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John Martin

1789 – 1854

Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still (Steel plate) by John Martin

Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still (Steel plate)   1827

  Original mezzotint with etching.
With the artist’s name in the plate.
Ref: Campbell-Wees 77
I 430 x 684 mm
Original John Martin mezzotint with etching.

The original large-scale mezzotint engraving by John Martin himself. Rare.

Very good impression in the lighter variant inking scheme. A very good example in the completed state of the plate.

John Martin’s magnificent large scale mezzotints are the most impressive original works ever to be produced in the soft steel medium and are amongst the most powerful and spectacular works of the period. They represent some of the few truly creative, original works to be produced by any major artist of the period using the mezzotint process.

Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still is arguably the most dramatic of all of John Martin’s large mezzotint engravings and it is still one of the most popular. John Martin’s painting of this subject had been his first major oil to attract considerable attention. He had intended to have an engraving made of it from as early as 1817, and he commissioned the professional mezzotint engraver Charles Turner to undertake the work. However, John Martin found Charles Turner’s work to be unsatisfactory and recommenced the engraving himself on a soft steel plate. Martin’s son Leopold tells us “in the course of four months my father completed what proved to be one of his most successful engravings”. The resulting print offered here is a testament to his unparalleled success.

Upon the publication of this engraving in May 1827, the critics were estatic reviewing it as a “splendid production of genius”, a “superb print…full of grandeur, sublimity and poetry,- an honour to the artist, and a pride to his country”.

John Martin is known to have been particularly concerned regarding the way in which each impression of his spectacular large mezzotint plate of Joshua was printed. He owned his own printing workshop and was involved throughout in the printing of almost every impression from this plate. His son Leopold remarked that the “splendid burst of sunlight … (was) chiefly the result of printing under his own eye and direction. Very much depended upon the ink used.” It has become clear that John Martin used two distinctly different inking schemes when printing this large plate of Joshua – one was distinctly light and open, with the plate extensively wiped (such as this example); the other was much darker in effect, with only the principal highlights clean-wiped and with much more ink left upon the majority of the plate.

The lighter inking scheme, seen in the impression offered here, has the effect of extending the highlights across the central buildup of the city and the vertiginous rockface upon which it stands, over to the distant mountains at the left of the image. This lighter printing scheme appears to have been used for all of the proof impressions printed.

The image portrays one of the most dramatic events in the Old Testament. The Israelite army, led by Joshua, has already routed the Amorites - seen fleeing through a storm of hail to the left of the image. Joshua is depicted commanding the sun to stand still over the city of Gibeon, and the moon to stop in its course, in order to prolong the daylight so that the Israelites might complete the total destruction of their enemies.

On warm white wove paper with wide margins surrounding the image on all sides and with the full title and dedication. Trimmed just within the platemark and backed with Japan tissue in order to support an expertly repaired disturbance in the lower margin. Some minute stippled re-touching in the paler areas, otherwise generally a very good, intact example of this dramatic original mezzotint by John Martin.

Provenance: William Weston Gallery Ltd., London
Private Collection, New York