Are maps boring?
Introduction to the online exhibition
What follows below is an online version of an exhibition on display in Queen’s Upper Library from March to summer 2010. Many of the maps featured in the exhibition were too large for the exhibition cases and had to be included as photographs, so the images below are very close to what you would find in the physical exhibition.
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The title page
Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1591) by Abraham Ortelius (1527 -1598)
The main title page of Ortelius’ Theatrum (left) is a striking and innovative engraving. The Theatrum breaks new ground in its depictions of geographical imagery, combined with symbolic and historical allusions.
The word ‘theatrum’ suggests the proscenium of a theatre. Five female figures are grouped around the title and immediately invite explanations of their symbolic roles. The meaning of the title or frontispiece is supplied by a poem, which is printed in the preliminary pages of the Theatrum.
The crowned and enthroned figure at the top is Europe, Empress of the World. The sceptre in her right hand is an emblem of her authority and by means of the rudder held in her left hand she steers the affairs of the world. The large cross signifies her Christian (Catholic) religion. The figure at her right hand – on the left of the title – is Asia, richly dressed as an Oriental princess adorned with gems and precious stones. In her left hand is a thurible, filled with fragrant incense, and the aromatic fumes issuing from it represent oriental mystery.
Africa, standing on the opposite pedestal, is black; burnt in the course of the impetuous chariot ride of Phaethon, unable to control the horses of his father Helios. Africa’s head glows with heat and in her hand she holds a sprig of balsam the unique provenance of which was thought to be Egypt.
The reclining figure at the foot is America, believed to be the first allegorical representation of the continent. South America is depicted with arms and hunting equipment appropriate to her Amazonian status as a warrior. The severed head hints at cannibalism. Finally there is a truncated bust of a fifth figure: she represents Magellania, the terra incognita or virgin land as yet unexplored. The fires burning below her breast correspond to those sighted by Magellan, and hence the lands named thereafter Tierra del Fuego and Magellania.
In the wake of Ortelius’s innovative title page numerous decorative and allegorical title pages or frontispieces appeared in many atlases published over the next 150 years.
When Mercator’s works were published in 1595, the title page just showed the seated figure of Atlas within an architectural structure. It was this representation that gave rise to the name of ‘atlas’ for a collection of maps. In Mercator’s Historia Mundi edited by Jodocus Hondius (1635) the figure of Atlas is still prominent (right).
Broecke, M. van den (ed.). Abraham Ortelius and the First Atlas: essays … (Utrecht : HES, 1998)
The military map
Description of the maritime ports of the Kingdom of Portugal by Joao Teixeira Albernaz I (active c. 1602-1666)
In the history of cartography a significant proportion of maps were created with military purposes in mind: battle plans, spy maps, maps for military offensives.
Two recently discovered Portuguese manuscript atlases in The Queen’s College Library, Description of the maritime ports of the Kingdom of Portugal and Plans of the cities and fortresses of the conquest of Oriental India were produced in 1648 by Joao Teixeira Albernaz I, a member of the prestigious Teixeira family of mapmakers, evidently for military use.
As the title-page of the Description attests (left), by 1648, Joao Teixeira Albernaz I held the office of Cosmographer of His Majesty. At this time the King of Portugal was John IV (1604-56), who, as Duke of Braganza, became the first ruler of newly-independent Portugal after the revolt of 1640 had cast off the sovereignty of Philip IV of Spain, a situation which Spain finally recognised in 1668.
During the long period of war with Spain maps were compiled to support decisions relating to large areas of the country and remained in manuscript to ensure secrecy. This probably explains why the Description of maritime ports includes opposite each chart a description of the ports, the water levels at low and high tide, and places for anchorage, all important data for war ships.
The inscription near Peniche (above, right page) ‘Aqui desembarcaraõ os Ingresese o anno 1589’ (‘Here the English disembarked in the year 1589’), is a reference to the English expedition led by Sir Francis Drake in support of the Prior of Crato, Don Antonio’s claim to the Portuguese throne against Philip II of Spain. The expedition was unsuccessful, the forces landing at the fortress of Peniche but failing to go on from there to capture Lisbon.
However for mapping purposes the latter fact is insignificant; what is important is that the shore around Peniche is suitable for landing large numbers of troops.
Cortesâo, Armando. An Early Chorographic Map of Portugal. In Imago Mundi, v.19, 1965, pp.111-112.
