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Project: Painting/Mapping the Medieval Landscape. A Landscape-archaeological analysis of the medieval landscape around Bruges as depicted by Pieter Pourbus

2017-10-01 – 2021-07-31


During the Middle Ages, the metropolis of Bruges thrived through its oversea trade. A large tidal inlet – called Zwin – provided a navigable passage from the North Sea, through the wetlands, to heart of the city. In the middle of the 16th century, the Eighty Years War (1568-1648) transformed the Zwin area from an axis of trade into a frontline of war. Of course, this had a profound impact on the environment. At the start of this sudden landscape transformation, painter-cartographer Pieter Pourbus portrayed the countryside of Bruges with a unique level of detail, accuracy and
scale. Although this painted map is often used as an illustration, it has remained incomprehensibly understudied. In general, studies of historical maps have mainly focussed on the iconography of city maps on the one hand, or on the geometric accuracy of relatively recent mapped landscapes
on the other. Moreover, recent research has shown that the current landscape-historical narratives of this part of the North Sea area are severely outdated. In order to fill these gaps and study this unique landscape through this unique painting, we will merge newly developed digital techniques from art history and geography, and complement this with a renewed archaeological
and historical survey of the region. By unlocking the details of the painted map, we will make an invisible landscape reappear, and unveil the historical, archaeological and environmental records of this remarkable manmade landscape.

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