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May 6: a favorite: Barbari’s plan of Venice

A favorite: Barbari’s plan of Venice

Jacopo de’ Barbari’s woodcut, “Plan of Venice, 1500”, falls into the engaging category of artful representation–fact-based, but full of life. It’s huge–about four by six feet.

Barbari was obviously no slave to literal description, especially in matters of perspective and scale. This isn’t surprising, if only because he never saw an aerial view. Think how boring the piece would be if he had done a flat map or attempted some low, convincing viewpoint–or if those lively ships were reduced to fly specks. Instead we get the city as a busy, almost abstract shape with a lot of texture to it, which is cleverly held against the picture plane by the foreground islands, the long horizontal of the distant coast, and the various gods and winds that surround it.