Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
A British artist has created an exquisite update of an iconic 17th-century engraving.
In the early 17th century, London’s skyline was marked by conical spires, the billowing sails of boats on the Thames, and two fortress-like cathedrals. Then came the Great Fire of 1666, which decimated those churches and thousands of thatched-roof homes in the city center.
In its reconstruction, central London transformed: Streets were straightened and widened, pavements and sewers constructed, quays improved, and brick facades standardized. In its modernized form, the city quickly became the hub of the British empire, and remains today a global center of commerce. London’s contemporary skyline—dominated by towering cranes, car-congested bridges, and ornate corporate skyscrapers—owes much to the fire.
Which is why the Guildhall Art Gallery, which houses the art collection of the city of London, is displaying two remarkable images side by side. Claes Jansz Visscher’s 6-foot-wide engraving of medieval London, dated 1616, is one of the most iconic images of the pre-fire city. Now British artist Robin Reynolds has redrawn the panorama to depict the London of today, from the same viewpoint and scale.
On display through November 2016, the exhibit allows visitors to compare the city then and now—and also search Reynold’s work for hidden clues and references to the works of Shakespeare, who died exactly 400 years ago, the year Visscher’s map was published.