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Reviewed by:
  • Cities at War in Early Modern Europe
  • Peter Arnade
Cities at War in Early Modern Europe. By Martha D. Pollak (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2010) 354 pp. $95.00

In a book rich in visual material, one image in particular captures what Pollak achieves in her bracingly good study of the militarization of the early modern city. Pierre Lepautre's 1692 engraving for an almanac depicts Louis XIV at the siege of the Mons in Hainault. The king, his bewigged advisors, and guests oversee the operation: Mons is in their crosshairs, the object of their desire, and the stage of their theatrically enacted enterprise. Their presence is so stylized that only the strategically positioned cannon remind viewers that for all its gloss, the print's subject is warfare and violence. Pollak's ambitious, pan-European survey explains why monarchs like Louis XIV were personally invested in both controlling cities militarily and producing artistic representations of their hegemony. Her subject is not just how cities were affected by early modern warfare, itself an important topic, but also how rulers and urban planners militarized urban space and remade civic life with their bastioned fortifications, citadels, baroque public squares, and grand boulevards. Pollack does not reiterate the familiar narrative of the late medieval commune giving way to the baroque city. Instead, she explores "military urbanism," the enormous investment of artists, architects, and engineers in an urban design style that married the state's interest in warfare to the architect's concern for mathematical harmony.

Pollak's study is sumptuously illustrated with maps and various illustrations of the early modern city. One of her goals is to explain the enormous output of visual representation of the early modern city as produced by artists often commissioned by sovereigns. She makes a compelling case that this flood of urban imagery reflected more than aesthetic considerations; they were also part of the state's interest in crafting a visual narrative of its mastery over the cities that its rulers conquered and reconfigured. But Pollak's book has a larger purpose—to detail how the early modern city across Europe and even in Ottoman territory was redesigned along the principles of military interest. This transformation began in the sixteenth century with the popularity of pentagonal citadels and bastioned fortifications.

Pollack studies this process in twofold fashion—by tracing the popularity of fortifications and citadels in southern and northern Europe and by closely examining the master engineers and architects whose expertise princes and kings needed. As cities became the "privileged site of war," a cottage industry of print depictions of sieges flooded the early modern marketplace. Pollak offers brilliant readings of individual prints while surveying their popularity and iconographical motifs. In her exploration of urban military forms and their representation, she offers case studies of the transformation of important commercial centers, from Turin to Antwerp; of the model design of such fortress cities as Palmanova and Valleta; of the transformation of the old urban cores in Rome and [End Page 449] Paris; and of the establishment of new fortress cities ex nihilo, like the northern Habsburg towns of Philippeville and Mariembourg or Louis XIV's ambitious campaign to gird his conquered cities with pentagonal citadels. In the book's two final chapters, Pollak explores absolutist celebrations of peace and political authority upon the streets of baroque cities, where new boulevards, squares, greenbelts, and citadels offered a stage for enactments of sovereign power.

Pollak's study goes further than any previous work to chronicle the extent to which military concerns affected the early modern city; it succeeds in clarity of argument, evidence, and range. Because of the wide scope of Pollak's book, details in individual case studies are sometimes missing, but such is the inevitable price of the wide-angle lens that Pollak employs. Pollak's impressive survey of military urbanism aside, the book does not always provide a firm sense of the social and political context behind the representations; a deeper consideration of the politics of military violence is missing. Nonetheless, as an architectural and art historian, Pollak hardly ignores the political nature of urban military design and its spatial and visual ordering. Her very...


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pp. 449-450
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