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Kinds of Monuments in Vetusta Monumenta
About Thematic Essays for Vetusta Monumenta
By Noah Heringman
Vetusta Monumenta is a miscellaneous series by any standard, presenting monuments that range in date from the second to the seventeenth century CE and in size from a half-groat to a castle. Martin Myrone has noted the positive and negative aspects of this enormous range: “Viewed as a serial publication, the Vetusta Monumenta was, depending on one’s point of view, enormously flexible and responsive … or simply incoherent” (2007, 103). This heterogeneity can be vexing to modern readers trained in more specialized disciplines, but it also facilitates a new kind of engagement with the cultural past: the antiquarian idea of antiquity was a capacious one, in some ways more so than ideas that are current today.
The remit of the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) was originally defined as “Brittish Antiquitys” in the Articles of Incorporation drawn up by William Stukeley in 1717; to judge from Stukeley’s own contributions to Vetusta Monumenta, this field extended from the map of Roman Verulamium (Plate 1.7) to medieval built works such as the eleventh-century Bishop’s Chapel at Hereford (Plate 1.49) and Waltham Cross (Plate 1.8), erected in the late thirteenth century. When John Fenn classified the contents of the first two volumes of Vetusta Monumenta in 1784, he narrowed the field to pre-Conquest monuments, subdivided into British, Roman, Saxon, and Danish Antiquities, but then identified six additional categories of monuments, mainly medieval and post-medieval: II. Coins, Medals, and Seals; III. Castles, Palaces, Gates, Crosses; IV. Abbeys, Churches, [and related architectural features]; V. Portraits; VI. Historic Prints and Processions; VII. Plans, Maps, and Miscellaneous (Fenn 1784, 18).
I. Antiquities (British, Roman, Saxon, Danish):
All but two of the sixteen plates listed by Fenn in this category are dedicated to Roman Britain, though one of these has since been recognized as medieval (Plate 1.1). The only item under “British antiquities” is Plate 2.20, which features bronze instruments found in Ireland, along with an Iron Age shield from Shropshire. The item under Danish Antiquities is the “Horn of Ulf” engraved in 1718 (Plate 1.2). The first and only Saxon monument recorded in Vetusta Monumenta in the eighteenth century, Ruthwell Cross (Plates 2.54-2.55), was engraved in 1789, postdating Fenn’s index. The only other additions to the whole class of “antiquities” after Fenn are three more Roman mosaic pavements: Plates 2.43, 2.44, and 3.39. The overwhelming majority of the plates engraved after George Vertue’s death in 1756 (most of them by James Basire Sr) represent Gothic architecture, an emphasis which in turn demonstrates the influence of the medievalist Richard Gough, the director of the SAL during much of this time.
For more on engravings of Roman Britain, see “Vetusta Monumenta and Britain’s Classical Past,” written specially for this edition by Sarah Scott.
II. Coins, Medals, and Seals:
In the 1720s, members of the SAL began planning a history of British coinage, to be titled Metallographia Britannica, and subcommittees were appointed to supervise the recording of Roman, Saxon, Danish, and English coins. Like many early projects of the SAL, this one crumbled under the weight of its own ambition, but a number of side projects, including several plates in the first volume of Vetusta Monumenta, provide evidence of repeated attempts over about four decades. Crystal B. Lake and David Shields provide a detailed account of this attempted history of coinage in their commentaries on Plates 1.55, 1.56, and 1.69. Plate 1.56 concludes a four-part series of plates featuring coins (Plates 1.37-1.38, 1.43, and 1.56), and Plate 1.55 features a number of medals not otherwise accommodated by the series. Plate 1.20, engraved considerably earlier, was updated several times to reflect the progress of the Society’s efforts in this area. All these plates show medieval and early modern coins. Many Roman coins were exhibited at meetings of the SAL from the very beginning, but neither these nor the Saxon and Danish coins are visible in the print series.
Fenn’s index shows a more sustained engagement with seals, which are featured in each of the first three volumes. In addition to Plates 1.5, 1.28-1.33, 1.53-1.54, 1.58-60, 2.7, 2.19, and 2.36 (all listed by Fenn), seals are also featured on Plates 3.26-3.30. In addition, as noted by Fenn, facsimiles of certain documents are included at least in part because of the seals attached to them, including Plates 1.62, 2.4, and 2.6. George Vertue, who engraved all but two of the first 87 plates in the series, collected coins himself and used this subset of prints to make a study of arts historically related to his own art of copper engraving, including seal engraving and the even older art of creating the dies from which coins were struck.
