Stunning Cityscape of New Orleans
Fine bird’s-eye-view of New Orleans with the Mississippi River in the foreground, which is replete with steamships and bustling docks. Published in Paris in the mid-nineteenth century, the print shows the city as it was growing in importance.
The city is defined by neat city squares and striking churches. The city’s streets are drawn in detail, and the colored print vibrantly shows the lively riverfront. In the background is the countryside and a view of Lake Pontchartrain behind. The detail of the lithography is so fine that even individual trees and ships far in the background are sharply outlined, along with the windows and doors of the buildings.
Around the cityscape is a delicate and simple border with the title below. The lithographer and places of sales for the print are included, as is the information that this print is after an original by John Bachmann (1814-1896). Bachmann was a prominent Swiss lithographer renowned for his aerial views of cities in the mid-nineteenth century. He produced the first such views for several American cities, including New Orleans.
The origins of the city of New Orleans
Shown here as a developed city, New Orleans first began to be settled in the 1690s when French explorers and fur trappers began to trade with Native Americans in the area. Port Bayou St. Jean, the initial encampment, was built in 1701 in the bayou near the river. However, European settlement around this port was not successful due to the difficulty of farming in the bayou.
New Orleans was founded in 1718 by the French governor of Louisiana, Jean Baptist de Bienville. The location was chosen for its high ground relative to the bayou, making it less prone to flooding, as well as its proximity to the Mississippi River, allowing for greater control over the trade route.
Despite considerable economic investment, the New Orleans of the early seventeenth century was a far cry from the lively French Quarter of today. The priest Pierre Francois de Charlevoix described New Orleans as, “a place of a hundred wretched hovels in a malicious wet thicket of willows and dwarf palmettos, infested by serpents and alligators.”
After the Seven Years War, Louisiana, including New Orleans, passed to the Spanish Empire. The Spanish, however, had great difficulty establishing control over the territory and it took several years to even send a colonial governor to Louisiana. Once the Governor arrived, he was bloodlessly forced out by the local French population who wished to see a restoration of French rule in Louisiana.
While the Spanish eventually asserted control over New Orleans, they faced further difficulty due to the Great New Orleans Fire of 1788, which destroyed much of the city. Another fire ravaged the city only six years later in 1794. In response to these fires, the city was rebuilt largely in brick, rather than wood. Ironically, it was under Spanish colonial rule that French Quarter was built. It was also in this period that the city became the center of the sugar refining industry for sugar cane grown in the Caribbean.
The Louisiana Territory transferred back to France in 1800 in exchange for land in Tuscany. This acquisition was short lived, however, as the United States purchased Louisiana from France in 1803. The population of New Orleans exploded with a flood of American and Creole French (both European and African) settlers. An additional wave of migration came from Haitians fleeing the violence of the Haitian Revolution. The Haitian wave doubled the French-speaking population of New Orleans, cementing the Francophone cultural influence that makes the city distinct today.
This print is an excellent example of the technology of lithography, a printing method invented in 1796 by German author Alois Senefelder. Lithography involves drawing an image in oil, fat, or wax onto the surface of a limestone plate. This stone is then treated with acid; when ink is applied, it sticks only to the part of the stone that was oiled. This ink then transfers to paper.
Lithography became an extremely popular way to create new maps and views as it offered a level of precision superior to previous printing methods. The introduction of lithography also made maps cheaper, allowing for more people to acquire them than ever before.
This fine cityscape of New Orleans shows a city in its ascendance, with crisp detail that shows the city as it developed into an industrial center.