Saturday, January 5, 2008

Maps Exhibit at Oriental Institute in Chicago

European Cartographers and the Ottoman World, 1500–1750: Maps from the Collection of O.J. Sopranos

Following is a foolscap full of my jottings from several rapturous hours spent at the exhibit on December 26.

"Asia Minor", from Prima Asia Tabvla by Bernardus Sylvanus, Venice, 1511
This was the first Ptolemy atlas to be printed, rather than hand- illuminated, in more than one color! It was quite striking to see the difference in appearance between this map, with its red place names that were obviously made with moveable type, next to the hand-illuminated pieces from around the same time.

"Asia Minor", from Tabula Nova Asiae Minoris by Lorenz Fries, Viennae, 1541
Fries simplified and reduced maps by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller, removing some classical elements. This was the first Ptolemaic map to make specific reference to sixteenth-century political realities, with it inscription "Asia Minor Sive Maior Tvrchia" (Asia Minor or Greater Turkey). The text for Fries's edition was prepared by Michel de Villeneve, ake Servetus. Among the charges against him during the Inquisition was that his atlas described Palestine as being largely infertile. At the time of his execution in 1553, many of his works, including copies of Ptolemy maps, were burned.

Giacomo Gastaldi, 1500-1566, was perhaps the biggest name in sixteenth century cartography. He had the advantage of a friendship with Ramusio, secretary to Venice's Council of Ten. Ortelios, another big name, 1527- 1598, systematized his map collections, adopting a uniform scale and presenting each map as a part of the greater world.

The "Lost map of Hajji Ahmed" is an interesting story. Apparently Oronce Fine, a Parisian, based this map on woodcuts from 1534 and spun a fanciful story about a captive Turk making the map. Someone posted a video from the symposium about the exhibit on YouTube. There's also a link on the exhibit page to this.

"Mediterranean Sea" from Caertboeck van de Midlandtsche Zee, by William Parentsz, Amsterdam, 1595
This was the first waggoner* to extend the Dutch approach to sea charting into the Mediterranean. You can really see the Dutch influence, and the fact that this map was made primarily for coastal reference, as the coastlines are packed full of detail but that of the inland areas is relatively sparse.
*Woo hoo! Thanks to David Howarth's The Voyage of the Armada, I know the story behind the waggoners! In 1588 a Dutch man named Waghenaer became the first person to compile an exhaustive collection of coastal route maps, or "rutters". Each rutter had two elements: a detailed drawing of the profile of a particular section of coast; a highly exacting set of instructions on how to navigate around obstacles. These instructions would run along the lines of "When the steeple of this church is in line with that hill, there you must turn west in order to avoid the shoals ahead..." Wagenhaer's books of rutters were so useful to mariners that they became known as waggoners!

"Mediterranean Sea", from Carte Nouvelle de la Mer Mediterraneé by Romeijn de Hooghe, Amsterdam, [1694] 1711
The dedication in the cartouche (I learned that word at the exhibit!) is to William of Orange, who was king of both the Netherlands and Great Britain at the time. The Black Sea is very oddly-shaped, not only in this one, but in several maps from around this time; also, Italy is oddly misshapen, with a too-high instep here and an oddly swept-back heel there. It would seem that cartographers' notions of some areas had not yet achieved a high level of accuracy.

One of the most striking pieces is a map of the Mediterranean and Black Seas that was hand-painted on vellum by Domenico Olivia in 1568. On the "neck" of the vellum is a depiction of Christ on the cross, supposedly watching over mariners. Vibrantly multi-colored "Rhumb-lines" (another term I learned at the exhibit) radiate from the compass roses.

"Ottoman Empire", from Speculum Orbis Terrarum by Gerard de Jode, Amsterdam, 1578
De Jode came into conflict with Ortelius; there is evidence that Ortelius used his influence to delay the licensing of de Jode's atlas. The most interesting thing about this map, especially in relation to those around it, is that de Jode paid no attention to political boundaries. This illustrates the sixteenth-century way of thinking about political aggregates, so very different from modern notions, that Garrett Mattingly wrote about in his book Catherine of Aragon. As the exhibit placard says, de Jode's map illustrates the different conceptualization of political space. Sovereignty in the late sixteenth century remained fundamentally a matter of personal allegiance and dynastic influence. In such circumstances boundaries were more fluid and remained un-demarcated on the ground, more easily described than mapped.

Frederick de Witt, Amsterdam, [1635] 1680
This map shows the persistence with which information, sometimes inaccurate, passed down through generations of cartographers. His maps contained Ortelius's naming and configurations.

Faden (book of maps - late eighteenth century?)
Faden started out importing and reselling European maps, and eventually began to commission and engrave his own. This map of the Arabian peninsula was updated to include observations made by Carsten Niebuhr in the course of the Royal Danish Expedition that took place in 1761-67**.

