Georg Braun (1541-1622) and Frans Hogenberg (1535-1590), Londinum from Civitates orbis terrarum
The views from George Braun and Frans Hogenberg's landmark Civitates orbis terrarum, completed in Cologne between 1572 and 1618, are among the most beautiful and important images of Renaissance cities. The Civitates was the first extensive series of town views that treated its subject matter in an accurate and meaningful way. Earlier collections of town views were far more limited in scope, and often made no real attempt to render the subject city with any degree of realism being simply a record of the existence of a town. Certainly the striking beauty and accuracy of Braun and Hogenberg's production was entirely unprecedented. Earlier collections contained no more than a handful of views, usually only of the more important cities, while the Civitates contained literally hundreds of views, including many of smaller towns for which no earlier views are known. Even for the larger, important cities, the Civitates is of the utmost importance to the history of their topography. The view of London, for example, is the earliest obtainable surviving map or view of that city.
Braun and Hogenberg envisioned this massive collection as a companion work to the Theatrum orbis terrarum, the first modern atlas, published by Abraham Ortelius in Antwerp from 1570. Indeed, Hogenberg had firsthand knowledge of that impressive and influential work, having been commissioned by Ortelius to engrave many of the plates for the maps it included. It took over forty years to collect all of the hundred of plans contained in the volumes that form the complete Civitates. The text was compiled and written by Braun, the Canon of Cologne Cathedral, and a total of five hundred views were eventually included. The majority of the engraving was completed by Hogenberg and Simon Novellanus, many after drawings by Joris Hoefnagel, a talented topographical artist.
The artistic merit of this particular plate is extremely high, and it reflects many of the same high standards of quality, in terms of color and decoration, that characterizes the maps of Ortelius. Embellished in the style of north European Renaissance art, it contains splendid examples of ornate strapwork and fretwork cartouches, a heraldic crest, a medallion, heraldic crest, a medallion, and perhaps most importantly, costumed figures that exhibit the regional fashions of the day. Legend holds that these charming figures were added to prevent the export of the book to the Islamic world, where artistic representation of the human figure was prohibited. Moreover,this particular plate is an invaluable record of London as it was in the late sixteenth century.
Under the Tudor's London mushroomed in size and its transformation was the phenomenon of the age. In 1500 it was classed as a middle-ranking medieval capital city, inhabited by approximately 40,000 people. Paris and Venice were more than double in size and commercially London was subservient to the vibrant mercantile centers of the Low Countries. By 1603 and the death of the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, it had quadrupled in size housing close to 180,000 people. The sixteenth century witnessed what the 1615 edition of John Stow's Annales, or, a General Chronicle of England described as 'the unimaginable enlarging of London, and the suburbs, with the space of fiftie years.' However, the city's appearance was far from how we view it today. Most buildings were made of timber and architecturally inspired by Northern Europe. In essence it remained a medieval city lacking the beautiful Renaissance vistas and public spaces that had recently been created in Antwerp, Rome and Paris. It was not until 1666 and the Great Fire that vast tracts of the city were razed and London began to assume its present appearance. Thus, Braun and Hogenberg's view is a valuable record of the city as it used to look.
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