The Mental Museum

Archive for January 2009

Cartographic Cityscapes

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map21 A prospect of the City of Rome from Monet Gianicolo, Guiseppe Vasi, 1765 etching

Throughout history, maps have been entrusted to accurately represent our world, depicting cities we have visited or cities we have never experienced. Before thorough knowledge of the extensive world, maps in the western world were primarily made to depict biblical narratives. Since then, cartographers have sought to document the existing world around them. As viewers, we entrust maps to represent either perhaps a memory of a place we once lived or visited or to tell us of a place far away we would like to visit yet may never see. There has been however some aspects of map making that has forced cartographers to improvise truth or allow them to use manipulative representation. The camera obscura was often used to import the outside world and project it inside onto an opposite wall. This feature lends itself quite well to accurate tracing and thus would be quite useful for a cartographer, as a means to accurately depict a city.


Notice in A prospect of the City of Rome from Monet Gianicolo map shown above the six vertical segments that make up the panorama.  Depending on the size of the pinhole in a camera obscura and the distance from the hole to the opposite wall onto which the outside world is reflected, projections can be quite large and all encompassing. Perhaps these six segments of paper represent an inadequacy of paper size, or plate size, should the panorma be an etching. Therefore, several sheets or plates are hung to cover the width of the desired panoramic frame.

map1 Matthaeus Merian the Elder’s The Siege of Regensburg, 1634

There is also a performative characterstic about maps. The idea that a city is a stage set for all its habitants and portrayed through such vehicles as literature, art, film and media. Characters are often shown in the foregrounds or perimeters of maps. Characters contextualize the map, putting purpose and time frame to why and when the map was created. For example, The Siege of Regensburg, shown above depicts the city of Frankfurt in 1634 when it was recaptured by the Imperialsts after the Thirty Year War. A proud Germanic cavalry is seen advancing upon the city, showcasing its victory in reclaiming a prosperous and healthy city. In this way, maps were used as means of progranda, as a means to circulate reputations of proud and thriving cities themselves or spread negative notions of perhaps rivaling lands.


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January 28, 2009 at 3:20 pm

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David Bailly

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A Dutch masterpiece completed during the 17th Century, Bailly’s self portrait seen above titled Still Life, 1651 is a well rounded example of artwork emanating from the Netherlands during this time. Amsterdam especially was an economic gem during this period. As commerce was high, the finer side of life was being documented. It was also an era of science and discovery. The lens; telescopic, photographic and microscopic was a means in which to alter perception and further explore the world objectively. Notice in Bailly’s Still Life the various replications. Bailly himself was well into his 60s when he painted this masterpiece, however he depicts himself as a young artist offering us a glimspe into his past, and also alternatively into the furture, by means of yet another portrait he holds. Notice the oval shape replicated throughout his surroundings. Notice the fabric scultped to the bust and its replication in the portrait of the woman beside it. Notice her pearls in the painting and the pearls on Bailly’s desk.  It was not only a period of discovery and documentation, but yet documentation within documentation. Artists picturing art within art within art. An onion effect; one within another within another. Can we claim irony in the fact that Amsterdam itself, the Dutch hub of this 17th century economic and simultaneous artistic boom was and still is in fact, in its urban plan, an onion city?

Written by thementalmuseum

January 5, 2009 at 1:33 pm

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