Misinformation Pictures – Primary

Engravings of maps and views foreign places were in great demand in Enlightenment England.

It is easy to assume that a picture from the seventeenth century would be a faithful representation of what existed, however in a time before photographs, when travel was a slow and dangerous undertaking, artists could impose their own will upon their recordings.

Oliver Cromwell famously stated he wanted his portrait to be painted ‘warts and all', but it is difficult to believe his portrait painter would avoid resorting to flattery in order to please his subject and earn a better fee and the possibility of future work.

For instance the picture above is a detail from a print held by the New York Public Library, entitled The Citty of Tangier from an engraving by Wenceslaus Hollar in 1663 based on a survey by Jonas Moore.

Wenceslaus Hollar, an aristocratic artist of high repute, engraved and etching a bird's eye view of the city based on an official survey for the His Highness the Duke of York by Jonas Moore in 1663[1]. His views of places in England are generally thought to be accurate, although some details seem to be subject to artistic licence or lack of knowledge. However this print of Tangier shows the harbour developed to an extent that was never achieved, even nearly twenty years later. It also shows none of the many houses in disrepair or vacant plots described in official documents [2]. The work was obviously based on drawings by Moore, who presumably wished to please his royal sponsor.


Wenceslaus Hollar


Some years later Hollar saw his opportunity and petitioned Charles II to be permitted to travel to Tangier to sketch and paint pictures of the city and its surroundings.


Unlike Jonas Moore's prints, Hollar's do show vacant plots and a few buildings in ruinous state. See, for instance Prospect of the West Side of Yorke Castle at Tangier 1669 BL Topographical Collection


I have not seen any critical analysis of Hollar's Tangier watercolours and prints, though they do show some slight variations according to the date they were painted or etched. His eye for detail and his recording skills make it unlikely he made mistakes in his Tangier etchings, so any inaccuracies are likely to be deliberate attempts to please his intended customers, probably King Charles II and his brother James, Duke of York.


We might question the overall atmosphere of casual peace and calm, the relaxed attitude of any people wandering about outside the city walls and the appearance of a well-appointed White Hall fort cum country-club with beautifully manicured vegetable plots and bowling green as shown in one of the startlingly detailed watercolours held in the British Museum - Prospect of the Land and Forts within the Lines of Communication. Nonetheless he does show sentinels on duty on the batteries of cannon, and muskets stacked close at hand ready for use.


Elbl [3] has undertaken a detailed analysis of the city walls, Castle and Upper Castle of Tangier in his attempts to prove the Portuguese handed the city to the English in good repair and good defensive posture – even though his purpose and bias are blatant, most of his conclusions are cogent, well argued and based on copious evidence. He does not question the accuracy of Hollar's pictures of the town's walls.

In summary I think Hollar's pictures can be taken to be the most accurate representations of English Tangier that we have available for study.

Fact Check


[1] Citty of Tanger NYPL Image 488943; 1663, Jonas Moore / Hollar

[2]  See for instance NatArchives CO 279 / 34 ‘An account of houses leased out at Tangier' 1664-1668

[3] Martin Malcolm Elbl, Portuguese Tangier (1471-1662): Baywolf Press (ISBN 978-0-921437-50-5)