For more on medieval seals and Vetusta Monumenta, see the “Introduction to Medieval Seals and the Growth of Sigillography,” written specially for this edition by Laura Whatley.
III. Castles, Palaces, Gates, and Crosses; IV. Abbeys; Churches and Chapels; Tombs and Shrines; Fonts and Windows:
It is less than clear why Fenn subdivided the architectural plates in Vetusta Monumenta in this particular way, though the large total number of architectural subjects certainly helps to account for these numerous subdivisions. As these subcategories suggest, a large majority of the subjects are medieval, ranging in date from the eleventh through the early fifteenth century. Some Tudor and Stuart monuments are also included, and the only font in Volume I is actually the most recent antiquity in the whole set, Grinling Gibbons’s marble font in St. James’s, Piccadilly (Plate 1.3). Three medieval fonts were engraved for the series by Basire in 1785 and 1793 (Plates 2.39-2.40 and 3.25).
Fully eight of the castles listed by Fenn were engraved by Vertue from Elizabethan drawings of castles from the office of the Duchy of Lancaster, all of which were in ruins or entirely destroyed before the eighteenth century. Only Colchester Castle (Plates 1.35-1.36) was depicted in its then-current state. Five plates of Hedingham Castle, Essex, were added in 1796 (Plates 3.40-3.44). The creators of the series turned more attention to palaces after 1750, including the Savoy (Plates 2.5, 2.12, and 2.14) and the royal palaces of Richmond (2.23-2.24), Placentia (2.25), and Hampton Court (2.27). Beaulieu or New Hall, Essex (2.41-2.42), was added in 1786. The subset of Gates and Crosses includes a mix of religious and secular built works, including the monumental St. Benet’s Abbey gate (1.13-1.14) and the Eleanor Cross at Waltham (1.7), on the one hand, and, on the other, two gates built by Henry VIII for Whitehall Palace (Plates 1.17-19), along with four market crosses (Plates 1.61, 1.64, 2.8, 2.10)—though of course the market cross presents a nexus of religious iconography and commercial space. Waltham Cross became the first and only monument to be engraved twice for Vetusta Monumenta, appearing for the second time in 1790 when Basire engraved it from a new drawing by Jacob Schnebbelie as part of a plate set comprising six of the Eleanor Crosses (Plates 3.12-3.17). Yet another cross engraved for the series was Ruthwell Cross (Plates 2.54-55), mentioned above as a “Saxon antiquity.”
The pairing of gates and crosses seems less intuitive than the pairing of castles and palaces, but since at least some monuments in each group are secular, the group as a whole may be distinguished from Fenn’s fourth class, which comprises only religious structures.
Fenn’s Class IV, with its seven subcategories, comprises the largest set of engravings on his list, including twenty-four plates dedicated to fourteen monuments. The largest plate set in the group and in the whole series (Plates 2.29-2.35) features seven plates of funerary monuments in Westminster Abbey, in which the interest in abbeys converges with the interest in tombs and shrines. The engravings by Basire are based on preparatory drawings traditionally attributed to his apprentice William Blake, though that attribution is now in doubt. Another monument in Westminster Abbey, the Shrine of Edward the Confessor, had been published quite early in the series (Plate 1.16). Sepulchral monuments, as Gough called them in the title of a large work he published under his own name (1786-96), became a special focus for the series in the 1780s, with engravings of three massive monuments in Winchester Cathedral, the monument of Edward IV at Windsor Castle, and others. Walsingham, Fountains, and Furness Abbeys, “majestic though in ruin,” were all featured in Volume I, along with the newly demolished chapel at the Bishop’s Palace in Hereford. The subcategories of fonts and windows are represented by only one monument each on Fenn’s list, though three more fonts were added later, as already mentioned; the east window of St. Margaret’s, Westminster remains the only window, though of course windows appear in many of the plates of churches in Volumes II-III—seven all told, ranging in size from Magdalen Chapel, Winchester to Lincoln Minster (other cathedrals were engraved for the separate cathedral series launched by the SAL in the 1790s). No other abbeys are featured in Volumes II-III, however.
