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Constructing the Image of a City: The Representation of Constantinople in Christopher Buondelmonti's Liber Insularum Archipelagi

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An unusual sequence of manuscript maps of Constantinople that accompany Christopher Buondelmonti's Liber Insularum Archipelagi provides insight into the ways in which this city was viewed and represented in Western Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. As a result of cartographic developments during this period, the city's topography and features could be portrayed and located with greater accuracy than ever; yet as actually constructed the maps continue to be imbued both deliberately and unconsciously with symbolic meanings and silences. More particularly, these maps, as cultural constructions, play a role in the reappropriation of the city for Christianity. Despite its capture by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, it is suggested that this is still a contested city, at least in the minds of fifteenth-century mapmakers and their patrons. Subsequent generations of maps, drawing on these sources, create through copying and borrowing, reworking and repetition, a composite view of the city that for all the mapmakers' claims for truthfulness and accuracy, is quite at odds with the actual appearance of the Ottoman city. By way of contrast, the discussion draws attention to a hitherto overlooked copy of Buondelmonti's map that differs markedly from the dominant tradition by including details, clearly derived from first-hand experience, of the rebuilding and transformation of the city under Ottoman rule. The analysis is linked to the awakening within the Renaissance world of Europe to ideas of perspective, scale, distance, and location, and to the preoccupation of fifteenth– and sixteenth–century society with the visual image; more specifically, the development of the perspective plan as a “representational language” is shown to be rooted in a tradition that predates the appearance of the printed map.
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Keywords: Constantinople; Istanbul; cartographic representation; mapmaking; perspective plans

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Texas at Austin

Publication date: 1997-03-01

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