Parentalia: by WREN, Christopher (1645-1747).

‘the father of English architectural history’
WREN, Christopher (1645-1747).

Parentalia: or, Memoirs of the Family of the Wrens; viz. of Mathew Bishop of Ely, Christopher Dean of Windsor, &c. But chiefly of Sir Christopher Wren, late Surveyor-General of the Royal Buildings, President of the Royal Society, &c. &c. In which is contained, besides his Works, a great Number of Original Papers and Records; on Religion, Politicks, Anatomy, Mathematics, Architecture, Antiquities; and most Branches of Polite Literature. Compiled by his Son Christopher; Now published by his Grandson, Stephen Wren, Esq; With the Care of Joseph Ames, F.R.S. and Secretary to the Society of Antiquaries, London. London, T. Osborn, 1750.

First Edition. Folio, (305 x 212mm), mezzotint frontispiece portrait of Christopher Wren (the son, compiler of Parentalia) by John Faber and pp. [ii], xii, ii, [iv], 120, 125-159, [1], 181-368, [3] index, [1] directions to the bookbinder, title-page printed in red and black, three further engraved portraits and eight engraved plates, final plate slightly cropped at the foot, three half page engravings and a final engraved tail-piece, marginal wormholing in the first couple of leaves, in contemporary calf, rather worn, plain spine simply ruled in compartments, brown morocco label lettered in gilt, covers and extremities scuffed, joints cracking, head of spine and upper joints badly chipped, with the contemporary Dacre bookplate and later ‘GBS’ bookplate, early manuscript shelf mark and scribbles.

One of the earliest biographies of Sir Christopher Wren and a chief source of information about his life and work, gathered from the family papers. Originally written by his son, also Christopher Wren, who had died before completing it, the work was finally published after his death by Wren’s grandson. The largest section of the work is dedicated to the life and achievements of Sir Christopher Wren, but the earlier parts give details of his forebears, Matthew Wren (pp. 1-134) and Christopher Wren (pp. 135-159). Parentalia also lists Wren's inventions before 1660: ‘Devices for surveying, musical and acoustical instruments, developments in fishing, underwater construction and submarine navigation, and experiments in printmaking; he experimented with, but did not invent, the mezzotint technique, which Prince Rupert demonstrated to the Royal Society in 1661’ (DNB). The Appendix contains material from some rough draughts under the title ‘Of Architecture; and Observations on Antique Temples, &c.’ (pp. 351-368). With a mezzotint portrait of Christopher Wren by John Faber, 1750, and other plates by Thorowgood, G. Vandergucht, and J. Mynde. The plates of the Sheldonian theatre and Temple of Diana drawn by H. Flitcroft and the tail-piece engraved by J. Pine.
‘While as a biographer [Wren] is demonstrably inaccurate, his accuracy in transcribing Wren’s ‘blotted and interlin’d’ manuscripts is impossible to assess owing to the loss of the originals. He was at pains to point out that these were ‘only the First rough Draughts, not perfected, nor intended by him for the Press’ and perhaps for that reason felt free to make interpolations and marginal notes to the ‘Tracts’... As a biography of an English architect, Parentalia is preceded only by the ‘Memoirs Relating to the Life and Writings of Inigo Jones, Esq. prefixed to the second edition of Stone Heng Restored, (1725). Parentalia must however be granted the distinction of being the father of English architectural history and was described as such in the late eighteenth by James Essex’ (Harris p. 504).

Harris 949.

Keywords: The Arts
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