An Immortal Artist Turns
his Talent to University Life
Some people can manage to excel at many things on many levels, and Rudolph Ackermann, a British artist of the first rank in the early nineteenth century, was perhaps the best example of that in the publishing world of his time. Ackermann (1764-1834) started life in Germany in the leather trades, saddlery like his father, even though he had wanted to study in the university. Lacking enough money for that he first excelled as a master coach-builder, designer and inventive draughtsman, moving across Europe from one commission to the next until finding his way to London, the epicenter of the coaching world at that time, where he won awards and competitions repeatedly for his elegant, stately designs.  
Cambridge from the Ely Road, 1815, R. Ackermann's History of Cambridge.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library
Clare Hall, 1814, R. Ackermann's History of Cambridge.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library
Eventually he was encouraged to publish these drawings for a classic book on Fashionable Carriages. That publication awakened in Ackermann an interest in printmaking, publishing and even papermaking for the then British craze in watercolors. He was in the right place at the right time and knew every major British artist of his day, from Rowlandson and Cruikshank to Pugin and Sutherland, as well as many others across Europe and America, such as Catlin and Bodmer, all who depended on circulating their graphic art widely through engravings and the newer technique of lithography, that latter raised to a very high level by Ackermann. A publisher of art and literary journals and of politics, Ackermann was a key figure in Britain’s campaign against the military aggression of Napoleon, and to the end of his days, the artist/publisher designed improvements in horse drawn coaches and stages.
Pembroke Hall &c, from a window at Peterhouse, 1814, R. Ackermann's History of Cambridge.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library
Pembroke College, 1814, R. Ackermann's History of Cambridge.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library.
Ackermann excelled in the creation of landscape and architectural engravings. He created beautiful illustrations of the city of London, his adopted home, as well as two volumes of classic views of Westminster Abbey, along with exquisite views of river scenes. One of our favorite collections are four massive volumes of lovingly illustrated exterior and interior landmarks of Oxford and Cambridge Universities created just over two hundred years ago. These publications show Ackermann’s hand at every turn of the page along with the team of assistant designers and engravers he employed to create these works. Perhaps they were a way by which the artist could lay to rest his own regret at not being able to attend college himself in a fondly depicted idyll to learning which these prints so aptly represent.
View of Oxford, taken from New College Tower, 1814, R. Ackermann's History of Cambridge. Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library
Library of All Souls College, 1814, R. Ackermann's History of Oxford.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library
One wonders what splendid views Ackermann could have made for the bucolic setting of UM-St. Louis. He knew a bit of the Mississippi Valley topography, having illustrated local views made by Karl Bodmer for Prince Maximilian zu Wied’s western travels. Clearly, the engravings were lovingly done to great acclaim and are a fitting way to bow to all students on the first week of classes.
The Kitchen at Christ Church, 1813, R. Ackermann's History of Oxford.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library
Hall of Christ Church, 1814, R. Ackermann's History of Oxford.
Collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library
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