Prints and printmaking were important to Constable who owned, according to Leslie Parris, over 5,000 prints and books of prints – which were vital reference material to him (Leslie Parris, John Constable and David Lucas, New York: Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, Inc., 1993, p. 5). He made his own copies, as with The wheatfield, after Jacob van Ruisdael 1818 , and he turned to prints to assist in creating his own work, as with his apparent reference to Martino Rota’s engraving of Titian’s Martyrdom of St Peter Martyr when painting A cottage in a cornfield c.1816–17 .
This is one of only four etchings by Constable. He based it on a pencil drawing probably made in 1820 when he visited the Salisbury area. Although somewhat naively drawn, Constable worked in the manner of Dutch seventeenth-century printmakers, such as Ruisdael, Swanevelte and Waterloo, sketching a rustic subject that would have appealed to those artists. The three birds in the sky are, however, very much a Constablean touch.
About 1836 Constable painted a watercolour Milford Bridge, Wiltshire, with a distant view of Salisbury (Victoria and Albert Museum, London), which was the basis of an engraving by A.R. Freebairn, published in 1837 in the second volume of The Book of Gems, edited by S.C. Hall (p. 189). In this publication it was the headpiece to an extract from Thomas Warton’s An Ode to Summer, and given the title ‘The English Landscape’ in the plates. The engraving follows the watercolour closely.
Milford Bridge is located one mile east of Salisbury. It is thought to have been built in the fourteenth century. It is really two bridges, each with two pointed arches, with a walled causeway between.