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Works (?) Thomas Girtin after Thomas Bowles

The Interior of Westminster Abbey: The Nave Looking East

1790 - 1791

Print after: Charles Taylor (1756–1828), after (?) Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), engraving, 'Inside of Westminster Abbey' for The Temple of Taste, no.19, 2 May 1796, 12.5 cm, 4 ⅞ in. Reprinted in The Public Edifices of the British Metropolis, no.19, 1820. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection Library.

Photo courtesy of Yale Center for British Art (Public Domain)

Artist's source: Thomas Bowles (1688–1767), etching and engraving, 'The Inside of Westminster Abby' for Perspective Views in and About London, 28.5 × 42.4 cm, 11 ¼ × 16 ⁹⁄₁₆ in. British Museum, London (1978,U.3576).

Photo courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum

(?) Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) after Thomas Bowles (c.1712-1767)
  • The Interior of Westminster Abbey: The Nave Looking East
1790 - 1791
Part of
Object Type
Drawing for a Print
Subject Terms
Gothic Architecture: Cathedral View; London Architecture

Catalogue Number
Description Source(s)
The original known only from the print

About this Work

Charles Taylor’s (1756–1823) engraved view of the interior of Westminster Abbey looking down the nave to the east end was published on 2 May 1796 in his periodical The Temple of Taste. The original drawing has not been traced; however, given the number of signed watercolours for the publication that survive, it is likely that it too was produced by the young apprentice Girtin. The view from the west door is taken from off centre, inclining to the south aisle, so that the architectural details of the clerestory, gallery and the north aisle can be seen uninterrupted. This is in contrast to the symmetrical central views employed elsewhere in Girtin’s earliest church interiors (such as TG0041), which emphasise the longitudinal view, though this is still evident here. From this point, Taylor argued in the text that accompanies the engraving, viewers might appreciate ‘the very great elevation of the roof, the length of the vista … the “dim religious light” diffused over all’ and how they ‘combine to produce veneration and respect’. Just as important, though less prominent in Taylor’s view, were ‘the rows of monuments to the dead’, which are the focus of attention for many of the figures in the engraving. For Taylor, the church was a ‘sacred repository of … honour’ as well as ‘piety’, a place where visitors might be ‘moved to respect’ and ‘thoughts to seriousness’ by the numerous commemorations of the virtues of their ‘fellow citizens’. A slight shift in the viewpoint therefore helps to enhance the function of the image, adding an extra register of architectural information and emphasising the social function of the space as a place of rational and moral exercise.

If the original drawing was indeed by Girtin, it is likely to have been copied from a print by Thomas Bowles (1688–1767), whose very similar view of the nave was published in 1753 in Perspective Views in and about London (see the source image above). Adapting the image for the new publication would have been a type of task ideally suited to a young but talented apprentice, requiring little more than adapting the composition to a circular format and updating the costume of the figures. The latter are now shown on a consistent scale, though the process of adapting the architectural setting has resulted in minor changes to the south aisle.

1790 - 1791

The Interior of St Paul’s Cathedral: The Nave Looking East


by Greg Smith

Place depicted

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