Fenn’s admittedly capacious list of religious structures points toward a powerful interest in medieval ecclesiastical architecture that would only increase in the last two decades on the eighteenth century.
Fenn includes eight portraits in his list, but not all of these are ancient. In the commentaries in this edition there is a special focus on the portraits of modern antiquaries (Plates 1.45, 1.66, 2.3, and 2.28), which Fenn groups somewhat incongruously with historic portraits of Richard II (Plate 1.4) and the twelfth-century monk Eadwin of Canterbury (Plate 2.16). The portraits of antiquaries are of particular interest here because collectively they tell a story about the history of antiquarianism, linking the eighteenth-century SAL genealogically to the Elizabeth Society of Antiquaries by including Robert Cotton (1571-1631) along with the eighteenth-century antiquaries Thomas Tanner, George Holmes, and Charles Lyttelton (all of whom are honored by engraved portraits in the series shortly after their deaths). Intriguingly, Fenn also includes the two portrait medals of Queen Elizabeth (Plate 1.20) in this category, along with a whole series of portraits by Vertue that were reissued separately from Vetusta Monumenta. Lyttelton’s portrait in 1770 was the last to appear in the series itself.
VI. Historic Prints and Processions:
Only one entry from Vetusta Monumenta appears under this heading in Fenn’s list, the plate set devoted to Henry VIII’s Westminster Tournament Roll of 1510 (Plates 1.21-1.26). As Crystal B. Lake shows in her commentary on that plate set, Vertue is equally concerned to document the medial form of these images, the spectacularly long vellum roll painted with colorful chivalric figures, a virtual procession to rival the tournament itself. Although it does not apply broadly to Vetusta Monumenta, Fenn’s classification remains useful because it places this series in the context of another important publication series of the SAL, the Historical Prints series that ran from 1774-1781, in which Basire’s engraving of the “Field of the Cloth of Gold” is perhaps the most famous entry.
VII. Plans, Maps, and Miscellaneous Prints:
It might be said that Fenn ran out of steam at this point in his classification project, or perhaps the final “Miscellaneous” grouping (VII.2) had to be created for those five plates that just wouldn’t fit anywhere else. Volume I, in fact, includes two maps of Roman Britain: both Stukeley’s map of Verulamium (Plate 1.8) and Francis Drake’s Plan of the Roman Roads in Yorkshire (Plate 1.47), which is (oddly) overlooked by Fenn. The two plan plates listed by Fenn—a plan of the Tower Liberties from 1597 (Plate 1.63) and three plans for rebuilding London after the Great Fire of 1666 (Plates 2.1-2.2)—are both quite modern and are quite similar in style and approach.
Fenn’s “miscellaneous” antiquities—an arbitrary and incomplete subset, but nonetheless indicative—comprise fragments of the Cotton Genesis MS after it was decimated by the Cotton Library fire of 1731 (1.67-1.68); the exechequer’s Standard of Weights and Measures, an exquisitely illuminated black-letter manuscript from the reign of Henry VII (Plate 1.69); two medieval bronze bells, which even to Fenn do not seem to fit with the Roman bronze objects with which Vertue grouped them (Plate 2.17); a medieval mantelpiece from Saffron Waldon (2.19); and curiously, the 1747 title page and catalogue from Volume I of Vetusta Monumenta itself.
Fenn, John. 1784. “An Index to the Prints Published by the Society of Antiquaries.” In Three Chronological Tables, Exhibiting a State of the Society of Antiquaries, 17-30. London: J. Nichols.
Gough, Richard. 1786-1796. Sepulchral Monuments in Great Britain. London: J. Nichols.
Myrone, Martin. “The Society of Antiquaries and the Graphic Arts.” In Visions of Antiquity: The Society of Antiquaries of London, 1707-2007, edited by Susan Pearce, 98-121. London: The Society of Antiquaries.
Stukeley, William. 1717. “Articles of Incorporation.” Society of Antiquaries of London, Manuscripts MS 265. [SAL Minutes, Vol. 1].1
Plate 1.45: Portrait of Thomas Tanner
Scholarly Commentary with DZI View for Vetusta Monumenta, Plate 1.45. Commentary by Crystal B. Lake and Benjamin Wiechmann.
