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Saturday, 26 November 2011

John Speed's ruinous Stonehenge

I found this delightful illustration of Stonehenge (top pic) -- from the John Speed Atlas, dated to 1611 but incorporating bits of artwork which might well have been completed up to a decade earlier.

It's instructive to compare the illustration with the Lucas de Heere illustration, first published around 1575 but maybe drawn around 1550.  So there may be a 50 year gap between the two portrayals of the ruinous old site.

It's often assumed that the Speed illustration is simply copied from the de Heere picture -- but I'm not quite sure.  The wondrous mountains in the background are clearly very fanciful, and suggest that the artist may never have been near the site -- but note the subtle differences between the illustrations.  In each one there are only ten lintels in place,  but in the Speed picture there is a fifth bluestone, leaning at a crazy angle.  In each picture there are fewer than 30 standing sarsens, with seven or so leaning or fallen.

As we all know, the "immaculate Stonehenge" is supposed to have had a total of about 160 stones on the site -- about 80 bluestones and about 80 sarsens.  Vast numbers are missing in these early illustrations -- well before the "seventeenth century stone collecting mania" which we hear about in the literature as an explanation for missing stones.  If there were so few stones here on the site in the Sixteenth century, I think it fair to assume that they were never there in the first place.


Anonymous said...

Don't underestimate the Romans! Tim Darvill doesn't. They thought themselves pretty immaculate (pre-Boudicca anyway)


heavenshenge said...

"If there were so few stones here on the site in the Sixteenth century, I think it fair to assume that they were never there in the first place."

You're thinking largely of the south western sarcens? (elsewhere there appear to be chalk sockets.)

I guess we're unlikely to know unless this area is excavated? I understand that the non-intrusive ground surveys were inconclusive.

It's interesting from the point of view of the coincidences that I found (when comparing this monument to various methods which we developed for proving a geocentric world view): In particular because the south-west segment of sarsens seems to be the only major component of Stonehenge that would be a non-utilitarian (or "architectural") feature.


Tony H said...

Yes, one might ponder on whether the Romans utilised sarsen stone from the south-west sector for their own purposes. At least they WOULD have had the manpower and organisation to move the sarsens a fair distance in any direction, even towards Bath or Marlborough (Mildenhall), which would of course turn out to be rather ironic, as the usual story is that they had originated near Mildenhall on the Marlborough Downs.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I can accept that the Romans might have had good reason to knock Stonehenge about a bit, just to show those pesky pagans who was now in charge, but why would they want to take the stones away -- either intact, or in pieces? Did they have any big building projects nearby, where they needed a large stone supply? Not as far as I know......

Tony H said... don't the Romans transported by sea towards the centre of the Roman Empire??? Cue more Alan Sorrell-type marine craft designs. Will this ever end?

Tony H said...

The Roman road from Silchester [Calleva] to Dorchester passed through Old Sarum, the hill fort taken over by the Romans near the modern Salisbury. The Silchester to Old Sarum road lies mostly to the south-east of Stonehenge, and at its closest is less than 10 miles away. Silchester was a highly important urban settlement [north of modern Basingstoke, Berks.], and has been the subject of considerable excavation in recent years.

Tony H said...

What is your explanation, Brian, for the significant difference in height of the monolith in the centre foreground of each illustration? Are you able to say which of the stones is depicted ?

On a separate point: artists often depicted a castle in their views of Stonehenge, as Speede does here. This was usually meant to represent Vespasian's Camp, a hill-fort nearby towards Amesbury, where no stone ramparts were extant.

BRIAN JOHN said...

It would be nice to think that the top part of that very tall stone has broken off between c 1550 and c 1600. But I'm not sure we can accept that much accuracy on the part of the artists -- in both the Johnson and Chippindale books there are quite detailed analyses of how these artists impressions evolved. Much copying and misrepresentation went on........ I'm not sure which stone we are talking about here -- might it be sarsen 28?