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The characteristic mode of portraying the city in early European painting was as a cluster of towers hidden behind an enclosing barrier, and seen in the background of a scene to which it not necessarily holds a narrative connection. The urban setting is more often than not separated from the storyline of the painting. The city is a decorative addition, a distant stage set. Towards the end of the fifteenth century Venetian civic pride began to manifest itself in art. Painters like Vittorio Carpaccio or Gentile Bellini started to pay closer attention to topographical accuracy as settings for their narratives. Urban backdrops, either observed or imagined, acquired a more dominant presence and detailed presentation within the composition of their work. A contributory factor to that development in Venice and elsewhere was the ground-breaking innovations that took place in printing and the graphic arts.

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Printing had arrived in Italy in 1464, hardly a decade after the invention of the printing press, when two clerics, Conrad Sweynheym from Mainz and Arnold Pannartz from Cologne, set up shop in the Benedictine monastery St Scholastica at Subiaco, in the Sabine mountains near Rome, where they lived as lay brothers. In 1465, they issued the edition princeps of De oratore by Cicero, the first book printed in Italy. Sweynheym and Pannartz printed just three books at the monastery before moving their press to the Palazzo Massimi at Campo dei Fiori in the centre of Rome. There, they printed twenty-eight volumes in editions of up to 300 copies each. These included editions of, amongst others, Caesar, Livy, Virgil and Lucan.
However, there was no viable market for such publications and they failed to sell their stock. Sweynheym dissolved the partnership in 1473 and returned to his former profession as an engraver, while Pannartz struggled on alone until his death in 1477. The output of these and other early printers was predominantly classical texts that appealed to the small community of Humanists, but not in the least to Roman ultramontanists who were concerned with legal affairs at the papal court.

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Ulrich Han another German printer in Rome produced classical texts from 1467 to 1471, by which time he was overstocked with Cicero, Livy and Plutarch. He then formed a partnership with merchant Simon Nicolai Chardella who instructed him to print books on Roman and Canon law and pamphlets pertaining to affairs at the court. This market-orientated attention meant that Han’s business began to prosper. Other best-selling publications at the time were guides to Rome’s sights and indulgences. Large numbers of German pilgrims journeyed to the city and few of them would have been able to read Latin. They were eager to purchase a travel guide, a Renaissance Baedeker in their native language. Adam Rot ran a printing press in Rome from 1471 to 1474. He was the first to publish books for visiting pilgrims, issuing several guides on the marvels of Rome. The venture proved a commercial success and the history of the guidebook was secured.

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The incunable Peregrinatio in terram sanctam by Bernard von Breydenbach is one of the earliest travel books containing detailed illustrations of European and Middle Eastern cities. The book was used as a preparatory guide for pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The author’s journey took place from April 1483 to January 1484. A reckless person as a youngster and seeking salvation, he and two companions set out from Oppenheim in Germany and reached Venice two weeks later. They spent three weeks in the city which allowed the book’s illustrator Erhard Reuwich of Utrecht ample time to make sketches of his urban impressions. His image of Venice is regarded as the first purely topographical view of the city. It is significant that it appeared in a medium that that was not weighed down by traditions of narrative painting or expectations of patron or public. The book was aimed at distant readers who had never been to Venice, Jerusalem, or any of the other cities depicted and described. Reuwich created an observed vision of the city, not the background to an alternative storyline. The Peregrinatio was originally published in Mainz and became a contemporary ‘bestseller’. The splendid illustrations played a crucial part in the success of this book. Another spectacular image of Venice was published soon after. Jacopo de’ Barbari’s ‘View of Venice’ is one of the most stunning achievements of Renaissance printmaking. The aerial view was printed from large woodblocks on six sheets of paper which were then joined together to cover an area of nearly four square metres. Eleven copies are known to survive of the first state of the woodcut printed in 1500 (one of those is held at the British Museum). The original woodblocks are in the Correr Museum in Venice. The print took three years to produce and was based on careful surveys of the streets and buildings of Venice, almost every one of which can be seen clearly. It was later updated by others to reflect new building projects in a second state of the print. Publisher of the image was Anton Kolb, a merchant from Nuremberg in Germany who was resident in Venice. He recorded that no woodcut on such a size using such large blocks had ever been made before. Kolb was granted copyright on the design by the government of Venice and allowed to sell impressions for the high price of three ducats. Generally speaking, however, in artistic renderings the city remained subordinate to the representation of the religious or historical narrative. Neither painters nor patrons showed any particular interest in exploring the possibilities of producing townscapes for their own sake. The contents of the story remained fundamental to the creative effort.

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Closely associated to the emergence of travel books was the phenomenal progress made in the art of cartography. The biography of every great city is represented by the history of its maps and panoramas. In the chaos of urban growth the cartographer brings line and harmony (the map of the London Underground system is the most reassuring document the overwhelmed visitor to the metropolis can wish for). Maps and topographical drawings became a popular form of wall decoration. Monarchs, nobles and eminent citizens commissioned artists to adorn their residences with panoramas of cities, either in single sheets or in series. The sixteenth century developed a passion for geography. The expansion of travel, the Spanish and Portuguese exploration of Africa, Asia and the New World, along with the rediscovery of Claudius Ptolemy’s Geography (the earliest printed edition with engraved maps was produced in Bologna in 1477), stimulated the demand for accurate maps. Political struggle and continuous warfare contributed to this demand. An army in action needed detailed locations of possible battlegrounds and accurate views of the cities that were to be besieged. The art of map-making demanded scientific precision (no more artistic sea-monsters or mermaids in the margin) which could only be obtained through training in the use of mathematical scales and instruments.

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Antwerp-born Antonius van den Wyngaerde was a prolific topographical artist who produced panoramic sketches and paintings of towns in the Low Countries, England, Italy and Spain. He is recorded as saying that among all the joys that the art of painting has to offer, ‘there is not one that I hold in higher esteem than the representation of cities’. His first known work was a vista of the Dutch city of Dordrecht (historically in English named Dort) from around 1544. On a visit to Italy, he created views of Rome, Genoa, Naples and Ancona. Between 1558 and 1559 he visited England, perhaps more than once, where he made views of Dover, London and the palaces of Greenwich, Hampton Court, Oatlands and Richmond. He is best known for many panoramas of cities in Spain that he drew while employed as court artist (‘pintor de cámera’) by Philip II to whom he was known as Antonio de las Viñas. He was commissioned by the king to document all the main towns and produced at least sixty-two cityscapes (he also drew the first picture of Gibraltar). Always striving for accuracy, Van den Wyngaerde also depicted vivid town activities, but there is no trace of the squalor of street life that prevailed in all cities of that time. These images served to demonstrate the might of Philip’s Spain and give visual expression to the might of his rule.

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They depended on the artist’s direct observation and visual memory – but also on his imagination. Any suggestion of realism was illusory. This is clear from his view of Valencia. The lay-out of the streets here is wide and straight as if the city had been formally planned. The squares are made larger and some of the towers moved to different positions. Despite many details, the picture is an idealized rather than an accurate representation. The same applied to his view of Granada where the size and height of churches are increased (without distorting the arrangement) in order to draw attention to the city as a ‘civitas christiana’. Shortly after the artist’s death, Philips sent the collection of views to the Plantin press in Antwerp for engraving. His likely ambition was to create a Spanish city atlas. Unfortunately, the project was never completed. Van den Wyngaerde’s views were dispersed to Vienna, Prague and London and it took until the late 1980s that the corpus of Spanish views was finally published. At the time of its creation, this record of Spanish city views was unique and without precedent. No other European ruler could boast to possess such a complete and accurate visual overview of his realms.

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The first volume of the Civitates orbis terrarum was published in Cologne in 1572. This city atlas, edited by Georg Braun and largely engraved by Franz Hogenberg, eventually contained 546 prospects and map views of cities from all over the world. It provided a comprehensive image of urban life at the turn of the sixteenth century. Braun, a cleric of Cologne, was the principal editor of the work, and was supported in his project by Abraham Ortelius whose Theatrum orbis terrarum of 1570 was, as a systematic collection of maps of uniform style, the first true atlas. The Civitates was intended as a companion for the Theatrum although it was more popular in approach, no doubt because the novelty of a collection of city views represented a more risky commercial undertaking than a world atlas for which there had been a number of successful precedents. A large number of Jacob van Deventer’s plans of towns of the Netherlands were copied, as were Stumpf’s woodcuts from the Schweizer Chronik of 1548, and Sebastian Munster’s German views from the 1550 and 1572 editions of his Cosmographia. Another source was the work of Danish cartographer Heinrich van Rantzau, better known under his Latin name Rantzovius, who provided maps of Scandinavian cities. A significant contributor was Antwerp-born artist Joris Hoefnagel (with Antonius van Wyngaerde the most prolific topographical artist of his day) who not only contributed most of the original material for the Spanish and Italian towns, but also re-worked and modified those of other contributors. Plantin’s printing house in Antwerp, famous for its Polyglot Bible of 1572, was active in the fields of science and cartography as well. By offering mapmakers a space where they could interact with explorers and by supplying the know-how of printing precise and detailed maps, Christoph Plantin became a driving force behind the creation of the modern atlas. Why were the northern regions particularly active in this field of knowledge gathering? The strong topographical tradition was partly due to political developments in Germany and the Low Countries. The more Emperors Maximilian I, Charles I and Philips II tried to expand the power of imperial institutions at the expense of local city autonomy, the more these developed and sophisticated cities resisted interference in their affairs. Shared adversity created unity. It promoted civic awareness of the city’s history, its traditions, its institutions, and its cultural output. The Aristotelian concept of the’communitas perfecta’, the idea of a fully autonomous body possessing all the means of securing its own welfare and pursuing its chosen goals, supported an outburst of local pride and found expression in a variety of topographical works.

