Jacopo de' Barbari
c. 1460/1470–1516 or before
View of Venice (detail of Neptune), 1500
woodcut on paper
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund

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image: map of Venice
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Jacopo de' Barbari, c. 1460/1470–1516 or before, View of Venice, 1500, woodcut on paper, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund

This spectacular View of Venice first appeared in 1500, at the half millennium, a year of great consequence and celebration in Christendom. The view is foremost a tribute to the city's glory and the particular foundations of its strength. Mercury, the god of trade, presides in the heavens, and in the harbor below, Neptune proclaims dominion over the seas. The city is spread out before us with its palaces and churches, its squares and canals, and even the market gardens planted on the Giudecca. In scale and ambition this grand topography has no known precedent. Remarkably, the project was initiated not by a Venetian but by a well-established German merchant named Anton Kolb. In October 1500 he appealed to the Venetian authorities for permission to publish the view, which had taken three years to complete. Kolb's request was granted with a copyright protection for four years.

Not least among the mysteries surrounding the map is the fact that its publication was officially sanctioned despite its potential usefulness to an aggressor. Perhaps it should be taken as an extravagant expression of imperial confidence. Moreover, Jacopo de' Barbari, the artist who almost certainly did the drawings for the woodblocks, is nowhere given credit. The project required professional woodblock cutters, possibly brought in from Kolb's hometown of Nuremberg, very likely a special edition of oversize paper, and an extra-large press to print the blocks. In short, it was an enterprise managed on a corporate scale on behalf of a city that well understood the value of commerce.

This map shows the city as it appeared to Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, and their contemporaries.

Making the View of Venice

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