A Fantasy London Landscape From 1683, Drawn By A Man Who Never Visited

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A Fantasy London Landscape From 1683, Drawn By A Man Who Never Visited
St Paul's with odd top

St Paul's famous dome extrudes into a tower, in this curious panorama from 1683.

The sketch comes from the pen of Frederick De Wit, a Dutch mapmaker who probably never set foot in London.

His unique yet plagiarised panorama looks north from the skies above Southwark. It stretches from Whitehall in the east to what is now St Katharine Docks in the west. It contains many oddities and anachronisms.

De Wit panorama, high resolution
Click or tap for high resolution.

De Wit was working from earlier panoramas, most notably a 1616 engraving by Claes Jansz Visscher. Quite a few changes had taken place in London between 1616 and 1683. Most notably, a certain Great Fire had wiped out much of the City in 1666.

De Wit's panorama includes several buildings long since vanished, including the structures at the northern end of London Bridge and the Globe Theatre (demolished in 1644).

Southwark Cathedral and London Bridge
Southwark Cathedral (St Mary Overie) and London Bridge. Note the heads on spikes at the entrance to the bridge.

It also incorporates features yet to be built. Reconstruction of St Paul's was well underway by 1683, but Christopher Wren's great dome had yet to take shape. De Wit weaves in an alternative plan considered by Wren, for a more traditional steeple (domes were seen as a wee bit Catholic for some tastes).

The panorama, then, is a fantasy London. It shows buildings long demolished beside those yet to come. Even stalwarts of the skyline like the Tower of London are misrepresented. The White Tower is shown with billowing onion domes, more like those found on a Russian Orthodox cathedral than the pepper-pots of reality. Nearby, the recently constructed Monument to the Great Fire is vastly exaggerated in height.

Tower of London
The billowing onion domes of the White Tower.

The London Map Fair

The De Wit panorama is one of hundreds of antique maps up for sale at the London Map Fair — the largest map fair in Europe — which runs 8-9 June 2019. Maps range in age 'from the 15th century to the 20th century, covering all parts of the world and priced to suit all pockets: from £10 to £100,000'. The event takes place at the Royal Geographic Society in Kensington Gore, and entry is free. The De Wit panorama can be found at dealers Daniel Crouch.

Last Updated 31 May 2019