Plate: Plate 1.45 is a portrait of Thomas Tanner, Bishop of St Asaph (1674-1735): an important figure in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century antiquarian circles who was well-respected for his bibliographical research as well as his history of England’s monasteries. Based on a painting of Tanner by an unknown artist, Plate 1.45 was engraved by George Vertue (1684-1756) in 1735, shortly after Tanner’s death, and it marks the first of four honorary portraits of modern antiquaries that would appear in Vetusta Monumenta (see also Plates 1.66, 2.3, and 2.28). Vertue was paid £20 for his work on the Tanner portrait, and 500 impressions of the engraving were printed on high-quality paper (Alexander 2008, 347). The Minute Books of the Society of Antiquaries of London report that Tanner’s relatives had learned of the engraving by December 1736, and Tanner’s brother and son offered 10 guineas for six dozen copies of the print (SAL Minutes II.266). Vertue later updated the portrait; a smaller version with new ornaments was included as the frontispiece of Tanner’s posthumously-published revised edition of Notitia Monastica (1744). David Alexander suggests that this engraving is similar in style to one that Vertue prepared for a portrait of John Potter, the Bishop of Oxford, in 1738 (2008, 347).
Object: Plate 2.45 is based on a painting of Tanner by an unknown artist; the original painting (c. 1731) was displayed in Christ Church, and a copy of the painting remains in All Soul's College, Oxford. The copy of the portrait served as the basis for Vertue's engraving. Vertue copied Tanner’s portrait from the chest up, delineated his robes with straighter lines, and opened Tanner’s countenance by turning Tanner’s face and eyes to look directly at the viewer. Vertue also enhanced the portrait by adding a decorative frame and pedestal featuring episcopal symbols. Four books representing Tanner’s antiquarian research crowd into the bottom left corner of the engraving. One is marked with John Leland’s (c. 1503-1552) name; another is attributed to Boston Buriensis; a third is Tanner’s own Notitia Monastica (1695); the fourth book is unnamed. The Society of Antiquaries of London’s emblematic lamp burns bright in the lower right corner (see also Plate 1.1).
Reverendus admodum THOMAS TANNER Asaphensis Episcopus / Primævæ Antiquitatis Cultor / Hoc Ectypum Fratris sui Dignissimi Antiquis Moribus & Literis Ornati Posteris Sacratum esse voluit. / Soc: Ant: Lond. 1736.
The Most Reverend Thomas Tanner, Bishop of St. Asaph’s, Cultivator of Primeval Antiquity. The Society of Antiquaries of London wanted this engraving of its most honorable brother, [a man] adorned by ancient culture and literature, to be dedicated to posterity.
Commentary by Crystal B. Lake and Benjamin Wiechmann: Plate 1.45 is the first memorial portrait to appear in Vetusta Monumenta, and it honors the recently-deceased antiquary Thomas Tanner (see also Plates 1.66, 2.3, and 2.28). Tanner was well-known for his research on English authors, especially medieval chroniclers, monastic libraries, and the history of monasteries. As David C. Douglas wrote in his famous English Scholars, Tanner has been less well-known than other antiquaries in the twentieth century because he “lacked the colourful personality of many of his contemporaries” (Douglas 1939, 199). By most accounts, Tanner was an affable and indefatigable antiquary who laboriously compiled his own research throughout his lifetime and assisted others with theirs. Douglas insists that “[f]ew scholars, themselves distinguished, have had a larger anonymous share in the books of other men” than Tanner (Douglas 1939, 200-1).
As the first of four commemorative portraits of modern antiquaries that appear in Vetusta Monumenta, Plate 1.45 begins a project of establishing an institutional history for eighteenth-century antiquarianism. Only the first three portraits were engraved by George Vertue, but collectively, the four portraits that appear in Vetusta Monumenta offer a multi-faceted glimpse of both the types of individuals who were antiquaries and the types of research that antiquaries conducted. The portrait of Tanner commemorates an antiquary who diligently preserved, compiled, and added to the work of previous antiquaries and embraced a spirit of collaborative generosity in his own research endeavors, which straddled the antiquaries’ interests in the medieval as well as the classical past.
