Spending the day researching and producing my latest project. Whilst wandering in virtual space through the exhibition space at the British Library, I came across this beautiful 19th century copy of an older map of the world. The detail is breathtaking, and the map itself records not just the geographical understanding of that time, but also the belief systems that dominated the European viewpoint in the 1400’s .
In William Frazers 19th century copy of a map made in 1450 by Fra Mauro, South is at the top, and thus appears upside down to us. Europe is top right , Africa below, Asia to the right. When the original was drawn the Europeans had not yet discovered the Americas or Australia.
Fra Mauro was commissioned by the Venetians to produce the map, but the Doge was unhappy at the small size of Venice in relation to the world. He was reported to say ‘ then make the world smaller’. Twas ever thus. But glad to say he didn’t get his way.
Mauro placed the Garden of Eden outside the world, unusually for the time as it was generally portrayed to be in the extreme East. Theologians were pondering where paradise could exist on earth, and in Mauro’s map Eden is linked symbolically to the world through the landscape and the four rivers flowing through the walls.
The elements are represented by the diagram in the top right, earth is brown and green, then water followed by fire and the outer ring of air.
In the left hand corner is the diagram of the Ptolemaic system, an antecedent of the map of the solar system. This understanding was generally accepted until the 16th century , when astronomers put forward alternative theories.
The exhibition is now closed, but the online link is http://www.bl.uk/magnificentmaps/map2.html