Academic journal article Parergon

The Exeter Drawings of John Carter: A Rare Book in a Private Collection in New Zealand

Academic journal article Parergon

The Exeter Drawings of John Carter: A Rare Book in a Private Collection in New Zealand

Article excerpt

Some account of the Cathedral Church of Exeter: Illustrative of the Plans, Elevations, and Sections, of that Building was published in 1797 for the Society of Antiquaries in London. (1) The book is largely the work of architect to the Society, John Carter, although two preliminary essays, by Bishop Charles Lyttelton (1714-68) and Sir Henry Englefield (1752-1822), have been added, along with drawings engraved by James Basire II (1769-1822). A copy of this book survives in a private collection in New Zealand, and forms the focus of this article. (2)

This article has two specific aims. The first is to examine in detail the contents of the Exeter Cathedral book, because it has never been considered in such a manner before. While John Carter's life and works have been regarded in broad terms in previous publications, there has never been a comprehensive study of any of his individual works. (3) The second is to consider elements of the context in which Carter was working, in order to show how Carter's contentious beliefs about medieval architecture came about and how they then became a part of the publications he produced.

John Carter's career has had an important legacy for the history of Gothic architecture. The precision of his drawing and Basires engraving led to a greater accuracy and detail in draughting than had been previously used in architectural publications. This reflected the gradual shift seen in historical publications of the period, from reliance on textual evidence towards documentary evidence. In addition, Carter argued that Gothic architecture originated in England. However erroneous he was in this, it was a concept that persisted in architectural literature for many generations. Third, Carter's call for the preservation of medieval monuments was extremely important for the survival of many structures, and for the recording of many edifices that have since been destroyed.

The Exeter book acts as a microcosm of Carter's work: in it, we can see evidence of the quality of the draughtsmanship and the engraving, Carter's advocacy of the English origins of Gothic architecture, and the need for preserving medieval monuments, demonstrating the book's significance and value as a vivid example of Carter's work.

I. The Exeter Cathedral Book

Among Carter's publications are the books known as the Cathedral Series, a collection of six books containing plans and elevations of St Stephen's Chapel, Westminster (drawings 1790-94; publication 1795), Exeter Cathedral (drawings 1792-96; publication 1797), Bath Abbey (drawings 1792-96; publication 1798), Durham Cathedral (drawings 1792-98; publication 1801), St Alban's Abbey (drawings c. 1804; publication 1810), and Gloucester Cathedral (drawings 1796; publication 1809). (4) Wells Cathedral was to be included in this series; Carter's drawings were prepared c. 1795-1805, but were never engraved and never published. (5)

The Cathedral Series was sponsored and published by the Society of Antiquaries, of which Carter became a full Fellow in 1795. (6) In 1792, Richard Gough, the Society's director, and Sir Henry Englefield supported the production of 'architectural drawings of the different Cathedrals and religious houses in the Kingdom'. (7) Thus began the series, but the costs of production quickly escalated. As the books were distributed free of charge among Society members, the only way to finance the publications was to increase membership subscriptions, and, according to J. Mordaunt Crook, 'when, in 1802 an attempt was made to raise the Society's annual subscription from 2 to 3 guineas, the change was resisted and soon afterwards the Cathedral Series was abandoned'. (8) Personal correspondence with Mr Bernard Nurse, librarian for the Society, confirms that during this period, membership was approximately 450, and thus about 500 copies of each book are thought to have been printed, each in a single print run. (9)

The exact whereabouts today of many of the books in the Cathedral Series is unknown. …

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