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Mirror of the City: The Printed View in Italy and Beyond, 1450-1940

Mirror of the City: The Printed View in Italy and Beyond, 1450-1940

Explore four books from the exhibition in our virtual book viewer (optimized for Google Chrome). This project was made possible by a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities.

Artists of the Western world have always gravitated toward cities as sources of inspiration, patronage, instruction, and fellowship. Yet it was only beginning in the seventeenth century that the city was widely explored as a subject in Western art, and in these explorations it was graphic artists who often led the way. This exhibition traces the history of the representation of cities in the graphic arts, from woodcuts and engravings of the late Middle Ages to photographs of the twentieth century. It reveals how generalized urban themes and motifs of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance evolved into more full-blown, detailed depictions of real cities, brought into focus as the artist’s true subject and no longer requiring the justification of religious or historical narrative.

By the latter seventeenth century in Italy, the urban veduta (or “view”) was emerging as an artistic genre, with recognized forms and codes, and would soon flourish in many parts of Europe, even crossing the Atlantic to the United States by the end of the eighteenth century. The encyclopedic treatment of cities in bound series of views began to privilege a booklike reading of the city and dictate specific itineraries and viewpoints for experiencing its sights. The nineteenth century brought to this realist topographical genre the aesthetic of Romanticism, with its stresses on individual genius and the unseen ideal. Photography added both a new challenge and a new opportunity, exploited in important ways in the latter nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By highlighting both the changes and the continuities in urban depiction over many centuries, we offer here a window into the larger history of Western culture, and into the history of technique and style in the graphic arts.

Andrew C. Weislogel
Curator of European Art before 1800

Stuart M. Blumin
Professor of History, Emeritus

This exhibition is supported by the generosity of Evalyn and Stephen Milman.