3. De Bry’s Fortificatio

Fotothek_df_tg_0000906_Architektur_^_Festungsbau
  • Title: Fortificatio
  • Author: Thodore de Bry 1528 - 1598
  • Subject: star forts and bastions
  • Year: 1604
  • Source: Deutsche Fotothek

Todd van Hulzen shares his scans and files from historic sources

Here is a collection of woodblock prints from Fortificatio, or “The Fortification”, by the Flemish-German publisher and engraver Johann Theodor de Bry (1561 – 1623) and his sons. De Bry is known more generally for his early illustrations of life in the new world and accounts of natives, explorers and colonists

It’s not just the historical value of his Fortifications that interests me, but actually its formal characteristics: its perfect geometry against all odds. The drawings make me think of mandalas and rosettes and remind us of the human wish to create perfect symmetries, regardless of their functional value.  In fact the belief in symmetry and platonic perfection often went against better judgement or practical considerations.

This is of course the sign of the Artist.  It amazes me that military commanders put so much faith in form over function.  But it pleases me that such martial structures —cities really— could only be enjoyed for their perfection in the form of engravings.  If you’ve ever walked among the moats and bastions of these places (Neuf Brisach and Naarden come to mind) you can’t help but be confronted by the disconnect between their perfection as seen from the air and the confusion of elements and perspectives from the point of view of the wanderer.

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