What a difference 400 years makes: Modern and medieval London contrasted in hand-drawn cityscapes

Art International Preservation Urbanism

[beforeafter]London Bridge and Southwark Cathedral (Courtesy London Metropolitan Archives)(Courtesy Robin Reynolds)[/beforeafter]

What would a young William Penn, prolific planner and founder of Pennsylvania—and London native of the 1600s—make of his home town today? He would probably admire how the chaotic life of trade, slums and hackney carriage horses had been reigned in, but chances are, he wouldn’t recognise a thing.

On view now at London’s Guildhall Galleries is Visscher Redrawn, an exhibition offering a view through Penn’s eyes thanks to two panoramic views of London taken 400 years apart—from 1616 to 2016.

[beforeafter](Courtesy London Metropolitan Archives)(Courtesy Robin Reynolds)[/beforeafter]

Dutch artist Claes Jansz Visscher’s staggering 6.5-foot-long depiction is taken from an elevated viewpoint in the city and sheds light on the how London looked prior to the Great Fire of 1666 which destroyed much of what is depicted. The image is even more impressive considering Visscher never set foot in Britain.

Emulating Visscher, artist Robin Reynolds—who has actually visited London—has completed his own view of London, using the same vantage point as Visscher.

London Bridge, for example, has changed dramatically. It’s hard to think that it was once a bridge that was a lively place with shops and houses hovering over the Thames.

Drawing of London Bridge from a 1682 panorama, with the spiked heads clearly on view (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Drawing of London Bridge from a 1682 panorama, with the spiked heads clearly on view (Courtesy Wikipedia)

In the foreground of the top view, just left of London Bridge (at the bottom of the picture), is Southwark Cathedral, which was spared by the 17th century conflagration. The cathedral might be the only recognizable architectural element that can be seen in the two views.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, below, had no such luck. A dominant gothic feature in the 1616 skyline, it was burned to the ground. Poking out, in the same location in Reynold’s drawing, is Sir Christopher Wren‘s variant.

[beforeafter]St. Paul's Cathedral (Courtesy London Metropolitan Archives)St. Paul's Cathedral (Courtesy Robin Reynolds)[/beforeafter]

Interestingly, after the Great Fire of London, Wren and the incumbent King Charles II had great plans for the capital. Wren drew on his experiences of Paris, envisioning wide boulevards to replace the narrow streets, though this was never realised as businesses were eager to remain in the same location.

[beforeafter]The Glove Theater (Courtesy London Metropolitan Archives)Glove Thearer is barely visible today (Courtesy Robin Reynolds)[/beforeafter]

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