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Yorker John Fisher’s view of the ruins at Palmyra

Fisher's painting of Palmyra
Fisher’s painting of Palmyra

I have written before about the very talented clockmaker and artist, John Fisher (1736-1808) and his remarkable clocks. He was also an able sculptor in wood and painted with such accuracy that his dog Wasser, attacked his newly painted sign for the Black Bear Tavern.

Local historian and artist Jim Rudisill reminded me of a connection to the recent destruction by ISIS of the Temples of Baalshamin and Bel, part of the ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria. An original John Fisher painting of the ruins, which Fisher titled General View of Palmyra, is in the collections of York County Heritage Trust.

An enlarged photo of the Fisher painting can be seen in the second floor galleries at the York County Heritage Trust Museum, 250 East Market Street, York. (Since original art and artifacts should be rotated to conserve them, the original painting itself is not currently on display.)

Engraving of Palmyra from the 1753 book by Wood
Engraving of Palmyra from the 1753 book by Wood

How did the talented Mr. Fisher, painting in York in the 18th century, know what those ancient ruins looked like? Fisher had quite a library; the inventory filed with his estate papers, the originals of which are at the York County Archives, runs for seven pages. Four of those pages are devoted to the books in his library, in addition to numerous prints. I haven’t had a chance to check the copies of the estate papers in the files at the York County Heritage Trust Library/Archives yet, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Robert Wood’s The Ruins of Palmyra, otherwise Tadmor, in the Desart (London, 1753) on the list. It was a popular book of the period, and images of the engraved illustrations are accessible online at numerous sites, such as the one above from the University of Washington.

Early York County citizens were not nearly as culturally isolated culturally as some people might imagine.