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Oldest known city view of Venice discovered

Line drawing of Venice

A researcher from the University of St Andrews has unearthed the oldest known city view of Venice, dating from the 14th century.

The discovery, by Dr Sandra Toffolo from the School of History, was made during research for her monograph Describing the City, Describing the State. Representations of Venice and the Venetian Terraferma in the Renaissance, which will be published in early 2020.

The image is part of a manuscript containing the travel account of Niccolò da Poggibonsi, an Italian pilgrim who travelled to Jerusalem in 1346-1350. The manuscript was likely made shortly after he returned to Italy in 1350. During his pilgrimage, Niccolò passed through Venice and his description of the city is accompanied by a pen drawing of Venice.

Dr Sandra ToffoloDr Toffolo (pictured right), who specialises in the history of Venice in the Renaissance, discovered the image in May 2019 during her research in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence, and has worked on representations of Venice during the Renaissance for several years.

When Dr Toffolo discovered the image, she realised that the city view of Venice predates all previously known views of the city, excluding maps and portolan charts. The oldest extant map of Venice was made by Fra Paolino, a Franciscan friar from Venice, and dates from around 1330. Since the discovery, Dr Toffolo has spent the last several months verifying the image through consulting books, manuscripts and articles.

A series of small pinpricks discovered on the original manuscript image also suggests that the city view was more widely circulated. This technique was used to copy images: powder was sifted through the pinpricks onto another surface, thereby transferring the outlines of the image.

Dr Toffolo said: “The presence of these pinpricks is a strong indication that this city view was copied. Indeed, there are several images in manuscripts and early printed books that are clearly based on the image in the manuscript in Florence.

“The discovery of this city view has great consequences for our knowledge of depictions of Venice, since it shows that the city of Venice already from a very early period held a great fascination for contemporaries.”


Image of Venice supplied by the Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, II.IV.101, fol. 1v. With permission of the Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali e per il turismo / Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence.

For further information visit Dr Toffolo’s research profile.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

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12 thoughts on "Oldest known city view of Venice discovered"

  1. Michael Waters says:

    I find this article very disingenuous. This manuscript has been known since it was published by Kathryn Moore in 2009, a decade before Dr Toffolo claims to have “discovered” it.

    1. Sandra Toffolo says:

      Dear Michael, thank you for your comment. This news release does not speak of the manuscript as a whole, but only of the image of Venice, which has never been published or analysed in historiography (also not by Kathryn Moore). In my book I speak much more at length about this image and the manuscript as a whole, discussing also the work of other scholars and in particular that of Kathryn Moore, for whose work I have great respect. It goes without saying that, like all other members of the scientific community, I would not be able to carry out my research without the work of those who have preceded me.

  2. Sandro Baraldi says:

    Dear Dr. Toffolo, I’m very interested in buying your “Describing the City, Describing the State. Representations of Venice and the Venetian Terraferma in the Renaissance”. Can you tell me when it will be published and where I’ll be able to purchase it online (I live in Italy)?
    Thank you for your research work and regards

  3. Sarah Hearn says:

    How fascinating. I was initially wondering how you knew it was Venice si ce from my perspective of simply looking at the illustration, it could theoretically be any port city. However, on reading the article, I see that it is within context of a person who travelled through Venice. Congratulations on this discovery. It’s what makes history so fascinating, right?!

  4. John Law says:

    Very interesting. Frederic Lane published an earlier map/view/plan a fecw years ago, but I look forward to hearing more about this valuable find.

  5. John Law says:

    Fascinating, and I look forward to the book. Frederic Lane published an earlier one

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