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Book illustrators and map makers in particular pushed forward the development of topographical images and cityscapes. It makes the presence of Ambrogio Lorenzetti all the more remarkable. The latter was an Italian painter of the Sienese school who was active between approximately from 1317 to 1348 (the year that he died of the plague). Although few of his pieces have survived, he is considered one of the most inventive artists of the early fourteenth century. The Republic of Siena at the time was a powerful city-state where merchants and bankers had developed a strong commercial base with a range of international contacts. Politically, this was a turbulent age marred by a string of violent conflicts. Governments were overthrown and reinstated. During the late 1330s the Council of Nine (the city council) commissioned Lorenzetti to paint the ‘Allegory and Effects of Good and Bad Government’ series in the Sala dei Nove of Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico. The artist created an ensemble of urban images that is exceptional within the medieval tradition. Unlike most contemporary paintings the subject matter is not religious but civic. The aim of the painting is to exalt the political creed of the government of the ‘Nove’, a clique of Guelphs who retained power in Siena until 1355. Lorenzetti’s frescoes promoted the morality of government. By showing comprehensive cause-and-effect situations of corrupt governing in comparison to those of virtuous leadership, these images were aimed at reminding members of the council to seek justice at all times. The murals occupy three of the four walls of the Council Room. On the eastern wall Lorenzetti depicted the scenes of the ‘Effects of Good Government’, while on the western wall the ‘Effects of Bad Government’ are depicted. Overlooking both these murals, the personifications of the allegorical depictions of the virtues of good government are found on the northern wall.

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In the foreground of the ‘Allegory of Good Government’ figures of contemporary Siena are represented. They act as symbolic representations of the various civic officers and magistrates. Behind them, on a stage, there are allegoric figures representing Good Government. Wisdom is seated upon a throne and holds an orb and sceptre, symbolizing temporal power. He is dressed in the colours of the ‘Balzana’, the black and white Sienese coat-of-arms. Around his head are the four letters CSCV, (Commune Saenorum Civitatis Virginis) which explains his identity as the embodiment of the Siena Council. The virtues of good government are represented by the female figures of Peace, Fortitude and Prudence on the left, and Magnanimity, Temperance and Justice on the right. On the longer wall of the room is the fresco of the ‘Effects of Good Government in the City and in the Country’. Part of that image is ‘Peaceful City’ which provides the first panoramic view of Siena. The city is filled with palaces, markets, towers, churches, streets and walls. Busy shops indicate prosperity. The fresco then blends into the ‘Peaceful Country’. The transition is made by an entourage passing through the city gate. The scene shows a bird’s-eye view of the Tuscan countryside, with villas, castles, and farmers working the fields.

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The wall on which the fresco of the ‘Effects of Bad Government’ is depicted used to be an exterior wall, so has suffered damage in the past. The image shows Tyrammides (Tyranny) resting his feet upon a goat (symbolic of luxury), his hand holding a dagger, while the figures of Cruelty, Deceit, Fraud, Fury, Division, and War flank him. Above him float those of Avarice, Pride, and Vanity. The city itself is in ruin. Houses are being smashed and the streets are deserted. Crime and disease are rampant. The countryside suffers from drought and shows two battle-ready armies advancing towards each other. The disaster of bad government served as a powerful reminder to members of the council. 12 Lorenzetti supplied a painted view of a secular city in detail and inclusiveness. Commerce, trade and various social activities are visualized, while religious manifestations are almost entirely excluded. There are three identifiable churches, but they are marginal to the composition. Even the city’s impressive duomo has been squeezed into the background – no more than a tiny tower. Lorenzetti’s secular medieval city is not a faithful portrait of Siena, nor is it a true topographical representation. His ambition was to depict an ideal city, one that should be compared to Siena, but not be mistaken for it. The buildings are real structures, but the totality is imaginary. Topography is overruled by the artist’s message. His purpose was to portray the peaceful prosperity of a well-governed city. For the sake of the representation of various trades, social interaction, and communal celebrations, he re-designed the heart of the city and created a large open foreground which allowed him to display a variety of activities. That space in front of the new Palazzo Pubblico is not the Piazza del Campo, nor is it any other known open space in Siena. This large area behind the remarkably thin city-wall is a creation of the artist’s fancy. In other words, ‘Lorenzetti Square’ is an imaginary public place. The streetscape serves a particular purpose and is made subordinate to the moral message – Lorenzetti’s Siena nevertheless remains a remarkable portrait of a proud city.

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Terror as subject-matter is common in both art and literature and has a long history. Art tells its own story of horrors. Francisco Goya and Giovanni Battista Piranesi were the outstanding printmakers of their time. Their images of human brutality still resonate in our violent day and age. As court painter to both Charles III and Charles IV of Spain, Goya achieved considerable fame as a portraitist. In 1819, at the age of seventy-three, he had fallen seriously ill. His doctor Eugenio García Arrieta nursed him back to health. On recovering, the artist presented him with a painting entitled ‘Self-Portrait with Dr Arrieta’, the last of many self-portraits which shows the physician ministering to his patient.

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The inscription of thanks at the bottom of the painting gives the canvas the look of an ex-voto (a votive offering to a saint or divinity), a type of religious painting which expresses gratitude for deliverance from a calamity. In a further response to his narrow escape from death, Goya decorated the walls of his villa in the outskirts of Madrid, named the ‘Quinta del Sordo’ (House of the Deaf Man), with fourteen ‘black’ paintings.
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These are the most hellish visions he ever created, images of a world consumed by hate. One of those paintings is ‘Saturn Devouring his Son’, depicting the myth of Saturn who, fearing that his children would supplant him, ate each one upon their birth. In the depiction of this scene by Rubens (which Goya would have seen in Madrid), Saturn bends his head over the body, sinks his teeth in the flesh and sucks the spurting blood of his screaming child. Goya’s version shows a bleeding remnant of a body, one of its stumps entering the giant’s gaping mouth. The mouth plays a prominent role in Goya’s art. Mouths guzzle ferociously, living flesh as well as dead. Saturn grips his child in his fists and with his mouth tears him limb from limb.

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Piranesi’s work is relevant in this context for a different reason. Trained in Venice as an architect, his work occupies an intriguing place in the development of the cityscape. He studied with leading printmakers of the day and settled permanently in Rome in 1745. He created about 2,000 plates in his lifetime and there are two distinct aspects to his work. First there is the series of etchings of imaginary prisons, and secondly there are his famous views of Rome. His collection of Vedute di Roma (Views of Rome) features 135 perspectives on the ruins of the Eternal City in all its decayed glory. Piranesi captured an imaginary cityscape based on real architectural elements assembled in fantastical ways.

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Eighteenth-century European writers and philosophers routinely compared the social order to a prison. During the eighteenth century penal institutions such as London’s Newgate Prison and the Bastille in Paris were imposing structures that developed into powerful symbols of oppression. In England, the Bloody Code referred to a system of laws and punishments that was in use from 1400 to 1850. By the early nineteenth century there were more than 200 offences carrying the death penalty. Crimes that were punishable by execution included stealing anything worth more than five shillings, stealing horses or sheep, right through to arson, treason and murder.

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The century also gave rise to the notion of the Panoptikon (or Inspection House). Jeremy Bentham developed the idea of creating a more effective mode of reforming convicts. Prison was to remain a place of detention, but at the same time it had to become a workshop, in which inmates were to be employed in various trades. Part of the system consisted in placing prisoners under constant surveillance. From a room in the centre of the building, wardens could observe all parts of the prison. A reflecting apparatus enabled them to watch the prisoners in their cells at night. The design was invoked by Michel Foucault as metaphor for modern ‘disciplinary’ societies and its pervasive inclination to control and normalize.

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Rome’s most famous prison was the underground Carcere Mamertino (Mamertine prison; the medieval name is most likely a reference to a nearby temple of Mars), known in antiquity as Tullanium, located on the northeastern slope of the Capitoline Hill. It consisted of a vast network of dungeons under the city’s main sewer system connected to the surface via a grand entranceway. Corridors and chambers descended downward, and were marked by the symbol of an upside-down cross. These vaults of horror would have been an inspiration to young Piranesi’s wild and macabre imagination.

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Piranesi, a stonemason and builder’s son, arrived in Rome in 1740 as part of the entourage of Marco Foscarini, the Venetian ambassador to the new pope, Benedict XIV. He was trained in architecture and stage design, and had acquired knowledge of the techniques of perspective which are essential to both disciplines. As early as 1741 he was producing small Roman views for inclusion in popular guide books and almost immediately he seemed to be searching for a new and more personal mode of urban representation. His career as an architect went nowhere. The lack of commissions was a bitter blow and made him unsure about the direction to take, that of the architect or that of the artist/engraver. The ambivalence can be traced throughout his career.

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From 1745 onwards he produced fourteen of his most disturbing prints, the Carceri d’invenzione or ‘Imaginary Prisons’ which show the interior of vast prisons, littered with arches, stairways, pulleys, ropes and various relics of classical antiquity. The spaces of the Carceri, simultaneously vast and claustrophobic, are clearly based on the vaults of antiquity, but the parts have been jumbled: stairs and drawbridges go nowhere, arches pile up to form an inescapable labyrinth. Using his theatrical set experience and knowledge of architecture, these images are well ordered yet menacingly chaotic, realistic and dreamlike. The ultimate inspiration for these works was not dissimilar from Goya’s experience. Supposedly based on a malarial fever-dream, the Carceri suggest a descent into the subconscious, an extraordinarily detailed nightmare. The particulars are drawn from the vocabulary of ancient Rome. The emotional atmosphere speaks to universal anxieties. Ten years later Piranesi radically reworked the same plates and added two new ones.

