“Art and science both lost blood when monsters vanished from the maps”

The Guardian has a fascinating essay by Jonathan Jones on the golden age of map-making, 1500 to 1700, to tie-in with a forthcoming exhibition at the British Library – Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art.  There’s also an equally fascinating BBC 4 series covering the same ground – The Beauty of Maps.  From Jonathan Jones’ Guardian article

Magnificent Maps leads us deep into the mentality of awe and wonder his pictures of maps communicate. It tells the story of mural maps – geographical statements that were hung on walls or even painted into the very plaster of palaces as frescoes. It argues that maps in early-modern Europe were as likely to decorate a room as paintings or tapestries were – and so puts a new twist on the truth that maps can be works of art in their own right.

Here’s a clip from the BBC 4 series on the Hereford Mappa Mundi

First episode here – Medieval Maps – Mapping the Medieval Mind

And here’s a short video podcast on the Folio Society’s Mappa Mundi facsimile project.

Top image: Detail from The Siege of Breda by Jacques Callot. Photograph: The British Library.

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  • The BBC4 short series is the kind of thing that justifies the existence of that minority channel (along with, say, Wallander with sub-titles). Until the programme on Dutch cartography I hadn’t spotted the prevalence and significance of maps in paintings of domestic scenes.

    A moment of insularity? Am I alone in finding our local maps (Ordnance Survey above all, nostalgically old, slightly-foxed, a bit muddy, cloth-backed and 1:63360) so much more informative and logical than the systems and codes adopted by those pesky foreigners? Has anyone, first time, cracked the New York subway on the basis of its plan? I frequently end up three stops beyond where I wanted to be because I boarded the express and not the local. That’s the equivalent, I suppose, of the Covent Garden conundrum: it’s quicker to get off at Leicester Square and walk. Only tourists and culchies spent fifteen minutes changing onto the Dilly. A map-induced error.

    And, yes, I shall most assuredly be doing the Northern Line trip to St Pancras, despite the “improvements” that make it a subterranean safari, for the exhibition.

    And, no, I do not like this new lay-out.