Born in 1674, Tanner was the oldest son of a vicar. After being schooled at home and then at Salisbury Free School, Tanner distinguished himself as a student at Oxford where he met a convivial group of scholars who were interested in medieval history. Tanner helped Edmund Gibson (1669-1748) prepare a new edition of William Camden’s (1551-1623) Britannia (1695). Tanner himself began working on a new and improved edition of George Hegge’s The Legend of St Cuthbert (1663) as well as a county history of Wiltshire. Tanner never completed his edition of The Legend of St Cuthbert or his proposed history of Wiltshire in part because his research led him to begin writing a short history of English monasteries based on William Dugdale’s Monasticon Anglicanum (1655-73) and preparing an edition of John Leland’s 1546 manuscript, De Viris Illustribus. The first of these was published in 1695 as Tanner’s Notitia Monastica to critical acclaim, and Tanner was given the chaplaincy and elected as a fellow of All Souls.
At Oxford, Tanner’s interest in Wiltshire brought him into contact with John Aubrey (1626-1697) as well as with Aubrey’s sometime-collaborator, Anthony Wood (1632-1695). In 1698, Tanner was made chaplain to John Moore, the bishop of Norwich. On the trek to Norwich, the barge with Tanner’s private reference library sank; some but not all of the papers, books, and manuscripts were recovered a day later (Sharpe 2006). Tanner’s star continued to rise in the church. In 1713, he was given a canonry in the Ely Cathedral. Tanner returned to Oxford in 1724 and held various positions in Christ Church; when he was consecrated as the bishop of St Asaph in 1732, Tanner was already ill, and he died in Oxford in 1735.
Tanner’s career as a churchman, especially his time spent away from Oxford, often interrupted his antiquarian projects (Sweet 2004, 55). Nevertheless, Tanner remained well known as a careful, diligent, and likable antiquary. During the 1720s when the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) struggled to find a regular meeting place and to establish itself as a respectable learned society, William Nicolson (1655-1727) especially admired Tanner’s jovial enthusiasm in the face of internecine conflicts. Other members of the fledging SAL were unwilling, for example, to hold their meetings at the affordable but rowdy Mitre Tavern, but Tanner was happy to meet anywhere, anytime. Nicholson reports that Tanner “was with us in all places being a great friend to Antiquities, and ventur’d to put his Mitred head into the Mitre Tavern which others pretended some excuse to avoid” (quoted in Evans 1956, 83).
In his scholarship, Tanner was also eager to avoid conflicts. Impressed with Tanner’s scholarship at Oxford, Wood gave Tanner the materials he had gathered for an expanded edition of his Athenae Oxonienses (1691-1692), a biographical dictionary of Oxford luminaries; on his deathbed in 1695, Wood tasked Tanner with completing that project. Tanner accepted the charge but dragged his feet. He knew that the first two volumes of the Athenae Oxonienses had stirred up controversy when still-living subjects of Wood’s work found themselves described in less-than-flattering terms. Tanner was criticized for his “caution,” and when Tanner’s edition of the Athenae Oxonienses eventually came out in 1721 featuring an additional 500 biographical entries, many suspected that Tanner had significantly revised Wood’s manuscript draft by tempering his tone and excising potentially offensive material; Hearne—who otherwise had a lot of affection for Tanner—said it was a “spurious edition” (Sharpe 2006).
Throughout his life, Tanner primarily devoted himself to two projects: gathering materials that he planned to use to update and greatly expand his Notitia Monastica and preparing his Bibliotheca Britannica (1748). The Notitia Monastica aspired to be a comprehensive history of Britain’s monasteries. The Bibliotheca Britannica aspired to be a comprehensive catalogue of British authors and was based largely on medieval and early modern catalogues of monastic libraries. Tanner did not manage to see his revised Notitia Monastica or the Bibliotheca Britannica through to publication in his lifetime. Both were published posthumously—the former in 1744 and the latter in 1748—and they remained celebrated, standard works of scholarship for more than a century.
