Euskal Herria Museoa, Kartografia Bilduma • Colección Cartográfica • Collection Cartographique • The Map Collection

Diputación Foral de Bizkaia, 2010
Hardcover, 29 x29 cm + 1 CD. ISBN: 9788477524595, 35.00€

Guernica—the fateful city of Picasso’s eponymous painting depicting the horrors of the Spanish civil war—is the home of the beautiful Euskal Herria Museoa (The Museum of the Basque Country). The museum aims at “presenting an exhibition to promote the understanding of the historical, political and cultural meaning of the spiritual community of Euskal Herria [The Basque country]”1 Fortunately the 1733 baroque palace that hosts the museum survived the 1937 bombing depicted in Picasso’s masterpiece. Today, the museum houses a rich cartographical collection of the Spanish Basque region now on display to the public as part of a permanent exhibit. The book under review is the catalogue of the collection.

The erudite introduction by expert cartographer Ramón de Oleaga, who lent his expertise to the museum to help catalogue this important collection, serves as a most interesting preamble to this catalogue book. This introduction covers aspects of “Reading Ancient Maps” and “Producing Maps” with subsections on the Flemish, French and Spanish schools of mapmakers well-represented in the collection. It also includes some remarks about the cartographical evolution of this northern region of Spain. The introduction also includes some engrossing points such as the one explaining that the lack of Spanish mapmakers in Iberian Spain during the country’s golden age of the XVI century could be explained by the control of the Spanish crown of the Netherlands and Belgium where plenty of talent existed. More anecdotal as it may be, but nevertheless interesting, is the mention of the shadowing of mountain ranges that appears in the productions of Dutch cartographers Blaeu and Mercator to denote these orographic features. Unnoticed by me previously, the shadows are projected to the Southeast. Apparently that orientation corresponds to the placement of the lighting source of the engraver—typically a lamp located in the upper-left-hand corner of their working stations.
The introduction is followed by the catalogue itself where sixty six maps covering XVI-XIX centuries are presented chronologically. Every map is handsomely reproduced in a high resolution image—often with enhanced details—and is accompanied by a technical description (author, title, size, print type, etc), as well as a scholarly narration by Mr. Oleaga and other collaborators that places the map in its historical context. The oldest print in the collection is a city view of Bilbao from 1572. The fact that Bilbao (the largest city in the Basque Country) is already present together with important cities like Lisbon, London and Paris in this Braun-Hogenberg atlas is a matter of great pride to Mr. Oleaga. Bilbao was ‘on the map’ prior to 1997 (when the Guggenheim Museum and its iconic Frank Gehry building gave the city great notoriety) as Mr. Oleaga jokingly mentioned in the press conference where the book was presented to the public.2 The treasures of the collection include a 1593 map by Cornelius de Jode (based on the first edition of his father’s Speculum Orbis Terrae of 1578). This map is important because it is not only a map of the Basque province of Guipuzkoa, but the first regional map of Spain ever published. The maps in the catalogue span four centuries hand-in-hand with the rich history of cartography and of this region as highlighted in each entry. The last map of the collection is a fascinating ethnographic map of Europe by Jean Gabrys dated 1918. This map displays in color the different languages spoken in Europe at the threshold of the Great War, all nicely grouped under their respective Indo-European language family with three exceptions, among them the enigmatic Basque language.

Introductions, text and image captions, as well as map/author/location indices, are in Euskera (Basque) and Spanish. They are followed by full translations in French and English in appendices at the end of the book. The translations are mostly fluid, with perhaps some poor choices in translating some technical terms, like using “map title caption” in English and “cartela” in French where the word “cartouche” would have done nicely in both cases.
Also enclosed in this handsome book is a most-appreciated DVD. This DVD contains an indexed file (PDF) with high resolution images of all the maps present in the book searchable by map, author and geographical area—a most valuable resource and a welcome trend that I am starting to see in similar books. The DVD alone3 makes this work a valuable resource for map collectors and dealers alike with an interest in this rich and historical region of Spain.

This review first appeared in “THE PORTOLAN”: JOURNAL OF THE WASHINGTON MAP SOCIETY, ISSUE 78 (Fall 2010)

Reviewed by Juan Ceva
from the Society’s December 2010 Newsletter