City Plans

In the fifth part of our compilation presenting the map collection of Hungarian national library founder Count Ferenc Széchényi, including several thousand items, we selected from the city plans of the map collection. As regards its size, this collection part is not particularly significant: it includes some 90 individually published works and 50 works bound into atlases, the majority of which were published in the 18th century. One third of the city plans (40 items) were made by two of the most significant map publishers of 18th-century Germany, Matthäus Seutter (32 items) and Homann Heirs company (8 items). The rest of them were published in various countries of Europe, also mainly in the decades of the 18th century.

Ferenc Széchényi was not a collector of old maps according to our current standards. He had purchased maps primarily for everyday use, partly while he was traveling, in order to expand his general geographical knowledge, or to use them as an aid for his historical readings.

It was this latter aspect, on the basis of which his collection included such a rare item as the work of Pirro Ligorio (1513/14–1583), renowned 16th-century architect and cartographer, which helped him to a better knowledge of the city of modern and antique Rome. The large plan of London by John Cary (1755–1835), the small city plan of Florence, or the city plan of Neaples by the famous Italian map maker Giovanni Antonio Rizzi Zannoni (1736–1814), featuring exceptional artistic qualities, had been purchased by the count probably during his visits to England and Italy.

The compilation offers a selection of items reflecting the entire collection part of city plans. A separate group is formed by the Seutter plans, which amount to approximately one third of the collection and include remarkable works, both from the artistic and design solution points of view. Several rarities of the collection are also presented, and, by presenting four plans, special attention is drawn to the city of Rome.

Although scale and ichnographical city plans in the modern sense had been made of major cities even in ancient times (like, for example, of Nippur, Mesopotamia at around 1500 BC, or of Imperial Rome in 3rd century AD), but they were not widespread or generally used until the 18th century, and especially until the second half of the 18th century.

The presented works, just like the majority of the items in the collection, can be regarded as examples of a transitional version formed relatively late, at the end of the 17th century and at the beginning of the 18th century, of the type combining the formal and technical characteristics of views-landscapes with ichnographic content. Since the plans were made to present the specialties and sights of cities, this transitional type could not lack the side-view artistic-formal tools and solutions of city views, or those of panoramic depictions, providing an overall view. These combined works of city views and ichnographies served to present both the entire city and its major buildings and urban structure.

The beginnings of this combined genre go back to the second half of the 15th century when special versions, already showing metric characteristics but to be regarded primarily as city views, were born. Examples of the genre include woodcut city views made by Erhard Reuwich (active 1460–1490) published in Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam by Bernard von Breydenbach (ca. 1440 –1497), describing the author’s travel experiences in the Holy Land, or the large, topographically accurate city view of Venice, carved on nine woodblocks by Jacopo de’ Barbari (ca. 1440 –1515) in 1500.

The genre began to unfold in the 16th century when summary works such as   Civitatis orbis terrarium by Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg published in six volumes between 1572 and 1617, featuring as many as 360 city views, were born. It was not only a work presenting the most important cities of the era, but also served as a model for several other works of the genre published in later decades. Here we mention just one 17th-century work of similar grandeur and significance, Topografia by Matthäus Meriann (1593–1650) and heirs, in the 31 volumes of which hundreds of city views and city plans were published during several decades (1642–1688), as part of the presentation of German and French provinces.

In the second half of the 17th century, a systematic survey of an ever growing number of European cities began, as a result of which, by the early 18th century city plans including ichnographies of reliable accuracy were made of several cities. As shown by works made by Seutter and Homann, due to these surveys, a version placing ichnographies and city views beside and under each other was developed and became dominant. This formal-structural solution made it possible to make the best use of the advantages of both genres.

City plans made for the general public, presenting only the ichnographical conditions and top view of cities, appeared in the last decades of the 18th century. A very beautiful example of this plan type is the plan of London made by English cartographer John Cary in the early phase of his career.

However, publishers have never stopped making plans offering city view features or using city view elements. This version is still commonly used for purposes such as tourism or education, in the form of publications providing information for travelers and tourists.

Based on the results of cadastral surveys, in the 19th century very large scale, mainly ichnographical city plans, capable of serving the needs of public administration as well, were made and used as indispensable tools for urban planning.

In the Early Modern age, both city views, ichnographical city plans and their combined versions were used, in addition to knowledge dissemination purposes, for other purposes as well. They were used, first of all, for the presentation of the events of sieges, since cities used to be the major scenes of 16th to 18th-century European wars. The collection of Library founder Count Ferenc Széchényi includes several city plans made for such purposes, often presenting only the fortification system in case of a besieged city, either as an individual publication, or bound in a volume.