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He made the architectural forms more elaborate, and introduced new sequence of vaults, arches, and stairs that recede indefinitely. The imagery speaks of a grey world of stone and ritual in which the human factor is utterly insignificant. Tiny figures struggle in these huge interiors, including, according to Thomas de Quincey inConfessions of an English Opium Eater Piranesi himself: ‘Creeping along the sides of the walls, you perceived a staircase; and upon it, groping his way upwards, was Piranesi himself: follow the stairs a little further, and you perceive it come to a sudden abrupt termination, without any balustrade, and allowing no step onwards to him’. The immensity of the architecture seems to embody the workings of an evil supernatural power. The machinery of cables and levers suggests awful horrors. Piranesi’s etchings of imaginary prisons held a hypnotic fascination for later Romantic writers such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Edgar Allen Poe (his story ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ is a transcription of the world of Piranesi’s prisons) and artists such as Charles Meryon in his haunting visions of Paris. They had a huge influence on the development of the Gothic novel and the creation of the Gothicscape. Reacting against the Enlightenment idea that society is founded upon rational thought processes, the Romantics injected the drug of dreams and nightmares instead.

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Piranesi’s prisons not only recall Rome’s Mamertine, but also medieval ways of physical punishment. Grates, hooks and pulleys suggest a hellish mechanism in which the prisoner is subjected to the various instruments of torture. In literary terms such images date back to medieval vision literature which initially consisted of stories handed down by word of mouth. The stories describe experiences of people who allegedly had been taken to hell. A famous example is the ‘Vision of Tundale’, an Irish knight who had been in a coma for three days from which he returned to urge others to repent. The tale dates from the middle of the twelfth century (over 150 years before Dante’s Inferno) and was written in Latin by a Benedictine monk. His experiences are divided into ten Passus or ’paces’ (a division of parts in medieval narrative) which are a neatly arranged as a catalogue of sins in which every crime has a ‘fitting’ punishment. The worst the sin, the more severe is the pain. Piranesi offers an elaborate and corresponding set of torture instruments in his images. A wheel with spikes around its circumference; a post with more spikes; a kind of chandelier suspended from a beam ringed with meathooks, etc. The act of torture does not take place in these prints, but Piranesi is a master of suggestion. There are just glimpses of the damned, a couple of men digging a grave in the middle of the prison, a person being pulled on a rack, or naked figures chained to posts. While prisoners undergo mysterious torments, luckier souls pass by on parapets or bridges that in the context of the image have no logic or necessity. Piranesi seems less interested in the plight of the prisoners than in an unsettling fantasy of space. His prison is a place without limits, the interiors have no outer walls, and each vista is cut off only by the frame of the image itself. They may not even be interiors because they are integrated into a cityscape where – even if certain settings are recognizable – interior and exterior are no longer definable.

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Although these prison scenes were produced in Rome, they belong to a Venetian tradition. The capriccio was developed as an art form in early eighteenth century Venice. Influenced by Italian theatre, the genre grew as a result of the Grand Tour when capricci were offered as an addition or alternative to the townscape. Piranesi built on the work of two other Venetians, on Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s playful Capricci and on the set designs of Ferdinando Galli Bibiena, a master of Baroque scenography and founder of a dynasty of stage designers. In painting, capricci are a playful mixture of architectural and sculptural elements – both real and fictional – in which tombs and urns, pillars and pyramids, are decorated with inscriptions. Locations are rearranged and peopled by mythological beings and symbolic animals. Such scenographic presentation perfectly suited the theatrical character of Rome’s public spaces, but Piranesi’s series of etchings of imaginary prisons remain Venetian in spirit. He could never free himself from his native city’s air of decline. In the haunting visions of a doomed city one recognizes the source of his gloomy inspiration. He produced a cityscape in which Kafka seems to embrace Escher.
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The Romans created a vast network of roads across the Empire, initially to move troops to trouble spots, but also for speedy communication and ease of travel. Roman viae were the arteries of the military system. The Via Appia was the ‘queen of long roads’ (‘Appia teritur regina longarum viarum’), stretching across southern Italy and joining Rome with Brindisi at the Adriatic coast. It was named after Appius Claudius Caecus, the Roman censor who completed the first section as a military road to the south in 312 BC during the Samnite War. In one of the frontispieces in the four-volume Le antichità Romane (1756), Piranesi’s vision of the intersection of the Via Appia and the Via Ardeatina is piled high with mausoleums, gravestones, marble busts and body parts, and a stone she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus.
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The Via Appia typifies his Roman views that became as much a tourist attraction as the city’s sights themselves. In the early fifteenth century, Flavio Biondo created a guide to the ruins and topography of ancient Rome for which he has been called an early founder of archaeology. However, it was only during the eighteenthth century that the systematic study of the past through its physical remains began to be carried out. The excavations of Pompeï and Herculaneum during the late 1730s and 1740s made an impact throughout Europe. By the time Piranesi arrived in Rome nevertheless, the city’s ancient temples and arches were used as cheap sources of raw materials. Over a period of time the Colosseum had been stripped of usable stone. Maffeo Barberini, who reigned as Pope Urban VIII, had carted off the bronze of the Pantheon. Rome was either plundered or neglected – the Roman Forum was known as the Campo Vaccino (the cow field). Piranesi, the Venetian, found his calling in Rome’s ruins. He was outraged by the city’s decay. Regretting that the ancient buildings were gradually reduced by vandalists who used ancient rubble to built modern houses, he decided to preserve their memory in art. While ancient Roman urban planners introduced the rational grid to cities across the Empire, the city of Rome itself remained topographically a chaotic assemblage of spaces that were shaped haphazardly against the background of its seven hills. The artist took delight in the city’s irrationality. In the Vedute di Roma and Antichità he captured the ruins in all their decrepit glory. Piranesi the antiquarian was shocked by the state of ancient Rome. Piranesi the salesman explored and exploited the potential of a newly discovered art market. Few works can match his Vedute for artistic influence, commercial success and political impact. He was also a polemicist who claimed Roman sovereignty in ancient architecture. In works such as Della magnificenzo ed archetettura de’ Romani (1761) he opposed fashionable Grecophilia that was inspired by Winckelmann’s aesthetic theories.
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Piranesi’s powerful prints were produced in large quantities and, just like Canaletto’s paintings, conceived as souvenirs. This mass distribution inspired the ‘ruin lust’ that gripped European art and literature in the eighteenth century and reached its height in the romantic period. Piranesi’s business enterprise also included dealing in antiquities and publishing ‘pattern books’ such as Vasi, candelabri, cippi, sarcophagi (1778), an artifact catalogue, and Diverse maniere d’adornare i cammini (1769), decorative schemes based on pastiches of antique styles. In Diverse maniere Piranesi gave prominence to the design (sixty-one in total) for chimney-pieces. This form of interior feature did not have a precedent in antiquity. He applied the ancient Roman approach to design to contemporary demands which allowed his flamboyant fantasy to run free.

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Egyptian and Etruscan elements merge with the myths of antiquity and the Renaissance. These works had widespread influence on eighteenth-century design. Not in the least on Scottish architect and decorator Robert Adam who spent five years in Rome studying with him. The latter went on to become a principal exponent of British and European Neoclassicism. Horace Walpole was attracted to his work. John Soane, an extremely successful neoclassical architect, was also an admirer of Piranesi, acquiring fifteen drawings of the Italian master which are now part of the rich collection of Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. What was the specific appeal of his work? From a stylistic and technical point of view his engravings were highly original. Piranesi created images by etching with a stylus on a waxed copper plate after which this plate was set in an acid bath where the sharp lines would be etched away. This method gives his prints a hand-drawn look. He worked exclusively in black-and-white, but he was a master of re-creating the effects of shadow, sunlight, and the movement of clouds. Just as important was the psychological effect of his images. During the first half of the eighteenth century Rococo was at its height. Piranesi’s work is a reaction to the soft elegance and sugary optimism of Rococo art. Instead of images of ideal forms, he shed light on the débris of a doomed metropolis. Ruins register both the termination and the survival of matter. These fragments of the urban past symbolize transience and durability, dissolution and survival. Piranesi produced etchings of Roman ruins and deliberately enlarged them suggesting both the might of ancient civilization and the inevitable fate of human hubris in the face of a remorseless cosmos. The Roman views of Giovanni Battista Piranesi have lost none of their power over the centuries. Because he was depicting the city before proper excavations were undertaken, his Roman cityscape was genuinely ancient. His craftsmanship made his images transcend their immediate circumstances to become evocative expressions of the grandeur that once was Rome.

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We tend to associate the charm of cities with the architectural splendour of cathedrals, palaces, museums, monuments, or bridges. Few of us would mention the beauty of an abattoir. We pay attention to the face rather than the function of architecture. And yet, the nineteenth-century city is unthinkable without the introduction of the slaughterhouse.

Early maps of London show numerous stockyards in the periphery of the city where slaughter occurred in the open air. An obsolete term for such an open-air slaughterhouse and meat market is a shambles. Without adequate sanitary facilities or hygiene regulations, guts, offal, and blood were thrown into a runnel down the middle of the street where the butchering was carried out. By extension, any scene of disorganisation and mess is now referred to as ‘a shambles’. Several towns have preserved the street name Shambles or The Shambles. In York, the street was once known as The Great Flesh Shambles, derived from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Fleshammels’, a word used for the shelves on which butchers displayed their products. As recently as 1872 there were some twenty-five butcher shops in this well-preserved medieval cobbled street. Not a single one survives in what is now the most popular tourist destination of the city.

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A 1938 oil painting ‘York: The Shambles’ by Harry Tittensor provides a nostalgic image of a butcher standing outside his shop (with shelves) in conversation with two female customers. This was a type of escapist art aimed at those who see the past as a picture postcard. Although the butchers have vanished, some of the timber-framed shops still have meat-hooks hanging outside and, below them, shelves on which meat would have been displayed.

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Among the buildings of the Shambles is a shrine to Saint Margaret Clitherow, known to some as the Pearl of York. Born Margaret Middleton, she married butcher John Clitherow in 1571 and converted to Catholicism at the age of eighteen in 1574. Her husband remained a Protestant. She assisted the local Catholic population and held Masses in her home. In 1586, Margaret was arrested and executed by being crushed to death on Good Friday.

