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Utopia and the well-ordered fortress: J. M. von Schwalbach’s town plans of 1635

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 April 2016

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Strangely, the ideal city of the Renaissance was promoted not so much by Venus, but by Mars — not by an abstract appreciation of beauty but by the necessities of war. Here was surely one of the great ironies made by the peculiar Renaissance belief in the intrinsic power of geometry. To Filarete, Leonardo da Vinci, and others who imagined ideal cities, geometry was a comprehensive ordering system to which streets, walls, and public buildings alike might be subordinated.

Research Article
Copyright © Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain 1994



1 The CCA treatise (CCA-DR1986:0761) is the only known copy of Schwalbach's manuscript. It appears to be a version of Manuscript c-102 in the Handschriftsammlung of the Dresden Bibliothek: ‘Bericht, wie alle und jede, sowohl Regular als Irregular-Vestungen auff Ceometrische Art nach gegebenen Proportionen auffzureissen und zu verzeichnen, auch wie dieselbe hernach auffzubauen, zu muniren, proviantiren, besetzen, und mit aller anderen Nohtdürßigkeit zu versehen’. The Dresden version was apparently lost during the Second World War and no photographs survive. There is no reason to suppose that the CCA manuscript and the Dresden version are one and the same.

2 For example, the German military historian Max Jahns, perhaps out of pardonable national pride, viewed Schwalbach as a forerunner of the legendary Sebastien LePrestre Vauban. In Schwalbach's treatise he saw ‘die reichliche Anwendung von Traversen auf allen längeren Linien, aus welcher unverkennbar herzorgeht, dass schon damals in Hessen und Sachsen der angeblich von Vauban erfundene Ricochetschuss sehr wohl bekannt … war.’ Jahns, Max, Geschichte der Kriegswissenschaften, vornehmlich in Deutschland, 3 vols (Munich and Leipzig, 1889-91), p. 1117.Google Scholar Jahns also cites Schwalbach for pioneering the use of free-standing parapeted walls at the foot of the escarpment at the outer ditch.

3 Much of this is recorded in the biographical poem that introduces the ‘Kurtzer Berichtt’. Written in Latin verse by the distinguished Saxon philologian and poet August Büchner, it is a splendid example of courtly panegyric during the Thirty Years War. I am indebted to Leszek Wysocki of McGill University for his translation.

4 Ibid. For a recent account of the politics of the Electors during this period, see Parker, Geoffrey, The Thirty Years’ War (London, 1984).Google Scholar

5 From Biichner's poem.

6 Ibid.: ‘The time which others devote to luxury / you devote your time to geometry / you raise fortifications in the cities.’

7 In the Hessian Staatsarchiv in Marburg is a sketch of 1622, almost certainly by Dilich, for a bastion at Wanfried (Bestand 4h, Nr. 07). I am indebted to John Thiebault of the University of Oregon for this reference.

8 Born in Wabern, Hessia, Dilich studied at the universities of Wittenburg and Marburg where he soon became accomplished at topographic views in pen and ink. During the 1590s, serving as Abreisser at the court of the Hessian Landgraf Moritz, he executed numerous panoramas and views of Hessia, Saxony, and several Hanseatic cities. Even before serving with Schwalbach he had authored a short treatise on military architecture, the Kriegsbuch (1607). His chief architectural work was the so-called Riesensaal in the Dresden palace, now destroyed, a commission that Schwalbach helped to arrange. See the entries on both Dilich and his son in Thieme-Becker.

9 Johann Wilhelm Dilich (1600-60) was trained by his father as an engraver and military engineer. His drawings are preserved in the Frankfurt Stadtarchiv. Matthias Merian's famous engraving of Frankfurt (1646) depicts the city as fortified by the younger Dilich, including the unbuilt line of the fortifications at Sachsenhausen, across the Rhine, presumably also designed by Dilich. Wilhelm Dilich's 1640 Peribologia presents on plate CCXCII what appears to be an idealized version of the fortifications at Frankfurt.

10 Wilhelm Dilich, Peribologia, oder, Bericht Wilhelmi Dilichy … von Vestungsgebewen vieler Orter, vermehrett wie auch mit Gebührenden Grundt und Auffrissen versehn und publicirett durch Johannem Wilhelmum Dilichium (Frankfurt, 1640). Many of the plates are taken directly from the drawings in the ‘Kurtzer Berichtt’; virtually all of these are reversed. For example, plate CCLXXIIX in Dilich is a reverse of CXXCIX in Schwalbach.

11 This type of town was already widely published in the 1560s in the works of Pietro Cataneo, Girolamo Maggi, and Giacomo Castriotto. See Lewis, Michael J., La géométrie de la fortification: traités et manuels, 1500–1800 , catalogue of an exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (Montréal, 1992)Google Scholar. None the less, it seems that Dilich and Schwalbach were working from Dutch, French, and German sources, that is, the second generation after the Italian authors. At least this seems to be the case from the authors cited by Johann Wilhelm Dilich in his introduction to Peribologia, including, among others, Jean Errard Bar-le-Duc, Jacob Perret, Samuel Marolois, Adam Freytag, and Georg Günther Kroll.

12 Schwalbach, p. 186.

13 Specklin, Daniel, Architetura von Vestungen (Strassburg, 1589)Google Scholar

14 Kruft, Hanno-Walter, Städte in Utopia. Die Idealstadt vom 15. bis zum 18. Jahrhundert zwischen Staatsutopie und Wirklichkeit (Munich, 1989), pp. 6881.Google Scholar

15 Schwalbach, p. 186. He sometimes uses the term Stadtobrist.

16 Ibid., chapter 20, pp. 186-94.

17 Andreae, Johann Valentin, Republicae Christianopolitanae descriptio (Strassburg, 1619)Google Scholar; reprint of 1741 German translation (Hildesheim, 1981).

18 Hipp, Hermann, Studien zur ‘Nachgotik’ des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts in Deutschland, Böhmen, Osterreich und der Schweiz (diss., Tübingen, 1979).Google Scholar

19 Kruft, , Städte in Utopia, pp. 7679.Google Scholar