Thinking Towns Part 1 – Plan Veduta and Models of 16th century Germanic Towns

July 31, 2018
Fig 1: Hans Rogel: Model of Augsburg, 1560–1563. Maximilianmuseum Augsburg. Foto: Wikimedia Commons.


Nowhere is the connection between plan veduta and town models to be observed more closely than in Augsburg, where Hans Rogel not only had a town-view printed but also a wooden town model manufactured between 1560 and 1563.[1] Augsburg was the first town north of the Alps to be depicted (in 1521) in a plan veduta[2] based on measurement, from a fictional high viewpoint. After taking measurements of the city himself, the goldsmith Jörg Seld made a preliminary drawing, which the so-called Petrarca-master transformed into a woodcut made from 12 printing blocks, measuring 81.7 x 190.7 cm overall.[3] Several artistic interventions, like the wide display of the streets, reveal the intention to show the facade of every single house, without any overlaps.

Rogel also measured the city anew and used the data for his two-dimensional as well as for his three-dimensional rendering. The similarity of plan veduta and town model (“plan-relief” in French) has often been noted, but there are even more interrelated elements that merit consideration. The model, at least the 16th century examples that we know from Augsburg, Nuremberg and Munich, displays only the town surrounded by its walls, standing on a ground plate. This limitation would not have to be applied to a plan veduta, but even here the township fills almost the whole image field. The strictly orthogonal views show no horizon or surroundings. Even the major roads, leading towards trading cities of high importance, end a short distance outside the town gates at the edge of the image. Thus the town is represented as a microcosm, a self-satisfied entity with its own rules and patterns. Moreover the model and the plan veduta seem obliged to capture meticulously each street and each individual house, the model even more so than the image. And thirdly both artefacts are relieved of every-day reality. Few, if any, people or animals are to be seen in the depicted town; there is no trading, no rubbish, no feasts, no building sites or ruins. As such, models and plan veduta are not true copies of reality but mental constructions of guiding principles, which equate to those for a well-organized society and its governance. This was not new, if you consider Ambrogio Lorenzetti, who illustrated good and bad governance through pictures of towns (and landscapes) in the 14th century town hall of Siena.

Hans Rogel dedicated his plan veduta and his model to the council of Augsburg and received his remuneration: one guilder for the plan and 77 guilders for the model.[4] Prints of the plan, however, could be sold bringing some profit. Germany‘s oldest  preserved town model, that of Nuremberg, made about 1540 by the painter and whittler Hans Baier,[5] was also received by the council. On this occasion it was ordered that no further copies should be made.[6] Evidently, in the council’s opinion, the model was of greater military importance, as it could be studied from different angles, allowing enemies to spot possible points of vulnerability and to plan attacks. But this cannot have been the only consideration. Strasbourg, for instance, acquired in 1564 the still incomplete plans of its fortifications, drawn by Daniel Specklin, and prohibited further work on them.[7] The rationale for this seems more obvious, as plans could easily have been stolen or copied, as compared to models. But the model -as object- carried greater significance in terms of manifesting a consciousness of property and sovereignty.

Most likely, Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria knew the Augsburg model of Hans Rogel when he met the turner Jakob Sandtner, who had just finished the model of his home town of Straubing in 1568. In the following years the Duke commissioned him to manufacture models of towns in his duchy: Munich 1570, Landshut 1571, Ingolstadt 1572, Burghausen 1574.[8] Thus the Duke demonstrated his claim, even on cities in the former duchy of Bavaria-Landshut, which wasn’t united with his reign until the beginning of the 16th century. Even today, the people in Landshut struggle with the fact that the original model of their town is preserved in the Bavarian National Museum in Munich, while they have to be content with a 20th-century copy.

Fig 2: Matthäus Merian d. Ä. Plan veduta of Basel. Etching, 1615/17. Staatsarchiv des Kantons Basel-Stadt Bild 1, 291. Bearbeitung A. Kettner, Basel.

Nuremberg, Augsburg and Munich can be considered as centres of cartography in the German-speaking lands of the 16th century.[9] In Basel the gathering of topographic data related to the township took place some decades later. Admittedly Sebastian Münster and the painter Conrad Schnitt had published a map of the Basel region and the town itself in 1538, which was based on certain topographic observations,[10] but when in 1588 the council wanted to commission the Strasbourg fortress architect, Daniel Specklin, with improvements of the fortifications, he demanded a measured plan, which was not at hand. The painter Hans Bock had to deliver this work (which is not preserved) in a hurry.[11] The first plan veduta of Basel, which can be likened to the other European examples of that time, was created by Matthäus Merian in 1615. It is extremely precise, because in his home town the young and ambitious engraver knew every single stone. However a town model, like Hans Rogel’s model of Augsburg, wasn’t manufactured in Basel at that time.

[1] See Andrew John Martin: Stadtmodelle. In: Wolfgang Behringer/Bernd Roeck (Ed.): Das Bild der Stadt in der Neuzeit 1400–1800. München 1999, p. 66–72. – Stephan Hoppe: German Architectural Models in the Renaissance (1500–1620). In: Sabine Frommel, Raphaël Tassin (Ed.): Les maquettes d’architecture: fonction et évolution d’un instrument de conception et de réalisation. Paris/Rom 2015, p. 131–142.

[2] The term “plan veduta” (“Planvedute”) was introduced by Josef Zemp: Die Schweizerischen Bilderchroniken und ihre Architektur-Darstellungen. Zürich 1897, p. 211. It means the connection of a measured plan with a birds-eye view.

[3] Rolf Kießling/Peter Plaßmeyer: Augsburg. In: Behringer/Roeck 1999 (see ref. 1), p. 131–137.

[4] Kießling/Plaßmeyer 1999 (see ref. 3), p. 134.

[5] Martin 1999 (see ref. 1), p. 68 calls Hans Sebald Beheim as author, which has to be regarded as obsolete, see Hoppe 2015 (ree ref. 1), p. 136 and Ferdinand Opll /Heike Krause/Christoph Sonnlechner: Wien als Festungsstadt im 16. Jahrhundert. Zum kartographischen Werk der Mailänder Familie Angielini. Wien/Köln/Weimar 2017, p. 119 f.

[6] Martin 1999 (see ref. 1), p. 68.

[7] Albert Fischer: Daniel Specklin aus Straßburg (1536–1589): Festungsbaumeister, Ingenieur und Kartograph. Sigmaringen, 1996. p. 22 f. When Specklin became the city’s architect in 1577, he had to keep utmost secrecy, up to his grave (p. 35). In the same year Specklin made a wooden model of the town.

[8] Martin 1999 (see ref. 1); Elke Nagel: Town Portraiture in the Renaissance Period: The Sandtner Models and Town Models in the context of humanistic communities ansd empirical discovery. In: Frommel/Tassin 2015 (see ref. 1), p. 297–307.

[9] See Opll/Krause/Sonnlechner 2017 (see ref. 5), p. 111–126.

[10] Frank Hieronymus: Sebastian Münster, Conrad Schnitt und ihre Basel-Karte von 1538. In: Speculum Orbis. Zeitschrift für Alte Kartographie und Vedutenkunde 1, Heft 2, 1985, p. 3–38.

[11] Andreas Fischer: Mauern Schanzen Tore. Basels Befestigungen im Wandel der Zeit. Basel 2007, p. 70.

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About the author

July 31, 2018

Senior researcher in the Kantonale Denkmalpflege Basel-Stadt, Swizerland (the institution in charge of caring for historic buildings).

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