The Paradise Lost of Milton.London: Septimus Prowett, 1827 Stock Code: 145395
Large plate issue of perhaps the finest illustrated edition of Paradise LostFirst edition in book form, a handsome copy of the more desirable large plate issue. John Martin's Paradise Lost maintains a strong claim to be the finest illustrated edition of the poem ever produced.
Already famous as an artist for his bold and melodramatic paintings, Martin was commissioned by Septimus Prowett to turn his talents to Milton. Unlike other artists in the period who were commissioned for book illustration, who generally produced paintings which were then replicated as engravings, Martin produced his illustrations directly as mezzotints. The possibilities of mezzotints, which allow far greater detail and experimentation with lighting than usual steel engravings, were fully exploited by Martin, and in turn Paradise Lost "was ideal material for Martin, who echoed Milton's solemnity while opening out his cadences in the imagery of groves and chases bathed in silvery light and an underworld where fires tongue the darkness and bridges span nothingness and Satan's armies infest the gloom. In mezzotint Martin's vision thrived" (ODNB).
Martin engraved each illustration twice, on a larger and a smaller plate size. The work was issued in eight different formats, four with the larger plates and four with the smaller. There is no priority between the larger or smaller plate issues, or the eight formats. Yet the plate size is a major consideration for the collector and certainly to be preferred, as the larger plates are superior in detail and execution; the smaller mezzotints "suffer greatly from reduction" (Ray, p. 45). Prior to their publication in the present book form, the plates were first published in 12 parts from 1825 to 1827.
2 volumes, large quarto (358 x 262 mm). Contemporary calf, twin green calf labels to spines, gilt in compartments, covers panelled in gilt, gilt turn-ins, marbled endpapers, gilt edges.
With 24 mezzotint illustrations by Martin with tissue-guards, in the larger format.
Light rubbing and bumping to corners and extremities, some light foxing to contents, stronger to a few plates in first volume, notwithstanding an excellent copy.
Ray 69A; Muir p. 75.
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