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The Invisible Artists of the Cosmographia

Frankfurt Siege of Frankfurt

Almost all of the artists who drew the cities in Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographia remain anonymous. Artists could not control if their signatures appeared on the final woodcuts because they were hired by Münster’s patrons, in contrast to the draftsmen and woodcutters, who copied their drawings in Münster's direct employment. Only one artist can be identified by the symbol that he managed to "smuggle" into the final woodcut. The compass floating in the river Main in the foreground of the view of Frankfurt is the mark of Conrad Faber von Creutznach. It contains the date 1545 when the original drawing was made. Von Creutznach signed his large woodcut view of Frankfurt of 1552 with a compass on the same spot. The position of the artist in cosmography improved in the second half of the sixteenth century Georg Hoefnagel signed all of his city views in Braun and Hogenberg’s Civitates Orbis Terrarum (1572-1617) and even depicted himself in his city views.

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Conrad Faber’s View of Frankfurt

Frankfurt Google Earth Frankfurt Google Earth

Conrad Faber's view of Frankfurt is depicted in single point perspective, meaning that the parallel lines converge in a single vanishing point. This manner of projection is incompatible with modern map projections, as is shown in the warped image to the right. Instead it resembles modern photography - but in appearance only. In fact, the view of Frankfurt is a very elaborate construction based on surveys. This is clear from the fact that the city is depicted from a viewpoint several hundred feet above the ground that was not obtainable in times before aviation.

      Click images to download in Google Earth.

Hans Asper’s view of Solothurn

Solothurn Solothurn Google Earth

The view of Solothurn by the artist Hans Asper from Zürich is based on a laborious survey of the city. Archival documents attest that Asper measured the city walls with the help of two assistants. Solothurn’s city council would later pay Asper 70 Kronen and his assistants 2 Gulden in "drink money," in exchange of an oil painting based on his drawing. The warped overlay to the right shows how accurately the survey and the oblique bird's-eye perspective conform to modern map projections.

The technical approach of the artists employed by Münster’s patrons varies widely from image to image. The four most common techniques are depicted below.

oblique view mixed oblique and planar view profile view perspectival view
Solothurn Augsburg Vienna Frankfurt

Artworks are in the public domain. Most images of city views used with permission from the site historic cities. All other content of this page, including maps and original illustrations, is Copyright © Jasper van Putten, 2014, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.