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“Icarus Spreading his Wings”

“Icarus Spreading his Wings”

The Early Modern City Brought to Life

(p.1) Introduction “Icarus Spreading his Wings”
Rome Measured and Imagined
Jessica Maier
University of Chicago Press

The city portrait, like portraits of human beings, arose in the fifteenth century as a commemorative form combining likeness with symbolism. It came to be associated with a category that the ancient geographer Ptolemy had termed chorography—small-scale terrestrial representation that conveyed outward resemblance along with intangible qualities. Renaissance city portraits like Francesco Rosselli’s “View with a Chain” of Florence or Jacopo de’ Barbari’s view of Venice were simultaneously faithful simulations and creative interpretations of their subjects. To convey their messages, city portraits assumed a range of graphic forms, from maps to pictorial views and ingenious hybrids. While they appeared in a variety of media, the most innovative works were prints that were geared toward the open market. Rome was one of the most frequently represented of all cities, and a place where all the challenges of urban representation crystallized. The Eternal City was a palimpsest of past and present glory, never just a neutral physical reality, and its complicated identity resisted any straightforward visual record.

Keywords:   city portrait, likeness, Ptolemy, chorography, maps, pictorial views, Rome, print, palimpsest

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