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Meat was a British obsession, a symbol of status and a measure of living standards. London butchers were, socially and politically, a powerful lobby. The Worshipful Company of Butchers is one of the oldest Livery Companies of the City of London. Its Charter of Incorporation was granted by James I in 1605. The first hall was the parsonage house of the medieval church of St Nicholas Shambles on the corner of Butcher Hall Lane (now King Edward Street) which was destroyed in the Great Fire. By Shakespeare’s day, dining out had become relatively commonplace in London. In Westminster cook shops (places where cooked food was sold to those on the move), were beginning to serve restaurant style meals to the general public by the mid-1370s, but it was not until about 1460 that this practice spread to the inns and taverns of the City itself. During the mid-sixteenth century such establishments offered one dish a day at a fixed time and price, served at a common table. The meal was called the ordinary. By the late 1600s, the beef-loving reputation of the English became slowly established.

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In his Memoirs and Observations of Travels over England (1719) French traveller Henri Misson, while staying in London in 1698, notes that ‘it is common practice, even among People of Good Substance, to have a huge Piece of Roast-Beef on Sundays, of which they stuff until they can swallow no more, and eat the rest cold, without any other Victuals, the other six Days of the Week’. With the increased consumption of meat, the urban shambles of public slaughter became an issue of concern. From the 1830s to the turn of the century reformers campaigned to abolish private London slaughterhouses operated by independent butchers in favour of municipal abattoirs.

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They argued that the congestion created by livestock in the city streets, the dirt and smell of refuse in residential areas, and the health concerns about diseased meat, made stricter control over the trade a necessity. However, such was the continuing power and muscle of the London butchers that they were able to defend their craft from any political or humanitarian interference.
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With the massive expansion of the capital, large volumes of livestock were handled in the heart of London. Much of the growth in business was accommodated by the railways. Euston became a major cattle handling terminal. Smithfield meat market was some two miles away from the station. By the middle of the century more than 100,000 cattle arriving at Smithfield were transported by train and hurded through the streets of inner London. No urban area had ever encountered such volume of animals that were prepared for slaughter in countless privately owned slaughterhouses.

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In Paris, the situation was different. Initially, animals were slaughtered in butcher shops all over the city, but Parisians started to complain about the stench and continuous flow of blood in the streets. Reformers demanded that slaughterhouses be relocated to the outskirts of town. Nothing happened during the Ancien Régime because the guild of butchers opposed any intervention into their business. The French Revolution abolished all guilds to promote freedom of commerce. As a consequence, meat was sold anywhere and slaughter took place without supervision or inspection. Napoleon took action and ordered that five municipal abattoirs be built in a ring around the city. Work began in 1810, but became caught up in the financial havoc caused by the war effort. Construction continued during the Bourbon Restoration era. When they finally opened in 1818, these public abattoirs were the first of their kind in Europe. Operated by the municipality and located away from populated districts, they provided a model of slaughter that would be followed elsewhere. Public hygiene became a politically important issue. During the 1830s and 1840s, alongside prostitution, hospitals and sewers, abattoirs were a battleground in the struggle to improve the physical and moral hygiene of Paris. A major problem was the geographical separation of the livestock market and abattoir. Since they were located in different parts of the city, livestock herds continued to be a visible sight in the streets, adding to traffic congestion and street pollution. Rail transport offered a solution. The railways enabled the expansion of agriculture, but they also necessitated the greater concentration of markets in the city. In 1858, Haussmann proposed the building of new slaughterhouses combined with markets and connected to railroads. Construction began in 1860. The chosen site was located in one of the newly annexed districts in the northeastern corner of Paris where La Villette offered a site with ready connection to Paris’s railways. The market was completed in 1862, and the slaughterhouses opened in 1867 during the Paris World Exposition. It housed three market halls for the trade of livestock, numerous stables for cattle, sheep, and pigs, and several administrative buildings. The design of the grand halls followed that of Victor Baltard’s markets at Les Halles, combining stylish form with commercial function. The opening of Le Marché & Les Abattoirs de La Villette completed the centralization of slaughter and its exclusion from the inner-city. The abattoir was an architectural monument of industrial design based upon the application of iron and glass.

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The situation in the United States differed fundamentally from Europe. Chicago grew faster than any other city in the nineteenth century. Up to the early 1860s a small number of livestock dealers were able to satisfy local demand. With the arrival of railroads in the early 1860s, the city developed into a hub connecting East and West. In December 1865, the foundation of the Union Stockyards and Transit Company centralized the market and initiated the development of an industrial model of large-scale meat packing. Three decades later Chicago was the largest producer of meat in the United States. In nineteenth century Europe livestock was raised in small herds, while in America large herds grew with minimum effort on the prairie. Slaughter facilities had to match this capacity and more efficient technologies were in constant demand.
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The Union Stockyards illustrate how the pull of markets initiated unprecedented mechanization. One of the inventions was the two-story disassembly line. It consisted of an overhead rail system by which animals were hoisted and moved through thirteen compartmentalized workstations, where one man would slit the animal’s throat, another would tear off its hide, a third split the carcass, etc. With this process it took less than twenty-four hours from the moment an animal arrived until it was slaughtered, dressed, and shipped off as meat. Such mechanization was possible because Chicago was not entrenched in the traditions of butchering. Reforms in London or Paris constantly met with resistance by butchers who were intent on preserving their traditional habits. In Chicago the stockyards were built as a factory of meatpacking. They did not employ butchers, but a casual work force largely consisting of recent immigrants. By the turn of the century, the stockyards were surrounded by ethnic neighbourhoods that housed poor and underpaid workers and their families. Upton Sinclair captured their harsh existence in his 1906 novel The Jungle.

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The disassembly line gave Henry Ford his ideas of a prototype for the production of cars. In his autobiography My Life and Work (1922) he revealed that his inspiration for assembly-line production came from a visit he made as a young man to a Chicago slaughterhouse. In introducing their ideas on the division of labour, both Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson had warned of the potential dangers of mechanization and the brutalizing effect his system might have on workers. If labour was reduced to some purely mechanical manipulation, the worker himself would become an extension of the machine.

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In Chicago these warnings were ignored. Machines were used to speed along the process of mass slaughter, leaving men detached, reducing them to mere accomplices, forced to conform to the pace and requirements set by the assembly line itself. Killing was neutralized. To Theodor Adorno, it was but one step from the industrialized killing of American slaughterhouses to Nazi Germany’s assembly-line mass murder.

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He insisted that Auschwitz had begun at the slaughterhouse. In J. M. Coetzee’s novel The Lives of Animals, the protagonist Elizabeth Costello tells her audience that ‘it was from the Chicago stockyards that the Nazis learned how to process bodies’. There is a parallel connection in this barbaric context. The lethal chamber first emerged during the Victorian era as a humane means of killing stray dogs and cats. Benjamin Ward Richardson was a distinguished medical specialist and reformer. In the 1884 volume of The Asclepiad (a quarterly book of original research and observation), Richardson relates a proposal he had made in 1869 to the RSPCA to build a lethal chamber for the humane slaughtering of animals. He constructed a trial model in 1878.
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Richardson’s original blueprints show a large panelled chamber serviced by a tall slender tank for carbonic acid gas and a heating apparatus. In 1884 the Battersea Dogs Home – set up in London’s Holloway in 1860 by Mary Tealby before it moved to Battersea a decade later – became the first institution to install the device. In the 1880s and 1890s, it took in some 40,000 stray dogs in a single year (underlining the canine problem in the big cities). Richardson introduced the concept of the lethal chamber at a meeting of the Royal Society of Arts in December 1884, and in March 1885 he published a paper in the American journal The Popular Science Monthly with the title of ‘The painless extinction of life’. By the turn of the century a number of charitable animal institutions were using the chamber. This solution for unwanted pets was almost immediately contemplated as a solution for criminals, the feeble-minded social misfits. The concept of the ‘lethal chamber’ was in common vernacular by the turn of the century.

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When the phrase was mentioned, it needed no explanation. Everyone understood what it meant. George Bernard Shaw, in his preface to Major Barbara (written and premiered in 1905, first published in 1907), represents a point of view which any social Darwinst would have applauded. If, he argues, ‘a dog delights to bark and bite, it goes to the lethal chamber. That seems to me sensible. To allow the dog to expiate his bite by a period of torment, and then let him loose in a much more savage condition (for the chain makes a dog savage) to bite again and expiate again, having meanwhile spent a great deal of human life and happiness in the task of chaining and feeding and tormenting him, seems to me idiotic and superstitious. Yet that is what we do to men who bark and bite and steal. It would be far more sensible to put up with their vices, as we put up with their illnesses, until they give more trouble than they are worth, at which point we should, with many apologies and expressions of sympathy, and some generosity in complying with their last wishes, then, place them in the lethal chamber and get rid of them’.

When it comes to social engineering English eugenicists introduced some extreme ideas into the socio-cultural discourse, but even by that standard the notion of the lethal chamber is shocking. The reference to the lethal chamber appears in eugenicist literature during the last decennium of the nineteenth century. Where did the term originate from? There is a clear link to fiction in this case. Novels and plays of the period, such as Shaw’s Man and Superman (1905), or H.G. Wells’s The New Machiavellian (1911), are suffused with the language of de-vitalization and regeneration. In 1914 Richard Austin Freeman published his novel A Silent Witness of which chapter five is entitled ‘A lethal chamber’. In 1921, the novelist took part in the degeneration discussion with the publication of his Social Decay and Regeneration. There is however an earlier literary source. The King in Yellow is a collection of loosely related fin-de-siècle horror stories by Robert Chambers, written in 1895. They have the common setting of an imagined future in America and Paris during the 1920s.

