Long before the advent of balloons and other aircraft, Jacopo de' Barbari created a bird's-eye view of Venice through the power of his intellect and imagination. The mural-size print was unprecedented in scale when it was published in the year 1500. Every building, canal, and open square is documented here. One imagines Barbari and his assistants climbing up the city's 103 bell towers in order to survey the dense urban landscape. The View of Venice also features the maritime activities that made the city an international center of trade. Mercury, the god of commerce, presides over the city, while watchful Neptune, god of the seas, rides his dolphin through the harbor.
The incredible advance in the presentation and dissemination of information makes this the Google Earth of its day. The View's landmark status in the history of art and intellectual property is signaled by the fact that it was the first image ever to receive a copyright. It was printed in sections from six carved wooden blocks. Each part is so big that the individual sheets of paper were the largest ever produced in Europe at that time. When published, the View was very expensive, and most examples were probably displayed on walls. The result is that only 13 examples of the original edition are known to survive. The MIA's example-the first to change hands in 55 years-is one of just three in America and is in unusually good condition.