The first artwork to be considered as a cityscape was a fresco at the Baths of Trajan in Rome dated from the 1st century A.D. It depicted the ancient city from a bird’s eye view. In the Middle Ages some elements of the cityscape could be found in the background of portraits and religious paintings. From the 16th to the 18th century engravings and etchings showing the city in aerial perspective were quite popular and often used as maps.
In the middle of the 17th century the cityscape became an independent painting genre in the Netherlands. One of the most prominent works of the genre is View of Delft by Jan Vermeer, who depicted his native city Delft in this painting. Amsterdam, Haarlem and The Hague were also popular subjects for cityscapes of that time. The work of Netherlandish artists became an example for many artists from other European countries including Great Britain, Germany, France.
The 18th century witnessed the flourish of the cityscape in Italy, where its most remarkable representatives were Canaletto and Guardi. Caspar van Wittel, a native-born Netherlandish who lived his entire life in Italy, brought into vogue large panoramic paintings with a detailed portrayal of everyday city life.
A new chapter in the history of cityscape was opened by Impressionists. Focusing on the rhythm of city life and changeable states of the atmosphere, they appealed to the new artistic techniques: blurred outlines, shaded lines, free and quick brushstrokes. Impressionists created their paintings en plein air, that means, they painted from nature and that was why color palettes of their works were incredibly bright and rich. Their goal was not to depict the real life as detailed as possible but to show their impressions and emotions from it. During that period suburban and industrial areas, building sites and railway yards also became subjects for cityscapes.
In the 20th century the attention was focused mainly on abstract and conceptual art and thus the cityscape suffered its slight decline. But a rival of figurative art gave new birth to the cityscape and nowadays it is considered to be one of the most popular painting genres. The living representatives of the genre are such well-known artists as Rackstraw Downes, Richard Estes and a British artist Stephen Wiltshire, who is known for his outstanding ability to reproduce landscapes which he has seen only once.