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Michael Angelo Rooker
1746–1801

Corpus Christi College from Christ Church Meadow

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Medium
Pen and ink and watercolour
Size
11 ¾ × 18 inches · 298 × 457 mm
Notes
Signed and dated ‘J Rooker Delin 1782’, lower left
Engraved by Michael Angelo Rooker in 1783 for the Oxford Almanack of 1784.
Collections
  • Commissioned by the Clarendon Press for the Oxford Almanack;
  • Reginald Alton (1919-2003);
  • and by descent, 2017.
Literature
  • Helen Mary Petter, The Oxford Almanacks, 1974, p.143;
  • Patrick Conner, Michael Angelo Rooker 1746-1801, London, 1984, pp.107, 109-10, 113, repr. fig. 64.

This remarkably fresh, lucid drawing demonstrates why Michael ‘Angelo’ Rooker was one of the most eminent topographical draughtsman of the eighteenth century. For twenty years he supplied the pictorial designs for the annual Oxford Almanack, for which this view of the Fellows’ Building at Corpus Christi College, Oxford was made in 1782.

Rooker was born into an artistic family, his father, Edward, was a respected architectural engraver, and he learnt the same trade surrounded by London’s leading artists. Paul Sandby was a close associate who not only served alongside Edward Rooker on the Society of Artists governing committee, but also collaborated with him on various topographical and historical engravings. The younger Rooker worked with Sandby in the 1760s, he was amongst the first intake of students at the Royal Academy in 1769. His relationship with Sandby continued and during the 1770s he engraved a series of Sandby’s country-house views for The Copper-Plate Magazine. From the end of the 1770s, he largely abandoned engraving, concentrating instead on furthering his career as a watercolourist and also as a scene painter.

The present drawing is one of the most attractive made by Rooker for the Oxford Almanack. As Conner has established, Rooker was required to prepare his drawings two years before the engraving appeared; this explains why the present drawing is dated 1782 but was only published in 1784.[1] Rooker was not paid by the University directly, but commissioned by the printer, William Jackson; he received the substantial sum of 50 guineas per plate.[2] This arrangement explains why the original drawings for the Almanack did not remain the property of the University, unlike the later designs made by J.M.W. Turner and Edward Dayes.

Eleven of Rooker’s designs for the Oxford Almanack survive, of which this view of Corpus Christi College is one of the most appealing and unusual. As Conner has pointed out, it deviates from the standard pictorial convention of showing University buildings from an oblique angle.[3] Rooker instead shows the façade of the Fellows’ building front-on from Christ Church Meadow. The drawing itself is filled with incidental detail, converting a dry antiquarian drawing into a picturesque piece of topography. The severe façade of the Fellows’s building is enlivened by a number of open windows, several with attractive flower pots on their sills, and dappled shadows cast by neighbouring trees. The Fellows' building, formerly known as Turner's buildings, was erected between 1706 and 1716, it seems to have been designed by the President of the College, Thomas Turner. The regularity of the architecture is further punctuated by Rooker’s inclusion of the spire of St Mary’s Church, peaking above the roof-line. In the foreground, Rooker fills the drawing with figures in academical dress and a charming vignette of two boys playing with a dog.

Rooker’s technique, while exhibiting the refined influence of Sandby, similarly plays with roughness and variety by blending broad washes with small staccato dots and lines of pigment, a manner the young J.M.W. Turner held in high esteem. Turner specifically copied Rooker’s Almanack drawings as a young man and referred back to them when he was himself employed to produce designs for the publication himself. 

References

  1. Patrick Conner, Michael Angelo Rooker 1746-1801, London, 1984, pp. 109-10.
  2. Edward Edwards, Anecdotes of Painters, London, 1808, p.266. 
  3. Patrick Conner, Michael Angelo Rooker 1746-1801, London, 1984, p.110.