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SPAIN – BALEARIC ISLANDS / FINE POLISH PRINTING: Krótkie ale fundamentalne opisanie Balearyjskich i Pythyuzyjskich Wysp Majorca, Minorca, Ivica i Formentera z dowodnieyszych i nowszych relacyi zebrane i do drukowania z niemieckiego.


Extremely rare – a lovely gem that represents the first detailed description of the Balearic Islands in Polish, issued in the wake of the Fall of Minorca (1756), by the Jesuit Press of Warsaw, including a fine sheet of maps engraved by Bartłomiej Strachowski.

1 in stock


Octavo (17.5 x 11 cm / 6.9 x 4.3 inches): 8, 72, 1 folding plate of maps (30 x 45.5 cm / 11.8 x 17.9 inches) – Collation Complete, bound in contemporary half calf with marbled boards (Very Good, internally bright and clean, main title with paper in blank space below text carved out and replaced with a patch (an old alteration) in order to supposedly remove stamp, just grazing a few letters but otherwise no loss, map with excellent original hand colour with one small tear with old repairs at hinge just entering image, binding with some splitting at head and tail and minor shelf wear but overall good and firm).

This extremely rare and attractive work is the first printed description of the Balearic Islands printed in the Polish language, and features Bartłomiej Strachowski’s magnificent plate of maps of Minorca, which perhaps represents the earliest printed maps of Spain issued in the Polish language.  The work was published by the Jesuit Press of Warsaw in order to satisfy the Polish intelligentsia’s curiosity regarding the Balearic islands in the wake of the successful French siege of British Minorca in May-June 1756, one of the most shocking events to occur in Europe during the era.

The text features a fascinating and lucidly composed description of the Balearic Islands, including fine summations of its history, geography, politics and natural sciences.  As noted in the title, the work was ‘drukowania z niemieckiego,’ meaning “printed from the German,” as the Jesuit Press derived the text from Johann Friedrich Seyfart’s Kurze doch gründliche Beschreibung der Balearischen und Pythyusischen Inseln, Majorca, Minorca, Yvica und Formentera (Frankfurt & Leipzig: Adam Jonatan Felsseckers Erben, 1756), itself and extremely rare work (which notably did not feature a map).  Seyfart, in turn, borrowed from the very best sources, such as John Armstrong’s The History of the Island of Minorca (London, 1752); George Cleghorn, Observations on the epidemical diseases in Minorca, from 1744 to 1749: to which is prefixed, a short account of the climate, productions, inhabitants, and endemical distempers of that island (London, 1751); and the Abbé de Veyrac’s Etat present de l’Espagne (Paris, 1718).

The works starts out with a short but informative section, Opisanie Fortecy ś. Filippa na wyspie Minorce jako prawdziwego Porto Mahon, which describes the island’s main city, Maó (Mahón) and the great bastion of Castle St. Philip, which guards its harbour, one of the finest natural ports in the Mediterranean.  The remainder of the text features the well-ordered descriptions of the various aspects of the Balearic Islands.

Bartłomiej Strachowski’s Plate of Maps of Minorca

A highlight of the work is the wonderful plate of maps of Minorca created by the prominent Polish engraver Bartłomiej Strachowski of Wrocław (with the imprint ‘Straschowsky sculps., Vratislaviae,’ lower right) entitled, Mappa Wyspy Minorki z plantą Portu y miasta Mahon z nalezącemi fortyfikacyami port zasłaniaiącemi mappy de Bellin.  The cartography is derived from Jacques-Nicolas Bellin’s Carte des Isles de Maiorque Minorque et Yvice (Paris, 1740), one of the period’s most influential maps of the Balearic Islands. 

The sheet features three maps with nomenclature in both Polish and German: 1) focusing on the entire island of Minorca (upper centre); 2) a detailed plan of Maó (Mahón) Harbour and Castle St. Philip (lower left and centre); and 3) a general map of the Balearic islands (lower right).  Strachowski’s two exquisite Rococo cartouches respectively contain the main title and a key to 28 sites on the Maó (Mahón) Harbour-Fort St. Philip plan.  The original hand colouring of the maps is especially attractive, with the lovely palette indicative of contemporary tastes in Silesia and Poland.  Additionally, these maps may very well represent the first printed maps of Spain issued in the Polish language.

