John Abraham Slezer (ca. 1650 – 1717) first came to Scotland in 1669, probably from Germany, and settled here in 1671. He was employed in the Scottish army and his military work involved surveying the nation’s major defences and fortifications. While traveling around Scotland, Slezer produced images of many places he visited, publishing them in 1693 as a book, called Theatrum Scotiae.
Theatrum Scotiae is a revealing portrait of Scotland over three hundred years ago. Painted views of Scotland were exceptionally rare at this time, and the examples shown in the exhibition by the Flemish painter Alexander Keirincx and the Dutch painter Jan Vosterman are three of the very few known. Keirincx’s paintings, the earliest known painted Scottish landscapes, are from a set of ten views he produced for Charles I, in connection with the king’s journey to Edinburgh in 1633, for his Scottish coronation.
Slezer’s printed images presented a comprehensive view of Scotland for the first time. These views, or ‘prospects’ as he called them, show towns and cities, country houses, palaces and castles, universities and churches. Slezer’s drawings were created using an optical instrument called a camera obscura which produced accurate depictions. These were then made into engravings by assistants. We see recently-built grand residences, as well as great abbeys and cathedrals ruined and vandalized during the Reformation, and land being used for a variety of purposes.