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315 - Sealed Architecture: City Seals, Architecture and Urban Identity in the Northern Netherlands, 1200–1700

from Architecture beyond Building

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2013

Elisabeth de Bièvre
Affiliation:
University of East Anglia
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Summary

WHENEVER AND WHEREVER in the world settlements took on characteristics we now associate with cities, we can find architectural images that reflect the community's social, even emotional, priorities. One of the earliest is the wall painting reconstructed from a shrine at Çatal Hüyük (c. 6500 bc) representing a town plan with recurring rows of architectural units set beneath a black silhouette thought to represent an erupting volcano. It seems as if the orderliness of the man-made environment, the regularity of the city's layout and the neatness of the dwellings was intended to guarantee the transformation of the volcanic threat into an agricultural benefit. Instead of fearing being burned by lava, the community could enjoy the promise of soil fertilization.

With the development of cities and the intensification and complication of commercial and legal interaction within and between them, visible and tangible symbols of authority, legality and identity became a requirement. These materialized as flat objects about the size of a hand made of stone or metal (mainly bronze) carrying an image in sculpted relief. The image was to be printed on clay or wax and could be attached to a document for legal purposes or carried as a passport to avoid paying tolls. These items, now known as seals, were employed from the Neolithic period onward in Sumerian city-states, in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iran, the Indus Valley and China, and were widely used in the Greco-Roman world. Individual cities often chose to represent themselves with architectural features considered to be distinctive of them, simultaneously reflecting and highlighting local preoccupations.

Type
Chapter
Information
Architecture and Interpretation
Essays for Eric Fernie
, pp. 315 - 332
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2012

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