We have always tried to make sense of the world around us and it is this drive to understand and document our environment has given rise to one of arts' least appreciated gems - antique maps and cartography.
Although today we are used to maps as dry, functional things that we occasionally reach for when lost, it was only a few centuries ago that they commanded the attention and wonder normally reserved for great works of art.
History of Cartography
The earliest maps date back to ancient Greece and the works of the Greek astronomer Ptolemy from the 2nd century are still referred to now as superb examples of the rise of early cartography.
Map making in Europe declined during the Medieval era as leading philosophers concentrated more on religion and spiritual matters than the practicalities of geography. However with the rise of European navies in the 16th and 17th centuries all this changed with cartography attracting not only the best geographers and astronomers, but also attracting the attention of many skilled draftsmen and artists.
During this time cartography took on new importance with many commercially produced maps being considered valuable works of art as well as useful tools for maritime travellers.
Art and Science Combined
The leading lights of this era produced some of the most memorable and distinct maps of any time, before or since. Since maps had to be sold many of the decorative embellishments were designed to attract buyers and make each map maker distinct from rivals.
As well as accurate map detail many maps from this time used decorative elements, such as sea monsters, mythical creatures and cartouches to help elevate the works from useful tools to works of art. It is this embellishment that makes them so attractive to art lovers today, as we are used to maps as dry objects.
World Map Tapestries
Given the recent rise in interest in textiles in the home it is no surprise some of cartographies best examples are now reproduced as wall tapestries. The distinct weave of high quality tapestries expertly captures the detail, drama and artistry of antique maps dating from the 16th and 17th centuries ? adding a striking dimension to art that already impresses.
One of the most famous examples is Typus orbis terrarum by Abraham Ortelius (1527 - 1598). It covers the known world at the time, and is a testament not only to the craftsmanship of cartographers but it demonstrates an impressive level of knowledge for its day. As a wall tapestry Typus orbis terrarum cleverly combines the expansive detail of the original map with the depth found in textile design making for a striking work of art.
One of the most famous maps ever produced was Jan Baptist Vrient?s Obis Terrae Compendiosa, meaning ?A Brief Representation of the World?. It contains an astonishing amount of detail matched only by the breadth of its knowledge. Like earlier maps that it was based on it is decorated with numerous details including symbolic figures at each corner, exotic animals and fauna from the far-off shores it represents and landscape vignettes. As with all quality tapestries it?s subtlety and vibrancy transfer well to textiles, adding an almost antique quality to and already distinctive work of art.
Nowadays many people are looking to antique maps wall tapestries to add some charm and history to their home decor. With a vast array of options to choose from, including some of history?s finest examples of cartography art, there's never been a better time to appreciate these unique works of art.
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