Bartłomiej Strachowski (1693-1759) was an important Polish engraver and illustrator based in Wrocław.  He is thought to have hailed originally from Pomerania, and arrived in Wrocław in 1711, where he apprenticed as an engraver before setting up his own establishment.  His great talent ensured that he was soon renown throughout Silesia and Poland, undertaking commissions for the royal government and various institutions of the Roman Catholic Church, maintaining especially close ties to the various Jesuit publishing houses.  Strachowki is particularly well known for his exquisite engravings of religious themes, in both the late Baroque and Rococo styles, which adorned missals and bibles.  He also made engravings of the interior of churches and of devotional works of art, some of which are prized as being of great historical importance.

Upon Bartłomiej’s death in 1759 his business was continued with great success by his three sons until 1788.  It is estimated that the Strachowski house produced at least 2,000 engravings for as many as 800 publications, although most of these works are today quite rare.  The present map is the only cartographic work we are aware as having been printed by the Strachowski enterprise.

Historical Context: The Fall of Minorca – Britain’s Mediterranean Meltdown

The present work is one of the most interesting and beautiful of the numerous publications regarding the Balearic Islands that were issued all across Europe in the wake of the Fall of Minorca (1756), the stunning event that commenced the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) in Europe in earnest.  While Poland technically remained neutral in the war, there public interest in the conflict was heightened by the fact that Poland’s king, Augustus III (reigned 1734-63), was concurrently also the Elector of Saxony, a nation that was allied to France, against Britain and Prussia.

The Fall of Minorca, which occurred in the spring and early summer of 1756, was a shocking event that had global consequences.  The strategically located Balearic island of Minorca had been captured by Britain from Spain in 1708, and since that time its excellent natural harbour of Maó (Mahón) had been a major base for the Royal Navy. The British proceeded to heavily reinforce Castle St. Philip (Castillo de San Felipe), the great fortress that guarded the harbour’s mouth (originally built by the Spanish in 1554).

As Britain ended up crushing France (and her ally Spain) by the end of the Seven Years’ War, today many forget that for the first two years of the conflict, France maintained the upper hand.  During this period, Britain was poorly prepared for war and severely underestimated France’s resolve and capabilities.

The French correctly sensed that the British defensive arrangements for Minorca were not sufficiently robust.  The British garrison had a major weakness, as it could not withstand a prolonged siege, for the island was relatively deficient in food and raw materials, while no emergency stockpiles had been preserved.  If British supply lines were ever severed, it would be only a matter of days before Castle St. Philip would fall.

The French operations against Minorca were led by Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, the Duke of Richelieu (1696 – 1788), a controversial, larger-than-life figure.  He had absolutely no moral compass and his libidinous and reckless behaviour was so outrageous that it shocked the court of Versailles, even during the age of Dangerous Liasons (a book written by his friend Choderlos de Laclos).  Richelieu was known to have almost no interest in intellectual pursuits, yet he proved to be a highly skilled diplomat and a competent, if lazy, military commander.

In April 1756, Richelieu’s force of 15,000 men completely overran Minorca, save for the Castle of St. Philip, which was defended by only 2,800 British troops.  A Royal Navy fleet under Admiral John Byng was promptly dispatched to relieve the island.  On May 20, 1756, at what became known as the Battle of Minorca, it met a French fleet of roughly equal strength under the command of the Marquis de La Galissonière.  After a bruising altercation, Byng withdrew and headed to Gibraltar, supposedly in order to prevent the destruction of his fleet.  However, Byng’s decision had devastating consequences, as it ensured that the British position in Minorca was hopeless.

As resplendently captured on the current broadside, the French forces surrounded Castle St. Phillip, and for five weeks bombarded the fortress.  The British garrison, led by William Blakeney, put up a valiant defence, but was compelled to surrender on June 29, 1756.  Richelieu was impressed by the vigour of the British resistance, and granted Blakeney’s men full honours when leaving the Castle, arranging for their unhindered repatriation to England.

The Fall of Minorca was seen as a horrific embarrassment to the British government. George II and his minsters sought out a scapegoat. While Admiral Byng’s efforts to relieve Minorca were certainty less than stellar, most historians feel that they did not meet the standard of criminal negligence.  Nevertheless, Byng was arrested, tried and convicted of failing “to do his upmost”.  While the death penalty was technically on the books for such a crime, in recent generations, it had never been administered. All right-minded people expected that after shaming Byng, the king would grant him a pardon. However, to the horror of many, the sentence was carried out and Byng was executed by firing squad on March 14, 1757.  In reality, the true culprits responsible for the Fall of Minorca were the military planners at Whitehall and Greenwich who failed to send more resources to the island, ignoring repeated requests by commanders in the region.

