Military Urbanism in the Early Modern Era: Representation & Cartography

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Representation & Cartography

A6455 Military Urbanism in the Early Modern Era

Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the rulers in Europe were occupied by establishing domains of authority among them. A great number of wars characterized by the fortification of towns and movements of troops defined the fundamental military development of the new monarchies. One of the most influential subjects for the history of these rulers and governments, is the representation of fortifications. It wasn’t until the seventeenth century[1](Newberry Library. and Pollak 1991), graphic representation was set to clarify in advance problem implicit in a design proposal, became an integral part of comprehending the fortress in its entirety. This renewed focus on representation bridged the gap between military architecture and civil architecture and created a shift in perspective on the design and documentation of a given building or structure. If war transformed the appearance of the early modern European city, representation was the graphic underlay that illustrates such cultural and linguistic conflicts.

On the opposite side of the world, the system of fortification was developed for the same cultural and political reasons, yet represented in vastly different manners. Different components were added to the design; some were employed to achieve optimum defensive efficiency, some to claim psychological dominance over its people. Nonetheless, evidence began to emerge in both worlds showing a shift from religious subjects to relatively truthful depictions of the world as-is. Without getting into the controversy of Zheng He’s Navigation Map in 1418 (whether or not his discovery of America predates Columbus), the value of the map showed the nation’s desire of exchanging intellectual knowledge. International trading routes were established; new, sophisticated instruments were created for navigators to reach new lands and return. The practice of drawing maps became increasingly incorporated with other disciplines across the globe.

o          Representation integrates art, science, and field practice

The design of fortification was no longer a subject exclusive to field practitioners. Geometry principles proved incredibly critical for the design of fortification, resulted in diverse talents devoted to military design. One could find treatises that start to incorporate mathematics, artillery methods transposed from recreational areas, and the treatises themselves being analyzed as artistic entity.[2]

Figure 1

Fig.1 is the entry of Fortification in the 1729 Cyclopaedia, also known as An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Science. The comprehensive table includes elements beyond the wall itself – petard, cannon ball and gunnery, mantlet, cheval de fries “Frisian Horses”. While the geometry of the bastions are clearly on display, the purpose of the table isn’t portraying a total panoramic view of the battlefield. Rather, the illustrations were assembled systematically to extend the scope of the battlefield. I wish to argue for an intent to expand the defensive system further and beyond the fortress itself, into the outlying areas as well as other lines of work that were becoming associated with the evolving early modern warfare.

Another important area that received graphical depictions is the non-combat figures and scenes of military life. J.R. Hale, in his Artists and Warfare in the Renaissance, studies an ensemble of images in attempting to link the art of war and the artists of war. Hale carefully curated the illustrations to emphasize an empathy towards the outsider image of the soldiers. They were represented in isolation of the crowd, as individual figures, no doubt contrasting the massive scale of a fortification drawing (fig.2). The apparel of the subjects were drawn in details: the rips in the fabric of the sewn-together chest piece, the bandage around the wounded leg, all of which reinforcing a concentration on the personal level of the war. It is also important to note both the artist and the painted figure are Dutch. Battles and battlefields weren’t commonly regarded by artists in the Low Land[3]. Van Leyden’s representation of the individual soldier indeed offers a distinctive perspective in the realities of military campaigns.

Figure 2

The science of war, though an innate requirement of war preparation, was vividly distilled. Subjects such as mathematics, chemistry and physics legitimately behooves war as its theoretical counterpart. Immense attention was paid to the geometrical formulation of fortification, which in turn dictates the terminology of the latter, instead of the other way around. Perhaps the didactic nature of Bourdin’s drawing won’t be much surprising once it is known his analogy between the orders of architecture, Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian, and his orders of fortification, French, Italian, and Dutch[4]. In addition to the quantities relations depicted in the table, detailed calculations was written on the upper cover. Bourdin dedicated the document to the French nobility in effort to annunciate his ideal on a national level[5]. Similar examples are abundant in Pollak’s treatise collection, most of which recognizing and also reinventing the French, Vauban manner of fortification, but are all naturally more prescriptive than performative, focusing on the visual elements of the structure rather than the physical. In this sense, the science and the art is simultaneously connected and disconnected, the theory effects the artifact but always remains partially on paper.

