Publications - Napoli di Romania

From as early as the late l5th century a host of engravings of views-"portraits" of cities embellish the accounts of pilgrims to the Holy Land and of travellers, the atlases of geographers, as well as volumes describing the countries of Europe and the Orient.
Wood-cuts with stark, linear execution, and copper plate engravings, the technique of which permits the rendecing of details, chiaroscuro, intermediary tones, thus achieving richer, more "painterly" results. These pictures enliven the narration and were an added attraction for the reader, who thus became a spectator as well. The fact that very often the representations in old engravings did not correspond to reality was of no concern to the reading public of the age, and in no way detracted from the chacm they exercised upon it. In those days it was, of course, very difficult to obtain actual views of these far-off, virtually inaccessible places. The depictions of these lands were based on travellers' narrations or their rough sketches, upon which the designer or engraver improvised, in many instances creating imaginary images to fill out the illustration.
In l6th and l7th century European books, as well as in volumes published in the l8th century, successive views of Greek towns, facsimiles or with variations, appear. Copying from earlier or even contemporary models, exactly or with license, was a common phenomenon in the illustration of travellers' accounts. Among the views of Greece which appeared in print, those of Nafplion, Napoli di Romania, as it was then known, are a stable presence, especially in publications of the second half of the l7th century, when the events of the Veneto-Turkish War focused European attention on the eastern Mediterranean, sparking off the host of engravings of the regions-arenas in which the campaigns were mounted (Crete, Peloponnese, inter al.). Nafplion, capital of the Morea and a harbour of vital strategic importance for Venetian vessels en route to the islands of the Aegean and the East, was one of the most significant possessions of the Serenissima Republic of St Mark. A naturally fortified site, the Venetians paid particular attention to reinforcing its defenses, in the years of the First Venetian occupation (1389-1540) and during the subsequent Second period of domination (1686-1715).




In the earliest engraving of the collection, drawn in 1571 by the Venetian map-maker Giovanni Francesco Camocio, the city with its series of bastions and ramparts, the fortress of Bourtzi (Castel del Scoo)with its imposing central tower, the windmills (Molini da vento), all mentioned in the descriptions of early travellers, are visible. This very early copper-plate engraving constitutes an invaluable iconographic testimony, furnishing credible information on the old fortification of Nafplion and the castles of Akronafplia, discernible in the three divisions above the city: at the westernmost edge, the most remote, Castel d Greci, to the east -in the middle- the Castello di Franchi, and even further east the more recent Castello di Toro. Palamidi is as yet unfortified (it was fortified by the Venetians in the l8th century). The city is depicted in the conventional, standardised manner of rendering panoramic views, the type of "vues vol d'oiseau" (bird's eye view), usual in early volumes of travellers' voyages. The city is shown as if seen from above, combining the flatness of plan with a perspective rendering of the buildings. Nafplion had already been captured by the Turks (First Turkish occupation 1540- 1686), when this engraving was made, but its prototype must have been an earlier drawing (of the period of the First Venetian occupation), since there are no mosques and the sole allusive trait to the Turkish presence is the crescent. Such anachronistic pictures are frequently encountered in early engravings of Greek cities, which usually copy previous views.
An oriental atmosphere dominates the copper engravings of the period immediately after, in which the presence of minarets, even on Bourtzi, is marked. These works are contemporary with the events of the Veneto-Turkish war waged in the Peloponnese, and primarily the capture of Nafplion by general Morosini in 1686. These views of Nafplion, again of the "vues vol d'oiseau" type, are arbitrary images, with the possible exception of the Flemish engraving - made by the well-known engraver Gaspar Bouttats - where, apart from Bourtzi, the view of Nafplion displays evident similarities with the work by Camocio. Executed with mastery and competence, this engraving echoes the contemporary painting of the Netherlands, as indicated by the ship and boatload of passengers, a graphic detail which brings the picture to life. In many Dutch and Flemish engravings in travellers' accounts, ships, depicted out of scale, constitute an essential decorative element in the representation. The assiduity and scrupulousness of their rendering bears witness to the Netherlands artists' concern with realistic accuracy and attention to detail, while at the same time bespeaking that love of sea- going vessels which is characteristic of their painting, particularly in the l7th century.



In addition to these works, which conform to the synoptic, schematic, codified language of the early engravings, in which a diachronic, almost symbolic dimension is projected, the literary accounts of travellers in later years offer works born of an entirely different vision and process. Based on drawings made on the spot, these engravings bear the stamp of a contemporary eye, of direct contact and a purely personal approach. They seek to capture the true identity of the place, as forged by its turbulent history and mainly formalised in its architectural aspect. At the same time, through the details of incidents in everyday life and the human presence, they convey something of the pulse of city life. The representation is thus endowed with vitality and immediacy.



Based on a drawing sketched on the spot in 1834 by the German architect Ludwig Lange, the engraving with the Serai of Mora Pasha in the centce, the large mosque (later the "Parliament" ) right, part of the old mosque left, and the houses with their covered wooden balconies and trellising behind, vividly presents the charm of eastern architecture enriched with elements of European Rococo. The denticulated battlements of the Venetian ramparts in the background complete the scenic effect, while also alluding to another page in the city's past.



In the slightly later picture drawn by Wolfensberger, Turkish houses are shown alongside buildings constructed in the Neoclassical order, the predominant feature of which is austere symmetry. Here, the massif of Palamidi with its famous fortress looms large in the background, a remarkable achievement of defensive architecture about which there are any number of admiring references, in the reports of the Venetian Provedore and the texts of travellers. Palamidi is an impressive presence in the rest of the pictures in the collection, such as the "atmospheric" partial view of Nafplion with fishing boats in the foreground and the robust sea wall girting the town clearly visible, or the general view with sailing ships. The emphasis placed on Bourtzi in this picture, and indeed in other views of the city from quite early on, attests that this tiny fortress in the sea has ever been an essential element in the magnetic charm of Nafplion.

Aphrodite Kouria




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