Around 1740, painter and printermaker Thomas Worlidge settled in the Covent Garden section of London. He found success painting portrait miniatures and later, as an etcher working “after the manner of Rembrandt”. This refers to his drypoint technique of drawing with a sharp needle directly into the surface of the copper plate. It also alludes to Worlidge’s admiration for Rembrandt the man, such as in this frontispiece self-portrait, which is a clear imitation of a Rembrandt self-portrait.
When Worlidge died in 1766, he was in the middle of a massive project etching a series of 182 drypoint portraits. Princeton owns several variant editions of the collection. The following is a description of the project taken from the Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 21:
The series was published in parts, some of which seem to have been issued as early as 1754 but Worlidge died before the work was completed. It was finished by his pupils William Grimaldi and George Powle, and was published by his widow in 1768 at the price of eighteen guineas a copy. In its original shape the volume bore the title, A select Collection of Drawings from curious antique Gems … printed by Dryden Leach for M. Worlidge … and M. Wicksteed, Seal-engraver at Bath.
The frontispiece, dated in 1764, shows Worlidge drawing the Pomfret bust of Cicero; behind on an easel is a portrait of his second wife, Mary. No letterpress was included originally in the volume, but between 1768 and 1780 a few copies were issued with letterpress. After 1780 a new edition in quarto, deceptively bearing the original date of 1768, appeared with letterpress in two volumes at five guineas each. The title-page omits mention of M. Wicksteed’s name, but is otherwise a replica of the first.