Figure 3

o          Representation underwrites social, economic, and political changes

Galasso Alghisi da Carpi was a military and civil architect. He urges that the realization of fortification never precedes its design on paper[6], for errors are easier to see and correct when represented graphically on a media like paper. Construction lines often prevails in his finished works as if they are meant to reiterate the drawing process (fig.4). Similar sketchy quality can also be found in Girolamo Cataneo’s works (fig.5), where the imprecise quality of the lines, the asymmetry of the overall form, the iterative progression of the design all speak to the same idea. Alghisi’s argument is an example and a result of the graphic revolution in early modern Europe – new representational techniques and forms proliferated in arts, cartography, printing, and many others. These notational and symbol systems not only sponsored other cultural, social, economic, and political changes, but also produced a shift in mental attitudes that were implicit in the adoption of the drawing.

Figure 4

The institutions that specialized in fortifications grew interests in the economy of new constructions. Contrary to the generic context of an ideal fortress, when a premise is to be fortified, particular care must be taken to the significance a place to a nation; if it is only to guard a threshold into a country, it need not be large; if it is to promote and protect trade, it should be large and commodious; the streets shall be wide and buildings regular. The fortification shall depend on the funds a nation possesses. Engineer cannot spare in his works, both in the number of his works and to the expense in construction[7].

The representation of fortress in China presents an interesting comparison in terms of the connotation of mapping. In most cases, maps such as fig. 5 are post-representation of an already built city. However, the division of neighborhoods and micro districts precedes the drawing. Neither does the map portrait the scale of the building accurately, nor the proximity in between. Distances were manipulated to formulate imaginary, and more importantly, political groupings and invisible boundaries for the benefits of governing. Names were created and annotated within each district to further segregate the town from a whole to parts, despite the doctrinal, unifying intent.

Figure 5

Construction should be understood as dependent on the nature in which it’s executed (Fig.6). The lengthy process of building a fortified town has significant impact on the labor that was involved, the nature it sculptured and the sociopolitical impacts it brings to the vicinity. To Vauban, fortification may be an art carried to perfection. And perfection takes time. What separates him from others was his making the most of local conditions; pure theory was rarely realized in its true form[8]. Drawings such as Fig.6 are particular valuable as it describes the temporal aspect of fortification, showcasing a wide array of elements to be factored into the construction of a structure. Frameworks were being built in place of the foundation walls; transportation of materials were coming in from multiple directions suggesting multiple resources in the vicinity; imperial guards were employed and stationed at strategic locations in surveillance of the common folks arriving on site… all of which reminds one of the many relationships a military regime has with the economic, social, cultural infrastructure.

Figure 6

“Aussi, doit- elle ětre l’alliance de deux données opposes: perfection de la conception, économie de la réalisation. Vauban n’échappa guere à cette dualité et tenta d’y remédier par une troisième dimension: le prestige de la représentativité.” [9]

In Vauban, Râeformateur, military architecture is described to be a crisis architecture – something manifested from political and economic crisis. The ultimate objective was explained to be the alliance of two opposing date: the perfection of design and the economy of realization[10]. By examining the intensity of these crisis and Vauban’s bastioned architecture, the “prestige of representativeness” starts to reveal itself as the mediation between the two. The judicious inventory of the materials allows for a rapid realization. The choice of the stronghold is thus an opportunity to reinforce and restore old fortifications. The pursuit of efficiency and economy imposed in employing local and sometimes inexperienced manpower[11]. With regard to the speed of implementation, but also the economic conditions of construction, the quality of architecture can only be realized by contributing to a larger ideological concept, means and time.

o          Representation implies psychological control

Figure 7

While the fortifications of a city could never be perceived as a whole, in person, the sharp definition of the city walls on paper is portrayed stronger than its reality counterpart[12] (fig.7). The manipulation of perspectives granted a cartographic illustration of invulnerability that no doubt reinforces the actual, physical design. On some level, cartography isn’t merely about re-presentation, but re-interpretation.

Comparison to Hailong Tun (UNESCO 2015), a fortress in Guizhou Province, China, built during the Song dynasty and served as a stronghold through the Ming dynasty.

It’s flanked by archer towers and features a deep moat around its perimeter. Multiple passes and barracks were strategically placed forming a complex defense system on an already challenging terrain[13]. One major difference of military structure in China, is that it constructed as huge carrier of the current monarchy’s cultural values. The composition of Hailong Tun consists of multiple buildings located on terraces at various elevations. In between the New Royal Palace and the Old Royal Palace lies two segments of steps, being 9 and 5 steps each to be exact. The counts were deliberately placed to symbolizes the phrase “Nine and Five reign supreme”, according to ancient Chinese beliefs that 9 is the highest rank of all numbers and 5 being the central of all.

