Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Compare: How London looks on Google vs. paintings from the 1700s

By Liz Stinson, Wired
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon April 7, 2014
Redditor Shystone has imposed old paintings over Google Street View photographs to create a series of composite images of London then and now. This photo shows a painting of Northumberland House which stood in Trafalgar Square until 1874, by Italian artist Canaletto. Redditor Shystone has imposed old paintings over Google Street View photographs to create a series of composite images of London then and now. This photo shows a painting of Northumberland House which stood in Trafalgar Square until 1874, by Italian artist Canaletto.
HIDE CAPTION
Old vs. new
Blending perspectives
Alternative view
Peaceful vista
Entertainment central
Processional splendour
Changing urban landscape
Enduring landmark
Seat of power
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Old paintings of London overlaid on Google Street View pictures
  • Series of perspective-bending composite images show old and new city
  • Take a look at the gallery to see what old London streets used to look like

(Wired) -- Google's Street View images bear some similarities to 18th-century landscape paintings. The content is different, of course. What Google's army of photo collectors captured at Westminster Abbey on any given day in the 21st century will look different than what Italian painter Canaletto saw back in the 1700s. But they're both a representation of an exact moment in time, which makes them a handy way to compare now and then if you can isolate the right locations.

Redditor Shystone has laid old paintings over Google Street View photographs to create a series of perspective-bending composite images of old and new London. Modern sculptures dominate a plaza that was once wide open; neon signs reside on the same block as gas-lit streetlights; and a bridge covers over a river that was once filled with sailboats.

Compare: How London Looks on Google vs. Paintings From the 1700s
Shystone

We've seen projects similar to this before, but it works particularly well in a city like London, where history is built into infrastructure and architecture. Buildings that existed in the 18th century are still standing today, which gives the images a ghostly feeling. It really is incredible how well paintings from artists like Canaletto and Balthazar Nebot reflect current-day London. It certainly helps that Shystone made sure to line up the edges of buildings and streets for maximum effect.

Read more: The quality of 13 famous TV shows, charted over time

It makes you realize that despite all of the ways cities have changed over the years, maybe some things aren't really that different after all.
Shystone, redditor

The most incredible part of these images is in the details. Look closely at Canaletto's 1749 painting of Westminster Abbey, and you'll see what looks like a painted tree in the upper lefthand side. This is not product of Canaletto's paintbrush, but rather a perfectly-aligned placement of the photograph Google shot more than 250 years later. It looks like it could be the same exact tree, though we know it's not. Still, it's fun to imagine that people have been stopping for shade under those very leaves for centuries.

This idea then, is the coolest part of mash-ups like Shystone's: It makes you realize that despite all of the ways cities have changed over the years, maybe some things aren't really that different after all. Sure, the little girl standing in the middle of William Logsdail's 1888 painting of St. Martins in the Field maybe never existed, and if she did she has since been replaced with a bike lane and stop lights, but the general purpose of the space has remained essentially the same.

Read more: How to create the perfect online dating profile, in 25 infographics

Then again, Shystone points to Balthazar Nebot's 1737 painting of Convent Green Market as an example of how a city does, in fact, evolve. "When this square was originally built in the 1660s it was the first open piazza of its type in London. Pretty famous as a red light district by the time this was painted," he writes. "Today this view east towards St. Paul's Church is taken up by the Market Hall that got built in 1830. There's a nice pub in the basement corner full of little cozy nooks. Gets pretty crowded. Not seen any hookers there yet."

Read more from WIRED:

A startlingly simple theory about the missing Malaysia Airlines jet

How to use your Google Maps — offline

Unsettling images of patients in hiding after plastic surgery (NSFW)

Subscribe to WIRED magazine for less than $1 an issue and get a FREE GIFT! Click here!

Copyright 2011 Wired.com.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
CNN Style
updated 11:02 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
After surviving Vichy prisons and Nazi concentration camps, Brian Stonehouse became one of the most prominent fashion illustrators of his age.
updated 5:03 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Award-winning photographer Phil Stern captured everything from the battlefield to Hollywood Boulevard. These are his most iconic images.
updated 9:16 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
The Sony World Photography Awards has released a collection of some of the competition's most beautiful entrants.
updated 5:42 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Zaha Hadid Qatar 2020 stadium
Are sports stadiums modern-day cathedrals? Leading architects say arenas will soon become our most important social spaces.
updated 6:04 AM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
Whether you think stuffed animals are cool, beautiful, or downright disturbing, this is taxidermy like you've never seen it before.
updated 9:34 AM EST, Thu December 4, 2014
Studio 54 has become synonymous with the glamor and excess of the late Seventies. These rare images capture its debauched side.
updated 8:25 AM EST, Wed December 3, 2014
It's official: London's getting another landmark. This time it's a stunning plant-covered bridge partly inspired by Leonardo DiCaprio.
updated 2:47 AM EST, Wed December 3, 2014
1947 Ferrari 125 S, Enzo Ferrari Museum, Modena
For fans of Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Pagani, this corner of Europe is a petrol-powered promised land.
updated 5:13 AM EST, Wed December 3, 2014
Victoria Beckham and Emma Watson were among the designers, models and taste-makers recognized at this year's British Fashion Awards.
updated 11:48 AM EST, Tue December 2, 2014
Duncan Campbell's It For Others, which features a dance inspired by Karl Marx and examines African art, has won the prestigious art prize.
updated 11:33 AM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
Simon Beck decorates snow-covered lakes and mountainsides with massive geometric designs using his footsteps as his implement.
updated 10:24 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
Houses that melt, float and flip upside down? Alex Chinneck's playful architecture sparks the imagination and begs for a photo-op.
ADVERTISEMENT