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Yellow is a colour indicative of the decadent and aesthetic attitudes fashionable at the end of the nineteenth century. Yellow also suggests quarantine, decay, and (mental) illness. The most representative story in the collection is ‘The Repairer of Reputations’ which is set in a militaristic New York City, circa 1925, where immigration is controlled and suicide legalized with the introduction of ‘Government Lethal Chambers’. The juxtaposition of the degeneration theme with a regime of regeneration must have made considerable impact at the time. The lethal chamber became a metaphor used in connection with eugenicist thinking in England and America, before the gas chamber became the most horrific symbol of the holocaust during the Nazi rule of terror.
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Butchering and skinning animals were practices that civilized society found hard to endure. At the same time, slaughterhouses held great fascination. Visitors flocked to slaughterhouses in order to quench their thirst for thrills derived from horror. When the World Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago in 1893, more visitors went to the stockyards than to any of the Exposition’s own attractions. In turn-of-the-century Berlin a call at the slaughterhouse was on the tourist trail. German Expressionists had introduced the abattoir into art. In 1892, Lovis Corinth painted a series of slaughterhouse scenes with provocative depictions of men labouring amongst flesh, blood, and animal suffering. With brushwork of lush smears and thick glops of paint blood and guts seem to drip from the painting onto the floor. The brutalizing effect of the slaughter of animals had struck Thomas More. It is unlikely that he was a vegetarian, but the author of Utopia expressed aversion from the coarseness and cruelty of the shambles. The Utopians, he wrote, ‘feel that slaughtering our fellow creatures gradually destroys the sense of compassion, which is the finest sentiment of which our human nature is capable’. The barbaric history of the first half of the twentieh century has proved him right. Unfortunately, Thomas More did not banish burchering from his ideal commonwealth, but devolved it upon a pariah class of slaves and criminals. That, one could argue, is exactly what the Nazis did.

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The Rua das Flores is a narrow steep street in the old town of Lisbon. Two monuments stand close together at the southern end of the Bairro Alto, the statue of Luis de Camões, the celebrated poet, and, a few steps down the Rua do Alecrim, that of Eça de Queiróz, the national novelist, looking serenely over the female figure of Truth. Ever since Bernini created his famous sculpture (Borghese Palace in Rome) truth has been personified as a naked woman. De Queiróz’s fictional output tends to suggest that the naked body may well be the moment of truth, but the naked truth itself is something we prefer to ignore. The unmasking of hypocrisy in bourgeois society was one of his main motivations for putting pen to paper.

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In 1703 England and Portugal signed the Methuen Treaty. At the start of the War of the Spanish Succession Portugal allied with France because the French had guaranteed naval protection. However, in 1702 the British Navy sailed close to Lisbon on the way to and from Cadiz, proving to the Portuguese authorities that the French could not keep their promise. Talks with the Grand Alliance about switching sides began soon after. The resulting treaty was negotiated by John Methuen, the British Ambassador to Portugal. It established closer trading relations between the two nations, allowing English woolen cloth to be admitted into Portugal free of duty and, in return, Portuguese wines imported into England would be subject to a third less taxation than those brought in from elsewhere. Port was about to hit Britain. The real impact was felt during and after the Napoleonic Wars when French products were virtually unobtainable. Soon British wine merchants migrated to Portugal and established the famous port houses of Cockburn, Croft, Dow, Graham, Osborne, Sandeman, Taylor and Warre. The British aristocracy became addicted to port and afflicted by gout, whilst English poets fell in love with Portugal – and with Sintra in particular.

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The name Sintra evokes a series of cultural memories. In 1825, Almeida Garret published his poem ‘Camões’. It signalled the beginning of the Romantic obsession with the village of Sintra in Estremadura, near Lisbon. Sintra had been part of the itinerary of English Grand Tourists. William Beckford, a wealthy aristocrat, art collector, and author of the Gothic (spiced up with Oriental elements) novel Vathek, landed in Lisbon in 1787. Having spent time at Sintra he praised the area as a ‘vast temple of nature’. The following decade he rented the estate that would later be known as the Palace of Montserrate (having been expelled from Britain for sodomy). Robert Southey spent some years in Portugal.

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In his 1808 Letters Written during a Journey in Spain and a Short Residence in Portugal he describes Sintra as ‘the most blessed spot on the whole inhabitable globe’. Lord Byron visited Sintra in 1809. In a letter of 16 July he refers to the village as ‘the most beautiful perhaps in the world’. He subsequently immortalized the place in ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ as a paradise on earth (‘Cintra’s glorious Eden’). What makes the place so special and atmospheric? The sudden eruption of Sintra’s steep hills in an otherwise flat landscape has an effect on its climate. The mellow mists that shroud it through much of the summer have attracted rich Lisboans for centuries as an escape from heat in the city. Mistiness lends its ruins their special charm. The medieval Capucin monastery with cork-lined walls (known as the Cork Convent) is hardly ever exposed to sun light. The gardens of Montserrate offer vegetation in rainforest humidity. Even now, many of art shops in town sell engravings by English artist William Burnett who, in the 1830s, captured the splendour of the area.

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Few Portuguese artists on the other hand were attracted to settling in Britain – with one notable exception. Novelist José Maria Eça de Queiróz was a master of realism. Many contemporary authors admired his work. Émile Zola rated his fiction higher than that of Gustave Flaubert. Others compared the novelist to Dickens, Balzac or Tolstoy. Born an illegitimate child in 1845, he was officially recorded as the son of José Maria de Almeida Teixeira de Queiróz, a Brazilian judge and an unknown mother. He studied law at the University of Coimbra, the oldest academic institution in Portugal and one of the earliest universities in Europe. Eça’s first known work was a series of prose poems, published in the Gazeta de Portugal, which eventually appeared in a posthumous collection edited by Batalha Reis entitled Prosas bárbaras.

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In 1869/70, Eça travelled to Egypt where he was present at the opening of the Suez Canal. The experience left a mark on several of his works, most notably the murder mystery O Mistério da Estrada de Sintra (The Mystery of the Sintra Road, 1870), written in collaboration with Ramalho Ortigão. The novel was turned into a film in 2007. When he took up a post in Leiria to work as a municipal administrator, Eça de Queiróz wrote his first realist novel, O Crime do Padre Amore (The Sin of Father Amaro), which is set in the city and first appeared in 1875. In his fiction the author regularly attacked Christianity and was highly critical of the role of the Catholic Church plays in society.

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Eça made his way up in the Portuguese consular service and spent two years in Havana before being posted in England. For five years, between 1874 and 1879, he was stationed at no. 53 Grey Street in Newcastle upon Tyne from where he dispatched his diplomatic reports on British affairs and industrial conditions. In spite of a dislike of country and climate, his long stay proved to be productive from an artistic point of view. His output included a series of ‘Cartas de Londres’ (London Letters) which were printed in the Lisbon daily newspaper Diário de Notícias and afterwards appeared in book form as Cartas de Inglaterra. As early as 1878 he had at least given a name to his masterpiece Os Maias (The Maias), though this novel was largely written during his later residence in Bristol and published a decade later. All in all, Eça stayed in England for some fifteen years, suffering the damp weather and the ‘indecent manner of cooking vegetables’, which nevertheless stimulated a considerable creative output. Whilst in Manchester, Friedrich Engels formulated his social criticism by observing the excesses of capitalism and its disastrous effects on the working population. Accordingly, Eça found a cutting edge to his fictional social realism by reporting on the appalling industrial conditions in the North-East of the country. In 1888, he finally moved to his beloved France becoming Portuguese Consul-General in Paris where he died in 1900.

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Written between 1877 and 1878, the manuscript of A tragédia da Rua das Flores (The Tragedy of the Street of Flowers) was discovered amongst the author’s papers after his death. For more than a hundred years it remained in the hands of Eça’s family who judged the contents to be shocking and refused its publication. It was only in 1980, when the author’s estate was handed to the Biblioteca Nacional, that (two) editions of the embryonic novel were published in quick succession. The first English translation was timed to coincide with the centenary of Eça’s death. One night at the theatre, Vitor da Silva, a young law graduate, sees a strikingly beautiful woman: Genoveva de Molineux. She claims to have been born in Madeira and to have lived for many years in Paris. The truth about her past gradually begins to surface, as does the dark secret that lies behind the deep mutual attraction between her and Vitor. The Rua das Flores is not mentioned until the second half of the novel and appears when Genoveva’s sugar daddy Dâmasio sets her up in a third floor apartment on the corner of the street. Whilst the house was fitted out for her the couple – much to the anger of Vitor – spent some time away at Sintra’s famous Lawrence hotel. The tragedy at the street is Genoveva’s suicide (one of numerous cases of female suicide in late nineteenth century fiction) when she learns the awful truth about the real relationship between herself and Vitor and jumps from her balcony.
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The tragic side of the story does not preclude humour and caricature. The author masterly dissects a world in which only surface counts by providing a gripping portrayal of a class consumed by hypocrisy and greed, drawing such characters as the fat pleasure-seeking libertine; the love-sick gin-drinking middle-aged English governess; the maid of many lovers; the aspirant painter who changes his aesthetic theories more often than his pants; the poetically inclined lawyer whose masterpiece is published in a women’s magazine, and the classy concubine short of cash but with aristocratic mannerisms. Within a framework of very precise topography and geographical location (one can literally follow Vitor’s footsteps) Eça’s Lisbon society is a colourful mosaic of vanity, self-delusion, and sexual intrigue. His fiction is characterized by great narrative fluency, a sharp eye for detail, and ruthless satire. Life is dominated by sordid affairs, corruption and a cheap moralism. To this rich mixture, his later writing added a new dimension. The theme that dominates both The Maias (his most acclaimed novel) and The Tragedy of the Street of Flowers is incest. The dynamic of both novels derives from the inevitability of a relationship between lovers who are unaware of their blood ties.

