[CAMPBELL, Colen]. [and] WOOLFE, John.
‘THE MOST INFLUENTIAL AND ORIGINAL’
Vitruvius Britannicus, vols I-III. [and] Vitruvius Britannicus, vol. IV.London, Sold by the Author…, 1717, 1717, 1725, 1767.
FIRST EDITIONS, state C of I, first issue of III. Atlas folio. 4 vols, pls of vols I and II inverted. I: ff. [1, engraved title], [1, engraved dedication], pp. 7,  + 99 plates; II: pp. ff. [1, engraved title], pp.8 + 98 plates; III: pp.12 + 100 plates; IV: ff. [1, engraved title], [1, engraved dedication], pp.12 + 98 plates, an extra pl.74. A total of 395 etched plates of plans, elevations and sections of major English buildings, including engraved titles and dedications, some double-page or folding, title of vol.3 in red and black, decorated initials and ornaments. Some offsetting from plates in vols I, II and IV, occasional toning or slight, mainly marginal, foxing, IV: a few plates slightly browned, upper blank margin of pls 95-98 restored to plate mark. Very good, large copies bound uniformly in c.1800 light brown Russia, marbled eps, outer border with gilt roll of tendrils, inner border with gilt geometrical roll, small gilt fleurons to corners, spines gilt, inner edges gilt, upper joints cracked or partly detached, occasionally scuffed. Early C19 armorial bookplate of Dogmersfield Library and C20 bookplate of C.M.G. Keeping to front pastedowns (the latter with ms ‘Copy of Sir William Mildmay’).
Handsome copy of the first edition of ‘the most influential and original British architectural book ever published’ (BAL) – rarely found complete and in such good condition, and with vol.IV extra-illustrated.
Its complex printing history begins in 1717, when vols I-II were published, then reprinted for various publishers until the 1750s, with the engraved titles and plates in various states. These vols were intended as ‘a carefully constructed “parallel” of the best examples of recent British architecture, measured against the works of Inigo Jones, who was “the yardstick by which to judge and compare the productions of all those who had built after him”’ (Millard II, pp.45-63). The plates were mostly designed by the architect Colen Campbell (1676-1729), the ‘father’ of the Georgian style, then in the early stages of his career; they were cut by Henry Hulsbergh and numerous other draughtsmen employed to speed up the process. It remains unclear who oversaw the project, probably the publisher Joseph Smith, in collaboration with Campbell. The inspiration for the project came from sources as varied as Jean Marot’s early C17 survey of major French architecture, Kyp and Kniff’s ‘Britannia illustrata’ (1707) and suites of architectural prints issued by the de’ Rossi family in Rome.
‘The first volume was a great success, due to a combination of the noble and royal patronage it received […], the assistance of the architects themselves, the work’s status as an expression of nationalistic pride […], and the ultimate novelty and “purity” of the images presented’ (BAL). The second vol. was published shortly after. Among the dozens of buildings in the plates, prefaced by minimal letterpress explanation, were St Paul’s Church, the Banqueting House at Whitehall, Queen’s House and the Royal Hospital in Greenwich, Montague House, Wanstead, Powis House, Buckingham House, Blenheim, Castle Howard, Eaton Hall, the Royal Exchange, and Shawfield in Glasgow, as well as planned projects by Campbell, such as a new church at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. In 1725, Smith and Campbell published vol.III – here in its first issue – slightly different in character. ‘[It] contains a very different balance of material. In addition to a group of plates showing elevations and plans of recent British buildings (many designed by Campbell himself), following the pattern of vols I and II, there are also plans of the grounds and gardens of certain houses, as well as picturesque and aerial views’ (BAL). Illustrated buildings include Houghton, Mereworth Castle, Cholmondley, Leyton Grange, Wilton and Cavesham. At the time, Campbell’s ‘star was on the decline’, and he used this publication to ‘reassert his former position by using nearly a third of the plates to present all his executed works’ (Harris, p.144).
In 1767, the English architects John Woolfe (d.1793) and John Gandon published a continuation or supplement of vols I-III, which they marketed as vol.IV, with the help of the skilled engraver Matthias Darly. Unlike the previous, this vol. was ‘calculated to launch the careers of two young architects’ (BAL), and built on the architect Thomas Milton’s failed attempt at publishing a continuation of ‘Vitruvius Britannicus’, many of Woolfe & Gandon’s engravings being signed by him, only two featuring their own designs. Buildings illustrated in the plates include Rowhampton, Kertlington Park, Mansion House, Kedleston, Fonthill, Cusworth, Woburn and Latham Hall. The additional pl.74 with an elevation of Lady Suffolk’s House at Twickenham, recorded only in one other copy, was ‘evidently prepared by Woolfe for vol.IV, but not used’, probably because ‘it was discovered after it had been engraved that it depicted the same building shown in pl.93 of vol.III’, the current pl.74 being a late addition to fill the gap (BAL, cf. Pagan 21:145).
This copy was in the library of Sir Henry St. John-Mildmay (1787-1848), 4th Baronet, at Dogmersfield Park. Most of his books were bound by Charles Lewis in London. His namesake son (1810-1902), the 5th Baronet, inherited the library, eventually sold after his death in 1906.I-II: BAL 3544; Berlin Kat. 2329; ESTC t050965, t149865; Fowler 76; Harris 98; Millard II, 10. III: BAL 3546; Berlin Kat. 2329; ESTC t050967; Fowler 76; Harris 98; Millard II, 10. IV: BAL 3711; ESTC t060851; Fowler 76; Harris 945; Berlin Kat. 2329; Millard II, 94.