As M. J. Sommerlad explains, Tanner’s reputation for the work he was undertaking on the history of monasteries and of British authors was well-known and well-respected during his lifetime (1962, v). The stack of books in the bottom left corner of the Vetusta Monumenta print honors Tanner’s work on British monasteries and authors. The books, along with a pile of papers and seals, represent a tradition of antiquarian scholarship that Tanner preserved and extended. The seals likely allude to Tanner’s presentation of four seals at a meeting of the SAL in March 1721 (SAL Minutes I.44), which Vertue was then ordered to engrave, and they probably comprise the two prints depicting “four mutilated seals” that Vertue completed in 1721 at the request of Peter Le Neve (1661-1729) (Alexander 2008, 293). A brief mention in Tanner’s correspondence with Le Neve, President of the SAL from 1707-1710 and again from 1717-1724, suggests that Tanner was engaged, like other members of the SAL at the time, with the study of seals: an interest that would have readily arisen as a consequence of his studies of medieval manuscripts and the history of monasteries. It may be that Tanner—who was a canon at Ely Cathedral from 1713-1724—provided drawings, an impression, or even a matrix for the Seal of the Cathedral Priory of St. Etheldreda, Ely that was engraved c. 1719 and incorporated into Plate 1.5 of Vetusta Monumenta. In September of 1722, Tanner thanked Le Neve (with whom Tanner often exchanged research notes and resources) “for [the] Seals” that Le Neve had sent him. Tanner also quickly quipped that, in his opinion, “our old Ely seal would make a better cut than the Norwich one;” the Norwich seal may have been one of the four seals Tanner presented to the SAL in March 1721 (quoted in Nichols 1817-1858, 3.428). The SAL had also, however, examined a Norwich seal in September 1719 (SAL Minutes I.24).
Underneath the seals appear three books. The first book, marked on the fore-edge with “Leland,” refers to Tanner’s lifelong work on Leland’s 1546 manuscript, De viris illustribus (On Famous Men). Leland’s De viris illustribus was part of the Collectanea he presented to Henry VIII as a New Year’s gift, and it was a catalogue of known manuscripts from the monastic libraries that Henry VIII had dissolved. Leland’s catalogue was never printed, but two catalogues were published shortly after it and partly based on it: one prepared by John Bale and another prepared by John Pits. Both Bale’s and Pits’s catalogues were well-known to have been polemical; by excising certain authors and making claims for attribution, Bale and Pits used monastic bibliography as a means of promoting their Protestant and Catholic interests, respectively (Douglas 1939, 198). When Gibson introduced Tanner to Leland’s manuscripts in 1693, everyone agreed that Leland’s manuscript should be published because it provided a neutral source-text. Tanner originally planned to prepare a simple “bare printing” of Leland’s De viris illustribus alongside various other catalogues of monastic libraries—both those which had been published after Leland prepared his, including not only that of Bale and Pits but also that of William Cave, and another catalogue that had preceded Leland’s: that of a monk known as Bostonus Buriensis or John Boston of Bury (Sharpe 2006).
Thus, the second book in the stack of books in the lower left-hand corner of the print is labeled “BOSTON BVRIENSIS” in recognition of Tanner’s plan. Richard H. Rouse has identified Bostonus Buriensis as Henry Kirkestede (c. 1314-1378), a Benedictine monk in the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds. In the fourteenth century, Kirkestede prepared the Catalogus scriptorium ecclesie, “a substantial bibliography of ecclesiastic writers and their works” based on a variety of sources as well as on material that was available in the monastic library at Bury St Edmunds (Rouse 2004 ). Kirkestede’s catalogue included the titles of works, brief biographies of their writers, the first and last words of texts, and the location of the manuscripts in various monastic libraries. Bale had snatched up the Catalogus after the dissolution of the monastery and included excerpts from it in his own catalogue that had also referenced Leland’s work. Tanner acquired the manuscript of the Catalogus from Thomas Gale (1635/6-1702) and, luckily, transcribed it. Kirkestede’s manuscript has since been lost (Rouse 2004).
If a “bare printing” of Leland’s catalogue among the others wasn’t already a daunting project to undertake, Tanner also decided to update all of the catalogues while collating them for publication. Once he discovered that Leland “had entirely omitted above 2000 British Writers” among other errors, Tanner decided that he would supplement the catalogues by “add[ing] such new Authors and writings as later searches of Libraries have discovered” (quoted in Douglas 1939, 205). This project would become Tanner’s life’s work, but he would not live to see it in print. It was published posthumously by David Wilkins in 1748 as the Bibliotheca Britannica, and it has since remained a monumental standard reference work, especially for research on medieval chronicles (Douglas 1939, 207).
