Along the Waterfront: Alejandro Malaspina, Fernando Brambila, and the Invention of the Buenos Aires Cityscape, 1789-1809

This article seeks to expand our knowledge of how visual art contributed to the new wave of scientific imperialism and geographical representation that Bourbon Spain advanced through numerous overseas expeditions at the end of the eighteenth century, focusing in particular on the extensive Malaspina voyage of 1789-1794 and two cityscapes of Buenos Aires attributed to a member of the crew, the painter Fernando Brambila (1763-1834). It attempts to show how the depiction of this low-lying port city and viceregal capital was conditioned not only by imperial or scientific dictates but also by the unusual topography of the Río de la Plata coastline and a broader European visual culture that encompassed both evolving artistic conventions for representing urban space and a growing interest in picturesque details of distant places. The article uses this approach to explain the genesis of Brambila's two views and the aesthetic and practical reasons why one picture—which looked at the city along its shoreline—became the most well-known early nineteenth-century image of Buenos Aires while the other was largely forgotten.