The encompassing city

Streetscapes in early modern art and culture
Blumin, Stuart Mack
Date published: 
October 2008

The streetscape - the closely observed, faithfully rendered view of the city's streets, squares, canals, buildings, and people - was a new artistic genre of the early modern era, a period in which the city itself was assuming new forms and taking on new roles in Europe and America. The painters and graphic artists who created the genre provide a fascinating window into the early modern city, and into a culture increasingly interested in artistic representations of the secular world. As some artists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries opened the rural landscape to meaningful viewing for the first time, others - Italians called them vedutisti - explored new modes for representing the more dynamic environment of the modernising city.

This unique book reopens the window of the early city view makers by tracing earlier forms of urban representation in European art into the sudden coalescence of the new genre in Italy and the Low Countries during the middle years of the seventeenth century. It then explores the rapid expansion and diffusion of the genre through the eighteenth century, its appeal to such artists as Canaletto, Bernardo Bellotto, Francesco Guardi, and Giovanni Battista Piranesi, and its embrace of a culture of secular improvement more commonly and abstractly understood through the writings of Enlightenment philosophes. The more complicated encounter of this empirical genre with contrary impulses of Romanticism and later aesthetic modes leads to consideration of the gradual dissolution of vedutismo as a creative form. To examine the long history of the genre is to learn much about the early modern city, and to rediscover many beautiful and long-forgotten works of art.