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Producing the City: Bird's-eye Views and Social Control in Hapsburg Spain

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1999
Issue number3
Number of pages14
Pages (from-to)17-30
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Though often produced with a propagandist aim, many an early modern bird's-eye view can be seen as a contradictory cultural product. For example, the Spanish views commissioned by the Habsburg rulers did not contribute to buttressing the system they were meant to dignify. Instead, the views of Anton van den Wyngaerde in the 1560s and those reproduced in the Civitates orbis terrarum (1578-1612) both reflect and construct a sense of local pride in the context of a totalitarian state aspiring to uniformity and social control.

The vindication of fragmentation against the state's notion of unity is only one of the paradoxes embedded in the production of bird's-eye views. The fact that the views highlight royal palaces, the houses of the nobility, and church buildings does not disguise the fact that there is no all-embracing concept of urban planning that would render those cities ideal in the eye of the beholder. Moreover, the different angles of vision and the presence of the draftsmen also convey an idea of hegemony that highlights the individual subject, undermining the notion of that subject's subordination. This is further corroborated by the shifting position of the viewer, who can occupy the position of the artist and who, as an urban dweller, is also the object of study, that is to say, the sight.