Book Reviews | December 2012 | Rebecca Rego Barry

The Art of the Map

Ah, the week between Christmas and New Year's Day--for much of the publishing world, it means a full week off. Which means a week of leisurely reading and browsing new books. If you read my last post, you'll know some of the books now on my nightstand. (I finished Eat the Document; now I'm fifty pages into A Light That Never Goes Out, a biography of the British band, The Smiths.) The other book that I've been perusing is The Art of the Map: An Illustrated History of Map Elements and Embellishments (Sterling, $40) by Dennis Reinhartz.

ArtoftheMap.jpgA handsomely illustrated book for map lovers, this book is not a history of cartography per se, but a look at the graphic elements and beautiful imagery of maps from the sixteenth through the nineteenth century. As John Noble Wilford notes in the foreword, "When it came to orienting the  map, the inner artist felt free to embellish the necessary with symbolic blossoms--compass roses--spreading in the cardinal directions. In other flights of whimsy, cherubs with chubby cheeks blow in the directions of the prevailing winds. These features drive up old-map prices at auction."

In this volume, one sees the evolution of the compass rose and watches how images of humans were used by mapmakers through the centuries. Flora and fauna are common ornamental elements too. One of my favorites is Islandia, a map of Iceland, from the 1587 edition of Theatrum. It shows all manner of fantastic beasts off the coast, including man-eating monster fish.

Animal-shaped maps form their own section, and I was glad to see the "Peaceful Lion," of Leo Belgicus, coincidentally featured in our soon-to-be-mailed winter issue. The Pegasus-shaped map of Asia, 1581, is also pretty neat.

For anyone who studies or collects maps, The Art of the Map will be a welcome addition to your library.