Eighteen Century is a time of glory for Shakespeare. His plays were the main part of a repertory. For an actor, Shakespeare’s role was an apprenticeship qualification. Visual Art contributed to the popularity of Shakespeare via engravings for illustrated editions. The culmination was The Shakespeare Gallery initiated by John Boydell (1719 - 1804), a London engraver, artist, publisher, entrepreneur, and politician of the XVIII century.
This project combined efforts of artists, textologists, engravers, and publishers to erect a unique monument to Shakespeare: The Shakespeare Gallery. In 1786 he selected the best British artists (Reynolds, Romney, Fuseli among others) to paint various scenes of Shakespeare's plays. In 1789 he rented a building on the luxurious Pall Mall where the Shakespeare Gallery was open to the public. Meanwhile, Boydell follows exhibition-cum-publishing scheme commissioned reproductions of these paintings to the best master engravers of his time. One of the most prominent Shakespeare scholars, George Steevens, verified texts. Boydell had an idea to join 4 sources of profit: exhibition entrance payment, sale of the 15 volume illustrated edition, sale of a portfolio of engravings, and sale of separate illustrations.
We offer 10 plates from the 1852 American edition of the portfolio. For this edition undertaken by Shearjashub Spooner (1809-1859), an American dentist, expert, and art historian, the worn plates were restored and according to many experts, the enhanced original boards became even richer in shades and details than before. The distinctive feature of the reissued plates is the number in the lower-left corner under the artist's name.
The images to this blog post were borrowed from the brilliant visualization project of the Shakespeare Gallery "What Jane Saw" that is dedicated to the art exhibits visited by Jane Austin. It was created by Professor Janine Barchas with support by Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services (LAITS) at the University of Texas at Austin. Images source.