A Volume Standing (Gigantically) at the Beginning of a New Tradition of Great Archeological Writing, Scrupulously Recording On-Site Discoveries, and Exerting a Profound Effect on Classical Taste in England


(London: n.p., 1753). 555 x 375 mm. (21 3/4 x 14 3/4"). 3 p.l., 50 pp. FIRST EDITION.

Modern retrospective half calf over blue marbled boards. With three full-page engravings of inscriptions and 57 FINE ENGRAVED PLATES OF ANCIENT RUINS, after Borra, as called for, Plate I (folding) composed of three full-size plates; plates bound out of order (plates 1-23, 40-49, 24-39, 50-57) but all present. A Large Paper Copy(?). Blackmer 1834; Cohen-de Ricci 916; Fowler 443; Harris 939. Fore edge of title page slightly frayed, title and following leaf mounted on a tab and a little browned at edges, plate I a bit browned and with older repairs to folds (one coming undone), a couple of plates lightly foxed, occasional finger smudges or other insignificant defects, but still an excellent copy, clean and fresh internally, with deep impressions of the type, with the plates richly impressed, with very spacious margins, and in an unworn binding.

In Harris' words, this influential study of ancient ruins in Asia Minor was "a triumph such as no English architectural book had ever before achieved. Here was the first of a new breed of archaeological works presenting the results of on-the-spot investigations of ancient monuments, with ostensibly accurate measured drawings of the ruins, precise descriptions of the state and the site in which they were discovered, and exact copies of what inscriptions there were. This material was intended to serve lovers of antiquity, scholars, artists, and architects, regardless of nationality or interest. Its publication was greeted with widespread acclaim throughout Europe." Classical scholar Robert Wood (1716/17-71), his friend and patron James Dawkins (1722-57), and Italian architect and draughtsman Giovanni Battista Borra (1713-70) embarked on an expedition to the Levant in 1750, taking with them (as Wood tells us in his preface) "a library, consisting chiefly of all the Greek historians and poets, some books of antiquities, and the best voyage writers." They arrived at Palmyra, in modern-day Syria, in the spring of 1751, and spent five days there taking measurements of the ruins, making sketches and drawing plans, and recording inscriptions. They travelled on to Balbec, in modern-day Lebanon, and repeated the process. With funding from Dawkins, text written by Wood, and engravings by Fourdrinier, Miller, and Major after Borra, they produced two books on these previously undescribed sites, which DNB says "stand at the beginning of a tradition to which other writers on archaeology in the second half of the eighteenth century would aspire." According to Horace Walpole, "of all the works that distinguish this age, none perhaps excel [sic] those beautiful editions of Balbec and Palmyra . . . The modest descriptions prefixed are standards of writing: The exact measure of what should and should not be said, and of what was necessary to be known." DNB observes, "The works brought previously unknown remains to public attention and had a profound effect on classical taste in England. Their influence was reflected in the work of contemporary architects, notably in the famous ceilings by Robert Adam at Osterley and Syon." "Palmyra" and "Ruins of Balbec" established Britain "firmly . . . in the forefront of archaeological studies." This record of Palmyra is especially precious now, as a number of the temples, tombs, and statues recorded were destroyed by Islamic State militants in 2015.

Price: $7,500.00