About Slezer's views of Scotland

John Slezer made his drawings ('prospects') during a 20-year period. He started in the 1670s, when he was travelling round Scotland on his official military duties.

The views were either of towns from a distance or closer views of a building or group of buildings.

Making the drawings

Various features about the drawings give us information or clues about how Slezer made them:

Camera obscura

'Camera obscura' translates as 'the dark room'. We believe Slezer used the tent-type version of it to make his prospects.

A lens high up on one side of the tent projected an outside view on to a mirror on the inside. This reflected the view down on to a table, where the viewer sat and drew the view.

This pinhole-camera effect was not new in Slezer's time. However, Slezer is remarkable for having made use of it extensively several decades before it became popular.

Combined views

Comparing particular prospects with the same scene today, we can see that the perspective in Slezer's version is a bit distorted

This may have come from two views from different points being combined. For instance, in the Melrose Abbey prospect, there's a wall in the wrong place.

Other prospects seem to be several views from the same point which have been put together. As a result, the scene appears longer or more compact than it really is.

'Clip art' and other artists

Slezer did not work alone on all of his drawings, although it's not clear whether other artists did any of the actual prospects. We do know that a painter called John (or Jan) Wyck was paid to touch up and fill up the 57 drawings for 'Theatrum Scotiae' with 'little figures'.

Many of the figures – and other features, such as ships – are out of scale with the image they've been added to. Some have been used in more than one drawing.

These indicate that the artists used the cut-and-paste technique, in the same way we add 'clip art' to documents today.

Back to top