New Acquisitions: Two 18th Century Views of Boston

In this season of giving, we are highlighting a pair of objects that were donated to the collection in 2017. We are very grateful for this donation, which expands our collection of items related to Boston in the 18th century.

The Bostonian Society recently received the generous donation of two etchings which present fictitious or imagined views of 1770's Boston. These etchings were done in 1778 in Augsburg by Franz Xaver Habermann, also known as Francois Xavier Habermann, an artist who never visited Boston or in fact got any closer to it than Italy. His images are obviously heavily influenced by the street scenes he saw around him and don't resemble the buildings that actually stood in Boston at the time.

2017.0001.001 Vue de Boston - Old State House. Gift of Randolph J. Fuller.

The first of the two images depicts a building near and dear to us - the Old State House, then known as the Town House. In Habermann's imagining of our building it was made of stone rather than brick and was more imposing and highly decorated.

2017.0001.002 Vue de Boston - Old South Meeting House. Gift of Randolph J. Fuller.

The second image depicts the Old South Meeting House, but it looks very little like our neighbors down Washington Street. Again the red brick exterior is replaced with stone and the decorative elements are embellished. 

A very talented artist, Habermann was born in Glatz in Prussia in 1721 and originally trained as a sculptor. He traveled to Italy in 1746, possibly as part of his training. He moved to Augsburg and married Maria Catharina Worle, the widow of a miniature painter. In Augsburg, he served as the president of the guild of sculptors and painters from 1756 to 1757 and taught painting at the Art Academy of Augsburg from 1781 to his death in 1796.

The prints were originally published in Augsberg by Martin Englebrecht and Johann Hertzel and later by Habermann himself, in sets of four. The other two prints, which we don’t hold in our collection, depict King Street, after which this blog is named, and Boston Harbor. Habermann also produced and sold images of cities around the world, including Venice and New Delhi.

These etchings are vues d'optique (also known as perspective views), intended to be used with a zograscope. A zograscope is a viewing device that predated the stereoscope and which is used to enhance the viewer’s perception of depth and dimensionality in an image. This technology was invented in the 1740's in England and was mostly used on images of architecture or urban street scenes, such as our two images of Boston. When viewed through the zograscope, the image would have been reversed, hence the words "Vue de Boston" written backwards across the top of the image.

We are so excited to have these images in our permanent collection because they provide us with a fascinting glimpse of what Europeans who had never seen Boston pictured when they imaged this far off place.