"Western Mediterranean", anonymous, Cedid Atlas Tercumesi, Istanbul, 1803
This striking map was printed for the Ottoman Military Engineering School. It was linked to early nineteenth-century efforts to modernize the Ottoman military. All maps in the atlas were taken from Faden's "General Atlas" that had been acquired by the private secretary to the Ottoman ambassador in London! This was translated into Ottoman Turkish and re-engraved. From this point on, Ottoman maps increasingly reflected western geographical science and cartographic practices.

As we move along the wall adjacent to the de Jode, we see a striking aspect of the evolution of cartography between the sixteenth century and the end of the seventeenth. By then, the French had taken the lead in cartography, and their focus on rational order shows in the way maps became intricately ramified. The astonishingly busy map of Hungary by Guillaume de L'Isle, Paris, 1717, is among the first to show the course of the Danube correctly.

The last section illustrates how trade and travel were inextricably bound to cartography, as map-makers relied upon information brought back by travelers, and how the increasing availability of this information forced them to become more accurate.

"Rhodes", from Peregrinato in Terram Sanctam by Bernhard von Breydenbach
Erhard Reuwich accompanied Breydenbach on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1483- 84. His woodcut represented an entirely new approach to topography: showing the "true likeness", as opposed to more fanciful representations. You can see the damage inflicted on the harbor during the Ottoman siege of 1480.

**Niebuhr was the sole surviving member of the Royal Danish Expedition to the Arabian Peninsula between 1761 and 1767. Niebuhr's maps of interior Arabia remained the standard reference for cartographers until well into the twentieth century!

"Constantinople" (Plan de la ville de Constantinople et de ses Faubourgs) from Voyage Pittoresque de la Greece, Comte de Choiseul-Gouffier, Vol. I by Fr. Kauffer, Paris, 1782
Kauffer was an engineer attached to the staff of the French embassy in Istanbul. This is a bloody AMAZING map! The precision and delicacy of detail is akin to something one would see in a very good American Civil War-era map.

"Constantinopolis" from De Rebuspublicus Hanseaticis by Matthaus Merian, Frankfurt, 1641
This panoramic view shows a concern with realism. Even the reproduction in the exhibit book, though, doesn't show the thing I find most striking: the refined use of cross-hatching, so much more prevalent than in any other map in the exhibit, gives this panorama a highly distinctive, warm, and lavishly textured style.

The exhibit has some travel journals of one Lady Mary Worley Montague, wife of the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Court in 1717 and 1718. She sounds like an interesting character: she was openly scornful of earlier authors, whom she claimed never actually witnessed the people and events they write of; she was also a steadfast advocate of inoculation during a time when the medical community was very much against it.

"Itinerario, Voyage of te Schipvaert van Jan Huygen van Linschoten, Amsterdam, 1596
Van linschoten knew the spice trade from six years in Portuguese Goa, and this apparently had quite an influence on Dutch commercial expansion into the East Indies. At some point he got his hands on some secret Portuguese rutters. The maps for the Itinerario, drawn by Henricus Langene, were far more accurate than Gastaldi or Ortelius, and were quickly reproduced.

View of Tunis from Civitates Orbis Terrarum, Braun & Hogenberg, Cologne, 1572-1617, ed. 1633
This view of Tunis narrates an attack on the city, at the time under the protection of Barbarossa, by Habsburg forces in 1535 in an effort to contain Ottoman expansion into the western Mediterranean. How gratifying it is to see this woodcut, produced in a time when Europeans and Ottomans were fighting so desperately to conquer, or more likely reconquer, any and all territory on the northern coast of Africa! In his book The Victory of the West, which I highly recommend, Niccolo Capponi writes in detail of this near-stalemate that lasted for decades, and was broken only by the hugely important Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

The book that goes along with the exhibit is a bit pricey at $42, but when Grace asked me if I wanted it I said "Yes". The reproductions, though at times disappointingly lacking in fine detail, are exhaustive. A surprising number of them come from local sources such as the University of Chicago. I think the book is probably worth the price, especially given the pleasing amount of detail and thematic planning that went into the exhibit.


radiogirl said...

Hi Hugh -- Your posts about the festival are packed with info -- thank you for letting me know about them. I'm reading them slowly but just wanted to say that I did stop by. I received the book that goes with the festival in the mail this week... a birthday gift ... I have barely touched the surface of the book, but I am thanking my lucky, lucky stars that this festival is coming my way. I can't wait!

Hugh Yeman said...

Thanks for your comment!

I was thinking of buying the book at the Field Museum, but I suspected that I could get it a lot cheaper from Amazon, and I was right. I ordered it from my iPhone while waiting at a bus stop in Hyde Park the next day! It's now part of a pile of books on the history of cartography that form an imposing foothill between me and Mount ToBeRead.

Tahlib said...

Grace takes good care of you.