Views of twelve cities in the Low Countries by the Flemish artist Antoon van den Wijngaerde (c. 1510-1571) have survived: Amsterdam, Brugge, Brussels, Damme, Dordrecht, Duinkerke, Gravelines, ’s-Hertogenbosch, Leuven, Mechelen, Sluis, and Utrecht. Van den Wijngaerde was known for his mastery of topographically accurate and beautiful depictions of cities. The artist entered the service of Philip II in 1557 and between 1557 and 1561 he produced panoramas of cities in the Low Countries for the Spanish king. Between 1562 and 1571 Van den Wijngaerde travelled the length and breadth of Spain, depicting over sixty Spanish cities using much the same techniques. In most Spanish cities the artist was able to make his sketches from a hill or mountain, where he had a good overall view. It was a different story in the Low Countries.
So how did Van den Wijngaerde manage to render the Netherlandish cities, most of them located on flat land, as if seen from a high viewing point with a sweeping view of the city and surrounding landscape? Van den Wijngaerde followed a fixed routine in setting up his city views, but he also made clever use of the local situation. He seized on any high point outside the city and allowed that to determine his direction of view. When several preparatory studies were necessary, he preferred to make them all looking in the same direction: the city roofscape viewed from outside the city, prominent buildings viewed from the city outskirts, and the surrounding area from the highest point in the city. This resulted in city views that were effectively a composite of three preparatory studies. When the local situation did not favour this approach, Van den Wijngaerde looked for alternatives, such as preliminary studies from more than three viewing points. In determining the viewing points that Van den Wijngaerde adopted when drawing cities in the Low Countries, the author consulted the town plans drawn by Van den Wijngaerde’s contemporary Jacob van Deventer (c. 1500-1575).