The Infant Shakespeare

In 1786 the engraver and publisher John Boydell (1720-1804) devised a plan for an ambitious edition of Shakespeare's plays with illustrations by the best artists in England. Financing the project entirely himself, he commissioned painters to create works inspired by Shakespeare, and planned a gallery to exhibit the paintings. The Shakespeare Gallery opened in 1789 in Pall Mall, and the first set of engravings based on the paintings was issued in 1791. Ten years passed before the nine-volume folio edition was published in 1802, and in the next year, 1803, Boydell printed the two-volume elephant folios of all the engravings based on the paintings in the gallery. Due to economic upheaval from the Napoleonic wars, Boydell was forced to close his gallery; the entire collection was sold off and dispersed in 1805.

This engraving of George Romney's painting The Infant Shakespeare Attended by Nature and the Muses posits Shakespeare as a native genius. It is part of the Newberry's exhibition The Bard Is Born, open April 22 through June 21.

This essay was written by Newberry Reference Librarian Jill Gage.