Magnificent Maps, Power, Propaganda and Art

Picture-10---12-cPeter Barber and Tom Harper, The British Library, 2010
ISBN 978 07123 5092 1, List $45, Amazon $35.64

Peter Barber, the Head of Map Collections at the British Library, organized an extraordinary map exhibit earlier this year. This book serves as the catalogue for that exhibit and expands on the descriptions of these maps.
Most of the maps covered are wall maps or painted maps, the first maps to deteriorate due to light and oxygen exposure, and so extremely rare. The 1804 original size copy of the Fra Mauro map is a good example and is partially shown on the cover. But here’s a twist—this, like the others covered, is a large map. To depict its size, the book shows a figure of a man standing next to an outline of the map below the illustration. Painted maps, such as in the Terza Loggia of the Vatican, are shown by photographs of the hallway including ceiling and floor to give scale.
As might be expected, the maps chosen are mostly European and cover four centuries of map making with some wonderful examples. Peter Barber’s narrative is extensive and links the maps to their historical context very well. Naturally, the Klemcke Atlas presented to Chas II is included with a real man standing next to the 6 feet plus tall original.
This exhibit closed two weeks before the recent IMCoS meeting. Some of us were lucky enough to visit before it closed (your editor on the last day). The exhibit drew 120,000 people and was free. Ancillary sales were projected at some $90,000. In fact, they totaled more than three times that amount. Librarians please note – maps sell.
Another thing designed to frustrate librarians, the dust jacket, usually discarded by libraries, has a wonderful Diego Homem map of the Mediterranean done in Venice in 1570 in full color on the verso. Don’t forget to look for it in your copy.

Reviewed by Bill Warren
from the Society’s December 2010 Newsletter