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Cities are impudently but similarly summarised too in those nasty waist-high models of famous capitals (through whose streets you walk like Godzilla); better still in Japanese theme parks where St Peter's nestles between the Empire State Building and Big Ben. In the States approaching-to-life size summaries of cities are being built: in Las Vegas they have recently built "Manhattan", an impaction into a single sequence of major New York landmarks; proper large buildings too; they constitute a string of hotels. They are now working on an occupiable "Venice".)

What is all this but topography? hardly a word to make the heart race. Topography: "The accurate and detailed delineation and description of any locality" says the OED. How sexy can that be? On receiving details from the London Topographical Society about their activities I quickly realised that I would not exactly be partying at weekends with my new topographical chums.

But city topography is interesting precisely because it can never be just that. All topography is necessarily unobjective, unscientific, frequently prompted by motivations (such as commercial self aggrandisement) in conflict with veracity. And yet it was also the growth of civic pride that prompted more reliable pictures of cities. And not just in the interests of topgraphical truth. As Chiara Frugoni, in her book Images of Urban Experience in the Medieval World points out, these pictures of cities also express ideas: the idea of protection (the prominence given to city walls and the confines of the city, both physical protection but also that of being a citizen of a city state that has a duty to its citizens.) The city as exemplification of Il Buon Governo in Lorenzetti's work, for example.

But depictions of cities in Europe prior to the sixteenth century are very often so perfunctory as to be at times completely negligent of any distinguishing feature, as if they were content to represent simply the concept of Urbs. In Wynkyn de Worde's 1497 Cronycle of Englande the "View of London" could be anywhere. Certainly until the sixteenth century there was a tendency to settle for a symbolic or simply notional view of cities (see The Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493, a gazetteer of countries and cities; the illustrations scarcely even bother to represent the cities included. In fact in some cases the same woodblock of a late mdieval city is repeated at different points in the text to represent several; now Ulm, now Dusseldorf.)

   
 

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