The English map
An Atlas of England and Wales by Christopher Saxton (1542?-1610?)
By the 1570s the political and strategic climate of England called for reliable maps for purposes of civil control and national defence. Elizabeth I’s great minister, Lord Burghley, a map enthusiast himself, chose an obscure Yorkshireman, Christopher Saxton, to make a survey of England and Wales. He completed it in five summers, between 1574 and 1579. He must have worked extremely fast, ascending church towers and vantage points to fix directions and distances, perhaps by a single form of triangulation. For the south western counties, including Cornwall, he may have adopted a grid based on the Elizabethan beacon system set up to transmit news of any imminent invasion from one high point to another.
His map shows many villages and towns designated by conventional symbols; also parks, woods, bridges and ‘sugar loaf’ hills. However no roads are shown – these rarely appeared on county maps until the 1670s. Saxton’s Cornwall (right) is out of position: Land’s End is shown north of Plymouth whereas the true alignment is almost 20 angular degrees to the south.
The value of Saxton’s work is unquestionable but the engraving of the maps by the Flemish émigré artist Lenaert Terwoort contributed greatly to its lasting appeal. Sea monsters and galleons enliven the seas as befits maritime Cornwall. Birds, flowers, fish and strapwork adorn the cartouches with incredible variety in their shapes and figures. The artists who coloured the engravings enhanced their beauty even further. The copy at Queen’s is an outstanding example of the cooperation between surveyor, engraver and painter.
The influence of Saxton’s map was long-lasting and his topography was adopted by Gerard Mercator for his great atlas published in 1595 and by John Speed for his 1612 Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. In fact Saxton’s work remained the basis for all English maps for nearly two hundred years.
Based on: Barber, Peter (ed.). The Map Book (London : Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005).
Design and map signs
Before the nineteenth century map makers were free to choose and use map signs almost arbitrarily. The modern notion of a prescribed or conventional sign was defined only at the beginning of the nineteenth century, in connection with the first national survey of France by the French army.
Map signs can be pictorial or non-pictorial: the pictorial ones resemble the things they represent, eg. woods, waves in water, buildings, or mountains. Non pictorial ones had to be explained by a cipher. Almost any mark could be used as a cipher: asterisks, crowns, etc. However, explanation was essential, for there was no consistency of usage. A crescent added to a town sign on a map of Hungary was used to denote a place under Turkish (Islamic) rule; on a map of France signified the seat of the regional parliament; and on a map of the English county of Hampshire (John Norden, 1596) indicated the presence of a regular market.
Design is also essential to the effectiveness of a map. Decorative cartouches around the title not only make the page more attractive and more appealing to purchasers but very often carry references to a political situation.
Based on: Barber, Peter (ed.). The Map Book.
In the map of Hungary by Clement de Jonge (left) in Orbis Terrarum Nova et Accuratissima Tabula by Nicolas Visscher (1660s) the crescent denotes a place under Turkish rule (see blue circle). Hungary was occupied by the Turks from 1541-1699. However the cartouche design suggests a kind of revenge on the Turks. It depicts the King of Hungary who is standing with his sword drawn ready to fight and his page is about to hand him his helmet. The Eagle embraces the cartouche threatening the Turkish prisoners who are about to be chained by a Hungarian. The truth, unfortunately was significantly different: Louis II, King of Hungary was killed in 1526 by the Turks and for 150 years it was the Turks who captured the Hungarians, selling them into slavery and training young boys to become janissaries. So the cartouche embodied more wishful thinking than historical fact, but appealed to the Christian world.
The map of Cyprus in Johannes Janssen’s Atlas Novus sive Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1649) is a more cheerful story. The cartouche is made up of an image of Venus drawn in a shell chariot by swans (right). In Greek mythology Venus was born in Cyprus, and emerged from the sea in a shell. She is seen here with Cupid who has plunged an arrow of love into her breast. The legend gave the artist an excuse to depict a nude in a map, to the delight of the buyer (most likely a man). Venus is quite robust, a mixture of figures by Michelangelo and Rubens, whose work the Dutch mapmaker would have known and may well have been influenced by it.
