With Dedication to Ferdinand Alvarez of Toledo, Duke of Alba
The exquisite view of Antwerp as captured by Braun & Hogenberg in the 16th century reveals a city of paramount historical importance. The scene conveys a wealth of intricate details that reflect the city's status as a dynamic center of trade and commerce.
Dominating the left of the frame is the vital artery of Antwerp – the Scheldt River, a bustling river filled with ships of various designs and sizes. This flourishing scene underscores the city's significance in the maritime trade routes, connecting diverse cultures, including the Germans, Spaniards, Britons, Italians and the French.
Guarding the city, the impressive fortifications are a testament to the city's strategic importance and the precariousness of the era. The city walls, with numerous ramparts and bulwarks, depict a city prepared for any eventualities of conflict. Encompassing these fortifications are the intricate canals, effectively serving as an extra layer of defense and control, their strategic importance impossible to overstate.
Embellishing the top corners of the map are two distinguished coats of arms, symbolizing the power and prestige associated with the city and the region. Their detailed renderings serve as reminders of the important political alliances of the time.
The city's urban landscape, meticulously portrayed in the plan, is adorned with grandiose public and private buildings. Of these, the towering spires of the churches of Antwerp stand out, their awe-inspiring architectural details a testament to the city's economic and religious importance.
In the late 16th century, Antwerp was under Spanish control, its wealth and strategic location making it a valuable asset to the Habsburg Monarchy. The city's trade and commerce thrived under this regime, contributing to its status as one of the wealthiest cities of the time.
Finally, the text in the lower left corner of the image, elegantly scripted, translates as follows:
Antwerp, now a noble town in Brabant, is visited by the French, Germans, Spaniards, and Britons due to its maritime location and wonderfully flourishing trade. It shines with public and private buildings, notably the incredibly tall Temple of the Virgin, made of white stone, and the Hanseatic, English, and Portuguese buildings. The fortified walls of Antwerp, from Cronenburg to the Caesar Gate, were built in the year of our Lord 1567, on November 5. It is surrounded by a wall, a ditch and water, and fortified with numerous bulwarks made from living rock. Inside, a wide-open area is enclosed, where the garrison soldiers live. In the middle of the area stands a golden statue of Aeneas, cast at great expense by the order of the most serene King of Spain, to the illustrious Duke of Alba, whose entire body it closely resembles, erected in a peaceful pose, out of goodwill and gratitude. At its foot, it carries an inscription:
To Ferdinand Alvarez of Toledo, Duke of Alba, Governor of Philip II of Spain in the Netherlands. For extinguishing the rebellion, driving out the rebels, ensuring the practice of religion, cultivating justice, and establishing peace in the province, as the most faithful servant of the best king. Erected.
The Braun & Hogenberg view of Antwerp, therefore, encapsulates the vibrant spirit and remarkable resilience of a city that thrived amidst the turbulence of its era, its buildings, fortifications, and river reflecting its vital role in the cultural and economic landscape of 16th-century Europe.
Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg began the process of creating a comprehensive atlas of the cities of the world in 1572. Their book, Civitates Orbis Terrarum, was originally intended as a companion to Abraham Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, the first true atlas.
The great atlas was edited by Georg Braun, with Franz Hogenberg engraving many of the views. When the project was finished, the series would contain over 546 views (sometimes with multiple views on a single plate).
Civitates Orbis Terrarum includes the work of over 100 artists and topographers, perhaps most notable among them was the superlative talent of Joris Hoefnagel (1542-1600). He provided original drawings of Spanish and Italian towns, as well as reworking and improving the town drawings of other artists. After Joris's death, his son Jakob continued the project.
The Civitates provides an incredibly comprehensive view of urban life in the late 16th century. Many of the views in these volumes are the earliest of their respective towns -- either absolutely, or they are predated only by impossible rarities, as in the case of London. Cities portrayed range from the great capitals of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas to small Swiss hamlets and other tiny villages. As such, this singular and indispensable source for understanding the early modern world.
The work was published in six volumes, each of which contained approximately sixty plates. The subject matter of each plate varied widely, it could provide a single view of a city, two views of the same city, or views of up to nine different cities. The range of designs is extensive, and it is interesting to compare the variety between views of the same city by two different authors.
Georg Braun (1541-1622) was born and died in Cologne. His primary vocation was as Catholic cleric; he spent thirty-seven years as canon and dean at the church St. Maria ad Gradus, in Cologne. Braun was the chief editor of the Civitates orbis terrarum, the greatest book of town views ever published. His job entailed hiring artists, acquiring source material for the maps and views, and writing the text. In this role, he was assisted by Abraham Ortelius. Braun lived into his 80s, and he was the only member of the original team to witness the publication of the sixth volume in 1617.
Frans Hogenberg (ca. 1540-ca. 1590) was a Flemish and German engraver and mapmaker who also painted. He was born in Mechelen, south of Antwerp, the son of wood engraver and etcher Nicolas Hogenberg. Together with his father, brother (Remigius), uncle, and cousins, Frans was one member of a prominent artistic family in the Netherlands.
During the 1550s, Frans worked in Antwerp with the famous mapmaker Abraham Ortelius. There, he engraved the maps for Ortelius’ groundbreaking first atlas, published in Antwerp in 1570, along with Johannes van Deotecum and Ambrosius and Ferdinand Arsenius. It is suspected he engraved the title page as well. Later, Ortelius supported Hogenberg with information for a different project, the Civitates orbis terrarium (edited by Georg Braun, engraved by Hogenberg, published in six volumes, Cologne, 1572-1617). Hogenberg engraved the majority of the work’s 546 prospects and views.
It is possible that Frans spent some time in England while fleeing from religious persecution, but he was living and working in Cologne by 1580. That is the city where he died around 1590. In addition to his maps, he is known for his historical allegories and portraits. His brother, Remigius, also went on to some fame as an engraver, and he died around the same time as his brother.