23 April 2010
The Beauty of Maps #3
Ah, beauty is all around us: in the air we breathe, the people we meet... and the maps we look at. Last night's programme on BBC4 focused upon the incredible cartographic production of the 16th- and 17th-century Dutch printing houses, which managed to fuse scientific precision and elegant artistry within a range of maps, atlases and globes of supreme quality. We had a few surprises: for example, the fact that the atlas by Mercator - father of the atlas - bombed when it was first published. Who would have thought, from such an ignominious beginning...?
You were treated also to the now very well-known Klencke Atlas of 1660 being taken out of its case and looked at on a table. Not the sort of thing to take to read on a train, the Klencke has always been seen as one massive book, which of course it is. However it is really a 'composite' atlas: that is, a book made up of many previously published maps, especially for one purpose. The fact that these maps were all originally intended as wall maps says something of the huge over-the-top gesture made by Klencke when he presented it. Perhaps ironically, it is purely because of the fact these maps were bound up in a book that they have survive.
Early next week we shall be moving the atlas into the PACCAR gallery, which will be a photo opportunity in itself. But with all the photographs and coverage the atlas has had, I still do not think that anyone can properly appreciate its scale and conception until they've stood next to it. I've never been scared by a book before (not even Enid Blyton's Five go Down to the Sea), but the unnerving feeling of standing next to a book both bigger and heavier than oneself needs to be experienced by all. Opportunity to see it from next Friday.