Printed book; 10 1/8 x 6 3/4 in. (26 x 17 cm)
Purchased with income from the Jacob S. Rogers Fund (551.3 G41)
Called the father of French zoology, Pierre Gilles (14901555) edited ancient texts and published a book about fish, which he dedicated to Francis I. The latter sent him to the East to collect Greek manuscripts, a passion of the French court. Arriving in Constantinople in 1544, Gilles encountered the large and prosperous city of Süleyman the Magnificent. Its "inhabitants [were] daily demolishing, effacing, and utterly destroying the small remains of antiquity"; hence the need to study and record the city's topography and monuments. After Gilles' death in 1555, his nephew used his journals to complete the book.
In this, the first scholarly account of Constantinople, Gilles systematically discusses the sections and hills of the city, mixing the methods of the naturalist and the classicist, as befits a Renaissance humanist. He measures distances between structures and records inscriptions, but passes quickly over artistic details, taking no account, for example, of the gilded mosaics of Hagia Sophia or the reliefs on the then-extant column of the emperor Arkadios (r. 395408). He ignores completely the art and architecture from the Late Byzantine period. Gilles' Constantinople is distant, for he views it through the framework of early texts, chiefly the Notitia urbis Constantinopolitanae, a fifth-century Latin description of the city, and he disparages its current inhabitants, whom he finds hostile and uninterested in monuments. Gilles' book serves notice that the break with the Byzantine empire as a living entity is complete. Long influential, his topography was translated into English in 1729.