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View, Italy, Rome, Vue d’optique, Whittle & Laurie, St. Peter’s Basilica and Piazza, Antique Print


The Church of St. Peter at Rome
James Whittle and R.H. Laurie, London: June 24, 1818
Hand-colored engraving
9.75 x 16 inches, image
11 x 17 inches, platemark
13.5 x 19.25 inches, overall

Bird’s-eye view of St. Peter’s Basilica and Piazza in the Vatican in Rome from an elevated location opposite the Basilica. The scene includes some of the surrounding city and countryside. Passersby in late 18th century dress stroll through the main plaza. Titled in English and French below the image.

Product Description Continues Below


This view is in the general format and size of a vue d’optique — a perspective view produced as a hand-colored print generally intended to be viewed through a convex lens. Vues d’optique often were rendered in high-key color and dramatic linear perspective which enhanced the illusion of three-dimensionality when viewed through the lens, making it seem like the viewer was really there. Thus, they served as a form of visual entertainment. The viewing devices were known variously as zograscopes, optiques, optical machines and peepshows. According to the Getty Research Institute, street performers would set up viewing boxes with a series of prints giving a pictorial tour of famous landmarks, dramatic events and foreign lands. Vues d’optique were also purchased by Grand Tour travelers as souvenirs to be viewed at home as a parlor activity. To cater to this broad audience, the prints often had titles and descriptions in two or more languages. Because the images are reversed in viewing devices, the main titles on some vues d’optique are backwards. Vues d’optique were also hung on walls as decoration.

Robert Laurie (1755-1836) and James Whittle (1757-1818) were London map, chart and printsellers active from 1794 to 1812 trading variously as Laurie and Whittle or Whittle and Laurie. Laurie began his career as an accomplished mezzotint engraver and exhibited at the Society of Artists from 1770 to 1776. With Whittle, he took over the large map and print business of Robert Sayer. Laurie & Whittle published many atlases and maps and products used for jigsaw puzzles. Robert’s son, Richard Holmes Laurie, succeeded him upon his retirement in 1812, and after Whittle’s death in 1818 carried on the business alone until at least 1840. The firm still exists as Imray, Laurie, Norie and Wilson Ltd., which has long specialized in marine charts.

Full title and publication information: “The Church of St. Peter at Rome. L’Église de St. Pierre a Rome. Published 24th June 1818, by Ja’s. Whittle and R.H. Laurie, No. 53, Fleet Street, London.” Marked “I” in center between English and French titles.

Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear.


“Emperor’s Palace in Beijing.” Devices of Wonder. J. Paul Getty Trust. 2001. (30 September 2002).

Maxted, Ian. “The London book trades 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members.” Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History. 2001. and (20 May 2009).

Additional information


19th Century