"SO FAITHFUL TO NATURE, THAT IT NEEDS BUT THE PROMETHEAN FIRE TO BRING THEM TO LIFE AND MOTION": FIRST EDITION OF ELGIN MARBLES, 1818, WITH 50 SPLENDID FOLIO ETCHINGS
LAWRENCE, Richard. Elgin Marbles, from the Parthenon at Athens. London: Thomas Davison, 1818. Large oblong quarto (11-3/4 by 15 inches), contemporary three-quarter brown morocco and marbled boards. $3900.
First edition of Richard Lawrence's large and impressive volume—"one of the earliest publications to included detailed illustrations of the Elgin Marbles"—with 50 full-page etchings of the Parthenon's "transcendent masterpieces."
The Elgin Marbles, named after British diplomat Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, were removed from the Parthenon in the first decade of the 19th century. Lord Elgin, who had long admired the Parthenon's massive sculptures, planned a visit to Athens with a group of artists whom he commissioned to sketch and execute paintings of the monuments, statues and buildings, and to make molds of the architectural sculptures. He would then bring these productions back to England where they could be studied as models of inspiration for British architects and artists. Elgin was later to modify his plan by bringing to England more than half of the actual sculptures that decorated the Parthenon. "Despite objections that Lord Elgin had 'ruined Athens' by the time his work was done in 1805, the British Government purchased the marbles from him in 1816. They've been housed at the British Museum ever since" (Time).
This large quarto volume, compiled by Richard Lawrence and dedicated to His Royal Highness George, Prince of Wales, "is one of the earliest publications to include detailed illustrations of the Elgin Marbles." It features 50 splendid folio etchings and text by Lawrence, who "spent three years studying the relics which he considered had been given an indifferent reception by connoisseurs and artists 'of considerable celebrity'" (Blackmer 967). The Parthenon Marbles include some of the statuary from the pediments, the metope panels depicting combats between the Lapiths and the Centaurs at the marriage of Pirithous, as well as part of the Parthenon frieze, which depicts the Great Panathenaea, Athens' oldest and most important festival and one of the grandest in the entire Greek world. As such, they represent more than half of what now remains of the surviving sculptural decoration of the Parthenon. These "matchless" works of art, Lawrence writes, are "so faithful to nature, that it needs but the Promethean fire to bring them to life and motion… each repeated inspection unfolds new beauties, confirms the superiority of these transcendent masterpieces." First edition. As issued with two plates numbered 34 without loss: the second plate "34" is described by Lawrence as "the restored duplicate." With List of Subscribers. Published shortly after Sharp's Selection of Thirty Etched Outlines (1816) and Burrow's Elgin Marbles… with 40 Plates (1817). Lowndes, 725. Armorial bookplate of noted bibliophile Evan Charles Sutherland-Walker.
Interior quite fresh with only faint offsetting, inner hinges expertly reinforced, light edge-wear to contemporary boards. A highly desirable about-fine copy.