The Mental Museum

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.


Written by thementalmuseum

January 28, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Posted in 1

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