After months of anticipation, the modern-day update of Visscher’s famous 1616 panorama of London has finally been unveiled. Neil Sinclair was at the launch at the Guildhall Art Gallery and tells us more.
Four hundred years separate two iconic and fascinating panoramic views of the City of London now on display side by side in the Guildhall Art Gallery.
The 1616 view is by Dutch draughtsman, engraver, mapmaker and publisher Claes Janz Visscher. The 2016 version, Visscher Redrawn, is by illustrator and artist Robin Reynolds.
Although produced in what most historians would characterise as the Early Modern period, Visscher’s epic engraving has for four centuries provided a rare record of late medieval London, depicting The City as it does before around 80% of it was destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire.
In the year of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and the Visscher view of London, Reynolds has cleverly adopted and adapted some the Dutch artist’s visual tricks to create a 21st century perspective of the 1616 image. Reynolds has also included in his pen on paper panorama references to 37 plays, three poems and some of the sonnets penned by the Bard.
If you can find all of them (and some are delphic almost to the point of inscrutability), you could win a signed copy of Visscher Redrawn. Clues and competition entry details are available both in person at the Guildhall Art Gallery or online.
At a reception in the Guildhall Art Gallery on 22nd February hosted by the City of London Corporation the two views were compared and contrasted. The drawings will remain on display at the gallery until 20th November.
Both images depict the City from the same general vantage point – Bankside in Southwark. And both drawings manipulate perspective, distort scale and employ a degree of artistic licence to achieve a remarkable bird’s eye view of Britain’s capital city.
“Visscher made all his churches enormous,” said Reynolds. “My drawing employs vertical suppression.”
But at least Reynolds visited Bankside and the City as part of his lengthy preparations to compose the 2016 panorama.
“Visscher never came to London,” asserted Reynolds, “he worked from other people’s sketches.”
The 1616 engraving, dated 13 years after the death of Elizabeth I, last of the Tudor dynasty, mistakenly depicts a royal barge still flying the Tudor flag, said Reynolds.
However, he was candid enough to admit that, like his illustrious Dutch predecessor, he had made mistakes. The old 1864 Blackfriars railway bridge, demolished apart from its supporting pillars in 1984/5, is shown in the Reynolds panorama with an incorrect number of supporting columns.
Reynolds has also drawn a non-existent flag on the roof of a building at Pickford’s Wharf on Bankside. However, as Reynolds explained with a smile on his face, that was to cover up a stain on the paper and joked that perhaps the owners of the building could be persuaded to put a flagpole and flag on the building to authenticate his drawing!
Reynolds’s sense of humour as well as his desire to echo some of Visscher’s original panorama is also reflected in his depiction of a boy wheeling a barrow across the southern approach road to modern London Bridge. The barrow boy is shown heading for the Barrow Boy and Banker pub. In the original panorama, Visscher has also drawn a barrow being wheeled on London Bridge.
Although the genial Reynolds was inspired by Visscher to design an updated version of the 1616 panorama, he was clearly unimpressed with the Dutchman as a person.
“What a bastard,” declared Reynolds, “He was a very, very unpleasant character.”
To find out more about Reynolds’s views on Visscher and his 2016 panorama, and to see both the original and 21st century illustrations side by side, contact London Historians where you can find details of a special event that they are hosting at the Guildhall Art Gallery on Tuesday 8th March. But you will have to be quick, as the event is almost sold out.
There are, however, plenty of places available for Shakespeare’s London, a series of walks that Footprints of London guides have devised to celebrate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death on 23rd April 1616 . Many of these walks cover areas of Bankside and the City of London depicted in both Visscher’s and Reynolds’s panoramas.
Check our April schedule to find all the walks in our Shakespeare’s London programme, which runs throughout the month.