Natural Bridge, in Rockbridge County, Virginia, was purchased by Thomas Jefferson in 1774. Jefferson, in his “Notes on the State of Virginia”–quoted on the print itself–called the Bridge, “the most sublime of nature’s works,” and many others who viewed the bridge agreed with him. Roberts chose to depict the bridge from the ground level, rather than from a distance, probably to better convey to the spectator the awe one felt when looking up.
DESCRIPTION: Aquatint on paper, of a natural bridge. Two men stand toward the foreground and gesture toward the bridge. A vine creeps over a rock in the right foreground. Also, two trees which have been carried by the stream are stuck on some rocks on the left side of the foreground area. Further into the background, two men stand gazing at the bridge. There are also trees on the cliffs of the bridge, and the stream rages below.
lINSCRIPTION: “William Roberts Esqr. Delt.” “J C Stadler sculpt.” “Mr. Jefferson the President of the United States in his Notes on Virginia, the State which is adorned by this singular and surprising production of Nature, has given a description of it from which, with a slight alteration in the Admeasurement, the following is extracted. The Natural Bridge, is the most sublime of Nature’s Works. This on the ascent of a hill, which seems to have been cloven through its length by some great convulsion. The height is 213 feet, its breadth at bottom about 50 feet, & at top about 90 feet, the passage over is about 60 feet wide, and the thickness of the Mass at the summit of the Arch about 40 feet. A part of this thickness is constituted by a coat of Earth, which gives growth to many large Trees. The residue with the hill on both sides, is solid rock of Lime Stone. The Arch approaches the semi-elliptical form, but the larger ax is of the ellipsis, which would be the cord of the Arch, is many times longer than its transverse. Through the sides of this Bridge are provided in some parts with a parapet of fixed Rocksm, yet few Men have resolution to walk to them & look over into the Abyss. You involuntarily fall on your hands, creep to the parapet, and peep over it. Looking down from this height about a minute gave me a violent headache. If the view from the top be painful and intolerable, that from below is delightful in an equal extreme. It is impossible for the emotions arising from the sublime, to be felt beyond what they are here; so beautiful an Arch, so elevated, so light, and springing as it were up to heaven. The rapture of the Spectator is really indescribable! This Bridge is in the County of Rockbridge, to which it has given name, and affords a public, a commodious passage over a valley which cannot be crossed elsewhere for a considerable distance.” SEE JEFFERSON’S NOTES on VIRGINIA. The above View was taken from the spot where it is usually and to most advantage beheld by its visitors, but the point of sight being so near an object so elevated, the receding lines of the perspective so rapidly decline as to give an appearance of the ascent of the Bridge being reversed. It is further to be remarked that the stream at the time of the Drawing, had been swoln by preceding rains to a torrent, not always to be seen & that there were two or three Trees on the Peninsula beneath the Arch, which as they obstructed the view of the background, were omitted. Publd. as the Act Directs” Handwritten: “By Mssrs. Colnaghi & Co. 6 Cockspur Street/ London 27 Feb. 1808”