John Singleton Copley's portrait of Paul Revere (c. 1768-1770)
This rare engraving by Paul Revere was uncovered recently at the Brown University Library / Courtesy Brown University Library
In his day, Paul Revere wasn’t merely known for his ability to ride a horse and act as a human early warning system for the rebellious colonies. He was also a master craftsman, a prominent Boston silversmith whose skills with engraving made him famous. Most of Revere’s designs survive on utensils and usable objects (like his bowl commemorating the early “Sons of Liberty” at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts). But Brown University’s library has just hit the Revere jackpot, discovering a rare engraved print hidden in a 19th-century book.
Marie Malchodi, of the library’s preservation department, was leafing through a copy of Robert Thomas’s 1811 “The Modern Practice of Physics” that once belonged to physician Solomon Drowne (1753 – 1834) and discovered something strange inside the back cover. What she found was an engraved depiction of Jesus Christ and John the Baptist entitled “Buried with Him by Baptism,” according to Brown’s Web site. The piece was signed “P. Revere Sculpt.” Richard Noble, the library’s rare materials cataloguer, took a closer look at the engraving and knew where it was from right away: “That’s just crude enough to be him,” he said. (Apparently, Revere’s more figurative work lacked some delicacy.)
The print, which depicts Jesus and John the Baptist submerged in a river with radiating waves rippling through the water and a crowd of onlookers perched on the bank, is only the fifth copy of the image known to exist. Others are in the protection of the American Antiquarian Society and the Worcester Art Museum. Noble believes that it could be a one-off printing that Revere made just a few of to distribute among his circle. The Brown engraving is also the largest known version; it retains the original printing plate’s full size. It’s possible to use the print to judge Revere’s artistic sensibilities — Noble could find no previous precedent for this style of Baptism composition.