The Romanov copy of the account of an expedition to the Levant

By PLESHCHEYEV, Sergey Ivanovich, 1772 
£16,000

Tagebich einer Reise des Russische-kanserlichen Lieutenant’s von der flotte herren Sergiei Pleschtschjeew von der Insel Paros nach Syrien und Palastina nebst einer kurzen Geschichte Ali-Beys

Travel & Voyages
  • Author: PLESHCHEYEV, Sergey Ivanovich
  • Publication place: Riga
  • Publication date: 1784.
  • Physical description: Small quarto (175 by 100mm), [11]-103pp., folding chart, red morocco with gilt arms to upper and lower cover, spine gilt with black morocco label, gilt.Collation: A‑F8, G3, map.
  • Inventory reference: 15003

Notes

Russian naval officer Sergey Ivanovich Pleshcheyev (1752–1802) spent his adolescence as a midshipman serving on British ships stationed in North America. From 1780 onwards, he served at the court of the Grand Duke Paul, son of Catherine the Great who would later be crowned Paul I. A gifted linguist, Pleshcheyev had a wide range of cultural interests and authored several works on the topics of travel and topography, as well as maintaining correspondences with a circle of learned men, such as the English naval architect and engineer, Samuel Bentham.

As a young soldier, Pleshcheyev had been involved in the Russian efforts to survey large swathes of the Mediterranean, and to create maps and charts. In the early 1770s, Pleshcheyev spent two years on board the flagship of Count Aleksey G. Orlov, who was then Commander-in-Chief of the Russian forces stationed in the Mediterranean. In 1772, Orlov sent the young Pleshcheyev on an assignment to Palestine, where he spent two months surveying the region’s coasts. During this period he kept a diary, which he later used as a source for a travel book (the present work) published in Russian in 1773 and was later translated into German.

The book contains a chart of Haifa Bay oriented to the east, which depicts the area between Mount Carmel in the south and White Cape in the north. A few topographical features are shown along the coast, such as the Elias Monastery, Old Haifa, some forts, and a the port of Acre, and depth soundings are given in the surrounding waters. Strangely, the cartography does not correspond to the description or measurements given by Pleshcheyev in the accompanying text, indicating that the chart was not actually based on the results of his own surveys. It bears resemblance to a French chart published several years earlier by Joseph Roux, and Russian officers were certainly known to have consulted French charts, but the distinctions are too significant to consider it the direct source.

The present example of Pleshcheyev’s book, the German translation, was held in the Pavlovsk palace. The Pavlovsk palace was constructed 20 miles from St. Petersburg on the orders of Catherine the Great in 1777 to serve as summer residence for her son and his wife, the Grand Duchess Maria. In 1781, the couple visited Paris to purchase numerous objects for their newly built palace. Both covers are embossed in gold with the heraldic supralibros of the Grand Duchess. It displays three coats of arms laid on a large Russian double-headed eagle: the center one, with a smaller Russian Imperial eagle, is flanked by the coat of arms of the Dukes of Wurttemberg (Maria’s paternal family) and the coat arms of the Dukes of Holstein-Gottorp (her husband’s paternal family). The Imperial eagle is holding a ribbon with the cross of St. Catherine Order in its beaks. Furthermore, a paper label of the Pavlovsk palace library, which appears to date from the turn of the twentieth century, indicates that the book was still at the palace during the reign of Nicholas II. 

Provenance

1. Grand Duke Paul and Grand Duchess Maria
2. Tsar Nicholas II 

Bibliography

  1. Marguerite Studemeister, Bookplates and Their Owners in Imperial Russia’, 1991, p26.

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