Representation du Feu Terrible a Nouvelle Yorck. [printed in mirror image.]
Augsburg. Grave par Francois Xav. Habermann. From: Collection des Prospects. Ca. late 1770s. Sheet size: 13 x 17 ½.” Image area about: 11 ½ x 15 ¾.”. Engraving with hand color, likely original. Light foxing/staining. Margins trimmed somewhat but entire platemark present. Item #3736
This is an example of a vue d'optique or "perspective view" that was a form of visual entertainment in the latter half of the 18th century. These views were often fanciful, although this one depicts a real historical event: the September 21, 1776 burning of Manhattan that followed the American abandonment of the city to the British early in the American Revolution.
As the Metropolitan Museum of Art describes the view: "Flames are shown engulfing large, elegant buildings lining a long street (perhaps intended for Broadway), as skirmishes take place and figures flee carrying their belongings. The architecture is derived from European sources and the print is part a series engraved in Augsburg and sold internationally."
The title is engraved backwards at the upper margin since the image was meant to be viewed using a zograscope, an optical device that uses a mirror and magnifying lens to view the image. That device, combined with the strong perspective of the scene and the bright, contrasting colors, combine to approximate a three-dimensional viewing effect.
A description of the scene in German and French appears below the image and blames the departing Americans for torching the city. As is often the case with these views, the city portrayed is probably based upon a European city with flames and mayhem added to fit the story of the actual event.
References: Cresswell, The American Revolution in Drawings and Prints: 268. JCB Archive of Early American Images: Record no. 20553.