An Exhibition of Maps Smuggled Out of Napoleonic France

Gentleman, Soldier, Scholar and Spy: The Napoleonic-Era Maps of Robert Clifford, an exhibition running at the McMaster Museum of Art in Hamilton, Ontario through 1 September 2018, showcases an unusual collection of maps held by the McMaster University Library: a cache of maps smuggled out of France in the early 1800s by British spy and cartographer Robert Clifford.

Clifford’s maps reveal a world on the cusp of an evolutionary shift in cartography brought about by the Napoleonic wars. Hand-coloured, manuscript maps depicting the precise and exacting geometry of Vauban-designed fortified cities give way to maps printed from engraved plates, incorporating new techniques and symbology to satisfy the shifting focus onto the surrounding landscape of unordered nature. Maps used primarily for the siege of cities in previous generations are re-placed by maps of vast expanses of territory for a new style of open warfare.

How the maps ended up at McMaster is a story in itself; see the Hamilton Spectator’s coverage. [Tony Campbell]

Author: Jonathan Crowe

I blog about maps at The Map Room, review books for AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, and edit a fanzine called Ecdysis.