This week the British Library launched an online collection of digitized “topographical materials” (i.e., views of and writings about places) called Picturing Places. More than 500 items—paintings, prints, drawings, texts and yes, maps—so far, sorted by theme and with dozens of accompanying articles.
Picturing Places demonstrates that topography involves far more than straightforward ‘pictorial evidence’ of what a place looked like in the past. We showcase some of the Library’s most treasured topographical materials, including Tudor views collected by Robert Cotton and maps and views owned by George III. But much of this material remains uncharted, and is being brought to wider attention for the first time. The first phase of Picturing Places features over 500 collection items, most never published before, and over 100 articles providing fresh perspectives and new ideas.
One of these digitized items is one of the Library’s crown jewels: the gigantic Klencke Atlas presented to Charles II in 1660, all of the pages of which can now be viewed online. How do you digitize an atlas that is 1.76 by 2.31 metres wide when open? Not with a flatbed scanner, you don’t. Here’s how:
Two dark, torn illustrations found in the garage of a Palm Springs home and listed for sale as “two 19th century hand colored prints of the world” turned out to be something quite possibly a bit more significant. First identified as two panels (of six) from a 1708 Korean map, Kim Jin-yeo’s Gonyeomangukjeondo (곤여만국전도), which is a derivative of Matteo Ricci’s famous Kunyu Wanguo Quantu (aka the “Impossible Black Tulip”), the panels ended up selling earlier this month for $24,000; the buyer, map dealer Barry Ruderman, is restoring the map for sale and suspects that it may in fact be a 17th-century Chinese copy rather than a Korean map. Daily Mail, Fine Books Magazine. [WMS]
October is a busy month: I’m aware of six new map books coming out. Two deal with the mapping of war, three with the rich cartographical history of Great Britain, while the sixth is a colouring book.
Maps of War: Mapping Conflict Through the Centuries by Jeremy Black (Conway, 11 October). “There is little documented mapping of conflict prior to the Renaissance period, but, from the 17th century onward, military commanders and strategists began to document the wars in which they were involved and, later, to use mapping to actually plan the progress of a conflict. Using contemporary maps, this sumptuous new volume covers the history of the mapping of land wars, and shows the way in which maps provide a guide to the history of war.”
Art and Optics in the Hereford Map: An English Mappa Mundi, c. 1300 by Marcia Kupfer (Yale University Press, 25 October). Reinterpretation of the Hereford Mappa Mundi from an art history perspective. “Features of the colored and gilded map that baffle modern expectations are typically dismissed as the product of careless execution. Kupfer argues that they should rightly be seen as part of the map’s encoded commentary on the nature of vision itself.”
I told you about the Ordnance Survey’s Great British Colouring Map (Laurence King, 10 October) last July; it’s available this week. “Based on the accurate maps of Ordnance Survey, the colouring pages explore the coasts, towns, forests and countryside of England, Scotland and Wales. Includes detailed maps of cities and other places of interest such as Britain’s most recognizable tourist and historical locations, plus a stunning gatefold of London.”
Part of the legend reading “between the 15th and 42nd parallels” had been erased, with ocean patterns painted over the erasure. […] Whether this is a recent defacement done to obliterate evidence that China’s historical primacy in the South China Sea is a modern fiction, or an ancient one done to eliminate an error, is a subject for further research. […] Nonetheless, several other 16th century copies of the Ricci-Li map exist in Europe, South Korea and Japan, and all display the legend intact.
To be honest, the article isn’t so much making a case as it is casting some aspersions. It has an agenda: to shoot down the argument that China’s claims to the Spratly Islands are supported by the historical record. The Ricci map—like so many other maps caught up in territorial disputes and conspiracy theories—is simply a means to an end. [WMS/Leventhal Map Center]
As the Guardian article about the book points out, hand-colouring maps and illustrations was a common activity before full-colour printing was a thing, so the current mania for adult colouring books—Gretchen Peterson’s City Maps: A Coloring Book for Adults is The Map Room’s best-selling book this year by a large, large margin—can in some ways be seen as a reversion rather than a new thing.
An exhibition at the Chidō Museum in Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture features a huge (11 m × 5 m) mid-17th-century map of northeastern Japan, the Asahi Shimbun reports: “It is a copy of the Dewa Ikkoku no Ezu picture map, which was jointly compiled by feudal domains controlling the region stretching from today’s Yamagata Prefecture to neighboring Akita Prefecture.” [WMS]