Romantic Circles Gallery
9th. 10th. & 11th. Windows North Aisle
The titular 9th, 10th, and 11th windows of the North Aisle of Westminster Abbey form the background of the print. In the foreground, a variety of people walk around and look at the monuments along the walls. In the right corner, there is a short female in black, her face covered by her bonnet. A man wearing breeches, a green shirt, and a long white apron stands behind a couple in the center of the print; all three stand with their backs to the viewer. A religious man in white robes with red vestment, a man in a blue coat with crutches, and a man in a black gown carrying a staff are all moving towards the left. A male figure in traveling clothes, walking stick in hand, moves beneath the arch at the far left. Beyond this arch, a woman in white stands before the railing, accompanied by a man in a black frock coat who points towards something.
Copyright 2009, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
William Combe's The History of the Abbey Church of St. Peter's, Westminster, Its Antiquities and Monuments . . . (London, 1812)
CA 6724 Oversize; vol. 2
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Edition and StatePlate 61 in William Combe’s The History of the Abbey Church of St. Peter’s, Westminster, Its Antiquities and Monuments . . . (London, 1812)
Printing ContextThis image was bound in The history of the Abbey Church of St. Peter's, Westminster, Its Antiques and Monuments . . . (London, 1812).
Associated PlacesWestminster Abbey
Located just west of the Houses of Parliament in London, Westminster Abbey, a Royal Particular, was built on the site of an ancient monastery in 1065 by Edward the Confessor. Henry III tore down the entire structure in 1245 in order to build a Gothic church; the nave, however, was conserved and rebuilt in the late 1300s. The chapel of Henry VII replaced an earlier chapel in 1503, and the last additions to the building were the western towers designed by Christopher Wren. The Abbey has served as the site of coronations since William the Conqueror. Monuments in the Abbey were few until the sixteenth century, when royals began to erect monuments to their predecessors, their families, and others affiliated with royalty. During the seventeenth century, monuments raised for those without royal connections greatly increased, and many were dedicated to war heroes, statesmen, artists, writers, etc.: “Nowhere matches Westminster Abbey in the number, diversity and distinction of the famous men and women buried in it, and no place has continued to be the burial ground of the great across such a length of time” (Jenkyns 73). Also housing the tombs of many “ordinary and insignificant” commoners, it was both a “pantheon and a charnel house” (Jenkyns 85). During the eighteenth century its history and variety of monuments became a common topic of essays, and the Abbey itself became a popular travel destination (Fisher 116). On Armistice Day in 1920, Westminster Abbey’s status as a national symbol was solidified with the erection of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. To this day, it remains one of the most enduring images of Great Britain as well as one of the most popular tourist sites in England.
SubjectThis illustration, created by John White to accompany William Combe's written history of Westminster, gives an interior view of the Abbey and depicts several of its monuments. The bottom border of the image includes the names of the persons to whom the monuments are dedicated, along with corresponding numbers for identification.
SignificanceJohn White and F. Mackenzie’s illustrations for Combe’s The History of the Abbey reconstruct the structure and monuments of Westminster not simply as architecture but as art, representing the Abbey as a gallery to tour. These intricate illustrations, combined with Combe's detailed accounts of Westminster's history, architecture, and monuments, serve as an extensive guidebook to the Abbey. However, given the physical size of The History, the text ultimately functions as a substitute for the Abbey itself, taking on the role of "tour" books that enable readers to virtually, rather than physically, visit a site. This is further reinforced by the seemingly unmediated nature of The History's content: the text presents the Abbey as an immediate presence by providing numbers that correspond to the depicted monuments and by directly quoting their epitaphs without giving supplemental translations.
Mackenzie’s illustrations emphasize the grand architecture of Westminster Abbey by depicting tiny figures positioned unobtrusively in doorways and arches. However, these figures, who are supposedly touring the Abbey, seem more involved in their conversations than their surroundings, barely lifting their heads to examine the fan vaulted ceiling of the Henry VII chapel. Meanwhile, White portrays the Abbey as a successful site of tourism, depicting groups of people who appear to purposefully view and discuss the monuments along the main aisles. Moreover, he does so using a variety of spectators: men and women, members of the working class, academics, religious men, and travelers. Consequently, within one work and at one site, there are portrayed different ways of interacting with a "spectacle": by treating it as an opportunity to study grand architecture or personal histories; by losing oneself in the absorbing splendor of its art; by using it as an event of sociality and conversation; or, finally, by privately experiencing it as a virtual site through text and illustrations.
BibliographyBond, Francis. Westminster Abbey. London: Oxford UP, 1909. Print.
Carpenter, Edward, ed. A House of Kings: The Official History of Westminster Abbey. Revised ed. London: Day, 1972. Print.
Carretta, Vincent. “Combe, William (1742–1823).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Jan. 2008. Web. 3 July 2013.
Combe, William. The History of the Abbey Church of St. Peter’s, Westminster, Its Antiquities and Monuments . . . 2 vols. London, 1812. Print.
Field, John. Kingdom Power and Glory: A historical guide to Westminster Abbey. London: James, 1996. Print.
A Historical Description of Westminster Abbey, its Monuments and Curiosities. London, 1892. Print.
Humphrey, Stephen C. Churches and Cathedrals of London. New York: Contemporary Books, 2001. Print.
Jenkyns, Richard. Westminster Abbey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2005. Print.
Neale, John Preston. The History and Antiquities of Westminster Abbey and Henry the Seventh’s Chapel; their tombs, ancient monuments, and inscriptions. . . London, 1856. Print.
Pyne, W.H. and William Combe. The Microcosm of London; or, London in Miniature. 3 vols. London: Ackermann, 1904. Print.
"Westminster Abbey." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 03 Jul. 2013.
Long TitleWilliam Combe’s The History of the Abbey Church of St. Peter’s, Westminster, Its Antiquities and Monuments . . . (1812)
Vol 2 has added engraved t.-p. in colors: Westminster abbey and the monuments, forming a companion and continuation of the Microcosm of London.
11 October 1812