Wagner, Johann Martin

Bassorilievi antichi della Grecia o sia fregio del tempio di Apollo Epicurio in Arcadia disegnato dagli originali da Gio.Maria Wagner ed inciso da Ferdinando Ruschweyh.

Roma, Francesco Bourlié 1814.

Reference: 15360
Price: £980 [convert currency]

Full Description

Oblong folio. Title leaf, iv pp, 25 engraved plates (plate 23 is larger and folding). Contemporary paper-covered boards, worn and rubbed at outer corners and at head and foot of spine. Small early nineteenth century circular ownership stamps of Kön[igliches] Bergwerks-Bibliothek on front free endpaper and towards foot of title leaf. Later small circular stamp of Staatsbibliothek Berlin on blank verso of title leaf (together with release stamp), and also at foot of blank lower margin of plate 17. Some spotting on text leaves and plates throughout, principally affecting the plates’ blank outer margins.

The earliest illustrated record of the celebrated sculptured marbled frieze from the temple of Apollo at Bassae, dating from about 400 BC and portraying Lapiths (mythological humans) fighting against Centaurs and Amazons. The site of the temple had been investigated in 1811, and excavated in the following year, by an international team including the young British architect C.R.Cockerell, his travelling companion John Foster, and their German contemporaries Carl Haller von Hallerstein, Otto von Stackelberg and Jakob Linckh. The sculptures from the frieze were transported for sale to Zakynthos in the Ionian Islands, where they were seen and sketched by Johann Martin Wagner, who was there at that date in order to purchase the sculptures from the temple of Aphaia on Aegina for the Crown Prince of Bavaria, and Wagner’s drawings, taken back by him to Rome, are the basis for the present publication. By the time the auction of the sculptures from Bassae took place in 1814 Wagner had decided that they were of insufficient merit to be acquired for the Crown Prince, but the British Museum’s representative on the spot, Taylor Combe, rightly thought more highly of them, and was able to purchase them for the museum at the ensuing sale. The sculptures from Bassae remain in their own dedicated gallery at the British Museum today. They were not however to be the subject of a full-scale scholarly publication until 1892, and the present engravings thus remained for nearly eighty years the best illustrated record of the frieze. The only other copy of this title in acceptable condition known to us to have appeared in the book trade in recent years has been the Blackmer copy (Sotheby 11-13 October 1989, lot 1071), which reappeared in a Bonhams sale 31 March 2009, lot 241, where it sold for £1320 including buyers’ premium. The Blackmer copy, which had belonged to Edward Dodwell, the early nineteenth-century topographical illustrator, was “rather spotted”, as is our present copy, and it seems probable to us that all copies of this title are likely to be more or less spotted, due to the nature of the paper on which the engravings were printed. It remains to note that an unusual feature of our copy’s binding is that the blackish paper which covers the outside of the upper and lower boards carries as watermarks a portrait of King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia, with a surrounding inscription including the date 1823, and, separately, the word PREUSSEN. We take this as indicative of the fact that the sheets of paper involved, before being stained black for binding purposes, started life as notepaper produced for use by the Prussian royal household. BAL Cat 3561 ; not in Cicognara.

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