Contents

 

English Influence on the 18th Century Manhattan Skyline

By Fiona Ball

Figure 1: A South Prospect of Ye Flourishing City of New York in the Province of New York in America[1]


“A South Prospect of Ye Flourishing City of New York in the Province of New York in America,” also referred to as the Bakewell View, (Fig. 1) is a copper engraving published in 1746 by a cartographer and printer, presumed to be named Thos. Bakewell.[2][3] Its relationship to England is initially made obvious by the English title, as well as its reference to New York as opposed to New Amsterdam, though that is to be expected of any depiction of the city at that time, as the prospect was published 82 years after rule of the city had changed hands from the Dutch to the English.

The connection to England is also made based on the self-identification of the piece as “prospect” in the title in the engraving. The English tradition of prospect-making goes back much further than this engraving, and was often used as a way of documenting the growth of a city, as well as for promotion of the virtues and opportunities of the city. This tradition can be used to “read” the engraving in a similar way to the reading of Dutch depictions of the skyline using the Dutch landscape painting tradition as a guide. When taking into account the purpose and biases of this depiction the skyline, it is important to note that the print was made by order of “His Excellency Robert Hunter Esq Captain General” (Fig. 1).[4] Therefore, the Bakewell View can be said to have served two purposes: to inform and to promote the cities’ positive qualities.

On the informative side, the most obvious information the image provides is a catalogue of the buildings of New York City, at least the ones visible from Brooklyn Heights. The most prominent buildings, jutting up from the lower house line, are the churches. This is very much in line with the English tradition of prospect-making, where often the churches were given more visual prominence in the prospect than in reality, in order to emphasize the priorities and values of the town.

Another fact of note is that the actual view of the skyline depicted here was not independently created by Bakewell, but is fact an updated version of a very similar view by Burgis from 1719.[5] Therefore, it has been edited for its informative content and the accuracy of that content, which emphasizes its purpose as an informative tool. Buildings which were added to the skyline after the Burgis view was created have been obviously added to the engraving. These sit awkwardly on the crowded skyline, because by adding them on top of the skyline as it existed in its previous state does not allow for it to accommodate their presence, and so they do not appear as they would have in reality. Also, by comparing the updated building of the Lutheran Church in the Bakewell view with two other contemporary views, Stokes assessed that Bakewell likely had little actual knowledge of the architecture of the building.[6] This suggests that while the purpose of the depiction may have been meant to be informational, the attempt to update the indexed information present in the skyline actually lead to misinformation. However, it can be said that, while the architecture of the buildings in the skyline may not have been entirely accurate, overall the ideas conveyed by the image and the total view of the skyline, were accurate. The overcrowding of the buildings, while it may not exactly reflect what the skyline looked like in reality, signifies growth and the transitive nature of the city.

[1] Thos. Bakewell, A South Prospect of Ye Flourishing City of New York in the Province of New York in America, Copper engraving, March 25, 1746, Columbia University Libraries Online Exhibitions. https://exhibitions.cul.columbia.edu/items/show/1240.

[2] I. N. Phelps Stokes, The Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1489-1909, 272.

[3] This is based off of an inscription on the print, but the identity of the printer is up for debate, due to the lack of public records of him, according to Stokes.

[4] I. N. Phelps Stokes, The Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1489-1909, 272.

[5] I. N. Phelps Stokes, The Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1489-1909, 239.

[6] I. N. Phelps Stokes, The Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1489-1909, 273.