Thursday, 24 December 2009

A View of the Rotunda, ca. 1750

Here is something pretty to look at over the holidays: "Vue de l'Interieur de la Rotonde dans le Jardins de Ranelagh" in Ranelagh Gardens, Chelsea (at the time, outside of London). The title is left-right reversed so that it could be viewed in a zograscope: "a device with a lens and mirror … used to give an illusion of depth to hand colored engravings called vue d’optique prints" (see here for more on zograscopes).

As you can see below, even if you use Photoshop to do a Horozontal flip of the heading, the lettering is still "wrong."

The Rotunda at Ranelagh was painted by Giovanni Antonio Canal (1697–1768)—a Venetian landscape painter—in 1754. This undated engraving—said to be after "Canaletto"—was engraved by F. Leizelt and sold at Augsburg. The caption reads (in German and French) "Prospect Von dem in[n]ern de la Rotonde in den Garten zu Ranelagh in London. Vüe de l'Interieur de la Rotonde dans le Jardins de Ranelagh." The imprint and copyright details are in French only: "Se vend à Augsbourg dans le negroce comun de l'Academie Imperiale d'Empire sous son Privilege et avec défense de n'en faire ni vendre de copies."

The hand-coloured engraving measures 320 x 430mm (12½ x 17 inches). If you have £280.00 you can buy your own copy here. I picked this one up on eBay for a lot less.

The centrepiece of Ranelagh Gardens, the rotunda had a diameter of 37 metres (120 feet) which was designed by William Jones, a surveyor to the East India Company. The central support housed a chimney and fireplaces for use in winter. In 1765, the nine year old Mozart performed in this showpiece, which figured prominently in views of Ranelagh Gardens taken from the river. Canaletto painted the gardens, and painted the interior of the Rotunda twice, for different patrons. The rotunda was closed for good in 1803 and demolished two years later (see Wikipedia for more).

It is not hard to imagine how the lens on a zograscope would give an illusion of depth: the part of the engraving in the centre of the lens would be heavily magnified, and as you move the lens over the image details would enlarge as they came into view and then shrink away as you moved on. You can also see how the zograscope would work to heighten the curves that dominate this particular composition, allowing a viewer to immerse themselves beneath the vast arching ceiling and within the endless curving walls of the rotunda. Without a zograscope on hand—no home should be without one—the following enlargements will have to do.

[UPDATE: 2 July 2016: After all my pictures disappeared (again) I decided to give up on external hosts for large versions (1000px) of my image files and, for now on, will stick with the smaller images (500px), which Blogger is prepared to host.]

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