the circles Davis moved in.

    • I’m sure you’re right, and thanks for this really useful tip. Lamb sounds interesting – apparently he engraved maps for John Ogilby and Moses Pitt, and Hooke was also very involved with map-making projects with these two. I will follow this up!

  2. Looking into Hooke’s links with contemporary London glassblowers and artisans might also turn up some interesting connections. We know that Sir Robert Southwell brought back a Medici ‘fifty degree’ thermometer from Florence in 1661 after his visit to Italy, and after it was shown to the RS Boyle and Hooke had copies made, and suggested improvements. (This is the ‘seal’d weather-glass’ referred to by Boyle in his ‘New experiments touching cold’ in 1665: there are original surviving instruments in Florence’s Museo Galileo.) Who copied them in London, I wonder?

    Florentine glassblowing was exceptionally skilfull, and it’s surprising that such dexterity was already to be found in Restoration London. The demands of early scientific meteorological instruments, particularly thermometers and barometers, quickly developed such skills in London. The early impetus of Hooke, Boyle and others of the RS no doubt provided the fledgling industry with considerable experience, directly resulting in London becoming the centre of the world’s scientific instrument trade in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

    • Thanks Stephen, yes this is a good suggestion. So far I’ve mostly taken note of Hooke’s interest in staining glass, particularly recipes for making red glass – but glassblowing skills must have been particularly important for him and I’m sure he was keen to learn about them. I’ll keep an eye out for references in the diary.

  3. Pingback: Artists and craftsmen in Hooke’s London (part 2) | Robert Hooke's London

  4. Pingback: The Back-to-School Edition: Cesque 97 | The Sloane Letters Blog

    • Thanks Brodie, and sorry for the slow response. I don’t have a date for that drawing of the feltmakers, but I might be able to make a guess if I had the paper in front of me. There is a detailed description of the process, and this image is attached to the paper. At the moment all I can say is that the high point of the Society’s interest in the ‘history of trades’ (ie. descriptions of all sorts of manufacturing, agricultural, and craft processes) was in the earlier period – the 1660s and 1670s – and that this seems to fit into that programme of work. I guess that might fit with the fact that there’s no reference to this in Hooke’s diary, which of course didn’t start until 1672, so this may have been done earlier. But that’s just a supposition.

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