The Atlantic

‘Instagram’ for 18th-Century Tourists

In the 1700s, highly realistic landscape paintings called vedute gave European visitors proof of their trips to exotic destinations.
Source: Scala / Art Resource, NY

As a mantra, “pics or it didn’t happen” carries a clear whiff of internet-age modernity. But in many ways, the sentiment behind the phrase precedes smartphones, Snapchat, and selfie sticks by some 275 years. Eyewitness Views: Making History in 18th-Century Europe, a new exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, looks at the Enlightenment-era phenomenon of vedute, or view paintings: astonishingly detailed cityscapes of Venice, Rome, Paris, and other tourist hotspots. These canvases were highly collectible luxury souvenirs, pictorial portals that would later transport the visitor (and friends back home) to that faraway place and moment. Their strict perspective lent itself to formal gardens, neoclassical arcades, and canals lined with palazzos.

But vedute were more than glorified postcards, the Getty curator Peter Björn Kerber argues in his sumptuous exhibition catalog. They also served

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