The 'Merian View'

Matthäus Merian’s View of London, often referred to as the ‘Merian’ view, first appeared in the third edition of Gottfried’s “Neuwe Archontologia Cosmica,” published in Frankfurt in 1638, and had a long-lasting impact on subsequent depictions of the city. The map’s production followed the expiry of a monopoly granted by James I in 1617 for the exclusive privilege to publish metal engravings of the City of London in “maps, plots of descriptions”.[1] Little is known of the German publisher, Johann Ludwig Gottfried, although he is thought to have worked extensively with Merian in Frankfurt from 1619 when they produced an edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.[2]

Similar to many other views of London, the Merian view depicts the city from the south and can be distinguished from other works by the presence of three polygonal towers on Bankside and a fourth further to the west in Paris Garden.[3] The sky is adorned with the word “London”, the royal arms and crown to the left, and the arms of the City within a wreath to the right. The original 2-sheet map is 27.5 x 9 inches, with a reference key that identifies 43 points of interest.[4]

Despite these unique aspects of the ‘Merian’ view, the map is undoubtedly based on a 1616 work by Claes Janszoon Visscher (1587-1652), which depicts London from Southwark and bears remarkable similarities.[5] This connection is reflected by the repetition of Visscher’s mistakes in labelling points of interest, such as the erroneous naming of a spire as ‘St. Hellens’, and incorrect spelling of ‘St.  Dunston in the cast’.[6] These mistakes suggest that both engravers were unfamiliar with London and the English language and were thus relying on previous sources as evidence to construct their views.

A second lesser-known influence guiding Merian was John Norden’s 1600 map of London. Norden (1548-1626), an English surveyor and cartographer, published a detailed map of London in 1593, which was then updated and included in his panorama Civitas Londini (1600).[7] Although much of the detail in Merian’s View of London is copied from Visscher’s panorama, Norden’s influence can be seen throughout, for example the inclusion of a fourth theatre at Bankside which was mistakenly omitted by Visscher.[8]

Merian’s panorama itself has a lengthy progeny extending into the 18th century and was reproduced extensively by various engravers in both black and white, and with the edition of color. For example, a copy of Merian’s view appeared in Howell’s “Londinopolis,” in 1657 as a frontispiece with the addition of a label in the sky, not present in the original, announcing “London the glory of Greate Britaines Ile, Beheold her Landschip here and true pourfile.[9] A panorama by de Ram and De la Feuille (c. 1690), is also thought to have also been based in part on Merian’s view.[10]

Consequently, with such a number of iterations, it is unsurprising that the Merian view is often wrongly attributed to his pupil, Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677), likely due to a similar panoramic view of London he produced and his known association with the English city.[11] A reproduction by Wilkinson claimed that the original print was engraved by Hollar, although Martin believes this to be unlikely.[12] The large number of reproductions of his view demonstrates the lasting impact of Merian’s panorama of London, a legacy which continued deep into the eighteenth century.

[1] WM MARTIN, “The Early Maps of London: I,” London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, Transactions 3 (January 1, 1916): 278.

[2] Michiel van Groesen, “America Abridged: Matthaeus Merian, Johann Ludwig Gottfried, and the Apotheosis of the De Bry Collection of Voyages,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 41, no. 1 (January 1, 2011): 68,

[3] MARTIN, “The Early Maps of London,” 278.

[4] MARTIN, 277.

[5] James Howgego and Ida Darlington, Printed Maps of London circa 1553-1850 (London, G. Philip [1964], 1964), 9,

[6] I. A. Shapiro, “The Bankside Theatres: Early Engravings,” in Shakespeare Survey: Volume 1: Shakespeare and His Stage, ed. Allardyce Nicoll, vol. 1, Shakespeare Survey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948), 31,

[7] Shapiro, 30.s

[8] Joseph Quincy Adams, Shakespearean Playhouses: A History of English Theatres from the Beginnings to the Restoration (Project Gutenberg, 2007),

[9] MARTIN, “The Early Maps of London,” 278.

[10] Howgego and Darlington, Printed Maps of London circa 1553-1850, 9.

[11] Rachel Doggett, “Etchings of Wenceslaus Hollar in the Collections of the Folger Shakespeare Library,” Slavic & East European Information Resources 11, no. 2–3 (September 6, 2010): 64–76,

[12] MARTIN, “The Early Maps of London,” 278.

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