The idea of representing a view straight down, of looking straight down from some height, is a relatively recent occurrence, this view being somewhat rare in the antiquarian world pre-balloon or pre-heavier-than-air flight. The pre-human-flight reason for its scarcity is understandable, but even after the first Montgolfiers’1 ascension in 1787, there’s another 120+ years of scarcity yet to come before these views would start to pop up in common (and uncommon) literature.. Now I’m not talking about cartography, which is basically a straight-down view of the world—what I’m referring to (and where I’ve posed a few time before in this blog, particularly here) is that same view but not as a map per se, but what you would see if you were dangling out of a plane or balloon. The extraordinary map of Imola by Leonardo would certainly classify because of its you-are-there qualities: essentially it would be like a bird’-eye or oblique view, but straight down.
I think that this view was avoided because (in pre-flight days) of the high imagination that it took to picture the view, and, secondly, because of how this view created its own special Flatland2 and crunched, flattened, everything down to what becomes somewhat (and sometimes entirely) unrecognizable. This point was just hammered home to me while trolling through an interesting book by Matthew Biro, The Dada Cyborg3. Biro makes a great find of unintended/found Dada illustration in the Berliner Illustriete Zeitung4 in which a photographer makes images of passing pedestrians, turning them into quite something else due to the squashed depth of field and non-perspective. The photos make the point perfectly of why artists might have avoided this straight-down perspective. The Found Dadaist result is interesting in itself.
[My apologies for so many hyphenated words in this post! Here’s some more in case the reader demands them: - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -.]
1. The two brothers launched 4 June 1783, just before the end of our Revolutionary War, rising up in a 37,000 cubic foot balloon of alum-coated taffeta.
2. Edwin Abbott’s fantastic and popular 1884 satire of English society, depicting the world of wants and desires in terms of a two-dimensional world structure (and desires for a three-dimensional existence). Brilliant and simple; well, maybe not so simple.
3. The Dada
Cyborg, Views of the New Human in Wiemar
issue for 29 December 1919. This is the