A medley print

Medley prints like the one below really capture the sense of mixture, the hotchpotch quality, and the endless referencing that characterize Douce’s folders:

Sutton Nicholls, [Medley print] The king and the cobler, 1702-1710, hand-coloured etching and engraving (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

Unlike the impression in the BM, Douce’s print bears the inscription ‘Designed, and Engraven, and Sold, by S: Nicholls’, which almost certainly refers to the draughtsman and engraver Sutton Nicholls (1668-1729). Nicholls is known mainly for his views of streets and buildings in London, very similar to the image of a red brick house to which his name and address are attached here. The blank sheet on the right side of the BM print becomes a five of hearts in the hand-coloured Ashmolean print, and the date 1694 is added to the publication details on the title-page of The King and the Cobler:

Anonymous, Medley print, 1730-60, etching and engraving (London© The Trustees of the British Museum)

Nicholls minutely reproduced the woodcut that illustrated several editions of the story of the merry cobbler enriched at court after entertaining Henry VIII incognito. The chapbook, based on an older ballad, was often reprinted between the late seventeenth and the early nineteenth century. It is a good example of the black letter books that Douce collected and valued as ‘copious stores of information’ resulting from ‘the earlier labours of our countrymen’, as he explained in the preface of his Illustrations of Shakespeare.

Nicholls proudly displayed his skill as a printmaker by imitating the expressive coarseness of the popular woodcut in another technique (etching). But his virtuosity is also in evidence when trying to replicate different styles, as can be seen in the juxtaposition of the title-page and the more delicate woodcut on the top right corner. The latter was probably copied after a publisher’s device -a very similar woodcut was used, for instance, by the Dutch cartographer Johannes Janssonius (1588-1664). It shows Fame (masked in Nicholls’s version) standing on an armillary sphere, with two men holding a spade and a mathematical instrument below and the motto “Vivitur ingenio”:

Among the remaining scattered prints we see depictions of a mouse, a landscape, Cupid as a boy carrying a sword, the Crossing of the Red Sea, the Jack of Spades, and a female head. A few lines from a letter that seems to reproduce the Lettres Satiriques by Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655) can be read below. They refer to the satire published under the title ‘Vision of Hell’ by the Spanish author Francisco de Quevedo in the third part of his Sueños. Needless to say, Douce owned Bergerac’s letters, as well as Quevedo’s works and some curious versions and translations of the latter, such as the Nuits Sévillanes (Brussels, 1700) from which this frontispiece is taken:

This entry was posted in Ballads, Books, Colour, History of printmaking, Medley print, Prints, Woodcuts. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A medley print

  1. malcolm jones says:

    Fascinating as always! Lawrence Worms in his Dictionary of British Map-Engravers has now provided precise dates for Nicholls. Another Nicholls medley was sold at auction not long ago — google “The Eye Deceived” — a rather nice englishing of “trompe l’oeil” incidentally, the genre to which these sheets belong, of course!

    • mercedes-c says:

      I have just changed the dates, thank you!

      • malcolm jones says:

        With the aid of Worms’s list of dated addresses and my own further study of Nicholls’s addresses, I can now say that your medley was published between 1702 and 1710 — the BM’s date is way out!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>