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In Oedipus Rex Sophocles turned a tale from Greek mythology into a play in which the title character unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother. Freud introduced the concept into his psycho-analytical framework. De Queiroz’s plot to his novel can be read as reiteration of the catastrophe enshrined by Sophocles in Oedipus Rex. While the dramatist presented only the fact of the unnatural crime, De Queiroz describes all its allure and physicality. In The Maias, the protagonists are brother and sister; in The Tragedy of the Street of Flowers, they are mother and son. Incest appears regularly in the nineteenth century novel, although rarely in explicit terms. It is a suggestion, an undertone. In William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel Pendennis (1848/50) however the theme of incest is blatantly evident. Helen Pendennis, mother of the main character Arthur, seems to lust after her son. A lonely but sexually alluring widow, she is aware that the object of her desire is her own boy. She broods over his affairs, even throwing one young lady into the street because of her flirting with him. She sabotages any opportunity Arthur might have at an affair. In line with other Thackeray’s works, Pendennis offers a satiric picture of human character and aristocratic society. Both tone and subject-matter of his writing would have been appreciated by Eça de Queiróz. It is most likely that he read this novel during his stay as a diplomat in England.

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Near Place Pigalle is a leafy cul-de-sac, closed by a wrought iron secured gate, which is called Avenue Frochot. Developed in the 1830s, the avenue has an enticing artistic history. Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo lived here at one time; Toulouse-Lautrec had a studio at no. 15 which at the entrance shows a fine example of Art Deco stain glass; Théodore Chassériau, residing at no. 26, was neighbour to Gustave Moreau. Later film director Jean Renoir and gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt settled in the avenue. Composer Victor Masse died at number no.1. The property, partly visible from outside the gates, is supposed to be a haunted house, because of an unresolved murder and various unexplained deaths.

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Pablo Picasso with his partner and model Fernande Olivier (real name: Amélie Lang – Picasso painted some sixty portraits of her) had started their stay in Paris at a Bateau Lavoir apartment. The Bateau was a gloomy mass of dirty premises made of beams and planks where between 1904 and 1914 a number of artists and poets would settle. In September 1909 however the couple moved from there into a furnished place on the Boulevard de Clichy with two windows overlooking the gardens of Avenue Frochot. There he painted ‘L’avenue Frochot, vu de l’atelier de Picasso’.

Nearby Rue Frochot is less exclusive, but certainly more lively. For a start, the street has a place in the history of the artist’s portrayal of onstage performers and performances. In 1886, twenty-two-year-old Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec entered the Dihau apartment at no. 6 Rue Frochot. He had come there to meet his cousins, and to gaze at a painting that had been given to the Dihau family fifteen years earlier by its creator, Edgar Degas.

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The painting was ‘L’orchestre de l’Opéra’. Its central subject was bassoonist Désiré Hippolyte Dihau. Toulouse-Lautrec was inspired by the canvas. Within the decade, he would try his own hand at three portraits of the musician. Both Degas and Lautrec portrayed Dihau playing his bassoon. Both subsequently turned from music to stage and dance – ballet and cabaret – for subjects in their creative work. At one time, no. 4 Rue Frochot was the location of one of the most famous salons in Paris. A salon was a gathering of people who were invited by an inspiring hostess. Such social meetings were held for the refinement of taste and knowledge through conversation and exchange of ideas. The salon was an Italian invention of the sixteenth century. The word ‘salon’ first appeared in France in 1664 (from the Italian word salone which itself is derived from sala or reception hall). Before the end of the seventeenth century, such gatherings were often held in the bedroom of the lady of the house. Reclining on her luxurious bed, she invited close friends who would gather around her. The salon flourished in Paris throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and served as a meeting ground for political, social, and cultural discussion. And there was plenty to discuss between 1770 through 1830, years in which France experienced a plethora of change and growth, politically, socially, and culturally. The arrival and departure of the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the Restoration, each left their marks on the Parisian salon. The presence of a beautiful and educated patroness gave additional charm to the concept of the salon. Aristocratic and upper bourgeoisie women known as salonnières organized salons from their homes.

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The first renowned salon in France was the Hôtel de Rambouillet (formerly the Hôtel de Pisani), close to the Louvre, where from 1607 until her death Rome-born Catherine de Vivonne, marquise de Rambouillet, entertained her guests. She received her visitors in a salon painted in blue, the ‘chambre bleue’. Almost all major personages of the French aristocracy and literature of the time frequented her salon, including Corneille, Malherbe, Jean de La Fontaine, Madame de Sévigné, Paul Scarron, and many other prominent figures in social and cultural life of the age. The gatherings at the Hôtel de Rambouillet established the salon’s rules of etiquette which resembled the earlier codes of Italian chivalry.

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Molière’s satire Précieuses ridicules was levelled at the numerous coteries which in the course of years had sprung up in imitation of Rambouillet. The idea of the salon and the role of the ‘salonnière’ were from the beginning controversial. Some argued that the salon offered women an education and a way out from the shadows of a pre-determined place in society. It granted her independence. To others, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, these ladies represented the corruption, idleness and emptiness of aristocratic life. The controversy lingers on in contemporary historical debate.

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The salon persisted into the nineteenth century, not just in Paris but in most European capitals (Berlin, Vienna, and elsewhere), and became woven into the fabric of cultural and political life. The role of salonnière however was increasingly taken over by a different type of lady. By the late nineteenth century courtesans – the ‘grandes horizontales’ – had reached a level of social acceptance in many circles and settings. As a figure, the courtisan appeared widely in a fictional context.

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Honoré de Balzac wrote about the Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes; Alexandre Dumas fils published La dame aux camélias which centres around the courtesan Marguerite Gautier (Verdi chaged her name to Violetta Valéry in his opera version of the novel – ‘La Traviata’ translates as the Wayward One); Émile Zola introduced Nana into fiction; and Marcel Proust gave immortality to Odette Swann. In real life a number of courtesans started hosting a salon. Esther Lachmann, later Mme Villoing, later Mme la Marquise de Païva, later Countess Henckel von Donnersmarck, a lady of Polish Jewish descent born in a Moscow ghetto where her father worked as a weaver, was the most successful of nineteenth century courtesans.

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When sharing a bed with the celebrated pianist Henri Herz in Paris, she invited various guests to attend her salon – these included Richard Wagner, Hans von Bülow, Théophile Gautier and Émile de Giradin. At a Baden spa she met Portuguese marquis Albino Francesco de Païva-Araujo. She married him on 5 June 1851, acquiring a fortune, a title, and her nickname, ‘La Païva’. She left him the next day. Her final conquest was Prussian Count Guido Henckel von Donnersmarck (who gave her the famous yellow Donnersmarck diamonds). With his money, she erected the elegant Hôtel de Païva at the Champs-Élysées (designed by Pierre Manguin), a mansion notorious for lush parties that became symbolic for the decadent taste of the Second Empire.

Adolphe Monticelli’s painting ‘Une soireé chez La Païva’ gives an indication of the sumptuous surroundings in which these gatherings took place. Apollonie Sabatier, nicknamed ‘La Présidente’ by Edmond de Goncourt, was a bohémienne and courtesan who during the 1850s hosted a splendid salon at no. 4 Rue Frochot, a spacious apartment consisting of seven rooms built in 1838. There she met and entertained the élite of French art at the time, from Gérard de Nerval to Gustave Flaubert, Maxime Du Camp, Alfred de Musset, Hector Berlioz, Victor Hugo, Sainte-Beuve Jules de Barbey d’Aurevilly, and Édouard Manet.

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Between 1852 and 1854 Charles Baudelaire addressed a number of poems to Apollonie, celebrating her as his Madonna and Muse (later collected in Les fleurs du mal). Gustave Flaubert and Théophile Gautier dedicated articles to her, fashionable Vincent Vidal painted her portrait, and in 1847 Auguste Clésinger sculpted her figure in marble as ‘Femme piquée par un serpent’ (woman bitten by a snake) which created a scandal at the Salon of that year. Belgian aristocrat and industrialist Alfred Mosselman who had made a fortune in civil engineering paid her bills (this eventually caused his bankruptcy which forced him to auction his famous art collection in the early 1860s). Gustave Courbet portrayed the pair in his famous painting ‘L’atelier du peintre’. After Mosselman’s death, Sabatier became mistress to art collector Sir Richard Wallace. Over the years she had developed a fine and costly feeling for aesthetics.

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The name Frochot holds an honourable place in the annals of Parisian history. In the Middle-Ages, one of the Eastern hills near the capital was named ‘Champ-l’Evêque’ because it belonged to the Bishop of Paris. In 1626 the Jesuits acquired the land and property which they turned into a convalescence home. François d’Aix, Seigneur de La Chaise, also known as the Père Lachaise, spent most of his time in the Jesuits’ house and contributed to its beauty by creating idyllic gardens. The Jesuits left in 1762. The domain was acquired by Count Nicolas Frochot who, at the time, was prefect of Paris (in 1806 his portrait was painted by Andrea Appiani the Elder). He decided to use it as a burial ground.

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The cemetery was designed by leading architect Alexandre-Théodore Brongniart. Originally simply known as ‘cimétìère de l’Est’, it became soon known as the ‘Père Lachaise’, in loving memory of the confessor of Louis XIV. The cemetery was styled in the shape of an English garden and its broad avenues were decorated with lime and chestnut trees. When it opened for business on 21 May 1804, it was meant for Parisians living in one of the four districts of the Right Bank. However, affluent people did not want to be buried in what was considered a poor district. Many traditional superstitions concerning interment remained unchanged. Christians refused to have their graves dug in a place that had not been blessed by the Church. The opening of a new graveyard posed a particular challenge. No one would volunteer one of their deceased relatives to be the first to be interred, because of the widespread belief that the Devil would claim the soul of that particular corpse for himself.

