Wenceslaus Hollar —Page 2

A section of Hollar’s famous Long View of London, originally produced as a five-metre long panorama of the city, it is a bird’s-eye view from above the church of St.Mary Overie in Southwark. He etched it while in exile in Antwerp, probably based on earlier sketches made in London, leading to several small inaccuracies. It was published in 1647 and dedicated to Princess Mary, niece of Charles II and the future Queen Mary II.

One of Hollar’s great talents was to accurately illustrate places from a viewpoint that was impossible in the days before flight, such as the Long View of London, produced while in Antwerp. Perhaps his greatest master-piece in that respect is the later over-head view of Windsor Castle from the height of an aeroplane, commissioned by Elias Ashmole.

By 1652 the Civil War in England was over, the country was settling down to a period of peace under the Commonwealth government of Oliver Cromwell, and many royalists returned from exile to try to pick up their lives again. In that year Hollar came back to his adopted homeland where he remained for the rest of his life. Initially he lived in the parish of St. Giles-in-the-Fields, perhaps in the new suburb of Bloomsbury.

Hollar soon made the acquaintance of William Dugdale, a gentleman antiquarian for whom he produced a series of etchings of the old St. Paul’s Cathedral showing him at the peak of his artistic career. Dugdale and others could not forsee that the cathedral would be destroyed by the Great Fire in the following decade but knew that it was in such poor shape that it might anyway fall down. In one of the prints Hollar added below in Latin: “Wenceslaus Hollar of Bohemia, daily expecting the collapse of this church, of which he is a long-time admirer, thus preserves its memory”. The series shows the building both with and without its medieval spire that that been destroyed by lightning a hundred years earlier.

Other than Dugdale several other collectors, such as Elias Ashmole, John Evelyn, and John Aubrey were to become friends, acquaintances and clients. Hollar also continued to have work published by Stent (who was soon to die in the Great Plague of 1665). From that time onwards he spent the remainder of his career producing a large number of illustrations and etchings for books and prints, providing a relatively modest yet comfortable living and probably enough for Hollar and his wife to employ a servant.

In the spring of 1654 Margaret died and was buried at the parish church of St. Giles-in-the-Fields, probably somewhere under what is now the Charing Cross Road area. In 1656 Hollar married again, to Honara Roberts and together they had at least two daughters. In January 1656 he landed himself in trouble with the Puritan authorities by attending a Catholic mass at the home of the Venetian Ambassador at Charterhouse Yard, which was strictly prohibited for English citizens.

On one occasion Hollar attempted to publish his own accurate map of London and Westminster. In 1660, soon after the Restoration, he sent a printed invitation to Charles II and others to sponsor him in the work. The King in turn enthusiastically wrote to London’s aldermen suggesting they contribute and there were at least two sponsors including John Evelyn. Hollar produced one sheet of the map showing the area between Whitehall and London, covering St.Giles, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Covent Garden, Holborn and the Strand. It is an aerial view of the area rather than a top-down plan in the modern sense of a map. The detail within it, showing every individual building and feature, is stunning and a copy remains with the British Museum. If the entire work had been completed it would today have given us an accurate record of pre-Fire London and have been considered as Hollar’s great masterpiece but sadly not enough sponsors came forward for it to be continued any further.

During the Great Plague Hollar and his family may well have spent their time in the safety of the countryside of Islington because in that year he produced a wonderfully tranquil series of etchings of the ponds and Water House at New River Head, the reservoirs of the New River Company. If he did indeed spend 1665 out of London it would perhaps answer why he produced not a single picture of the Great Plague.