VIII. The Representation of Cities

Towards the end of the 16th century, travel literature began to appear for readers who wished to “travel” without leaving home. Publishers were challenged to give their readers pictorial representations of cities that were both pleasing to the eye and true to life. The German and Flemish publishers and printers Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg took up this challenge with their Civitates orbis Terrarum, a work in six volumes totaling over 300 bird’s-eye views and plans of the world’s major cities. It was their intention to provide the pleasures of travel without the attendant discomforts. As Braun wrote in his preface to the third book:

“What could be more pleasant than, in one’s own home far from all danger, to gaze in these books at the universal form of the earth . . . adorned with the splendor of cities and fortresses and, by looking at pictures and reading the texts accompanying them, to acquire knowledge which could scarcely be had but by long and difficult journeys?”

Braun and Hogenberg’s city books were the 16th-century version of our coffee-table travel books. Their view of Seville emphasizes the cathedral’s bell tower, the Giralda, long established as the key symbol of the city (just as the Eiffel Tower today symbolizes Paris). At right, labeled “O,” is the aqueduct from Cremona. The scene in the foreground portrays the punishment of a cuckolder (“S”) and his inamorata, the cuckold’s wife (“T”).



German, 1541-1622
Flemish, 1535-1590
Cologne, ca. 1598
Engraving, hand colored, 37.4 x 49.5 cm.