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The seventeen hectares of the cemetery remained empty until, in 1817, Frochot decided to take the initiative of transferring the ashes of Héloïse and Abélard there, as well as those of Jean de La Fontaine and Molière. The latter had died from pulmonary tuberculosis, possibly contracted when he was imprisoned for debt as a young man. His death had become a legendary tale: on 17 February 1617 he collapsed on stage in a fit of coughing and haemorrhaging while performing in his last play, which ironically was entitled Le malade imaginaire. He insisted on completing his performance. Afterwards he collapsed again before being taken home, where he died a few hours later, without receiving the last rites because two priests refused to visit an actor while a third arrived too late. The superstition that yellow brings bad luck to actors may originate from the colour of the clothing Molière was wearing at the time of his demise (in medieval religious plays yellow was the colour worn by the actor playing the devil). The Church refused to bury actors on consecrated ground, just like heretics, sorcerers or usurers. The stage was considered suspicious. Molière’s widow asked Louis XIV if her spouse could be granted a ‘normal’ funeral at night. The King quietly agreed. Molière was most probably buried in a dark corner of Saint Joseph Cemetery which had been reserved for those who had committed suicide or those who had not been baptized.

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To remove Molière from St Joseph to Père Lachaise therefore presented the authorities with a particular problem: which one was his corpse? It has been suggested that the commissioners in charge simply dug up a random skeleton from the plot and introduced him as Molière. The same was done for De La Fontaine (despite the fact that the poet had been buried in a different cemetery). Molière’s sarcophagus in Père Lachaise bears his name but does not contain his body. The alleged tooth, jawbone, and vertebra of the playwright, which had once been honoured as relics, probably were taken from the ‘false’ Molière as well.

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Nicholas Frochot’s plan worked out well. In the years 1820 to 1830, the cemetery became fashionable amongst the Parisian upper middle class. Everyone wanted to be seen dead in Père Lachaise. Among the famous residents stand the tombs of Honoré de Balzac, Guillaume Apollinaire, Frédéric Chopin, Jim Morrison, Alfred de Musset, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Marcel Proust and, of course, Frochot himself. Apollonie Sabatier is buried in the old cemetery of Neuilly-sur-Seine, but many of the celebreties who frequented her salon on Rue Frochot were later buried at Père Lachaise. If life is indeed a preparation for death, then Sabatier assisted her guests in a fine manner for their departure and final meeting with Frochot/Lachaise.

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God created the Dutch out of mud and clay. The Netherlands, as that cheerful Cromwell admirer Andrew Marvell wrote in his 1653 poem on ‘The Character of Holland’, is composed of ‘indigested vomit from the sea’. Out of this vomit the Dutch created bricks, one of the oldest and most lasting building materials. Fabricated of sun dried mud, they were first found in southern Turkey and around Jericho. Fired bricks proved to be resistant to harsh weather conditions, which made them more reliable for use in permanent buildings. Introducing mobile kilns, the Romans spread bricks throughout the Empire.

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That included the Netherlands where no natural stone is found suitable for construction purposes. However, as the Romans retreated, the technique of brick making disappeared with them and most medieval buildings were constructed using perishable materials such as timber, loam and thatch. For more substantial buildings stone was imported which was costly and laborious. As a consequence, around 1200 brick reappeared in the building process. The use of bricks at the time was associated with the clergy and nobility (it is assumed that monastic orders reintroduced the skill of brick making to the country). As bricks were fire-resistant, their use was stimulated by local authorities. In a 1450 statute issued at Leiden the use of brick or stone was made compulsory for façades.

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Brick production around Leiden had started at an early date along the Oude Rijn, using clay from the old river bed. A brick kiln is known to have existed there as early as 1283. The colour of bricks depends on the raw materials and firing process. Clay rich in chalk produces yellow bricks, whereas the presence of iron will result in red bricks. The old river clay cut from the bed of the Oude Rijn must have been rich in iron, since old bricks in Leiden are mostly red of which paintings by Vermeer or Pieter de Hooch bear witness.

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The yellow brick was a more common type. These ‘klinkers’ were produced in Gouda on the banks of the River IJssel since the fifteenth century and were known as Gouda bricks. Clay from the area is distinctive in the lack of iron oxide that accounts for the pale fired colour. Gouda bricks are typically dense, hard fired and were commonly used for paving and floors. The bricks were excellent for export and traded widely, from Scandinavia to the Channel Islands, they were imported through the eastern and southern ports of England, and they found their way to Ireland.

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St Patrick’s Street in Cork is the main shopping street running in a curve from Saint Patrick’s Quay to Daunt Square, where it meets Grand Parade. The street obtains its curved shape due to its location over an arm of the River Lee. During the late 1700s Cork was well represented by a series of elaborate paintings and maps.

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The most detailed of the paintings was John Butt’s ‘View of Cork’ (c.1750), a panorama of the city seen from an elevated position to the north of the River Lee. The artist depicted a myriad of quays and canals in the city on what is now St Patrick’s Street. On either side of the canal, merchants built warehouses to hold their goods on the ground floor and their staff on the first floor. The painting is a reminder of a time that Cork played an important role in trade with the Dutch in the North Atlantic. The architecture of the buildings in Butt’s painting reflects a strong Dutch influence in their brickwork, a characteristic unique to Cork City. In the early 1700s, the first bricks were applied in buildings and many were Dutch imports. These were unmarked, yellowish in colour, very chalky in texture and generally used as ballast for ships. These imports were not in use for long as local manufacture soon commenced at the Brickfield Slobs, north of the river.

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The architectural character of Cork changed considerably during the course of the nineteenth century, and few eighteenth century buildings survive in their original condition. The Dutch character of its narrow streets and quays effectively disappeared being replaced by the more severe look of a ‘modern’ city. The earliest brick-built structures in Britain – apart from those like St Alban’s Abbey that used recycled Roman brick – are to be found in the eastern counties where many people from the Low Countries had settled and where trade links with the Continent were strong. Lack of local stone and an increasing shortage of good timber in the thirteenth century led to the importation of brick from Holland. Bricks were often used as ballast in returning ships. In 1278 a shipment of more than 200,000 Dutch brick arrived in London for use in the Tower. By the early fourteenth century brickmaking was happening in East Yorkshire and down England’s east coast, but the impetus, and some of the craftsmen, came from Holland. Not only the bricks, but the methods of laying them also show influence from the Low Countries. In the art of brick-laying (bonding), both the Flemish and Dutch bond proved popular with British builders. By the Tudor period the brick makers and brick layers had emerged as separate craftsmen well able to rival the masons.

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London’s Brick Lane is a reminder of the importance of the industry. Winding through fields, the street was formerly called Whitechapel Lane but derives its current name from former brick and tile manufacture that began in the fifteenth century. Until the nineteenth century brick makers were held in high esteem. After that their reputation tumbled. The Black Boy was one of the most notorious taverns in the so-called ‘Potteries and Piggeries’, the area of Notting Dale (Notting Hill as it is now known) in West London. It was so named because the first people to move into the area were brick and pottery makers. Pottery Lane, then known as Cut-throat Lane, took its name from the brickfields at its northern end where high-quality clay was dug from about 1818. The resulting bricks and tiles were stored in sheds along the lane and fired in a kiln which is still standing in Walmer Road. The brick-makers were ‘notorious types’ known for ‘riotous living’.

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Gouda bricks have been recovered in Maryland, Virginia, and other colonial parts. Washington Irving’s fictional narrator Dietrich Knickerbocker describes the houses of Rip Van Winkle’s pleasant village at the foot of New York’s Catskill Mountains dating from the time of Peter Stuyvesant (Governor of New Netherland) as ‘built of small yellow bricks brought from Holland’. L. Frank Baum’s Yellow Brick Road in his novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is another reminder of the American passion for Dutch bricks. In 1626 the Dutch had bought the island of ‘Manhattes’ from Native Americans. Though they only controlled New York for sixty years, their influence on the city’s architectural identity has been pervasive. New Amsterdam was built with an irregular street pattern, narrow winding streets, and a variety of houses with intricate brick façades and stepped gables. Re-creating the architectural patterns of their homeland, settlers applied late-medieval Dutch forms such as roofs with terra-cotta tiles, brick façades, wooden stoops, and leaded-glass casement windows. Colonists initially imported yellow bricks from Holland, which imparted a Netherlandish character to the architecture of the city. The abundance of local clays soon made it unnecessary to import bricks from across the Atlantic.

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The word Haverstraw (originally pronounced ‘Haverstro’) is one of the oldest in the geography of North America. It is derived from the Dutch meaning ‘oat straw’, descriptive of the waving straw of grain and vegetable farmers who were the first to settle in Haverstraw. They shipped their products down the river to be sold in the New York City Markets. Having discovered that the Hudson River shore in this area contained large deposits of yellow and blue clay, Jacob van Dyke began to produce bricks in 1771. The industry grew quickly and many brickyards appeared along the Hudson River. Schooners and barges were used to transport the bricks to New York City. By the 1880s there were over forty brickyards in the Haverstraw area furnishing building material that transformed the island of Manhattan into the sprawling metropolis that it is today. After the British took control of the colony in 1664, Dutch architecture continued to persevere for some considerable time. After 1750, English elements started to creep in. Wealthy colonists turned away from the medieval architecture of the Netherlands and imitate the fashionable Georgian style.

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In the nineteenth century, Dutch culture experienced a renaissance when Washington Irving revived awareness of America’s origins with his invented romantic folklore of the Hudson Valley. It led to a resurrection of Dutch-American architecture, a movement that sought to impose qualities of early building into a modern context. Remarkably, a similar development took place in England itself. In the 1870s and 1880s Sir Ernest George and his firm of architects in Kensington and Knightsbridge developed a style known as ‘Pont Street Dutch’ (Pont Street is located in Knightsbridge). The style is characterized by stepped and ornamented gables, rubbed and moulded red brickwork, and other elements derived from the Low Countries. For fifteen years such houses proliferated in the Chelsea, Kensington, and Earls Court districts of London.

