I have always appreciated the power of cityscapes. These lofty views can reveal the sprawl of a metropolis at a glance, orient the observer within the broader geography, and¬—as unique markers of a place, like fingerprints—inspire civic pride. Before the advent of aerial photography in the late 1850s and early 1860s, however, producing such images required considerable ingenuity from artists. John Bachmann (active 1849–85) was one of many nineteenth-century printmakers who used the bird’s-eye view to illustrate New Orleans’s growth. The perspectives in these artists’ pieces varied: some looked upriver, some downriver, some focused on a narrower slice of the city, and some pulled out for broader vistas. What stands out about this work by Bachmann, who made similar lithographs of many other cities, including New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, is its particularly ambitious scope. Many other panoramic views of New Orleans were cast from realistic vantage points—the top of St. Patrick’s Church was a popular spot—but Bachmann’s gazes out from a contrived position somewhere high above the West Bank, showing most of urban New Orleans along a sweeping curve of the Mississippi River and extending all the way to Lake Pontchartrain on the horizon. Accuracy, understandably, was an issue with many of these bird’s-eye views, though Bachmann’s work is considered relatively faithful for its time. Its most notable distortions can be seen in his emphasis of iconic buildings: St. Louis Cathedral, one hundred seventy feet tall in reality, would be seven hundred feet tall if this image were to scale. Bachmann’s dramatic portrayal of the busy port town, complete with intricately detailed steamboats chugging up and down the river, captured public interest and was reproduced many times in the United States and abroad. Today it provides a fascinating glimpse at the way many people would have imagined the breadth of New Orleans during its rapid expansion in the mid-nineteenth century.

Citation 1: 
ca. 1851; lithograph
Citation 2: 
by John Bachmann
Accession #: 
bequest of Richard Koch, 1971.54
Nick Weldon, Assistant Editor