Byng’s judicial murder was sarcastically decried by Voltaire in his famous work Candide (1757): “…il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres” (“…it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others”).

The Duke of Richelieu’s fate was much different. He returned to France as a hero and was the subject of countless laudatory writings and prints, of which the present broadside is perhaps the most flattering. Even his arch-nemesis, Madame Pompadour (Louis XV’s mistress), remarked to him “your star has risen and it shall never be dimmed”.  That being said, many of Richelieu’s subsequent exploits were markedly less successful.  He continued to be at the centre of political, financial and sex scandals almost right up to his death, at the age of 92, in 1788.

The legacy of the Fall of Minorca was that it gave a great scare to a hitherto complacent Britain, motivating her to dedicate far greater resources to the
war effort, especially to the Royal Navy.  It was also, in part, responsible for the appointment of the hawkish and exceptionally competent War Minister William Pitt, who spearheaded the reinvigorated war effort.

On the other side, France’s triumph at Minorca, combined with other early victories in North America, caused her to become complacent.  By the summer of 1758, the tide began to turn in Britain’s favour and the war progressively became a global disaster for France. The Treaty of Paris (1763), which concluded the conflict, permanently ended France’s ability to contest Britain’s primacy as a colonial power.

The British regained Minorca in 1763, only to loose it again in 1781.  Apart from a brief period of British occupation, from 1798 to 1802, the island has since remained under the Spanish flag.

The Print Industry in Warsaw & the Jesuit Press

The present work was printed when publishing was still something of a boutique industry in Warsaw, with works issued in relatively small print runs, generally intended for local circulation.  Unlike other great Polish cultural centres, such as Kraków, Vilnius, Gdańsk and Wrocław, up to 1756, Warsaw, in spite of it’s role as the nation’s capital, hosted only two printing houses, both run by ecclesiastical orders.  The oldest establishment was the Piarist Press Warsaw (Drukarnia Pijarska), founded in 1682, which focused on religious texts.

The city’s other printing establishment, the Jesuit Press of Warsaw was founded in 1717 by the Lithuanian Jesuit Stefan Puzyna, after his brother, Michał, brought a press to the capital from Gdańsk.  From its founding until 1735, the press printed works of only rudimentary quality, intended exclusively for the internal use of the local Jesuit community.  However, from that time onwards the press diversified into printing works for general circulation, both of a religious and secular nature, with a special emphasis on works of educational value.  By the 1750s, the Jesuit Press was publishing works of increasing sophistication, with improved production quality and illustrations, although it was not into mass production.  The present work is an excellent example of the finely produced illustrated works that were printed in small quantities by the press.

Curiously, while publishing in Warsaw up to 1756 was controlled by the Church, the was nevertheless considered to be a relatively free cultural environment.  As long as writers refrained from directly criticising the Church or the royal government, they were generally permitted to write whatever they wished, sometimes touching on sensitive topics that would normally raise censors’ ire in other cities.

In 1756, the first private press in Warsaw was founded by Wawrzyńca Mitzlera (Lorenz Mintzler), a German printer, so beginning the gradual proliferation of publishing houses in the capital.  Culture and publishing flourished under the reign of Stanisław II August (1764-95), during which at least ten new printing houses were established in Warsaw.  

The Jesuit Press reached its apogee under the leadership of the Jesuit Franciszek Bohomelec (1720-84), one of Poland’s greatest playwrights, who became its director in 1762.  Under his leadership the press published government documents, plays, newspapers, magazines, literary journals, science books and calendars.  Bohomelec’s magazine, the Monitor, published by the Jesuit Press and its successor, was perhaps the most influential popular periodical in Poland from 1765 to 1785.

Upon the Suppression of the Jesuit Order in Poland in 1773 (which was not fully implemented), the Jesuit Press was taken over by the government and renamed the Drukarni Nadwornej (National Press).  As testament to Bohomelec’s stature, he remained the director of the press, running it as he chose until his death just over decade later.

The Drukarni Nadwornej played a critical role in Polish history as the official press of the Polish freedom forces during the Kościuszko Uprising (1794), when it was known as the Printing Department of the Supreme National Council of the Insurrection.

The present work is extremely rare.  While Stanisław Estreicher, writing in 1909, cited 4 examples in Polish libraries, we have not been able to establish how many of these survived the carnage of World War II.  The only example we have been able to trace outside of Poland is at the Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire in Fribourg, Switzerland (OCLC: 718383908).

References: Estreicher, Bibliografia Polska, vol. XXXIII (Kraków, 1909), pp. 378-9. 

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