Skip to Content
    View of the top of the East Building tower, with green trees on each side

    Members’ Reports

    Kristin Love Huffman
    Center 42

    Kristin Love Huffman

    Visual Invention: Reframing Jacopo de’ Barbari’s View of Venice

    Jacopo de’ Barbari’s View of Venice, a monumental woodcut published in 1500, was unprecedented for its complexities of production, monumental composite dimensions (more than 1.35 by 2.75 meters), and groundbreaking scientific and artistic invention. Far more than a celebration of the city’s mythic identity, the printed image is a manifesto of Renaissance thought, an illustration of artistic and scientific discourse. In this project, the woodcut’s achievements in the late 15th century align with the application of 21st-century digital technologies to advance new understandings; innovative visualization tools and strategies were as important for the View’s conception as they have been for my project.

    Jacopo de’ Barbari, View of Venice (colorized detail), c. 1497–1500, woodblock print on six sheets, Minneapolis Institute of Art, The John R. Van Derlip Fund, 2010.88. Image courtesy Kristin Love Huffman and Hannah Jacobs

    The refinement and detail of de’ Barbari’s View continue to inspire awe today. The composite image was printed from six matrices onto six separate sheets of paper to frame an astonishingly detailed portrait of Venice from a bird’s-eye view. Its creation came together at a moment when art and technology collided within the cosmopolitan, wealthy, and resourceful Venetian state, and its artistic invention was a product of historically rich, synergistic exchanges of ideas, skills, and technological knowledge. These include the coordination of the View’s production by Anton Kolb, a German merchant residing in Venice. While the knowledge and resourcefulness necessary to compose this comprehensive survey of a city built on water have received consideration, the skill required to produce this artistic image, including the carving of large-scale wooden blocks as a separate but related aspect, has been neglected in scholarship. 

    My analysis has begun to close this gap. It has identified representational strategies that appear in de’ Barbari’s larger body of graphic works, including woodcuts completed in the late quattrocento prior to the View’s publication. In addition to examination of extant first-state prints of the View, I have conducted light laser scans of the six original wooden matrices housed in the Museo Correr in Venice. Through scientific investigation and close visual analysis of the blocks alongside the prints, I have identified the geometric and mathematical construction of the View’s composition. Another discovery relates to the presentation of the six sheets. Many extant first states show the six woodcut sheets stitched together for viewing purposes and/or to hide imperfections in the state of the paper; this has had the effect of altering the way we read and interpret the View. My study reveals that optical theories circulating in Renaissance Venice have been applied to the visual and presentation strategies of the View.

    Composite image of engravings by Jacopo de’ Barbari from the Rosenwald Collection at the National Gallery of Art (clockwise from top left): Satyr’s Family, c. 1503/1504, 1943.3.939; Apollo and Diana, c. 1503/1504, 1943.3.940; Judith Holding the Head of Holofernes, c. 1501/1503, 1943.3.944; Victory Reclining amid Trophies, c. 1500/1503, 1943.3.938; Custodi Nos Dormientes (The Guardian Angel), c. 1509, 1943.3.942. Images courtesy of the National Gallery of Art; composite image created by Kristin Love Huffman

    My fellowship at the Center afforded me the remarkable opportunity to consolidate and enhance my scholarly work on the making of the View and further contextualize Jacopo de’ Barbari (c. 1460/1470–1516 or before) as its artist. While there, I made multiple presentations in varying forums that resulted in invaluable exchanges with colleagues at the Center and curators and conservators at the National Gallery of Art. My research has extended earlier scholarship developed for interactive displays first exhibited at Duke University and most recently at the Museo Correr. De’ Barbari, a Venetian artist invited to work north of the Alps by the Holy Roman Emperor in 1500, the year the View was first printed, is a fascinating and exceptional case, and the relationship of the View to his broader oeuvre has demanded greater consideration. Precious time at the National Gallery has advanced my understandings of de’ Barbari’s larger corpus of graphic works through close examination of the museum’s collection of prints. This includes a second-state set of the View, and its analysis has enriched my understandings of the paper, the largest sheets produced in Europe at the time of its first print run. For now, I am publishing my discoveries in the form of two articles: one, examining a selection of de’ Barbari’s engravings, will appear in an edited volume dedicated to Venetian disegno; the second, demonstrating the orchestration of the View’s invention, will be submitted to a scholarly journal. In addition, I have continued to develop a digital repository of de’ Barbari’s prints. This resource holds the potential to cross institutional boundaries—a simple yet effective tool for shareable, in-depth study and engagement. Enhanced visual observation through digital tools has helped me answer unresolved questions about one of the greatest technological and artistic masterpieces of its time. Art-historical methods of the 21st century have thus come together to reveal the richness and originality of the visual inventions of the Renaissance. 

    Duke University
    Ailsa Mellon Bruce Visiting Senior Fellowship, spring 2022

    Kristin Love Huffman is a lecturing fellow in the Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies at Duke University and codirector of Visualizing Venice/Visualizing Cities. Her edited volume, A View of Venice: Portrait of a Renaissance City, is forthcoming with Duke University Press.

    Return to top