Fine Books from a Distinguished Private Library

Fine Books from a Distinguished Private Library

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 41. William Hamilton | Campi phlegraei. Paris, [1799-1802], a deluxe copy with plates in two states.

William Hamilton | Campi phlegraei. Paris, [1799-1802], a deluxe copy with plates in two states

Auction Closed

November 28, 01:19 PM GMT


40,000 - 60,000 GBP

Lot Details


William Hamilton

Campi phlegraei, ou observations sur les volcans des Deux Siciles. Paris: chez Lamy, l’an septième [1799-1802]

Second edition (“Édition deluxe”), folio (528 x 344mm.), half title, two engraved titles with large vignettes (one coloured by hand), “Discours preliminaire”, 60 ENGRAVED PLATES IN TWO STATES (uncoloured on wove paper, and coloured by hand on laid paper, the coloured plates within a washed double frame of green and yellow), including one double-page plate; one of the coloured plates without a coloured frame and on a smaller sheet of paper, near-contemporary purple half morocco over marbled paper boards by P.F. Heyne of Antwerp with his ticket, flat spine gilt with foliate motifs surrounded by pointillé and gilt fillet borders, titled in gilt, occasional light foxing or toning, top of front joint and spine a bit worn

The rare second edition of the author’s best-known work, A “DELUXE” COPY WITH SPECTACULAR PLATES IN TWO STATES, showing a range of scenic views and including volcanic activity observed first-hand in the “fields of fire” around Naples. Originally published in three parts between 1776-1779, the first edition of this work contains the same plates as this second edition, with the exception of a double-page map (which only appears in the first), and a double-page plate showing the eruption of Vesuvius in 1794 (which only appears in the second, as here). The bibliographies all note three issues of the second edition, the present copy being one of the issues with plates in two states (the other two issues have the plates in one state only, either coloured or uncoloured).

Natural features and scenery such as crater lakes, hulking rock formations, hot springs, dramatic mountains, and even the ruins of Pompeii are also pictured here, reminding the viewer of the beauty that is often born out of violent phenomena. In fact, according to ODNB, “This publication did a great deal to make volcanoes… a popular subject in art and poetry and to cause a visit to Vesuvius to be a necessary stage on the grand tour.”

Though a diplomat by vocation, William Hamilton (1731-1803) had two overriding passions: collecting art and antiquities, and studying volcanoes. ODNB tells us that he gained “a contemporary European reputation as ‘the modern Pliny’ and the ‘professor of earthquakes’… He was also interested in chemistry and owned and operated electrical equipment, incorporating some of the latest innovations suggested by Benjamin Franklin”. As the British envoy to Naples (and seemingly not terribly interested in his job), he had ample opportunity to study volcanic activity in person; he is known to have made at least twenty-two ascents of Vesuvius and to have witnessed several of its eruptions. His careful observations of the volcano’s appearance in 1767 ”are among the earliest attempts to record systematically the changing shape of the summit of a volcano about to erupt” (ODNB).

Hamilton enlisted the help of Pietro Fabris (active 1740–1792), a British-born artist of Italian descent, to accompany him on his excursions and draw from life the volcanic activity they witnessed—at no small personal risk. Hamilton seems to have had a rather cavalier attitude about the dangers posed by the natural phenomena he was chasing; in fact, plate XXXVIII depicts Hamilton’s leisurely guiding of the Sicilian court—including the king and queen of Naples—around a raging lava flow that was expelled from Vesuvius in 1771. The juxtaposition of delicate ladies and gentlemen in their finery (complete with a sedan chair and attendants) against a fire-and-brimstone backdrop is one of the most memorable images in the entire work.

REFERENCES: Brunet III, p. 31; Lowndes II, p. 989; Graesse II, p.205 (all for first edition, but mentioning the three states of second edition)