This fine woodcut view of Ceuta is a seemingly unrecorded proof for Georg Braun & Frans Hogenberg’s famous copper engraved view of the city, printed within the first volume of their pioneering town book Civitates Orbis Terrarum (Cologne, 1572).
The attractive bird’s eye view shows Ceuta as it appeared during the mid-16th Century, when the it was a Portuguese enclave, located near the northern tip of Morocco, just on the Mediterranean side of the Strait of Gibraltar. The heavily fortified city, surrounded by thick, high stone walls, is shown to occupy a small peninsula, protecting a fine natural harbour. Numerous ships, such a Portuguese carrack, Arab dhows and a galley ply the seas. A few locations are labelled such as ‘St. Catarina’ (Isla de Santa Catalina), ‘S. Jacobi’ (Santiago Church) and ‘Castrum’ (the military / defensive reserve).
The finely made woodcut is strongly debossed onto the paper, forming a wonderful tactile effect on the blank verso.
While the circumstances of the production of the present view are not fully established, strong evidence suggests that it is a proof prepared for George Braun & Frans Hogenberg’s famous copper engraved view of Ceuta. The woodcut is precisely the same size and features exactly the same content as the Braun & Hogenberg copper engraved issue, which was printed on a sheet with five other views entitled: Tingis Lusitanis Tangiara [on sheet with] Tzaffin [and] Septa [and] Arzilla [and] Sala (being views of the cities of Tangiers, Safi, Ceuta, Arzilla and Sale). The copper engraved view was printed within volume I of Braun & Hogenberg’s Civitates Orbis Terrarum (Cologne 1572), which was published in 6 volumes, issued between 1572 and 1617. The Civitates was revolutionary, being the first comprehensive book of realistic town views, depicting cites from five continents. An example of this view from the collections of the Jewish National & University Library (Jerusalem) can be seen here:
The present woodcut proof is identical in style to a woodcut entitled Canonor (depicting Kannur, India) that was sold in 1985 by the famed book dealer H.P. Kraus. Kraus believed that his woodcut of Kannur was likely a proof for the Braun & Hogenberg’s view of that city, likewise published within volume I of the Civitates. Kraus’s attribution is quite convincing, and the woodcut of Kannur, like the present view of Ceuta, is likely based on a series of manuscript sketches given to Frans Hogenberg around 1570 by the Hanseatic merchant Constantin van Lyskirchen (d. 1581).
Ceuta’s history goes back to ancient times; however, its modern story begins when the Portuguese conquered the city from the Sultan of Fez, following the Battle of Ceuta in 1415. During the Iberian Union (1580 to 1640), under which the crowns of Portugal and Spain were united under the rule of the King of Spain, large numbers of Spaniards moved to the enclave. When the Union acrimoniously broke up in 1640, the large Spanish population ensured that Ceuta was the only part of the Portuguese Empire that chose to remain under Spanish rule. Portugal formally recognized Spain’s control of Ceuta by the Treaty of Lisbon of 1668.
The present view of Ceuta appears to be unrecorded and is a lovely gem of early urban topographical art.