This beautifully hand-coloured view of 16th-century Messina (or ‘Messana’) shows a large port city at the north-eastern tip of the island of Sicily near Italy, the setting for Much Ado About Nothing.
From the end of the 13th century, Sicily had been ruled by the House of Aragon (a kingdom which is now part of Spain), and it was still under Spanish rule in Shakespeare’s time. So in Much Ado About Nothing, Don Pedro, the Prince of Aragon is granted high respect while the Sicilian governor Leonato and the other Italian characters, have more subordinate status. For the men, returning victorious from war, the sea-side town of Messina becomes a place of play and restoration, where they can exchange their ‘armor’ for love, parties and witty banter (2.3.16). Yet, the society is also strictly bound by custom and convention; the rules for marriage and courtship are carefully prescribed and breaking them is potentially tragic.
The atlas: Civitates orbis terrarum
This view is part of an opulent atlas of the world’s cities, the Civitates orbis terrarum, first published in six parts between 1572 and 1617, and printed in this early 17th-century edition (c. 1600–23). This ambitious collection of 546 engraved views of cities in Europe, Asia, Africa and Mexico was edited by the German Georg Braun and largely engraved by Frans Hogenberg. They relied heavily on first-hand drawings and engravings produced by over 100 other artists like the Flemish Joris Hoefnagel.