London: Septimus Prowett, 1827. Item #05167
The Paradise Lost of John Milton
Illustrated with 24 Magnificent Mezzotint Plates by John Martin
With Two Fine Fore-Edge Paintings Depicting
'Satan Tempting Eve' and 'The Conflict Between Satan and Death'
FORE-EDGE PAINTING. MARTIN, John. MILTON, John. The Paradise Lost of Milton. With Illustrations, Designed and Engraved by John Martin. London: Septimus Prowett, 1827].
Each volume with a fine Fore-Edge Painting by an unidentified early twentieth century? artist, taken from John Martin's amazing illustrations.
Volume I with the image "Satan Tempting Eve" after the plate facing p.89 in volume II
Volume II with the image "The Conflict Between Satan and Death" after the plate facing p. 65 in volume I
First (Imperial Octavo) edition. Two large octavo volumes (10 1/4 x 7 1/16 inches; 260 x 180 mm.). [iv], , [1-3], 4-228; [iv], [1-3], 4-218 pp. Twenty-four very fine mezzotint plates. Some mainly marginal light foxing to the some of the plates and text, but overall far cleaner than is usually seen. Very fine impressions of the plates.
Bound ca. 1890 by Rivière & Son for Sotheran & Co. Full dark brown morocco, sides with elaborate wide gilt borders, spines with five raised bands, decoratively ruled in gilt in compartments. Two olive green morocco labels lettered in gilt, decorative gilt board edges and turn-ins, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. The absolute bare minimum of fading to the spines. A near fine example.
“This book was one of the great publishing enterprises of the age. It appeared in eight different formats, four with the large plates (8 by 11 inches) and four with the small (6 by 8 inches). Martin executed the forty-eight mezzotints [both Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained] himself. The apocalyptic romanticism of his conceptions had many sources: the monumental buildings of London, the engravings of Piranesi, published volumes of eastern views, even incandescent gas, coalpit accidents, and Brunel’s new Thames Tunnel. The resulting illustrations may be heterogeneous, but they are also unforgettable” (Gordon N. Ray. The Illustrator and the Book in England from 1790 to 1914. pp. 44-45).
“Martin’s illustrations to John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost represent a turning point in his career. The vast majority of Martin’s most famous works…were based upon either Miltonic or biblical subject matter—the Paradise Lost series are of particular importance both as one of his chief bodies of designs and as the focal point for the beginning of his career as a mezzotint engraver. Begun by early 1824, this series of engravings was the result of a commission from a little known American publisher, names Septimus Prowett. Prowett, who was based in London, approached Martin to produce 24 mezzotint illustrations…to accompany an issue of Milton’s text which was to be produced in twelve parts…By the end of 1824 Prowett had extended the commission to include a second set of engravings of the same designs but in a slightly reduced format… Prowett’s publication was to be released in four different forms: (1) Imperial Folio edition, measuring 15 1/4 x 21 3/4 in., and containing lettered proofs of the larger set of engravings; limited to fifty copies…(2) Imperial Quarto edition, measuring 10 7/8 x 15 1/4 in., with fully lettered prints from the larger set of plates…(3) Imperial Quarto edition, measuring 10 7/8 x 15 1/4 in., containing lettered proofs of the smaller set of engravings: limited to fifty copies…(4) Imperial Octavo edition, measuring 7 5/8 x 10 7/8 in., containing fully lettered prints from the smaller set of plates…Besides these versions of the publication, sets of proofs from the larger plates were available, without text…and from the smaller plates” (Campbell, John Martin, Visionary Printmaker, pp. 38-39).
“To appreciate the impact which Martin’s designs had upon his public, one must realise the extent to which these extraordinary visions represented an entirely new conception of approach to the art of illustration. Not only were they ‘original’ in the truest sense of the word—designed directly on the plates without the aid of preparatory sketches, they were some of the earliest mezzotints to have been made using soft steel rather than copper, and they were the first illustrations of Milton’s epic work to have been made in the mezzotint medium…The greatest significance of Martin’s illustrations, however, was in their spectacular visionary content…Martin laid before his public the spectacular settings of the epic tale—the open voids of the Creation, the vast vaulted caverns of Hell vanishing into the utter blackness of Chaos, the daunting scale of the city of Pandemonium, and the sweeping beauty f Heaven itself. These images have no serious counterpart and are the very essence of the sublime in Romantic art. They are without doubt one of the most significant series of British book illustrations ever to have been produced” (Campbell, John Martin, Visionary Printmaker, pp. 40-41).
Provenance: Sotheran's, London, ca. 1890; PBA Galleries, San Francisco, July 8th, 2010, Lot 182 to Randall Moscovitz.
Ray, The Illustrator and the Book in England, 69.