Optica- Plaza de San Francisco, Seville
This charming and vibrantly coloured print, known as an optica or perspective view, was created by famed German printmaker Georg Balthasar Probst (1732–1801) in the 18th century. These types of prints were largely popular between the years 1740 and 1790, with production all but ceased by 1820 likely due to the advent of the stereoscope. Designed as horizontal, topographical views according to the principles of linear perspective, these objects were made to be seen through a special viewing apparatus known as a zograscope, a type of machine using a double convex lens and angled mirror affixed to a base. These elements provided the illusion of depth, of stepping into the image, allowing the viewer to be transported to far away places from the comfort of their home or the booth of a travelling show. This print shows the Plaza de San Francisco in Seville, Spain, a centre of civil life and culture since the 13th century. To the left is the City Hall with its long and ornate façade decorated with heraldry, allegory, and mythology. Slightly offset to the right is a fountain with the figure of Mercury raising a spear, around which stroll pedlars, labourers, soldiers, children playing, and the gentry. With its bold hand-colouring, multilingual captions, and clarity of line, this well-aged print is a fine example of the genre and reflective of the work of Augsburg’s most important publisher of perspective views.
At this time in history Seville was a hub of cultural, artistic, and economic activity, as well as a centre of travel and trade. It is here that the Spanish Empire launched global and nautical explorations and monopolized sea trade. Art and architecture also thrived here as exemplified by the Church of the Saviour and Town Hall, pictured in the present print. This is especially true with the Plateresque style seen on its façade, which was born out of Spain in the 1500s. In later centuries, instances of plague and economic struggle caused devastation while the Counter Catholic Reformation (in response to the Reformation begun by Martin Luther (1483–1546)) transformed the city into one of convents and monasteries. By the 1800s, the period in which this print was executed, the Bourbon dynasty took over from the previous ruling administration and the seat of power was moved to Cadiz.