Los Mapas

In Presentation, Production on April 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm

This is a map of its route. It began, as an idea perhaps, in Augsburg in 1678. The idea container became a brewer of beer. I would have liked that. He didn’t. And so, the idea and its container went north, through heavily forested country and farmland, over the Donau, to Nuremburg, where Johann Homann taught him to engrave.

He returned to Augsburg with the skill but it wouldn’t be till 1744, towards the end of his life, that the idea would find expression on paper. From there who knows how many journeys, how many copies, how many owners, till in the latter half of the 20th century it was picked up in an antique shop in Dublin, Ireland and found a home with us in leafy Lucan.

Since then it has been restless. Before long it was gracing walls in Madrid, baking in the summer heat of Spain’s central meseta. After that a return to blustery Ireland, to Dublin, then Dundalk. It crossed the Irish Sea by boat and might have settled in the gently rolling country of Hampshire, England. But it wasn’t to be.

It would have satisfied the container, I think, to see his idea take its longest trip yet, over the blue curve of the Atlantic to the New World. It would have fired his imagination to see it on a wall in the California he depicted so inaccurately. It would certainly have amazed him to see it return to Europe by air and, having spent a little time there, fly once again; this time on a journey south, to Spain for the second time, to Tarifa and to me.

This is a description of it. At top centre the words Planisphaerium Coeleste and below them a spherical inset of the night sky and illustrated constellations. At bottom centre its counterpart – the southern sky.

At the four corners the four hypotheses are charted: Ptolemaica, Copernicana, Decarta and Tychonica. Between them at top and bottom four ellipsoid cartouches. The name of the maker and descriptions of the artifact, themselves the very music of antiquity; Diversi Globi Terr-Aqvei Statione variante et Visu intercedente, per Coluros Tropicorum.

And if you like those apples, try these: Quibis Addite pro Mutatione Horizontis differentis Sphaerae Positiones Earumque.

The largest area is taken up with the double hemisphere. Americas to the right, everything else to the left. The compass points, the latitudes, the meridian.  The colours, altered on my copy from the original – lilacs and dusty greens have been swapped around, joined by sandy yellows and marine blues. Antarctica is called the Unknown Australian Regions.

Australia itself is the strangest shape.

California is an island.

This is what it is. In 1710 Matthaeus Seutter finally got to set up his map-making and publishing business in Augsburg. Born in 1678, he was no spring chicken. That he went on to become perhaps the foremost map publisher of his time and to be honoured with the title of Imperial Geographer by Emperor Charles VI is a testament to second chances.

I like the guy.

In 1744 he published his Atlas Minor, from which the map I have been describing is taken. My copy is not the original page but then Seutter himself wasn’t an original – he lived and worked at a distance from any universities or scientific communities so he based his maps on previous work by others.

He didn’t work alone. In the margin at bottom left of the map is the name of his son, Albrecht Carl, also an engraver and the inheritor of his business on his death in 1757. At bottom right the name of Andreas Silbereisen, another Augsburg engraver who I think may have been delegated the engraving of this particular page.

This is what it really is. I can’t remember a time before the map. It has been there forever. It hung on the wall in the first house of my memory and was my introduction to the world, to other countries, to the idea that there was an elsewhere.

It fed my childhood appetite for atlases. They were my literature; I would turn the pages and amaze myself with the knowledge that there were places called Tanliyé, and Madhya Pradesh, and Llanbrynmair. That Timbuktu was real and its whereabouts known – that I could go there if I wanted (I wanted) and, travelling from it across the border to Hodh El Gharbi, somehow feel the transition from the warm yellow to the colonial pink of the page on my lap

The mouthing of a place name, or the tracing of a line with my finger; these were the best of stories. I believe the map was the origin of my interest in the world and my desire to see it. It also connects me to my father, lost to me at an early age. I share his yen for travel, for maps, for the antique. It feels good to have inherited something from him apart from genes.

I’ve etched my own routes across some of those pages. I haven’t been everywhere that Seutter engraved but I’ve seen a bit – I could have told him, for example, that California is not an island. Both I and the map have been travelling for a long time, together and separately. We have weaved a web, drawn our own maps. Now it hangs on my wall, in Tarifa at the southern edge of Europe, which Seutter coloured yellow. He was from K’s neck of the woods.

Its arrival coincided with our move to a new house and since we know we will move again at some point, the map will continue to travel with me. We’ll etch out a few more routes through a few more colours. I’m a long way from where I started out and so is it, but reunited the distances seem smaller. Home seems closer. Right here, in fact.

It was sent here because my parents, Mum and S, thought I should have it and you know what? They were right.

Thanks Mum. Thanks S.

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  1. Great article. I love old maps. In the Library of Congress there’s a great hall dedicated to preserving them — a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. It’s amazing to me how much we’ve learned about our world since then.

  2. Love maps. All kinds. Want a old map collection someday, *when* I settle down. Right now just a huge map of the world on my bedroom wall. I lie in bed and stare at it, planning adventures!

  3. The map is truly a friend for you. And, many of us.

  4. so happy ‘the map’ has found it’s way home!

  5. I am glad I am not the only person staring at maps for hours on end as a kid! Great story Robin!

  6. Maps and memories…nice article Robin.

  7. In a sense, they are not too far off about California back then XDD We are like a little place of our own here, imo. haha ~

  8. I like maps. Sometimes I read them and study them for fun looking up new cities, memorizing capitals, and just dreaming. I think maps inspire travel – and that started many years ago when they were first created. Sure, there have always been explorers. But guess is that the first maps inspired that many more.

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