Can an urban landscape be experienced through representation?
A number of factors can shape the way one looks at and relates to a city—one’s social class, gender, profession, identity as a resident or visitor, native or foreigner, etc. The artist who hopes to find a buyer for scenes of a particular city must, therefore, consider his or her audience carefully. What will that audience want to see in the city? What will that audience expect from it? Both Hiroshige in his Edo street scene and Vermeer in his Delft cityscape appeal to the aesthetic tastes, cultural values, and economic means of their intended viewers.
Questions to Consider
- The Japanese street scene is a print. The Dutch cityscape is a painting. How would media in each case have impacted cost and circulation? How do you think these works were meant to be viewed and by whom?
- One of these views shows us the city from within. In the other, we are looking at the cityscape from a vantage point in the distance. How is each of these effects achieved visually? How does the point of view—within or without—shape your experience of the work? How do you think it furthered each work’s purpose in its original context?
- Dutch paintings of cityscapes and landscapes are often described as having a “reality effect.” What do you think this means? Do you think Vermeer’s View of Delft is any more “real” than Hiroshige’s Night View of Saruwaka-machi? Explain.
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