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Rudolph Ackermann (1764-1834) worked as a saddler and coachbuilder in Europe before setting up a print shop - The Repository of Arts - in the Strand, London in 1795. It was here he was to establish a press which was to issue some of the finest English illustrated books of this era.
English colour print books from the first half of the 19th century are noteworthy for their exquisite illustrations, on topics as wide ranging as landscape gardening, military campaigns, exotic countries and the latest inventions.
At this time it was fashionable for the wealthy classes to have some knowledge of a wide range of subjects and this, combined with a more literate and well-informed public, allowed publishers to produce a wide variety of books illustrated by some of the best artists of the day, many of whom were refugees from the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars.
Two processes were generally employed for the reproduction of colour in colour plate books - aquatint and lithography. Ackermann's books are especially noted for their fine aquatints which were printed in one to three colours with the final tinting done by hand. Sometimes, in a large production with a thousand copies of a book with a hundred or so illustrations, this could mean the hand colouring of over one hundred thousand prints. In this case the artist or master colourist would provide specimens to numerous copyists. This method of book illustration was expensive and this is why aquatint engraving gradually gave way to lithography.
The Special Collection is fortunate to contain a number of books produced by Rudolph Ackermann; this page highlights just two, both of which are outstanding among the topographical books of the time. Ackermann's works on Oxford and Cambridge depict these universities in their Georgian prime, at a time when the great period of classical building was over, but before the Gothic Revival had made an impact. The aquatint plates are noteworthy for the beauty of their colouring and their softness.
A History of the University of Oxford, its Colleges, Halls and Public Buildings In Two Volumes.
London: Printed for R. Ackermann, 101, Strand, By L. Harrison and J.C. Leigh, 373, Strand, 1814.
"Hall of Christ Church."
A. Pugin delt. J. Bluck sculpt. Augt. 1 1814.
Plate 40, page 80 (vol. 2)
Christ Church was established in 1546 and is the largest and most imposing of the colleges at Oxford University. The Hall is where dinner is served, a tradition that has continued since Ackermann's time. In this plate, servants can be seen tidying up after a meal.
This illustration was drawn by Augustus Charles Pugin (1762-1832), a French immigrant who was an exceptional architectural artist.
A History of the University of Cambridge, its Colleges, Halls and Public Buildings In Two Volumes.
London: printed for R. Ackermann, 101, Strand, by L. Harrison and J.C. Leigh, 373, Strand, 1815.
"Pembroke Hall & c. from a window at Peterhouse."
F. Mackenzie delt. J.C. Stadler sculpt. Oct. 1 1814.
Plate 9, page 52 (vol. 1)
Pembroke College was founded in 1347 and its chapel can be seen clearly at the right edge of this plate. The Chapel dates from 1663 and is the earliest work (apart from a doorway in Ely Cathedral) by Christopher Wren.
Frederick Mackenzie (1787/8-1854) was another noted architectural illustrator who also contributed all the drawings for the engravings of another university history from this era (James Ingram's Memorials of Oxford, John Henry Parker, Oxford, 1837) also held in Deakin University Library Special Collection.
Colvin, H.M. Ackermann's Oxford, Penguin, London, 1954
Summerson, John The Microcosm of London, Penguin, London, 1947
Tannahill, Reay Regency England: the great age of the colour print, The Folio Society, London, 1964
Thomas, Alan G. Great Books and Book Collectors, Spring Books, London, 1988
Tooley, R.V. English Books with Coloured Plates 1790 to 1860, Dawsons, Pall Mall, 1973
Williamson, Reginald Ross Ackermann's Cambridge, Penguin, London, 1951
Kristen Thornton is responsible for the contents of this page.