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Grand Panorama of London and the River Thames, engraving, London: Azulay, Thames Tunnel, 1851. (click images for a larger view)

Grand Panorama of London and the River Thames, engraving, London: Azulay, Thames Tunnel, 1851.

Library Company shareholder Hyman Myers recently gave us a mid-19th-century engraving entitled Grand Panorama of London and the River Thames. Measuring an impressive eighteen feet in length, our new Curator’s Favorite is without a doubt the largest item in our graphics holdings. Grand in both size and scope, the engraving takes viewers on a journey from the Western Stone Wharf near the houses of Parliament out to the Royal Victualling Office in Greenwich. Significant landmarks along the way including buildings, bridges, and wharves are identified below the engraving. The city and river bustle with activity. Smoke billows from industrial stacks, boats and other river traffic jockey for position within the waterway, and pedestrian and vehicular traffic clog the bridges over the Thames.

Grand Panorama of London and the River Thames, engraving, London: Azulay, Thames Tunnel, 1851.

 


Notice the pedestrian on the bridge carrying a Pictorial Times advertising sign.

Our panorama served as ammunition in a battle for subscribers waged between competing London illustrated periodicals. The Illustrated London News, launched in 1842, offered its subscribers a “Colosseum Print of London” while in 1844 its competitor, the Pictorial Times announced the soon-to-be published “largest engraving in the world, the Grand Panorama of London from the Thames, fourteen feet in length!” A supplement provided subscribers to the Pictorial Times with a narrative of an imaginary trip along the illustrated river. The Illustrated London News responded with its own panoramic print. The Pictorial Times,in turn, continued to add to its panorama, extending its length to eighteen feet by 1849. Our recent acquisition is the Pictorial Times’s 1851 edition which was available on rollers, if desired, with either pink or green wrapper titles. By this date, the panorama was available at bookshops all over the United Kingdom, not just to subscribers of the Pictorial Times.

Our panorama bears the scars of having been well-used over the last almost 160 years. As it is slowly unwound from its roller, the expected frayed edges and tears become visible.  A closer inspection, however, also shows early attempts to repair the larger tears by sewing torn sections together with thread. Despite the reinforcement, unwinding the panorama from start to finish is not a task for those faint of heart or with trembling hands.

Readers interested in our relatively humble panorama may want to avail themselves of the opportunity to visit the enormous and significant prints on display in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s current exhibition, Grand Scale: Monumental Prints in the Age of Dürer and Titian, on view until April 26. For more information about that exhibition, visit http://philamuseum.org/exhibitions/319.html.

Sarah J. Weatherwax
Curator of Prints and Photographs

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