Important acquisitions

Book of ceilings

Author Richardson, George
Title Book of ceilings
Imprint London: Printed for the author
Date of Publication 1776
Language English
Notes The copy on offer seems to differ from the copy purchased by the Library in 1980 (Sotheby's auction - 456) only by the fact that all of the 48 plates have been coloured. The possibility of acquiring coloured copies of A book of ceilings was mentioned in an advertisement in Richardson's New designs in architecture (1792). The cost was 48 guineas - a guinea per plate - a colossal sum even in those days (in today's terms about over 3500). The only coloured copies traced are at the British Library and the National Library in Warsaw. The British Library copy (55.I.18 from the Royal Library in an 'Adam' design binding) has both the coloured and uncoloured copies of each plate bound together. The coloured plates have less rich colour and 'white' areas are left as plain paper as compared to the body-colouring in the NLS copy. Also the coloured and uncoloured copies seem not be always the same printed state - e.g. for plate XII Richardson's name is engraved and printed in black on the uncoloured copy whereas on the coloured copy his name is in brown and may be in manuscript. A possible explanation is that the colouring in the BL copy was carried out separately and at an earlier stage. ESTC lists 13 copies - the only other copies in Scotland are at Bowhill (the then Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch are listed among the subscribers), and Paxton House, Berwickshire, which has the first four plates published in 1774. Both copies are uncoloured. Eileen Harris in British architectural books and writers 1556-1785 lists 4 additional holdings (2 British). Two of the designs (plates XVII and XVIII) were carried out for Sir Lawrence Dundas of Edinburgh, one of which is now to be seen in the Board Room of the Royal Bank of Scotland building in St. Andrew Square, Edinburgh. Ian Gow, Head of the Curators Department of the National Trust for Scotland has examined the work and believes it more likely that such a deluxe work would have been purchased by book collectors rather than by architects. He has also remarked on the unusual use of gouache and the body-colouring employed in the roundels in the designs. Mr. Gow believes that the acquisition of this work by the National Library offers the opportunity for art and architecture historians to find out more about the colouring of ceilings in 18th century houses and mansions. There is little doubt that Richardson (who may have come from Inveresk, Midlothian) was closely associated with the Adam brothers earlier in his career. At the age of about 20 he was involved, albeit in a minor capacity and under James Adam's direction, in turning Robert Adam's plates of and commentary on Diocletian's Palace at Split into a publishable book (this was published in 1764 as Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia. Richardson accompanied James Adam on his Grand Tour from 1760 to 1763 and had plenty of opportunity to study the remains of ancient architecture and painting. The National Library holds 2 of Richardson's letters written to his patron (Archibald Shiells of Inveresk) recording his observations of Rome (MS.3812). He probably left the employ of the Adams prior to 1773 as he is not listed among the numerous artists and architects employed by them. According to Eileen Harris it was however Adam's folio of executed designs described in French and English (Works in architecture, published in parts from 1773) which prompted Richardson to start publishing his own works in a similar fashion in 1774. By publishing the work in instalments over a number of years he helped to increase the sales to those unable to invest 3-4 guineas all at once. A book of ceilings did not have the desired effect of attracting new patrons for Richardson. By publishing his own designs he made available his works for imitation and execution by others and rendered unnecessary his actual employment as an architect.
Shelfmark FB.el.132
Reference Sources DNB, Harris, Eileen, British architecture books and writers 1556-1785 (Cambridge, 1990)
Acquired on 16/10/03
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