The present article sets out to explore the tradition and the innovative forces involved in the production of the first city atlas, Civitates orbis terrarum, a six-volume collection of town images published by Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg between 1572 and 1617. In doing so, it considers the consequences of the rediscovery of Ptolemy’s notions of geography and chorography and traces how time-honoured ideas and new practices of describing places meet in the depiction of early modern cities. The article discusses the potential of chorography as a genre capable of representing a city while trying to convey information about its character and addresses the role of printing in the dissemination of city views. The analysis extends from classic notions and modern practices of chorography to the humanist pursuit of a global vision that can be identified in the design of the Civitates, where the metaphor of the theatre appears to extend from the material of the atlas to the book itself. The research is mostly based on social and cultural histories of cartography and cosmography which can contribute to a better understanding of the complex significance of city images in Braun and Hogenberg’s project.
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