Born in Amsterdam, Johannes Kip moved to London in 1656 and settled in Westminster. Here he would later be employed by booksellers to engrave portraits, frontispieces, book illustrations, and several separate prints of topographical subjects.
Kip’s most important work, however, was the series of etchings after the drawings of Leonard Knyff, and published in London by David Mortier of Amsterdam. The first volume was published in 1708 as Britannia Illustrata, or Views of Several of the Queen’s Palaces, as also of the Principle Seats of Nobility and Gentry of Great Britain, Curiously Engraved on 80 Copperplates. Three other volumes followed from 1709. The second volume consisted of similar bird’s-eye views, drawn and etched by Kip while subsequent volumes contained the works of other artists as well. There was also a later edition published by Joseph Smith in 1724-8 with further additional views.
The plates are remarkable not only for their accuracy and delicacy but also for the peculiar way in which Knyff was able to elevate his viewpoint in order to achieve a far reaching bird’s eye view over vast areas of land. Given that he had no means of raising himself above the landscape, we can only assume that he achieved these effects by surveying vast areas of land and using the resultant sketches as a basis for his projections. Bird’s eye projections of this type are rare, and the best examples tend to be by Dutch artists; it has been suggested that the flatness of the Dutch landscape encouraged native artists to develop the skill of ‘visionary levitation’.
Kip’s mastery of the engraving medium is far superior to the bulk of topographical engraving of the period. The spiritedness and lightness of touch is reminiscent of the great Wenceslas Hollar while the accuracy, attention to detail and handling of light and shade sets a standard for all subsequent topographical engravers. In addition to the high level of craftsmanship, these plates provide valuable records of formal gardens and other lost period features with delightful anecdotal details of human interest (men hunting, reaping hay, etc.) drawing us in to Kip’s enchanting 18th century world.
Below are a few examples from the collection of original antique Kip etchings. Please click on an image to see it in high-resolution with details of the work itself. For the full list of views available, please do contact us.