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Overall, by historicising vision in this way, it is possible to understand the ways in which sixteenth-century visual epistemology was ambivalent and contested, despite the rhetoric of geometric omniscience. One fascinating example of this ambiguous perspective is the metaphor of the theatre, prominent in European atlases at the end of the sixteenth century and beginning of the seventeenth (Blair, 1997: 153). Two examples of this are Abraham Ortelius's Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570), and John Speed's The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine (1610). By presenting the map as a 'theatre of the world', these early modern cartographers employed a metaphor that symbolised the dual nature of reality. As an architectural emblem, the playhouse embodies the principle of replication, with the stage as a separate and independent space within the larger circle of the auditorium; this duality distinguishes the mimetic dimension of drama as an image of life (van den Berg, 1985: 45; Daniels and Cosgrove, 1993). Thus, the map as a theatre represented a self-declared imitation of reality to the sixteenth-century viewer. With cartography, as with the playhouse, the observer turned away from cosmos itself in order to contemplate its theatrical image, 'held apart from its referents in the outer world' and placed within the 'heterocosm of imagination' (van den Berg, 1985: 52). This contrasts with the modern, scientific conception of the map as an objective 'mirror' or 'window' on the world. An effective visual example of this perspective is given by the frontispiece to Mercator's atlas of 1595, which depicts Atlas as a map-maker, inscribing the features of the earth on a blank globe while he looks down on the world itself, set at his feet. While this depiction exhibits the sense of epistemological scope that the geometric rationalisation of maps brought to early modern cartography, it also shows an awareness of the abstraction from reality that the map-making process inherently involves. Maps, it may therefore be argued, signified to the sixteenth-century observer a more explicitly metaphorical and representational abstraction from the reality of the earth; the metaphor of the theatre provides an insight into this conception, albeit one that needs further research.
Art and Cartography: Six Historical Essays. David …
Art and cartography: six historical essays
David Woodward, ed. Art & Cartography: Six Historical Essays (1987)
From the 6th series, October-November 1980
A revealing selection of approaches to the study of the historical links between art and cartography.
Art and cartography: six historical essays By David …
Edgerton, S. (1987), 'From Mental Matrix to Mappamundi to Christian Empire: The Heritage of Ptolemaic Cartography in the Renaissance', in Woodward, D. (ed.), Art and Cartography: six historical essays, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 10–50