Jacopo de’ Barbari, Bird’s eye view of Venice, a woodcut
This view of Venice is one of the most spectacular achievements of Renaissance printmaking. It was printed from six large woodblocks on six sheets of paper which were then joined together to cover an area of nearly four square metres.
The impression in the Museum is one of only eleven that are known to survive of the first state of the woodcut printed in 1500. The original woodblocks are in the Correr Museum in Venice.
The print was based on careful surveys of the streets and buildings of Venice, almost every one of which can be seen clearly. One topical element of the scene is the temporary flat roof on the great bell tower in St Mark’s Square which was erected after a fire in 1489. The blocks were later altered to show restoration work done in 1511-14.
The publisher of the print was Anton Kolb, a merchant from Nuremberg in Germany who was resident in Venice. He recorded that no woodcut on such a size using such large blocks had ever been made before. Sheets of paper on such a scale were also unprecedented.
Kolb was granted copyright on the design by the government of Venice and was allowed to sell impressions for the high price of three ducats. It was a luxury product, far too expensive even for most professional people to purchase.