City of dark medieval closes, of the Reformation, of the Enlightenment, of post-Devolution optimism.
Edinburgh is all of these and more, as a multifaceted portrait of a single sitter emerges from the walls of A Capital View, currently on show over three floors of the City Art Centre. Here is a city determined to be seen as the seat of power and at the heart of history, whose very architecture reflects seismic shifts in social history as captured in paintings and drawings that span centuries.
The first image to grab the attention - John Zephaniah Bell's Edinburgh From Craigleith Quarry - suggests an entire city sprung from a hole in the natural ground, as history rests layer on layer vertically down through the strata of the stone quarry but also horizontally towards the receding horizon as New Town gives way to Old Town gives way to the prehistory of Arthur's Seat.
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Those spires, the castle and the monuments on the hill return again and again as Edinburgh is viewed from every conceivable angle - from Corstorphine, from Craiglockhart, a bird's eye view from above or a Romantic gaze through a rip in Salisbury Crags. Changes wrought on the city over time are fascinating; the things that stay the same even more so. The backbone of the Royal Mile, with its churches and tall lands, is evident in John Slezer's North Prospect Of The City Of Edinburgh from the 1690s, it's there in Robert Barker's late 18th-century "panorama" and it's there still in William Highet's acrylic six-panel portrait of the south side of the street from 2003, where historic past mingles with commercial present.
Space is found here for the social span of Edinburgh's citizens too, from Lord Provost to humble porter. However, those citizens are reduced to single dots of red, white and blue packed on to rooftops and hillsides in John Wilson Ewbank's Entry Of George IV Into Edinburgh, as the very splendour of the painting attempts to heal wounds caused by Jacobite rebellion and Highland Clearances. But it's the buildings that remain the true face of the city, as landmarks of all styles gather in the single frame of David Rhind's Capricco: The Monuments Of Edinburgh.
There's a strong visual link between Rhind's fine art "group shot" and Nathan Coley's The Lamp Of Sacrifice, showing as part of Generation 2014 at GoMA. A decade ago, Coley made scale models of all 286 buildings listed under the "Places of Worship" section of the Edinburgh Yellow Pages. Rendered in simple brown cardboard, the specificity of their religious function is stripped away and a uniformity emerges instead. Here is a cityscape where tall spires rise from small spires, but I can't help wondering what the opposite image would be: an Edinburgh where these iconic buildings, with all their historical baggage, have been removed.