The third book that Vertue includes in the lower left-hand corner is Tanner’s own Notitia Monastica, an extensively updated version of William Dugdale’s Monasticon Anglicanum (1655–73). Tanner first published this work in 1695, but throughout his life he also continued to develop a much-expanded and corrected edition until the work described in comprehensive and accurate detail “the original, progress, and increase of monasteries in England and Wales,” the “different orders of monks, nuns, and friers [sic],” the “difference[s] of abbies [sic], priories, etc. of the officers in those houses; and something of the benefit and disadvantage of them to the nation,” and “the dissolution of these religious societies” (Tanner 1744, i). Tanner also did not live to see the updated version of the Notitia in print, but his brother completed the revisions and published it with William Bowyer (1699-1777) in 1744. A version of Vertue’s engraved portrait of Tanner was used as the frontispiece.
Joan Evans situates the portrait of Tanner, which features another rendering of the lamp depicted on Plate 1.1, in the context of a return to “classical fashion” among members of the SAL in the 1720s (1956, 117). Following the series of engravings that depict the drawings of medieval castles that were discovered in the Office of the Duchy of Lancaster (Plates 1.39, 1.40, 1.41, 1.42, and 1.44) Tanner’s portrait preceded the engravings of Roman Roads (Plate 1.47), mosaics (Plates 1.48 and 1.50-1.52), and hypocaust (Plate 1.57) that would soon follow. Tanner’s own work, however, straddled an interest in medieval architecture and classical learning. He devoted most of his life to compiling information about England’s medieval history, but his Bibliotheca increasingly transformed into a dictionary of English authors writing in Latin (Davies 1935, 856). According to Rosemary Sweet, the work done by Gibson and Tanner on the revision of Camden’s Britannia stimulated inquiries into Roman antiquities while it also had a “similarly galvanizing effect upon the study of ancient British antiquities” (2004, 125).
Vertue’s engraving, which is based on a painting of Tanner at All Souls, Oxford, delicately crops Tanner’s famously corpulent body, straightens his robes, redirects his gaze so that he looks directly at the viewer, and lightens the expression on his face into a half smile. In so doing, Vertue captures Tanner’s well-known affability and spirit of generosity. Tanner was well liked by other antiquaries, and he shared his own research and assisted in theirs. By including the seal of St Etheldreda and three others alongside books stamped with Leland’s and Boston Buriensis’s names, Vertue set Tanner’s own antiquarian research within a tradition of research that dutifully built on and continued work that had been previously and laboriously completed. Vertue’s decorative border appears like a tomb sculpture translated into print, and the same convention may be observed in many of the portrait prints he engraved—such as those for Paul de Rapin's History of England (Tindal 1725-31). Here, the lamp is an apt image to include in the righthand corner. On the one hand, it symbolizes Tanner’s own lifelong commitment to continuing the work that had been done before him and bridging, in many ways, the divide between classical and medieval scholarship. On the other hand, the lamp is an apt tribute to Tanner himself—a recently-deceased and well-liked “brother” antiquary who was there for the Society’s revival in the 1720s—and whose own research would go on, in fact, to be celebrated after his death.
Alexander, David. 2008. “George Vertue as an Engraver.” The Volume of the Walpole Society 70: 207-517.
Davies, William T. 1935. “Thomas Tanner and His ‘Bibliotheca.” Times Literary Supplement Dec. 14: 856.
Douglas, David C. 1939. English Scholars. London: Jonathan Cape.
Evans, Joan. 1956. A History of the Society of Antiquaries. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nichols, John. 1817-1858. Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century. 8 vols. London: Nichols, Son and Bentley.
Rouse, Richard H. 2004. “Kirkestede, Henry.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sharpe, Richard. 2006. “Tanner, Thomas (1674-1735).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Society of Antiquaries of London. 1718-. Minutes of the Society’s Proceedings.
Sommerlad, Michael John. 1962. “The Historical and Antiquarian Interests of Thomas Tanner, 1674-1735, Bishop of St. Asaph.” Dissertation, University of Oxford.
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