A Closer Look: Salem 1854

I’m following up on a post from a couple of years ago on urban “bird’s eye” maps from the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, which included a lithograph map of Salem from 1854 published by Endicott & Company and the Smith Brothers and based on an original aquatint by British born American artist John William Hill (1812-1879). I was impressed by this map at the time, but I didn’t really do it justice. Here’s what I said:  Here is a map that defies categorization:  it’s part panorama, part rendering.  The detail, perhaps a bit idealized, is amazing, especially if you view it with a zoom feature.  Yet the people are stick figures; it’s all about buildings and streets. Thanks to some close cropping by the folks at Princeton University’s Graphic Arts Collection blog, I now want to revise that view: Hill’s view of Salem in 1854 is far more humanistic than I thought. Now I’m more impressed than ever by this amazing artist, whose skills are on flagrant display in this map, and others. It’s that combination of aerial perspective and architectural detail that draws me in, very evident in the close-ups provided by Princeton.

salem-mass

salem-mass3

salem-mass4

Lithograph map of Salem, Mass., 1854 by J. H. Colen after John William Hill (1812-1879). Published by the Smith Brothers, 59 Beekman Street, New York. Graphic Arts Collection, Firestone Library, Princeton University.

Yes, the people are still a bit stickish and it is certainly an idealistic impression, but the material world on display still draws you (at least me) in: 6 over 6 window panes, 8 over 8 window panes, dormers, chimneys, laundry on the line. This is a city that seems to be in transition in its orientation, from water to land, as a lot of effort seems to have been spent on those wide (clean! far more clean than they would have been in actuality) streets, home to a few stray carriages now but later to be clogged with cars. Hill’s depiction of Charleston from a few years earlier displays the alternate water-to-land perspective. Moving out of the realm of street view maps (but still encompassing people) is his beautiful watercolor of Boston Harbor, from the same era and the same collection at Princeton, and the stunning New York from Brooklyn Heights, which was issued in several variant genres in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Hill Charleston 1851

Hill Boston Harbor 1853

Hill NY from Brooklyn Heights 1850s

Bennett Hill Brooklyn Heights

John William Hill’s Charleston, 1851 (hand-colored lithograph, Historic Charleston Collection); Boston, 1853, Graphic Arts Collection, Princeton University, and New York from Brooklyn Heights, Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection on deposit at Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Aquatint with engraving and etching of the latter by William James Bennett, 1837, New York Public Library.


5 responses to “A Closer Look: Salem 1854

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: