Historical Views

The Oldest Views of the Mountain Town of Zschopau

by Hermann von Strauch


The oldest view of the town of Zschopau may be found in the famous Book of Cities by Braun and Hogenberg, which appeared between 1572 and 1618 under the title Civitates orbis terrarum or Cities of the World.
At that time, Georg Braun (or Joris Bruin) was Canon and Deacon of the Liebfrauenkirche in Cologne. He wrote the Latin texts to accompany the illustrations, which were provided by Frans Hogenberg (or Hougenberg), the copperplate engraver born in Mecheln in Brabant, who lived in Cologne from 1590 onwards.

His view of Zschopau dates from 1617 and unquestionably takes great liberties with reality. Besides, it is also quite possible that Hogenberg never saw Zschopau with his own eyes and based his print on an older depiction. For example, it is striking that the Augustusburg as depicted in the background does not yet show its well-known silhouette, which dates from between 1567 and 1573. In the Wildeck Castle as well, we cannot recognize the architectural form created in 1545.

Braun’s text also deserves our attention. Certainly, the author was unable to bring much personal experience with our town to bear, as he admits himself, but he compensates by a portrayal of the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) and the time of the great silver mining rush (the Berggeschrei) in the 15th and 16th centuries that is at once interesting and realistic. Of course, he does not yet employ the expression “Ore Mountains;” for him, they are the “Bohemian Mountains.” Neither does he use the designation of “Saxony” or “Upper Saxony” for our region, but instead always uses the older appellation, the Mark of Meissen.

In English translation, Braun’s text reads as follows: S C O P A.


About ten years after Hogenberg etched his copperplate with the “Contrafatur” of the town of Zschopau, a pen and ink drawing of the same view appeared, drawn by Wilhelm Dilich.
Who was he? Wilhelm Dilich was born at the beginning of the 1570s, the son of a pastor in Wildungen in Hesse. He attended academic schools in Kassel and at the University of Wittenberg, and then entered the service of the Landgrave Moritz von Hessen as a “draughtsman and geographer.” He published a considerable number of smaller and larger writings, which he illustrated himself with maps, plans, townscapes and images. Because of sluggish progress in the survey of his lands ordered by the Landgrave, Dilich was unable to satisfy the demands of his patron. He fell into disfavor, but was able to avoid impending imprisonment by fleeing when Tilly was approaching with his soldiers in 1623. In the service of the Saxon nobility at that time, there was a Hessian nobleman, a military engineer, Melchior von Schwalbach. He helped Dilich flee and, in 1824, to secure a new appointment with the Elector Johann Georg I in Dresden. The Elector quickly recognized Dilich’s multiple talents, and generously rewarded his services, bestowing him with the title of Senior State Architect (Oberlandbaumeister). When he commissioned Dilich to design the wall decorations for the Great Hall in the Dresden castle, Dilich proposed, “to incorporate the views of all the noble towns in the land of Meissen above the main cornice.” His proposal was approved and Dilich was given the assignment to prepare the necessary drawings on site. With an electoral decree in his pocket, which obligated town councils and tax collectors to support Dilich with a horse and wagon, billet or meals, and whatever he might need on the trip to support his work, he traveled through the countryside from 1626 to 1629. From the numbers he assigned to his drawings, we can reconstruct Dilich’s itinerary. The twelfth stop where he made drawings was Zschopau. Unlike Hogenberg’s copperplate etching, where it is impossible to distinguish between reality and fantasy, Dilich’s drawing strikes us by its almost photographic verisimilitude. If we know Saint Martin’s Church or some details of Wildeck Castle to be any different than his drawing, these differences can all be fully documented in the archives. The way Dilich drew Zschopau in the year 1626 is the way it really was at the time.
Altogether, he completed 132 townscapes of this kind during the period. For Dilich, the most important element was the right selection of a vantage point and a frame, and for the rest he allowed nature and man’s handiwork to speak for itself, and there is nothing sugarcoated in his presentation. If his drawings nevertheless have great aesthetic appeal, it is because he was truly able to see the beauty of our homeland and knew how to capture it in his images. The documentary value of his drawings is also inestimable; shortly before the destruction wrought by the Thirty Years War, they inform us comprehensively and precisely about the appearance of our towns, with their houses, their churches, their walls, their gates, their towers and their castles.

In the 17th century, Zschopau grew to be the 18th largest town in Saxony. However, it did not belong to the “foremost towns” of the land that emblazoned the Great Hall in Dresden. Overall, Dilich completed many more drawings than he could possibly use for his original purpose; in addition, he attached Latin “descriptiones” or descriptions to his drawings. This suggests that he was thinking of publishing a book of townscapes with copperplates and texts. Perhaps the long war and his advancing age kept the artist from accomplishing this mission. At a very old age, Dilich died in 1655.


The renowned creator of copperplate etchings and publisher, Matthäus Merian the Elder, is the source of a third 17th century view of Zschopau. He was born in Basel in 1593 and arrived in Frankfurt am Main after various other positions. There, he married into the de Brey publishing house, which had a near monopoly in 17th century Germany for the preparation and marketing of copperplate etchings. He retreated to Basel between 1619 and 1624 because of the turmoil of war, but after the death of his father-in-law, Merian returned to Frankfurt to secure his wife’s inheritance and to take over management of the family business. His successful pursuit of publishing could not be shaken even by the Thirty Years War. Among other pursuits, he turned to contemporary themes, which he rapidly transformed into hard cash. In 1642, he began to publish his topographies of Germany, France and Italy. On page 173 of his 1650 work, “Topographia Superioris Saxoniae, (Topography of Upper Saxony) This is a description of the best known towns and places throughout the whole Electorate of Saxony/Thuringia/Meissen/Upper and Lower Laussnitz and annexed lands” we find the following text accompanying the etching with the view of Zschopau:


Tschopau, Tschoppau, Zschopa.

A Saxon electoral castle and little town in Meissen/ and the same metallic-ore area/ on the Tshopa stream (from which this place gets its name)/ situated near Schelnberg/ Annaberg/ Chemnitz/ Ravenstein/ Wolckenstein and Thum; it is famous for the good pears/ that grow there/ and the glorious hunts and livestock raising/ to be found in this place/ and also because of its precious beer. In the year 1632 the force of the imperial forces wrought great destruction in this place, like in so many others. On the 21st of November in the year 1634, quite a few Saxon regiments were destroyed by the imperial forces/ and the little town right up to the castle/ and quite a few little houses/ where reduced to ashes/ but little by little the houses were rebuilt afterwards. The sixth part of G. Braunen’s Book of Cities commemorates this place as well under the name of Scopa or Schuepen/ and says/ that the castle is situated upon a hill above the waters/ and has a tower that is beautiful to see set against the small town.

Merian was unable to visit all the places that he pictured and described in his books, and he certainly was never in Zschopau to create the kind of true-life drawing that Dilich had produced in 1626. We are not certain if he completed our engraving himself. A number of things speak against it, not merely that Merian died in Schwalbach in the same year (1650) that the plate appeared, but also that for a long period he had assembled a competent circle of collaborators around him, who were in great measure independently active, using his well-known name, while he was running the business and organizational side of the publishing house with great skill. Even these collaborators did not travel around the countryside in order to draw the towns to be pictured on site. It was cheaper and easier to make use of earlier work done by others. For example, many territorial princes of the 17th century had hired architects and architectural engineers to render very precise pictures of their towns. However, unlike Dilich, they generally accomplished their mission in a very dry fashion without any aesthetic pretensions. Merian understood how to use such previous efforts for documentation, but was not at all inclined to simply copy them or to have them copied.
In addition, older publications were blatantly exploited—copyright protection clearly was non-existent. In our case, the townscape by Braun and the engraving by Hogenberg were used as models, and we can see very clearly how Merian and his collaborators went about creating their work. First, the transferred the shape of the most important buildings in the town, such as the castle, the church, the gates, the towers and the walls. As in the model, they were brought toward the foreground and depicted as unnaturally large. As in Hogenberg’s depiction, the town hall tower is missing. And yet, the image makes an entirely different impression: the perspective is improved, the unruly scattering of houses and roofs is reordered, the foreground is abbreviated and newly equipped, the landscape is simplified and harmonically arranged; the great sky is enlivened with clouds. In many ways, the depiction has a more credible and realistic effect, even if Merian’s presentation is no less a product of fantasy than that of Hogenberg.