Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, –and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
— John Gillespie Magee, Jr
Long before the Montgolfier brothers helped us slip those surly bonds, artists and cartographers (an artificial distinction, at best) relied upon their mind’s eye, an ability to extrapolate aerial aspects of the world as it might be seen from above the highest steeple or handy barbican. The Flemish-German painter-engraver-mapmaker Franz Hohenberg,¹ imagined such views for the major cities of his age for Civitates Orbis Terrarum, published in multiple volumes during 1572-1617. The hot-air balloon would have made their task far easier but, hopefully, no less fanciful.
I suppose we may characterize their process as inductive, developing the holistic impression of a city by accumulating myriad bits and pieces of information — such as Hohenberg’s view of Poznan and its hinterlands, published in 1617. Other than their methods for gathering the necessary data, I find more similarity than difference between the image of Poznan and another more than three hundred years later of Oskaloosa, Iowa, rendered by illustrators Charles Akers Bradbury and James Wilson Paul for the April 1938 issue of Fortune.
Today, of course, computer simulations of Agincourt, Iowa as seen from a drone would be child’s play — oh, but would that I were such a computer-savvy child. And my embrace of creative distortion might only compound the problem.
Working on an entirely different project this morning, I recalled the work of California artist Wayne Thiebaud (born 1920), better known for his impasto cupcakes but more recently turned to aerial landscapes of the Sacramento River valley in central California and streetscapes of San Francisco. And Thiebaud’s “Brown River” brought to mind the colored-pencil poetry of landscape architect Barbara Stauffacher Solomon. I somehow feel that an aerial aspect of Agincourt might result from the melding of Thiebaud’s mind-warping vision with the WPA-like qualities of Messrs Bradbury and Paul.
¹ Sometimes “Hogenberg”.