London panorama

by Nick

A couple of years ago I went to the Museum of London and bought a couple of prints in the giftshop there, which between them show the panorama above of early modern London. The prints then promptly sat in a cupboard for two years until I recently got round to framing them. Below is a detail of London Bridge from the engraving – you’ll see that it is teeming with life and detail.

Since putting them up on my wall I’ve done some digging about the picture’s background, and actually it is not everything it seems. It is by the Dutch publisher Claes Jansz Visscher, the first in a printing dynasty that spanned three generations and which specialised in maps and other similar prints. The Guildhall Library has a copy dated 1616, and the Folger has a later variant from 1625.

Visscher’s panorama was long seen as an excellent source for reconstructing early seventeenth-century London, particularly the theatres on the Bankside. In the 1920s, E.K. Chambers used its depiction of the Globe to argue that it would have been octagonal. He was followed by John Cranford Adams in his book on the Globe of the early 1940s.

But later in the same decade, I.A. Shapiro demonstrated that Visscher’s engraving of the north bank was derived from Norden’s Civitas Londoni – one label gives "St Dunston in the cast", which has been copied from Norden’s print where the c’s are hard to distinguish from the e’s. The south bank is full of inaccuracies, and in fact there is no evidence that Visscher even worked in London. As a result, the picture cannot be relied upon. (My summary of this is drawn from a helpful history of Globe reconstructions by Gabriel Egan ).

So it seems that the Museum of London giftshop sold me an inaccurate picture of London… it does look good on my sitting room wall, though!

1. E.K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage (1923) .

2. John Cranford Adams, The Globe Playhouse: Its Design and Equipment (1942) .

3. I.A. Shapiro, ‘The Bankside theatres: early engravings’, Shakespeare Survey I (1947) .

4. Gabriel Egan, ‘Reconstructions of the Globe: a retrospective’, Shakespeare Survey 52 (1999) .