The expansion of territory leads to the necessity of control.

o          Summary


  • Brisac, Catherine, Nicholas Faucherre, and Johel Coutura. Vauban, Réformateur. Paris: Association Vauban, 1985.
  • Dutourd, Jean. Sentinelles de pierre: forts & citadelles sur les frontières de France. Paris: Somogy Editions d’art, 1996.
  • Eltis, David. The Military Revolution in Sixteenth-Century Europe. International Library of Historical Studies 3. London ; New York : New York, NY: Tauris Academic Studies ; St. Martin’s Press [distributor], 1995.
  • Gruyter, Walter de. “The Archaeological Survey and Excavation of Walls and Passes of the Hailong Tun Site in Zunyi City, Guizhou.” Chinese Archaeology 17, no. 1 (2017): 89–102.
  • Hale, J. R. Artists and Warfare in the Renaissance. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.
  • Jaurès, Jean, Jean-Jacques Becker, Madeleine Rebérioux, and Jean Jaurès. L’ armée nouvelle. Œuvres de Jean Jaurès, sous la responsabiliteé de la Société d’Études Jaurésiennes. Madeleine Rebérioux … sont chargés de la coordination éditoriale; T. 13. Paris: Fayard, 2012.
  • Lund, Erik A. War for the Every Day: Generals, Knowledge, and Warfare in Early Modern Europe, 1680 – 1740. Contributions in Military Studies 181. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1999.
  • Newberry Library, and Martha D. Pollak, eds. Military Architecture, Cartography & the Representation of the Early Modern European City: A Checklist of Treatises on Fortification in the Newberry Library. Chicago: The Library, 1991.
  • Spiteri, Stephen, and Stephen Spiteri. Fortresses of the Knights. Hamrun, Malta: Book Distributors Limited, 2001.
  • Steele, Brett D., and Tamera Dorland, eds. The Heirs of Archimedes: Science and the Art of War through the Age of Enlightenment. Dibner Institute Studies in the History of Science and Technology. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2005.
  • Virilio, Paul. Bunker Archeology. English ed. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009.
  • Wenzler, Claude. Architecture du bastion: l’art de Vauban. Rennes: Éditions Ouest-France, 2000.


Delle fortification libri tre. Venice, 1570

Fortresses of the Knights

A triangular casemated fort designed by Montalembert in 1774 for L’lle d’Aix

Hailong Tun Modern-day Documentation

A sketch by a resident military engineer, Francseco Marandom, showing a profile of the parapet at Fort Chambrai

Diagrams, Reformateur

Typology of the fortifications of the Atlantic Wall

Association Vauban., Catherine Brisac, Nicolas Faucherre, and Johel Coutura. Vauban, Râeformateur : Actes Du Colloque, Paris, Musâee Guimet, 15-16-17 Dâecembre 1983.  Paris: Association Vauban, 1985.

Hale, J. R. Artists and Warfare in the Renaissance.  London ; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Muller, John. A Treatise Containing the Elementary Part of Fortification Regular and Irregular. … For the Use of the Royal Academy of Artillery at Woolwich. Illustrated with Thirty-Four Copper Plates. By John Muller.  London: printed for J. Nourse,, 1746.

Newberry Library., and Martha D. Pollak. Military Architecture, Cartography & the Representation of the Early Modern European City : A Checklist of Treatises on Fortification in the Newberry Library.  Chicago: The Library, 1991.

Wenzler, Claude. Architecture Du Bastion : L’art De Vauban. Collection Architecture.  Rennes: Ouest-France, 2000.

[1] Newberry Library. and Martha D. Pollak, Military Architecture, Cartography & the Representation of the Early Modern European City : A Checklist of Treatises on Fortification in the Newberry Library (Chicago: The Library, 1991). P.XXVII.

[2] Ibid. P.XIV.

[3] J. R. Hale, Artists and Warfare in the Renaissance (London ; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990).

[4] Newberry Library. and Pollak. P.7 (catalogue)

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid. P.3 (catalogue)

[7] John Muller, A Treatise Containing the Elementary Part of Fortification Regular and Irregular. … For the Use of the Royal Academy of Artillery at Woolwich. Illustrated with Thirty-Four Copper Plates. By John Muller, (London: printed for J. Nourse,, 1746). P.165.

[8] Claude Wenzler, Architecture Du Bastion : L’art De Vauban, Collection Architecture (Rennes: Ouest-France, 2000). P.15.

[9] Association Vauban. et al., Vauban, Râeformateur : Actes Du Colloque, Paris, Musâee Guimet, 15-16-17 Dâecembre 1983 (Paris: Association Vauban, 1985). P.119.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid. P.120.

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