- Crusade Propaganda in Word and Image in Early Modern Italy: Niccolò Guidalottos' Panorama of Constantinople (1662) by Nirit Ben-Aryeh Debby
Nirit Ben-Aryeh Debby's Crusade Propaganda in Word and Image in Early Modern Italy: Niccolò Guidalottos' Panorama of Constantinople (1662) offers an in-depth analysis on a single object: a six-metre-long panorama made of ink on linen-backed paper that depicts the city of Constantinople in the seventeenth century, seen from across the Golden Horn in Galata. Currently displayed at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, this large-scale drawing belongs to a private collection and was made by the Venetian franciscan Friar Niccolò Guidalotto da Mondavio, who worked as a chaplain in the Venetian embassy in Constantinople between 1647 and 1655. Debby dissects this panorama – a powerful piece of anti-Ottoman propaganda – along with a manuscript, also prepared by Guidalotto, with a description of the panorama and an explanation of the meaning and motivation behind his work. Besides providing the reader with a comprehensive historical background, Debby presents a description of the political, religious, and aesthetical aspects of both book and image.
Although the field of panorama studies usually locates the phenomena in the nineteenth century with the full-circle vistas and cityscapes painted in urban rotundas, this genre of representation can be traced back to the Early Modern period. During the last decade, panorama scholarship has developed in several areas – that is, visual studies, art history, and cultural geography – and has usually highlighted the relationship between panoramic representations and the display of political power. In this case, Debby's account fully satisfies this tendency and does this in a thorough and careful way.
It is a small but efficient book. The downside of its brief format is that the images are not large enough for the reader to distinguish minor details of the drawing, but this is a minor issue. The first chapter presents what is known of the biography of the Franciscan friar Niccolò Guidalotto, a missionary in the [End Page 215] Venetian embassy in Constantinople during the years of the War of Candia. This period abroad gave him enough knowledge to describe the city features in the drawing and the manuscript, both finished back in Italy, according to the supposition that he presented his work to Pope Alexander VII in 1662. Debby devotes the second chapter to the panorama in light of the large-scale drawing and maps made to be hung on walls for decoration or to convey political messages. She connects Guidalotto's work to the genre of tapestry in the baroque period, placing the friar as an author who was aware of this fashion and as a man seeking the pope's appraisal. Regarding the manuscript, currently in the Chighi collection in the Vatican Libraries, Debby explains that it is both a description of the panorama and a complex theological discussion. Guidalotto describes each figure separately, providing explanation in minute detail and symbolic meaning. Consequently, Debby defends the idea that the friar was informed by the works of printmaker Martino Rosa (1520–83) as well as by two primary sources: a nautical atlas that Guidalotto had made for himself years before and the seventeenth-century book of miniatures Memorie turchesche. The first was a typical example of portolan charts popular among Venetian cartographers, while the second comprised text and illustrations that were clearly approving of the Venetians and critical of the Ottomans. Guidalotto himself also could have been responsible for the latter.
The third chapter relates the panorama to the cartographic knowledge of the Early Modern period. Considering it to be an "heir to medieval maps connected with a Crusader cause," Debby suggests that it was influenced by the work of Venetian geographer Marino Sanuto of Torcello (1260–1338). Early modern city views reveal another tradition to which this panorama relates, specifically, Venetian cartographic production. Using examples of several maps of Constantinople, Debby shows how "the omission or the inclusion of certain details of...