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If historians refer to the ‘Dutch character’ of a city (or part thereof) they point to architecture, streetscape, planning, etc. They rarely mention brick. The same applies to the tradition of city- and streetscape in Dutch painting. But it is brick that makes these paintings unique. As cities like Amsterdam, Delft, Haarlem or The Hague enjoyed a booming economy during the seventeenth century, they vied with one another for aesthetic as well as political pre-eminence. Jan van Goyen, Gerrit Berckheyde, Jan van der Heyden, Jacob van Ruisdael and other painters created vividly realistic, yet idyllic images that made their cities seem like parcels of heaven on earth.

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The dark end of the street is missing. None of the evils of city life – crime, poverty, or injustice – are to be seen. Images of towns and cities had figured for centuries in European art, but mainly as background scenery in pictures devoted to religious, historical or mythological subjects. The painters of the golden age in Holland brought the city onto center stage and made the cityscape a genre unto itself. Two parallel developments stimulated the painter and enhanced the desire in putting his city on the artistic map, one of which is the emergence of a refined level of carthography that was developed in Flanders and Holland which led to the publication of a number of sophisticated city atlases, and the other the clever (commercial) cultivation of the Italian ‘vedute’ in which artists from the Low Countries were actively involved.

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These included the towering figure of Lieven Cruyl who worked in Rome during the 1660s (his Prospectus locorum urbis Romae insignium – prospects of Rome’s significant places – was published in 1666 by Giovanni Battista de Rossi), and that of the attractive rogue Gaspar van Wittel – he joined the notorious bohemian group of Dutch/Flemish ‘Bentvueghels’ in the eternal city – who created his work in the 1680s. Often called called Vanvitelli, Van Wittel influenced Venetian artist Luca Carlevarijs who in many ways paved the way for the master of the Italian cityscape, Canaletto. In England, topographical prints became popular during the seventeenth century. Vast numbers of books were published containing views of country estates which their owners could have illustrated on the payment of a subscription fee. Numerous immigrant artists from the Low Countries were involved in the profitable business of architectural engraving. In 1686, Amsterdam-born topographical draughtsman and engraver Johannes Kip had arrived in England shortly after William of Orange’s usurpation of the English throne. A major part of his work consists of topographical prints and he is above all remembered for his engravings of country houses in the sumptuous Britannia illustrata (the first volume appeared in 1708).

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Art historians tend to look at the 1660s as the decade in which the veduta came of age. It was a period in which the representation of city views and streetscapes became a more common theme, foremost in etching and engraving, but also in painting. The Dutch ‘Golden Age’ expressed intense pride in its flourishing city culture. In a time when the notion of nationhood was almost non-existent, Holland was effectively made up of cities. This city-culture created a society that did not nurture the leading role of an aristocracy. Socio-economic life was dominated by well-to-do burghers who lived and worked in cities. Equality of chance gave society a sharp competitive edge. It was an atmosphere in which the arts flourished, including the art of printing. There have been unsubstantiated suggestions that in the seventeenth century more books were printed in the Netherlands than in the rest of Europe put together. One kind of publication that became increasingly popular in the course of the age was the description (beschrijving) of cities like Amsterdam, Haarlem or Delft.

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These books were accompanied by engravings of architectural splendours and/or social activities. Olfert Dapper’s Historische beschryving der stadt Amsterdam is a classic example of such (expensive) publishing undertakings. The art of engraving runs parallel to the painting of Pieter Saenredam in Haarlem or Jan van der Heyden in Amsterdam. All these reflections on priotities and influences have their merit if one tries to establish a chronological sequence of the emerging new genre of city- and streetscape. In this context, it is more illuminating to point at the specific conditions that made the genre both popular in appeal and sophisticated in execution. Always keen to identify a ‘starting point’, some critics have placed Johannes Vermeer’s ‘Gezicht op Delft’ (View of Delft – Marcel Proust considered this to be the most beautiful picture in the world) at the beginning of what turned out to be a rich tradition of urban images.

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Vermeer’s meticulously composed townscape of Delft (seen from the south) dates from 1660/1 and is widely acknowledged as one of his masterpieces. At the famous auction of the collection of Jacob Dissius on 6 May 1696 in Amsterdam (which included twenty-one canvases by Vermeer), it was the most expensive picture, fetching 200 guilders. In 1822 the picture was bought by the Mauritshuis in The Hague for the considerable price of 2,900 guilders, a purchase said to have been instigated by King Willem I. Despite the impression of accuracy, Vermeer did not make a precise representation of the view in order to produce a more harmonious composition. In depicting the streets of Delft Vermeer had a competitor in the talented Pieter de Hooch.

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The latter’s ‘Binnenplaats van een huis in Delft’ (Courtyard of a house in Delft) preceded Vermeer’s view by a couple of years. De Hooch and Vermeer have been instrumental in raising the street- and cityscape (the city of Delft) to a new level in painting. They have been praised for their detailed architectural images, for the intimacy of their subjects, depicting a world of domestic tranquillity where women, children and pets gather around in the neatness and safety of their homes. What makes their paintings unique however is this: De Hooch and Vermeer are the ‘Barons of Brick’. Their paintings reveal a catalogue of building materials. Due to a lack of building stone, Dutch houses were constructed of brick, which gave visual warmth to their exteriors. Delft moreover took enormous pride in its faience and tile fabrication which was central to the town’s prosperity.

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Delft blue was valued not only within the Dutch Republic, but also in other countries such as England where they were imported to decorate home interiors. Both Pieter de Hooch and Johannes Vermeer used various tiles, bricks and flagstones which they arranged in tessellated patterns on the surface of household flooring and walls. They were proud representatives of their city. It was through their influence that the cityscape in Dutch painting became a celebration of bricks. The intriguing fact concerning Pieter de Hooch is that he was the son of a Rotterdam stonemason and brick layer. He knew the crafts through exposure to his father’s trade. Pieter de Hooch is Holland’s most notable brickie.

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Nollendorfplatz is a square in the Schöneberg district, one of Berlin’s oldest gay neighbourhoods, colloquially called ‘Nolli’. It is dominated by the ornate Metropol Theatre which started life in 1906 as the Neue Schauspielhaus. The adjacent area in the south around Motzstrasse is the city’s most prominent pink village. Already the camp capital of Europe by the late 1920s, Berlin had at least 160 gay bars and clubs. Uncertainty of the future, at an era suspended between the hedonism of the waning Weimar era and the ominous shadow of Nazism, created a ‘so what’ atmosphere. Berlin was an extraordinary place in an extraordinary time.

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In Schöneberg, theatres, cabarets, and clubs catered to homosexuals, lesbians, transsexuals, and sadomasochists of Berlin’s liberated sub-culture. The Nazis attempted to eliminate all traces of that sub-culture, but today the district is once again a centre of gay life. A small memorial plaque near the south entrance of Nollendorfplatz U-Bahn station commemorates homosexual victims of the Nazi era.

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Photographs from the early twentieth century show Nollendorfplatz as a bustling urban square filled with people on parade. It was this kind of libertine atmosphere that enticed gay novelist Christopher Isherwood. On 29 November 1929 he had packed two suitcases and a rucksack and set off for Berlin on a one-way ticket, rejecting his upper-middle-class background and the social values to which his mother, widowed in the First World War, was desperately clinging.

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Isherwood had dramatized the family quarrel in his first novel, All the Conspirators, published in 1928. In Berlin he would work on a second novel, The Memorial, which further explored the gulf between the generations caused by the war. It was, however, the novels he wrote about Berlin, Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) and Goodbye to Berlin (1939), that made his reputation as one of the leading writers of his generation, providing an indelible tragic-comic portrait of a city teetering on the brink of catastrophe as Fascism gained in popular support.
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To Isherwood, ‘Berlin meant boys’. Boys he could find aplenty in bars such as the Eldorado, on the corner of Motzstrasse and Kalckreuthstrasse, haunt of a demi-monde that included Marlene Dietrich and chanteuse Claire Waldorff. The Kleist Casino, between Nollendorfplatz and Wittenbergplatz, just a stone’s throw away from Isherwood’s lodgings, was perhaps the oldest gay bar in Europe, and remained in operation until a decade ago. Isherwood was attracted to Berlin by the ready availability of homosexual partners, but he also communicated a strong sense that he was experiencing historical changes around him. In Berlin he observed ‘a brew’ of history in the making. This brew seethed with unemployment, hunger, prostitution, stock market panic, hatred of the Versailles Treaty and other potentially explosive ingredients. With his portrayal of Berlin between the late 1920s and early 1930s Isherwood has left us images that are still associated with this period. The Berlin novels look at history at street level, showing how ordinary people were affected. His eye for physical detail and human oddity means that his characters are never merely representative of their class or condition. Many of them live on in the memory.

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In the feckless cabaret singer Sally Bowles (on whose story the stage musical Cabaret was later based) Isherwood created one of literature’s lasting figures. Her character was based on Jean Ross, the young British actress whom Isherwood met in 1930, when he moved into a boarding house at no. 17 Nollendorfstrasse, owned by Fräulein Thurau. The apricot-coloured house still stands.

07Depictions of the city in the paintings of German Expressionists employ abstract formal elements such as distortions of perspective and unnatural colour in order to convey the artist’s emotional reaction to the city. The treatments of urban subjects project a sense of the speed, energy and vitality of the city, but also express fear of the effect of urbanization upon individual city dwellers.

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Depictions of the city in the paintings of German Expressionists employ abstract formal elements such as distortions of perspective and unnatural colour in order to convey the artist’s emotional reaction to the city. The treatments of urban subjects project a sense of the speed, energy and vitality of the city, but also express fear of the effect of urbanization upon individual city dwellers.

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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s 1912 oil painting ‘Nollendorfplatz’ shows a busy junction with converging trams. Its composition is filled with stark tensions. The painting features a crowd of people, but the lack of individuation of these small figures (many of them are nothing more than a single brush stroke) brings out the anonymity of urban living. Kirchner’s city-dweller has lost his identity. The urban area the figures inhabit causes a feeling of unease by its colouring and distorted perspective. The image suggests speed, motion, and congestion – but trams and people seem to be running in circles lacking any purpose or direction.

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