The mapmaker’s quest
How far is a mapmaker willing to go in a pursuit of his/her findings? Phyllis Pearsall, the creator of the London A-Z walked a total of 3,000 miles while mapping London’s 23,000 streets; Thomas Shaw, the eighteenth century Queensman traveller measured distances on horseback and camelback, was chased by Arab harammees in North Africa, and produced maps the accuracy of which are quite close to our present day knowledge. Captain John Smith risked his life in the hands of the Indian tribes while mapping Virginia and used his charm to get the Chieftan’s daughter, Pocahontas to intervene on his behalf. These are just a few examples from the much larger number of heroic acts of mapmakers.
The generall historie of Virginia (1624) by Captain John Smith (1580-1631)
Searching for gold and survivors from the ill-fated Roanoke Colony, a group of English colonists, led by Captain John Smith, spent some time from 1607 to 1609 exploring and mapping the Chesapeake bay and its adjacent rivers. The result was the Map of Virginia which was the most accurate and detailed map of the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic coastline produced in Europe until 1673 and remained the source for the maps of Virginia for two hundred years.
Captain Smith was a colourful adventurer-explorer who travelled widely to the east, was captured but escaped slavery in Tartary and made his way across the steppes to Muscovy. He is reputed to have defeated, killed and beheaded Turkish commanders in three duels, for which he was knighted by the Transylvanian Prince Sigismund Bathory and given a horse and a coat of arms showing three Turks’ heads. On his return to England he signed up for the expedition to Virginia.
A Map of Virginia (right) was engraved by William Hole and drawn with west at the top instead of north. Among the map signs the Maltese cross indicates how far the expedition reached along the rivers. There are as yet few English place-names. On either side of the mouth of the Chesapeake we find ‘Cape Henrye’ and ‘Cape Charle’[sic], named after the sons of King James I; ‘Smyth’s Iles’ on the outer shore, and to the right of Cape Charle ‘Jamestowne’ itself. The map also includes Smith’s coat of arms.
The presence of a representation of Powhatan’s ‘state’ or court and the figure of the Susquahannock on the right side of the map are significant: they acknowledge the existence of the native peoples and their governance. At the same time, the coat of arms of the English King James I between Powhatan and the Susquahanock suggests a challenge to Powhatan’s ‘rule’ over his people, and shows the intention of the English to take their place in the new land. The banner of Virginia is another symbol of English intentions to dominate, perhaps representing the flag planted to claim lands.
The Newberry Library. Lowry Glover. The John Smith Map of Virginia: Derivations and Derivatives. 1997.
The Library of Virginia. Cassandra Farrell. Virginia, Discovered and Described: John Smith’s Map of Virginia and its Derivatives Research Notes No 28. 2007
Commerce and marketing
Map of London in Speculum Britanniae (1593) by John Norden (1548-1625)
Realising that she did not know the location of the party to which she had been invited in the London district of Belgravia one evening in 1935, Phyllis Pearsall (1906-1996) decided to devise a more efficient means of helping other people to navigate the labyrinthine London streets. Working from her bedsit on Horseferry Road near Victoria Station, she set off early each morning to walk. She walked a total of 3,000 miles while mapping London’s 23,000 streets. When she failed to persuade any of the established book publishers to accept her atlas, Pearsall published it herself by founding the Geographers’ Map Company. The A-Z Atlas and Guide to London and Suburbs was published in 1936 and has remained the principal guide to the city ever since.
While we admire Phyllis Pearsall’s achievement we have to realise that her idea of a street index of London was not entirely new. Actually its forerunner was created by John Norden in 1593 in his Speculum Britanniae where he made the first attempt to include street names and places of interest. He further developed this idea in his 1623 edition by including all street names. Unfortunately later attempts to keep up with the rapid growth of the city and the number of names did not work and by the beginning of the twentieth century there was need for an A-Z, in which both the name and the maps were created by Phyllis Pearsall.
In John Norden’s Map of London in the 1593 edition of the Speculum Britanniae (right) around the edges of the map appear the coats of arms of the twelve most influential and wealthy city guilds: the ‘Great Liveries’. They were probably the sponsors for the publication of the map, who, in return wanted their coats-of-arms be represented on the page. This was a common practice in seventeenth-century map publishing and there are numerous examples which indicate that certain sponsors did not pay up and as a result their coats-of-arms were not completed or the publishers could not find enough sponsors to fill up the cartouches. In the map of Cambridgeshire (below, left) in Johannes Blaeu’s English Atlas there are two blank cartouches while in the map of Oxfordshire (below, right) all arms were completed, among them that of The Queen’s College, which owns a copy of this atlas.